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Still Discovering Spain...

Here for over 25 years and I still discover new things every day...

Safest beaches in the Valencian Community this Summer
19 July 2021


When the thermometers are going crazy during the summer period, we are all looking for a place to escape the sweltering heat. The beach is still the ideal place to take a refreshing swim and enjoy the sea breeze. But this summer, once again, there is another imperative: compliance with sanitary measures. The National Geographic Spain travel guide has compiled a list of the safest beaches in Spain where you are sure to keep your social distance. Two Valencian beaches appear in this classification and are very near the top.

 

El Dosel Beach, located near Cullera, is undoubtedly one of the wildest and most representative beaches in the Valencian Community. It is part of the Albufera Natural Park and extends over almost 1.5 km of sand. The cordon of dunes, which gives the landscape a unique beauty, is home to a rich and diverse flora. This natural environment is ideal for walking and sunbathing by the sea.

 

 

 

 


Muchavista Beach is a long stretch of fine sand (more than 3 km) that begins at the San Juan beach in Alicante and runs north to the Rincón de la Zofra. Certified with the Blue Flag since 1993, it is located in a semi-urban environment crossed by the tram that connects Alicante with El Campello. The beach is also accessible for people with reduced mobility (between the Xaloc and Costa Blanca restaurants) and is a privileged place for practising water sports.

 



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Melon - How healthy is it?
14 July 2021

Do you consider melon to be a healthy or unhealthy fruit? Often we are misled by its sweetness thinking it must have a high sugar content but it couldn't be further from the truth. 

Honeydew melon - popular in Spain - has just 7,2g/100g of sugar, Watermelon 5,2/100g and Rockmelon as little as 4,7g/100g. In fact, few fruits have less sugar content. You would need to go to strawberries or grapefruits to ingest less sugar. When compared to grapes with 15g/100g or Bananas with 12g/100g it is certainly much healthier. Its high water content (up to 92%, according to the Spanish Nutrition Foundation) and its comparatively lower amount of sugar to other fruits, make it a light and refreshing aperitif or snack to enjoy during the summer.

 

 HONEYDEW

WATERMELON

ROCKMELON

 

But that is not all. The reality is that the melon contributes much more since it is a fruit that has different vitamins and other nutrients. For example, 300 grams of rindless melon provide 75% of the recommended daily intake of vitamins as well as multiple minerals, among which potassium stands out, along with phosphorus, iron and magnesium, which is why melon is a natural remineralizing product.

So it is not unreasonable to think that including melon in our daily diet can have great benefits to our organism. The nutritional properties of this plant help to strengthen the immune system. This is substantiated by the fact that it is a food that is very rich in beta-carotene, on the same level as others such as carrots.

These are pigments that belong to the group of carotenoids, but which in our body is transformed into vitamin A. And, as is well known, it is an antioxidant that fights free radicals in the body while strengthening the immune system.

As mentioned before, it is a food rich in vitamin C. For practical purposes, this means that it can help promote the production of collagen in bones and protect blood vessels, muscle and, in general, tissues such as skin, which is an excellent ally to prevent premature ageing and wrinkles.

The melon has very few calories, about 40 per 100 grams. Also, much of the melon consists of water. Therefore, choosing it as a snack over other options can help us lose weight. There are many studies that link a high water content with weight loss and the fight against obesity.

Finally, it is important to remember that melon has bioactive that stimulate the breakdown of fats and promote satiety, in addition to protecting the intestinal microbiota.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 17.7 million people die each year from cardiovascular diseases, which places them as the main cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. A good way to reduce this risk is to eat some cantaloupe/rockmelon every day, as it helps reduce blood pressure by providing a good amount of potassium.

According to the American Heart Association, potassium is a mineral that helps maintain the water balance between cells and body fluids. This helps regulate blood pressure and protect blood vessels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

As I have already said, it is food with a lot of water. And this is not only good for losing weight, but it ensures that we will stay hydrated, something especially important in episodes of strong heat.

Therefore, choosing to eat a serving of melon each day is a great way to avoid dehydration and its unpleasant effects, such as dry skin and mouth, headaches, constipation, confusion, wrinkled skin, accelerated heart rate, increased risk of suffering kidney stones, fever and fatigue, among others. So what you may have thought was an unhealthy fruit high in sugar is in fact the opposite. Enjoy melon this summer!



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San Juan in Soria
01 July 2021

 

In San Pedro de Manrique in Soria, It is said that only local townsfolk can complete the walk without being burned.

In this otherwise unknown village, two different celebrations take place during the Festival of San Juan. The famous ‘Paso del Fuego’ (Firewalking) on the eve of San Juan and that known as  ‘Las Móndidas‘, on the 24th of June. Both of these festivals have been declared of National Tourist and Cultural Interest.

 

 

Each year on 23 June, on Midsummer night's eve, this ritual takes place and this year the celebration returned almost to normality. It consists of crossing the live coals of a meticulously prepared bonfire barefoot. The bonfire is lit at 9:00 at night with 2,000 kilos of oak wood, which burns easily and does not form lumps. At around 11:30, the carpet-like path of red-hot coals is prepared by smoothing them with poles called 'hoguneros'. Young men dance around the fire, and exactly at midnight, everything is ready to begin the walk across the coal carpet. Ten to twelve young men are chosen to do this, and they generally carry someone on their shoulders, since the extra weight avoids combustion. They try to ensure that the coals contain no ashes or hard objects; thanks to these precautions they never get burned. 

 

 

Only inhabitants of San Pedro Manrique are permitted to pass over this burning carpet and do so accompanied by the fanfare of a trumpet. The ‘Móndidas’ (three local girls who play the role of priestesses) are the first to cross the embers but are carried on the backs of gallant young men after which any one of the neighbours may partake of this ancestral tradition. In the past, it was rare for women to participate but nowadays it is not unusual to see them enduring this ritual. The Móndidas, carrying wicker baskets and long breadsticks ("arbujuelos"), walk in a procession the following day. One of them, the most important one, offers the first "arbujuelo" to the priest. 

 

 

Some people would say that this is a Celtic Rite others a purification rite and others a pagan sun and fire-worship but if you ask one of the "fire walkers" (or pasadores) about the origin of the festival, they will simply answer: “It has always been like this” Some people just follow their father’s or grandfather's footsteps, others just do it as a promise to the patron saint ‘Virgen de la Peña’, some just do it to prove themselves that they can do it... there are a lot of reasons, but for every man in this town, the Paso del Fuego is part of their identity. 

 

 

 

 



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10 Spanish Reds worth checking out
18 June 2021

Tastes in wines have changed in recent years all over Spain. The tendency is to drink less but more frequently. As always, value for money is the key to making the right choice, and while traditional regions like La Rioja continue to lead sales, customers are now much more open to other regions and many are starting to establish themselves rather well.

In the case of Crianza reds (wines aged for at least two years, one of them in oak barrels), what one should be looking for is clear fruity aromas, just enough of a woody scent and a full-flavoured presence on the palate that is easy to appreciate.

Spain has an unbeatable variety of wines to offer consumers in this category, with a wide selection of grape varieties too, among them Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Monastrell, Mencía and Prieto picudo, and the winemaking industry has undergone an extensive overhaul, leading to the production of excellent top class Crianzas in just about every winemaking region in the country . Of course, there are surprisingly good Cianzas in supermarkets from as little as €2,50 but if you fancy something a little more special, the following list reflects the latest market trends in terms of regions and highlights some fantastic wines with a fruity bouquet, mature tannins, and a smooth, well-rounded finish that fully expresses their varied terroir. 

 

 

1. BORSAO TRES PICOS 

  • Winery: Borsao. Borja (Zaragoza).
  • DO: Campo de Borja.
  • Type: Crianza red, 15%.
  • Grape variety: Garnacha.
  • Price: €14.
  • Score: 9.3/10.

There is a density to its aroma that conceals spicy nuances and a hint of oak; the bouquet reveals very ripe fruit with elegant and complex notes. Sweetness and acidity balance each other out in the mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

2. MUGA 

  • Winery: Muga. Haro (La Rioja)
  • DOCa: Rioja.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14%.
  • Blend: Tempranillo, garnacha and some mazuelo and graciano.
  • Price: €16,49
  • Score: 9.3/10.

Intense aroma of red and blackberries, herbal tones, and hints of oak and spice. Powerful in the palate, smooth and with a hint of sweetness, refined and elegant.

 

 

 

 

 

3. PÉTALOS DEL BIERZO

  • Winery: Descendientes de J. Palacios. Villafranca del Bierzo (León).
  • DO: Bierzo.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14.5%.
  • Varietal: Mencía.
  • Price: €15,49
  • Score: 9.3/10.

A deeply aromatic Mencía that makes no effort to hide its fruity nature, enhanced with flowery and herbal overtones. There is a slight presence of spice. Fresh and very fruity on the palate.

 

 

 

 

4. 992 FINCA RÍO NEGRO 

  • Winery: Río Negro. Cogolludo (Guadalajara)
  • IGP: Vino de la Tierra de Castilla.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14%.
  • Blend: Tempranillo, syrah, merlot and some cabernet sauvignon.
  • Price: €10,45
  • Score: 9.2/10.

A well-achieved blend with a predominance of Tempranillo, offering an enticing bouquet characterized by a variety of wild fruit and a hint of flowers and spice. Full-bodied yet smooth.

 

 

 

 

5. CASTAÑO COLECCIÓN CEPAS VIEJAS 

  • Winery: Castaño. Yecla (Murcia)
  • DO: Yecla.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14%.
  • Varietal: Monastrell and cabernet sauvignon.
  • Price: €11.50.
  • Score: 9.2/10.

With the characteristic aroma of these grapes, this wine is infused with mature red and blackberries and a peppering of mountain herbs, spices and roast coffee. Full-bodied, lush, sensual and attractive, fruitiness is the keyword here.

 

 

 

 

 

6. CLUNIA TEMPRANILLO 

  • Type: Crianza red, 14%.
  • DO: Castilla y Leon
  • Varietal: Tempranillo.
  • Price: €15.
  • Score: 9.2/10.

This Tempranillo stands out for its clean aroma of fresh but ripe berries, boosted by hints of flowers, roast coffee and spices. Flavorful and elegant, it reaffirms its fruitiness with an extended aftertaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. EL SENAT DEL MONTSANT 

  • Winery: 7 Magnifics. Vilafranca del Penedès (Barcelona)
  • DO: Montsant.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14.5%.
  • Varietal: Cariñena (mazuela), garnacha and syrah.
  • Price: €11.75.
  • Score: 9.2/10.

The aroma is intense, complex, lightly reminiscent of liquor, yet fresh and Mediterranean with an abundance of ripe forest fruit and an airy fragrance of brush, underwood and roasted coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. FRONTAURA 

  • Winery: Frontaura. Pesquera de Duero (Valladolid).
  • DO: Toro.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14.5%.
  • Varietal: Tinta de Toro (tempranillo).
  • Price: €15.
  • Score: 9.2/10.

The aroma is concentrated, intense and complex, with a clean, ripe berry flavour framed by wood that contributes subtle hints of spice. Smooth and lush, with an impressively fresh finish.

 

 

 

 

 

9. PRUNO 

  • Winery: Finca Villacreces. Quintanilla de Onésimo (Valladolid)
  • DO: Ribera del Duero.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14%.
  • Varietals: Tinto fino and some cabernet sauvignon.
  • Price: €10.90.
  • Score: 9.2/10.

This wine has an attractive aroma of acid forest fruit that intermingles with delicate notes of Crianza and coffee. Lush on the palate, it is well-structured, with mature tannins, a fruity finish and a spicy, appealing freshness.

 

 

 

 

 

10. VAL DE LOS FRAILES 

  • Winery: Valdelosfrailes. Cubillas de Santa Marta (Valladolid)
  • DO: Cigales.
  • Type: Crianza red, 14.5%.
  • Varietal: Tempranillo.
  • Price: €10.
  • Score: 9.1/10.

This wine offers up a fresh aroma of ripe berries, with a hint of brushwood and spice. Lush, with a clean and fruity finish.



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The First True University City
10 June 2021

 

Alcalá de Henares is the city where Miguel de Cervantes was born, writer of the world-famous Don Quixote de la Mancha. Its University and historic neighbourhood are what makes this town so special. The main axis of the historic centre of Alcalá de Henares is the Calle Mayor. The birthplace of Cervantes is located on this very road, which has now been converted into a museum that recreates the atmosphere of a 16th and 17th century home. However, of all the buildings in the town, there is one that stands out in particular: the University. Founded by Cardinal Cisneros, its walls welcomed some of the greatest Spanish minds such as Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca and Quevedo.
 


 Alcala de Henares was the first university city that was specifically planned urbanistically to be so, making it unique in the world. And it was so successful that it effectively became the blueprint for other university cities around Europe and America. Cardinal Cisneros was the mind behind the planning and was the one responsible for choosing a somewhat uninhabited area in between the Plaza del Mercado and the gates of Guadalajara, to establish what would become the famous academic district in the 15th Century. The district included all the housing that was necessary for the teachers and their families and all the buildings needed to house the services and suppliers of the university, such as the printers or bookstores. This radical form of urbanism was new for the times but contributed in such a way to the development of the field of humanities that UNESCO declared Alcalá de Henares a World Heritage City in 1998.

 

 



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A slice of the divine...
26 May 2021

Since May 20, 1194, when Alfonso II of Aragon donated an old Moorish castle to a handful of monks in order to found the Monasterio de Piedra, this spot in Spain’s mostly barren reaches has been home to a divine paradise here on Earth.

Though officially secularized in 1835, during the reign of Isabella II, visitors to the monastery today will still find the remaining Gothic and Baroque buildings as heavily fortified as they were in the days of the monastery’s founding. Its cloisters remain intact, surrounded by immaculately landscaped gardens, though the main church was irreparably damaged in the aforementioned secularization and subsequent period of abandonment.

These ruins have an eerie, beautiful air about them, as they remain half-triumphant in their unwillingness to fall after so many years. Heavily fortified since its conception, visitors to the monastery will find the compound’s original cloisters intact, albeit reincarnated as a hotel and guesthouse.

 

Just slightly farther afield from civilization, ancient and contemporary, is the Piedra River, which is responsible for the conjoining nature park’s legendary, remarkable waterfalls. Created through the dissolution of limestone in a phenomenon geologists refer to as “karstification,” these standout cataracts include the 50-meter-tall Cola del Caballo (named such for its resemblance to a horse’s tail), and a handful of others which seem to bell into a million tiny rivulets running over the shoulder of huge boulders.

Clearly marked trails wend visitors on a five-kilometer path through the park’s most famed sights, including a natural reflecting pool trapped in a canyon called Mirror Lake. The natural park also has several caves, into which shepherds have built shelters for their flocks, as well as a raptor centre that’s open to the public.

 

As of February 16, 1983, Monasterio de Piedra — natural park and all — was declared a national monument, which should ensure the protection of this little slice of the divine for another 800 years to come. 

 

 



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Capital of Rural Tourism 2021 - Olvera, Cadiz
20 May 2021


The award of Capital of Rural Tourism was an initiative driven by the online platform Escapadarural.com, now five years in and with 247 villages entering this year it has established itself as a benchmark award for those looking to enjoy rural Spain. This years winner, Olvera in the region of Cadiz is an unmistakable picture postcard of whitewashed houses and steep streets. Lying in the Sierra Norte of Cádiz, it is one of the most important towns at the crossroads where the provinces of Cádiz, Málaga and Seville meet.

The town has managed to prevail over the rest of the finalists by obtaining 21,794 votes (18%) out of a total of 120,781 participants, a figure that far exceeds that registered in previous editions and which shows how the contest has become more established each year and has been well received by rural travellers.

 

Of 247 participants, the digital platform specialized in rural accommodation selected the ten finalists under certain minimum requirements: having less than 10,000 inhabitants, its efforts to promote quality rural tourism and not having competed in previous editions.

Second place went to Daroca, in Zaragoza, with 18,748 votes, very close to snatching the title. They are followed by Yeste (Albacete) in third place, Taramundi (Asturias) was fourth, Cuacos de Yuste (Cáceres) and Aia (Guipúzcoa) took fifth and sixth place. Chelva (Valencia) was seventh while Sepúlveda (Segovia), Ortigueira (A Coruña) and La Baronia de Rialb (Lleida) rounded up the top ten this year

The mayor of Olvera, Francisco Párrago Rodríguez, was over the moon with the award and the opportunity it represents: "As Mayor, I want to show the satisfaction we feel for this distinction. First of all, to thank the support received by so many anonymous people who have voted for our candidacy, as well as all the institutions that have supported us and, of course, EscapadaRural.com for letting us appear in their valuable award programme and being able to show visitors everything that the town of Olvera can offer ".

The Capital of Rural Tourism awards were born with the double objective of giving visibility to the municipalities that are committed to rural tourism by creating a network of contacts to share experiences and concerns and turn the winner into a reference for rural tourism.

In last year's edition, Potes, in Cantabria, won the award with 24,499 votes. Another Cantabrian town, Santillana del Mar, was the winner of the contest in the 2019 edition with 9,720 votes. In 2018 the winner was Aínsa-Sobrarbe, in Huesca, and in the first edition of the award went to Sigüenza (Guadalajara).

 



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One cheese, and one cheese only.
04 May 2021

 

No country has such a variety of food museums as Spain. Wine, cheese, honey, chocolate, olive oil, saffron: you name it, there’s a museum for it. Many exhibitions explore the origins and variations of the long-eaten foods that have made Spain a culinary destination. One museum in Extremadura, however, is dedicated to one cheese, and one cheese only.

The "Museo del Queso" in the village of Casar de Cáceres celebrates the centuries-old regional specialty Torta del Casar. Long-ago shepherds, nudging herds of sheep down roads used since Roman times, realised that the cardo, a purple-flowered thistle lining the paths, could coagulate their sheep’s milk into cheese. The thistle, known as cardoon in English, is a relative of the artichoke and gives the slowly-aged cheese its subtle bitter flavour. With an unusually soft, semiliquid centre, the pressed cylinder of cheese sags in the middle. 

 

 

The simple museum, housed in a typical local abode, showcases the production of the cheese as well as the lifestyles of the mere eight families who today produce "Torta del Casar". So sacred is the cheese-making process that in 1999, the Extremadura government created the Denominación de Origen del Casar, a regulatory body charged solely with certifying regional Torta and policing imitation cheeses. This body also ensures that the cheese is only made from the milk of Merino and Entrefina sheep⁠ - notoriously ungenerous milk producers. It takes 20 of these sheep to yield 2.2 pounds of cheese. It’s perhaps no surprise that the museum withholds free samples. That said, it is readily available in gourmet delicatessens.

 

 



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Camino de Santiago...drinks included!
30 April 2021

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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How do you know which foods are in season and why is it so important?
19 April 2021

Eating seasonal products is good for your health, your pocket and the environment. In addition to helping to reduce CO2 emissions and supporting the sustainability of the earth, you consume products that have been picked at their optimum point of maturity at a fair price and that favours the local economy.

Decades ago, the inhabitants of urban centres disconnected from the agricultural world and the natural rhythm of the land. Be it summer or winter, north or south, in Europe, it is always possible to find exotic fruit on the supermarket shelves. There are two ways to achieve this: importing or growing in heated greenhouses. Both methods have an impact on the planet, generate waste and greenhouse gases that increasingly destroy the environment. Many are fighting to get rid of this luxury to which we have become accustomed and wanting to go back to consuming products as our ancestors did: following the rhythm of nature.

 

 

Now, how do you know what to eat and when? Searching for calendars on the web, one is faced with a lot of conflicting data and information. The objective of this project is to create a reliable, complete and accurate calendar as possible. The project "Soy de Temporada" (I am in season) was an initiative which was born from a cultural project called MediaLab Prado organised by the Madrid council. The original objective was to develop several calendars depending on the growing area, but due to lack of data, it was decided to create a single calendar for the entire peninsula.

With this project, they wanted to provide a tool to support responsible consumption, limiting the excessive transport of food and cultivation in heated greenhouses.

To prepare the calendar, the team contacted organizations and people from the agricultural world to inform them about the seasons of the products in their area. They spoke with farmers, consumer groups, food observatories and organic production councils. 

Farmers and organizations from various autonomous communities have participated in the survey: Andalusia, Asturias, Extremadura, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and the Basque Country. The form is accessible here and the collaboration of anyone with knowledge of the natural cycle of plants is appreciated. All the results were averaged to create a single calendar that gathers information from all areas of the Spanish peninsula. You will be able to see the results at www.soydetemporada.es where you will find an easy to use the calendar for seasonal fruit and veg.

Pay it a visit a discover what is in season this month and next!



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