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9th October - The Day of The Valencian Community
09 October 2020

 

The Day of the Valencian Community (Día de la Comunidad Valenciana) marks the anniversary of King James I of Aragon's re-conquering of the city of Valencia from Moorish forces in 1238. It is also the Day of Saint Dionysius, a traditional festival for lovers, the Valencian “Valentine’s day”.

The custom on this day is to give the person you love the ‘mocadorà or mocaorà ‘which consists of a knotted silk scarf with miniature marzipan candies in the shapes of fruits and vegetables inside.

The most widespread version of the origin of this tradition is that Jaume I and his wife, Violante of Hungary, on their triumphal entry into the city of Valencia, after defeating the Muslims on October 9, 1238, they were met by their inhabitants with gifts of fruits and vegetables from the local orchard and farms, wrapped in silk handkerchiefs.

 

 

From 1331 this date was established to commemorate the founding of the Kingdom of Valencia, which over time became a celebration of marked festivity in which the worldly pleasures were given free rein.

Unfortunately, with the abolition of the regional code of law by Felipe V in 1707, the celebrations of the 9th of October were also banned.  However, all was not lost, and with the intention of  the 9th October not losing its festive character, the guild of bakers and confectioners of the city of Valencia impelled the celebration of Saint Dionysius (Sant Donís) as the "day of the lovers".

To this day, the Valencian bakeries prepare themselves thoroughly for the 9th October and cook thousands of marzipan miniatures; it is estimated that more than 80,000 kilos of marzipan are used to make about 250,000 "mocadoràs". In addition, the Guild of Bakers and Confectioners of Valencia convenes the Sant Donís Contest, to choose the best "mocadorà" and is the best showcase opportunity fro the bakeries and pastry shops throughout the city of Valencia. Last year’s winner was El Forn de Latzer. You can see some examples here:

 



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The World’s Shortest International Bridge
18 September 2020

 

Though it measures only 10.4 feet long (3.2 meters), this bridge spans two countries. You can effectively cross from one country to another in a single hop.

Funded by the European Union, the tiny wooden piece of infrastructure was built in the first decade of the 21st century by labourers from both the Spain and Portugal sides of the stream.

Known as the "El Marco" bridge, it links the Spanish municipality of La Codosera with the Portuguese Arronches. Given its reduced size, the bridge is largely for pedestrians, not automobiles, though two-wheeled vehicles may use it as well.

The title of World’s Shortest International Bridge is often erroneously awarded to the bridge that spans the United States-Canada border between Zavikon Island and another tiny island that happens to fall in USA territory.
The Portugal-Spain bridge is at least 13 feet (4 meters) shorter than its North American counterpart.

 

 

 

[Shared by Ellen Jones - Badajoz]
 
 


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Great cycling routes in Spain
04 September 2020

As summer comes to an end and autumn is just around the corner,  it is time to share some of the best cycling routes around Spain for those who fancy pedalling a little and enjoying the fantastic temperatures that are gradually falling as the days pass, making a long cycle ride that much more enjoyable. If you are into cycling here are some of the best and safest routes you can follow to discover rural Spain:


Vía Verde de Ojos Negros (from Teruel to Valencia)

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The longest of a nationwide network of Vía Verdes (literally, Green Ways) along disused railroads, the Ojos Negros route runs for 160 kilometres in two stages. The first is in Teruel province and passes through the Sierra Menera, while the second descends through the interior of Valencia down to the coast.

 
The Transpirenaica (from Cabo de Higuer to Cabo de Creus)

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This trans-Pyrenees route runs for close to 800 kilometres along the southern slopes of the mountain range, from the Cantabrian coast (Cabo de Higuer, Hondarribia, Irún) to the Mediterranean (Cabo de Creus, in Girona province). Or vice versa. Part of the Europe-wide GR network of footpaths, its distinctive red and white markings have guided thousands of cyclists from around the world through protected areas in the Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon, Andorra, and Catalonia dominated by 3,000-meter peaks and with accommodation available in picturesque mountain villages. The perfect combination of nature, landscape, history, and cuisine.


The French Way of the Camino de Santiago

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Those in the know say the French Way (Camino Francés) of the Camino de Santiago (which runs for nearly 800 kilometres between Saint Jean de Pied de Port, in France, and the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain) is the best of the five major Saint James pilgrim routes. It’s easy enough at almost any time of year and offers a tremendous range of landscapes, architecture and cuisine, with any number of historical sites, cathedrals, monasteries, churches, fountains, hostels, restaurants and other facilities. This route is stage one, if you go to the link it will explain the following stages of the route.

 

The Vía de la Plata Route

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The Via de la Plata Route, a network made up of 26 towns and cities, from Gijón on the Cantabrian coast to Seville, in Andalusia, in collaboration with four regional governments, has set up a bike route (also available on an app), with information and advice for cyclists, along with the best routes for road racers or off-road bikes, as well as a passport that gives holders discounts in establishments along the ancient trade route dating back to before the Romans – the name of which, contrary to popular belief, comes not from the Spanish for silver, plata, but from the Arabic Al-balat, which means paved or cobbled.


The Camino del Cid

http://www.caminodelcid.org

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“The Way of El Cid is a cultural-tourist route across Spain from northwest to southeast, from Castilla in the interior to the Mediterranean coast. It follows the history and story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid Campeador, a famous medieval knight of the 11th century and who, together with Don Quixote and Don Juan, is one of Spain’s greatest characters. Unlike the latter two, El Cid is not only a character of literature but also of history.” So reads the Camino del Cid website, which offers both a road and mountain bike routes along some 1,400 kilometres of pathways and 2,000 kilometres of roads divided into theme-based itineraries running for between 50 and 300 kilometres: The Exile (Burgos, Soria, Guadalajara), The Borderlands (Guadalajara, Zaragoza, Soria), The Conquest of Valencia (Teruel, Castellón, Valencia), along with seven others. 

 

 The Ruta de Don Quijote (Castilla-La Mancha)

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Along the course of its 2,500 kilometres broken up into 10 stages that pass through 148 communities in the five provinces of Castilla-La Mancha, the Don Quijote route takes in the main natural and cultural areas of the region, featuring livestock routes, historic roads, rivers and disused railroads that provide access to more than 2,000 sites of cultural interest. Along the way, there are plenty of great outdoors activities: birdwatching, the Cabañeros and Tablas de Daimiel national parks, six natural parks, 12 reserves and six micro-reserves. (These are two routes from different stages of the entire route)

 
The TransAndalus

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Conceived as a way to get to know Andalusia’s eight provinces by bike, from the volcanic landscapes of Cabo de Gata, in Almeria, down to the wetlands of Doñana, in Huelva, the TransAndalus is a non-signposted 2,000 kilometre itinerary for cyclists. Some sections include GR paths, while one-third of the routes pass through protected areas. This project was set up by cycling enthusiasts in Andalusia who have provided information to build up this ever-growing collection of maps, routes and tracks, all with GPS.

 

The Castilla Canal (Castilla y León)

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In the middle of the 18th century, a project was begun to transport cereals grown in Castilla y León to ports on the Cantabrian coast via a network of canals, but only 207 kilometres of the so-called Canal de Castilla was ever built. That said, it is a fine example of Spanish hydraulic engineering and very popular with bike lovers. It can also be travelled by foot, horse or by barge. The northern route runs from Alar del Rey toward Calahorra de Ribas, in Palencia province, and from there to Medina de Rioseco, in Valladolid; the southern route runs from El Serrón, in Grijota (Palencia), to Valladolid.


The Cister route (Tarragona and Lleida)

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The Alt Camp and Conca de Barberá districts in Tarragona, along with Urgell in neighbouring Lleida, each have a major Cistercian monastery: Santes Creus, Poblet and Vallbona de Les Monges respectively. The GR 175 links the three monasteries: 108 kilometres for cyclists, with four options in the more difficult stretches. This is the backbone of the Ruta del Cister, which includes 65 communities offering not just a rich cultural heritage but spectacular scenery, great wine and food, and lively fiestas.

 

Get pedalling!

 



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4 Personalities Who Shaped Modern Marbella
07 August 2020

The city of Marbella on the Costa del Sol – often called the Spanish Riviera – is globally recognised as an exclusive holiday destination and summer residence for the rich and famous. It’s been associated with celebrities past and present including Sean Connery and Sophia Loren, Rod Stewart and Antonio Banderas, Simon Cowell and Alan Sugar, Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin.

From its humble beginnings as an ancient Moorish town, Marbella has transformed itself from a fishing and farming village into a major tourist destination and commercial centre over the last 50 years or so. Today, the city’s attractions go far beyond its uniquely mild climate and over 25km of golden sandy beaches – there are over 10 golf courses, 3 marinas, luxury hotels aplenty and all the shopping, eating and entertaining you could possibly wish for.

But how did Marbella get to become so rich and famous? Looking back to the end of World War II, 4 influential men are largely responsible for making Marbella what it is today.

  1. Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe

Marbella was ‘discovered’ by Prince Alfonso and his father, the German Prince Maximilian von Hohenlohe-Langenburg. Allegedly, they visited the area in 1947 for a picnic when their Rolls Royce broke down. Alfonso fell in love with the charming fishing village, bought some land for himself and some wealthy friends and built a house, Finca Margarita.

When the residence became increasingly popular as the holiday ‘go to’ for Alfonso’s circle of well-to-do friends, the shrewd businessman turned it into the Costa del Sol’s first luxury hotel. Having persuaded a distant German cousin, Count Rudolf von Schönburg, to manage the new hotel for him, the Marbella Club opened its doors in 1954.

Alfonso was well connected to Europe’s ruling elite, so promoting the Club to wealthy industrialists, bankers and aristocrats proved spectacularly successful. Hollywood stars including Audrey Hepburn and James Stewart started to arrive in increasing numbers, adding more glitz and glamour, and the Marbella Club on what is now known as the Golden Mile, became the epicentre of the city’s rising fortunes.

  1. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia

The 1970s and 1980s saw an even sharper upturn in Marbella’s popularity and development as an international luxury tourist destination. This was largely due to the influence of the then Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia (who became King in 1982) who took a shine to the area, believing it to be ‘a land blessed by Allah’. He purchased land and built an extravagant residence in the city. Mar-Mar Palace is a compound reminiscent of the White House in Washington, complete with a private clinic and a mosque.

King Fahd’s virtually unlimited spending during his visits to Marbella are the stuff of legend. Bringing with him a royal entourage of thousands of staff, he loved to spend most summers in Marbella. And spend he did – in fact, King Fahd is said to have boosted the local economy to the tune of 40-80 million euros per year! With those kind of numbers, it is no exaggeration to say that the Arab King single-handedly transformed the economic fortunes of Marbella and the surrounding Costa del Sol.

King Fahd’s contribution to the city’s wealth was recognised by naming a public garden (Jardin del Rey Fahd) and a street (Boulevard del Rey Fahd) after him following his death in 2005, in addition to honouring his passing with 3 days’ official mourning.

While Fahd’s successors have chosen not to continue the same level of elaborate spending in the Costa del Sol, subsequent visits by the family have still generated millions of euros for Marbella.

  1. José Banus

In 1970, a local property developer decided to embark on a major project on the Costa del Sol, southwest of Marbella. Puerto Banus, as it is now famously known, was the brainchild of José Banus who saw a commercial opportunity to provide Marbella’s international elite with an exclusive marina complex.

Guided by his architects, Banus was persuaded to change his original designs to build spectacular skyscrapers in the area, opting for a more traditional architectural style in keeping with the Mediterranean character of a quaint Andalusian fishing village.

To say that the development was a success would be a massive understatement. Puerto Banus is now one of the largest entertainment centres on the Costa del Sol, boasting 5 million visitors per year with a raft of A-list celebrities among them.

  1. Jesus Gil y Gil

The flamboyant Spanish businessman and politician Jesus Gil was Mayor of Marbella between 1991 and 2002. Having made his fortune in the construction industry, including serving a prison sentence for his part in the collapse of one of his ‘urbanisation’ developments, he also served as president of Atletico Madrid Football Club.

Politically, Gil was a controversial figure who held extreme right wing views. Not unlike President Trump, some would argue, his personal brand contained elements of low brow populism, self-aggrandisement, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia. He was an outspoken, foulmouthed critic and a Franco sympathiser.

A well connected business tycoon, Gil continued to develop Marbella commercially with infrastructure and offices, while promoting the city further as a luxury resort. Parks and golf courses, cultural centres and sports arenas all flourished during his tenure as Mayor.

 

 

 

[Bio Author : Dakota Murphey is an independent writer who enjoys visiting different places and sharing her experiences and knowledge of different cultures and experiences she's had while on her travels. ]



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Bubblegum Lakes
28 July 2020

Two colourful salt lakes flank the northwestern edge of the seaside city of Torrevieja on Spain’s Costa Blanca. Together, they form a nature reserve called Las Salinas de Torrevieja. One lake, in particular, stands out, as its eye-catching 'bubblegum' pink colour overshadows its green-tinted neighbour.

The sight is caused by the work of bacteria and algae. Halobacterium (also known as “salt bacterium”) thrives in salty places, as does a micro-algae called Dunaliella salina. These are the two magical ingredients that concoct the lake’s bizarre pinky hue. Despite its funky colour, the water is perfectly fine, though it can get rather smelly.

 

 

Torrevieja relies on its salt lakes. People have been collecting the mineral from the waters for centuries. In the early 19th century, they officially became a hub for Spain’s salt industry. In addition to boosting the city’s economy, the lakes also act as a natural spa. Supposedly, the sludge of mud and salt at the bottom have healing properties that can relieve common skin and respiratory ailments. The water’s high salt concentration makes it a fun place to relax and enjoy floating around with ease.

 

Flamingos, much like the local people, also frequent the pink lake. Feasting upon the algae-filled shrimp that live there giving their feathers that characteristic rosy tint that almost matches the water.

 

[Contributed by  Jane McGregor - Torrevieja]
 
 


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Jellyfish you need to recognise this summer
17 July 2020

Author : John Patterson 

 

Jellyfish are invertebrates which present special cells used to capture prey and defend themselves. These cells have a poisonous capsule inside. When a prey or predator makes contact with the jellyfish, the capsule opens and the cells stick to them, injecting poison. Jellyfish are usually transparent as they are 95% water, allowing them to camouflage easily.


They usually live 20 to 40 miles from the coast where the water is saltier and warmer. If it has been a dry winter and rainfall has been low, the water at the beach may be of similar salt levels, thus providing a favourable environment for jellyfish. However, the main cause for an increase of jellyfish in an area are the marine currents and overfishing, especially when tortoises are captured, as these are the main jellyfish predators in the Mediterranean.


Types of Jellyfish in the Mediterranean


Fried Egg Jellyfish / Medusa Huevo Frito (Cotylorhiza Tuberculata)

 


Sting level: not very painful.


They are yellow and look like a fried egg, usually 17cm wide. They are common in the Mediterranean during summer and autumn. These jellyfish can sting and cause temporary itching, but do not require medical assistance.

 

Common Jellyfish / Medusa Común (Aurelia Aurita)

Sting level: not very painful.


Round, like a cup, usually white with pink or blue tones and have long tentacles, they are normally about 25cm wide. They are easy to find near the coast. Contact causes irritation and itching. Applying ice may reduce symptoms, but medical assistance is not required.
    

Compass Jellyfish / Medusa de Compases (Chrysaora Hysoscella)


String level: painful.


Looks like an umbrella, usually white and yellow, they are around 20cm wide. They are not very common near the coast, but live in the Mediterranean Sea. Causes an itching and burning sensation and can scar the skin for up to 3 weeks. 
 
Shiff Arms Jellyfish / Aguamala (Rhizostoma Pulmo)


Sting level: painful


They are one of the more beautiful jellyfish in the Mediterranean and are about 50cm wide. They are bluish with a purple ribbon and have 8 tentacles, which if touched causes pain, but no other effects. 


 

Pink jellyfish (Pelagia Noctiluca)

  

 


Sting level: painful and dangerous.


It is a 10cm fluorescent jellyfish, transparent with pink or purple tones. It has 16 long tentacles that can cause pain, burning, nausea and muscle cramps. They are not very common, but if seen do not touch!

 
Portuguese Man o’War / Fragata Portuguesa (Physalia Physalis)

 

Sting level: very painful and extremely dangerous.


Not technically a jellyfish, but treated as one. The most dangerous sea creature found in the Mediterranean. It floats on the sea, has a purple colour and is about 10cm high. Its tentacles can be 2 meters long and they are fast swimmers. They can cause extreme pain, fever, burns to the skin and neurological shock. Due to their dangerous nature, the Spanish Coastguard keeps watch for them and reports are issued on the local TV, radio and newspapers if they approach the coast. 
 
Purple Sail or Velella / Medusa Velero (Velella Velella)


Sting level: not harmful to humans.
As with the previous one, not technically a jellyfish, but treated as one. With an approximate diametre of 6cm, they have a transparent stiff sail and their body is deep blue with circles. It is a carniverous species, catching their prey with its tentacles and are very difficult to spot. They move by catching the wind on their sails. Their venom is not harmful to humans. 

 
 
What to do if there are jellyfish at the beach?

    1.    Do not get in the water, keep an eye on the shore too.
    2.    If one jellyfish is spotted, there will probably be more around.
    3.    Do not touch them even when they appear dead. It takes 24 hours for the sun to deactivate their poison.
    4.    If stung:

a. Do not scratch the skin with sand or a towel.
b. Do not pour fresh water over the affected area.
c. Apply ice for 15 minutes. Ice must be inside a plastic bag to avoid fresh water melting onto the affected area. If the area is still painful, seek medical attention.



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Órgiva
11 March 2020

The sky was the colour of a Manchester City football shirt and the almond blossom reminded me of those cotton wool balls women remove their make-up with (and blokes I suppose). Every hue of pinks and whites possible.  The mountains of the Sierra Nevada had a blanket of snow on them which seemed to enhance all the colours around us.

What a stunning introduction to the Alpujarras! It was the middle of February and we were making our first visit to mainland Spain. Having left the doom and gloom of England behind, the temperature here was a pleasant sixteen degrees and the holiday was off to a good start. And that’s all it was, a holiday. Our accommodation for the week was a self-catering casita (a small house) on the Tijola road out of Órgiva in Andalucia.

On the way to our casita, we drove over some lemons and with some luck found our abode. What a beautiful place, nestled in a valley with views across the Rio Guadalfeo (ugly river) to the mountains of the Contraviesa and the hippy camp of Cigarones.
Once settled in, and with our six-year-old daughter, Alex looking expectantly at the swimming pool, we noticed our casita had nothing in stock. None of the basics like toilet paper, salt, pepper, olive oil (which could be purchased off the owners) washing-up liquid, beer etc.
Sarah exclaimed, “If we had letting houses, they would at least have a welcoming pack.”
Alarm bells should have started ringing!
Well, off we went into town to purchase all the necessary supplies. There were lots of bars and restaurants, mainly all with the same menu, supermarkets, five banks, no charity shops and no estate agents. Not that we were looking for estate agents, just curious.
You could spot us a mile away in our shorts and sandals, we were in holiday mode. While in the town we had a beer in Nemesis One. There must be a Nemesis Two somewhere? Every time we had a drink the landlord brought us a tasty morsel.
Ah, we thought, this must be tapas.
The Granada province is one of the last areas to serve tapas with beer, wine or mosto (non-alcoholic wine). Not with spirits or soft drinks though. The townspeople were well wrapped up, but to us, it was like an August day back in England.

It was not long before Alex was enjoying the pool. It was a little fresh and she tried in vain to coax us in. No chance, it’s February. Living in a rural area in England we thought we had fresh air but here we noticed how pure the air was and how well we slept. The shutters on the windows kept out the early morning light.

Our hosts were people we had known back in Somerset where they used to run the local pub. They had moved to Órgiva to be close to their granddaughter and had bought a ruin to convert into letting houses and what a great job they had done. The garden was well stocked with colourful plants, oranges and lemons providing bright orbs of sunshine and slices of fruit for our liquid refreshments.

During the holiday it was carnival time in Órgiva, normally eight weeks before Easter but the celebrations had to be spread over many weekends as only one marquee was available in the area for so many towns and villages. Friday night was the kids’ turn and we managed to get Alex dressed up as a clown. It was good to get involved and we could feel the warmth and friendliness of the local parents with children of a similar age. Saturday was for the adults.

Órgiva is the capital market town of the Alpujarras with a population of around five thousand people. It’s a bustling busy town with a very cosmopolitan, bohemian atmosphere. Mining and agriculture are its main activities but with tourism catching on. The ski resort of the Sierra Nevada is only an hour and a half away and the beaches of Motril and Salobrena just forty minutes down the road. At four hundred and fifty metres above sea level, the town has a micro-climate in which many different crops can grow, all fed from the waters of the melting snow off the mountains.

While settling into our holiday routine and thoroughly enjoying our surroundings a niggling question was emerging from somewhere in the back of my mind. What’s the price of property around here? And could we do what our hosts had achieved?

I needed to find an estate agent. These elusive characters operated in pairs, one foreign and one local. I was told they hung around a coffee bar called Galindos, and coffee time and breakfast time was at ten. So off I set to track them down.

My luck was in and I found a guy called Dharmo and his Spanish mate, Ramon (Dharmo’s corridor). Dharmo made the contacts with the foreigners and Ramon found the properties.

On introducing myself I was eyed with suspicion; they were in no hurry to show me their portfolio of property. Eventually, Dharmo pulled out of his well-worn satchel a photograph album with pictures of ruins of farmhouses, townhouses and bare parcels of land. But no prices.

 

Author: Andy Bailey

Bio: We moved to Spain 20 years ago and have been compiling a book by observing and integrating since we arrived. The book is now published. Órgiva: A Chancer's Guide to Rural Spain. Chris Stewart has given it a good review.

 



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Visit Andalucia's Wolf Park
24 January 2020

The Lobo Park in Antequera is an unspoilt nature and wildlife park in the heart of Andalusia; where you may look at a wolf eye to eye for the first time in your life!

The wolves in the park live in big enclosures so they have enough space to roam, play and hide when they want to. However, out of curiosity the wolves often come close to the observation points where you would go as a visitor, allowing you to see them very well. Some wolves are socialised and some have never been touched by a human hand, yet still they will all come up close because they have learnt from the pack to have confidence and that no one will bother them. No human interferes with the social development of the pack and therefore one can observe the natural behaviour in the enclosures.

You reach the enclosures by a path which leads you not only to the different enclosures but also to the individual platforms that offer you an excellent view of the wolves. In the park there are  4 breeds of wolf:

Timber (Canis lupus occidentalis) - The Timber wolves in the Lobo Park originate from the vast forests of Canada. This also explains their distinct colouring.

Alaska Tundra (Canis lupus tundrorum) - These wolves originally live in the Tundra of Alaska, where they survive extreme weather conditions from very cold winters to very hot summers. This subspecies is close to extinction and there are only a very few in the wild and in captivity.

European (Canis lupus lupus) - Still today, we find European wolves from Russia to Poland and Romania. Meanwhile, we find the European wolves also in many European countries such as in Scandinavia, Germany, along the border of Switzerland, France and Italy.

Iberian (Canis lupus signatus) - These native wolves live in Spain and Portugal and are a subspecies of the European wolf. Spain, together with Portugal, has the biggest population in Western Europe. One estimates that there app. 2000 wolves living in the wild in the North of Spain in provinces such as Asturias, Castillo y León, Cantabria, Galicia and Zamora.

 

 

The Lobo Park arranges guided tours for visitors in both English and Spanish. Visitors can obtain insights into how wolves behave in the real world. The Lobo Park is built to provide the wolves with an environment that resembles their natural habitat. This allows the wolves enough space to display their innate traits, as well as play and run around freely. The tours are designed so that this natural behaviour can be observed, and the fear that most people have of wolves is notably reduced. 

If you are looking for a very special evening out, don’t miss the regular Wolf Howl Nights on every full moon evening all year round and from May until October on weekends. 

See the wolves in the evening and you’ll experience them in a different light. As the air cools down and the sun starts to set, the wolves get livelier. It is also the best time to hear them howl.

When asked how wolves communicate, most people would respond that they howl. However, they actually communicate in a variety of methods through sound, smell and body language. Wolf sounds range from the hair-raising howls that call the pack together and play a huge role in socialisation and bonding, to the rough short bark-like sound that signifies fear and is used to warn other pack members of threats or to scare away intruders. Other sounds include the whine, whimper, yelp, growl and snarl, all of which are probably heard more often than the howl, and yet it's the howl that defines the wolf and fascinates us. Definitely an unforgettable evening! 

 

 

[Post sent by Jane Evans - Málaga]

 



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The Ultimate case for Cava
18 December 2019

[Bio: Author: Becky Russell, a British native, who has visited Catalonia on many occasions]

 

We've all had a giggle at cava's expense. We've laughed and pointed at those subtly placing cheap Spanish bubbles on the sideboard before helping themselves to something French, white, crisp and awfully expensive. 

Well - we all need to revisit our well-worn prejudice. If you know cava - beyond that it's Spanish and fizzy - then stop reading and go and pour yourself a glass. Me? I'm new to all this and so respectfully present some modest insights, hoping that we'll be able to start wandering the Cava road together.

Cava is largely produced in the Penedès region of Catalonia. Only wines made using traditional champenoise methods are permitted to be called cava. Other methods result in merely 'sparkling wine'.

In order to control cava volumes, Spanish law - after years of debate - mandated that there are only eight wine regions permitted to produce cava. Catalonia's Mediterranean climate with baking summers and kind winters quietly help along the macabeu, parellada and xarello grapes which are the traditional cava producing varieties. Although mostly white (blanco), rosé (rosado) cava can also be produced by adding limited quantities of still red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell.

As is the case for Champagne, cava comes in varying degrees of dryness: brut nature, brut, brut reserve, sec (seco), semisec (semiseco), and dolsec (dulce). If you're persuaded to try a bottle from one of the major Cava houses, you can't go wrong with Codorníu or Freixenet. 

While staying over at Catalan Manor, I chatted with the owner, Paul, about his recent venture into cava manufacture. Although an ecological approach has been used to cultivate vines on the estate since 1890, it was only in 2008 that he decided to make his own branded product. The estate produces a brut nature cava using the best 20% of the xarello grape harvest and traditional production techniques. On the 340 acres of estate, 10% is southern facing and dedicated to wine growing. 

Paul reflected on the first season, "I knew I enjoyed drinking cava, and that the potential was there to make some. The decision to engage local expertise was critical. Without this knowledge, it would have much more difficult to ensure success." 

The grapes are carefully monitored throughout August and September in order to judge the precise moment of harvest. In September, picking is done by hand in in the vineyards of the Penedès Appellation and grapes are moved by road in small boxes to Can Ramon winery to avoid bruising. The grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and transferred to large vats. The must settle and clears allowing for the removal of solid parts such as grape skins and pips. The must is then transferred to temperature-controlled stainless steel vats.

The outcome is a gracious and sensuous, boutique cava limited to 4000 bottles in any vintage. A small amount is sold and the remainder is saved for guests staying at the Catalan villa. 



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The Calendar of Christmas Events in Spain
10 December 2019

Christmas is all but upon us. A time for traditions, celebration, gifts and, above all, joy: the day of the “Santos Inocentes”, cribs, family dinners, Three Kings’ parades, New Year’s grapes… Should you decide to spend your Christmas in Spain you will find a country transformed although not as it is back in the UK.  Excessive Christmas decorations, lights and cheesy Christmasy TV adverts are few and far between. If you are not careful you could even miss that fact that Christmas is around the corner... but then again, Christmas is celebrated differently here.


Calendar of Christmas Events:


December 8th – This is the public holiday of Immaculada (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) which marks the beginning of the religious Christmas celebrations. Most notable in Seville.

21st December – In a few cities including Granada the celebration of Hogueras (bonfires) takes place. This date marks the winter solstice (shortest day) and where it is celebrated involves people jumping through fires to protect themselves against illness.

22nd December – All over Spain people never stray far from a TV or radio as the Christmas lottery is drawn over a period of many hours. Everybody in Spain buys tickets for this lottery in the hope of winning El Gordo (the fat one) and the winning number usually means that a good number of people from the same village become a lot better off overnight. Besides the big three prizes there are thousands of smaller prizes shared by people all over Spain. You can buy Spanish Christmas lottery tickets online.

24th December – Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena in Spanish (The Good night) and it is the most important family gathering of the year. In the evening people often meet early for a few drinks with friends then return home to enjoy a meal with the family. Most bars and restaurants close in the evening. Seafood platters followed by meats or roast lamb would be a typical meal rounded off with a typically Christmas sweet called turrón which is a nougat made of toasted sweet almonds. Another typical festive sweet is called Polvorones which is made from almonds, flour and sugar. Cava, Catalan 'champagne' and Asturian cider, would be the chosen drinks for the Christmas toast though plenty of fine Spanish wines will also be consumed with the meal.

25th December – Children may receive a small gift on Nochebuena or on Christmas morning but the day for presents is still 6th January, The Epiphany, when the Three Kings bring gifts for the children. However, this tradition is starting to change with the younger parents as everyone realises that if they give their presents on Christmas day the kids have more time to play with them. Christmas Day is a national holiday in Spain so shops are closed yet it is not a day of great celebration but rather a calm day when people go out for a walk, drop into a bar, visit relatives etc. Another large family meal at lunchtime is common though it’s becoming more common to see families eating out on the afternoon of Christmas day.

28th December – This is the day of Santos Inocentes (Holy Innocents) and is the equivalent of April Fools’ Day when people play practical jokes on one another. Often the national media will include a nonsense story in their broadcasts. In some villages youngsters light bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to carry out civic tasks such as sweeping the streets. Refusal to comply results in fines which are used to pay for the celebration.

31st December – New Year’s Eve is known as NocheVieja. To get involved, don’t forget to buy 12 grapes in advance. Why? According to Spanish tradition, everyone has to eat one grape in time with the striking of the clock at midnight. If you manage to eat them all on time, you will have a New Year full of luck. Although the New Year is broadcast on television, you will have an amazing time if you head for the main squares of towns and cities, normally the location of their clock towers. One of the most emblematic places to experience the celebration? Following the clock at Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid. There you will find thousands of people decked out with hats and squawkers joyfully toasting and welcoming in the New Year. Later on you can join one of the many parties held until dawn at hotels, bars and clubs 

1st January – A low key public holiday with plenty of people sleeping off their excesses.

5th January –  To ensure smiles on the children’s faces at Christmas, nothing better than the Three Kings Parade held on 5 January, the day before the feast of the Three Kings. In Spain it is the three Wise Men of the East, Melchoir, Caspar and Balthazar, who bring Christmas presents to children who have been good. Three Kings Parades, with their page-boys, camels and all kinds of weird and wonderful characters, make their way through the streets of villages, towns and cities all over Spain, to then leave gifts and toys at the houses. They are all spectacular, but special mention should be made of the one in Alcoi, in the province of Alicante, one of the oldest in Spain. Another is in Sierra Nevada where the Three Kings (Wise Men) can be seen to ski down to the village from the mountaintops.

6th January – This is the Feast of the Epiphany (Día de Los Reyes Magos) when the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem. For many Spanish children, this is still the most important day of the year when they wake up to find that Los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings/Wise Men) have left gifts for them in their house. Santa may leave them some token gifts on December 25th but the Three Kings are their favourites, but this may not be the case in years to come, Santa is gaining ground on the Kings. During the day of 6th, the Three Kings continue their good work and are seen distributing gifts to children in hospitals all over Spain.

7th January – The day after receiving their gifts children return to school, their parents go back to work and Christmas in Spain is all over for another year.

Depending on where you are this Christmas ...


“Feliz Navidad” from Spain
“Bon Nadal” from Catalonia and Valencia
“Gabon Zoriontsuak” from the Basque Country
“Bo Nadal” from Galicia

 


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