Ιntroduced in 1985 with the noble aim of bringing our continent closer together, the European Capital of Culture scheme offered few early surprises.
Valletta, a star in the Mediterranean
Valletta’s panoramic view at sunset harbor front
Valletta, perched at the tip of a peninsula between two harbors on the island of Malta, has a unique concentration of art and history, all awash in light from a sunny climate and reflections off the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. This collection of crenellated fortress walls, ancient, narrow streets and dazzling sea views was founded by and named after Jean Parisot de Vallette, the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, in the 16th century. Its dramatic history, full of intrigue, fuels the imagination.
Visiting the Valletta is best by foot, so as not to miss the myriad architectural remnants from the Crusader and Baroque eras. Carved niches, fountains, and parapets with different coats of arms will keep your eyes busy to take it all in! St. John’s cathedral is a must-see for its elaborate decoration and famous pieces by Caravaggio and Mattia Preti. Be sure not to miss the green side of Valletta at the Upper and Lower Barrakka and Hastings Gardens. Another way to enjoy this seaside capital is to take a cruise, for a view of the city as its many visitors and invaders have seen it, coming across the sea.
Valletta is easy to reach by flight or as part of a cruise itinerary and offers a fantastic experience of palpable European history and a vibrant modern culture of art and festivals.
Friesland, land of unexpected treasures
Kleindiep canal in historic old town of Dokkum, Friesland
Where can you walk on the North Sea tidal plains, visit the birthplaces of M.C. Escher and Mata Hari, 600 monuments in one town, and eleven brand new fountains? In Friesland, the province on the northwest coast of the Netherlands by the North Sea. This region is bursting with natural and cultural treasures yet is often under the radar of everyday tourism.
Starting with natural attractions, the Wadden Sea takes top billing. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is Europe’s largest tidal wetland, teeming with migratory birds, unique plants, and sea mammals. Beautiful pastoral and forested landscapes give the impression of traveling through a classical painting; bogs and heath provide other fantastic cycling and hiking. A famous native you might want to meet is the Friesian Pony, one of Europe’s oldest breeds.
The provincial capital is Leeuwarden, a lively university town laced with canals, offers something for every interest: visit the zoo, the Museum of Friesland, where you can learn about local customs and language, and an active café life where you can recharge your batteries and discuss the discoveries of the day. During its year as Capital of Culture, the province is hosting a range of festivals, art installations and events throughout the region around the topics of sustainability, identity, integration and community. Discover the unexpected in Friesland!