Spotlight on Warwickshire, England: An Under-rated Gem

Spotlight on Warwickshire, England: An Under-rated Gem

The lush county of Warwickshire is nestled at the very heart of England, only an hour by train from London and just minutes away from the bustling city of Birmingham. Medieval castles, historic towns, famous theaters and lush, breathtaking landscapes are only some of the stimulating attractions that his area has to offer curious travelers. If you are after an off-the-beaten path destination in the UK, read on to discover what we love about this region!

Warwick

Warwick is the county capital of Warwickshire, most famous for its charming medieval castle situated on a bend of the River Avon. Having stood in the city for over 1,100 years, Warwick Castle survived countless attacks and a terrible fire in 1871, and is one of the UK’s most well-preserved castles dating from the Middle Ages.

The current castle was developed from an original commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1068 and rebuilt in stone during the reign of King Henry II. Offering activities for every age, the castle gives visitors exceptional insight into the everyday life of its past inhabitants.

What to Do Around the Area:

If you are planning to visit the castle, we strongly recommend that you take some time to wander around Warwick’s small but gorgeous town center. In particular, if you’d like to try a traditional English cream tea, make sure to stop atThe Brethren’s Kitchen, a vintage tearoom which has been serving food to Kings and Queens, Tudor nobles and Victorian literary figures for over 500 years.

The food here is homemade with products from the Master’s Garden. Both the garden and tearoom are located on Warwick High Street, within the Lord Leycester Hospital, a historic group of timber-framed buildings dating from the late 14th Century: a fine example of Britain’s Medieval courtyard architecture which is well worth a visit.

Kenilworth

Warwick’s is not the only castle open to visitors in Warwickshire: the county is rich in fascinating historical sites, such as Kenilworth Castle and its Elizabethan Gardens. This castle has played a fascinating central role in England’s affairs for 900 years: for example, it was the subject of the longest siege in English history, at Kenilworth, in 1266.

Since it was partially destroyed in 1649, only two buildings remain habitable today. For the first time in 350 years, it is now possible to explore the entire height of the tower that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, commissioned in order to attract the interest of Queen Elizabeth I, hoping to convince her to marry him (Spoiler alert: he did not succeed).

The tower, built especially for her, had a private staircase, luxurious rooms and glass windows . A newly installed series of stairs and platforms within the ruins take visitors 18 meters high, in order to enjoy the spectacular view from the Queen’s bedroom. If you’re feeling peckish after a long walk within the ruins, we advise you to go for a meal at The Queen and Castle, a fabulous village pub located in the shadows of the castle.

Royal Leamington Spa

Royal Leamington Spa’s Christmas Market on the Parade. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All Rights Reserved

This small town, located on the confluence of the rivers Leam and Avon, grew and prospered thanks to the natural spa springs that were discovered and commercialized here during the 19th century. In 2017, the charming little town was awarded the title of ‘happiest place in the UK’: in our book, this alone makes it well worth a visit.

The main high street, the Parade, offers numerous fine examples of Regency architecture and is lined with busy shops and cafes. We particularly recommend trying the handmade bagels at The Steam House, which are cut, roasted and filled to order. For a real taste of Britain, pop to Bandstand Tea Rooms where you can find the best home backed scones in town.

At the end of the Parade, the Royal Pump Rooms host classical music concerts and arts exhibitions year-round. Across the road from the Pump Rooms, the Jephson Gardens are the perfect place for a walk around the curated flower beds, or to sprawl out for a picnic on the grass during the warmer months.

Coventry

Coventry, situated 18 km north from Warwick, was completely destroyed by Nazi bombings during the Second World War. The city’s Cathedral, in particular, was damaged during a blitz on the 14th of November 1940. Instead of rebuilding the Cathedral, the architect of the new church, Sir Basil Spence, decided to keep the ruins intact as a memorial of that night. As a (touching) result, what remains of the old Cathedral stands as a tribute to peace and represents a unique space for prayers and reflection. This is a site that may deeply move you.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All rights Reserved

Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All rights Reserved

Stratford is the most famous town in Warwickshire, being the home to the poet William Shakespeare, who was born here in 1564. If you haven’t already visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace, his New Place and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, we strongly recommend doing so, since these historical sites represent some of the best-known and fascinating in England.

Theatre fan? Or just curious to see one of the Bard’s famed works in the town where he lived and worked? The Royal Shakespeare Company, based in Stratford, is one of the biggest theatre venues in the UK, staging different adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and shows by other writers of the 15th century.

If you’re looking for something different to do in Stratford, head to the lovely Butterfly Farm, where you can enjoy the pleasure of discovering hundreds of colorful butterflies flying in an exotic environment of tropical blossom with splashing waterfalls and fish-filled pools. If you’re a book lover and you’re always on the look for a good second-hand and vintage bookshop, visit the Chaucer Head Bookshop, where you will find rare and antiquarian books covering a wide range of subjects.

Chaucer Head Bookshop in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All Rights Reserved

Chaucer Head Bookshop. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All Rights Reserved

Compton Verney House

Compton Verney House, Stratford-upon-Avon

Just nine miles from Stratford, Compton Verney House offers 120 acres of gorgeous parkland, a lake and an award-winning art gallery that hosts several stunning exhibitions every year. Richard Verney and his brother John, together with the Earl of Warwick Richard Beauchamp, acquired the estate in 1435 and built the manor-house in 1442.

This elegant house passed through different owners and through periods of splendor and decadence. During the Second World War it was requisitioned by the army and used as experimental station for smoke-screen camouflage. By the 1980s Compton Verney had fallen into semi-ruin, but in 1993, the Peter Moores Foundation acquired it, restored it to its astonishing original splendor.

Long Compton’s Rollright Stones

This mysterious complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monuments is situated near the village of Long Compton, on the border between Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. The three monuments have surprisingly inspiring names: The Whispering Knights, The King’s Men and The King Stone, respectively.

Read related: The Most Breathtaking Megalithic Sites on the Planet 

The oldest of these monuments was built between 3,800-3,500 BC. According to some legends, they are the petrified remains of a monarch and his courtiers, who were cursed by a witch and turned into stone.

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

Colors of Guatemala: Travel Secrets From an Intrepid Wanderer

Colors of Guatemala: Travel Secrets From an Intrepid Wanderer

 

When you hear about Guatemala you may think of vibrant textiles, large markets and ancient ruins. Guatemala is lush in biodiversity, rich in Mayan culture and booming with enticing culinary attractions. Whether you want to dive into Mayan traditions, dream of trekking through dream-like cloud forests or dining on authentic local food while enjoying breathtaking views, this remarkable Central American destination is calling. Read on for my personal Guatemala travel guide, which brings together my favorite experiences and useful tips drawn from living there for several months. 

First, a Few Basic Tips…

Window view, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

Let’s start with a few bare essentials and helpful hints that allowed me to enjoy my travels in Guatemala. I hope it will help you  experience it to the fullest, too!

The Weather, and What to Bring

Guatemala has two main seasons, wet and dry. While the dry season is from November to April, do note that central Guatemalan areas like Antigua and Lake Atitlan are much warmer and more temperate than Xela to the west or Livingston in the northeast.

This means that you should always carefully research the regions you plan to visit to ensure you’re properly prepared! No one likes getting stuck in the mud in flip-flops or expecting t-shirt weather, then finding conditions demand you wear a jacket and a hat. 

© Anexis Morales

Remember, owing to its beautiful, lush greenery and extravagant biodiversity, a trek through Guatemala often comes with insects and occasionally harsh weather. Exploring the great views Guatemala has to offer, be mindful of insects and mosquitos! No one likes to wake up to buzzing in your ears, so make sure to bring along some natural bug repellent. Here is a great recipe for Home- made bug repellant.

Sunblock is also a must!  During my first trip to Guatemala, I forgot to put sunblock on, fell asleep in a hammock and woke up being so sunburnt I couldn’t carry my pack for several days. Starting off a vacation like that is no fun. Learn from my mistake: be smart and protect your skin!

Don’t even consider leaving your camera behind: with so much color and beauty to capture here, it’s an essential companion. Between the ancient ruins of Tikal to the vibrant market in Chichicastenango to elegant colonial architecture in Antigua, you don’t want to miss a shot.

Read related: Our Top  8 Tips For Taking Beautiful Travel Photography

A word of caution, though: As a tourist you should always be conscious of your surroundings and watch out for your valuables. 

Weaving class: A Gateway to Guatemalan Culture

Woman in Traditional Clothes

© Anexis Morales

 

As you wander through the streets of a typical Guatemalan city, you may easily notice the vibrant clothes native residents wear. This traditional, typically hand-made clothing is a reflection of their regional location, ancestry, season, and economic status. Since weaving is a tradition that dates back to Mayan times, I could not pass up the chance to take a course and learn more about it.

Located in Xela, Trama Textiles called my name, especially after I learned that it’s a 100% worker-owned women’s association. The organization directly works with 17 weaving cooperatives representing 400 women from five different regions of Guatemala. I signed up for a 10-hour course, which is the length of time it takes to make a simple scarf.

To give you an idea of how long it takes to make something more elaborate: it can take from between three to six months to weave one shirt depending on its detail and embroidery! Completing my scarf, I was amazed I did it, and was deeply impressed by the talent of the local weavers in these communities. I wholly recommend that you give it a try yourself on your trip. Why not support the locals and take the time to learn about something different and colorful? 

Trekking in Guatemala: Between Trees, Clouds & Towns

Day 2, Trekkers of the Corn

Day 2 of the Quetzaltrekkers hike: Trekkers of the Corn

Guatemala, also known as “The land of trees” has endless spectacular hikes and opportunities for trekking. If you’re travelling with some extra time on your hands, I’d look into the Quetzaltrekkers 3-day trek from Xela to Lake Atitlan. I’ll admit I was excited to get moving after a few days sitting and weaving!

Read related: The 10 Most Breathtaking National Parks in the World 

I found myself tucked away in the cloud forests of Quetzaltenango, passing corn hills and vibrantly diverse villages– all giving me some real time to reflect. I was able to better understand how certain villages have been able to survive high in the mountains with no electricity, nor real roads, drawing sustenance only from what the earth provides. It was refreshing to take myself away from my daily disturbances and really live in the moment.

View From Cerra De La Cruz, Guatemala

View From Cerra De La Cruz

Quetzaltrekkers not only offers an incredible and educational trek through some of the most beautiful places in Guatemala: they also aim to help the communities they trek through. One essential part of the trek is a Temazcal experience, a traditional Mayan sauna. What better way to unwind and relax your muscles! This is not a fancy resort-style Temazcal, but rather an authentic one that is traditional to the area and enjoyed by locals as well as tourists.

Shaped like a dome, the entrance is low to the ground making you crawl in on your knees. You often sit in the sauna with another person, taking in the intense heat and sweating. After you feel you’ve released all the toxins from your body, you mix together hot and cold water found in two tubs on the ground. You can then pour the mixture over you at the temperature you prefer.

You exit the Temazcal the same way you entered, on your knees. This practice stems from the belief that the dome represents the mother’s womb: when you enter you are seeking nourishment and cleansing. When you exit it is believed your mind, body and soul are prepared and ready for the universe!  

A Magnificent Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan

Sunrise over Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

Sunrise over Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

Waking up feeling rejuvenated, I was ready to catch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan. What a magical sight: to welcome the day as sweet yellow rays danced on the lake peeking between three volcanoes.

What to do next in the area? I recommend the following: Once descending into San Pedro, one of the villages in Lake Atitlan, take the time to explore local art and galleries, wander through organic coffee farms and perhaps some vibrant local nightlife.

From Lake Atitlan to Antigua

Traditional Flower arrangements for Easter

Traditional Flower arrangements for Easter, Antigua

Taking the so-called “Chicken bus” from Lake Atitlan to Antigua is accessible. The Chicken bus runs directly from Panajachel to Antigua for about 35Q or $5 USD. While this choice is the cheapest, it’s not for everyone. it takes several more hours than a private option such as a taxi. Also, buses run at very specific and limited times, typically early in the morning. Many travelers have also reported the Chicken bus to be a bit less reliable than they would have expected.  Still, if you’re looking for a colorful and locally authentic way to get around, this is certainly an experience to have at least once! 

If you miss the direct bus then you will have to take 3 separate buses. To make life easier don’t miss the direct bus, or book a shuttle bus. If you are seeking a more direct and less crowded ride many travel agencies provide shuttle transportation from Lake Atitlan to Antigua. A shuttle will pick you up directly at your location and drop you at your destination in Antigua or if preferred the main square. This option currently costs about 75Q or $12USD.

For more practical information on getting around Guatemala by bus, as well as other useful options, see this page at Lonely Planet. 

My Recommendations for Eating Out in Antigua

Breakfast from Caoba Farms

Breakfast from Caoba Farms/ Image credit: Caoba Farm Facebook

Antigua is a bustling city tucked away in the central highlands looking out to several volcanoes. Not only does this city offer an example of well-preserved Spanish Baroque architecture, overlooking the most active volcano in Central America. It is also becoming a popular place for foodies to explore and expand their taste buds. Living in Antigua for several months, I found myself walking familiar paths leading me to my favorite restaurants.

Near the city center is my favorite place, Luna de Miel. if you are craving something sweet or savory this place has what you’re looking for! The options available are overwhelming and at night the line for to-go crepes can reach the end of the block on a weekend. I’d recommend going in the evening and sitting on the terrace upstairs. Their cozy, open air terrace is not only welcoming but the perfect place to rest after exploring the city. The portions are large, easily shared between two or three people.

Crepe from Luna De Miel, Antigua

Crepe topped with ice cream from Luna De Miel

 

Caoba Farm was my favorite place to go on Thursday evenings to grab a bite to eat and listen to live music. Tucked away on the outskirts of the city, it’s become an essential spot in the local culinary scene. This local farm uses all of their locally grown produce to create an extravagant and original menu. They have options for all, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners! This is something that’s a bit difficult to find in Central America. 

Read related: The 11 Best Food Markets in the World 

Not only can you find peace in a quiet corner, enjoying a slice of pizza from their brick oven: you can also sign up for one of their yoga classes. If you are looking to educate yourself a bit more about the agriculture in the area, sign up for a workshop on the topic– or even volunteering on a weekend if you want to really roll up your sleeves and get to work. Volunteers help maintain their lush farm, assist in the farmers market and everything in-between.

Caoba Farm is roughly a 20-minute walk from the city center, or you can take a free shuttle leaving from the city center underneath the yellow arch. Either way, this farm is a must see!

 

About the Author

Ashlie McGrath is a travel writer and photographer for The Loftus Guides. When she’s not creating new features for us, she’s teaching English as a second language throughout Europe. Ashlie often writes about experiences as a solo traveler and hopes to give more insight about other cultures. She has visited over 20 countries and has lived in five. Ashlie loves to be secluded in nature as well embraced by different cosmopolitan areas. She enjoys writing poetry, drinking red wine, listening to live music and laughing.  

The 10 Best National Parks in the World

The 10 Best National Parks in the World

A visit to a world-famous natural reserve is a good way to remind yourself of the spectacular beauty and diversity of planet Earth. In the United States, national parks cover 84.6 million acres; in the UK, there are a total of 15 breathtaking protected natural areas, while Italy counts twenty-four. On the Asian continent, Thailand offers remarkable treasures, boasting over 130 awe-inspiring parks. In short, if you’re after an unforgettable adventure that involves plenty of natural surroundings and wildlife, you’ve got a wealth of options to choose from. Read on for what we consider to be the 10 best national parks in the world: selected for their sheer wild beauty, biodiversity and potential to make your jaw drop.

 

1. Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Extending across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, established by the U.S. Congress in 1872. The park spans an area of almost 9,000 km, which comprehends breathtaking canyons, clear rivers, mountain ranges and one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America, Yellowstone Lake. This magnificent area has been inhabited by Native Americans for at least 11,000 years, and it’s still home to hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals. The park offers an impressing variety of exciting activities, including ranger programs, camping, hiking, boating, fishing and much more.

 

2. Zambezi National Park & Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls National Park

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe is a precious wildlife refuge that’s home to a stunning array of wildlife and some of the globe’s most jaw-dropping natural scenery. From the mist and rainbow-filled wonders of Victoria Falls, with its thunderous falls and green surroundings, to the Zambezi river and surrounding plains where you can embark on a safari to see everything from elephants and leopards to crocodiles and hippos, this is the place to head if you want to get a sense of what the Earth might look like with fewer humans– and more animals.

3. Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy’s first National Park was established in 1999, and it’s probably one of the most spectacular places on the whole peninsula. This park comprehends the territory of five gorgeous towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare – “cinque terre” literally means “five territories” – as well as the communes of Levanto and La Spezia. This means that when traveling to Cinque Terre, you can enjoy open-air activities such as hiking and camping, and visit some evocative cliff-side villages which are famous around the world.

 

4. Jasper National Park, Canada

A lake and forest at Jasper National park, Canada

Jasper is the largest and wildest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, encompassing over 11,000 square kilometres. While summer is peak visitor season, we strongly recommend visiting the park during the winter, when the abundant snow creates a truly magical tableau.

Read related: The World’s Most Beautiful Spots for Leaf-Peeping and Fall Foliage

The park is also famous for its “dark sky”: this is a perfect location for stargazing, as the second dark sky preserve in the world. In October, Jasper National Park hosts the Annual Dark Sky Festival, celebrating the astonishing beauty of the night sky with special activities and talks by scientists, experts, night sky photographers and astronauts.

 

5. Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

By Tucanrecords [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 1972, this National Park consists of an archipelago of nearly 350 islands and cays situated in the Caribbean Sea. These small, white-sanded islands are almost uninhabited; surrounded by crystal-blue water and coral reefs, they harbour some of the best diving and snorkel spots in the world. In fact, Los Roques’ biodiversity is incredible: the park harbors over 60 species of corals, 200 species of crustaceans, 140 species of mollusks, 45 species of echinoderms and 280 species of fish – a real paradise for scuba-divers and sailing lovers!

 

6. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitivice Lakes National Park, Croatia

This Croatian park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Located halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in the mountainous northwestern region of Croatia, it represents the country’s most popular attraction. Over one million visitors throng on the park each year, with peak numbers in the late spring and summer.  Immersed in deep and wild forest vegetation, sixteen bigger lakes and several smaller ones are interconnected by a series of breathtaking waterfalls. Seven different routes are available to tour the stunning lake system, as well as four hiking trails.

 

7. Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

By Dariusz Jemielniak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This protected area situated in southeastern China is rightfully famous for its lush, deep forests, limestone cones, cylinders and solitary hills, which are also printed on the country’s paper currency. Among the rocks of Guilin flows the Lijiang River and its tributaries, producing spectacular scenery which has long inspired various Chinese poets.

Read related: What to do in Seoul, South Korea

In order to best appreciate the treasures of this National Park, we particularly recommend taking the 30-mile long boat trip along the Lijiang River, from Guilin to Yangzhou, or embarking along the parallel hiking route on the riverside. Both Guilin and Yangzhou, picturesque cities surrounded by the natural splendors of the National Park, are equally worth a visit.

 

8. Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Are you a true snow and mountain lover who would like to experience glacier river rafting or snowshoe hiking? If this is the case, Jostedalsbreen park is the ideal destination for your next trip. Jostedalsbreen glacier covers half of the National Park, and it’s the largest in mainland Europe. The park is also famous for its amazing variety of natural environments all clustered within a small area, and it hosts different activities year-round. During the winter months, make sure to visit the famous blue ice caves hidden beneath the Nigardsbreen glacier. When accompanied by a guide, groups of tourists are allowed to hike on skis or snowshoes up to the front of the glacier and to explore the fascinating blue caves.

 

9. Kui Buri National Park, Thailand

Kuri Buri National Park, Thailand

By: Tontan Travel via Flickr

Not far from the Burmese border, Kui Buri National Park is a stunning site for wildlife viewing. The park is well-known for the presence of herds of elephants, which can be seen pretty much everywhere in the protected area. Tourists are allowed to drive their own cars around the park, but must take a guided tour to visit the protected sections of the natural preserve. For a real up-close-and-personal experience of the wildlife here, it is also possible to rent tents and bungalows to stay overnight.

(Read related: Top 8 Travel Photography Tips)

 

10. Snowdonia National Park, Wales, UK

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

The name of this beautiful National Park comes from Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, while the Welsh name for this area is Eryi: legends state that this name derived from a word meaning “the land of eagles”. The park is best known for its wonderful hiking opportunities, but it offers much more than that: come here for splendid waterfalls, lakes and mountain biking paths. In particular, we recommend that you hop on one of the vintage steam trains that climb up to the highest peak in Wales. Taking the old-world train will allow you to experience the area just as a traveler would have back in 1896, and you will see for yourself how gorgeous and mythical this mountainous area is, journeying through the clouds to Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon.

 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her work, stories and pics. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

The World’s Most Amazing Megalithic Structures

The World’s Most Amazing Megalithic Structures

Megaliths are enormous stones used by prehistoric civilizations to construct impressive monuments without the use of concrete or mortar. The word ‘megalith’ comes from two ancient Greek words: mégas, which means ‘giant’ and lìthos, meaning ‘stone’. Even though we can’t always clearly understand the reasons and history behind their existence, these incredible structures allow us to travel back in time and to reflect on the early past of humankind, and are inspiring sites to visit at least once in a lifetime. Every one of these ancient stones has interesting and fascinating stories to tell. From the world-famous Stonehenge to the mysterious spheres of Costa Rica, here are some of the world’s most incredible — and beautiful– megalithic structures to visit.

Stonehenge, England

Stonehenge, England and its breathtaking megalithic structures

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986, Stonehenge is without doubt the most famous cromlech – a circle of megalithic stones – in Europe, and one of the most visited attractions in the UK. Located near Amesbury, in Wiltshire, its name literally means ‘hanging stones’. The actual position of the megaliths was restored between 1901 and 1964, when every stone was straightened or reinforced with concrete to recreate the site’s original circular shape.

In recent decades, there’s been much speculation over the original purpose of Stonehenge’s construction, in 3100 BC. Theories are numerous: some say it functions as an astronomical calendar while still others think it may have been used as a site for ritual human sacrifice!

According to several legends, giants brought the stones from distant lands to create Stonehenge; isn’t it fascinating that some myths held that the massive stones had healing powers? This megalithic circle has always been surrounded by mystery– and since it’s only a few hours away from London, it’s an easy site to visit.

Just outside the visitor center, you can step into five Neolithic houses furnished with replica axes, pottery and other objects; these allow you to get a real feeling for what everyday life might have been like for the ancient people who built Stonehenge.

Carnac Stones, Brittany (France)

Carnac stones in Brittany, France

By Nicolas Raymond/Freestock

Around the village of Carnac, in Brittany, the biggest collection of megaliths in the world – alignments, dolmens, tumuli and menhirs – takes us back to 4500 BC. These prehistoric standing stones, amounting to more than three thousand when counting those situated within La Trinitè-sur-Mer, were erected by the pre-Celtic peoples of Brittany. At Carnac, there are three major groups of stone rows (alignments), which probably formed a single group and then split up when the stones were removed and used for other purposes.

Read related: Experience the Wonder of France’s Lascaux Paleolithic Cave

Since these incredible stones stand in perfectly straight lines, local legends claim they were marching soldiers, turned into stones by the magician Merlin.

A more rational explanation? According to researchers studying the site, the megaliths could have been used as a primitive earthquake detector, but there are also several theories about it being a huge lunar observatory or even a calendar. In the commune of La Trinité-sur-Mer, a much smaller group of stones known as Petit-Menec is nestled in the woods, covered by ivy and moss. If you’re looking for a unique adventure that combines mysterious megalithic structures and fresh air, Carnac is a great choice. Its beautiful beaches are well worth visiting, and the Quiberon peninsula nearby is famous for wind-surfing and sailing.

Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

Tombs of Giants and Nuraghi, Sardinia

Sardinia is already well-known for its enchanting beaches and deep blue sea. But if you’re after a peaceful, wild place tucked well away from those crowded holiday destinations, you might want to visit the majestic stone monuments scattered around the island. Several different kinds of megalithic structures grace this gorgeous Mediterranean island: menhirs (singular standing stones), cromlech (similar to those found in Stonehenge) and dolmens (composed of three or more stones).

Megalithic structures in Sardinia, Italy

By ciamabue [CC BY 2.0]  via Wikimedia Commons

The Tombe dei Giganti – meaning ‘Tombs of Giants’, a name given to the site by the locals, but nowadays frequently used by archaeologists – are impressive dolmenic structures, built in the 2nd millennium BC as collective graves and located in various Sardinian regions. We particularly recommend visiting those that stand in Arzachena, in northwest Sardinia.

Read related: Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy 

By Cristiano Cani [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Nuraghi are Sardinia’s most well-known symbol and the main type of megalithic structure found on the island.  A trip to Sardinia is not complete without a visit to one of these extremely evocative monuments. According to the experts, there were originally more than 30,000 nuraghi, although only 7,000 still stand today. The exact use of the Nuragic structures is still unknown: they may have served as religious sites, tombs or even fortresses.

Dolmens of the North Caucasus, Russia

Dolmens of North Caucuses, Russia

Megaliths and stone labyrinths have also been discovered in the Caucasus Mountains, 50 km north-east from the Black Sea. While these are not as famous as the European constructions, they are equally mysterious and intriguing. Archaeologists believe they were built between the 2nd and the 4th millennium BC, and previously unearthed dolmens continue to be found on both sides of the Western Caucasus. This makes the site even more fascinating as new discoveries are still underway. Despite their similar appearance to the sorts of structures we’ve highlighted in England, France and Italy, these Russian dolmens are of unknown origin. Experts are still developing theories about who build them and for what purpose.

Diquìs Stone Spheres, Costa Rica

Petrospheres in Costa Rica

By Rodtico21 [CC BY-SA 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Over 300 petrospheres – the term used by archaeologists to refer to spherical man-made objects – are located on the Diquìs Delta and on Isla del Caño, in Costa Rica. While their exact significance remains uncertain, they have been attributed to the extinct pre-Columbian indigenous culture of Diquìs.

According to ancient myths, these perfectly rounded stones came from the sunken town of Atlantis. Since June 2014, the Diquìs Spheres are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Despite the fact that “archaeo-tourism” is still a new concept in Costa Rica, the museum FINCA 6 in Palmar Norte, which holds the largest collection of these stones, is gaining in popularity. Could the Diquìs Spheres be an excuse for planning your next trip to the charming Central American nation?

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, South Korea

Dolmens in South Korea

By Steve46814 [CC BY-SA 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dolmens can be found in East Asia too, and one of the biggest collection is situated on the Korean peninsula, which is said to contain more than 40% of the world’s dolmens, summing up these three important archeologic sites. Korean megalithic monuments date to around 1,000 BC: they are far more recent than the others we covered in this article. Objects excavated nearby suggest that they were mainly used as tombs.

Read related: 7 Top Things to See & Do in Seoul, South Korea 

Due to the increasing number of tourists traveling to Korea to see these megaliths, the sites of Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa are slowly becoming national symbols: ones that celebrate Korean pre-historic culture and its inhabitants.

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy: What to See & Do?

Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy: What to See & Do?

Think Italy is too popular with tourists to reserve any real secrets? Think again. The hilly region of Montefeltro, located between Marche and Emilia-Romagna in central eastern Italy, is a fascinating off-the-beaten-path destination. It’s situated twenty kilometers west of Rimini and the Riviera Romagnola.

The Marecchia Valley. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

The Marecchia Valley. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Ruled by the Montefeltro family since the 12th century, this area will surprise you with its charming castles, beautiful villages and delicious traditional food. It’s even the stuff of literary legend, since one powerful member of its ruling family, Guido da Montefeltro, makes a starring but infamous appearance in the Italian poet Dante’s The Divine ComedyDoes this sound like the right place for your next trip to Italy? If so, read on for our complete guide to the hidden treasures of Montefeltro.

Let’s proceed north from the capital of Marche, Urbino, to discover all of the riches of this lesser-known but magnificent region.

Macerata Feltria: A Roman Town in the Heart of Montefeltro

Our first stop is Macerata Feltria, an ancient Roman town first known as Pitinum Pisaurense. It’s situated in a small valley overlooked by Mount Carpegna. It is divided into two main areas: the upper part of the town, whose main attraction is the medieval castle; and the lower part, built during the Renaissance.

In Macerata Feltria, it is possible to visit the archaeological area of Pitinum, which is composed of a medieval graveyard and a Roman main street, called decumanum maximus. Here, roam among some impressive Roman ruins.

For a treat between sightseeing, we particularly recommend you taste the town’s signature cake, made with raisins, walnuts, sugar, flour and olive oil.

Carpegna and the Prosciutto Festival

Carpegna is located 45 kilometers from the seaside and it’s mainly famous for the production of a delicious variety of prosciutto. Every year in July, prosciutto experts travel to Carpegna to join a four-day festival in the center of the town, where gastronomic stalls offer free tastings of the pork-based delicacy and others that are typical of the area. In the evenings, live music and performances from street artists bring the town to festive life.

Palazzo dei Principi, Carpegna, Italy

By Germano Perugini [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

During the festival, it’s also possible to visit Carpegna’s Principi Palace, a gorgeous site which was built during the 15th century and opens to the public only on special occasions. The Palace holds original furniture and a library where Renaissance books and documents have been preserved. For those who love trekking, the Montefeltro Jockey Club arranges amazing trips to Mount Capregna, following remote dirt paths and picturesque routes.

Pennabilli: Not Just a Place, but a Myth

Pennabilli, Italy

The next stop we recommend is Pennabilli, a village on the west side of the Mount Carpegna. According to legends, Pennabilli was created when the two independent towns of Penna and Billi decided to merge together during the 12th century. Nowadays, the village is home to antique furniture shops, a vintage one-screen cinema, restaurants and stimulating festivals. Tonino Guerra, a famous Italian writer and poet, fell in love with Pennabilli and wanted to enhance the beauty of the village. Poems and lines from his works are scattered around the town, for visitors to read and reflect on while strolling through it and discovering its legendary charms.

One of the poems by Tonino Guerra in Pennabilli. “There are people who do not know where to go, and they are rushing to get there now.” Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved.

 

Here is what the writer said about his childhood in Pennabilli: “The village was the Himalaya of my childhood. Not a place, but a myth. When I was a little boy, my parents used to come here to sell fruit. They took me with them, because here the air is fresh.

A street in Pennabilli. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Guerra also created “L’Orto dei Frutti Dimenticati” (The Orchard of Forgotten Fruits), a fascinating garden where time seems not to exist at all. Plants and fruits that are very difficult to find in any common garden of the present day are cultivated here, and interesting works of art were donated by local artists to decorate the orchard.

“La Strada delle Meridiane” (The Street of Sundials) divides the town center in two: walking with your nose up, you can notice several sundials decorating the walls of the houses. Pennabilli attracts international visitors, in particular from Tibet, after the XIV Dalai Lama’s visit to the village in 2009.

In June, a festival called “Artisti in Piazza” (Artists on the Streets), brings music, dance and circus arts to the town. In July, Penabilli hosts the biggest antique furniture market in Italy, which attracts collectors and experts from all over the peninsula.

Maiolo, the Bread Festival and the Maioletto Rock

In Montefeltro there’s a small village that made a daily practice, the baking of bread, its main attraction. During the last weekend of June, Maiolo hosts the Festa del Pane (Bread Festival), a unique chance to taste delicious bread, prepared following traditional recipes. The festival lasts two days, starting on a Saturday evening with live music in the central square of Maiolo, where a long wooden table is set.

Spianata (a particular kind of pizza produced in this region, which we strongly recommend you try) and freshly baked bread with different toppings are served for dinner. This is an occasion for conviviality that will make you feel at home even if it’s your first time in Maiolo. On Sunday, the Bread Festival continues with visits at the stone ovens scattered around the village (in private houses, cottages or bakeries) where the bread is made. A different variety of bread is baked in every oven, together with other local products, which are then available to purchase.

Torta di Pane. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Our personal choice is torta di pane (literally ‘cake of bread’), a thin cake made of cocoa, raisins, walnuts and, of course, Maiolo’s bread. At the end of the Festival, the bakeries compete in a contest and a prize is awarded to the best bread.

The Maioletto Rock. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

If you get the chance to visit Maiolo, we also advice to take a trip to the Maioletto Rock. The very few ruins of the old castle of Maiolo, which crumbled during a flood in the 16th century, have recently been restored;  the walk to reach the top is guaranteed to leave you speechless.

Petrella Guidi: a Medieval Jewel

By lo.tangelini from Soliera / Modena, Italia (Petrella Guidi) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The painter Antonio Saliola, known for his landscapes featuring fantastic creatures like fairies and gnomes, often chose his garden and house in Petrella Guidi as subjects for his art. This village, situated on the right bank of the Marecchia river, is the smallest on our suggested itinerary around Montefeltro, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The medieval atmosphere is kept alive in Petrella Guidi thanks to several festivals staged here during the warm season. The ruins of a medieval fortress add to the dramatic effect. The tower, all that remains of a 12th-century castle that once stood here, was renovated a few years ago. A climb to the top offers breathtaking views over the Marecchia Valley.

Novafeltria: Food, Classical Music and Much More

Novafeltria, Italy

Novafeltria, called “Mercatino Marecchia” until 1941, is the biggest town center in this part of Montefeltro and has a lot going on, especially if you enjoy trying local food. Every Monday, the town hosts a massive market, that, from the main square, stretches through the streets of Novafeltria, and that sells literally everything you might wish to buy, from shoes to fruit and vegetables, toys, and the famous and tasty pesce fritto (fried fish), a street food that we strongly recommend.

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Best Food Markets 

The Marecchia river, which can be reached in ten minutes from the center of town, is the ideal place to sunbathe and enjoy picnics during summer, or to stroll during autumn and spring. Some very good restaurants are located on the river bank– perfect locations for a quick stop or a proper lunch.

Our pick is Ristorante Il Parco, a family restaurant run by friendly people, which has a wonderful terrace overlooking a garden on the riverbank. The restaurant serves the typical food of the region and on Wednesdays, you can enjoy cocktails and finger food on the terrace, for an Italian-style aperitivo.

Ristorante Il Parco in Novafeltria, on a summer night. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Every year in August, the theater in Novafeltria hosts the Montefeltro Belcanto Festival, a series of opera and classical music concerts in the town and in the other villages of Montefeltro. Singers and musicians from all over the world travel to Montefeltro to perform in these concerts, which take place in splendid locations, not only theaters but also churches and in the open air.

Montefeltro is also very well known for its delicious truffles, which can be found pretty much everywhere in the region. About ten minutes by car from Novafeltria, there’s one of the most renowned restaurants of Montefeltro, which has been on the Michelin Guide to Italian Restaurants for decades, Da Marchesi, which we heartily recommend if you want to try black truffles at a very reasonable price.

San Leo: Italy’s Most Beautiful Town?

Umberto Eco, an internationally renowned writer and journalist, was fascinated by San Leo’s Fortress and churches, and defined the town as Italy’s most beautiful. The village bears the traces and the scars of Italian history, and offers many occasions to celebrate Italy and its historical and artistic heritage. Situated on a spur of rock, San Leo is accessible via a single road, excavated in the rock itself. Due to its remote location, this village was a refuge to Dante and Saint Francis of Assisi, but it was also a prison to the magician Cagliostro, who died in the fortress in 1795.

View of the Fortress from a terrace in San Leo. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

The Duomo of San Leo is a real master piece of Romanesque art, while the other church in town, the Pieve, just a few footsteps away, is the most ancient religious building of the region. The Fortress, designed during the Renaissance by one of the most important architects of the period, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, was turned into a prison in 1631 and is nowadays open to visitors.

The convent of Sant Igne. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

A lesser-known but equally fascinating attraction near San Leo is the small church and convent of Sant’Igne, a quiet place for meditation, immersed in the woods. At the end of August, San Leo hosts a festival called Alchimia Alchimie, which aims to celebrate holistic arts through shows and conferences. The exceptional quality and unique location of the festival make it the most famous in the area.

Talamello: Of Art and Cheese

Last but certainly not least on our suggested itinerary for exploring the charms of Montefeltro: the town of Talamello. In the central square here, the church of San Lorenzo holds on display a painted crucifix attributed to a disciple of Giotto, Giovanni da Rimini, which was brought there by the monks of Poggiolo in 1374. In fact, this precious crucifix is not the only work of art that Talamello has to offer: The Gualtieri museum holds over forty paintings – spectacular oils on canvas, still life pictures and self-portraits ­ – donated by the famous artist Fernando Gualtieri, who is himself from Talamello.

The village is also renowned for its formaggio di fossa, a local cheese which is produced in distinctive pits. Some of these, hidden in the basements of restaurants or in private stables, are open for tourists to visit and to enjoy the cheese’s peculiar and strong taste.

Not far from Talamello, the Mount Pincio is the perfect location for mushroom and chestnut picking in autumn, and for sports such as paragliding and hang-gliding. Given the absence of light pollution, the mount is also an amazing place for stargazing, especially during the summer.

 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

 

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

At The Loftus Guides we seek to inspire you with suggested destinations that are unique and off-the-beaten-track: places that many travelers overlook, but shouldn’t. While we do aim to provide you with plenty of inspiring lists to peruse, we also want to bring you some local flavor, showcasing places around the world that deserve a closer look. This week, we train a spotlight on the charming town of Beaucaire, France. 

Beaucaire is nestled in the department of Gard right beside the Rhone River, which forms a natural boundary between Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. The massive floodgates at the water’s edge are proof that flooding has at times been a real threat to this low-lying part of the region. The surrounding landscapes are lush and green, and the town is bathed in that extraordinary Southern French light that so many of us know and love. 

The Light of Beaucaire, southern France

An Easy Trip From Nîmes, Arles or Avignon

Beaucaire lies at the centre of a triangle formed by the important Southern cities of Nimes, Arles and Avignon. Only 30 to 40 minutes away by train or car, it makes an easy and lovely trip from all of these places. It also lies in close reach of the ancient Roman town of Orange, the village of Uzès, the UNESCO-listed Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, and numerous other iconic destinations in the South of France. 

Read related: A Visit to France’s Lascaux Caves and Their Paleolithic Wonders

Starting to understand just how well-situated this little town is? Now let’s take a look at why it’s special in its own right.

Top Things to See & Do in Beaucaire

Although it’s not especially touristy, Beaucaire has so much to offer, from picturesque strolls to canal-side cafes, restaurants serving delicious local gastronomy and quaint little shops. Do turn down the town’s many small alleys and streets: you never know what you’ll find!

Take a Walk by the Canal

Port and boats in Beaucaire

The canal adds much to the charm of this little town, with its lush waterside trees, decorated houseboats and opportunities for boat tours. Visiting around Christmas-time? The boats are all decked out with lights, and there’s a festive Christmas market to explore as well. 

Visit a Local Market

Beaucaire is very much a market town. There’s a colorful food market that springs up each Thursday and Sunday morning on the Place Georges Clemenceau. Here, you’ll find everything from delicious local cheeses and produce to fresh bread, olives and flowers. 

For clothing, household items and textiles, take a whirl at the Cours Gambetta market along the canal, held on Thursday and Sunday morning.

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Most Enticing Food Markets

During the summer, don’t miss the Beaux Quais de Vendredi, an evening market held along the banks of the Canal in Beaucaire each Friday night through July and August. Arts and craft stands, live musical performances and other festivities take over the canal strip, adding plenty of summery ambience.

Market Day in Tarascon

A lively market in nearby Tarascon. Image: Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

For a bonus, follow the bridge over the river to the adjacent town of Tarascon which has its own share of treasures to discover, including a vibrant, large open-air market and numerous cafes. 

Visit Two Castles (Overlooking One River)

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire and Tarascon each have an impressive castle and ramparts facing one another on their respective sides of the Rhone river. The walk and climb up the hill to Beaucaire’s medieval castle is a treat, with the view becoming more and more impressive as you climb. Free to visit, this impressive site gives you a glimpse of its past grandeur.

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

The Tarascon castle across the river is extremely well-preserved and is considered one of the grandest examples of a medieval fortress in France. It was built starting in the 15th century by the Dukes of Anjou.  

The Chateau often hosts events such as concerts and performances; ask at the tourist office for current details.

Enjoy Music & Dancing on a Hidden Square

Dancing at Place de la Republique, Beaucaire

Dancing at Place de la Republique/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Find the Place de la République, which the locals call la vieille place (the old square). This is a term which might come up frequently when you’re asking for directions, so don’t be confused by it!

The charming square is surrounded by restaurants and café terraces. On certain evenings there’s free entertainment by local musicians, offering the perfect opportunity for an evening of free dancing.

Taste Locally Made Olives and Olive Oil

Olives and olive oil are a local delicacy, and we recommend you spend some time tasting some of these gourmet specialties. You can notably visit a local olive oil mill at Huiles Robert. Take a tour of the facility and taste the delicious oils! The shop here has many options for gifts to bring back home.

Read related: Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

Address: 105 Allée Sergius Respectus, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)4 66 74 40 46

See the Abbaye Saint-Roman

Saint-Roman Abbey Beaucaire View

Situated right on the edge of town, this Abbey is a truly exceptional site. Carved into the caves and hillside by hermit monks from as early as the 5th century, it’s absolutely worth the uphill walk. The views alone are spectacular.

Address: Abbaye de Saint-Roman, 4294, route de Saint-Gilles, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)7 81 56 44 51

Visit the Pont du Gard Aqueduct 

Pont du Gard Aqueduct, France

The famous Pont du Gard aqueduct is nearby, so if time allows we recommend you see it firsthand. Enjoy this tour de force of Roman architecture and its mythical setting, as well as the onsite museum. For a fabulous evening outing, witness the spectacular son et lumière (a light and music show) that brings the site to life in the summertime.

 

See an Exhibit or Light Show at an Old Quarry

Chateau des Baumes and View

 Also just under half an hour from Beaucaire, take in the superb exhibits and light shows at the old quarry known as the Carrières des lumières. Then enjoy breathtaking views from the Chateau des Baux, a vast ruined castle situated high in the hills at the village of Les-Baux-de-Provence and billed as one of the finest sites in historic France.
Click here to see a full events calendar for the Carrière des lumières.

Accommodations We Recommend in Beaucaire 

Our general recommendation at TLG is almost always to book local holiday rentals and lodgings. Rent a flat, a house, a studio or even a furnished houseboat: in today’s world, this is possible just about anywhere you might choose to travel. 

What better way to experience a destination locally? You’ll be able to bring home local fare from the market, eat on your own schedule, pack a picnic for a day-long outing– all the while treating yourself to a morning or afternoon pause café, to use the French term. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to eat out at every meal. 

Visit one of our favourite sites to find the perfect place to stay in Beaucaire. You can also find accommodation reviews and recommendations at sites such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor.

If you do choose to stay in a hotel, be aware that in Beaucaire and in Tarascon most of these offer basic comforts (remember that French 3-star hotels are about equivalent to 2-star counterparts in North America). You can expect good service, but grand luxury isn’t usually on offer here. This may be another good reason to consider self-catering accommodations, at the end of the day!

Where To Eat in Beaucaire?

Restaurant Menu Beaucaire

Beaucaire, like most towns in France, boasts plenty of restaurants serving high-quality fare. We recommend that you simply take a canal-side stroll to make your choice. Daily menus are displayed on traditional chalkboards outside of each establishment.  You can ask the servers to help you translate if you don’t quite understand the options.

In addition to the typically-offered menu— consisting of three and sometimes more courses– there is usually also a daily ‘set menu’ that is more affordable. You can also order a la carte, of course. 

For specific restaurant reviews and suggestions in and around Beaucaire, we recommend that you visit this page. 

 

For More Info: Visit the Tourist Office

In our opinion, the local tourist office should always be one of your first stops– no matter your destination. There’s no better way to find out about local events and activities such as market days, art tours, current exhibitions, concerts and performances, to name just a few.

Interested in a canal cruise with lunch? They’ll have a recommendation. Want to visit an olive oil mill? They’ll set you on the right course.

Getting There: The Beaucaire Tourist Office is located at 8, rue Victor Hugo. You can also visit the official website here for more information ahead of your trip. 

Please leave your comments below if you have any questions about your plans to visit Beaucaire: we’re here to help. Especially since some of the above resources are available in French, you can feel free to get in touch with any questions you may have about your trip.

You can also use our contact form and connect with us on Facebook.

Bon voyage!