08 February 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Chapel in Sierra Sur de Jaen

On a recent Sunday afternoon explore we discovered this delightful little chapel entrance in the Sierra Sur de Jaen.

Where to stay in Sierra Sur? Casa Rural El Reguelo.

01 February 2016

Monday Morning Photo - The King's Fountain, Priego de Cordoba

The King's Fountain or Fuente del Rey in Priego de Cordoba is an incredible Baroque work of art in marble. Building began in the XVI century but it wasn't completed until XIX century.

The three pools on different levels are edged by 139 water spouts and in the center pool is a Neptune and Anfitrite riding a cart.

24 January 2016

Spain's Prettiest Villages

More of Spain's prettiest villages have joined the increasingly popular 'Los Pueblos Mas Bonitos de Espana' association which now totals 44 gorgeous, historical small towns with a population of under 15,000 people.

Zuheros @LosPueblosMasBonitosdeEspana

Zuheros, just over the border into Cordoba province from my home province Jaen , is now one of the 'official' pretty towns or villages. I have to agree, over the twenty years of living here I've seen it from the main road with the looming Subbetica mountains behind and explored its nooks and crannies many times, it is delightful.

If you plan your visit well you might taste some of the local delicacies in the September 'Cheese Fair'. The Cuevas de Murcielagos or Bat's Caves are a great descent underground and overground it is on the Via Verde de la Subbetica part of the network of 'Greenways' that are walking or cycling routes on what used to be the old train network to transport olive oil to the south.

Where to stay? My own rustic holiday home - Casa El Reguelo makes an ideal, quiet, country spot for exploring this lovely region, it's about 40 km from Zuheros, 30 mins from Jaen city and in the Sierra Sur de Jaen, Spain's main olive oil producer.

See the official website for more on Spain's Prettiest Villages

21 January 2016

The White Town Route - Andalucia's White Villages

The White Town Route, although not exactly a mapped route but a collection of towns, was established by the Spanish Tourist Board in the 1970s. The towns and villages not only here but in the majority of Andalucia have been white for a lot longer.

At the beginning of the XIX century the yellow fever, thought to have been brought back by the ships that returned from the Americas, became rampant. People fled the coast into the hills to try and escape but the infection spread rapidly. The King ordered that all houses were painted with cal or limewash, a disinfectant in Moorish times, to quell the disease. Since those days the villages and towns have been white. They all have a rich history from the Moors, Romans, Christian invasions and bandits.

The White Town List

Alcala del Valle
Arcos de La Frontera
Arcos de la Frontera
El Bosque
El Gastor
Prado del Rey
Puerto Serrano
Setenil de las Bodegas
Torre Alhaquime
Villaluenga del Rosario
Zahara de la Sierra

Most of these towns lie within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park in Cadiz province and some straggle over the border into Malaga province.

The White Town Route - Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos

Enjoy magnificent views, amazing history, decorated streets, courtyards and local food with natural ingredients. There are many beautiful white hill towns, 19, some of my favourites are Benaojan, El Gastor, Arcos de la Frontera, Grazalema, Setenil de las Bodegas and Zahara de la Sierra.

Arcos de la Frontera

Larger than most other towns, like a princess Arcos sits athrone a rocky ridge, spreading along the top. The lovely Plaza del Cabildo has the best views of the area looking across from its cliff top perch. These days it's two towns in one, the old and the new. Both are worth a wander and peak.

The last remaining convent still make and sells freshly baked cakes and biscuits. Ring the bell and some delicious goodies will appear on the tiny turntable for your appraisal

Grazalema @andalucia.org


Another pretty hill town has a royal balcony for great views. It's very rural being in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, Spain's wettest spot, but very often it doesn't reach the town.

Zahara de la Sierra

Zahara de la Sierra

The tiny town of Zahara has a magical Moorish castle which is now a ruin climb up for some spectacular views. Walk the cobbled streets and there is also a great olive oil mill to visit.

See my post about Setenil de las Bodegas or if you like castles - Castles in Cadiz Province

18 January 2016

Monday Morning Photos - Along the Balcony at Priego de Cordoba

A walk along the balcony at Priego de Cordoba with fabulous metal work and gorgeous never-ending views of the Subbetica Cordobesa mountains.

11 January 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Narrow Spanish Streets

Do I have long arms or is this street narrow?

To complement the quirky corner of the White Village Setenil de las Bodegas photo I had to have this snapped just yesterday in Priego de Cordoba.

04 January 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Ceramic Tiles in Cordoba

There's something about ceramic tiles, especially old ones, that always catch my eye and have me reaching for the camera. A wander around Cordoba recently was no different, I spotted a charming chemist's sign on the corner of a building.

 Shame about the mirror (no I haven't got Photoshop and wouldn't know what to do with it if I had) but when  I cropped the photo it isn't any near as intriguing.

Which photo do you prefer?

27 December 2015

Why do they Eat Grapes at Midnight in Spain?

Instead of dancing around singing Auld Lang Syne the Spanish tradition is popping a grape into your mouth at every stroke of the clock. Twelve strikes, twelve grapes. It may sound easy but pop in, eat, swallow and then pop in another one isn't as easy as it sounds. But why do they do it? I asked many Spaniards and nobody actually knew but the some had a rough theory.

Grapes at Midnight Tradition

The most popular story dates back to the early 1900s when a bumper harvest of white grapes led to producers sharing them out to one and all, and so began the tradition of popping grapes on New Year's Eve. Of course these days you can buy them prepacked, 12 to a tin or tub all ready for the countdown.

So why not give it a go? Large white seedless grapes and preferably a large mouth make for a quieter New Year's Eve as everyone is busy chewing, swallowing and popping. You have a few days to get in some practice before 31st December.

Happy New Year.

13 December 2015

Top Ten Best Hotels in Andalucia

According to the popular Spanish hotel and booking site Trivago the Top Ten Best Hotels in Andalucia for 2015 are:

1 - Vincci Seleccion Aleysa in Benalmadena
Balcon de Cordoba

2 - Balcon de Cordoba in Cordoba

3 - Molino del Santo in Benaojan, Malaga

4 - La Fuente de la Higuera in Ronda

5 - Casa del Poeta in Sevilla

6- Aire de Ronda in Ronda, Malaga

7- Alcoba in Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz

8 - Hotel Viento 10 in Cordoba

9 - Casa Grande in Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz

10 - La Almunia del Valle in Monachil, Granada

Mostly private these hotels range from the 3-bedroomed Aire de Ronda to the Costa del Sol's first-line Vincci Seleccion Aleysa.

Read my Review of Balcon de Cordoba a gorgeous small, urban hotel two minutes from the Mezquita.

05 December 2015

'Star Tourism' UNESCO Starlight Reserves in Spain

Do you like to watch the stars at night? Where are the best areas for star gazing in Spain? Here is a list of Star Tourism spots also known as Starlight Reserves in Spain.

Sierra Morena mountain range is located in Andalucia, there is a marvellous network of star gazing vantage points and accommodation there. It also offers package holidays that include specialist guides, observation material, day and night activities, accommodation, 4x4 travel, etc.

The Sierra Sur de Jaen is a mountainous landscape, also in Andalucia, with canyons and clear, transparent skies . Different astronomy associations and the Andalusia Astronomy Observatory normally organise guided observation activities here. Some companies provide private astronomy guide services with large professional telescopes.

Martos, Sierra Sur de Jaen

El Montsec is a Starlight Tourist Destination in the foothills of the Pyrenees in Lleida in Catalonia. You could do no better in this area than pay a visit to its large astronomy park made up of the Universe Observation Centre (COU) and an Astronomy Observatory. Did you know that the well known “Montsec Eye” is to be found there, the 12-m dome of which opens out to bring you “face to face” with the Montsec sky?

Tenerife - Teide National Park and other peaks as well as the town of Granadilla de Abona hold Starlight certifications. If you like star gazing then watching them from a volcano at over 2,000 m is an amazing experience. Because of the geographical location of the Canary Islands both the northern and southern hemispheres are visible. Guided visits allow you to see inside one of the most modern telescopes.

La Palma, also known as the “beautiful or pretty island”, is the most rugged of the Canary Islands and also has the clearest skies. Most towns on the island have astronomy vantage points. Its famous Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory, stands at 2,400 m above sea level and has one of the world's most complex telescopes, it can be visited by prior arrangement.

Gredos Norte in the south Avila, has a network of star watching view points equipped with information panels, car parks, etc. The Astronomy and Astrophotography Congress is held there every year.

La Rioja has three areas: The Biosphere Reserves of the Valleys of Leza, Jubera, Cidacos and Alhama, the Laguna in Cameros and another in Cervera del río Alhama.

Would you like to stay in the Sierra Sur de Jaen? Casa El Reguelo holiday home in the heart of the area is only 1.5 hours from both Granada and Cordoba also near Jaen, Baeza and Ubeda. Book your own private star gazing exerience, either be collected from the house and taken to a pre-chosen spot or from the patio and garden of Casa El Reguelo - a unique starlight experience with AstroAndalus.

27 November 2015

Stepping Back to the 50s in Torremolinos

Having popped down to the Costa del Sol and Malaga's airport in Torremolinos no end of times to catch a flight or pick up family we realised never actually stayed there. So when a family birthday weekend occurred with members from the UK wanting nothing more than to step off the plane and unpack their bag it was obvious where our overnight stay would be.

The family chose an apartment one line back from the beach, no parking, pedestrianised, shops and busy. I wanted a small, quiet hotel with parking outside town, a car park and small being my priorities, stars and beach not so important. Those are not as easy to find as you might think in one of the busiest and most popular towns on the southern Spains's Costa del Sol.

Back to the 50s

I got to work. Planning is a huge part of my escapes and almost as much fun as the trip itself. It turned out that I didn't really have a lot of choice. Be in large, faceless chain hotels close to the others or a small, unique, independent hotel far away from the maddening crowd spots.

I found it,  2*s, out-of -the-way with a car park, and stepped back in time too at the unusual Hotel Anos 50. Not only a themed-boutique hotel with movie stars and décor of the 50s but quite amazingly very Spanish with only a smattering of English spoken, Spanish clientele and complete with a live singer on the Saturday night.

Famous Names

Having been greeted by large, portraits of a young Elvis Presley, Gene Kelly and Marilyn Monroe amongst red and black flower wallpaper we were shown to our room down a corridor bedecked by more famous names. Our room, rather surprisingly as we were quite far back from the beach, had a sea-over-rooftops view. While our room wasn't large, nor too compact we discovered we did have a huge jacuzzi bath and being only two (hubby and I) found there was room for more.

Wallow at Will

When presented with a large bath after an early start, longish drive and boozy lunch we chose to wallow rather than siesta. Well wallow and be bubble massaged and wallow some more. All too soon it was time to meet and eat with the family again and we chose a much needed twenty minute walk to join them on the promenade.

Had we not been meeting family we'd have had cocktails at the hotel cocktail bar and dined in the charming restaurant and reminisced with music from yesteryear.

Late Night Entertainment

Returning by taxi, I'm not sure we have found the hotel again on foot, our thought was to retire, we didn't need to partake of anything more but stepping into the bar we were seduced by its atmosphere and singer – it would have be rude to walk through and not have a night cap or two or sing along to songs of our youth.

Location Matters

A hotel with a difference, it may have been glamorous in its day ( which wasn't the 50s) now it's a little worn but with lots of charm and is very close to the airport for a convenient late-night or early morning flight stop-over.

For me it's miles away from the 'Costa del Sol' image and in every way was just the small, unique, independent spot I wanted for the night and I can say I've slept with many famous faces too.

Check out price of Hotel Anos 50.

12 November 2015

Via Verdes in Jaen, Andalucia

There are over 2,000 kms of Via Verde tracks or Greenways in Spain and more than 500km in Andalucia. These old railway tracks, now surfaced for bikes, pushchairs and walkers are a fabulous way to see parts of the interior that can't be seen by car. Since 1993 the Environmental Agency, local government and the Spanish Railway Foundation have worked together reclaiming and reconditioning these routes.

Weave between whitewashed villages, passed ancient railway stations and over some beautiful old bridges through gorgeous scenery, wonderful wild flowers and incredible peace. Being railway tracks the inclines are barely noticeable and great exercise for everybody.

Via Verdes in Jaen

Via Verde del Aceite - 54 Km

Via Verde del Guadalimar - 15.3 Km

Via Verde de Linares - 6.6 Km

Via Verde de Vadollano - 6.7 Km

Via Verde de Segura - 27.6 Km

More information, maps and routes can be found on Via Verdes in Andalucia