DRIVING • January 2019
They have just as much culture as their better-known cousins, so why not drive away from the crowds to the pocket-rocket destinations perfect for a winsome weekend? The Club writer Hannah Ralph reveals the best for 2019
Drive: 1 hour 10 minutes from Bari
Candlelit caves, fresco-filled cathedrals and cobblestoned osterias tucked into hidden corners, Matera is the bitesize jewel in central southern Italy's mountainous crown. The city’s Unesco-certified ‘Sassi’ skyline – a beehive of cave dwellings that encompasses everything from churches chipped out of stone to sultry, subterranean hotels – is just one reason this dreamy destination has clinched the title of European Capital of Culture 2019. It’s hosted humans since the Paleolithic era, but go in for a magically modern stay at Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort before taking a stroll to nearby Osteria Al Casale for truffle-glazed ravioli, washed down with local Aglianico wine.
Drive: 1 hour 40 minutes from Sofia
Matera is not the only Capital of Culture for 2019, as next year the Italian city shares the title with hillside beauty, Plovdiv – Bulgaria’s second city and epicentre for Eastern Europe’s thriving art and culture scene. First, hit the practically tumbling pavements of the Old Town – an architectural reserve that revels in its ancient origins. Here you can roam the ruins of the restored Roman Odeon and admire the golden iconostasis within the Church of St Constantine and Helena (entry free). For a night of luxury, book a table on the terrace at Restaurant Philippopolis, with its crisp white tabletops shaded by a romantic canopy of leafy green trees and art nouveau lamp posts.
Drive: 1 hour 20 minutes from Salzburg
Picture that classic Austrian church spire, sharpening to a point above the glassy shores of a glacier lake, and mountains, wrapped like an impressive cake collar around the chocolate box village within. This is Hallstatt, the famously photogenic (says the whole of Instagram) village bursting with alpine cottages, quaint courtyards and trinket shops galore. For an all-action afternoon, take the funicular to the Hallstatt Salt Mine, where you’ll find the oldest wooden staircase in Europe as well as a World Heritage View at the end of the free-floating Skywalk (pictured). Descend for a night in Seehotel Grüner Baum where you can tuck into a lakeside continental come morning.
Drive: 1 hour 40 minutes from Paris
Follow in the footsteps of choosy Parisians looking for historic flair outside the capital, as you set out on a refined respite to Reims. The city that crowned every French King, Reims is now best known as the largest city in the Champagne region, and a devastatingly handsome place in which to drink it. Book a tour of the cellars at luxury producers Veuve Clicquot, where you’ll learn all about Madam Clicquot – the pioneering Grande Dame de la Champagne who revolutionised the now famous house – and don’t miss the towering Notre-Dame de Reims, which is equally (if not more) impressive as its Parisian counterpart.
Drive: 30 minutes from Lisbon
When you think of fairytale castles, Moorish mosaics and fog-slicked forests, Portugal may not be the first destination that comes to mind. However, Sintra – a romantic resort town west of Lisbon – is all this and more. Set your bags down in one of the minimalist rooms at boutique B&B, Casa da Estefanea before heading out to the castles. Painted buttercup yellow and russet red, these otherworldly structures are best visited by bus (or else prepare for an uphill hike), and look out across dense forest and manicured topiary. Before heading off on your tour of the Pena National Palace and Game of Thrones-esque Castle of the Moors, make sure you've first stopped for a frothy Galão coffee at Café Saudade to get you on your way.
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