Europe is home for me - I was born in France, raised in Spain and spent much of my adult life in Switzerland. Today, I live in Eastern France so Europe is my backyard.
We often travel more often to faraway places - I've spent plenty of time in Africa and Asia but these days, I'm re-discovering what's around me.
I've called this page Solo Europe because I've visited each of these countries many times on my own, and they rank at the top of my list of best places to travel alone. They among the safer countries I know, they are filled with history and natural beauty and fabulous food - they are a pleasure to spend time in.
I was born in Paris, but didn't say long - about five weeks. I return often and it is a city I love. These days I live in the foothills of the Jura Mountains and can see the Alps from my home, so Eastern France - the region the French confusingly call the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes - is an area I love to explore. Below you'll find stories from some of these lesser-known regions, and a few more as I slowly explore this country I call home.
Thinking of France often means thinking of French food. What is special about France's food isn't just the cuisine and the taste, but something called the "terroir", the place of origin, the fact that certain foods can only come from certain places.
French food isn't for everyone. Some things are quite exotic, like snails or blood sausage or other delicacies some of you might prefer to avoid. But it's also incredibly fresh dairy - think French cheese or cream - and perfectly formed vegetables and the extraordinary variety of wines... Being a foodie is one of the joys (and sometimes challenges) of living in France.
I've been to Italy more times than I can count, and I even lived in Turin for a year as a teenager. Most of my trips are short, since I'm not far from the border and going to Italy for a day is perfectly feasible. Like many solo travelers I get drawn to Venice, which is superb any time of year (especially in the off season, when rain makes the cobblestones glisten and the crowds are thin).
Italy is, of course, a country for foodies but beyond that it's a destination for women who love fashion and style, centuries of history, literature and culture, and music, especially classical and opera. I may have visited often, but I still have much more to see and I plan to return again and again.
Portugal, right on the edge of Europe, is a country I've only started to know in the last decade or so. Growing up in Spain, Portugal - despite being just next door - was a sort of blank space on the map to the left of Spain. No one I knew had ever been there, and its reputation was of a poorer version of Spain. How wrong they were!
When I finally began visiting Portugal, I was struck by how many more differences there were than similarities.
The food was different, fresher, the language was incomprehensible despite its common Latin roots, and the architecture was somehow both more ornate and lighter. Portuguese character too was very un-Spanish, more serious and achievement-oriented. I was struck by the graciousness of the Portuguese and their pride in their country, along with its beauty.
If there's a country I can call home in Europe, this would be it. Although I was born in France, I didn't return until adulthood but I was brought up in Spain, spending most of my childhood and teenage years there long ago under the Franco regime. So I've been a fan for a while.
I was mostly familiar with Madrid and the central part of Castilla, or Castile. Recently I've returned several times traveling alone and have started to discover the Basque country and Catalunya - and I've been hooked. For a relatively small country (it's about the size of France, not small but not huge, like the US, which is 19 times larger!) it is incredibly varied, so much so you'd think you were in a different country each time you cross a regional border. But then, the various independence movements in Spain do show that many people feel they are in different countries.
Spain is a wonderful country for solo travel: I've been doing it for decades and Spaniards are friendly and helpful even to those who don't speak the language.
Before moving to France, I lived for years in Switzerland and worked in Geneva. Even once I did move to France, it was just over the border and I still go to Geneva regularly for work or to shop, so Switzerland is my second home. It also happens to be right in the center of Europe, which makes it so easy to branch out into the rest of the continent.
I'm most familiar with the French-speaking part which was historically joined to neighboring France some years ago but that hasn't stopped me from exploring some of the more distant corners of this country - especially if they happen to be related to food.
Turkey isn't technically part of Europe, at least the largest part of it is not. But it holds a special place in my heart.
My father was Turkish, and although I don't know any of my Turkish relatives, I feel a certain kinship with the country, one that keeps me returning whenever I can. I have a Turkish name, which always stumps the airport authorities when they try to speak to me in a language I haven't spoken since the age of three and have therefore forgotten.
Each time I go, I feel a certain familiarity. Maybe it's the cadence of the language, which tugs at certain ancient strings, or the cooking, which I remember from childhood. Although I can't condone the direction the country is now taking, I still feel drawn to it and visit whenever I can.
I first visited Eastern Europe when it was part of the Soviet Bloc, when food was rationed and colors ranged from light grey to dark grey. Oh my, how things have changed!
When I first visited Prague in the early 1980s, the food was so bad I suggested friends bring along tins of tuna when they visited. Along the coast of former Yugoslavia, people looked so glum that one day I picked up and returned to Italy early.
Most countries of Eastern Europe are vibrant, exciting and filled with energy, and I can't get enough of them. Steeped in the strict history of the Iron Curtain, it's almost impossible to gauge the change that has taken place in just a few short decades.
I had a long-held dream of visiting Albania, one of the politically remotest countries on the planet, excluded a bit like North Korea is right now. And I'm prepared to explore much, much more!