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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...

2021 Destinations : Anaga Natural Park
30 December 2020

A stones' throw away from the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, lies Anaga Natural Park, which has been declared a Biosphere Reserve and has surprisingly succeeded in preserving its natural beauty.

If you have the opportunity to visit you are likely to be overwhelmed by its beautiful precipitous mountain range full of sharp jagged peaks. The deep valleys and ravines that cut across it eventually reach out to sea, forming a series of beaches where you can wet your toes or have a dip in the ocean. Naturally, the park is home to a wealth of fauna and flora and abundant with autochthonous species.

Anaga Natural Park covers much of the mountain range located on the north-east of the Island. With an expanse of almost 14,500 hectares (35,800 acres), it crosses quite a significant stretch of Tenerife, spanning the municipalities of La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Tegueste. It represents one of the region's major leisure areas and is a wonderful tourist attraction.

 

The impressive sight of its sturdy mountains rising high above the nearby sea is as attractive as it is unique. But if you really want to make the most of your visit, the best idea is to follow one of the many trails that will lead you to its charming little beaches of fine, shiny black sand (such as Benijo) dotted along the coast. 

 

 

The area's landscapes are also adorned with geological formations such as "roques" (old volcanic chimneys), dikes (fractures filled with solidified magma forming sheets of rock that look like walls), cliff faces and deep ravines. Another of the area's unforgettable sights is, without doubt, the blanket of clouds.

 

High up on the peaks you will find Tenerife's most wonderful areas of laurel forests. This vegetation could quite simply be classed as a living fossil, having survived more than 40 million years. The Mediterranean basin used to be covered in this greenery until the glaciers swept it away. A walk amongst this forest's twisted tree trunks lined with moss is like a journey back in time. Listen to the forest, feel it and breathe in its prehistoric air. As if all of this weren't enough, the Anaga mountain range is geologically one of Tenerife's oldest areas, which along with the varying altitudes, weather conditions and soils provide it with a huge biological diversity for such a relatively small space. Almost every kind of ecosystem on the Island can be found here, except high mountain flora and fauna. It contains coastal vegetation, populations of Canary Island spurges and euphorbia, dragon trees and Canarian palms.

 

And where the flora is rich and diverse, so too is the fauna. The undisputed kings are invertebrates. You will find almost a hundred species here that are unique in the world. If you are a keen birdwatcher, you might recognise such emblematic species as Scopoli's shearwaters, kestrels, owls, Bolle's pigeons and laurel pigeons (both of which are considered living relics and are native to the Canaries). In fact, the abundance of birdlife has led Anaga to become a Special Bird Protection Area. No less magnificent is the array of sea life, making quite a treat for divers, with such wonderful species as the Chucho (a type of ray), the Canarian cod, the Vieja and the endangered local eel.

The park also houses small villages and hamlets. You will find up to 26 inhabited by a total of 2000 people. Their residents live mostly off small-scale farming, tending traditional local crops such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, vines and other fruit trees and plants.

 

 

 



Like 1        Published at 22:17   Comments (1)


It's Christmas Lottery time again!
21 December 2020

Spain's Christmas lottery has been running for over 200 years. I have no idea how long other lotteries have been working but in Spain the Christmas lottery is a tradition, an institution, and plays a major role in boosting the Christmas Spirit.

 

I must admit when I first came to Spain I found it quite confusing; “series”, “billetes”,  “decimos”, “participaciones” etc. and then the prizes which seem endless, when the results are published the following day in the paper it takes up pages and pages. To give you an idea of how important this is for the Spanish and their festive spirit, this year there is an expected average spend per inhabitant of in the Valencian community of €75, slightly more than last year.  This year there is an expected turnover of more than 3,6 Billion Euros of which 70% will go to back out in prize money. Not quite sure what happens to the other 30%, which is a fair whack!

 

Originally in 1812, it was an idea created by a Minister called Diriaco Gonzalez to increase the government income without penalising the people via additional tax. As it goes there are over 15,000 prizes given out. . 

 

 

 

 

In total 180 million “decimos” (tenths) are put on sale in the month of July at €20 a ticket.  A decimo is a tenth of a “billete”- Note. So obviously if you want all of the decimos of a particular number you need to buy the entire “Billete” at €200.

 

Each number assigned to a “Billete” is printed up 180 times into what they call “Series” – serial numbers, basically, so each run of decimos has a different serial number. So if you chose for example 12,345 as your preferred number (always five digits) to buy all of the tickets that carry this number in the country you would have to buy 180 “Billetes” (all the serial numbers) meaning you would have to cash out €36,000.

 

Finally you have "participaciones" which are shares of "decimos" normally divided in to 10 parts aswell, so 1/10th of a "decimo"- 2 euros. This is normally done by groups of people who can't afford to buy so many tickets at €20 and prefer to buy more "shares" in other numbers and hedge their bets for a budget. This is very common in bars and schools, small companies and groups of friends etc. It is also very common for companies to give lottery to their employees as a Christmas gift.

 

As far as the prize money goes, the main prize is the 1st Prize which they call “El Gordo de Navidad” and pays out €4,000,000 per Serial number, which is €400,000 per Decimo. The 2nd prize pays out €1,250,000 per serial number, the third prize €500,000 per serial number and then there are other prizes of €200,000 - €60,000 - €20,000 euros and so on.

 

This lottery, as opposed to other lotteries, does not make any one person stinking rich, mainly because of the price of the tickets. It is designed to share the wealth amongst the people. As the Serial numbers and the Billetes tend to be bought up together without being divided, it is very common for entire villages or neighbourhoods to end up having bought the same number or very similar numbers that also gain prize money, meaning when it hits in a small village the chances are most of the village wins. 

 

On occasions, several “serial numbers” can hit in the same place. When you think that there is a prize of €4,000,000 for each of the 180 “Series” it’s quite a substantial sum that is being distributed just with the 1st prize - €720m. This is why it is so popular because there is a slightly better chance of winning something even though the probability of winning the 1st prize is only 1 in 100,000. Still much better odds than the EuroMillions.

 

However, there is a 1 in 10 chance of getting your money back and coming out evens and a 15,3% chance of actually winning something. If the last number of your ticket coincides with the last number of the 1st prize in your series you get your €20 back. So the thinking is I’ve got a “good chance of winning something” even though it might not be entirely true. Most people wouldn’t invest in anything if it had a 10% chance of breaking even! But this is Christmas and it’s all part of the festive tradition, not even the Spanish Civil war was capable of stopping the lottery. During that period each side stopped and did their Christmas lottery, so it doubled up!

 

 

       

 

 

The prize draw is a major event on TV, many kids take the day off school to stay home and watch the draw, even though they shouldn’t! It lasts for at least 3 hours until all the prizes have been given out. The system used is a traditional one that hasn’t changed much since 1812. It entails two wire spheres that rotate until one wooden ball falls down the shoot. One sphere is for the ticket number and the other is for the prize that corresponds.

 

Every year children from the San Idelfonso School sing out the numbers and the prizes in a very characteristic way, adding to the occasion. So if you are feeling lucky go out and buy a “decimo” who knows?!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


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The Best Wine in the World 2020 is Spanish...
15 December 2020

 

Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010, from the Marqués de Murrieta winery, has managed to snatch the top spot from French wineries and has been recognized as the best wine in the world by Wine Spectator.

Wine Spectator belongs to the most prestigious North American publishing group in the world of luxury, wine and spirits, publishing its respected ranking every year. 48 hours ago and as a preview, they revealed the top 10 positions on the list and Castillo Ygay 2010 has managed to be the undisputed number one, a wine that has been presented to the market this year.


For the elaboration of this ranking, more than 11 thousand wines from all over the world have been tasted and this centenary label has been the only Spanish to be among the 10 best in the world. The rest of the top 10 positions are held by wines from France, Italy and the United States.

The select committee of critics has taken into account different criteria for their evaluations such as quality, the history of the winery, the impeccable image of its wines around the world and what they call the X factor, a criterion associated with feeling, passion and the enthusiasm that wine arouses in tasters.

 

 

In the statement that they have issued announcing the news, they highlight: "For its history, its character and for reminding us of the value of commitment, effort and perseverance, Castillo Ygay 2010 from Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta is the winner of the award for Best Wine in the World"

This recognition is undoubtedly a great achievement for Spanish wine, for Marqués de Murrieta and for the family that leads one of the projects that best represents the quality and good work of Spain.

Its current president, Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga, has achieved with his passion, leadership and dedication that their project has a presence in more than 100 countries and is once again at the head of the best wines in the world. 



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Traditional Christmas Sweets
10 December 2020

Perhaps the most traditional Christmas sweet in Spain is marzipan, a paste of almonds and sugar. There are various theories about its beginnings, although it is certain to have originated in the Mediterranean area, where almonds come from. The stories of the Thousand and one nights mention it as an aphrodisiac, and as a restorative during Ramadan. Others say it first came from convents, many of which still make it. When there was a wheat shortage after the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the nuns began making these sweets with what they had in the larder: almonds and sugar. In Toledo, famous for its marzipan, they used to stamp an image of the King on his throne on the marzipan cakes, copying the city's crest. Curiously, "the King seated", in Arabic, sounds like mauthaban, very similar to the Spanish mazapán. So the debate continues.

 

 

What we can be sure of is that to eat the finest marzipan, you should go to this city in La Mancha, where you can also find traditional variations: anguilas or "eels" with an angel-hair squash filling, thought to have been first made for King Philip III as a gift for the King of Portugal; delicias in the form of a crescent moon, filled with egg paste; castañas, in the form of chestnuts, dipped in chocolate; and empiñonadas, covered in pine nuts.
 
Turrón also seems to have a Muslim origin. A mixture of almonds and honey, called turun, appears for the first time in the book De medicinis et cibis semplicibus, written by an 11th-century Arab doctor. In the 16th century, Philip II's royal cook, Don Francisco Martínez Montiño, comments in his book Conduchos de Navidad that Jijona smells of honey everywhere, because turrón is made in every household. In 1991 the Regulatory Council of the Designation of Jijona was formed, and although traditional turrón is made with almonds and honey, both abundant around Valencia, modern variations can include egg yolk, candied fruit or nuts.

 

As with most culinary inventions, mantecados or lard cakes also arose to meet a need. In the 16th century there was a surplus of pork lard and of cereals, particularly around Seville. In Estepa they decided to mix the lard and flour, adding olive oil, sugar and egg-white, to make mantecados.

Here there is no possibility of an Arab origin. According to their Protected Geographical Indication, mantecados originated in the Convent of Santa Clara in Estepa, where they were first made as flat cakes, and later as the little cakes we see today. Today they can include coconut, cinnamon, sesame seeds and even chocolate. The polvorón is a very similar sweet which was first made around the same time, but includes almonds.

 

 

Christmas meals with children, especially in Catalonia and Aragon, often finish with a type of chocolate-covered Swiss roll. At first sight it looks like a log, but it’s actually a cake filled with cream, the Tronco de Navidad. No-one is sure why these two regions in north-eastern Spain borrowed the Buche de Noel from their French neighbours, who in turn took the idea from the Nordic tradition of the Yule log, where in the northern hemisphere a tree-trunk was burned at the winter solstice between 20 and 23 December as a symbol of prosperity. Like the cake, the log was decorated with flowers, pieces of orange and nuts. In Great Britain, Belgium, and then France, many people took up the tradition of the Yule log, but it fell from favour when enclosed stoves began to be used for heating. A French cake-maker found a solution with this dessert, which quickly became popular in the late 19th century.

 

 

And finally we come to the cake that ends the Christmas season in Spain on 5 or 6 January, depending on the customs of each household: roscón de Reyes. The first people to eat a ring-shaped cake were the Romans, during Saturnalia, also known as the slaves' holiday, because they didn’t have to work. A broad bean would be hidden inside the cake, a symbol of the prosperity that would come in Spring, and of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They spread the tradition all over Europe, but after the arrival of Christianity it endured only in France, where the royal household made the cake with a coin hidden inside. These days it remains a firm tradition in much of Spain, especially in Madrid, accompanied by hot chocolate, and in Latin American countries such as Mexico. 



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The Giants of Santa Maria del Pi
04 December 2020

When entering Santa Maria del Pi, look directly to your right and you will find four giants staring back at you from inside a floor-to-ceiling glass case. These gegants are wearable puppets. They’re a highlight of parades and Catholic feast days in Barcelona and are known for their traditional dances.

The largest giants are the oldest, dating from some time prior to 1601. The man is a Saracen, a medieval Muslim and the woman is a medieval lady. They were temporarily retired in 1780 when King Charles III issued a decree declaring them too grotesque for religious celebrations, but they returned in 1799 for the feast of Corpus Christi after a successful petition on their behalf and a formal pardon.

The smaller giants, the petit gegants, joined in the festivities after the 1780 ban was lifted. They’re dressed as a respectable, upper-class couple and their clothing has often changed with fashion.

 

All four giants were packed in boxes and stored in the bell tower in 1870. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War they were moved to the city’s historical archives and then to the Monastery of Pedralbes. There they were spared during the Tragic Week of 1936 when members of the Radical Party destroyed many of Barcelona’s churches and monasteries. After the war the giants were moved back to Santa Maria del Pi and were sadly forgotten about. 

 

In 1951 the giants were rediscovered and meticulously restored. Nine years later they were back on the streets performing in festivals. In 1985 they were given names to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their rediscovery. The Saracen is now known as Mustafá and the medieval lady Elisenda (to honour Queen Elisenda de Montcada, the foundress of the Monastery of Pedralbes.) The petit gegants are known as Oriol (for St. José, patron saint of the barrio of Pi) and Laia (a nod to St. Eulalia, the patroness of Barcelona).

 



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