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Discovering the next super food
24 January 2020

 

Black garlic is essentially fermented garlic which is achieved completely naturally without the use of any preservatives or other chemical additives.

The garlic is ripened for a long time in a stricktly controlled temperature and humidity conditions, as a result of which the cloves become darker and darker until they turn completely black.

Black garlic is not only a form of garlic but it has its own very special taste, sweet with nuances of balm and liquorice, similar to the flavour "umami", which in Japanese means "pleasant savoury taste", and is one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

The word was originally coined by Professor Kikuna Ikeda and derives from a combination of the terms umai "delicious" and mi "taste".

 

 

As a culinary ingredient black garlic can be used in a wide range of ways, just like normal garlic, but its soft and easy-to-use texture also make it a delicious, healthy snack on its own. Most importantly, however, it has outstanding nutritional benefits.

Black garlic has five times more antioxidant potential than normal raw garlic and contains between five and seven times the quantity of polyphenols . This is because during the lengthy ripening process the pungent garlic compounds are naturally converted into health-giving phenolic compounds, among which are bioactive organic sulphur compounds such as S-allylcystein and S-allylmercaptocystein, which have anti-oxidative effects. In addition, black garlic contains tetra-hydro-beta-carboline derivates, which exert anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic activity, a property also found in other fermented products such as wine and beer. So there you have it, the next super food and the most famous variety in Spain are made with purple garlics from Las Pedroñeras.



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Friday 17th January - Animal Christmas
13 January 2020

Just when you thought the party was over another one comes along! The 17th of January marks the Saints Day for San Anton - San Antonio - St. Anthony. As children, if we lost something, then Saint Anthony would have been called upon to give a helping hand. But here in Spain, according to the Catholic church, San Antonio is the patron saint of animals, and his day is used as the perfect opportunity to bless all creatures great and small throughout the land. What a great excuse for another party! It’s Animal Christmas! Now it’s the four-legged kids’ turn to be the centre of attention!

 

 

The celebration involves blessing both the creatures and their owners and ensures another year of good health and protection. The animals will walk straight into church and sometimes dressed up for the occasion, so if you want to see a dog in a suit – this is the opportunity! San Antonio is celebrated all over Spain on January 17th – and is known as Fiesta de San Antón in Valencia, although on the 16th in Valencia a bonfire is set to burn stubble and waste from the fields. It is organised by the Brotherhood of San Antonio Abad and began to be commemorated as we know it today in the middle of the last century.  

San Antonio is the patron saint of farm animals and although domestic animals are also a part of celebration (dogs, cats, turtles, snakes, birds...) they stand in the first section of the parade and receive a “medalleta” - small medal - of San Antonio. Valencia's Sagunto Street is where the point of celebration takes place and where you can watch the Parade and three parish priests give out their blessings from a main stage to all participants.  

 

After the domestic pets, the mounted town's police in full uniform pays homage to the saint, followed by mounted national police corps after which carriages carrying the "panet, garrofeta and l'estampeta" amulets follow. Finally more horses, riders and other animals close the parade.

So if you happen to be in Valencia this January, you might like to take a look!



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Fancy a Free Drink?
09 January 2020

The Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, is one of the world’s most famous long-distance pilgrimages. This primitive walk was created for those making the medieval pilgrimage to see the remains of St. James the Apostle in the city of Santiago de Compostela. Staring during the 9th century, this path now sees thousands of modern-day pilgrims crossing the country, with many taking 30 or more days to complete their journey.

As you trek through the Navarra region, an area renowned for its local wine, you will come across one of the many quirky sites of the Camino: the wine fountain. The small Navarra town of Ayegui is home to the Monasterio de Irache and its attached winery, the Bodegas de Irache, which was established in 1891. The wine fountain was created in order to provide motivation for fatigued followers of St. James.

 

   

Walk up to the gated fountain, and you’ll see pilgrims filling scallop shells (which are consistent symbols along the path; many pilgrims will carry or wear the shells as they complete their journey) and water bottles with the blessed wine from the monastery. The chilled red wine is light and refreshing, but it’s strong! Tired or dehydrated trekkers should take it easy...

While you can visit the wine museum, the monastery, and the winery themselves, the wine fountain is reserved for those following "El Camino". So if you want a free drink, you'll need to get your walking boots on!

 



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A Festive sweet
03 January 2020

The nuns at Convento de San Leandro in Seville have sold just one item for more than four centuries: Yemas de San Leandro. These rich, creamy nuggets are a simple yet delicate mixture of sugar, lemon juice, and egg yolks. Establishments across Spain make traditional 'yemas', which are particularly popular at this time of year, but to acquire San Leandro’s famous supply of Yemas, you’ll have to visit the convent, a Seville institution since the 13th century. 

When you enter the foyer, you’ll notice a revolving tray embedded in a wooden door. Reference the price list, then place the appropriate amount of money on the tray and rotate it behind the wall. A few moments later, a box of wrapped yemas should appear in its place. You’ll have to trust the San Leandro’s residents, but this shouldn’t be too difficult. You’re dealing with nuns, after all.

 

 

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What's going on in the Nativity scene?
20 December 2019

 

No doubt we are all familiar with the obligatory baby Jesus in the manger scene rolled out every Christmas, but the early 18th-century inhabitants of Catalonia, Italy, and certain areas of Southern France started a different tradition that lives on to this day.

Unlike the English-speaking version of the Nativity scene, Catalonians at Christmas time actually build a large model of the city of Bethlehem. The Caganer, whose origins have been lost in time, is a particular and highly popular feature of these modern interpretations.

Often tucked away into a small corner of the nativity scene, one can find a lone figure caught in the act of defecation. There are more than a handful of guesses as to how and why this tradition started ranging from the figure representing the equality of all people (everyone poops!) or that it symbolises the idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard whether humans are ready for him. Still, others believe it is a tradition grown from comic relief.

Nonetheless, it is said that not exhibiting him brings misfortune since his faeces fertilize the ground and also bring luck and happiness for the year ahead.

Traditionally, the Caganer wears a barretina (typical Catalan hat like a beret) and holds a pipe in his mouth, but over the years this tiny fellow has evolved to the extent that nowadays we find models of celebrities, politicians, actors, musicians and football players, as well as Caganers dedicated to towns, to distant traditions, to jobs, and to animals. 

Whatever your thoughts, if you find yourself travelling in the region around Christmas time it’s highly encouraged to take a second look at the scaled down Bethlehem and see if you can find their little “Caganer.”

 

 
 


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The Unique Salt Mountain Cultural Park
04 December 2019

The Cardona Salt Mountain (Muntanya De Sal) is a huge geologic formation made almost entirely of the world's favourite edible mineral. Formed two million years ago when low-density salt was pushed up through the much harder materials surrounding it, the Cardona Salt Mountain is one of the largest domes of its kind in the world, and unique in Europe. While small amounts of other minerals pervade the savoury hill, the salt pile would have a near translucent quality if not for the thin layer of reddish clay coating the exterior. The significance of the mountain was recognised as early as Neolithic times. However it was the Romans who began exploiting the mountain for its salt, which began to bolster the young Cardonian economy. With the invention of industrial mining techniques, a mine was built into the side of the mountain and a thriving facility formed at its base as excavators dragged enormous amounts of potash (water-soluble) salt from the innards of the hill. In addition to the mineral export, the locals of Cardona began making salt sculptures to sell and invented a number of salty pastries unique to the area.

 


 
After the mine closed in the 1990's, the salt mountain was rechristened the Cardona Salt Mountain Cultural Park and the former excavation operation was opened for tourists. The facilities surrounding the mountain have been turned into a museum where visitors can check out the equipment and machinery used in the dig, but the real attraction is the tunnel into the salt mountain.  You will travel in a special vehicle that will take you down an 86-metre slope into the salt basin. Once you get to the Vall Salina, you will be able to appreciate and admire the incredible salt formation; la Muntanya de Sal, the Salt Mountain. At this point, visitors will be provided with mining helmets and begin their tour inside the mountain. You will be taken through 500m of galleries and allowed to journey into the old mine shafts called “Alberto” and “Maria Teresa” and also have a look at machinery that was used in one of the shafts. The interior of the salt mountain is covered in majestic salt formations jutting up from the ground and hanging down from the ceiling. 

 

 

The mountain clearly demonstrates outstanding natural resources and mineral heritage, which makes this area a truly unique place in the world. Geology, mineralogy, botany and history come together here in a place where man has exploited rock salt since Neolithic times until the industrial age.

The Cardona Salt Mines are not only a geologic wonder but a staggering example of how beautiful salt can be!

Additionally you will be able to find The Cardona Medieval Centre, which was created in 2005 as an interpretive resource for explaining the birth and growth of the town of Cardona, following council policy on protection and promotion of the old town centre.

This centre is located directly opposite the Old Town on a square called Plaça de la Fira. There are a wide a range of activities for visitors, such as a guided tour of the town’s historic centre and an audio-visual presentation on “Cardona and its Lords of the Salt”.

 

To reserve tickets here is the link:

http://entrades.cardonaturisme.cat/es/producte/visita-pcms

 



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Civica, the work of Don Aurelio
21 November 2019

 

This strange sight looks like something straight out of Tolkien’s Rivendell. What resembles an ancient, mythical village is carved into the rock, complete with elegant arches that lead into ornate corridors.
Perhaps disappointingly, this random roadside scene is not at all related to the fictional Elven realm. In reality, it’s the work of a 20th-century Spanish priest.

 


Don Aurelio, the priest of nearby Valderrebollo, Spain, constructed this curious hamlet in the 1960s. Almost every day after mass, he and local volunteers would carve their way through the soft karst. They created elaborate doors and banisters and a network of tunnels that wind through a labyrinth of hidden chambers. Supposedly, one of the lower caves even held a bar frequented by local fishermen.


Now, the intriguing hamlet is abandoned. Some of the inner walls have collapsed, and plants are slowly beginning to blanket parts of the space. But amazingly, a little fountain nestled amid the structures still gurgles with life. Fed from a natural spring, the crystal-clear water cascades out of small set of brass spigots and pools within a trough, waiting to quench the thirst of any animals that happen to wander by.

 

 



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Olvera - From Fortress to Castle
14 November 2019

Olvera Castle, locally known as Castillo de Olvera, lies on a rocky cliff in the centre of the town with the same name in the province of Cádiz. It is one of the most characteristic towns in the mountains of Cadiz, lying between the Sierra de Líjar and the Sierra de las Harinas mountains. Olvera is an excellent entry point from the north to the mountains of Cadiz and is set among woody hills and olive fields.

The first fortress at this site was built by the Moors, probably during the 12th century to defend the border of the Nasrid Emirate of Granada against the Kingdom of Castile. Around it, the medieval town of Olvera grew up.

In 1327 Olvera Castle was taken by the King of Castile, Alfonso XI. The Christians then completely rebuilt the old Moorish fortress into the castle we see today. The castle has an irregular plan, adapted to the shape of the cliff, resembling an elongated triangle. The rectangular keep has two storeys covered by barrel vaulted ceiling. The castle is also equipped with a gateway protected by a barbican, curtain walls with a parapet walkway and turrets, a subterranean enclosure and two cisterns.

 

In 1492 the War of Granada ended in a victory for the Kingdom of Castile and Olvera Castle lost its military value.

Olvera Castle can be visited for a small fee. Other sites of undoubted interest are the convent of Caños Santos, the sanctuary of Los Remedios and the Casa de la Cilla building, the current site of the “La Frontera y Los Castillos" Museum of Olvera.

 

 



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Don't sleep in room 712 tonight or any night....
31 October 2019

The Castle of Cardona is arguably the most important medieval fortress in Catalonia. It is situated on a hill overlooking the river valley of the Cardener and the town of Cardona.

Wilfred the ‘Hairy’ originally constructed this fortress in 886. It is in both the Romanesque and Gothic styles. During the 14th century, the dukes of Cardona came from the most important family of the Crown of Aragon, which was second only to the royal house. Because of this, they were called “kings without crowns,” as they had extensive territories in Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia, and dynastic ties with Castile, Portugal, Sicily, and Naples, increasing the importance of the castle.

In 1714, even after a Bourbon siege destroyed a good part of the castle's walls, the garrison was one of the last to surrender to the Bourbon troops that supported Philip V. Today, the castle's main jewel is the Torre de la Minyona (from the 11th century) a tower that measures 15 metres in height and 10 metres in diameter. Additionally, there is the Romanesque Church of San Vicente de Cardona adjacent to the fort. 

 


This may however be very interesting but it is not the reason why I am writing about the Cardona Castle… Nowadays it is a luxury hotel run by Paradores, a public leisure company, and happens to be home to a haunted bedroom: Room 712. People say you either have to be very brave, or not believe in ghosts, to stay in Room 712 at the Parador de Cardona. As a matter of fact, guests are only allocated this room on request as, after hearing reports and claims made by countless guests, the hotel management decided to close it to the public, unless specially requested. With Halloween around the corner this might just be the perfect place to spend the night if you want a fright!

Strange noises, open tap, disturbing dreams and even apparitions; these are just a handful of the strange occurrences reported by those who have stayed in Room 712. 

Whether you believe in paranormal phenomena or not, visiting this Parador will blow you away; not because of the legend, but because of its location in a stunning castle atop a headland.

Just 100 kilometres from Barcelona, this is one of the most impressive hotels in the entire Paradores of Spain network; a castle that, given its location and good condition, transports guests back in time to the Middle Ages in the blink of an eye. This 9th century fortified complex also features the Minyona Tower and a church, both from the 11th century. This castle's impressive location, atop a promontory, offers wonderful views of the Cardener River and the Salino valley, home to one of the world's most important potassium salt mines. Although it is currently inactive, discovering more about it on a guided tour comes highly recommended.

Even the smallest details at this castle are subject to careful consideration, including furniture, carpets and decorations, to ensure that at first glance, guests feel like they have been transported back in time 12 centuries. Even the architecture of the building is the stuff of fairytales, with long and narrow passages, austere, vaulted rooms with pointed arches, wooden beams and Gothic elements. All of this is shrouded in a silent, solemn atmosphere that takes on a mysterious aura when you reach the seventh floor or the west wing: home to Room 712.

This room always remains closed, unless a guest is brave enough to specifically request it. In recent years, customers staying in this room claim to have felt strange presences. Most say that they simply had trouble sleeping or that they had a restless sleep; others, however, assert that it was impossible to sleep on account of furniture being moved in the room above, despite it always having been empty. Even cleaning staff at the Parador have decided to enter the room in pairs so that nobody is left alone at any time. In doing so, they try to avoid being by themselves with any of the strange phenomena reported in recent years, such as finding all the furniture together in the centre of the room, hearing voices, finding open taps and hearing strange noises when there was no guest inside. Some guests even claim to have seen ghostly figures.


Legend has it that the source of these paranormal occurrences is attributable to a sad story dating back to the 11th century, when a young Christian woman, Adalés, fell in love with a Muslim and was condemned by her father to live her life locked away on the Minyona Tower, where she died of sorrow. Her sorry soul, they claim, still wanders the area and is responsible for the strange occurrences that many have witnessed in Room 712.

Whether or not the legend is true, and whether we dare stay in Room 712 or not, what cannot be missed is the opportunity to visit this impressive castle. Furthermore, staying here offers us the chance to visit the medieval village of Cardona, full of narrow alleys and corners bursting with charm.



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The world's fastest ball game comes from Spain...
23 October 2019

 Basque Pelota

Throughout the history of the world, numerous civilizations have played various pelota games. In order to create a round moving body, various materials have been used: vegetables, all kinds of threads and rags, hides, latex... even a pelota filled with cereal grains could be valid. Competition in pelota games tended to be individual contests, and the game developed on conveniently located and defined meadows. The game provided a form of amusement and personal challenge.

Pelota is therefore a universal game. The most regulated forms were found in South America, the Middle East and Western Europe. The Jeu de Paume, the “tambour” game and the sieve game are living proof of the ancient pelota games, and Basque pelota and tennis are direct descendants of those games.

The advance of the Roman Empire took the game called “pila” to the French territory. Its subsequent evolution would derive into jeu de paume. This game, which was played against walls and in town squares, kept its name of paume (palm), in spite of the progressive use of various hitting instruments. The bourgeois and aristocrats used gloves and rackets.

Oral tradition provides us with numerous testimonies of great courage, but even more tangible are the disk-shaped stela from 1629 and 1784 found in Garruze and Banka, respectively. In Basque funerary rites, the half-pagan half-Christian custom of making engravings on tablets provides us with clear proof: pelota players held a place of privilege in our society.

Pelota is therefore a universal game: the Basques, like others, have known how to keep the contributions from other civilizations. The greatest merit has been the adaptation of the game to its own characteristics, thereby contributing numerous modifications and creating new modalities, facilities and game materials.

The Hellenic people, historians say, among the variety of games they played, “amused themselves intensely playing pelota.” An important group of Greek writers gave their opinion about the origin of the game of pelota. Agalis, a man of the humanities from the ancient island of Corfù, attributes its invention to the princess Nausicaa, who lovingly took the warrior Ulysses into her arms.

Homer, in epics VI and VII of his Odyssey, immortalizes and reflects that damsels amusing themselves with the game of pelota. “When damsels and Nausicaa had their appetites satisfied, they took off their veils and played pelota together...” Discovered in 1926, a recording on the walls of Athens, dated approximately 600 years before Christ, shows a scene of the game of pelota celeste or “Ukrainian.”

 

 

These quotations defer quite a lot from the current pelota game. But almost all authors have given in the temptation of the genesis of sports and attribute the Greeks the parenthood of pelota. Alexander the Great had his pelota instructor, Aristonicos de Cariste, on the Portico of the Parthenon.

Literary quotations reference the games of pelota between the Greeks and the Romans. The scarce research into clarifying the era of the pelota accepts that Romanisation, where it occurred, implanted the game of pelota in Europe. In the old continent, pelota games took root in France, the Netherlands, England and the Iberian Peninsula.

In the 12th century, there is a gradual increase of documents that support the expansion of the game of pelota. In the Middle Ages, it is evident that courtiers, nobility and the kings had their so-called “trinquetes.” France is the pioneer in the game of pelota, with respect to its possible similarity with modern times, including two modalities: “la longue paume” and the “courte paume”.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the “paume” game spread throughout all of France. A. de Luze, a studious of pelota evolution, in 1933 counted the existence of more than 300 “tripots,” or games of pelota, during a time that spanned from the 13th century to the 14th century. The first news of the “long” game comes on the verge of the French Revolution.

In Spain, there are scarce indications with respect to the game of pelota. However, it is significant to point out references in this regard by Quevedo, Cervantes, Calderón de la barca, Zabaleta, etc. Goya’s 1779 painting, “the game of pelota,” truly records a pala [bat] game among a group of courtesans.

 

 

In the 17th century, the preferred game of pelota was the “long game” using a glove or “laxoa.” It is in the last decade of the 19th century when the most representative modalities of the game take root: mano [hand], pala, “remonte” and “cesta-punta,” and these modalities were exported to a large part of the world. Cesta-punta is the modality that becomes the most universal. America becomes the continent that receives the game of pelota which the Basques take with them in their culture.

In the 20th century, professional play begins to bud. Organized competitions begin in 1925. Tournaments spring up everywhere under the push of federative and business entities. Fondness of the sport extends through this century, although cyclical curves show periods of splendour and decadence.

In the amateur arena, the World Championships, initiated in San Sebastián in 1952, are set up as the most important pelota event. It is a re-encounter every four years among those countries that pay honour with the greatest fervour to the sport of pelota. Watch these videos to learn a little more and see a few modalities in action....

 



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