The country villages and rolling farmland of the Cotswolds are just a two-hour drive from central London or a two-hour train ride from Paddington Station. The area’s upmarket mix of designer boutiques, quaint cottages, and exceptional restaurants attracts weekenders who want an easy-to-reach rural retreat.
From Cheltenham to Bledington
Day 1 The Cotswolds region is small enough to make any town your base, but because trains arrive in Cheltenham every half-hour, it’s the perfect starting point. (Buy your train ticket online at nationalrail.co.uk before arriving in England, and pay $72 less for your trip north. Keep in mind the deal is invalid if you pick the ticket up at the station, so be sure to arrange to have it sent to your hotel.) Style-conscious urbanites will love the Big Sleep, an alternative to pricier spots like the Cotswold House and Cowley Manor. The rooms have whimsical accents such as Panton chairs and Orla Kiely patterned wallpaper. Take the afternoon to drive west, past the pretty village of Bibury, to check out the Village Pub, a B&B that doubles as a gastropub and is adorned with a mishmash of old wooden chairs and large Oriental rugs. It’s laid-back and understated, except for the food: expect imaginative dishes such as grilled John Dory with braised octopus, chickpeas, tomato, and oregano.
Days 2–3 Head southwest to the market town of Tetbury and check into the family-friendly Priory Inn, with modern touches, like simple American black walnut desks, in its 14 mocha-hued rooms. A few steps away, Michael and Sarah Bedford run the no-frills Chef’s Table. From its op
Berlin has cold-war mystique, ambitious contemporary architecture, and booming gallery and restaurant scenes. With its cosmopolitan, east-meets-west edginess, it’s no wonder the city has become the cultural capital of central Europe; a destination that continues to attract creative types and in-the-know travelers.
Day 1 Stay in the fashionable Mitte (“middle”) district, since it’s convenient to major sites including the Reichstag and Potsdamer Platz. The boutique hotel Lux 11 is an option, with 72 minimalist rooms and an Ulf Haines concept store, or there’s the newly expanded Schoenhouse Apartments, which is set around a secluded courtyard and has a modern café to match its 50 studios and apartments. Have lunch at nearby Leo Bettini, and order the signature Knödel (German dumplings) before browsing Mitte’s many boutiques, including Bioladen, the organic-food store found throughout the city. This is where shoppers stock up on Weleda and Dr. Hauschka body products—about 30 percent cheaper in Germany. At night, check out the lively pub Schwarzwaldstuben, filled with mismatched furniture, and try the Schweinschnitzel or ravioli-like Maultaschen with a Rothaus beer.
Day 2 Begin at the city’s 543-acre park, the Tiergarten, in the city center, walking along the shaded paths to wind up at the Brandenburg Gate; then turn right for New York architect Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a haunting field of concrete pillars. Not far away is Kunst-Werke (69 Auguststrasse; 49-30/243-4590;
Stay: The poet Shelley used to rent the top floor of what is now the Natale family’s friendly and comfortable Hotel Navona, hidden on a quiet side street just a block from Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome. If it’s full, the Natales will book you into their elegant Residence Zanardelli annex in a Liberty-style Art Nouveau building nearby.
Eat: Soccer players, Hollywood stars, famous artists, and locals from the neighborhood all line up outside Pizzeria da Baffetto to wait patiently for a table to open up in the crammed rooms of one of Rome’s most stalwart traditional pizzerie: open only at dinner (only tourists eat pizza at lunch), with a limited menu (pizza, bruschetta, packaged desserts) and low prices. Even with a bottle or two of wine, it’s impossible to spend more than $30 a head.
Do: Rome has more than 900 churches, all of them free, displaying great works of Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture by the likes of Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Bramante, Pinturricchio, and Annibale Carracci—and that’s just the shortlist of artists contained in one church, the little-visited Santa Maria del Popolo, located on the north side of the Piazza del Popolo. According to legend, it was built to exorcise the ghost of Nero from a copse of trees.
Affordable Travel Tip: The Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of each month—though every local resident and school group takes advantage of this fact, so arrive before they open at 8:30 a.m. to keep ahead of the crowds.
Peter Adams Photography / Alamy
Stay: Part of London’s most reliable motel chain, with 18 locations in all, Premier Inn Southwark offers standardized (if bland) comfort. A short stroll from the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe, the well-located motel is also attached to the historic Anchor Bankside pub, where guests can enjoy full English breakfasts with a view of the Thames.
Eat: In the heart of Covent Garden, waiters dressed as monks scurry around the cavernous basement dining hall of Belgo Centraal serving pots of mussels, platters of spicy sausages with mashed potatoes, and halved spit-roasted chickens, accompanied by Belgian beers. Any one of those dishes, plus a drink, costs $13 until 5:30 p.m.; another (limited) menu, good between 5 and 6:30 p.m., lets you pay whatever the clock reads when you order.
Do: It’s common knowledge that many of London’s greatest museums-the British Museum, V&A, National Gallery, Tate Modern-don’t charge admission, but don’t overlook some lesser-known freebies like the free lunchtime concerts at St-Martin-in-the-Fields church or the wonderfully hodgepodge collection of art and ancient sculpture in the wildly Victorian private house-museum of Sir John Soane.
Affordable Travel Tip: London’s best buy is the Oyster Card, a kind of public transportation debit card that brings the per-ride price on London buses and subways down from $8 to just $3 or $4—or get it “charged” with an unlimited $48 weeklong TravelCard, which pays for itself after just six rides. It also offer
David Noble Photography / Alamy
Stay: From the grotto-like breakfast room to the duplex junior-suites under mansard roofs, the 29-room Hôtel de la Bretonnerie is a sampler catalogue of French fashions. Guest quarter décor ranges from cozy canopy beds and rustic exposed beams to elegant Empire-style furnishings to exotic Indochine appointments. No room will be accused of being spacious, but all are comfortable, the Sagot family’s management is friendly, and the setting is hard to beat a classic 17th-century hôtel in the heart of the Marais, a few blocks from the Pompidou and Picasso Museum and a 15-minute stroll from Notre-Dame.
Eat: Paris’s temples of fine dining at reasonable prices are its brasseries, a cross between a café and a restaurant where simple dishes start around $20. Traditionally brasserie menus lean heavily on German-influenced Alsatian cuisine, hence the signature dish, choucroutes (tangy sauerkraut, usually served with sausages and pork) and the preponderance of beer over wine (brasserie means “brewery”). Which brasserie is best is hotly disputed, but two favorites remain the 144-year-old Bofinger, all Belle Epoque elegance and chaotic activity, and the more intimate and relaxed Left Bank bastion Balzar.
Do: Become a museum VIP and waltz right past the long lines with the Paris Museum Pass. It costs $45 for two days, $70 for four days, or $95 for six days; covers all admission fees (except special exhibits); and lets you bypass the lines at 40 top sights in Paris and 21 more in the surrounding region, from the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay to Versailles and Fontainebleau (pretty much everything except the Eiffel Tower).
Affordable Travel Tip: T
Stay: Man of Aran was an acclaimed 1934 movie about life on Inishmore, chief of the Aran Islands, known worldwide for its thick wool sweaters. The traditional thatched cottage used in the film is now a country-comfy B&B with views of the water and stellar meals prepared with fresh ingredients from owners Joe and Maura Wolfe’s organic garden. It is but one of 1,100 B&B’s across Ireland in the excellent Town & Country catalogue.
Eat: In just a decade, Ireland’s booming economy has taken it from a rural backwater to a sophisticated country that has surpassed Scandinavia for highest cost of living in Europe. In a place where pizza costs $18 and main dishes start at $30, the key to hearty meals that won’t break the bank is pub grub; entrées start around $10. Smuggler’s Creek Inn, a stone cottage with picture windows on Rossnowlagh Beach below, has been in continuous operation as a pub since 1845. It blends Irish tradition—a turf fire, upended barrels as tables—with an award-winning menu of innovative dishes such as lemongrass risotto with Atlantic prawns and roast monkfish with garlic and fennel.
Do: Avoid the tour bus-clogged Ring of Kerry for its neighbor to the North, County Clare, home to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher rising more than 700 feet from the crashing Atlantic waves; the weirdly eroded limestone landscape of the Burren, where prehistoric slab tombs perch on the rocky flatlands like miniature houses of cards; and Doolin, a blink-and-you-missed-it village that has become an unlikely mecca for traditional Celtic music, its pubs often crammed with music lovers listening to top
Alessandro Saffo/Grand Tour/Corbis Stay: The iconic architecture of Apulia—the “heel” of Italy’s boot—is the prehistoric trullo, a cylindrical whitewashed house with a cone-shaped roof of stacked gray stones. There’s no greater concentration of trulli than in the UNESCO-protected town of Alberobello, where whole neighborhoods are made of the structures—and the local entrepreneur behind Trullidea has fixed up dozens of the abandoned ones and rents them to visitors. Cool in the baking summers and with cozy fireplaces for wintertime, a rental trullo lets you live like a local for less than the cost of a tourist-class hotel in town. Eat: The Osteria del Tempo Perso (“Inn of Lost Time”) is squirreled into cavelike rooms off one of the many narrow alleys in Ostuni, a hilltop cluster of whitewashed buildings nicknamed The White City. Beneath walls adorned with farm tools, you can dig into such Pugliese specialties as orecchiette (“little ears” pasta) with wilted turnip greens ($13), the tegamino di funghi cardoncelli (a mushroom stew backed under a puffy cap of bread ($9), or a spigola (sea bass) cooked in parchment with clams ($24). Do: Visit the “Florence of the Baroque,” the lovely city of Lecce; its unique buildings—many with wild sculptures—are filled with workshops crafting the town’s renowned painted papier-mâché saints destined for church altars around the world. Lecce is also the de facto capital of Apulia’s southernmost Salento Peninsula, famed for its earthy, powerful Salice Salentino and Primitivo wines. Affordable Travel Tip: Want to sample what the Amalfi Coast was like before the hotshots and high prices moved in? Apulia’s forested Gargano Peninsula is popular with sun-loving Italians, but is otherwise refreshingly off the tourist map. Its coast
Alessandro Saffo/Grand Tour/Corbis
Stay: The iconic architecture of Apulia—the “heel” of Italy’s boot—is the prehistoric trullo, a cylindrical whitewashed house with a cone-shaped roof of stacked gray stones. There’s no greater concentration of trulli than in the UNESCO-protected town of Alberobello, where whole neighborhoods are made of the structures—and the local entrepreneur behind Trullidea has fixed up dozens of the abandoned ones and rents them to visitors. Cool in the baking summers and with cozy fireplaces for wintertime, a rental trullo lets you live like a local for less than the cost of a tourist-class hotel in town.
Eat: The Osteria del Tempo Perso (“Inn of Lost Time”) is squirreled into cavelike rooms off one of the many narrow alleys in Ostuni, a hilltop cluster of whitewashed buildings nicknamed The White City. Beneath walls adorned with farm tools, you can dig into such Pugliese specialties as orecchiette (“little ears” pasta) with wilted turnip greens ($13), the tegamino di funghi cardoncelli (a mushroom stew backed under a puffy cap of bread ($9), or a spigola (sea bass) cooked in parchment with clams ($24).
Do: Visit the “Florence of the Baroque,” the lovely city of Lecce; its unique buildings—many with wild sculptures—are filled with workshops crafting the town’s renowned painted papier-mâché saints destined for church altars around the world. Lecce is also the de facto capital of Apulia’s southernmost Salento Peninsula, famed for its earthy, powerful Salice Salentino and Primitivo wines.
Affordable Travel Tip: Want to sample what the Amalfi Coast was like before the hotshots and high prices moved in? Apulia’s forested Gargano Peninsula is popular with sun-loving Italians, but is otherwise refreshingly off the tourist map. Its coast
Corbis Premium RF / Alamy
Stay: The Burg Colmberg is a 14th-century castle straight out of a storybook, rising from a rocky crag above a tiny village. It offers an eclectic collection of rooms tucked throughout a warren of crooked hallways, hidden staircases, and cozy sitting nooks. Ask to see several rooms before choosing, since the décor ranges wildly from full-on medieval to Louis XIV rococo to Chinese Imperial.
Eat: Bavaria is the heartland of simple, rib-sticking dishes heavy on the würstel, potatoes, and sauerkraut-accompanied, of course, by liter-size mugs of beer-and there’s no better place to indulge in the cholesterol fest than alongside local residents in the mayor’s basement. There’s a regional tradition of installing a cozy Ratskeller of communal picnic tables in the keller (cellar) of the local Rathaus (town hall), whether in the tiniest village or the Ratskeller of Munich itself, where you must be sure to order the city’s specialty: weisswurst (fat but delicate white sausages)—best when dipped in spicy mustard and sucked right out of their casings.
Do: After your de rigueur visit to the postcard-perfect Cinderella castle of Neuschwanstein, resplendently perched atop its mountain, take the time to tour the castle in which “Mad King” Ludwig II actually lived. Hohenschwangau is a more modest pile of battlements on a smaller nub of a hill in the valley below. What it lacks in the carefully crafted pomp and circumstance of Neuschwanstein—which Ludwig never lived to see completed—it more than makes up for in homeyness and history. It offers a unique window into the daily life of a 19th-century monarch and his quirky Romantic-era urges, among them the story of how the king rescued the composer Richa
Steven Vidler/Eurasia Press/Corbis
The Dalmatian Coast
Stay: Skip the overexposed island of Hvar for the walled medieval village on the Adriatic island of Korcula, purported home to Marco Polo. Korcula is more of a day-trip destination, and that means the tourist crowds thin considerably by sundown, leaving those who remain to relax in the cafés, stroll the narrow alleys, and enjoy the easygoing life of the old town. Don’t worry about finding a room; one company has a lock on the five best lodging options in town, including the century-old Hotel Korcula, a seaside villa in the old center with simple but pleasant rooms; book one overlooking the water to catch the sea breezes.
Eat: Though its pricey seaside sister restaurant Nautika gets all the press, Proto is a better choice; it charges half as much for the classic fisherfolk recipes it has been dishing out in the heart of Dubrovnik’s old town since 1886. Grab a seat under the beamed ceilings, in the romantic stone alley, or on the shaded roof terrace, and order anything from the sea. It excels at surf—stuffed lobster with risotto, grilled fish, saffron shrimp—but also honors Croatian turf specialties; don’t miss Dalmatian smoked ham and olives as an appetizer.
Do: Every old city in Europe has an Old City historic district—but Split has the only downtown actually carved from the carcass of an ancient Roman palace. When the emperor Diocletian split the Roman Empire in A.D. 305, he built a lavish palace on the Croatian coast to live out his days as head of the empire’s eastern half. In the 1,700 years since, the ruins of his enormous structure have been colonized by the locals, the buildings turned into medieval town houses, the emperor’s tomb transformed into the cathedral, and the mighty brick undercrofting of it all now used as evocative e
Stay: The stylish, comfortable Empress Zoe has the quirky, handcrafted intimacy you’d expect from a hotel that stitches together four neighboring town houses to make 25 rooms with embroidered Turkish canopies over the beds, wildly colorful murals, spiral staircases, and odd Ottoman touches like pointed archways sprinkled throughout. Some rooms open onto a private garden, others overlook the romantically overgrown ruins of the city’s oldest hammam, its crumbling domes now sprouting wildflowers. From the roof terrace you can glimpse the Marmara Sea past minarets.
Eat: In the heart of the Old Town of Sultanahmet on busy Divanyolu street is a row of restaurants specializing in köfte; the best is the 81-year-old family-run Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi, where locals line up for heavenly smoky plates of grilled meatballs, often served with a lemon-dressed white bean salad ($15). Wash everything down with a carton of ayran, Turkey’s national yogurt drink.
Do: Istanbul’s major state-run museums charge hefty admissions, but the Great Palace Mosaic Museum, just behind the Blue Mosque adjacent to the Arasta Bazaar, costs only $3. These delightful mosaic scenes of hunts, myths, animal battles, and everyday life in antiquity—boys riding a camel, a man milking his goat, a youth feeding his donkey—once covered the floor of a large courtyard of the Palatium Magnum, the Great Palace built between the time of Constantine the Great himself and Justinian I (4th to early 6th centuries).
Affordable Travel Tip: You can cruise between the continents for $1—plus 30¢ for a glass of tea on board—by catching a local ferry at the Eminönü docks on the Golden Horn and