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Voted Spain's Best Beach
22 September 2020

Asturias has areas of incredible beauty, such as this virgin white sand beach, surrounded by rocky cliffs shaped by the sea and the wind, and by green meadows that contrast wonderfully with the blue of its waters. These are some of the reasons why it has been chosen as the best beach in Spain by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler 2020.

The beach of San Antonio de Mar, in the municipality of Llanes, is a privileged location of the Asturian Costa Verde, which invites you to take a break and relax in an impressive and mesmerising setting. During the summer, as you would expect, there is more influx of visitors, but it is still a peaceful place.

 

It is separated from the well-known Cuevas de Mar beach by Punta San Antonio, here you can see marine geysers when there are high tide and rough seas. The water enters with force through rock galleries and caves and exits under pressure through wells dug out of the rock formation forming pressure jets of seawater.

San Antonio beach is shell-shaped and is 70 m long and 50 m wide. It is protected from the wind but there are strong currents. Access is not easy, it can only be reached from the town of Picones or from Cuevas del Mar beach, always on foot. But the reward for such effort is a refreshing bath in a charming place.

 

From above, on the cliffs, the views are quite spectacular, and several trails lead to the hermitage of San Antonio where you can see the beautiful coast of Llanes and the Picos de Europa.

Not far away, there are some small towns where you can still eat good traditional dishes and where you can enjoy a few days of rest next to the Cantabrian Sea. And only a few kilometres away you can visit the towns of Llanes and Ribadesella.

 

 



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The Courtyard Festival of Cordoba - Post lockdown
15 September 2020

The Courtyards festival of Cordoba is normally held every year from 1st to 13th May. But given the current pandemic, it was postponed.  This year it will now be held from the 8th to the 18th  October so you still have time to enjoy this wonderful festival.

The "Festival de Patios" has been included in the list of intangible Heritage of Humanity of Unesco since 2012 and is really worth a visit so make sure you note it down in your diary. So, what does this festival entail?

Due to the hot, dry Cordoban climate, the city's inhabitants, first the Romans and later the Muslims, adapted the typical design of the popular house to their needs, making the home centre around an inner courtyard or patio, normally with a fountain in the middle and often a well to collect rainwater. The Muslims made further adjustments, giving the house an entrance from the street which passed through a porch, and filling the courtyard with plants to give the sensation of freshness.

There are clearly two types of courtyards. The first type is in a one-family home in which the rooms are arranged around the courtyard - it usually has arches and either a clay tiled or decorative pebbled floor. The second type is called a neighbours house (casa de vecinos). Here the individual homes look out onto the courtyard - however, these are much less common nowadays. It usually has two floors and the courtyard is made all the more attractive by the long balconies, staircases and baked clay roof tiles. The floors usually have decorative pebbles and there is often a well instead of a fountain, as well as a communal washing room.

 

 

The most characteristic district is the Alcázar Viejo district, between the Alcázar and the parish of San Basilio, although there are also many in the districts of Santa Marina, around the church of San Lorenzo and near la Magdalena. Just around the Mosque-Cathedral, there are also very beautiful old examples of courtyards in the old Jewish quarter. The most beautiful courtyards of all are to be found in the Palacio de Viana, with twelve different courtyards.

 

 

Since 1921, the Town Hall has organised a competition of Courtyards and Crosses in the first week of May - this year exceptionally in October, and the owners decorate their houses with great care to try and win the prestigious award offered by the authorities. A festival runs in parallel with a number of performances by the best singers and dancers on the scene, while the local fino wine flows freely and delicious tapas are served. Naturally this year, it will be conditioned by the coronavirus health restrictions.

 

 



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Torcal - Natural Park
09 September 2020

To the south of Antequera is Torcal, a limestone mountain range where erosion has sculpted a formidable labyrinth of rocks with fantastic shapes such as the Tornillo, which looks just like an immense screw-threaded halfway into the planet. It was in the Jurassic Age, 150 million years ago, that these surprising rocks formed on the sea bed, as a result of the deposit and compacting of corals, mollusc shells and other shellfish of the era. Subsequently, time and geology worked together patiently, designing this landscape of narrow corridors. Its intersections opened to craters, basins and 'torcas' (clay-bottomed depressions), which give the place its name, and the boulders were shaped leading to tapering channels and the unique shapes of the Torcal which, rather than screws, look like hamburgers with many layers.

 

 

The repertoire of picturesque formations is completed with caves and chasms typical of a limestone enclave, with wild rose bushes, ivy, honeysuckle and 30 varieties of orchids. That is what the most beautiful and peculiar natural part of Andalusia is like.

 

 

The park centre recommends that visitors begin with the green route, a 1.5 km well-signposted pathway that covers the highest and most impressive area of the Torcal in under an hour. If you have the opportunity you must pay it a visit.

One of the most remarkable values of the El Torcal extensive fauna is the wide range of the birds that it supports, either in a sedentary way or simply as a transitive station in the migratory routes or as a nesting point. Thanks to this, the Natural Park was declared as a Special Zone for the Protection of Birds (ZEPA in Spanish).

But some of these bird species have become really rare due to man's irresponsible behaviour (poisons, the pillage of nests, uncontrolled sports activities, etc.), such victims have been the golden eagle, the peregrine falcon or the Bonelli’s eagle. The griffon vultures are also visible in the park and are usually over El Torcal, either passing between the Desfiladero de Los Gaitanes-Sierra Huma and the Sierras de Camarolos and el Jobo or when they come to eat cattle carcasses (authorized in some areas of the Paraje).

The reptiles present in the Natural Park depend to a large extent on the weather, so they are fully active in spring and summer, at which time they can be seen frequently. The most dominant species are; ocellated lizard, colilarga (long-tailed lizard) and Iberian lizard, stair snake, bastard snake and the snout viper, which does have a venomous bite.

El Torcal is a wonderful place to visit and if you enjoy nature it is really is a  must!

 



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Day Trip to Javea
03 September 2020

Last weekend took us to Javea, a coastal town an hour or so south of Valencia. It wasn’t the first time I had been to Javea but it was the first time in summer, funnily enough. Although we avoided the summer crowds, which were much less than I had anticipated, most probably due to the Covid-19 impact, we were still able to have a wonderful weekend. I managed to get in a quick round of golf and also visit a fantastic beach which I had never seen before and also enjoyed a wonderful meal in a restaurant with privileged views of the Mediterranean sea. All in all a great weekend away, and a place I would highly recommend for those who haven’t visited before.

 

 

We went to the Granadella beach, which is a rural cove with a shingle beach, boulders and pebbles with crystalline water. It is located in the most southern zone of Javea. This is certainly one of Javea’s little treasures and has been awarded the blue flag since 1987. It reminded me of the coves in the Balearic Islands which I enjoyed so much in the past. Although it’s not something that I practice, it is highly recommended for scuba diving. The waters are simply crystalline and just perfect. 

 

 

If this hadn’t been enough we were fortunate to get a table at the Restaurant Cabo La Nao (Carretera Cabo la Nao 154), which serves typical local Mediterranean food, mainly rice dishes. The value for money was surprisingly good given the location and the quality of the food.  The restaurant sits on top of a cliff next to the Cabo la Nao lighthouse and the terrace literally hangs over the edge enabling you to see at least 100m down a sheer rock face all the way to the sea below, quite a view. It was really a wonderful meal and a great day out with the family.

 



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Spain's Supercomputer - Not where you would expect it to be...
28 August 2020

What used to be a divine place of worship is now the home of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. The Torre Girona church houses what could possibly be the most beautiful computer in the world if computers can actually be beautiful, and it fills the expansive main hall with banks of futuristic computer equipment within a glass box. 

Marenostrum, as it is named, has been housed in this former church since 2005. It is one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe that was instrumental in developing modern microchip technology. The giant machine is used to calculate the massively complex calculations involved in such fields of research as human genome mapping, astrophysics, and weather prediction. Physically the computer consists of a number of black computing racks that are all encased in a giant glass box, which itself sits in the romantically-styled main hall of Torre Girona.

 

 

Rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War, the Torre Girona is a 19th-century church that sits on the campus of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. The space was actually in use as a Catholic church until at least until 1960 but was since deconsecrated and used for more functional purposes until finally being inhabited in full by the supercomputer and its attendant offices. 


MareNostrum is one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe. To put MareNostrum’s original calculating capacity into terms a typical PC owner can appreciate; it has 10,240 IBM 2.3 GHz processors and 20 Terabytes of main memory. That doesn’t, however, mean that – if you went out and bought 10,240 PCs and joined them together, you would have the power of a MareNostrum. Those 10,240 PCs would, putting it very simply, work rather like a production line producing, for example, a car silencer – the first person would weld a seam on a rolled form, the second would insert one end plate and weld it in, the third would insert a pipe and so on; one job would follow on another, so nothing would be completed until the final person/processor in the chain had finished its allocated job.

MareNostrum’s processors don’t work like that! The architecture of this super computer is such that all those 10240 2.3 GHz processors work together, sharing the work of producing the end product, rather than passing each phase of the process on, the result is a capacity to perform a staggering 94.21 trillion operations per second!

It has since been upgraded. Now MareNostrum has a peak performance of 1,1 Petaflops, with 48,896 Intel Sandy Bridge processors in 3,056 nodes, and 84 Xeon Phi 5110P in 42 nodes, with more than 104.6 TB of main memory and 2 PB of GPFS disk storage. God knows what that is in everyday English but for those who understand computers, you might find it interesting!

MareNostrum may not be the most powerful computer in the world any longer, but it will likely remain the most visually appealing for many years to come. 

 

There are two ways to visit the supercomputer: either in pre-booked organised groups or virtually.

Here are the links for more information.

Physical Tour 

Virtual Tour

 



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Escape the heat and navigate Europe's longest underground river
20 August 2020

Located half way between the shore and Sierra Espadán, La Vall d’Uxó exhibits an interesting monumental heritage distributed among its two traditional centres. But the caves of San José are one of its main attractions.

La Vall d’Uxó is situated in the spurs of Sierra Espadán, in a valley devoted to citrus farming, and surrounded by coastal mountains.

Traditionally, the village was divided into two centres: the high quarter, and the lower side, or Poble de Baix. In the higher part of town, we can admire places such as the square of Plaza del Ángel, and the parish church of Poble de Dalt, or rather take a walk through the narrow streets of the district of L'Alcudia, whose origins date back to Arab times.

The centre of Poble de Baix is at Plaza de Sant Vicent, where a hermitage of the same name stands. Carrer Nou, the main artery of this side, leads to other historic spots, such as Plaza de la Asunción, where the church of Poble de Baix stands, as well as the historic Fountain of Chorros.

On the outskirts of the city centre we find the caves of San José, which can be visited either on foot, or by taking a boat ride through its passages.

 


This underground river flows through the Sant Josep Caves, which enables you to enjoy an amazing natural phenomenon.

The Sant Josep Caves are situated in the Sierra de Espadán Nature Reserve. They hold one of the few navigable underground rivers in Spain and the longest in Europe, which is 2,750 metres long, out of which 800 are suitable for tourist visits. It is a magnificent example of a hydrologically active cave, where remains of Palaeolithic sites and cave paintings have been found. The highlight is the tour round the crystal clear waters that goes by the Azul (Blue) Pond, Murciélagos (Bat) Room, "Boca del Forn", and Diana and El Diablo (Devil) lakes, amongst others. 

 

 

Some of its most characteristic formations are: the Medusa, la Cascada de la Flor and Portal de Belén. The visit lasts 40 minutes and is covered mainly by boat. It is suitable for everyone and an additional caving/tourism visit can be booked. (Cuevas de San José in Vall D'Uixo)

 



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How to sleep through hot Spanish nights
07 August 2020

It's summer in Spain, 11pm: outside it’s 32.8ºC, according to the AEMET Spanish state meteorological agency. At that temperature the bed sheets cling, pajamas are too heavy, and cool air is notable by its absence. It’s impossible to sleep. Your first reaction is to turn on the air con, if you have it. But often it’s not worth the cost to have it running the whole night, so you decide to turn it off again.

But is it possible to sleep coolly in the Spanish summer without air conditioning? Tradition says yes. Ancient Egyptians used to moisten their bedclothes to sleep better and combat heat waves, which pose a serious risk to public health. According to the results of a scientific study carried out by the Spanish National Research Council, mortality rates for those aged over 75 increase 20.1 percent for each degree that the maximum daily temperature rises above 36ºC.

Our ancestors have passed down to us a long legacy of tricks for staying cool. You can sleep under cotton sheets, for example, which aid perspiration. At the same time you can also put your sheets in the fridge or freezer inside a plastic bag for a few minutes before sleeping – they won’t stay cool the whole night, but it will be long enough for you to fall asleep – or fill a hot water bottle with cold water to cool down your bed. Here are a few more suggestions.

1. Be creative. Come up with methods to stop hot air from entering the room. For instance, point a fan toward the windows, or place a bowl full of ice or very cold water in front of the fan to cool the air further. A damp sheet placed over the window also helps.

2. Wear light pajamas. That’s the advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though you can also sleep naked if you like. It’s a question of preference. According to a study by the Association of American Cotton Producers Cotton USA carried out in the UK, 57 percent of people who sleep naked are happier in their relationship with their partner.

3. Apply compresses dipped in lukewarm water on parts of the body most sensitive to heat, such as the neck, elbows, ankles and the backs of the knees. The contact with cool water has a refrigerating effect that triggers a narrowing of the blood vessels, heating up the skin. In turn, the heat cools you down as a result of the difference in the surrounding temperature, explains the CDC.

4. Sleep alone. It’s the best thing to stay cool. Sleeping alongside someone else increases your body temperature and makes the bedclothes cling, explains dormir.org.es, a website devoted to sleep problems. What’s more, doing so at floor level will make you even cooler as hot air tends to rise.

5. Shower in warm water to reduce your body temperature. This is a good tip for feeling fresh and clean. Many people say that, even though the shock of a cold shower produces an instant feeling of coolness, it reactivates your body and energy consumption, which makes you feel the heat more quickly afterwards than if you had showed in warm water, explains the Biological Health Institute. Also, be sure to keep your feet cool as heat enters the body here. Washing them before you turn in for the night or sleeping with them outside the bed are two good tips.

6. Eat salad for dinner. Avoid big meals and hot dishes such as stews, soups and roast chicken. These force the body to produce more heat in order to digest them. A yoghurt, salad or that Spanish summer favorite, cold gazpacho, are perfect for summer nights. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water, the WHO says: the body uses it to get rid of heat.

7. Turn off all lights and electronic gadgets completely. Putting them on standby is not enough: they go on using energy and giving off heat, according to the International Energy Agency – between five and 10 percent of what they would use when switched on. Also: replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, which produce the same amount of light but use a fifth of the energy and give off less heat, according to the emergencies center in Arlington, Virginia.

8. A camper's trick - Freeze a bottle water, then wrap it in a towel so it won't freeze your skin and use it in bed as a cold-water bottle. Next day, straight back in the freezer ready for the next night.

9. However, If you are sensible with your air conditioning, put it on an hour before going to bed. Set it at 26 degrees and if possible 27 degrees if you are comfortable with it. One of the main advantages of air conditioning is that it removes the humidity from the air which makes it feel much cooler. Sleep with only a lightweight sheet over you in very hot weather. For every degree above 20 that you set the air conditioner thermostat the cost of electric reduces by about 8%. Finally only use the air conditioner when necessary. 

Good Luck and Happy Sleeping!

 



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Tenerife - a unique cuisine...
31 July 2020

Every corner of Tenerife hides a unique ingredient that makes its cuisine truly tempting. The sea and the warm climate allow Canary Islanders to cultivate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. They are two of the main ingredients in Tenerife cuisine. Fish and bananas are the big stars, but the island's menu has much more to offer.

As on all islands, fish is an essential element in Tenerife's cuisine. The most popular is la vieja (scarus cretensis), a white coastal fish with a mild flavour and can be found all year round. It is prepared battered, grilled or stewed with potatoes and served with spicy and green mojo sauces. Cherne (grouper) is also very popular; it is sold salt-cured and then desalted, just like cod, although it is also eaten fresh or grilled, with papas arrugás potatoes and green mojo sauce. The sea also offers us the ingredients for an exquisite fish stew, prepared with raw or fried fish and then cooked with potatoes, onions, tomato and peppers. Another delicious option is tuna, served marinated, grilled, as a carpaccio or with onions. The selection of seafood is rounded out with salted fish: redbanded seabream, white seabream, grey mullet, white seabass and mottled grouper.

Tenerife has exceptional wine to pair with the taste of the sea, with its five designations of origin: Tacoronte-Acentejo, Ycoden-Daute-Isora, Valle de La Orotava, Valle de Güímar and Abona, which together bottle more than five million litres every year. A a true pleasure for the palate.

Throughout the Canary Islands archipelago, potatoes (or as locals call them, papas) are an essential ingredient. They are used for vegetable stews, casserole dishes and especially as sides for meats and fish. It is no wonder, given that up to 46 different varieties of this tuber have been counted on the islands. These include the papa negra, which is only grown in Tenerife, and those known as papas bonitas, which may be white, coloured or black and are famous for their flavour and quality. Also popular are papas arrugás, or wrinkled potatoes, which are cooked in their skin with lots of salt (some even prefer to use seawater) and taste amazing. Although papas arrugás are the most famous, there are up to 46 varieties of Canary Islands papas.

 

 

Another star Tenerife food product is, of course, mojo: a sauce that accompanies many recipes and is used as a complement to some main dishes. There are as many mojos as you can imagine (perhaps nearly a hundred) but there are four truly traditional recipes: colorado picón (with hot chilli or chilli pepper), colorado dulce (with mild palm peppers), verde (with cilantro), and almagrote (always made with a mature, hard cheese). Spread on toast it makes an excellent starter.

Gofio is a direct legacy of the indigenous people who inhabited the islands: the Guanches. It is a flour made from toasted grains - mostly barley, wheat and corn - along with pulses like chickpeas or broad beans. It can be served blanched or mixed with fish, meat or vegetable broth. It is the perfect pairing for dishes like fish stew or sancocho (a soup made of meat, tubers and vegetables). You can also eat it with raw onion slices. And powdered gofio is even added to milk for breakfast. Mixed with flour, it is ideal for biscuits, sponge cakes, ice-cream and even mousses.

It would be impossible to think about Tenerife cuisine without mentioning the banana, one if its most cherished products and a frequent ingredient in the island's cookbooks. You would be surprised at how many recipes this fruit can be added to. We find them in starters, such as the Canary Island banana salad with leaf shoots and dried fig vinaigrette; or in Cuban-style rice sushi with bananas. It also shows up in main courses like chicken dishes.

And, what about desserts? A flambé Canary Island banana with cinnamon and rum or a banana and pear cream custard with chocolate caramel are hard to resist. How about a banana split? The Canary Islands version of the famous banana split is the perfect way to round off any meal on the island.



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The Geology Museum - Madrid
23 July 2020

Madrid is teeming with museums, but none quite like the Museo Geominero. Opened in its current location in May of 1926, the collection’s roots extend nearly a century earlier when engineers and geologists began amassing literal and figurative gems of the nation during a massive project to map Spain’s geology, undertaken in 1849. Housed originally in the palace of the Duke of San Pedro, the current cavernous home of these specimens has become a cherished secret among Madrid’s sometimes ravenous museum-goers.

As if tiers of cases containing sparkly bits mined deep from the centre of our planet and invertebrates older than humankind weren’t enough of a draw, the museum itself is a masterpiece in its own right. Housed as it is within a four-story marble and glass building constructed in the beaux-arts style, the ornamentation surrounding the show’s stars are reason alone to visit. Due to architect Francisco Javier de Luque’s adroit inclusion of a massive glass roof, everything contained therein is imbued with an added sparkle due to the natural light radiating from on high. 

Additionally, the "Museo Geominero" distinguishes itself from its geological peers in its execution of a self-proclaimed mission to educate its patrons. Its displays are accompanied by an uncommon amount of information on all matters geologic and paleontologic, both in Spanish history and far beyond. Visitors to the museum leave not only blinded by brilliance but with a depth of knowledge about what so often goes unnoticed underfoot.



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The Roman Fortification
09 July 2020

 

 

The walls of Lugo are an outstanding construction  which illustrates various significant periods of human history. Starting with their Roman origins and passing through the problematical Middle Ages to the innovatory and disturbed 19th century, they unite in a single monumental construction over 2 km long different proofs and facets of the evolution of the town from the original Lucus Augusti.

 

 

There was a Roman military camp here during the campaign of Augustus, and it was here that the new town, Lucus Augusti, was founded in 15-13 BCE. The original chequerboard plan did not require the town to be enclosed by a defensive wall, because of the effectiveness of the Pax Romana. The town prospered in the succeeding centuries, because of the mineral resources of the region. This administrative centre acquired impressive public buildings and luxurious urban villas, which spread over a wide area.

However, in the mid-2nd century Frankish and Alemannic invaders crossed the limes and ravaged Gaul, penetrating into Hispania before being driven out. This resulted in the construction of massive urban defences at all the towns of the western Roman provinces. Lucus received its walls between 263 and 276 (perhaps less against barbarian invaders from across the Rhine than against the local tribesmen, who had never fully accepted the Roman occupation of their lands). As in most colonial towns, the area enclosed by the walls was less than that of the urban settlement: a considerable part of the town in the south-east remained outside. Despite the strength of its fortifications, Lugo was unable to resist the Suevi when they swept into the peninsula in the early 5th century and destroyed the town by fire. They were to be dislodged in their turn by the Visigoths, who captured the town in 457 and settled it once again. The irresistible Moorish invasion of Spain saw Lugo overwhelmed and sacked in 714, but it was recaptured for Christendom by Alfonso I of Asturias in 755 and restored by Bishop Odarius. The town was to be ravaged once again in 968 by the Normans, on their way to the Mediterranean, and it was not restored until the following century.

The structure of the Roman walls of Lugo consists of internal and external stone facings with a core filling of earth, stones and pieces of worked Roman stone from demolished buildings. There are ten gates: five ancient and five recent. Five stairways and a ramp give access to the parapet walk. A number of double staircases giving access from the parapet walk to the towers have been found within the thickness of the walls, and it is assumed that each of the towers was provided with similar stairways. Of the original interval towers, 46 have survived intact, and there are a further 39 that are wholly or partly dismantled. They are spaced at irregular intervals round the walls; they were two-storeyed and most of them are roughly semi-circular in plan, the gap in the wall in which they were constructed varying in width from 5.35 m to 12.80 m.

Several take the form of slightly tapering truncated cones, and a few have rectangular plans. One of the towers, known as La Moschera, is surmounted by the remains of its superstructure containing two arched windows. There is a variety of materials to be observed in their construction, and in that of the walls themselves. The main stones used were dressed granite and, in particular, slate. There is some variety in the forms of laying the stones and in their size. In some cases the slate walls rise from foundation courses of granite; in other examples these basal courses are also in slate. Yet another common wall make-up consists of the courses in the lower half or two-thirds being of dressed granite with the remainder in slate, but with some granite blocks interspersed. The parapet is crenellated in places, but this is certainly post-Roman work. Considerable reconstruction work took place at what is now known as the Reducto de Santa Cristina in 1836- 37, to create a fort that accorded with the military architecture of the period.

The original gates have undergone a number of transformations since the 3rd century. The best preserved are the Falsa Gate and the Miñá Gate, which still has its original vaulted arch set between two towers, in characteristic Roman form; traces of the now disappeared guard chamber can be seen on the interior wall (also visible at the San Pedro Gate).

A walkway over the walls now allows visitors to stroll along the entire length. The town also has a visitor's centre dedicated to the walls, the Centro de Interpretación de la Muralla. Since the inscription of the walls on the World Heritage List in 2000, Lugo holds a popular festival called Arde Lucus each year to celebrate its Roman past.

 

 


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