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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...

Ruidera - Quijote's Oasis
Tuesday, July 27, 2021


An explosion of the purest nature, with waterfalls and cascades, the Ruidera Lakes (Lagunas de Ruidera) have been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, and appear before the visitor's eyes as an oasis of water and plants in the heart of La Mancha's arid plains - home to Don Quijote. Wetlands with extraordinary flora and fauna, along with unforgettable dawns and dusks await those who decide to visit this unique site.


The Ruidera Lakes are naturally formed by a group of 16 small lakes on different levels with an altitude difference of 120m between the first lake called "La Blanca" and the last lake "La Cenagosa". Some are interconnected, and turn this otherwise arid area of ochre tones, into a real oasis. Besides the area’s natural beauty, it also offers the chance to practise a variety of leisure and sports activities.







Walking, fishing, golf, canoeing, sailing and scuba diving are some of the activities you can enjoy in this protected Nature Reserve which spans over 4,000 hectares between the provinces of Ciudad Real and Albacete and fortunately for us is just a stone's throw away from our village property in Valdepeñas.

These lakes also provide a rest area for migratory birds such as common pochards, red-crested pochards, common mallards, great crested grebes and purple herons. These species live together with a rich autochthonous fauna full of birds including partridges, Azure-winged magpies, wood pigeons, and bee-eaters; as well as foxes, otters, rabbits, genet and bats.



Its waters are full of carp, barbells, pike and ducks living among reeds, reedmace, and giant reeds and surrounded by holm oaks, junipers, savins and thyme - just a few of the more than 800 plant species to be found in this area which perfume the air around the lakes.

The source of these lakes is a series of springs and streams that come together between the towns Ossa de Montiel and Ruidera. This is how these small, shallow, crystal-clear lakes are formed. The Guadiana River (one of Spain’s longest) has its source here too, and her waters disappear underground for 15 km to then rise again in the towns of Villarubia de Los Ojos and Daimiel.



But the lakes are much more than just scenery and nature. In addition to the outings and water sports, it is a fantastic area to enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing, horse riding or cycling, as well as 4x4 tours which are really fun! The more adventurous can practise paragliding or caving in the many fissures and grottos to be found in the area. And of course, you can play golf on a nine-hole course in the nearby town of Tomelloso, just fifteen minutes from the lakes there is also has a go-kart racing track. In Torrenueva there is also a five-star hotel with a fantastic 18 hole golf course if you fancy some true creature comforts!



Even Miguel de Cervantes, the literary father of Don Quixote de la Mancha was captivated by the charm of the Ruidera lakes. He set part of his literary masterpiece in the Campo de Montiel area, which takes in most of the present-day Nature Reserve.

Nearby is Campo de Criptana, a town where we can admire the windmills Don Quixote mistook for giants and which are still fully integrated in the landscape of this welcoming land. It is also home to a unique local cuisine.

As far as gastronomy is concerned, there is an extended and varied choice of dishes: gachas (special dough), migas (breadcrumbs fried in garlic), ratatouille, broth with garlic, egg and bread, pulse stews, gazpacho (cold summer soup), game, caldereta (stew), roasts, duelos y quebrantos (chorizo and lamb brains sautéed with egg)... most of which appear in Cervante's immortal work. We cannot forget manchego cheese, which is known worldwide and made from sheep’s milk, or the wines of the area with its Designation of Origin. A true culinary delight to accompany Spain's great natural oasis.


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Medieval Villages in the Valencian Community
Monday, July 19, 2021

The Valencian Community fuses nature, history and culture throughout its entire territory. And being able to walk through the villages that take you back in time is not so difficult to find. Alicante, Valencia and Castellón are full of places that mark and remind us of their historical past. Walls, castles and fortresses are just some of them. Here are 5 options I wanted to share with you where you can stop and enjoy Spain as it was in the Middle Ages.


Culla (Castellón)

In the province of Castellón, we find one of the most charming corners of the Valencian Community, Culla. With a population of only 500 inhabitants, this beautiful municipality is surrounded by a privileged natural environment. Its wild nature and peaceful atmosphere make you travel through history while strolling its medieval streets. Its characteristic style of cobbled houses, the ruins of the Arab Castle, the Granary of the Commander or the Parish Church of El Salvador help you immerse yourself in times gone by.

The nature that surrounds Culla also allows for a wide variety of outdoor activities. For this reason, taking excursions to explore its beautiful scenery or visiting the Miner del Maestrat Park is a must. Likewise, you should not forget to try some of the most typical dishes of l’Alt Maestrat such as the "Pot of the Maestrat - Olla del Maestrat" or its heavenly "Coca".



Xàtiva (Valencia)

Xàtiva is one of those cities that leaves you spellbound as you go through each of its corners. Through its monuments, you can appreciate the passage of history. It was declared an episcopal headquarters at the time of the Visigoths, living its period of maximum cultural splendour during the Muslim rule. Xàtiva was also the birthplace of the painter José Ribera, known as 'El Españoleto', and of two popes from the Borja dynasty. Its precious hiding places and the majesty of its Castle will transport you back to the middle ages. Its old town was declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1982.




Chulilla (Valencia)

In the interior of the Valencian Community, the beautiful town of Chulilla is located. The magic of this place lies in its magnificent location in the middle basin of the Turia river. The vast amount of water that runs through this area has made it well-known for hosting many of the trails which make up the "Ruta del Agua". In it, you can enjoy endless walks such as the Ruta de Los Calderones or the Charco Azul. In addition, the beauty of its narrow and steep streets will help you savour medieval times.



Guadalest (Alicante)

The province of Alicante combines not just sea but also mountains. It is the fourth most mountainous province in Spain. And thanks to this, we can find places as spectacular as the town of Guadalest. Located on a cliff at an altitude of 595 meters, El Castell de Guadalest has managed to maintain the essence and the most typical features of the inland Alicante towns. Its natural enclave is very picturesque since its houses are embedded in the rock and the views it offers are of the extensive valley below. Its beauty and charm earned it the award of Historic-Artistic Site in 1974.

This village also offers a series of very varied cultural activities. You can go to the Casa Orduña, a noble house from the 17th century nicknamed the Casa Gran; or stop by one of the curious museums, such as the Museum of Nativity scenes and Dollhouses, the Museum of Microminiatures, the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers or the Museum of the Collection of Historical Vehicles.




Morella (Castellón)

The province of Castellón is home to one of the most incredible places in the entire Valencian territory: Morella. The city that was built mainly at the foot of the Castle, located at an altitude of more than 1,000 meters, continues to maintain its medieval aspect. In addition, its fortress that still preserves the main square, the cistern and the Pardals tower, is considered today to be one of the most important treasures of the Castellón territory.

No matter what time of year you drop by the Maestrazgo, this town with about 2,500 inhabitants transports you back in time. Be sure not to forget to visit the church Arciprestal Santa María La Mayor, a Gothic jewel reflecting the power of this location centuries ago.


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Museum in Mazarron - Roman Salting Factory
Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The town of Mazarrón is located in the southeast of Spain. It is part of the Autonomous Community of Murcia, 72 km from the regional capital, Murcia.



In 1976 a large Roman salting factory was discovered, dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The structure preserved in the Salazones Museum-Factory corresponds to the area used for the cleaning, chopping and salting process of fish. This industrial complex would have extended through the streets and lots adjacent to the museum. The museum offers a tour that consists of four stages: 1) the salting factory; 2) from Paleolithic to late Roman times; 3) the late Roman period; 4) from the Middle Ages to the present day.


A fundamental element in the salting factories were the pools or tanks in which the fish was macerated with salt; this process lasted between twenty days and three months. Later, in these same pools, the fish meats were seasoned and the different fish sauces were made, the undisputed star being Garum.


 [Modern Garum, following Roman recipe from Pompeii]
Garum was an essential element in any Roman kitchen that was valued, as a condiment for countless dishes. It was obtained by the maceration of the viscera of certain fish. After the fermentation process, and the action of heat, the fish was reduced to the precious liquid called Garum, for which astronomical sums were paid.

Next to the salting factory are the vestiges of a Roman house, on Era street, dating from the 4th - 5th centuries AD. It was part of a group of houses that were probably related to the fishing industry and the peak of the salting factory. Its residents must have been people with good purchasing power since a significant number of imported coins and domestic objects were found in the archaeological excavations.


A third section that can be visited, also linked to the salting industry, is the Roman complex of Alamillo. The oldest vestiges, which cannot be visited, correspond to the republican period, in the Loma del Alamillo, where a sanctuary has been identified. The rest of the complex is related to the industrial area of a Roman villa, highlighting the pools where the famous and highly demanded garum was produced.

Another point of interest is the Interpretation Center of the Phoenician Ship of Mazarrón, located in Jardín del Gachero in Puerto de Mazarrón, next to Playa de la Isla. It has audiovisual information, various explanatory panels, models and a reproduction of the Mazarrón 2 wreck, found in Playa de la Isla in 1994. This boat, the best preserved in the Mediterranean, faster but with less load capacity than the Gôlah - the typical Phoenician merchant ship. The wreck was found practically intact in its original position and was loaded with 2,820 kg of circular litharge bars, used for silver mining.


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Pimentón de la Vera - The only paprika you need
Thursday, July 8, 2021

Paprika is a fundamental ingredient in traditional Spanish cooking, with a flavour that brings to mind comfort food at its finest.

The aroma, flavour and colour of paprika leave an unmistakable signature on each dish as well as some of the most typical charcuterie products in Spanish culture.

Chillies were brought over from the west and with them the varieties associated with paprika. Once harvested, they are fire or sun-dried. They are then ground until the final texture is reached and then sold.
The paprika that is protected under the Designation of Origin comes from La Vera or Murcia.

Pimentón De La Vera (La Vera Paprika), which is my favourite, is made from Capsicum annuum chillies of the Capsicum cerasiforme and Capsicum longum varieties, which are used to make three different types of paprika: sweet, sweet and sour, and spicy; a wood-burning fire with oak or holm oak provide all the heat necessary to perfectly dehydrate the paprika and give it its characteristic “smokiness” both in aroma and flavour.



Paprika from Murcia, on the other hand, comes from grinding red Capsicum Annuum longum chillies of the bola variety that have been dried in the sun or with hot air.


The best tip for buying this spice is to opt for the products with a Designation of Origin (DO) “Pimentón de la Vera” (La Vera Paprika) or “Pimentón de Murcia” (Murcia Paprika) seal. This spice is widely available, but the ones that are not protected under the DOs do not offer the same quality or flavour. These are the logos you should look out for:






Paprika has only 3 kcal per gram. It is rich in Beta-Carotene, which acts as a very effective antibiotic, and it also contains riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) in smaller quantities. Of its minerals, it is richest in iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. It also contains lycopene, a very effective antioxidant that slows down the ageing process, and capsaicin, which promotes good circulation, stimulating the appetite and aiding digestion.


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