Archive for February, 2010

Alcubierre: George Orwell in Aragon

Trazado de las trincheras

George Orwell spent the freezing winter of 1937 on the Alcubierre front in Aragon. The Sierra de Alcubierre at heights of 700-800 metres dominates the plains of the Ebro Depression and who controlled the sierra would control the northern access to Zaragoza, and so the Republican spent great efforts trying to break through the front here. The trenches, refuges and other military remains have been now restored and rebuilt as part of the so-called Ruta George Orwell. Panels explain the historical context. See also Spanish Civil War tours Continue reading

Almanzor Peak

The granite peak of Almanzor (2592 m) is the highest mountain in the Sistema Central, the range that cuts the great Meseta of Spain in two. It crowns an immense glacial cirque in the Sierra de Gredos, known as the Circo de Gredos (read about legend below). The mountain is also known as Pico de Almanzor and Moro Almanzor.

Almanzor takes its name from Al-Mansur (the victorious), the de facto Moorish ruler of Al-Andalus during the late 10th-early 11th centuries. His rule marked what was probably the peak of Islamic power in Spain. Legend has it that Al-Mansur passed by here after a terrible battle with the Christians. He was taken by the beauty of the mountains which at the time functioned as a frontier between Islamic Spain and the Christian lands, and so he decided to set up camp for the night. Under the stars, he was captivated by the stories of shepherds from the area. They told him than in the heart of these mountains, terrible noises could be heard that would echo along the gullies and ravines, and which would shake the very hearts of the people of these parts. The next day, the Moorish king bade the shepherds to lead him to the place they spoke of: a magnificent cirque in centre of the Gredos mountains. When the company reached the place, they were greeted by a deafening silence. Fearful of the Kings reaction, they began to shout his name, which the mountain duly returned amplified as an echo.

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The village of Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente

The great Spanish naturalist Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente was born in the village of Poza de la Sal. He described the village of his birth as a “human community” in “harmonious coexistence with the landscapes” which formed a “zoomorphic universe”. As a child he began to explore the natural area, watching and learning about the wildlife of area, which would later greatly influence his vision of the world. One day he saw a peregrine catch a duck here which led him to the world of falconry and then into natural history film making.

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Peninsular War battle sites


If exploring battle sites of the Peninsular War is your thing this site gives a comprehensive and well written treatment of the different places involved with maps included.

La Alhambra receives most tourists in Spain

According to El País, La Alhambra in Granada has been named the most popular tourist attraction in 2009, beating the Sagrada Familia into second place and El Prado, third.

English Tourists shun Spain because it’s ‘no longer foreign enough’”

The relentless spread of English bars in coastal resorts is eroding Spain’s attraction as a holiday destination because Britons no longer consider it foreign enough. The Times. Picked up on Notes from Spain here who note it says a lot more about the Brits (who aren’t aware of strange out-of-the-way places like, say Madrid) than Spain…

Sheep farming in Granada

BBC radio documentary with author Chris Stewart talking about sheep shearing and farming in Granada . Listen here

The darker side of the Basque Country

Sandi Toksvig talks here on the BBC’s Excess Baggage Paddy Woodworth to find out how the darker side of the Basque country, separatist terrorism, has affected the tourist trade. Listen here

Secret Spain

Sandi Toksvig talks here on the BBC’s Excess Baggage to two Hispanophile and an Extremaduran about parts of Spain that are often underrated or still relatively undiscovered; green northern landscapes that look just like Cornwall, a western province with fields of sweet pímenton; a southern desert used as a film set for spaghetti westerns and a Balearic island named after an ancient god of dance, Bez. Listen here

Truffle farming in Castellón

BBC’s Radio 4 travels programme Excess Baggage looks at the province of Castellón. where Jason Webster has created, with his Spanish wife, not only a home but a garden in an area ravaged by fire and drought. Jason wrote an account of his dream come true story in a new book entitled Sacred Sierra, A Year on a Spanish Mountain. Listen here

Jason Webster’s journey to Spain culminated in him setting up life as a truffle farmer on a sacred mountain. The Guardian.

Mountain skiing in the Sierra Nevada

Nice video here of people free mountain skiing down Pico Veleta in the Sierra Nevada, the second highest peak in Spain. Watch

Cable car in the Picos de Europa

The cable car at Fuente Dé takes you up a dizzying 750 metres past the sheet rock faces in four terrifying or exhilarating minutes, depending on your head for heights, to the wonderful alpine meadows at height of 1850m. The cable car (teleferico in Spanish) is said to be the longest unsupported span of cable car in the world. There isn’t much to Fuente Dé itself save for a campsite and a few bars, but its situation at the foot of the cliffs which tower around forming an incredible glacial cirque is very impressive indeed. Once at the top there is great hiking all around including up to Peña Vieja or Pico Tesorero (2570 m). Alternatively, from here you can walk 2.5 miles to the Refugio de Aliva, which serves snacks and drinks. From here you can take the path down to Espinama below, a few kilometres down the road from Fuente Dé.

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Sant Martí d’Empúries – the most beautiful village in the Costa Brava?

Sant Martí d`’Empúries is a pretty village with a Romanesque church, several good bars and restaurants and some great views of the Gulf of Roses. Originally an island, this was where the first Greek traders established a settlement. Count Sunyer II (862-915 AD) of Empùries moved his residence from Sant Martí into Castelló circa 860 AD Historians think that this was due to Norman and Barbary pirate raids and pillaging along the coast. If you walk out onto the ancient stone pier, you may experience a very odd electrical phenomenon! Continue reading

The exclave of Llivia


Llivia is what is known as an exclave, a piece of territory wholly surrounded by the territory of another state, in this case France. This curious state of affairs was brought about by the stipulations of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees which ceded the counties of the Northern Pyrenees and Roussillon to the French crown. Llívia was excluded as the treaty stipulated that only villages were to be ceded to France, and Llívia was considered a city due to its status as the ancient capital of Cerdanya. In 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War, there was discussion on the idea of Llívia remaining a free territory of the defeated Republican government, but nothing ever came of the plan, and France gave Franco’s troops permission to occupy the town. Today a single road connects it to Catalonia.

Llivia is home to what is reputedly the oldest chemist in Europe, now a museum, possibly dating from the early 15th century. The small town is set in the beautiful Vall de la Cerdanya.

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The birthplace of Goya

Hidden away in deepest Aragon is the small village of Fuentedetodos, birthplace of none other than Francisco de Goya. You can visit his modest abode with its spartan furnishings. The house is a typical example of the late 18th century farmhouse. The Museum of Etchings here contains works by Francisco de Goya including some from the series of  the Disasters of War, Los Caprichos, Los Disparates, and La Tauromaquia. Fuentedetodos is set in the stark sheep-rearing highlands of Zaragoza. Continue reading

Aitxuri, the most prominent in the Basque Country

Urbia 2.JPG

Aitxuri (1551m) meaning white stone in Basque is the most prominent peak (943 m) in the Basque Country, and the highest in the Montes Vascos. It is located in the limestone massif of Aitzkorri. Photo: wikipedia

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Daroca is an attractive medieval town enclosed by impressive 4km-long walls. As for 2010 many of the town’s historic buildings were in poor condition, which is of course sad, but also conveys a certain charm. The town was named by the Arabs who occupied it for 400 years. During the Peninsular War, Napoleons troops entered Daroca destroying a good part of the Dominican convent.

I have rather unpleasant memories of this rather pleasant place as my coxis jerked out of position here I was adminstered with large shots of painkillers at the friendly local health centre, which in addition to the local fare I also recommend. Continue reading

The Arenas de Rey earthquake

The earthquake in Arenas de Rey, Granada in 1884 was the most deadly in modern Spanish history. The earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 6.5-7 (Richter) and an intensity of 10 (MSK). Almost 800 people were killed and 1,500 were injured. 14,000 homes were destroyed. Most of the town was destroyed and so today’s centre dates back to the end of the 19th century, which was rebuilt with money raised throughout Spain.

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Site of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.jpg

The site of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, one of the most important in Spanish history. The battle took place on 16 July 1212 and was an important turning point in the Reconquista and in the medieval history of Spain. The forces of King Alfonso VIII of Castile were joined by the armies of his Christian rivals, in battle against the Berber Muslim Almohad rulers of the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula. The crushing defeat of the Almohads significantly hastened their decline both in the Iberian Peninsula and in the Maghreb a decade later. It enabled the Christians to take over almost all of southern Spain in the ensuing forty years. The above painting is a somewhat fanciful portrayal.

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Unspoilt fishing village in Asturias

Lastres is an unpretentious and unspoilt fishing village in Asturias. This is an authentic working fishing village bursting with salty charm.Wonderful fresh fish is to be had at a restaurant at the harbour called El Puerto.

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