Cantabria

The best of Cantabria

By Emma Stuart from LadiesWhat.co.uk

You may not have heard of Cantabria. Despite being a popular destination for Spanish and French tourists, this northern province of Spain is relatively unknown to the rest of us. Cantabria boasts sandy beaches to relax on, plenty of regional food specialities to feast on and mountains and national parks to explore. Sitting on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, the region may not be receive the same amount of sun as Spain’s Mediterranean coasts, but the higher rainfall means the area is covered with lush vegetation, leading to it being part of what is known as ‘Green Spain’. I was recently invited over to Cantabria to check out the best of what the region has to offer. Here are my top three highlights.

Altamira

Altamira-1My first stop was Altimera – a prehistoric cave containing some of the best- preserved prehistoric artwork in world. A World Heritage Site since 1985, the cave has been described by UNESCO as a masterpiece of creative genius and an outstanding illustration of a significant stage of human history.

Carbon dating of the art in shows that that cave was occupied for over 20,000 years. A rock fall closed off the entrance for thousands of years, preserving the paintings of bison, horses and other animals, until it was rediscovered in 1879.

The significance of the site was quickly realised and it became a popular tourist attraction – by the 1970s, over 170,000 visitors a year were exploring the cave. These high visitor numbers, combined with structural reinforcements added to the cave started to put the paintings at risk. After a period of visitor quotas, the cave was closed entirely in 2002 in an attempt to conserve the artwork.

Altamira

Today, unless you are one of the five people chosen every week by ballot who are allowed to visit the real cave, visitors experience the artwork in a Neocave – an exact replica of the cave as it was 15,000 years ago. The original cave has been copied exactly, with the paintings added using the same techniques as the original.

As well as exploring the Neocave, you can visit the museum exhibits about prehistoric life and culture and take a stroll round the beautiful grounds which have been planted with species that would have made up the landscape when the cave was in use.

Santillana del Mar

santillanaJust a couple of miles from Altamira is the stunning medieval village of Santillana Del Mar. I took an evening stroll through village and it is easy to see why it is such a popular tourist destination. Everything is so well preserved that it is easy to think that the village is a reconstruction. But the 15th-18th century houses and mansions are original and many of them are still owned by the families that built them.

The cobbled streets, traditional buildings and view of the surrounding fields and hills makes the modern world feel a very long way away and the lack of cars adds to the feeling of walking through history – unless you have special permission, only residents are allowed to drive into the village. Even couples that get married there have to walk through the village to get to the church.

santillana

The village is often known as the ‘town of three lies’ as it isn’t particularly holy (Santo), it isn’t flat (llana) and it’s not by the sea (Mar). The village is, in fact, named after Santa Juilliana, whose remains were brought to the village 1200 years ago and now rest in its Colegiata church.

The village is very popular and gets extremely busy at peak times so you might want to carefully pick when you visit to avoid the worst of the crowds. If you time it right, however, Santillana del Mar is a beautiful place to explore.

Cabárceno Wildlife Park

Cantabria wildlife parkFor me, Carbárceno was the biggest highlight of my trip to Cantabria. This massive wildlife park – the largest zoological park in the world – covers 750 hectares and is home to around 1000 animals from over 100 different species.

The animals live in state of semi-freedom in very large enclosures – the elephant enclosure alone is larger than the whole of Madrid zoo.

Driving along the 25km of internal roads, you’ll spot bears, hippos, zebras, camels, wallabies and bison. You can also park up and visit the reptile and gorilla houses where you can get up close to these amazing animals.

If you love wildlife, it’s definitely worth paying extra for a behind-the-scenes tour. On these half- or full-day tours, you tour the park with one of the keepers in a 4×4. As well as being able to find out more about the park and its animals, you’ll get to feed the animals and visit areas of the park usually off-limits to the public.

The park is also home to Cantabria’s Bird of Prey Recovery Centre. Rescued birds are rehabilitated and, if possible, returned to the wild. If they can’t be released, they stay at the park where they are trained to take part in displays that both educate the public and allow the birds to exercise their natural instincts.

Cantabria Blog Trip 2014

The park’s main focus is conservation and all of the species at the park are there for a reason – not just because they look pretty. The park work closely with organisations such as the European Endangered Species Programme to ensure that the animals are cared for properly and to help make sure that they survive for many years to come.

Cantabria

I visited Altamira as part of #CantabriaBlogTrip, hosted by the Spain in the UK and Cantabria Infinita. All opinions are my own.

best festival in europe

Three Kings Parade in Fuengirola, Spain – My review

If you are lucky enough to be on your holidays in the Costa del Sol in early January you can enjoy all the benefits of the sunny weather and also join in on the festive celebrations of the Three Kings Parade in Fuengirola.

When is the Three Kings parade?

The Three Kings parade is held during the evening on the 5th of January. The children look forward to the 6th as this is when they open their presents. The festive parade celebrates the visit of Kings Melchior, Caspar and Baltazar. The Three Kings who brought baby Jesus Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to his stable.

Although Spain has accepted the idea of Father Christmas it’s the traditional Three Kings Parade which creates all the buzz and excitement for the children. The Three Kings parade is celebrated across the Costa del Sol in different towns but if you want to experience one of the most impressive displays then head to Fuengirola’s Three Kings parade.

How to get to it

The best way to get to the parade is to take a taxi and get dropped off at the Three Horses ‘Tres Caballos’ roundabout in Fuengirola. All the taxi drivers will know this landmark. Driving is not recommend as traffic will be bad and parking will be difficult.

From the Three Horses roundabout head down towards the seafront until you arrive at the street ‘Ramos Y Carvajal’. If you want a good spot make sure you arrive for 6.00pm. You will know you have arrived at the right place for the parade as there will be plenty of people lining the streets. The parade which normally passes at about 6.30pm.

three kings paradeArriving at 6.00pm allows you to secure a good place for the Parade

If you have arrived a little too early a visit to the Ice Cream Café is sure to offer some much need refreshments for the children and adults. Outside the exterior of the café has been designed to look like an Alpine Lodge, even the roof has a covering of snow! However, inside there are treats galore to be indulged. A massive selection of colourful ice creams tease the eyes including the ‘Resolution Breaker’ which is certainly not for the calorie conscious. They also serve a choice of hot and cold drinks along with beers, wines and spirits. You can relax inside on comfy chairs or head to the large terrace.

where to get ice creamThe Ice Cream Café boasts an amazing selection of ice creams

best ice cream in Fuengirola

Relax on the large terraces at the Ice Cream Café and indulge in a Resolution Breaker

As the parade start time nears the police escort provides a 5 minute warning. At the front of the parade you will see the Three Kings followed by the brightly illuminated floats, each are colourful and themed with well known large characters from Shrek, Star Wars, Jungle Book, Aladdin, Cinderella, Tinkerbell and many more.

best festival in europeThere are approximately 30 colourful themed floats

The floats are full of local children having great fun throwing handfuls of sweets into the crowds. The people lining the street are covered in showers of sweets. The children not lucky enough to be part of the parade come armed with bags, boxes and even helmets to collect as many sweets as possible. The sound of the sweets can be heard bouncing off the kids helmets as the floats pass by.

what to see in spainArmed with bags, boxes and helmets the children pickup as many sweets as possible

best festival in spainThe huge Goofy Walt Disney character and many more themed floats can be seen

The Three Kings parade takes about 45 minutes from start to finish. You can stay out for the night or make your way to the nearest taxi rank which can be found at the Fuengirola train or bus stations. A short ride home to your holiday villa and you can relax for the evening after experiencing how the Spanish celebrate the Three Kings Parade.

If you are looking to experience the Three Kings Parade in Fuengirola next year visit Panoramic Villas today and find a great value holiday villa for 2015.

welcome to Marbella

Costa Del Sol road trip itinerary and travel advice

The Costa del Sol, to the east of Malaga in Spain is a beautiful region of coastline that stretches for some 150 km (93 miles), for 54 km east of Malaga. So why not take a Cost Del Sol road trip!

Since the 1960s this coastal region of Spain has been popular with holiday makers from all over the world, especially Europe. Tourism is by far the biggest industry here and with such a gorgeous coastline its easy to see why.

It’s also a great place for a road trip with no end of accommodation along the way. Hiring a car in Europe is pretty easy to buckle up and check out my guide to road tripping the Costa Del Sol.

Malaga

costa del sol road trip

While it’s not at one end of the Costa Del Sol, it is the easiest and cheapest place to fly in to and the easiest place to find a rental car too. Spend a couple of days here at least there’s

lots to see and do in Malaga. A road trip along the Costa Del Sol isn’t about covering the miles, it’s about cruising the coast so don’t worry about time too much.

Having a car in Malaga is pretty hand too and the Botanical Gardens are well worth a drive out of town not just to enjoy the gardens but also the view!

I recommend heading west along the coast as you’ll cover most of the Costa Del Sol this way. Drive towards the sea in Malaga and on to the MA-22.

This road runs right next to the beach for miles and it’s the perfect way to start a cruise drive.

There’s no rush here, just soak up the sights. Eventually the road bears right, with a wildlife reserve to your left. You join the M-21 here which takes you past the airport and to your first stop of Torremolinos.

Check out this fantastic guide to Malaga for the best places to visit during your stay.

Torremolinos

Marbella beach - costa del sol road trip

It’s fair to say that the once quiet fishing town of Torremolinos has change drastically over the decades. Until the late 80s tourism caused more damage than good to this area of the Costa Del Sol but since then a lot has changed and it’s now a pretty and popular tourist destination, deservedly so too.

While resort towns the world over lose their identity to global tourism, the district of La Carihuela is still decidedly Spanish.

There’s a large amount of pedestrian streets here especially towards the coast, so park up for a while and take a stroll.

When you’re ready to leave head towards Montemar along the Carlota Alessandri Avenue heading further west along the coast. The Carretera Cádiz road hugs the coastline here with a seemingly endless row of palm trees along the way.

Driving further along the coast on the A-7 you’ll find a number of golf courses in this area, so if golf is your thing it’s definitely worth explore a little more. One of the biggest and most challenging courses is the Golf Torrequebrada, always praised by local golfers and tourist alike.

This short video guide gives you plenty of information on the town.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RLPrlxNqCA

Fuengirola and Marbella

costa del sol road trip to MarbellaOnce sleepy fishing villages along the spanish coastline, next on your Costa Del Sol Road trip is Fuengirola. It may be hard to pronounce but its fairly to find as the main road passes through it.

With over 8km of sandy beaches here this is where you’ll find villas to rent and endless beach to stroll along. It’s both popular with tourists and quieter than it’s neighbour Marbella. Famed for it’s up-market attitude, Marbella has been a popular tourist destination for what seems like millennia.

The old town is well worth exploring, dating back to 1600 BC. A stroll along the “Golden Mile” reveals some of the most exclusive and expensive properties in the Costa Del Sol.

With history all around you its a great place for a walk and there’s some wonderful hotels and villas here so I’d recommend a stay here for a day or two.

There’s some great places to visit in Marbella on this video

Estepona

Estepona - costa del sol road trip

One of my favourite towns along the Costa Del Sol that hasn’t lost any of it’s spanish charm and, more importantly, it’s love of Tapas.

One of my favourite types of cuisine, this is the best place to go if you want to soak up a local atmosphere and enjoy some really good food.

There’s less accommodation here but you’ll still find everything you need if you want to stay.

Driving around is a little more difficult as the old cobbled streets here are often quite narrow. Definitely a place to park up and get lost in the alleyways and courtyards. You can find out more about Estepona here.

This video shows you some of the best places in Estepona

La Linea and Gibraltar

costa del sol road trip to GibraltarThe border town of La Linea is officially the end of the Costa Del Sol road trip. The N340 and A7 will get you there and if you drive all the way through you’ll see the unmistakable sight of the Rock of Gibraltar.

If you’re English like me you’ll no doubt be very tempted to pop over to England, just a mile away.

It’s an easy little hop if the spanish boarder patrol are playing ball. In recent months disputes between Spain and Britain have resulted in lengthy delays especially coming out of Gibraltar.

Never-the-less if you have the time I highly recommend a visit, if only to say you have been to Gibraltar. It’s a surreal place with everything you’d expect from an English town, plus a giant rock. You can actually drive right to the top of the rock of Gibraltar but i suspect your car may have other ideas.

There are a number of guided driven tours to the top, some 1350 feet, (411 metres).

You can of course fly out of Gibraltar or you can enjoy a different route back to Malaga along the many roads in the Costa Del Sol region. It’s a fairly short and easy drive you can do in a couple of days or an entire week, it’s entirely up to you.

With lots of tourist sights, amazing beaches and clearly marked roads it’s easy to drive about here.

If you’re looking to hire a care in Malaga I recommend NOT hiring it from inside the airport.

There are a number of good car hire businesses just outside the airport which are often much cheaper.

I recommend checking our Vacation George who recently took a Costa Del Sol road trip and visited numerous places along the way include Gibraltar.

Looking for more road trip advice?

Check out our Italy road trip itinerary. Also our Ultimate Italian Job road trip advice.

Festes de la Merce

The best festivals in Barcelona – [VIDEO GUIDES]

Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, is second only to Madrid when it comes to commerce, culture and sport, and is one of Europe’s great cities. It fairly vibrates with life and energy and this is expressed volcanically in its many festivals, which burst to the surface in a series of colourful explosions throughout the year.

I always try to time a visit here to coincide with at least one of them, as this is when I’m guaranteed to see the city at its exuberant best. Tapas bars and restaurants, clubs and plazas overflow with celebrating crowds letting their hair down and doing what the Spanish have always done best – party! I’ve been a regular visitor to Barcelona for pushing twenty years now, and there’s always some festival or other going on here. It’s easy to find accommodation in Barcelona, with everything from self-catering studio apartments to plush hotels to choose from when you head for this incomparably vibrant city.

Calcotada

calcotada festival in spainIf you happen to be in Barcelona in February you’re in for a treat in the form of this Catalan feast of a festival that celebrates the regional cuisine. The Spanish eat a lot and they don’t care who knows about it, and in the Calcotada festival every Catalan dish you can imagine, as well as many you can’t, is on mouth-watering public display. The festival was started by a farmer in Tarragona a century ago and has become a standing event of the calendar. Audience participation is mandatory, and spring onions (calcots) are the centrepiece, augmented with a bewildering array of classic Spanish dips, so build up an appetite before jumping in!

Feria de Abril

Feria de Abril in BarcelonaThis April celebration of all things Flamenco lasts a full week and comes hot on the heels of the flamboyant Easter celebrations. It started out in 1847 as a farmers’ market, and nowadays with fun fairs, displays of horse riding and numerous market stalls the Feria de Abril sweeps you along in a tide of fun from start to finish. The eye of the storm is the Parc del Forum and if you’ve always wanted to dip into a paella dish the size and shape of a small car or view the city from the top of a Ferris wheel then this is the time and place for you to realise your dream.

Check out this video

Festa dels Cors de la Barceloneta

Best festivals in BarcelonaThis major festival in June is one of my personal favourites and it’s just one small part of the Fiesta del Barrio which takes place in the different districts of Barcelona in the summer months. It goes back 150 years, and giant papier-mâché figures are paraded on carts and shoulders along the streets and the streets themselves compete for best decorations. Drummers, dancing devils and firework displays, with the sheer noise and excitement going on into the small hours, will blow you away and you could end up anywhere – exhausted and almost certainly drunk but definitely happy!

Check out this video for a slice of Festa Dels Cors de la Barceloneta

Monegros

monegros music festival in BarcelonaFor rave aficionados like me, the Monegros festival in July is a must-see and indeed must-hear event. It’s Spain’s biggest celebration of cutting-edge electronic music. In fact it’s so big and noisy that it’s held outside the city, in an area of desert. Over 22 hours of non-stop music in a crowd of up to 40,000 ravers will leave your ears thudding and the blissful awareness that you’ve just experienced Europe’s equivalent of Nevada’s ultra-intense Burning Man festival. It features five super-stages and the sounds include everything from Hip Hop, Techno and Electro to Dubstep, Drum & Bass and a whole lot more besides.

Check out the after-movie from 2013 here

Fiesta de la Merce

Festes de la MerceIn September, the Fiesta de la Merce is perhaps more in keeping with the historic spirit of old Spain than a rave is. It’s held in honour of Barcelona’s patron saint and protector of the city and it’s a great family event, consisting of a series of free music concerts, street celebrations, the usual processions of papier-mâché giants on floats and some amazing human castles. This is what you might dub a more relaxing kind of festival, by Barcelona standards, and personally I like to leave my digs early in the morning to take in all the sights and sounds across the city, stopping off for tapas maybe at lunchtime and a bowl of escudella i carn d’olla in the evening, washed down with a few beers. Don’t miss the fire shows for great photo opportunities that capture the spirit of the city and its people at their exuberant best.

Check out this fun video of Fiesta de la Merce.

 

Flamenco show in Seville

6 must-visit sights in Seville, Spain

By Keri Allan from LadiesWhat.co.uk

For my latest trip I did something I never do – no planning whatsoever! I knew very little about Seville before I got there, but decided to explore somewhere new with no preconceptions, and I was pleasantly surprised. I discovered Seville as I went, and what I found was an amazing city steeped in history and beautiful architecture. Here are my top tips for what not to miss out on during your time in this southern Spanish city.

Eat tapas

What to do in Seville SpainA typically Sevillian way to eat, tapas is essentially small portions of food that you snack on and they are a much more suitable way to grab meals in this perpetually hot climate. As well as being fun and social, it’s a great way to try out things you’d never normally order, and as long as you don’t go overboard, they’re quite reasonably priced with portions on average costing between €3 and €5.

Find places frequented by locals and you’re sure to be in for a good meal. With hundreds of different dishes to go for you can try mainstays such as potatoes in garlic mayonnaise or spicy tomato sauce, paella or Serrano ham or go crazy and try something a little more weird and wonderful like squid cooked in its own ink or avocados stuffed with prawns.

Explore the Jewish district

Santa Cruz district in SevilleSanta Cruz, Seville’s historic Jewish district is a pleasure to explore. It’s a maze of thin, winding alleyways filled with whitewashed houses bedecked with flower boxes.

Almost entirely pedestrianised as there are few roads wide enough for cars to travel, its warren of cafes, restaurants, shops and bars will keep you busy for hours. I loved that fact that you could turn a tight corner to find yourself walking into a bright, cobblestoned square full of orange trees or ornate fountains.

See a flamenco show

Flamenco show in SevilleIt may sound a bit tacky, but it really is worth seeing a flamenco show while in Seville. Originating from the Andalusia region this is a passionate kind of dance and music, which is made up of guitars, singers and dancers clapping out a rhythm with their hands.

There are tonnes of shows available throughout the city, but for a small, authentic affair head to the Casa de la Memoria on Ximenz de Enciso in Santa Cruz. There are one or two shows held most nights in an 18th century restored courtyard. Put on by young local artists, it’s hot, sweaty and got to be seen.

Have a quintessentially Sevillian drink

Things to do in Seville SpainWalking through the city you won’t be able to miss the many streets lined with orange trees, so don’t forget to take the opportunity to have a gorgeous glass of freshly squeezed orange juice sitting outside a café.

Another local drink worth trying out is tinto de verano, which is a mix of red wine and refreshing lemonade. Perfect for a hot day.

Visit the cathedral and climb the Giralda

What should i do in SevilleThe world’s third largest cathedral and biggest Baroque cathedral, the Santa Inglesia Catedral literally cannot be missed. You can spend a good few hours exploring its expanses but be sure to pick up an audio guide in order to not miss out on any of its stories. Huge gold and silver altars and magnificent organs that rise to the ceiling are just a few of its offerings that will leave you in awe.

You can visit Christopher Columbus’ final resting place, and be sure not to miss the easily overlooked treasured rooms, the entrance to which is found in one of the cathedral’s dark corners. The architecture and layout of the rooms are as impressive as the treasure itself.

Although not that cheap to visit (I believe a ticket was around €8 per person) you also get entry to the cathedral’s tower called the Giralda. It’s still a climb, but the fact that there are gentle ramps rather than steps makes it a bit more accessible and you’ll find some amazing views when you reach the top.

Discover the Alcazar and its sunken gardens

Alcazar and sunken gardens in Seville SpainA truly exotic and beautiful palace, the Alcazar is still used as the Sevillian residence for the King of Spain when he visits. You can’t see much from outside its walls, but once you walk inside you’re treated to room after room of surprises. Ancient Moorish architecture, beautiful ceilings and patios will have you ooh and ahh-ing and then you can finish your trip off by exploring the expansive ground, replete with sunken gardens. It really is awe inspiring and should not be missed. It was probably one of my favourite sights in my trip to Seville.

5 best things to do in Seville, Spain

Seville is located in Andalucia -the southern area of Spain-, and it is probably the most underrated city of the country. Unfortunately, many visitors tend to focus on Madrid and Barcelona while leaving Seville behind. So if you plan to visit Spain some time soon, don’t miss it because it’s a gorgeous place with lots of attractions and cool things to do. There is an incredible number of monuments and sights that you can visit while you are here. You may have already read about some very well known ones: the Cathedral, the Giralda tower or the Alcazar, for instance. But what most people aren’t aware of is that Seville is a very fun and cool city that can be discover differently. If you are an independent traveller you are generally looking to get to know places on your own, away from the tourist circuits.

I want to tell you about 5 great things to do in Seville, things that you won’t find in a guidebook.

1. Enjoy the sweeping views from the Metropol Parasol lookout (Plaza de la Encarnación)

Metropol Parasol lookout
The major recently inaugurated one of the biggest works that has been done in Seville for years. It’s called Metropol Parasol and it’s a very modern structure located in the city centre. The access to the upper platform will cost you 2 €/person and you’ll have the chance to enjoy some amazing views of Seville.

2. Visit the Parroquia de San Lorenzo (Plaza de San Lorenzo)

The Parroquia de San Lorenzo (at the Plaza de San Lorenzo)Built in the 14th century, the Parroquia de San Lorenzo is a very good example of the gothic-mudejar style. This style is the perfect blend of the North European gothic and the Arab-inspired mudejar one. The church obviously suffered as time went by but you can see many Arab details in the bell tower. The altarpiece was designed (1632) by Martinez Montañés, the most important Sevillian sculptor of that time. San Lorenzo is right at the center (you’ll recognize him because his handing a gridirion, symbol of his martyr). I also love the painted façade and the square, one of my favorites in Seville. Additionally, if you go next door, to the Basilica de Nuestro Señor Jesús del Gran Poder, you can have a look at the most famous Christ in Seville. You can even go behind the altarpiece and touch his heel.

3. Eat a “piripi” at La Bodeguita de Antonio Romero (c/ Antonia Díaz, 19)

A great tapas bar: La Bodeguita de Antonio RomeroOne of the main elements of Spanish gastronomy are tapas. A tapa is a “little dish” or a snack-size food that you can eat in most of the bars in Seville. After living here for a long time, my tapas bars list is extremely long but one of my favorite ones is La Bodeguita de Antonio Romero. This bar is famous for a tapa called “piripi” and it’s the only place where you can have it. A “piripi” is a small sandwich of pork fillet, bacon, cheese, tomato slices and mayonnaise. It’s delicious!

4. Have a drink at La Carbonería and listen to great live music (c/ Levíes, 18).

Renting a bike with Sevici is extremely easyThis place used to be a coal warehouse but today it’s a very fun bar where you’ll get a glimpse of the famous Spanish nightlife. It’s a popular place so no matter the day of the week you go, there will always be a great atmosphere. Moreover, lots of local artists perform there and the live music is usually great.

5. Rent a bike and have a ride around the Parque de María Luisa.

One of the beautiful corners at the Parque de Maria LuisaThe are several shops where you can rent a bike in Seville but in my opinion the easiest way is to use Sevici. Sevici is the bike rental service managed by the City Council and it works great. It’s very easy to use and all you need is your credit card. Get to a Sevici station, go to the terminal and follow the instructions. You’ll pick up your bike in a couple of minutes. Once you have your bike, head to the Parque de Maria Luisa. It’s the biggest park of Seville and riding there is delightful. The park is full of great paths and corners but my favorite place is the Plaza de España. And if you prefer smaller places you can always ride to the Jardines de Murillo, a much smaller park but beautiful as well. I hope that these ideas encourage you to plan a trip to Seville and if you are already doing so, print this list and include it among your things to do. If you have been to Seville already, please let us know in the comments below what your highlights were!