From medieval fortresses in Valladolid to volcano-clinging towns in the Canary Islands, Spain is home to hundreds of fairytale villages. Here are just some of our less-trodden favourites.
Tejeda, Gran Canaria
Perched on the edge of a volcanic basin in Gran Canaria is Tejeda, a cluster of whitewashed homes dating back to the 3rd century AD. Tejeda’s pre-hispanic history is preserved in the nearby burial caves and rock carvings of Roque Bentayga, a geological formation that Gran Canaria’s indigenous people once used as a fortress. Today, this historic village is most famous for its almond trees, not only for their candyfloss-pink flowers that bloom every February but also for their vital role in bienmesabe, an almond chutney best eaten with home-made vanilla ice cream. Between feasting on sweet almond delights, shopping for locally-produced cheese, and taking in the Caldera’s epic volcanic views, there’s easily a day or two of exploring to be done here.
Nestled among the vineyards of Castille y Leon is Urueña, a medieval stone village home to 168 inhabitants and 12 bookshops. The first town in Spain to be named a Villa del Libro (Book Town), its winding cobbled streets are lined with dozens of libraries and museums dedicated exclusively to writing, reading, and bookbinding. There are also weekly poetry readings, second-hand book fairs, and bookbinding and calligraphy workshops on offer. When you’ve explored every book in the village and mastered the art of book-making, pay a visit to Urueña’s 11th-century castle and 13th-century city wall, which is one of the best-preserved in the region.
Fornalutx is a stone-built village nestled among the orange trees of Mallorca’s sunny Soller Valley. It’s terracotta-roofed houses and cobblestoned streets are made all the more striking thanks to the town’s flower-filled windows and bottle-green wooden shutters, not to mention the postcard-worthy Tramuntana peak backdrop. Other than soaking up Fornalutx’s love of lazy coffee mornings and pa amb oli (bread rubbed with whole garlic cloves and topped with olive oil and tomatoes), visitors come here for the excellent hiking and biking trails that connect the olive grove-studded villages between Fornalutx and Soller. While you’re here, don’t miss a sunset plate of arros brut (saffron rice cooked with chicken and pork) at Turó, a typical Mallorcan restaurant with stunning views over Fornalutx and the surrounding hills.
The highest village in Andalucia’s Alpujarra region, whitewashed Capileira boasts some of the best Sierra Nevada views, including the summits of Cerro Mulhacén and Picacho Veleta. Its steep, narrow streets are lined with flower-filled balconies, retirees soaking up the sunshine on wooden rocking chairs, and hole-in-the-wall tapas bars serving locally produced sheep’s cheese and cured meats. The village is well known for its hand-made leather products, but most visitors base themselves here for the hair-raising hikes up and around Mulhacén, the highest peak in mainland Spain. For epic views over Capileria and the Poqueira gorge, head to the mirador (lookout point) on the village’s southeastern edge.
Severely damaged by Spain’s civil war, the medieval village of Albarracín spent over 60 years in ruin. A recent restoration, however, has brought its rose-pink coloured castles and balconied houses back to life. Albarracín, strategically carved into the cliffside above the Guadalaviar River, was once the capital of a Moorish kingdom, Taifa, remnants of which can still be seen in the 10th-century fortress walls and Andador tower. Today, the town offers a beautiful viewpoint over Spain’s east-central hills, a museum housing rare flamenco tapestries, and access to the Albarracín Cultural Park, a web of pine forest trails that take in 26 post-Palaeolithic rock art sites.
Alcalá del Júcar, Castilla la Mancha
Once a Muslim fortress, Alcalá del Júcar, a village in eastern Spain’s Albacete province, clings to the limestone cliffs high above the river Júcar. Some of the town’s whitewashed caves, which were once used as homes and granaries, have been turned into cavernous bars and restaurants, where you can enjoy Albacete’s famous game meat gazpachos, snail broths, and cod mashed potatoes below ground. The towering 15th-century castle and church dominate the top of the cliffside, while a medieval bridge and pretty stone plaza where locals hang out on the river are at the foot of the village. If you’re here in the summer months, don’t forget your swimmers – the river here is clean and safe to swim in.
Eight nature destinations for a fall getaway in Spain
elpais– 1Valley of Ultzama (Navarre) One of the highlights of Bosque de Orgi (Forest of Orgi), located in Lizaso, in the Spanish region of Navarre, is an oak forest containing specimens that are hundreds of years old. The area has well-marked trails going through and around it. The valleys of Ultzama and Basaburua also feature other good spots for enjoying the colors of the fall season. One of them is a simple walking trail that starts in the municipality of Jauntsarats, meanders through the oak forest of Beheitiko and takes visitors to the foot of two very singular specimens with Monumental Tree designation: the oak tree of Beheitikolanda, which is 30 meters tall, and the oak tree of Kisulabe, whose trunk is believed to be the widest in the entire region of Navarre. To the north of Ultzama, on the border with the neighboring valley of Baztan, the area near the port of Belate still conserves valuable forests of ancient beech, oak and chestnut that form a special habitat that is part of Red Natura 2000, a network of nature protection areas in the European Union. For more information: bosquedeorgi.com and espaciosnaturales.navarra.es
2Selva de Oza (Huesca) This dense forest in the natural park of Valles Occidentales, in the portion of the Pyrenees that falls within the limits of the Spanish region of Aragón, reaches a climax of color when its fir, pine and beech combine in an explosion of greens, yellows and ochres. The peaks here reach as high as 3,000 meters, and the valley of Hecho affords numerous hiking options for beginners and pros alike on either side of the Aragón Subordán river. One trail leads to the Corona de los Muertos (Crown of the Dead), believed to be a burial site from the Neolithic period, around 3,000 BC. Another trail leads hikers to the beautiful adjacent valley of Estriviella, while a third takes them up to the castle of Acher, at an elevation of 2,384 meters, which affords a broad view of the Selva de Oza forest. There is a campsite (camping-selvadeoza.com) that will remain open during the upcoming long weekend of October 12, after which it will close for the season. For more information: selvaoza.es GETTY IMAGES
3Castañar de El Tiemblo (Ávila) Alder, oak, mountain elm, hazelnut, maritime pine and chestnut all feature prominently in the Castañar de El Tiemblo (Chestnut grove of El Tiemblo), in the natural reserve of the valley of Las Iruelas, in Spain’s Ávila province. The oldest oak has been dubbed El Abuelo (The Grandfather) and is estimated to be over 500 years old. A low-difficulty circular trail (PR-AV54) begins at the recreational area of El Regajo and runs for 4.3 kilometers, passing close to this spectacular specimen and winding its way through the enormous chestnut trees of El Resecadal. For more information: patrimonionatural.org
4Valle del Genal (Málaga) In Sierra de las Nieves, a natural enclave in southwest Málaga that became Spain’s 16th national park this past summer, it is important to listen as much as it is to look if you go there in the fall. At sunset, visitors can not only enjoy the palette of greens, yellows and browns from the forests of holm oak, cork oak, pine, fir and chestnut, but also hear the bellowing calls of male deer during the rut. The area known as Bosque de Cobre (Copper Forest), which gets its name from the reddish tinge on the leaves of the chestnut trees that cover the mountain range and the neighboring Valley of Genal, contains several well-marked trails. For more information: sierradelasnieves.es and malaga.es
Fragas do Mandeo (A Coruña) The ‘fragas’ of Galicia are probably the closest thing in real life to an enchanted forest. They are dense, humid. old-growth forests whose tall, imposing trees seem to dare visitors to step within. One of the most pristine of these areas is the Fraga do Mandeo, near the town of Betanzos and part of the biosphere reserve Mariñas Coruñesas e Terras do Mandeo. Here, both banks of the Mandeo river are covered with ‘carballos’ (a local name for the common oak), ash, chestnut, alder, elm and maple, along with underbrush species such as the endangered ‘píjara,’ a fern from the Tertiary period. There are two trails leading out from the Chelo nature learning center. The shorter and easier one (2.5 km round-trip) goes to Teixeiro Bridge after winding through a forest of hazelnut and the ruins of an old water mill. The second trail (6.3 km) follows the Mandeo upriver, taking hikers past the Cabra reservoir (home to salmon) and the abandoned spa of O Bocelo, whose springs continue to spout sulfur water. The lookout point of Espenuca offers excellent views of Mandeo canyon and the area of As Mariñas. For more information: fragasdomandeo.org and marinasbetanzos.gal
6Nansa River Path (Cantabria) A magnificent expanse of gallery forest runs along the lower end of the Nansa river, in Spain’s northern region of Cantabria. Hazelnut, chestnut, ash and alder add their own special colors to a 14-kilometer trail that begins in the village of Muñorrodero and presents very little difficulty, as steps have been built to clear the steepest spots. The entire trail is contained within the Nansa River Special Conservation Zone, which is part of the EU’s Red Natura 2000. For those unwilling to walk the whole distance, the halfway point is approximately located at the hydroelectricity plant of Trascudia. Animals that are often spotted in the area include grey herons, common kingfishers and otters. A visitor center in San Vicente de la Barquera offers guided tours and activities in the area. For more information: redcantabrarural.com
7Torca de los Melojos (Albacete) Among the foothills of the mountain ranges of Alcaraz and Segura, in southwest Albacete, the autumn charms of the natural park of Los Calares del Mundo y de la Sima go well beyond the famous river source known as Chorros del río Mundo. There are the colors of the gallery forests running along other rivers in the area, including the Segura, Zumeta, Taibilla and Bogarra. And there is the remote forest of Torca de los Melojos, which is accessible from the starting point of Fuente de las Raigadas, in Riópar. The trail is between seven and eight kilometers in total, and cuts through pine, holly, maple, kermes oak and yew. Inside the ‘torca,’ which is a circular depression in the land with steep sides, there is a singular oak grove with ancient specimens that manage to survive because of the high humidity content. For more information: areasprotegidas.castillalamancha.es and turismosierradelsegura.es
8Fageda del Retaule (Tarragona) In the landscape of pine, holm oak and mountain ridges of the natural park of Els Ports, in Catalonia’s Terres de l’Ebre (in southwest Tarragona province), there are also clutches of deciduous trees, including the unique Fageda del Retaule, said to be Europe’s southernmost forest of beech. This collection of tall, centuries-old trees sits on the humid northern face of the gorge of Retaule. One of the most notable specimens is a tree called Faig Pare (Father Beech, in the Catalan language), which was declared a Monumental Tree in 1992 and is estimated to be 250 years old. Its trunk has perimeter of four meters, and its visible roots make it a favorite spot for pictures. For more information: terresdelebre.travel
Four migrants found dead off Canary Islands as dangerous crossings continue
Four migrants were found dead on a boat heading for Spain’s Canary Islands.
It is the latest in a string of attempted migrant crossings since the start of the year, in which at least 20 people have died.
Helicopters went to the aid of the makeshift boat on Sunday south of El Hierro island, after being spotted by a fishing boat, the Spanish coastguard said.
It was carrying 23 people, of which 19 were hospitalised. Three were said to be in a serious condition.
This year has seen a surge in the number of people attempting to make the crossing between Africa and the Canary Islands, a dangerous route due to strong currents.
Between 1 January and 15 March this year 3,436 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands, more than double the figure recorded last year.
Late last month two women and a man died on another overcrowded boat, with 41 people rescued.
A few days before that, a two-year-old Malian girl was reported dead on another boat of 52 migrants from Western Sahara, which was also rescued by the coast guard.
The ultimate wine tour is in Croatia, 20 metres under the sea
The Dalmation Coast in Croatia is known for its stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and pristine seas. But did you know it’s also home to the world’s first underwater winery?
Along the Pelješa peninsular, not far from Dubrovnik, is the small village of Drače. Here lies the world’s first and only underwater winery, nestled within a shipwreck beneath the Adriatic. Tourists are invited to scuba dive to the cellar and explore this unique approach to wine production.
The Pelješac peninsula is known for its fine vineyards, which produce world-renowned varieties of wine including Dingač – the ‘king of Croatian wine’. But since 2011, Edivo Winery has taking a different approach to maturing its wine: submerging it under the sea.
Edivo Winery is the first winery in the world to have a licence for aging wine under the sea. It’s also the only one with a patent to sell wine in amphora – an ancient type of vessel traditionally made out of ceramic.
The innovators behind Edivo Winery say that ageing wine in this way brings a unique flavour and story to their products.
“We came to the idea of making undersea wine because we love diving and everything related to the sea,” says Nives Roman, manager at Edivo Winery.
The making of ‘The Sea Mystery’
The first bottle of wine to be successfully submerged in the sea began its journey in late 2013.
The team tried several locations around the peninsula at first and the spot they have now is ideal because the temperature of the sea stays at 15 degrees celsius all year round. A stable temperature is key to making wine.
They decided to name their unique creation ‘Navis Mysterium’ meaning ‘the sea mystery’.
How is the wine made?
The wine is made with locally grown grapes, some of which are native to Croatia, such as Dignac. It’s aged in a cask for one year before being sunk to a depth of between 18-25 metres, where it will mature for another two years.
During this time, the wine is sealed in a terracotta amphora or wine bottle. The wine doesn’t see the light of day until it’s opened and poured into a glass to enjoy.
“Every amphora is a hand made product, as it has to pass a 14-day procedure of handling and cleaning once it’s taken out from the water,” explains Roman, “Corals, seashells and algae become part of the packaging design. Therefore, every amphora or every bottle becomes a unique sculptural masterpiece – a perfect souvenir with the signature of the Adriatic Sea.”
The company’s diving team monitors the winery every 14 days, in between taking tourists down there. After an in-depth (pardon the pun) guided tour of the winery, guests can resurface and enjoy a fresh seafood meal to complement their wine.
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