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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...

Congost de Mont-Rebei - If you suffer from vertigo...stay at home
24 May 2018

 

Mountains, rivers and canyons are right at the top of anyone's list of features most closely associated with natural beauty. But they alone don't constitute an ideal spot for nature lovers. For that, you need a diverse ecology as well as beautiful surroundings.

Luckily, Congost de Mont-rebei in the region of Huesca-Lleida in the Sierra de Monsec, offers it all. The Mont-Rebei area is so special because of the lush flora and abundant animal species that live in and around the mountains, which are criss-crossed by the shimmering blue waters of several rivers. This creates a near-infinite range of environments for all types of creatures to find their home: high rocky peaks scraping the sky, lush forests spilling down the mountainside and ending in the cool river waters below with endless rockpools.

 

   

 

 

 

Perhaps the most famous part of the mountain, Congost de Mont-Rebei, is a steep canyon cut into the rocky peaks, with sheer rock faces plunging down 500m at some points leaving a gap of only  20m from side to side. Narrow walking paths carved into the sides of the canyon provide adventurous tourists and hikers with breathtaking views and spellbinding glimpses directly down onto the canyon floor. It is the only natural region in catalunya that has no tarmac roads, railroads, electrical pylons or anything as it happens that could disturb nature in the slightest.

 

       

 

 

Popular with mountain bikers and hikers, in particular, the canyon offers as much of a challenge as it does a scenic view of the landscape. The paths are steep, rocky and frightfully narrow, making you feel like a mountain goats on occasions. It truly is a wonderful area and a unique opportunity to explore nature from a  different perspective. But it is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

 

          

 

 
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Twice as tall as Niagara Falls
08 May 2018

Bilbao, the capital of Biscay, is surrounded by mountains and is very near the sea, so you don't have to travel far to find yourself surrounded by nature. Very close to Bilbao, heading inland, you'll find two unique spots: the source of the Nervión River is far from a simple image of a river flowing through the city. But more like a breathtaking picture of fantasy film. Before reaching Bilbao the river falls over a dizzying cliff and through one of the oldest towns in the area, Orduña, where you can comfortably stroll around no matter what time of year you visit.

 

 

When the Nervión dies out in Bilbao it looks like a very civilised river, but in fact near its source there is wild waterfall, also the largest in Spain. It is found in Délika, 43 kilometres south of Bilbao, where the Nervión tumbles down the 300-metre-high cliffs of the Salvada mountain range. If you walk the three kilometres from the village, you will be able to see the fall from below; or from the precipice if you drive to the Orduña mountain pass and then walk from the car park of Mount Santiago. In any case, it is a one-hour stroll (one-way) that will fill visitors with surprise when they contemplate this river that, even though it is still only a stream, it jumps almost 300 metres, to comfortably place itself among the ten highest waterfalls in Europe and 20 waterfalls in the world with the steepest vertical drop.

 

 

After bathing Délika, the Nervión crosses Orduña. The centre of the village preserves its mediaeval atmosphere, with porches and buildings as important as the Aduana, with imposing neoclassic architecture from the days of Carlos III, today converted into the Hotel-Spa. Another surprising place is the Fortified church of Santa María. And another, the Taberna Belatz Gorri, which has won the Bilbao Bizkaia Pintxo Championship three times in the Spanish potato omelette category.

 

                                       



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The Cactus Garden
03 May 2018

 

 

The origins of the Jardín de Cactus date back to the 1970s, when César Manrique - then in full creative dialogue with the island's landscape - turned his attention to the old quarry at Guatiza.The former quarry was used for extraction of volcanic ash and rock once used by prickly pear growers to conserve the ground’s nighttime moisture. The artist César Manrique saw in this location the chance to convert a disused area into an unusual and beautiful work of art.

 

 

The depression in the ground produced by the continual extraction of gravel had transformed the quarry into a dump. The artist encouraged the Cabildo de Lanzarote - a body with which he was working very closely - to acquire the land, wall in the complex and restore the traditional windmill that crowned the enclave. However, owing to various viscitudes, the original project to build a new Centre of Art, Culture and Tourism would have to wait until the 1980s. The Jardín de Cactus was finally opened in 1990 and became César Manrique's final spatial work.

 

The Jardín de Cactus is a magnificent example of an architectonic intervention integrated into the landscape. César Manrique created this audacious architectonic complex whilst maintaining the unshakeable pairing of art and nature that is so tangible in all of his spatial interventions. 
It is located in Guatiza, municipality of Teguise, in the middle of an agricultural landscape characterised by extensive tunera plantations dedicated to the cultivation of cochineal.
 
The selection of this special landscape, as with so many of Manrique's works, dictated the aesthetic solutions adopted as well as the contents of the same, which have a sense of continuity and integration with the surrounding landscape. The large metal cactus at the entrance and the wrought iron gate stand out as unique referential and emblematic elements that presage the majestic and surprising character of the interior.

    
The entrance is formed by a labyrinthine set of robust, curved volumes, placed around a central structure in the form of a 'taro', the virtue of which is to occlude the view of the interior and therefore provoke a surprise effect on visitors.

On crossing the threshold, we are met with a view over the whole enclave. One of the main characteristics of this recreated amphitheatre is the walls, made up of terraces descending from the ground, in levels displaying different varieties of cactus.

 

 

A double staircase opens at our feet, inviting us to walk the sinuous stone paths and flights of stairs that connect the various landscaped areas in the interior.

At centre stage, we can see a series of monoliths made of compacted volcanic ash which have remained intact as evidence of the quarry's past extraction activities. The marked sculptural nature of these monoliths harmonises with the capricious, original shapes of the cacti. As an idyllic counterpoint to the aridity of the landscape, there are small ponds complete with water lilies and colourful fish.

In the Centre's five thousand square metres, there are over seven thousand two hundred examples of over one thousand one hundred different species, originating from places as far afield as Peru, Mexico, Chile, the United States, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Morocco and the Canary Islands. It is worth noting that the botanical collection at the Jardín de Cactus continues to increase, with periodic plantings of new species.

 


Oct 01 to Jun 30 Monday to Sunday - Does not close at midday 10:00 AM to 5:45 PM

Jul 01 to Sep 30 Monday to Sunday - Does not close at midday 9:00 AM to 5:45 PM



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It's May in Madrid
02 May 2018

 

 

With the arrival of spring and the long awaited festival of San Isidro, the patrón saint of the capital, Madrid takes to the streets to intensely experience one of the city's best times of the year. Gastronomy is yet another attraction of this festive period in which celebrations are unthinkable if not accompanied by the delicious, traditional Madrid cuisine.

There are many dishes that have been associated for decades with the San Isidro festivity, perhaps as it is the moment when pride in traditional Madrid cuisine and its age-old recipes get to shine. A cuisine that is overshadowed the rest of the year, eclipsed perhaps by the rich and diverse culinary offerings to be had in the capital, which allows us to enjoy all of the cuisines of the world without leaving Madrid.

 

 

Very shortly traditional cuisine takes centre stage and we can enjoy classic Madrid stew and a hearty helping of tripe in many restaurants. Without these dishes, the gastronomy of a whole region could not be understood. Curiously, neither of the dishes is originally from Madrid, although it is true that Madrid has stamped its character on them. 

Together with stews and hotpots, there are delicious types of fish, bream done in Madrid style being one worth mentioning. Natives of Madrid are experts on and big fans of seafood as if they lived in a port. That is almost the case, as Madrid receives produce from almost all the ports in Spain every day and knows how to cook these products with real expertise. Hake, gilthead bream and seabass are sold every morning in all of the markets in Madrid, as are all types of shellfish. 

At this time of year, meat lovers will also see their needs met as dishes made with ox meats abound in taverns and restaurants.The San Isidro Fair takes all of the ox meat from the bullfights to the market, with which excellent stews, oxtail hotpots, grilled sirloins and fillet streak are prepared. 

With the arrival of the festival, spring officially opens in Madrid and its streets fill up with terraces where all of its gastronomic offerings can be enjoyed outdoors. The centre of Madrid fills up every lunchtime with lovers of tapas and the most traditional cuisine.

 

 

The Puerta del Sol, Opera and la Latina make up the most “culinary” triangle of Old Madrid, where it is worth losing yourself in its back streets to discover places like El Viajero de la Latina, El Nuncio, la Terraza del Platería, El Espejo de Recoletos, la Taberna del Alabardero and El Café de Oriente, among many others. There is varied fare, particularly as regards tapas. The most traditional ones are prawns cooked with garlic or deep-fried, steamed mussels, anchovies in vinegar, pickled tuna, croquettes, tortilla and little tripe stews. To wash it all down, the traditional vermouth or local wine. 

 

 

Madrid celebrates the Fiestas de San Isidro for 9 days, from the Friday before May 15 through to the following Sunday. It's the most important, lively and emblematic Madrid festival of the year.

San Isidro was canonized on May 15, 1622, for miraculously making water rise to rescue his son from a well, along with a handful of other wondrous deeds. Hence he became Madrid's patron saint and, simultaneously, the "labourer/peasant saint" after his profession.

One can visit the church of the same name (San Isidro) on Calle Toledo - built over the site where the miracle purportedly took place - about two blocks from the Plaza Mayor. The church holds a small museum with exhibits including the famous well along with a small collection of archaeological findings excavated in the region of Madrid.

Like most in Spain, this Madrid festival has largely lost its religious character. Instead, the city government uses San Isidro as a platform to represent the best of Madrid culture, old and new, from bullfights to break dancing. You'll enjoy a full calendar of concerts, plays, parades, fairs and special art exhibits, most free of charge.

Weekend partying is centred day and night around the Plaza de las Vistillas, Plaza de San Andrés and Puente de Segovia in the Austrias neighbourhood, near the Plaza Mayor. At night, bars set up shop on the street, or "chiringuitos." 

The Chotis is Madrid's typical music and dance, though strangely Scottish in origin. It became popular in the 19th century and was largely danced in the working class neighbourhoods of Lavapiés and El Rastro. Those who lived in these areas did not have much money, but they dressed and danced brightly as if they did. Known as "majos" and "majas," or "chulapos" and "chulapas" (a variation of "chulo," which means cool or cocky), Goya immortalized these proud, attractive madrileños in numerous paintings which you can see at the Prado Museum.

"Castizo" is an adjective that describes anything typical of Madrid. Thus the "castizo" madrileños of today dress up like chulapos/as and dance the chotis or head down to the San Isidro Hermitage on the banks of the Manzanares River to eat cocido, a local kind of stew.

Gigants (people on stilts) with "cabezudos" (big, satirical papier mache heads) parade around the city center, usually on the first Saturday afternoon of San Isidro.

 

 

You can buy barquillos all year round in front of the Palacio Real, but they are especially prevalent during San Isidro. Barquillos are wafers topped with chocolate or whipped cream to your liking. The vendors, called "barquilleros" dress like "chulapos" with a traditional vest and cap and carry around a "wheel of fortune" where you can gamble for more wafers.

So if you happen to be near Madrid this month, pop in and enjoy the Fair!

 



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