The best destinations for first-time solo travellers have a few things in common: Multilingual speakers are easy to find, transportation is convenient and visitors experience a sense of safety and openness. Paris, Bologna and Girona are three great starter cities for those making their first foray into travelling alone. Here are your best bets in each destination.
A great place to start as a solo traveller is Voulez-Vous Dîner, a service that matches you with residents who will make you dinner in their home. My experience began with a glass of wine and Chopin played live on a piano by my personable hostess, Sasha. We then sat down to a four-course meal that included roasted Brussels sprouts, smoked salmon, a cheese plate and mousse for dessert. Often more than one traveller or local will be in attendance, allowing you to expand your Parisian network for the rest of your trip.
Another option is to book a tour with a volunteer from Paris Greeters. This program assigns visitors to volunteer guides who show off their city for the pure love of it. You can specify preferred languages and interests, but the most enriching tours come from guides who specialize in individual neighbourhoods. My guide, Christine, ferried me around her quartier of Belleville, revealing sights I would never have found on my own: a hidden courtyard with beautifully groomed gardens, craftsmen’s workshops transformed into homes and a Sunday street market.
Stay: Villa Saint-Germain, a sleek four-star boutique hotel, offers free Wi-Fi and excellent house breakfasts. Located on the Left Bank, the hotel is just steps from Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chappelle and the Musée d’Orsay.
Eat: At Les Botanistes the menu changes regularly, but try the foie gras or suckling pig if it’s on offer.
Many of Italy’s pasta dishes originated in Bologna, including tortellini, tagliatelle and the signature Bolognese sauce. You can also head to Parma, home of parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and Modena, birthplace of traditional balsamic vinegar. Contact the tourist bureaus to arrange tours. If you’re feeling more adventurous, check out nearby Comacchio, an Adriatic seafood town that holds an eel festival called Sagra dell’Anguilla every October.
Stay: Zanhotel Europa Hotel Bologna offers sizable, elegant rooms for singles. It’s also located just inside the old city walls – near the train station for easy day trips, yet walking distance to the Piazza Maggiore at the centre of town.
Eat: Aquariums and locally produced bottles of oil provide the backdrop at Rodrigo’s, tucked away on the charming Via Della Zecca in central Bologna. The specialty is seafood, prepared in the regional tradition. Try the lightly seasoned prawn salad and squid pasta.
Contact the tourist board for the Emilia Romagna region here.
For the solo traveller looking for some Catalonian flair, Girona is an affordable alternative to Barcelona. The town is the ideal base for exploring the Salvador Dalí Triangle, a constellation of three of the artist’s homes that now display his furniture and surrealist works. Wine lovers can explore the Empordà wine region in surrounding Costa Brava: Rent a car and drive through the lush landscape, or book one of the many wine tours to sample the cava and rosé specialties of northeastern Spain. There are many Michelin-starred restaurants here, including El Celler de Can Roca (note: book up to 11 months in advance to nab a coveted table).
Stay: The Hotel Gran Ultonia Girona is bright and modern, with very helpful staff. It’s located within easy walking distance of the old quarter and the Jardins de la Devesa.
Eat: Bars and cafés like Txalaka serve pinchos – small bites of meat, fish or cheese placed on a piece of bread and pierced with a toothpick – over the dinner hour. You eat all you want, then are charged according to the number of toothpicks you’ve accumulated.
Find Janice Waugh online at her website, Solo Traveler.
Air Canada offers daily non-stop service from both Montreal and Toronto to Paris.