Italy is culturally rich with its wealth of Renaissance architecture, Roman history and priceless art. Scenically, you’ll enjoy stark Alpine peaks in the north, the Apennine Mountains, olive groves and vineyards of Italy’s heart, and the warm waters, volcanic islands and Mediterranean lifestyle of the south.Florence is known as the ‘Cradle of the Renaissance’, with its palaces and squares, magnificent cathedral and superb art collections in the Accademia and Uffizi galleries. In Rome you can trace the course of history through 2500 years from the grandeur of the Forum and Colosseum, to the grandiose Altar of the Nation. Venice is simply unique – a maze of narrow streets, canals and unexpected city squares, with unforgettable masterpieces in the Accademia and Scoula Grande di San Rocco.
Italy rivals France as a centre for fashion and design with names like Prada, Fendi, Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. Florence is the place for gold jewellery and beautiful leather goods. When in Rome, look for silk blouses, scarves and ties, fine knitwear and costume jewellery. In Venice, you’ll find Murano glass and porcelain carnival masks, while local embroidery can be very tempting.In Venice you’ll be served rice rather than pasta and a delicious range of fish dishes. Wines from the Veneto are among Italy’s finest. In Rome, sample the endless permutations of pastas and sauces. Frascati is wine from Rome’s Alban hills or try the smooth Italian brandy – Vecchia Romagna. Florence is in Chianti country and the cooking is based on simple natural ingredients, Try fritto misto – deep fried meats and vegetables. And if a bistecca Fiorentino (T-bone steak with lemon) is too big for one – share it like the locals do!
Spain is one of the most diverse and visually stunning nations of Europe. The misty evergreen hills of Asturias and Galicia could hardly be more different to the sun-baked plains of Castile. The vibrant, cosmopolitan cities contrast with sleepy villages, lost in time. In fact, spend a little time here and you’ll discover that Spain is more an amalgam of fiercely independent regions, each with their own culture, gastronomy, folklore and language. As the people from Bilbao or Barcelona will attest; they are Basque and Catalonian respectively, not Spanish
The small kingdom on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula blossomed in the 16th Century to become one of the world’s great seafaring nations. During the great Age of Discovery, Portugal was at the vanguard of world exploration, which brought vast wealth and riches. This is evidenced in the Manueline architecture – the palaces, monasteries and churches that were filled with gold from the new world. Nowadays, modern explorers will find colourful fishing villages and small, fortified towns, glorious sun-kissed beaches, sacred sites, heavily cultivated hills, neat terraced vineyards and vast flat plains.
Morocco has fascinated travellers for centuries. The labyrinths of the imperial cities of Meknes, Fes and Marrakesh contrast with the dramatic gorges and oases of the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains and the solitude of the Saharan desert that lies beyond.
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Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent. There is no consensus as to the precise area it refers to, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations.
There are “almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region”. A related United Nations paper adds that “every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct”. One definition describes Eastern Europe as a cultural (and econo-cultural) entity: the region lying in Europe with main characteristics consisting in Byzantine, Orthodox, and some Turco-Islamic influences. Another definition was created during the Cold War and used more or less synonymously with the term Eastern Bloc. A similar definition names the formerly communist European states outside the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe. Although some view such definitions as outdated or relegating, they are still heard in everyday speech and used for statistical purposes by various supranational organizations The Ural Mountains, Ural River, and the Caucasus Mountains are the geographical land border of the eastern edge of Europe. In the west, however, the cultural and religious boundaries of “Eastern Europe” are subject to considerable overlap and, most importantly, have undergone historical fluctuations, which make a precise definition of the western boundaries of Eastern Europe and the geographical midpoint of Europe somewhat difficult.
Central Europe (archaically “Middle Europe”) is a region lying between the variously defined areas of the Eastern and Western parts of the European continent. The term and widespread interest in the region itself came back after the end of the Cold War, which used to divide Europe politically into East and West, splitting Central Europe in half.The concept of Central Europe, and that of a common cultural identity, is somewhat elusive. However, scholars assert that a distinct “Central European culture, as controversial and debated the notion may be, exists”. It is based on “similarities emanating from historical, social and cultural characteristics”, and it is identified as having been “one of the world’s richest sources of creative talent” between the 17th and 20th centuries.
From the 2000s on, Central Europe has been going through a phase of “strategic awakening”, with initiatives like the CEI, Centrope or V4. While the region’s economy shows high disparities with regard to income, all Central European countries are listed by the Human Development Index as “very high development” countries.
Information from Wikipedia
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Norway: Norway has a long and exciting past involving a history of discovery and exploration, but it’s the variety of scenic beauty that remains Norway’s trump card. Get ready for a region of rare beauty, feted for its breath-taking fjords, spectacular waterfalls, forests, mountains and glaciers, formed during the last Ice Age. Its charming old wooden towns and old stave churches imbue a rustic charm. It’s a place of otherworldly experiences where the winter northern lights beguile the visitor while the sun refuses to set for the whole summer. Throw in the friendly inhabitants who share a lively cultural scene, and it’s easy to see why Norway has become one of Europe’s most popular destinations.
Sweden: From the untamed Arctic north to the great open skies of the lakelands, and the pastoral beauty, green fields and characteristic red cottages of southern Sweden – no other part of the world can show you so much scenic beauty and variety! The country has a long history of fearsome conquerors who travelled to all parts of the world… While the longboat-loving Vikings immediately spring to mind, it equally applies to IKEA, ABBA and Volvo cars! Today Sweden is one of the world’s most livable and lovable countries, known for its cosmopolitan cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo and beautiful, pristine landscapes, full of amazing lakes and vast lush forests which seem to never end.
Finland: Close your eyes and picture Finland. What do you see? A never-ending Nordic wilderness? Perhaps miles and miles of lush green forest or herds of reindeer in a winter wonderland? Do you vision trendy towns with arresting architecture, throbbing with cafes, bars and art, or is it the dreamlike Northern Lights you see? Actually, it’s all of the above, plus more. Throw in one of the most charming capital cities in Europe, a few million saunas, 188,000 shimmering lakes, 37 national parks, a Santa Claus and an untainted coastline, dotted with picturesque inlets and islands – you just might get the picture. Whichever way you see it, Finland is just fabulous.
Denmark: The word ‘Denmark’ is first recorded on the famous Jelling Stones, dating from the 10th century. This was the age of the Vikings, when fleets of ships attacked and plundered towns, churches and monasteries throughout Western Europe and sailed as far away as Constantinople. Today though, Denmark is very different from its historical past. Although only small in size, it’s handsomely endowed with wonderful rural landscapes and elegant cities. The Danes themselves also punch well above their weight when it comes to artistic culture, a commitment to conservation, and an open-minded and laid-back attitude to life. All this making Denmark the perfect place to visit.
Egypt: The Great Pyramids of Giza and ancient temples, tombs and treasures that line the vast River Nile have been attracting visitors to Egypt for over 4,000 years. Everyone from the ancient Greeks to Barack Obama have come to stand in awe beside the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World. Although the pyramids have come to symbolise this exotic destination, they’re just a small portion of what this timeless land has to offer.
Greece: Greece should be on every traveller’s wish list. Considered the birthplace of Western civilization, it has history at every turn – sun-bleached temples, statue-stuffed museums and time worn towns, where one day melts into the next. The miles of aquamarine coastline, endless skies and island studded seas, bathed in blistering light, are not only pleasing on the eye, but a magnet for anyone who appreciates the great outdoors. Then there’s the Greeks themselves, despite the recent ups and down, they remain warm hearted and hospitable, rich in culture, welcoming you to their festivals and feasts; rest assured, the one constant in Greece, is that you will go home well fed!
Israel: Israel is an ancient land where cities’ ages are measured in millennia rather than years. Occupying only a small strip along the Eastern Mediterranean, its huge historic footprint reads like a roll-call of world empires and major religions. The flipside to Jerusalem’s ancient holy sites are the golden beaches and skyscrapers of Tel Aviv. Church bells alternate with the chants of the muezzins in the mosques. The dizzy heights of the Masada Fortress cast sweeping views over the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The shifting sands of the Negev Desert engulf an impossibly green valley, cultivated with vines. These opposing elements all contribute to a social, political and cultural environment, pulsating with energy, creativity and beauty.
Jordan: A land rich in natural wonders and sites so ancient, that by comparison, the Crusader forts guarding the old trade routes are considered recent additions. Moses is said to have led his people through the parched Jordanian deserts. Alexander the Great paved the way for Hellenistic cities and culture, while the Natabeans carved grandiose buildings, temples and tombs out of the red Petra sandstone. Later still, Jordan became an important trading centre of the Roman Empire and lavish backdrop for some of history’s most enthralling tales. Remarkably, the landscape has changed little in the last 2,000 years.
Turkey: Turkey has always been a country in demand. Over the course of several thousand years, it has seen the rise of powerful civilizations and been a historic focal point. The Hittites were followed by the Greeks and Romans. Many of their ancient cities still boast magnificent ruins. Istanbul holds the honour of having been the capital of two huge empires – first the Byzantine then the Ottoman. Anatolia itself became a crossroads of peoples, cultures and religions. Set against a scenic backdrop of unrivaled natural beauty and still surprisingly affordable by Western standards, it’s easy to see why Turkey is centre stage once more.