Avila, (Spain)

“Roman Abela”, “The Town of Stones and Saints”

Avila, Spain, April 2019

Impossible to think nor remember when was the only time I’ve ever been to this beautiful city, when I was a kid and never returned. Silly to think about it, how is it possible being that near Madrid and so easy accessible from here whether by train or bus, merely an hour and a half centre to centre. Considering the enormous patrimony and heritage, the only city in Spain retaining its medieval town walls absolutely complete and the city with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches and constructions in the whole of Spain, it is no surprise it became one of the first entire cities to be listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

It’s the capital of the province of the same name, one of 9 that forms Castile and Leon, also one of the less populated. Barely 50.000 inhabitants. For much of its history it has been coexisting in the shadow, where no important events have taken place other than the fights between the Moors and the Christians. It was this quietness and somewhat remoteness from other bigger and important cities that left the heritage almost intact, a city that never needed to expand beyond its walls hence never tearing these apart, a perfect medieval city with some of the finest Romanesque buildings in Spain.

Not to mention, a day is well more than enough to enjoy it in full. The perfect day away from Madrid if that’s your base. After all, Madrid can be an idyllic base in order to reach stunning places and cities at around a maximum of an hour and a half distance, most of which listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Talavera de la Reina, Toledo, Aranjuez, Cuenca, Alcala de Henares, Guadalajara, Segovia, El Escorial.

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Leon, (Spain)

“Roman Legio VII Gemina”, “The cradle of Parliamentarism”

Leon, Spain, July 2018

Finally my hands are on the most awaited travel guide ever since I started my blog project. And why is that you might ask? Certainly the answer is direct, Leon is the city I was born, hence why it hosts a special place and meaning in my heart. Of course, I will try to make it one of the most complete too, as are the likes of Madrid, Barcelona or Brussels to name a few of the cities I travel very often. With Leon nowadays, it’s a different story, not only I left to study in Madrid, but then left Spain itself to come to London where I made my living for the past 13 years. Unfortunately, travelling to Leon for a weekend is not possible since there are no direct flights, nor flights to the next nearest international airport at Valladolid where Ryanair scrapped the flights to London long ago. In the other hand, there is really no need for finding a suitable airport nearby, since the high-speed train links Madrid in barely only 2 hours.

Leon is a city of over 2000 years history, and a very very rich past. All started as a small Roman camp and base for farther extend the empire up north towards Galicia and Asturias, but due to an ideal location at what became to be a cross-roads in the north, northwestern of the country, with easy access to the rest of the country, and the newly discovered gold mines Las Medulas, it soon reached the status of a city during the Roman times. This is something quite unknown to most people, however these Roman mines were one of the richest and largest during the Empire, with the gold taken to Rome. The mines are now listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and are west of Leon some 130 kilometres, beyond the city of Ponferrada, in El Bierzo region, once so rich through the coal rush years until the industry collapse in the 1980’s.

While you can admire in Leon some of its Roman past, noteworthy the city’s walls, it is not the place you come for this, but instead, to admire its impressive medieval and Gothic architecture. One of the most complete of any city in the country, being its iconic highlight the Cathedral, finest example of French-style classic Gothic architecture in Spain. (more…)

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Valencia, (Spain)

“Roman Valentia Edetanorum”, “Moorish Medina bu-Tarab”

Valencia, Spain, February 2018

Quickly piling up on more trips for 2018, we do also continue to benefit from destinations which are way cheaper during the low season months that would rather be very expensive otherwise. 2 weeks ago it was Gran Canaria, the previous weekend, Seville; and now, Valencia. Although all of these three destinations are repeated, it was for some a chance to keep visiting other places, while for others, it was just too many years since we were there and therefore almost forgotten. Not just that, Valencia is also an incredible beautiful and large city, the 3rd largest in Spain where a weekend is even too short time. Now I do also finally get the chance to create this well deserved travel guide for it; and I know it will be laborious and quite in-detail in the sights section. There are just too many!

Founded by the Romans, is has survived periods of prosperity and depression through the centuries. Thriving, then wars and decline; destruction, rebuilding and so forth. From a Roman province, to the Moorish invasion, then reconquered by the Christians to become part of one of the Kingdoms that once were in the Iberian Peninsula: the Crown of Aragon. It was the 15th century what is best known as the Golden Age of Valencia, when the city lived a great economic expansion, culture and arts flourished and an overall wealth that saw the construction of most of the impressive buildings still standing today from that period. Its university, created in 1499 is one of the oldest surviving in Spain too. However, from one of the most influential cities on the Mediterranean to an economic crisis following the discovery of the Americas. Valencians, like the Catalans, Aragonese and Majorcans were prohibited participation in the cross-Atlantic commerce with the New World and any trade with the colonies. This left Valencia secluded with no riches coming in, nor benefiting from it.

To my personal opinion, this city is the combination of Madrid and Barcelona. From Barcelona it takes the fascinating elegant architecture, notably in the modernist style (art nouveau), and the urbanism; a perfect grid of orthogonal streets and avenues (although this is also traditional in Madrid and in any city in Spain during the late 19th early 20th century extensions). From Madrid it takes a vibrant and thriving life, day and night; and that feeling of a great big capital city. Nowadays, although the capital of the autonomous region of Comunidad Valenciana, it was for a brief period in the summer of 1812 the capital of Spain when Joseph Bonaparte moved the Court here; and then again, between 1936 and 1937 during the Second Spanish Republic. (more…)

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Seville, (Spain)

“Roman Hispalis”, “Arabic Ishbiliyya”, “NO8DO: It has not abandoned me”

Seville, Spain, February 2018

After so many years, 8 already, it’s finally time to return to one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in my life: Seville. Sadly for such a short time, a weekend (well the usual through the year with the weekend trips anywhere in Europe), but for a city like Seville, please reconsider you time. 2 days is definitely too short, at least 3 days will be the best; still, for a first timer, you can skip entering the Alcazar which will take half of your day and if too tight, skip entering the Cathedral, then a weekend will be just about right, however on behalf of missing two unique masterpieces.

What we did not do the last time was entering to the Alcazar, hence why this was a priority in this trip. And since we visited the Cathedral and climbed up the Giralda tower back then, there was no need for repeating on this occasion. Making such arrangements meant we could re-visit the entire city in all the time we had; and of course now, having the chance to finally create a proper travel guide which I never did for Seville in my blog. I know it will be a harder job once I reach the listing of sights to visit and what to do. That will be a long list definitely, but will try my best to group them by districts/areas and follow the best and most optional route as I generally do for anyone to freely enjoy.

Consider the entire city as an open museum, because it really feels like this, same way as you can say for Rome, Prague, Vienna or Paris. And it’s home to one of the world’s largest monumental historic town. At every turn you will find a piece of history in the puzzle when Spain was once the most powerful and largest empire on earth. The capital city for the New World that was being discovered; the city from where any expedition and trade to/from the colonies will start and terminate, and the port of call where all the wealth and riches from the colonies would arrive. (more…)

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Gran Canaria, (Spain)

The Eternal Spring Island

Gran Canaria, Spain, January 2018

As pretty much similar to what we are doing from few years ago till today, travelling to the Spanish islands, especially to the Canaries is great during low season months between October until beginning of March. It is almost guaranteed you can find a great flight deal, and this time was not different at all. With Gran Canaria, this is another island to tick off from the list, leaving just two more left to visit to complete them all (as of January 2018). But generally finding some further “impossible” to beat deals to at least the islands we’ve already been anytime during these months, it’s impossible to resist temptation. But be quick, such fares do not last long.

This was the second time we fly to Gran Canaria, and knew this was not a beach holiday at all, but an usual for what we tend do on a weekend trip, a short city break. Back in 2016 this was to the capital city Las Palmas and the nearby villages of the central-north part of the island. And in this occasion, the southern half of the island making the base in Maspalomas. But if you are looking for a beach break middle of winter elsewhere in Europe, this is your best option. Here in the Canaries you have a guaranteed weather of 24 degrees every day, while Gran Canaria seems to be the most favourable island in the world for its climate, hence its nickname “eternal spring”. It is common to see the New Year’s celebrations in the news how people is having a bath in the sea. However, sun is not completely guaranteed. This is a very green island too, and very mountainous therefore it’s good you know the northern half of the island is the rainy one, while the southern half is the sunnier one home to the famous resorts of Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles.

It is an unusual fact to discover majority of the tourists coming to the island do never visit beautiful Las Palmas. All they seem to know is Maspalomas, Mogan and nothing else. This were good news to us to be honest, and it applies in the same way to Palma in Mallorca. With millions of tourists coming yearly, it’s great to enjoy the big city without the hordes and instead having a more laid back feeling enjoying the life as the locals do. In the neighbouring islands of LanzaroteTenerife or Fuerteventura for example, this is not the case because are islands that people come to visit north to south, east to west for their unique volcanic landscapes. (more…)

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Antequera, (Spain)

“Roman Anticaria”, “Muslim Medina Antaquira”, “The Heart of Andalusia”

Antequera, Spain, November 2017

From the many times we’ve been coming to Southern Spain, there’s always a new city or place to visit, and this weekend was not going to be different. While our flight was to Malaga, a 3rd time so far in that city, the main aim this time was for reaching the nearby historic city of Antequera 50 kilometres north of Malaga, with its World Heritage Site listed “the Ancient Dolmens of Antequera” and the nearby Torcal Natural Reserve, home to one of the biggest and most important karst landscapes in Europe.

A day trip is well worth it and more than enough to enjoy every sight within the city, and nearby Torcal and the prehistoric Dolmens, hence do not think this is a tour that will take more than that, otherwise you face the fact of having too much time to spare when you overestimate. And considering Malaga as the perfect base it really takes a short time between one to another.

The city retains a massive cultural heritage and one can feel at the many little charming squares how the life would have been during the Muslim invasion days. The city, although inhabited during prehistoric times, was a medium size Roman post and grew considerably in size and important from the 8th century onwards. Its nickname, “the heart of Andalusia” comes due to its location at pretty much the “centre” of Andalusia having  Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and Seville at easy reach on all directions. It was suggested in 1978 to be the possible headquarters of the Andalusian Government, but it went to Seville instead.

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Palma, (Spain)

“Talaiotic, Roman, Byzantine, Moor, Christian”, “Palma”, “Medina Mayurqa”

Palma, Spain, October 2017

Over 7 years have passed for what was back then my first time in a Spanish island. I cannot believe so long it had to pass, with so many trips elsewhere however not considering Palma as an option for that many years. The main reason was anyway, not finding any good flight deal. Majorca has always been very trendy and one of the top tourist destinations among Europeans, especially the British, Germans, Italians and French; therefore we kept postponing it on behalf of many hundreds other cities and places elsewhere. The lapse in between for finally returning here falls into the same reason. Thankfully on this occasion was a bit different since we were not looking for some beach holiday nor even the good weather months, but instead happy to come during low season and enjoy some great time with my cousin and friends.

Once again, I take the chance to revamp this travel guide with the most up to date information and a better description and listing on the sights and places to visit. For now, some relevant notes from our past experience are that in June, the month we did travel there, you cannot expect the sea to be as warm as it gets by August but still is OK to enjoy the beach and specially if you go to any of the small calas as the water gets warmer since it’s not directly on open sea. The difference in temperature between Can Pastilla (Playa de Palma) and the beach in Soller was indeed making a big difference. You might wonder why I mention this here but hey! majority of tourist who come to Majorca are in search of sun and beach.

In the other hand, at just a week before the high season was due to start it meant for us to be almost on our own! And same again in our most recent visit right after the holiday season, in October. The beach for ourselves and quiet in the hotel, lower prices for everything and better quality overall; not to mention avoiding the hordes of young British and Germans coming mostly for drinking and partying. Now, getting back to the British and Germans, and of course Russians nowadays and other nationalities, you will be shocked to know that they stay only around “their areas”. They do not even mix together, as for example you find the British in Can Pastilla and the Germans in El Aernal. It was very off but happy to know that they don’t even bother to go downtown Palma for sightseeing, so the capital remains quite authentic and relaxed when compared with the coastal resorts. (I am talking only about the thousands of young people, not adults and the many families who nicely enjoy their holidays). (more…)

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Badajoz, (Spain)

“Baṭalyaws, capital of the small Muslim kingdom the Taifa of Badajoz”

Badajoz, Spain, March 2017

Double the excitement for visiting a city completely not planned in the original plans for this weekend that turned out to be totally feasible and in turn, a great surprise for its prettiness, yet small, historic centre. We arrived quite late, that was our only downside, however still managed to get really nice pictures of most of the city in daylight, and take with us a great load of shopping. Why not to take the chance for getting some nice meat cuts, cheeses and staff I really like and cannot find anywhere else at this quality? Now this was a trip that really paid back well.

Our base was Elvas, merely 10 kilometres west from Badajoz. So while one is the last city of Portugal, the other is the first city in Spain (border-wise talking here). And because we perhaps planned too much time for Elvas while in reality it is a very small city, I strongly recommend if you fall in the same situation to plan beforehand the day to include both Elvas and Badajoz. Certainly we could have been more time in Badajoz, but as this was just planned on the go, never checked pictures of the city, nor a map nor nothing before coming, we did not know that in reality there are a lot of sights to enjoy, but as suggested before, this is a city where a full day can definitely be too much as well.

There are two well different areas in the city, one, the traditional old town around the old Moorish citadel, the Alcazaba and the perimeter walls and bastions surrounding it, and the newer city outside of the walls, and across the Guadiana River. The way we drove in from Elvas, meant we came directly towards the north bank of the river where we saw the most picturesque image of the city. Without any doubt it’s the most beautiful skyline view, with the Alcazaba in the foreground and the towering old walls across the crystal clear waters of the Guadiana river with the historic Palma Bridge. Only for this view the trip is already worth it. (more…)

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