The insider's guide to Europe

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Where do all those Parisians vanish to every August? What is it about Dyrehaven that lures residents of Copenhagen? And just why do the Romans love Ponza so much? Aoife O'Riordain shares the holiday secrets of 10 locals in the know

ATHENS >>> SAMOS

Ada Yfanti, Managing Director, Fresh Hotel (freshhotel.gr)

"The one place in Greece that always feeds my soul and suits all my moods is the island of Samos. Since I was a teenager, Samos has never ceased to charm me. Kokkari, a small village with pebble beaches and crystal waters, is where I stay with my family. I never miss visits to Seitani beach or walks through the little streets at Ano Vathi. When I really want to clear my mind, I take a drive just before sunset through a magnificent forest that leads to Manolates village. This is a place forgotten in time that offers a genuine taste of Greek culture, with craft shops for handmade jewellery and ceramics. The Loukas Taverna is the ideal way to end the day enjoying delicious stuffed lamb, while admiring the view."

The Lowdown

Samos is one of Greece's north Aegean islands scattered off the Turkish coast. This vine-draped island with stunning beaches and turquoise water was the birthplace of the philosopher and poet, Pythagoras. One of its most impressive archaeological sites is the fortified port of Pythagoreion, scattered with Greek and Roman monuments, a tunnel aqueduct and the Herion, temple of the Samian Hera. Loukas Taverna is in Manolates, in the north of Samos (00 30 2273 094 541). For more details see visitgreece.gr.

Sunvil (020-8758 4758; sunvil.co.uk) offers a week in a studio apartment in Kokkari, Samos, from £657 per person. The price includes return flights from Gatwick, self-catering accommodation and transfers.

 

STOCKHOLM >>> SANDHAMN

Yvonne Sorensen, Managing Director, Berns Hotel Group ( berns.se)

"When I feel like escaping, I take the ferry to Sandhamn, a beautiful island in Stockholm's outer archipelago. Open all year, it's a Swedish idyll with long sandy beaches and forests where you can pick berries and mushrooms. I first came in the 1980s and fell in love with its serenity and the cosy village life. You can either rent a cottage or check into The Sailors Hotel or the more upmarket Sands Hotel. There are five restaurants in the village. My favorite is the Sandhamns Vardshus, serving classical Swedish food."

The Lowdown

Known to Swedes as Skargarden, many of the 30,000 or so islands of the Stockholm archipelago offer a popular weekend retreat. Sandhamn, two hours by ferry from Stockholm, is a magnet for the well-heeled, dotted with historic pilot cottages, fishing huts and summer homes. Mermaid (00 46 8 1200 04045; stromma.se) offers ferry crossings from Stockholm for SEK290 (£29) return.

Accommodation options on the island include: the Sailors Hotel (00 46 8 574 504 00; sandhamn.com; doubles from SEK2,390/£238); The Sands Hotel (00 46 8 571 530 20; sandshotell.se; doubles from SEK2,500/£248); and the Sandhamns Vardshus (00 46 86 795 830; sandhamns-vardshus.se; doubles from SEK990/£96). For more information see destinationsandhamn.se.

Stockholm Arlanda is served by BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com), SAS (0870 60 727 727; flysas.com); Norwegian (00 47 21 49 00 15; norwegian.com).

 

COPENHAGEN >>> DYREHAVEN

Charlotte Juhl, VP Jewellery, Georg Jensen ( georgjensen.dk)

"One of the many charms of Copenhagen is that you can reach several beaches and experience the countryside on your bike. My favourite escape is not far from Copenhagen: Dyrehaven – a stunning forest park half an hour north of the city. It is maintained as a natural forest and has herds of deer. My perfect summer day would start out from Copenhagen around 10.30am. I'd cycle along Osterbrogade, then to Strandvejen with the stunning view of Oresend on the right. After entering Dyrehaven through the beautiful red gate at Klampenborg, I'd have lunch at Peter Liep's legendary Hus restaurant, stroll through Bakken amusement park, then lie on Bellevue Beach before heading back. Finally, I'd join the queue for an ice cream at Lydolph in Hellerup."

The Lowdown

The former royal hunting grounds of Dyrehaven and the seaside villages of Klampenborg and Hellerup are easily accessible from Copenhagen and are popular in summer. Two popular beaches are Bellevue and Charlottenlund Strandpark. Peter Liep's Hus is at Dyrehaven 8 (00 45 39 640 786; peterliep.dk); Lydolph's Isbar is at Strandvejen 167 in Hellerup (00 45 39 627 747). For more details see visitcopenhagen.com.

The Skorvshoved Hotel (00 45 39 640 028; skovshovedhotel.dk), south of Dyrehaven, is a charming 22-room hotel that dates from 1660 and is set in the middle of an upmarket, seaside enclave. Doubles from DK1,500 (£170).

 

PARIS >>> ARLES

India Mahdavi, architect and designer. Home Chic by India Mahdavi with Soline Delos, £19.95, Flammarion ( india-mahdavi.com)

"In July, I usually go to Arles, when Les Rencontres d'Arles Photographie starts, which is really interesting because the whole city becomes very international, full of photographers, artists and exhibitions. For me, it's a mix of work, pleasure and culture. I eat at La Chassagnette, which I love because all the food is local and delicious, and Chez Bob, a little mas (farmhouse) restaurant. I like having everything nearby: Avignon, the Abbaye de Montmajour and the L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which is great for antiques."

The Lowdown

The Unesco World Heritage-listed city of Arles in Provence is scattered with Roman sites. It also perches on the edge of the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue ( parc-camargue.fr), a vast mosaic of marshes and lakes, set on the delta of the river Rhône and the Mediterranean Sea.

Les Rencontres d'Arles Photographie ( www.rencontres-arles.com) takes places this year from 1 July to 22 September. Hotel du Cloître (00 33 4 88 08 10 00; hotel-cloitre.com) has double rooms from €90, room only. Restaurant highlights include Chez Bob (00 33 4 90 97 00 29; restaurant bob.fr) and La Chassagnette (00 33 4 90 97 26 96; lachassagnette.fr). See tourismepaca.fr.

 

DUBLIN >>> CO CORK

John Rocha, fashion designer ( johnrocha.ie)

"I love Ballymaloe House in County Cork and have done for very many years. My wife Odette and I first visited 26 years ago and have been back many times since. Whether escaping to one of the cottages beside the cookery school or relaxing in the house, it is a fabulous break. The Allen family have been running Ballymaloe for more than 40 years now and it really is a special place."

The Lowdown

One of Ireland's most celebrated foodie hotspots, Ballymaloe Country House Hotel (00 353 21465 2531; ballymaloe.ie) is just outside the village of Shanagarry in bucolic surroundings 20 miles from the city of Cork. Doubles start at €170 with breakfast and self-catering cottages start at €400 per week, with short stays also available. The Ballymaloe Cookery School (00 353 21 464 6785; cookingisfun.ie) has afternoon demonstrations as well as short and long-term cookery courses, with classes starting around €70.

East Cork's charms are rich and varied. Its dramatic coastline is interspersed with long beaches and fishing villages such as Ballycotton, with its pretty harbour and bracing, clifftop walk. Nearby Midleton is also home to the historic Midleton Distillery (00 353 21 461 3594; tours.jamesonwhiskey.com) where Jameson whiskey is made. The town also hosts a bustling farmers' market every Saturday morning ( midletonfarmersmarket.com). See Tourism Ireland ( ireland.com).

Cork is served by Aer Lingus (0871 718 2020; aerlingus.com) from Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol; Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Liverpool, Gatwick and Stansted; Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) from Newcastle.

 

LISBON >>> COMPORTA

José Avillez, chef and proprietor of Lisbon's Michelin-starred Belgrano Restaurant ( joseavillez.pt)

"Comporta village is located at the base of the Troia Peninsula in one of the most beautiful regions of Portugal – the Alentejo Coast. The village is on one side of the Sado Estuary and is only a five-minute walk from the beach of the same name. Here, you can find amazing beaches, pine forests, rice fields, nice restaurants and charming boutiques. I love to go to Comporta with my wife and my two baby boys. We often stay at the Vale do Gaio Hotel near Torrao. It's a wonderful place to be with your family and friends."

The Lowdown

Comporta is set on a beautiful swathe of Alentejo coastline, about two hours' south of Lisbon. A patchwork of beaches, rice fields, marshes, fishing huts and the protected Sado Estuary reserve, it is known for its laid-back scene and devotees include the French shoe-designer Christian Louboutin. It is tipped to be one of the country's next big destinations and there are rumours of developments by luxury hotel chains, including Aman and Alila ... so go now.

Doubles at the Vale do Gaio (00 351 265 669 610; valedogaio.com) start at €90 including breakfast. Other accommodation around Comporta tends to be self-catering cottages such CasasNaAreia (00 351 934 418 316; casasnaareia.com) a collection of four fishermen's huts stylishly redesigned by a local Portuguese architect that sleep up to eight and cost from €500 per night including breakfast. For further details see Visit Alentejo ( visitalentejo.com).

Lisbon is served by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Gatwick, Luton, Bristol, Edinburgh and Liverpool; TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932; flytap.com/uk) from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester; and BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Heathrow.

 

MADRID >>> ASTURIAS

Lorenzo Castillo, interior designer ( lorenzocastillo.org). Recent projects include London's Hispania Restaurant ( hispanialondon.com)

"When the dog days come in July, Madrileños dream of escaping the city. This is when I really need fresh air, a green escape, the best food and a relaxed social life. For me there is only one place in Spain that offers this – Asturias. It's the best preserved and wildest region in Spain, with pristine beaches, backed by the Picos de Europa mountain range.

The architecture is very traditional and there are nice, small villages, which are well-preserved because they were spared the economic development in the 1960s that ruined much of the Spanish coast. Tourists in this part of Spain are mostly native Spaniards. I've spent most of my summers there since I was a child and I still go every year with all my family. Traditions are very important and change is shunned.

What I like most, is the food – some of the best in Spain based on the finest raw materials such as seafood. Cider is a local staple too, which you can't export because it spoils when it leaves the mountains behind."

The Lowdown

Often referred to as "Green Spain", Asturias occupies a corner in the north-west, with miles of sandy beaches on the Bay of Biscay. It has unspoilt seaside resorts such as Llanes, Ribadesella and Gijón. The Picos de Europa National Park dominates the region's dramatic interior, a highlight of which is the Covadonga Lakes. For more details contact the Spanish National Tourist Office ( spain.info).

Inntravel (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk) has a selection of self-catering "casas rurales" near the inland village of Arriondas. A week in a one-bedroom apartment costs from £798pp including car hire, but not flights; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) flies from Stansted to Oviedo.

 

AMSTERDAM >>> ROTTERDAM

Wim Pijbes, director of the Rijksmuseum ( rijksmuseum.nl)

"My favorite summer escape is to watch the fascinating dynamics of Rotterdam harbour by night. It is a man-made Grand Canyon-scale complex where you can admire the world's largest and most impressive ships. Its size and scale never fails to inspire me. One of my favourite places to eat is the beautiful Art Deco, Hotel New York, at the end of "the pier of tears" – the point where millions of Europeans left the old Continent for a new life in the New World. When I visit the Hotel New York it's always a good moment to consider your own present state of life."

The Lowdown

Rotterdam is the Netherlands' second city and the largest port in Europe – its harbour stretches for 24 miles to the North Sea, incorporating the new port of Maasvlakte 2. Doubles at the Hotel New York start at €180 including breakfast (00 31 10 439 0500; hotelnewyork.nl). Wilhelmina Pier is set on the Kop van Zuid peninsula, bordered by the Nieuwe Maas River and Rijnhaven. Also known as Manhattan on the Maas, Rotterdam's contemporary architecture reaches new heights this year with the completion of New Orleans, The Netherlands' highest residential tower, which forms part of De Rotterdam complex designed by Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas ( derotterdam.nl). Hook of Holland is Rotterdam's closest beach resort. For information see rotterdam.info.

Stena Line (08447 707 070; stenaline.co.uk) has connections from Harwich to Hook of Holland; P&O Ferries (0871 664 2020; poferries.com) offers services from Hull to Rotterdam.

 

ROME >>> PONZA

Cristiano Perfetti, co-founder of SBU Jeans ( sbu.it) which marks its 20th anniversary this year and goes online in September

"The beautiful and almost unknown island of Ponza is my favourite summer escape. The best hotels are Grande Hotel Santa Domitilla, the Hotel Bellavista, with rooms overlooking the sea, and the Hotel Mari, on the edge of the busiest square in Ponza town. The food is superb, especially the local seafood. Try the restaurants of Acqua Pazza, A Casa di Assunta and Il Tramonto. To get the most out of the island it is essential to hire a boat or a dinghy and explore the beautiful coves and bays such as Cala Felice and the famous Chiaia di Luna beach. By boat, you can reach the uninhabited island of Palmarola, which has the most beautiful water in the Med."

The Lowdown

Ponza, 20 miles long and three miles wide, is the largest of six islands in the Pontine archipelago, 23 miles off the coast of Lazio. Doubles at the Grande Hotel Santa Domitilla (00 39 0771 809 951; santadomitilla.com) start at €115 with breakfast. Doubles at the Hotel Bellavista (00 39 0771 800 36; hotelbellavistaponza.it) start at €90 with breakfast. The Hotel Mari (00 39 0771 801 01; hotelmari.com) has doubles from €90. Acqua Pazza is on Piazza C Pisacane (00 39 0771 806 43; acquapazza.com), A Casa di Assunta is on Via Aversano (00 39 0771 820 086) and Il Tramonto is on Via Campo Inglese – Le Forna (00 39 0771 808 563). For more detail, see ponza.it.

The easiest way to get to Ponza is by hydrofoil from Anzio or Formia, operated by Vetor Aliscafi ( vetor.it); single fares €36. Medmar ( medmargroup.it) runs a seasonal ferry service from 14 June from Fiumicino airport and Formia.

 

BERLIN >>> RUGEN

Angelika Taschen, founder of Angelika Books ( angelikabooks.com)

"I've just returned from the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea and the bathing resort of Binz. It is full of 19th-century villas built in a style known as resort architecture. During the Nazi era, the gigantic "Strength Through Joy" resort was built in Prora next to Binz, planned as Europe's largest seaside resort – it shows the Nazis' pathological egomania. Besides history and architecture, Rügen is remarkable for its nature. I enjoyed some exceptional hikes in the Jasmund National Park through beautiful beech forests and along cliffs."

The Lowdown

Set in the North Sea off the Mecklenburg-Pomeranian coast, Rügen is Germany's largest island with miles of fine, sandy beaches and an unspoilt interior. Binz has a pretty promenade and a beach lined with wicker chairs. Stay at the Ceres Hotel (00 49 38 393 66670; ceres-hotel.de), overlooking the promenade, where doubles start at €160, B&B. For more details see germany.travel.

Reach Rügen via Hamburg or Berlin, with an onward connection by rail ( bahn.co.uk). Fred Holidays (0808 250 7824; fredholidays.co.uk) has five-night breaks to Rügen with flights from London, rail connections and B&B, from £1,019pp.

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