SPAIN, S. PORTUGAL, ANDORRA June 6-27, 2011
After finishing the Camino de Santiago on June 4 with Mark and Leon and spending 2 days in Santiago, Mark and I rented a Kia from Hertz (21 days, 6300kms limit, 277 Euros) and went on a road trip through Spain.
Galicia. Drive ~ 90 kms to Cabo Fisterra, Spain’s Land’s End. Dramatic lighthouse topped, windswept, rocky cape juts into the Atlantic on the beautiful remote Costa da Morte. Remnants of fires where pilgrims have burnt their camino clothes are everywhere but discouraged by the locals. The cape is 3.5 km past the town of Fisterra. Drove north to A Coruna (port, beaches, sea cliffs). Visited the Tower of Hercules on the windy northern tip of the headland. Built by the Romans in 1st century, the 50 m high, square stone tower there today was built in 1790 but the inside apart from the staircase and cupola, is original Roman. 234 steps to top for views of city, coast, and surrounding sculpture park. Asturias. Drove NW via Ferrol to Rias Altas area of high sea cliffs. Visited San Andres de Teixido, cute stone town on coast, and drove up the winding CP2205 to Garota de Herbeira lookout, 600 m above sea level, S Europe’s highest sea cliffs. Many wind turbines. Above Carino, stopped at Cabo Ortegal where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Bay of Biscay.
Picos de Europa. Three limestone massifs separated by 2 large valleys. 40km east to west and 25 km north to south. NW access via Canga De Onis and Vovadonga where King Pelayo who gave the first defeat to the Muslims in 722. Cave (Santa Cueva) and the Basilica de Covadonga (1877). 10 km uphill drive to the Lagos de Covadonga, 2 beautiful alpine lakes with trails. Drove the N625 south from Cangas de Los Beyos following the Rio Sella upstream through extraordinary defiles. Gorge road a remarkable feat of engineering. Drove around south side of Picos, along east side through the Desfiladero de la Hermida gorge via Potes, and Lebena to Cain. Garganta del Cares walk. 18 km return high above the Rio Cares between Cain and Poncebas. Follows amazing aqueduct built in early 1900’s that goes through tunnels and open stretches. Most popular day hike in Spain. End goes through series of low, wet tunnels to reach Cain and restaurants and accommodation. On return, I descended down very steep trail to river and followed river back to Poncebas.
Cantabria. Drove NE to coast taking all secondary roads bypassing Santander. 25 km south of Santander is Cuevas de Monte Castillo, caves frequented for 150,000 years. 275 paintings of deer bison, horses, goats , aurochs, handprints from 25,000 to 11,000 years ago. Santillana del Mar – medieval jewel with cobbled streets and stone and brick buildings, Museum of Torture. Basque Country – Navarra and La Rioja. Bilbao and the Guggenheim Museum designed by Canadian Frank Gehry. More famous for it architecture (flowing canopies, cliffs, promontories, ship shapes, towers and flying fins). Built on an industrial wasteland on banks of river. Great walk around with reflecting pools, spider, Puppy, a 12m tall highland terrier made up of thousands of begonias. Drive along coast to San Sebastian has glorious seascapes and hamlet of Elantxobe with its many colorful houses. San Sebastian stunning with Playa de la Concha, one of best city beaches in Europe. Lively old town with many pintxo bars (small tapas). Climbed Monte Urgull topped with low castle walls and statue of Christ with great views of city and beaches. Castle has a small museum on city history. Walked down by the aquarium.
Pamplona (pop 200,000). Walked the running of the bulls route, cathedral, and all the Hemingway sites. Drove via Logrona to Burgos (Castilla y Leon), where had second tour of magnificent cathedral with its multiple capillas and tomb of El Cid who liberated Valencia in the Reconquista. Segovia: Unesco World Heritage site with its Roman aqueduct – 894 m long engineering wonder built in 1st century with 163 arches and 28m height. Alcazar: castle with towers, turrets topped with slate witches hat and deep moat (model of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle). Iglesia de la Vera Cruz: 12 sided church built by Knights Templar, Cathedral. Avila: medieval city surrounded by imposing 12th century city walls and 8 monumental gates, 2500 turrets. Walked the city walls, visited Convento de Santa Teresa (joined Carmelites in 1515) with relics room containing her ring finger, Iglesia de Santo Tome El Viego with its Roman foundation and mosaic floor.
Salamanca. Great architecture and university population. Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain, with medallions featuring the busts of famous figures including Franco. Student demonstration going on when we were there. Civil University: carved sandstone façade with busts of Fernando and Isabela and the elusive frog. New and old cathedral with magnificent doorways and altarpiece of 53 panels. Historical walking tour. Sierra de Francia in SW Castilla y Leon: mountainous with wooded hillsides and stone and timber villages. La Alberca is the largest and most beautifully preserved towns. All stores sell the locally produced hams. San Martin del Castanar wonderful town. Pena de Francia: North from La Alberca, steep drive up highest peak in the area, at 1732m, topped with a monastery with views to all of SW Spain and into Portugal. Extremadura. Caceres: Ciudad Monumental (old town) with narrow cobbled streets climbing among ancient stone walls lined with palaces and mansions, turrets, spires, gargoyles and storks nests. Survived intact since 16th century. From Plaza Mayor climb up to the Concatedral de Santa Maria to climb the bell tower. Merida: most impressive and extensive Roman ruins in all of Spain. Teatro Romano: built 16 BC and sat 6,000 with Corinthian stone columns and stage façade. Puente Romano: 792m bridge with 60 granite arches. Arco de Trajano. Templo de Diana. Circo Romano: hippodrome for 30,000 spectators. Acueducto de Los Milagros: aqueduct. Museo Nacional de Arte Romano: superb collection. Alcazaba: large Muslim fort built in 835 over Roman and Visigoth forts.
Portugal: Big drive day via Badajoz through Evora in central Portugal, along the Atlantic coast to the SW tip at Sagres with very nice cliffs. Stayed in Lagos that night with all English-speaking town.
Andalucia, Spain. Drive to Seville, parked in Islamic old town and like maze to find car. Fell to Fernando in 1248. Controlled all trade from Americas. Cathedral: mosque knocked down to build worlds largest Gothic cathedral finished in 1507. Contains Colombus’s tomb. Mosques beautiful minaret and thought to be Spain’s most perfect Islamic building, La Giralda, still stands and can be climbed. On top is bronze weathervane the symbol of Seville. Many chapels and art treasures, an orange grove patio, and a gold plated altarpiece. Alcazar: Residence of many kings and caliphs especially Pedro I of Castilla (1350-69). Hall of Justice. Palacio de Don Pedro. Several patios and gardens. Exquisite ceilings in Kings Quarters. Hall of Ambassadors with fabulous wooden dome of multiple star patterns. Tapestry room. Beautiful gardens. Jewish quarter tangle of streets and plazas. Many plazas and squares.
Cadiz: Oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. 75% Spanish trade with Americas in 1700’s. Roman Theatre. Museum of Cadiz. Walked entire waterfront then cut across the maze of streets. Baela Claudia: Near Bolonia is most complete Roman town in Spain with market, forum, temples. Tarifa: southernmost point of Costa de la Luz. Old town and beach.
Gilbraltar: Parked in La Linea and walked across border over airport runway. English breakfast. Walked up to Tower of Homage (Islamic castle), Great Siege Tunnels used in siege of 1779-83 by British and again in WW2. Climbed hundreds of stairs to Upper Rock Nature Preserve with its many Barbary macaques. Walked around back down steep trail to point and then back up to Michaels Cave, a natural grotto used to hold performances. Great fish and chip supper. Slept in very nice Best Western in Alcerciras where left my Pamplona t-shirt.
Missed Malaga and Costa del Sol to visit white towns of Ronda: A white town, bullfighting legacy, big bridge over chasm of a gorge, Grazalema (red-roofed village under big shaft of rock), high swithchbacking road with dramatic viewpoints and trails, Zahara (white town with precipitous streets, and Olvera. Walked the Via Verde de la Sierra, a 36 km walk along an old railway line with 30 tunnels and 3 train stations to Puerto Serrano. Taxi back to Olvera.
Drive north stopping at Osuna: beautifully preserved baroque mansions, 16th century collegiate church with wealth of religious art and the Ducal family vault. Cordoba: Islamic capital of Iberian province from 711 and captured by Ferdinand in 1236. Mezquita. Built in 785, is a gigantic mosque with a 16th century cathedral built in the middle and closure of 19 doorways that would have lit the interior. 12 transverse isles with forest of pillars and terracotta and white striped arches. Maksura (royal prayer enclosure), mihrab portal (1600 kg of gold mosaic cubes), kiblah (the wall indicating the direction of Mecca). Cathedral: Capilla Mayor and mahogany choir stalls. Juderia: maze of narrow streets. Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (castle of the Christian monarchs, garderns). Roman bridge.
El Chorro: 4 km long, 400m deep gorge famous for the Camino del Rey, a 1m wide white knuckle path that contours along cliff face 100m above the ground. Severe disrepair with long section missing right at the beginning, and closed in 2000 after tourist deaths. Grenada. Last refuge of Islamic monarchs after fall of Seville in 1248. Conquered by Ferdinand and Isabela in 1492. One of the richest cities of medieval Europe. Alhambra: red fortress towers and walls rising from woods on top of the hill. Palacio Nazales: Arabic inscriptions in stucco work, marquetry ceiling, Lion Courtyard. Palacio de Carlos V: museum, circular 2 tiered courtyard in square building. Iglesia de Santa Theresa. Generalife: Court of the Water Channel, Sultans Garden. Capilla Real: Royal Chapel – mausoleum of Ferdinand and Isabela. Cathedral: cavernous, façade 3 great arches with 4 columns. Albayzin: old Muslim quarter, cobblestone streets, mansions. Mirador San Nicolas: lookout with great views of Alhambra and Sierra Nevada. Shopping and walk along street with all homes with caves in back.
Sierra Nevada: Las Alpujarras – 70 km long jumble of valleys along the southern flank of the mountains. Many pretty, touristy towns. Almeria Province: spaghetti westerns made here in Europe’s only desert with canyons and rocky wastes just like in Arizona. Drive through Murcia Province to Valencia and Costa Blanca: City of Arts and Sciences: Oceanografic aquarium, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia auditorium (like giant beehive covered in translucent mosaic tiles), Hemispheric planetarium, Science Museum, and L’Umbracle – walkway with feathery arches made of concrete – major cultural complex along river, dramatic bridges.
Drive along coast (Costa Brava) bypassing Barcelona, to Figueres and the Dali Museum – garden with rainy taxi. Dali Jewels 37 jewels designed by Dali all unique. Drive toward the Pyrennes, stated in Olot surrounded by many volcanic cones. Andorra: drive through tunnel, ski town, high mountain pass to Andorra and duty-free shopping.
Drive into Aragon Province and Zaragoza: Basilica de Nuestra senora del Pilar: enormous series of churches, Pilar visited and kissed by millions. Castilla-La Mancha: Drive south through beautiful countryside to Cuenca: medieval buildings and hanging houses, mirador at north tip of old town. Band playing in square. Drive east to Toledo.
Toledo: Spains spiritual capital and medieval city with many walks. Drive to Madrid: Plaza mayor with grand buildings, outdoor tables, frescoes. Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: Madrids premier contemporary art museum with Picasso’s Guernica, Spain’s most famous art work, Dali’s El Gran Masturbador. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and El Prado closed on Monday. Returned car with ~6315 km and Mark eventually received bill for mileage overage for 1 euro!
Bus to Barcelona. Stayed near cathedral and walked all the streets especially La Rambla and walk out to Port Vell, the old port with busy streets and sidewalk cafes. Was pickpocketed and lost my iPhone – still can’t figure out how they did it. Have since learned that Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of the world. La Sagrada Familia: Antonio Gaudi’s (1852-1926) masterpiece begun in 1881 with hopes to complete by 2130. Nativity façade, Glory façade (narthex with 16 hyperboloid lanterns topped by cones), 8 bell towers completed of 12 representing the 12 apostles, lifts up tower of the Nativity and Passion Facades with great views of present cathedral, Passion Façade with last days of Christ from Last Supper to burial in S-shaped sequence with angular, controversial images. Seats 13,000. Columns many materials based on strength with tops like trees. Central bell tower with Christ and 5 remaining towers of Virgin Mary and the 4 Evangelists to be completed. La Pedrera: apartment and office block, uneven grey-stone façade and wave-like wrought iron balconies, roof with giant chimney pots, attic with parabolic arches and museum dedicated to his work, elegant apartment. Casa Batilo: façade blue mauve and green tiles with wave-shaped window frames and balconies, blue tiled roof with twisting chimney pots, doors windows and skylights waves of wood and colored glass. Bus to Marseille (visa 1 week overdue), fast train back to Paris.