Church of San Augustin.

This church, located in Paoay in the Philippines, is the oldest church in Asia.

Vulkan Eifel

Vulkan Eifel is a region in Germany that's still volcanically active, though there hasn't been an eruption since 10,000 years ago.

Gradara.

Gradara is a medieval village perched on a hill top in one of Italy's most beautiful regions.

Albarracín, Spain

Albarracín used to be the capital of an independent muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula.

Dunluce Castle.

Dunluce Castle, on the coast of Northern Ireland, once broke in two.

Dunluce Castle, Country Antrim, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle is a medieval castle on the coast of Country Antrim. It's located a few miles away from a small town called Bushmills and it is part of the Causeway Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The castle was built in the 13th century by Richard Og de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster. Castle remains dating back to 1200 AD indicate the castle was built on the site of an earlier fort. It is situated on a cliff of basalt rock some 100 meters above the sea. The cliff has a cave in its foot, cutting entirely through the rock to the land, and is known as 'the Mermaid's Cave'. In the 16th and 17th century, Dunluce Castle was inhabited by the MacDonnells, whose lordship reached from the North East of Ulster to the Western Isles of Scotland.
Dunluce Castle has cannons in the gatehouses that were from a Spanish galleass that crashed onto the shore in a storm. While the cannons were kept, the rest of the cargo was sold. In 2009, remains were found of the "lost town of Dunluce". The town was entirely destroyed in a fire during the Irish uprising of 1641 and abandoned in the 1680s. In the centuries that followed the town got buried under earth and grass. First discoveries of the town included a meeting place, a market, and industrial buildings. The town also contained revolutionary housing that had indoor toilets - something that wasn't common at the time. 
Dunluce Castle has seen lots of turmoil, sieges, battles and fire. However the most remarkable event of all must be the castle's breaking in two. The part that broke and fell into the water included the kitchens, and the unfortunate incident cost seven cooks their lives.
The castle has been enjoying international recognition for quite some time. It's been featured in films and on albums of musicians.

There are many ways to visit Dunluce Castle. In Bushmills there's an inn from which it's less than an hour's walk, and there are other accommodation possibilities scattered along the coast. Driving would also be possible as there is a parking lot nearby. There are buses going from amongst others Coleraine (with a decent connection to Londonderry), Belfast, and Portrush. Guided tours also go to Dunluce Castle, most of which include the Giant's Causeway because it's just a couple of miles down the road. From Londonderry, Derry Blue Badge Tours has full day and half day private tours and coach tours, and Visit Derry has sightseeing buses going to Dunluce and the Giant's Causeway. From Belfast there's Day Tours that includes Dunluce in its Giant's Causeway tour.

Before departing, do check opening times and be prepared to pay a small admission fee. 
 
Nice to know: the Northern Lights can be seen from Dunluce Castle.
 
 



Albarracín, Teruel, Spain

Albarracín is an ancient town in the province of Teruel (region of Aragón) in east-central Spain. In medieval times it was the capital of a taifa, a Portuguese or Spanish term for the small, independent muslim states that had been established on the Iberian Peninsula after the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba (929-1031). Albarracín has steep streets and fortified walls surrounding the settlement. It counts less than 2000 inhabitants.

Despite its small size, there are a lot of sights to see. The 9th century Albarracin Castle, dating back to the 9th century and has 11 towers and an area of 3600 sq metres, the Andador Tower (Torre del Andador, which was built in the 10th century and is Albarracín's highest point with spectacular views), and the Main Square (Plaza Mayor), which is where most of the roads lead and where you'll find the Town Hall. In the Prado del Navazo Shelter you'll find post-Palaeolithic art from between circa 6000 and 1000 AD, and there is an 18 kilometer long aqueduct that was built by the Romans, originally running from Albarracín to Cella. There's also the El Salvador Cathedral, the Museo Diocesano within the Palacio Episcopal (Episcopal Palace), which exhibits religious art, and the Museo de Juguetes, a toy museum. On Calle San Antonio, 2 there is a tourist information centre. El Andador offers 1½-hour walks through Albarracin for €3.50 per person.There's a hiking trail leading along the Guadalaviar River that offers scenic views on Albaraccín and its surrounding landscape.

A surprise may be that Albarracín is also a very popular place for climbing sports. Its enormous ancient sandstone blocks are solid, and because it is located 900 meters above sea level the air is cool enough for such intense activities. Albarracín's nearest airports are Valencia, Madrid, and Barcelona, in that order.












Gradara, Pesaro-Urbino, Italy

Gradara is a village in the province of Pesaro-Urbino, in the Marche region of Italy, and is situated on the top of a large hill, some 140 meters above sea level. The village is accessible via its main gate and is made up of sun-bleached, brick houses and cobblestone streets. Although not unspoiled by tourism, cars only get limited access. It is idyllically situated in a setting of rolling hills, vineyards, and olive trees and offers some amazing views on its surrounding landscape. 

Its castle, the Gradara Castle (or Castello di Gradara) was built between the 11th and 15th century. It also bears the names "Rocca di Gradara" or "Malatesta Fortress", named after the Malatesta family that inhabited the castle from 1283 until until 1464. They are famous for the legendary and tragic love story of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Polenta that took place within the castle. Dante Alighieri describes the tragedy in his book Inferno (of the Divine Comedy).

Gradara Fortress
Painting of Paolo and Francesca, by Amos Cassioli
As the story goes, after a long and tiring war the Da Polenta family and the Malatesta family decided to make peace with each other. In an effort to seal it, Guido da Polenta (Francesca's father) promised his daughter's hand to Malatesta's oldest son and successor, Giancotto. However, Giancotto had a hunchback and was ugly. The two fathers knew Francesca would never consent to a marriage with Giancotto if she knew what he looked like, so they came up with a scheme. They sent Giancotto's younger, handsome and courteous brother Paolo over to Francesca with a mandate to marry her in the name of Giancotto. But Paolo and Francesca fell in love, and even when Francesca found Giancotto in bed beside her after her wedding night and realized she had been tricked, her feelings for Paolo remained strong. Paolo was still in love with her as well. The two lovers started a happy affair. It didn't last long because a servant found them out and informed Giancotto of the adultery. At the time Giancotto was on business in another town, but he was so angry he returned home immediately and without notice. Back in Gradara he went straight to Francesca's room, where Francesca and Paolo were spending time together. Giancotto found the door locked, and he started to demand it open. Francesca went to open the door while Paolo tried to hide through a trapdoor that led to a room below. What it was that made Francesca act so fatally fast is unsure. Perhaps it was guilt, or perhaps she was startled. She opened the door before Paolo was properly hid, and when Giancotto stepped in he saw his younger brother. Immediately, he drew his rapier. While he charged Paolo, Francesca jumped in between and got struck. Whether careless or in anguish, Giancotto withdrew the blade and continued to attack Paolo. In the end he had killed both his wife and his brother. The next morning Paolo and Francesca were buried in the same tomb.

Aside from its romantic allure, Gradara has an interesting military history. Back in medieval times the Gradara Castle was one of the main settings for conflicts between the papal militias and the Romagnas and Marches. Its interior is still medieval-styled. Here is a video to give you an impression:


On Piazza V Novembre, 8 there's a Historic Museum (Museo Storico) that preserves and exhibits antique weapons, equipment for field work, and instruments of warfare.

Furthermore, Gradara is littered with souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. Right near the parking lot there is restaurant La Cantina Degli Armigeri Di Bacchiocchi Graziano, which in itself is a mouthful but wait until you see the views from its terrace.

view from La Cantina's terrace

view from La Cantina's terrace
Ristorante La Botte sits on Piazza V Novembre 11, close to the Museo Storico. It is situated in a building that dates back to the 1600s and once belonged to the noble Morandi Bonacosi family. Aside from a restaurant it also hosts a tavern and it has its own wine cellar.

La Botte's restaurant

La Botte's wine cellar
Aside from these two there are plenty more bars and restaurants (and of course some pizzerias) to be found in Gradara. There is at least one in nearly every street. Gradara also has a number of places that offer a bed (and often more), varying from B&Bs to luxury hotels. The nearest airport is the Federico Fellini International Airport, just a 30 minute drive via the Flaminia way.


Vulkan Eifel, Eifel Mountains, Germany

Vulkan Eifel is a region in the Eifel mountain range in Germany. It owes its name to the volcanic activity that shaped the landscape 60 million years ago. The last volcanic eruption was only some 10,000 years ago. The circular shaped lakes are maaren: lakes inside craters. The crates came to be by gas explosions and therefore can't officially be categorized under volcanic craters. There's still some volcanic activity under the surface, though no one can tell if or when there'll be another eruption.

The Vulkan Eifel is a popular travel destination and offers not only nature, but also history and culture. There are some excellent cycling and hiking routes, waterfalls, and caves. It also has many Celtic, Roman, and medieval structures. There are towns and villages with museums and restaurants, and many country houses and resorts where one can retreat to the peace and quiet of the area. If you're interested in beer and wine festivals, you'll find plenty of those in the Vulkan Eifel as well.


Church of San Augustin, Paoay, Philippines

The Church of San Augustin, also known as the Paoay Church, is the oldest church in Asia. It is located in the beautiful community of Paoay, in Ilocos Norte, a northern province in the Philippines. Its construction was completed in 1704 and the church was re-dedicated in 1894. It has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1993 because of its unique architecture, which combines gothic, baroque and oriental styles. The bell tower was built several feet away from the church to limit damage in case of earthquakes, and that's why this type of architecture is called Earthquake Baroque.

In 2000, a prehistoric human skeleton and fragmented ceramics were found inside the church, which are now kept in the National Museum.

The nearest airport to Paoay is in Laoag. Free shuttle buses go from the airport to Laoag City, and from there you can get a Jeepny to Paoay for 30 pesos a person. Paoay has much more to offer, so if you're looking to visit you may want to check out Paoay's official website, or the official website of Ilocos Norte.


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