The Netherlands is a diverse country with a long coastline, one of the greenest countrysides anywhere around, and cities and towns steeped in history. Most visitors to the Netherlands (also popularly known as Holland – though this name only refers to two provinces North- and South Holland) make a beeline for Amsterdam, Utrecht or Rotterdam, and rightfully so, but to get to know the country better, I recommend visiting other smaller cities and towns around the country. Many of these places not only offer charming cobblestone streets and a fascinating history to delve into, but also lots of cultural attractions, great shopping and top-notch restaurants. Here are 20 beautiful towns in the Netherlands to visit:


Beautiful step gables in the Hofstraat in Dordrecht.

I’ve lived in this country for most of my life and explored almost every corner of it. There are many towns in the Netherlands I can recommend for a visit so it was a challenge to narrow it down to twenty. I didn’t include places like Utrecht, The Hague, Groningen and Maastricht as these are bigger, more well-known cities. Instead, I selected smaller cities and a few villages with great historical and cultural importance.


1. Amersfoort

Amersfoort is a historic city in the province of Utrecht (map), less than an hour’s drive (or a train ride) from Amsterdam. It’s a gorgeous medieval city with picturesque canals, old city walls and impressive gates.

towns in the netherlands to visit

A canal in Amersfoort with the Our Lady tower.

Stroll along the Langestraat (the medieval town’s main thoroughfare), visit the 15th century Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren (Our Lady tower), the vibrant Hof square, and don’t miss the beautiful Koppelpoort, a unique medieval gate. Read more about things to do in Amersfoort.

places in the netherlands not to miss


2. Alkmaar

This old city – Alkmaar gained city rights in the 13th century – is located about a 45-minute drive northwest of Amsterdam, or a 35+ minute train ride (map). Famous for its traditional cheese market, held every Friday morning (April to September) at the Waagplein (Waag square), Alkmaar also has quaint canals, beautiful houses and interesting shops to entice visitors.

historic towns in the netherlands

The Waag (weighing house) in Alkmaar


Beautiful gabled houses at the Mient (square).

Join a walking tour (+cheese market visit). Read more about things to see in Alkmaar. Alkmaar can also be used as a base to explore the countryside of North Holland. Search for hotels in Alkmaar.

3. Delft

Located between The Hague and Rotterdam in South Holland (map), Delft is an important historic and cultural centre in the Netherlands. Delft’s main square, Markt (‘Market’), is home to two of the town’s most important buildings, the Nieuwe Kerk (‘New Church’) and the Stadhuis (‘Town Hall’).


Stadhuis (Town Hall), Delft


Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), Delft

The Nieuwe Kerk was completed in 1496 and its bell-tower is an impressive 109 meters tall! This church has an important place in the history of the Dutch monarchy as it’s where the royal family’s burial vault is located. As the birthplace of Vermeer, the famous Dutch artist, a visit to Delft wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the Vermeer Centre! I also recommend visiting the Royal Delft, the original 17th century Delft Blue ceramics factory. Join a private walking tour of Delft. Read more about things to do in Delft. Search for hotels in Delft.

4. Haarlem

Haarlem is located about a 30-minute drive/train ride west of Amsterdam (map). The capital of the province of North Holland, it’s a town of beautiful medieval cobblestone streets and charming canals but there’s much more to see. The Cathedral of Saint Bavo is one of the must-sees in Haarlem. This Gothic cathedral in the city centre is famous for its 18th century Müller Organ; the likes of Händel and Mozart once played this world-famous organ.


The St. Bavo Cathedral or Grote Kerk in Haarlem.

Haarlem is also home to important art museums such as the Teylers Museum and the Frans Hals Museum, dedicated to the famous master. Another must-visit is the historic De Adriaan Windmill (dating from 1779). A canal cruise is a great way to see the town.


The Adriaan windmill in Haarlem

5. Leiden

This city in South Holland (map) is home to the country’s oldest university (Leiden University, since 1575), centuries-old buildings and the famous Leiden Botanical Garden (founded in 1590 and where the tulip was first introduced in Western Europe). Leiden University is still one of the top universities in Europe, having produced 13 Nobel prize winners, and with students from around the world, creates a vibrant, international atmosphere in the city. Leiden is also famous as the birthplace of Rembrandt and played a pivotal role in the Dutch revolt against the Spanish occupation in the 16th century.

leiden day trip

The historic City Hall in Leiden.

interesting towns to visit in the netherlands


Stroll around the picturesque canals, cosy lanes and the city’s ‘hofjes’ (courtyards), visit the Leiden Botanical Garden (Hortus Botanicus Leiden), the Burcht (Castle) of Leiden and the Pieterskerk (which is especially interesting for American visitors due to its connection with the earliest Pilgrims). Just outside the city centre, visit the spectacular Naturalis Biodiversity Centre.


6. Gouda

World famous for its cheese, Gouda is one of the most beautiful towns in South Holland (map). The Markt (Market Square), with the iconic 15th century Stadhuis (Town Hall), the Waag (weighing house) and the weekly cheese market (every Thursday morning), are the main attractions for most day-trippers, but I recommend spending more time wandering around the town.


The Stadhuis (Town Hall) and behind it, the Waag (weighing house) at the Markt (market square) in Gouda.


Sint Jan is the longest church in the Netherlands.

The best way to get to know Gouda is to simply stroll around its picturesque canals and streets. Don’t miss the Sint Jan Church, the longest church in the Netherlands and home to stunning stained glass windows. Read more about things to see in Gouda. Search for hotels in Gouda.

7. Zutphen

This city on the banks of the Ijssel River in the province of Gelderland (map) can trace its roots back to the 1st century A.D. In the 12th century, Zutphen joined the Hanseatic League (a commercial and defensive confederation that encompassed major merchant cities in northern Europe, from the Baltics, Scandinavia and Germany to the Netherlands), which resulted in great wealth for the city.

towns to visit in eastern netherlands

The St. Walburgis church towers over the medieval town

Its medieval core, surrounded by fortifications and moats, is pretty much intact. Enter the gates of Zutphen and discover a town bursting with character. Its picturesque cobblestone streets, squares and courtyards are packed with 400 national monuments. These include beautiful 14th century houses and important buildings such as the Drogenaps and Wijnhuis (Winery) towers, the 11th century Walburgis church and its Librije (library), and the 14th century monastic Broederen church. Search for accommodations in Zutphen.

things to see in zutphen


8. Deventer

Situated downstream along the Ijssel River from Zutphen, in the province of Overijssel (map), Deventer is another ancient Hanseatic town (1st century A.D.) with a rich history.

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The St. Lebuïnus Church in Deventer

Its main square, Brink, is lined by beautiful houses and the historic Waag (the old weighing house). The adjacent medieval quarter is a gorgeous district to explore. Other main attractions in Deventer include the imposing St. Lebuïnus Church and St. Nicholas Church (a classical concert venue). Search for accommodations in Deventer.

medieval towns in the netherlands

The medieval quarter in Deventer

9. Naarden Vesting

A prime example of a star fortress (there are several others in the Netherlands such as Heusden and Fort Bourtange), Naarden Vesting (map) is part of the larger town of Naarden, and is a lovely place to visit (just 20 minutes east of Amsterdam). In 1675, the city was fortified with six bastions and two moats which can still be seen till this day.


Aerial view of Naarden Vesting

One of the most famous visitors to the city was Napoleon Bonaparte who came to inspect the fortress in 1811, a year after annexing the Netherlands. I recommend a stroll around its historic centre, which is full of boutiques, antique stores and art galleries, a walk atop the fortress walls and a visit to the Fortress Museum. At the centre of the town is the Grote Kerk (Great Church), which is famous across the country for its MatthäusPassion concert every year around Easter.


Naarden Vesting is a charming town with historic buildings, boutiques, art galleries, cafés and restaurants.

10. Enkhuizen

This harbour town in the province of North Holland (map) was one of the richest in the country in the 17th century! These days, Enkhuizen is especially popular amongst yachting enthusiasts and visitors to the nearby Zuiderzee Museum (an open-air museum that’s dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage and maritime history of the Zuiderzee region).


Enkhuizen was a wealthy trading town in the 17th century.

towns in holland to visit


Among the main attractions of Enkhuizen are the 16th century Drommedaris tower (that now houses a cultural centre and bar), the Oude Haven (Old Harbour), the Westerkerk and Zuiderkerk (Western and Southern churches) and the town’s old fortress walls. There’s even a ship-in-a-bottle museum (Flessenscheepjes Museum) with a pretty impressive collection. Search for accommodations in Enkhuizen.


11. Hoorn

Hoorn is a town in North Holland (map) that rose to prominence in the 17th century. Don’t miss the gorgeous harbourfront, with its beautiful gabled houses and iconic 16th century Hoofdtoren (‘Head Tower’), the Roode Steen square, the Westfries Museum (a wonderful museum full of artifacts from the Dutch Golden Age) and the Oosterpoort (East Gate). There’s also a steam train that runs from Hoorn to Medemblik, a fun thing to do.


Hoorn is one of the historic towns around the Markermeer.

interesting cities in the netherlands

Hoorn harbourfront

Enkhuizen and Hoorn can be covered as part of a wider road trip from Amsterdam around the Markermeer (the fascinating, man-made Marker Lake). Search for accommodations in Hoorn.

12. Leeuwarden

Leeuwarden is the capital of Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands (map). In 2018, Leeuwarden was named the European City of Culture. It’s a pleasant city with leafy parks, beautiful canals and a vibrant café culture.

Leeuwarden has a vibrant café culture.


The historic City Hall.

There are around 800 national monuments, including the Oldehove (a leaning, unfinished church tower) and the City Hall. There are also numerous museums to visit including the Fries Museum (a museum dedicated to Frisian art, culture and history) and the Princessehof Ceramics Museum. Search for accommodations in Leeuwarden. Read more about the best places to visit in Friesland.

13. Zwolle

Zwolle is the capital of the province of Overijssel (map). A city with a long history, it experienced its Golden Age in the 15th century. Much like Zutphen and Deventer, Zwolle thrived on trade and joined the Hanseatic League in the 13th century.



The main highlights include the Museum de Fundatie (with its extraordinary ‘egg’ atop a palace), the Sassenpoort (a 15th century tower gate), the Grote Kerk (Big Church), the Peperbus church tower and remnants of the ancient city walls. Zwolle also has the distinction of having the best restaurant in the country: De Librije, an excellent 3-Michelin star restaurant. Search for accommodations in Zwolle.

Zwolle (image courtesy of B.Ros/Unsplash)

14. Gorinchem

Gorinchem (or ‘Gorkum‘ in the local dialect) is the largest fortress city in the Netherlands, with its impressive moats, ramparts and bastions largely intact since the 17th century. Strategically situated at the confluence of the Linge and Merwede rivers in the province of South Holland (map), Gorinchem was first settled in the 11th century and became a fortress town in the 13th century. In the 16th century, after Gorinchem was liberated from Spanish forces during the Eighty Years War, the fortifications were strengthened by the Dutch, structures which can still be seen today.

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Gorinchem Linge harbour

lesser known towns in the netherlands

Browse around in the Langendijk street.

Places of interest in Gorinchem include the Old City Hall (home to the Gorgums Museum), the Grote Kerk (Main Church), the ‘Dit is in Bethlehem‘ house, the Lingehaven (the Linge harbour which runs through the fortress city), the old city walls and the beautiful Langendijk street, with its shops and restaurants. Gorinchem is one of the stops I recommend on a road trip around the Great Rivers region of Central Netherlands.

15. Heusden

Surrounded by impressive moats, fortifications and windmills, Heusden is one of the best preserved medieval towns and star-shaped fortresses in the Netherlands (map). Its beautiful 16th century inner harbour, complete with a drawbridge and overlooked by a windmill, is a popular spot for day-trippers, but there are no less than 120 national monuments in the town.

dutch medieval town heusden

The Vismarkt (Fish Market) square is packed with cafés and restaurants.

things to see in hesuden

The historic inner harbour in Heusden.

16. Den Bosch

‘s-Hertogenbosch or simply Den Bosch is the capital of the province of North Brabant (map). The vibrant city centre is filled with cafés, restaurants, shops and historic monuments so take your time to soak up the wonderful atmosphere. The main attraction in Den Bosch is the iconic St. John’s Cathedral (Sint Janskathedraal), a must-visit in my book. You can also climb the Cathedral tower for great views of the city.

best cities to visit in central netherlands

The impressive Sint Jan’s Cathedral in Den Bosch.

sint jan cathedral den bosch

Inside the Cathedral

Other places of interest in Den Bosch include the Market square, the Citadel (with its imposing walls), the Binnendieze (the network of canals inside the walled city which can be seen on a cruise), the Museum Quarter (home to the Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Het Noordbrabants Museum) and the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center (born in Den Bosch, Jheronimus Bosch is one of the most influential Dutch masters, along with the likes of Rembrandt and Van Gogh). Search for accommodations in Den Bosch.


The Market Square.

17. Dordrecht

Perhaps one of the most under-rated towns in the Netherlands, Dordrecht is an absolutely charming city on an island at the confluence of five rivers (map). One of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, Dordrecht has a rich merchant history that’s reflected in its beautiful houses and picturesque harbours.

things to do in dordrecht holland

The Minster of Dordrecht or Church of Our Lady at sunset. The stretch of water is the Voorstraatshaven (Front Street harbour).


A view of the Wolwevershaven, one of the city’s inner harbours.

The main attractions in Dordrecht include the Minster or Church of Our Lady, the three historic harbours, and the many stately merchant homes. If possible, I recommend spending the night there to truly experience Dordrecht’s charm. You can also join a walking tour of Dordrecht. Read about things to do in Dordrecht. Search for hotels in Dordrecht.

18. Bergen op Zoom

One of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, Bergen op Zoom (or BOZ) is one of my favourites in the south of the country (map). For centuries, the city’s strategic location in the province of North Brabant made it an important military and trading centre. During the Dutch wars with Spain and France (17-18th centuries), BOZ was a major stronghold that played a pivotal role.

amazing towns to visit in the netherlands

Grote Markt, Bergen op Zoom

These days, BOZ, with its cobbled streets, lively squares and ancient buildings, is an absolutely lovely city to visit. The main sights include the Grote Markt square, the 15th century Markiezenhof palace and the 14th century Gevangenpoort, an impressive medieval city gate. Search for hotels in Bergen op Zoom.

bergen op zoom sights

The Gevangenpoort

19. Middelburg

Middleburg is the capital of the southern province of Zeeland (map). During the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ in the 17th century, Middelburg was the wealthiest merchant city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam. Lavish 17th century houses still line the canals that dissect the city.

Middelburg (image courtesy of H.Simonse/Unsplash)

The main sights in Middelburg include the 12th century Abdij (site of the Zeeuws Museum) with its 90m tall Lange Jan church tower (which you can climb), the stunning late-Gothic Stadhuis (City Hall), the Dam en Prins Hendrikdok (old docks), the octagonal Oostkerk (Eastern church), the 17th century Kloveniersdoelen building and the gorgeous medieval houses in the Kuiperspoort. I also recommend going on a canal cruise to see and learn more about the city’s many monuments. Search for hotels in Middelburg.


Kuiperspoort (image courtesy of H.Silmonse/Unsplash)

20. Thorn

Thorn is a small town in the province of Limburg (map) with a fascinating history. It is best known as the ‘white city’ due to its whitewashed houses, an unusual sight in the Netherlands. In the 12th century, Thorn formed the smallest independent principality in the German Holy Roman Empire, a status that lasted till the 18th century. I recommend spending a few hours wandering around this little whitewashed town and tasting some of the local wines.

historic towns in limburg


The main street in Thorn




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Norwich is a cathedral city in the area of East Anglia, roughly 160 kilometres northeast of London. As I had some meetings in the area, I decided to extend my stay and spend a day in Norwich, reputedly England’s most complete medieval city. I strolled around and found a vibrant city with the Norwich Cathedral, one of Britain’s largest medieval cathedrals, as its stunning centrepiece. Norwich has a compact city centre and all the major highlights are within walking distance of each other. During my walk, I discovered many interesting things to see in Norwich, from its cathedrals (there are two of them) to its picturesque medieval lanes, quaint half-timbered houses and ancient gates. Here’s how to spend a day in Norwich:

things to see in norwich

Norwich: City of Stories

I booked a night at the Maids Head Hotel, which has a convenient location across the road from the Norwich Cathedral. Upon arriving, I checked in, left my bag at the hotel and embarked on my walk around the city.

where to stay in norwich

Maids Head Hotel

Here’s a map of my walking route past many of the places of interest in Norwich:

Norwich Cathedral

My first stop was the Norwich Cathedral. Completed in the 12th century, the cathedral boasts the second-tallest cathedral spire and second-largest cloister in England. As I entered the cathedral, I was greeted by the awe-inspiring sight of the nave and its ceiling.

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The impressive nave of the Norwich Cathedral

how to spend a day in norwich

Stained glass windows in the cathedral

I took my time admiring the stunning nave, the beautiful stained glass windows and the massive cloister.

top attractions in norwich

The stunning cloister

View of the spire from the cloister

Cathedral Quarter

After visiting the cathedral, I walked to the river before backtracking a bit to explore Tombland and Elm Hill in the Cathedral Quarter, famous for their quaint, cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. Numerous shops, pubs and restaurants can be found in this quarter, which was the site of the medieval marketplace. I popped into The Bear Shop, packed with teddy bears, and stopped for a coffee at the lovely Britons Arms coffee house.

Colourful houses along the River Wensum

places to visit in norwich

Princes Street in the Cathedral Quarter

Norwich lanes

From the Cathedral Quarter, I made my way to the Norwich lanes, a maze of atmospheric streets and lanes filled with shops, cafés, restaurants and historic buildings. There’s a lot to see and places to visit in this heart of Norwich, such as the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, the Maddermarket Theatre, the 15th century Guildhall (England’s largest medieval city hall) and Strangers’ Hall (a furniture museum located in a 14th century house).

norwich walking route

One of the many lanes

norwich landmarks

The Guildhall

I had a great time exploring the lanes and browsing around the shops. I also visited the delightful antique and collectibles store inside the St. Gregory’s church.

norwich antiques

St. Gregory’s Antiques and Collectibles

Norwich Market

I slowly made my way to Norwich Market, a large outdoor market with colourful roofs. I spent a few minutes strolling around the numerous food and craft stalls.

Norwich Market

The colourful roofs of Norwich Market

Towering above the market is the City Council building with its clock tower. A stone’s throw away lies The Forum, a modern building with a massive roof that houses a tourist information centre. Just across from The Forum stands the St. Peter Mancroft church, Norwich’s largest medieval parish church. I wandered inside and found a lovely art exhibition.

norwich churches

St. Peter Mancroft

Art exhibit inside the St. Peter Mancroft church

Castle Quarter

From the market, I continued to Norwich Castle through the buzzing Castle Quarter. This area is packed with shops and coffee houses. I walked through the splendid Royal Arcade, a gorgeous mix of Victorian and Art Nouveau architecture, and visited the cavernous Castle Quarter Mall before making my way up to the Castle.

The beautiful entrance to the Royal Arcade

norwich shopping

Inside the Royal Arcade

Standing tall atop a hill, Norwich Castle was built in the 11th century following the Norman Conquest of England. This imposing, box-like castle now houses a museum and art gallery.

norwich attractions

Norwich Castle

After visiting the castle, I found a wonderful place for a lunch stop: Cosy Club. I especially loved the classic interior with its impressive dome ceiling.

Cosy Club

Ethelbert Gate

My walk around Norwich continued after lunch to Tombland. I passed the ornate 13th century Ethelbert Gate, one of two gates that lead into the walled Cathedral Close. The close is a lovely, tranquil area with gorgeous houses and gardens. I kept walking along until I reached the River Wensum

things to do in norwich

Ethelbert Gate

Statue of the Duke of Wellington

norwich walk

Houses in the cathedral close

Riverside Walk

The River Wensum curls around the city centre and there’s a walking path that follows the river through lush parklands. This Riverside Walk passes various historic monuments such as Pull’s Ferry, a 15th century watergate and ferry house, the 14th century Bishop Bridge (one of England’s oldest medieval bridges still in use) and the 14th century Cow Tower.

Pull’s Ferry

oldest medieval bridge britain

Bishop Bridge

Cow Tower

There are several pubs along the river that make for a great place to stop and relax, such as the Red Lion Bishopgate. I chose the rustic Adam & Eve pub to stop for a well-deserved pint before making my way back to the hotel.

The Adam & Eve pub

Evening in Norwich

That evening, I headed back to the Norwich lanes to look for a dinner spot. When visiting a place, I enjoy wandering around and looking at the menu’s of restaurants. Earlier in the day, I spotted a great menu at Bishop’s, but alas, they were fully booked when I inquired. I continued my search and found a lively place called The Ivy Brasserie. I loved the colourful interior, and the food and service were really good!

The Ivy Brasserie

Delicious food at The Ivy

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped for a drink at The Edith Cavell pub in Tombland. I had a wonderful time chatting with some of the locals and thinking of all the ground I covered during my day in Norwich!

There are other places of interest in Norwich that I didn’t get to visit such as the second cathedral (the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist) and the Chapelfield district. I absolutely enjoyed my day in Norwich and can definitely recommend a visit for a day or two. I’ve marked the places I didn’t get to see as orange pins on the map above. You can also join the Norwich Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour.

Getting to Norwich

Norwich is accessible by train from London Liverpool Street Station (less than two hours). There are also twice-daily flights from Amsterdam with KLM to Norwich Airport (a 35-minute flight). Search for flights with Skyscanner.


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Monferrato is a hilly area situated east of Turin in the region of Piedmont. Stretching from the alluvial plains of the Po River to the foothills of the Apennines, Monferrato is divided in two geographical areas: Basso Monferrato (Lower Monferrato) and Alto Monferrato (Upper Monferrato). I was excited as I’d heard a lot about the beautiful places to visit in Monferrato, an area that’s famous for its dreamy landscapes, amazing food and wines, and friendly people! It’s such a beautiful area that UNESCO declared the landscapes of Monferrato a World Heritage site in 2014!

where to go in monferrat

A typical Monferrato landscape

My visit to the Monferrato area was part of a broader road trip around Piedmont. When I was up in the mountains of Val Chisone, I chatted with a lady during dinner one evening. Her eyes lit up when I told her that I was visiting Monferrato. “Take your time to enjoy Monferrato. You have to make time for its food and wines”, she said. “You will be in heaven!”. I knew then that I was in for a very special treat!

I spent several days exploring Basso Monferrato, in the area immediately south of the Po River, in the province of Alessandria. I heeded the lady’s advice and took my time exploring the hills of Monferrato, feasting on its food and wines, and meeting its wonderfully welcoming people. Here are some of the most beautiful places that I visited in Monferrato and my most memorable experiences:

Cella Monte

The first place I visited in Monferrato was Cella Monte. Listed as one of the most beautiful villages of historical interest in Italy (I Borghi più belli d’Italia), Cella Monte sits on a ridge and is surrounded by farms and vineyards.

where to go in monferrato

Cella Monte

The village itself consists of picturesque cobbled streets, ancient manor houses, hidden courtyards and rustic lanes. The parish church and 17th century San Quirico church, with their alluring interiors and frescoes, are absolutely worth a visit.

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A street in Cella Monte

Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni

As I walked around, I noticed the intriguing mix of stone, bricks and mortar in the walls. Upon closer inspection, I even discovered remnants of fossils and shells! I later learned at the village’s Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni (info) about pietra da cantoni, a type of sandstone that can be found throughout the Monferrato area.

places of interest monferrato

Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni

From about the 1st century AD, the inhabitants of the area dug into the soft sandstone to create cellars, storage rooms and tunnels called infernot. These infernot were used to store the finest wines, and can still be seen in many villages and wineries. These beautiful structures are now collectively UNESCO World Heritage sites.


Infernot were built by hand and used to store the finest wines.

Wine-tasting at Cinque Quinti

I stumbled upon a winery called Cinque Quinti (info), located in a striking manor house. Curious about this place, I knocked on the door to inquire about a wine-tasting. The friendly owner invited me in and took me on a tour of the winery and its infernot. The ancient subterranean tunnels and chambers were absolutely fascinating!

wineries cella monte

Cinque Quinti winery in Cella Monte

monferrato infernot

The infernot at Cinque Quinti

After the tour, I enjoyed a wine-tasting in the courtyard, coupled with some delicious local bites.

Wine-tasting at Cinque Quinti

An unforgettable lunch at Agriturismo Fontanella

Before arriving in Cella Monte, I noticed a sign pointing to Agriturismo La Fontanella (info). Feeling hungry, I decided to head down the lane to check it out. I entered the large house and was immediately welcomed with a big smile. I didn’t have a reservation, and despite being full, the kind owners prepared a table for me on the terrace. What followed was a four-course culinary experience (with multiple second servings) I will not easily forget! The family spoiled me with simply divine food and wine from their estate, all served with big, happy smiles. 

A glass of wine to start!

The first course itself consisted of four, separately served, appetisers: ham and salami, carne cruda (raw meat), vitello tonnato (veal with a tuna sauce) and cheeses! The owner’s daughter returned several times for extra servings, and it was hard to refuse! I just could not get enough of the carne cruda and vitello tonnato! The vitello tonnato, with its silky-smooth tuna sauce, was without a doubt the best I’ve ever had!

piedmont cuisine

The appetisers!

Next up was agnolotti, a stuffed pasta typical of Piedmont. Its filling is a family secret (I asked) but it was absolutely delicious, with rich flavours and a good bite.

I had 3 servings of agnolotti!

This was followed by the main course: spezzatino, an Italian stew. The meat, with a gorgeous scent of rosemary and sage, was wonderfully tender.

agriturismo monferrato

The delicious spezzatino!

The spezzatino was served with potatoes.

Rosignano Monferrato

Across the valley from Cella Monte lies the village of Rosignano Monferrato. The Capoluogo or ‘Chief Village’ sits atop a huge rock and is a maze of ancient streets and historic monuments.

Rosignano Monferrato seen from Cella Monte

I followed the walking route I obtained from the tourist office and discovered a gorgeous village steeped in history. I took my time strolling around and discovered various points of historical interest such as the 12th century Romanesque Church of Sant’Antonio, the Town Hall with its infernot (open to the public), the 15th century San Vittore Church and the Mellana Castle.

A street in Rosignano Monferrato

The 12th century Romanesque Church of Sant’Antonio.

Rosignano Monferrato also has several viewpoints scattered around the village, where you can enjoy wonderful panoramic views.

kissing balcony

Beautiful views at the ‘kissing balcony’!

As I walked down the hill along Viale della Repubblica, I noticed the rock that the Capoluogo sits on. The exposed rock surface is quite impressive, and I found a little cave chapel, Madonna sotto il Sasso, as well as remnants of ancient quarries. There’s a trail that continues further down to the valley floor and up to the next village, Cella Monte. This circular trail is 11 kilometers long and passes vineyards, farmlands and various historic sights.

cave chapel rosignano monferrato

Madonna sotto il Sasso cave chapel

Ozzano Monferrato

Ozzano Monferrato is a wonderfully rustic medieval village topped by a beautiful church and an imposing castle. Places of historic and artistic interest in Ozzano Monferrato that are well worth a visit include the parish church of St. Salvatore and the adjacent bell-tower, and the church of Santa Maria Assunta.

Ozzano Monferrato

The Castle, a private property owned by the Visconti family, has its origins in the 12th century but the structures that can be seen today were built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The park surrounding the castle is home to centuries-old Lebanese cedars.

towns to visit in monferrato

The road into Ozzano Monferrato.

Ozzano Monferrato was my base for a few days as I explored the area. I stayed in the lovely La Corte Delle 4 Stagioni, a B&B located in a historic manor surrounded by sprawling gardens.

where to stay in ozzano monferrato

La Corte Delle 4 Stagioni

My room at La Corte Delle 4 Stagioni

The ‘balconies’ of Monferrato

It was in Ozzano Monferrato where I first heard about the ‘balconies’ of the Monferrato villages. Situated on hilltops, many of the villages have ‘balconies’ or panoramic viewpoints. Just a minute’s walk from the B&B, I found my first ‘balcony’ right in front of the parish church of St. Salvador. The view of the verdant slopes and wave-like horizon was stunning! I went there several times, especially in the mornings when the mist-shrouded hills looked absolutely enchanting.

monferrato villages

The hills around Ozzano Monferrato covered in morning mist.

Cantine Valpane

There are numerous wineries around Ozzano Monferrato such as the Angelini Paolo winery but my favourite experience was at Cantine Valpane (info).

best wineries to visit in piedmont

Cantine Valpane

I’d emailed the proprietor and wine maker, Pietro, a few weeks before to book a visit to Cantine Valpane. He confirmed the date and time and added, “My English is not so good but the wines will speak for themselves”. I arrived to find that he’d invited his brother-in-law, Roberto, to help with translating, and his sister to serve some food. I felt so honoured and touched that he’d arranged all this!

monferrato winery tour

The century-old ‘barrels’

After touring the winery, they sat me down for a wine tasting with delicious food prepared by Pietro’s sister. Pietro regaled me with stories of the previous owner of the estate (dating back to the 19th century), how his grandfather took over and breathed new life into the winery, and how he, even as a young man, competed with his grandfather to create the best wines.

monferrato wine tasting

The tasting room

He served five different wines: a Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese (a local grape variety typical of Monferrato), three types of Barbera, and a Freisa (another local variety). I was especially enraptured by the Grignolino. Its colour, a translucent crimson, like liquid rubies, was simply mesmerising.

Cantine Valpane Piedmont

Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese

The gorgeous colour of the Grignolino

The Barbera del Monferrato was just as extraordinary; deep and earthy on the nose, a fresh acidity and exuberant notes of red berries.

best barbera del monferrato

Barbera del Monferrato

Pietro was right. His wines spoke. Of the complexity of the terroir, the mist that lingers in the valleys, the sun that bakes the earth and the timeless passion of its maker. He didn’t need a translator at all.

Me feeling very happy!

Sacro Monte di Crea

About a 15-minute drive from Ozzano Monferrato lies the majestic Sacro Monte di Crea (Sacred Mountain of Crea), one of nine UNESCO World Heritage listed sacred mounts in Piedmont and Lombardy (info). On the way there, I made a quick stop at the village of Cereseto, with its towering castle.

cereseto castello

Castle of Cereseto

It was a foggy morning but my stroll around the monuments of Sacro Monte di Crea atop the forest-clad mountain was simply enchanting.

Sacro Monte di Crea

top places to visit in monferrato

A path through the forest connects the chapels.

This sanctuary, with its amazing frescoes and statues, is one of the top places to visit in Monferrato, especially for religious art enthusiasts. I hiked to the highest and most impressive chapel, the ‘Paradise Chapel’, and was rewarded with panoramic views and magnificent depictions of Biblical scenes.

The Paradise Chapel

art places to visit in monferrato

One of the other chapels

The chapels are fenced (often with mesh wire) and unlit so I stuck my phone’s lens through holes in the mesh to view the frescoes from outside.


One day, as I was making my way back to Ozzano Monferrato at around sunset, I stopped to take in the view of the hills cast in a warm, orangey glow. In the distance, I noticed a village topped by a pompous-looking structure, like a beacon overlooking the area. A quick check on Google Maps revealed that this was the village of Treville.

beautiful villages in monferrato

Treville at sunset

The next day, just a 5-minute drive from Ozzano Monferrato, I discovered a lovely village with the imposing Sant’Ambrogio church, the ‘beacon’ I saw the day before. Fronting the church was another Monferrato ‘balcony’ with stunning views. On clear days, the entire range of the Italian Alps can be seen from this balcony!

monferrato villages

The Sant’Ambrogio church

towns to visit in monferrato

The view from the balcony

In Treville, I visited the village’s infernot, which is open to the public. I also learned about a 1-hour walking route that starts at the church and continues down to the valley floor, passing fields, vineyards and historic monuments such as the 12th century San Quirico church.

Casale Monferrato

Casale Monferrato lies on the banks of the Po River and has a fascinating history dating back to Roman times. Exploring this beautiful town one afternoon was another highlight of my trip around Monferrato.

towns to visit in monferrato

Casale Monferrato

There are many places of interest in Casale Monferrato. The most important include the Civic Tower, 12th century Romanesque Cathedral, 16th century Synagogue and the Baroque Santa Caterina church.

things to see in casale monferrato

The Cathedral

In addition, I loved strolling around its beautiful streets such as the Via Aurelio Saffi and Via Roma.

The striking neo-Classical façade of Santa Croce in Via Roma

One street that was particularly impressive was Via Goffredo Mameli, with its palaces such as the Palazzo Gozani di Treville and the Palazzo Gozani di San Giorgio, now the Town Hall.

casale monferrato street

Via Goffredo Mameli

Entrance to one of the palazzi.

There are many other beautiful places in Monferrato to visit but alas, I only had a few days. I could easily spend a week or longer traversing the area. My plan is to return soon and explore other parts of Basso Monferrato and Alto Monferrato.

How to get to Monferrato

The area lies about an hour’s drive east of Turin and 1.5 hours west of Milan. Turin and Milan are about a 1.5-hour flight from Amsterdam (check flights). To explore the places and towns mentioned above, I recommend hiring a car.



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Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland and lies almost entirely inside the Arctic Circle. Covering about one-third of Finland’s total area, Lapland is a region of mires, fells, pine forests and lakes. It is especially popular as a winter destination, with visitors arriving to experience its vast, snowy landscapes, and see the northern lights. The ‘Home of Santa Claus’, Rovaniemi, is the main gateway to Lapland. A city of about 35,000 inhabitants, Rovaniemi (map) offers visitors a large variety of winter activities, such as snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, husky safaris and ice-floating. Here are the best winter activities in Lapland which can be experienced in and around Rovaniemi:

winter in lapland

Expansive forests in Lapland

1. Ice floating

One of my favourite winter activities in Lapland, ice-floating is a surreal, deeply relaxing experience. Visitors are given thick, survival suits (which make you look like a Teletubby) and are then led into a carved out section of a frozen lake. The calm water and the warm suit make your mind and body relax in an instant. If you choose to go ice-floating in the dark, you may be able to witness the northern lights as you float in the lake; a simply magical experience! Read about my ice-floating experience in Lapland.


Floating in an icy pool in a frozen lake!

2. Snow-shoeing

I’m not much of a skier so, to me, snowshoeing is the next best thing! I absolutely loved snow-shoeing in Lapland. The low hills and forests near Rovaniemi make for breathtaking areas for a snowshoe trek. Along the way, stop to admire the otherworldly snow and ice formations on the trees and shrubs.

winter activities in lapland

Snow-shoeing amidst otherworldly landscapes.

3. Husky safari

This is another of my favourite things to do in Lapland. I was a bit apprehensive at first but the well-trained huskies made me feel at ease. The safari across the plains and through the forests was unforgettable! Check out this husky farm and sledding experience. Read more about my husky safari in Lapland.

things to do in lapland in winter

The gorgeous huskies!


A wondrous husky safari!

4. See the Northern lights

Seeing the northern lights or aurora borealis is one of the top reasons to visit Lapland. It is one of the best places in the world to experience this enchanting phenomenon. Keep your fingers crossed for clear nights, and leave the city lights behind you to stand a better chance of seeing them. It can be a bit boring and cold while you wait for the northern lights to appear, so I recommend combining it with an activity, such as ice-floating, a sauna experience, snowmobile safari, or a Lappish BBQ! Or join a photographer for a photo tour. Read about my northern lights experience.

things to to in rovaniemi lapland

Enjoy a Lappish BBQ and see the Northern Lights! Image courtesy of Unsplash.

5. Reindeer safari

Reindeer sleighs are the most traditional form of transport in Lapland, and a popular Lapland winter activity for visitors. This truly is a wonderful experience for individuals, couples or the whole family. There are reindeer safaris during the day, when you get to see the stunning snowy landscapes, and at night, when you have the chance to see the northern lights.


Go on a reindeer safari. Image courtesy of Unsplash.


6. Snowmobile safari

For the thrill-seekers, a snowmobile safari through the hills and snow forests near Rovaniemi is an experience that shouldn’t be missed! You’ll have the opportunity to weave through the forest and slalom down slopes. Join this 5-hour snowmobile safari and ice-fishing adventure or this 2-hour snowmobile trip.

snowmobile safari lapland

Snowmobile safari. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

7. Cross-country skiing

The gentle landscapes around Rovaniemi are perfect for a cross-country skiing adventure. Follow a guide through the snow forests, learn about the area and its fauna, and visit ‘hidden’ lakes. For the more adventurous skier, there’s also guided cross-country skiing in the backcountry; off the beaten path and into the snowy wilderness.

rovaniemi winter activities

Ski through the snowy forests.

8. Lappish sauna experience

This is another of my favourite things to do in Lapland! You can’t leave without having tried a Lappish sauna at least once! One of my favourite sauna experiences is the combination of a traditional sauna with a quick dip in the icy waters of a nearby lake or river. It’s a fantastic experience (and apparently great for the skin) to warm up in the sauna before dipping in the icy water or jumping into the snow! Join this sauna and ice-swimming experience.

winter things to do in lapland

A traditional lake-side Finnish sauna.

9. Visit the Arctic Snow Hotel

Every year, in late-November, massive truckloads of snow and ice are used to create the Arctic Snow Hotel, just 20 minutes from Rovaniemi. You can visit the hotel to see the beautiful ice sculptures, have a drink or meal at the Ice Bar or Ice Restaurant, or you can spend the night there in a bed made of ice!

winter things to do in rovaniemi

Have a meal at the Ice Restaurant!

Or spend the night in a bed made of ice!

While you’re there, have a Minttu, a peppermint liqueur, in an ice glass!

10. Stay in a glass igloo hotel

Lapland excels in unique accommodations, such as the Arctic Snow Hotel and rustic forest lodges, but one of the most delightful is arguably a stay in a glass igloo. The experience of lying in bed and looking up at the star-studded sky and witnessing the northern lights dancing above you, is unbeatable!

lapland glass igloo hotel

Stay in a glass igloo hotel! Image courtesy of Unsplash

Best igloo hotels in Rovaniemi

Numerous hotels in Rovaniemi and across Lapland offer this accommodation type, so there’s a good variety to choose from. Check out these aurora hut igloos in Rovaniemi, the glass igloos at the Arctic Snow Hotel, or the luxurious Pandomes Aurora Igloo Hotel located outside Rovaniemi. The Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Rovaniemi offers luxurious cabins with panoramic views.

How to get to Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi has an international airport with frequent connections to Helsinki and major hubs in Europe, especially in the winter months.



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Piedmont is a region of northwest Italy bordering France and Switzerland, with Turin as its capital and largest city. Piedmont was high on my list of places in Italy to visit. Friends of mine who’d been there were convinced that I would love Piedmont’s scenery and cuisine. When I received an invitation by the Italian Tourist Board to explore rural Piedmont, I didn’t have to think twice! Based on their suggestions, I created a Piedmont road trip itinerary that covered the Italian Alps in the west, the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in the north, and the Monferrato hills in the east.

It turned out to be a wondrous trip along majestic mountains, glistening lakes, pristine forests, and villages and towns bursting with charm. I had a fantastic time exploring these places, enjoying the amazing food and wines, and meeting the friendliest people along the way. Follow me on my road trip through some of the most beautiful places in Piedmont:

My Piedmont road trip itinerary

I arrived in Turin and started my 10-day Piedmont road trip by driving west to Val Chisone in the Italian Alps. After spending 3 nights there, I headed north to the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola. I based myself in the province’s largest town, Domodossola, for 3 nights. The final leg of my trip took me to the Monferrato hills, east of Turin, where I stayed for another 3 nights before returning to Turin. Here are the places I visited in Piedmont, along with some of my most memorable experiences:

Val Chisone

One of several valleys in western Piedmont, Val Chisone is less than a two-hour drive from Turin. I chose Pragelato as a base for several days due to its central location. As I explored the valley, I was continuously in awe of its imposing peaks and forested slopes. I visited numerous villages and historical attractions, went on beautiful hikes, and discovered an area with distinct customs and traditions. Here are the best places to visit in Val Chisone:

places to visit in val chisone

Val Chisone in autumn


As I drove into the valley along the SP23R road, I soon spotted a massive structure draping the slopes of the mountains: the Fenestrelle Fortress, the largest alpine fortification in Europe.

forti di fenestrelle

Fenestrelle Fortress

The fortress overlooks the village of Fenestrelle and was built in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Savoys to protect Turin from French forces. It consists of several forts with a total surface area of 1.3 million square meters and extends almost 700 meters in altitude (from 1,100 – 1,800 meters)! A covered staircase with 4,000 steps links the forts.

I also visited the village of Fenestrelle, where I found a great place for lunch: La Rosa Rossa (info). Local culinary specialties include tajarin pasta (often cooked with butter and sage), beef, trout, game (wild boar and deer), and when they’re in season, porcini mushrooms.

villages in val chisone



Usseaux is arguably the most charming village in Val Chisone. It’s small (with less than 200 inhabitants) but it was a joy to stroll around its ancient streets and lanes, colourfully decorated with potted plants and flowers.

beautiful village in piedmont


Usseaux is famous for its more than 40 murals depicting Alpine life and fauna, and it was fun spotting them. The village, perched on a slope and boasting panoramic views of the mountains and valley, is incredibly photogenic.

usseaux attractions

Murals in Usseaux

piedmont trip villages to visit

Mountain views from Usseaux

Across the Chisone River from Usseaux lies Lago del Laux, one of the most accessible mountain lakes in the area. Framed by towering firs and an imposing mountain, the emerald-coloured lake is absolutely stunning.

lago de laux

Lago del Laux


The hamlet of Laux, located a short walk from Lago del Laux, is one of the most authentic and best preserved Alpine villages in Val Chisone. Walking down its main street, lined by gorgeous stone houses with wooden balconies, is like taking a step back in time!

beautiful villages in piedmont italy



Pragelato is a village that consists of several communes stretched out along the SP23R road. Due to its central location in Val Chisone, I decided to make Pragelato my base for 3 nights where I stayed at the rustic Agriturismo Rivet D’Or. There are several bar/restaurants nearby such as the lively Tapp-One (info).

The village hosted several events during the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, including the ski-jumping events. In the summer months, the area is popular with hikers and mountain-bikers, who come to explore the countless trails.

One thing that immediately struck me as I strolled around the communes of Pragelato is its Alpine architecture: stone houses, with hanging balconies, and sweeping, wooden roofs. I found some of the loveliest houses in Pragelato-Rua and Pragelato-Traverses.

Beautiful Alpine architecture in Pragelato-Traverses

I also saw numerous workshops where wooden figurines and furniture are created, an age-old wood-carving tradition that can be seen throughout the valley. In Pragelato-Rivet, along with its woodcraft galleries, I also discovered the small Costume Museum which showcases the traditional costumes of the valley, with their rich and intricate embroidery.

Val Troncea

Near Pragelato lies the beautiful Val Troncea Nature Park. I spent one morning hiking in the park, along a gushing river lined by the slopes of massive mountains blanketed by pine and larch trees. It was absolutely breathtaking!

hiking areas in val chisone

Val Troncea


I also visited the village of Sestriere, a famous ski resort about a 15-minute drive from Pragelato. Many of the ski events of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics were held there.

sestriere view


It’s also a popular hiking and mountain-biking area in the summer. Of its many trails, the Strada dell’Assietta, a 34 kilometre long dirt road, is perhaps the most famous. It runs along a mountain ridge and lies almost entirely above 2,000 meters.

Valle Argentera

From Sestriere, I followed the SP215 road to nearby Valle Argentera. It’s a scenic drive that first descends into the valley, offering stunning mountain views, then up to a plateau. Surrounded by impressive peaks and thickly-forested slopes, the plateau is a lovely area for a walk.

Valle Argentera

Orta San Giulio

From Val Chisone, I drove about 3 hours, first past Turin, then northwards to the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in northern Piedmont. I decided to stop for lunch at the village of Orta San Giulio, a historic village on the shores of Lago d’Orta. Located on a forested promontory with stunning lake views, Orta San Giulio turned out to be a sure highlight of this trip!

orta san giulio

Piazza Mario Motta in Orta San Giulio

Facing the village lies the island of Isola San Giulio, home to a Benedictine monastery, which can be visited by boat from Orta San Giulio.

best towns to visit in piedmont

View of Isola San Giulio

I’d only planned to stay in Orta San Giulio for a few hours, which was not enough to visit the island. Instead, I spent my time strolling around the village and enjoying lunch at the main square, Piazza Mario Motta.

piedmont towns to visit

A gorgeous street in Orta San Giulio

Another attraction is the nearby Sacro Monte di Orta, one of nine 17th century ‘sacred mounts’ or cavalries in Piedmont and Lombardy which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. I later visited two other ‘sacred mounts’; in Domodossola and Crea (see below).

Before leaving the village, I made a quick stop at Villa Crespi, a 19th century palace in a Moorish-revival style. Now a luxury hotel, the villa’s ornate exterior, with its single minaret, is a wondrous sight!

Villa Crespi

Verbano-Cusio-Ossola (northern Piedmont)

The province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in northern Piedmont is an area of huge, forest-clad mountains, gorgeous lakes and alluring towns and villages.

domodossola aerial view

An aerial view of Domodossola, the province’s largest town.

The most famous landmark in northern Piedmont is undoubtedly Lago Maggiore, but I soon found many historic, cultural and natural attractions west of the great lake. These are some of the most beautiful places I visited in northern Piedmont:


I made Domodossola, the largest and most important town in the province, my base for a few days and was delighted with my choice when I got there. I stayed in a spacious apartment with terrific views. Surrounded by mountains, it’s a bustling town with a well-preserved historic centre full of medieval houses and Renaissance-style palazzi. In addition, there’s a vibrant café scene and a large variety of restaurants and shops.

best towns to visit in piedmont

Piazza Mercato

The focal point of the historic centre is the beautiful Piazza Mercato. I loved sitting at a terrace on Piazza Mercato to soak up the vibes. It’s a lively place, and on Sundays, the square and adjacent streets transform into a big outdoor market.

things to see in domodossola

Historic houses in Via Fermo Carina

There are quite a lot of things to see in Domodossola such as the beautiful porticoes just off Piazza Mercato, various palaces such as Palazzo San Francesco (now an art museum), the historic houses in Via Fermo Carina, the medieval watch tower in Via Monte Grappa, and impressive churches such as Saint Gervasio & Protasio.

things to see in domodossola piedmont

The stately town hall

Another attraction is the Sacro Monte Calvario di Domodossola (Sacred Mount Calvary), one of the nine UNESCO Heritage listed ‘sacri monti’ (sacred mounts) in Piedmont and Lombardy (info). This 17th century calvary consists of a series of churches and chapels atop a hill overlooking the town. It was a steep climb to the calvary but the stunning frescoes in the chapels and amazing views made it absolutely worthwhile.

Sacro Monte Calvario di Domodossola frescoes

Frescoes and statues in one of the chapels


One afternoon, I hopped into the car for the 15-minute drive to Vogogna, the only village in the province which still has its 14th century medieval appearance intact. Backed by the Ossola mountains, and with a maze of quaint cobbled lanes and ancient buildings, Vogogna is very picturesque. Some of the places I visited included the atmospheric Piazzetta del Pozzo, Pretorio (a small Gothic palace), and the Visconti Castle, with its 14th century tower.

beautiful villages piedmont road trip


Vigezzina – Centovalli Railway

When I mentioned to a friend that I was going to Domodossola, she insisted I check out the Vigezzina – Centovalli Railway. This narrow-gauge train links Domodossola and Locarno in Switzerland. It’s a scenic ride that winds through the mountains, stopping along the way at various mountain villages.

Vigezzina – Centovalli train

I booked a return trip to Santa Maria Maggiore, a 45-minute journey that’s packed with (cliff-hanging) twists and turns, tunnels and bridges. Along the way, we passed gorges, forests, rustic villages, farms and vineyards.

The mountain scenery along the way

Santa Maria Maggiore

I disembarked at Santa Maria Maggiore and found a serene village with stately villas. The main attractions include the intriguing Museum of Chimney Sweeps (located in the beautiful Villa Antonia) and a small perfume museum, Casa del Profumo.  

piedmont road trip itinerary

Santa Maria Maggiore


I dedicated a full day to exploring places of interest around Lago Maggiore. My first stop was the village of Mergozzo. It’s setting, at the edge of a small lake (Lago di Mergozzo) and flanked by the forested slopes of Mont’Orfano, is simply stunning! The village itself is a gorgeous cluster of stone houses and charming alleys whilst the lake is a popular place for swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddling (as no motorised boats are allowed).

best places to visit in piedmont


The historic attractions of Mergozzo include Santa Marta Church; the Parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta, with its beautiful 18th century ‘Colonnade of the Chapels’; and the Mergozzo Castle. I loved clambering around Mergozzo’s stepped lanes and discovering its hidden alleys. Tucked away in one of the alleys, I stumbled upon a little bakery that makes fugascina, a biscuit that’s only made in Mergozzo. I got to taste this absolutely delicious, buttery, crunchy biscuit and bought a few bags of it to bring home with me.

where to go in Piedmont

The Mergozzo lakefront

In Mergozzo, I learned about a hiking trail, called the Sentiero Azzurro, that winds its way through the forests and along the lakeshore to the hamlet of Montorfano. At the end of the trail in Montorfano, I visited the 11th century Romanesque church of San Giovanni Battista.

montorfano church

San Giovanni Battista church in Montorfano


After a delicious lakeside lunch in Mergozzo, I continued along the shores of Lago Maggiore. It was a short but very scenic drive and I soon arrived in Stresa, a lakeside town that faces the Borromean Islands. I found a parking spot and went for a walk along the waterfront. The stretch called the ‘Panoramic Walk‘ had marvellous views of Lago Maggiore and the Borromean Islands.

borromean islands

View towards the Borromean Islands from Stresa.

In the 19th century, Stresa was transformed from a sleepy fishing village into a glamorous resort town for European aristocrats. Much of this glamour can still be seen today in its historic hotels and opulent 19th century villas such as the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromee (a palatial Art Nouveau hotel), Regina Palace Hotel, and the elegant Palazzo Bolongaro.

stresa grand hotel

The Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromee

Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens

I ended my day trip to Lago Maggiore with a walk around the Botanical Gardens of Villa Taranto (info) in the town of Verbania. These historic gardens were created by ​​the Scottish Captain McEacharn in 1931 and are famous for its rich diversity of plants and trees.

Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens


The last leg of my Piedmont road trip brought me to Monferrato, about a 1.5-hour drive from Domodossola. I was especially looking forward to this part of the trip as I’d heard so many accounts of its dreamy landscapes, and amazing food and wines! It’s such a beautiful area that UNESCO declared the landscapes of Monferrato a World Heritage site in 2014! Monferrato is divided in two geographical areas: Basso Monferrato (Lower Monferrato) and Alto Monferrato (Upper Monferrato). Here are some of the most beautiful places to visit in Basso Monferrato:

monferrato hills

The Basso Monferrato landscape

Cella Monte

The first village I visited in Monferrato was Cella Monte where I had an unforgettable introduction to the area’s wonderfully friendly people and their glorious food and wines!

Before entering the village, I noticed a sign pointing to Agriturismo La Fontanella (info). I was famished so I decided to head there for a quick lunch. I didn’t have a reservation, and despite being full, the kind owners offered me a table on the terrace. What followed was a four-course culinary experience (with multiple second servings) I will not easily forget! The family spoiled me with simply outstanding food and wine from their estate, all served with big, happy smiles. The agnolotti and vitello tonnato, typical Piedmontese specialties, were some of the best I’ve ever had!

I had 3 servings of agnolotti!

best restaurant cella monte

The friendly staff returned with second servings and I couldn’t say no.

The next day, I returned to Cella Monte and found a medieval village with cobbled streets, ancient manor houses, hidden courtyards and quiet lanes. As I walked around, I noticed the haphazard mix of stone, bricks and mortar in the walls.

best villages to visit in monferrato

A street in Cella Monte

I later learned at the village’s Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni (info) about pietra da cantoni, a type of sandstone that can be found throughout the Monferrato area. Through the centuries, the locals dug into the soft sandstone to create cellars, storage rooms and tunnels called infernot. These infernot can still be seen in many villages and wineries.

The infernot at Cinque Quinti

In the historic centre of Cella Monte, I stumbled upon a winery called Cinque Quinti (info), located in a striking manor house. Curious about this place, I knocked on the door. The owner invited me in and we toured the winery and its infernot. After the tour, I had a delicious wine-tasting in the courtyard.

Wine-tasting at Cinque Quinti

Ozzano Monferrato

Ozzano Monferrato was my base for a few days as I explored the area. I stayed in the gorgeous La Corte Delle 4 Stagioni, a B&B located in a historic manor with expansive gardens.

It was in Ozzano Monferrato that I first heard about the ‘balconies’ of the Monferrato villages. Situated on hilltops, many of the villages have ‘balconies’ or panoramic viewpoints. As I clambered around the cobbled slopes of Ozzano Monferrato to the castle, I found a gorgeous viewpoint in front of the St. Salvador church. During my stay, I discovered several other ‘balconies’ with amazing vistas of the Monferrato landscapes.

monferrato villages

The hills around Ozzano Monferrato covered in morning mist.

There are numerous wineries around Ozzano Monferrato such as the Angelini Paolo winery but my favourite experience was at Cantine Valpane (info).

best wineries to visit in piedmont

Cantine Valpane

The wine-maker, Pietro, and his brother-in-law, Roberto, welcomed me in when I arrived. After touring the historic winery, they sat me down for a fabulous wine tasting.

monferrato winery tour

The century-old ‘barrels’

monferrato wine tasting

The tasting room

The wines were absolutely sublime! I was especially entranced by the local variety, Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese. Its colour, a translucent crimson, like liquid rubies, was simply mesmerising. The Barbera del Monferrato was just as extraordinary, with a fragrant bouquet and exuberant notes of red fruits. 

The gorgeous colour of the Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese

A restaurant in this area I can absolutely recommend is Antichi Sapori (info), in nearby Sala Monferrato. They serve terrific local specialties at very reasonable prices.

Sacro Monte di Crea

About a 15-minute drive from Ozzano Monferrato lies the majestic Sacro Monte di Crea (Sacred Mountain of Crea), the third of nine UNESCO World Heritage listed sacred mounts that I visited on this trip. It was a foggy morning but my stroll around the churches and chapels atop the forest-clad mountain was simply enchanting. The highlight was the ‘Paradise Chapel’ with its rather haunting statues and frescoes.

Sacro Monte di Crea

The Paradise Chapel


I first noticed Treville on my way back to Ozzano Monferrato one evening during sunset. I pulled over to take in the view of the hills cast in a warm, orangey glow. In the distance, I noticed a village topped by a pompous-looking structure, like a beacon overlooking the area. A quick check on Google Maps revealed that this was the village of Treville.

beautiful villages in monferrato

Treville at sunset

I made it a point to visit Treville the next day. Just a 5-minute drive from Ozzano Monferrato, I found a lovely village topped by the imposing Sant’Ambrogio church. I also found another ‘balcony’ here with stunning views. On clear days, the entire range of the Italian Alps can be seen from this balcony!

beautiful villages in monferrato piedmont

The view from the Treville balcony

Rosignano Monferrato

Across the valley from Cella Monte lies the village of Rosignano Monferrato. The Capoluogo or ‘Chief Village’ atop the hill is a maze of ancient streets and historic monuments. The main sights include the 12th century Romanesque Church of Sant’Antonio, the Town Hall with its infernot (open to the public) and the 15th century San Vittore Church. Rosignano also has several ‘balconies’ scattered around the village, with some pretty spectacular views.

Rosignano Monferrato seen from Cella Monte

Casale Monferrato

Casale Monferrato lies on the banks of the River Po and has a rich history dating back to Roman times. Exploring this beautiful town one afternoon was another highlight of my trip around Monferrato.

towns to visit in monferrato

Casale Monferrato

I started my walk at the Castello, a formidable 15th century hexagonal structure surrounded by a moat. Across the road stands the beautiful Baroque-style Santa Caterina church.

From there, I entered the historic centre through the Via Aurelio Saffi. The Civic Tower, which has its origins in the 11th century, stands prominently on one side of the street. Further up, the street leads to Piazza Mazzini, the main square, and continues to the breathtaking Cathedral. Founded in the 8th century, the Cathedral was rebuilt in the 12th century in a beautiful Romanesque style.

things to see in casale monferrato

Inside the Cathedral

Another top historic sight is the 16th century Synagogue, which is reputed to be one of Europe’s finest. Tucked away in an alley, the Synagogue has a plain exterior but inside (book in advance), I found an exquisite Baroque interior with elaborate carvings and paintings.

Inside the Synagogue

I loved strolling around Casale’s beautiful streets, such as Via Roma, with its elegant porticoes and the striking neo-Classical façade of Santa Croce. Another gorgeous street is Via Goffredo Mameli, with its palaces such as the Palazzo Gozani di Treville and the Palazzo Gozani di San Giorgio, now the Town Hall.

casale monferrato street

Via Goffredo Mameli

Entrance to one of the palazzi.

I had dinner at the Accademia restaurant (info) inside Palazzo Gozani di Treville, which gave me the opportunity to see the palazzo’s gorgeous Rococo atrium and frescoed rooms.

The stunning frescoes inside Palazzo Gozani di Treville.

From the Monferrato area, I returned to Turin for my trip home. This Piedmont road trip was absolutely amazing. I only covered a small portion of the region so I’m very sure I’ll return soon!

How to get to Piedmont

Piedmont’s largest city, Turin, is a regional rail and air hub, with connections to major cities in Europe. Turin is about a 1.5-hour flight from Amsterdam (check flights). Piedmont is also easily accessible from Milan by rail and road. To get to the smaller villages and nature parks mentioned in this guide, and for more convenience, I recommend hiring a car.

Visit my Travel Resources page to plan your trip.

Note: This Piedmont road trip guide was written in collaboration with iambassador for the ‘Viaggio Italiano’ Project (Italian National Tourist Board, Ministry of Tourism & Conference of Regions and Autonomous Provinces).


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Turning 50 is a pretty big deal in the Netherlands. I’ve often seen signs of it in Amsterdam and around the country – family and friends decorate the house of the one celebrating with festive bunting, banners and balloons emblazoned with “50”, and sometimes prominent, inflated figures on the front lawn! The birthday person is referred to as ‘Abraham’ or ‘Sarah’, a custom that celebrates the wisdom gained over fifty years, and is expected to throw a party (and foot the bill). This is how I celebrated my 50th birthday in Amsterdam.

50th birthday celebrations

No way I was having something like that in my front yard! (image courtesy of FaceMePLS/Flickr)

When I ushered in 2022, I remember my thoughts drifting to the ‘milestone’ ahead and the pressure of planning something special. I had nine months to plan my 50th birthday. In the months that followed, countless ideas and plans were formulated and scrapped. Would I prefer a big party or a small, intimate celebration? Should I organise a single event or multiple events over the course of a few days? Plan something in Amsterdam or somewhere else? I couldn’t make up my mind. I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want any bunting and definitely no inflatable figures!

Then one day, about two months before my birthday, it hit me! What I really wanted and knew I would enjoy, was to celebrate my 50th birthday in Amsterdam with my loved ones, doing things I love. I created a birthday itinerary that pretty much had ‘me’ written all over it! Haha! And you know what? It turned out to be an unforgettable day filled with laughter, love and fabulous food, and a storm, sunshine and a few rainbows thrown in!

how to spend a 50th birthday in amsterdam

I was all smiles the whole day!

A private birthday cruise

We started out in the afternoon by boarding a ‘notary boat’, a 100-year-old boat that was formerly used for business dealings. I’d arranged a 1.5 hour private cruise around Amsterdam complete with high tea and wine. It was cold and rainy when we boarded – good thing I hired a boat with a roof! – and found the high tea beautifully laid out on the table. There was a mix of sandwiches, wraps, cakes, chocolates, macarons and scones. In the little bar, there was a selection of wines and champagne. The friendly skipper welcomed us on board and promptly served us a hot cup of tea.

It was pouring when we got to the boat!

fiftieth birthday celebrations in amsterdam

High tea on board

Several minutes after leaving the pier, the dark clouds made way for bright sunshine, allowing us to open the windows and enjoy the view. I selected a bottle of wine before tucking into the delicious high tea. We ate, drank and listened to the skipper as he told us stories about the landmarks we passed. Amsterdam looked absolutely glorious in the sunshine.

Listening to the skipper’s commentary

Blue skies and sunshine as we cruised around Amsterdam.

amsterdam private birthday canal cruise

We cruised in the Elisabeth, a 100-year-old ‘notary boat’.

I’d been on numerous private cruises before but this one, with its delicious high tea served on porcelain, and a private bar with top-notch wines and champagne, felt more fitting for the occasion. Everyone had a fabulous time, and I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear!


Fabrique des Lumières

After the cruise, we made our way to the Fabrique des Lumières in the Westergasfabriek. I attended the opening of this digital art centre a few months earlier. The exhibition of the works of Klimt and Hundertwasser was absolutely magical and I knew my friends would love it too.

art attraction amsterdam

The Fabrique des Lumières in the Westergasfabriek.

The first exhibition at Fabrique des Lumières features the works of Gustav Klimt.

We spent more than an hour there watching the multimedia show in total amazement. Read my post about Fabrique des Lumières, which also includes a video of the experience.

An architecture walk

From the Westergasfabriek, we walked through the leafy Westerpark to the Spaarndammerbuurt, a district known for its Amsterdam School of Expressionism architecture. I’m a big fan of this architectural style so it was a joy to tour the neighbourhood, which also has some cool wine bars and restaurants.

amsterdam school architecture

Het Schip museum, a prime example of the Amsterdam School architectural style

Spaarndammerbuurt has many examples of the Amsterdam School of Expressionism.

The Amsterdam School of Expressionism style even extends to the fonts used for house numbers.

Our architecture walk continued in the adjacent Houthavens district. This area used to be part of the Amsterdam port, which was once one of the world’s most important merchant ports. This new neighbourhood, built on several islands and piers, is designed to be climate neutral. I love the mix of architectural styles, from colourful cubes to a modern take on the historic canal houses.

Houthavens homes

A modern take on historic canal houses.

We stopped at the Karaat bar/restaurant for a drink and a snack before making our way to our dinner spot.

Karaat cafe and restaurant in Houthavens.

Dinner at REM

For my 50th birthday dinner, I wanted a restaurant at a unique location, preferably with a view and that served excellent food and wines. For me, this was the most important part of my birthday itinerary. It had to be spot on! I took my time researching restaurants in Amsterdam and decided on REM. Housed in a former communications platform that was moored in the North Sea, REM certainly ticked the box in terms of a unique location. I asked for a table with a view; another box ticked! I also read many reviews about the food and almost all of them were positive.

REM restaurant

REM is moored at the end of a long pier at the Houthavens. As we were halfway along the pier, a storm passed and in an instant, we were battling sheets of rain and the howling wind. The rain miraculously stopped and blue skies returned just as we approached the restaurant! We were drenched but my best friend assured me that this was a sign of good things to come. Haha!

We took the lift to the top and stepped straight into the restaurant. The large windows offered panoramic views of the Amsterdam Ij-Harbour and the city skyline. We were led to a table in a corner so we had fantastic views on two sides. The view of the harbour, combined with menacing rain clouds and patches of blue, was simply spectacular!

cool restaurant amsterdam

Inside the REM restaurant

Feeling very happy!

Spectacular clouds

At one point, we were treated to the sight of a double rainbow!

Four-course Chef’s menu at REM

We opted for the chef’s four-course dinner and it was superb! Each course was a treat in itself, featuring fresh ingredients, ingenious flavour combinations and beautiful plating.

The gorgeous starter

The food was top-notch!

And dessert was an indulgent finale!

One last look at REM before we left.

It was a truly unforgettable day full of wonderful, often hilarious moments with my loved ones. For me, it was the perfect way to celebrate my 50th birthday in Amsterdam.

Would you like to arrange a similar day for a special occasion in Amsterdam?

Follow these 3 steps:

  1. Book the Elisabeth and high tea arrangement here. Alternatively, book this private cruise with drinks, or this romantic cruise with bubbly
  2. Purchase your tickets here for Fabrique des Lumières
  3. Book a table at REM.


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Nîmes is a city in the Occitanie region of southern France (map). Famous for its impeccably preserved Roman monuments, Nîmes is often called the French Rome and is a popular destination for visitors to the region. On my recent stay in nearby Montpellier, I made it a point to go on a day trip to Nîmes and see its Roman heritage. I discovered a spotless city with impressive Roman buildings, beautiful museums, lively squares and leafy streets. Read on about my walk around Nîmes and the places I visited along the way.

nimes day trip

The Roman arena in Nîmes.

Located roughly between Montpellier and Avignon, Nîmes can trace its roots back several thousand years. The city rose to prominence as a regional capital of the Roman Empire situated on the Via Domitia, an important road connecting Italy and Hispania (present-day Spain). Around the 1st century BC, Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) commissioned the building of walls, city gates and monuments, some of which can still be seen today. These historic places can easily be visited on a day trip to Nîmes. The old town is pretty compact, making a walking tour the best option to see the highlights.

Nîmes walking route

I kicked off my visit at the grand Fontaine Pradier. If you’re arriving by car, there’s a large parking garage under the square. Gare de Nîmes, the main train station, is a 5-minute walk away. The walking route below can easily be covered in several hours, though more time may be needed for a tour of the Arena and Tour Magne, and if you choose to visit the museums.

Fontaine Pradier

Fontaine Pradier is the centre-piece of the triangular Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. Opened in 1845, the fountain is an important symbol of Nîmes.

things to see in nimes

Fontaine Pradier

Arena of Nîmes

From Fontaine Pradier, it’s a short stroll to the most important attraction in Nîmes: the Roman Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. It’s amazing to think that this arena, fashioned after the Colosseum in Rome and just a tad younger, was built more than 2,000 years ago! It could accommodate 24,000 spectators and is still used for events.

what to do in nimes

The imposing arena

At the ticket office, visitors can purchase a single ticket for 3 attractions (the Arena, Tour Magne and Maison Carrée) with the Musée de la Romanité (Roman archeological museum) as an extra option.

Visiting the arena is one of the top things to do in Nîmes.

Musée de la Romanité

The Musée de la Romanité is located across the road from the Arena. This stylish building, opened in 2018, houses important artifacts and uses ingenious methods to bring the city’s Roman past to life. This museum is a must-visit for history buffs!

nimes roman museum

The Musée de la Romanité.

Old town

Behind the Arena lies the maze of streets of the old town. I spent some time walking aimlessly around and discovered some lively squares such as Place du Marché, with its Crocodile Fountain and (touristy) restaurants.

Place du Marché

A quiet street in the old town.

In the quieter Rue des Greffes, I stumbled upon a fabulous restaurant called Le Menestrel. It turned out to be one of the best meals I had on this trip!

Lunch platter at Le Menestrel

Eglise St. Paul

After lunch, I continued my stroll around the old town and arrived at Eglise St. Paul, a stunning 19th century neo-Romanesque church. Inside, you’ll see an impressive nave with a blue ceiling, frescoes and numerous beautifully decorated chapels.

The Eglise St. Paul

Maison Carrée

Just up the road from Eglise St. Paul lies another top attraction in Nîmes, the Maison Carrée. Built in the 1st century BC, it’s one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world. In fact, it has miraculously survived intact for more than 2,000 years! Inside, I found a short video and exhibitions about the history of Nîmes.

top attractions in nimes

Maison Carrée

roman temple columns nimes

The ceiling and columns of the Maison Carrée.

Across the road from Maison Carrée stands a striking building of glass and steel. This is the Carré d’Art museum of contemporary art. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the museum’s appearance is a modern interpretation of the Maison Carrée.

carre d'art nimes

Carré d’Art

Les Jardins de la Fontaine

From Maison Carrée, I resumed my walk past Place d’Assas to the Quai de la Fontaine. This shady promenade along a canal was a welcome respite from the hot sun.

nimes fountains

The fountains at Place d’Assas

The fountain at Quai de la Fontaine

I continued to the Les Jardins de la Fontaine, a resplendent park built in the 18th century. This ornamental park, with its grand ponds and statues, was certainly designed to impress.

places to see in nimes

Jardins de la Fontaine

Jardins de la Fontaine

Within the park lies the Temple de Diane. Constructed in the 1st century AD, it was excavated in the 18th century during construction work for the Les Jardins de la Fontaine. Despite its name, there is no evidence that it was a temple dedicated to the Goddess Diana. Instead, experts believe it was a library.

nimes day trip

Temple de Diane


Tour Magne

At the end of the park are a series of low hills, one of which is topped by another Nîmes attraction, the Tour Magne. This 32 meter tall tower was part of the city walls built by Augustus in the 1st century BC. Visitors can climb its 140 steps to the top for panoramic views of Nîmes.

Tour Magne (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The tower is about a 10-minute uphill walk from the park. As much as I wanted to visit the tower and check out the view, I couldn’t bring myself to climb the hill in the 40 degrees Celsius heat. 

Tour de l’Horloge

From the park, I continued my stroll along the Quai de la Fontaine towards the Les Halles market. Unfortunately, the market was closed (opening times: 6am-1:30pm) so I proceeded to Place de l’Horloge, with its 16th century clock tower, Tour de l’Horloge.

Tour de l’Horloge

Cathedral of Nîmes

My next stop was the Cathedral of Nîmes, or rather, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor de Nîmes. This 17th century Romanesque-Gothic cathedral is believed to have been built on the foundations of an ancient Augustinian temple.

Inside the Cathedral

Porte d’Auguste

My last stop was Porte d’Auguste. One of two Roman city gates that still exist today, Porte d’Auguste dates back to the 1st century BC. It was one of the entry points of the Via Domitia. Not much remains of this ancient gate but it’s nevertheless worth a visit, if only to marvel at the structure of walls and arches that are more than 2,000 years old.

Porte d’Auguste (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Pont du Gard

Nîmes can easily be reached by train from many cities in the south of France such as Marseille, Montpellier and Avignon. If you have a car, don’t miss visiting another impressive Roman monument near Nîmes: Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard (image courtesy of J.Bezanger/Unsplash)

This three-tier aqueduct bridge was built in the 1st century AD to transport water to Nîmes. It is the tallest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The aqueduct is a 35-minute drive from Nîmes.




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Germany is awash with charming medieval towns packed with picturesque cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. One of the most beautiful of these medieval towns is Miltenberg (map). This little town, located in Lower Franconia (Bavaria), lies on a narrow strip of land between a bend of the Main River and the forested hills of the Odenwald. The old town, with its quaint houses, hidden alleys and gorgeous squares, is a delight to explore. You can walk along the Haupstrasse (Main Street) from one end to the other in about 30 minutes but I recommend spending more time in Miltenberg to truly appreciate its romantic ambiance and variety of cultural, natural and culinary attractions. Here are twelve things to do in Miltenberg and its surroundings:

what to do in miltenberg

Miltenberg seen from Mildenburg (castle)

Miltenberg can trace its history all the way back to pre-Roman times. However, the town as we know it today had its beginnings in the 13th century. Most of the approximately 150 half-timbered houses, which give the town its fairy-tale like appearance, were built between the 15th and 18th centuries. These days, Miltenberg is a popular stop on any Franconia travel itinerary, especially in the summer. Visit Miltenberg during the shoulder months like May-June or September-October and you’ll have a more tranquil experience. Here are my recommended things to do and see in Miltenberg:

1. Stroll along the Hauptstrasse

Hauptstrasse is Miltenberg’s Main Street and where you’ll find most of the town’s attractions. A leisurely walk from Mainzer Tor to Würzburger Tor (the town’s two historic tower gates) at either end of the street takes about 30 minutes but take your time to enjoy the atmosphere, admire the half-timbered houses and pop into some of the shops.

miltenberg walking route


things to see in miltenberg

The Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) was built using red limestone typical of the region. Look out for the red limestone cliffs along the Main River.

Hauptstrasse has to be one of the most charming streets I’ve ever come across!

guntrams malearche miltenberg

I first thought this place was the local erotic store. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an art centre!

charming medieval towns in germany

Zum Riesen, one of the oldest inns in Germany.

Wander off the Haupststrasse into one of the little alleys and you’ll discover more cute houses!

Hauptstrasse – view towards St. Jakobus

2. Enjoy Schnatterloch

Schnatterloch is Miltenberg’s famous old market square. Lined by stunning houses and the imposing St. Jakobus (St. James Church), and with a beautiful fountain in the middle, Schnatterloch is very photogenic. Stop at one of the cafés, order a drink and take in the gorgeous scenes, which are especially lively on market days.

things to see in miltenberg

Schnatterloch: the old market square in Miltenberg

miltenberg attractions

The Schnatterloch fountain

3. Climb up to Mildenburg

Mildenburg (Miltenberg Castle) overlooks the old town and dates back to the 12th century. From Schnatterloch, it’s a pretty easy climb up the steps to the castle. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the town, the Main River and the surrounding hills.

miltenberg view

The view from Mildenburg.

You can also visit the Museum Burg Miltenberg which houses a collection of icons and modern art. On the way down, I recommend taking either the road along the old city wall or the path through the forest which leads back to Schnatterloch.

Take the path through the forest.

4. Visit Museum Stadt Miltenberg

Museum Stadt Miltenberg is located at Schnatterloch. Housed in historic Renaissance houses, the museum traces the history of the town and the surrounding region.

The Museum Stadt Miltenberg at the top of Schnatterloch.

5. Stay in a medieval hotel

If you’ve always wanted to stay in a medieval hotel, this is your chance! Miltenberg boasts several, all located in half-timbered houses of course. The most famous, Zum Riesen, is one of the oldest inns in Germany (and perhaps the world)! Founded in the 15th century, the inn has hosted, amongst others, two Holy Roman Emperors, Napoleon and Elvis Presley!

germany oldest inn

The beautiful Zum Riesen

I stayed at Schmuckkästchen which overlooks Schnatterloch (and therefore enjoys my preference). Inside, you’ll find creaky staircases, ancient wooden beams and rooms with beautiful views of the market square. It also houses a restaurant and wine bar. Search for accommodations in Miltenberg (

where to stay in miltenberg

Schmuckkästchen Hotel (red building).

A room at Schmuckkästchen Hotel.

The view of Schnatterloch from my room

6. Go for a walk along the Main River

A lovely promenade runs along the river, making it a wonderful place for a leisurely walk. I recommend a stroll along the promenade just before sunset. Start at the Mainbrücke (Main River bridge), where you’ll have great views of the town.

Start your walk at the Mainbrücke.

Beautiful views of the town from the Main bridge.

Continue along the river towards Faust (brewery, restaurant and beer garden) where you can tuck into a meal with a river view or enjoy one of their brews.

Tranquil scenes along the river.

Faust restaurant, beer garden and brewery.

Stick around for the sunset!

7. Hike in the Odenwald and Spessart hills

The forested hills behind Miltenberg are perfect for a nature hike. There are numerous trails which lead to several viewpoints. Along the way, enjoy the beautiful foliage, gushing streams and stunning vistas. Check at the tourist office for the hiking routes.

8. Admire the Martinskapelle

Just a 5-minute drive or a 10-minute bike ride away lies the town of Bürgstadt. One of the foremost historic treasures in this sleepy wine town is Martinskapelle (St. Martin’s Chapel).

Saint Martins Chapel Bürgstadt

The modest exterior of Martinskapelle.

Built in the 10th century, this chapel is famous for its wall and ceiling paintings and is an amazing sight which shouldn’t be missed! The most prominent of the paintings are the 40 medallions depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

martinskapelle burgstadt

Inside the stunning Martinskapelle.

A closer look at the medallions.

If the chapel is closed, head over to the florist next door or the Churfranken Vinothek (see below) and ask for the key.

9. Visit the Churfranken Vinothek

Bürgstadt is packed to the brim with wineries (the vineyards grace the slopes of the hills just outside the town). Each winery takes its turn opening its doors to visitors for wine and food tastings. In the centre of the town, opposite the old Town Hall, lies the Churfranken Vinothek, the regional wine store.

churfranken wines

Churfranken Vinothek

Here, you’re able to purchase local wines, arrange a wine-tasting (at Churfranken Vinothek or in the vineyards) and obtain a schedule of the Bürgstadt wineries’ opening days/times.

Inside the Vinothek

Taste and purchase local Franconian wines.

10. Hike the Rotweinwanderweg

This region produces some of the best red wines in Germany. The Frankischer Rotweinwanderweg (Franconian Red Wine Trail) is a 30 kilometer hiking route along the terraced vineyards from Bürgstadt and Miltenberg to Grosswallstadt. You’ll pass forests, fields and mile after mile of vineyards, with spectacular views as a bonus. Inquire about the route at the Miltenberg or Bürgstadt tourist office.

franconia wine trail

Views from the Frankischer Rotweinwanderweg.

11. Visit Schloss Löwenstein

Schloss Löwenstein (location) is an 18th century, late-Baroque castle located in the town of Kleinheubach, a 5-minute drive from Miltenberg. Visit the castle, in which many rooms have been beautifully restored, and stroll around the leafy gardens. In the adjacent old town, built in the form of a square, visit the historic Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall).

Schloss Löwenstein (image from Wikimedia Commons).

12. Visit Fürstliche Abtei Amorbach

The Fürstliche Abtei Amorbach or Amorbach Abbey (location) is a former Benedict monastery which has a history that dates back to as early as the 8th century. A 15-minute drive from Miltenberg, the abbey was completely refurbished in a late-Baroque/Rococo style. In the 18th century, the abbey was further renovated and featured, at the time, the largest organ in the world.

Amorbach Abbey church (image from Wikimedia Commons).

Medieval towns like Miltenberg are one of the reasons I love visiting Germany. If you’re visiting Bavaria or Franconia, I recommend spending at least a night in Miltenberg. Visit the tourist office website for more info.


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There are numerous beautiful cities in Puglia but my favourite is undoubtedly Lecce. The capital of the province of the same name in the ‘heel’ of Italy, the city of Lecce is often called the ‘Florence of the South’ due to the abundance of Baroque architecture in its historic centre. The city can trace its history back to Roman times, remnants of which can still be seen today. There are many things to see in Lecce and the great part is, these sights can easily be visited on a leisurely walk. In the map below, I’ve created a walking route around the most important sights in Lecce. This can be done in a day but I recommend spending a few days in Lecce to immerse yourself in its historic treasures, food and vibrant atmosphere.

top things to see in lecce

The Roman Amphitheatre

Lecce walking route

Note: the purple pins represent the main attractions in Lecce. The orange pins denote other attractions worth a visit should you have time. The headings of each place described below follow the same colour codes.

In my book, Lecce is the most beautiful city in Puglia and an absolute must-visit. If you’re a fan of architecture and/or art history, you’re in for a treat! The Baroque architecture, with its intricate carvings and rich detail, is plentiful and resplendent but you’ll also find numerous examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo styles. Add to that an impressive Roman amphitheatre, charming alleys, lively squares and a terrific culinary scene, and you have a city that’s definitely worth taking a closer look at.

Note: most of the churches are free to enter, however, there’s an entrance fee of EUR 9 for the city’s most important churches. This ticket can be purchased online and includes entry to the Duomo (Cathedral), Basilica of Santa Croce, Santa Chiara and San Matteo churches, and the Museum of Sacred Art.

Here are the most important things to see in Lecce on a walk around the old town (following the route above):

Porta San Biagio (Gate of St. Blaise)

Kick off your exploration of Lecce at one of the city’s three historic gates: Porta San Biagio. This imposing Baroque-style gate features a towering archway guarded by huge columns on each side. From here, stroll down the atmospheric Via dei Perroni, with its many restaurants, shops and grand mansions.

Porta San Biagio

One of the grand portals along Via dei Perroni.

Teatro Romano

Lecce boasts two Roman theatres, the Teatro Romano and the amphitheatre (2nd century AD). The Teatro Romano is just off Via dei Perroni and is an interesting detour if you have time for a visit.

Roman theatre (Image courtesy of ipiovesan/Wikimedia Commons)

Chiesa di Santa Chiara (Church of St. Clare)

Your next stop is another gem: the Chiesa di Santa Chiara. This 17th century church, with its elegant façade featuring impressive columns and floral embellishments, is quite a sight. Step inside to admire the extravagant interior. The leafy square across the road, with its cafés and restaurants, is a lovely place for a drink or meal.

lecce church

Chiesa di Santa Chiara

The square at Chiesa di Santa Chiara in the evening.

Chiesa di San Matteo and Castello Carlo V

A little detour from the walking route takes you to Chiesa di San Matteo, with its curved façade, a rather unique feature among Lecce’s churches. A short distance further takes you to the 12th century Castello Carlo V, with its formidable walls and archeological excavations.

Roman amphitheatre

The 2nd century AD Roman amphitheatre is one of the top attractions in Lecce. In Roman times, this venue could accommodate up to 25,000 people! Only a small portion of it remains today but it still makes for an incredible sight. Adjacent to the amphitheatre, you’ll find two other historic monuments: the column of St. Oronzo (built to mark the end of the Appian Way, an ancient road that linked Rome with southern Italy), and the Palazzo del Sedille (a 16th century mansion with Gothic and Renaissance influences).

lecce attractions

The Roman Amphitheatre with Palazzo Sedille (top left) and St. Oronzo’s Column (centre).

Palazzo Carafa o delle Paolotte

From the amphitheatre, head northwest to the Palazzo Carafa o delle Paolotte. Originally a monastery founded in 1500, the palace was restored in the 18th century and features a beautiful Rococo façade.

Palazzo Carafa o delle Paolotte

Read more about the best places to visit in Puglia

Basilica di Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross)

This ornate Baroque church is one of the best things to see in Lecce! Its stunning exterior is simply breathtaking but don’t miss the interior as well! Next door, you’ll find the Palazzo della Provincia di Lecce, the offices of the provincial government. This is a gorgeous building best seen when its richly decorated façade reflects the colours of the sunset.

baroque lecce

Basilica di Santa Croce or Church of the Holy Cross

Lecce architecture

Palazzo della Provincia di Lecce


The palazzo at sunset.

Porta Napoli

From the Palazzo della Provincia, head north and turn left on either Via Idomeneo or Via Principi di Savoia and continue to Porta Napoli. One of the three historic gates of Lecce, the 16th century Porta Napoli is certainly the most imposing.

Porta Napoli is one of the three historic city gates.

Adjacent to Porta Napoli, you’ll notice a building with a large dome. This is the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Porta. It’s worth having a peek inside to see its impressive dome.

The dome

Obelisk and Chiesa dei Santi Niccolò e Cataldo

If you have time, continue from Porta Napoli to the Monumental Cemetery of Lecce, past the Lecce Obelisk. On the cemetery grounds is another stunning church: Chiesa dei Santi Niccolò e Cataldo. This 12th/13th century church is perhaps one of the oldest and most unusual in Lecce as it combines Baroque with touches of Gothic and Moorish elements. Inside, you’ll find beautiful frescoes and elaborate ceilings. A definite must-visit for art historians!

Inside Chiesa dei Santi Niccolò e Cataldo (image by tango7174/Wikimedia Commons)

Piazzetta Panzera

From Porta Napoli, head south along Via Giuseppe Palmieri. Stop at the Palazzo Palmieri to admire its beautiful exterior. Further up, you’ll pass Piazzetta Panzera, a strikingly beautiful square with three towering palm trees.

lecce palazzo

Palazzo Palmieri

Piazzetta Panzera

Read about a fantastic Lecce cooking course


Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)

Your next stop is the majestic Piazza del Duomo. This square is home to Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta e San Oronzo (or rather, the Cathedral) and the Campanile del Duomo (Cathedral bell tower), the tallest tower in Puglia.

lecce cathedral

Piazza del Duomo

The 12th century Cathedral features an elaborate Baroque façade and a nave with twelve side chapels. The bell tower, constructed in the 17th century, is 70 meters tall and offers views as far as the Adriatic Sea and the mountains of Albania on clear days. Look carefully and you’ll notice that it’s slightly leaning.

Porta Rudiae

From Piazza del Duomo, continue west along Via Giusseppe Libertini. At the end of this vibrant street, you’ll find the modest but no less impressive Porta Rudiae, the third of the city’s three historic gates.

Porta Rudiae

Next to it stands the resplendent Basilica del Rosario e di San Giovanni Battista. One of Lecce’s most beautiful churches, this 17th century basilica has a rich Baroque exterior with two spiral columns and a statue of St. Dominic. Inside, you’ll find an ornate interior with many fascinating details. This church is another must-visit for art historians!

Basilica del Rosario e di San Giovanni Battista (image by Velvet/Wikimedia Commons)

lecce churches

Inside Basilica del Rosario e di San Giovanni Battista

If you love browsing around local markets, visit the nearby Mercatino Porta Rudiae. There’s also a stall there that sells delicious roast chicken!

Mercatino Porta Rudiae

How to get to Lecce

There are two international airports in Puglia: Bari and Brindisi. Lecce is located about a two-hour drive from Bari Airport and about 40 minutes from Brindisi Airport. In addition, there are train services from Bari and Brindisi. I recommend visiting Lecce as part of a broader Puglia road trip. As there are many things to see in Lecce, I recommend spending 2-3 nights in the city.

Where to stay in Lecce

There are several gorgeous accommodations in the city I can recommend such as Palazzo de Noha, Pollicastro Boutique Hotel, Dimora Charleston and Palazzo Lecce. Search for hotels in Lecce (

Dimora Charleston is a lovely hotel a stone’s throw from Porta San Biagio. It’s one of the few hotels in the historic centre to offer free private parking at its doorstep.

Where to eat in Lecce

Lecce is a great place to indulge yourself in Puglian cuisine. I recommend Crianza (Via Principi di Savoia, 64) and Alle Due Corti (Corte dei Giugni, 1) for local specialties, great wines and wonderful service. For steak lovers, check out Tabisca “il Vico dei Tagliati” (Via Dietro Ospedale dei Pellegrini, 29).

For something lighter, try L’angolino di Via Matteotti (Via Giacomo Matteotti, 31) which serves some of the best puccia (a sandwich made of wood-fired pizza dough typical of the Salento region) in Puglia.

Read about other places to visit in Puglia


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The nhow Amsterdam RAI Hotel is a striking building along the Zuidas (southern axis) of the Amsterdam Ring (A10) highway. With its three triangular blocks stacked atop one another, each at a different angle, it looks like a Rubik’s cube in play. I often passed it when it was being constructed and it never failed to intrigue me. It was completed just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck so I never got to check it out… until now. I treated myself and my partner to a weekend there to celebrate our anniversary, and, well, here’s my review of nhow Amsterdam RAI:

nhow Amsterdam RAI

Designed by OMA, a world-renowned Dutch architect firm, the nhow Amsterdam RAI has 650 rooms, making it the largest hotel in the Netherlands. Its design was inspired by the advertising column in front of the RAI convention centre. I’m not a fan of big hotels, however, I was excited to stay in this unique building.

nhow amsterdam rai review

The design of nhow Amsterdam RAI was inspired by this advertising column at the RAI convention centre.

The perfect location!

Situated next to the RAI Convention centre, various train/metro stations and the A10 highway, nhow Amsterdam RAI (map) is a stone’s throw away from the Zuidas financial district, just 10 minutes by metro to the city centre and 10 minutes by car/train to Schiphol Airport. In addition, the best sights of Amsterdam are within easy reach, making it perfect for business people and tourists alike.

The room

Check-in was swift and the front office staff were friendly and helpful. During the booking process, I opted for a room with a city view. I was allocated room 1101, which had a city view, but, as I later discovered, the views from the higher floors (18 and above) are much better.

nhow amsterdam rai hotel review

My room

The view from room 1101. In the foreground is the RAI convention centre while the Amsterdam city centre lies in the background.

The room itself was bright and spacious, and I loved the little design touches, such as the fish in the bedside tables, the old-fashioned telephone and the cool kettle. The bedside reading lights were well-designed too, as you could adjust both the height as well as the angle of the lamp. Love it when cool design is coupled with handy functionality!

Loved the fish in the bedside tables!

And the ‘old-fashioned’ telephone.

The cool kettle.

The bathroom was of a decent size with a fabulous rain shower and refillable toiletries. The king-size bed and pillows were incredibly comfortable – I slept very well that night!

That was a super comfy bed!

There was also a small fridge, which I later filled with wine and snacks I purchased at the small shop on the ground floor. Above the fridge were a coffee/tea making corner, with a kettle and espresso machine.


The hotel

I started my exploration of the hotel by taking the lift to the 17th floor. There’s a restaurant there where guests can enjoy breakfast and dinner. I found a striking restaurant with fantastic views of the city and the suburbs; I even spotted the Utrecht skyline, some 30 kilometers away! The restaurant also has three outdoor terraces, each with a different view.

design hotels amsterdam

The restaurant on the 17th floor.

The city view from the terrace.

I didn’t have dinner there but breakfast the next morning sure was a treat. It was a Sunday morning and the breakfast buffet was large and varied. There was also a station with sparkling wine (cava) and ingredients to make a Bloody Mary. Nice! The food was great but the view was definitely the highlight!

As I explored the hotel, I found 3 gyms (!) on the 9th, 16th and 19th floors. On the first floor was a large lounge and bar, as well as the Guest Relations counters. This is the most colourful space in the hotel, with brightly coloured Asian-African-Middle-Eastern-inspired figures and motifs covering the walls and floor. My partner and I found a corner, ordered some wine and simply watched other guests taking photos and selfies of this cool space.

The colourful interior on the 1st floor.

The lounge

I loved this space with the Middle Eastern lamps.

My partner and I parked ourselves here for a bit.

One architectural detail that caught my eye as I looked at the building from the outside were the circular ‘skylights’ under each protruding section. I searched for these inside the building and they were exactly what I thought they were: glass floors. They can be found on various floors such as the 18th floor.

There are several glass floors on the 18th floor.


We had a lovely stay at nhow Amsterdam RAI Hotel. It has a lot going for it: a fantastic location, great views, comfy rooms, a very cool interior and terrific staff. My only concern is the size of the hotel, with its 650 rooms. I wonder, considering the relatively small reception area and the lounge/bar, how it’ll be when the hotel is fully booked. That said, whether you’re visiting Amsterdam as a tourist or for business/convention purposes, or if you’re looking for a weekend/couples getaway, the nhow Amsterdam RAI certainly is a hotel for all reasons. Check the rates for nhow Amsterdam RAI (

Read more about Amsterdam on Velvet Escape


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