Looking at a holiday destination through someone else’s eyes can be a great way to uncover hidden gems. I spoke to Australian Carolyn Schonafinger, who has a self professed ‘love affair’ with Europe and who created the Holidays to Europe website. It’s full of useful tips, gathered during Carolyn’s many trips to the continent.
Carolyn first travelled to Europe in 1988 on a trip to visit her husband’s German relatives. Since then she’s returned year after year, trying out destinations from Italy to Sweden and Wales to Turkey. But she’s very clear about her favourite city.
“It’s always Paris,” she told me emphatically. “I know it’s a cliché but it just has everything. It’s pretty compact and the Metro is so fantastic for getting around, although we tend to walk as much as we can. There are so many wonderful sights. There’s something about Paris that just gets me.”
I asked Carolyn for her best advice on visiting the city. She recommended keeping away from the tourist traps when looking for lunch or dinner. “You won’t get a really traditional experience if you go where all the tourists are. So pop down a side street and see where the locals eat. That’s always great.”
Carolyn says that, being an Aussie, she doesn’t really try to seek out the best beaches when she visits Europe because they have fantastic ones back home. Instead, she seeks out the historic beauty of the Normandy coast. “I just love the architecture there, with the little harbours,” she said. “There’s beautiful fresh seafood. The beaches are nice but with the weather, you can’t be too certain that you’ll get swimming weather!”
But Carolyn told me her real passion is for the peace and quiet of the countryside, which she loves exploring in Europe. “My favourite place is called Lauterbrunnen, in Switzerland, not far from Bern. It’s a small Alpine village with a population of around 1,000 people. But its location in a valley, between two cliff faces and surrounded by the towering Alps is just magnificent.”
Apart for the countryside, Carolyn also has a passion for gardens and has visited many of Europe’s great garden locations. Her favourite has connections to a famous painting. “I love Monet’s Garden at Giverny, not far from Paris. The softness of the colours means you can almost see Monet there. There’s the beautiful pond with the little arched bridge over it. You could almost imagine you’re in one of Monet’s paintings!” It’s easy to get to from the centre of Paris by public transport or on a day trip.
Another horticultural highlight she’s written about on her website is the Tulip Garden at Keukenhof, near Amsterdam. “It’s an amazing display that’s held every year, usually about April or May,” said Carolyn. “It’s just a sea of tulips everywhere you look, in every imaginable colour. It’s definitely worth seeing.”
Finally I asked Carolyn for her top tip on visiting Europe. “Don’t try and cram too much into it and don’t underestimate the distance from one place to another,” she warned. “When Aussies go to Europe, we try to see as much as we can, but if you’re putting too many destinations into your itinerary, it’s not going to be a holiday at all. You’re going to be exhausted by the time you’re finished.”
You can read more about Carolyn’s trips to Europe and get lots of practical tips for travelling around the continent, at HolidaystoEurope.com.au.