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Spain's Top 10

Simple...a series of lists rating Spain's top 10 in anything and everything...they may be lists compiled by independent reviewers or by myself....whichever, I hope you find them useful :-)

The Basque Country in 10 stops
08 April 2020

The sea and mountain, an internationally recognized cuisine, and an ancestral culture that continues to exist today, all make the Basque Country an attractive destination for all types of people. On each side of the border, we find small, fishing villages and innumerable cliffs that remind us that a short trip is not enough to enjoy this land. At any rate, any trip along the coast must include these essential stops. So if one trip is not enough time for you, returning isn't a bad idea.

 

Sopelana (Bizkaia)

 

As one of the surf meccas and the closest to Bilbao, Sopelana is commonly visited by water sports enthusiasts and also by paragliders thanks to the cliffs that hug its beaches. Apart from enjoying the sun and the beaches, the town is also part of the Iron Belt: a tourist route along which we can explore the remains of military fortifications in the area that have been recently restored.

 

Bermeo (Bizkaia)

A quintessential fishing village that is also the perfect location to explore some of the greatest treasures of the Basque coast which are practically a requirement to visit while in the region: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and the Urdaibai biosphere reserve. It is essential to eat a good marmitako, a traditional tuna pot, in one of the port taverns.
        

Lekeitio (Bizkaia)

We cannot overlook Lekeitio as another noteworthy fishing village since it has the oldest txakoli wine press in the Basque Country. Moreover, this village has one of the most famous, rowboat sports clubs. A spectacular port with a mountainous backdrop.
        

Ondarroa (Bizkaia)

Almost on the border of Gipuzkoa, Ondarroa's outstanding features are its historic medieval centre and its seafaring flavour. In fact, in the port, we can learn about the fishing cycle, from the fishes´ arrival onto the boats to where their trip finishes on our plates. Ondarroa means "mouth of sand" since it is built on the stretch of land formed by the river Artibai. For this reason, the town has multiple bridges in spite of being rather small
        

Zumaia (Gipuzkoa)

 

Apart from having been the setting for one of the largest blockbusters of our cinema, this community will amaze us with its flysch, rocky, sedimentary formations in the sea that create an otherworldly landscape. From here we can visit Getaria, the birthplace of the famous sailor Juan Sebastián Elkano.
        

Pasai Donibane (Gipuzkoa)

As we leave behind Donostia-San Sebastián and before reaching France, we find Pasai Donibane, a town that is unknown to tourists but has hidden treasures such as its main plaza where colourful, traditional Basque buildings seem to crowd together for a picture. A secret: the poet Víctor Hugo spent several days here and we can visit the house where he stayed, which has now been converted into a museum.
        

Hondarribia (Gipuzkoa)

[photo courtesy of Hondarribia Travel Guide http://www.euskoguide.com/places-basque-country/spain/hondarribia-tourism/ ]

The last stop before crossing the border, Hondarribia receives visitors with a very extensive cultural and tourist experience for a rather small town. Perhaps it is because of this that once we visit, we are already planning our return. From water sports to golf to enjoying a reinvented, traditional cuisine.
        

San Juan de Luz (Francia)

A tranquil, crescent-shaped bay where we can find a fine sand beach. It's not strange that this has been one of the summer destinations chosen by many tourists for centuries. Although we are in France, it seems as if we have not left the Basque Country thanks to the vibrantly coloured, traditional Basque houses.  An area which, in the 17th century, drew the attention of pirates.
        

Bayona (Francia)

This town celebrates its festival in full San Fermín style, including the traditional red and white dress. However, this is not the only tradition that it shares with the south of the Pyrenees: the cuisine is so similar to what we find in Gipuzkoa or Biscay that will continue to delight us. And of course, we cannot forget their famous chocolate!
        

Biarritz (Francia)

From international surfers to the most distinguished bourgeoisie of the 19th century, everyone who visits Biarritz falls in love with this small, resort city. As the years go by, all kinds of tourists continue to live here in perfect harmony. And the city caters to all of them. This is why it is perfect to stroll between its mansions and relax while lying out in the sun.



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Madrid's Paseo del Arte
20 March 2020

Many people visit Madrid and are unaware of how rich in culture one particular area of the city is. This area, known in English as the 'Art Walk' or ‘Paseo del Arte’ in Spanish, boasts art and beauty as you’ll see nowhere else in the world. Along a stretch of just over one kilometre, you’ll find the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofía Museum, as well as a number of other institutions and buildings which are well worth visiting. Few places on the planet offer such as variety of art and culture in such a small place. Here are the top 10 places to visit on Madrid's Art Walk

 

1. Prado Museum

Paseo del Prado, s/n

The Prado Museum is the crown jewel of one of the capital’s most visited tourist itineraries: the Paseo del Arte (Art Walk). Its walls are lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Velázquez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s Third of May, 1808. Its collection comprises 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures, so we recommend you decide what you want to see before stepping into the museum.

 


2.Thyssen-Bornemisza Museu
Paseo del Prado, 8

Located on the Art Walk, this museum’s collection traces the history of European painting from the Middle Ages through to the late 20th century.
Given the wealth and variety of its treasures, comprising more than a thousand works of art, you should start your visit in the section that most interests you. Italian primitives, the German Renaissance, 19th century American art, Impressionism, German Expressionism and Russian Constructivism are the most widely represented schools and movements in the museum.  

 

 

3.Reina Sofia Museum
Calle Santa Isabel, 52

Located on the Art Walk, the Reina Sofía houses works by Dalí, Miró and Juan Gris as well as Picasso’s masterpiece: Guernica.
This passionate journey along the history of Spanish contemporary art is divided into three collections: ‘The Irruption of the 20th Century. Utopia and Conflict (1900-1945)’; ‘Is the War Over? Art in a Divided World (1945-1968)’ and ‘From Revolt to Postmodernity (1962-1982)’. The star piece of the museum is Guernica, one of Picasso’s most famous paintings. Exhibited by the Republican Government at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937, this mural depicts the pain suffered by the victims of the bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica on 27 April, 1937.

 


4.National Archaeological Museum
Calle Serrano, 13

The National Archaeological Museum (MAN), which houses one of the world's most important antique collections, has just reopened after a comprehensive remodelling process that lasted for six years. Comprising implements and works of art from Mediterranean cultures, its exhibits span from prehistory to the 19th century.

 

 

5.Casa de América
Plaza de la Cibeles, 2

Casa de América is one of the most active cultural institutions of our city. With a view to fostering contact between the Latin-American peoples and Spain, it organises all kinds of cultural activities (exhibitions, lectures, film and literary cycles, etc.).
Its premises, the Palacio de Linares in the Art Walk, are a real jewel which must be visited. The limestone building, with its clean lines, the work of Carlos Colubí, Adolf Ombrecht and Manuel Aníbal Álvarez, houses an interior rich in furniture, lamps and bronzes from Paris, crystal from Antwerp, carpets from the Royal Tapestry Factory and a choice collection of paintings by artists of the stature of Francisco Pradilla, Manuel Domínguez and Alejandro Ferrant.

 


 

6.Naval Museum
Paseo Prado, 5

The origin of the Naval Museum goes back to September 28th 1792, thanks to an initiative of Antonio de Valdés y Fernández Bazán, Navy Secretary of King Carlos IV. After multiple vicissitudes, the current Museum reopened in October 1932 in the current location of the old Navy Ministry, currently the Spanish Army Headquarters, located in the Art Walk.

 

7.National Museum of Decorative Arts
Calle Montalbán, 12

Located between the Art Walk and Retiro,  this museum – created in 1912 - was intended to be a place for the education of artisans, craftsmen, artists and connoisseurs of the industrial arts, following the inspiration of other museums of the same type, such as the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

 

8.Royal Botanic Gardens
Plaza Murillo, 2

Declared an Artistic Garden in 1942, its collections include an outstanding herbarium with more than a million entries, the library and the archive - with nearly 10,000 drawings - as well as the exhibition of 5,000 species of live plants.

 

9.Royal Observatory of Madrid
Calle Alfonso XII, 3

The Royal Observatory of Madrid was commissioned by Charles III at the suggestion of Jorge Juan. The construction of the main building, designed by Juan de Villanueva, began in 1790 on a small hill situated beside the present day Retiro Park. At the same time the astronomer W. Herschel was commissioned to build a 60 cm diameter reflecting telescope. 

10.Biblioteca Nacional
Paseo Recoletos, 20 - 22

This museum, whose aim is to promote the importance of books throughout history, comprises eight rooms. As well as conserving original manuscripts, the library allows visitors to learn about the work of librarians and reveals the secrets of Miguel de Cervantes. The National Library aims to contribute to the city’s culture by offering public educational activities which are difficult to find in standard museum programmes.



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Spain's Top 10 Landscapes
13 March 2020

Spain has one of the most varied landscapes in Europe, if not the most. It is peppered with spectaular geological wonders, many of which have been included in the UNESCO European Geopark Network. All landscapes included in this register must be of scientific, esthetic or educational significance. Of course, there are many more geological 'maravillas' and maybe with time, I will extend the list, but here are 10 of the most important...

 

 

1. Sobrarbe, in the Aragonese province of Huesca, is home to some of the most striking landscapes in the entire Pyrenees, from the calcareous summits of Treserols to the canyons of Ordesa and Añisclo (pictured), the valleys of Pineta and Escuaín, the Posets massif, the valley of Chistau and the Sierra de Guara mountains. http://www.geoparquepirineos.com 

 


2. A new Spanish member joined the European Geopark Network in March of this year: the Molina de Aragón and Alto Tajo geopark in Guadalajara province. Its 4,000 square-kilometer area includes the Gallo River Gorge, the fossil forest of Aragoncillo and the pit of Alcorón. The park’s symbol is aragonite, a variety of calcite that crystallizes in hexagonal prisms and was first described thanks to samples found in Molina de Aragón. http://www.geoparquemolina.es

 

3. Dating from 10 million years ago, the formations at Cabo de Gata on the Almería coast are one of the largest magma-derived mountains in Europe. Old lava flows, volcanic domes, craters and fossilized beaches make up a landscape that, despite looking like a semi-desert, is home to a variety of ecosystems, including more than 1,000 endemic plant species and some of Spain’s most beautiful beaches. http://www.degata.com

 

4. Seville’s Sierra Norte mountains stretch from the mine at Cerro del Hierro (Iron Hill) to the spherical granite rocks of El Pedroso and Real de la Jara. In between, visitors can find the Los Covachos cave, the Huéznar River waterfall, the fossilized jellyfish of Peña Escrita, and over 170,000 hectares of cork oak, holm oak and olive trees. http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/medioambiente 

 

5. Around 36 million years ago, Catalonia’s interior was covered by a sea that disappeared as a result of the great folding process that gave birth to the Pyrenees. Among the products of that geological process are the Toll and Salnitre caves, the serrated peaks of Montserrat and the Catalan potassium basin. http://www.geoparc.cat/es

 

6. The collection of limestone massifs extending southeast of Córdoba province, along the border with Jaén and Granada, show the effect of water over the course of eons. This is a chaotic landscape filled with pits and sinkholes, karst formations such as the limestone pavement of Los Lanchares, the Bailón River Canyon and the Bat Cave, near Zuheros. The area is also known for its ammonite fossils – the remains of cephalopods that ruled the seas during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. http://www.andalucia.org

 

7. Fossils trapped for over 50 million years in the pastry-puff rock formation – technically known as flysch – along a 13-kilometer stretch of land on the western coast of Gipuzkoa have earned this place a spot in the European Geoparks Networks. Like a book written in stone, each stratum of flysch contains a 60-million-year-old chapter in the history of the Earth, from the Upper Cretaceous period (around 100 million years ago) to the Eocene (40 million years ago). http://www.geoparkea.com

 

8. Extremadura conceals unexpected landscapes, such as the one to be found at the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara geopark in Cáceres, where deciduous forests sit alongside olive groves, holm oak and fields of rockroses. It is a rocky place of jagged-peaked mountains that rise above the oak forests like dinosaur backbones. And beneath it lies a striking world of karst formations inside the cave of Castañar de Ibor, which was declared a natural monument in 1997 thanks to its eccentric calcite stalactites, arboreal shapes and delicate aragonite “flowers.”  http://www.geoparquevilluercas.es

 

9. The eruption of an underwater volcano off the Canary island of El Hierro in 2011 is just the latest chapter of an epic geological journey that began 100 million years ago, when the seabed opened up and released the magma that formed the isle. The smallest and wildest island in the archipelago, its 278 square kilometers contain over 500 volcanic cones and nearly 70 lava-made caves such as Don Justo, whose galleries span over six kilometers.  http://geoparqueelhierro.es

 

10. From the heights of Gúdar down to the border with Lower Aragón, the Guadalope River crosses a network of mountains, peaks and canyons that were once home to the Sea of Tethys and monsters such as the Elasmosaurus. Its tracks, and those of other dinosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras, are on display at nearly 70 paleontology sites inside the El Maestrazgo geopark. http://www.geoparquemaestrazgo.com



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Top 10 things you need to know about Fallas
05 March 2020

The month of Fallas has just begun! They call it the festival of fire, but Fallas is much more than just fire. Before the night when everything burns -la Nit de la Cremà (Night of the Cremà)- the city experiences an authentic street spectacle for ten days unlike many others celebrated in Spain. With it, they achieve something very difficult: visitors feel as if the celebration belongs to them as well. Colossal satirical figures, firecrackers that make the ground shake, fireworks that light up the darkest sky, troupes that bring the street to life from daybreak, and of course, fire, lots of fire. If you want to live Fallas in person, there are ten important things that you should keep in mind.

 

1. The origin of the festival

There are many theories and none of them 100 % provable. The most common theory is that the origin is in the city's carpenters' guild: that on the eve of the patron saint's day on March 19th, they burned outside their workshops the "parot," the post that supported the oil lamp for working at night. They added a lot of scraps to this "parot" and from this came the modern Fallas festival. What's undeniable is that it's a historic festival; the first written documentation about Fallas dates back to the 18th century.

 

2. Its own language

If you don't want to look like a tourist, take a look at the Fallas jargon. Although the festival as a whole is called Fallas the word “falla” actually refers to the monument. The plantà is the act of setting up and raising the falla. The ninot is the human figure of the falla. The cremà is the moment that the fallas are lit. The mascletà is the pyrotechnics spectacle in which hundreds of fireworks are set off, the most deafening of which is the one at the city hall.

 

3. Comfortable footwear and a fallas map

Each year around 700 fallas are set up in Valencia so if you want to enjoy art and sarcasm that abound, you'll need a fallas map -available in all tourism offices- and some comfortable shoes. As it's almost impossible to see all of them, make sure to plan on seeing at least the most spectacular ones, which are included in the Special Section (presented on March 16). The ones at the City Hall, the Convent and the el Pilar plaza never disappoint. 

 

4. Not only the fire illuminates

Before the fire illuminates the city on the Nit de la Cremà, Valencia shines at night from the lights that the Fallas committees place in the streets. The installations are so impressive that some streets are reminiscent of the famous Seville Fair. Thousands of coloured light bulbs adorn the streets creating authentic spectacles of light. Traditionally it's the Ruzafa neighbourhood where we can see the most magnificent lights. 

 

 

5. Exhibition of the Ninot

Before the fallas are set up in the street (on 16 March) we can have a taste of these works of art by visiting the Exhibition of the Ninot. It includes a ninot from each Fallas committee, which allows us to get an accurate idea of the quality of the fallas that will be shown that year. Among all the ninots shown, those rated highest will be saved from burning. 

 

6. The night doesn't sleep

Although going out looking for the best fallas and participating in the many activities organized in the city will leave us exhausted, we have to save some energy for the night because, after the fireworks, music begins to play and doesn't stop until sunrise. In addition to the open-air dances that the Fallas committees organize, the City Hall organizes concerts with top groups from the music scene, held in the are around the old Turia riverbed.

 

 

7. The despertà

Although little sleep is had during Fallas, the alarm sounds early thanks to the despertàs. This tradition consists of going through the neighbourhoods with a music band and firecrackers; nothing special if it weren't for the fact that they do it at 8 in the morning. It's one of the acts that full-blooded "falleros" (Fallas festival-goers) like most but that the visitors hate, especially those who go all out at night. Maybe packing some earplugs isn't such a bad idea...

 

8.Fire Parade

It's one of the most impressive events of the entire festival, so we should take special note on our plans. It's held on March 19 and is the prelude to the famous Nit del Foc (Night of Fire), when all the fallas burn. It's a parade that combines music with dancers and, evidently, fire, carried by the so-called demons. Only a couple hours afterwards the flames take the city, making ash of the fallas that have decorated the city for days.

9. Floral offering

Between the fire, the music and the pyrotechnics, there is a moment of calm to organize some of the nicest and remarkable moments of the festival, the offering of flowers to the Virgen de Los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken). This event is spectacular in that hundreds of falleros and falleras carry flowers, wearing the typical clothing and accompanied by musical parades. For almost two days these flowers are placed to cover a replica of the Lady, known as the "Geperudeta," nearly 15 meters tall.

 

10. Food!

Even if our feet are really suffering from walking and dancing during the festival, some of the most fun we'll have is eating the traditional doughnuts with hot chocolate and the famous paella, which is always a treat for our palates.

                     



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Spain's Oldest Restaurants
24 January 2020

In Spain, there are as many as 120 hundred-year-old restaurants. The term is used to define what used to be called "casas de comidas" (meal houses), although the name was created in France in the second half of the 18th century. "Restaurants" constituted another sort of eating establishment, a new one if we define them as places where one can order a meal from a range of choices at a range of times and eat it on the premises.

About 1765, people rounding the corner of the Rue Bailleul and the Rue des Poulies, just a few blocks east of the Café de la Régence, passed by the innovator’s sign: “Boulanger débite des restaurants divins” (Boulanger sells divine restaurants). Boulanger was originally a soup vendor and certain soups were known as restaurants—literally, “restoratives.” The Encyclopédie defined restaurant as “a medical term; it is a remedy whose purpose is to give strength and vigour.” Thanks to Boulanger and his imitators, these soups moved from the category of remedy into the category of health food and ultimately into the category of ordinary food...Almost forgotten in the spread of restaurants was the fact that their existence was predicated on health, not gustatory, requirements. None the less I can assure you these restaurants found around Spain were certainly founded on gustatory requirements and still do to this very day serve some of the finest food in the country. Here are 10 of the oldest and best restaurants in Spain in no particular order:

 


1. Botín (C/ Cuchilleros, 17. Madrid) - 1725

In 1989 the Guinness Book of Records classified it as the oldest restaurant in the world. This establishment in Madrid is the genuine birthplace of suckling pig and lamb, which they continue to roast with holm oak wood in the oven that was used on the date the premises were founded, in 1725. The restaurant was founded by the Frenchman, Jean Botín, and then handed down to his nephews. Since 1930, it has been run by the González Martín family. It achieved the world record as it has been the only restaurant so far that can certify how long it has been a "restaurant" - as we understand it today. Others may have started out as taverns or shops that sold food and later transformed into restaurants.


2. Lhardy (Carrera de San Jerónimo, 8. Madrid) - 1839

Thanks to Lhardy, founded in 1839 by Emilio Lhardy, gastronomic modernity arrived in Madrid. In a building near the Puerta del Sol, the restaurant is divided into three floors and 6 dining rooms. It is said that Isabel II used to meet her lovers in one of them, the Japanese room. Eating in Lhardy is like travelling back in time, everything is just the same as it was when the establishment first opened.


3. Casa Gerardo (Carretera AS-19, km 8.5. Prendes) - 1882

It opened its doors in 1882 and today it is managed by the fourth and fifth generations of chefs. Pedro and Marcós Morán, father and son, are specialists for including Asturias in their dishes. Their most well-known creations are the fabada desgrasada (fat-free bean stew with Spanish sausage) and merluza a la sidra (hake with cider). Their menu also includes room for innovation, and this is reflected in the traditional and new dishes.


4. Casa Duque (Calle Cervantes, 12. Segovia) - 1895

The first meal house in Segovia belongs today to Marisa Duque, the fourth generation of restaurateurs. Keeping to the traditional essence, the typical Segovian menu always features large French beans, Castilian soup and suckling pig. For starters, there is nothing better than some juicy slices of bacon


5. Hotel Santa Catalina (C/ León y Castillo, 227. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) - 1890

The restaurant that is now managed by José Rojano belongs to the hotel that was initially planned for the English who, looking to make their fortune, used to stopover in the Canary Islands on their way to America. Now the menu has been renewed and, as a consequence of the chef's birthplace, includes creations from the Islands as well as the Basque Country.


6.  7 Portes (Passeig Isabel II, 14. Barcelona) - 1836

Josep Xifré i Cases was a powerful Catalan businessman in the first half of the XIX century; the richest Catalan at the time. He built the so-called Xifre houses in the Isabel II Promenade in Barcelona and took a hand in the design himself, as he wanted to create buildings with porches similar to those in the Rue Rivoli and the central squares of Paris.

He made his home and office in the new building and decided to place a luxurious café on the site as well. The café had seven doors through which the public could enter, and an eighth entrance for staff and goods.

Nowadays the restaurant is famous for its rice dishes. Politicians and intellectuals have sat at its tables since 1836, but when the restaurant was taken over by the Parellada family, who continue to run it today, it became a meeting point for expert gourmets. 


7. Arzak (Avenida del Alcalde José Elosegi, 273. Donostia) - 1897

Not everyone knows that Arzak is a hundred years old. It was Juan Mari's grandparents who decided to open a business in Alza (today part of Donostia) which the locals used to call the “highest of vinegars”, because of the quality of the wines served in the restaurant. His mother took a step forward with her baby cuttlefish in their ink or hake in parsley and wine sauce, her son followed in her wake, representing a benchmark in New Basque Cuisine, and now her granddaughter, Elena. 


8. Echaurren (C/ del Padre José García, 19. Ezcaray) - 1698

In 1898, Pedro Garcia and Andrea Echaurren decided to remodel their old coach house that served as a refuelling stop for carriages. The imminent arrival of the railroad forced to anticipate the future, to refocus its business and where previously housed the stables and carriages, they decide to install a dining hall taking advantage of the culinary virtues of his wife, Aunt Andrea. It started with them, this proud culinary tradition and hospitality that has endured for five generations. 

 

9. Antigua Taberna Las Escobas de Sevilla - 1386

Opposite the Cathedral of Seville, in the heart of the Andalusian capital, as Escobas is a living testimony of the history of Seville. There are writings that rate it as the oldest tavern in Spain, founded in 1386, when it was also grocery shop, where wine was sold and brooms were made and hung from the ceiling.


10. Cal Xarina (Collsuspina - Barcelona) 1550

The restaurant Can Xarina of Collsuspina (Barcelona) is a handsome Gothic-Renaissance mansion where you can taste the best flavours of the traditional Catalan cuisine. The restaurant Can Xarina prioritizes local and seasonal produce, so the ingredients are always fresh and high quality (mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, peas, artichokes, etc.). Some of his most characteristic dishes are baked shoulder of lamb, oxtail stew in the pot or preparations with hake and monkfish.

 

Other Centenary Restaurants in Spain:

Hotel Lleida, Graus, Huesca (1867)
Miramar, Alcúdia, Mallorca (1871)
Mesón de Borleña, Borleña de Toranzo, Cantabria (1834)
Las Cabañas, Peñaranda de Bracamonete, Salamanca (1885)
Venta de Aires, Toledo (1891)
Fonda Europa, Granollers, Barcelona (1771)
Gaig, Barcelona (1869)
Hostal Jaumet, Torà, Lleida (1890)
Hotel Durán, Figueres, Girona (1855)
Hostal Coca, Torredembarra, Tarragona (1820)
Paz Nogueira, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña (1838)
Café Gijón, Madrid (1888)
El Vinagrero, La Unión, Murcia (1910)
Café Roch, Pamplona, Navarra (1898)
Casa Montaña, Valencia (1836)



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Spain's Top 10: Best-Preserved Villages
10 January 2020

Spain is a country of castles and walls and a good number of these have survived to this day in very good condition. Much of what is preserved from the medieval era, remains in towns, whose streets have maintained their personality, without succumbing to the temptation to expand with modern buildings and complexes.

Walking through these villages is like immersing yourself in a fairy tale. Its narrow streets, walls and castles transport us to a time of legend. If you want to make a trip to the Spanish Middle Ages, why not start with these....according to the Repsol Guide, they are the 10 best-preserved medieval villages in Spain:

 

Besalú, Girona

The name Besalú is derived from the Latin Bisuldunum, meaning a fort on a mountain between two rivers. It is also the historical capital of the county of “La Garrotxa”. Besalú was designated as a historical national property ("conjunt històric-artístic") in 1966. The town's most significant feature is its 12th-century Romanesque bridge over the Fluvià river, which features a gateway at its midpoint. The church of Sant Pere was consecrated in 1003. The town features arcaded streets and squares and also a restored mikveh, a ritual Jewish bath dating from the eleventh or twelfth century, as well as the remains of a medieval synagogue, located in the lower town near the river. Besalú also hosts the Museum of miniatures created by jeweller and art collector Lluís Carreras

 

Calatañazor, Soria

Calatañazor is a municipality located in the province of Soria, Castile and León, Spain. According to the 2010 census (INE), the municipality has a population of 70 inhabitants...perhaps it's grown a little since then. The municipality is named after the tiny fortified city on top of a hill. 

Also situated in the municipality are the hamlets Aldehuela and Abioncillo. Abioncillo used to be abandoned like many forsaken hamlets in Spain, but in the 1980s was turned around by a few dedicated teachers into an educational centre.

In the valley between Calatañazor and Abioncillo, the Battle of Calatañazor took place in 1002. This place is still named El Valle de la Sangre (the valley of blood). Almanzor, the ruler of Muslim Al-Andalus is by some historians said to have died in this battle. There is a statue of him in Calatañazor.

 

Peratallada, Girona

Peratallada is a town in the municipality of Forallac, in the county of Baix Empordà, in Catalonia, Spain. It is located 22 km east of Girona.

Its name is derived from pedra tallada, meaning 'carved stone'. Declared a historic-artistic monument, most of the buildings are built from stone carved from the fosse or moat which still encircles parts of this small fortified medieval town. The privately owned Castle of Peratallada is the dominant structure in the center of the town, with a 13th-century Romanesque church dedicated to Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) outside the town walls. The castle has been documented as early as 1065 AD and it was restored as a luxury hotel in the 1960s. During restoration, traces of settlement were found that date back to the Bronze Age.

Today, Peratallada is known for its beautiful old stone buildings, rutted stone streets and passageways. Its proximity to the beaches of the Costa Brava and its numerous restaurants, small boutique hotels and artists' galleries make it a popular destination. The 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was partly filmed on location here.

 

Hervás, Cáceres

The most significant feature in Hervás' historical heritage is the Jewish quarter. Its narrow, steep streets are lined with houses clustering together like grapes, which were made with adobe and chestnut-wood frameworks, their roofs plastered with Arab tiles to shield the wind. The architectural heritage includes remarkable civil buildings such as the palace of Dávila, a large house from the middle of the 18th century, which at present houses a stately home-museum, and a public library.

The religious heritage includes the parish church of Santa María, erected in the 13th century, which exhibits elements that were added from the 16th century thru the 17th; the convent of the Trinitarian Fathers, inaugurated in 1659; the hermitage of San Andrés, from the 14th century, which at present houses the religious image of Cristo de la Salud, patron saint of Hervás; and the hermitage of San Antón.The infirmary of the Franciscan monks, from the 18th century, is currently home to the City Hall and the Municipal Police.

 

Buitrago de Lozoya, Madrid

Buitrago del Lozoya (Spanish pronunciation: [bwiˈtɾaɣo ðel loˈθoʝa]) is a municipality of the autonomous community of Madrid in central Spain. It belongs to the comarca of Sierra Norte. The town is one of the few in the community that have maintained its walls, which are of Moorish origin (11th century) and have been restored in the 15th century. It lies on a peninsula surrounded by the Lozoya river. Other sights include  the Buitrago del Lozoya Castle, a Gothic-Mudéjar structure dating from the 15th century and the Picasso Museum. This small museum contains works by Pablo Picasso from the collection of Eugenio Arias, a friend of the artist.

 

Peñafiel, Valladolid

Peñafiel is a town in the Valladolid Province and the greater autonomous community of Castile and León, Spain. It is best known for the Peñafiel Castle and for its medieval square used for bullfights and named "Plaza del Coso" (English: "El Coso Square"). The square is surrounded by private homes, but since medieval times the rights to use their windows, balconies and doorways during bullfights are owned by the town (see easement), which auctions them to the highest bidders.

The town is full of deep excavated underground caves which were traditionally used to store the wine because of the constant temperature they kept all year around. These caves have chimney vents for ventilation and to evacuate the gases generated by the fermentation of the wine. These chimney vents dot the landscape in and around the town and the castle.

 

Ainsa, Huesca

The village, which was the capital of the old Kingdom of Sobrarbe, and was later incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragon in the 11th century, constitutes a magnificent example of medieval urban development.
The historic quarter of the village of Ainsa, declared a Historic-Artistic site, is formed by a group of houses that are packed together in the most harmonious and uniform of ways, among which the slender tower of the collegiate church stands out, as well as the enormous premises of the castle, almost as big as the rest of the town. The walls that surrounded the town centuries ago remain almost intact today, the town itself being filled with monuments that bring us back to the Middle Ages.

 

Ronda, Málaga

This town in the Málaga region sits on either side of the Tajo del Ronda, a narrow gorge more than 150 metres deep. Its old town has been declared Property of Cultural Interest. Celts, Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs all inhabited these lands, which were reconquered by the Catholic Monarchs. The historic quarter, reminiscent of the Arab age and with a medieval layout is scattered to the south of the Guadalevín, while more modern Ronda, the part which sprang up after the 16th century, unfolds to the north of the course of this river. Several bridges unite the two halves of one of the most interesting towns on the route of the Whitewashed Villages, in the heart of the the Ronda hills, only a few kilometres from the Costa del Sol. 

 

Albarracín, Teruel

The former capital of a Moorish kingdom (Taifa), the small town of Albarracín has preserved all its Islamic and mediaeval flavour. Its old quarter has the Property of Cultural Interest designation.

The main thing that surprises visitors who arrives at the town of Albarracín is its imposing fortified enclosure, whose perimeter is far larger than the area of the urban centre. What we see today corresponds to three different periods of construction.
The Fortress and the Andador Tower are from the 10th century. In the 11th century, the kings of Albarracín constructed the walls around the poor area of Engarrada. Finally, after the Reconquest, the Christian lords and kings of Aragon erected new sections of walls and most of the forts and towers that remain.

 

Sepúlveda, Segovia

Declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1951, Sepúlveda reflects the influence of the Romanesque style in its monuments and streets, dating back to its era of greatest splendour in the 11th to 12th centuries. Sepulveda is the site of the first Romanesque church constructed in the province, El Salvador Church, dating back to 1093. It has only one nave with a semicircular apse and a tower separate from the nave. Another site worth visiting is the 12th-century Santa María de la Peña shrine, located on the outskirts of the town above one of the deepest gorges along the Duratón River. 



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Top 5 : The Three Kings Parades
27 December 2019

Lights, floats, pages, sweets, and a lot of excitement are all you need to make a procession of the Magi or Three Kings into a one-of-a-kind experience. Even so, every year towns and cities go the extra mile to make these parades special: theatrical productions with top-quality settings and costumes, and fabulous fireworks. From all the processions organised in Spain every 5 January, we have chosen five which amaze children and adults alike, due to their spectacular production values, their originality, or their history.

1. Alcoy, the oldest in Spain

Any discussion of Magi processions in Spain has to begin with Alcoi, which has been holding its parade since 1885. This is not its only impressive statistic - it also has an enormous number of participants, with nearly a thousand people in the procession. One of the most exciting parts of the parade is the torch-bearers, who light the way for the floats and the royal pages. As always in the Valencia region, bands of musicians are an essential part of the procession, with Christmas carols to add to the mood. Up to three bands participate in the parade, as well as groups of drummers and dulzainas (pipers). Another feature of this parade is the work of les negres, the royal pages who bring presents to the children, using wooden ladders to climb up to the balconies of the houses. Traditionally, the event begins at 6 pm and ends after 10 pm, with the sky lit up by an impressive fireworks display.

 

2. Girona, all lit up

Processions of the Three Kings in Girona province are lit in a very special way, with the fanalets all the children carry. These are small lanterns, made of paper and brightly painted, with a lightbulb inside and carried on a stick. In recent years they have been modernised and can be bought in the shape of one of the Magi, a Christmas tree, a snowman, or even the latest popular cartoon character. The tradition is thought to have begun in mountain villages where the children would light bunches of lavender to make sure the Three Kings would see them, even though there was no procession in the village. Now there are many towns and villages where children light the parade with their little lanterns, in one of Catalonia's most endearing Christmas scenes. Although the tradition has spread throughout the region, the processions in Girona province, such as in the cities of Girona or Vic, are still among the most spectacular.

 

3. Cerler, the Magi on skis 

Few presentations are as spectacular as the arrival of the Three Kings at the Cerler ski resort, in the Huesca Pyrenees. Their Majesties sweep down the slopes, leaving the children open-mouthed in amazement, as well as their parents - it is pretty unusual to see the Three Kings riding a chairlift or performing pirouettes on skis. For the whole morning, they chat with the children and pose for photos with them, and even hand out sweets, without the need for royal pages. The celebration continues in the afternoon in Benasque, with a more traditional and restrained procession - this is a small village - but with the best possible setting. There's no need to use fake snow to decorate the parade here, as the real thing is usually in plentiful supply for Epiphany, and the scene could hardly be more picturesque.

 

4. Madrid, the most spectacular

Although there are several processions in the capital every 5 January, the most spectacular pass through the city centre. This is one of the biggest in Spain, with more than 1,500 volunteers taking part. The route traditionally begins at Nuevos Ministerios and ends at Plaza de Cibeles, like so many of the city's major celebrations. It was first held in 1928, and one of its unusual features is that since the late 1980s, the Three Kings have been played by members of the City Council. Another peculiarity is that the people in this parade don't throw sweets into the crowd along the whole route, only in the fenced-off areas. The City Council introduced this measure in 2014 for the children's safety. The parade ends with a fireworks display after a speech by the Magi in Plaza de Cibeles.

 

5. Santillana del Mar, like a fairytale 

This is one of the prettiest medieval towns in all of Spain, so here the processions of the Magi have an incomparable setting, one of the main factors which have made it an official National Tourism Festival. The setup is different from most because as well as the traditional procession, eight scenes are performed from a Mystery Play, the Auto Sacramental de Los Reyes Magos. The streets are covered in straw, torches are lit as dusk falls, and the townspeople dress up as pages, washerwomen and shepherds. The scene-setting and the participation of many of the residents completely transform Santillana, giving the sensation of having travelled back in time more than two thousand years. The numbers give an idea of the majestic scale of the event: nearly 500 extras, 100 torch-bearers, 5 floats and around twenty horses to thrilling young and old alike with the magic of Christmas.



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Spain's Top 10 Ski Slopes
06 December 2019

This year ski slopes have opened early all across the country, take a look at the top 10 Spain has to offer:

 



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Top 10 Most Beautiful Villages in Navarra
06 November 2019

Navarra has some of the most beautiful villages in the country, not often a region that foreigners really think of visiting, but it really must be considered as there is so much to see. Here are 10 of the most beautiful villages worth visiting...

 

1. Olite

The sleek and harmonious silhouette of the Castle-Palace stands out against the skyline of Olite, a small town in the centre of Navarre just 42 kilometres south of Pamplona that was the seat of the Royal Court of the kingdom in the Middle Ages. The thick walls and crenelated towers of the Palace were home to monarchs and princes. Declared a national monument in 1925, it is the best example of civil Gothic architecture in Navarre and one of the most notable in Europe.

A walk through the narrow streets of Olite will take you past noble stone houses with coats or arms on their facades and grandiose wooden eaves, mediaeval galleries and splendid churches, and the Roman wall surrounding the town. Its Mediterranean climate has also made Olite a wine capital. Visit its bodegas (wineries) and try their wines. Let yourself be guided, the town will take you back to an era of tournaments, kings and princesses, wizards and jugglers, falconers and archers; they all return to Olite every August for a Mediaeval Fair.

 

2. Roncesvalles

The collection of the historic buildings in Roncesvalles, located in the westernmost side of the Pyreneen mountain range, are erected on the bottom of the southern slope of the Ibañeta hill and near the wide plain of Auritz- Burguete.

A place for the pilgrims to rest after the rough ascent from the lower Navarre valleys, "The Collegiate church of Santa María de Roncesvalles" is surrounded by some mountains like: Astobiskar (1266 m.) and Ortzanzurieta ( 1570 m), distinguished because they are the oldest territories of Navarra, more than 450 million years old.

 

3. Puente La Reina

Puente la Reina, "the crossroads of the ways", is a medieval town where the two main routes on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela converge. It is one of the enclaves with the greatest affinity with Compostela in Navarre. The constant transit of pilgrims, the scallop shells and the walking sticks all form part of the urban landscape of this town, a magnificent example of a "street-based" town just 24 kilometres south-west of Pamplona.

Walking along the narrow Rúa Mayor is a very pleasant exercise that allows you to discover architectural gems such as the churches of the Crucifix, St. James and St. Peter and beautiful buildings peppered with details of the influence of the Pilgrim's Way. However, there is no doubt that the Romanesque bridge across the river Arga is the most amazing sight of all. It is one of the most beautiful and distinguished examples of Romanesque architecture on the way to Santiago and is what gives its name to this town of barely 2,500 inhabitants.

 

4. Ujué

Lost up on the heights of a plateau with no rivers to refresh it and no trees to shelter it, seemingly intoxicated with its solitude, stands Ujué, a delightful medieval village of narrow streets that climb steeply upwards to reach, at the top, the Sanctuary-Fortress of Santa Maria de Ujué. Located in the Central Zone, Ujué is one of the most important places of worship in Navarre and a spectacular lookout point over the Pyrenees and riverside plains.

The Sanctuary, a national monument, is one of the most important examples of medieval architecture in Navarre, and is at the centre of a beautiful legend. On your journey, lose yourself in the maze-like layout of this tiny village of just 300 inhabitants; stroll slowly along its cobbled streets and don't miss the opportunity to try the delicious migas de pastor ('shepherd's breadcrumbs'). There are very few places that make them like they do in Ujué.

 

5. Elizondo

Elizondo, the capital of the Baztan valley, will amaze you with its numerous mansion houses and palaces. Its most emblematic building is the Baroque palace of Arizkunenea, but there are also other monuments of artistic interest such as the town hall, the Datue Palace, the Viceroy's house and the church of Santiago. Set in idyllic natural surroundings, the hustle and bustle that typify Elizondo have made this locality the valley's inhabitants' favourite place for holding fairs and markets.

One of the most long-standing traditions is the Baztandarren Biltzarra, a festival of colourful dances and processions that brings together all the villages in the valley. On your visit to Elizondo, be sure to try its famous urrakin egina (chocolate with whole hazelnuts). Elizondo lies at the geographical and nerve centre of the Baztan valley . Located in the north of Navarre, the valley encompasses fifteen towns within its municipal boundaries, which are dotted throughout the luxuriant green landscape of the Atlantic Pyrenees.

 

6. Sanguësa

A border post on the Pilgrim's Way and a hospitable and monumental town, Sangüesa is a mixture of the mountains and the plains, a place to see and experience. Located 44 kilometres from Pamplona and with a population of just over 5,000, the most important town in medieval Navarre is well known thanks to the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela and its architectural treasures, particularly the facade of the church of Santa María, a superb example of Romanesque architecture that has been declared a National Monument. Its interesting civil buildings, churches and convents evoke epochs of splendour and reveal a town that is very closely linked to its traditions.

On January 6th every year the Auto Sacramental de los Reyes Magos (allegorical religious play about the Three Wise Men) takes place, one of the five that has been conserved in Spain. Stroll through the old streets of Sangüesa and stop to take a look at every one of its splendid buildings; take part in its medieval traditions and try its famous pochas (succulent white beans). In a land of transition between the first peaks of the Pyrenees and the plains along the river Ebro, Sangüesa stands on the banks of the river Aragón on slightly raised ground in the eastern part of the Central Zone of Navarre, 44 kilometres from Pamplona.

 

7. Artajona

A magnificent medieval fortification crowns the top of the hill on which Artajona stands, a small village 30 kilometres from Pamplona which invites you to close your eyes and step back into a past inhabited by monarchs, noblemen, bishops and popes. This stunning eleventh-century fortress, known as "El Cerco", rises up imposingly over the village that descends down the slopes to the plain in a maze of narrow, cobbled streets, marked along the way by monumental houses and palaces.

On your journey you will discover a town of 1,700 people which, as well as "El Cerco", still preserves other buildings of interest such as eighteenth-century palaces, the Gothic church of St. Peter and, on the outskirts, the basilica of Our Lady of Jerusalem and the chapel of St. Bartholomew. You can also discover why its bells and the "fork and sickle race" are so important. The walls of Artajona, a small town in the Central Zone halfway between Puente la Reina and Tafalla, conceal a wealth of history that will take you back to the Middle Ages, times of territorial conquest and marriages of convenience when the town became the wedding present of King García Ramírez to his wife, Lady Urraca.

 

8. Estella - Lizarra

Half way between Pamplona and Logroño, in an area between the mountains and the plains, lies Estella, a historic city that came into being when pilgrims were travelling along the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela in large number. In the 15th century it was known as "Estella the elegant" and to the present day it continues to live up to this epithet. It is a romantic city that places great value on its palaces, stately homes, churches, convents, bridges and beautiful buildings, which have earned it the nickname of the "Toledo of the North".

The city of 13,000 inhabitants will surprise you with its flourishing commercial life and bustling Thursday market, its passion for music and theatre, as well as its impeccable cuisine. Strolling through the city you will pass pilgrims and visitors eager to explore the old streets of the Franks and the Jews and see proof that the phrase coined by Aymeric Picaud is as true today as it was in the 11th century: "Estella is a city of good bread, excellent wine, much meat and fish and all kinds of pleasures."

 

9. Ochagavia

Ochagavía is the perfect photograph, the one that always looks right; the day or the light conditions do not matter. It is the picture postcard of the Pyrenees of Navarre, with its cobbled streets, its well-kept houses with steep roofs and the river with an old mediaeval bridge crossing it. The stone church, crowned by a robust and elegant tower, is an interesting perspective that breaks up the skyline. A landscape of high mountain peaks and dense forests complete the image, in which the very ancient dances in honour of the Virgin Mary of Muskilda must be present.

The town of Ochagavía is located 764 metres above sea level at the northernmost point of the Pyrenean valley of Salazar, in north-east Navarre. Surrounded by high peaks and beech and Scots pine forests, it is one of the most picturesque places in the Navarrese Pyrenees thanks to the architecture of its caseríos (large houses) and its location at the confluence of the Zatoia and Anduña rivers, which join here to form the river Salazar.

 

10. Amaiur/Maya

A picturesque one-street village that receives the visitor with its peculiar entry arch. The people built their houses along the route of the Pilgrims' Way in the Baztan valley. The lack of alignment and uniformity of the façades avoids monotony and leads to some excellent perspectives. The characteristic reddish colour of the stone from the quarries at Almándoz impregnates, as in the rest of the Baztan valley, its houses.

Noble house architecture has left some magnificent examples in the village, such as Palacio Arretxea or Casa Arriada, where council meetings were held in the 16th century. One of the most emblematic spots in Amaiur/Maya is located at the entry to the village. It is a restored mill that still operates, and where visitors can buy corn or wheat flour or taste recently baked talos, fine corn flour pancakes that are eaten with other products such as cheese, chocolate, or chistorra (spicy sausage).



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10 Beautiful Forests to Visit before the end of year
31 October 2019

Here are 10 stunning forests to visit this season or this coming Spring. Although winter is around the corner there are still some beautiful colours to discover...

 

1.  Forests of Ordesa (Huesca) 


The charm of the Pyrenees’ most spectacular valley lies in this explosion of colour that skirts these mountains covered in oak, ash, maple, hazel and rowan trees straddling the River Arazas.

 

2.  Fuentes de Narces (Asturias) 


The slopes that lead down to the River Narcea are home to one of the biggest and healthiest deciduous forests in Spain, providing rich, nutritious food for the brown bears that live in the vicinity.

 

3.  Fraga del Eume (A Coruña) 


This Atlantic forest, situated further west than any other in Europe, is hanging on by a thread as cement and tarmac encroach on its territory. It’s still a beautiful spot though, and the location for the famed novel 'The Enchanted Forest' by Wenceslao Fernandez Flórez.

 

4.  Montes de Redes (Asturias) 


The upper basin of the Nálon River, in the Asturian municipality of Caso, is covered with the wild forests of Redes, where brown bear and wolves roam amid the beech, oak and chestnut trees that are also home to chamois and grouse.

 

5. Dehesa del Moncayo (Zaragoza) 


Moncayo Mountain rises like an Atlantic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, offering shade and a splash of rich colour. Thick with beech trees and surrounded by holm oaks, olive trees and vineyards, this is a mystical corner of the peninsula where many seek spiritual solace amid the foliage.

 

6.  The Saja Forest (Cantabria) 


The Palombera pass is the crowning glory of the forests of the Saja River in the fall. The ancient woodlands hide a maze of paths traditionally used by mountain dwellers, who left their valleys to occupy the lands of Castile, retaken in the year 1,000 AD. The photo shows the waterfalls at the Pozo de la Arbencia inside Saja-Besaya Natural Park.


7 Tejera Negra (Guadalajara) 


Fall paints the landscape of the Ayllón massif between Segovia and Guadalajara, where beech trees mingle with yew trees. Against the odds, this forest has survived the hot dry Guadalajara climate as though a woodland spell is at work.


8.  Selva de Oza (Huesca) 


The high valley of Hecho in Aragón is crowned with an old untouched forest of beech and firs and black pines marching along the ridges. Below is the mountain gorge at the Boca del Infierno that twists upwards to the source of the River Aragón Subordán – the point where the mountains enclose this Pyrenean treasure whose very remoteness has saved it from the axe.


9.  Valle de Iregua (La Rioja) 


The Cameros hills conceal within their folds a beautiful beech wood, close to the source of the River Iregua. Surrounded by a semi-alpine pasture that has served nomadic cattle farmers for centuries, these beech trees account for the last native deciduous forest in the region.


10.  Monte de Santiago (Burgos) 


The source of the Nervión River is tucked away among the leafy beech forests of Santiago that begin at the cliffs of the Salvado mountains and advance down towards the meadows of the Arrastaria valley in Alava. The forests are constantly doused in moisture by the dense mists that also feed the river and ensure that the Salto de Nervión waterfall – considered the highest in Spain – remains a spectacular sight.

 


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