Tremp- Santa Maria de Engracia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Guide: Gijón/ Xixón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell my Brazilian Brother

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

Exposing the biggest stereotype of Spain: The Climate

There’s the old saying, ‘The rain in Spain falls on the plain’, and there are stereotypes suggesting that it’s always hot and sunny in Spain, and that they drink Gazpacho and Sangria to keep cool and always take a siesta. All of this is as inaccurate as people suggesting that it rains in Britain everyday and it’s always cold, which again, is not true either. So what is it really like here?

First let’s look at geography. It’s more complicated than just looking at north and south and eat and west. Spain is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe with plateaus, lush, green hills, deserts, mountains more than double the height of Ben Nevis, and glaciers, yes you read that right, glaciers. If you decide to live in or visit a certain town here, It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Even a summer break doesn’t guarantee hot sunny weather, though it is more likely, and winters may experience colder days than back in England.

Living in Spain presents more challenges with the weather than you think. I live in Córdoba, and in winter, temperatures are around 15 degrees in January, but about 5 at night. That might sound amazing for a brit, but houses are designed differently , and not as well equipped for the cold compared to in Britain. Central heating isn’t a given in various parts of the country, and we suffer for it big time. House don’t always have balconies or terraces for us to enjoy the outdoors, but when we do have them, we have times where you don’t want to use them.

Let’s start with the North of Spain, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and most parts of the Basque Country, colloquially known as Green Spain. Why is known as that? because it has rolling green hills and mountains, and rugged coastlines that are lush and green, like England. It rains as much if not more than England too due to the Atlantic influence and the Cantabrian Mountains keeping most of the humidity on the coastal side. Temperatures are very similar to that of London during the summer, and are a little warmer in winter, so anyone complaining about how hot it is in Sevilla maybe should book a weekend in Gijón next time.

Now let’s have a look at the alpine areas of Spain, of which there are so many. The climate in Winter can be very extreme, with snow a feature in almost every autonomous community (even the Canary Islands). You will definitely experience a sub-zero experience, even at the bottom of the Valley. Pamplona, Vitoria- Gasteiz, and Teruel are Provincial capitals that are in the mountains and experience wintery weather pretty much every year, and you don’t have to travel far to reach mountains that are snow-capped. Even Granada and Jaén in Andalucía will have a wintery scene on their doorstep every once in a while. Storm Filomena in January 2021 brought temperatures as low as -29 degrees in the Teruel region, and temperatures -15 or lower in other mountain regions.

Summer in the mountains can bring some nice heat, but stay fresh at high altitude areas, especially the Pyrenees, where the glaciers are. Many Spanish people will go to the mountain areas in summer to escape the heat. the Cantabrian mountains and the Sierra Nevada will also have snow patches on the highest peaks until well into the summer which encourage hikers and extreme sports enthusiasts to visit.

The centre of Spain has one of the harshest climates in the whole country, being largely located on a high-altitude plateau called La Meseta Central. Divided between north and south via the Sistema Central mountains, the climate follows suit, and the North, being higher on the whole, has harder winters and more temperature variations between night and day. Major cities like León, Valladolid, Salamanca and Burgos are there, and some of the smaller provincial capitals like Soria, are over 1000m in altitude and have one of the hardest climates around. It’s normal to have sub-zero night temperatures in winter, and single figure night temperatures in Summer. I used to live in León, and there were spring days that would be in the mid 20’s and drop to zero at night.

The south side of the Meseta may have it a little better, but they are faced with even more distinct seasons than the north, and temperatures occasionally reaching 40 in summer and having a snow day or two in winter. Madrid is there, as well as the old Capital, Toledo, Cuenca and Albacete. Homes on the Meseta are usually well equipped for winter with central heating, but some might not have air conditioning. It isn’t as necessary in the Meseta Norte because of the cooler nights.

The majority of the Mediterranean coast, and the Costa de la Luz has the climate that is most famous for Brits abroad in the summer. Major cities like Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Tarragona, Cadiz and Palma are all in this zone, and have some of the warmest winters in Europe. That’s not to say that you are guaranteed an amazing life there. Winters will drastically reduce the amount of businesses staying open in. Certain areas. Salou is almost empty for 4 months of the year, but it is understandable since the sea is cold, there’s a notable chilly wind around. And it’s usually the most unsettled time.

I used to live in the Tarragona area for a couple of years, and while you could visit monuments all year round, and enjoy some quiet moments at the beach, there’s definitely a different vibe and some people don’t like this change. This is the part where Brits don’t understand until they experience it themselves, it’s warmer than Britain, but in general, it’s not much warmer. It’s one of the biggest reality checks you get when you are off-peak. Even Cadiz and Malaga is notably different during this time, but there is plenty to do and enjoy still, it just won’t be what you imagined. The Balearic Islands are in the same situation, though more extreme.

Don’t think this excludes the Costa Blanca, Costa Cálida, and Costa de Almería either, the driest part of the peninsula. Alicante, Elche, Murcia, Cartagena and Almería lie in the true desert of Iberia, but that doesn’t mean the weather is always easy. This part has more sun than pretty much anywhere else in Spain, but it also has more flooding issues, because when it rains, it pours. Don’t let that put you off though, because if you really don’t like the cold, this may be the area. Almería is the only city as of 2021 to have never registered a freezing temperature. Heat here, can be just as tough as the rest of the Spanish Costas, but if you’re by the sea, you will cope just fine. But that doesn’t stop many Brits turning into a lobster!

Temperatures along the whole coast are anywhere from 14 on the Catalan coast, to 18 or so around Malaga, Almeria and Cartagena, and any time in winter you can enjoy 20 degrees and shelter yourself from the wind. A light jacket, and your fine, protect yourself from the wind and you’ll easily get through the winter. Heaters at night, are practically non-existent, you will probably end up with some small, electric heater on at night.

The Ebro Valley from La Rioja, to Mora la Nova in Tarragona is the 2nd driest part of the peninsula after Almería, but has a lot of extremes that are more notable than the coast. Winters can be very windy due to the Cierzo, a very chilly wind that can be quite unpleasant, but rarely freezing, and subsequently, can cause fog further east. I lived in Lleida, where the Cierzo wind could be really strong, or struggle to reach 5 degrees because of thick fog.

Summers are almost as extreme as parts of Andalusia, with temperatures regularly passing 35 degrees all the way up to Logroño, and occasionally reach 40+. The dryness and high temperatures can make it a dangerous environment for farmers during that time, and there are cases of heat-related hospitalisations during this time. Take care when outside here. The positive is that it doesn’t rain much, and you for the most part can enjoy sunny weather more often than not.

Now we head to the hottest part of Spain, where most of the temperature records are, and the highest summer average in the whole of Europe can be found here. The interior part of Andalusia, majority of Extremadura, interior part of Valencia, and Tortosa in Catalonia are the places that many travellers are totally not prepared for, and those living here, will often escape to the beach when they can. Sevilla, Badajoz, Mérida, Cáceres Córdoba, Jaén, Granada, Jerez, Xàtiva, and Tortosa are the major towns and cities that are in this zone.

There’s a place, known as the ‘Frying pan of Europe’ due to it having the highest summer average at just over 37 degrees in July callied Écija, in Sevilla province. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Spain is officially in Montoro, Córdoba. You question why someone would want to live somewhere like that, but the answer is that it isn’t always, and that there are rainy days and mild to warm days for the better part of 5 months of the year, and you are more comfortable that you thought you would be.

Similar to that of Almería and Murcia, when it rains, it can be quite a sharp shower, and occasionally quite a big storm from the heat may hit these parts. Winters are a little chilly at night, but usually mid- teens during the day, though you can get a night below freezing. You can however, enjoy the winter sun and not need anymore than a jumper, or sometimes even just a t-shirt will do. After the Mediterranean coast, winters in these parts are the most comfortable. Just don’t expect to see any snow.

The last climate Spain has to offer, is the sub-tropical area of the Canary Islands. I haven’t explored this area yet, but from what friends have told me, is that it is dryer the further east you are, and temperatures are warm to hot, all year round, except the peaks of the higher mountains, which can have snow on them during the winter. Despite the dryness at times, heavy overnight dews can give the impression that it has rained in these areas. A similar thing happens in places like Florida. I totally understand why somebody would want to live somewhere like the Canary Islands. The cold practically doesn’t exist, you can find it if you want it, and rain is a similar level to that of Murcia, depending on the island. But just like the rest of Spain, nothing is perfect.

There you have it, a country that has a bigger variety of climactic differences than probably any other European country. In conclusion, plan for the weather properly here, because Spain is not just Mediterranean, it’s alpine, arid, British and everything else in between. Make sure you have a just in case section in your luggage.

City Guide: Córdoba, Andalucía

A city with a name that is replicated all over Latin America, Córdoba is growing in reputation as a city that must be visited during any visit to Andalucía. It usually isn’t even in the top 3 for visitors, who often put Sevilla, Granada, Malaga and Cádiz higher on the list. After visiting this city, you might reconsider a few things. I first visited Córdoba in 2013 with my brother, and spent just one night there. 6 years later, I moved there permanently, and haven’t looked back since, and this blog, along with all the others to date, have been published directly from this place. Welcome to a very personal guide of Córdoba, Andalucía.

First things first as always with my guides, is how to get there. Córdoba is very well connected with the rest of Andalucía, and has direct train services to all the provincial capitals except Almería and Huelva (Change at Sevilla and Granada respectively). It is also on the AVE line which from there, the main railroad splits and heads to Sevilla, Malaga and Granada. The other direction is from the very first AVE connection to Madrid, and subsequently connects to Zaragoza and Barcelona. Valencia is also connected with one or two daily trains via a different route.

Buses will pretty much take you to almost any other part of the country directly or via a connection. When I moved from Tarragona to Córdoba, there was just 1 connection at Ubeda and I only paid 75€ for it. Alsa and Socibus make the majority of the long-distance routes, whereas Carrera will take you to more local places like Lucena, 2nd largest city in the province. The airport in Córdoba does not currently have any commercial flights, so the nearest airports are Sevilla, Malaga and Granada. For me, the best ways back to England aren’t usually via Granada, so compare your flights with the other two.

Despite being the third biggest city in Andalucía, The infrastructure of Córdoba is quite basic. There is no metro, nor tram, but an extensive bus network by Aucorsa, where journeys cost 1.30€ each (buying a card for 5€ reduces the price to 0.76€ a journey, but this isn’t worth it for visitors). They are pretty efficient and can take you to most parts of town easily barring the old quarter, where you will have to walk more often than not. The chances are that you would never need to use a bus in order to see most of the attractions, though for transit between the city centre and the train and bus station.

The climate of Córdoba is extreme in summer, and mild or cool in winter. At an average of 37 degrees in July, The city has the hottest average summer high in the whole of Europe Only Ecija (Sevilla) is higher. During the summer of 2020, the mercury reached 45 on several occasions, and this kind of extreme temperature reflects the dip in number of tourists during June, July and August. The busiest times are actually around April, May, September and October when the weather is a more comfortable. Winters are usually a little wetter, and night temperatures can drop below freezing, so a jacket is advisable. Even in winter, you can easily enjoy the outdoors in jeans and a t-shirt on occasions as the temperature can reach 20+ degrees even in January.

On to the sights and one thing you must be aware of, is that the old quarter is one of the biggest in Europe, and I divided it into 4 sections: the commercial centre, the Judería, San Basilio, and Realejo/ San Lorenzo/ San Pedro. Here’s what you need to know about them.

The commercial centre/ centro commercial is as the name suggests where the majority of the shopping areas are in the city, and is where one of the main squares, the Plaza Tendillas is. This is the part of town that has seen the most changes over the last 100 years, with various buildings typical of eras ranging from the 19th-20th centuries. It is also a very popular place for locals and young people, who often meet in Tendillas and may fill the bars nearby.

Many of the narrow, windy streets have been changed over the years and made wider like the main shopping street, Cruz Conde. There are actually indications on the floor detailing the old streets and even a model showing the different eras. Many old streets still remain, and among some of the churches in the area, you can still find old classic white buildings even in this part. The Plaza de Capuchinos and Calle Conde de Torres Cabrera are the best examples of this.

San Basilio is the smallest neighbourhood, and has some of the most important attractions that aren’t in the Judería, Such as the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, and next to that, Córdoba Ecuestre. The Alcazar and its extensive gardens are a must see, and has some examples of Moorish architecture and views of the city along the walls. The Gardens however, are my favourite part, as they show the impressive irrigation system that’s been in place for years. During the night, especially in summer, there are light and water shows there which when I first visited, were free with the ticket (5€), but during some periods they now charge you. The Ecuestre centre is the place famous for the andaluz horses, and you can visit the stables, as well as enjoy the dressage shows in the evening.

San Basilio is also famous for the Patios de Córdoba, and some of the most beautiful are usually judged to be here. The museum of Patios Cordobeses is in this Neighbourhood, and the narrow streets, almost entirely surrounded by the castle walls are nowhere near as busy as the Judería. There is also the Museo de los Baños del Alcazar Califal, which takes you underground and enjoy the sights of the old moorish baths, on the border between San Basilio and the Judería.

The Realejo/ San Lorenzo/ San Pedro area is the biggest part of the old quarter and possibly the most underrated part of town. You can easily get lost in almost endless, narrow streets which are almost always photogenic as they always seem to have a church or two in the background. Here, you can find the Plaza de Corredera, the only square in Córdoba with passageways and arches and is full of life, with restaurants and the local market. You also have the Palacio de Viana, known for it’s courtyards and gardens and during the COVID pandemic, it’s also free to enter if you book.

What you might end up doing however, is enjoying the walk down various narrow streets, visiting any church, of which there are many, and relaxing in one of the many squares around, many of which have bars taking advantage of the area. I happen to live in this area, and it is surprisingly easy to get lost, and live a normal life without having to walk miles to do your weekly shop. The closer to the river you get however, the more touristic it becomes, though you will very likely see locals around these areas too.

The Judería is definitely the most popular part of town for tourists, is the oldest part of town, and the whole neighbourhood is a UNESCO world Heritage site. The Mezquita, the city’s cathedral has quite possibly one of the strangest, but also most spectacular interiors of any other cathedral in Spain. It follows hundreds of years of building and expanding and changes in religion, resulting in a gothic and moorish fusion of architecture. There are hundreds of arches surrounding the Christian scene in the centre, and you can tell which parts of the cathedral are older. A standard ticket to enter costs 11€ which is 3€ more than when I first visited in 2013, but there is a hack to this. If you enter the Mezquita between 8:30-9:30, it is free entry, for everybody. This does however exclude certain religious days, and many Sundays, so be aware.

The Judería is also home to a number of other sights, including the synagogue, Casa Andalusí, Patios Andaluces, Museo Taurino, Puente Romano and the Calahorra, the two latter monuments being on the Guadalquivir river with the Mezquita overlooking it. Some of these places charge a small fee of a couple of euros, but there’re no charge for the Patios, nor the Puente Romano, the oldest bridge in the city. With just these attractions alone, you can probably make a good day of it, depending on how much of a rush you’re in.

Souvenir shops are quite a prominent feature in this part of town, mostly on the streets surrounding the Mezquita and some of the streets are extremely photogenic, specifically the Calleja de las flores which I would visit as early as possible and your quality of the photo will depend on the season due to the flowers. There are also a few Arab baths in case you want a proper chill out, the Hammam and the Baños Arabes de Córdoba are located here and easy to find.

Outside the centre, There are some attractions a little out of the way that are more than worth the journey. The Medina Azahara, a UNESCO world heritage site 8km or so from the city centre, and is accessible by bus and bicycle. There, you have a visitor centre and the ruins of the ancient moorish kingdom that that offer views of Córdoba city in the distance. If you’re looking for more views though, I would recommend Las Ermitas on the tallest hill that immediately overlooks Córdoba. This place is series of crosses and shrines that is popularly hiked up to, from the city and only cost a couple of Euros to visit, should you decide to enter the premises.

Eating out in Córdoba was a pleasant surprise to me, as I realised just how many unique dishes were on offer here that were local. The typical dishes here include; Salmorejo (cold tomato soup with eggs, Jamón and bread) Flamenquín, Berenjenas con miel (fried aubergines with honey or sweet wine), San Jacobo (similar to a cordon bleu) and Rabo de Toro. Other dishes popular here are Naranjas Picadas which often go with salads and fish, Berenjenas a la montillana, a different kind of aubergine and tortilla. Many places often compete with each other for who has the biggest flamenquín or biggest tortilla or best rabo de toro, nice to know they want their customers to have the most unique experience ever, right?

In most restaurants you are going to see at least one of the aforementioned dishes on the menu, given how good they are, and how much the locals like them. Now let’s explore where are the best places to eat. The Judería is going to throw traditions at you and understandably, there is a mark-up on the prices, but the difference isn’t that big. you can enjoy the food as well as the odd flamenco show which are on offer in many places there. The Judería is also a minefield of tourist traps, and I can tell you now, if you are paying more the 3.50€ for a tapa, it has to be pretty special to be worth that much. One place around the Mezquita where locals keep coming back for more is Santos, where you can sample a slice of one of the biggest tortillas in the country at a reasonable price.

Other zones around the city are notably cheaper for the most part, the better places being around Avenida Gran Capitan, In the city centre, Ciudad Jardín near the train station, and scattered around the San Lorenzo area, where there are some amazing places like Taberna Santi and Sociedad Plateros. most places in the city, will give you a tapa free with a drink, though it is often Olives and crisps. In Ciudad Jardín, you are more likely to get something different. All I can say is, they are a very light bite and are more an appetiser for you to order a media ración of something.

It’s worth noting that the Plaza de Corredera has nice places to eat, but it’s a little more expensive there, and quality of the food is a little hit and miss there, but the atmosphere makes up for it. The Mercado Victoria is like the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, amazing food, buzzing atmosphere, but a bit pricey. It does have some night life there to keep the locals beyond midnight.

Speaking of nightlife, Córdoba has quite a lot of places for going out, but not in the Judería, which is empty for the most part after 1:00, but the commercial centre has places scattered around that keep going until sunrise. There are also notable spots by the river and in Ciudad Jardín which may be worth checking out.

While there may be events all year round in Córdoba, the springtime seems to be the most active. Easter, with the huge parades Feria de Abril and Los Patios all happen around this time. You will also see pop up bars from around February-May selling Caracoles (snails) in many popular places in the city. There is also San Rafael in September which is the patron saint, where people party for a three day weekend. During these times, crowds and one-way systems are formed in the centre, and while the atmosphere is amazing, it makes mobility slow- going. In fact, around the Mezquita during Easter, panels are set up preventing people from seeing the parades without paying for a seat. It can all be a hassle and a more expensive experience, but there are more positives than negatives, so don’t let it put you off.

Hotels and hostels are abundant in Córdoba, and even during peak times, it’s easy to find a bed for the night. Of course the majority of these places are, yep you’ve guessed it, in the Judería. There are some hostels around that cater for younger people, hostal Osio was a good place to stay, just a stone’s throw away from the Mezquita. Esencia de Azahar was also a very pleasant experience. During off peak times, you can easily find a private room for 30€ a night, and they will very likely have some amazing chill out spots on the roof if you are in the older part of town.

There you have it, my adopted city, and I feel so lucky to be living here. I hope you will understand why when you are able to visit Córdoba for yourself. If you want to see a city with so much colour, historic culture, and monuments that are unique, I would highly recommend this place becomes part of your itinerary if you are visiting Andalusia for a week. Just be aware that in summer, you are in for a sweltering time.

Cecina de León, The beef equivalent of Jamón Serrano

Throughout the whole of Spain, its not surprising to notice that dry cured meats in their various forms are ever- present in the culinary scene. Of course jamón and chorizo are found everywhere, but there is another big time player that you may come across in various parts of the country, and that is cecina. I actually discovered this dish while preparing for my Erasmus year in León and was determined to give it a try when I arrived.

Castilla de León is the place of origin, specifically León, and is most famous there, as well as in neighbouring provinces of Palencia and Zamora. Two types has a protected geographic indication status, in León and Vegacervera respectively and the taste is distinct. The word cecina doesn’t exclusively refer to beef, but also horse, goat, lamb and rabbit, though these varieties are not as easy to find compared to the beef version, which is available around the whole country in restaurants and most supermarkets.

cecina is usually served cold as a tapa, an appetiser, or first course, but many people may order it as a ración to share alongside other dishes round the table. Just like jamón ibérico, or serrano, it’s normal to have it served with bread and olive oil, with the only difference being that the colour of the meat is usually darker. Some people who have tried it, have claimed the taste and texture is like beef jerky, but I disagree with that. It’s texture is a fraction tougher than jamón, but less than jerky, and the taste is mixture of dry cure and a mild beefy taste. It’s very difficult to describe, but I can say, if you like like Jamón serrano, you are probably going to like this too.

There are not many recipes that actively use cecina as a key ingredient, but many other local dishes combine with it to make an ultimate Leonés experience, especially queso de valdeón and pimientos de Bierzo. The standout recipe I have seen in restaurants when I visited león however, were croquetas de cecina, but I’m in two minds on whether they are better than the standard jamón version. The croquetería, Rebote serves them as one of the 7 varieties that comes free with a beer, so if you’re in Barrio Humedo, see what you think for yourself.

The cost of Cecina, doesn’t vary nearly as much as jamón does, and there is no official grading system like ibéricos. The cost usually is based on how long the meat is cured (which is a minimum of 7 months), and the quality of the cut. The pack I usually buy at the supermarket, costs around 2.50€ for a 100g pack, whereas in restaurants, you can find it for over 10€ for a Ración. Many places may include it in the set menu, of which it would be real value for money. All I can say, is that it is worth every cent.

So there you have it, cecina. Rich in history, rich and flavourful in taste, and a nice change to Jamón once in a while. This is testament that Spain love dry-curing almost everything and they all deserve the same treatment. Whether it’s an appetiser, a tapa or part of a banquet you have decided to order at once, take your time, and enjoy the flavour for what it is. You’ll understand what I mean when you do.

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.