Zamora. The Setmeravelles.

Zamora León Ponferrada

Zamora was the 49th Spanish province I visited, and I finally made it in June 2018. I only saw the capital city, but I was charmed by the city of 63,217 people. I would love to have more time to explore the city and the entire province. The city is home to 24 Romanesque churches, more than any other city in Europe. Zamora el la 49ª provincia española que visité, y por fin fui en junio de 2018. Solo podía ver la capital, pero me encantó la ciudad de 63,217 personas. Me encantaría tener más tiempo para explorar la ciudad y la provincia. La ciudad tiene 24 iglesias románicas, más que cualquier otra ciudad europea. 

Zamora Set Meravelles

1. Castillo de Zamora

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The castle-fort’s orgins are a mystery. Some say Alfonso II of Asturias had it built, while others say it was Fernando I de León. We do know it was built between the 10th and 12th centuries and was reformed under Felipe V. Today it is a tourist attraction. Los origines del castillo-fortaleza son un misterio. Algunos dicen que es de la era de Alfonso II de Asturias mientras otros dicen que era durante Fernando I de León. Sabemos que fue construido entre los siglos X y XII y fue reformado durante la época de Felipe V. Hoy es un sitio turístico. 

2. Catedral de Zamora

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The Romanesque cathedral was built between 1151 and 1174 and is on a hill overlooking the River Duero, dominating the skyline. It still has the old walls and gates and is an impressive site, next to the Castle. La catedral románica fue construida entre 1151 y 1174. Está situado en una colina con vistas del Río Duero y domina el horizonte. Todavía tiene las murallas y puertas antiguas y es impresionante, a lado del castillo. 

3. Fermoselle (yet to discover)

Fermoselle is a medieval village dating back to Roman times and has a population of 1262. Juan de la Encina, father of Spanish theatre, was born there. It is close to the Arribes del Duero Natural Park, a gorge with green rock formations. Fermoselle es un pueblo medieval fundido en los tiempos romanos y tiene una población de 1262 habitantes. Juan de la Encina, el padre de teatro español, nació allí. Está cerca del Parque Natural Arribes del Duero, un barranco con formaciones de roca verdes. 

4. Toro (Yet to discover)

Toro is a quaint village that usually pops up on those lists of beautiful villages of Spain. 9421 people call the town which dates back to 220 B.C. home. It’s built in the shape of a fan and has views of the oasis of Castilla. It’s known for its wine. Toro es un pueblo pintoresco que suele estar en estas listas de pueblos bonitos de España. 9421 personas llaman el pueblo su hogar. Fue fundido en 220 a.C. Tiene el forma de un abanico y tiene vistas del oasis de Castilla. Es conocido por su vino. 

5. Benavente (Yet to discover)

Benavente, population 18,237, dates back to 1167. It has a Parador and several churches and is an important transportation hub in Castilla y León. Benavente, población 18.237, fue fundido en 1167. Tiene un Parador y muchas iglesias y es muy importante para comunicación de transporte en Castilla y León. 

6.  Sanabria (Yet to discover)

The Lake of Sanabria is one of the few glacial lakes in Spain. The comarca has a sizable wolf population . The village of Sanabria has a population of 1432, but it is the impressive lake and mountains that make it must-see for me. El Lago de Sanabria es uno de los pocos lagos glaciales en España.La comarca tiene bastante lobos. El pueblo de Sanabria tiene una población de 1432 personas, pero es el lago impresionante y los montes que me atraen más. 

7. Lagunas de Villafáfila (Yet to discover)

The Lagoons of Villafáfila are three lagoons near the rivers Esla, Valderaduey and Salado, near the village of Villafáfila. Las lagunas de Villafáfila son tres lagunas cerca de los ríos Esla, Valderaduey y Salado, a lado del pueblo de Villafáfila. 

The Set Meravelles of London.

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I’ve visited London three times now, and every time it has impressed me. There are way more than seven wonders in this amazing city so I know I’ve probably left off your favourite. However, these are seven places that have left their mark on me (well one I am dying to go to). I would write the Set Meravelles of England, but all my photos of the other places are from a film camera in 2000 and somewhere in the United States. Maybe in the future if I can find and scan them. He visitado Londres tres veces ahora, y cada viaje me ha dejado impresionado. Hay más que siete maravillas en esta ciudad increíble, y ya lo sé, no he dicho tu sitio preferido de la ciudad. Bueno, estos son siete sitios que han dejado su marco (y uno que tengo muchas ganas de visitar). Escribiría una entrada de los Set Meravelles de Inglaterra, pero todos mis fotos del resto del país son de una camera de película de 2000 y están en algún sitio de EEUU cuyo no nombre me quiero acordar….Quizás en el futuro si las encuentro y las puedo escanear. 

I just realised that somehow Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament didn’t make the list. This is hard. Acabo de darme cuenta que se me había olvidado incluir Hyde Park, Palacio Buckingham y las Houses of Parliament (Casas de Parlamento) en la lista. Es duro. 

Tower of London/Tower Bridge

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The Tower of London is actually a castle, and is officially named “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London.” It was orginally built on the River Thames by William the Conquerer in 1070 and expanded over the years. It was used as a prison until 1952 and is a former royal residence. The Crown Jewels are located here. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There have been reports of ghosts, including the beheaded Anne Boleyn and Henry VI. The nearby Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 and it is more recognisable than the London Bridge. El Torre de Londres es un castillo y su nombre oficial es “El Palacio y Fortaleza Real del Torre de Londres de Su Majestad .” Fue construido en el Río Támesis por William el Conquistador en 1070 y durante los años creció bastante. Fue una prisión hasta 1952 y también es una residencia real antigua. Las Joyas de Corona están allí y es un UNESCO Patrimonio de la Humanidad. Se dice que hay fantasmas allí, incluso el fantasma de Anne Bolyen (sin su cabeza) y Enrique VI. El Puente Torre, que está alado, fue construido entre 1886 y 1894 y se reconoce más que el Puente de Londres.

London Eye

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The London Eye is 443 feet/135 metres high and is Europe’s tallest Ferris Wheel. It was inaugurated on Dec. 31, 1999, just in time for the Y2K chaos that never happened.  Each capsule represents a different London Borough and can hold up to 25 people. After three trips to London, I still haven’t had the opportunity to board it. La núria el “Ojo de Londres” tiene 135 metros de altura y es la núria más alta de Europa. Su inaugración fue el 31 de diciembre de 1999, justo antes del caos que Y2K que al final nunca pasó. Cada capsulo representa un barrio distino de Londres y caben 25 personas. Después de tres viajes a Londres, todavía no he subido. Muy mal. 

West End

I’ll admit it. I’m a huge fan of musical theatre and theatre in general. I’ve had the opportunity to see An Inspector Calls, Blood Brothers, Whistle Down the Wind, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abriged) and Chicago in the West End, more than I’ve seen on Broadway (Cabaret, Les Miserables). There are around 40 theatres in the area. He de decir que soy gran fan del teatro musical y teatro en general. He tenido la oportunidad de ver An Inspector Calls, Blood Brothers, Whistle Down the Wind, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) Chicago en el West End, más que he visto en Broadway (Cabaret, Les Miserables). Hay sobre 40 teatros en la zona. 

Covent Garden

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Located between Drury Lane and Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden is an old fruit-and-vegetable market turned shopping centre. The market dates all the way back to Roman times. I remember loving it my first trip as an 18-year-old, and I enjoyed returning to it a few weeks ago when I wasn’t sure why I enjoyed it so much. It’s a happening place to be, albeit a bit touristy. Situado entre Drury Lane y Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden es un mercado de fruta y verdura antiguo que se convirtieron a un centro comercial. El mercado tiene sus raíces de la época romana. Recuerdo que me encantó el mercado la primera vez que fui cuando solo tenía 18 años, y disfruté de volver hace unas semanas cuando no recordaba porque me encantó tanto. Es un sitio que llama la atención, aunque algo turístico. 

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

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The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It burnt down to the ground in 1613 and was rebuilt in 1614 only to be closed in 1642. In 1997, it was rebuilt again only 230 metres (750 feet) from the original location. Only 1400 people are allowed in it, however, due to modern-day fire codes. The original held 3000. Other than that, it’s a pretty accurate representation of the original. Plays do include women actresses today, unlike in Shakespeare’s time. El primer Teatro Globo fue construido en 1599 por los Lord Chamberlain’s Men de Shakespeare. Sufrió un incendio en 1613 y fue construido de nuevo en 1614, pero el gobierno lo cerró en 1652. En 1997, lo construyeron de nuevo y está ubicado solo a 230 metros del original. Solo se permiten 1400 personas entrar a la vez hoy en día dado a los códigos y leyes actuales. El original podrían permitir 3000 personas. Fuera de eso, es una representación correcta del original. Las obras de teatro sí, incluyen actrices hoy en día, al contrario de lo que pasó durante la época de Shakespeare. 

British Museum

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First established in 1753, the British Museum is one of the largest and oldest museums of the world. While I honestly feel that a vast majority of the collection that was acquired during British colonization and such should be returned to the respective countries, I have to admit it is an impressive collection. It has mummies, the art of the Parthenon and one of the 18 casts of Rodin’s famous The ThinkerEl Museo Británico fue fundido en 1753 y es uno de los museos más grandes y antiguos del mundo. Aunque creo que deberían devolver la mayoría de su colección que fue adquirida durante la época de la colonización inglesa, he de decir que es una colección impresionante. Tiene momias, el arte del Parthenon de Atenas y uno de los 18 estatuas del famoso El Pensador de Rodin. 

Greenwich (yet to discover)

I have never actually been able to plan my own itinerary for London, which explains how I’ve never been to this part of southeast London. It gives its name to that Meridan and Mean Time. It’s home to the Old Royal Naval College and Maritime Greenwich is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The River Thames flows through the town, and it’s only 5.5 miles/8.9 km from Charing Cross. Nunca he podido hacer mi propio itinerario de Londres, que explica como no he estado en este parte de Londres. Da su name a ese Meridiano y la hora Greenwich. Allí se encuentra el Colegio Naval Real Viejo. Maritime Greenwich es UNESCO Patrimonio de la Humanidad. También está en el Río Támesis 

Huesca, the Set Meravelles.

Huesca is a province of Aragón located in the Pyrenees near the French border. The population is near 230,000 with the majority of the denziens living in the capital city of Huesca. It’s also the home of a lot of ski resorts. Jaca is another important city. I finally went for the first time in March 2017. It was well worth the wait, and I look forward to exploring it more one day. Huesca es una provincia de Aragón situado en los Pirineos cerca de la frontera francesa. La población es unos 230.000 habitantes con la mayoria viviendo en Huesca capital. También hay muchos estaciones de esquí. Jaca es otra ciudad importante. Por fin fui por la primera vez en marzo de 2017. Merecía la pena, y me da ilusión volver un día para explorar la provincia más. 

ELS SET MERAVELLES DE HUESCA

Canfranc

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An old, abandoned train station in the mountains of Huesca. Incredible. Una estación de tren abandonada situado en los montes de Huesca. Increíble. 

Ciudadella de Jaca

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The “Castle of San Pedro” is at the centre of a beautiful town with views of the nearby mountains. It was built under King Felipe II in the 16th and 17th centuries and restored in 1968. El Castillo de San Pedro está en el centro de un pueblo bonito con vistas de los Pirineos cercanos. Fue construido durante el reino del Rey Felipe II en los Siglos XVI y XVII y fue restaurado en 1968. 

Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña (yet to be discovered)

The Monastery of San Juan de la Peña is located near Santa Cruz de los Serós. It was built in 920, and rebuilt after a fire in 1675. The old monastery has been a National Monument since 1889 and the new one since 1923. It is built into the rock and the Holy Grail is said to have been sent there before being sent to its current location in the Cathedral of Valencia. El monasterio de San Juan de la Peña está ubicado cerca de Santa Cruz de los Serós. Fue construido en 920 y reconstruido después de un incendio en 1675. El monasterio antiguo fue declarado Monumento Nacional en 1889 y el nuevo en 1923. Está construido en la roca y se dice que el Santo Grial era mandado allí antes de mandarselo a la Catedral de Valencia, donde se dice está ahora. 

Castillo de Loarre (yet to be discovered)

The Castle of Loarre is one of the oldest in Spain, built in the 11th and 12th centuries. It was important in the Reconquista. It was seen in the 2005 film Kingdom of HeavenEl Castillo de Loarre es uno de los castillos más antiguos de España, construido en los Siglos XI y XII. Era muy importante durante la Reconquista. Era usado en la película Kingdom of Heaven en 2005. 

Ordesa y Monte Perdido (Yet to be discovered)

The Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park is known for its waterfalls and wildlife. It is a glacier valley in the Pyrenees and has been a national park in some form since 1918. El Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido es muy conocido por sus cascadas y su fauna. Es un valle glaciar en los Pirineos y ha sido un parque nacional en alguna forma desde 1918. 

Alquézar (Yet to be discovered)

Alquézar is a small village of 300 people. Its name comes from the Arabic word for “castle” or “fortress” and located in the Sierra y Cañones Parque Natural (Mountain and canyons). Alquézar es un pueblo pequeño de 300 personas. Su nombre viene de la palabra de árabe por “castillo” o “alcázar”. Está ubicado en el Parque Natural Sierra y Cañones. 

Aínsa (Yet to be discovered)

Aínsa is another village in the Pyrenees and has 2173 inhabitants. It is also located in the Sierra y Cañones Parque Natural and has a castle in addition to beautiful mountain views. It usually comes up in those “Most Beautiful Spanish Villages” lists. Aínsa es otro pueblo del Pirineo y tiene 2173 habitantes. También está situado en la Parque Natural Sierra y Cañones. Tiene un castillo y vistas preciosas del monte. Suele salir en las listas de los pueblos más bonitos de España. 

Gibraltar. Let’s rock and roll.

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My apologies for the pun. Even in Spain, I continue to read Pearls Before Swine. Blame Stephen Pastis.

Gibraltar is a huge, giant rock at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula (The Greatest Peninsula in the World) that is a sore subject for most Spaniards and Spaniard wannabes like me. It technically belongs to the United Kingdom. Technically. During the War of Spanish Succession, an Anglo-Dutch force captured it from the Spanish, and the Treaty of Utrecht ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713. Three hundred years later, the Spanish are still not happy about it. In the summer, at the border crossing, there can be long lines. I was a bit miffed that I didn’t get a stamp in my passport when I went in 2009.

Gibraltar is 6 square kilometres (2.3 square miles) and has nearly 30,000 inhabitants.

My visit was another day trip from my trip to Málaga over the May Day long weekend in 2009. I was debating whether to take the too damn early bus or the early bus, and I took the early bus. I fell in love with the beautiful scenery in Málaga. On one side was the sea, and the other side were mountains. The bus stopped in La Línea de la Concepción, a border town in Cádiz, and I walked across the border (no long lines that Friday in early May) and the airport to Gibraltar.

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I loved the rock! My Spanish teacher had told us stories. I loved the apes. I loved being able to see Africa. I loved buying “forbidden” sweets like Reese Pieces and smuggling them back across the Spanish border. (For the record, it wasn’t really smuggling as Reese Pieces are completely legal in Spain but aren’t marketed here or sold outside shops catering to American and British tourists. But it’s such a better tale when you say you smuggled Reese Pieces across the Gibraltar border into Spain.)

I don’t remember much about what I ate, but I do remember things being a bit more expensive. I also remember a cute waiter once I recrossed the border to catch the early evening bus back to Málaga and trying to understand “andaluz”. I vowed to go back to Gibraltar one day, but I’ve never made it back.

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Here’s my private journal entry on Gibraltar, as it’s been six(!) years since my visit. Friday I woke up early to go to Gibraltar. I didn’t take the 7.00 bus as I needed sleep. I didn’t realise that there were two bus stations and was worried about missing the bus to La Línea de Concepción, the Spanish city across the border from Gibraltar. I didn’t. I even had time for tostada! The bus went along the most beautiful stretch of highway I have ever seen. The mountains and the coast of the Mediterranean. I got to La Línea and walked across the border without any problem. It was one of the biggest culture shocks of my life, being greeted in and speaking English. The rock is something amazing. I took the cable car up…saw so many monkeys, p…it might be the coolest thing I’ve seen. I saw Africa too! Legend has it that as long as the monkeys live on the rock, Gibraltar will be British, but once the last monkey leaves, it will revert to Spanish rule. I tried to tell the monkeys to go back to Africa, but they refused to listen. I found Reese Peanut Butter Cups and Reese Pieces and smuggled them across the border to Spain. Unfortunately they melted on me before I got to eat them. (I still ate the Peanut Butter Cups…the Reese Pieces are reserved for tonight.)

Set Meravelles

The Rock

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The Rock of Gibraltar is famous. Duh. It was one of the Pillars of Hercules and was formed during the Jurassic period. (Possible Jurassic World 2 plot: The Spanish use dinosaurs to win back Gibraltar?) Being 426 metres high (1398 feet), the rock dominates the landscape. There is a Moorish castle there today, plus a maze of tunnels I wouldn’t want to risk getting lost in. It is also the reason why we say something/someone is “like the Rock of Gibraltar”.

The Strait

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The Strait of Gibraltar separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea and peninsular Spain from Morocco (Ceuta is a Spanish city located on the African continent I have yet to visit. Yes, it is on my to-do list.) The strait’s narrowest point is 7.7 nautical miles, or 14.3 kilometres, or 8.9 miles and the depth ranges between 300 and 900 metres (980 and 2950 feet). The ferry across the strait takes 35 minutes.

The Apes

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Gibraltar is home to 300 or so Barbary macaques. Or rock apes (although they are technically monkeys.) If you look closely, you can see two in the photo. I didn’t want to get too close to them, but they were such fun to watch. As the monkeys were becoming more and more reliable on humans, they began to sneak into town, wrecking havoc and causing damage. Now feeding the monkeys comes with a fine of  £4000. Legend says that as long as the monkeys stay on the rock, Gibraltar will remain British. In 1942, when the population had dwindled down to just 7, Winston Churchille ordered that the numbers be replenished. The legend also says that the monkeys arrived from Morocco in a subterranean tunnel that has yet to be found by humans. The plot thickens…

The Airport

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The airport, opened in 1939, is unique because the runway literally runs through a road and pedestrian crossing. It closes to cars and people whenever a plane takes off or lands, of course, but imagine having to walk across an airport runway every time you wanted to run across the border for Reese Pieces or a relaxing café con leche. A new road is currently under construction. Although the airport doesn’t receive much air traffic compared to Málaga’s airport, 415,000 passengers used it in 2014 alone. In 2012, it was voted one of the “‘World’s Scariest Airport Landings and Take-offs”, by readers of the Daily Telegraph.

Europa Point (Yet to be discovered)

I unfortunately didn’t have time to visit the lighthouse, mosque, shrine to Our Lady of Europe, Nun’s Well and views of Africa from the Europa Point. The tunnel from the Eastern side of the Rock of Gibraltar was apparently closed when I was there in 2009. It’s the southern most point of Gibraltar, but not the Iberian Peninsula, which lies 25 km away at Tarifa.

St. Michael’s Cave (Yet to be discovered)

I also missed out on St. Michael’s Cave. The upper part has been used for 2000 years, but the lower part was only discovered in 1942. The lower cavern may have been sealed for 20,000 years and resembles a cathedral. It also has a lake that holds an estimated 45,000 gallons. Tours generally last around three hours, so plan accordingly.

Llanito

Llanito is the unofficial dialect which mixes Andalusian Spanish (el andaluz) and British English. It is based on a lot of code switching and loan words from various Mediterranean languages. A lot of words come from English but are pronounced in the andaluz manner. My Spanish not being the level I have now or the level that I thought I had when I was there (:P), I didn’t really catch any of it, but it has to a delight to listen to for language geeks like me. I wonder what “Gibraltar español” sounds like in Llanito. (Sorry to readers from the UK. I couldn’t resist.)

Álava. Hey, we’re Basque too!

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Álava was my last new Spanish province (sorry Basques for saying “Spanish”) in August 2013. I have six left, which I hope to pick up sometime in this next year. In the autumn of 2013, I spent a lot of copious free time there as I was seeing someone from there.

In the Basque Country, all the fuss is made about San Sebastián-Donostia and Bilbao, but Vitoria-Gasteiz (the Green Capital!) is worth checking out too. While one can go crazy driving around in a circle on the city streets (that bus ride killed me!), the Casco Viejo is beautiful, with the cathedral and the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca being the highlights.

I made the mistake of visiting Vitoria-Gasteiz for the first time during their fiestas, la Semana Blanca, which begin on August 4. While I am happy I did see the arrival of the Celedón to officially commence the week of parties, I did not appreciate the Basque tradition of celebrating by throwing wine at everyone. I know, I’m an aguafiestas (party pooper). It was hotter than Bilbao, but it’s usually a lot cooler in winter. It’s one of the coldest places in the Iberian Peninsula (and that offends no Basques, Spaniards or Catalans!)

The tramin Vitoria is quite similar to the one in Bilbao, and the city is very bike friendly. It was the European Green Capital of 2012 and is also the capital of the Basque Country, which is probably what inspired the people of Bilbao to rename their city “The Capital of the World (La capital del mundo/munduko hiriburua da). It has a population of 242,000, and the people are nicknamed “babazorro”, or bean eater in Basque, as Álava is known for beans and potatoes (they are probably the ones who brought potatoes to Idaho, which has a Basque connection.)

While I have been to the Bizkaia side of Gorbeia, one of the most important Basque Mountains, I haven’t been to the Álava side. One day, one day.

A few weeks ago, I decided to do some exploring and research for this entry. (I am still mad I haven’t made it to Laguardia yet.) I caught Cercanias (Spain’s system of commuter trains) and visited Llodio (which is nice) and Amurrio, which I fell in love with. Beautiful views and nice towns.

While Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia get most of the attention when it comes to the Basque Country, Álava is also quite nice and shouldn’t be left out when visiting Euskadi.

Set Meravelles

El Casco Viejo de Vitoria

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The Old Town of Vitoria is quaint and perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon stroll. Two cathedrals, the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, Basilica de San Prudencio, the Basque Museum of Contemporary Art, a museum of playing cards and many other churches and plazas are just waiting to be explored.

La Bajada de Celedón

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To kick off the fiestas of Semana Blanca, a figure holding on tightly to an umbrella (Vitoria-Gasteiz is the Basque Country, after all), descends to his awaiting crowd. then the “chupinazo”, spraying everyone within reach with wine, begins. Every August 4th without fail the Celedón will descend upon the Basque Capital.

Gorbeia

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Gorbeia, the 1481 meter tall (4859 feet) mountain in the center of the Basque Country, has been the heart of a natural park since 1994. It is a tradition for Basques to climb the mountain on the last day and first day of the year. I’ll stick with the autumn when the leaves are changing for more beauty. I cannot wait to arrive to the cross after my Camino is over.

Amurrio

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Amurrio, population 10, 239 habitants as of 2014, might be small, but it is beautiful. I rather enjoyed my recent Sunday afternoon walk through the village. The town hall is worth seeing, and the town produces txakoli, the popular Basque wine.

Laguardia (to be discovered)

Laguardia, the small village of 1500 folks that I had hoped to have visited before writing the entry for Álava, is one of the most important wine-making villages of La Rioja Alavesa. The area was first habited during the pre-Roman times. Besides the bodegas, the town offers a wall, a Renaissance old town hall, a few churches and some plazas to check out. There are also some prehistoric remains in La Hoya and a Celtic Pond.

Valderejo (to be discovered)

The Valderejo Natural Park is located in a valley on the Purón River and is known for its wildlife, especially the Griffon vultures. It’s located on the way to Burgos from Vitoria.

Valle Salado (to be discovered)

Near the village of Añana, population 135, 30 kilometres from Vitoria, are the salt flats of the Valle Salado (salty valley). They were abandoned in the 20th century but have been made a historical monument to attract interest and tourists. They look really cool, and I hope to visit soon.

No matter where you travel or find yourself, there is always something to be wondered about. To limit yourself to seven wonders, siete maravillas or set meravelles is next to impossible. And to see all the wonders Spain or the world has is definitely impossible. That will never stop me from trying!

 

León…like a lion.

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I’ve been wanting to go back to León ever since that one night I spent in the capital on my way to Asturias in 2011. (How is that four years ago?) My time there, like so many of the smaller provinces, was too short, but it left an impression on me.

On the Puente de Noviembre (long weekend/bank holiday for All Saints’ Day (Todos Los Santos) of 2011, I took off after work, excited that I was about to complete my goal of visiting every comunidad autónoma by arriving to Asturias the next day. I had already decided my next goal would be to visit every province (still working on that one), so I spent the night in León.

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My bus arrived about 10, if I remember correctly, and I checked in at the pensión/hostal (I forget which). The woman was one of the friendliest owners I have encountered in Spain. I went out to the Barrio Húmedo and had either tapas or a kebab, I forget which. It was cold, but being from Ohio, I relished the cold. I walked around a bit and got a good night’s sleep. I awoke Saturday morning to explore the city. I fell in love with the Cathedral, as I’m one of those who believe if you’ve seen one Spanish Cathedral, you’ve pretty much seen them are. However, the Catedral de León, one of the most famous of Spain, is special with its beautiful stained-glass windows. I also saw the Casa de Botines, designed by the famous Gaudí. I had a delicious café con leche y tostada con tomate near the Casa de Botines in a café, whose name escapes me, that left an impression on me (I still remember that breakfast.) I also enjoyed all the graffiti stating that León is NOT Castilla. I didn’t hear any of the dialect “leonés”, but I did see some of the graffiti. After strolling along the river a bit, I headed off to Asturias, anxious to set foot in the last of the 17 autónomas.

Since then, I’ve been dying to go back to León. I almost took off for there a few times this year, especially because I wanted to be able to write the entry dedicated to León better. Alas, time and money never go together.

I also remember being excited at seeing the arrows for the Camino de Santiago (Francés).

The facts on León capital? It was founded as a Roman military encampment around 29 BC. Today it is a city of  nearly 132,000 people and nearly 500,000 in the metropolitan area. León was once one of the most important kingdoms but was consolidated with Castilla in 1301.

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Catedral

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The Catedral of León, also known as La Casa de la Luz (House of Light) or Pulchra Leonina, was built on the site of Roman Baths. During the Reconquista, the baths were converted to a Palace. King Ordoño II converted the Royal Palace into a cathedral to show his devotion to God after defeating the Moors in 917. Alfonso VI consecrated a second cathedral in 1073. The third cathedral began construction in the 13th century but wasn’t completed until the latter part of the 15th century. Today it’s an important milestone on the Camino Frances, and I was glad I was able to see the inside of it for free (it was open on that Saturday morning), as the stained-glass windows are truly impressive.

Barrio Humédo y Casa de los Botines

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La Casa de los Botines is a house designed by Antoni Gaudí in the centre of León. It is four stories/storeys and has a basement and an attic. Gaudí used typical architecture from León, incorporating medieval and neo-Gothic influences. It was bought by the Caja España bank in 1929, and in 2010 merged with similar institutions due to the crisis (2008-???). It’s located near the Barrio Humédo, so named for the number of alcoholic drinks sold in this neighbourhood. The barrio has over 100 bars, centered around Plaza de San Martín and surrounding streets. For the non drinkers, the neighbourhood is also renowned for its tapas.

Astorga (to be discovered)

Astorga has been on my radar for years, perhaps due to all the reading of the Camino de Santiago I did, dreaming of one day doing it myself. Ey, estoy en ello. Located on the River Tuerto 32,4 kilometres (27 miles) southwest of León capital, the city of 12,242 people (2009 records) predate the Paleolithic era. Today it is home of a Cathedral, the Gaudí designed Palacio Espiscopal, Roman remains, remains of the old city walls, and a chocolate museum.

Ponferrada (to be discovered)

With nearly 70,000 habitants, Ponferrada is the last major city before reaching Santiago on the Camino Francés de Santiago. The city was an important mining town for the Romans. It’s home to the Castillo de los Templarios, a Templar Castle dating back to the 12th century. There is also a basilica, a Museum of Radio, el Museo de El Bierzo offering the history of the region, soon an Energy Museum (currently being constructed), and a few churches and érmitas (hermitages). It also offers a ton of opportunities for hiking/trekking and nature.

Parque Natural de las Médulas (to be discovered)

Speaking of nature, located close to Ponferrada is the Natural Park of Las Médulas, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. They were the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire once upon a time. Today it offers some amazing hiking routes and scenery.

San Miguel de la Escalada (to be discovered)

Ten kilometres away from the Camino de Santiago, the San Miguel de la Escalada is a monastery with Mozarabic art and architecture. It was consecrated in 951 around the time of the founding of the Kingdom  of León. It was abandoned in 1836.

Castrillo de los Polvazares (to be discovered)

Located five kilometres from Astorga, Castrillo de los Polvazares is a small pedestrian-only hamlet of 81 habitants. The entire village is made of stone. Houses, roads, everything is stone. It was important for the reconquista of Astorga during the Spanish Independence War. They do mention the city is overrun with tourists in the summer, so I’m making note to revisit León in the autumn or spring.

Spain. The Set Meravelles of the Greatest Peninsula in the World.

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Today is the one-year anniversary of Set Meravelles. Hoy marca el primer aniversario de Set Meravelles.

Thank you to my readers (averaging 300 hits a month! Yay!) and the people who support me and my crazy Quixote dream of staying in Spain in time of CRISIS. Gracias a todos mis lectores y las personas que me apoyan y mi sueño de locura de Quijote de quedarme en España en tiempos de crisis.

Originally, I was going to do a revisit to the Set Meravelles of Vizcaya, as it is unfair to have grouped Bilbao and Vizcaya in the same entry as there are so many Meravelles in the province. (That goes for every province though!) Estaba pensado en hacer otra vez las Set Meravelle de Vizcaya, como es injusto hacer en la misma la entrada con Bilbao y toda la provicina como hay tantas Meravelle en la provincia.

Then I thought, as I am running out of provinces to write about, and I was planning on writing up the Set Meravelles of Spain to conclude the series, perhaps I should go ahead and just name the Set Meravelles of Spain to celebrate the occasion. (Mallorca, León, Cádiz and Álava are coming, and then when I finally get to visit Lugo, Ourense, Zamora, Huesca, Albacete and Sta. Cruz de Tenerife, they will be done after I have at least spent more than 20 minutes at the bus station (Albacete, looking at you!) Después, me pensé, como ya me queda poco provincias, y estaba planficiando escribir un blog sobre las Set Meravelle de España para acabar con la serie, ya debería nombrar las Set Meravelle de España para celebrar el aniverario. (Mallorca, León, Cádiz y Álava ya vienen en entradas futuras, y cuando por fin visite Lugo, Ourense, Zamora, Huesca, Albacete y Sta. Cruz de Tenerife. Voy a esperar hasta que visitarlas (y no cuento Albacete hasta que haya estado más de 20 minutos en la estación de autobuses)

This is going to be hard. Impossible. In a country as amazing as Spain, you can not name just seven wonders. Impossible. So before I hear “You left out Lepe!”, keep that in mind. I tried to choose from a wide variety of interests for this list. I’m sorry for leaving out whichever wonder, but I can’t write about all  193829382938293918192383982495492 wonders of Spain.

Es imposible elegir solo siete maravillas. Por eso, no te quejas que se me olvidado Lepe o tu maravilla preferida. Lo siento mucho, pero no puedo escribir de todas las 193829382938293918192383982495492 maravillas que hay en este país tan espectacular. He intentando incluir cosas de todas las intereses para esta lista.

There are 17 autonomous communities in Spain, and each of them has a ton of history and amazing places to visit. I tried to spread the love, but the north seems to have more due to my love of the natural beauty found here. I also love Andalucía. Hay 17 comunidades autónomas en España, y cada uno tiene mucho historia y sitios preciosos para visitar. He intentando incluir un poco de todo, pero hay más en el norte porque me encanta la belleza natural del norte. Pero también me encanta Andalucía, tranquilos. 

What are your choices for the Meravelles of Spain? I’ll probably agree with whatever you write as long as it’s not Madrid city! ¿Cuáles sitios elegiría tu para las Meravelles de España? Probablemente voy a estar acuerdo, menos los que dicen Madrid capital xD. 

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Camino de Santiago

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No matter which Camino you take, how you do it, where you leave from, how much of it you do, the Camino de Santiago is a unique experience. Most people who have done it say it was one of the best experiences of their lives. I’ve only done about 120 kilometres so far, but I cannot wait to arrive in Santiago. No matter wherever you are in Spain, you’re not far from some Camino to Santiago.

Granada y La Alhambra

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Granada remains one of my favourite cities in the world. Although I’ve only been to the Alhambra once, I’ve been to the city four times, and I am looking forward to a fifth time in the future. For me, the best of the city lies directly opposite the Alhambra: Watching the sunset from Mirador de San Nicolas.

Valencia y las Fallas (y paella)

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Ay, mi Valencia (i la seua caloret). I wanted to include a festival on here, and after living through the Fallas in March 2011, no other Spanish (or any place) festival compares with the awesomness of the Fallas. And the paella is amazing for the foodies.

San Sebastián- Donostia

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Ay, Donosti. I agree with the guide I read during my first visit to this city. There may not be much to see, but it’s a place you have to see. I probably have offended every single person I know in Bilbao by listing it and not Donosti, but I will also remind them of Miguel de Unamuno’s quote about Donostia being beautiful but insignificant. Although it’s difficult to find good weather, their beaches are among the best in the peninsula for me. I love sitting along the rock along the river watching the wave crash into the shore.

Toledo,

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Segovia

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y Ávila:

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Tres capitales castellanas

The best thing about Madrid is its connection to three amazing Castillian province capital cities. Toledo is beautiful and medieval, Segovia has its Roman aqueduct and Alcázar that inspired Disney’s Cinderalla Castle, and Ávila is also a charm that’s a bit more off the beaten path.

Cangas de Onis y Covadonga

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When I saw this bridge with its cross where the Reconquista of Spain supposedly began, I felt moved. I can’t explain it. The nearby Basilica of Covadonga and the church in a cave are also jewels  of Asturias, and I can’t wait to see the lakes of Covadonga. But it is the bridge and the Asturian cross that somehow spoke to me most.

El Quijote

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 What would Spain be without Quijote? Although a fictional character, Don (Sir) Quijote says so much about Spain. I think my dream of staying in Spain long-term is becoming a bit quixotic itself. Many Spaniards boast of never actually having read this brilliant novel, but they are most definitely missing out.

Teruel…isolated yet enchanting

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Teruel has a reputation for being one of the coldest places in Spain. It’s remote and hard to get to, being the only province capital in the peninsula that lacks a train connection to Madrid. It’s remote and unspoiled by the tourist masses, which means it was right up my alley for a day trip in February 2011. It’s another place I regret I haven’t had the chance to get back to…yet.

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Teruel is the smallest province capitals with just 35,000 habitants. Many buildings were constructed with the Mudéjar architecture, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the architecture itself.) It is located 915 metres above sea level. It is just as beautiful, at least for me, as Toledo, Ávila and Segovia, but it still remains isolated, despite the efforts of the Teruel existe (Teruel exists) tourism campaign.

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I took the bus from Valencia on Feb. 12, 2011 (I looked up the date on my private journal). I think it left around 8:00, and I was there by 9:30 or so. I walked around the town, visiting the cathedral, the towers, the plaza with its famous statue, and I had a tostada con tomate y JAMÓN. It was delicious. It wasn’t as cold as previously told (although remember, I am originally from Ohio so my idea of cold may not be yours. You’ve been warned). I found the train station and admired the city from down below. I decided to combine trips and take an earlier bus to see Segorbe in Castellón on the way back (which turned out to be a mistake as I missed the bus back to Valencia from Segorbe and had to stay the night!).

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From my personal journal…I didn’t write much. Darn. I got up early to catch the first bus to Teruel, which is this awesome little pueblo that’s a province capital. It’s really beautiful, but you can see everything there is to see in about an hour. And I even stopped for some tostada with JAMÓN, which was the best jamón ever.

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Torres y iglesias de Teruel

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Teruel has four churches included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Mudéjar Architectures. All of them are incredibly beautiful. You have the Torre (Tower) de El Salvador, Catedral de Teruel, Iglesia (Church) of San Pedro (which is home of the Tomb of the Amantes (Lovers) of Teruel) and the Iglesia de La Merced to choose from if you want to see Mudéjar architecture. There are a few other churches here too in other styles.

Plaza del Torico (Carlos Castell)

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The main plaza of Teruel has an interesting statue in the centre. The fountain has a small bull at the top watching the city. The fountain dates back to 1375 but has been replaced two times since. The current one was erected in 1858. Legend has it two soldiers ignored the orders of King Alfonso II followed a bull due to some dreams they had. The bull lead them here to start a new population. It is the one of the most famous landmarks of the province.

Jamón

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I’ve said many times I’m not really a foodie (I could live on Spanish tostada alone and be happy), but Spanish jamón serrano is the best ham in the world. Teruel is known for it. To go to Teruel and not try jamón (sorry vegetarians! You are exempt, of course!) is like to go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower. Teruel is famous for “buen jamón serrano” (“buen” is good.)

Albarracín (visited 2017)

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Albarracín has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful villages in all of Spain (and probably attracts more tourists than the province capital.) Although it only has 1000 habitants, the village is quite beautiful and surrounded by mountains and offers a ton of hiking opportunities. It also offers a lot of history and a chance to experience authentic rural life.

Mirambel

Even smaller than Albarracín with only 137 habitants (2004 census), the village of Mirambel is located close to the Castellón border in the Maestrazgo mountains. It’s mentioned by Basque writer Pío Baroja in La Venta de Mirambel and offers beautiful mountains and conserves some of its old walls.

Castillo de Mora de Rubielos

There are a lot of castles in Spain, and I would love to have the chance to just go touring all the castles (and then write about them, of course!) The castle located in Mora de Rubielos, population 1700 in 2009, is definitely on my list. The village is located in the mountains (like most places in Teruel).

Alcañiz

Alcañiz is the second largest city in the province with 16,000 folks calling it home. The Jewish population of the city were protected until the Inquisition and had to pay a fine if they wished to move out of the city. Today you can still visit the Calatravos Castle, a gothic market, underground passages and a few churches. Nearby, you can see rock paintings of the Val del Charco del Agua Amargo.

Teruel province is also home of Miravete de la Sierra, population 12, which calls itself El Pueblo Donde Nunca Pasa Nada (the village where nothing ever happens). This marketing campaign has actually brought a number of curious visitors. I am sure if I ever have a car, I’ll be one of the curious ones.

Ciudad Real…21st Century Spanish History come alive.

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The fields of Daimiel

The summer of 2010, the Spanish football selection made history when Andrés Iniesta scored the winning goal against the Netherlands. (It’s we not discuss the bleakosity of the 2014 World Cup). Spanish football fans will always be asking where you were when Iniesta scored the goal and Spain brought home the Cup. It was my first real moment of a shared Spanish cultural experience.

I was in Daimiel, Ciudad Real, working at a summer camp with a bunch of teens (who are now all in their early 20s) who went absolutely mad (crazy mad, not angry mad) when Spain won. While I regret not being in Madrid or Valencia (I was in the process of moving from Madrid to Valencia), I couldn’t ask for a more authentic experience.

Needless to say, this summer camp is my only real experience in Ciudad Real. I’ve canvassed the province many times via bus or train on trips to Andalucía, but I haven’t spent much time there. It is definitely “España Profunda”. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Don Quixote himself looking for ways to impress Dulcinea even today (after the siesta and fútbol match, of course).

Ciudad Real probably doesn’t spring to one’s mind when they think of Spain or even Castilla. Toledo and Cuenca are far more popular, even amongst the Spanish, who are travelling through Castilla (which is the heart of Spain…and the equivalent of the heartland.) It’s agricultural and rural, ranking 46 out of 50 provinces in population density. It has two national parks (one I’m listing as one of the meravelles). Much of the province is a plain (La Meseta Central), yet has extremely dry summers. Just pointing out that Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Dolittle are LIARS. (I’m a bitter sun-chaser located in the rain of the Basque Country that would drown even Noah at this point.) The south of the province features the Sierra Morena (the Black Mountains). The capital city has 75,000 habitants and is located 185 kilometres (115 miles) from Madrid.

A lot of the places I’ve seen from the train and bus crisscrossing the province look enticing to me. They may disappoint when I finally get to visit them, and they may impress me. But for now…a list of potential seven wonders for the province of Ciudad Real.

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Ciudad Real y el Museo de Quijote

The province capital, Ciudad Real, which is also a stop on the AVE (high-speed train),  dates back to the 13th century and Alfonso El Sabio (the Wise). Their cathedral boasts the second largest nave in Spain and their Plaza Mayor is quite attractive. They have two walls from the time it was a walled city, and they also have an infamous airport for sale for only 80 million Euro (mocked in Pedro Almódovar’s Los pasajeros amantes.)  And for me, the most attractive thing in the city would actually be a museum. The Museum of Don Quijote. I love the Quijote.

Daimiel

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Daimiel

Daimiel, the only place I can say I really know in the province, is a quaint city of 17,000. I remember it being very hot as I was there in the month of July. I never got to see the Tablas de Daimiel National Park, which despite being the smallest Spanish national park features some beautiful wetlands. The wetlands are important for birdlife. Daimiel is famous for the Venta de Borondo, which is mentioned in Quijote, perhaps as one of the places he stayed at during his journeys. (Quijote was fictional? Who knew.)

Calatrava, la Vieja y la Nueva

Located 60 kilometres apart (36 miles), the two Calatrava Castles from the Order of the Calatrava are a tourist attraction for castle aficionados. The original castle dates back to 785 and was once part of the only important city in the Guadiana River valley and guarded the roads between Córdoba and Toledo.  It was originally Muslim and conquered in 1147 by Alfonso VII. It was reconquered by the Moors but reconquered again by the Christians for good in 1212. However, the Order of the Calatrava moved to Calatrava La Nueva in 1217.  The “newer” castle is located in Aldea del Rey (the King’s hamlet for those who don’t speak Spanish) while the old one is located in Carrión de Calatrava.

Manzanares

Manzanares, population 19,186 as of 2009, looked quite nice from the Madrid-Linares (Jaén) train when I passed it my first year in Spain, and I’ve always wanted to stop here and Alcázar San Juan. Manzarares has a castle, the Museum of Manchego Cheese (Museo de Queso Manchego) and several churches and ermitas. It’s located 60 kilometros (36 miles) from the province capital.

Villanueva de los Infantes

Villanueva de los Infantes, population 5727, is, according to the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, “el lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero recordarme” (the place of La Mancha whose name I don’t want to remember). For those who haven’t read el Quijote, those are the starting words of the novel. It is also the place where Francisco de Quevedo died, which means it is a Spanish major’s dream place to visit.

Alcázar de San Juan

Although the windmills from Consuegra in Toledo are more famous, the small city of Alcázar de San Juan, population 30,675, also boasts windmills and is a good base to explore the Ruta de Quijote. It also has a tower and a few churches. It was formerly a major railway hub.

Puertollano

Although known to be an industrial city, Puertollano, population 50,000, looked very interesting from the AVE Sevilla-Madrid in 2012 when I passed it. I have no clue why some things catch my attention, but this city did. The “puerto” in its name is for “pass”, not port, as it’s far from any water. It’s located on the slopes of the Sierra Morena, so it’s not flat either (“llano” is plain). It’s the home of some botanical gardens, a few churches and a place to rest from hiking in the Sierra Morena.

Huelva. A forgotten corner of Andalucía.

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Tucked away in the southwest corner of Spain between Sevilla and Portugal, Huelva is a province nearly forgotten by many. Sevilla dominates the western Andalucía scene, Cádiz has its famous pueblos blancos (villages full of white houses) and proximity to Gibraltar, and Portugal has the Algarve with its beautiful beaches and capes. Of course, like any place in the Greatest Peninsula in the World, forgotten does not mean it’s not worth visiting. Au contraire. Huelva has a lot to offer.

My visit to Huelva only consists of half a day returning to Madrid from the Algarve during the Puente de Mayo 2013, two years ago this week. I caught an all-too early bus from Lagos (6:30 if I remember correctly) so I could spend some time in the capital city before spending the night in Sevilla, the city where I always attract bad weather. I had just learned that I would be moving to the Basque Country and was super excited. I walked around the Casco Viejo (Old Town) with a map, just in case of getting lost, with no plan. I saw the buildings, had a cheap, not-so good lunch, walked down to the water front before catching the bus to Sevilla. I was a bit sad I wouldn’t have time to see more of the province, as the capital city doesn’t have a lot to offer. However, the mountains in the northern part of the province would have offered a lot of hiking. Maybe one day I’ll be able to return to the Algarve and see more of the wonders the province has to offer.

A few factoids about Huelva. The football (soccer) club Recreativo de Huelva is the oldest football club in Spain. There are also various sites in the province related to Christopher Columbus (don’t hold that against the province) and his quest to “discover” the Americas. The capital city of Huelva has a population of 149,410 habitants as of 2010.

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La Costa de Luz

The Atlantic Coast from Tarifa in Cádiz to the border with Portugal and Huelva is known as “La Costa de Luz“, the Coast of Light. The beaches are popular with Spanish, French and German tourists. The Parque Nacional de Doñana is an important natural park that protects the coastal ecosystems and is located on coasts here and also in the province of Sevilla.

Catedral de la Merced

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The Cathedral of Huelva was built in the 17th century and is a Bien de Interés Cultural of Spain (National Cultural Interest). The outside is Barroque and many other churches in Huelva province are based on this design.

Lepe

Ay, Lepe, the butt of so many Spanish jokes I just had to include it on here. Any time someone wants to make a joke about someone lacking in the intelligence department, they are said to be from Lepe. However, the city of 25,000 habitants is more than a joke. The wine from Lepe was mentioned in The Canterbury Tales, there is a beach and an old lookout tower (Torre del Catalán) that you can still climb that was originally built to warn of invasions from the Berber pirates.

Ayamonte

Ayamonte, population 18,000, is the last town on the Spanish border before crossing into Portugal. While there is a bridge north of the town to drive across today, for centuries there was only a ferry that crossed the Río (River) Guadiana. The town boasts of a medieval neighbourhood in the center that is pedestrian only. It also has a beach. A river, beach and Casco Viejo? I’m there one day. (I wish I had stopped here instead of Huelva capital.)

La Romería del Rocío y Almonte

Almonte is a small town of 23,000 denizens, and it’s more famous for the pilgrimage (Romería) to the ermita de El Rocío on the second day of Pentecost to honour the Virgin Rocío. The pilgrimage began in 1653 and today attracts around 1 million people. People usually wear traditional Andaluz costumes for the event. ¡Olé! (Please remember that people ONLY wear the traditional outfits for festivals.)

Parque Nacional de Aracena y Picos de Aroche

The National Park of Aracena and Picos de Aroche is part of the Sierra Moreno in the north of the province, and some 41,000 people live in the region near the park. It has been a protected area since 1989, and there are 28 villages within the park’s limits. Any place that is nature and mountains piques my interest.

Mezquita de Almonaster La Real

Although the village of Almonaster La Real has less than 2000 habitants (1800 for population geeks like me), it is home of an interesting trapezoid mezquita (mosque) that was built from a visigoth basilica. It was declared a national monument in 1931. While it isn’t as well-preserved as the more famous Mezquita in Córdoba, it is one of the few surviving rural mosques from Spain’s Muslim past.

I apologise for my lack of photos this entry! Being in only one city for a morning while running on fumes puts a damper on the photo taking!