Huelva – Spain’s fascinating south west corner

Columbus ships La Rabida

Replicas of the Columbus ships

Columbus statue La Rabida

The Columbus monument

No getting away from Huelva’s iconic explorer

Columbus (406 x 342)Its name doesn’t trip off the tongue like Barcelona or Madrid and it’s certainly not on the list of top destinations for visitors to Spain.
In fact, the small Andalusian city of Huelva, and province of the same name, is one of the least visited of all in the country. Yet it has so much to offer – from beautiful beaches to magnificent mountains and a maritime history second to none.
To say the city’s links with Christopher Columbus are understated is to put it mildly. In this area, Columbus, an Italian, lived for two years while he strove to win the backing of the Spanish crown for his expeditions to the New World and the discovery of America.
Statues of Cristóbal Colón, as he is known in Spain, are everywhere, the most prominent being the giant Columbus monument on at the confluence of the rivers Tinto and Odiel. His exploits also form the centrepieces of several museums.
I think they are maybe taken for granted in Spain and certainly don’t seem to be being sold to the outside world to the extent that they could.
On the Río Tinto estuary, the Muelle de las Carabelas (Harbour of the Caravels) is a quay with life-size replicas of Columbus’s three ships: the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María, built for the 500th anniversary celebrations in 1992. Yet when I arrived in mid-September, just after the end of the Spanish schools’ summer holiday, I found I had picked the wrong day. It had just started to close on a Monday. Disappointed visitors were wandering around aimlessly after making the trip to see it. The centre itself, although modern, looked tired, like a neglected fairground attraction, and in need of a big tidy-up.
Getting there by car had proved a challenge as signage for La Rábida from the city centre was virtually non-existent. Not far from the replica ships is the very well kept Monasterio de Santa María de la Rábida where Columbus stayed with the monks and expounded his plans while waiting for the royal go-ahead from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The monastery is next to botanical gardens full of exotic plants and has a museum detailing the discovery of the New World and Columbus’s life. You could quite easily spend a day at La Rábida.
Another Columbus site is Palos de la Frontera, a small fishing village on the River Tinto 10km upstream from Huelva City where, in 1492, Columbus set sail westwards to make history after recruiting mariners from in and around the village for his trip.
There are still more Columbus sites but I had better stop there and mention a couple of other things.

A British connection

Huelva city has a major historical industrial connection with Britain. Its famous copper mines, worked by the Romans, were sold in to a British headed consortium and the Riotinto Company Ltd. was founded in March 1873.!
The mines became one of the world’s major sources of copper and sulphur and the Riotinto company brought with them many British workers and to make Huelva a home from home built typically Victorian houses to accommodate them. They are even credited with bringing football to Spain.There is still much to be seen of this influence in museums and architecture and also the huge Pena del Hierro mine and the mining railway. The metal quayside built by the Riotinto company at Huelva port is now used as walkways by the locals and is well worth a visit.
The Huelva region is also home to the Parque Nacional de Doñana, one of Europe’s most important wetland areas with an incredible variety of wildlife in its sand dunes, marshes, pine woods, salt flats and freshwater lagoons. It is one of Europe’s last remaining habitats for the endangered lynx and the rare Spanish Imperial Eagle. The best time to visit is in winter and spring when the park is full of wildfowl. In winter thousands of geese and ducks arrive from the north, while in spring there are many flocks of breeding birds, including herons, spoonbills and storks.
In the north of the province is the gently rolling Parque Natural Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche, a protected area with excellent walking opportunities.
For me, the best thing about Huelva was wandering around the city in the early evening when everyone spills out in to its abundant parks and open spaces to enjoy themselves. Skaters, cyclists, joggers, keep fit enthusiasts and strollers invade these areas along with young children and their parents. It is one continuous open air festival until night falls. What a quality of life!

Ten great days out on the French Riviera

 

French Riviera - hilltop village of Eze

Hilltop village of Eze

French Riviera – Côte d’Azur – to do list

*Have a day out in Monaco during the week of the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s often said that Monaco is the star attraction of the French Riviera without being part of France. The tiny principality has been a symbol of wealth and glamour ever since its Prince Rainier married Hollywood star Grace Kelly in its cathedral in 1956. Visitors can gamble in the casino made famous by James Bond or watch the luxury yachts sitting quietly at anchor in the stunning harbour. But you don’t have to be a high roller to enjoy it. Its superb gardens and terraces, with dazzling views, are free and the locals give a warm welcome. And see my video clip below about grand prix day.

*Have a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, followed by a drink in the sumptuous Hotel Negresco, where doormen still dress in the manner of the staff in 18th-century mansions. In 2003 it was listed by the government of France as a National Historic Building. The main thoroughfare of Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur,  is named after the English after the wealthy 19th century visitors, who made it one of the first European resorts for travellers from the UK, stumped up cash.

*Take a train ride to Italy. It is inexpensive and total value for money. For a few euros you can ride from Nice to Ventimiglia, just over the border. The sights along the way are fantastic and include Monaco and Villefranche-sur-Mer.

*Visit the perched village of Eze, a medieval village perched like an eagles nest on a narrow rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean sea. The ancient fortified village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century fortified castle sitting on a narrow rocky peak. The castle grounds house the well-known Jardin Exotique

*Enjoy a scenic walk between the Côte d’Azur villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer and next-door neighbour Beaulieu-sur-Mer. This walk of around three quarters of an hour starts in Villefranche’s historic harbour, a favourite with cruise ships. It also takes you past Villa Nellcôte, the exotic location famous as the place where the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile On Main St album.

*Visit the Manet museum in Nice and Vieux Nice – the old town. The museum, on a hill in the Cimiez neighbourhood, houses the collection the artist and his heirs left to the city. The old town is an atmospheric honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Great place to eat out and party at night.

* Cannes is famous for its prestigious film festival which this year is from May 15 to 26. It has museums, churches and art galleries to see but the main attraction seems to be sitting in a cafe along the shore and watching people go by. If you don’t want to spend you can enjoy the seaside from one of its many piers and jetties.

* Inland slightly from the coast, the small town of Grasse is noted for being the centre of production for many of the world’s best perfumes. Visitors can visit the perfumeries that are strewn around the village or head out into the hills and enjoy walking through the unspoilt countryside.

*Hire a car and drive with care the French Riviera coastal roads between Cannes and Monaco. Enjoyable, with a feast of sights for the eyes, but to be avoided in peak holiday periods.

*Antibes, halfway between Nice and Cannes, sits atop the ruins of the fourth century BC Greek city of Antipolis. It has beaches and a port, an enjoyable old town, fortifications, good hiking, and a great Picasso collection.  It also has a traditional daily market.

Verona and Lake Garda – a great two centre holiday in Italy

Verona, Italy

Verona, Italy

THEY are only a half hour journey apart but, for a memorable holiday full of contrasts, Verona and Lake Garda go together like Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, that”s what a lot of the tourist trail in the ancient Italian city of Verona is all about. The story of the two young lovers had been going the rounds for a long time before Shakespeare came along.

But he spun it in to a classic in which the pair belonged to rival families, one supporting the Pope and the other Emperor Frederick I.He set the scenes of the ball , the balcony , the secret marriage , the farewells , the suicide of Romeo and then of Juliet all in Verona in around 1302.

Shakespeare wrote this in 1597 without ever visiting the area. Verona later obliged by finding the buildings where these events might have taken place and tourists have been flocking for decades to see the balcony, Romeo”s house, Juliet”s tomb, etc.

But perhaps even more impressive than all this is the very real Roman amphitheatre, commonly known as The Arena, which dominates the city. The third largest in the Roman world after the Coliseum in Rome , it is 500 ft. long by 420 ft. wide and 100 ft. high. It could accomodate nearly 25.000 spectators.

Its origin is believed to date from the end of the first century and musical performances are still given in the theatre as it has perfect acoustics.

Verona was always an important city because of its strategic postion and in the Middle Ages was regarded as the key to northern Italy. So it abounds in architecture and fortifications which reflect the various stages of its history.

An example is its main art museum housed in what was once a castle – Castelvecchio – which was the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty which ruled the city in the Middle Ages.

The abbey of San Zeno is said to be the greatest example of Romanesque architecture in northern Italy, and is composed of three stages: the actual building during the ninth century, its renewal between 1120-1138 and an enlargement which followed in the same century.

After filling your head with history you can relax alongside the scenic paradise of Lake Garda which used to be a big favourite of wartime PM Winston Churchill, who liked to capture its beauty in his paintings.

Another part of the magic of Garda is dining out beside the lake at night. It is regarded as one of Europe”s most a href=”http://www.deutschgluecksspiel.de/” charming lakes – over online casinos/a 30 miles long and ranging from 1 – 10 miles wide throughout its length, and  over 350 yards in depth in certain areas.

Ferries cruise between the villages that dot it and you can cruise the ferries all day at reasonable prices taking in spots like upmarket Riva, at the north of the lake, and the beautiful village of Limone, named after its plantations.

You can take a ride in a cable car up Monte Baldo for a stunning view of the lake at the resort of Malcesine which offers an incredible panorama at a height of 1850 m.

The most famous town on the Lake is Sirmione which is home to the “Rocca Scaligiera” castle which is one of the main attractions of the Lake. Built by the Scaligieri who were warlords of Verona and Lake Garda, and who during their time prior to the Venetian conquest of the mainland ruled most of modern-day Veneto.

The economy of Lake Garda embraces wine production, fine cheeses and small artisan workshops as well as tourism. In the winter everything closes down. Best times to visit are during the spring and autumn months.

In the summer months, the climate of Lake Garda can be very hot and humid, and often these months the high pressure of southern air clashing with the colder mountain air can create thunderstorms on a regular basis.

Also, the roads around the Lake can be a bit overrun with motoring tourists rather like the Lake District in England. A good time to use the ferries.

Cruises – take in a whole lot of the world in a short trip

cruise ship costa atlantica
MANY independent travellers take a dim view of cruises as a way of seeing the world and experiencing different cultures. You are following a pure tourist trail, the argument goes. You are not mingling with the locals and experiencing their culture at a meaningful level.

Backpackers in particular often view cruises as travel for older people, with more money, who only want to stop in a place for a few days at a time.

I don’t go along with that view. It seems to me a seven or ten-day cruise offers a fabulous chance, if you can afford it, to sample different countries and decide which you would like to see more of.

For instance, a Mediterranean cruise might offer the chance to visit Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Greek islands, and Turkey, all in the same trip.

On a Caribbean cruise you can take in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as well as Jamaica and various islands in the sun.
h2Cruise extras/h2
You aren’t obliged to use the tours sold on board the cruise ship. It’s often more fun finding your own way around. For example, a port stop at Naples in Italy offers the chance to visit Pompeii, possibly the greatest Roman site of all…… and you can do it by catching a local train.

In some cases it may be better to opt for the organised tour from the ship. A visit to Bethlehem or Cairo’s famous Egyptian Museum can be a bit intimidating without a chaperone who knows the area.

Follow globewanderer for a forthcoming series of articles about cruising. The next one will set out the options for people considering a cruise for the first time.

Choosing the right ship for you is possibly the most important thing of all so watch our for some helpful tips and advice. We will offer as much lowdown as possible an cruise ships and destinations around the world.

Pick the right ship for the trip to fully enjoy your cruise experience

cruise ship Queen VictoriaIF you want to really enjoy your cruise you need to do a little research before embarking on your voyage.

The first and most important thing is to pick the right ship. Everything else – such as paying extra for an outside cabin or balcony – is secondary.

A mum and dad with young kids who pick a Fred Olsen ship may find it disappointing. It is a great, long-established cruising company which has been in the business since the early days

Over the decades it has built up a base of loyal passengers which it sets great store by. Therefore average age is older and it is particularly favoured by the older generation seeking peace and quiet.

Retired people find a cruise is a safe and comfortable way to travel but the age of passengers is getting younger each year with the. average age of first-timers now well under 40.

There are much more exciting options for the young family, for instance Disney Cruise Line ships which are designed to handle both children and adults well with different areas for different age ranges.

Ships with a nursery for ages 6-36 months are Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Magic, Disney Wonder and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.

Much is made of life on board a cruise ship but let’s not forget it’s all about travelling and seeing new places. Inside or outside cabins may be an important question for regulars to cruising but is it so important for people seeking their first cruise experience?

Having a balcony can enhance the cruise but how much time do you want to spend on your own reading a book as opposed to enjoying the sundeck or a bar or restaurant aboard?

Royal Caribbean  is good for families and children. Carnival offers a fun ship all-American cruising experience  which attracts passengers of all ages, mostly between 30 and 55, and is also good for children and teens.

The Norwegian cruise line and Princess Cruises offer a similar friendly US-style experience. Princess Cruises are popular with couples, families with teenagers and young children and older singles who like to mingle.

Costa  Cruises offers an Italian ambience with stylish lifts and atriums and is geared for families with children.

Celebrity Cruises are aimed at sophisticated adult couples and families with older children such as teenagers  who want to travel in style.

Holland America’s  big ships appeal to younger families with children while its small cruise ships are popular with seniors. MSC  Cruises are stylishly geared for adult couples and singles and families with children.

P & O is a  traditional British cruise company popular with British families wanting to sail fom the UK. It has adults-only ships and ballroom dance instructors and does theme cruises.

Cunard  is steeped in maritime history and the grand traditions of ocean liners  and best enjoyed by experienced travellers who enjoy a cosmopolitan sailing experience.