Category Archives: Spain

Spain – a week in Tenerife and La Gomera

Having visited four of the Canary Islands earlier this year on my cruise – and enjoying them much more than I expected – I wasn’t planning to go back to soon; but my old friends Michael and Florence (one of my first former bosses and someone who was a role model as a senior woman in business early in my career) have an apartment in Tenerife where they head for a few months a year to escape the UK Winter – and who can blame them. They kindly invited me over for week.

Arriving in Tenerife by air – rather than via ship – gives a bird’s eye view of Mount Teide which dominates the island and was the place I spent my day on my last visit. There was a tiny smattering of snow on the top but that was all gone within 24 hours!

Mount Teide from the plane

I had to blink twice to make sure I hadn’t stumbled into Sydney Harbour by mistake when we visited the exterior of this extraordinary but nevertheless familiar looking building. It is the Audtorio de Tenerife in Santa Cruz and the local symphony orchestra is housed here. It’s very popular with locals and tourists alike and even Bill Clinton has visited. No Surpise that Santa Cruz is often referred to as “the Sydney of the Atlantic”.

Auditorio de Tenerife

In the village of Candelaria is a well known Basilica – created long ago when a wood carved Madonna and child was washed up on the shore in the 1300s. The local Guanches and then the catholics took ownership of it. No-one could trace where it came from but it was seen as a sign so the Catholics subsequently built a basilica. In the 1800s a tsunami hit the basilica which is right by the sea and the carving was washed away and never seen since. Spooky or what?

Next to the church are 9 magnificent statues of the Guanches (the indigenous race on the islands before the Spanish came in) which represent the kings from that dynasty. They look really good in that setting and each one has different things in their hands to denote their area of expertise.

Statues of Los Guanches

It’s not Spain if you don’t head off to a flamenco show. I’ve seen a few but this was very good because it was non traditional – very cool costumes and choreography. After the first three photos I got told not to take any more. Oh well.

A bit of flamenco

Michael and Florence organised for us to take the ferry from Los Christianos to La Gomera (one of the lesser known of the 7 (now 8 they have a new one now) Canary Islands so I was pleased to visit one I hadn’t seen before.

La Gomera is very pretty and far less developed than many of the other islands – a great place for hiking (and no of course I was not hiking!) but others do apparently. Christopher Columbus also landed here enroute to his discoveries – a man I admire for his tenacity in exploring uncharted parts of the world (and in far less comfort than I do!)

Around and about the island of La Gomera

An overview of La Gomera with its colourful houses and the local church

Street scenes from San Sebastián the capital of La Gomera

We also stayed in a parador – the historical hotels owned by the Spanish Government which are always really well designed and in exceptional spots.

Views and grounds of the parador in La Gomera

The white building perched top left is the parador

We ended our trip with another good meal at the parador – preceded by a drink at the bar!

Florence, Michael and me!

Back in Tenerife we stopped by Los Gigantes – the name of the town and the enormous cliffs at its edge that just fall into the ocean. Majestic.

Los Gigantes – the town and the cliffs

And so after a week of sunshine and warmth – just four hours flight from cold and rainy London it was time to leave again. And here are my last views as I flew off (I do so love flying and seeing the world from above)

Up above the sky so high….

Canary Islands, Lanzarote

So to the 4th and final Canary island that I’m visiting on this trip – Lanzarote.

This was the home of a very influential artist called César Manrique and my tour took me to places connected to him. Born o n the island, he developed his artistic nature by moving to New York City during the 60s where he befriended Andy Warhol and mingled with the Pop Artists of the time. At the end of the decade he de ides to come home to the island he loved and merge his love of nature and art. He stayed for the rest of his life.

But besides his artistic abilities he was a forward thinker and wanted to protect his island from the marauding and poorly managed new tourism that was affecting the costa del sol while also understanding that tourism was a valuable source of income for the island especially with the demise of the traditional agricultural crops.

He tried to mix art and nature as attractions for visitors – so keeping the original place of beauty and interest but making it accessible to lots of people without them messing it up.

So with that in mind the first stop was to the cave of Los Jameos del Agua via what is known as a lava field – as Lanzarote is much older than the other islands the vegetation is much greener than elsewhere in the Canaries). The cave is a natural one caused by volcanism that has an underground lagoon and is one of his visions of how to turn volcanic beauty into something visitors can easily visit. It is quite spectacular but hard to photograph. Check out the teeny white crabs on the rocks and there is also another cave converted into an auditorium – apparently amazing acoustics.

My favourite stop was Manrique’s Cactus Garden In Teguise – I’ve always had a thing for cactus – they seem slightly salacious and also you can forget to water them for eons and they still survive and look great!

And he also had a bit of fun with fake cactus motifs and entertaining toilet signs

On to Tahiche – his former home and now a museum. He built it in 9 natural “bubbles” again caused by volcanoes. He then managed to connect the nine bubbles underground and this is what you can see.

Lastly, very close to the ship we went to the castle of San José (which actually used to be a real castle that had fallen into disrepair) where we had the local wine and also saw a small collection of quite good contemporary art. I especially liked the drawings of women ( I’m sure the one on the left is wearing a Kusama scarf?) and the full-size sculptures of horses and men/children in the sea.

Canary Islands, Tenerife

If La Palma was the prettiest and El Hierro was the youngest then Tenerife is the oldest inhabited island in the Canaries and has just under 1 million residents. We docked into Puerto de la Cruz.

Tourism (6 million a year) is the key industry for all the larger islands and as the climate is in the range of 22 to 27 degrees all year round it’s busiest season is northern hemisphere winter when other Europeans are looking to escape the cold in the shortest flight time possible. It is however a year round destination and in summer mainly has visitors from southern Spain trying to escape the 43 degree heat.

Bananas are the main produce but these days generally for local eating only. I remember eating Canary bananas as a child in the UK but due to an EU regulation it was decided that most bananas coming to Europe should be the larger (and far less tasty) ones from South America so while it is still the main crop it has dramatically reduced from its glory days. Now they can only be found in swanky delis.

As it’s all about the impact of the volcano on creating the Canary Islands, I opted to visit El Teide to check out the craters and volcanic scenery. El Teide is actually the highest mountain in Spain and 1200 feet above sea level.

This is the Ucanca Valley in what is the most visited national park in Europe where the original Planet of the Apes was filmed; not to mention 1000 years BC starring Raquel Welch and and the first Clash of the Titans. Most recently Sylvester Stallone just completed filming Rambo 5 (probably not on my list of must sees).
Many Canary pine trees here too and the multitude of pine needles on the forest floor are harvested to make bedding for the animals as they stay under cover rather than in the fields (too little land available for outdoor grazing, they prefer to use what they have to grow things and apparently manure plus pine needles equals a top brand of fertiliser for their land.

En route to El Teide National Park

Vegetation in the lava fields

Movie locations below

We then experienced the stunning effect of being well above the cloud level – beautiful and somewhat humbling.

The guide said you haven’t really been to Tenerife unless you are above the clouds and he was right.

I’ve decided to spend more time here in December so didn’t bother to go into town after this wonderful day. However this statue was by the marina and seemed a much friendlier dolphin than others I’ve met. Nicely blingy too plus can see our ship:)

Canary Islands, El Hierro

This is the smallest (only 6000 inhabitants) youngest and most westerly of the Canaries and the one with the most recent underwater volcanic eruption in 2011/2012 and it’s expected to grow further in size due to expected eruptions in the next 40 years.

There’s not a lot of action here but it is wild and rugged, scenic and very hilly (the locals don’t get out of breath though unlike us wimpy visitors). There is a significant impact of volcanism on the scenery and it feels “wild” in a good way. It also has amazing quality windy roads (positive impact of EU money) but fairly basic housing.

There are up to 30 micro climates on this island And we went through 20 of them – just wait five minutes and it changes.

We headed south from La Caleta Port to Valverde where we enjoyed some beautiful views from the mirador de las playas.

We then headed into the El Pinar forest – full of stunning Canary pines. These are a great natural resource for all the islands as they retain water and so ensure limited forest fire breakouts.

Final stop was the Geoparque – site of prior volcanic eruptions and also where the last big eruption happened just out to sea in 2011/12. People who lived in the area had to be evacuated due to toxic gases. Great museum showing video of what happened as rocks burst up into the surface of the ocean.

The two tunnel like openings are actually natural effect gas chambers caused by the lava when it hits a solid object and goes over the top of it.

A brief drive around the fishing village of La Restinga – world wide famous for its diving apparently but there is little else there to do.

Tourism in El Hierro averages 100 people a day so this is a place for those who like a rugged, scenic, peaceful, slow and alternative lifestyle eg. the island is trying to become self sustainable and a lot of people try to also live off the grid. Not really my thing but always good to experience something different. Gorgeous flora once again.

On the way back to the ship we passed this strange “rubbish” sculpture. It has all sorts of things buried inside it including two cars, a washing machine and tons of general plastic trash. It was commissioned by the local government to remind people about being self sustainable and to avoid waste by using renewable items where possible. Interesting

Canary Islands, La Palma

This is my first visit to a Canary Island and I’d been told it is one of (if not the) prettiest. I was a little sceptical but my expectations were exceeded. I had a lovely day here.

Up for an early start I realised I was now in the Northern hemisphere Spring rather than the Brazilian rain forest or the Caribbean but by 9.30am it was lovely and warm – so what they say about the climate here is true. Very temperate all year round.

My first sight of land this morning.

First stop was Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente – a national park of great beauty up a windy road – that takes you to one of the highest points of this volcanic island in the east. Stunning scenery and a chance to walk after a lot of laziness during the Atlantic crossing. Last eruption was in 1971 but it’s still active. The north of this island is about 1.5 million years old but the south is just 500,000 years due to it only coming into existence following more recent (relatively!) eruptions.

Then we headed back towards the east and stopped at a small farm where they gave us some local jams and hot sauces to try plus the local wine (not bad at all). That amazing tree is a dragon tree.

Then we had a quick visit to the Church of the Virgin of the Snow which is their most famous church here.

And a scenic drive back into the capital – Santa Cruz de la Palma

Not only were the scenic parts of La Palma lovely so was the small town of Santa Cruz which runs one street in from the waterfront. The buildings along the sea have old balconies that are carefully looked after and a brand new man made beach for the local and visitors to enjoy.

And the main road in town – O’Daly Street was an enjoyable place for a wander and some shopping and why are there two doors to number 12? The ship below is a life size replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship that he sails to America on – think I will stick with Seabourn.

Really liked it here. Want to come back. Maybe December. Will wait to decide and check out the others over next few days.

Spain, Seville – a half day trip to Carmona

I visited Carmona briefly when I was here earlier this year but wanted to go back to see more of it and I’m glad I did as it is often neglected as everyone rushes off to ?Cordoba – at just 30 minutes drive from Seville it makes for a great half day visit or a bit longer if you stay for lunch (remembering that lunch is usually 2-4pm).

First stop was the Roman ruins just outside the old town – they feature remains of an amphitheater in not great condition but also a necropolis (Roman burial ground) which is quite large and worth a wander – and free too.

The city itself is surrounded by cliffs and is the only town in Spain that has never been invaded as it is virtually impenetrable. There is only on city wall entrance and that is two sets of very thick walls enabling a lot of spear and hot oil to be hurled down at marauders before they get anywhere inside. It has had sophisticated water retaining systems so could not be sieged either. Like many places in this part of Spain it was inhabited by the Romans (note impressive original mosaic floor), the Visigoths, the moors, the Jews and then the Catholics. The views of the valley show how high up it is and why it would be impossible to attack – also you could see anyone coming for miles.

Spain, Seville – It is the festive season (allegedly)

Ok I’ve tried very hard to ignore it but I have reached the point where I can no longer deny that it is that time of year again. And while we often think of the Northern European take on the festive season they do make rather a big splash with it in Seville too – and the main craft market doesn’t even open until next week! So what does Yuletide look like in Seville?

Nativity scenes at every turn and a nativity market where as you can see there are even babies for sale – had me in stitches. (Barbara – I can see you already sending me an email and asking me to pick up a few samples!)

Decorations are a must – they look great during the day

And at night – with sudden influx of crowds but only for one weekend and sanity has resumed again!

And then there are the shop windows and things that appeared in the hallway of my apartment block

So that’s the only acknowledgement – I think – unless I see anything as funny as the babies……. Have a good one however you spend it xxx

Spain, Seville – doing some usual and not so usual touristy things – River Cruise, Convent, Cadiz and St Nicholas Night and a little flamenco in the street.

The nice thing about staying in a place for a month is that you get time to visit the less obvious places in and around the city – so that’s what I’ve been doing a bit of while in Seville.

Still beautiful weather so decided to do the tourist one hour boat on the Guadalquivir River and see the sights from a different angle.

This shows the theatre and bull ring and also the rather odd and singular skyscraper in Seville. Nothing is supposed to be taller than the Giralda Tower but somehow this one got through a few years ago – very controversial. I assume some money changed hands somewhere along the way?

Until relatively recently there was only one bridge across the river – so the boat men made a killing – but now there are 7 of them. Top right was designed in the Eiffel school style – the others were build for the 1992 Expo.

The Golden Tower by the river seems to have many myths attached to it including that it once actually housed gold. I don’t think so. As you can see it is certainly not made of or covered in gold. I think the second pic has the answer as when it is reflected in the river it looks like liquid gold.

Thanks to my friend Sue I found a tucked away monastery – which actually is full of nuns – but anyway it was a delightful place that I nearly missed. It is called the Monasterio Santa Paula and has a church, museum, peaceful garden and the nuns sell their cookies and jam – very common in Spain and much prized. Yet another nice quiet corner in Seville

Also took the bus – yes really I am becoming very good at them – to Cadiz – 1.45 minutes from Seville. At last I got to see the sea -seems strange to be in Spain for this long and not to see it. It has a nice cathedral (simpler than most but no pics allowed) and it was pleasant to stroll along the beachside waterfront. It also has the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. I ate some great tapas but other than that – not the most exciting spot.

On my return from Cadiz, Seville was in mayhem as a million people appeared to have descended on the place – turns out it was St Nicholas Day Night – so lots going on plus this is a holiday weekend for constitution Day so no doubt more to follow but here is a taste.

And finally it is hard to go anywhere without seeing a bit of flamenco. I was especially taken with this lady – her dancing and her dress

Spain, a weekend in Seville

If you’ve ever contemplated a long weekend in Seville – and you absolutely should – here is what my friend Sue and I managed over the last three days. It was great.

First up – a walking tour of Hidden Seville – which involved heading into the old moorish quarter of the city. Once a no go zone and while still gritty become more gentrified as more tourists start to visit. A real community spirit here too with a lot of communal living and focus on music and the traditional arts.

Next stop was to go inside the architectural sculpture that is the Metropole Parasol. Controversial when it opened less than 10 years ago it is not a must see in Seville and it is different again once you are inside and walking around it. Definitely the architect was influenced by Gaudi.

An evening walk into Triana – over the bridge was next on the agenda. The walk involved tapas tasting in some tiny and authentic bars as well as a flamenco show (no pics allowed). Excellent evening.

Day 2 and the first stop was a tour of the Alcazar Palace and adjoining Gardens and for Sue the Cathedral too. The two most viewed buildings in Seville and for good reason. Try to book a timed ticket for early access to avoid crowds. Like many buildings in Andalucia all the artwork and design is mudeja- Muslim design and architecture including mosques which were subsequently taken over by the Catholics who rather than pulling them down (thank goodness) added a cross and bell tower above the minarets and a few coats of arms around the place – and then declared them Christian! Excellent decision in my view and great example of recycling and using skilled local artisans.

After an excellent Middle eastern meal, day 3 started with a tour of the bullring which has been around since 1760. This is a well used arena right by the Guadalquivir River which is used about 30 times a year for bull fights. The tour also includes access to a museum.

Then as the weather was so lovely – a walk though Maria Luisa Park to the Plaza Espana originally designed for the 1928 Ibero-American Expo and still in amazing condition. Each tiled alcove represents a different province in Spain and the key is to find one that matches what you are wearing and then take a photo!!

So for anyone wondering – yes it is worth coming over for a long weekend. Definitely.

Thanks Sue for making it extra fun

Spain, Granada and the Alhambra Palace – two days of gaspworthy sites. (Best viewed on ipad or larger device)

Last time I visited the Alhambra I was in my 20s and it was a very crowded and a very hot day trip with no time to see the town of Granada. This time I travelled by bus from Seville – 3 hours – and spent two nights there (at the excellent Eurostars Washington Iriving Hotel) which gave me plenty of time to explore both to my heart’s content. November is a great time to visit – comfortable walking temperatures, clear skies, far less tourists and snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance (a place where snow belongs as far as I’m concerned).

From my hotel I could walk through the forest by the Alhambra into town. Autumn comes much later here so the colours were a bonus. Like Seville, although festive decorations are up nothing has been switched on yet – it is after all still November! Very civilised. The town of Granada is a decent size and there are nice walks in the modern parts and the old Jewish and Moorish quarters.

Next on to the iconic Alhambra Palace – right outside my hotel. It is hard to realise that only about 20% of the original palace exists (it is still huge) as the rest was destroyed – a fair bit by Napoleon I think?! Washington Irving’s book Tales of the Alhambra,which I now have to read, helped bring in initial money which was used to restore the place. There is still more that can be restored but Andalucian bureaucracy is slow.

There are so many things to love about this place.

Is it the architecture?

Or the ceilings?

Or the interiors?

Or the views from the inside out?

Or the gardens?

Or staggering up the steep roads of the Albaycin- the old moorish quarter on the other side – to get to the St Nicholas lookout and watch the sun set over the Palace and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains?

You can decide………