Travel to Europe and you’re guaranteed to be captivated by its well-documented artistic and culinary diversity, its breathtaking landscapes and its compelling history. Sure, but how do you get behind the postcard beauty, the guidebook generalisations and the brochure hype?
How do you find the amazing gelato in Rome? That secluded beach in Mykonos? The cosiest wine bar in Bordeaux? If you’re already in Europe, you ask the locals.
But you’re not in Europe right now, so what do you do? You ask Australians, who through their European heritage, boast inside knowledge infused with an antipodean perspective.
We’ve tracked down a handful of well-travelled, worldly Greek, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Swedish, French and Italian Australians to give us their take on the must-see places, the best (and worst) things to eat, understanding the locals and more.
Kareena Zerefos, artist-designer, Sydney
THE BACKSTORY “I first visited Greece with my family as a child in 1995. My father’s side originates from Neapolis, my mother’s side from Samos Island in the north-eastern Aegean where my folks now mainly live. I try to get back at least once a year.”
YOU MUST VISIT GREECE BECA– USE it’s not just a place for ancient history nerds or those partying their way around the islands. It’s also filled with meraki – the soul, love, creativity and passion that’s in the blood, and that runs through the culture and across the varied landscape and aquamarine seas.
THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GREEKS IS that it’s highly likely they’ll ask you if you know their cousin that moved to Australia. They’ll also offer you ouzo, or even homemade souma [a lethal brew made from grapes]. Generally, the Greeks are amongst the warmest and most hospitable people in the world, and they know how to live the good, simple life.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST VISIT IN GREECE IS Samos, with its secluded beaches, picturesque port towns and fascinating history, with an unexpected backdrop of lush, forested mountains, dotted with historical monasteries and traditional village tavernas. The island has a remarkable wine heritage dating back to 1200 BC, and they’re known for making a delicious sweet wine.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST NOT VISIT IS the Acropolis in Athens in high summer. Wait until September, or watch it at sunset from the rooftop bar at the Grande Bretagne (grandebretagne.gr).
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULD TRY IS octopus straight from the sea, simply grilled and dressed with lemon juice. Pairs perfectly with ouzo on ice.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULDN’T TRY IS loukoumades. Essentially a doughnut – deep-fried dough, smothered in honey and cinnamon. They’re dangerous.
MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR GREECE IS be flexible and open to wherever the day takes you. And avoid talking politics without ouzo.
Chari Saldana, flamenco dancer/producer, Melbourne
THE BACKSTORY “Born in Melbourne, my father is from Madrid and my mother from Seville, who moved to Australia in 1965. With the exception of my siblings and father, my family live in Madrid and Seville. I travel there twice a year.”
YOU MUST VISIT SPAIN BECA– USE of its fantastic food, music, art, history, architecture, never-ending vida, and of course the opportunity to see flamenco almost anywhere. Madrid’s small Cafe Berlin (berlincafe.es) showcases exceptional local talent; the amazing Las Carboneras (tablaolascarboneras.com) is more traditional. For full flamenco immersion head down to Seville in September for La Bienal (labienal.com/en).
THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SPANISH IS they don’t all look “Spanish”. There’s an assumption that Spaniards, women in particular, are all olive skinned and sultry with long dark hair, yet many Spaniards are fair, tall and quite Germanic looking.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST VISIT IN SPAIN IS Madrid heaves and buzzes, and it’s a culinary, cultural and creative meld of the diversity of Spain. I love the Mercado de Anton Martin (mercadoantonmartin.com), a local food market that’s a great alternative to the more touristy Mercado San Miguel. It also houses the famous flamenco dance studios Amor De Dios so it’s common to see and hear flamenco while you shop.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST NOT VISIT IS Ibiza, Benidorm, or any other satellite British city.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULD TRY cochinillo asado, suckling pig. Try it at Botin in Madrid (botin.es), the world’s oldest restaurant (open since 1725).
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULDN’T TRY IS oreja de cerdo, pig ears, which are roasted, stewed, or eaten crispy as a tapa. I have no reservations about eating cochinillo (young pigs), or jamon bocadillos (pork rolls) for breakfast, lunch and dinner – but I stop at ears.
THE BEST KEPT SECRET OF SPAIN IS the contemporary flamenco dancer Rocio Molina (rociomolina.net). She seamlessly melds traditional with avant garde.
Sabine Schwarz, graphic designer/photographer, Sydney.
THE BACKSTORY “I grew up in Hamburg, studied in Berlin and moved to Australia seven years ago. I go back to Germany every year.”
YOU MUST VISIT GERMANY BECA– USE it’s the most central country of Europe, one of the key players of the European Union, and is rich in history and modern European culture. From forests and mountains in the south, to sandy islands in the north, it stretches across a multitude of landscapes.
THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GERMANS IS they tell you what they want and how it is. They don’t (always) mean to be rude, but being direct and honest is considered a time and bullshit saver, which fits with the general German state of being efficient and productive.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST VISIT IN GERMANY IS Berlin is the heartbeat of Germany, connecting the country’s history with today’s modern culture, music, art and nightlife. Its unconventional and free-spirited vibe (which can be very un-German at times) makes you feel anything is possible.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST NOT VISIT IS Frankfurt. Just because it has the country’s largest international airport doesn’t make it an interesting city to travel to. Unless you’re into finance and business.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULD TRY IS currywurst, German sausage cut into pieces and garnished with curry ketchup. The classic kiosk-style, hole-in-the-wall currybuden have cult-like followings, especially in Berlin. My favourite is the grungy and cool Konnopke (konnopke-imbiss.de).
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULDN’T TRY IS knodel, a typical Bavarian side dish and the southern German version of the dumpling. A big ball of potato which just fills rather than flavours your dish.
MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR GERMANY IS to discover any German city by bicycle. It’s the most popular national means of transport.
Sophie Emmanuelle The, Interior stylist, Sydney
THE BACKSTORY Born in the French gastronomic capital Lyon, moved to Australia in 2001. I try to visit every year during the European summer.
YOU MUST VISIT FRANCE BECA– USE of the French culinary culture. France offers a huge variety of landscape and architecture, with food and wine to match.
THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FRENCH IS French woman are actually very easy going; what you see is what you get. We don’t make a fuss and keep it as natural as possible.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST VISIT IN FRANCE IS the west coast beaches, especially Chenes-Lieges beach in Hossegor. The west coast reminds me of Australia with its long beaches, rolling sand dunes and crashing waves.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST NOT VISIT IS Nice on the Riviera, because really who wants a pebble beach? But actually, Nice’s Old Town is amazing.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULD TRY IS a classic bouchon (a restaurant specialising in Lyonnaise cuisine) speciality called quenelle de brochet, a mixture of fish or meat combined with breadcrumbs, served with a sauce mousseline. Eat it at Les Halles de Lyon (halles-de-lyon-paulbocuse.com), and at Julien Gautier’s great bistro M Restaurant (mrestaurant.fr).
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULDN’T TRY IS andouillette, a sausage made from pork or sometimes veal intestines, if you’re vegetarian or a little sensitive. However, I find it delicious.
MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR FRANCE IS to stop thinking the French are arrogant and don’t speak English. We’re actually very approachable,
Ricardo Goncalves SBS World News presenter and finance editor, Sydney
THE BACKSTORY “My parents migrated from the island of Madeira in the late 1970s. I visit every three to four years.”
YOU MUST VISIT PORTUGAL BECA– USE of its intense geography, glorious food and long history. Portugal consists of the mainland on the Iberian Peninsula, along with two sets of islands in the Atlantic, the Azores and Madeira, all with their specific natural beauty. There’s history everywhere – from medieval architecture to the tiled streets of Lisbon, you can really get a sense of how it was in the age of discovery.
THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE PORTUGUESE IS that age of discovery also brought on a sense of melancholy, specific to the Portuguese called saudade, likely to have originated when families used to send explorers out into the ocean to find the new world. Saudade continues today, a sense of sadness, intense love and longing for something long gone.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST VISIT IN PORTUGAL IS Lisbon. Built on a series of hills, there are numerous miradouros or viewpoints to take in Lisbon’s breathtaking architecture and geography. A couple of favourites are Miradouro das Portas do Sol in the historic Alfama district, or the rooftop of the Bairro Alto Hotel (bairroaltohotel.com/en), which is at the heart of the city’s bustling nightlife.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST NOT VISIT IS Sintra, if you’re afraid of heights, but if you don’t you’ll regret it. It’s a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon and is a UNESCO World Heritage listed area. At the top of one of its hills is the majestic Pena Palace while a short walk away is the Castelo dos Mouros from the 8th century. Climbing its inner walls takes you high into sky.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULD TRY IS espetada. Chunks of beef rubbed in salt, garlic and bay leaf, skewered and cooked over hot coals.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULDN’T TRY IS pastel de nata, traditional Portuguese custard tarts – if you don’t want to put on weight. The ultimate place to try them is Pasteis de Belem (pasteisdebelem.pt/en/), about 15 minutes east of Lisbon by train.
MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR PORTUGAL IS you won’t need a lot of money when visiting. I find it relatively cheap, because it’s still somewhat off the top of places to go for many tourists.
Jonas Peterson, photographer, Byron Bay, NSW
THE BACKSTORY “I was born and bred in Sweden, but moved to Australia in 2004. I visit Sweden a couple of times every year.”
YOU MUST VISIT SWEDEN BECA– USE it’s a land of natural beauty, clean and lush, especially in summer. The winters can be pretty harsh and unforgiving, but during summer Sweden is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and the people transform as well.
THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SWEDISH PEOPLE IS that Swedes and the Swedish mood relies heavily on the seasons and weather. In summer Swedes spend most of their time socialising outside, almost everyone is outgoing, but in winter we hibernate and spend time indoors with friends and family.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST VISIT IN SWEDEN IS the whole country is beautiful, but Stockholm with its old town and water everywhere is not to be missed. I love the area of Sodermalm, good for shopping, great bars and restaurants and old buildings.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST NOT VISIT IS I come from a land of Vikings, feuds, raping and pillaging. If I mention a place I don’t like I’m in trouble … but stay away from the town of Skovde. It doesn’t get more boring than there.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULD TRY IS We have a long tradition of simple food, husmanskost, it’s what farmers have served for many hundreds of years. One of my favourites is isterband – think chorizo without the heat, with creamy stewed potatoes, preferably served with pickled beetroot. Nowadays fancier restaurants serve these dishes in more interesting ways, with amazing produce. Try Riche in downtown Stockholm (riche.se), and Fredsgatan 12.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULDN’T TRY IS surstromming, fermented fish in a can. Certainly not for the weak hearted.
MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SWEDEN IS Sweden, and the Swedes, have a somewhat hard surface but a soft interior. Spend time with the people and the various landscapes and you’ll be rewarded and accepted.
Guy Grossi, chef, Melbourne
THE BACKSTORY “My parents were born in Italy and came to Australia in the ’60s. I still have some family over there so when I go back, which I’ve done quite a few times, I like to visit them.”
YOU MUST VISIT ITALY BECA– USE Italy has so much to offer. Its regions vary greatly from picturesque mountains and alps, to sun-kissed countryside, to beach side villages. The Italian culture is one you can easily immerse yourself in through food, history and art.
THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ITALIANS IS they’re friendly. Talk to them to get inside information about where to go and what to see from a local’s perspective.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST VISIT IN ITALY IS the Veneto region, where my mum was from. It’s home to Venice, a must-see, but I’d also encourage travellers to explore Verona, Padua and Bassano Del Grappa.
THE ONE PLACE YOU MUST NOT VISIT IS the Cinque Terre, if you’re after action and adventure. All you’ll find there are picturesque landscapes, beaches to sunbake on, a relaxed holiday vibe and spritzers aplenty.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULD TRY IS whatever is traditional to the area. Think prosciutto di Parma when in Parma, and brioche with pistachio ice-cream in Sicily.
THE ONE DISH YOU SHOULDN’T TRY IS casu marzu, sheep’s milk cheese that contains live insect larvae from Sardinia. I’ve tried and it was pretty tasty, but it might not be for everyone.
MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR ITALY IS life is short; eat the pasta. And rent a car to drive from one place to the next, because the most beautiful spots can be found moving from city to city.
SEVEN BEST-KEPT EUROPEAN SECRETS
The Potami Waterfalls in Karlovasi, Samos. You can wade through the cool, fresh water, then climb the stairs to the hidden Archodissa Taverna, surrounded by pine forests.
The islands of Ost- and Nordfriesland. Germany’s northern coastline is lined with stunning islands that vary from two to 20 kilometres long. They all have white sand and extensive dunes on one side and wattenmeer (very tidal coast that empties completely during low tide) on the other.
The calanques of Cassis on the Cote d’Azur. These inlets are surrounded by 50-metre cliffs rising up from little beaches with turquoise water, and are only accessible by foot or boat.
Madeira. Often described as the Pearl or Garden of the Atlantic, Madeira dramatically rises out of the ocean thanks to its volcanic origins. Its regional capital Funchal is at the base of an incredible natural amphitheatre, while deep inside the island its mountainous, luscious and floral landscape feeds the many levadas, or irrigation canals, which are the life force of the island.
The many small islands in the archipelago surrounding the west coast from Gothenburg up to the Norwegian border. It’s a landscape you won’t find anywhere else; it’s also where I grew up. Visit Karingon, and eat at Petersons Krog (petersonskrog.se). They serve some of the best seafood in the world.
The small towns and villages, like Bassone in Tuscany. This is where testaroli are from, one of the simplest and delicious yet most unique pasta dishes. It’s a beautiful town with such character, but be warned the roads aren’t all designed to drive on.
Schedule siestas. They’re absolutely necessary if you plan to keep up with the Spaniards, especially since dinner isn’t usually served until well after 10pm!