Burgos (Castile y Leon), Spain July 2021

I cannot remember for sure but I think it was unsettled weather forecasts for the far north of Spain which prompted us to move to Burgos. The route we chose was easy with the initial part of the 132 mile journey taking us along the coast through Ondarroa and a couple of other small villages each with beautiful beaches.

Burgos, the one time capital of the Kingdom of Castile y Leon sits on the River Arlanzon. We parked up in a municipal campsite alongside the river just four kilometres from the city. The Camino Santiago (Camino Frances Route) passes right by where we were parked and all we had to do to find the cathedral in the centre of the city was follow the Camino’s distinctive scallop shell markers along an excellent path by the river. Pilgrims have been stopping off at the Santa Iglesia Catedral Basilica Metropolitana de Santa Maria de Burgos for hundreds of years on their way to Santiago and the route was as easy as pie, if not as short as I would have liked (but, have a word Dave, spare a thought for the pilgrims who will have already walked many miles to reach this point!!). Sadly, I saw only three pilgrims pass during our 3 day stay in Burgos (and one of those was dodgy, showing more interest in fleecing tourists than the cathedral) and I suspect it is travel restrictions caused by Covid which has greatly reduced this years numbers.

Wanting to take a closer look at the statue of Burgos’s most famous son, Rodrigo diaz de Vivar – otherwise known as El Cid (I cannot help but think of Charlton Heston), I made a small detour from the Camino by crossing the river at Puente San Pablo and walking along the cool tree lined and landscaped Paseo de Espelon before entering the old city of Burgos by the 14th century City Gate of Santa Maria. Sorry, that’s a really long sentence.

As I passed through the gate onto the Plaza del Rey San Fernando I was awe struck by the beautiful 13th century Cathedral of St Mary of Burgos. No, it’s not as grand as Il Duomo in Milan or the Kolner Dom in Cologne. No, it is not as commanding as St Paul’s in London or have the scale of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and it certainly is not as colourful or sumptuous as the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence but, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it looks truly magnificent. It fills the Square and it’s smart white limestone colour dazzles in bright sunlight. It is impressive no matter which side it is viewed from. It’s elegant towering spires and incredibly detailed facades lend it a grand nobility. I love it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to see inside the Cathedral. It is supposed to have a particularly ornate altar with brilliant gold plating. I have read too that it has an unusual wood and leather crucifix which just has to be seen and, of course, there is the tomb of El Cid and his wife. I couldn’t understand why nobody was being allowed into the cathedral (I spoke to a Camino “pilgrim” and he was particularly disappointed at being denied entry) but there was a very strong police presence in the Square and rich blue carpets and flowers were being laid at two of the cathedral’s entrances – something was afoot.

Next to the Cathedral on the Plaza de Santa and alongside the Camino Santiago is the 15th century Iglesia de San Nicolas de Bari. This church at least remained open to the public and I took time to admire it’s impressive altarpiece (lacking gold plate) which I understand was designed and constructed by a Simon de Colonia

Burgos is resplendent with buildings of significant historical heritage and none fits this bill more so than the 15th century gothic palace of Casa del Cordon in the Plaza de la Libertad. This is the building in which Fernando II and Isabel I received Christopher Columbus upon completion of his second journey to the New World in 1497. It is also where King Felipe I died of suspected poisoning in 1506 within a month of being crowned king. This type of building, with all it’s history and drama, really does it for me.

Another once significant building in Burgos is the 9th century castle. It is one of the oldest castles in Spain although little remains of it now. It was used as a headquarters by Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies during the Peninsula War and was largely destroyed by them when they retreated from Spain. There is a small museum there now but otherwise it is little more than a viewpoint over the town (and not a particularly good one because trees now obscure the best views).

I’ve written a little bit about the numerous modern sculptures around Burgos…

Honestly, there are so many and the great majority are life sized. In addition to those already featured in this blog I personally saw the Camino Pilgrim seated on a bench in the Plaza del Rey San Fernando, another of an old couple on a bench (reminds me of a photo I took in Aegina a few years ago), a drummer and another of a cleric or teacher with a young boy (these two were in medieval costume). On the Paseo de la Atapuerca in front of the Museum of Human Evolution there’s another sculpture of a man and boy, wholly naked this time. How attitudes have changed over the years.

Vanya and I walked into Burgos that first night in Burgos for a meal (I’d already made the return journey once already that day) and we took a table belonging to the Larruzz Restaurant in front of the Cathedral. As we ate, the police presence I had noticed earlier in the day heightened and the already large crowd in the Square grew. We asked our waiter if he knew what was going on and he told us that on this day 800 years ago work started on the Cathedral. He explained that the King of Spain would be visiting Burgos the next day to attend an 8th centenary celebration in the Cathedral and that meanwhile, once it got dark enough, there would be a special light show on and from within the Cathedral and that thereafter there would be a fireworks display. What timing! What luck! And we had front row seats from our restaurant. We immediately ordered more drinks and settled in for the evening. It was a great evening.

Burgos was great but it was rather hot for the dogs and after a couple of days in the city we set off back to the north coast (because the weather appeared to be improving up in the north and, in any event, it was much cooler).

Lekeitio (Basque Country), Spain July 2021

Joy of Joys! We found an excellent campsite on the edge of Lekeitio which could accommodate us for as long as we wanted.

However, it wasn’t easy going. The SatNav played up almost immediately after we left Bermeo and was at it’s worst ever as we reached Lekeitio. It led us into a particularly narrow, winding lane in the old town centre and once there offered us the choice of either going down a pedestrian precinct (impossible because of a long line of concrete bollards at the far end of the precinct) or going the wrong way up a one way street (before anyone noticed). Any thoughts I had of making a run for it down the one way street were dispelled as the street in front of me filled with a long line of oncoming traffic. There was nothing to do but try a quick twelve and a half point turn, make our way back and find another route through the town. Fortunately, a local guy offered to act as banksman for me (and a good job he did too) and Spanish drivers are so much more patient than the Italian drivers we encountered in Italy last year. We made it in the end but I made a promise to myself that, when moving on from Lekeitio, we would not drive back through the town, no matter the size of the detour we would have to make.

The camp site was perched on a high hill with magnificent views back towards Lekeitio. I’ll not talk about Vanya’s histrionics as we inched up the 40 degree slope with its steep hairpin turns but she had recovered sufficiently by about midnight when she took the second of the two photos below.

The next morning Vanya elected for a bit of a rest day while I strolled down the hill into Lekeitio. I think I got the better of the deal because touring in a Van is not all holiday and rest days are great days for changing the bedding, catching up with the laundry and generally tidying up – Thanks awfully Vanya!

Lekeitio has been described as one of Spain’s best kept secrets. I think that description goes too far. The truth is that much of the truly picturesque parts of the town are surrounded by blocks of flats (and that ain’t pretty) but, it certainly is a pleasant enough place to chill out for a couple of days. It’s primary interest up until the 18th century was whaling but as that industry died with the whales, the town switched to more general, local fishing. There still is a fairly strong fishing sector in Lekeitio but the town is now much more about tourism. Having said that, Lekeitio has not prostituted itself to tourism in the same way as so many towns and villages have on the Costas and it is mostly the Spanish who holiday here.

This small town of some 7,000 people sits on the River Lea on the Basque Coast, almost halfway between Bilbao and San Sebastian. There are two fine beaches either side of the River Lea estuary, the Isuntza on the left bank (which was very busy as I arrived) and the much longer Karraspio (which was starting to fill) on the right bank. Just offshore and facing both beaches is the small island of San Nicolas (also known as Garraitz Island). It is an easy swim to the island or, if you wait until the tide is out, you can actually walk to it along a raised sandy pathway. It is said that the island was used to house a colony of lepers back in the Middle Ages but there are only rabbits there now.

Following the left bank around to the Isuntza Beach and on to the promenade you will pass in front of the Basilica Ascuncion de Nuestra Senora and on to the picturesque old town and harbour. The views back towards the town and across the bay towards the Karraspio Beach from the far end of the harbour are quite special.

It was well gone noon (and getting very hot) by the time I had finished my walk to the far end of the harbour and ambled up and down each and every one of the old town’s narrow streets. I was ready for a glass of wine or beer. It wasn’t difficult finding a bar with an empty seat and table on the harbour front and there is something about a 30 degree heat that lends itself to a couple of glasses of well chilled Rose wine.

Of course I didn’t leave Vanya to all the chores – Upon my return I helped with the laundry by stringing up a clothes line and I started on my Spanish Chicken & Chorizo dish.

Bermeo (Basque Country) Spain July 2021

I should have remembered that getting a spot in a campsite on the coast at weekends during the holiday season is virtually impossible in both France and Spain. Vanya tried ‘phoning a few but all were full. So, more in hope than expectation we made our way to the coast anyway, thinking to do a wild camp if we were unable to find an Aire. Our target was Lekeitio, a small fishing port in the Basque Country Region but our route took us through Bermeo first.

Bermeo is perhaps the most important fishing port in the Basque Country. So many small ports in the Basque Country have given up fishing for tourism but Bermeo remains primarily a fishing port. It was very much a whaler’s port and this fact is reflected in the town’s coat of arms which shows an open whaleboat chasing a whale

Sadly, we couldn’t hang around Bermeo for very long. We needed to find a spot to park the Van for the night. That was a shame on two counts actually because, just along the coast from Bermeo is a place I would have loved to visit – the beautiful islet of Gaztelugatxe which is connected to the mainland by a narrow man-made bridge. Gaztelugatxe featured as a film location in the HBO tv series ‘Game of Thrones’ when it became Dragonstone, the former home of Daenerys Targaryen.

And so we continued our journey towards Lekeitio.

Logrono (Rioja), Spain July 2021

So off we went to the often overlooked capital of La Rioja region, the city of Logrono. Most visitors to Logrono head out to the Rioja vineyards shortly after arriving or they just stop over for the night while walking the Camino Santiago. We were determined to make the most of our time here and, after parking the Van up on a large, free municipal car park some 20 minutes from the town centre, we moved into the NH Logrono Hotel on Avenida Club Deportivo as a treat. We got a reasonably good deal (although as in so many European hotels we did have to pay a hefty “dog tax” – 25 euros per beast per stay for special cleaning of the rooms) – I find that ironic especially when cleaning up after Covid will create considerably more work than cleaning up after dogs.

What a find, Logrono is. We both love the place. We’ll certainly be back and would recommend it to all our friends as a place to visit. It is a beautiful beige city of wonderful contrasts – There’s a modern new side to the city (with bustling tree lined, landscaped boulevards and; countless coffee bars and shops; contemporary sculptures; fountains and; large green parks) and, best of all, a fair sized scenic old town (with picturesque narrow streets and alleys; wonderful old statues; churches and museums and; quite possibly the most exciting and best pinchos area (Calle del Laurel) I’ve ever seen – In comparison, Barcelona’s Las Ramblas is quite dull. The people in Logrono are so welcoming, especially in the Calle des Laurel area where so many went out of their way to welcome us and recommend particular dishes and wines and; everything is so inexpensive – two glasses of wine and a beer for less than three quid and excellent food at half the price!

I took far too many photos to include in this blog and, in any event, I’m not so sure my photos could do the place justice…

Across the city there are plenty of references to the Camino Frances, the most popular of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compestela. It starts in France at St Jean Pied de Port and travels 790 kilometres to Santago passing through Logrono on the way. It was the increasing popularity of this pilgrimage route which helped the city gain importance during the Middle Ages. Camino pilgrims will usually enter the city by crossing the Stone Bridge (sometimes known as the San Juan de Ortega Bridge or the Bridge of Lions) over the River Ebro.

During our stay in Logrono we took the Van out for a run down through the Parque Natural de Sierra de la Cebollera to Soria. It’s a pretty enough place, mountains, rivers and a lake (well, a reservoir actually) but we were both keen to get back to Logrono for a second night eating pinchos and drinking in the old town.

Best of all is the Calle del Laurel and the surrounding lanes (Calle San Agustin & Calle Albornoz) in the centre of the old town. The Calle del Laurel is the most popular street in Logrono and made for a pinchos crawl where the focus is on food as much as the beer or wine. Most of the bars do not have seats and you are generally required to stand as you eat and drink. This is fine because most of the bars on the Calle del Laurel specialise on just one or two pinchos (which are shown on picture menus outside the premises); so you eat and drink their wares and then move on to the next bar.

We were there on both a Thursday and a Friday night and the atmosphere on both occasions was tremendous. It started to get busy both evenings by about 6pm and within an hour or so was truly buzzing – the whole area being crowded with people of all ages intent on having a good time and with the party mood continuing well beyond midnight (especially on the Friday). It’s loud; it’s noisy and yes there were some “tipsy” people but there was never any trouble and the mood remained friendly throughout. We could eat there every night; it was so alive.

And the food itself? Outstanding!! Special mention must go to the Passion Por Ti bar for it’s “Trufoie” (truffled foie gras with egg yolk and olive oil boiled at a low temperature for two hours). It was soooo tasty and it was accompanied by a really good Rioja (Baron de Ley Reserva 2016). Other bars worthy of mention include the Bar Angel for it’s Setas (mushroom caps on bread crowned with a shrimp) and the Bar El Perchas for their Orejita (Pigs Ears). I had the Orejita Picante but I confess I could not finish it – I like Pig Cheeks but Pig Ears just don’t do it for me. There was one other bar that Vanya and I both enjoyed but I cannot recall it’s name – they did really good Croquettes (probably the best we have ever eaten) and they introduced us to a great cheese (Queso Idiazabal). By the way, Pinchos is a Logorno term; in the Basque Country, where this style of eating originated, such dishes are known as Pintxos and; in the rest of Spain, they are known as Tapas. Don’t let anyone try and tell you different.

Valfarta (Aragon), Spain July 2021

Back to Spain. Drove back down from Andorra via La Seu d’Urgell (stopping at the supermarket to pick up some food – No really, it was just food this time – don’t forget that Andorra is duty free) and then on through Catalonia to Aragon and the very small village of Valfarta.

On the way to Valfarta we paused briefly at Coll de Narga by the Oliana Reservoir (the Panta d’Oliana); as much for photos and to break the journey as anything. This place is renowned as a climbers paradise (witness the 27 crags) but it is also known as the last area on Earth to be inhabited by dinosaurs, some 65 million years ago. We didn’t visit it but there is an area open to the public here called the ‘Mirador del Creataci’ where you can see dinosaur footprints, fossilised plant and animal remains and dinosaur nests and eggs (including the largest dinosaur nest in Europe, belonging to a titanosaurus).

Vanya chose Valfarta as an overnight stop on our way to Logrono and, while it is quite remote and there’s little to see or do in the village itself, it worked well for us. It’s dirt cheap and very clean with friendly management and all the facilities you need (and more) and; it is situated right next to the village swimming pool and just 5 minutes walk from the village bar – restaurant. You couldn’t ask for more.

Andorra La Vella (Andorra), Andorra July 2021

And so we set off for Andorra – a new country for both of us – Vanya’s seventy first and my ninety eighth. We have visited more countries but for this count we only include countries which entail a stay of at least two days and require a sleepover (airport sleepovers not included).

No problem getting into Andorra. It isn’t a member of the EU but clearly has special status since there was no sign of immigration or customs as we drove across the border from Spain. It was different coming back when we were stopped by Spanish customs and asked how much alcohol and cigarettes we were carrying into Spain. There’s no VAT in Andorra and the Spanish are concerned about cigarette smuggling and the like.

The Principality of Andorra was formed in 1278 after a lengthy feudal conflict was resolved between the Comte de Foix (a position now held by the President of France) and the Bishop d’Urgell. That arrangement was updated in 1993 when a more appropriate constitution was formulated and today Andorra is recognised as a sovreign state and is the 184th member of the United Nations. It has the largest land area of all Europe’s micro states (468 square km) but only a small portion is urbanised; the great majority of it’s area being peaks, lakes and rivers. It’s capital, Andorra La Vella is Europe’s highest capital at 1,023 metres and it was to Andorra La Vella that we made our way.

Andorra La Vella has a small old town, the Barri Attic, but most of the city (and, indeed, much of the country) is modern and given over to tourism and shopping. The country’s initial prosperity was very much due to it’s tax haven status but with that status having been eroded by the European Union it is now more reliant on tourism (hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter and VAT free shopping throughout the year by nearby French and Spanish).

One intriguing feature of the city is the amount of modern art dotted around the place – the city has it’s fair share of museums and galleries but, honestly, there is enough on display on the streets and squares to keep me happy. The first examples we stumbled across were the Seven Poets by Jaume Plensa which stand on plinths at various heights in front of the Parish Council Building.

Some of the sculptures in the Barri Attic (but by no means all) have a more traditional flavour (the ‘Fountain of El Ball de Contrapas’ by Sergi Mas being one example).

My favourite of all those seen (and we saw many, many more – they are all over the city) is ‘La Noblesse du Temps’ by Salvador Dali which is down by the Pont de Paris Bridge in the newer part of the town.

We spent as much time in the new part of town as the old, window shopping and eating and drinking. We had one great evening at a restaurant right next to the Dali Bronze, sharing a Cheese Fondue and two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. Another dish we saw included on a menu here and which I wish in hindsight I had tried was ‘Tartiflette’ made with the Reblechon Cheese we sampled when passing through Canet de Salars. Next time.

It was the old town, however, that most captivated me. There’s not a lot of it if you take away the Church of Sant Esteve and it’s immediate surroundings but it is this area which, for me, best reflects the lively cafe-bar culture that is very much representative of the city of Andorra La Vella.

I was never going to visit Andorra and not do a little hillwalking but, if I am honest, the trails I walked just outside the city are not that good. One particular walk to the ‘La Comella Viewpoint’ is supposed to offer “a spectacular panoramic view of of the Principality…and is one of the most photographed postcards etc” but it was a huge disappointment. The trail up through the woods to La Comella was never going to be straight forward after the heavy storm we experienced two days ago (fallen trees across the roads had quickly been removed by the local authorities but those which fell in the woods, and there were a great many, are a lower priority and will take weeks to dispose of) but, having made the climb, I found the views wholly unexceptional. They didn’t even warrant getting the camera out. Okay, so I did get the camera out and I did take some photos but they weren’t worth the effort.

I’ll not end this entry on such a sour note. Three days and two nights was time enough to see and enjoy the capital but there is clearly much more to Andorra and we are both keen to return We didn’t get to see the TdF because of poor planning on our part – perhaps next year?

La Seu d’Urgell (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Leaving Montagut we headed off towards La Seu d’Urgell in the Catalonian Pyrenees, just to the south of Andorra. Two stages of this year’s Tour de France are being held in Andorra next week and we have it in mind to visit during the event.

We took our time over the journey pausing at Ripoll (to stock up on supplies) and near Cercs on the Panta de la Baells (to enable the dogs to take their now customary morning swim). There were other stops too but these were just brief photo opportunities

We arrived at La Seu d’Urgell early afternoon and and parked up some 3 km outside of town between the two small villages of Castellciutat and Montferrer. This gave me plenty of time to conduct a brief recce of the town. It’s a small, fairly pretty town of some 12,000 people, sitting at the confluence of the Segre and Valira Rivers just 12 miles to the south of Andorra. This area is all about cycling, white water rafting on the Segre and, surprisingly, cheese – Spanish cheese producers descend on the town from all over the country every October for a major cheese fair.

Having walked the 3 kilometres to d’Urgell in 33 degrees centigrade, I was delighted to stumble upon the cool tree lined avenue of Passeig de Joan Brudieu near the centre of the town. A couple bars on the avenue were open and locals of all ages were simply sitting in the shade and chatting over a beer, wine or coffee. I can appreciate now why such avenues are a feature of so many Spanish towns. They provide much needed relief from the hot afternoon sun.

From the Avenue I made my way to the old(er) part to the town where most of the shops sit in a stone arcade (which, once again, is designed to protect the local inhabitants from the sun) and that arcade led me to the Romanesque Catedral de Santa Maria.

Just a short walk from the Cathedral is the Olympic Park which was built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The white water canoeing and kayaking events were held there in 1992 and while those same sports facilities are now available for locals to use, much of the area has been given over to gentler pursuits. For instance, there are now two very welcoming bars in the complex (not that I had time to use them – I had to get back to the Van for the football – England v Italy in the European Championship Final at Wembley).

And so to the football, after starting brilliantly (England were 1-0 up within just 2 minutes following a great strike by Luke Shaw) it turned into a disaster with Italy first equalising and then, after extra time was played without any further score, winning on penalties. The saddest thing is that Italy deserved their win.

The football was memorable on two counts. Firstly, England lost despite having the home advantage and being odds on favourites. The second was the electrical storm which hit us just after Italy equalised. Strong winds came from nowhere and caused absolute havoc across the campsite. We made it into the Van just before the thunder, lightening and heavy rain struck. We got away with it but some serious damage was caused to the vehicles and tents of people camped both sides of us.

The next day was about my visiting the two local villages of Castellciutat and Montferrer and finding us a pub for lunch. That was easy. Montferrer has no shops, bars or restaurants – absolutely nothing. Castellciutat has only the one pub but it did us proud. Despite it being Sunday (or because of it?) the pub was packed with locals who all seemed to know each other and the mood was lively and friendly. Add that the beer and food was good and inexpensive and we were more than happy to while away a good two hours sitting at a table outside and relaxing.

And so to Andorra…

Montagut (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Day 15 of our Tour saw us visit Besalu and then move on to a very quiet campsite just 13 miles away near Montagut i Oix on the edge of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone National Park. There is very little of any interest in the area (unless you enjoy walking rough woodland trails up and down hills) but that suited us fine because we had booked in for two days with a view to simply chilling. We did that alright and enjoyed ourselves so much we stayed for a third night.

One absolute must during our stay was to watch the European Championship Semi-Final match between England and Denmark and that was achieved despite the camp having only very weak 3G and seriously poor Wifi. Vanya managed to stream the match on to two different I-pads (don’t ask me how) and while the I-pads took turns freezing one at least would work sufficiently well for us to follow most of the match. It wasn’t ideal but it worked and of course England won!

About 400 metres from our campsite alongside the road to Tortella is a narrow 28 metre high single arch 14th century bridge which crosses the River Llierca. Would you believe, Vanya actually made it to the top of the bridge? It was the river flowing very slowly under the bridge which most impressed the dogs. It became their private swimming pool with Beanie in particular loving the daily swim.

Of course, I cannot sit and do nothing even on chill days and so on two of our three days at Montagut I wandered off into the Garrotxa Park on short walks. They weren’t brilliant walks because (a) many of the trails are indistinct and (b) the tree line in this part of the world is so high that it is virtually impossible to get decent views but they kept me occupied.

My first walk was along part of Spain’s GR1 route and it took me from the Pont de Llierca up to and well beyond the Oratori de Plansalloses which chapel is popularly known as the ‘Saints Bodies’ after a legend that tells of the small bodies of numerous children being found there.

My second walk, the next day, was a longer route which took me in the opposite direction from the Pont de Llierca up to Montsiposit and then on to la Creu de la Ripolla. Absolute waste of time. The Santa Creu cross at the top of Montsiposit was more of a disappointment than the Oratori de Plansalloses. I had to fight may through a mass of thorns which cover the Montsiposit summit only to discover it the Santa Creu is little more than a small trig point with a cross on it. If that wasn’t bad enough, La Creu de la Ripolla proved to be nothing more than a yellow signpost pointing the way back to my start point and various other destinations.

Leaving the walks aside, we still enjoyed our stay in Montagut.

Besalu (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Wolfgang Dino, whom we met in Tossa, recommended Besalu as a place to visit and so we did just that (although I made a meal of the journey when, just two kilometres from Besalu, I took the wrong turning off a roundabout and added 20 kilometres to our route – Plonker!). Never mind; we got there in the end and we still had plenty of time to look around and enjoy a tapas lunch.

Besalu is a well preserved and enchanting little town on the Fluvia River at the edge of the La Garrotxa Natural Park in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Access to the town is across an 11th century Romanesque bridge, the Pont Vell, which leads into a maze of 11th to 14th century stone buildings and narrow cobbled streets date all of which are enclosed in the original 12 century town walls. The place is brimming with history and character and while there are a number of tourist shops, their focus is towards locally produced items, lace and ceramics (especially colourful Catalan pottery) and it really does not appear a particularly tourist destination.

Towards the centre of the town on the Place de la Libertat is the Church of Sant Pere de Besalu. Founded in 977 and consecrated in 1003 it is all that remains of a much older and larger Benedictine monastery on this site. There is a town market on the Place de la Libertat every Tuesday.

There is a second church within the town walls, the Church of Saint Vicene, but it doesn’t have the same impact as the Church of Sant Pere.

Besalu is one of the towns listed in the ‘Camino de Sefarad’ which is a network of Jewish Quarters, “each with significant Jewish Heritage”, stretching across Spain. Besalu had a sizeable community of Sephardic Jews (i.e. Jews who lived in Spain until the time of the Inquisition and who spoke a Spanish Hebrew patois known as Ladino) but this particular community disappeared not long after Pope Benedict issued his Bull in 1415 which prompted yet another systematic persecution of the local Jews by their Christian neighbours. The Christians in Besalu elected to board up the doors and windows of houses and block off all streets in the Jewish Quarter (except the one route out of town) and within 20 years all the Jews had gone. Besalu’s Jewish Quarter fell into ruin but in 1964 an almost perfectly preserved Jewish 13th Century Public Bath (the mikvah) was unearthed during local construction. It is this mikvah which secured Besalu a place in the Camino de Sefarad – there are only three still standing across the whole of Europe.

Tossa de Mar (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Previously a quiet fisherman’s village on the Costa Brava, Tossa de Mar may now be considered the most northerly of the busy modern beach resorts that are typically Costa Brava and for that reason Vanya was not impressed with the place but for me it has a great mix of new and old and, at the risk of appearing a pompous git, integrates tradition and contemporaneity or modernism. Vanya won’t be impressed with that either.

One feature which sets it apart is the old town. It is the only place on the Costa Brava to have an almost fully preserved walled (medieval) town complete with castle turrets and cobbled winding streets. It’s not that large but it kept me amused for a good hour.

The town has 5 or 6 gold coloured Blue Flag sandy beaches within easy walking distance of the town centre. Sitting under the old town battlements the largest of these beaches, the 400 metre long crescent shaped Playa Grande, was ranked among the best 25 beaches in the world by National Geographic Magazine but just the other side of the castle and protected from North winds by the headland is the prettier smaller beach of La Mar Menuda.

There are purportedly three churches in Tossa de Mar but to me the the Esglesia Vella de Sant Vicenc amounted to little more than a ruin. The Saint Vicenc de Tossa is smallish well preserved church with a particularly nice ceiling but my favourite is the very little Chapel of Our Lady of Socorro.

We both enjoyed wandering the narrow streets of Tossa de Mar and we both appreciated the warm welcome of the locals. We stopped first at Dino’s Bar Ristorante on Calle San Telmo for a drink or two and got to talking with the German owner, Wolfgang Dino, who has lived in Catelonia for more than 50 years. He gave us his thoughts as to the best places to visit in the area and invited us to stay on and watch the Spain v Italy semi final of the European Championships but we were already committed to a nearby Sports Bar where the equally friendly owner had reserved us a table.

One other piece of relatively useless information before I head off out but it demonstrates the very real contrast that is Tossa de Mar – This town was the first place in the world to formally declare itself as an anti-bullfighting city. You wouldn’t expect that in Spain. Well done Tossa!