Chinese tourists chart a new European Grand Tour

According to BBC Travel and the China Daily, approximately 70 million Chinese nationals traveled abroad in 2011, up from 10 million in 1999. A chunk of this new crop of Chinese tourists is traveling to Europe, but their itinerary veers a little off the trodden path.

BBC Travel outlined some of the historical highlights of the “new” European Grand Tour: cities like Trier, Germany, the birthplace of Karl Marx and home to the Karl Marx Haus Museum, and Montargis, France, where a small group of Chinese youth studied in the early 1900s and lay the foundation for the Chinese Communist Party. Many tour groups also make a stop at King’s College in Cambridge, England, to visit a willow tree mentioned by Chinese poet Xu Zhimo in a famous poem called On Leaving Cambridge.

According to the article, Chinese travelers also seek out culture and shopping when visiting Europe. That brings them to Bonn, Germany, to visit the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, and Verona, Italy, backdrop of Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet. Shoppers apparently go crazy on High Street in London, at Louis Vuitton in Paris, and at the Hugo Boss factory outlets in Metzingen, Germany (who doesn’t love a great bargain?).

The Chinese may have the right idea when it comes to off-the-beaten-track European itineraries, which tend to be cheaper and less crowded. Start creating your own with these top underrated European travel destinations.

[Thanks, BBC Travel]

Cambridge named UK’s most boring place to shop

Cambridge is high on many visitors’ lists of places to go in England. The historic colleges of Cambridge University are almost as impressive as those of Oxford, and punting on the River Cam rivals a boat journey on the River Isis.

Oxford and Cambridge have always been rivals, but now Oxonians can sit back, smug in the knowledge that the “other” university is in a town deemed the blandest place to shop in the UK. The New Economics Foundation just released a list of 117 UK cities and towns ranked by the variety of shops in their centers. Cambridge came in dead last.

In a scathing review, the NEF described “a bland homogeneity” in the city center with only nine different types of shop.

Perhaps Cambridge students are too busy preparing for Suicide Sunday to think about shopping, or perhaps like many university students they only want to go to the same old, predictable stores. The study’s organizers point the finger at the university, the town’s main landlords, for pushing up rents too high for independent businesses to afford. Personally, I’ve been to Cambridge several times and while I’m not an avid shopper I didn’t notice it to be terribly homogeneous. At least the range of independent used bookshops is great thanks to students unloading their books at the end of term. But I haven’t been since 2004, so perhaps things have taken a turn for the worse.

So who ranked the best? Whitstable, a seaside town near Canterbury, which the survey said had an amazing variety of independent shops.

[Photo courtesy Andrew Dunn]