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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...

Over 100 interconnected wine cellars hide beneath this town...
18 September 2019

Aranda de Duero is a small town, where just about everywhere worth going is within walking distance. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end of the town to the other, but quite a bit longer if you choose to stop off to eat, drink, and socialise along the way—which is almost inevitable.

A provincial town about 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Madrid, Aranda is the capital of the Ribera del Duero wine region (which is also famous for its lamb dishes). While there are many interesting places to visit nearby—Roman ruins, castles, walled villages, and so on—what makes Aranda so unique is the extensive network of underground wine cellars that interconnect below the streets of the town centre. 

 

Used since the Middle Ages, there are currently about 135 cave-based wine cellars, or “bodegas,” under Aranda del Duero (many others have either collapsed or are no longer used for winemaking). The 5-mile-long network of caves is about 24 to 33 feet deep. Most of the cellars are interconnected and divided just by wooden doors.

     

Many of these cavernous wineries offer guided tours and tastings, and obviously, all will try to sell you their wine (which is hard to resist). The winery of Don Carlos, built in the 15th century, invites visitors to explore the cave as part of a performance by costumed actors. Various clubs ó “peñas,” celebrate special events in these cellars and these clubs are clearly marked at street level. With a total length of around 7 km and excavated at a depth of 13m, the underground cellars of Aranda form the main tourist attraction of the city and undoubtedly show us part of the history of the Ribera del Duero.

The economy of the town, closely linked to wine, forced the locals of the 14th and 15th centuries to dig the cellars under their houses producing this network of incredible tunnels that were originally destined for the conservation of wines.

The medieval wine cellars of Aranda have a constant temperature and humidity throughout the year (if you happen to visit in the hot months, make sure you bring a jacket)

They possess an ingenious construction called zarcera, thanks to this, the historical cellars enjoy an excellent ventilation coming from the outside. These characteristics, together with the absence of noise and vibrations, made the wineries the ideal place for the elaboration and conservation of local wines until well into the last century.

The bodegas were designated as ”Assets of Cultural Interest” by the Spanish Government in 2015. 

 

https://www.bodegasdearanda.com/en/visitas-y-catas/



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Almagro, the Heart of the Fields of Calatrava
11 September 2019

       Following the towns and castles of the Order of Calatrava, facades painted in white and indigo, vast expanses of vineyards and cereal crops, landscapes of endless red soil plains and constant references to Don Quixote are everywhere one looks. This is La Mancha and home to one of the most delicious aubergines you will ever try, however, this land has far more to offer than just a unique vegetable and to discover it, it is best to start in Daimiel, with a visit to the Las Tablas National Park.

What once used to be the hunting grounds of King Alfonso XII and his son Alfonso XIII is today a forest of rushes, cattails, sedge and reeds that is home to ducks, herons and frogs. A total of 250 bird species inhabit these wetlands, which spread over 2,000 hectares, located between the municipal districts of Daimiel and Villarrubia de Los Ojos. One must come well prepared: canteen, during the hottest months, and binoculars, at any time of year. They are fundamental for the close observation of every species of wildlife. To move on to the next destination we should take the CM-4107 road, which will take us all the way to Almagro, a road which is lined with typical farmhouses whitewashed up to their roofs and windmills that are much more modern than those which Don Quixote fought.

 

Almagro is a place that breaks from its surroundings. The town has been declared a Historical and Artistic Site and is therefore well worth visiting, in addition to conserving the same Manchegan essence as its neighbouring towns. It was the headquarters for the Order of Calatrava, an the first Cavalry Military Order founded in 1158 by the Catholic Church.

 

 

The Plaza Mayor (Main Square), a really beautiful site flanked by porticoes with Tuscan columns, is the starting point from which to discover this town. Replete with terraces where one can eat a snack, it is the ideal place in which to try some local aubergines, Pisto (ratatouille)  or Migas (fried breadcrumbs). The 16th century Town Hall can also be found in the square, in addition to its most prized treasure, the Corral de Comedias (open-air comedy theatre). A group of actors act as guides on a dramatised tour during which a voice-over narrates the story of the building. It was built in 1628 as a comedy inn-house and declared a National Monument in 1955.  

The Fúcares Warehouse is located very near the square, built in the 16th century by this wealthy German merchant family to store the grain stemming from the Maestrazgo's earnings and mercury from the Almadén mines. But Almagro's real distinguishing feature is its bobbin lace industry, a skill that requires extensive mastery and was introduced by the Fúcares Family in the 1600s and has continued ever since passing down the generations from mother to daughter. The Lace Museum exhibits one of the best textile collections in the world. The Madre de Dios Church, built in the 17th century in the Gothic style with Renaissance details, or Asunción de Calatrava Convent, built in 1519, are also well worth seeing. 

However Almagro is most well known outside of its borders for a very simple local speciality, it’s aubergines. The cooking, fermentation and dressing process give these vegetables a unique flavour.  They are collected before they are very ripe, so they are stored while still small and before they have taken on their characteristic purple colour. They are prepared, cooked, dressed with oil, vinegar, water, salt, paprika, cumin, a bay leaf, freshly ground pepper and garlic, and left to marinate until they are ready to eat and served cold. They may also be split in half and then stuffed with pepper paste and skewered with fennel sticks.

 

The delicious dressed Aubergine from Almagro, of the Solarum melongena variety, was originally part of the Arabic cuisine, which introduced this practice to the area, where it has been maintained ever since.

This characteristic dressing used for the aubergines was at first an excellent way of preserving seasonal food in a location that is not known for its vegetables. The gastronomical peculiarity of the aubergines from Almagro has crossed Spain’s borders, so some of them are reserved for export. It is a product that is directly identified with La Mancha and the sign of the Denomination of Origin guarantees their quality. They are a fantastic snack to accompany an ice-cold beer especially this time of year, even though we are being drenched at the moment with torrential rain!

 



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Guadi's Casa Batlló - A must when visiting Barcelona
04 September 2019

Casa Batlló, located in the very heart of Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona, was built between 1904 and 1906 and is a statement of delight. It is a universe of symbolism, a canvas of marine inspiration, a dream world, which evokes nature with its organic elements and is suggestive of fantasy. 

Gaudí gave Casa Batlló a facade that is original, fantastical and full of imagination. He replaced the original facade with a new composition of stone and glass. He ordered the external walls to be redesigned to give them a wavy shape, which was then plastered with lime mortar and covered with a mosaic of fragments of coloured glass and ceramic discs.

At the top of the facade, the roof is in the shape of an animal’s back with large iridescent scales. The spine which forms the ornamental top is composed of huge spherical pieces of masonry in colours which change as you move along the roof-tree from one end to the other.

The long gallery of the main suite, the Noble Floor, overlooking Passeig de Gràcia, is composed of wooden-framed windows which are opened and closed by raising and lowering using counterweights. They are unusual in that there are no jambs or mullions, so that it is possible to raise all of the window panes and have a continuous panoramic opening running the full width of the room.

On the level of the ground floor, the Noble Floor and the first floor, the facade includes slender pillars of Montjuic stone which form bone-like shapes and are decorated with typically modernist floral designs.

 

The balcony railings in the shape of masks are made of wrought iron cast in a single piece and are secured by two anchor points in such a way that the balconies partly project outwards.

The work as a whole is a marvel of ornamental design thanks to its use of emerging trades. Gaudí worked with the most highly skilled craftsmen in every profession. The transformation of wrought iron, in which curves are not only for rhetorical and aesthetic purposes, but also provide structural support; undulating works in wood such as three-dimensional doors with surprising embossed patterns; colourful stained-glass windows which filter the natural light; raised ceramic tiles; decorative pieces of masonry made from Montjuic sandstone: all of these elements are testament to the skill of the craftsmen of the period.

The loft, which is an area of well-ventilated sweeping spaces reminiscent of Mediterranean architecture, stands out on account of its arrangement of arches. From the main room of the loft, visitors can observe Gaudí’s wonderful and organic world. In it, you can appreciate the structure of ribs and breastbone which create the parabolic arches, the latest in modernist design, which support the roof terrace. The spiral stairs leading to the roof terrace, with their structural minimalism, are also very striking. The iron handrail, with its simple lines, is a 20th century sculpture in its own right.

On the flat roof, the prominence of the dragon’s back, which is so important to the overall artistic equilibrium of the facade, gives way to the four groups of graceful chimneys. Behind the aesthetic aspect, functionality is ever-present: the wind cannot obstruct smoke from escaping thanks to the chimney caps on the tops of the chimneys, which are tiled with the same trencadís glazed mosaics as the facade. Gaudí covered the curved surfaces with cut tiles, in the style of the Byzantine builders.

Moving through the house, visitors are constantly surprised by the details which they discover with every step. The doors of each apartment are labelled in a modernist script specially designed by Gaudí for Casa Batlló. The massive windows on the landings of the communal stairwell, which are translucent rather than transparent, allow light to pass through selectively, while at the same time, depending on how you look at them, distort the shades of blue of the building well into beautiful waves of the sea. The shapes of the door handles, banisters, skylights, etc., are all ergonomically designed. It is the definitive work of art, with the artist encouraging everything to work together: design, space, colour, shape and light.

 

 

The building consists of a ground floor, a main floor with a courtyard, four further self-contained floors, a loft and a roof terrace. There is private access to the noble floor (the main floor), and a communal stairwell set within the building well which has been expanded and artistically tiled as though it were part of the exterior facade. The Coach Houses are accessed from the street, at street level, and these occupy the area below the courtyard of the Noble Floor, and from here you gain access to the Coal Cellars below.

In total, the house has a surface area of more than 5,000 m². The front of the building looks out onto Passeig de Gràcia, and the back faces the inner courtyard of the building.


The work as a whole is a marvel of ornamental design thanks to its use of emerging trades. Gaudí worked with the most highly skilled craftsmen in every profession. The transformation of wrought iron, in which curves are not only for rhetorical and aesthetic purposes, but also provide structural support; undulating works in wood such as three-dimensional doors with surprising embossed patterns; colourful stained-glass windows which filter the natural light; raised ceramic tiles; decorative pieces of masonry made from Montjuic sandstone: all of these elements are testament to the skill of the craftsmen of the period.

The loft, which is an area of well-ventilated sweeping spaces reminiscent of Mediterranean architecture, stands out on account of its arrangement of arches. From the main room of the loft, visitors can observe Gaudí’s wonderful and organic world. In it, you can appreciate the structure of ribs and breastbone which create the parabolic arches, the latest in modernist design, which support the roof terrace. The spiral stairs leading to the roof terrace, with their structural minimalism, are also very striking. The iron handrail, with its simple lines, is a 20th century sculpture in its own right.

On the flat roof, the prominence of the dragon’s back, which is so important to the overall artistic equilibrium of the facade, gives way to the four groups of graceful chimneys. Behind the aesthetic aspect, functionality is ever-present: the wind cannot obstruct smoke from escaping thanks to the chimney caps on the tops of the chimneys, which are tiled with the same trencadís glazed mosaics as the facade. Gaudí covered the curved surfaces with cut tiles, in the style of the Byzantine builders.

Moving through the house, visitors are constantly surprised by the details which they discover with every step. The doors of each apartment are labelled in a modernist script specially designed by Gaudí for Casa Batlló. The massive windows on the landings of the communal stairwell, which are translucent rather than transparent, allow light to pass through selectively, while at the same time, depending on how you look at them, distort the shades of blue of the building well into beautiful waves of the sea. The shapes of the door handles, banisters, skylights, etc., are all ergonomically designed. It is the definitive work of art, with the artist encouraging everything to work together: design, space, colour, shape and light.

The building consists of a ground floor, a main floor with a courtyard, four further self-contained floors, a loft and a roof terrace. There is private access to the noble floor (the main floor), and a communal stairwell set within the building well which has been expanded and artistically tiled as though it were part of the exterior facade. The Coach Houses are accessed from the street, at street level, and these occupy the area below the courtyard of the Noble Floor, and from here you gain access to the Coal Cellars below.

In total, the house has a surface area of more than 5,000 m². The front of the building looks out onto Passeig de Gràcia, and the back faces the inner courtyard of the building.



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