…once a political and linguistic battleground, now every wanderer’s, cyclist’s and nature lover’s dream! This rural region is situated in the far eastern part of Belgium, in province Limburg, and consists of six small villages* lying at a stone’s throw from the Belgian-Dutch border yet still close to major cities as Liège, Aachen and Maastricht. Its location nearby rivers Rhine and Meuse, the landscape and soil have always attracted many to exploit: the Romans did, even traces back to prehistoric times can be found…Over history, nature, the unique character, position and its advantages rightfully took the upper hand for this region…who cares which language is spoken when there is so much to enjoy and discover…
St-Martens-Voeren is dominated by the tall ( 23 metres) railway bridge. It is part of the rail connection Tongeren-Aken, mainly used for freight transport and was built by the Germans in World War I.
As in most of these tiny villages, the church building dominates and in this case also the starting point of hiking route ‘de Bronnenwandeling’ which was chosen most beautiful hiking trail in Flanders in 2012.
No exploring on an empty stomach though, Hoeve de Bies is ideal for any short or longer hungry break and when in Limburg of course, the typical ‘Limburgse vlaai’ is all around…resistance is futile!
It was the tiny hamlet of Veurs (Sint-Martens-Voeren) that stunned us most during our little trip. This particular area is known for its concentration of typical timber frame houses. It is home for some extraordinary fauna and flora, mixes tree orchards and small forests and it’s oh so quiet…big like!
Sint-Pieters-Voeren is the smallest of the six ‘Voer-villages’, with fewer than 300 inhabitants, and best-known for its Commanderie. This castle belonged to the German Knights Templar until the French revolution. The current building was constructed in the beginning of the 17th century in the so-called ‘Meuse-region Renaissance-style’.
In the park of the castle lies the spring that provides the ponds and the Voer river with water at a ratio of some 3000 litres per minute. In these surrounding ponds trout and sturgeon are bred which is a true delicacy and is on the menu at the local on-site brasserie and many of the local restaurants.
We had our feet up and enjoyed a lovely little ham and cheese snack at Gasterij de Commanderie opposite the castle.
Perfect way to end this little pre-Spring ‘tourist in own country’ trip and look back on the lovely landscapes and walking routes we discovered along the way. This definitely tastes for more, litterally, as there are some outstanding winehouses in this region as is the nearby abbey of Val-Dieu and its beer of the same name, needless to say we’ll be back!
Next post I’ll take you along to Maastricht, just over the Belgian-Dutch border and easily to combine with a Voerstreek visit!
(*) Moelingen, ‘s-Gravenvoeren, Sint-Martens-Voeren, Sint-Pieters-Voeren, Teuven and Remersdaal
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…
Early mornings can be foggy in Sintra, don’t worry, sunny ‘sol’ does her best and by noon you’ll have clear blue sky!
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…
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!
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…
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!
colourful Palace residents…
some welcome shade in the palace surrounding gardens
Meanwhile in city centre…
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…
‘smaller part’ of the walk
The ruin walls offer phenomenal views on Sintra and its surroundings, however, like I said, watch your step, as not everywhere a railing…
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!
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.
One of Lisbon’s many jewels, Belém lies peacefully, well if you ignore the tourists, alongside Tagus river…how different it must have been during the Age of Discovery with explorers impatiently embarking onto their long voyages to unknown destinations and adventures, and with it the booming trade bringing the world to Belém…
No exploring on an empty stomach…skipping this bakery and their well-known pastéis would be a capital crime! Pastéis de nata exist all over the world, only these ones, manufactured following an old, and till today, secret recipe from the monastery can be called ‘pastéis de Belém’…did you know that according to Portugese tradition a bride who eats a pastéis will never take off her ring?!
Undisputed leader when it comes to tourist queues…the Unesco-listed monastery, but so worth it! Built for the glory of God, king Manuel I and explorer Vasco da Gama this spectacular building shows an exuberant mix of styles, mixing religious, gothic and manueline/maritime elements. Construction took almost a century and it was built on the site, so the story goes, where Vasco da Gama took off on his voyage to India in 1497. Monks of the St Jerome order provided spirital guidance to all explorers following da Gama’s footsteps and adventures linking the monastery forever to Portugese maritime history…seems only right then that both king Manuel I and Vasco da Gama found their final resting place here where it all began.
Fantastic beasts and where to find them…a place for spiritual guidance and fantasy…
But it’s still a monastery…
Another Unesco monument, Torre de Belém was built to keep port entrance safe and most often it was the last building of their homeland the explorers saw for many, many months or years sailing off. Originally standing in the centre of the Tejo estuary the flow changes made the fortress stand on the river bank now, making it more accessible.
From Torre de Belém a pleasant riverbank walk leads to Padrao dos Descobrimentos…
Designed as a caravel overlooking the sea with Henry the navigator in its prow, this concrete structure was built to mark the 500-year-death of said navigator. Actually it was re-built as another version made of wood and iron in 1940 already existed as part of the Portugese World Exhibition.
Both ramps together show 32 figures that have put their mark some way or another during the Age of Discovery, think cartographers, navigators, warriors, artists, etc…
Many more interesting things to see and do in Belém of course…just check tourist office for more info!
As for accessability, from city centre just take tram or train, our Airbnb Inglesinhas 5 being located close to Cais do Sodre station, train was a fast and easy option.
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?!
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…
Elevador de Santa Justa
Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta
View on Tagus river
welcome shadow on the Praça do Comércio
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.
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…
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.
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!
Bar and restaurant Ti’ Camila
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!
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…
a castle needs a crown, right?!
true guards of their treasures at the entrance of Alfama
Yesterday, for the first time, I attended one of the many activities organised by Samana, the division of CM health insurance, offering support, distraction and a variety of activities for chronicly ill patients and their caretakers. The activity that caught my eye was a culinary chocolate walk in Antwerp…need I say more?! As for the bold and sweet…just read till the end…
The walk comprised a guided tour along some Antwerp hotspots linked to chocolate or sugar and of course some tasty stops and according treats! Along the way the process of chocolate making from bean to the yummy stuff was explained and its history through time.
Did you know ‘Suikerrui’ one of Antwerp’s streets leading to the river got its name from the sugar (suiker in Dutch) that was stored in the below street-level canals (rui)?
Luxury Belgian brand Neuhaus offered us two of their signature ‘pralines’ the ‘Caprice’ and ‘Tentation’ both created for the World exhibition held in Brussels in 1958 and named after a quote from Brigitte Bardot, mr Neuhaus himself being a fan of mme Bardot…
Apparently the colour of chocolate you choose tells something about your character, if you prefer dark chocolate, like me, you are rather tough and determined, the strong one!
No chocolate tour in Antwerp without stopping by Dominique Persoone’s ‘the Chocolate Line’ his company existing 25 years this year and innovative and enthusiastic as ever, he has every reason to celebrate!
Well that’s all for now…enjoying my little goodie bag filled with yummy chocolate…didn’t I show enormous character not touching it on the bus ride home?! Must be true then, dark chocolate and being tough and strong!
You can find a list of the houses we visited below and another treat, curious if you will recognize him…
Hard to believe it has already been a year since we returned from our Southwest USA road trip, a trip that took a lot of planning (and saving) ahead and rewarded us with unerasable memories of magnificent landscapes and road adventures.
In the months after our return I managed to sort out the insane amount of photos taken and composed an old-school photo album with the highlights and ‘best of’ moments however somehow a blogpost on the entire trip seemed not feasible: so many stories, so many interesting places we’ve visited, so many angles…where to start?! Well, I guess at the beginning…
After a very long flight including stopover at Chicago airport we landed in San Francisco. We chose SF to be at the beginning of our tour for several personal practical reasons: doing a road trip is rather exhausting, positioning a citytrip at the end wouldn’t be wise. Exploring SF needed us still fit in body and mind! Then there is the issue of ‘Karl’, Karl the Fog that is…Summer weather in SF can be tricky and for me, it’s just not that much fun ending the holiday in chilly and cloudy weather after spending two weeks in the sun and heat…
We spent four nights in SF and still wasn’t enough to explore all the city has to offer though we got an excellent taste of its variety: we did a cable car ride, explored Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, did a hop-on/hop-off tour, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, walked Lombard street, did some shopping, joined an Alcatraz night tour,… more on that here Off to prison with a smile…only in San Francisco!
Time to say goodbye to SF and pick-up our rental car…adventure awaits with a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway leading us to Bixby Bridge, the wonderful scenic 17 mile drive and the historic coastal towns Carmel and Monterey where we spent the night.
Strongly recommend, if you can, to spend more than one night here, wish we had too, however our next destination was already in mind and required quite a distance to cover, next stop…Yosemite NP!
Our hotel was located just outside the park, only a short drive to the Park’s entrance immediately rewarding us with jaw-dropping Tunnel View…
Lovely walks in Yosemite Valley, exploring the Falls, a ranger sunset talk at epic Glacier Point overlooking Half Dome…
Leaving Yosemite for our next destination came with a bonus as we had to cross Tioga Pass, with its lovely viewpoints and magical Tenaya lake.
and bonus number two with enchanting Mono Lake being on our route!
Next stop…Death Valley NP!
We have only spent one afternoon, night and early morning here, (taking in mind the high temperatures it is best to plan your sightseeing late afternoons and early mornings) however did give us time to explore some of the highlights the park has to offer: the dunes upon entering, lovely Artists Drive, sunset at Zabriskie point, Badwater, Devil’s Golf Course and the wonderful overview you get from Dante’s View…
…off to thé city of lights…(and noise, every minute, night and day)…viva Las Vegas…though must admit, for us, looking back on the trip now, not really our thing: the contrast when coming from nature’s overwhelming power and beauty is huge and my senses went on overdrive with the combination of heat, noise, lights, hustle and bustle,…we stayed two nights, however one would have been better! Still would leave ample of time to visit some of the casinos of choice, shop and eat!
We did enjoy the tour with the High Roller ferris wheel and the Bellagio fountain show!
As you can guess, we were glad to escape LV madness and submerge ourselves again into nature’s grandeur and boy, we were rewarded big time! Our route to Zion NP allowed us a little detour to Valley of Fire State Park…do not miss this one if you get the chance, you will not regret!
Zion NP to me had it all: the easy walks for those taking it slow (that’s me) the challenging ones for daredevils, water, rocks, green, it is thé perfect combination, everywhere you look, nature plays its dominant and bewitching role…oh, and I got to celebrate my 45th birthday there!
We got some more of the same magic visiting our next destination Bryce NP…hoodoos in all shapes add to the enchanting vibe hiking here, trails for all fitness levels, luckily!
Upon entering state Arizona we had a bit of weather change, lots of clouds, not the best of timing or condition with Antelope Canyon being on the programme, however we were lucky to catch a little glimpse just upon leaving the canyon!
Rain and thunder clouds packing above Horseshoe Bend as if life on the edge isn’t drama enough!
Unstable weather accompanied us the rest of our trip with blue sky one minute and dark thunder clouds and strong sudden winds approaching the next, having only one night to spend in Grand Canyon NP, we weren’t able to check off all the highlights marked on our list, however exploring the West Rim is already a treat for the eyes.
Last stop before flying home…Phoenix…no worries flight home was with a normal airplane!
Well…it’s a wrap…time flies when you’re having fun!
First time we did an overseas road trip of this length in time and distance and overall feeling was more than ok. We did the planning ourselves and took our complete plan and budget to Eric of Inforeizen, who specialises in overseas travels to the US and Africa and tried to match our desires and route as much as possible. Made it easy for us as he handled all the bookings and we had therefore only one contact person in case of questions or problems.
Curious where we stayed? Will list up all the hotels at the end of this post.
Anything we would do differently looking back? Would spend an extra night in Monterey area, extra night in Yosemite, skip Las Vegas as a destination, though it might be interesting as an airport arrival or departure point, if more time and budget include Monument Valley, pack less bagage!
Hope you enjoyed this little tour…going through these photos again, am already planning and dreaming of future adventures, great and small!
‘ I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me’
Long overdue this post, no worries, am still alive and had promised you another glance on wonderful Lenk in Swiss Bernese Oberland and its lovely peaceful surroundings. To us no stay is complete without a trip to the local waterfalls. Photos include shots taken on the recent trip and some represent a little trip down memory lane with our son still being the smallest one in the house…now that’s me!
Our daily evening routine and only a short hike leads us to Simmefälle as close by to our rental accomodation.
From Simmefälle the rather steep walking path brings you up to Barbarabrücke: with the water spraying over the bridge it is a most welcome cool-down! The bridge is named after a female hotel manager who initiated development of the waterfall and local dam for tourists. A windy path through forests will leed you further up to Rezliberg Alp, birthplace of Simme river with seven springs crashing from a limestone wall…Siebe Brünne…pretty spectacular, though my current back condition doesn’t allow me anymore to go all the way up there, it would take me too long and backfire the next days with too much pain. For those who can, up you go!
Another great local Waterfall to explore is the Iffigfall and according hike! An easy, not strenuous hike, following the stream and leading you up to the waterfall charging down with high speed!
One of my personal favourites is the Wallbachschlucht hike: gorge and waterfall combined, easy walk, though some stairclimbing to do once you reach the waterfall and want to go further up. The force of the falling water has carved out wonderful cylinders and patterns in the limestone, could watch this wonder of nature for hours, very peaceful! There’s a picnic area too if you want to spend more time there.
Well there you have it, we have been chasing these in the past, in not too distant past and hope to be able to do so many, many times more!
As always, hope you enjoyed, feel free to comment!
Though our recent Swiss break was mainly used to recharge those inner batteries and we mostly stayed close to our base of operations and relaxation for the week, Lenk, we did squeeze in a trip to nearby Spiez to get some rivièra vibes!
Spiez is ideally located at the magnificent lake Thun in Bernese Oberland and offers a wide variety of activities and highlights. It is dominated by its medieval castle and the romanesque church that must have been built somewhere in 8th century.
After exploring the castle, the gardens and admiring the outstanding view a walking trail leads to the surrounding vineyards…
S for Spiez, Sylvaner wine, Steep Slopes???
Of course the locals always know the best spots!
Morning walks and breathtaking views makes hungry, so heading down again for a lakeside lunch, which really means ‘lakeside’ and guarantees you a marvellous view at Hotel-Restaurant Riviera by Elio…
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The ferry services and cruises on Lake Thun are a fun means of transport to discover neighbouring lake villages or the larger cities like Thun and Interlaken where you can connect onto lake Brienz for even more water cruising fun. We hopped off at the next village and used the walking path to make our way back to Spiez.
Pyramid shaped house mountain Niessen
the old man and the sea…
Wooden sculptures along the lakeside walking path
may look like rivièra, but we’re still in Switzerland!
Next time more on our little hike to Wallbachschlucht in Lenk and the Simme Waterfall, hope this post gave you a lovely view on versatile Switzerland, land of mountains and glaciers, yes of course…but do not forget to catch some rivièra vibes!
Weekend approaching fast and some fun intermezzo is allowed, right?! Those of you who read my previous post already know we spent a lovely week in beautiful sunny Simmental, Switzerland. During our usual daily and evening walks one sound always accompanied us, being close or somewhere remote in the distance: the Swiss cow bells…oh, and do not mistake, when close-by, these beautifully manufactured bells make decibel metres explode and your ears pop! No cow bells without cows and must say some were pretty anxious to hit the spotlights!
“Holy cow, is she taking pictures? I want in, I want in…”
“Ok, switching positions now…”
“I want to be on cover this issue…no, I want to be…noooo, I want to be…move over”
“Strike a pose?! Can’t you see we’re naturals!”
Enjoy the weekend!
Next time will take you around wineslopes of Spiez at stunning Thunersee, so stay tuned!