…the now insignificant village of Palos de la Frontera. It was form this port that Columbus sailed on Aug. 3rd, 1492, on his voyage of discovery with this three small vessels, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña. - Baedecker;s Spain and Portugal, 1901Read More
It was a hot, cloudy sky that covered the world south of Badajoz as we peeled southwards. These were roads less travelled, far flung dusty stretches of tarmac than ran parallel to Portugal. Simple countryside that recalled the Serengeti and which produced manifold conquistadores. Did they simply want to get out?Read More
There were always corners of Spain, far-flung places with historical and political significance, that you never seemed to quite get to. Badajoz was one of those places. A provincial capital of 150,000 people, a legendary border town near Portugal where battles and skirmishes raged between French, Spaniards, Portuguese and the British, and a city that I was always told wasn’t worth visiting. So more my desire to go then. With me it was never a direct route. In this country gems were always scattered along any route.Read More
In my century-old Baedecker’s Spain and Portugal guide 496 pages are given to Spain and 82 are dedicated to neighbouring Portugal. This may seem a touch unfair, but given that the population of Spain in 1900 was around 18.5 million and Portugal 5.5 million, and given that Spain is 5.5 times bigger than Portugal, one could argue on the fairness of this distribution. The simple fact is that, despite its brilliance and culinary delights, Portugal is smaller and has less to see.Read More
Mallorca recalled to me a paradise island perhaps ruined by tourism. My thoughts turned to places like Magaluf; a Benidorm-like hive of young Brits obliterated on cheap alcohol, scabby beaches with crystal clear waters and high rise apartments and hotels. An island then where the national drink was surely cold jugs of fake sangria and where everybody ate defrosted paella and had churros for dessert. The capital, Palma, came as quite a surprise.Read More
La Rioja is almost more of a viticultural concept, an alcoholic sliver of history, than simply a mere region; the smallest of Spain’s 17. Much like Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Chianti, the word Rioja precedes the place itself and instead implants in the mind an idea of wine, a clear image of bottles of red, usually Tempranillo. But then the images fades and we are once again just left with the words La and Rioja.Read More
The Yesa Lake shines shines a bright unworldly cyan under a cerulean sky. The waters flirt with turquoise and the banks are dry and bone-chalk. Fields of furry yellow reeds peel back from the shore to rolling green hills. This was a place of dead towns and broken walls sitting juxtaposed with intense, pastoral beauty.Read More
73km from San Sebastián - 52km from Vitoria - 64km from Bilbao.
Oñati, a Basque Toledo, or so it was described, is the monumental ancient heart that beats at the centre of the País Vasco. A diminutive town of little over 11,000 inhabitants, the ‘place of many hills’ is clothed in honey-stone and ecclesiastical heritage. You can cross the town in only 15mins but it feels like a slice of grandiose Salamanca has been stolen from Castile and deposited, hidden and secret, in a cleft of nature surrounded on all sides by green peaks.Read More
On the 21st January a Times Travel section journalist called Christ Haslam wrote a piece called ‘How to be Spanish’ for a Spain Special segment in the newspaper. I think I understand what he thought he was getting at. I (hope) it was supposed to be an overly exaggerated piece playing on stereotypes and dripping with supercilious irony.
Unfortunately it was not written well enough, or obvious enough, for this to come across. Other elements were simply wrong or lazy and the whole piece lacked a nuance of either knowledge or endearment that would have helped the article come across as tongue in cheek as opposed to a little mean and haughty.Read More
The word ‘sherry’ conjures up in the mind a menagerie of wrongs. It is usually thought of as a sickly sweet dessert wine that grandma drinks at Christmas; pouring a little dram out of the bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream that has been sitting there for years, the alcohol all evaporated off and with sugar crystals sticking the cap on. This is not the sherry that confronts the visitor in Spain.Read More
I dimly remember, quite some years back during an online video binge where I watched clips of young Americans trying out foreign sweets and objectively stupid people try ‘the world’s hottest peppers’, stumbling upon a video of ‘disgusting foods’ or some such theme. One part had two grown men eating hákarl, after sniffing it with scrunched noses and various ‘Oh, God!’ exclamations. They retched and aimed to spit it out. If you go to YouTube and type in ‘eating hákarl’ or ‘eating rotten shark’ there are pages and pages of clips, mostly homemade, mostly loud young Americans, eating and overreacting to this Icelandic delicacy. There is indeed even one clip involving Gordon Ramsay retching at it on his own show, and even Andrew Zimmern went to shoot an episode of his Bizarre Foods series there and said ‘That’s hardcore. That’s serious food. You don’t want to mess with that. That’s not for beginners.’Read More