Forget Venice …
Treviso is just a 20-minute train ride from the centre of Venice but it feels like a different world, writes John Brunton. Not so much in appearance – pretty balconied houses look out over canals, medieval church towers protrude above terracotta-tiled roofs, and café tables spill out over cobbled piazzas – as in the absence of tourist hordes. There are excellent restaurants without a rip-off menu turistico in sight and whereas in Venice you can feel at best tolerated by locals, here there’s a warm welcome; expect your drink to be set down with a smile and a plate of free nibbles. There is one major museum, the Casa dei Carraresi, and its next exhibition (opening on November 13) examines the relationship between artists and their models, from Canova, who came from nearby Possagno, to Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol.
Where to stay: Treviso is known for its small, comfy hotels rather than five-star luxury, but a chic newcomer is Maison Matilda (Via Riccati 44, www.maisonmatilda.com; doubles from €240), a designer B&B in an elegant mansion. The centrally-located Albergo Il Focolare (Piazza Ancilotto 4, www.albergoilfocolare.net; €100) can’t be beaten for value for money. For the fashion crowd there is the Relais Monaco (Via Postumia 63, Ponzano Veneto, www.relaismonaco.it; €250), owned by Benetto, which has its headquarters in Treviso. A sumptuous villa less than four miles out of town, it has a pool and nearby golf course.
What to do: As well as the museum, there’s a 12th-century cathedral but coming here is more about soaking up the Italian spirit than rushing around the sights. Treviso is one of Italy’s fashion capitals and it is easy to spend a day in the luxury boutiques that line Via Calmaggiore. Afterwards, enjoy a quiet walk along the shady Buranelli canal or past the grand villas and medieval city wall. A wander among the noisy fishmongers of the pescheria and adjoining fruit and vegetable market is a must for foodies, as is a glass of wine and a plate of porchetta (roast suckling pig) at nearby Osteria Muscoli (Via Pescheria 23).
Where to eat: Hip locals like to be seen at Toula Da Alfredo (Via Collalto 26, tel: +39 0422 540275) but to get a real feel for Treviso reserve a table in a traditional trattoria. Le Beccherie (Piazza Ancilotto 11, tel: +39 0422 540871) is a gastronomic institution and serves a delicious faraona alla peverada, guinea fowl with a sweet pomegranate sauce. Toni del Spin (Via Inferiore 7, tel: +39 0422 543829) is a wonderful wood-panelled trattoria, always full, and the best place to try sarde in saor, sardines cooked with raisins, pine nuts and onions.
Where to drink: The evening kicks off early in this party-loving town with an aperitivo – try the local favourite, spritz al bitter (white wine, Campari and a splash of soda). The funkiest spot is either Sottoportico (Via Buranelli 29), where crowds spill on to the canal, or the stylish Mamamia (Borgo Mazzini 50). Treviso is surrounded by vineyards and wine lovers shouldn’t miss Dai Nanetti (Vicolo Broli 2), a rustic osteria with an exceptional choice of vintages.
Details: Treviso Tourism Office: tel: +39 0422 547632; www.provincia.treviso.it. Treviso airport is three miles from the centre.
John Brunton is co-author of ‘Italie: Alchimie des sens’ (Vilo)
Forget Brussels …
Antwerp has been sought after and fought over for centuries thanks to its sheltered position on the estuary of the River Scheldt, writes Hettie Judah. The legacy is a patchwork of ancient and modern architecture in which baroque rubs up against art deco, while the city’s blossoming contemporary face includes buildings by architects Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners and Neutelings Riedijk. The city centre is dreadful by car but wonderful on foot. The south is the cultural heartland, where the contemporary art museum M HKA (Leuvenstraat 32, www.mhka.be) and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Leopold De Waelplaats, www.kmska.be) are collaborating this autumn to present a retrospective of Anselm Kiefer (October 23 to January 23 2011). A short walk up Nationalestraat is MoMu (Nationalestraat 28, www.momu.be), the city’s fashion museum, and north of this is the ancient city centre and the Eilandje docklands where a spectacular new city museum will open next spring.
Where to stay: Maison Delaneau (Karel Rogierstraat 18, www.maisondelaneau.com; doubles from €140) is a discreetly luxurious 10-bedroom hotel in the arty south. Alternatively, the spirited renovation (think religious artefacts and taxidermy) and fabulous welcome at Boulevard Leopold (Belgiëlei 135, www.boulevard-leopold.be; €115), a late-19th-century townhouse, make it one of the city’s most coveted places to stay. It also rents out two fabulously styled apartments (from €140).
What to do: Aside from its art museums and architectural gems Antwerp’s big draw these days is fashion. For the décor alone it’s worth visiting the boutiques of Ann Demeulemeester (Leopold de Waelplaats, www.anndemeulemeester.be), Walter Van Beirendonck (St Antoniusstraat 12, www.waltervanbeirendonck.com) and Dries Van Noten (Nationalestraat 16; www.driesvannoten.be). For the adventurous, new concept store RA (Kloosterstraat 13, www.ra13.be) houses one of the most audacious displays of contemporary collections from new designers in Europe, plus one-offs and vintage works. Graanmarkt 13 (www.graanmarkt13.be) stocks an exclusive selection of designer pieces in an inventively renovated townhouse.
Where to eat: The hottest place in town is Puur Personal Cooking (Edward Pecherstraat 51, tel: +32 0495 83 24 87, www.puurpersonalcooking.be), where the chef cooks for a maximum of 16 people per service on the Aga in his kitchen. For something more traditional visit the art deco Dôme (Grote Hondstraat 2, tel: +32 03 239 9003). Fiskebar (Marnixplaats 12/13, tel: +32 03 257 1357, www.fiskebar.be) gets the fish-loving hipsters’ vote for its grills and weekend seafood platters.
Where to drink: Though it has some renowned clubs, such as the Café d’Anvers (Verversrui 15, www.cafe-d-anvers.com) in a red-light-district warehouse, Antwerp is more about people-watching from a pavement café in the afternoon than trying to track down seedy bars after dark. Local favourites include Berlin (Kleine Markt 1), Kapitein Zeppos (Vleminckveld 78) and the bars and cafés on Leopold de Waelplaats.
Details: See www.antwerpen.be. Antwerp Airport is four miles from the centre, Brussels airport is 27 miles away.
Hettie Judah is associate curator of MoMu, design editor of ArtReview and former editor of Belgian magazine The Word
Forget Barcelona …
The largest city in the Asturias region of northern Spain, Gijón is a place where people live very well indeed, writes Annie Bennett. There are several museums, not to mention an outstanding arts centre, but you don’t want to get bogged down with a to-do list here. This is a place for shopping, sitting around in cafés and trying out Asturian tapas. The triangular city centre lies between two sandy beaches, with the old town, Cimadevilla, on a headland at its apex. Try some Asturian cider in one of the bars around the Plaza Mayor to get you into the laidback Gijón groove.
Where to stay: The Hernán Cortés (Calle Fernández Vallín 5, www.hotelhernancortes.es; doubles from €59) is the grande dame of Gijón hotels. Right in the centre, it has an old-school elegance untouched by the hand of any groovy designer, which makes a change these days. Its bar and casino make it a bit of a social hub. For a quieter vibe the Quinta Duro (Camino de las Quintas 384, www.hotelquintaduro.com; €96) is just outside the centre. An 18th-century mansion set in vast grounds, it has 11 rooms furnished with antiques.
What to do: Stroll along the promenade flanking San Lorenzo beach then explore the lanes of Cimadevilla. Cut through to the other coast for a wander round the marina, perhaps with a session in the Talaso Poniente spa (www.talasoponiente.com), before hitting the shops around Calle Corrida. A short cab ride lets you combine the city’s spectacular Laboral arts centre (www.laboralcentrodearte.org) with the vast Atlántico botanic garden (www.botanicoatlantico.com).
Where to eat: Michelin-starred chef Javier Loya is at the helm at Avant Garde (Paseo Doctor Fleming, tel: +34 0985 331377), a chic bar and restaurant with a terrace in the NH hotel by San Lorenzo beach. Share a few dishes here, maybe the shellfish dim sum or the sea urchin croquettes. Ciudadela (Capua 7, tel: +34 0985 347732, www.restauranteciudadela.com) is a great place to try contemporary Asturian specialities such as air-dried venison with goats’ cheese or beef chunks with local Afuega’l Pitu cheese. In the rather romantic restaurant dining room at the back try the sea bass with scallops and sea urchin or the fabulous velvety crab soup.
Where to drink: The Garamont (Calle Covadonga 5, +34 0985 168776) is a chic spot for after-dinner drinks.
Details: See www.gijon.info. Asturias Airport is 26 miles from Gijón.
Annie Bennett is the author of guidebooks to Madrid and Barcelona for National Geographic and Blue Guides
Forget Paris …
One of the charms of Marseilles is that Parisians don’t get it and tend to stay away, writes Lucy Wadham. The joke locally is that, just as the Nazis did, they find the city unruly, ungovernable and too full of Arabs. The “old lady” is, in many ways, more like Algiers or Tunis than any French port, with a thriving mafia and a reputation for corruption. She is also irresistible, as you will find out if you go and stand on the Vieux Port (Old Port) in the evening and savour the light, the deep-blue skies, the golden stone of the buildings and the city rising gently behind you, bold and busy and open-armed to the sea. Recently named European Capital of Culture 2013, one hopes the old lady will not get a face-lift and lose her charm in the process.
Where to stay: Opened in 2006, the New Hotel of Marseilles (71 Boulevard Charles Livon, www.new-hotel.com; €215) is a design hotel on La Corniche above the Vieux Port. It boasts friendlier service and a bigger pool than the Sofitel Vieux Port next door (36 Boulevard Charles Livon, www.sofitel.com, €218) but is without the older chain’s fabulous view. Alternatively, Casa Honore (123 Rue Sainte, www.casahonore.com; €150) is a stylish B&B in the back streets behind the Vieux Port. Four airy bedrooms open on to a leafy courtyard with a little pool. Finally, there is Le Petit Nice (Anse de Maldormé, www.petitnice-passedat.com; €195), one of the best hotels in France and home to local hero Gérald Passédat’s three-star Michelin restaurant. He breathes new life into bouillabaisse, the tired local speciality, and will take you to gastronomic nirvana with his Breton lobster with sea anemones and caviar.
What to do: Have a coffee on the Vieux Port before midday and enjoy the lavish spectacle of the daily fish market, or pick up some fresh sea urchins and wash them down with a glass of Chablis. Go for a stroll in Le Panier, a network of narrow streets on the hill behind the Vieux Port. Walk up La Montée des Accoules to the Place des Moulins and follow signs to La Vieille Charité, a 17th-century Italianate hospice that now houses a museum and gallery (www.vieille-charite-marseille.org). It’s worth spending time on the sea, even if you just take le Ferryboat that runs to and fro across the Vieux Port. Cross over to the Quai de Rive Neuve, walk up to the Abbaye de Saint Victor and see her pre-Christian crypt, originally a Phoenician temple. Climb higher still to reach Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral and read the city’s aching love of the sea in ex-votos all over the walls.
Where to eat: La Passerelle (52 Rue Plan-Fourmiguier, tel: +33 06 68 62 77 87) is a sunny garden-restaurant, 100 metres from the Vieux Port, serving organic food. The Café des Epices (4 Rue du Lacydon, tel: +33 (0)4 91 91 22 69, www.cafedesepices.com) is a popular bistro serving good, creative food and a set evening menu for €40 that might feature oysters poached in orange or turbot with artichokes. Booking is advisable.
Where to drink: La Caravelle (34 Quai du Port) is a jazz bar upstairs in the Hotel Belle-Vue on the Vieux Port. Try to get a table on the balcony so you can listen to the music while enjoying the sunset.
Details: See www.marseille-tourisme.com. Marseilles airport is 16 miles from the centre.
Lucy Wadham is the author of ‘The Secret Life of France’ (Faber)
Forget Prague …
Try Český Krumlov
Built on a peninsula on the meandering Vltava river, Český Krumlov is a Unesco World Heritage site that rivals the far larger Prague, writes Stephan Delbos. The city is filled with renaissance architecture, art galleries and authentic Czech restaurants, all of which are pleasingly free of neon signs, billboards – and tourists. The castle, with its pastel-painted renaissance tower, extends from a cliff face above the river and gives the city a regal ambiance. Visit on the first weekend of October for dance and opera performances at the Festival of Baroque Arts.
Where to stay: The Hotel Seneca (Soukenicka 41, www.hotel-seneca.cz; CZK2,500 or £86) has nine beautiful rooms with antique furniture in a 16th-century building. For suites in high-renaissance style head to the Hotel Ruze (Horní 154, www.hotelruze.cz; CZK3,700 or £125), a former Jesuit monastery in the city centre.
What to do: It’s easy to spend an afternoon browsing Český Krumlov’s antique shops but the short uphill walk to the castle is worth it for views of the city and beyond. Don’t miss the castle gardens, especially in autumn when the ash trees show their brilliant foliage. Austro-Hungarian painter Egon Schiele lived in Český Krumlov for a decade from 1907 and the Egon Schiele Art Center (Siroká 71, www.schieleartcentrum.cz) has a selection of his paintings.
Where to eat: For a taste of Czech culture Krcma Markéta (Zámecké Zahrady 62; tel: +420 773 555 124, www.ckrumlov.cz/krcmamarketa) specialises in medieval meat dishes roasted on an open-fire grill. Vegetarians should seek out Laibon (Parkán 105, www.laibon.cz), also a tea room.
Where to drink: The 500-year-old Eggenberg Brewery (Latrán 27, www.eggenberg.cz) offers a variety of beers beyond the ubiquitous light and dark Czech lagers. Tour the brewery or relax in the restaurant or beer garden, which often has live music.
Details: See www.ckrumlov.cz. Linz airport in Austria is 45 miles away, Prague is 120 miles away.
Stephan Delbos is the culture editor of The Prague Post