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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...

Ruidera Lakes
23 June 2016

 

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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Like 1        Published at 14:45   Comments (2)


Moors and Christians battle it out in Villajoyosa
14 June 2016

 

For eight days, the whole of Villajoyosa steps back in time to hold a spectacular re-enactment of a battle fought in 1538.

The festival of Moors and Christians is the biggest event of the year in this coastal town. The festival has been held for over 250 years in honour of Santa Marta (St. Martha) and commemorates events which occurred in 1538, when Berber pirates led by Zalé-Arraez tried to attack Villajoyosa. According to legend, St. Martha came to the rescue of the townsfolk by causing a flash flood which wiped out the enemy fleet, thus preventing the corsairs from reaching the coast. To show their gratitude, the town made her its patron saint and hold this annual festival in her honour, the main event being a re-enactment of the Moorish landing, which is a sight to be seen.

 

 

 

The festivities commence with the fabulous processions of Moors and Christians on 25 and 26 July, so if you happen to be in the area you must make an effort to go along and visit. The various factions that make up each procession parade majestically through the streets to the sound of music. Then, in the early hours of the 28th, the spectacular landing is held. Crowds of people start to arrive at the beach around five in the morning and, while the Christians make ready their artillery to defend the shore, over 30 Moorish vessels approach the coastline. Once they have landed, both armies battle it out until they reach the foot of the castle, which is eventually taken by the Moors. In the afternoon, the Christian soldiers come back and retake the castle: first of all, they try to persuade the enemy to surrender, but after some unsuccessful negotiations, a great battle ensues ending in the defeat of the Moors, who are symbolically sent back to the sea.

 

Villajoyosa is brimming over with fun and celebrations during these festivities. There are also many activities to enjoy, such as gastronomic competitions, open-air dances, firework displays and music concerts. Moors and Christians is a popular festival in many parts of Spain and each place has its own original way of celebrating, depending on their particular history and tradition. However, the re-enactment of the landing is unique to Villajoyosa and sets it apart from all other festivals of its kind. 



Like 3        Published at 16:36   Comments (2)


Fastest Fish In The Med
02 June 2016

If we were to name an iconic species of the Mediterranean sea and the straight of Gibralter, it would no doubt be the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Strangely, not many people know about this amazing animal, which is one of the biggest and one of the most commercially valuable fish in the world. Precisely for this, it has been heavily overfished for decades and the victim of widespread pirate fishing especially in its main spawning grounds across the Mediterranean. 

 

 

Adults are typically 2 metres long but can reach over 4 metres, making the Atlantic tuna one of the largest bony fishes and the largest of all the tuna species. Adults average around 250kg, but the largest recorded specimen was a massive 679 kg - that’s heavier than a horse!

How fast can tuna swim? You`ll usually find them cruising around at 2.8-7.4km per hour, but can swim double that, nearly 15km per hour, for some time. But it’s when they’re chasing their prey or avoiding a hungry shark that they really let fly, accelerating faster than a Porsche and reaching speeds of 70, and maybe even 100 km per hour! No surprise then that the word tuna comes from a Greek word meaning “to rush”.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are not just fast sprinters they are also champion long-distance swimmers. These fish are found on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, from Brazil to Newfoundland in the west and West Africa to Norway in the east. Throughout their lives they roam this vast area searching for prey, returning each year to their spawning grounds in either the Gulf of Mexico or the Mediterranean Sea. These travels include trans-Atlantic crossings, which a bluefin can complete in less than 60 days. Up to 30% of the total population makes this voyage, with some individuals even making multiple crossings in a single year.

You probably learnt at school that fish are cold-blooded. That’s mostly true - but not for bluefin tuna. Their specialized circulation system allows them to retain up to 95% of the heat generated by their muscles. This means they can keep themselves much warmer than the surrounding water - essentially making them a warm-blooded fish!

Atlantic bluefin tuna must literally swim for their life. Their rigid head helps them to swim fast, but doesn’t allow them to pump water over their gills like some other fish. Instead, water is forced over their gills as they swim with their mouths open. But this means they need to keep swimming - like some sharks, if they stop they will die. 

Tuna are fearsome predators from the moment they hatch. They hunt by sight, and have the sharpest vision of any bony fish. Adult Atlantic bluefin tuna eat schooling fish like herring, mackerel, flying fish, and anchovies, as well as squid, eels, and crustaceans and occasionally starfish and even kelp. They can dive down to around 1,000m to find food. 

Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae have only a 1 in 40 million chance of reaching adulthood. But the lucky few are amongst the ocean’s top predators. They can expect to live for at least 15 years, and even as long as 30. They’re not quite at the top of the food chain though. Their fast speed allows them to escape most predators except for large sharks, toothed whales like killer whales and pilot whales… and humans.

Atlantic bluefin tuna has long been valued in the Mediterranean, where it provided food for numerous civilizations and created wealth. This is in stark contrast to North America, where prior to the 1960s it could only be sold for pet food!

But in the 1960s, international markets for canned and fresh tuna arose following the development of longlines, purse seines, and freezing equipment that allowed frozen tuna to be shipped long distances. Soon, large numbers of commercial purse seiners were catching Atlantic bluefin tuna for canning. 

By the 1970s, attention switched to giant bluefin tuna for the Japanese market, where the bluefin had become a highly sought-after delicacy for sushi and sashimi. 

Longliners, harpooners, and purse seiners all targeted the giants, driven by the high prices paid in Japan - which consumes 40% of global bluefin landings and where a single bluefin has sold for over $ US 736,000! These fleets have used ever-more sophisticated means to find the tuna, including spotter planes and sonar equipment.

 

 

In the late 1990s came a new development in the bluefin tuna industry: tuna farms,which could be the final nail in the coffin for the endangered eastern population.

The farms are actually fattening pens for live-caught bluefin tuna, and supply a new market in Japan for cheaper bluefin tuna for sushi and sashimi. Suddenly, the prized bluefin was affordable for nearly all Japanese, not just the wealthy. Demand soared...and so did the fishing effort.

 

 

The practice of transferring live tuna at sea to tug boats for transportation to the farms makes it extremely difficult to keep track of how many tuna were transferred, and what size they were. 

Japan, which imports most of the bluefin tuna captured in the Mediterranean, has strict rules prohibiting IUU fish from entering the country. However, China and other Southeast Asian countries are less strict. Their ports would likely accept illegally caught bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean.



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