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Murcia

6 Mar

It’s Saturday and we have decided to go a bit further afield for a change – it seems the only way to get time off properly here is to leave the house and just let all the usual weekend chores wait.

 

Murcia is only an hour and a half away and is Spain’s 10th largest city.  It is straight up the motorway so very easy to get to and so long as you leave early enough time to get an hour or two’s shopping in before the shops shut at two you don’t have to start out before 10.30 or 11 in the morning.  The other option, of course, is to get there at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, go and have loads of tapas or a proper lunch and then go shopping at 5.30 pm.  Anyhow, we like to go early, mooch around the shops, with a coffee halfway, and then go for a leisurely lunch before leaving in the late afternoon.

Shopping in Murcia

You really need four or five visits to Murcia to really acquaint yourself with the city as with any city, there is a lot to see and do and because it is quite close, rather than tire yourself out with one long exhausting day, it is better to select something in particular to see or do and then have a meal, either lunch or dinner and plan another day out to see something else.   Actually if you are used to London, then Murcia does not seem that large and therefore, is quite undaunting.  If you live where we do, then shopping is quite high on the list of priorities and so I am very happy to wander not down the main shopping street in search of Zara or Corte Ingles but rather seek out the smaller, more exclusive shops in the old town, near the cathedral.  There are a selection of gorgeous designer shops, more for girls than boys it has to be said, all hidden away in narrow little streets, punctuated with coffee shops and bars to sneak in and have drink and maybe a tapa or two knowing that lunch is a couple of hours away.

Real Casino

It is quite chilly today and so the thought of disrobing and trying stuff on is not very appealing, but I look at beautiful dresses  and imagine myself with a tan and plan to come back soon for a big trying on session.

 

Many of the interesting bits of Murcia are set quite close to the river and therefore, with a map, once you park, it is a fairly easy city to navigate.  We really only did the shopping bit, the Cathedral Square, and then headed off for a fantastic lunch of tapas in what I believe is one of the best restaurant squares in Murcia.  But we are already planning our next day out to visit the fabulous concert hall and congress centre amongst other things, situated a bit further up the river, and the botantical gardens to the west, and obviously to search out more fantastic places to eat!

 

 

Bar Casa Puga, Almeria

7 Oct

Yesterday we took Mick’s mum to Almeria shopping.  Well, at least I wanted to go shopping and the last time Sadie went to Almeria with one of her other boys she was taken straight to the football stadium and home again!  So we thought she deserved to actually see the city this time, you know, with shops, coffee stops and everything!  I always like to go to Zara Home at the Mediterranean Shopping Centre and needed to exchange something.   But our other main reason for going to Almeria was to take Sadie to our very favourite tapas bar for lunch.

 

Casa Puga exterior

 

Casa Puga is something of an institution for the locals; located in the old town near the cathedral, it has been run by the same family since 1870 and is a truly authentic Spanish experience.  It has a fabulous long marble bar where people stand and have a drink and a tapa, where the waiters tot up and write bills in pencil on the bar and then there are a certain amount of small marble tables, mainly at the back for a proper lunch or dinner.  You are all crammed in together, which is just as well as you want to see what everyone else is having (in these places they always seem to serve stuff which isn’t on the menu, and we hate missing out!).  They serve the best mushrooms, prawns in batter and the most fabulous jamon iberico – it is the good stuff and pretty pricey by standards around here – 17 euros for a plate, but plenty for three of us.

 

As authentic as it gets!

 

The staff run around constantly, bringing more dishes in any old order, and you just lift your glass to indicate wanting another, so you are never really waiting for anything.  Mick finished with what I can only describe as a miniature black pudding paninni – exquisite.  As we were having a leg of roast lamb for dinner we decided not to go too crazy, but could have easily stayed until 4 o’clock stuffing ourselves – it is the most wonderful place to end a shopping trip – you need to arrive by quarter to two though, in order to get a seat – otherwise you have to stand and eat at the bar, not good if you have been schlepping about for 2 or 3 hours.  Evenings there, particularly on Friday nights, are noisy, smoky, fun affairs and attract a vibrant and interesting crowd – so long as you can persuade one of your party to drive home it is worth the hour long trip.

Here’s the fabulous mushroom recipe as shown by Juan the barman.

Casa Puga telephone number: 950 231 530

Almeria airport, Almeria

4 Oct

Well, this is not so much Yummy Almeria, rather than Useful Almeria!  Having said that, Almeria Airport IS a very nice airport.  It is completely hassle free, small (although is undergoing expansion which it needed), takes no time to get through passport control and luggage and straight out to the car hire desks and on your way.

The airport is only 10 minutes from the city in one direction, and 45 minutes to Cortijo del Sevillano in the other, being the best airport to travel to if you are staying with us.  Easyjet and Ryanair fly here from London everyday and other airlines such as Monarch from Manchester several times a week.  The other new thing from Almeria is that you can fly Ryanair to Madrid for a tenner – it is brilliant and means that if you are here for a week or more, you could integrate an overnight stay there if you wanted to (or longer – Madrid is great fun to visit).

Not the busiest airport in Spain

When you leave, again it is completely hassle free; the car hire return is easy and all you have to do is check your bags in (or not as the case may be) and go through passport control and to the gates downstairs (no endless walking miles to gate 56 – I think there are only 5 gates!), and onto your flight home.

Almeria airport arrivals

The Alhambra, Granada

1 Oct

If you ever holiday in Spain, either here or elsewhere in Andalucia, I urge you to take time to go to Granada and more specifically, the Alhambra.  If you do come here, it is an easy and gorgeous drive through the Sierra Nevada, though it takes 3 hours and so an overnight stay is recommended.  Hotels are plentiful and you don’t have to spend a fortune (although my standard of never staying anywhere less nice than my own home means that a number of hotels all over the world are out as far as I am concerned!).  But luckily not everyone is like me.  The last time we went (this summer with friends Di and Pete from Perth, Australia) we stayed in the old town in a beautiful small hotel, Santa Isabel La Real.  All the rooms were set around a courtyard with a fountain, and were situated in a higgledy piggledy part of the old town, virtually overlooking the Alhambra.  Di (who luckily is even worse than me!) spent a lot of time researching somewhere lovely to stay and it was sheer bliss to be taken off for the weekend by our dear friends.

Old Granada town

The Alhambra (which means the Red Fortress) is quite simply one of my favourite places to visit in the world – it is a sensory overload if you arrive in the spring – the rose gardens waft their perfume as you wander through at your leisure; the gardens go on and on and give you inspiration to get back and mow your own lawn (or in my case, plant some more cactus).  The Moorish architecture is a magical use of space, light, water and decoration and although the fortress had existed since the 9th century, it was the Nasrid Dynasty who started restoration in the 13th Century and leave this most amazing fortress for us to see now. For full facts click here

Inside the palaces

This is a great clip for a mini tour and you can improve your Spanish.

Granada is easy to get around – this time we pretty much stuck to the old town and just ate and drank our way through the narrow, romantic streets.  On the second night, we spotted a rather fantastic looking restaurant and booked a table.  It turned out to have a terrace where we dined with the best view of the Alhambra lit up at night – the view you see on every night shot on postcards so that was the icing on the cake.

The cool interior of the Alhambra

There isn’t really an “out of season” when you visit the Alhambra.  As you might imagine, it has visitors from all over the world at all times of the year (I think they are closed in the depths of winter so check it out) – in the height of the summer, the hotels are cheap (everyone is at the coast!) and restaurants available – I have been 6 times, in Spring and Summer and never tire of the Alhambra – so go at anytime, but make sure you do go.

Valencia

21 Sep

The wonderful thing about living in mainland Spain (as opposed to Mallorca, which I love, for example), is the ability to drive to other cities (or even other countries come to that!) – no panicking about getting to the airport on time, or wondering whether your bathroom scales are correct and actually you are half a kilo over weight in your luggage.  You can just get ready in your own time, pack up the car with whatever and however much you like, lock the front door and get on the road.  One place which is easy to get to and one of our favourite cities is Valencia.  Ok, it is a four hour drive, but definitely weekendable from here and straight up the E15.  There are loads of good places to stay and I would always recommend staying in the old town, near the cathedral.  It is perfect for young and old alike – if the walking gets too much you just plonk yourself down in an outside cafe and have another drink!

Valencia has much to offer, great architecture old and new, shopping, fantastic world class restaurants, music, arts, and the dry river bed going through the centre is now an enormous and beautiful park – quite an unusual sight as you criss cross the bridges when driving around the city.

Valencian architecture

The last time we went to Valencia was last November.  We took our parents, all in their mid seventies.  The weather was incredible and the city was not crowded as it was not half term or any major holiday.  I like to do my research when I travel and so spent hours on the internet looking for restaurants in particular (hotels I find are much easier as you decide on your budget and pick the one which looks the nicest); restaurants are much trickier but I figured I would pick an uber expensive one (as it was my mother’s birthday) and one more casual, fun one.  It worked a treat as the first one, Chust Godoy; (strange name) was fab.  It was rather formal but at the upper end of Spanish cuisine (and price!) and everyone enjoyed it.

When we awoke the next morning, it was the most beautiful day so after breakfast we headed off to the central market.  Even if you are not a foodie, it is the most amazing. It is a kind of old Covent Garden and Harrods food hall rolled into one.  We spent a good couple of hours there mooching about – I spent 57 euros on cheese!  I won’t go on about it but suffice it to say that you cannot go to Valencia and not go to the market.  We will be going next week as Mick is meeting a client there so we will stay overnight and cram in the market in the morning.

The Central Market

Then we hopped on an open top bus – the most perfect thing to do in a group of mixed ages as everyone will enjoy it and gives everyone a chance to relax and enjoy the city and the weather.  The destination of these buses is usually Valencia beach – the home of paella. So we got off the bus and we did a bit of a recce for lunch.  All the beach restaurants looked pleasant and busy so we just took pot luck with one.  It was brilliant, great food, fresh fish and a bottle of rosado wine.  We had to leg it a bit in order not to miss the 4 o’clock bus, otherwise we would have had to wait for another hour (no real hardship!).

Then it was back on board to the city and the main square for yet another drink – well we were on holiday.  After a small late siesta, it was up and off again for dinner.  This time a short cab ride away to Conde Altea an area Mick and I had visited before.  It is similar to Soho in London (without the sleaze!)  in that there are streets lined with restaurant upon restaurant most of which look good judging by the volume of people in them.  We chose a huge pizza place (Don Salvatore Italiano) which I had researched, frequently apparently by the football crowd (players, not fans I hasten to add!).  They boasted 100 different pizzas and was quite simply brilliant.  My father went a bit crazy and ordered a bottle of champagne, a bottle of red wine and one of white so by the time we were full of pizza we were also smashed.  Anyhow, we had another great night and wandered around after dinner for a coffee and a brandy before heading back to bed.

We were only there for two nights on this occasion which is fine but if you want to do more of the cultural things than we did on this particular trip (the museum of modern art, the aquarium and opera house which architecturally are quite incredible, the cathedral and maybe some serious shopping) then I would say you need at least another day and night in order not to be shattered.

The dolphins at Valencia aquarium

What I would say, however, is that however long you decide to go for, do go – it is well worth the visit and a complete contrast to where we live.

Alcazaba, Almeria

18 Sep

If you come to Almeria, you could do a lot worse than spend the day in the City of Almeria.  I wouldn’t particularly recommend it in August but any other month it can be a great day out.   However, you do need to know where you are going to fully enjoy the experience (like most cities) and someone who can read a street map and do a little research before heading off, otherwise you are in danger of parking the car and wandering about aimlessly!   The old town is full of great little bars and restaurants (some of which I will feature later) and there is a good main shopping street leading down towards the port (where you can get a ferry to Morocco, another thing on our ‘to do’ list!), plus the bus and train station, from where you can travel all over Spain.

The Alcazaba entrance

If you do visit, then a trip to the Alcazaba is must.  It is an Arab fortress which dominates the city and was constructed in 955 and is one of the best preserved in Spain.  It is the second largest Muslim building in Spain (after the Alhambra in Grenada).  In its heyday, 20,000 people lived within its walls.   In 1489 the town was captured by the Christians and opened up a new era of economic development.  However it came to an abrupt halt when in 1522 an earthquake devastated the city.  The 16th and 17th centuries were a period of slow but steady expansion but the Alcazaba has more recently undergone extensive renovation and is well worth the effort of a visit.   There is a good deal of walking as you would expect and also a lot of steps so it is not great for wheelchairs unfortunately, but if you are up to it, it makes an interesting contrast to a day at the beach followed by a fabulous long lunch somewhere in the old town.

Tha Alcazaba interior

Mini Hollywood – Oasys – Tabernas

22 Aug

Almeria is known for its history as a film location not just for spaghetti westerns, but many other epic Hollywood films had scenes which were filmed here.  2001: A space odyssey was not filmed here but the moonscape scene seen through the window of the spaceship is actually Almeria!  Hence there is a great park here called Oasys – formerly Mini Hollywood.

Spain's most wanted man

It is near the Tabernas dessert around an hour from here and is a fantastic place to visit for a day out.  There is a western film set where they do a couple of shows a day with horses, wagons, shootings, hangings (all good family stuff!), a vast zoo where there are many many beautifully cared for animals in decent sized habitats, with rocks, waterfalls etc and immaculately kept, and a couple of decent sized swimming pools to cool off when it gets too hot (so take your togs with you and leave them in the car).

Zoo time

There are plenty of ok places to have lunch, or you could pack a cool box with a picnic and leave it in the car til lunchtime and then take it to one of the swimming pool areas and relax for the afternoon.  It really is an enjoyable day out but quite a lot of walking is involved so take pushchairs for toddlers if possible and plenty of coffee stops for the older generation.  I guarantee though everyone will have a good time.

Enjoy!

Telephone: 950 365 236

La Posada del Candil – Seron

17 Aug

Sometimes, when we’re feeling a bit ‘desert-ed out’ we say ‘let’s go and find somewhere new’  which generally means inland as we have driven quite a distance along our coast.  On one of these days, Mick remembered a place that he had read about called Seron so we thought we would head off there.  It is around an hour’s drive from the house but as always driving here is a doddle as there is virtually never any traffic on the motorway and the roads thereafter.

Seron is set high upon a hill and is an ancient little town which seems to sell nothing but, well, ham!  There is the ham factory, the house of ham, the family ham shop and ham interiors (well I made that bit up).  But seriously this is obviously what Seron is famous for.  It is a lovely little town though and provides cool relief in the summer and a good little excursion with a beer at the end of it.

We came across a fabulous Casa Rural – a sign for which we came upon when heading up to Seron itself.  To find it, you take the turning before the town and drive up and up and just when you are thinking “where the bloody hell is it?” you are on top of it – literally.

It is called La Posada del Candil and has undergone major renovation – I mean big time.  They have obviously spent a fortune as it is very very classy and immaculate. The view is astonishing and puts one in mind of being in an Alpine forest in Switzerland rather than dusty Spain.

La Posada del Candil

When we arrived it was clear that they had a massive party arriving any time soon – the tables were all beautifully laid out inside and there was lots of activity going on in the kitchen.  We were starving by this point and so I sought out an official looking dude and fell at his feet asking please for a menu and a small table.  He laughed and said that if we wouldn’t mind eating on the “porch” (actually the fabulous terrace with the view!) then he could provide a simple meal for us.  Our rubbish spanish came in very useful as not a word of English was spoken, as you might imagine.

The view from our table

We ordered delicious wine by the glass, ham (of course) and then another load of stuff which we weren’t entirely sure what we would be getting!  But we kind of knew that this was a pretty special place and that it would all be good.  It was – fantastic skewers of meat, sausages, chorizo, lamb chops – all done on an outside barbeque in the car park – a meat fest really so if you are vegetarian I wouldn’t recommend it unless you aren’t hungry and only want to look at the view and drink!

Buena vista!

Another clever little touch is that on their card they include the co-ordinates of the location so sat nav is easily done and numpties like me won’t get lost.  It is rather remote to say the least.  They have rooms here too which I would say is a must if you choose to go for dinner – the drive would be very dark and a bit scary and it is too far to go for dinner.  Lunchtime is a different matter though.

As we drove down the hill again, we were met by a string of cars containing the party – I think it was a wedding party as they were all glammed up to death.

Anyhow, check out their website in addition to our pix shown here.  Another visit is definitely due.

La Posada del Candil telephone number: 696 388 561