4 Sensational European Destinations for Weekend Breaks

Escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and spend a weekend in the rugged and wild landscape of County Mayo on the West Coast of Ireland. Despite occupying almost 6,000 square kilometres, May has a population of less than 140,000 people and is joyfully devoid of tourists. Instead, Ireland’s third largest county is covered with sandy beaches, craggy mountains, dense undergrowth and wide, open lochs. One of the most pleasurable activities is simply driving around the countryside and enjoying the dramatic scenery.

Bruges, Belgium

In the past few years Bruges (or Brugge) has become a popular weekend destination for the European traveller, and for good reason. Proud to be a relic of the past this pretty city has barely changed architecturally since the 18 th century. It is defined by its floral canals and white bridges that criss-cross the city while cobbled streets and quaint alleys are hemmed with historic buildings. One such building is the Belfry tower; a medieval bell tower infamous for hosting the gruesome demise of Brendan Gleeson’s character in the aptly named Hollywood hit In Bruges.

Lagos, Portugal

Lagos may not be the obvious choice for a Spring getaway yet for the active traveller it could be ideal. Although temperatures don’t generally reach the 20s, there’s plenty of sunshine and opportunity for outdoor activities.

Spend the day at Ponta da Piedade, a section of coastline dotted with enchanting caves, grottoes and sea arches. You can either witness these natural wonders from afar or book a boat excursion which takes you up close and personal.  Head down to one of the beaches to book a tour rather than in the town centre. Expect to pay around 10 euros.

There are also plenty of trekking and mountain biking opportunities along and above the coastline. Bikes can either be rented (e.g. Lagos Bike Rent) in the centre of town or you can book a tour (e.g. The Mountain Bike Adventure) for a day-long adventure. Feel free to explore to your heart’s content but mind you don’t end up unwittingly wandering onto one of the nudist beaches.

From a night life perspective, the centre of Lagos, though small, offers some razzle-dazzle. Try The Star for a cheesy night or Roskos for its cocktails and party atmosphere.

Bled, Slovenia

Walt must have garnered inspiration from Bled, as it looks as if it was taken straight out of a fairytale. It sits majestically on a precipice overlooking the Lake Bled, surrounded by lush, dense forest.

In the middle of the lake there is an island with a lovely church where weddings are often held. It is deemed good luck for the groom to carry his bride up the 98 stone steps.

The town of Bled has a great variety of bars and restaurants, including the Devil Caffe and Bar, which overlooks the lake and has a fun and relaxing vibe.

If you are staying for a couple of days, take a day trip to the Vintgar Gorge, a short 4km from Bled. The scenery with its plethora of pools, rapids, and even a waterfall is magical. You might even spot the odd maverick in a wetsuit taking a plunge in one of the icy pools of the Radovna River.

The path is less than 2km long but feels like a little slice of heaven. Sparkling sunlight dapples through the trees and the sounds of birdsong and the gentle gurgle of the river can be heard along the length of the walk. If heaven gives you an appetite, head to the Gostilna Vintgar restaurant, which serves trout so fresh you can see it flapping about in the net just minutes before it ends up on your plate.

Antibes, French Riviera

Antibes is located in the glitzy and glamorous French Riviera. Although the beaches are plentiful and the bars are buzzing, it still has an old-school traditional charm that is irresistible. Take a long walk along the Cap d’Antibes and you may come across elderly inhabitants playing a game of boules.

If you fancy a drink with a twist, head to the Absinthe Museum, home to a cellar-bar with a difference. The dark and cramped interior is plastered with mind-boggling absinthe posters and contains an assortment of eclectic hats which enthusiastic punters can’t help but try on. Staff serve a variety of white, green and premium absinthe from the menu.

Antibes is also a short distance from Cannes by either train or bus. Though it can be touristy and overpriced, it does have some surprising features. For instance, Ile Sainte-Marguerite, though quite beautiful, has a dark past. It is home to Fort Royal, the prison where the Man in the Iron Mask was held in the 17th century. Take the ferry from Cannes (tickets can be bought at the Quai Laubeuf, West of the old port) and spend an afternoon exploring the island. Either bring a picnic or dine at La Guerite restaurant, which some may find pricey. The restaurant is located close to the fort down a long stone staircase.

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