Dotted around Madrid, you will find hidden gems which people either don’t know about, or don’t visit very often. This merely adds to the calm and tranquillity that these havens offer. Their unassuming entranceways are located on quiet roads; for example, in the districts of Lavapiés and Huertas. They are hidden behind old hospitals, monasteries and the former homes of royals. Let’s take the neighbourhood of La Latina, for instance. On Calle del Almendro - a reminder of this street’s tree-lined past – you will find the ruins of the old Christian Wall of Madrid, sheltered by buildings 15 and 17. Those in the know head to this area for tasty taps. Here are a few more of Madrid’s secret places that are waiting to be discovered.
Calle Sacramento is a narrow road occupied in the main by recently constructed buildings. Building 7, however, is different, as it is here that you will find Huerto de las Monjas. Until 1972 a convent stood here, sheltering this enchanting green space with its high walls. It is thought that it was previously a kitchen garden, where vegetables such as cabbages, carrots, chives and lettuce were grown. Hence, when strolling around here you will feel like you have gone back in time.
Since the late 14th century, a church has stood at the southwest corner of Sobornaya Ploshchad. The first was a wooden church, constructed by Vasily I, which was rebuilt over five years in the late 15th century by Ivan III. Initially, the Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral was the personal chapel of the royal family. After Ivan the Terrible took power, it was extended and the Archangel Gabriel Chapel was added. This was so he could watch services in the main church, which he was forbidden to enter under Orthodox rules. These rules stated that a person who had married more than three times was not allowed to enter the main body of a church. The venerated icons of Theophanes the Greek, the great artist, are housed here.
Since 1924, the embalmed body of Vladimir Ilyich (better known as Lenin) has been lying in state in a mausoleum at the Kremlin wall. This is despite a declaration by the founder of the Soviet Union that he wanted to be buried beside his mother in St Petersburg. There seems to be a perpetual queue to view his body, constantly supervised by guards, which forms at the northwest corner of Red Square. Cameras are forbidden – drop yours at the State History Museum’s left luggage office. After you exit the mausoleum, the Kremlin wall itself is worthy of examination, as a number of prominent communists are buried here.
Near the village of Bran and the city of Brasov, on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, lies Bran Castle. Over the years it has come to be known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, although it is only one of numerous similarly imposing castles linked to Bram Stoker’s tale of horror. Sitting on top of a 61 metre high rock, and bedecked with spires and towers, it certainly plays the part of Count Dracula’s residence very well. For 37 years up to 1957, it was the home of monarchs. Nowadays it is a museum, with paintings and furniture that belonged to Queen Marie of Romania. A large number of the castle’s rooms are connected via underground hallways displaying a number of artefacts from the 1300s right up to the 1800s.
Approximately 200 metres above the town of Rasnov, which lies on a connecting road between Transylvania and Wallachia, you will find the very interesting Rasnov Fortress. This building is documented as far back as 1331, and was constructed by Teutonic Knights to defend themselves from attacks by Tartars. Unlike its other Saxon counterparts, over the centuries it became a refuge, with all the buildings one would expect to find in a village, such as a church, houses and a school.
Not only is the Uffizi Gallery museum Florence’s most significant museum, it is also its most popular. Work on the Uffizi Palace, brainchild of Giorgio Vasari, began in 1560 under orders from Cosimo de’ Medici. Although the original purpose of the building was a central location for offices of administration, a number of rooms on the third floor were used to store the Medicis’ most prized artworks. These were added to over time by other members of the clan. 200 years later, in 1737, Anna Maria Luisa, the last of the Medicis, left the masterpieces and the palace itself to Florence in her will.
The 15th century building that houses the Museum of San Marco is a tourist attraction in itself; let alone what is inside. It originally was a Dominican convent, and later was completely renovated and extended for Cosimo the Elder de’ Medici. As a result it is completely intact, giving the visitor an insight into the layout of a convent from this period in time and what life must have been like within the walls. The cloister, as well as the bright library, together make this one of the best preserved Renaissance interiors.
A unique feature on Venice’s cultural landscape are the scuole. These originated in the 1200s as places for wealthy people without much social standing to socialise and mix with others of a similar social status. By the 1400s, Venice had six scuole grandi and up to 400 minor scuole. The scuole grandi were frequented in the main by professionals with many financial resources; the scuole piccole were frequented mainly by religious groups, foreigners who wanted to connect with their own ethnicity and trade guilds. Many of the scuoles that were frequented by people with money were highly decorated by their patrons; in some cases a well regarded artist would be commissioned to paint an entire building (for example, Carpaccio at San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and Tintoretto at San Rocco). Hence nowadays, these buildings are regarded as works of art in their own right, therefore serving a dual historic and artistic role. Anyone with an interest in art history should walk around these fascinating buildings.
Just to the east of campo Santo Stefano, you will find Campiello Pisani. The imposing Palazzo Pisani music conservatory dominates campiello Pisani, and was the scene of the shoot-out at the end of Casino Royale, the James Bond film premiered in 2006. The Torre dell’Orologio was the scene of a fight scene in an earlier James Bond film. Fans of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now should check out the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, which featured in the film, as well as Palazzo Grimani, where the grisly concluding scene was shot.
Located in western Crete, in the Chania region, is Falassarna beach. This is an endless, wonderfully sunny strand that is well known for its amazing sunsets. For these reasons it is considered by many to be Greece’s finest beach. However, Falassarna Bay contains a number of smaller, yet very attractive and sandy, beaches. These are all easily accessible from the very old town of Falassarna, to the north.
In western Crete, in the Rethymnon region, are the twin sandy beaches of Amoudi and Mikro Amoudi. The word ‘amoudi’ is a variant of ‘amos’, which in the Greek language means sand. ‘Mikro’ means little. Both beaches are just a short stroll from Damnoni. Mikro Amoudi beach is quite small, but very popular with naturists; as a result it is often overcrowded. Despite this, it is well organised, with rental facilities for sun beds and a good choice of eating establishments, whatever one’s gastronomic preferences. The water is also very clean, and the clear waters make visibility excellent, so this is a great location for snorkelling. Just a short distance down the road is Amoudi beach. Continue reading
The 5 star Kempinski Hotel enjoys an enviable location, just a stone’s throw from Saint Stephen’s Basilica and the Chain Bridge. Not only this, but its facilities are second to none. A number of restaurants are on offer, ranging from Nobu Restaurant, which specialises in Japanese cuisine and sushi, to Restaurant Giardino, serving a mix of Mediterranean and traditional Hungarian dishes. Complimentary wireless internet access and cable TV are available in all of the air conditioned guest rooms. Look out over the Fashion Street, park or the rooftops of Budapest – it’s your choice!
The 4 star Buda Castle Fashion Hotel is a newly built hotel, just down the road from the Castle district of Budapest and the Royal Palace. Guests can choose from either exceptionally spacious standard rooms or luxury suites. Whichever you go for, you can be assured of style, a warm welcome and a very enjoyable stay. The breakfast lounge is situated beside the tranquil inner garden, to start your day in the best way possible. The old cellar is perfect if you want to host a party with a difference.
14 miles south of Athens is the very scenic Vouliagmeni Beach, with picture postcard views of the sea. This is a very well equipped beach (one of the best in Athens), with volleyball and tennis facilities, kids playground, water slide, café and even your own changing hut if you like! The peninsula itself is renowned for its mineral water lake, whose effects are best felt at the nearby health spa. Here, the weather is exceptionally agreeable whatever the season, so visitors can feel the benefits of the mineral waters throughout the year.
Just under 17 miles south of Athens is the sandy Varkiza Beach. Its distance from the city centre of Athens means less people come here – hence you will not be jostling for space in the surf and on the sand. The adjoining hotel offers a host of facilities to beach patrons such as tennis, green spaces, parkland, café, pub, etc. On the beach itself you can also rent out a volleyball or tennis court by the hour. Kids also have their own section where they can play safely.
The Altstadt, or Old City of Hamburg, is the city’s oldest and most popular district. The most famous landmarks within this quarter are the Office Buildings and Chile House. The Mohlenhof, Spinkenhof and Messberghof are also frequently visited attractions. In certain areas of the Altstadt, it is as though time has stood still; at Cremon Street, for example, homes and businesses are still right beside each other. Goods are taken in on the canal end of buildings, while customers enter from the street end. On Dyke Street, a traditional street for traders, there are shops, homes and many pubs and restaurants. Here, one is welcome to sample the local delicacies and brews.
The St. Michaelis Church, dating from the mid 18th century, has two superlatives to its name. It is north Germany’s most significant Baroque church and it has Germany’s biggest clock face, at a circumference of just under 79 feet. From the viewing platform of the 433 feet Michel Tower, you can look out over the splendour of Hamburg and its harbour. A twice daily ritual takes place here at 10am and 9pm, whereby a piece of classical music is played on a trumpet. This melody carries for several kilometres.
Set at an elevation of 302 feet, Parc du Château is the perfect place to look out over the Baie des Anges and the spires of Vieux Nice. A château dating from the 1100s, after which this hilltop park is named, used to stand near the eastern end of Quai des États-Unis. However, it was destroyed under orders from Louis XIV in 1706 during a fit of temper. Sadly, it was never rebuilt. One tower is left standing; the Tour Bellanda, dating from the 1500s. The Musée Naval is situated here. In the northwest section of the park is a cemetery – it is here that Garibaldi was laid to rest.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts is situated in a beautiful belle époque villa dating from the late 19th century. Here, masterpieces from impressionist painters like Sisley, Bonnard and Monet, as well as works by Fragonard and Raoul Dufy, are complemented by Rodin sculptures. There are also works by Alexis Mossa, the famous artist of obscure symbolist watercolours, and Jules Chéret, who today is fondly known as the ‘Father of the Poster’. If you visit the Nice Carnival, you will see a number of floats which have been inspired by Mossa’s paintings.