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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

Best Preserved Geode in the World
Friday, January 27, 2023

 The Pulpí Geode is a unique phenomenon in the world, given the size, perfection and transparency of the gypsum crystals. It is located inside a mine of iron and lead in the district of Pilarde Jaravía, at a depth of 60 m, coinciding with sea level and 3 km from the coastline of San Juan de Los Terreros.

 

 

The geode is funnel-shaped, with the narrowest part an angled L-shaped hollow form 10.7 m3 volume, with 8 m long, 1.8 m wide and 1.7 m high. The average size of gypsum crystals is 0.5 x 0.4 x 0.3 m, with specimens up to 2 m long. Considered the best-preserved geode in the world, it was discovered by Angel Romero in 1999 inside an abandoned mine on the site of Pilar de Jaravía. It has been declared a Natural Monument.

 

 

 

The largest geode in the world is in Naica (Mexico) and boasts crystals that reach 10 meters in length, but it is in a mine which suffers temperatures of 45ºC and with 100% humidity which makes it impossible for it to be visited by the public. However, the Pulpí geode is at a temperature of 20ºC and offers a more than acceptable humidity level. Therefore it is the second largest in the world but the only one that can be visited.

 

 

 

 



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2023 "Must-Visit" Destinations : Anaga Natural Park
Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A stones' throw away from the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, lies Anaga Natural Park, which has been declared a Biosphere Reserve and has surprisingly succeeded in preserving its natural beauty.

If you have the opportunity to visit you are likely to be overwhelmed by its beautiful precipitous mountain range full of sharp jagged peaks. The deep valleys and ravines that cut across it eventually reach out to sea, forming a series of beaches where you can wet your toes or have a dip in the ocean. Naturally, the park is home to a wealth of fauna and flora and abundant with autochthonous species.

Anaga Natural Park covers much of the mountain range located on the north-east of the Island. With an expanse of almost 14,500 hectares (35,800 acres), it crosses quite a significant stretch of Tenerife, spanning the municipalities of La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Tegueste. It represents one of the region's major leisure areas and is a wonderful tourist attraction.

 

The impressive sight of its sturdy mountains rising high above the nearby sea is as attractive as it is unique. But if you really want to make the most of your visit, the best idea is to follow one of the many trails that will lead you to its charming little beaches of fine, shiny black sand (such as Benijo) dotted along the coast. 

 

 

The area's landscapes are also adorned with geological formations such as "roques" (old volcanic chimneys), dikes (fractures filled with solidified magma forming sheets of rock that look like walls), cliff faces and deep ravines. Another of the area's unforgettable sights is, without doubt, the blanket of clouds.

 

High up on the peaks you will find Tenerife's most wonderful areas of laurel forests. This vegetation could quite simply be classed as a living fossil, having survived more than 40 million years. The Mediterranean basin used to be covered in this greenery until the glaciers swept it away. A walk amongst this forest's twisted tree trunks lined with moss is like a journey back in time. Listen to the forest, feel it and breathe in its prehistoric air. As if all of this weren't enough, the Anaga mountain range is geologically one of Tenerife's oldest areas, which along with the varying altitudes, weather conditions and soils provide it with a huge biological diversity for such a relatively small space. Almost every kind of ecosystem on the Island can be found here, except high mountain flora and fauna. It contains coastal vegetation, populations of Canary Island spurges and euphorbia, dragon trees and Canarian palms.

 

And where the flora is rich and diverse, so too is the fauna. The undisputed kings are invertebrates. You will find almost a hundred species here that are unique in the world. If you are a keen birdwatcher, you might recognise such emblematic species as Scopoli's shearwaters, kestrels, owls, Bolle's pigeons and laurel pigeons (both of which are considered living relics and are native to the Canaries). In fact, the abundance of birdlife has led Anaga to become a Special Bird Protection Area. No less magnificent is the array of sea life, making quite a treat for divers, with such wonderful species as the Chucho (a type of ray), the Canarian cod, the Vieja and the endangered local eel.

The park also houses small villages and hamlets. You will find up to 26 inhabited by a total of 2000 people. Their residents live mostly off small-scale farming, tending traditional local crops such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, vines and other fruit trees and plants.

 

 

 



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Visit Seville's Restored Medieval Shipyard
Friday, January 13, 2023

In 1248, Ferdinand III  took Seville from the Moors, who had held the city since 712. It marked the fall, alongside Córdoba, of the two great Moorish strongholds in the Iberian Peninsula. Knowing that he still had to secure his position, Ferdinand III decided to launch a military campaign into northern Africa. In order to do so, he required a fleet of ships.

Ferdinand passed away in 1252 before realising his plan, but his son, Alfonso X “El Sabio,” proceeded with his father’s strategy. To build the fleet he needed large shipyards, so he initiated work on the Reales Atarazanas de Sevilla, or the Royal Shipyards of Seville.

Built outside the city walls and close to the Guadalquivir River, the shipyard covered about 15,000 square meters and consisted of 17 vaulted naves constructed entirely of brick, in a style now known as Mudejar-Gothic, with vaulted ceilings and wide arches connecting the naves. Construction was similar to those found in a church or cathedral. Each nave needed to be large enough for the construction of a galley, with each section of the shipyard connected to the next via a series of arches.

 

 

Before the end of 1253 ten galleys had been built in the shipyard, and it continued to produce fleets for subsequent Castilian kings. Galleys built in the Royal Shipyards of Seville were used throughout much of the remainder of the Reconquista, as well as during the Hundred Years’ War against England. During this time the naves were also used to hold prisoners and booty taken during the various conflicts.


By the mid-15th century and the final stages of the Reconquista, orders for new ships began to decline and the naves began to be repurposed for other tasks. In 1493, a fish market was moved into the first nave. During the 16th century, other naves were reassigned as oil and wool warehouses, and three more to house the city’s customs warehouse.

 

 

Time and technology had overtaken the Royal Shipyards of Seville. The naves were too small for building larger, more modern ships, and soon shipbuilding ceased altogether. In 1641, five naves were transformed into the Hospital de la Caridad. In 1719, five more naves were assigned for the storage of artillery material. The rest were largely used as commercial warehouses.

The next big change to the structure of the shipyard came in 1945 when five naves were destroyed to make way for the construction of the Delegación de Hacienda (Tax Office) building. Fortunately, no further destruction took place before the shipyard gained National Monument status in 1969, protecting it from further damage.

The shipyard, however, has been an ongoing problem for the local government. For more than 20 years it has been off-limits to the public, despite various plans and proposals for its renovation, all of which have so far failed, generating more frustration.

But in December 2018, it was confirmed that restoration would begin in 2019, with the aim of opening the Royal Shipyards of Seville to the public in 2022. Many Game of Thrones filming locations have become major tourist draws thanks to the popularity of the HBO series. So when the Royal Shipyards of Seville were used in season 7 of the show, interest in the location was naturally increased and the motivation to restore them revived.

So when the Royal Shipyards of Seville do finally open, expect the visitors to be a delighted mix of medieval shipbuilding aficionados and a crowd of Game of Thrones fans.

 

For more information : https://www.visitarsevilla.com/que-ver/monumentos/reales-atarazanas/



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Planet Mars in Spain
Thursday, January 5, 2023

       
 
 
 
Who would ever have thought that this landscape could be found in Northern Spain, a land of green pastures, valleys, vineyards, lakes and mountains? A terrain more akin to planet Mars or even the wild west - a scene with Peter O’Toole blazing his way to glory in the “Arabian” desert of Almeria. But this wonderfully mysterious land is just 70km from the ski slopes of the Pyrenees and holds the title of the largest desert in mainland Europe. 
 
 
       
 
 
 Bardenas Reales Natural Park is a place of wild beauty declared a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. It is a semi-desert landscape covering 42.500 hectares that is breath-taking and surprises anyone who might casts their eyes over it. An surreal spectacle in south-east Navarre, despite its bare and inhospitable appearance, is an oasis of natural assets.
 
The erosion of its clay, chalk and sandstone soils has sculpted capricious forms in the landscape to create almost lunar effects, full of gullies, plateaux and solitary hills. It has inspired painters and writers and has been the scene of TV adverts, music videos and films. A unique setting that seems out of place in Northern Spain and leaves nobody indifferent. You can visit this barren land on foot, by bicycle, on horseback or even with 4X4 motor vehicles. Specialist guides are available to help you to discover unforgettable spots with echoes of legends such as the famous highwayman Sanchicorrota, who used to fool his pursuers by putting his horse's shoes on backwards so they couldn’t follow him!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bardenas Reales is a landscape sculpted over millions of years due to erosion. There are three distinct zones in the natural park which are, from north to south: El Plano, croplands characterised by very gentle slopes; the Bardena Blanca, the most photographed and visited area, where the main rock formations can be found in Castildetierra and Pisquerra. Also in this area, defined by its eroded crags, dry gullies and steppe-like appearance - in its lower part is a Firing Range used by the US Military, which explains the fighter planes; and the Bardena Negra, where the land darkens, giving way to the only Aleppo pinewoods in the area, accompanied by thicket.
 
 
 
 
 
Exceptional viewpoints show the differences between its different zones. From the Alto de Aguilares you get the best panoramic view of the Bardena Blanca. The Balcón de Pilatos ('Pontius Pilate's Balcony') is an exceptional observatory of birds of prey. These high points show the wealth of this territory, which contains three Nature Reserves: the Vedado de Eguaras, an oasis to the north of the area where the ruins of the Castle of Peñaflor still stand; the Rincón del Bu (in Bardena Blanca), occupying 460 hectares, where the eagle owl breeds; and the Nature Reserve of Caídas de la Negra (in Bardena Negra), which covers 1,926 hectares and has altitude drops of 270 metres.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Bardenas Reales Natural Park also offers more than 700 kilometres of paths, tracks and gullies that can be followed by hiking and cycling enthusiasts. Nevertheless, it is advisable to use specialist guides in your first incursion into the natural enclave. Apart from avoiding the risk of getting lost in the desert, they will help you to interpret the landscape with a flora and fauna more appropriate to an African desert than the north of the Iberian Peninsula. In the remote past it was even inhabited by crocodiles and turtles. Eagles, vultures, owls, great bustards, foxes, mountain cats, genets, amphibians and reptiles range between scrubland, sisal thickets, salt marshes and reed beds.
 
Due to the extreme temperatures and the special conditions of the land, it is recommend that one avoids going when it is raining. The best time to visit Bardenas is between September and June. On 18 September, if you have the opportunity go to the "Sanmiguelada", the day when thousands and thousands of sheep from the Pyrenean valleys make their way to this vast extension along El Paso to graze during the winter. To do this, follow the Cañada Real (royal livestock trail) of the Roncaleses which links up the pastures of the Roncal Valley with the Bardenas. 
 
Places like this are what make Spain such a special country. One could even consider Spain to be a small continent as it offers almost every terrain you could possibly imagine, the choice and wealth of nature is far beyond what most people can even imagine, but wander away from the coastline and you can discover a world that will leave its mark forever.
 
 
                               
 
 
 

           
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The Dama of Elche
Wednesday, December 28, 2022

In the silent galleries of the National Archeology Museum in Madrid, you can witness the eerily penetrating gaze of this ancient sculpture, which seems to radiate authority and radiates a uniquely commanding presence. Discovered by accident in Valencia in 1897, the bewitching and inscrutable Dame of Elche has puzzled archaeologists and been the subject of fierce debate for over a century. 

 

 

There have been many theories over the years as to what this mysterious limestone bust represents. She’s been called a Moorish queen, a witch, and stranger still, an “extraterrestrial visitor from another planet.” But archaeologists believe the bust is actually a uniquely Iberian portrayal of the Carthaginian mother goddess, Tanit, used as a funerary urn in antiquity.

There have always been rumours of forgery surrounding the discovery and debate about the authenticity of the Dame of Elche. But in 2011 research carried out using electron microscopy and x-ray technology found that the piece is original, and confirmed its use as an ancient urn. Traces of ashes containing fragments of human bone were detected in the study and carbon-dated to be more than 2,500 years old, making it contemporaneous with the ancient Iberian period. Today you can visit the artefact in Madrid’s excellent National Archaeological Museum. But who she actually is, is still a mystery...

 



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Discover Spain's Christmas Sweets
Thursday, December 22, 2022

Perhaps the most traditional Christmas sweet in Spain is marzipan, a paste of almonds and sugar. There are various theories about its beginnings, although it is certain to have originated in the Mediterranean area, where almonds come from. The stories of the Thousand and one nights mention it as an aphrodisiac, and as a restorative during Ramadan. Others say it first came from convents, many of which still make it. When there was a wheat shortage after the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the nuns began making these sweets with what they had in the larder: almonds and sugar. In Toledo, famous for its marzipan, they used to stamp an image of the King on his throne on the marzipan cakes, copying the city's crest. Curiously, "the King seated", in Arabic, sounds like mauthaban, very similar to the Spanish mazapán. So the debate continues.

 

 

What we can be sure of is that to eat the finest marzipan, you should go to this city in La Mancha, where you can also find traditional variations: anguilas or "eels" with an angel-hair squash filling, thought to have been first made for King Philip III as a gift for the King of Portugal; delicias in the form of a crescent moon, filled with egg paste; castañas, in the form of chestnuts, dipped in chocolate; and empiñonadas, covered in pine nuts.
 
Turrón also seems to have a Muslim origin. A mixture of almonds and honey, called turun, appears for the first time in the book De medicinis et cibis semplicibus, written by an 11th-century Arab doctor. In the 16th century, Philip II's royal cook, Don Francisco Martínez Montiño, comments in his book Conduchos de Navidad that Jijona smells of honey everywhere, because turrón is made in every household. In 1991 the Regulatory Council of the Designation of Jijona was formed, and although traditional turrón is made with almonds and honey, both abundant around Valencia, modern variations can include egg yolk, candied fruit or nuts.

 

As with most culinary inventions, mantecados or lard cakes also arose to meet a need. In the 16th century there was a surplus of pork lard and of cereals, particularly around Seville. In Estepa they decided to mix the lard and flour, adding olive oil, sugar and egg-white, to make mantecados.

Here there is no possibility of an Arab origin. According to their Protected Geographical Indication, mantecados originated in the Convent of Santa Clara in Estepa, where they were first made as flat cakes, and later as the little cakes we see today. Today they can include coconut, cinnamon, sesame seeds and even chocolate. The polvorón is a very similar sweet which was first made around the same time, but includes almonds.

 

 

Christmas meals with children, especially in Catalonia and Aragon, often finish with a type of chocolate-covered Swiss roll. At first sight it looks like a log, but it’s actually a cake filled with cream, the Tronco de Navidad. No-one is sure why these two regions in north-eastern Spain borrowed the Buche de Noel from their French neighbours, who in turn took the idea from the Nordic tradition of the Yule log, where in the northern hemisphere a tree-trunk was burned at the winter solstice between 20 and 23 December as a symbol of prosperity. Like the cake, the log was decorated with flowers, pieces of orange and nuts. In Great Britain, Belgium, and then France, many people took up the tradition of the Yule log, but it fell from favour when enclosed stoves began to be used for heating. A French cake-maker found a solution with this dessert, which quickly became popular in the late 19th century.

 

 

And finally we come to the cake that ends the Christmas season in Spain on 5 or 6 January, depending on the customs of each household: roscón de Reyes. The first people to eat a ring-shaped cake were the Romans, during Saturnalia, also known as the slaves' holiday, because they didn’t have to work. A broad bean would be hidden inside the cake, a symbol of the prosperity that would come in Spring, and of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They spread the tradition all over Europe, but after the arrival of Christianity it endured only in France, where the royal household made the cake with a coin hidden inside. These days it remains a firm tradition in much of Spain, especially in Madrid, accompanied by hot chocolate, and in Latin American countries such as Mexico. 



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The Village with the Best Views in Spain
Thursday, December 1, 2022

 

The National Geographic Magazine once declared Montefrio, a village in the Granada province, one of the 10 villages in the world with the best views, and hence the best views in Spain. This unexpected accolade was the beginning of an avalanche of tourists that has changed the village forever, bringing tourism to the local businesses and revitalising what was a dormant Andalucían whitewashed mountain village.  

 

 

The visual power of the landscape and architecture of Montefrío are stunning. The imposing monumental structure that forms the Arab fortress and the Iglesia de la Villa, located on top of a rock are quite striking. Furthermore, Montefrío is set in a location of natural diversity. From the road that links Montefrío with Íllora, you can access the Peña de Los Gitanos, a natural rock that is bordered to the south by the Sierra de Parapanda.

 

 

Montefrío is located in the northwestern part of the province, in the heart of the Montes Occidentales that form the central sector of the Cordilleras Beticas mountain ranges, between the Sierra de Parapanda and the Sierra de Chanzas. Its district has one of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes of the region, where the areas of steep vegetation contrast with carved crop and olive fields.

The hilly area is ideal for walking and taking part in sports such as cycling, riding and climbing.

The climate of Montefrío is typically continental-Mediterranean. During the summer months, the town gets hot, into late 30, or early 40-degree temperatures. The economy was mainly agrarian, with olives as the main crop, now, however, tourism is growing quickly. What was a relatively limited industry that revolved around agricultural processing such as oil and dairy products, has now all changed with new businesses and establishments opening up to serve the visitors. Near the town is a vast archaeological site known as Las Peñas de Los Gitanos, famous for its prehistoric tombs and remains of Roman and Visigothic settlements.

Montefrio is an upbeat, friendly destination, ideal for those looking for a rural retreat, with lots of space and fresh air, but not too far off the beaten track that you can’t visit the coast or cities of Cordoba and Granada.

 



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I Spy With My Little Eye....
Friday, November 25, 2022

In Cádiz there is a Moorish palace which was built in the 11th century - Casa Palacio de los Marqueses de Recaño. This building responds to the characteristic typology of civil gaditana Baroque architecture complete with a vaulted mosque, a system of wells, elaborate gardens filled with fragrant trees and even a multi-room hamam.

Being in one of the highest areas of the city, it is the highest of all the watchtowers in Cádiz, located 45 meters above sea level and in the centre of the historic town. Because of its height and privileged location, it was the official watchtower of the port of Cadiz in 1778, receiving its current name - Tavira Tower - which was its first watchman, D. Antonio de Tavira. 

Apart from the architecture, it provides a unique tourist attraction: the "Camera Oscura". It projects a vivid and moving picture of what is happening outside in real-time. It is a relatively simple optical principle, already known in times of Leonardo da Vinci. The system comprised of two lenses and a large periscope mirror was installed on the very top of the tower. This optical contraption is controlled from below by a pair of long wooden-handled levers, to cast live images of the surrounding town onto a large parabolic table around which people can gather. In a modern age where the resolution of the images we see on our screens are constantly questioned and improved, the lenses’ projected picture on the table before the viewer is surprisingly sharp and focused. The mirror swivels around and zooms in on incredibly small details around the city and the fields beyond.

 

 

In the tower, there are also two exhibition halls. In addition to the exhibition halls and the Camera Obscura, the monument also has an amazing viewpoint to enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the entire city.

The guide who is also the lens-operator speaks English and uses the Camera Obscura not only to show the incredible architecture but also to discuss the history of the development of Jerez.  The tour costs an extra two euros on top of the normal price of admission to the palace grounds and is worth every penny. If you manage to go, make sure it is on a bright and sunny day to enjoy the best results.

 



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Discover La Palma - La Isla Bonita
Thursday, November 17, 2022

The volcanic island of La Palma seems to be painted green due to a deep shroud of a prehistoric forest. Connect with nature under some of the world's clearest skies, relax on its welcoming beaches or hike through deep gorges and past volcanoes. 

La Palma is the Canary island that was a finalist in the EDEN programme (European Destinations of Excellence) of the European Commission, in recognition of its sustainable tourism offer. This destination has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO for its numerous protected natural spaces considered ecological treasures. These are places that you cannot miss if you decide to visit the area.

 


Also known as the “Isla Bonita’’, La Palma is the greenest spot in the whole of the Canary archipelago. If you are a nature lover and you have a bit of an adventurous spirit, you will really feel at home here. You will be able to enjoy a genuine natural museum, whether you are with your partner, family or friends. 

La Palma's trails take you past waterfalls and up to the island's peaks. Once you reach the top, look up. The night sky is unforgettable. Clear skies and strict light pollution laws mean that La Palma is such a fantastic place for star gazing and astronomy that is has earned a Starlight award.

 


The advantage of visiting this little piece of the Atlantic is that it offers an attractive balance, both on the coast and in the mountains. Here you will be able to lose yourself in the lush forests and appreciate the steep surfaces, which will take you to beaches of gleaming, black sand where you can walk and relax.

A good way to start is to enter into the heart of La Palma where you will find the Caldera de Taburiente National Park, an underwater crater created by eruptions and erosion, a real visual spectacle that is well worth your attention.

 

       [Photographs by Saul Santos @  www.santossaul.com   http://www.santossaul.com]

 

If what you want is to reach the clouds you can travel along high mountain ranges, including Roque de los Muchachos, which boasts one of the most modern astrophysical observatories in the world. A great idea for looking at the stars from a height.

When you have finished exploring inside, you can go to the coast to enjoy the shoreline, whose entire shape has been moulded at the whim of the volcanic lava coming from the great volcanic chain of Cumbre Vieja. Once there you only need to worry about inhaling the sea breeze and admiring the precipitous landscape dotted with small coves and cliffs.

 

 

 

The art of this island not only resides in nature, but you can also find it in the numerous places of archaeological interest, hermitages, churches and museums. In particular, you must not to miss the historical site of Santa Cruz de La Palma.


Once you have arrived, you can learn about its island culture and the traditions such as “The Indianos in Carnival’’ and the Fiestas Lustrales festival, also known as the Bajada de la Virgen de las Nieves, which is celebrated every five years.

If you plan your visit during the first fortnight in July, you will be able to live the Semana Grande (Big Week) and the Semana Chica (Small Week), full of events and festivities. Worth a special mention is the Danza de Los Enanos (The Dance of the Dwarves), a deeply rooted tradition which will be repeated with a new edition in 2015.

You must not forget about the textile crafts, the cigar-making and the island's cuisine. The homemade desserts and cheeses play a special role in the island's extensive offer. In this way, you will be able to experience the richness of the island’s traditions for yourself.

All this with an average yearly temperature of between 16 and 21 degrees centigrade, which enables you to make the trip and enjoy the activities at any time of the year.

 



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Spend a night in a Ducal Palace
Friday, November 11, 2022

The 17th Century "Palacio de Lerma" was the home of the Duke of Lerma, an influential favourite of King Phillip III of Spain. He was an important diplomat who negotiated numerous treaties and his magnificent and imposing palace was a symbol of his power. He could be described as a religious and racial bigot and was the person who, along with the Archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, initiated the expulsion of many thousands of Moriscos, the remnants of the earlier Moorish occupation of Spain, who had (officially at least) converted to Christianity. These two zealots had also encouraged the king to enslave the Moriscos for work in mines etc, as he could do so “without any scruples of conscience,”. Thankfully this proposal was rejected.

 

 

The Duke eventually fell from grace (but not before becoming a cardinal) and his palace fell into disrepair but it has now been sympathetically restored to become a “Parador”, a state-run, high end, tourist hotel, one of many historic buildings used in this Spanish effort to support tourism.

 

 

As one approaches Lerma on the nearby A1 autovia (either from Madrid or Burgos) one can see from a great distance the four imposing black spires (clearly recently renovated) at the corners of the building, looking like a giant, perhaps menacing, ecclesiastical edifice. From a distance, the building looks like one might imagine the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition  (in keeping with the ideas that originated there) but when viewed up close from the town square it looks imposing and palatial. The palace had magnificent gardens and was reputed to have had 7 chapels (only one survives).

Next to the palace is an impressive church which, like the palace, bears the Duke’s coat of arms. Also check out the other historic buildings in the town including the tourist office, in a building where Rubens is said to have stayed.

If you fancy visiting the Palace and staying the night there  take a look here

 



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