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CENTRAL & EASTERN EUROPE and SWEDEN


Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm Flower seller, Riga Lake Bled, Slovenia


The essential Stockholm Few other cities bask in such a privileged setting as Stockholm, sprawling across Lake Malaren's cluster of craggy granite islands.

When June gives way to July, Stockholm becomes a Sydney of the North. Twenty-plus hours of daylight allows a lot of time for soaking up the sun, socialising down at the sailing club, or darting across the glittering blue waters on a jetski, a cabin cruiser or even a classic sailboat. Visitors can join in the fun by hopping aboard the commuter ferries and excursion steamers.


In search of Sisi. Another Diana... a century earlier

Exploring the life and times of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sisi to her family) in many ways a 19th-century Diana. Young, pretty and adored by all, she married her handsome prince far too soon. The princess was soon estranged from a much older husband and sought every opportunity to slip away from the stifling formality of the court.

Why Slovenia? Within a day or two, the question became, rather, "why didn't I know about this place before?"

Half of Slovenia is clothed in forest, and snow-streaked alpine peaks loom up within easy reach of urban areas. The climate offers everything you'd expect in the heart of Europe: four seasons, each quintessentially European, from balmy summer days to alpine snowdrift. The Slovenes are fresh-air fiends who relish canoeing, kayaking, climbing and skiing, each in its season. What's more, Slovenia's compact towns and cities retain their original charm yet feel very much in touch with the rest of 21st-century Europe.

Bulgaria: One of Europe's least-known countries is one of the most scenic and hospitable.

My heart almost stopped when the western face of Mount Vihren dropped into a void below. As the track zigzagged steeply down the exposed rockface I clung fearfully to the boulders, acutely conscious of my inadequate footwear. Far below, the grassy slopes had been 'improved' with messages spelt out in stones: Vladimir loves Olga. Must concentrate on the sharp stones underfoot... we were picking our way down off the 2,914 metre Mount Vihren in Bulgaria's south-west, a whisker short of the highest point in the Balkans.

Some find easier ways to enjoy the Bulgarian summer - like people-watching at open-air cafes in fine old cities like Plovdiv or Sofia. Summertime in Bulgaria is a young woman with long flowing hair and dancing eyes, flaunting everything she's got. She chain-smokes too; let the devil take tomorrow. Summertime in Bulgaria is also a weatherbeaten elder in faded floral prints and headscarf, doubled up in the cornfield.


Latvia is so compact you can base yourself in Riga, the most cosmopolitan city in the Baltic region. Riga between the wars was a listening post on Russia's doorstep. More than half the population remains ethnic Russian, their numbers a potent reminder of the recent past.

Midsummer madness... Post-Soviet Union, the good life is much in evidence in a region where the sun sets some time around ten in midsummer.  For a few short months, the bodies beautiful are out in force on the beaches at Jurmala on the Gulf of Riga, or at Palanga or the Curonian Spit. There's a delightfully European feel about it all:  the beachgoers spilling onto station platforms; people snacking on smoked herring; the old-world flavour of resorts once the preserve of Red Army families.

Lands of the Lingering Sun The Baltic countries have rejoined the West after the long dark night of Soviet occupation. Our perceptions are still catching up.

Riga's Riches: This richly rewarding city is a treasure-house of Germanic architecture, from medieval Gothic to Jugendstil (Art Deco).


The people of Lithuania were the last pagan Europeans to succumb to the Sword and the Cross wielded by crusading Teutonic Knights, yet the Lithuanians now share a staunchly Catholic heritage with their Polish neighbours - yet not with Latvians, their Baltic brethren to the north.

Vilnius is the capital of a little-known land of Baltic beaches and mystic forests... the Prague of northern Europe, a city of baroque churches, a skyline crowded with spires, domes and the distinctive iron crosses of Lithuanian tradition.

Marx to Mushrooms Viliaumas Malinauskas, Lithuania's mushroom millionaire, gathered up his country's unwanted Soviet-era monuments glorifying Lenin, Marx and friends and put them on display in his Soviet Sculpture Museum in the forests of southern Lithuania.


Review or order any of the above stories by contacting Philip Game

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