Sunday, 16 September 2018

Cycling Happy Valley, Old Coulsdon, Surrey

Riding from the south up Ditches Lane, you climb out of a patch of woodland into the uplifting open space that is Farthing Downs in the Happy Valley Park. From here, the short ride down to Coulsdon is both fast, except for the odd cattle grid, and picturesque. Far in the distance, you can just make out the clutch of skyscrapers in the City of London.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Casa rural Finca el Tossal, Bolulla, Alacanti, Spain

A secluded boutique hotel tucked away in the hills north west of Benidorm, Casa rural Finca el Tossal combines sweeping mountain views with superb home cooking and tasteful decor. Although the access road is steep and narrow, it can be navigated successfully with care and you are very unlikely to encounter a vehicle coming the other way.  Boasting four-poster beds and wrought iron balconies, the seven rustic rooms are comfortable and well-equipped, if you don't need a fridge. The swimming pool and jacuzzi are also well designed and maintained, while breakfast and dinner on the terrace are memorable both for the modern European food and the rural vistas, marred only slightly by the plastic sheeting obscuring many of the local crops. You can just about see high-rise Benidorm shimmering in the sun. Although breakfast is basically a cold buffet, the cheese, meats, fruit and bread are fresh, and the good coffee is plentiful. The four course dinner (about 30 euros a head including tax) is pre-set and takes time, but each dish is lovingly prepared and presented. The reasonably-priced wine and beer is also available from the honesty bar during the day. However, the proprietor can seem over-protective and a car is a must - the rugged and rubble-strewn locale means walking or cycling from the hotel isn't a very appealing option. Still, Casa rural Finca el Tossal makes a relaxing place to stay for a few days, if you just want to chill. 7/10

Xàtiva, Spain

Just 50 km south of the city of Valencia, Xàtiva is well worth a day trip, especially if the weather is cool and you fancy climbing the steep steps and rocky paths up to the sprawling medieval castle overlooking the town. In the middle of August, you might prefer to stay in the shade around the elegant streets flanking the handsome Collegiate Basilica, which was once a cathedral. There are several marked trails taking in a clutch of fine churches and mansions, close to Xàtiva's cafe and tree-lined beating heart. In mid-August, you might stumble on a fiesta, featuring some very loud motorbike racing.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Altea, Spain

Although it is within easy reach of Benidorm, Altea is a world away from the high rise, low rent resort to the south. Cobbled streets lined with white-washed houses, sporting wrought iron balconies, span out from the central square, making their way down to a fairly smart restaurant-lined seafront, complete with palm trees and tasteful paving stones. In some of the narrow streets, blossom and canvas paintings add a splash of colour. Although the beach itself is full of pebbles, the water can be clear and inviting. The square is dominated by the La Mare de Déu del Consol with its exotic octagonal blue-tiled domes. Altea conjures up North Africa.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Unoom Restaurante, La Nucia, Alicante, Spain

A space age restaurant decked out entirely in white splashed with multi-coloured lighting, Unoom has floor-to-ceiling glass windows affording sweeping views of the hilltop town of La Nucia and the surrounding mountains. The food is more conservative (paellas and fideuas are prominent), but is surprisingly keenly priced, generous and tasty. Although the service is warm and jovial, it can also be painfully slow. Moreover, you may have to park in the bowels of a cramped underground car park. Still, for the patient, Unoom's vantage point makes it a convivial place to chill as the sun goes down. 8/10

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Guadalest, Alicante, Spain

Perched dramatically on a rocky outcrop and with winding cobbled streets, an atmospheric castle and sweeping views over the reservoir below, Guadalest is undeniably picturesque. But in August it is also over-run with tourists turning the heart of the village into a gaudy honeypot. Moreover, parking can be a problem, even at 7pm in the evening.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia

A complex of space age buildings a few miles from Valencia's medieval core, the City of Arts and Sciences was built in the decade between 1996 and 2005. The white-washed avant-garde architecture, the shallow lakes and the wide paved areas give the area a sci-fi feel. Each of the five major structures has a different character, with the striking Hemisferic resembling a giant eye, and the brooding Museo de las Ciencias an angular animal carcass.  The elegant Umbracle is a giant arched greenhouse, while the Parque Oceanografico features water lily-shaped buildings overlooking its aquariums. Finally, the aerodynamic Palacio de Las Artes looks like a track cycling helmet. Together, they make a remarkable composition. 

Friday, 10 August 2018

Buskers outside Catedral De Valencia

Playing Abba melodies on wind instruments in the mid-day August heat, a group of buskers outside Valencia Cathedral draws quite a crowd.