Gorgeous Guadalest – oasis amidst the high rise

Gorgeous Guadalest – oasis amidst the high rise

We’re not great fans of cities and built up areas – and in truth we already knew this about ourselves before we embarked on our nomadic journey.  Although nothing reminded us more of our appreciation of the natural world versus suburbia than Spain’s Costa Blanca.  Although we chose to by-pass the area completely last year, we have come to embrace the fact that everything should be experienced just once – allowing you to make your own mind up as you travel amidst the maze of reviews from fellow journeymen.

So when my mum came to stay in Albir in between Altea and Benidorm for two weeks, it was an ideal opportunity to check out whether these areas had a piece of magic that would send us away with our tails between our legs.  Keep open minded to the possibilities, I kept telling myself.

Alas, as we drove from Dénia to pick her up, my fears had been realised.  Tower block hotels, wall to wall shops and buildings, main roads, motorways and traffic.  All the things we hate most about urban life’s suffocating energy.  Still, perhaps there would be something around the corner to change our minds.  After tauntingly missing our junction for Albir, as if to prove a point, the N332 took us all the way to Benidorm – ‘That’ll teach you’ it whispered in tune with Scoobie’s tyre tracks. The high rises that took charge of the horizon, creating their own concrete landscape reached out to us like monsters in a nightmare and we struggled for twenty minutes to get out of the area and back on track to Albir.

Now Albir certainly wasn’t quite as bad as its partying neighbour, although there was just something about the whole coastline that made us feel hemmed in and breathless.  We saw the same landmarks in Calpe, that we thought would be a quaint fishing village.  Disappointment certainly visited us that day.  So you can imagine our relief when we took refuge for the night in the mountains a short drive from the tawdry coastline.  As we moved mile by mile towards the mountain metropolis we knew our souls would be reset very soon.

The higher we climbed, the more Mother Nature’s high rises drew us into her raw magnetism.  Our destination was El Castell de Guadalest, not more than 30 minutes away on the CV70, that had been recommended by a friend.  My mum had also been there the week before on an excursion with the hotel and had enjoyed it, so it was a must for us.  We were not disappointed, aided by the fact that we arrived after the crowds had long since gone.

                            

We found a Motorhome dedicated parking spot, that for €4 for the night, gave us a peaceful and beautiful spot to rest our heads.  And the views were to die for!  Now this was far more ‘us’ and we felt like we’d come home.

Because of the area’s historical popularity, coaches arrive in their droves, winding up the mountain roadway to reach this little oasis of gorgeousness.  So having been there overnight, we had a head start and, pretty much the place to ourselves.  Whilst there are the expected tourist shops and photo-capturing entrepreneurs looking to sell you unwelcome images as you enter the castle walls, beyond these there is a real authentic air to the place.

Perched up high in what looks like a sanctuary protected by three different mountain ranges, bizarrely Guadalest shows plenty of military scars from Moorish battles dating back to 700AD, the earthquake of 1644 and a mine explosion.  Yet this small mountain settlement stands firm and resilient against human and natural tragedies.  It is a testimony to how people work together to keep their communities in tact.

Today the ‘Grand House’ built after the earthquake, the castle remnants, the clock tower and white-washed village of quaint homes, all offer the visitor a welcome sense of reality, history and substance.  The views down to the coast are the only reminder of the concrete seaside conurbation, as this Eagle’s Nest spectacular gives you a taste of real Spain and the struggles that gave the country its character and charm.

The Guadalest Reservoir nestled far below the village’s lofty strong-hold is an emerald green gem that has every form of photographic tool clicking away to capture the artist palette of colours.

The reservoir is worthy of the short drive, so you can take in the scene from a completely different perspective.  Looking up towards the village you get a real sense of its dominant position whilst feeling in the heart of a haven of beauty.  The mountains tower above you and the chalky curves of the lake’s edges entice you to wander its perimeter and share lunch on its shores. And here there are no tourists; certainly out of season you will have this place to yourselves, capturing your heart as you try to imagine the history that has been carved here.

Guadalest is such an incredible oasis of beauty that must be seen.  Don’t drive past on the motorway in pursuit of quieter shores without stopping to marvel at its magic. It cries out to be loved, admired and valued and, in return you will be treated to a natural piece of heaven away from the vibrations of Europe’s party capital.

San Fellipe Volcano spa pools

San Fellipe Volcano spa pools

Well, I’ve done some pretty strange things in my time but this surely has to be up there. So the boss says ‘ There’s some thermal spa pools in the area, shall we go’? ‘OK, I replied’, thinking entrance fee, changing rooms, budgie smugglers and cap, no canoodling in the corner type stuff…………………..

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

DSC07738After the mountain scenery of Lake Geneva, Lac Léman to the locals, we moved through Switzerland into the Alsace region of France with Strasbourg as our destination for a rendezvous with friends. Uncharacteristically for us, we travelled on the motorways as our journey was time critical, so the scenery was not of a ‘road less travelled’ quality. Although this once, we allowed ourselves speed and not spectacle.

However, we did notice a big shift in the landscape which had flattened out from the curvaceous mountains to fields of sunflowers, grape-vines and cabbages – an interesting agricultural combination! The villages’ names were also morphing into something much more Francho-Germanic. With such close proximity to the German border, you get the distinct impression that some territorial blood was spilt here.

Strasbourg is most well-known for three things; first has to the be the Christmas Markets, which I can imagine, having now visited, is quite a sensual experience. The second is its seat of European Parliament and finally its UNESCO city rating, most essentially the Petit France region of this Alsace capital, which is strewn with colourful tudor style buildings and flower clad canals and rivers.

DSC07901Our first view of Strasbourg was from the Barrage Vauban looking out towards the Ponts Couverts, four defensive bridges errected in 13 Century.  You can still see the cannons in place to ward of those power-hungry tikes!  This entry position into the city is well worth being first on your list as you will be wowed as you meander through the cobbled streets, quaint squares populated with inviting looking bars and cafés and imposing looking churches.

DSC07835If you pass your gaze beyond the tourist tat that is on offer around the lanes, Strasbourg’s inner sanctum is a delight and you are never far away from the protective embrace of the surrounding River Ill. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is breathtaking and towers above you as you walk into the main square. Although there is an unsettling presence of armed guards around – sadly a sign of our times, the buzz of the tourist and of course the stupendous architecture of Our Lady commands your attention. The Cathedral transforms from its day-time splendour into a magical Light Show at night during July and August where you will be entertained and enthralled by a musical and visual display that will have you ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ like Bonfire Night. Definitely worth staying up for – even in the rain! Strasbourg is a delight and with its fusion of history, charm and modern influence, young and old can appreciate its essence and soul.

And then there’s Colmar…..  You can’t visit Strasbourg without taking a day to marvel at Colmar, which is only an hour and 40 odd miles away.  To try comparing the two places, would do both an injustice, although there is definitely a different feel to this characterful place.  It’s like walking into a scene from some Disney creation of Hansel and Gretel.  You could almost expect to see seven foot tall Donald and Micky walking towards you – mistakingly feeling like you are in Disneyland.  Although this place has so much more authenticity than that.

I’m trying to liken Colmar to an English town to give you a sense of its appeal and the closest I can get to is Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford upon Avon.  They both have tudor style buildings, canals and a story.  And yet you need to add a dash more wow and shake of OMG to the mix to really get half way to Colmar’s gorgeousness.

I have learned to measure my love for a place by the number of tears I shed and Colmar most definitely appears on the Tearful List.  It’s impossible not to be impressed, as around every corner there is yet another colourful, quirky, wonky looking Gingerbread house with beautiful, crooked walls painted with murals, Germanic turrets and charming shop signs hanging from the walls.

You will hear some people talk about Colmar as a ‘Little Venice’, although I would avoid this filtering into your expectations. There are indeed a couple of canals that run through part of the town and they are very sweet, although Venice it is not – it is Colmar and it stands proudly on its own magnificent reputation. The town is simply delightful, so be prepared for your eyes to be feasted with a pix and mix of visual delights as if a child in a sweetie shop.

It’s really hard to find the right adjectives to describe Colmar any further than I have attempted to here.  It’s one of those places, that you just have to visit for yourself and then you will understand exactly my authoring challenge. I think the pictures will have to convey the rest.  I simply urge you to go and feel its vibe for yourself.