05 December 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Views from the Fortress, Alcazaba de Antequera

Fabulous views from the Torre del Homenaje at the Alcazaba in Antequera, in every direction keep a watch out for the enemy!




See the Monday Morning Photo list.

Read the Medium Sized Towns Overview post of the blogtrip to Antequera.



04 December 2016

Medium Sized Towns in Andalucia Overview - Antequera, Lucena & Alcala la Real

Recently I had the pleasure of joining Tu Historia and some of the Andalucia Travel Bloggers on a three-town trip and what a time we had!

Here's an overview of our two-day, one night itinerary. We arrived at the dolmens in Antequera to find an explosion of visitors since being incorporated as a UNESCO world heritage site as one of the most highly valued prehistoric sites in Andalucia. It was Saturday morning, the sun was shining and the queues were huge. The three dolmens at the site we visited - Menga and the Viera Dolmens, a further dolmen, El Romeral, is slightly separate and two natural monuments La Pena de los Enamorados and El Torcal form part of the Antequera Dolmens Site.

The dolmens were almost covered so as to appear natural and their planning and building with large stone blocks to form the chambers made the imagination run riot on how the huge stones were moved.

Antequera dolmens
Antequera Dolmens


From the dolmens we headed to the higher part of Antequera town and through the 'Giant's Gate' to the huge plaza and the fortress - the Alcazaba and the church - Colegiata de Santa Maria. Antequera was a strategic inland spot only 47km from the Costa del Sol which attacking forces needed to conquer in order to advance inland. Visigoths, Romans, Moors and Christians trod these lands leaving behind a wealth of fabulous buildings and a bloody history.

The town itself looks very inviting but we were hungry and the restaurant was waiting our arrival. If you're in Antequera then I thoroughly recommend Restaurante Leila.

Restaurante Leila, Antequera
Restaurante Leila

Next we were whisked away to Lucena, a town I bypass every trip to Malaga, which I'd never really explored and as usual on a blogtrip we see the main sights and sites but have no time for pottering - I will go back for that. Lucena, I was surprised to hear, has a castle and I didn't know because it's invisible. Most castles in Spain you can spot a mile off, not this one! It is situated in the heart of the town surrounded by shops, bars, churches etc.

Castillo del Moral, Lucena, Cordoba
Castillo del Moral

In the evening we visited a wonderful restored wine cellar and museum that offers wine tastings which must be pre-booked. The building which had undergone various uses including an olive oil mill has been carefully converted into its original glory and hosts many original tools and implements from its various uses over the years.

Museo Bodega El ALfoli
Bodega El Alfoli

Our stay, which was very little time at the hotel, was Hotel Santo Domingo in the heart of Lucena, once a convent now a lovely 4* hotel complete with cloister in the centre of Lucena.

Hotel Santo Domingo, Lucena
Hotel Santo Domingo

The following morning it was back on the bus to Alcala la Real and Fortaleza de La Mota, a huge fortress and once important and strategic stronghold between the Mezquita in Cordoba and The Alahmbra in Granada and in the hands of the Moors until it fell to the Catholic Kings but its history goes back much further than that. With double walls, towers and secret tunnels it's a great visit and one I'd repeat preferably on a warmer blue sky day!

Fortress La Mota, Alcala la Real
Fortress La Mota

After another gorgeous little wine cellar/shop/museum and bar for tapas and yes, wine then an incredible art deco museum practically next door we ...

El Lagar de los Vinos, Alcala la Real
El Lagar de los Vinos

Palacete de la Hilandera, Alcala la Real
Palacete de la Hilandera

..... headed off for more wine and a gastronomic lunch at Restaurante Casa Pepe in Alcala la Real.

Restaurante Casa Pepe, Alcala la Real
Restaurante Casa Pepe

We had a fun-packed, busy two days packed with experiences, information, history lessons, sights and sites not seen before, this overview will be explanded into more detailed posts. I'd happily and will probably go back to each again at some point next time a little more leisurely.

Tu Historia Keys to the Cities

Our host for the visit was Tu historia, who bring monuments to life using all the senses providing experiences not just destinations. You can buy 'keys' to the cities which at the moment consist of three - Antequera, Lucena y Alcalá La Real. The 'keys' pass enables you to save money on the entrance fees and go as often as you like within 2 years, you can visit the monuments Fortaleza de la Mota and Palacio Albacial in Alcala la Real, Castillo del Moral & its Museum in Lucena and the Acazaba fortress and Real Colegiata church in Antequera with the pass or you can pay indvidually at each monument.






28 November 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Castillo del Moral, Lucena

Usually when you think of a castle it's on high ground - not the Castillo del Moral in Lucena, it's slap-bang in the middle of town! It's origins are said to date from the 11th and 12th century when it was primarily a Jewish town.


Castillo del Moral, Lucena, Cordoba




More to come on Lucena and my recent blogtrip there soon.

Did you see last week's Monday Morning photo? Pouring Fino Wine at El Alfoli, Lucena.


See the Monday Morning Photo list.



27 November 2016

Chocolate in Spain - Churros & Factories


Spain is the country that originally introduced chocolate to the rest of Europe via South America thanks to its many jaunts there. It may not be famous like Belgium and Switzerland and the chocolates they produce, but I'll give you one word that is synonymous with chocolate in Spain - churros. And churros and chocolate are a match made in heaven (to those with a sweet tooth) and the only way to eat this typical Spanish breakfast.

What is Churros?

It's a  dough with which you use a special gadget, rather like an icing tube with a star-shaped nozzle, and you can make sticks or rings which are dropped into hot oil and fried then coated with sugar and dunked into a thick hot cocoa dip.  A popular breakfast especially at weekends. I often see people carrying a big flat piped ring of churros home to share with family and friends.





You can find chocolaterias and cafes which specialise in these for breakfast,  the most famous is in Madrid  - Chocolateria San Gines, which dates back to 1894 and is open 24/7, being close to the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor squares it is never short of customers.

Madrid's National Archaeology Museum has a chocolate section  and there are several chocolate museums  across Spain, such as in Barcelona near Ciutadella Park, in Astorga, León, Villajoyosa in Alicante and one in Sueca, Valencia near the Albufera Natural Park.

Chocolate Factories in Spain

Small businesses that produce their own chocolate are not rare either. For a fun visit near the Costa del Sol try Mayan Monkey Mijas a  chocolate factory and family firm in Mijas which not only makes various varieties of  sustainably sourced chocolate but have workshops where you can make your own bars to take away, and dunk your fingers under the tap of pouring chocolate - you won't only do that once!



In Pampaneira one of the higher white villages on the wild southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The shop, Abuela Ili smells delightful and sells every variety you can imagine. Plain, white and milk chocolate come covering or infused with raspberry, coffee, mint, fruits, nuts you name it they probably have it. So if you can't get to the shop and watch them make it through the glass wall and sample those you want then the best alternative - it's available online so sit, choose, order, wait and dream! Abuela Ili

Make Your Own Churros 

Churros Recipe

Vegetable or Olive Oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Heat about 1 to 1- ½ inches of oil in a pan over medium heat or at about 360 degrees if using an electric skillet

To make churros dough, heat water, margarine and salt to rolling boil in 3-quart saucepan. Stir in flour. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Beat eggs all at once. Continue beating until smooth and then add to saucepan while stirring mixture. 

Spoon mixture into cake decorators' tube with large star tip. Squeeze 4-inch strips of dough into hot oil. Fry 3 or 4 strips at a time until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Dump the sugar on the pile of churros, like the pros. That churro taste will take you right back to your favorite summer days walking the paseos of Spain. 

Note: You can opt to mix cinnamon with the sugar before dumping it on the churros, but REAL churros in Spain are made without cinnamon. The cinnamon does add an extra nice flavor though.

Chocolate for Churros Dunking 

4oz dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups milk
1 tbsp cornstarch 
4 tbsp sugar

Place the chocolate and half the milk in a pan and heat, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining milk and whisk into the chocolate with the sugar. 

Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is thickened, about five minutes. Add extra cornstarch if it doesn't start to thicken after 5 minutes. 

Remove and whisk smooth. Pour and serve in cups or bowls - for dunking churros. Do not pour over churros as it will make them soggy. Just dip the churros into the sauce before each bite.

21 November 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Pouring Fino Wine at Wine Cellar & Museum El Alfoli

Yesterday I returned home after a whistle-stop, fun-packed tour of some of Andalucia's lesser known towns with Tuhistoria - promoters of tours and experiences in the centre of Andalucia. Here's just one of the many highlights at the wine cellar and museum El Alfoli in Lucena.


pouring fino wine at El Alfoli, montilla-moriles, Lucena

pouring fino wine at El Alfoli, montilla-moriles, Lucena




See the Monday Morning Photo list.

16 November 2016

Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park covers 1/5 of Jaen province, my adopted home, and is Spain's largest protected area. It is stunning. Wherever you are in the natural park the views are dramatic and even leaving the park the mountains go on forever creating a dramatic backdrop to the seas of olive groves. This natural area sits between the mountain ranges of Sierra Morena and the Subbeticas in Cordoba province. It has many indigenous plants and because of its importantance ecologically it is a Unesco biosphere reserve.


Cazorla

For walking, hiking, photography and sightseeing it's a fabulous area and almost in the middle of this great green area is the huge lake El Tranco. Because of it's mountains there were many strongholds and castles built, many in disrepair but lots that are visitable with fantastic views if you make it to the top!

La Iruela

On our last overnight visit we stayed just outside the town of Cazorla in a lovely little guest house - Cortijo San Bautista and explored a small area of this vast park. If Parador hotels in the middle of nowhere are your thing then the Parador de Cazorla is a great remote spot.

Cazorla

Moorish towers and castles on rugged crags, rushing waterfalls and trickling streams, white mountain villages with steep,narrow streets all combine making Cazorla an incredibly popular and compelling area to visit.

La Iruela

Even though it's within Jaen province it takes us about 2.5 hours to get to Cazorla town, so it's not a worth a day trip but after three visits now, we've fallen in love with the area, next time we'll stay at least 3 nights to explore the northern part of this incredible landscape. It's somewhere to put on your list.


Coming soon La Iruela, the castle and ampitheatre - the second and fourth photos.

Read about our stay in Cortijo San Bautista and the English Bassett Hounds.





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14 November 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Comares in Axarquia, Malaga

Thinking back to summer and the gorgeous morning sunshine lighting up the brilliant white buildings and blue sky in Comares, the highest village in the Axarquia region of Malaga and what views!

Comares in Axarquia, Malaga


Read my post about Comares - The Highest and Prettiest Village in Axarquia


See the Monday Morning Photos list.


10 November 2016

Where to Stay in Cazorla - Cortijo de San Juan Bautista

On our last long public holiday, an often occuring long weekend when Tuesday or Thursday is the official Bank Holiday we get Monday or Friday too, the weather was unseasonably warm and beautiful so we decided to head to Cazorla Natural Park or more precisely the town of Cazorla. As our youngest son was going to come my accommodation search was rather different to normal. No Boutique Hotel this time. As it was only decided on Saturday and we went on Monday the choice wasn't huge. I went for a two rooms in a charming-looking guest house with shared bathroom, something acceptable with family!

Cazorla
Cazorla Town

Then the 17 years old, last-minute-decision-maker, decided not to come with us. I chose not to cancel his room as I didn't want to share a bathroom with anyone else (unlikely at that late stage in the day, but a possibility) and if necessary we'd pay for his room too, even two rooms was cheaper than we usually pay for one.

Bassett Hound
Wilson sneaking closer and closer!

We found Cortijo San Juan Bautista without any problem and drove into what seemed to be a farmyard and barking dogs. The dogs were gorgeous Bassett Hounds and puppies like teddy bears with baggy skin and saggy eyes, the huge 'dad' dog's name is Wilson.

It was quite quirky really. This lovely Spanish couple in very rural Andalucia had a shabby chic, Home & Garden style home, lots of varities of tea and lovely English pottery mugs!


We found out that they had only opened this year, the entrance will be from the opposite side and very nice it will be too! The house is lovely, so are all their plans. With children having left home and a rambling house they have thrown in lots of love, effort and expense to make this B&B charming and attractive.

Our room from bathroom to be steps.

Our cosy bedroom had steps up to an original tower which they are going to turn into a huge bathroom with windows all around.


Shabby Chic & Traditonal Decor

To say we enjoyed our stay is an understatement. We only paid for our room, which was 30€ and we wouldn't have found it without our son planning on going. Just 5 minutes drive from Cazorla town, it's lovely, peaceful, recommendable and you'll leave feeling refreshed, looked after and sad to be leaving new found friends and possibly, like us, a local bottle of extra virigin olive oil.

Cortijo San Juan Bautista - a great place to stay.



07 November 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Sierra Sur de Jaen Olive Groves

Where I live - seas of olive groves stretching outwards to the horizon in every direction in the Sierra Sur de Jaen


sierra sur de jaen olive groves


See the Monday Morning Photo list.

Where to stay in the Sierra Sur de Jaen? Casa El Reguelo




31 October 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Parador de Santa Catalina, Jaen

The beautiful and enormous drawing room with vaulted ceiling at the Parador de Santa Catalina in Jaen. Visit the castle of the same name walk along the hill top to the monumental cross with huge views then pop into the Parador for coffee or a beer, the bar is open to non-residents.


 Parador de Santa Catalina, Jaen

24 October 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Olive Groves and Empty Roads

Where I live - Sierra Sur de Jaen. Empty road cutting through the sea of olive groves from Fuensanta leading to Casa El Reguelo my holiday rental home.



19 October 2016

Stay at El Palacio de San Benito, Cazalla de la Sierra

Mid September found hubby & I en route to Cazalla de la Sierra a small town nestled in Hornachuelos Natural Park about an hours drive north from Sevilla city. A white mountain town, well-maintained, full of character (and Anis distilleries) castle, bull ring, church, a cork pressing factory, which was closed both times we tried to visit, a nice find of a Bib Gourmand restaurant and our abode for the night El Palacio de San Benito a charming, luxurious private home guest house.




A wonderful combination of an ancient church and modern reconstruction of an ancient coaching inn with internal Andalucian patio which is also like a museum. Think setting for a period drama and classic Home and Garden Magazine spread combined with a National Trust property full of charm and character, antiques and charisma and a friendly larger than life designer owner who is often present and more than welcoming.



On the main street into town, it's very peaceful. Go in the large entranceway with hefty double wooden doors and the flowing fountain of the interior pario melts away stress. A feeling of peace and calm settles the soul and relax you will, either in the patio itself or on one of the ancient settles or settees in the cosy corridors surrounding the arched, plant-filled, open-air or blind-topped patio.



If even more privacy is required then retire to your room. Ours was Del Infante, the name given to a baby or young child, especially of regal birth, complete with a high canopy, florally decorated four poster bed and matching cot, which we haven't needed for a long while, and a lovely small open fireplace, plus our own charming small plant-walled patio with fountain.



It would have been easy to imagine myself being laced into a bodice by my personal maid, gown laid out on the bed and helped being dressed only to retire to the library, wafting my fan and being a damn nuisance like Mrs Bennett of Pride & Predujice fame. But alas! I tended to my own toilet and made it to dinner without assisstance although hubby the key keeper locked our door with a huge gold ingot-like key fob. I'm a great fan of Jane Austen and a little knowledgeable about English history but rather ignorant of the Spanish aristocracy and their habits and hardships. And though I sometimes fantasize about living back in those times I would in fact hate all that dressing up.



The incredible dining room is for special occasions and larger parties than we were, but what a spot, a film set, again I feel very under-dressed and in a time warp,



I've seen a few Spanish renovations, the Alhambra being one of the greatest. San Benito Palace wowed me the same when I found out part was original and part new. An incredible feat and more than once I thought 'surely this is original.' By the end of our stay my first impressions hadn't waned. This is my style of hotel, my inner want, forget shabby chic, chic modern or modernist, give me old dark wooden furniture and beams, floral fabrics, huge oil paintings, antiques, four poster beds and I feel at home. History, historical, romantic, vintage that's El Palacio.



Enter the hefty, old, made for a carriage wooden entrance doors with me? You can rent El Palacio like a hotel or guest house by the room by the night or rent the whole amazing property for a week or so, a wedding, a banquet, film or photo shoot whatever the reason you go - you'll fall for its charm.


See my Monday Morning Photos of Palacio de San Benito the Via Verde de la Sierra Norte de Sevilla near San Benito.

My post on El Palacio de San Benito on Luxury Spain Travel and Bib Gourmand Restaurante Agustina in Cazalla de la Sierra.

17 October 2016

03 October 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Palacio de San Benito

Details, details at the lovely Palacio de San Benito, a great place to stay in Cazalla de la Segura within the Hornachuelos Natural Park in  Sevilla province.






26 September 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Via Verde de la Sierra Norte de Sevilla

Fancy a cycle? The rolling Natural Park which hosts the Via Verde de la  Sierra Norte de Sevilla offers fabulous views.