Italy

Few countries can compete with Italy’s sheer wealth of art and architecture, not to mention cuisine, music, literature, fashion, and contemporary design. Not surprisingly, Italy has long attracted travelers in search of culture, romance, and inspiration. Whether it is the museums, galleries, and ancient sites or the food and wine, beaches, and shopping, Italy has something for everyone.


Italy's identity is reflected in its regional diversity. From the mountainous northern Dolomites to the awe-inspiring Amalfi coast and the rugged Sicilian shores, one finds a range of dialects, cuisines, and architectural traditions. Even within regions, one will experience marked contrasts. For example, the way the Gothic palaces of Venice give way to the geranium-hung balconies and timber houses of the nearby Italian Alps, or how the renaissance splendors of Florence are left behind for Tuscany's medieval hilltop towns.


Northern and Southern Italy also have distinct identities; the industrial north is the powerhouse of economy, whereas the south is largely agricultural. However the entire country loves to celebrate. Whether marking the beginning of spring with the Calendimaggio festival in Assisi, or gambling on the outcome of the Palio, the bareback horse race held in Siena's main square, Italians rejoice in their traditions and celebrations.





 

   France

France is the third-largest country in Europe, but is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world— and for good reason. Officially divided into 96 départements, France is characterized by the strength and diversity of its regional identities. These differences are a reflection of the topography, which varies from beaches on the palm-fringed Mediterranean and lush farmland in the Loire Valley and Normandy, to the high Alpine glaciers and chic Parisian boulevards. The countryside is an ever-changing patchwork of landscapes and traditions and this diversity makes exploring France a delight.

 

Brittany is characterized by fishermen's cottages, timber-framed houses, and its subtle British influences, while Burgundy is famous for its magnificent Romanesque cathedrals. The fairy-tale like chateaux of the Loire Valley contrast with the simple, red-tiled houses in the hilltop villages of Provence.

 

Every region has its own food specialties, such as the foie gras of Gascony, the bouillabaisse (fish stew) of Marseilles, the crepes and galettes of Brittany, and the rich dairy products from Normandy. Lyon is considered to be the gastronomic capital of France where one must dine at a traditional restaurant, called a bouchon, and try a salade lyonnaise or the saucisson de Lyon. Regions such as Burgundy, Champagne, and Bordeaux each have their own distinctive style of wine, and almost every region has at least one namesake cheese. France is a culinary treasure and there is something new and different to try in each city, town and village.

 

Lifestyles vary from the fashion-conscious, fast-paced life of Paris and Lyon to the rural culture of remote mountain villages in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees. France may be wedded to its heritage, but it is an equally forward-looking nation and the progenitor of everything avant-garde. From the Eiffel Tower, the Pompidou Centre and the Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris to the galleries of works by Picasso, Cézanne, and Matisse in the south of France, there is an enthusiasm for modernity that happily coexists with a reverence for tradition.





 

   England

More than just London, England has much to offer its visitors. Its varied landscapes range from the rugged coastlines and sandy beaches of Devon and Cornwall and the mountains of the Peak Districts to the picturesque Lakes District and the centuries old charming villages. England’s rich culture encompasses everything from its intriguing stone circles and Arthurian legends and Shakespeare to the vestiges of the fames (and fading) aristocracy and the boastful independence of an island nation. From the historical London, Stratford, Gloucester and York to the more contemporary Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester, England’s cities are lively cultural centers where the past and the future continue on side-by-side. Equally enjoyable is the countryside, where one can enjoy a true pint of ale at a pub, explore a village market, or take a walk through the rolling countryside. No matter where one chooses to explore, England is a country that has something to discover and experience in every corner.





 

   Austria

While the modern republic of Austria is relatively small, its magnificent landscape and rich cultural heritage, culminating in the city of Vienna, has ensured the country to maintain an important position within the cultural framework of Europe. Austria is the remains of a great empire. The Habsburgs, whose name was once almost synonymous with Austria, rose from medieval obscurity to become lords of nearly half of Europe. Their state—and with it the Austro-Hungarian Empire—collapsed in 1918 in the wake of World War I, but every town, city, and hamlet in the land bears the stamp of their former imperial grandeur in the form of flamboyant palaces, splendidly appointed baroque churches, genteel spas, and meticulously manicured country parks. While Vienna remains the principal focus of interest, smaller cities such as Innsbruck, Graz and Salzburg also feature fine museums and fascinating architecture. Modern Austria is a federation of nine individual provinces: Lower and Upper Austria, Burgenland, Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, and the city of Vienna. Three-quarters of the land is Alpine, and skiing and mountaineering are not only major tourist attractions, but are also an integral part of the country’s culture. However, Austria’s landscape is a varied one, and vineyards, castles and lakeside villages are also touring highlights. An eclectic mix of Hungarian, Italian and German influences, Austria is a complex society, sophisticated and urbane, yet respectful of rural culture and traditions.





 

   Germany

Firmly set in the heart of the continent, Western Europe's most populous country encompasses an extraordinary diversity of cultures and traditions. From the great and modern capital of Berlin to Munich and traditional Bavaria, there is something for everyone’s tastes. Great modern provincial cities dominate their regions, while immaculate medieval villages and small towns guard their heritage with fierce pride. Industrial giants spread their shiny high-tech plants across the landscape, and the products of a successful consumer society fill the shop windows of every town, however small. Few places are far from the autobahn, the web of motorways which epitomizes the country's prosperity and modernity. Forests cover almost a third of the country, their carefully signpost footpaths a welcome retreat for city dwellers. The manicured farmlands have been made as productive as possible, though nature reserves are protected and carefully managed or even recreated. To the south, the northern flank of the Alps makes a wonderful natural frontier. In the center of the country, the valleys of great rivers like the Rhine, Main, Danube, and Elbe separate wooded upland massifs, which give way to the Northern European Plain, whose landscapes and coastlines resemble those of the neighboring countries of the Netherlands, Denmark, and the Baltic lands.





 

The Czech Republic lies at the very heart of Europe and consists of two main regions: Bohemia, centered on Prague, and Moravia-Silesia, centered on Brno and the great industrial conurbation around Ostrava. Visitors have always come to Prague for its extraordinary heritage of historic architecture, and since the revolution of 1989, which ended Communist rule, their numbers have increased dramatically. Discriminating tourists have also begun to discover the delights of the rest of the country, where there is an abundance of medieval towns and chateaux. In the 17th and 18th centuries the region was one of the great centers of baroque architecture, and in the late 19th and early 20th century it led the world in Art Nouveau and early Modernism.

 

Another reason to visit the Czech Republic is its musical culture. From traditional Chamber Music to Jazz, there is something to please all types of music lovers. Simply walking over the famed Charles Bridge, you may very well be treated to an impromptu performance. If you prefer a more traditional setting, there are small recitals and concerts going on regularly. And Jazz lovers should not miss the annual festival in Prague. Over the years, the Czech Republic has become a favorite destination—and for good reason!





 

   Hungary

Most visitors to this landlocked country in central Europe head for the metropolitan delights of Budapest or the shores of Lake Balaton, known as the “Hungarian ocean”. But Hungary has much more to offer: to the east of Budapest and the River Danube stretch the steppe-like expanses of the Great Plain, where ancient Hungarian traditions are still in evidence. In contrast, the Buda Hills are wonderfully forested uplands that reach into the very suburbs of the capital, and are traversed by the great gorge of the Danube bend. Further north, along the border with Slovakia, they form the highest land in the country.

 

Successive invasions—by Mongols in the 13th century, then later by Turkish forces, Habsburg king-emperors, and Soviet tanks—have brought unwanted changes and many Hungarian towns had to be rebuilt more than once and little of their medieval past remains. However, the glories of baroque architecture are still in evidence and there is also an effusion of buildings in Hungarian art nouveau style. This traditionally hospitable and welcoming country is now looking forward to closer ties with Western Europe.





 

   Poland

After years of communist rule, Poland boasts a growing economy and a democratically controlled government with a nationally ratified constitution. The more popular and well-known cities and destinations include: Krakow, located along the shores of the Vistula River; the capital city of Warsaw, known for the Jewish Ghetto; the coastal city of Gdansk with its Hanseatic-era architecture; Częstochowa and its famous Black Madonna; Auschwitz and its poignant Holocaust Museum; and the picturesque Tatra Mountains, where one can enjoy nature or relax at a spa. The Polish mountains are an ideal venue for hiking, skiing and mountain biking and attract millions of tourists every year from all over the world. Baltic beaches and resorts are popular locations for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and a broad-range of other water-themed sports.





 

   Spain

Spain is a veritable cache of unforgettable vistas. Separating Spain from France, the majestic snow-capped Pyrenees, offer plenty of opportunities for skiing. In the north, the winding rivers and forests of Galicia offer a contrast to what people normally think of Spain. Contrasting greatly with Moorish-influenced south, Galicia’s roots are of Celtic origin. Regardless of where you are, there are myriad reminders of Spain’s diverse past, from the Alhambra in Granada to Don Quixote’s windmills in La Mancha.

 

In Spain, the old goes side-by-side with the new. From Madrid to Barcelona and Salamanca to Toledo, museums and churches flow into bustling neighborhoods with bars and discos. Also ever-present is Spain’s love for the nightlife. Dinner rarely takes place before 9 or 10PM and it is common to sip Sangria from bar to bar, tasting tapas along the way. During the day, be sure to enjoy Spain’s diverse cultural heritage, from painting and literature to architectural wonders, some of which date back to the Moorish occupation in the south and others as recent as Gaudi’s masterpieces around Barcelona. No matter which region of the country you visit, you are bound to enjoy something new, exciting, and memorable.





 

   Benelux

Benelux is an economic union comprising three neighbouring monarchies, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The name is formed from the beginning of each country's name. It is a precursor of the European Union.

 

Belgium's landscape is varied, the rivers and gorges of the Ardennes contrasting sharply with the rolling plains which make up much of the countryside. Notable features are the great forest of Ardennes near the frontier with Germany and Luxembourg and the wide, sandy beaches of the northern coast, which run for over 60km (37 miles). The countryside is rich in historic cities, castles and churches.

 

The Netherlands shares borders to the south with Belgium and to the east with Germany, while the North Sea lies to the north and west. Large areas of The Netherlands have been reclaimed from the sea and consequently one-fifth of the country lies below sea level. The country is flat and level and is criss-crossed by rivers and canals. Areas reclaimed from the sea, known as polders, are extremely fertile. The landscape is broken by the forest of Arnhem, the bulb fields in the west, the lakes of the central and northern areas, and coastal dunes that are among the most impressive in Europe.





 

 
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