Category : Spain
Yes, there is still snow on European ground—and, most likely, there will be for several months. But that’s no reason to delay planning your next summer getaway, is it? A great way to experience a country’s culture and summer weather is a good, old-fashioned music festival. Here are ten of the best, in no particular order:
1. The Festival Internacional de Benicàssim (Spain)
Chances are, you have not heard of the Spanish town of Benicàssim—unless, of course, you are a serious music lover. The picturesque port positioned between Barcelona and Valencia plays host to a renowned music festival each July. Alternative rock bands and electronic artists dominate the lineup, and live music can be heard from 5pm straight through ‘til morning. Detox between music-filled nights on the nearby beach.
2. Roskilde European Music Festival (Denmark)
This is one of the biggest, most popular music festivals in Europe; not only that, it lets participants party for a great cause! Originally founded by two students and a promoter back in 1971, the festival has since been taken over by the Roskilde Foundation. The non-profit event combines live music, organic food, experimental art and design, and 24-hour parties to promote music and culture in the area.
3. Open’er Festival (Poland)
Poland’s biggest music festival welcomes lovers of all genres, from hip hop to electronic pop. The gigantic event is held in an airfield in Gdynia, an otherwise peaceful city on the country’s northern coast. Along with various concerts (bands play from 4pm to 2pm; DJ’s continue until 5am) on seven stages, there is a “festival town” where you can buy merchandise, see live theatre and films, and even participate in organized sports.
4. INmusic Festival (Croatia)
Since its first incarnation in 2005, Croatia’s largest open-air festival has grown exponentially. It is held over two days every June on a tiny island in Lake Jarun, and its wonderful location allows it to combine live music with beach activities. The festival draws some pretty impressive names (Franz Ferdinand, Cypress Hill, Prodigy, etc) and it was named one of Europe’s best in 2008 by The Times.
5. Exit (Serbia)
A fantastic summer tradition held in the Petrovaradin Fortress of Novi Sad, Exit is unlike any other music festival around. The ancient site is an interesting venue for the music, which is always on the cutting-edge. Past headliners include Lily Allen, the White Strips, and Arctic Monkeys. Exit has become so huge in recent years that it has even spawned its own record label. Listeners can download MP3 singles and albums for free from the official website.
6. Pinkpop Festival (Netherlands)
Named after the fact that it is held each Pentecost weekend, the annual Pinkpop Festival is one of the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1970 in Landgraaf, and it has featured everyone from The Killers to the Counting Crows. The three-day event always coincides with Pinkster (the Dutch name for the holiday) and is held over three days.
7. Rock am Ring and Rock in Park (Germany)
Actually two sister events, the Rock am Ring and Rock in Park together comprise one of the largest music festivals in the world. They are held at the Nürburgring racetrack and on a football stadium in Nuremberg, respectively, over a weekend in June. They typically feature nearly identical lineups—and they are typically sold-out events (which should come as no surprise, given Germany’s famous love of rock and roll.)
8. Sziget Festival (Hungary)
Unlike many of the other music festivals on this list, Sziget is actually held in a major city—Budapest, Hungary’s capital. Add that to the fact that the festivities last an entire week, and you have a truly impressive event. By the seventh day, festival-goers have had the opportunity to see a whopping 1,000 artists in action! These artists have included Amy Winehouse, the Gorillaz, and Iron Maiden. And the Sziget Festival is not just about music—it also includes, cinema, shopping and outdoor sports in the heart of the old city.
9. The Isle of Wight Festival (UK)
One of the world’s most historic and celebrated music festivals, this one began in 1968. The Isle of Wight Festival’s lineup has since featured Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam. Still not impressed? It manages to draw over 600,000 people to Seaclose Park, near Newport. You can choose to camp or stay at a nearby hotel. There are plenty of options to choose from—visit Eurobookings.com to make your reservations today!
10. Pukkelpop (Belgium)
Missed the many festivals held in June and July? Well, if you can make it to the Hasselt area by the end of August, you can still catch one of Europe’s great summertime events! Pukkelpop draws over 180,000 music-lovers to the quaint village of Kiewit, surrounded by thick woodlands and scenic fields. The 2010 festival marked its 25th anniversary, and the celebration is still going strong.
A cornerstone of Spanish cuisine, the tradition of eating tapas has become one of the country’s greatest cultural exports. It is a fun and easily adaptable way to dine, as it allows the eater to build each meal—from a light snack to a hearty supper—to suit his or her tastes and appetite. In recent decades, the mix-and-match small plates can be found across the globe—but of course, there is no better place to go to for authentic tapas than the great cities of Spain and Catalonia. The options vary from city to city, and from even from bar to bar. However, there are a few mainstays that can typically be found in virtually every tapas bar in Spain.
If there is a bar in Spain that only serves one tapa, that tapa is probably a dish of olives. Far and away the most popular snack in the country, it can be seen as Spain’s version of beer nuts. Sidle up to any bar frequented by Spaniards, and odds are that you will find aceitunas on the menu. Some of the many olive varieties available in Spain include empeltres, arbequinas, and the ever-popular manzanillas.
Catalan cuisine heavily features seafood of many kinds, but especially cod. The fish is commonly served in tapas form as bacalao, salty and usually atop slices of bread with tomatoes.
Boquerones en vinagre
You can tell the caliber of a tapas bar’s cuisine by the quality of the boquerones en vinagre (filleted anchovies in vinegar.) In a more upscale establishment, the tiny fish will be fresh from the sea. However, in a cheaper place, they may just be fresh from the tin.
Spanish calamares, or calamari, are battered and fried, crispy on the outside and chewy inside. The tasty circles of squid are sometimes served with a dipping sauce, but also simply divine with just a squeeze of lemon.
Chorizo al vino
Just as tapas have been embraced by eaters around the world, so has chorizo—that most delicious of cured sausages. A traditional tapa, chorizo al vino is just what its name implies—generous chunks of chorizo cooked in red wine. In some parts of Spain, the sausage is also served al sidra, or cooked in cider.
One thing you probably won’t find a lot of in classic tapas bars are fresh vegetables. In fact, ensaladilla rusa (“Russian salad”) is often one of the few vegetarian options available. It is also one of the most popular dishes among the locals, perhaps because it provides the perfect complement to all of that meat. The salad’s main components are potatoes, eggs and mayonnaise; common additions include chopped green beans, carrots and pickled cucumbers.
Pa amb tomaquet
So simple and easy to replicate at home, pa amb tomaquet is a staple of the Catalan diet—and one that many locals hold close to their hearts. The dish is comprised of rustic bread rubbed with tomatoes and sprinkled with salt, olive oil, and sometimes garlic. It can be served as a side dish, or topped with cod (bacalao) or ham to make a tapa.
Another starchy favorite is patatas bravas, fried cubes of potato in a spicy mayonnaise sauce. No, it’s not healthy—but it is most certainly delicious, and an essential component of a traditional tapas meal.
Pimientos del Padron
Pimiento peppers—yes, those little red peppers commonly found stuffed into green olives—take on an entirely new identity in this tapas dish. The thumb-sized fruits are fried in hot oil, salted, and served as pimientos del Padron (named for the region in Galicia where they come from.) While most are fairly mild, some pimiento peppers are quite spicy—so savor with caution!
The name pinchos or pintxo comes from the Spanish word for “spike.” The dish, typically Basque in origin, includes a small (ie. toothpick-sized) skewer of meat served on a slice of bread.
… Of course, that’s just the beginning! There are many other tasty tapas served in Spanish cities, from Madrid to Barcelona. To find the perfect hotel in Spain to pair with your food, be sure to check out Eurobookings.com—The European Hotel Specialist!
Whether you know it as kitesurfing, kiteboarding or just having a heck of a lot of fun on the beach, this extreme water sport is becoming more popular all the time. Whether you’re coming at it from surfing, from hang-gliding or just out of curiosity, you’ll find that the most popular spots for expert kitesurfers are also the best spots for the novice to find lessons. Harnessing the power of the ocean and the wind and finding yourself hurtling through the air 20 feet above the water makes kitesurfing one of the most exhilarating activities you’ll ever do, and these are some of the best beaches in Europe to “get your feet wet.”
Weston Super Mare, United Kingdom
Weston Super Mare is known for its year-round access to the water and for its many sports, from surfing to hang-gliding. Known for the extreme changes brought by the changing tides, the beach offers good and bad times to head out kitesurfing. The best time is the two hours before or after high tide. Otherwise you’re going to be looking at either choppy water or shallow muddy water. You’ll also have to be careful of posts that can be hidden by the high tide, but I’m sure you’ll agree after a great day of kitesurfing that the risks were worth it. If you’re a complete beginner and you’re unsupervised, this may not be the beach for you. After quitting time, you can wander and roam through this timeless fishing village, whose picturesque streets and amazing seafood will make you want to stick around as long as you can. Staying in one of the many great Weston Super Mare hotels is a good way to do that.
Boyalik Beach, Turkey
From one end of Europe to the other (actually to Asia Minor if you want to be accurate), we come to the Turkish Riviera resort of Çeşme and the seaside paradise that is Boyalik Beach. Set on Turkey’s west coast on the Çeşme Peninsula, the Aegean Sea is quite beautiful here. More importantly for kitesurfers, Boyalik Beach boasts flat water with periodic small chop and strong northerly winds ranging from 15 to 22 knots during peak season; the perfect combination for everyone from beginner to expert. The best conditions can be found either between December and March or between June and September. For the times you’re not on the water (or in the air), you can explore the unspoiled bays and blue skies of the stunning coastline and the aniseed, sesame and artichoke fields dotted with fig and gum trees that stretch inland. If you’re looking for more urban attractions, the city of Izmir isn’t far. But a Çeşme hotel makes it easy to hit the beach.
One advantage of being located at the southernmost tip of Europe is the wind that blows through the wind tunnel formed by Spain and North Africa. After all, what can you say about a place that boasts over 300 windy days a year? Boasting two prevailing winds, the Poniente from the east and the Levante from the west, Tarifa offers two premium kitesurfing beaches. Los Lances Beach allows you to take advantage of the Poniente, while Valdevaqueros can be kited on both winds. Needless to say, Tarifa offers a variety that is second to none; one day you could be riding the flat waters of Valdevaqueros in a strong Levante and the next you can be surfing meter-high waves at Los Lances. While the water is warm in the summer, winter months require a wetsuit. Whatever the season, many Tarifa hotels are close to the water.
Pounda Beach, Paros, Greece
If you think of the Cyclades Islands as being places for sun worshipping on lazy beaches or partying with the Euro-spring break crowd, it’s time to add a third option. Because Pounda Beach on Paros Island is a haven for kitesurfing. Just an eight kilometre bus ride from the island’s main city, this is one of Paros’s most popular beaches. It’s also ideal for the beginning kitesurfer, offering predominately flat water, making it a great place to learn, practice and get comfortable before heading out to some of the other beaches. There’s no bad season, as the wind blows all year round. But June through October is when you’ll find the most reliable winds. And then there’s the rest of the island. Inhabited since 3200 BCE, strolling around parts of Paros is almost like visiting a vast outdoor historical museum. Most hotels can be found back in the main city, but if you want to stay close to the beach, the Holiday Sun Hotel in nearby Pounta makes an excellent choice.
Most people would never guess that some of the best waves in Europe can be found just 90 kilometres north of Lisbon, just off the coastal town of Peniche. The peninsula boasts five kilometres of pristine white sand beaches which are so beautiful you might forget why you came. But looking at those waves and feeling that strong northerly wind will remind you soon enough. The bay’s unique shape allows you to kitesurf in many different directions, and the variety of waves, from perfect peelers to choppy mush, makes this a great place for all skill levels. Fall and winter offer the best conditions here, though be sure not to forget your wetsuit, as the water can dip down to 12 degrees Celsius – as opposed to an average 24 degrees in the summer. If you’re a beginner and you find yourself overwhelmed, just head a bit to the northeast to the Lagoon of Obidos where you’ll find flat conditions and a kitesurf school. And don’t forget to book your Peniche hotel room!
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Europe is its vast collection of Cathedrals. Towering over every major city and quite a few of the minor ones, they bring visitors face-to-face with the greatest architectural and artistic achievements in history. But if you limit yourself to the Cathedrals, you’re missing out, because Europe boasts many amazing Synagogues as well. Though sometimes harder to seek out and sometimes harder to visit due to security concerns, visiting Europe’s Synagogues provides an equally historical and equally impressive experience. Here are five of the most notable.
The Great Synagogue in Dohány Street, Budapest, Hungary
The largest Jewish Temple in Europe, the Great Synagogue in Dohány Street was built between 1854 and 1859 to accommodate the 30,000 Jews on the Pest side of the Danube. Its soaring Moorish walls leading up to its great twin domes is truly spectacular, as is its sheer size, as it was built to accommodate just under 3,000 worshippers. One of Europe’s more accessible Synagogues, the Dohány Street Synagogue complex offers visitors the chance to visit the Temple itself, the Jewish Museum, the 1931 Heroes’ Temple, which was built in honor of Budapest’s Jewish World War I soldiers, the Raul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Cemetery, the final resting place of 2,000 of Budapest’s Holocaust victims. Adding to the history of the site, the birthplace of Theodor Herzl, the pioneer of Zionism, used to occupy the space now taken by the Jewish Museum. There are many hotels in Budapest that can put you close to the Synagogue.
The Jubilee Synagogue in Jerusalem Street, Prague, Czech Republic
The largest Synagogue in Prague, the Jubilee Synagogue is also one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in the city. Built in 1906, the building reflects a unique mix of the Art Nouveau style so popular at the time and a Moorish look so popular in Synagogues. The Mudéjar red-and-white stone facade is particularly beautiful, and inside the Moorish elements are overlaid with brilliantly painted Art nouveau patterning. Its name was meant to honor Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, who in 1906 was celebrating the 50th anniversary (Jubilee) of his reign over the Austro-Hungarian Empire of which Prague was part. Prayer services are held here on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and the Synagogue is open to the public from April until October. Set close to Prague’s central Wenceslas Square, there are many nearby hotels.
The Neue Synagoge, Berlin, Germany
All over Europe following the destruction of World War II, major buildings that had been destroyed have been rebuilt and restored to their original state. One such success story is Berlin’s Neue Synagoge. Built between 1859 and 1864 and designed by Eduard Knoblauch, the Temple was consecrated on Rosh HaShana 1866 with Otto von Bismarck in attendance. This beautiful Moorish style building could accommodate 3,000 of Berlin’s 20,000 Jews. Though the building was set on fire and the Torah scrolls desecrated during 1938’s Kristallnacht, the Synagogue was saved from total destruction by police officer Otto Bellgardt. Unfortunately the bombing raids that followed in 1943 and 1944 largely destroyed the remaining Synagogue, and it wasn’t until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that rebuilding began. As beautiful as the exterior of the Synagogue is, the main sanctuary was never restored, and the small congregation that returned to the building in 1995 meets in what used to be the women’s wardrobe room. The surrounding Spandauer Vorstadt neighbourhood has become quite trendy the past few years, and there are many hotels to be found in the vicinity and in the rest of the city.
Córdoba Synagogue, Córdoba, Spain
If seeing all these neo-Moorish Synagogues makes you want to see the real thing, then head to Córdoba. During the rule of the Moors, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in a multi-cultural society. Echoes of this time can still be seen in the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba and especially in the Córdoba Synagogue. Built in the Moorish Mudéjar style, this 14th century gem consists of a courtyard, a prayer room and a women’s gallery up above, reflecting the separation of the sexes required by synagogues of the time. The prayer room is impressive when seen through the gallery’s three ornate decorative arches. After the Jews were expelled by Isabela and Ferdinand in 1492, the building served as a hospital, a chapel and a school before becoming a national monument in 1885. Work in 1929 and 1977-1985 (to celebrate the 850th birthday of Córdoba resident Maimomodes) has brought it to its present state of restoration, and it’s the only synagogue in Andalusia to survive the expulsion and inquisition of the Jews. One of the nicer hotels in the area is the Hospederia Del Churrasco.
The Portuguese Synagogue, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
The Jewish Community of Amsterdam is unique among northern and western European countries, because its background is Sephardic rather than Ashkenazy, meaning that while most European Jews trace their lineage back to the Roman dispersal of Palestine in 66 AD, the Sephardic Jews came into Europe through the Islamic countries of North Africa and Spain. A large number of Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal ended up fleeing to Amsterdam. Thus we have the Portuguese Synagogue. Dating back to the year 1675, the Synagogue, known as the Esnoga, is quite plain from the outside. This was a common trait for Synagogues, as they did not want to attract the attention of their Christian neighbors who were not always friendly. But inside is where you’ll find the goodies, as the interior is truly beautiful. One unusual features is that the floor inside is covered with fine sand, which is an old Dutch tradition, to absorb dust, moisture and dirt from shoes and to muffle the noise. Located in the centre of the city, the Synagogue also has a variety of hotels nearby.
Posted in Spain on 23. Sep, 2011
It’s funny how some cities get all the hype and others don’t. When you think of Spain, you think of Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla or San Sebastian and Bilbao in the north. Sadly missing from this list is the northern coastal city of Santander. The capital and largest city of the province of Cantabria features a compact historic center and a handful of beautiful beaches, along with a history that stretches back before the Roman Empire. In Roman times, this was known as Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium, and its present name comes from Saint Andrew, whose head was supposedly brought there in the 3rd century. You may lose your head to when you see the beauty of the city that became the favoured summer residence of King Alfonso XIII a century ago.
Palacio de la Magdalena
Speaking of Alfonso, the palace he built between 1908 and 1912 has become Santander’s most popular destination. This was his summer residence from 1913 until 1930, the year before the birth of the short-lived Second Spanish Republic. The Palacio de la Magdalena was used by the King for many recreational and sporting activities. Then in 1932 it hosted summer courses of the Menéndez Pelayo International University. A historical monument since 1982, the palace now delights visitors with its opulence and its eclectic style, which combines English, French, and Spanish motifs. The highlight of the interior is the reception rooms, which hold paintings of interest by artists such as Luis Benedito, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, and Fernando Alvarez Sotomayor. And don’t miss the stables which emulate a medieval English village its sharp roofs of steep slopes and wooden tiles.
Catedral de Santa Maria de la Asunción
As in every other city in Spain, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Cathedral. This one was built between the 12th and 14th centuries atop the 8th century Abbey of the Holy Bodies, and if you go far enough back, this was the spot where the original Roman settlement had been located. Which makes sense, as the Cerro de Somorrostro, the hill all these structures have occupied, made for a location that must have been easy to defend – especially when surrounded by water. The Catedral de Santa Maria de la Asunción is separated into two parts; the Church of the Christ, which is the old section below and is now a vaulted crypt, and the Cathedral-Basilica of Santander above. Unfortunately the Cathedral lost a lot of its treasures in a large fire in 1941, but some survived. Luckily most of the decoration of the arches, columns, entablature and doorways is preserved.
The Gran Casino del Sardinero
From one extreme to the other, we go to the Gran Casino del Sardinero, which, I’m sorry, is every bit as impressive as its more famous counterpart in Monte Carlo. This one was designed in 1916 by architect Eloy Martínez del Valle. Inside you’ll find more than just roulette and baccarat. You’ll also find dance, dramatic plays, musicals and operas being performed. You’ll also find slot machines, a restaurant, three dining rooms and two bars, as well as a café and a party room. You’ll also find blackjack, poker and electronic roulette. Check out the works of art on the walls. And if you’re in town at the right time you can also check out one of the regularly scheduled cultural and sporting events, photographic contests, sculpture and painting exhibitions, bowling, football, rowing and other activities. And then there’s the Texas Hold ‘em Tournament. Not bad for a casino that you’ve probably never heard of.
Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Cantabria
There aren’t many parts of Europe that can call the Romans new-comers, but Santander and the surrounding area was one of the earliest places inhabited by humans in all of Europe. If you don’t believe me, then head to the Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Cantabria. Here in this charmingly small museum you’ll find around 1,200 local artifacts dating all the way back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. And yes, there are more recent objects as well, such as the Roman items left over from the colonies of Juliobriga and Castro Urdiales, in addition to an amazing Medieval collection which includes an ivory belt buckle from the nearby Santa Maria de Hito archaeological site.
And then there are the beaches. There are far too many to do justice in this little article, so here’s a brief overview of some of the best. The Playa de la Concha is a 250 metre urban beach with golden sand alongside a lively promenade. Creature comforts such as parking, showers, public toilets, sunshades and sunbeds are complimented by many nearby restaurants and shops. If you’re looking for a Blue Flag beach, head to Playa del Sardinero. At 1,300 metres long, this is the city’s longest and most popular, featuring a park at one end. Check it out Sunday morning when locals meet to play “palas”, a game played with wooden bats and a small ball. Playa Mataleñas is a beautiful bay on Santander’s outskirts which is overlooked by green fields and rocky cliffs, and Playa de los Bikinis got its name when the ladies got less modest at the end of Franco’s regime in the 1970s.
Santander boasts a wide variety of hotels. The Hotel Real is a five-star luxury accommodation that’s more like a palace than a hotel. A good choice for a budget accommodation that’s centrally located is the Hotel Antoyana, and if you’d like the reliability of a chain hotel, there’s the three-star NH Ciudad de Santander Hotel. Offering the best view of Sardinero Beach is the Hotel Chiqui, and the closest hotel to the airport is the two-star Hotel Hiblanc.
Europe is known more for the horizontal nature of its cities; cities full of ancient architectural treasures that rise tens of metres and not hundreds. To a large degree it’s out of respect for such monuments as the Paris Opera House, Westminster Abbey and the Kremlin that American-style skylines have not emerged to smother their classical beauty. But within the last several decades, there has been a building boom in Europe, resulting in buildings that are not only cutting edge in design… but are very tall. Here are a few of the tallest.
City of Capitals Moscow, Moscow, Russia
More than any other city, Moscow has been leading the charge and now lays claim not only to five of the top ten tallest buildings on the continent, but also to the top three on the list. The tallest of these is the City of Capitols Moscow. Completed in 2010, this shining structure rises 310.6 metres from the street below. This makes it an imposing sight, especially in light of the fact that its neighboring City of Capitals St. Petersburg is only 44.7 metres shorter. Luckily for us, this is one of those skyscrapers offering lots of access to the public, as the upper half of the building offer a 10,800 square metre entertainment complex, including shops, restaurants, movie theatres, presentation halls and a huge 2,480 square metre fitness centre. There’s also 101,440 square metres of large apartments and 80,000 square metres of office space. If you want to sleep with a view of the towers, the two-star Moscow Apartments are right across the river.
Sapphire of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
After Moscow, the number four spot goes to the Sapphire of Istanbul, which weighs in at a height of 238 metres. Of course, some skyscraper enthusiasts like to count the spire, which makes the height 261 metres. Rising 54 floors above ground level, the Sapphire offers lots of shopping, as well as once-impossible views of the Bosphorus. An especially nice way to enjoy your view is while floating in the swimming pool located 33.5 metres up the building. Or how about a game of golf at 163 metres? But what makes the Sapphire unique are the building’s gardens that are found every three floors and the recreation areas that can be found every 10 stories. Since the main purpose of the building is residential, the designers have gone to great lengths to make it livable. The Sapphire is Turkey’s first green building, having two special glass shells which can take the outside air naturally by holes located at every 3 floors. If you want to sleep close to the Sapphire, the five-star Avantgarde Hotel Istanbul makes an excellent choice.
Commerzbank Tower, Frankfurt, Germany
Second only to Moscow in the number of skyscrapers, the financial centre of Frankfurt-am-Main boasts two of the top ten tallest buildings in Europe. The tallest is Commerzbank Tower, which passed up the Messeturm upon its 1997 completion. It’s actually difficult to stand out from the competition in the modern skyline that has earned the city the nickname of “Mainhattan.” But at 259 metres and boasting a unique modern design, Commerzbank Tower does just that. Especially when you throw in the signal light on top which increases the height to 300.1 metres. It’s no surprise that the two tallest buildings in Frankfurt are office buildings, thus lacking the creature comforts of the Sapphire. But in addition to its 121,000 square metres of office space, this 56-story building also offers beautiful winter gardens, and the natural lighting and air circulation give it a light breezy feeling. If you want a break from the modern buildings in the Frankfurt skyline, just a block from the Commerzbank Tower is the more classic structure housing the five-star luxury Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof Hotel.
Cuatro Torres, Madrid, Spain
Though Madrid’s entry into the top ten is technically the 250 metre-high Torre Caja Madrid, it wouldn’t make sense not to include the building’s three partners, Torre de Cristal, Torre Sacyr Vallehermosothe and Torre Espacio. All built between 2007 and 2009, these four modern wonders make up the Cuatro Torres. Their proximity and their similar heights (Torre de Cristal is only 89 centimetres shorter than Torre Caja Madrid) make the four buildings part of a greater whole. A brand-new landmark for the grand old capital of Madrid, the towers, set on the north end of the city, are hard to miss, whether you’re landing at nearby Barajas Airport or hiking up the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains outside the city. Located in a business and entertainment district, there are many shops, restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area. But you can’t get much closer than the five star Eurostars Madrid Tower Hotel, as it is actually located on the 30th floor of Torre Sacyr Vallehermosothe.
1 Canada Square, London, England
If 1 Canada Square looks familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen it in a movie. Like its American cousins the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, 1 Canada Square has become a cinematic icon, appearing in 28 Weeks Later, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Supremacy, Johnny English and the James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough. Located at the lively Canary Wharf it’s the oldest entry in the top 10, having been completed in 1991, and its 50 stories are spread over 235 metres. But if you want to see it as the UK’s tallest building, you’d better see it fast, as the soon-to-be-completed Shard London Bridge will surpass it upon its 2012 completion. But no matter where it ranks, you’ll be able to enjoy its distinctive pyramid roof which boasts a flashing aircraft warning light, a rarity for buildings in the UK. If you want to stay in a hotel that puts you close to the building and to all the shops, restaurants and nightlife of Canary Wharf, consider the five-star Four Seasons London Canary Wharf.
Most of Europe’s most popular tourist attractions are on dry land. However, that does not mean that we should forget the wonders of the sea. Here are the five best aquariums in Europe that allow you to discover the mysterious depths of the Pacific, Atlantic and other oceans without getting your feet wet.
1. Oceanário de Lisboa – Lisbon, Portugal
The Oceanário de Lisboa is not just one of the best in Europe. It is, in fact, the largest aquarium as well. Its central reservoir is a 1,000-square-metre tank with four gigantic acrylic windows to peer through. Four smaller containers surrounding the main exhibit also contain inhabitants of the Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic and Antarctic waters. There are more than 8 thousand sea creatures and 500 species of plants for visitors to marvel at. On the first floor of the oceanarium, there are an additional 25 thematic aquariums. Major highlights include two spider crabs, two sea otters, Tropical Indian coral reefs, and a rare sunfish.
the Oceanário de Lisboa's prized sunfish
2. l’Oceanogràfic – Valencia, Spain
The largest open-air aquarium in Europe is actually located in Valencia, Spain. It is l’Oceanogràfic, within the state-of-the-art City of Arts and Sciences. The futuristic compound features more than 110 thousand square metres of aquatic exhibits—and even the architecture was inspired by water! The main building was designed by Felix Candela to resemble water lilies. L’Oceanogràfic is home to 4,5000 fish and marine animals from the ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea, the Arctic and Antarctic, and even tropical seas.
3. The AquaDom – Berlin, Germany
Housed within the 5-star Radisson Blu Hotel Berlin, AquaDom may not be the largest in Europe—but it is certainly one of the most impressive. Rising up from the floor of the hotel’s atrium, the eye-catching cylinder towers more than 25 metres. With a diameter of 11 metres, the tank holds nearly a million litres of water. Within it are over 2,600 species of fish. However, what makes the AquaDom so incredible is the fact that there is a transparent two-story elevator inside of it! Up to 30 tourists can travel at once right through the water, from the ground floor of the hotel to the upper observation platform.
4. Deep Sea World – Fife, UK
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the Scottish village of North Queensferry is the Deep Sea World aquarium. It is perhaps most famous for its collection of large sand tiger sharks (also known as ragged toothed sharks or grey nurse sharks) and other species. Another premier attraction is the 112-metre-long transparent acrylic underwater viewing tunnel, which is one of the longest of its kind in the world. The tunnel runs through a tank that contains 1,000,000 gallons of seawater pumped in from the River Forth. Because of the water’s low temperature, most of the animals on display are from around Britain. However, the aquarium also has rock pools containing exotic fish and a new seal enclosure among other attractions.
5. Sea Life London Aquarium – London, UK
Right on the ground floor of County Hall on the South Bank of the River Thames, you will find the largest collection of aquatic species in London. Sea Life attracts about a million visitors each year, and it is easy to see why it remains so popular. Along with the requisite displays of fish and mammals, the aquarium is also home to eight gentoo penguins that were transferred from the Edinburgh Zoo earlier this year. Other unique attractions include the underwater Shark Walk tunnel and an exhibit of three robotic fish. Additionally, the centre offers classes and is involved in multiple breeding programs (including seahorses, jellyfish, butterfly goodeids, and the Cuban crocodile.)
Posted in Spain on 02. Sep, 2011
As the capital of Arab Al-Andalus (and of the Roman province of Hispania Ulterior before that), it’s no surprise that the Andalusian city of Córdoba would boast one of history’s largest mosques. The Mezquita, with its one-of-a-kind forest of columns, could fit over 20,000 people, making it one of the world’s largest mosques or gathering places of any kind. And though no trip to Córdoba would be complete without a trip to La Mezquita, now a Catholic cathedral, this historical city boasts many other landmarks stretching back to well before the this UNESCO World Heritage Site was built. Here are just a few.
The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
We all know where Christopher Columbus landed and some may even know where he departed, but equally important in his first contact with the New World was the spot where he met with Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon to receive his blessing for making the voyage. That was right here in the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. Set right on the Guadalquivir River, this was originally the site of a Visigoth fortress. The present building was built by the Moors (Al-Qasr, means “the Palace”) and was taken by the Christians in 1236 during the Reconquista and was mostly rebuilt by Alfonso XI of Castile in 1386. Since serving as one of the residences of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Alcázar was also one of many sites for the infamous Inquisition and later served as a garrison for Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops in 1810. While visiting you’ll see the Patio Morisco (”Courtyard of the Moriscos”),the Torre de los Leones (”Tower of the Lions) and the Torre de Homenaje (”Tower of Homage”), as well as a series of Roman mosaics and a Roman sarcophagus in the Inquisition Tower. If you want to spend the night in a room that actually hosted Columbus himself, check out room 204 of the nearby Hacienda Posada de Vallina Hotel.
During the rule of the Moors, Al-Andalus was a place where Muslim, Christian and Jew lived together in a multi-cultural society. Evidence of this can be seen in the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba and especially in the Córdoba Synagogue. Built in the Moorish Mudéjar style, this 14th century treasure consists of a courtyard, a prayer room and a women’s gallery up above, reflecting the separation of the sexes required by synagogues of the time. The prayer room is quite impressive when seen through the three ornate decorative arches of the gallery, and vice versa. After the Jews were expelled by Isabella and Ferdinand in 1492, the building served as a hospital, a chapel, a school and many other functions until becoming a national monument in 1885. Restorations in 1929 and 1977-1985 (to celebrate the 850th birthday of Córdoba resident Maimomodes. have brought it to its present state, and it’s the only synagogue in Andalusia to survive the expulsion and inquisition of the Jews. One of the nicer hotels in the area is the Hospederia Del Churrasco.
What would Spain be without its bullfighting? This is a question best not asked in Córdoba. Especially if you’re in the Museo Taurino. This museum to the cruel yet exciting sport is located in the 16th century Casa Zoco, which is located in the Plaza de las Bulas. The museum is divided into two sections; one dedicated to bullfighting and the smaller section devoted to the crafts of leatherwork and silversmithing. In the first you’ll find displays of bullfighting equipment and mementos of famous Córdoba-born toreros such as Lagartijo, Machaco, Guerrita, Manolete and the appropriately-named El Córdobes. The house itself, with its Mudéjar influenced patio, is also worth seeing. Don’t miss the replica of the Manolete mausoleum and a stuffed head of Isleroz the bull that killed him in 1947. If you want to see the real thing, Córdoba’s bullfighting season starts in May during the Feria de Córdoba (Córdoba Fair), and if you want to stay in a hotel convenient to the museum, the four-star Hotel NH Amistad Córdoba is set right across the street.
Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba
Situated within the beautiful Renaissance Palace of the Paéz family, the Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba gives you Iberian, Roman, Visigothic, Muslim, Mudéjar and Renaissance history in the form of many many artifacts. By now you’ve probably seen many buildings dating back to all eras – this is the museum that will show you what items were in these buildings. What makes this site appropriate for this museum is the genuine Roman patio that was discovered during its original conversion. Now one of the most imaginative and pleasant small museums in Spain, the museum boasts with an excellent collection. Don’t miss the outstanding inlaid tenth-century bronze stag that was found at the Moorish palace of Medina Azahara. And you’re sure not to remember the Roman archeology including mosaics and sculptures that takes up a full floor for a long time to come, as well as all the amazing Moorish artifacts. Just over a block away is the traditional whitewashed Cordoban house, tavern and wine cellar, dating back to 1874 and housing the Hotel Plateros.
Córdoba can be oppressively hot in the summer, and one way to beat the heat is to visit the multi-colored flowers, green bushes and trickling waters of its many gardens, starting with the Mezquita’s Patio de los Naranjos. But I promised not to talk about the Mezquita, so I’ll talk about two other gardens worth visiting. The first is the Jardines de la Victoria, which features two wonderful newly renovated facilities, the old Caseta del Círculo de la Amistad and the Kiosko de la música. There’s also a more recent Modernist fountain from the early 20th century and a neo-classical pergola designed by the architect Carlos Sáenz de Santamaría. The second is the Jardines de la Agricultura, which boasts many trails that converge on a round square with a duck pond. In the center of the pond is an island with a small building for the ducks. Look for the park’s many sculptures, and don’t miss the rose garden on the northern end which forms a labyrinth.
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.
Posted in Spain on 23. Aug, 2011
As the largest city in the Basque Country part of Spain, Bilbao is a lively hub of culture and character. It is the ideal place in which to immerse yourself in the Basque culture; shop for souvenirs, sample the local cuisine, and experience daily life like the city’s residents do. Bilbao’s locals share a love of live entertainment, whether that be in the form of a sporting event or concert. Here are five fantastic places that allow you to join in the fun:
Estadio de Fútbol de San Mamés
Originally constructed in the early 20th century, this massive football stadium has been renovated over the years. Its architecture features a unique blend of original and modern elements, while its sheer size alone makes it an important landmark. The Estadio de Fútbol de San Mamés can hold about 40,000 spectators—and it does, regularly. It is located on the outskirts of Bilbao, in the Ensanche area, fairly easy to reach via public transportation. The surrounding neighborhood is filled with bars and restaurants, which provide pre- and post-football entertainment.
Palacio de Congresos y de la Música
If you prefer your live entertainment to be more artistic than athletic, you should instead head to the Palacio de Congresos y de la Música. Standing amid the historic shipyards of Euskalduna, the music and conference centre draws large crowds all year round. The building resembles an enormous ship, and it has a maximum capacity of over 2,000. Along with important conferences and concerts, the Palacio hosts ballets, operas, theatrical performances, and special seasonal events. The property also has onsite dining options and bars, beautifully landscaped gardens, and a lovely terrace.
Plaza de Toros de Vista Alegre
Even if you do not like the idea of bullfighting, you would do well to visit the Plaza de Toros de Vista Alegre in Bilbao. The giant stadium is, of course, primarily used for bullfighting. However, it also has other things to offer. With a capacity of about 15,000 spectators, the impressive plaza is often used as a venue for fiestas and cultural festivals (especially when it is not during the bullfighting season, which takes place from March to early October.) There is also a museum dedicated to Bilbao’s bullfighting culture—the Museo Taurino—on the premises.
Plays, concerts, operas, dance performances—there is always something happening at the Teatro Arriaga. The famous theatre offers year-round entertainment in the heart of the city’s Old Quarter. The grand, ornate structure was first built back in 1890; however, it had to be rebuilt in 1914 after a terrible fire destroyed much of the original architecture. This architecture, obviously greatly inspired by the iconic Paris Opera House, is what draws many tourists to the Teatro Arriaga. Even if you do not have time to take in a show, you should consider making the trip just to see the beautiful façade.
Plaza de Miguel de Unamuno
The Plaza de Miguel de Unamuno is one of several city squares that play an important role in daily Bilbao life. Perhaps best known for its large statue of the famous author Unamuno, the plaza is a very popular gathering place. It is surrounded by museums, cafés, bars, shops and tourist attractions—so it is always quite busy. However, it becomes significantly busier during the month of August, when it becomes the focal point of Bilbao’s annual Semana Grande festival. Also known as Aste Nagusia, this weeklong Spanish fiesta has everything from food vendors to cultural festivities. However, the main highlight is definitely the abundance of live music.
Recommended hotels in Bilbao: the Silken Gran Hotel Domine, the Barcelo Nervion Hotel