An article appearing in the travel section of Stars and Stripes referred to Dresden as "Florence on the Elbe." I've been mentally collecting references of this type for some time now, so I was pleased to have another one to add to my list.
You may have noticed that nicknames linking one European city to a more famous cousin abound. They range from the obvious -- anyplace that ties itself to Venice probably boasts of a canal or two- to the far-fetched. I thought it could be an interesting exercise to see what labels are applied to places we know and love and those we've never heard of.
Venice -- many cities or neighborhoods within them bear nicknames suggesting similarities to Italy's watery gem. St. Petersburg, Russia, was coined "Venice of the North" by Goethe. But it's not the only one on the block. The title can also refer to Hamburg, Stralsund or Friedrichstadt in Germany; Stockholm, or Brugge, Belgium. "Klein Venedig" is an old fisherman's settlement along the Regnitz river in Bamberg, Germany, while "Venice of Brandenburg" refers to waterways found in the Spree Forest, some 60 miles southeast of Berlin. If you're looking for the Bavarian Venice, that would be Passau. Wroclaw is sometimes billed as "The Venice of Poland." A section of Colmar, France is known as "La Petite Venise."
Riviera --The stretch of coast along Sochi, the city on the Black Sea that will play host to the Winter Olympics in 2014, is known as the "Russian Riviera." Scotland's Riviera moniker is applied to Galloway, a remote area on the southwest coast. The "Danish Riviera" refers to the stretch of coastline just to the north of Copenhagen up to Elsinore; if you're hunting for the Baltic Riviera, you'll find that outside Jurmala, Latvia, just a hop away from Riga. The English Riviera title is proudly worn by the communities of Paignton, Brixton and Torquay in Devon, along the country's southern coast.
Versailles -- beside the original version found outside Paris, there are many pretenders to the throne. Germany has at least four, including Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, home of the Residential Palace, a.k.a. the "Swabian Versailles;" Schloss Nordkirchen is referred to as the Versailles of Westfalia; the Bavarian version is Herrenchiemsee; "Prussian Versailles" refers to Sanssouci in Potsdam. The Royal Palace of Caserta may be considered Italy's version of the same; Spain's contender is La Granja de San Ildefonso Royal Palace, north of Madrid. In Portugal? Their version would be the Queluz National Palace. In Poland, it's the Wilanow Palace that is offered up for comparison. The Novy Hrady Chateau is the Czech Republic's variant thereof; and in Hungary, Eszterhàza Castle stands in.
Paris -- "Paris of the North" is a nickname for -- who would have guessed? Tromsø, Norway. Belfast, Northern Ireland, is also in the running. And what about "Paris of the East?" That nickname is worn by Budapest, Hungary, and sometimes Bucharest, Romania; the latter was also once known as "Little Paris."
Would you have suspected that there's a "Little Berlin?" This is a nickname Americans gave to the village of Moedlareuth, as it too was divided in half during the Cold War.
"Russian Switzerland" is an easy afternoon jaunt from Moscow to the suburb of Zvenigorod. "Saxon Switzerland" is an area in the Eastern part of Germany characterized by bizarre sandstone mountains. The country also once laid claim to a "Rome of the North," the city of Goslar.
If you look hard enough, you can even find little parts of the good ol' USA here in Europe. Portugal's 25 de Abril bridge is referred to as the Golden Gate's twin sister. The skyscrapers of Frankfurt have earned the city the nickname of "Mainhattan." Is a Euro Vegas in the cards? If an entrepreneur has his way, we could soon be seeing one of those in sunny Spain. For now, though, Blackpool, England, or Tallinn, Estonia, are standing in.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Venice and Versailles should be mighty proud. Perhaps some of these references will inspire your next journey to previously unheard of destinations. At the least, they would allow you to baffle your friends when you tell them all about your recent trip to the "Paris of the East" or the "Scottish Riviera."