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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 Royal Kitchens
12 January 2021

The Royal Palace in Madrid not so long ago restored their royal kitchens which are once again open to the public. However, given the current pandemic restrictions, you should check before going as to whether tours are open or not. If you do manage to go, this is no ordinary visit: these are the oldest well-preserved kitchens of all the royal palaces in Europe. 

There are older ones, and ones that were bigger and better equipped, but they were all lost through indolence or renovations. The Italian architect Juan Bautista Sachetti designed these kitchens in 1737, and they were capable of turning out elaborate royal menus with as many as 42 entrees. The king could not, of course, eat everything, so the leftover delicacies would trickle down to feed his legion of servants and courtiers.

Enormous copper kettles, stone sinks the size of a bathtub, cold stores from the days of Alfonso XII, a large pot shaped like a turbot, cutting tables and knife holders, vegetable wringers, trays, ceramics and giant mortars... this is just a taste of what visitors will find inside.

The royal kitchens operated uninterruptedly for three centuries, but the last time that cooking took place there on a daily basis was during the Republic. Since then, these 800 square meters have been used to cater specific events held at the palace, including the 2004 wedding of Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.

The current appearance of these rooms is the work of Queen Isabel II, who last redecorated them, although they also contain some changes made by her son and grandson, the Alfonsos, and some other items from previous centuries, for a total of 2,625 objects.

In the catalogue of the exhibition, written by the curator José Luis Sancho, there is a description of the kitchens by Luis de la Peña Onetti, who was a guard for Alfonso XIII. “It was certainly worth admiring the spectacle of those spacious buildings, full of old and modern china and utensils, where the copper accentuated its bright color. All this was cleaned and well organized by a small army of cooks led by the head chef…”

Royal Palace curator Pilar Benito discussed details and anecdotes at the presentation of the kitchens, including stories about Alfonso XII’s taste for roast beef, and the many diners who made use of what was cooked in the Royal Palace. The whole court took advantage of those kitchens and the food that the king rejected. And although there was a lot of French food served, there was never any shortage of cocido, that most Madrileño of stews.



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The Home of Pacharan - Spain's "cure" for all illnesses.
06 January 2021

Legend has it that Blanca de Navarra (1385-1441) was cured of all her ills after she drank Pacharan at the Santa María de Nieva Monastery. Six hundred years on, this ruby-red anisette flavoured nectar obtained from sloe berries has become an almost obligatory finale to any typical Navarre meal as the preferred digestif. So it would be an ideal ending for the festive meals we are currently enjoying!

A drive or a cycle around the centre of Navarre, is a pleasure for the senses: varied landscapes, beautiful villages, magnificent monasteries and encounters with hardworking people, all rolled into one easily accessible experience.

The A-12 from Pamplona to Logroño runs parallel to the Way of St. James and round Perdon Wind Farm, brushing Puente del Reina and taking you directly to Estella, capital of the River Ega region. Close by, just three kilometres from Abarzuza, where Navarre's best home-made pacharan (sloe berry liquor) is produced, is Iranzu Monastery, built in the 12th century by Cistercian monks in the foothills of the Urbasa mountain chain; today it is inhabited by Theatine monks. It was subsequently abandoned and later restored by the Navarrese government's Príncipe de Viana Foundation. It is a beautiful Medieval ensemble of buildings. Visitors can stay at the Hospederia, where they can savour the local pacharan.

 

Iranzu Monastery

 

 

In the heart of Estella, just the other side of Azucarero bridge, which spans the river Ega and dates back to medieval times, is the Plaza San Martin, with the 16th century Fuente de Los Chorros fountain. This is where calle Rua starts. This street, narrow and full of charm, is full of magnificent 16th-century buildings and Gothic arches. However, before turning into this street, first of all visit the ensemble of made up of the Plaza San Martin, the palace of the Navarrese kings - a late Romanesque architectural jewel that has been converted into the Gustavo de Maeztu Museum -, the Courthouse, which was the Town Hall from the 14th to the 19th century, and the Fortress-Church of San Pedro de la Rua, which dates back to the 12th century and has a marvellous outdoor cloister.

 

 

Next, you will come to the Jewish Quarter. Very nearby you will find the 12th century Church of the Santo Sepulcro with its magnificent 14th-century portal, although the building is closed to the public. Going towards the city centre will take you to the Carcel bridge, also of Medieval origin. 

From the bridge, you will be able to see the Church of Santa María Jus del Castillo, which was a synagogue before it was converted to a Romanesque church in the 12th century. Also worth a visit is the Church of San Miguel to see its beautiful 12th-century portico.

Three kilometres from Estella, going towards Logroño, stands Irache Monastery. It was built by the Benedictine monks in the 11th century and today it comprises an ensemble of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. It has been a hostel for pilgrims, a university and work will soon begin to convert it into a Parador (State-run hotel).

 

 

The next stop in the itinerary is Dicastillo, which can be reached by taking the NA-122, and then turning off onto the NA-6341. This is a village set on the hillside with a main street full of stately homes sporting coats of arms. The most spectacular is the Palacio de la Vega. Owned by Countess Vega del Pozo, it was built at the end of the 19th century in pure Neo-gothic style. It is an impressive building, due to its size, its imposing appearance and its location on top of a hill. From Dicastillo it is best to go back to Estella and once again take the A-12, and then the N-111, which will take you to Viana. 

The town, just like the whole route, is closely linked to the Way of St James. The art, history and monumental nature of its buildings make it a place of special interest. It is a walled town, with a high street lined with stone houses adorned with coats of arms. In 2007 it celebrated the fifth centenary of Cesar Boria, who was mortally wounded as he rode these lands in his endeavour to win back Viana castle for the king of Navarre. You can finish the route at the Church of Santa María de Viana, where you can listen to the Gregorian chants that can be heard inside.

The drink Pacharan is basically a liqueur obtained by macerating sloe berries - the bluish-black fruit from the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

The name comes from the Basque word "basaran" which means sloe. Pacharan has always been well known and was drunk in Navarre as far back as the Middle Ages.

Wild blackthorns can be found all over Europe and they have been cultivated in Navarre since 1997. The sloe berries are harvested in autumn.

Pacharan should be red or intense pink in colour. The presence of sediment or cloudiness indicates incorrect filtering.  It has a high energy content: approximately 292 kcal per 100 ml, which comes from its alcohol content - between 25% and 30% - and the sugar content so moderate consumption is recommended. 

The gastronomy in this region is rich and varied: The gorrín asado (baked suckling pig) is a typical dish of Estella; however, the seasoned red beans with belly pork, small stuffed peppers, vegetable panache, lamb chilindron or ajoarriero, are also delicious, always accompanied by the great wines that visitors enjoy so much. For dessert, cheese for Urbasa, made from (latxa  sheep's milk) is a must that will delight any palate. And as the grand finale, the obligatory pacharan.

Pacharan liqueur, Urbasa cheese and Rocas del Puy are almost essential purchases for all visitors who decide to travel through Navarre. The brand of Pacharan and the size of the bottle chosen in the wineries and food or wine stores will depend on each visitor's tastes and requirements. Cheeses can be purchased in specialised shops, supermarkets and in the rural houses in the area, and the Rocas del Puy, toasted hazelnuts covered in dark chocolate, in cake shops. 

Taking into account the climate, the best time to visit the area of Pamplona, Dicastillo and Viana is during spring and summer. The trees that adorn this area parallel to the Way of St James paint a landscape that uses all the colours of the palette. In autumn the sloes are harvested, which is something not to be missed. 

Vega del Pozo Palace in Dicastillo was built at the end of the 19th century, having been expressly commissioned by Countess Vega del Pozo. It is outstanding not only because of its unique geographical placement but also because of its huge size and spectacular architecture.

The Church of San Pedro de la Rua in Estella and its cloister make up a beautiful ensemble. Built in late Romanesque style, it has an impressive entrance stairway. Its façade dates back to the middle of the 13th century. The cloister, built in the early 12th century, was partially demolished in the 16th century. Its steeples are of extremely high sculptural quality.

The annual festivities in Viana are held from 21 to 25 July. The festivities in honour of the patron saints of Estella, which are the most important in this area of Central Navarre, begin on the Friday before the first Sunday of August and last a week.

It is a province which is well worth a visit.

 

Parque Urredera, Navarra



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2021 Destinations : Anaga Natural Park
30 December 2020

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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It's Christmas Lottery time again!
21 December 2020

Spain's Christmas lottery has been running for over 200 years. I have no idea how long other lotteries have been working but in Spain the Christmas lottery is a tradition, an institution, and plays a major role in boosting the Christmas Spirit.

 

I must admit when I first came to Spain I found it quite confusing; “series”, “billetes”,  “decimos”, “participaciones” etc. and then the prizes which seem endless, when the results are published the following day in the paper it takes up pages and pages. To give you an idea of how important this is for the Spanish and their festive spirit, this year there is an expected average spend per inhabitant of in the Valencian community of €75, slightly more than last year.  This year there is an expected turnover of more than 3,6 Billion Euros of which 70% will go to back out in prize money. Not quite sure what happens to the other 30%, which is a fair whack!

 

Originally in 1812, it was an idea created by a Minister called Diriaco Gonzalez to increase the government income without penalising the people via additional tax. As it goes there are over 15,000 prizes given out. . 

 

 

 

 

In total 180 million “decimos” (tenths) are put on sale in the month of July at €20 a ticket.  A decimo is a tenth of a “billete”- Note. So obviously if you want all of the decimos of a particular number you need to buy the entire “Billete” at €200.

 

Each number assigned to a “Billete” is printed up 180 times into what they call “Series” – serial numbers, basically, so each run of decimos has a different serial number. So if you chose for example 12,345 as your preferred number (always five digits) to buy all of the tickets that carry this number in the country you would have to buy 180 “Billetes” (all the serial numbers) meaning you would have to cash out €36,000.

 

Finally you have "participaciones" which are shares of "decimos" normally divided in to 10 parts aswell, so 1/10th of a "decimo"- 2 euros. This is normally done by groups of people who can't afford to buy so many tickets at €20 and prefer to buy more "shares" in other numbers and hedge their bets for a budget. This is very common in bars and schools, small companies and groups of friends etc. It is also very common for companies to give lottery to their employees as a Christmas gift.

 

As far as the prize money goes, the main prize is the 1st Prize which they call “El Gordo de Navidad” and pays out €4,000,000 per Serial number, which is €400,000 per Decimo. The 2nd prize pays out €1,250,000 per serial number, the third prize €500,000 per serial number and then there are other prizes of €200,000 - €60,000 - €20,000 euros and so on.

 

This lottery, as opposed to other lotteries, does not make any one person stinking rich, mainly because of the price of the tickets. It is designed to share the wealth amongst the people. As the Serial numbers and the Billetes tend to be bought up together without being divided, it is very common for entire villages or neighbourhoods to end up having bought the same number or very similar numbers that also gain prize money, meaning when it hits in a small village the chances are most of the village wins. 

 

On occasions, several “serial numbers” can hit in the same place. When you think that there is a prize of €4,000,000 for each of the 180 “Series” it’s quite a substantial sum that is being distributed just with the 1st prize - €720m. This is why it is so popular because there is a slightly better chance of winning something even though the probability of winning the 1st prize is only 1 in 100,000. Still much better odds than the EuroMillions.

 

However, there is a 1 in 10 chance of getting your money back and coming out evens and a 15,3% chance of actually winning something. If the last number of your ticket coincides with the last number of the 1st prize in your series you get your €20 back. So the thinking is I’ve got a “good chance of winning something” even though it might not be entirely true. Most people wouldn’t invest in anything if it had a 10% chance of breaking even! But this is Christmas and it’s all part of the festive tradition, not even the Spanish Civil war was capable of stopping the lottery. During that period each side stopped and did their Christmas lottery, so it doubled up!

 

 

       

 

 

The prize draw is a major event on TV, many kids take the day off school to stay home and watch the draw, even though they shouldn’t! It lasts for at least 3 hours until all the prizes have been given out. The system used is a traditional one that hasn’t changed much since 1812. It entails two wire spheres that rotate until one wooden ball falls down the shoot. One sphere is for the ticket number and the other is for the prize that corresponds.

 

Every year children from the San Idelfonso School sing out the numbers and the prizes in a very characteristic way, adding to the occasion. So if you are feeling lucky go out and buy a “decimo” who knows?!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


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The Best Wine in the World 2020 is Spanish...
15 December 2020

 

Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010, from the Marqués de Murrieta winery, has managed to snatch the top spot from French wineries and has been recognized as the best wine in the world by Wine Spectator.

Wine Spectator belongs to the most prestigious North American publishing group in the world of luxury, wine and spirits, publishing its respected ranking every year. 48 hours ago and as a preview, they revealed the top 10 positions on the list and Castillo Ygay 2010 has managed to be the undisputed number one, a wine that has been presented to the market this year.


For the elaboration of this ranking, more than 11 thousand wines from all over the world have been tasted and this centenary label has been the only Spanish to be among the 10 best in the world. The rest of the top 10 positions are held by wines from France, Italy and the United States.

The select committee of critics has taken into account different criteria for their evaluations such as quality, the history of the winery, the impeccable image of its wines around the world and what they call the X factor, a criterion associated with feeling, passion and the enthusiasm that wine arouses in tasters.

 

 

In the statement that they have issued announcing the news, they highlight: "For its history, its character and for reminding us of the value of commitment, effort and perseverance, Castillo Ygay 2010 from Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta is the winner of the award for Best Wine in the World"

This recognition is undoubtedly a great achievement for Spanish wine, for Marqués de Murrieta and for the family that leads one of the projects that best represents the quality and good work of Spain.

Its current president, Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga, has achieved with his passion, leadership and dedication that their project has a presence in more than 100 countries and is once again at the head of the best wines in the world. 



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Traditional Christmas Sweets
10 December 2020

Perhaps the most traditional Christmas sweet in Spain is marzipan, a paste of almonds and sugar. There are various theories about its beginnings, although it is certain to have originated in the Mediterranean area, where almonds come from. The stories of the Thousand and one nights mention it as an aphrodisiac, and as a restorative during Ramadan. Others say it first came from convents, many of which still make it. When there was a wheat shortage after the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the nuns began making these sweets with what they had in the larder: almonds and sugar. In Toledo, famous for its marzipan, they used to stamp an image of the King on his throne on the marzipan cakes, copying the city's crest. Curiously, "the King seated", in Arabic, sounds like mauthaban, very similar to the Spanish mazapán. So the debate continues.

 

 

What we can be sure of is that to eat the finest marzipan, you should go to this city in La Mancha, where you can also find traditional variations: anguilas or "eels" with an angel-hair squash filling, thought to have been first made for King Philip III as a gift for the King of Portugal; delicias in the form of a crescent moon, filled with egg paste; castañas, in the form of chestnuts, dipped in chocolate; and empiñonadas, covered in pine nuts.
 
Turrón also seems to have a Muslim origin. A mixture of almonds and honey, called turun, appears for the first time in the book De medicinis et cibis semplicibus, written by an 11th-century Arab doctor. In the 16th century, Philip II's royal cook, Don Francisco Martínez Montiño, comments in his book Conduchos de Navidad that Jijona smells of honey everywhere, because turrón is made in every household. In 1991 the Regulatory Council of the Designation of Jijona was formed, and although traditional turrón is made with almonds and honey, both abundant around Valencia, modern variations can include egg yolk, candied fruit or nuts.

 

As with most culinary inventions, mantecados or lard cakes also arose to meet a need. In the 16th century there was a surplus of pork lard and of cereals, particularly around Seville. In Estepa they decided to mix the lard and flour, adding olive oil, sugar and egg-white, to make mantecados.

Here there is no possibility of an Arab origin. According to their Protected Geographical Indication, mantecados originated in the Convent of Santa Clara in Estepa, where they were first made as flat cakes, and later as the little cakes we see today. Today they can include coconut, cinnamon, sesame seeds and even chocolate. The polvorón is a very similar sweet which was first made around the same time, but includes almonds.

 

 

Christmas meals with children, especially in Catalonia and Aragon, often finish with a type of chocolate-covered Swiss roll. At first sight it looks like a log, but it’s actually a cake filled with cream, the Tronco de Navidad. No-one is sure why these two regions in north-eastern Spain borrowed the Buche de Noel from their French neighbours, who in turn took the idea from the Nordic tradition of the Yule log, where in the northern hemisphere a tree-trunk was burned at the winter solstice between 20 and 23 December as a symbol of prosperity. Like the cake, the log was decorated with flowers, pieces of orange and nuts. In Great Britain, Belgium, and then France, many people took up the tradition of the Yule log, but it fell from favour when enclosed stoves began to be used for heating. A French cake-maker found a solution with this dessert, which quickly became popular in the late 19th century.

 

 

And finally we come to the cake that ends the Christmas season in Spain on 5 or 6 January, depending on the customs of each household: roscón de Reyes. The first people to eat a ring-shaped cake were the Romans, during Saturnalia, also known as the slaves' holiday, because they didn’t have to work. A broad bean would be hidden inside the cake, a symbol of the prosperity that would come in Spring, and of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They spread the tradition all over Europe, but after the arrival of Christianity it endured only in France, where the royal household made the cake with a coin hidden inside. These days it remains a firm tradition in much of Spain, especially in Madrid, accompanied by hot chocolate, and in Latin American countries such as Mexico. 



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The Giants of Santa Maria del Pi
04 December 2020

When entering Santa Maria del Pi, look directly to your right and you will find four giants staring back at you from inside a floor-to-ceiling glass case. These gegants are wearable puppets. They’re a highlight of parades and Catholic feast days in Barcelona and are known for their traditional dances.

The largest giants are the oldest, dating from some time prior to 1601. The man is a Saracen, a medieval Muslim and the woman is a medieval lady. They were temporarily retired in 1780 when King Charles III issued a decree declaring them too grotesque for religious celebrations, but they returned in 1799 for the feast of Corpus Christi after a successful petition on their behalf and a formal pardon.

The smaller giants, the petit gegants, joined in the festivities after the 1780 ban was lifted. They’re dressed as a respectable, upper-class couple and their clothing has often changed with fashion.

 

All four giants were packed in boxes and stored in the bell tower in 1870. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War they were moved to the city’s historical archives and then to the Monastery of Pedralbes. There they were spared during the Tragic Week of 1936 when members of the Radical Party destroyed many of Barcelona’s churches and monasteries. After the war the giants were moved back to Santa Maria del Pi and were sadly forgotten about. 

 

In 1951 the giants were rediscovered and meticulously restored. Nine years later they were back on the streets performing in festivals. In 1985 they were given names to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their rediscovery. The Saracen is now known as Mustafá and the medieval lady Elisenda (to honour Queen Elisenda de Montcada, the foundress of the Monastery of Pedralbes.) The petit gegants are known as Oriol (for St. José, patron saint of the barrio of Pi) and Laia (a nod to St. Eulalia, the patroness of Barcelona).

 



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Castro de Baroña - Location is everything...
26 November 2020

The ruins of this ancient settlement exist only as a series of circular foundations, but what a view they had!

The village 'Castro de Baroña' was constructed not only in a strategic location but also one of incomparable natural beauty, surrounded by beautiful beaches and mountains. A completely excavated seaside example of a settlement dating from the first century BC to the first century AD (the Iberian Iron Age/Galician Castro Culture), it consists of 30 circular or oval stone houses within a double defensive wall. The settlement was not positioned in this isolated coastal spot simply to fend off attacks from the sea, but rather to defend itself from attacks from the mainland. It took full advantage of the protection afforded by it’s position, the defensive ramparts across the isthmus prevented attacks on land whilst a large, rocky cliff constituted an excellent sea defence.

 

 

Popular myth claims that these "castros" were inhabited by the "Praestamarcos" tribe and that it is actually on the "Vicu Sapcorum," an ancient Roman road that traversed the "Barbanza" hills, and was called "Per Loca Martimia." Whether this is actually true is hard to say, but it is claimed that people lived in this desolate spot for many centuries up until the arrival of the "Suevians."

It is difficult to determine what the site once looked like since there is no evidence of upper walls, roofs, windows or even doors. Some hypothesize that this was a storage settlement but most archaeologists posit that it was inhabited year-round since there is clear evidence of shellfish gathering and fishing. There is also a furnace located in the northern section which was probably used for smelting tin, gold, copper, and iron mined in the nearby mountains. The settlement could have been completely self-sufficient, except that no facilities to store freshwater have been found.

 

            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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A winery you must visit - Marques de Riscal
17 November 2020

On a hill overlooking the town of El Ciego is a building, which, from a distance, looks like flowing ribbons, made of metal and glass.

Even those who don't drink will love a visit to this winery. The Marqués de Riscal City of Wine is a place where wine culture invades your five senses. You can taste a glass of good red while you take in the architectural work of Frank Gehry, breathe in the smell of the vines, listen to the wind in the leaves and experience the pleasure of a wine therapy session on your body. What more could you ask for?

 

 

Located in the town of El Ciego, in Alava, this winery has succeeded like few in creating a world of proposals around its alma mater, wine. For this reason, it has built its own City of Wine, a complex comprising the historic Marqués de Riscal winery (1858), the oldest in Rioja.

This wine emporium didn't come from nowhere, it is the result of centuries of working with vines and the fruits they produce. During the 16th and 17th century these vineyards expanded exponentially, and by the early 19th century wine production had reached 1.8 million litres, making this the most important town in the entire Alava region of Rioja in terms of production

The eye-popping architecture of the Hotel Marques de Riscal makes a real statement; designed and built by Frank O. Gehry who Vanity Fair labelled ‘the most important architect of our age’. Glass-walled rooms offer views of the medieval town of El Ciego where history and culture flourish like the grapes hanging from their Rioja vineyards.

 

 

The transformation of the winery is a bridge between the 19th and 21st century for its owners, and Gehry's intervention was an important innovative element. Its building, which could be called sculptural, is now an iconic element of the landscape of El Ciego, with a characteristic curved titanium-covered outside that twists to show the chromatic tones of the winery: reds similar to wine; the gold of the mesh used by the winery; and the silver of the capsule of the Marqués de Riscal bottle.

The red wines of the "Marqués de Riscal" series are both traditional and modern Riojas. They are made using the latest technology but are loyal to tradition, with the excellent grapes of the best-known local Rioja varieties (tempranillo, graciano and mazuelo) and high quality barrels. The winery has a range of wines with Designation of Origin Rioja, which it has been producing since 1858. One of the most outstanding is its Frank Gehry selection red, 100% tempranillo, with an intense colour and potent aroma combined with a complex and open expression in the mouth. In terms of its white wines, Marqués de Riscal can boast having the largest vineyard of the Designation of Origin Rueda.

 

 

The winery offers daily-guided tours, lasting approximately an hour and a half, which show you the winemaking process as well as a small wine-tasting session with appetisers.

Gastronomy is certainly the order of the day if you decide to visit the restaurant. With three Michelin stars to his name, who better than Chef Francis Paniego, to oversee your hotel dining experience.

You can order straight from the menu or perhaps try one of a number of ‘tasting ceremonies’, ‘degustaciones’, where you can enjoy a selection of their premium dishes. Needless to say, the wine list is to die for. The spa has won 3 international awards for excellence and offers you the chance to submerge yourself in the Jacuzzi, hit the fitness centre or soak your feet in the pediluvium (foot bath). Specialist treatments include hydrotherapies like the Barrel Bath, where you soak in an exfoliating grape marc, and the ritualistic Winemaker's Massage, which increases blood circulation and improves muscle tone.

 

 

The hotel offers local tours as well, exploring the Basque-flavoured culture around the area. As a border town between the Navarre and Castille kingdoms, the village has seen a fair amount of history in its nearly 1000 years. With the hotel as a piece of 21st-century imagination, the juxtaposition is an interesting look at the transformation of architecture. Glass rooms overlook the village below like a futuristic castle over an ancient feudal town.



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The Lagoon
10 November 2020

 

Standing in front of the Garxal lagoon is like watching the creation of the world. The sediment dragged by the powerful Ebro is continuously catching up to the sea, forming barriers, islands and lagoons such as this one, which is constantly visited by seagulls, terns and a thousand other birds. This is where today the Ebro flows into the sea, and it is difficult to imagine that during the times of the Romans the river used to end in Amposta, which is now 25 kilometres from the coast. There is a special route dotted with observatories so cyclists and walkers can go all the way around the area but it is forbidden to enter inside. Nature is the boss here.

To reach this spot at the tip of the arrow-shaped Ebro delta, you need to cross many kilometres of rectangular paddy fields, which turn green when the rice shoots appear in summer but look like mirrors for the rest of the year, when you can only see water.

A farming landscape pleasing to the eye and also the stomach, as this is where they produce the high-quality rice of the Delta de l'Ebre Protected Designation of Origin, which is the basis and star of paellas and other dishes. If you visit between September and November or from April to June, it is a good idea to take an umbrella as it often rains heavily during these periods. The rest of the year is totally dry.

In the Encanyissada lagoon, measuring nearly 1,200 hectares, children can have great fun observing many types of birds close up, like mallards, purple herons, coots, podiceps, cormorants, flamingoes and black-crowned night-herons, although if you are visiting in a couple, there is nothing better than enjoying the peaceful Eucaliptus beach nearby.



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