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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 Pacharan Region
29 December 2017

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



Like 1        Published at 17:07   Comments (2)


Connecting People...
12 December 2017

On the small mountainous island of La Gomera, one of the Canaries, the children speak to each other from miles apart using one of the most unusual languages in the world. Known as Silbo, the whistling language of Gomera Island has a vocabulary of over 4,000 words, and is used by "Silbadors" to send messages across the island's high peaks and deep valleys.

The "whistle language" isn't really it's own language, but a way of speaking any existing language through whistles. El Silbo has a well-known history. The original inhabitants of La Gomera were believed to be immigrants from part of what is now Mauritania, and they spoke a tonal language. Tones were so important to the phonology of the language that one could speak simple sentences with just the tones and not lose meaning. This rudimentary system evolved to include glides and stops to imitate consonants, which let whistlers convey more complex phrases. In the 16th century, when the Spaniards conquered the island, the natives were driven to extinction.

The Spanish immigrants adapted the Gomeran whistle to their native Spanish. Spanish does not have phonologically significant tones, so pitch variations are used to represent vowels. The system worked great for the shepherds and farmers. In the 1990's, when modernization brought the number of whistlers to a dangerous nadir, the government of La Gomera made el Silbo a mandatory subject for elementary students, which successfully sparked a whistling renaissance.

Though Silbo was on the verge of extinction in the 1990s, the Gomerans have made a concerted effort to revive their language by adding it to the public school curriculum. Today 3,000 schoolchildren are in the process of learning it. On the last day of September 2009, UNESCO gave protected cultural status to El Silbo, to further protect the culture.

 
 


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The 3 Billion Euro Lottery - How it works!
05 December 2017

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 €62,72 , slightly more than last year.  This year there is an expected turnover of more than 3,3 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. From next year onwards any prize over €2500 will have to pay 20% tax. 

 

 

 

 

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 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 last 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 luck go out and buy a “decimo” who knows??? Ther have been some incredible stories of luck in the past such as an immigrant that was given one decimo and won €300,000 and was able to open a bank account! Two friends from Sevilla bought two tickets together one in Sevilla and another one in Madrid when they went there on a trip and each ticket won 1st and 2nd prize respectively! In 2005 in the Catalonian village of Vic fell the 1st prize and leftover € 510 Million in prize money for its inhabitants.It was estimated that the prize money was shared between 3000 and 4000 people in the village, making for a very Merry Christmas.

 

If you consider buying Christmas lottery online I suggest you do it form the Governments official online website, your safest option as there are some pirate websites out there!

 

http://www.loteriasyapuestas.es

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


Like 2        Published at 13:26   Comments (7)


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