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El Escorial: Multi-Functional And Royal

If you’re interested in learning more about the rich history of Spain through beautiful art and informative accounts of the country’s past, El Escorial is the place for you. El Escorial is a large complex of buildings in San Lorenzo de el Escorial, which is near Madrid. The building has been deemed the most important work of construction of the Spanish Renaissance; the building complex was constructed from 1563 until 1584. El Escorial includes a church, a college, royal palace and monastery, along with a library that was added in 1592.

To get an accurate feel of what you will experience when you arrive at El Escorial, here are some descriptions of the main features of the historic site that will make you even more excited about planning your visit.

el escorial

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Spain is home to many picturesque sites that creatively teach about the country’s culture. El Escorial definitely fits this description.

Courtyard of the Kings

When you arrive at El Escorial, the first area you’ll encounter is the Courtyard of the Kings. You’ll see three doors: the center one actually leads to more of the courtyard, while the doors on the side lead to the school and monastery.

The Royal Pantheon is part of the Courtyard of the Kings and serves as the burial place for the kings of Spain and has been since King Charles I. Juan de Borbon’s remains, who was the father of king Juan Carlos I, are also at the Royal Pantheon.

The Place of the Austrians, or House of the King, is also in the courtyard, along with the Courtyard of the Fountainheads, which is built in Italian style.

A stroll through the courtyard will definitely give you insight into the cultural diversity that is included in Spanish history. The intricate architecture, along with information on the history of the royalty buried there makes the Courtyard of the Kings especially fascinating.

The Basilica

The church is another beautiful aspect of El Escorial. The basilica was originally designed to look like the Gothic churches of Western Europe and is inspired by the shape of a Latin cross. The altar is perhaps the most beautiful part of the church. The altar sits high, and a reredos made of three tiers sits behind it. The reredos is made from jasper and granite; the positioning of these precious stones shows the care and precision that was put into constructing the basilica.

King Philip, who was reigning at the time of the reredos construction, wanted Titian or Michelangelo to design the altar screens. However, both of these notable artists were in their 80s at the time, so at the suggestion of the king’s advisors, a host of lesser-known artists were commissioned to win the king’s favor and design the reredos. Life-size bronze statues on either end of the sanctuary depicting the praying families of Kings Philip and Charles are also fascinating components of the El Escorial church.

el escorial1

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Spanish churches often include intricately designed alters, walls and reredos to depict Bible stories or concepts of Christianity.

Library, Gallery and Museum

Of course, you don’t want to leave El Escorial without spending some time in the library, taking in all the intricately designed art in the gallery and strolling through the museum. The library contains documents that were donated by King Philip II; the building was designed by Juan de Herrera, who also came up with the concept for the library shelves. There are 40,000 volumes of books in the library’s collection.

The art gallery featured at El Escorial displays art from Spanish and Italian artists from the 15th and 16th century, as well as works from artists of Flemish and German descent. The art depicts aspects of nature, notable figures, and events of the time.

The museum showcases the architectural tools that were used to build El Escorial. It consists of 11 rooms and features copies of building documents and blueprints to provide you with insight into the El Escorial planning process.

These are just some of the intriguing sights that El Escorial has to offer. Keep these points in mind upon your arrival to help you make the most of your Spanish vacation.

Traditions and Symbols of the World’s Most Famous Spanish Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage SymbolsEl Camino de Santiago is a very special and ambitious journey that many, many people embark on each year. Every individual traveler comes with their own specific reasons for setting out on the famous Spanish pilgrimage.

What you get out of this adventure will be completely up to you, but if you adopt the attitude of a true pilgrim and try to find the positive in all situations for the duration of your chosen route, you’re sure to accomplish your goals and maybe even find something within that you didn’t realize you were looking for.

However, no matter what continent, country or city you come from, there are a few traditions and symbols that you will notice and have the opportunity to take part in along the way that are universal to everyone who makes the trek.

Passport
Obtaining your pilgrim’s passport should be one of the first things you take care of when you decide you’re making the El Camino voyage.

There are several places that offer a way for people to pick up a passport in their own countries before heading over to Spain. Of course, if you forget to get it right away it won’t be as detrimental as forgetting your real passport, but it’s definitely something you want to make sure you have as it is part of the whole experience of walking the world-renowned trail.

A pilgrim’s passport is also made available at numerous places along the different routes, but you’ll want to have it for the beginning of your trip since the stamps you will receive are proof that you’re an authentic traveling pilgrim and give you the advantage of finding a bed in the albergues at night.

Furthermore, this will be your official credential for receiving the compostela at the end of your journey and serve as one of your most significant souvenirs since it documents each place you stopped en route to Santiago de Compostela.

Scallop Shells
The scallop shell has been a historic symbol of El Camino for a long time, with its original meaning deriving from legendary tales concerning the death of St. James.

The shell has adopted a metaphorical meaning as well and is said to illustrate the various routes of the Spanish pilgrimage through its grooves, which eventually come together at a single point, as do all the routes that lead to Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela and St. James’s final resting place.

The scallop shell was also often used in a practical manner to serve as a tool for eating and drinking since it is a common find on the way to Santiago once pilgrims reach the shores of Galicia on their journey. On today’s pilgrimages, many use the shells that are painted on trees, sidewalks, buildings, etc. as guides along their path.

Cruz de Ferro
Over time, pilgrims have adopted the tradition of bringing a stone from home with them on their travels to leave at the Cruz de Ferro, which is an iron cross that has been erected on the way to Santiago. For some, it is symbolic of leaving behind a piece of their homeland, and for others, it represents leaving behind their sins at the foot of the cross.

Compostela
The compostela is the final token you will receive on your journey. All those who have walked the last 100km or cycled the last 200km of the trail into Santiago with the required stamps on their passport will be given a certificate of accomplishment.

Upon completion of the pilgrimage, you will be asked your reason for taking on the El Camino challenge and if your answer is anything other than for religious purposes, be prepared to receive a slightly different certificate of achievement.

This Spanish pilgrimage isn’t like any other journey, no two experiences will be the same, and even if you’re traveling alone, embracing all the traditions will make you feel like you’re a part of one big beautiful and spiritual picture.

Top 5 Beach Alternatives In Tenerife

The Canary Islands darling, Tenerife, is famous for its great weather and even better beaches. But that’s not all the island has to offer. The island boasts of a stunning natural landscape and fully utilises it to great effect. If sunbathing on a beach all day isn’t your thing, read on and find out more about what fun activities Tenerife has to offer.

Make sure you also take a look at this Tenerife Forum for some more info and check out some of these popular Tenerife excursions for great days out.

 

Mount Teide

Mount Teide


Safari Tour

One way to explore Tenerife’s gorgeous scenery is a safari tour. These excursions out into the wild are perfect for any amateur photographers in the group. Visit different regions, shoot the stunning natural landscape and learn more about the island.

Personal Safari tours are also available and offer much more freedom, smaller groups and therefore a better experience with no need to fight for a good photo opportunity! For a truly unique experience, drive around the island on a quad bike or sit back and relax in a chauffeur driven jeep. These vehicles allow you to go through forests and climb mountains via rocky terrain and trails to gain a spectacular panoramic view.


Whale and Dolphin Watching
Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy swimming in the Atlantic Ocean you know. Little known to visitors to the island, Tenerife is one of the best places in Europe to watch whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. There are around 25 species to watch in their playground including bottle nose dolphins and pilot whales. Not only that, many species of birds & turtles will also be around to say hello!

Excursion boats range from catamarans like Lady Shelley which offers views of the sea bottom to a sailing boat which mirrors the one seen in Peter Pan!

Pilot Whales

Pilot Whales


Teide National Park

You’ll be hard pressed to find a national park more impressive than Teide National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park revolves around the islands volcano, Mount Teide.

The volcano is considered to be the third tallest volcanic structure and offers unrivalled panoramic views across the island. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and get some fresh air whilst admiring the wonderful rock formations, complemented by a blue sky backdrop. It’s also a wonderful place to eat alfresco in nature’s surroundings.


Bob Diving

We’ve all heard of scuba diving, but have you come across bob diving? If you think or found scuba diving too strenuous, bob diving gives you all the pleasure of exploring the sea without feeling exhausted half way through.

Bob diving involves using an underwater scooter which powers through the water and does all the hard work while you sit and admire all that’s around you. The scooter is like something straight out of a James Bond film! Other benefits include a window which allows you to peer out with a clear view and no breathing apparatus to contend with – reducing your intake of salty water!

 


Medieval Night at Castillo San Miguel

Those glued to the beach won’t notice Tenerife is surrounded by gorgeous architecture. Just walk along the historic streets of the old town and be charmed by the cathedrals or visit the dazzling modern structures such as The Auditorio de Tenerife. While Castillo San Miguel doesn’t date back to the medieval times (it was purposely built as an attraction), there’s no denying it’s still an impressive building.

Step back into a forgotten time and get lost in a night of realistic medieval competitions. You’ll be caught up in the moment as you enter the castle full of armour, swords and scrolls and be greeted by the Count and Countess.

The authentic experience is carried throughout into the Tournament Hall as you dine on a Medieval banquet and cheer for your knight in shining armour.

*We’ve added one more activity to this list which brings the number up to six beach alternative activities.

 

Horse Riding
One of the best ways to see the rugged landscape and incredible views of the island is by doing it the old fashioned way, by horse power.

Not only that but you can get a great tan; is a great workout for the core muscles of the body that strengthen your posture, and is a very relaxing and calming experience.

For horse riding in Tenerife, we recommend Ulla who runs a horse riding school in the south of the island.

 

tenerife horse riding

 

The weather in Tenerife is usually excellent with most days being bright and sunny for your excursions.

More information from this selection of premium Tenerife blogs hand picked just for you.

 

Sightseeing on the cheap in Catalonia

National Park Aiguestortes de Sant MauriciIn Spain but not of Spain, Catalonia is an autonomous nationality in the community with a strong heritage Celtic, Mediterranean, and French influences.

The capital of the region is world famous Barcelona with many experiences to be had for the traveller  tourist, and local.

Saving money

sightseeing will allow you to travel without blowing your budget.

Take the time to check out the places the locals love and avoid the vacationer markup or explore attraction websites for coupon discounts. Some of these places are naturally cheaper than popular tourist traps.

Girona

Tucked away in Catalonia is the ancient town of Girona with a charming old town that lies on the east bank and the Jewish quarter is filled with culture and history, neither of which requires a car. Come to this little hamlet and explore by foot through the cobblestones and terraced staircases. The architecture features the influences of many occupations and neighbouring cultures.

You will want to explore the river, ancient city walls, various cafes, discoteca club scene, and the golf course around time. The river is best in the fall and spring, when it is running as it dries up in the summer time. In old town, you will find shops for clothing, local treasures, restaurants, and cafes for your exploration. Nearby you will local historical sites that are low or no cost options for you adventure.

National Park Aiguestortes de Sant Maurici

For the outdoor lover among you, the national part of o Aigustortes de Sant Maurici will tantalize you with its breathtaking vistas and meandering lakes. This paradise of streams, waterfalls, lakes, trails, and mountains will excite hikers, families, nature lover, and everyone who ventures out of the city to this land of exploration.

The area is filled with indigenous animals, flora, fauna, and natural landscapes that highlight the beauty of the Catalonia region. The park is free to visit, so pack a picnic lunch and bring the family for a day of exploration.

Cosmo CaxiaCosmoCaixa

Opened in 2005, CosmoCaixa is an amazing, inexpensive interactive science museum that will fascinate everyone in your troop. Once a factory, the building has been refitted as a hands-on experiential museum for kids of all ages.

The museum is set up to teach you and encourage you to explore physical, technical, geological, chemical, and mathematical relationships that make up the world around you. Open every day except Mondays, the museum will only cost you 2 euros. You can spend all day exploring the fun educational exhibits, some say you might need 2 or 3 days, but do take the time to stop here.

There is so much to see feel free to enjoy a full plethora of these sites all falling within your budget. You will not require a holiday loan, just a little cash as you traipse about Catalonia.

The Magic FountainMagic Fountain

A mesmerizing point of interest in Catalonia is Montjuic’s Magic Fountain. Designed in 1929 by engineer Carles Buigas for the international exposition, the fountain is a performance of water, music and lights that is free and never fails to fascinate spectators.

Synchronized with colours  music, and lights using recycled water, the fountain continues to be one of the most popular attractions in the city. Each show runs about 15 minutes and the show rotates on a 30 minute schedule.

Be sure to check the schedule as there are changes between winter and summer, but this is a must see while in Catalonia.

 

Top 5 Barcelona Attractions Your Guidebook Won’t Tell You About

 

Barcelona is a beautiful and cosmopolitan Spanish city, much of which was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi.
His influence is all over the city and you’ll notice it everywhere you go. Most people tend to visit his major works, including La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, but there is much more to Barcelona than this. Here are five lesser-known places that are well worth a visit.

 

 

Placa Felip Neri
The Gothic Quarter is the centre of the old city and is located just off the famous street, La Rambla. The area is a warren of little, narrow streets full of history and the stunning Cathedral is the centrepiece of the area. If you stay in the Gothic Quarter, you will be in the heart of the city and close to many wonderful restaurants and bars. For a break from the hustle and bustle, go to Placa Felip Neri, a beautiful, romantic square with a lovely baroque church.

Montjuic
Few tourists make the trek up the 184 metre-tall hill Montjuic, despite its splendid view over the city, and at times, you will be completely alone up here. The walk is well worth it as there is a lot to see on the hill, including the spectacular Castle Montjuic and the Olympic Stadium from 1992. For something a little different, you should definitely check out the Sala Montjuic, an incredible open-air cinema in the beautiful castle gardens.

Gracia
Barcelona is one of the world’s favourite tourist’s destinations. There are flights from many UK airports on a daily basis which run all year round. With so many tourists flocking to the city, you may want to get away from them for a while. Gracia is the perfect area to do this; it’s popular with the locals, but less so with visitors. Once a village that has since been absorbed into the city, it retains that local feel and is full of cafes, restaurants and little shops.

Turo de la Rovira
A remnant from the Civil War, this was the site of the city’s air defences and as such, offers perhaps the best view of the city. From here, you get the only full 360-degree view on Barcelona and all the major attractions can be seen. The best times to see the views from Turo de la Rovira are naturally at sunrise and sunset, so plan your schedule accordingly.

El Refugi 307
Literally a hidden gem, this 400 metre-long tunnel was one of many underground shelters built during the Civil War to protect people from air raids. This is the best-preserved of the tunnels and is an evocative and fascinating insight into the war. It now functions as a museum and you can walk the length of the tunnels and explore the rooms inside.

Have you discovered any other lesser-known attractions in Barcelona away from the typical tourist traps? Have you been to any of the places on my list? Share your thoughts with others in the comments below.

 

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