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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...

An Oasis in the heart of Quijote's land
28 August 2018

 

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 - home to Don Quijote. 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 stone's 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, wood pigeons, 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 which are really 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 Largest Necropolis in Spain
22 August 2018

This vast cemetery in Madrid is the largest necropolis in Spain, and one of the largest in the world. Approximately five million people have been laid to rest here – that surpasses the current population of the city.

Our Lady of Almudena Cemetery (Cementerio de Nuestra Señora de La Almudena) is more akin to a town of the dead. Crowds of visitors, especially on All Saints’ Day, on November 1, walk the burial ground along pathways with streets names and varying sections that resemble neighbourhoods with different social standings.

There’s a separate walled “neighbourhood” for the tombs of the rich and famous, miniature palaces, many with ornate doors and windows.

 In another section, the graves of the less fortunate or not so well-to-do aren’t burial plots at all, but rather rows and rows of stacked mini crypts housing the cremated remains within niches several stories high, resembling apartment blocks.

In the centre is the historic heart of the cemetery, with beautiful marble tombstones and statues dating back to the 19th century. The cemetery was built in 1884 and grew rapidly as the cholera epidemic spread.

Although not as grand as the cemeteries in other capitals of Europe, Almudena still has some ornate and interesting gravestones worth visiting. So if you happen to be in the area it is well worth a visit. The Metro Line 2 will get you to the Elipa station, from where you can walk to the entrance, which is about half a kilometre away.

 



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An Englishman at War
10 August 2018

Even though he was an Englishman, famed author George Orwell made it a point to head to Spain during the Spanish Civil War in order to join the fight for democracy, mainly out of idealism. Today, his path through one portion of the war is remembered by a trail of recreated fortifications.

Orwell joined the fighting of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, despite the reasoned advice of fellow author, Henry Miller. Despite being a volunteer, Orwell wanted to head to the front lines of the war, but it was not in the cards. Instead, he was sent, with a regiment to the region of Aragon, where the fighting was rather light. There he didn't see much action, but he did encounter a great deal of hardship among the soldiers, including hunger, terrible living conditions, and lack supplies in general. While his initial visit was uneventful, he would return to Aragon later and be shot in the neck. He survived and managed to escape Spain, and his ordeal would go on to inform his book.

 

 

Despite a general agreement among many in Spain to let the events of the civil war remain in the past, many of the trenches and fortifications where Orwell spent time have been methodically recreated today. The trenches and bunkers along what is now called the George Orwell Route look as though they have never even been touched by time, much less war. Visitors can now walk the same hilltop path that was not only visited by Orwell, but by countless soldiers who took part in the tragic war. 

The Spanish Civil War may not be a popular subject among many, but thanks to Orwell's high-profile visit, this battlefield will not be forgotten any time soon. 

 

              

Ruta Orwell



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Who was Santiago?
03 August 2018

“Camino de Santiago” or Santiago’s Way is a labyrinth of routes flowing across all of Europe and culminating in the town of Santiago de Compostela.

 

 

 

 

Not so well known in the UK but pilgrims have been trekking these routes for hundreds of years. Although it was originally and still is a religious pilgrimage, more recently even devote Atheists have booted up and hiked all the way to Santiago’s resting place. This pilgrimage has become a very popular challenge for ones that love outdoor activities. I have asked many people who have done the “Camino” to explain to me the importance and the reason why they do it and more importantly how it originated, but very few have every really been able to explain what it is all about. Clearly the majority of my friends are atheists or non-practicing Catholics, as they really didn’t have a clue, they just went along for the ride so to speak. Like so many traditions, the real reason behind them gets lost in time. Ask any Valenciano how “Fallas” originated and the vast majority won’t even know where to start. They’ve just always celebrated it!

 

“El Camino de Santiago” is nowadays more a pilgrimage of self-discovery with more of a spiritual focus rather than a religious one. Paulo Coelho’s book “The Pilgrimage” helped boost popularity of this tradition reaching out to people from all walks of life. Everyone, looking to spend time with their thoughts and pursuing their inner-self as they walk the extremely long routes to the final destination. I must admit that it seems a very attractive proposition especially with the stress and pressure of modern day life. Just walking and walking and walking for days on end would certainly give you time to disconnect and focus on who you are, what you are doing and where you want to go with your life. It has been a life changing experience for many. As the routes are established you will always meet people along the way, young and old from many different countries, however those who strictly do it according to tradition will do it in silence and not talk along the way. But from what I have heard there aren’t many of those.

 

But who is Santiago?  

 

Santiago de Compostela, everyone’s final destination is in the northwest of Spain, in the green Celtic Galicia. The Roman’s referred to it as “Finis Terrae” as it was the westernmost point of the known world. Tradition has it that the Apostle James, Jacob in Spanish and later Santiago was the eldest son oF Zebedee and brother to John the Evangelist. It is believed that he was awarded the Spanish lands in order to preach the Gospel. As he carried out his task he came to find the mouth of the river Ulla. But having had little success in finding followers and just a small number of disciples, he decided to return to Jerusalem. When he returned to Palestine in the year 44, he was tortured and beheaded by Herod Agrippa and his was refused a burial. However his disciples secretly stole his body from the grasp of Herod and took it to shore where they found a boat ready to sail but without a crew. They placed the body in a marble arc and sailed away. After the sea crossing they eventually sailed up the river Ulla to the Roman Port of Iria Flavia , the Roman capital of Galicia. They then moved the arc to a nearby forest called Liberum Donum and buried the body there building an altar around the marble arc.

Its existence was forgotten due to persecutions and prohibitions until 813 when the hermit Pelayo observed flashes followed by sparkles of light and heard chants coming from area where the tomb was. Due to this occurrence the area was named Campus Stellae – Star Field, from which the current name “Compostela” is derived,hence the name of the City Santiago de Compostela.

 

The hermit informed the Bishop of Iria Flavia, Teodomiro, who after removing the weeds and grass from the area discovered the tomb of the Apostle with his inscription on the headstone. King Alfonso II was informed of the discovery and he rushed to the scene and proclaimed Saint James the patron saint of the Kingdom. He built a sanctuary that would leter become Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral. Over time numerous miracles and apparitions were recorded giving birth to a movement of pilgrims who began to trace the routes of the Camino de Santiago over the centuries. In the XII and XIII century the City of Santiago de Compostela was at its peak when the “Codex Calxtino”: The first Pilgrims Guide, was written. Pope Callistus II and Alexander II declared Santiago de Compostela the third Holy City after Jerusalem and Rome.

 

Many dream of walking the entire length of the “Camino Frances” – The French Path that spans 775km. Others dream of walking the “El Camino de la Plata” which starts in Seville and spans 705km but few actually do it! In total there are 10 established routes ranging from 119km to 775km. All of the routes are broken down into “stages” of approximately 20 to 30km each. So most people opt for a just a few stages and pick up the route “further down the road” so to speak, so it really depends how much time you can get away from the constraints of life and avoid making any commitments! No mobile phone (unless it’s an emergency), you can plan your stops along the way or just go on an adventure and stop off at hostels, or even a hotel, which may be better for those who still can't give up all their creature comforts. My friend came across a German women about 30 km from Compostela, who had been walking for over three months, carried no phone, virtually no money and had not contacted anyone back home in all that time. Some people take it very seriously. However the majority see it as an opportunity to well and truly disconnect.

 

The distance will depend on how fit you are and how much time you can really take off from the real world. Just imagining it brings me a huge amount of peace and tranquillity. The thought of just walking and walking and walking without any other commitment than to keep going forward. Stress free, for a moment all problems are placed on hold and it is as if life has frozen while you embark on your adventure. I think it is so attractive because it goes against all the negative aspects of daily basis and I imagine it as a totally liberating experience. I have been toying with the idea for some time, but when I finally decide to do it I want to take at least a month off so I am not in any rush to get back to the real world and I am sure it will be a fulfilling experience. At present I have no fixed date but everyday that passes I feel I need to do it even more.

 

 

 

Here is a link that shows all the routes leading to Santiago de Compostela and the different stages where there are hotels and hostels.

 

Camino de Santiago Routes



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