Last week was the eastern region of Europe so this week we continue with the western region of Europe. My instagram page, @my100by40, is updated daily with a different theme related to the continent in focus of the week:
- Monday’s: An Underrated Gem
- Tuesday’s: A Place I Would Return to
- Wednesday’s: A UNESCO Site
- Thursday’s: Most Impressive Place
- Friday’s: A Photo in Nature
- Saturday’s: A Photo of Architecture
- Sunday’s: My Most Favourite Place
This is definitely the continent I have explored the most and with good reason. There is so much history, culture, nature, food, wine, art, sights… everything that you want as a traveller you can find here.
Out of the 46 nations that make up Europe (Russia and Cyprus included, Turkey excluded), I have been to 33! Of these 33 nations, 11 of them were candidates in Eastern Europe meaning a further 22 plus one overseas territory, have a chance to make it to the top 7 spots. As a quick reminder of a technicality, the United Kingdom is the sovereign nation and thus England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all technically count as one.
Underrated Gem: Andorra
Located in the middle of two of Europe’s most visited and influential nations, France and Spain, lies the tiny microstate of the Principality of Andorra.
Wedged in the middle of the Pyrenees mountains, Andorra is an extremely popular ski destination for those Europeans in the know. In the summer, however, these ski resorts are all abandoned. Leaving ski lifts eerily swaying in the summer breeze against a backdrop of stunning green mountains.
However, it also means the mountain roads are empty leaving you free to roam.
Andorra’s cute and tiny capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe at an elevation of 1,023m. It is bustling with high end stores and department stores with frequent visitors from Barcelona. This is because Andorra is considered a tax haven.
Interestingly, the Principality of Andorra doesn’t actually have a Prince of its own, but rather two co-Prince’s which are the French President, at time of writing, Emmanuel Macron and the Archbishop of Urgell (north-western Catalonia). Andorra does have a Prime Minister who oversees the day to day running of the country.
A Place to Return to: Malta
Malta was a completely unexpected delight on my big 15 week journey across Europe in 2017. Initially, I found a good special for a hotel in Malta on Booking.com and thought Malta would be a good way to break up the trip from Sydney to our later destination Madrid. This proved to be wrong because, at the time, Emirates flew Dubai to Valletta via Cyprus and to get to Madrid from Valletta I had to go to Brussels.
The fortified city of Valletta, built by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem is truly a wonder to walk through. It has a lively feel intertwined with history. But it is so much more than that. Like you are living the history, experiencing it first hand as you explore the city.
From its turbulent history, to the silent city of Mdina, the mysterious ancient temples on the islands built by persons unknown, medieval catacombs, stunning arid scenery that touches the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, the blue lagoon and everything about the sister island, Gozo. Malta has it all, is stunning in every aspect and is my number 1 place I will return to post pandemic.
A UNESCO Site: Mont Saint Michel, France
Braving the turbulent weather and tides of Normandy in France lies this famous tidal island. Amidst the vast sand banks of the Normandy coast it stands proudly, reachable and inviting and then when the tides changes the island is cut off from the rest of the world – except of course for the modern road that links the mainland (but even then sometimes in a super high tide it can be submerged too).
Towering over the island is the Benedictine Abbey dedicated to the Archangel Michael, with a golden statue of him at the top of the spire. It gives a significant insight into feudal village life where God was at the top in the abbey and monasteries, then the Great Halls for government, then housing for the villagers and then fishermen outside the walls. For this reason plus its Gothic style, amazing beauty and being an important site of medieval Christianity Mont Saint Michel is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Most Impressive Place: San Marino
My journey to San Marino did not go to plan at all. It was supposed to be easy. Bergen – Amsterdam – Bologna, one night in Bologna and then the train to Rimini and then bus to San Marino. Easy. KLM Airlines had a different plan for me. Ruining this with a delayed flight, then a cancelled flight, a re-booked flight, then re-booking my already re-booked flight without telling me. This resulted in me missing said new flight and then to add insult to injury they almost wouldn’t let me board my original re-booked flight. It was a mess. I was compensated, taking money and not a KLM Travel voucher obviously, but they have definitely lost a customer for life.
In the end, however, I got to San Marino. One look at Monte Titano and the entire KLM Airline ordeal melted away.
The historic centre of San Marino is built entirely on the 700m high mountain with three towers built on each of the three peaks. Every corner of the city but especially so from the towers, provides 360 degrees of breathtaking views over surrounding Italy, the rolling hills of the Apennine Mountains and to the Adriatic coastline.
Below, the Cesta Tower in all its glory.
Make sure that you visit San Marino as more than just a day trip. The sunrises and sunsets are amazing and the crowded streets become quiet, filled with locals and the few tourists who didn’t just do a day trip from Bologna.
A Photo in Nature: Dettifoss, Iceland
When looking for the best in nature you have to go to Iceland. The whole island is a nature lovers paradise. A true land of fire and ice. Waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, active volcanoes, mud volcanoes, geothermal lakes, whales and puffins. Everything.
For my post I chose the a natural site that impressed me the most, Dettifoss. 100m wide and 44m high, it is the second most powerful waterfall in Europe. Its grey white colour is attributed to sediment. The sound it makes as the massive amounts of water tumbles over it, is a true testimony to the power of nature.
A Photo of Architecture: La Sagrada Familia, Spain
I’m pretty sure this will be no surprise to anyone. No matter which way you look at it Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is an architectural masterpiece. With construction beginning in 1882 and an expected completion of 2026, this mammoth Basilica would have been built continuously for 144 years, which is longer than Great Pyramid of Giza.
The outside has 2 facades dedicated to the Nativity (birth) and the Passion (death) of Jesus. Both were completed decades apart and reflect the times at which they were built, the Nativity facade being built between 1894 and 1930 and the Passion facade between 1954 and 1987. A third one is being constructed now dedicated to his eternal glory.
To add to the marvel, 8 out of a planned 18 towers have been built. 12 towers are to represent the 12 Apsotles, 4 for the Evangelists, 1 for the Virgin Mary and 1, in the middle and the highest at a planned 170m, representing Jesus.
But it is also the inside which is truly extraordinary.
Mesmerising. Everything planned to perfection. Geometry and symbolism combine to create wonder. Visuals that made my jaw drop and will continue to make it drop when I return. A true architectural masterpiece.
My Favourite Place: Paris, France
This is a contoversial choice. A city that needs no introduction.
It is very popular these days by travel guides and bloggers to hate on Paris. To advise against it. But I won’t hear it. I’ve been to Paris four times and each time I am excited to go back. Each time I discover something new. Each time I do something different and each time I leave I know it won’t be long until I’m back (that was a pre-pandemic thought of course).
Of course Paris is not without its faults and I fell victim to one on my most recent trip in 2019 – a scam. It cost me 1.50 euros but it was still a scam. Not even that could tarnish it.
The sights, the feeling, the mood, the language, the pastries, the cheese, the crepes. J’adore. And to sum it all up as the sayings go:
Paris je t’aime.
Paris is always a good idea….
An Underrated Gem: Vaduz, Liechtenstein.
Easily reachable from Zurich, Switzerland the small capital of Liechtenstein is surrounded by the Swiss Alps. There is also a bridge you can cross where you can stand on the border between Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
A Place to Return to: Lisbon, Portugal.
PORTUGUESE: No momento eu estou a aprender português com um foco de português europeu. Por isso Portugal é um lugar que estou muito entusiasmado para voltar a praticar o meu português. Mas espero que os portugueses falem devagar comigo.
ENGLISH: At the moment, I am learning Portuguese, with a focus on European Portuguese. For that reason I am very excited to return and to practice. I just hope the Portuguese people go easy on me and speak a little slowly.
A Photo in Nature: Let’s face it. Anywhere in Switzerland, Iceland or Norway.
Well that concludes the Best of Western Europe. One more to go! Stick around for next week for another post, 7 different places of the same themes in Australia and Oceania.
You can follow me on Instagram for more photos and information @my100by40 .