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Ask any child to select the happiest color in the crayon box and they’ll probably reach for yellow. Yellow is the color of the sun, Cinderella’s hair, buttercups, bananas, baby ducks, and butter. But it’s also the chosen color for some spectacular cathedrals, castles, and towns throughout the world. The color even makes an appearance in some far-flung, sun-kissed landscapes. Shake off the blues and take a journey to these yellow-hued destinations.
Pena Palace, Portugal
Set atop a forested mountain with views of the Atlantic, the River Tagus, and the city of Lisbon in the distance, Pena Palace, with its canary-yellow minarets, parapets, towers, and crenellated walls, offers flights of fairytale fancy to explore. Its prime hilltop real estate was previously the site of a chapel and a monastery, until 1838, when it struck the fancy of a German prince who’d recently married into the Portuguese royal family. He built the palace as a summer home, incorporating elements of Moorish, Manueline, and other architectural styles that he found mesmerizing. The path leading up from the town of Sintra passes through lush, mossy woods and fern gardens that add to the storybook scenery and frame a glimpse of the yellow palace in the distance. For an extra dash of spellbinding sophistication, the palace’s yellow battlements — an element added purely for decoration — overlook the craggy ruins of a Moorish castle on the ridge below.
Mexico has its own name for enchanting places like Izamal — pueblos mágicos, or “magical towns.” Izamal, on the Yucatán Peninsula, holds a spot on the country’s official list of 121 protected towns. The reasons behind Izamal’s nickname, the "Yellow City," will become apparent when you enter the historic center to find yellow walls, houses, and sunny plazas surrounded by arcaded walkways painted yellow. The town was first settled 2,000 years ago as the site of a Mayan place of worship where pilgrims came to honor one of their culture’s sun gods, Kinich Kakmó. That devotion to the sun god may account for the locals' affection for sunny yellow paint.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they destroyed most Mayan structures. But they left a large, stepped Mayan pyramid that rises 10 levels high and spans two acres in the middle of town. Those in search of yet another splash of egg-yolk yellow may be disappointed to find the ancient stones unpainted, but the pyramid is still a worthy sight to behold.
The county of Luoping, in the Yunnan Province of China, is known for two agricultural products. Serendipitously, both are yellow: honey bees and canola (also called rapeseed). For a few weeks every spring, beginning in late February, the flowers of the canola plants that fill the fields of Luoping burst into bloom, and visitors arrive, cameras in hand, to take in the fleeting and extraordinary sight. The region’s flat fields are carpeted in vivid yellow, which makes for a vast plain of color punctuated only by conical hills and the occasional road. The rapturous vision has a soundtrack, too — the pleasant buzzing of bees collecting pollen from the flowers to bring back to their queen. Making a pilgrimage to witness the extensive bloom has proved so popular that in 1999, a festival was organized to celebrate the flowers.
Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral, Nicaragua
Photos of this charming colonial city on the banks of Lake Nicaragua often feature a view of this sunny and beautiful cathedral, or at the very least, a glimpse of its yellow towers topped by red domes. The Spanish conquistadors who founded Granada in 1524 built the first church on this high ground in 1525. That church was burned and rebuilt several times before the colonial government and the Catholic church erected the current cathedral in 1751, using less flammable materials. Yellow also plays a role inside the church, where the edges of the pillars and graceful arches that span the white, barrel-vaulted ceiling are painted in the hue.
A rift valley in northern Ethiopia sinks to an altitude more than 250 feet below sea level in an area of regular geothermal activity. The valley floor is, in places, just a thin crust that barely holds back molten magma below, while the still, clear water is beyond boiling hot and poisonously acrid — making any visit dangerous to undertake without an experienced guide. In spite of these off-putting issues, Dallol is included on this list of extraordinary places because of its colorful landscape. The groundwater in the low valley pushes to the surface through layers of salt, sulfur, potash, and other minerals, so that the resulting brine in the area’s terraced pools takes on a psychedelic appearance, with predominantly yellow and gold tones and splashes of orange, rust, and green.