A Travellerspoint blog

Living on the Edge

Cuenca, Spain

View Nov 2020 on margofiala's travel map.

Quick pit stop on the way to Barcelona in Cuenca (central Spain). A World Heritage Site, Cuenca’s old town is stacked on a steep cliff at the meeting point of two deep river gorges. Tall houses dating back to the 14th century with wooden balconies and pillars that jut out over the sheer cliffs, called hanging houses or “Casas Colgades”. Who would build here?


The views from the Parador de Cuenca was pretty hard to beat, so we opted to stay for the weekend enroute to Barcelona. It is a restored convent with a cloister that now makes a great central courtyard, and has some pretty fancy rooms that are now restaurants and bars. Those nuns knew how to live!


Our breakfast at the Parador would have fed all the nuns!


As the old town is on the other side of the very deep river gorge (1000 m/3300 ft), some smart people put in an amazing foot bridge to the other side, certainly not for those with any fear of heights, (although the handrails on either side were comforting).


We started our tour at a contemporary art gallery focusing on Spanish artists (in a hanging house!). Eduardo Chillada, who we have followed around Spain had a sculpture in the entry to the gallery (see first picture):


Cesar Manrique was from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, where we are headed next. It is a volcanic island and has inspired much of his work:


In addition to the art, the building itself was interesting to explore.


Needing to stretch our legs, we hiked up the hill opposite the gorge to a giant statue of Christ. Felt like we climbed Mt Everest but it was just 6 km, although a grunt the whole way. The reward was views and a long mask break:


Dinner that night at Raff San Pedro was an adventure, we wanted to try new things so chose the set menu, which means everything was a surprise to us. Take a look at the menu and see if you can connect the dots!


We had lucky timing as the Cathedral had just reopened, the first time since Covid began. Dating back to the 1100’s, it was built on the site of a mosque (common in Southern Spain), and was hosting a display of their Santa Semana procession. Not as impressive as Lorca, but worth seeing and we got to see the inside of the Cathedral too. Check out the irises on the “float” with Jesus - they are real!


Exploring the old town was a workout, lots of steps, but very interesting to see how they built their town on the cliff. Lots of interesting architecture and views.


Another great walk was through the river valley around the base of the cliffs. Very lush and always something to look up at. Lots of runners, cyclists and dog walkers, kind of like the seaside promenade in Malaga.


Night shots - the place is all lit up!


Nora and her mom (see dog section) recommended Restaurante Recreo Peral, in the river valley that we went to for our last supper in Cuenca. (Yes, we ate a lot on this pit stop). It was like eating in Edmonton’s river valley in spring - very green and lush, smelled like freshly cut lumber and gave us a great view of the best dog walking trail in town! We wouldn’t have been able to eat our dinner with all the dogs that went by! The restaurant had amazing fresh produce. We enjoyed Burrata salad, Baby squid, Artichokes, Squid ink vegetarian pasta and Lamb chops:


Two puppies, a mature lady (Nora) and an abstract painting that we believe is a dog named Plato. “Asere” is a common greeting between friends in Cuba (slang) and Asere’s mom named him for her Cuban boyfriend. Noa is a “Carlino” in Spanish, which of course is a pug at home. All three dogs were very affectionate!


Next stop: Barcelona for a few days to return our leased car, store our ski bag, eat pan con tomate, get a PCR Covid test and fly to the Canary Islands. Will chirp at you soon from the Canaries!

Posted by margofiala 20:44 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Adios Costa del Sol!

Cabo de Gata, Mojacar, Aguilas and Lorca, Spain

View Nov 2020 on margofiala's travel map.

Our last couple weeks in southern Spain were spent exploring the coast between Cabo de Gata and Aguilas.


Cabo de Gata is a national park that protects a rugged cap with dramatic cliffs and beautiful undeveloped beaches, all surrounded by green volcano cones. It is very interesting geography. Here is the Cape, apparently a great diving site too from all the shipwrecks:


A James Bond drive through the park!


We stayed in Mojacar, a seaside town just outside of the park, in a resort-type Parador that was very colonial and white – reminded me of Greece. It was right across from the beach, had a lovely garden with awesome views of the Mediterranean Sea:


Mojacar is divided into two villages: Mojacar Pueblo, a picturesque jumble of white-cube houses on a hilltop 3 km inland and Mojacar Playa, a modern resort type area that runs along the beach with a great promenade and some interesting art. In between the two villages are more green volcano cone hills…make you think about what the area looked like millions of years ago.

Mojacar Pueblo:


Mojacar Playa:


We did two great hikes, one just west of Mojacar heading towards the park and one in the park. Both offered great views, castles and towers along the way and lots of fresh air (ie. Opportunities for mask breaks!).

Ruta La Mena – Macenas (from Mojacar):


Ruta Los Escullos – Isleta del Moro, with a wedding too!


Mojacar Playa has some great seaside bars and restaurants, not many open right now but we did enjoy Tito’s one day for lunch: (Pad Thai, Prawn & avocado salad):


The food at the Parador was good as well – we usually just have bed & breakfast but this time did half-board as there are less restaurants open, so enjoyed dinners there too. (cheese plate, violet tomatoes & Iberian ham, mushroom & shrimp cannelloni, grilled dorado with veggies, bacalao, beef tenderloin)


Next stop: Aguilas, in the neighboring province/state of Murcia. We were close to Aguilas when we stayed in Cartagena for Christmas and New Years, but weren’t able to spend travel here due to the Covid travel restrictions. The Covid numbers are better now so we moved into a beachfront apartment in Aguilas.

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Aguilas means “eagle” in Spanish, but all I saw was pink:


The 18th century castle tops the cape between the bays:

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We had a bird’s eye view of a coastguard’s search & rescue practice session one afternoon – they were rescuing people from the sea by helicopter, it was quite exciting to watch, I’m glad it was a practice!


The town of Aguilas is a perfect beach town with three picturesque bays, and a castle on the cape in between.

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Also, just west of town are some beautiful undeveloped beaches called “Cuatro Calas” (Four Coves):


There are many great restaurants in Aguilas, “Pecado” was one of our favs, so we went a couple times: (tempura avocado, steak tartar, seared tuna with mango, tomato & artichoke salad, mushroom carpaccio, prawns & noodles)


About 45 minutes inland from Aguilas is Lorca, another small, quaint Spanish pueblo with tons of historical buildings and a huge castle above it. We spent a day there exploring and discovered Lorca is quite renowned in Spain for it’s flamboyant Santa Semana (Easter week) celebration.


Every town and city in Spain has a Plaza de Espana, but for a small town this one was mighty impressive:


Beautiful gardens sprinkled around the town as well:


Lorca’s Santa Semana celebration is so significant they have two museums displaying their costumes with videos of the procession through the streets. They are huge celebrations here. We missed the Santa Semana's here due to Covid, (cancelled for the last two years), so this will be the closest we’ve been so far to seeing the party. We visited one of the modern museums (Museo de Bordados del Paso Azulejo) and know we need to experience this one day. The cloaks and trains are hand embroidered, and we were able to have a quick glimpse of the workshop - imagine the hours that go into these works of art!


Here are just a few of the beautiful cloaks and costumes we saw. The detail is amazing, absolute works of art. The larger ones are worn by riders on horseback, so imagine the big trains flowing behind.

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Dogs: Monet is from France of course, who winters in Mojacar. Don is our “perro favorito” for this blog, in fact we saw him with his Scottish/Spanish family enough times that he started greeting us! He is named after Dominic Toretto (starred in the movie “Fast and Furious”). Thanks again to Chris and family for all the local intel and cervezas!


Next stop: Cuenca for a few days to see the sites, then back to Barcelona!

Posted by margofiala 20:24 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

A Little Italy in Spain

Ubeda and Baeza, Andalucia

View Nov 2020 on margofiala's travel map.

After five great weeks at the beach in Malaga, we decided it was time to move on. We headed to Ubeda and Baeza, two neighboring towns that are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Still in Andalucia, but inland about 3 hours from Malaga. The drive here was all olive tree orchards, as far as the eye could see. Dean said in Tuscany they have vineyards, in Spain we have olives! Apparently, this area of Spain produces 1/6 of the world’s olive oil:


We decided it was time for another luxurious Parador stay. During Covid, they are often the only hotels open....but they are typically in historic or unique buildings, so always a great experience. The Ubeda parador is a restored chaplain’s residence, the Palacio del Dean Ortega, situated very close to work, with the Sacred Chapel of the Savior right next door. Both were built in the 1500’s and mark the beginning of Renaissance architecture in this part of Spain. Look for Dean looking out our window, he can almost touch the chapel from our balcony:


These buildings are even more beautiful at night when they are lit up:

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Staying at this Parador is like sleeping in a museum:


And of course, as the Parador is in the “Palacio del Dean Ortega”, there was a bar for you know who...


We attended Sunday mass in order to see inside the church next door, it was pretty amazing. The service had music too, it was a unique experience to hear the old organ play and a small choir sing from up in a separate loft area. They had the acoustics figured out it the 1500’s:


The architecture throughout the old town reminds you of an Italian Renaissance city, very different from a lot of other historic buildings in Andalucia that are typically Islamic/Moorish:


The Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad has a magnificent ceiling:


The Basilica de Santa Maria:


The Hospital de Santiago, built in 1575, was restored to provide meeting rooms/conference center and a theater - which I snuck into but got kicked out, so unfortunately couldn’t get pictures. But the ceiling is the story and from the one in the staircase below, you can see what was also in the theatre.

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Just 9 KMs away is the sister town of Baeza, also filled with Renaissance architecture. Unfortunately, many of the fancy buildings were closed due to Covid, but we did enjoy seeing the exterior of many historic buildings:


Both towns are known for their gastronomy, so we had to try that out too. First in Ubeda at Restaurante Antique - tomato salad (yes, a skinned tomato) with lovely local olive oil, salt and herbs; turbot fish with sautéed veggies; seared tuna with potato and seaweed; and chocolate mousse for desert, with olive oil and bread (sounds odd but delicious):


In Baeza, the Palacio de Gallego was an amazing setting and great food. Starting with an egg concoction that was definitely for Dean; made with two sunny side up eggs, shrimp, mashed potatoes, black truffle oil and ham, then mixed together table side. Dean loved it - heaven he said. The peeled tomato is definitely a thing here, I haven’t figured out how they cube them and put them back together, but they sure are good. We also had mussels in an amazing white wine sauce and “ old cow” beef steak, which is aged beef I’m told:


No Japanese beetles here, the roses are exquisite and there are many beautiful gardens:


I want one of these in my garden:


The perros in Ubeda and Baeza know they are living in a very special place. Jere looks like a princess with a secret, Rocky and Bebles are playful young puppies, Oliva kept sneaking into our restaurant and Margarita was a big surprise!


Next stop: Mojacar and Cabo de Gata on the south coast, so back to the beach. Adios everyone!

Posted by margofiala 16:44 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

"Enjoy your life!"

Malaga, Andalucia

View Nov 2020 & Malaga town tour on margofiala's travel map.

This trip we have met far fewer tourists due to the COVID travel restrictions. When we have had the opportunity to chat with folks there was a common theme: that we are very fortunate to be traveling during this time even with all the restrictions. We enjoyed our conversation with them and instead of saying "good bye", one couple said, "Enjoy your life"! We thought it was a great saying, very apropiado (appropriate) for the times.

Our next stop we had planned was to go skiing in Baqueira, which is located in the Spanish Pyrenees next to the French border. I had the opportunity to ski there last winter, without Margo as she had just severed her ACL in Switzerland. I was excited to ski there again and it would be a lot more fun to be skiing with her this time around. Unfortunately, the snow gods have not been so kind this year and not much of the hill is open, as you can see from their web page below. Hence, we headed to the coast to take in some sun! As our niece Kyra would say, "1% problem Uncle Dean!":


We set course for Malaga, an awesome city on the coast that we visited before with Cousin Derise and enjoyed Christmas of 2019. We have seen most of the sights here but loved it and the weather is “muy bien” (very good) so we had to come back - time for some R & R! Margo found us the perfect apartment that is right across the street from the famed Malagueta beach and the promenade that seems to go forever:


The temperatures are getting warm enough to break out the shorts to enjoy long walks and bike rides along the promenade. We even managed to take in our first day of paddle boarding for 2021:


The beaches are lined with Chiringuitos which originally were small temporary kiosks serving drinks and tapas on the beach. They have evolved into more permanent structures known for their barbacoa or barbeque pits that they cook fresh fish on the beach. The fish tastes amazing and is served simply with boiled potatoes (Tara’s fav!). We order a big salad to go with the fish, enjoy the scenery and an awesome meal:


The weather was nice enough that we were able to enjoy sometime sitting on the beach with our toes in the sand. The water however was “muy frio”! (very cold):


A cool beach shower:


In normal years we are told that there is nothing quite like Easter in Malaga. “The air is filled with incense and smell of the blossoming orange trees. The crowds cram into the cobbled streets, jostling to get a look at the solemn processions with men in cloaks to the beat of drums. They carry huge floats with statues of saints and Jesus on the cross, hoisted on their shoulders. 200-250 men shuffle shoulder to shoulder baring the heavy weight on routes through the city.” But for the second year running due to the pandemic, all such celebrations are canceled across Spain throughout the Holy Week, quite a different picture....fingers crossed for next year:


There were a few floats on display that were open to the public - pictures don’t do the size of these justice!


The area around Malaga is very diverse. Just a drive 45 minute drive east you can be in the Axarquia region, a prosperous farming area with deep valleys, terraces everywhere and irrigation channels dating back to Islamic times. There are a number of small white villages hanging on the hills with huge crops of olive, grapes, avocados and almonds growing on every inch of land. No farmer in North America would ever consider planting crops on such treacherous landscape:


The Axarquia area borders on the Parque Natural Sierres de Tejeda and Alhama with many wonderful hiking trails that we enjoyed. Our research talked about exploring these villages clinging to the hillside throughout the number of valleys and hiking in between. There are four “must see” villages Competa, Comares, Canillas de Aceituno and Frigiliana. We were able to visit Frigiliana in 2019, so set out for the others. You can zoom in and out on the map below:


Competa is an attractive village with panoramic views, steep winding streets and a central plaza lined with bars overlooking a 16th century church. It has a very mixed European population (Spanish plus British, Dutch, German, Danish, etc.) and is known for their outstanding culinary cuisine, which of course we took in...twice! Interestingly enough it is home to two charity/thrift shops which is very rare in Spain. One for cats and dogs and another for horses, who would have guessed! We thought there should be three since we ran into an ostrich that we thought could use some help or at least a friend:


The village of Comares sits on the top point of a lofty hill. The adventure really is in getting there: you see it for miles away before the final twist in an endless road lands you below the hanging garden on the cliffs of the village. It’s very popular for rock climbing and has one of the longest zip lines in Andalucía. Unfortunely, all the activities were closed because of COVID. We did however take in the town’s sites:


Lastly, the town of Canillas de Aceituno. The inhabitants here are called chancellors and work in agriculture and construction, not a big surprise with all the farms in the area:


During our tour we came across the town of Velez-Malaga, not on the four town tour but we couldn’t miss it since it had its own La Alcazaba (The Fortress):


There is an active archeology site at the Alcazaba, what will they dig up next?


We thought we had visited all the major points of interest during our previous trips to Malaga, I guess we hadn't seen them all! Here are three notable attractions.

The Museo Picasso Malaga is noted to be an "unmissable"....oops. Given Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso it is surprising that we had not taken it in before. There are 250-plus works in this collection which is noted to be the biggest and best in the world. It was mighty impressive! We had seen one his most famous pieces in Madrid last year, the impressive, but horrific painting called “Guernica” based on the atrocities from the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930’s (last picture):


Another worthwhile visit was to the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo. The contemporary art museum is housed in a converted 1930ish wholesale market warehouse and shows predominantly Spanish modern art. The picture below of the two murals on the building were advertising for a 2005 showcase that was held at the museum. They really make a statement and provide good marketing for the museum, hence they have left them up:


A special exhibit for a sculptor from Malaga, Rafa Macaron, was up when we were there - just for us we think!


Not sure how we missed Museo de Malaga as it is huge! Of course, the museum is housed in a huge neoclassical palace, the Palacio de Aduana. It houses a fine-arts collection and a very impressive archaeological collection that extends from Neolithic shards and skeletons uncovered in neighboring towns to headless statues of a Roman noblewomen and everything in-between:


Malaga is in bloom! Margo is in heaven with all the wonderful smells and sights of the explosion of the spring plants and flowering trees. The scent of orange blossoms is everywhere and is heavenly! (that’s a Margo quote!):

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Los perros de Malaga (the dogs of Malaga). Our landlord’s dog Sansei is obviously our favorite, although Margo is worried that he doesn't have a helmet! He loves the scooter and runs to it, excited to get lifted into the carrier. He loves his grandpa Jose and won’t let him out of his sight. We think his mom, Jose’s daughter who is away at school, will never get him back. 🐾❤️


Larry and Daisy are owned by a Brit, so those are their real names, and Bobby is Danish. Isn’t Snowy gorgeous? He is an 8 month old pup owned by a resident French family. You can tell by the dog names that this is a popular European destination, it was hard to separate Margo and Nede!


We have loved springtime in Malaga and hate to leave, but on we go! We leave April 10th for Ubeda and Baeza, some inland towns in Andalucia, then back to the coast to Cabo de Gato and Aguilas. We return our car in Barcelona on April 28, so want to do some more touring before then. After that, still TBD at this point, we will see what the Covid gods say. We have booked our flight home on June 26, so will enjoy more spring here. Adios!

Posted by margofiala 11:33 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Small Town Andalusia

Santiponce, Ecija, La Rabida, Carmona, Osuna, Andalusia, Spain

View Nov 2020 & Malaga town tour & Small town Andalucia on margofiala's travel map.

Seville was a great base for day trips around Andalusia - here are some highlights, as well as our next destination of Carmona. We enjoyed a tour through the famous “white towns of Andalusia” last year with Cousin Derise (see our “Autumn in Andalusia” blog), so we set off to explore new places.

Northwest of Seville is Santiponce, where we spent a day exploring Roman ruins dating back to the 1st century BC. The standout here was the mosaic floors that miraculously are preserved for roughly 2000 years, buried, but exposed to the elements. I’m sure our floors wouldn’t last that long.


We had an awesome lunch there as well at La Caseta de Antonio (artichokes with ham, seafood & meat paella):


About an hour east of Seville is a village called Ecija, which is known as the “city of spires”, even one with a rosary - obviously a “holy” place:


It also has a wonderful city museum set in an old restored palace (is it bad to enjoy the building they are in more than the contents of the museum?). Similar to Santiponce, they also had amazing mosaics on display, as well as a statue of an Amazon Warrior, both from the Roman times around 7th century BC. The statue is supposedly one of the best preserved Amazon Warriors in existence and was found when excavating the main square’s underground parking garage. Another cool find was a piece of gold jewelry, thought to be part of a necklace.


Dean found an excellent lunch stop there, Hispania, (salmon tartar; artichokes with shrimp & ham; marisco (seafood) rice; tiramisu):


Another day trip took us west towards Portugal, near the large industrial city of Huelva. La Rabida, on the outskirts of the city, is home to several monuments commemorating Christopher Columbus’s initial trans-Atlantic expedition to America in 1492 and replicas of the three ships that made the journey:


Apparently getting funding for his idea was difficult even in those times, so there are many paintings, sculptures and monuments depicting it. This one is from Seville’s Fine Arts museum of Christopher Columbus meeting with the Catholic Monarch’s Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand seeking support for his proposed exploration:


It was time for a stay at a Parador! These unique Spanish hotels are similar to a Fairmont, typically in a historical building or unique setting. Our last stay was in Catalonia in early December (remember “A Castle and a Cat”)? The Carmona Parador is about 35 km/22 miles east of Seville in a restored section of the ruins of a 13th century Moorish fortress, called the “Alcazar del Rey Don Pedro”:


Our room had a amazing view of the surrounding valley, which at this time of year kind of looks like the Canadian prairies. Yes, they grow wheat and sunflowers too!


We enjoyed watching the goats get herded, the shepherd was definitely working harder than his border collie!


The inside terrace area and dining room were restored in their Moorish style:

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For more than 500,000 years people have settled in this region, so lots of history here. During the more recent Roman, Moorish and Christian times, Carmona was a strategic and prosperous location, so is full of noble palaces, Mudejar churches and forts, as well as a Roman necropolis (cemetery) from the 1st century AD. Lots to see from our palatial digs.

Two of the four gates into the old town are still standing. The “Puerta de Sevilla” is the grandest, with two entrances today:


The “Puerta de Córdoba” is on the opposite side of town, near the Parador:


The Alcazar de la Puerta de Seville was originally built on top of the main gate to the old town and then all the various conquerors added on to it, so it offers great views:


There are many old churches in Carmona, but the one that stood out to us was the Convent of Santa Clara. The walls of the main church were covered with paintings of women, not typical even in a convent. Obviously Santa Clara felt it was important to recognize her female donors, or thought they were more photogenic?


Given it’s Roman history, the local museum had more interesting mosaic floors and statues, most discovered when building new things...like underground parking garages. Imagine excavating to build and finding stuff like this! The building was cool too, with a pretty cloister to start:

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An amazing replica of Picasso’s Guernica, carved in wood, is a very special piece for this small museum, by Francisco Rodriguez Nodal. The second picture is the original that we saw in Madrid last year. This painting commemorates the small town of Guernica that was destroyed by an air raid during the Spanish Civil War by the German Nazis. First shown in Paris at an international art exhibition in 1937, it was never allowed in Spain until 1981, after Franco died in 1975.


During the Roman times, they buried their dead outside of the town usually next to the road. This Roman necropolis (cemetery) is just outside of the Sevilla gate. There are literally hundreds of tombs here, some elaborate for richer families and some not as much. Most were cremated and are in wall niches for urns...sound familiar? Of particular interest was the large celebration areas built in and around the tombs, and one tomb with an elephant:


We enjoyed just walking around the old town of Carmona, surrounded by the defensive walls originally built over 2000 years ago and walking their narrow, cobbled streets:

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On our way to our new home in Malaga, we stopped in the town of Osuna for the afternoon, home to the Colegiata de Santa Maria de la Asunción, a large Renaissance mausoleum built for the wealthy Dukes of Osuna (20 of them), with 3 churches in one building set overlooking the town. It was clear they were the richest family in Southern Europe at the time - it was really “over the top”.


The lowest level is the crypt, where all but one of the twenty dukes are entombed:


The middle level, including where the monks prayed for the Dukes:


The upper level, including a church in use today and the last duke, whose tomb was too large to fit in the crypt!

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And the art gallery, including this famous painting by Jose de Ribera:


Osuna was also one of the many Game of Thrones filming locations, remember the “Great Pit of Daznak” in the 5th season where Jorah Mormont fights with the hope of winning back Daenerys favor? It was filmed in the town’s bullring, Plaza de Torres:


Looks nicer than our “Beware of the Dog” signs at home I think:


The dogs we met...Bonita loved getting her belly rubbed, even in the middle of the street!


Posted by margofiala 20:42 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

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