Largely ignored by travellers in favour of nearby Milan, Bergamo is known as Lombardy’s “finest hill town”. Overlooking the southern plains, Bergamo is a charming walled city with lovely little winding streets where you can pick up a gelato, explore the local shops and eat at some of its fine dining restaurants, or simply take in the city’s wealth of art and medieval Renaissance and baroque architecture. Enchanting, romantic and beautiful, this hidden Italian gem is a must.
Guimarães precedes the foundation of Portugal and, as the birthplace of Portugal’s first king, is often referred to as the “birthplace of the Portuguese nationality”. Its pedestrianised, winding cobbled streets and alleyways are home to tiny bars, cute cafés and boutique, characteristic shops. Voted as the 2012 European Capital of Culture, Guimarães offers beauty, charm, friendliness in abundance and despite its quiet, charming streets, its large student population breathes life, energy and creativity into the squares, cafés and bars.
Despite being often overlooked for nearby Hamburg, Lubeck is a true historic gem that shouldn’t be missed. A Unesco World Heritage site sometimes described as the “Venice of the Baltic”, the old part of Lübeck is on an island enclosed by the Trave. Much of the old town has kept a medieval appearance with old buildings, narrow streets and the centre dominated by seven church steeples – the oldest of which date back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Enjoy art, culture and shopping with it’s a huge variety of great shops, brands and small boutiques. Hüxstraße and Fleischhauerstraße in the heart of the city also provide an enchanting mix of small and up-market shops with a great deal of Olde Worlde charm.
The maze-like, winding lanes, old balconied houses, leafy squares, handsome churches and countless busy bars and cafes of old town Tbilisi reflect a long, complicated history. With periods under both Persian and Russian reign, Tbilisi’s diverse architecture encompasses Eastern Orthodox churches, art nouveau buildings and Soviet Modernist structures, all overlooked by the quite stunning 17th century Nariqala Fortress and an iconic statue of Mother Georgia. Offering a trove of concept stores as well as top designers, brands and open markets, the city is as buzzing as it is old. Katie Melua, the singer, songwriter and a Georgian native said of Tbilisi: “It’s a city that’s very much off the beaten track. Not many tourists have been there, which makes it all the more worth visiting.”
Nantes has long been rated one of the best places to live in France, but the capital of the western Loire has changed from provincial town to buzzing city and is now one of the best places to visit too. Much of that is due to the redevelopment of ‘the island’ which is home to a beautiful mix of historic and modern buildings, warehouses converted into cafés and artists’ studios, parks, gardens and quirky art installations. The pedestrianised centre is home to the smart rue Crébillon, the medieval Bouffay district and myriad boutiques, cafés, hidden squares and trendy lanes. For an easily accessible and truly cultural experience, Nantes has to be on the list of places to visit.
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