Lille – France
Lille, France’s largest Northern city has in recent years, transformed from an industrial hub to a centre for culture and commerce. Close to the Belgian border, Lille has some strong Flemish influences that can be found in the architecture and the food: Brussels is a fast train ride away, and you get there via The Eurostar.
Next year, Lille will become WDO’s World Design Capital- the first city in France to receive the honour, and it’s not hard to see why. Lille has built on its heritage and culture to become one of France’s most modern and creative cities. Sample some of this creativity at La Piscine Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, a former municipal swimming pool, built in the Art Deco style that now houses a variety of art pieces ranging from sculptures and paintings to applied art designs such as furniture and textiles.
For those looking for culture in the form of food, Lille offers an interesting combination of French and Flemish cuisine with dishes such as carbonnades flamandes (beef slow-cooked in beer) which can be found in many of the estaminets found in Lille. An estaminet is a friendly local bar with farmhouse stylings and simple but hearty food offerings. Many can be found on Place aux Oignons– Lille’s restaurant row. Overall, Lille is relatively cheap, easy to get to and friendly, making it the perfect destination for short breaks.
Irish West Coast
If you’re after more of a touring holiday than a city break, look no further than the Ireland’s western coast. Encompassing some of Ireland’s most dramatic scenery, from the rugged Cliffs of Moher in Clare, to the twin white sand beaches of Dog’s bay and Gurteen Bay in County Galway. Fresh air and dramatic walks are the order of the day in Ireland.
Whilst the weather can be questionable during the autumn and winter, in warmer months, an excellent way of relaxing is to take a Wild Atlantic Seaweed Bath. Made from former whiskey barrels, these outdoor hot tubs are filled with warm water and seaweed to provide one of the most surprisingly relaxing experiences you’ll ever have in your life. Sit back and feel the toxins and tension leaving your body as you gaze over the Atlantic Ocean.
On the more tame side of things, Ireland offers an amazing variety of country pubs full of the classic comfy chairs and roaring log fires. No matter the time of year, Ireland will provide the kind of break that couldn’t be further from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Palermo – Italy
Sicily functions as an autonomous region off the southern coast of Italy, and Palermo is its capital city. Referred to as “The Kingdom of The Sun” by Norman invaders, it has been treasured (and invaded) by almost every dominant culture in the Mediterranean over the past 1500 years. The result is an Italian city like no other. Arabic, Greek, Roman and a host of other cultures’ influences appear in the food, the architecture and the heritage. Palermo’s food markets are unlike the kind you’d find in Venice or Naples. Narrow, winding streets full of noise, colours and smells, they could almost convince you that you were in Marrakech or Tangier.
The Sicialian dialect, influenced by surrounding cultures is different enough from Italian to be considered a separate language, and in 2018, Palermo was chosen to be Italy’s capital of culture. There is no shortage of interesting history in Palermo, and a good place to start is the Palazzo dei Normanni. This former palace of a Norman king dating back to 1072 AD perfectly sums up Palermo’s cultural melting-pot status with its mosaic biblical image-laden walls combined with Roman-style arches.
For those wanting a more chilled affair, Mondello beach is a short bus ride away. Mondello is the perfect place to witness a favourite Italian pastime of promenading- expect D&G sunglasses, golden brown tans and slightly too-small speedos. No authentic trip to Sicily would be complete without a day at the beach.