Europe

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Europe.

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Take to the Slopes … Alpine Adventures

The resorts of Méribel, Les Gets and La Toussuire will appeal to all skiers in search of a fun holiday

This ski season, why not drive to the French Alps to indulge that love of snow,with a range of resorts to suit all abilities and ages. Taking the car with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is a convenient way to travel: you can pack as much equipment as you want for your Alpine adventures without incurring any extra fees and you can shop on the way.

One of the most accessible resorts is Méribel, in the huge Trois Vallées area. It is a great place for anyone who enjoys clocking up plenty of ski miles, with the highest accessible point being Mont Vallon, at 2,952 metres, which offers panoramic views of the Gébrolaz glacier and Grande Casse mountain.

For families, Méribel Altiport has several fun beginner zones, including the Inuits Piste, which organises outdoor games. Skiers aged from five to 12 have a daily entertainment programme, which includes an eagle show, husky-dog encounters and stalls selling home-made hot chocolate.

A lesser-known but equally enticing resort is La Toussuire, part of the Les Sybelles ski area in the Maurienne Valley of Savoie. The 45 kilometres of pistes include the Vallée Perdue, a scenic route that links La Toussuire with Le Corbier, and the more advanced, five-kilometre-long Grand Truc, while the floodlit Petite Verdette piste is perfect for a spot of skiing after dark. Facilities for children include practice slopes, a ski nursery and a ski school.

For somewhere that retains a traditional mountain-village atmosphere, head for Les Gets, with its rows of wooden chalets. The resort is in the Portes du Soleil ski area of Haute-Savoie and has a charming road-train shuttle to ferry skiers to the slopes. Attractions away from the pistes include a weekly market selling regional produce, an ice rink and a quirky mechanical music museum.

Arguably the best local slopes are on Mont Chéry, which has sweeping red intermediate runs that remain relatively quiet due to the location at one end of the huge ski circuit. Once a week, the English-run Ours Blanc hotel-restaurant, at the foot of the mountain, offers candlelit dinners at which guests can enjoy breathtaking views over the Portes du Soleil.

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Some of the resort’s beautiful chalets

Consuegra and Castile-La Mancha: A Brand New Spanish Adventure

FALL THE HEROES OF the Spanish-speaking world -from footballers to bullfighters, painters to kings – one man in particular stands out. His face grins at you on bank notes; his silhouette appears on postcards; his story has been told in ballet, opera, film, a Broadway musical, a Picasso painting and even a Coldplay song. And rather uniquely among national heroes, he is revered for being useless. This man is the great writer Miguelde Cervantes’ 17th-century comic creation Don Quixote, and his homeland is Castile-La Mancha.

 Castile-La Mancha

Castile-La Mancha

It is a landscape in widescreen mode -big skies and arrow-straight roads, a patchwork of scrubby fields extending to the horizon. Every so often crumbling castles appear, indistinct on hazy hill tops. It is a place where temperatures are high, mirages are many, and inhabitants are few. ‘La Mancha has a long history of locals who are considered a little bit crazy’, says Santiago Moraleda – a man who, dressed in a long black cloak in the midday heat and with a large tawny owl pecking at his ear, would seem to affirm his own theory. ‘But we are also people who are known for being very courageous, too.’

Santi isn’t as peculiar as he might first appear, for he is taking part in the annual medieval festival in the market town of Consuegra. For much of the year itis a sleepy place, where old couples perch on windowsills watching farmyard traffic rumble past. Every August, however, its citizens engage in weekend-long binge of mead glugging and pork roasting in the main square, plus some energetic battle re-enacting in a medieval castle, which rises regally over the town. Minibuses full of archers shuttle about the streets, Moorish encampments are pegged beside the football pitch and processions of monks walk solemnly beneath the tourist information office. Though his day job is as a guide for birding trips, Santi has dressed up as a knight for the occasion and has brought his own collection of birds of prey to the party.

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Consuegra and Castile-La Mancha

Consuegra’s most famous chivalric hero was, of course, Don Quixote -for it was here, some say, that he charged on horseback, lance in hand, at his most fearsome enemy. Santi happens to be standing in the shade beneath this particular foe, which was in fact not a many-armed monster at all, but a win windmill. It is on e of a great many whitewashed towers that still stand sentinel on rocky bluffs overlooking the plains of La Mancha – some preserved as museums, but most abandoned, their sails and cogs jammed solid and their roof spaces home only to nesting birds.

They were spinning long before Cervantes published his novel in the early 1600s, and have forever been an icon of the region. Fighting a windmill, and losing, is a defining moment in European literature and encapsulates the story of Don Quixote: a day dreamer who chose to live in a make-believe world of heroic adventures rather than humdrum real life. To some readers of Don Quixote, the hero is a blundering lunatic – but to others it is he who is sane. and the rest of the world that is crazy.

Santi has decided to name his various eagles, owls and kestrels after characters in the novel. And, just like the Don, he and other the inhabitants of Consuegra have decided for one weekend only to play at being lords, ladies, archers and knights – to briefly inhabit their own world of make-believe. The festival draws to an end; siege ramps are packed away, arrows pulled out of targets and Santi gathers together his feathered friends to head home. ‘The most important ingredient in the story is craziness’ he says. ‘For only with a little craziness can you truly have a life of dreams.’

Explore The Unforgettable Flavours Of Madrid

Like Ronaldo versus Messi, Catalan independence and the specifics of King Juan Carlos’ love life, the question of wherein Spain you’ll find the best food is a discussion that should be initiated with caution (possibly ending in waving fists and looking up rude words in your Spanish dictionary). The logical answer is Madrid, for it is here that you can taste the A-Z of all Spanish cuisine, from Andalucian gazpacho to lamb cooked in a Zaragoza style. And, thanks to the tapas philosophy, it is quite feasible to eat your way across the entire country in one evening.madrid

’When you go for a night out, you don’t drink beer and wine because you’re thirsty,’ says Jose Angel Mozos Garcia, welcoming customers into his seafood restaurant La Mar beside the city’s Opera House. ‘And it is the same with tapas in Madrid – people don’t eat because they are hungry, they eat just because it is fun. You start at your local and you keep going through the night.’ Outside Josh’s restaurant, the evening tap as crawl is slowly? gathering momentum, while inside, the kitchen shuttles off steaming plates of things that only this morning were swimming off Spain’s Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts: rich and creamy? Valencian seafood paella, and prawns from Cadiz now drowned in garlic to make the classic dish gambas al ajillo, beloved of Madrilenos.

‘Food in Spain isn’t about formal dining, white linen and good manners,’ continues Jose, scooping up prawns with a chunk of bread in his handsome, Moorish-tiled dining room. ‘It is food you eat with your hands; food designed for socialising.’ Madridisa capital that is decidedly short on formalities. Unlike London, Paris, Berlin and Rome, it has few iconic landmarks – no famous triumphal arch, no truly colossal cathedral. It is a city whose spirit comes more from its atmosphere than its bricks. And at no time is Madrid more spirited than the depths of night, when tap as expeditions are full swing – at an hour when London and Paris are tucked up in bed, when even Rome has paid its bill and is ready? to go home.

Casa Labra

Casa Labra

Navigating between eateries, you might cross lamp-lit squares where crowds spill out from the tabernas and lean on the pedestals of statues; or stroll beside the locked gates of p arks like Buen Retiro, the scent of pine wafting over the railings through the air; or potter beside the facades of vast galleries where, inside, the gaunt faces of El Greco portraits watch over empty? rooms that hours ago were busy with crowds. Some tapas places are pit stops, like Casa Labra – the founding spot of the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), in whose boisterous wood-panelled interiors cod croquetas sell for the democratic price of 1 euro 25 cents to standing customers.

Other restaurants invite you to linger longer; one such is La Bola, home of Cocido Madrileno- a ‘Madrid stew’ of sausage, hamhock, beef, chicken and potatoes, cooked in ceramic pots following an Asturian recipe unchanged since the 1870s (and served in interiors that have likewise barely? altered since). And then there’s the joy? of making your own miraculous Madrid tapas discovery – finding a bar squirrelled away on a backstreet off a backstreet, a place which serves the greatest tortilla espanola tasted by mortals and which, no matter how much Google Map detective work is done, cannot be found the following evening. Or indeed ever again.

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Austen Powers – Hampshire

As the world remembers Jane Austen on the 200th anniversary of her death, we decided to explore the county that shaped her – historic Hampshire

Hampshire

Entering Winchester along the poker-straight Roman road that leads to a bronze statue of Alfred the Great speaks volumes about the part Hampshire has played in Britain’s early history. From Danbury hillfort, considered to be one of the best-preserved Iron Age settlements in Europe, to the historic dockyards in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on England’s southern coast, has featured consistently as an important centre in the tapestry of Britain’s past from its most primitive colonies to the Second World War.

Hampshire was also the beloved home of Jane Austen for much of her life and 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of her death. Celebrations and special events will take place across the county from Steventon, where she was born, to Winchester, where she died.

In and around Basingstoke, benches sculpted in the form of an open book will be positioned in places that influenced Jane’s work.

In Winchester, Rain Jane pavement art, which only appears when wet, will remind walkers on rainy days that one of Britain’s finest authors strolled there too.

Her wonderful books were greatly influenced by this beautiful county with its perfect hamlets and provincial life that shaped many of the characters in her novels.

Steventon

Tucked into the peaceful countryside on the fringes of the North Wessex Downs, the population of this sleepy village hasn’t changed much since Jane Austen was born here in 1775. The rectory, where she spent the first 25 years of her life and wrote Pride and Prejudice, Northcazger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility (though they weren’t published until later), no longer stands. But the church, where her father, George, was the rector and Jane was baptised is still used for services. In June 2017 Steventon will host a music recital entitled Jane Austen Suite and conducted by local composer, Philip Andrews.

Jane Austen’s House Museumjane-austen's-house-museum

In 1809, Jane and her mother and sister, Cassandra, moved from Southampton to Chaw ton, where they were given a cottage by Jane’s brother, Edward. A return to the tranquillity of rural life allowed Jane’s love of writing to find its freedom once again, and it was here that she re-wrote and published some of her most acclaimed works from Sense and Sensibility to Pride and Prejudice. The house is now a public museum and beautifully preserves the traditions of early 19th-century middle-class life. Taking a stroll around the village itself you half-expect to bump into Mr Elton emerging from a church service.

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The Kingdom in the North – Bamburgh, Northumberland, United Kingdom

Let’s explore one of the most dramatic castles in Britain, Bamburgh in Northumberland

Cadwallader Bates, the pleasingly Arthurian-sounding 19th-century historian, wrote of Bamburgh Castle as “the very cornerstone of England”. Fifteen hundred years ago, it quite literally was. Its pre-Anglo Saxon name, Din Guarie, even encouraged some to believe that this fortress, towering aloft dolerite rock, was once the “Joyous Guard” of Arthurian legend, castle of Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad.

Visitors to the castle today will find the sandstone monolith strikingly situated between the village of Bamburgh in Northumberland – the northernmost county in England – and the Farne Islands, which lie a couple of miles off the coastline and house a famous seabird sanctuary.

Fiery Beginnings

There have been settlements at Bamburgh since prehistoric times (regular archaeological digs take place here and spectacular finds have included a gold plaque known as the Bamburgh Beast and the Bamburgh Sword) but for its earliest recorded origins, we must go back to AD 547. That fateful year in the life of the castle was when the Germanic King Ida the Flamebearer and his fierce invaders, known as the Angles, who hailed from the German/Danish border, seized Bamburgh.

By the early 5th century, the Romans had all but left Britain after three-and-a-half centuries of rule, rendering the country’s internal borders defenceless. Making full use of their advantage, for over a century the Angles had busied themselves raging and raiding their way through East Anglia, Lincolnshire and up into Yorkshire. But it was in AD 547 that they made their most important acquisition yet: that of Bamburgh. While Ida no doubt held strongholds in the region, the then Din Guarie was by far the most significant in the establishment of his emerging kingdom of Bernicia, which was centred on the rivers Tyne and Wear. It became his capital and thus the seat of the most powerful leader in northern “Angle Land” (which, of course, later came to be known as England).

By AD 603, Ida’s grandson, the fiercesome King Aethelfrith of Bernicia, seized control of Deira (known today as the Yorkshire Wolds). He defeated rival Angle chief Aelle in Deira, as well as the Celts, to form, with the unification of Bernicia and Deira, a new kingdom: Northumbria. This powerful new realm constituted almost a third of Britain’s mainland.

To perceive Bamburgh as the cornerstone of England was, then, no exaggeration; at the height of its power, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain were ruled jointly from York and Bamburgh and the province remained ferociously autonomous right up until the Norman Conquest.

In homage to his wife Bebba, King Aethelfrith named the castle – or “burgh” – after her. And hers was no nominal influence; she ruled Bamburgh herself after her husband’s death. Over time, Bebba’s Burgh would be compounded as Bamburgh.

The reign of king and saint Oswald – successor to Aethelfrith – who ruled during the 7th and 8th centuries, would come to be known as the “golden age” of Northumbria, during which time he ruled jointly from Bamburgh Castle and a monastery in nearby Lindisfarne and introduced Christianity to the kingdom. But post this golden time, after the eventual demise of the Anglo-Saxon rulers, Bamburgh Castle has endured, enjoying a long and often chequered after-life.

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During the Wars of the Roses, King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou found refuge at Bamburgh Castle

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Heritage & Style – Lavenham Priory, England

Blending rich history with contemporary style, Lavenham Priory is a fantastic base for exploring this gorgeous corner of England.

Escaping to the countryside needn’t involve extended journeys or sacrificing stylish accommodation. Just a short drive from London, Lavenham Priory dates back to the 1200s and yet mixes a rich sense of history with contemporary, stylish touches. It makes for the perfect destination when one wants to take a breakfrom hectic city life.

Originally belonging to an order of Benedictine monks, Lavenham Priory is one of the oldest buildings in the Suffolk village of Lavenham. The medieval half-timbered house boasts a historic herb garden, a water well, an underground culvert, and all sorts of historic and interesting nooks and crannies.

On the outside of the building, there are some fine examples of decorative pargeting, as well as beautiful carved barge boards on the gables. It is even rumoured that there is a secret underground passageway connecting the Priory to the nearby Swan Hotel, which was built during the Reformation in the 16th century.

To experience a sense of the building’s history first-hand, one can choose between a stay at Lavenham Priory’s luxury self-catering cottages or the additional Heritage Rooms for up to 15 guests in flexible accommodation.

Lavenham itself also offers so much for the discerning visitor. Described as the “finest medieval town in England” thanks to its lavish status during the time of King Henry VIII, the modern village is home to many nearby National Trust properties and the majestic Lavenham Church, not to mention the boutique shops, art galleries and antique warehouses. East Anglia’s beautiful beaches are just a short distance away, as is the gorgeous Suffolk countryside known as Constable Country. Dining options in Lavenham range from tearooms, gastro pubs, bistros, cafés and fine dining restaurants. The award-winning Great House restaurant and the vibrant and welcoming Number Ten restaurant are both just a short walk from Lavenham Priory. Meanwhile, the world-famous Swan Hotel and Spa is less than 100 metres away.

With so much on one’s doorstep, it is little wonder The Daily Telegraph noted: “It feels almost a privilege to stay in the most ancient house in a village full of such places!lavenham-priory-1

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Village Idyll – Picturesque British Villages

From coastal communities to countryside settlements, Britain’s villages are as different as they are delightful.

The dictionary definition of a village is simple: a collection of houses and buildings that is smaller than a town, larger than a hamlet, and in a rural setting. The real picture, however, is far more difficult to define. Britain’s villages are more akin to a patchwork quilt of fabrics in every size, shape and pattern imaginable. Each one has a charm and a character all of its own, and for visitors that’s precisely where the appeal lies.

This difference is strikingly clear when one moves between neighbouring regions. Just as dialects vary from one postcode to another, so too do the village scenes. From humble cob houses with neatly thatched roofs to rows of half-timbered houses criss-crossed with extravagant patterns, Britain’s villages are a living, breathing embodiment of the country’s rich history.

Indeed, no cluster of buildings, tangle of streets or intersection of roads is the same from one village to the next; what Britain’s bigger towns and cities boast in uniformity and precision, its villages counter in variation and charm. Here is our pick of five villages whose beauty lies in their uniqueness – just be sure to take a camera.

Bibury, Gloucestershirebilbury-england

Endorsements don’t come much better than from a certain William Morris, who once declared Bibury “the most beautiful village in England”. Indeed, the designer isn’t the only one to have fallen in love with this typical Cotswold village just a short drive from Cirencester.

Perhaps the most photographed of its chocolate-box scenes is Arlington Row, a string of cottages built in 1380 as a monastic wool store and later converted into weavers’ cottages. Emperor Hirohito is said to have stayed here and fallen in love with them, Henry Ford liked the cottages so much he tried to ship them over to the US, and you might just recognise them if you’ve ever left the country: a blue-hued version of the row has graced the inside cover of British passports since 2010.

Elsewhere in the village, life centres on the square of St Mary’s Church – an ancient building with a charming combination of Saxon, Norman and medieval influences – on the banks of the River Coln, which runs through the village, and the vast expanse of Bibury Trout Farm. The latter takes in 15 acres of the Coln Valley, one of the most beautiful in the Cotswolds.

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Over the Sea to Skye

We follow the trail of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites through the Highlands

In the summer of 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie sailed from France aboard the Du Teillay, landing on the island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 2 August. It was the start of the “Forty-Five” or the second Jacobite rising, which ended not in the restoration of a Stuart monarch, but in bloody ruin on the fields of Culloden, the last full-scale battle fought on British soil.

The dramatic tale has received a recent boost in popularity thanks to American author Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling historic fiction series Outlander and the popular television adaptation – although Gabaldon takes a severely critical view of the oft-romanticised Prince Charles, characterising him as egomaniacal, out of touch and a disastrous tactician. Yet this last hope for the Jacobite Stuart dynasty remains a fascinating symbol of a turbulent quest for identity, faith and nationhood that still has resonance today.

The origins of the risings lie in the 17th century. The restoration of the Catholic King Charles II to the throne ended the Commonwealth era that followed the English Civil War, but not the accompanying religious turmoil Charles’s brother and successor, King James II and VII, introduced promoting religious tolerance, but that alarmed the Anglican establishment, who interpreted it as a propping up of the Catholic minority.

When James’s second wife gave birth to a son, heralding the continuation of a Catholic dynasty, the king’s son-in-law, William of Orange – a staunch champion of Protestantism – began to assemble an expeditionary force. A group of seven English noblemen (the “Immortal Seven”) sent William a formal invitation in 1688 to come to England and overthrow the monarch, promising that the people would rise up and support him. The invitation was a key political strategy, making palatable the invasion of a foreign power.

William landed with a Dutch army at Brixham in Torbay, Devon, that November and James’s support quickly dissolved, with major defections from the English army; James fled to Catholic France. William’s victory, known as the Glorious Revolution, made him and wife Mary, the oldest daughter of James II and VII, joint monarchs and was a relatively peaceful transition.

However, James still had staunch supporters in the Scottish Highlands – the term “Jacobite” is derived from “James” – who saw this as a coup by force and refused to pledge loyalty to the new monarch.

Led by the Viscount Dundee, and supported by troops from Ireland as well as Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland clans and members of many Scottish noble families, the rebels defeated William’s superior army at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689.

An English soldier is said to have escaped by making a death-defying jump across the wooded gorge –you can still visit the spot, now known as Soldier’s Leap. But the Jacobite forces went on to suffer heavy defeats, and when William offered the Highland clans a pardon in exchange for taking the oath of allegiance, they accepted.

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The Glenfinnan Monument, at the head of Loch Shiel, commemorating the 1745 uprising

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City of Joyce – A Portrait of Dublin City as a Book Lover’s Nirvana

Birthplace of James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett, Dublin has more literary landmarks than most cities. Some serve double-duty: The Duke is an 1822 bar and the starting point for the Literary Pub Crawl (www.dublinpubcrawl.com), a walking tour of historic, author friendly pubs. In 2010, UNESCO named Dublin to its list of Cities of Literature—of which contemporary author Joseph O’Connor commented, “To describe Dublin as a City of Literature would be like saying rain sometimes falls in Ireland.”

DUBLIN WRITERS MUSEUM

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Letters, rare editions, portraits, and other memorabilia from the likes of Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett fill this 18th-century mansion. The Michelin-starred restaurant Chapter One occupies its basement level. (writersmuseum.com)

JAMES JOYCE CENTRE

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Far from a stuffy memorial to the literary cult figure, the centre hosts weekly Joyce-themed walks, spearheads the annual Bloomsday festival, and welcomes guest readers as starry as Stephen Fry. (jamesjoyce.ie)

TRINITY COLLEGE

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Take a student-guided walking tour around this prestigious 16th-century university, home to the largest library in Ireland and the illuminated ninth-century Gospel manuscript, the Book of Kells. (tcd.ie/ visitors/book-of-kells)

SWENY’S PHARMACY

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Daily Joyce readings take place at this former pharmacy where Ulysses’ Leopold Bloom famously buys lemon-scented soap. (sweny.ie)

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF IRELAND

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Its holdings include the largest collection of W. B. Yeats manuscripts in the world, donated by the Yeats family. (www.nli.ie)

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Segovia’s Stone Behemoth

The Towering, Well-Preserved Roman Aqueduct at the Heart of a Spanish City

As I set out of my hotel onto Segovia’s sunny streets, a Roman aqueduct looms ahead of me, making the signposts to it redundant. I walk alongside it, following the arches and touching the cool stones. I was expecting something grander. After all, this structure in central Spain was built by the ancient Romans, and I had imagined that their public works were on the same scale as the Colosseum, and the many temples, baths, and amphitheatres that still stand across Europe.

I turn right towards Segovia’s historic Old Town, and suddenly, I am not disappointed any more. The Old Town and the Aqueduct together are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Standing before me in the Plaza del Azoguejo is the “monumental” stretch of the Aqueduct: 128 stone pillars topped off by two tiers of arches, all built by stacking massive blocks of granite acquired from the nearby Guadarrama Mountains. The entire structure is built without mortar; only the equilibrium of forces holds the huge granite blocks together.

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Segovia Old Town – Spain

Many Roman aqueducts, designed to bring water from springs and rivers to cities and towns, still survive across the erstwhile Roman Empire. However, the Segovia Aqueduct is one of the few that still stands in all its glory; at its tallest, it measures 92 feet.

Segovia is a tiny town, less than a hundred kilometres from Spain’s capital Madrid. Its charming terracotta and sandstone houses provide a picturesque backdrop to several historical monuments, such as the Alcázar or royal palace, the massive Gothic cathedral, and Romanesque churches of various sizes. But the most stunning of its monuments is the remarkably preserved 17-kilometre-long Aqueduct.

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Panoramic of The Aqueduct of Segovia

Mariano, my guide for the day, tells me the Aqueduct was in use until the mid-19th century. The old quarter of Segovia which includes an 813-metre section of the Aqueduct was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. “The Aqueduct is a protected monument now, but as a child I remember seeing cars driving in and out of these arches,” Mariano laughs.

The structure was likely built to tap water from the River Frio in the late 1st or early 2nd century A.D., by Roman troops who were sent to conquer the area and eventually settled here.

Local legend has its own version of the Aqueduct’s creation story, linked to Christianity. It talks of how a young Segovian water carrier who was tired of carrying her pitcher through the town’s steep streets, made a deal with the devil. He could take her soul if he could bring water to her home before daybreak. The devil began building the Aqueduct, but as the rooster crowed, he was just one stone short of completing the structure, and so was unable to take her soul. The holes visible on the stones are said to be the devil’s fingerprints.

Leaving the Aqueduct behind, Mariano and I walk northwest for about ten minutes to reach Plaza Mayor, the main square, dominated by the Cathedral of Segovia. This was the last Gothic cathedral to be built in Spain, in the mid-16th century. I’m awestruck by its size, and find it difficult to fit the entire structure in my camera frame. The bell tower soars to nearly 90 metres and there are numerous, intricately carved spires rising up from every conceivable corner.

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Cathedral of Segovia

The relative austerity inside is surprising; I was expecting something more opulent. After a look around the cathedral’s museum, which houses a superb collection of paintings, tapestries and rare manuscripts, Mariano and I walk through the narrow alleys of Segovia to another of its crowning jewels—the Alcázar.

As we near the moat, the castle fortress comes into view, and I’m reminded of the Walt Disney logo. It turns out that the castle is said to be one of the inspirations for Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World, Florida. The fairytale palace stands on a rocky crag at the confluence of two rivers. It was built between the 12th and 13th centuries as a royal residence for Castilian kings. Its towers, turrets and sharp slate spires were built over different periods of time, giving the castle a part Romanesque, part Moorish feel. The fortress houses an artillery museum and opulently decorated rooms.

The Gallery Room with its ornate ceiling, shaped like an upside down ship’s hull catches my eye. So does the Monarchs’ Room, with its golden frieze depicting Spain’s kings and queens. I climb one of the towers and survey the Spanish countryside, feeling very much like Isabella I of Castile, who lived in the castle, and was one of the most influential queens in Spanish history.

Later, I return to the Plaza del Azoguejo for a cup of coffee. The late afternoon sun casts a warm glow over the Aqueduct. I marvel at the skill of Roman engineers who knew exactly how to pile stones without mortar to build a magnificent structure that has withstood the ravages of time.

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Plaza del Azoguejo

Segovia is 96 km/1.5 hr northwest of Madrid and a 30-minute ride away by the high-speed AVE train network (tickets from €12.90, lower promo prices offered occasionally; www.renfe. com; every 20-45 minutes). Hotel San Antonio El Real is conveniently located near the aqueduct. The heritage building has large bedrooms with traditional Moorish elements; doubles from €90. Hotel Don Felipe offers rooms with a view, looking over the Alcázar.

Segovia’s most famous dish is the cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig cooked slowly in huge wood-fired ovens, leaving it crispy on the outside and perfectly tender and flavourful on the inside. Order to share, as most restaurants serve a massive portion.  Another Segovian speciality is judiones de la Granja, a thick creamy stew made with enormous local white beans. This warming stew usually has a bit of chorizo and bacon added to it. For a sweet end to your meal, try a slice of ponche Segoviano, an airy sponge cake layered with cream and wrapped in marzipan.