16 January 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Nerja Caves

The astonishing and enormous Nerja caves will take your breath away, so awesomely surreal you could think it's a film set. A sobering visit when you see nature's creation and try and imagine the slow drip, drip formation over so many thousands of years.

Nerja Caves, Cuevas de Nerja

See the Monday Morning Photo list.

Read my blog post on my Trip to Nerja - A Great Winter Destination.

14 January 2017

Alcala la Real - Fortress La Mota

One of the best, most interesting and imagination-rioting ruined castle/fortresses that I've visited and I've been twice in the last two months. My first attempt at a visit was around 15 years, it was closed. I'm not sure why I never returned, just one of those things. It's on my doorstep, I could go anytime.

La Mota, Alcala la Real

The first entrance was with the Andalucia Travel Bloggers and Tu historia, the association of Medium-sized Towns of Andalucia, in November. Just a few weeks later with family visiting and hubby not having visited yet, I went again. It was a cold blue-sky day with views on the snowy Sierra Nevadas in the distance and clouds of mist rising as we entered the fortress and stepped back into days gone-by.

La Mota, Alcala la Real

See the evidence of the Neolithic and Bronze Age settlers and Romans, then it was occupied from 713 by the Moors until finally after it was taken for good by Alfonso XI in 1341. This was the last stronghold of the Moors that fell before their final defeat in Granada. An important and strategic location not only between the Moors and Catholic Kings but between the warring Islamic kingdoms.

Fortress La Mota, Alcala la Real, Jaen

The way the whole monument is preserved and presented is incredibly good. I liked all the information boards, in English and Spanish, with images that brought to life some of the ruins and these models showing the size and extent of the city beyond its walls.

Fortress La Mota, Alcala la Real, Jaen

On one visit I went in a group with a guide and the next just three of us with a hand-held audio-guide on which you pressed the appropriate button when you were ready. I enjoyed both ways of visiting although if you want to go into the tunnels you have to go with a guide. Each had its pros and cons, not just that the group I was with was Spanish and so was the guided tour. With the guide we could ask questions but had to keep together which was tricky taking photos and no respite on information overload. With the audio-guide you could just stop listening when awash with too much info!

La Mota really is worth a visit - or two. Where to stay in the area? My holiday home, Casa El Reguelo is just an hour away.

Read my post about the Blog Trip to Antequera, Lucena and Alcala le Real.

09 January 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Don Quixote Style Windmill

This Manchegan, from La Mancha, or Don Quixote style windmill is the most southerly of this type in Spain and it's in the lovely town of Baños de la Encina in my home province Jaen.

See another post about Baños de la Encina and its enormous castle.

See the Monday  Morning Photo list.

02 January 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Eight Metre Wooden Waterwheel

One of the few remaining waterwheels in Andalucia on the River Guadajoz in Albendin, Cordoba just over the border from my home province of Jaen. There are still a few pots to pick op the water left on this one. Sadly it's not running now because neighbours complained about the noise!

26 December 2016

Nerja a Great Winter Destination

The week before Christmas saw hubby and I heading south to the Costa del Sol and Nerja. This part of the Andalucian coast boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year. We were unlucky! But with those grey skies we were also fortunate as there weren't the crowds of tourists as on our last visit.

Our journey towards the sun took, as it usually does, longer than we expected, but we arrived and found the AndaluciaTravel Bloggers members  being shown around Nerja. That is what I love. Arriving somewhere and wandering the streets, acclimatising and getting away from the main tourist sites.

Balcon de Europa or Balcony of Europe

Our stay was in the Toboso Apar-Turis a very nicely situated hotel with apartments, more or less, on the Balcon de Europa and our 'suite' had swimming pool and sea views.

Toboso Apar-Turis

A bonus of a winter stay is that it was quiet and of course the pool was empty. I could imagine it being thrivingly busy and noisy in the summer months, making it a great place for families.

When you Wonder What's Around a Corner

The Balcon de Europe started life as the 'Low Castle' situated between rocky cove beaches at the beginning of the 16th century. As a natural outcrop it was then altered in the 18th century and equipped with canons only to be destroyed during the Spanish War of Independence. In 1885 King Alfonso XII visited Nerja and impressed with the views is said to have exclaimed that he'd found the 'Balcony of Europe' a few years later a bronze statue of the King gazing out across the Mediterranean Sea was erected.

King Alfonso XII on the Balcon de Europa

Round Restaurant Window just below the  King's Statue on the Balcon de Europa

Our mosey around town then became a Tourist Train ride to nearby Maro and the incredibly awesome Cuevas de Nerja or Nerja Caves. I'd read about them, seen photos of them, heard my then 10 year old son rave about them after a school trip, but I had never been.

Cave Train

The whole story of how a group of friends discovered the caves in 1959 after seeing bats fly out of a sinkhole was relayed by one of their sons. Something which was rather special knowing the 'guide' had grown up with this story and knowledge of the caves firsthand from his father.

Our visit was only to one of the many cave sections, and the feeling of awe of the natural formations, the hugeness of the caverns is beyond price. Amost surreal, as if we were inside the bowels of an enormous film set. There's nothing like nature to remind us how small and insignifcant we are.

Nerja Caves

World's Largest Column, the merging of stalagtites & stalagmites

After the cave visit we had lunch at the on site Restaurant Cuevas de Nerja with views over Maro and the sea beyond. The range of tapas was very good and beautifully presented on slate plates, I'd certainly eat there again.

Restaurant Cuevas de Nerja

Then back on the train to the town and after a short meander we stopped at the gorgeous little tearoom room, or Teteria, Zaidin for tea and cakes!

Lovely Details in Teteria Zaidin

A long walk was needed, but unfortunately we'd hit the other 65 days of the year and it was raining, so we retreated to our apartment to have a break, a social media catch-up and get ready for dinner!

It was hard work all that eating. The evening saw us in Restaurant Patanegra 57 a lovely spot not far from the Balcon with very good food cooked and run by Sergio Paloma who worked with Martin Berasategui the famous Basque chef.

We tried a wide range of fabulous, beautifully presented artistic tapas from Octopus with Creamed Potatoes to  Oxtail Ravioli with Cream of Cauliflower and a Port Wine Sauce all were excellent.

Then to top off these fine creations we had a Semi-cold Yoghurt with Crunchy Pistachio and Raspberry. We will be back at Patanegra 57 when possible.

A bracing ramble around the Balcon and town saw us replete in so many ways and concluded a very satisfying day in Nerja. Followed by a morning visit to the museum - Museo de Nerja where many remains found in the caves are on show. If you go buy a ticket for all three, museum, train and caves.

One of the incredible finds amongst many is a full skeleton of a young woman displayed as a whole rather sad or macabre thought to be more than 8,000 years old. The museum, in  Nerja centre, hosts an incredible array of finds and exhibitions, which if you're visiting the caves need to be seen as well.

Then to the beach and Restaurant Playa Torrecilla for a farewell meal, although we chose to sit indoors, it started brightening up and later diners sat outside.

After a full, in more ways than one, itinerary we said thank you and au revoir to all because we shall be back, there's so much more we want to explore. Next time it'll be away from the coast and inland to the mountains behind the town.

A big shout out to Nerja Tourist Board for hosting some members of Andalucia Travel Bloggers

19 December 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Jaen Monumental Cross

Jaen's huge, white monumental victory cross overlooking the city below and stretching out across the olive groves and mountains beyond. Taken this rather grey and blustery 19th December, an unusual grey sky day.

Jaen Monumental Cross

See the Monday Morning Photo list

Read an old post on What to See in Jaen

13 December 2016

Granada means Pomegranate

It's that time of year when the pomegranates have just about finished, the trees have lost their leaves and all the colour is on the ground, but they are still decorative.

The pomegranate is not only the symbol of Granada city but in Spanish granada means pomegranate. Look closely and you'll see this vibrant fruit all over the city in pictures and etchings. It was the Catholic Kings who first used the pomegranate as a symbol when the final stronghold of the Moors, the Alhambra Palace, fell into their hands.

Pomegranate trees are deciduous, in winter they're twiggy and boring then, those new fresh green leaves burst forth in spring, followed by beautiful orangey-red flowers which become gorgeously rich coloured fruit, first like earrings then christmas tree baubles. Even after the fruit has ripened and burst open to reveal those beautiful ruby coloured seeds, which are packed full with antioxidant properties, and they fall to the ground or relished by birds the dying, drying tough skin takes on its own beauty.

It's said to have originated from Iran and Afghanistan and is mentioned in the bible, where there are 163 commandments of the Jewish faith relating exactly to the number of seeds in every pomegranate. I haven't counted them personally but a tour guide once told me she had checked four and they were 163 seeds in each one. I'm happy to believe that and save myself the count.

We have a pomegranate tree in Casa El Reguelo garden which I'm trying to keep small, but every year it astounds me with its beauty in every season and it's abundance of decorative seasons ending in a ruby-rich harvest.

12 December 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Zuheros One of Spain's Prettiest Towns

Zuheros is officially 'One of Spain's Prettiest Towns' and this is the stunning approach to the lovely town that I never tire of visiting. Just over the border from my home province of Jaen into Cordoba province and within the Sierra de Subbetica mountains Zuheros is a quintessential small, white Spanish mountain town and chocolate-box picturesque.

See the Monday Morning Photo list.

Read my Spain's Prettiest Towns post.

Every year a cheese festival is held in Zuheros, here's an old post Cheese Fair in Zuheros.

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.