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How to Travel Like a European

By Lottie Gross

Apr 14, 2022

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How does a month off, sailing round the French Riviera sound?

Photo by Rowen Smith

How does a month off, sailing round the French Riviera sound?

Our transatlantic friends can offer some pointers for better ways to vacation.

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Europeans know how to vacation. Like, really vacation. They don’t just get the paltry average of 10 days of paid time off that Americans in the private sector get; many of them receive up to six weeks of paid vacation time—and they use it wisely.

Go to France or Italy in the height of summer and you’ll find entire businesses shut for the season. Bakeries close, restaurants empty, and even essential shops like pharmacies might close their doors so owners can take a break. Often, that break goes well beyond a week or fortnight-long vacation, too. Instead, many Europeans will stretch out their summer break for a month or even six weeks, heading to their favored local hot spots or venturing abroad for their escape. It’s all about the joie de vivre, after all.

In Britain, step into any pub, café, or even hair salon and you’ll hear people ask that ubiquitous question: “Where are you off to this summer?” With long summer breaks for schools, there’s an exodus of British families from the island’s shores every year in late July and August, as they travel to lands near and far in search of sunshine. The summer holiday, as Brits call it, is an essential part of life for millions. 

But where are all these people going? When Americans visit Europe, they tend to gravitate toward the big hitters: London, Rome, Paris, Venice, Barcelona, and Madrid. Europeans have a different way of traveling, from how they do it to where they go. We spoke to the experts to find out how you can travel like a European.

If you're going to Sardinia, try and see it slowly.

Do it the Italian way and travel slowly 

“For Italians, holidays are about really going on holiday. They’re about really relaxing,” says Julia Buckley, a travel writer and Italy destination expert living in Venice. “They want to be on the beach or in the mountains.” 

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Italy’s coastline is fringed with spectacular beaches and inland the country is blessed with towering mountain ranges, so Italians have plenty of destinations to choose from right on their doorstep. But many Italians also head abroad for a break. “For many Italians, in recent years, summer holidays means tending to travel outside of Italy if they can—most likely to Spain, Greece, and Croatia,” says Joan Roca, CEO of exclusive travel members’ club Essentialist. “Within Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and the Aeolian islands are the destinations of choice for those looking to stay closer to home for summer holidays.” 

To really travel like an Italian, though, it matters less where you go but how you travel. So put your guidebooks down and log out of Instagram–the Italians are all about slow travel. “Italian style is about getting to know a place on an intimate level. Rather than going somewhere to take a picture and tick it off a list, it’s about building a relationship over a number of years with one village or one little area,” says Buckley. 

Channel your inner Francophile and get cultural

The French are also famous for their long summer hols. Cultural and historical breaks are their top priority according to data gathered by Travelzoo, followed by beach breaks and city getaways.

Within their own borders, places like Brittany, with its sandy beaches and pink granite rocks along the coastline, and Provence or the glittering Côte d’Azur get the most attention. Shy away from the glamor of Cannes, though, and join the French in lesser-visited seaside towns like nearby Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, and Villefranche-sur-Mer, one of the most charming towns in the French Riviera.

Come winter, they head to the mountains. “The French have ample options like Chamonix and Megeve in their backyard, but they also have Switzerland and its many options just over the border,” says Roca. Pair a ski break with a trip on the spectacular Bernina Express, a scenic train that travels through some of the most spectacular Swiss Engadin Alps, or head into Geneva to soak up some Swiss culture, and you’ll have yourself a fantastic French-style getaway. 

The Canary Islands are favored by the Brits, but their charms are open to all.

Be like the Brits and make for Spain 

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Brits don’t tend to travel for as long as the French or Italians, but they know how to max out the value of their summer vacation–especially when they’re after some sun. Time and again, Spain tops the leaderboards when it comes to British summer trips as they flock to the beaches of the Costa del Sol. It gets busy in the high season, but try a winter getaway instead and you’ll see why the Brits are so enamored with this nation. 

As the bleak British winter sets in and the European continent also cools down, they make for the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the west coast of Africa. Head to Tenerife for a winter beach break and climb the island’s volcanic mountain, Teide, or relax on the black-sand beaches of Lanzarote. 

The British are also explorers, and you’ll meet them across Europe throughout the year, be it on the beaches of Gozo, Malta, in springtime or in the Christmas markets of Germany. 

Germany's Jasmund National Park is home to beech forests and white chalk cliffs.

Go German and hit the beach

Germany might not strike you as a beach break destination, but the Travelzoo numbers don’t lie: Germans love a beach trip, and they love it most on the Baltic Sea coast. This 1,500-mile stretch of what’s often called the German Riviera is the top domestic destination for German travelers, and it’s easy to see why. 

This region is a haven of white-sand beaches so spectacular they should be packed with crowds from all over—but they’re not. These lesser-known stretches of sand are far quieter than many of the continent’s beaches, so pair this with seaside spas and rocky cliffs clad with ancient beech forests (at the likes of Jasmund National Park) and you’ve got a brilliant, under-the-radar German getaway. Try Ahlbeck, one of the most popular resorts thanks to its status as an imperial spa town and its vast sandy beach backed by 20th-century mansions. 

Austria is an especially popular place for summer hiking trips or spring ski adventures. Join the Germans on the slopes of Ischgl or Mayrhofen and then revel in the après-ski in one of the many bars that fill up at night.

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