At the meeting point of the Tagus and Jarama rivers, this low-lying meadow was a cherished spring escape for Spanish kings and queens for many centuries. The stunning gardens of this UNESCO World Heritage Site blend architecture and nature. Have lunch at the star-studded Casa Jose restaurant (casajose. es), where sophisticated renderings of traditional Spanish dishes include grilled hake with almond and saffron and roast pork with orange and parsley.
MONASTERY OF EL ESCORIAL
This mountain town is nestled in the Sierra de Guadarrama at the foot of Mount Abantos about 30 miles from Madrid. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, the Monastery and Real Sitio de San Lorenzo are prime examples of Spain’s imperial glory. Walk through this scenic outpost which was once the powerful stronghold of Philip II King of Spain, ruler of one of the world’s largest empires.
Lisbon has been busy lately doing what it does best: embellishing its inimitable, gilded history with world-class venues for contemporary culture, art, and dining. Even as Baixa, the city’s cheerfully decrepit 18th-century downtown, applies for UNESCO World Heritage site status, a roster of starchitects among them Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava, and local talent Alvaro Siza-are vying to leave their marks on Lisbon’s parks and residential developments. While independent fashion designers and antiquarians still reign in Principe Real and Bairro Alto, interior designers have established themselves in adjacent Santos, followed by adventurous restaurateurs who are looking beyond Portugal’s borders for inspiration. And as the Continent’s capital cities seem to move ever closer to a state of homogeneity, Lisbon remains delightfully free of the signs of global bleed. (There’s exactly one Starbucks downtown, and it opened just months ago). The resulting balance of oldworld charm and edgy avant-gardecreates a dynamic that’s full of surprises and definitely worth exploring.