San Gimignano, (Italy)

“The Town of Fine Towers”, “Medieval Skyscraper City”

Finally the city I wanted to reach 2 years ago but could not fir running out of time visiting Cinque Terre for the first time and repeating Siena where I did not return since 2001. In this occasion, the trip was planned having as main consideration San Gimignano, and of course taking the chance for revisiting Florence, the third time in that city, however, never enough. Flying to Pisa and making the base over there was all pointing to be the perfect decision, and not only because of flying there is a fraction of the cost than getting into Florence, but also saving half the cost in a hotel there, and as last, the commuting from Pisa is easier, better and faster than if coming to San Gimignano from Florence instead.

As you’ve might have read at the heading of this guide, one of the nicknames is the “Medieval Skyscraper City”, or the “Medieval New York City”. Once you are there it is easy to know why, the many tall stone and brick towers spread across, yet believe it or not, once upon a time there were 72! Now it’s a very reduced number to “just” 14, although it is still the only city in the world with such a large collection. But why building such towers? It was all about a display of family wealthiness. The larger and higher, the wealthier the family was, like a competition. Nevertheless the past, it is today a fascinating and unique sight to see, hence its protection in being listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is way more that its towers. A wide playground for the arts and culture with impressive buildings, palaces and churches complete with beautifully preserved paintings dating as old as the 13th century. Small town that’s for sure, easy and straightforward to visit where a half day is well enough. Careful in not overestimating your time as there is no need for that, and if you are a first timer in Pisa, let me tell tell you it is then possible to enjoy both cities without rush in one same day.

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Florence, (Italy)

“Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance”, “Athens of the Middle Ages”, “Roman Fluentia”

Returning for a 3rd time in my life to one of the most wonderful cities in the world: Florence. It was year 2001 with my school for a cultural trip through Italy where we would spend 3 days in Florence, then in 2009 as a quick day trip from London where I would return to both Pisa and Florence, and back at night to London; and now, a well deserved return with some more time to revisit this beautiful city. Flying to Pisa does always work well, and this occasion was no exception. It is the perfect base to visit numerous other cities and places around as are Cinque Terre, Siena, San Gimignano, and of course, Florence, barely an hour away by train. For sure it won’t be the last in any case, but for now, it will be good enough for creating a well deserve guide for it.

After Rome, this is the next most visited city in Italy and by far, one of the most emblematic, acclaimed and visited cities in the world; while once upon a time, the most important city in Europe for the course of over 250 years. It Ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and it’s inscribed as you could imagine, in the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its artistic, architectural and cultural heritage.

Florence is the birthplace of Opera, the Renaissance and neoclassical architecture. The cathedral’s Brunelleschi’s dome is the largest built in brick and mortar in the world, and third largest Christian church in the world. With so much rich history and the hundreds of sights it is guaranteed you will have a great time in the city. Plan at least two full days to enjoy the most, never a day trip unless you’ve already been here before. It is the fact that even a 2 full days will still be too short time if you consider on visiting the many museums and galleries, which some of them you cannot simply give a miss to be honest. Continue reading

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Lecce, (Italy)

“Florence of the South”, “A Baroque City”

Reaching our second destination for today, and the highlight of the day without any doubt after spending the morning in Brindisi, we arrive to the farthest south we’ve ever been in Italy: Lecce. A small city yet packed with sights on every corner, a Baroque masterpiece hence its well deserved nickname, the Florence of the south. To be honest I was not expecting to enjoy so much this place, nor I knew there was that many great sights and places to visit all over the city. Should I’ve known this beforehand, I would have planned a little bit better around by cutting extra time from Brindisi which after all, it was nothing special, and give it instead more to Lecce. This is another of the reasons why I’ve split Brindisi and Lecce into two separate guides, as my original plan were both in the same.

Anyway, the city is quite small and of course a day is more than enough. Any longer than this and you would not know where else to go unless other cities nearby. Its historic old town is so compact that it’s a matter of minutes from one to the other end, although that won’t be the case for a tourist, since visiting around means getting lost through the narrow streets and squares admiring the architecture and history at every turn.

The major landmarks are next to each others. starting with the remains of the Roman coliseum where an entire quarter is excavated and implemented in one of the largest squares, still being used for performances; and through a street from here leading towards the Cathedral Square, the next of the unmissable highlights.

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Brindisi, (Italy)

“Greek Greek Brentesion”, “Roman Brundisium

Continuing on the second part for this weekend after visiting Matera, Alberobello and Fasano the day before, we set off to the streets of Brindisi, the city that we actually flew into, and later in the day to spend the afternoon in nearby Lecce before returning for the flight back to London. Another great day ahead of us with plenty of sights and lots of history, beautiful corners and a nice weather considering it was March. And so, the usual “suspects” adding to the good times: coffee, ice cream, baba cake and of course, a stone baked pizza.

While at the beginning I was going to combine both cities in the same travel guide, it is after visiting Lecce that I decided it would be better to split it into separate guides. Basically, Lecce is quite an unique and truly worth it city, with lots of sights hence the best way was to have a guide alone. Brindisi in the other hand, is a small port city, very important since antiquity for the trade links with Greece and Africa across the Aegean Sea, but something very strong as of today. Linking it to the capital of the former Roman Empire is the Via Appia, the city being the southern terminus which you can see marked by the monumental Roman column still standing in place at over 2000 years since its creation. Although there were originally two such columns, the second fell to pieces in the 16th century, then taken to the city of Lecce and rebuilt to hold the statue of Saint Oronzo, patron of that city.

There’s not much to see in this city hence it won’t take you long to visit, that’s the reason why you should include Lecce as we did, or other nearby destination. After all, it’s also nice to sometimes travel to smaller cities and not “kill” your feet walking for many kilometres or rushing in an attempt to visit as much as possible. All the contrary here.

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Matera, Alberobello and Fasano (Italy)

“Most intact troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean”, “Drywall constructions”

Finally the time we’ve managed to come to this region, although for a very short time and a larger than average program to visit as much as we could. So while our point of arrival was Brindisi that city together with Lecce would be scheduled for the following day while today instead, driving towards two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, and the Trulli di Alberobello; ending up in the small city of Fasano towards the evening for a nice dinner before returning to the base for the night, Brindisi. Incredible we managed to do this all in a day, considering it was literally right after landing from the very early flight from London, hence tired and sleepy without much rest from the short night before. Quite unfortunate there were no other more suitable flights!

Glad we found these flights anyway, during the low season avoiding the hordes or tourists and high prices for everything, especially accommodation, and good to know how nice all this region in the southeast of Italy is. Definitely worth for returning in the near future, possibly with a flight to Bari instead and continue to enjoy up north from there. Our less visited part of Italy in the other hand.

So as you’ve guessed, the UNESCO sites collectors that we are, this was our plan and main aim for the trip. Matera, home to the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, fully dotted with caves and rock churches with invaluable painting works or art covering the walls and ceilings; and on the other hand something unique legacy from prehistoric techniques still in use today, the trulli constructions found in the southern region of Puglia, being the most remarkable the ones at Alberobello. These are limestone dwellings built drywall (mortarless) in the general form or cones. Really fascinating and impressive to see, and honestly nothing I could compare it to. Continue reading

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Kavala, (Greece)

“Ancient Neapolis (New City)”, Middle Ages Christoupolis (City of Christ)”

Don’t even ask me how did I find a flight here. All I know is that there was nothing booked for this weekend, and out of curiosity I checked what flights are there available to anywhere (via skyscanner), and this pop as one of the cheapest destinations, considering such a short notice just 10 days before. I did also never heard of such place, so I quickly checked some pictures and location, and here we are of course. How to resist such a temptation! No matter how short the overall time there was going to be, all that crossed my mind was something different: I fancy Greek food. Let’s have it in real Greece then!.

The best of all, this is a place unknown for the majority of tourists, hence you can have a great time without the hordes and tour operators shifting the hundreds of people that is generally at other cities. Here you will feel extremely relaxed and quiet, and will actually feel (possibly) for the first time, how the Greeks really live, without any strong tourist orientated mind. Still, from reading through the history of the city, I must admit this was a very important place back in the ancient Greek times. Not far north of Kavala sits ancient Philippi, founded by Alexander the Great’s father, Phillip, and where the apostle Paul baptized the first European Christian. Next to this city is the Pangaio mountain where ancient Macedonia’s gold mines were.

Later after the Greeks, during the Roman times one of the most celebrated achievements of engineering was laid, the Via Egnatia road, connecting Byzantium (modern Istanbul) with Dyrrachium (Durres), then by sea onto Brindisi in mainland Italy to connect with the Via Appia leading to Rome. You can still see great entire remaining portions around the region, just north of the city for example. As for some contemporary history, Kavala is the birthplace of modern Egypt’s founder Muhammad Ali of Egypt (4 March 1769). His house is now a museum you can visit. Continue reading

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Valencia, (Spain)

“Roman Valentia Edetanorum”, “Moorish Medina bu-Tarab”

Quickly piling up on more trips for 2018, we do also continue to benefit from destinations which are way cheaper during the low season months that would rather be very expensive otherwise. 2 weeks ago it was Gran Canaria, the previous weekend, Seville; and now, Valencia. Although all of these three destinations are repeated, it was for some a chance to keep visiting other places, while for others, it was just too many years since we were there and therefore almost forgotten. Not just that, Valencia is also an incredible beautiful and large city, the 3rd largest in Spain where a weekend is even too short time. Now I do also finally get the chance to create this well deserved travel guide for it; and I know it will be laborious and quite in-detail in the sights section. There are just too many!

Founded by the Romans, is has survived periods of prosperity and depression through the centuries. Thriving, then wars and decline; destruction, rebuilding and so forth. From a Roman province, to the Moorish invasion, then reconquered by the Christians to become part of one of the Kingdoms that once were in the Iberian Peninsula: the Crown of Aragon. It was the 15th century what is best known as the Golden Age of Valencia, when the city lived a great economic expansion, culture and arts flourished and an overall wealth that saw the construction of most of the impressive buildings still standing today from that period. Its university, created in 1499 is one of the oldest surviving in Spain too. However, from one of the most influential cities on the Mediterranean to an economic crisis following the discovery of the Americas. Valencians, like the Catalans, Aragonese and Majorcans were prohibited participation in the cross-Atlantic commerce with the New World and any trade with the colonies. This left Valencia secluded with no riches coming in, nor benefiting from it.

To my personal opinion, this city is the combination of Madrid and Barcelona. From Barcelona it takes the fascinating elegant architecture, notably in the modernist style (art nouveau), and the urbanism; a perfect grid of orthogonal streets and avenues (although this is also traditional in Madrid and in any city in Spain during the late 19th early 20th century extensions). From Madrid it takes a vibrant and thriving life, day and night; and that feeling of a great big capital city. Nowadays, although the capital of the autonomous region of Comunidad Valenciana, it was for a brief period in the summer of 1812 the capital of Spain when Joseph Bonaparte moved the Court here; and then again, between 1936 and 1937 during the Second Spanish Republic. Continue reading

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Seville, (Spain)

“Roman Hispalis”, “Arabic Ishbiliyya”, “NO8DO: It has not abandoned me”

After so many years, 8 already, it’s finally time to return to one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in my life: Seville. Sadly for such a short time, a weekend (well the usual through the year with the weekend trips anywhere in Europe), but for a city like Seville, please reconsider you time. 2 days is definitely too short, at least 3 days will be the best; still, for a first timer, you can skip entering the Alcazar which will take half of your day and if too tight, skip entering the Cathedral, then a weekend will be just about right, however on behalf of missing two unique masterpieces.

What we did not do the last time was entering to the Alcazar, hence why this was a priority in this trip. And since we visited the Cathedral and climbed up the Giralda tower back then, there was no need for repeating on this occasion. Making such arrangements meant we could re-visit the entire city in all the time we had; and of course now, having the chance to finally create a proper travel guide which I never did for Seville in my blog. I know it will be a harder job once I reach the listing of sights to visit and what to do. That will be a long list definitely, but will try my best to group them by districts/areas and follow the best and most optional route as I generally do for anyone to freely enjoy.

Consider the entire city as an open museum, because it really feels like this, same way as you can say for Rome, Prague, Vienna or Paris. And it’s home to one of the world’s largest monumental historic town. At every turn you will find a piece of history in the puzzle when Spain was once the most powerful and largest empire on earth. The capital city for the New World that was being discovered; the city from where any expedition and trade to/from the colonies will start and terminate, and the port of call where all the wealth and riches from the colonies would arrive. Continue reading

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