Portsmouth Hispanic Society

Don Quixote, here of Spanish culture

Something a little different

Many of our Members are well travelled and here we list just a few places, or events, that we have enjoyed and think that others might like to know about - places and events that might not be on the usual tourist itineraries.

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La Alberca is a village of about 1,000 people way off the beaten track in the province of Salamanca in the autonomous community of Castilla y León. It lies about 200 Km pretty much due west of Madrid and is about 40 Km from the Portuguese border.

The area is very rural and is notable for extensive stretches of chestnut and oak trees - both somewhat different to the British versions.

La Alberca's streets are narrow and mostly cobbled; many of the house have overhanging upper storeys.

The chestnut trees are used in the traditional local architecture. The ground floors of the houses are built of the local stone; indeed in some cases the houses incorporate the living rock. The upper stories are chestnut timber-framed with the voids between the timbers filled with stones of about 10cm diameter. There is a considerable annual range of temperature and in the summer, the chestnut timbers contract, allowing some movement of air and thus cooling ventilation of the house.

As in Switzerland and other countries, farm animals were kept in the ground floor in winter, providing heating (and no doubt interesting smells) for the rest of the house. The first floor would be living quarters with the kitchen on the floor above. Hams would be cured on the very top floor.

The village has ancient bars which still retain their medieval, dark interiors and there is the ubiquitous Plaza Mayor, with a plaque commemorating the visit of King Alphonse XIII in 1922.

Oak trees means acorns - bellotas - and in Spain bellotas mean pigs - pata negras, the best sort - and pigs means ham.

It is a tradition in many of the villages of the region to let loose a pig in the village street to be fed by the inhabitants. After a few days the pig is raffled off and then meets its untimely end. Sometimes the slaughtering of the pig is something of a ritual - "la matanza" - accompanied by fife and drum, dancing and "una copita". Not a ceremony for the faint-hearted, but if you want to eat the ham .....

One explanation for the widespread popularity of ham, especially cured ham, in Spain goes back to the fifteenth century; the best way to prove to the Inquisition you were a devout Christian and not Jewish or Muslim was to eat ham. Indeed in La Alberca some of the houses have a hook outside the door from which a ham could be ostentatiously displayed.

The Inquisition operated from one of the houses in the village; the badge of the Inquisition - a cross, a sword and a palm - is carved into the lintel of the doorway.

The nearby village of Morgarraz has its typical complement of shops selling ham and derivatives - chorizo, morcilla, chistorra etc.

It also has an unusual feature. On the facades of almost all the houses in the older part of the village are displayed large photographic portraits.

The origin of this apparently goes back to the introduction of photo identity cards in Spain, when touring photographers would visit villages to take photos of all the inhabitants. In Morgarraz they decided to put enlargements up on their houses.

It's all a long long way from the Costa del Sol.
Mike English

Ribadesella 2011 - Josie & Bob Wheeler

On our camping trip through Spain in June 2011, we camped in Asturias for several days in the hills above Ribadesella. The name means "banks of the Sella river". The little town lies just south of the Atlantic coast on the Sella estuary, between the foothills of the Picos de Europa and two large wooded promontories either side of the mouth of the river.

The town has everything one could wish for, proper beaches as well as Cornwall style rocky coves, canoeing, sailing, sea and river fishing, yet in less than an hour you are right up in the western Picos with the walkers and birdwatchers. There is a fresh fish market on the quay side in the early morning and plenty of small shops, restaurants and tapas bars. The town is also very proud of its annual international canoeing race, El Descenso del Sella, (the descent of the Sella) which takes place in August.

Looking southwards from the Quay side up towards the older part of the  town 

Southwards from the quay towards the old town.

Looking up the river. 

Looking up the river.

Looking north west down the estuary towards the sea. 

Looking north west towards the sea.

Monument to its famous canoeists

Monument to its famous canoeists

Daroca, Saragossa, Aragon - Dave McVittie and his wife

Daroca is a city and municipality in the province of Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain, situated to the south of the city of Zaragoza. It is the center of a judicial district. It is located in the basin of Calatayud, in the valley of the rio Jiloca. The N-234 highway passes through Daroca.

We found Daroca returning back to Santander, from San Javier in Murcia, by a more northerly route that was avoiding toll roads and Madrid.

Searching for a hotel off the route on Google we discovered the Hotel Cien Balocones, which sounded wonderful (and was). But we had not expected the town we found.

Daroca is on the N-234, a lovely road that goes through a beautiful valley full of small vineyards. When you turn off the N-234 in to the town you find an enormous gateway through town's encircling wall. We arrived early enough to have a wander round and to take in the little streets of the old Jewish Quarter, La Fuente, and the wonderful tiled rooves.

The hotel was very modern inside and dinner was served in the courtyard. Much to our delight, the air conditioning was silent. Yes, silent. We slept in noiseless, cool.

Our aim is to return as the area has many way-marked walks.


Fiesta de San Isidro, Ardales, Andalusia - Bruce

The festival of San Isidro is held annually on the Sunday closest to 15th May.

This picture was taken in May 2006 at Ardales, a small town northwest of Malaga, by Bruce. He says " We were on our way home at the end of a holiday and we made a short stopover in this town for a breather, on our way to the Malaga airport.

It happened to be the annual fiesta dedicated to St Isidore and was quite obviously a small-town affair: but there was a collective beano at an open space not far from the road and the giant paella was part of it. We were invited to stay and partake but we had a plane to catch!

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