Have you ever considered hopping on a train to explore your holiday surroundings? If not, you really should. On a train you can give the scenery all of your attention and be as snap-happy as you like. There are no worries about parking or getting lost, and by lunchtime you can arrive refreshed and ready to explore another place that you might not otherwise has found. Let me tell you about some of my favourites.
Take a train along the ‘Orange Blossom Coast’ from Gandia or Alicante to Valencia. The third largest city in Spain after Barcelona and Madrid, Valencia hosts amazing cultural and historical highlights, merged beautifully with modern buildings and attractions.
On one side of the coin you have Valencia Cathedral. Architecturally it’s mainly Gothic, but there are parts from three distinct periods, making it a fascinating sight to behold. Its Miguelete Tower is easily spotted in the city’s skyline and provides great views. In the same square you’ll find Virgen de los Desamparados Basilica and Santo Domingo Convent, built by the Dominicans in the 13th century. Other interesting churches can be found in the historic quarter, such as Santa Catalina, San Nicolás and San Martín.
On the flip side of the coin in the modern part of the Valencia, there’s the ‘City of Arts and Science’, which houses a Science Museum, a Planetarium, the Arts Museum and the Aquarium, which is the largest in Europe. The latter provides several fascinating sections, from the ‘Arctic’ to the ‘Mediterranean’, with an underwater restaurant and vast viewing galleries where you can watch sharks, rays and other amazing species glide above your head.
From here, you’ll see the old Tùria riverbed, which snakes through the city much like the Thames. The big difference being that the Tùria was flood-prone, so it was converted to a huge green park spanning many neighbourhoods. Here you’ll find soccer and rugby fields, an artificial boating lake, athletics track, bike paths, playgrounds, fountains, and trails.
The Barri del Carme neighbourhood is in the old centre and worth a visit to see how a seemingly forgotten area has been reborn, now an up and coming, diverse community, with outdoor cafés and trendy shops by day and buzzing streets by night. Mercado Central – also known as Mercat Central – is a public market building where locals go for fresh fruits, olives and meat. Also considered one of the oldest European markets, it’s a must if you’re nearby.
Another favourite route has to be between Lucca and Florence. You’ll need at least a day in either of these stunning places, both capturing the essence of Italy in different ways. Less popularised Lucca has a walled centre so it has little traffic – great for seeing by bike and perhaps better to visit by train. As you weave your way through cobbled streets or along the top of its wall, magnificent churches, market squares and typically Italian architecture are awe-inspiring.
To see beautiful Lucca from above you’ll need to climb the Guingi Tower – a fantastic example of Romanesque-Gothic Lucca architecture. Back on the ground, you should seek out Piazza Anfi teatro – an amphitheatre built up of buildings hosting street cafés. Wander the streets for a few hours and you’ll come across other historic spectacles, including Lucca cathedral, also known as Duomo of San Martino.
Florence meanwhile – or Firenze to Italians – is the capital of Tuscany and known as “the Athens of the Middle ages”. The city is renowned for Renaissance art and architecture, monuments, museums, fashion and art galleries. For a snap shot of this great city, start with Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which was once occupied by butcher shops. Apparently they used to throw their unwanted meat into the river! Thankfully the shops now belong to jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.
For a view of the city to die for take a bus or taxi to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a fantastic lookout point and presents no less than Michelangelo’s statue of David. From here you’ll also see one of the most recognisable Duomo’s – the Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore. If you’re looking to soak up a spot of art, then the Uffizi Gallery is for you; here you’ll see works by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo.
Before heading back to the train station you should take in Palazzo Vecchio – the city’s town hall with its huge clock tower presiding over the old main square, surrounded by superb statues and colourful cafés. Now mainly a museum, it remains an important government building with the major of Florence in residence.
There are two main railway lines in Mallorca, one connecting Palma to Manacor and Sa Pobla and the other running the scenic, vintage train from Palma to Soller. If you choose the latter, you can pick this up from the Plaza de Espana Station in Palma. This train is called Ferrocarril de Soller, but is also known as the ‘Red Rooster’. You can learn more about the route from our blog post ‘Your Holiday In Mallorca By Season‘.
From Sa Pobla in the northeast you can also travel south to Palma and experience the island’s capital. There’s plenty to do in Palma – start with its beautiful cathedral then work your way around. Alternatively if you choose not to go as far as Palma, hop off at Inca, known as the ‘city of leather’ with its choice of leather factories. If you’re looking for markets, don’t go home without visiting here on a Thursday where the streets around Placa d’Espanya are taken over. Choose between returning to your villa laden with fresh produce to cook up, or stay a little longer and eat at an old wine cellar, converted into a restaurant.