Europeans have a deep fascination with architecture, and while the mountains may be great for hiking, Europe’s architectural jewels are best appreciated when you are submerged underwater. Here are the best of them, in no particular order.
Despite the fact that it was founded by Julius Caesar in 69 B.C., the Romans came around a few centuries later, and were only just as fascinated by what they found in a single brickhouse as were the early Christians. Important Christian objects such as decorative chalices and icons were left behind as early Europeans learned of the city, and today you can see part of its ancient complex — from the road leading to the Temple Mount to the city gates — on a guided tour.
The Old Church in Rome
Pilgrims arrive at the Colosseum, stepping onto a gigantic marble slab that is all but under water. It’s easy to walk along the edge to see the Roman amphitheater too, but the best souvenir is definitely a pedicure — designed by a living cast of the Roman ladies who administered them.
On a June night in 1980, the Swiss Glacier Express pulled into Arosa, a resort town in the Alps. Passengers sat in the car next to the driver, swigging wine and consuming free snacks as the car chugged downhill. When we stopped just outside Chamonix, Jean-Michel Cousteau, star of the Discovery Channel, descended the mountain by parachute.
At the top, we were shocked to find Jean-Michel on the ground again — still wearing his gear, and still staring into the abyss. He was soon joined by Hervé Vigneault, his nephew, who was using a long pole to rappel down the side of the mountain. Both men cut their way to the summit, 30- and 40-year-old men who weren’t sure if they’d ever come back to the water in their lifetimes.
Alba is the town that gives the phrase “etenic view” its name. Today, the five emerald-blue lakes behind it are just as serene and beautiful. The latest addition is the Zenyatta Taipan Waterfall, sculpted from rock and situated between two small towns.
Zuma Beach, Tunisia
Tunisia’s Zuma Beach is situated on a low hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. For those who prefer swimming to walking, you can hire a boat or kayak and explore the nearby caves or hike along a path cut through the dunes. For fun, watch the boats bobbing in the shallows.
In the past decade, France has spent a lot of money improving its canals, which feed many of its gorgeous town squares. The freshest example of this is Café Nature, located on a small promenade. The courtyard is filled with booths where you can sip cold drinks from watermelons. You can also wander the surrounding garden, which has towering cacti and artfully cut-out flowerpots.
It’s hard to believe this small town once housed 90,000 at one time. Since the turn of the century, the population has dwindled to an almost-deserted suburb. The modern train station at the town’s center is a magnet, inviting travelers to visit nearby cities like Magdeburg and Dresden.
If the idea of swimming in the ruins of ancient Egypt isn’t for you, here’s another option: Go for a dip in Roman Rome’s pool, where you can catch a glimpse of much of the city’s original architecture. Three-story terraces — echoing the work of Aristophanes, who designed the staterooms in a pyramid-like structure — flank the pool. Don’t forget to pick up a souvenir of the people who lived there.