31 July 2010

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartes - Cathedrale Notre Dame de Chartres - in France

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres or Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres – dominates the skyline of the French provincial town of Chartres as evidenced by its titanic silhouette that can be seen from miles away. Surviving a tumultuous history of fire and destruction since 743, including a lightning strike in 1194 that destroyed most of the magnificent Romanesque basilica save the western façade (front), the towers (not including spires) and the crypt, the Chartes cathedral we see today was consecrated in 1260, save the northern tower which was completed in 1507. Note the two very distinct architectural designs of these towers betraying its devastating history.

For over 1000 years, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres has been a pilgrimage for Christians seeking a glimpse of one of the holiest relics possessed by any church in the world – the veil of the Virgin Mary – presented to the cathedral in 876. Because this relic survived the 1194 destruction, it is believed that Mary herself saved this sacred remnant and proclaimed the construction of the new cathedral.

A fascinating history awaits at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. Be sure to take the time to wander through this charming medieval town and sample the pastries and breads!

18 July 2010

Notre Dame Catherdral in Paris, France - "Our Lady of Paris"

Steeped in the history of Paris and the focal point of classical literature, Notre Dame, "Our Lady of Paris," Cathedral is a must see and should be included in all Parisian itineraries. Imagine visiting the home of Quasimodo and climbing to his loft high in the bell tower for the most breathtaking views of Paris.

Standing on the Ile de la Cité for almost 1,000 years, Notre Dame Cathedral took nearly 200 years to build from the time the first stone was laid in 1163 during what was known as the the "Gothic" movement, to 1345, when the final phases were completed.

To see 360 degree views from many a perspective, check out this page full of Virtual Tours. The page takes a few moments to load but well worth the wait! To zoom in, hold down your "shift" key. To zoom back out, it's "control." Very cool!

Gargoyles keep vigilance over all those below on the Ile de la Cité and the surrounding city of Paris.

If you're in pretty good shape and feel up to the task of climbing all 387 steps to the top of the South Bell Tower, I strongly recommend you do this for the most spectacular views of Paris. The entrance to the stairways is located just to the left of the Notre Dame Cathedral's main entrance. Once underway, you can stop at the gift shop for a quick respite and do a little shopping. Then, continue up to the top of the main building for more amazing views of Paris. You can stop here if you want and head back down or if you're feeling adventurous and want more, continue to the top of the bell tower for the most stunning bird's-eye view. You won't be disappointed!

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04 July 2010

Chateau de Chambord - the crown jewel of the Loire Valley in France

Chateau de Chambord - the largest of the Loire Valley chateaux - is a masterful blend of French Renaissance and Italian Classical architecture influenced by many designers including Leonardo da Vinci according to legend. Located in the Loire Valley in France, about 180 km or 112 miles south of Paris, the Chateau de Chambord, was originally designed to be a hunting lodge for King Francois I when construction began in 1519. Far from cozy, this stone-cold Chateau was considered too cold for comfort by the king who ended up visiting only a few times during his reign. Despite construction ending in 1547, the Chateau de Chambord remains unfinished today.

Undoubtedly one of the most recognizable of the Loire Chateaux, the Chateau de Chambord's most notable features are its turreted roof top that resembles a French provincial village and its interior double-helix stone stairway in which two separate stairways intertwine around a central axis that would allow some to ascend while others descend without ever passing each other along the way.

If you're planning a holiday to Paris, be sure to include the Loire Chateaux in your itinerary. It's a full-day tour that runs from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. and includes visits to ChenonceauCheverny including lunch, and finally Chambord. A fascinating journey awaits along the River Loire and the Chateau de Chambord. Learn more about this and other tours to the Loire Valley.

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01 July 2010

The allure of Montepulciano in Tuscany, Italy beckons to all travelers!

The allure of Tuscany with its picturesque hilltop towns perched high atop the sun-drenched hills beckons to visitors with its medieval charm and historic piazzas.  Montepulciano has attracted visitors to this region of Italy for decades, if not centuries and it's only one of many historical citadels throughout the romantic province.  Mostly known for its regional Vino Nobile wines, a visit to Montepulciano delivers on the promise of that quintessential Tuscan experience!  Read more about Montepulciano and take a photo tour!