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Live News From Spain As It Happens

Keep up to date with all the latest news from Spain as it happens. The blog will be updated constantly throughout the day bringing you all the latest stories as they break.

Spain dominates Europe's top 150 restaurants list
17 June 2021

NAMES of Europe's 150 best restaurants have been released – and Spain hogs half the list.

Quique Dacosta's eponymous restaurant in Dénia, Alicante province (photo from Quique Dacosta's website)

If it had achieved two more than the 74 eateries that feature, Spain could legitimately say its restaurants were the majority of the top establishments on the continent.

The prestigious platform Opinionated About Dining (OAD), founded in 2003 by Steve Plotnicki and based upon over 220,000 restaurant reviews by more than 7,000 voters, has one in the top three and several others in the top 10, plus dozens more nationwide.

'Best in Europe' is Alchemist in Copenhagen, Denmark, followed by Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm, Sweden; third-best is in Spain, in the province of Vizcaya – the capital of which is Bilbao – the Asador de Etxebarri, run by chef Bittor Arginzoniz.

Celebrity chef Quique Dacosta – who once featured on Gordon Ramsay's Costa del Nightmares, where he taught the restaurateurs at the centre of the show about silver service on a premises with three Michelin stars – is in the top 10, and is given a special mention for dishes which 'pay tribute to beauty and to Mediterranean cuisine'.

Although Dacosta has several eateries, it is his establishment in Dénia, northern Alicante province, which was chosen – formerly known as El Poblet, after the shop-and-bar complex it sits next to, and a short distance from the nearest beach, the eponymous Restaurante Quique Dacosta is the most upmarket of his entire chain and has won countless awards, as well as topping previous 'best-in-world' lists.

Also in the province of Alicante, the restaurant L'Escaleta in the northern inland town of Cocentaina – home to just over 100 British nationals, according to the last census – has made the top 10.

Restaurant L'Escaleta in Cocentaina, Alicante province (photo from the 40th anniversary website for the establishment,

Along with Quique Dacosta and L'Escaleta are the Barcelona-based trio Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas and their premises Disfrutar, the world-famous Azurmendi in Larrabetzu, Vizcaya province, run by 'super-chef' Eneko Atxa; and another regular 'top-of-the-world-list' premises, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, capital of the province which is home to the Costa Brava and run by the Roca brothers.



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Europe approves Spain's 'restructure plans' for release of €69.5bn in recovery funds
17 June 2021

HE EUROPEAN Commission has approved Spain's 'recovery plan' post-pandemic, meaning it is now entitled to funding from the bloc which all member States who applied in time are able to access.

Spain is due €69.5 billion between 2021 and 2026, and has pledged around 40% of this towards climate change-related investment, 28% towards the digital transition, and the bulk of the rest towards 'social cohesion'.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (pictured left) said the plans presented by Spain's leader Pedro Sánchez (pictured right) would allow the country to 'arise stronger than ever before', and praised the 'excellent cooperation' with Europe by Spanish authorities.

Sánchez, who calls the project approval 'an historic day' and the plans themselves a chance to 'build a better future', says he will call a conference with all the country's regional presidents in July to discuss the finer detail of how it will be put into practice.


'Fundamental' reworking of 2012 labour reform

In exchange for the funds, Spain is required to make a series of structural overhauls in its job market, pensions and taxation systems, among other areas.

This will involve scrapping key elements of the controversial 2012 labour reform, brought in by the previous right-wing PP government.

The reform nine years ago made it easier and cheaper for companies to fire employees, even on the grounds of ill health evidenced by medical notes after a certain percentage of absences – ostensibly, it was aimed at allowing companies under threat of complete shutdown to stay open by making a handful of redundancies without too many barriers or extra costs, on the basis that it was better for some of its employees to lose their jobs than for all of them to; but the reform also opened the door to the minority of less-scrupulous employers being able to shed staff with relative impunity and to use coercion to keep wages low and working conditions unfavourable.

Unions and various experts in economy and business criticised the reform from the start, warning it would drive down already-low salaries and make the job market more precarious and less secure than ever.

Ending the precarious nature of jobs, especially in young, newly-qualified adults, is one of the current left-wing coalition government's key aims, and now it has been told its plan to axe the fundamental parts of the 2012 reform cannot be delayed any longer: It must happen this year.

Among the areas Brussels says need an immediate restructure are the limitations the reform places on collective bargaining via unions, and changes to guarantee the rights and wellbeing of people working for sub-contracted companies.

Also, Spain's work minister Yolanda Díaz intends to reduce the number of job contract types to limit temporary employment only to cases where this is strictly necessary or in the interests of the employee as well as the firm, and wants to create a permanent mechanism similar to the temporary lay-off or 'furlough' scheme introduced during lockdown – where employees can be sent home, claim unemployment benefit without affecting their existing contributory jobseekers' allowance built up, and taken back on by the company once business improves, with their jobs guaranteed during their time off.

Brussels has highly praised the temporary lay-off, or 'ERTE' scheme, which has enabled businesses to avoid shutting down altogether and prevented mass redundancies.



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Valencia museum displays only known Botticelli portrait in Spain
16 June 2021

THE ONLY known portrait held in Spain painted by Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli is now on display in Valencia after having been loaned by the family which has owned it since 1929.

Michele Marullo Tarcaniota (1453-1500), poet, military man and humanist of Greek origin who emigrated to Florence and lived under the patronage of the powerful ruling Medici family, surrounded by major artists, writers and humanist scholars of the time, married the erudite poet Alessandra Scala.

He was a great friend of Botticelli's and they shared long, frequent intellectual discussions and debates, in the manner of the era.

When Marullo was on his way home from a trip to Volterra on April 12, 1500, on his horse in a torrential rain storm, he drowned crossing the river Cecina.

His picture shows a high level of realism and detail in features, expression and depth of feeling; exactly what the most learned artists during the Renaissance sought to achieve and studied for, and which meant their portraits – considered at the time to be the art form of the highest calibre and prestige, and the subject of lucrative commissions from the wealthy and powerful – were very valued and allowed them to make a decent living.

The portrait of Marullo appears on a fairly small tableau, of 49 x 36 centimetres (1'7” x 1'2”), showing the head and shoulders of a man dressed in black with long black hair and a black cap, against a background of ash-blue, with a sombre, severe expression, turned slightly to the left, and very dark eyes with golden flecks which illuminate them, and lips outlined very clearly and incisively.

It was bought by Valencia-based collector Francesc Cambó 92 years ago, and the owner has always called it 'the pearl' of his range of prestigious artworks, of which he had numerous.

Among other major institutions, politician and philanthropist Cambó loaned his collection, including Botticelli's Marullo portrait, to Madrid's El Prado museum and to the MNAC in Barcelona.

The Botticelli was then inherited by Francesc's daughter Helena Cambó – along with Cambó's 'philanthropic spirit', which she and her husband passed onto their own children, according to the present owner and grandson of the original buyer, Rafael Guardans Cambó. 

Rafael says his family has always been particularly fond of the Marullo portrait, but that in keeping with his grandfather's attitude, considers it his duty to allow the general public to enjoy it, too.

Doing so, and especially so that local residents can see it 'without having to travel beyond the Comunidad Valenciana', is an 'honour' for the Guardans Cambó family, says Rafael.



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Government approves final three age groups for vaccine calendar
16 June 2021

NATIONAL health authorities have approved the final leg of the Covid vaccine calendar with the last three age groups set to go – although regional governments may overlap these if the need arises.

All bar two regions – Castilla y León and the Comunidad Valenciana – are now working through the 40-49 age group, and the latter is due to start on this community on June 17, beginning with those aged 49, having begun later than the rest of the country due to its high number of municipalities and heavy population density, especially along its coast.

Some, such as the Canary Islands, are making headway with those in their late 30s.

Now, the strategy drawn up by the central government in conjunction with regional leaders has included three more age groups, who will be immunised starting from the oldest to the youngest.

Regions are urged to continue to track down and contact residents in their 40s for jabs, where they have already started these, and can then move onto the 30-39 age group.

After this, those aged 20 to 29 will be vaccinated, and finally, teenagers aged 12 to 19.

These three age categories can overlap if necessary – such as if there are problems calling in all the 30-plus group, health authorities can start summoning those in their 20s in the meantime or, if a region has a higher population of teenagers than 20-somethings or 30-somethings, they can focus on those instead so as to get as many of them immunised as possible before the school term starts in September.

Regions are asked to 'prioritise' vaccination of teens aged 12 and over who would have to wait until very last because of their age but who need to be immunised as soon as possible for other reasons, such as illness, chronic health conditions that put them at greater risk, and those who need full-time care.



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Spain to host 2022 NATO summit
15 June 2021

NEXT year's NATO summit will be held in Spain – for the first time in a quarter of a century, confirms the organisation's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg (pictured right).

Spanish president Pedro Sánchez (pictured left) attended this year's summit today (Monday) in Brussels, where he very briefly met his US counterpart Joe Biden for the first time – although they were only in each others' company for less than a minute, the time it took to walk 20 metres down the corridor, they reportedly managed to touch on a number of key issues the two countries have in common.

Also today, Sánchez learned that Stoltenberg had chosen Madrid as the host city for the 2022 date – partly because of its being the 40th anniversary of Spain's joining NATO, in 1982, and partly 'in recognition of the significant rôle' the nation plays in the organisation.

Stoltenberg said Madrid's hosting the 2022 summit would be 'an ideal opportunity' for member countries to 'focus on the challenges coming from the south', in which NATO 'has great potential'.

These 'challenges' include the current diplomatic issues with Morocco, the sovereignty of the disputed Western Sahara territory, and the reduction in France's troops deployed in the Sahel region of the Sahara desert.

“If our neighbours are stable, we're also safer,” Stoltenberg argues.

He recalled that Spain had increased its spending on Defence and has taken part in numerous NATO missions with 'very strong contributions' to peacekeeping in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter of which Spain concluded a few weeks back, bringing all its troops home.



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Queen Sofía joins nature reserve rubbish clean-up day
14 June 2021

'QUEEN Mum' HRH Sofía has been on her hands and knees filling up bin-bags again – this time as part of a nationwide clean-up summons organised by SEO BirdLife's Libera project and major recycling firm Ecoembes.

Volunteers all over Spain were urged to give approximately two hours of their time on Saturday morning as part of a campaign for everyone to clear up one square metre of rubbish from an area of nature.

In practice, those who take part in these regular clear-up days tend to get far more than a square metre free from litter – Queen Sofía especially, given that she is frequently on the volunteer team.

Last year, in September, she joined in a mass clean-up on a Málaga beach, and on Saturday, got stuck in with the group working in the Soto de las Juntas nature reserve area in Madrid.

Over 11,000 people took part across the country at the weekend, tackling 1,100 rural areas – from National Parks such as the Guadarrama in Madrid and the Monfragüe near Plasencia in the Extremadura province of Cáceres, through to local nature reserves such as the Arribas del Duero in the province of Salamanca, the Cap de Creus on the Costa Brava, and the Marjal, or huge salt marshes in Pego, which straddle the borders of the provinces of Alicante and Valencia.

Queen Sofía is a patron of SEO BirdLife, and tries to join in their volunteer projects as much as possible, showing no signs of wanting to take a back seat despite her 82-and-a-half years of age.

The mother of the current reigning monarch King Felipe VI was photographed with rubber gloves, a large yellow bin-bag and wearing a mask, scooping up litter and junk by hand.

SEO BirdLife director Miguel López says the charity has succeeded in raising awareness over the past five years of the huge problem rubbish in nature zones poses – a problem which, he says, 'should never have had to have arisen'.



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Which are the top six happiest towns in Spain?
14 June 2021

ALMOST anyone not heading for Spain this summer would be a lot happier if they were in it, and the town in question is probably academic – and although those who already live here year-round are entitled to be miserable now and again, because that's only human, the bright sunshine and warm weather mean it is arguably difficult not to be happy-ish at least part of the time during a Spanish summer. 

The historic quarter of the third-happiest town in Spain - read on to find out which it is, and why (photo: YouTube)

But six towns have been named the 'happiest' – not through self-report surveys or calculating figures relating to lifestyle factors, but through Artificial Intelligence.

At this point, you're probably speculating as to which they could be. Suitable candidates could be anything with 'Alegre' in the name, as this means 'happy' – in Torrevieja, southern Alicante province, the waterfront esplanade is called the Paseo Vistalegre, which means 'happy-view boulevard'; a bit further north, just above Alicante city itself, is Villajoyosa or, in valenciano, La Vila Joiosa and, whichever of the two languages you write it in, translates literally as 'Joyous Town'. Given that it's the cradle of the nationally-acclaimed brand of chocolate, Valor, and to a museum showcasing it, Villajoyosa certainly lives up to its name.


How does AI define 'happy'?

Basically, LookFantastic's computer checked out people's faces on their Instagram selfies. Maybe this isn't a scientific method, but if you're radiating glee on your social media snaps, you're probably feeling pretty good or, if you aren't, you've done well to be able to hide it when faced with the all-seeing eye of AI.


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Pedro Sánchez to meet Joe Biden for first time at NATO summit
11 June 2021

SPAIN'S president Pedro Sánchez will finally meet his US counterpart in person on Monday (June 14) when they both travel to Brussels, which will be the first time a top representative has sat and talked with a leader of the North American country face to face in exactly three years.

Last time was in June 2018, when King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia attended the White House, when Donald Trump was in power, and a Spanish and US president have not met in person since September 26, 2017 when the former country's then leader, Mariano Rajoy, travelled to Washington DC.

United States leaders have not been to Spain for five years – Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle were the most recent, in July 2016, meeting HRHs Felipe and Letizia, president Rajoy and the then leaders of the key opposition parties, Pedro Sánchez (PSOE, or socialists), Albert Rivera (centre-right Ciudadanos) and Pablo Iglesias (left-wing Podemos).

The Obamas also had two official State visits at the White House from Spain – HRHs Felipe and Letizia in September 2015, their Royal trip to the USA as King and Queen rather than as Prince and Princess of Asturias, and Mariano Rajoy in January 2014.

As yet, due to the pandemic, Pedro Sánchez (pictured right) has not been able to meet with the USA's 46th president Joe Biden (pictured left, with Kamala Harris) in the nearly eight months since the latter won the elections and the five months since he took up office, but the beginning of next week will give them a chance to briefly get to know each other and chat.



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Covid-19: Four regions 'back to normal' and all the rest 'out of extreme risk'
10 June 2021

EVERY single one of Spain's 19 regions is now out of 'extreme risk' for Covid, and four of them are considered practically 'back to normal' as their case numbers are negligible.

Masks are still compulsory even in the open air, but in four regions - which include coastal holiday hotspots - Covid case numbers are now negligible

These data, released on Wednesday evening, showed that the national incidence was 111.91 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, or 0.11% of the population.

Madrid was the last of the 15 mainland and four offshore regions to lose its 'extreme risk' classification, with all the others having ditched this dubious label some time ago – many of them, several months back.

This means normal levels of intensive care occupation – rates seen before the pandemic – have been reported in most regions, and even in those where numbers are higher than usual, the level of pressure is manageable.

The north-African coastal enclave of Ceuta, directly across the water from Gibraltar, and the Comunidad Valenciana on the east coast of the mainland were the first regions to report that they were almost back to normal, followed swiftly by the Balearic Islands, and now, the north-western region of Galicia.

All four currently show a rate of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, or less than 0.05% of their population.

In the Comunidad Valenciana, only the biggest cities are showing numbers of Covid cases in three figures, the biggest towns range from approximately 10 to 50, a majority of medium-sized towns are showing single figures – several of these having had no cases at all for weeks – and the overwhelming majority of villages have been Covid-free for around two months.

This is despite the region being slightly behind the majority of the others in terms of vaccination, still working through those in their 50s and not due to start on the 40-somethings for another 10 days or so – partly due to its being one of the most densely-populated regions outside those with the two largest cities.

In the 16 months since the first Covid-19 cases were being detected in almost every region in Spain, a total of 3,715,454 have been reported – if each patient only contracted the virus once, it means 7.9% of the population have been affected, although in the past year, an average of 60-75% have been asymptomatic.



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Five-metre neckbone from 145-million-year-old dinosaur unearthed in Teruel
10 June 2021

A PERFECTLY-INTACT piece of a sauropod spine dating back around 145 million years has been unearthed in the province of Teruel – and even though it is five metres (16'6”) long, it is only a small section of the entire backbone.

The fossil discovered near the village of Camarillas – which is known to be a hotbed of dinosaur remains – is made up of 15 vertebrae, and this huge articulated string of bones is only the creature's neck.

In fact, as yet, other than being identified as a giant sauropod, the exact species has not been determined and may even be one not yet documented.

Palaeontologists from Zaragoza University's 'Aragosaurus-IUCA' unit, along with the Miquel Crusafont Catalunya Palaeontology Institute (ICP), jointly led by post-PhD researcher Dr Diego Castanera and Zaragoza historian José Ignacio Canudo, made up the excavation team which found the massive piece of ancient reptile anatomy.

Dr Castanera says each vertebra is at least 30 centimetres (a foot) long and a metre (3'3”) high and, subject to alternative information arising whilst restoring the skeleton, it is thought the original dinosaur may have been over 25 metres (82'6”) long.

This means that as well as being one of the best-preserved remains discovered in recent history, it could have belonged to the biggest dinosaur known to walk the earth – or, at least, the part of the earth that is now the continent of Europe.

Also, the sheer size of the fossil meant extracting it was an extremely complex operation.

They had to pour liquid plaster of Paris into the dig around the vertebrae to cushion them, and the structure had to be split into two to lift out as it was too heavy to do so otherwise without mechanical means that would have presented a major risk of damage to it. 

After this, the team had to build an iron frame to fashion a giant cardboard box around, which they lowered the neck-bone into, packed with polystyrene loops for protection.



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