The gardens of Aranjuez, south of Madrid, Spain

The gardens of Aranjuez, located in the fertile plain of the Tagus in the south of Madrid (within an hour), is a space where nature blends with art; resort of kings and source of inspiration for many artists, there are fountains, sculptures and ancient trees. It was here that walked the monarchy and the Spanish court in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The gardens surround the Royal Palace. The best known are the gardens of the Prince, the island and the Parterre. The master Joaquín Rodrigo was able to interpret this place in his famous Concert of Aranjuez. The Island Garden is considered the most important and characteristic of the time of the House of Austria (sixteenth century) and is surrounded by the waters of the Tagus. There are white marble nymphs which adorn the staircase that provides access to the orchard where Queen Isabella II used to stroll. The trails are drawn in a grid and you can smell the aroma of boxwood while you walk through them. There are also small waterfalls. The garden of Paterre before the palace façade, presents paths bordered by hedges, cut following a geometrical balance (like French gardens of the time). Two large fountains are found there, that of Hercules and that of Ceres and also marble vases with colorful flowers. The garden of the Prince, designed in the English style, has almost 150 hectares. Formerly, these huge spaces were dedicated to hunting parties. We find a wide variety of trees, monuments, ponds and fountains there.

Tips

If you visit the garden between May and October you can enjoy to do it on board of the Train of strawberry; this is an ancient railway.

Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil

Fortaleza is the fifth largest city of Brazil, capital of the State of Ceará in the Northeast region. It is located along the Atlantic coast, with 34 km of beaches and is also an important industrial and commercial centre. It has the largest water park of Brazil, the Beach Park. The Dragão do Mar art and culture centre is its main cultural space, with museums, theatres, cinemas, libraries and the planetarium. To see: Avenue Beira Mar with its craft fair, Praia de Iracema, with the English bridge and the Pirata Bar and the Praia do Futuro with its tents on the beach. On the waterfront of the city, there are the main accommodations and many restaurants and tourist attractions, in particular for the waterpark, clubs, nightclubs and concert halls. There are also several theatres, the most important being the theatre José Alencar. The diversity of the crafts found in Fortaleza is important, in particular those related to the use of leather, bottles of color, pottery, basketry and weaving, bobbin lace. The hammock is also very popular in craft markets.

Tips

If you like shopping, you will find many nice shops in the old quarter of the city (Centro).
To enjoy the beaches, it’s better to leave the town and move a little away.
If you like shows, nightly except on Mondays, there is one (musical, theatrical or dance) at the José Alencar theatre.
If you like partying, Fortaleza offers a pretty hectic nightlife. Find out what happens each evening to catch the best place for each day.
If you want to relax, you are in the right place, and enjoy sunny days in a city where there are not so many activities that relax at the beach.

The hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, Leggiuno, Varese, Italy

The hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso is a monastery built overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore in Leggiuno, Varese. The construction of the complex is from the twelfth century; Alberto Besozzi of Arolo, dealer and lender, survivor of a shipwreck during a lake crossing, vowed to St. Catherine of Alexandria to settle there for the rest of his life in prayer and solitude in a cave on this stretch of coast. He built a chapel to the saint that we can still see at the back of the church. The relics of Blessed Albert, are inside the church. In the fourteenth century there was the construction of two churches dedicated to St Mary and San Nicolas, which were added to the complex. On the church’s facade, we find four arches that are the remains of a fresco cycle and, seen from the lake, there is the bell tower of the fourteenth century. The oldest part is the chapel from 1195, located at a lower level compared to other parts of the church, which took the size of the tomb of St. Catherine in the Sinai and on the outside, near the window there are some pictures of the transfer of the body of the saint (by the angels) at Mount Sinai. The complex is considered a national monument since 1914. It was restored and reopened in eighty years. It is currently supported by some Benedictine Oblates. The present church has five parts, initially separated, are now they’re four chapels, while the fifth is the chapel where lies Alberto Besozzi. The church is covered with many beautiful frescoes. There is also an organ and a statue of the Virgin and Child (seventeenth century). The hermitage is accessible by foot through a staircase that connects the Quicchio on one side, small group of houses, with parking for cars and a place to eat something, with the other, recently completed, that gives service from the navigation of Lago Maggiore.

Tips

If you can not take the stairs, there is a lift (0.50 euros), built into the rock, which brings you to the church.
The place is very nice for a walk and to take wonderful photos of its beautiful surroundings.
In summer, there is a direct bus from Laveno. The nearest train station is Sangiano on the Luino-Milan line (3km). You can also reach the place with the lake navigation service.