“As anyone who has spent any time in Europe can attest: All over—from tiny villages to big-city neighborhoods—romantic corners beckon travelers with their extravagant architecture, their wonderful food, their curious characters,” says Jennifer Stevens, Executive Editor, International Living.
“It would prove an impossible task to pick the five most romantic spots—so we didn’t try. Instead, we’ve highlighted five diverse picks worth your attention if a romantic getaway is on the horizon. They all offer a feast for the senses—beauty, delectable food and drink, plenty to do...and guaranteed moments when you’ll pause and think, ‘This is truly lovely.’”
Here are International Living’s editors’ picks for five romantic European getaways worth putting on your travel list…
Known as the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro draws visitors on day trips from Porto, just 45 miles to the north. But, in fact, the city offers travelers a lot more than can be enjoyed in a single day.
Brightly-colored boats cruise a network of canals as seagulls sail effortlessly overhead. The gondola-like transports, moliceiros, were historically used to carry seaweed—moliço, from which they take their name—salt, and fresh fish from the Ria de Aveiro lagoon.
Today these crafts carry different cargo: tourists. As in Venice, Italy, this is one of the favorite pastimes of visitors to this second most populous city in central Portugal.
A cruise of just under an hour takes you through Aveiro’s maritime past, its ornately tiled historic architecture, and its bustling fish market. Cruises leave from the central Rossio area every half-hour from midmorning until dusk and cost less than $10. You may have time to sample the 15th-century Aveiro City Museum’s intricate splendor while you wait.
Tourism, coupled with the presence of a university, are a plus to the potential visitor to here: You can get along quite nicely speaking only English.
“Strolling in Aveiro is an adventure, when you can enjoy the classic black-and-white Portuguese pavement, calçadas, designed with maritime motifs echoing the city’s location and history,” says Tricia Pimental, IL Portugal Correspondent. “Streets like Ria de Aveiro are famed for shops selling local specialties and their Art Nouveau architecture. One example is the lovely blue building located on Rua Dr. Barbosa de Magalhães. This is where you can visit Casa de Chá, a café with outdoor garden, and a modest but interesting Art Nouveau museum upstairs.”
While here, one regional goodie to sample is ovos moles, a sweet pastry made from eggs yolks and sugar, wrapped in rice paper. Or sample the artisanal ice cream from Gelados de Portugal. They offer unusual flavors like requeijão (Portugal’s version of ricotta cheese), and pumpkin jelly.
Spain’s sophisticated capital offers first-world infrastructure, thriving creative life, and sunshine at a modest price. Located in the center of the Iberian Peninsula, at an altitude of 2,000 feet, Madrid’s climate is warm and dry. In fact, it’s the driest capital in Europe.
Madrileños love to socialize. Sidewalk cafes, terrazas, and parks are always crowded and convivial. Meeting friends in bars and coffee shops for conversation and camaraderie is a sacrosanct ritual.
Madrid operates on a different time zone—stores open at 10 a.m. Lunch is at 2 p.m. Dinner is at 9 p.m., 10 p.m., or even 11 p.m., and then you may go dancing. The last metro is at 1:30 a.m., and it is always packed. If you miss it, you can take a taxi or just stay up until it opens again at 6 am.
You can easily get away without speaking Spanish if you want to. Spaniards 30 and under studied English in school and speak it very well. Spaniards over 30 are in the process of learning and are eager to practice.
“Madrid may be a bit more expensive than other places in Spain, but she still offers a lot of bang for the buck,” says Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent. “Wine and beer are about $2 per glass. A generous gin and tonic will be about $7 to $9. Three-course menu del dia lunches run from $8 to $16 including wine or beer.”
Madrid is a major transportation hub, for the rest of Spain, for Europe, for the world. The primary international airport in Spain, Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport, is 12 kilometers from Madrid’s city center. Madrid’s metro delivers passengers right into the terminal. Spain’s efficient trains can be accessed from two main stations, Atocha and Chamartin.
Lecce is extravagant, even flamboyant. It is the cultural capital of Puglia, with so many monuments, churches, palaces, and museums that it has been given the nickname, “The Florence of the South.”
With the airport in Brindisi just over a half-hour away, Lecce, the grand dame of Puglia, is a dazzling city all dolled up in baroque embellishments. The buildings of the city are built in local limestone, lathered with joyous ornate carvings and adornments done with such exuberance that it gives the city a sense of gaiety.
Located in the sunny Salento zone of southern Puglia— the Adriatic coast is a mere seven miles from the city—Lecce serves up an exotic blend of Greek, Byzantine, and European elements, all soaked in sunshine and topped with genuine hospitality.
The streets are generously sprinkled with eateries and wine bars, while shopping streets Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Palmieri are fun to roam. The Roman amphitheater, the cathedral, and the medieval castle are just a few of the things to see here. Four elegant theaters presents a wide variety of operas, shows, and symphonic music.
Museums by the dozen provide cultural and historical displays, and associations offer classes from Italian language, cooking, and even wine making or craft beer. Lecce has plentiful restaurants serving locally grown produce and fresh seafood, prepared in ways that burst with flavor. Puglia is known among Italians for its quality cuisine and wines, as well as olive oil.
“Dining out is a pleasure because Puglia does amazing things with the area’s produce; it’s especially appreciated by vegetarians and fish lovers—but don’t worry, you meat eaters will be happy, too,” says Valerie Fortney Schneider. “A couple can enjoy a trattoria dinner out with fish and wine for $56 or go to a more rustic down-home place like La Rusticana where a simple four-course meal with drinks costs just $17.42. Enjoy a pizza and beer for around $11 per person. A gelato is more than a simple ice cream here, it’s a sensory experience. Enjoy two flavors on your cone for $2.25, and a frothy cappuccino for $1.35.”
Prague is 100% authentic. The city was essentially undamaged by World War II and, thus, the streets are crammed with buildings that span the entirety of the architectural movements in Europe over the last thousand years. The Prague Castle complex, standing sentinel on a hill overlooking the city, is the largest in the world. As such, UNESCO has named Prague’s entire Old Town as a World Heritage site.
And yet, Prague isn’t just some kind of architectural Disneyland. It is an increasingly modern city, with all the creature comforts of Anytown USA. It’s home to a diverse food scene, a high standard of living, high-quality healthcare, an expansive arts culture, parks big and small, and endless opportunities for walking and exploring. And, best of it, Prague offers an affordable lifestyle.
Prague has always lured outsiders. For millennia it was a center of trade in Central Europe, a center for the arts, and a center of religion. Today, it attracts expats because the lifestyle is so agreeable.
“The Czech Republic is the undisputed beer capital of the world,” says Jeff Opdyke, IL Editor. “Czechs drink more beer per capita than anyone—and by a country mile. (The Germans, widely thought of as beer-consuming giants, don’t even crack the top three). That means the beer here is immensely good and uniquely varied… sour beers, fruit beers, dark beers. In restaurants you’ll pay just over $1 or $2 for some excellent brews that play well with food.”
Here, the art scene is robust—opera, theater, dance, concerts. Mozart was a huge fan of the city, and first performed his Don Giovanni opera here.
Toulouse, in the southwestern area of France is a very attractive. Located halfway between the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, and a stone’s throw from the Spanish border, Toulouse has a very open and lively culture, hosting some 1,000 events on average every year.
“Toulouse is truly a city for music lovers,” says Tuula Rampont, IL France Correspondent. “With an opera house, concert halls, and dance companies, there is always an opportunity to immerse yourself in the arts. L’Orchestre Symphonique du Capitole de Toulouse is well known on the international scene.”
Toulouse’s center is a colorful maze of pedestrian squares, neighborhood markets, cafés, and historic monuments—churches, theaters, and the majestic Capitole “town hall.” The Garonne River bisects the city, and along with the Canal du Midi, provides many opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities like walking, cycling, fishing, kayaking, and river-cruises. There are also around 160 parks and green spaces around Toulouse.
The second largest university city, after Paris, students account for one-fourth of the city’s population. This youthful spirit is felt throughout town, as well as a passion for the arts that is seen through Toulouse’s numerous museums, theaters, and concert halls.
There’s always a good excuse for a “fiesta,” and given that the city is a foodie-destination par excellence, a lot of the town’s social life centers around gourmet activities. Residents take pride in their regional products and wines, and Toulouse boasts 11 Michelin-star restaurants.
“French bistros are always the best choice for dining options,” says Tuula. “You can get a two-course meal for around $14 to $16 dollars—usually with a glass of wine included. Those are lunchtime prices, so evening meals will run you a bit more. Tipping is not a common practice in France, so that will be your “out-the-door” price. If you’d like to “splurge” on a gourmet meal, a three-course dinner starts at around $42. This will include a starter, main dish, and dessert. Wine will be extra at about $17 for a truly excellent bottle. Cheaper wine options exist, and you can order by the glass as well at around $6 to $9 depending on the restaurant and wine selection.”