Can't go to Europe? You can still get your Old World fix in California, Georgia or Wisconsin

Christopher Elliott, Special to USA TODAY

Thinking of visiting Europe this summer? Not so fast.

Though it opened its borders to international tourists Wednesday, Europe has banned most Americans. It seems our physical distancing and other containment measures don't meet the European Council's high standards. Or, to put it bluntly, the coronavirus is out of control in America.

So there goes your European vacation. Or does it?

Nearly 7 million Americans visited Europe last summer, according to the U.S. government. If you miss those afternoons hanging out in the sidewalk cafés of Paris or hiking in the Swiss Alps, there's a silver lining: There are places here in the U.S. that look and feel like Europe. And you can book a summer vacation there right now, as long as the shutdowns don't get any worse.

Europe off limits for now: EU reopens to international tourists but not Americans due to COVID-19 rates

"Replicating European experiences on domestic soil is a great way to whet your appetite until you can personally visit Europe," says Limor Decter, a travel adviser for Ovation Travel Group.

Dreaming of Madeira? Try Maui

Maui, Hawaii, is a dead ringer for Madeira, Portugal, with its soaring volcanic peaks and impossibly blue water.
Maui, Hawaii, is a dead ringer for Madeira, Portugal, with its soaring volcanic peaks and impossibly blue water.

I can't go to Europe either. I was hoping to make it back to Madeira, Portugal, soon. I wanted to ride the cable car up to the tropical gardens at Monte Palace one more time, and maybe have lunch at Quinta do Furão, with those stunning views of the Atlantic. 

Fortunately, Madeira is a dead ringer for Maui, with those soaring volcanic peaks and impossibly blue water. I can book my Southwest Airlines flight to Hawaii on Aug. 1, when the state reopens to certain visitors. Also, I won't have to brush up on my Portuguese. Although, if I have extra time, I'll head over to Tex Drive In on the Big Island for a dozen Portuguese Malasadas donuts. Has to be done.

A word of warning: Be aware you'll need to be able to present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival in Hawaii or you'll be required to go into quarantine for 14 days. No testing will be available at the airport. 

Q&A:  I'm traveling to Hawaii. Do I need a coronavirus test?

There are lots of other destinations that look like Europe 

Lake Tahoe, California, reminds some people of Lago Maggiore, which straddles Italy and Switzerland.
Lake Tahoe, California, reminds some people of Lago Maggiore, which straddles Italy and Switzerland.

Lake Tahoe reminds some people of Lago Maggiore, which straddles Italy and Switzerland. If you're looking for the rolling hills of Tuscany, Italy, try California's famous wine country. There are moments when you visit Sonoma and Napa counties where you find yourself asking, "Is this really America?" It is. If you're not ready to travel yet, wait until December, when the mustard seeds start to bloom. That's my favorite time of year.

Ouray, Colorado, is called the "Switzerland of America." It's just north of Telluride and surrounded by the usually snow-capped San Juan Mountains.
Ouray, Colorado, is called the "Switzerland of America." It's just north of Telluride and surrounded by the usually snow-capped San Juan Mountains.

How about the Alps? Consider Ouray, Colorado, called the "Switzerland of America." It's just north of Telluride and surrounded by the usually snow-capped San Juan Mountains. I spent last August in nearby Grand Junction, and we've been trying to get back ever since. Insider tip: Plan your visit during the peach harvest in late summer in nearby Palisade and hike in the nearby Colorado National Monument.

Glacier Bay, Alaska, might fool you into thinking you're looking at the fjords of Norway.
Glacier Bay, Alaska, might fool you into thinking you're looking at the fjords of Norway.

And if you were planning to cruise the Norwegian fjords this summer, well, there's always Alaska. I sailed into Glacier Bay National Park a few years ago and often felt like I was in Europe. The cruise line I was on, Alaskan Dream Cruises, has canceled its sailings through July, but early September was a perfect time for an Inside Passage cruise.

Can't go to Europe? Try these American cities

Did your vacation plans to travel to Spain fall apart? Try St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the country.
Did your vacation plans to travel to Spain fall apart? Try St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the country.

It's not just the landscapes that make you feel like you're back in Europe. Our cities do, too. 

If you had plans to visit Spain, why not reroute to St. Augustine, Florida.? It's the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the country. A little hot and humid this time of year – but then again, so is Spain. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico, is also European and historic, plus you get the added authenticity of speaking Spanish.
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is also European and historic, plus you get the added authenticity of speaking Spanish.

Or you can visit Santa Fe, New Mexico, which probably has more antique stores and art galleries than the average ciudad (city). But from the right angle, you can't tell 'em apart. San Juan, Puerto Rico, is also old, European and historic, plus you get the added authenticity of speaking Spanish.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, offers plenty antiquing opportunities and art galleries- probably than the average city.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, offers plenty antiquing opportunities and art galleries- probably than the average city.

Since I grew up in Austria, I have a thing for German-themed cities. And there are plenty of them in America. On the east coast, there's Helen, Georgia, which looks a lot like a small Bavarian town. New Glarus, Wisconsin, which calls itself "America's Little Switzerland" – why does everyone want to be Switzerland? – has a historic village and a brewery where they serve the world-famous Spotted Cow Ale

Leavenworth, Washington, is so Bavarian that there's even a maypole in the town square that's covered in the colors of the German state's flag.
Leavenworth, Washington, is so Bavarian that there's even a maypole in the town square that's covered in the colors of the German state's flag.

There's also Leavenworth, Washington, another Bavarian-looking mountain town near Washington's north-central Cascade Mountains. It gets almost every detail correct, including the Maibaum in the town square. If you live in Seattle, chances are you've already made the 2 ½-hour drive to this tourist attraction. It's usually crowded during the summer, except maybe this summer.

I could go on. Boston, Charleston, South Carolina, Solvang, California, Alexandria, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. all offer a more continental experience. All are worth checking out if you need an Old World fix this summer.

Should you even try to replace Europe?

But can you really replace Europe? Some places in America come pretty darned close. If you drop by Olsen's Danish Village Bakery in Solvang, the kringles are as good as they get. You might also be lucky enough to meet Bent Olsen, the fourth-generation Danish-American baker who owns the place. Other places are not so authentic, but you gotta give them points for trying. 

Replacing the European vacation experience is impossible, though. The illusion is shattered by a four-lane highway with fast-food joints and gas stations. Yep, you're still in America.

"It is not worth trying to duplicate a European vacation," says Birgitt Vaughan, who grew up in Germany and now works for Sonoma County Tourism. "Rather, embrace what makes a destination special." 

How to find Europe in America

Almost every American town has a little bit of Europe in it. You just have to know where to look.

It's all about the bread. If you're looking for a taste of Europe, try finding a local bakery like the R. Weinrich German Bakery in South Philadelphia or the Yalaha Bakery in Central Florida. Places like that attract a fair number of expatriates, so you can go practice your German if you want.

Have a pint (or two). If nightlife is more your thing, you'll find plenty of British pubs or German breweries close by. Call ahead before visiting to be sure they're open. If the social distancing rules and coronavirus closures don't allow it, you can always enjoy a pint of Guinness at home.

Where's the closest deli? For a real taste of Europe, you have one more option: Find a nearby deli. When I visited Houston last summer, one of the highlights was a visit to Kenny & Ziggy's Deli. I can't do the menu justice in the space remaining. A meal here will make you feel like you're back in the Old World.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can't go to Europe? Try these Old World-style American towns

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