European City Breaks: Thank goodness beauty is subjective! But within that subjectivity there are some things I think we can all agree on. Some of us adore Rothko over Renoir, but I don’t think it’s over simplifying human tastes to say it would surprise me to meet someone who doesn’t find find Paris, Budapest, Florence, Barcelona and Prague beautiful.
Don’t get cross at me if I’ve missed your very favourite city out. I personally love Vienna, but this is the agreed shortlist taken from a poll of 23 of my friends and family members. I asked them to name the ten most beautiful European cities and these five made the cut every time – the words ‘beautiful’ and ’timeless’ spring to mind. The hotel recommendations come from the Hotel Guru, who had the brief to find the hotels which best match the cities – without going too crazy on price.
Paris has been lauded, doted upon, and sung about by so many people that there’s little to add. So let’s keep it simple: it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s home to a glorious array of art. Its grand boulevards and their café culture offer one of the most pleasurable ways imaginable to while away time.
Where to Stay? In the Grands Boulevards district, or 9th Arrondissement, Adele et Jules is an elegant, 60 room home-away-from-home hotel – if your home has impeccable style with a clever meeting of geometric design and subtle, French colour schemes. This is the perfect place to stay if you’re in Paris to eat well, enjoy the art and architecture and do a spot of shopping. It’s friendly and relaxed – there’s an honesty bar and complimentary afternoon teas, and rooms start from €155 per night.
Practical Details: These days Paris is pretty easy to get to. Fly to Charles de Gaulle or Paris Orly, or arrive by Eurostar. Just don’t drive unless you’ve got a really good reason for doing so. I love Paris in the springtime, but I also love Paris in the fall, I even love Paris in the summer when it sizzles, and in the winter when it drizzles. It’s Paris! And these are city break destinations, so the usual weather rules don’t apply. There’s really no bad time to visit any of these cities…
Dramatically, and romantically, divided by the wide Danube, and reconnected by a series of elegant bridges, Buda and Pest are distinctly different. Pest has the city proper, with the breathtaking classical architecture and fine Art Nouveau façades, hidden courtyards, enticing coffee houses and stunning vistas.
Where to Stay? The Corinthia Hotel is Budapest’s grand dame hotel, luxurious and elegant, it’s retained its original features where it matters and updated them when the level of comfort and luxury expects it. This building has been a hotel since 1896. And they really know what they’re doing; the Royal Spa is an Art Deco masterpiece, there’s a choice of dining options from fine to relaxed, and the bar has the perfect atmosphere for Budapest. Rooms start from €153 per night.
Practical Details: Budapest Airport is 16kms south east of the centre of town, and is well connected by buses and the metro. If you want to avoid the big crowds of summer and Christmas then April, May, September and October are the months to visit. But this is a vibrant city, so the bustle is part of the experience.
Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, packed with wonderful art and architecture on a grand scale. Marble statues grace piazzas, ceilings and walls are fresco-covered and views are handsome and historic.
Where to Stay? You can probably tell just by the name, but Velona’s Jungle doesn’t offer the truly classical Florentine décor, instead these four luxurious suites are decorated with a wildlife theme. But then bold animal prints combined with antiques is a pretty Italian combination. As well as the carefully chosen décor, Velona’s Jungle has a great location, in an elegant, residential neighbourhood opposite the historic Teatro del’Opera, and only about 15 minutes stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. Romantic and intimate, rooms start from €220 per night.
Practical Details: Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport is only 15 minutes from the centre of town by bus or taxi, but direct flights between Florence and the UK are limited – it might be worth considering travelling via Pisa Airport, which is well connected to Florence too.
Barcelona is a beauty like no other, thanks to her lovers, a collection of famed artists, architects and chefs. But she’s also a sultry city, where long, hot evenings are ripe with flavours to sample and rife with pleasurable entertainments of all kinds. And those appeals are probably thanks to her Catalan nature. She’s the perfect city to explore on foot – full of unexpected pleasures, and you’ll really miss out if you shoot from one highlight to another.
Where to Stay? Polished and chic, the Hotel Duquesa de Cardona is a converted 16th century townhouse with 64 rooms and fantastic views over the port of Barcelona. Some of the rooms have views, but the best are enjoyed from the rooftop terrace, which is also where you’ll find the pool, bar and Catalan restaurant. Its location is within walking distance of many of Barcelona’s main attractions and Las Ramblas. Rooms start from €220 per night.
Practical Details: Barcelona-El Prat Airport is just south of the city, and there’s a bus link which takes you into the centre of town in around 35 minutes. The airport is also linked to the Metro and the national train network. Barcelona has direct rail links to Paris, Zurich and Milan, as well as Madrid and other Spanish centres. And while I think all of these cities are fantastic any day you’re here, Barcelona is known for its fantastic Mediterranean climate, which make is a great place to visit for a bit of winter sunshine.
‘The golden city of one hundred spires’ is captivatingly beautiful, and unlike many other European cities, the historic centre escaped significant bomb damage during the Second World War, leaving its Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings intact. Kafka wasn’t alone in his discovery that, “Prague never lets you go”. With its untouched architecture and stunning setting: on the banks of the Vltava River with views up to the majestic castle, it looks like a film set.
Where to Stay? The Paloma Hotel is actually in Pruhonice, which is eight miles out of Prague, but that’s not far at all when you’re staying in an elegant restaurant with rooms where the food is this good. The rooms are suites are equal in calibre to the food too. Expect shades of grey with plenty of marble and many a mirrored surface, plus a number of private terraces. You’re surrounded by parks and botanical gardens, yet the centre of Prague is still only 20minutes away. Rooms start from €230 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: Václav Havel Airport is the closest airport, just 20kms north of Prague. You can catch a bus, special airport bus or train into town from the airport. Or you can arrive in Prague via its very well connected main rail station, probably enjoying some spectacular views of the mountains on the way. Christmas is an incredible time to visit, but Prague is always beautiful.
Hotel Guru really are in the know, so if you looking for a standout hotel in the UK or abroad, click here to check out their expert recommendations.