Springtime in the northern hemisphere is a tricky time.
The earth promises so much in its garden garlands of daffodils and yet often delivers chilly disappointment. As this has been one of the longest, coldest winters on record (which I missed because I moved back to NZ. YAY!) I thought it was about time I introduced some perfect places in Europe to grab some warm weather and some sunshine.
1/Cyprus – March/April/May is a great time to visit Cyprus. I was there staying at the divine Anassa Spa last year at the end of March and the weather was consistently warm and sunny. Not only that, but the hotel was quiet as most people prefer to travel in their summer holidays – typically July/August. But Cyprus has so much to offer when it’s not crowded with other holidaymakers. I loved being able to saunter around the World Heritage site in Kato Pafos without feeling hassled or jostled by the hoards. Pafos town was quiet and I only encountered one group of drunken squaddies, and they were more a laugh than a pest.
Of course Anassa was beautiful in itself and there was something stunningly restorative about the peace – only hearing the sound of the waves down at the beach and the occasional chuckle of a happy child. Heaven really.
Must sees – Word Heritage Site in Pafos, Aphrodite’s beach, Aphrodite’s bath and the beautiful, isolated Lara Beach in Chrysochou Bay where turtles hatch their young from May-August. Oh and I would recommend a stay at Anassa.
2/Venice – Of course we made the mistake of visiting Venice in high season, but I can imagine that it would be better in Spring than it is in Summer. We were there in July last year and I’ll admit that it was busy. The kind of busy that wears you down. We were constantly aware of tour groups, particularly in St Mark’s Square, with their leaders holding umbrellas aloft like deranged Mary Poppins.
“Come back to Venice in winter”, everyone told us. But then we found out that in winter the canals flood with icy water in the aqua alta (high tide). That doesn’t sound very holiday-ish at all. So, Spring is the time to go to Venice. If possible stay off the beaten track – try the Lista di Spagna area in Cannaregio near the railway station, which is less touristy, and try to avoid the very busy May 1st holiday.
Make sure you head out to the beautiful little islands of Murano (for the glass) and Burano (for the fabulous painted houses). The trip out to the islands on the public Vaporetto is lovely and romantic. The Vaporetto is only €18 for 12 trips and we found we’d recouped our costs in only four trips! If you do head out to Burano make sure you get off at the Fortuna de Nuova ACTV stop and grab some dinner at the little dockside restaurant there, called Snack Bar Cupido.
They have the best risotto – unctious, creamy, seafoody not fishy – I’ve ever tasted. The risotto and my Englishman’s carbonara (yellow, silken not eggy!) was only €25 for both dishes and 2 glasses of wine.
Don’t forget to discover the markets as well as the tourist highlights such as the Bridge of Sighs. The markets are where the real colour of the Venetian life comes together in a bold, beautiful collision of sights, sounds and divine smells!
Grab the best pizza you’ll ever eat at one of the nearby pizzerias (Trattoria Aquito) but do NOT eat the ‘complementary’ bread and drink the ‘water’. They’ll sting you for that on the bill later. They say Paris is beautiful in the Springtime, but I think Venice would be a close second.
Must sees: Burano, and Murano without a doubt. Don’t buy Murano glass in Venice, wait until you visit the showrooms on Murano and watch a live glass firing display. They only have men firing the glass because apparently women cannot blow and talk at the same time! Pop into Harry’s Bar and pretend you’re one of the smart set from the Venetian glory days. Oh look there’s Truman Capote and EM Forster sitting right over there!
3/Douro Valley, Portugal
We visited Porto and the Douro Valley in Autumn and were delighted with the temperatures – low 20’s deg C, but we were reliably informed by the locals that Spring is a beautiful time to visit. In Northern Portugal there’s a very gentle warmth in Spring as opposed to the mad heat of high summer. The owner of Pacheca explained ‘In Winter and Spring, it’s lovely being able to curl up in the cool evenings with a beautiful glass of Port’. She didn’t have to say it twice. I can believe it! Douro Port is legendary and whilst I loved drinking white Port and tonic as a long summer drink, I can think of nothing nicer than a blood-red glass of Tawny Port in front of a fire.
I was surprised to see how beautiful the Douro Valley is with its old gnarled vines set out in rows that cling to the steep hillsides. I loved the family run Pacheca vineyard and lusted after staying in one of their 15 individually decorated avant-garde rooms at The Wine House Hotel (Quinta da Pacheca) for a few days. I could see me working during the day on writing my book, grabbing mind-snacks of the beautiful views of vines from outside the window. And not to mention the food – fresh, honest, life in a mouthful. Ahhhhhh, lovely!
Must see: Quinta da Pacheca north of Régua, 133 miles approx north of Porto. D.O.C Restaurant – a spectacular restaurant on the Douro River itself (near Forgosa). Enjoy a long lunch there, as we did, and savour some of the best food and wine and port of the region. The wonderful old town of Pinhao and the Pinhao Railway Station with its azulejos tiles. Go for a cruise down the river on one of the Rabelos boats, and drink Port. Drink lots of Port.
Have you any destinations to add to our Must See in Springtime collection? Add them in the comments below.