Discover the City of Canals | Venice
With remarkable beauty and historical significance, Venice is packed with thrill at every corner. Wander around the Venetian Arsenal, a complex of former shipyards. Santi Giovanni e Paolo – an Italian Gothic-style church – houses fantastic paintings and statues. Also visit Punta della Dogana and Museo Correr, which display fascinating art.
Taste various specialities at Venetian Ghetto with its restaurants and historical sites. For lavish architecture and paintings, there’s Scuola Grande di San Rocco. If you’re keen on more astounding artworks, step into the Gallerie dell'Accademia.
Enough with the art. Next, unwind at the sandy beach shores of Lido di Venezia, famous for hosting the annual Venice Film Festival. Then take a stroll along Ponte dell'Accademia, one of four bridges to offer pedestrians way across the Grand Canal.
A trip to Venice is incomplete without a visit to world-famous opera house Teatro La Fenice. After, score some magnificent views over Venice at the Campanile – the tallest building in the city – and 16th-century church San Giorgio Maggiore.
Lastly, take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal early in the morning to see the glorious views shimmer with golden light.
Where to stay: One of the great lost experiences of Venice is the grand arrival. In a city that was built to display the immense wealth of its inhabitants, virtually all of the palazzi and elite buildings were designed with their formal entrance, the porta d'acqua, opening directly on to the water. The only Venice hotel where this entrance still has an authentic feel – the porta giving on to the original entrance hall and then up the stairs to the piano nobile – is the Aman. It is housed in a 16th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal, but the interior decorations date from the 18th century and the time of Casanova, when Venice had become a party town rather than a trading superpower.
Aman Venice, double rooms from about Dh4,350 a night (aman.com).
Unfold religious treasures | Greece
The land of awe-inspiring scenes and beautiful landscapes, Greece is designed with utter perfection that gives every holidaymaker an extraordinary experience. The destination is infused with ancient mythology and history to keep you engaged throughout your journey.
Tour the Acropolis of Athens – a complex built on a high rocky hill housing numerous ancient buildings such as the famous Parthenon. Climb the legendary Mount Olympus, which treasures the hidden tales of Greek mythology.
Those looking for a spot of abundant natural beauty and adventure must not miss Lake Plastira – a manmade lake surrounding beautiful oak and chestnut trees. Go canoeing or rafting and even horse riding or hiking beside the trails around the lake.
Walk around Santorini Island, where you can explore the deep blue seas, spectacular architecture of the place and its landscape – formed by a volcanic crater.
Delphi is another famous spot, recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site that sits on the sides of Mount Parnassus and houses an impressive stadium and theatre, temples and delightful ancient ruins. Nature lovers must not miss Samaria Gorge situated on the stunning island of Crete.
Other exciting spots worth exploring are the Acropolis Museum in Athens; Hephaestus Temple and the Epidaurus Theater – a ceremonial space dedicated to the famous god of medicine. Also a must-see is the monastery of Meteora, on towering rock formations.
Explore the beautiful Melissani Cave through a tunnel down and go out on the lake to take a boat ride across the turquoise waters. Try out the Zulu Bungy Jump at the Corinth Canal or uncover Greek treasures at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. Trek the heights of the Mount Athos – home of 20 amazing monasteries; walk around the Palace of Malia and meet the villagers near the Ancient Corinth to get a glimpse of Greek’s historic and modern lifestyle.
Balos Beach is also a beautiful spot to relax – view the incredible underwater life and enjoy the surf in Greece. Stroll and hike around the scenic summits at the Corfu trail or sunbath at Psarou Beach.
A voyage across the Roman antiquity
The city of glorious ancient heritage, Rome has numerous impressive monuments, attractions and breathtaking sights to take in. Begin a walking tour visiting the massive old structure famous as a Roman symbol of antiquity, The Colosseum. The Arch of Constantine that stands next to it is equally impressive to stroll around.
Head on to the Vatican City, where you have remarkable places such as the Vatican palace and gardens, Vatican museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and St. Peter’s Square, each famous for its own masterpiece offerings.
No trip to Rome is complete without a trip to the Pantheon – the best-preserved monument of the city, and the Forum – a historical Roman Empire and now a busy marketplace and home to many temples. Then there’s the Instagrammer’s favourite, the 17th-century Trevi Fountain. Other must-sees are of course the Spanish Steps – now a buzzing commercial centre; Bocca della Verità – a marble sculpture; Galleria Borghese – a gallery famous for its art collection in the city; Villa Farnesina – a gorgeous Renaissance villa and the Capitoline Museums on the Capitoline Hill – one of the oldest museums in the world.
After, check out the lively vibe at the Piazza Navona with its beautiful backdrops of fountains. Another favourite gathering space is Campo de’ Fiori, meaning the field of flowers. It’s a busy marketplace that boasts numerous shops and restaurants. While walking across these places is a good option, you can also choose to pedal down the narrow historic lanes and the street-life all around Rome, covering places like Campo di Fiori, Aventine Hill, Keyhole and many more.
For more walking, head towards the Via Appia Antica (Appian Way), an ancient road first constructed in 312BC to connect Rome with Brindisi in south-eastern Italy. It still exists – in places as a road, in places a paved path, and is lined by vestiges of its once great past. On Sunday mornings, when the first section leading out of the city is closed to traffic, it makes an excellent walk. The first few miles are part of a natural and archaeological park, the Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica, and among the notable ruins en route are the Porta Appia, the gate of the Aurelian Walls, three major Roman tombs, the Circus and Mausoleum of Maxentius and the Capo di Bove baths.
Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica (parcoappiaantica.it).
Where to stay: The last weeks of John Keats’s tragically short life were spent in Rome. The room where he died overlooks the Spanish Steps and the apartment as a whole is a museum dedicated to his and also his fellow romantic poet Percy Shelley’s stays in the city. It’s an incredibly evocative and moving place and you can feel even more part of it by staying in the small apartment on the floor immediately above. It has historically been offered by the Landmark Trust, which is currently renegotiating the lease. Hopefully it will soon once more be offering it for holiday lets.
Keats and Shelley House apartment, sleeps three, prices to be announced (landmarktrust.org).
Traverse on Belgium’s legendary sites
With scenic beauty and fairytale settings, Belgium has a lot to offer its holidaymakers, whether foodies, nature lovers or history enthusiasts. Walk through the old town Pentagon and its circle-shaped boulevards, and the elegant Grand Place in Brussels, surrounded by beautiful guildhalls and known for an outstanding blend of architectural and artistic styles. There is a historic district after the square, where several centuries-old buildings, churches and squares are situated, such as the Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert – an architectural complex that combines theatres, art galleries and museums.
Take a boat ride or walk along the canals of Bruges, where you’ll see picturesque bridges and hidden gardens. You get the best panorama views of Bruges from the top of the beautiful belfry – a medieval-era building. The city of Anderlecht is another essential spot to view ancient structures. These include the Museum of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Astrid Park, Gaasbeek Castle and Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. To get more close to ancient times, Antwerpen has over 30 amazing museums.
Another vital landmarks: Horta Museum – former home and studio of influential architect and designer Victor Horta of the early 20th-century, and his four major town houses, all recognised as Unesco sites.
For nature lovers, Meuse Valley offers up Belgium’s lush countryside. Take a ride along the river for beautiful scenery and dense forests. Go hiking or cycling in the nearby towns of Namur and Dinant for cliff-top citadels and other historic sites. The lush Semois Valley along the river also comes with forest-clad hills for hiking, or a gorgeous riverboat trip.
Where to stay: When Tolstoy was writing War and Peace, he stayed at a monastery at Borodino, the battlefield where Napoleon’s luck in Russia first began to turn. You can do the same at Waterloo, in Belgium, by staying at the Landmark Trust’s Hougoumont apartment. Just before the battle, the Duke of Wellington declared that the outcome “depended upon the closing of the gates at Hougoumont” and the chateau there was the key defensive position for the Allied line. The chateau burned down during the fighting, but the enclosure held firm. The first-floor apartment is in the former gardener’s cottage and is furnished to evoke the Napoleonic era.
Hougoumont apartment, sleeps four, four nights from Dh2,430 (landmarktrust.org).
Walk through landscapes redolent with English history
England is known for its fascinating heritage sites, monuments and buildings. Explore the Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, to gaze upon an ancient landscape and walk inside the Neolithic Houses to learn about old tools and objects. The Tower of London is another World Heritage Site, home to some fantastic displays of royal armour, crown jewels and more. Then of course, there’s the iconic Big Ben, housed in a clock tower.
For a remarkable landscape of lush rolling hills, walk across the picturesque towns and villages of Cotswolds. Then there’s the historic city of Cambridge, a perfect spot to unwind and relax while you float down the River Cam.
More iconic places to explore include the British Museum with over 13 million artefacts, and the romantic streets of York with its medieval guildhalls and churches. If you are a wildlife fan, you can’t miss the Chester Zoo. Here you can take a monorail ride to reach Chimpanzee Island, a penguin pool, and view over 11,000 animals of around 400 different species.
Want to make it an overnighter? Here are few spots where the historical fun doesn’t stop at a day trip:
Few landscapes are quite so redolent of early English history as the island of Lindisfarne (Holy Island), connected to the Northumberland coastline by a tidal causeway. It was the home of Celtic monastic Christianity in the sixth century, and during the medieval period. The magic of the place is to stay there overnight to soak up the atmosphere. You can do this by staying in the National Trust’s St Oswald’s Cottage designed by Lutyens.
St Oswald’s Cottage, sleeps five, from Dh2,250 (three nights); nationaltrust.org.uk.
England’s most atmospheric ruins by far are those of the great medieval monasteries laid waste by Henry VIII in the 1530s and 1540s. But even among the ruins, you can still get a strong sense of the extraordinary history and grandeur, most especially at Rievaulx in North Yorkshire, once one of Europe's most important Cistercian abbeys. Here you can feel even more part of history by staying in an English Heritage cottage, with an idyllic location in the grounds of the abbey (begun in 1130) itself.
Refectory Cottage, sleeps four, from Dh1,765 for three nights (english-heritage.org.uk/visit/holiday-cottages).
Dover Castle, with its ditches and its huge ramparts commanding the English Channel, has been one of the country’s key defensive points for centuries. The current defensive structures were begun in the 1180s when Henry II built the keep. During the next 800 years, it was expanded and adapted massively to keep pace as the technology of war developed. You can experience it all from the inside, by booking the small apartment rented out by English Heritage.
Peverell’s Tower, sleeps two, from Dh2,340 for three nights (english-heritage.org.uk).
Anne Boleyn was born at Blickling in Norfolk in about 1501 in an old manor house that was rebuilt in 1616 to be one of England’s greatest Jacobean houses. For the best experience of Blickling Hall and its estate as a whole though, stay in the 18th-century tower. Originally built as a race stand, it has great views over the estate park.
The Tower, Blickling, sleeps four, three nights from Dh2,590 (nationaltrust.org.uk).
John Constable’s The Hay Wain is one of the most famous paintings of the English countryside, and the view across a ford on the river Stour on the Suffolk-Essex border is astonishingly little changed. Even more remarkable is the fact that on one of the Field Studies Council’s nature courses you can stay in the little white house shown on the left of the painting. Known then and now as Willy Lott’s Cottage, it is a magical place by the river.
Details of courses and accommodation from The Field Studies Council – prices vary according to the course concerned (field-studies-council.org).
Osborne House, on the north coast of the Isle of Wight, was Queen Victoria’s favourite escape from public life, both before and after the death of Prince Albert. It is also where she died in 1901. You could say it is the secret heart of Victorian England and the private apartments still reflect the ornate tastes and style of the Royal couple. The gardens, overlooking the Solent are wonderful too, and you can experience them from the inside by booking English Heritage’s Pavilion Cottage, which is in the grounds.
Pavilion Cottage, sleeps four, from Dh2,290 for three nights (english-heritage.org.uk/visit/holiday-cottages).
This is one for the kids and takes a bit of organising but sounds enormous fun. HMS Belfast – which is moored in the Thames by Tower Bridge – is the most significant light cruiser to have survived from the Second World War. The Kip in a Ship scheme allows groups of up to 52 children aged seven to 18 in schools or youth groups to stay for up to three nights on board, sleeping in real sailors’ bunks.
Dh240 B&B, per person per night, minimum party size: 20 (iwm.org.uk/kip).
Wander around Spain’s medieval jewels
Spain’s sun-drenched beaches, ancient monuments, medieval castles and villages make it a vibrant place for sightseeing, adventure and fun.
There’s Alhambra, a Moorish design palace and a fortress that sits on top of a hill in Granada. There’s Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Gaudi Sites, its signature attractions. At the Old City of Ciutat Vella, you can view ancient churches, bridges and Roman ruins, along with cobblestone streets that are lined with shops, outdoor cafes and restaurants.
Madrid’s sizzling nightlife scenes and beautiful mix of old and new architecture is another must-see. Enjoy street performer acts at Puerta del Sol, visit Plaza Mayor to shop souvenirs, relish some authentic delicacies at the cafes and view the lively San Miguel Market. Also, don’t miss Spain’s monarch’s residence Royal Palace and San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and top art museums such as Prado, Reina Sofia National Art Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, among others.
At Valencia, you have the City of Arts and Sciences – a cultural and architectural complex that houses Europe’s largest oceanographic aquarium, L’Oceanogràfic; science museum; planetarium; art museum and an IMAX theatre.
For some outdoor fun, you have the Costa del Sol Beaches, where you have abundant sunlight, white sand and beautiful natural landscapes.
In Hannibal’s footsteps
Hannibal, the extraordinary general from Carthage (modern-day Tunis), marched from Spain to Italy with 50,000 men and some 40 elephants in 218BC. His mission was to exact revenge for Carthage’s humiliating defeat by Rome a generation earlier – his transcontinental march was one of military history’s most brilliant surprise strategies. His exact route across the Alps is not known, but you can follow it in spirit by bike on an escorted two-week Ride and Seek tour from Barcelona to Alba in Italy. You’ll need to be fit – it includes some testing Alpine climbs.
Hannibal Across the Alps 2020, departs August 30, Dh26,700 (rideandseek.com).
Arguably, it was the Romans who invented villa vacations, and medieval pilgrims who invented walking holidays. In fact, pilgrims have been walking to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela for 1,000 years, but in the past decade or so it has also become popular with contemporary tourists drawn by both the beautiful landscapes of northern Spain and by a sense of history.
Many tour operators offer a variety of options and lengths, from guided group walks to independent itineraries.
The AITO website (aito.com) lists several tour operators offering Santiago walks of different kinds.
Olite, in northern Spain, is one of those half-forgotten historical towns, once the seat of a half-forgotten dynasty, the Kings of Navarre. Their realm, on land either side of the western Pyrenees, was constantly caught between the competing interests of Spain and France, which eventually shared the spoils. But vestiges survive – the castle at Olite was aggrandised with stained glass windows and gothic arcades and used as a royal palace from about 1400 until its conquest by Castile in 1512. It is now a parador where you can rediscover a sense of this lost kingdom.
Parador de Olite, double rooms from Dh365 (parador.es).
Inside the Alhambra
You get a double historical hit at the Alhambra Palace, which stands on a high bluff above Granada in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It is a reminder of the Moorish occupation of southern Spain built in the mid-13th century and then converted into a royal palace in 1333 by the Sultan of Granada with the fabulous terraced gardens and courtyards that define it today. Then, after regaining control of the south in 1492, the Spanish royal family aggrandised it even further – so it reflects a high point of both Muslim and Christian culture. To enjoy it at its best, stay in Parador de Granada, which is part of the main complex in a former 15th-century monastery built just after it was wrested back by the Christian kings.
Parador de Granada, doubles from Dh915 (parador.es).
Trek down the fashionable scenes of the past in France
From the fairytale castles and seaside resorts to soaring cathedrals, boulevards and picture-perfect villages, France always manages to impress all its visitors.
Besides the world-famous Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, and a feel of royalty at the Palace of Versailles, there’s Côte d'Azur, a glamour-filled coastline that offers mesmerising views of the Mediterranean Sea and beautiful seaside resorts, lavish villas and luxury yachts. The town of Nice is also famous for its panoramic sea views and brilliant beaches of the French Riviera. Head to the Castle Hill – La colline du château, a former fortress and now a stunning park.
Behind the beach, you have the historic quarter with the famed flower market. The open spaces of the Promenade des Anglais will take you into the narrow streets of a traditional north Mediterranean city. Restaurants spill out of the old buildings; tuck into some mouth-watering food.
The Loire Valley Châteaux will take you to the enchanting countryside of woodlands, river valleys, fairytale castles and lush area of the Garden of France. Here you will find medieval fortresses sitting on hilltops, offering idyllic surroundings for great photography.
The diverse landscape of Provence is a perfect spot to explore the charming countryside. Think olive groves, deep purple lavender fields, sun-drenched rolling hills and small little villages set in the valleys and perched on rocky outcrops. Stroll along its cobblestone streets, laze around on sunny terraces of outdoor cafés and walk around the colourful open-air markets, savouring the delicious cuisines.
For skiing, hiking, rock climbing, and other outdoor adventures, the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc offers unforgettable sights and serene scenery. You also have the pretty Alsace villages set in green, rolling hills with its quaint historic houses, astonishing gastronomy and idyllic scenery.
The Hotel de Crillon –- one of the best in Paris, and the former residence of the Comte de Crillon –- has at least two major historical claims to fame. First, it looks directly out over the Place de la Concorde, which was where the young Marie Antoinette celebrated her wedding to Louis XVI in 1770, but also where they were both guillotined in 1793. Second, it was where, in 1778, France and the United States, represented by Benjamin Franklin, signed their first treaty –- which recognised the Declaration of Independence.
Hotel de Crillon, doubles from about Dh3,440 (rosewoodhotels.com).
France in Exile
Hartwell House, a lovely 17th to 18th-century country house in the Buckinghamshire countryside, now a hotel, was the home in exile of the court during the Napoleonic era. Louis XVIII resided here with his family and entourage from 1809 to 1814. During the residence, the French, desperately short of resources, converted the roof into a miniature farm with birds and rabbits reared in cages, and grew vegetables and herbs in tubs.
Hartwell House, doubles from Dh900 B&B (hartwell-house.com).
Heat of the Battle
When Tolstoy was writing War and Peace, he stayed at a monastery at Borodino, the battlefield where Napoleon’s luck in Russia first began to turn. You can do the same at Waterloo, in Belgium, by staying at the Landmark Trust's Hougoumont apartment. Just before the battle, the Duke of Wellington declared that the outcome "depended upon the closing of the gates at Hougoumont" and the chateau there was the key defensive position for the Allied line. The chateau burned down during the fighting, but the enclosure held firm. The first-floor apartment is in the former gardener's cottage and is furnished to evoke the Napoleonic era.
Hougoumont apartment, four nights from Dh2,390 (landmarktrust.org).
Additional inputs by The Daily Telegraph