Posted by inka on Jul 26, 2014 in Spain
, Travel tips
Rumor has it, that renowned explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt fell to his knees in awe when he first caught sight of Tenerife´s Orotava Valley. True or not, it would certainly be understandable because this fertile valley in the north east of the largest island of the Canaries is filled with banana plantations, vineyards and field upon field of the famous black potatoes, a specialty of Tenerife.
The amazing thing about Tenerife is, that the island is, as far as landscape and climate are concerned, practically divided into two very different parts. Whereas the south with its black beaches and rock formations like Los Gigantes has a near desert climate and harsh vegetation, the north is humid, with lush green pine forests and quite a lot of rain. The divider is the volcanic mountain chain of El Teide, a huge lava and rock covered area which is also a nature reserve. Pic de Teide is dormant but might become active again at any time.
Teide nature reserve
Pic de Teide
Tenerife has two international airports, Tenerife south being the one most used by visitors and tourists who want to enjoycheap all inclusive holidays. The most popular resorts in this part of the island are Los Cristianos, Playa de las Americas and Adeje. Whereas the first two are more suitable for families, Adeje has become more up market and a resort which offers luxury all inclusive holidays. The sand of the beaches is black because it comes from the lava of the Teide mountain chain.
Black Beach Playa de las Americas
Tenerife does have one ´white´beach though, Las Teresitas, close to the charming capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife. A cruise ship stop, Santa Cruz has a flamboyant Marina, a beautiful promenade, many parks with an abundance of palm trees and flowers and an array of elegant 19th century town houses and several churches. Here is also Tenerife´s other airport which mostly connects the island to Spain. A paradise for shopping, eating and taking in a show or two Santa Cruz is definitely worth a visit.
Las Teresitas Tenerife´s white beach
Park in Santa Cruz
Roof of a townhouse
Much as I like the beaches, promenades and easy life of my new home town Torrevieja on Spain´s Costa Blanca, from time to time I crave the fun and sounds of a city. As luck will have it, the nearest is Alicante. Every two or three weeks, I catch the bus for the 1 hour trip and enjoy the sights, shops , museums and restaurants of this lively city. Believe me, there is plenty to do and see and every time I discover something new.
The most outstanding landmark is no doubt the massive Castle of Santa Barbara, perched high up on Monte Benacantil. It´s quite a hike up the mountain but it leads through gardens and parks and once arrived on the top, the views over Alicante and her port are more than rewarding. So is the castle itself with its massive walls and exhibitions.
Castillo de Santa Barbara
Back to earth so to speak, I like to walk along the Esplanade. It´s a bit like the Ramblas of Barcelona, with the wave pattern of the floor, hundreds of mature palm trees, stalls and cafes. Right around the corner is my favorite museum in Alicante.
The most important festival are the bonfires of San Juan in the summer. Lots of fireworks, fire and noise illuminating the Castle of Santa Barbara. Effigies which have been especially created for the occasion are burnt, but some of them are literally pardoned and are exhibited in the Museo de los Fogueres . I have visited more than once because these pieces are such incredible works of art.
Equally close is la Casa de 100 tapas, a delightful bar/restaurant where you can sample an incredible variety of tapas which I much prefer to a full meal.
Casa de las 100 tapas
Sometimes, I spend the night and my choice is the Melia Alicante. Not only is this a quite luxurious hotel without being overpriced, it is also close to Alicante´s white and wide beach and to the entertainment quarter. By staying over night, I can enjoy the beach during the day and listen to music and entertainment by night without having to walk more than a few steps.
Yachts in the marina of Alicante
Add to this a little shopping spree in El Corte Ingles, a branch of Spain´s best known department store and you´ll understand why I love my little escapes to Alicante.
Even if you don´t live as close by as I do, Alicante is easy to reach. It is a stop for cruise ships, has an international airport, a bus station for national and international coaches and a train station which connects Alicante by AVE, Spain´s high speed train with Madrid and Barcelona and by `normal` train with other cities in Spain.
Next time, I plan to visit more museums and some of the splendid baroque churches. As I said, lots to do and see in Alicante.
Posted by inka on Jun 15, 2014 in Day trips
, Travel tips
My daytrip in the second day of my stay in Andorra had three stops: the first on the way to Ordino a Mirador with splendid views over the mountains and valleys which are so typical for Andorra.
The second was at the sanctuary of Mertitxell which I told you about yesterday and the third in a place called Encamp at Casa Cristo, a stone house built between the 18th and 19th century which was the dwelling of a humble family dedicated to agriculture. It was inhabited until 1947 when the last owners decided to move to France and sold the house to the community.
Casa Cristo in Encamp
Since then it has become an ethnographic museum which illustrates the way Andorra farmers lived not so long ago. Divided into a ground floor and three floors, each nook and cranny has been made good use of and you have to admire the inventiveness of the owners.
The ground floor houses tools for working the land, the woodshed and the cellar-food store.
A very narrow wooden stair case leads to the first floor with the kitchen-dining room and two bedrooms, one for the grandmother and one what you would call the master bedroom which also has the only cupboard of the house.
The next floor up is a big space which serves as living room, room for festivities and family reunions and another bedroom for the kids.
And one more stair case up: the slated attic was used for storing lumber and as drying room for fruit and products from the land.
It was really a stroke of luck that our group consisted of only three people plus our guide and the driver, because it gets pretty cramped and it was not possible to take any picture without one or other of my fellow visitors being in it.
Posted by inka on Jun 14, 2014 in art
, Day trips
, Private trips
, Travel tips
I only spent two days in the tiny principality of Andorra, high up in the Pyrenees, wedged between Spain and France, but I discovered that the country is full of surprises. Ok, I did expect ski resorts for winter, snow covered mountains year round, valleys with roaring streams and an extensive network of hiking paths, but I what I found by way of modern architecture, churches and ancient legends by far surpassed my expectations.
Yesterday I told you about the world call spa La Caldea in Andorra´s capital called Andorra La Vella. The next day, I went on a tour with a company called Tourist Bus. Surprise, surprise, we were only three people, a luxury because they laid on not a big tour bus but a small people carrier and we had guide and driver all to ourselves. They went out of their way to show us things which were not officially included in the tour.
Leaving La Vella for the north, we headed along the river which runs through town and comes from the mountains to a place called Canillo. This was already more like the mountain village I expected, with stone houses and cobbled streets, many hotels which cater to winter sport and restaurants.
Our destination however was the sanctuary of Meritxell nearby. There are about 40 churches in all of Andorra and they are all in the Romanesque style. No Gothic, no baroque, all have the typical Romanesque arched, are small with a square bell tower and stern Romanesque art inside.
Legend has it, that an image of the virgin was found under a flowering rosebush in the middle of winter by a shepherd who went to mess in the church of Canillo. The image was taken into the church and placed near the altar.
The next day, the sacristan found that the image had disappeared and rested, again, under the rosebush. This happened three times and finally it was decided that the virgin didn´t like this particular church and a new one was built where she happily remained. This became the sanctuary of Meritxell which soon converted into a place of worship and pilgrimage.
In 1873 siad virgin was oficcialy declared the patron saint and protector of Andorra. Then, in the night of 8th October 1972, something terrible happened. Probably due to a burning candle, the church and the image of the virgin burnt down and were completely destroyed.
Even after the fire, the place people came to worship here and finally it was decided to create a new sanctuary. The famous Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill won the competition and conceived a monumental place of worship which combines the nature of Andorra with the religious worship of the followers of the virgin of Meritxell. The result is something very close to a cathedral, dominated by grey and white arches, open spaces which allow light to come in from all sides, combining grandeur with the sternness of the Romanesque style.
A truly impressive church/monument fully integrated into the wild landscape of Andorra.
The destroyed statue of the virgin
Posted by inka on Jun 13, 2014 in Day trips
, Private trips
At first sight you may be forgiven for thinking that you are looking at a very modern cathedral. Up to a point, you are not far out: although not a church, Andorra´s emblematic landmark, La Caldea is certainly a temple to health, fitness and beauty.
The impressive futuristic structure, entirely covered with mirrors is the creation of French architect Daniel Gelabert Fontova. Andorra, the tiny state high up in the Pyrenees between Spain and France is blessed by several thermal springs. Making use of the healing waters, La Caldea came into being, offering a huge array of different indoors and outdoors pools, every imaginable kind of water treatment from Aztec to hamam, beauty treatments, massages, shopping, cafes and restaurants.
Me in the mirror
The idea of the many mirrors was to reflect the characteristics of Andorra, mountains, gray stone, woods and snow. The surrounding landscape is reflected in the mirrored surfaces and so is, in winter, the snow.
In the evenings, La Caldea also offers a spectacle called Mondaigua, a multi media extravaganza telling the story of water with actors, fireworks, water plays and much more.
It is the biggest thermal spa in the mountains of Europe and an experience which will never be forgotten.