5 Romantic European Destinations You May Have Missed
Got a case of “been there, done that”? Whether you’re looking for a new getaway with the one you love…or a getaway with a new love you’ve never visited on a previous romantic excursion…we’ve got five great destinations, each with a long history. If the two of you are looking for a romantic hotel, interesting places to stroll hand in hand, and scenic locations for bringing home the photos—and the memories—of a trip of a lifetime these destinations are sure to please!
The Mediterranean city of Cartagena dates back to around 230 BC; this important natural harbor ringed by five hills quickly became the most important port in Spain. Through the years, it has been ruled by the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors, resulting in a destination with a special and historic atmosphere. Today, Cartagena retains its long ties to the sea as an important cruise port that offers visitors easy access to this walkable and scenic city.
The long Roman history of the city lives on in several sites; the most extensive is the Roman Theater. Excavated during the late 20th century, this theater was created about two thousand years ago and could seat 6,000 persons in its bowl shape. Next to the theater stand the ruins of the 13th century Cathedral of Santa Maria la Vieja (St. Mary the Older). Another historic attraction is Concepción Castle, located on Concepción Hill, the highest of the five peaks that overlook the city. The castle is largely in ruins, offering the two of you an excellent view of the city as well as a beautiful park.
One of the most unique attractions in Cartagena lies just outside the city. Mar Menor or “Little Sea” is the largest saltwater lake in Europe and a popular coastal getaway for residents and visitors alike.
Perched west of the Italian mainland, the island of Sardinia is second only to Sicily in size, spanning over 9300 square miles. On the southern tip of this hilly island, the capital city of Cagliari serves as the governmental headquarters for this island that enjoys a status as a part of Italy but with special regional autonomy.
Sardinia’s long history reveals evidence of humans as far back as 250,000 BC but the island’s first documented inhabitants lived here around 1800 BC. Today the island is dotted with over 7000 nuraghi or stone fortresses used for protection by these early residents.
Cagliari boasts many reminders of its earliest civilizations, with both Roman and medieval sections. The port itself is outlined by Via Roma, the main street along the harbor, and behind it stands the old city stretching to the top of the hill. This area, called Castello or the castle, offers excellent views of the Gulf of Cagliari, also known as Angels Gulf; one good lookout spot is found at the Bastione San Remy, located on Piazza Costituzione. Centuries after the Romans, occupying Pisans also built structures including the Torre San Pancrazio or St. Pancreas Tower and the Torre dell’Elefante or Elephant Tower in the medieval quarter. These were constructed in the 14th century of white limestone and remain important historic sites today.
Also in the medieval quarter stands the Duomo, a Pisan-Romansque structure built in the 13th century but later renovated and remodeled. At the entrance stand two 12th century pulpits, built and originally destined for a cathedral in Pisa. The Duomo includes a crypt of martyrs found at the 5th century Basilica di San Saturnino.
The most important Roman site in the city is considered to be the 2nd century amphitheater, the Anfiteatro Romano. This theater, cut into rock in an old quarry, is today open to the public.
For all its man-made attractions, Cagliari also offers natural beauty including an exceptional beach, Poetto. Stretching 13 kilometers, the white sand beach is one of the longest found in any Italian town. Birders also find the opportunity to view pink flamingos and about 200 other species of birds at the expansive Molentargius Lagoon just outside the city.
Known as the gateway to fjord country, Bergen held the position as the country’s capital during the 12th and 13th centuries; four hundred years later it had become the largest city in Scandinavia. Today Bergen has another title: Norway’s top cruise port.
Although Bergen’s popularity as a cruise port is a fairly new phenomenon, its ties to the sea have ancient origins. Dating back over nine centuries, the city became one of the Hanseatic League’s most important ports. The League, also called the Hansa, dominated trade starting in the late Middle Ages.
Today the influence of the Hansa is still seen in Bergen, particularly in Byggen (or “wharf” in Norwegian), the site of the old medieval quarter located on the north side of Vågen, the inner harbor. A member of UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, Byggen’s wooden buildings are built in the traditional style; today they contain popular shops, sidewalk cafes, and museums.
The city center is connected by funicular to Fløyen and to the even loftier Ulriken. These peaks are part of the mountains known as de syv fjell or “the seven mountains” which cradle Bergen, giving the city so many scenic vistas.
For all its history, Bergen is also recognized for its rich cultural opportunities. Named one of nine European Capitals of Culture in 2000, the city is home to the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. And for all its classical and traditional offerings, Bergen is also considered the capital of Norwegian rock music culture, a place where musicians flock from throughout the country.
Located near the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, for many years the town of Invergordon was called Inverbreakie or “the mouth of the Breakie,” a reference to a stream that enters the Firth. The community dates back to the 1200s with the construction of Invergordon Castle.
Today the port is a favorite with cruise ships whose passengers enjoy the town’s attractions; its location is also a good base for a day of exploring the Scottish Highlands.
A large number of the town’s attractions lie within walking distance of the port. A top activity with many couples is the Town Walk, which starts at the Admiralty Pier used by the cruise ships. The walk heads west along Shore Road past the Natal Garden, a nautically themed garden created for the BBC show “Charlie’s Garden Army.”
Many visitors use Invergordon for its easy access to Inverness, thirty minutes away, and Loch Ness. Inverness is the gateway to the Highlands and known for shopping at the Victorian Market, salmon fishing along the River Ness, and the scenic beauty of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, often called the most beautiful riverside setting in Great Britain. High above the River Ness sits Inverness Castle, a red sandstone building constructed in 1836 on the site of an 11th century structure; today it is used as a courthouse.
Inverness is best known for the nearby Loch Ness, home of the legendary Loch Ness Monster or “Nessie.” Tours take travelers out on the famous lake while the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre offers displays on the lake’s long history and the many exploratory efforts that have been made to locate and identify the mysterious Nessie.
Dating back to its founding by the Vikings, Waterford ranks as Ireland’s oldest city and also one of its most famous, thanks to its role as the home of Waterford Crystal. Although today Waterford is Ireland’s fifth largest city, during the medieval era this was Ireland’s second city after Dublin. Waterford entered a period of prosperity in the 18th century due mainly to the growth of the city’s shipbuilding and glassmaking industries that resulted in the creation of large fortunes. It was this wealth that constructed many of the historic buildings still seen in Waterford today.
The oldest structures are the city walls, first built by the Vikings around 1000 AD then extended two centuries later. Today, Waterford has more surviving city walls than any other Irish city except Derry, whose walls were of more recent construction.
Waterford’s walls incorporate many towers with the most visited of them being Reginald’s Tower on The Mall. Reginald’s Tower, one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, was built by the Normans in the 12th century on the site of a former Viking tower. Through the years the stone walls, which vary from nine to twelve feet thick, served to protect not only the city but also many royal visitors including Richard II, Henry II and James II.
Another important historic area is Waterford’s mile-long Quay. Here at Merchant’s Quay, stands the premier museum in the city: the Waterford Treasures at the Granary. Exhibits trace the history of the city and its important port through displays ranging from Viking jewelry to some of the first examples of Waterford Crystal. The Granary is also home to a fine dining restaurant, shopping area, and tourism office.
The most popular attraction in the city is the Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre, which showcases the product made here since 1783. Visits to the factory show travelers how the hand cut class is produced, from the glass blowing to the cutting, polishing and engraving processes.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.
Photo credit: Clipart.com.
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