The Han Grotto and Culzean Castle. As the name of my Traveling Boy feature IS “Travel With a DIFFERENCE,” it’s important to me to always bring you offbeat and unusual tourist places around the world you may not know about. These two fit that category to a T, and they’re absolutely worth a visit. One’s in Scotland and one’s in Belgium. Culzean (pronounced CULLANE) Castle is located near Maybole, Carrick, on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland.

Culzean Castle courtyard
The main courtyard of Culzean Castle

Built in the late 1700s its location on a lonely, high cliff that overlooks the often raging seas below is, in my view, one of the most romantic and yes, stunning places in all of Bonnie Scotland. It was a delightful and wonderfully sunny day when I visited and, as a WW2 buff, I was fascinated to learn that the entire top floor is a luxurious suite called “The Eisenhower Apartment.” It was so named in 1945 as a “Thank You” from the people of Scotland to the American general for what he did in WW2.

top floor of Culzean Castle and the entrance to Eisenhower's luxurious Apartment
The top floor of the Castle, and (on the opposite side by the open door) the entrance to Eisenhower’s luxurious Apartment

As you walk towards the walled entrance and amble – as I did – into the courtyard, the Hallway and what’s just inside is, in one word, BREATHTAKING! It’s the 2nd biggest collection of old time pistols, swords, muskets and related armor in the world – even more intriguing to me, was that every firearm displayed has been fired! I thought it odd and indeed puzzling, we were NOT allowed to take any photos! Eisenhower DID actually stay here several times, and given its romantic setting and awesome tranquility, used this Scottish retreat as his White House. I know you’ll find it as captivating as I did.

info billboards at the entrance to the HAN Grotto, Belgium
“Information Billboard” near the entrance to the HAN Grotto in Belgium

If you’re really – I mean REALLY – seeking something exclusive in your European travels, how about a fab concert in – are you ready – an underground cave that’s 250 million years old? Yes, that’s right, 250 million – because you’ll discover this Wonder of Wonders in Belgium, no less, in a colorful village called Han-sur-Lesse in the famous Ardennes and, approximately enough, it’s called “The Han Grotto.” I ventured into this phenomenon of nature, along with some of my fellow travel journalists a while ago, and we were treated to a tour that can only be labeled mystical and magical. The magic begins with the only way into the cave, by a vintage, 80 year old classic tramcar as the Cave is about a mile and a half from the village. No, it does NOT take you INTO the Grotto itself, just to the entrance!

80-year old classic tramcar headed towards the HAN Grotto entrance
The classic, and without doubt, wonderful old tram on its way to the cave entrance

As we walked down and still further down into the Cave, our eyes beheld a spectacular and magnificent collection of stalactites and stalagmites. We figured what must the bottom of the Cave, as we found ourselves in an enchanting “room” or complex, that’s 490 feet across with a vaulted ceiling 417 feet in height.

stalactites inside the HAN Grotto
Some of the extraordinary Stalactites –or is it Stalacmites – in the bewitching, totally surreal, Han Grotto.

It is here at certain times of the year, where the aforementioned concert is held. Nature has provided a sort of “shallow, open sort of area,” where these take place. It did NOT look to me, nor to any of my fellow travel Scribes, as if it had been “hollowed out” by modern “methods. The constant temperature is 55F with high humidity. A tour of the Cave is about 60 or 90 minutes, and DOES require a guide. Towards the end of your visit at “Cave Bottom” you’ll witness a marvelous “Sound & Light show” that’s the epitome of the word AWESOME. This almost spine tingling extravaganza is so spellbinding you’ll be hard pressed to realize it is NOT a dream, but an incredible and remarkable reality.

parked boats inside the HAN Grotto
As you reach what you assume is the last part of your Han Grotto experience, you notice large ponds of glimmering water – and it appears the path you’ve been touring the Grotto, is no more. Maybe it’s my British sense of humor, but I remarked to our group that maybe we were going to be held prisoner! Not to be, as almost as soon as the thought surfaced in my mind, we saw two boats approaching. Thus, the closing moments of this unique experience, adds even more of an exceptional touch to everything, as you glide through waters as silent as that of a friend who will never betray you.

Sharing news with you about this cave and castle, is yet another reason I call my features Travel with a DIFFERENCE. Be sure to see our story next month for more exceptional places and offbeat ideas for things for you to see and do around the world.

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