Ciudad Rodrigo (Castile y Leon), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

I adore places which are steeped in history and occasion and Ciudad Rodrigo is just such a place. Amongst other things it was the scene of a Wellington victory during the Peninsula War or, as the Spanish call it, the War of Independence. It was during the period 7 -20 January 1812 that the then Viscount Wellington (he didn’t obtain his dukedom until after the Battle of Talavera), laid siege to the city of Ciudad Rodrigo (occupied by French invaders under the French General Jean Leonard Barrie) with his combined British and Portuguese army. The city was successfully stormed by British troops during the night of 19 January, with the 88th Connaught Rangers and the 45th Nottinghamshire regiments both distinguishing themselves. Casualties were heavy with 2 British Generals killed, including Bob Crauford (General of the Light Division). The French lost almost 2,000 men (mostly captured) and 153 cannon. More importantly, the victory opened a route into Spain which the British would soon exploit. The Siege of Badajoz would follow.

Let me talk a little about Ciudad Rodrigo. The old town is wholly encased within thick 12th century walls (except for where Wellington’s troops forced a couple of breaches and these have long since been repaired). The walls are very much open to walkers but, more of that later.

I crossed the River Agueda and walked through the walls to the south of the city via the Puerta de Colada (one of 7 original entrances into the town) and this particular gate took me almost immediately to the 14th century castle of King Henry II (Henry II of Trastamara) which stands at the highest point of the city.

The castle is now a Parador and one of the earliest to be opened; the very first being the Gedos in 1928. In case you don’t know, the Parador’s are a chain of government controlled 3 to 5 star hotels (Paradores de Turismo) established in the early 20th century to accommodate tourists and travellers while at the same time showcasing Spain’s culture, nature and/or gastronomy. The word Parador is derived from the Spanish word ‘parer’ which means to halt, stop or stay and the intention was that they should help improve Spain’s image. Currently, there are almost 100 such hotels dotted across Spain (and another one in Portugal). More than half are located in historical buildings (castles or monasteries for the most part) and many others offer accommodation in National Parks or other such outstanding natural spaces. We would love to tour Spain using these hotels and the one in Ciudad Rodrigo is very reasonably priced but; they will not take more than one dog per room. Vanya and I would have to take two rooms if we were to bring Nala and Beanie along. That’s a very silly rule but, whether you sleep in them or not, these places are invariably worth a visit.

So there I was at the entrance to the castle on the Plaza del Castillo – In front of the castle is a verraco (another name for a wild boar, methinks?) left by Vettons (Celtiberian people who lived here back in the 6th century) but this particular verraco was pulled from the river where it had been dumped many centuries ago – I simply had to go in for a wander and a beer.

From the castle, I made my way to what is usually the centre of almost every old town in Spain – the Plaza Mayor with it’s numerous bars, restaurants & pastry shops. I was in heaven.

As is so often the case in Europe, the 16th century town hall (the ayuntamiento) is to be found on the Plaza Mayor, together with various manor houses dating from the same period (including the Cuetos House, the house of the 1st Marquis of Cerrablo but more about him later). I paused for a wine and got to talking with a local who advised that, during festivals, this square is fitted with a ‘mobile bull ring’ (or at least I think that is what he said). There’s no denying that most everybody hereabouts seems interested in bull fighting. There was quite a crowd inside the bar watching it live on tv. I read subsequently that the so called mobile bull ring here can accommodate almost 4,000 people.

The 16th century town hall on Plaza Mayor is as impressive as any building in the town. It’s front is flanked by two small towers and above the arcaded upper floor is a large bell tower. Moreover, two cannon are situated either side of the front entrance. Well, this city figured in the Peninsula war and, a hundred years before that, the War of The Spanish Succession The Tourist Office is housed inside but the town hall but it is the first tourist office I have ever visited where the staff (a bloke) doesn’t speak a word of English. Hey, we managed.

The old town is very compact and easily explored. It is in tremendous condition and kept very clean. Wandering the narrow streets and lanes is a delight.

To the north west of the Plaza Mayor, just moments away, the Calle de Julian Sanchez leads to a smaller but very pretty square, the 18th century Plaza Buen Alcade (the Good Mayor Square). You’ll likely cross it looking for the Cathedral. It’s surrounded by arcades and considerably quieter except on a Tuesday when it holds the weekly farmers market.

Another square to visit in this area is the Plaza de Conde which proved a very quiet square but, if you’re in to architecture, it contains three of the city’s most impressive mansions being the Palacio Alba da Yeltes (with it’s corner balcony), the Palacio de los Castros and the Palacio de Moctezuma (now a hotel).

And so to the 12th century cathedral of Santa Maria; built on the instructions of King Ferdinand II of Leon “as a testament to the return and ongoing presence of Christianity in the aftermath of Muslim rule”.

This cathedral has, quite literally, been through the wars. It still shows damage from when Wellington’s troops stormed the city and took it from the French (although at least one source claims it was French artillery which damaged the cathedral when first taking the city in 1810). I think the damage was caused by British artillery because the major breach in the city walls through which the British troops stormed on 19 January 1812 was just in front of the cathedral. No matter, the damage occured during the Spanish War for Independence and for that reason it has been left unrepaired. It’s not the original cathedral tower anyway. The original was lost in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and replaced late in the 18th century.

A small fee provides access to the cathedral, it’s cloisters and the tower. For some reason the tower was closed during my visit; which is a shame because it supposedly affords a great view over the city. However, the inside of the church and the cloisters are impressive enough although the cloister garden would benefit from some tlc. It is a bit of a mess.

Alongside the cathedral and also worth a visit is the Chapel of Cerralbo; he who owned the Cueto House on the Plaza de Mayor. I am told the First Marquis of Cerralbo had the chapel built after it was decreed that his family could not be interred in the original cathedral but, I think maybe I was being spun a yarn.

I spent almost a full day wandering Ciudad Rodrigo and was amazed by this wonderful little city. There is so much to see and revel in. There was just enough time before dinner to revisit and walk part of the city walls and look out where the two breaches occured on the night of 19 January 1812.

Where we were staying (Camping La Pesquera) is to the south of the Aguera in what I have heard described as the worst part of the city. For my part, it is the best place to take a photo of the bridge and the castle (see below) and it is not as bad an area as you might think. It is a very poor neighbourhood but the locals are friendly. It is the feral dogs which are more of a problem. Two of the locals went out of their way to warn us about them.

Vanya wanted to join me in the town that evening but was deterred, first by a British biker who had been pursued by a small pack of local dogs and bitten earlier that day. Then, later, she was again warned about the dogs; this time by a local who had also been badly bitten and insisted on showing us the damage to his leg. Carry a big stick and a pocketful of rocks is my advice if you are visiting or staying south of the river. Otherwise, this is a great place to visit.

La Granja de San Ildefonso (Castile y Leon), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

We checked in to Penafiel for a couple of days but whilst there took time out to visit the village and Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefenso, just a few miles south east of Segovia.

During the Middle Ages, the whole area surrounding modern day La Granja was a favourite hunting ground of various Castilian Kings and particularly of the first Bourbon to rule Spain, King Philip V (a grandson of the French King Louis XIV). Philip V liked the area so much that he resolved to build a palace on the site of an old hunting lodge and, at an appropriate time, to abdicate in favour of his son and retire there. Construction of the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefenso commenced in 1721 with the palace being very much modelled on the Palace at Versailles where he had been brought up. On 15 January 1724, after 23 years service as King of Spain, Philip V abdicated in favour of his son (Louis I of Spain) and retired to his new palace at La Granja.

That retirement didn’t last long. Within 7 months, Louis died of smallpox and Philip was forced to renounce his abdication and return as King of Spain. He served a further 22 years as King but reigned for the most part from his new palace. The village grew steadily during this period (as an increasing number of courtiers and servants moved to the area to better serve the King) and the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefenso remained the Spanish Court’s primary summer palace until the Second Spanish Republic was formed in 1931.

The village of just under 3,000 people is pretty but expensive (it has become a major tourist resort attracting thousands of visitors each year mostly from Madrid, which is just 80 kilometres to the south, and Segovia). A raciones of tiny prawns in a local bar in La Granja cost 20 euros which, for Spain, is dear. 10 euros on the northern coast would get you a dozen large langoustines.

The Royal Palace is now a museum and I wasn’t particularly interested in spending time inside on such a fine day and so, instead, bought a 5 euro ticket to wander the gardens. Vanya chose to return to the Van with the dogs.

The palace and the palace gardens with their many fountains are something special although, not one of the fountains was working during my visit. Because of recent droughts and high energy costs, it is rare if ever that all the fountains in the palace are in operation at the same time but I must have been particularly unlucky not to see even one in operation. Almost all the fountains were cast in lead to limit corrosion and then painted over to simulate bronze. Working or not, they are spectacular.

Enough waffle. I’ll leave you with a few photos of the exterior of the palace and of course the palace gardens…

Very few flowers but impressive all the same.

Penafiel (Castile y Leon), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

This will be the easiest (and laziest) of posts. Just as well because I am about a week behind with the blog.

We have popped in on Penafiel en route to Portugal, where the weather is looking even better (for a day or two anyway). The weather across western Europe is absolutely crazy this year and very hard to predict. Most of France, as we have already described, has been wet for the last 6 months (very much like Brighton). There is currently massive flooding across both Germany (again) and northern Italy (where 3 people recently drowned in flash floods) and, now, the southern part of Castile y Leon in Spain is set to get wet weather. Portugal here we come.

I’ll not be writing anything about Penafiel town here. I covered it in a blog last year. We came this year for just two days (a) to catch up on our chores (cleaning the Van and our laundry) at one of the better campsites in Castile y Leon and (b) to visit La Granja de San Ildefenso (some 60-70 miles away) and (c) because it is en route to the north of Portugal. So, just a few photos of Camping Riberduero before I post the blog about La Granja and it’s Royal Palace.

Oh! There is one other thing I should mention about Penafiel. Last year we discovered a particularly fine wine here – a white Rueda made from the Verdejo grape variety. This year, Vanya found a fizzy version which she claims is far superior to any Cava she has had. Methinks we will be back here.

On to La Granja de San Ildefenso…

Briones (La Rioja), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

Surrounded by countless vineyards, Briones is a small medieval hilltop town on the Ebro river in La Rioja. It is yet another ‘Pueblo mas bonito de Espana’ and thoroughly deserving of the accolade. It is quintessential rural La Rioja

Our ascent to the top of the town was nowhere near as steep as it had been in Ujue and Nala coped admirably in her wheels. A small maze of narrow cobbled streets and lanes, lined by ochre coloured stone buildings, led us to the town’s main ‘square’, the triangular shaped Plaza de Espana. A few of the town’s more imposing buildings are to be found on or immediately adjacent to the plaza – a very large church (the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion), the Palacio del Marques de San Nicolas (now being used as the town hall), the Palace of the Gadea family and, just off the plaza on Bergareche Street, the Palace of the Quincoces (where Henry II of Castile and Charles II of Navarre are said to have met to arrange the marriage of their children). There’s also the ubiquitous town fountain (this one is surrounded by old wooden wine barrels of every shape and size), a small general store and a couple of even smaller bars.

There was some activity in the square as we arrived but it wasn’t too busy. Some scaffolders were very slowly dismantling scaffolding from the recently sand blasted church (what remained of the scaffolding was going to ruin any decent photo opportunities there might have been of the exterior of the church – not that I’m any good at taking such pictures). Another man (a mechanic?) working on a car paused to ask us about Nala’s wheels (I think he wanted to impress us with his English – and he did). An older woman was carefully selecting fruit from a heavily laden tray outside the store and two other women were selling bric-a-brac from a market stall. There were also small groups of men sitting, drinking coffee and conversing loudly outside each of the two bars. We chose a table in the sunshine outside the quieter of the two bars and I unhooked Nala from her wheels while Vanya went off to order us drinks. She likes to practise her Spanish in Spain, you know?

The principal feature of the town square is the enormous 16th century Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion with it’s wonderfully ornate baroque tower (so reminiscent of the cathedral in Logrono). For a town with less than 800 people, it is unbelievably and, dare I say, unnecessarily large. I am not very religious but standing inside this mostly Gothic style church and looking up at the high ceiling with it’s thick supporting columns was almost overwhelming. There is a real majesty about the place. Add in the three sizeable naves, numerous chapels, a beautiful altarpiece and pipe organ and I defy anyone not to be impressed by the church. Put a coin in the donation box marked Organo and the church lights up and the organ starts playing. Fantastic.

Oh! And inside the church is a model of the town as it perhaps was in medieval times.

Saint John is the patron saint of Briones and so it seemed appropriate I look in on the 18th century hermitage in the town which is dedicated to him (Ermita de San Juan Carlos de los Remedios). I read that the hermitage is not often open to the public but for once I struck lucky…

Whilst looking for the hermitage I stumbled upon the remains of a small, medieval keep. A spiral metal staircase has been fitted inside it so as to afford views across the surrounding plain but, if I’m honest, the views don’t amount to much.

There was time enough to return to the plaza and enjoy a quick cup of coffee and some chocolate biscuits bought in the store and then it was on to our next port of call, Penafiel…

Logrono (La Rioja), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

So this was our 4th visit in the Van to Logrono. This will be a short post because (a) we were only there for the one night and (b) there’s not much more I can add to what I’ve written in previous blogs about our favourite city in Spain. Yes, Logrono remains our favourite city and this is largely due to the good food and wine and, most important, the wonderful reception we always seem to get from the locals, especially when on Calle del Laurel. This year was no different except that we seemed to attract a bit more attention with Nala in her wheels.

Once again we stayed at the Camping La Playa alongside the River Ebro. It is very convenient being so close to the city and the owners or managers do seem to have improved the place. Indeed, I was almost inclined to add this site to my list of recommended campsites because the showers have been much improved (unlimited hot water) and the staff at reception were far more welcoming than was previously the case (or so Vanya said – it was her who checked us in) but, no, we’ll wait until we’ve seen the site again in the high season. The site was very quiet this time around.

It being a Monday, Calle del Laurel was also very quiet. This suited us with Nala being on her wheels and, as has been said before, not having a great deal of spacial awareness. The pinchos were as good as ever.

One good piece of fortune this year. For the first time, I was able to gain access to the Iglesia de Santiago el Real on Barraciepo Street. I’ve passed the church at least twice during previous visits to the city and it was closed on both occasions. The current church building was erected in the 16th century after the original, very humble structure (dating back to when Constantine decreed Christians should no longer be persecuted) was destroyed by fire. It is said that Santiago (Saint James to you and me) preached in this area and that his disciple (Bishop) Arcadio built the original church in honour of him. I’ve no idea as to whether this is true or not but Logrono’s city fathers believed it and, as a consequence, the 16th century church building holds great significance to pilgrims travelling the French Camino.

The current exquisitely carved altarpiece in the church, which dates back to the 17th century, features Santiago on it’s first floor not once but twice; first on horseback and then again after his decapitation (the other carvings on the first floor of the altarpiece are of Saint Peter and Saint Paul). Santiago is also depicted on horseback above the main entrance to the church.

Of all the churches I have seen in Logrono (and that includes the cathedral), this is definitely my favourite. It is difficult to explain why I should say that because I have seen many more imposing and beautiful churches but this one felt, well… warm.

This was an unusually quiet and short stay in Logrono but; it was no less enjoyable and we did take time towards the end of the evening to simply sit and chill opposite the cathedral on Plaza del Mercado with a couple of glasses of fine wine. What’s not to like about that?

Tomorrow we plan to revisit Penafiel to the south (where it is even warmer) but, on the way, we will stop at the small medieval hilltop town of Briones.

Ujue (Navarre), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

Continuing south in pursuit of hot sun, we arrived late the next morning at the hilltop village of Ujue. Still part of Navarre, Ujue is a ‘Pueblo mas bonitos de Espana’ located a few miles to the north of the Bardenas Reales National Park (and the Park’s wide range of geological features including the Castildetierra Rock Mountain). We were never going to get to the Bardenas Reales this tour (Logrono always takes precedence with us) but, next time…?

We parked the Van at the northern entrance to the village, hitched Nala up to her wheels (she suffers from hip displacia and cannot walk/stumble more than a few yards without the wheels) and made our way up some fairly steep streets toward the top of the village.

Being a hill top village Ujue was always going to be a test for Nala but, she has coped admirably since we bought the wheels (managing up to five kilometres a day) but; we have to watch she doesn’t over extend herself. As it happened, she did really well. We bypassed a few steep staircases but she was happy to keep going until, near the top of the village on Plaza Mayor, we thought it best to rein her in and let her rest. The Villar Cafe-Bar is on this little square and we were all happy to pause for a drink. Thereafter, Vanya and I took turns to explore the rest of the village. On this occasion, Vanya was absent far longer than I was but, by her own admission, that was because she kept getting lost. For all the time she was away, I think she saw much less of the village than I did.

The hill top village is crowned with a gorgeous 11th century church, the Iglesia de Santa Maria. It’s the highlight of the village. An earlier 9th century church was demolished so that it could be erected. Walls and walkways were added during the 14th century by King Charles II of Navarre (aka Charles Malo or Charles the Bad) and these make for a most interesting building which became the principal place of worship in the area through the late Middle Ages to the 19th century.

Inside the church is a small chest which is said to contain the mummified heart of Charles the Bad. The rest of his body is interred in Pamplona Cathedral but he wanted his heart to rest in this particular sanctuary. I did some research on him and he was a most interesting and very colourful character, dying horribly in 1387 at the age of 54. Trust me, he is perfect material for a Netflix mini-series.

Ujue is one of the best preserved medieval villages in Navarre and it is a joy to wander. It’s a small stone village and it doesn’t take long to walk it all (unless you adopt Vanya’s approach and go round in circles). It has a couple of decent restaurants (or so I have read) where the speciality is migas al pastor. We didn’t have time to stay for dinner but I popped into the Meson las Torres restaurant, up by the church, and the views from the dining area are superb.

There was just time enough to look for a couple more photo opportunities before we drove on to Logrono in La Rioja. It’s very rare that we visit Spain and don’t stop off at Calle del Laurel (and the pinchos were calling).

Sunbilla (Navarre), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

With the weather in France showing no sign of improvement, we crossed into Spain and headed for a small campsite (Camping Ariztigain) just 15 miles or so over the border near Sunbilla. At 36 Euros for the night during low season, the campsite isn’t cheap by Spanish standards but, it proved value for money. The welcome was friendly; the facilities were all we required (bar/restaurant and copious hot water in the showers); Sunbilla is within easy walking distance; and the weather was warm and sunny.

I took a walk into Sunbilla before we took dinner at the restaurant. It’s a small mountain village and there isn’t much to see; especially with the local church, Iglesia de San Juan Batista, being locked up during my visit but I very much enjoyed my walk up the hills at the back of the village.

I didn’t get up above the tree line (I’m not sure these particular foothills of the Pyrenees are sufficiently high for that anyway) but there was plenty to keep me interested on the animal front including, a wild boar, a herd of wild goats, two Pyrenean Mountain dogs, a herd of Shetland ponies (or something similar) and numerous donkeys (including 3 quite adorable foals).

Despite the fact that there is not a great deal to do in this particular area, I would consider using the campsite again as a stopover. The best news is that the fine weather appears to be holding in Spain .

Roses (Catalonia), Spain October 2023 (Tour 8)

We decided to drive to Spain for the day from Banyuls sur Mer, taking the D914 coast road to the Franco-Spanish border. From there, well… we were intent on having a pintxos lunch so, almost any town or village in Spain would do. We’d follow the N260 in Spain and make our mind up as to the final destination en route. This trip was as much about the coast road as the pintxos.

The coast road to the border was everything it promised to be. It is a slow route because of it’s many curves and hairpin bends but, except for a handful of motorbikes, it was surprisingly quiet and offered exceptional views along the Catalan coast. The route took us through Cerbere and then up through a series of interesting rock formations to the Belitres Pass and into Spain.

The border is marked on the French side of the Pass by a long abandoned customs post which is now almost completely covered in graffiti and; on the Spanish side of the Pass by the Retirada Memorial, erected in 2009.

The Retirada (the Memorial del Exilio del Paso de Belitres to use it’s correct name) is a pictorial representation by Columbian artist Manuel Moros of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of republican refugees fleeing Spain for France as General Franco’s armies descended on Barcelona towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. And it didn’t end there; a year later, in 1940, this same Pass was used by refugees crossing the other way, from France to Spain, while fleeing from Nazi Germany. I suspect a fair few of those who left Spain in 1939 were amongst those who were compelled to return in 1940. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. Whatever, the photographs on the memorial capture the anguish and despair of the refugees. It’s a sobering memorial.

Once across the border and into Spain the road became the N260. This led us down through Portbou and then two other little fishing villages, Colera and Llanca.

Don’t ask me how it happened but, we soon found ourselves parked up in a place called Empuriabrava. Don’t go there! Reclaimed from swampland by some German entrepreneurs during the late 1960’s, Empuriabrava is a purpose built tourist resort of some 8,000 people (rising to an incredible 80,000 in the summer months). It is built around what I am advised is Europe’s largest residential marina, with some 40 kilometres of canals and more than 5,000 boat moorings. “Naff” is possibly the word that best describes the place. There is nothing about it that is remotely Spanish, let alone Catalonian, and from what little we saw (we couldn’t get out of there quick enough) it appeared to be populated largely by Russians. Vanya likened the place to an ill thought out and awful imitation of Port Grimaud. I thought she was being kind.

And so it was that we arrived in Roses. In a facebook entry on the day we arrived, I described Roses as being to Spanish beach resorts what Waitrose is to supermarkets (i.e tasty) but, looking back, any Spanish beach resort with any authenticity about it would prove tasty compared to Empuriabrava … but that shouldn’t detract from Roses.

In common with most towns and villages on the Costa Brava, Roses was a fishing town. It still has the largest fishing fleet on the Costa Brava but is now unashamedly a tourist town and probably one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Costa Brava. What sets it apart from so many other places on the Costas and what I like about the place is that it is not in the least tacky. The words fashionable and chic spring to mind (but, we are out of season). Moreover, it sits on the northern tip of Roses Gulf and is the only beach resort on the Costa Brava that faces west (which, if nothing else, will make for some great sunsets).

We parked the Van in the south of the town on a wide boulevard in the modern residential area of Santa Margarida and then, with the wide sandy beach and calm turquoise sea to our right, we strolled along the promenade towards the town centre.

Hotels, restaurants, cafe-bars and sculptures line the promenade all the way to the old fishing port. At it’s centre there is little left of the original village; just more hotels and restaurants, large apartment blocks, shops and boutiques and the odd monument and; on Sunday mornings a farmers market with 200+ stalls. There’s no doubt about it; Roses’s focus is towards it’s high quality blue star beaches and there are plenty of them.

Those nearest the town centre (the Platja Nova, the Rastrell and the Salatar) are wide family friendly beaches with fine sand and clear shallow waters and they are very popular during the high season; as is the beach just to the north of the harbour (Platja La Punta). Beyond that and accessible by car and local transport are the smaller, quieter but no less welcoming beaches of Platja Palangres, the Canyelles Petites and the Canyelles Grosses (also known as Platja Almadrava). They too offer golden sands and shallow waters and they tend to be frequented by local families in the summer. Further north, some 7 kilometres from Roses and on the edge of Cap de Creus National Park, is Montjoi Creek (where the world famous triple Michelin Star restaurant ‘El Bulli’ used to be located), Joncols Creek and Cala del Canadel. The sand on these particular beaches is darker and mixed with flat stones but the water is clearer still. Finally, there are numerous other small secluded beaches deeper inside the National Park (Cala Calitjas Creek and Cala Rostella being two of the larger better known ones) but these are stony and rocky and not so accessible and the water at Cala Rostella is considerably deeper. To reach them they require a bit of walking (unless you access them from the sea) and they tend to be the preserve of divers and nudists (or so I’m told).

Beach holidays don’t hold the same allure to Vanya and I as they used to (we can’t take the heat) but, going forward, I could be tempted to use Roses as a base from which to visit some of the surrounding countryside and especially the coastline although, it would have to be out of season. September and/or October would be as good a time as any. I think too that I could be tempted to charter a boat to better explore the coastline. Now there’s a thought.

After a short wander around the town, we set off back along the promenade to the Van, stopping at a beachfront restaurant on the way for pinxtos and a beer.

Oh. I mentioned the restaurant, El Bulli. It was owned by the Barcelona chef Ferran Adria and, until it’s closure in 2011, was one of the most famous restaurants in the world, holding 3 Michelin Stars from 1997 and being voted ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ 5 times in a row by Restaurant Magazine. Not once did El Bulli make a profit in the 27 years Adria was Head Chef but this is perhaps not surprising given they employed 40 chefs and had just 50 covers. It seems Adria’s focus was (is?) primarily towards avant-garde cooking; pushing boundaries and; creating new dishes with the whole menu being completely changed every year. Now that would have been a restaurant to visit.

We’ll return to Roses but for now, it’s back to Banyuls sur Mer and then north to the UK although; we still have a few days before having to catch our train back to Folkestone. It’s booked for Sunday 8 October.

Logrono (La Rioja), Spain May 2023 (Tour 7)

This will be a brief entry and limited mostly to photos. The facts are, this was a very short visit to Logrono and I am over a month behind in terms of bringing this blog up to date. At this rate Tour 8 will be underway before I finish the Tour 7 entries. So sorry.

It was time to make our way back to England for our friend’s wedding but we could never visit La Rioja without taking time out in Logrono, however limited. During previous visits we had used one of the city’s two NH Hotels and we had stayed over for the Thursday and Friday nights which are the best nights for pinchos (tapas) – pinchos are half price on Calle Laurel every Thurday. Because of time constraints we would do this visit differently. We would spend just the Sunday night in Logrono (it would be interesting to see what Calle Laurel is like on a Sunday evening) and, having just left the Hotel Teatrisso, we would give the NH Hotels a miss and, instead, evaluate Logrono’s campsite, Camping la Playa. The campsite is within easy walking distance of the city centre and, more particularly, Calle Laurel.

Just yards from the campsite there’s a pedestrian bridge (Punta de Hiero) across the River Ebro and it leads almost to the centre of the town. It took little more than 10 minutes for me to reach Calle Laurel.

There was time enough to check out the Cathedral of Santa Maria although these particular photos were taken during Tour 4. During this visit the front of the Cathedral was covered in scaffolding.

There was also time to revisit the local graffiti but, there wasn’t too much different from our last visit.

And then it was back to Calle Laurel for those wonderful mushrooms. These were from the Angel Bar

I was pleasantly surprised with Logrono on a Sunday. Many restaurants were open during the afternoon and there were a great many people out and about, families mostly. I returned to the city centre during the evening with Vanya and it was a little quieter but, again, the majority of the restaurants and the pinchos bars in Calle Laurel and surrounding areas were open.

We enjoyed our Sunday night on Calle Laurel but Vanya and I much prefer the rush and excitement of a Thursday, Friday or Saturday (especially Thursdays when there are fewer tourists and the pinchos are half price). There’s a warmth and joy about Calle Laurel on Thursdays which we’ve not seen replicated in any other Spanish towns or cities that we’ve visited and; it sadly it isn’t there on a Sunday evening in Logrono either. Sunday is more about eating.

Of course, our dogs may think differently. They seemed to appreciate a quieter Calle Laurel.

Vanya back at her favourite pinchos bar, Meson del Abuelo.

Once again, sorry for producing such a simple entry. I think that to some extent I took the easier way out because other Logrono entries can be found on this site and I am loathe to repeat myself.

San Asensio (La Rioja), Spain May 2023 (Tour 7)

The previous nights wine tasting session in Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron saw Parabolas para Volar, a Rioja made with 100% Garnacha grapes, declared the undisputed winner of the ‘Battle of the Wines’ and it prompted Vanya and I to immediately book a wine tour and tasting session with Bodegas Lecea for the very next day.

This was the Parabolas para Volar which prompted Vanya and I to visit Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio. The wine was one of a limited edition of just 500 bottles and was not therefore included in the standard wine tasting session

However, six of these seven wines were included in the tasting session.

This proved a most generous wine tasting event. We were presented with a wide range of wines including a Gran Reserva, a dessert wine and one speciality wine (which I wasn’t quite so sure about, where the grapes had been pressed by the villagers bare feet) and all were served with appropriate nibbles. The tasting session was well managed and enjoyable but it was the tour itself which set this event apart and which I found totally enthralling. Bodegas Lecea is one of just three or four wine producers in Spain where, except for the growing of the grapes, everything to do with the production of the wines occurs underground (in a 500 year old network of caves). We were underground throughout the whole experience except for the wine tasting which took place in the wineshop above ground.

I should explain. Bodegas Lecea is located in the side of a hill in the Las Cuevas neighbourhood of San Asensio. Inside this hill are more than 300 cave cellars which were dug out by local farmers in the 16th century such that their wines could be stored at a constant temperature of 13 degrees centigrade. The Lecea family currently maintain four connected but very distinct cellar systems and continue to make their wines underground in the traditional way in concrete vats.

The caves are many metres underground and stretch in all directions. The tragedy is that no map of the cave systems exist and extending the current caves can be dodgy.

The tour’s focus was towards traditional wine making techniques and included elements as diverse as how and why grape vines are trained (see left) and why wine used to be stored in large pig skins (right).

Left: Large chimneys were dug out to help release the toxic fumes given off by the fermenting wine. Right: Some wines in the cellar are more than 60 years old. The Lecea family open one of these older wines each year although the colour tends to be brown and the wine must be consumed within 15 minutes or it will oxidise.

Our tour of the bodega ended in the wineshop with the wine tasting, which I have already described as being as well managed as any we have previously attended. I would highly recommend the tour and tasting session.

Unfortunately for Vanya the wines were mostly red but I did alright out of that.

What else is there to say about San Asensio? There are a couple of things which are perhaps worth adding.

Firstly, on the last Sunday of every July San Asensio has a wine fight, the Battle of Claret, not unlike that in Haro on 29 June. Some 30,000 litres of claret are donated to the town by the wineries and cooperatives in the area. Town officials supervise the loading of sulphate machines, water guns, buckets and anything else that can hold wine and then commence battle against anyone who passes by. Once everyone is covered in wine (and suitably sozzled) the participants dance their way through the town to the Plaza Vieja to continue the celebrations and tour the local bars for yet more wine and, of course, pinchos.

Secondly, I was told the San Asensio Monastery is worth a visit. We didn’t have time for that after a well meaning employee of the Bodegas Lecea directed me the wrong way out of Las Cuevas through a series of almost impossible lanes and alleys. To make matters worse, the sat-nav in the Van once again chose to play up and completely failed me. I persevered but it took over an hour to navigate my way out of the rabbit warren that is this part of San Asensio. Next time we’ll walk.