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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...

Madrid's Botanical Garden
20 February 2019

 

Founded by King Ferdinand IV's royal decree, the Real Jardín Botánico is a two-and-a-half centuries-old wonder, occupying 20-acres of lush terrain in the heart of Spain's capital city.

Housed in its current location since 1781 in a building designed by the same architectural team responsible for the Museo del Prado, the botanical garden was initially populated with over 2,000 specimens retrieved from all over the Iberian peninsula by botanist and surgeon José Quer. After implausibly surviving centuries worth of civil and international wars, the collection has expanded to over 90,000 flowers and plants (not counting its herbarium with a literal million specimens on its own) plus an estimated 1,500 trees.

Originally arranged according to the Linneaus method favored during the period, in which the specimens are categorized in terraces of import, today its expansive grounds have been rearranged in a fashion that makes more sense.

Visitors will find the Real Jardín Botanico has been divided into seven outdoor gardens and five indoor greenhouses. Each of these sections are arranged logically by theme, content, and nature of origin. Highlights include the "Terraza de Cuadros" – featuring a Japanese garden and a series of box-edged plots filled with medicinal, aromatic, and orchard-like plants arranged around a fountain – and a romantic, period-accurate garden arranged to echo an English garden bursting with trees and shrubs. 

 

Perhaps most fascinatingly of all, one of Real Jardín Botánico's greenhouses has the ability to recreate the desert climate, making it one of the very few places where visitors can experience an accurate desert experience without leaving continental Europe.



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The Beautiful Beaches of Plentzia & Gorliz
12 February 2019

 

At the mouth of the estuary is a stunning natural bay, in which the beaches of Gorliz and Plentzia are to be found. The large sandy beach and safe bathing make Gorliz beach extremely popular with families. 842 metres long, the beach is right by the town centre of Gorliz. Nearby are recreational areas, a large car park beside the beach and green areas with tables, benches, barbecues and a children's play area. Really a fantastic destination.

The beach at Plentzia, slightly further along the bay, has a promenade running beside its fine, golden sand. Its calm waters makes it ideal for families with children and anybody looking for water sports like windsurfing, surfing or kayaking. Its waters offer one of the best alternatives in adverse conditions or when the sea further out is rough, as one can continue up the estuary to calmer waters.

 

Gorliz is located on the coast of the historical territory of Bizkaia, in the Uribe-Costa region. This municipality has a great touristic tradition and its beaches attracts many people int he summer.

Gorliz offers different cultural treasures. The Elexalde neighbourhood is in the town centre, where the Iturritxu and Axeo palaces, dating back to the 19th century, are situated. Likewise, the magnificent church of the Inmaculada Concepción de Santa María and the Town Hall itself, next to the church, are outstanding constructions which are well worth visiting.

One of the most emblematic and characteristic buildings is located on the promenade: The Gorliz hospital, quite impressive with unbeatable views. Another great example of heritage and coastal character is the hermitage of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves or Andra Mari. Located in a privileged area in the Andramari neighbourhood, this temple from the 11th century offers the opportunity to visit the bay of Gorliz and the estuary of the ria Butrón. 

 

 

Nature lovers can make ecological trips through the different routes prepared in the surroundings of the village. Once you have discovered the nicest places, the still waters of the bay of Gorliz allow the practice of several nautical sports such as canoeing, bodyboarding and the ever growing sport of SUP (Stand up paddling)

A number of festivities and traditional events take place throughout the year in Gorliz. The festivities of Santiago, in July, flood the streets of Gorliz with music and joy. The Andra Mari neighbourhood holds its celebrations at the beginning of August too.

This is truly a breathtaking place to visit so if you fany exploring the Vasque country this destination is simply a must.



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The Tower of Joy
07 February 2019

Like something out of a J.R.R. Tolkien fever dream, Spain's Castillo de Zafra sits atop a regal promontory in a setting that may as well be populated with roaming dragons. It is in fact the stand-in for the "Tower of Joy" in season six of Game of Thrones.

Built back around the 12th and 13th centuries, the stunning castle has been passed around amongst the Spanish nobility for hundreds of years. The tall towers of the castle sit atop a massive rock located on what was once the border between Christian and Muslim territories. The flat surface atop the rock is crowned with a high defensive wall that makes accessing the castle inconvenient even for those who live lived there.

By the 15th century, the castle had come under siege by a Castillian king who was fighting with the then owner of the castle. But unsurprisingly the imposing defence held.

The castle has been owned by a long list of noblemen, some of whom repaired or expanded the grounds. There are even rumours of secret rooms that were carved into the rock beneath the structures. While these have never been found, Castillo de Zafra absolutely looks like the type of castle that would have them.

By the modern day, the towers and buildings had been badly damaged and many were crumbling. But thanks to restoration efforts by the castle's 20th-century owner, Don Antonio Sanz Polo, it once again looks like something out of fantasy. Today the Castillo de Zafra is privately owned and anyone wishing to tour the castle grounds must get permission to enter the premises, and it is said that the only way in is by climbing a ladder. Up the rock. Incredible.


 



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The Mystery of the Giant Crystals of Almería
29 January 2019

 The Pulpí Geode is a unique phenomenon in the world, given the size, perfection, size and transparency of the gypsum crystals. It is located inside a mine of iron and lead in the district of Pilarde Jaravía, at a depth of 60 m, coinciding with sea level and 3 km from the coastline of San Juan de Los Terreros.

The geode is funnel-shaped, with the narrowest part an angled L-shaped hollow form 10.7 m3 volume, with 8 m long, 1.8 m wide and 1.7 m high. The average size of gypsum crystals is 0.5 x 0.4 x 0.3 m, with specimens up to 2 m long. Considered the best-preserved geode in the world, it was discovered by Angel Romero in 1999 inside an abandoned mine on the site of Pilar de Jaravía. It has been declared a Natural Monument.

 

 

The largest geode in the world is in Naica (Mexico) and boasts crystals that reach 10 meters in length, but it is in a mine which suffers temperatures of 45ºC and with 100% humidity which makes it impossible for it to be visited by the public. However, the Pulpí geode is at a temperature of 20ºC and offers a more than acceptable humidity level. Therefore it is the second largest in the world but the only one that can be visited.

The site will be opened to the public this year. So keep your eye on it!

 

 

 



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The Great Royal Library
24 January 2019

In the 16th century, King Phillip II of Spain wanted to build a library that would hold not only books and manuscripts of philosophy and theology but also instruments of scientific learning such as ornate globes and astrolabes, both celestial and terrestrial, and maps of the known world. 

In earlier times, this would have been considered heretical, but this new emphasis on unifying the humanities and the sciences was typical of the spirit of a new age in Europe, the so-called Renaissance, and so the magnificent Royal Library of San Lorenzo de El Escorial was built. 

The library was designed by the mathematical and architectural genius Juan de Herrera, and it is notable for being the first library on the European continent to break from the medieval dogmatic beliefs on architecture and decoration. Indeed, it’s believed that the design and decoration of the Vatican library in Rome took its inspiration from Herrera’s work in El Escorial.

The plan for the space also influenced how libraries worldwide were to display their collections. It was the first institution to display its books and manuscripts in shelving cases along the walls rather than in bays that were placed at right angles. This was done so that the titles would be visible to visitors to avoid the damage caused to the books when they were taken out to view. 

The enormous collection of over 40,000 books and manuscripts kept here cover everything from philosophy to politics to poetry, written in a multitude of different languages, including Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Chinese, and even Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Colourful frescoes adorn the ceiling depicting scenes from classical history that represent what the ancients considered to be the seven arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. Beyond the cornice, you will also find a total of 14 paintings that show scenes meant to encourage an appreciation for the arts in the visitor. 

 

 

 Among the most fascinating objects in the library are the numerous wonderfully baroque globes and armillary spheres, of which King Phillip evidently was an avid collector. It is said that the king would spend much of his time in the library studying these instruments in the company of astronomers, geographers, and cartographers. 

The Royal Library (Real Biblioteca) is located within the monastery and palace complex in Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the entrance fee 10 euros. El Escorial can be reached via public transport from Madrid. Simply take the Cercanias train (line c3) about a half hour from the Atocha or Sol station. Once you reach the station in El Escorial, it's a 30-minute walk to get to the palace, much of which is uphill so it can be quite a hike. Make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen if you visit in the summer.

 



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Have you visited Toledo?
17 January 2019

 

The historic city of Toledo sits atop a steep-cragged rock, around which the Tajo or Tagus river slowly meanders. This strategic position together with abundant water, forests, grazing and arable lands in the surrounding areas gives much value to the city and has always favoured its use as a permanent human settlement since prehistoric times.

With over two thousand years of history, having first been a Celtiberian city, Toledo has the special characteristic of being a melting pot where all the cultures and eras of Spain have come together and intermingled, and which together make up a small but rich example of the history of the land.

Thus, Toledo is known as The City of the Three Cultures, a name which refers to the Christian, Islamic, and Hebrew cultures that coexisted during centuries within its walls, impregnating it with its own special identity. This almost brotherly union and the plurality of traditions can best be seen in the architecture, where the customary artistic styles of each one are interwoven, exchanging influences and forming hybrids with their own personalities. The Mudejar style, a mixture of Islamic and Christian styles, predominates in the city, combining principally Romanesque structures and purely Muslim elements.

There were various important examples of intercultural exchange, such as the so-called School of Translators of the 12th and 13th centuries, which was decisive in preserving and disseminating knowledge of the Greco-Latin and Arab cultures.

A very important town developed while Christianity took hold around the first century, remaining until the present day and maintaining, for better or worse, the Greco Latin cultural legacy.

The first written historical document which mentions Toledo dates from the Roman period, a testimony of the conquest of the city in the year 193 BC, when it was already an important Celtiberian city. The Roman historian Tito Livio mentioned the city of Toletum, a term whose origin would be Tollitum, meaning "raised aloft". During this era, Toledo became an important urban centre and evidence of this period include the ruins of a monumental circus, and the ruins of the water supply system with the dam wall, also some remains of the aqueduct across the deep ravine of the Tagus River.

Following the decay and fall of the Roman empire at the hands of peoples from the North of Europe, the city was conquered in the 5th century AD by the northern barbarians and in the 6th century, the Visigoths moved their court to Toledo.

In the year 569, Leovigildo, King of the Visigoths, established his court in Toledo and in 589 it became the political and religious capital of Hispania, after the abandonment of Arianism and conversion to Catholicism by the Visigothic king Recaredo. During this period, the Councils of Toledo took place here. These were assemblies with ecclesiastical, political and legislative functions. Only a few material vestiges remain of this era, such as some ruins of chrismons, capitals and pilasters, together with some gold and silversmith work. These items are on display in the Museo de Los Concilios y Cultura Visigótica (Museum of the Visigothic Councils and Culture), and others found in various parts of the city were later re-used and remain embedded in walls and towers.
Although dating from old, the Jewish presence was not pronounced until 712, the year in which the Moors conquered the city.

The conquest, without a fight, of the city by the Berbers of Tarik in the year 711, began the period of Muslim domination in which the Moors occupied Toledo for 373 years, a relatively short period, but their influence was enormous, both in the labyrinth-like layout of narrow and steep alleyways, of parapet walks that go nowhere, often with covered passageways on top, and in important architectural remains, such as the Bab-al-Mardum mosque, today known as Cristo de la Luz (the Christ of Light), built by Musa ibn Ali, among others.
The religious tolerance of the Muslims allowed the Christians to co-exist with the Moors and led to the appearance of the so-called Mozárabes-"Mozarabs"-who created a unique culture which would have far-reaching effects on architecture and decoration, as well as customs, vocabulary, literature and music. This situation also allowed the Jews to form a prosperous community, although their presence dated back to the Visigoth period.

 

 

In 1085, when Alfonso VI took the city walls with no bloodshed, many of the Muslim inhabitants decided to stay with the Christians and Jews. The harmony between the three cultures bore fruit as notable as the School of Translators of Toledo, renowned for having recuperated part of the classical culture from various Arab documents. The Islamic legacy faded with time, and the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Jews in the 15th century. However, the cultural mix in the city had been determined and can still be felt today.

King Alfonso VI conquered the city from the Muslims in 1085, and Toledo became part of the Kingdom of Castile. The King promised to respect not only the Muslims and their property, but also allowed them the use of their language and the freedom to practice their religion. This maintained the stability of a large portion of the population. The Christians who had taken part in the conquest. and their religious orders also became part of this plural society and received houses and orchards in the city as rewards from the King.

In 1226, Fernando III and the Archbishop Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada decided to build the Cathedral, the only purely Gothic building from this period. In the 14th century, due to the economic and social crisis at the time, the atmosphere of religious tolerance which characterised Toledo in previous centuries progressively disappeared, especially affecting the Jewish community, which was accused of being the cause of all problems.

In the 15th century, the "Catholic Monarchs", Ferdinand and Isabel, who sought the political and religious unity of the Kingdom, established the Tribunal of the Inquisition in Toledo in 1485 and decreed the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. These decisions deeply affected the social structure of Toledo.

With the crowning of Charles V (also known as Charles I) in 1519, Toledo became the most important city in the world, known as the Imperial Capital. This period, although short, brought to Toledo an era of splendour in which the Renaissance was manifested in important works carried out under royal patronage, together with that of the archbishops of Toledo, who were great promoters and sponsors of buildings.

In 1561, Philip II decided to move the court to Madrid, initiating a period of political decline, but fortunately, it had no effect on religious, artistic or cultural aspects. It was right at this time when Domenico Theotocopoulos, El Greco, the extraordinary painter born in Crete, decided to settle in the city and paint the majority of his universally acclaimed works of art.

In the second half of the 19th century, the arrival of the railway brought growth outside the city walls, in the areas with the easiest terrain, and the appearance of extensive neighbourhoods of new buildings where most of the city's population lives today.

In 1982, Toledo was named the capital of the Autonomous Community of Castilla La Mancha, returning to the city some of to its former political and administrative importance.

In December 1987, the UNESCO declared Toledo a World Heritage city in recognition of its uniqueness, as it is almost impossible to walk its streets without coming across an ancient mosque, a Gothic or Mudejar church, a Romanesque or Visigothic structure, a synagogue, or a Renaissance palace. Several days are needed to visit and enjoy all of the sights of Toledo, as well as a dash of adventurous spirit to fall under the spell of the city and discover its mysteries while touring it, either in search of a well-known monument, or just exploring its winding streets.

 

 

 


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The Ducal Palace of Lerma
08 January 2019

The 17th Century "Palacio de Lerma" was the home of the Duke of Lerma, an influential favourite of King Phillip III of Spain. He was an important diplomat who negotiated numerous treaties and his magnificent and imposing palace was a symbol of his power. He could be described as a religious and racial bigot and was the person who, along with the Archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, initiated the expulsion of many thousands of Moriscos, the remnants of the earlier Moorish occupation of Spain, who had (officially at least) converted to Christianity. These two zealots had also encouraged the king to enslave the Moriscos for work in mines etc, as he could do so “without any scruples of conscience,”. Thankfully this proposal was rejected.

 

 

The Duke eventually fell from grace (but not before becoming a cardinal) and his palace fell into disrepair but it has now been sympathetically restored to become a “Parador”, a state-run, high end, tourist hotel, one of many historic buildings used in this Spanish effort to support tourism.

 

 

As one approaches Lerma on the nearby A1 autovia (either from Madrid or Burgos) one can see from a great distance the four imposing black spires (clearly recently renovated) at the corners of the building, looking like a giant, perhaps menacing, ecclesiastical edifice. From a distance, the building looks like one might imagine the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition  (in keeping with the ideas that originated there) but when viewed up close from the town square it looks imposing and palatial. The palace had magnificent gardens and was reputed to have had 7 chapels (only one survives).

Next to the palace is an impressive church which, like the palace, bears the Duke’s coat of arms. Also check out the other historic buildings in the town including the tourist office, in a building where Rubens is said to have stayed.

If you fancy visiting the Palace and staying the night there  take a look here

 



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The Flour Festival - Els Farinats
04 January 2019

No festival in Spain is complete without a bizarre tradition like throwing tomatoes or running in front of bulls or jumping over babies or setting off tons of gunpowder....

The annual festival of Els Enfarinats is celebrated with the mother of all food fights; flour and eggs. Els Enfarinats takes place in the town of Ibi in Alicante on December 28 as part of celebrations related to the Day of the Innocents. During the day long festival, participants dressed in mock military dress stage a mock coup pretending to take over the town. Dressed in a slovenly manner, they enter banks and shops stirring up trouble in a good-humoured way, imposing fines on shopkeepers and bankers, mocking local dignitaries and reading humorous speeches. Those who oppose are assaulted with flour cakes and eggs.

The tradition's origins are unclear, but it is believed to have grown from the ancient Feast of Fools, or Fiesta de los Locos, once part of the old Roman festival of Saturnalia. The tradition is over 200 years old.

 



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Spanish superstitions to keep in mind for the coming year...
28 December 2018

Nothing worse than being superstitious and working in a mirror factory, an umbrella shop ... Now we are just about to enter 2019, everyone wants a fresh start for the coming year. Experts agree that in today's Spain, superstitions are on the rise. So I thought I would detail, along with their origins, some of the most popular superstitions in Spain (even though many are common in other countries) to stand you all in good stead for 2019. 
 
Tuesday and the Number 13
BAD LUCK: The Curse of the number thirteen is rooted in the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the twelve Apostles when he was betrayed. It is believed that if thirteen people sit down to eat at the same table, one of them will die within a year.
The day of the week varies: in Spain, Mexico and Greece it is Tuesday and thirteen, In the UK and other countries, it is Friday the thirteenth because Jesus was crucified on a Friday.
 
Starting the day on your left foot
BAD LUCK: Petronius in the 'Satyricon' alluded that “misfortune” entered a room or a place with its left foot. In Spain, it may have originated from a  Celtic tradition and the solar motion, which always moved towards the right. To counter-act it one must do the sign of the cross three times.
 
Throwing rice at a wedding 
GOOD LUCK: Before, everyone threw pieces of sweets at the bride and groom, symbolizing happiness and fertility. But in lean times they threw wheat or rice, as it was much cheaper, to this day in Spain, they throw rice.
 
Feeling a buzz in your ear
GOOD LUCK: When you hear or feel a buzz in your ear ask someone to give you a number. The letter of the alphabet that corresponds to that number will be the first letter of the name of the person you expect to marry. "The Left ear is for love and right for spite." If you pinch the right ear immediately when you hear the whistle, the person who is criticizing you will bite their tongue!
 
Somebody casts an “evil eye” (spell - mal de ojo)
BAD LUCK: It is traditionally believed that if we are completely reflected in the pupil of an eye, we could be trapped by it. Therefore, from ancient Rome to the Middle Ages, those who had cataracts or other visual defects were often sacrificed at the stake. In Greece, Turkey and Egypt are widely believed that there are people with evil powers in their eyes, even unconsciously, one with these powers could cause harm just by casting their eyes over something. For protection, one needs to carry garlic, gold and silver, blue glass eyes and horseshoes.
 
Spilling salt
BAD LUCK: Its origin dates back to 3500 B.C. Then, they believed that salt was incorruptible, which is why it became a symbol of friendship. Hence the belief that if you spill it, the friendship would break. To counteract this effect, one would take a pinch of the spilt salt and throw it over one’s left shoulder.
 
Saying "Jesus" or "bless you" when someone sneezes
GOOD LUCK: It was because sneezing was the beginning of many different diseases and so one asked God to drive away the danger of infection. It is also said that it was to keep the devil from entering through the mouth.
 
Spilling wine
BAD LUCK: When you spill wine on the table, you should immediately put a little of it on your forehead for good luck and if it was champagne then you have to touch it with the tip of your fingers and put it on the earlobe to achieve eternal happiness. The origin of this belief is thought to be related to the fetus as it begins life with the earlobe. For this reason, when you soak it in champagne you’re wishing that your life will be surrounded by all kinds of happiness and joy. 
 
Bringing a used broom to a new house
BAD LUCK: You mustn’t take a used broom with you when you move house, as doing so, will bring bad luck and all the misfortune from the previous home.
 
Breaking a mirror
BAD LUCK:It is said to curse you with seven years bad luck. The mirror was a magical element of divination, so if it broke, it was so that it couldn’t show the frightening future ahead. Seven years is due to the belief that the body renews itself every seven years.
 
Placing bread upside down on the table or dropping it on the ground
BAD LUCK: Bread is a staple food. Therefore there have been several superstitions that have arisen related to making it, cutting it, eating it and offering it to others. Placing it upside down is supposed to bring bad luck because it's treated as an insult to the body of Christ, also, when it falls to the ground it is custom to kiss it and do the sign of the cross three times to ward off misfortune.
 
Parsley
GOOD LUCK: In Ancient Greece parsley was considered a sacred plant that symbolised triumph and resurrection. Driven by this belief, the Greeks adorned graves with wreaths of parsley.
 
Putting a hat on the bed
BAD LUCK: Putting a hat on the bed is an omen, in Spain and Italy, that means something bad will happen. This superstition has another meaning: that your mind will go blank. This belief probably comes from the symbolism of the hat, which represents the head and thoughts and is a symbol of identity.
 
An off-centred picture hanging on the wall or falling from the wall where it was hung.
BAD LUCK: This idea has its origins in ancient Greece, where it was believed that if the portrait of a monarch or a celebrity fell to the ground suffering serious damage it meant that they would soon die.
 
Putting a cactus on the windowsill
GOOD LUCK: A popular belief says that this plant wards away the evil of the house. It’s great ability to absorb moisture from the atmosphere makes it a powerful protector against evil spirits, that need moisture to grow. The custom of placing a cactus by doors and windows, observed in all the Mediterranean comes from the belief that if spirits find water along the way, they could drown crossing it and be trapped there forever.
 
Sweeping the feet of a single woman or a widow
BAD LUCK: This meant that they would never marry. Related to witches.
 
A falling eyelash
GOOD LUCK: The Devil collects eyelashes and, according to tradition, losing one meant running all kinds of dangers. So if one falls, put it on the back of your hand and throw it over your shoulder or place it on the tip of your nose, blow it upwards and make a wish.
 
Throwing coins into a well or fountain
GOOD LUCK: It comes from ancient divination, the ritual of throwing stones or hairpins down a well, in order to know whether a fact would be fulfilled or not. If bubbles rose to the water surface it meant that they would be fulfilled.
 
A black cat walking towards you or which crosses your path 
BAD LUCK: Although in Egypt it was believed that the cats were the reincarnation of the gods, centuries later, the Catholic Church regarded them as the reincarnation of the devil, so they were burned. Black was identified with the devil being the colour of night. In most of Europe and North America it is believed that a black cat brings bad luck if it moves away from you, but good luck if it walks towards you. In Spain it pretty much in any direction, but its always bad luck!
 

 



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Christmas eating needs a good digestif...stock up!
13 December 2018

Licor de Orujo, or simply Orujo, is a Spanish liquor which is very similar to other European distilled spirits such as marc from France, grappa from Italy and tsiroupo from Greece. All of these drinks are made by distilling grape marc/pomace, which is the solid part of the grape that is left  over after the fruit has been pressed - in other words the skins. In Spain it is most common to drink this after a heavy meal as a digestif.

The name of the drink also comes from the ingredients. Those of you who study Spanish might know that the left over parts of the grape after crushing are called 'orujos' in Spanish. The skins, seeds and stalks of the grapes are all put into closed vats and then fermented before being distilled in order to produce the liquor. The stills, which are called alambique or potas, tend to be like large copper kettles which are heated over an open fire. These stills were brought to Spain by the Moors when they conquered Spain.

 


The distillation process in order to produce alcohol actually originated in Ancient Greece and Alexandria, one of the main focal points of Mediterranean culture during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Alcohol distillation become much more advanced later on thanks to the Arabs, who applied their knowledge and blending techniques to alcohol distillation. Alcohol is actually an Arabic word. Back in these times, distilled spirits were often believed to have medicinal properties - an opinion that still exists today.

 

Licor de Orujo however, only appears many centuries later; the first reference to the spirit being in 1663 when a Jesuit monk from Germany, named Atanasio Kircher, documented the existence of hard liquors such as orujo being produced from grape marcs in his chemistry treaty.

Since this time, the history of orujo has been difficult. As soon as the hard liquors began being produced, the government began imposing heavy taxes on the drink and the production and consumption of such liquors and distilled drinks were actually banned during the 19th century. Concessions and allowances began to be made during the first few years of the 20th century, although there were still a number of obstacles that orujo had to tackle.

Orujo at this time was often produced from portable stills, and distillers would travel from town to town to produce the drink. People would give the distiller their grape harvest, which he would then make into orujo. The people would then receive most of the liqour back, although the distiller would take a cut of it to cover his expenses and a bit of profit too!

Now, licor de orujo has to be made to industry and legal standards, although the drink is very commonly made at home. This level of regulated quality has also led to a number of highly revered distilled spirits being produced over the past two decades, and in fact, many licores de orujo have now been awarded Designations of Origin. These DO licores de orujo are produced from high quality grapes and are now replacing some of the home-made versions, which tend to only be found in small towns and villages.

Today, licor de orujo is produced mainly in the northern regions of Spain such as León, Galicia and Asturias, however the liquor is drunk throughout the country. So no matter where you decided to go when you visit Spain, you will still be available to find this drink in a bar or restaurant.

The best place to try licor de orujo is in Galicia, and more specifically, in the town of Potes. It is here that, every November, the Fiesta del Orujo is celebrated and there are many opportunities to taste the best of the liquor. They also hold a distilling competition where people produce the drink using their own stills and then judges award prizes for the orujo which tastes the best.

Orujo which has just been distilled is actually a clear liquid but it is often that you will find orujo which is more of an amber colour. This amber version of the Spanish spirit is called 'orujo envejecido' which means 'aged orujo' which is normally fermented and distilled in the same way as normal orujo, but it is then left to age in oak barrels for around two years which then produces the distinctive colour. You may also find Orujo de Hierbas which is  yellowy in colour but this orujo has a higher sugar content so it doesn't taste as strong and it has also been macerated with wild herbs giving it a very distinct flavour. Whichever one you try, I am sure you'll love it!

(One of my favourites is Martin Codax as pictured)



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