The first part of our hike on the Dry Stone Route in Mallorca had taken us from the pretty artist’s village of Deia to the busy resort of Port de Soller and up into the Tramuntana mountain range. Read about Part 1 of the walk here. Reaching the Cuber reservoir we took the bus to the monastery at Lluc, since the Refugi de Tossals Verds where we’d hoped to stay was closed for rennovation. After a night in the simple monastery guest accommodation overlooking the front of the church, we decided to attend Sunday mass at 11 o’clock to hear the famous Blauet choir sing, since we would be spending two nights at the monastery and didn’t have to walk on anywhere that day.
Mass with El Blauets
The children of the choir school filed out to a packed church, wearing the bright blue robes that give the choir its name. As mass began a painted screen slid back to reveal the small statue of the Madonna known as La Moreneta or little one above the altar, wearing her crown. When mass was finished the screen closed and the statue turned around to face the opposite direction where she could be seen in the prayer chapel which is reached by the stairs running up beside the altar.
It was a lovely service with beautiful singing, only marred by those tourists who could not resist taking constant flash photography and a woman who even walked up and down the central aisle to video everything on her phone. One of the young girls from the choir appeared to be making her confirmation and had not one but two photographers taking photos constantly from every angle, even walking right up behind the altar to take close-ups of the choir. Being a Catholic I was quite horrified by the disrespectful attitude of some visitors who seemed to view the mass like a visit to the zoo and could not believe how patient and good humoured the priest was about it all!
After mass we set off along the GR221 to follow it in the opposite direction, the path that we would have come down had we stayed at the Refugi Tossal Verdes rather than skipping part of the route by bus. Not far from the monastery gates we picked up the familiar cobbled stone path from which the Dry Stone Route gets its name. There was a water collection point nearby fed by a spring from the mountains, where people were bringing huge plastic containers to fill up for their week’s drinking water.
Sitges and Ice pits in the woods
Passing through the holm oaks we passed a number of Sitges or circular, stone charcoal burning hearths. Until the 1920s the charcoal burners would live all summer in the woods in simple stone huts with branches and leaves for a roof and we passed quite a few on the walk. Another feature of the landscape were the deep snow pits lined with stones, which in the days before refrigeration, were filled with blocks of ice from the mountains packed down and covered with leaves to keep them from melting.
Views from the Puig d’en Galileu
We emerged from the woodland onto the side of the Puig d’en Galileu on a cobbled stone path with dry stone retaining walls which ziz zagged at a relatively gentle gradient up to the top of the mountain where there was a plateau just below a rocky crest. From here there were wonderful views across the valley, down towards the monastery at Lluc and across towards the coast and the cleft of the Torrent de Parais, a popular walking route along the gorge.
We stopped at the crest and sat on a boulder for a picnic lunch but soon the views were hidden by the cloud cover swirling in and covering the rocky peaks where the path would take us up over the pass. We decided that rather than climb further into the cloud, with the risk of losing our way, we would retrace our steps down into the valley again and returned by the way we had come.
The Museum at Lluc Monastery
We arrived back at Lluc monastery around 4pm, just in time to take a look around the interesting museum with old archaeological artefacts, some beautiful Mallorcan costumes and traditional furniture like the carved and canopied bedstead. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of paintings depicting scenes from Mallorcan life by the impressionistic artist Josep Coll Bardolet, a Spanish painter whose adoptive home was Valdemossa.
After breakfast the next day we took the opportunity to walk the path with the stations of the rosary within the monastery grounds, which took us up to a rocky pinacle with a huge iron cross overlooking the monastery. The pilgrim’s road took us out of the gates of Lluc monastery, through the fields and up to the Refuge of Son Amer, which like many of the Refugi along the Dry Stone Route, had been recently restored to encourage rural and walking tourism.
The path wound up through pine forest on the slopes of the Puig Ferner and despite the overcast weather this was the best part of the day as we walked amid the pines and past lime kilns and old stone enclosures. The bright green moss made cushions of the rocks and the path was soft with a covering of pine needles which gave off their scent when trodden underfoot. The air was quiet apart from the trill of birdsong and the distant whirr of traffic from the road down below.
Through the woods to Pollença
The way followed the Cami Vel de Lluc, the old pilgrim’s way which turned for a while into small tarmac road between fields with occasional houses. As we descended towards Pollença, the rain became steady and we entered a thick pine forest which sheltered us from the worst of it. The heavy woodland cover would have been refreshingly cool on a hot summer’s day but felt damp and eerie in the rain. It seemed as if we had entered a scene from the Hobbit, where the trees might come alive and turn on us at any moment.
The final stretch was along a river and then a busy road heading into Pollença, where we missed the smaller paths a few times and ended up walking beside the traffic which was both dangerous and unpleasant. Finally arriving in the central Placa of Pollença, we took shelter in a cafe with the tourists from the nearby beach resort, their sunshine holiday being rather spoiled by the rain.
Staying at Port de Pollença
In the cafe we received stone-faced glances from the staff and concluded that our boots and dripping rucksacks were not welcome, so after a coffee we took the bus into Port de Pollença where a much warmer welcome awaited us at the seafront hotel of Sis Pins. This was clearly a haven for the mid-life Brit abroad with plenty of older couples, a cheerful English receptionist and kettles in every room.
We spent the evening exploring the busy resort of Port de Pollença finding a pleasant Italian restaurant for dinner in the main square. Thankfully the sunshine had returned by the next morning and we took the bus back to Palma, leaving our rucksacks in the lockers at the Placa Espanya above the underground coach station.
Sightseeing in Palma
Since our flight was not until the evening, we wandered around the old quarter, looked in the shoe shops and came across an art museum, the Museo Fundacion Juan March. Housed in an elegant 18th century mansion along one of the main shopping street this was a real find, since it was not only free but housed a world class exhibition of modern painting and sculpture that included Picasso, Dali and Miro.
Next stop was La Seu, the cathedral of Santa Maria in Palma, which dominates the view from the sea and is the number one tourist hotspot. Of course we couldn’t miss it but before going in we walked all around the terrace overlooking the lake and seafront, noticing the horse-drawn carriages ready to take you around the town.
The cathedral is a huge and inspiring structure, which although medieval in origin has gorgeous Modernista influences that were added by Antonio Gaudi in the 19th century. I especially loved the more recent side chapel by contemporary Spanish artist, Miquel Barceló where the ceramic surface was covered with fish and other wriggling, writhing creatures.
After visiting that cathedral we wandered around the old streets near the cathedral, eating ice cream, photographing the two well-known Modernista houses of Can Rei and L’Aquilla and finally stopping for a drink in a leafy square.
Before long our short sightseeing tour of Palma was up and it was time to return to the Placa Espanya to pick up our bags and return to the airport. Our walking break had taken us from quiet mountain villages to busy coastal resorts, from the views of the Tramuntana mountains to the buzzing town squares packed with bars and restaurants and finally to the sophisticated island capital of Palma. Next time I’d love to go back with for a driving holiday to explore even more of the hidden charms of Mallorca away from the coast. For me those mountain paths and quiet villages feel like the real Mallorca.
If you’d like to walk the Dry Stone Route
If you plan to walk the GR221 Dry Stone Route I recommend the guide book that we used Trekking through Mallorca – GR221 The Dry Stone Route by Paddy Dillon published by Cicerone.
To get to Palma airport from the centre of Palma we took the airport bus No 1 which runs every 15 minutes from Placa d’Espana where the train and bus station are located. Cost around €3 one way.
Information on routes, timetables and costs of the excellent regular bus service throughout Mallorca, visit the www.tib.org Mallorca Transport website. We used the bus to get from Palma to Deia, from Cuber to Lluc and from Pollenca to Palma.
You can buy the rather uncomplimentary account of Mallorca “A Winter in Mallorca” written by George Sand about the winter she spent there with her lover, the composer Frederick Chopin.
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Milan, Italy’s second city, is a complex paradox, the capital of Italian commerce, industry, finance and fashion (its design and fashion shows are actually big business trade fairs) yet for the cognoscenti it offers easily discovered cultural and epicurean treasures.
Perhaps this constant eye toward commerce is what makes the city, as a tourist destination, a little understated, a little too northern European with high-rise towers and banks that outnumber the churches. Yet when you walk the city’s streets, immersing yourself into a culture that is firmly rooted in fashion, art, opera and delicate aperitivos eaten al fresco atop cobbled streets, you come to realise that Milan is much more than the sum of its sometimes shallow parts.
The city hosts a little bit of something for every type of person – not just world-class shopping but a well-wired and vibrant cultural scene too. The undeniably creative atmosphere is a pleasure to explore and when you do, you’ll note that Milan has more history than the shiny skyscrapers, grimy backstreets and freshly manicured nails of its denizens tend to remember.
Fashion in the Rectangle of Gold
If it’s fashion that you want then point your Louboutin’s towards the Quadrilatero d’Oro – otherwise known as the Rectangle of Gold, to explore everything from Dior to Versace and all the usual suspects all within easy walking distance of each other. Be sure to take a well-heeled walk around the Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II, which amongst other things is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world – with Prada’s flagship store now celebrating its 101st year there. Bargain hunters should take a look around the area for the outlets that stock floors of past seasons bargains. However if your tastes are slightly more avant garde then take a walk to Via P. Paoli 1, where you’ll find the Antonioli concept store – a unique space where you can shop contemporary designers such as Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto in a beautifully designed store.
The shows in spring and summer are, to many, the highlight of the fashion calendar, with starlets from all corners of the world, heading to the Palazzo Reale or the Palazzo Serbelloni, to get a first look at the designs of the elites of Italian fashion such as Dolce & Gabbana, Marni and Moschino. If you don’t have an invite to a show then there are still plenty of opportunities to strut your stuff – whether outside the venues (prepare for the street-style paparazzi) or in one of the city’s trendy bars.
Culture in Milan
To some it’s surprising that this sometimes-grey city is where Leonardo da Vinci found the perfect setting to exercise his brilliance. You could spend days here retracing his footsteps – from the Sforza Castle with his painted Mulberry tree frescoes, to the various exhibits of both his work in art and science in the city’s museums. Best known is the breathtaking Last Supper fresco, which hides on a refectory wall behind the antique façade of the UNESCO listed Santa Maria delle Grazie church.
Aesthetes should dedicate time to the astounding gothic beauty of the Duomo. Its size is staggering, a construct which took 5 years to complete – it is the largest cathedral in Italy. Inside the looming façade, the numerous works of art and icons on offer create a brooding atmosphere – the most striking of which is the statue of Saint Bartholomew Flayed, by Marco d’Agrate.
The saint stands, muscle and tissue exposed, holding a book, his flayed skin thrown over his shoulder like a robe. Those with a love of opera should make reservations to the Teatro Alla Scala, though any one with even a passing interest in the arts and architecture should make an effort to see the impressive stage, which first raised its curtains in 1778. Art lovers shouldn’t miss Tiepolo’s frescoes at the Palazzo Clerici or the works of art concealed within the Pinacoteca di Brera.
It goes without saying that Italy is well known for its food – but Milan often, rather unfairly, slips under the radar. Let’s make it simple. When in Milan – sate your hunger with local cheeses, butters and milks – note that rice is more popular than pasta in many circles, it does absorb the creams and cheeses that bit better – and try local greats like gorgonzola, polenta topped with mushrooms and of course the famous Panettone cake – originally from Milan and generally reserved for Christmas in these parts.
Now let’s set the scene: Milan, 6pm, the bars and restaurants of the city are filled with locals and tourists alike for Aperitivo hour. Where do you go? For the classic experience I’d suggest the haute bars around the Piazzo Duomo, especially Zucca in the Galleria, which is where the likes of Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini would dine after performances at La Scala next door – the historical ambience, and the view of the Duomo completes the authenticity. For those in need of a slightly more stylish setting then try Brera district, or, for something a little more elaborate, try the Navigli district, where the da Vinci designed canals wind along the narrow streets. Try one of the houseboats docked in the canals, where Aperitivo is often accompanied by live music.
But what is Aperitivo you ask? Aperitivo is a well-established northern Italian culinary tradition, and Milan (from the 1920’s anyway) is the capital of it. It’s about drinks and food. A harmony of flavours propelled to sainthood, through offers of after work relaxation and the pleasure of conversation paired with great, though simple food. Try a spritz or a Negroni sbagliato (a delicious mix of prosecco, red vermouth and Aperol instead of gin) paired with a smorgasbord of olives, nuts, bruschetta, cheeses and other stuzzichini (finger food).
Drinks cost anywhere from 7 to 15 euros and come with either a table mix of the above or, in some cases, all you can eat buffets – perhaps the last thing you would expect, when all around you, the Milanese strut in precision heels, pristinely turned out with perfectly pinched waistlines.
Take a few days to experience what the city has to offer – stay away, if you can, from the bustling Milano Centrale Station area, and instead stick to the Piazzas where you can sit in the company of history and simply watch the (Milanese) world go by, sipping your espresso, nibbling on a biscotti and absorbing the very special magic of Milan.
About the author: David Jacobs is a travel writer and editor of Euro Travel Magazine – an online publication which focuses on the whole of Europe, from the mysterious Orkneys to the wine dark seas of the Aegean.
Photo Credits: Shopping in Milan – Mike and Annabel Beales on Flickr, Castello Sforzesco, Milan – Mike and Annabel Beales on Flickr, Rooftop of Milan cathedral – Stefan Karpiniec, Saint Bartholomew – Antonio Trogu, Milan at night – Alex LA, Milan station – Richard Evea
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The modern glass cube of the Museion in Bolzano sits confidently facing the river, two pedestrian bridges snaking away from it, a contrast to the nondescript apartment buildings on either side. I visited the Museion when I was in South Tyrol in September, curious to see what a modern art museum was doing in this traditional Italian town in the Alps.
The Museion Museum of Modern Art reminded me very much of the Arnolfini centre for contemporary arts that sits beside the harbour in Bristol where I live. It’s a place that specialises in those conceptual art exhibitions that you go and see out of curiosity, to have a good laugh at the latest outlandish concept that is on show in the name of art.
Last time I was at the Anolfini, a whole gallery was flooded with a few inches of water, with slabs of what looked like tree trunks for you to cross the room. Then there was the performance of silent dancing, when the audience and performers wore headphones and the dancers shuffled and twisted their way around the room, seemingly in silence if you didn’t have the benefit of the headphones. But is it Art? Perhaps, but not as we know it!
At Museion, I met up with Sarah Greenwood, the English born Head of Marketing who told me how the Museion had caused quite a bit of local controversy when it was built in 2008 by Berlin architects KSV. “Couldn’t a local architect have been found?” asked the locals, and “how will this modern building fit with the older, more traditional buildings of Bolzano?”.
In a town that was once part of Austria, now part of Italy, it’s always a challenge to integrate the two cultures, so the two curving bridges across the river were built at the same time, to link the older German influenced part of town with the newer, Italian neighbourhood on the other side of the river.
Sarah told me how the Museion aims to be a catalyst for change, which is sometimes hard work in a conservative area and so the space is designed for locals to come in and get to know the Museion. The ground floor “Passage'” is an open space with light flowing from the glass fronts on each side of the building. It is designed to create a community and exhibition space where local groups can meet with courses, events and exhibitions being held here. On Thursday evenings, the facade that faces the river shows video art projections with the sound coming from speakers built into the benches outside, so that you can come with a picnic or glass of wine to enjoy the show.
If, like me, you are appreciative but not especially knowledgeable about the art world, you might need to understand the distinction between Contemporary Art – the work of living artists from the 1950s onwards, and Modern Art – the work of artists from 1900 to the 1950s.
If visiting Museion, you might also need to suspend any belief that Art is designed to be beautiful, to please the eye, to deliver a sigh of pleasure. In contrast, the Contemporary Art that Museion presents is conceptual in nature. That is to say that it aims to express what the artist feels or perceives and to provoke in you, the audience, some kind of emotion; happiness, curiosity, even disgust.
All of which means that it may challenge your concept of what Art is or should be. Understandable then, that the locals sometimes wonder if their tax-payer’s money is being well spent. But as Sarah told me, “Sometimes the people of Bolzano don’t realise that they can come here to see the top contemporary artists in the world who have shown in The Tate Modern in London or MoMA in New York”.
On the first floor of Museion when I visited was an exhibition of minimalist art “When now is minimal”, featuring pieces from the Goetz collection in Berlin, put together by an individual art collector, Mrs Ingvild Goetz. The idea of minimalist art is that it does not evoke anything but itself – what you see is what you see.
One of the most extreme examples of this was by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei; “Tea cube” was a brown pressed cube, a couple of feet square made of pressed tea. Mmm, while I like a nice cup of tea, I’m not quite sure about that as a piece of art.
Since the artist has been targeted by the Chinese government for his political views, I did have some affinity with the more attractive art-work named “Coloured”, a row of coloured vases on a shelf. To the untrained eye, these may look like brightly painted pots on a shelf. In fact they are Ming vases which have been painted with layers of coloured emulsion paint. You see, it’s all about what’s going on inside and outside, what’s being covered up.
In a room on its own was the piece by Martin Boyce; “We are resistant, we dry out in the sun (our dreams merge and hang in the air like chlorine vapours)”. The artificial setting of neon palm trees or perhaps sun umbrellas with coloured sun loungers was as far from the natural beauty of a holiday postcard as you could get. Ahh, but when did art have to be pretty?
Looking a bit like an optical illusion was the painting by Chinese artist, Wang Guangle which mounted on a white wall looked like a dark corridor or hole in the ground, depending on your point of view. I learned that the shaded effect is created by building up layers of paint over time, inspired by the tradition in the artist’s home town of Fujian of building up layers of laquer each year on your own coffin. Was it coincidence that the resulting painting reminded me of looking into my own grave or perhaps into my future?
Another favourite conceptual artist in the collection is Rosemary Trockel, something of an artistic feminist, her work making a comment on woman’s place in society or in the art-world itself. A giant red knitted panel 3 metres square, mounted on the wall was called “Old Friend”, but the piece de resistance was a white square with black circles, which on closer inspection turned out to be the artist’s interpretation of an electric hot-plate. Is the art-world sexist? Why can’t the everyday objects from womenkind’s experience be art too?
Upstairs the whole floor was dedicated to an exhibition of Tatiana Trouvé, a French/ Italian artist whose exhibition was entitled I Tempi Doppi exploring the theme of parallel worlds and Deja Vu. The major installation filling half of the open space was called 350 points towards infinity, with metal plumb lines strung at angles from the ceiling to the floor, like bullets frozen in flight. On looking closely, you realise that in an Alice-in-wonderland un-reality, the plum-lines hover mysteriously a couple of inches from the floor, the effect created by magnets hidden under a false floor.
Other works included a twist of metal wire, with light bulbs at either end, going from dark to light. Is good and bad, light and dark just two ends of the same reality?
Then there were those suitcases, just like the ordinary plastic suitcases that our parents used. Only these suitcases are cast from bronze and coloured to look like ordinary plastic suitcases. A cord attaches the suitcases to the ceiling where a number of luggage tags hang, 100 tags for 100 years perhaps? There’s only one tag on the suitcase though and it says; The Passing Past 2014, and it lists some everyday objects. A pencil, swimsuit, cushion, mattresses, brushes.
In the corner nearby is a pile of cardboard wrappings, folded up ready for recycling with some cloths that were used to wrap the artworks in transportation. But this is another artwork called “Refolding”, cast in bronze and representing the packaging that gets thrown away after an art exhibition. While I found beauty in the shooting shafts of the 350 points to infinity, I felt that Tatiana was pushing her luck here. As Dolly Parton said, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”.
I’ll finish our tour of Museion with a piece that did make me smile and bring out my inner child. A low, red rectangle sculpture on the floor turned out to be a pile of posters – shareable art from Felix Gonzalez-Torres that you are invited to take away. They even provide elastic bands so that you can roll up your poster and take it home. I can imagine that visiting school children are thrilled with the idea of taking a real piece of art home from their local art museum, their parents perhaps less so at having a big red rectangle to put on their living room wall!
If you visit the Museion, you’ll find different artwork and exhibitions from the ones I saw last September, but no doubt as beautiful, extreme and thought provoking as these. Suspend your ideas of what art may be and embrace the experience with an open mind. This is art that will make you laugh, make you puzzled, make you wonder whether it was worth the cost, but that’s the whole point after all.
If you go: Museion, Via Dante 6, 39100 Bolzano / Bozen, Italy. Open daily except Monday 10am-6pm, and 10am-10pm on Thursdays. Check the website to confirm opening times and times of any guided tours. Admission: Adults €7, children free. I highly recommend that you converse with the knowledgeable staff to discover more about the artworks, just so you understand more about the story behind them. Follow on Social Media: Twitter @MuseionBZ | Facebook | YouTube | Pinterest |
Information, articles and resources for South Tyrol
For more information to plan your own visit, find accommodation and discover all the things to do in South Tyrol, visit the South Tyrol Tourism website and watch videos about the region on their YouTube channel. For updates on things to do in South Tyrol follow the South Tyrol Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram pages
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