Traversing the Parrizal de Beceite, Teruel

The comarca of Matarraña, the easternmost of Teruel, is a land of mountains, beautiful villages, and one of the few Catalan speaking areas outside of Catalonia that few know well. Beceite (Beseit in Catalan) is the nearest village to the trail, where many people like to spend the night, prior to setting off. The route essentially takes you along the Río Matarraña to a narrow canyon which eventually becomes impassable for regular hikers without experience and/or equipment depending on conditions.

The only realistic way to get to this place is by car, so you either need to hire one for the journey if you are going at the weekend. Alternatively, Hife have bus services from Monday to Friday from Zaragoza, Alcañíz and Tortosa, but extremely irregular. The route also has a control which charges for parking to enter, though there are days which are free. Depending on where you have parked, the minimum distance of the walk is about 8km, whereas the longest can be 13km if you leave from the village. You can go any time of the year, but I wouldn’t recommend going when it’s raining, due to potential storm surges of the river. Another point to be aware of, is that Pets are not allowed on this particular trail, but many people ignore this rule, do so at your own risk.

Starting from one of a few car parks, The path takes you to a small hydro station, where the valley, wide at first, will take you through as short tunnel. There are 2 detours from the start, the cave paintings or Pinturas Rupestres de la Fenellassa is just before the tunnel, while the Cueva de la Dona just afterwards is a nice detour. That, will warm up the legs a little for the main event. Only 1km or so into the hike, and the valley already starts to narrow and you will start to traverse the river, by crossing via suspended wooden walkways.

The valley heads southeast the majority of the time, and the mountains will start to get more dramatic early on. There isn’t much climbing involved during the whole hike, what can be a challenge though, is keeping your feet dry, the odd occasion. The walkway gets narrower the deeper you go, and continually combines, with boardwalks and occasional island hopping. You also don’t completely follow the course of the river, and will encounter some woodland paths, even nearer the end.

The walkway makes a pretty abrupt end where the rock faces twist around and can no longer be safe for any more boardwalks, and so the main path ends. This is where we stopped, but for anyone up for a little challenge, could continue going upstream at their own risk and reach another path at the Font de Tex where you will have crossed the border into Catalonia, and be close to peaks of 1200m+ as a result. For any novice hiker, of which there were some in our group, It is not recommendable, and this is a really nice spot to stop and enjoy until the walk back.

There’s nothing to report about for the way back as it’s exactly the same as the way there. All I can say that conditions and certain days can greatly affect the experience, and there are junctions where you need to respect other hikers passing more so than usual because of how now parts can be. This hike is perfect for people of all abilities and you can reward yourself afterwards with a visit of one of the many stunning villages around the region, particularly Valderrobles, Calaceite, Horta de San Joan and of course Beceite itself. Enjoy!

Any additional information about the Parritzal hike can be found here.

Camino de San Salvador Day 1: León- Pola de Lena 95km

If you were to attempt the Camino de Santiago, you would quickly discover that León is a very important city on the most well known route, the Camino Francés. However, before crossing the Roman bridge of the Río Bernesga, you might have stumbled across a signal showing an alternative route on the wall of the Monesterio de San Marcos. That sign, is the starting point of the rarely used Camino de San Salvador which connects León and Oviedo in Asturias. Any unsuspecting pilgrim might be confused by this alternative direction, especially given that Oviedo is north and totally the wrong way to Santiago. So why does it exist?

Well, the most condensed version ever, The Moors were taking over Iberia, the Christians fled north to prevent their valuable religious relics from being seized by the Arab forces. Later, pilgrims in Medieval times would divert to Oviedo to see the Catedral de San Salvador (hence the name) and continue directly to Santiago. During the Reconquista, the popularity of the route dropped in favour of the Francés due to the shift in political power south. Nowadays, it still is not a particularly well-known route, nor do many people use it. Therefore, I had to give it a go.

I had completed the Camino Francés just 6 weeks before setting off on this two- day excursion. The bike I had used, was swapped for the one that had some suspension and tailored more to my size. The weather was notably warmer despite snow having cut off major passes the week before, and I prepared a little better for this journey. To complete this journey, you can obtain a different booklet than the one you pick up from the Camino francés, though the original is still completely valid for use. At the end, you can obtain the Salvadorana providing you show stamps at the relevant locations. It’s also very useful to have local information at hand for guides and the oficina de turismo de León as well as most pilgrim hostels will have lists and numbers to help out.

I bought a book specifically for this journey and it suggested for a hiker it would take about 4 days to complete, but other guides go for 5. It was clear that there were few hostels for pilgrims for this route, which limits your flexibility of how much you want to walk during the day, for us as cyclists, that didn’t apply. If you have a good set of legs and a good bike, you could actually reach Oviedo in just one day. I went with the same person who accompanied me on the last trip, Rafael, and we set off on a bright Saturday morning armed with as much as possible.

We merged the first three stages from the book, to just one day, which would mean crossing the highest parts of the Cantabrian Mountains. Starting from León, you follow the Rio Bernesga north out of town, and within 5 km you are well and truly out of town and cruising through Carbajal de la Legua, which is where things dramatically changed. This track is not suitable for road bikes, and is a challenge for any mountain bike, so I wouldn’t recommend taking this route, and instead diverting to the CL- 623 to Lorenzana, and turning to the LE-4514. The track followed the Bernesga at times, while occasionally climbing the ridge to the right, it’s not really obvious where the signals take you either.

After at least an hour, you find a small hamlet called Cabanillas which was where we diverted back to the main road towards the first major town, La Robla. should you continue on the actual camino, you would stop through the villages of la Seca de Alba and Cascantes de Alba. The road itself is not challenging yet, and you are on the verge of entering the mountain phase, so the scenery starts to get better. La Robla is the last crossroads before you enter the Cantabrian mountains, and you do need to be careful here. It’s also the crossroad for another Camino called the Camino Olvidado, which connects Bilbao and Pamplona to Cacabelos on the Camino Francés.

La Robla itself is not a overly spectacular, it is workers town, known for it’s mining and industry, not much more. On the other hand, it is the perfect place to rest and top up on supplies, if need be. There is also a hostel for pilgrims leading out of town, and a train station in case you need it. Providing you stay on or near the N-630, the yellow arrows will guide you north. The camino actually stays right of the Bernesga and intermittently connects to the main road, before diverting to the hamlets of Puente de Alba and Peredilla the later of which has some beautiful stone houses, but little more to write about. There is also the Castillo de Alba, visible from various points of this road, but is a notable diversion and again unsuitable for bikes.

After about 4km, The Camino diverts from the main road towards Nocedo de Gordón, and the Valley gets a little wider. The road took us away from any cars and was a pleasant experience especially the scenery at this point. The Camino diverts you right of Nocedo towards Pola de Gordón under a tall bridge and from there we could see snow patches on some of the mountains for the first time. The condition of the Camino is actually very good, and the climb is gradual and you for the most part are running near the railway. Upon entering, you can notice fairly quickly, that this town is more picturesque than La Robla, and you cross the Bernesga to the centre to Calle de la Constitución. It’s worth noting that this one of the last notable town of any kind until you reach Asturias, so anything you need, like banks, supermarkets, post office etc, Pola De Gordón has them.

Pola De Gordón is kinda the start of the next phase of the Journey, and my guide suggested that too. We rejoined the N-630 very briefly before turning off the LE-473 where you will pass through the small hamlet of Beberino before going through a major valley road with impressive views albeit briefly before turning off into another road, the CV 103-1to Buiza. If you are using a road bike, I recommend you stay on the N-630 as the section after Buiza is not suitable at all. The Camino from Pola de Gordon splits three times but all reconnect at the same main road eventually.

Buiza is a small village with a hostel for pilgrims and is practically the end of the road where the Camino splits into two, and both go off road, and climb. the most traditional route heads northwest and eventually connects to the N-630 via the ski resort of Valgrande Pajares. The other, which we took, headed over a mountain pass and connected to the N-630 via Villasimpliz. The road is called Calle Iglesia and the track practically disappears at the very top, and its a steep dirty descent to the village. You are met with spectacular views from the top of the pass, as well as the village of Buiza (which also has a hostel for any pilgrims on the journey).

Villasimpliz is nothing more than a hamlet, and has virtually nothing to offer anyone passing by, or so we thought, and kept going, joining the main road towards Villamanin, the next town. After passing through a short tunnel, we end up at the last crossroads before crossing the border with Asturias. Here, the higher mountains with a notable amount of snow on top are now becoming widespread and the natural views alone are worth the trip so far. If you have enough time, Villamanin is worth stopping at for a rest despite it being a little out of the way. This town has very distinct architecture typical of some of the mountain towns in this area, and the Plaza de la Constitución is worth checking out. This town is the last reasonably sized settlement until you reach Asturias, though there are some bars and hostels along the way.

The road is by this point, getting notably steeper, though by any standards, is not that taxing compared to most, and you are now approaching the border, where the highest mountains of the chain can be seen. The weather by this point was still holding up, but getting colder, only 9 degrees, and at this point you pass through Busdongo, which has very little to offer any traveler barring the odd bar towards the end. This village also happened to be the birthplace of one of the richest men in the world, Amancio Ortega which I didn’t know at the time.

Arbas del puerto is the last settlement before Asturias and has some amazing views of the Pico Cellón one of the many 2000m+ peaks that mark the border, and there is a large monastery, the Colegiata de Santa Maria de Arbas. It is well worth stopping for a few minutes to check it out and enjoy the views, and is where the traditional walking route reconnects. The last push to Puerto Pajares, is the hardest part of the climb to the top of the mountain pass. The top is nearly 1400m in altitude, and you are greeted with stunning views from both sides, and a notably greener looking Asturias. On a clear Day, Peña Ubiña, one of the highest mountains west of the Picos de Europa, is a dominant feature, and you can see the main road take you downhill, a welcoming change for any cyclist.

The pass is a worthy rest stop, popular for bikers and cyclists alike, the bars that are there are worth resting at before descending into Asturias. The village of Pajares is the first place you can stop at before reaching the bottom of the valley. There, you can spend the night in a hostel for pilgrims and would signify the end of the 3rd day for somebody walking. by this point, you keep descending, and after 19km, you’ve reached the town of Campomanes. It’s worth noting, that there are multiple viewpoints along the purely downhill part of the Camino, and you can easily reach the town in less than an hour, though it’s worth stopping for the endless amount of views. The Flor de Acebos is the most notable viewpoint during this stretch, and you can actually leave the roadside for it.

We noticed straightway just how different the landscape of Asturias became. The final stretch takes you to Pola de Lena via the AS 242 by bike, though the camino actually takes you directly north via the train station, where you will come across the Iglesia de Santa Maria de Lena, and connects with the cycling route about 6km later. There isn’t really any other point of major interest for the rest of the way until Pola de Lena, just the natural landscape, so go easy, and enjoy it like we did.

Within 30 mins we arrived in the town, and looked for the hostel that was on the booklet. You have to call the number, and the arrangement for us was made at the local police station, which led us to a building next to the train station. It’s a bit of a hassle, and your donation isn’t controlled, and keys to enter are limited. The lack of popularity of this route was evident as there was just us, and one other pilgrim staying the night. It’s likely that the system changes during busier times of the year, but it makes it more important than ever to retain all the information you pick up on this Camino. The most important thing is you can sleep well, as Oviedo where this Camino ends is just 36km away…

Girona/ Gerona, The Smallest Catalan capital With Big History.

Girona, one of the most spectacular places that is somewhat overlooked by brits when they come to this province. Most of us are drawn somewhat to the various luxurious spots of the Costa Brava, and rarely venture inland that much. Girona’s popularity however, has been slowly changing, and not just because of Game of Thrones. There is so much more to offer in this small but historical city, and what you’ve seen on TV leave more questions than answers. Let’s look a little more into this picturesque Catalan capital.

Girona is the easternmost provincial capital in Spain and the smallest of the 4 Catalan capitals and is quite easy to get to given that it is only 80km from Barcelona. You are just 45 mins or so from the beach and a little over an hour from the high Pyrenees. France is accessible by AVE, bus and even local Rodalies (R11) and Cercanias (RG1) services. Girona also has an airport which has regular flights to London, though flights are very irregular during the winter, so it’s normal for many visitors to fly to Barcelona and connect. The only downside to the location of Girona, is that it quite a long trip if you are travelling to/ from most of the rest of the country, so the journey may be a long one.

The seasons of Girona are a bit more distinct and not as extreme as other parts of Catalonia. Winters are quite cold, but not extreme (though it will be cold at night), and summers are hot, but rarely sweltering, and for a location that is inland, that’s quite rare in Spain. Occasionally one might need to be aware of the Tramuntana wind that often affects the Costa Brava and occasionally may affect Girona. The geographic location of this city is also favourable for anyone staying, as it’s not far from other places with distinctly different climates. Like most places in Catalonia, Girona has wetter springs and autumns, so be realistic when packing your suitcase.

It’s very easy to distinguish your whereabouts in Girona, and the easiest way to tell is via the Riu Onyar. The old part is to the east and the newer part to the west, though parts of the old part spill over a few blocks to the west side as well in the north. It kinda works the same way with shopping but the other way round. Most of the high street names are on the west side, but many spill over on the east side, mostly on Rambla de Llibertat and connecting streets. But starting on the Rambla is where you are going to connect to most of the iconic sights Girona has to Offer.

The most iconic areas are located in the El Call/ Barri Vell part, which is the oldest, and the iconic cathedral steps are usually the first port of call, and from there you are spoilt for choice on where to visit next. All I can say is that this part can get quite crowded, so avoid it at midday or early evening. I continued round the back of the cathedral and took a walk on the muralla, which gave amazing views of the city and surrounding countryside. This also separates the urban area from the suburban districts that allow you to enjoy more tranquil sights such as the Monestir de Sant Daniel or the Castell de Montjuic. Some hiking routes from the city can take you to some of the hilltops in that area as well which would take only an hour or so from the muralla.

The Old quarter itself has a lot of heavily built up narrow streets which often have tunnels or arches running through them, and you will find evidence of moorish influence such as the banys arabs, and jewish architecture, a stones throw away from the Altstadt viewpoint near the cathedral. It’s also worth checking out the basilica se Sant Felix, often mistaken for the cathedral on the banks of the Onyar, and the Monesterio de San Pedro de Galligants. Popular museums include the Museo de La Historia de Girona, the Museo de la Historia de los Judios, and The Fundació Rafael Masó. The Riu Galligants also has some impressive trails for hiking starting from the old quarter.

The most impressive part of Girona for me is the River Onyar itself, with buildings in various colours pratically hanging off the edge. There are numerous bridges crossing over into the densely packed houses, many of which tunnel through them to reach an adjacent street. It is a very romantic setting, and one of the most famous would be the Pont de les Peixateries Velles. Weirdly, you cannot walk along the banks of the river, but a number of shops and restaurants may overlook it and give you a unique perspective. The views of the river from pretty much any bridge were one of the highlights of my time there.

Eating out in Girona can be a special experience if you find the right places. Some parts of the Barri Vell offer a variety of places that often cater for tourists. The better spots in my opinion, are further north of the city, and I had dinner in a great Pintxos bar on the river, but the other side of the Barri Vell called Xibarri, and the Plaça de la Independencia has a number of bars and reastaurants that make it a popular area especially at night. There are not many dishes that stand out that are really emblematic exclusively to Girona, but dishes like mar y muntanya, souquet, and escudella de pages are the ones I noticed quite a lot, and They all taste great. given it’s location between the mountains and the sea, dishes that often satisfy any fancy is usually plentiful. If you want something from the mountains, its there. If you want something from the sea, it’s there. If you want both, try the mar y muntanya.

The people in Girona may appear have a traditional take on things, but they celebrate a party just as well as anywhere else in Catalonia, just a little bit later than the rest. Sant Narcis is patron saint of the city and celebrated on the 29th October, which is one of the biggest events of the year, and compared to the other celebrated saints of the other Catalan Capitals, this is held a month later. Other than Semana Santa and Sant Joan, the Temps de Flors flower festival celebrated towards the end of May is a more recent fesitival that has grown in popularity, though it isn’t exclusively a Girones thing.

The people of Girona, like in most of Catalonia, will principally speak Catalan to you should you interact with anybody from there. But many will immediately switch to Spanish if they identify you as not a Catalan speaker. You may find that in the Barri Vell that some establishments may speak English as there are more tourists there. If you happen to know any Catalan it’ll go a long way, especially as Girona is one of the most important cities of the language and it’s accent is considered one of the most stereotypical. They love speaking it, and may love you a lot more if you can too.

Accommodation in Girona is quite abundant in all parts of the city, and it is often cheaper to stay here compared to a seaside town during the summer. Prices for a private single room are usually minimum of 30€ a night. While doubles are around a similar price. There aren’t many backpacker hostels here, but the ones that I saw in the off season cost about 20€ a night. It may be better value for money to get a double room to yourself if you’re travelling solo. Realistically, if you are planning to stay just to enjoy the city, one night may be enough, whereas two nights would definitely be enough. Both of my visits were purely just for the day.

So there you have my brief overview of Girona, a city steeped in history, and with appeal for pretty much any type of visitor. Whether you are staying in the nearby Costa Brava, or Barcelona, or even passing through on a road trip, Girona will not disappoint you. Enjoy!

Travelling during COVID-19 in Spain.

It’s no surprise that one the worst things to happen in 2020 is ruining people’s livelihoods and plans running into beyond the new year. But here in Spain things haven’t been impossible for the most part, and travel to some extent has flexed up and down with restrictions. There are some things brits should know about travelling during these testing times. I live in Córdoba at the moment, and I know people’s experiences will vary depending on the region.

Madrid battleground

Madrid has been and very likely will continue to be one of the main problems areas for travel. The first outbreak of the 2nd wave in Córdoba was traced from a group of people travelling from the capital, making it one of the riskiest trips, not for fear of getting infected, but because your stay may have more restrictions than anywhere else. Madrid has closed its borders to other comunidades autónomas during the Christmas period, and has had various zones cut off when there has been a spike in cases. Unless you have permission, you can’t visit or leave, unless you have a connecting journey to another region. Even when restrictions are lifted, either get a last minute deal, or don’t plan to visit at all.

Services still go ahead regardless

You might be wondering who could possibly be on a train or a bus during restrictions? Why haven’t they cancelled the service? The truth simply is this; the government subsidises the companies responsible to keep things moving, and there are people who do have permission to travel. Train companies like Renfe and Feve cannot deny people’s entry into a restricted area, though now they might ask for ID, which wasn’t required before. The responsibility of entry falls on the police and security forces in position at the stations, which has led to people questioning how risky it is to travel if they aren’t allowed.

The simple fact is that the staff in the train/ bus station do not know whether you can legally travel or not to restricted areas. I went to there recently to enquire about travel to Valencia (which I had booked when I knew we could travel) about the new restrictions in place, and they told me that they can only give you information about the services that are running and availability of tickets. THEY CANNOT tell you about whether you can legally travel or not. I went to customer service and they said the same thing, though they also said that occasionally a policeman may be stationed in the office to answer such questions.

The only ways you can definitively find out about restrictions is via the government website, going to the police station and asking a member of staff like I did, and calling one of the services the Ayuntamiento provides. Going to the police station is the best way in my opinion, as you can explain your personal situation and they can tell you whether you can travel or not. In the case of Valencia, it was a no go for me and my other half on this occasion. Andalusia, among many regions have opened their borders to allow travel over the festive season, and some may remain open depending on the how well the virus is contained.

Cancellations

While most Bus and rail services have continued, many time tables have been reduced, and it isn’t certain when they will resume if at all once the pandemic eases. Some timetables however have been left completely unchanged, so my advice is to check online for any announcements of service alterations. The main cancellations occur at either the very early morning or late night journeys due to curfews in place. That isn’t always the case though, I travelled from Huelva to Córdoba back in September at 22:00 and arrived at 1:00, but that bus is still running, so it’s purely pot luck. Rail services have less services too, but unless you are a frequent traveler, you may not have noticed. Many companies post a modified time table in the stations and online to help clear the confusion.

Getting Tested before you travel

The worst affected regions in Spain have different requirements for entry as mentioned before, but some places like the Baleares have asked for negative PCR tests to be taken a maximum of 72 hours before your departure. However, the most common requirements for such a test are when flying, even nationally. The chances are you will need to pay for two tests to enter and leave the region if you are flying or unless the local government requires you to do so.

Air travel, is it worth it?

The big issue with travelling around Spain by air is the lack of updated information given about the rules, is that it takes time for the official AENA website to update any new changes, and it changes almost daily. Airlines operate on the same level as Renfe, meaning that they have rules but won’t deny you access to flying unless the security and border control say otherwise. The information and rules as you may know by now are subject to change fairly frequently, so it’s advisable to check news websites or government website ahead of any other source of information.

The upside is that flights are likely to reduce in prices compared to any other public transport, though not guaranteed. That may not be worth the hassle and cost of getting two tests done, unless you know you are saving a fortune. I wouldn’t travel by air unless it was absolutely necessary. It might be the lowest risk of getting infected, but all the other risks of actually getting there trouble- free is greatly reduced.

Accommodation always available.

While many hostels and hotels may be shut depending on the situation of restrictions, but it is almost certain and every reasonably-sized town will have some places open, especially during the weekend. Hotels and hostels are very good at communicating any changes and new guidelines to guests, and measures are usually taken to protect you during your stay. Prices don’t really change all that much compared to normal, so you aren’t guaranteed to save much unless you book during a time when there usually is a festival that’s been subsequently cancelled. I think on the whole you are safe.

That’s my experience so far about travel in Spain during COVID. My advice is principally to check the news and with the local authorities before making any arrangements to travel long distances. Make sure you can legally travel and don’t take any unnecessary risks. Spain is still open, and while the experience may be unusual, people will still try and accommodate you the best they can, and there is always a way to discover new places and try new things. Proceed with caution and take care.

Five festive treats of Spain

Back in the UK, it is typical of us to gorge on as many chocolates and sweets that only come out at christmas time in the evening time. Some of my family’s typical favourites were quality street, matchmakers, gingerbread among many things, though we weren’t fussed. In Spain, families also have their own favourites of which many are consumed across the country. Here is a short list of five Spanish treats that are not consumed in the UK, but worth trying for yourself.

Just a disclaimer, I’ve saved talking about turrones and roscón de reyes for future blogs, as there is way more to write about for them.

  1. Pestiños

Pestiños are a very typical dry pastry commonly found in the south of Spain. In Cádiz, they have more tradition and there is an organized event every December for them, and in other parts of Andalusia, such as Córdoba and Jaén, they are a really big deal. Not only are they eaten around Christmas time, but also Easter, and I’ve seen them in many bakeries all year round. Basically, they are just thin, fried squares of dough which are folded over to give the iconic shape, but in many other Gaditana towns there are more variants. They are often are flavoured with sesame, and topped off with sugar or honey. Again, I tried a variant that was more bite-sized and covered in a sugar glaze, very moreish. The honey ones are the traditional ones and not as dry as the sugar ones.

2. Alfajores

I was extremely confused when I first encountered alfajores, because I first tried the Latin American versions which resemble more dulce de leche sandwiched between two biscuits. Spanish alfajores are notably different, being oblong-shaped and not usually crumbly like a biscuit. They are commonly found in Murcia, Andalusia and parts of Castilla and Extremadura, though some variants are almost identical to alajú, which looks notably different. However, in Cádiz, they seem to be common all year round compared to the rest of Spain, and completely contrasts the traditions of pestiños.

3. Polvorón

Polvorones are common for Christmas in pretty much every part of Spain, and they are a rather strange type of shortbread in which you crush the biscuit in your hand before you eat it. I got told off by several friends when I first tried them when I didn’t do that, but I don’t there’s much difference, just makes it easier to eat. The most famous places for these treats are Estepa (Sevilla), Antequera (Malaga), Valladolid and Navarre, but they are not the exclusive areas of production. Most Polvorones are individually wrapped, and come in a variety of flavours, notably cinnamon, chocolate, fruit, just to name a few.

It’s very easy to confuse polverones with mantecados. Polvorones are a type of mantecado, but you can find many types of mantecados which are not the same, and the only similarities are that they are sweet and contain lard (manteca) hence the name. There are so many situations where they are exactly the same thing, that I have often been confused on what I’m actually eating, and in my opinion, so do most of the locals.

4. Batata Glaseada

This treat is actually one of the few instances where a sweet potato is actually sweet! You can find these in most bakeries in various parts of Spain and I must admit, I was curious when I first saw these. They are peeled and glazed in the same way as a doughnut, and they do have a a glossy shine to them. Compared to the other desserts on this list, it may be one of the more expensive things to orderfrom this list, and is almost always charged by weight rather than units. In all honesty, there isn’t much to them other than it tastes like an ultra sugary dough with essence of sweet potato. It’s weird, but nice at the same time, but I would go for the other things on this list before choosing this.

5. Inxtaursalsa

This last treat is a lot more difficult to eat on the road compared to the rest, and is very much exclusive to the Basque area of Spain, but seasonally, it is more than worth being put onto this list. It is exactly what it is translated from Basque, walnut cream, but their name sounds cooler. It has a similarity and consistency of another Spanish dessert called natillas, but has a stronger flavour, and with some added extras like cinnamon sticks or whole walnuts to garnish.

I have only tried it the once, and I would definitely have it again, as the walnuts give it a very hearty kind of feel when you eat it. Though it isn’t exclusively eaten around Christmas time, it is a lot more common during that period. Renowned Basque chef Karlos Arguiñano took this dish one step further by making it into a flan which sounds amazing. So yeah, if you’re thinking about going to the north for Christmas, give it a go, I’ll say no more.

So there you have it, five festive treats that you will have to come to Spain to try. 2020 is the first year I’ve been forced to stay here, so I have no doubts that having these, among many other delights of my adopted city will take the edge off not not seeing my family. For my fellow expats having to deal with the same situation as myself this year, make the most of things, and start by getting fat on as many turrones, polvoróne, and alfajores as you can. That’s my plan.

Enjoying the villages of the Alpujarra region: Pampaneira, Bubion, Capileira.

Nestled deep into southern Granada on the south side of the most prominent, and highest mountains on the peninsula, lies a true Spanish gem hidden away from most people passing from Granada to the coast, Alpujarra. Leave the autovia and connect to the A-348 and then the A-4132 from Orgiva and the mountain road takes you to Pampaneira, and you’ll be more than impressed when you get there. you are now in a valley with a clear view of the often snow-capped Sierra Nevada, and presented with an opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful villages in Andalusia.

Despite The valley’s remote location from other major towns, you can actually do this hike in one day if you are staying in Granada, as there are buses to get to Pampaneira and Capileira and the return. Should you decide to do that, you would have a gap of 5 hours between arriving in Pampaneira, and leaving Capileira, which would be easily enough time. Alternatively, you could stay the night there and make a really nice day and a half out of it. I went there by car and it does leave you a slightly awkward position of having to double your hiking distance, or getting a bus back to your starting point.

The climate is something to take into account when doing this. snow can fall at the highest point of this hike at a timeframe of more than 6 months a year. The heat of the summer isn’t so severe compared to Granada city, but it can easily reach 30 degrees. I went there in April and it was around 27 degrees, but a few days later it reportedly snowed in Capileira. In winter, you are almost certainly going to have sub-zero temperatures first thing in the morning. Plan your equipment carefully.

The hike is not long in distance, just 7km or 3km if you are finishing in Capileira, but you are going to be climbing quite a bit in that short space of time, just under 400m, but you are not going to struggle. This hike is more designed to enjoy a culture unique to this region and enjoy the views and villages in a relaxed fashion. I started in Pampaneira, at the bottom of the valley, and the car was parked in one of 2 car parks of the village, near the church. One thing you need to know is that all three of these villages are listed on the ‘pueblos más bonitas de España’, and Pampaneira was one of the first to be included.

You start by the church which includes the main square, and see the numerous handmade rugs and towels on sale draped over the wall and running water down some of the narrow streets. you have to climb these streets towards the top, which is a spectacular maze offering at times the ever-widening views of the valley. the trail leading out of the village is via the lavadero. The road leads you to the last few houses and by this point is signposted to Bubión, and according to guides, this was the way people used to get there. from the top of the village you get a good perspective and will probably have noticed by now of the unique roofs or ‘terraos grises’ of all the buildings. These grey, fragile-looking roofs, covered in material similar to an English garden shed called ‘launa’ are emblematic of the Alpujarra region, and there are no examples of these anywhere else.

Once you leave, you will encounter a lot of the cultivation practiced here that are directly involved with the uniqueness of the region and you get to sample that in pretty much every local shop in all three villages. after about 15 minutes you join the Barranco de Cerezo which leads you uphill until diverting off to the lower part of Bubión, the next village. Here, the route takes you past the ayuntamiento and the church, and you won’t see many places to eat around here, unless you divert towards the main road. The best thing is that Bubión is the easiest of the three villages to get around and you have some of the best views of the valley and the high mountains. You can see Valeta, the 2nd highest peak of the range, but that will partially disappear from view when you reach Capileira.

The next part of the hike runs almost alongside the main road to get to Capiliera. This part is largely uneventful, but you are climbing about 100m or so to get there, and you will divert again towards the bottom of the village. Capileira is the largest of the three villages on the trip, and towards the top, is where there are the majority of the bars and restaurants, as well as many shops which sell plenty of local produce. This was where we ended our journey. and made our way back to Pampaneira by road as we were heading to Malaga from Granada. However there are several ways out of the lower part of town, towards the Puente de Molino or Puente de La Higuerilla.

From these places I know that you are presented with views of the Mulhacén, the highest mountain of the whole peninsula. I know that if you have the time, you should try this stretch of the hike, and guides say it’s one of the easiest hikes of the whole region. But it really isn’t any rush, Capileira is well worth exploring, and it’s where me and my parents had lunch. I highly recommend the ‘plato alpujarreño’ a hearty dish of meat, eggs and potatoes, and after the number of calories you are going to burn for the most part, you won’t feel guilty eating it.

This valley is one of the most impressive and unusual places to visit in the whole of Andalusia, and it boasts a number of hiking routes that can quintessentially take you to the top of the world. My hike is just scratching the surface as to how much exploring you can do there. The best part is how accessible it is and how beautiful the place is all year round. This area is evidence that there is more to Granada province, than just the Alhambra.

City guide: Cuenca

My ventures into the central region of Castilla La Mancha have been fairly few and far between so far, and I hadn’t heard much of Cuenca when I first visited it. I had been told that it was worth visiting from the very few people who knew about this city, and my research didn’t do it justice when I was preparing my trip there. I loved Cuenca so much that I returned there a year or two later with my parents, and no doubt I’ll go back the next available chance I get. It was one of the best traveling surprises of the year for me.

Cuenca itself is not too difficult to get to from both the Mediterranean, and the Capital despite its seemingly remote location. There are regular AVE services from Madrid and Valencia which stop at the Fernando Zóbel station on the outskirts, and Regional services which connect the station in the city with Madrid via Aranjuez and Valencia via San Isidro station (sometimes they stop directly at Valencia Nord). The AVE takes about an hour both ways and the regional takes about 3 hours both ways as well. There’s no airport in Cuenca, so again, Madrid or Valencia are the nearest airports and regularly connect to various parts of the UK. Buses can take you to many major cities including Teruel and Zaragoza, as well as other provincial capitals of Castilla la Mancha, but these are very infrequent and some destinations, such as Tarragona have only one bus per day.

Cuenca is a really strangely located city, and you are going to need some good shoes for walking. The old centre of town straddles a ridge and overlooks the newer part which is sprawled across the plains, and the two rivers, the Jucar and Huecar meet at the bottom of the old quarter. When you enter this part of town, you quickly notice that you are overlooking two canyons with virtually no buildings on the other side of them. Cuenca is also one of the highest provincial capitals in Spain regarding altitude, reaching more than 1000m high. Only Segovia, Ávila and Soria are higher.

The Altitude does play its part and winters here can be cold, especially at night where it often goes below 0 degrees, and daytime temperatures are around 10 degrees in January. Summers are hot, around the low 30s more often than not, but nights are usually comfortable. I went there around April both times I was there, and I was wearing a light jacket in the morning and taking it off, or unzipping it by the afternoon. Cuenca has so many steep hilly parts in the old part, so you may feel rather hot and sweaty more from the exercise rather than the temperatures. Take sun cream though, as the sun here is really strong, and I got burned the first time I was there.

Cuenca is a bizarre place to get around, and my advice is to have good walking shoes, because you are going to do a lot of it. What you need to know straight away, is there are not many places of interest at the bottom with a few exceptions of the parks and area around the river, as well as the Plaza de España. The commercial centre of Cuenca is also the best place for shopping and many bars line streets leading up to the old quarter and are notably cheaper. The neighbourhood of San Anton is also worth a look on the other side of the Rio Júcar. When you cross the much smaller Rio Huécar, you are instantly climbing and this is where your sense of adventure starts to run wild.

You will notice quite quickly, that the multicoloured buildings are rather stacked and high compared to other cascos in Spain, and you can easily get lost. Your objective is to first head to the Torre de Mangana, a small clock tower on the hill, and there, you are greeted by your first views of the city and the plains, and you start to see impressive views of the Júcar Valley and that there is still a lot of exploring to go. Within 5-10 minutes you make it to the Cathedral and the Plaza Mayor and you would’ve walked through the arches of the Ayuntamiento to get there.

This is the area that is a must visit, and the Cathedral has a rather unusual façade and no towers, and from here, you can reach the most iconic views and monuments of the city, stick to the main street, and you will reach the highest point and ruins and remnants of the old castle and muralla. The neighbourhood of El Castillo is the end of the city where not only are you greeted with beautiful stone houses like a village, but with views of practically the whole city and the plains. You are literally at the end, and there isn’t another settlement for another 15km.

The biggest attraction by a mile, which you can also see from the highest point, is the Casas Colgadas or hanging houses, which you can see from the Puente de san Pablo, an Iron bridge which connects the old quarter with the San Pablo Monastery now a Parador hotel. These houses are the last examples of architecture of its kind in Cuenca, and are part of the UNESCO world heritage site. Inside, you will find a modern art gallery, open all year round. My advice is to really take your time and explore and don’t just walk through the heart of this city and out the other side. My favourite street is actually Ronda Julián Romero, where you can enjoy the maze of the ‘Rascacielos Medievales’ or Medieval Skyscrapers and the views of the Huécar valley.

The natural features of Cuenca are one of the most prominent of the whole country, and you don’t have to walk far to reach it. Just follow either of the rivers, or the main street to the top of the old quarter and you find yourself in the canyons and mountains of the Serranía de Cuenca. It’s common to spend a weekend here with one enjoying the sights of the city, and another hiking along it’s many routes, all of them will lead to either a view point from the top of the mountains, such as the Mirador del Rey and the Cerro del Socorro, or to religious sites such as the Ermitas de San Julian and San Isidro and natural sites like the Cueva De La Zarza. La Ciudad Encantada is another really popular natural park easily accessible 25km from the city.

After walking around for hours and climbing some serious steps, you’re probably thinking about looking for something to eat right? Luckily for anyone with a big appetite, Cuenca has a lot of hearty dishes and many places don’t skimp on portion sizes, especially in the older parts of town. There is a notable difference in cost if you eat in the old quarter compared to the commercial centre of the city, with menus del día costing about 3€ or so more from what I saw. The old quarter has a number of bars for a night out, practiaclly next to the Plaza Mayor, but many locals like the district around the corner from the Diputación de Cuenca in the newer part of town. A restaurant I went to on the plaza mayor was well worth the 15€ menu del día, and is called La Mangana and I’m surprised at the 3,7 rating on trip advisor, should be way more.

The food in Cuenca is has a great mix of meat and vegetable dishes and doesn’t offer so much in the way of fish dishes compared to the coastal regions understandably. A lot of the dishes are not well known in the rest of Spain which is why I want to go back and try some more. Dishes most iconic of the region are zarajos (balls of fried lamb intestines, tastes better than it sounds if you like lamb.), pisto manchego ( similar to ratatouille served with a fried egg on top), sopa castellana, gachas (a paste made with flour, garlic, and pancetta), borrachos (cakes soaked in alcohol, and alajú ( a sweet nougat type with honey and almonds). But the most iconic dish which is ironically considered a starter, is morteruelo, a hot paté served with crackers and toasted bread.

One of the best things about morteruelo, alajú, and many other dishes in Cuenca, is that you can find them in numerous shops around the whole city, ready made, and the taste is practically the same (locals might contest that though). It must also be mentioned that a liquer from here is extremely popular locally, known as resolí. There are variants, but you will have either coffee, aguardiente, or aniseed types, all sweet and go great with alajú. You can buy ceramic bottles in the shape of the Casas Colgadas filled with resolí in many shops around the city, which would make an amazing gift for someone.

Easter is a big deal in Cuenca, like pretty much all of Spain. But the processions, known as Las Turbas is very famous nationally, and having seen them, it is well worth it. The only thing you have to be aware of is the stream of one- way pedestrian systems in place during those times, which includes lots of queues and going up and down stairs naturally. The fiestas of San Julian, the patron saint of Cuenca, has tonnes of teatrical displays, bull fighting and open-air concerts. The Fiesta de San Mateo, alongside Asturias, is celebrated here, but adds a twist of bulls roaming around the Plaza Mayor, though nothing like the Encierro of Pamplona from what I’ve heard.

So that’s pretty much it at first glance for Cuenca. It’s not well known to brits at all, and you can find so many things to do there, and it is a place with a lot of pleasant surprises. You can eat like a king there and since you are going to be walking a lot, you will welcome those portion sizes. Despite the hassle getting there, Cuenca should be on any list to visit if you are spending time in Madrid or Valencia and fancy an adventurous weekend. Go there, that’s all I’m telling you to do.

10 things about cycling in Andalusia.

Cycling in Andalusia is such an experience for the better and worse when considering where to travel by bike in Spain. It was there I upgraded to a mid-range road bike, and have tested it and myself in this amazing part of the country. I may have only scratched the surface on places to visit here, but here are 10 things to take into account when cycling here.

  1. Summers are brutal

Summer in many parts of Spain can be challenging for outdoor activities in general, but the majority of this Autonomous community during the summer reach 40 degrees on an almost regular basis, particularly in Córdoba, Sevilla, Jaén, and Granada. The town of Écija and Córdoba capital average around 37 degrees in July, whereas the Costa de la Luz in Cádiz are some of the cooler areas in the mid to high 20s. Understandably it becomes dangerous during the latter part of the day and unless you are the human torch, you need to cool down. My advice is leave very early in the morning and slow your pace down dramatically by lunchtime.

The sun will force you to take it easy, so it pays to have a route with plenty of air conditioned bars when you start feeling a little uneasy. Gaseosa, water, isotonic drink and nuts helped me through any day trips like these. Conditions are extreme here sometimes, you must take care, or avoid going out too late, your body will help you work that out. I learned the hard way when I got hospitalised in the summer of 2017 in Zaragoza after not taking the precautions I do now in 40-degree heat, you can stop before it gets to that.

2. You are almost never far away from some challenging mountain climbs.

Andalusia, like most of the other communities in Spain have a lot of mountains and hills near almost every major city, though the major cities of Sevilla, Cádiz, and Huelva will require a little bit of riding first. To the north, you have the Sierra Morena, and the sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas which have road climbing to over 800m high and are not particularly well known. In the centre, you have the sierras Subeticas of Jaén and Córdoba, which can be more challenging, and are connected with cities like Priego, Baena, Alcalá del Río, and most importantly, Jaén. Then, you have the coastal ranges of las Nieves, and Grazalema among many, which provide many challenges from many easily accessible cities, most notably Malaga, Ronda, Antequera and Jerez.

Further east, you have the most prominent, and most dramatic mountain ranges in Spain, The Sierra Nevada in Granada and Almería provinces. The highest mountain in the peninsula is here, and the highest paved road in Spain is here. I am yet to attempt this challenge to climb to that 2500m summit to the ski resort, (Cheers COVID) or the mountain pass of Puerto de La Ragua, but these roads look like some of the most difficult in the country, but I will keep you posted on that one.

3. Autovias and autopistas make things complicated.

While a car can easily get around Andalusia, and connect to any major city, pretty much for free. But a cyclist may have a lot of difficulties trying to reach certain areas due to old routes being replaced by autovías and autopistas. Sometimes roads merge together to an autovía and continue as a service road, but they are often in very bad condition and sometimes even unsuitable for road bikes. You need to plan carefully where you are going to avoid any surprises. One thing for sure, is that both Google Maps and Apple Maps do not always help you avoid these horrible tracks.

The confusing thing that the A roads are usually roads to avoid in general, but roads in Spain are often coded with letters from the region and the roads that begin with A either represent an autovía or Andalusia, the latter of which, are standard main roads. What can be even more confusing, is that some autovías have single carriageways which make it legal to pass through by bike (the stretch between Alcaudete and Martos is an example). The giveaway is that the Andalusia A roads follow three or four numbers in their code, and are also green. Transit between some cities is tough because of the autovías, and Malaga is the hardest in my books.

4. Transit can be just as difficult as it is easy

Being a resident here, it’s good to know how to transport myself and my bike back if I’m not doing a round trip, and I can safely say, you can get to any of the provincial capitals, and most other major towns and cities in the community with no more than one stopover. The issue is that you will be paying a surcharge for your bike, with the only exceptions being cercanías and metros.

It must be noted that you cannot take your bike on board an AVE, unless it is a certain size, is in a bag, and is dismantled. Trust me when I Say this, It is easier to fly your bike to the other side of the country than take it on this high-speed train. Media distancia, and regional exprés services however do allow your bike on board without any problems.

The train services from Provincial capitals and Algeciras are as followed:

  • Almería– Media Distancia to Linares- Baeza (Jaén) and to Granada. Its worth Noting that as of 2020 you can’t board any trains from Almería capital, but from Gador some 15km away due to engineering works.
  • Cádiz– Media Distancia to Jerez, Sevilla, Córdoba and Jaén. Cercanias to Jerez and el puerto de Santa maria. A tram service is also in the works.
  • Córdoba– Media Distancia to Jerez, Cádiz, Sevilla and Jaén. Cercanías to Villarubia and Alcolea
  • Granada– Media Distancia to Almería. There used to be a Media Distancia to Sevilla, but that has stopped. Metro in the city.
  • Huelva– Media Distancia to Sevilla, and to Extremadura.
  • Jaén- Media Distancia to Córdoba, Sevilla, Jerez and Cádiz. Used to be a tram in the city.
  • Malaga– Media Distancia to Ronda, Antequera, and Sevilla. Cercanias to Fuengirola, the airport, and Alora. 2 lines of Metro that are due to be expanded. Used to be a Tram to Velez-Malaga.
  • Sevilla– Media Distancia to Jaén, Cádiz, Jerez, Huelva, Córdoba, Malaga and Extremadura, 1 metro line, one tram line and 5 Cercanías lines, that reach as far as Lora del Rio, some 50km away.
  • Algeciras– Media Distancia to Ronda and Antequera.

Many of these Media distancia services are not very frequent, with some only operating one or two services a day, while others may have one almost every hour. You will be charged a minimum of 3€ to take your bike on board, and half of the time, the staff don’t even check.

Buses are possibly more useful if you want to connect to certain areas, companies like ALSA and Socibus are the main contenders, though some services in Cádiz use different companies like Comes, and Córdoba uses Carrera for certain journeys. It’s a little more difficult to know which companies are used and their timetables as comparison sites like Omio and Rome2rio do not have all of the companies on their sites. However, sometimes a bus is the only way, and connections like Malaga to Almería or Córdoba, and Granada to Jaén, Almería, Córdoba and Malaga as just a few examples, are impossible to travel with a bike.

5. The roads in Huelva are awful!

The conditions of the tarmac of many of the roads in Andalusia leave a lot to be desired, but you would think that the principle main roads which aren’t dual carriageways would be in reasonable condition, guess again. All the provinces are at fault here, though Malaga may have the smoothest roads around. The whole province of Huelva, barring Punta Umbria have a lot of issues. The odd crack here and there wouldn’t concern anybody, but here, you have to dodge potentially journey ending potholes and cracks more than anywhere else, and that goes for the entire autonomous region that I have visited so far.

No province is exempt from this, even Andalusia’s capital, but that shouldn’t put you off exploring these areas, and it really is pure luck as to which roads are good and which ones are going to ruin your buttocks. As a user of a road bike it is pretty important to know which roads are rough going and it does get annoying if you can’t fully open the taps in case you do some damage. Just be careful.

6. The remoteness of the region.

Many parts of Andalusia are heavily populated, especially on the coast, but some roads may have stretches of more than 30km without seeing a soul. The northern parts of Huelva, Córdoba, Granada, Jaén and Almería have small populations that are less likely to have everything you need in case you run into problems, as well as poor transit in many cases to return you to a major city with a bike. On the flip side, maybe these areas are best places to check out as you are likely to see places that are almost unheard of, and still be spectacular. Challenge accepted.

7. Urban bumpy rides.

The roads to reach certain towns may be challenging, but you’re not high and dry yet by any means once you reach a town or city in the south. Most of the old parts of town including the majority of major cities here, have cobbled streets running through them. In fact, Sevilla’s enormous city centre has tonnes of streets like this, and are almost completely unavoidable. Even small, rural farmers towns may have streets like that flowing through, even if you’re passing through. Brace yourself, that’s all I can say.

8. Cycling clubs and competitions are everywhere.

Spain, like the UK, has a strong and growing cycling culture, and Andalusia is up there among the popular places for competitions. Amateur and professional circuits were available pre-COVID era, and no doubt when the pandemic ends, they will recover and return. Competitions in many provinces would exist every one or two weeks, and you would have a variety of disciplines. The only thing I would watch out for though, would be that some require mountain bikes and not road bikes. Another important point is that signing up to a race is sometimes complicated, as they might not have instructions in English, and sometimes you have to pay for your inscription separately via bank transfer.

9. Renting a bike

Andalusia is catching up with urban travel, and many places are trending with the idea of renting bikes. However, few cities have public rental stations and their availability are few and far between (Córdoba only has about 2 or 3 stations). The best thing to do is find a bike rental shop as it is a lot easier and you are more likely to get around town on them, and what’s more, many shops are renting electric bikes too. The problem you may face, is actually opening times, and the season. You are not going to find as many places open, so you will have to plan properly. This section pretty much applies to every region in Spain except Barcelona and Madrid.

10. The Camino De Santiago is also here!

Pilgrimage routes flow through all parts of Spain, but Andalusia has a load of routes that go through some amazing places, and vary in popularity. The Via de la Plata is a very popular route from the south which starts in Sevilla and ends in Astorga when it connects to the Camino Francés in Castilla y León, or continues directly to Santiago via Ourense. The main routes that pass through the heart of this region is the Camino Mozarabe. Starting points can be anywhere from Granada, Almería, Jaén and Malaga, all of which pass through Córdoba and connect to the Vía de la Plata in Mérida.

Alternatively, you can also attempt the Camino del Sur, which connects Huelva with Zafra in Extremadura, which again, is the Via de la Plata. Finally, there’s the Vía Augusta which connects Cádiz and Jerez with Sevilla and subsequently, yep you’ve got it, the Vía de la Plata. The popularity of these routes are hit and miss, but they are becoming more well known, especially from the starting points of Sevilla and Cadiz. Again, timing is crucial because of the hot summer, and as many guides suggest, it can be a lonely experience at times.

Coca de Recapte, For Any Occasion.

You may end up wondering through a random street in any town along the Catalan speaking coast, and feel a little peckish and wonder into any bakery that may be around. The chances are that you are going to come across what looks like square pizza without the cheese, and several varieties of them in the window. Then, you see someone come in and order a whole of of these baked goods in a special box to take to an event of some kind. Coca de Recapte everybody.

This pastry is an extremely popular in the east of Spain, especially in the Catalan regions of Tarragona and Lleida, but what surprises me is how diverse it is. You can see it at a 5 year old’s birthday party, or at an executive event with the suited and booted. The origins are unclear for the original recipe, but it’s said to come from La Noguera in Lleida or somewhere near Tarragona. Wherever it’s from, many bakeries from both regions have earned a following, prompting people to travel several miles out of their way to buy one.

But what exactly is coca de recapte? Essentially thin baked bread which has a similar consistency of pizza dough (though the ingredientsare not the same as pizza dough) which is topped with escalivada, another eastern Spanish favourite of roasted and skinned aubergines and red peppers, with sardines or anchovy. However, the number of variants are also always present, but not overwhelming. Onion is often a common topping, as well as butifarra, a sausage common in this part of the country, black pudding, tuna, mushrooms and goats cheese are the main additions or substitutions at play here. You may find that many large sharing coques have different ingredients piled on to various parts of them so they can be sliced and presented like a platter.

My first experience with coca de recapte came around 2014 when I moved to Reus in Catalonia and my host family took me to a town some 15km away called Les Borges Del Camp to pick up a Coca from a bakery that had a renowned reputation. My impression is that the base is quite dry, but the olive oil helps, and the toppings complement it a lot, making it an enjoyable experience overall. From then onwards, I was used to seeing it on the table for most gatherings, and it became almost a normality until I moved to Andalucía, where you don’t see it very often at all. I think one of the reasons why it is so popular in Catalonia is because it is very easy to share, and is topped with aubergines and peppers, which is such an important element in Catalan cuisine.

Despite this pastry being everywhere on the Catalan speaking Mediterranean coast, you will almost certainly not find it in a restaurant, but rather a café if you want to sample it for yourself. They don’t cost much either, around 1.50€ 2.50€ for a standard slice or individual one. The cost of whole ones to share really do depend on the place, but you won’t be ripped off at all, and the best part is, their availability and easiness to prepare makes them infallible to tourist traps. So even if you are in the centre of Barcelona and you want to buy one, the prices are very rarely inflated as locals are more likely to buy them. Be aware that if you order just coca, you might get the sweet version, like a sugar bun, which are very popular with children.

So if you fancy a savoury snack, and you happen to be in a bakery, then by all means, ditch the pizza, or empanadas and give coca de recapte a go for a change at least once. It won’t blow you away, but you will blend in a lot more and it is quite healthy as far as snacks go, and they are delicious. If you decide to move to the Catalan coast, get used to them, as they are there to stay, and you may find yourself going for seconds when at a celebration with a glass of Cava to hand. There you have it, coca de recapte, check it out for yourself.

A Hiking Tour of Las Médulas, León

Nestled in the Cantabrian mountains in the northwest of Spain, almost bordering Galicia, is a village with an ancient history known as Las Médulas. It was one of the first places I visited when I moved to León, and one that I would happily return to in a heartbeat. Despite being one of the most iconic places to visit and hike in León province, it’s not well known to foreigner visitors at all, despite the many promotions I had seen before going there.

One of the reasons why Las Médulas is not well known is perhaps due to its difficulty getting there, especially without any working knowledge of Spanish. There are no regular bus services to get there, but a taxi there is affordable as you’re close to the city of Ponferrada which is the best connected place around. Another option is to take the Regional Exprés train service to Covas, and get a taxi to Las Médulas. Alternatively, you can hire a bus for large groups or go on a guided tour from León, and many companies can operate day- long excursions as such. It is a hassle, but worth it.

Starting in Las Médulas village, there’s one key goal, get to the top of the mountain. The car park is actually located at the start of the village and you have to pass through it to get to the main path, which is about half a kilometre or so. Another popular starting point is from the village of Orellán on the other side of the mountain. One thing you immediately start to notice, is that the distinctly terracotta-coloured rock in many places. The village itself has a notable number of guesthouses and information points about the mountains you are about to see and it’s history, and you discover that this is actually man made from the Roman times when they mined for gold here. While the evidence is around, to somebody who isn’t an expert like myself, you would never have guessed that man created this.

There’s a point where the road splits into 3 routes, all of which will take you to important points of the hike. if you take the right option, you will climb to the Cuevas de Reirigo, and then along the ridge to popular viewpoints at the top of the mountain. The middle and left choices are part of a circuit along the woodland areas of the ancient mine, but have paths branching off in various directions. The middle path was the one our guides decided to use as there’re some paths that also take you to the top of the ridge. This path is also the most common choice for hikers in general as it isn’t technically difficult in any way if you were to do the circuit which is about 3km long.

The walk is largely uneventful for the first kilometre until you are presented with the option of climbing up the mountain, which we did. Before then, there were flashes of unusual rock formations from time to time. and it doesn’t take long before you reach the ridge and start getting better views. The climb is not challenging at all, only 100m or so, and then you are on the ridge itself, heading to a viewpoint called the Mirador de Orellán. If you took the path on the right at the junction of Las médulas village, you would have reconnected to this route, after reaching the Cuevas de Reirigo and the Pico de Placias and walking another 2km.

The viewpoint is an elevated wooden deck with views that are the most iconic of the whole trip, and me and the group of 30+ Erasmus students were all in awe of it all, taking as much of it in as we could. The other side of the ridge also showed mountains over 1500m high, which during winter would almost certainly have snow on them. There are also many other viewpoints that you can climb to from this point, and you can descend to Orellán very easily from here. The treats to your hike don’t stop there however, you have to go back a few clicks to enjoy them.

You need to return back down the mountain to the main path and follow it, eventually, you will reach the man made caves, and the path will divert from time time, but stick to the main route and the terracotta peaks and cliffs start to be come common place. Many of the caves are visible and there’s one called La Cuevona which you can actually enter and climb into some of them. There are plenty of places to explore, and most of them are safe to do so, and the best part is that the path is always nearby.

Descending back into the village is a bit narrow at times, but you constantly surrounded by the jagged peaks and cliffs all around you, and it doesn’t take very long to get back. The experience takes about 2-3 hours, depending on how long the route is that you want to take and how much of the caves you want to explore We arrived there at around 3pm and left the place at around 6-6:30pm. It’s worth noting that if you visit Las Médulas, you must stop off at Lago de Carucedo at some point that day, which offers various activities on the lake as well as the perfect chillout spot, before or after your hike.

I’d recommend anyone to visit Las Médulas should the opportunity present itself, and you are guaranteed amazing views both on top of the mountain, and at the bottom. Whether you are not used to hiking, or have a load of experience, this is worth checking out, and you decide how long you want to go for. This is well known locally, but so few people from outside know about it, so it’s time to break the mold and see what the fuss is about, don’t you agree?