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Castles, Temples and Sacred Monuments

How can you pick just one reason to visit a destination? It’s each of the distinct, cultural attributes of any new land that really makes traveling such a rich experience. Often, some of the most compelling features of our biking and walking vacations here at VBT are the tours of historic castles, temples and sacred monuments that we come upon in our journeys. These architectural highlights give us just one more reason to visit, adding unique insight into the countries we have come so far to see.

Spain—Mezquita de Cordoba

Mosque of Cordoba

Sometimes a change of tune is a good thing. Perhaps the perfect example of the adage is Cordoba’s Mezquita. Originally constructed in the 7th century, the denomination of the UNESCO World Heritage Site has been adapted several times over by its governing inhabitants. And, yet the combination of Christian and Moorish influence upon the cathedral’s design only adds to its aesthetic appeal. Take a guided tour of Cordoba de Mezquita on our Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky biking vacation.

Puglia—Cattedrale di Monopoli


Attractive from afar, and intoxicating from within, is the fortified town of Monopoli. The port village’s location has drawn many invaders historically, and much of the architecture has been built and rebuilt by its flux of inhabitants. Restored in the 17th century, the Cattedrale di Monopoli is one of the most noteworthy structures in the small town. At almost 200 feet high, the cathedral’s soaring tower is visible from quite a distance. Yet the baroque cathedral offers an even more stunning view at its base. Enjoy a close-up of the historic Catterale di Monopoli on our Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast bicycling vacation.

Portugal—São Jorge Castle

St. George's Castle

Europe’s western-most capital, Lisbon, boasts a collage of architectural styles. For a classic example of Lisbon’s hodgepodge of building styles, peer up at São Jorge Castle from the Baixa neighborhood of the coastal city. Atop Lisbon’s tallest hill, the Moorish castle rests like an ancient crown, capping off an elegant blend of Roman, Celtic, and even French architectural styles. Explore São Jorge Castle on an extension after our Walking Portugal’s Douro River Valley vacation.

Thailand—Wat Rong Khun

White Temple

Just outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand, travelers will find the unorthodox and absolutely striking Buddhist temple, Wat Rong Khun. In a land known for its vibrant natural colors, Wat Rong Khun truly stands out as much for its pristine white appearance, as its incredibly intricate façade. Though the White Temple is just over a decade old, it is certain to remain among one of the world’s sacred masterpieces for centuries to come. Marvel at Wat Rong Khun on our Exploring Northern Thailand biking vacation.

Vietnam—Hien Nhan Gate

Forbidden City

Park your bike and take some time to explore the Purple Forbidden City, the former headquarters of the Nguyen dynasty. Located in Hue, Vietnam, the Imperial City was once surrounded by a moat and a large stone wall, and outsiders could only peer upon its enclosure. Admittedly, it was quite a view. Admire it yourself, and as you enter into the Purple forbidden City, enjoy a moment examining the detail of the massive stone entryway, the Hien Nhan Gate. Visit the Hien Nhan Gate on our Journey through Vietnam biking vacation.

Peru—Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Peru

What can be said about Machu Picchu to relay the wonder and awe of the “Lost City of the Incas”? We can merely echo our predecessors’ sentiments. Since its construction in the 14th and 15th century, the centerpiece of the Sacred Valley has simply amazed visitors from the Spanish conquistadors and Hiram Bingham to the ardent travelers that make their way along the Inca trail each year. Their conclusions? The journey astounds beyond words. Experience it for yourself and visit Machu Picchu on our Peru: Machu Picchu & The Sacred Valley walking tour.

Festival of La Mercè

Every year, in late September, the city of Barcelona erupts celebrating the Festival of La Mercè, the city’s largest official holiday. Though the actual feast day of La Mercé is September 24, festivities begin a few days before the feast and generally extend until the 25th or 26th of September.

The holiday was initially organized in the 19th century to celebrate the Virgin of La Mercè, Barcelona’s Patron Saint. Legend states, that the Virgin of La Mercè first appeared in the 13th century to inspire an order of monks to defend the city, and later in 1687 she returned to save Barcelona from a locust plague. Centuries later, the feast day was officially acknowledged by the Papacy, and in 1871, the first official festival of La Mercè took place. In 1902, the event adopted its modern format, and some of the most famous features of the celebration were introduced.

The Castells is a genuinely astounding portion of La Mercè. A crowd of thousands will pack into Placa de Jaume to watch as castellers—castle makers—stand upon one another to build up human towers. The towers are comprised of three parts, a pinya (base) a tronc (trunk), and the pom de dalt (crown of the castle). The castle is only considered crowned after a child ascends the monument and salutes the crowd at the top. Castells are raised in various forms and sizes, but each assembly is a wonder to watch.

Gigantes, or the Giants Parade, is another well-loved mainstay of La Mercè. Giant statues of kings and queens make there way through the city, dancing to traditional music, and delighting the crowds. The giants often represent many of Barcelona’s neighborhoods, and are well-supported as they parade along the city’s streets.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of La Mercè is the Correfoc, or “fire-run.” Beginning at dusk, groups of individuals portraying dragons, devils, and other monsters run through the streets setting off bangers, sparklers, and fireworks. One of the few fire-runs that take place each year in Barcelona, the Correfoc is an annual crowd favorite.

These highlights of La Mercè have long since been ingrained in Barcelona’s history. Yet, with thousands of events taking place in a multitude of outdoor venues at each annual festival, La Mercè is truly an event worth experiencing for yourself. Join VBT on our Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky vacation and take part in Barcelona’s latest and largest summer celebration.

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