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Escape the Euros

For a football-free break, look no further than these six destinations, selected because they either have no team in the tournament, possess a mouth-watering mix of distractions, or are simply more off the beaten track than your average footie fan is prepared to venture during Euro 2016.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Yes, the Netherlands did not qualify. So Amsterdam, that art-drenched city of elegant canals, ‘dancing’ (leaning) houses, pungent-smelling cheese shops and jam-packed cycle parks, is yours for the taking by bike, boat or on foot. Go during the huge international Holland performing arts festival (June 4-26) and visit the 11,000-seat Theatre Amsterdam to see ANNE, the dramatised story of Anne Frank.

You are duty-bound to take in at least one art museum – try the Rijksmuseum (old masters), Stedelijk (modern) or Van Gogh (have a guess). And don't miss strolling round the quiet cobbled streets lining canal backwaters or wandering round the vibrant flower market, raw herring street food stands, or the outlying picturesque fishing villages of Waterland. It’s about as far away from a stadium of football chants as you can get.

 

Faro, Portugal

Faro is in the heart of Algarve country but largely untouched by mass tourism. As regional capital?, it's the real Portugal, flanked by unspoilt island beaches and clean, shallow, blue lagoons within the nearby magnificent Ria Formosa Natural Park. For the pick of the beaches, hop on a ferry for a few minutes to the Ilha da Culatra, one of three local sand-bar islands.

Back in town, thread your way through Faro’s ancient quarter, surrounded by 13th-century walls and criss-crossed with narrow cobbled alleyways. If you’ve got a fairly strong constitution, stop by the Chapel of Bones, which uses the skulls of more than 1,000 monks exhumed from Faro’s graves to decorate its walls.

Faro has sound transport links with the rest of the Algarve but do spend an evening or two in Faro itself. Come sundown, it transforms into a vibrant nightspot, fuelled by the town’s thousands of students – no referees in sight.

 

Santorini, Greece

Take your pick of volcanoes, gorgeous sunsets and black sand beaches – Santorini has it all. In what could be the world's biggest ever bang, the island's volcano literally blew up around 1650BC. Boat trips round the vast sea lagoon hewn out by the explosion take you to the still active, lava-laden islet where it all began.

Back on the ‘mainland’, make for the cliff-top village of Oia for stunning sunset?s ?and a glass or two of some of the Med's best wines. After lazing on the white, red and black sands and pebble beaches of the south, sample the pub/club scene in Fira, the island’s capital, perched on cliff-tops high above the lagoon.

For a touch of distinctly football-free culture, check out the Santorini Jazz Festival at Kamari in July, and the island's answer to Pompei – the ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri.

 

Granada, Spain

Ringed by the dominant heights of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and gazed on by the breathtaking Moorish fortress of Alhambra, the city of Granada is just an hour from the ?coast and a world away from the chanting masses of the Euro 2016.

Be blown away by the Alhambra’s ornate decoration, mirror pools and gardens?; stroll round El Albaicín, the ancient Moorish quarter; and sample the views from Sacromonte district, centre of a former thriving cave-dwelling Roma community responsible for the region’s unique form of flamenco. 

Don’t forget a towel for the monumental midnight waterfight at nearby Lanjarón town's Festival of Water and Ham (June 23).

 

Mahon, Menorca

Menorca’s capital, Mahon, opens the door to one of the widest selections of beaches in the Med Rocky coves, protected inlets, remote strands surrounded by acres of protective dunes or long coastal strips of golden sand plus miles of coastal pathways– all on one island.

People-watch at the town’s fish market and wander through Mahon’s winding alleyways, past Georgian houses – yes, the Brits were here – and surprise piazzas in the old quarter next to one of the world’s largest natural harbours. 

Top Menoracan festivals not to be missed include the Sant Joan Festival (June 23-25) in Ciutadella (expect mocked-up battles with hazelnut shells as ammunition) and the Sant Martí Festival in Es Mercadal (July 16-17) where horses listen to traditional folk music – and dance; far more entertaining than a football match!

 

Florence, Italy

Florence hosts so much exquisite art that sensitive folk have been known to faint from a cultural overdose. Resplendent in Italy’s sun-soaked, cypress-flecked Tuscany, the city will keep you spell-bound for days.

Stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, lined with shops, street artists and sellers, sample the world-famous Uffizi art gallery full-top with works from Italy’s finest, and take in Florence's red-domed cathedral.

Travel out of Florence to tour the Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre fishing villages, and snap the obligatory selfie with Pisa’s wonky tower.? And if you or your companion really can’t face going cold turkey on the football, make a date with the Calcio Storico tournament (June 15,16, 24), an early form of football like no other; there’s no red card for head butting and elbowing in this brutal version of the Golden Game.

14/06/2016

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