by Karen Davies | Mar 3, 2018 | Interactive maps, Spain, Travel Blog
Travelling through Spain over the last two years has been an enlightening experience that has taught us plenty, surprised us consistently and captivated us completely. Ever since our first steps on these shores, when we set out on our nomadic adventure in March 2016, each of our three return trips to Spain have opened up our eyes to a rich culture, a diverse landscape and an enthralling history. Above all Spain has wriggled its way into our affections and allowed us to see beyond its ‘Costa’ reputation. A deep respect for this fascinating and bountiful country has grown within us and leaves us wanting more.
As we have completed this year’s exit from this delightful country, it feels appropriate to track back our Spanish travel trilogy – three visits in three separate years – in the vein hope to capture some of our adventures and highlights as we uncovered this much misunderstood southern European country. The Interactive Map below represents the Spanish adventure that we have embarked on and whilst it still remains an incomplete jigsaw, it has created enough intrigue for us to return each winter to put a few more pieces into our Spanish Masterpiece. Click on the map for an extensive compilation of Points of Interest, campsites, wild spots, co-ordinates, images and links to old blogs and videos that we have taken during our time in this land of fiesta and passion.
To accompany that we have offered a short write up on each of the seven regions we have allowed our wanderlust to play in the hope that it might inspire you to return to the map to pin point exactly where we’ve been and called home. Enjoy this Spanish Compilation and let it whet your adventurous spirit.
<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1LFMVnfH3KLK1La7OCo0UoLX8IT5thwUx&hl=en" width="640" height="480"></iframe>
Aragon’s special three!
This landlocked region of north-eastern Spain cries out for attention as so many flock for the coastal fringes of Spain’s Costas. Although the sun seekers’ loss is a traveller’s gain as this northern territory offers history and scenery in poetic partnership. Aragon’s very first offering as you drive through the Somport Tunnel is the once grand, Canfranc Estacion, calling for you to rest your eyes upon its 365 windows and half a mile long platform. A ghost station that demands your respect even in its abandoned state.
The mountains beyond offer you monasteries and chiselled hamlets with religious acclaim, not to mention the panoramic vistas across to the Pyrenean foothills. And of course you can’t pass by en route south without calling in to see Albarracín with its medieval wall-city, Moorish fort ruins and its 16th Century Cathedral. Perhaps a night in Teruel, Spain’s highest town will tempt you to observe its Mudéjar architecture, a fusion of Gothic and Islamic styles that is unique to the area.
Andalucia – Home to Bullfighting, Flamenco and so much more…
This is Spain’s second largest region stretching from its south-western most borders with Portugal right across to the south-east fringes. It is one of the most diverse regions as it binds together mountains, coast, wetland and dunes, embraced by the most enthralling historical wrapping you can imagine. With Christians fighting against the Moors, who from their North African neighbour, set out to conquer the whole region within four years. The Moor’s dominance is clear to see throughout the region with Cadiz, Granada, Seville and Cordoba show-casing their Moorish dominance and architectural influence.
Although don’t be bewitched by their impressive buildings at the expense of Ronda, for its precarious habitation above the stunning El Tajo gorge is a sight to be seen. The iconic arches of the Puente Nuevo bridge built high above the valley floor, connects the old and new town and its atmospheric prowess certainly commands your attention.
Deep in the mountains north of Cadiz, you will find the Pueblo Blancos – villages of built entirely of white stone, most of which are nestled within the heartland of the Sierra de Grazalema National Park. Grazalema is our favourites with its steep, cobbled streets and authentic village ambiance, you feel humbled by its beauty. And just further east, past Granada the Sierra Nevadas provides humble abode to the isolated mountain retreats of Las Alpujarras – the most authentic place to experience Spanish artisans. The journey through the mountains is a delightful step back in time which will pique your cultural curiosity.
To the far west, mention must be made to the diverse landscape of Doñana National Park – an important wetland area for wildlife in particular the protected Iberian Lynx and Imperial Eagle. Twinned with the Camargue region of southern France, Doñana is of significant importance and has become a UNESCO World Heritage site and whilst no doubt impressive – it is the draw of the eclectic, Wild West-style town of El Rocio that captivates many explorers with its cult status pilgrimage in late May. El Rocio defies description and is just one of those places you have to visit and see with your own eyes, although be warned if you go in the festival season in May (or to be more precise 50 days after Easter Sunday), you will be sharing the experience with 1 million other people intent of participating in this unique gathering of brotherhood members.
Whilst many descend upon the Costa del Sol with Marbella, Torremolinos and Malaga at its heart – it is beyond the sprawling mass of high-rises, villas and Golf Courses where you will find the truest and finest mountain experience. 50km from Malaga and the Guadalhorce National Park – Spain’s Lake District entices you into to hike this mountainous region. With special mention of course to the infamous El Caminito del Rey, one of Europe’s most dangerous walks through the canyons of the Garganta del Chorro, which is something that simply must be done. The Land Beyond Malaga is something else and must surely be witnessed by us.
And last, and by no means least – if getting off the beaten track is an important part of your travel ethos, then the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas is the cherry on the cake. In the centre of Olive Grove central just east of Jaén, this mountain region which represents the largest National Park in Spain, is one of those places that has cameras clicking and visitors muttering the immortal words of ‘Ooh’ ‘Ah’ and ‘Wow’ several times a minute. So much wild beauty that the sandy beaches of the Costa’s simply can’t compete with – whilst pretty in their own way if you can see beyond the concrete jungle. Andalucia – the most diverse and wondrous region of Spain.
Castilla y Leon – the big UNESCO three
Having high anticipation of our Spanish exploration when we arrived early March to snow, we were somewhat amused. Where was the iconic sunburst that we had planned on enjoying? Where was that illusive blue sky that Spain is so famous for? It certainly wasn’t in this northern region of Spain. Still, regardless of minus temperatures, we were determined to enjoy our virgin experience of this mighty country and especially as there are three major UNESCO sites in a golden triangle.
First of all you have Burgos, capital to this Castilla region and packing a mighty punch with its ‘still in tact’ medieval Cathedral. Still in tact is a gross exaggeration as this architectural feat defies the laws of erosion. This is a fine example of Gothic design and is most famous for its tomb of El Cid. Entry is only €7 and to walk around this stunning piece of art – whether you love churches or not, quite honestly is irrelevant. You cannot walk away from this experience without being humbled by its prominence.
2.5hrs down the road you will find your second UNESCO site and this was our favourite of the three. As from the moment you walk from the origins of the immaculate Roman aqueduct down the steps towards the old town, you realise that Segovia is full of historical splendour. Cobbled streets that wind their ways uphill give you a great vista across the Spanish landscape and within the city walls, every corner you turn is yet another throwback in time. You could almost imagine yourself in a Dickensian novel. And whilst the cathedral is undoubtedly a work of art, it is the Disney-style Alcazar that truly owns the town and our affections. Whilst it has been renovated and in fact is still work in progress, this is a wonderful sight that goes well beyond the crass Instagram pose. Segovia’s buildings and her resident storks that often do a flypast, are just mesmerising and a day is simply not enough – just a flavour. Spend more time here if you can as its history and architectural charm will render you speechless.
Just two more hours west towards the Portuguese border you will find the third UNESCO, which if you’re not already sensationalised-out, will leave you with warmth and charm. Salamanca different yet again to its siblings with the river and its bridges creating the first impression. With the somewhat sprawling new town on the other side of the river, you wonder whether the inner sanctum will stack up and that is a big resounding YES. Within the city walls you have a blend of cosmopolitan energy mixed with historical prowess that as you climb the steps towards the fortress gives you a bird’s eye view of the town below you. It is full of character and with its sandstone walls will entice you to stay awhile.
Receiving big media coverage in 2017/18, this north eastern region of Spain has been, and continues to battle for independence. Catalonian’s passion for their unique identity is evident around the region as their express their feelings with flags, posters and yellow ribbons. Irrespective of what the world may think about the politics, Catalonia is host to some seriously beautiful countryside, cities and culture. It packs a real punch when you look at Barcelona! What more could you ask for from a city? Art, class, history, architecture beauty, coast, texture. However you feel about cities, Barcelona will impress. And that’s before you look beyond Barcelona and see the richness of Monserrat and the limestone pinnacles that rise out of the earth, housing the most incredible Monastery. And what of the charming seaside town of Sitges? These are just some of Catalonia’s gems that need our time and admiration.
The Costa Brava region is delightful – a craggy coast with hidden bays, peninsulars and a classier waterfront than its southern cousins. Secret villages that provide a creative retreat like the charm of Salvador Dali’s home Cadaques and L’Escala, just around the bay is another delightful place. If you are looking for more of a city vibe then Girona might fit the bill, with its young community, music and flower festivals, we’re sure that its chic streets might lure you.
If it’s off the beaten track you long for, then the likes of hiking in the Monserrat mountains or even an exploration of the small yet beautifully formed Peralada and Besalu could well appeal and it is tucked away in these countryside hamlets that you will find hidden history of warriors defending their land and diverse locals looking to live in harmony together. Not much has changed over the centuries. No tourists, just the ghosts of a time past and a few locals on a day out from the city.
Catalonia is rich in landscape and history – both ancient and modern and all we can do is to watch their evolution and enjoy their offerings.
Extremadura – land of the Raptors
The highlight for us of this land-locked region has to be Spain’s largest and newest National Park – Monfragüe (pronounced Monfrauway). Tucked just east off of the highway, this vast Park is home to the most incredible wildlife; most significantly its raptors and other birdlife. Monfrague with its reservoirs and rolling hills and mountains play host to 9th century castles with history seeping from every stone of its remnants to cave dwellings showing us a life way back when. And if that isn’t enough, the park is home to many protected breeds of birds such as the majestic Black Stork, Egyptian Vultures, Imperial Eagles and White-bellied Swifts. You can take a bird-watching tour and be guided around the birds’ safe havens, although taking your own tour will give you amble opportunity to see clouds of raptors take to the sky and nest up in the craggy rock faces.
Whilst these region has undoubted other highlights, for us this was the stand-out and is a very special place to watch wildlife thrive in an unthreatened environment. It’s a timeless landscape that will have you enthralled.
Murica – Jewels amongst the Greenhouse Mecca
Murcia at first glance feels like it is one of the least explored regions we have visited. And yet as I pin-pointed our highlights I was surprised by how many amazing little gems we found. Beyond the sea of Greenhouses, which is central to Murcia’s economy, your wanderlust will be seriously exercised. For example how about the delights of the craggy Cabo de Gata coastline where the rocks look like they have been hand-chiselled? Or the architecture from the Romans through to modern day designs in the vibrant city of Cartagena? Or the mesmerising display of Aguilas during its February carnival period that will have you feeling like you’re in Rio de Janeiro or somewhere in a Mardi Gras?
Perhaps something more tranquil and authentic would better suit your needs, if so then look no further than the Ricote Valley, just an hour away from the region’s capital Murcia. This quiet, off the beaten track valley is donned with citrus orchards that omit their mesmerising aromas and blossoms in early spring. Authentic Spanish villages where no English will be spoken, allow you to be transported into a period where life has been untouched by modern technology. Bodegas, with their home-made liquor and markets full of local produce will make you feel like you are in the heart of traditional, old Spain, leaving behind the images of the greenhouses and hotel strewn coastlines. Murcia is a little bundle of delights and not just a region to be passed through to get to the resorts east and west. Charm, history and genuine Spanish life will magnetise here and ask you to stay awhile.
by Karen Davies | Dec 8, 2017 | France, Interactive maps, Spain, Travel Blog
Highlights from our France to Spain Road Trip
Winter is a season that calls us snow-birds south to the warmer climes of southern Spain, where we can shelter from the harsh realities of England’s unpredictable forecasts. Except the call of Español is far more than just a winter haunt – it’s an destination that us Brits have pretty much fallen in love with, especially so for lovers of life on the road with our trusty steeds.
There are so many routes to take heading south; the quick ones, the mountainous ones, the ferry ones or the meandering ones. Whichever path you may be considering, perhaps driven by budget, speed to destination or time constraints, we would like to offer one of our routes, taken this winter. With time on our side, we decided to follow one a meandering route that has granted us the opportunity to go off the beaten track, breathe in a few new places and plot a path that makes the journey all part of the experience. So we hope that this gives you some options for your next trip to southern shores. Check out our interactive map below by clicking on the dots for more information, camping co-ordinates and pictures of our highlights.
<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1kAhKVeo8FrbwlFgYoX_ZUNmSRPNdfb9N" width="640" height="480"></iframe>
Our starting point – Southern France
We had the advantage of already being in France after our adventures earlier in the year, in Eastern Europe. France is always a lovely place to come ‘home’ to and it truly feels comfortable and known to us. So after two months meandering around the south coast and the Pyrenees for some housesitting, we were ready to hit the road and make our way to Spain, in readiness for a Christmas rendezvous with my mum.
Having crossed the French Border in 2016 via the east coast of Costa Brava, we wanted to try something new and, given our love for the Pyrenees, this seemed like a perfect road-trip for us. We had 10 days to reach Dénia on the south-east edge of Spain, so a bit of wandering pleased our nomadic souls. A number of ports of call found themselves on our very sketchy itinerary and the rest, we knew would be added along the way, based on other people’s recommendations and research that piqued our interest.
So here are the highlights of our Road-Trip south.
Mirepoix – Ariège
Our journey actually started close to Carcassonne and so taking the quiet roads through to the Pyrenees must include Mirepoix. We have been many times before and yet this quaint little village, with its delightful chocolate-box central square of quirky, wonky buildings, never disappoints. This medieval village looks like something out of an Dickensian novel and you will want to stop for a coffee or lunch and just watch the world go by. Caste your eyes upwards as the view is as beautiful as the one at your eye-line, as the detail in the shop signs and the colourful displays of their window sash are just so picturesque.
Lourdes – Hautes-Pyrenees
Taking all the minor roads rather than the speedy autoroutes, we meandered through the French countryside, keeping the snow-capped Pyrenees teasingly to our left. Little French villages in all states of attire imploring us to stay awhile. Although our destination was firmly in our heads; Lourdes in the Hautes-Pyrenees. It was a long hike, especially when SatNav took us on a circuitous route and we had to do a food shop and fill up with diesel. Still we arrived at Camping du Loup, a five minute walk from the famous town, ready for supper and bed.
Now Lourdes really does divide opinion. If you go in the Pilgrimage period, April to October then I sense it takes on a more sombre feel, as the town is filled with people searching for hope and a miracle cure to their ills. We visited at the end of November and loved the vibe and the lack of crowds. Whilst religion is of course Lourdes’ new identity, behind this are intriguing origins of its ancient market-town. The partnership between tourism and religion is a delicate one and as one of France’s most popular tourist destinations, secondly only to Paris, you may have to look beyond the shops selling bottles for the Holy water. After all, every book is more than its cover and we loved what the area had to offer in terms of activities, the possibilities of the funicular, the kayaking, the walking and the history. Whatever your religious beliefs, Lourdes is definitely worth checking out – especially out of season. Here’s our full blog on our visit – Lordy Lourdes
The Pyrenees via the Somport Tunnel into Spain
Post Lourdes, we hot-footed it out of the Pyrenees as there was a threat of a big artic front coming in and the last place you want to be in a camper is in the mountains when the snows hit. Our route took us towards Oloron, just south of Pau, along the valley floor, which was so lovely especially with all the autumn colours. Then a turn left heading south through the Pyrenees and the Somport Tunnel. En route Red Kites flying on the thermals will distract your eye and the ever changing scenery of mountain communities will elicit the odd ‘ah’ from your delighted heart. Little villages clustered along the valley floor in the shadow of their towering protectors, prepare themselves for the harsh winter ahead. Smoke already billowing out from their chimneys, their wood piles strategically stacked in readiness for what will almost inevitably arrive. And the paternal dominance of these snow-peaked pinnacles command respect as the ever-changing weather swirls around their heads. The Somport Tunnel is temporary respite from the overwhelming feast for the eyes as you adjust to the darkness. Opened in 2003, this 8.3km tunnel has almost a magical feel to it, as you enter it in France and you exit it in Spain. One tunnel, two countries and not a Border Patrol crossing to be seen.
Canfranc Estación – The Titanic of the Mountains
Our main purpose for taking this route was to check out the intriguing abandoned train station at Canfranc. Myles had read up on it and its mystery drove us to explore. It’s so easily missed, as no sooner are you out of the tunnel you hit the signs for the station. Blink and you will miss it.
Canfranc was put on the Spanish map when this out-of-place station with all its ostentatious grandeur was built in 1923, following the construction of the railway line and tunnel between 1912-1915. The station was formally opened in 1928 and it is the second largest in Europe; with its 240m long building, 365 windows, 156 doors and a platform of 200m. It remained open during WW2 as part of the Franco-Spanish International Convention, under which it was built, allowing some refugees to leave France into Spain.
Its life came to an abrupt end in 1970 when there was a derailment on a bridge on the French side and they could not afford to rebuild it. And so today, this glorious building stands in a sorry state, a ghostly station, where the faint echoes of passengers transiting across these mountainous giants can be heard through the wind, as it whistles through broken panes of glass. You can get guided visits into the station during July and August, although even when it is closed, just to stand and reconstruct in your mind how this station buzzed and thrived in its day, is enough of an experience. There are plans to turn it into a hotel and to rebuild the line, with the agreement of the French Government, so new life will be breathed into this town after fifty years. It is definitely worth stopping off at.
Jaca’s Monasteries, Aragon
We love exploring the hidden depths a place has to offer us curious travellers. It is all too easy to travel too fast and miss the secrets that lie just off the highway. So the region of Aragon was our explorative teacher. After a short stopover at Jaca, a ski-resort with its ancient hexagonal fortress, we headed for the hills. Taking our route west, our chariot guided us into the foothills of the Pyrenees towards the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña. En route we were enthralled by Santa Cruz de la Serós, with its honey-coloured stone buildings and two Romanesque churches, one of which was an all-female monastery in its day. Just to wander around this tiny hamlet and through its cobbled streets carved into the hillside, was a delight.
Back on the road, which snakes up through the mountains, gives you an incredible view of the Pyrenees, so stopping for a photoshoot is essential. And then you come to the beautiful old Monastery carved into the rocks with its brand new cousin about 2km up the mountain which will wow you as you take in its size and splendour. It’s like a magical kingdom with its dominant reign over the plateaus and valleys beyond – it is such an interesting destination. There’s plenty of parking up there and a place to stop over night if you want to camp and unless there’s snow coming in, a great place to stop awhile and indulge in some walking.
Laguna Gallocanta, Aragon
If there’s anywhere on the map that looks like a Nature Reserve then that becomes a magnet for us as wildlife lovers. And so when I found Laguna Gallocanta purely by chance, it was our chosen detour. After doing some research I found that it is a winter stop-off point for Cranes and is the most popular destination for these magnificent birds in Europe. So of course if became a beacon for us and in addition it was way off the beaten track, which had even more appeal.
So we headed on south past Zaragoza and turning off the motorway drove through some amazing countryside. At first it looks a bit bland although in fairness the snow did add a little more character. It didn’t take long though for us to take a few left turns and to see the whole landscape change dramatically. Twisting roads around rotund hills and valleys that looked like something out of the Hobbit and with its red soil gave a really atmospheric and beautiful drive. And then you approach Daroca, a fortress encased village, which out of nowhere stakes in claim from the surrounding landscape. We didn’t have the time to stop, as we’d been driving a while, although with its honey coloured buildings and fortress walls is definitely worthy of an explore.
Not far from Daroca, you will enter the tiny hamlet of Gallocanta, which is at the centre for the Nature Reserve and there is an Information Centre from where you can do Guided Tours from November to March and you can also stop over night at in the car park, which has views across the Lagoon. Now I will manage your expectations, as at this point of the year, sadly there was no water in the lagoon, so it looked a little sorry for itself, although the Cranes still came. You can’t get close to them by road or at the Information Centre, although you will see flocks of them coming in to land and with good binoculars will see them on the sandpits. It is a beautiful place to come – peaceful and so incredibly rural. Your exit from this region takes you on a narrow yet characterful road, through small Spanish villages with their ornate churches and cobbled streets that transport you into an authentic Spanish culture beyond the tourist magnetism of the cities and coast.
As short drive away from Gallocanta, is one of Spain’s most beautiful villages. If it had a body like France’s Les Plus Beaux Villages, then Albarracín would most definitely be on it. From the motorway, much like so many places, you can’t imagine what it would be like and you are almost tempted to by-pass it, although the 20 minute deviation is definitely worthy of your turning wheels.
Once off the main plain, you turn into the mountains which are full of character, incredible sandstone eroded cliff faces and a gorge route that will have you enthralled. It is a superb drive. Yet strangely with the weight of expectation on its shoulders, as we approached Albarracín, we found ourselves disappointed. Surely this modern town with its industrial area is not all there is to see? Alas our patience was rewarded as, when we turned the corner, rising in front of our disappointed eyes, is the very reason we travelled here. A church steel adorned with white and green mosaics, an archway where the road travels underneath the village and sandstone buildings that nestled amongst the rocks protected by a fortress that curves around the village. This sight had us feeling instantly humbled and apologetic for ever having doubted it.
For the best experience of 11th Century Albarracín, approach the archway and then turn left, climbing up to the far end of the village and then tracking back towards the main centre. There are so many alleyways to explore and vistas that take your eyes over the gorge below, where the winding Guadalavia river of emerald green gives a real sense of this village’s Alcazar and Moorish roots. And one of the best bits about this town, is that is hasn’t lost its soul to the tourists. For sure there are restaurants and a few shops, although its authenticity is clear to feel as you wander around the streets. We almost felt intrusive, as the lives of the locals continue regardless of the milling crowd.
One of the things I loved best about this tiny village, in the middle of nowhere, is how the views changed around every corner. From the view of the arcing fortress defending the village’s honour, to the perspective from the fortress heights; views over the village walls to the gorge below and out through the windows of the castle remains to the land far away. And that’s before you even wander the streets looking at the quirky buildings, the architecture, the roof lines and the cobbled streets that feel like a maze at times. It is an atmospheric experience and you easily need 1/2 day to wander, absorb and climb to see the full picture of this little hideaway.
N330 Teruel to Utiel, Aragon
After our little dalliance with Albarracín, we hot-footed it over to Teruel, which according to the Guide Books can be one of the coldest towns in Spain – hey we’re not scarred of a bit of cold. After all we’d just endured -11. We did have a quick trip into Teruel given we were so close, although we were disappointed. It was one of those towns, where the battle between old and new rages on and somehow the ancient world seems to be loosing out with modern culture consuming its precious history. Whilst there’s no denying that the main Plaza del Tourico is very pretty with its unusual buildings and undercover cafe bars and restaurants, trying to capture Teruel’s Mudéjar monuments, isn’t easy despite not being far apart from each other. You could almost do with having a Drone to rise up above the tightly packed buildings to really get the beauty of the cathedral and other iconic buildings that would have stood proud in their day.
Teruel needs to be visited as we’ve never seen architecture like it, although an hour will do perfectly well and then move on, as the countryside that is about to greet you is far superior, in our humble opinion. The N330 route is your travel guide for this part of the journey. Taking you away from the built up town and into the heart of a natural tapestry of ochre red and yellow rocks, filled with copious amounts minerals from eons beneath the sea. You could almost imagine yourself in a Spaghetti Western with the pillars of rock being akin to their American cousins and John Wayne galloping through the valley on his trusty stallion. Small villages, kilometres apart from each other, survive on the energy of the land and as the road winds around valleys, gorges and hilltops, you feel lost amidst its natural paradise. Your journey becomes timeless and the vistas entice you to travel slowly and mindfully until you reach Utiel for an overnight stop.
N330 South from Requena to Cofrentes, Valencia Community
The final stage of our journey south was the route from Utiel to Requena with a short diversion south on N330 towards Almansa. Here the vineyards create a patchwork across the countryside and then surrender to the pine-clad mountains. The road turns this way, then that, through the ochre walls and all we could see were acres of forest – oh and a couple of power station funnels! As our heart sank feeling that these blots on the landscape would ruin our experience – we held steady!
And patience brought us to the oasis of Cofrentes, which sits at the confluence of the rivers Júcar and Cabriel – hence its name, originating from the Roman name Confluentum. It is here you can try the regional dish of Gazpachos, eaten by many of the mountain workers and Orza which is a cured sausage. Food aside you have guided tours around Cofrentes’ Gothic Castle and El Cerro de Agras – the region’s only volcano, which still shows some activity by way of the Hervidieros Spa, where gas escapes from the chamber to a spring where the water looks like it is boiling. A river boat trip can be taken up the Júcar for 14km of the Júcar Route and if fishing is your thing, the pike and black-bass in the reservoir may appeal. January, May and August are their festival seasons where this tiny population gather as a community to honour their religious icons and celebrate together. For a tiny village in the middle of the mountains, this is where you can begin to experience, not only the mountain way of life, the true sense of inland Spain with its rituals and traditions. Walking, cycling, fishing – there’s plenty to amuse you in this mountain hideaway.
So this brings us to the close of our route from southern France into Spain, via the Aragon region. What a Christmas sack of gifts this was and how thankful we were not to rush through this area. Whilst we have by no means explored all its depths, we have at least a taster of Aragon’s presence and know for sure that we will return to uncover more of its delights. We hope that it might influence you to stop awhile and also unwrap its hidden depths.
Travel off the beaten track, drive slow, see much and learn plenty as you explore the land which has much to offer the curious explorer.
by Karen Davies | Apr 9, 2017 | Spain, Travel Blog
As we sit in Italy waiting for our ferry to Greece, we’ve had time to reflect on our Spanish adventures. Here is an infographic summary of our highlights from our four months over the last year. Click the link below to get access.
by Karen Davies | Mar 22, 2017 | Events, Spain, Travel Blog
Imagine the scene:
You are walking through a southern Spanish town centre admiring the shops when firecrackers go off around your feet, much to the delight of youngsters intent on scaring the hell out of you. The unforgettable firework smell reaching up into your nostrils brings a sense of nostalgia to your inner child on Bonfire night. Then rising out of the smoke you see these enormous effigies towering in front of you, some of which are as tall as a three storey buildings. Amazing works of art, these satirical compositions tell a story of local, national or international events with a humorous twist.
Compelled to admire the artists’ work, your keep your whits about you as the firecrackers continue to test your nerves. Families set alight fireworks in the street, dancing around them in some bizarre ritual of playfulness without any due care for their wellbeing. And then in the distance you hear the sound of a brass band, banging out a tune or two that has you jigging and foot tapping in unconscious merriment. The sight of the entourage looks something like a scene out of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, as trails of young people dressed in national costume parade behind the players, weaving their way through the streets with a partying vibe running through their veins.
Welcome to the Las Fallas celebrations of the Valencian Community in eastern Spain. One of the biggest festivals for the area that signals merriment, artwork supreme and community spirit. Whilst the city of Valencia is the biggest celebration, other towns in the region also pay homage to the traditions. Our experience comes from Denia, in the southern part of the area.
This is one spectacle that must be seen once in your lifetime, although it needs careful navigation and so this is a quick guide to help you survive this mad weekend of festivities and stay safe, sane and enthralled.
The history of Las Fallas goes back to 18th Century – a tradition that to this day is held in high regard, as district communities prepare, present and honour their unique effigies to the town.
Between the 15-19 March every year, this most incredible event delights the locals and onlookers alike and the daily rituals organise the residents’ diary as they lead up to the pinnacle of the celebrations on San José – 19 March.
- Initiating on 15th March, at 8.00am there is a call to the day’s festivities called La Despertà – the wake up call – and the party begins. So if you’re staying close to the town, then bare in mind that sleep may be on borrowed time.
Las Fallas – a winner
- 15th March also sees the Plantà, when the effigies are installed in each of the districts. These effigies are up to 100ft tall, so it’s not like a carnival float type of experience. The effigies remain in their place for the whole period. You must do the visiting.
For Dénia there are 11 districts, so if you want to see each of the Fallas, then you’ll need a map and good walking shoes to see them all as they are in every corner of the town. You can do a walking tour with a guide from Tourist Information on 17 March, which costs €8.00 per person. This is at least two hours and takes you around some of the main districts. Personally, we recommend getting a map and going to visit them yourself. Some of the statues in the outer reaches of the town are not significant so you could probably miss those ones out – keep to the inner sanctum of the town and you’ll get a really good flavour of these masterpieces.
- La Mascetà – a day-time firecracker performance, which happens at 2.30pm each day in different districts, although we saw them twice in the upper section of Marco de Campo. The display is quite bizarre – we’re not used to seeing fireworks light up a blue, daytime sky. I’ve never been near a war zone although I can imagine that the sound of gunfire and bombs must be like this. The sound and vibration fills your entire chest and creates a slightly uneasy feeling in your heart – although you soon realise it’s a celebration not a war-zone. It is a very strange experience.
For a more traditional Firework Display, on 18 March at 2030, there is a huge Mascletada in Plaça Jaume, which is a phenomenal explosion of pyrotechnic brilliance. Highly recommend this one, although get there early enough to get a good position to see it in all its glory.
L’Ofrena de flors
L’Ofrena de flors happens on 19th March at 11.30am along Calle Marco de Campo. This is a procession of flower girls from each district, honouring the Virgin Mary. The flowers are gathered outside the Convent on a huge statue of the Virgin, which is then duly decorated. Arrive at 11.00am for a roadside seat which will cost you €3.00 for a couple of hours entertainment. Seeing the girls and boys with their stunning traditional costumes and headdresses carrying bouquets of flowers is a sight to see. Infants, young and old all take part in this celebration of offering of flowers.
The Virgin Mary
It’s a long procession, although for 90 minutes it is a lovely sight to see. Choose a place that allows you to pop through to the Convent so you can see the Virgin being decorated. Our suggestion is then – go home and have a restful siesta before the evening’s culmination begins.
La Cremà is the finale of the week’s celebrations where each of the effigies are officially burnt to the ground with pomp and ceremony befitting a Queen. Starting in descending order, from 2100, the burning begins; first the children’s statues and then leading up to the special effigies from midnight through to 3.00am. Fireworks are launched from within the statues signalling the start and what takes months of planning, building and painting is reduced to ashes within 10 mins. Black, toxic smoke fills the streets and air around you. Even the following morning, you can still smell the polystyrene aroma floating around. Flames lick the balconies that overlook the squares that the effigies call home, with Firemen turning their hoses skywards to protect the surrounding buildings. So given the claim to fame of Dénia being the third healthiest place in the world to live, this could be disputed during this weekend.
We headed in to town at 2200 to watch the burning of a couple of the little Fallas and then searched out a medium sized effigy burning at 0045. Remember that most schedules are Spanish time, so be flexible. Again get there early to get a spot and take something to cover your mouth as the fumes are really unpleasant for a time. You will get covered in soot so your Sunday best is not required! Go to Tourist Info on 18 March so you can get the schedule of burnings. Although do bare in mind that these don’t always go according to plan, so follow the crowds and don’t be tempted to walk to the outer reaches of the town as the statues are not always the strongest in the competition.
Our view is, once you’ve seen a couple of Cremàs, then staying for all 11 is not necessary, if your bed is calling. If like us, you have indulged in the festivities throughout the week, this final push is just that. And a couple of burning experiences sufficed for us.
Over all, Las Fallas is one of those experiences that you have to be part of and enter into. We stayed in a campsite about 3kms away from the central hub, www.lospinosdenia.com so managed to retreat from the frenzied activity whilst being close enough to cycle in and feel the vibe. It requires pacing, cameras, videos and good shoes, although certainly worth doing.
For more on our experiences in Denia, 2017, click here in our blog Delightful Denia – Las Fallas:
Pin it for later?
by Karen Davies | Mar 22, 2017 | Events, Spain, Travel Blog
Spain cannot be rivalled for its annual diary of fiestas, each one demonstrating a certain passion for religion, ancient tradition or simply just enjoying a damn good party. One of the things we love most about travelling is being able to, not just spectate, to really throw ourselves into these celebrations and get a real sense of the country’s culture. One such fiesta is held only in the Valencian Community on the eastern coast of Spain in mid March, and it is a spectacle not to be missed.
It was Las Fallas time! (pronounced fiyas, not fallas as this has a whole different meaning, which you might want to google!)
Denia, in the south eastern corner of Spain is famous for many things; its orange groves, its tin and wooden toy history, raisins, its microclimate, and Montgó National Park. And interestingly, it is the third healthiest place to live, according to the World Health Organisation.
This is our third visit to this lovely part of Spain and each time we come back, we fall just a little bit more in love with it and its quirkiness. Albeit on the Costa Blanca coast, there are no high rise towers, no wall-to-wall hotels along crowded promenades, just a very lovely marina, a buzzy tree-lined high street, a Friday market full of tasty, fresh fruit and veg and gastronomic restaurants dotted all around the town. Turn right from the port and you have a 4km promenade, that takes you along a craggy coastline, where you can climb up to the ‘PepperPot’ and the windmills overlooking Javea, or if you’re adventurous, take the mountain-goat track towards the beautiful Tallada caves. So many lovely aspects to this town that, like a onion, keeps revealing more and more layers, the longer you stay.
What stands out in the town’s calendar though are the Las Fallas’ celebrations held during the week leading up to 19 March, which is the day Saint Joseph is honoured. This was the purpose of our third visit as we are so curious about Spain’s fiestas and this one, we had been told not to miss out on. So when we were warned about it being a serious party weekend, I don’t think we were quite prepared for how much revelling we would be doing.
Las Fallas, as a celebration, dates back to 18th century when the locals from the Valencian Community held a simple festival to welcome the arrival of spring. To co-incide with Saint Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary, local wood workers would build small statues that in some way depicted local events or characters in a satirical way. During the day, children would collect burnable materials and build small rubbish heaps that they called fallas. These were then burnt on the eve of Saint Joseph’s day.
Today, the event bares no resemblance to its historical sibling. These days huge statues, as tall as three buses are created, taking months to lovingly craft and which are assembled in the centre of each district’s heartland – and competition is rife between the fallas’ artists. Although intended to unify a community, the modern-day celebration is more about neighbourhoods trying to out-do one another to produce the best effigies possible. Each one is a complicated structure of steel, wood and polystyrene, which take a whole year to plan, organise and construct. Each statue tells its own satirical story and is judged based on their detail, character’s facial expressions and the degree of skill shown by the artist in their composition and balancing acts. It is reported that some of the larger effigies cost up to €20,000 to construct and they are truly magnificent. Before being part of this fiesta, I had an image of a parade of statues on wheels that would move, in procession like format through the streets, much like a UK carnival. Not so and when you see the size and complexity of these works of art, you’ll understand why they can’t move.
Once the effigies have been presented to the town on 15 March – which is called La Plantà, each district begin to visit their neighbouring counterparts and honour their fallas, with dancing and brass bands parading up and down the streets. The partying is pretty intense as you get closer to Saint Joseph’s day, which is when ‘La Cremà’ – the burning takes place, bringing the celebrations to a close. The week’s festivities have a strict schedule and although each town might do things slightly differently, the intent is all the same – party, party, party! By Sunday the revellers look physically exhausted having not slept for three days.
Our experiences in Dénia were a sensory explosion; Our ears were battered from daytime firecracker displays and young children setting off fireworks right beside your feet, making your nerves jangle. Our eyes feasted on the formal night-time fireworks that lit up the sky and the processions of stunning regional costumes that put Joseph’s Techni-coloured Dream-coat to shame. Our hearts vibrated with the feet tapping brass bands that popped up from every street corner and the vibe that bounced off the buildings was palpable. Each statue took its pride of place, demanding your respect, as their characters towered above you, reach for the clouds. The colours, design and story behind each work of art was a sight to behold. You could take 20 minutes looking around each statue and every angle offered you something unique and yet more intrinsic in detail. It over-shadows Disneyland for its fairy-tale composition. What a tragedy that they burn them!
All day and most of the night there is something going on during Las Fallas and you can’t help getting taken along with the energy that dances around every street corner. Although the pinnacle of the festival is La Cremà, where the fallas are burnt ceremonially on 19 March in honour of Saint Joseph. Now this is no normal, health and safety organised event where you are miles from the central stage – for La Cremà you are up close and personal. These are fires that burn in street Plazas adjacent to apartments, bars and restaurants. We felt distraught to see these masterpieces be strung up with fireworks and then offered to the God of Art as flames consumed every inch of the constructions, reducing them to soggy ashes on the concrete beneath them. Months to create and 10 minutes to destroy and yet, paradoxically we saw each district rejoice in the burning ceremony and the party continued. Most bizarre.
We felt a little underwhelmed by the burning and not really sure why. I can’t think what my expectation was, although somehow it didn’t quite match my image – perhaps I’ve been to too many Bonfire Night events. Or may be the lack of organisation played a part trying to reach the burning at the right time. Or perhaps being so close to toxic smoke-filled air was too much to bare. I suspect that staying up to 1.30am to see La Cremà and a certain exhaustion from the weekend’s events played a part in our reaction. Still seeing the flames flirt menacingly with apartment balconies was an intriguing experience, although the Firemen had it all under control. Our faces looked like something out of a Chimney Sweep’s convention by the end of the evening, as hoses constantly dousing the flames sent soggy ashes into the sky only to float down to the throng of observers below.
And so our Denia love affair continues after the buzz of their La Fallas celebrations. Strangely as we took a quiet day post-party, it was amazing to see how clean the streets were, after only a few hours. There was simply no evidence that any fiesta had taken place. The roads were as clean as a baby’s bum and no ashes were to be seen. Just the subtle smell of burning polystyrene that lingered in the air, reminded you of the fiesta’s presence.
We were so glad to have experienced this unique event and it will remain in our memories and our lungs I suspect. For a Guide on how to Survive Las Fallas, click here – and put it on your Spanish To-Do-List for next year. Love from the Motoroamers. xx
Pin for Later?
Check out our gallery