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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...

How Pharmacies used to be...
29 October 2019

 

The pharmacy of today is sterile, white and efficient. Each medicine bottle or box is the same, and patients make their way in and out without lingering. However, 500 years ago, the local pharmacy was less science and more art, and the Esteve Pharmacy Museum in Llívia, Spain captures this ideal in the vibrant colors and luxury of a medieval European apothecary.

Established in the 15th century, the Esteve Pharmacy is one of the oldest in Europe. Since 1965 it has only housed the museum, but in its heyday, it attracted patients from across the region for medical treatment and drugs. Before the days of the child-locked pill container, remedies were kept in albarellos, a type of painted pottery that was sealed with parchment or leather.


Today, the museum has a large collection of the albarellos, including 87 rare blue albarellos that were modernized and include painted labels of the drugs they contained. Along with the beautiful storage jars, the museum also features a gaudy baroque cupboard that looks more fitting for a king’s kitchen than a medieval clinic. The contrasts between the museum and modern pharmacies are striking, and the Esteve Pharmacy is a fascinating look into the artful world of medieval medicine.



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700 metres above sea level
25 October 2019

 

Casar de Burbia is a family winery located in a historic region with the protected designation of origin "El Bierzo", and they are devoted to producing red wines from their own vineyards.

The Fernandez Bello family started to produce wine in the ’80s by purchasing vineyards in the mountainous zones and highest areas of the valley, in Valtuille de Arriba (Leon).

The most significant assets of the winery are undoubtedly it's 27 hectares of vineyards surrounding the road to Santiago.

When the Fernández Bello family began to buy old vineyards in 1989, those on the mountain of Valtuille de Arriba were suffering gradual and evident neglect due to their limited production compared to the fertile valley. However, the value of these vineyards is currently unquestionable, both due to its steep slopes facing towards the sun, which drains any possible accumulation of excess water, as well as its altitude above 700 m, which provides a significant temperature difference between night and day.

The old vineyards needed to be regenerated since over 30 % of them were planted with white vines, mostly Palomino, a variety with little enological quality. The winery began a hard job which lasted 7 years, during which over 9,000 plants were grafted in the old existing roots. Using the most traditional grafting techniques in the zone, the 'Meseta graft', the white varieties were replaced with the blue-ribbon variety in the area, Mencia. All this effort, now bearing fruit, meant a regeneration of vineyards which was unmatched in El Bierzo region. One of the fruits of all this hard work was TEBAIDA -

 

 

TEBAIDA -  Casar de Burbia

 

D.O. Bierzo Red Aged minimum 16 months in French (Allier and Troncais) oak barrels 100% old-vine Mencía grapes
• Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (June 2009)- 91+ points

• Wine & Spirits Magazine 2009 - 91 points

• Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (91 puntos)

• Peñín Guide 2010 (Tebaida 2007) - 92 points

• Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (April 2008)- 92 points

• Peñín Guide 2009 (Tebaida 2006) - 91 points

 

 

Tebaida is made from a selection of the grapes from the different estates of Viña  San Salvador,  El Castañal, and Viña Sapita, which boast some of the bodega’s richest vineyards owing to their altitude at over 700 metres above sea-level, their orientation and their century-old status.

The terroir, typical of these estates, is more extreme and largely made up of slate with traces of other minerals such as iron and aluminium.

Harvesting is carried out by hand, as is the crushing process. Alcoholic fermentation takes place at a temperature of 24-25ºC in 5.000-litre capacity stainless steel vats, where extraction is maximised to the full. The wine is then subject to malolactic fermentation in French (Allier and Troncais) oak barrels, and aged for a minimum of 16 months.



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Europe's oldest Synagogue is in Spain.
14 October 2019

The Ancient Synagogue of Barcelona, is located in the centre of Barcelona. It is believed to be  the oldest synagogue in Europe. Archaeological investigations show that the original structure of the building was built in the third or fourth century; whether this structure was the synagogue cannot be said with certainty. After many centuries of use for other purposes, the building re-opened as a synagogue and museum in 2002. No congregation prays regularly at the Sinagoga Major, but it is used for festive occasions. The building was significantly expanded during the 13th century. Medieval Barcelona is known to have had several synagogues, and the main synagogue was certainly in the immediate area. King James I visited the synagogue in 1263 at the conclusion of the Barcelona Disputation. Shlomo ben Aderet served as the rabbi of the Sinagoga Major for 50 years.  

  

It is believed that the original building was freestanding. To the north, it adjoined with what was then Escola Mayor Street and to the east with Marlet Street. The building ran southerly along “de les Dones” Street, where in the 19th century a narrow edifice was built. To the west there was probably an atrium, the site where later, around the 17th century, the stairs to the present-day building were erected. In the northern exterior wall, there is an effigy of Santo Domingo. Emblematic buildings in the Jewish Quarters were christianized with the effigy of a saint. The bloodiest day in the history of Barcelona’s Jewish community was August 5, 1391. On that day, the day celebrated as Santo Domingo, the Quarters were attacked.

 

After the uprising, the street name was changed to Sant Doménec. The building, along with all of the community’s belongings, passed into the hands of the king.

We find ourselves before a building whose foundations date back to Roman times. In addition, there are superimposed high-medieval constructions and a central structure from the 13th century. Also visible are 17th century modifications made when the upper level apartments were built.

At the end of 1995, the former owner put the property up for sale. The space was to be utilized as a bar. Before this lametable eventuality, Mr. Iaffa decided to purchase the property with the hope of bringing to light its historic past and preserving it from a use which would not dignify its extensive past.

Thus began the collaboration between Mr. Riera and Mr. Iaffa, with a common objective: to salvage a significant period of Catalan history from oblivion through the rehabilitation of the former Major Synagogue space.

 



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The Royal Quartet
09 October 2019

 

Among the ornate rooms and historic artworks at the Royal Palace of Madrid is a surprise for anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of music history.

Known as the Royal Quartet, the foursome of stringed instruments kept at the palace are unique examples of the work of Antonio Stradivarius, the renowned Italian instrument maker. The Royal Palace’s quartet—two violins, a cello, and a viola—are among the eleven decorated Stradivaris in known existence. 

The ivory-inlaid quartet were offered as gifts to King Felipe V in 1702 by Stradivarius, and are the only set of decorated instruments the master is known to have made. The quartet was originally a quintet and contained another viola. Both violas were stolen by French troops during the Napoleonic wars; one was recovered in the 1950s, but the other remains missing today. 

 

For most Palace visitors, the quartet is a look-but-don’t-touch experience. One group is an exception, though. The Royal Palace hosts public concerts featuring their quartet-in-residence, Cuarteto Quiroga, where visitors can see and hear these rare instruments in action. “They were created in order to make music,” explained music adviser Álvaro Guibert, “so not playing them would be denying them their fulfillment.” Since being reunited with the stolen viola, the quartet has never left the Royal Palace, and according to Guibert never will again.

A Stradivarius is among the most coveted items in the world, considered to be the best-stringed instrument ever created. The violins, violas and cellos produced by the Stradivari family during the 17th and 18th centuries are prized for their remarkable sound and incredible craftsmanship, and a new study explores the possible techniques used by Antonio Stradivari. 

A Stradivarius in pristine condition can fetch millions of dollars. In 2011, a Stradivarius violin made in 1721, named Lady Blunt after Lord Byron's granddaughter, Lady Ann Blunt, was sold at a charity auction for $15,9 M The money collected during the auction went to Japanese earthquake relief funds. 

Approximately only 600 string instruments made by Stradivari are still known to exist...

 



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Astorga, Leon's little-known treasure.
03 October 2019


Astorga is the place where two of Spain's most important cultural routes converge: the Way of Saint James and the Silver Route. With over 2,000 years of history, this city in Castile-León is home to a surprising monumental site, where Renaissance cathedrals and Roman baths jostle with the modernism of Gaudí.

To discover Astorga you have to head for the province of León, in northwestern Spain. It is located just 45 kilometres from the city of the same name, León, in a region known as La Maragatería. After being conquered by the Romans, the town became an important strategic centre, mainly on account of the area's wealth in deposits of gold. The heritage of that period and the remains of the mines themselves are some of the attractions you will find in Astorga, but not the only ones.

 

 

The first thing you will notice when you get to the town is the view of two of its most important monuments, Santa María Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace. The two buildings are set side by side and are surrounded by a Roman defensive wall which is in an excellent state of conservation. Take a close look, because the Cathedral is a beautiful synthesis of styles, with elements ranging from Florid Gothic to Baroque and Renaissance. This is because construction work began in the 15th century and was not completed until the 18th. Another unusual aspect is the difference in colour of the two towers that flank the main entrance - one of them was affected by an earthquake in 1775 and took longer to be finished. Inside, be sure to admire the stunning main altarpiece and choir stalls.

 

 

Beside the Cathedral is the Episcopal Palace, designed by the famous modernist architect Antonio Gaudí. It is a neo-gothic building that looks like something out of a fairy tale. In the garden outside you will be welcomed by three angels in zinc, and inside you can visit the Los Caminos Museum, which has an interesting collection of items related with the Way of Saint James. Astorga is home to other interesting buildings, such as Casa Granell House and San Andrés Church.

Next, head for Plaza Mayor Square where you will find the baroque Town Hall and a traditional street market held every Tuesday morning. A visit to the town's Roman remains is also not to be missed. You will find remains of the forum, thermal baths, "domus" (houses), the imperial temple, the camp of the legion and the drainage network. In the ancient Ergastula (prison) you will now find the Roman Museum with statues, amphorae, jewellery and reliefs. To make sure you see everything, it is best first to visit the town's Tourist Office.

 

 

If you have more time, head out to one of the surrounding villages and discover the charm and character of the traditional architecture of the La Maragatería region. Castrillo de los Polvazares, for example, just 5 kilometres from Astorga, is home to a good representation, and we would also recommend you try the typical dish of the region: maragato casserole. You can also do the “Gold Route”, that will take you to different villages around the region in search of ancient Roman mines. Be sure to make a stop to discover Astorga. You will be pleasantly surprised.

 



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