Tag Archives: Pedro Bernardo

Travels in Spain, Cuevas El Aguila in The Gredos Mountains

Pedro Bernardo 20

“Wherever he saw a hole he always wanted to know the depth of it. To him this was important.”  Jules Verne –  ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’

After a perfect undisturbed sleep in the quiet village we woke to an immaculate blue sky and wide sweeping views over the expansive countryside and the surprisingly green fields sweeping down towards the city of Talavera de la Reina and beyond that to the Montes de Toledo rising slowly through the dispersing cloud.

Breakfast wasn’t served until half past nine so we had time for a walk into town where we were expecting to see a market in the Plaza de Torres but we must have got our days mixed up because the Plaza was quite empty.  We wandered lost around the streets that were beginning to stir into life and saw the same old men who had been there the previous night and clearly have nothing more to do all day in this tiny place than hang around the main square.

Perhaps they don’t even go to bed.

Breakfast at the El Cerro was excellent, just a simple affair of Iberian ham, Manchego cheese and toast with olive oil and tomato but it was quite perfect.  One of the hotel staff was very friendly and spoke good English and was interested in our travels around Spain and intrigued that we picked out of the way places like Pedro Bernardo instead of the well known tourist towns.  He told us that he wanted to move to Madrid and we assured him that we liked it better this way.

We told him that we were driving to Cáceres and he became quite insistent that we should take a short detour from our route and visit the Cuevas El Aguila, the Eagle Caves, in the foothills of the Gredos mountains but we had a long way to go and were not sure if we liked caves enough to go to the trouble.  When we checked out a few minutes later he reminded us again to make the visit and assured us that we would not be disappointed so it seemed rude not to go so we set off in the direction that he carefully marked on our map.

I liked Pedro-Bernardo, it was the sort of place that could go on a ‘must go back to one day’ list but I won’t go back because I fear that if I did it will have changed dramatically from how I remember it.  I’ll just keep it locked away in my memory.

The drive out took us to the  Sierra de Gredos which is a mountain range in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, located between Ávila, Cáceres, Madrid and Toledo and has been declared a regional park.  We were on the road to Cáceres anyway so it wouldn’t delay us too long to visit the caves and when they began to be signposted we turned off and took a succession of minor roads to the attraction.

We followed a quiet rural road, a track really to a large but empty car park and parked close to the entrance and still not convinced that this was a good idea made our way to the kiosk and paid €7 each entrance and waited five minutes for the guide to take us inside.

As soon as he appeared and escorted us underground we were immediately glad that we made the detour because this was an awesome underground cavern, over twelve million years old and inside a great hall of six thousand square yards and over half a mile of pathway to walk through the great stalactites and stalagmites that rose and fell in majestic multi-coloured columns throughout the cave.

The guide apologised several times for being unable to speak English but we reassured him that this didn’t matter because so much of his narrative would have been superfluous anyway and we could imagine for ourselves what he was telling us.  As usual in underground caves he kept pointing out natural sculptures that, with a lot of imagination, had a resemblance to familiar icons – the Madonna and Child (several times), Bulls, Matadors and famous Spanish Kings and Queens.

The temperature inside the cave is constant throughout the year, with an average of twenty degrees celsius and it was this that led to its discovery in 1963 by a group of children who noticed water vapour escaping through a hole in the ground caused by the difference in temperature of the caves and the outside.  They crawled inside to investigate and discovered the Aladdin’s cave with all of its natural treasure and a year later the owners of the land, obviously sensing that there was gold in them thar hills, made it accessible and opened it to the public.

It took about forty minutes to complete the circuit of concrete paths and various viewing platforms and when we emerged back into the daylight we were so pleased that we had taken the advice to visit because this was one place that was certainly worth a detour.

The original plan was to drive to Extremadura and stop at the town of Trujillo but the combination of the later than usual breakfast and the unscheduled visit to the caves meant that our original timings now had to be reworked so we decided to miss Trujillo and drive the hundred and twenty miles straight to Cáceres instead.

The drive was effortless along a delightfully spacious motorway as we drove in a relentless straight line across Spain’s Central Plateau at some point crossing into the Province of Extremadura, the fifth largest in Spain.

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Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Altimira Caves, Spain

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Lanzarote – Cueva de los Verde

Cave Houses of Guadix

Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Wales

 

Click on an image to view the gallery…

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Travels in Spain, Pedro Bernardo and the Tipping Point of History

Pedro Bernardo 19

The drive north from Talavera de la Reina took us into the neighbouring Province of Castilla y Leon and through the little town of Buenaventura, which was closed, towns like this are often closed in the afternoon I have found and then the climb became more dramatic as we reached almost six hundred feet when we made the approach to the mountain village of Pedro Bernardo.

We managed to stay just short of the cloud and the sun was still shining as we drove through several tricky corners and into the village and easily found the Hostal El Cerro on a dramatic bend in the road overlooking the valley below.

Although only two star it was an excellent hotel with a great room, a wonderful view and with excellent weather the ideal place for an hour or so of  enjoying the sun on the very private terrace.  After a while the grey sky started to muscle in and there was a drop or two of rain but inside there was a Jacuzzi to experiment with and after a half an hour or so it had blown over and the blue sky reasserted itself and there were good views over the rural hinterland with forests of elms, pines, chestnut and hazelnut trees and waterfalls and rivers making the town a scenic paradise.

The origins of Pedro Bernardo are not clear; the original name of the village was Navalasolana and there is a popular local legend that talks about the leaders of two groups of shepherds, Pedro Fernández and Bernardo Manso. They started to fight and struggled to get the control of the village and finally the feudal lord of the council tired of it all came up with a solution and decided to change the name of Navalasolana to Pedro and Bernardo to achieve peace and stop the struggles between the two squabbling bands.

This sounds very much to me like the spat between Steve McQueen and Paul Newman over who should get top billing in the film ‘Towering Inferno‘ and where there was an equally sensible solution – to provide dual top billing, the credits were arranged diagonally, with McQueen lower left and Newman upper right. Thus, each appeared to have “first” billing depending on whether the credit was read left-to-right or top-to-bottom.

What a silly argument and they are both dead now anyway!

Towering Inferno

In the early evening we walked into Pedro Bernardo, passing first through the Plaza de Torres and then the Plaza Mayor where groups of mainly old men were sitting in small groups and discussing the big important issues of the day.

Through the twisting narrow streets flanked by crumbling buildings with rotting timber and decaying plaster walls,  Precarious wooden balconies and barely inhabitable houses we wandered aimlessly through the streets until we arrived at the church somewhere near the top of the village.  It was nothing special and really hardly worth the walk at all so we made our way back down and stayed for a while in the main square and had a drink at a bar where there was reluctance to serve us at an outside table on account of the fact that the owner and bar staff were watching a bull fight from Seville on the television in the bar which demanded all of their attention.

I formed the impression that Pedro Bernardo was a town on the precipice, about to tip over in an avalanche of change that will achieve an instant transformation and erase a hundred years or so of history in the blink of an eye.  It is rather like one of those penny drop machines in a games arcade, one shove and it will all tip over.  One day it will all be gone.  It is a shame but it will be ultimately it will be impossible to cling on to the crumbling rotting wreckage of an old town like this and everyone despite their objections will eventually be obliged to move to the nearby featureless modern new town instead.

Old people will weep, young folk will smile.  Old people will lament, young folk will rejoice.  Property developers will move in behind them and there will soon be a new old town of modern swanky apartments and boutique hotels.

I am so glad that I saw Pedro Bernardo as it once was.

The Hostel El Cerro was a perfect place, a rare mix of rustic charm and modern sophistication and we had no hesitation in eating in the hotel dining room.  It was only eight o’clock which seemed to surprise the staff but the chef was already there (in the bar as it happened) and we tucked in to an excellent Chuletón de Ávila, an excellent cut of prime beef steak that we had enjoyed only last year on a visit to that city.

Although it was still quite early, we had been a long day and had had an early start so after the evening meal we went back to the room and sat on the balcony with a final glass of red wine and from our elevated position watched the stars twinkling overhead in the sky as though from the prow of a ship and stared into black emptiness except for the lights of the distant villages, Lanzahita, La Higuera and Ramacastanas lying like constellations in the vague immensity of Spain.

Travels in Spain – Pedro Bernardo in the Gredos Mountains

Pedro Bernardo Spain

Driving out of the Castilian city of Talavera de la Reina was not too difficult except that we emerged from the underground car park onto a one way street and managed to cross the River Tagus twice when we didn’t even need to cross it at all until we found the road that headed north towards the Gredos Mountains.

As we made our way out of the city we began to slowly climb as we entered an area of green scrub land littered with huge granite boulders where the verges of the road were a riot of bragging scarlet poppies contrasting with demure damsel daisies.  Ahead of us we could see the mountains and the tops were covered in a few stubborn streaks of snow like paint streaks down the side of a pot that were in the protection of the shadows where the April sun couldn’t quite reach.

We were still in bright sunshine but ahead of us the sky was a dramatic dark grey, brooding, threatening, angry.

Poppies Castilla La Mancha Spain

A short way out of Talavera we crossed the site of a famous battle of the Peninsula War where Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) won one of his most successful and famous battles.

On 27th and 28th July 1809 the Battle of Talavera took place between the Anglo-Spanish army and the French.  It was a total allied victory and during the fight Talavera was hardly damaged as Wellesley’s army expelled the French from the city and the surrounding area.  The battle is also the setting for the fictional event of ‘Sharpe’s Eagle’ the first book written in Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ series.

The drive north took us into the neighbouring Province of Castilla y Leon and  through the little town of Buenaventura, which was closed, and then the climb became more dramatic as we reached almost one thousand metres when we made the approach to the mountain village of Pedro Bernardo.

We managed to stay just short of the cloud and the sun was still shining as we drove through several tricky hair-pin bends and into the village and easily found the Hostal El Cerro in the middle of the village on a dramatic bend in the road overlooking the valley below.

Although only two star it was an excellent hotel with an exceptional room, a wonderful view and with excellent weather the ideal place for an hour or so of  relaxing on the very private terrace.  After a while the grey sky started to muscle in however and there was a drop or two of rain but it was sheltered and there were expansive views over the rural hinterland with forests of elms, pines, chestnut and hazelnut trees and tumbling waterfalls and racing rivers making the town a scenic paradise.

Pedro Bernardo Spain

The origins of Pedro Bernardo are not clear; the original name of the village was Navalasolana, and there is a popular local legend that talks about the leaders of two groups of shepherds, Pedro Fernández and Bernardo Manso. They started to fight and struggled to get the control of the village and finally, the feudal lord of the council came up with a solution and decided to change the name of Navalasolana to Pedro and Bernardo to achieve peace and stop the struggles between the two competing bands.

This sounds very much to me like the squabble between Steve McQueen and Paul Newman over who should get top billing in the film ‘Towering Inferno‘ and where there was an equally sensible solution – to provide dual top billing, the credits were arranged diagonally, with McQueen lower left and Newman upper right. Thus, each appeared to have “first” billing depending on whether the credit was read left-to-right or top-to-bottom.

In the early evening we walked into Pedro Bernardo, passing first through the Plaza de Torres and then the Plaza Mayor where groups of mainly old men were sitting in groups and discussing the big important issues of the day – whether to have a wine or a beer, shall I change my underpants tomorrow and that sort of thing.  We walked through the twisting narrow streets flanked by crumbling buildings with precarious wooden balconies and barely inhabitable houses and we wandered aimlessly through the streets until we arrived at the church somewhere near the top of the village.

Friendship

It was nothing special and really hardly worth the walk so we made our way back down and stayed for a while in the main square and had a drink had a bar where there was reluctance to serve us on account of the fact that the owner and bar staff were preoccupied watching a bull fight from Seville on the television.

The Hostel El Cerro was a perfect place, a rare mix of rustic charm and modern sophistication and we had no hesitation in eating in the hotel dining room.  It was only eight o’clock which seemed to surprise the staff but the chef was already there (in the bar) and we tucked in to an excellent Chuletón de Ávila.

Although it was still quite early, we had been a long day and had had an early start so after the evening meal we went back to the room and sat on the balcony with a final glass of red wine and from our elevated position watched the stars twinkling overhead in the velvet sky as though from the prow of a ship and stared into emptiness interrupted only by  the lights of the distant villages, Lanzahita, La Higuera and Ramacastanas lying like distant constellations in the vague immensity and then relaxed and content emptied the bottle optimistic that tomorrow would be another fine day.

Pedro Bernardo Spain

Weekly Photo Challenge: Door to the Town of Besalú

Besalu Catalonia Spain

The cool narrow alleys started to drop now as we approached the river Fluvià where fat carp swam lazily close to the surface in the sunshine and mocked the fishermen who were valiantly trying their luck and then we reached the twelfth century Romanesque bridge which is the principal feature of the town.

Before the adjacent new road bridge was built this was the only way of crossing the river and it is heavily fortified in a redundant sort of way and was once so important that it was blown up and partially destroyed during the Spanish civil war.

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Catalonia Spain Besalu Door

Catalonia, The Medieval Town of Besalú

Besalu Catalonia Spain

Besalú is designated as a National Historic Property but it is rather small and as we were staying here for a couple of nights we thought it best not to rush around and see everything straight away.  This plan suited me just fine because it was exceptionally hot by mid-afternoon so the best place to be was in the main square under a parasol with a big glass of cool Estrella beer in a frozen glass and several plates of local specialities for lunch.

Eventually the bars and restaurants began to close down as the owners and staff cleared the tables and started to think about the afternoon siesta so we took the hint and moved off to go and explore the streets of Besalú.

Away from the medieval main square we melted into narrow alleys with cobbled streets with weathered stone buildings and balconies with terracotta pots host to effervescent flower displays, wooden doors with several coats of paint covering up the damage of hundreds of years and heavy metal hinges and rusty locks.

Besalu Catalonia Spain

In the forty degree heat this was a wonderfully lazy place where shopkeepers sat outside without worrying about customers or sales targets and tourist shops acted like a magnet for Kim who was considered this the perfect place to find the holiday souvenir in the craft and pottery shops that lined the streets.

The cool narrow alleys started to drop now as we approached the river Fluvià where fat carp swam lazily close to the surface in the sunshine and mocked the fishermen who were valiantly trying their luck and then we reached the twelfth century Romanesque bridge which is the principal feature of the town.  Before the adjacent new road bridge was built this was the only way of crossing the river and it is heavily fortified in a redundant sort of way and was once so important that it was blown up and partially destroyed during the Spanish civil war.

We walked across the bridge to the other side of the river but this transported us from the medieval to the modern world and so we stayed just long enough to look back and admire the view, the stone houses rising vertically from the banks of the river, the bridge, designed to repel hostile attacks and the intense blue sky that framed the whole town and full of swifts and house martins that came in waves and waves like Nazi Stuka dive bombers.

After we were certain that we had seen what there was to see in Besalú we returned to the main square and the shade of the pavement café parasols and as we watched guests arriving for a wedding in the church we agreed that this was one of the most attractive places that we had visited in Spain and excluding cities we started to compile a top ten and in no particular order this is it:

The fishing village of Cudillero in Asturias with its tiered buildings wedged into a wooded rocky cove and staying on the northern coast the stone built village of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria and then dashing south to Andalusia and the immaculate white-washed villages of Ronda and, close to Seville, the town of Carmona.  I think we are happy to declare Extremadura as among our favourite places in Spain and from here the conquistador town of Trujillo must surely have a place in our top ten.  Next I had to squeeze in the historic town of Ciudad Rodrigo in Castilla y Leon and finally four places in the centre of the country and all quite close to Madrid, Chinchon of course with its delightful Plaza Mayor and nearby Almagro and then the delightful town of Siquenza and finally, and this just might be the best of all, the mountain village of Pedro Bernardo once again in Castilla y Leon.

This is a personal top ten and we have barely visited enough places in Spain to be qualified to compile this list so I have left out your favourite then I apologise and invite you to comment and add a suggestion.

Gradually the wedding guests all made their way inside the church and Kim slipped back to the hotel to rest so I took the opportunity to enter the church that had previously been locked and gatecrash the wedding but I wasn’t the only one and no one seemed especially bothered by that as they concentrated on the ceremony as we poked about the side chapels and watched the happy couple nervously exchanging vows and rings.

Later as the sun dipped, the shadows grew longer and the temperature dropped we went back out into the square and selected a restaurant for evening meal and enjoyed a slow service menu del dia for only a few euro as we watched the town move slowly from evening to night time and before we returned to the hotel for the last time today we repeated this afternoon’s walk and completed another circuit of the town this time under floodlights rather than a blistering sun.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary

Early Morning Stroll…

Before breakfast there was time for a walk into town where we were expecting to see a market in the Plaza de Torres but we must have got our days mixed up because the Plaza was quite empty.  We wandered around the streets that were beginning to stir into life and saw the same old men who had been there the previous night and clearly have nothing more to do all day in this tiny place than hang around the main square.

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Spain 2011, The Cueva El Aguila

Pedro Bernardo Spain

One of the hotel staff was very friendly and spoke good English and was interested in our travels around Spain and intrigued that we picked out of the way places like Pedro Bernardo instead of the well known tourist towns and we assured him that we liked it this way.

We told him that we were driving to Cáceres and he became quite insistent that we should take a short detour from our route and visit the Cuevas El Aguila, the Eagle Caves, in the foothills of the Gredos mountains but we had a long way to go and were not sure if we liked caves enough to go to the trouble.  When we checked out a few minutes later he reminded us again to make the visit and assured us that we would not be disappointed so it seemed rude not to go so we set off in the direction that he carefully marked on our map.

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