12 September 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Jaen from the Rooftop

Jaen city from the rooftop bar La Novena. See the enormous cathedral in front of the mountains in the background.

08 September 2016

Hotel Castillo de Monda

It wasn't my first trip to Monda, a white town in the mountains behind Marbella, but this time I made it to the top of the castle.

On my previous visit we'd headed up the hill, I don't know whether it's a man's thing or just my hubby, but show him a mountain and he wants to go to the top. So we did. We slogged up the long, winding driveway to the castle only to find it wasn't open for the beer we wanted or the water we needed.

This time it was under new management, newly refurbished, we were driving and we had a reservation so I knew we'd get inside the door. And what doors they are. First through the plant-bedecked main entry gate which appeared to have a bedroom above it, through a pretty patio with inviting tables, chairs and parasols for coffee or a beer but without the lovely views from higher up.

The fabulous entrance door, hefty and wooden, opens onto a charming reception area with gorgeous blue/gree, brown/white antique Moroccan patterned floor tiles. Ancient old doors and antique tile floors are a big passion of mine, I was already won over.

The hotel/castle was built on and into rock and the hotel has some lovely details and corners within the hotel to remind you, then when you are up on the sixth floor the views fall away on both sides and you really are king of the castle looking down upon creation and Monda town.

Our fifth floor room with four-poster bed, views over the town and the distant mountains kept the cameras busy for a while, so too did the huge bathroom with more of those incredible  old tiles, a huge-for-two jacuzzi bath and a great shower. What impressed me most was the great toiletries but not in small take-away or throw-away samples but large bottles, fixed in the shower, to cut down on waste and plastics.

Once we'd photographed our room, before making a mess which we seem to do very quickly, making them most unphotogenic, we headed upstairs to the sixth floor bar, restaurant, lovely patio, enormous views and rooftop pool.

The charming Moorish decor bar leads out to a pretty plant-filled patio with little corner tables and different level areas inviting you to partake of the air, views and a beer or two. We succumbed.

With limited time and the welcome beer finished we had to test the pool before dinner. I loved the swimming pool, when all I could see was mountains and sky what an enjoyable, relaxing view and a salt pool (more eco-friendly points) made a very welcome change from chlorine.

Dinner was one of the best meals I've had in Spain. We're used to tapas and sharing but we had our own plate and choice, all different from each others, but we still had to share - well taste and test. It was all very good indeed, we were too busy looking, eating and sampling a very good wine to take any photos - sorry.

The Hotel Castillo de Monda is an all round great hotel, often you get good views, or service but mediocre food or not very impressive surroundings - this one comes tops in all of those and eco-friendly too. Is there more than this? I was very content in my role of Queen of the castle for the night. Would I go back? Definitely, perhaps with a little more time for a spa treatment or two.

I was a guest for the night at Hotel Castillo de Monda but the dinner and wine bill was ours!

Hotel Castillo de Monda website or see the Castillo on Booking.com for prices and instant reservations.

This hotel will soon be added to my OnlySpain ~ Boutique Hotel collection

28 August 2016

Alto Genal Valley in the Mountains near Ronda

If you prefer the mountains to the sea, nature to shops and have ever been to and liked the Alpujarras, the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in Granada province, dotted with white hillside villages, you will like the Serrania de Ronda.

The area includes mountain ranges and no-end of unspoilt white villages and a blue one too. The area of the Alto Genal Valley near the famous bridge and town of Ronda was a new discovery for hubby and I.

On a recent escape from home in the Spain's main olive-growing province of Jaen we headed south into the sun and wild mountains. This is fabulous walking country, its main crop is sweet chestnuts and a smattering of olive trees, nothing like the quantity we'd left behind. Our home in the Sierra Sur de Jaen as the name suggests is mountainous – Sierra meaning 'mountain range' but nowhere near as huge, wild and stunning as what we encountered.

It was work that took us away, checking out Hotel Los Castaños for OnlySpain, but I have trouble feeling like I'm working when the sun's shining, it's so peaceful all around, the views go on forever and there's a beer in hand.

The Alto Genal Valley is a collection of seven undiscovered mountain villages close to the Costa del Sol but world's apart in many ways. The area has been lived in since around 40,000 BC, cave paintings from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages can be seen in the incredible caves Cueva de la Pileta, an incredible visit. Don't forget walking shoes or trainers and a jumper if you go, even in the heat of summer.

After the Stone Age dwellers, Iberians, Phoenicians, Celts and Romans trod these mountains followed by the Visigoths until the Moors from North Africa crossed into southern Spain and it became Al-Andalus. The name is thought to have come from Vandals one of the tribes that invaded the area now called Andalucia in Spanish and Andalucia in English.

Evidence of these people can be seen throughout the village with narrow streets and inward looking houses in family blocks, street names and the remaining Moorish arch.

Life not only stands still here but also diminishes as young people have to leave to find work. Once the countryside would have employed them all, now a lack of jobs means a lack of the younger generation too, which rather sadly adds to the charm and peace of these villages.

17 August 2016

A Writers Retreat, Barcelona, Spain

Last week was a couple of first time experiences for me, both really good. It was my first writers retreat and my first trip to Barcelona (in twenty years of living in Spain.) Both were great. I drove 2.15 hours to Malaga airport, flew to Barcelona and arrived at the hotel on the manic La Rambla as the others were meeting to begin the writing retreat.

That first part I didn't enjoy! I live in peaceful countryside and arrived to a multitud of people, noise, traffic and a group of women I didn't know - scary.

I've never liked meeting new people. In particular having to introduce myself with everyone looking at me. I might sound like a teenager. I'm not and haven't been for 34 years. Do the maths.

Taking a Break - Parc Güell

By the end of four nights, five days of writing, sharing, laughing, exploring, wining, dining and the odd tear I'd had the most amazing time and experience.

The 'girls' were great, we were a small, international group. We had and gave lots of encouragement, drank plenty of wine, saw a fair bit of Gaudi and did some kilometres pavement pounding. Now I feel more than ready and confident to do it again. It helped, encouraged and animated me as a writer but also, as a shy person with baggage, it helped me grow and mature from that unsure teenager into someone who feels happier in her older, saggier, baggier skin.

Have you been on a writers retreat?

Would you like to but are confident enough?

Please comment and share your thoughts or experiences or if you'd like to ask any questions you can find my email on the About page.

Read my article written on the plane on the way home from the Pink Pangea Writer Retreat - High and Low

15 August 2016

Monday Morning Photo - The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

This week it's Monday Morning Photos! It was so hard just choosing four from Gaudi's incredible, stunning Sagrada Familia or Holy Family church in Barcelona my first visit, but not my last.

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

See the Monday Morning Photo list.

08 August 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Olive Oil Museum, Baeza

Workings with (stuffed) mule at the fascinating Olive Oil Mill/Museum - El Museo de la Cultura del Olivo de la Hacienda La Laguna near Baeza in Jaen.

El Museo de la Cultura del Olivo de la Hacienda La Laguna, Olive Oil Museum

See the Monday Morning Photo List.

01 August 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Ubeda, UNESCO Renaissance City

One of the many lovely buildings in Renaissance Ubeda, a city I grow to like more and more on each visit.

28 July 2016

Comares - the Highest and Prettiest White Village in Axarquia, Malaga

Comares, around an hour by car from Malaga airport, is one of the highest (703m) and prettiest white villages in the province of Malaga. Located in the foothills of the Montes de Malaga mountains it is one of the 31 villages that make up the area called Axarquía.

Our drive, from home in the north of Andalucia, brought us to Comares the longest and windiest but most breathtaking way. Comares appears and disappears with every twist and turn of the road and the many hairpin bends as it's perched on a rocky outcrop with stunning views all around.

Our entrance to the village was blocked as cars were being kept out ready for the Fiesta Verdiales which unfortunately for us was the next day and we had to leave early. A stroll up the steep streets revealed balconies to rival Ronda with far-reaching views down to the Mediterranean Sea at Velez-Malaga. Reaching the top the pretty plaza festooned in fluttering yellow/red and green/white flags also revealed our abode for the night - El Molino de los Abuelos.

This gorgeous, ancient olive oil mill, although I don't for the life of me understand why an olive mill was built at the top of a steep
hill, is charmingly, warpingly, lovely. Full of pots, plants, dark wooden beams, cobbled patios and in the main room, now a restaurant, the original olive oil press and machinery is still intact. There's also a bodega - the storage rooms with the ceramic storage jars and all the old tools and equipment decorating every spare spot, a museum in itself.

Our pretty little bedroom was one of only six delightful rooms, we left our bags had a quick refresh and went down to explore more. My camera constantly in hand as the hotel opened to a lovely patio area with it's own little balcony and large view with a refreshing breeze and even more welcome cold beer.

As usual we had arrived later than planned so instead of exploring we dined in. The menu, service and food was very good, we sat in fading daylight then moonlight, candle lit, with the mountains silhouetted and twinkling lights of Torre del Mar, 24 km away on the coast, we both said we'd go back - but we probably won't as there are so many other places to explore!

Before breakfast, with cameras in hands, we watched the morning light change on the mountains and the mist lift from the main balcony then turned to explore the village. An abundance of ceramic and tile plaques informed us about some of its history dating back to the third century. We followed tile footprints around the charming narrow streets with vestiges of its Moorish past spilling out from tiny viewing points, and plazas culminating at the castle.

Once one of the main defenses for Omar Ben Hafsun and protection for the ruins found on the Mazmullar plateau about four kilometres away. Two towers from the town wall still remain and the castle and Arab water storage at the highest point provide fabulous views - to the south olive and almond groves cover the rolling mountains and to the north a more dramatic mountainous skyline.

We left Comares sadly but pleased to have discovered its charms and wound down some more narrowish roads with stunning views until rounding one hairpin bend produced a simultaneous 'wow' as the road appeared to drive directly into the sea. A satisfied hubby thoroughly enjoyed driving until I had to ask to swap as my stomach wasn't keeping up with the twisting, turning road and rather unusally I was glad to see the main A7 coast road and civilisation coming closer.

See the Monday Morning Photo of Comares

Or OnlySpain my collection of Boutique Hotels in Spain which will soon include Molino de los Abuelos.

25 July 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Comares Spanish White Village View

I'd never before been to the area of Axarquia let alone one of the highest white village, Comares. Go, the views are amazing...

.. and the roads too! This photo is from one of the many view points looking north -ish, looking south is stunning too.

Read the post - Comares - Prettiest and Highest White Village in Malaga Province

18 July 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Ronda Bridge, Cliff and Drop

The Bridge, cliff-top houses and the sheer drop is just one of the sites that make Ronda a fascinating, historical town worthy of a few days or in my case a few trips.

Other great places to visit if in Ronda:

To stay Hotel Los Castanos in one of the nearby white villages

Setenil de las Bodegas my favourite and one of the most fascinating White Villages with houses built on, into and on top of rock.

See the Monday Morning Photo list for inspiration

11 July 2016

Monday Morning Photo - 4x4 Land Rover Tour in Granada Province

Some of the stunning scenery from a fabulous 4x4 excursion with Sports Adventure and Garnata Tours covering mountain tracks and dry river beds in the mountains around Guadix, Granada.

See my GRXperience Day One Overview post

07 July 2016

An Overview - GRXperience in Granada

I've been to Granada several times but considering it's only 1.5 hours from home that's very few. I feel fortunate and honoured to have taken part in the GRXperience to promote Granada both city and province. Now after many fabulous experiences in the few days I was there I've a lot to tell!

So this is a brief peep into day one of my experience, each part of it will be written about individually and that might take some time!

Day One -  Around Guadix

Arriving in Granada city, we (the group of Social Media experts and Travel Bloggers) were taken to Guadix a lovely city in itself but with stunning surrroundings and a long-history of cave-dwellers.

Guadix from Hot Air Balloon

Our first stop (and my night's stay) was the beautiful 16th century Mudejar-style working olive oil mill, Almazara de Paulenca, for a superb lunch in the working olive oil mill restaurant, which we also had a tour of and saw the ancient machinery in action. It also hosts flamenco nights with the owner/guitarist playing and a dancer in the restaurant, something I plan on going back to see.

Almazara de Paulenca

After a dunking in the pool  a 'slow trekking' experience in Balneario de Alicun with fabulous scenery, learning about the history and discovering ancient stone built tomb - dolmens - of which Andalucia has several sites.

Balneario de Alicun


Then to dinner or should I say a banquet, laid out on the grassy area next to the outdoor natural swimming pool, fit for a wedding with local dishes and wines provided by Catering La Azucarera and still the day hadn't ended.

Dinner under the stars - Catering La Azucarera

Azimuth a company offering science tourism and star gazing were on hand with an incredible knowledge and huge telescope bringing the nights sky into our sight and (a little more ) our understanding.

Late to bed and early to rise makes for a long and exciting day two....... coming soon.

All photos are mine except the last one of the stargazing experience which is copyright +Ana Santos.

Stay tuned for Day Two and some of the amazing day trips and activities in Granada province.

Mirador de San Nicolas

4x4 Land Rover Driving in the mountains

04 July 2016

Monday Morning Photo - The Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada

There's one place along with the Alhambra that you have to visit in Granada - The Mirador de San Nicolas which has plenty of charm and huge views.

This photo was taken about 10.15 am if it had been 10.15 at night it would be heaving  yet somehow when the daylight fades and the illumination in the Alhambra twinkles it converts from a beautiful view to a magical, mysterious fairytale setting.

Don't think for a minute that this is Granada, it's an incredible, haunting city, one that draws me back again and again. Yes, the Alhambra needs visiting, so does San  Nicolas, but take time, take it slow and lose yourself in the streets, the history and its people. Granada cannot be done in a day.

27 June 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Burgalimar Castle, Baños de la Encina

Burgalimar Castle is enormous and oval in shape a superb example of Al-Andalus architecture in Baños de la Encina, Jaen a lovely small town.

Where to stay in Jaen province to explore? My holiday home Casa El Reguelo of course!

25 June 2016

Hotel Los Castaños in Cartajma an Unspoilt White Village

Leaving the hustle and bustle of the lovely town of Ronda behind we felt ourselves slow down, breathing in the mountain air and relaxing. Slowing down because of the narrowing, winding roads. Breathing in the crisp, clean mountain air with the car windows open. The hugeness of the mountain range - Serrania de Ronda unfolded in all directions until we were immersed within 360 degrees of wild and unspoilt views, with the odd cluster of houses forming small, white villages as smudged dots on the landscape.

Then we found our destination - Cartajama, one of the 'pueblos blancos' in the Alto Genal Valley, and the lovely, little Hotel Los Castaños. We'd been advised to phone on reaching Cartajma but decided on a nosey-mosey around the charming streets with balcony and views to rival Ronda itself. Finding parking we grabbed our bag and arrived at a gorgeous old wooden door (I guess you know by now I love wooden doors) surrounded by plants.

With a warm welcome from resident owner Di we were shown around the lovely, cosy Hotel and I was instantly itching to take photos, whereas hubby was happy to siesta-test the bed. Peace reigned both outside and in. In the mid-afternoon I sat on the lovely roof terrace (between leaping up and taking photos) and heard nothing - not a thing. No cars or motorbikes, dogs or (loud, as they ususally are) Spanish voices.

Once I'd had a photo session, written a bit and thought hubby had had quite long enough as a bed-tester I made my presence known in our beautifully decorated, mountain-view bedroom and put the kettle on for him. The click didn't bring him round (my only grumble - a whistling kettle to wake husbands needed!)

We then set out to explore the next sugar-cube white village visible from our quaint terrace, Parauta. Another set of time-warped houses and village streets and again it was like a ghost town, nobody around. Charm oozes here and it's the first time I've ever photographed a rubbish bin - charming isn't it? And it's locked? Just in case you fancy pinching the rubbish?

Returning to  Los Castaños, after a welcome, roomy and solar-heated shower and more than ready for refreshment we went down to the large lounge, honesty bar, comfy sofas and a host of games (including some lovely wooden ones) and books. After a beer and losing four, stylish-wooden  games of Connect Four  we were joined by some other couples and led through to the open-plan restaurant with French doors and a plant-filled Moorish patio to rival the best of the Cordoba competition ones.

Dinner, cooked by Di, was very good indeed, a great wine list (or gin list if that's your tipple) leisurely served. Everything really was tiptop and beautifully cooked. What more can I say - Hotel Los Castaños is a treat. Welcoming, homely, well-decorated, eco-friendly, gorgeous surroundings, comfortable rooms, and great food. And then there was the breakfast spread....

Hotel Los Castaños - A lovely hotel, smart, small and personal.

Visit the Hotel Los Castaños website or see it on OnlySpain ~ Boutique Hotels.

See the Monday Morning Photos

 - Cave Paintings in Malaga that we visited while at Los Castaños

-  Cartajima, Serrania de Ronda