Monday afternoon between noon and 2pm is the best time to sit in the shade by the mermaid sat on her fish by the lake in El Retiro park. The monument to Alfonso XII provides a suitable backdrop to watch people messing about on boats in the lake next to the monument. It is funny to watch them trying to row their boats as there are the occasional crashes between boats. Don't forget to smack the mermaid's bottom for good luck before you reluctantly leave the lakeside!
An Egyptian temple built 2,200 years ago taken apart brick by brick in Egypt and shipped over to Spain and then finally put back together in Madrid. The whole story of the moving of the temple from Egypt to Spain and its history is covered in great detail in the museum's displays and videos. An interesting and unusual thing to find plonked tastefully in Madrid's western suburbs. Behind the temple there are very good views of Madrid's western suburbs, the Casa de Campo park and the mountains to the west of the city. The park is a lovely setting for family picnics too.
Entry is free.
The most famous cycling race in Spain which easily rivals the more famous Tour de France. The 9th September is usually when the race finishes in Madrid. It is free to stand behind the barriers by the road and cheer the cyclists on as they race past you at an alarming pace (be quick to rein in your camera after taking your photo otherwise it will be shot out of your hand and broken by passing cyclists). I managed to get some brilliant photos of the riders and of the prize giving ceremony after the race. Don't be discouraged if the police move you on from some of the barriers by the finish line as they actually did me a favour as I got to be right next to the barrier and could practically touch the cylists. It was one of the best experiences of my life as it was exciting to actually be there in Madrid instead of watching it on the TV. Top tip - find a barrier on the right side of the track (where you will get the best photos) at 12.00pm and keep your spot. Arrive later than 12.00pm and you will loose your spot!
The atmopshere is fantastic and exhilirating. It is not intimidating at all even for children so it is perfect for families. There are police everywhere to protect spectators and cyclists so don't worry about safety but do as I did and keep your rucksack on your front and NOT on your back to avoid things being stolen from it without you noticing. There will be lots of people around you but unlike the Tour de France you wont be jostled about and knocked all over the place - everybody looks after each other (even if your not supporting the same rider!)
The Vuelta de España follows this route into Madrid city centre: c/Princesa,
Plaza de España, Gran Vía, c/Alcalá,
Plaza de Cibeles, then passing the Thyssen museum, Fuente de Neptuno, Paseo de Prado, Gta de Emperador Carlos V and back up to Plaza de Cibeles then down again to
Gta de Emperador Carlos V (10 times) before the cyclists cross the finishing line
(la meta) for the final time near Plaza de Cibeles. The exact route is usually announced on the website of the
Vuelta de España and in the local and national newspapers every year
Google map: bit.ly/Ph2plP
Thanks to an earlier posting on this website, we discovered bilbaogreeters.com, an organisation that provides, free of charge, an English-speaking guide to Bilbao. The Guggenheim may be the initial draw for tourists, but there is much more to this fascinating city.
My top tip? Meet up with a guide as early as possible in your stay. Ours told us: where to eat outstanding seafood; how best to use the excellent public transport system;and what is worth seeing, apart from the "Guggy".
Luxury mountiain biking holiday with Jenny and Tim in their eco farmhouse. Beautiful surroundings, great food, fantastic accommodation. The mountain biking is awesome from the climbs to the single track with a backdrop of amazing scenery.
Travel as a group, couple or solo. Its perfect for enthusiastic beginners and the more experienced. Great hosts. All round fab holiday
Casa del Limonero is a spacious, comfortable house in the centre of a traditional agricultural village. It's very reasonably priced but fully equipped. It makes self-catering a luxury. The village has shops, banks, bars and restaurants yet is surrounded by fabulous walking country taking in everything from flat meadows to mountains, rivers to lakes and wild flowers to chestnut and oak forests.
Casa del Limonero, Almoharín, 10132 Cáceres, Extremadura. Nearest bus or train station: Cáceres or Mérida. Almoharín is on bus routes to both cities.
San Martín is a small, ancient and historic village in the Sierra de Gata, Extremadura. It's only 15km from the Portuguese border and it lies in a remote valley backed by peaks rising to 1485m. The walking is fabulous: lush valleys with rivers that never run dry, natural swimming pools, mountain paths, extensive chestnut and oak forests, wildlife, birds, castles, friendly people and yummy food.
North of Coria and Moreleja in Cáceres Province or look for it in 'Walking in Extremadura' published by Santana Books.
An organic and vegetarian restaurant in Seville. Yes, you have read correctly. A meat-free menu! It offers a wide range of fresh, mainly local produce. Salads (from €8-€12.50), cheeses, gazpachos and full meals. There are also set menus for €9.95 Monday to Friday with a starter, main meal and dessert. Wednesdays are curry day - the 'mixed plate' didn't leave much room for the dessert!
In addition to the restaurant, Gaia has an alternative studies centre (massage, Chinese medicine, etc) and a shop selling organic produce.
Staff are incredibly friendly!
Calle de Luis de Vargas, 4 41001 Seville, Spain
+34 (0)954 21 19 34
Google map: bit.ly/O0ODl9
* BecomingSevillana is our Been there local for Seville. You can read her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/seville-local-kim.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/BecomingSevillana.jsp
She also has her own blog: becomingsevillana.blogspot.com/
A nice little town on the drive to/from Andorra in northern Catalunya. Walk round the old quarter and go into the cloisters of the romanesque cathedral - calm and cool, amusing capitals - then walk round the back and get a great view of the nearby sierra.
Carrer Major, 25700 Seu d'Urgell, Spain
Google map: bit.ly/MQ26PB
It's a 'formategeria' (cheese restaurant) but although it has a lovely fondue on the menu, its menu isn't especially cheesey. It's a lovely place, great service, attentive and passionate chef who talked us through the Catalan menu. The town itself is nice but provincial and this restaurant is not what you'd expect there.
I really loved this hostel. It is not in the old town but is less than 30 minutes walk to the old town and the main sites. The place is well run, friendly and good value. They gave me a double bed instead of a single.
Try the gardens at Cap Roig (Jardi Botanic Cap Roig),a series of beautiful and unusual themed gardens laid out on terraces around a modern castle leading to the sea. My favourite was the cactus garden which affords spectacular views of the coast below. Time your visit to coincide with the open-air music festival that the garden hosts in the summer. When we were there three years ago, Leonard Cohen was performing under the stars!
Hiding in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and often overlooked by foreign tourists, this protected valley is sprinkled with Unesco-listed churches from the 12th century. It is also a gateway to the dramatic Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park where a week won't be long enough to fit in all the hiking, cycling, adventuring and bird-watching on offer.
Avoid the familiar, round up the family and go there in the summer.
Step off the tourist treadmill and into sleepy Alaro, a small town of narrow streets from where you can follow graded paths and running trails through pine woods and stunning valleys.Try lunch at the best lamb eating place in the Balearics in the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana after a lovely walk or drive. The small family -run Petit Hotel is beautifully furnished and reasonably priced, offering authentic Mallorquin cuisine. It is located close to the shady plaza where you can enjoy delicious local ice cream or pastries from the bakery and where markets and fiestas will be held during August.
Eusebi Guell's model industrial village built in 1890 to house occupants of the textile industry. The highlight is one of Antonio Gaudi's key works - the unfinished church crypt. The crypt features brilliant use of leaded stained glass, brick and ceramics.
Gaudi is associated with nearby Barcelona, the Gaudi centre in Reus might be overlooked. It a modern building, with interesting displays, both visual and written information. It does not cost much to get in and you have an audio guide.
When in Spanish Catalonia we offered to answer questions for local school children (under supervision of course) to help them with their English language and geography. In return we got some great info about the best local cafes, shops etc. We also learned the cheapest and best way to travel - like the locals.
We were introduced through the hotel reception.
Priorat, in Tarragona Province probably produces the most exciting red wines in the whole of Spain. Yet an excursion to this scarcely populated corner of Catalonia brings further delights in addition to the fantastic bodega/ wine tasting visits.
You can visit the spectacular village of Siurana, the last place the Moors were expelled from in Catalonia, where the sheer rock faces were a natural defence.
Another option is Scala Dei, the fascinating remains of a Carthusian Monastery, at the foot of the imposing Montsant Natural Park.
Or if you fancy experiencing one of Catalonia's many festivals, visit the village of Prades, where once a year the baroque fountain spurts cava rather than for a day, for one and all to drink their fill during their yearly Festa Major.
For views of Barcelona minus the crowds head to the Carretera de les Aigües, a track that runs for several miles around the shoulder of Tibidabo, the mountain that dominates the top end of the city. Buy a standard metro ticket, take the Ferrocarrils to Peu Del Funicular then change onto the funicular railway and get off at the next stop up, called Carretera de les Aigües. A left turn at the station entrance and you've got three miles of country track among trees with only the panoramic views, a few joggers, and birds for company. At the end of the track you come out next to the Tibidabo funicular where you can either head up to the very top of the hill or take the Blue Tram back down into town. Before you do either, stop for a quick drink at the Mirablau café, and gaze out through the picture windows at yet another fabulous view of the city.
On the Nit de Sant Joan (St John's night) on 23rd June the usually reserved population of Catalonia goes barking mad for one night only! We've seen it in both Barcelona and Sitges and both were wild! We didn't know about it the first time we went to Barcelona and the first inkling we got of it was when some local residents started building a massive bonfire in the middle of the busy junction outside our hotel! We thought it was the start of a revolt but it turned out to be one of the biggest celebrations of the year so we headed out and got lost in the revelry. There were bonfires everywhere, people were handing out free food, and every bar had set up a stall on the street. As the night wore on everyone headed down to the beaches at Barceloneta where there were more bonfires, children racing round with sparklers, a huge firework display at midnight, and entire families from toddlers to grannies running into the sea for a swim at two in the morning! It was chaotic, boisterous and huge fun and it didn't end until dawn!
Anywhere in Catalonia on 23rd June
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