The Most Dazzling 2 Weeks in Europe
30,000 feet somewhere above the ocean, my mind was wandering. I imagined stepping down cobbled streets, navigating a maze of alleyways to find quaint cafes and boutiques. I thought about uncovering the history of some of the world’s most famous cities, and perhaps stealing some style secrets from effortlessly chic Parisians.
I was on my way to Europe, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Two dazzling weeks exploring western Europe beckoned, and with a well-packed suitcase and plenty of enthusiasm, I was ready.
The plane touched down in Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport and my gateway to the continent. As desperate as I was to begin exploring, twenty-plus hours in transit had me falling asleep at immigration, so it was into a taxi (a black cab, of course) and off to my hotel in Notting Hill.
I’d picked Notting Hill not just for my love of the 1999 film – although there’s that – but due to the area’s picture-perfect good looks. Rows upon rows of tall, pastel houses looked like a dolls’ houses come to life, while the most charming cafes I’d ever seen beckoned me in for a cream tea.
Of course, you can’t visit London without crossing off the big-ticket items - so day two was all about fitting in as many of the city’s most iconic sites as possible. Luckily, I’d opted to bring my VENN Vitamin B Activated All-In-One Concentrate, which had seen my skincare routine go from a complicated, multi-step process to a two-minute treat morning and night. Plus, gone were the days of digging through my bag to try to find the various products needed to keep my skin in check. This one sleek product had made my travel skincare routine literally a breeze.
In less time than it took to make a coffee, my skin was toned, moisturized and glowing – with hardly any sightseeing time lost at all. I was ready for a big day checking off as many bucket-list items as I could.
The London Eye, British Museum and Kew Gardens were all on my shortlist, and despite the queues lived up to all my expectations. Then, after stopping for an obligatory selfie with the Tower Bridge in the background, I wandered past Big Ben and then on to Buckingham Palace.
I was on high alert to spot a royal, but alas it was not to be – not even a corgi in sight.
After some more time exploring the landmarks of London, I decided it was time for dinner. London, I’d learned, is made up of many distinct neighborhoods (or "boroughs"), and choosing one to visit can be a challenge. Eventually, I settled on oh-so-cool Soho. Formerly known for its debauchery, things are a tad calmer now, although the plethora of neon lighting keeps things quirky.
Another benefit of Soho is its close proximity to the West End, London’s answer to Broadway. After catching a magical performance of the Lion King, it seemed only fitting to finish off the evening with a few cocktails. Soho, of course, delivered, and the rock ‘n’ roll inspired bar Karma Sanctum Soho Hotel was quite the place to raise a glass to London town.
Paris (ft. Mont St. Michel)
Slightly fuzzy-headed after the indulgent cocktails of the previous night, I set off for the Eurostar for the journey to bonne Paris (that’s Par-ee, for the uninitiated!).
They say there is a phenomenon of people being terribly disappointed by Paris; if it exists, I haven’t felt it. The city’s most famous sights - the Louvre, complete with the moody eyes of the Mona Lisa, the Champs-Élysées with its designer boutiques and, of course, the Eiffel Tower – are just as magic in real life as they are in photographs.
However, it is perhaps the other side of Paris that I love even more. Down a hidden alleyway in Montmartre, a local friend took me to a cabaret show. Despite being mostly in French, I was totally transfixed - both by the performance and the amazing cheese platter before me. Accompanied by champagne, of course.
Even further out, the neighborhood of ‘Bercy’ is a hidden gem, that feels a world away from touristic central Paris. Quirky boulangeries abound, while my personal favorite was the Promenade Plantée, a long, flower-filled garden walk over a historic aqueduct and along an abandoned train line.
Trust the Parisians to take an eyesore and turn it into something so utterly magical.
I also dropped by a local flea market and rummaged through the vintage clothing to find some real gems. Inspired to replicate the effortlessly chic Parisian style – think off-duty supermodel – I forewent the heavy makeup. Although I’ve typically been a fan of the full-coverage glam, my VENN Vitamin B Activated All-In-One Concentrate had my skin looking bright and radiant, so this was the perfect opportunity to show it off.
Adding just a hint of mascara, bronzer and lip gloss, I was feeling very Parisian. I even stumped up the courage to utter a few words of well-rehearsed French… although they were soon met with English replies. At least I tried.
After several days soaking up the city’s beauty, it was time to escape the city for a day trip to Mont St Michel.
I’ve been enchanted by the idea of visiting Mont St Michel since a picture of it popped up on my Instagram feed several years ago. Something about the fortified island, with its imposing, Gothic abbey atop, was completely enchanting – and worth the four-hour train ride to get there.
Walking across the Causeway towards the awe-inspiring sight was definitely an unforgettable experience. Things only got better as the pathway narrowed, and I found myself wandering up the spiraling walkway to the top of the abbey. It’s rarely so enjoyable to climb stairs, but the atmosphere was enchanting and the view from the top was spectacular.
South of France
Having ticked off two of the world’s great cities in the space of a week, I’d decided it was time to escape the hustle and bustle and soak in some countryside. Luckily, it’s not hard to reach and I hopped on the train bound for Aix-en-Provence.
The region is known for several things, perhaps most famously wine, followed by thousands of flowers and little villages that are pinch-yourself delightful.
I’d picked up a car and spent a magical three days exploring the region. Just driving through the rolling hills was brilliant, but I had to admit the wine tasting was a particular favorite. Indulging in a selection of amazing fromage while wine-tasting at the incredibly charming Château Vignelaure will not be an easy experience to beat.
My final stop in France was on the coast, as I dropped down to Marseille to spend a relaxing day at the beach.
A beach day was the perfect break before I arrived in frenetic, bustling Barcelona. There are some cities that you slowly warm to… Barcelona is not one of those cities. It is full-on from the get-go, grabbing you by the hand and pulling you in. I was utterly obsessed.
While other cities have beauties like the Louvre and the Tower Bridge, Barcelona has La Sagrada Familia. A bizarre, perpetually under-construction, surreal church that was the life’s work of master architect Antoni Gaudi. I was captivated by it, along with the experiences of navigating my way through Las Ramblas.
Barcelona is, first and foremost, foodie heaven. Everything from tapas picked up from Mercado de la Boqueria, to that served in high-end restaurants, is truly phenomenal. My biggest problem was knowing when to stop; enough tapas for a family was frequently ordered, and I was happy to have it all to myself.
Luckily, there is the perfect solution for working off any overindulgence in tapas – dancing! No one in the world seems to party like Barcelona, taking an excuse to throw a fiesta and pulse music through the air until the sun rises the next morning. I was happy to join in, and even happier once I’d managed to learn a few steps of the salsa.
Undoubtedly, Barcelona is a city that beats to the sound of its own drum – and a loud and fantastic drum it is. Although slightly exhausting, it really was some of the best nights of my life.
Madrid (ft. Pedraza)
After a manic few days in Barcelona, I wondered how Madrid would compare. Stepping out of the train, the atmosphere was immediately different – as Spain’s capital, Madrid is larger than Barcelona, yet it seemed a tad calmer. At least until the sun went down, and the city again erupted with zest for life.
Despite my love for Spain’s seemingly never-ending vibrancy, I have to admit I was pretty relieved to find a huge green space in the form of El Retiro. This huge park was a true oasis from the bustling city, with huge swathes of lawns. There was even a large lake in the center, surrounded by chairs under umbrellas. I ordered a jug of sangria and settled in for the long haul – bliss!
Once again I found myself yearning for a bit of open space, and luckily an old friend who I’d planned to meet up with was happy to oblige. Once we’d negotiated the unbelievable traffic of Madrid it was onto the open roads, winding through the sunburnt hills.
I loved the tiny villages, including the hilltop village of Pedraza. The Medieval walled village was like an open-air museum, completely free of cars or other hints of modern-day life. Although I’m a city girl first and foremost, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the quaint and simple life on offer.
After my day exploring the countryside, it was back to Madrid for my final night in Europe. It seemed only right to send off my dazzling two weeks with one more night showing off my salsa steps – and enjoying some tapas and vino tinto. As reluctant as I was for the two weeks to draw to a close, it certainly did seem like a fitting send off.