So much of the travel experience involves the schedules and deadlines of airlines, trains, buses and cabs. But there’s another way to see the sights: at ground level, on foot. Here are some ways to see the European countryside, at your own pace.
The perfect view in Tuscany
Close your eyes and think of Tuscany. Do you see hillsides bathed in golden sunlight? A patchwork quilt of vineyards? Small villages, with their terra-cotta roofs, perched on distant hilltops?
The quintessential Tuscan landscape is etched in the minds of many thanks to decades’ worth of idyllic images cast on the silver screen. But there’s no substitute for lacing up your walking shoes and experiencing the scenery firsthand. A favorite route that takes less than two hours links the medieval hilltop towns of Radda in Chianti and Castello di Volpaia in central Tuscany. Starting in Radda, head west down the town’s main street, with its stone walls and valley views, and bear right onto the narrow road immediately after the sign for Castellina. Olive groves and vineyards line this leafy lane, from which a backward glance will reveal a glimpse of ocher-hued Radda. Turn off at the sign for Sassaiola and follow the path alongside the woods to emerge on the main road toward Castello di Volpaia.
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Along the final, gentle uphill stretch, stroll past gravel drives leading to ancient country estates and marvel at views of the valley where grapes and olives have been cultivated for centuries. As the road gets steeper, rows of slender cypress trees usher you to Castello di Volpaia, a medieval village where most of the structures are, naturally, devoted to wine and olive oil production. As the sun sets behind the Tuscan hills, you’ll see: It’s like the movies, only better.
In the heart of Paris, the Promenade Plantee, a 2.8-mile-long parkway, follows the abandoned Vincennes railway line; it was the inspiration for New York City’s High Line park.
Opened in 1993, it preserves the elevated line (on brick arches), tunnels and embankments. Benches and trellises have been installed. Lime, quince, cherry and holly trees, climbing roses and honeysuckle are among the plantings.
Walkers on the Promenade Plantee can peek into windows and look down at narrow streets. On the left is the steeple of the St.-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts Church. On the right is a police headquarters decorated with a dozen reproductions of Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave.” (The original sculpture sits in the Louvre.)
For much of the way, walkers reign supreme.
“The practice of jogging is tolerated to the degree that it does not annoy the walkers,” a sign tells visitors.
At the midway point, the promenade descends to the Jardin de Reuilly, an expanse of grass, trees and statues.
At the eastern end of the promenade it is a short walk to the National Center of the History of Immigration. Built in neoclassical style for the 1931 international colonial exhibition, it is now celebrated as an art deco-era masterpiece. The interior, with its original marquetry, lighting fixtures, staircases and mosaics, has been frozen in time. Bas-reliefs on the facade by Alfred Janniot celebrate the success of the French empire. It is a brilliant work of propaganda: tropical plants, animals, colonial faces and agricultural and mineral riches extracted from the colonies. France, naturally, is an allegorical figure of abundance at the center.