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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 Fortress of Cuenca
16 April 2019

 

 

 

The Old Town of Cuenca is an exceptional example of the medieval fortress town that has preserved its original townscape intact, along with many examples of religious and secular architecture from the 12th to 18th centuries. The walled town blends into and enhances the fine rural and natural landscape within which it is situated.

 

Cuenca is an ensemble, Islamic in origin, which reached its greatest splendour during the medieval and Renaissance centuries, when Cuenca had a leading place among the towns belonging to the Castilian crown. Cuenca is a 'fortress town' where the architecture conforms to the natural landscape, resulting in a cultural heritage of universal value. It may be considered a prototype of the 'landscape town'. The lack of space within the walls, along with the need to straddle the river valleys, has resulted an unusual development of the vernacular architecture, with exceptional groups on the cliffs overlooking the river Huécar and the Júcar.

 

When the Moors conquered Spain they took advantage of one of the best defensive sites on the lberian peninsula, to build a fortress-town from which to control the vast area of the Kura de Kunka, in the heart of the Caliphate of Córdoba. It developed between the castle and the Alcázar, adapting itself to the terrain.

 

Alfonso VIII of Castille captured the town in 1177 and Cuenca entered a new phase of its history as a "Royal town" and consequently Christian. The Christian town was built over the Moorish one and began to spread down from the crest of the hill. lt became a manufacturing town and one of the nuclei of the Castilian economy as well as an administrative centre.

 

During the 16th century Cuenca experienced a large increase in population, which tripled to some sixteen thousand by 1594. The intra-muros area was gradually taken over by religious institutions, the wealthier citizens moving to the lower parts of the town and the common people to new suburban areas. This was the period of Cuenca's flowering, with a large textile industry and flourishing trade. 

 

The urban fabric stabilised itself at this time, not to change significantly until the present century: the fortified upper town is a closed and densely settled medieval urban space, the lower town open and ordered. The early 17th century saw the collapse of the textile industry and an economic crisis. Only the ecclesiastical element of the town survived relatively unscathed and continued to build: Cuenca became a monastic town and Baroque architecture began to appear in the townscape but the town underwent a period of deterioration: ancient buildings either collapsed or were demolished because they were unsafe. The historic fortified enclosure was virtually abandoned by its wealthier residents and became a largely working class and monastic area.

 

The rehabilitation plan of 1918 accomplished very little beyond the widening of some of the streets and restoration of some facades. The upper town is the archetype of the fortress-town, and the part that gives Cuenca its individual character. The Castillo quarter is a small suburb just outside the walls, with vernacular houses. From here the fortified town is reached by a bridge.

 

 

Some remains of the Moorish fortress still survive, among the large aristocratic houses, monasteries, and churches along San Pedro and Trabuco streets, from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The 12th-century cathedral, built on the site of the former Great Mosque and the first Gothic cathedral in Spain with its Plateresque chapels, is located on the Plaza Mayor, which is also the site of the Town Hall and the Petras convent. Its churches and monastic ensembles are notable artistic features of Cuenca.

 

 

Most were founded early in the town's history and underwent many transformations and additions over the centuries that followed. The private houses near the Episcopal Palace were built in the later medieval period on the spectacular steep bluffs overlooking the bend of the Huécar River. Most of them were rebuilt in the 16th century in their present narrow, high form, with two or three rooms on each of three or more floors. These houses are what have made Cuenca so popular as a tourist attraction, commonly known as the "Hanging Houses of Cuenca".

 

 

 

 

The importance of the upper town lies, however, not so much in its individual buildings, although many of these are of outstanding architectural and artistic quality, as in the townscape that they create when looked at as a group, on the fortified site dominating the river valleys. It is this which gives Cuenca its special character and quality. 

 

 

 

 

 


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BEST TIME TO VISIT :  ANY TIME OF YEAR 



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A Virgin in Rocky Huesca
10 April 2019

On the top of a rocky ridge in near the town of Barbastro, in the Huesca province is a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Torreciudad, a “Black Madonna.”

Black Madonna’s are images of the Virgin Mary depicted with dark skin. Created in medieval Europe, the origin of the black Madonna are unknown though some scholars believe that the dark skin represents a blending with pre-Christian female icons. Relatively rare, with roughly 350-400 throughout Europe, they are seen as special and given particular reverance. 

In 1904, a very ill two year old named Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was taken by his parents to this Black Madonna mountain shrine to be healed. The young Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer not just recovered but would go on to found Opus Dei in 1928, which teaches  that ordinary life is a path to sanctity, and everyone can be holy. Opus Deibecame a huge movement within the church and Escrivá was sainted in 2002. 

(Opus Dei is also a very controversial movement within the Catholic Church, particularly for its use of mortification of the flesh, such as the use of a cilice — a small metal band with inward pointing spikes worn around the upper thigh. Josemaria Escriva himself felt pain - both spiritual and physical - was holy, saying   “Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. Glorified be pain!” Opus Dei got thrust into the spotlight when it was featured in Dan Brown’s factually ridiculous book the Da Vinci Code.)

 

 

 

Nearly seventy years after his recovery at the shrine, Josemaria Escriva decided to build a monument to God near the shrine that saved his life. Called the Santuary of Torreciudad, it was inaugurated on 7 July 1975, shortly after Josemaría Escrivá’s death. 

 

 

The sanctuary done in a 1970s architectural style holds a crypt, a 30 foot alter, and a large bronze Christ. The chapel contains an old inn, which is also open to the public. The church is also the site of major pilgrimage between April and October. 



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The Southern Pilgrimage
02 April 2019

        
 
This pilgrimage of El Rocio is the most famous in the region, attracting nearly a million people from across Andalucia and the entire country, and beyond. Every Andalucian city, town and village has its own pilgrimages, for its patron saint, virgin or other much-loved local figure. But the El Rocio has cult status, and is the most important and most colourful. It follows on from Semana Santa (March/April), and the various spring ferias, of which Seville's Feria de Abril (April) is the biggest.
 
 
 
This cult dates back to the 13th century, when a hunter from the village of Villamanrique (or Almonte, depending on which version of the story you follow) discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk in the Doñana park. A chapel was built where the tree stood, and it became a place of pilgrimage. Devotion to this particular version of the Virgin was initially a local affair. Then, by the 17th century, hermandades (brotherhoods) were making the trip from nearby towns at Pentecost; by the 19th century, they came from all over Huelva, Cadiz and Seville, on a journey taking up to four days. Over the next century, the cult of the Virgin del Rocio became more and more widespread, and these days participants come from as far away as Barcelona and the Canary Islands - not to mention tourists who travel from abroad, around Europe and even further afield.
 
The object of the pilgrimage is a 13th-century statue of the Virgen Del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew), in the town of the same name. El Rocio is in Huelva province, in the heart of the Doñana park, between Almonte and the coast. Most pilgrims, known as rocieros, approach the town through the park itself.
 
The town of El Rocío is a sprawling, pretty Wild-West-style place (you tie your horse to a wooden rail with a sign saying "Reservado Caballos" - reserved for horses - while you have a drink or a meal), with sandy, unpaved roads (easier on the hooves). For a few days in late May or early June, Catholic hermandades (brotherhoods) and countless others flock from all over Andalucia, Spain, and beyond, to the town, to pay tribute to the Virgin del Roció, housed in her own church in the town.
 
Until the 1950s the town had only a few houses, and everyone camped in their wagons. Now, each of the 90 or so brotherhoods has its own house with stables, as well as its own chapel, with its name displayed at the front. Its members and their friends and families, and their horses, eat and sleep here during the pilgrimage weekend. People bring mattresses and bed down anywhere they can. There are impromptu parties, open-air masses, horse races and competitions between the hermandades. And lots of singing and dancing, at all hours of the day and night. These brotherhoods also stay at their houses at weekends throughout the year, with their families in tow, making each visit into a big fiesta.
 
The pilgrimage takes place over the weekend before Pentecost Monday, the seventh weekend after Easter. People start arriving on the Friday before, and leave again on Tuesday.
 
 
Every late May, or early June, in villages and cities across Andalucia (especially the western part), you can see the locals gear up their covered wagons and don traditional Andalucian clothing - broad-brimmed hats and traje corto for men (grey, brown or black trousers, often with Western-style leather chaps, and boots), and flamenco dresses for women - a slightly different style, with a fuller skirt than the fitted Feria dresses - to head off to the El Roció shrine, accompanied by their own virgin on her simpecado (float).
 
Some still make the journey the traditional way, on horseback, or in picturesque gypsy-style covered wagons (reminiscent of the Wild West), adorned with flowers (either real or imitation), with curtains tied back, offering a glimpse of the interior. These are pulled by pairs of oxen, whose yokes have decorated leather headpieces, and bells hanging round their necks. It is a spectacular sight - one not to be missed if you are in the area (especially Western Andalucia) that week. In Seville, for example, groups of horse-riders (men are called jinetes, women amazonas) and processions of gypsy caravans from the Seville brotherhoods, gather by the cathedral on the Wednesday morning before, as they prepare to set off on their pilgrimage to El Rocio. They return the following Wednesday. Other hermandades leave from all over Andalucia, earlier in the week.
 
 
There are three main, traditional routes, and most hermandades, wherever they are arriving from, eventually join one of these. These depart from Triana (Sevilla, to the north-east), Sanlucar de Barrameda (south), and Huelva (west).
 
People also travel in big trailers pulled by tractors, ideally with shade as it can get very hot, as well as lots of food and drink. The rocieros sit on benches along the sides of the trailers, including many children who go on the pilgrimage every year. The more practical and comfortable, though less attractive, option is a big white caravan, with the same curved roof as the traditional models, complete with air-con and running water. This is pulled by a 4x4, as the route takes rocieros through the Doñana park, including several river crossings, so a tough vehicle is essential.
 
 
Rocieras (flamenco style songs) are joyfully sung about the Pilgrimage. Everyone sings rocieras (flamenco-style songs about the pilgrimage) as they travel, and again at night around the campfire when the hermandades have stopped to eat, drink and dance and make merry, accompanied by plenty of wine. It is alleged by some that the annual baby boom which happens nine months after El Rocio always includes offspring produced as a result of extra-marital dalliances.
 
To reach the shrine, pilgrims must cross part of the Doñana park, which is a protected area full of rare wildlife, including the famous lynx wild boar, horses, and many water birds on the marisma (wetlands) such as flamingos, herons, storks and egrets. Law enforcement is well organised, with Guardia Civil and others working hard not only to keep order, but also to protect the environment. Fire is a special concern, as this event is one long party involving copious amounts of drinking and smoking. Information campaigns combine with round-the-clock surveillance in order to keep both participants and Doñana safe every year. Volunteers follow the rocieros to collect the thousands of kilos of rubbish left behind.

It has been criticised by many for the "hedonistic" and "pagan" aspect of the encampments, which is compared to the tales of Chaucer or Boccaccio; the absurd prices of real estate in El Rocío, where even the humblest house is now worth millions of euros; and the ecological impact on the surrounding Doñana National Park or Coto de Doñana, especially since the introduction of motor vehicles

In the early hours of Pentecost Monday, the Virgin is brought out of her church by the Almonte hermandad, who claim her as their own. A tussle ensues between the various other brotherhoods for the honour of carrying her to the next chapel, and so she journeys around the town, visiting all the hermandades' chapels, for the rest of the day. Popularly known as La Paloma Blanca (the White Dove), she is an object of massive veneration in Andalucia, and huge crowds push and shove just to get the chance to touch the glass case in which the Virgin sits, as she sways dangerously from side to side. People even lift small babies up to touch her. This remarkable, chaotic event is always televised by Canal Sur, the Andalucian regional TV station.
 
 
 
If you are not able to go on the El Rocio pilgrimage, the town of El Rocio itself is worth a visit at any time of the year. The modern church of Nuestra Señora del Rocio, dating from the 1960s, is a stunning sight when viewed from across the water (stop off at the restaurant by the entrance to the town), where the dazzling white sanctuary stand out like a beacon against the verdant green of the marisma, inhabited by wild horses, and the deep blue of the sky.
 
Equestrians will find plenty of shops offering riding gear, from (Western-style) tack, to all kinds of hats and boots, leather bags and woollen shawls, as well as flamenco dresses. If the wooden houses with verandas looks familiar, it's because the Spanish pioneers took their style of architecture with them from Andalucia when they sailed to North America.
 
 


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BEST TIME TO VISIT :  THE FIRST MONDAY AFTER PENTECOST SUNDAY (WHIT SUNDAY) IN 2019 IT WILL FALL ON THE 9th JUNE.

HERE IS A LINK TO CHECK WHICH DAY IT FALLS ON EACH YEAR :  www.rocio.com/index.php



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You've never seen a vineyard like this one before...
19 March 2019

 

There is no comparison with any other place in the Canary Islands, nor in Spain, nor any other place in the world. This is La Geria, a dark volcanic immensity splashed with grapevines that survive the dampness of the trade winds and the dew absorbed by the black lapilli or picón, the ash residues and lava flowing over the crater.This, in addition to the low walls that protect the malvasía plants against the incessant winds, reveal an extraordinary landscape, like an experimental farm on the Moon, and a wine that is increasingly more appreciated, because wines take on the flavour of the earth and this, most certainly, has its flavour enhanced from the volcano. Half a dozen white bodegas inhabit the lonely black landscapes of La Geria. El Grifo is a must-see. It is the oldest winery on the Canary Islands (1775) and one of the most acclaimed, with the Wine Museum and Library where texts from the 16th century are preserved.

 

 

The La Geria Protected Landscape borders the Timanfaya National Park, the 'Mountains of Fire' that razed a third of the island between 1730 and 1736, strikingly turning everything black. After passing through La Geria on the highway that joins Mozaga and Uga, go towards Yaiza, the most beautiful village on Lanzarote, which the molten lava did not quite reach in 1736. From here go directly towards Timanfaya on the LZ-67, a highway with no edges or white lines that goes through a desert of wrinkled and rough lava, like it has been smashed up with hammer blows. The only thing that breaks the solitude of the 'malpaís' (lit: bad land) so called because it is impossible to cultivate, and cannot even be walked on, is the pandemonium of the Moorish Camel Train souk, where tourists can take a walk among the camels.

 

 

Wines from La Geria, Lanzarote

The 'Route of the Volcanoes' begins on the islet of Hilario, a 14 km bus tour from which you can see the infernal panorama from the double crater of Timanfaya, 447 metres above sea level. To vary the trip, from La Geria you can return via Mancha Blanca, taking the opportunity to visit the park's interpretation centre and later going towards the south on the LZ-56, the most beautiful highway on the island, once again among lunar vineyards.

 



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The Largest Fortified Neolithic Settlement in Europe - Los Millares
05 March 2019

Just 17km from Almería between Santa Fe de Mondujar y Gádor lies Los Millares, the largest known European fortified Neolithic settlement, dated c. 3,200-2,300 BC. The site includes a settlement and a cemetery with over 80 megalithic tombs. Three walls and an inner citadel with an elaborate fortified entrance make up part of extensive fortifications at Los Millares. Thirteen nearly circular enclosures were forts protecting it. Within the three walls are 80 passage graves.

 

 

Los Millares was constructed in three phases, each phase increasing the level of fortification. The fortification is not unique to the Mediterranean area of the 3rd millennium; other sites with bastions and defensive towers include the sites of Jericho, Ai, and Aral (in Palestine) and Lebous, Boussargues and Campe of Laures (in France). It consists of a settlement, guarded by numerous outlying forts and a cemetery of passage tombs and covers around 5 acres. 

Three concentric walls with four bastions surrounded the settlement itself; radiocarbon dating has established that one wall collapsed and was rebuilt around 3,025 BC. A cluster of simple dwellings lay inside the walls as well as one large building containing evidence of copper smelting.

Finally, the fortified citadel at the very top of the spur has only been investigated so far by means of various pilot trenches, which have revealed walls up to six metres thick, confirming the great importance of the structure. Within its grounds, there is a deep hollow, which is thought to be a water cistern but so far has not been excavated.

Los Millares was discovered in 1891 during the course of the construction of a railway and was first excavated by Luis Siret in the succeeding years. Antonio Arribas and Fernando Molina from the University of Granada later excavated Los Millares from 1978-1995, and analysis continues on the massive amounts of information collected.

 

 

The strategic sequence of the site shows that the settlement went through various phases of occupation. The first was during the early copper age (3,200 to 2,800 B.C.) when the three interior walls were constructed. The second was during the middle copper age (2,800 to 2,450 B.C.), when the innermost wall was demolished and the outer wall constructed, together with most of the small forts outside the settlement itself. Finally, in the late copper age (2,450 to 2,250 B.C.) the first bell beakers appeared, a form of pottery that was produced henceforth on a large scale in the village. During this late period, some profound social upheaval brought about a gradual decline in the size of the settlement, whose inhabitants gradually retired towards the fortified citadel. The site appears to have been finally abandoned around 2,250 B.C

 

 

 Over eighty megalithic tombs are visible outside the settlement. The majority are of the type mentioned above, but tombs without corbelled roofs also exist. The chronology of tomb construction and use is unclear, but analysis of tomb forms, sizes, numbers of burials, contents, and distributions suggests that the dead were selected for interment and that social ranking had emerged, with higher-ranked groups being buried in tombs located close to the settlement.

 

Similar Tholos Tombs are common in Mycenaean remains, and a connection is commonly suggested. They are also present at other places in Spain, noticeably at the Cueva de Viera, which sits beside the great Cueva de Menga passage mound. Holed stones are also a common feature of dolmens in the Caucasus region of Russia where hundreds are visible.

 

 

Large sheets of slate that were punched through and rounded off to make the entrances we see today, divided the entrances. The chambers of the Tholos were lined with vertical slabs of slate, often painted red, sometimes with small niches present (used for the burial of children). The graves were finally covered over with conical mounds of earth and stones. Many were given an outer skirting of slabs or masonry to strengthen the structure. Almost all the tombs were orientated east of southeast, except for a small group of seven mounds were orientated southwest.

The tombs were collective with the number of skeletons discovered ranging from a dozen to over a hundred. Burial offerings included objects such as ivory and ostrich eggshell, copper tools, pottery vessels, arrowheads and flint knives.

The presence of such great quantities of mineral resources in the region is likely to be part of the reason for the existence of Los Millares in the first place. The parallel with the Minoans continues in the addition of arsenic as an antioxidant to their copper products. Arsenic is readily available in the local region of Sierra de Gador. Among the buildings dedicated to specialised activities, two areas have been identified as having once housed metallurgical workshops. While along the northern stretch of the outer wall there are several square and round buildings dedicated to this, the best-preserved workshop is situated in a large rectangular building attached to the inner facade of the third line of fortification. Of considerable size, about 8m long by 6.5m wide, it was built with a solid masonry technique, with a door opening to the east. Inside are the remains of three structures: a mass of 1.3m in diameter with fragments of copper ore, a furnace delineated by a ring of clay with a depression at its centre to put the pot furnaces, and a small structure with slabs of slate in its northeast corner. It is suggested that this building was never roofed, as there are no post-holes present.

 

LOS MILLARES


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Discover Spain's best Paprika
27 February 2019

Paprika is a fundamental ingredient in traditional Spanish cooking, with a flavour that brings to mind comfort food at its finest.

The aroma, flavour and colour of paprika leaves its unmistakeable signature on each dish as well as some of the most typical charcuterie products in Spanish culture.

Chillies were brought over from the west and with them the varieties associated with paprika. Once harvested, they are fire or sun dried. They are then ground until the final texture is reached and then sold.
The paprika that is protected under the Designation of Origin comes from La Vera or Murcia.

The paprika from La Vera (my favourite) is made from Capsicum annuum chillies of the Capsicum cerasiforme and Capsicum longum varieties, which are used to make three different types of paprika: sweet, sweet and sour, and spicy; a wood-burning fire with oak or holm oak provide all the heat necessary to perfectly dehydrate paprika and give it its characteristic “smokiness” both in aroma and flavour.

 

Paprika from Murcia, on the other hand comes from grinding red Capsicum Annuum longum chillies of the bola variety that have been dried in the sun or with hot air.

 


The best tip for buying this spice is to opt for the products with a Designation of Origin (DO) “Pimentón de la Vera” (La Vera Paprika) or “Pimentón de Murcia” (Murica Paprika) seal. This spice is widely available, but the ones that are not protected under the DOs do not offer the same quality or flavour. These are the logos you should look our for:

 

                 

 

 

Paprika has only 3 kcal per gram. It is rich in Beta-Carotene, which acts as a very effective antibiotic, and it also contains riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) in smaller quantities. Of its minerals, it is richest in iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. It also contains lycopene, a very effective antioxidant that slows down the ageing process, and capsaicin, which promotes good circulation, stimulating the appetite and aiding in digestion.

 



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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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