September 08, 2011 - September 29, 2011
                      Spain - the Basque region, Pyrenees, 
            and the Balearic islands of Majorca and Menorca
     Here we are returning to Spain for our 5th visit in the last 11 years, this time to the Basque region and the Pyrenees of northern Spain, followed by the islands of Majorca and Menorca.

Sept 08 / 09, 2011 - Halifax to Ottawa to Frankfurt to Bilbao to Casa Rural Lurdeia       

     We flew from Halifax to Ottawa, overnight from Ottawa to Frankfurt, and finally from Frankfurt to Bilbao where we landed at 1:00 pm after which we picked up our rental car and headed into the rolling hills of the Basque region.


The route to Casa Rural Lurdeia should have taken us in theory under an hour, but there are no straight roads in this area.  Rather narrow rural roads ascending and descending the hilly terrain, with limited signage.  We may have taken the odd left instead of a right or vica-versa.  

The drive was very picturesque through small villages and past centuries old churches.  Eventually we were successful (after finding a narrow country lane) to arrive at Lurdeia.

     Although when we stayed in 2011 Casa Rural Lurdeia had not been recognized to the extent it subsequently has.  Since that time Lurdeia has received numerous awards, including the TripAdvisor 'Travelers Choice' prize each year since 2013 and in 2017 the ninth best hotel in the world, eighth in Europe and first in Spain in terms of quality-price, according to TripAdvisor.  It then got better when in 2019 the rural house of Bermeo Lurdeia was rated No. 1 in Spain, No. 1 in Europe, and No. 1 in the world on the basis of quality-price hotel (economic).

Josu, Alberto, Tomas, Rober and Inake own and operate this small boutique hotel, welcoming guests to the tradition of their predecessors in the Basque country. 

"The sea and the moon bear witness to this. When the sun does not show itself and shine with little force, it will be my fire that keeps you warm"
     Given the beautiful rural location, the distance to a restaurant and in need of sleep we decided to pick up some meat, cheese, bread and wine at a nearby market, and returned to Lurdeia where we sat at the picnic table enjoying our wine, food and the views across the countryside to the bay.

Drying red peppers along our drive.                                     The church bell at Iglesia de San Martin de Meakaur.

La Anteiglesiaa de Meakaur.

Casa Rural Hotel Lurdeia.

Our room, a double with a separate sitting room - simple but functional with great views from the small balcony.

In spite of being September there were colourful flowers throughout the property.

Gorgeous vistas from Lurdeia beyond Bermeo out to the Bay of Biscay.

Our 'picnic' of meat, cheese, tomato, fruit, bread and wine looking out to the sea.

September 10, 2011 - Casa Rural Lurdeia to Iriarte Jauregia, Albiztur

     We woke to a beautiful sunny day with a Basque breakfast served by the fellows, all dressed in traditional Basque clothing.  Before leaving we wandered around the grounds, taking photos and again enjoying the vistas to the bay.

We drove east along the coast, past Lekeitio and Deba and Getaria, past some beautiful beaches and quaint coastal towns.  The sense of independence was ever present with the 'War and Peace' flags being very common.  We stopped in a few bars where pintxos (also known as pincho or pinchu) were ever present, they being a small snack, often seafood here on the coast of the Basque country.
     We then left the coast, driving south through some beautiful, still vibrant green valleys.  It was a beautiful, very scenic drive.  Our destination was the small (population 327) town in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and the hotel Iriarte Jauregia, a beautifully restored 17th century palace located in the nearby Basque countryside.  The hotel has been carefully designed with interiors that balance the old and new, maintaining the stone walls and wood beamed ceilings.  We enjoyed a superior room with views of the valley.  The hotel includes beautiful gardens / outdoor space and a fine-dining restaurant.  The location has easy access to San Sebastian (30 kms distance) with its shops, galleries and characteristic tapas restaurants, a city we will visit tomorrow.

     We ate dinner in Bailara, the hotel's restaurant.  While we don't have details of of our meals we do have a menu. From the photos it appears we started with assorted croquettes (spinach, mushroom and Iberian ham) after which Gayle enjoyed a tomato soup, me Iberian pork rib roast. (of some sort) in a gravy, and a tarte tatin for dessert.

Casa Rural Lurdeia breakfast room.                                       A portion of our breakfast.

Window views - first from our bedroom and then the breakfast room.

One of the Basque fellows (we have no idea which one) and Gayle basking (pun intended) in the sun on our balcony.

In front of the Lurdeia sculpture - donated by a dear friend Nestor Basterretxea.  The sculpture is called 'Lurdeia', showng a cosmic vision that represents 'our father, the sun, our mother, the earth; our grandmother, the moon; our sister, the rain; animal life as represented by the human face and the gaps and holes that represent our brother, air.'

Two of the five Basque owners of Lurdeia.

More drying peppers.                                              Common are street names in colourful tiles, similar to in Portugal.

Coastline near Lekeitio.

The Basque 'War and Peace' flag - the bearer supportive of the separation of the Basque region.

The 'ikurrina' is the official flag of the Basque country.

Pinxtos, the common food in bars and restaurants along the Basque coast.

Old stone bridges in quaint coastal communities.

Pastoral Basque countryside through lush valleys.                 View from our bedroom out the window.

The upstairs foyer of Irarte Jauregia.

Ready for dinner.                                                                   A beautiful mirror on the wall.

The entrance to the hotel.

Dinner - tomato soup; Iberian pork rib roast, croquettes and a tarte tatin,

September 11, 2011 - Iriarte Jauregia, Albiztur; afternoon in San Sebastian

     We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast after which we drove towards San Sebastian for the afternoon.  We had driven into San Sebastien - literally just drove along both sides of the river past beautiful homes and buildings - in 2003 but had not stopped.  We recall being impressed enough that we decided to make a day trip to the city (population 187,000 but feels much larger).

     Along the way, perhaps n Tolosa or Irura or Villabona or some other small village - we really don't know, we came across a festival.  After all it was a Sunday in September, a very common time for fall festivals in Spain.  There was a ton of activity, with goods for sale, animals on display, food being prepared and sold and general frivolity.  We spent about an hour wandering about before continuing on our way. 

     San Sebastian presents a dynamic culture scene, so much so the city was co-selected as the European Capital of Culture in 2016.  The basic motto 'Waves of people's energy' summarizes a clear message that people and their movements are the real driving force behind transformation and changes in the world.

     Although we don't know for sure, and didn't plan it we strongly suspect our visit coincided with the end of Basque Week, a festivity taking place the beginning of September, featuring events related to Basque culture, such as performances of traditional improvising poets, Basque pelota games, some lifting contests, oxen wagers, dance exhibitions and the cider tasting festival, along with the highlight - the rowing boat competition contending for the Flag of La Concha.  Thousands of supporters pour into the city's streets and promenades overlooking the bay on Sunday to watch the final race.  All day long the streets of the Old Port play host to droves of youths clad in their team colours, partying in a 'cheerful atmosphere'.  

     As the photos and video will show this was a wild scene - a mob of people enjoying a perfect Sunday afternoon.  One of our reasons for going to San Sebastian was to sample pintxos (Basque tapas) and Sagardoa, the name in Basque for cider, literally meaning 'apple (sagar) wine'.  The pouring of cider is of great importance in Spain.  The cider should be poured from a great height, allowing lots of air bubbles into the drink.  Only one or two gulps are poured at once, and the pouring process begins again, allowing the drinker to enjoy the full flavour of the cider.

     The only downside of the crowds was that many of the bars and restaurants were difficult to get into.  But we persisted, stopping in a couple where we enjoyed the atmosphere sampling a number of pintxos along with a glass of wine and cider.   Quite the experience and so nice to see so many young people enjoying themselves.  If ever in the area around the time make sure to try to take in the event.

     Late afternoon we headed back to Albiztur.  Having sampled a number of pintxos there was no need for dinner.  We enjoyed the grounds of  Iriarte Jauregia and a drink before calling it a night.

The Basque countryside - a (very old) bridge and a barn common in the region.

A lady sitting in her comfy chair in front of her house on the side of the road on a sunny Sunday morning.

Some of the farm animals at the festival.

Produce and goods being sold at the market - honey and red peppers, only a very small sampling.

Locals preparing corn and food for the festival.

A couple of locals demonstrating their Basque crafts.

A typical rural stone house adorned with flowers.                  One of the beautiful buildings of San Sebastian.

Crowded streets on the festival Sunday afternoon.

Fun times in the narrow streets of San Sebastian as Basque Week comes to an end.

The Basque flag was common throughout the streets of San Sebastian.

The board of today's offerings.                                                Hanging hams.

Typical plates of pintxos (Basque tapas).

Pouring the Sagardoa in a bar in San Sebastian.

Waiting for our food in a crowded San Sebastian pintxos bar.

The upstairs hallway and a number of photos of our room with its beautiful wood beams.

September 12, 2011 - Albiztur to Parador San Bernardo, Santo Domingo de la Calzada

     We awoke to another gorgeous sunny day which allowed us to enjoy a typical Spanish breakfast outside.   We lingered around the gardens and grounds before leaving late morning for a relatively short 145 km drive to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town we visited in 2003.
      About mid-way we stopped at the Museo de Alfararia Vasca, a Basque Pottery Museum in the town of Elosu.  Originally an old pottery factory built in 1711 and used for generations by the Ortiz de Zarate family the building was renovated in 1993.  In 1958 the completed Urrunaga reservoir flooded land resulting in clay that had supplied potters with raw materials under water, forcing the factory to close down.  We strolled through the museum of pottery pieces, watched pottery being made and purchased a pitcher and a couple of small bowls.

     After our pottery stop we continued south-west past Vitoria-Gasteiz and on to Haro, a wine town in the centre of the Rioja wine district.  We had been through the area in 2003, having stopped for a tour at the Muga winery.  Whether it was memories of the tour or not Muga is beyond a doubt our favourite wine.  We stopped in the shop where we purchased a box (12) of 1/2 bottles, perfect to have upon arrival at each place.  Not too much to preclude wine at dinner but a nice welcome to each new lodging.

     Our destination was the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the only town in Spain with two Paradors.  Having  stayed at the Parador Santo Domingo de la Calzada in 2003, located right in the centre of the village on the Camino to Santiago, across from the cathedral we decided to stay at the other Parador - Bernardo de Fresnedo, on the outskirts of town (800 metres from the centre), also on the Way of St. James.

     The Parador is located in the Monastery of San Francisco.  The building is divided into three sections: the church, the workshop/museum and the guest house, in which the hotel is located.  The decor features red tones and blue-grays in the guest rooms, oil paintings with religious themes and works by modern graphic artists.  

     Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a town of some 6,000 on the banks of the Oja River on a vast plain.  The town's founding is linked to the branch of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela known as the French Route.  Legend has it that in the 11th century this location was primarily one of a large oak forest on the banks of a tumultuous river that descended from the nearby mountains, now know as the Sierra de la Demanda.  A hermit named Domingo took up residence near of the forest, dedicating all his energy to making it easier for pilgrims traveling to Compostela to cross the difficult terrain.

     There are many miracles attributed to Domingo but the most famous concerns that of the rooster and the chicken.  The story goes that in the 14th century a German 18 year-old named Hugonell goes on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with his parents.  A Spanish girl at the hostel where they were staying makes advances toward Hugonell.  But Hugonell rejected her advances.  Angry, the girl hides a silver cup in the German's bag and then informs the authorities that the youth had stolen it.  Hugonell is sentence to the gallows in accordance with the laws of the day.  The parents while examining their son's body still hanging on the gallows suddenly hear his voice telling them that Saint Dominic has saved his life.  The parents then quickly make their way to Santiago de Compostela to see the magistrate.  The magistrate, who is at the time eating dinner remarks "Your son is as alive as this rooster and chicken that I was feasting on before you interrupted me".  And in that moment, the two birds jump from the plate and begin to sing and crow happily.

     In honour of this 'miracle' a popular pastry is the Los Milagros de Santos, a chicken shaped cookie that commemorates the miracle of the Saint:  Domingo de la Calzada.

     Having arrived early in the afternoon we enjoyed the Parador, which truly is beautiful - every bit as nice as the more well known Parador de Santo Domingo in the centre of town.  We then took a stroll to the centre, walking a wee bit of the Camino in the process.  We returned for dinner in the Parador's magnificent dining room.  I don't recall dinner being fantastic but the photos do indicate some interesting and well presented dishes.  An excellent decision to return to and stay in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

A delicious Spanish breakfast enjoyed outdoors on a cloudless, sunny day.

Our stop at the Euskal Zeramika museum, workshop and tienda (shop).

Gayle and the staff.

The Muga winery in Haro, Rioja.

Parador Bernardo de Fresneda fronted by a sculpture of a pilgrim.

 Gayle waiting for her Amigo welcome drink.

Gorgeous hallway.                   Our bed.                               The sitting room.                    View of the courtyard.

Cathedrals in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

A courtyard of Parador Bernardo de Fresneda.

The Camino de Santiago.                                                       Los Milagros de Santo (the chicken / rooster cookies).

Garlic - lots and lots of garlic.

Lounges and interiors of the parador.

Interior courtyard and exterior of Parador Bernardo de Fresneda bathed in early evening sunlight.

The parador's beautiful restaurant.                                         A risotto for Gayle.

       Ravioli.                      A goat cheese with endive salad.                 Chicken.                     A flan with ice cream.

September 13, 2011 - Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Sos del Rey Catolico

     We were reminded this morning of how wonderful, and filling a Parador breakfast is.  From the endless fresh orange juice, the selection of breads, other juices, cereals, yoghurt, eggs, fruit, meat and local specialties this is a great way to start one's day.

      Rather than drive due east we decided to detour 20 kilometers south and visit the community of San Millan Yuso, home to the Suso Monastery.  The community is an option for those traditionalists walking the Camino de Santiago / St. James Way although we confess the decision to divert is much easier when driving than if hiking through the hot plains of Rioja.

     The monastic community founded by St Millan in the mid-6th century became a place of pilgrimage.  A fine Romanesque church still stands at the site of Suso.  It was here that the first literature was produced in Castilian, from which one of the most widely spoken languages n the world today is derived.  In the early 16th century the community was housed in the fine new monastery of Yuso, below the older complex where it is still a thriving community today.

From San Millan Yuso we drove north-east past Logrono (the capital and wine centre of the province of Rioja) towards Pamplona.

Along the way we passed orchards of almond trees along with plenty of vineyards.  The land was quite parched after the hot summer but just the same had a special beauty.  It was a very picturesque drive.

     On our way to Sos del Rey Catolico for our two-night stay in the Parador we stopped in Sanguesa to pick up maps of the area.  While in the tourist office we were asked if we were visiting for the running of the bulls that was happening the next morning.  Of course not, but staying only 12 kms away and figuring it was a unique opportunity, in spite of having to get up and leave early in the morning, we planned on attending.

     We had driven through Sos del Rey Catolico when in the region in 2003.  The village and Parador, perched on a rock top, looked impressive but we could not stay as we were booked into the nearby Parador in Olite.  However having returned to the area we decided to spend a couple of nights here.

      With a population of only 588 (2018) the village, located on rocky and elevated terrain served as an important border stronghold from 907 when it was reclaimed by Sancho I of Pamplona.  The town was incorporated in 1044 into the Kingdom of Aragon.  In 1452, during the Navarrese Civil War, Queen Juana Enriquex de Cordoba moved to the town, then called 'Sos' where she gave birth to the infant Ferdinand  who later became Ferdinand II of Aragon, one of the Catholic Monarchs.  His birth added 'd'o Rei Catolico' (of the Catholic Monarch) to the name of the town.  In 1711 the town was named the capital of the Cinco Villas, a group of five historical towns of the area.

     With its Aragonese style the Parador Sos del Rey Catolico preserves the monumental,, historical and artistic character of the town.  This medieval village, declared an Historical-Artistic Village, was the cradle of influencing nobles and the Catholic King, offers panoramic views of the Pre-Pyrenees of Aragon and Navarra.  The interior of the Parador, regal and elegant is dominated by large windows, wood columns and furniture of Castilian style.

     The restaurant offers tradition and authenticity - aromas and flavours of the cuisine of the Cinco Villas region.  Often on the menu are thistles (cardoons) from Muel with almonds and ham, 'migas' (breadcrumbs) with ham and chorizo sausage, Ajorarriero-style codfish, Aragonese lamb, cottage cheese cake with honey of the region.  And of course a number of excellent Rioja wines.  We enjoyed what we recall was an excellent meal starting with a refreshing gazpacho.  Gayle then had a creamy mushroom pasta while I a leg of what may be pheasant.  Regardless it was delicious.

     We called it a day shortly after dinner given our decision to get up early in the morning for the running of the bulls.

Beautiful tapestries and photos adorned the walls of Bernardo de Fresnedo.  

Comfortable alcoves and sitting areas.

Hikers on the Camino de Santiago (St. James Way).                 After a hot summer the brown landscape.

The Monastery of San Millan de Yuso.

Two women encountered along the way - the lady on the right seen at the Monastery, apparently remembering  a lost loved one.

The hilly terrain sprinkled with a number of small villages, all with their church.

As we continued east we passed orchards of almonds, and then vineyards with their ripening grapes.

Although less and less common, on occasion we did encounter a shepherd tending to his flock.

... of course with his trusty dog.

The cathedral of Sanguesa.

Our colourful room in the Parador de Sos del Rey Catolico.

Dinner began with a tasty amuse-buche of gazpacho.

A creamy mushroom pasta for Gayle.                                    And we think pheasant for me.

September 14, 2011 - Sos del Rey Catolico, Sanguesa and Pamplona

     Today turned out to be a very busy day, starting with an early rising (7:00 am) in order to drive the 12 kms to the medieval village of Sanguesa for its running of the bulls.   The Fiestas de Sanguesa, with its patron saint's day festivities is celebrated each year from September 11 - 17 with a livestock fair and bull runs through the streets in honour of their patron saint, San Sebastian.

     Our timing, to take in this event was perfect.  We arrived around 8:00 am to essentially barren streets (is there really a running of the bulls today?) but while enjoying a coffee and pastry things started to pick up as locals began arriving in their white and red festival colours.  We found a good spot on a turn at the end of the street - no I did not actually run with the bulls as a number of other younger men did - and waited in anticipation.  I believe the entire run is less than two minutes, and much less for them to race down the street, make the turn and continue to the Plaza del Toro (bull ring).  We sat in the stands watching many young men take turns 'playing' with the bulls in the ring.  There was no formal bull fight, with no matadors or picadors or lances or any harming of the bulls.  Even the bulls appeared to be having a playful time.  Simply a bunch of young guys having fun.  The entire event was perhaps not much more than an hour but certainly a fun experience - very glad we chose to attend.

     We returned to the Parador where we feasted on another elaborate 'Parador breakfast'.  Afterwards we strolled through the town with its stone buildings, tile roofs, narrow alleyways, numerous churches and vistas to the plains below.

     During the afternoon we drove to Pamplona, 45 min - 1 hour north west of Sos del Rey Catolico, in part to just wander about but also to sample more tapas / pintxos.  While a pleasant city (population > 200,000) to stroll in the central core, including both the streets in which the bulls run during the famous festival of San Fermin each July, and a short portion of the Camino de Santiago / St. James Way.  Unfortunately the pintxos bars just did not have the same vibrancy as those in San Sebastian.  Perhaps it was because we were there mid afternoon during siesta time, rather than during a festival but it was underwhelming.  Which is not to say we didn't find a couple of bars / restaurants that we stepped into and sampled.  The one funny / unfortunate experience was when Gayle chose what she thought were bean sprouts (all labeling of course is in Spanish which means a lot of pointing at things one doesn't really know what they were).  Anyway she ate, and quite enjoyed them - a bit crunchy but tasty.  Afterwards we tried to ask what they were and eventually were told by someone who knew a bit of English they were 'baby eels'.  Yuk for Gayle.  All we could do was laugh and share the story.

    Upon returning to the Parador we enjoyed a relaxing late afternoon enjoying a drink in the bar and sitting on our balcony in the warm late summer sun.  Having consumed a selection of pintxos in Pamplona there was no need for dinner.

When we arrived at 8:00 am the streets were pretty deserted, but after a coffee and pastry things started to pick up.

A festival atmosphere in the streets of Sanguesa.

The band played on.                                                               Dressed in the town's colours.

Wearing the town's scarf.

Here come da bulls.

The Plaza de Toros.

Perhaps the closest encounter we saw.

We returned to Sos del Rey Catolico where we wandered through the village with its beautiful tile roofs that blend seamlessly into the brown countryside.

The Parador.                                                                          A beautiful (and very old) door.

Tapestries on display for the Fiesta in Sanguesa.                    Pamplona's city hall.

Spaniards enjoying the day.

Pintxos in Pamplona.

The Parador's terrace.                                                            Another delicious and filling breakfast before we left.

Happy to be enjoying another day in Spain.

September 15, 2011 - Sos Del Rey Catolico to Casa de San Martin

     We left Sos del Rey Catolico continuing our journey east to the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Our destination was Casa de San Martin, a boutique hotel five kilometres up a dirt road into the mountains.  During the drive we crossed the Camino de Santiago / St. James Way pilgrimage route a number of times.

     From its lofty perch. lost between mountains and forests, Casa de San Martin oversees the surrounding mountains, being the perfect refuge for anyone wanting to simply relax, or enjoy long walks in the surrounding countryside.  The Casa sits on top of a promontory, like a high plateau, long and narrow, flanked by two precipitous ravines.  From the casa one can overlook a very wide valley and the mountains that surround it.  Only vegetation, coniferous forest, crops and some abandoned and lost villages can be seen. 

     The property of San Martin dates back over 1,000 years, having once belonged to the Abbot of San Victorian, the oldest monastery in Spain.  Construction of the current stone building began in the 18th century.  In the second half of the twentieth century the property, along with the rest of the valley was abandoned due to expropriation of the surrounding valley for a hydro-electric project that was never to be.  However recently it has been lovingly restored to offer all the comforts in an elegant rustic surrounding.  The property consists of 92 hectares, surrounded by pine and oak forests.  The balconies and terraces are ideal for gazing out at the massive mountains surrounding the property. 

     Our superior double room named Clavel (carnation in English) was especially well appointed with a nice south-facing balcony that welcomed the afternoon sun.

    The old barn serves as the dining room, dominated by a large fireplace.  A natural cuisine, using products from the garden as evidenced by the chef bringing in freshly picked leeks focuses on a farm to table philosophy.  Regional Somontano wines are available to accompany one's meal.  Breakfast is available each morning as is dinner each evening consisting of a starter, a first course, a main course and a dessert.  Being somewhat isolated and 'captive' there is an opportunity to overprice the meal.  David does exactly the opposite.  Give the quality of the dinner the price of 25 euros (drinks excluded of course) is astonishingly reasonable.  Very memorable!

A beautiful stone church in the countryside as we approached the Pyrenees.

Today we crossed the Camino a number of times.                Apparently the directions are confusing to some.

Our first glimpse of Casa de San Martin, perched on its own on the promontory.

From our balcony.                                                                 The back of the building.

Happy on the terrace.                                                             Housecoats with fresh picked roses.

Nooks and alcoves with comfortable seating.

'Tickle grass' in front of Casa de San Mattin.

The view from our room, an artistic wood mirror and two fireplaces beneath massive wood beamed ceilings.

The chef bringing in leeks for dinner.

And a delicious vichyssoise, the fruits (ok well the vegetables) of his labour.

It was pretty easy to relax in this environment.

The setting sun casting a spotlight on the Casa.

Peaceful and tranquil grounds and surrounding mountains.

The attention to detail was special and impressive.                The dining room.

An old oxen collar.

A wonderful dinner.

Topped by simple but delicious desserts - note the rose amongst the strawberries.

September 16, 2011 - Casa de San Martin to Villa de Alquezar, Alquezar

     We made the most of our short one-night stay at Casa de San Martin, enjoying a leisurely breakfast after which we wandered the grounds and played with Turco, the resident Portuguese Water Dog.

     We have stayed at many Paradors, B&Bs, boutique hotels etc. along our travels.  While it is difficult to pick a #1 we both agree Casa de San Martin is certainly in the top five.  The setting, the attention to detail, the history, the ambiance, the comfort, the grounds, the food and the welcoming of David and staff make this a special place.  So much so that we returned for two-nights in 2018 and were booked in again, this time for three-nights in 2020 before Covid-19 forced cancellation.  We loved our times at Casa de San Martin and look forward to returning as soon as possible.

Being a short (< 100 kms) to our next stop, before leaving the area we drove up to the top of the ridge above (north of) Casa de San Martin through the abandoned town of Campol and on towards the small town of Yeba.  The 'road' is narrow and isolated but one is rewarded with impressive views through the Pyrenees - both north and south.

We passed through Boltana from where we drove south to the municipality of Alquezar, with a population of only 301 (2012).  Alquezar is situated on a limestone outcrop to the west of the canyon of the Rio Vero.  The village grew up around a castle and the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria, consecrated in 1099.

The name of the village comes from the Arabic word for 'fort' or 'castle'.  The castle became the main defense point of the nearby city of Barbastro, an area with numerous limestone caves with prehistoric cave paintings.

     The hotel at which we were staying, the Villa de Alquezar required a two night booking in light of it being a weekend.  The hotel itself had its pros and cons.  On the plus side it is located right in the centre of the village, there was parking, unusual in a dense medieval village, a spectacular view of the castle from our balcony, and included a breakfast.  On the negative side the hotel had essentially no character, certainly not what we are accustomed to booking.  Our room was essentially a rectangular box, similar to what one would be in at a Comfort Inn or Holiday Inn - nice enough but nothing memorable.  Very spartan reminding me of student days.  At least the walls were painted (blue) and there was wood trim and beams but the furniture was cheap, especially the plastic chairs on the balcony.  Perhaps the superior rooms were better designed and furnished but not our double with terrace.

     We found a restaurant on the main street entering the village sitting in an outdoor area with views of the town and its impressive Collegiate Church of Santa Maria.  We started with a pitcher of sangria after which Gayle had a mushroom risotto and I a leg of lamb.  A nice meal in a nice location on a warm Spanish September evening.

The Casa de San Martin dining / breakfast room - stone walls, wood beams and a fireplace.

The breakfast fruit tray.

Good morning sunshine.

Casa de San Martin's beautiful grounds.

Everywhere one turns there is beauty.

A veritable barnyard here with geese and cats ...

... and Turco, the very friendly Portuguese Water Dog.

Turco, who loved having his belly rubbed.

This place is so photogenic.

David, Gayle ...                                                                         ... and me.

After a relaxing morning and a number of photos we finally left Casa de San Martin.

Before leaving the area we drove further up the mountain to the top of the ridge where there was an abandoned few buildings and majestic vistas across the mountains.

The town of Alquezar.

With its brown roof tiles.

Pre dinner sangria.                                                                 Mushroom risotto.

A leg of lamb.

The castle of Alquezar at night as seen from our balcony.

September 17, 2011 - Alquezar to Parador de Vielha, Vielha

     While Alquezar is a nice enough municipality one can see it all in a couple of hours.  Certainly there is no need for a two-night stay unless one was going to use it for a base for hiking or a day trip.  Given our disappointment with our room we decided to leave, even if we had to forego the cost of the second night.  As it turned out, although we were up front that we were required to reserve for two nights, when we indicated we were going to leave regardless we were not charged for the second night.  Very fair of the hotel.

We decided to drive further into the mountains to Vielha where we booked a room in the Parador near the French.  Although there were a number of not so great reviews, given it was only one night we decided to give it a go.  We booked an excellent Amigos rate of 166 euros for a superior room with a fabulous view to the mountains.  The package included dinner and breakfast.  Perhaps the 'inside' rooms facing the parking lot are not that great (with truck noise?) but we were very pleased.  Is this a 'unique' historical Parador - no but it is perfectly situated at an elevation with views both down the valley and up the mountains - a nice hotel.
     Normally we do not stop for lunch but today was an exception.  Because of a light breakfast at the hotel we were both hungry so when we saw a sign for a restaurant off the N-260 we decided to drive up and check it out.  We almost turned around as first impressions were not great - although there was a nice stone building, outside there was a lonely table, an umbrella, plastic chairs - not particularly enticing.  But once inside one finds a lovely small and intimate setting.  We were welcomed with a menu and a smile so we decided to stay.  And are we ever glad we did.  Casa Javier is a 'slow food' restaurant that focuses on locally sourced ingredients.  

     We started with a most interesting salad - warm goat cheese with truffle oil and rosemary, beautifully presented with homemade orange and carrot marmalade.  This was followed by possibly the best risotto we have ever had.  The mushroom risotto with black trumpets was heavenly.  The Olla Montaneso (a traditional mountain pot) was also good but hard to measure up to the salad and risotto.  The meal was accompanied by a bottle of very nice regional red wine.  But the best was yet to come.  It is rare for us to have a midday meal but even rarer to have dessert.  However when you are offered 'mushroom ice cream' after the chef takes you outside to see the forests from where the mushrooms were harvested how can you say no?  So we tried a bowl and it was absolutely delicious, like really really good.  The full meal of the salad, risotto, ice cream and wine was only 20 euros with the mountain pot and wine 10 euros - phenomenal value given the quality of food and service.  We were so impressed that when we noticed Casa Javier did not have a TripAdviosr account we contacted TripAdvisor in order to have one set up so that we could provide a review.  We were the first to review Casa Javier.  Since then many others have also provided their positive feedback.  What a find!

     The drive up a picturesque valley culminates with the Vielha tunnel consisting of two parallel tunnels.  The older one, Alfonso XIII in honour of the Spanish king opened in 1948, becoming the longest road tunnel in the world at the time at 5,240 metres (actually through to 1964 when its length was surpassed by the Great St. Bernard Tunnel.)  The new tunnel, Juan Carlos I, opened in 2007, is actually 10 metres shorter.  The old/original tunnel is used an an emergency exit and by trucks that carry flammable or other types of hazardous loads.

     The Parador is located shortly after the tunnel, perched on a hillside with views down the Aran valley, an area of unparalleled beauty wedged within the mountains of the Pyrenees of Lleida.  This area is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts - hikers in the spring, summer and fall and skiers in the winter.  The hotel, while modern, offers rooms with unbeatable views of the valleys and mountains.  

     We spent the afternoon relaxing although we were entertained by a wedding on the terrace literally right below our room / balcony.

     The views are even more impressive from the circular restaurant, a restaurant that serves Olla Aranesa (a local stew), wild boar and pescajus (pancakes) with cream.  The wedding took over the dining room for the evening with the other hotel guests, i.e. us, eating in the room where breakfast was served.  While not as formal the room was fine. Service was slow - no doubt due to the wedding - but the food was quite good.

The streets of Alquezar.

Sights throughout Alquezar.

Casa Javier and one of its rustic rooms.

The delicious goat cheese salad.

Gayle enjoying her meal.                                                      Uniquely presented mushroom risotto.

Garlic and wine - staples of dinner.

A most unique dessert - mushroom ice cream with nuts and chocolate - quite exceptional.

The circular restaurant of Parador Vielha.                              The view from out balcony south to the mountains.

Here in the mountains the weather can change quickly.

We were on the right side of the Parador to witness a wedding that took place directly below our balcony.

Video of the wedding.

The circular dining room with large windows providing vistas down the valley.

Cannelloni in a sauce.

My main course - pork.                                                         And a dessert with biscotti and ice cream.

September 18, 2011 - Parador de Vielha to Casa Guilla, Santa Engracia village

     Another nice morning and another great Parador breakfast, this one including churros and hot chocolate.  While we love our coffee this was a very nice alternative.  Of course there was everything else including a wide selection of mountain meats and a tortilla topped with both tomatoes and padron peppers.

We drove east through the Val d'Aran stopping in one of the ski villages where we bought some Spanish saffron.  It was a pretty drive through the mountains past streams and old stone bridges.  At Esterri d'Aneu we turned south following the C-13 and then back to the N-260 towards Tremp.  Just north we turned west along a small road for some 12 kms until we reach the small village of Santa Engracia and, perched on a dramatic rock outcropping Casa Guilla.

     Casa Guilla (Guilla means fox in old Catalan) is locatied on the Catalonian hilltop village of Santa Engracia, nestled on a dramatic rocky outcrop of over 1,000 metres.  It is owned and hosted by a British couple - Richard and Sandra Loder.  The views are breathtaking and the scenery spectacular.  At this height eagles soar, while vultures and falcons fly nearby.  Wildlife abounds in the area with boar, wild-cats, beech-martens and fox.

     A Nova Scotian advertising campaign nicely describes Casa Guilla by promoting "Those who like it like it a lot".  This is not a place for everyone, being somewhat isolated and in many ways rustic.  The 'masia' has been restored, yet is still a maze of rooms and narrow stairways, twisting and turning, up and down.  One needs to be mobile and prepared to duck at times due to low ceilings and small doors.  While not 'fancy' Casa Guilla did have all the amenities one would want, including good internet access, fresh air, silence and excellent food.

     The evening meal, prepared by Sandra is served family style.  The Casa only has three rooms providing an opportunity to get to know any other guests.  Tonight there was only one other couple - an English mother and daughter.  Dinner includes a soup, a first course usually with salad, a main course, dessert and fruit, wine, coffee and liqueurs.  Tonight there was a nice selection of vegetables - pumpkin in a sauce, green beans and potatoes to accompany the lamb chops.  The food was so good everyone had seconds.  Dessert included a selection of cheese along with chocolate ice cream.

     After dinner we retired for a restful sleep in the fresh air and absolute quiet of the night.

Hot chocolate in a gorgeous Parador tureen and churros.

Tortilla with Padron peppers or tomatoes.                             A wide selection of mountain meats and sausages.

Mountain streams and old stone bridges.

Vistas of the countryside surrounding Casa Guilla.

To some extent Casa Guilla is a museum to times past.           The large terrace with its expansive views.

A flock of sheep in the fields below.                                       A video of the sheep and some of the countryside.

A drink on the terrace.                                                           One of our half bottles of Muga upon arriving.

Vegetables tonight were pumpkin and green beans.

Lamb chops, and potatoes.

For dessert a selection of cheese accompanied by chocolate ice cream.

September 19, 2011 - Casa Guilla to Parador de Vic-Sau

     As is the custom we enjoyed another great breakfast on another beautiful sunny day.

     The area is perfect for outdoor and adventure sports and visiting a number of old Romanesque churches.

     The Parador reflects the traditional style of the Catalan masia, or country house, with its spacious, comfortable lounges, well-tended gardens, rooms with terrace overlooking the reservoir and a magnificent swimming pool with exceptional views.  Vic-Sau is not historic as are  many others paradors and the lobby is less than inspiring but the rooms on the east (reservoir) side, where we were, with their large balconies and great views are much preferred.

     The dinner we ate at the Parador was quite good.  I especially enjoyed the Butifarra with white kidney beans - a local grilled sausage specialty.

     Not a place we would stay for more than one night but it was a nice one-night stop - a quiet hotel with great vistas and good food.

     With a somewhat lengthy drive today, we packed up and headed out but not before stopping at the bottom of the rock outcrop to take a number of photos.

     The drive was essentially due east with the destination being the Parador de Vic-Sau, located in a beautiful natural setting in the Osona area with the Guillerias mountains in the background and the Sau reservoir at its feet.

Casa Guilla highlighted by the early morning sun.

The terrace and the ivy. 

More views of the surrounding terrain from the perch of the casa.

Breakfast.                                        Some of the (very old) wood beam ceilings and structure of Casa Guilla.

As we were approaching Casa Guilla yesterday I said to Gayle "See that place on the rocks way up there - that's where we are staying".  She replied "Nah".  Of course I knew it was.  Believe it or not the views from the Casa were even more impressive (but not much) than these approaching.

Finally a video of Casa Guilla perched on the rock outcropping to the music of Jesse Cook.

A couple of the old Romanesque churches of the region.

The view from our balcony over the pool to the reservoir.        And then in the opposite direction to the Parador.

Although not old or historic the stone Parador Vic-Sau blends in perfectly with the surrounding area.

The expansive central lounge is accentuated by an impressive stained glass ceiling.

We shared a nice selection of regional cheeses for our first course.

Butifarra - a local grilled sausage with white kidney beans. 

An eggplant with tomato and goat cheese dish for Gayle.

September 20, 2011 - Parador de Vic-Sau to Parador Cardona

     I was up at the crack of dawn - well actually before the crack of dawn to take photos of the sun rising over the mountains and the reservoir.  Very colourful and impressive - certainly worth getting up at the early hour.

     While considering dinner last night we read many positive reviews of a Restaurant Fussimanya only 5 kms down the road from the parador  As a result we decided to skip breakfast and try the restaurant for lunch.  We're very happy we did.  Where the parador is a tad more formal, and considerably more expensive, Fussimanya has a more family run feel to it - much more personal with the owner mingling with the customers  We arrived just as the restaurant opened for lunch (1:00 pm) so easily got a table.  However judging by how quickly it filled up we would not have wanted to be much later - it certainly was popular given this was Tuesday.  Service was top notch, even if little English was spoken, and prices very reasonable.  Bread and oil at the parador was 2 euros per person; at Fussimanya zero.  A litre of water at the parador 3 euros; at Fussimanya 1.78 euros.  The Butifarra at the parador 17.70 euros; at Fussimanya 7.95 euros - perhaps not quite as good but still.  Very good value. 

     We started with typical pa (tomato and oil bread) - plentiful and excellent; and homemade sausage.  I then again had the Botifarra a la brasa - the pork sausage while Gayle had a huge plate of grilled mushrooms.  I followed that with a wonderful paella.  The meal was accompanied by a litre of decent local wine for < 4 euros served in a traditional Catalan glass wine pitcher known as a 'porron'.  I thought the porron was so unique I asked if I could purchase one, and did.

     The traditional Catalan masia (rural house) includes a shop that sells sausages, cheese, wine and crafts.  This was certainly one of our most enjoyable meals during our three weeks in Spain - great atmosphere, great service, huge servings, decent prices and great food.

     From Vic-Sua we drove west to Cardona where we will be staying two nights at a castle Parador.  The hotel is located on a headland in a 9th century fortified enclosure, alongside the 11th century Minyona tower and an 11th century church with characteristic features of the surrounding Catalan Romanesque churches.  Below the parador is the River Cardener.


     We were so looking forward to our stay in the Parador de Cardona, so much so we booked a suite (at considerable additional cost) for two nights.  From the photos it looked like a very impressive castle, a perfect location for a historical parador.  For the price we expected something special, as we had experienced in Siguenza, Oropesa, Cuenca, Lerma, Jaen, Leon, Santiago de Compostela and many others.  Yes the suite was a decent size, with a sitting area and a nice four-poster bed but it was isolated on the south side of the parador, a distance from the lounge and restaurant.  Somewhat surprising the room did not have a balcony but most important it looked out over an absolutely ugly salt mine.  We asked to change to a regular room (which also does not have a balcony) that turned out to be quite nice - considerably less expensive and being on the north side had much nicer views of the foothills of the Pyrenees.  The parador's outdoor terrace area is large and nicely situated where one can enjoy a drink / tapas while admiring the view over the town of Cardona and the setting sun.
     Having had a massive lunch mid afternoon there was no need or desire for dinner.

The morning sun rising over the Vic-Sau reservoir.

A little later as the sun ascends.

Along the road leaving the Parador.

Restaurant Fussimanya.                                                           We were the first ones in (at 1:00 pm) but it soon filled.

Pa - tomato and oil bread.                                                      Cured meats with a porron of wine.

Butifarra with a padron pepper, tomato and potatoes.           A large plate of mushrooms.


Creme Catalan for dessert.                                                       Chocolates - a gift of the house - to finish.

Our room at Parador de Cardona.                                         The parador's restaurant.

The town of Cardona and sunset both from the Parador's terrace.

September 21, 2011 - Parador de Cardona / Cardona

     We enjoyed another nice Parador breakfast before touring the Castle.  The Castle of Cardona is arguably the most important medieval fortresses in Catalonia and one of the the most important in Spain.  It is situated on a hill overlooking the river valley of the Cardener and the town of Cardona.  The fortress was initially constructed by Wilfred the Hairy in 886.  It is in both the Romanesque and Gothic styles.  During the 14th century, the dukes of Cardona came from the most important family of the Crown of Aragon, which was second only to the royal house.  Because of this they were called 'kings without crowns' as they had extensive territories in Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia along with dynastic ties with Castile, Portugal, Sicily and Naples.  This presumably increased the importance of the castle.

     In 1714, even after a Bourbon siege destroyed a good part of the castle's walls, the garrison was one of the last to surrender to the Bourbon troops that supported Philip V.  Today the castle's main jewel is the Torre de la Minyona (from the 11th century) a tower that measures 15 metres in height and 10 metres in diameter.  Additionally there is the Romanesque Church of Sant Vicenc de Cardona adjacent to the fort.  The fort is currently still owned by living members of the Aragon family.

     Actually staying in a castle this impressive is certainly a neat experience.  To wander through the courtyards and church, stay in rooms with narrow windows and thick walls is impressive.  Unfortunately the parador itself, especially the suite room we originally book did not live up to expectations.

     We spent the day in the town of Cardona.  While we did not visit nearby is an extensive deposit of rock salt that forms a mountain mass (called Muntanya de Sal).  This mountain has been worked as a mine since Roman times with pieces cut from it having been carved by artists in Cardona into images, crucifixes and many ornamental articles.  While the salt mines may be the economic driver of the area they are not particularly attractive, particularly if in a room on the south side of the Parador.

     Having had a late, filling breakfast we decided rather than have dinner back at the Parador we would have a afternoon lunch (normally available throughout the siesta hours, i.e. until 4:00 pm) in town.  Gayle enjoyed a wonderful goat cheese salad while I had the lamb chops.  For dessert we shared the profiteroles, covered with rich chocolate.

A couple of the interior walls of the castle of Cardona.

More of the interior of the castle, including the very thick walls by the windows.

The driveway up to the Parador.                                            Remnants of an old bridge.

Cardona's castle.                                                                      The Torre de la Minyona.

The town of Cardona.

A number of random people.

A wonderful salad - goat cheese, stewed peppers, a selection of lettuces covered with balsamic vinegar.

Lamb chops.                                                                          Profiteroles - smothered in chocolate.

A festival flag seen in Cardona.                                               The Senyara, the flag of Catalonia.

September 22 to 25, 2011 - Parador de Cardona to Finca Son Palou, Orient, Majorca

     After our final parador breakfast of the trip we drove the hour or so to Barcelona's airport for our short one-hour flight to Majorca.  Along the way we past the Freixenet winery,  Primarily a bottler of  Cava Freixenet, the winery was founded in 1861 and is now the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wine worldwide and the largest exporter of Cava.  Although we did not have time for a tour or tasting we did pull into the property for a few photos.

     We arrived in Palma on schedule at 1:30 pm, picked up our rental car and drove the hour or so to the Orient Valley and Finca Son Palou.  Most of the drive was on the Ma-13 highway until one turns north at Consel, passing through Alaro and then along some quite narrow, lined with stone walls 'roads' over some hills / mountains and then down into the Orient Valley and the village of Orient and Finca Son Palou.

     Son Palou is an agritourismo where one finds all the tranquility and comfort of the best rural hotels in Mallorca.  In the heart of the Tramuntana mountain range the area is known for its hiking opportunities.  Located in the village of Orient the property is a refuge of quietness on the island.  The pool, the expansive and well maintained grounds, the artifacts in the main house and the unbelievably great meals all contribute to a wonderful experience.  The boutique hotel is situated in the stately home that originally presided on the property.  Completely renovated in 2001 the effort preserved the Mallorcan character of the original buildings while incorporating modern details and conveniences.
     For some strange reason I have no photos of the day of our arrival.  No idea why.  Although numbered sequentially there is a gap of 24 hours.  The only theory is I took out the SD card and forgot to put it back in.  Oh well - still lots of photos of Son Palou over the next three days.

     We so very much enjoyed our four-night stay at Son Palou.  Admittedly we did not see much else of Majorca.  We did not go to the main city of Palma or the west or south coasts / beaches.  We did take a couple of short drives, one through the valley and nearby villages and another to the north coast and Cala Tuent where we enjoyed some time at the cove/beach.  We then continued further east to the town of Alcudia.  But otherwise we pretty much stayed put - which is perfect for us - enjoying the countryside, the beautiful grounds of the finca, and the food that was beyond our wildest expectations.

     We booked a Junior Suite (unit 10) - large, comfortable with a huge bathroom and very nice four poster bed.  There was a significant inside sitting area and a private terrace.  Only a few feet away there were lounge chairs that allowed us to enjoy the vistas of the Orient valley, all the while listening to the bells on the sheep grazing nearby.  Marc, the manager, was very hospitable and helpful throughout our stay.  With two other restaurants in the small village we never imagined eating all four nights at Son Palou.  But after the first meal, and then the next, there was no second thought - we enjoyed all four meals at the finca, including paella the last evening.  The presentation and quality of food, along with the exceptional service were simply top notch.

     The grounds and pool are stunning with lots of places to lounge and relax.  As well while we have generally been disappointed with the times we have ordered sangria, a popular drink in Spanish cuisine.  Most obviously take short cuts and it shows.  But not at Son Palou.  We ordered a pitcher to enjoy on the expansive front lawn and it was excellent, exactly what one would expect at this classy place. 

     Son Palou is not the cheapest lodging but is certainly one of the more memorable places we have stayed.  In our TripAdvisor review we noted Son Palou was perfect for us, "... a place we would return in a heartbeat".  And we did.  Upon returning to Majorca in 2017 we booked three nights at Son Palou, enjoying another stay every bit as much as this trip.

Cavas Freixenet and a couple of their themed vehicles.

The view from Son Palou south to the mountains.

From the finca across the Orient valley to the north mountain ridge.

Our very nice junior suite with a large sitting area.

Some of the many plates among the artifacts throughout Son Palou.

Another nice view of the valley.

The pool.

Finca Son Palou grounds.

The outdoor dining area.

                                                                                               ... and the outdoor breakfast area.

The best sangria we've had in Spain.

Nearby sites.

There are still windmills on Majorca.

Majorca is still largely a rural island with agriculture and animals.


     One of the days we drove to the north coast and Cala Tuent and then as far north-east as one can go to Port de Pollenca and the town of Alcudia. 

     Cala Tuent is accessed by a hairpin-riddled twisting 12 km helter-skelter of a road down to Sa Calobra, described to be one of Mallorca's top experiences.  This spectacularly serpentine road is pure drama, carved through the rock and skirting narrow ridges as it unfurls to the coast.  Built in 1932 its twists and turns apparently inspired by tying a tie, some say, explaining the section of road that turns round before threading under itself.  The views of the beach and the deep blue water are memorable.  Eventually one arrives at a beautiful 100 meres long natural beach inside a lovely cove surrounded by the Tramuntana mountains and Majorca's highest mountain, Puig Major at 1,445 metres.  The sand is mixed with gravel and pebbles with the cove being perfect for a swim.

A portion of the road to Cala Tuent.

As we approach the cove.

                                                                                              and then once we reach the beach and cove.

Can it get any more beautiful than this?

The glistening olive trees.

     Set deep within the Tramuntana mountain range in the west of Mallorca, Orient is one of the most remote villages on the island.  The drive to Orient from Bunyola has abundant bends at alarming angles with little in the way of barriers to stop one from tumbling deep into the countryside.  There is a much easier approach from Alaro but it too is in part very narrow with stone walls near to the road obstructing views.  With a population of less than 30 Orient nestles among olive trees at the foot of Puig d'Alfabia.  The area is popular with walkers, with numerous hikes starting form here.  While at Son Palou we met a somewhat elderly British couple who were spending a week simply hiking in the area.

Orient from the approach from the east (from Alaro).          The village square.

The edge of the stone church                                                 Dried flowers adorn a door.

     There are three restaurants in Orient.  Normally during a four night stay we would expect to eat at all three, returning to the best for our last meal.  However, having had a superb first meal at Son Palou we returned again, and then equally impressed again and again.  The food, while of course somewhat expensive, was delicious and brilliantly presented.  Four nights - four meals really says it all as to how much we enjoyed eating at Son Palou.


Below are photos of some of our dishes but here are the those we ordered

September 22

Tomato Coco (Majorcan pizza) with Miso and cheese sauce - 10.90 euros

Gazpacho with four fittings (mozzarella, tomato, cucumber and avocado sorbet) - 10.90 euros

Pork loin with cabbage (Majorcan style) - 19.30 euros

Almond cake - 6.80 euros

Jose L Ferrer Binissalem Crianza 2008 - 1/2 litre - 14.17 euros

September 23

Sangria de vino (red wine, Cointreau and fruits) - 16.50 euros

Cold corn soup with cauliflower mousse - 9.80 euros

Couscous with vegetables - 11.20 euros

Duck breast with raspberry sauce and semoule croquettes - 21.30 euros

Tiramisu - 6.50 euros

Son Artigues Crianza (100% Callet) - 21.05 euros

September 24

Pumpkin cream soup with vanilla and croutons - 10.70 euros

Gratinated goat cheese salad topped with berries and pine nuts - 11.90 euros

Chicken curry with grilled vegetable and saffron rice - 20.40 euros

Melting chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream - 6.80 euros

Son Artigues Crianza (100% Callet) - 21.05 euros

September 25

Paella mixta, with meat and seafood - 19.00 euros

Paella vegetarians - 16.00 euros

Glass of Gran Fueda - 5.80 euros


The goat cheese salad.

Pumpkin soup, with pumpkin seeds ...                                    ... and lots of vegetables.

More well presented dishes.

Ah paella - vegetarian for Gayle and traditional for me.

Vegetarian paella.                                                                  Being very much enjoyed.

The desserts were complex and so beautifully presented - notice the fresh flowers.

September 26,  2011 - Finca Son Palou, Orient, Majorca to Alcaufar Vell, Menorca

     After four nights on Majorca we finished our trip with three nights on the second largest Balearic island - Menorca.  With a population of just under 100,000 Menorca is traditionally more low-key than its neighbours of Mallorca and Ibiza.  Menorca is large enough to be interesting but small enough that one can see most all of it during a short trip.  One can easily go from one end of the island to the other on a day trip, the island being only 45 km by 15 km, more or less.   Menorca is known for it endless beaches, from miles-long sandy crescent to rocky, turquoise-watered bays called 'calas'  Pine trees fringe the coast.  The capital of Mahon, which we actually never went in to is on a bluff overlooking a large harbour with Georgian mansions and  a church with 13th century roots.

     We flew north-east directly from Majorca to Menorca, a 45 minute flight.   It was then a very short 15 minute drive to our 'home' for the next three nights - Alcaufar Vell.

     After a complete renovation Alcaufar Vell opened its doors in 1998.  The hundred-year-old farm of the owners' ancestors has been converted to a quiet and cosy hotel.  During the 19th century Alcaufar Vell was one of the most relevant agricultural and cattle farms in eastern Menorca.  The house was built on an old mediaeval tower of Arabic origins from the 18th century.  The old arable lands and the woods of the farm allow for long strolls down the ravine of the Alcaufar and the wild olive trees help one breathe the pure essence of the Mediterranean.  The main building takes one back to old times, presenting centuries of Menorcan country life.  Since the 14th century the Mercadal family has owned the farm.  The transformation of the house provides a wonderful place to rest and enjoy the good life with all modern amenities.  Long ago Alcaufar Vell was a meeting point for the family and the people from around, providing a locale for family events, the harvest, BBQs and a retirement place for resting and summer holidays.

     The hotel is larger than most we stay at, with about 20 rooms.  They are distributed in the main building and two annexes located in what used to be the old laundry and the stables of the farm more than 100 years ago  We were in a room in the stables.  The restaurant occupies the old barns of the farm, although in the summer it is moved to the 'Jardi dels ullastres' garden, where guests can enjoy cuisine beneath the hundred-year-old wild olive trees.

     The surroundings of the hotel are simple - gardens with corners where one can get lost, a swimming pool surrounded by wild olive trees, tracks and access to land and woods in which one can relax and enjoy nature.

Our first glimpse of Alcaufer Vell - impressive.

                                                                                              The central staircase.

The pool.

Our terrace.                                                                          The entrance to our room in the stables.

Lasagne with aubergine, confit tomato and feta with fresh cheese and truffle sauce.

Rack of lamb with crusted red current mustard with leeks and confit potatoes.

Explosive blood orange sorbet with chocolate shavings.

September 27,  2011 - Alcaufar Vell and Cala Turqueta, Menorca

     After a lovely breakfast and some relaxing time on our terrace we drove to the far west side of the island to Cala Turqueta, one of the most highly rated beaches on Menorca.  Along the way we stopped in a couple of small villages (pretty much everything on Menorca is small) to wander around.

     Cala Turqueta is on the south-west tip of the island, 10 km from the town of Ciutadella.   It is a little beach with very clear, crystal, turquoise (Turqueta means turquoise) water and fine white sand, surrounded by pine trees.  The beach is accessed by a 20 minute, more or less, walk from the car park.  As the photos confirm the beach and cove is stunningly beautiful.  After a nice afternoon we drove the hour plus back across the island to Alcaufar Vell where we had dinner.

Alcaufar Vell's buffer breakfast.                                                The terrace in front of the main building.

Relaxing on our terrace.

There's nothing like a Spanish bakery - ok perhaps a French or an Italian or a Turkish - but a Spanish bakery is pretty darn good.

A typical village in the interior of Menorca.                          And a typical Menorcan wooden fence.

The beach at Cala en Turqueta.

It is obvious  the reason the cove is called Cala Turqueta (turquoise).

More views through the pine forests.

A beautifully presented salad.

September 27,  2011 - Alcaufar Vell and Cala Pregonda, Menorca

     I wasn't feeling particularly well late yesterday, or overnight - sharp stomach pains - so we spent a quiet morning enjoying the sun on our terrace.  In the afternoon we drove the 50 minutes to Cala Pregonda, a beach on the north of the island that receives very good reviews.  Cala Pregonda is a medium sized golden sandy beach with clear inviting sea protected by a curve of the bay and the small island and beach opposite.  The beach is a good 30 minute walk along the Cami de Cavalls, a trail dating from 1330 when King James II obliged all settlers to keep an armed horse at the ready to defend Menorca in case of need and to use the path to keep watch over the island.  The path is 185 km in length, divided into 20 stages each of which can be hiked in a single day.  Another wonderful Menorcan beach, well worth the effort to get there.  Visually the landscape is stunning with rocks and hillsides contrasting the deep blue water.  We spent a couple of hours at the beach after which we drove around the area, ending up at Es Grau where we had read good things about the restaurant Tamarindos.

     Tamarindos is easy to find in this small village, sitting right on the water's edge in front of the docks and boats, feeling similar to many restaurants we enjoyed in Greece.   There is nothing upscale about the restaurant - a simple inside along with a number of tables on the outside terrace literally built over the water.  Being early enough we took one of the tables nearest the water.  Tamarindos is noted for its spectacular sunsets and it certainly did not disappoint.  We enjoyed a perfect unobstructed view from our table.  The food was decent but not outstanding as it was at a number of other high-end restaurants we enjoyed throughout our trip.  Nothing bad but nothing memorable.  We each started with a bowl of gazpacho.  The servings were small but the gazpacho was very good.  Gayle's Spanish tortilla was nicely cooked but the accompanying vegetables were canned and the French fries soggy.  For me the gambas (shrimp) were sizzling hot and tasty but quite small - not the quantity expected for nearly 23 euros.  In terms of wine there was a 1/4 bottle of cava available which provided for a nice toast on our last evening on Menorca.  Then a Galician Albarino (one of my favourite white wines) which was perfect with the gambas.  Overall the food was average but the ambiance - listening to the waves lapping on the shore; enjoying the sunset, all with a nice bottle of wine, was wonderful.

Our room in what was once the stables of the property.

Another traditional Menorcan wooden gate with Alcaufar Vell's stables in the background.

Some of the colourful bougainvillea common on Menorca.

Walking the Cami de Cavalls to Cala Pregonda.

Arriving at Cala Pregonda.

Enjoying a glass of cava                                                        Gazpacho and olives.

Spanish tortilla.


And so the sun sets on our wonderful trip to northern Spain, including the Balearic islands of Majorca and Menorca.

September 28,  2011 - Menorca to Barcelona

September 29,  2011 - Barcelona to Frankfurt to London to Halifax

     While we leave Menorca today our flight is not until 5:20 pm.  As we have an early morning (7:00 am) flight tomorrow from Barcelona to Frankfurt, then on to London and finally Halifax we booked the last flight out of Menorca that was to land in Barcelona around midnight.  The plan was to simply spend a few hours at the airport.  However the flight was cancelled forcing us to arrive earlier.  With the additional time we decided to take the bus in to Barcelona, attend a classical / flamenco concert followed by dinner.

     We stored our luggage and took the bus to the Placa de Catalunya in the centre of Barcelona.  From there we strolled through the city to the Basilica Santa Maria del Pi where we had reserved tickets for a concert by Pedro Javier Gonzalez.  Gonzalez was born in Barcelona and has won several awards as a flamenco guitar player.  The Basilica was a beautiful setting for the concert, which we very much enjoyed.  

     Afterwards we found a restaurant for our final Spanish meal of the trip.  Gayle had a garbanzo bean and spinach dish while I enjoyed the paella.  We finished with a delicious Creme Catalan.  We returned to Placa de Catalunya where we boarded the bus to return to the airport.  Logistically everything worked out perfect albeit trying to get a bit of sleep on an airport bench was not great.  But given we had to check in around 5:00 am it didn't make sense to stay in the city and get up and out even earlier.

Another cove / beach on the south coast of Menorca.

After which we returned to Cala Turqueta.

Posters of Pedro Gonzalez's concert.

Inside the cathedral.

Again the inside of the cathedral.                                           The stage.

Pedro Javier Gonzalez himself.

A specialty of Spain and Barcelona - paella.

To finish - another Creme Catalan.

Lodgings - Spain 2011

     Here are the lodgings at which we stayed, the cost (often in an upgraded room) and a link to their website 

103 euros      Hotel Lurdeia                                   Bermeo                          

170 euros      Iriarte Jauregia                                  Abiztur                          

143 euros      Parador Santo Domingo Bernardo   Santo Domingo de la Calzada

119 euros      Parador Sos del Rey Catolico            Sos del Rey Catolico      

162 euros      Casa de San Martin                           Boltana                          

82 euros        Villa de Alquezar                              Alquezar                        

166 euros*     Parador de Viehla                             Viehla                            

114 euros       Casa Guilla                                      Santa Engracia                         closed

148 euros       Parador de Vic-Sau                          Vic-Sau                         

143 euros       Parador de Cardona                         Cardona                         

198 euros       Finca de Son Palou                          Orient                            

151 euros       Alcaufar Vell                                    Carretera Alcaufar          

* included dinner


Expenses (based on average exchange rate 1 euro = $1.42 Cdn):

We are unable to locate all expense records of the trip (excluding airfare) but do have the amounts paid for lodging which totaled $4,128 (Cdn), or $206, on average, per night.  This is even better when one considers the rates include a substantive, usually usually a buffet.  The character and quality of our lodgings were everything we expected.  Except for perhaps the room in Villa de Alquezar and the suite at Parador de Cardona we could not have been more pleased.

Memories of Spain 2011:

  • the Basque men of Hotel Lurdeia
  • the beauty of the Basque countryside
  • the unique Basque language
  • the vibrancy of San Sebastian during the Fiesta
  • tapas, including the crunchy baby eels
  • Santo Domingo de la Calzada and the beautiful Parador Santo Domingo Bernardo Fresnedo
  • the running of the bulls in Sanguesa
  • the medieval village of Sos del Rey Catolico
  • our lunch at Casa Javier, including the mushroom ice cream - what a find
  • Casa de San Martin, including the property, the hospitality of David and the delicious meal
  • Turco
  • the scenic driving through the Pyrenees, e.g. Casa de San Martin and Parador Viehla
  • Casa Guilla perched on the rock outcropping
  • the delicious family style dinner prepared by Sandra at Casa Guilla 
  • the sun rising over the Vic-Sau reservoir
  • lunch at Fussimanya with wine poured from a porron
  • staying in the very impressive Cardona castle
  • Finca Son Palou and its tranquil, rural setting
  • enjoying a pitcher of excellent sangria on the expansive lawn of the Finca Son Palou
  • all our meals at Finca Son Palou
  • the drive down to serpentine road to Cala Tuent on the north coast of Majorca
  • the narrow country roads often enclosed by rock walls
  • the beautiful beaches of Menorca
  • Javier Pedro Gonzalez' flamenco concert followed by a late evening (10:30 pm - 11:45 pm) meal