Our Favourite Countries in Europe

From mountain hiking to art gallery hopping

Before we were jubilados (Spanish for retirees) we holidayed in France, Greece, Italy and Great Britain so now we’re visiting other countries


Every year millions of tourists visit Ålesund, Norway’s prettiest city. For centuries they’ve admired its setting, seven interconnected islands on the Norwegian Sea. And its elegant Art Nouveau style. After a devastating fire in 1904 burnt the city’s traditional wooden buildings to the ground, young architects (financed by international aid) rebuilt Ålesund in stone and brick. Ålesund is also Norway’s most important fishing harbour. All very nice. What did we like best? A serendipitous surprise, an art exhibit called The Edge of the Sea. Read more

We weren’t following the flock to Uttakleiv Beach and Haukland Beach in Norway—we hiked the eleven-mile loop before Lonely Planet named Haukland the best beach in Europe. We didn’t know The Times had proclaimed the same years before. Or that the Norwegians voted Haukland Beach the most beautiful place in their country, more than once. We had no idea that National Geographic had declared Uttakleiv the world’s most romantic beach in 2005. Since I can never remember the names Uttakleiv and Haukland and there was a flock of sheep on the trail, when reminiscing with Magellan about our best times in Norway, I call this “The Sheep Hike.”

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On my birthday the year we were in the Asturias in Spain, we had lunch at El Corral (the Barnyard) del Indianu on the main street of a non-descript town (Arriondas) that’s the gateway to the Picos de Europa, the geographical barrier that isolated Asturias which was a kingdom nation on its own for centuries. As almost nothing is written in English about El Corral or the chef/owner José Antonio Campoviej, we had to rely on Google translation. We invite you, as per the translation of one review of El Corral, to “Get moving, and enjoy like a dwarf eating.”

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The poet and filmmaker Odveig Klyve for several decades has lived in Stavanger, an inspiring seaport city. We especially liked the whale-bone-white of wooden shops clustered along curving cobblestoned streets. The cheeky street art. The Norwegian Petroleum Museum. The restaurant Sabi Sushi. And Gamle Stavanger—the old town, a place we’ve been meaning to tell you about—and now we are, prompted by the film View that Odveig Klyve just released.

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“I have to have this book,” I told Ruth Ann. “You know how much I love all things lemon. And Sicily.”

This spring Magellan and I were in Sidney on Vancouver Island, which Ruth Ann says is the independent bookstore capital of Canada. From our day of investigating the town with Ruth Ann and Bruce, I see why.

Though I was hoping Ruth Ann would encourage me to buy The Land Where Lemons Grow, we both knew that it should return to its prominent shelf in Tanner’s Books. That a Sunday Times bestseller, BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week and Guild of Food Writers Food Book of the Year would certainly be available at the VPL. That $22 could be better spent elsewhere.

Two days later, this book of “tangy trivia, pithy charm and invigorating zest” was ready for pickup at the library. And oh my, has it sharpened my taste for the fruit it celebrates. (But caused me to part with far more than $22!)

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April 23, International Book Day, has me thinking about books that influence our travel.

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