Hey it’s Matt, I’m a web developer here at Joe Browns and I’ve recently returned from a three week trip around Europe. I spent a week touring Northern Italy, five days at a festival in Croatia, a week exploring the Croatian coastline and a day well spent in Montenegro.
Before I started at Joe Browns, I went travelling around Asia and Australia for two years. One thing I came to realise during this trip was how much I take Europe for granted, and how cheap and quick it is to see something stunning practically on our doorstep.
So, as I’m still on a major high from the holiday, I thought I’d let you all know my top 5 favourite places!
1. Kotor Bay – Montenegro
Kotor wasn’t on our schedule at all, we actually had some spare time whilst in Croatia and decided last minute to hop on a two hour bus across the border into Montenegro.
Kotor is an ancient walled city, conveniently situated at the very end of a large bay and surrounded by majestic mountains.
Back in the day, it was the perfect stronghold for the Greeks, Romans and many other Empires due to its isolation, and proximity to the ocean for trading.
Now tourists head there to see the old winding streets, the fortress (mini great wall of China) built into the mountain and the crystal blue waters; perfect for cooling down.
We spent the majority of our day hiking up 1200ft, in 32 degree heat – phew! (worth it for the views), before concluding the day with cold, cheap Montenegrin beers and watching the locals jump from rocks into the ocean.
Reasons for hitting the number one spot…
It has everything; ancient culture, mountains, hot weather and sweet little spots to hang out by the water with the locals. It’s a hidden gem.
2.Cinque Terre – Italy
Cinque Terre is around an hour and half train journey from Pisa (Northern Italy), and home to the “5 Lands”, five villages built into the picturesque Italian riviera.
The villages are home to fishermen, olive groves, vineyards, and colourfully painted houses.
We spent our days exploring each village. Wandering up and down the narrow stairways, enjoying fresh pesto (where it originates!), eating way too many olives and drinking lots of local red wine.
When it gets too hot, and you can’t bear to walk anymore, grab a bottle of wine and head down to one of the rocky bays. There you can strip down to your grundies and cool yourself down in the ocean.
Or instead head up to bar Nessun Dorma (Manarola), where you can enjoy an Aperol Spritz or two whilst watching the sunset.
Take a train to the last village Corniglia for the best basil (trust me) gelato in Italy.
3. Makarska – Croatia
Whenever I’ve needed a holiday, I’ve always wanted the super clear waters of southeast Asia. To be honest, I’ve not known much of Croatia and was amazed that a few hours away by plane there’s a whole 6000km of crystal, turquoise coastline and over a thousand islands.
Anyway, around three hours northwest of Dubrovnik, lies Makarska, an ancient port city once under a long Venetian rule.
By now, you probably realise that I really like mountains by the ocean and this place is no exception, with the Biokovo mountains and the Adriatic sea surrounding the old town.
Much like the Cinque Terre, there’s plenty of old streets and beautiful churches to explore. The highlights for me being the fresh seafood linguine and huge plates of local mussels.
It was height of summer (35 degrees!) and full of tourists, the pebbled beaches were absolutely heaving, but we managed to find a quiet spot to jump in and recharge.
4. Florence – Italy
A rich history, terracotta roofs and some of the best food Italy has to offer, Florence has long been on my list of places to visit.
Like most major European cities, there’s heaps to do. We visited the popular Piazza del Duomo (the big dome), and the Uffizi gallery, that hosts famous artists’ work such as: Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Botticelli.
When we weren’t sightseeing, we immersed ourselves in plenty of food and drink! No trip to Florence is complete without eating fresh focaccia bread – we went to Cantinetta dei Verrazzano and had fresh tomatoes and mozzarella with it.
Head to the central market where you can sample local delicacies at reasonable prices, and even pick up a platter of olives, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and bottle of red wine for a picnic.
We headed to Bardini gardens, away from all the tourist grind and settled under an apricot tree where we enjoyed our feast, before heading up to Piazzale Michelangelo for panoramic views over Florence.
5. Venice – Italy
I couldn’t end this post without mentioning Venice. It’s a place that’s on most people’s wish list, and rightly so.
As busy and as full-on as it can be at times, it’s still a pretty special and unique city. I mean a city built on wooden stilts is pretty impressive, right? Not to mention all the winding canals, traditional gondolas and wonderfully decaying colourful houses.
You can easily get lost for hours, exploring the narrow maze-like lane-ways and be constantly distracted by the rich, grand palaces and amazing eateries on every turn.
As you probably know, Venice is not the most budget-friendly, but like any city there are some hidden gems – you just have to search for them. Our favourite place was Bacareto Da Lele, where you can enjoy wine for just 60 cents and 1 euro sandwiches, whilst chatting with the larger-than-life locals who go there every day for good wine and banter.
Now roll on next year!