When there is wine tasting to be done, we love to be there. And on this particular day, we found ourselves in Funchal, Madeira. And what better opportunity than learn all about the famous Madeira wine, and off course taste a few during the course of the day.
Blandy's wine lodge (www.Blandyswinelodge.com) is located in a historical building in the centre of Funchal. After having purchased our tickets, we proceeded with a guide to the magnificent Canteiro ageing rooms where we admired the old casks filled to the rim with Madeira wine. before we tell you more about the tour, let's first tell a little bit more about Madeira wine.
What is Madeira wine?
Madeira wine is a fortified wine that is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif to sweet wines that are paired with desserts.
The history of Madeira wine.
Where Madeira has a long winemaking history, Madeira was a popular port of call during the Age of Exploration. When wine was taken onboard the ships travelling on long sea voyages, neutral grape spirits were added to stop the wine from spoiling.
The wine onboard the ships was exposed to excessive heat and movement which transformed the flavour of the wine. this was the start of the wine making process that is still used today, basically oxidizing the wine through heat and ageing.
Now that we have dug into the history of Madeira wine, let's talk about the different tours at offer on Blandy's wine lodge. There are 3 tours available, the lodge tour, the premium tour and the vintage tour.
Each of the tours brings you to the Cooperage, Canteiro ageing rooms, vine to wine exposition, satinwood vats and tasting. With the premium tour, you also get to visit the Blandy's museum where you can admire unique items from the history of Madeira.
The vintage tour will also give you access to the attics of the wine lodge where the wines are aged in the Canteiro system, you also get to admire the huge vats in the Lion's room and you get an exclusive view of the Blandy's family private collection of unique vintage wines.
And to round it all off, the tasting on this tour includes one vintage Frasqueira sample.
Where the younger blends are produced with artificial methods that heat and accelerate the ageing process, the older blends like Colheitas and Frasquerias are produced using the Canteiro methods.
During the tour , we learned about the cooperage where local farmers sell their grapes to Blandy's , discovered the process to turn grapes into Madeira wine and got to admire the different vats and ageing process.
To round it all off, we got to taste 2 different Madeira wines. And we must say, we enjoyed the tasting a lot. Afterwards, we browsed the shop in search for some special Madeira wine.
You can look for a bottle of the wine made in the year you were born,.... They also provide a great service allowing you to purchase a bottle at a reduced rate (this is as part of the entrance ticket), then pick up your bottle in the airport terminal when you head back home.
Highly recommended tour if you are interested in the history of Madeira wine.
On an sunny day, we decided to visit Dun Beag Fort on the Dingle peninsula. (http://dunbeagfort.com. The fort is dramatically set on a sheer cliff overlooking Dingle Bay.
This promontory fort dates to 580BC and is one of the few remaining in Ireland. In County Sligo where we live, we have a few promontory forts (www.choosesligo.com/promontory-forts.html) as well , each of them balancing on the edge of a cliff surrounded by the Atlantic.
When we arrived at Dun Beag fort, we bought our tickets at the small ticket office and crossed the street to the tourist shop / restaurant where we first watched a short audio-visual presentation that explained the history of the fort and what life was like for people living on the peninsula during this time.
The restaurant / tourist shop deserves a noteworthy mention as well. It has a one-of-a-kind stone roof, blending it into the rugged landscape of the Dingle peninsula.
A short walk towards the coastline brought us to the fort where we admired Dingle Bay. Excavations within the fort have shown that the fort was primarily occupied between the 8th and 11th Centuries AD, when it was defended by a series of ditches and earthen banks. Within those earthen banks was a substantial stone wall with on the inside steps allowing soldiers to defend the fort during an attack.
The interior of the fort contains the remains of a large stone-built beehive as well as a souterrain. It is believed that the fort was home to a local noble who ruled the surrounding villages. With the cliff edge slowly falling into the Atlantic due to erosion, the fort is getting closer and closer to the cliff edge. Hence for safety reasons, a large part of the fort can not be entered.
The Museu da Baleia da Madeira (Madeira Whale museum) is located in the village of Caniçal. The village was the former centre of the whaling industry until the ban on whaling in 1981.
The museum is located in a modern building on the outskirts of Canical and is home to permanent and temporary exhibitions.
At the reception, you receive a headphone set which you wear throughout the exhibition. By selecting your language , you get explanation about each of the exhibits in your own language.
The permanent exhibitions occupy over 1000m2 divided into the following 2 rooms:
Exhibition 1: The whaling room:
In this room, you are transported back to the 1940s where you get to discover the whaling industry of Madeira.
The room is divided in different thematic areas ranging from the lookout network to the factory processing the whales to the different hunting techniques.
Over the years, the Madeira coastal lookout network was established with the building of lookout posts along the coast of Madeira, in the Desertas Islands and the island of Porto Santo. These lookout posts allowed the full coverage of the seas of this archipelago up to 15 miles allowing them to spot whales in all directions.
In the late 1940s, EBAM constructed of a modern factory which industrialized the processing of the whales. The museum has an old film showcasing the entire process, but also explaining the products that were obtained from the whales.
In this room, you find 2 original whaling boats and a mosaic of 84 photographs honorring the whalers
It was hard to believe that these giants were hunted with boats often much smaller than the whales themselves. In this room, you also find the harpoon tip used in John Huston's film Moby Dick with some of the scene's filmed in Caniçal with the help from the local whalers.
The harpoon tip is the original one used by Gregory peck (Captain Habab) in the confrontation with Moby Dick.
In the museum are also plenty of examples of Scrimshaw. Scrimshaw is scrollwork, engravings, and carvings done in bone or ivory, artwork created by the whalers engraved on the by products of the whales such as bones and cartilage.
Exhibition 2: Whales around Madeira
In this exhibition, you dive into the vast sea and learn all about whales, dolphins and other sea creatures. Among the spectacular full-size models of whales, dolphins,... you can explore several stereoscopic 3D movies.
Enter the submarine and dive into the vast ocean, a guaranteed hit with kids. The museum is well thought out and educates visitors on the history of whaling and how it provided a living for many families in Madeira , but it also educates us on the current treats for these majestic creatures.
Getting to Sintra is easy, but once you reach the outskirts of Sintra, it is a bit of a disaster traffic wise. Traffic jams are a daily occurance, mainly because of its popularity with tourists. A better way to travel to Sintra is by the Sintra Atlantico tram which travels between Praia de Macas and Sintra.
Where the historic tram line commenced operation in 1904, the tram that nowadays operate on the line dates from the 1930s.
inside the tram are all the original features, from the wooden benches to the brass dials, it is a super fun experience to travel on the tram.
it's slow, it's bumpy and noisy, but climbing slowly towards Sintra from the coast, the entire 13km journey takes about 40 minutes passing through the rural area of Colares. Colares is an interesting area for winelovers. The area is famous for its sandy, phylloxera-free soils and ungrafted vines as the amazing tannic red wine it produces from the area's Ramisco grape.
We took the tram during Christmas and were lucky enough to have the entire tram to ourselves with exception of the 2 drivers who juggle around sticks and pedals to bring the tram to a safe halt around the corner from the MUSA museum. It's a hassle free way of traveling to Sintra without having to find a parking spot in the busy tourism town.
For more information, visit the following website: https://sintratlantico-casadoelectrico.weebly.com/
The National Palace of Mafra was proclaimed a Unesco world Heritage site in 2019, and when we visited the palace on a sunny day in January, it wasn't hard to see why.
With its imposing facade of approximately 220 meters in length, it's just monumental. In the middle is the church, built out of white marble which is symmetrically flanked on both sides by the palace.
Where the wealthy king wanted to rival the splendour of Rome, he wanted a building that matched the grandeur of some of the buildings in the Vatican. The 2 towers of the church have a total of 92 church bells that were made in Antwerp, and story goes that the order was that huge that the bell-founders wanted to be paid in advance which the king did, but not only that, he doubled the amount he promised them to pay.
The spacious royal apartments are located on the second floor. Where the king was located on one end of the building, his queen was on the other side of the building. The galleries connecting the living quarters of the king and queen are 232 meters in length making them the largest palatial corridors in Europe.
Walking these galleries nowadays, it is just difficult to grasp how long it must have taken to built this huge palace. Construction started actually in 1717 and went on until 1755 and it is said that the construction nearly bankrupted the entire country.
The royal convent and Palace of Mafra is the most important Baroque monument in Portugal. The building covers an area of almost 37790m2 (4 hectares) , including 1200 rooms, more than 4700 doors and windows, 156 stairways and 29 inner yards.
Many paintings and murals by some of Portugal's finest artists are on display around the palace. The throne room, the Guard room and the room of Goddess Diana are decorated with fabulous murals.
Another special room is the hunting trophy room where you find chandeliers made out of antlers, chairs covered in deerskin,...
The highlight of this magnificent palace is the Rococo library which is located on the 2nd floor. The grandeur of this library is difficult to describe.
The library is huge, to be exact 88 meters king with the entire floor covered with rose, grey and white marble tiles. The wooden bookshelves are situated on the sidewalls containg over 36,000 leather-bound volumes.
Among them are many valuable bibliographical jewels, all of them protected by homing bats. Yes, you hear that correctly, the library has a bat colony which protect the books from insect damage.
The library was used in Gulliver's Travels as the great chamber of war for the Emperor of Lilliput.
On a sunny day in August, we found ourselves driving along the Moy estuary in County Mayo. Our plan was to visit the stunning Franciscan Friary of Moyne that is located not to far away from the small town of Killala and close by another magnificent Friary called Rosserk Friary (https://www.outdoorfitnesssligo.com/blog/rosserk-friary-county-mayo ).
When visiting the Friary, be mindful that it is located on private land. This means you have to cross some fields where cattle might graze, so it is important to close gates,....
The Friary was founded by Mac William de Burgo in 1460 and despite its turbulent history, it kept its community of friars until the end of the 18th Century.
The enclosed cloister walkways where the friars prayed, meditated and did some monastic work, are among the finest in Ireland. The church, with its elegant bell tower, stands tall on the south side of the cloister. On the opposite site is the kitchen and refectory (dining hall) with a pulpitum (a recess where a friar stood and read aloud to his community as they were eating).
On the east side of the cloister is the sacristy and the chapter house where the community met to discuss business and to read the daily chapter of the order's rule. Above the chapter house is the dormitory.
On this particular day, we were driving from County Sligo to County Mayo to visit the Ceide Fields Neolithic site, an award wining heritage site located along the rugged North Mayo coastline ( https://www.outdoorfitnesssligo.com/blog/ceide-fields-neolithic-site )
We decided first to take a quick detour and visit one of Ireland's most spectacular Friaries, Rosserk Abbey. Located on the banks of the River Moy, it was built in the 15th Century by a Chieftain of the Joyces, a powerful family of Welsh origin who settled in Connacht in the 13th Century.
Rosserk Friary is well preserved making it easy to imagine what life along the Moy must have been like during the years the abbey was inhabited by a community of friars from the third order of St Francis. This order existed out of married men and women who wished to lead a Franciscan life but, because of their married status, were unable to join the First Order (Friars) or Second Order (Nuns).
The church, which has an attractive bell tower and a fine four-light east window, stands at the south side of the cloister. On the opposite side is the refectory or dining hall where once freshly caught salmon from the Moy would have been served. On the east side is a sacristy and chapter house with above it the dormitory.
In the south-east corner of the chancel is a double piscina used for washing the vessels during the mass ceremony. It features carvings of a round tower, two angels and the instruments of the passion. Many of the large fireplaces are still present to this day.
Rosserk Friary is worth the visit if you find yourself in North Mayo. Where it is one of the lesser visited monuments in ireland, it should be on your itinerary as it is one of the finest examples of a preserved Franciscan friary in Ireland.
The Plantin Moretus Museum (www.museumplantinmoretus.be) is located at the Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market) in Antwerp. The museum is the original residence and workshop of the Plantin and Moretus publishing dynasty who were world renowned for their entrepreneurial skills.
Plantin moved his family to the residence in 1576 and his family lived and worked there for the next 300 years. Throughout those years, the "Gulden Compass" as the house was named changed and expanded in size to fit the ever growing business.
Walking through the museum which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, you are transported back in time by about about 400 years.
It is the only museum on the prestigious UNESCO world heritage list mainly because of the uniqueness of the museum. It includes a prestigious mansion, the only fully equipped printing workshop from the 16th century, the world's largest selection of Plantin and Moretus editions,...
Walking through the house, you can admire the original wall coverings and creaking oak floors from the 16th century, but also the oldest printing presses in the world . Within the walls of the patrician house is a quiet garden where the noises from the city are blocked by the old buildings surrounding it.
Where the bottom floor is accessible for everybody, wheelchairs won't be able to access the first floor. This floor has many floor level changes.
Starting with the ground floor, it is here that you find the impressive workshop that once was the beating heart of the business. With a 56 strong workforce, it was the largest business of its kind in the world at this time.
First used in 1580, it contained 16 presses. Two of the presses date back to the 16th century where the others are from the 17th and 18th century.
Where the compositors would set the lead type in a composing stick to form a line, these lines would then be assembled on a sturdy board to form the page.
The great library is still organised today like a private humanistic library of the 17th century, with high shelves filled with books arranged according to size, lecterns, globes and busts. The museum now contains the largest selection of Plantin and Moretus editions, many of which are on display. The old shop is another interesting part of the house. With its counter and cabinets still intact, the shop used to sell the books as loose sheets. If a customer wanted a book, then they had to bring the loose sheets to a bookbinder.
Within the shop, you can still see the money scale for checking silver and gold coins. Another room that intrigued me was the room where they made the lead letters, copper plates and wooden blocks used during the printing process. Everything was managed in house in those days, although Plantin had set up an international distribution network of booksellers who would help him sell his books.
But the museum offers so much more, you can admire a rich art collection that include portraits by Rubens. the museum's collection of paintings includes 71 portraits. it was Balthasar Moretus who asked his good friend Peter Paul Rubens to make portraits of his grandparents.
In the upstairs rooms, you find room upon room with original books, manuscripts and original prints. Within the extensive collection are atlases, science books, almanac's and many more publications. And this extensive collection is available online.
And last but not least, there is the fabulous courtyard garden. Already famous during Pantin's own time, it was frequently visited by kings, princes and prominent figures. The garden you see nowadays was created in 1992 using plants that were popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. Being a close friend to some of the greatest botanists of his day must have helped him in designing the garden. Botanists like Rembert Dodoens had their books publicized through Plantin, many which can still be admired in the museum.
Torres do Oeste is a defensive enclosure located at the head of the Rio de Arousa in the Caldas region of Galicia. Located on a rocky promontory on the banks of the river Ulla and surrounded by marshland, it used to serve as a strategic defense post against Viking attacks.
King Alfonso III of Leon ordered the built of the castle in the 9th century so the river Ulla could be protected from attacks. Where the river Ulla was an important natural entry into Galicia, the castle went through strengthening works.
The 2 remaining Pre-Roman style towers are from the 9th Century. In the 12th Century, bishops ordered the strengthening of the castle in order to protect the holy site of Santiago de Compostela.
Located nearby Torres do Oeste is the Torres do Oeste cultural centre which is housed in a modern building designed by the award-winning architect Cesar Portela.
The ground floor houses a tourist office and a spacious exhibition hall designed like a Viking longship. The exhibition tells the history of the towers, Viking attacks in Galicia,... Many artefacts are on display in the exhibition, ranging from swords to statues to armour,....
Within the basement is an audiovisual room where they screen videos of the annual Viking Festival of Catroina.
The Viking Festival of Catoira is an annual festival which has been celebrated every first Sunday in August since 1961. It is held to commemorate Catoira's role in defending against the Vikings who were trying to plunder the treasure held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. During the festival, they re-enact the Viking invasions that took place using 3 replica longboats.
These longboats are moored nearby the Torres do Oeste and are fairly reliable reproductions based on longboats that are kept in museums in Denmark and Norway.
Where Catroina is off the beaten path and not frequently visited by tourists, it is worthwhile taking the detour .
Arcos de la Frontera (www.turismoarcos.es) is a typical Andalucian hilltop town. Where I arrived by bike, it became apparent that you have to be prepared for some steep hills.
The old town which sits on top of a dramatic cliff is reached by small steep historic streets that seemingly become narrower and narrower the further you head up the cliff.
Strangely enough, local cars seem to navigate effortless between the historic houses taking sharp turns narrowly avoiding the many tables and chairs of the few restaurants.
I made my way up to the historic town along the slope of Bethlehem. It was here that the Jerez gate was located, one of the three gates into the city during Moorish times.
In those days, there was a fortification wall of double thickness, a moat and a drawbridge making it as good as impossible to take over the city.
On the lintel was the coat of arms of Arcos which nowadays can be found on the facade of the townhall. The gate was demolished in 1852.
Where Arcos de la Frontera is a lesser visited town by the many tourists visiting Andalucia, , it should be on your travel bucketlist.
With many things to do and see, it makes for a worthwhile detour.
Minor Basilica of Santa María de la Asunción
The Gothic-Baroque church is one of Andalucia's more beautiful churches, built over several centuries on the site of a mosque. Where the original bell tower was toppled by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, a neoclassical replacement was built , but never completed.
Since 1931, the building has been declared a National Monument
Palacio del Mayorazgo
The Palacio del Mayorazgo is a noble 17th Century building that is currently used as an exhibition center. It now houses the Municipal Department of Culture. The various rooms are dedicated to temporary or permanent exhibitions, such as the “Room of the Miller’s Wife and the Magistrate” and the “Room of Antonio the Dancer”, the “Poets and Writers Corner” or the “Victor Marín Foundation Room”.
In the lower part of the Palacio are the Municipal Art Gallery and the Andalusian Garden .
Iglesia de San Pedro
This stunning church was built on the remains of a Muslim fortress. The church went through a few expansion projects adding a total of 6 chapels during the 16th and 17th century.
The impressive facade was made in the 18th century by Manuel Gómez and Pedro de Silva in Baroque style. Structured in three sections, the first one being the entrance which is flanked by twin columns, the second one with a statue of San Pedro and the third part containing three bells.
Where there are more historic buildings in Arcos de la Frontera which are worthwhile a visit, I ran out of time to cover them all. So a return trip is definitely on the cards.
Where there are many hotels in Arcos de la Frontera, I stayed in the old historic part of the town. With a great selection of restaurants on your doorstep and magnificent historic buildings in the vicinity, it is highly recommended to stay a few days in Arcos de la Frontera
The Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library is located at the Hendrik Conscience square in Antwerp. (Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library | Erfgoed Hendrik Conscience (consciencebibliotheek.be)
Within the library, the Nottebohm Room is a hidden gem. There is a magical feeling about this historic library space. From the moment you walk into this library, the quietness of the room is filled with the noise of the creaky parquet floor.
The room's wooden bookshelves are filled with a collection of 120000 rare historical books and manuscripts. The library holds an important collection of early printed books, a collection that has grown over the course of 5 centuries.
The Nottebohm room has served as a showroom since 1936 and is now open to the general public from 22nd April until the 10th September.
The 17th Century in which the Nottebohm room is located in was originally used as a meeting and prayer room for religious brotherhoods.
In those days, the interior was decorated with beautiful baroque paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck.
When you visit Muckross House, its gardens and the traditional farms, (https://www.muckross-house.ie/) you need to take at least a couple of hours to discover everything.
We arrived just after opening hours, so it was still quiet on this particular day.
After having purchased our tickets, we started off with a visit of Muckross House.
Muckross House was built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife. Building commenced in 1839 and was completed in 1843. Where it took 4 years to complete the house, it is a reasonable timeframe if you think there are 65 rooms in the house.
Walking through the house, we admired the principal rooms which are furnished in period style portraying the elegant lifestyle of the 19th century landowning class.
From the plethora of mounted trophy heads of deer to the china on display, the house its interior is outstanding. Even nicer are the stunning views of Killarney National Park through the many windows.
The servants wing of the house is extensive, and we can only imagine how many servants must have worked on the estate to
After the house and the gardens, we headed to the traditional farms. We stepped back in time and visited the Ireland of the 1930s and 1940s.
While walking through the fields, we reached the first farm. In the park, you can visit three seperate working farms (small, medium and large), each of them complete with animals, poultry and machinery. Within each of the farms was somebody available to explain what life was like working the land, cooking above an open fire,...Those long gone days were filled with a walk to the local well to collect water, growing your own vegetables and minding your animals, ...
Within each of the farms was a beautiful turf fire, above some of them soda break baking away.
In one of the farms, we got to taste the soda bread and homemade butter. Chatting to the farmer's wife, we learned all about life in the countryside, the furniture and living conditions during the 1930s and 1940s
Each of the cottages had a vegetable plot where cabbage, potatoes and radish were growing. Within the farmyard were chickens, pigs, horses,...
Quille's is the largest farm of the three, and it is here that we admired the large Irish wolfhounds, horses and donkeys.
Within Muckross is also a shed where you can pet some of the smaller farm animals,... or enjoy a sheltered picnic in the woodland play area.
Next was the local blacksmith where the fire and sparks shooting out from underneath the blacksmith's hammer where an impressive sight. The blacksmith explained all about his trade as we watched in admiration while he skilfully created a horseshoe.
After the blacksmith, we also visited the local school and tool shed. In the school, we were greeted by the local teacher who explained to us that state-sponsored primary schools were introduced in Ireland in 1831. The schoolhouse was divided in 2 rooms where each teacher would teach several classes within the one classroom.
Another interesting fact was that the students had to bring turf to school so the open fires could be fired up. All by all, we really loved the experience at Muckross House.
Each first Wednesday of the month, many of the OPW heritage sites offer free admission to individual visitors and families. On one of these Wednesdays, we found ourselves visiting Sligo Abbey in Sligo town.
The abbey is located in Abbey street with ample car park space available in Abbey Street car park.
The Dominican friary was founded in 1253 by Maurice Fitzgerald. As many Norman towns in those days, Sligo had a castle and the abbey.
Where the castle was destroyed in the 14th Century, the abbey survived. But it must be said that the abbey was rebuilt throughout its history as it suffered accidental fires and got damaged throughout local wars.
We opted for the guided tour which we would highly recommend. Our guide was very knowledgeable and explained the history of the abbey in detail.
Throughout Sligo abbey's history, the population of friars increased and decreased. In 1608, only one friar was left in the abbey, father O'Duane who died in that year.
Prior to his dead, father O'Crean arrived from Spain and built up a new community. unfortunately, the friary deteriorated that much throughout wars that it fell in disrepair and a new friary was built. From that point onwards, the abbey grounds were used as a cemetery and the buildings were quarried for reusable stone. Luckily, a stop was put to the quarrying and parts of the abbey were saved.
The first part we visited during the visit was the church which still has its tower intact. A special feature within the church is the 15th century rood screen which divides the church in two separating the nave from the choir.
Within the church is the "O'Crean altar tomb" which is the oldest surviving monument within the church. On the tomb is a latin inscription that dates it to 1506 and states the tomb is fron Cormac O'Crean and his wife Johanna.
Another noteworthy feature within the church is the O'Connor mural which is located right of the altar. It shows a relief of O'Connor and his wife kneeling in prayer.
O'Connor was instrumental in saving the abbey from dissolution.
Beside the church is the cloister of the abbey. Only three sides of the cloister remain standing; the western side has been demolished. The cloister walk is covered with rubble barrel vaults where its arcades are supported by slender pillars reminiscent of double columns. Leading from the cloister are the sacristy, vestry and chapter room which are part of the 13th -century core of the abbey.
On top of these rooms is the old refectory where you can see a ruined oriel window. It is here that a friar would be seated reading aloud from the scriptures during mealtimes.
During the cholera epidemic of 1832, many of the dead were buried in mass graves in the grounds of the abbey. During six weeks, 1500 people died in Sligo during this Cholera outbreak.
An interesting fact is that Bram Stoker's mother hailed from Sligo. It is thought that Bram Stoker's mother , who was haunted by the cholera outbreak she witnessed first hand, told her young son stories of the horrors she seen in Sligo. These stories echo through her son's famous novel "Dracula",...
So after an interesting visit, we said our goodbyes to the guide and the group.
KMSKA or the Royal museum of fine Arts Antwerp opened its doors again on 24th September 2022 after 10 years of extensive rebuilding .
Through the works, the museum gained 40% more exhibition space without impacting the structure of the historic building. The museum as it is now weaves old and new design seamless together to create a space where visitors can enjoy, discover, experience and participate without any obstacle.
Tickets for the museum can be purchased in advance or can be bought from one of the ticket terminals at the entrance. The new entrance is modern and stands in stark contrast with the outside of the museum.
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) is the biggest art museum in Flanders. With masterpieces from the Flemish primitives and Antwerp Baroque to the extensive collection of modern art by, for example, Rik Wouters, Henri De Braekeleer and René Magritte.
Level 1 - Modern Masters
On level one, you find the modern masters with the crown jewel, the biggest collection of James Ensor in the world.
In the this part of the museum will also find the expo halls where you find temporary exhibitions. Current exhibitions are " the making of "which explains the renovation of the museum through pictures.
The second exhibition is cosmorama, an exhibition where Ives Maes photographs the heritage of the world exhibitions. One of the halls is called the Light Hall, a pure white gallery where the painting are bathing in a stream of soft daylight. From this room, you can take a crisp white stairwell to level 3 where further modern masters are on display.
Level 2 - Old Masters
On level 2, you find all the old masters. Ranging from Rubens to Van Eyck, this floor is just stunning. Within the museum are some modern touches interweaved with the old. For example, the huge purple hand that turns around every so often.
Another impressive room is the VR room. Here you put on virtual reality glasses and you are transported back to Rubens workshop where you can see the many masters at work, follow the exploits of the workshop cat,...
The projection room is another impressive room where details from some of the paintings are projected on the room walls. Each new detail rolls around the room like a curtain, each time zooming in on some aspects of the paintings.
The old masters range from Pieter Brueghel to Jacob Jordaens to Peter Paul Rubens, with some of the their largest masterpieces on display
Level# 3 - Drawings and sculptures
On this floor, you find many drawings and sculptures
Level# 4 - Modern Masters
The top floor brings further modern masters. From Henri Van De Velde his "woman by the window", an amazing painting completed using the pointillism technique to many other masters, KMSKA is worth a visit. Where the museum opened under some negative critique back last year, I must disagree. KMSKA is just fabulous.
The Pena Palace (Palacio da Pena) is a stunning colourful romanticism castle in Sao Pedro de Penaferrim. It stands on top of a hill in the beautiful Serra de Sintra above the beautiful town of Sintra.
The easiest way to reach the palace is by bus 434 which runs frequently from Sintra town and stops at all of Sintra’s main tourist attractions. Bus 434 is a designated tourist bus that connects all of Sintra's Palaces and Castles, and with a price of €11.50 is the cheapest option to easily reach Pena Palace.
For this €11.50, you can take all of Sintra's buses for 24 hours, but be mindful that demand for this bus is very high, especially during the summer months. The other way to reach the Palace is with your own car, but be prepared to navigate the busy, narrow winding roads up Serra de Sintra and dealing with the issue of trying to navigate the traffic free centre of Sintra ....
You can also travel by taxi or by Tuk Tuk, both of which are a good bit more expensive than bus 434.
The other way to reach the castle is on foot following the Caminho de Santa Maria, a very steep path that brings you slowly uphill. This walk takes close to an hour and can be a bit of a struggle during the summer heat , but will provide you with stunning views along the way.
As it was a few days after New Years Eve, we expected it to be quiet enough at Portugal's most popular tourist attraction. How wrong we could have been. When we disembarked from bus 434, we discovered quickly that Portugal's most popular tourist attraction attracts many visitors year-round.
Buying tickets was effortless. You buy your entrance tickets at one of the automated terminals where you select the time you would like to enter the palace and pay, then await the tickets to be printed.
After having our tickets handed over at the gate, we walked slowly up the hill where we reached the gates of the Palace. Here we joined the queue to enter the castle. Thirty minutes later, we were allowed to enter the palace.
The site where the Pena Palace is located used to be a medieval chapel dedicated to our lady of Pena until the king ordered the built of a monastery.
The great Lisbon earthquake destroyed most of the monastery with exception of the chapel. During this time, Portugal's king Ferdinand 2 acquired the ruined monastery and its surroundings and started the built of the Pena Palace as we know it today.
The main purpose of the Palace was to serve as a summer residence for the king. After his dead, his second wife Elisa Hensler sold the palace to king Luis. In 1889, it was purchased by the Portuguese state and was later classified as a national monument.
The grandeur of the Palace is visible in each of the rooms, from the decadent wall and ceiling decorations to the furniture, no expense was saved in making this a palace to remember.
The exterior is the most striking feature of the Palace, from the blue azulejos to the yellow and red colour scheme, it is an eclectic mix of architectural styles.
While walking through the vast Palace, we admired the chapel, the Royal Dining room, the kitchen and many other rooms. Each of these rooms is decorated with elaborate stucos, painted walls in trompe-l'oeil and stunning tiles,....
The area surrounding the palace is worth a visit as well. The Pena Park is a forested area spreading over 200 hectares of uneven terrain. Within the park are plants and trees from North America, Japan and Australia and New Zealand.
When you walk down through the park along the many paths, you will see the many small mountain rivers and lakes ...
Some of the special plants within the park are sequoia, magnolias, Ginkgo,... The fern garden which includes a huge variety of ferns and tree ferns is a must visit.
About the Author
We are Peter & Dolores De Bie. We love the great outdoors, discovering new parts of the world and writing about our adventures along the Wild Atlantic Way and further afield