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European Port Cities: Insider Guides

When locals are the guide, T+L learns that there’s more than meets the eye in these European port cities.

By Andrew Ferren, Alexandra Marshall, Valerie Waterhouse, Stephen Whitlock

Pisa, Italy

Designer Cecilia Iacobelli and chocolatier Paul de Bondt, husband-and-wife team behind Pisa’s De Bondt Chocolate: “This place is so much more than the Leaning Tower. There’s also a buzzing food and art scene.”

8 a.m.: The couple start their day with cappuccinos and cornetti at Keith Art Shop Café (breakfast for two $6), which recently opened opposite a colorful Keith Haring street mural.

10 a.m.: De Bondt concocts award-winning chocolates with everything from rose oil to fennel at the De Bondt Chocolate Workshop, which offers tasting tours. Meanwhile, Iacobelli checks in at the De Bondt Cioccolato e Affini, their shop downtown. In stock: artisanal teas, jams, and (yes) chocolates.

Noon: Lunch at Il Montino (lunch for two $35), a tiny restaurant with a delicious cecina (chickpea pancake) and thin-crust pizzas, is always first-rate.

2 p.m.: They visit the nearby Parco di San Rossore—a conservation zone with a racetrack—to source pine nuts and honeys.

4 p.m.: For an ice cream break, they are wild about Gelateria De’ Coltelli. Best flavors: ginger, pumpkin, and saffron.

5 p.m.: A cool new gallery to see works by emerging contemporary artists? Palazzo Blu.

8 p.m.: On weekends, Pisans love Ristorante Artilafo (dinner for two $100), which serves traditional dishes such as wild-boar tagliatelle.

10 p.m.: A postprandial stroll across the Piazza dei Miracoli reveals an illuminated Leaning Tower. “It looks like a surreal dreamscape,” Iacobelli says. —Valerie Waterhouse

Cannes, France

Fabrizio Bozzolan, head concierge at the Hôtel Martinez, in Cannes: “I live in the best part of the Côte d’Azur. It’s rare to find so much within such a small town.”

8 a.m.: The Forville Market (Tuesday–Sunday, 7 a.m.–1 p.m.) and surrounding cafés offer colorful people-watching and the day’s first espresso.

10 a.m.: Over the past 20 years, Bozzolan has given advice to film legends and royalty alike at the stylish Hôtel Martinez (doubles from $307), on the city’s Croisette.

Noon: Where to go for the freshest seafood? Fred l’Écailler (lunch for two $41).

1:30 p.m.: After lunch, Bozzolan suggests a walk up to the Old Town. “From the highest point, near l’Église Notre-Dame de l’Espérance, there’s a beautiful view.”

2 p.m.: The way back to the Croisette is via the pedestrianized Rue Hoche, with its cafés, tearooms, and Confiserie Bruno, which makes “the world’s best marrons glacés.”

2:30 p.m.: Take a 15-minute ferry ride to the Îles de Lérins. Try wine made by monks at L’Abbaye de Lérins, on the walkable Île St.-Honorat.

8 p.m.: There’s no place like La Table du Chef (dinner for two $110) for haute comfort food. Reserve ahead.

10 p.m.: The English-style lounge Le Black Pearl (drinks for two $33) is perfect for a nightcap. —Alexandra Marshal

Helsinki, Finland

Ville Kokkonen, director of Artek, the Finnish furniture company cofounded by Alvar Aalto in 1935: “With its Modernist designs and small islands just off the coast, Helsinki tends to inspire creative minds.”

8 a.m.: Kokkonen’s preferred breakfast spot? Café Ekberg (breakfast for two $25). “It’s got an old-school atmosphere and the best puuro [porridge].”

10 a.m.: From Market Square, take a ferry to Suomenlinna (suomenlinna.fi), an 18th-century island fortress and unesco World Heritage site. Explore the huge granite ramparts before heading to the cliffs for “an unforgettable Baltic vista.”

Noon: For Finnish specialties like pike cake with a pickled-cucumber sauce, Kokkonen visits Ravintola Juuri (lunch for two $40), in Kantakaupunki. While in the area, he drops by the national Design Museum.

2 p.m.: Aalto House (admission $23) is a “unique shrine to the Modernist era.” A minimalist white box, it contains many of Aalto’s iconic, sculptural pieces.

4 p.m.: When it comes to vintage shopping, the Kruununhaka district is unbeatable. Vanhaa Ja Kaunista, Finnish for “old and beautiful,” sells tumblers by Aino Aalto (Alvar’s first wife).

8 p.m.: Ateljé Finne (dinner for two $100), a former sculptor’s studio in the Töölö area, has contemporary local dishes (elk sausage; stuffed Baltic herring) and “lots of character.”

10 p.m.: Sip champagne in Maxill (drinks for two $22), a cozy Helsinki bar and restaurant. —Stephen Whitlock

Barcelona, Spain

Rosa Maria Malet, director of Barcelona’s Joan Miró Foundation: “Architecturally and culturally, the city has many layers—and a human scale.”

9 a.m.: Dunking light-as-air melindros pastries into super-thick hot chocolate at Granja-Xocolateria La Pallaresa(breakfast for two $12) is Malet’s morning indulgence.

10 a.m.: Now showing at the Joan Miró Foundation (admission $11), besides works by the famous Catalan: British art, from 1945 to 1968—that is, postwar to Pop.

Noon: Malet can’t resist the fideuá (like paella, made with pasta instead of rice) at Merendero de la Mari (lunch for two $112).

2 p.m.: The Gothic cloister at the Pedralbes Monastery is “one of the city’s most tranquil spots.”

4 p.m.: Barcelona’s best contemporary art galleries—including Galeria Senda—are clustered within the trendy L’Eixample district.

6 p.m.: Don’t miss Joyería Moska, a vintage jewelry boutique that “looks like a museum.”

9 p.m.: With its urban-chic décor and classic Catalan dishes such as a salad of tuna belly with Montserrat tomatoes,Mordisco (dinner for two $50) is Malet’s favorite new dinner spot. —Andrew Ferren