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Experience the authentic character of the Ligurian Coast when you stay at this monastery in the Cinque Terre.

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Vernazza, one of the towns, boasts a spectacular bay.

Built by locals seeking shelter on the mountains, far from the coast and the Lombard invasions, the monastery is enveloped by a Ligurian landscape of steep, wooded hills and archetypical lush hillside terraces.

The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) are extraordinarily scenic seaside villages which look today as they did thousands of years ago. Built into the mountainside, the fishing villages cling to a rocky coastline, on cliffs that drop precipitously into the sea. The Cinque Terre forms a natural park of sublime beauty (cars are banned from the towns). An ancient footpath known as the Sentiero Azzurro, offers breathtaking views. The trail traces the coast along a narrow, vertiginous path through vineyards and olive groves that link one village to another.

Vernazza, one of the towns, boasts a spectacular bay; its setting highlighted by a seaside promenade and piazza. Green-shuttered houses line the streets that are connected by steep stairways A walk down the hillside reveals quaint stone bridges, grape vines, sepia-toned houses with sloping slate roofs and terraced gardens filled with fragrant lemon trees.

Close by is the seaside town of Portovenere, at the end of the rocky slopes of the Gulf of Spezia. A romantic village of narrow streets and richly colored row houses, the marina bobs with toylike fishing boats, its church of black and white banded marble presenting a handsome contrast to the blue sea. The English poet Byron once lived in town and often spent time in a cave named Arpaia. Portovenere faces the island of Palmaria, an intriguing locale of grottoes and sea stacks.

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A Medieval Village and the Altamira Caves are reason enough to visit this monastery

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

The monastery complex is composed of a Baroque 17th century church, cloister and convent (cells of the friars, refectory, chapter house and library).

In 1605, the Dominican friars of Santillana Del Mar were asked to settle in the hermitage. They accepted and became an independent monastery in 1611. The monastery complex is composed of a Baroque 17th century church, cloister and convent (cells of the friars, refectory, chapter house and library). The simple cloister is adorned with a fine collection of Baroque paintings, representing scenes from the life of Santa Domingo. Each of the six lateral chapels has a retablo dedicated to a saint.

Santillana del Mar is close to the monastery. Its inhabitants jokingly refer to it as the city of three lies: one, it isn’t saintly, two it isn’t flat (Llana means flat) and three, it isn’t by the sea. Despite its popularity and the fact that the city has become a tourist mecca, it is among the most perfectly preserved medieval villages in Spain. Santillana del Mar maintains an old-world atmosphere embodied by exquisite medieval buildings and cobbled streets. Its ensemble of 15th to 17th century golden stone mansions and palaces imbues the town with a distinctive character while offering a glimpse of the old country nobility of Spain. The houses are underscored by wooden galleries of iron balconies filled with flowers, their plain stone facades enlivened by coats of arms.

A short distance away are the Altamira Caves embellished with prehistoric rock paintings renowned for their beauty, vivid coloring and excellent state of preservation. Written application must be made months in advance to arrange a visit. The cave paintings were accidentally discovered by a hunter in 1869. Four years later, an archaeologist happened upon the underground chambers containing the paintings, most of which date to the late Magdalenian period, c. 15,000-10,000 BC. Often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Cave Art, the ceiling of the chamber is emblazoned with animals. The caves’ most famous drawings are of bison. Predominantly painted in red, ocher, black and brown, the minerals used to create the paints were taken from the caves.

For more information go to: Monasteries of Spain

The Maison’s appeal is reflected in the colorful, old-fashioned charm of this French/Bavarian region where lodging with full board is about $60

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

The Maison is quartered in a lush wooded valley on a site once occupied by a Cistercian monastery.

The Maison is quartered in a lush wooded valley on a site once occupied by a Cistercian monastery that played an important role in the region. Historically, and until the French Revolution, the village belonged to the Cistercian abbey. The town’s coat of arms is derived from the monastery’s seal. Today, however, the only remains of the Cistercian complex are a part of the walls, a stone portal and some 17th century caves.

Alsace has the look and feel of a foreign, non-French country. The older half-timbered houses, many with wooden balconies, are identical to those across the Rhine in Baden. To see Alsace at its most typical, follow the Route du Vin through scenic terrain dotted with wine-producing villages. Since Roman times, the Alsatians have tamed the hillsides that are crisscrossed with footpaths through the vines. Local costumes, wine festivals and much of the region’s wine product reflect the area’s Germanic roots.

The town of Eguisheim is an easy day trip from the Maison. Located on the Route du Vin, the town dates to the Middle Ages. Its charm resides in its fountains, winding flower-filled alleys and the beauty of the countryside. The name of the city comes from “home of Egino” the Count of Eguisheim. Archeological research reveals that tens of thousands of years ago, homosapiens from the Dordogne lived in the region. At the core of the fortified city are traces of a 13th century castle and three towers. The castle was built by Count Eberhard, nephew of Sainte-Odile. In 1049 Bruno of Eguisheim was born in the town; years later he became pope.

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