Tag Archives: France

The Radar: Travel Lately

30 Apr

The mineral-rich Champagne Pool in Wai-O-Tapu thermal park near Rotorua. (Photograph by Francesa Onesti, My Shot)

The Radar – the best of the travel blogosphere – is a regular feature on Intelligent Travel every Wednesday.

Here’s this week’s:  

  • New Zealand is known for its incredible natural beauty, and the geothermal wonder just outside Rotorua is no exception. Old Faithful, meet your match in Wai-O-Tapu. (If you’re wondering, that’s Māori for “sacred waters.”) @wanderlustersuk
  • São Paulo may be Brazil’s largest city (and the world’s eighth largest by population), but it’s often overshadowed by Rio de Janeiro, its sister city to the north. Find out why this South American metropolis is a treasure in its own right. @thismyhappiness
  • This time of year, visitors swarm Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. But with crowds as unrelenting as a filibuster and lots of ground to cover, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Check out this guide to the best eats in “the District.” @packDsuitcase
  • Lyon is located halfway between grande-dame Paris and the seaside swank of the Cote D’Azur. Though other French destinations have more star quality, this cultural center has its own brand of charm. @InspirngTrvlrs 
  • Only have a day to spare in Montreal? There’s no way to see everything anyway, so why not embrace it by trying the immersive approach? Check out this 24-hour guide to the heart of French Canada to get off on the right foot. @atlasobscura

The Radar: Travel Lately

10 Best Places to Hike in the World

28 Apr

Whether climbing Everest is at the top of your bucket list or you’d prefer a gentle hike through the British countryside, the world is full of jaw-dropping natural landscapes that beg to be discovered on foot. From Iceland’s otherworldly topography to unveiling the real Middle Earth in New Zealand, here are 10 of the best places to hike in the world.

New Zealand

Mount Cook in New Zealand

Mount Cook in New Zealand

Immortalized on film as the magnificent backdrop to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, New Zealand’s many attractions and dramatic scenery have had a revival of late, with Peter Jackson’s most recent offering, The Hobbit, reminding travelers what they’re missing. It’s no surprise that hiking – or tramping as it’s known to New Zealanders – is one of the best ways to take in the scenery, and well marked routes traverse the length and breadth of the country, served by a wide network of government-run campsites. Most popular are the nine Great Walks including the one-day Tongariro Alpine crossing, passing by the famous Mt. Ngaurube volcano (otherwise known as ‘Mt. Doom’ from the Lord of the Rings films); the 82km Heaphy Track, which passes a varied terrain from dense rainforest to rugged coastal cliffs; and the 53km famous Milford track, which offers spectacular views of New Zealand’s tallest waterfall.


Nepal

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Nepal’s legendary Annapurna Circuit tops many a hiker’s bucket list and the 230km loop is renowned as one of the world’s most impressive treks, tracing the awe-inspiring Annapurna massif and crossing the Thorung La pass at a breathtaking 5,416 meters. Nepal’s other famous challenge is, of course, the mighty Everest, and trekking to the base camp of notorious peak has become a popular undertaking even for non-climbers. Nepal’s appeal isn’t just the challenging trekking and ruggedly beautiful Himalayas though – the Buddhist country is noted for its unique hospitality and soaking up the culture is as much a part of the experience as the hike itself. Hire a local Sherpa guide, bed down in a traditional mountain village, visit serene mountaintop temples and sip yak butter tea with the locals, as you uncover a whole other world thriving in the wilderness.

UK

With short walking trails and rambling long distance treks running to every corner of the British isles, the United Kingdom makes the perfect location for hikers to test out their navigation skills, with well marked routes doing away with the need for a guide.  Head to one of England’s world renowned National Parks like the Lake District, the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales, where the vast moorlands and sweeping hills are dotted with cobblestone villages and traditional pubs, or attempt the 182km Coast to Coast trail, spanning the entire length of England. It’s not just British soil that’s well trodden – you can also visit the Scottish Highlands which are home to the UK’s highest peak, Ben Nevis and a vast network of footpaths provide dramatic views over the windswept glens and glistening lochs of the northernmost county.

Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

From scrambling through the volcanic valleys of Cappadocia to trekking the vast Taurus Mountains, Turkey has plenty to offer lovers of the outdoors away from sun and sand of the Mediterranean coast. The 500km Lycian Way, running along the coast from Fethiye to Antalya, and the St Paul’s Trail, following in the footsteps of the legendary evangelist from Perge and Aspendos to Yalvac, are the country’s two main long distance hiking routes, passing a number of key historic sites and showcasing the country’s incredibly diverse terrain.

Iceland

Hiking in Iceland

Hiking in Iceland

With majestic glaciers, bubbling hot springs and looming volcanoes, hiking through Iceland’s otherworldly landscape offers some of the world’s most unique photo opportunities. Hiking is possible almost anywhere, but most adventurers head for one of the national parks – Skaftafell national park is a wonderland of shimmering ice caps and jagged mountains, whereas Landmannalaugar’s striking rhyolite mountains provide the focal point of the celebrated 4-day Laugavegurinn trail.  Another popular trek is scaling the country’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur, at 2110 meters, where you’ll be afforded spectacular views over the Vatnajokull glacier – one of the world’s largest.

Patagonia

Patagonia

Patagonia

The gateway to Antarctica has fast become a popular destination in its own right – a wintry playground of glaciers, penguin colonies and snow-dusted mountains. Stretching across the southernmost parts of Argentina and Chile, visiting Patagonia means seeing some of the continent’s most magnificent surroundings – swollen glacial valleys, pristine lakes and towering mountain peaks. The UNESCO biosphere reserve of Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean side, is a hotspot for hikers with well-marked trails offering expansive views of the famous pink granite Paine towers, or else make the pilgrimage to see the wondrous Perito Moreno Glacier, the ‘smoking mountain’ of Chalten volcano or the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, the ‘Land of Fire’.

California

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Hikers could spend a lifetime exploring the US on foot, but the varied terrains of California make the perfect place to start. While there are few pockets of wilderness left undiscovered, America’s third largest state still has plenty of jaw-dropping hikes up its sleeve, including some of the country’s most iconic landscapes. Hikers can choose from exploring the epic canyons and dunes of the Death Valley desert; the granite cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and vast rivers of Yosemite National Park; or visiting the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree, in Sequoia National Park. The world famous parks aren’t the only options – the Joshua Tree National Park, Redwood National Park, Big Sur and the Golden Gate National Park all lie within Californian borders, with the landscape ranging from snow capped peaks to arid desert basin.

The Alps

Chamonix, Switzerland

Chamonix, Switzerland

Hikers traveling to Europe will find it hard to miss a walk in the Alps, Europe’s principal mountain range, sprawling across eight countries. Throughout winter the Alps play host to some of Europe’s glitziest ski resorts but as the snow thaws, hiking the alpine slopes becomes one of the region’s most popular pastimes. Color-coded signposts mark out routes throughout the Alps, Europe’s open border policies means hiking between countries isn’t a problem and there’s such a high concentration of peaks over 4,000 meters that you won’t have to walk far to get a view. Explore the traditional villages and cheese factories in the Swiss foothills; follow one of the acclaimed tracks through the lush valleys and glacial passes of the French Alps; or tackle the hugely popular trail encircling the iconic peak of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, straddling the border between France and Italy on a Half-Day Trip to Chamonix and Mont Blanc from Geneva.

Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies in Banff

Canadian Rockies in Banff

Taking the famous train journey through the towering Rocky Mountains are one of Canada’s most celebrated attractions but to truly experience their magnitude, you’ll need to don your hikers and take to the hills. The vast Rockies harbor myriad opportunities for hiking but the best-marked trails and a network of alpine huts lie within the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site. Notable trails include the famous Berg Lake Trail, running through the Mount Robson Provincial Park and scaling the highest peak in the Rockies; the Mount Fairview trail in Banff National Park, offering panoramic views of the dazzling Lake Louise; and the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit in Yoho National Park, a scenic route through lush woodlands and shimmering glacial valleys.

Kazakhstan

Ticked the other nine off your list? Now’s the time to get truly off the beaten track and discover some of the world’s most inspiring and least-visited landscapes – hikes long overlooked by the tourist hoards. Kazakhstan has been steadily building a reputation among serious hikers for its remote and unspoiled wilderness, and with a number of reputable trekking companies operating in the country, it’s easier than ever to explore. The Tian Shan and Altai mountain ranges hold the most popular routes, with ancient pathways tracing the borders of Russia, China and Mongolia. Just make sure you take a local guide.

10 Best Places to Hike in the World Argentina , banff , California , canada , Chile , England , featured , France , Geneva , Iceland , Kazakhstan , Nepal , New Zealand , Patagonia , Switzerland , turkey , United Kingdom , Yosemite National Park

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World

3 Apr

While it might seem like a strange thing to add to your vacation to-do list, visiting cemeteries when you travel can be an interesting way to learn about a place’s history – not to mention see some of its most beautiful landscapes.

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Of course, what constitutes a “beautiful” cemetery will depend on the viewer’s opinion. Some will be painstakingly landscaped, some will be historically meaningful, some will be haunting, and some will have stunning views. But in this selection of final resting places around the world we think everyone will be able to find one that deserves “beautiful” as a descriptor.

Père Lachaise – Paris

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most famous cemeteries, largely thanks to its long list of famous residents. Fans of the late singer Jim Morrison have made pilgrimages to his grave for decades, painting other graves en route to his with Doors-inspired graffiti. Other famous names on Père Lachaise headstones include Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Eugene Delacroix, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Moliere, and Marcel Proust. There are also many graves and tombs of people you won’t know that are even more beautiful than the famous ones. Take the Paris Metro to the Philippe Auguste stop, near the main entrance, and buy a cemetery map before you enter.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – New Orleans

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

You almost can’t go wrong with the cemeteries in New Orleans. They’re above-ground cities of the dead, thanks to the city’s low elevation, and every bit as hauntingly beautiful as you’d expect from a place steeped in Voodoo and vampire lore. St. Louis No. 1 is home to the tomb of Marie Laveau, the 19th century Voodoo priestess. There are other famous names from New Orleans’ history buried here, but its appeal is far greater than just local history. The cemetery is just outside the French Quarter, and guided tours (of this and any cemetery in New Orleans) are highly recommended.

American Cemetery – Normandy, France

American Cemetery - Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

American Cemetery – Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

Just up from Omaha Beach, where so many young soldiers fought and died during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, there’s a plot of land that’s US soil even though it’s well inside French borders. Across the pristine lawns of the 172-acre American Cemetery and War Memorial there are more than 9,300 simple white crosses and Stars of David, most of which mark the graves of men who died during the Normandy Invasion. Also in the area there are cemeteries for the fallen soldiers of Canada and Great Britain, as well as the largest (and most haunting) cemetery in the area – for more than 21,000 of the German soldiers who died in World War II.

La Recoleta Cemetery – Buenos Aires

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

The cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires is entirely composed of above-ground tombs, giving La Recoleta the same “city of the dead” feel of Pere Lachaise and the cemeteries in New Orleans. 94 of the tombs have even been added to the list of National Historical Monuments. Among the famous graves at La Recoleta you’ll find Eva Peron – known popularly as Evita – and many presidents of Argentina. You can take the bus to Avenue del Libertador and walk up the hill. Buy a cemetery map before you enter.

Primosten Cemetery – Primosten, Croatia

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

There are no famous names on the headstones in the tiny cemetery next to the church in Primosten, but should you end up in this tiny hill of a town on the Croatian coast it’s well worth a visit anyway. The small church and adjacent cemetery sit on top of the hill, affording all of those graves with a stunning view over the Adriatic Sea toward the islands just offshore. And because Primosten is so small and not a popular tourist stop (unlike nearby Split or Trogir), you’re likely to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the hilltop cemetery and its sparkling view.

Kokai Mausoleum and Okunoin Cemetery – Mount Koya , Japan

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Japan’s largest cemetery is located at the mausoleum of Kokai, a 9th century Japanese monk, scholar, and artist who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism on Mount Koya. The Okunoin Cemetery contains more than 200,000 gravestones and 120 Buddhist temples, and Mount Koya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the things you can see in the Okunoin Cemetery are tombs with statues of UFOs, coffee mugs, and hundreds of statues of a Japanese deity who is supposed to protect children who have died – he is represented in the cemetery by small statues wearing articles of children’s clothing. You can reach the Okunoin Cemetery via the Nankai Electric Railway from Osaka’s Namba Station, followed by a cable car up the mountain.

Highgate Cemetery – London

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

You could be forgiven for mistaking London’s Highgate Cemetery for a park that happened to have a few graves in it rather than a cemetery that looks like a park. In fact, this Victorian cemetery is a nature reserve and is registered as a park. The fact that it’s also the city’s most famous cemetery is almost beside the point. Highgate is separated into two sections – the East Cemetery and West Cemetery – and you can only visit the latter with a guided tour. People buried in the West Cemetery include the wife and parents of Charles Dickens, but most of the famous graves are in the East Cemetery – including Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaren, George Eliot, and Karl Marx. Highgate is near Waterlow Park, and the closest London Underground station is Archway.

Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

The city of Savannah is widely known for its beauty, and that extends to the Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure used to simply be an historic cemetery in an historic city, but after the success of John Berendt’s novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” the cemetery became a major tourist attraction. The book’s cover was a photograph of a statue called “Bird Girl” that had been in the cemetery for more than a half-century. When the book became a best-seller and the statue increased tourist traffic into the cemetery, it was moved to Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art. Bonaventure Cemetery is still worth a visit for its historic significance, its huge live oaks dripping with moss, and the grave of Johnny Mercer.

Panteón de Dolores – Mexico City

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s largest cemetery, Panteón de Dolores, is crowded with more than one million interments and 700,000 tombs covering 590 acres. This is where you’ll find the graves of muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, opera singer Ángela Peralta, and many other notable Mexicans in the “Rotunda de las Personas Illustres.” The Panteón de Dolores cemetery itself is park-like in many respects, but it’s also sandwiched between two sections of the enormous Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. Especially in a city as big and busy as Mexico City, having a park as large as Chapultepec is a welcome respite – and almost as an added bonus, there’s an historic cemetery in there, too.

Capuchin Crypt – Rome

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

While not exactly a “cemetery” in the truest sense, Rome’s Capuchin Crypt can be considered beautiful – as long as you’ve got a strong constitution and enjoy a little whimsy with your macabre. The row of small chapels underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is decorated with the bones of the more than 4,000 Capuchin monks who had been buried in the crypt in the early 17th century. When newly deceased monks were buried, old skeletons had to be removed – and as those bones were removed, many of them were used in designs on the walls and ceilings of the chapels. The patterns are quite elaborate, and any student of the human body will likely enjoy identifying which bones are which. The faint of heart may want to skip this, but if your interest is piqued the Capuchin Crypt is on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Donations are strongly encouraged.

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World Buenos Aires , croatia , France , Georgia , japan , London , Mexico City , new orleans , Normandy , Paris , Primosten , rome , Savannah

I Heart My City (in the Spring)

29 Mar

Hanami cherry blossoms outside the Tokyo National Museum. (Photograph by Rob Towell, Flickr)

There’s still a chill in the air here in Washington, D.C., but the days are getting longer, the cherry blossoms are starting to pop, and residents are beginning to shed those cumbersome winter coats. Spring is upon us (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and we’re embracing it with open arms by highlighting seasonal must-dos from our amazing I Heart My City community.

From ice cream to air shows, palaces to train rides, here are 20 ways to make the most of the next few months in 20 cities around the globe:

Shelly’s Oxford (United Kingdom): Head to nearby Wytham Woods to see the bluebells at their finest.

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

Megan Natalie’s Seoul (South Korea): Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace’s gardens to experience a piece of paradise you’d swear couldn’t exist in Seoul (make sure to watch the changing of the guards).

Ewelina’s Krakow (Poland): Take a walk to Krakus Mound at Podgórze; a nice, green hill where you can take a blanket and relax.

Annie Fitzsimmon’s NYC (United States): Celebrate the bounty of post-winter produce and eat anything with ramps on it because they’re only in season for a few weeks! Motorino has a great ramp pizza, and ABC Kitchen never fails with its in-season menu.

Keith Bellow’s Montreal (Canada): Hang around near McGill and Prince Arthur, soaking up the sun and the street life.

Anya’s Istanbul (Turkey): Visit Topkapi Palace. The flowers are in bloom and it’s positively stunning.

Katherine’s Athens (Greece): Take a bus to Cape Sounion, the ancient ruins of Poseidon’s temple. On the short bus ride from Athens, you’ll wind along the coast and enjoy some of my favorite views.

The Boxi-Platz flea market in Berlin. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Berlin’s Boxhagener Platz flea market is open on Sundays. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Madeleine’s Annapolis (U.S.): Check out the Blue Angels air show at the United States Naval Academy commencement.

Maja’s Belgrade (Serbia): Go to Zemun in Old Town and have lunch at one of the fish restaurants on the Danube.

Colleen’s Beijing (China): Fly kites by Houhai Lake.

Zain’s Amman (Jordan): Pack a picnic and visit the Hellenistic site known as Iraq Al Amir.

Shannon Switzer’s San Diego (U.S.): Check out the wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Yvonne’s Berlin (Germany): Explore Berlin’s many flea markets to find great vintage clothes, furniture, books, and local art.

Sylvia’s Tokyo (Japan): Go for hanami (cherry-blossom-viewing parties) in a park with a big group of Japanese friends, some beer, and some sushi.

Jessica’s Barcelona (Spain): Experience a traditional Catalan calçotada which consists of getting together and eating large quantities of local green onions known as calçots along with romenesco sauce, regional wine, and good company.

Vienna's MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Hang out outside Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Jennifer’s Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates): See Abu Dhabi from the water. Hire a dhow (traditional wooden boat) for a tour, charter a speedboat to take you to one of the 200 islands off the main island, or kayak amongst the mangroves.

Karen’s St. John’s, Newfoundland (Canada): Watch the last ice depart from the Atlantic from atop Signal Hill National Historic Site. Check out the on-site gift shop where local music, books, and culinary delights make excellent gifts.

Isabel Eva’s Madrid (Spain): Take a trip on the Tren de la Fresa to Aranjuez. During the 50-minute ride, you will be served fresh strawberries. Once in Aranjuez, you can take a tour of the Museo del Ferrocarril (the railway museum) and the Palacio Real (the royal palace).

Lea’s Vienna (Austria): Do as the locals do and head to the MuseumsQuartier to hang out on one of the over-sized flexible furniture elements called Enzis.

Nat Geo’s Washington, D.C. (U.S.): Check out the National Arboretum and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, two of D.C.’s hidden gems.

Wherever you are, what’s your favorite thing about your city in the springtime? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

I Heart My City (in the Spring) Abu Dhabi , annapolis , athens , austria , belgium , Belgrade , California , canada , d.c. , England , France , Ghent , Gouda , Greece , Iceland , Istanbul , japan , krakow , Madrid , maryland , Montreal , netherlands , New York , new york city , oxford , Paris , Poland , Reykjavík , san diego , Seoul , Serbia , South Korea , Spain , St. John’s Newfoundland , tokyo , turkey , United Arab Emirates , United Kingdom , United States , vienna , washington

Meet Private Tour Guide Beatrice Martin in Bordeaux, France

27 Mar


Beatrice, private tour guide in Bordeaux

Meet Beatrice!

Although originally from France, Beatrice has been living and traveling in foreign countries for much of her life. After studying Travel and Marketing in the United States, Beatrice spent a few years living in Spain, where she worked for an international hotel company. Her travels then brought her to southern Turkey, which she opened her own tailor-made worldwide VIP tour company and scuba-dive center.

Now Beatrice has returned to her native France to establish herself as a private tour guide in the beautiful Basque region. During her 25 years of working in the tourism industry, she has learned a thing or two about what it takes to give her clients a tour that is truly unforgettable. Beatrice, of course, speaks fluent English and French and as your guide in the Basque Country and Bordeaux area, she will help you discover this culturally rich region through the eyes of a local.

Beatrice specializes in wine tours around St Emilion, Bordeaux, Medoc, Biarritz and San Sebastian, but she can also arrange personalized tours that your interests, including wine and spa weekends or tours that include golf and yoga. Current wine tours offered exclusively by Beatrice include ‘The Pau and Jurancon Vineyards Tour’ and ‘Wine and Haute Cuisine Weekends’.

Besides her extensive work in the travel business, Beatrice is also a yoga teacher, an Ayurveda therapist and a scuba instructor — an excellent companion to have around on your tour around the Basque region.

Check out Beatrice Martin’s Viator Private Tour Guide profile for more details of her private France tours and further information on how to contact and book with Beatrice.

Meet Private Tour Guide Beatrice Martin in Bordeaux, France Bordeaux , France , Viator Private Guides

12 of the Most Beautiful Castles and Palaces in Europe

20 Mar

With its tumultuous history of feuding Royals and battling troops, its no surprise that Europe harbors an impressive array of castles and palaces, many of which boast spectacular locations. From the official residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to the real-life Sleeping Beauty Castle, here are 12 of the most beautiful Castles and Palaces in Europe.

1. Chambord Castle, France

Chambord Castle; most beautiful castles in Europe

Chambord Castle

Standing proud in the picturesque Loire Valley, the royal Château de Chambord is a striking example of a French renaissance castle with its elaborate frontage sheltering equally exquisite interiors. Guests can tour the castle and its grounds, as well as taking a peek into the royal apartments of François I and Louis XIV.

2. Neuschwanstein, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle; the most beautiful castles in Europe

Neuschwanstein Castle

A 19th century fairytale castle built as a refuge for King Ludwig and opened to the public after his death in 1886, Neuschwanstein famously inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle with its dreamy spires and snow-capped mountain backdrop. A popular day trip from Munich, visiting the castle is possible by guided tour.

3. Pena National Palace, Portugal

Pena Castle; most beautiful castles in Europe

Pena Castle. Photo credit: Angel Torres via Flickr.

Perched on a hilltop in the central Portuguese municipality of Sintra, the eye-catching Pena National Palace (often nicknamed Sintra Castle) dates back to the 8th century and was an important strategic stronghold during the Reconquista. An easy train ride from the capital, the UNESCO World Heritage site makes a popular day trip for those visiting Lisbon.

4. De Haar Castle, Netherlands

Casting a dazzling reflection in its surrounding canal ways, the Netherlands’ De Haar Castle is an unmissable feat of neo-gothic architecture. The current structure dates back to the 18th century and makes a popular excursion from nearby Amsterdam, with guided tours offering a thorough exploration of the draw-bridged fortress.

5. Windsor Castle, England

Windsor Castle; most beautiful castles in Europe

Windsor Castle

The world’s oldest and largest occupied castle, Windsor Castle is not only one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions but it’s the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen and used for a number of British Royal functions. As well as exploring the 13-acre stately grounds, visitors can tour the resplendent State Apartments, the much-celebrated St George’s Chapel and the famous Queen Mary’s Doll House.

6. Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Claiming the title of the world’s largest castle, Prague Castle was first erected in the 9th century, although its imposing Gothic façade dates back to the 14th century. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle is not only an iconic landmark of the Czech capital, but houses the Czech Crown Jewels.

7. Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania

Dominating the skyline of Sinaia, the mountaintop Peles Castle makes an impressive detour from Bucharest, tucked away in the remote Carpathian Mountains. A mishmash of German Renaissance, Gothic and French Rococo architectural styles, the castle grounds and a number of its 160 rooms, including the armory, are open to the public.

8. Dunrobin Castle, Scotland

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Jack_spellingbacon via Flickr

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Jack_spellingbacon via Flickr

Scotland’s most fairytale-esque castle, with its wistful spires and romantic flower gardens, Dunrobin Castle is one of the country’s most exquisite stately homes, dating back to the 13th century. Visitors to the castle, nestled in the Scottish Highlands around an hour’s drive from Inverness, can explore the castle museum, formal gardens, falconry and lavishly decorated interiors.

9. Coca Castle, Spain

One of the continent’s most unique castles with its distinctive crenellated frontage, the 15th-century Coca Castle is fashioned entirely from sand-colored brick. Lying on the site of ancient Cauca, the birthplace of the Roman emperor Theodosius, the acclaimed Mudéjar castle is one of the most prominent landmarks of the central Segovia province.

10. Oberhofen Castle, Switzerland

Oberhofen Castle. Photo courtesy of Carthesian via Flickr

Oberhofen Castle. Photo courtesy of Carthesian via Flickr

In its tranquil setting on the banks of Lake Thun, Oberhofen Castle is one of Europe’s most romantic castles, dating back to the 13th century. A popular day trip for visitors to central Switzerland, guests can marvel at the medieval keep, explore the castle museum and take in the views from the Lake Tower.

11. Ksiaz Castle, Poland

Ksiaz Castle. Photo courtesy of Tripsoverpoland via Flickr

Ksiaz Castle. Photo courtesy of Tripsoverpoland via Flickr

The landmark Ksiaz Castle turns heads with its attractive color palette and medley of architectural styles, poised on a cliff top overlooking the Pelcznica River. Dating back to the 13th century, the magnificent fortress lies on the periphery of Walbrzych and makes a popular pilgrimage for walkers in the surrounding nature reserve.

12. Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania

Marooned on an island on Lake Galve, just 20km from the Lithuanian capital, Trakai is one of Eastern Europe’s most unique castles, a beautifully restored redbrick Gothic structure. The island castle now houses an impressive archeological museum, as well as hosting summer music concerts and events in its atmospheric courtyard.


12 of the Most Beautiful Castles and Palaces in Europe England , featured , France , germany , Lithuania , netherlands , Poland , Portugal , prague , romania , scotland , Spain , Switzerland

#TripLit: Paris to the Pyrenees

9 Mar

The Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Basilica and environs in Vézelay, France. (Photograph by Gérard Corret, Flickr)

Don George’s #TripLit pick for March: Paris to the Pyrenees

In recent years the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, has gained a certain cachet. Books have been written on it; movies have been made about it. Almost invariably, the focus of these accounts has been the Spanish portion of the pilgrimage, culminating with arrival at the cathedral in Santiago itself.

In his evocative and moving new account, David Downie and his wife, photographer Alison Harris, trace this venerable pilgrims’ trail as well, but only in the French portion, ending their journey when they reach the border with Spain.

Downie’s quest is unconventional in tone and spirit as well as route. He refuses to label himself a pilgrim, and his goal is as much historical and cultural as it is spiritual.

“Practically speaking,” he writes, “I planned to follow the 2,000-year-old Via Agrippa and pre-Roman, Gallic footpaths, routes predating Christianity, safe in the knowledge that, unbeknownst to most pilgrims, they underlie the Way of Saint James just as surely as Paganism underlies Roman Catholicism…. Forget Santiago de Compostela, I told myself; if I could make it across France, nothing could stop me from one day hiking across the Alps into Italy and down the boot to Rome.”

A lively wordsmith who has been based in Paris for two decades, Downie brings a deep and impassioned knowledge of French history, culture, and language to this pilgrimage. He also brings something more, a longing that he himself can’t pin down at the beginning.

As the duo walk from Vézelay to Solutré, they pass through a few large towns, such as Beaune and Cluny, but for the most part their path winds through bucolic landscapes and half-forgotten villages where the past—manifest in crumbling churches and stark war memorials—seems more vibrant than the present.

Along the way, they encounter a memorable succession of taciturn, deep-rooted local farmers and gregarious, transplanted-from-Paris innkeepers. They also encounter the multi-layered, interweaving pathways of French history, commerce, religion, and spirituality—and manage to tuck in a few sumptuous celebrations of French food and wine, too.

The result is an extraordinary account that illuminates France past and present and casts a light on something even greater: the truth that, however we choose to label our journey, we are all pilgrims on a common quest, to answer why we wander life’s question-paved path.

#TripLit: Paris to the Pyrenees #TripLit , Alison Harris , David Downie , Don George , France , pilgrimage , Santiago de Compostela , Spain , The Way of Saint James , Travel Literature