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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...

Gaudi's First House
28 April 2020

Anyone visiting Barcelona is likely familiar with the unique work of architect Antoni Gaudí. His buildings are a defining aspect of the city. Now, visitors can become even more familiar with the revolutionary architect by stepping inside the first house he ever designed.

 

 

Casa Vicens is one of seven properties built by the Catalan modernist architect in the Barcelona region which are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. UNESCO considers its distinctive style an “outstanding creative contribution to the architectural heritage of modern times.” As they define it.

From the tiles painted with French marigolds on the first two floors to its domed rooftop, which provides a spectacular view of the neighbourhood, Gaudí’s first major architectural project laid the groundwork for his remarkable works of art and paved the way for Catalan Modernism.
Currently, a museum, which opened in 2017, it boasts 15 rooms restored with extensive research and input from descendants of the original tenants. It features a collection of furniture made by Gaudí and 32 paintings by the Spanish painter Francesc Torrescassana i Sallarés.

Stockbroker Manuel Vicens i Montaner commissioned the house, which was constructed between 1883 and 1888 as a summer home and it was later expanded in 1925 by Barcelona architect Joan Baptista Serra de Martínez. The structure contains a myriad of styles which reflect the innovative architect’s inspirations from subjects like nature to oriental and neoclassical architecture. Truly an architectural gem and very much worth a visit if you happen to pass through Barcelona

 

 



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A labyrinth of Stone
24 April 2020

Forming a labyrinthian stone maze are the natural karst formations of the Los Callejones de Las Majadas or “Alleys of Stone.”

Besides the maze like set of “alleys” the stones also resemble bridges, arches, walkways, stone people, doors, plazas, and monoliths all named accordingly: the Dog, the Whale, and many more. The unusual rock formations were sculpted by slow differential erosion by wind and water over millions of years.

The twisting passageways are easy to get lost in, and so two main walkways are marked through the “alleys”. Cattle herders in the area have used the stone walls as natural cattle enclosures for hundreds of years, and in some places you can still see remaining pens.

 

Los Callejones de Las Majadas is in the Natural Park Sierra de Cuenca in Spain which is also home to a similar geological wonder the “Enchanted City” or Ciudad Encantada. The landscape is alien enough that it has served as the backdrop for fantasy films such as the 1969 Valley of Gwangi, and Conan the Barbarian in 1982. The whole park is an official "Natural Site of National Interest” in Spain and well worth a visit.



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One Place in Spain with No Coronavirus
14 April 2020

 

 

 

The coronavirus has all of Spain prisoners within their homes. The numbers of infected and deceased are growing more and more, but there is a place in Spain where they are somewhat calmer: the island of Tabarca. It is the only place to date without positives for COVID-19 in Spain. A true paradise.

75 inhabitants live there,(around 50 are registered) and quarantine is somewhat easier to manage. In statements made to the press, several neighbours confirm the good health of all its inhabitants. In Tabarca they feel safer from contagions as it is an island that is completely isolated.

The taxi boat service has been cancelled, which makes it extremely difficult for coronavirus to actually reach Tabarca. Only one boat for residents goes to the mainland a week so that residents can purchase provisions. Before and after, the boat is sterilised for precaution and all passengers take every measure possible to not bring back an unwanted passenger.

The island of Tabarca is, in fact, the largest inhabited island in the Valencian Community and the smallest in Spain. Tabarca Island is managed by the City of Alicante and is quite a unique destination attracting the interest of visitors to the area. It lies approximately 10 km south of Alicante close to Santa Pola. Some would debate that even calling it an island as it only measures 1800m in length and 400m wide but Tabarca is much more than a simple rock. Although small, people do live there and as a destination, it offers an ideal refuge for a weekend getaway especially in the offseason, a fantastic opportunity to enjoy its tranquillity and beautiful views.

Its size and uniqueness has made it an important tourist attraction and can receive up to 3000 visitors a day in the peak season, one of the reasons why it is better to go in the offseason, however, this quaint romantic island is a wonderful choice all year round. The climate is very similar to Alicante, having an average yearly temperature of 18º C.

One can reach the island from the mainland by taxi from Torrevieja, Alicante or Santa Pola, the closest, from where it only takes 30min to get there. Tabarca is a quiet fishing village offering an old fort, several fresh seafood restaurants, a rocky beach with clear turquoise water, several coves and tidal pools ideal for bathing. Everything you would want within walking distance.

 

Before 1700, the island was known as Illa de Sant Pau ('Saint Paul's Island') or Illa Plana ('Flat Island'). Believed to be the island that St. Paul disembarked on, the island was a refuge for Barbary pirates up to the end of the 18th century.

It was originally a part of the Republic of Genoa A group of Genoese sailors shipwrecked near the coast of Tunisia, mostly coming from the islet off Tunisian Tabarka, were rescued and settled there. The uninhabited islet was renamed Nova Tabarca. It wasn’t until 1741 that it was conquered by the Bey of Tunis and consequently took the Genoese prisoners. In 1760, Charles III of Spain ordered the fortification and repopulation of the Spanish island and paid a fee to Tunisia to release the prisoners.  On the arrival, of the Spanish, the Genoese were first moved to Alicante, where they provisionally lived in the Jesuit School, empty after the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain. Finally, the Genoese were moved back to the island jointly with a Spanish garrison. The military engineer Fernando Méndez Ras planned a fortified town and walls, bulwarks, warehouses and barracks were also built. From 1770, the island was known as Nueva Tabarca ('New Tabarca').

Despite the fact that the Genoese assimilated and shifted their language into Valencian and, later on, Spanish, the Genoese descent of the settlers can still be noticed today in the surnames of Italian origin common on the island. The island is twinned with Carloforte, in the Sardinian San Pietro Island, which was also populated with Genoese from Tunisian Tabarka.

The gateways are still visible and so are the Governor's House (currently a hotel) and the church of St Peter and St Paul, concluded in 1779. In 1850 the governor and the garrison were removed. At the end of the 19th century, the island had a population of around 1,000 people mainly devoted to fishing. Nowadays, the permanent population is around 50, making Tabarca the smallest permanently inhabited Spanish island, although this number is multiplied during the tourist season in Summer.

 

The main activity of the local population is fishing, with the catch brought to Santa Pola's fish market, but tourism becomes the most important resource during the peak season.

Tabarca is also a protected marine reserve called “Reserva marina de la Isla de Tabarca”, declared a Zone of Special Protection for Birds by the EU, with a varied marine fauna (sea bass, grouper, conger eel, gilthead etc.). Very clear and unpolluted waters surround it. Materials of volcanic origin, on top of which limestone and quaternary deposits accumulated over time, form this tiny island.

 

Tabarca was the last Spanish Mediterranean location where the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal successfully bred before it became extinct in the 1960s. This proves the high quality of the waters around the island in terms of marine ecology. The waters around Tabarca were declared a Marine reserve in 1986, the first of its kind in Spain. This status was mainly granted due to its submarine Posidonia prairie, which is the largest in the Spanish Mediterranean and has extraordinary ecological value in terms of marine fauna and flora.

In order to both enhance the marine biodiversity and protect it from fishing, an artificial reef was laid near the island by the Marine Reserve authorities.

 



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No tech needed here to communicate through lockdown...
10 April 2020

On the small mountainous island of La Gomera, one of the Canaries, the children speak to each other from miles apart using one of the most unusual languages in the world. Known as Silbo, the whistling language of Gomera Island has a vocabulary of over 4,000 words, and is used by "Silbadors" to send messages across the island's high peaks and deep valleys.

The "whistle language" isn't really it's own language, but a way of speaking any existing language through whistles. El Silbo has a well-known history. The original inhabitants of La Gomera were believed to be immigrants from part of what is now Mauritania, and they spoke a tonal language. Tones were so important to the phonology of the language that one could speak simple sentences with just the tones and not lose meaning. This rudimentary system evolved to include glides and stops to imitate consonants, which let whistlers convey more complex phrases. In the 16th century, when the Spaniards conquered the island, the natives were driven to extinction.

The Spanish immigrants adapted the Gomeran whistle to their native Spanish. Spanish does not have phonologically significant tones, so pitch variations are used to represent vowels. The system worked great for the shepherds and farmers. In the 1990's, when modernization brought the number of whistlers to a dangerous nadir, the government of La Gomera made el Silbo a mandatory subject for elementary students, which successfully sparked a whistling renaissance.

Though Silbo was on the verge of extinction in the 1990s, the Gomerans have made a concerted effort to revive their language by adding it to the public school curriculum. Today 3,000 schoolchildren are in the process of learning it. On the last day of September 2009, UNESCO gave protected cultural status to El Silbo, to further protect the culture.

 
 


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Valderejo Park - worth discovering
03 April 2020

A high and wide valley enclosed by steep hillsides ending in rocky cliffs is probably the best way to sum up the landscape of Valderejo (3418.5 Ha). Declared a Natural Park in 1992, the valley is located in the most western part of Alava, on the boundary with Burgos. It is almost uninhabited, which has favoured the existence of a rich and varied flora and fauna. 

The Bóveda Mountain Range and the western stretch of the Árcena Massif enclose and protect this valley, whereas deep into it the River Purón flows through large meadows and plantations. With the passing of years its waters have eroded the mountains of this singular natural area. 

Lalastra, the heart of the Park:

We gain access to the park through the Valdegovía Valley from the village of San Millán de Zadornil in the province of Burgos. The road will lead us to the town of Lalastra in the heart of Valderejo, a starting point for the routes and itineraries that the park offers. 

The Park House (Parketxea) is a beautiful building made of wood and with large windows that is located on the outskirts of the town. It provides hikers with all the information on park routes, activities and services. Visitors can also drop by the Rural Interpretation Centre, where the history of the valley and the habits and customs of its people are displayed. 

 

 

In Lalastra, we will also find a recreational area with a playground and picnic area. The village boasts a restaurant and rural tourist facilities, ideal places to get our strength back once we have finished the visit to the park. The mountains that enclose the valley offer different hiking and climbing routes. Those nine itineraries with varied length and difficulties travel across the whole parkland. Most of them cover a short distance, but some link up with others, providing long walks to more experienced mountaineers. 

 

 

Apart from Lalastra, there are three other rural centres in Valderejo: Lahoz, Villamardones and Ribera. The last two were abandoned several decades ago. An interesting walk could be to visit their ruins. 

The human being has dwelled the valley since time immemorial. The traces of that presence are noticeable in the area's cultural and architectural heritage, which accommodates megalithic monuments (the tumulus of San Lorenzo, the monolith on Mount Lerón) as well as churches and hermitages of different periods. There are remains of a road from the Roman period, and in Ribera for example, stands a Romanesque church with unusual medieval paintings. 

 



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