3 x culture trips in the sunny south
A train station full of mosaics, a monastery built thanks to the spice trade, and markets that most closely resemble open-air theatres…Valencia, Lisbon and Florence are full of cultural gems, just waiting for you to visit!
Valencia – Spain
This city is a cultural hotspot where it’s almost impossible to be bored. One of the places you really need to see while you’re there is both useful and beautiful: the Estación del Norte train station. It might sound a bit dull, visiting a place where trains come and go. But a mix of modernist and European architectural styles is a feast for the eyes.
The outside is skilfully decorated. Flowers, oranges and orange blossom adorn the facade. And the eagle at the top of the building keeps a close eye on everything below. The interior though is a paradise if you love ceramics. There are beautiful mosaics artworks everywhere. This style is known as Trencadís, an art form that was also used a lot by Gaudí. ‘Pleasant journey’ is written in mosaic in different languages on the walls. Something fun for the kids: find the artwork in their own language! And while that keeps them busy, you can admire the authentic wooden counters and the stained glass creations.
A little odd as the name suggests the opposite, but the train station is in fact in the south of Valencia!
Lisbon – Portugal
In Lisbon you’ll find all sorts of different neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct feel. But where to start? Belém of course! This was once the starting point for the Portuguese voyages of discovery. You’ll find all sorts of interesting museums and monuments from the Golden Age here.
If you’re talking about Portuguese explorers, you’ll probably mention Vasco da Gama. It’s thanks to him that you can visit the 16th century Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) today. The story goes that this limestone monastery was built using profits from the spice trade. A tangible symbol of the wealth in Portugal at the time, and a pleasure to visit with its many Eastern and Moorish decorations. You’ll also find a museum and graves of famous people, including the royal family, in the monastery. If all the grandeur is too much, you can take a break by the large fountain in the 3,300 m2 garden.
If you’re visiting the monastery, you’re also walking distance from the Antiga Confeiteria bakery. Here you can try a pastéis de Belém: a delicious tart made of puff pastry, cream, cinnamon and sugar. Only three people know the secret recipe for it, and this bakery is the only place you can buy it. The queue of ravenous gourmands always snakes out into the street, but it’s well worth the wait. Nibble at this delicious treat in the park, amongst the picnicking Portuguese families.
Florence – Italy
Culture lovers are sure to have a good time in Italy’s Firenze too. Of course you could visit the most famous bridge in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio, and spend all of your holiday money on the sparkling creations in the jewellery shops nearby. But if you don’t have the budget for expensive stones, there are plenty of markets in Florence where you can buy a little souvenir, antiques, or tasty treats for more reasonable prices.
Visiting the markets in Italy can be like going to an open-air theatre. The traders and buyers are noisy, and will gesture with their hands and feet what the price of whatever they’re selling should be. Every market has its own charm. The most famous is the Mercato San Lorenzo. There are lots of tourists here, but with good reason: many things here are cheaper than at other markets around the city. It’s relatively cheap to buy yourself a Venetian mask or a leather bag here. The market is close to the 15th century Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze, so you can hit two cultural birds with one stone.
If you think you’re all shopped out, then keep walking to the Mercato Centrale. A market hall adjacent to the San Lorenzo market, with lush flowers and delicious Tuscan food. Choose a Tuscan wine, or a cheese from the countryside, freshly-pressed olive oil, truffles and much more. Fantastic ingredients for an evening of culinary pleasure at the campsite.