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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

The only waterfall in Europe to fall directly into the sea...but don't be late!
15 August 2019

In the municipality of Dumbría, near Cape Finisterre, one can find the river Xallas and the Santa Uxía reservoir, a hydroelectric plant which unfortunately intervened with nature. Its gates are opened every Saturday and Sunday during the summer, creating once again the spectacular waterfall that can be seen in the photo – locally it is called “Cadoiro” - and the waterfalls from a height of 100m into a pit which is approximately 20 feet deep, forming an inlet that empties onto Ézaro beach, one of the most beautiful along the coast. However this is not because of the dam, the waterfall has always existed, the dam just regulates the opening hours, excuse the pun.

Before the dam was built, which by the way has ruined a little the landscape, this waterfall ran free and you might be asking what is so different about this one? Well, it is in fact the only waterfall in Europe that flows directly into the sea, however now it only falls during working hours and in peak season! The waterfall is open and running from 12:00 to 14:00 every Saturday and Sunday from 21 June to 21 September, and sometimes on bank holidays! One has to serve the tourists.

About a mile away is a viewpoint from which you can see the whole estuary of Corcubión. Ézaro, which is the only access to the sea within Dumbria, has three beaches: A Pedra Maior; Forcado, where the locals go and Area Pequeña, which as its name suggests is the smallest of the three.

Nearby there is the mountain O Pindo, which is an archaeological site where you can go trekking and discover the ruins and areas where ancient Druids carried out their rituals. From its summit -A MOA at a height of 641 meters, you can enjoy a great view and see stones with ancient inscriptions. Another place nearby is Carnota, which is famous for being home to the longest Hórreo (granary on stilts) in Galicia, supported by 11 pairs of columns and has been declared a national monument.

Following the route, one reaches Corcubión, a historic and artistic enclave. This region is full of legends and magical areas, noting especially, Cape Finisterre, which is almost mandatory to visit and contemplate its beautiful sunsets. In the same spot that people centuries ago considered the end of the earth, where the land ended and the sea began. The Phoenicians built an altar at which the Sun was worshipped. Many who came to Santiago on pilgrimage then continued to the lighthouse of Finisterre to burn the shoes that they had used on their long journey, a tradition that still stands today and is carried out beside the monument next to the lighthouse. 


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Anaga Natural Park
09 August 2019

A stones' throw away from the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, lies Anaga Natural Park, which has been declared a Biosphere Reserve and has surprisingly succeeded in preserving its natural beauty.

If you have the opportunity to visit you are likely to be overwhelmed by its beautiful precipitous mountain range full of sharp jagged peaks. The deep valleys and ravines that cut across it eventually reach out to sea, forming a series of beaches where you can wet your toes or have a dip in the ocean. Naturally, the park is home to a wealth of fauna and flora and abundant with autochthonous species.

Anaga Natural Park covers much of the mountain range located on the north-east of the Island. With an expanse of almost 14,500 hectares (35,800 acres), it crosses quite a significant stretch of Tenerife, spanning the municipalities of La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Tegueste. It represents one of the region's major leisure areas and is a wonderful tourist attraction.


The impressive sight of its sturdy mountains rising high above the nearby sea is as attractive as it is unique. But if you really want to make the most of your visit, the best idea is to follow one of the many trails that will lead you to its charming little beaches of fine, shiny black sand (such as Benijo) dotted along the coast. 



The area's landscapes are also adorned with geological formations such as "roques" (old volcanic chimneys), dikes (fractures filled with solidified magma forming sheets of rock that look like walls), cliff faces and deep ravines. Another of the area's unforgettable sights is, without doubt, the blanket of clouds.


High up on the peaks you will find Tenerife's most wonderful areas of laurel forests. This vegetation could quite simply be classed as a living fossil, having survived more than 40 million years. The Mediterranean basin used to be covered in this greenery until the glaciers swept it away. A walk amongst this forest's twisted tree trunks lined with moss is like a journey back in time. Listen to the forest, feel it and breathe in its prehistoric air. As if all of this weren't enough, the Anaga mountain range is geologically one of Tenerife's oldest areas, which along with the varying altitudes, weather conditions and soils provide it with a huge biological diversity for such a relatively small space. Almost every kind of ecosystem on the Island can be found here, except high mountain flora and fauna. It contains coastal vegetation, populations of Canary Island spurges and euphorbia, dragon trees and Canarian palms.


And where the flora is rich and diverse, so too is the fauna. The undisputed kings are invertebrates. You will find almost a hundred species here that are unique in the world. If you are a keen birdwatcher, you might recognise such emblematic species as Scopoli's shearwaters, kestrels, owls, Bolle's pigeons and laurel pigeons (both of which are considered living relics and are native to the Canaries). In fact, the abundance of birdlife has led Anaga to become a Special Bird Protection Area. No less magnificent is the array of sea life, making quite a treat for divers, with such wonderful species as the Chucho (a type of ray), the Canarian cod, the Vieja and the endangered local eel.

The park also houses small villages and hamlets. You will find up to 26 inhabited by a total of 2000 people. Their residents live mostly off small-scale farming, tending traditional local crops such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, vines and other fruit trees and plants.




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Sierra de Urbasa - One of Spain's most spectacular natural parks
30 July 2019

Millions of years ago, the relief of a great plateau known as Zunbeltz or Lizarraga changed for ever. A gigantic tectonic slip occurred that led to the opening of a wide passage between the mountain ranges of Urbasa and Andía. On the crest between Atlantic Navarre and the Mediterranean watershed, both make up an extensive Natural Park in the west of the region. 



Meadows and leady beech woods alternate in this protected space with an idyllic landscape. Its southern edge falls brusquely onto the Valley of the Améscoas, forming an impressive natural viewpoint over the cirque around the source of the river Urederra. 

The Information Centres contain information on this Natural Park, its leisure areas, information points, flora and fauna and signposted paths, which will take you through the beauty of woods and rock outcrops. The landscape is dotted with memories of the lifestyles over the centuries of hunters, shephers, woodcutters and charcoal burners. The megalithic station of the Urbasa range is not signposted, so access to it is difficult.


The Urbasa-Andía Natural Park in western Navarre is made up of the Urbasa and Andía mountain ranges. The NA-120 road links Etxarri-Aranatz with Estella-Lizarra and runs along the Andía range. At kilometre 20, just a few metres from the road, you will find a Roman road, a thousand-year-old witness of an era in which it connected Valdega with the Arakil valley. This range contains one of the most spectacular places in the park: the Monastery of Iranzu.




The NA-718 road from Olazti/Olazagutía to Estella-Lizarra crosses the mountain range and you can park your car at several points. It is advisable to visit the Information Centre at the north entrance, where you can find details of the landscape, environment and culture of the Natural Park. In the south, the 'Borda de Severino' - the word 'borda' is used to describe all the huts used by shepherds and livestock -, now converted into a Nature Interpretation Centre, recalls the pastoral way of life. In it a charcoal pile has been reproduced, recalling the traditional customs of the Urbasa mountain range. Several dolmens, menhirs and cromlechs are a testimony to human presence here 100,000 years ago.

The Natural Park has several viewpoints offering a full panorama of its size and resources: el Balcón de Pilatos (Pilate's Balcony - shown above), located above the cirque at the source of the river Urederra (access from the NA-718 road), the viewpoint at Lizarraga (access from the N-120) and the panoramic table next to the Palace of Urbasa (access from the NA-718).



Impressive beech woods cover 70% of the territory, together with other species such as yew, juniper and pine trees. On the rasos, flat land located at around 1.000 metres above sea level, the woods give way to pastures dotted with heather and hawthorns where it is quite common to see mares and sheep grazing; the latter's milk is used to make the delicious Idiazábal cheese. 

Another characteristic of this Natural Park is the absence of rivers. The limestone soil allows water to filter through and run underground in numerous chasms and crevasses, so the area is ideal for caving enthusiasts. Sometimes these underground currents emerge in the form of waterfalls. The river sources are spectacular: that of the Urederra in the Urbasa range (access from Baquedano) and of the Ubagua in the Andia range (access from Riezu). Both sites can be reached along easy paths. 



Throughout the Natural Park there are other signposted paths with different levels of difficulty that will guide you along their peculiarities. The best known are:

- The 'route of the fountains', a circular path that starts at the Borda de Severino and runs gently for 4.5 kilometres past sources/fountains and beautiful sites.

- The 'route of the shepherds', 7.6 kilometres long, is an easy path that crosses woods and rasos to give you an insight into the livestock rearing activity of Urbasa. It starts at the Information Centre and ends at the Borda de Severino.

- The 3.8-kilometre-long 'mountaineers' route', which provides access to the highest cliff in the north of the range (1,113 m.). The route is of medium difficulty, starting at the Information Centre and crossing the old Camino de la sal (salt route), which was used to transport salt from the nearby village of Salinas de Oro.

- Dulanztz and the Canyon of the Iranzu (Andía), a racket-shaped 18-kilometre-long path long that starts near the monastery of Iranzu and follows the course of the river, initially ascending through leafy woods to the summit of Dulantz.


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Mainland Spain's highest peak isn't that tough in Summer...
25 July 2019


Jutting up above the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains, Mulhacén Peak is the highest mountain in continental Spain and in the Iberian Peninsula and may just be the final resting place of a 15th century king. It is named after Abu l-Hasan Ali, or Muley Hacén as he is known in Spanish, the penultimate Muslim King of Granada in the 15th century who, according to legend, was buried on the summit of the mountain. Mulhacén is the highest peak in Europe outside the Caucasus Mountains and the Alps. It is also the third most topographically prominent peak in Western Europe, after Mont Blanc and Mount Etna, and is ranked 64th in the world by prominence.  Summer is an ideal time to climb it, if you are looking for a easier challenge.

The peak is not exceptionally dramatic in terms of steepness or local relief thus the path to Spain's tallest mainland peak is not actually too challenging, gently rising along the back of the mountain, but the view from the top is nonetheless breathtaking.

 The south flank of the mountain is gentle and presents no technical challenge, as is the case for the long west ridge. The shorter, somewhat steeper north east ridge is slightly more technical. The north face of the mountain, however, is much steeper, and offers several routes involving moderately steep climbing on snow and ice (up to French grade AD) in the winter.

Mulhacén can be climbed in a single day from the villages of either Capileira or Trevélez, but it is more common to spend a night at the mountain refuge at Poqueira, or in the bare shelter at Caldera to the west. Those making the ascent from Trevelez can also bivouac at the tarns to the northeast of the peak.


Despite the peak's relative ease, a group of hikers perished on the slopes in 2006 and a commemorative plaque now remembers them at the summit.

There are many companies offering guided walks to the summit so it is highly recommended that you do the walk with expert guides. At 3479 meters high Mulhacen is no walk in the park. You will need to be fit enough to climb to its peak and hardy enough to withstand the mountain elements. Expect to sweat for your food and to pick up a few blisters of you are not used to walking.

Altitude shouldn't be a worry and there are no sheer drops, but you will be walking for up to eight hours a day. If you have a the physical stamina and strength for this it is a really recommended hike. The ascent itself is non technical, so you don't need much mountaineering experience. With expert guides, comfy accommodation, good meals and some good boots it is rarely this quick and painless to scale a mountain.




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03 July 2019

Pamplona hosts the festival of all festivals. When the chupinazo or rocket goes off on July 6th the city explodes to life. Thousands of people from across the world converge on this city which is coloured white and red for the occasion. Over the course of a few days the streets are filled with an outpouring of fraternity, joy and merrymaking accompanied by the rhythm of the charangas bands and fiestas. The running of the bulls is the only part of the day when the festival is reined in and tension flows through the air minutes before the bulls begin their journey through the streets behind the runners. The festival continues with the caldico (broth), chocolate with churros, the procession, the giants and big-headed carnival figures, sipping an aperitif, the running of the bulls and the fireworks which segue into the night-time commotion.

The origin of the fiesta of San Fermín goes back to the Middle Ages and is related to three celebrations: religious ceremonies in honour of San Fermín, which intensified from the 12th century onwards, trade fairs and bullfights, which were first documented in the 14th century. Initially, the fiesta San Fermín was held on October 10th, but in 1591 the people of Pamplona, fed up with the bad weather at that time of year, decided to transfer the fiesta to July so it would coincide with the Fair. This is how the Sanfermines were born. It initially lasted two days and had a pregón (opening speech), musicians, a tournament, theatre and bullfights. Other events were added later, such as fireworks and dances, and the fiesta lasted until July 10th.


Chronicles from the 17th and 18th centuries tell us of religious events together with music, dance, giants, tournaments, acrobats, bull runs and bullfights, and the clergy's concern at the excessive drinking and dissolute behaviour of young men and women. They also refer to the presence of people from other lands, whose shows "made the city more fun". In the 19th century there were curious fairground attractions such as a woman fired from a cannon, exotic animals or wax figures, while the Comparsa de Gigantes (parade of giants) had new carnival figures with big heads, kilikis and zaldikos. Furthermore, the absence of a double fence in the bull run meant that the bulls escaped on several occasions and ran around the city streets.

The Sanfermines reached their peak of popularity in the 20th century. The novel "The Sun Also Rises" ("Fiesta"), written by Ernest Hemingway in 1926, attracted people from all over the world to come to the fiesta of Pamplona. The 20th century also witnessed new events within the fiesta such as the Riau-Riau (suspended since 1991), the Chupinazo, or the cultural programme.



The Pamplona fiestas in honour of San Fermín, the “Sanfermines”, combine official celebrations with popular festivities, religion with profanity, local with foreign, tradition with new change, order with subversion; and all in a week, from 6th to 14th July, in which the city transforms into the world capital of mirth. 

They are open and hospitable festivities that welcome all - here no one is an outsider. The beat of the fiesta never ends. 24 hours of buzzing atmosphere, revelry, dances and prayers, where the city of Pamplona takes centre stage in its widest sense.

The Encierro is the event at the heart of the Sanfermines and makes the fiesta a spectacle that would be unimaginable in any other place in the world. It was born from need: getting the bulls from outside the city into the bullring. 

The encierro takes place from July 7th to 14th and starts at the corral in Calle Santo Domingo when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes eight o'clock in the morning. After the launching of two rockets, the bulls charge behind the runners for 825 metres, the distance between the corral and the bullring. The run usually lasts between three and four minutes although it has sometimes taken over ten minutes, especially if one of the bulls has been isolated from his companions. 



Three rockets fired from the bullring, signals that all the bulls have entered the bullring. A fourth and final rocket indicates that all the bulls are safely in the corral located inside the bullring, and that the bull run has ended.

For security reasons, a double fence marks out the route of the bull run through the streets. It is made of over 3,000 wooden parts (planks, posts, gates, etc.). Part of the fence stays put throughout the fiesta but other sections are assembled and disassembled every day by a special brigade of workers.



A large number of pastores (bull 'shepherds') cover the entire bull run. They place themselves behind the bulls, with their only protection being a long stick. Their main role is to stop the odd idiot from inciting the bulls from behind, to avoid the bulls turning round and running backwards, and to help any bulls that have stopped or have been separated from their companions to continue running towards the bullring.

Other key people in the bull run are the 'dobladores', people with good bullfighting knowledge (sometimes ex-bullfighters) who take up position in the bullring with capes to help the runners 'fan out' (in other words, run to the sides after they enter the bullring) and 'drag' the bulls towards the 'corral' as quickly as possible.

The encierro is an unrepeatable experience for spectators and runners alike. It is a spectacle that is defined by the level of risk and the physical ability of the runners.

An inexperienced runner should learn about the characteristics of this dangerous 'race' (although it should not be considered as a race) before starting, and also about the protective measures to be taken for his/her own safety and that of the people running alongside.

Not everyone can run the encierro. It requires cool nerves, quick reflexes and a good level of physical fitness. Anyone who does not have these three should not take part; it is a highly risky enterprise.

Runners should start somewhere between the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) and the pink-slab Education building in the Cuesta of Santo Domingo, and they should be there before 7.30 a.m. because entry to the run is closed from that time on. The rest of the run, except for the stretch mentioned above, must be completely clear of runners until a few minutes before 8 a.m.

What is not allowed in the bull run:

  1. People under 18 years of age, who must not run or participate.
  2. Crossing police barriers placed to ensure that the run goes off smoothly. 
  3. Standing in areas and places along the route that have been expressly prohibited by the municipal police force.
  4. Before the bulls are released, waiting in corners, blind spots, doorways or in entrances to other establishments located along the run.
  5.  Leaving doors of shops or entrances to apartments open along the route. The responsibility for ensuring these doors are closed lies with the owners or tenants of the properties.
  6. Being in the bull run while drunk, under the effects of drugs or in any other improper manner.
  7. Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the run to take place correctly.
  8. Wearing inappropriate clothes or footwear for the run.
  9. Inciting the bulls or attracting their attention in any manner, and for whatever reason, along the route of the run or in the bullring.
  10. Running backwards towards the bulls or running behind them.
  11. Holding, harassing or maltreating the bulls and stopping them from moving or being led to the pens in the bullring. 
  12. Stopping along the run and staying on the fence, barriers or in doorways in such a way that the run or the safety of other runners is jeopardised. 
  13. Taking photographs inside the run, or from the fences or barriers without due authorisation.
  14. Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the good order and security of the bull run.
  15. Installing elements that invade horizontal, vertical or aerial space along the bull run, unless expressly authorised by the Mayor's Office.
  16. Any other action that could hamper the bull run taking place normall


If you are brave enough, get on your running shoes!

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A 'Must' When Visiting Valencia
28 June 2019


La Albufera, was declared Nature Reserve in 1986, and since 1989 it is recognised as “Wetland of International Importance”.

It is the largest lake in Spain and one of the most important wetlands in the Iberian Peninsula. It’s a place of great ecological interest in which unique species of aquatic birds hibernate. Its rich waters have traditionally served as a support for fishermen and rice farmers, giving rise to a rich gastronomic culture.

Most of La Albufera is occupied with ‘la marjal’. To mention the ‘la marjal’ is to speak of rice fields; 14,100 hectares of La Albufera Nature Reserve are used for this crop. Farmlands, paths, channels and ditches cover 70% of the total protected surface area. The changing landscape of La Albufera throughout the year is due mainly to the variations in the rice fields: green in the summer, blue in the winter and brown in the periods in which the soil is uncovered.

The majority of rice fields are lands gained from La Albufera throughout the years. These lots are called ‘Tancat’. The field soil rises adding more dry muddy earth from somewhere shallow in the lake until levelling it with the neighbouring fields. A small dike was built previously around the lot. All this hard work was done with boats, hoes, esparto baskets and a lot of sweat and effort.

Once the ‘Tancat’ was isolated, it was then possible to control the water level inside it by using mechanical pumps which were initially activated by vapour engines. A proof of this past, are the brick chimneys still kept in some old engines. The majority of engines are currently electric, and the water control is automated.



Together with the ‘Tancats’ which are watered with water from La Albufera are the rice fields of the highlands (la marjal alta) which are irrigated with water from the rivers Turia and Júcar. All of these rice fields are irrigated collectively depending on the rice’s needs.

For generations the best rice has been cultivated in these privileged fields for the already famous paella and other Valencian rice dishes.

All of this agricultural culture has been protected and zealously transmitted from fathers to sons up until today, even improving the care for the environment and the preservation of the natural surroundings.



Since La Albufera was declared Nature Park a set of measures are applied aimed at minimising as much as possible the negative impact that the agricultural activity may cause. These measures establish the need of combining the traditional economic activities with the preservation of the natural ecosystems and their ecological and cultural values.

La Albufera is undoubtedly a privileged landscape to cultivate rice. A large freshwater lake next to the Mediterranean Sea, with a mild and warm climate. Apart from its natural value, it is the symbol of the agricultural and gastronomic culture, tradition and respect for the environment. It is home to quite possibly the finest rice in the world.

If you fanciy visiting the Albufera here you can find all the necessary help such as boat trips around the lake, bike rental and routes etc.




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The Dame of Elche
18 June 2019

In the silent galleries of the National Archeology Museum in Madrid, you can witness the eerily penetrating gaze of this ancient sculpture, which seems to radiate authority and radiates a uniquely commanding presence. Discovered by accident in Valencia in 1897, the bewitching and inscrutable Dame of Elche has puzzled archaeologists and been the subject of fierce debate for over a century. 



There have been many theories over the years as to what this mysterious limestone bust represents. She’s been called a Moorish queen, a witch, and stranger still, an “extraterrestrial visitor from another planet.” But archaeologists believe the bust is actually a uniquely Iberian portrayal of the Carthaginian mother goddess, Tanit, used as a funerary urn in antiquity.

There have always been rumours of forgery surrounding the discovery and debate about the authenticity of the Dame of Elche. But in 2011 research carried out using electron microscopy and x-ray technology found that the piece is an original, and confirmed its use as an ancient urn. Traces of ashes containing fragments of human bone were detected in the study and carbon-dated to be more than 2,500 years old, making it contemporaneous with the ancient Iberian period. Today you can visit the artefact in Madrid’s excellent National Archaeological Museum. 


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The largest Art Nouveau complex in the world
10 June 2019

The largest Art Nouveau complex in the world is a Barcelona hospital with a 600-year-long history. 

Painting, mosaics, stained glass windows, arches and grand hallways illuminated by immense windows that offer floods of natural light to buildings surrounded by picture-perfect landscaping and ornate statues of gargoyles and angels aren’t what you would come to expect for hospital landscaping. But Sant Pau in Barcelona, with over 600 years of history, is strangely a breath of fresh air when it comes to the typical hospital architecture that we have become used to.

In the late 19th century, Barcelona was expanding beyond its old city walls, and the Hospital de la Santa Creu which had served the city since the early 1400s was struggling to cope with the growth. In 1896 a wealthy Catalan banker named Pau Gil i Serra died, leaving behind a will that requested his estate be used for a new hospital that would bring the latest medical technology to Barcelona.


A plot was found just over three kilometres from the old medieval hospital, which now houses the National Library of Catalonia. Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner designed the site, which would represent the merging of six of Barcelona’s hospitals.

Domènech was an influential artist in Catalan Modernisme and Art Nouveau. He designed the 27-building complex that took up the equivalent of around nine city blocks to be interconnected by underground tunnels. Sixteen of the structures were built in the Modernist style making up the largest Art Nouveau site in the world, something often overlooked by guidebooks.


The complex was finished in 1930, with each building representing a different medical speciality. The Hospital de Sant Pau was fully functioning until 2009, when a new building, erected in the northern half of the complex, took over the duties. Several of the historic buildings were refurbished over the next several years.

The site, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, reopened to the public in 2014 and now serves as spaces for events, meetings, and tours of the Art Nouveau style. To this day it continues to serve its original purpose while representing an important point of reference in world architecture.


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Medieval Sewers open to public in Barcelona
05 June 2019

Barcelona's historic 19th-century sewers, whose foundations were laid in medieval times, are now open to the public for exploring. 

Originally the Aqueduct-based sewer system was introduced to Barcino, an ancient Roman colony because when it rained the whole city would flood. Much later, in 1364 when the city become known as Barcelona, medieval architects expanded on the sewers and ran water beneath La Rambla, the city’s most frequented street. 

It wasn’t until 1886 that Pere García Faria designed the first modern sewers in the city, intended to serve Eixample, the bourgeois proto-suburb being expanded outside the medieval walls. These, too, expanded on and connected with the sewers of previous eras. 

Today some of these tunnels are still in use. Most are inaccessible to the public, but thanks to a dedicated group of Barcelonian tour guides, the sewers are open for adventuring. A walk down history lane.

The best remnants are apparently located below Passeig San Joan, a strategic avenue which linked Gracia, a formerly independent village, with Parc de la Ciutadella, the site of the 1888 Universal Exhibition. Beneath these streets, a whole world opens up: The quiet flow of water in the dank sewers is illuminated by dim fluorescent lights while the city’s hustle and bustle continue on above.



The visits are organised by La Fabrica del Sol, an institution responsible for educating the public on Barcelona’s environmental activities. Small groups (no more than fourteen) are guided by locals who explain the evolution of the aquatic tunnels, their technical processes and engineering, as well as other curiosities. 

How to get there - Metro: the L4 and L5 Verdaguer. Buses: 6, 15, 19, 33, 34, 43, 44, 50, 51, 55. Visits must be booked through La Fabrica del Sol.

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The Ducal Town of Pastrana
31 May 2019

Recently I returned to a magnificent medieval Ducal town located between the Tajo and Tajuña Rivers in the Sierra of Guadalajara; Pastrana. It was first documented in manuscripts referring to the Visigothic town of Pastrana, mentioned by King Wamba (672-680) when he was drawing up boundaries for the Christian dioceses. However, its better-known history begins with Alfonso VII of Castile, who, in 1174, granted the town of Pastrana to the Order of Calatrava. The town belonged to this military order until 1541, when Charles I reclaimed it and granted it to Ana de la Cerda, widow of Diego de Mendoza, Count of Melito. In 1562, Philip II granted the title of Dukes of Pastrana to Ana de Mendoza, the legendary Princess of Eboli who spent her final years imprisoned in the Ducal Palace of Pastrana.

The years straddling the Renaissance and the Golden Age were ones of true splendour for Pastrana, thanks to the efforts of its noblemen, the visit by the mystic Teresa of Jesus, who founded convents in there, and the establishment of silk factories operated by Moors brought in from Andalusia who settled in an area today known as  Albaicín.

Pastrana’s historic quarter, which maintains its medieval layout, contains a large number of buildings of undeniable artistic quality and historical value. These include the Ducal Palace, constructed in the mid-16th century with a rectangular floor plan, which has an outstanding Renaissance doorway. The crypt of the Collegiate Parish Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (16th-17th century), adjacent to the original Gothic church of the Knights Templar, contains the remains of the Dukes of Melito and Pastrana. The church also contains the Parish Tapestry Museum, which has a collection of religious art and renowned Flemish tapestries that give the museum its name.



The Conceptionist Franciscan convent and the Convent of Carmel from 16th century,  were founded by St. Teresa of Jesus. The latter houses, curiously, The Museum of Natural History of the Philippines and the Teresian Museum (or Carmelite and Religious Art Museum), dedicated to the founding saint and to another great saint and mystic, St. John of the Cross, who visited the town. Other buildings of interest are the College of St. Bonaventure built in 17th century, with its Baroque facade and patio, the remains of the old castle and walls built by the Knights Templar; the old quarter of the Albaicín, with its unusual layout, and several emblazoned palaces and manor houses from the 16th and17th centuries.


Alonso de Covarrubias designed the Ducal Palace of Pastrana and its doorway has a recognisable design feature, which is a reproduction of the one on the Alcázar fortress in Toledo. It stands beside the walls of Pastrana and has a parade ground at the front. The eastern tower, known as "the Chamber of the Golden Grille", was the site where the Princess of Eboli, Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, was held between 1581 and 1592 by order of Philip II. She was bricked in and imprisoned in her quarters along with her maid until she died, only being allowed to go outside for 1 hour per day. Going outside actually meant going out onto a caged balcony, which was in her room. The rest of the time she had to stay out of sight and in her quarters. It is thanks to the Princess of Ebolí that Pastrana is still a well-visited town today.

Doña Ana de Mendoza, the Princess of Éboli, was a woman full of historical intrigue and mystery. The fascination of her is fueled not only by her legendary beauty, courtly manipulations, and murderous plots, but also the mystery surrounding an alleged fencing accident and her eye patch. She has captivated attention for centuries, been immortalized in opera by Verdi, portrayed in Hollywood by Olivia de Haviland, and is the subject of numerous books and video productions.  So who is Doña Ana de Mendoza and why did she wear an eye patch?

Born in 1540 into the powerful house of Mendoza, Doña Ana was the daughter of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Catherine de Silva.  Doña Ana endured what appears to be a dysfunctional home life as a child, including the embarrassment of her father’s infamous philandering, something not accepted in 16th Century Spain.  Little is known of Doña Ana’s childhood, but she was described as passionate, intelligent, religious, and rebellious in her youth.  It is alleged that during her early adolescence, and prior to the development of safety equipment, she lost her right eye in a fencing duel with a page.  In part, it appears the juxtaposition of her renowned beauty and her eye patch has fueled a mystique that has captivated admirers for centuries.  

An early arranged marriage to Rui Gomez enabled Doña Ana’s presence in the court of King Philip II of Spain.  Her husband’s wealth and influence provided for financial security and titles following the acquisition of estates in Eboli, located on Italy’s southeast coast.  Her husband’s death and her subsequent relationship with Antonio Perez proved to be a fateful turning point for Doña Ana.  Like her husband, Perez was a powerful insider in Philip II’s court. Perez brewed a plot of manipulation between the King and his half-brother involving a rebellion in Flanders and perhaps a move toward taking power in Portugal.  When a whiff of the plot was sensed, Perez orchestrated a murder to squelch its further discovery.  Doña Ana said to have had involvement in the plot, was imprisoned by the King and subsequently stripped of parental rights and property.  Some claim she was treated very harshly by the King, in part due to his sexual jealousy and sense of betrayal, but as with her eye patch, there is a dearth of supporting evidence for such claims. She would die sick, lonely, and imprisoned.

Numerous and widespread explanations for Doña Ana’s eye patch abound.  They typically assert in a matter-of-fact fashion that Doña Ana lost her eye in a fencing accident, perhaps around the age of twelve.  However, absolutely no evidence has come to light to support such claims.  They appear to be the speculations of historians attempting to explain her portrait — assertions that have much more intrigue than the lesser-known speculations surrounding a horse accident while hunting around the age of fourteen.

Under the advisement of King Philip II, she was betrothed at age twelve to a Portuguese nobleman, Rui Gomez da Silva, the King’s personal secretary and life-long courtier, who was 24 years her senior.  A few years later, Rui and Doña Ana’s marriage would be consummated and she would go on to bear Rui their first of ten children.  Like her husband, Doña Ana became well established in the court of King Philip II where she enjoyed a close relationship with Queen Elizabeth of Valois, the king’s third wife.  It is during this time that some allege Doña Ana became the King’s mistress, but several scholars deny this.  Whether fictional or otherwise, such allegations have helped fuel dramatic (and largely fictional) storylines on stage and screen, furthering Doña Ana’s mystique.  At about this time, Doña Ana’s parents became further estranged, and her father left with another mistress.

Doña Ana’s husband, Rui Gomez, worked to secure their children’s future by purchasing the town of Eboli in Naples, as well as several villas.  Rui was granted the title Duke of Pastrana and Grandee of Spain by Philip II in 1572.  This established Doña Ana as the Princess of Eboli and the first Duchess of Pastrana.  Her husband died the following year.  Thus began a series of problematic and dramatic chapters in Doña Ana’s existence.  In grief, Doña Ana and her mother moved to the convent in Pastrana.  

A few years later, Doña Ana and her mother returned to Madrid against the Kings wishes. Not long after, her mother died, followed shortly thereafter by her father.  However, her father, having married another in an attempt to secure a male heir, had left his second wife pregnant, threatening Doña Ana’s inheritance.

Doña Ana’s husband was succeeded by his protegé, Antonio Perez, as secretary to Philip II.  Antonio Perez, only slightly older than Doña Ana, was a married man.  Doña Ana established a close relationship with Perez, and again, adulterous allegations abound, but some claim their relationship was purely political.  Their relationship was apparently hidden from the King.  Historians are divided as to why that was the case with some claiming it was due to impropriety, while others claim it was due to Doña Ana’s renewed liaisons with the King.  Regardless of truth, Doña Ana’s relationship with Perez deepens her intrigue in Spanish legend and serves as a turning point in her life and in Spain’s history.

Perez, a trusted secretary to Philip II, became caught up in a revolt that developed in Flanders. The Duke of Alba and Don Juan of Austria (half-brother of Philip II) were intertwined with Perez in this revolt.  Perez offered to serve as a mediator in the conflict, however, he was playing both sides.  He altered state communiqués between the King and Don Juan and sold state secrets.  Doña Ana was apparently aware of Perez’ treachery vis-à-vis their close relationship, evidenced by their visitations, and exchange of opulent gifts. Don Juan’s personal secretary, Juan de Escobedo, previously allied with Perez as his spy against Don Juan, turned against Perez and also discovered the relationship between Perez and Doña Ana.  At this point, it is alleged that Perez and Doña Ana conspire to assassinate Escobedo.  Some historians assert Doña Ana was not an active participant in the plot but was merely complicit.  Though several more machinations in this operatic saga occur, Philip II (pictured) discovered the treachery of Perez and Doña Ana.  Perez held off trial for several years, having somewhat assuaged Philip II with accusations of Don Juan’s pernicious intentions towards Philip’s throne.

However, Doña Ana was placed under house arrest in 1581. The King stripped Doña Ana of her parental rights and property in 1582.  This relatively harsh treatment of Doña Ana helps fuel allegations of the King’s sexual jealousy and romantic relations with Doña Ana.  In 1589, ten years after the discovery, Perez was finally charged with the murder of Escobedo.  This led to riots and unrest by Perez’ supporters.  In 1590 Perez escaped to Aragon.  Perez, in exile, published scathing, defamatory accounts of King Philip II’s court, assertions that went unchallenged, contributing to the Spanish Black Legend.  Doña Ana, imprisoned for a decade, eventually died depressed and ill in 1592.


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