Southern Europe is a region of astounding historical significance and breathtaking natural beauty. The crystal-blue seas drift upon rolling, terraced shorelines that provide foundation to some of the world’s oldest and most important locales and a homeland to many of history’s most influential people both real and mythological.
Below are some of the regions most visited countries:
Located in southeastern Europe, Greece is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world—for good reason. It is a country with great, ancient history, one that gave birth to the concepts of democracy and philosophy, the Olympic Games and drama, namely tragedy and comedy. Visitors will get a glimpse of more than 3,500 years of history, from the Palace of Knossos and the Parthenon to the newly discovered Amphipolis Tomb. With almost 2,500 islands, sea and sun are at their best in Greece where spotless sands and clear-blue water abound. The landscape offers a picturesque variety, from whitewashed homes and blue-domed churches to neoclassical architecture and traditional authentic villages in the mountainous areas. The Greek cuisine will reward even the most demanding visitors and definitely those who appreciate simple and good quality food.
Santorini: As the southernmost of the Greek Cyclades, Santorini has to be one of the world's most dramatically beautiful islands. Its unique topography is the result of a massive volcanic eruption some 3,600 years ago, which blew the middle out of the island to create a caldera—a volcanic crater filled with deep blue water from the Mediterranean Sea.
Athens: Sights in ancient Greece, and especially Athens, take on a larger importance than in most other places in the world. You can't help but walk around the Parthenon and the rest of the Acropolis and dream about the great ones who have come before you and whose footsteps you're in.
Mykonos: Mykonos's many captivating attributes make it one of the most celebrated Greek holiday islands. Its main village is a colorful maze of narrow streets lined with white-washed houses, many with bright blue doors and shutters. As an attractive backdrop, famous windmills are lined up like toy soldiers on the hillside, vestiges of a time when wind power was used to grind grain.
Italy is a land celebrated for the arts. Among the arts that have attained their highest expression in Italy is the art of hospitality. The Italian welcome is as warm and traditional as a glass of fine wine. This comparison is apt, for travelers in ancient times gave the country its first name: Land of Wines. Italians are such good hosts because they get so much practice welcoming visitors from all over the world. Italy is one of the most popular vacation countries in Europe, all seasons being good for a visit. In summer, Italy is an international playground, with visitors from all continents mingling with vacationing Italians at the famous resorts. Spring comes early to Italy and autumn lingers—and so will the wise traveler who wants to enjoy at a more leisurely pace the art centers, the large cities and the holiday resorts such as those in the Lombardian lake region where spring and fall are ideal seasons. From the sunny southern slopes of the Alps to the lush orange groves of Sicilia, Italy offers enormous variety in its natural scenery and historical backgrounds. Because a good part of Italy grew up as a collection of independent city-states, customs and food vary greatly from region to region. This rich history is preserved in the colorful folklore festivals that take place in all of Italy's regions throughout the year.
Rome: Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one of the great centers of the ancient world. Known as "The Eternal City," Rome is a supreme palimpsest. The ruins of pagan temples have become the foundations of Christian churches, ancient theaters have been made into medieval family fortresses and Corinthian columns support new walls.
Venice: With a great historic past and incomparable art treasures, Venice is renowned as one of the world’s great cities. Its 118 islands are separated by more than 150 canals and spanned by 400 bridges. During Venice's artistic golden age many magnificent structures were erected to create world-famous masterpieces. One of the best sightseeing routes is along Grand Canal, with many palaces lining the famous waterway. St. Mark’s Square offers access to some of Venice’s most famed attractionsSt. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace.
Naples: Naples is located in the beautiful Campania region, and many visitors use the city as a base to explore the surrounding areas, particularly Mount Vesuvius, the amazingly preserved cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri.
Sicily: Sicily is a mountainous island dotted with lemon, orange, almond and pistachio orchards—an extension of the Apennine Mountains separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina. La Sicilia is the largest island in the central Mediterranean. Sicily is more than temples, castles, churches and beaches; it's people, too. The real Sicilians are the heart and soul of the place called Sicily, and they're worth getting to know. Venture off the tourist path to places like Capo d'Orlando or Caltavuturo.
France has long been synonymous with romance, culture, and all things epicurean for as long as one can remember. In southern France are the Basque region and the Pyrenees, which lie along the border with Spain; Languedoc-Roussillon and the Riviera (also called the Cote d'Azur), which includes much of the Mediterranean coast; and Provence, which stretches inland from a small part of the Mediterranean coast.
Nice: Graced with an average of 2,640 hours of sunshine per year, Nice, France, proudly wears the colors of Chagall and Matisse—its Mediterranean bay is azure blue, its tiled roofs are red, its houses ocher and yellow and its gardens emerald green. Nice is full of an extraordinary artistic and cultural heritage. The Côte d'Azur has inspired, from time immemorial, the greatest painters, writers and musicians.
Provence: The heart of Provence is in the hills that bind the sea to the alps. These are the sloping vineyards; the cultivated lands and the colorful scenery that charmed Cezanne (Aix en Provence), Van Gogh (Arles), Chagall or Giono. In Provence or the Midi the local people have a soft singing accent which evokes their whole relaxed lifestyle.
Cannes: Cannes has a museum and many pretty galleries. The harbor, the bay, the hill west of the port called Le Suquet, the beachside promenade, the beaches and the people tanning themselves provide natural beauty.
In Spain's cities, narrow twisting old streets open to views of daring modern architecture, while bars serving wine from the barrel rub shoulders with blaring, glaring discos. Travel is easy, the people are relaxed, the beaches are long and sandy, and the food easy to come by and full of regional variety. Geographically, Spain's diversity is immense. There are endless tracts of wild and crinkled sierra to explore, as well as some spectacularly rugged stretches of coast between the beaches. The country has superb old buildings, from Roman aqueducts and Islamic palaces to Gothic cathedrals. Almost every second village has a medieval castle. Spain has been the home of some of the world's great artists - El Greco, Dalí, Picasso - and has museums and galleries to match. The country vibrates with music of every kind - from the drama of flamenco to the melancholy lyricism of the Celtic music and gaitas (bagpipes) of the northwest.
Barcelona: Barcelona is a Mediterranean metropolis that has it all. With its institutions like the opera, the works of world-famous painters and its elegant streetscapes, the city throbs with cultural cachet.
Mallorca: Mallorca is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful Spanish islands with the best social atmosphere in the Mediterranean. Mallorca has more than 70 beaches offering a myriad of watersports, beach bars, restaurants and shops. The island also boasts a number of beautiful gardens and fountains including La Granja Gardens and Jardines de Alfabia, which feature Moorish architecture in the middle of citrus groves.
Valencia: Valencia is one of the biggest, liveliest cities in Spain. It is located at the Mediterranean sea with beaches right in its heart that offer every kind of sports. With its active nightlife and various cultural offerings, Valencia is one of the most dynamic cities in Spain. Try Spain's most famous food right where it was born: "Paella Valenciana." The cultivated fields around Valencia stand among the richest farming regions in the Mediterranean.
Like many other countries of Western Europe, Croatia too developed in an area that once made up part of the Roman Empire. In the maelstrom of the great migrations of peoples that took place Europe-wide after the fall of Rome, the Croat tribes took over this area. The Croats established their own princedom as early as the 7th century and founded an independent state in the 9th century. In the 10th century the Kingdom of the Croats came into being, ruled by the national kings. From the time of the conversion to Christianity, which was completed in the 9th century, the Croats became a part of Western Christendom and of the society of Western Europe.
Dubrovnik: Classed as a world heritage treasure by UNESCO, Dubrovnik is a place of ancient streets lined with stone palaces, Venetian-style buildings and bell towers. The city is enclosed by stone walls and the highlight is a leisurely walk atop these massive walls for a great view of the city and the sea. Entering Dubrovnik, you are greeted by an impressive pedestrian promenade, the Placa, which extends before you all the way to the clock tower at the other end of town.
Zadar: Zadar is the ancient capital of Dalmatia and the oldest town on the Adriatic. It is a town on the seaside with many of its promenadors on the shore have a feeling they are on board the starboards of which are being laved by the waves carried by the warm zephyrus. All the maritime and land ways led to this harbour and on their crossings the ancient marketplace was made, which became the origin of the Town, the very springwell of its life. The town was under Italian rule for centuries and still retains some of this influence with many of the Italian-speaking old-timers in the town market.
Split: Split, the largest Croatian city on the Adriatic coast, is the heart of Dalmatia. The old town is built around the harbor on the south side of a high peninsula sheltered from the open sea by many islands. Since 1945 Split has grown into a major industrial city with large apartment-block housing areas. Much of old Split remains, however, and this combined with its exuberant nature makes it one of the most fascinating cities in Europe.
The landscape of Greece is surprisingly varied, ranging from the cool, wet mountain regions of the northwest and the coastal hills of the Peloponnese, to the plains of Macedonia and the sun-drenched, rocky islands that lie in three different seas off the coast.
Italy resembles a boot about to kick the Sicilian "football," with the island of Sardinia already in the air. One of the most densely populated countries in Europe, Italy is characterized by rugged, mountainous terrain and thousands of miles/kilometers of coastline.
In southern France are the Basque region and the Pyrenees, which lie along the border with Spain; Languedoc-Roussillon and the Riviera (also called the Cote d'Azur), which includes much of the Mediterranean coast; and Provence, which stretches inland from a small part of the Mediterranean coast.
Croatia borders Slovenia, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina and is close to Austria and Italy. In the interior of the country are mountains dotted with vineyards, castles, lakes and waterfalls. Zagreb, the capital, is situated in the north-central part of the country. The rugged Dalmatia coast is simply spectacular, with towering mountains forming a backdrop for the long, narrow strip of land and rock that is washed by the clear waters of the Adriatic.
Spain is Europe's second-most mountainous country (only Switzerland has a higher terrain), and the climate varies dramatically according to altitude as well as latitude. In the province of Granada, it is possible to ski in the mountains and lounge on a beach, both in the same day. Besides the mainland peninsula, Spanish possessions include the Mediterranean Balearic Islands, the Canary Archipelago and the Moroccan coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.