A different kind of history in the Port of Sagunt

When I decided to visit Sagunt, I wanted to follow ancient history. To see the site of the famous siege of Sagunt, Hannibal versus the Romans, the all important Second Punic War, the castle on top of the hill, the Roman forum and theatre.

Castle of Sagunt

Castle of Sagunt

Roman theatre

Roman theatre

I did all that, but what surprised me when I made my way to the Port of Sagunt was that there are remarkable structures and buildings related to a much more recent past. The Industrial Revolution and witnesses to the steel making industry in Sagunt which began to flourish in the 19th century and contributed to economic growth.

Alas, such wealth was short lived. The last steel ovens closed in 1984. I took the bus from Sagunt railway station and, at the driver’s advice, got off at the market to see what is known as Horno Alto. By the way, the market was in full swing and is enormous, but I didn’t stop because it’s quite a hike to reach this remarkable structure.

Horno Alto no.2

Horno Alto no.2

iron

It’s a restored 64 meters high steel oven which you can visit and which is dramatically illuminated at night. It was just me and two American tourists,  who exclaimed in awe:  “looks like a space ship”. It does, when you are standing at the bottom it’s just huge.

The Port of Sagunt has many more streets and parts which remind you of the industrial times. The barrio de los obreros is one and next to the Horno, now derelict warehouses. The atmosphere is eerie and impressive at the same time.

warehouse

From the Horno Alto it is another long hike along the Avenida del Mediterraneo to reach the beaches. It’s well worth the effort, because the beaches are fantastic. Playa Almadra, Playa Corinto and Playa Malvarrosa to name but a few cover a total of 10km. White, sandy with dunes and interesting vegetation you should bring swimwear for a dip in the crystalline waters when making a trip to the port of Sagunt.

beach

canet

plants

Even in the height of summer you will be able to find a quiet spot, they are just so vast. Cafes, restaurants and the occasional chiringuitos line the promenade.This side trip is an absolute must when visiting Sagunt.

bar

Two unusual ways to explore Toledo

 

Toledo in Castilla La Mancha/Spain is probably one of the most visited destinations of the country. And rightly so, given the rich culture of the city, spanning more than 2000 years.

It’s located on top of a mountain with the river Tajo circling ¾ down below.

River Tajo

River Tajo

Medieval walls, churches, synagogues and mosques not to mention countless museums and other works of art will keep a visitor busy for more than one day. As is so often the case, your feet are your best means of transport.  Number 1 priority in Toledo is good, comfortable shoes with sole that don’t slip. Up and down steep and narrow streets you walk, climbing steps in between and squeezing into shop entrances when cars negotiate around corners and past protruding walls, trying not to damages their vehicles and not to run over pedestrians. Or dogs or cats!

calleancha

Having done my bit of walking for 1 ½ days, I was glad to discover an unexpected means of seeing the city from a different angle. Believe it or not, Toledo sports  the longest inner urban zip line in Europe, or so the advert claims.

zip

Ah, to fly over it all and let your feet peacefull dangle over the river Tajo. It’s called La Tirolina and the fun costs all of €10.

Traject of La Tirolina

Traject of La Tirolina

La Tirolina starts near the majestic Puente San Martin and you can buy your ticket online and get more information here.Open from 11am to 8pm year around.

Puente San Martin

Puente San Martin

Apart from the fun of ‘flying’ you get splendid views of the cathedral. Alcazar, part of the Juderia and of course the bridge San Martin itself and the Tajo below.

Alcazar

Alcazar

Main portal cathedral

Main portal cathedral

In the evening, I did the opposite. Instead of flying over Toledo, I went underground. Discovered by chance thanks for a very friendly taxi driver, I approached a person with a rolled up yellow umbrella under the arm in the middle of Zocodover Square which is right in the heart of Old Town Toledo. These people are guides for a company called cuentametoledo. Among the more usual tours, they offer two very special ones.

Yellow umbrella guide

Yellow umbrella guide

One is called Secret Toledo and is a two hour nocturnal walk through the streets of Toledo with tales of history, legends, anecdotes and much more.

The other one which I went on and found more fascinating is called: Underground Toledo. It starts at 10pm and finished at midnight. The tour guide takes you underground through tunnels and arches you would never suspect from above. You visit Roman and Arabic baths, the cellars of a Jewish house and a deep, deep well. Again, tales and legends abound.All illuminated by a mystical yellow light, the tour makes you forget which century you are actually living in.

If you visit Toledo, don’t miss out on one or the other of these adventures, or, time permitting, all of them.

 

 

 

Into the Maestrazgo with Nacho

Rural Spain at its best, that’s what you find in the province of Aragon. Sparsely populated, full  of dreamy villages,  grand masias, cows, sheep and dense pine forests, a trip into the Meastrazgo is a far cry from your usual Spain tourism.

My starting point was the lovely town of Teruel with its splendid examples of Mudejar architecture and moving love story of Isabel and Juan. The purpose of my visit was to meet the last hermits of Spain, a couple in their 80s living all alone in an abandoned mountain village called La Estrella in the middle of the Maestrazgo mountain range. That however, is a different story, to be told later.

Aquaeduct of Teruel

Aquaeduct of Teruel

The region known as Maestrazgo forms part of the Iberian mountains, divided into the parts of Aragon and Castellon. Often called the ‘mountains of silence,’ the landscape consists of steep ravines and sheer rock faces, as well as terraced hills, clear streams and pine forests. Nature at its best and most unspoilt with flora and fauna to match. The name Maestrazgo derives from the Middle Ages when the region was under the jurisdiction of the Knights Templar, St. John of Malta and Montesa.

Typical Maestrazgo village

Typical Maestrazgo village

Knights Templar residence

Knights Templar residence

Needless to say, that there is no public transport from Teruel to my final destination and as I didn’t want to venture onto a mountain trail by hiring a car and driving myself, first order of the day in Teruel was to find a taxi which would take me there.As luck would have it, in the middle of Plaza del Torito I just stopped a gentleman and asked for directions to the nearest taxi rank.

“I’m a taxi driver,” he grinned and within minutes, the charming Nacho and I became friends, agreed on the time, fare and route and at 8am next next morning we were on our way.

Nacho

Nacho

Nacho told me that he knew the region fairly well because his grandparent swere from a village not so far from La Estrella. So, I got myself a local guide into the bargain and he insisted in showing me different parts and villages.

The first hour the road was rather civilized, steadily climbing through terraced hills. Once upon a time this was all farmland, but the terraces are small and when animals were no longer used, the harvest machines could not enter and it is all abandoned now. Characteristic are the endless stone walls which support the terraces.

The first stop was Valdelinares which at 1632m is Spain’s highest village. In winter it thrives with skiing, you can see the slopes and lifts and several holiday apartments. Otherwise, all these villages have maybe a few hundred inhabitants and feature some impressive masias, some of them fortified.

Near Valdelinares stands a single massive pine tree, Pino Escoboar, straight like and arrow and with a huge canopy. Pine woods abound and another specialty are truffels which, today, are cultivated. I was delighted to find a cute truffle museum in Valdelinares.

PinoEscobor

PinoEscobor

pinetop

Truffel Museum

Truffel Museum

The views are spectacular and the air is so fresh and clean you want to bottle it and take back with you to the city.

Next stop was Mosqueruela, from where there, supposedly was a trail to La Estrella. This little village get populated once a year, on the last Sunday of May because it’s the seat of a sanctuary and the people of Mosqueruela go on a pilgrimage to La Estrella, covering the 15km on foot.

Naco asked directions and we hit a ‘trail’ all right, but from then on we were really and truly lost in the wilderness. Other trails branched off but we didn’t know if we should follow one of them or stay on the one we were on. We did the latter. No indications anywhere, GPS had packed up, the trail deteriorated and we skipped along vertiginous precipices on either side. Rocks hit the bottom of the car, our only company were sheep and cows, but, unfortunately no shepherd in sight whom we could have asked. It was also impossible to turn around and go back, so the only way was forward and hoping for the best.

But, in the end, the travel gods smiled upon us and after another nerve-racking bend we suddenly spotted some houses, a few with caved in roofs and a tile covered cupola glistening in the sun. The sanctuary of La Estrella!

La Estrella

La Estrella

sanctuary

It was all worth the nerves and anguish because we spent a few hours with the hermit couple who were extremely welcoming, showed us the sanctuary and told us stories about their beloved solitary life in the middle of the Maestrazgo.

The hermits

The hermits

It turned out that there was an easier way back and after looking at some more medieval buildings on other villages, we arrived safe and sound back in Teruel. Nacho glad that he didn’t have a punctured tire and me happy with plenty of photographs and material for some more great stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calpe – small town, big rock

If it weren’t for the mighty Peñon de Ifach, rising 332m out of the Mediterranean Sea, Calpe would be just another pretty sea town along Spain’s Costa Blanca.

The huge rock, which served as a look out to protect Calpe and surrounding areas for centuries, is a must see landmark and attracts thousands of visitors each year. Sadly, I only had time for a rather short visit, otherwise I would have climbed it, at least as far as one can go.

rockgood

The rock and surrounding area is a nature reserve and from the bottom, a tunnel leads up. The very top is currently closed for security reasons, but I can only imagine the fantastic view one must have.

Like many of the other coastal towns, Calpe is extremely popular with expats, particularly Scandinavians. You see many a shop with signs in Norwegian. This development also led to plenty of apartment blocks but there is still a rather quaint old town with narrow streets.

street

The prettiest part though is the marina and port with a nice sandy beach on either side. Before tourism, Calpe’s people have made their living from fishing and they do so to this day.

port

La Lonja, which is the hall where the fresh catches are noisily auctioned off, is interesting to see. But you can ‘catch the catch’ if you go down to the port, wait for the fishing boats to come in and buy right off the boat. It’s impossible to get fresher fish and fun into the bargain. I didn’t buy any fish, but I loved to watch.

 

boat

lonja

fish

fishermen

Calpe has a handful of small museums and, not surprisingly, plenty of very good fish restaurants.

We had come from one of my favorite towns on the Costa Blanca, artistic Altea and the drive to Calpe is fabulous. Not only the view of the coastline but also the rugged Mascarat Ravine which you cross through a few tunnels.

And then, on your left, you come upon a very special and unexpected sight: the orthodox church of the Archangel Saint Michael. Privately built and funded by a Russian businessman, the church is a replica of a 17th century church in Russia and was built with original materials. The gilded domes glitter in the sun and for a moment, you forget that you are actually in Spain.

We couldn’t stop, therefore the shot is a bit blurry, but I guess, you get the picture.

church

Malaga transformed – get blown away by street art in SOHO

A return visit to my once home town of Malaga left me deeply impressed. In addition to more traditional museums, a whole new area has sprung up,  converting  a run down quarter into a stunning open air museum.

A life long fan of paintings, sculpture and museums, I first paid homage to Malaga’s most famous son: Pablo Picasso. Although he spent most of his working life outside Spain, memories of his early years growing up in the shade of the magnificent castle of Gibralfaro and the Roman Theatre stayed with him and influenced his work. Get a feel for Picasso in his birth house (13, Plaza de la Merced) and the nearby Picasso Museum (Palacio de Buenavista, C/San Agustin,8) in the historical heart  of the city.

I met up with my friend, Michael Soffe, who runs a Gourmet Food Tour. A true Malageño since 26 years, he sums up brilliantly what makes Malaga such an attractive destination for art and culture lover.

Michael Soffe

Michael Soffe

“I love what has happened on the art scene in the city over the last 10 years. The opening of the Picasso museum was just the start. Add to this the Carmen Thyssen Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum (CAC) and the Pompidou center and we are spoilt for choice. Most fascinating though is the wonderful street art in the areas of Soho and Lagunillas with their cafes and restaurants which have become popular hangouts for local artists and it’s easy to understand why the city is fast becoming a cultural destination for people from all over the world.”

Following his advice, I made my way to Soho. It’s a triangular shaped part of the city, beginning behind the CAC, bordered by Alameda Principal to the north, the Guadalmina river to the west and Avenida de Manuel Augustin Heredia to the east, leading to the port and Muelle de Heredia. It’s the port part which had fallen into disarray until an initiative by CIC and MAUS (Malaga Arte Urbano Soho) brought international and local artists to the area who transformed it into a thriving cultural and ‘happening’  art center.

dface

I couldn’t tear my eyes away from  a seven story high mural, painted by D*Face aka Dean Stockton on the façade of the Garcia Lorca Secondary School. He depicts a fighter pilot next to a woman symbolizing Peace and Freedom. And that’s just one of many which cover nearly every free wall space in the district, imbuing it with new life.

bird

 

 

Soho and the museums world of Malaga are best explored on foot, which requires the occasional pit stop in a café. As luck would have it, I came upon Mamuchis (calle Casas de Campos), in the center of Soho. The restaurant/café immediately caught my eye, because I found an artist in action, a rare treat. Transforming the façade into a colorful garden of flowers and trees, renowned Malaga artist Enrique Linaza put down his brush to share some of Leticia’s delicious tea and a chat with me.

Enrique Linaza

Enrique Linaza

“What inspired me to paint this mural,” he says, “are the lemon and orange trees of Malaga and the fruit and vegetable used in the Mediterranean cuisine and found in Malaga’s Ataranzas market. An appropriate subject for Mamuchis of course!  I love Malaga’s climate and people, the castle of Gibralfaro and the view over the city and the sea which I like to paint. Mamuchis is one of my favorite hangouts together with other painter friends and we all are thrilled about how Soho has developed and proud of our part in it.”

enriquepaint

One of his painter colleagues is another Malaga born artist, Dadi Dreucol, a self proclaimed non conformist and rebel. Beloved by the people of Malaga, you can see his street art in 12, Calle Tomas Heredia/Soho.

Malaga is the city with the largest number of museums in Andalucia. Not all of them are dedicated to painting and sculpture, so let me mention my favorite.

Lovers of automobile history and vintage cars absolutely have to see the Automobile Museum. It’s the private collection of Portuguese car fanatic Joao Magalheas and comprises more than 80 cars, among them a Swarowski crystal encrusted Rolls Royce. Malaga and art are inseparable so the theme of the museum is ‘Cars as Art’ including custom painted car bodies.

Automobile museum

Automobile museum

It also documents the history of the automobile accessories such as 300 hats! Best of all, if you really want to make an impact and have some money to burn, you can hire a chauffeur driven gold Bentley with leopard print upholstery or some other outstanding vintage cars. You’ll be sure to turn heads.