The time has come to begin organizing your calendar for a 2014 European road trip. This year, Europe is all about historic anniversaries and cultural and athletic events — east to west, north to south, there seems to be a celebration in every small town and major metropolis. Here’s a rundown on five European cities not be missed in 2014:
This quiet border town in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia — a stone’s throw from Belgium and the Netherlands — was the treasured destination of Charlemagne, medieval emperor and “Father of Europe.” When Charlemagne was laid to rest here on January 28, 814, most of Western Europe was in his dominion. And ever since, Aachen has proudly honored his memory, nearly elevating him to saint status. This year marks the 1,200th anniversary of his death, which means the city has organized a year full of events in celebration of the renowned leader. From June 20 through September 21, the multi-complex Palace of Aachen will be dedicated to the culture and courtly life of Charlemagne in three large exhibitions.
Where to stay: Less than five miles west of Aachen is the Netherlands’ Hotel Kasteel Bloemendal, a gorgeous late-19th-century estate in Vaals. Book one of the themed suites (Lord, Lady, Chinese), all of which come equipped with a whirlpool and steam shower.
It should be no surprise that Zurich, a city that keeps time like no other, is the 2014 host of the European Athletics Championship. From August 12 to 17, 1,400 athletes from 50 countries will look to improve times and break records in what could be considered Europe’s track-and-field warm-up to 2016’s Summer Olympics. The warmer months are also an ideal time for chartering a sailboat on Lake Zurich, where you can spot remarkable views of the Swiss Alps.
Where to stay: The grande dame of Zurich hotels, and the one that inspired both German composer Richard Wagner’s music and Alfred Nobel’s Nobel Peace Prize, is the Baur au Lac. A glamorous, 120-room hotel with views of the lake, the majestic Baur au Lac houses two restaurants, a pair of onsite florists and a fleet of luxury cars from Rolls-Royce and Bentley for zipping around town.
From February 7 through 23, Russia’s Black Sea resort played host to the 22nd Winter Olympics. As expected, the city had an influx of athletes and sports enthusiasts during the action, both in Sochi and the mountain resort venues of Krasnaya Polyana. If you missed that excitement, pack your swimsuit and plan a post-Olympic visit — Sochi is also one of Russia’s best beach vacation spots during the summer months, with its pebble-packed sand. Whatever time of year you choose, bear in mind that U.S. passport holders will need a visa to travel to Sochi.
Where to stay: The 40-room Grand Hotel & Spa Rodina is a clever combination of Stalin’s neoclassical traditions and modern luxury — think towering arches, sparkling chandeliers and sleek furniture. The hotel boasts three restaurants, tennis courts, a 100-seat movie theater and a beach club.
Augustus, great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, is arguably Rome’s most beloved emperor. And 2014 means the Eternal City is celebrating the bimillennial anniversary of the life and death of this revered historical figure. This past October, Rome kicked off the festivities with Augustus, an exhibition dedicated to the leader, and it ran through February.
On April 21, Rome’s birthday, the city will debut Forum of Augustus: 2,000 Years Later, a video extravaganza held in the ancient Forum of Augustus archaeological site. The attraction is set to have three shows nightly (from April through September) that will include videos, 3-D reconstructions, musics and other events all set to an audio guide. Guests will be able to walk inside the site with advance purchase.
The city teems with other signs of Augustus’ legacy, too, thanks to the Theatre of Marcellus, Mausoleum of Augustus, House of Livia and Ara Pacis, among others, which are worthy of exploration. You may also want to pencil in an August visit to Rome — August 19 marks 2,000 years since the emperor’s passing.
Where to stay: With its private gardens containing palm trees, yews and white roses, onsite personal trainers and a Turkish bath at its spa, there’s no doubt that Hotel de Russie should be a go-to spot when you visit Rome. Its convenient location between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo isn’t too shabby, either.
Where were you on November 9, 1989, when history was changed? This year sees the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a peaceful revolution that led to Germany’s reunification, altering yet again the global landscape. Berlin will host several cultural events throughout the year, but the weekend of November 9 would be an excellent choice for a visit, as 7.5 miles of the inner-city border will be illuminated with white balloons to form a new, temporary wall.
Where to stay: The historic Hotel Adlon Kempinski is perfectly poised next to the iconic Brandenburg Gate, and it’s one of the city’s very best. Elegant rooms outfitted with marble bathrooms and cityscape views prove luxurious, and a meal at the award-winning Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer restaurant isn’t to be missed.
Photos Courtesy of iStock-Nikada and iStock-SergeyBorisov