Driving through Europe: cities to remember (II)
Last time I have introduced to you my three beloved cities, that I want to return to. Cefalu, Melabes and San Sebastian, remember? However, my list of best city destinations in Europe doesn’t end there. I want to enlighten you, Dear Reader, on the existence of three more super awesome cities in the Old Continent. Prepare – the wave of love is coming.
Sintra, a town and national park ~25 km South from Lisbon, is listed probably in all rankings, which introduces top destinations in Portugal. And it’s not only because of The Pena Castle, probably the most iconic castle in Iberian Peninsula. Town is full of sights, which can surpass the expectations of every wanderer.
P. already wrote about Praia da Ursa, beach in Sintra, which he fairly listed as #1 beach in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in Europe. I couldn’t agree more: it’s difficult to reach, but definitely worth the effort. Also, after just a few minutes stroll along the ocean shore, there is a famous Cabo da Roca lighthouse, the westernmost extent of Europe. Nothing special, compared with the view that Praia da Ursa offers, but still, to put a check mark on the Westernmost part of Europe is important. And it’s just a surroundings of a town, which deserves all the loveliest adjectives!
Architecture here is romantic and extravagant at the same time, creating the atmosphere as if you are performing in a romantic drama movie.
Facades richly decorated with curly ornaments, preserved green parks and squares, majestic castles and summer residences. As the famous Portuguese author Eça de Queirós wrote: “Everything in Sintra is divine. There is no corner that is not a poem”.
From our experience I can state, that a day to appreciate the beauty of Sintra is not enough. I think, two or three days is how long it takes to get to know the iconic Pena Castle and National Palace of Sintra, mysterious Quinta da Regaleira residence and its gardens, romantic old town decorated in different architectural styles, richly green parks, spectacular beaches and hiking trails. If you still haven’t been there, trust me and put Sintra on your bucket list.
Have you ever heard about the Curonian Spit? Basically, it’s a big sand dune, which lasts for about 100 km, is ~3 km wide and is located between two bodies of water – the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon. There, in the middle of the Peninsula, is a little resort town called Nida.
One of the most important things about Nida, is that this peaceful town is entirely surrounded by and covered in… Sand. It’s everywhere: in the beach, in the woods, on the sidewalks, around the lighthouse, on the benches and even one of the best town’s attractions, The Big Dune of Nida, is made from it. And believe me, Nida’s sand will haunt you for some time. I still can’t get rid of it from my wallet and handbag.
Nida has long fisherman village traditions and strong German culture still floating in the air. Almost every thatched wooden cottage along the Curonian Lagoon are colored in dark red paint and decorated with bright blue and shiny white window frames, and almost every of them has a fishing net, or a boat in the backyard. On the top of small hill, with the view to the Lagoon, stands a summer residence of Thomas Mann, a famous German novelist. Nowadays it is a museum popular among the German tourists. Next to it, pines hide beautiful red-bricked Nida’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, built in the end of the XIX century.
And do you know where does all the roads lead to? That’s right, to the beach! It doesn’t matter if you choose a one of three main streets, or a small trail in forest, all roads from the Lagoon will lead you to the perfectly sandy beaches and extremely cold sea. Yes, the sea in Lithuania isn’t what you expect when travelling to summer resort. However, sandy beaches there are one of the best in Europe. And that’s not all. The best thing what visitors get in Nida, is an absolutely peaceful atmosphere. I can’t imagine other summer resort, that would be so beautiful and so peaceful at the same time. And don’t worry, all the golden youth of Lithuania loves Nida, so there are also some places, where to party.
A city of Witchcraft and Wizardry, this is how I see it. And, considering how much I love magic atmosphere, Porto is my #1 city destination in Europe. In fact, I’m not the only one with a strong feelings for this port – Porto was elected the Best European Destination several years ago.
Porto is a very abandoned city, and it is especially visible during late autumn, winter and early spring, when streets aren’t crowded with tourist yet. High percentage of houses in the city centre is just a facades, without any signs of life inside it. In addition to this, there are places in the heart of the town, where you can find yourself surrounded by hobos and drug addicts. Nevertheless, Porto is one of the most live cities, that I have ever been to.
The thing that I love the most about the second Portugal’s city, is the XVIII century atmosphere floating in the air.
Modern shops, restaurants, bars and pubs are located in the buildings, interiors of which look like from a fairytale. From my point of view, the architecture in Porto is magical and as city is considered to be the inspiration of J. K. Rowling, I think that I’m not the only one, who sees it through the pink glasses.
All the sights are widely spread through the city, so to truly feel Porto magic, you have to go on at least 20 km journey around it. There are a lot of things to see and experience: Boavista with its fazenda-type houses, promenades along the beach, Foz do Douro – where river meets the ocean, a sidewalk along the Rio Douro, Ribeira, sunset on the Ponte Luis bridge, old town with its mysterious facades and twisted streets and of course, the sweet taste of Port Wine, a worldwide famous Porto celebrity.
There are a lot of places to remember, however, not all are special, or makes you want to return again and again. Usually, we want to discover new territories and experience new feelings. However for me, romantic Sintra, peaceful Nida and magical Porto are the cities, which are worth returning to not once. So, if my short descriptions of these cities intrigued you, I strongly recommend you to visit them.
And if you have already been there, I sincerely want to hear your impressions about these cities! Let’s discuss and share our insights in the comments.