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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...

Mallorca's mysterious river
24 March 2020

 

Found in the middle of the forest in Campanet, Spain, the Ses Fonts Ufanes is a unique hydrological wonder that only appears after heavy rainfall, like some sort of mythical natural legend. 

Asingular natural hydrogeological phenomenon in the Balearic Islands, Les fonts Ufanes are powerful intermittent water surges that come up suddenly and in a diffused manner, once enough rainwater has accumulated in the Puig Tomir massif and its surrounding areas.

These springs get their water from the rain that falls on the mountains and filters into the subsoil. Once it filters in, the water accumulates in an aquifer that sits over relatively impermeable materials. After several days of intense and constant rainfall, the aquifer overflows, and the water rushes up to the surface violently through the springs below the Gabellí Petit Estate.

The currents of these springs can go from 0 to 3 m³ /second in a matter of minutes under normal circumstances, reaching 100 m³/second in the case of exceptional surges. On average, these springs spew out an annual volume of 10 / 12 hm³. All of this water runs through the stream known as Torrent de Teló, comes together with that of other springs in the area and spills into another stream, the Torrent de Sant Miquel. From this point, the water placidly makes its way down to the flatlands of Sa Pobla, crossing the cultivation fields until it reaches S’Albufera. Here, in a radically different landscape marked by reeds and canals, the water virtually seems to stop in the final section of its course, before it flows into the sea.

 


 
The site can only be reached after a 20 minute walk through the woods, making it a well hidden marvel.
However the phenomenon is not completely unknown. In fact it has been marked as a contemporary UNESCO site, earning all the protections that affords. In addition, the property that the disappearing water flow sits on was purchased by the government in 2005, so that it could keep a better eye on it. At least when it hasn't vanished completely. 



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Is this really Spain?
17 March 2020

       
 
 
 
Who would ever have thought that this landscape could be found in Northern Spain, a land of green pastures, valley, vineyards, lakes and mountains. A terrain more akin to the wild west or a scene with Peter O’Toole blazing his way to glory in the “Arabian” desert of Almeria. But this wonderfully mysterious land is just 70km from the ski slopes of the Pyrenees and holds the title of the largest desert in mainland Europe. 
 
 
       
 
 
 Bardenas Reales Natural Park is a place of wild beauty declared a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. It is a semi-desert landscape covering 42.500 hectares that is breath-taking and surprises anyone who might casts their eyes over it. An surreal spectacle in south-east Navarre, despite its bare and inhospitable appearance, is an oasis of natural assets.
 
The erosion of its clay, chalk and sandstone soils has sculpted capricious forms in the landscape to create almost lunar effects, full of gullies, plateaux and solitary hills. It has inspired painters and writers and has been the scene of TV adverts, music videos and films. A unique setting that seems out of place in Northern Spain and leaves nobody indifferent. You can visit this barren land on foot, by bicycle, on horseback or even with 4X4 motor vehicles. Specialist guides are available to help you to discover unforgettable spots with echoes of legends such as the famous highwayman Sanchicorrota, who used to fool his pursuers by putting his horse's shoes on backwards so they couldn’t follow him!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bardenas Reales is a landscape sculpted over millions of years due to erosion. There are three distinct zones in the natural park which are, from north to south: El Plano, croplands characterised by very gentle slopes; the Bardena Blanca, the most photographed and visited area, where the main rock formations can be found in Castildetierra and Pisquerra. Also in this area, defined by its eroded crags, dry gullies and steppe-like appearance - in its lower part is a Firing Range used by the US Military, which explains the fighter planes; and the Bardena Negra, where the land darkens, giving way to the only Aleppo pinewoods in the area, accompanied by thicket.
 
 
 
 
 
Exceptional viewpoints show the differences between its different zones. From the Alto de Aguilares you get the best panoramic view of the Bardena Blanca. The Balcón de Pilatos ('Pontius Pilate's Balcony') is an exceptional observatory of birds of prey. These high points show the wealth of this territory, which contain three Nature Reserves: the Vedado de Eguaras, an oasis to the north of the area where the ruins of the Castle of Peñaflor still stand; the Rincón del Bu (in Bardena Blanca), occupying 460 hectares, where the eagle owl breeds; and the Nature Reserve of Caídas de la Negra (in Bardena Negra), which covers 1,926 hectares and has altitude drops of 270 metres.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Bardenas Reales Natural Park also offers more than 700 kilometres of paths, tracks and gullies that can be followed by hiking and cycling enthusiasts. Nevertheless, it is advisable to use specialist guides in your first incursion into the natural enclave. Apart from avoiding the risk of getting lost in the desert, they will help you to interpret the landscape with a flora and fauna more appropriate to an African desert than the north of the Iberian Peninsula. In the remote past it was even inhabited by crocodiles and turtles. Eagles, vultures, owls, great bustards, foxes, mountain cats, genets, amphibians and reptiles range between scrubland, sisal thickets, salt marshes and reed beds.
 
Due to the extreme temperatures and the special conditions of the land, it is recommend that one avoids going when it is raining. The best time to visit Bardenas is between September and June. On 18 September, if you have the opportunity go to the "Sanmiguelada", the day when thousands and thousands of sheep from the Pyrenean valleys make their way to this vast extension along El Paso to graze during the winter. To do this, follow the Cañada Real (royal livestock trail) of the Roncaleses which links up the pastures of the Roncal Valley with the Bardenas. 
 
Places like this are what make Spain such a special country. One could even consider Spain to be a small continent as it offers almost every terrain you could possibly imagine, the choice and wealth of nature is far beyond what most people can even imagine, but wander away from the coastline and you can discover a world that will leave its mark forever.
 
 
                               
 
 
 

           
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Tales of Mystery
10 March 2020

Spain is rich in mythology, the entire country is home to towns, cities and buildings that are renowned on account of legends involving ghosts that inhabit them, paranormal phenomena within their walls or tales of impossible love. Many have been handed down from generation to generation. Various cities organise dramatised guided tours that recount tales of mystery dating back in time, often under the moonlit sky to ramp up the emotion. This small selection of just some of these tales, some famous and others not, serves to help those visiting these cities find out a little more about their secrets.


Pedraza Castle, Segovia

In addition to being renowned for its Noche de las Velas, in which the entire town is lit by candlelight, Pedraza, which has managed to preserve its Medieval essence, is also home to a castle that serves as the backdrop to a mysterious tale of love and vengeance. Legend has it that Elvira and Roberto, lovers who lived in the town, were killed by the lord of the castle, who was infatuated with Elvira. Today, those sleeping at the castle, which belongs to the Paradores of Spain network, report having seen two mysterious figures roaming its passages whose heads are lit by a crown of fire.



The mystery of the girl in the cave and the Pyramids of Güímar, Tenerife


Tenerife is home to various tales, including those involving UFOs. The most famous, however, involve the Badajoz Ravine, in Güimar and the pyramids in the same town. According to an old legend, at the end of the 19th century, a girl went for a walk in the ravine and entered a cave, where she spoke to a strange being. When she returned home, her friends and family had all aged significantly while she remained exactly the same. There is also a legend about the pyramids in the same town, similar to the Egyptian pyramids although somewhat smaller: despite having been studied and various theories debated, their construction remains a mystery to this day. Could it be possible that this island in the Canaries has been visited by extraterrestrials on more than one occasion? 


Santa Bárbara Castle, Alacant


This imposing fortress offers the best panoramic views of the city of Alicante and the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to the famous “Face of the Moor”, a giant rock in the shape of a man's face, the castle is the setting of another tragic love story. Apparently, when these lands were governed by the Moors, the castle was inhabited by a Caliph and his beautiful daughter. She had two suitors. One promised to open a trade route with the East to bring her silk and spices. The other, a young man from a noble family, aimed to win her affections her by opening a dyke and bringing water to the city. The princess gradually fell in love with the latter, but it was her father's wish that the man who set off to India take her hand. The young man then went crazy and threw himself from a ravine. On the same spot, the earth miraculously opened up, with water springing from the mountain, filling what is known today as the Tibi Dam. In her grief, the young bride also threw herself into the abyss from what is now known as the Salto de la Reina Mora (Leap of the Moorish Queen).


Salamanca Cave (Satan's classroom), Salamanca


In reality, this cave currently serves as the sacristy of the Church of St Cyprian, in Salamanca. A variety of different tales focus on this site. It has been said that it is the entrance to an underground maze that connects the entire city and is even cited in the works of Cervantes and Calderón de la Barca.  Legend has it that here, the devil taught classes in the occult. These classes were attended by seven students, who studied for seven years each. After finishing their studies, one was chosen at random to remain at the service of the devil as payment for his teachings. One of these chosen students was the Marquis de Villena, who fled from the macabre figure; unfortunately, during his flight he lost his shadow, leaving the town's inhabitants to conclude that he worshipped Satan.

 

La Cruz del Diablo, Cuenca


This city is bursting with mystery; in fact, it is one of the cities where guided night-time tours are offered to discover more about its legends. One of the most popular tales is about La Cruz del Diablo. According to local residents, a brash young man, known for his party animal spirit, met a beautiful girl. His plight to win her affections in order to prove his heartthrob status finally won her over. Their date took place on a cold, stormy night. Lightning struck nearby, lighting up what should have been the girl's beautiful legs; however, what the man actually saw were claws. He fled in terror and reached the Convent of the Barefoot Carmelites, where he hung on tightly to the cross, asking for divine help to prevent him from being taken by the devil. To this day, his handprint can be seen on the cross.


Linares Palace, Madrid


The Spanish capital is home to numerous enchanted buildings that set the scene for entertaining tales. Linares Palace, located in Plaza de Cibeles, is just one example. Apparently, a scandal concerning the romance between the Marquises of Linares, who were supposedly siblings on their father's side, resulted in a daughter who they locked in the palace to prevent gossip. Legend has it that the spirit of the girl haunts the palace's rooms, singing nursery rhymes and calling for her parents. With or without its ghostly inhabitant, this emblematic Neo-Baroque building in Spain's capital is spectacular.


The Legend of Cambaral, Luarca


It is no surprise that this town, with its deeply-rooted seafaring tradition, is home to various tales involving pirates. Cambaral, renowned as the fisherman's district, was named after a famous pirate that terrorised the region's residents until he reached this Asturian town. Here, he was captured and badly injured. A beautiful young local woman was responsible for healing his wounds during his captivity. They fell in love and decided to run away together; however, they would meet their demise at her father's hands, as he would decapitate both of them in their escape. The story goes that they remained in an embrace while their heads rolled into the sea. The Puente del Beso (Kissing Bridge) was built in the town in their remembrance; those visiting the bridge at night report having heard the sound of the lovers speaking to one another from the bottom of the sea.



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The Fallen Angel
04 March 2020

 

Though Spain may have loaned its name to one of the most famous Christian witch-hunts in human history, the country’s capital city holds unique bragging rights for having what is commonly acknowledged as the only public monument to the Devil himself.

Located in the gardens of the expansive Parque del Buen Retiro, the statue of the Fallen Angel (Ángel Caído) is set atop a marble pillar in the midst of a fountain. Lucifer is depicted at the moment he is cast out of Heaven, as inspired by a passage in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

 

 

 

Sculptor Ricardo Bellver cast the statue in bronze for the third World’s Fair in Paris, after which point the piece was acquired by the Museo del Prado. The statue was later donated to the city of Madrid and inaugurated at its current location in 1885.

The statue is renowned equally for its discordant subject matter, as well as Bellver’s ability to imbue a sense of tension and anguish in his rendering of Satan.

The statue is within easy walking distance of the city's "Big Three" museums (Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza) and is accessed by the Atocha metro station.



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