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 Psightings. 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.
Porto Vecchio, Corsica, France
This fasionable resort town offers both idyllic beaches and breathtaking mountain scenery. Founded in 1492, vestiges of ancient Corsica in this ville impériale revolve around the city's most famous son, Napoléon Bonaparte, whose family home—now the national museum Maison Bonaparte—pays tribute to the emperor's historical influence. Indeed, Napoléon takes center stage in this lively city of approximately 64,000 inhabitants, from the exceptional Palais Fesch/ Musée des Beaux Arts to eponymous street names and statues sprinkled around the town's accessible squares, gardens, and courtyards.
Remnants from what was originally a 12th-century Genoese colony are still visible around the Old Town near the imposing citadel and watchtower. Perfect for exploring, the luminous seaside city surrounded by snowcapped mountains and pretty beaches offers numerous sites, eateries, side streets, and a popular harbor, where sailboats and fishing vessels moor in the picturesque Tino Rossi port lined with well-established restaurants and cafés serving fresh local fare.
Cagliari (Sardinia), Italy
Lucky for you, the best way to arrive in Sardinia's historic capital city of Cagliari, is by sea! The city rises in a helter-skelter of golden-hued palazzi, domes and facades up to the rocky centerpiece, II Castello. Savor this delightful old city spread over seven hills and its many attractions reflecting the influence of its numerous rulers. Climb to the citadel and visit the fabulous archaeological museum, Roman ruins and Pisan towers, early Byzantine churches, the cathedral or the botanic gardens. Enjoy the nearby beach or discover the remains of Sardinia's ancient, enigmatic Nuraghic culture and their stone towers build in scenic locations all over Sardinia.
Trapani (Siciliy), Italy
Perched on a low-lying, Palazzi-dotted promontory on Sicily's western coast, Trapani reveals a hint of its medieval past in its historic core's tightly knit maze of narrow streets. Trapani's old town once sat at the heart of a powerful trading network that stretched from Carthage to Venice. These days, it's port buzzes with ferry traffice to the Egadi Islands and Pantelleria. The rebuilt 14th century Cathedral of St. Lawrence and the grand Sanctuary of the Annunication, which holds a fascinating regional museum, are nuggets well worth a visit. Wandering the Villa Margherita public gardens makes for a relaxing afternoon.
Situated in the southeast of Spain, this is one of the most arid cities in Europe. Due to its dry landscape, numerous spaghetti westerns were filed in Almeria. Soak up the sun on one of the numerous exquisite beaches lining this Mediterranean haven. Visit the astonishing Alcazaba, a medieval fortress high on the ridge overlooking the extraordinary city. The revered wall paintings in the caves of Velez Blanco offer fascinating insights into an ancient people. See where historic and modern mergae on a stroll down the Paseo de Almeria.
This walled city has always been a major naval port due to its natural harbor and strategic location. Enjoy a hilltop view from Concepción Castle, which served as a fortress for the Carthaginians, Romans and other people who once occupied the city. Visit the 1st century B.C. Roman Theater, the remains of the 13th century Cathedral of Santa Maria and Naval Museum. For modernist architecture, see the City Hall, Grand Hotel and Casino.
Spain’s third-largest city is a mixture of old and new with a magical old quarter, a futuristic City of Arts and Sciences and wide sandy beaches. With dynamic museums, a flourishing restaurant scene, lively nightlife, great shops and miles of beach, Valencia is bursting with Mediterranean exuberance. Influences now range from Moorish to modern, yet some things in Valencia, like a perfect pan of paella,remain thankfully unchanged.
If you want a taste of all Valencia has to offer - the fresh seafood, mountain herbs, field-grown grains - you've got to try the local paella. Although there are many varieties of this rice dish, the Valencian paella is usually made with only the freshest ingredients in a cast-iron pan over a wood fire. Satisfy your thirst with a taste of horchata, a popular tiger nut drink found at any of the local bars surrounding the cathedrals. Rice dishes are a sought after main course at the Malvarrosa Beach restaurants, particularly La Rosa.
Alcudia (Mallorca), Spain
Poised on the bay where the Romans landed when they captured the island of Mallorca in 123 BC, Alcudia today is a resort town that invites recreation and relaxation. Discover the past by walking the sentry path along the medieval walls of the Old Town and visiting excavations of the ancient Roman city of Pollentia. Then experience modern Alcudia by exploring the hiking and cycling trails, the golf course and the long sandy beaches, perfect for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling.
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.