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Pueblos de España Mini Blog 3: Medinaceli, Soria

The province of Soria is the most sparsely populated in the whole country, where a village with more than 500 people is actually not common, and important to the region. Medinaceli is one of them, putting it in the top 20 most populated municipalities in the province, and one of the most beautiful. Listed as a ‘Pueblo Más Bonito de España’, and one that is completely surrounded by views, It should be on anyone’s list if they feel adventurous to check out this lonely part of the country.

Medinaceli is about 80km south of Soria, the provincial capital and nearest major city. Madrid is about double the distance and is easily connected by the A-2, the principal motorway that connects the Capital with Zaragoza and Barcelona. The Car is the only easy way to get there, but you can get buses from Madrid, Almansa, Soria and Logroño to the service part of the village in the Jalón valley, or Estación de Medinaceli, and then a taxi to the old village itself. Trains from the Estación are also available twice a day connecting to Madrid, Guadalajara, Calatayud and Zaragoza with one of the them continuing to Lleida, and the other to Tarragona and Barcelona as well as all the villages in between.

Located on a hill overlooking the Río Jalón, the village is completely surrounded by views of the Sistema Ibérica, Sistema Central, and the Meseta central, which become even more noticeable during the colder months when the mountains are often snow-capped. Moncayo, one of the most prominent mountains in the country, visible from Soria and Zaragoza, is usually visible from this point as well.

With it’s location on the Meseta and over 1200m up, Medinaceli is pretty fresh most of the year round, and a jacket is advisory, potentially even in summer during the night. Snow does fall every year and not exclusively just in winter, and it is also quite a windy place at times, due to it being completely exposed. Summers would typically be drier and around 25 degrees during the day and 12 at night. Pack as you would normally for a place with 4 seasons.

The village itself has an itinerary from the tourist office, directly opposite the car park, and would take about an hour to complete at a relaxed pace. the most notable sights would be the Castillo which is now used as a cemetery, The Arco Romano which you see as you reach the village, and the Plaza Mayor, Which has underpasses lined with old wooden beams, and is typical in many villages in Castilla y León. La Colegiata de la Señora de Asunción is the main church in the area, a stone’s throw away from the Plaza Mayor, but to the north, a couple of other notable religious sites are also worth seeing. Pretty much every street is picturesque in itself, with the beautiful stone houses and stony streets, difficult to get lost at the very least. El Camino del Cid, a popular trail, passes through Medinaceli.

Both the service area and the old village have places to stay and eat to offer any visitor, the cheaper of which would be in the service area. However, some of the best rated restaurants are actually in the old village itself, with a more authentic aspect coming to play, though there are only about 3- 4 bars/ restaurants to choose from, all offering typical hearty dishes from Castilla Y León. Dry cured pork products are produced in the region, with the Chorizo often a mixture of pork and beef in this province. Chanfaina, a stewed lamb dish is often found in this area as well as roasted quail, whereas fish is not a typical thing around there. Las paciencias de Almazán is a dry biscuit can be found here, as well as other typical products from Soria in the only grocery store you can find in the old village.

Lastly, the accommodation is very easy to find especially if you have quite a high budget, with many places being casa rurales, though you can find a good place for about 60€ a night for 2 people, going up to 150€. Again, the service area has some hostels offering private rooms on Booking for 55€ a night, and other’s may have to be privately enquired. There is very little difference in prices throughout the year, and I cannot recommend any place, as I was there just for half a day.

So there you have it, Medinaceli, a pueblo más bonito de España, a place where a view is close by. So much history, and so much to enjoy in such a small place, and don’t forget to stop by if travelling on the A-2. Don’t forget to bring a jacket as you may need it to enjoy this Experience.

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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!

City Guide: Murcia

If there was ever a part of Spain I knew less and still need to discover more about, it is the Región de Murcia, and that part of the world is almost a black hole for holidaymakers, as either side of it, the touristic powerhouses of the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol are notably more popular. Murcia capital however, is inland, and even less well-known, so let’s change that.

Murcia is located about 30km from the sea, where the nearest seaside town is El Mojón, right on the border with Alicante, (though San Pedro de Alcantara and San Javier are about the same distance). The nearest Major city on the sea is Cartagena, followed by Alicante 82km away from Murcia (I cycled between the two places). Lorca, and Elche are also close by, and all are accessible by bus and train pretty easily. Further out, there are multiple daily services by train to Valencia, Castellón de la Plana, Tarragona and Barcelona. As of 2022, only the cities on the Mediterranean Coast (excluding Andalucía) are directly connected to Murcia by train (even Madrid isn’t, though that is set to change with the upcoming AVE).

Murcia is served by an airport, The Aeropuerto internacional de la Región de Murcia, and that has regular flights from London, Manchester and Birmingham with Easyjet and Ryanair and is connected to the City via Interbus. The city itself has local bus services covering all the important areas of the city, and just to the north of the city centre, a Tram also operates, but it’s mostly pointless for any visitor. From my experience, walking was still the best way to get around.

Accommodation is pretty widespread around the city, with some conveniently placed near a tram stop, but the majority of the places require some sort of walk due to the roads in the centre being pedestrianised. You can find all sorts here, hostels to apartments and 4* hotels, with rooms in the hostels usually around 20€ a night. Prices don’t fluctuate that much in this city, even during Easter and Christmas time, just be careful when searching on a site like booking or Hostelworld, as they often generalise the search for the whole region. I stayed in The Cathedral Hostel, and it was a comfortable stay.

Being inland and near the desert, it’s not much of a surprise to read that Murcia is generally hot during most of the year. It can, and often does reach the low 20’s in winter, and is regularly in the mid 30’s in summer, often reaching 40. Just take into account that it can get cold at night, but rarely freezing, but houses are not as well designed for the cold compared to cities further north. Historically, Murcia has been one of cities most affected by flash flooding, and September- October has seen some episodes of torrential rain (a month’s worth in just a few hours) over just a few days affecting infrastructure, So there is a risk that could happen during your visit, though it’s not exclusively those months.

My experience of visiting Murcia is that you don’t need much more than a day to see most of the monuments on offer here, and almost all of them are within walking distance. Of course the centrepiece is the Cathedral of the city that has been built in 3 styles of the eras at the time. The tower is the 2nd tallest in Spain after the Giralda of Sevilla (the sagrada familia is also taller, but not a cathedral), and can be climbed for panoramic views. The most visited attraction in the city is actually the Real Casino de Murcia, on Calle Trapería, the most emblematic street in the old quarter. You can book guided tours in this building and experience the neo mudejar style architecture inside, but bear in mind, it is still an exclusive club, so access is limited. Other places include The Palacio Episcopal on the Plaza de Belluga, Plaza de Santo Domingo with the church of the same name, and the Monesterio de Santa Clara, which features a really decent museum.

It’s worth bearing in mind, that there is quite a mixture of old and new as well as neoclassical in the old part, which is bigger than you initially think, so don’t be afraid to explore. Further afield, the Río Segura has a lot of historical monuments and great views of parts of the old quarter, and the outskirts has more hidden gems, the Castillo de Monteagudo with a statue of Christ in top, and the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Fuensanta, are both about 5km from the city centre, but well worth a look.

The Metropolitan area of Murcia also has some hiking routes that are locally popular, Particularly in the south, near the Santuario, where you can reach viewpoints such as the Cresta de Gallo, Relojero, Castillo de Asomada. To the north, Parque Polvorines and Coto Cuadros are also places to hike, though not particularly rewarding with the same sort of views as the mountains to the south. All places can be reached by local buses.

Eating in Murcia is quite an experience, in a very positive way. Plaza de las Flores is the most popular place to eat in the city centre, but not exclusive at all to other parts of town. You’ll notice lots of striped terraces lining up around this area, and all the places I tried were great value for money and had a lot of variety, though even this place does have the odd bar that is isn’t worth it (Meson de Murcia for example). Most of the bars and restaurants have more than 4/5 reviews, but that whole neighbourhood is great. La Pepa is one of the hot favourites with the locals and opened after I visited, so check it out, if not, Pepico was decent. nearer the cathedral, Los Zagales was probably my favourite. One thing I did notice about Murcia, was that for a city as big as it is, it’s actually pretty cheap, and one of the cheapest major cities of the south.

Typical Murciano food that you should be able to find quite easily are Zarangollos ( scrambled egg with courgettes, onion, sometimes potato and usually served cold), Potaje Murciano (stew with beans) Gachasmigas (saw it, didn’t try it) paparajotes ( a typical sweet of the city) but the thing that stood out a mile that was everywhere in the city, was the Pastel de Carne, a beef, chorizo and egg pie, with flaky puff pastry, and at 2-3.50€ a pop, it was a perfect snack when wondering around town. You’ll also notice a green-labelled beer called Estrella de Levante being consumed everywhere. This is The main beer of the region as mainstream as Cruzcampo is for Andalucía, and is no thrills and easy to drink. Wine is also prominent in the region, both red and white, and despite not being particularly famous compared to others, it’s palatable and everywhere. Café Belmonte is an expresso with condensed milk and brandy and is also quite popular here.

May, like many other parts of Spain, is when major festivals take place, and the Banda de Huerta is one of the most important ones in Murcia, as part of the Fiestas de Primavera itinerary. September is another important month for Murcia, as the Fería de Septiembre takes place then. The same neighbourhoods with a prominent food scene, is also where the nightlife would take place. All I’m going to say, is that Murcianos like to let their hair down.

And that brings me to the people. They are on the whole nice people, but they aren’t particularly used to having many tourists, so just be aware of that, because English is not well-known there, and some fellow tourists I spoke too felt a little limited to what they could do, so making some sort of plan day and night when you are there wouldn’t hurt you. as I mentioned in a previous blog, the Murciano dialect is a tough one to crack, as it is difficult to understand them. It certainly took me by surprise.

I also must highlight something that you may notice, and that is the amount of people who look a little hard up is notably higher than most places I have visited so far. There were so many betting shops around, and a notable number even in the bus station. It’s worth noting that Murcia was at the time of my visit, the politically corrupt region in the whole country, where more than 60% of local governments were involved in some sort of scandal. I’m not sure how much that affects the population, but there are more beggars around compared to most parts of the country.

But yeah that is it for Murcia, a city that is a little out of the way, yet big enough to offer you an interesting experience. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the surrounding attractions as well as the city centre, and whole city is a melting pot of everything that defines what it is to be Murciano. See for yourself and enjoy a night or two a stones throw away from the Med.

Skiing in Spain: Really?!

It’s not the first country you think about when planning to hit the slopes, probably not even in the top 10. The stereotype just suggests that Spain is a hot country, and that is that. However, 33 resorts grace these lands, and are not just confined to one area. The question is, how good is it there?

The answer is, not as good as the likes of the countries which have the Alps, but it is a viable option. Spain has just 4 resorts with a maximum possible vertical descent of over 1000m, the geography can only help so much. But people of all abilities can enjoy most of these places together in harmony, and some of the bigger resorts can offer passes for beginners at a reduced rate. Most of the resorts are perfect for beginners and mediocre skiers like myself, who isn’t afraid to try the occasional red or black slope.

The ski culture here really isn’t anywhere near at the same level as that of France and Switzerland. People rarely take it up professionally (GB won more medals than Spain in the 2022 winter Olympics), and even many major cities that are relatively close by a resort don’t have mass interest in winter sports in general. So why is Spain overlooked as a place to go skiing?

Prices are quite high.

Compare your experience to the cost, and you’ll find in general, you pay more for your ski pass and sometimes ski rental, than places of a similar size in Central Europe. The difference in minimal though

Not so many choices in many regions.

With the exception of the Pyrenees, most of the other mountain ranges may only have a couple or even just one resort in the whole region or whole range itself. The resorts that are scattered around the country are relatively small with the exception of the Sierra Nevada resort in Granada, and some don’t even have any black slopes.

The weather plays it’s part.

The majority of the resorts are usually open in time for the December 6 Constitution Day holiday, but many don’t open until January, and that is depending on if they get enough snow. The Winter of 2019 was too dry for the resorts in the Cantabrian Mountains to open until the latter part of January. I went to La Molina in the Pyrenees that month and only about 30% of the resort was open. Conditions may not be as reliable compared to the Alps.

However, providing conditions are good, Spain can be just as enjoyable as any other country, and they are never too busy, even during peak season, queues are only long in the first couple of hours in the morning, and at the end of the day, you will have a lot more freedom of the slopes.

Here are some resorts that are well worth checking out in Spain:

Baqueira- Beret, Lleida

This is the highest rated resort according to the majority of websites, and the biggest in the Spanish Pyrenees. The resort is split into 4 zones, Baqueira, Orri, Beret, and Bonaigua. The resort is at the highest end of the Val d’Aran at the source of the Arriu Garona, and all the stations can be connected by various lifts and slopes. There are bus connections to Vielha, the biggest town, all the way to Les near the French border, stopping at every village on the Journey every hour. A single day pass for a regular adult costs 62€ with insurance, the most expensive in the Pyrenees, and ski rental is around the 30€ mark. A discount for beginner skiers is available but limits you to small parts of the resort. with 160km of ski slopes, Only Formigal in Aragón has more.

It’s worth the price, and you can also rent snowshoes and do various trails such as the Montgarri Trail, and do cross country skiing as well. Champagne bars can be found at various points, and people also will enjoy their après ski moments in the likes of Vielha, Bossost, and Salardú just to name a few places, with a really good spa in Les that I personally recommend.

Valgrande Pajares, Asturias

Located on the famous N-630 away from Puerto Pajares, The resort is on the border between Asturias and León province, and people travel from both León and Oviedo in about an hour. The resort has about 30km of slopes of which have all the colours available, and the longest being 2km. The best part of this resort, is that it is beginner friendly, and even they can enjoy views from the very top, which is Cueto Negro at 1862m where there is also a café. The bottom is located at the 1400m mark, where there is some accommodation, though it must be said that the vast majority would actually not spend the night in the station, as it is quite a quiet place.

Ski passes for one day are 29€ for adults, thought the offer various other tariffs like half- resort, beginners/ snow park, and even 4- hour passes, all with insurance included. Ski rental is available at a standard price of 28€ for the day. The season usually runs late November until April depending on conditions.

Cerler, Huesca

Cerler is another resort in the Pyrenees, but this time in Huesca province, near the town of Benasque in the valle de Benasque. The highest mountain in the chain, Pico de Aneto is just one ridge over, and can be seen from the top of the resort, as well as Posets which is on the other side of the valley. There are 80km of slopes available to skiers with lifts from two main locations, Cerler at 1500m, and Ampiriu at 1900m with the latter reaching the highest point, Gallinero at 2728m, via two separate lifts, though you can’t ski straight from the top of the mountain.

Cerler is the biggest resort in Aragon after Formigal-Panticosa, and has slopes catering for all levels and accommodation the resort as well as the picturesque village of the same name, and most people will spend more than just a day there. Benasque is also a popular place to stay as the bus connections between the two places are excellent. A Snowbus service from Lleida to the resort operates every Saturday until the end of season (Usually mid-April) Passes cost about 48€ for the most expensive days, which is usually a Sunday. The only drawback with this place is that the website is a pain to use, and I found worked better on my phone than my computer.

Sierra Nevada, Granada

The southernmost ski resort in Europe can be found on the mountain range of the same name, and has 100km of slopes. It is also the highest in Spain, reaching just below the peak of Valeta at 3300m, and has more than 1000m possible descent, one of only 3 stations where that is possible. The resort town of Pradollano is the lowest point at 2100m and has everything you need, and is very popular to stay overnight, or even several days, with famous chains like Melia setting up shop there. The middle station, Borraguiles is beginner friendly with most of the green slopes in that area. Passes are quite pricy as a single day will set you back 58€, but you can get half day passes, and ski rental is between 26-42€ depending on your ability.

Conditions at the resort are unique here compared to anywhere else, as you are more likely to get a good sunny day, with what feels like warmer conditions. The bottom even in January can get a bit soft, but from Borraguiles upwards, the snow is usually top draw. The views are some of the most spectacular you could hope for, and since they have slopes several kilometres long, and snow parks used in competition, there’s something for everyone. The middle part can get crowded, so the sides were my preferred areas to check out after 11am. The resort is unique, in that you can enjoy a morning skiing, and then head to the costa tropical, which is only an hour away, or take a cultural visit to Granada, 30 minutes away. I would say it is my favourite resort that I have checked out so far.

Port Ainé, Lleida

This is one of the smaller resorts on this list, but I’m highlighting it because it’s one the most beginner-friendly, and value for money resorts in the country. Not only are you blessed with spectacular views from the top, Torreta de L’Orrí, you can also ski down from it as a beginner. Starting from 1650m with the main section at 2000m where all the facilities are, including the only hotel and ski rental shop, The resort also has a café in another location about 2150m or so, again with easy access for beginner and non- skiers. The downside about this place is that while there is an itinerary for snowshoes and cross- country skiers, there are no rental facilities in the resort. You are most likely to get them from Rialp, the nearest town.

Port Ainé may be the cheapest day out for any skier in the Pyrenees, as you can get a ski bus operated by Alsa at weekends from Lleida, via the major towns of Balaguer, Tremp, La pobla de Segur, Sort (capital of the Pallars Sobirá comarca) and Rialp, with the last 2 stops having more services for skiing, including rental. The pass is included in the price and cost 37.50€. So ski rental, travel, and pass for one day will set you back 61.50€, not bad for one day. The same service via a change at Sort, will also take you to Espot, another ski resort further up the valley. Alternatively, a taxi service runs from Sort to both resorts for a very reasonable price.

Ski 2500 La MolinaMasella, Girona

The biggest of the resorts in the eastern Alps, The resort of La Molina is one of the most famous resorts in the whole of Spain, and has hosted international competitions a number of times. In collaboration with Masella which shares the highest point, La Tosa at 2537m, it is the only joint resort in Spain, where cable cars and slopes can connect the two resorts, and the ski passes can also be sold as a joint, package, or as each individual resort. Prices for one day cost 45-47€ per day per resort, or 51€ for both, so why not enjoy skiing down both resorts? The resort also offers night skiing at 20€ a night. The resort often opens in November for the season, and finishes around mid-April.

Travelling to the resort, is one of the easiest of the lot, and you even travel from Barcelona by Train or bus for a special deal. 46€ for the L3 from Barcelona Sants, Plaça Catalunya, Clot- Aragó or La Sagrera to Puigcerdà/ La Tor de Querol where theres another 2 ski resorts on the French side a short bus ride away (Font Romeu and Les Angles). Ski buses are a little more expensive, but have a variety of leaving points, such as Puigcerdà, Manresa, Sabadell, Terrassa, Vic, and Ripoll as well as Barcelona- Arc de Triomf. Ski rental is not included, and is about 20€ a day, one of the cheapest rates in Spain. La Molina has a large beginners area, as well as slopes up to 4km long of all colours, Whereas Masella more caters for slightly more competent skiers.

While these are just a small selection on what’s on offer, there are quite a few more on the list below with the links that are definitely worth checking out:

Pyrenees

Cantabrian Mountains

Sistema Ibérico

  • Valdezcaray ( The only resort with black slopes in the Sistema Ibérico) La Rioja
  • Javalambre Teruel
  • Valdelinares (The only resort in Spain where you can access both the top and bottom of the resort by car) Teruel

Sistema Central

Sierra Nevada

  • Sierra Nevada (see info above) Granada
  • Puerto La Ragua (cross country skiing, rarely open except for tourism) Granada/Almeria

At the time of writing the 2021-22 season will almost be over, but I’m sure you’ll think about Spain as another possible destination for your skiing holidays in the forthcoming seasons. With technology, and the ability to combine non-skiing activities in many spots, this country can offer you a different experience compared other European countries.

Pueblos de España Mini blogs vol 5: Alquézar, Huesca

The north of Aragón is full of adventure and breathtaking scenery thanks to the dramatic landscape of the Pyrenees. However, The Prepirineo of the Sierra de la Guara and the numerous canyons that lie to the northeast of Huesca is well worth checking out, and easternmost edge of these mountains, overlooking the Río Vero is Alquézar. Listed as an official ‘Pueblo Más Bonito de España’ and 1 of 4 in Huesca province, the village is definitely worth the trek.

Alquézar is located about 45km from Huesca, the largest city in the province, but it’s not the most straightforward drive to connect to the autovia. Barbastro has the best connection and is the nearest major town 25km away. Monzón is the nearest town connected by rail, though that is still 40km away, so realistically a car is the best way to get there. Buses are so infrequent, and practically non-existent at weekends that they are Monday- Friday commuters to Barbastro, so it is very difficult to get to.

If you do manage to venture your way there, there are two car parks at the entrance to the village, with the larger one overlooking everything. Most of the accommodation and restaurants are located near the car park, and before the Ayuntamiento, but for a small place you are spoilt for choice with more than 10 places, but most are booked well in advanced, and it leaves you with 4 hotels, all of which even in advance will set you back about 80-100€ for a double for a night. Alternatively for a cheaper stay, there is a campsite a couple of kilometres from the village.

The Climate of Alquézar is similar to that of the Capital, Huesca, but a little fresher in the summer. In winter, it is cold, but it rarely snows There was no snow in the village or surrounding hills when I first visited in January), and temperatures are around 10 degrees during the day. Late spring looks to be the best time to visit, though I would say it’s almost a year-round city, though be aware that temperatures could reach the upper 30’s at any occasion between June to September. Alquézar has rain marginally more frequently then Huesca capital itself, but is often not affected by the unsettled weather of the Pyrenees just to the north.

The main sights of Alquézar are clearly visible from the village entrance, and they include the Colgiata de Santa Maria La Mayor, and the Iglesia Parroquial de San Miguél Arcángel. Wondering through the narrow streets towards the Colgiata usually will encourage you stop and take a picture and the final viewpoint is the Mirador del Bicón. There is pretty much not a single street in Alquézar that isn’t worth having a wonder, and the narrow, cobbled streets encourage you to take your time.

The natural scenes around Alquézar are also a major attraction, and there are some hiking routes that can be done in only an hour or so depending on fitness. One such route was via the Barranco de Payuala where you are greeted by a canyon of which the colgiata is perched on one side, and you descend towards the Río Vero. From this point you can head north and make a decent hike of it through the canyon, or head along the river around and connect to the village again. Either way, it’s a nice scenic walk that is not particularly demanding. If you are looking to do something more extreme, rock climbing and canyoning are activities that are relatively popular to do here, and there’re several places at the entrance of the village which offer some sort of tour and training, definitely try it out if you are looking for some sort of adventure holiday, I will next time.

Going out to eat in Alquézar is a pleasant experience in every sense, and I didn’t see anywhere excessively pricey. Me and my parents ate in La Cocineta, which was a pleasant experience and did some very typical dishes of the region, such as ternasco which was one of the dishes I had. Meson Vero next door was also reasonably rated overall, though I didn’t try it. The highest rated restaurants were further into the village, Casa Pardina and for something a little more special, Cueva Reina. The only 2 places which look like ones to avoid, are Peña Aman, and Bar La Cueva, as they have a notable number of extremely negative reviews. You’ve been warned.

A dish that is native to Alquézar, which I did not see almost anywhere else (except Cádiz), is the dobladillo, which can be found in numerous cafés and bakeries. Basically, it is a crumbly pastry which has some sort of filling in the middle and the edges fold over the top of it (doblar means to fold in Spanish). They are usually sweet, and a variety of fillings, which is sometimes partially exposed when baking. I did not get the chance to try them, and I wish I had as a merienda (evening snack). Next time!

That pretty much covers everything about this remarkable village. Whether it be a day visit, or a short weekend, Alquézar is a jewel of the Prepirineos Aragoneses, that is worth trekking out of your way for if you happen to be based in the major cities of Huesca, Zaragoza, and Lleida, that are in reach. Whether it be just to chill and relax, or enjoy some sports, Alquézar might have you covered. I’ve been there twice, and will definitely go again.

Bollo Preñao: a Festival Favourite

It was the end of January, and There was a medieval market in full swing in my town, and I decided to have a bite. There’s always something there that you don’t see every day, from hog roasts to mead, and then I found the bollo preñao stall, and it took me back to my days from when I lived in the north of Spain. I had to get one and it didn’t disappoint. Simple, yet filling and with a decent flavour, if you’re into meat and bread, keep reading.

A typical bollo preñao (bollu preñau in Asturianu) is Semi cured chorizo wrapped in bread dough and baked in an oven, originating from the Asturias/Cantabria region of Spain in the north. It’s quite a thick dough, so when you eat it, so it will fill a gap just as well as a standard loaded baguette, and some characteristics would include a hole/ cone made in one end exposing the meat, and can be served as a tapa as well as in a bakery or as street food. Because it’s a very old recipe, it’s commonly found in medieval markets or any temporary set up of a similar nature, especially if gastronomy is part of the mix. When that’s the case, you could find this pretty much everywhere in the country.

Bollo preñaos are traditionally served with chorizo in the middle, but other varieties can be available especially in bakery or the street food stalls. Ham and cheese is a common variety, as well as black pudding (morcilla) bacon, cheese and onion, and puchero (pringá, stewed meat essentially). They typically cost 3-4€ each (often cheaper in bakeries in the north), and are eaten hot, fresh out of the oven, or even cold. On some occasions I’ve seen a bollo with chorizo sliced and mixed into the dough. Be aware, that bollo means roll, so if you see that word on it’s own in a bakery, you’re gonna get some crusty bread rolls instead of a preñao.

It’s really Asturias and Cantabria where you are going to get the full experience of this treat, especially as traditionally cider is used to tenderize the chorizo, lardons are sometimes used to enhance the flavour, and cabbage leaves are sometimes used to help cook it. There’s another dish very similar called borona (boronchu preñau) where the dough is corn based, and the finished product looks a lot darker compared to the original.

So whether you happen to be somewhere on the northern coast of Spain, or at a market full of interesting things to eat, go for a bollo if you want to fill a gap for something different and see what you think. It doesn’t hit your pocket, and there are often other varieties to try if you’re not into chorizo. Enjoy!!

The Mediterranean Tour Final Day: Alicante/Alacant- Elche/Elx- Murcia 82km

The 6th and final day of this trip, was one to savour and I had plenty of time on my hands to enjoy it. This final stretch of the journey actually barely grazes the Mediterranean coast, and I never ventured onto the shores of the Costa Cálida of Murcia. Instead, it would be a series of roads passing through the lesser known areas and I was excited to get going. I decided to make the most of the early morning though and check the city centre out one more time, in particular, the port and Alameda. I was worried that I was going to be encountering things that a resort town like Benidorm would, but no, I was pleasantly surprised that Alicante was not like that, though it is more cosmopolitan than the other provincial capitals I had visited on this trip. I left at around 10:30 to start the 82km final stretch.

Elche/ Elx was my first stop of the day, and the other major city of the Alicante province 25km away on the route I decided to take. The first part was on the old friend the N-340 that you took me along the Playa de las Aguas Amargas, which would be my last association with the sea on this trip. 4km or so in, and it was time to go inland towards the airport, and is largely uneventful until you reach a roundabout that directs you to Elche via Torrellano which I didn’t do, but instead took the CV-86 to the north of the city and enter from there. This was the point I realised how arid this part of the country was, it felt surreal and like this was not the same country.

The reason I took the road north of Elche, was that there’s a road that takes you to the city centre via the famous palm tree plantations that dominate the scene. You have to turn off via the CV-8615 towards the university, which directs you to the train station and city centre. The road is barely a kilometre long, but such an experience, especially as once the palm trees end, you are slap bang in the middle of the city centre after passing Elx parc station. The crown jewel is a little square that opens up to the Palacio de Altamira, and the narrow streets on all sides of the city.

There was definitely a notable difference between the architecture of Elche and Alicante, and would say that it’s a big melting pot between old and new in Alicante, whereas in Elche, it’s more old and early 20th century new for the most part, and most of the attractions are on the eastern side of the Río Vinalopó. I really wish I had time to visit the Palacio and check out more of the palm forests, but I had to continue to the next town, Crevillente/ Crevillent. This was just a stretch of road to get through, nothin special at all, passing mostly industrial parks and commercial areas.

10km separated the two places, but actually presented some minor climbing through a rather busy road, though I was lucky that it was almost lunch time and there were few cars on the road. I guess also being Good Friday at the time, that also helped, but making it to Crevillente was another good resting point, and one that I really didn’t do much research about. There wasn’t that much really going on at this place, but there were some nice cobbled streets leading to the Plaça de la Constitució, where the main church of the town lies.

I was swamped with people preparing the Easter precessions, none of the museums were open at the time, and I couldn’t access the church. I did notice that this place looked like a typical worker’s town and had real buzz to it at the time. I later discovered that this was a popular town for hikes in the local mountains to the north, to the peak, La Vella, and the Pantano de Crevellente was also a popular place to visit, Nevertheless, it was quite a run-down place, and I decided to move on fairly swiftly to the next town Albatera, 9km away.

Back on the N-340 again, but this stretch, was probably my favourite of the whole day. It was really enjoyable seeing the mountains to the north, a few notable hills straight ahead, and being greeted with views towards sea, all be it a little hazy at that time. The road was dead straight, heading towards some hills in the distance, and Albatera was about halfway along. A very typical worker’s town, it makes total sense to follow the Calle Mayor to see the main church on the Plaza de España, where I experienced one of the friendliest and generous encounters of the whole trip. Walking up to the square, there was a family preparing to have lunch at the bar, and were very inquisitive and conversation ensued. I guess visitors were few and far between here, and they weren’t looking for anything off me, and even bought be a drink for the road. In all honesty, I remember the conversation more than the town! But relaxing with the 7up that was given in recognition of the trip I was on, sat in that square to admire the Parroquia de Santiago Apóstol was a nice memory.

Orihuela was the next stop on the journey, and the last town I would visit before leaving Alicante Province, 13km from Albatera. The straight road would traverse a small range called the Sierra de Callosa de Segura, the climb barely registered on my legs, as I was still on high gear. Service stations were present on this stretch, but barely any cars most importantly, and as you approach the edge of the next mountain, the Sierra de Orihuela, you approach yet more extensive fields of Palm trees. Having been quite exposed to the sun all day with little shade, (I wouldn’t go out so late in the day in summer) I welcomed the palm trees leading me the last kilometre up to the city.

Orihuela really did take me by surprise, and I would go to say it was even nicer than Elche. The Río Segura, that also passes through Murcia, my final stop, cuts the city in two, the older part to the north against the hill. Though I lost my photos of this place, I remember it being full of really ornate towers, and walking the bike along the river and the Calle Mayor really were something special. The Iglesia Parroquial de Santas Justa y Rafina and the Castle ruins were also highlights. it’s also the point where I realised that Valencian is practically non-existent in this area, no two languages to think about and confuse me.

It was time for the final leg of the trip, Orihuela to Murcia. 24km to go, and I rejoined the N-340 towards Santomera, and within 5km, I finally cross into the Región de Murcia. It felt surreal, given I had travelled nearly 400km through the whole of the Comunidad Valenciana, and now that stage was over. The Segura valley dominated the scene, with dry rocky hills surrounding a relatively green depression. Arriving at Santomera meant being on the home straight, and there is almost nothing really of note there barring a church wedged between relatively new buildings. Very much an industrial and agricultural town, it was safe to say that it is for the services and nothing more. The smallest hill climb will take you to the point where you can see the Castillo de Monteagudo with the Statue of Christ prominently placed on top, and I knew that was the city limits of Murcia.

Getting to Murcia felt like such a marathon, but I was excited to enjoy myself, and most importantly, relax. My hostel was located on Calle Trapería and was aptly named The Cathedral Hostel owing its location, and I made it with plenty of time before the precessions took place. I helped myself to a pastel de carne, a can of Estrella de Levante beer and took it all in. Murcia was a worthy place to finish, and I had a whole day to relax and enjoy it, and enjoy the tapas of the Plaza de las Flores of course.

So that concludes Day 6 of 6 of a journey where I learned a lot and saw a mixture of the most amazing and forgettable places, but mostly the former. The transition from my former home of Reus to the far southeast certain gave me an appetite to check out more places that I didn’t get to see, and certainly revisit a few. While there were some places that were a haven for brits and the negative stereotypes emerged, there were many more where local culture shone through. It really hit home, that if people of my country want to get out of their comfort zone and their full-board bubble they booked from the travel agents, they don’t have to go far, and if they go inland it’s almost an instant change. Reus – Murcia 597km, 6 days, completed it mate.

Pueblos de España, Mini Blogs Vol 4: Canjayar, Almeria

The Province of Almeria is one of many surprises, and one that must be explored beyond the coast. The extensive deserts from Tabernas all the way to the Sierras of Baza, Gador, Alhamilla Nevada and María transform this place into some very dramatic landscapes. Canjáyar is anchored right in the perfect location to make the village worth stopping for. I spent a night there as a stop over for a cycling trip that I did in the end of the summer holidays in 2021, and initially it was out of convenience if anything, but I’m really glad I chose to check this place out. Welcome to the Alpujarra Almerinense.

Canjáyar is located about 45km from Almería, and is almost an hour’s drive, via the mountain road A-348. The most important town of the area, Laujar de Andarax, is just 20 mins the other way. Buses connect the village to these two places as well as other important villages, such as Alhama de Almería and Gádor the latter of which has the nearest train station. Buses can also connect you to other notable mountain villages such as Ohanes and Berja, but are very infrequent, just one or two a day. Train services to Gádor are almost as infrequent as the buses, but have connections as far as Madrid.

The weather in Canjáyar is one that has a relatively mild winter for a mountain village, rarely dropping below freezing, and summers are typically into the low to mid 30’s and usually hotter than Almería itself, except at night. The surrounding mountains may have snow on them during the coldest months, but very little rainfall is registered there, owing to the fact that it is very near the Tabernas desert. It’s unlikely that you will need to prepare for wet weather or extreme cold. I went that the start of September, and wasn’t too far from the limit of comfortable with the heat of the evening, and needed to be careful during the day. Spring time may be the best time to visit.

Accommodation in the village is limited to say the least, as Booking only offer two places on their site, La Posada de Eustaquio, which also has an amazing food in their bar/ restaurant next door. Prices are around 35€-50€ per night, and that rarely fluctuates over the course of the year, and they are really friendly and accommodating there. They allowed me to leave my bike in the foyer, and left breakfast there for me in the early hours of the morning. I would go as far to say that it was my one of my favourite hostels that I stayed in during my 9-day trip. The other place nearby called Casilla Cantón Which is more expensive, and usually very limited. It wasn’t available for me at the time, that’s all I can say.

The sights of this village are more related to the countryside around it rather than the architecture, though the most notable sights are the Parroquía de Santa Cruz, on the Plaza de la Constitución, which is also the most notable square and where the Hostel is. The most impressive area though, is the hill Where the Ermita de San Blas is located, about 10 minutes walk away. The hill is adorned with Cave houses, quite typical of the Granada/Almería region, and a red and white church on the top, which gives way to 360 views of the whole village and mountains.

I spent a good while up there one evening, enjoying the views and taking as many photos as possible, though they don’t do it justice. There are numerous trails for hiking around Canjáyar, but the most popular may be the route to Ohanes, A village about 400m higher up on the south side of the Sierra Nevada, and according to locals, is a very picturesque white village that is worth the journey. Let me know how it is if you do it. There are other trails on the south side to the Sierra de Gádor, and to Padules, the next village further up the Andarax Valley.

Food in Canjáyar is very similar to that of Almería, but with lots more meat involved and dishes typical of the Alpujarra region. The plato alpujarreño is a very hearty dish consisting of various sausages, pork loin, eggs and potatoes. Other dishes are Choto al ajillo (goat stew) potaje de hinojos (highly recommend), and gachas. Soplillos are the most common and famous sweet thing on offer in Canjáyar and resemble lemon meringue. Opening times are very specific in the village, and you may not see many of the bars open in the late afternoon. There are some general stores and a small supermarket available in the centre for basic needs. Almost all of the bars and restaurants will serve typical dishes of the region, and like the rest of Almería, tapas are usually free with every drink you buy, and you may get given a choice like I did.

That sums up this guide, and I hope you enjoy Canjáyar as much as I did. A place that is charmed by it’s landscape, it’s accommodating people, and it’s gastronomy. If you are into adventure, and fancy seeing a different side to the Sierra Nevada. This place and Ohanes should be on your list. Enjoy!

The Mediterranean Tour Day 5: Javea/Xabia- Alicante/Alacant, 97km

Day 5 was I day where I was hoping to get some better coastal views of the coast compared to the day before, and the last 10km between Denia and Javea made me feel more confident. Starting the day in Javea was one that needed energy, and a good breakfast in La Cova on Principe de Asturias, which was full of locals, was a great start. After spending a good hour wondering through the narrow, picturesque streets of the nucli antic to stretch my legs, it was time to head south.

The main roads had to divert from the beach temporarily due to Puig de la Llorença mountain, but after a brief spell on the CV-734 I took a left towards the village of El Poble Nou de Benitatxell. This is a bit of a climb after turning off to the actual village, but some of the views made up for it. There’s nothing particularly special about the town, barring the Parroquia de Santa Maria Magdalena, where some of the best views were, but after passing through the Carrer Major, and then the Carrer del Mar, it was mostly downhill all the way via the CV-737 to the coastal town of Moraia.

From this small fishing town, it finally had the kind of coastal road I had been looking for for the last couple of days. 13km into this day, and the seaside of this town was as impressive as I had seen on the whole trip so far, with a nice little castle called the Castell de Teulada. From there, you can see the Cap de Moraia to the left, and a large rock jutting out in the distance which was the Peñón de Ifach/Penyal d’Ifac, part of Calpe/Calp, the next major town of the day. Moraia is definitely more of a place to relax and unwind, and is relatively new, but I didn’t stick around.

The coastal road to Calpe was an enjoyable experience, despite there being quite a lot of traffic. From there, there are several viewpoints along the 13km stretch, which are worth stopping for if you can, and the road can have some climbs, but nothing really to trouble you. I also noticed just how commercialised and foreign this part of the costa is, with a lot more English apparent, timeshares, German bakeries and a few pubs not uncommon to see. Calpe itself was no different, with a beautiful saltwater lake surrounded by villas and high rise apartments lining along both the Playa de la Fossa, and Playa del Canton Roig.

While it was difficult to see past all the things my page is trying to lure Brits away from, Calpe hasn’t completely lost its identity to the holidaymakers. Venture uphill into the small old quarter and it got notably quieter and I got to enjoy the Plaça de la Villa, and the Torreón de la Peça, as well as the well-kept narrow streets surrounding it, allowing the town to keep it’s identity. The views along the main beach were pretty spectacular, especially with Ifach standing out a mile and The Morro de Tox the other side. I couldn’t hang around for too long though, and Altea was my next call, 11km away.

This is the hardest climb of the whole day, up to over 100m, but you get to see the beautiful white town of Altea, and behind that, the tower blocks of Benidorm, less thrilled about that one. Once I descended, the road flattened out and ran along the sea, mostly uninterrupted, making it another enjoyable coastal road up to the town itself. Altea was one of the key towns not just for this day, but the whole trip, as it is known to be one of the most beautiful towns on the whole Spanish coast. It didn’t disappoint, but lumbering a bike full of gear up the steep hills and narrow streets was a bit of a workout. The views of the sea and mountains, and enjoying the picturesque white houses and charming streets made it all worth it.

I really wish I had more time to enjoy Altea, but I managed to reach the Plaça de l’Eglèsia and one of the more famous viewpoints, Mirador de las Cronistas de España and enjoy a small snack before making my way down towards the main road towards Benidorm. I had to see why this place was such a Brit favourite for the summer holidays. A 10km straight and flat road took me almost to the heart of Britain number 2. The straight road led me to the Playa Levante, hurting my neck getting to grips with all the skyscrapers spread out everywhere. To this day, I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere else in Spain.

Reaching Levante then turned into a seaside that stretched at least a kilometer each way. Most of the places that lined the front were British pubs and chrome ice cream shops, and that’s no joke. I didn’t find very much authenticity in this town, which was once a small fishing village, but if you go to the Balcón del Mediterraneo where the Iglesia de Sant Jaume and Santa Ana is, there is a slither of culture that retains the history, and makes a welcome change of scene. I enjoyed relaxing there, and seeing the coastal scene, which would be one of the most memorable views of the day.

Getting out of Benidorm was relatively straightforward, with a small hill climb up Avenida La Vila Joiosa to connect to the N-332a, which keeps you close to the beach. 11km separated me from the next town Villajoyosa/ Vilajoiosa, which I hadn’t done much research about. I was glad for for the first kilometre passing through the town, until I reached a spectacular bridge crossing the Rio Almadorio, where you can see the casas colgantes of the old part of town. The vibrant multicoloured houses took me by surprise, so I had to check this place out.

I was not disappointed at all when I stumbled across the Carrer Major and passed through the arches of the ajuntament while to the colours of each house continuously changed. In hindsight, I wish I had more time there, and I missed key attractions such as the Casa de la Malladeta, and the Museo de Chocolate Valor (Valor is a famous Spanish chocolate company founded in Villajoyosa, and you can find this brand everywhere), but time was slipping away a little, and there was still 36km to get to Alicante. This town is on my list to revisit, alongside Altea.

This next stretch is one of the most difficult of the whole day, and you need to be a little careful with not getting caught out with no supplies left, as there aren’t that many service stops on the way. The road gets quite busy by this point, and there are a lot of great views of the sea every now and again, with some short, but notable climbs. It took me an hour and a half, but that was because I had a lot of gear, and was tiring a lot at this point, otherwise you could do this stretch in about an hour. After passing through a short tunnel, and climbing another hill, Alicante started to become visible, and I turned off to the penultimate town of the day, El Campello.

The seafront and the port of this town is where it is all happening in this particular town, and the Torre de la Illeta is quite a prominent feature when I was cycling alongside. Not much in the centre was of much interest to me, nor would it be for you either, the marina and coastline is where the attraction lies. I stayed on the coastal road where just 3km later I was riding alongside the Alicante TRAM on the Playa Mutxavista, just 7km to go until Alicante centre. The views of the coast was definitely worth one final stop before pushing off, and the time of the year meant it wasn’t mobbed despite being a pleasant 22 degrees for most of the day. Benidorm’s skyscrapers looked like matchsticks by this point, and I turned off for the final push via the Playa de la Albufareta.

The most prominent thing in Alicante of course is the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, and gave me massive motivation to keep pushing the final couple of kilometres to my bed for the night, a Hostel That has shut down unfortunately since I stayed there, so I can’t really describe the experience you’ll never get. All I can say that it was a similarly priced as the others in the area near the Luceros TRAM station at about 20€ for the night in a shared room.

I didn’t spend much time in the hostel for the most part, as I wanted to enjoy the evening walking around Alicante centre, Which had a lot more history and picturesque spots than I ever imagined. I decided to walk along the Alameda, and then towards the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, where the oldest part of town was, Santa Cruz. I was pleasantly surprised by how the identity of this city was maintained, and that I wasn’t swamped by holidaymakers, nor was everything accommodated for an expat. A testament that if you go to the right parts of town, you will discover and learn so much more.

A night stroll around town was just what was needed to finish the day, and that concluded day 5 of 6 of this cycling tour. I was looking forward to the day ahead, knowing that my tired and weary legs had just over 80km left to go. On the whole I found things that made Spain lose it’s identity a little on this stretch of the trip, but also a lot of places where you can strip away the resort and find the culture and identity holidaymakers in this part of the country don’t often think about. The next and final stretch, Alicante- Murcia.

Sidra Asturiana: Be Accurate or Be Thirsty

Cider. Such a household classic drink in the UK, and who would blame them? Sweet, fizzy and widely available in every pub around, this alcoholic delight is sorely missed by many when they travel to Spain, and I distinctly remember having to research bars in the places I was visiting with my one of my best friends. While the type we are familiar with in the UK is starting to become more available across the country in recent years, in the north of Spain, where the grass is just as green as it is back home, has had cider in it’s blood for hundreds of years. However, You will be in for a shock as to how different it is.

While there are some regions in the north, like the Basque Country and Navarre have some sort of sidra culture, Asturias is the place that takes massive pride in it, and I would say it would be on the same level of popularity as beer, possibly even more so. It’s very common to find sidrerías (cider houses) in every town there, and most of the country’s producers are based there. But what is so different about it compared to the UK stuff?

First of all, it’s corked and always found in a glass bottle or in a wooden barrel. The reason being that it is cloudy and for the most part, flat, more similar to that of cloudy scrumpy cider, only not as bad. The way you pour it and drink it is what makes this such a cultural affair as there’s an art and science attached to it. You have to pour it from above your head, to a tilted glass at the waist, or below, known as escanciar la sidra. The idea is to generate bubbles to enhance the flavour, which is why the tumbling effect from the pour is so important.

Other important factors to take into account when you pour the sidra, is to fill the glass only about 1/4- 1/3 full, because you are going to down all of it except the very last dreg or culín. That part at the bottom of the glass is typically used to wash the glass, ready for the next pour. Sidrerías will have buckets or sinks in place for the almost inevitable misses, or alternatively just let you have a go on the terrace and let the cider run off onto the square or street. Other places will not allow you to pour for yourself, instead barmen or waiters will do it for you, which in that case, you are pretty much guaranteed a perfect pour. You might also see machines or pumps set up as a sure way of getting 100% out of your bottle, or cut corks to help control the flow out of the bottle.

Most importantly though, What is the taste like compared to British cider? I’m not an expert, but I would say the apple flavour hits you a little harder in sidra asturiana, like you’ve just pressed an apple but then you get the fermented alcohol aftertaste. despite the efforts, the level of fizz is much higher in English ciders, which also naturally slows your drinking pace down (or at least should). Sidra asturiana also packs more of a punch, being at least 6% alcohol, but I’ve seen some over 7% and given a bottle is almost as big as a standard bottle of wine (0.7l), you are getting a lot.

Another adjective I would use to describe sidra: CHEAP. Bottles will cost about 2.50€ possibly less. In the supermarkets I got one for 2€. It must be noted though, that outside Asturias, the price is likely to go up, and bars may offer you a bargain at first, but only one serving of sidra in a glass, and that accumulates. If you compare prices with beer, it would be similarly priced but usually cheaper to get sidra. Variants may also pop up, though difficult to find in a bar, even a sidrería, for example, sidra de pera (pear) and corked fizzy cider, the closest thing to a British cider available, and they come in a glass bottle, corked and opened like a bottle of champagne, and again just a couple of euros. Sidra is also used in cooking, so don’t be confused if you see it on your lunch menu, it’s pretty normal to see.

That pretty much covers it for sidra asturiana, the only cider in Spain with protective origin status. A must try whether you are a cider drinker or not, and happen to be in Asturias, or other neighbouring regions of Green Spain. Don’t be offended if someone tries to teach you how to escanciar, it really does make a difference and it’s fun to do it even if half of it ends up on the floor. The best piece of advice, enjoy trying or get yourself a beer next time.

City Guide: Valencia

There’s no denying it, Everyone has at least heard of Valencia, in it’s various forms, whether it be their football team, festivals or paella. But I would guarantee, that those same people would also know of Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga, and visited all those cities, but many would not have gone to Valencia. Strange that may be, it’s still very much a popular city to visit, and after spending my first day there, I totally understood why. Welcome to the 3rd largest city in the country.

Valencia is located practically in the middle part of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, in the centre of the Comunidad Valenciana autonomous region of which is the capital, and that makes it a very easily accessible city for most travelers. It is connected to Madrid via AVE, and via Barcelona via both Regional Exprés and Intercity services. Most other major cities such as Sevilla, Gijón and Valladolid may only have 1 or 2 direct connections to the city. To make things confusing, Valencia has 2 main stations, Nord ( Valenciano for North, but confusingly located in the southernmost part of the city centre) and Joaquín Sorolla, 800m to the south. Loosely connected to each other by metro stations Bailen and Jesús respectively, These stations share a lot of the same destinations, so it is paramount that you check your tickets.

What’s the main difference between the two? La estación de Joaquín Sorolla is the AVE station, whereas Nord is principally the local hub. The cercanías lines all terminate here (line 4 has no services as of 2020), and the Media Distancia / Regional services all stop/ terminate here. However, you can still travel to cities like Madrid, Sevilla and Barcelona via slower services. If that isn’t enough, Valencia also has a bust station which can connect you to almost every town in the comunidad, as well as around the whole country, either directly, or with a connection. Night services are more common, and I have frequented through Valencia in the early hours by bus to reach Catalonia or Andalusia on many occasions. Alsa is the main company that operates here, thought there are some important connections with Hife.

The airport is one of the weaker aspects of travel compared to other cities on the Mediterranean coast. The airports of Malaga, Alicante and Barcelona are notably bigger. However there are still regular connections with other parts of Spain, particularly the west and Baleares, and to the UK. British airways, Easy Jet, and Ryanair all fly to the UK with multiple flights daily. Ferries also operate to the Baleares daily to all 3 of the main islands, though it usually takes longer than if you were going via Barcelona.

Lastly, local transport is a little hit and miss. Valencia has a metro and 9 lines operate from it (a 10th is under construction as of 2021) 6 underground, and 3 trams. Most of the metro was formally part of the old FEVE rail network and subsequently more stops were added and lines created, but it misses a lot of key parts of the city, such as Plaza de Reina, the northern part of the old quarter, the Ciutat de les Ciencies i Artes, the Bioparc and the F1 track are all at least 10-15 minutes from the nearest Metro station, usually more.

The most useful stations are Turia, Xativa, Jesus, Bailen, Colon, Alameda, Marina Reial (tranvia) and Aeroport, and that is because they are either near the beach, nearest to the city centre, or a key station. The Metro also extends way out as far as towns like Torrent, Lliria, Rafelbunyol and Villanueva de Castellón, the latter of which is over 50km away! Local buses are so extensive that they will connect all the places the metro does not.

Accommodation is abundant across the whole city with the most expensive places usually being around the city centre and Ciutat de Artes y Ciencies, but you can get a bargain if you are looking for a cheap hostel with a shared room, you can find places for about 20-35€ a night, though the weekends are notably more. My experience of hostels of Valencia have been mostly positive, but one part where they let you down is the massive price hike during the Falles festival. Book well in advance if you happen to go in March and Easter weekend. You may get away with a good deal around Christmas time on the flip side, and I’ve managed to get deals worth 15€ a night in the centre for being on the site at the right time.

But the most important question still stands, what can you actually see there barring the obvious? Compared to other major cities of Spain like Barcelona or Sevilla, it is less, but you still a lot of wow factors that make this place unique. La Lonja/ Llotja de la Seda is one such place in the city centre that I found myself coming back to regularly. La Plaza de Reina with the Cathedral in the backdrop is also impressive, with the opportunity to actually climb to the top of the tower for uninterrupted Panoramic views of the city, better than anywhere else. It cost 2€ (back in 2015) to do that, and that was well and truly value for money.

The biggest attraction by a country mile is the Ciutat de las Ciencies i Artes, a series of white and blue futuristic buildings finished in the late- 2000’s at the cost of an eye watering 150 billion pesetas or 900,000,000€. Home to an opera house, events centre, I MAX, planetarium, garden, and L’Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe. Just visiting the buildings themselves from the outside is something surreal, and a complete contrast to what it’s like in the city centre. While it is a bit of a faff getting there, it is worth it. The Platja de la Malvarrosa, the main beach of Valencia, is about 40 minutes walking via this location, and is a change of pace compared to further inland, and not particularly full of tourists either, which makes a change.

I also must tell you about Valencia’s rich culture, and there’s nothing better to showcase that, than Falles. Though I will write a full blog about it another time, It’s important to know just how different the city is when this festival is on, and it is one of the best ‘fiesta mayores’ I have been to. In fact I went 3 times, and it didn’t get old at all, and you end up in other neighbourhoods, that you otherwise wouldn’t have visited.

You find sculptures on every crossroad and plaza imaginable, all with various designs not always suitable for youngsters. But kids have a lot of fun throwing petardos (bangers) everywhere for the main week. The ‘Mascleta’ occurs earlier at 2pm every day. The most impressive thing would be the final day when all the sculptures are burned and a final Mascleta occurs in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This paragraph does not do this festival enough justice. The 19th of March is the big day for this. Other notable festivals you should consider are the Fiestas de San Vicente Ferrer, an extension to the traditional Easter celebrations, La Geperudeta in May, Corpus Cristi among others.

The final cultural aspect that cannot be ignored, is the Valenciano’s adoration for it’s local gastronomy, and yes I have to mention Paella! For you brits, this may be one of the only places where it is acceptable to eat it everyday while on holiday, and it will be the real deal here. remember that it typically takes about 20 minutes for them to make an authentic paella by scratch, and it’s rare to find a bad place.

Arroz del horno/ arròs del forn, Almejas, Fideua, figatells and all-i-pebre among other things here. Churros/xurros, Buñuelos/bunyols (churro batter donut) and fartons (between a croissant and an ensaimada) are very commonplace here, and what better to wash it down with than Horchata/orxata a cold drink mistaken for milk, but is actually made with chufa or tiger nuts. Aigua de Valencia is a common deceptively strong cocktail found widely around here.

Lastly, the language here occasionally brings debate regarding it’s status, Valenciano. The Apitxat variant of it is principally spoken in the city, though it is known as a occidental Catalan dialect. I can speak Catalan and could communicate with locals pretty effectively barring the very occasional word that is typically from the region. But in the city centre I didn’t hear much of it spoken, nor it plastered on all the shop windows like you see in Neighbouring Catalan cities. Castilian Spanish is more than ok for everybody here to speak with you while visiting, and English can be understood in many establishments in the city centre too, but don’t expect it, and try and make an effort.

Being a big city, Valencia has that vibe of minding their own business for the most part, but go to the right places and the friendliness will emerge in a similar way to Barcelona and Madrid. Again, if you are not in a touristic bar, You probably won’t meet many locals, but people are friendlier if you respect them and make the effort to try a more local popular spot. Renowned areas for going out are around La Ruzafa area as well as the part of the Ciutat Vella north of La Lonja and east of the Torres de Quart, but there are a number of other spots in other neighbourhoods that have some highly rated clubs, I’m just going by my local friends and where they took me.

So that pretty much covers it, a brief, but useful guide of a huge, underrated city. Valencia retains most of it’s heritage, takes a lot of pride in the things they are good at, and offers something for everyone almost all year round. I have been there several times, and would definitely visit again, and recommend you spend a long weekend there at the very least, and why not get carried away with one of their festivals? Decide what experience you’re looking for and plan accordingly. Bon viatge!