Summer Solstice Celebration in Gruyeres, Switzerland

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Knight with armor-bearer. Gruyeres feast. Switzerland.

Knight with armor-bearer. Summer solstice celebration in Gruyeres, Switzerland.

We wanted to visit Switzerland long ago, but we didn’t know what we could find there that was interesting. However, after a wonderful time at the Venice Carnival, the wish to see other medieval festivals in Europe suggested a solution. St. John’s Day in Gruyères, Switzerland, is held in June and coincides with the summer solstice.

For our distant ancestors in pre-Christian times, the summer solstice was the main celebration of the year. Seems, it was time for us now to follow tradition and jump over a ritual bonfire hand in hand.

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Castles of the Knights Templar in Portugal’s History

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Templar's convent and castle in Tomar, Portugal.

Templar’s convent and castle in Tomar, Portugal.

Upon arrival at the Lisbon airport on January 5th, we stayed there only long enough to claim our baggage; a very eventful 10-day car trip around Portugal’s cities awaited us. Our GPS navigator calculated a course and we moved to a little-known Portuguese village, Alvega. Ninety minutes later, our rented Citroen was already parked at the Manor House Solar de Alvega.

That ancient house was chosen to be the starting point for our fascinating acquaintance with Portuguese history. The best places to visit in Portugal we had already identified at home, in advance. Judge for yourself. Within a radius of a hundred kilometers around Alvega, there were such historic Portuguese cities as:

  • Alcobaca with the gravestone of the most popular Portuguese Queen, Ines de Castro;
  • Tomar which has been the capital of the Portuguese Knights Templar since the 12th century;
  • the Almourol Castle, the Templars’ outpost on the Tejo River;
  • Coimbra, one of the first Portuguese capitals;
  • and the unique Portuguese village of Monsanto which would surprise us a bit later.

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Monsanto: the Most NON-typical Portuguese Village

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In the medieval Monsanto Village. Portugal.

In 1938, the Portuguese gave the village of Monsanto the title of “the most Portuguese village of Portugal.” It is strange. During this visit to Portugal, we drove about 1.500 km exploring the historic places of Idanha-a-Velha and other central provinces of Portugal, and never saw anything similar to this “typical” Portuguese village. All other Portuguese villages and towns, at least in these regions, are made of white stone from roofs to sidewalks.

Monsanto Village is unique both for Portugal and Europe. The village seems not to have changed since medieval times. It is a museum like the Belgian town Bruges. I’d say this is the most NON-typical village in Portugal.

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