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Romantic Getaways in Europe

Posted by Amy Clyde on 2/3/2016
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Christmas Markets, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Europe, Food, River Cruise, Small Ship Cruising, Spain, Tauck, Travel, Vienna

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Some couples really know how to live. Take my mother and stepfather. After they got married, in a garden in California, they went on a yearlong honeymoon in Europe. That’s right. An entire year. They sojourned at a 19th-century spa in Hungary, looked at art in France, investigated the pubs of Dublin, explored Loch Lomond in Scotland… and settled down for a bit in a cottage in the historic village of Rye, in England, to write. (A law professor, he was working on an antitrust law textbook, while she tackled her Ph.D. thesis and a mystery novel.)

“It was idyllic,” says my mother. “There’s nothing like being in love in Europe.”

No other continent has the unique blend of history, architectural splendor, natural beauty, and local charm that makes Europe so intoxicating – and such a special place for couples. Not to mention the food and wine! Here are some of the most romantic spots to add to your must-go list for your next European tour.

Capri and the Amalfi Coast, Italy
capri_amalfi
The isle of Capri has been casting a spell on visitors since ancient days; here the seductive mythical Sirens sang their beguiling song, nearly wrecking Odysseus and his crew on the island’s rugged cliffs in Homer’s Odyssey. To prevent enchantment, Odysseus had his sailors plug their ears and strap him to the mast. He forbade the sailors to untie him no matter how much he begged. Fortunately, you and your sweetheart need take no such precautions. Yes, Capri is magical, and it will be hard to leave, but the island’s spell is well worth it.

blue_grottoSurrounded by sea views that stop you in your tracks, Capri’s rocky coastline hides caves and secret grottos, including the famously serene Blue Grotto with its glowing silvery blue water and mysterious atmosphere. In the chic cobblestoned town of Capri, you can have a pair of sandals hand made on the exclusive Via Camerelle… then take an exhilarating ride in a convertible to the town of Anacapri, where the views, if possible, are even more stunning… and dive right off the island cliffs into the bluest of blue water. (Or, like me, descend by ladders secured to the rock.)

On the mainland, indulge your eyes and lift your spirit with more dramatic Mediterranean scenery along the lemon-scented Amalfi Coast road, pausing in the village of Positano, vertically tucked into the cliffs. "Positano bites deep," wrote John Steinbeck. "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone." Walk hand-in-hand along the Sentiero degli Innamorati (Path of Lovers) from Spiaggia Grande to the beach of Fornillo. And stop in a café for a limoncello, served local-style in a chilled ceramic cup.

If you can tear yourself away from the seaside, travel up to the tiny medieval town of Ravello, a cultural hotspot perched high above the Bay of Maiori, where the stately villas, cliff-edge gardens, music festivals, and blissful views have attracted some of the world's greatest artists, writers, and musicians for centuries. As you stroll through the formal gardens of the Villa Rufolo, an architectural masterpiece, you’ll soon see why.

The Lake District, England
lakedistrictThis is the green English countryside you’ve always imagined – with sixteen major lakes, England’s highest mountains, and ancient family farms dotted with whitewashed farmhouses, all set within a mere thirty-mile area. This gorgeous corner of Northern England is the perfect place for long walks on the “fells,” as the gentle mountains are called… messing about in boats… exploring picturesque villages filled with artisan wares and craft breweries… and cozying up in fantastic pubs at the end of the day.

Take a cruise on Lake Windermere; explore the jaw-dropping topiary garden at Levens Hall; visit Beatrix Potter’s house (where you might recognize Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s kitchen and Mr. McGregor’s garden); or step into Wordsworth’s cottage, where he penned the Romantic poetry that made the beauty of the Lake District known the world over. However you decide to work up an appetite, be sure to try the local specialties, prepared in this foodie haven with a deft hand – Herdwick lamb; Cumberland sausage; rum butter; and anything (and everything) made with damsons, the succulent local plum.

Cambridge, England
riverpuntingA university town is always fun, and Cambridge is among the best, especially because one of the most romantic things in the world to do is punting on the River Cam, meandering through the heart of the town. (Punts are to Cambridge what gondolas are to Venice.) It’s just delightful to drift lazily along, gazing at the “Backs” of the university’s magnificent colleges with their show-stopping gardens and parks.

But make sure to summon the energy for a bracing walk up the tower of Great St. Mary’s Church, to see the panoramic views of the colleges and town – well worth the trek. If you’re up for more adventure, you can head for the thrills of Newmarket, a mecca of English horse racing, “the sport of kings,” since 1174. Or if you prefer adventure of the vicarious kind, check out the Polar Museum, part of the university’s Department of Geography, and learn all about the great polar explorers. Afterward you might treat your taste buds at one of Cambridge’s critically acclaimed restaurants or watering holes – and see what’s on at the well-regarded ADC Theatre, which launched the careers of Cambridge alums Sir Ian McKellen, Rachel Weisz, Emma Thompson, and the gentlemen of Monty Python.

The Aegean Islands
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The sun-kissed Greek Islands have long been a popular “destination wedding” location – for good reason; no backdrop is more timeless and romantic. On dramatic Santorini, candy-hued and whitewashed houses, punctuated by bougainvillea and blue-domed churches, spill down the rim of an ancient volcanic crater… sunsets, famous in the village of Oia, paint the sea and sky with a rosy glow… and glistening sapphire waters lap against black, red and white sand beaches. Cosmopolitan Mykonos, where windmills turn under a turquoise sky, offers the chora, a lovely old town for wandering along traffic-free labyrinthine streets, among whitewashed buildings with colourful doors, window shutters, and balconies; beautiful churches; and stylish shops. (Hint: the jewelers are very talented here!) And then there’s laid-back Rhodes, with its medieval old town, one of the largest and best-preserved in Europe, and its ancient ruins, where Helios, the Greek sun god, reigns 300 days a year.

The Christmas Markets along the Rivers Rhine and Danube
The winter holidays are an exciting time – and nowhere are they more magical than in the brightly lit historic cities and fairy tale towns along the Rhine and Danube, all decked out in festive style. Discovering the late November-December markets as a couple is a lot of fun; you’ll feel like kids again as you explore the decorated booths brimming with cinnamon-scented treats… sizzling sausages… hot mulled wine and punch… and artisan wares, like glass-blown ornaments, handmade woolens, jewelry, leather goods, pottery, and much more. You’ll hear live Christmas carols in town squares, perhaps take a horse-drawn carriage ride, and definitely marvel at the glittering pageantry of it all.
xmas_markets_rhine
The most romantic way to get to the holiday markets is to cruise along the river from one town to the next aboard an elegant riverboat. On the Rhine, highlights include the charming Alsatian towns of Riquewihr, known for its wines, and Colmar, laced with canals lined with half-timbered buildings. Here you can visit the Unterlinden art museum, housed in a 13th-century former convent, where you’ll find the celebrated Isenheim Altarpiece; the museum’s recent innovative renovation and expansion, with a wing for displaying artists like Picasso and Monet, has also turned Colmar into a leading center in France for art and architecture.

If you sail along the River Danube, you can experience Vienna in all its Imperial splendor dressed up for the holidays; be sure to visit the Belvedere Museum with your special someone to see Klimt’s famous painting The Kiss. And in other towns along the way taste liqueur made by the monks of magnificent Melk Abbey, exquisite Mozart chocolate found only in Salzburg, and the best gingerbread ever in Passau…

San Sebastián, Spain
spain_snIn 2016, the sophisticated Basque beachside city of San Sebastián celebrates its yearlong reign as a European Capital of Culture, with the theme “waves of energy,” so it’s the perfect time to come visit and wander hand-in-hand looking at the new large-scale public artworks and enjoy the many cultural events and artisan markets. Spend languorous days on the golden beaches, or try your hand at some world-class surfing and the other waterfront activities so popular here. One of Spain’s culinary capitals, San Sebastián specializes in pintxos, irresistible Basque tapas, which you’ll find in the taverns tucked into the maze of medieval streets in Old Town. The architecture here is marvellous too; be sure to duck into the 18th-century Basilica of Santa Maria, and visit Plaza de la Constitución, an old bullring converted into an ideal place to relax and absorb the city’s fun vibe.

Europe is filled with romantic places, so it feels odd to end the list here when I could really go on and on. For more ideas, have a look at all the Tauck travel experiences in Europe at tauck.com and check out our detailed day-by-day itineraries. Whether you’re dreaming of cooking and admiring art together in lavender-scented Provence…  or exploring the glaciers and awe-inspiring landscapes of Norway’s fjord lands… or discovering Ireland’s emerald Wild Atlantic Way, complete with nights in a castle, we’ve got a romantic European trip for you.
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