Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in the world. ‘Ciao, we’re Italy and we have so many world heritage sites we can’t even remember some of them’.
There’s an active volcano included on the list, several entire cities (not even mentioning the Holy See), towers, villas, villages, coastlines. And all that would be just fine if the Italians weren’t responsible for several other country’s Heritage Sites as well – you Romans, you know who you are!
Two options: you either get all resentful and knock the entire gorgeous country off your ‘must see’ list: or you take it on the chin, be thankful for their comprehensible Latin based languages and sanitation systems and go visit.
I’m taking the latter option I think. So here are some UNESCO World Heritage Sites you will know and some you might be a bit surprised by.
Italy rules, and the rest of us just need to suck it up obviously!
Is an active volcano. I don’t know about you but the combination of being in Sicily and being the tallest mountain in Italy and an active volcano is oddly compelling. When I say active I don’t mean this is the adventure holiday of a lifetime and you might very well find yourself running from rivers of molten lava – it rumbles a bit, mostly. But all that activity gives the soil round and about tremendous fertility so foodies are bound to want a piece of this action because the local produce is splendid and the cooking style is amazing – plus you get to look at an ‘active’ volcano and come away a few kilos heavier but relatively unscathed.
THE MEDICI VILLAS, TUSCANY
To be honest, between the 15th and 17th century, the Medici were as gadabout as the Romans when it came to proprietorial: ‘oh, is that art and grandeur and splendour and beauty, we’ll have it’. What is slightly silencing is their attention to land and cultivation. So for every magnificent artwork and dishonest dealing they ploughed a furrow (or had someone do it for them). As a result The Medici Villas in Tuscany are grand and extravagant but they’re also a fascinating insight into a less ephemeral legacy that this strangely appealing dynasty sought to create.
THE HOLY SEE, ROME
credit: Benson Kua
If you aren’t impressed by St. Peter’s and the mighty art collection and libraries you could only dream about, you’ve got to love the Swiss Guards. They have to be Swiss, Catholic, unmarried and trained in tactics – who actually came up with those rules? This is where the Pope lives and (not to be confused with The Vatican City) has been the centre of Christianity for centuries. Whatever your faith or otherwise it’s unbelievable to see so much pomp and wealth in such a small space. Also it has Rome just outside if you like pizza.
‘See Naples and die’, bit extreme? But its historic centre is one of the largest in the world and its links to the Borgias (by marriage and intrigue) seafaring importance and fiercely independent nature make this cusp of Italy and Sicily city fascinating.
Close to Naples, and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the world, Pompeii is indescribably moving. When Vesuvius erupted in 79AD it literally petrified an entire city, I don’t know anyone who has been to Pompeii who hasn’t come away changed. You can look at the streets and houses and see it as an archaeological site, or you can witness the tiny elements of humanity that were so swiftly devastated. However, you view Pompeii it will live with you forever.
THE AMALFI COAST
credit: Dr. Jaus
The beautiful Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is one of those places people imagine they can keep to themselves. Just to say, ‘Duc d’Amalfi’. Historically it’s wildly interesting (in a way that Italy seems to have corralled, how come the rest of the world is so dull, maybe it’s to do with poisoning – answers please). But back to the Amalfi Coast, it also has an amazing climate and if you visit in Spring or Autumn you miss the crowds and you can have the beaches and crags and cliffs (almost) to yourself.
BOTANICAL GARDENS, PADUA
Historically and scientifically the Botanical Gardens in Padua are the most significant in the world. There’s even a wall to stop plants being stolen – back in the 16th century, plant theft isn’t such a thing nowadays. These gardens are the origin of almost all our contemporary medicine and a rare insight into what it must have been like to pioneer in this field in Medieval Europe.
HADRIAN’S VILLA, TIVOLI
One of the most perfect and imperfect UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy, Hadrian’s Villa is even now a ‘work in progress’. A retreat for the Emperor Hadrian, a place of conspiracy and politicising and – as you’ll discover – much more. On-going excavations are still uncovering underground tunnels and passages. The fact that there was a postal service from Rome (about 20km away) to Tivoli and a court, obviously mattered a little when it came to doing Roman Empire business back in the day.
PIAZZA DEI MIRACOLI, TUSCANY
So you thought you should visit Tuscany because you knew a bit about the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’, well see you and raise you. It’s just one of the edifices that make up the ‘Field of Miracles’ and astonish millions of visitors every year. Oddly it’s the Medieval Cathedral that dominates this hugely sacred site and the famous ‘leaning’ tower is a mere adjunct. But if you want to send silly snapchats, this is the place to do it.
Okay, I had a few words and millennium of history to deal with. I did my best and really what can I say? Italy has 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you honestly just have to go and see some for yourself.
English speaking visitors to France, cherchez-ing a perfectly grilled steak haché or a nicely browned frite, could do worse than head for French restaurant chain Courtepaille. If your grasp of the language is limited to an embarrassed ‘merci’, it’s probably Bon Appetit all round and none the wiser. But for those with a slightly wider vocabulary, confusion reigns. Because Courtepaille directly translates as ‘Short Straw’, not the first name choice for a successful restaurant you’d think, right? Wrong. In France, if you draw the short straw you’re the lucky winner.
Black cats are another source of confusion when it comes to good luck/bad luck. Apparently The Pilgrim Fathers (who really should have had more to worry them) believed black cats were agents of Satan. But, for centuries, canny Scots have thought the melanin rich felines brought prosperity. Gamblers fear black cats and pirates love them – handy to know if you’re in Vegas or sailing the high seas.
Some superstitions are widely held: smash the bottom of an empty boiled egg shell so a witch can’t make a boat out of it: bird droppings are good luck: a single magpie is a bad omen: don’t put new shoes on a table: spilled salt isn’t good (counteract with a pinch over your left shoulder and into the devil’s eye): and a tall, dark stranger as your first visitor of the New Year heralds excellent fortune (yes, we used the word ‘herald’).
But we think it’s probably fair to say that the best superstitions/omens/etc are based on indigenous lore and legend. They’re certainly some of the strangest (only in Iceland would they give citizens’ rights to elves), most eccentric and, occasionally, plain creepy – Mexico you know who you are! So before we douse ourselves in bird droppings and catch us a couple of magpies in preparation for another Friday the 13th, here’s our good guide to some superstitions of the world – wise travellers, heed our words!
credit: Sergio Rozas
Friday 13th in Spain is just a day like any other. Because, although the Spanish are uncommonly superstitious, it’s Tuesday 13th that’s the unluckiest day in their calendar. And we’re not just talking, watch out for ladders and spilled salt: Tuesday 13th in Spain is a day of mortal dread. As they say – Martes 13, ni te cases, ni te embarques (Tuesday 13th, don’t get married or set sail).
Visiting Russia and tempted to make Blinis? Before you start slathering on the sour cream and caviare, beware. Don’t ever eat the first pancake out of the pan, it belongs to a witch and if she doesn’t get it she’ll get you. Most seasoned pancake makers don’t care, the first pancake’s never that great anyway.
It’s probably not surprising that the birthplace of the magnificent Brothers Grimm should have a healthy stock of very unhealthy superstitions – mostly about death and dying. Our particular gory favourite is the belief that the wounds of a murdered corpse will start to bleed afresh if the body is touched again by the murderer.
credit: Janek Kloss
Forget the poetry, stout and fantastic oysters, if you visit Ireland it’s the fairies you have to watch out for. This may not be of interest to the average traveller, but if you’re renting a holiday house you might want to make sure it wasn’t built on a Fairy Path. According to Irish legend, fairies travel all over the country and if you build a house on one of their routes you’ll never know peace as long as you live. To make sure you don’t fall foul of a fairy: choose your site, stick a post in each of the four corners and if they’re still there in the morning it’s a fairy-free-zone.
The highly intelligent Magpie recognises its mirror image, hence its liking for shiny stuff and glass reflections. But if you’re Scottish you don’t believe any of that old scientific nonsense: a single Magpie on your window sill means death is coming to your home.
Want to ward off evil in Italy? Well, if you’re an Italian man, just grab the front of your trousers (think Michael Jackson Thriller). Yes, that gesture which has most of womankind rolling their eyes in disgust, is actually designed to ensure the bad thing you’re talking about doesn’t happen to you.
If you’re wandering around Yorkshire and you chance to come upon a hairy caterpillar, pick it up and hurl it over your shoulder for good luck – it’s one of those ‘not such good luck for the hairy caterpillar’ things, we know!
credit: K. G. Hawes
Lighting a votive candle in a Catholic church is something almost everyone does, whatever their beliefs. But in France, never light a candle from another candle because only the prayer of the original will be answered.
Wear a turquoise bead when you’re visiting Greece to ward off the evil eye. But watch it closely, if the colour starts to fade, danger is coming your way.
Come any Friday in Brazil (13th or otherwise) wear white clothes and you’ll have good luck. And, to make sure you always have plenty of cash, get yourself an elephant statue for the house and place it with its back to the door – Brazilian Feng Shui.
Finnish folk love a sauna and with every sauna comes a ‘Tonttu’. The Tonttu is a Sauna Elf, and if you forget to throw water on the stove for the Tonttu, he’ll curse your next sauna visit.
When visitors come knocking at the door in Holland the superstitious Dutch rush to answer because it’s said that if the door blows open on its own you’ve invited the Devil into your home.
Famous foragers that they are, no outdoorsy Swede with any sense ever picks heather and brings it home as ancient lore dictates they won’t live to tell the tale.
And finally, for this Friday and any other Friday – watch out for flying swans: if you see them overhead in the morning it’s good luck, but in the evening they’re a very bad sign.
credit: Ben Brewer
While beach breaks have their place, lake holidays can offer pretty much the same idyllic experience, without the sand in your sandwiches and the moisture sucking of saltwater in your hair. And yet, our default setting for a late summer’s holiday is to the coast. Well, let us tempt you away from the shores of Europe and on a journey inland to one of these dreamy lakeside holiday destinations.
Lake Orta, Italy
Arguably the Godfather of lakes in Europe, Italy’s lakes have something for everyone depending on budget and celebrity spotting requirements. While dangerously close to the throngs of tourists that descend upon Garda, Maggiore and Como, Lago d’Orta is still staying under the radar for the most part and it certainly boasts all the scenic and culinary delights of its bigger brothers. Just an hour’s drive from Milan, it’s too convenient a weekend break to ignore.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Croatia joined the EU and the Euro this year and thus long-term fans of this rich, diverse and beautiful country began to twitch about the price of their Croatian beer going up. However, thanks to National Park rules, the stunning Plitvice Lakes will remain carefully protected from a stampede of tourists, eager to glance upon its aqua waters and impressive series of waterfalls; a truly unique sight.
Loch Awe, Scotland
credit: Dmitry Shakin
Before we get lost in continental Europe – a dangerously easy thing to do – let’s pop over to the British Isles to see what they have on offer. Loch Awe in Scotland is certainly competition for most on this list, with rolling hills in the background and crystal clear waters alongside which stand a collection of centuries-old castles and ruins.
Lake of Sainte-Croix, France
Man-made it may be, thanks to a purpose built dam back in the 1970s, but Sainte Croix makes up for its lack of natural origins with ridiculously pleasing views and bright blue waters in which you can swim, kayak and pedalo. While other French lakes like Annecy are forced to cope with high numbers of visitors all year round, you’ll find Sainte-Croix an almost secret sanctuary in September.
Lake Hévíz, Hungary
If you’re not convinced that European lake waters are warm enough to swim in, then Lake Hévíz is the lake for you. This is the largest thermal lake in Europe and is considered a “geological curiosity”, thanks to its waters which stay warm at 38.5 degrees celsius all year round. While still relatively small in size at just 12 acres, Lake Hévíz is only a short distance from the much bigger, slightly cooler but equally beautiful Lake Balaton.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Slovenia is home to many of Europe’s hidden gems and Lake Bled has to be one of them, though it’s true that the secret of its beauty has long been out. With a fairytale-like church peaking through the trees on Bled Island, surrounded by the lake’s topaz blue water, you shouldn’t be put off visiting Lake Bled at any time of the year as it looks almost magical under a layer of winter snow. As it’s just twenty-two miles from Ljubljana airport, there’s very little stopping you from visiting Lake Bled and soon.
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia & Albania
credit: Hannes E.
Considered to be one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes and an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Lake Ohrid has long been one of the go-to locations for lazy lakeside holidays for residents of Macedonia and Albania, the two countries it touches. While visitors now come from across the Balkans and further afield, there is still charm, beauty and most importantly peace and quiet to be found along the banks of these turquoise waters. Furthermore, on the Macedonian side you’re only a few miles away from Lake Prespa, which is rumoured to have its own lake monster… and it’s not the Loch Ness Monster on her summer holidays.
Lake Constance, Switzerland, Austria & Germany
credit: Genji A
It seems a little harsh to compile a list of the best lakes in Europe without a nod to Switzerland and Austria, two landlocked nations who make great strides to maximise the stunning potential of their freshwater lakes. Lake Constance happens to stretch across both country’s borders as well as into southern Germany. With the Alps watching over from most sides, it’s hard to sit on the banks of Lake Constance and not be impressed by the view.
Lake Saimaa, Finland
credit: Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho
The largest lake in Finland, Lake Saimaa is considered somewhat of a national treasure and when you see photos of perfectly still waters promising endless calm it’s easy to see why. Scattered with islands, the whole region offers all types of outdoor activities and there’s even a chance of seeing the sadly endangered Saimaa ringed seal.
But more importantly, what do you think? Have you ever found yourself floating in a different body of European water, thinking to yourself, “this has got to be the best lake in Europe and I won’t hear anyone say otherwise.” Please tell us which European lakes you think we’ve missed.
Featured image by grand Yann.
If, like us, you’re rather partial to an amazing view – maybe you should visit a town built on the side of a cliff for your next break. From Italy to Corsica, Mexico to Yemen, all around the world you can find quaint, idyllic villages and towns with the most exciting views, enough to leave your jaw dropped more than an MDC ballot at a Zimbabwean election.
Here are a few of our favourite cliff-side retreats. We wish you a weekend with at least two medium-sized adventures, and no pitfalls to speak of.
Bonifacio, in the south of Corsica
Acapulco, along Mexico’s Pacific coast
Ronda, in the Spanish province of Málaga
Positano, on the Amalfi Coast in Italy
Santorini, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea
Cinque Terre, five villages clumped along the Italian Riviera
Cuenca, a city in central Spain
In this week’s photo Friday, we take a look at some of HouseTrip’s quaint cottages around the world. If you’re looking to enjoy some time away from ‘it all’ with the family, there isn’t a lot that can beat a rural retreat in your own home in the country.
Please enjoy this collection of beautiful cottages, they may even inspire you when looking for a place to stay.
Image by Graham And Jenny.
Image by palmcottage.
Image by Charles.
Image by Nigel and Wendy.
Image by Paul Byrne.
Image by Countryview.
Image by Anna MB.
Image by Elaine.
Image by Ephesus Rentals.
Image (and caption) by galiciavac.