Arab baths in Jaén

February 10th, 2010 by nick

The Baños Arabes in Jaén are considered one of the best examples Moorish hammams in Spain. They were built between the 11th and the 12th centuries, and cover an area of 450m2 making them probably the largest in Europe. The horseshoe arches and brickwork ceilings with their famous star-shaped windows give a nice, airy feel to the place. Most of the baths have been well restored.

The baths are in the Palacio de Villardompardo which also worth a visit. They are free to visit and are open from 9am-8pm between Tuesdays and Fridays and from 9.30am-2.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Read the rest of this entry »

A beautiful beach in Cabo de Gata

February 10th, 2010 by nick

The Playa de Mónsul is one of the most beautiful beaches in Cabo de Gata. The beach is flanked by weird overhanging volcanic rocks, and there is a large mobile dune in the shape of a half-moon (technically a barchan dune) at the entrance to the beach.

Cabo de Gata is the best example of fossil vulcanism in the Iberian Peninsula. It was caused by the crashing together of the Eurasian and African plates during the Miocene.

Read the rest of this entry »

The gold mines of Rodalquilar

February 10th, 2010 by nick

Set in the heart of the rugged and arid Cabo de Gata, the abandoned gold mines of Rodalquilar are a fascinating and extremely atmospheric spot to visit. The mines experienced a minor gold fever in the 1880s . They were reopened for a brief flash in the pan in 1989, before finally closing a year later. There are a number of abandoned mining cottages in the deserted village of San Diego, though some have been renovated now for tourism accommodation.  At the bottom of the slope, the village of Rodalquilar itself is attractive and has a few bars offering cool drinks after a visit to the mines.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blowholes of Asturias

February 10th, 2010 by nick

There are a number of blowholes known as bufones along the Asturian coast, the best of which is perhaps the Bufones de Arenillas near the village of Puertas de Vidiago. Closeby is the similarly spectacular Bufón de Santiuste. Both of these blowholes are capable with the right tide of throwing up noisy shoots of water as high as 40 metres. They were formed by karstic and wave action. Bracing stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Ea – The shortest place name in the world

February 10th, 2010 by nick

The town of Ea, in Vizcaya, the Basque Country, holds the honour of being the shortest place name in Spain and one of the equal shortest in the world. The town takes its name from the river which runs through it. Ea is attractively sited on the edge of an estuary which cuts through the cliffs of the Bay of Biscay. There is a small beach which the local shellfishers harvest each low tide.

Read the rest of this entry »

Villarcayo de Merindad de Castilla la Vieja

February 10th, 2010 by nick

Villarcayo de Merindad de Castilla la Vieja has the longest placename of anywhere in Spain, as far as I can work out. It looks like a pleasent enough place to have lunch.

Read the rest of this entry »

Snow wells of the Sierra Espuña

February 9th, 2010 by nick

During the Little Ice Age in Spain temperatures were somewhat lower than today. This is shown by the presence of an extensive network of ice stores known varyingly as neveras, pozos de nieve, ventisqueros and glaceres, which were built and maintained between the 16th and 19th centuries along the Eastern Mediterranean, some in areas where it no longer snows even one day. The storage and distribution of ice was a lively business involving whole sections of the rural population. A good example are those of the Sierra de Espuña which is home to a number of ice wells, including those in the photo shown on the map. Most of Murcian wells were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, and continued to function until the 1930s when industrial ice production made them utterly inviable. Warming and much less snow in the last 50 years would make ice production here very difficult today.

Read the rest of this entry »

Las Salinas de Añana

February 9th, 2010 by nick

The first saline springs here were documented as early as the year 822. In the Middle Ages, salt production made the Salinas de Añana one of the most prosperous towns in the North of the Iberian Peninsula. A plan is underway to restore the site.

Read the rest of this entry »

Estany Gento

February 9th, 2010 by nick
Estany Gento amb el pic de Pala Pedregosa al fons

Estany Gento (Gento Lake) holds the record for the coldest ever recorded temperature in Spain with a nippy -32ºC in 1956, though experts suspect that some of the peaks in the Aragonese Pyrenees have fallen as low as -40ºC. The lake, on the edge of Aigüestortes national park, is glacial in origin. A municiapl hotel is open from July to September.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vilán lighthouse

February 9th, 2010 by nick

The lighthouse at Cape Vilán signals one of the most dangerous stretches along the treacherous Costa da Morte,  It is also one of the most beautiful and atmospheric places in Northern Spain, and a great spot for watching seabirds such as guillemots, shags and divers, particularly in winter. See also the nearby Cementario de los Ingleses where the crew of HMS Serpent were buried, after it sank off this coast in 1890.

Read the rest of this entry »

The bear's paw in Navacepeda de Tormes

February 8th, 2010 by nick

A bear’s claw is nailed to a church in the village of Navacepeda de Tormes in the Sierra de Gredos. The old people say a man had been attacked by a bear and had defended himself with scythe. Bears became extinct in Gredos at some point in the 16th century.

This video poetically tells the story. Kindly sent to me by Claire of Gredosvivo, bird watching tours in central-western Spain.The video was researched and made by Enrique Sacristán. Also available in Spanish.

Read the rest of this entry »

La Playa de los Ingleses

February 8th, 2010 by nick

La Playa de los Ingleses or the Cementerio de los Ingleses lies on Galicia’s bleak Costa da Morte, and is one of the few remaining stretches yet to be blighted by the scourge of second homes.

The beach takes its name from the 172 English sailors who were drowned off the coast here on 10th November 1890, when their ship, the Serpent, sank in a terrible storm. The Serpent had sailed from Plymouth on Saturday 8 November bound for Sierra Leone. Although there are several versions of what happened, the final verdict was that the Serpent had been lost through an error in navigation. Three surviviors reached the nearby village of Camariñas and sounded the alarm. A search party was sent out and most of the bodies were recovered. They were buried on the beach close to the wreck spot and a small cemetery was built around them. It stands today as a rather sad and lonely mounment. Letters of thanks were sent by the British government to the villagers and the mayor was given a shotgun and the parish priest a gold watch. Unusually for the time the survivors wore lifebelts, and there are claims that the incident led to their widespread use in the British merchant navy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mallos de Riglos

February 8th, 2010 by nick

Los Mallos de Riglos

The Mallos de Riglos are remarkable, almost sheer rock formations in Huesca, forming part of the foothills of the Pyrenees. The rocks are conglomerates and were formed during the Miocene.

Unsurprisingly, these 300-high cliffs are a Mecca for climbers from around the world, and the little village of Riglós nestled improbably below the rocks does a very nice business in accommodating them. However, some of the most demanding routes require spending a free night in a tiny tent strapped to the bare rock face.  I suffer from a degree of vertigo and the idea of waking up half way up the sheer face of Los Mallos is one of my all-time favourite nightmares, though I do get a frisson (and a stiff neck) watching those who dare to climb these looming beasts, each of which has its own name; El Puro, El Pisón, Castilla, Volaos, Cuchillo, Frenchín, Visera and Fire.

Read the rest of this entry »

Loarre castle

February 8th, 2010 by nick

The Castillo de Loarre is a superb example of a Romanesque castle and one of the most spectacular castles in Spain. It was built in the 11th and 12th centuries, occupying a strategic point on the frontier between the Christian north and the Moslem kingdom of Zaragoza to the south. The building was begun in around 1020 by Sancho el Mayor, after conquering the land from the Moors. It is sometimes claimed to be the oldest fortified castle in Spain”
The castle offers stunning views from the craggy ramparts of Sierra de Loarre across the plains of the Hoya de Huesca. A number of films have been shot here including, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.

I have fond memories of Loarre, watching vultures soaring just a few metres past the turrets where I stood on a freezing November afternoon.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes

February 8th, 2010 by nick

The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes is one of the most important of all Catalan Romanesque sites. Perched high on a hillside overlooking the Gulf of Léon, the setting is as impressive as the ruined walls and towers themselves. The first written record of the monastery dates back to 879 AD, when it was one of the many religious institutions founded in this area after the departure of the Moors. The magnificent Bendictines edifice was constructed between 979 and 1022, and was sacked and abandoned in the eighteenth century. Best preserved is the church at its centre with three wide naves and capitals of delicately carved acanthus leaves and animal heads. The 27-meter high bell-tower has fine arcades. The ruins are at their most atmospheric when shrouded in swirling mist, which is not uncommon in autumn and winter. On the hilltop above Sant Pere are the remains of a medieval castle, and fantastic 360º views that sweep from Cerbère in France to Cap de Creus to the east, to Montgrí and Begur in the south, to the high Pyranees in the west. There is an interesting Romanesque church above the main parking lot. On the hillside just below the monastery there is a pretty grotto with a fountain. This is a good spot from which to look up in awe at the mighty edifice above.

The true origin of the monastery is not known, which has given rise to speculation and legend; such as its foundation by monks who disembarked in the area with the remains of Saint Peter and other saints, to save them from the Barbarian hordes that had fallen on Rome. Once the danger had passed the Pope Boniface IV commanded them to construct a monastery. Read on Wikipedia

Read the rest of this entry »

Lubián wolf trap

February 8th, 2010 by nick

The wolf trap just outside Lubián is a remarkable piece of popular architecture designed to capture wolves. It was in operation until the mid-1960s. It is doubtful whether it was ever an efficient way of capturing them, and it must have involved a huge effort on the part of the local population to build and maintain it. Whataver the case, whenever a wolf was found to be killing local sheep, a goat or sheep would be tethered inside the trap. When, an unfortunate wolf jumped in. the high walls prevented it from jumping out and it would be trapped. The church bells in Lubián would rang. The animal would be caught, caged and paraded around the local villages, who would give presents to the Lubians in thanks, as they tormented the condemned animal.

Read the rest of this entry »

Almagro Corral de Comedias theatre

February 7th, 2010 by nick

The Almagro Corral de Comedias is the only 17th century theatre to retain its original structure in Europe, and has probably been in continuous use since it was first opened, possibly in 1628. Corral de Comedias means open-air theatre. There are performances almost everyday of the works of classic authors from the Golden Age of Spanish theatre. Read the rest of this entry »

Castellfollit de la Roca

February 7th, 2010 by nick

Castellfollit de la Roca - Vista frontal.jpg

Castellfollit de la Roca is a village in la Garrotxa, spectacularly perched on top of a steep cliff. The best view is from the bridge over the river Fluvià. The cliff is illuminated after dark until midnight for about 6 months of the year. I am told that road widening near Castellfollit has done away with the very weird and wonderful privately constructed free children’s labyrinth beside the river that used to make drivers stop and stare. Castellfollit itself has a spectacular old church, some narrow medieval streets, a parador and a fonda, but in my personal experience is a very unfriendly little dump. To be enjoyed from afar.

Read the rest of this entry »

The windmills of Consuegra

February 7th, 2010 by nick

Consuegra is the site of the famous La Mancha windmills immortalised in Don Quixote. The mills were used to grind grain and their ownership passed from fathers to sons. Most consisted of two rooms or levels. They fell into disuse in the early 1980s.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ullastret

February 7th, 2010 by nick

Ullastret is the name of both a charming village and of the fascinating archeological site about 2km away for which it is famous. The latter, set on a lush hillside, was inhabited continually from 7BC until its mysterious abandonment in the late 17th century. It has been carefully excavated to reveal Cyclopean (pre-Iberian) foundations and the remains of houses, water reservoirs and canalisation, and the main square resembles those of certain Greek settlements. There is a small but excellent archaeological museum in the 14th century Sant Andreu chapel. Here you can really see the impact of the Greeks on Iberian culture.

Ullastret village is a medieval precinct surrounded by three distinct lines of defensive walls. There’s a nice café with terrace in the main plaça. Look across the square for the dungeon in the NW corner tower. Read the rest of this entry »