Friday, 28 October 2011

Diverse Almería - Santuario de Tices

The 'Santuario de Tices' is a lovely church set amidst an oasis of peace and tranquillity. It is absolutely delightful walking around the Plaza de Alberto Gomez Matarin. The only sounds are of birds singing and bees humming. There is a formal garden in front of the church. A statue of Jesus stands amidst rose bushes, purple geraniums, chamomile and other flowers. The church itself is white, peach and lemon built in neoclassical style. Enchanting!

Ermita de Tices  photo by Paco Vivas

Robert Bovington

Diverse Almería - El Cabo de Gata

On the south-western edge of the Cabo de Gata Natural Park is the small village actually called El Cabo de Gata. It is a pleasant little seaside resort beside a beach of white sand. The whitewashed buildings, that line its promenade, are mainly holiday apartments, interspersed with the occasional bar.

The village still supports a small fishing fleet and the fishermen's boats, nets and lobster pots pepper the beaches at the southeastern end.

Nearby is the Salinas de Acosta area of the natural park. Between spring and autumn, thousands of migrating birds stop here on their journeys between Europe and Africa. Apart from flamingos, there are storks, avocets, eagles and many other types. Only a few remain in the winter when the Salinas are drained after the autumn salt harvest.

blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Diverse Almería - Baños de Sierra Alhamilla

Los Baños de Sierra Alhamilla is a small village dominated by a spa hotel, situated next to primitive but nevertheless attractive houses amidst an oasis of palm trees.

An attractive indoor garden is set in a central courtyard. It is quite delightful; an oasis of peace and tranquillity. It apparently took eight years to restore the old building and the hotel 'Balneario de Sierra Alhamilla' is splendid. It provides a range of health treatments; some of them based on the health-giving properties of the mineral waters of the Sierra Alhamilla.

Many birds inhabit the sierra, though most occupy the areas above 800 metres because of the increased tree cover. Finches, stone curlews, little bustards, crested larks, short-toed larks, lesser short-toed larks and black-bellied sand grouse inhabit these mountains, as do blue rock thrushes, crag martins, alpine swifts and black wheateaters. In the highest peaks, birds of prey including eagles, buzzards and kestrels soar.

more blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A drive in the Alpujarras

Bayárcal is the highest village in the Almeriense Alpujarras at over 4000 feet.

The village is surrounded by an oak forest and nearby are groves of chestnut, pine and cherry. In October, the local villagers can be seen collecting chestnuts.

The scenery around this area is spectacular and I quite often drive little circular routes around this area. One suggestion is to start at Cherín and follow the A337 through Picena to Laroles. At a junction take the road to Bayárcal then Paterna del Río and on to Laujar de Andarax. Thence travel along the A348 back to Cherín.


An excellent deviation, if you have time, is to visit Puerto de Ragua, which, at 2000 metres above sea level, is the only road that links the south and north faces of the Sierra Nevada. Puerto de Ragua is a pleasant place to walk or have a picnic. Snow covers this area from November until April. To drive there continue north from Laroles instead of taking the road to Bayárcal.

Puerto de Ragua
more blogs by Robert Bovington... 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Almería churches walk

I am not really of a religious persuasion but the 'churches of Almería' make for a pleasant walk.

San Pedro
A good place to start is the Plaza San Pedro.

From the plaza, the Iglesia San Pedro presents an attractive façade comprising a portico flanked by twin towers. 

From San Pedro, walk to the Paseo de Almería  and thence to Puerto Purchena, the heart of the city centre. From there, the Plaza San Sebastian is only a few minutes away. The square is very attractive with the little garden containing palms and shrubs opposite the main entrance to the church of 'San Sebastian'. 

There is also a delightful little statue on the garden's edge, a simple monument to the Immaculate Conception. It was originally erected in 1800 and restored after the 1936 Spanish Civil War.  

From the 11th century onwards, the plaza was apparently one of the most populous parts of the city. In Moorish times, a mosque stood there and later, in Christian Almería, it became a shrine to Saint Sebastian. In the 17th Century, the church was built. 

San Sebastian

Return to Puerto de Purchena and enter the old shopping street of Calle de las Tiendas where St. James church is located. The main façade of this church is really rather splendid. Its imposing Renaissance portal is similar to the Cathedral's doorways and above the door are magnificent sculptures including one depicting St. James, Slayer of the Moors. This church is one of the oldest in the town. It was built in the times of Bishop Fray Diego Fernández de Villalán who occupies an important place in the annals of the Church in Almería because of his zeal as priest and founder of new buildings in the city. His shield is also to be found above the main door.

St. James (Santiago)

Las Claras
Continue to the end of Calle de las Tiendas to arrive in Calle Jovellanos. Immediately opposite, is the main door of the 'Iglesia Convento Las Claras'. Above the door, is highly intricate artwork that includes a niche housing a statue of St. Clara.
Take Calle Mariana and Calle Cervantes to arrive at the extremely attractive and spacious Plaza de Catedral. (see my separate blogs for details of the Cathedral of Almería).

Plaza de Catedral

Walk in a westerly direction to enter the old 'Musalla Quarter, a maze of little streets. At every turn, the magnificent 'Alcazaba' can be spotted up on its arid hill. During the 11th century, Almería ceased to be part of the 'Caliphate of Cordoba' and became an independent kingdom. Many refugees from the Cordoban Civil War sought shelter in Almería but had to settle outside the old city walls. New defensive walls were built and the area between the older and the newly built walls was called the 'Musalla Quarter'.

In Calle Almedina, the church of 'St. John' was built on the ruins of the 'Great Mosque of Almedina' and, with great foresight, some of the Moorish characteristics were left intact. After the Catholic Kings' conquest of Almería in 1489, the mosque, which had been built in the 10th century, became the city's first cathedral. However, the earthquake of 1522 destroyed most of the building. This prompted the building of the present Cathedral-Fortress in 1524. Later, in the 17th century, Bishop de Portocarrero instigated work on the present church of 'San Juan'. During the Civil war it was bombed on several occasions. In 1979, it was rebuilt and then fully restored in 1991 when both the mosque's kibla and mihrab were restored and the church given a new roof. All this information I have obtained from tourist web sites. Whenever I have tried to visit, 
the building has been closed. The exterior is unimpressive having been built of large rectangular slabs. In my opinion it is the most ugly looking church I have ever seen and probably not worth the detour. (The bar opposite, 'Café Bar San Juan', is OK though if by now you are feeling a tad thirsty. On my last visit I ordered a beer and a tapa of pescado del día and was given four small fishes. It may not have fed the five thousand but it was a good enough snack for me!)

Las Puras
Walk back up Calle Almedina, cross Calle de Reina and back to the Plaza de la Catedral. I really do like this square with the tall palm trees and the golden coloured walls of the 'Cathedral' and the 'Episcopal Palace'. A few yards away is another religious building - the 'Convento de las Puras'. This 17th century church was formerly a convent. There is not a lot to see as the church is usually closed and the main façade is a bit on the plain side though nowhere near as bad as the church of St. John. However, there is an attractive sculpture above the door consisting of a coat of arms flanked by two lions' heads. I have seen the inside of this church when I attended a classical concert held there a few years ago. I remember being impressed by the building's baroque interior. Next to the 'Convento de las Puras', is a modern apartment block - all glass and aluminium. If this building had been next to one of the more attractive churches, I would have shouted "Sacrilege". I still think the building should not have been allowed, as it is not in keeping with the architectural style of this part of Almería.

Return to the Plaza de la Catedral and make your way in a south easterly direction to the 'Iglesia Virgen del Mar'. Whenever I walk through this historic quarter of the city, I admire the colourful houses with their intricate wrought-iron window grilles, the old-fashioned lampposts and the mimosa trees. These trees provide welcome relief from the fierce Almerian sun, especially in Calle Trajano where one can sit in the shade with a drink outside one of the little cafes.

Plaza de la Virgen del Mar
The Virgen del Mar church is a good deal more attractive than the previous two although it too is often closed. It is situated in the Plaza Virgen del Mar, which is another quiet spot in the heart of the old town. Park benches and attractive trees line the little park on the side of the square. These trees, ficus retusa, are to be found in many streets in Almería, Roquetas and many other towns and villages that I have visited in the province. They usually look smart as the town councils ensure that they are regularly trimmed into a neat cylindrical shape. Another feature I like in Almería is the wrought-ironwork, not only the intricately decorated window grilles on the façades of the buildings but the lampposts which remind me of the old-fashioned lampposts I have seen in pictures of Victorian London.

Virgen del Mar

A couple of streets away, there was another church, - 'Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús'. It was closed and what's more, it was so uninteresting to look at that it is not worth talking about - so I won't! Just around the corner, was the much more attractive San Pedro church where I started my walk.

Other religious buildings in Almería:

San Roque
(near the port)

Ermita de San Anton
(near the Alcazaba)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Almería - Palacio de los Marqueses de Cabra

The Palacio de los Marqueses de Cabra is another fine example of the aristocratic mansions built in Almería in the 19th century. Economic and demographic growth meant that the upper classes had much more money to spend so they started building grand stately homes outside the old Arab quarter.

Almería Cathedral

The cathedral was built in the sixteenth century and was designed as a place of prayer and of refuge. This was because the shores of Almería were continually under attack from Turks and Berbers.

Almería Cathedral
This east facing façade of the 'Cathedral' has a relief of the Portocarro sun, the symbol of the city. 


If you want to see Morocco without actually risking life and limb there, go to Tarifa - the coast of North Africa and the Rif mountains are clearly visible from this the most southerly of towns in mainland Spain!

Seriously though, Tarifa is an interesting place to visit with many features that reflect its historic past. Its geographic location has played a big part in its history - it is the southernmost town of Europe and only 8 miles from North Africa - so it has been pretty much open to all manner of civilisations since the dawn of time.  

Tarifa got its name from a Berber called Tarif ibn Malik and, in the 10th century, under the rule of Abd-al-Rahman III, it became an important town. Its history goes much further back than that, however - archaeological discoveries have included Bronze Age burial sites. Later, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians all settled in the area but it was the Romans who actually founded Tarifa in the 1st century. And then the Moors came - in AD710 a Muslim expeditionary force crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and, led by their leader Tarif ibn Malik, they took Tarifa. It was a trial run for the full-scale invasion of Spain a year later. Several centuries of Moorish rule followed before Sancho IV of Castile captured the town from the Moslems in 1292. Since the Christian Reconquest, Tarifa has been a border town, initially with the Kingdom of Granada and later it had Berber pirates to contend with. In the 18th century it was a military enclave in the face of the English occupation of Gibraltar.

Much of Tarifa exhibits a distinctly Moorish character with its narrow, winding streets and whitewashed houses. Entry into the old quarter is through a particularly find archway - the Puerta de Jerez. There are a number of interesting religious buildings in the town - like the Gothic-Mudéjar Chapel of Santiago; the Convent of San Francisco, and the churches of Santa María and San Mateo but the most important building is Castillo de Guzman. This 10th-century medieval fortress is known as the Castle of Guzmán the Good. It was named after Alfonso Pérez Guzmán who in no way would have won the 'Father of the Year' award - apparently, he threw down his dagger to besieging Moorish forces for them to execute his son who had been held hostage. He did this rather than surrender the city to the marauding Arabs.

So the town has a fair bit of history but it is worth a visit for its sandy beaches - there are over 20 miles of them! However, Tarifa is rather windy - it is the windiest place in Europe, which makes it ideal for windsurfers and, for most of the year, the long sandy beaches and Atlantic rollers are a riot of coloured sails.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


Algeciras is a coastal town in Cádiz province. It is not the sort of place to linger unless you like industrial towns - and Arab things like mosques and mint tea! 

I have been there twice. The first time was to catch a boat to Morocco so all I saw was the quayside. The second occasion I did see more of the town but found it rather drab. It does have an attractive central square - Plaza Alta. Tiles, depicting scenes from Don Quixote, adorn the benches and walls surrounding the central fountain and cafes and bars line the perimeter of this delightful square.

Algeciras is handily placed for visits to Gibraltar and Tarifa. It is also the place to catch the train to the medieval city of Ronda - an extremely scenic journey through natural parks and past beautiful pueblos blancos.

Algeciras - Ronda train

For most people, however, Algeciras is just a stopping off place, en route to Tangier and Morocco.

more blogs by Robert Bovington... 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Calar Alto Observatory

by Robert Bovington

The province of Almería is the sunniest driest place in Spain. It also has the cleanest atmosphere in Europe and hardly any cloud making it an ideal location for installing an observatory.

Calar Alto, at an altitude of 2,168 metres (7,113 feet), is the highest mountain in Almería and was, therefore chosen as the location for an astronomical observatory. Called, appropriately enough, the Calar Alto Observatory, it is owned and operated jointly by Max-Planck institute for astronomy and the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalucía.

It was officially opened in July 1975 with the commissioning of its 1.2 metre telescope. The site has developed due to the strong ties between the German and Spanish owners and 4 more telescopes have been installed - the largest being 3.5 metres.

The Calar Alto mountaintop is situated in the Sierra de los Filabres, north of the town of Gérgal. It is a pleasant place to walk on a summer's day, as the temperature is several degrees cooler than down on the coast.

Robert Bovington

more blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


The Alhambra sits at the top of the highest wooded hill in the city of Granada. Not only that - this red-walled palace has the fairytale backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Well, for most of the year the mountains are snow-capped - in August, they are somewhat er... rock-capped!

If the view from afar is spectacular, the interior of the Alhambra is simply stupendous! There is so much of artistic merit to see. However, there are four main areas to explore: the Alcazaba, the Palace of Charles V, the Casa Real or Royal Palace and the Generalife Gardens.

Lion Courtyard
The central nucleus of the Alhambra is the Nasrid Palaces. Visitors, who have already admired other parts of this magnificent fortress, are spellbound when they encounter the magnificence of these palaces. If you do not have time to explore the Alhambra in totality, you simply must allow time to visit the Nasrid Palaces! They are built around three courtyards - the Golden Room, the Myrtle Courtyard and the Lion Courtyard.

The Hall of the Ambassadors needs special mention as it is the largest and was the grand reception room. The throne of the sultan was placed opposite the entrance. It was here that Christopher Columbus received Isabel and Ferdinand's support to sail to the New World. 

The delightful Generalife garden not only has an avenue of cypress trees, terraced gardens, clipped hedges and grottos, but also fountains and a long water channel (acequia) with water jets surrounded by all manner of plants and flowers. It is a delightful place. No wonder composer Manuel de Falla wrote a piece of music about it!

Robert Bovington

Driving in Spain

Driving in Spain is sometimes a pleasurable experience and sometimes a pain.
Driving around the Spanish countryside is an absolute delight - EEC funding has enabled many new roads to be built. These carriageways are usually long, wide, straight and devoid of traffic. Spain is a much less densely populated country than the UK and on many an occasion I have driven a 100-kilometre route and hardly seen another vehicle.
Driving in towns, however, is mostly an irritating experience.
Most Spanish people I have met have been most charming but once they get behind the wheel they are mostly ignorant peasants - or at least the ones I have encountered in Roquetas and Almería are! They break most of the rules of the road. They don't appear to know what indicators are for, they accelerate at crossings and roundabouts and some of them drive three abreast down a two-lane highway. Many male Spaniards are very macho when they drive - no matter what speed I travel at they nearly always try to overtake. I sometimes wonder whether they are trying to compensate for some inadequacy - like a small dick!
Most do not stop at crossings. On one occasion, after about six cars failed to slow down let alone stop at a pedestrian crossing, I had had enough. I strode determinedly onto the crossing whilst looking at the driver as if to say "You jolly well stop you bastard!" although I was ready to rapidly withdraw if he didn't. He didn't. He pulled into the outside lane and drove round me!
Some drivers here do stop at crossings - I suspect that they are British motorists. However, we still have to be very wary when this happens otherwise a maniac driver in the far lane might catapult us into the air. This happened to a British resident of our apartment block a couple of years ago. He attempted to cross the busy Calle Alicun, which is only a few hundred metres from our building. A motorist ploughed into our neighbour as he crossed the far lane using the crossing. He died in hospital a few days later.
Spanish drivers are lazy bastards. They double park, park on crossings, park on the pavement - park anywhere to save walking ten metres. There is a very nice new theatre near our apartment in Roquetas. Recently a spanking new, large, free car park was built alongside. Most days it is empty and only gets full on market days or when there is a show on. Opposite the theatre are two cafes. Quite often a number of cars double-park outside the cafes whilst the car park opposite was empty! But I suppose, in mitigation, the drivers were afraid to cross the road in case yet another maniacal Spanish driver catapulted them into the air!
Everywhere I go I encounter cars with dents and scratches and crumpled bumpers. Palm trees and road signs lean precariously in testimony to the driving habits of the Spanish driver.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. As I previously mentioned, it is a joy to drive along Spanish country roads. Another good thing about living here is that I no longer encounter 4x4s driven by dolled up females delivering their sprogs to school every morning. I reckon they drive these large 'off road' vehicles to avoid doing themselves damage when they bump into things!

Safety First for Pedestrians in Spain
1. If you are able-bodied and wish to cross a road, look both ways and if there are no vehicles in sight it may be safe to cross.
2. If you are able-bodied and wish to cross a two lane in each direction highway with no central reservation using a crossing - only cross if cars are but specks in the distance.
3. As item 2 but with a central reservation - look left and then cross if cars are only specks in the distance and then only as far as the central reservation. Repeat for further lane but first look right.
4. If you are able-bodied wishing to cross at a pedestrian crossing and a vehicle in the nearest lane stops for you - tentatively start walking but wait, retreat, make a dash for it or proceed gracefully depending on the demeanour of the motorists in the farthest lane.
5. If you are able-bodied and wish to cross a road but not at a crossing - you are taking your life in your hands - you'll probably be ok in the country but watch out for snakes and wild boar!
6. If you are not able-bodied - best to stay indoors and order meals-on-wheels!

Robert Bovington
Roquetas de Mar