Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia as well as Spain’s second largest city. Dominated by Montjuic, Vallvidrera and the Tibidabo Hills, sophisticated Barcelona is rich in ancient and modern architectural and artistic treasures. Many talented artists, sculptors and architects lived here, including Picasso, Miró, Mares and Barcelona’s best-known architect, Antonio Gaudí.
Barcelona’s beginnings as a major port can be found already in Roman times. However, the most significant period was during the Middle Ages when the city's wealth equaled that of the whole Catalunya province. Splendid buildings from the Middle Ages and a unique ambiance still make Barcelona one of the most attractive cities in Europe, drawing scores of visitors to see and enjoy the sights. In addition to its medieval setting and narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, there are magnificent avenues through the modern part of the city, which are particularly noted for their landmark buildings of Gaudí’s design.
Lying on a natural harbor on the French Riviera, Toulon is France's principal naval base, and the waterfront is always full of life. Designed around stately fountains and small squares, the Old city is tucked between the harbor and boulevard de Strasbourg, and its Cathedrale Saint-Marie-Majeure is noteworthy for its Romanesque architecture. The city is also rich in history, much of it on display in the marine museum and the Museum of Toulon, celebrated for its Provencal paintings. For the ultimate view of Toulon, ride the cable car to Mount Faron.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
The independent principality of Monaco is famous as the playground of the Côte d’Azur. With nice beaches, elegant hotels and a vibrant nightlife, this tiny domain is a favorite haunt of the jet set. In the possession of the Grimaldi family for more than 700 years, a treaty with France guarantees Monaco’s independence as long as the principality is governed by the Grimaldis.
The fashionable enclave numbers only about 32,000 inhabitants and is smaller than New York’s Central Park, but it boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world. In addition to its luxury hotels and beautiful beaches, Monaco is noted for its mild climate and magnificent scenery. Once an exclusive wintering stop for Europe’s aristocracy, today there are more than five million visitors annually. Of the principality’s four sections - La Condamine, Fontvieille, Monaco-Ville and Monte Carlo, the latter two rank highest on every visitor’s must-see list.
In a tiny cove, out of sight and almost inaccessible, is hidden an ancient fishing village, that has become an internationally renowned symbol. Until the 19th century, Portofino was a fishing village, the bay was a well-known safe haven for ships, and the promontory served as an outpost for coastal sightings. At the end of the 19th century, all over Europe, the middle classes and aristocracy began to choose this beautiful place to build their summer residences, attracting the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace. Now, since the 1950s, Portofino has welcomed big Hollywood names, great artists, and entrepreneurs, making it famous all over the world.
Portoferrario (Elba), Italy
Portoferraio - whose name means "iron port", a reference to the iron mills that fueled the city's growth in the 19th century, is a charming port on the island of Elba in Tuscany. This lovely destination is literally a treasure trove, as gem stone collectors delight to find a vast variety of minerals and semiprecious-stones here. The islands claim to fame is being the home of Napoleon Bonaparte during his first exile. Visit his summer and winter residences, as well as the Chiesa della Misericordia to view Napoleon's desk mask in the heart of old town. There you will see the forts of Falcone and Stella.
Amalfi / Positano, Italy
Located roughly between Salerno and Sorrento, Amalfi was already an important maritime republic in the Middle Ages. In fact, the Amalfi Tables represent the oldest maritime code in the world, which were observed throughout the Mediterranean until the late 16th century.Today, Amalfi is one of the most popular resorts and stopovers along the famed Amalfi Drive, Italy's celebrated corniche that hugs the mountainous coast and carves its way through sheer rock. Opulent villas, cloaked in brilliantly colored bougainvillea, hide behind high walls and wrought-iron gates. Waves pound against the steep shoreline and tortuous bends challenge a steady stream of tourist vehicles. Around every hairpin turn spectacular scenery awaits.
Located along one of Montenegro's most beautiful bays is Kotor, a city of traders and famous sailors, with many stories to tell. The Old City of Kotor is a well-preserved urbanization typical of the Middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage have made Kotor an UNESCO listed “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site". Through the entire city the buildings are criss-crossed with narrow streets and squares. At one of them there is the Cathedral of Sveti Tripun , a monument of Roman culture and one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. The Church of Sveti Luka (13th century), Church Sveta Ana (12th century) Church Sveta Marija (13th century), Church Gospe od Zdravlja (15th century), the Prince’s Palace (17th century) and the Napoleon Theatre (19th century) are all treasures that are part of the rich heritage of Kotor.
There is something for everyone in Hvar, from rich history and culture to exquisite art and architecture. Enjoy the contrasts between the cosmopolitan town center and the pristine Pakleni Islands, as well as between the sandy beaches near Jelsa and the ancient town Stari Grad. Stroll along the waterfront promenade overlooked by the imposing centuries-old fortress. Also visit the Cathedral of Hvar and the Franciscan monastery, as well as the Arsenal, which is home to the historic Theatre of Hvar that was built in 1612.
Originally built on an island surrounded by swampland that was later drained, Koper was known as "Goat Island" when it was under Venetian rule. Today the once fortified Old Town of Venetian-influenced Koper has retained much of its grand architecture from the 15th to 18th centuries. The Praetor's Palace, a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles, proudly rises above the gray limestone main square. Nearby the Postojna Caves are the most popular underground attraction in Europe, and the Predjama Castle was carved out of a limestone cliff.
Lord Byron called Venice (Venezia) "a fairy city of the heart." La Serenissima, "The Most Serene," is an improbable cityscape of stone palaces that seem to float on water, a place where cats nap in Oriental marble windowsills set in colorful plaster walls. Candy-stripe pylons stand sentry outside the tiny stone docks of palazzi whose front steps descend into the gently lapping waters of the canals that lace the city.
A whimsical stroll through the city can lead one to a hidden world of ornately decorated piazzas and shops. As you explore colorful marketplaces and busy town squares, marvel at a priceless legacy of Baroque architecture. Admire the richness of St. Mark's Basilica and the lavishness of the Palazzo Ducale. Getting lost in Venice can be a truly delightful experience. The place of dreams, this romantic city will live long in your memory.