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Still Discovering Spain...

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

Jai Alai - The Basque Sport
Friday, December 1, 2023

Among all the diverse range of sports that span across our earth, there's one sport that arguably eclipses the rest in terms of sheer speed, and that is 'Jai Alai'. Widely considered as the fastest ball game globally due to the velocity achieved by the ball during gameplay.

Originating from the Basque region of Spain, meaning 'cheerful festival', Jai Alai (pronounced "Hi-Li") is a sport involving a ball launched at high speeds within a three-walled court. The players propel the ball using a curved mitt, and the game is sometimes referred to as Basque pelota. In fact, in 1904, Jai Alai debuted in the St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Olympic Games as a demonstration sport.



The Speed of the Game
It is not an exaggerated claim that Jai Alai holds the record for the fastest ball game. The International Court Tennis Federation recorded the fastest Jai Alai ball at an unbelievable 188 miles per hour (302 kilometres per hour). Considering that the fastest baseball pitch recorded is 105.1 mph by former Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, the speed of Jai Alai surpasses this record by a significant amount.

Playing Jai Alai
The play begins when a player (serving) bounces the ball against the floor, after which it becomes airborne and is then struck towards a front wall. The ball is required to land in a designated area. The opposing player must catch the ball in the air or after the first bounce and return it in the same way. Games are usually played to a point total of 7 or 9, and the play continues, with each game lasting about 20 to 40 minutes.

The players use a device called a Cesta Punta, a long, curved basket made of pyrena (cherry) wood with a glove attached, to catch and launch the ball. As opposed to holding and throwing the ball, the Cesta Punta allows the player to whip the ball with tremendous velocity.



Jai Alai's Popularity and Decline
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Jai Alai held its own in popularity and was a popular betting alternative in the United States, comparable to horse and greyhound racing. However, the sport's popularity waned for several reasons, including a players' strike in the early 1990s and the rise of other forms of gambling.

Today, it still enjoys popularity in Spain, France, Mexico, and China. Though its popularity has waned, Jai Alai's record-breaking speed, breathtaking agility, and unique blend of finesse and power continue to captivate those fortunate enough to witness a game.

In conclusion, despite the sport's lesser-known status, Jai Alai stands as a testament to human athletic potential. It is far more than the fastest ball game globally; it represents a vibrant and exciting part of sporting culture that deserves to be preserved and celebrated.


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One of Spain's oldest towns - Buitrago del Lozoya
Friday, November 24, 2023


Buitrago del Lozoya is one of the oldest towns in Spain. The first historical references to this town date back to the 1st century BC. and its most characteristic element, its medieval wall, could have been built in the mid-10th century, as indicated by the town hall itself. This wall, together with other medieval elements and the particular geographical location of the municipality, make it one of the most charming towns in the Community of Madrid. And, as if that wasn't enough, the journey from the capital by car is only one hour, making Buitrago del Lozoya an ideal option for a weekend getaway.

Its historical attributes are multiple and highly prestigious. In fact, Buitrago del Lozoya has been a Historic-Artistic Site and an Asset of Cultural Interest since 1993, while its wall has been a National Monument since 1931. 

The year 1085 was the first time that the town was mentioned in a recognised source, specifically in the Fuero de Sepúlveda. In the 11th century, the town was reconquered by the troops of the Castilian King Alfonso VI from the Muslims. It remained in Spanish power until the 19th century when Napoleon's French troops entered the peninsula. Buitrago was occupied in 1808 before returning to Spanish domains.



All these battles and conquests took their toll on its monuments. The main one, the medieval wall, is still standing. It has Muslim, Castilian and Christian influences, and surrounds the historic centre of the town. It is surrounded by the Lozoya River, giving rise to spectacular scenery

It is the best-preserved walled enclosure in the Community of Madrid. It is 800 meters long and is made up of two main elements: the lower walkway and the south walkway. These paths on the wall can be visited: The lower walkway is free to walk, while the south side requires a payment of 2 euros.

In the southeast of the walled area is the Castillo de Los Mendoza, built between the 14th and 15th centuries. It is a Mudejar-style building, with a square shape and in its splendour, it had up to seven towers. It was the home of the Marquis of Santillana and his family and also of Queen Juana of Portugal. It is, without a doubt, the jewel in the crown of the town, but unfortunately for visitors today it cannot be visited: since 2016 it has been in the process of being restored.

Other historical elements that stand out in Buitrago are, first of all, the Clock Tower (14th century), which is located at the main access to the wall. Secondly, the church of Santa María del Castillo, from the same century, with a Gothic structure that was modified into a neo-Mudejar one in a restoration process in the 1980s, necessary after a fire. Lastly, the Palacio del Bosque, a hunting ground that has a palatial complex inspired by Italian architecture.

The journey from Madrid is simple. Take the A-1 for 76 kilometres. In approximately 1 hour you’ll be there.

Make a visit!



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Unmissable Spanish Towns in the Off-season
Friday, November 10, 2023

Spain’s allure is inevitably linked to its sun-drenched coastal towns, vibrant cultural festivities, and the delight of balmy summer months. Yet, once the season recedes, there's plenty to relish. Many Spanish towns continue to shimmer with remarkable charm and offer a peaceful experience. From November to March, these towns open a path to all-year-round exploration of Spain, dotted with milder climates, lesser crowds, and more affordable airline and hotel deals.


Jávea: A Coastal Joy on Costa Blanca










Located on the Costa Blanca, Jávea, a tranquil seaside town, is notable for its stunning coves and magnificent coastline. Even during packed August vacation periods, the town manages to retain an unhurried ambience. Its enchanting beaches such as El Arenal, La Granadella, and Cala del Portixol, although they teem with visitors in summer, continue to allure in the winter. Coupling this with temperatures remaining a comfortable 16-22C through much of the winter, Jávea secures itself as a warm winter getaway.

Water sports lovers can indulge in kayaking, sailing, or windsurfing, while land explorers can hike or bike the scenic trails of Cape San Antonio and Montgó Natural Park. Savour the unique blend of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine at La Mar de Chola, then finish your day with a relaxed drink at La Siesta Beach Bar.

San Sebastián: The Foodie's Paradise


San Sebastián, famous for its prestigious film festival and stellar food scene, entices visitors with its temperate weather. Despite being one of the culinary capitals of the world and home to the beautiful La Concha beach, San Sebastián keeps its doors wide open during off-peak periods. Venture into its cultural pulse during the Tamborrada of Donostia festival in January.

Make sure to visit Bar Txepetxa for delicious ‘pintxos', a Basque rendition of tapas, and La Cuchara de San Telmo, famed for dishes like foie gras, beef cheeks, and razor clams. For surf enthusiasts, the Zurriola beach continues to allure with its winter waves.

Seville: An Andalusian Delight


For those who struggle with the resounding summer heat of Seville, autumn and winter offer an ideal retreat. The Andalusian capital continues to captivate, with its Royal Alcázar, the cathedral, and energizing flamenco shows in Triana available to explore sans the oppressive summer heat.

Mallorca: The Island Oasis


Mallorca, which rules with one of Spain's most efficiently connected airports, serves as a peaceful retreat. The sedate winter weather complements the grandeur of the Island’s cathedral, modern art displays at Es Baluard Museu d'Art Contemporani de Palma, and charming towns like Valldemossa.

For those aiming to escape bone-chilling winters, the sun-kissed Spanish towns present unrivalled delights. The off-season brings out their quieter charm, and relaxation meets rich cultural tapestry, delectable food, and invigorating outdoor expeditions. Whether you're planning a weekend getaway or an extensive vacation, these towns invite you to leave winter coats behind and soak into the warm Spanish winter sun.

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On the edge of a cliff..
Friday, October 27, 2023


Chiselled out of the cliffside in Cataluña, Spain, this gorgeous monastery overlooks a plunging vista complete with a waterfall that runs straight through the architecture. 

As a rushing waterfall tumbles hundreds of feet into the emerald pool below, it's hard not to imagine visiting (or living in) this place and easily attaining the peace and tranquillity perpetually sought by the most devout religious groups and monks.




The medieval abbey of Sant Miquel del Fai, 50 km from Barcelona, contains the only romanesque chapel in Catalonia to have been built inside a grotto. The gravity-defying ensemble, which nestles among the rocks, is imbued with mystical beauty.

The abbey of Sant Miquel del Fai stands in a leafy valley, the Vall del Tenes, among rocky outcrops and waterfalls which are more than 100 m high. The visit begins in the unusual square in front of the Abbey which is cut into the mountainside. The square affords views of the small lakes formed by rainwater and melting ice. The gothic-style Priory House (15th century) stands on the other side of the square and is now used as an exhibition gallery and restaurant. The terrace boasts wonderful views of the entire valley.




As you go along the rocky gallery which used to be part of the cloister, you come to the Romanesque chapel of Sant Miquel (10th century). Built inside a grotto, next to a waterfall. The site was once used for pagan worship. A flight of steps leads to the cave of Sant Miquel, where the calcareous rocks have formed stalagmites and stalactites. The path continues to a small lake hidden among the rocks, passes below a spectacular waterfall, and ends at the chapel of Sant Martí (10th century) which stands in the middle of an esplanade. At the end of the tour, you'll be given a helmet to visit the mysterious cave of "Les Tosques". Water from the Rossinyol and Tenes Rivers as well as from rains and melting snow has created a unique landscape in Sant Miquel del Fai, one consisting of stalactite and stalagmite caves, fascinating rock formations, ponds and beautiful waterfalls. It is quite simply a wonderful place to visit.


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Seville's Historic Restaurant
Saturday, October 14, 2023


Opposite the Cathedral of Seville, in the heart of the Andalusian capital, Las Escobas is a living testimony of the history of Seville. There are writings that rate it as the oldest tavern in Spain, founded in the 14th Century, when it was also grocery shop, where wine was sold and brooms were made and hung from the ceiling.

The Antigua Taberna de Las Escobas dates back to 1386, making it the oldest establishment in Spain. It specialises in Andalusian cuisine: Prize-winner for Creative Tapas and Catering Merits.

The oldest tavern in Spain is named after an old basket weaver, who served and made the brooms or "escobas" by hand, which hang from the ceiling. Now it has two air-conditioned dining rooms and an open-air terrace, although you can feel the history of the establishment in the air. 



People from all walks of life used to come to the Antigua Taberna de Las Escobas, including famous writers, poets and artists from different periods: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Bécquer, Dumas, Lord Byron, Santiago Montoto and the Álvarez Quintero brothers, who today give their name to the street where more this age-old establishment is to be found.

Nowadays, the Antigua Taberna de Las Escobas serves a great variety of dishes and tapas typical of the varied gastronomy of Andalusia and the Mediterranean. 


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Ibiza is not just a summer destination...
Friday, September 29, 2023

Ibiza is an island of many wonders and often only considered when planning a summer holiday. But Ibiza has so much to offer "off-season" especially if you are into gastro tourism, hotels are cheap and the food is outstanding. The gastronomy of Ibiza is a true reflection of the island: sea and mountain landscapes where different cultures and civilisations have left their mark. As a result of this combination you can sample delicious dishes made from traditional recipes. They feature fish, particularly grouper, and meat, predominantly pork, from which products as exquisite as the famous Balearic sobrasada are made. 

The island's recipes are based on using its resources and the legacy of the different people who have inhabited the island throughout history. The sea, of course, is the main larder for the ingredients used in Ibiza's cuisine. One of the specialities here is the guisat de peix (a fish and seafood stew with potatoes and garlic mayonnaise) and peix sec (sun-dried fish by the sea breeze and seasoned with spices by the fishermen themselves). Grouper is the star ingredient, accompanied by swordfish, lobster, prawns, ray and sole, and cooked in a greixonera (clay pot typical of the Balearic Islands). 

Also popular in Ibiza is tonyina a l'eivissenca (tuna seasoned with pine nuts, eggs, spices, lemon juice and dry white wine); and estufat de tonyina (tuna stew). Borrida, from the village of Rajada, is a local version of a recipe deeply rooted in the Mediterranean culture, made with marinated ray that is roasted in the oven, accompanied with potatoes and covered with an egg, parsley, garlic, fried bread, toasted almonds, saffron and olive oil sauce. Seafood is also abundant and clams are always a good recommendation.

While the distances are not very great, the gastronomy in the interior of the island differs from that of the coast. If you travel to this area, we recommend trying the hearty dishes with chicken, pork and lamb. The most popular recipes include sofrit pagés (lamb and chicken stew paired with a typical Balearic sobrasada).


And although it will be difficult with any of the dishes mentioned so far, you must leave space for dessert. In addition to the famous ensaimadas, normally associated with Mallorca, which are at the top of the list of local confectionary, tradition also offers unique, delicious creations associated with certain dates and festivals, to such an extent there is almost one dessert for each occasion.

At the time of the All Saints celebrations you can try panellets, small, differently-shaped marzipan cakes with nuts, sugar, honey and spices. 

At Easter, the patisseries offer rich rubiols (sweet, half moon-shaped cakes filled with anything from jam, cream and angel hair paste, to chocolate or cottage cheese). Another Holy Week dessert is the traditional flaó, a round sweet made with eggs and fresh cheese, similar to crème caramel. We're lucky that today you can try them at any time of year, just like the orelletes (with aniseed liqueur) or greixonera, a pudding made with leftover ensaimadas. So if you fancy doing some gastro tourism and enjoying some great weather and seaside views, Ibiza has it!

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Do you know which foods are in season?
Friday, September 15, 2023

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 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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How to Make Papas Aliñas: A Refreshing Summer Delight from Spain
Friday, September 8, 2023

Papas Aliñas, which is effectively 'Spanish Potato Salad', is a delightful dish originating from the southern region of Spain, Andalusia. Considered a classic Spanish tapas, this easy-to-prepare ensemble boasts Mediterranean flavours that are hard to resist. Notably, Papas Aliñas is a typical summertime dish in Spain, loved for its light, refreshing taste that complements the warm weather, especially during al fresco dining and tapas nights on the terrace.

This delicious traditional vegetarian Spanish starter has various versions to suit different tastes and is a hallmark of Andalusian cuisine. Besides the classic version, which we will be preparing in this recipe, you can also find variations with additional ingredients like tuna, egg, olives, shrimp, or raw bell pepper. Let's see how to make it:



  • 1 kg of potatoes

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

  • 4 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped

  • 1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped

  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

  • Salt to taste

  • Pepper to taste

  • 100ml of extra virgin olive oil

  • 50ml of white wine vinegar

Steps to Follow

  1. Prepare the potatoes: Wash and peel the potatoes. Place them in a large pot of cold, salted water and bring it to a boil. Cook them until they are tender but not falling apart (approximately 20 - 25 minutes after the water starts boiling). Once cooked, drain and let them cool.

  2. Prepare the salad: As the potatoes cool, use this interval to finely chop the onion, green bell pepper, tomatoes, parsley, and garlic.

  3. Mix the ingredients: Cut the cooled potatoes into bite-sized pieces and place them in a large bowl. Add the chopped onion, green bell pepper, tomatoes, parsley, and garlic to the bowl. Mix carefully to prevent the potatoes from breaking.

  4. Prepare the dressing: In a separate bowl, combine the extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper to make the dressing. For the perfect vinaigrette, follow the 2:1 ratio of oil to vinegar, but feel free to adjust this to your liking.

  5. Mix and let sit: Drizzle the dressing over the salad and mix gently, ensuring the potatoes remain intact. Once mixed thoroughly, allow the potatoes to rest and cool at room temperature for a couple of hours. This resting period allows the flavours to blend seamlessly, enhancing the overall taste of the dish.



Tips for Perfecting Your Papas Aliñas

Choose the right potatoes: Opting for the right kind of potatoes is essential. Fresh, new potatoes are the best option, but if those aren't available, any good-quality boiling potatoes will suffice.

Cooling is crucial: Make sure to thoroughly cool the potatoes before adding the other ingredients. Warm potatoes are likely to disintegrate when mixed, which can change the desired texture of your salad.

Use tender onions and quality oil: For a pleasant, well-rounded flavour, use tender onions, which have a milder taste, and a delicate extra virgin olive oil that doesn't overpower the other ingredients - an arbequina variety is ideal.

Add the dressing while the potatoes are warm: A secret to creating the perfect Papas Aliñas is adding the vinaigrette while the potatoes are still warm. This method softens the onion and helps the potatoes absorb the dressing more effectively, resulting in a harmoniously blended flavour.

Experiment with flavours: While this recipe adheres to the traditional Papas Aliñas recipe, don't hesitate to add your own twist to it! Consider adding a dash of sherry vinegar, and boiled eggs, or including some canned tuna for a protein-rich variation.

This delightful Spanish Potato Salad, Papas Aliñas, is more than a mere dish; it's a celebration of summer in every bite. 


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Motilla del Azuer
Friday, August 25, 2023


The brochs of Northern and western Scotland form some of the most remarkable and distinctive defensive structures in Europe.

A similar, though much earlier form of structure was discovered not so long ago in Spain at the settlement of Motilla del Azuer (Daimiel, Ciudad Real), located in the central area of the Iberian Peninsula.

Artificial mounds known as motillas are found throughout the plain of La Mancha. Dated to between 2200 and 1500 BC, they tend to be situated 4-5km from one another and rise to 4-10m high. People have written about motillas since the end of the 19th century but they were erroneously considered to be burial mounds until the mid 1970s when work began on the Motilla del Azuer.



The excavations at Motilla del Azuer, directed by Profs Trinidad Najera Colino and Fernando Molina Gonzalez, have revealed that this motilla was in fact a fortification surrounded by a small settlement and a necropolis. It is the first site of its kind to be excavated in a scientific and systematic way. The first research phase took place between 1974 and 1986; following a break, fieldwork then restarted in 2000 and is still in progress. Their work has revealed that Motilla del Azuer’s fortification mound measures about 50m in diameter with two walled enclosures and a large internal courtyard. In its centre stands a stone tower, quadrangular in shape and with walls measuring over 10m high. The walls have various reconstruction phases indicating that they were built and rebuilt during the whole occupation of the settlement. Access to the tower is by ramps located in narrow corridors.


Motilla del Azuer contains the oldest well known from the Iberian Peninsula and the archaeologists suspect that the walled enclosures were therefore used to protect and manage the livelihood of the people living in the settlement: to secure the well’s water, to store and process cereals on a large scale, to occasionally keep the livestock, and to produce pottery and other domestic artefacts.

The extra-mural settlement area spans a radius of c.50m. The people lived in oval and rectangular dwellings built with stone foundations and mud walls that tend to be associated with timber posts. There are wide open-air spaces between the houses that often contain high concentrations of pits, ovens and hearths related to storage and production activities. In one area the archaeologists even found large pits for animal waste. The erstwhile locals seemingly had a penchant for horses – the team found a high percentage of horse remains, mostly hooves, skulls, large bones and jawbones, probably from the butchering of these animals.

A necropolis is located within the settlement area. This is a usual feature of the Bronze Age on the Iberian Peninsula. Typically the archaeologists found individual inhumation in pits, occasionally covered with stonework or slabs.


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Walking On Fire
Monday, August 7, 2023


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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