Chance is a fine thing that once in a while leads to amazing discoveries, as is the case with the fabulous caves, Nerja’s main attraction.
Nerja is a little town in Andalucia on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Sixty kilometres east of Malaga.
Nerja also boasts ‘El Balcon de Europa’, a viewing platform that affords unimpeded views over the Mediterranean and the rocks below.
The famous caves
But, back to the caves. In 1959, five young lads from a nearby village were kicking around a football when it suddenly disappeared into a hole in the ground.
Efforts to retrieve the ball led to discovering one of the most significant and most essential caves complexes in all of Europe.
Another version of the story says they were looking for bats at night, which escaped into ominous cracks and holes and thus led to the discovery.
Whichever the truth, the caves have been found and are an exciting attraction of Nerja.
Stretching for more than 5 kilometres, the netherworld wonder can be accessed by easy wooden stairs and walkways which lead around the caves on a well-indicated path.
Only a small part is open to the public, the rest still being excavated and explored by scientists.
The caves are divided into five so-called galleries, inspired by the images of the stalagmites and stalactites project.
Soaring to more than cathedral height, the gallery called ‘Waterfalls’ boasts the giant stalagmite in the world, 25m wide.
Other galleries are called ‘The organ’ and ‘The Fantasy’. Some prehistoric finds are displayed in showcases along the walls of the entry gallery.
After crossing what is called ‘The bridge’, the caves open up to a space that is often used as a venue for the International Festival of Music and Dance, thanks to a natural auditorium and excellent acoustics. The festival usually takes place from in July.
Back on the surface and after taking a peek from a somewhat windy Balcony of Europe at the waves crashing into the rocks below and over the Mediterranean, it’s time to meander through the rather picturesque side streets of Nerja.
The Spanish fan
Rounding a corner, another discovery awaits a new boutique cum craft shop specializing in one item only: the fan, a fashion accessory no elegant Spanish lady will ever be seen without.
However, fans are more than a fashion accessory; they form part of Spain’s history, art, and culture. Their use was and is a very sophisticated means of communication.
It’s a Frenchman, Didier Borgeaud, who collaborates with Spanish artist Amalia Fernandez, whose mission is to revive the tradition of the Spanish fan, creating unique pieces of art, using only the finest and local materials to dazzle with a more modern version of the fan.
There is no better souvenir to bring home from a trip to this beautiful and relatively sedate part of Andalucia.
More things to do in Nerja
More from Spain
Set just a few short miles off Tuscany’s coast is the city of Lucca.
Like most of the towns and cities in Italy’s Tuscany region, this city has ample charm and beauty to offer its visitors but is best known for its fantastically preserved Renaissance-era city walls.
The town is actually quite unique in that the city centre is still surrounded by these walls and a large open space that separates the old city from the more modern parts that have grown around it.
Suffice it to say, the historic centre is the most popular attraction for visitors, and there are numerous old churches and other structures to see here.
Getting to the City
Lucca is set just north east of Pisa and is well connected to both Pisa and Florence by road.
If you’re visiting from overseas you can make use of Pisa’s International Airport which is the main gateway for Tuscany.
From here it’s just a 20 minute train ride from the railway station attached to the airport, or rent a car from all the major car rental companies and drive the short distance yourself.
To find out which airlines fly to Pisa International Airport take a look at our main Pisa page here >>.
Where to Stay
There are over 125 places to stay within the city, the majority of which are actually unrated and include boutique guest houses, villas surrounded by Tuscan countryside, and B&Bs.
If you prefer the more luxurious and personal levels of service reserved for 4 and 5 star hotels, don’t worry, there are some of these here too!
The two 5 star hotels are both set within historic buildings that exude charm.
Locanda L’Elisa is more suited to visitors who want to feel like they’re in the heart of the country, but just 5 minutes drive from the historic centre.
Hotel Noblesse benefits from a central location, right in the heart of Lucca, making it perfect for anyone wishing to be in the centre of it all.
When to Visit
Tuscany is known for its hot and relatively dry summers and Lucca is no exception.
Being quite close to the coast the city is slightly cooler than some of Tuscany’s inland cities, making it pleasant even during the hottest month, July. Average highs are a little under 30C at this time.
Rain is fairly steady across the year, dropping to its lowest in July and August, and rising to peak levels in October and November, so these are two months to avoid.
Things to See and Do
As mentioned above, the main landmark of the city is its walls; beautifully preserved, the walls are definitely something you should take time to see.
While the city grew, the walls were left intact and once they no longer served a military purpose they became a popular place to walk.
You can walk the entire circumference of the old city on these walls – it’s a distance of around 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) and is a great way to orientate yourself to all the other major sights.
These major sights include the city’s cathedral, Duomo di San Martino, that was built from 1063 by Bishop Anselm who later became Pope Alexander II.
The campanile (bell tower) is the original as is the apse, while other parts of the church date from later times.
Be sure to climb the many steps to the top of the Guinigi Tower as the top holds several surprises.
The view over Lucca is spectacular for starters, but it’s the garden on the top of the tower that’s really surprising! Called a hanging garden the tower roof holds a number of mature trees.
There are many churches to see around the historic city, and other sights include the Ducal Palace, and the Roman amphitheatre.
Spain’s Costa del Sol is the ‘Coast of the Sun’ and it certainly is a sunny place! At its warmest and most sunny between May and September, this coastal region of southern Spain also experiences mild winters with pleasant temperatures and sunny days.
It may be a little too cold for swimming in the Mediterranean during the winter, but the more luxurious hotels of the Costa del Sol often have heated pools, both indoors and outdoors.
Except for during the high season, you can stay quite affordably in even the most luxurious hotels. If you book early, you can also save between 30 – 50% off regular prices.
Along this sunny coast of southern Spain there are numerous attractive towns, sweeping beaches, and beautiful scenery to take in.
In Marbella is Gran Melia Don Pepe one of the best resorts. It’s a top class luxury hotel featuring a beautiful tropical park with pool, great sea views, and lovely food.
20 kilometres from Malaga, is a popular resort. It’s ideally located between the cities of Fuengirola and Torremolinos, so if you tire of the beach life at Benalmádena you can pop into either of these towns for excursions and shopping. The
Vincci Selección Aleysa, Hotel Boutique & Spa is a lovely hotel here, and is top rated according to guest reviews.
A personal favorite in southern Spain and many people from Scandinavia and Great Britain live here during the wintertime. Nerja can be visited all year round but is most crowded in July and August.
The most popular beach is Burriana Beach with lots of restaurants and bars to suit all tastes both nearby and in the centre. For a good Paella we can recommend the best place in town, ” Chiringuito Ayo Restaurant ” just a few steps from Burriana Beach.
Attractions include the “Balcony of Europe” and the white village Frigiliana, just a few kilometres from Nerja.
Right at the “Balcon Europa” is a very good hotel. It may not be the most luxurious, but we recommend it all the same. Balcon de Europa is perfect situated above the beach and with a wonderful view over the Mediterranean Sea.
Fashionable Ski Resort, Italian Style
Many of us think of Italy as being a destination for the world’s most fashionable people, so it’s only fitting that one of the world’s most fashionable ski resorts should be here!
Set in the heart of the Dolomites in Northern Italy, Cortina d’Ampezzo is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people.
While it may not have as many 5 star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants as Courchevel, Cortina is still a destination for the elite and is considered to be Italy’s most fashionable ski resort.
It hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics and has starred in several blockbuster movies including For Your Eye’s Only, and The Pink Panther.
A hot Nightlife
Here you’ll find a fabulous “après-ski” scene and lively nightlife. Bilbo and BLV Room are the city’s hottest clubs. You’ll also find 8 discos that are open until dawn.
Where to Stay
There are over 50 places to stay in Cortina listed on booking.com, and this includes two 5 star hotels, and eighteen 4 star so there’s plenty to choose from at the luxury end of the scale.
Take the Grand Hotel Savoie for example; a luxurious hotel right in the heart of the town which has stunning mountain views, and it’s an elegant and historic building restored with all the modern conveniences.
The Cristallo Hotel Spa and Golf is the second 5 star hotel in town and it was the first 5 star luxury hotel in the Dolomites.
The hotel is just outside town but guests can make use of the free shuttle to and from the centre, while enjoying the slightly quieter atmosphere surrounding the Cristallo.
Getting to the Resort
You can quite easily drive in to Cortina as the roads are good and remain clear most of the time.
Being in the valley the resort area is not as high an elevation as some ski resorts so the road doesn’t get as much snow as others would.
If you’re flying in, Venice is the best option for international arrivals and you can drive from there or catch a train to Pieve di Cadore, about 35 kilometres out from Cortina and then get the dolomitibus the rest of the way.
- Inhabitants 6300
- Longest pist 7,5 km
- Black runs 14
- Red runs 30
- Blue runs 34
- Highest 2930 m (The “Forcella Staunies”, chairlift from the Cristallo area)
- Lifts 450
Dining in the Valley
Cortina and the surrounding valley features some wonderful restaurants. There is over 70 restaurants in the town, including the restaurant at the Cristallo Hotel which is renowned as one of the best in the valley.
As you would expect, many of the restaurants serve gourmet cuisine with the prices to match though there are many affordable restaurants in the resort too.
In town you’ll find everything from starred gastronomic restaurants to cozy pizza places. Do not miss the authentic wine bar Enoteca Di Vino Brio or Villa Sandi.
Son Forca, in the ski area Cristallo, has a lovely sun terrace and their gnocchi is wonderful. Best Pizza is said to be at Il Ponte.
Try the affordable restaurants Croda Café, Cinque Torri or Ariston, some of the most popular places in Cortina.
One advantage of dining in Cortina is that there are great restaurants on and off mountain so if you travel on the cable cars you’ll not only get access to great skiing, but great restaurants too.
Read about more ski and alp resorts:
The small town Villefranche-sur-Mer is just east of Nice so if you stay in this town you get the best of both worlds – easy access to the city of Nice, yet a quieter atmosphere.
Its bay is one of the deepest in the world so it’s often frequented by some of the world’s largest cruise liners, though be aware that when a cruise ship is docked the small town can get very crowded!
Even so, Villefranche-sur-Mer beats Nice for its nice coarse sandy beach, and it has some excellent restaurants and nice shopping.
Attractions in the city
The old harbour and old town are among the most popular attractions. Being relatively small the old town is easy to explore on foot.
It and the harbour haven’t changed much over the last couple of hundred years so there’s a great atmosphere to enjoy here among the historic buildings.
Dark Street (Rue Obscure) is a specific landmark to look out for, which is a passageway under the harbor front houses and dates back to 1260.
The Citadel, built in 1557, serves as the town hall and inside there are several museums to visit too.
Villa Leopold is located in the hills above Villefranche-sur-Mer and it’s been known as the most expensive house in the world.
It was once the home of King Leopold II of Belgium.
And then there’s the beach – a natural crescent shape with course sand that easily beats the hard pebbles you’ll find on Nice’s beach.
All in all Villefranche-sur-Mer is a great alternative to the busy atmosphere in Nice
Hotels in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Many hundreds of hotels to choose from in the neighboring city of Nice but you can easily stay right here in Villefranche-sur-Mer too.
We found a great 4 star hotel, Welcome Hotel which is on the waterfront right by the center of town and has many rooms overlooking the scenic Cap Ferrat Bay.
There are several very good 3 star hotels in Villefranche-sur-Mer too, in addition to a few more basic 2 star offerings.
If you can’t find one that appeals, try hotels in Nice instead.
Weather and climate
The climate of Villefranche-sur-Mer is very much the same as Nice, which, in short, is warm and sunny.
You’ll find the hottest temperatures are in July and August and across the year you can expect around 2,700 hours of sunshine, even in the usually grayer winter months of the year.
How to get there
Being so close to Nice has its advantages – getting to Villefranche-sur-Mer is quick and easy from the Nice Cote d’Azur Airport which is just 15 kilometres (9 miles) to the west.
You’d have to drive through Nice from the airport, but it’s a very nice drive along the seafront and a good way of checking out some of the sights of Nice along the way.
Parking can be problematic in the tight streets of Villefranche-sur-Mer so if you are arriving at the airport consider travelling in to Nice and then taking a train directly to Villefranche-sur-Mer station, right in the heart of the town.
Tours and more things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer and on the French Riviera
More from France
Colmar is the capital of wine and art in Haut-Rhine which is the southern part of the Alsace region of France and has about 86,000 residents.
Picturesque half-timbered style homes and buildings, and multiple canals makes the city really quaint and beautiful, and it’s best known among tourists for its well preserved old town.
Colmar was founded in the 800’s and was taken by a Swedish army for two years in 1632. Following this the city belonged to Germany but became a French city in 1697.
The German influence can certainly be seen among the architecture of the old town today.
Statue of Liberty in Colmar
A quaint French town seems like an unlikely home for the Statue of Liberty yet here, at the northern entrance to Colmar is a copy of the famous American landmark, the Statue of Liberty.
The reason for this being here is because the creator of the Statue of Liberty, sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, was born in Colmar.
There is, of course, a museum dedicated to Bartholdi within his childhood home in the centre of the city.
Link: Bartholdi Museum website
Among the many stunning examples of historic architecture is Maison Pfister. This beautiful house is a German Renaissance style and dates from 1537. It was owned by the rich hatter, Ludwig Scherer.
Little Venice is a neighbourhood of Colmar that is crossed by canals featuring lovely little bridges, and attractive canal-side homes and restaurants that include more of the half-timbered architecture and appealing pastel colours.
Roussillon is about. 50 kilometers from Avignon in Provence at the foot of the Monts de Vaucluse and is surrounded by a beautiful countryside.
The village is considered one of the most impressive in France. One tip is to take a day trip here.
Find accommodation near Roussillon, you have close to some of the most interesting villages in Provence. For example, Aix en Provence and Avignon.
As soon as you arrive this village, you will be fond of its atmosphere. Take time to stroll around the picturesque maze of streets. At the top of the town, you get a great view of the countryside.
Red cliffs and artists’ paradise
Roussillon is known for its magnificent red cliffs and quarries. The red, yellow and brown hues against the blue sky makes this a magical place.
Many artists have obviously fallen in love with this place: Jean Cocteau, Carzou, Buffet, Ambrogiani, to name a few.
Galleries and restaurants
As in most places in Provence, just enjoy and relax. Here are several art galleries and studios to visit, and a number of excellent restaurants with really good food.
Tips for comfortable accommodation in Provence, and near Roussillon
There are many great hotels for relaxation. Make sure you get one with an outdoor pool, so you can cool off after a hot day in Provence 🙂
An example is La Bastide de Gordes & Spa (picture above)
Read more about Provence and French Riviera
Early in the morning when the sun lights up the white cliffs is the best time to visit Most people come here by car, bicycle, motorcycle or bus.
To see the cliffs from the water, you can take a boat from the Pier in Binz departure several times per day to the “The Kings Chair”.
Its name is said to come from when the Swedish King Karl XII. sat here and watched a sea battle he led against the Danish
Here is an opportunity to walk a few kilometers in the lovely beech forest. If you have good health and fitness, it is nice to walk down the cliffs on a stairway to the beach.
It’s a long way down, so it can be quite a pain when you go up later.
For a fee of a few Euros, visit the museum, which is on top. Here you can see the rocks as well and saves time, energy and calories 🙂
Cape Arkona is located on the northernmost point of Rügen. Parking a few kilometers from the scenic area with rocks, lighthouse and museum.
You get a nice walk along the road where you find exciting shops and great cafes.
If you don’t want to go that far, there is a shuttle train that takes you right up to Cape Arkona for a cost of a couple of Euros, but it’s a very nice walk if you can.
The village Sellin on Rugen Island
Sellin is a smaller resort than Binz, but has a very nice sandy beach and a friendly atmosphere.
The nice pier with its romantic restaurant on the water is the longest pier on Rugen at 394 metres and it’s the town’s main attraction. Perfect for a romantic dinner later in the evening, when you can enjoy the lovely views out over the Baltic Sea
Attractive Resort Architecture in Sellin
The village is also famous for its attractive seaside resort architecture, much of which is from the turn of the 19th and 20th century.
Wilhelmstrasse is the most famous street and best place to see many fine houses all in a row.
You can stroll along the Wilhelmstrasse and enjoy the beautiful resort architecture that is so typical of German Baltic Sea spas. At one end of the street there is a steep flight of stairs or a lift, leading down to the beach and the beautiful pier.
To see and do in Sellin
Besides beaches and good food Sellin offers a popular water park. And there’s another fun, watery attraction beyond the restaurant on the pier.
There’s a diving dome here that you can sit in while it is lowered into the water to look at life below the surface.
Moreover, most of the hotels have a spa and wellness theme. So there are great opportunities for relaxation, and it seems like that’s what most people come here looking for.