The great European capitals are places where, given their size and history, you can find the best in the country in terms of tourist attractions: there are all sorts of monuments, the greatest museums (often considered national), the best-known restaurants and clubs, attractions of every sort. At the same time, they present the disadvantages of high prices and often constant large crowds. That is why we felt it was a good idea to tell you about five cities which are not really capitals, but which can bring us joy with lots of beautiful things, starting with their attention to culture and art.
Parma, the “little capital” (Italy)
It is a city of a multitude of resources, capable of astonishing you thanks to the treasures hidden within its walls. Many people choose Parma for its cuisine, others for its artistic beauties, some for the music of Verdi, and yet others because it is bike-friendly. The fact remains that the”petite capitale” as it was designated by Marie-Louise of Hapsburg, the archduchess and wife of Napoleon who governed it in 1816, is still affected by its past.
Parma shows off the traces of its most famous personalities and takes pride in the products from the land around it, such as cold cuts and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, which it protects and defends as if it were a true treasure. The piazza which plays host to the Cathedral and the Baptistry in the centre of the city is a little treasure trove. Five minutes away is the Farnese theatre, already a theatre at the time of the Dukes of Parma and Piacenza, which forms part of the architectural complex which includes the Pilotta Palace, the Palatine Library, the National Gallery and the Art Gallery.
You must not miss a visit to the Doge’s Palace: once you have crossed its park, twenty hectares of greenery and over three km of tree-lined paths, you reach the Regio Theatre. In order to discover the best of Parma’s cuisine, made up of superlative products and which recalls, without fully embodying it, the tradition of the Emilia region, there is nothing better than stopping off at the Ai Due Platani restaurant which is located in Coloreto, a quarter of an hour from the centre.
The charming appeal of the old and the new in Lyon (France)
Art, monuments, gastronomy: ever since, in 1998, UNESCO declared the districts of the Fourviere, Vieux Lyon, Croix Rousse and Presqu’ile as World Heritage Sites, Lyon’s touristic appeal has continued to grow and today it is one of France’s most attractive locations. It is delightful to stroll around inside the historical city centre, through the narrow streets, little squares, ancient palaces, the many churches and the ”Traboules”, the highly distinctive secret passageways. The heart of the city remains the Place Des Terreaux with its Town Hall and the Saint Jean Cathedral.
There are a large number of museums, with three in pole position: the Musee des Beaux Arts where many works of Italian artists are kept, the unusual Musee des Confluences and the Musee de l’Art Contemporain. Lyon also has two unusual hills: Fourvière, designated by its residents as “the hill at prayer” which is the spiritual centre of the city, and Croix-Rousse which is called the “hill at work” because that is where you used to find the majority of the silk works and artisanal workshops.
Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and what is on offer there can satisfy all palates: you can take a seat in one of the starred restaurants there or stop off at one of the thousand or so “ bouchons”, those simple and spartan bistros which sprang up in the 19th Century when women started to set up on their own, by opening restaurants. Amongst this wide variety of offerings, we like M Restaurant, in avenue Foch, No. 47, specialising in “market cuisine” with a tantalising menu that changes every day.
Bilbao, pintxos and modern art (Spain)
The capital of the Biscay region and major centre of the Basque Country is a city full of charm and pleasant surprises. Ancient traditions, elegant cafés, Baroque-, Neoclassical- and Art-Nouveau-style buildings live harmoniously together with structures of a modern and spectacular design and avant-garde locations, above all the Guggenheim museum, the city’s symbol “par excellence”. This famous museum, which within a few years has become one of the most photographed buildings in the world, was opened in 1997 and hosts works from the collection of the same name as well as travelling exhibitions.
However, it is in the old part, with its Baroque palaces, its narrow streets and its bistros, that the little Basque town best expresses its most authentic soul. In this district, which is always extremely vibrant, you can find the Basque archaeological, ethnological and historical Museum, the San Nicolás church and the Santiago cathedral. One historic meeting place is Plaza Nueva with its Settes Calles streets: here can be found fascinating hidden corners, the most wonderful piazzas, little shops and boutiques.
Nobody can say they have really lived in Bilbao, unless they have tasted the ”pintxos”, little nibbles which are often a miniature version of an extremely high-quality cuisine. As is demonstrated by the concentration of starred restaurants in the area, Basque cuisine, both in its traditional and its creative versions, is amongst the best in the world. Coming back to the pintxos, a restaurant of the highest order remains the Inma, in Plaza Nueva.
The avant-garde city of Munich (Germany)
The capital of Bavaria is an avant-garde city from so many perspectives, animated yet also rich in traditions and which still likes to relax under the ancient chestnut trees of the Beer Gardens, those large open-air green spaces. For the Germans (and not just them), Munich is synonymous with lifestyle, with trendiness. A place dedicated to sport – the magnificent installations for the 1972 Olympics are still there – and to culture, from Gothic sculptures to pop art.
A true cultural paradise with 56 theatres and 41 museums, some of which are so vast that you could spend the whole day just going round one of them. The Deutsches Museum, for example, remains the greatest museum dedicated to science and technology, ever built anywhere in the world. Other gems are the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek and the Pinokothek der Moderne.
The heart of the city is the Marienplatz , one of the most beautiful piazzas in the whole of Germany, where you can breathe in the typical atmosphere of a metropolis, where every building has a major historical significance. One unforgettable experience for discovering Bavarian traditions is to take a seat at the ’Hofbräuhaus, in the heart of the historical centre. Built originally as a brewery, it is a true temple dedicated to the national drink. Amongst the dozens of good hostelries, one worthy of a visit is the Sparkling Bistro, in Amalien Strasse No. 79 for its excellent cuisine.
Liverpool, not just the Beatles and football (Great Britain)
Certainly, football remains the main sporting pride of Liverpool (and the stadium in Anfield Road is amazing) in the same way that everything relating to the Beatles is preserved with the utmost attention (from the Cavern Club to the houses where the Fab Four grew up). But this city on the right bank of the Mersey is lively and full of things to do and see.
It boasts the largest concentration of museums in the United Kingdom outside London, many of which offer free entry. The network of National Museums Liverpool comprises seven institutions, including the International Slavery Museum (unique of its kind in the world), the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the World Museum and the Museum of Liverpool (which also owns a beautiful watercolour with fishes from around the whole world).
You must visit the two extraordinary cathedrals: the gigantic and Neo-Gothic Cathedral Church of Christ, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and the futuristic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King with its curious circular shape.
Liverpool is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a Mercantile Marine City: the historic Albert Dock and the other waterfront areas have been refurbished and transformed into wide open spaces open to the public. You can admire the whole city from the 34th floor of the West Tower, in Brook Street, whilst enjoying modern English cuisine dishes at the Panoramic 34 restaurant.