Strange that many of the selected tips this week seemed to require an overnight stay. I wouldn't recommend Barga for a day trp from Florence. You'll need to change trains at Lucca and the drive along the valley of the Serchio river is not particulary quick. However, if you do give it a go leave time to stop at the Ponte del Diavalo, also known as the Ponte della Maddalena. You'll find it at Borgo a Mozzano. Better to stay in Barga for a few days and explore the upper reaches of the Garfagnana region, which is so different to the traditional Tuscany that everybody knows. Even better still, coincide your stay in Barga with the Pesce e Patate festival when local Italians tuck into fish and chips served down at the local football ground.
PS Lucca is an excellent recommendation for a day trip. There's an international music festival every summer - Leonard Cohen is playing this year. The best way to explore the city and its walls are by bike, which can be hired by the hour.
Google map: bit.ly/153ob5S
Xanthos is a world heritage site on Turkey’s Lycian coast, easily accessible by car from Kalkan or Petara. The site dates back to the 5th century BC, and what makes it so distinctive are the pillar tombs, some with marble reliefs; the most distinctive is the so-called “Harpy Tomb” depicting sirens carrying off the souls of the dead. Typically, though, you will need to go to the British Museum to see the original. Other than the extensive site and well preserved remains – including an impressive amphitheatre - Xanthos is also famous for the two occasions when the inhabitants committed mass suicide in the face of Persian and then Roman invaders, so the site has some moving stories to tell.
This church may be less well known than many in Prague, but inside it reveals the story of an act of great heroism from the days of World War II. Two Czech partisans, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, had assassinated the hated deputy Reich- Protector of occupied Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich. They were hiding out in the crypt along with five of their comrades when they were betrayed to the Gestapo by one of their own. There followed a three hour siege, during which 800 members of the SS and Gestapo were held at bay, until Kubis and Gabcik took their own lives. The crypt today is a compelling place to visit, with a strong sense of the events that unfolded there many years ago. There is a small museum and shop, and a film made by the Nazis with dramatic footage of Hitler attending the state funeral of Heydrich. At street level you can see the air vent with the surrounding stonework still scarred by the bullets that were fired at it in an attempt to dislodge the Czech partisans. It is also possible to follow the story to its final dreadful conclusion by visiting the village of Lidice, outside Prague – shortly after the assassination the anticipated reprisal took place there, the men shot, women and children deported to concentration camps and the village dynamited.
I can’t recommend the city of Krakow highly enough. One of the most enjoyable and informative ways to get acquainted with this beautiful city is take a four hour cycle tour with “the cool tour company”. Our group of four were lucky enough to have a guide to ourselves for the afternoon and he personalised the tour to suit our interests. Matheus was incredibly knowledgeable about his city, taking us round the old town, along the river Vistula, and into Kazimierz - the Jewish district. You don’t have to be fit to do the tour as you make frequent stops, and over lunch Matheus was able to answer any question we put him about the history of Krakow. We enjoyed cycling so much that on another day we hired bikes ourselves and cycled out of the city, along the river and through leafy suburbs to the Koscuiszki mound, a man-made memorial to an 18th century Polish patriot, which commands great views of the city. The company does other trips on foot and further afield which also come highly recommended.
Try the gardens at Cap Roig (Jardi Botanic Cap Roig),a series of beautiful and unusual themed gardens laid out on terraces around a modern castle leading to the sea. My favourite was the cactus garden which affords spectacular views of the coast below. Time your visit to coincide with the open-air music festival that the garden hosts in the summer. When we were there three years ago, Leonard Cohen was performing under the stars!
Sardinia has a bit of a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous, but don’t let this put you off. Head for Alghero - fly into its airport and it’s only a euro to take the bus into town. It might not be one of the more glamorous spots on Sardinia but it has a delightful old town with well preserved bastions, excellent restaurants specialising in seafood and plenty of places to sit with a cocktail watching the sun go down. There is a working harbour and port and the town is not reliant on tourism, although it does get busy in July and August. An excellent large gently shelving sandy beach stretches the length of the bay, making it an excellent choice for families.
North west coast of Sardinia
Google map: bit.ly/QgnVWe
The medieval city of Trogir is a “must-see” location on the Croatian coast. It’s well worth its designation as a UNESCO world heritage site but it swarms with visitors in the summer and you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful who park their yachts along the waterfront. So, don’t stay in Trogir itself, nor on Ciovo Island – the causeway is a reduced to a traffic jam in the summer months. Instead, locate yourself a little way down the coast at Seget Donjii and use the regular and reliable ferry service provided by Felip’s Marina. If you become a regular user they might even let you take hold of the tiller as you head along the coast, and they provide day trips to neighbouring islands like Solta, with a fish lunch cooked in the open air, and further afield to Split.
Trogir is 10km from Split airport and Split is about 40km along the coast. It's only a few kilometres to the quiet village of Seget Donjii.
Google map: bit.ly/PFdKtO
Begur is a medieval hilltop town, a couple of miles inland from some of the best beaches on the Costa Brava. Although it comes alive with holiday makers (mainly Spanish) in the summer months it is a thriving community in its own right which is proud of its history and tradition. Dominated by the remains of a 16th century castle, the town has narrow cobbled streets, with stylish shops, restaurants and bars. The heart of Begur is the Placa de la Vila, the main square, which has a real “buzz “ to it in the evenings. Our favourite place to sit in the square is “Es Pedris Llarg”- a cool stone bench which runs the length of the church, perfect for watching the world go by.
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