Any guidebook can show you how to see Europe’s high points, but you run the risk of experiencing the same cliched vacation as countless previous travelers. Here, from a secret London restaurant to in-the-know Rome boutiques, are a few reasons to look beyond the obvious.
Kalamiotou Street, at night
It’s been three years since Greece became the epicenter of Europe’s debt crisis, but you’d hardly know it strolling the center of Athens at night. Eclectic restaurants and crackling night life animate a maze of streets steps from the Acropolis and the Greek Parliament.
Instead of tucking into a heavy taverna dinner, head to Melilotos — 19 Kalamiotou St., (30-210) 32-22-458 — hidden in the fabric district off Ermou Street. Its family-run kitchen specializes in fusion cuisine, using produce from the Greek islands. Here, Athenians in the know linger over fried Creten feta laced with ouzo and watermelon; a tangerine-infused pasta from Chios Island; and squid-ink tagliatelle flecked with smoked trout.
Around 10:30, the area morphs into a booming bar scene, starting when the Dude bar across the street, a paen to “The Big Lebowski," opens its nondescript doors. Around the corner, facing St. Eirini church, throngs of young Greeks crowd the outdoor tables at Tailor Made — Plateia Agias Eirinis 2, (30-213) 004-9645 — a micro-coffee roaster by day, drinking spot by night, with drinks like the Porn Star Martini, made with passion fruit.
In Barcelona, it’s all too easy to simply shop the multistory outposts of Zara or Mango. Or to weave through racks of psychedelic-print tunics from thelabel Custo Barcelona.Or to wander around the sprawling home-design emporium Vincon.
But those who value craftsmanship over mass-produced goods should make the effort instead to explore the narrow streets in the southern part of the Raval neighborhood. “It’s a new part of the Raval that’s growing with new shops," said Ramon Sole, a Barcelona native and a co-owner of Amato Sole, a housewares and furniture shop that opened in the area in December 2010.
At Amato Sole (amatosole.com), many of the items for sale, from mirrors fitted within old window frames to wooden chairs inlaid with iron, are handmade in the second-floor studio by Sole, an industrial designer, and his partner, Annamaria Amato, an architect from Sicily. The couple take a modern, conscientious approach to sourcing their materials, scouring local markets for tattered, broken furniture that they then restore or repurpose to create cool, imaginative pieces with a back story.
Every few months local artists are invited to exhibit works in the shop — a melding of creative genres that transpires as, Sole said, “the art combines with our furniture."
Bakken amusement park
Be careful as you step from Central Station and plan your big outing in the Danish capital. Across the street, the Tivoli Gardens are like a verdant vortex that sucks in all passing travelers, luring them with flashing lights, old-time rides and open-air concerts. Fortunately, a folksier, cheaper, larger and more historical alternative is tucked away to the north of the city. In a forested area known for revelry and entertainments since the late 1500s, Dyrehavsbakken, known as Bakken, bills itself as the world’s oldest amusement park.
True or not, Bakken (bakken.dk) certainly has more Old World bona fides than its inner-city cousin, to say nothing of a more bucolic setting: some 2,700 acres of woodland filled with hiking paths, green fields and free-ranging deer. Better still, the price tag to enter Bakken is far lower: Admission is free for all ages.
Once inside, you’ll find everything from Bakkens Hvile, said to be the oldest remaining music hall in Denmark, to Scandinavia’s only “5D" cinema, where moving seats and special effects like wind, water and mist create a full sensory experience. But the marquee attraction is the vintage 80-year-old wooden roller coaster, one of the 30-plus rides spread across the grounds.
Redchurch Street, a hub for the gentrification that has swept London’s East End in recent years, is usually filled with people who are browsing boutiques and enjoying flutes of vintage Champagne or gourmet coffee. Nearby, restaurants tout the occasional Michelin star and food to match anything you’d find in the traditionally tonier West End. But just off the main thoroughfare, on a peaceful circular plaza amid red-brick Victorian apartment blocks, is a restaurant that offers a brief glimpse at the unvarnished character of the area’s renaissance.
The Rochelle Canteen is part of a former school that now houses a gallery, studio and event spaces (arnoldandhenderson.com). A locked green gate and a confusing panel of buzzers greet visitors intrepid enough to track it down. On a recent afternoon, a reporter had to wait for a delivery man to follow inside.
Beyond the gate is a schoolyard and a modern European kitchen installed, along with a handful of tables, in a former bicycle shed. The bicycles are now locked up in the open, amid more tables occupied by a decidedly eccentric-looking group of diners. At 2 o’clock on a recent afternoon, a pair of dandies in full evening dress, down to bow ties and white scarves, devoured plaice with tomatoes and a green sauce, and roast partridge with pearl barley and artichokes, with every sign of enjoyment. At another table, a professorial-looking lady in black-framed glasses delivered a treatise on the history of flat-pack furniture.
The menu, as much hearty as it is arty, changes regularly. But on that afternoon it featured a perfectly spiced North African lamb stew, a delicate rabbit terrine and a rich honeycomb ice cream. All were priced at a maximum of 6.50 (about $10.25 at $1.58 to the pound) for appetizers and desserts, and 17.50 for entrees.
If Via Condotti, with its big-name labels, is not your style (or your price point), there are lots of smaller boutiques clustered on a few choice streets in the historic center, where they share space with antiques dealersand plenty of cafes to stop in for a coffee.
The streets around the Pantheon, and Via Urbana in the Monti neighborhood of Rome near Santa Maria Maggiore, are lined with small boutiques with offbeat “Made in Italy" brands like a.b., Malloni and Reset,as well as upscale Spanish brands like Hoss.
On Via Urbana, try DOP, at Via Urbana 25, (39-06) 4890-6412, and LOL (lolmodartedesign.com), both warm yet minimalist boutiques with everyday wear in muted colors. Near the Pantheon, Spazio Espanso, at Via dei Bergamaschi 59/60, (39-06) 9784-2793, and its nearby sister shops Sempre, at Piazza della Pigna 7, (39-06) 679-2879, and Mam, at Via delle Coppelle 73/A, (39-0668) 13-6168, feature slightly offbeat cashmeres, wools, silks and cottons.