They admittedly sound like stupid questions, the kind of queries that demand a stupid answer. But what exactly is a city break? And does it have to be a city?
The second question is particularly stupid. Yes, of course a city trip has to include a city. It must contain a large central plaza and the elongated shadow of a cathedral tower, leaning in the afternoon light. It must accommodate museums, galleries and works of fine art. It should certainly feature leisurely lunches at side street cafes and decadent dinners at bustling restaurants – with the promise of evenings stretching out in bars buzzing with local gossip.
But beyond that, couldn’t a city break be more than the obvious – drifting away from the main attractions and a central location to broader suburbs, outskirts and the charms of the region beyond? Why not? A city break can be so much more than the city at heart, and in the case of Europe’s biggest capitals and most famous urban hotspots – those great places with well-known crowds and repeat visitors – it almost certainly should be.
The goal here is to see, if not quite to the horizon, then definitely to the ends of the metro systems and rail networks that spider-like span some of the great cities of France, Spain, Italy, and others. If you’ve been to Paris 3, 4 or 7 times – or know Rome’s heartbeat areas and your own zip code – then the following ideas are for you.
Six experts from Telegraph Travel turned their gaze to the outskirts of the cities they know best, picking out historic landmarks, country estates, plush vineyards and even seaside resorts. From the palatial halls of Lisbon’s satellite Sintra to the medieval walls of Barcelona’s close friend Girona and the beaches that dot the Lazio coast – temptingly close to the Eternal City – these are the optional extras, all within an easy day trip and complementing each other will add an extra treat to a long weekend in a popular destination.
In addition, autumn is the ideal time for a short break in a thriving city; a happy middle where summer’s excessive temperatures have subsided, but life is still lived outdoors, in parks and on terraces, before the mood shifts in winter. The Christmas market will remain in place for the time being. This is the season for city travelers to explore.
Barcelona is many types of breaks rolled into one: with all the art, history and street life you could need, it also has beaches and plenty of sunshine, while the forested hills that flank it are criss-crossed by quiet hiking trails that wind down to open far-reaching views. There are restaurants and hotels for every budget. However, if you want a change of scene, a cheap and efficient public transport system is here for you. The Praktik Garden (00 34 93 467 52 79; hotelpraktikgarden.com) offers double rooms from £100 a night. Check out our full Barcelona guide here.
By Sally Davies