15 palace hotels that will make you feel like royalty

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live like a king or queen? While you may not have been born into royalty, you can still live lavishly, if only for a weekend.

While five-star hotels can offer plush bedding, spacious penthouse suites, and high-class amenities, it’s nothing compared to the luxurious living offered at these palace properties. Genuine artifacts from centuries ago adorn the halls, acres of lush gardens, furniture made of gold – no expense is spared at a palace hotel. Not only that, but you’ll be sleeping in the same space as kings, queens, and society’s most elite members once did, long ago.

Sound like fun? Before you start planning your next royal getaway, check out the gallery below.


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World’s first pop-up mall: London’s Boxpark

Millions of us will head to the mall this week to return gifts or buy what we really wanted from the after-Christmas sales. Chain stores, fast food courts, and packed parking lots are what most of us associate with shopping malls, but a new retail concept in hip East London is looking to change that. Boxpark is the world’s first pop-up mall, made out of 60+ shipping containers that house a mix of international labels like The North Face and Levi’s, UK designers Luke and Boxfresh, plus cafes and eateries such as Pieminister. Boxpark will be open for five years, and stores may change after a year or two. Befitting the Shoreditch neighborhood, don’t expect Claire’s Accessories or the Gap, but rather street fashion, cool sneakers, and funky concept stores and art galleries Art Against Knives and Marimekko. Already a huge trend with restaurants, one-off shops, and hotels, the flexibility of the pop-up concept means an urban (or anywhere, since the containers can be moved!) location, up-and-coming designers, and more creative retail spaces.

Check out all the retailers at www.boxpark.co.uk plus info on sales and special offers.

Five overlooked art museums in Madrid

Madrid is famous for its art. The Spanish capital boasts a “Golden Triangle” of world-class museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. While these are all worth a visit, Madrid has dozens of other art museums that are generally overlooked by the casual visitor. Here are five local favorites.

Museo Sorolla
The house of one of Spain’s most famous painters from the turn of the last century is preserved much the way he left it. The Museo Sorolla is an elegant old mansion with a quiet Moorish courtyard. The walls of the high-ceilinged rooms are covered in the paintings of Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, a prolific painter who favored sunny beach scenes like the one shown here. As interesting as the paintings are the many antiques he collected and knickknacks from his daily life, like a palette covered in colors next to a shelf stuffed with used tubes of paint. Looking at little details like this, you feel like Sorolla has just stepped out for a coffee.

%Gallery-127477%Museo del Romanticismo
Visit a mansion built in 1776 to see how rich folks lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the Museo del Romanticismo the ballroom, dining room, bedroom, and nursery are all fitted up with period furnishings. There’s even a velvet commode. The furnishings and artwork are all good examples of Romanticism, an art movement that was hugely influential at the time because it reacted against industrialization and science and hearkened back to a simpler age. Nostalgia is nothing new! The paintings often show Arcadian scenes or the exploits of famous adventurers. The collection of personal objects includes a bit too much lace and porcelain for my taste, but my wife loved this place.

Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando is a Madrid institution. Founded in 1744, it’s still teaching aspiring artists today. It’s housed in a grandiose Baroque palace and has an impressive permanent collection of Renaissance and early modern art, including works by Francisco de Goya, who used to be the academy’s director. The ground floor has a temporary exhibition space that attracts small but interesting shows. I saw an amazing exhibition on Ottoman calligraphy there once. Not what I was expecting but good on the eyes!

El Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
Not technically an art museum, “The Monastery of the Barefoot Royals” houses a large collection of religious art. These nuns went barefoot as penance for their sins, but they lived well in other ways. First off, they were daughters of noblemen, so they came to the order with their dowries. This often included fine art. Since they’d been given a 16th century royal palace to live in, there was plenty of room to decorate. Check out the soaring church, fine tapestries, and even some religious relics such as a portion of the True Cross. This is still an active nunnery so dress respectably.

Museo Lázaro Galdiano
Another house museum like the Museo Sorolla, the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano has recently reopened after a long renovation. It’s a beautiful palace along Calle Serrano in Madrid’s poshest district. Galdiano was a millionaire and one of Spain’s most passionate collectors of art. When he died in 1947 his collection was turned into a museum. It’s especially strong in Old Master paintings, so if you didn’t get enough of that at the Golden Triangle, here’s your chance to see more. Plenty of Romanticism too, if visiting the Museo del Romanticismo left you wanting more of that too.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Now Open: the Pentagon’s super secret art collection

Did you know the Pentagon collects art? The United States military began taking an interest back in 1840 and today, the total collection counts more than 15,000 pieces produced by some 1,300 actual American soldiers. Most of these artists are self-taught, enlisted military personnel and depict the sights and scenes of life in the armed forces–often at war and often in other countries.

I got a sneak preview of the exhibit a while back and was amazed by the talent and emotion depicted in the collection. From Vietnam to the Gulf War to Iraq and Afghanistan–these paintings explore an insider’s view of war, sometimes tender and sometimes horrific yet utterly lacking in propaganda or modern media. One artist even painted on canvas torn from combat tents because that’s what was available in Iraq.

Interested travelers can get a taste of our nation’s long-hidden art reserve in Philadelphia, where 300 pieces have been chosen for a special exhibit, Art of the American Soldier at National Constitution Center. The show opens today, September 24, 2010 and runs until January 10, 2011, after which it will begin a national tour.

(Attack at Twilight; Roger Blum, Vietnam 1966)

Spectacular summer art season in Madrid

Madrid is one of the art capitals of Europe, and each season the city’s big three art museums host major exhibitions. This summer looks like it’s going to be an especially good one.

Perhaps the biggest show of the season is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum’s show on Matisse. Running from June 9 to September 20, it focuses on the work the famous painter and sculptor did in the middle part of his life. In the 1920s he and Picasso were at the vanguard of making modern art acceptable to the general public, and in the 1930s Matisse’s work became more inward-looking as the Depression, the buildup to World War Two, and the invasion of France took their psychological toll.

The Prado will has a show focusing on the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla, who in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became one of Spain’s best-loved painters with his brilliant images of sun-soaked gardens and beaches. This show runs from May 26-September 6. One of his paintings, titled “Walk on the Beach”, is shown here. If you like his style, you might also want to check out his house, which is now a museum showcasing his life and work.

If modern art is more your thing, check out the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s home for modern and contemporary art. Their big show this summer will be Los Esquizos de Madrid, an art movement that flourished in Spain’s capital in the Seventies as the country made the transition from dictatorship under Franco to a fragile multiparty democracy. This movement embraced figurative art at a time when the rest of the European art world seemed have abandoned it.

The Reina Sofia will also have an exhibition by Lebanese artist Walid Raad, who created The Atlas Group, an art movement of one. His work explores censorship and the Lebanese Civil War though various media and will be open from June 3 to August 31.