We have been given the opportunity to visit the military base of the Spanish elite forces “La Legion”
We will visit the museum, then have coffee in the officer’s mess and then watch a display of the military’s simulated combat to see the systems used by the legion to train for battle.
We will have lunch at Bar Sotomayor (a menu to choose our meals to follow) the cost of this trip including coach is 27 euros for members and 29 euros for non-members. However we have a maximum of only 36 places for this visit.
All visitors will have to provide their NIE numbers before the visit.
This trip is an exciting day out and something a little different for a trip for the Group of Friends and should this venue prove popular and demand is high enough there is a possibility of a second visit at a later date.
Almanzora Group of Friends are pleased to announce a Bodega Visit & Wine tasting.
Visiting Bodega Munana near Granada.
We have agreed a wine tasting visit with a two course lunch to be taken in a cave dining room, (There is a short walk to the dining room from the winery).
The lunch will include 3 bottles of wine between 9 people, there will be a Red, White and Rose, and there will also be water on the tables. No other drinks are available with this meal.
The Cost of the meal with the wine is 22 euros per person added to that will be the cost of the coach of 11 euros per person giving a total cost of 33 euros for members and 35 euros for non-members; we need a minimum of 36 people for this trip.
The Almanzora Group of Friends are pleased to announce a trip to: La Union (Cartagena)
26th September 2019
Departure at 8 a.m. from Albox for our journey to La Union (CARTAGENA).
Its culture and landscapes are inextricably linked to more than 3,000 years of mining and flamenco activity.
Once there, we will visit the Casa del Piñón, the current headquarters of the town hall, with the Mining Museum, and the Cante de las Minas. Mercado Public, its spectacular structure of iron and glass as wellas its large dimensions are due to the prosperous years of the Union in the early twentieth century thanks to mining.
It is currently the headquarters of the International Festival of The Cante de las Minas. It was designed by Victor Beltrí.
Almuerzo en restaurante.
After lunch we will return to Albox and other stops.
THE PRICE INCLUDES:
LUNCH IN RESTAURANT WITH WATER, WINE, BEER INCLUDED
TRAVEL ASSISTANCE INSURANCE
THE PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE :
• TICKETS TO CENTERS OR MUSEUMS NOT SPECIFIED IN THE FOREGOING.
The Almanzora Group of Friends are pleased to announce
Granada & Christmas Shopping: 3 day tour 9th to 11th December 2019
Staying at Hotel ABBA **** in Granada; this is a free time trip where for the first 2 days you can visit The Alhambra Palace, take the unique Granada city train which is hop on hop off and explore Granada at your own pace, visit landmark monuments of the city. Enjoy a coffee in Plaza Nueva Granada’s oldest square, the Cathedral and the old University.
The third day our coach will take us to the Nevada shopping centre for a little pre-Christmas shopping and Lunch before we head back to the Almanzora Valley.
The shopping centre has numerous shops such as Media Markt, Leroy Merlin, Pandora, Disney store and numerous clothing, shoe and children’s toyshops. There are also numerous food outlets to have lunch.
The Cost of this trip is based on a B&B basis at 122 euros for members and 128 euros for non-members; unfortunately there is a single supplement of 48 euros. The Hotel can provide an evening meal at 17.50 euros per person which includes wine and water. Should you wish to venture out there are many restaurants in Granada which cater for all tastes, American, Japanese, Moroccan, Italian, Chinese and of course Spanish including seafood plus many offering vegetarian options. Please note there will not be an English speaking guide with this trip.
Book soon and enjoy a few days in the wonderful city of Granada at a terrific price.
Staying at Hotel Cuco*** in Benidorm – www.hotelcuco.com.
The price includes 2 nights accommodation on HB.
Walking tour of Alicante (Optional) including stopping at Santa Barbara Castle.
Excursion to the Island of Tabarca including the boat tickets.
Entries to the Historic Motorbike Museum of Guadalest.
Entries to the Antonio Marco Miniature Museum in Guadalest.
Visit to the Valor Chocolate factory in Villajoyosa.
English speaking tour manager for the duration.
Island of Tabarca
Antonio Marco Miniature Museum in Guadalest
Valor Chocolate factory in Villajoyosa
Historic Motorbike Museum of Guadalest
The cost of this trip is based on 31 to 35 members attending and is 215 euros per member and 221 euros non-members. Should we get 51 travellers the price will be reduced. A single supplement will be required TBA.
As we are stopping in Benidorm people who wish to go to the Benidorm palace to see the show can book this with the Hotel.
Shake off the winter blues and join us on our next Mystery Lunch
4th February 2019
Starters (Choice of)
Picadillo soup (Chicken and noodle broth)
Andalusian stuffed tomato
Winter vegetable soup
Deep fried Brie
Mains (Choice of)
Secreto (a succulent pork cut slow roasted)
Cod with spinach and cream cheese
Desserts (Choice of)
Arroz con leche (Rice pudding)
Jam sponge and custard
Bottle of house red, white or rose wine between 4 people (Non exchangeable)
Book your seat at the Centre:
€27 Non Members
Some reviews on the restaurant from Trip Advisor
I have written rave reviews for Restaurante ??? before, but yesterday they surpassed themselves again. We took 50 people to a birthday celebration and it was simply stunning. Everybody was blown away by the food, the service, the ambience, the attentiveness of ‘mine host’ ???. I cannot praise this restaurant more highly. Tucked away in the hills above Almeria, it is a real gem! Glorious evening, well done to all concerned!
We came to this restaurant whilst staying on site. The owners and staff were very friendly and accommodating and made you feel at home. The setting is beautiful and the décor is a mix between the typical Spanish charm and modern clean lines, the food was fabulous.
We visited last year and vowed to return when next in Almeria which all four of us have just done. We stayed in the knockout hotel ?? which is above the ??. Then it was time for a Dinner that blew our socks off it being nothing short of superb. This restaurant has to be one of the best restaurants we have enjoyed in Almeria. They have an amazing wood fired oven and the presentation and cooking was nothing short of amazing, my Iberian secreto, a very tender and highly prized cut of pork, wood roasted and was sublime. Will be returning for sure .Simply The Best .The very Best !!!!
Pick up 11.00 Albox (Dia), 11.15 Arboleas (Coviran), 11.30 La Alfoquia (Bar La Union) Sorry no pick up at Hotel Overa for this trip.
THE Almanzora Group of Friends are pleased to announce a Baeza, Ubeda & Jaen Trip
10th to 13th April 2019
Price: Members €247, Non-members €255
Included in the price:
3 nights accommodation on HB, at the Hotel ciudad ubeda. www.hotelciudaddeubeda.com
Half day official guided walking tour in Úbeda and Baeza.
Entry tickets to Capilla del Salvador in Úbeda.
Entry tickets to Baeza Cathedral.
Full day excursion through Sierra de Cazorla.
Half day official guided walking tour in Jaén.
Full day excursion to Priego de Córdoba with official guide and visit to olive oil press.
English speaking tour manager.
All transportation needed as per itinerary.
A single supplement of €66 is unfortunately required by the hotel for single occupancy.
Day 1: Departure from Albox in the morning. Arrival to Úbeda before lunchtime, check-in and after lunch (not included) take an official guided tour through Úbeda and Baeza. Return to the hotel and dinner (to include a bottle of wine and water between 4 people).
Day 2: Full day excursion. In the morning guided tour of Priego de Córdoba, free time for lunch (not included) and afternoon visit of an Almazara (olive oil press). Return to the hotel and dinner (to include a bottle of wine and water between 4 people).
Day 3: Full day excursion through Sierra de Cazorla. Return to the hotel and dinner (to include a bottle of wine and water between 4 people).
Day 4: Check-out and transfer to Jaén for an official guided tour. After lunch (not included) return to Albox.
A deposit payment of 50€ per person will secure your place; booking will cease to be taken on the 6th February 2019.
The balance will need to be paid by the 4th of March 2019.
The price of 247€ is for a minimum of 36 people. If we get 51 plus the price will be reduced to about 220€. As you can see, should we be able to fill the seats on the coach the overall price will be significantly reduced.
The price includes 1 night accommodation on HB with ¼ water and ¼ wine included.
1 night accommodation on B&B.
Tickets for the Christmas Variety show at the Salon Theatre in Fuengirola.
Visit to a market and lunch (not included in price) on final day.
All transportation needed as per itinerary.
Day 1: Pick up at the usual points in the Valle del Almanzora area. Transfer to Málaga with a comfort stop on the way, free time for lunch (not included in price) and shopping in Málaga. Transfer from Málaga to Fuengirola in the late afternoon for check in and have dinner at the hotel.
Day 2: Leave Fuengirola after breakfast to go to shopping centre in Marbella. Those who don’t want to shop can be dropped off in the centre of Marbella. Return to Fuengirola in the afternoon in time to freshen up for the theatre. (No evening meal at the hotel bars and restaurants nearby)
Day 3: Leave Fuengirola after breakfast and drive to Rincón de la Victoria for weekly street market. Continue to Nerja for free time for lunch (not included in price). Afternoon; transfer back to the Valle del Almanzora area.
Price €120 per member, €126 non-members. (These prices will fall should we attract enough people to fill the coach (54). There is a single supplement for the hotel of €30.
The town of Salobreña in the province of Granada lies at the foot of a Hispano-Muslim castle on the so-called Costa Tropical on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Salobreña’s wonderful location has given it excellent beaches, where many tourist complexes are set. Its varied range of hotels and leisure is completed by an interesting historic quarter with whitewashed façades arranged around its Arab castle. Salobrena has witnessed 6000 years of human history, thanks to its privileged position and benign climate. Its Moorish castle was built in the 10th century, and its Mudejar 16th century church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario is built on top of the old mosque. Roman remains turn up everywhere.
The price includes
3 nights accommodation on HB Hotel Best Western Salobrena
All drinks included from 11 am to 11 pm (house wine and beer, and local spirits)
Transfer from Albox to Hotel Salobreña
Excursion to Salobreña town and castle, then to Motril for rum distillery visit
Tickets for the Salobreña castle visit.
“Tapas” at Bar Pesetas and Bar Goya in Salobreña.
Full day excursion to Las Alpujarras.
Visit and taste at Jamones Juan including wine and “tapas” including wine at Hotel Finca los Llanos in Capileira.
Transfer from Salobreña to Albox, stopping at Almuñecar’s weekly market and Torrox for lunch.
Traditional Andalusian Lunch in Cortijo de Maria at Torrox including wine.
English speaking tour manager for the duration.
All transportation needed as per itinerary.
18th Sept. Transfer from Albox to Hotel Salobreña.
19th Sept. Full day excursion to Salobreña, visiting the castle in the morning and having lunch in a couple of typical tapas bars. Continue to Motril to visit the Ron Montero distillery and to taste the fragrant and sweet liquor. Return to the hotel.
20th Sept. Full day excursion to Las Alpujarras including a visit in a ham cellar with a taste and wine. “Tapas” lunch including wine in a typical Andalucian hotel at the nice white village of Capileira.
21st Sept. Check out from the hotel and transfer to Albox, stopping at Almuñecar to visit the market and continuing to Torrox for a typical Andalusian Housewives lunch including wine.
English Speaking Tour Coordinator; Visit to winery with wine tasting; San Roque Arch “Puertas de Granada”; Ethnographic Museum of Natural Science; Lunch in a renowned local restaurant: (Mixed Salad, Starter, Main Course, Desert, Jumilla wine, drinks, Coffee.)
Historical re-enactment in Padules called “La Paz de las Alpujarras”. It commemorates the peace accord of 1570 between the Moorish and the Christian monarchs. In May of that year, Don Juan de Austria on behalf of his brother Philipp II of Spain arrived to Las Alpujarras with the order to stop the revolt of the Moriscos. Negotiations led to the surrender of Habaqui (emissary of Abeen Abu) who delivered arms and flag to Don Juan.
A historic camp will be set up with the participation of more than 100 entertainers- soldiers, Turkish, Janizaries, Mooros, Christian Monarchs, plain people, children, etc. – Interesting exhibitions: Arquebus, archery, historical cuisine, cheese making, fencing, historical games, etc, will also take place.
The price of €33 for members and €35 for non-members to include coach, Tour Co-ordinator and Lunch.
We would like to encourage everyone taking part on our trips to ensure they have their own appropriate Travel Insurance.
Aguilas (Eagles in English) is a beautiful Murcian resort spread across two stunning bays. It has a great connection with the British who built the railway and the docking facilities and founded the local football team, Águilas CF, one of the oldest teams in Spain.
Highlights of our visit:
1. Embarcadero el Hornillo. Built in 1903 El Hornillo is one of only five British Mineral Piers remaining in Spain it was the end of the line for the minerals mined in our valley. 2. Rincón del Hornillo. A beautiful, mosaic staircase. 3. Railway museum (entrance included). 4. San Juan de Las Águilas (entrance included). 18th century castle, although its origins go back to the Carthaginian period. 5. And of course Lunch is included.
Pickups Albox (Dia) 09:00, Arboleas (Coviran) 09:05, La Alfoquia(Bar La Unión) 09:10 Hostal Overa 09:15
Panoramic official guided coach and walking tour of Cadiz, optional visit: the Cathedral & museum.
Founded 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians, Cádiz is the oldest city in Western Europe.
Sir Francis Drake “singed the beard of the King of Spain” in 1587 by sailing a fleet into Cadiz and also Corunna, two of Spain’s main ports, and occupied the harbours. He destroyed 37 naval and merchant ships. The attack delayed the Spanish invasion by a year.
Optional: a visit to San Lucar de Barrameda to see the mouth of the Guadalquivir river and taste the typical “Tortitas De Camaron”.
Single room supplement is 95 € (Sorry!)
The Hotel Puertobahia & Spa*** situated right on the beach in Valdelagrana, on the promenade surrounded by many Shops, Cafeterias and Restaurants. It is 5 minutes from El Puerto de Santa María and 15 minutes from Cádiz & Jerez de la Frontera.
Completely renovated, our 330 rooms have the best Sea Views, terrace, complete bathroom or shower, heating / air conditioning, telephone, minibar, satellite TV with 32 “LCD screen, Free Wi Fi in rooms and common areas.
Superb garden areas and swimming pools, Gym, Mini golf, Modern Spa, and Bicycle rental service
We offer the best cuisine in the Ocean Restaurant (Buffet) and in the Bar Mirador.
Caravaca de la Cruz is considered to be one of the five holy cities in the world, and a key destination for pilgrims and travellers alike who are looking for an inspiring, different and above all enjoyable place to go.
The Iberians, Romans and Muslims all passed through this town, which has developed around its Castle, built in the 15th century and commissioned by the Knights Templar.
The city is celebrating its Jubilee this year and the Fiesta de San Jose, commences on March 19th.
We will visit with an official English speaking guide (Ignacio who guided us in Ricote) he will guide us through the town and a visit to the Museum Caballos del Vino. (the famous Wine Horses)
Wine and History – Antique Bodega Wine Trip – Wednesday February 1st 2017
We headed to the tiny village of Aviles, located about 20 km west of Lorca on the road to Caravaca de la Cruz. There, after a delay for a funeral which brought the whole village to a halt, we visited a fantastic antique bodega built in 1940 and shut just 12 years later. Essentially the doors were shut, the keys were turned and not much happened in the 60 years since. Some of the great-grandchildren of the original owner intend to convert it into a museum, but meantime we had a remarkable opportunity to visit and see it as it had been left.
In the 40´s we were told that wine was purely seen as nutrition to make up for lack of “proper” food, a couple of eggs would be cracked and mixed in for a healthy breakfast.
The wine was also treated as a precious commodity and a guard was set on the bodega but was told to sing so that when singing stopped it would be assumed that he had passed out from the alcoholic fumes and help would be forthcoming. Despite its short lifespan the winery we were told that it made its owner a lot of money.
It was interesting to see, in situ an original Cadillac car engine which had been used to power the machinery.
There were still giant terracotta vessels, each one signed by the potter still fixed into the cellar and sticking up through the winery floor, and we had to step very carefully.
After touring the bodega we crossed the yard to visit the new bodega built next door for modern wine making and of course the compulsory wine tasting.
Most of these wines differentiate from the wines we find in Almeria as they are primarily made from the Monastrell, a distinctive grape indigenous to the Murcia region.
We finished the day with a great lunch at Restaurante Meson Mi Cortijo in Puerto Lumbreras and guess what? MORE WINE!
Elche is famous for the Palmeral of Elche an orchard of over 200,000 palm trees that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.
It is also famous for being the shoe capital of Spain with over 1000 factories.
We combine the two on this trip.
We arrive in Elche in time for a coffee and orientation with a visit to the tourist office. At 11am we have booked a 45 minute tour through the historic quarter with its Muslim past and Baroque splendour on the tourist train after which you can choose what you want to visit.
The choice is endless as is your choice for lunch.
Elche is a breathtakingly beautiful green city full of museums, sculptures, parks and gardens.
After lunch we will head for a factory tour and free glass of wine in one of Elche´s largest shoe manufacturers with a chance to bag a bargain.
Full day Barcelona – panoramic tour including Park Güell (tickets included) and walking tour in Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter.
Full day visit to spectacular Montserrat (Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey located on the mountain of Montserrat) access by Funicular followed by visit and tastings at Codorniu cava winery.
Full day visit to Girona, beside the River Onyar. It’s known for its medieval architecture, walled Old Quarter (Barri Vell) and the Roman remains of the Força Vella fortress. Landscaped gardens line the Passeig Arqueològic, a walkway following the Old Quarter’s medieval walls, which include watchtowers with sweeping views. We then visit the fantastic Dali Museum in Figueres.
Full day in Barcelona with free time so people can do they please: tourist hop on hop off bus, museums, football stadium, shopping etc.
Return transfer to Barcelona for train to Alicante and return transfer to Valle de Almanzora
*Prices are based on estimates for tourist class train fares which are not published until 8 weeks before.
The Valle de Ricote was the last Moorish redoubt in Spanish Levante. The landscapes, if not the towns, are one of the most beautiful and undiscovered parts of the Murcia region.
In March we travelled north of Murcia City to Archena to be met by our guide Ignacio who was to show us the many hidden secrets of the fertile irrigated plains around the River Segura.
The towns of Ricote, Ojós, Abarán, Blanca, Ulea, Villanueva del Segura and Archena, are all surrounded by fruit and citrus orchards, many of which were in bloom.
The Ricote is a fertile plain that clings to its Arab heritage, as shown by the numerous remains from this period, including its irrigation systems.
Blanca has retained its legacy as a producer of esparto grass. In Abarán, a scruffy town, we followed a route to two of the many preserved waterwheels, or “ñoras” as they are known in the area, which transport water from the river to irrigate the most distant plains.
We did not see any rafting on the River Segura but were taken to a fantastic man made mirador, the Alto Bayna viewing point in Blanca for stunning views across the river and lake.
All this on an unusually warm spring day and a great lunch in the International Restaurant in Archena made for the perfect day.
This land had been shaped by volcanoes; this was obvious to us as we strolled through the achingly beautiful landscape of the Cabo de Gata regional park.
We were lucky to have David Monge of Geogata.com with us as our specialist guide, a geologist who lives and works in the park, to explain the finer details to us all. Our bus took our intrepid group of 30 as far as the historic restored windmill before we set off to explore Playa deGenoveses where we learnt about chumba farming for cochineal and the reason the beach got its name, the Genoese fleet were anchored off here ready to attack Almeria city. We then bussed on to Playa de Monsul, regularly voted as one of the best beaches in Europe and famous for the seagull scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.
Our day finished with lunch at Hostal Alba in Los Albaricoques, a small whitewashed pueblo famous for being the location of many Spaghetti Westerns including “A Fistful of Dollars” and its sequel “For a Few Dollars More”. After lunch we were able to stroll down Calle Clint Eastwood or re-enact the gunfight in the famous circle before heading home after a perfect day.
Based in Madrid for five nights, after a day exploring the city by coach and foot we head out daily to explore the surrounding historic cities of Segovia, Toledo, and the Valle de los Caídos, burial place of General Franco. We have a day free and then on our last day we visit the Royal Palaces and gardens of Aranjuez on-route to Almanzora.
Services of an English-speaking tour guide
365€ pp sharing a twin (minimum of 40)
The single supplement is 90€ for the whole tour
Madrid Panoramic tour by coach. Walking tour of the historic centre.
‘In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue’.
I remember that from my school days and that Columbus discovered the New World, but we learned so much more during our trip to Punta Umbria in October, and exploring the replicas of the three ships that made the voyages was just awe inspiring. They were so small to have made those journeys, with primitive facilities. Amazing!
Anyway, on our first day we set off to blue skies which lasted most of the way there, although it was overcast when we stopped for coffee at a beautiful place outside Loja where you can sit with your coffee on the terrace overlooking one of the sierras. The service was excellent – waiters actually hanging around waiting for someone to serve! There we were joined by our guide, Lena, a Danish lady who this time took the place of our good friend, Danny.
We had already discovered little TV screens in front of each seat on the coach, providing access to computer games, TV news channels and movies. When we got back on board Lena handed out earphones so for the rest of the journey we absorbed ourselves in these pursuits, or read books or dozed. We arrived at the Hotel Barceló, Punta Umbria Mar, in the province of Huelva, Western Andalucía – very close to the border with Portugal – with plenty of time to check in, freshen up and have drinks and dinner, or even a walk along the beach.
Next day we woke up to very dark skies so boarded our coach with raincoats and umbrellas at the ready.
A lot of the initial planning and sailing towards discovering the new continent was done in this area of Spain, in particular at the nearby Franciscan monastery of La Rábida. The building dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries and is a combination of gothic and Mudejar (Moorish architecture applied to Christian buildings). Not only is it a building to be admired for its beauty, but it has a lot of history to it: Christopher Columbus stayed here while planning his first voyage westwards. Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros was the Guardian of La Rábida and the confessor to Isabella. After learning that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had rejected Columbus’ request for outfitting an expedition in search of the Indies, he intervened and Columbus was able to have his proposal heard. ‘Conquistadores’ Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro also stayed here on their way back from the Americas.
It is a fascinating building. In one corridor you can see maps on the walls, charting each of the voyages to the New World, and there is an exhibition room where the flags of each of the Spanish American countries are hung next to a small vessel containing soil from this country. We spent over an hour happily gazing in wonder at everything on display.
After this we were meant to visit Muelle de las Carabelas (the Quay of the Carabelas) but because of the rain the museum was closed. We were so disappointed, as for some of us; this was the highlight of the trip. Luckily, Lena was able to reschedule this for Friday morning, so more of that later.
Instead of this we headed into nearby Mazagon, for a bit of shopping and lunch or tapas, losing a few umbrellas along the way.
On our third day, we went to Minas de Río Tinto – on the river Guardiana. We visited the museum, with a rich heritage of 5000 years of mining by the different civilizations that have lived in the area. We saw examples of some of the minerals found there – beautiful examples of Rose Quartz, Milky Quartz, Fluorite and Calcite. Amongst other things, there was a scale model of the mining villages of Rio Tinto and a general view of the society during the British period – showing the introduction of cricket, tennis, football, golf and polo. The first Boy Scout group in Spain was founded here. Then we saw two locomotives manufactured in Britain and The Maharajah’s carriage manufactured in Birmingham in 1892. It was built for Queen Victoria’s trip to India and then brought to Rio Tinto for a royal visit of Alfonso XIII. It is considered the most luxurious narrow gauge carriage in the world.
After some free time for lunch, we boarded some rather less comfortable carriages on the train which was originally introduced to connect Rio Tinto with Huelva, the capital of the province and the port from where the valuable minerals were taken abroad. On the journey along 12kms of restored track we passed the old smelting and industrial facilities belonging to the mines as well as beautiful scenery. A truly memorable journey.
After alighting from the train we visited the “Barrio Inglés de Bella Vista” where, at the end of the XIX century British engineers and miners lived, after moving into the area bringing along the industrial revolution. It was interesting to see how the British houses differed from the Spanish in design and decoration.
On our fourth day, we woke up to glorious sunshine and set off in anticipation for our trip to Seville. Our visit started with a panoramic tour of the city on our bus. We saw iconic buildings such as the San Telmo Palace, La Maestranza Bullring, the gracious promenade along the banks of the River Guadalquivir, the Golden Tower etc. We then stopped at the beautiful Plaza España, created for the Ibero-American Exhibition which was held in Seville in 1929.
Our guide then walked us into the historical centre of Seville where we had time to ourselves to visit some of the sights. There was the legendary Jewish Quarter (well known from the operas Carmen, Don Juan and The Barber of Seville). As the Jews were expelled from the kingdom by Queen Isabella I in 1492, you have some idea of the age of these narrow lanes and the delightful little squares redolent with the scent of the orange trees.
Seville also has the world’s largest Gothic cathedral with the burial place of Christopher Columbus (or some of his body! The Dominican Republic also claims to have his body – or some of it). The enormous gilded altarpiece is the most impressive one of its kind in Spain and there are innumerable priceless works of art to be seen around the building. The Moorish church tower, “La Giralda”, is 100 meters high, 800 years old and is the symbolic landmark of Seville.
Another option is the King Peter the Cruel’s Alcázar. This outstanding royal palace was originally built by Moorish labourers 700 years ago, but many of the following regents have added their bit to it: amongst others Carlos I and the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando.
Some of us took a boat trip along the Guadalquivir to view the city from a totally different angle and learn about the many bridges which cross it.
On our final day those of us who were interested visited Muelle de las Carabelas. The rest chilled around the hotel’s pool, took part in the various activities organized by the hotel, took advantage of the gym, indoor pool, sauna, steam room and/or whirlpool, went for a walk along the beach or shopped or even hired bicycles to explore the area.
Those of us who went to the museum were enthralled. This museum, opened in 1994, showed us in great detail anything that had to do with Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the New World. We actually boarded replicas of the ‘Santa Maria’, the ‘Pinta’ and the ’Niña’ as well as visiting a recreation of a medieval quarter by the quays and numerous charts and weaponry from the time. We also saw a film of his first voyage and when – after more than 60 days at sea, with no guarantee of ever finding land again, and with dwindling supplies – the lookout up in the crow’s nest shouted “Tierra ! Tierra ! Tierra!” most of us were in tears, or at least choked up. What an experience.
After this we had free time to explore Punta Umbria and have tapas at many of the fish restaurants by the port.
Our final day dawned, overcast again, and we bade a sad adios to Punta Umbria. But at least on the coach we had our TV screens and could occupy ourselves on the long journey home.
Thanks again to Ken and Danny for organizing yet another memorable trip.
Well, who would have thought that a visit to a goat farm would have been so interesting, but it was and this was our first stop on our visit to Lubrin, a small whitewashed pueblo in the Sierra de Filabres.
It was a smallish family run farm, with only about 1000 goats; although some were out in the hills grazing. When we arrived we were all given plastic bag over shoes, to wear, very fetching, and a bit difficult to walk in, but we managed. We were then taken into the milking sheds, and shown the milking procedure, the farmer explained that new modern milking machines had reduced the process immensely, which is carried out twice a day; it was amazing to watch as the goats kicked off the milking tubes with their back legs once it had finished. We then moved onto the next shed where the feeding was carried out, this was also done automatically with the new equipment, the feed is measured, and distributed evenly around the compound, so they are always given the same amount. They soon ate all the food, so we moved on.
We were then taken to the nursery, and we all fell in love with the lovely little baby goats. (Kids)
Next we went to visit a Honey producer, and were welcomed with a breakfast of tostadas with honey and olive oil, and soft drinks, delicious. Then we were told about the production process, and had hands on experience of scraping the wax off the honey frames, and filling the jars.
We had a very quick tour around the olive oil processing plant next door, another small family business, and were told if we wanted to return in small groups, when it was working we would be very welcome.
We were then told that we had a very special treat, and were taken to the little village theatre, rather a tiring uphill walk through the narrow streets, but well worth it, after a few technical problems with the music system, we sat back and enjoyed a display of Spanish dancing put on by 4 local girls.
We ended a lovely day, with an excellent lunch, with plenty of good food and wine.
Thanks to Kathy Duke for being our translator for the day, and making the trip even more enjoyable.
Portugal Here We Come! Days 1 & 2 by Shelagh Copeland We embarked on our longest trip yet with great anticipation and in high spirits. Those of us who have travelled north-west before expected our coffee stop to be at one of the usual places on the motorway to Granada but we were pleasantly surprised. We stopped at a beautiful place outside Loja where we sat with our coffee on the terrace overlooking one of the sierras.
After a quick lunch stop at a motorway café we carried on into Extremadura to the Hotel Los Templarios in Jerez de los Caballeros, Badajoz. It so happened that there was a Jamón festival going on that weekend, where products compete with each other, offering the best hams and sausages made from acorn-fed Iberian pork. So, after checking in and freshening up, some of our party ventured down to the village with Danny, our guide and mentor for the trip. Tortuous could describe the journey in the coach as many roads were closed with the usual illegal parking, but Juan got us there after Danny moved the NO ENTRY signs, only to find most stalls packing up but the funfair blasting out. We did manage to sample a bit of ham though washed down with expensive but basic wine in plastic cups.
We had a most unusual experience that night for dinner in the hotel. Plastic shopping bag in hand, we chose from a selection of fresh meats or fish pre-packed and priced up, plus cheese and wines as we meandered through the “shop” in the corner of the dining room. We took our choice to the checkout, paid for it, then on to the kitchen counter, we then sat and waited while it was freshly cooked and our number was called. A very strange experience, but enjoyable all the same.
The next morning we went on a guided tour of the historic quarter of Jerez de los Caballeros. It was here that the first European to ever see the Pacific Ocean was born, Vasco Núñez De Balboa. It is a gem of a town, with quaint narrow cobbled streets containing three pretty baroque and rococo churches with beautifully decorated towers. In one of the churches we saw a splendid organ which did not function anymore, because during the Spanish Civil War the metal was taken out to produce weapons for the fight.
Among the most important monuments is the Templar Fortress, because Jerez de los Caballeros was named after the Templar Knights who occupied the town until the 14th century. The guides (with the Knights Templar crosses on their uniforms) regaled us with lots of interesting information and funny stories – too numerous to include here – but the one that amused us most was the tale that during one skirmish between the Portuguese and the Moors the Portuguese stole the clock mechanism from one of the bell towers. So the Moors replaced it with a clock stolen from the next village. That begs the question – did they then steal one from the next village and so on, and where did it all end?
At the end of the tour we had some free time for lunch or tapas, and a chance to watch the stork that had nested on top of the tallest tower occasionally allowing one of her little ones to peer over the parapet.
We then carried on and crossed the Rio Guadiana into Portugal for our next stop at Monsaraz in the Alentejo, Portugal, perched on a hill 342 metres above the right bank of the river. This is a tiny, picturesque town made up of white houses with red roofs, wrought iron balconies and elongated chimneys. For those of us who made it up to the castle the view of the surrounding landscape is spectacular. You can see olive groves, winding roads, and the river area towards Spain. But it is quite a walk through cobbled streets and then many layers of steps in the castle itself. Some of us decided to stop at one of the little bars on the way and just enjoy the atmosphere. Then, onwards to Evora, the capital of Alto Alentejo. Hotel check in was a faff, as due to power cuts some folk had to be moved to the luxury hotel down the street. Once settled some walked around the town with Danny while some relaxed (cheers!) until later when they could explore on their own. Finding a place for dinner was interesting, some bars were closing as others were opening. But as far as I know we all found somewhere to eat before collapsing into bed with exhaustion.
Lisbon & the Alentejo – Evora & More, Day 3 by Wendy Wood So, on the third day of our journey we have a hearty breakfast before meeting our guide Olga who will be informing us of the delights of Evora, the capital of Alto Alentejo, a city of outstanding beauty, and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
She led us first through the main square Praca de Giraldo to Praca de Sertoria and into the City Hall containing Roman Baths under the floor from the 2nd or 3rd Century. Olga asked us to take turns walking on the suspended floor above the baths (she must have been watching us at breakfast!)
We moved on to the ruins of the 1st Century Roman Temple known as the Temple of Diana and at 300 m the highest point for miles around. Then followed a visit to the cathedral built in a Romanesque style beginning in 1186, about 20 years after the Reconquest and on the site of the city’s main mosque. (cue for some of our group to head for refreshments)
In the middle of the central nave there is a large Baroque altar with an unusual phenomenon, a polychrome Gothic statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary (Nossa Senhora do O).
This cathedral also houses one of the oldest playable organs in the world, built in 1562.
We move on down the narrow winding streets passing an array of shops containing items made of cork – the material from which most common souvenir items from this part of the world are made. A couple of ladies quickly succumb to the lure of new handbags, one a pair of shoes and even a hat for a gentleman. Unfortunately although there was a cork bikini on sale none of the ladies in our group felt able to try this on.
We next visited the famous 16th century Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) a small chapel next to the church of St Francis. Its walls and pillars are decorated in carefully arranged bones and skulls held together by cement. The number of skeletons of monks was calculated to be about 5000, coming from the cemeteries that were situated inside several dozen churches.Built by a Franciscan monk who wanted to prod his fellow brothers into contemplation and transmit the message of life being transitory, a very common spirituality theme summed up in the motto over the entrance: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” which, roughly translated means “We bones that are here for yours we await”! – Cheerful thought!
We then stopped for a light lunch; the speciality in this area is caracois (snails in garlic butter) and although a couple of brave souls enjoyed these, most resisted the temptation.
We left Evora in the afternoon, and on our way to Lisbon we stopped off at the Cromlech of the Almendres a megalithic complex the largest existing group of structured menhirs in the Iberian Peninsula, and one of the largest in Europe. The construction of these cromlechs, and menhir stones date back to the 6th millennium BC, though they were only rediscovered in 1966.
Then onwards to our final destination, stopping off one last time on this day at the suspension bridge over the river Tagus, originally named Ponte Salazar after the dictator of Portugal at the time of the bridge’s inauguration in 1966, but now known as the 25th April Bridge.
It was based on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and is painted in the same colour. The bridge, and indeed Lisbon is overlooked by a statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, similar to that in Rio de Janeiro and is an imposing sight.
We drove through the old part of Lisbon until we reached our hotel VIP Arts Executive, in the new part of the city and thankfully unload our cases before setting out for that most important visit, to a restaurant for dinner and a glass or two of wine!!!
WHEW, and this is only our third day……will we last the pace???
Lisbon and the Alentejo – Lisbon City, day 4 by Ken Cross
Having settled into our hotel on the east bank of the river Tagus in the old Expo 98 World’s Fair quarter, it was time to meet Inga our Danish guide for the next three days.
Vasco de Gama is the favourite son of Portugal and his name dominates the area, from the 145 m tall Torre Vasco da Gama to the 17,200 m long Ponte Vasco de Gama. You can probably even buy a Vasco de Gama pizza!
Portuguese explorers are renown throughout the world and this is a theme would be a constant thread throughout our visit.
Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) the third son of King João I and his English wife, Philippa of Lancaster was a Portuguese royal prince and soldier. His patronage of explorers sent many sailing expeditions down Africa’s west coast. These expeditions were sent to create much-needed maps of the West African coast, to defeat the Muslims, to spread Christianity, and to establish trade routes. Prince Henry helped begin the Great Age of Discovery that lasted from the 1400’s to the early 1500’s. Vasco da Gama, the most feted, was the first European to reach India by sea, linking Europe and Asia for the first time by ocean route, as well as the Atlantic and the Indian oceans entirely and definitively, and in this way, the West and the Orient. This was accomplished on his first voyage to India (1497–1499).
Ferdinand Magellan a fellow Portuguese explorer who organised the Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522, resulting in the first circumnavigation of the Earth has been side-lined as he worked for the Spanish! Because of these explorers Portuguese is listed as the fifth most spoken language in the world, and is the official language of nine countries. Paris has more Portuguese speakers than any European city other than Lisbon. We learnt all about the historical 1755 Lisbon earthquake which at at 8.7 on the Richter scale was similar to recent ones in Nepal. In combination with subsequent fires and a tsunami, the earthquake almost totally destroyed Lisbon and adjoining areas. Estimates placed the death toll in Lisbon alone between 10,000 and 100,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.
The earthquake accentuated political tensions in the Kingdom of Portugal and profoundly disrupted the country’s colonial ambitions. As the first earthquake studied scientifically for its effects over a large area, it led to the birth of modern seismology and earthquake engineering.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by centuries and this reflects its “shabby chic” look as we did two walks in the morning, around the uninspiring old quarters of Alfama and Bairro Alto.
Much more interesting was the history, and we had been issued with “Whisperers” by Inga which were like audio guides with Inga providing a running commentary in our ear. It meant you could wander at will, within range, and still soak up the information.
We learnt that the Treaty of Windsor (1386), the oldest in the world, created an alliance between Portugal and England that remains in effect to this day. Between 1580 and 1640 Portugal was part of Spain. Portugal was a Monarchy until 1910.
The October 1910 Revolution saw a new “First Republic” which eventually became a de facto dictatorship until the “Carnation Revolution” of 1974, an effectively bloodless left-wing military coup, installed the “Third Republic”. Broad democratic reforms were then implemented.
We had the afternoon free to wander at will; some headed for the bars or sat in the sunshine whilst others caught one of Lisbon’s famous trams. Some visited the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major (Lisbon Cathedral) or Lisbon castle, the Moorish Castelo de Sao Jorge, standing majestically above central Lisbon and the ancient seat of power for Portugal for over 400 years. At the end of a long hot day Juan and coach were waiting to transport us back to our hotel and another glass of Monsaraz wine.
Lisbon and the Alentejo – Belem, Day 5 by Kathy Moorhouse
Our guide, Inga, was waiting for us holding a bunch of fresh flowers which she explained was to celebrate the beginning of spring, and throughout Lisbon you could see women selling these small bunches, some with a little more vigour than others. We travelled to the westernmost barrio (quarter) of the city and Inga explained about the period in Portuguese history when civil war was rife in Angola, commencing in 1961 and finally terminating in1974 when Angola gained its independence. In one and a half years Portugal had gained 700,000 refugees creating an economic disaster and taking 20 years to stabilise.
On the way west she pointed out a cathedral designed by an English architect and built in 1150 and on completion its first bishop was Gilbert of Hastings an English Crusader. We saw the Basilica de Estrela a huge baroque church built by order of Queen Maria to celebrate the birth of her first son (she had already borne six girls and had made a promise to God that on the birth of her first son she would build a church in marble). But, by a twist of fate, her son died of smallpox before it was completed in 1790.
In Belem (Bethlehem in Portuguese) we saw the Belem Tower or Tower of St Vincent a fortified tower built in the early 16th Century at the mouth of the River Tagus to protect Lisbon. The original was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 and was re-located to its present site later. Nearby is a monument to the first aerial crossing from Lisbon to Brazil in a biplane by Gago Countinho and Sacadura Cabral which they completed in 1922. Another amazing monument we saw was to Henry the Navigator and his entourage of important people.
Finally, our last historical visit was to the church and monastery for the Order of St Jeronimo. In 1498 the explorer Vasco de Gama found a maritime route to India and on the strength of this King Manuel of Portugal became a very rich man having the monopoly and putting a very high tax on pepper from the India’s. In 1560 Portugal also had the monopoly on cinnamon lasting for 100 years. In 1501 the King ordered the construction of this building on the strength of the 5% tax, equivalent to 70kgs of gold per year. The building was to offer spiritual assistance to navigators, sailors and to pray for the King’s eternal soul.
We ended our morning with a visit to the famous Casa Pasteis de Belem. A cavernous building with beautiful blue tile decor, seating (and I’m guessing) about 150 people, and renowned for its custard tarts and other pastries. We were shown to our reserved seats and were served with these delicacies of beautiful almond pastry, custard filling served with cinnamon and icing sugar – pure heaven.
After a free-time lunch (and yes we did have lunch), it was back to the coach and back to the city. For those with excess energy it was time to continue exploring Lisbon, the tile museum, the famous Aquarium (brilliant) or frequent one of the many bars. An interesting day out in a lovely area.
Can you believe the highlight of the day for my husband was paying 50 cents to use the men’s loo and being given a receipt? Ah culture!!
Lisbon and the Alentejo – Sintra & Cascais, Day 6 by Kathy Moorhouse
Another half day out with our guide Inga. This time we head north, passing the airport and the famous football stadiums of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon. Just as we were passing the airport and Inga was explaining that the Portuguese airline TAP was fondly known as “take another plane”, an aircraft coming in to land flew VERY LOW over us, and as we looked up the voices in the coach said as one “Oh look, Ryanair”. Enough said.
We headed off towards the Sintra mountain range and the town of Sintra, where Lord Byron and Hans Christian Anderson had spent time. An attractive, narrow and hilly town with pretty houses adorned with blue tiles. The Palacio do Sintra is stunning and dominates the town. It was built in the 14th Century by King Joao 1 on a site once occupied by a Moorish castle and is famous for its tiles produced in Sevilla 600 years ago, and much of its china was produced in Andalucia.
Once inside the only way is up the five floors (not sure of the number of steps, but certainly exceeding 100), and it still has its fortification. There are many stunning rooms, namely: the Hall of Swans – 27 painted wooden octagonal panels depicting swans; the Queen’s Tea Pavilion – beautiful; the Magpies Room, the story relates to King John I who was caught in the act of kissing a lady-in-waiting by the Queen Phillipa of Lancaster. To put a stop to the gossip mongers the King had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women in the Court – 136.
Another beautiful room is the Coats of Arms room constructed of stucco with its domed ceiling depicting stags clutching the coats of arms of 72 noble families. The lower walls are of deep blue tiles depicting hunting scenes. We moved on, albeit slowly following a group of German tourists, whose guide got a flea in his ear from Inga for his verbosity. It was time to descend and off to our coach, destination Cascais and Estoril.
We drove through some beautiful countryside with mountainous pine forests and lovely homes with well-tended gardens and REAL grass. This is a very wealthy area and has six golf courses much loved by the Scandinavians. As we approached the magnificent Atlantic coastline, Inga informed us that the sand dunes in this area move several metres every year.
After the Second World War many European royalty were exiled in Cascais which in turn attracted the jet-set who took ownership of the many beautiful homes now you see 5-Star hotels frequenting the area. But, this is still a fishing community and a very pretty village with an excellent beach.
Moving along the coast to Estoril, an extension of Cascais, Inga informed us that it has the largest casino in Europe. Reputed to be used by German intelligence during the Second World War it was also enjoyed by Ian Fleming who stayed there, and was subsequently the location used for the spoof James Bond “Casino Royale”. For foodies, the casino has one of the best Chinese restaurants in Europe.
Finally, we said goodbye to Inga and took the autoroute back to our hotel in Lisbon to be met with another intake of pilgrims, this time French.
Lisbon and the Alentejo – Return to España, Days 7 & 8 by Jos Biggs
What better way to start the day than with a hymn? Certainly the Pilgrims thought so, as they massed in the lobby of our Hotel. Their voices rose harmoniously up through the atrium and filled the whole space with gentle melody before they moved on to Italy and an audience with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, better known as Pope Frances.
Suitably uplifted, despite being laden with suitcases and shopping we boarded the bus, said goodbye to Lisbon and headed for the village of Tavira, in the Algarve, on the southernmost coast of Portugal.
Our way took us along the Ponte Vasco da Gama, 148 metres high in the middle, and 17,200 metres in length. The bridge was opened in 1998, and at the time was the longest suspension bridge in Europe.
It spans the River Tagus, Portugal’s longest river, which has the largest tidal estuary in Europe. Consequently, as the tide was out, there was an awful lot of mud, and in that mud there were an awful lot of worm diggers, searching for fishing bait – when I grow up I don’t want to be a worm digger!
We purred along to our coffee stop at a motorway service station named Ars. In front of the café were some anonymous looking sculptures, being studied in depth by Wendy and Bev. I have an inquiring mind, so I asked what they were supposed to be. ‘Umm.’ Bev replied.
‘They’re Umms, to go with the Ars.’ Wendy explained. Of course they were!
Tavira, our lunchtime stop, is delightful, complete with the obligatory cobbled pavements, but very, very hot. The village spans both sides of the River Gilão as it pours into the Atlantic Ocean, and both sides are connected by the Roman Bridge, which apparently has very little to do with the Romans, as the Moors built a new one in place of the Roman one!
Another very attractive feature is the tree-lined Paseo, with its ornate raised hexagonal bandstand in the centre. From the sides water pours through spouts into a little moat, beautifully planted and complete with terrapins and fish.
Grateful for the coach’s air-con, we left Portugal and entered Andalucía, headed for Punto Umbria, and the Hotel Barceló Mar.
The Hotel, which is right next to the beach, and to which it is connected by a walkway, is generally is of a high standard, and the food is – Oh, how I wish I could eat more! Not forgetting the wine on tap!
So Pete and I had an excellent dinner, followed by a good night’s sleep.
Full of a delicious breakfast and not until 10.30, (almost a lay-in) we clambered onto the coach and our group of happy campers settled in for the long drive home.
As we left Punto Umbria the landscape was largely agricultural, with many fields of sunflowers – now I know where all those sunflower seeds in Mercadona come from!
As we sped east we saw convoys of tractors pulling decorated gypsy-style caravans – these were pilgrims going to the village of El Rocio to participate in the Romeria in honour of the Virgen del Rocio. The Virgen del Rocio is a carved wooden statue of the Virgen Mary holding the Christ Child in her arms, and is known at the Virgin of Remedies.
It is estimated that up to a million people may attend the Romeria on foot or on horse. If only a quarter of them were to go on horseback, that would still be a very large muckheap for somebody’s garden!
Juan pulled the bus in to a service station for our lunch stop – Opps! Wrong services. So he pulled out again, and pulled in again 100 yards further on. No, still not the right one! But third time lucky, he pulled in and we got our lunch, which tasted all the better for the anticipation!
Once we had passed Granada the trees thinned out gradually and the countryside became more familiar, and soon we were home again.
An excellent holiday, but nice to be home again – home to a mountain of washing, a huge heap of ironing, to cooking, cleaning, dusting… Never mind, we can look forward to the next holiday now…
On a personal note, I would like to thank Danny for an excellent job and excellent research, as always, Juanito Sin Pelo, our driver, who remained cool under all circumstances, Ken for thinking the whole thing up, and the colossal amount of work he puts in for our enjoyment, and to Bev, who I’m sure must have moments when she could pull her hair out in handfuls!
But also to our travel companions, for their kindness and helpfulness, for the many offers of assistance in many ways. It was a lovely holiday, but without your kindness it would have been so much harder for us – thank you.
We were lucky enough to have been booked into a great little hotel which was centrally situated for everything. Somehow Valencia did not feel like the third largest city in Spain.
After our early afternoon arrival there was just time for a quick lunch or tapas before meeting our guide Michael back at the hotel. We set of for a guided tour of the Historical centre starting in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento; the largest plaza in the city, home to many magnificent buildings including the Ayuntamiento and the Edificio de Correos with a beautiful fountain at the northern end. We were told how the plaza is the focal point during the Les Fallas when the fireworks of the Mascletà can be heard every afternoon.
We made our way through the winding streets to Plaça de la Mare de Déu containing the Basilica of the Virgin and the Turia fountain, and then around the corner to the Plaça de la Reina, with the Cathedral, orange trees, and many bars and restaurants.
We finished our walk at the old Turia River which was diverted in the 1960s, after severe flooding, the old riverbed is now the Turia gardens, which contain children’s playgrounds, fountains, walks and sports fields.
The next two days were free for exploration and many people headed to the striking futuristic buildings of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava, to visit either, the Science Museum, the Aquarium, the IMAX or all three.
The highlights for me were the magnificent Jardin Botanico (Botanical Gardens) and the Museum de Fallas. But the city has so many sights and enough attractions for us only to have scratched the surface and we will certainly want to return again in the future.
After years of living in the land of the “plastico” the Group of Friends eventually got to investigate the methods used for intense salad cultivation, on a fascinating visit to the Clisol greenhouses near El Ejido.
Following on from her parents, Lola, our guide, had worked in the farming community since childhood, and has been at the forefront of modernising the industry over the years. Lola emphasized the importance of intensive agriculture under plastic for the economy of the province, talking deeply about the different cultivation techniques used including the most recent features, the application of new technology using a more sustainable and extremely environmentally friendly agriculture method.
Her passion shone through as she explained how insects and bumble bees are used in lieu of chemicals, how plants are grown in Coco fibre and rock wool, and how water is recycled. They utilise new technology and a weather station is linked to a computer that operates ventilation, heating, computerized control of climatic irrigation, integrated pest control, recirculation of the drainage system etc.
Afterwards we were able to taste many of the different varieties of tomatoes, (pear, cherry, cocktail and salad), as well as the ‘Almeria’ and ‘Cocktail’ cucumbers with olive oil, bread and honey, vegetable sauces and the latest vegetable jams.
They also grow Melon, Peppers, Aubergine, and Courgette.
A fascinating trip which has made us all look at the “Plastico” in a very different light.
Tip of the Month
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad
This proved to be a popular trip as most people admitted that had never actually visited the city as tourists. “Just shows, there’s more to Murcia than Ikea!” said one of our party.
Our day started six kilometres from the city of Murcia at El Santuario de la Virgen de la Fuensanta in the heart of the Southern Cordillera, a mountainous area flanking the valley of the Segura River. It enjoys a commanding position overlooking the entire valley towards the city on the very edge of the protected area known as Carrascoy Regional Park and El Valle.
Our guide Marian informed us that it had been a sacred place from ancient times; the first chapel had been in a cave. Work on the present sanctuary began in 1694, built in the Baroque style; the buildings were badly damaged in the civil war and later restored.
The Virgin of Fuensanta was not the original patron until a severe drought in the late seventeenth century meant she ousted the previous deity and was paraded to the cathedral in the city and it supposedly did the job, it rained! She is now paraded by pilgrims twice a year.
Murcia was founded by the emir of Cordoba Abd ar-Rahman II in 825 AD and is the seventh largest city in Spain. It is widely believed that Murcia’s name is derived from the Latin words of Myrtea or Murtea, meaning land of Myrtle (the plant is known to grow in the general area), although it may also be a derivation of the word Murtia, which would mean Murtius Village (Murtius was a common Roman name). Other research suggests that it may owe its name to the Latin Murtae (Mulberry), which covered the regional landscape for many centuries. The Latin name eventually changed into the Arabic Mursiya, and then, Murcia.
Next stop was the magnificent Cathedral of Murcia, built between 1394 and 1465 in the Castilian Gothic style. Its tower was completed in 1792 and shows a blend of architectural styles. The first two stories were built in the Renaissance style (1521–1546), while the third is Baroque. The bell pavilion exhibits both Rococo and Neoclassical influences. The main façade (1736–1754) is considered a masterpiece of the Spanish Baroque style.
But before we went inside we stopped a while in the square shared by the Cathedral (Plaza Cardinal Belluga) and were told about the colourful 18th century Bishop’s Palace and a controversial and ugly extension to the town hall built in 1999 by (polemic) architect Rafael Moneo.
The Real Casino de Murcia was the highlight for me. It is located in the central calle Trapería not far from the cathedral. The building, whose construction began in 1847, is an eclectic mix of many different artistic styles that coexisted in the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in Spain and, so now is considered of cultural interest, with the category of monument.
The building is the headquarters of the social institution of the same name serving as a private club and was incorporated on June 11, 1847. After extensive renovations was declared a national historic monument in 1983 and awarded the title Royal by the king.
We finished off the day with a great al fresco Murcian lunch in the Cathedral square.
What a surprise that our trip to a Cocktail Factory was over-subscribed!
In November, to warm us up, and purely on a fact finding mission, we combined a short shopping stop at the “Espacio Mediterraneo” and a cultural visit to Cartagena Port with a two hour tour of the “Licor 43 Experience”.
Licor 43, or Cuarenta Y Tres, is a Spanish liqueur, made from citrus and fruit juices, flavoured with vanilla and other aromatic herbs and spices. It has a total 43 different ingredients, hence the name: some of which are only known to an inner circle from the founding Zamora family and theses are mixed and added in a locked room above the stills. The secret liqueur which dates back to Roman times was originally called Mirabilis (Marvellous).
The company was founded in 1924 in Cartagena where it has remained ever since, although it is also situated in Curaçao and Madagascar where other distilled beverages such as rum are produced.
The company moved to its current, modern premises, in 2012, where it also produces Pacharan and Limoncello.
Our visit started in the “Chill-out Zone” where we were given a short introduction and then offered our first tasting Coffee and Cream infused with Licor 43. We were then split into two groups; one visited the factory where a total of 15 people work on the shop floor but produce 9500 bottles per day. Apparently costs are kept to a minimum by the production line working between 7am and 3pm only. In 2012 they produced Seven Million bottles.
The second group were shown a promo video and then escorted around the museum getting to know the history and seeing how the product had been marketed through the ages. Apparently Licor 43 is available in UK but only in Harrods and…………ASDA!
We were then taken into the “Cube Sensation” which has surround sound and wrap around film screens for more promotional video.
Then it was back to the “Chill-out Zone” for a Ginger and Lime Cocktail followed by a Licor 43 “Beer” and nibbles. The subsequent queue for the shop was huge with a mad scramble for Christmas presents or possibly just for personal consumptive pleasures.
We were based for three nights at a four star resort hotel in Peñiscola, on the Costa Azahar in the province of Castellón, one of the most popular tourist resorts in the whole of Spain. The castle surrounded by the old town is perched on a small peninsula overlooking the sea, surrounded by water on every side but one. It really is a stunning vista!
As we took an evening guided stroll upwards through the narrow cobbled streets surrounded by beautiful 16th century walls we glimpsed history around every corner. We also tasted its liqueurs, based on alcoholic coca cola and named after Papa Luna, the Anti-Pope Benedict XIII, who lived in the castle where he died at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1922 the town was named Monumento Histórico Artístico Nacional, and in 1961 the film cameras moved in along with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren for the filming of “El Cid”. Peñiscola is currently on the list of “Los Pueblos Mas Bonitos De España”, voted one of the 24 most beautiful towns in Spain.
No more writing from me I will leave our three ladies to describe the rest of our holiday. Ken Cross
Day 2 – Morella by Sarah Makin
Leaving Peñiscola we head up the coast passing Benicarlo and then inland, we notice the temperature dropping as we climb steadily towards our destination of Morella at 984 metres.
This beautiful medieval walled town situated inland in the Province of Castellon perched on the top of a hill, and thus dominating the surrounding lands was first developed by the Iberians. The Greeks arrived and used Morella as a Treasury Town because it was halfway between the River Ebro, the Crown of Aragon, and the coast of Valencia with access to the Mediterranean.
In the surrounding area there are prehistoric traces with cave painting and Bronze Age tombs.
After the Punic war, the Roman Empire annexed it for the big and strong Tarraconensis Province. The Moors took over Morella and this part of Spain in 714 and it marked a dramatic turning point for the region.
Under five centuries of Arab rule the region prospered, with large advances being made in irrigation techniques (the palm plantations of Elche date from this period), the cultivation of rice, the manufacture of paper in the region around Xátiva and centres of learning established in the Region of Valencia and Denia. The Moors also had a rich culture and believed in the importance of education, poetry, maths, literacy and the arts flourished during their time in the region. They also tolerated all religions. One legacy from the Arab era which still exists today is the Tribunal de las Aguas in the regional capital, Valencia, where a council of ordinary people meets every year to discuss the distribution of water.
The famous El Cid was supposed to have rebuilt the castle in Morella and in 1084 fought in the service of Yusuf Al-Mutaman against Sancho Ramirez of Aragon, a Christian aristocrat. Sancho did manage to capture Morella in 1117, but it was soon recaptured by the Moors until finally taken by Blasco de Alagon in 1232. The Arab epoch came to an end in the 13th century, although the final expulsion of the last families would not take place for another two centuries, under the rule of Philip II in 1609. Many of the villages deserted by the Moors were taken over by people from the nearby island of Majorca, who in turn brought their own influences to the language and cuisine of the area.
King James 1st of Aragon established a royal garrison in the city and gave its inhabitants the title of ‘faithful’.
In the late 17th Century, Morella was severely affected by the plague. After twenty years of suffering, the citizens brought a statue of the Virgin Mary from the Sanctuary of Vallivana (24 km away), and they paraded it through the streets. It is said that the plague disappeared from the city and, as a result of this the Festival of Sexenni takes place for 9 days in late August. The Virgin is carried in procession and the traditional town Guilds perform ancient dances in her honour. The Festival takes place every 6 years, the last one being in 2012.
We enter Morella, on foot, through the Porta de San Miquel, a stunning Archway flanked by two kilometres of walls dating from the 14th century which include 10 towers and 7 gates as it wraps around the city. We get our first glimpse of why Morella has been listed as one of the Pueblos mas Bonitos de España.
As we walk along the cobblestone streets, we notice the many gorgeous shops selling all kinds of local produce. ‘Quesos de la Artesanos de Oveja y Cabra Comarca’. There are dozens of sausage varieties, beef slices, olive oils, honey (Miel de Lavanda), cheese, beef and pork hams, wines and the highly prized black truffles. Some tasted a ‘flaon’, a local pastry filled with curd and almond. It certainly made my mouth water!!!!
We then visit the Santa María la Mayor Archpriest (1263-1330) with its two impressive Gothic doors and the many different influences from the 13th to the 16th century it truly is an amazing Cathedral. Inside there is a treasure-trove of artefacts from the various eras. Maravilloso!!!
After that, the 29 souls who felt energetic continued up the cobbled streets (led by Danny) to the Castle. The last 98 steps to the top challenged all (especially with the winds!!) and only 2 souls faltered at the final hurdle (knee injuries would not permit that final ascent!!). Those who managed the steps said it was definitely worth the effort for the amazing views of the area.
The remainder of the group were able to enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many restaurants and café’s which provided wonderful local fayre. I’m sure everyone who visited Morella could have spent many more hours enjoying all it had to offer. A Truly Wonderful day was had by all!!!
Day 3 – The Ebro Delta and Tortosa, by Wendy Wood
It was an early start for our motley crew this morning. After a hearty breakfast we set off for the River Ebro Delta with a few crew members partaking of a little grog on the coach to help with their scurvy (or so they said). Arriving at our destination we were piped on board (well nearly) for our cruise out into the delta to where the river meets the sea. We were kept informed by a standard commentary much improved when our knowledgeable holiday guide, Danny took over the microphone, and then, worryingly, the controls! The sea was calm and on the top deck music enhanced the enjoyable voyage as well as spotting the local wildlife including an ibis and a bearded heron but no marauders nor hungry crocs thank goodness. After the cruise there was plenty of time for refreshments and a look at the local pink snail’s eggs (or perhaps that grog was stronger than we thought).
Our second visit of the day was to Tortosa, a medieval town inland dominated by the Castell de la Suda (now a Parador hotel) and the stunning Santa Maria Cathedral , as well as plenty of bars and cafes; always an important item on any trip. Danny led the stronger walkers up to the castle, but the faint hearted just strolled through the town past the restored Pont Roig (Red Bridge), which is one of the most picturesque sections of the Via Verda (Greenway), a disused railway track transformed into a walking and cycling path, passing through Tortosa along the riverside.
There was an interesting giant museum in the park. The giants and ‘big heads’ parade is a popular tradition celebrated in many parts of Europe and South America. The tradition consists of making characters with big heads chase attendees of the parade; the most common characters represent popular archetypes or historical personalities. Since 2009, these giants and big heads are located in the enclosure ‘La Llotja’ in Tortosa, a gothic Catalan building, originally a warehouse, built in the middle of XIV century. In 1716, ceased to function as a warehouse, and in 1933 it was transferred, stone by stone, from its old location next to the river, to the modernist gardens of Teodor Gonzalez Park.
On the way back to the coach a few of us indulged in a Bailey’s ice cream. We wended our weary way back to the hotel for yet another night of good food, good company and a drink or two!
Day 4 – The Caves of San José, by Shelagh Copeland
After a leisurely breakfast we bade “Adios a Peñiscola” – sad to go but sure to return.
The homeward journey was ahead of us but to cheer us up we had an interesting visit to look forward to on the way.
Between Castellon and Valencia we stopped at La Valle d’Uixo. Here we visited the fascinating Grutes Les Sant Josep (Caves of San José) natural caves in an underground river. The river is the longest navigable underground river in Europe – currently 2750 metres – but the source of the river (or the end of the cave) is still not known so who knows how long it actually is.
From a pier underground we embarked on small boats, which took us through the Hall of Bats (named from the large number of bats that once occupied the cavity) with its high dome, Lake Diana with green moss. Siphons Gallery where live tiny crustaceans, Dry Zone with peculiar formations like the Cascade Flower and finally the Cathedral, named after the great height of its dome (measuring 12 meters) and the stalactites that slide down around the room, some as old as 150,000 years BC.
In the boat on our way through we spent some time with our heads down to avoid the massive stalactites. We did leave the boat to walk in a semi-circle before joining it again. Our party joked that in the UK you would not be allowed to do it without – at least – tin hats. One of our party wished she had worn a tin hat when she had a collision with an overhanging rock. But what an experience. Unforgettable. You can see a few pictures of these underground caves at www.riosubterraneo.com.
This is certainly a place to bear in mind if you have visitors and want to take them somewhere really different. It has plenty of parking and a variety of facilities – pools and playgrounds, a chapel, a Tourist Centre, souvenir shops and plenty of places for lunch or snacks. Most of our group took advantage of the various ice cream kiosks.
We reluctantly got back on the coach and carried on with our journey home. Just outside Valencia we stopped for a quick menu del dia. Our one hour lunch somehow extended to two hours but in good company time flies.
Unfortunately, the last part of our journey was delayed because of an accident on the motorway which forced us to make a detour. But a sing along on the coach kept our spirits up.
We finally arrived back in the Almanzora Valley and had to say a sad goodbye to Danny (our guide) and our driver Paco. But not “Adios”; simply “Hasta Luego” or “Hasta la Proxima”.
It was a day full of surprises, which is good if you embark on a mystery tour. The biggest surprise of the day was that we ended up in Baza and that there were so many interesting things to see.
Our guide for the morning walk through Baza’s history was Miguel, a self-deprecating, but funny, knowledgeable and very pleasant man. Our Historic stroll, took us past wooden balconied houses (XVIc) in the neighbourhood of San Juan, the Plaza de los Moriscos, the Cascamorras Fountain and the Golden Pipes (XVIIc). We saw the Cloister of the Convent of Santo Domingo (XVIIc), the Old Butchers (XVIc), and the remains of the wall and Moorish towers, as we moved through the Plaza Mayor and Santiago neighbourhood.
Baza was under Islamic rule (713-1489), and now like many major cities the mosques were eventually built over with Christian structures. Under the Moors, Baza was an important frontier post along the border with the kingdom of Murcia. It was also a major commercial centre, with a population upward of 50,000, making it one of the three most important cities in the Kingdom of Granada. In 1489, during the Granada War, the city fell to Queen Isabella I of Castile, after a stubborn defence lasting seven months. The cannons still adorn the Alameda.
The Dama de Baza was the highlight of the Iberian Art & Archaeological Museum, which consists of 7 rooms spread between two beautiful sixteenth-century buildings over 1,200 square meters.
Our next port of call was the Arab Baths (XIIIc), located in the old Arab suburb of Marzuela, being one the best preserved in the nation. Over the years they had been used as public toilets, a pigsty, stables a winery and a woodshed.
Miguel left us to make our way by coach to the modern Jabalcón winery, where his “twin brother” greeted us for a tour and tasting of three wines and local entremeses.
Another mystery was where our lunch was to be as we hit the autovia heading towards Guadix passing every exit on the way. We eventually reached the Restaurant Romeral, which although part of a motorway services was really nicely decked out for our lunch. Everyone was especially pleased to meet Miguel’s “other brother” who was a spitting image of the other two and was an excellent waiter and host.
Our bunch of merry pilgrims travelled 2764 kilometres over seven weary, but thoroughly satisfying days, as we followed the Camino de Plata towards the UNESCO World Heritage city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the final destination on the “Way of Saint James” pilgrimage route.
Is there a better way to start your holiday than the coach dropping you off outside one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe? You then enter the UNESCO World Heritage city of Avila and take a gentle stroll past churches and Renaissance palaces towards your hotel, itself a reformed Palace and right next door to the cathedral, and your first beer.
The past wealth of the town as a textile centre has left its mark with many important buildings and the following morning our guide Mariano walked us through history as we learnt all about this compact city and its Saint, Teresa of Jesus. The city walls are truly amazing; the perimeter is two and a half kilometres, with about 2,500 battlements, 100 towers, 6 doors and 3 secondary entrances.
En route to Galicia we stopped in Zamora for lunch, it was a long way to the north west tip of Spain and we were quite late checking into our hotel, so it was a quick dash out to find a bar and tapas for the footy.
We spent a total of four nights in Santiago de Compostela, and after a guided tour on the first day some people actually attended the Pigrims Mass, which I was told was standing room only. During the service they normally swing the botafumeiro, a gigantic incense burner, from the ceiling of the church.
It was interesting to see the various groups of pilgrims arriving and hugging each other with pure joy and a sense of achievement, as they queued for their certificates and hoped to be amongst the first ten to get free board and lodging at the Parador. All this atmosphere backed by the swirl of Gallegan pipes in the distance.
One night Danny took a few of us on a trek through the city to a typical Pulperia, a spit and sawdust bar serving the Gallegan speciality – Octopus! The idea was to educate our palates and also improve our appreciation of the finer points of football. Most of us preferred the other local dish of Zorza, and were also able to share the pain of the locals as we watched Spain being knocked out of the World Cup, welcome to our world. Even the crowning of the new King Felipe was no consolation.
The next day we headed to the Rias Baixas and south to the city of Pontevedra, the Galician capital for a stroll and some free time before we continued west. Our next stop was the delightful fishing village of Combarro, with its traditional architecture and “horreos” (special buildings for keeping the grain dry). We continued on to Puerto O’Grove right on the tip of a small peninsula here we had a very special experience: a boat trip out to the mussel and oyster farms, here known as “bateas”, where we learnt all about this important source of income for the locals. Included in this trip were as many mussels and Riberiro wine as you like! We even had the seagulls eating out of our hands, with tutelage from Paco our driver.
We then crossed the bridge to the Isla de la Toja, a very popular spa island visited for many decades by wealthy Spanish families. Most people, by now in a jolly mood, took a trip on the “Wally Wagon” around the island and afterwards visited the seashell church and the shop selling the famous La Toja soap and gels.
The last full day in Galicia we travelled along the “Coast Of Death” to the “End of the World” (Finisterre) and en route, in Carnota, saw the longest hórreo (35 m long) in Spain.
As its name indicates, Finisterre was the end of the world as far as the Romans and many other dwellers in Europe knew until the discovery of America. The coastal drive was spectacular with many photo opportunities along the way, and we were so lucky with the weather. Finisterre village itself was a good place to stop on the harbour side for lunch or even leave behind your gifts and souvenirs!
We left Santiago on a completely different route heading west along the Pilgrims way with Paco honking the intrepid walkers as we passed and Danny shouting Buen Viaje!
Lunch was arranged for those that wanted in a huge tavern in the lovely village of Molinaseca, another spot full of Pilgrims.
As if four nights in Galicia was not enough we had a night stop in the elegant and impressive San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the historical residence of the Kings of Spain, but also a monastery, mausoleum, royal palace, museum, and school. Oh, I nearly forgot, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Philip II of Spain, appointed Juan Bautista architect-royal in 1559, and together they designed El Escorial as a monument to Spain’s role as a centre of the Christian world. Bautista had spent the greater part of his career in Rome, where he had worked on the basilica of St. Peter’s, and in Naples.
On our last morning we had a guided tour of the Royal Monastery a complex structure, but the simplicity of its lines focus all the attention on the harmony of its courtyards, fountains, cloisters and towers. More than 4,000 rooms are distributed among the principal areas. The Courtyard of the Kings of Judea gives way to the Basilica, which has a dome base measuring 95 metres and paintings by Lucas Jordán among its major features.
San Lorenzo was also built to house the Royal Pantheon and the Spanish monarchs from the houses of Habsburg and Bourbon are buried here. The princes, infantes and queens who died without leaving royal descendants rest in the Pantheon of the Infantes.
We arrived home late; weary but well fed and watered, wiser and more educated but also having had a thoroughly good time.
What a start to our day, as we alighted our coach a few kilometres short of Las Negras, we were surrounded by beauty, the ground around us covered in wonderful pink and white, flowering caper plants.
Our small group of 28 were all issued with hand lens magnifiers to hang round our necks, making us feel just like professional geologists, we had a quick lesson in basic geology before setting off on a gentle trek through the beautiful Cabo de Gata Regional Park.
Our guide for the day was David Monge, an expert in the Flora, Fauna and Geology of the park, he not only works in the park but also lives there. He was going to try and explain the wonders of the surrounding terrain in layman’s terms that we could all understand.
As we strolled towards Las Negras we learnt about Plate tectonics, Alluvial fans, Magma, Plumose structures and Plutonic Rocks, as well as the difference between sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks. We were expecting to have to do an examination at the end of the day!
After an expensive refreshment stop in the old gold mining town of Rodalquilar we carried on to Isleta del Moro for views of and information about the Volcanoes del Frailes across the bay. Our final stop, a short distance away was on the beach at Los Escullos where we were shown perfect examples of Oolites.
Maybe we did not come away from our visit as Geological experts, but perhaps with a bit more knowledge about the formation of the stunning Cabo de Gata Regional park all those millions of years ago.
We finished off the day with a very nice lunch at the cowboy themed Hostal Alba in Albaricoques, surrounded by TVs showing Spaghetti westerns.
Pleistocene – the geological epoch which lasted from about 2588000 to 11700 years ago, spanning the world’s recent period of repeated glaciations. The Pleistocene is the first epoch of the Quaternary Period or sixth epoch of the Cenozoic Era.
Pliocene – the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5332 million to 2588 million years before present. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch.
If you don’t know what a dolmen is, then you will have to set your Time Machine to the 5th millenium BC, and steer it to the Guadix-Baza Depression, where you can step out into prehistoric Gorafe and find out for yourself!
Or I can tell you – it’s a burial tomb of huge slabs of stone standing on end around a dug out depression, and topped with an enormous stone ‘lid’.
Our Group voyage of discovery commenced on the Mirador in the car park of the Venta Los Hermanos Vergara, which gave us our first view of the deep steep gorge in which the village of Gorafe is situated.
Here we met our guide, Presentación Hernandez Martinez, or Pré for short, who led us down the hill and then halfway up again, as though we were the Grand Old Duke of York’s 10,000 men, in order for us to see a dolmen up close.
Then on to the village, where market day is Wednesday, up a thousand steps (well, not quite!) to the small 16th century church of the Virgen de la Anunciación, with its lifesize blue robed statue of the Virgin Mary on the inside, and its Mirador with a bird’s-eye view of the village on the outside.
The Centro de Interpretación, right next to the church, was our next stop, where the group divided in two to see films explaining the history of the area and the dolmens in particular. A great deal of money has been spent on this new and up-to-the-minute Centre, with a 3-D film and a circular spiral presentation hall, where a film was simultaneously projected onto the ceiling, the floor, and what looked to me like an enormous white mushroom suspended halfway between floor and ceiling. All very impressive, but I needed someone to interpret the Interpretation Centre!
Pré then took us up another vertiginous climb to her cave house, which was delightfully cool after our exertions in the sun.
Returning to the village we sat down to our 2 hour lunch in the Posada Los Guiles, where the best ever Tinto Verano is made by Rosalia Rodriguez, who also served a strawberry fruit cup dessert so delicious that I was forced to eat 3 of them!
After lunch we were promised a ‘surprise’. Pré led us to the Balneario de Alicun, a spa set in a beautifully landscaped and tended park, to see the Acueducto del Toril. This used to be a normal irrigation channel on ground level, probably made to take the water to the village in its Paleolithic days. Mineral deposits from the water have caused it to form a wall more than 15 metres high and about a kilometre in length.
To see this phenomenon we walked along a grassy path between huge weathered rocks before turning to pass underneath the acueducto. Here the water seeps down through the limestone in a constant cascade of drips, forming a shallow stream beneath, and on which we walked – we were walking on water!
So thus ended our trip to the Guadix Basin. Well fed and well exercised as well as well informed we wended our homeward way, all of us now experts on the use and building of dolmens.
It was 15 November 2013 when 51 fairly frozen souls boarded the bus for Benalúa.
Benalúa? Never heard of it! Well now you will! It is just off the A92 from Baza, in the Guadix Basin – that’s the valley in which the town of Guadix is situated, not a bathroom feature – and is famous for its cave houses.
Firstly, in the bright sunlight, but with a chill wind blowing off the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, we visited Cuevas La Granja, a cave house complex. Originally these belonged to the owner of the local, now defunct, sugar factory, but now have been enlarged and brought up to date with great artistic flair and all mod cons: bathrooms, kitchens, and most essentially, televisions!
Our lovely guide, Sylvia, gave us a talk about the history of the caves, from their first usage as Neolithic man’s dwellings to fodder storage, from there to places of refuge from enemies, and coming full circle as modern ecologically friendly houses.
Our next stop involved Lorenzo backing the coach up an only-just-wide-enough street, and while the adrenalin was still flowing we disembarked to climb up to a viewpoint. Here the valley was laid out in all its autumn glory; green and gold stands of poplars between red and bronze plantings of vines and fruit trees, interspersed with the green of growing crops, stretching all the way up to the Sierra Nevada, with its peaks etched in white, while the light sandy hues of the Malpais (Badlands) enclosed the valley from the opposite side.
Next high spot on the agenda was a visit to the oldest cave in the area. Originally a Moorish stronghold, it now belongs to the fit and youthful looking Pepe, a picador extraordinaire, whose own home cave is an eclectic mix of tastes and eras. He is picking (hence the name picador) enlargements to several houses from the existing caves, and explained with enthusiasm the craft of safe cave creation; caves are more than simply a hole in a hill!
Next stop was Bodega Pago de Almaraes, with Natalia who explained the process from grape to bottle. This Bodega has a string of Awards for Excellence as long as your arm, and Natalia made sure that we fully appreciated the different reds (white was sold out) with a very organised tasting session, getting us to swill, observe and taste. She did suggest that if we didn’t like the wine, we could spit it out into the bucket provided.
Having taken advantage of the offers to purchase we left the Bodega, and the unused bucket, to head for lunch, back at La Granja. This was a succession of typical tapas of the area; by now it was 3.30, and our stomachs were ready to do justice to the 7 different savoury tapas. By the time the 7th had been consumed we were full up and ready for a snooze, when an 8th tapa appeared – turron ice cream! Somehow we managed to find room for it, before climbing, full of knowledge, sights and tapas, back on to the coach!
A fantastic day out, but cold in the wind. Except in the cave houses, which stay at a constant 20 -22 degrees all year round!
Our first day was not too demanding, after a mid-day start progressing down the Andalucian coast towards Salobreña on the Costa Tropical and our hotel for the next four nights, the “Best Western Salobreña”.
The excitement on the coach was palpable; after all, this trip looked like it was destined to be a sociable bacchanalia of free food and drink along with some well-constructed days out, also with free food and booze! Not a holiday for those watching their weight.
We arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon, it was spectacularly perched on a cliff top overlooking the sea with wonderful views of Salobreña old town and castle, which meant we had time to settle down, relax, unwind and have a pre-prandial drink (or two!).
Day 2: A visit to the region called La Axarquía was planned, but first a visit to the spectacular Caves of Nerja. These fascinating dripstone caves, only discovered in 1959, are 200,000 years old and contain one of the world’s biggest columns, formed by a stalactite meeting a stalagmite, an impressive 32 metres tall. The circular route through the caverns was hard going for some as it involved many flights of stairs, luckily we had arrived first before dozens of subsequent coach parties as it was quite humid inside, but it was well worth the effort.
We then headed to the town of Torox, where a church visit was not possible due to an ongoing funeral; this meant we had free time for coffees until a quick tour of an Almacen and a tasting of the local olive oil.
It was back on the coach to wind our way up into the Axarquian hills where after a short stroll down a dusty track we reached our destination.
We were due to lunch with the “Local Housewives”. Our location was spectacular an old cortijo perched on a hillside with stunning views across several valleys and mountain ranges to the coast. Outside the cortijo amongst the trees, there were two large pergolas set up with two rows of tables. What followed was a feast of Andalucian dishes, cold meats and cheeses, 3 types of olives, aubergines in sugar cane syrup, migas, soup, roasted vegetables, and pork in almond sauce. This was all washed down with lashings of beer and wine and accompanied by rustic bread and olive oil.
Day 3: Our trip up into the Sierra Nevada today took us through a fantastic gorge known locally as the mini Grand Canyon. Passing the famous village of Lanjaron, the tour took us inland, to the part of Sierra Nevada called Las Alpujarras, the ancient homeland to which the Moors were banished, and where they had produced silk.
Nowadays the area is famous for its ham curing, so of course, we had to visit a typical “secadero de jamón” and, of course, we had to taste and wash it down with a drink.
Our next stop was in the charming village of Pampineira which proved to be very popular, especially once we knew about the chocolate factory!
Our final stop was little village of Capileira, the highest settlement accessible by road. In the local “bodega” we were crammed in and served local wine and tapas. Not very memorable and some of us branched off to get lunch elsewhere.
Day 4: Today, led by Rebecca, the fittest amongst us set off on a coastal walk (route march) to Salobreña. The walk was optional some took the option and went by coach, I am sure there were others who had wished they had done likewise. Our route took us past the old sugar cane factory and the whitewashed workers village surrounding it; and then we passed banana, chiramoya and nispero orchards, the whole area below the town spread out like a giant allotment growing the sort of exotic produce only found in this part of Spain.
After a short rest in the town and a long cold beer, most of us were led upwards on a walk through the winding streets to the beautifully situated Moorish 12th century fortress. Some opted out early, whilst others found the route too steep and turned back.
The effort was worth it, we entered the fortress and from this strategically situated spot we had excellent views over both the Mediterranean Sea and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Afterwards, we were given three vouchers each which enabled us to get tapas and a drink at a few selected bars, which on this part of the coast it is called “aperitivo”. This was an ideal way to explore the rest of the town independently.
Luckily after an exhausting day our coach was there waiting to transport everybody back to the Hotel.
Day 5: Our last day. Suitcases loaded onto the coach by Jose, our wonderful driver, we set off for the fifteen minute drive to Almu&ntide;écar. The town has a rich historic heritage and there are many remains from both the Roman and the Moorish periods. Rebecca took some of us on a guided walk through the streets passing the old market place towards the delightful Parque Botánico/Arqueológico “El Majuelo” overlooked by the San Miguel Fortress.
The park surrounds the remains of the Roman fish-salting factory, El Salazón, which supplied the Roman Empire with salted fish two thousand years ago; and is also home to many restored small buildings housing artisan workshops.
The town has a lovely ancient quarter with narrow little streets tumbling down from the castle with lots of shops, and as luck would have it, Friday was local market day.
After another guided tapas tour (Oh no, not more free food and wine!) we made our jolly way back to the Valle del Almanzora.
Having only just arrived from the UK the night before, it was up early the next morning to catch the coach to the Cosentino marble factory, near Cantoria. Our first impressions included marvelling at the state of the art main building, with its glass pyramid-shaped roof, in the middle of what looks like (and indeed is) a barren landscape. How could we possibly spend two hours learning about marble? Answer – it was more like three hours, and even that was too short! The reception area, a beautiful atrium with luxurious seating, large marble slabs in every colour and pattern and the sound of water running over marble.
Following an in depth introduction by PR man Jan Schuitemaker on the many different types of marble and quartz, we settled in comfortable seats in the conference theatre – remote-controlled blinds came down, and the first of two presentations were given. The first was about this global company and its position in the market, followed by the second, giving us an insight into the different materials produced. Marble and composites for cladding, flooring, work surfaces and moulding, plus any texture and colour that you can imagine . . . . the list was endless.
We were then presented with a wonderful book, containing stunning photography of not only the production of marble, but the many faces of the workers. It was then back on the coach for a tour of the site. This wouldn’t take long, surely? How wrong! The site is enormous and still growing. One Million Square Metres! There are roads with their own names; buildings are named and for sure, workers need this as the size of the site cannot be over-exaggerated. We were eventually taken to see the newest building under construction where marble will be shaped and despatched by state-of-the art machinery (it was absolutely enormous!) before returning to the main gate to say goodbye to our tour guide.
The trip surely couldn’t get better! Again, how wrong! Our next stop was Bodega Perfer at Uleila de Campo, where they were ready with a cookery demonstration – the result of which would be our lunch! Starting out on the patio, we had to decamp inside due to an impending storm, all the time, our mouths salivating to the aromas emitting from the huge dish containing our pork and rice. While the rice was cooking Bronwen took us on a tour of the cellars where the grapes are initially fermented in vats and then transferred to French and American Oak barrels. And finally our call to lunch – and it was worth the wait! A delicious three course lunch was accompanied by their best selling fruity Tempranillo and Tempranillo / Merlot blend wines. Not a drop of food or wine was left, and several half bottles made their way to various homes as it was too good to waste! After a visit to the obligatory shop (where numerous purchases of these fantastic wines were made), we were then ferried back to Albox, all delighted with such an interesting and varied trip. Both places are certainly well-worth a visit!
There is so much to say about this six day trip but it is only possible to do a précis here. So, to those of you who came on the trip, sorry if I miss out any of your highlights.
Extremadura is an autonomous community in west-central Spain. It borders Portugal to the west, Castilla-La Mancha to the east, Castilla y León to the north and Andalucía to the south. It is comprised of two provinces, Cáceraes in the north and the slightly smaller Badajoz in the south. In fact, these are the two biggest provinces in Spain. Mérida, on the border of these provinces and on the river Guadiana, is the administrative capital.
It is packed with World Heritage sites – extraordinary historical monuments, from Roman ruins to medieval towns – and was the home of the Conquistadores who discovered the South Americas.
On the first morning we caught the coach and met our driver, Antonio, and excellent guide and trip organiser, Danny. We had a quick breakfast near Guadix then off again on our journey. As we got closer to our first stop we kept catching glimpses of storks, strutting, flying and nesting and these seemed to reappear everywhere during our holiday.
In the early afternoon we arrived in Carmona, on the Rio Guadalquivir, north east of Seville, to be greeted with a welcome drink of Sangria at the Hotel Alcazar de la Reina. We had time to check in and freshen up then join our local guide for a walk round Carmona. This was a Roman stronghold of Hispania Baetica. It was made even more impregnable during the occupation of the Moors, who erected walls around it, and built fountains and palaces within. In 1247, Ferdinand III of Castile captured the town and bestowed on it the Latin motto Sicut Lucifer lucet in Aurora, sic in Wandalia Carmona (As the Morning-star shines in the Dawn, so shines Carmona in Andalusia). It is full of palaces, hermitages, convents, churches (with storks nesting in the belfries), hospitals, Roman bridges and Roman gates – an archaeologist’s dream. Our guide told us the story of a British archaeologist who loved so much one of the cakes made by the nuns of Santa Clara that they renamed it “Torta Ingles”. A few of our party bought one of these and found it to consist of a sponge base with a layer of chocolate nut spread under a flaky pastry top dusted in icing sugar.
Our mind now buzzing with all we had been told my group collapsed in a pretty plaza and, out of curiosity, ordered a tapa called “Spinach a la Carmona”. This came in huge portions of a delicious mix of spinach and chickpeas in a tasty sauce. Having enjoyed it so much we returned there for dinner for more!
Next morning, after an early breakfast and hotel check out we set out again. Danny told us about the Spanish Civil War and how Franco took power; he even took us up to, and after, World War Two. It was very interesting to hear it from the point of view of a boy who was brought up in Spain with English parents. He told us that when he was at school the history of Spain stopped at this point.
We soon arrived at one of the oldest mining exploitations in Europe – Minas de Río Tinto – on the river Guardiana. We visited the museum, with a rich heritage of 5000 years of mining by the different civilizations that have lived in the area. We saw examples of some of the minerals found there – beautiful examples of Rose Quartz, Milky Quartz, Fluorite and Calcite. Amongst other things, there was a scale model of the mining villages of Riotinto and a general view of the society during the British period – showing the introduction of cricket, tennis, football, golf and polo. The first Boy Scout group in Spain was founded here. Then we saw two locomotives manufactured in Britain and The Maharajah’s carriage manufactured in Birmingham in 1892. It was built for Queen Victoria’s trip to India and then brought to Rio Tinto for a royal visit of Alfonso XIII. It is considered the most luxurious narrow gauge carriage in the world.
We then boarded some rather less comfortable carriages on the train which was originally introduced to connect Riotinto with Huelva, the capital of the province and the port from where the valuable minerals were taken abroad. On the journey along 12kms of restored track we passed the old smelting and industrial facilities belonging to the mines as well as beautiful scenery. A truly memorable journey.
After alighting from the train we visited the “Barrio Inglés de Bella Vista” where, at the end of the XIX century British engineers and miners lived, after moving into the area bringing along the industrial revolution. It was interesting to see how the British houses differed from the Spanish in design and decoration.
Back onto the coach and heading north, Danny gave us some background to our next stop, Zafra, the first port of call in Extremadura. This is in quite a strategic position on a crossroad between Mérida, Badajoz, Seville, Huelva and Córdoba. The Alcazar, originally built in the 15th century, was refurbished and extended in the 16th and 17th centuries and is now a Parador Nacional with a beautiful marbled patio inside. My group went in there for refreshments, but after waiting in vain for service (I guess we did not look affluent enough) we went into the nearest plaza for cerveza and bocadillos.
After a short stop in Zafra we carried on to Mérida, and in the early evening checked into the Hotel Nova Roma. Danny had told us about the local delicacy “Torta del Casar”, which I was eager to try. And I did. It is a round soft goat’s cheese enclosed in rind (similar to camembert) which is heated and served with small squares of toasted bread to dip. Delicious.
Mérida is the capital of Extremadura and is famous for its magnificent Roman past. The next morning we met our local guide for a walk round the city. We started at the magnificent Anfiteatro and saw pictures of different types of Gladiators, Thracians, Mirmillones, Retiarii Secutores and Bestiarii then went into the arena where they would have fought. We went on to the theatre where plays would have been performed and were told how young men and women ‘courted’ there. We then carried on round the city to learn about the many temples, monuments and bridges. We then had time for a quick lunch (torta del casar for me again) before the coach took us to see the aqueduct and more storks then off to the next stop, Cáceres.
On the way, Danny told us the story of Hernan Cortes and how he conquered México. Cortes is a particular anti-hero of mine since I lived in Mexico City many years ago. Although he came from Medellin, his statue is in Cáceres.
That afternoon we checked into the Hotel HUSA Alcantara in Cáceres and were met by our local guide. She took us into the old monumental town – a magnificently preserved Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque town, with three squares: Santa Maria, San Jorge and San Mateo. This has to be seen to be believed. It was originally occupied by the Romans and the Moors, but with the last Christian re-conquest in 1229 ancestral homes started being built – manorial palaces, hermitages, churches and convents. Many of the palaces have now been converted into hotels, restaurants or Government offices, which is why it is so well-preserved. It is a working medieval town. Our guide gave us so much fascinating information but the one that sticks in my mind is where one of the arches which lead into the town was widened by one of the dignitaries at the time in order to get his carriage through to his palace. No such thing as planning permission in those days!
In the Plaza San Jorge there is a statue of St George killing the dragon. St George (San Jorge) is the patron saint of Extremadura and Catalonia. We were very lucky to happen to be in Cáceres on the eve of St. George’s Day as they have a procession through the new town to the old town with St. George and the Dragon. At around 10:30 the dragon is set alight and that is followed by an impressive firework display. The atmosphere in the main square is fantastic.
As far as food is concerned, in Cáceres that evening my friends tried the local migas, which I understand, was the best they have had anywhere. I had a wonderful starter of prawns on toast in a hollandaise-like sauce and grilled. Superb.
Next morning, St George’s Day, the ladies were greeted at breakfast with a rose from Danny. This is also the day that Cervantes and Shakespeare died and in Spain it is the day of the book. Men buy their ladies a rose and a book and book stores are set up in the main streets of the towns. We saw this during our walk round town that morning, and also youngsters dressed as cartoon characters and walking around reading aloud phrases from books. We headed back to the old town to have another look at the Jewish Quarter, (accompanied by more storks than ever) and to wait to see the band which the guide had told us began playing at noon and went from the main square into the church in the old town. Another St. George’s Day celebration. And what do we do in England on St. George’s Day for our patron saint?
Then on to Trujillo birthplace of conquistadores Francisco Pizarro who vanquished the Incas in Peru and Francisco de Orellana who discovered the Amazon. Other explorers from this area are: Vasco Nunes de Balboa – the first European across the New World to the Pacific; Pedro de Valdivia who founded Santiago de Nueva Extremadura; Nuflo de Chaves who discovered Paraguay and Eastern Bolivia and Alonso de Mendoza, founder of La Paz in Bolivia.
On the way Danny told us how and when the Guardia Civil was formed and why it is viewed with some suspicion by the elderly Spanish to this day. He also told us about Pizarro, a distant cousin of Hernan Cortes, and his adventures in Peru.
Then we arrived in Trujillo and met our local guide for a walk round the town. The old quarter rises steep, stony and sinuous, the paved streets barely two donkeys wide, but open to two-way traffic. We found ourselves having to disperse as traffic tried to pass. We saw the family homes and crests of the local heroes and families then down to the Plaza Mayor, which is full of steps, arcades, stately trimmings and storks wheeling over the statue of Pizzaro. We romped around Moorish castles and ramparts up to the gate through which the Reconquista Christians poured in 1232. The gate was sufficiently preserved to serve in scenes in Ridley Scott’s movie 1492.
After refreshments in Trujillo we drove off through the dehesa lands of holm oaks whose acorns feed the pigs from which the famous Iberico hams, sausages and black pudding are made. Gradually the countryside grew loftier and greener and we were curving up to Guadalupe, a fine monastery trimmed with a hillside village. And it was in the monastery that we stayed the night – the Hospedería Monasterio de Guadalupe.
It was here in Guadalupe that, in 1492, that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave Columbus the go-ahead, thus inaugurating the entire New World Spanish venture. 12th October – Dia de la Hispanidad – celebrates the day that Columbus arrived in the Americas.
The Virgen de Guadalupe is the Patron Mother of Extremadura and, since 1928, of the whole Spanish speaking world.
That evening some of us wandered round the small village and had tapas and others stayed for dinner in the hotel. The next morning Danny had arranged for those who were interested to have a guided tour of the monastery. I joined this group and was absolutely fascinated by the contents. Magnificent mudéjar cloisters give way to chambers boasting illuminated chant books, exquisitely embroidered cloaks and chasubles, then works by Goya, El Greco and his local rival, Zurbarán. The sacristy was so fabulously frescoed that I was awed. Finally, the climax of the visit, we were ushered into the presence of the Virgin. Most of the time she oversees the church from 80ft high in the altarpiece but we had climbed up behind and were now on her level. A monk swiveled her round to face us. She is about 20 inches tall and, because she is made of cedar, almost black. The queen of all Spanish-speaking peoples peers out from rich robes of red and gold.
The origin of the statue is not certain, but the generally held view is that towards 714 A.D. some clergymen, who were fleeing from the Moors in Seville, brought with them this image of the Virgin Mary and some other ancient relics which they hid in the banks of the River Guadalupe. At the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th century a simple herdsman, native of Cáceres, found it when the Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him where it was (under his dead cow) and told him that a church should be built there. The full story is in the visitor’s guide at the monastery.
After our visit to the monastery, we went up to the mirador for a fantastic view of the countryside then we explored the little town. We saw the stone font that tops the village fountain where you can see Cristóbal and Pedro, a pair of Indians that Columbus brought back for Ferdinand and Isabella. After a tubo and tapas we bought our souvenir torta del casar cheese as well as chorizo and morcilla from the local Iberico pigs.
Then back on the coach, leaving Extremadura and into Castilla-La Mancha, land of Don Quixote.
We expected to arrive at the hotel in Almagro late afternoon so that we would have time to get ourselves glammed up to go out on the town for our last dinner. The best laid schemes . . . .
We arrived in Almagro in plenty of time, but we encountered the first hiccup in the whole of the trip. The hotel where we were supposed to be staying had closed down !! Danny kept remarkably cool. He just went to the nearest hotel, made some phone calls and re-located us all in different places. A few of us stayed at that first hotel, the Hospedería de Almagro (which was very basic and full of students but served its purpose), others were across the square with another group of students, and the final group opted to pay extra to stay in luxury at the Posada. So well all went our separate ways for dinner.
The next morning we met our local guide in the Plaza Mayor and wondered what possible surprises this little place could have in store for us. Surely there was nothing new left to see? Well, there certainly was. Our delightful guide started by telling us about the military history of the town. It started with the Knights Templar, then the Knights of Calatrava.
We saw the statue of Diego de Almagro, who went with Pizarro to Peru then on to discover Chile, then various churches and other Renaissance mansions. One of them was painted in a shade of blue called añil which is used to keep the flies away. I am definitely going to use that on my house when I can find it !
We were told that Almagro was once quite a metropolis in southern Castile, thanks to the influence of the Fuggers, bankers to the Hapsburg king and the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos I (Charles V).
We then saw the street featured in the film “Volver”, directed by Pedro Almodovar, who also directed “The Flower of My Secret” and “Paper Birds”. I have bought DVDs of these films to put in the library.
Back to the Plaza Mayor, this is more of a wide street than a square. It is arcaded along its length and lined with rows of green-framed windows – an influence of the Fuggers. These terraces are deceiving. They contain courtyards around which houses are built. We were shown an example of one of these complexes which is now offices. Fascinating.
Then we went to visit the Corral de las Comedias, a perfectly preserved 16th century open air theatre, where plays are still performed regularly. It is one of 19 theatres that this town is famous for. In July they have a theatre festival to which people come from all over the world – the International Festival of Classic Theatre.
Finally, we sampled their local Manchego cheese and were told about their version of berejenas (aubergines). Unlike normal purple ones, these are small green and picked.
After time for a quick browse around the shops we piled onto the coach to wend our way home – thoroughly worn out but happy.
Thanks go to Ken for planning the route, based on his own knowledge of the area, and to Danny for making it work.
A buzz of excitement spread around the coach as we passed the Estadio Mediterráneo on the outskirts of the city, many would be seeing Almería through the eyes of a tourist for the first time.
We were given a potted history of the city as we passed the magnificent façade of the old railway station (1895) and the El Cable Ingles, the restored (2.8 m euros ) mineral loading bay built in 1904 for shipping ore from the Alquife mines.
We were dropped off at the Parque Nicholas Salmeron, famous for its use in the Oscar winning “Lawrence Of Arabia” and “Patton” and then were walked through the back streets passing the John Lennon statue on the way.
At the Refugios we split into two groups, one started the guided tour, whilst the others went off to take in the various sights, the 10th century Alcazaba, the monumental Cathedral or the various museums on offer. Some even went Geocaching.
Our visit took about 90 minutes and thanks to our interpreter Jill Firth we were able to enjoy the experience much more as she kept us informed whilst we wended our way through the myriad of underground passages below the bustling Paseo de Almería.
Almería suffered so badly in the Spanish Civil War, the city suffered attacks from the air and from the sea, the citizens decided to undertake the construction of underground shelters. From October 1936 until the spring of 1938, the municipal architect and a mining engineer directed the construction of 4.5 kilometres of tunnels up to 12 metres deep with the ability to house approximately 40 thousand people (at that time the population was about 50,000).
The shelters were quite innovative for the time and included lighting, clever air holes a pantry stockpile and even a basic hospital operating room to treat the wounded. Once the war ended some of the many exits were cleverly covered by a series of street kiosks in case they were ever needed again.
Of the 4.5 km of tunnels built, only 965 metres have been restored to date, and about 756 metres are open to the public, we exited outside the Escuela de Artes so we took time to visit another location from “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”.
After lunch we drove home through the La Molineta area to the north of the city, once a suburb of the wealthy, where many of the magnificent mansions had been left to decay. We saw Villa Pedicaris used in the opening sequences of the “Wind and the Lion” (Sean Connery) and the now restored Casa Fischer, Montgomery’s HQ in the film “Patton” (George C Scott). We then drove past the Roque Caves, once the location for many films such as “Conan the Barbarian” (Arnold Schwarzenegger), “Blindman” (Ringo Starr) and “Red Sun” (Charles Bronson) but now being demolished to make way for a shopping centre.
Our first stop was Ubeda in the province of Jaen, home to 5 million olive trees in an area of 36,025 inhabitants. We booked in to our very centra l hotel just in time for lunch before we were whisked off at 4pm with local guide Maria Toni.
The city possesses 48 monuments and more than 100 buildings of interest, the most outstanding of which is the monumental Vasquez de Moline square surrounded by the Palacio de las Cardenas.
We then went by coach to the neighbouring town of Baeza, perched on a hill in the Loma de Baeza. The main places of interest are the University of Granada formed in 1538 and the cathedral of Santa Maria, built over a former mosque, it was converted to Christianity in 1147. Baeza was the birthplace of sculptor and painter Gasper Becerra and also two of the important mystics and writers of the 16th century, St John of Avila and St John of the Cross.
The following morning we set off for Valdepeñas, the biggest wine producing area in Spain. We were taken on a tour of the family bodega and learnt that they fill and box 8,300 bottles each hour. It takes 7 to 10 days fermenting from 250,000 kilos of grapes each year for red wine. The sediment goes into alcohol ‘Aruja’. We were then taken for the all important wine tasting.
we then travelled to Consuegra, a typical Spanish town with a nice plaza dominated by the medieval castle on the hill, and, of course, the famous windmills. We had lunch in a very quaint restaurant and then local guide, Jose Manuel, took us round a windmill and the castle, followed by the chance to buy local saffron.
We then continued on to Aranjuez on the banks of the river Tagus.
The next day we visited the magnificent 16th century Royal Palace with excellent local guide Mayte. This is the town that inspired Joaquin Rodgrigo’s famous ‘El Concierto de Aranjuez’ (Orange Juice in the film ‘Brassed Off’).
Later that morning we moved on to Chinchón, famous for a special aperitif called Anis, and also for garlic and saffron. The stunning and picturesque Plaza Mayor de Chinchón, located in the centre of the town, is a classic medieval plaza from the 15th century and is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The day we were there they were erecting a bullring in the plaza for the fiesta that weekend.
We has a leisurely lunch and set off for our last destination, Cuenca.
our guide in Cuenca, Pablo, was a very entertaining young man with a great sense of humour; he had the whole coach laughing before we set off.
We drove through stunning countryside to Cuenca Alto where we saw the old wall, or what was left of it after the mayor and the arhbishop had managed to knock most of it down with stone from catapults during their dispute.
We were told that Cuenca was most prosperous in the 15th and 16th centuries when the textile industry of the city flourished and this led to all the fine buildings being built. The famous ‘hanging houses’ are really something. The balconies just hang precariously out over the ravine. We walked over a large footbridge which takes you over the river to the Parador for better views.
The town was declared a world heritage site in 1996 and there are many fine museums to visit. While we were there they were blocking off a lot of the streets in preparation for the running of the bulls that week end.
On our final day we had an hour or so after breakfast to stroll along the river next to the hotel before we set off at 11:30am for our return journey We stopped for lunch and had a free raffle on the coach with the many prizes reflecting the places visited on our journey.
The journey home was very quiet, I think everyone was exhausted, but in a pleasant way.
The management of the trip was superb and I can’t wait for the next one.
A wonderful sea breeze wafted over the “Don Pancho” cooling our 50 plus Group Of Friends trippers as we sailed along the coast to San Juan de la Terreros on an summer evening cruise from Águilas.
The bar did brisk business as people enjoyed the views, waved to passing boaters and spotted exotic fish. Shelagh Copeland even helped out on the commentary!
The evening had started with everyone strolling through the streets of Águilas, dining or taking a drink and tapas, and it ended the same way as we returned to port a little early.
It was such a popular trip we may even give it another go in the autumn, let us know if we should.
Hi Ken & Friends,
Just a quick note of thanks for last night’s cruise, the event was excellent, well organised, friendly people, couldn’t have been done better so “Thanks” to all that organised a most enjoyable evening.
Our merry band got on the bus for the Mystery Trip and headed Murcia-wards – no mystery there, but there were a couple of surprises later!
Arriving in the pleasantly leafy town of Alhama de Murcia we disembarked, took a restorative coffee, or other suitable liquid, before being split into two groups to (1) explore the Spa, or (2) explore the town.
The spa, unimaginatively named Los Baños, consists of a very well restored and presented Roman bath floor plan which was later utilised and adapted by the Muslims, who were even cleaner in their habits than the Romans, before the Christians came along.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages the baths fell into decline until 1848, when the architect José Ramón Berenguer saw potential in it and designed a luxury three storey hotel on the site, adapting and utilising the existing structures to create a basement area of bathrooms, showers, swimming pools and steam rooms, while the upper floors held the kitchens, dining and socialising areas.
The Spa Hotel flourished, becoming ‘the’ place to go for the Spanish. However, its success was also its downfall; as the town grew and became prosperous greater demands were put on the water supply by the burgeoning population, causing the spring that fed the baths to falter and eventually disappear altogether in the 1930s.
The Hotel then served briefly as a hospital during the Civil War, but its deteriorating condition led to it being demolished in 1972. However, many interesting records and artefacts remain, and an excellent PowerPoint presentation brings the history to life.
Having explored the baths, it was time to explore the town with the aid of an Audio Guide, and for a spell Alhama was witness to several Brits criss-crossing the town with abstracted expressions on their faces as the well-spoken audio voice in their ears extolled the beauties of the town’s various buildings of interest.
As a tribute to our individual navigating skills we all made it back to the bus, which then headed for the hills and lunch at the Monastery of Saint Eulalia.
The setting, high amid pine clad mountains, is spectacular, and various walks from there can be made if time allows. These would undoubtedly be well worth the effort for the fit, but a look inside the church is an absolute must for all.
The interior is such a surprise that I will not spoil it with description – I will simply say ‘Painting’. You have to see it for yourself!
Fortified by a superb lunch, we put our faith in Lorenzo as he navigated the hairpin ascent to the Visitor Centre, perched deep in the mountains behind the Murcian plain.
Unusually, information on the area’s flora and fauna relies not only on information boards and video presentations, but has actual dried plants and flowers as well as electronic inter-active games of animal recognition for children and the young at heart – we all had a go!
The vertiginous descent gave us another opportunity to marvel at the agricultural patchwork of the plain before settling contentedly for the journey back home.
So what were the surprises? For me, the church was amazing, as was the fact that I didn’t get lost when turned loose in the town!
On the Tuesday morning we caught the coach and met our driver, Antonio, and excellent guide, Rebeca. She regaled us with a load of information during the four days and it is impossible to repeat it all here (even if I could remember it!). However, a couple of things I did remember because they relate to our area. She told us that the area around Baza and Guadix was once a lake and evidence has been found that here were the first settlers in Europe. She also told us that olives are made up of 25% water and that there are 146 varieties. As we passed Granada she told us some of the history of Ferdinand and Isabella (and that Isabella wore the pants, so to speak).
We stopped in Antequera for lunch and had time for a quick wander round the town if we wanted to. Sandra, Bill and I found a posh tapas bar with very elegant dishes we had never seen before. It was fascinating – and cheap!
Then off again on our journey. As we got closer to El Puerto de Santa Maria we kept catching glimpses of storks, and these seemed to reappear everywhere during our holiday.
We eventually reached our hotel around 6:30 and it was amazing to think that we were still in Andalucía. After dinner some of us went out for an exploratory walk and some of us (including yours truly) collapsed into bed. It’s funny how a days travelling can tire you out so much. Perhaps all the information I’d been given and places I had seen had taxed my brain.
On Wednesday morning Rebeca met us at the hotel and took us on a walk round El Puerto de Santa Maria, with 100 palaces dating back to colonial times. She explained that Christopher Columbus sailed from here 500 years ago on his epic voyage to America, changing the world as it was known at the time (round not flat) and opening up incredible new trading opportunities. The town was named after the main vessel he chartered here. She also pointed out a plaque showing that the American, Washington Irving, had lived here during his visit to Spain. Some of you will have read his fascinating book ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ about the inhabitants of the building in Granada in the 19th century. (For those of you who have not read the book it is reference ESP10 in the library.)
We also saw more storks – nesting on top of the Cathedral/Iglesia Mayor Prioral. She then gave us a map and left us to our own devices until we took the ferry to Cádiz at mid-day.
In Cádiz, we were again given a map of the city. We were told that it was the first real city in the Western world, settled in 1110 BC by the Phoenician, Hercules. Its golden age came in the 18th century when Cádiz monopolised trade with Columbus’ New World. Also the first Spanish Constitution was written here in 1812 at a time when Napoleon’s troops dominated the rest of the country. We were then left to our own devices for the afternoon. We went our separate ways, had some lunch, and a wander before returning to the coach for a trip around the perimeter of the city where Rebeca pointed out places of historical interest. Then we had a quick stop at the Parque Genovés where most of us bought ice creams (a frequent purchase during our perambulations) and had a stroll amongst the beautiful plants and flowers. Finally, back to the hotel for dinner, a walk and bed.
On Thursday morning, Rebeca met us again in the Hotel foyer, this time with maps of Jerez de la Frontera. When we boarded the coach, she explained that Jerez is the capital of the sherry district and is called Jerez de la Frontera because it was on the frontier of two kingdoms – Castile and Granada.
She had planned to take us to a clock museum, but as this was closed for refurbishment she took us, instead, to the Alcázar. She handed us over to a lovely lady called Juani who gave us a very interesting tour of the building and its grounds. I loved it and could really feel how it must have been when it was a live palace/fortress.
Then off to what – for me – was going to be the highlight of the trip – a performance from the Andalucían horses at the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre. In the event, I loved the displays of carriage riding and the dressage. The horses were just beautiful and the rider’s costumes immaculate. But I felt slightly uncomfortable with some of the ‘tricks’ the horses were made to perform – especially the famous dancing in the air. It looked very unnatural and hard on the horses. We had a very interesting debate about this at dinner. One felt that a horse will not do anything it does not really want to do. Another felt that if it is hurt enough it will comply. Who knows?
We then had time for a quick lunch in the centre of Jerez. We were a bit later than planned because we had stayed back in the shop to buy mementos of the horse displays – and take photos of yet another stork – nesting on top of a tree.
After lunch we visited the Tio Pepe bodega. We had a ride round the site in a little train; an excursion of the bodega showing the different Sherries, wines and brandies being produced; and a tasting. Then we were let loose in the shop. I don’t think many of us came away empty-handed.
On Friday morning we sadly gathered in the hotel foyer, time to say Adios, or, more probably, hasta luego. This was, in the event, just a ‘taster’, an idea of what to see next time.
Sandra had asked that we go back by the coast road and stop off at interesting places, rather than just motorway cafeterias. So the first stop was at Puerto Banús. Just as well that we only had time for coffee as that cost €3.50 a cup in most places. But it was lovely to see those gorgeous boats and imagine what it must be like to have real money.
On the way, we caught sight of Gibraltar across the water and one of our members even received a welcome to Morocco on his mobile phone – a taste of future trips.
Then we stopped for lunch at Nerja, with time to visit that lovely ‘Balcon’. While we were there a wedding group (father, bride and bridesmaids) were posing for photos and we imagined the poor groom anxiously waiting at the altar in the nearby church. This was also where we said a sad ‘Adios’ to Rebeca, who had to go on to Malaga to meet her next lucky trippers.
On the way home we passed by Salobreña where Ken has plans for an excursion in autumn 2013. (Another packed year of interesting trips).
We finally arrived back in the Almanzora Valley with some lovely memories.
Thanks to Sandra for keeping us supplied with sweeties and organising raffles on the way there and on the way back. Can’t wait for the next one.
It certainly was a day to remember. We set off entertained by a DVD excellently created, produced and directed by Ken (Clapperboard) Cross. This was extremely informative and we soon arrived at our first destination of Sorbas. We had no idea just how many films had been made in the Almería area but a list was passed around the coach to give us this information. We then moved onto the Tabernas area, scene of so many spaghetti westerns and of course of Fort Bravo and Oasys, a good place to take young visitors. After several more stops (shooting of “Patton”, “The Hill”, “Once Upon a Time in the West” and others) we arrived at “Bar Ambrosio” for coffee on the outskirts of Almería. This was full of movie memorabilia and the barman even gave us a demo of the 1910 film projector. Unfortunately the only screen available was Gerry’s jumper so this was for a limited audience. After a leisurely coffee we went on to the “Casa del Cine” in the Villablanca area of Almería.
This house, known locally as “Santa Isabel”, “Casa Balmas”, or “Casa de la Torre” witnessed the history of Almería over more than a century and in the sixties and seventies the house was famous for visitors such as Yul Brynner, David Lean, Peter O’Toole, Sam Spiegel, Rainer Fassbinder and John Lennon. Some clever holographic displays were shown relating the history of house and its connection to cinema. Each room in this museum brings a different surprise culminating in a tribute to John Lennon – a treat for any Beatles fan.
We then went on to lunch at “Hostal Restaurante Alba” in Los Albaricoques – another movie jewel , adding to the theme of the whole day. After lunch we had a stroll through the village to see scenes of gunfights and shootouts.
Our day continued on to the famous Cortijo Del Frailes and then through the Cabo de Gata to several more movie locations at Rodalquilar, Aqua Armarga and Carboneras.
“How I Won The War”, “Sexy Beast”, “Treasure Island” and “Emmanuelle” were shot in this beautiful coastal area although we were told that the last particular title was not available for hire from the Group of Friends Library, unlike many of the others mentioned.
Our happy band of film buffs arrived home by 8 pm and as our esteemed leader said “That was a wrap”!
An 8:30 start saw 50 of us set off for the Mining Park at La Union near Cartagena. With a total area of 50,000 sq metres this park contains the refurbished Agrupa Vincenta mine, one of 1200 in the Sierra Minera. We had our brains exercised on the coach by a music quiz with a mining theme set by Ken Cross and this made the journey seem much quicker than the actual time of just under two hours.
We arrived at La Union in time to have a stroll around the town and a much needed coffee and comfort break. Thanks to Lorenzo for negotiating the narrow streets and ensuring we did not have too far to walk!
Meeting back at the entrance to the mining park, we watched a short video presentation and then climbed aboard a train (typical of those in most tourist towns and always avoided until now by one member of the group) and followed a tortuous route up the mountainside with a commentary in English and Spanish. On arriving at the mine entrance we were split into two groups and while one group went to start the tour, our group was given a detailed explanation of the various mining buildings and their functions. We wondered what was causing the raucous laughter from the other group but it was soon clear. When it was our turn to enter the mine, we were given a “health and safety talk” (yes in Spain!) and asked to don hairnets and hard hats, not the most flattering of headgear!.
And so the tour underground began. The mine was dedicated to the extraction of pyrite (fool’s gold) until the middle of the 20th century, and as we descended down through four levels of the mine to a depth of 80 metres the guide gave detailed explanations at each level. Down at the fourth level there was an amazing lake coloured red due to the effects of the pyrite and the photographers amongst us had a field day! Above our heads (quite low in places) epsom salts were evident and occasional drips of water. Luckily we did not have to climb up the four levels, and we left the mine taking the route following the cradles that would have carried the minerals to the exit. It reminded me a bit of the Indiana Jones film but without being chased by an enormous ball!
Taking the tourist train again we returned to the coach and set off for the Espacio Mediterráneo just outside Cartagena. Most of us headed to our favourite restaurants for a menu del día but we also had time for some retail therapy.
The journey back was very quiet apart from some gentle snoring and we arrived back safely after a very successful, enjoyable and informative trip.
I’m sure you will have received many letters telling of this superb trip enjoyed by 46 people. I’m equally sure they will all have commented upon the interesting & “yummy” visit to the Valor Chocolate Factory on our outward journey; the more-than-adequate hotel on our arrival with its “surprise” inclusion of full-board accommodation which also included beer & wine “on tap” in the dining room; of its excellent floor show in the evening; of the included trip to Guadelest for those who wanted to go: of the fabulous Dinner Show at The Benidorm Palace; the breathtaking visit to Las Cuevas De Canelobre on the way home, and of our superb and careful driver. Because l’m sure that you will have to wade through many letters of other excursioners, I’m writing to add a little note of what we did instead of taking the Guadelest trip (because we’d been there 4 times before)!
So, with our free day we took the Catamaran over to the lsle of Benidorm (it looks like a giant shark’s fin from the beach!). It was a short trip, taking only about 30 minutes, BUT the surprise was, that just before we landed on the island, we were all invited to go down into the keels of the catamaran where glass windows had been installed and, underwater, we were able to view the fish and the seabed around the island. it was an amazing experience.
Once on the island we hiked to the top on well-designated roped-off trails sharing the company of gulls and – another surprise! – a pair of Dartford warblers, all bobbing in and out of the lush shrubs and herbs growing there. No animals to graze them down! Here, we were in the lee of the island and found ourselves stripping-off our layers of clothing down to tee-shirts. We had a very different view of the mainland from this vantage point and could see down to Alicante southward and to the north, the famous Ifach Point at Calpe. Back down on the landing jetty was a nice little cafe where we waited for the return boat a super little trip for a mere 12.50 euros. So the next time you go to Benidorm…….
Many thanks to our “caretaker” Ken who proved over and over again that he really CAN count to 46! Thanks to all for organising such a super trip!
Tuesday: We were driven up to Valencia with a stop on the way, arriving at our excellently located hotel in the heart of the city at about 3pm.
Our tour guide, Ivan, was there to welcome us and tell us all about the area we were in as well as giving us various tips about the city and our stay.
Several of us were keen to visit the City of Arts and Science and Ivan was happy to contact the ticket office for us. That evening we all went our separate ways to explore the local area with its many bars and restaurants.
Wednesday morning we met Ivan and a local guide, Jose who took us for a walking tour of the old town, he was very good and very amusing. When we arrived at the central market we discovered that Queen Sofia of Spain was just about to visit, so we waited on the crowded pavement to see her arrive. (She must have heard that the Almanzora Group of Friends were coming and timed her visit to include us!)
Jose finally left us outside the cathedral, with the afternoon to ourselves. Some of us visited the Cathedraland saw the Holy Grail on display, others took the tourist buses around the city whilst others just strolled, had long lunches or shopped.
Thursday: Most of us met in the hotel foyer, some went to visit the City of Arts but I went with others to see Oceanográfic. This is an amazing place where you can walk through tunnels surrounded by sharks, you can almost touch them.
Beluga whales, walrus and dolphins swim around you and over your head.
The centre is divided into different areas – the Tropics, the Arctic and the Antarctic, there are also aviaries with hundreds of bird species (or so it seemed) as well as penguins, seals, storks and flamingos. Then you can watch dolphins performing various clever tricks, this brought tears to my eyes (but I get emotional about everything).
After lunch at the Oceanográfic we wandered down to the Hemisféric where we saw a 3D digital projection about the Hubble telescope – its history and some of its amazing photographs in space.
Others visited the Science Museum where visitors are free to touch exhibits and participate in activities. The top floor has a space station telescope giving views of the earth, as if you were actually inside.
Our final visit of the day was to the Fallas de Valencia Museum, (Fallas =”the fires” in Valencian) where we saw some of the fantastic “ninots” (giant figures) prepared for the annual Fiesta held every March. This ends on the night of the bonfires (19th March) with all of these amazing giant figures set alight.
Friday: Farewell to a great city and a great trip, there is so much more to come back and see.
We set off oblivious of our destination and headed south, our first clue came when we turned off at the sign to Cabo de Gata.
At this point, Ken took the microphone and gave us a mine of information about the area. The word ‘mine’ is a pun, as you will see later.
He told us that Cabo de Gata is in the municipality of Níjar, and that Níjar covers an area of 599.8 square kilometres. It is the fourth largest municipality in Spain, with a population of over 18,000..
Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park is the largest terrestrial-maritime reserve in the European Western Mediterranean Sea, covering 460 km2 including 120 km2 of the sea as a part of a Marine reserve. In 1997 it was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. (An environmental protected area set aside in order to allow life to naturally occur, untouched by humans.). In 2001 it was included among the Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance.
There are over 1,000 plants in the reserve, some of which are endemic to the park, including the Pink Snapdragon (Antirrhinum charidemi), known to the locals as the Dragoncillo del Cabo. The majority of the species are adapted for the semi-arid conditions, including the European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), Europe’s only native palm. Iberia’s largest population of jujube (Ziziphus zizyphus), a thorny shrub, populates the steppe.
There are 1,100 species of fauna within the park, the majority of which are birds. The European Union has designated a Special Protection Area for bird-life. The salt flats provide an important habitat for both the resident birds and the thousands of migrating birds that stop on their journey between Europe and Africa.
Species found around the salt flats include: Flamingos; Grey and Purple Herons Storks; Cranes; Waders (including Avocets And Oystercatchers); and Overwintering Ducks.
Approximately 15 species of reptile are found in the park, including lizards, grass snakes and viper.
A dozen lookout towers dotted along the coast are evidence of attempts to repel Berber pirates. One example is the Tower Alumbres, which was built in 1509 to defend the Rodalquilar mines, from pirates..
At this point, Ken told us that we were heading for the village of Rodalquilar and proceeded to tell us its ‘gold rush’ history before our arrival. You will have already read this in the October newsletter, so no need to repeat here.
We arrived in Rodalquilar, with a choice of things to do. There were the actual Old Gold Mine Workings to visit, a Museum of Volcanoes with a wonderful model of the mines when they were working, the Albardine Botanical Garden, and a couple of bars for coffee and snacks. My group headed for the bar first for coffee and a gigantic tostada. We were treated to the sight of the long-bearded barman twisting glasses in the air, and even throwing and catching ice cubes for drinks – a real character. Then off to see the sights – the majority of which we managed to fit in, albeit not in depth. However, this was only really a taster. Most of us want to return for more.
Then back onto the coach, where Ken revealed that we were on our way to Níjar, and again gave us some background.
In Níjar you can buy handmade Spanish rugs. These Jarapas are woven the traditional Andalucian way from recycled cotton and are machine washable. Then there is Níjar pottery, which still carries the remarkable Arabic design and colours and has a good reputation. There are five ceramic workshops in the lower part of the town and such is the fame of Níjar that many artists and craftsmen have come from many parts of the world to live and work here.
Some crafts in the area are unfortunately in decline, as is the case of esparto grass weaving.
Just outside Níjar we stopped at an amazing Garden Centre, dealing only in cactii – and what cactii!! I couldn’t resist buying a Buddha’s Temple, a cute little cactus with an unusual shape.
We spent about half an hour in Níjar itself where most of us – having been here before – stopped for a beer or a coffee, while others shopped or explored the village with a view to a future, longer visit.
Then back onto the coach on the way to our lunch destination. We followed a very narrow winding road with spectacular views. We were a bit apprehensive at times, especially when we could see a vehicle coming the other way. This involved the other vehicle having to find some space in which to stop so that we could proceed – as we were on the edge of the mountain, so to speak. Some of the group eventually drew the curtains and closed their eyes, but the rest of us enjoyed the thrill (as least I did !).
Ken finally revealed that we were on our way to Lucainena (at 542 m/1,778 ft) where we were to have lunch in a 5 star hotel.
The name Lucainena (pronounced Luke-a-nen-a) comes from a Roman, Lucanius, who built a villa here.
The Moors followed in the 15th century and built seven towers and a wall around the village so it became known as Lucainena of the Seven Towers. Later, when the wall and some of the towers came down, the name changed to Lucainena de las Torres.
In 1896 iron mining began and saw the population soar to 7,000, but the current population is only around 700. This was one of the more successful of the mining ventures in Almería, mainly because it had better planning and better investment.
A line ran from mines in the mountains of the Sierra Alhamilla to the coast at Agua Amarga. As the mines were 30km from the sea either an aerial cable or a railway was needed. Given the terrain, a cable was easier but it was a long way and reliability could be a problem so a railway was chosen.
There were several possible routes, all of them involving steep gorges. The one chosen went to Agua Amarga, (bitter water – a reflection of the quality of that liquid from the wells there). The railway line was completed in 1896.
At the same time it was found that the iron ore contained iron carbonate. This would have to be burnt off in what are known as calcination ovens.
Early in the Civil War in 1936, mining experienced a gradual decline. The mineral extraction ceased to be profitable and, in 1944, the mines were closed. Vestiges on the slopes of some hills are traces of old workings and eight ovens.
We arrived at last we settled down to lunch, with typical Andalucian dishes, cooked with fresh produce. This was in the recently refurbished Venta el Museo Hotel. The bar walls were decorated with various farming and mining artefacts and the restaurant was very elegant. The hotel itself boasts a gym, a sauna and a jacuzzi. This is another place to go back and visit as the village has an 18th century parish church, an old mill, and a fresh water fountain over the old hospital. The main square is also pretty with a bar and the town hall with its centenary tree.
However, for now, it was time to go home. But not back along the mountain road. This time we were going down past Sorbas and onto the motorway. Again, Ken had information for us about Karst and Gypsum and what is special about Sorbas. But that’s for another time. . . .
Córdoba is world famous for its “Fiesta de los Patios”, the city takes a special pride in its beautiful patios decorated with flowers and the owners compete for a prize awarded to the most beautifully patio. This is a serious competition and not an event put on only for tourists, although the patios are opened up to the public and may be visited according to pre-established routes.
The patios, usually complete with running water, are an internal open courtyard that forms part of the typical Andalucía town house. The patio also forms part of the social life of the house being a communal area, the sleeping accommodation and the living rooms are built around the space.
Córdoba’s streets and plazas are a delight to explore, but the city’s private houses–many hundreds of years old, shelter beautiful little corners which are waiting to be discovered.
This was one not to be missed for those who love flowers and gardens or are just interested to nosey inside the patios of private houses.
Of course the Jewel in the Crown is La “Mezquita” this impressive Arabian mosque, the third-biggest in the world at 23.000 square meters, is probably the most beautiful and original building of all Spain.
Another must see is Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. The Palace of the Christian Kings, built 1328 by Alfonso XI, has beautiful gardens.
On arrival in Córdoba we were delighted to find that our hotel was situated in a central part of the city, adjacent to the Jewish quarter which allowed us easy access to all parts of the city.
The hotel was clean and comfortable and whilst the evening meal was not to everybody’s taste, we were here to visit one of Spain’s most historic cities.
We did this trip in conjunction with the Royal British Legion which l thought was very successful and could bode well for any future joint co-operation on trips.
My overall thoughts on the trip were that I had a very enjoyable time and that it was really nice to spend time with new found friends, which I suppose is what the Friends of Almanzora is all about.
Karen had planned a great itinerary to an interesting region that I had never heard of. In the northern part of the Province of Granada is a vast plateau of flatlands surrounded by the highest peaks of the Bética Mountain Range reaching as high as the Sierra de la Sagre at a height of 2,381 meters. The overall plateau region is known as ‘El Altiplano de Granada’ and is a land of contrasts. Areas of the most arid plains are to be found just a few kilometres away from some of the lushest forests in the Mediterranean. Because of its rich natural environment, the Altiplano is a protected area encompassing the Natural Parks of the Sierra de Bazaand the Sierra de Castril.
Our trip was not without its problems, but one comes to expect that to be the norm in Spain!
Our initial intro to the plateau was vast plains of esparto grass, we even saw local peasants (Am I allowed to say that?) weighing bundles of harvested grass with some ancient pole mechanism. The terrain dotted with swathes of poppies soon gave way to orchards of almond trees as far as the eye could see, with the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada as a distant backdrop.
The lumpy bumpy, one track road continued in a straight line for miles until suddenly the earth opened up before us in the shape of a cavernous valley and perched below was the white washed village of Castril our first port of call, bordering Jaen in the Natural Park Sierra de Castril.
We faffed for a while waiting for our guide, originally an English speaker, who apparently had done a runner the week before (obviously he had heard what a tough crowd GOF are!). Instead we had an enthusiastic Head of Tourism, Pedro who was to be our guide, traffic controller and waiter for the day.
The highlight of the day for me was a stunning gorge walk along a wooden walkway attached to a cliff face and overhanging a raging river. We then wobbled over a rickety (Indiana Jones) rope and cable bridge followed by a dark tunnel, an old Crystal Mine, which eventually ended at a mirador. The route continued up to the high point of the village dominated by Peña del Sagrado Corazón, but our guide decided that most of us would not survive the climb involved.
A breakdown in communications between Lorenzo and the tourist office meant we had arrived too late to watch a video show instead we split, some browsed the small museum, others strolled the streets and some of us sat and had a beer.
Next stop was Huescar, known as “Cuidad de la Paz” (City of Peace). We had lunch at a cavernous hostelry where the waiters could not decide which fish dish was which. They soon learnt that we were a thirsty demanding bunch and eventually trebled the alcoholic content on the table.
Huescar has many fine buildings ranging from Roman, Moorish and Gothic we were shown an ancient bandstand and told that the brass band tradition in Spain had started here over 200 years ago.
We continued to the Colegata of Santa Maria Maggiore a sixteenth century Gothic-Renaissance style cathedral which is the landmark of the city and a National Monument.
We were greeted by a monk/missionary in a rather dapper outfit complete with knee high leather riding boots, looking like a crusader. There followed, I am led to believe, a long and exhaustive tour of the cathedral, its museum and its history, I passed.
We then had a tour of the streets, looked at the bull ring, heard stories of the underground tunnels and the local Gaudi house then browsed a wonderful local arts exhibition in a restored building. We ended up (minus a missing few) at the Tourist Office for tastings of local produce in the way of lemon and orange liqueurs and surprisingly tasty biscuits.
Time had run out, it was getting late and it was decided to give our last stop Orce a miss. An interesting but exhausting day, thanks Karen.
It was a perfect day for our mystery trip – warm and sunny but not too hot, we had few clues as to where we would be going. There was be some walking involved and the route for pickups was to be Albox to Arboleas, indicating direction. Also the early pickup of 08:15 suggested a longish drive.
As we wended our way along the motorway towards Almería, Lorenzo pointed out workings for an 8km tunnel which would be taking the high-speed train. How quickly times are changing in this sleepy Spanish market garden!
Heading towards the Alpujaras we stopped in the town of Gador where, despite the power cuts, we were all able to enjoy a cup of coffee. It was here that we had news of our first port of call.
Karen gave us all some leaflets introducing us to Los Millares Copper-Age Archaeological Site, she included a map and alternative routes we might like to take on future independent visits.
We arrived at the very impressive Visitors Centre where we viewed a video giving us an insight into life for the inhabitants of this fortified site. lts roots go back to 1800 BC and the settlement indicates it was the first metalworking culture in Spain, between the Stone and Bronze Ages. A stall with replica pieces of pottery and jewellery was available for us to browse and purchase.
There were three walks for us to choose from, although perhaps a little ambitious in the time available. We could explore actual excavations or, alternatively, look at the replica huts which were reproduced on the site, with full information in several languages. Situated in such breathtakingly beautiful countryside only the bees for company, it was a most fascinating place.
Our next stop was for lunch at the hotel restaurantVenta el Museo in Lucainena de las Torres where we enjoyed a delicious menu del día in elegant surroundings. The unexpected highlight was a draw by the hotel manager for a night’s stay in the hotel! The lucky winner was Chris Power and we were all very envious.
We had a brief stroll around the pretty town, admiring all the lovely floral decorations, and then headed back along the twisting mountain roads from Sorbas to the A-7 with the most amazing scenery below us, grateful for Lorenzo’s skills as always.
The trip obviously took Karen much research and organisation, for which we are most grateful and having whetted our appetites, we can return to explore further.