Tag Archives: UNESCO Spain

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.

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Travels in Spain, Castillo de Almodóvar and The Game of Thrones

Castillo de Almodóvar 4

It was a glorious morning and although it was slightly chilly there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the perfect blue sky and we interpreted this as a really promising sign and although this was November dressed appropriately in summer linens and short-sleeved shirts.  After all we were in Spain!

Together with a lot of local people we had a traditional breakfast at the Goya and this made a nice change from the usual hotel buffet arrangement that we usually have.  It was a simple affair with a choice of toasted bread drizzled with olive oil and a thin tomato puree and topped off with thin slices of cured ham or alternatively, for those who didn’t care for the ham, toast and marmalade made from finest Seville oranges.

After breakfast we prepared for a drive to the city of Córdoba about a seventy miles to the east along the River Guadalquivir. Córdoba is a moderately sized place today but once it was the largest Roman city in Spain and later became the thriving capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba that once governed almost all of the Iberian Peninsula.  It has been estimated that in the tenth century it was the largest city in Western Europe and, perhaps, in the whole world with up to half a million inhabitants.  If this is true then only Constantinople and Rome would have previously been bigger and even today a population that size would be in the top three in Spain.

As always of course, be wary of biggest, highest, widest claims!

Andalucía-Almodovar-del-Río-4

We didn’t take the direct motorway route because we thought the alternative may be more scenic and anyway we were worried about paying unnecessary road tolls.  This proved to be a mistake on both counts because it wasn’t especially picturesque and there weren’t any tolls either.

First we drove to the town of Lora Del Rio along a road that took us through an agricultural landscape with fields all freshly ploughed and waiting for next year’s grain crops.  Although the highest mountains on the Spanish mainland are in Andalusia most of the Province, which stretches from the deserts of Almeria in the east to the Portuguese border in the west is a flat plain in the valley of the Guadalquivir, which at nearly four hundred miles is the fifth longest river in Spain and is one of the country’s most important because it irrigates a fertile valley, and creates a rich agricultural area.

Lora del Rio was an unexceptional working town and there was nothing to stop for so we continued along the road through the similar towns of Palma del Rio and Posadas.  On our left, to the north, was the Sierra Morena mountain range that separates Andalusia from the central plain of Castilla-La Mancha and there were some worrying accumulations of cloud that looked a little too close for comfort.  Eventually we came to Almodóvar del Rio where a large castle was perched strategically on the top of a hill and this looked well worth stopping for.

Carmona 01

The Castillo de Almodóvar is a grandiose Caliphal fortress erected on a high mound along the Guadalquivir.  Square towers flank its towering walls and the entire castle is surrounded by a large moat.  During the years of occupation it was a Moorish stronghold and after the reconquest it became the medieval home for members of the Spanish nobility.  It gradually fell into disrepair however and much of it was plundered for convenient building material by the people of the nearby town but the Count of Torralba rebuilt it a hundred years or so ago restoring the external appearance of the original Arab fortification.

The castle was used as filming location for the TV series Game of Thrones where it was used (if anyone is interested, I know that I’m not) to represent the castle of Highgarden, the seat of House Tyrell in the Reach on the Mander River.

GOT Castillo de Almodóvar

At its elevated position there was a spectacular view of the plains to the south and the mountains to the north and although the sun was shining it was getting cold and the clouds were getting closer.  We visited the castle in the company of a school outing who were enjoying an interactive history lesson which must have been highly entertaining judging by all of the laughter and giggles.

It was a good castle and well worth the €5 entrance fee and we climbed the towers and walked the ramparts and when we had seen all there was to see we left and continued the drive to Córdoba.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

More Game of Thrones filming locations…

Travels in Spain, The City of Granada

Granada Pointless Souvenirs

“Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain, Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions, Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers, Your plain a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour, Your towers are palm trees that imprison you” –  José Zorrilla y Moral

We had nice accommodation in Granada, a studio apartment with kitchen and living room.  We liked it and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune and then immediately set off into the city in search of something to eat.

Unlike the previous stop in Puerta de Don Fadrique the streets were busy and everywhere was open so there was a lot of choice.  It was mid afternoon by now so we only wanted a snack so we found a tapas bar and then proceeded to order far more food than we really wanted.

We needed to walk it off so after we had finished and settled up we set off towards the Alhambra Palace and a viewing point called the Mirador directly adjacent.

Alhambra Granada

After a gentle stroll along the banks of the Rio Biera the road turned sharp left with signposts to the viewing platform which involved a much steeper climb than we had really anticipated when we had set out.  The road seemed to go on forever and become steeper and steeper by the step.  The smart people zoomed past on the shuttle buses that were taking passengers to the top but without a ticket we just had to continue slogging away.

It was one of those climbs when every so often you think you are there but you are not, hopes are dashed and another set of steps appears ahead and then another dog-leg to tease and to taunt.

Eventually however we were at the top, there was nowhere else to climb and there was a welcoming bar and some vacant tables.  Hardly surprising really because the prices were as high as the elevation but to be fair we were paying not only for the beer and wine but the magnificent view as well and we sat and looked out over the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains to the south and in the foreground the Alhambra Palace and the hundreds of visitors climbing around the walls.  Busy because with three million visitors a year it claims to be the most visited site in Spain.

The top ten most visited are the Alhambra, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Mosque at Cordoba, Santiago de Compostella, Burgos Cathedral, the Alcazar of Segovia, Roman Theatre at Merida, Casa Mila in Barcelona, the Cathedral and La Giralda in Seville and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I have visited them all except for the Guggenheim.

Granada Alahbra Face

The Alhambra complex was built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain during the the Nasrid dynasty who at the time were becoming increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile.  After the final expulsion of the Moors and being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, the Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who carried out retaliatory destruction of the site.

Our original plan was to visit the Palace but due to some sloppy travel planning on my part this wasn’t going to be possible this time.  It seems the place is so popular and so busy that during the peak season it is necessary to book tickets at least three months in advance and when I eventually got around to doing it I had left it too late.  Never mind, on the plus side it means we may need to back.

Alhabra from the Mirador

So for this time anyway we had to satisfy ourselves with a wonderful view of the exterior which I have to say provided a significant amount of compensation. When we had finished our drinks and had stopped drooling over the view we made our way back down into the city which thankfully was a lot easier than the climb up.

We sat for an hour or so now and enjoyed the accommodation before going back into the city for evening meal. We didn’t go far, just into the next street where there was a good choice of restaurants, using the selection criteria of looking at what other people were eating and spotting a man with a very nice steak we chose the first one that we came to and enjoyed a simple meal and a jug of house wine.

We liked Granada and we looked forward to a full day in the city tomorrow.

Granada Tapas

Travels in Spain – Andalucía

Andalusia Postcard

“History lies underground.  On the surface is the bustling life of Spain with its smell, noise, burning sun, decay, street life, mountain shrines, fiestas, markets, dark wine, acrid dust… hard mountains, rushing ravines, hopefulness and resignation, openness, tragedy and song”  –  Christopher Howse,  ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try to help me to understand something  the country that I was visiting.

With an area of just over five hundred thousand square kilometres Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and with an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres it is second highest country in Europe after Switzerland.

Spain is also a country of different people and the description ‘Spaniard’ it seems is just a convenient way of bundling them all together.  Richard Ford was a nineteenth century English traveller  and in his ‘Handbook for Travellers in Spain’, published in 1845 acknowledged now as one of the very first travel guides, was one of the first to identify that  ‘Spain is a bundle of local units tied together by a rope of sand’,  and oh, what a wonderful strap-line that is.

Gerald Brenan in ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ similarly observed ‘In what we may call its normal condition Spain is a collection of small, mutually hostile or indifferent republics held together in a loose federation’.

Spain Iconic Image Bull

Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.

Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.  As a highly decentralised state Spain has possibly the most modern political and territorial arrangements in Western European.   Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are designated historic nationalities and Andalusia, although not a nationality, also has preferential status, the remaining are regional Provinces without nationality.

Spain is placed twenty-sixth in the Human Development Index which means that it is categorised as having high human development in an index that ranks countries by data composed from life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is twenty-first in the OECD Better Life Index and sixty-second in the Happy Planet Index which is twenty-one places behind the United Kingdom, fourteen ahead of Australia and three ahead of Canada and way in front of the United States which is as low down as one hundred and fifth. Donald Trump will no doubt sort that out!

Andalusia Postcard 2

Spain has forty-seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Second highest to Italy at forty-nine) but the chances of visiting more than one or two in a single visit is very remote because they are spread evenly right across the country.  Prior to this trip I had visited twenty-two (follow this link for the full list) and this time I was going to add the Alhambra at Granada.

Spain is one of only two countries (the other is Morocco) with both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic coast-line and has more Blue Flag Beaches than any other participating country with four hundred and ninety-nine along almost five thousand kilometres of coast. the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and forty-four in nearly twelve thousand five hundred kilometres.  Greece has the second most blue flags at four hundred and thirty and the most in the Mediterranean Sea and France is third with two hundred and thirty-eight.

On this visit we planned to visit some of the beaches on the famous Costa del Sol.

The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality.   Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty-four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.

Spain has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest fifty-five times since making its debut in 1961, where they finished ninth. Since 1999, Spain is one of the ‘Big Five’, along with France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, who are automatically allowed to participate in the final because they are the five biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union. It has won the contest twice, first in 1968 with the unimaginatively titled song “La, la, la” and again in 1969, when “Vivo Cantando” was involved in a four-way tie.  The country finished last with “Nul points” in 1962, 1965 and 1983, and then finished last for a fourth time in 1999.

We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.

Andalucia Post Card