Yesterday, 22nd of September, was car free Sunday: a (mostly) sun drenched day were streets in city centres throughout Flanders and Brussels were cleared and cars were banned. We decided to visit nearby Mechelen, where innovation goes hand in hand with the sustainable development goals and targets for a better and more liveable future.
As all exploring requires some starter fuel, first stop: the newly opened neighbourhood cafe Grá
Where ‘Grote Markt’ was the place to be for cultural info and activities, ‘Bruul’ showcased police force’s horsepower and ‘Ijzerenleen’ was stage for sportive demonstrations…
Vismarkt and local pub ‘t Ankertje are always a welcome stop if you need to re-fuel again…
And if your energy tank is really low you can always head to the De Vleeshalle food court that opened this year…
Being in the neighbourhood, the Lamot centre housed the Joker Africa travel event that day, and as we will be visiting Western Cape next year, thé place and time to gather some useful info and tips.
And of course, historical buildings à volonté in city centre…
Events like these (mobility, cultural activities, citizen interaction, etc…) fit perfectly into where city sees itself by 2030, comitting to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Recreational domain De Schorre is inevitably linked to Tomorrowland… however, when madness and beats fade, the original function of the area returns: a lush green site where hikers, children, day tourists and locals can exhale and enjoy nature. The 75ha park is also often used for recreational or sportive events. Since last edition of TML some mythical creatures made the domain forest their home: at the request of the festival the Danish artist Thomas Dambo has brought seven giant trolls to life and this using recycled materials.
Together with my friend Kathleen I had a wonderful stroll in the forest, on the hunt for these friendly giants. Ask for a map at the domain’s information point. They are happy to point out the secret locations of the mythical residents, or just let the trail surprise you and discover at own pace…
Located in a former clay pit, the area is now a green oasis of peace and quiet.
With his unique creations the artist hopes to inspire people around the world to recycle and carry our precious planet and nature in their hearts.
Leaving the domain and heading for our on site lunch spot we got treated to yummy surprise gift and totally in line with the green environment: thé most delicious apple tarts, made by local bakery ‘Den oude kneeder’
If you have a bit of interest for arts or some creativity running through your veins this is the place to be: a succesful marriage of heritage and contemporary arts in a breathtaking setting. Art galleries, festivals, shops, musea, amphitheatre, golden masjid, restaurants, planetarium, too much to mention. Do check out their website for upcoming events if you are planning a visit and would definitely advise to spend at least half a day (if not a whole day) there.
In the Centre of Katara you can find Gandhi’s Three Monkeys by Subodh Gupta, a series of three sculptures with military headgear. Each piece is made of cooking instruments, used pails, traditional Indian lunch boxes and glass bowls. Together, they recall Gandhi’s famous visual metaphor-the three wise monkeys-representing the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ proverb…
Don’t miss the pigeon towers…Poop collection: smelly(probably) but in this case very attractive(definitely) business and another win(g)k to the region’s cultural history. Like in most Middle-Eastern countries, in the past, pigeon’s poop was considered liquid gold as its composition made it an excellent fertilizer.
scyscrapers: tall, taller, tallest
You can find the tallest building in Doha in the Aspire Zone. 300m high this one offers 360-degree panoramic views and a cantilevered pool on the 19th floor in case you want to find out what it feels like to float 80m above ground.
‘Sometimes you gotta zig when eyeryone else is zagging…’
…One (there are two of them) of the ‘Zigzag towers’, or dancing towers. Close to our hotel and Lagoona mall.
Highest and most colourful towers can be found in West Bay area and can best be observed from the water, during a typical dhow boat cruise.
‘all that glitters is not gold…’
Without any doubt jaw-dropping infrastructures, the more reason the extremely dangerous conditions the builders work in and their ridiculously low pay should continue to be brought under attention.
show me your green (and blue) zones
Did you think Doha was only sand? Well Qatar definitely is but its capital tries very hard not to be. The city focusses on implementing green zones with a versatile function: playgrounds for children, picnic areas, green hills, tracks for joggers or cyclists, etc…
Where Aspire Park is Doha’s biggest park (and next to Aspire Zone’s Stadium and Villaggio Mall shopping complex) and has plenty of green zones and even an artificial lake, it is its vastness that may effect the ‘cosy-factor’. All depends on your personal interests. We were rather fond of the Al Bidda Park and walkway. After our visit of MIA (see part 1) we walked part of the Corniche and Corniche Park (7 km waterfront promenade and green zone offering Doha Bay vues) upto Firestation, a creative hub and great place to have lunch. They offer residency projects for upcoming artists. From there we did the walk back to old city centre through Al-Bidda park which runs pretty much parallel with the Corniche.
The Pearl monument and fountain can be found on the Corniche at the entrance of the dhow harbour. Where Qatar nowadays gets its wealth from oil and gas, it used to be from pearl diving and fishing industry.
More green? MIA Park, Dahl Al Hammam Park, Oxygen Park, hotel parks and many more…
and yes, if you insist, some sand too…
From Doha a short drive to Al Wakrah and then further inland plenty of sand dunes await. We drove in the dunes behind Sealine Beach. If you want to go dune bashing yourself and you are not familiar hire an experienced driver (safety first, always) and avoid weekends. Fun road side distraction: camel rides, falcon tête-à-tête and photo opportunities.
Both Sealine Resort and Al Wakrah souq definitely worth a stop, only make sure your visit does not overlap the souq shops’ closing time early afternoon as we found place rather desolated then.
Since early May 2019 Al Wakrah and Doha city centre are connected through red metro line which will make travel between them a lot easier. This is the first line implemented, three more planned to become operational.
Skipped due to lack of time but still on our to do list for when second time around:
visit State Grand Mosque
visit the planetarium at Katara
inland sea Khor Al Adaid
National Museum (that officially opened just after we left)
Banana Island Resort
Al Shaqab tour – breeding and training centre Arabian horses
Like I said in the intro of my first post, Doha, and Qatar in general, has probably not highlighted (yet) on your travel radar and yet it should…though you will find numerous articles telling you there is not that much to see or do, I strongly disagree and hope both my posts helped showing that.
Some practical info:
Doha is the capital of Qatar, located on the Arabian Peninsula. It shares borders with only one country, Saudi Arabia.
Time to go: November upto March (too hot and too humid outside this period)
Currency: Qatari Riyal
Language: Arabic is official language but most people speak English.
We flew Qatar Airways and thumbs up on all levels. Taxi is fastest way to reach city centre. We always used Karwa Taxi and found them reliable and cheap.
Doha is not exactly pedestrian-friendly, so be careful when crossing the street.
The implementation of the state of the art metro system will be a huge jump forward when it comes to connectivity. And of course looking towards FIFA World Cup 2022 all stadiums will be linked.
We stayed at Grand Hyatt Doha, close to Katara and The Pearl. Luxurious rooms with large balcony and a great pool area. One of the capital’s top Thai restaurants, Isaan, is located in the hotel. You can opt for breakfast in the hotel or go to opposite Lagoona Shopping Mall for a quick snack or to get your daily supply on fresh fruits or snacks.
As for food and drinks, know that the only place you can drink or buy alcohol in public is in five star hotels (except Ramadan) and it is very expensive. Opt for one of the tasty mocktails, you won’t regret it. Foodwise, the world will come to your plate, no worries. The choice in restaurants and world cuisine is endless: Armenian, Lebanese, Thai, Italian, Turkish, Persian,…
Time to wrap up the Valletta series! In this third and final post you can follow in our footsteps, or wheels, as I take you around a Three Cities tour and more extensive visit of Birgu/Vittoriosa, so buckle up, we’re off!
‘The Three Cities’ is a general description of the three fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. With Birgu the oldest one, existing since the Middle Ages, the other two cities, Senglea and Cospicua, were both founded by the Order of St John in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each city goes by two or more names, the one before or after the Great Siege.
It’s day four of our Valletta trip and though our Airbnb is located in Birgu/Vittoriosa we still haven’t actually explored this side of the water. To cover all three cities, four if you include Kalkara, by foot would take us too much time and kill my back so we hired some wheels to the rescue…not just a car…you can drive that at home too, right?! We went for a Rolling Geeks ride. A cool (bottled water inclusive) and relaxed (just enjoy the ride) way to explore…Think a pimped golf cart and you kinda get the picture…Belgian owner Kris or associate are around to give you detailed info on what to expect: basically you drive your own electric funky car, there’s a pre-programmed gps, language of your choice and your on-board gps tourist guide tells you where to stop, get out, admire the view and all relevant historic details.
In about two and a half hours the tour takes you on a 17km ride from Birgu Waterfront to Kalkara, Senglea/Isla and Cospicua/Bormla. There’s enough time to take a stop and have a (non-alcoholic) drink (remember you’re driving) and if you should take a wrong turn, the gps corrects and Big Brother Kris and team are also tracking you…only seconds after your wrong turn you will get a call guiding you quickly and safely back on track. It’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road…but you absolutely want to take selfies during the tour? No problem, the built-in camera does that for you…cool, right?! Enough talking, what do you get to see on this tour?
Kalkara Film Studios
Malta forms perfect decor for many movies and its versatily is a great asset. Even when movie plot shows a completely other city, it may well be filmed in Malta…large parts of the movie ‘Munich’ for example were actually filmed at various locations on the island, standing in for scenes in the movie that play in Tel Aviv, the West Bank, Beirut, Cyprus, Spain, Athens and Rome! Want to keep track of the filming tours or upcoming projects, then keep an eye on Malta Film Tours
From Senglea and its viewpoint Il-Gardjola you get wonderful vistas on the harbour and Fort Sant Angelo.
The tour also brings you to the Cottonera Lines, a massive construction of fortifications, built in 17th century, with major aim to protect the Three Cities. The British later on expanded with Fort Verdala. What used to be fort barracks are now houses and apartments.
Fort Verdala-Cottonera Lines
Further on the route: plenty of picturesque and colourful buildings…
The tour ends where started: at Vittoriosa/Birgu Waterfront…time for that drink now, what do you think?!
We filled the rest of our day strolling through Birgu and Cospicua…
Before Valletta was the island’s capital, Mdina was…and before Mdina, Birgu was…The Knights of St John renamed it ‘Cittá Vittoriosa’, meaning ‘the victorious city’. These days this is shortened to ‘Vittoriosa’.
Our strolls were followed by a little dghasja harbour cruise to get in those phenomenal views from the water, and to be honest, to cool down too…when temperatures are high nothing beats the sound of splashing water and wind in the hairs!
View on Gardjola Senglea
Monument at Lower Barrakka Gardens
All now left to end this perfect day is an evening stroll down the Waterfront admiring the yachts and a delicious ‘dinner with a view’ as day slowly twinkles into night…
The final day of our trip, well half a day, left us just enough time to join a historic re-enactment group as Fort St Angelo stepped back in time to when it was under French occupation….
The central location of the medieval fort in the Grand Harbour offers spectacular views and was in history of extremely strategic interest. It played an important role during the Grand Siege and was headquarters to the Grand Master of the Order. According to legend it is built on site of a fortified Roman settlement.
Such fun watching those ‘soldiers’, ‘salesmen and women’ marching towards the Fort…though in that heat in full gear and costume…you must admire their passion…
All work and no play?? Euuh, obviously not always…
On day three of our recent Valletta trip we decided to visit the ancient walled city Mdina (m-dee-na). It is Malta’s former capital and lies high on terraced fields, dominating the island’s surrounding skyline. If you feel some ‘Game of Thrones’ vibes upon entering through city gate, that’s because the gate and other locations featured in season one of the popular series…welcome to King’s Landing…
In the GoT series Mdina city gate represents one of the entraces of King’s Landing.
Mdina is easily accessible by bus and the ride takes about half an hour, depending on traffic, dropping you off at the garden opposite the entrance gate.
Through course of history Mdina went by different other names: it was founded ‘Maleth’ by the Phoenicians and renamed ‘Melite’ by the Romans after the honey the island was famous for. Under rule of the knights of Order of St John activities switched to the newly built Valletta and Mdina therefore lost its capital status.
The current and still used name is derived from the Arab word ‘medina’, though it also goes by its nickname ‘The Silent City’ and ‘Citta’ Notabile’, with the latter probably the most accurate to this date: the noble families that once lived within city walls are replaced by about 300 noble and lucky inhabitants with security cameras closely monitoring the entering cars and their drivers.
St-Pauls Cathedral is a baroque church dedicated to apostle Paul. Under each bell tower is a clock: the right one being a normal one telling time, the left one showing date and month, though legend says the two clocks were to confuse the devil. The church was destroyed during the Sicilian earthquake of 1693 and had to be rebuilt completely.
Meanwhile some mingling with the locals…
Another GoT filming location, Littlefinger’s brothel…
No walled city nowadays without souvenir shops…Mdina is famous for its glass, used in jewelry and deco items…
We had lunch at Trattoria 1530, part of the Xara Palace Relais&Chateaux hotel and located in one Mdina’s lovely picturesque squares…by the way, can you spot our little lunch companion?
can you spot our little lunch companion?
re-fueled we again hit the winding and narrow streets…
sun makes an excellent artist drawing shadow lines on the walls
sun makes an excellent artist drawing shadow lines on the walls
Charming Mdina is rightfully on UNESCO’s World Heritage tentatives (the waiting) list.
Join me next time for the final part in this Valletta-series where I’ll take you around a fun ‘Three Cities’ tour.
2018 stands for feast in overdrive in Valletta, capital of Malta, as the entire year it proudly wears the crown of ‘Culture Capital of Europe’. If you haven’t put it on your travel radar yet, now’s the time to adjust your antennas! With 320 monuments all within an area of 55ha that makes this compact capital one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, and if UNESCO says so…
We explored this charming and picture-perfect city early June and we were completely under its spell from day one… join us, that’s the husband and me, on this little photo stroll through Valletta’s streets…
…though not winding…no, the city centre handles a uniform grid pattern and orientation is therefore easy. First things first though: we flew in from Brussels South with Ryanair and stayed in an Airbnb located in Cospicua/Bormla, one of the so-called ‘Three Cities’. We had a lovely trip to Mdina and an extensive fun tour of ‘The Three Cities’ which I’ll tell you more about in the next posts.
but let’s focus on Valletta first…
Malta’s history is forever linked to the Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem but to fully understand the capital’s and island’s current mix of styles and influences we need to step back much further in time for a (very brief, I promise) history lesson…
In chronological order the island was invaded by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, then came the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Norman, the Sicilians, the French and Spanish…are you still with me? Then, in 1530 the Knight Order arrived (more on that later) with years of glory and fall, followed again by a, this time very short, French rule; after them the British took over for many years. During WW2 the city suffered extremely heavy losses and bombings and then, fi-nally Malta gained independency in 1964…and if you would think all these influences would result in a mishmash of styles, think again…it all blends perfectly well to a, to this date, modern vibrant town that fully embraces its cultural heritage.
The island thanks it name to the Phoenicians, who called it Maleth, which means shelter. The Maltese language, still spoken, found its origin in Arabic and the capital was named after Jean Parisol de la Vallette, Grandmaster of the Knight Order and also the one who commissioned the building of the new city capital. You can have coffee full Italian Style and a Mediterrenean afternoon siesta oh and driving left and tea and biscuits stuck around too 😉
How exactly did those knights end up in Malta? When they were thrown out of Israel by the Muslims, they first ended up in Rhodes until they had to flee from there too. The Spanish king gave them Malta to make their home, which they did. Years of glory followed, with fortifications being built, coming out victoriously out of the Grand Siege and Turkish attacks and the building of a brand new capital and more defence structures. All that building and defending against enemy invasions cost a lot of money though and by then some of the knights of the Order had a certain decadent lifestyle they didn’t want to give up, scandals followed and hence the fall of the Order.
Enough talking, time for photos now 😉
Staying in the Three Cities meant our daily trip to the city centre included the inner harbour crossing by ferry (fun) or typical dhasja (much more fun).
Stepping off the boat and heading left brings you to the elevator (your feet and back will thank you) going high up to ‘Upper Barrakka Gardens’. This is a ‘must do’ to see and be seen: you can admire the phenomenal view on the Grand Harbour, watch the canon firings at 12 and 16pm, feed the pigeons, have a snack and drinks, people-watch or just rest and absorb those holiday vibes.
These gardens were installed on the upper of the St Peter & Paul bastion, originally as place of recreation for the Italian knights of the Order. On the lower tier you can find the saluting battery.
From Barrakka Gardens on you can start exploring the city at your own pace or if you appreciate some extra historical and cultural info, join one of the many guided tours. We joined a ‘Colour my Travel’ tour taking us on a three hour walk through the city centre.
Covered Food Market
The Lady of Victories chapel is built on the exact spot the very first stone was laid when building the city of Valletta.
A definite must see is Saint John’s co cathedral, built in only five years time. The interior decorating took much longer and if you step inside you’ll immediately understand why as there’s not a blank inch in the cathedral left. Paintings, floor marble stones, tapistries, sculptures, crypt, you name it and you’ll defintely find it inside! The decorations on the walls were all paid for by two Cottoner brothers, Raphael Cottoner and Nicholas Cottoner. They were both grand-masters and you can find their monograms RC and NC on the walls. St John’s Co Cathedral has 375 graves. Their gravestones, all in marble, show the knights and grand-masters that are buried inside this cathedral. The oratory is also of great interest and do expect some crowds when visiting, all admiring one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and the only work signed by him ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’.
Rabbit and roasted veg at La Pira, typical Maltese kitchen
when local, drink local
Merchant St, Republic St and Old Bakery St all lead to Fort St Elmo, the crossing streets will either lead you to Sliema Ferry landing area or Upper and Lower Barraka Gardens. Do not miss out on those Lower Gardens as they equally guarantee a phenomenal view.
Monument Lower Barrakka Gardens
detail of view from Lower Barrakka Gardens
Even on colourful eye-catcher and cities’ trademark, the famous balconies, the mixed cultural influences left their mark. There still, apparently, is some discussion whether Arabic or Spanish origins. Most probably it comes from Arabic times when women had to stay out of sight and this got translated to Maltese way over time, with housewives watching the world go by from above and with little side-windows to gossip with/about the neighbours (?)
By now you probably think there are only old stones to walk on in this capital…meet Valletta 2.0…
The above photo is part of the Parliament House and architect Renzo Piano’s (the one of the Shard in London) so-called ‘City Gate Project’, a masterplan to restyle the old City Gate area. He made some very drastic changes, as the old gate in no longer an actual gate but a V-shaped entrance and citizens had to grow accustomed to this new style. However, to my opinion he succeeded wonderfully wel in marrying old and new. The stone slabs in the limestone are carved out this way to copy natural erosion by nature.
Have I convinced YOU that Valletta is worth a visit? Then start planning your trip and check the cities’ tourist site and 2018 cultural highlights!
Next post in this series will highlight the Three Cities and Mdina, stay tuned 😉
Don’t shoot me but I’m not a musea person, no matter the subject…can’t help it…However, I know what I like and don’t like: I like admiring buildings and can appreciate architecture whether modern or historical, I like colours and patterns, texture and there has to be that wild card that ignites the fantasy. Pull the objects out of a building, place them in nature or outside somewhere and you’ll have my attention.
Our recent trip to Ostend, Queen of Belgian seaside resorts, rewarded us with ‘open-fresh (though my husband persisted ‘cold’) air’ artworks to admire when strolling through town.
Beaufort is a triennial art project that extends along the entire Belgian coastline covering 15 resorts each having their own identity. It is a project that was first launched in 2003 in which the sea very often plays the main role. Furthermore every participating artist comes from a country that borders on the sea.
In Ostend there are three different Beaufort-artworks to discover however during our walk on the western strekdam we stumbled onto the Monument for a Wullok by Stief Desmet. A wullok always holds some kind a magic and as a kid holding it to your ear, thinking you could hear the sea and what lied beyond…wow…however some things stay secret and magical, reason for the artist to return the bronze sculpture to the sea and let time, the salty air and sand transform it.
Together with the Beaufort art project Ostend is also home to the Crystal Ship open-air art exhibition. An international group of visual artists (more than 50) transform existing structures with their creative interventions and murals. In this concept of ‘public street art festival’ it is the largest one in Europe!
This visit our eye fell on the works of Telmo&Miel at Nieuwpoortsesteenweg.
Even without big events or festivals like these, Belgian seaside always has something to offer to please the eye if you would ever get bored of wave or people watching…
The picturesque ‘Duinenkerkje’ at Mariakerke/Ostend is the final rest place for painter Ensor where he lies peacefully…altough…surrounded by lively sheep and a colourful rabbit…
And in neighbouring De Haan some beautiful romantic sculptures keep you company on your evening walk…
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
One month ago one of March’s beautiful spring weekends led us to Belgian Voer-region and Dutch city Maastricht. A perfect combination: countryside and city, best of both worlds…You could already read all about our discoveries in Voer here Welcome in the Voer region…but I still owed you some Maastricht tales and photos…
Maastricht lies at the crossroads of the three countries that together make up the Euregion Meuse-Rhine with ‘Maas’tricht itself lies at river Meuse.
We stayed in Townhouse Hotel located in Wyck-district near city station and it offers warm hospitality and coziness in a modern decor.
A very special thanks to the hotel helpful hotel staff as during our stay my husband got sick and we were forced to stay longer…not a punishment for me, but sadly no romantic weekend as he experienced most of Maastricht out of his room😟
Mainly just me therefore exploring the city, so do keep me company and join me on this little stroll!
Maastricht is often described as one of the most romantic cities of the Netherlands offering a wonderful variety with quaint historical districts, art, history, culture, gastronomy and calm green surroundings. What’s not to like?
The Wyck-district, where we were staying is linked with Maastricht’s city centre through the ‘Sint-Servaasbrug’ and is therefore frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists.
If your mind is set on shopping, Maastricht definitely is the right place: hip and vintage in Wyck, multi-brand shopping centers Mosae Forum and Entre Deux in city centre and the more posh boutiques in ‘Stokstaartkwartier’ ánd always open on Sundays!
Paradis de Clayre
Wanderlust in Wyck
royal warrant holder, delicious coffees and teas
Maison de Clayre
wooden robot and other toys and gifts in Wanderlust, Wyck
Entre Deux shopping centre
Shopping makes hungry, right?!
tasty B.L.T. bagel Wycker Cabinet
‘t Wycker Cabinet
Maastricht houses one of Holland’s most unique bookstores, being located in a former church ‘Boekhandel Dominicanen’ offers an enormous collection of books with a view, oh and yummy coffee and sweets in the inside shop!
book store Dominicanen
up, up, look up!
Maastricht is also one of the oldest cities of Holland: Saint Peter’s caves and fortress, the casemates, stone wall…all still prominent witnesses of Maastricht’s prominent place in history. One place in particular that you just have to visit when inside city centre is ‘het Vrijthof’. This large square has attracted people since medieval times when pilgrims came to see the grave of Saint Servatius, lying in the Basilica carrying his name. These days, Vrijthof is also known for its many outdoor cafés and frequent events.
At ‘De Bisschopsmolen’, a bakery in a restored watermill, they are justly proud of their craftmanship and working with natural products and simple processes.
After visiting the mill, do take a further stroll in the Jeker-district, Jeker being a small stream, flowing into the Maas here in the city. Explore Helpoort, the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands, and the characterful surrounding streets.
…once a political and linguistic battleground, now every wanderer’s, cyclist’s and nature lover’s dream! This rural region is situated in the far eastern part of Belgium, in province Limburg, and consists of six small villages* lying at a stone’s throw from the Belgian-Dutch border yet still close to major cities as Liège, Aachen and Maastricht. Its location nearby rivers Rhine and Meuse, the landscape and soil have always attracted many to exploit: the Romans did, even traces back to prehistoric times can be found…Over the years however nature, the unique character, position and its advantages rightfully took the upper hand for this region…who cares which language is spoken when there is so much to enjoy and discover…
St-Martens-Voeren is dominated by the tall ( 23 metres) railway bridge. It is part of the rail connection Tongeren-Aken, mainly used for freight transport and was built by the Germans in World War I.
As in most of these tiny villages, the church building dominates and in this case also the starting point of hiking route ‘de Bronnenwandeling’ which was chosen most beautiful hiking trail in Flanders in 2012.
No exploring on an empty stomach though, Hoeve de Bies is ideal for any short or longer hungry break and when in Limburg of course, the typical ‘Limburgse vlaai’ is all around…resistance is futile!
It was the tiny hamlet of Veurs (Sint-Martens-Voeren) that stunned us most during our little trip. This particular area is known for its concentration of typical timber frame houses. It is home to some extraordinary fauna and flora, mixes tree orchards and small forests and it’s oh so quiet…big like!
Sint-Pieters-Voeren is the smallest of the six ‘Voer-villages’, with fewer than 300 inhabitants, and best-known for its Commanderie. This castle belonged to the German Knights Templar until the French revolution. The current building was constructed in the beginning of the 17th century in the so-called ‘Meuse-region Renaissance-style’.
In the park of the castle lies the spring that provides the ponds and the Voer river with water at a ratio of some 3000 litres per minute. In these surrounding ponds trout and sturgeon are bred which is a true delicacy and is on the menu at the local on-site brasserie and many of the local restaurants.
We had our feet up and enjoyed a lovely little ham and cheese snack at Gasterij de Commanderie opposite the castle.
Perfect way to end this little pre-Spring ‘tourist in own country’ trip and look back on the lovely landscapes and walking routes we discovered along the way. This definitely tastes for more, litterally, as there are some outstanding winehouses in this region as is the nearby abbey of Val-Dieu and its beer of the same name, needless to say we’ll be back!
Next post I’ll take you along to Maastricht, just over the Belgian-Dutch border and easily to combine with a Voerstreek visit!
(*) Moelingen, ‘s-Gravenvoeren, Sint-Martens-Voeren, Sint-Pieters-Voeren, Teuven and Remersdaal
In the Lisbon series there is one more ‘must see’ I want to tell you about, or not…maybe Sintra should be kept more secret as it is already overrun by tourists all coming to admire the city’s cultural and architectural wonders. Its natural and historical value make Sintra in its whole a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like I said, a ‘must see’…
Sintra is located 25 km outside Lisbon city centre and is set against the lush pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. Easily accessible from Lisbon Rossio train station in about 40 minutes and included if you have a Lisboa card.
Upon arrival shuttle services await you to bring you to all the main sites, however we chose to walk to the village centre. An easy walkable path offering views on the National Palace with the characteristic chimneys, colourful stands with local handicrafts and an iron throne, well, with a little imagination…
Early mornings can be foggy in Sintra, don’t worry, sunny ‘sol’ does her best and by noon you’ll have clear blue sky!
In the above picture, all the way up, op top of the foggy hills, are the ruins of the moorish castle. We’ll get to them later…
First stop for us however was Pena Palace and its gardens. From the city centre we took a tuk tuk that dropped us off at Parque da Pena entrance and from there we made our way up to the Palace, still a serious climb on often cobbled paths!
Some piece of advice…if you are not interested in castle interiors you do not have to get in line, which can be a very, very long queue…the exterior grounds are perfectly accessible with your entrance ticket without waiting in line or just ask for the cheaper park/outside combination…wish someone had told us that upfront, it certainly wasn’t mentioned at the ticket office…though would have saved us a lot of time! And yes, some of the terraces are only accessible from the inside, however is it worth an hour and a half queuing? That is up to you to decide…
The palace is a dazzling piece of extravagant and astonishing architecture, where technicolor meets mythology and of course, being in Portugal, tiles are never far away! Not that it was always like that…the hilltop used to be home for a monastery. After the abolition of religious orders in Portugal it was abandoned and King Ferdinand II acquired the grounds in a public auction. So the story goes he was a bit jealous of Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria and commisioned Baron von Eschwege to build him his own dream palace opera-inspired (he later marries opera singer Elise Hensler) and saw to a forestry landscaped garden to hide away in. I’d say mission accomplished!
colourful Palace residents…
some welcome shade in the palace surrounding gardens
Meanwhile in city centre…
I promised blue skies, didn’t I? Fog has cleared and you can see them now…next stop, the moorish walls…
The Castelo dos Mouros was established during the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town of Sintra however archeological excavations and studies of the artefacts around 1995 even traced back occupation of the castle slopes to 5000 B.C. by neolithic communities…this place breathes history! In the 19th century King Ferdinand II acquired the castle that had become a ruin by then and converted it into the romantic style of that century through exuberant planting and reconstruction though keeping a certain medieval ruin charm.
Not sure if I would recommend to climb the longer part of the walls with very small children or if you are afraid of heights…the passage is sometimes narrow and there is not always a safety railing…
‘smaller part’ of the walk
The ruin walls offer phenomenal views on Sintra and its surroundings, however, like I said, watch your step, as not everywhere a railing…
Tired feet and back, hence the tuk tuk back to village…smooth ride and friendly helpful driver, were all I needed to recover and smile again!
There’s plenty more to see in Sintra, in fact, if you want to explore thoroughly and at ease, it’s probably best to spend the night, more ‘must see’ attractions are the Quinta Regaleira, Palácio de Monserrate, Palácio Nacional de Sintra, Convento dos Capuchos,… just check the local tourist office website or office.