Intense, frenetic, bombastic, colourful, erotic, claustrophobic, creative and fun, the Notting Hill Carnival is an assault on all of the senses. Even if the sun isn't out, you'll feel like you have been transplanted into a heady fusion of Caribbean exhibitionism and restrained Georgian architecture. Leaving can be difficult given the crush of the crowds and the number of Tube stations that close for the occasion.
Wednesday 15 August 2018
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
Tuesday 14 August 2018
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
Sunday 12 August 2018
Saturday 11 August 2018
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
It costs a couple of euros and quite a few calories to climb the 207 steps of Torre del Micalet, the iconic octagonal bell tower of Valencia's cathedral. From the 50 metre high terrace, there are captivating 360 degree views over the city's rooftops, encompassing everything from the medieval gateways to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. The 13th century bell tower takes its name from the massive clock bell, el Micalet, which is reputed to weigh over 24,000 pounds. Although you may have to queue for a few minutes on the way up and down, climbing the Torre del Micalet will give you a good sense of Valencia and its fine architecture.
Dating from 1591, the Puente de la Mar was closed to traffic in 1933 by the architect Javier Goerlich, who also built the broad access stairways, according to the Valencia City Guide, which notes the bridge has ten pointed arches spanning great cutwaters. The statutes are of the Virgin Mary and San Pascual Bailon.
Housed in a spectacular Art Nouveau building, replete with domes, stain glass and elaborate iron work, the Mercado Central is a treat for all the senses. The seafood, fruit, vegetables, olives, meat, drinks and other wares give off pungent smells, while the enormous variety of produce on display will tempt the tastebuds.
Wrapped around the heart of Valencia like a comfort blanket, the vast Turia Park occupies the bed of a river that was diverted after disastrous floods in the 1950s. Complete with cycle lanes, extensive sports facilities, ponds, playgrounds, striking architecture and lush greenery, this is the place where Valencians can escape the claustrophobia of the city and get active. For tourists, the park offers the perfect cycle route from the medieval core of Valencia down to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences with its extraordinary architecture and shallow lakes. On route, you'll pass under a succession of ancient stone bridges. It's just a shame the Turia Park doesn't quite reach the coast, meaning cyclists need to navigate some traffic to arrive at the port. At the other end, the park bleeds into shrub land that eventually reaches the rural landscape west of Valencia.
Thursday 9 August 2018
In the heart of the city, the Plaza de la Virgen is a picturesque square paved in creamy marble and surrounded by some of Valencia's most charismatic historic buildings. Fully pedestrianised, the square is home to the elaborate Cathedral of Santa María, built in the Valencian Gothic style, the seventeenth century Basilica of the Virgen de los Desamparados, with its extraordinary blue-tiled dome, and the handsome Palace of the Generalitat, the seat of the Valencian government.
Although it can be packed with tourists, is excessively commercial and is open to cars, Plaça de la Reina has charm, thanks largely to the presence of the splendid cathedral at one end, a green square in the centre, the many handsome nineteenth century town houses and views of the ornate tower of the Esglèsia de Santa Caterina.
Completed at the end of the fourteenth century, the gigantic gothic Torres de Serranos was once one of 12 gateways in Valencia's city walls, which were pulled down in the mid nineteenth century. Today, the Torres de Serranos is both an imposing landmark and a vantage point from which to survey the modern city. Only one other gateway - the Torres de Quart - survives.
Housed in a fifteenth century palace, the National Ceramics Museum has a resplendent rococo-style alabaster entrance dating from 1740. In fact, the whole facade is a riot of cherubs, busts, horns and swirling fruit, foliage and flowers. Although the museum houses an impressive collection of exhibits spanning the centuries, many tourists seemingly like to stand outside and take selfies.
Wednesday 8 August 2018
Tuesday 7 August 2018
Monday 6 August 2018
Labels: More Catalonia
Cutting through shady pine woods and traversing rocky inclines, the undulating cliff path in the Parc Natural Del Montgri makes for a fine walk. Although it can take you perilously close to the cliff edge, the views out to sea are sublime and the park is a welcome respite from the crowded beaches in August.
Saturday 4 August 2018
Friday 3 August 2018
Close to the French border and the former stomping ground of Salvador Dalí, the white-washed seaside town of Cadaqués retains a remote and bohemian vibe distinct from that of the rest of the Costa Brava. A picturesque port surrounded by hills, the town has both charm and character. With bougainvillea in abundance and hints of the surrealist style favoured by Dalí, Cadaqués is an antidote to the bland beach resorts that plague parts of the Med. Although tourists are here in force in August, the extended bay with its pebbly beach seems to absorb them easily enough, making the town a pleasant place to explore.
Offering a generous three-course menu for 25 euros, including wine and water, Restaurante Origens serves traditional Catalan and Spanish fare made from very fresh ingredients. To start, the anchovies on tomato bread is exceptional, while the ham and melon is also a good choice. Among the main courses, the fideuà is flavoursome and filling. Although Origens' decor is a bit dated, there is a sea view, the air con is effective and the service is smooth, particularly early evening which can be quiet. And you might get to sample some delicious caviar as an appetiser. 8/10