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Renting a flat in Spain: Do’s and Don’ts

Being a foreigner living in Spain, finding a place to live is understandably quite an ordeal, especially when all the agreements are in a language that isn’t your first. It’s very easy to be discriminated against, or taken advantage of, and unfortunately, there are more than your fair share of dodgy landlords/landladies in Spain. Just like a tourist trap, a foreign worker or student is an easy target, but even Spanish people moving into the area can fall victim to the same things. No tip I am providing is totally full proof, but I have had some of the best and worst landlords/ landladies since moving here, and I want to share the experience so you have an idea about what you’re looking for.

Location Location Location?

First of all, you need to consider the area and price. Almost everyone when they move into a new city, wants to live somewhere in and around the centre. If you’re in a bigger city, that option could be too expensive for you. Smaller cities in most areas are a lot more affordable. But just how much more are you prepared to spend if there are notably cheaper options just 10 minutes walk away? in Major cities like Madrid and Barcelona, you’re likely to pay minimum 500€ a month to get near the centre. whereas other cities like Zaragoza and Toledo are more like 300€. True, these prices are a steal compared to England, but you are probably earning less, so you do the math.

Do some research about the neighbourhoods so that you know that you are in a comfortable and safe environment. The difference between these areas can be really drastic in the space of a couple of blocks. I live in Córdoba, and in a respectable neighbourhood which is easily affordable, but just 10- 15 minutes walk away are some real dives. I’m pretty sure you won’t have moved all the way here to be the Spanish equivalent of Hackney or Southwark, have you?

If you find a place that is in the city centre and is notably cheaper than other properties, there’re probably is a catch. Your room is probably a box, has no balcony, no air conditioning, is in a bad state, and so on. The number of potential flaws are endless. I would check it out first, and I would be careful if you see a place that’s notably marked up and the owner says it’s a really good deal for this neighbourhood. It usually isn’t, so see what you get for yourself.

Estate Agent, or App?

I’ve done both during my time here, and there are reasons to choose and not to choose each option. The estate agents are usually very professional and very helpful with your search. It’s also very unlikely that there is any illegal business taking place, and that it’s all by the books. The downsides are that the flats are almost certainly rented as a complete package, and not per room. There’s also an agency fee you would have to pay if a sale is agreed, usually equivalent of one month’s rent. Lastly, you are not guaranteed to have the flat furnished, so make sure you know what you are getting. If you are a group and are looking for a whole place to share , this isn’t a bad option.

Apps are usually cheaper, and you get so many more options at the tip of your finger, but the risks are tenfold. The most common apps I used were Badi, Idealista, and Fotocasa. I ditched Milanuncios when I was looking for my latest home, though there are some good places on that site, there were also a load of rubbish and unreliable ones. Badi is used almost entirely for flat sharing and It is really popular for students, and you’ll find most of the available rooms in neighbourhoods where students tend to prefer to live (Ciudad Jardín in Córdoba, Cappont in Lleida, and San Mamés in León are good examples.).

The other two are on par with each other, and I actually got my latest home via Fotocasa (which works better on a computer by the way). You need to be aware that many of flats will be advertised on more than one app and you might get a feeling of Deja Vu. You will also notice that a lot of the properties will have some sort of advertisement with another estate agent’s logo. I would avoid them unless you don’t mind paying for agency fees. The most frustrating thing about the apps is that you might express interest, but the room or flat is taken and they have forgotten to take the advert down. That happened to me so many times. The other downside is that many landlords may take advantage of you, and the legal disputes come in. The same places appear online year after year for a reason.

There are some surprising difficulties for you if you are looking to share a flat and you are a man and a worker like me. There were so many places that froze me out straight away for not being a student, and some that only wanted women to stay. It may be that male workers in Spain have more of a reputation of being more likely to be unreliable or difficult to work with, but it was rather frustrating trying to find somewhere. There are some places for that profile though, you are just more limited for choices, and couples looking to flat share have it even harder still. If you’re renting a flat outright for yourself, the gender gap closes dramatically and you are way more likely to find the ideal place, especially if you are a couple. Both estate agents and apps are usually very clear, and the Coronavirus crisis has forced many owners to not be so picky with who rent’s their property.

Read the contract carefully!

If you are completely new to a city, you might just accept the first place that looks semi- decent, but do you understand all their terms? or did you sign without even looking at it? You need to know every detail of the place before signing anything here in Spain, and Landlords show themselves in the worst light over things like this. I have experienced a lot of things, and it’s never too late to back out of an agreement if their tone is suspicious. The chances are your level of Spanish isn’t high enough to completely understand, so it’s very advisable to have someone who can help you out in that situation.

Two experiences spring to mind, the first in León when the landlady refused to give us our deposit back over non-existent damage, then proceeded to knock a wall through and take all our things to the free flat below, which had no hot water or a working kitchen. The second was in Lleida, when the landlady continually entered our place without warning and removed the internet after a few months into our stay claiming it was never part of the agreement and that it was our responsibility, then refused to return the deposit despite giving the required notice. Be careful.

Other things that some crooked landlords do, is charge different rates for rent depending on the person, or just before the agreement is made, so make sure you know that figure above everything else. You also need to be aware what is included in the rent. Is gas and electricity included? Internet? Water? Comunidad (council tax)? you need to know these things, then you’ll know if you’re being ripped off or not. Just remember, you might be a student or immigrant, but you have legal rights like everyone else, just make sure you have the evidence before taking it further if it’s worth it.

The Legal Technicalities

Just like in England, Spain has a number of rules in place to protect both parties involved. Many are the same, but there are some things you need to know:

In Spain, it is very rare for the tenant to be required to provide a guarantor in order to rent a property (even the estate agents), and I have never been asked to provide one.

In England, it’s normal to pay one month’s rent as a deposit, whereas in Spain, it can be two months. My current place costs 500€ a month in rent, but I had to pay a 1000€ deposit or fianza.

In Spain, the Landlord/landlady cannot enter your property under any circumstances unless permitted by a tenant. Even if they want to show someone a free room they can’t unless the tenants have been informed and asked permission. It’s not quite the same in England.

In Spain, the tenant may change the lock without reason, but it’s common courtesy to tell the owner and provide him/ her with a key, and the tenant must return all keys at the end of their contract or face prosecution. In England, the laws favour the landlord in this position, and unless there are special circumstances, tenants can’t do it.

In Spain, any modifications to the property, including having fibre optic internet installed, needs to be approved by the president of the building/ community as well as the landlord/ landlady. In England this responsibility is more often or not down to the owner and the legal entities of the council.

Things landlords/ landladies are really good at here in Spain.

While you might be thinking ‘This guy doesn’t like property owners at all does he?!’, There are some really amazing things the owners may do to make a tenant feel at home here in Spain. They can be very helpful and often leave a lot of things in the property for maintenance, including cleaning products for when you start out. Many will also help you out with some basic information to help you start your life here, such as giving you some local advice. My current Landlady has offered us her support for anything we need and it is reassuring. I know that some owners have even provided homecooked meals on the odd occasion for some of my friends here.

One thing for sure is that your landlord/ landlady usually lives locally and will usually resolve any issue with the property fairly swiftly or give you the number to resolve it yourself while they foot the bill. They usually respect your privacy on the same level as England, despite the odd exception of course. All that’s necessary is that anything that breaks and that isn’t your fault is well documented and that you are protected for that sort of thing. The last thing you want to be doing is fighting to get your deposit back.

Your guide about renting a flat as a summary:

Sharing a flat in good areas in most cities will set you back around 200-250€ rent for a good deal per month. in bigger cities or more expensive areas, expect to pay quite a bit more.

Ibiza, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Barcelona and Madrid are the most expensive places to rent in the country, just be aware of that.

Renting a flat for yourself will generally cost more, so maybe consider sharing before moving into a place of your own, get some perspective. In the aforementioned areas, you may find yourself paying way too much.

Read your contract carefully, and make sure you know what you are paying for and make sure the owner is legit.

Lastly, know your rights. It’s very easy to just abandon certain issues with owners because it’s not worth it. But sometimes you need to show them that you cannot be taken advantage of.

If you follow those tips, you’re a lot more likely to stay out of trouble and build the Spanish dream the way you want to. Happy hunting!

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Camino de Santiago Day 3: Villafranca- La Laguna 39km

Day 3 of the Camino de Santiago was the day where it all went wrong. Me and my Brazilian friend Rafael had a rough night in the hostel we were in, because of the heavy rain making a load of noise for most of the night. This place offered a good breakfast to start us off, and we were keen to get information about conditions. We got chatting to another pilgrim, called Anders a Dutchman who expressed similar concerns. Together we checked the news on TV, and there was some rain forecast, but intermittent showers. One thing you need to know when doing the Camino, is that Galicia is the wettest part of Spain, and April is one of the wettest months.

We set off at around 9 in the morning this time, knowing that we had another day of climbing looming over us. The first leg is a descent through the Village of Villafranca del Bierzo itself where Camino then splits into two directions. From there, it is very important to know the differences between the 2 ways, and it is not clear when you get to the junction if you’re a cyclist. The route on the left, takes you along the river and for a bike, is a lot easier, whereas the route on the right, takes you up the mountain, is hard for cyclists and walkers alike. Unknowingly, we took the harder option, and immediately, I felt that the information I was armed with, was actually not accurate.

We soldiered on, hoping that the route would get easier at some point, and from a cycling point of view, there are parts where you need to dismount and just walk. We were rewarded by some spectacular views of the mountains again, and it looked rather endless, but since we’re crossing one the largest mountain chains in the country, that hardly seemed surprising. The weather was also threatening to rain at times, then cleared away and was a feature of this particular stretch. After about 7km of climbing, the path levels out for a while, but any descent with the bike is risky especially after any rain.

Pradela is a small village that greets you at the highest point and is purely an option for any pilgrim that passes through this way, and there is a hostel there in case you want to stay the night. The path reaches a junction which has tarmac, and you turn right for the village, but left to rejoin the main Camino. This for us is where it all went wrong. The descent is steep, with a few hairpin bends, and my bike had serious issues stopping. My friend was shouting at me, telling me to stop, and when I eventually did, I realised the back wheel was broken. The brake pads somehow broke through the metal frame of the wheel and clogged up the inner tube. The next town, Trabadelo, was at the bottom of this road.

Trabadelo was a village which we felt was slim pickings if we were going to find someone who could help us fix the bike. We checked out a couple of places for information, including a hostel and the local mini market. They both indicated that there was a service station and hotel further along the Camino that could have helped us. The problem was, with a bike that can’t move properly, 4km is quite far. Rafael came up with an idea to straddle a long piece of wood between us and carry the bike, while taking it in turns to wheel his bike along the ground. The wood did eventually snap, but it carried us most of the distance. After that, we just took it in turns to wheel the broken bike through the soft earth. One positive about this part of the Camino, was that was at least relatively flat.

The service station was in a place called La Portela del Valcarce, and they had a garage there, and a hotel, which gave us more disappointing news. There was nothing they could do to fix the bike there, and this dampened my belief that I would be able to continue. I was left with just 2 options; take a taxi to Sarria further along the camino, or take a taxi back to Villafranca. I chose the latter, and it was this service station where Rafael wanted to continue solo for which I didn’t blame him as I didn’t know if my trip was going to continue. We said our goodbyes believing we would probably see each other in León. This wait for the taxi gave me time to reflect on what had happened and to work out the next plan of attack.

The station also had a nice shop full of local produce and trinkets for the Camino de Santiago. Since I didn’t have anything of the iconic shell, I bought a necklace with one on. The most common reason for the shell people told me during my time on the road was that it represented good luck, though it bears other meanings too. At this point, the Taxi arrived, to take me back to Villafranca, and together we discussed the possible ways of getting back on track. This driver was super helpful, taking me straight to the workshop and made sure they were able to fix it before he left to pick up another customer. I was lucky enough that they were able to fix it, but I had to wait 2 hours until the shop reopened again at 5.

This gave me time to chill out and check out the rest of Villafranca and in all honesty, get a bit bored. None of the major sights to this village were open, and even the tourist office, being a Monday, was closed for the whole day. I was able to check out the Iglesia de San Francisco which was a little higher up compared to the rest of the village, had some of the best views of town and surrounding mountains. The Plaza Mayor was where I spent most of my time though, sheltering from the odd sharp shower that headed my way. Some bars remain open, but in reality, you are rather alone in this village during the late afternoon.

The bike was finally ready and I was charged more than I originally paid for the bike, but at least I had a new wheel with a good tread on my tyre and new brakes, but they did warn me about avoiding sharp descents (like I know when I’m going to come across one of them). 5:30, and time to go, this time via the valley floor. This route is the one that most of the guides lead you to, and you can see why. The main road had the camino to the side of it, and the climbs are very minimal as you’re following the Río Valcarce. Pereje is the first village you come across just 4km in, and is a potential stop for Pilgrims as there is a bar and a Hostel. As a cyclist, you also avoid the busier N-VI for about 1km. It took me just 15 minutes to reach Trabadelo from Pereje, which again, is rather flat, and there I decided to get my booklet stamped.

Trabadelo has notably more hostels and things for the pilgrim compared to Pereje, with a couple of shops for groceries, and the valley opens up a little more, allowing you to see more mountains. A word of warning though, most of the hostels are at the start of the village, and after the ayuntamiento, there’s very little on offer. I continued along the camino, rejoined the main road, rather than taking the camino and another 20 minutes or so, I had passed the service station where Rafael and I parted ways, some 4 hours before. It took barely an hour to get from Villafranca to this spot, compared to the 3 1/2 hours via Pradela. Just how adventurous are you feeling?

I had an idea in my head, that if I just continued on the N-VI towards Lugo, that would be easier, and I would avoid the mountains, I was just so nervous of the bike breaking down on me and having a serious accident because of the brakes. I decided to stick to the main route, given that I knew there would be more support along the way. Plus if you’re going to do something, do it right. The next town is Albamestas and this is important for many pilgrims as there are quite a few Hostels there, and is for many, where some people from Villafranca, stop for a rest. It’s also where I bumped into the same Taxi driver who helped me before, small world eh?

The road then stays by the river as you cycle just 1km to Vega del Valcarce which is the last major village before you start climbing the mountains. This place is worth staying for a little while as there are plenty of places to wind down, but it’s worth noting that progress on the bike started to slow down at times, as the road is slowly climbing. You rejoin the N-VI at Ruitelán, a much smaller village, which I literally just passed through, and rest points became more limited. The last village before the climb up the mountain, is a little confusing, because on some charts they call it Hospital, which is a neighbourhood of a village called Las Herrerías, so don’t expect to see Hospital on many signs. and I didn’t see any shop to stock up on, but there are a couple of bars and hostels so you won’t go hungry.

This is the part where it gets really tricky, I felt like I needed to push for progress up the mountain before I could rest for the night, but time was slipping away, by this point it was 7, and I just wanted to make the next village. By this point, the rain was becoming a bit more persistent and colder, and the climb was becoming a bit of a struggle. some of the mountains had snow on them and clouds were constantly dark and I was starting to hit another low point in the journey. I had no idea how far away the next village was or where it would be and I missed a turn to it which was La Faba, and I was questioning why I was putting myself through this, I was just desperate to get to somewhere warm and dry. I was by this point too tired to cycle up the road and was walking up instead. I saw a couple of houses in the distance, and then a sign spray-painted on the floor, Albergue 1km, and then another for 500m and that extra energy pushed me there.

Thankfully the place was open and to my luck it was also a bar which had food. it was 8pm by that point, and I was super relieved. La Laguna was the hamlet I ended up staying at, and the hostel, Albergue La Escuela, was the only business there, and cost me 8€ at the time for the night. This particular place is on booking.com and it looks like the price has gone up, but it’s still really great value. I happened to be the only person in the entire hostel that was staying there the night, and It was extremely comfortable. I tried to get as many things as dry as possible, and had another 3- course meal, which again was amazing, and even managed to try tarta de Santiago for the first time.

By the time I got myself ready for bed, Rafael had messaged me, warning me about the following conditions, he had no idea where I was, nor did he know about what had happened. I couldn’t message him, because I had no signal whatsoever on both my phones, but his message warned me of difficulties of snow on the Camino. Given that I hadn’t made it to the top of the mountain yet, I had an interesting day ahead of me…

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Murciano: Is this the hardest Spanish accent on the peninsula?

If you go for a holiday on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, you would probably overlook the Costa Cálida, in the southeast of Spain. Alicante is nearby, so most Brits prefer to go there, so I can understand why it’s not so well-known. But this coastline is part of the Region de Murcia, and when you meet the people there, you are in for quite a difficult time. Are they unfriendly? Not at all. I didn’t feel like an alien in that regard, but my years of learning Spanish were heavily put to the test once a local opened their mouth and started talking (though some parts of Huelva and Sevilla are a close 2nd and 3rd).

My experience with the accent started when I checked into my hostel in Murcia capital. I was a little taken aback by the difference in the receptionist’s accent, but I powered through and got everything sorted. I was unsure as to whether that was a one-off, but I went into various bars for some tapas and the experience was of a similar degree. By the end of my stay, I certainly felt like I had had an intensive Spanish listening exam.

But what makes this accent so difficult?

  1. Murcians speak really quickly, or at least quicker than many other Spanish speakers around the country in my experience. Seriously, I would never get into an argument with someone from there as it would just get messy and I’d probably lose even if I’m 100% right.
  2. /s/ are extremely soft. Plural words will lose the /s/ dos turns to do. It is used at the start of the word at least, and a ‘c’ might sound like an /s/ but that’s generally a southern thing anyway. /x/ might sound like an /s/.
  3. Hard consonants are very relaxed which makes the words sound quicker, because there’s no semi pause for pronunciation for example: Iglesia may sound like Ilesia. They do this with so many letters where syllables are cut short.
  4. facial expressions when you pay attention to somebody don’t give that much away either, so any lipreading skills you have, may be futile.

Murcia’s accent is sometimes displayed in Spanish popular culture, with various films making fun of it and allowing the region to be the butt of all jokes. It reminds me of the Geordie accent in English culture (I’m a southerner, don’t hate). So many Spanish people that I know will make fun of Murcia because of the accent, but most of them make good humour of it.

The big questions are: can you get used to it? And does everybody speak like this? If you live in Murcia, you most certainly can get used to it, but it will take a lot longer, especially if you don’t have a high level to begin with. I was only there for 2 days and I survived ok, but was still rather shocked by the differences. And of course, not everybody speaks like this, but the vast majority do, as well as in surrounding provinces of Albacete, Almería and Alicante. Even people who work in public places may be difficult to understand. I went to the tourist office in Murcia and they were clearer than most people, but still quite a challenge to understand everything.

So there you have it, Murciano. Not a language in it’s own right, but some people might say differently when they experience hearing it. I think while it’s an obstacle that doesn’t make much sense, It shouldn’t put you off from checking this region out. If anything, this is one of the biggest learning curves you could experience if Spanish isn’t your first language. Expect a conversation that has a mumbling and lack of hard consonant element to it and see how far you can go. The further you go, the better the experience and the more likely you are of discovering some hidden gems. Good luck!

The Mediterranean Tour, Day 3 Castellón de la Plana- Valencia

Day 3 of the tour was actually the shortest ride of the whole trip, giving me an opportunity to actually slow down a little and enjoy any town for a bit longer than before. Valencia was the next bed for the night, and getting there meant crossing The extensive fields of orange trees, as well as some very busy roads. But first, I wanted to see more of Castellón, which as it turned out did not take very long. The main attractions of the centre were mostly centered around the Plaza Mayor (go figure) but what impressed me was the Concatedral de Santa Maria and the tower (El Fadrí) disconnected from each other, which I found quite bizarre at the time. The city centre certainly has less historical aspects than other major cities on the Mediterranean coast, and I would not come here if you are looking for stunning architecture. But Castellón is a great stop over for any occasion, and by 11am I was ready to go.

Villareal was the first stop of the day, 8km away, and there is very little to talk about between these two towns, though there is a possible detour to Almanzora and then to Burriana, two distinct towns a little closer to the coast. However, traffic makes both of the routes quite dangerous, so I stuck with the most direct. Villareal itself was a pleasant surprise as everyone knows the town for it’s football club. The city centre has some notable sights such as the Plaça de la Vila, and the Basilica de San Pascual, and I must say I liked this place a little more than Castellón. It’s extremely bicycle friendly there, and very easy to leave. The N-340 beckoned my journey once again to Nules.

12km of open road through the orange fields was the main experience I was drawing from this stretch of road. Again, very easy going and flat, Alquerias del Niño Perdido is not worth visiting unless you have issues with supplies. The scenery does slowly change, and you start to edge a little to the coastal range, but again for any cyclist, this is a very straightforward stretch of road and within 40 minutes of leaving Villareal, I had arrived in Nules, Though I highly recommend you detour to Mascarell, a small village surrounded by a Moorish wall, and well worth a look.

I decided to have a major break in Nules, and took advantage of enjoying the sights from the Plaza Mayor, Where you will see the ayuntamiento and the Iglesia Archiprestal de San Bartholomé, a very impressive church with a blue dome, and the main attraction. The town itself is pleasant enough, but you don’t need much time to see what there is, and half an hour later, the N-340 was beckoning once again, and the next stop, would be Xilxes/ Chiches. Just 9km separating the two towns and again, a very pleasant experience and not too much traffic on this section. Xilxes is not the most accessible town having to cross the trainline, however, you are not missing much, and I didn’t even stop to check it out.

The village of La Llosa and Almenara are next on the journey, and just off the side of the main road is the Castle which blends in with the hill. Both towns other than that are very much residential with not much going on, the same level as Xilxes. Nevertheless, they can provide you with anything you need provision-wise. This 6km stretch of road is the only one of the day that provides any sort of resistance over the course of the whole day. These are also the last towns of the Castellón province before entering Valencia, and one of the biggest highlights of the day, Sagunto was the next stop.

Crossing the border into Valencia province, the sign fittingly surrounded by oranges, the Castillo de Sagunto can be seen in the distance after a few kilometers from Almenara. 11km separated the two towns, and the heat was starting to build a little getting to around lunchtime, knocking on the door of 30 degrees. Again, there is very little challenge for any cyclist on this stretch of road, but I was still notably sore after my mammoth previous day. 40 minutes from Almenara, and it was a certain rest stop in sagunto.

This city was the highlight of the day, with the impressive castle overlooking everything with added bonus views of the sea which was only 5km away. Like castellón and Xilxes, Sagunto also has extended all the way to the beach and essentially has two city centres, but it’s the one inland which is more impressive in my opinion, and the old quarter was brimming with people, with the Glorieta opening the way to explore, and climb toward the Castle. Other attractions include the Juderia, and the modernised Teatro Romano. I wanted to lose myself in these beautiful narrow streets forever, but I still had 30km of cycling to do.

The next stretch of road is one of the most, if not, the most dangerous of the whole 6 day trip. Sagunto is at a bust junction which connects Valencia and Zaragoza via Teruel, So the autopistas and autovias all connect forcing you onto one of them for a very brief period before turning you onto a service road. I however accidentally missed that turning and ended on the V-23 all the way to Puçol which I was not allowed to do, but got away with it. What’s also confusing is that you don’t see the no entry signs from when the N-340 merges. Another alternative route is the Camí de Gausa which will take you to the outskirts of the town. most of this 9km stretch was not particularly enjoyable, so blaze through this as quick as you can.

Puçol/ Puzol is the next town, where directions to the town centre require you to cross the dry river bed, where you are greeted with the Plaza Iglesia and the ayuntamiento after a series of relatively narrow and kinda charming cobbled streets. This is also the last town before you start entering the metropolitan area of Valencia, and now the land is becoming almost flat as a pancake, so you start believing you are on the home straight. The CV 306 is the main road, but there’s also a Via Verde cycling route barely 100m to the left via Calle Mercé de Rodoreda that takes you almost directly to Rafelbunyol, the next town, something I discovered after the trip.

Though there is virtually nothing to see in Rafelbunyol/ Rafelbuñol, seeing the metro station gave me a lot of motivation despite still being about 15km away from Valencia. You immediately follow either the CV 300, or the Avenida Mayor through to the centre of La Pobla de Farnals which is what I did, and I have no idea which one is quicker. The road starts off as Carretera de Barcelona, but the reality is, just go straight on and you’ll slowly get there. It’s almost a continuous chain of towns to Valencia from this point, and I continued up through La Pobla, then Massamagrell, Museros, Emperador, Albalat dels Sorells, Foios, Meliana, Almassora and Tabernas Blanques. Most of which I just blazed through. Traffic gets heavier the closer you get to the 3rd largest city in Spain.

Just before crossing the Avenida dels Germans Machado, There is a monastery that is not well known to tourists, The Monesteri de Sant Miquel de Reis that would be worth a look. Unfortunately for me, it was closed When I passed it, but I wasn’t too bothered as I was now entering Valencia, and I had to be careful on these roads. The north of the city has a few tramlines connecting the Estadio de Levante to the beach, But you start to get excited once you reach the dry riverbed of the Turia, and within 10 minutes, I had reached my hostel, just off the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

73km, The shortest day of the 6 was now complete, and I arrived at around 4pm, with plenty of time to rest and enjoy the city, though one night is nowhere near enough time. Nevertheless, I knew I had complete freedom and the chance to do some walking for a change, and visit places like the Plaza de la Reina, the Mercado central, La Ciutat de las Ciencies, and the beach, and have a well earned ice cream or buñuelo. The following day was another slog,117km to Xabia/ Javea in the Province of Alacant/Alicante.

The Mediterranean tour Day 2: Xerta- Castelló/ Castellón de la Plana 147km

Day 2 of 6 on this cycling tour was going to be the biggest challenge I had faced so far, almost doubling the distance from day 1. However I was super excited about reaching the coast and enjoying the seaside towns all along it, which was the main point of the whole trip. Setting off from Xerta at around 9 gave me about 12 hours of daylight to get there as well as the opportunity to enjoy any stops along the way. The wind compared to yesterday had notably died down, and was a comfortable 23 degrees and partly cloudy for most of the day, almost perfect conditions.

A light breakfast in Xerta and I set off along the C-12 straight towards Tortosa, the biggest Catalan town on the Ebro, 13km away. Aldover is a small village on the way, but very little to write about, so I bypassed it and stuck to the main road, which is almost completely flat and straightforward until you reach the town. The only downside is that there is quite a lot of traffic the nearer you get to Tortosa, but I have gone through way worse. At this point, the older part of the town is actually on the other side of the river, so you will have to cross it to enjoy the best sights.

Tortosa was often given a mediocre review by most of my friends, stating that it isn’t really worth visiting, but I wouldn’t agree with that. The city itself has a lot of history and has plenty of attractions for anyone stopping by. The biggest selling point for me was walking along the river to the cathedral and the castell de la Suda. The hills on the east bank of the Ebro also have various turrets and fortifications which now offer unique vantage points of the city and the now very wide Ebro valley. The first worthy stop for the day for sure.

Reconnecting to the C-12 out of town, gave me 3 options, continue to the delta, cut through to Vinaroz, or along the edge of Els ports away from the sea. I chose to cut through to Vinaroz where I connected to the T-331, a notably quieter road and and agricultural area of Catalonia. From this road you approach the mountains in the form of the Sierra de Montsia which is one of the most prominent peaks on the coast. Els ports is being left behind as you pass Santa Barbara and push up to a small pass just over 100m high at the Creu del Termini del Coll and enter the valley with the Sierra de Godall to your right and Ulldecona, the last town of Catalonia, straight ahead.

If you have time (which I didn’t for this trip) the Ermita de las Pietat on the Sierra de Godall would be a worthy detour of the bike, as the tarmac road takes you directly to the top, and boast views of the valley and if you were to climb to the top, the sea as well. Passing Ulldecona means connecting to the T-332 and over the dry river Cenia which means officially you have left Catalonia, and are in the Castelló province of the Comunidad Valenciana! Vinaroz was now just 7km away and I was finally going to unite with the sea for the first time on this trip and take a rest in this town. 45km separates Tortosa from Vinaroz, and the last stretch is a gentle downhill slope along the N-238, and before I knew it, I was following the signs to the nearest and main beach, the Platja del fortí.

After more than days ride, I was finally united with the sea where I would be alongside on and off for the next 4 days. Vinaroz is the first of 3 towns on the first bay the Costa Azahar, alongside Benicarló and Peñíscola, and the heart of the city of 20000+ people had a lot of activity and lovely ambience dominated by the Plaça de sant Augustí and Plaça de Sant Andoni, just a stones throw away from the promenade. It had a vibe similar to that of the port of Cambrils 100km further north, only with less of a gastronomic scene. I Enjoyed the short break I gave myself and set off again to Benicarló along the sea front.

The coastal road was exciting and had views of the village of Peñíscola jutting out in the distance, but the road became a little complicated and forced me back onto the N-340 just 3km from the next town, though I later discovered a series of residential streets did connect to the same area, but wasn’t worth it. A busy road, I wanted to be on it as little as possible and the first opportunity to get off it was immediately taken. You follow through a principal, and fairly run down street to reach the centre of Benicarló, just 8km or so from Vinaroz, where I was presented with one of the more impressive churches of the whole trip, on the Plaça de Bartomeu. Other than that, Benicarló is definitely the newer of the 3 towns on the bay, a highly commercial orientated city centre, certainly not so much to see. But it does connect with the start of a long and beautiful beachside road that’s not blemished by buildings in the way.

8km of this coastline road takes you up to Peñíscola, a Pueblo Más Bonito de España where if I had more time, I would’ve spent more time enjoying the while narrow streets and impressive views from the top of the rock. If it’s good enough for Game of Thrones it’s definitely good enough to go back. And I did just that several times. The idyllic scenery and mountainous backdrop from the the fortifications followed by narrow medieval streets make Peñíscola the most beautiful town on the Costa Azahar. Flanked by two beaches and a small marina, I decided to take a short break on the smaller Platja de Migjorn and followed what I believed to be the coastal road out of town.

Wrong. Calle Irta takes you to the Parque Natural Sierra de Irta, which is not recommended for roadbikes, even the coastal trail, which I also accidentally missed. Road cyclists would have to divert back to the N-340 to Santa Magdalena de Pulpis and then Alcalá de Xivert, before connecting back on the coast at Alcossebre. 21km of Natural park ended up being a very rewarding experience, enjoying the mountains and practically untouched coastline, but was slow going at times and I just followed the trails that I hoped didn’t kill the bike. The Camí de Ribamar thankfully got more bike friendly the closer I got, and after about an hour and a half of this off-road detour, the practically empty town of Alcossebre was finally reached.

Despite it being Easter when I did this, I was surprised to see few people around what seemed like an extended residential area, with resorts yet to fully open, and many places shut down, but I didn’t care much for that, as the Coastal road from the Passeig Maritim all the way to the Platja de Serradal 6km of some of the best coastal roads of the day. unfortunately On the outskirts of Torrenostra, the road will not connect directly to the beach again until Oropesa de Mar, 42km to go until Castellón by this point.

If I thought Alcossebre was practically empty, Torrenostra was completely empty, And I didn’t even want to stop by the many half finished apartments and timeshares that just blotted the landscape and waste my time there. The beach front may be nice, but the place spells resort to me, and Torreblanca a few kilometres up the road was a more viable place to rest. Finally, locals, more history! The main street brushes the Plaza Mayor with the Iglesia de San Bartolome dominating the scene, and narrow pedestrianised streets, so much better than what I had encountered 15 mins previously. The road takes you a few kilometres away from the coastline overlooking it and onto the N-340 once again.

Long, extensive grasslands occupied the left of me while heading south to Oropesa de Mar, leaving the Cuartell de Vell beach practically untouched. Unfortunately, for any cyclist, you’re more than kilometer inland, following a straight road. By this point I was starting to flag a little bit, taking more breaks and feeling the burn, and I was a little demoralized by the small hill I had to climb after passing Oropesa. I would never normally be phased by this, but I was getting to the point where I just wanted to get to Castellón while it was still light outside. It may had been that the coastal road that headed to Benicassim would be the better option in hindsight for the views, but my legs weren’t having it, and I pushed on the N-340 to the top of the climb which was only 100m or so. 7km to Benicassim.

If you do have the time to visit Oropesa, I would recommend it, as I did return in less tiring circumstances, as the Torre de Rey dominates the coastline in the town. The N-340 just 3km from Benicassim opens up and you can see Castellón for the first time in the distance which would give anyone motivation to keep pressing forward. Nevertheless I took a break in the town famous for its music festival celebrated in the summer, the Rototom Sunsplash. I would say this town had a lot more life in it than some of the more resort-looking towns on the Costa Azahar so far, but not much to see really other than enjoy the seaside, which I could not. Last town of the day.

14km or so separated me from Castellón and thankfully the road took me down from the hill and had no nasty surprises, just more cars. The N-340a takes you into the centre of town where I turned off to pass the Estadio Nou Castalia, Home of Castelló football club and headed straight towards the Mercado Central near my bed for the night. By this point, It had got almost completely dark, and I decided to check out a bar for some well- deserved dinner somewhere near the Plaza Tetuan, a popular area to eat from what I was told, and explored the commercial centre of town.

Day 2 was done, the longest and most challenging day of the trip so far. Being united with the coast and being to stop at some of the best seaside towns the Costa de Azahar had to offer was worth the pain I was feeling that night. What’s more I was in the provincial capital, giving me a chance to explore this relatively unknown city. Whether there was anything worth seeing or not, it did not matter, and tomorrow Valencia was to be my next destination.

Pueblos de España, Mini blogs vol 2: Laguardia, Alava

If there’s one thing you think about when you say Basque country, the word would be green. In Laguardia however, you couldn’t be more wrong, as you could easily mistake it for being somewhere around the corner from the Mediterranean sea. For me, it was totally different from what I was expecting, especially as I had just come from the capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz just 45km away. It is the only village in the Basque Country that has been incorporated into the Asociación de los Pueblos Más Bonitos de España as of 2021 and when you enter through the old walls, you can see why.

Laguardia is in the region of Rioja Alavesa just 7km from the River Ebro, and 18km from Logroño, capital of La Rioja. To the north, and south the village has mountains to enjoy, the Sierra Cantabria to the north and the Sistema Iberico to the south the latter of which are snow-capped for more than 6 months a year. The village has no train station, but is well- connected with buses from Vitoria and Logroño and fairly well with Haro, all via Alava bus, making it a perfect stopover for the day, or overnight.

For 7 months of the year, Laguardia has mild to cool weather which will require a layer or two, especially at night, ranging from about 9 degrees in January during the day, to a few degrees above freezing at night, similar to Logroño. During the summer it gets hot, but rarely too uncomfortable and compared to the rest of the Basque Country, it is very dry, where by comparison, Vitoria-Gasteiz gets at least double the rainfall, and Bilbao, almost triple. I went at the start of May a few years ago, and jeans, a T-shirt and a jumper was perfect for me.

Depending on what you want to do there, the village will accommodate you with plenty of places to stay, but not many options are available for the solo traveler unfortunately, with almost everywhere offering just double rooms and virtually nothing for a youth hostel setup. Laguardia offers accommodation at around 60€ a night or 30€ per person if you are travelling with someone else, so a little more expensive compared to some of the cities around, but I think it’s still well worth it.

The old town is on top of a small hill with quite a few narrow sandstone buildings crammed together to form a number of romantic and charming streets, leading up to the plaza de los Gaiteros where the main church, The Iglesia de Santa Maria and it’s tower, the Torre Abacial is the biggest attraction of the village, giving you 360 views of the countryside as well as the whole of Laguardia itself. Some of the oldest known ruins in the world, dating as far back as the Bronze age, the Dolmen de San Martín can be visited nearby, though there are many more in the municipal area.

The main reason why people visit might not be exclusively the sights, but the gastronomy, principally, the famous Rioja Alavesa wine. Bodegas and vineyards are dotted all over the place with the typical tasting sessions available in almost all of them. The most famous vineyard is actually out of the centre, known as the Bodega Ysios, with its impressive architecture. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to go visit it, but at least I got to taste the wine which was pretty special. By no means am I a connoisseur, but it is up there with some of the best red wine I have ever had, and the best thing is you are going to find it everywhere in the village.

Like the rest of the Basque Country, pintxos are quite a common occurrence in the bars, but will have a lot more similarities with that of the gastronomy of La Rioja. Tortilla, hotpot or cazuela style dishes are super common there. As with the whole of the Basque country and La Rioja, you will eat very well in Laguardia, and though I just enjoyed a couple of pintxos as I was saving myself for my visit to Logroño, I enjoyed every bite.

So that’s it about Laguardia, a Pueblo Mas Bonita de España that is easily accessible and a unique taste Rioja that is actually Basque. I would happily go back, and whether you have half a day, or want to spend the night, check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Settling COVID-19 fines issued by the Junta

The years 2020 and 2021 have been crazy to say the least, and almost everyone across Spain (myself included) have been the receiving end of some very strict and complicated rules put into place since the 1st official state of emergency declared in March 2020. With all the free time I now had, I still wasn’t completely as well-read as I am now about my rights, and what I could do in case something was to happen related to being fined. Unfortunately, I was one of many people hard-done by police very happy to stamp their authority and slap me with a fine for breaking COVID protocols.

What happened to me?

Basically it was the 21st of May. Córdoba was on Phase 1, about to transition to Phase 2 of the relaxation of confinement. Phase 1 was probably the most controversial of the 4 phases that the government introduced. Adults, elderly and children still had specific times on when they were allowed out for exercise, but at any time of the day could go out for lunch or a beer at any bar with a terrace, or go shopping for non- essential items, which is where the shadiness of most of the fines occurred. As a 30-year-old adult, I was only allowed out between 6-10am and 8-11pm. I was walking back home from doing some exercise and lost track of time, and was just 10 minutes from home, when the police stopped me, it was 10:10, my details were logged. They understood my confusion and I thought that was the end of it.

WRONG. A year later and I sign for a letter and couldn’t believe it when I saw it, those officers rolled us over and slapped us with 2 fines of 601€. The legal questions were flooding my brain for several days trying to work out if we could get out of paying this. Here’s what I discovered:

  1. The fine could be cut by half (300.50€) if paid within 15 days of signing for it, and this applies to almost all the fines issued by the Junta.
  2. It could be paid almost anywhere, certain government buildings, any public bank, online via the Agencia Tributaria or other permitted organisation online as stated on the document.
  3. You have a year to pay the full fine should you decide to pay after the original 15 days. This does depend on how much you have to pay though.
  4. You can present a case to the Subdelegación to prove that you are unable to pay the fine in one go, and arrange with the Hacienda (tax office) to make monthly payments.
  5. Most importantly, if you know that this is a mistake of some kind, you might be able to get the fine overturned (recurrido), so it’s worth checking with a solicitor before paying it.

I decided to seek legal advice over this, If you work in Spain, it’s good to check with your employer’s legal representative to start with and offer any suggestion as to how to recurrir it. if you have any evidence to show that you hadn’t committed the crime and it was a mistake, the solicitor will draft a letter to be presented to the Fiscalia to show that it should be recurrido.

In my case we found issues with the dates of the incident and when they issued it to us. By law, the subdelegación has to send all fines within a year of the incident and processed paperwork. if they issue a fine a year and a day after the incident, it is officially null and void. If you physically receive the paperwork after that year, but the document is dated within a year of the incident, the odds are in your favour though it is harder to win that case, but I know people who have appealed and won, so it might be worth a shot.

The big problem with anything being issued in 2020-2021, is the state of emergency (Estado de Alarma) that was implemented twice over that time. Basically the government have leeway into issuing fines on time, and subsequently apply to the first day after the end of the Estado de Alarma. it means if you committed a crime during the first Estado de Alarma between the 14th of March and 1st of June 2020, you can only overturn the fine if you receive the document after the 1st. Technically you still have to pay if the incident took place on the 20th May 2020 and the dreaded letter goes through your door on the 31st of May 2021, which was what happened to me.

Another thing to note, if you pay the fine but want to contest it, you won’t be able to, because that suggests that you have accepted the charge. Also if you lose the case of overturning the fine, you would pay the full amount of the fine, and possible additional fees depending on the case. In the end after thoroughly exhausting my options, I ended up paying the 300€ at my local bank. And the ordeal was over.

All I can say is I hope you never have to go through this, and that police in Spain like to pick on easy targets and you just might be incredibly unlucky. I for example have never been stopped by them for not wearing my facemask while doing exercise outdoors (I’m federado so I can legally do that.), and I have heard lots of stories of people being stopped and punished. I for one can’t wait for the restrictions to end completely. So take care and be keep your eyes peeled for them.

Pueblos de España, Mini Blogs Vol 1: Xerta, Tarragona

Having decided that city guides are not the ideal home for my adventures into smaller picturesque towns and villages of Spain, I decided to make a new place for them. Many of them will be on the list of Pueblos Más Bonitos de España, or Most beautiful villages of Spain, Xerta is not one of them, but worth writing about.

Xerta (Cherta in Spanish) is a Catalan village that lies on the banks of the river Ebro, and is locally popular for stopovers before reaching the major town, Tortosa, or as a gateway to some locally picturesque scenery. The only way to get there is by bus, by car or by bicycle (more on that later) and most of the roads in the centre are very narrow and pedestrianised but the main square is easily accessible, and is where most of the activity comes from. there are several guest houses and hotels dotted around the village as well as a hostel for those with a budget, where I stayed, and is a pleasant experience. Prices start from about 15€ per person, per night.

The most common monuments are orientated around the Plaça Major, where the church also shows a scale depicting historical flood levels of Xerta, some of them going over my head to my amazement, and given how flat this place is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole village had been affected over the years. Other notable sights are the Capella de Sant Zeno, the Capella de Sant Domenec and a couple of kilometres away the Assaut de Xerta, an old mill which has subsequently lost a lot of its beauty now a hydroelectric station was built in the area, but is still of local importance and interest.

The Natural sights may be the most important as Xerta is most popular for its sporting activities and being on the banks of the Ebro, popular for some potential water sports as well. The Via Verde del Ebro, a cycle path converted from an old train, track passes through the village and is the main reason people stop by here. Hiking routes from this village are also possible along the river, as well as being very close to the mountain range of Els Ports.

There’s not much home to write home about in the food section, except that there are some dishes heavily influenced by the surrounding regions. The most typical dishes here, are arros de plana, similar to a paella, and coca de mançana, a cake with roasted apples. The most famous pastry for the region, the pastisset of casquet is a filled, short crust pasty most commonly with pumpkin, and are covered in sugar, a perfect snack for being out and about.

That’s it from me about Xerta, I had a lovely experience there, and almost completely unknown to any foreign traveler. Its a perfect rest stop for anyone doing any cycling or hiking in the area, and though it won’t blow you away compared to other picturesque villages, you will hold this one in high regard.

The Valencian coastal tour, Day 1/6 Reus- Xerta 81km

This cycling trip is one of the longest I have done to date (and when COVID-19 no longer poses too many obstacles, I will make sure to go way further), starting from Reus in the Catalan province of Tarragona and finishing in Murcia about 580km away. This plan developed upon setting up my new life in Catalonia, where I would spend the next 5 years, and using a new bike, a hybrid from Decathlon, which allowing me to go off road on occasions if I needed to. It was Easter week, so I had time to go far, and get stuck into this new challenge set across multiple regions of Spain.

One thing you learn from previous trips is you try to use your free space as well as possible, and I experimented by removing any excess weight off my back, so the bike got loaded with bags on the pannier, a large compartment on the front, and attempted to set up a camera with my phone to record things hooked along a selfie stick. Not terrible ideas, but I didn’t know what I know now, and you will too if you don’t already.

The plan was as follows:

  • Reus- Xerta 81km
  • Xerta- Castelló (Castellón) de la Plana 147km
  • Castellón- Valencia 73km
  • Valencia- Javea (Xabia) 117km
  • Javea- Alicante 97km
  • Alicante- Murcia 82km, total 597km

The main reason I chose this route was to explore as much of the Costas as much as I could, with some key places I knew little about at the time. Some of this route was also via some caminos, or tracks where only one part I would say was unsuitable for road bikes, all of which were on the first day. The cost of the hostels were about 170€ for the 6 nights and of various levels of comfort, but all that info to come later, for now let’s start the journey…

The starting point was Reus, and you immediately follow a Camino called Molins Nous, which will take you straight to Riudoms, the first town of the journey. Just 6km separates you from Reus and the Camino is pleasant and mostly smooth all the way as you cross the Riera de Maspujols and enter the village of about 6000 people. The Plaça de l’Eglesia is the highlight of any passer by, and the narrow streets have a similarity to Reus, minus the people. You exit via the TV-3103 and can take sign posts to the Next village, Montbrio del Camp can be followed by signposts, or via the Cami dels Cerdans, I chose the main road as it’s actually quicker this time. Another 5km and you’re motoring along.

The best way to enter this village is via the Cami de Vinyols where you will join up alongside the dry riverside and get some impressive views of the architecture of the Parroquia de Sant Pere and The Ajuntament. This village is also a great place to stop for something as there are a few reliable cafés just before you enter the old centre. Montbrio is a bit of a crossroads between the coast and the mountains, so you are more likely to see activity here, than Riudoms. North towards the mountains is Riudecanyes where there is some impressive hiking trails, while south is Cambrils, a foodie hotspot on the coast. But I was heading to Mont-roig, via the Carrer major and this time I chose the Cami de Vilanova, Which is 50:50 for road bikes.

Mont-roig Can be accessed alternatively via the T-310 which will be important later, as it’s the road you take to leave the town. The generally flat experience that had dominated the first 12km is looking ominous to end as the mountains by this point are at the doorstep of this village. It’s still a very straightforward 6km and the old part of town stands out ahead of the other places so far. Though the 900- year history of Mont-Roig del Camp isn’t so telling, There’s enough to see to impress you such as the Eglesia vella de Sant Miquel d’Arcangel, and it’s newer church on the Plaça de Mossen Gaieta Ivern. It’s worth having a short walk around the narrow rustic streets of the Nucli Antic before continuing out of town.

The major mountain stage was coming up next, where you briefly rejoin the T-310 along the edge of the mountains with occasional impressive views of the sea, Which by this point are only about 5km away. For me, the major issue was the wind, which was quite strong along this stretch, and the challenge starts as you turn off onto the C-44 to where it’s signposted Mora and Vandellos. This route is quite busy at times, so be careful, and immediately you are climbing past the neighbourhood of Masriudoms and then to Masboqueira which has a very charming little old quarter, but very to offer any passer by in case you need supplies. by this point you will have cycled 14km from Mont-Roig and climbed about 150m.

Vandellos is just 2km from Masboqueira and notably bigger with more things you may need, but there isn’t much to see here. The bigger attraction of this town would be the numerous hiking routes that exist around here. The road does get notably steeper here as well, so there’s a push to the top of the pass. The Coll de Fatxes is the highest point of the whole trip at 507m high, and its a good challenge for any cyclist to reach the top some 5km or so from Vandellos. The views were also pretty spectacular as you leave the comarca of the Baix Camp and enter the Ribera del Ebre, and on top of that, you get to enjoy a nice descent all the way to the main road that follows the course of the River Ebro, the longest river wholly in Spain.

Before the junction however, you might be interested enough to stop off in Tivissa, Where the main square lies on the edge of a rocky outcrop alongside the church, giving you some really nice views of the surrounding area, and there’s also some castle ruins, Castellet de Banyoles on a hill just before the junction at the river that listed as a cultural heritage site. Only if you have time, as there’s still 38km to go from the village. Just short of the River Ebro, I reached the junction that directed me to Mora or Tortosa, The later took me south towards the sea and my bed for the night.

Not long after the junction, The small village of Ginestar is a possible diversion which I subsequently did not take. From what I was told about it, I don’t think I missed much, but you might be curious enough to check it out and let me know in the comments. It isn’t really out of the way, so it would be easy to keep to the itinerary. A few kilometres later you finally run alongside the famous Ebro river, where you will on the hill on the other side the Castillo de Miravet. There’s a small ferry that can take you to the other side just before the road goes away from the river and starts climbing rather unexpectedly towards another village called Rasquera, which was an unwelcome slog which gifted some of the most spectacular views of the river and surrounding mountains.

At the highest point, you are over 100m higher than the river and there’s even a viewpoint called the mirador de Benifallet, which is also the next village on this journey. The mountain scene made up for this leg burner and it also left an amazing descent to a bridge that I had to cross. This is crucial as there is not another bridge that crosses the Ebro until Tortosa, so stay on the C-12 all the way. Xerta by this point is a gentle push downstream and barely 10km away. The valley meanders until you reach the village, where the valley starts to open up a little, and there it is, my bed for the night.

I stayed in the Alberg Xerta, commonly used for travellers due to numerous walking and cycling routes, and was very good price for the night, just 15€ at the time. They even gave me preferential treatment due to my room being shared with a group of kid scouts, and sent me to an empty apartment which I ended up having for myself at no extra cost to my shock. It looked as though they had done this for other guests before, but under no circumstances can I guarantee that will happen to you whatsoever, just hope your trip coincides with a group of kids and you might strike gold.

Xerta itself was a pleasant village with some history to keep you interested, and it’s main square encourages you to enjoy it peacefully and enjoy the life of the locals for an evening. I only wondered around for a short amount of time, and while there are no museums, there is enough there to make it a great stopover. I enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of the place and was able to prepare myself and rest well for the following day, which would be the longest of the trip so far. Day 1 complete, a perfect distance to warm the legs up.

Patatas a la Riojana, A truly hearty Spanish dish

Gastronomy in Spain varies greatly from region to region, but there are few places that are as highly talked about as La Rioja. Before even going there to visit there, my friends told me how well you can eat, and they were not wrong. The food is at the same level of quality as the Rioja wine that dominates the scene. I visited the capital, Logroño for a day trip and I can safely say, that I spent more time eating than seeing the sights. One of the dishes that was available in most places, was patatas a la riojana.

While stews and soups are not uncommon in Spain, This one does not have beans or lentils or anything like that, which is a very common trait for this country. This is also a dish that has a little kick of spice that adds to the warmth, and also is one of the few things in Spain that actually has some spice in it. Served as a tapa or starter, you will find this in almost every bar in the La Rioja and will definitely be inclined to taste it.

Funnily enough the dish is comprised of potatoes, alongside chorizo, pimientos choriceros (a mildly spicy red pepper), onion, garlic, pimentón and bay leaves. Some variants are even simpler than that, by cutting out the vegetables, but it might not be as spicy. The potatoes are cut in a way in which they are partially broken off, leaving the starch to thicken the soup a little and are also added to the dish last before being left to simmer. Most bars are pretty generous with the amount of chorizo added to the dish, so carnivores will take a shine to it. Other variants may include lamb or rabbit, though I only encountered that in one bar in Logroño.

Several recipes are available online to make at home and I followed the recipe of Omar Allibhoy, the founder of Tapas Revolution, as his recipe was practically identical to the real thing as you can get. You can also find it pre-made in supermarkets in a can version, but I wouldn’t go wild with that particular version as it’s nowhere near as good as the real thing as is usually the case. It takes about 40 mins to make at home, and will always be better, providing you follow the guidelines.

I would define the taste of patatas a la riojana as hearty, but with a smoky flavour and the texture of a stew that you would similarly get in the UK. It wouldn’t be something that would blow you away, but it would be repeated if given the chance. I highly recommend it to anybody travelling to the La Rioja region as well as it’s surrounding areas. To summarise, If you are impartial to a hearty stew and fancy something that has a Mediterranean twist, patatas a la riojana should be on your list, and don’t forget to have a glass of the red stuff on the side to complement it.

Tremp- Santa Maria de Engracia

Nestled in the Prepirineu of Lleida about 70km from the provincial capital is the small town of Tremp of the the Pallars Jussa comarca. Though it technically has a city status, it’s just got a population of about 5000 people and is the starting point of this hike. The small town centre is a nice place to have a wonder for a brief period, as well as having all the necessary supplies for your journey, but I would never go out of my way to exclusively see the few sights here.

What stands out with this place however, is how well-connected it is and close to the mountains it also is, you can go almost any direction for both a good hike, and cycling and I used this place, and La Pobla de Segur further up the road for that purpose. On this occasion we were driven there, but you can get a bus or even a train there which are about 90 mins or so because of the stops. The route I’m talking about on this blog takes about 3 1/2 hours, and is about 14km long.

The first part of the trek is via the main road, and you are on the C-13 for about 2km before crossing uphill to the small village of Talarn. Take caution to this part of the road as there is quite a lot of traffic at times, and you will also take this way back, though it’s not the only possible way. Talarn itself is quite a picturesque little village with some views over the valley, and already notably higher than Tremp. I would take some time to enjoy the narrow streets and Plaça Mayor before you carry on, as it is steeped in history. The carrer de font de caps will lead uphill along the ridge and out of town, where you walk alongside a tarmac road until the Ermita Calvari where you will see a signpost taking you down into a small valley. Now your trail begins.

At first its all down up until you reach the Barranc de Seros and cross a small bridge, and slowly start making your way up. The village in question is sometimes seen from the path and it does look a long way up, but the path is not particularly demanding and easy to follow. About 1.5km of this is easy going and a slow gradual climb, occasionally crossing bare rock before you get to a point where you have to make a right and start climbing quite steeply over some loose stones. from here, the path occasionally splits and rejoins on this part and is about 250m or so of climbing like this.

You will also notice the small village of Gurp at the end of the valley at a similar altitude to Santa Engracia, which is also a popular trail for hikers that is about 6km longer, and doesn’t double back on itself. The trail to Santa Engracia ends when you reach the only tarmac road that connects this village from civilisation. from this point, the oldest part of the village is to your right, and you can climb up the narrow main street to the church at the very top, which gives you the most spectacular views of the lakes and higher mountains. This is the highlight of the entire hike, what you have been working your legs for the last hour and 30 minutes.

The village has nothing to offer any parched traveler unless you reserve a room in one of the guesthouses there, and they aren’t normally open to the public without a reservation. A fountain and Talarn are the nearest places for you. I asked a local, and that’s what she told me, so make sure you do have snacks and plenty of fluids for this experience. Enjoy the views and reward yourself at the end. the descent is probably the most treacherous part especially if wet, which turned out to be the factor that made us rush back to Tremp as quickly as possible. Storms started to roll in at this point, making the way back, which is exactly the same way we came a lot more interesting.

It took us only about 45 minutes to get back to Tremp, though it would normally take about 1hr 20 minutes, due to our practical trail run. It is advisable to check the forecast for places like Tremp, especially if it’s during the autumn/ spring time, as it is very unsettled at times. You can do this hike at almost any time of the year, though summers can reach the upper 30’s in this area, so you might want to do this at a reasonable time of the day. I can safely say that no matter how experienced you are at hiking, you will really enjoy it when you reach the top. It’s one of many hiking trails in Pallars Jussa which are extremely beautiful as well as of mixed difficulties. See for yourself!

City Guide: Gijón/ Xixón

In the heart of Green Spain, on the rugged Cantabrian coastline lies the historically industrial city of Gijón, a city not known for it’s looks, but rather it’s industry. However, times are changing, and this place is shaking its image and serves as an attraction and must-visit spot if you happened to plan a visit Asturias. I went there three times during my Erasmus days in León, and it was so different to what I had known and thought of when I thought Spain, and I liked being proved wrong.

Gijón is the largest city in Asturias, though it isn’t the capital, and is located on the north coast, about 25km from Oviedo, the actual capital. The city is connected via bus to other cities along the coast, including Bilbao, A Coruña, Santander and Asturias airport in Avilés. León, Valladolid, and Madrid are also easily accessible this way, and If you were to fly to Madrid, the bus time would be a minimum of 6 hours. Asturias airport on the other hand has a connection time of about 40 minutes.

Locally, the city is extremely well-connected to the rest of Asturias via Cercanías rail lines, though rail services are limited elsewhere, with the AVE project not yet finished as of 2021. Alvia services can connect Gijón as far east as Barcelona, and as far south as Cadiz and Alicante, so you’re actually quite well connected. If you happen to be any further south and east than Madrid, then Flying to Asturias airport should definitely be an option, especially if you are travelling from Barcelona area. I lived in León at the time, so I took the bus.

The climate of Gijón is extremely agreeable to those who don’t like hot summers, as they are of a similar caliber of London, being in the low to mid 20’s and not often above 30. Winters however, are warmer than England rarely dropping below freezing at night and are in the low to mid teens during the day, so there isn’t a huge temperature swing. Many of the cities on the Cantabrian coastline are similar this way. While Gijón is drier than parts of the Galician coast, it can rain there quite a lot, or have overcast days. Of the three times I visited, it was clear skies just the once, though the odds are little more in your favour in the summer months.

With the summer being more comfortable than the sweltering south, it’s not surprising to know that Gijón is ideally visited during these months, and there are two major beaches that are iconic to say the least, the Playa de Poniente, and the Playa de San Lorenzo. These are the key driving force behind most people’s visit, and San Lorenzo especially, has some of the most iconic views of the city. Should you want to find some quieter beaches, Rinconín and Peñarrubia are about 15 and 30 minutes away by walking, but they might not be the easiest beaches to access especially if you don’t like walking. Playa de Arbeyal is on the other end of town, in Gijón-Oeste, but is right next to the port, and is far from decent places for a drink, or to eat, you might not feel comfortable being surrounded by tonnes of industry either.

Gijón is more than just some pretty beaches, and there enough monuments and historic buildings around town that will complement your trip. One interesting fact to point out, is that the city doesn’t have a cathedral, though there are two churches that could be mistaken as such, the Iglesia de San José, around the corner from the bus station, and the Iglesia de San Pedro, on the sea front around the corner from the Plaza Mayor and Ayuntamiento in Cimavilla. If you were just arriving by bus or train, your first port of call would be the Iglesia de San José, followed by a short walk up to the Marina, where you would see the notable difference between old and new.

From the iconic Letronas on the Marina, to the Palacio de Revillagigedo, The Cimavilla starts here, and you have the choice to go right through the archway to the Plaza Mayor, or stay long the marina and head to the Cerro de Santa Catalina for amazing views of the sea and most of the city. Calle Artillería, followed by the Subida al Cerro will take you to this place where there is evidence of the old fortress dotted everywhere in this park. The sculpture of the Elogio del Horizonte is a popular viewpoint where the views are worth the trek. The main path does a full circle to the Iglesia de San Pedro on the other side of the old part of town.

Don’t ignore the interior by any means, and the multicoloured buildings and old stone houses make the Cimavilla quite an attractive labyrinth of streets and small plazas. South of the Plaza Mayor and the Ayuntamiento, you are still charmed by historic buildings as you reach the commercial centre of the city, where you will encounter more 19th and 20th century architecture with an Asturian flare to it. some squares, like the Plaza Campino de Begoña, where the Iglesia de San Lorenzo is located, are also worth checking out especially if you fancy doing some shopping of some kind. Gijón is not littered with Museums, though the most popular ones may be the Casa Natal de Jovellanos, Museo Barjola, an art gallery, and the Museo de Ferrocarril de Asturias. The Acuario de Gijón is also well worth checking out as it is one of very few aquariums on the Cantabrian coast.

One thing that is notable when passing through the oldest part of Gijón is the notable presence of places to eat and drink, and the Cimavilla comes to life in the evening/ night with a load of bars to keep you entertained. a touch further south, and you will find quite a few restaurants around the plaza mayor and on both beaches of which can be a bit of a minefield. Casa Carmen on San Lorenzo beach is one particular place out of the way I would recommend. I also had an amazing tuna omelette (tortilla de bonito) in Topolino on the sea front. It must be noted that here in Gijón, there is a notable difference in prices that are practically next door to each other, and it’s not due to location either, rather dining experience. You’d be very unlucky to find any sort of tourist trap, as prices in the city centre are not marked up much at all compared to a local.

The local food in Gijón is very typical as that of Asturias in general, but with variants of the same dish. Fish is a regular presence, with local dishes such as chopa a la sidra, or besugo, both local white fish. Meat has a lot of prevalence too, where beef is popular in various forms, more so than the Mediterranean areas, but the two stand out things that seem to be everywhere, are Fabada, and sidra to wash it down. Fabada is a very rich bean stew with chorizo, morcilla and pancetta, and is everywhere in Asturias, but in Gijón, some additional ingredients may be added, though the traditional one is king. The cakes may even be the bigger highlight of your trip, with a local tarta Gijón, arroz con leche (rice pudding) and bombones de sidra (chocolate with sidra liqueur).

Sidra is by far the biggest novelty attraction for tourists, and many bars especially in Cimavilla allow you to attempt to do what’s called escanciar, pour it from a certain height to make bubbles in the glass. Waiters in many other places will often do it for you or leave you a special drain to do it. It would be foolish not to try it at least once, as the taste is different to the English kind we’re used to. It’s so popular that there is even a festival here dedicated to it in August. San Pedro in June is also a big deal that’s worth staying for. The cultural scene of Gijón surprised me a little, as there are so many festivals and local events that take place annually, and the best way to find out more is via the Ayuntamiento, or tourist office in the city centre.

Though I never actually spent a night in Gijón, I understood it to be reasonably priced and on par with Oviedo despite its location on the coast. One thing you must consider, is that there are very few hostels where you would share a room with several people, you are almost certainly going to find single or double bedrooms and you can get a good room for 30€ a night, or for 40€ you could even get a 3* hotel. So while you are paying more if you are backpacking across this area, those looking for some home comforts are getting a good deal. One thing that is important to note is the Camino de Santiago (Camino Norte) runs through here, so some pilgrims hostels may be available for somebody on a really tight budget.

The people here in the hospitality sector can be very inquisitive when visitors come to this part of the country and love pushing you towards the local things to enjoy it in the same vein as themselves. They love showing people how to pour a cider, and can be very warm to you providing you show that you want to give things a go their way. Asturianu or Bable is a local language which you may see in various parts of town, including road signs, but it’s extremely unlikely you will be put into a scenario where you would have to decipher it. Given that it’s not an official language of Spain, and that very few people speak it, a survival level of Spanish will do, and many people don’t know English there, so you will have to make an effort to survive.

So there you have it, Gijón, a city that will definitely immerse you into Spanish and Asturian culture but in a way people south of the country themselves might not understand. What’s more, it’s different to any other city you would visit that is blessed to be by the rugged Cantabrian sea. Why not spend a day or two, or even extend your trip altogether to include Oviedo? I wouldn’t travel to Asturias exclusively to Gijón if its far away, make it part of an extended plan to make it worth the money.

Camino de San Salvador day 2: Pola de Lena- Oviedo- Gijón

Day 2 of this adventure started with a lot of excitement and eagerness to get going despite the change in weather, and soreness in our legs from the previous day. 65km separated us from Gijón, though Oviedo would be where the official Camino de San Salvador would end. We set off later than we otherwise normally would to try and enjoy lunch in Oviedo, and the road was pretty empty and mostly flat, following the valley towards the next major town, Mieres. The road follows the River Lena via the AS-375 through Villallana and then to Ujo where the Camino continues along the MI-3.

If there’s one thing you get a feeling of, is that there is a sense of this area being the most economically important part of the mountains, with old houses begging tradition, and modern connections and activity. Villages were partially picturesque, but also also had an industrial flair. This valley where the Camino passes is one of the largest, and most important in the whole of Asturias and Northern Spain, with smaller valleys feeding off it. Our ride through Ujo and to Mieres passed through many of these, and stayed pretty flat and enjoyable.

Mieres is reconnected to the AS-375, and we had now crossed the river Cuadal 13km from Pola de Lena to enter it. This was the last major town we had come across before we made it to Oviedo, and was dominated by the Iglesia de San Juan at the end of Calle Teodoro Cuesta, which is the centre of town and where you will see most of the oldest architecture. We weren’t aware of that at the time, and felt like we had struck gold with some of these sights. Lots of bars also were dotted around this part which would serve a purpose for any pilgrim passing, as well as being the last hostel available before Oviedo.

The Camino offers 2 variants after Mieres, the traditional, and the carretera nacional N-630, more suitable for cyclists. We chose the latter due to our scheduling and that we wanted to spend a reasonable amount of time in Oviedo. The traditional way leads you over the hills at Puerto de Padrun, about 200m higher than where the road branches off on the outskirts of Mieres. From there, you will end up in Olloniego and then a further hill climb to Picullanza before descending to the Asturian capital. There’s only about 1km difference either way you take.

Continuing along the N-630, we followed the course of the River Cuadal, and diverted away from puerto de Padrun and the tunnel of the autovia, and traffic calmed down quite a lot to our surprise. There’s very little positive elevation change, and the first 10km pretty much takes you on along the banks of the river, winding through tunnels and passing the villages of La Pereda, Loredo and Parteayer. Should you decide to stop at any of these places, Loredo has some charming old houses a little higher up its main street, and is only about 6km from Mieres. About 5km from that point, your experience in the lush, green mountains are now practically behind you as you cross the Cuadal and Nalón rivers, and you are traversing the industrial areas of Soto La Ribera and La Llosa. The road gets busier, and Oviedo is in sight when you reach the top of the small hill, which really motivated us to keep going at the pace we were.

Oviedo was a little chaotic upon arrival with traffic, but it takes very little time to reach the centre, where we had a friend waiting for us by the cathedral. The Sancta Ovetensis is where the Camino de San Salvador officially ends, and you can collect an official certificate of completion if you provide the special booklet as mentioned in part 1 of this trip. We were taken to a local place famous for its pollo al ajillo, and chorizo a la sidra, which may not have been the best thing to eat before finishing the trip, but it was worth it. Oviedo itself does have a lot of good places for either just a small tapa, or a full-on meal, and the Asturian cider or sidra is practically on the same level of popularity as beer in these parts, and our goal was to enjoy one in Gijón.

If you have just a couple of hours like I did, then you’ll want to make some plans to stay in Oviedo a bit longer. The cathedral, and Mercado area as a charm to it, that is worth appreciating more, and The architecture is notably different compared to that of León. We set off without any notable guide or proper map to Gijón, given that it is the largest city in Asturias, and we knew it wasn’t far away. Hopefully you won’t make as many blunders as we did trying to get out. We said our goodbyes to our friend in a rather humiliating fashion by struggling to leave, but when we did, we made it to the AS-381 which was a straight road up to Lugones, a small town 5km from Oviedo.

This is the part where we ended up racing to the beach to to an angry looking cloud looking like it was dump some rain on us as soon as it possibly could, but we still wanted to enjoy the countryside and roads as much as we could. Lugones felt a commuters town with little old history with only a church, La iglesia de San Felix on the main road itself, showing any notable history. This road is more tailored to enjoy the countryside, with only private communities occasionally passed by. The minor hill climbs are not taxing even if you’ve already travelled many kms like we had, just soak up the scenery and enjoy it. It has quite an English vibe to it, I felt.

The road then acts as a service road to the Autovia, where you are then faced with a decision, Stick to the AS-381 (which we did), or follow the GI-4 which takes you eventually to the west of Gijón. Either way, the distance is more or less the same, but on the AS- 381, you have the hardest climb which takes you away from the autovia, but leaves you being able to see the sea for the first time, which is the biggest motivation you can get. once you get to the top of this hill and descend, you have one more settlement, Pinzanes which has the last climb of the trip to run you alongside the autovia once again. This is also when I considered that we had practically made it to Gijón, as we were approaching the outskirts. The rural part of this trip, was complete.

The autovia now allowed bicycles to travel alongside it, and traffic was notably more intense in the same way it was in Oviedo. We had to really be careful now on these roads and quite simply follow the signs to Gijón, which then changed to centro urbano when you pass the A-8, Av de la constitución, which I knew took you directly to the centre of town. when you reach this street, it becomes urbanised, and when we got to the Iglesia de San Jose, which is less than 500m from the sea. A short ride to the sea later, and our trip had officially ended! 160km in 2 days across a mountain range, was another achievement that was up there alongside reaching Santiago, and we had an afternoon to enjoy our time before heading back by bus.

We didn’t stop riding as soon as we reached the beach, since Gijón itself is very spread out along the coast with the old quarter or Cimadevilla flanked by 2 large beaches, so I highly recommend riding along the cycle lanes to check out these places and enjoy the views as it is a pleasant experience, and the sidra was more than deserved, where we attempted to escanciar it on the beach with limited results (yeah there is no Asturian blood in me). Getting back was a 2 1/2 hour bus ride back, though we also had the option of getting the Regional train back to León, something that wasn’t an option When we went to Santiago as bikes were not permitted.

This trip has a mixture of everything, and most importantly, a huge amount of historical importance that is largely overlooked, and the views of the mountains made you feel like at times you were in the Pyrenees or the Alps. The first day was a different challenge, with heat, cold, and having to reach the top of the road, Whereas the 2nd day was discovering the heart of Asturias and reaching the sea, and both days I’ll never forget, and something I recommend you try for yourself.

Farewell my Brazilian Brother

This was the last trip I did with my friend Rafael, who subsequently did the Camino del Norte along the Cantabrian Sea later that summer before returning to Brazil, though we vowed we would do another trip together when our paths crossed again. This unfortunately never happened and nor will it, as Rafael unfortunately passed away in May 2020 as a result of a surfing accident. I decided to write about these trips as a memory of him and as story/ guide to anyone who is looking for an adventure. Thank you so much for reading this blog, and continue to keep an eye out for any new content I release.