Germany’s ideal island
“Known for their obsession with the perfect beach,” German travelers may have found paradise on Usedom, said Gisela Williams in The New York Times. “Barely adrift” on the Baltic Sea, where Germany meets Poland, the island was a “legendary” summer retreat for the wealthy as far back as the 19th century. Yet only recently have chic Berliners been flocking to what’s now known as Berlin’s Bathtub. Though still more affordable than nearby Sylt Island, Usedom is fast becoming to Berlin what the Hamptons are to New York City. About 30 miles from end to end, the former East German refuge is blessed with royal history, a resurgent spa culture, and “sand so fine that it ‘sings’”: When conditions are right, rubbing together the “sugar-white grains of sand will set off a small chorus of little squeaks, like music from a tiny orchestra of invisible violins.” Enjoy the “natural symphony” in a wicker beach chair, known as a strandkörbe, before biking the 5-mile-long promenade that connects Usedom’s palatial villas and imperial spa villages.
The heart of Helsinki
The more I visit Helsinki, the more I love it, said Patti Nickell in the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader. While the city may not have the “sophistication of Paris” or the “timeless splendor of Rome,” Finland’s capital possesses its own “quiet charms.” Founded by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550, Helsinki is one of Europe’s youngest cities, and is packed with cultural gems that haven’t been overrun by tourists. Market Square, sandwiched between the Baltic Sea and a row of historic buildings, captures local color at its best. “Its heady aromas—brewing coffee, frying food, the sweetness of flowers, and the salt of the sea air”—are as tantalizing as the sights. Esplanade Park is a “leafy enclave” lined by chic boutiques and gourmet restaurants. Grab a glass of cloudberry liqueur at Kappeli and enjoy a concert in the bandstand across the way. Then head over to Temppeliaukio Kirkko, or Rock Church. “Blasted out of solid granite, the underground church is a “marvel of modern architecture” that doubles as a stunning venue for classical music performances.