Dream European Vacations
It doesn’t take long to be swayed by the drowsy rhythm of the Île de Ré, off the western coast of France. Before you know it, you’ll be getting around by bike, stopping to sample fresh oysters at the market or to admire historic town houses by the old port.
This colorful seaside hideaway is at its most charming in early summer, when crowds are thin and a gentle breeze stirs the bougainvillea. And like our favorite Old World escapes, a trip to the Île de Ré encourages you to relax your pace and bask in life’s finer pleasures, as the Europeans do oh so well.
If your European daydream is set among white-sand beaches and ancient ruins, look no further than the Greek island of Cephalonia. Check in to the affordable Emelisse Hotel, which offers a pool, a spa, and proximity to Gentilini Winery & Vineyards.
Other travelers will gravitate to the artisanal pub food and country retreats of the Cotswolds, where a string of new openings has attracted discerning Londoners like designer Stella McCartney.
Across Europe, there are similar signs of revitalization. While the waterfront city of Palma, Spain, has its share of medieval mazelike streets, don’t be surprised to find a thriving contemporary art scene.
In the village of Alaçati, Turkey, meanwhile, ambitious chef Kemal Demirasal wants his restaurant to reach the culinary heights of Copenhagen’s Noma. Size up his progress over a 12-course tasting menu on the patio above the terracotta rooftops—and raise a glass to your dream vacation come true.
This sleepy village on the Çeşme Peninsula is the latest playground for Istanbul’s creative set. After a day spent lounging in the open-air cafés or browsing the recherché and vintage design boutiques of Old Town, head to the walled garden of the family-run restaurant Asma Yapraği ($$), where you order by picking from the home-style dishes on the kitchen table (fried zucchini flowers filled with goat-milk cheese; rosemary-rubbed lamb). While simply made Turkish staples are the draw, Alaçati also has a culinary talent of the highest order: former windsurfing champion Kemal Demirasal, whose ambition is to turn the glass-walled Alancha ($$) into nothing less than the Turkish answer to Copenhagen’s Noma. He’s on the right path. Book a table on the patio overlooking the town’s terra-cotta rooftops and order from the 12-course tasting menu, which may include specials such as tahini with dehydrated Black Sea anchovies.
For decades, Alaçati lacked a decent place to stay. That all changed when Zeynep Özis opened the first boutique property, Taş Otel ($), in 2001. Scores of handsome Ottoman-era stone houses have now been turned into “butik otels,” though many pale in comparison to Taş’s rustic-chic aesthetic. Most impressive of the newcomers is the 25-room Alavya ($$$), which spreads out over six restored stone houses in the center of town: expect white-on-white bedding, thick woven rugs, and sundowners by the mosaic-lined pool. —Sarah Miller
The Cotswolds, England
The Cotswolds have long been a home to England’s royals and elite, but the success of tastemaker Carole Bamford’s Daylesford Organic Farm Shop, along with a string of artisanal boutique and restaurant openings, has since attracted stylish Londoners again—designers John Pawson and Stella McCartney, to name two. On weekends, Wild Rabbit ($$), a pub turned restaurant-hotel in Kingham (and Bamford’s latest venture) is buzzing with urbanites enjoying dishes made from regional produce. If that’s booked, they head to the Kingham Plough ($$$) or to Chequers Pub ($$), in Churchill, for local ales and deviled kidneys on toast. To work off lunch, there’s shopping in Tetbury. Swing by Lorford’s Antiques for vintage pieces and Sharland & Lewis, which carries modern housewares. If you’d rather join the Wellington-boot brigade, go on a hike to the Rollright Stones near Long Compton, a set of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments much loved by Pawson. Another of his favorite spots: St. Mary’s Church, in Chipping Norton—it’s the ideal place to relax if you’re not into the yoga at Bamford Haybarn, a wellness retreat in Daylesford. —Sarah Miller
Île de Ré, France
Off the western coast of France, Île de Ré has the kind of colorful seaside charm and drowsy rhythm that’s bound to seduce you. On the 33-square-mile island, architectural styles span more than 700 years: there are 17th-century military battlements by Louis XIV’s military engineer, Vauban; grand town houses surrounding the old port of St.-Martin-de-Ré; and whitewashed fisherman’s cottages with green shutters and cascading bougainvillea. While crowds are thick in August, the early summer months are ideal; most locals get around on bicycles and a gentle breeze fills the air. Check in to the stately Hôtel de Toiras ($$$$), in the Vieux Port, with 11 rooms and nine suites done up in soft blues and trompe l’oeil fabrics. For fans of sparer Scandinavian style, there’s Hôtel Le Sénéchal ($), in Ars-en-Ré, across the island. Here, sunny patios and secret garden nooks set the backdrop for a breakfast of viennoiserie with marmalade or local honey. Twenty miles east, the village of La Flotte hosts a daily morning market in its main square, popular for its fresh sea urchins and oysters; they’re among the few comestibles that don’t need a sprinkling of the island’s renowned fleur de sel. —Alexandra Marshall
Palma, Majorca, Spain
For decades, Palma, capital of the Balearics, was known as the quiet medieval center of Majorca, its winding streets filled with hidden courtyards and ancient cloisters. Today, a new generation of style-setters has rediscovered the waterfront city. Consider its contemporary art scene, booming with such galleries as La Caja Blanca, Xavier Fiol, and Horrach Moya. A steady stream of hotel openings has endowed Casco Viejo (the old town) with fashionable places to stay, not least of them the Scandinavian-owned Hotel Cort ($$) and Palma Suites ($). On a seafront square, Hotel Calatrava ($$) is an 18th-century house, with one-of-a-kind antiques and private balconies, from the husband-and-wife design team behind the palatial Can Cera ($$), also in the old center; the duo are poised to debut their third Palma property, Can Alomar, this month. Then there’s the food, which has reached new heights, thanks to Emilio Castrejón’s innovative menu at Innobar ($$$)—try the lobster tempura—and the arrival of Majorcan maestro Santi Taura’s namesake spot ($$$). His arrossejats, made with rice, pasta, shellfish, saffron, and cauliflower, may just be the finest dish in town. —Paul Richardson
Cazalla de la Sierra, Spain
Tucked away in Seville’s foothills, this tiny whitewashed town is a favorite of Carolina Herrera, who stays at the 16th-century hacienda Trasierra ($$). It’s the perfect jumping-off point for exploring nearby Seville. For dinner, head to the 90-year-old Bar Europa ($$) for tapas; try the goat-milk-cheese quesadillas with apple and strawberry slices. —Lisa Grainger
A Dos Cunhados, Portugal
On a wild stretch of pine-dotted coastline an hour from Lisbon, the concrete-and-glass Areias do Seixo ($$) has 14 chic rooms and a spa that uses native ingredients for treatments. Surf nearby Praia do Seixo during the day, then return to the local butcher’s restaurant Trás d’Orelha (351/261-326-018; $$) for herb-fed lamb come evening. —Lisa Grainger
There’s not much to do in the farthest reaches of Sweden, but in-the-know travelers put their names down months in advance to eat at Fäviken Magasinet ($$$$), overlooking Järpen’s rolling hills. Here, acclaimed chef Magnus Nilsson creates about a dozen mind-bending courses (raw cow’s heart with flower petals, anyone?) for just 14 guests. Most visitors stay at the adjacent log-cabin hotel, with 15 stylishly spare rooms. —Lisa Grainger
Whisky lovers have long known about the namesake distillery on this under-the-radar Hebridean island. Less well-known: the owners’ whimsical Jura Lodge (44-1496/820-385; $$$), where you’ll find a suit of armor in the dining room and chandeliers made of antlers. Spend your days hiking up the Paps of Jura mountains, and your nights eating fresh lobster, among other sea-to-table dishes, at the hotel. —Lisa Grainger
Since the Italians crowned the Adriatic Coast their new Amalfi, well-heeled travelers have flocked to Korčula’s charming alleys and pebble beaches. Check in to Lešić Dimitri Palace ($$$$), a restored 18th-century mansion done in Art Deco–inspired furnishings. Just south, Konoba More (385-20/712-068; $$$) serves standout scampi, accompanied by water views. —Lisa Grainger
When the polished Lime Wood Hotel ($$) opened in the New Forest, style-conscious Londoners seeking a country escape were quick to make the 80-mile drive southwest; the hotel has yoga classes in the herb garden and house-smoked charcuterie at the restaurant. Up the road, the Pig ($$) is worth a stop for its creative farm-to-fork menu. When you’re not at the table, go for a horseback ride or a walk in the Pig’s orchard. —Lisa Grainger
The most remote of the Argo-Saronic islands is where the Onassis family laid anchor, and where Athens’s high society has private villas. Our choice: Poseidonion Grand Hotel ($$), with its plein-air restaurant and spacious spa. —Lisa Grainger
Les Baux-de-Provence, France
Set atop a rocky outcrop in the Alpilles mountains, Les Baux-de-Provence is a medieval village with shady cobblestoned lanes and views over the Val d’Enfer (Hell’s Valley). At the wisteria-shrouded Oustau de Baumanière ($$), rooms are sun-filled, and dinner is legendary, thanks to a 50,000-bottle wine cellar and specialties such as truffle-and-leek ravioli. —Lisa Grainger