France, Italy, the Mediterranean: the arts, the Renaissance masters and the underpinnings of Western Civilization. With too many countries to list, we have described a few of our most traveled destinations in Europe including France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Please note we have prepared many private tours of other parts of Europe, including Germany, Switzerland, Central Europe and Russia.
Among our many worldwide travels, Bev, Zen and I consider Paris to be no less than the most beautiful and culturally compelling city on the planet. When walking through the various avenues, neighborhoods and alleyways, you are teased with so many wonderful activities: innumerable iconic landmarks, awe-inspiring art, lush green parks and all that amazing food! At times it seems Paris is simply one giant art museum and food market!
Although many of our clients prefer to stay in the more traditional 5-star luxury hotels of the Right Bank, Bev, Zen and I prefer the more thorough immersion of Parisian life on the Left Bank. Unlike the Right Bank where there is an abundance of French historical monuments/public buildings, the Left Bank, particularly the Latin Quarter, is more residential and university-oriented, made up of homes, apartments and intimate, charming restaurants/shops. This is definitely the more “artsy” and aesthetic side of Paris.
We recommend a 5-7 night stopover in Provence and the Cote d’Azur – a most alluring area of high culture, unique foods, and physical beauty (please note our Provence/Cote d’Azur notes on our Travel Guide page).
Because of her studies of Greek mythology/history in the 4th grade, Greece holds a very special place in Zen’s world of favorite places. The Pantheon, in the ancient district of Plaka, is the most interesting museum of Cycladic Art and is one of many excursions on our agenda which also includes: Marathon, Delphi, Corinth, and Mycenaean. (We enthusiastically recommend reading Donald Kagan’s History of the Peloponnesian War– a great preview for your Greek travels.) A fun supplement to Athens/Peloponnese and its nearby environments is a private yacht cruise though the pristine waters of the Cyclades– picturesque Santorini, Delos, Mykonos, and Crete, all within reach!
With a history spanning 2,500 years, the “Eternal City” of Rome is simply overwhelming in terms of ancient monuments/history –the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, the amazing underground Church of San Clemente, the Vatican– too numerous to name! Rome’s preoccupation and obsession with aesthetics fuses with a wonderful urban lifestyle to make it a city where you feel chic and “smart” simply strolling through the streets.
A recent UNESCO report (Financial Times, 7/21/12) claims that 60% of the world’s most important art is in Italy – half of that, amazingly, is in Florence! Florence is Italy’s Renaissance-jewel and few cities can match its classic beauty. As Florence is situated in a low basin surrounded by hills, summers are very humid, a fact that did not deter our first trip there!
Della Valle described the Florence/ Siena area of Italy as, “Total aesthetic perfection; a synthesis of everything that is beautiful about Italy.”—we agree!
Beginning in the 14th century and blossoming in the 15th, Italian Renaissance produced artists who were truly masters of the universe. Perhaps no other period in human history has ever been dominated by such a small group of artistic giants all concentrated in one tiny area of the planet – Florence…Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Sanzio and Michelangelo. Truly extraordinary! And then there is Venice, the Amalfi Coast, idyllic Tuscany and of course our beloved Lake Como. Among our favorite luxury properties in Italy are the Hassler in Rome, La Sirenuse and Caruso in the Amalfi Coast, the Four Seasons in Milano and Florence, the JK Place Hotel, and the historic Villa d’Este on Lake Como.
The fulcrum of the delicate balance between Europe and Asia, Christianity and secularism and Islam, Istanbul manages to be one of the most beautiful cities on earth and yet accommodates constant change. It is a young, international, wildly commercial city with an extraordinary vibrant street scene, open 24 hours and genuinely alive.
Among the many historical attractions in this eclectic East-West city are the iconic Blue Mosque (the only mosque in the world with six minarets), The Ottomans’ Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia (dating back to the Emperor Constantine) and fun shopping at the Grand Bazaar (be sure to pick up an “evil-eye” pendant for good luck!). For those wishing for a more artsy, contemporary environment, we enjoy visits to the chic, fun Beyoğlu District.
In addition to Istanbul, Cappadocia is a very interesting city that you will find to be unlike any other you have ever seen. There, you can find “Fairy Chimney” rock formations, rock houses, rock-cut temples, and underground labyrinths. The sunrise hot air balloon ride is most fun!
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Istanbul, Turkey; Moscow, Russia; London, UK