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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 Neanderthals self-medicated
24 September 2020


The science journal Nature published a study co-authored by Lalueza-Fox that suggests the extinct human species the Neanderthal had developed its own medicine cabinet to cope with pain and disease.

This is what emerges from an analysis of calcified dental plaque from two individuals who once lived in the northern Spanish cave of El Sidrón in Asturias.

“Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess and a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen,” reads the study abstract.

Ancient DNA from this individual’s dental plaque suggests that he chewed poplar bark, which is a natural source of salicylic acid, the analgesic ingredient in aspirin. “This bark has no nutritional value, so why would he chew it if not to relieve the pain?” wondered Lalueza-Fox who works at the Evolutionary Biology Institute in Barcelona, at a presentation of the study.

The Neanderthal also consumed Penicillium, a fungus with antibiotic properties. These results back the findings of an earlier 2012 study, which concluded that the Neanderthals of El Sidrón used plants like chamomile, which helps with digestion, and Achillea, which has anti-inflammatory properties.



The British prehistorian Karen Hardy, of Barcelona’s Autonomous University, signed both papers. “All of the world’s animals self-medicate. Dogs, for instance, eat grass to induce vomiting. To me, the surprising thing would be for Neanderthals not to self-medicate,” she said.

Recent research has dispelled the cartoonish notion of Neanderthals as subhuman creatures. Members of the species adorned themselves with showy feathers, possessed praiseworthy technology, used fire to cook, buried their dead and had sex with modern humans over 100,000 years ago.

According to hardy The Neanderthals were intelligent, and they possessed an ecological knowledge that we have lost. María Martinón Torres, a paleoanthropologist at London University College, notes how the study shows that Belgian Neanderthals had a meat-based diet, while the Spanish ones were more vegetarian. A diversity that portrays the Neanderthals as a flexible species, able to exploit different resources depending on circumstance and availability.

This researcher is aware however that a British anthropologist named Chris Stringer came up with an alternative theory in 2013: that these non-food plants were found in Neanderthal dental records due to their own consumption of herbivore stomach contents. But Martinón Torres notes that the indications of salicylic acid and natural antibiotic consumption only show up in a Neanderthal with a painful dental abscess, which as far as she is concerned, seems like more than just a happy coincidence.



The cave of El Sidrón, in the northern Spanish region of Asturias, was discovered in 1994 and excavation has been going on since 2000. Since then, it has produced a treasure trove of 2,500 bone remains from at least 13 Neanderthal individuals, both male and female. Around 49,000 years ago, in what appears to be an act of survival cannibalism.

Professor Lalueza-Fox told a meeting of the Royal Society in London that they appeared to have been killed and eaten, with their bones and skulls split open to extract the marrow, tongue and brains.  The victims included three female and three male adults, three boys aged 12-15 and three children aged from two to nine years.  All had been butchered.  It must have been a big feast.  We think Neanderthal groups were about 10-12 strong so this may have been a complete family group, although someone may have got away.

Neanderthals lived in Europe from about 240,000 to 30,000 years ago so their remains at most sites range over many millennia.  Unusually, the El Sidron find captured a single deadly event one day around 49,000 BC – thousands of years before the first modern humans arrived in Europe.  The remains were all buried in a room-sized gallery 250 yards from the entrance but were likely washed into the chamber from above.

Professor Lalueza-Fox said: “We think the victims were killed in a rock shelter above where their bones were found.  They were killed and their bones stripped of meat and dumped.  Then shortly after they were killed, a powerful storm came along and washed the bones, stone tools and sediments down a chimney and into the little gallery where we found them.  Those sediments sealed the chimney and the gallery, so the bones sat there for 51,000 years till they were found again.”

The bones were remarkably well-preserved and their DNA virtually uncontaminated, allowing Professor Lalueza-Fox and his team to sequence Neanderthal genes governing features like hair colour, blood group and taste perception.

The El Sidron find is not the first evidence of cannibalism among Neanderthals, which may be one of the reasons why they were ultimately less successful than modern humans.  Professor Lalueza-Fox explained: “Neanderthals had small social networks, which made them less able to co-operate with others in times of trouble.  Perhaps that made them prone to eating each other when times got hard.”

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Altamira - A Prehistoric Masterpiece
17 September 2020


Altamira, the subject of a film at present with Antonio Banderas, was the first cave in which prehistoric cave paintings were discovered. When the discovery was first made public in 1880, it led to a bitter public controversy between experts which continued into the early 20th century, since many did not believe prehistoric man had the intellectual capacity to produce any kind of artistic expression. The acknowledgment of the authenticity of the paintings, which finally came in 1902, changed the perception of prehistoric human beings.

The cave represents the apogee of Paleolithic cave art that developed across Europe, from the Urals to the Iberian Peninusula, from 35,000 to 11,000 BC. Because of their deep galleries, isolated from external climatic influences, these caves are particularly well preserved. The caves are inscribed as masterpieces of creative genius and as the humanity’s earliest accomplished art. They are also inscribed as exceptional testimonies to a cultural tradition and as outstanding illustrations of a significant stage in human history.



UNESCO granted the World Heritage designation to these and another 17 caves in northern Spain containing Palaeolithic Cave Art. The Altamira cave has an irregular shape and is some 270 metres in length. It has an entrance hall, main gallery and side hall, and contains some of the world’s best examples of prehistoric rock art. The drawings are some 14,000 years old and show bison, deer, boar, horses… They are painted using natural, red-coloured ochre and outlined in black.

To ensure their conservation, the cave structure and paintings have been painstakingly reproduced, using the same painting techniques from the time, in the Altamira Museum’s Neo-cave. Visitors can marvel at the details of the great ceiling with its polychromed bison, and visit the painters’ workshop, where they can hear an explanation of the techniques used to create this masterpiece of rock art.



Admission charges:

General public: 3 €

Concessions: 1.50 €

Annual pass: 25 €


Free admission

Saturdays from 14:00 and all day Sunday.

18 April, World Heritage Day.

18 May, International Museum Day.

12 October, Spanish National Day.

6 December, Spanish Constitution Day.

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An Oasis in the Heart of Spain's Arid Plains
08 September 2020


An explosion of the purest nature, with waterfalls and cascades, the Ruidera Lakes (Lagunas de Ruidera) have been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, and appear before the visitor's eyes as an oasis of water and plants in the heart of La Mancha's arid plains. Wetlands with extraordinary flora and fauna, along with unforgettable dawns and dusks await those who decide to visit this unique site.


The Ruidera Lakes are naturally formed by a group of 16 small lakes on different levels with an altitude difference of 120m between the first lake called "La Blanca" and the last lake "La Cenagosa" . Some are interconnected, and turn this otherwise arid area of ochre tones, into a real oasis. Besides the area’s natural beauty, it also offers the chance to practise a variety of leisure and sports activities.



Walking, fishing, golf, canoeing, sailing and scuba diving are some of the activities you can enjoy in this protected Nature Reserve which spans over 4,000 hectares between the provinces of Ciudad Real and Albacete and fortunately for us is just a stones throw away from our village property in Valdepeñas.

These lakes also provide a rest area for migratory birds such as common pochards, red-crested pochards, common mallard, great crested grebes and purple herons. These species live together with a rich autochthonous fauna full of birds including partridges, azure-winged magpies, woodpigeons, and bee-eaters; as well as foxes,otters, rabbits, genet and bats.



Its waters are full of carp, barbells, pike and ducks living among reeds, reed mace, and giant reeds and surrounded by holm oaks, junipers, savins and thyme - just a few of the more than 800 plant species to be found in this area which perfume the air around the lakes.

The source of these lakes is a series of springs and streams that come together between the towns Ossa de Montiel and Ruidera. This is how these small, shallow, crystal-clear lakes are formed. The Guadiana River (one of Spain’s longest) has its source here too, and her waters disappear underground for 15 km to then rise again in the towns of Villarubia de los Ojos and Daimiel.



But the lakes are much more than just scenery and nature. In addition to the outings and water sports it is a fantastic area to enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing, horse riding or cycling, as well as 4x4 tours whihc are real fun! The more adventurous can practise paragliding or caving in the many fissures and grottos to be found in the area. And of course, you can play golf on a nine-hole course in the nearby town of Tomelloso, just fifteen minutes from the lakes there is also has a go-kart racing track. In Torrenueva there is also a  five star hotel with a fantastic 18 hole golf course if you fancy some true creature comforts!



Even Miguel de Cervantes, the literary father of Don Quixote de la Mancha was captivated by the charm of the Ruidera lakes. He set part of his literary masterpiece in the Campo de Montiel area, which takes in most of the present-day Nature Reserve.

Nearby is Campo de Criptana, a town where we can admire the windmills Don Quixote mistook for giants and which are still fully integrated in the landscape of this welcoming land. It is also home to a unique local cuisine.

As far as gastronomy is concerned, there is an extended and varied choice of dishes: gachas (special dough), migas (breadcrumbs fried in garlic), ratatouille, broth with garlic, egg and bread, pulse stews, gazpacho (cold summer soup), game, caldereta (stew), roasts, duelos y quebrantos (chorizo and lamb brains sautéed with egg)... most of which appear in Cervante's immortal work. We cannot forget manchego cheese, which is known worldwide and made from sheep’s milk, or the wines of the area with its Designation of Origin. An true culinary delight to acompany Spain's great natural oasis.


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The Valley of Salt - Northern Spain
03 September 2020

 Salt has always been associated with the sea or on some occasions, salt mountains and even mines, but in Northern Spain, in the Basque country near the town of Álava, there is a rather unusual saltern where nature does practically all the work and has been for millenniums. This privileged location is called the Salt Valley of Añana.


The first thing you might ask yourself when you see this marvel is how and why is salt produced here and not someplace else? Especially when there is no mine visible. The answer is a geological phenomenon known as a Diapir. Roughly speaking, the area that makes up the valley was covered by a big ocean more than 200 million years ago that eventually dried up, leaving a layer of salt several kilometres thick. With time, this layer was covered by new stratum that hid it from sight forever. Because of the different densities between layers (similar to what happens when we mix water with oil), in some very specific points of the valley, the salt emerged to the surface. And those are the places where we can find the underground salt deposits. But how do you extract it? The answer is simple: either by mining which is hard work and expensive or taking advantage of the saltwater (brine) springs that are created after freshwater has filtered through the layers of solid salt diluting it and bring it to the surface, and enabling a 200 million-year-old mineral to reach your kitchen table. The salt works of Añana belong to the large group of neighbours in fact almost the entire population of the village owns shares in the salt plant as they are fortunate enough to have several springs that provide around 260.000 litres of brine daily with a concentration near to saturation point. 

Looking at it today, it's almost inconceivable that something so abundant and low cost would have had such historical importance. However, it has to be taken into consideration that salt was, and is, essential in a lot of industrial processes and also in human and animal diet. It was even more important before the development of industrial cooling since it was one of the most effective methods of preserving food. As a matter of fact, salt was the cause of war and forced peace, the cause of death and crownings, of richness and poorness, the creation and destruction of towns and cities, and of course, greed. This is very evident in the history of Añana... The first traces of settlements near the salt springs date back 5,000 years. Since then their inhabitants adapted the area to their interests and left their mark. In the Iron Age, they left the bottom of the slopes and built their houses on easily defendable elevated sites and in Roman times, the settlement system suffered a big change. Probably due to the importance of the salt of Añana, just a few kilometres from the springs, near the modern-day town of Espejo, emerged a city called Salionca. Its economic development attracted the surrounding population to live in this thriving city. Around the fifth century, Salionca was destroyed after suffering a major fire and the city was abandoned and some of its inhabitants went to live and work in the salt valley.


The springs bring the brine to the surface level in a natural and continuous way, which allows its use without any need for drilling or pumping. It is entirely ecological. There are a number of them in the Salt Valley and its surroundings, but only four of them (Santa Engracia, La Hontana, El Pico and Fuentearriba) are usable because their flow is permanent (about 3 litres per second) and salinity is near saturation point (210 grams per litre).

The saltwater is transported and distributed continuously and by using gravity through a complex network of canals called 'rollos'. Although originally many of them were simple trenches dug in the ground, they eventually were replaced by hollowed-out pine logs. The main distribution system, with more than three kilometres in total length - starts at the fountain of Santa Engracia in a single channel which is divided within a distribution tank called a 'Partidero': on the eastern slope of the valley, the Royo de Suso flows down and on the west slope the Quintana.

Deposits are also imperative for the salt farm. Currently, there are 848 wells for storage and way this water is distributed to the different threshing pits have always been an issue of dispute, as they are each privately owned and maintained by their respective owners. Thus there is a need for a complex distribution rulebook for the use of the brine, known as the Master Book. This ultimately keeps the peace between numerous owners.

The production of salt in Añana is based on the evaporation of water from the brine by natural means. To do so, saltwater is poured on horizontal surfaces called 'balsas' (rafts) or threshing pits whose surface varies between twelve and twenty square meters. The groups of threshing pits worked by the same owner are called farms. They are adapted to the complex topography of the site, both in form and height, resulting in complicated shapes that cover most of the Salt Valley territory. The point of maximum splendour was in the middle of the twentieth century when in the valley there were 5648 threshing pits in operation.

The buildings destined to store the salt in Añana can be divided into two types: private and public. The former was originally owned by salt workers. Such structures are mainly located under the threshing pits, taking advantage of existing holes between the walls of the terraces and the evaporation platforms. This building technique greatly facilitates the filling, because the salt is simply discharged by small holes in the surface of the threshing pits called 'bouquets' (sluices). The main function of these buildings is to hold the salt until transported to public warehouses located outside the valley. Añana had four of these buildings, which were built and controlled by the State during the monopoly of salt. They became known as El Grande, El Torco, Santa Ana and El Almacenillo del Campo. The whole production was kept there at the end of the season. In total, they could store about 110,113 “fanegas” of salt (approximately 5,681,830 kg). Now it is all in hands of the local community and although they could be extracting salt most of the year, they limit it to a few months a year when the temperatures are high enough to achieve fast evaporation, thus reducing the costs of labour per kg produced.

If you happen to be in the area it is certainly worth a visit, on-site there are tourist guides and trips around the valley and a museum with a shop where you can choose from a vast variety of different salts varying from “Flor de Sal” the most valuable; known as white gold and seasoned salts amongst others. This is one lucky village that has a permanent source of income no matter what the economic climate is, in fact, the only thing that would affect its production would be the lack of sunshine and in Spain that is not very likely.



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The Vantage Point
26 August 2020



Nestled on a boulder of the Aitana Mountain range, at 586 metres above the level of the nearby Mediterranean Sea, El Castell de Guadalest has maintained its physiognomy practically intact, which is from Arabic times, with no reforms other than those required due to wars and earthquakes. And this fortress that gives its name to the town played an important role during the Middle Ages and also in the Modern Age, given that, thanks to its strategic position, it was able to repel attackers on many occasions - a spectacular vantage point. Although there was nothing it could do against the tremors of 1644 and 1748. In 1708, it was also blasted during the War of Succession. These historic episodes have left their mark on the castle, today a relic of an important past, which looks in a melancholy way over the houses of the old town, and which can be accessed through a tunnel bored through the rock.

The houses, the crosses in the cemetery and museums for all tastes are crammed together inside the compound. The Casa Orduña, the former home of the wardens of the fortress, shows how the affluent classes lived in the 7th, 18th and 19th centuries. In the micro-miniatures museum, you can see Goya's 'The Nude Maja' painted on the wing of a fly and other works by sculptor Manuel Ribera Girona. There is also a museum of salt and pepper shakers, another of dolls' houses and antique toys, and another of instruments of torture. The Castell de Guadalest has one of the widest ranges of things to do as regards entertainment and for this reason, together with its proximity to the main tourist destinations in the Valencia Regional Community, it is one of the top villages in Spain in terms of visitor numbers (more than two million) per inhabitant registered on the census (240).

The beach is not far from Guadalest Castle and you can get there on the CV-70, on which you will also pass through the charming village of Polop. Alternatively, you can go by the CV-755, passing through Callosa d'en Sarrià. This is the source of the River Algar, in a place of crystal clear water pools, copses and reed beds and on whose banks there are paella huts. They are all recommended for the rice dishes that only those from the local area know how to prepare.

On arriving at the coast you will discover Altea. It has eight kilometres of beaches, coves and cliffs and an old town - declared an Asset of Cultural Interest - with stark white houses huddled together around the church of Nuestra Señora del Consuelo, which is crowned by a dome of blue glass tiles. It is a real pleasure to wander through its winding lanes, full of interesting corners and lookouts, which have attracted painters to this corner of the Mediterranean for decades.

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Extremadura in Summer...Who needs a coastline?
20 August 2020


With over 1,500km of freshwater coastline, Extremadura is the first Autonomous Community with the prestigious Blue Flag awarded to a fresh water beach on La Orellana and has maintained it for four consecutive years. 



Contrary to what many might think, there are many ways to enjoy a refreshing summer with water playing a central role in Extremadura, so don’t rule it out because it doesn’t have a coastline: water sports in the wetlands of Badajoz, natural pools in the region of la Vera, Jerte, El Ambroz, Las Hurdes, Gata or La Siberia, a river cruise along the international section of the Tagus or a descent down the Alagon river are just some of the options available.



In the province of Cáceres lies one of the jewels of the “Valle del Jerte”, within the Nature Reserve “Garganta de los Infiernos”, known by the locals as  “Pilones” which is a long stretch of natural smooth stone bathtubs created by water erosion of the rocks over centuries. These natural bathtubs are filled with clear crystalline water coming down from the Sierra de Gredos. The natural pools, lakes, waterfalls, streams and water gorges in Extremadura comprise more than 60 attractive opportunities to go bathing in the Summer and escape the suffocating heat or do aquatic activities.



The Blue flag beach of Orellana in the heart of Extremadura, is the only river beach in Spain to have achieved since 2010, a Blue Flag rating. A singularity that is due to its water quality, location in a protected environment and infrastructure available. Located in the region of La Serena, Badajoz, Orellana Beach offers the opportunity to swim in freshwater waves and enjoy a poolside snack bar, a small marina and of course, lifeguards. 

Aquatic Adventures in Alqueva is celebrated during the summer season and runs up to mid September and is organised out of towns such as Chels, Villanueva del Fresno, Olivenza, Alconchel and Táliga in the Badajoz region. All activities are tied to the great lake Alqueva, which Spain shares with Portugal. Amongst the activities on offer are sailing, astronomy and star watching, safari in kayaks, multisport activities on land and water involving walking, cycling, canoeing to mention just a few.

You can also sail through international waters along the Tagus. A protected area totalling 50,000 hectares, with 47 species of mammals and 181 species of birds, including some endangered species and other which are rare sightings such as the black vulture. These are just some of the stunning and attractive reasons to justify a visit to  “Tagus International”, a joint venture between Spain and Portugal, which is waiting to be recognised internationally as a Biosphere Reserve Natural Park. No doubt it will be very shortly.



Descending down the river Alagon is an event that gains more and more fans year after year. With a distance of 18.8 kilometres running from the bridge of  Macarrona Riolobos to the town of Coria, in the province of Caceres, it takes approximately four and a half hours and is an event that seeks to offer you an entire day of enjoyment for all the family. 




The Valley of Jerte, Caceres is a superb area to practice “canyoning” or as it is known locally 'gargantismo' (waterfall rock climbing) can be done throughout the area. However three main areas are normally used the Nogaledas, the Hoyos and Papuans which are equipped with climbing anchors, diverters , public railings and guided rappels and there are different companies in the area that offer this activity. 



And why not some inland sailing? It is also possible in Extremadura, where there is a total of four yacht clubs, three in Cáceres (Tajomar, Lake Gabriel y Galán and Barlovento, located in the reservoirs of Alcantara, Gabriel y Galán and Borbollón) and one in Badajoz, the Guadiana Club Nautico de Orellana by the reservoir. 



Extremedura is also a paradise for sport fishing. Between the lakes and reservoirs within the autonomous community there are also fantastic opportunities for fishing enthusiasts. Reservoirs such as Alange, Orellana, García de Sola and Cíjara in the province of Badajoz or Alcantara , and Gabriel y Galán in Caceres are great for black bass, pike and many other sporting species.



For the kids there is also a water park located within walking distance from the border with Portugal. ' Lusiberia ' has slides, wave pool, playground and terraces and leisure activities designed for all ages.

So if you were thinking that Extremadura wasn’t an option because it doesn’t have a coast line…think again it is one of the most beautiful regions in Spain.

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Touching the heavens - A Legendary Basilica
12 August 2020

The Basilica of Covadonga, alongside the sacred cave where pilgrims venerate the statue of La Santina (Our Lady), is a place of worship and pilgrimage for the people of Asturias. It is of neo-Romanesque style with two high towers flanking the main entrance. Nearby there is a spring which flows from the sacred cave and beneath there is a famous fountain with seven spouts and is a place of reference for all young ladies wanting to marry, a traditional local poem says: "The Virgin of Covadonga has a fountain very clear, the girl who drinks from it will marry within a year." 
According to the legend King Pelayo and other Asturian warriors fought the Arabs from a cave dug out of one of the rocky faces of the Covadonga Valley. The tale says that a little virgin appeared to Pelayo in the cave before the battle forecasting the victory of the Christians over the Muslims. A different legend also tells that before the battle with the Muslims the cave was probably used, about 1500 years ago, as a celebration and worshiping centre by a Celtic sorceress and as a holy meeting place for the Celtic tribes that lived in the area at that time. This would be the earliest divine origin of the Covadonga cave, used in the first place by pagan Celtic tribes for magical and spiritual practices. As in many other locations throughout the region, with time, the Christians took over the holy Celtic spaces to build their own churches and sacred places, and Covadonga was not an exception.
A Christian chapel was the first construction inside the cave and it was ordered by King Alfonso I The Catholic (739-757) as a memorial for the battle of Covadonga.  Originally the Holy Cave chapel was wooden, until it and everything it contained, including the image of the Virgin, jewels and goblets, were lost in the fire of 1777. The image, which is there today, dating from the 16th century, was donated by the Chapel of Oviedo Cathedral in 1778 as compensation for the loss of the early Virgin. The Virgin known as The "Santina" is an image of Mary which forms an integral part of the Asturian tradition through history, through word of mouth from generation to generation, and through personal religious experiences. Deeply rooted in the people of this land, it constitutes one of the strongest and most powerful convocational symbols that the Asturians have. Its figure was carved, incarnated, gilded and polychromed from oak in the 16th century. She measures 71.4cm tall, including the pedestal, with a girth of 46 cm at her widest point, and a depth of 21 cm. The current baby Jesus was placed there in 1704. Standing out from her clothing is the mantle that Our Lady wears from her shoulders to her feet. Its colour changes according to the occasion. The normal mantle is a reddish-purple colour with a golden trimming and stamped with simple floral motifs.
The chapel, which is to one side, was also reconstructed in stone, as it can be seen today. One can also find the tomb of Pelayo in the Cave, in front of the image of the Virgin.
Although he was originally buried in a nearby parish called Santa Eulalia de Abamia, his remains, along with those of his wife Gaudiosa and his sister, were later transferred to the Holy Cave where the tomb of Alfonso I and his wife Hermelinda (Pelayo"s daughter) is also kept, although slightly more hidden.
Behind the cave, in the guts of the mountain, an underground cascade runs free, and it reaches the outside world right underneath the cave, falling some 20 meters down into a natural water pool where pilgrims and visitors throw coins wishing for their dreams to come true.
After heavy rains or when the snow melts on the mountains the streams bulges with water and the sound of the waterfall is so intense that from inside the cave you can’t hear anything but the water crashing against the rocks and falling into the pool.
At one side of the pool you can find the seven-spout water fountain. Many Asturians still try to respect the tradition by going to Covadonga and drinking from all seven spouts before their marriage, just in case.
To access the cave there is a staircase leading up from the pool. It is not uncommon to see people going up the stairs on their knees because of a religious promise. The other way to access the cave is passing by the stone lions and following the road all the way up to the Basilica. Once at the Basilica there is a small pedestrian path that leads to a 30-metre tunnel carved out of the mountain and which is the antechamber of the Covadonga cave.
Silence and respect are demanded on the visit to the cave, especially when there is a mass on. It is a very similar atmosphere to Lourdes.
Many visitors from different regions and countries come every year to worship “la Santina”. Even Pope John Paul II made a very special visit to the Santina and to the Real Sitio of Covadonga in 1989, visiting also the Picos de Europa on his journey along the Camino de Santiago.
Roberto Frassinelli designed the basilica and the architect Federico Aparici Soriano erected it between 1877 and 1901. In 1777 a fire destroyed the old chapel that was by the Covadonga cave and it was then decided that they would build an eve more impressive structure. There was an initial project that was finally rejected because of its high costs and the opposition of local priests.
The definitive project was approved and launched by King Alfonso XII almost one century after the destruction of the original chapel. The initial project by Ventura Rodriguez with a classic design was finally replaced by the actual structure, which has a Romanesque style.
The original idea from the actual construction came from a German painter called Roberto Frassinelli, “el Alemán de Corao” that lived in the region. Architect Federico Aparici did the technical project, based on Frassinelli´s idea. The building sits over a large terrace and it has three different aisles. In the plaza in front of the basilica there is a 4 ton bell from 1900, a bronze statue of King Pelayo from 1964 and an obelisk from 1857, which according to the legend, stands at the place where King Pelayo was crowned.
The Covadonga Basilica was inaugurated on September 7th 1901, and Pope Leon XIII gave it the dignity of Basilica. It was built using pink limestone from the surrounding mountains. By the entrance portico there are two sculptures representing the two regional bishops started and finished the works. The inside of the basilica is famous because of its simplicity with just some decorative elements placed on the ceiling of the Basilica. Beside the high alter there are  two large paintings of Madrazo and Carducho that represent the Battle of Covadonga and the proclamation of Pelayo as King of Asturias.
Beneath the high altar there is a "pit" with the relics of San Melchior and Pedro Poveda. To the left there is an altar dedicated to San Melchior, the only Asturian Saint, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989. Due to their economical contributions to the building of the basilica, flags from all South American countries are permanently shown. 
Despite the many fires, the Museum of Covadonga still keeps very valuable and unique pieces. The crown of the Virgin of Covadonga is a very valuable piece of jewellery created by Felix Granda Buylla in 1918. It is made of gold with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls. This crown is only used during the Covadonga celebration day, on September the 8th.
At the museum we can admire drawings from the basilica construction project done by the architect Ventura Rodriguez (the project that was rejected and replaced by the actual structure) as well as an impressive painting of King Pelayo. Pieces of jewellery, an ivory Christ from the XVI century donated by King Felipe II and ancient liturgical clothing together with other pieces of ancient art can also be contemplated and enjoyed within the museum. Nearby you will also be able to enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside Spain has to offer with breathtaking views of the Picos de Europa and some of the most beautiful lakes in Spain.

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Discovering Huelva and its pride and joy
06 August 2020

Between the Guadalquivir and Guadiana estuaries, the Huelva coast is a series of spectacular beaches, idyllic natural spaces and charming fishing villages with a true seaside feel where you can find the tastiest dishes on the Atlantic coast. The sea offers many delicacies, but only one stands out above the rest in the region's gastronomy. The white prawn, ‘The Pearl of Huelva’.



From east to west, the Costa de la Luz (Light Coast) starts at Tarifa and ends at the mouth of the Guadiana, the river border between Spain and Portugal. Many spots vie to be the most beautiful in the region. But on its coastline the white prawn has no need to compete - there is no rival to its flavour. With long whiskers and a flat body, the white prawn is the queen of the markets and tapas bars in Huelva. The inshore fleet catches it using traditional methods from the sandy seabeds of the coast and its thin skin, in a slightly pink tone, needs the right cooking time and a pinch of salt to turn this seafood into one of the finest delicacies of Huelva's cuisine.

There are a wide variety of prawns, but the one with the highest quality and culinary value is the Huelva coastal prawn, auctioned every day in the fish markets of Ayamonte, Huelva, Isla Cristina and Punta Umbría. Its meat is highly valued and it is prepared in many ways, although boiled and grilled are the most popular. To prepare them, boil water with salt and add the prawns when the water starts to boil. After a few minutes over the heat, leave them to rest in a bowl with water, ice and salt. If you want to grill them, put a layer of coarse salt on the grill, heat it and sear the prawns on both sides. Afterwards, you just need to season them with a generous handful of coarse salt. The Huelva white prawn, like other shellfish, has a high nutritional value and is a source of proteins, phosphorus, selenium, iron, calcium and vitamins such as B12 and niacin. One hundred grammes provide over 80% of the recommended daily amount of iodine for women over 16, and it must be consumed in moderation as its cholesterol levels are relatively high.

So for those of you who don’t know Huelva here is a short tour of this wonderful region…

If one starts at the marshes of Almonte. Here you can find the village of El Rocío, where thousands of pilgrims flock each year, on the first Monday of Pentecost, to honour the Virgin, their Virgin. It is the most popular, traditional and festive pilgrimage in Andalusia. The shrine (built in the seventies), the sandy streets at the doors of the brotherhoods, and the views of the marshes are must-sees.



The road takes you to Matalascañas. There you can enjoy the long Atlantic beach, take a look at its impressive lighthouse and stroll through the Dune Park, sign-posted along a path through junipers and pines. If you still have strength after this trip into nature, you can visit the Marine World Museum (Ctra. Matalascañas a Mazagón) and turn off at El Acebuche (Ctra. A-483 Km. 38.7), which is the Visitor Reception Centre for the National Park of Doñana and where you can find all the information you need to see everything there is to see in the park. A road runs through the National Park of Doñana and connects Torre de la Higuera beach (Matalascañas) with Mazagón beach. There are several recreational areas before reaching the turn-off leading to Parador beach, with spectacular sandstone cliffs such as Asperillo cliff.



From Mazagón to Huelva the landscape becomes more industrial and ends at La Rábida, the birthplace of the discovery of the New World. Here you can visit the José Celestino Mutis botanical garden, free of charge, with species from all five continents; the Muelle de las Carabelas dock with a reproduction of the three ships that took Columbus to America, and the monastery of Santa María de La Rábida (Diseminado De la Rábida; 959 350 411). Opposite the monastery, on the other side of the Huelva estuary, you can see the mouth of the Odiel and its marshes, also a protected Natural Landscape. Next the route takes you to the capital. At the entrance, cross the bridge over the river Tinto to join a road that leads along the Juan Carlos I dam to the lighthouse, opposite the refinery. Punta Umbría, one of Huelva's official summer destinations and the next stop on the route, is a stone's throw from the city. Wooden walkways lead to the famous dune beaches of Enebrales and Mata Negra. After a relaxing swim, continue the route to El Portil, at the edge of another of the most representative protected natural spaces on the Costa de la Luz: the mouth of the river Piedras and La Flecha del Rompido, a 10 km sandbar that extends towards El Terrón, home to one of the most important colonies of waterfowl such as the pintail, cormorant or the little egret. From here, head towards La Antilla, a long family beach with a great promenade, palm trees and terraces that almost touch the sand.

Next to the coast, the road offers views of the sea and takes you to Isla Cristina. The town's large inshore fleet is a leader in white prawn fishing, which you can buy at a good price in the fish market, famous since the 18th century. You must visit the area for some tapas. As well as its magnificent beaches (Islantilla, Centro or Punta del Caimán), its tapas bars are a good place for a rest. The route ends in Ayamonte, the westernmost town in the province, on the banks of the Guadiana. From the Villa district you can see the estuary, the International bridge and the Portuguese town of Vila Real de Santo António. The church of the Divino Salvador, Pozo Nuevo (New Well) and the Museum of the Brotherhood of La Soledad (Plaza de San Francisco), which houses pieces from the local Holy Week celebrations, are must-visits along the road to the area of La Ribera, which puts the finishing touch to the route with its fishing ports and marinas, and its busy streets around the Plaza de La Laguna.

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Cáceres, the heart of Extremadura
31 July 2020


Cáceres is an outstanding city that was ruled from the 14th to 16th centuries by powerful rival factions: fortified houses, palaces and towers dominate the views of the city. This city, in the heart of Extremadura, bears the traces of highly diverse and contradictory influences, such as Islamic arts, Northern Gothic, Italian Renaissance, arts of the New World, etc. The walls of the city bear exceptional testimony to the fortifications built in Spain by the Arab Almohads. 

Caceres or Caesarina, its name in the 6th century, played only a minor role in the Visigothic Kingdom. It had lost almost all its prominence when the Arabs seized it and made it a fortified city, called Qasri, which in the 12th century Al-Idrisi saw as the principal bridgehead against the Christians. Moreover, during the 12th-century wars, after the Almohads had lost and then retaken the city several times, they built remarkable fortifications which completely changed the appearance of the Roman walls which had marked the boundaries of Caesarina, although few example of these walls are still visible today. Flanking towers were positioned externally a few metres from the rampart and connected to it by a wall; five of the towers, rectangular in shape, still stand to the west, including the famous Torre del Bujaco; two polygonal towers can be seen to the south (Torre Redonda and Torre Desmochada); to the east, the Torre de los Pozos, rising 30 m above the rampart walk, is partly built into a barbican.


Few monuments have survived from the Muslim period within the walls, however the most significant is the five-nave reservoir with three bays, incorporated into the Casa de las Veletas in the 16th century. Although most of the monuments have been lost (the site of the Alcázar was parcelled out in 1473), the pattern of the streets, with winding backstreets that open on tiny squares or turn into narrow alleys, is a survival from urban planning during the Almohad period. The number of patios and interior gardens also bears testimony to the influence of Qasri on Cáceres.


Alfonso IX, King of León, recaptured the city from the Moors in 1229. The destiny of Cáceres shifted again in the 14th century with the massive influx of noblemen who had initially been excluded from repoblación as a result of measures imposed by Alfonso IX. In the space of a few decades, fortified houses dotting the landscape made the city a perfect example of a feudal city, which since 1312 had been the stage for power struggles between rival clans. Notable among the oldest seigniorial fortresses are the Palacio de la Generala, the house and tower de las Cigüeñas, Casa de Los Ovando-Perero, Torre de Los Espaderos, and Casa Espadero-Pizarro or Casa del Mono.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, noble pride was demonstrated by richly decorated coats of arms and a surge of towers, battlements and fortified residencies. The Catholic Kings tore down most of these unusual constructions but preserved some in deference to the wishes of a few select noblemen (e.g. Palacio de Los Golfines de Arriba, Palacio de las Cigüeñas). Only their smaller proportions and a more modest system of defence distinguishes the city's exquisite stone houses from the palaces (Casa de Aldana, Casa del Sol, Casa del Aguila, Casa de Ulloa, Casa de Carvajal, etc.). When the 'Americans' returned, new palaces were constructed: Palacio Godoy, built by a newly rich "conquistador" and Palacio de Los Toledo-Moctezuma, built in the second half of the 16th century for the grandson of the Aztec who had greeted Cortes when he reached Mexico. 

As always it's not all just about history and when visiting a city one must eat, fortunately, Caceres is also a wonderful city in gastronomic terms. The gastronomy of Caceres and the province of Extremadura is flavourful and varied, in which the Ibérico pig plays a major role, thanks to the quality of the processed meat products made in the region. Roast, stewed lamb, a variety of freshwater fish and game dishes are examples of the sobriety of Extremaduran cuisine. The vegetables produced in this region are also of widely recognised quality, particularly the asparagus and thistle greens. Among the fruits, apples, peaches and cherries from the Jerte Valley are worthy of special mention. Extremadura produces a type of cheese that is unique in Spain, the so-called tortas. With two Designations of Origin, PDO Torta del Casar and PDO Queso de la Serena, these are cheeses with a light, creamy texture and powerful flavour, some of Spain's most unusual. Honey, dried fruits and pastries such as 'perrunillas' (sweet biscuits made with anise) or técula-mécula (a rich almond cake) are all magnificent desserts from Extremadura.


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Castle of Zafra
24 July 2020

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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