Can’t decide where and what to visit? Let yourself go by “areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance”. These sites are places spread throughout the globe, which for some characteristic or features are considered to be of “outstanding universal value to humanity” and, therefore, should be protected and cared for, for future generations to enjoy as much as we currently do. Get on one of Renfe-SNCF in Cooperation’s trains, and take a tour of UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread through France and Spain.
The Historic Center of Avignon
A UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, with particular emphasis on 3 places: the Palais des Papes, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms and the Pont d’Avignon.
Palais des Papes
The Palace of the Popes, once a rival to the Vatican, is considered one of the largest and most relevant medieval gothic buildings in Europe. Originally built in the 14th century, the palace was home to several popes, before they felt the need to return to Rome for political reasons.
Made up of over 25 open rooms, the palace is open for people to visit and marvel at the inside as well as the outside. Lavishly decorated with numerous paintings from different artists, the building is the perfect example of Gothic architecture, and has witnessed hundreds of years of history go by. The palace is open to visitors every day of the year, all year long, and audio guides are available in 11 different languages.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms
Located right next to the Palace of the Popes, the cathedral is the perfect place to visit after exploring the palace. Dating back to the first half of the 12th century (in 2011 it celebrated its 900th birthday), it was built in provençal Romanesque style, and is still used today for events, celebrations and weekly mass. Open to the public for visitation, it is filled to the brim with religious objects, paintings, sculptures and some tombs, which you will not want to miss the opportunity to see.
Also known as the Pont D’Avignon (or Avignon Bridge), it is a medieval bridge stretching over the Rhone River, only 4 arches of which remain today. According to legend, the bridge’s construction was inspired by shepherd boy Saint Bénézet, who heard Jesus telling him to build it. Although initially humiliated, he was able to form a Brotherhood to build it after proving his divine guidance by lifting an impossibly heavy stone block. Destroyed more than once over the centuries, fault of both invasions and floods, UNESCO has promised to protect the 4 arches that still stand over the Rhone today.
Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne
Famous for its giant medieval fortified settlement, Cité de Carcassonne, which sits on a hill behind the river Aude, watching over the whole city.
The Cité is most known for its massive defenses, double walls that stretch around the entire town for approximately 3 km with 52 towers built in, its winding, cobblestone streets and beautifully built cathedral. The town is said to have seen over 2500 years of history, and have been occupied by several different civilizations and tribes. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, for its exceptional example of medieval architecture, and due to the renovation work carried out in the 19th century. For more information about spending a weekend away in Carcassonne, read here.
Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau
Designed by Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Muntaner at the beginning of the 19 hundreds, both of these building were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage for being “masterpieces of the imaginative and exuberant Art Nouveau”.
The Palau de la Música Catalana
The Palau de la Música Catalana is a concert hall located in the center of Barcelona, richly decorated with countless pillars, sculptures, statues and the beautiful dome built into the building’s architecture. Over the years it has undergone many repairs and renovations, but is still used today to host numerous concerts, shows and dances.
Hospital de Sant Pau
Also located in central Barcelona, was built due to the rapid growth of Barcelona's population in 1902. It was declared, along with the Palau de la Música Catalana, UNESCO World Heritage in 1997, and remained a fully functioning hospital all the way up to 2009. Recently it has been object of restoration, to be used as a cultural center and museum. For other places to visit in Barcelona, check out these places off the beaten track.
Archaeological Ensemble of Tarracó.
Though today known as Tarragona, over 2000 years ago the Romans knew this place as Tarracó
Although not intact, several building and Roman ruins have been uncovered in archaeological digs over the years, many hidden underneath or as part of modern buildings, which are estimated to date back to the 3rd century BC. The area used to be an important mercantile and administrative city, and there for was rich with many beautiful buildings, walls, churches, theatres and amphitheaters, parts of which are still visible.
In 2000, the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage City, for, among other reasons, “providing eloquent and unparalleled testimony to a significant stage in the history of the Mediterranean lands in antiquity.”