Valletta 2018: the culture trip

2018 stands for feast in overdrive in Valletta, capital of Malta, as the entire year it proudly wears the crown of ‘Culture Capital of Europe’. If you haven’t put it on your travel radar yet, now’s the time to adjust your antennas! With 320 monuments all within an area of 55ha that makes this compact capital one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, and if UNESCO says so…

Valletta Malta

We explored this charming and picture-perfect city early June and we’re completely under its spell from day one… join us, that’s the husband and me, on this little photo stroll through Valletta’s streets…

…though not winding…no, the city centre handles a uniform grid pattern and orientation is therefore easy. First things first though: we flew in from Brussels South with Ryanair and stayed in an Airbnb located in Cospicua/Bormla, one of the so-called ‘Three Cities’. We had a lovely trip to Mdina and an extensive fun tour of ‘The Three Cities’ which I’ll tell you more about in the next posts.

Three Cities Malta
Our Airbnb in Cospicua/Bormla

but let’s focus on Valletta first…

Malta’s history is forever linked to the Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem but to fully understand the capital’s and island’s current mix of styles and influences we need to step back much further in time for a (very brief, I promise) history lesson…

In chronological order the island was invaded by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, then came the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Norman, the Sicilians, the French and Spanish…are you still with me? Then, in 1530 the Knight Order arrived (more on that later) with years of glory and fall, followed again by a, this time very short, French rule; after them the British took over for many years. During WW2 the city suffered extremely heavy losses and bombings and then, fi-nally Malta gained independency in 1964…and if you would think all these influences would result in a mishmash of styles, think again…it all blends perfectly well to a, to this date, modern vibrant town that fully embraces its cultural heritage.

The island thanks it name to the Phoenicians, who called it Maleth, which means shelter. The Maltese language, still spoken, found its origin in Arabic and the capital was named after Jean Parisol de la Vallette, Grandmaster of the Knight Order and also the one who commissioned the building of the new city capital. You can have coffee full Italian Style and a Mediterrenean afternoon siesta oh and driving left and tea and biscuits stuck around too 😉

Valletta Malta
Queen Victoria forever wrapped in Maltese lace on Republic Street

How exactly did those knights end up in Malta? When they were thrown out of Israel by the Muslims, they first ended up in Rhodes until they had to flee from there too. The Spanish king gave them Malta to make their home, which they did. Years of glory followed, with fortifications being built, coming out victoriously out of the Grand Siege and Turkish attacks and the building of a brand new capital and more defence structures. All that building and defending against enemy invasions cost a lot of money though and by then some of the knights of the Order had a certain decadent lifestyle they didn’t want to give up, scandals followed and hence the fall of the Order.

Enough talking, time for photos now 😉

Staying in the Three Cities meant our daily trip to the city centre included the inner harbour crossing by ferry (fun) or typical dhasja (much more fun).

Valletta Malta
View on docking area and elevator to Barrakka Gardens coming from Three Cities

 

Stepping off the boat and heading left brings you to the elevator (your feet and back will thank you) going high up to ‘Upper Barrakka Gardens’. This is a ‘must do’ to see and be seen: you can admire the phenomenal view on the Grand Harbour, watch the canon firings at 12 and 16pm, feed the pigeons, have a snack and drinks, people-watch or just rest and absorb those holiday vibes.

Valletta Malta

 

These gardens were installed on the upper of  the St Peter & Paul bastion, originally as place of recreation for the Italian knights of the Order. On the lower tier you can find the saluting battery.

Salute at 12h and 16h

Valletta Malta
Some odd feathers could be spotted during our stay – part of an historical re-enactment group

Valletta Malta

From Barrakka Gardens on you can start exploring the city at your own pace or if you appreciate some extra historical and cultural info, join one of the many guided tours. We joined a ‘Colour my Travel’ tour taking us on a three hour walk through the city centre.

Colour My Travel tour Valletta
Colour My Travel city tour
Valletta Malta Auberge de Castille
Auberge de Castille Valletta

guards at Grandmaster's Palace

The Lady of Victories chapel is built on the exact spot the very first stone was laid when building the city of Valletta.

Lady of Victories chapel Valletta Malta

A definite must see is Saint John’s co cathedral, built in only five years time. The interior decorating took much longer and if you step inside you’ll immediately understand why as there’s not a blank inch in the cathedral left. Paintings, floor marble stones, tapistries, sculptures, crypt, you name it and you’ll defintely find it inside! The decorations on the walls were all paid for by two Cottoner brothers, Raphael Cottoner and Nicholas Cottoner. They were both grand-masters and you can find their monograms RC and NC on the walls. St John’s Co Cathedral has 375 graves. Their gravestones, all in marble, show the knights and grand-masters that are buried inside this cathedral. The oratory is also of great interest and do expect some crowds when visiting, all admiring one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and the only work signed by him ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’.

 

 

Merchant St, Republic St and Old Bakery St all lead to Fort St Elmo, the crossing streets will either lead you to Sliema Ferry landing area or Upper and Lower Barraka Gardens. Do not miss out on those Lower Gardens as they equally guarantee a phenomenal view.

Valletta Malta

Monument Lower Barrakka Gardens

 

Even on colourful eye-catcher and cities’ trademark, the famous balconies, the mixed cultural influences left their mark. There still, apparently, is some discussion whether Arabic or Spanish origins. Most probably it comes from Arabic times when women had to stay out of sight and this got translated to Maltese way over time, with housewives watching the world go by from above and with little side-windows to gossip with/about the neighbours (?)

Valletta Malta balconies

Valletta streets malta

CA379D13-CBC7-4D38-A7C7-79378A93E158

Bridge Bar Valletta balconies

Valletta shop signs
Een bijschrift invoeren

By now you probably think there are only old stones to walk on in this capital…meet Valletta 2.0…

Parliament house Valletta

The above photo is part of the Parliament House and architect Renzo Piano’s (the one of the Shard in London) so-called ‘City Gate Project’, a masterplan to restyle the old City Gate area. He made some very drastic changes, as the old gate in no longer an actual gate but a V-shaped entrance and citizens had to grow accustomed to this new style. However, to my opinion he succeeded wonderfully wel in marrying old and new. The stone slabs in the limestone are carved out this way to copy natural erosion by nature.

open-air theatre Valletta
open-air theatre

Parliament House Valletta City Gate

 

Have I convinced YOU that Valletta is worth a visit? Then start planning your trip and check the cities’ tourist site and 2018 cultural highlights!

Valletta City Gate

Next post in this series will highlight the Three Cities and Mdina, stay tuned 😉

Ingrid

xxx

Valletta City Gate

Visit Malta

Airbnb Valletta

Ryanair

Colour my Travel

Unesco Valletta

Maastricht: a photo stroll…

One month ago one of March’s beautiful spring weekends led us to Belgian Voer-region and Dutch city Maastricht. A perfect combination: countryside and city, best of both worlds…You could already read all about our discoveries in Voer here Welcome in the Voer region…but I still owed you some Maastricht tales and photos…

Maastricht lies at the crossroads of the three countries that together make up the Euregion Meuse-Rhine with ‘Maas’tricht itself lies at river Meuse.

Maastricht

We stayed in Townhouse Hotel located in Wyck-district near city station and it offers warm hospitality and coziness in a modern decor.

A very special thanks to the hotel helpful hotel staff as during our stay my husband got sick and we were forced to stay longer…not a punishment for me, but sadly no romantic weekend as he experienced most of Maastricht out of his room😟

Mainly just me therefore exploring the city, so do keep me company and join me on this little stroll!

Maastricht

Maastricht is often described as one of the most romantic cities of the Netherlands offering a wonderful variety with quaint historical districts, art, history, culture, gastronomy and calm green surroundings. What’s not to like?

The Wyck-district, where we were staying is linked with Maastricht’s city centre through the ‘Sint-Servaasbrug’ and is therefore frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists.

Maastricht
view towards Wyck-district
Maastricht
and crossing to the other side, direction city centre

If your mind is set on shopping, Maastricht definitely is the right place: hip and vintage in Wyck, multi-brand shopping centers Mosae Forum and Entre Deux in city centre and the more posh boutiques in ‘Stokstaartkwartier’ ánd always open on Sundays!

Shopping makes hungry, right?!

Maastricht houses one of Holland’s most unique bookstores, being located in a former church ‘Boekhandel Dominicanen’ offers an enormous collection of books with a view, oh and yummy coffee and sweets in the inside shop!

Maastricht

Maastricht
City hall

Maastricht

Maastricht is also one of the oldest cities of Holland: Saint Peter’s caves and fortress, the casemates, stone wall…all still prominent witnesses of Maastricht’s prominent place in history. One place in particular that you just have to visit when inside city centre is ‘het Vrijthof’. This large square has attracted people since medieval times when pilgrims came to see the grave of Saint Servatius, lying in the Basilica carrying his name. These days, Vrijthof is also known for its many outdoor cafés and frequent events.

Maastricht

At ‘De Bisschopsmolen’, a bakery in a restored watermill, they are justly proud of their craftmanship and working with natural products and simple processes.

After visiting the mill, do take a further stroll in the Jeker-district, Jeker being a small stream, flowing into the Maas here in the city. Explore Helpoort, the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands, and the characterful surrounding streets.

Sintra: life in technicolor…

Pena Palace Sintra

In the Lisbon series there is one more ‘must see’ I want to tell you about, or not…maybe Sintra should be kept more secret as it is already overrun by tourists all coming to admire the city’s cultural and architectural wonders. Its natural and historical value make Sintra in its whole a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like I said, a ‘must see’…

 

Sintra is located 25 km outside Lisbon city centre and is set against the lush pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. Easily accessible from Lisbon Rossio train station in about 40 minutes and included if you have a Lisboa card.

Upon arrival shuttle services await you to bring you to all the main sites, however we chose to walk to the village centre. An easy walkable path offering views on the National Palace with the characteristic chimneys, colourful stands with local handicrafts and an iron throne, well, with a little imagination…

Sintra Portugal

Early mornings can be foggy in Sintra, don’t worry, sunny ‘sol’ does her best and by noon you’ll have clear blue sky!

 

Sintra city centre Portugal

In the above picture, all the way up, op top of the foggy hills, are the ruins of the moorish castle. We’ll get to them later…

Sintra city hall
view on Sintra city hall

First stop for us however was Pena Palace and its gardens. From the city centre we took a tuk tuk that dropped us off at Parque da Pena entrance and from there we made our way up to the Palace, still a serious climb on often cobbled paths!

tuk tuk Sintra Portugal

Some piece of advice…if you are not interested in castle interiors you do not have to get in line, which can be a very, very long queue…the exterior grounds are perfectly accessible with your entrance ticket without waiting in line or just ask for the cheaper park/outside combination…wish someone had told us that upfront, it certainly wasn’t mentioned at the ticket office…though would have saved us a lot of time! And yes, some of the terraces are only accessible from the inside, however is it worth an hour and a half queuing? That is up to you to decide…

Pena Palace Sintra

Sintra Pena Palace

The palace is a dazzling piece of extravagant and astonishing architecture, where technicolor meets mythology and of course, being in Portugal, tiles are never far away! Not that it was always like that…the hilltop used to be home for a monastery. After the abolition of religious orders in Portugal it was abandoned and King Ferdinand II acquired the grounds in a public auction. So the story goes he was a bit jealous of Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria and commisioned Baron von Eschwege to build him his own dream palace opera-inspired (he later marries opera singer Elise Hensler) and saw to a forestry landscaped garden to hide away in. I’d say mission accomplished!

 

 

Pena Palace Sintra tiles

Meanwhile in city centre…

Sintra moorish walls

I promised blue skies, didn’t I? Fog has cleared and you can see them now…next stop, the moorish walls…

The Castelo dos Mouros was established during the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town of Sintra however archeological excavations and studies of the artefacts around 1995 even traced back occupation of the castle slopes to 5000 B.C. by neolithic communities…this place breathes history! In the 19th century King Ferdinand II acquired the castle that had become a ruin by then and converted it into the romantic style of that century through exuberant planting and reconstruction though keeping a certain medieval ruin charm.

Not sure if I would recommend to climb the longer part of the walls with very small children or if you are afraid of heights…the passage is sometimes narrow and there is not always a safety railing…

 

Sintra Moors Castle

The ruin walls offer phenomenal views on Sintra and its surroundings, however, like I said, watch your step, as not everywhere a railing…

Sintra Moors Castle

Sintra Portugal Moors castle
Sintra City Centre shot from the moorish walls

Tired feet and back, hence the tuk tuk back to village…smooth ride and friendly helpful driver, were all I needed to recover and smile again!

tuk tuk Sintra Portugal

There’s plenty more to see in Sintra, in fact, if you want to explore thoroughly and at ease, it’s probably best to spend the night, more ‘must see’ attractions are the Quinta Regaleira, Palácio de Monserrate, Palácio Nacional de Sintra, Convento dos Capuchos,… just check the local tourist office website or office.

Adeus Sintra, until we meet again!

Ingrid

xxx

Sintra Tourist info

Park and National Palace Pena

Moorish castle

we stayed in Airbnb Inglesinhas5 and you can read more on our Lisbon adventures herehere or here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lisbon: city strolling part 1…

How do you you feel about citytrips? I appear to have a strange love-hate relationship with them…they both seem to energise ánd drain me, recognisable? This being said, looking back, ‘the energy-drainage’ balance was way in favour of the first feeling. We have spent five glorious days in this charismatic city though still haven’t had time to explore to the fullest if you ask me… This is a city of historic discoverers travelling the world and the seven seas bringing wealth and fame, a city having known its portion of bad fortune and catastrophies too, being rebuilt after earthquakes and risen from ashes to what it is today…an absolute shining jewel to discover! In the next posts will share some pics from our little side trips to Belém and Sintra, this one however is all about strolling through Lisbon’s city neighbourhoods, each with its own identity and taking you around some of our favourite sightseeing spots, experiences and photos. Like tiny appetisers that tickle your taste buds and make you longing for what’s next this city reveals itself step by step, (and you can take that literally being built on seven hills, do bring some comfortable shoes) and taste by taste with more goodies and jaw-dropping vistas around each corner!

Lisbon is nestled high (remember the hills) and comfortably on the Tagus river bank: city of eternal sunshine, nostalgia and renewal, the sound of fado and screeching trams…delicious fresh sardines and upcoming Michelin-star chefs, jaw-dropping architecture, fascinating tile-work and street art…a city where the day starts off with a cup of coffee and one, or more, pastéis and evening rewards you with breathtaking views…a city with an historic passion for discovery…

Are ‘you’ all set to explore?!

Ascensor da Bica

Covering the height levels on foot may be challenging from time to time, but doable, and if I say so, remember I am not the fittest person due to my back issues! However, if there is a quicker, more relaxing and definitely more fun way…don’t hesitate! Many options make life easier, offer you great views and your feet will thank you…Taking a ride on the historic tram 28 is a must but you can also book an eco-friendly tuktuk ride, take an ‘elevador’ or ‘ascensor’ to help you carry up those steep hills…

 

 

 

If you want to visit a place where you can still feel and witness the impact and enormous devastation of the  1775 earthquake, head to Largo do Carmo in Chiado District and visit the ruins of this convent…it has never been restored, which gives you the opportunity to walk through history in an open-air architectural historical museum.

Lisbon
Carmo convent

 

After visiting, take some time to relax on the Largo do Carmo, the lovely square just outside the convent. Plenty of shade, artists performing, surrounding shops and restaurants and a typical ‘Quiosque’ to order a drink and some little snacks…

Lisbon
quiosque Largo do carmo

Want to bring a fun gift for those at home? Head to ‘The Fantastic World of Portugese Sardine’ shop on Rossio Square, very funky shop with a circus theme and star role for the sardines of course which are packed in birthyear printed cans.

 

Embaixada, in Principe Real district is well worth a visit if you like to match shopping with design…this old Moorish designed palace houses small shops, young designers, start-up concepts and regular cultural events and exhibitions.

Lisboa

Meanwhile, down by the river…you can enjoy a morning walk like we did or enjoy the artists performing and all sorts of food and fashion stalls late afternoon or evening and multiple ferry routes bring you to the opposite bank where you can admire the Christo do Rei statue or enjoy a wonderful meal as sun sets on the city…

 

Foodwise, you won’t starve in Lisbon and lunch and dinner are quite affordable, a lot of value for little money!

 

 

We stayed at Airbnb Inglesinhas 5 in Madragoa district which I can higly recommend, hosts Paula and Andre welcome you with a big smile and open arms and help you out with any planning or questions you still have. Some great coffeebars and restaurants nearby as well as excellent public transport connections.

We found the Lisboa card very useful and value for money, especially compared to the similar cards in other cities…if you plan on using public transport during your stay and visit some museums and attractions, do consider this…

 

Hope you enjoyed this little stroll around Lisbon and you’ll tag along next time when I’ll take you around Alfama district and on the trips to Belém and Sintra!

Adeus

Ingrid

xxx

Inglesinhas 5

Lisbon tourist info

 

Lisbon: city strolling part 2…

Following my previous post, Lisbon: city strolling part 1…exploring Lisbon’s neighbourhoods, we’ll slowly make our way up to its charismatic heart: the Alfama district…From the Tejo estuary just follow the steep hill all the way up to the castle or allow yourself a detour and get lost in the maze of narrow and cobbled streets, as reward: phenomenal buildings, colourful bars and restaurants, nostalgic fado sounds, street art, breathtaking vistas, the screeching tram 28 making its way and life as it is if you alllow yourself to look a bit further than the typical tourist does…

Miradouro de Santa Luzia

 

Panteao Nacional
no azulejos for a change but one of the most beautiful facades in Alfama
our excellent tuk tuk driver and guide , Ecotuktours

 

Lisbon
Street art mural Fado vadio

 

We stayed in Airbnb http://inglesinhas5.com/ which I can highly recommend!

 

Bar and restaurant Ti’ Camila

saúde!

Join me next time when we take a little trip outside Lisbon centre and explore Belém and Sintra!

Ingrid

xxx

Inglesinhas 5

www.visitlisboa.com/lisbon?

EcotuktoursLisbon

Ti’Camila

Luxury sea escape x royal The Hague, part one

We, that is the husband and myself, were beyond thrilled winning an exclusive stay at the newly openend Pier Suites in Scheveningen, hurray…a trip to always inspiring and relaxing Holland! As at a stone’s throw, we combined this trip with a visit to royal The Hague…A weekend to indulge ourselves in luxury, relaxed beach vibes, city exploring, shopping, fun, food and fascination, with special thanks to Linda Magazine that held the contest!

Scheveningen beach

Let’s check in first…the Pier Suites‘ website promises an unforgettable experience, located at the very end of the Pier Boulevard…not hard to understand we were extremely curious to check out our very own suite and view!

The room has all comfort you’d expect from a suite and offers full free use of the minibar filled with bubbles, beers, white wine, water…if you are the sober type, red wine…there are coffee and tea facilities, etc…however the star attraction of the room is the enormous private terrace to enjoy the  spectacular view on and above the North Sea! As the water rustles gently under your room, you feel embraced by the sea, such an indescribable feeling!

The Pierboulevard offers a variety of shops and ‘food truck-style’ eating facilities…had a total crush when I noticed the Spicy Scarves Amsterdam boutique, where lovely enthousiastic owner Waheeda translates her creative passion into stunning handmade layered scarves. Keep this brand on your radar as they often attend the Swan Markets held all over Holland and Belgium and they do of course have a webshop too.

Seeking some thrill? The pier has a zipline installed, I heard a lot of woohoo’s and wow’s, so if that’s your thing, zip away! The large ferris wheel is another main attraction and was rather looking forward to a ride, however on the day of our visit it was closed for maintenance. The hotel however did supply me with a voucher, so now have an excellent excuse to return, right?!

ferris wheel, pierboulevard, Scheveningen

Foodwise, no problem here, there’s the foodboulevard on the pier, and on the beach you can find any style or cuisine food bar, lounge club or restaurant you prefer…

For those into culture and colour, Scheveningen of course joins The Hague in celebrating 100 years De Stijl and artist Mondriaan. No worries if you are normally not a museum visitor or lover, the city will remind you on the festivities  and treat you for free just strolling through the streets!

Mondriaan-colours, De Stijl, Scheveningen, Den Haag
Mondriaan-colours

Got a final golden local tip that the best restaurants dinner-wise are situated at the harbour area…definitely going to check those out next time, however we decided to enjoy our ‘room with a view’ as much as possible, so after some small local snacks and bites in one of the beach bars, and a nice walk we headed back to our own private world above the sea, with the company of bubbles, jacuzzi-wise and prosecco-wise and more than enough wine…when night arrives, a starry sky ceiling feature accompagnies sweet dreams…royal city the Hague awaits…to be continued next post!

Ingrid

xxx

The Pier Suites

Pierboulevard

Spicy Scarves Amsterdam

The Hague tourism

special thanks to Linda Magazine