Category Archives: SPAIN

From the green coast of northern Spain to the sun-baked costas of the south, through famous cities like Cordoba and Seville, all Spain will be found here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ascend

My one and only balloon trip was over the vineyards of Rioja and the town of Lograno in Northern Spain.  It was both exhilarating and exciting but I’m not sure I would do it again!  It was dark when we got to the spot and dawn was just breaking when we took off – it was magical, wonderful, and a time I shall always remember.

Here are a few photographs of the Ascent.

I apologise to the readers, I cannot get rid of the white space between two of the photographs.  I shall have to work on this and try and re-edit.

Righting the Balloon for Liftoff
Righting the Balloon for Takeoff


It's Scary when the Flame goes Whoosh
It’s scary when the flame goes Whoosh (Is she praying, by the way?)





The champagne made it so much easier!







Dawn breaks as we takeoff





High Above the Clouds over Rioja
High above the clouds in a silent world
The Vineyards of Rioja viewed from above
Rioja’s vineyards from the balloon




Weekly Photo Challenge – Bridges

Just literally bridges.  I thought of all sorts of ways in which to interpret the challenge, but when I started looking through my photos I decided to go with the obvious.  It’s too hot for serious thinking today, so here is a selection of some of my favourite bridges.

Above – Sur le Pont d’Avignon

Amsterdam, Triana Bridge Spain, and Ponte Vecchio Florence, Italy

Rome, Italy:  Pisa, Italy: and the famous painted bridge at Lucerne, Switzerland

La Somail, France, Linked houses in Strasboug, Williamstad, Curaco from our cargo boat.


The Daddy of them all – the bridge at Avignon, France.




I never thought I’d find myself on a bird-watching walk as although I’m fond of all feathered creatures, spending time in their contemplation is not something that I ever imagined I would do on holiday.  Yet on my recent trip to Malaga with I became just as enthusiastic as any died-in-the-wool bird-watcher when I joined the walk through the wetlands of the Desembocdura del Guadalhorce Natural Park.

The name is quite a mouthful (it means river mouth of the Guadalhorce), but the simplicity of the place, the peace and tranquillity to be found just 20 Km. outside the city was something I hadn’t expected: nor had I expected the series of lagoons or man-make lakes, beautiful in the light of the setting sun.  I had always imagined wetlands to be marshy, boggy areas, with tufted grasses being the main feature of the landscape.

How wrong I was.  This area of five permanent lakes populated with fish and eels, supports a variety of plants that enjoy the presence of water and salt, the banks yielding tamarisks, giant reeds and rushes, with here and there scattered poplars. had organized an expert in the field to guide us on the walk, Luis Alberto Rodriguez from BIRDAYTRIP.  Luis was just perfect both in the pace he set and in his ability to spot birds before we did. had found someone who embraced their concept of the over-55s living an active life, enjoying varied and interesting activities often outside their comfort zone, and his enthusiasm for the area and its inhabitants infected us all.

Silver Spain - Birdwatching 2

The area is one of the most important stopover places for coastal migratory birds in the province and it is said that you can spot any bird at the river mouth during the passage periods.  The Guadalhorce river estuary is on one of the main Mediterranean-crossing routes between Europe and Africa but there is no sure way to guarantee what birds you are likely to see as much depends on winds, storms, rains, predators – and our old friend, climate change.


The snowy plover breeds in the wetlands and at different times of the year you will see glossy ibis, flamingo, spoonbill, black stork, Caspian tern and coots.  Present all year are the endangered white-headed ducks which have been successfully breeding in the estuary since 2003, little egrets, grey herons, Kentish plovers, hoopoes (above), and Cetti’s warblers.  In summer the bitterns, Audouin’s Gulls and bee-eaters are welcome visitors and in winter the short-eared owl puts in an appearance.  Ospreys, kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks wheel in the sky and the marsh harrier can often be seen among the reeds.

Of 350 bird species that have been recorded in Andalucia, 260 have been spotted in this Rio Guadalhorce Nature Reserve which covers 67 hectares of prime wetland.  The Park’s five lagoons are backed by palm trees, willows, tamarisks, eucalyptus and poplars and in this woodland and by the lagoon’s edges have been erected five comfortable birding hides.

Silver Spain - river in Guadalahorce Natural Parque

The area is also a popular place for mountain-bikers, hikers and those just looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Malaga for a few hours.  Like these seasoned sportspeople, always make sure to carry water with you as there are no facilities nearby and you can de-hydrate quickly in the heat.  Depending on the season, an anti-mosquito repellent would also be a good idea.


This bird-watching walk was only one event organized by during the week in which we ate healthy, but delicious, meals in restaurants and hotels, visited bodegas and bars dating from 1840, watched an equestrian show, a flamenco show and had a session of mindfulness in a tranquil retreat.  Their website gives full details.

Walking in the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Natural Park, Spain

In the Andalusian region of Spain alone, there are a total of 22 Natural Parks and 9 Biosphere Reserves, but few can beat the accessibility and beauty of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (also known as the Garganta del Chorro), located not far from Malaga on the Costa del Sol.  Just 50km northwest of that city and you are in another world.


This walk through the Gorge which is accessed from the village of Ardales is one of the activities on offer from a new company that is dedicated to helping the over 55s enjoy an active and healthy life, focusing on walking, exercising, a Mediterranean diet, and companionship.   The holidays organized by will be available from October of this year but I’ve been lucky enough to have had a taster of what’s on offer.  (Get Active & Healthy with Silver/Spain).


Here in the 2,016 hectares of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, the Guadalhorce river has sliced through slabs of Jurassic limestone and dolomite to create a 3 km long gorge with sheer walls that tower up to more than 300 metres in places.   The Desfiladero de los Gaitanes is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the Subbetica mountains of Malaga famous for the Caminito del Rey, a vertigo-inducing, cliff hugging pathway, located some kilometres above the floor of the gorge and one of Malaga’s best attractions.


Your senses are assailed by the perfume from the rosemary,  thyme and fennel growing beneath the Aleppo pines, willow, eucalyptus, poplar and olive trees.  Overgrown pink and white oleander  vie with rock roses, yellow gorse and pink broom to colour the landscape, and closer to the river are rushes and reeds among which butterflies dance.


Wheeling in the sky above the high gorge walls are golden eagles, kestrels, peregrines and griffon vultures, just a few of the wide variety of birds (nearly 150 known species) which nest here.  Smaller birds to look out for are red-billed choughs, crag martins, blue rock thrushes, owls, herons and crested tits, and in spring and summer the ubiquitous swifts make a return.


Keeping an eye peeled, it is possible to spy rabbits, Iberian hares,  foxes, bobcats, and wild boars and it is said that Spanish ibex inhabit the gorge’s more inaccessible parts, so the shy animals are usually only seen by climbers.

Writing-on-cliff-faceIn addition to the massive slabs of limestone that form the walls, the river has carved caves and chasms in the gorge.  There are over 20 caves in the area, and in nearby Ardales, paleolithic rock art can be seen in more than 1,600 meters of galleries.


But forget the history, the archaeology and the paleolithic past, and just enjoy the sheer beauty that surrounds you on this walk through the park.   The pathway is easy to negotiate (but perhaps not after heavy rains) but do wear sensible shoes.  Look around you, smell the forest scents, look above you to see if you can spy the golden eagles, and look down at the turquoise river flowing below and marvel at this natural landscape.


Afterwards stop off at Mesón la Posada del Conde for a meal of locally sourced items,         Restaurant_PosadadelConde (or you can reserve rooms here if you wish to spend a few days in the area) which you will enjoy with local wines. Their salads are huge and the ingredients so fresh that I would have been content with only this but I worked my way through some delicious plates of chicken, jamón, vegetables and dessert.  Another walk through the gorge was called for!


Postscript:  Von Ryan’s Express  Starring Frank Sinatra and others, used the limestone gorge and the area around the Camineto del Rey to film the railway sequence at the film’s conclusion.  As Michael Caine would say, “Not many people know that”.


Get Active and Healthy with Silver/Spain

New kid on the block for holidays in the sun,, is launching its programme of healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy eating holidays for the over 55s, holidays that also focus on companionship and relationships.  For people who want to improve their lifestyles, or who are in retirement and want to keep fit and healthy, these holidays for the more mature traveller, of 5 to 7 days duration with an option to extend the holiday,  are a welcome addition to those currently on offer.


Based in Malaga on the Costa del Sol, SilverSpain is ideally placed for sussing out the perfect restaurants, walks, events and foodie trips that are included in the holidiay, and guests are based in a selection of luxury, top-end hotels both in Malaga itself and in stunning locations on the outskirts of the city, most with spas and flower-filled gardens. Exterior-Hotel-Vinuela,-Malaga


I’ve just had a trip to Spain to sample what they are offering later in the year (at the moment, from October) and I absolutely loved it, from the early morning exercises to the specially made morning smoothie followed by the healthy buffet breakfasts.  And, the smoothies were always luscious fresh local fruits with no green kale or spinach mixes in sight!  Plus, eggs, cheeses, hams and other foods were on the buffet table.

Walking in the National Parks and valleys in the area I found to be a special treat as these are activities I wouldn’t normally be able to do by myself.  Everyone walked at their own pace, some slowing down to take photographs, some striding out with vigour and others just ambling along and smelling the flowers, but it all served to keep us active and moving.Walking

Other events consist of  visiting vineyards, learning to cook paella and then having it for lunch,

Paella-chefbird-watching, a visit to a meditation centre, sight-seeing trips to places like Ronda, Nerja, and the famous white villages, a few hours spent in a Haman (with massage), seafood lunch on the beachfront at Malaga, and an Equestrian show with flamenco (this one not to be missed).


All these ‘extras’ are included in the price of the holiday and together, make up a very attractive package.

Although these trips and walks are all taken at a leisurely pace, if anyone feels like opting out of them they can do so – it is a holiday after all.  Equally, for those who want more regular exercise, specialist breaks are planned, as well as specialist weeks for clients who may want to spend more time studying mindfulness and gaining insights into their life.


P1000418Life expectancy continues to increase and holidays like these, organized by people who are dedicated to the philosophy of a healthy, active life and happy relationships as we grow older, are a breakthrough in advancing the cause of living better while we live longer lives.

Don’t think this is some freakish ‘alternative’ lifestyle holiday where you deny yourself the good things of life.  Great food and great wines, sunshine and blue skies are all there, just as you’d expect, but the added value is the feeling at the end when you find yourself fitter, healthier, and possibly happier, for the experience.



So, get ready for a Spanish-style pub crawl on a Tapas evening in Malaga when you will enjoy whitebait, anchovies, patatas bravas, and other Spanish delicacies, washed down with a few glasses of wine in a Bodega in operation since 1840.  You don’t believe me? Ask SilverSpain about it.









Weekly Photo Challenge – ORANGE

Spanish oranges
Spanish Oranges – Photo Mari Nicholson

What cold be more orange that these gorgeous Spanish oranges.  The very sight of them makes me salivate remembering how they tasted.  How come we never seem to get really juicy oranges these days?

Young monka change their robes on the street outside temple
Young monks changing their robes – Photo Mari Nicholson

I never did find out why these young monks were changing their robes in the street by the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but they did it discreetly and looked decidedly pleased when they had accomplished the task.

Pottery for Sale on a Valencia street – Photo Mari Nicholson

I’m a sucker for anything that looks ‘local’ even though I know I shall never use it when I get home, but in my minds eye I can see me producing succulent food smelling of rosemary and garlic, mint and oregano, the whole resting on a bed of peppery olive oil and maybe some ciabbata.  Dream on.  I get home, realize it’s another foolish buy and it ends up at the back of the cupboard.  But I love the orange colour of these dishes and yes, I did buy some.

Gathering in the Mussels & Scallops

At one of Brighton’s seafood restaurants yesterday I had some amazing mussels, the like of which I hadn’t expected to find in the UK.  They reminded me of the time I was in Galicia in Northern Spain and my trip out to the mollusc beds to see them being collected, and an even better recollection, the meal we had on the return boat journey of mussels cooked simply in wine and garlic in a traditional enamel pot and served with fresh crusty bread and bottles of unnamed, in fact unlabelled, wine, which nevertheless tasted like nectar.


Vigo, Galicia

Galicia in Spain’s green north is a far cry from the Costas and is nowhere as well known as the southern provinces, yet it is probably the most beautiful part of Spain with really white sand beaches, fragrant pine trees perfuming the air, beautiful buildings, great hotels, and wines produced in small quantities and kept for local sale only.  If you think only of sun, sand and Sangria, think again and head for Galicia for seafood, shellfish and the road to Santiago.



Gathering in the mussels – Photo Mari Nicholson

O Grove was once an island but today it is joined to the mainland thanks to the winds from the south-west, which have caused the surrounding sands to form an isthmus and it now sits on the mouth of the Arousa estuary, a stone’s throw away from the luxury Parador Pontevedra.  As well as shellfish gathering and shallow-water fishing, the local population of approximately 12,000, lives from the farming of mussels, oysters and scallops.


Bateas in the Sea


Ropes, on which the molluscs grow, are hung from bateas, wooden platforms in the water, and these heavy ropes which can weigh up to half a ton when the mussels are fully grown, are checked out and collected daily.

Re-arranging the Ropes – Mari Nichol



From your boat you can watch the men drag up the heavy ropes of scallops and mussels as they stand on wooden rafts in the water, the bateas.

Since 1963, the port of O Grove has staged a yearly festival which takes place over several days during the first two weeks in October.  Many excellent local wines are available but it is almost compulsory to drink the local “Rías Baixas”  as an accompaniment to the wide variety of seafood but, believe me, it is easy to get a taste for this little-known wine (little known outside of the area that is).


At the festival, visitors can wander among the food stalls, sampling delicious seafood cooked by locals, dishes that exploit the riches of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean including mussels and turbot, for which the region is famous, oysters, clams, shrimp, scallops, velvet crabs, crawfish and goose barnacles.  O Grove’s seafood festival also comes with music and dancing.  Every day different bands play traditional Galician folk music which includes a lot of Galician bagpipes, and there is the usual folkloric content in singing and dancing.


Collecting the Scallops – Photo Mari Nicholson

Local boats make trips out to the mussel and scallop beds and these can be booked at any of the agencies around the port.

Should you want to do some local sightseeing there are a couple of local towns worth visiting, and the busy city of Vigo is an hour or so on the train.  You can even visit Santiago de Compostela for a day.

What to see nearby

Illa de AToxa, whose fame is derived from its medicinal mineral waters and mud, the therapeutic properties of which for the skin and respiratory passages as well as the salts and soaps which are made from them, have turned the island into a major spa resort.  AToxa is the biggest of the half dozen islands, which emerge with the ebb and flow of the tides on the O Vao mud flats.


Isla de La Toja or Isla de la Atoxa where the main building to visit and to photograph is the hermitage church of San Sebastian dating from the XII century.  It is completely covered with scallop shells to protect the façade – quite an amazing sight.

Shakespeare’s Cities (1)

Looking through my photographs one evening last week and re-assigning some to other folders, I realised that many of them have attachments to Shakespearean locations, so I thought I’d give them an airing on Travels with my Camera today.

ROMEO and JULIET – Verona

Juliet;s Balcony

Juliet’s Balcony – Mari Nicholson

First up, one of my favourite Italian cities, Verona, a favourite because of the operas that are performed in the vast Roman amphitheatre, it’s proximity to the Dolomites, and the wonderful herb market I remember from my last visit.  Verona is actually the setting for three of the Bard’s plays but it is the Casa de Giulietta that is now a place of pilgrimage for young lovers because of Romeo and Juliet.  The walls of the building are covered with love notes all of which get a reply from a volunteer in the Juliet Club which operates from the premises.

It is a town worth seeing even if you are not interested in visiting Juliet’s house (and let’s face it, it is fiction after all!) and the Renaissance houses and beautiful squares make one want to linger at the sidewalk cafes.  The evening passagitta is still a big occasion in Verona, and young and old can be seen dressed in their finest clothes, partaking of ice cream and cafes as the sun goes down on the golden stones of this lovely place.



Wild Ponies on the Mountains in Navarre – Mari Nicholson

Navarre in Northern Spain is the setting for the fantastical Love’s Labour Lost, and although it is almost certain that Shakespeare had no knowledge of this area during the writing of the play, its rolling pastures and fertile valleys seem a perfect setting.  Home to the famous bull run in Pamplona during the San Fermin fiesta in July, Navarre has a quieter side also, most famous for the Gregorian chant sung in its monasteries, its  Pyrennean cows, wild horses, National Parks, Botanic gardens, and its traditions.  One of these is the fast game of Pelote which you should see if you get a chance.

The autumn colours are eye-wateringly beautiful and a perfect contrast to the coastal houses which are painted either green and red or green and white.   The wines are exceptional and less well known than most other Spanish wines and there is a wide range of organic wines as well.   The population speaks Basque and the language is not easy to read – especially if you are driving – but Spanish is widely spoken everywhere.



Othello’s Castle, Famagusta, Cyprus – Photo Pixabay

I first visited Famagusta when it was in the Greek-controlled part of the island of Cyprus and if I remember correctly, the Turks lived in the area where the castle (now named Othello’s Tower) stood.  Since the war and the division of the island, Famagusta is under Turkish control but can still be visited from all parts of the island.

The land of Aphrodite and the tourist towns of Limassol, Paphos and Larnaca are hard to reconcile with the turbulence and the tragedy of Othello. yet drive into the mountain villages, or sit awhile and look at the seas around the island, and the story seems all too plausible – especially if you have visited Venice beforehand.

It is an island that can be visited at any season, although if you want heat, summer is best: it is also the time to experience the Greek Drama festival and the many flower festivals in the villages.  It has a thriving winter season, however, a time to enjoy winter sports in the Troodos Mountains when walking and hiking take precedence over more relaxed summer activities.

I feel if Othello had indulged more in the sensual delights of the island and listened less to Iago, Desdemona’s life may have been spared.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS – Ephesus, Turkey


Ephesus – Mari Nicholson

Ancient Ephesus is the setting of the Bard’s shortest play, about twin brothers separated at birth.  It is also considered the apex of the Roman-Greco Empire and visitors may wander among the ruins of the fallen empire, from the Corinthian-style Temple of Hadrian to the glorious Library of Celsus, and to the brothel which had connecting underground tunnels to the rooms  Much of the city is still to be excavated, but the solitary structures that remain showcase its former capital splendour.

There is little in the nearby town but there are a lot of ruins and excavations to see, including the house where it is thought that the Virgin Mary had lived.  Izmir is about 30 km. away (about an hour’s drive) and for those who wish to combine a relaxing resort holiday with some serious sightseeing, the popular Kusadasi lies just a mere 19 km. away. Istanbul, the capital, is about 650 Km away and trips can be arranged but it needs a good 3 days to do it in comfort.Although flights are advertised they are not recommended.


Photo Challenge “Depth” – Cordoba’s Mesquita

Arches of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain

Magnificence of the Arches in the Mezquita in Cordoba
Magnificence of the Arches in the Mezquita in Cordoba

Once the centre of worship in Western Islam, the Mesquita in Cordoba, Spain, with its glorious exterior golden walls, is considered one of the architectural wonders of the world.  Red and white striped arches as far as the eye can see, each one seemingly different, create patterns that leave one enchanted.  More bizarre however, is the Catholic Church plonked down in the centre of the mosque, something which alone qualifies it as a most unusual place.

Originally built on the site of the Basilica of St Vincent the Martyr, a 6th century Visigothic church, then becoming a mosque and latterly a church (in use today) one can look down on the remains of the earlier building through a glass panel set in the floor, reminding us that this edifice has been owned and operated by 3 religious houses at different times.

From 785 when the Caliphate was powerful in the Iberian peninsula until the sack of the Moors in the 13th century, the Mesquita grew grander and larger under each succeeding Caliph but during all that time, all religions lived side by side in harmony, each sharing their knowledge of geometry, philosophy, algebra and other intellectual disciplines.

The pillars seem to go on forever. Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
The pillars seem to go on forever. Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain

Caliph Abderramán 1 built the great hall in which there are 110 columns the capitals of which came from old Roman and Byzantine buildings  Above this there is a second row of arches which creates a wonderful effect.  Eight more arches were added in 833 by Abderramán II, the minaret, Mahrab and the Kliba in 962 by Alakem II.  The mosque was doubled in size in 987 when Caliph Alamanzor added blue and red marble pillars and today the total of these endeavours is truly wondrous.

Arches of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain
Arches of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain

It is our good luck that the Christian conquerors didn’t destroy this magnificent building as they did so many others, but choose to place their church, consecrated in 1236, inside the walls of the mosque.  This bizarre placing of one religious house inside another is just one of the things that makes the Cordoba Mezquita so unusual.  Against the austerity of the pillars of the mosque, the chapels full of gold and silver decoration, statues of the Madonna, marble-swathed tombs and heavy wooden carved choirster stalls, stand out defiantly but somehow, the spellbinding beauty and simplicity of the arches puts the flamboyance of the christian church in the shade.

Mesquita at Cordoba, Spain

Photo Challenge: Serenity – Part ll

A Pink Dawn Over Rioja
A Pink Dawn Over Rioja

I don’t know why I overlooked the most serene moment of my life when I started on my former blog about this subject.  Maybe it was because the images to go with it are not very spectacular; certainly they don’t convey the calmness of the moment, the sense of absolute peace and tranquility, and the near total silence we experienced.

The occasion was a balloon flight over the vineyards and fincas of the wine-growing area of Rioja in Spain.  We began our ascent as dawn was breaking bathing our world in a warm pinkish glow as we rose into the sky watching fields and houses below diminish in size minute by minute.  Initial trepidation dissipated as soon as we started our flight and the beauty and joy of the morning filled us with awe.  For once I felt at one with nature, not in the way I had done when out walking in the mountains or swimming with dolphins, but a feeling of really being part of this marvellous planet of ours.

Vineyards of the Rioja area
Vineyards of the Rioja area

Up and up we went right into clouds which deadened what little sound there had been up until then.  it was totally eerie, chilly and white.

Up, Up and Away, in my Beautiful Balloon
Up, Up and Away, in my Beautiful Balloon

Then the pilot motioned ahead and there it was, the photo I would have died for if I’d known when on the ground that I would actually see it, our balloon shadowed on the cloud in front of us, faint but very obviously there.  The moment was too precious to grab for a camera and start focusing, so in a sort of reflex action, I just clicked on the little camera I carry for emergencies like this, and here it is.  My only image from my time in the clouds when I really knew the meaning of Serenity.

My Beautiful Balloon
My Beautiful Balloon
Reflection of Balloon in Clouds
Reflection of Balloon in Clouds