With Servas in Girona

Ah yes, we promised you Girona, quite a long time ago. We’ve been busy since then but I hope you’ll think it was worth waiting for.

Again we took the train, from Valencia to Girona, via Barcelona. We stayed with Servas hosts, ‘quim and Caro and delivered greetings from Jorge in Alicante. They very kindly invited us to stay for the three nights we were in Girona – Servas visits are expected to be for 2 nights only.

We’d arrived on the first day of the Girona Flower Festival. So after dinner, close to 10pm we set off, in a light drizzle, to walk into town to have a look. By the time we arrived the drizzle had become a deluge but we stuck to our task and, dodging the umbrellas and leaking gutters, made a circuit of the exhibits.

Originally Girona was a walled, medieval city with lots of little alleys, staircases and corners. The displays were in the streets and inside the ancient buildings.

By the time we got home, after midnight, we were sopping wet and exhausted!

Next day we set out to explore the city and walk the walls but unfortunately it was soon raining again!

Our hosts live within walking distance of the centre but in a development they said had been built for civil servants under the Franco regime – a very nice house. When the rain stopped, ‘quim, short for Joaquim, took us to visit the family’s allotment, mostly worked by Caro’s father. We couldn’t get close as the gate was locked (it was Sunday afternoon) but the area looked the same as – allotments. One part of the site is very wet, it was interesting to see the method of planting on ridges that is used to deal with this.

We ate some excellent broad beans and artichokes that had been harvested from the plot.

On Monday the sun finally came out so off we went to see the town and the flowers at their best. It was very busy, the festival seems to attract visitors from far and wide, there were lots of coaches.

Girona is one of the main cities of the Catalonia autonomous region which in October voted to become independent from Spain. The resulting chaos, is ongoing, you can read more here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-41584864

Caro’ and ‘quim are passionate supporters of the independence movement, we learnt all about it, very rapidly. The streets are full of banners calling for freedom for the press and politicians, some of whom have been arrested. We dutifully wore the yellow ribbon of solidarity.

The last photo is of ‘quim and Alan, I have no idea what they were discussing.

Finally we walked to the station for the train to Paris and on by Eurostar to London, very convenient.

Our final post on this trip will be about the Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in the region.

Wow! Valencia (2)

There was just so much to see, so many places to go and such a lot of interesting buildings wherever we went.

The medieval silk exchange, Llotja de la Seda, was a shock. Not due to the beauty of the place but the volume of visitors. Somehow we’d been sheltered from mainstream tourism, suddenly we were flung right into it. Rightly so, it’s an inspiring place and a World Heritage Site.  The spiral columns are an absolute marvel, the orange tree courtyard strangely peaceful and from the outside it looks like a gothic cathedral!

Equally bold, in it’s way, is the futuristic design of the City of Arts and Sciences, 21st century architecture at it’s most amazing.

There’s a arts centre/opera house, a planetarium/cinema, a science museum and an aquarium. It took us most of a day to visit the last two.

It seems the City is still in debt for the huge cost of construction and there are already maintenance issues but the whole area had a very positive vibe.

Different again, the Museum of Prehistory is housed in the former Casa de Beneficia, Charity House, organised round five courtyards in traditional 19th century Valencian style. It’s exhibitions cover the life and labours of human societies in the Valencia region from prehistoric times up to the Roman period. Fascinating, if you like that kind of thing! We couldn’t take it all in, we got up to the 5th century BC so we’ll have to go back to learn more. The reconstruction of a house from this period was illuminating – but where did they sleep?

As much as anything we enjoyed walking the streets, enjoying the atmosphere, the graffiti and the food!

Next we went to Girona.

Wow! Valencia

We loved Valencia. It was only a short journey by bus and taxi from Biar but such a contrast. After week of rural tranquillity we were both ready for a taste of city life and Valencia offered everything we could wish for.

So here, in no particular order are some of the things we enjoyed.

We stayed right in the heart of the old quarter with it’s tiny, winding streets. One hundred and eighty years old, the building we stayed in was in perfect harmony. Here’s what the apartment looked like inside. Notice the beautiful floor tiles!i

That’s me in the mirror!

And outside, with Alan on the balcony.

On a recommendation from Andrew, one of the Biar walkers, we sought out the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla in the Museo de Bellas Artes. Born in Valencia in 1863, Sorolla was a hugely successful modern painter. Like his impressionist contemporaries he love painting in sunlight producing beach scenes, landscapes, portraits and more.

Most of the other works in the gallery are much older and include examples by the Spanish greats including Goya, Velasquez and El Greco.

We went to the market, a very impressive art nouveau building, where we bought fruit and olive oil. Nearby we came across a well-stocked, traditional hat shop, all styles available and so we bought a hat!

The Turia River used to run through the centre of the city to the sea. After parts of the city were devastated by floods in 1957 it was diverted south of the city. This major intervention left a huge tract of river bed which has been turned into a vast urban park running through the city. It’s well maintained and well used.

We hired bikes for a day and rode through the Turia Gardens to the beach, a vast expanse of sand. It was very sunny but windy and the sea was decided chilly – paddling only!


The next post will be about other amazing buildings in Valencia and the museums we visited.

Moros y Cristianos

Or, in English, Moors and Christians. These festivals commemorate the 700 years when much of Spain was occupied by the Moors, who were Muslims from North Africa, and the eventual reconquest by Catholic monarchs in the late 15th century. Usually the capture of a town or city by the Moors is enacted followed by the subsequent reconquest by the Christians. Miniature castles are erected where mock battles are staged and there are processions and other events over several days with different groups representing the two sides all wearing elaborate costumes.

Biar and the surrounding towns are famous for their celebrations. We were a week too early to enjoy the ones in Biar but the castle was already in place in the main square. But a week too late for nearby Alcoi, reputed to be the most impressive festival of all, where the castle was being dismantled the day I was there! More about my visit to Alcoi in another post.

Eventually we did manage to see the final procession of the celebrations in another nearby town, Onil.

These events are so big that in Alcoi there is a museum solely dedicated to them and in Biar there is a tailor whose only business appears to be making festival costumes.

Next we’ll be posting about the lovely city of Valencia!


From the distance Biar is dominated by it’s castle which is surrounded by the narrow streets and alleyways of the old town where we stayed. There is also a new section of buildings and wider roads and, finally, a perimeter of industrial development.

I thought the climb to the castle would be out of my reach but one day, just wandering the streets, I found myself very close. While I sat on a bench admiring the view and considering whether I dared go higher, a women coming up behind me dangled the keys under my nose and told me she was on her way to open up. So I followed, very slowly, paid my euro and, eventually, made it to the top. The castle has been much rebuilt and restored since it’s original construction by the Arab invaders, also known as the moors, in the 12th Century. There’s not so much to see there apart from a distinctive Arab ceiling but the panoramic views from the tower are stunning. The different sections of Biar stand out clearly together with the hilly countryside around.

There actually isn’t very much to do in Biar so my mornings were spent quietly once the walking group had left. I explored the town admiring the ancient streets, bought my lunch, had a coffee on the square. The small museum of local life was worth a visit – especially the baskets – it’s amazing the number of jobs a basket can be designed to do!

There’s also a pottery making traditional decorative ware where I bought a plate. We’ll see whether it gets home safely.

The small hotel, Villa de Biar, has a nice garden and even a pool. So my afternoons were spent reading outdoors, sadly the pool water was too chilly for a swim.

When the walkers returned, late afternoon, things got more lively – our evenings were spent eating drinking and socialising. Many of the world’s problems were solved! One evening a local band played for us and late one afternoon we enjoyed a wine tasting organised by the hotel staff – see how big the samples were, there were some fuzzy heads next morning!

The towns and villages in this part of Spain all celebrate their ‘Moros y Cristianos’ festival – more about that in the next post.

Trekking in the Sierra Mariola hills.

“Time for a walking holiday?”. “Okay, where?”. “Hills and mountains in Biar off the beaten track in Spain look nice.” “Okay, booked”

And so a week later we discovered that Jan’s foot required an operation but did that stop her going…of course not.

And so after the Alicante Servas break we joined fellow walkers and our Holiday Fellowship (HF) guides Dave and John in Biar, a stunning little Spanish town perched below a castle on a hill. It’s an hour from Alicante but a million miles from the city. (More from Jan about Biar later).

According to the brochure we were to follow aromatic botanical trails, uncover the region’s Moorish history and explore fascinating medieval towns, with their castles and historic buildings. Our base in Biar is on the slopes of the Sierra Mariola hills, allowing you to enjoy beautiful walks in the local area and the surrounding higher hills. Explore the charming medieval town of Bocairent and the traditional town of lbi, with its natural ice caves.

And I certainly did whilst Jan had fun and practiced her excellent Spanish in and around Biar.

Five challenging walks in six days with mountains, griffon vultures, great craic, rosemary and thyme, stony paths and secret gorges. An excellent programme of top class treks.

(HF is a cooperative arranging group walking (mainly) holidays in the UK and abroad. It was our first time with them. Throughly enjoyed it and will certainly go again.)

Snow, Sea and Servas

It’s over a year since our last post so, as we’ll be in Spain for three weeks, we’re having another go.

This trip is all by public transport and no flying. It started with the train from Guildford to Portsmouth and then on to the overnight ferry to Santander.

The Pont-Aven is very posh ship – the flagship of Brittany Ferries. Our four-berth en suite cabin was just right for two. The other two bunks were folded up to the ceiling so, in effect, we had a twin room with a sea view.

We spent our time reading, observing our fellow passengers and, of course, eating and drinking.

The food wasn’t bad but, having enjoyed a very pleasant waitress service breakfast in the restaurant, we agreed that another time we’d avoid the self service cafeteria where we ate the previous evening.

Twenty four hours later at 17.30hr we arrived in Santander. Leaving the ship is easy for foot passengers, just walk down the ramp, past the customs and you’re there, close to the centre of town. We could see the wonderful Hotel Bahia from the port and in less than 10 minutes we were checked in. This hotel is good, we couldn’t fault it, 80 euros well spent.

We didn’t have time to sample the breakfast as we were up early and on the 07.15hr high speed train to Alicante via Madrid. Fortunately the station was a short walk away.

Train travel is a great way to get an idea of a country, we passed through lots of varied landscapes, saw the snow covered Picos de Europa mountains in the distance and travelled through the 28.4km Guadarrama Tunnel at speeds reaching 250km per hour. It’s the longest tunnel in Spain and the fifth longest in the world.

We completed the 634km journey in just under 8 hours and arrived ahead of schedule in Alicante.

Our hosts were Jorge, Esther and Alex of Servas, Spain. If you don’t know about Servas you can find out more at www.servas.org. It’s a great way to travel the world.

We stayed at their summer apartment outside the city centre at the beach which is lovely, long and sandy and not very busy in April. On the way there we visited the Castillo De Santa Barbara which dominates the city.

We had a lovely sunny day followed by an enormous thunderstorm when we were just back from the beach.

Of course our hosts were at work and school so the second evening we cooked for us all. It was a very strange experience for all concerned hosting people in their own home!