Avid travelers who enjoy visiting Spain and France have made it a priority to experience the Louvre in Paris and El Prado in Madrid. Both of these iconic museums are must-sees and are more than worthy of several visits. But, often some of the smaller and less well-known museums in both these countries have heirloom, off-the-beaten-path galleries, and show places that are well worth spending time in and around.
Edith Piaf Museum
The small Musée d’Edith Piaf is open two days a week in the afternoons and by appointment only. If you do not speak French, your hotel concierge will call for you. Piaf, known as France’s national chanteuse, died in 1963 but left behind a legacy of emotional and dramatic song renditions. Instituted by a lifelong fan, Bernard Marchois, in his apartment, the homage to Ms. Piaf is intimate and moving. Bernard will share anecdotes and memorabilia surrounding the life of Piaf from the viewpoint of one of Edith’s most loyal fans, Marchois. To fully enjoy and understand the museum, you may want to watch the movie La Vie en Rose (2007) before you visit.
Musée du Vin
This museum, located at 5 Square Charles Dickens/Rue des Eaux, features extensive stone-vaulted cellars and walkways that lead to ancient quarry tunnels where builders claimed the stone used to build Notre Dame. These tunnels were later changed to accommodate wine produced by monks for the Passy Monastery, up until the 14th century. Now one of the most remarkable cultural locations to dine, the restaurant serves its own Château Labastidie black currant wine. Touring the cellars includes displays of waxwork peasants working, bottles, old tools, and corkscrews. The visit wraps up with a wine tasting and a delicious meal (extra payment).
Musée de Cluny
For those who love the medieval period, this museum is a must-see. Located in a 13th-century abbey home in Paris’ Latin Quarter, the building itself is an outstanding example of French medieval architecture. The gallery holds 2,300 paintings from the Gallic period and up to the 16th-century. Also included are stained glass windows from Saint Chapelle and Romanesque and Gothic sculptures. Visitors on the first Sunday of every month may visit the museum at no cost.
Musée des Arts et Métiers
The Museum of Arts and Crafts is one of the oldest technical and industrial museums in the world and is a place to have enormous fun. The museum furnishes audioguides, but you can fly solo, as well. Every Sunday, family visits are encouraged from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. for adults and kids from 7- to 12-years-old. The spirited museum offers science guides, guided tours, and demonstrations, in the areas of communication, measuring time, scientific instruments, construction, energy, mechanics, and transportation.
Maison de Victor Hugo
The writer, Victor Hugo, moved to this Place des Vosges in 1832 and wrote parts of Les Misérables at this location. The reconstructed rooms allow visitors to imagine where the renowned writer spent his last days. This house was given to the city of Paris in 1927 by Victor Hugo‘s descendants.
La Casa Encendida
The focus of this gallery is to promote and support local, unknown artists. Visiting this venue will allow visitors an inside look into the culture of Madrid. Exhibitions take place on the ground floor. The rest of the building hosts artistic film screenings, cultural events, radio shows, debates, and more. La Casa Encendida may be one of the most interactive museums you have ever visited. The gallery has a library, classes, and free entry. This museum is on Ronda Valencia.
Real Academia Bellas Artes San Fernando
Although not always a part of tours of the city, this museum’s collection includes five centuries and multiple schools of art. From the Renaissance to today, the 59 rooms explode with Spanish, Italian, and flamenco art. Iconic artists who studied at the Royal Academy include Picasso, Dali, and Goya, who once was director of the museum. The gallery is on Alcalá.
This 21st-Century Center is the definition of spectacular. The building was previously the old Mediodía electric power station but experienced a redesign by the Herzog & De Meuron architectural studio. As potential visitors walk toward the building, they will notice the seeming levitation of the artifice and the vertical garden that adorns the building. Inside are exhibition halls, an auditorium, multipurpose conference rooms, a café, a shop, a bookstore, and a restaurant. This architectural wonder has to be seen to understand fully.
Monastery of Las Descalzas Reales
This convent exists thanks to the women of the Spanish Hapsburg dynasty. In 1559, a spinster of royal lineage (Juana of Austria) created the convent for herself and other unmarried or widowed noblewomen. The building is fashioned in the El Escorial style and houses tapestries by Rubens, religious artifacts, and other spooky treasures. It’s a little difficult to get in for a tour but well worth the effort. It is at Plaza de las Descalzas in Madrid.
The Joaquín Sorolla museum gives visitors an insight into the works of this Valencian artist. The gallery is in the artist’s former home and serves up Sorolla’s paintings and personal belongings for viewing. Although Sorolla found himself somewhat overshadowed by artists of the Cubist movement, he created works well-known in Spain. His paintings take on the magical Mediterranean, sun-drenched lighting in ways that are exceptional. One of his most famous paintings is Strolling Along the Seashore. He was well-known for his beach and local fishing and working vignettes. Sorolla’s home captures the essence of an Andalusian-style garden complete with the signature fountain.
About Bella Terra
At Bella Terra, we do things a little differently. Our partnership with European and American travel professionals allows us to offer stateside tourists a curated view of many of the most intriguing and compelling travel destinations across Europe. Once we know exactly what our clients want to accomplish in these regions, we customize their trips to the standards and requests they make. Whether you choose a customized tour or one of our excellent packages, we know you will have the time of your life.