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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 Heart of La Mancha
24 August 2017

My summer travels took me back to La Mancha again this year, to my wife’s beloved village. I have written a few articles on this region as it has always been a region of great importance when it comes to wine, cheese and other delicacies but it was also a very important religious enclave as well as a hunting playground for nobility. Torrenueva is a small village in the province of Ciudad Real La Mancha and located in the heart of the historical Campo de Montiel and has approximately 3000 inhabitants. This remote village has always been tied to the Order of Santiago which was founded in 1170 in Caceres by a group of Knights which formed a brotherhood under the patronage of St James.  The most important year for this village was 1440 when it received its “Carta Puebla”.  The religious importance of this village is made evident in the main church that resides in the central plaza of the village, The Parish of St. James The Great, an architectural delight that you would not imagine could exist in such a small village with so few inhabitants. This wonderful church built between 1525 and 1535 is Plateresque in style: Elizabethan Renaissance with late gothic influences. The entire village moves around the its Patron Saint “La Virgin de la Cabeza”  and the local “Fiestas” to celebrate their patron Saint were getting under way during our visit. However one might expect the Virgin to be safeguarded in the main church but this "Virgin" is rather special in the region and in fact existed even before the village of Torrenueva was founded, as far back as the 13th Century.  Her original shrine was built to honour the Virgin that appeared to a local shepherd on numerous occasions but in the 16th Century the neighbours of Torrenueva decided to build a Sanctuary worthy of her importance 1 league from the village (1,5 Roman miles or 2,2 km nowadays), which still stands today and houses and safeguards their most important neighbour. Up until the 17th Century She was a very humble statue that only measured 85cm, it is believed that the image of the Virgin was mutilated in order to facilitate its hiding due to the imminent arrival of the Arab invaders as they feared her total destruction.  But during the 17th Century we could say she received a makeover to bring her inline with the opulence of the era and was dressed in rich fabrics lined with gold and adorned with intricate jewellery. Unfortunately the original statue was destroyed in 1936 due to the war but revealed a small stone statue of Our Lady hidden within its interior. After the war, the destroyed statue was replaced with a more modern style image, but despite all the vicissitudes, La Virgin de la Cabeza has continued to grow in importance and build faith throughout the region and is considered a “Miraculous Virgin” as many locals continuously tell stories of miracles occurring after making offerings in her Sanctuary.  The Virgin de la Cabeza from Torrenueva lives in every household within the village and every househould around the country which has a connection with the village. We live in Valencia and we must have at least three or four images of the Virgin dotted around our house and one in the car! As you drive to the village from Valdepeñas you pass the Sanctuary and every time we drive past my wife salutes her with a few pomps of the horn. The first time I thought she was loosing the plot but I have to admit the Virgin of this village is a constant source of happiness and cheer for the locals, their adoration to this image is extremely deeply inbred and it wasn’t until a few years ago that she was stolen that I really understood how important she was to the village. The village changed over night: sadness, tears and worry filled the air, everyone was affected and the whole village went out to look for her. Fortunately she was found, abandoned in an olive grove by the side of the road, battered and bruised, so to speak, her material belongings had been stripped off and there she lay beneath an olive tree waiting to be found. 


 (Sanctuary of la Virgin de La Cabeza)

Even though she is a small statue in relation to others around the country no expenses are spared when it comes to dressing her and just her “every-day” cloak, not even the one for special occasions, cost the neighbours of Torrenueva €12,000 through donations to the parish. Her special gown costs almost double that and all her jewellery is real gold and silver incrusted with gems and pearls and from what I have been told here wardrobe is quite extensive and here jewellery box considerably large thanks to donations that have been given to her over the years by devotees.  It took no time at all for the village to bring their patron back to her former glory and celebrations filled the streets of Torrenueva.



This summer we witnessed again the procession of the Virgin when they carry her down from her sanctuary to the church in the main square for the yearly celebrations. Although it is something that I have seen before I noticed something this year that I had never noticed before, how important the Virgin was for the children of the village. My daughter is now 12 and her group of friends were adamant on seeing the entire procession and crying at the fact that they couldn’t get the viewpoint they wanted in order to see her properly and follow the procession. They were so distraught that I had to do something about it and get them as close as possible. This was the highlight of the summer for them and three of them had even met up earlier that day and gone to church, on their own, leaving their parents at home! They came back after mass and had even confessed. I was gobsmacked, thinking what other twelve year olds would have done if they had been given the chance to have a bit of freedom out on the “town”. It makes you realise that it is a different world in country Spain, nothing like the Capital. Although everyone spots the “forastero” as you walk down the street, they all great you with a smile and an affectionate “Buenos dias”, no matter what. 


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Jellyfish in Spain - Watch out!
07 August 2017

The Mediterranean, despite the high level of pollution, is home to a multitude of ‘wildlife’.

Jellyfish, of both harmful and harmless varieties, are a fairly common sight along the Mediterranean coast. They generally occur in swarms, making them readily visible and, in theory at least, easily avoided. Jellyfish are normally to be found between 20 and 40 miles from the coast where the waters are warmer and saltier, coastal waters being generally colder and less salty and acting as a sort of natural barrier.

Concentrations of jellyfish in any given year are dependent on several factors. A warm, dry winter and spring inland, for example, will normally lead to a high build-up of jellyfish at sea. However, when freshwater river input into the sea is lower due to lack of rain, salinity increases and this allows them to breach the barrier. Other factors include winds and sea currents as jellyfish just drift along in the currents.

Hot summer weather also brings them in, the time when millions are bathing, so sting numbers increase dramatically. Tourism being of great importance to the Spanish economy, jellyfish swarms are regularly reported in the local press in summer. However, despite these warnings, hundreds of people are stung every day up and down the Spanish Mediterranean coast.



One of the most common jellyfish in the Spanish Mediterranean is the Mauve Stinger (Pelagia noctiluca). It may grow up to 10 cm in diameter and is distinguished by a mushroom shaped, deep bell. It has 8 hair-like tentacles, extending as far as 3 metres, and all are covered in nematocysts (stinging cells). Its sting is both potent and painful, but short-lived.


The Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) is readily identifiable by a ring of brown dots around a flattened white saucer-shaped body. It has 32 semi-circular lobes around the fringe, each one with a brown spot. On the upper surface of the bell, 16 brown v-shaped marks radiate outwards from a dark central spot. There are also 24 tentacles around the edge of the bell, grouped in threes. It has a potent sting that can produce extremely painful and long lasting weals.


The Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis) is undoubtedly a name that almost everyone has heard of. Technically, it is not actually a true jellyfish but a hydrozoan, a floating colony of four types of polyps! But it stings like any other jellyfish so we will call it one. Its highly potent sting can, in extreme cases, provoke cardiac arrest and death in particularly sensitive persons. The nematocysts retain their potency long after death, as many have discovered to their cost after handling specimens washed up on the shore.

If you are unlucky enough to be stung by a jellyfish you can treat some stings yourself using first aid. But if the symptoms are serious – such as severe pain, swelling or difficulty breathing – dial 112 to request an ambulance immediately.

The best treatment for you may depend on the type of jellyfish that stung you. But most stings can be treated with these simple remedies:

Remove stingers. Remove any pieces of jellyfish tentacle in your skin by rinsing the wound with seawater. You can also try gently scraping off the stingers with the edge of an ID card or a credit card. Avoid getting sand on the wound. And don't rinse with fresh water or rub the area with a towel, as these actions may activate more stingers.

Rinse with vinegar or apply a baking soda paste. Rinse the affected area with vinegar for about 30 seconds. Or apply a paste of baking soda and seawater. Each method may deactivate the stingers of some types of jellyfish.

Take a hot shower or apply ice packs. Hot water — as hot as you can tolerate but not above 113 F (45 C) — and ice packs may help ease pain.

Take a pain reliever and apply lotions. Apply calamine lotion or lidocaine to help relieve itching and discomfort.

These remedies are unhelpful or unproved, do NOT use them:

Human urine
Meat tenderizer
Solvents, such as formalin, ethanol and gasoline
Pressure bandages

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Valderejo National Park
02 August 2017

A high and wide valley enclosed by steep hillsides ending in rocky cliffs is probably the best way to sum up the landscape of Valderejo (3418.5 Ha). Declared a Natural Park in 1992, the valley is located in the most western part of Alava, on the boundary with Burgos. It is almost uninhabited, which has favoured the existence of a rich and varied flora and fauna. 

The Bóveda Mountain Range and the western stretch of the Árcena Massif enclose and protect this valley, whereas deep into it the River Purón flows through large meadows and plantations. With the passing of years its waters have eroded the mountains of this singular natural area. 

Lalastra, the heart of the Park:

We gain access to the park through the Valdegovía Valley from the village of San Millán de Zadornil in the province of Burgos. The road will lead us to the town of Lalastra in the heart of Valderejo, a starting point for the routes and itineraries that the park offers. 

The Park House (Parketxea) is a beautiful building made of wood and with large windows that is located on the outskirts of the town. It provides hikers with all the information on park routes, activities and services. Visitors can also drop by the Rural Interpretation Centre, where the history of the valley and the habits and customs of its people are displayed. 



In Lalastra, we will also find a recreational area with a playground and picnic area. The village boasts a restaurant and rural tourist facilities, ideal places to get our strength back once we have finished the visit to the park. The mountains that enclose the valley offer different hiking and climbing routes. Those nine itineraries with varied length and difficulties travel across the whole parkland. Most of them cover a short distance, but some link up with others, providing long walks to more experienced mountaineers. 



Apart from Lalastra, there are three other rural centres in Valderejo: Lahoz, Villamardones and Ribera. The last two were abandoned several decades ago. An interesting walk could be to visit their ruins. 

The human being has dwelled the valley since time immemorial. The traces of that presence are noticeable in the area's cultural and architectural heritage, which accommodates megalithic monuments (the tumulus of San Lorenzo, the monolith on Mount Lerón) as well as churches and hermitages of different periods. There are remains of a road from the Roman period, and in Ribera for example, stands a Romanesque church with unusual medieval paintings. 


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