TOP
h
  /  Destination   /  EUROPE

Castile is the heart of Spain, surrounding the capital city of Madrid with fine historic cities and castles dramatically poised on hilltops. Set on a plateau, Castile offers unique luxury choices for touring visitors in former castles, palaces and monasteries.   In days of old when knights were bold, many of them rode across the high plain of old Castile. Today, this richly historic region of central Spain is threaded with fine highways rather than riding trails for men in armour, and it makes a great touring destination. Elevated at an average of 660 metres, Castile occupies most of the central meseta of Spain. Divided into the region of Castilla y Leòn to the north and west of Madrid, and Castilla-La Mancha to the south and east, this plateau is sparsely populated compared to the coastal regions. Ideal for a driving tour, the wide open road beckons, with a network of excellent two-lane blacktops built in recent decades. As every Spanish schoolchild knows, in the 15th century, the “Catholic Kings” – King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel – unified Spain and set it on the path to being Europe’s greatest power in the next century. A royal couple like no other in European history, their transformative reign saw the rise of a string of great cities. Amongst these cities of old Castile, four stand out for their beauty and lasting power: Segovia, Avila, Salamanca and Toledo. Though all of them have Roman or even earlier origins, they had their great moments in the 16th and 17th centuries – and walking their streets today, visiting their monuments, imbibing their atmosphere, you thrill to the sense of being in a bygone world of immense richness and power. And what is even more special about visiting Castile is that you can stay in outstanding historical properties throughout the region – castles, palaces, convents and monasteries turned into hotels by the Spanish government’s unique Parador chain – and so get truly inside the atmosphere of Spain’s amazing olden days – but with modern luxury facilities. Full details on this come later in the story. THE CITY LIKE A SHIP For a grand tour of old Castile, first head north from Madrid, across the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, to Segovia. As you motor down onto the plateau, Segovia appears unmistakably, crowning a long hilltop above the rolling fields, like a ship upon the waves, its cathedral the mast, its castle the prow, and its Roman aqueduct the rudder. The aqueduct is the symbol of Segovia, the best-preserved engineering project of the Romans in all their former empire, a magnificent collection of arches which now also acts as the gate into the old city. A narrow street rises steeply though the tightly pressed huddle of buildings, winding this way and that, passing a wonderful array of shops, until it reaches the main square, a rectangle of fine old buildings dominated by a Gothic cathedral. Turning down a side street, leaning into the stiff wind which habitually blows up this way, you eventually come to the far end of town and

Venice has always attracted tourists across the world to experience its signature lagoon city, however; approximately 70 percent of city is now engulfed with the water due to the storm, leading to the temporary close of the major tourist attractions, including St. Mark’s square. Last Sunday, I took an express train from Milano Centrale, the railway station, to experience the Canal City, Venice, with a slight hope of sun as rain had been falling throughout the whole country, coloring the sky with the low cloud. It had been raining the whole night before our departure, yet we didn’t cancel Venice from our itinerary. I had a rough morning getting to the Centrale station, which we should have noticed that it could foreshadow something even worse, however we precede according to our plan. For two hours, we had arrived, yet Venice seemed to be quite grumpy. Even though the whole city was covered in rain to the point where the sky looked the same as the water, the storm couldn’t stop the excess amounts of tourists from visiting. It was crowded as we expected, and most tourists were spotted wearing the colorful high boots. When we arrived at San Marco boat station, we realized that having a pair of that bright rubber boots was a right decision as 3/4 of Piazza of San Marco was then submerged. The boots might be designed to be unstylish but durable enough to make us waddling from alley to alley. Did I mention that Venice Marathon was held on the same day we visited? It was such a stunning scenes that the runners were racing through flooded streets, while most tourists had to walk on the provided wooden walkways. Be Careful, it’s slippery!, shouted the Gondola workers whose works seemed to be suspended in the rain. Some tourists tripped over, some accidentally dropped their items in the water, or even worse, their newly purchased bags. We had watched the forecast prior our trip, yet this was beyond our expectation. The rain soaked into my outer and newsboy hat, however the atmosphere was still filled with laughter and joys of visitors who seemed to accept this incident gracefully. The flooded water offered the extraordinary experiences as tourists tried to embrace themselves in this unfortunate event, and the city tried to be functional. The water was knee-high when I was there, flooding into shops and restaurants where diner can enjoy their pizza with their feet in the water. The shopkeepers also used the bucket to remove water from their shops. Venice is accustomed with the high water situation, as known as aqua alta, occurring when the winds push water from the lagoon into the canals. The water normally recede within few hours, however; not for this time.The water was knee-deep last sunday but now the flood has been described as the worst hit in a past decade. Fear is rising according to the official statement of the Venice city that salt water may cause damage to the historic sites. While