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European bucket list: 8 top places to visit in 2023

Make this year truly count by setting yourself a challenge: what are the top destinations that you’re determined to visit next year? Whether it’s a cycling adventure, a whirlwind city escape or a lakeside retreat, there are so many one-of-a-kind experiences to aspire to. We’ve selected eight destinations to inspire you as you draw up your 2023 bucket list; in easy reach of each one, there’s a fabulous Historic Hotels of Europe stay to make it even more magical.

1. Wieden, Austria

While Vienna is known for world-class culture, art and performance, there’s an edgier, more contemporary side to the city to be found outside the main centre. Just a few minutes south of the capital’s famous attractions, you’ll wander into the lesser-known fourth district: Wieden, home of indie coffee shops, multicultural food and trendy galleries. A vibrant urban neighbourhood with a village feel, Wieden (also known as ‘Freihausviertel’) is a delightful mix of historic baroque architecture and youth culture. Once the hub of a global empire, today Vienna remains a beacon of art and heritage — explore Wieden to discover a fascinating blend of both the old and the new.

Where to stay: Located on Wiedner Hauptstrasse, Hotel Erzherzog Rainer is a traditional retreat in the heart of vibrant Wieden. You’ll find elegant interior design, exceptional Austrian hospitality and authentic Viennese dishes (served in the on-site Wiener Wirtschaft restaurant), all in easy reach of the capital’s attractions.

2. Hum, Croatia

As you stroll the historic stone streets of diminutive Hum, considered to be one of the tiniest cities in the world, you’ll feel yourself transported back to a medieval world. With only 20 to 30 inhabitants, this Istrian town is a magical destination that lingers long in the memory; visit the baroque church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to see the five marble altars and beautiful paintings it contains. While you’re there, sample some regional Croatian flavours, with local truffles, Istrian wine and Biska (a mistletoe schnapps said to have healing qualities) all on offer.

Where to stay: After absorbing the beauty of picturesque Hum, drive 45 minutes to the Hotel Villa Astra in the town of Lovran. Located on the easternmost edge of the Istrian peninsula, Hotel Villa Astra adjoins the town’s pretty seaside promenade and offers spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea.

3. Belleek Woods, Ireland

On the western side of Ireland lies the Belleek Wood, one of the largest urban forests in Europe. Full of mysteries and legends, it’s the perfect place in which to uncover some of the magic of Ireland. Follow one of its many trails and you’ll find the “The Horse’s Grave” (an eerie mausoleum built to mark the final resting place of Sir Francis Arthur Knox-Gore) and catch a glimpse of the rarely seen red squirrel, reintroduced to the wood in 2007. The forest runs along the banks of the River Moy on the northern edge of Ballina in Mayo; thousands of people enjoy the well-laid paths, picnic spots and duck ponds every week.

Where to stay: You’ll find the stylish Ice House Hotel just across the river from Belleek Wood, the perfect haven of tranquillity after hours of exploration in the famous woodland. With a luxury spa and delicious, freshly prepared food, The Ice House prides itself on surpassing expectations.

4. Spiez and Lake Thun, Switzerland

Perched on the edge of the spectacular deep blue Lake Thun, the Swiss town of Spiez will cast a spell over you as soon as you arrive. A wander around this delightfully quaint destination (or a ride on the pretty blue and white “Spiezer Zügli” train) yields so much to see and do, from guided tours of picturesque Spiez Castle and the medieval church, to hikes on Mount Niesen, the area’s majestic mountain peak. Just a 15 minute drive from Spiez on the northern edge of Lake Thun, the old city of Thun is ready to explore: from the Mühleplatz square to the Rathausplatz (Town Hall), you’ll lose yourself in enticing medieval history.

Spiez church and lake thun, view from Spiez Castle

Where to stay: Built in 1894, the Falken Hotel in Wengen is a beautiful sight to behold; standing proudly on its own grounds at the top of a hill, it’s a beautifully preserved celebration of alpine tourism. The dining room is illuminated with original Art Nouveau light fixtures, while many rooms have breathtaking views of the Jungfrau summit and Lauterbrunnen valley.

5. Rethymnon, Crete

Enter the Venetian town of Rethymnon, a beautifully preserved medieval town in Crete, and you’ll be entering a Mediterranean paradise. Just one hour from the larger city of Chania, Rethymnon is awash in historic atmosphere, dotted with a scattering of Ottoman domes and minarets and watched over by the imposing Venetian Fortezza (fortress). Cobbled alleyways contain a wealth of cafes, craft shops and Cretan restaurants, while the enormous sandy beach stretches east along the coast towards Panormo — the perfect distance for a scenic cycling trip.

Where to stay: Located just minutes from the Fortezza and Venetian Harbour, Avli Lounge Apartments is an oasis in the midst of Rethymnon’s old town. A beautifully designed boutique hotel, Avli Lounge Apartments feature a peaceful, flower-filled garden courtyard and an onsite restaurant specialising in modern Cretan fare.

6. Bassano del Grappa, Italy

On the foothills of the Italian Alps, Bassano del Grappa is an incredibly picturesque medieval city in Italy’s northern Veneto region. The birthplace of Grappa (a delicious pomace brandy derived from grapes), Bassano del Grappa boasts epic stone towers, elegant palaces, majestic plazas and, most famously, the Ponte Vecchio, an iconic 13th-century wooden bridge that stretches across the River Brenta. Visit this thriving medieval hub to explore bustling local food markets, the Castello degli Ezzelini and the nearby Valsugana Valley — a green oasis of hillside waterfalls, lush greenery and limestone caves.

Where to stay: A 30-minute drive from Bassano del Grappa, Villa Cipriani is a luxury five-star hotel located in the walled town of Asolo. Built in the Palladian era, the villa is known for the luminous garden in its centre — depending on the season, this secret haven is awash with tulips, roses and other regional flowers. 

7. Telemark Canal, Norway

An adventure on the famous Telemark Canal, one of Norway’s celebrated landmarks, is something you’ll always remember. Connecting the town of Skien to the town of Dalen in Southern Norway, the canal runs a total of 105 kilometres and took five years to construct in the late 19th century. Today, historical canal boats (the M/S Henrik Ibsen and M/S Victoria) make the journey along the water route, with stunning landscapes, mountains, channels and lakes rolling by. Day trips and longer overnight tours are unforgettable experiences or take to your canoe or bicycle to follow the canal’s path and explore the many campsites, villages, museums and restaurants to be found along the way.

Where to stay: Combine your canal adventure with a stay at the Dalen Hotel in Vestfold og Telemark, Norway. Known as the “fairytale hotel”, the Dalen is one of the largest wooden buildings in Norway and has been beautifully preserved since the 1800s. Lavish architecture and superb hospitality make it an unmissable stop on your Telemark Canal journey. 

8. Veltrusy Chateau, Czech Republic

Dubbed the “Rococo pearl” of the Lower Vltava River, Veltrusy Chateau in the Czech Republic is a magnificent estate and park dating back to the 18th century. A range of tours that dig deep into the fascinating history of this cultural landmark are available; choose from an Aristocracy tour that examines the lives of Karel and Livie Chotek, former owners of the chateau, and a Laboratorium tour which delves into the role played by research, archaeology and restoration at the estate. The beautiful parklands feature romantic follies, wildlife, fallow deer and orchards — ideal for exploring by bicycle.

Where to stay: A 40-minute drive from Veltrusy Chateau is Chateau Liblice, a charming four-star castle hotel with Baroque monumental architecture. Spacious rooms with period furniture and an on-site restaurant make it a relaxing and inspiring place to stay, all within easy reach of the capital city of Prague.

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