MINI CRUISE MARVELS
Mini cruises are the new mini breaks. If you’re short on time but big on travel, there’s no better way to see some of Europe’s best cities. It’s a great way to test the waters with a new ship or cruise line too. Pack an overnight bag and meet us at the port.
Horse and carts roll into medieval squares and swans glide on the Lake of Love. It sounds like the start of a Brothers Grimm fairytale but it’s just your average afternoon in Bruges. The picturesque port of call is chocolate-scented and fuelled by a diet of Belgian beer and warm waffles. Fortunately, walking off the calories has never been such a pleasure. Two majestic market squares – the Markt and the Burg – form the photogenic heart of the city, housing its most historic highlights. The Provincial Palace, the Chambers, the Belfry and Bruges City Hall are among the most impressive, but there are many more besides. Horse and cart isn’t the only means of resting tired feet; visitors can also take to the canals on a boat tour that sails in the shadows of gorgeous gabled houses. It may be a festive favourite but Bruges is beautiful at any time of year.
Take a trip back in time in the second most famous city on the Seine. Paris may attract the masses, but quaint old Rouen is one of the most charming and historic cities in France, famed not only for its Gothic cathedral and medieval lanes, but also as the place in which Joan of Arc was tried and burned at the stake in 1431. The French heroine is commemorated by the surprisingly modern Église Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc, built on the same site where she was martyred. Rouen is riddled with history, having been devastated by war, fire and the plague during its 2,000 years, but the city has risen from the ashes and flourished to become Normandy’s highlight. Rouen is well-known for its antique treasures too, with antique dealers occupying many of the timbered chocolate box buildings in the Damiette-Saint-Maclou district. It is also the starting point for excursions to Giverny, the scenic one-time home of artist Claude Monet.
Nowhere else merges naughty and nice quite like Amsterdam, a mini cruise capital that has built its fortunes around its 17th century Canal Ring. Despite a risqué reputation, there’s far more to Amsterdam than scarlet windows and smoky coffee shops. For culture vultures, there are the museums. Over 50 of them in fact, including the world-class institutions located on Museumplein –Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum – plus the unmissable Anne Frank House. The green-fingered will appreciate Keukenhof Gardens and the Bloomenmarkt, the only floating flower market in the world. There are two ways to see the city; on two wheels and by boat. Canal cruises take on various guises, so it’s up to you whether you see the city sights with pizza and beer, by candlelight or with an appetising excess of cheese and wine.
4. ST PETER PORT
It may be the second largest Channel Island but Guernsey is just 12 miles long. The tiny speck of land lies 30 miles from the Normandy coastline and no other British Isle feels quite so foreign. The quaint fishing harbours and vast sandy stretches could have come straight from the continent, but you’ll find cream scones and good old British manners aplenty in the island capital of St Peter Port. There are countless ways to spend a day here, from scenic strolls to Fermain Bay, to visits to the sites left behind by five years of German Occupation, including La Vallette Underground Military Museum, the military fortifications on the island’s west coast, and the German Occupation Museum. Other highlights include the aptly, though rather unoriginally, named Little Chapel and Hauteville House, the former home of exiled French writer, Victor Hugo. The Guernsey Vaeux bus route will take you on a drive by of the island’s star attractions for a flat fare of just a pound.