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Popular Destinations

Palencia

The river Carrión runs through the extensive plain of Tierra de Campos until it reaches Palencia. The capital, which has a interesting collection of monumental sites, is the starting point for a tour of the most significant route of the Romanesque style in Spain.

What was once Roman Pallantia has witnessed major historic milestones. A crossroads and an imporant centre of textile manufacturing in other ages, Palencia lived its period of greatest splendour in the Middle Ages. During the reign of Alfonso VIII, the capital became a royal residence and in 1208 the first Spanish university was founded here.The city is watched over by the imposing sculpture of Cristo del Otero which, standing 20 metres tall, dominates the area from one of the hills surrounding the city.Calle Mayor, Palencia's main thoroughfare, is the backbone of the city running north to south and boasts distinguished façades and a great many shops. To one side of this major road stands the arcaded Main Square, the site of the façades of the City Hall, from the 19th century, and thechurch of San Francisco, a Franciscan building from the 13th century.The surrounding streets lead towards the “unknown beauty”, which is how Palencia's Cathedral (14th century) is known. The austerity of its Gothic façade conceals a wealth of art inside. Among its most prized treasures are a valuable plateresque reredos (16th century) and the crypt of San Antolín, with remains of the Romanesque and Visigothic temples which stood on the same spot centuries earlier. Lastly, inside the cloister, a visit can be made to the Cathedral Museum, which contains works by painters such as El Greco and Zurbarán.Next to the Cathedral is the Episcopal Palace, site of the Diocesan Museum, whose collection includes pieces of relgious art from several churches in Palencia. Palencia's extensive choice of culture is completed with other premises, such as the Archaeological Museum, the Victorio Macho Museum or the Díaz-Caneja Foundation, this latter institution devoted to contemporary art.Another traditional image of Palencia is provided by the church of San Miguel. Its openwork tower from the 13th century stands above the structure of Romanesque origin finished in pointing.The banks of the Carrión is one of Palencia's major recreational areas, with extensive green spaces such as Sotillo de los Canónigos.Gastronomy and surrounding areaThe capital can act as a starting point for the well-knownRomanesque route of Palencia, an itinerary which allows you to see the rich medieval heritage which arose in many cases around the Pilgrim's Road to Santiago de Compostela. More than fifty buildings are preserved almost intact, outstanding among which is the monastery of Santa María, in Aguilar de Campoo. In the town of Carrión de los Condes you will find beautiful buildings such as the convent of Santa Clara (13th century) and the churches of Santa María del Camino and Santiago. Other Romanesque buildings which can be visited on this route are the church of San Martín(Frómista), the hermitage of San Pelayo (Perazancas), the church of Santa Eufemia (Olmos de Ojeda) or the monastery of Santa María de Mave.The route also provides the opportunity to enjoy the facilities offered by theParador de Cervera de Pisuerga, located near the Picos de Europamountains.The excellent ingredients produced in the province form the basis of Palencia's culinary tradition. Among the most emblematic dishes arelechazo asado (roast lamb) and pichón estofado (stewed pigeon). The vegetables and garden produce of the fertile fields are use to make tastyvegetable stews. Other specialities of the region are pork productsSaldaña beans and sheep's cheese. To round a meal off, you could try the famous biscuits from Aguilar de Campoo, the sweets from Osorno or leche frita (made from milk, eggs, flour and sugar). Not forgetting to accompany any of these dishes with the excellent Designation of Origin Cigales wines.

Palencia, Spain

Orense

Stretching out on the banks of the river Miño is the city of Ourense, which maintains its traditional link to the river through its Roman bridge. A crossroads, the Old City preserves major historic sites, outstanding among which is the Cathedral.

The river Miño, which crosses the city halfway through its course, has determined the current appearance of the provincial capital. Almost two thousand years ago, the Romans settled in this land attracted, among other reasons, by its thermal springs. The best-preserved legacy of that age is “a ponte vella” (the old bridge), which connects the banks of the Miño and which has grown to be the symbol of the city. Preserved from the original Roman bridge are some ashlar stones at the base. This major piece of civil engineering was restored in the 13th and 17th centuries, giving it its current appearance, with a pointed arch and ramps.The capital's rich heritage can be discovered all along the streets which make up the Old City. The arcaded Main Square was the centre of the city's social and trading life, since it was here where markets, festivals and all kinds of cultural and social events were held. The City Hall building dominates the scene. Construction dates from the end of the 19th century. It has classicist façade with a balcony on the first floor and porches on the ground floor, crowned by a coat of arms and a clock at the top.Next door is the old Episcopal Palace. This building, standing on the site of the original Roman settlement, began to be constructed in the 12th century. Featuring prominently among the subsequent extensions and remodelling is its baroque façade, added in the 18th century. The premises house the collection of the Archaeological Museum, divided into two sections: one of archaeology, which gathers a collection of objects and pieces of art from the Paleolithic period until the Middle Ages, and another of fine arts.In the area surrounding the square you can see the church of Santa María Madre. In the baroque style, it was built in the 18th century on the site of a previous temple dating from 1084. Several columns with marble capitals can still be admired from the old basilica. The current church is composed of three bodies flanked by large towers and with coats of arms on the pediment.Standing over the historic quarter is the clock tower attached to theCathedral of San Martiño. The cathedral was built between the 12th and 13th centuries, its consecration coming in 1188. On the outside, the Paradise Portico, from the 13th century, is influenced by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and evokes that building's Glory Portico. The south door, which gives on to plaza del Trigo, is the one which best reflects the transition of the Romanesque to the Gothic style in which the Cathedral was erected. The clock tower, meanwhile, is a subsequent addition, since it dates from the 16th century, as does the west door. Inside, the temple has a Latin cross plan, three naves and transept with a dome base in the centre. The Main Chapel houses a huge reredos created by Cornielis de Holanda in 1520 in which scenes of the Virgin Mary and Jesus appear. Among the side chapels it is worth highlighting Santo Cristo, work of Juan de Herrera (16th century), where a Gothic Christ (14th century) is venerated. The new cloister, the former Gothic cloister, houses the Cathedral Museum, which contains pieces of religious art, some of them of great value.In these beautiful surroundings of streets and small squares filled with fountains and the traditional "cruceiros" (a stone cross standing on a column), we will find other outstanding buildings. An absolute must is thepalace of Oca-Valladares, considered to be one of the most important in Galicia. Built in the 16th century, this wonderful Renaissance mansion boasts a façade of two floors and a central balcony, appearing on which are the coats of arms of several noble Galician families. In 1850, the building became the site of the Liceo Recreo, an old cultural association in Ourense.The church of Santa Eufemia originally belonged to an old Jesuit convent. Work on this temple began in the 17th century, although it was not completed until the 18th century. From this latter period is the magnificent baroque façade, with columns and concave shapes. The church, the biggest after the Cathedral, has a Latin cross plan with three naves. Dominating the church is the baroque altar with the image of Christ of la Esperanza (18th century).The convent of San Francisco (14th century), declared to be a Historic-Artistic Monument, is remarkable because of its cloister, one of the most important in Galicia. It has a rectangular plan and 63 pointed arches, most of them supported by doble columns. This unique and outstanding site has rich and varied decoration, with human, animal and vegetable representations appearing on the capitals, as well as in the spaces between the columns.Before drawing a journey around the city to a close, do not forget to visitlas Burgas, Ourense's famed fountains of hot springs. The oldest is Burga de Arriba, a fountain in the popular style of the 17th century. The Burga de Abajo, from the 19th century, was built in the Neoclassic style, and has three bodies and its corresponding jets. Festivals, gastronomy and surrounding areaThe best way to see Ourense and its inhabitants is to plan your visit in February, since the provincial capital stages one of Spain's most unusualcarnival celebrations (here called Entroido). They are known for their colour and for their traditional carnival characters (peliqueiros), which are rooted in old customs of the province.Any of the establishments in Ourense's historic quarter offers the possibility to appreciate the excellent quality of the wines which are produced all over the province and which, in turn, fall into four Designation of Origincategories:Ribeiro, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra and Monterrei. Any one of them is a fine accompaniment to Ourense's substantial gastronomy. Typical dishes are octopus, meat “ó caldeiro” (beef cooked with oil, garlic and paprika) or roast kid. Eel pie is a speciality much in demand during spring. Emblematic cakes and pastries of Ourense are marrón glacé (a dessert made with chestnuts) and cañas pasteleras (cakes filled with custard).Geographically, Ourense provincial capital is situated firmly on the Ruta de la Plata, a traditional route connecting the south and north west of the Iberian Peninsula and which was also a place pilgrims passed through on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The rest of the province offers visits to areas with a wealth of history. To the north, one of the most beautiful isSacred Ribeira, dominated by the gorge of the river Sil and so-called because of the great many medieval monasteries and churches preserved here.In the southern half are the two most important protected areas in Galicia, the Baixa Limia-Serra do Xurés Nature Reserve and O Invernadeiro Nature Reserve. The Parador de Verín, located opposite the fortress of Monterrei, provides the opportunity to enjoy these natural surroundings, as well as Monterrei's historic quarter, declared to be a Historic Artistic Site.

Orense, Spain

Sierra De Aracena

Aracena was always a traditional holiday destination for the people of Sevilla and Huelva. The historic quarter, declared a Cultural Object, and the grotto of Maravillas are the main attractions.The first thing we see as we approach the town, is an Almohad tower that bore for almost two hundred years the standard of the Templar Knights. The city centre has numerous interesting monuments, such as the castle and church of the Templar Knigths, from the 13th and 14th centuries; the Renaissance church of Asunción, from the 16th century; the old City Hall, a medieval building with a 16th-century main front; and the Gothic church of Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor, from the 13th and 15th centuries, the oldest in Aracena. However, the most interesting of all is the grotto of Maravillas, with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, which at 1,500 metres is one of the longest caves in Spain. Inside the grotto we find twelve halls and six lakes.

Sierra De Aracena, Spain

Lugo

Located on a hill on the banks of the river Miño, the city of Lugo preserves major remains of its Roman past, among them its ancient wall, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Inside the walls, the city conserves quiet pedestrian streets, wide squares and spacious gardens, where buildings such as the Cathedral, the Archiepiscopal Palace, and the City Hall stand out. But the historic quarter also houses some of the best restaurants in Galicia, where it is possible to sample the excellent fresh meats and fish which have earned Lugo's gastronomy recognized acclaim.

Lugo, located in the interior of the province on the banks of the river Miño, is the Galician provincial capital in which the most significant traces of Roman civilization remain. The greatest example of the city's Roman legacy is its wall. It was built between the 3rd and 4th centuries AD in what was known at the time as Lucus Augusti. This stone construction has managed to survive the passage of the centuries and continues to be the city's most distinctive architectural feature, marking the boundary between the historic quarter and the newer area of urban expansion. The uniqueness of this ancient fortress and its good condition mean it is the only Roman wall declared a World Heritage Site.A good way of seeing the city is precisely by standing atop this imposing construction, some 10 metres high, and strolling along the 2,266 metres of its perimeter. From this position it is possible to admire the historic quarter sheltering below the walls.The cityAny one of the wall's ten gates gives access to an urban network of quiet pedestrian streets flanked by sober granite buildings. Some of the most emblematic of these are the Carmen gateway, more commonly known as Porta Miñá, which was traditionally used by the pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela; the Nova gate, San Pedro gate or the Santiago gate, built in the 18th century and which provides direct access to the Cathedral of Lugo.The squares of Santo Domingo and España are two chief points in the centre. In the latter stands the magnificent baroque façade of the CIty Hall, which dates from 1738, and the adjoining clock tower, from the 19th century, although the original building was erected by Pedro de Artiaga in the 16th century. Next to the City Hall, sharing the limelight in this landscaped square are the most elegant cafés in the city, as well as sumptuous buildings such as the modernist Arts Circle.Another monumental construction in the historic quarter of Lugo is theCathedral, a Romanesque-Gothic temple which began to be built in the 12thcentury and whose work went on for more than a century, with subsequent additions of great beauty such as the Neoclassic façade, known as the the Santiago gate. The structure maintains original Romanesque traces in the central transept and most of the main nave, as well as in the wings. Elements such as the ambulatory, the main chapel and the north portico belong to the Gothic style, while the sacristy, the cloister or the chapel of the Virgen de los Ojos Grandes are baroque. Prominent inside is the rich choir carved in walnut, from the 17th century, as well as the reredos dedicated to the patron of the city, considered one of the crowning works of the Galician baroque style.In the same square as the Cathedral premises, another renowned building completes this eclectic architectural collection, the Episcopal Palace. This baroque building dates from the 18th century and stands on the site of the old tower of the Counts of Lemos.A number of busy shopping streets are spread around the arcaded praza do Campo, which in former times was the Roman forum and a medieval market. Very close by is the church of San Pedro, a beautiful example of medieval architecture which belonged to what was the convent of San Francisco, today occupied by the facilities of the Regional Museum, one of the most important in the province of Lugo.On the ground floor there are still some areas surviving from the former convent building, such as the Gothic cloister from the 15th century, the refectory and the kitchen, both from the 18th century. The museum's valuable collection contains an extensive exhibition of archaeological pieces, outstanding among which is a collection of pre-Roman precious metalwork, industrial crafts and sculpture. It also houses an art gallery which gathers works from the 15th century until the present day, with a special section devoted to Galician painters.The narrow cobbled lanes of calle de la Cruz, Rúa Nova and adjacent streets form a genuine tapas route with stops in the many traditional bars and taverns which invite you in to enjoy the generous appetizers which accompany each drink. But this is only the start. “And to eat, Lugo”. So reads the famous motto of the city, whose historic quarter also houses some of the capital's best restaurants. In them, you can sample the best of Lugo's gastronomy: red meats, lacón con grelos (pork with a typical local vegetable), tetilla cheeses and a wide variety of fresh fish and seafood. Any of these specialities can be accompanied by the excellent wines which are produced in the south of the province, protected by the Ribeira Sacra Designation of Origin standard. Outside the walls, the city spreads out in a radius from the wall ringroad, which circles the old town. It is the starting point of important roads such as the shopping-friendly avenue of A Coruña and there are spacious green areas such as Rosalía de Castro park which, with its lake and woods, is an ideal place to stroll and rest. The park has a varied number of tree species, as well as a sculpture of the Galician writer. From the park's viewing point you get a panoramic take on the Miño valley, where the Lugo spa is located, famous for its thermal waters. Declared a Site of Cultural Interest, the thermal springs were first used by the Romans, who discovered several therapeutic properties in the waters.Surrounding areaA few kilometres from Lugo is Santa Eulalia de Bóveda, a Historic-Artistic Site of great archaeological and artistic value which dates from the 4th-7th centuries AD and whose original purpose is unknown. Declared a National Monument in 1931, the building is half-buried and has three naves separated by columns, with an apse at the end. Outstanding inside is the rich sculptural decoration and fine collection of late Roman mural paintings which depict vegetable, geometric and representational motifs.You can also visit Vilalba, a town located on the northern route of the Pilgrim's Route to Santiago de Compostela. As well as a local Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology, it conserves the octagonal tower of the castle of the Andrade, converted into a Parador de Turismo. In Viladonga, some 25 kilometres from Lugo, is one of the most well-preserved castros (old Iberian-Roman hill-forts) in Galicia.In the north of the province is the Lugo coast, with beautiful seaside towns such as Viveiro, Foz and Ribadeo. Viveiro, the most important city in the region of A Mariña, is located on the estuary of the same name, where the the river Landro meets the sea. This busy fishing town preserves three gates from its old medieval wall, the most prominent of which is the Porta do Castelo. In its streets it is possible to see the collection of buildings formed by the church and the convent of San Francisco, declared a Historic-Artistic Site. Next along is Foz, a major tourist enclave which has beautiful beaches. Standing very near this town is the Celtic hill-fort of Fazouro and Sargadelos can also be visited, a town famous for its outstanding production of contemporary Galician ceramics. Lastly, the coast reaches the estuary of Ribadeo, separated from Asturias by the river Eo. The natural landscape provides panoramic views such as that of As Catedrais, one of the most unique and biggest beaches on the Galician coast.In the south, the provinces of Lugo and Ourense are separated by thecanyon of the river Sil. The region is known as Ribeira Sacra, because of the large number of monasteries and hermitages established in the Middle Ages.

Lugo, Spain

Doñana

A variety of ecosystems

The biodiversity to be found in Doñana is due to a combination of different ecosystems. It was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1980.

The Park is characterised by its flatness. A transition can be seen from the gently sloping landscapes of the stabilised sand dunes, known as "cotos", to the marsh, which is the most interesting area, as it is a refuge for numerous migratory birds. The fauna to be found in Doñana includes a wide variety of species, of which the most significant are the birds, but also the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardina), a carnivore indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula and which has become the park's emblem.

Parque Nacional De Doñana, Spain

Jaen

This provincial capital boasts the largest number of protected spaces and castles and fortresses in Spain, and stands in a setting of olive groves. Its origin as a centre for Arab caravans, its importance as a stronghold on the Castilian-Muslim frontier during the Reconquest, and its current role as a leading olive oil producer –earning it the designation of "Olive Oil Capital of the World"– all make this a place not to be missed.

The oldest part of Jaén is dominated by the Arab fortress that stands atop the Santa Catalina ridge. From this height visitors can enjoy one of the best views of the city and across the Guadalquivir valley. Santa Catalina castle is home to an interesting Visitor Centre with information about its history. The Parador hotel built alongside the fortified enclosure is one of the best options for and an overnight stay during your visit.Some of the oldest neighbourhoods in this Andalusian city can be found clustered around its base, radiating out from the churches of Magdalena, San Juan and San Ildefonso. But the main axis of the historic centre of Jaén is the Santa Iglesia Cathedral. This is a monumental Renaissance construction dating from the 16th century, which stands out from the profusion of whitewashed houses. The chapter room, the main chapel, the choir and the sacristy are all fine examples of the art of this period.Olive oilThe streets near the church are some of the best places to sample the local gastronomy. Extra virgin olive oil –which can be acquired in any of three oil presses in the capital– is always present in one form or another on the tables of Jaén. Starters include pipirrana salad (with peppers, tomato and garlic), fried aubergines with honey, snails in broth, and local broad beans with eggs. Recommended dishes for the second course include kid fried with garlic, stewed cod, marinated pork loin and game. And to end the meal, the best idea is to try some of the sweet pastries filled with walnuts, or "tocinos de cielo" (a dessert made with only egg yolk and sugar) with figs, or any of the delicious sweets that can be acquired in the convents throughout the city.We continue our route by visiting some examples of the civil architecture of Jaén. These include such gems as the palaces of San Francisco –today the Provincial Government building– and Villadompardo. Plateresque façades and colonnaded courtyard with Renaissance staircases are some of the most common features in this type of construction. The Arab baths are considered a National Monument, and still conserve their ceilings with star-shaped windows, horseshoe arches and delicate capitals. The Arab Baths Cultural Centre houses the Museum of Art and Popular Traditions and the International Museum of Naïf Art and offers a varied programme of exhibitions, concerts, lectures and demonstrations.Key areas to visit in the more modern part of the city include the squares of Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza de las Batallas. Broad avenues lead to the La Victoria park and the Jaén Museum, which contains one of the most important collections of Iberian art in Spain. It also has Roman and Arab pieces and pictorial works from the last three centuries.Routes through the provinceThe cultural and scenic importance of Jaén mean that this province offers a wide variety of itineraries. The Renaissance Route takes in the towns of Úbeda and Baeza in the La Loma area. Both cities have been declared historic and artistic sites due to their important Renaissance legacy.Another route takes you through Jaén's nature reserves. In Cazorla, the Segura y las Villas reserve is the site of the source of the Guadalquivir river, among rock beds and forests. Hornos de Segura and Segura de la Sierra both have an interesting monumental heritage. The Mediterranean forests of the Sierra de Andújar nature reserve are the setting for towns such as Andújar. In the south of the province lies the Sierra Mágina nature reserve, where you'll find villages like Bedmar, Cambil and Huelma. And the fourth nature reserve is Despeñaperros, the natural boundary between the autonomous regions of Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia.To the south of the capital are the villages in the segment of the Route of the Caliphate that runs through the Jaén region. This itinerary links the cities of Cordoba and Granada, and here province includes places such as Alcaudete, Martos and Alcalá la Real. Castles with Arab origins, Gothic and Mudéjar churches and Renaissance palaces are some of the points of interest on this route. And all set amid mountains and olive groves.Now all that remains is to visit the north of the province and the towns of Baños de la Encina, Linares and Vilches. Here popular architecture intermingles with gems of the Renaissance and Baroque art that can be found in abundance throughout Andalusia.

Jaen, Spain

Ronda

This town in the Málaga region sits on either side of the Tajo del Ronda, a narrow gorge more than 150 metres deep. Its old town has been declared Property of Cultural Interest. Celts, Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs all inhabited these lands, which were reconquered by the Catholic Monarchs. The historic quarter, reminiscent of the Arab age and with a medieval layout is scattered to the south of the Guadalevín, while more modern Ronda, the part which sprang up after the 16th century, unfolds to the north of the course of this river. Several bridges unite the two halves of one of the most interesting towns on the route of the Whitewashed Villages, in the heart of the the Ronda hills, only a few kilometres from the Costa del Sol.

The so-called “city of the castles” stands on a natural vantage point defended at its most accessible point by a citadel. It still preserves its walls and the most important gates which gave access to the city. The Almocábar Gate (13th century) provided access to the south side of the town, the Carlos I Gate dates from the 16th century, while the Exijara Gate led to the Jewish quarter. The old citadelOutstanding in these walled surroundings is the Gothic-Renaissance construction of the church of Espíritu Santo, ordered to be built by Fernando the Catholic to commemorate the reconquest of Ronda. Another major religious work is Santa María la Mayor, where Arab and Christian features combine. On the site of an old Roman temple, the Arabs built the Main Mosque of Ronda in the 13th century. Preserved from this period are the mihrab arch, decorated with stucco, and the minaret, transformed into a belltower. In the following centuries, its interior was enriched with Renaissance and baroque decoration, as can be admired in its Main Chapel, choir and altars. The Mudejar style, with stucco and horseshoe arches, can be clearly seen in the San Sebastián minaret, later used for Christian worship. Another Muslim legacy are the Arab baths, on the banks of the river. They date from the 13th century and are very well preserved.The civil architecture of Ronda is reflected in its ancestral homes and aristocratic small palaces. The palaces of Mondragón and of the Marquis of Salvatierra, and the House of the Moor are some of the delightful examples to be enjoyed. The first of the palaces was for centuries the residence of Muslim and Christian kings, and today it houses the city's Archaeological Museum. Outstanding in the former home of the Marquis of Salvatierra is a wrought iron balcony in the purest Ronda style. The House of the Moorish King, meanwhile, boasts Gothic-Mudejar decoration and some hanging gardens, declared to be an Artistic Garden. The Bandit Museum, the Hunting Museum and the Lara Museum are further attractions worth considering on this side of the Tajo de Ronda.The Arab, Old and New BridgesThree bridges span the ravine measuring more than 100 metres in depth and lead to the other side of the city. The Arab bridge was built in the 14th century and gave access to the Old Outskirts. The so-called old bridge is comprised of a single arch measuring some 10 metres across. But most emblematic of all is the New Bridge, a colossal feat of engineering which joins the neighbourhoods of Mercadillo and Ciudad. It dates from the 18th century and its foundations sit on the bottom of the ravine, at some points reaching 98 metres in height and 70 in length.The old City Hall, now the Parador de Turismo, stands on top of the cliff and is an exceptional place to relax and take in the views. Its chef prepares tasty local recipes such as stewed partridge, roast kid and almond soup. Among the desserts, Ronda's "yemas", honey pancakes and almond cheese are some of the suggestions.The Paseo de Blas Infante walk and the Viewpoint of the Catholic Monarchs, near the bullring (considered to be the oldest in Spain), are excellent spots to take in the landscape formed by the river Guadalevín. Outstanding in the most modern part of town is the church of Nuestro Padre Jesús and the Virgen de los Dolores Pavilion. The church is built in the Gothic style, with a prominent Renaissance belltower. The chapel of the Virgin, meanwhile, has an attractive series of mannerist sculptures which decorate its pillars.Ronda is lavishly decked out for its festivals, ideal occasions to come and enjoy this area. The Fiestas de Pedro Romero, with old-style bullfights and a flamenco festival, are a major event, as are Holy Week, the festivals in memory of the Christian reconquest and the Pilgrimage of Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza.The whitewashed villages, of Arab origin, in the Ronda mountainscombine popular architecture with striking natural surroundings. Other towns, however, are famous for their Phoenician ruins (Jimena de Líbar) or Roman remains (Acinipo). A Moorish essence, among olive groves and vineyards, is the distinguishing feature of Algatocín or Atajate. The Ronda region is located in wet Andalusia, where the variety of vegetation makes for spectacular landscapes, such as the Sierra de las Nieves Nature Park, the Bermeja mountains or Sierra Crestellina hills. The Málaga coast is a step away, offering us a coastline where Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Marbella or Estepona are the most lively places for recreation.

Ronda, Spain

Zamora

The city of Zamora in Castella-León, preserves in its old town an important legacy of Romanesque art, which has earned it the declaration of Historic-Artistic site. Set on the banks of the River Duero and right on the Via de la Plata (Silver Road) route, its medieval importance has left a mark in the shape of walls, palaces and churches. To get to know the history and art of the province better, there is nothing better than looking round one of the towns on the Duero Route or the Via de la Plata. You can get to know it in more depth through its cuisine and traditions, like the celebration of Easter, declared to be of International Tourist Interest.

The Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge) that crosses the Duero takes you into the city with a strong medieval imprint, known as the City of Romanesque. Its buildings effortlessly take you back to the Middle Ages, a period when the city withstood sieges and attacks. Known as "the Well Protected", because of its triple defensive ring, it preserves the first of these walls almost entirely. Among the stretches of wall, three gates - the Portillo de la Traición, the Puerta de Doña Urraca and the Puerta del Obispo - are outstanding.Dominating the whole layout are the Castle and the Cathedral.Romanesque JewelSurrounded by the Castle Park is this fortress of Arab origin which still preserves its Keep, gate and the moat. Beside it stands the tower and dome of the Cathedral of Zamora, which are undoubtedly its most characteristic elements. The gadroon dome and roof with flakes of stone, in Byzantine style, were built in the 12th century; while the Romanesque tower that accompanies them dates from the 13th. Inside the church, the wrought iron screens and pulpits, the bas-reliefs of the choir stalls and the Neoclassical cloister, which houses the Cathedral Museum, are the outstanding features.On your way to the Plaza Mayor, through narrow cobbled streets, you can admire a fine set of Romanesque churches, like those of San Ildefonso, La Magdalena or San Cipriano. Vaults with Gothic arches, apses and doorways decorated with plant motifs and the oldest reliefs in the city are some of the jewels that you will encounter in this lovely walk among the monuments. It is worth stopping amid the capitals and archivolts of all the Romanesque churches you will find on your way.In civil architecture, we should point out some emblematic buildings of Renaissance design: the Hospital de la Encarnación, seat of the Provincial Council; the Old City Hall, ordered to be built by the Catholic Monarchs; the Palace of the Momos, nowadays the seat of the Provincial Courts; and the Cordón Palace, which houses the Museum of Zamora. Another jewel of Renaissance architecture is the Palace of the Counts of Alba de Aliste (15thC.), nowadays a Parador de Turismo. In it you can relax on a canopied bed, admire its courtyards and try the region's culinary specialities. Zamora-style rice, stuffed hake and custard with almonds are some of the suggested of a varied menu centred on products of Castile and León. However, if what you want to do is to follow the customs of this place you should go to the area around Calle Herreros, which you will be served wine from the Toro Denomination of Origin (chato) accompanied by a slice of bacon or fried pork (a tapa).EasterThe best time for coming to Zamora is during the Easter celebrations, a Festival of International Tourist Interest; or in summer, when visitors can walk around the city guided by the medieval legends of the Romancero, which are staged in the most charming corners of the city.The province of Zamora has interesting historic places set in countryside of great landscape and natural value, which you can get to know through some of the best-known tours of this region. The Vía de la Plata route that links Seville with Oviedo has passed through here since Roman times. On it, you will discover the treasures preserved in Benavente, Valparaíso, and La Hiniesta. The other great spine route through this landscape is the Ribera del Duero. Among its scenery you will find many castles as, in the 10thcentury, it was the frontier with the Muslim world.Toro, covered in vineyards, and Arribes del Duero are other points of interest. Lovers of natural areas have the opportunity to go to the Lago de Sanabria Natural Park, where they will find, among lovely mountain landscape, the largest lake in Spain. Its Interpretation Centre shows the best paths for walking around the area.

Zamora, Spain

Picos De Europa

The first National Park in Spain

The Picos de Europa National Park was the first one to be awarded that designation in Spain. Its history goes back to 1918, when don Pedro Pidal, Marquis of Villaviciosa, promoted the law to create the Montaña de Covadonga National Park, which was named Picos de Europa National Park on 30 May 1995. This natural area was awarded the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation in 2002.

The Picos de Europa Mountains are made up of three important massifs: eastern or Andara massif, central or Urrieles massif, and western or Cornión massif. Its climate is humid and rainy, because it is affected by the sea (which is only 20 kilometres away). It snows in winter but it is not strange to find year-round snowfields. Because of the park's special climatology, there are often fog banks, much feared by mountain climbers. Regarding its orography, it stands out because of its strong relief, where high peaks are followed by deep ravines and canyons. In more than 200 spots the mountains are over 2,000 metres above sea level and there are slopes that are more than 2,300 metres high. The central massif is the most abrupt of the three, with the highest peaks: Torrecerredo (2,646 metres), the highest peak in the range, Naranjo de Bulnes (2,519 metres) and Pico Tesorero (2,570 metres). The eastern massif is the longest one, where high summits, such as Peña Santa de Castilla (2,596 metres) alternate with meadows, hill forests, beech forests, oak groves and heathland. In this massif you'll find the famous Covadonga Lakes. The eastern massif is shorter and lower, and the sharp crags contrast with the green pastureland. There are four rivers flowing through the park, along deep ravines: Deva River in La Hermida gorge; Sella River in Los Beyos gorge; Cares River in the "Garganta Divina" ravine; and Duje River in La India gorges. There are many viewpoints from where we can contemplate its beauty. A good option is to use the Fuentedé cable car which will take you higher than 1,800 metres above sea level.

Picos Europa, Spain

Teruel

Built on high ground in the south of Aragon, Teruel preserves an important medieval legacy in its historic centre. The cathedral tower, along with those of San Salvador, San Martín and San Pedro are the jewels of a group of Mudejar monuments declared a World Heritage Site.

A city of legends thanks to the famous story of the lovers of Teruel, it retains charming corners like the central Plaza del Torico, the aqueduct of the arches and the popular Paseo del Oval.On the outskirts, references to a more modern Teruel appear, as here are the Congress Centre and Dinopolis, a theme park about dinosaurs. Albarracín, a town declared a National Monument, Mora de Rubielos and other places nearby make the best complement to a visit to the capital of the province of Teruel.From the earliest times, various prehistoric and Iberian civilisations settled in the immediate area of present day Teruel. The emergence and development of this city reached its peak during the Middle Ages, when a wall was built around its perimeter when it found itself in Christian land on the border with the Muslim kingdom of Valencia.It was precisely this Islamic influence that left in Teruel and Aragon the most important Mudejar monumental site in Spain, in a style that fused Gothic with Muslim architectural elements.The most central streets of the city lead into the Plaza del Torico, in whose centre stands a column topped with a small sculpture of a bull, which has become the emblem of the cityAround the square you can admire various Modernist façades from the beginning of the 20th century, like those of Casa Ferrán or La Madrilene. Very nearby is the Casa de la Comunidad (16th C.), a beautiful Renaissance building which used to be the seat of the Council and which nowadays houses the Provincial Museum. Inside the complex, various archaeological finds and a collection of Teruel ceramics are exhibited.Another interesting display of pictures is contained in the Diocesan Museum, located in the Bishop's Palace (16th-17th C.).To get to know Teruel's Mudejar heritage you have to go to theCathedral, built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier church and whose outstanding feature is its square tower with ceramic decoration. Inside the cathedral precinct, the feature that attracts most attention is its richly decorated Mudejar coffered ceiling, one of the most important still preserved in the country.On the city's skyline stand other very interesting Mudejar towers. In Calle Nueva stands that of San Salvador, with its brick façade, double series of arches and rich decoration with ceramic details.The tower of the church of San Martín (14th C.) and that of San Pedro are almost identical to it. A chapel in the church of San Pedro refers to the famous story of the lovers of Teruel. The legend tells that in the 13th century young Diego and Isabel died because of an impossible love affair. Two sarcophaguses with the carved figures of the lovers, by Juan de Ávalos, hold their mummified bodies..In the streets where in earlier times the city walls stood, new surprises for the visitor appear, like the aqueduct of the arches a 16th-century building which crosses the ravine that cuts the city in two, or the picturesque Neomudejar Paseo del Óvalo. On leaving the historic part, references to the more modern Teruel appear. In the new part, it is worth going to the Fueros de Aragón Park, without forgetting to visit the modern Congress Centre and Dinopolis, a theme park about dinosaurs.Cuisine and surroundingsTeruel's cuisine has its main source of inspiration in the pig, from which come sausages and excellent hams produced by the Jamón de Teruel Denomination of Origin. "Migas" (based on breadcrumbs and pork), garlic soups and roast lamb or "ternasco", also with a Denomination of Origin, are also typical. From Alcañiz and the banks of the Jiloca come"longanizas" (a kind of sausage) and pickled partridge. Teruel pastries include the delicious "suspiros de amante" (literally, "lovers' sighs", a dessert based on cheese and egg). As an alternative, you can tastepeaches from Calanda.Near the city of Teruel are historic places like Albarracín, declared a National Monument. This town has an interesting set of narrow medieval streets and a wall. Another interesting town is Mora de Rubielos, whose medieval heritage has earned it the distinction of Historic-Artistic SiteMonreal del Campo, Gea de Albarracín and Alcalá de la Selva complete the route through the capital's surroundings.When it comes to looking for accommodation, Teruel gives you the chance to stay in the Teruel Parador, a small Mudejar inspired palace situated on the outskirts of the provincial capital. In the northeast of the province, in the Maestrazgo mountains, is the Alcañiz Parador, in a 12th-13th-century castle-convent.

Teruel, Spain