Category : Rome
It’s no surprise that the city that has been the centre of the Catholic Church as long as there’s been a Church, the city that boasts Churches dating from the fourth century and the city that claims to have St. Peter’s bones would have such a wealth of fantastic Churches. In fact, the Eternal City boasts over 900 Churches, Cathedrals and Basilicas, and one could spend the better part of a month trying to see them all. If you’re only looking at a couple of days in the Italian capital city, here are five Churches you will not want to miss.
Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano
Built by Constantine the Great, the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is Rome’s Cathedral and the first Church of the Popes. Before the Vatican, this is where the Pope sat for nearly a thousand years — from the fourth century until the papacy moved to France in 1309. Going back further, this is the site of the first Christian church ever built in Rome. The Pope lived in the adjoining Lateran Palace, and whether you’re a history buff or you just want to see something truly amazing, this place cannot be missed. Though the current Baroque exterior of the Church is much newer, inside await treats that span the entire history of Christian civilization. There are even some pre-Christian features, like the central bronze doors which once graced the Senate House in the Imperial Forum. Your visit includes the cloisters, a museum to give you historical perspective, the baptistery next door and the Scala Santa and Sancta Sanctorum across the street.
Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore
With 26 Marian Churches in Rome (Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, etc.), you can’t help noticing that this is a city that loves their Saint Mary. But the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore earns its “Maggiore” by being by far the largest. Like San Giovanni in Laterano, this is one of Rome’s four patriarchal churches, and in addition to its large size, there are plenty of goodies spanning the centuries to be seen on the inside. There’s the rich marble floor, the bell tower, the triumphal arch… and then there are the mosaics. The mosaics here date from the fifth century and include some of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary in Christian Late Antiquity. Be sure not to miss the magnificent mosaics on the arch depicting different scenes of Christ and the Virgin Mary. And it’s hard to miss the spectacular ceiling, which is said to be decorated with gold Columbus brought back from the new world.
The Pantheon is less important from its time as a Church and much more important as the most well-preserved building from the times of the Roman Empire. If it’s frustrating gazing at the ruins of the Coliseum and the Forum and having to imagine them in all their splendor, there’s no imagining necessary at the Pantheon, as it’s still in the same pristine shape as when it was built back in the year 125 CE by Emperor Hadrian. Granted, this Temple once devoted to all the Roman Gods has undergone some changes since becoming yet another Church devoted to St. Mary, walking in the entrance is largely the same experience as it would have been nearly 2,000 years ago. Until the 20th century, it was the largest concrete structure in the world. The great dome, which spans just over 43 metres, was the largest dome in the world until Brunelleschi’s 1436 dome in Florence. Michelangelo himself studied it before starting work on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Inside are many tombs, some holding the bodies of Italian monarchs.
Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano
Unfortunately, Rome has no time machine. But the Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano makes a pretty good substitute. Located near the Colosseum, the 12th century San Clemente sits on top of a fourth century Church built over a first century Christian meeting place that’s above a first century BCE Mithraic cult chamber. And you’ll be surprised at how many layers and how many artifacts from each layer are still there and can still be seen. You can start in the 21st century and attend a service in the still-active Church. Then you can marvel at 12th century frescoes and the mosaic of the Cross as the Tree of Life. Then travel back in time to the fourth-century Basilica before moving down to the Pagan temple! The history of the Church and what came before it are all incredibly on display in one spot.
Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
But if you’re not satisfied with all these paintings and mosaics and statuary depicting stories from the Bible… If you’d like to see some of the “real thing,” then head to the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Basilica of the Sacred Cross in Jerusalem) and see some of the relics of the actual items. The idea must have been, if you can’t make it to Jerusalem, we’ll bring Jerusalem to you. And with that in mind, this unique Church presents you with a collection of Passion Relics brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helena of Constantinople, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. Though the floor is no longer covered with soil from Jerusalem, you can still see part of the Elogium (the panel which was hung on Christ’s Cross, two thorns of the crown, an incomplete nail and three small wooden pieces of the True Cross itself. Other relics include a large fragment of the Good Thief’s cross, the bone of an index finger, said to be the finger St. Thomas placed in the wounds of the Risen Christ and pieces of the Scourging Pillar, the Holy Sepulchre (Christ’s tomb) and the crib of Jesus.
Here are some excellent hotel choices, each of which will put you close to each of the five Churches and most of which are themselves set in historical buildings:
The San Giovanni in Laterano Hotel near the Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano
The Hotel Antico Palazzo Rospigliosi near the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Hotel Pantheon near the Pantheon
The Aklesia B&B – Suite Colosseo near the Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano
The Domus Sessoriana Hotel near the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
Ah, the airport hotel. Those drab, personality-free shoeboxes set out somewhere on a lonely road, far from the cities we’ve come to visit. The things we give up for the convenience of being near our flight. But it doesn’t have to be like that! The fact is that there are now many hotels set near airports that give you all the same luxuries, services and comforts of their downtown counterparts – and with the added convenience of an airport hotel. Here are five great examples of four or five star luxury hotels located minutes from your flight.
Sofitel London Heathrow Hotel, London
The Sofitel chain specializes in providing premium accommodation experiences, and the five-star Sofitel London Heathrow Hotel is no exception. Impressively sized with 605 guest rooms, this is the only hotel providing direct access to Heathrow’s Terminal Five via a covered walkway, and Terminals One, Two, Three and Four are minutes away via the courtesy Heathrow Express/Heathrow Connect rail connection, which can also have you in central London in just 21 minutes. The full-service ESPA offers five treatment rooms, a relaxation room, a hammam and a Massage Hydro Suite, as well as a steam room, a sauna and a vitality pool. Hungry? La Belle Époque serves classic French cuisine, while Tea 5 serves traditional English tea, coffees, and pastries, desserts and light meals. Then there’s Vivre for casual dining with an open kitchen and live cooking demonstrations in the evening. If you’re looking for nightlife, Sphere is a chic bar and lounge with an distinctive fireplace and Icelandic décor, serving snacks, artesian beverages, tap beers, cocktails, and a variety of wines, and you can also grab a drink at the Library Bar.
Radisson BLU Hotel Amsterdam Airport Hotel, Amsterdam
The five-star Radisson BLU Hotel Amsterdam Airport also does a great job of balancing luxury and convenience with a free shuttle service that can have you at your gate in minutes and distinctively decorated guest rooms. You can choose between Maritime, Oriental and Scandinavian décor, and the public spaces in the 10-story high, 279 room accommodation offer a cutting edge atmosphere with a hint of Art Deco touches, from the gold leaf in the ceiling-mounted disks of light to the marble and black veneer of the reception desk. When it’s time to relax, you can get a massage in the spa treatment room or just melt away in the steam room and the sauna. When it’s time to eat, you can either be in central Amsterdam in minutes (or central Den Haag) or stay in and enjoy gourmet Mediterranean cuisine like in the glow of silver candlesticks at the hotel’s restaurant, Talavera. Grilled Scallops with Flash-Fried Red Tuna is a favourite, a hot-and-cold buffet breakfast is served daily, and summer barbecues are held on the outside terrace. For informal dining, there’s the intimate Lighthouse, which displays paintings by local artists, and Rodolpho’s invites you to enjoy a drink in a bijou armchair.
Hilton Madrid Airport Hotel, Madrid
If you want to spread out in comfort as you wait to catch your flight out of Barajas Airport, the Hilton Madrid Airport Hotel can help by offering you a 37 square metre guest room with floor-to ceiling windows and heated floors. Marble bathrooms, flat-screen plasma TVs and indoor and outdoor swimming pools are some of the other premium amenities that make this five-star, 284-room hotel something special. The free airport shuttle service to the airport also goes to the city centre, so you’ll feel a great sense of mobility. But with the 24-hour gym, sauna, steam bath and hydro-therapy pool, staying in also sounds like a great idea. For dining, the hotel’s La Plaza offers seasonal local specialities like Serrano ham and churros, while the stylish Reserva Grill specialized in grilled Spanish meats and fish, accompanied by delicious side dishes and wine. The Ferrum Bar is more than just a bar, offering one last opportunity to enjoy hot and cold tapas before you head back home, accompanied by an expertly mixed cocktail or a flute of Champagne.
Albergo Hotel, Berlin
The four-star luxury Albergo Hotel may have you a bit confused, as you wonder how you arrived in Tuscany without even getting on your airplane. But what’s wrong with a little bit of Italy near Berlin’s Schonefeld Airport? This sunny accommodation offers a southern flair accompanied by spa facilities ranging from a sauna with its own roof garden, to a solarium to a modern fitness centre, all open 24 hours a day. The Tuscan stylings of the hotel continue in the 50 guest rooms and in the Ristorante Albergo Restaurant, which may make you want to get on a plane bound for Siena, wherever you’re actually going. You can enjoy exotic cocktails in the Albergo’s bar, and you even have time for an extra drink or two, thanks to the shuttle service that can have you at the airport in just minutes.
Residenza D Epoca Pietra di Ponente, Rome
Going from faux-Italy to the real thing, the four-star Residenza D Epoca Pietra di Ponente Hotel is about as far from an airport hotel as you can get but is still minutes away from Rome’s Ciampino Airport. As you sip wine and take in the view of the countryside surrounding Rome and the Eternal City itself, from the hotel’s open air terrace, your flight will probably be the furthest thing from your mind. Offering just 17 guest rooms, this intimate four-star accommodation is set in a historical building, as you can see from the vaulted ceilings, the ancient fireplace and the cellar which now houses a charming lounge. That wine in your hand comes from the hotel’s serene bar, and you can accompany it with the fresh, regional organic produce used in the authentic cuisine being offered by the hotel restaurant. Dine in the restaurant, out on the terrace or in the privacy of your room. Then take a stroll through the hotel grounds. By the time you have to take that free shuttle ride to the airport, they might have to drag you kicking and screaming.
When I sat down to write about the strangest museums in Europe, I quickly saw that there were far too many for just one article. I will try to control myself and limit it to only two. But I can’t promise there won’t be a third at some point in the future. Ready. Set. Go!
Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, Rome, Italy
If you thought that standing in line for the Uffizi Museum in August was the closest you could get to hell in Italy, you haven’t been to the Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. This is the best place in Rome… well anywhere really to see scorched handprints on pages of ancient bibles, tables and clothing which are purported to be the desperate attempts of those in Purgatory to escape their tortures. The museum is located in an eerie room off the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio Church right on the banks of the Tiber River. The collection was started by a priest who saw a figure in the midst of a fire that destroyed the altar in the church long ago, which he took to be a soul trapped in Purgatory. From there, he started collecting information and artifacts on similar appearances around the world. When you’ve had enough of Purgatory and you’re ready to move on to Paradise, there are many Rome hotels willing to accommodate you.
Torture Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
While Rome offers the torments of the next world, Amsterdam’s Torture Museum reminds us that there’s always been plenty enough hell right here on earth. The museum’s gruesome displays include a rusty guillotine, stretching tables, a chair of nails and screws designed to crush your fingers, your head and any other body part. Darkened rooms convey the appropriate atmosphere, which is also complimented by many old paintings showing how each was used to inflict the maximum in pain. Though it’s easy to laugh at these things that happened so long ago, the museum also leaves you with the sobering message that torture is still used in many parts of the world, begging the question, have things really changed that much? You can ponder the answer from the comfort of your Amsterdam hotel room, where your chair will most likely not have nails in it.
British Lawnmower Museum
Moving from the maudlin to the mundane, we come to the British Lawnmower Museum. Located just 20 miles north of Liverpool in the Merseyside town of Southport, this place is truly paradise for anyone who is really into lawnmowers. Even if lawnmowers aren’t your thing, you will be impressed by the love and care and Herculean effort put in by ex-racing champion Brian Radam in creating the museum. Here you’ll find mowers that belonged to royalty such as Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana, the most expensive mowers in the world, a 2-inch functional lawnmower and many, many other mower-related artifacts. You’ll also learn the history of the lawnmower itself, which was invented by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830 as a device to trim the knap off of cloth. If you want to take a mower home with you, the museum’s “gift shop” is the attached Discount Garden Machinery Warehouse which offers 200 new lawnmowers for sale. From there you can ride your mower to the nearest Southport hotel.
Pencil Museum, Keswick, England
If a lawnmower museum isn’t mundane enough for you, then head south to the beautiful Lake District where you’ll find the Pencil Museum. Nestled in the village of Keswick in the heart of beautiful Cumbria, the Pencil Museum provides a rainy day alternative to all the area’s wonderful hiking. Where else are you going to be able to see the world’s longest colour pencil? Have you ever wondered how they get that lead into the pencil in the first place? You’ll find out at the Pencil Museum! There’s also a James Bond style World War II pencil and range of gifts marking the museum’s 30th anniversary. The Pencil Museum is family-friendly too, offering a Kids Art Studio where the little ones can put their new-found appreciation of pencils to work. You can also choose between a family ticket and a family season pass. Just make sure none of the kids draws on the walls of your Keswick hotel room.
Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Before hitting the Pencil Museum, you might want to increase your creativity with a visit to the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum, This institution is located, of course, in Amsterdam and has been part of the city’s pantheon of museums since 1987. Nearly a million visitors have passed through its front door since them. In addition to relating information about cannabis’s principal use, the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum also educates guests about all the other things hemp has been used for over the centuries, including medical, religious and cultural uses. The museum also focuses on how hemp can be used for agricultural and industrial purposes, displaying clothing accessories and cosmetic products made from hemp fiber in their gift shop. Highlights include a live cannabis garden in various stages of growth, pipe and roach clip collections and an 1836 Dutch Bible made of hemp. Don’t miss David Teniers the Younger’s 1660 painting, Hemp-Smoking Peasants in a Smoke House.
One of the best ways – and one of the most inexpensive – to experience the history of a new place is to visit its cemeteries. Even the smallest village graveyard will tell you which winter had a major blizzard, how big the families were from generation to generation and who the town’s have’s and have-not’s were. It’s all there, written in stone. As it would be impossible to sum up every cemetery in Europe, I’ll have to leave the explorations to you and concentrate on five of the most impressive resting places on the continent.
American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-mere, France
A humongous operation like D-Day deserves a humongous memorial, Colleville-sur-mere’s American Cemetery does a great job of paying tribute to all the men who lost their lives storming Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Set majestically on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, site of some of the day’s fiercest fighting, the cemetery contains the remains of almost 9,500 American military personnel. The cemetery was established on June 8, 1944, just days after the invasion. The rows and rows of simple white crosses and Jewish stars have been immortalized in such films as “Saving Private Ryan,” and the impressive Memorial consists of a semicircular colonnade featuring maps of the military operations, all surrounding a bronze statue. There’s also a reflecting pool, the names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the conflict but could not be located and/or identified and a time capsule to be opened on June 6, 2044. Though the cemetery and the landing beaches are within striking distance of several major cities, the closest hotels can also let you experience the charm of the villages of Normandy.
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris, France
Though known primarily as the final resting place of Jim Morrison, the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is so much more. As international as the city of Paris, the cemetery is home to the American Doors singer, the Irish novelist, poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde and the French-Polish composer Frédéric François Chopin, as well as such French luminaries as Edith Piaf, Honoré Daumier and Eugène Delacroix. Thought to be the world’s most-visited cemetery, Père-Lachaise attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The cemetery is home to three World War I memorials, and you can visit the 1682 Jesuit house belonging to Père François de la Chaise himself, the confessor to Louis XIV in the 17th century. The cemetery was established by Napoleon in 1804 but was considered to be too far outside the city to attract many funerals. Now in the centre of the city, this cemetery of over 300,000 residents is close to many great Paris hotels.
Catacombe di Roma, Rome, Italy
If you’d like to go further back in history and you’d like to get closer to the permanent residents of a cemetery, then come on down to the Catacombe di Roma. Dating from the 2nd century CE, this vast network of tunnels has seen much pillaging, sacking, destruction and expansion over the centuries. Those most widely known for its Christian burials, there are also many Pagans and many Jews, reflecting the ever-changing Roman population, located both separately and mixed all together. Up to four stories of tunnels run for many kilometres, and in addition to the many generations of Romans, the tunnels feature stunning examples of early Christian art dating from before 400 CD, as well as much Jewish art. Responsibility for the catacombs presently rests with the Pope, and excavations are constantly underway, increasing our knowledge of some very interesting periods of Roman history. Once you return to the land of the living, you’ll find a wide variety of Rome hotels.
Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic
The oldest preserved tombstone in the Old Jewish Cemetery of Prague is of one Avigdor Kara, who did in 1489. Over the next 300 years, tens of thousands of the city’s Jewish residents were laid to rest here. Though there are 12,000 tombstones that can be identified, the cemetery contains layer upon layer upon layer of graves (12 layers in some places), and the number of occupants is thought to be closer to 100,000. The sight of the masses of graves, piled atop each other and sticking in every direction like crooked teeth is a truly unique sight. Set in the Jewish Quarter of Prague, the cemetery is the final resting place of Renaissance scholar, historian, mathematician and astronomer David Gans, Mayor of the Jewish Town Mordechai Maisel and Rabbi Löw, forever famous for his association with Prague’s mythical clay creature, the Golem. Set in the centre of the old city, the cemetery is conveniently located for many Prague hotels.
Highgate Cemetery, London, UK
As disorderly as the cemetery of Prague is, that’s how orderly London’s Highgate Cemetery is. Don’t get me wrong, this classic English graveyard is filled to the brim with gothic graves, tombs and buildings. It’s also the final resting place of such diverse personalities as novelist George Eliot, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams and that grand old communist himself, Karl Marx himself. Two more recent arrivals are Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and the actor Sir Ralph Richardson. The cemetery is also infamous as being the site of the Highgate Vampire of the 1970′s. Set in the north of London, the cemetery has been designated Grade I on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. The northwestern wooded area was opened in 1839, as part of a plan to provide seven large around the outside of London, and it quickly became a fashionable address in which to spend eternity. The grounds are full of trees, shrubbery and wild flowers and are a haven for birds and small animals like foxes, giving it the feeling of a park, and the oldest section boasts an impressive collection of Victorian mausoleums and gravestones. The nearest transport link, the Archway Tube Station, but there are also many excellent hotels in the area.
If your love of multi-tasking extends to your European travels, then going out to see the opera is a no-brainer. Where else can you experience some of the continent’s most magnificent architectural gems from the inside and be entertained at the same time? And you even get to dress up! Here are five of Italy’s most notable opera houses.
Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Let’s start at the top. The top of Italy (Milan) and, after the Paris Opera House, perhaps the second most famous opera house in the world: La Scala. Opened in 1778 as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala (New Royal-Ducal Theatre at La Scala), it has long since shed its long name. Since opening night’s presentation of Europa Riconosciuta by Antonio Salieri (you’ll remember him from “Amadeus”), Italy’s greatest operatic artists, and many from the rest of the world, have appeared on this stage over the last 233 years. And La Scala is still going strong. Home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet and La Scala Theatre Orchestra, it’s still one of the world’s leading opera and ballet theatres. If you can’t make it to a performance, you can still experience La Scala through its Museo Teatrale alla Scala (La Scala Theatre Museum), which is actually attached to the theatre’s foyer and features paintings, drafts, statues and costumes relating to the theatre’s history. If you plan to stay in Milan, there are many hotels that make visiting La Scala most convenient.
Teatro della Pergola, Florence
Known as one of the planet’s foremost cities of Renaissance art, it’s no wonder that Florence would boast such an amazing Renaissance opera house. The Teatro della Pergola dates back to 1656 when it was built by the architect Ferdinando Tacca, son of the sculptor Pietro Tacca. Like many Florentine icons, the Teatro della Pergola was revolutionary in its design, as it was the first opera house with superposed tiers of boxes rather than the Roman-style raked semi-circular seating that all others used at the time. Considered to be the oldest opera house in the country, the Teatro della Pergola features two auditoriums, the 1,500 seat Sala Grande and the 400 seat Saloncino, which started out as a ballroom and provides a much more intimate experience. Important in the history of Florence, the theatre is also important in music history. This is where the great operas of Mozart were heard for the first time in Italy and was also the site of premieres of the work of Donizetti, Verdi and many others. Set in the centre of the city on the Via della Pergola, La Pergola is also close to many of Florence’s best hotels.
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Rome
Rome. The Eternal City. Ironically, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma is one of the newer opera houses on our list, dating only to the year 1880. Still grand by any accounting, the 1,600 seat Rome Opera House started life as the 2,212 seat Costanzi Theatre and has undergone many modifications and improvements along the way. Many of its performances of note occurred more recently than the Florence and Milan opera houses, from Maria Callas’s controversial performance of Norma in 1958 to the Carlo Maria Giulini-conducted performances of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro in 1964 and Verdi’s Don Carlos in 1965. If you happen to be in Rome in the summer, you can take advantage of the Opera’s summer venue: The outdoor theatre at the Baths of Caracalla, which feature Roman ruins in the background. No matter what time of the year you visit, there are many Rome hotels from which to choose.
Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania
Nearly 200 years in the making, plans for what was to become the Teatro Massimo Bellini were first discussed following the devastating earthquake of 1693. Construction began in 1812 and ended in 1890, and now you get to reap the benefits by visiting this 1,200 seat masterpiece. Named for local composer Vincenzo Bellini, it opened with his famous opera “Norma.” The opera house’s relationship with Bellini has continued through the years, with nearly all of his work having been performed here, with Maria Callas performing “Norma” for his 150th birthday in 1951. From the outside, the opera house appears to match the 17th century Sicilian Baroque style of its neighbors, and classic detail continues inside with the plush red interiors and the ornate stucco and marble foyer. Once in the auditorium, look up to see four of Bellini’s most famous operas depicted on the ceiling. After the show, you can retire to your choice of nearby Catania hotels.
Teatro La Fenice, Venice
In addition to being one of Europe’s most famous theatres, the Teatro La Fenice (The Phoenix) is one of its most aptly named. That’s because the theatre has burned down and been rebuilt twice, most recently in 2003, after a 1996 fire. Of course, you’d never know it, gazing up at what seems to be a magnificent 19th century treasure. That’s because a talented team of two hundred plasterers, artists, woodworkers, and other craftsman recreated the original theatre’s ambience in just 650 days… with €90 million. It was well worth it, and the theatre represents Venice’s fierce determination to survive in spite of the elements. Like the other opera houses, the original 1792 Teatro La Fenice also played a major part in musical history, premiering works by Giovanni Paisiello as well as Bellini and Donizetti. Many of the Venice hotels in the area were around to witness this history.
Posted in Amsterdam, Cologne, Dublin, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, London, Netherlands, Rome, The UK on 04. Jan, 2011
Although it would be nice to travel for leisure all of the time, sometimes there is work to be done. Luckily, in Europe, it is easy to enjoy the best of both worlds. Forgo the ordinary lecture halls and boring conference rooms in favor of one of these one-of-a-kind conference centres. Each beautifully fuses the state-of-the-art technology you need with the Old World romance and charm of ancient Europe.
Beurs van Berlage – Amsterdam
Dating back to 1903, this stunning structure was originally home to a stock exchange. Today, the magnificent Italian Renaissance-style compound (created after the concept of the “palazzo pubblico”) houses impressive halls and rooms for special events. It is an important monument in the city centre, and it enjoys a very convenient location. Beurs van Berlage is a 3-minute walk from Central Station and is a stone’s throw from the best hotels in Amsterdam.
Central Hall Westminster – London
London knows no shortage of conference halls. However, the Central Hall Westminster—easily identified by its historic Edwardian façade—may be the most beautiful. The building overlooks world-famous Westminster Abbey and beneath its domed ceiling, you will find ample and versatile space for meetings and celebrations. Most notably, the hall hosted the Inaugural General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946. The building itself dates back to 1912 and it is surrounded by some of the finest London hotels.
London's Central Hall Westminster
Dublin Castle – Dublin
True to its name, Dublin Castle is an impressive and regal event venue. Each of its five distinctly different sections has its own architectural character and style. Together, the units comprise one of the most interesting and beautiful conference centres in Europe. It was originally built to host Ireland’s Presidencies of the European Union, and it still remains a popular choice for meetings and celebrations. Along with elegant atmosphere and modern technology, Dublin Castle boasts a great location near many hotels in Dublin.
Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Saxia – Rome
The Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Saxia manages to seamlessly blend 15th-century architecture with modern facilities. The spacious complex consists of two large halls with incredible frescoes, two cloisters, four meeting rooms and various break-out paces. These options are perfectly positioned in the heart of the Eternal City, surrounded by its most famous piazzas and palaces. Of course, there are many fantastic Rome hotels nearby. Popular choices include the Hotel Villa Pinciana and the Grand Hotel De La Minerve.
Kongress Palais Kassel – Kassel
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and historical conference centres in Europe, the Kongress Palais Kassel hosts events large and small. Its Old World elegance, forward-thinking innovation and efficient, friendly staff make it an excellent choice. What’s more, the centre’s location in the heart of Germany (near the InterCity train station in Bad Wilhelmshöhe) place it conveniently close to many fantastic hotels in Kassel and beyond. Lastly, the Kongress Palais Kassel has a coveted Green Globe Certificate—so you can rest assured that your event will be eco-friendly as well.
the main entryway to the Kongress Palais Kassel
Gürzenich Köln – Cologne
Widely known as the city for media and communications, Cologne is a popular place to hold business events. It is always on the cutting-edge of technology; however, the city retains its historic and romantic charm. An excellent example of this fusion of old and new is the Gürzenich Köln in the vibrant city centre. Its Gothic façade dates back to 1447. Meanwhile, contemporary upgrades may be found throughout. From concerts and cabarets to exhibitions and lectures, this dynamic venue has hosted it all. Nearby hotels in Cologne include the Cologne Marriott Hotel and the Barcelo Cologne City Center.
HOFBURG Vienna – Vienna
An amazingly large and glamorous venue, the HOFBURG Vienna is actually housed within the former imperial palace. It stands in the heart of the historical centre (minutes from many wonderful hotels in Vienna) and covers over 17,000 square metres in functional workspace. Although they have been updated to offer the latest technology, the grand halls and staterooms of the palace have not lost their original charm. The result is a whimsical yet efficient atmosphere sure to enhance any celebration or conference.
Centre Culturel de Rencontre Abbaye de Neumünster – Luxembourg
Neumünster Abbey has led an interesting life. It was originally built to be a place for reflection; however, it was soon after transformed into a prison. Today, the site is home to the historic yet state-of-the- art Centre Cultural de Rencontre Abbaye de Neumünster. As part of the Modal Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is an important feature of Luxembourg’s urban landscape. Book a room at one of the many hotels in Luxembourg (like the Hotel Carlton or Hotel Parc Bellevue) to ensure convenience.
the famous Centre Culturel de Rencontre Abbaye de Neumünster
Le Palais Beaumont – Pau
Belle Epoque architecture meets top-of-the-line technology at Le Palais Beaumont in Pau. The sprawling compound dates back to 1899, and it was restored as a conference venue in 1999. The historical complex comprises high-tech conference facilities, two gourmet restaurants and even a casino. There are a total of 22 meeting halls surrounded by acres of pleasant countryside. An hour away, you will find Biarritz and the Spanish border. Closer to home, many hotels in Pau await to accommodate your stay.
Pieterskerk Leiden – Leiden
Set within the historical city centre of Leiden, the Pieterskerk Leiden perfectly blends into the urban landscape. The beautiful Gothic church dates back to 1121, making it one of the oldest conference venues around. Today the structure plays host to parties, receptions, exhibitions and other events with ease and style. Gatherings of up to 1,200 guests ma be accommodated; however, the large conference centre still manages to retain an intimate atmosphere. A recent renovation (completed in 2009) left the Pieterskerk Leiden even better than ever before. One thing that remained unchanged, however, is its great location near the best attractions and hotels in Leiden. Consider the De Doelen or the Golden Tulip Leiden Centre.
With its northern end touching the Swiss Alps and its southern island of Sicily just across the water from Tunisia, Italy is a land of many cultures. Nowhere is this seen more than in its vast assortment of ancient castles, which range from Germanic to Norman to Moorish, with every other style in between. The best way to experience this cultural variety is to spend the night in some of these castles, which is easy to do, as many of them now house hotels. Here are a few of the best, listed by region.
Piedmont: Castello di Pavone
If you’re bored by the treadmill in your typical hotel gym, then try climbing the countless steps leading to the Tower Suite of the 14th-century Castello di Pavone. You will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Alps that you won’t soon forget. Now a four-star luxury hotel, Castello di Pavone was occupied by King Arduino, the Bishop of Ivrea, and the House of Savoy before becoming a hotel in the 20th century. Many of the castle’s features go back much further in time, like the Romanesque church in the inner courtyard, which was built in 850. So sit back and enjoy the Alpine views outside your guest room window and the vaulted or wood beamed ceiling inside. Authentic Piedmont cuisine awaits in the elegant, candlelit restaurant with its ancient frescos looking down on you from the walls. If you have a special event, the castle can host hundreds of guests in its convention facilities, and a stroll around the surrounding tropical garden is just the thing before heading off to bed. And all just 45 minutes from Torino.
Trentino-Alto Adige: Castel Rundegg
Heading east, the Hotel Castel Rundegg welcomes you to the year 1100. Though not much is known about the castle’s first few centuries, we do know that one owner was the Baron Parovicini, who was thrown out of the French army for dueling, and then lived to a ripe old 104 years. Unlike many of its massive stone counterparts, the Castel Rundegg is quite elegant, and the hotel’s current specialty is providing you with relaxation. A visit to the Castel Rundegg Health & Beauty Farm lets you take advantage of a heated swimming pool, a modern gym, a Turkish bath and many medieval saunas. Local specialties are served in the restaurant, along with fine wines, and you can also have a drink in the garden and on the terrace. Gothic vaulting, beamed ceilings and bay windows recall the beauty of centuries past, while the free wireless internet access is a reminder that outside, it’s still the 21st century.
Tuscany: Castello di Tornano
Heading south to Tuscany we find the 12th century Castello di Tornano, a place so historic and beautiful that it enjoys the protection of the Ministry of Fine Arts. Though the characters for whom the rooms are named (Lancelot and Guinevere, Romeo and Juliet and Catherine de Medici) may not have actually stayed here, the hotel certainly evokes their spirit. Apartments are available in a former farmhouse with kitchens, while the hotel restaurant serves Tuscan specialties and classic Italian cooking, giving you many culinary choices. Enjoy touches of the past, like wrought-iron and canopied beds and narrow, winding stairways, as you get some R & R on the tennis court, by the swimming pool, in the Jacuzzi or with a massage treatment. This hillside castle is set surrounded by trees and trails, which are equally great for hiking, biking or just gazing at from your room.
Lazio: Castello della Castelluccia
If you want to experience the Spanish Steps, the Via Veneto and all the other exciting attractions of Rome by day, then slip into the serenity of your castle at night, then welcome to the Castello della Castelluccia. This 12th century castle hotel offers a shuttle service to the nearby Giustiniana Train Station that can have you in the heart of the Eternal City in just minutes. Surrounded by a wooded park, the Castelluccia lets you marvel at centuries-old frescoes right in the privacy of your own guest room. The castle’s history is revealed through the names of the individually decorated room, each of which comes from a previous guest or owner; for example, the Pope Pius VII Room, which hosted the Pontiff in 1814. A Jacuzzi, steam bath, outdoor swimming pool and massage service help you relax while La Locanda Restaurant serves a selection of traditional Italian food and fine wine by the side of a large fireplace.
Sicily: San Domenico Palace Hotel
Okay, so the San Domenico Palace Hotel is set in a 15th century monastery and not a castle. But with its long vaulted hallways passing by ancient cloisters, all adorned with paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, this hotel is nothing if not palatial. Winston Churchill, John Steinbeck, movie stars and members of many royal families would agree, as they’ve all been guests here. If you’re wondering what that scent is, it’s the bougainvillea and lemon trees in the garden, which can be found next to bright red trumpet flowers and palm trees. Views of Mt. Etna lie in one direction, while the blue Bay of Taormina can be viewed in the other direction. The monks might frown on their refectory and its fireplace being used for the hotel bar, but then they might approve of the guests’ enjoying the lovely terrace to dine al fresco. There’s also a fitness centre, high-tech spa facilities and a swimming pool.
Many airports have finally figured out that passengers with long layovers and passengers who arrive early for their flights not only have time on their hands, but they also have money in their wallets. As a result, many airport shopping centres now rival their city counterparts, featuring name brands at discount prices and many other services as well. Lucky you. Here are a few of the best European airports for shopping.
London Heathrow Airport
So you Finished that London trip, and you didn’t have time to make it to Harrods for that gift for Aunt Lucy. No worries. Just stop by the Harrods at Heathrow. And the Liberty. And Hermes, Prada and Versace. These are only a few reasons that Heathrow Airport was given the 2010 Skytrax World Airport Best Airport Shopping Award. If all that shopping has given you a crick in your neck, you can get a massage from the At Be Relax Spa, in Satellite Terminal 5B or relax in one of the YOTEL’s cabins, with their en suite bathrooms, free Internet access, and “techno wall” entertainment system. If you’re here for a layover, the Heathrow Express can have you inside Westminster Abbey inside an hour! And as you might expect, there are plenty of great hotels near Heathrow as well.
Munich International Airport
While Heathrow Airport 2010’s Best Shopping Award, Munich International Airport won the Skytrax World Airport Award for best airport in Europe in 2010 and was ranked number 4 in the world after the famous Singapore, Seoul, and Hong Kong airports. In addition to 150 shops, the airport is also popular with locals for the free concerts. Relaxation comes in the form of massages at the gate and “napcabs,” soundproofed mini-rooms designed for your snoozing pleasure. The airport also offers a cinema, and for those wanting some activity after a long flight, there’s soccer, beach volleyball, min-golf and even winter ice skating. And it’s no surprise that the city known for its Oktoberfest celebration would be the first to offer the world its first airport brewery, which is located at the Hofbräuhaus. If you find you’ve spent too much time at the Hofbräuhaus, the Kempinski Hotel Airport München offers a five-star location to spend the night, right at the airport, between Terminals 1 and 2. There are also plenty of other hotels near the airport.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
The airport that Heathrow beat out for the Best Airport Shopping Award offers some amenities that cannot be found in any other airport in the world. In fact, much of the circle of life is represented here in the only airport that offers both a wedding chapel and a mortuary. The airport also offers the largest complex for duty-free shopping, with fifty shops and boutiques offering over 120,000 products at famously low prices. And then there’s Schiphol Plaza. Located before customs, this immense shopping venue caters to non-travelers as well. There’s also a library featuring 1,200 books in 29 languages, along with music from Dutch composers. Being a city of art and culture, Amsterdam has opened a branch of its iconic Rijksmuseum, offering a small overview of classical and contemporary art right at the airport. If you’d like to see more, then both Amsterdam and Den Haag are short train rides away, offering the chance to see the world’s greatest art during your layover. And don’t forget about all the nearby hotels.
Rome Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport
Though the northern Italian city of Milan is regarded as the fashion capital of Italy, if not Europe, Fiumicino Rome Airport’s Shopping Gallery is famous for being the largest airport shopping center in Europe dedicated to luxury goods. The Shopping Gallery offers a whopping 140 stores featuring the biggest names in fashion, from Aeronautica Militare to Zoccai. High end products are offered at low end prices at such stores as Roma Travel Shop, Fabriano, Venchi, Tendenze, Riva, Dolce & Gabbana, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bulgari, Burberry, Prada… you get the picture. If you can’t wait to get home to try on your booty, you can always check into a nearby Fiumicino Airport hotel. The Hilton Garden Inn Rome Airport is actually located right in the airport.
Saving the biggest airport for last, Frankfurt Airport is continental Europe’s largest airport and one of the busiest, having moved 50,932,840 passengers in 2009. Also immense is its shopping, which is spread out over 20,000 square metres. Shops are open from 5:00 AM until 10:00 PM every day and range from supermarkets and delicatessens to classy clothes boutiques and photo shops. Hairdressers, textile cleaners and alteration tailors can also be found, and there’s even a sex shop where one can buy goods of an adult nature. Also in the adult category is the Airport Casino, where passengers can try their luck at Roulette, Black Jack and many slot machines. Player’s Island offers more slot machines, BigCash Club, Internet terminals, computer games and much more, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If all that activity has you too tired to head into town, there are many airport hotels that are much closer.
Posted in Amsterdam, Berlin, France, Germany, Italy, London, Netherlands, Paris, Rome, The UK on 12. Nov, 2010
Every country has its own way of ringing in the New Year, and Europe is no exception. The largest capital cities tend to have equally large celebrations; however, the unique traditions and ceremonies vary from country to country. Whether you are looking to celebrate with fireworks or a quiet night in, you will be able to find your ideal New Year’s Eve in Europe.
Parisian nightclubs are generally packed on New Year’s Eve (or, in French, “la Saint-Sylvestre.”) The night is also commemorated with a lavish feast (typically including pancakes, foie gras and champagne) called “le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre” and a formal ball or “soirée dansante.” The next day is the first of the year, or “Jour des Étrennes.” It is marked with a gigantic parade through the streets of Paris that ends right under the Eiffel Tower. Other activities include gift-giving, cruises down the River Seine, torchlight processions to pick grapes at midnight, and pranks among children (similar to the American April Fool’s Day) to honor a tradition called the “Poisson d’Avril.”
Recommended hotels in Paris: Hotel Elysees Mermoz, Adagio Paris Opéra
New Year’s Eve in Italy, or “La Festa di San Silvestro,” is a celebratory affair filled with food (especially lentils to symbolize money and good fortune, and pork to symbolize the richness of life in the upcoming year) and drink (a lot of prosecco, Italian sparkling wine.) Fireworks, music and dancing also play major roles. Big cities like Rome and Naples are hubs of excitement, and Bologna hosts the annual Fat Ox Fair. In the southern part of the country, locals celebrate by throwing their old things out the window to ready themselves for a new year—and don’t forget to wear red underwear for luck!
Recommended hotels in Rome: Hotel Villa Pinciana, Navona Palace Residenze Di Charme
Not surprisingly, the city of Amsterdam is a happening place on New Year’s Eve. If you’re looking for a big party scene, definitely head here on “Old Year’s Evening” (which is what the locals call the holiday.) Parties and nightclubs aside, the Netherlands has a handful of unique New Year’s traditions. Locals typically spend the day visiting friends and family members and historically, men were required to eat and drink a glass of liquor at each home they visited. Other distinctly Dutch traditions include burning Christmas trees, eating donuts (anything in the shape of a ring is thought to bring good fortune) and—most famously—diving into the freezing cold waters of the North Sea at noon.
Recommended hotels in Amsterdam: Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam, Hotel Estheréa
Like in other major cities around the globe, London rings in the New Year with a huge fireworks display. Fancy restaurants and nightclubs are packed on New Year’s Eve, and many opt to take a cruise down the romantic River Thames. Additionally, London hosts the largest fetish ball in Europe—the Torture Garden New Year’s Eve Ball—on the big night. The next day, British locals celebrate in unique ways: the old customs of the “burning of the bush” and “first footing” are still followed in earnest. The latter tradition states that the first male visitor to enter a house on New Year’s Day brings good luck (he also brings with him auspicious gifts, like bread or money.) A blonde, red head or woman is not allowed to enter first. Lastly, the UK has one of the world’s largest New Year parades.
Recommended hotels in London: Lancaster Gate Hotel, Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury Street Hotel
One of the most interesting New Year’s traditions in Germany is the custom of “Bleigiessen,” or the telling of fortunes. Molten lead is dropped into cold water, and the shape it takes predicts the future of the person in question. Locals also leave a bit of every food on the table until after midnight; this is thought to ensure plenty of food in the upcoming year. Quirky customs aside, Germany celebrates the New Year as most other countries do: with eating (especially fish, lentils, cabbage and carrots for good luck), drinking and general merriment. The giant celebration on New Year’s Eve is called “Brandenburger Tor,” and it is accompanied by fireworks and ringing church bells.
Recommended hotels in Berlin: Hotel California am Kurfürstendamm, Hampton by Hilton Berlin City West
Yes, winter comes even to the beaches of St. Tropez and the coves of Crete turning the 24-hour summer sunlight of Iceland into perpetual darkness. But why wait for the sun to go away when you can go away from the sun? The fact is that some of the most amazing sights in Europe are underground!
For example, some of the most beautiful caves on the continent can be found in south Wales. Seventeen kilometres of caves make Dan yr Ogof one of Wales’s most popular attractions and, according to a 2005 Radio Times poll, the greatest natural wonder in England. Rich colors, colossal stalactites and stalagmites dazzle the eyes, while the bones of many animals and 42 human beings unfortunate to get lost in the caves awaken the imagination. Hardcore cavers can enjoy the whole of the cave system, but the regular tourist can still expect an amazing experience in the first section, which is the only one open to non-cavers. For natural wonders above ground, the caves are set within the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park, and when it’s time to bed down on something softer than rock, there are also many nearby hotels in the town of Brecon.
Catacombes de Paris, Paris
If you think the streets of Paris are crowded, wait until you see what’s under the streets. The ossuary known as the Catacombes de Paris contains the bones of hundreds of thousands of Parisians, all stacked in the most creative patterns. When the city’s graveyards ran out of space, the bones were dug up and relocated in the tunnels remaining from the ancient stone mines beneath the city, and tourists have been flocking to see this ghastly yet whimsical sight since 1867. Though the bones fill just a fraction of the 300 kilometres of tunnel, it can be quite overwhelming, and just a fraction of the ossuary is open to the public. The bones are organized into the cemeteries from which they came and in some cases, the catacombs allow you to revisit historical events. Like the riots leading up to the French Revolution in the Place de Grève, Hôtel de Brienne, and Rue Meslée, whose dead were put in their own section on 28 and 29 August 1788. The entrance is at the Place Denfert-Rochereau, and the closest hotel is the Hôtel Du Midi Paris Montparnasse.
If you’re looking for something a little livelier, how about some underground Flamenco dancing, accompanied by a great meal and some sangria? That’s what you’ll find when you visit the section of Granada known as Sacromonte. Set high over the city, Sacromonte offers spectacular views of the Alhambra and the Albaicín on the outside, but it’s inside its famous caves that Sacromonte sizzles. Sacromonte’s residents have been living in caves for centuries, and the area’s shops, restaurants, bars and Flamenco houses are also set in caves. Of course the caves are now equipped with electricity, plumbing and all the other modern comforts, making them more desirable than the city’s houses, as they’re cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Though you can stay in Sacromonte hotels, the lion’s share of Granada hotels are down the hill, but most will set you up with shuttles to take you to the Flamenco shows.
If you want to see why Rome is called the Eternal City, you must go underneath. And with the archeological research group Rome Sotterranea now opening their adventures to the public, you can see sights that haven’t been widely seen for centuries, if not longer. Beautiful temples and mosaics live in the dark beside still-active sewers that have been processing the city’s refuse for millennia. Beneath the Coliseum are the skulls of tigers, giraffes, bears, and other animals used in the shows. Beneath the 12th century Basilica of San Clemente are the remnants of a 4th century Basilica and the 1st century Temple of Mithras. Rome Sotterranea also offers tailor-made guided tours through sites like ancient aqueduct pipes, the Emissary of Nemi Lake and the secret passages beneath Villa Adriana. But be sure to make your reservation early (firstname.lastname@example.org), as they require at least 15 days in order to obtain permits for these very special sites. Chances are you’ll remember the ancient sewers every time you use the bathroom in your Rome hotel.
Škocjan Caves, Slovenia
Far from Wales but just south of Ljubljana, in the beautiful region of Kras is where you’ll find a network of caves so beautiful that they’ve been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Škocjan Caves, visited by 100,000 people a year are a must-see for visitors to the capital city. Formed by the Reka River going underground and staying underground for 34 kilometres, the caves themselves are 3.5 kilometres long, 10 to 60 metres wide and over 140 metres high. The largest of the many chambers created by the water is Martel’s Chamber, which boasts an awesome 2.2 million cubic metres, making it the largest underground chamber in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Don’t miss the awesome sight of the river disappearing into the ground, and don’t miss the steps that were cut to the bottom of Velika Dolina back in 1819. The caves are not far from the Italian border and the city of Trieste, and they’re even closer to the hotels of Ljubljana.