By Lizann Lightfoot
Ahhh, Europe in spring. . . Is there any better place to be? If you are an American stationed in Europe during this time of year, you are truly living a dream. (Be sure to look for USO centers in each city for the best military discounts and insider tips.) Take advantage of these great locations for a vacation you will always remember!
Rome during Holy Week: Even if you aren’t Catholic, the week before Easter is an exciting time to be in Rome. Christians from around the world gather at Vatican City (in the center of Rome) for special events. The Pope makes public appearances and presides over evening Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum. Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica–the largest church in the world–are so crowded they issue tickets. The tickets are free, but must be acquired in advance. If you are not interested in religious events, there are literally thousands of years of history to explore and discover. Soak up all the art, architecture, and sunshine you can. Enjoy the flowers blooming at the Spanish Steps. Then cool off with gelato. Perfection.
Spring Feria festivals: In Southern Spain, every town hosts a spring fair, called feria, for one week. The whole town shuts down and parties day and night with music, dancing, carnival rides, good food, and outdoor parties. There are parades and horse shows. Most people dress up to attend feria. Women wear traditional ruffled dresses with lots of polka dots, which are perfect for dancing the sevillanas dance. Young girls wear matching dresses with large flowers and combs in their hair. Even the horses are dressed in elaborate braids, ribbons, and flowers. The larger the town, the larger the festival. Sometimes it coincides with a patio competition, where the public is invited to visit private gardens and vote for their favorite. The gardens on display include gorgeous flowers blooming on every wall, fountains, free snacks and sherry, and sometimes music. More information about culture and traveling in Southern Spain can be found in my book, Welcome to Rota.
Paris: Hemingway raved about Paris in springtime–for good reason. The City of Lights becomes truly magical then. The chestnut trees bloom and shade the boulevards, the Eiffel Tower sparkles, and the air is warm enough for a boat tour on the Seine. When I lived in Paris, I spent springtime walking through the city, visiting art museums, relaxing in public gardens like the Jardin du Luxembourg, and munching on fresh bread and cheese.
The Countryside: If you want to plan a day trip away from the city, popular sites include the palace of Versailles, river chateaus like Fontainbleau, the Normandy beaches to the North, or Belleau Woods (a famous World War I battlefield) to the East. You can also take a short train ride to Monet’s gardens at Giverny, which are preserved to look just like a colorful impressionist masterpiece. Finally, Disneyland Paris can be a fun location for the whole family.
Easter Markets: German festivals are world-famous. Their Easter markets are no exception. Every spring, towns throughout the country set up public events including craft vendors, food stalls, and egg artists. The markets, called Ostermarkts, are street festivals the whole family can enjoy. You can snack on bratwurst, pretzels, and beer while watching some truly impressive craftsmen paint eggs, make pottery, or carve wooden works of art. To see which Ostermarkts are the best, learn more here. Military families will get the best discounts staying at military installations or at the military-friendly resort Eidelweiss.
Keukenhoff Garden: Every spring, the country of the Netherlands becomes a colorful carpet of blossoms. One of their largest exports is tulips and flower bulbs. A car or train ride through the country will take you past miles of colorful fields. The best display is the Keukenhoff Garden. This world-renowned flower mecca has miles of pathways that meander through trees and over rivers, past carefully tilled flower beds. The entire place blooms in March and April, which makes it a popular tourist destination. If you plan a trip there, just remember that Northern Europe is still very cold this time of year!
Beaches: If you prefer a warmer location, Europeans agree that Portugal’s beaches are the place to be. Northern European crowds begin to flock there in the spring. Even though the Atlantic Ocean is still very cold, the sunny beaches and small coastal towns are warm and inviting. The Algarve region in Southern Portugal is famous for its unique rock formations, stunning cliffs, and natural caves. Take a boat tour along the coast to get the most of this beautiful region.
Sound of Music Tour: In spring around Salzburg, the hills are alive… with the sound of music. Okay, maybe it’s the sound of tourists who come to see the gorgeous city, which hasn’t changed much since the movie was filmed there in 1965. You can visit the Hellbrunn Palace, the iconic fountains, the 16-going-on-17 gazebo, the convent, and the nearby Lake District. Spring is also the best time to do some alpine hiking in the nearby mountains, but it will still be fairly cold until mid-summer.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at [email protected]