There is Eurovision and then there are the Euro visionaries, the Europeans who set the continent entirely apart as a destination. They are the visionary hoteliers, the innovative chefs, the genius architects, the energetic entrepreneurs and, in some instances, the seemingly ordinary citizens making an extraordinary difference to their particular corner of the continent.
They are the disrupters and the taste-makers who, no matter what the economic or political state of affairs in Europe – or the attitude of a certain nearby island nation towards it – are making the way we experience it as travellers yet more memorable and fulfilling.
"Because of Europe's broad global appeal," says Lou Tandy, owner and creative director of Captain's Choice, "nowhere is at greater risk of over-tourism, which means sophisticated travellers are increasingly seeking a more personal and intimate experience."
With this in mind, Traveller, in this special issue devoted to Europe, would like to introduce you to our pick of the Euro visionaries who are subtly but steadily shaping a better Europe, for both Europeans and the millions of visitors who flock to experience it.
Along with showcasing these individuals, we've also been sure to explain how you too can experience all that they offer and, most importantly, start planning your next great European adventure.
MASSIMO BOTTURA, CHEF, ITALY
Photo: Joshua Morris
Yes, Bottura's three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana is No. 1 on the latest annual World's 50 Best Restaurants list. And yes, he attracts foodie pilgrims from around the globe by using traditional Italian ingredients in fresh new ways in cult dishes such as "oops! I dropped the lemon tart" and "the crunchy part of the lasagne". Bottura's true brilliance, however, lies in the way he has used his platform for good, founding his Food for Soul non-profit in 2016 to cut food waste and feed the disadvantaged through his refettorio (community kitchens) across Europe and the world, with one soon to open in Sydney, with OzHarvest.
Set in the Italian gastronomic centre of Modena (the home of balsamic vinegar), Osteria Francescana has a rather unassuming exterior, but inside wait three elegant dining rooms adorned with contemporary artworks and accompanied by a jazz soundtrack. Reservations are released at 10am Modena time (6pm AEST) on the first day of each month, for the third following month. See osteriafrancescana.it
PETER ZUMTHOR, ARCHITECT, SWITZERLAND
Zumthor is one of the most revered architects of our time, known for his modernist designs, sensuous use of traditional materials, including stone, wood (he started out as a carpenter) and glass, as well as attention to place. Lucky, then, that the 2009 Pritzker Prize winner creates works that focus less on theoretical ideas and more on experience. Locals and travellers alike luxuriate in his famous stone thermal baths in Vals, Switzerland, wander around his minimalist cube Kunsthaus art museum in Bregenz, Austria, and now stay in the holiday home he designed through Alain de Botton's Living Architecture program, in the Devon countryside.
Brother Klaus Field Chapel. Photo: Alamy
It's worth stepping slightly off the tourist trail to visit one of Zumthor's extraordinary chapels, including his leaf-shaped Saint Benedict Chapel in Graubünden, Switzerland or minimalist Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, with its triangular entrance in Mechernich, Germany. Famously discreet, Zumthor has no website, but you can learn more about his work at pritzkerprize.com
ANA ROŠ, CHEF, SLOVENIA
Photo: Robert Ribic
The gastronomic reputation of Slovenia – that little-known European nation tucked next to Italy – is burning bright in Europe at the moment, and that can largely be attributed to chef Ana Roš and her restaurant Hiša Franko in the lush, remote Soča Valley. There's no Michelin Guide in Slovenia, so self-taught chef Roš and her sommelier husband, Valter Kramer, will never have a star, even though Roš was voted World's Best Female Chef in 2017. Focusing on local produce, Roš' dishes are a journey through the surrounding alpine landscape – think arctic char with buttermilk or lovage ravioli with chanterelle mushrooms and house-made cheese – and are reason enough to start planning a Slovenian sojourn.
Hiša Franko is set inside the Kramer-Roš home, which also functions as a guesthouse. So once you've devoured the six- or eight-course tasting menu, you can crash out in one of 10 cosy guest rooms. See hisafranko.com
JOCELYNE SIBUET, HOTELIER, FRANCE
Photo: Frederic Duccout
Jocelyne Sibuet has been transforming the French hotel scene for decades, bringing understated luxury and originality to some of the most lusted-after properties across France through her company, Maisons et Hotels Sibuet. Since the interior designer opened Fermes de Marie, a collection of nine rescued alpine farmhouses in the French Alps, to guests 30 years ago, she has aimed to tell a story through each project. Sibuet ignores trends and instead draws design inspiration from the unique locations of each hotel, weaving in individual colours and fabrics, and antique furniture from her travels, always bringing something fresh and new to the European hotel scene. Her newest offering in Chamonix, an 1880 mountain hotel named Terminal Neige Montenvers which overlooks France's longest glacier, mixes old wood panelling and granite with contemporary pops of red.
There are 11 hotels in Sibuet's portfolio, including pretty Provençal farmhouses, cosy alpine chalets and her own handsome 18th-century home, which she now opens to guests for two months a year. Villa Marie, her 45-room property on the French Riviera, looks particularly enticing. See en.experience-sibuet.com
TORSTEIN HAGEN, CRUISE LINE FOUNDER, NORWAY
The strong design sensibility of Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen, the founder and chairman of Viking Cruises, has been a key factor in the brand's success. When Viking first started sailing around Europe in 1997, it quickly made river cruising hot again by focusing on the chic, minimalist design of the vessels, longer shore visits and culture-focused itineraries. Now, the brand is doing the same with ocean cruising. Its striking new ocean-going ships (the first launched in 2015, there are now six on the seas) are modern design classics and champions of Scandinavia and the Nordic aesthetic. Think clean, airy spaces and modern decor, featuring natural blonde wood, Eames chairs and incredible, mostly Nordic art (including works by Norwegian legend Edvard Munch).
Viking runs river cruises throughout Europe, including down the Danube, the Rhine and through France, and the ocean-going vessels travel through Scandinavia, the Baltic nations and the Mediterranean. Passengers need to be 18 years or older. See vikingcruises.com.au
MARIE-LOUISE SCIÒ, HOTELIER, ITALY
Since taking over as chief executive and creative director of her family's legendary Pellicano Hotel Group – whose portfolio includes Il Pellicano in Tuscany, La Posta Vecchia outside Rome and Il Mezzatorre in Ischia – Marie-Louise Sciò has only enhanced the fabulousness factor of the properties in which she grew up, ensuring they remain pilgrimage destinations for design-savvy travellers craving a taste of la dolce vita. Since 2016 she has also run her own consulting agency, which means she is now busy bringing that magnificent Il Pellicano touch to hotels everywhere.
Il Pelicano. Photo: Supplied
For more than 50 years, Il Pellicano has lured the rich and famous, including Charlie Chaplin, Slim Aarons and Ted Kennedy, to its terracotta villas and manicured gardens which fall dramatically down to the Tyrrhenian Sea. La Posta Vecchia, meanwhile, is an erstwhile Renaissance villa perched on the waterfront, 40 minutes outside Rome, while Mezzatorre, set on a rocky headland and surrounded by forest, offers one of Europe's best thermal spas. Take your pick. See pellicanohotels.com
NICOLA USSARDI, ACTIVIST, ITALY
In the past 15 years the number of beds offered to tourists has grown five-fold in Venice (where 25 million or so annual visitors now outnumber residents 500 to one), which has pushed rental prices up to a level many residents can't afford. Highlighting over-tourism – an issue of importance to all thinking travellers – Venetian Nicola Ussardi has created a group who occupy and renovate empty buildings to house evicted Venetians, so far helping about 150 find homes. As Ussardi said on a recent episode of ABC-TV's Foreign Correspondent, "We have to give the Venetians the possibility of living in their own city."
If you want to visit the Floating City without adding to its decline, avoid the obvious tourist spots such as San Marco, opting instead for the less-visited Cannaregio or Castello areas (see the useful Detourism Venice section on the official City of Venice website). Stay in locally owned hotels such as The Bauer (bauervenezia.com) rather than an Airbnb (there are now almost 8000 Airbnb properties in Venice's historic centre), and buy from skilled local artisans rather than cheap souvenir stalls. See veneziaunica.it
ANNE HIDALGO, POLITICIAN, FRANCE
Paris' bold socialist mayor, a prominent presence during last month's disastrous Notre Dame blaze, is on a mission to make her city a leader in environmental policy, and to improve its environment and air quality. She's trying to banish non-electric vehicles from Paris by 2030 – which sounds ambitious, until you consider she has already made Paris car-free the first Sunday of each month (she intends to make it every Sunday) and has banned older cars that generate the most pollution. Hidalgo, who is also chairwoman of C40, a network of 90 of the world's largest cities committed to tackling climate change, is also striving to create a five-square-kilometre pedestrian zone on the Right Bank, starting at the Louvre. Radical, yes, but an inspiration to all European cities fighting to clean their air.
Want to do your bit to green Paris? Hire one of the 23,600 electric Vélib bikes around the city, stay tuned for the electric SeaBubble water taxis that may soon glide along the Seine emitting zero CO2 emissions, or enjoy the greatest of Parisian pleasures and simply trot through the arrondissements on foot. See en.parisinfo.com
MUSA DAGDEVIREN, CHEF, TURKEY
Described as a "food archaeologist", Musa Dagdeviren works tirelessly to unearth forgotten Turkish dishes and revive them for his people, and now the world. His restaurant, Çiya Kebap, is set on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and described on the website as "a garden of lost cultures and forgotten tastes". It opened in 1987 and has been so popular it's now flanked by Çiya Kebap II and Çiya Sofrasi. A meal at each one is said to feel like visiting Turkey's small towns and villages, where regional dishes abandoned by the Turkish people are cooked in the original way. Dagdeviren has also founded the Çiya Foundation, where Turkey's next generation of chefs are trained in traditional folk cooking styles.
While Dagdeviren's restaurants definitely don't fit into the luxury category, with their grey tiled floors, bare wooden tables and canteen-style serving station, they are strong on atmosphere and the dishes are so evocative of time and place that guests are said to occasionally burst into tears. A must try? The signature sour lamb chops marinated in quince, pepper paste, spices and pomegranate juice. See ciya.com.tr
PIERRE-CHARLES CROS, ROMÉE DE GORIAINOFF AND OLIVIER BON, HOTELIERS AND RESTAURANT/BAR OWNERS, FRANCE
With an ever-expanding collection of sexy speakeasies, wine bars, restaurants, clubs and hotels across Europe, these three friends since childhood, now in their 30s, are transforming the European hospitality scene, one venue at a time. Their Experimental Group started with the Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris' second arrondissement in 2007. It brought the sophisticated speakeasy bar culture to Paris and, in doing so, pretty much changed the shape of nightlife there. The group began expanding their bar and restaurant portfolio internationally, then in 2015 crept into the hotel industry, first with the Grand Pigalle Hotel in Paris, and now with half-a-dozen unique and intimate hotels across Europe.
Experimental's biggest European offering is in Paris (it now has 10 Parisian venues) and no trip to the city would be complete without a drink at the original Experimental Cocktail Club or Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. There's also a whitewashed restaurant and beach club in Ibiza, a chalet in the ski fields of Switzerland, a palazzo in Venice and more. All are small and stylish, have a laid-back good-time vibe and are aimed at bon vivants. See experimentalgroup.com
TEN MORE EUROPEAN VISIONARIES
DANIELE KIHLGREN, ITALY
This Swedish-Italian entrepreneur and philanthropist has been saving Italy's ghost towns – including medieval Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, and Apennine in Matera – from extinction. He is reviving local economies by funding elegant, authentic restorations using strictly local materials and luring affluent travellers to these forgotten outposts. See santostefano.sextantio.it; legrottedellacivita.sextantio.it
ALBERT ADRIÀ, SPAIN
For 25 years Albert lived under the shadow of his brother Ferran, creator of the world-famous El Bulli restaurant where Albert was head pastry chef. Since striking out on his own, however, Albert has created a modernist cuisine for which we're all desperate to travel to Barcelona. Happily, his six restaurants, including Michelin-star Tickets, can all be found within a two-block radius, so if one's booked out you still have choices. See elbarri.com
MICHEL REYBIER, SWITZERLAND
The Swiss multimillionaire's sumptuous La Réserve properties (one in Switzerland and four in France, one of which is a distinguished Bordeaux wine estate and another a palace dating back to 1854) are for those who don't wince at four-figure room rates. And no, his money didn't originally come from the hotels, but from his processed meat company. See lareserve.com
SANTIAGO CALATRAVA, SPAIN
Renowned for his gleaming white neo-futurist structures, a Calatrava creation should be top of your Spain must-see list. Try the breathtaking Ysios winery in Laguardia, with its wave-like roof; the Audiotrio de Tenerife, with its dramatic white concrete arcs; or the domed City of Arts and Sciences cultural complex in Valencia. See calatrava.com
INGUNN RASMUSSEN AND TROND MELHUS, NORWAY
The clever owners of Holmen Lofoten, a hotel composed of converted fishermen's cabins on Norway's remote Lofoten Islands, have launched a program called Kitchen on the Edge of the World, where guests fish, hike, hunt and gather their food and drinks in the company of TV chef Valentine Warner. See holmenlofoten.no
GONÇALO DE SOUSA MONTEIRO, GERMANY
De Sousa Monteiro is the owner of Berlin's hippest cocktail bar, Buck and Breck, which has appeared on the World's Best 50 Bars list for multiple years in a row. "Ginçalo", as the German bar scene has dubbed the gin fanatic, creates precise yet madly inventive drinks that are giving us yet another reason to head to the German capital. See buckandbreck.com
DARIO CECCHINI, ITALY
This eighth-generation Tuscan butcher has changed how the world thinks about meat. Dubbed "the rock star butcher of Italy", Cecchini cares deeply about how his meat has been raised and uses all the bits people don't usually want. Visit his convivial restaurants and prepare to leave with a renewed respect for the entire animal. See dariocecchini.com
JEAN NOUVEL, FRANCE
A Pritzker prize-winning French architect, Nouvel often combines high-tech advancements and bright colours. His must-see European works include Barcelona's shimmering Torre Agbar and Paris' cubist Musée du Quai Branly. He has just finished the new National Museum of Qatar, for which he used the desert rose as inspiration, and proven he can still surprise us. See jeannouvel.com
RENÉ REDZEPI, DENMARK
When Redzepi opened his innovative Noma restaurant in Copenhagen in 2004 (it reopened in a new location in 2018), which has topped the 50 Best Restaurants list a record four times, he shifted the global food scene. From creating a New Nordic cuisine with its own manifesto about ethics, sustainability and quality, to popularising foraging and fermenting, Redzepi is the ultimate food visionary. See noma.dk