Cordoba

The landlocked Andalusian province of Cordoba, with the mineral-rich mountains of Sierra Morena divided by the vigorous Guadalquivir is a fascinating place to visit.  Summers here are scorching and arid, so the best time of the year to visit is during the cooler spring and autumn seasons. In July, the city hosts the Festival Internacional de la Guitarra a two week celebration of guitars, with concerts featuring the top world guitar players and bands ranging from Jazz/Blues, Classical, and of course, Flamenco. It also hosts some superb music and dance seminars, music programs, and conferences on the instrument.

Built on a sharp curve of the river which is crossed by the Roman bridge El Puente Romano, the capital city of Cordoba was once a port. The city can easily be explored on foot. Founded by the Romans, it flourished under the Moorish occupation and this is evident in the architecture found all over. When the Moors were replaced by the Christians, the city’s elegance remained unaltered and the Christian cathedral was built within the mosque, the Mezquita in the 12th century. The Mezquita dates back to the 8th century and represents the Moorish Islamic influence on this region of Andalusia. Behind the Mezquita, El Puente Romano crosses the Guadalquivir leading to a museum in the old gate on the opposite side.

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The Old City surrounding the Mezquita is a splendid network of medieval-style streets, with the Rio Guadalquivir to the south and the Paseo de la Victoria on the west. This area is touristy as well, with numerous stays and restaurants. There are also souvenir shops around.

At the centre of Cordoba is the old Jewish quarter Judeira where little has changed in centuries, with narrow streets and garden plazas, tapas bars and restaurants, an excellent area to explore and relax in the Spanish way. Cordoba is known for its patio gardens, with some of the best at the grounds of the old palace Palacio Museo de Viana in Plaza de Don Gome. The bull fighting museum and the cool and refreshing fountains and gardens of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos are well worth a visit.

The historic centre of Cordoba is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the region outside the city is sparsely populated. There can be no better introduction to Spanish-Moorish culture than a trip to this captivating destination.

Top 10 things to do in Bruges

A stunning, ageless vision, Bruges, the capital of Flanders, is a delightful Belgian city with medieval moorings. Its architectural treasures reveal a city of rich history, and the centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Serene canals and narrow cobbled streets seize your imagination, enticing you to explore more and more.

Linked to sea, Bruges grew from being a centre for Continental trade in wine and wool in the early medieval times to a commercial hub for transactions with Mediterranean countries. With the boost in international trade and the inflow of capital, Bruges soon became an exceedingly affluent city and a global banking marketplace. Eventually, however, internal revolts between the flourishing traders and the general public of Bruges led to the ensuing decline of the city as a primary facility for trade and the end of its Golden Age, and it was supplanted by the more accessible city of Antwerp.

In the second half of the 19th century, Bruges became a preferred holiday destination drawing affluent British and French travelers. Restorations of cultural monuments and churches resulted in an upsurge in tourist as well as commercial activity in the historical downtown area, leading to the boom in international tourism which has lasted to this day.

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Here’s the top 10 things to do on a visit to Bruges, also referred to as the Venice of the North.

i. Grote Markt

The Market Square is a lively open area, a great setting to unwind with a coffee in the evening. One of the remarkable landmarks of the city, the 83m tall Belfry tower dominates the primary city square. Dating back to 1240, the original tower was ruined by fire and subsequently reconstructed. Climb the 366 steps for a spectacular view of the city.

ii. Church of Our Lady

Believed to be the only sculpture by Michelangelo to have left Italy in his lifetime, the marble Madonna With Child is a beautiful creation brought to Bruges in 1506 and housed ever since in the Church of Our Lady.

iii. The Minnewater

This bewitching Lake of Love at the entryway to the city offers panoramic views of the destination. During summers, pop concert performances in the adjacent park attract huge crowds.

iv. Basilica of the Holy Blood

Upon homecoming from the Crusades, the count of Flanders returned with what was believed to be the blood of Christ. Unopened to this day, the relic remains in this 12th century church.

v. Groeningen Museum

The Groeningen has an exquisite collection of fine art, with Belgian and Dutch paintings including the works of Jan Van Eyck and Hieronymous Bosch.

vi. Memling Museum

Originally constructed as a medieval hospital, the Memling Museum offers a fascinating insight into Bruges’ early history. Today, the museum is part of the St John’s Hospital complex.

vii. Stadhuis

This Gothic building is one of the most remarkable buildings in Bruges, with statues representing Flanders’ royalty and biblical figures on the facade.

viii. The Canals

Living up to its reputation as the Venice of the North, Bruges has a multitude of canals. Originally an important trade route, nowadays the canals are used solely for tourism and are a great way of seeing the town from a distinct perspective.

ix. The Beguinage

The Beguines were a spiritual movement of widowed women who wanted to live in a pious way but outside of a convent or monastery. Find peace and serenity in the garden of the Beguinage, a monastery for these Benedictine sisters who still live there today.

 x. Food & Drink

We just have to add this one. The boutique chocolates, freshly baked waffles, beers and mussels with mayo fries are simply unforgettable. Make a beeline for Michelin recommended Dominique Persoone’s The Chocolate Line and give in to the chocolate demons at Dumon.

Bruges is a Belgian fairy tale, a glorious city that is always a joy to explore.