Monday, October 12, 2015



For singers, their song would be “Amazing grace…how sweet the sound”.  

For travelers, their song would be “Amazing place…how sweet the town”.  

Since I am an inveterate travel, I will sing you my song. So here I go…with my amazing places…some of the sweetest towns in Europe.

MONACO, MONTE CARLO: After Vatican City, this tiny fairy-tale principality bounded by the French Riviera to the west and the Italian Riviera to the east, is the second smallest country in the world.

Atop  “The Rock” is the Pink Palace, home of His Serene Highness, Prince Albert II, The Sovereign Prince of Monaco, and the precariously perched Oceanographic Museum that had been endowed by the Royal family and assisted by the late Jacques Cousteau. 

Also atop “The Rock” in Monaco-Ville (the old city) is the nineteenth century, neo-Romanesque, white stone Cathedral in which lie the remains of H.R.H.Princess Grace and her husband Prince Ranier III.  This is the same cathedral in which Prince Ranier married his Hollywood film star Grace Kelly on April 19, 1956. 

Descending from  “The Rock” that towers 200-feet above the sea, one is overwhelmed by the beauty of the fountains and the gardens in front of the ornate crystal-chandeliered CASINO OF MONTE CARLO and the Belle Epoque Hotel de Paris.


Hotel de Paris offers a unique dining experience at Le Louis XV.  Le Louis XV, in Monte Carlo's Hotel de Paris, is like no other restaurant in the world.  This temple of haute cuisine (where table cloths are ironed on the table prior to its setting, where cutlery is polished by white-gloved assistants, where silver-filigree Christofle hedge sparrows peck at imaginary crumbs, and where the monthly flower bill averages in five figures) definitely belongs at the top of your "Bucket list”. 


VENICE, ITALY: The picture-postcard city of Venice, floating on an equally photogenic canal, has been dubbed La Serenissima, (The Most Serene).  She has been called the faded beauty in the family of Italian cities…“her blondness now from a bottle and her perfume slightly stale”.  Napoleon called Venice’s Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) the largest drawing room in Europe.


No matter what you call her, Venice is a city in which you will want to get lost.  Finding your way back, amid the maze of streets and  “highways” paved in water, is part of the Venetian experience. Whether you choose to walk your legs off, hire a private water taxi, ride the public water bus known as the vaporetto, or glide along in a private (but pricey) gondola, you will find something amazing in every nook and cranny of Venice.

A short vaporetto ride from the Piazza San Marco to Giudecca island is jam-packed with views of the Gothic splendor of the Doge’s Palace, the angel-topped Campanile, the Byzantine domes of St. Mark's Basilica and the nearby baroque masterpiece churches of Santa Maria Della Salute, San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore.  The Jewel on Giudecca’s crown is the fabulous Cipriani Hotel.


Of course, when you cross back over the canal, you must pay a visit to Harry’s Bar. It has been said that, in the legendary city of Venice, more tourists ask directions to Harry's Bar than to the Piazza San Marco

The one and only original Harry's Bar is not your ordinary watering hole. It is a fashionable haunt frequented by celebrities, royalty, locals, and tourists.  The bar's liquid trademark is the Bellini.   

Veni, Vidi, Vici Venezia.  I came, I saw, I conquered Venice.  You should do the same!  

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: Approaching Budapest (pronounced Budapesht) at night from the Danube River is a breathtaking sight. The city, gracing both sides of the Danube, is ablaze with thousands of lights.  Lights outline the regal bridges, the Neoclassical buildings and the grand monuments. The city is a veritable fairyland, a fantasy that Walt Disney might have conjured up.

This exotic, mysterious city that had been devastated in WWII and inaccessibly cloistered behind an Iron Curtain in the last half of the 20th century, has been rebuilt and reinvented by its proud people.

The city we know as Budapest was once three cities existing side by side.  Obuda, Buda, and Pest. In 1873, under the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the three were united to form the city of Budapest.   

With 3000 seats, The Dohany Street Great Synagogue, built in Byzantine-Moorishstyle between 1854-1859, is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. 

The Weeping Willow sculpture (The Hungarian Holocaust Victims and Heroes Memorial) unveiled behind the Great Synagogue in 1991 was funded by the late actor Tony Curtis, is in loving memory of his Hungarian-born parents. 


“Taking the waters” at the Gellert Spa is a Pesti (pronounced peshtee) tradition.  The Art Nouveau spa inspired by Rome’s baths of Caracalla, offers therapeutic massages at bargain basement prices. But don’t expect Baden-Baden luxury.


For some down-home Hungarian cooking, head to Bagolyvár (The Owl’s Castle.)  This   restaurant, in a rustic Transylvanian manor house next door to Gundel, is unique in Hungary.  Bagolyvar serves comfort food like mama (or grandma) used to make.   Next door, in an exquisite turn-of-the-century mansion, is Gundel Restaurant, founded in City Park (Varosliget ) in 1894.  At Gundel, refined versions of traditional Hungarian dishes, as well as the aristocratic cuisine of the Austro-Hungarian era, are served.

In my book, the word ‘Gundel’ is synonymous with the word ‘Budapest.’

BARCELONA, SPAIN: Barcelona, posa't guapa.  "Barcelona, make yourself beautiful."  That was the slogan made up by the city government prior to the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. The vibrancy and enthusiasm of the natives resulted in the beautification of the ornate, imaginative facades of the classic Modernist homes.  Years of dirt and pollution were removed to reveal intricate mosaics, colorful stained-glass windows, and the sinuous lines and curlicues of the architecture of which Antoni Gaudi's work is the best-known example.            

Gaudi’s Sagrada  Familia Cathedral  (Church of the Sacred Family), with surreal spires said to resemble a melting wedding cake, was initiated by Gaudi in 1882 and has not as yet been completed.


La Pedrera, one of Gaudi's later works, exemplifies the inseparability of art and technique. From the roof terrace of the Pedrera you can observe the skylights and chimneys  as well as a grand overview of the city.   Nearby, the Casa Batllo´ is another Gaudi example of Modernism, the architectural trend of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Barcelona offers many renowned museums including Museu Picasso and Fundacio´ Joan Miro´. Yet Barcelona itself is a veritable museum of art and architecture, much of which can be seen and appreciated without ever entering a museum.  Explore the twisted medieval streets of the ancient Bari Gothic, the old town district also known as the Gothic Quarter. 

Barcelona's waterfront can be easily found by heading towards the Monument a Colom (Columbus Monument) that rises more than 150-foot tall on the square known as Placa del Portal de la Pau.  The soaring monument stands in the port at the foot of La Rambla, the lively tree-lined esplanade filled with cafes, shops, vendors, artists and mimes.



JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, and International Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.  She is the winner of 41 national Travel Writing Awards. 



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