At this stage in your life, perhaps you’ve been to Europe many times. You’ve seen all the requisite sites and returned home with wonderful memories. Yet Europe calls to you again, but with many other places on your list yet unseen, do you really want to return again? Indulge that yearning by experiencing Europe in a new way that’s appropriate for your life today. As Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, says so well, “We travel for romance, we travel for architecture, and we travel to be lost.”
When’s the last time you were “lost” on a trip and so into a foreign city that you never wanted to leave? What do you really love and want to learn more about? Put some thought into planning a creative trip, seeing music along the way or taking cooking classes in different countries, by yourself or with your family, even arranging your travel around splendid horticulture like botanical gardens throughout the continent. It might be fun to get lost with no goal, just hitting countries you always dreamed about seeing but never had the time, or revisiting one you love, only this time sitting with a glass of wine in an outdoor café for hours, people watching and absorbing the culture.
In Bologna, Italy, they show films outside projected onto a brick building. Have you ever considered rewatching 10 of your favorite French, Italian and Spanish films and going to the places where they were filmed, planning a trip around your love of foreign cinema? Or imagine yourself in colorful downtown Sorrento, hopping a boat out to the Isle of Capri and spending the day circling the island, then the next day taking a bus on narrow Cliffside roads, arriving in Positano for a beer outside the bus station at a table, watching a cobbler make shoes next door. Everyone has a romantic notion of a place, and sometimes we choose safe ones to visit to match those ideals, but it is only when we step off a crowded bus and meander down streets where no one else seems to be that the real traveling truly begins.
Visiting Notre Dame along with a string of cathedrals throughout Europe with all the incredible visual architecture and history might just change your life. You can center your trip around architecture or just around cathedrals. Make a stop in ancient Reims to visit its towering centerpiece, the Notre-Dame de Reims where French kings were crowned, not to mention being home to the world’s leading Champagne makers. While there, you’ll be able to discover Reims’ pedestrian streets lined with art galleries and cafes. Be sure to visit Epernay, the Avenue de Champagne, before making a visit to one of the cellars dug up in this region between the 4th and 15th centuries.
In Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia is a giant basilica designed by Antonio Gaudi in 1882, and it is so immense that it is still under construction today. It is expected to finally be finished in 2026. Seville Cathedral, third largest church in the world, is a stunning structure that took over 100 years to build, known as the burial site of Christopher Columbus, whose tomb is held aloft by four towering, elaborately constructed statues. In Perugia, the historic capital of Umbria, you’ll find one of the grandest squares in Italy, the Piazza IV Novembre, and delight in the medieval palaces and ornate cathedrals.
A cuisine trip to Spain? From the vibrant Costa del Sol to the cosmopolitan streets of Madrid, it is a land that ingrains its varied cuisine within you. Because mountain ranges run through the country, transportation between regions was difficult until the 20th century. We have these mountains to thank for the many varied cooking styles found in Spain now. For instance, paella is a well known traditional seafood dish from Valencia made up of rice, clams, mussels shrimp and chorizo (a spicy sausage). However, because cuisine in Spain is so diverse, in some regions it’s done with duck, rabbit, green vegetables, even snails.
Like Spanish cuisine, there is a lovely variety to Spanish wine—in fact, there are more vineyards in Spain than in any other country in the world. Among the many wine regions, the Rioja region in the north is known for its red wines, the Penedes region of the Mediterranean for its sparkling wines and Andalucia for its Sherry. Wine crawl, anyone?
In the Eternal City of Rome did you ever get the chance to see the impressive Piazza Venezia, the Circus Maximus, the Arch of Constantine or the famous Piazza Navona? Have you traveled to Assisi to get in touch with your inner St. Francis? In Venice you’ve probably already seen St. Mark’s Square and the Clock Tower, but did you know that there are 117 tiny islands and a latticework of 150 canals and 400 bridges awaiting you? You can take a boat to Murano Island for an up-close glass making demonstration and discover the secrets of this ancient art, marveling at the intricate designs of each one-of-a-kind piece.
What about Phoenix Park in Dublin or traveling to Kilkenny to explore the medieval atmosphere of this city situated on the banks of River Nore? Did you know that in the Guinness Brewery, the staircase to the top is shaped like a massive pint glass? Crossing from England on the Irish Ferry alone is worth the trip as you approach Dublin in the distance, imagining famous writers like James Joyce returning from their travels and coming home.
Europe is a wondrous destination for solo travelers, couples of all ages and families. Make it new again. This time, try it as a family trip and watch with delight as your grandchildren experience it for the first time. There are infinite possibilities.
By Mark Damon Puckett