A Gothic Wonder In The Middle Of The Sea And The Most Beautiful City With Half-timbered Houses.
Mont Saint Michel - a Gothic wonder amidst galloping tides.
Nestled among the wonders of the western world, the fortified island-city of Mont-Saint-Michel, perched on a giant granite rock cliff rising from the seabed, is the most visited place in France.
The courage and engineering skills required to build it amaze everyone who approaches it the long and a half paved road (soon to be replaced by a bridge) that connects it to continental land.
The point of view changes when one views the narrow streets lined with souvenir shops and antique items on this tiny island of fewer than 100 inhabitants.
Very impressive are the dangerous "galloping" tides, where the difference between the high tide point and the lowest low tide point reaches 15 meters. As the tide recedes, 16 km of sand sheds, leaving the Gothic and Romanesque-style abbeys rising 150 meters above sea level, secluded amid dramatic skies.
The fortifications, which began in the 13th century, surround the mountain and the Benedictine abbey and gardens marking the place where Archangel Michael appeared in year 708. In addition to the unique natural environment, what has attracted tourists for centuries is the architectural a 13th-century ensemble inside the abbey called "La Merveille" - a Gothic masterpiece.
The island's other masterpiece is the soufflé-like omelets at La Mer Poole, whose "secret recipe" has something to do with cooking in a copper pan over an open fire made of oak wood. Since 1888, this inn has been the best place to dine or spend the night. Here you can experience the quiet magic of the almost deserted Mont Saint Michel in the late evening.
Where: 322 km west of Paris, Haute-Normandie, France
Best time: Spring and fall; dramatic and almost empty in winter.
Quedlinburg - the prettiest town with half-timbered houses.
On the outskirts of Harz, Germany's northernmost mountain range lies the finest town with half-timbered houses in the country, and possibly in Europe.
Quedlinburg also boasts a treasure trove of medieval religious art, exhibited in the Saxon-Romanesque city cathedral on a hilltop. UNESCO has listed the entire city, which recently celebrates its 1000th anniversary, in the list of world cultural assets.
Quedlinburg was the cradle of the Otton Dynasty, the first pedigree of the Saxon kings in what later became the Holy Roman Empire. (Heinrich I, the first German king, was buried in the cathedral.)
As the preferred residence of the emperors, this small but thriving city is growing as a cultural, spiritual and religious center, with a great deal of attention and resources being devoted to the cathedral.
The historic riches of the city are still visible everywhere, in the priceless gold and gemstone sacred objects displayed in the exhibition and the 1300 hand-carved, half-timbered houses - the earliest, dating from 1310, are the oldest in Germany.
The architectural styles range from Gothic through Baroque to Quedlinburg's own dialect: facades accented with bright blue, red, yellow and green. The city miraculously avoided both World War II bombing and plans to redevelop it into a former East German government.
On the city's main market square stands the magnificent Theofano Hotel, a half-timbered landmark consisting of five historic buildings from the seventeenth century and dedicated to the memory of Theofano, a Byzantine princess married by Otto II, the Saxon claimant to the throne, in 972.
The small hotel is beautifully renovated and decorated and is managed with warmth and ease by a young staff who wants to give you pleasure. The Weinkeller Hotel Restaurant offers memorable meals in the welcoming space of vaulted ceilings warmed by the soft light of candles.
Where: Sachsen-Anhalt, 3 hours drive from Berlin, Germany
Best time: year-round.
Saint Emilion - to enjoy the Bordeaux wine culture.
The Bordeaux area is a place of almost religious worship for oenophiles and gastronomes. Central to it is the sophisticated city of Bordeaux, a wonderfully restored 18th-century architecture center that serves as a base for raids on wineries with such revered names as Medoc, Grav and Sautern.
There are more than 10,000 vineyards here, but the cozy medieval town of Saint-Emilion tempts one to stay there for a long time. Vineyards on the slopes descend from all sides to its fortress shafts from the 13th century, surrounding the stone-lined medieval streets, along which line wine shops and bakeries selling light nuts.
The Chateau Margot and Mutton Rothschild wineries and the wine tasting they offer are daily trips to Medoc. But the small vines, nestled along the city walls of Saint-Emilion, provide a good opportunity to taste some of Bordeaux's most sophisticated and intricately blended red wines.
The nineteenth-century aristocratic chateau Grand Borey opened as a suburban hotel. Many of the spacious rooms overlook the endless vineyards, and the regional menu of Bel Epoch's restaurant offers impressive carte des vins, more than half of which St. Emilion's wineries.
Where: Saint-Emilion: 35 km northeast of Bordeaux, France.
Best time: Spring and fall, except for the grape harvest in September, when wineries are closed to the public.