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.
Marseilles (Provence), France
Marseille is a vibrant, cosmopolitan port and the most populated city in the country after Paris. The craggy, mountainous interland of the Provence provides Marseille with a spectacular backdrop. It is the country's most important seaport and the largest one in the Mediterranean. The city is divided into 16 arrondissements fanning out from the Old Port. The large industrial port area virtually rubs shoulders with the intimate, picturesque old harbor, the Vieux Port. Packed with fishing boats and pleasure crafts, this is the heart of Marseille. Two fortresses guard the entrance to the harbor.
Several vantage points offer spectacular views, including the striking Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde. This prominent landmark, overlooking the city, is crowned by a monumental gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. Marseille boasts numerous fine museums that are well worth a visit. Relaxing at one of the many outside cafés or strolling through the Old Port area allows you to enjoy the unpretentious charm of this city.
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.
Florence / Pisa / Tuscany, Italy
Livorno is Italy’s second largest port after Genoa. It also serves as a gateway to the Tuscany region and the great cultural centers of Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena. Tuscany delights visitors with its picturesque small towns and classic landscapes. The gently rounded hills, accented by clumps of slender cypresses, have been immortalized in numerous paintings. Lush vineyards are the source of the famous dry, dark-red Chianti wines.
From this part of Italy the national language evolved with Dante and other great Tuscan writers of his period. Even more important is the impact this area had on the culture of the rest of Italy and Europe, adding immense wealth to the architectural and artistic heritage. The Italian Renaissance, with its most active center in Florence, lasted from the 1400s to the 1700s. Its greatest support came from the all-powerful Medici family who commissioned Italy’s most talented painters, sculptors and architects to create some of the most outstanding works of art. Names such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Giotto, Vasari, Botticelli, da Vinci and Donatello come to mind, all of whom worked and lived in Florence at some time in their lives.
Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one of the great centers of the ancient world. Although its beginning is shrouded in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle, Rome has always been and remains the “Eternal City.” Its greatest splendor was experienced during the 1st and 2nd centuries when art flourished, monumental works of architecture were erected, and the mighty Roman legions swept outward, conquering much of the known world.
Today’s Rome, with its splendid churches, ancient monuments and palaces, spacious parks, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, outdoor cafés and elegant shops, is one of the world’s most attractive and exciting cities. Among the most famous monuments is the Coliseum. As you walk its cool, dark passageways, imagine the voices that once filled the arena as 50,000 spectators watched combat between muscled gladiators and ferocious animals. Stop to see the remains of the Forum, once the city’s political and commercial center. In later times, Rome’s squares were enhanced with such imposing structures as the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, the monumental Trevi fountain and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, to name
Set high atop the Mediterranean cliffs, Sorrento is a town of extraordinary beauty that has endured as a favored resort for centuries. In addition to its own attractions, Sorrento is also
know n as a popular gateway to Pompeii, Italy’s most celebrated classical ruins. They offer a look at the finest example of a Roman town and its way of life, presented to modern eyes by excavation.
The ever-popular Isle of Capri is just a short distance from Sorrento by jetfoil. It ranks as one of Italy’s most beautiful islands and has captured the fancy of visitors for centuries. Its excellent year-round climate, spectacular landscape and fantastic sea caverns ensure a never-ending stream of tourists. In addition, the island boasts lavish villas, elegant hotels, chic boutiques and quaint restaurants, making it is easy to understand why Capri has become so popular.
Fronting the Adriatic Sea, this southern Croatia city is known for its distinctive Old Town, encircled with massive stone walls completed in the 16th century. Its well preserved building range from baroque St. Blaise Church to Renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector's Palace, now a history museum. Today, tourism is the most important industry in Dubrovnik and the proudest feather in Croatia's cap, an elite destination with one of the most beautiful towns in the Mediterranean. Adding to it's popularity in recent years, is its starring role in the HBO TV hit "Game of Thrones" where Old Town has stood in for fictional places in the TV series.
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.