Almost a fairy tale castle…
Almost a fairy tale castle…
Yes Paris in glorious in Springtime, but it is downright cozy in autumn and winter. Where to spend the colder months while you wait for summertime on the Amalfi Coast to return…
The sun is slowly setting on the summer season on the Amalfi Coast, the shores of Ibiza, and the Greek islands. A wistful sadness hits as the realization sets in that it will be a long year before it is time to return to partake in sun and sea again. Yet European cities in the colder months, in the off season, have much to offer, not to mention are much are less expensive. Yes, big cities like London and Paris will always cost a bit, but less tourists, more art exhibitions, and a truer ‘like a local’ experience can be had from end October to mid March. Here are a few cool European cities to enjoy when its cold.
Paris is always a good idea, yes, and in Springtime it is enchanting, but Paris is at its most Parisian in the autumn. October but especially mid November when the city looks golden with the yellow leaves on the trees, and temperatures drop so cafe life means seeking warmth as much as the sustenance of a glass of wine. Rain adds to the mood, fashion is at its peak of tres chic-ness with sharp jackets and bright scarves paired with killer boots on stylish women. It is time to cozy up in Cafe Flore with a splash of Hermes and try to fit in with the locals.
London is always in season and has much to offer year round. But summer is all about the tourists so when they finally leave London returns to the Londoners. And autumn is when it really bustles with activity. First there is the art season, many of the museums best exhibitions are shown at this time of year and one is spoilt for choice as to the many museums to choose from. The art season is highlighted by the Frieze art show in mid October which now offers not one but two venues, with its contemporary offerings in one marquee and the Old Masters next door, all located in the manicured gardens of Regent’s park. It is quite the event. To go in December and London is one of the best cities in the world to enjoy the run up to Christmas. Great shopping, Panto shows at the theater, and all the twinkling lights up and down Oxford Street. The Christmas displays in all the shops like Liberty and Harrods are sumptuous, the shopping is amazing and for a bit of down time, a pub with a pint by the fireplace really hits the spot. Don’t forget to pick up a Christmas pudding and other food stuffs at the one and only Fortnum and Mason.
Budapest still has that old world feel to it and all that that evokes. Cold weather mixes well with their cafe culture in palatial coffee houses in Pest, tempting with decadent pastries and strudels, and their meat heavy cuisine is hearty and best savored in the colder months. Misty early winter nights over the river make a mysterious city suddenly seem romantic. especially in the fairy tale part of Buda looking down from the majestic castle of Fisherman’s Bastion. Budapest makes for an enchanting escape.
Venice is always crowded with tourists, there is no getting around that. Yet the colder it gets the thinner the crowds and the more Venice is returned to its proud owners, the Venetians. Suddenly with less people you can see what life is like on the islands of La Serenissima. Bundle up as it will get cold, there can be winds off the water, but oh to cozy up on one of the velvet banquets at Caffe Florian and have one of their classic hot chocolates while watching the world go by will never seem so grand. For a brief moment life is a 18th century painting. Many mornings there is fog over the canal and the misty mood created makes the light more ethereal. It is Venice how it should be enjoyed, like a local and not a tourist.
A morning walk through the Fisherman’s Bastion. Less tourists and fabulous views.
Evening stroll trough the Castle District is mysterious and moody.
Central Market is a treat. You will find wonderful Hungarian food stuffs on the ground floor, while on the first floor offers a wide variety of traditional Hungarian arts and crafts. Some wonderful embroidery pieces and wood work are on colourful display. Back on the ground floor it is a must to pick up some traditional Hungarian paprika from one of the colourful food stalls, or perhaps sample the wide variety of strudels, both sweet and savory. (I had the sour cherry and apple.)
Hungarian Crafts found at the Central Market
Not to be missed is the stunning art nouveau styled Gresham Palace. The sophisticated bar inside this now Four Seasons Hotel offers an excellent Hungarian themed cocktail menu, among them two locally inspired martinis. The Elderflower Martini made with local acacia honey, elderflower, and Hungarian balsamic vinegar is a unique and very enjoyable surprise. Served with a sweet biscuit no less and in a polka dot martini glass feels like something from Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and is a whimsical delight.
Elderflower Martini at the Four Seasons Bar, Gresham Palace
For a cozy, upscale modern take on modern Hungarian cuisine, 21 A Magyar in the Castle District is a perfect spot. The Chicken Paprikash with Dumplings was one of the best dishes I sampled on the trip.
(H-1014 Budapest, Fortuna utca 21, Hungary)
Pilvax Bisztro in Pest is casual and unassuming, serving home style traditional Hungarian cooking. Lasco is a specialty here.
(1052 Budapest, Pilvax köz 1, Hungary)
Alabardos Etterem serves sophisticated Hungarian fare in elegant surroundings. A very good wine list showcasing some of Hungary’s tops wines. (1014 Budapest, Országház St 2, Hungary)
Chocolate Dessert at Alabardos Etterem
Budapest has been on my Bucket List for ages. Eastern Europe still seemed a bit daunting and mysterious to me but I had heard so many complimentary comments about this city that I was curious to finally get to see it. It also helped that my foodie friends who had been there before kept telling me it was a gourmet’s destination as well, so I was hooked. I had to go. The trouble was when. I kept planning and un-planning but finally this year, in a balmy golden September, I got to see this land.
Taking a taxi into town from the airport I was immediately fascinated. Watching the old train ride past us on the motorway into town, and then slowly the city started to reveal itself as cities of today do, first with dusty, run down parts on the outskirts of the city and slowly becoming more polished and showy as you got closer into town. But this was so much more, Budapest was a real revelation. I could consciously feel my eyes dart fast across the landscape of the metropolis trying to take it all in and wishing the car would hit a red light so I could pause for a minute to really look at it all properly. It felt magical. Starting from the Pest side of town which revealed itself to be a cultured European city of grand boulevards and stunning Art Nouveau architecture we crossed the Danube river via the Elizabeth Bridge and made our way up to the part of Buda and its walled enchanting Castle District. It was true excitement.
Staying in the Castle District in Buda, while quite touristy, did offer an oasis far from the maddening crowd of the more bustling wide boulevards of the metropolis side in Pest. Its charming, quiet streets and laid back feel contrasts with the more sophisticated side of Pest. Both have their advantages but more importantly for a traveller it means you get to experience two trips for the price of one. It is important to not play favourites and just go where the mood takes you as getting around is easy and nothing is too far. From the hill in Buda you get sweeping views of Parliament and the shinning city, and in Pest you walk along grand avenues and can stop in literary cafes. Being as excited as I was, I jumped right in and split my first afternoon between both sides of town and ended my afternoon with cocktails at the elegant Gresham Palace, now a Four Seasons hotel. After taking in the gorgeous Secession styled Art Nouveau details of the building I rested my feet in the whimsical bar and had one of their signature local cocktails. It felt like I was in a fairy tale.