Memories of Spain:

We again enjoyed a wonderful trip, with the following being our fondest memories:

  • Gayle in the mountain meadow
  • the abundance of wildflowers
  • another great meal at Casa Javier, including mushroom ice cream along with Javier's success
  • Casa Javier's fresh burrata / tomato / pesto salad
  • the cow bells at Hotel Selba d'Ansils and Casa de San Martin
  • the mystery of the funeral pole at Casa de San Martin 
  • the huge flock of sheep in Boltana
  • the Pirineos Bird Centre
  • our meal at Casa Rural Les Flors, especially the creative salad
  • the beautiful gardens at Casa Rural Les Flors, especially being escorted by Mask
  • the Tortilla Espagna at Vella La Farga
  • a couple of special rooms - Adelpha at Casa de San Martin (Norm); Jazmin at Bodegas de Arnes (Gayle)
  • the view of the valley from our room Gessemi at Les Casa des Flors
  • the volume of bubbles in the jacuzzi at Hotel Selba d'Ansils 
  • the orchids at La Vella Farga (and Hotel Selba d'Ansils)
  • the morning songs of the birds, especially the cuckoo birds
  • visit to the Dag Shang Kagyu Buddhist Temple / Monastery
  • watching Hetty create her paella, along with the family from Arizona and Hendrik 
  • eating dinner with Hetty, Henrik and Bart
  • our wonderful hosts - Adriana, Imma, Manel, Rafael, David, Reiner, Angel, Hendrik and Hetty
  • Angel's tomato bisque with artichokes
  • the mountain drive from Chia to Plan
  • the questionable 'road' from Carjigar to Roda
  • the medieval towns of Ainsa, Solsona, Graus and others
  • returning to Casa de San Martin, likely for the last time
  • being 'sandwiched' in the > 1,000 year old Holly Oak tree
  • the scenic drive from Benasque to Llanos des Hospital - wildflowers; waterfalls; snow-capped mountains
  • finding Muga (our favourite wine) in a Benasque supermarket
  • finding a fondue on a menu
  • driving through the Pyrenees, including the snow-capped peaks
  • more rain than we had hoped for 
  • generally cooler temperatures than expected
  • the many creative (and tasty) desserts
  • lengthy chats with other guests - Virginia and Nicola; Silvia and Alfred; Kristine, Gabriel and Anna
  • drinking a bottle of Cava with tapas and cherries in the warm sunshine at Mas Xipres 

Expenses (based on average exchange rate 1 euro = $1.463 Cdn):

Here are the costs of our 15 day trip:

$ 2,417           airfare and seat selection

$ 3,937          lodging ($262 Cdn $ per night) - including breakfast

$ 1,719           food ($115 per day for dinner of which $38 per day was for wine - breakfasts included in lodging)

$    634           vehicle ($426 or $28 per day for the vehicle plus fuel and tolls of $208)

$      30           souvenirs - saffron

$      15           entrance to Pirineos Bird Centre

$      36           miscellaneous

$ 8,788           for 15 days

The total cost excluding airfare and souvenirs (i.e. lodging, food, entrances, vehicle and miscellaneous) was $6,342 or $423 per day, primarily attributed to higher lodging costs.

Following are the average costs of our three previous trips to Spain.

  • $380 in 2018 (28 days)
  • $375 in 2019 (11 days)
  • $423 in 2021 (15 days)

In euros per day here are a few additional comparisons

                                    Lodging                     Food

Spain 2018                     147                          64

Spain 2019                     146                          68

Italy 2022                       138                           60

Greece 2022                  145                           49

Spain 2023                     180                          79*

* 53 euros of which was food with the balance of 26 euros being wine with dinner - Spanish wine is really good!


Lodging ranged from a low of 110 euros to a high of 246 euros.  All included breakfast.

Here is a list of where we stayed, the amount we paid (in euros) and a link to their website.  

246 euros          Vella La Farga                      LLadurs                            

110 euros          Casa Rural Les Flors           Gramos                             

185 euros          Hotel Selba d'Ansils             Benasque                           

185 euros          Casa de San Martin             S. Martin de Solana          

141 euros          Bodegas de Arnes               Graus                                

120 euros          Mas XiPres                          Sant Pere Sacarrera         

As is our practice we communicate and book directly with each lodging.  In doing so we save the establishment the booking commission.  As well often we are known to owners / staff when we arrive.

June 06, 2023 - Mas Xipres to Barcelona to Toronto to Halifax

We were up early, packed our stuff in the car, ate a quick breakfast, said adios to Hetty and Hendrik and were off as planned by 8:00 am.

We ended up turning onto the A7 rather than continuing to Sitges.  We made great time until we got closer to the airport where the traffic got more congested, at times stop and go.  But no problem as we arrived at the airport in plenty of time, returned the car with no problem and made it to the gate well before boarding.

The flight was good, landing in Toronto ahead of schedule.  We had 3 + hours which we spent in the Maple Leaf Lounge.  The flight to Halifax also left and arrived as scheduled.  After the flight issues we have had on three of our last four trips it was nice for everything to be seamless this time.

A very fitting entrance to a masia / farm.

June 05, 2023 - Mas Xipres, Sant Pere Sacarrera

We awoke to a sunny morning, and what promised to be perhaps our best day (weather wise) of the trip - mostly sunny and hot.

Breakfast was served outside which was really nice.

Mas Xipres is a more than 200 year old Spanish farmhouse, historically used for wine production, with a number of 'vaults' beneath the barn to age and store the wine.  The farmhouse is situated at the centre of the Penedes wine region of Barcelona, famous for its Cava (the champagne of Spain).  Mas Xipres has four rooms, a couple of very nice outdoor spaces, one with beautiful views across the peaceful hills and countryside.

There is a beautiful little private church on the property that still has been used for ceremonial purposes including weddings or a renewal of vows.  

Although Hendrik pointed out the church when we first arrived we said we would take a closer look later, and then never did. 

We wish we had.

Photo:  from Mas Xipres website

2024 UPDATE:

Our friends Bill and Linda Collins decided to stay at Mas Xipres on our recommendation. 

Hendrick recalled we had not seen the chapel so made a point of showing it to Collins #2.

Hetty and Hendrik (a Dutch couple) renovated this unique and authentic masia back in 2006.  Masia is a typical word of the region of Catalonia (and southern France) for a building generally with a gable roof in a rural environment that is related to farming and / or livestock.  Family housing is on the second floor with the first floor used as a collection and logistics center for agricultural and livestock production.

Mas Xipres is situated close (a bit over an hour) to Barcelona, the region's wine bodegas, the beaches of Sitges and Montserrat.

During the afternoon we took a drive through the wine region.  Although we did not go to Montserrat (if only we had another day) we could easily see it's jagged mountains on our drive.  Montserrat is a multi-peaked mountain range, part of the Catalan pre-coastal range. Montserrat is well known as the site of the Benedictine Abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat, founded in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary.  Currently there are over 70 monks in residence.

Our drive, which turned out to be > 50 km, most along quite small twisting country roads took us through large areas of vineyards, especially around Guardiola de Font-Rubi, then through Font-Rubi set among pine forests and out the other (west) side to La Llacuna from where we circled back to Mas Xipres.  A very nice drive.

After returning we opened a bottle of Cava we had been carrying with us but never found the right time / weather to enjoy.  Being a gorgeous afternoon and being in Cava country this was definitely the right time.  With some cherries and a bag of olive baked (our absolute favourite) 'tapas' / potato chips we put out our table cloth and enjoyed the late afternoon in Spanish style.

Most often at boutique hotels where dinners are available our hosts serve dinner.  However here Hendrik and Hetty, and their son Bart joined us (after asking if we were ok with them doing so) at our table.  We really appreciated the ask, and the opportunity to chat with them over our meal.

Leaving early tomorrow morning for the trip home we returned to our room to finish packing.

Mas Xipres has a number of very nice outdoor areas.

Breakfast in the sunshine.

Great outdoor space and pool at Mas Xipres.

Vaults below the barn's floor.                                                 Various artifacts, including Dutch shoes.

The inside of the barn.                                                            A couple of old wine casks.

The mountains of Montserrat.

Roses at the end of a row of vines.                                          Colourful prickly pear flowers.

Vineyards surrounding a Bodegas.

This area (south west of Barcelona) of Spain is covered with vineyards from which Cava is made.    There are Cellars throughout.

We've been carrying around this bottle of Cava for a while but never had a nice sunny afternoon to enjoy it.  With some cherries and a bag of olive oil baked tapas (potato chips) enjoying the nice outdoor space of Mas Xipres it was perfect.

Cava, cherries and tapas - what a way to spend our last afternoon.

Salad to start.                                               Baked goat cheese for Gayle.                Chicken for Norm.

Veggies.                                Potatoes - sweet and regular.    Yoghurt sauce with mint.       Cheese for dessert.

It was great to eat with the family - son Bart, and Hendrik and Hetty

June 04, 2023 - Bodegas de Arnes to 
                                     Mas Xipres, Sant Pere Sacarrera

After breakfast and a number of photos we left Bodegas de Arnes, stopping in Graus for a short walkabout of the old part of town and the attractive Plaza Mayor that was just starting to fill shortly after noon on a Sunday.  We expect the plaza will be soon jam packed with families, including many children.

From Graus we drove south through more scenic Spanish countryside.  As we pushed further south the mountains effectively disappeared with mostly flat agricultural land interspersed with gentle rolling hills.  At Alfarras we veered mostly east eventually connecting with the A2.  Unfortunately I relied on google.maps rather than taking note of the directions on the website, the result being we got twisted around as we searched for Mas Xipres.  Eventually we asked some locals, some of whom even with their 'smart' phones could not point us in the right direction.  But eventually two fellows, who were also confused, asked someone else.  Turns out we were quite close and a look at their phone had us heading in the right direction after which we easily found Mas Xipres (more on the farm tomorrow).

We were in for a special dinner tonight.  When we think of traditional Spanish food the first thing that comes to mind is paella.  And that is what was in store for us tonight.  Mas Xipres has this large barn where dinner is served.  Tonight Hetty made paella, in what we were guessing was more or less a 20 " pan.  Each ingredient was added one by one, starting by grilling the langostinos in olive oil.  After being removed calamari and sepia were added, then covered with a tomato sofrito and bomba (rice) cooked in wine.  Then came the chicken, the return of the langostinos followed by clams and mussels, and finally peas.

It was a great to watch Hetty develop the paella from a film of oil to the finished product while we, including a family from Arizona - Kristine, Gabriel, their daughter Viviana (or Vivi) and grandmother Anna, who was actually presenting at a conference in Zaragoza over the next few days, watched enjoying glasses of cava / wine.  The paella, accompanied by a salad, was delicious with lots of seconds.  Hetty made Gayle her own vegetarian version which was wonderful as well.  After dinner we 'retired' to the area just outside the barn where we enjoyed chatting and the views across the rolling countryside, all while sipping 'dessert' - another glass of wine.

The paella was a special and unique dinner, especially watching it be created from beginning to end.  A wonderful experience.

Angel and Reiner.                                                                   The Juliette balconies of our room - Jazmin.

Our bathroom's Moroccan themed wall tiling.                      Tiling of the floor at the Bodegas' entrance.

A nice sitting area at Bodegas de Arnes.                                           The roses are in bloom.

Plaza Mayor in Graus - just starting to fill near noon on a Sunday.  Lots of children.

Alleyways and narrow streets in the old part of Graus.

The beautiful countryside near Alfarras.                                 The town of Benebarre.

We know - how many more poppies and wildflowers does one need to see?  When they are this bright and colourful, a few.

A field of poppies.

Dark clouds - the afternoon rain is coming.

Hetty adding the ingredients (sofrito, wine, clams etc.) one by one.                           Hendrik 'managing' the process.

Hetty doing her magic.                                      Adding the calamari and sepia.          And then the tomato sofrito.

Great interest in the progress.                             Nearly done.                                     Peas added at the end for colour.

WOW!  Just WOW!

Hendrik serving the finished paella.      Accompanying salad.

Gayle's special vegetarian version.                                          Norm's plated dinner.

Kristine, Viviana (Vivi) and Anna.                                           Gabriel and Kristine.

Views of the tranquil countryside from Mas Xipres while enjoying a glass of wine after dinner.

After dinner relaxing with Vivi and Gabriel engaged in a match of chess, and the rest of us enjoying 'dessert', being a glass of wine.

June 03, 2023 - Bodegas de Arnes; drives to Panillo and Roda

The Bodegas de Arnes was built in 1796 on the remains of a number of vaults possibly dating from the 14th century (dating based on their similarity to the vaults of Casa Cardian in Torre De Obato 4 km away).  It has been confirmed that from the current building one could see the 12 defensive towers of castles or hermitages of the time.  The location was strategic in being at the passage of the Esera river and an old medieval bridge.  The road to the house leads further to Panillo and other villages. 

The tower, due to its strategic location, served as headquarters of the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War, using its warehouses as a refuge.  Later the house ran into disrepair, being used to lock up livestock, and eventually was abandoned.  However today it shines again due to the efforts of its owners, Angel and Reiner, two entrepreneurs from the Balearic Islands.  They have transformed the Bodegas into a charming hotel, serving excellent food through Angel's magic.  The four room hotel has been open since 2004.

We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, sheep milk yoghurt, Spanish ham and cheese, eggs, a cake, and of course coffee.  

Having been to Thailand, and with the recommendation of Virginia and Nicola (from Casa de San Martin) we decided to go to the Buddhist Temple in nearby Panillo.  The Dag Shang Kagyu temple / monastery was established in 1984 as a study centre for Buddhism practices.  The temple has a traditional Bhutanese style with a 17 metre stupa and a translation school teaching literature, philosophy and Tibetan language.  There is also space for people to retire to the monastery for months or even years.  We were told there are six lamas from Bhutan currently living at the location.  Dag Shang Kagyu is part of a non-sectarian movement that respects all traditions and recognizes as valid all paths to obtain supreme spiritual realization. 

An interesting visit.

We then decided to take a drive to the north-east of Graus.  We first passed through through Capella where there was an impressive Romanesque bridge, retaining its medieval structure, spanning the Rio Isabena.

We then drove some scenic countryside until reaching Cajigar where the paved road ended and we began to drive a road that in retrospect we should not have.  The drive was 12.8 kms along what might loosely be called a 'dirt road', full of at times very deep ruts making passage often difficult, and certainly slow.  Thank goodness the approaching rain held off until we reached La Puebla de Roda, which would have been a nice place to stop and wander through but the time it took to drive from Cajigar and the rain that had just begun had us move on.  

Only a km or so away is the village of Roda de Isabena that at the time of being built between the 11th and 12th century was the capital of Ribagorza.  It was one of the founding domains from which was built the Kingdom of Aragon.  The village rises over a mountain that dominates the access to the valley of Isabena.  Nowadays Roda has the distinction of being the smallest Spanish village with a (former) cathedral.   While driving up to the village unfortunately the rain intensified so we had to move on, returning to Bodegas de Arnes.

Dinner started with a Timbale de Setas (mushrooms) for Gayle and a Timbale of Monkfish with a large scallop for Norm.  Then Gayle enjoyed a Stroganoff of beans and mushrooms with rice while Norm had crusted shoulder of pork with potatoes and peas.  Dessert was a tasty pumpkin cake.

The uniquely painted, easily visible Bodegas de Arnes stands out as one enters Graus from the north.

Spanish ham and cheese for breakfast.

A large plate of fruit.                                                               A morning cake.

The Dag Shang Kagyu Buddist Temple in Panillo, Aragon, Spain.

Paintings on the road entering the Temple.                                 The gate at the entrance to the Temple.

A large Prayer wheel.

Prayer wheels.                                                                          Part of the temple.

Prayer flags.   

Capella's medieval Romanesque bridge.

With the rain of the past week the poppies are popping out.

On the 'road' from Cajigar to La Puebla de Roda.                   The entrance to the village of La Puebla de Roda.

Church in Laguarres.                                                             The town of Roda de Isabena.

Mushroom timbale.                                                                 Monkfish timbale with scallop.

Vegetable (beans and mushroom) stroganoff with rice, adorned with edible rose petals.

Crusted pork.                                                                          A pumpkin cake.

June 02, 2023 - Casa de San Martin to Bodegas de Arnes, Graus

Today we left Casa de San Martin but not before hearing the story of the 'totem' (which is not a totem) pole resting near the parking area.  In nearby Boltana a 17th century Monastery that later became a geriatric hospital was then developed as a 5* hotel.  The owner had a connection to Indonesisa where he sourced two 'funeral poles' that were never incorporated in the hotel.  One is in Boltana with the other, through a connection with Danny, the gardener at Casa de San Martin has rested on the property since 2021.  The pole is made of Belian, or 'iron wood', the heaviest wood in the Borneo / Sumatra forests, so dense that it does not float.  Belian wood was used for this Klirieng, or burial pole.  Constructed to honour dead aristocrats this Klirieng is more or less 100 years old and weighs 1,800 kg or nearly two tons.  David continues to research the history of this particular pole while considering the options for raising it from its current resting place.

As we drove out we strolled down a short path to a > 1,000 year old Holly Oak tree that had been exposed when surrounding pine trees were removed.  The tree stands majestically near the end a point of land.  It's trunk has separated allowing for a 'sandwich' photo op.

From this massive tree we enjoyed what will likely be our final views of Casa de San Martin.  David has been attempting to sell as he moves on with the next phase of his life.  We were so fortunate to have found Casa de San Martin back in 2011.  Not only the building, our room, the meals and the views of the mountains and valley were so impressive, David is a wonderful host, full of history and stories.  The same when we returned in 2018 and now again this year.  We enjoyed a very relaxing and peaceful four nights here in the the Pyrenean mountains.  Again the food was superb and the hospitality great.  Meeting and chatting with guest Virginia and Nicola, Silvia and Alfred, was interesting and a large part of why we so much like staying at these small boutique hotels.  But we left with the feeling that perhaps this will be our final visit.  Hopefully we will be wrong as we so much enjoy this region of the Pyrenees.  David has indicated he very may well stay on if possible after selling so perhaps we may surprise ourselves and return. 

After leaving Casa de S. Martin we stopped in Ainsa to visit the Pirineos Bird Center, an interesting exhibit of the region's eagles and vultures, including the bearded vulture which is the only animal that feeds almost exclusively (70% to 90%) on bones and their marrow.  Very interesting an worthwhile. 

Upon returning to the parking lot we again met Virginia and Nicola with whom we enjoyed another nice chat.  When they heard we were going to Graus they mentioned a nearby Buddhist community that seemed like an interesting place to visit.  

We left Ainsa for an easy one hour drive to Graus and Bodegas de Arnes, where we were greeted by Reiner and Angel and shown to our interesting Moroccan themed room.   

Bodegas de Arnes offers dinners which we obviously took advantage of.  Angel is the chef with Reiner the server.  Gayle's first course, a tomato bisque with fried artichokes was a home run, one of the best dishes Gayle had on the trip. Norm's neck of kid (young goat) starter with pumpkin puree was extremely tender and beautifully presented.  For second courses Gayle had a very original zucchini cannelloni while Norm fall of the bone tender lamb ribs.  Dessert was a light lemon curd with sheep yoghurt garnished with kiwi.  Angel's chef skills are certainly excellent, both in the taste and flavour of the dishes but as well their presentation.

After finishing our meal we quickly retired.

Adelfa, one of the nicest rooms we have ever had with its beautiful wood beams / ceilings.

Delicious golden ham and cheese empanadas for breakfast.

The Casa de S. Martin, including it's crest and a typical Aragon chimney.

David, our wonderful host.                  Enjoying our last morning in the shadows of Casa de San Martin.

The casa as seen from the restaurant.                                       Cows help 'mow' the lawn around Casa de San Martin.

The Klirieng, a unique Indonesian 'funeral pole'.

The > 1,000 year old Holly Oak tree.                                    Gayle 'sandwiched' between the two trunks.

Casa de San Martin as seen from the Holly Oak tree - perhaps our last view of this beautiful property.

Ainsa's Parque Zoologico - Pirineos Bird Centre.                  Including its home, or Albergue, for injured birds.

Injured birds of the Pirineos Bird Center.

This Tuertin, a short toed eagle, that struck a power line and lost sight in its right eye. 

After leaving Ainsa it was an east hour drive to Graus and Bodegas de Arnes.

When we saw the name of our room - Jazmin - we suspected a Moroccan theme.  The outer / sitting room had a nice chandelier under a bright blue ceiling. 

The blue ceiling carried through to our bedroom with its exposed wood beams.

A Moroccan gold overlay canopy covered our bed.

The floor of our room.                                                           The decorative, and shiny bathroom sink.

Tomato bisque with fried artichoke - so very good.               Neck (cuello) of goat (cabro).

Zucchini cannelloni with pumpkin puree.                              Lamb (cordero) chops.

Our lemon dessert with sheep milk yoghurt and kiwi.            Bodegas de Arnes logo on some of their plates.

June 01, 2023 - Casa de San Martin de la Solana; drive to Ainsa

Today was a pretty quiet day.  Another tasty breakfast, although other than a change in the fresh juice and a few of the cakes pretty much the same as previous days so no need for photos.  

Although it had started to rain we decided to go to Ainsa to both wander through the old town and visit the Pirineos Bird Centre.  On the way in our timing was perfect to see a large flock of sheep being moved across the road from one field to another (see video below).  However we arrived in Ainsa a little late to see the Bird Centre before it closed at 2:00 pm.  So we walked through the historic part of Ainsa, stopping in a number of shops.  With the rain gaining intensity we decided not to wait the hour until the Bird Centre reopened, but rather return tomorrow on our way out.

The weather actually improved later in the afternoon such that we could enjoy some wine we had on the terrace in the nice sunshine.  We then relaxed for the rest of the early evening before going to dinner where we were again treated to a lovely meal starting with a cauliflower soup with turmeric.  We then had a salad of tender wheat grains with apples and parmesan.  For her main course Gayle had a stuffed pumpkin while Norm a good sized entrecote with potates.  We both chose the same dessert - a passion fruit sorbet.

After dinner we again had a lengthy chat with Silvia and Alfred about travel, children and a number of other topics.  Again it was wonderful to 'connect' with other guests.

A beautiful staircase and more of the attractive beamed ceilings of Casa de San Martin, this in our room.

Silvia and Alfred, the German couple from Bavaria with whom we had a number of interesting chats.

Lots of sheep in Boltana.

Alleys, gates and a door knocker in Ainsa.

Sights strolling the alleys of Ainsa.

Stone buildings in Ainsa.

The same flock of sheep later in the day                                   The River Ara flowing through the gorge.

While driving to / from San Martin one always has to be aware of others who seem to believe they 'own' the road.

Right - interestingly a wall of bamboo borders the east side of the property.

Below - the covered outdoor area.

Some leftover wine from Selba D'Ansils served by Crina and enjoyed as the sun finally came out in the afternoon.

Gayle on our balcony.                                                            The majestic front oof Casa de San Martin.

The Casa grounds looking up to the restaurant. 


Not exactly a Costa Rican or Greek sunset but still decently nice.

About to enjoy dinner (thanks for the great photo David).

Cauliflower soup with turmeric.                                              Salad of tender wheat grains, apples and parmesan.

Stuffed pumpkin.                                                                     Entrecote with potatoes.

Passion fruit sorbet.

May 31, 2023 - Casa de San Martin de la Solana

Having stayed put yesterday today we went for a 100 km drive through the valley north of Casa de San Martin.  We drove clockwise from Casa de San Martin to Fiscal, then north to Sarvise and then east through the mountain pass.  The drive was extremely scenic, winding up and down through the mountains and past a few quaint small villages.  

The first village (if one can even call it that - it was more a collection of perhaps a dozen homes) Fanlo provided great views down the valley.  It was then on to Nerin, perched on a hill with a wealth of wildflowers.  The drive continues south-east with views of the Parque National de Ordesa y Monte Pedido to the north.  Eventually we reached Escalona from where we returned south to Ainsa and then back to San Martin de la Solana.

Unfortunately the weather, which had been pretty good on our drive - a number of clouds but some sun and decently warm - deteriorated with the now expected late afternoon rain making its appearance, this time accompanied by clouds right up to Casa de San Martin.  There is no question that if we want to get out and see anything / anyplace we need to do it in the late morning / early afternoon.

Below you will see a couple of photos of tarps / tents across a ravine from Casa de San Martin.  In the 1950s it was planned to dam the River Ara (which apparently is the only river in northern Spain that does not have dam).  Property throughout the valley began to be expropriated in the 1960s with numerous villages being abandoned.  There was considerable resistance to the evictions with destruction by the government to force the evictions, including cutting off water and electricity, blowing up buildings, bulldozing olive trees etc.  Finally in 1984 the evictions were complete.  But given the slowness of progress and the many lawsuits the project limped along before finally being abandoned in 2005.  Meanwhile the abandoned villages at higher elevations were taken over by squatters, who remain to this day.  The encampments in the photo below are a small group of Germans, apparently well educated and of some means, who simply want an alternative lifestyle.  David has gotten to know them quite well, gets along with them and works together, having a mutual respect.  In fact next week there is a significant birthday party with a number of the parents who are coming to celebrate with their children staying at Casa de San Martin.

Another evening; another rich dinner and another nice bottle of wine.  While it was all excellent the asparagus salad, duck with a citrus sauce and chocolate mousse stand out.  There were two other couples at dinner - Silvia and Alfred from Bavaria, Germany and Virginia and Nicola from Spain and Italy respectively.  Turns out it was Virginia's birthday for which she was honoured with a cake, that she shared with all.  This of course led to conversation that continued on until 11:30 pm.  

This is exactly why we prefer to stay at small boutique hotels where, while it does not always happen, most often we interact with other guests, along with the owners.

Casa de San Mattin de la Solana's lovable dog Toku.

Lots of beautiful roses on the property.

Again, the view from our balcony.                                        And the back of the Casa.

The 'squatter' friends across the ravine.

This is one way to mow the soccer pitch.                                 With the oversight of the shepherd.

Fanlo, a small mountain village.

The village of Fanlo.                                                               The view down the valley from Nerin.

Looking north to the Park National de Ordesa y Monte Perdido.

More mountain wildflowers - Dwarf mallow and the Dog-rose.

A meadow entering the village of Nerin.

And yet more - Bird vetch              Burnet rose                                 Viciifolia                                 and Broom.

Ham and cheese.

Evidence that we cannot say the weather was always perfect at Casa de San Martin - afternoon clouds.

Guacamole with nachos.                                                         Green asparagus salad (with ham for Norm).

A delicious potato dish for Gayle, smothered in 

Duck (or as David likes to call it "Quack quack" in a citrus (lemon, orange and passion fruit) sauce.  Superb.

A lemon dessert for Norm and chocolate mousse for Gayle.                                                    Edra wine with dinner.

It was Virginia's birthday, a milestone marked with cake.

Nicola and Virginia.

May 30, 2023 - Casa de San Martin de la Solana

Today we stayed put.  Total kms driven = 0.0.

Being here at the beautiful Casa de San Martin for four nights today was a total relax day.  From the website:

"Lost between mountains and forest Casa de San Martin is the perfect refuge to relax, or take long walks in the middle of nature.  A place with character and a lot of history.  There is no rush here!  

Perched on the top of a promontory, like a high plateau, long and narrow, flanked by two precipitous ravines, the house looks like the keel of a ship on land.  From the house one can see a very wide valley and the belt of mountains that surrounds it.  As far as the eye can see there is only vegetation, coniferous forest, crops and some abandoned and lost villages.

Property of the monastery of San Victorian and later a farmhouse, it was the depopulation of the valley in the second half of the 20th century due to a dam that was never built.

Construction of the present stone building began in the eighteenth century, with it recently being lovingly restored to offer all the comforts of modern living in elegant rustic surroundings.

The property consists of 95 hectares, surrounded by pine and oak forests.  The walls of the house of San Martin are a silent witness, from it's privileged vantage point, of the passage of time"

We started the day enjoying a nice leisurely breakfast after which we spent time sitting on our balcony gazing out over the countryside.  I took a number of photos of the beautiful building and the many artifacts David has collected and displayed throughout.  Late afternoon we enjoyed some leftover Muga wine.

Dinner was again delicious, starting with Salmarejo, a gazpacho like cold bisque, mine with a piece of ham.  Then it was a quinoa vegetable salad with zucchini carpaccio and baked olives.  Norm's main course was a confit of suckling pig with potatoes while Gayle had the largest (and prettiest) stuffed red pepper.  Dessert was a passion fruit 'fool' for Gayle and an apple flan for Norm.  All accompanied with a bottle of red wine we very much enjoyed when here in 2018 - Cuevas de Arom.

During dinner we enjoyed chatting with a couple from Germany and another couple - she from Spain and he from Australia.
It is certainly convenient to finish diner and walk perhaps 15 to 20 metres down the hall to our room.

The Casa de San Martin restaurant.

A selection of jams.                                                                  David about to make me a coffee.

A buffet of fruit, meats, cheese and a selection of baked goods.   

My breakfast plate.

The views over the slate rooves from our balcony - yes those are clouds down in the valley.

Our balcony.                                                                          The view out the bathroom window.

Stone walls, beautiful wood framed windows, wood beamed ceilings - visually impressive.

Lounges - downstairs and near a fireplace on the first floor.

The attention to detail, with the use of stone, beams and artifacts throughout is very impressive. 

Crina, David and Andre.

We enjoyed some Muga on our balcony in the afternoon and then a bottle of Cuevas de Arom with dinner.

Salmarejo, the Pyrenees version of Gazpacho (Gayle's of course did not have the ham).

Quinoa with vegetable and a zucchini carpaccio and baked olives (the black specks).

A very colourful (and large) stuffed red pepper.

Confit of suckling pig with potatoes                                      Passion fruit fool.

An apple flan.

May 29, 2023 - Hotel Selba D'Ansils, Benasque to
                                      Casa de San Martin de la Solana

We enjoyed a final breakfast at Hotel Selba d'Ansils this morning, and then packed to move on.  We very much enjoyed our room and stay.  Rafael and the friendly staff were wonderful.  Our suite was large with all the amenities - a great comfortable bed, nice wing chairs, a good table to work on, a great shower, a jacuzzi tub,    a(n electric) fireplace and an outdoor area that unfortunately we couldn't use as much as we would have liked due to the daily afternoon rain.  And then there were those cow bells.  If the constant (day and night) sound of clattering cow bells bothers you this is perhaps not the best place but for us it was wonderful.

At this time the road from Castejon de Sos to Campo is closed due to road work.  David (of Casa de San Martin) suggested we take a dirt road over the mountains from Chia to Plan - not even on the  Rafael suggested not taking the risk and rather detour east to Bonansa, then south and finally back west to Campo.  We decided to give the overland route a go, at least for a few kms to see what the road was like.  It did not seem that bad so we continued.  It was a slow but beautiful 25 kms.  Quiet, peaceful (I think we saw two other vehicles) with spectacular views and lots of meadows and wildflowers.  No doubt some might be getting tired of all the wildflower photos but it is spring in the mountains with many different colourful varieties being abundant. 

The first half of the drive was over somewhat barren mountain side with vistas of the high snow-capped Pyrenees.  We made a number of stops to photograph the flowers, enjoy the view and have Gayle spend time in a hillside meadow.  The second half was less visually pleasing yet still a nice drive through forest as we descended the mountain.

From Plan it was a picturesque drive along the Ciquenta River through a narrow gorge to Salinas.  Then south to Ainsa where we reconnected with the N-260 and drove west past Boltana to the turn for Casa de San Martin de la Solana, 5 km up the mountain.  The good news is that the road is now paved until the last few hundred meters into the Casa, an improvement over our previous visits in 2011 and 2018.

Upon pulling in to the Casa David (and Andre the chef) were there to meet us.  David is such an interesting individual with a multitude of stories to tell.  I had contacted him a couple of days previously to see if he could get a bouquet of flowers in our room.  The florist was closed but no problem - staff just picked a number of roses from the Casa's gardens.  Gayle was both surprised and impressed.

We are back in Adelfa, a gorgeous room (photos tomorrow) with a large balcony looking down the valley.

We were the only guests this evening (more coming over the next few days) so had a 'private dining room'.  Our four course dinner was excellent starting with a mousse de setas (mushrooms), followed by a lentil salad and then a vegetable stew made with coconut milk and Kaffir lime leaves.  I had Maqueca, a Brazilian dish of Bacalao (cod) smothered with the the same vegetable stew.  For dessert Gayle had a mango sorbet and Norm a coconut flan with chocolate and nuts.

We are very happy to be back at Casa de San Martin.

Ready for breakfast.                                                                 A selection of croissants, muffins and breads.

Rafael, Hotel Selba d'Ansil's owner.                                         Flor (from Romania), one of the serving staff.

Nice that the roses are out so early.                                         Gayle on the outdoor space of out Suite.

Very much loved our room with a nice table to work on, a jacuzzi, a fireplace (that warmed us on the cool mornings and evenings), lots of space and a great view to the tranquil outside / mountains.

A few photos of narrow streets and nice stone buildings in the nearby ski town of Benasque.

No doubt a daily experience - the afternoon chat on a bench in Benasque.

We decided to take the 25 k dirt road from Chia to Plan.  We knew from the first photo it was gong to be a very scenic drive.

 When in the mountains one should expect to see a variety of mountain flowers.

Gayle very much enjoying the mountain meadow.

Chia to Plan - mountain scenery.                                          The road.

Spring Gentian.                                                                      Daphne.

More mountain wildfowers and ...                                          ... Arran brown butterflies.

After a very scenic (albeit slow) 25 k drive we arrived in Plan.

One of the many curious cows encountered along the route. 

The Rio Ara running along the N-260 in the valley below Casa de San Martin.

Cows crossing, or cooling / cleaning off in the Rio Ara.

Our first glimpse of Casa de San Martin.

Paul suggested we do something nice for Gayle after our trip to Quebec City so I asked David if he could get a bouquet of flowers to be in our room when we arrived.  Although the florist was closed that did not deter him as roses etc. were picked from the Casa's garden.  Gayle was impressed as was I.

The beautiful wood beamed ceiling and large fireplace of Casa de San Martin's restaurant.

A wonderful mushroom mouse - delicious.                                  David.                                 Our wine this evening.

Next was a lentil salad with carrots and corn.

Gayle's veggetable stew with coconut milk, peppers and Kaffir lime leaves.

Moqueca, a Brazilian Bacalao / cod dish smothered with a sauce similar to Gayle's meal.

For dessert Mango sorbet ...                                                     ... and a coconut flan with chocolate and nuts.

May 28, 2023 - Hotel Selba D'Ansils, Benasque with a  
                         drive up Valle de Benasque to LLanos de Hospital

With the weather calling for rain starting at noon immediately after breakfast we decided on a morning drive further up the valley to the end - at least with respect to driving - to Llanos de Hospital.  Hikers of course can and do continue further.  

It was a beautiful 14 km drive through the valley framed by mountains, past a number of waterfalls  roadside wildflowers and colourful meadows.  Snow could be seen at the higher elevations.  Quite different than when last here in 2018, when only a week earlier there was still some snow by the roadside, the Llanos de Hospital was open with many cross country skiers using it as a base for a day's ski.  But not this year.  There was no snow, no skiers and no place to enjoy a drink and some food.  In fact the parking lot was closed with a gate.  The effects of changing weather patterns. 

We returned to Benasque shortly after noon to the sound of thunder and the skies opening.  Rain continued throughout the rest of the day.  The afternoon and evening were spent indoors, blogging and napping.

We again ate dinner at the hotel's restaurant where we enjoyed a superb meal of:
   -  a small starter plate of sausage and olives
   - Espinacas con Pasas Pinones - spinach with raisons and pine nuts
   - Raviolis de Alcachofa Manzana y Jamon (ravioli of artichoke with apple and ham).  I had the raviolis as a           first course while Gayle had the same, without the ham, as her second course.  We both loved the dish
   - Parrillada de Cordero y Longaniza - grilled lamb (my favourite) and a mountain sausage, and
   - Aragonese (similar to the Basque or Catalan style) cheesecake

accompanied by a bottle of local red wine.

A perfect day for us - a nice short drive, a restful afternoon / evening and a great dinner.

The Hotel Selba D'Anisls adorned with a wall of roses.

The mountains as seen from the grounds of Selba D'Ansils.

The entrance to the hotel.

A cow stop.

Mountains framing the Valle de Benasque.

A couple of the many waterfalls along the way.

Enjoying the fresh mountain air while balancing on a rock.                                      White beard => white snow.

A lake above an embalsa (dam) created along the Rio Esera.

Wild orchids.

Many more mountain wildflowers - Alyssum montanum, Lotus alpinus, Rock soapwort and Wild thyme.

Asphodelus albus.

A meadow of colourful wildflowers.

... and more wildflowers including Forget-Me-Nots, the Spring gentian, Alpine columbine and Milkworts.

A bee doing what bees do.

More colourful wild flowers - mountain orchids, Bulbine and a variety of Vetch.

Espinacas con Pasas Pinones.                                                   Raviolis de Alcachofa (artichokes) y Manzana (apple).

Parillada de Cordero y Longaniza (lamb chops and sausage).

Aragonese cheesecake.

May 27, 2023 - Hotel Selba D'Ansils, Benasque / 
                                                      Lunch at Casa Javier

We are three nights here at Hotel Selba d'Ansils.  There really are only two directions to go being near the end of a valley - further up the valley where the road ends in 14 kms, or back to Castejon de Sos and into the mountains if one wishes.

After a relaxing mid-day we decided to drive the half hour - along the main road being the blue route - or so back down the valley and then east to Casa Javier, a restaurant we happened upon in 2011, and had returned to in 2018.  We were so impressed with the food we were the first to give Casa Javier a TripAdvisor review.  Another great decision.  Javier certainly appeared to remember us.  Whether he would recognize us had we not mentioned we were the Canadians who had visited twice before is hard to say but  we were greeted with a smile and a welcome.

We enjoyed another fantastic, very reasonably priced meal - 23 euros for three courses each.  Gayle started with the Carpaccio de tomate rosa burrata y pesto - she was in heaven while Norm had the Risotto con arroz boletus edulis, trompeta negra y queso Pirineos.  For our secondos Gayle had the Arroz integral con pisto (red peppers) y thempe de soja (with soyabeans), and for Norm the Conjelo (rabbit) a la cazuela con setas (in a casserole of mushrooms).  We both repeated the same dessert we each had on our two previous visits - the Helado de boletus edulis con frutos y nata (mushroom ice cream with fruits and nuts, drizzled with chocolate), every bit as unique and tasty as we remembered.

We returned to Benasque along the grey road through Arasan and then Liri.  While narrow the road climbed up the mountain providing a number of wonderful vistas along the way.  There were stopes for photos of wildflowers and a number of cows being herded by a couple and their dogs, dogs who did a great job when one of the cows tried to 'sneak' up the hill.  They were having none of it.

We returned sixish and simply relaxed for the rest of the evening, making use of the jacuzzi in our room.

Hotel Selba D'Ansils after a late afternoon rain - a beautiful photo taken by Gayle.

The view out our room.                                                         Hotel Selba D'Ansils adorned with roses.

Cheese and fruit for breakfast.

Eggs and ham.                                                                        A nice selection of breads and croissants.

Orchids certainly seem to be a thing here in the mountains - we even have some in our room.

Hotel Selba D'Ansils.

Carpaccio of tomato with burrata and pesto.                         Mushroom risotto.

Rice with red peppers and soyabeans.                                      Rabbit in a casserole of mushrooms.

Mushroom ice cream.                                           Restaurante Casa Javier

Javier and Gayle.

Looking after the cows, even at a somewhat elderly age.

Stone buildings in the country near Liri.

The countryside and mountains around Castejon de Sos.

Herding dogs guarding the escape route.

Those who tend to sheep are 'shepherds'.  Those who tend to goats are 'goatherds'.  Those who tend to cows must be afraid as they are known as 'cowherds'.

Spring time in the Pyrenees means more wild flowers - Dianthus and meadow sage.

Marigold.                                               Lady's Bedstraw

May 26, 2023 - Casa Rural Les Flors, Grammos to
                               Hotel Selba D'Ansils, Benasque

We awoke to the clouds rolling past our balcony, literally just outside our room.  Breakfast was again very nice, with a selection of meats and cheese served on a piece of slate, cereal, croissants, bread, juice, yoghurt, a tomato with olive oil, and fruit, and course coffee.  Before leaving Casa Rural Les Flors we enjoyed some time in the beautiful outdoor space, adorned with many colourful flowers.  We were joined by Mask and Gris the two very friendly dogs.  In fact Mask accompanied Gayle on her walk about the property.

By the time we left it was a bit after noon.  Our drive took us west and north, through some very scenic mountains and valleys.  The route was simple, staying on the N260 through Sort, La Pobla de Segur, El Pont de Suert, and then on to Castejon de Sos where we turned due north to Benasque.

We easily found our next 'home away from home' the Hotel Selba D'Ansils just outside the mountain ski village of Benasque.  Although only built 16 years ago the hotel has a feel of a much older place, respecting the traditional style of stately homes of the Benasque valley being built with stone, wood and slate.  Selba D'Ansils with its 13 rooms has a family mountain feel being located outside of town adjacent to a meadow, forest and small pond.  Perhaps most noticeable are the cow bells of the nearby herd in the next field over - throughout both day and night, essentially 24/7.

Our dinner decision was easy when we saw fondue on the menu.  More on the simple side with only bread and potato to dip but quite tasty.  A salad would have been a nice addition but the fondue itself, as was the accompanying bottle of local white wine was quite good, bringing a close to another day in the mountains.

Some might say my head is often in the clouds but this morning it was quite true as we awoke to the clouds rolling past just outside our balcony.

Breakfast included mountain meats and cheese, croissants and bread, and all the other breakfast standards - juice, yoghurt, fruit, a tomato, cereal and good strong coffee. 

Unlike the tile rooves further south slate rooves are virtually everywhere in the Pyrenees, some with a cat.

The Casa comes with two very friendly dogs - Gris, and Mask the momma.

Casa Rural Les Flors.                                                                                               With its cherry tree.

Manel maintains absolutely beautiful gardens exploding with many colours.

Imma and Manel, owners of Casa Rural Les Flors.

Many attractive stone churches and towers throughout the Pyrenees mountains 

Still lots of snow higher up the mountains. 

The snow poles along the road - not sure why one side is red and the other yellow.

Looking forward to dinner - a cheese fondue.

The cheese fondue was very simple with only bread and potato - no veggies as we would have included.

Our cheese fondue.

May 25, 2023 - La Vella Farga (Lladurs) to 
                              Casa Rural Les Flors, Grammos

This morning breakfast was served as a buffet with a couple of additions - a tasty Tortilla Espagna and a bottle of Cava - what a way to start the day.

After our leisurely breakfast we chatted with Adrianna for a bit while checking out, packed up and were on our way.  It was suggested we visit Sant Lorenc du Morunys but the skies opened up just as we were approaching.  As a result we skipped the visit and continued along a scenic drive through the mountains and numerous tunnels.  Along the way we encountered a very curious herd of cows - they all came running towards us as we exited the car - and numerous spring wildflowers.

After reaching Coll de Nargo the drive took us north towards La Seu d'Urgell and Andorra.  

We  didn't quite make it that far as we turned west about 20 km south.  

It was no problem to find Casa Rural Les Flors, 2.8 km down a dirt road to the edge of a valley, our stop for the night.  A lovely converted farmhouse with beautiful gardens and two very friendly dogs. 

We had booked the half board rate that included dinner, for an additional 20 euros each.  An unbelievable meal for the price.  We started with some hummus and vegetables and then a complex salad of dried cranberries, apples, walnuts, a variety of greens and a soft cheese encased in a crispy crepe like wrapper.  Then Gayle had a mushroom cannelloni smothered in cheese while I had ribs covered in a honey glaze, along with a piece of grilled corn.  Dessert was a bowl of ice cream garnished with berries.  We accompanied the meal with a very reasonably priced (20 euros) bottle of our favourite white Spanish wine - Albarino, and enjoyed an after dinner liqueur (blackberry) offered to us by Manel.  A 10+ dinner.

Freshly squeezed orange juice, glasses of Cava and a selection of fruit.

Tortilla Espagna.

A local goat cheese.                 .                                           Breakfast.

Cava and freshly squeezed orange juice - what a great way to start the day.

La Vella Farga's receptionists - Jackie and Adrianna.

Sad to leave our room (Oncle) with its nice outdoor space surrounded by olive trees.

We encountered a large herd of cows along the way.

                                                                                                                    Check out the video.

Ditch (wild) flowers of the Pyrenees.

A country tiled roof.                                                                                One of the many tunnels we passed through.

Arrival at Casa Rural Les Flors with its beautiful outdoor space.

Being near the top of the valley the clouds were at, or below us.

Lots of farm implements added to the ambiance of the restaurant.

Hummus with veggies to start.  

And perhaps one of the best / most interesting salads we have ever had.

Mushroom cannelloni for Gayle.                                            Pork ribs with a honey glaze for Norm.

Ice cream with berries for dessert.                                           Followed by a blackberry liquer and/or Limoncello.

May 24, 2023 - La Vella Farga (Lladurs) and Solsona

After breakfast (same charcuterie meat and cheese, fruit, juice, breads etc. as yesterday, with a mushroom omelette for Gayle and a ham and cheese crepe for Norm) we took the short drive to Solsona - only 9 km / 10 minutes away to wander around the old town.

Solsona is a municipality and capita of the comarca of the Solsones in the province of Lleida, Catalonia, with a population of 9,014 (2018).

A walk into the old Town (Nucli antic) with its narrow streets and charm reveals the secrets of this historic city.  The narrow streets, interesting architecture and fascinating carved wooden beams that have decorated the eves of building for over 500 years are certainly worth the visit.

But then there is the Solsona Legend of the Donkey.

"One of the historic beams has become the centre of a legend making Solsona famous throughout the region.  According to legend many years ago the townspeople decided to hoist a hungry donkey to the top of the bell tower so it could enjoy the fresh grass growing there.  Unfortunately for all involved, the method they employed was tying a rope around the donkey's neck and hoisting it up.  When the donkey almost reached the top, it let go of its bladder - a sign which was initially taken by the townspeople of the donkey's joy at seeing the rare greens.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  The donkey never got to savour the tasty grass."  At least so the legend goes.

In commemoration, the townspeople hold a festival each year where they hoist a paper mache donkey up the tower from which a large dose of water is intermittently dispensed on passer-by via a hose.  The spectacle was televised one year and brought a number of animal activists to the area to protect the livestock from this abominable sport.  They were assured that no live donkey was actually hurt during the ritual (at least not recently.)  Any excuse for a party!

While wandering around Solsona a young fellow stopped to ask us if we needed directions when he saw us looking around.  We mentioned we were just looking at the wooden carvings under the eves.  After a short chat he pointed us to the next street over where he said the most and best ones were. co

At times when travelling people try to be so helpful.  I saw this sausage wrapped around a cone (see photo below) in a meat shop.  So I opened the door and took a photo.  The shop owner came over, and seeing that the cons was not covered in sausage all the way to the top asked if I wanted her to add more sausage.  I chuckled and politely said it was all good.

On the way out we stopped in a patisserie where we were intrigued by a pastry, which turned out to be a chocolate coca, a local pastry made and consumed in Catalonia.  Coca is almost any kind of bread-based product whose size can vary from 5 cm to 1 metre.  There are various presentations - open or covered, sweet or savory.  We bought a piece with chocolate filling and another with sweeter pumpkin.  Cocas are strongly linked with the area's traditions.  It is a common dish of the rich and poor, a basic part of the Catalan cuisine.

We returned to La Vella Farga only to sit in our car for half an hour as the skies opened up.  Lightning, thunder and buckets of rain, much needed given the very dry spring here.  Eventually it let up allowing us to reach our room where we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon into the evening.

We went to a lounge a bit before dinner where we enjoyed a glass of Cava, and ended up chatting with Jackie, the other receptionist for more or less half an hour.

Dinner started with a zucchini cream gazpacho and king prawns for the amuse bouche.  Gayle had a very nice plate of sauteed seasonal vegetable with burrata and pesto sauce while Norm had the oxtail terrine with duck liver and roast sauce - unique and also very good.  For dessert we had the apple pie with cream and vanilla ice cream.  Taking 20 minutes to prepare we were not sure what to expect.  As the photo below shows it was an unusual presentation of an apple pie - a nice choice.

Breakfast, including a tray of cakes.

View of the fields just outside our room.                                Enjoying the morning sunshine.

Some of the La Vella Farga property.

The La Vella Farga pool.

Common in the region is ironwork featuring dragons.

The Municipality of Solsona.

The entrance to the old part of the town.                                      The cathedral of Solsona.

Solsona's cathedral's cupola, with its painted lilies.

The Catalan flag.                                                                     Rolled sausage.

A few of the many gargoyles and wooden carvings throughout old Solsona.

A building dating to 1746.

Windows that caught my eye.

A small selection of the kinda freaky Solsona dolls.   

Andreo who chatted with us, giving directions to the best wood carvings.

Carved wooden beams peaking out from the rafters, some dating back over 500 years

A somewhat elaborate park fountain.                                  An intricate stone railing.

A couple of the attractive narrow streets of old Solsona.

Coca - a Catalan sweet - on the left with chocolate and on the right with pumpkin.

The beautiful ceilings of Patisserie Massana.

There are beautiful orchids throughout La Vella Farga.

Gayle in her Spanish dress.

Pre-dinner cava. 

Our favourite wine - Muga.

King prawns and gazpacho.

Sauteed seasonal vegetables with burrata and pesto sauce.

Oxtail terrine with duck liver and roast sauce.

A unique presentation of 'apple pie' for dessert.

May 23, 2023 - La Vella Farga (Lladurs)

A bit of history and background re La Vella Farga

"One spring afternoon, while walking near our rural house Cirera D'Avall, we discovered an old farmhouse, almost in ruins, which stood out for some architectural elements that caught our attention.  On a fantastic and bright day, a unique silence, lush vegetation and a house that, though dilapidated, gave off a special charm.  We were fascinated by the farmhouse, and in a flash Marti saw his dream already in operation ... a small rural hotel.

The Hotel La Vella Farga, located in a Catalan farmhouse with a lot of history, as we find the first references already in the year 1036.  It is an isolated farmhouse that alone forms a complete unit, accompanied by another small building that used to give shelter to the workers who helped in the domestic tasks and the task of the field.  It overlooks the four winds, with several buttresses that support its thick walls.  There is a wide variety of rooms, halls, stables and cellars. 

In the farmhouse, dryland products were grown, mainly cereals, there was an orchard, the forest was exploited and cattle were raised.  In the past, and in the farmhouse you can see some remains and details that have been preserved, raw materials were transformed by making wine, pressing oil and iron was also worked to make small utensils and instruments to help with field work and shoeing animals  From this trade comes its name 'Vella Farga', in the house there was an area on the ground floor where iron and wrought iron parts were made.

Now, after a careful refurbishment, preserving old elements and structures combined with a touch of modernity and comfort at the same time, the farmhouse has become a small charming hotel surrounded by nature, where silence, calm and comfort prevail."

After a very extensive breakfast - fruit tray, charcuterie board of meats and cheese, breads, tomatoes, fresh orange juice, a hot dish - Benedict eggs for Gayle and a fried egg with sobrasada sausage for Norm, and a tray of cakes - we wandered the property with camera in hand. 

What is immediately noticed are the many beautiful floral arrangements and the gorgeous orchids throughout.

Mid-day we drove the 2 km to the nearby hamlet (too small to even be a village - a couple of hotels, a school / community centre, a church and a cemetery - that's it) of Lladurs.  The area of Lladurs actually covers 128 sq kms with the 224 (2008 census) inhabitants all living on rural farms"The area is focused on farming within the mosaic landscape, imposing forests interspersed with fields, pastures and meadows, gorged valleys, rivers and haughty peaks."

                                     A map of the small hamlet =>  

The afternoon was spent relaxing on the Vella Farga property, including of course the compulsory nap.  We had an 'early' dinner tonight, arriving shortly after 9:00 pm.  The amuse bouche repeated the delicious mango strawberry gazpacho but then presented crispy grilled vegetables for Gayle and sobrasada for Norm.  Gayle enjoyed a fresh pasta with seasonal wild mushrooms while Norm was disappointed he could not get the cordero (lamb) but was very pleased with a Beef tenderloin with sweet potato gratin and roast sauce replacement.  The only disappointing part of the meal was dessert, a chocolat and hazelnut mi cuit - ok but not nearly as good as the chocolate mousse last night.

All in all a very quiet / relaxing first full day here in Catalonia.

A very impressive breakfast charcuterie board, presented on beautiful olive wood.

The fruit tray.                                     The assortment of breakfast pastries and cakes.

The impressive reception entrance with its massive door and gorgeous floral arrangement. 

A view to the courtyard.

One of the many outdoor seating areas.                                    A fountain in the coutryard.

Relaxing in a comfy chair.                      The stone arched lounge.

One of the many seating areas.                                                Flowers brightening up the lounges.

Wood beams, mirrors, floral arrangements, a gorgeous table and accompanying chairs - throughout the buildings.

The specially designed iron railings throughout La Vella Farga.

Daisies and orchids.

Beautiful huge orchids throughout the reception area.

There were a number of colourful wild flowers in the ditches near Llardurs, including this one with a visiting bee.

More wild flowers along the roadside.

Springtime in Spain means poppies.

The church in Lladurs.

A spectacular floral arrangement (of fresh and dried flowers) in the lobby.

Ready for dinner.

Amuse bouche croquettes - vegetables for Gayle and Sobrasada for Norm, along with a mango strawberry gazpacho.

Fresh pasta with seasonal wild mushrooms.                             Beef tenderloin with sweet potato gratin.

May 21 and 22, 2023 - Halifax to Toronto to Barcelona to                                                 Lladurs (La Vella Farga)

Our spring trip takes us to Spain - the north-east region of Catalonia and the Pyrenees.  We have been here before (2011 and 2018) but wanted to return to the wonderful boutique hotel Casa de San Martin one more time (David, the owner is selling).  We flew first from Halifax to Toronto where we had a lengthy wait, enjoyed in the Maple Leaf Lounge, before connecting to our flight to Barcelona.  

The flight landed on time but then a few frustrations.  First the line to pass through immigration was quite long.  In spite of all booths being open it took us 40 minutes to get through.  Then the car rental - one would think that when one reserves an 'Economy' one would get an 'Economy' vehicle.  But no we were 'upgraded at no cost'.  I actually like a smaller vehicle when driving the narrower roads of some small European villages so asked for what I reserved.  We were then given a smaller vehicle that only had two doors, rather than four.  Let's try again.  Now the size was good but it was an automatic - I like driving a manual and vacations are the only opportunities.  Finally we got what we wanted / originally reserved.  Given they actually had the vehicle we're still perplexed why we didn't get it in the first place.  But after wasting an hour we were on the road.  Only to soon see the oil light on.  We stopped at a gas station where we saw the oil was at the bottom of its range.  We bought and added some oil, the warning light went off, and we were on the road again.  Ugh.

The drive is essentially due north from Barcelona's airport.  Past Montserrat, Cardona and finally Solsona, first on highways, then past some not so exciting suburbs and then into prettier the country-side.  We passed the town of Cardona with its historic castle that has been converted into a Parador at which we had stayed a couple of nights back in 2011.  We got twisted around a bit in Solsona but found our way out on the correct road where we easily found La Vella Farga 10 km outside of town.

We came across La Vella Farga when planning our 2020 40th anniversary trip - the one that never happened due to Covid 19.  This Relais & Chateaux is somewhat more than we would normally spend (at 246 euros for the least expensive class of room it is 60 euros more than the next most expensive place we will stay on this trip) but we decided to treat ourselves.   While yes La Vella Farga is expensive (by our standards) one can quickly see why.  The place is stunning with artwork, flowers (oh those orchids) and class all around (photos tomorrow).

We arrived around 3:30 pm to be welcomed by Adrianna and a large glass of wonderful Cava, along with some cookies.  After being taken to our room - Oncle - with a very nice outdoor area, something that is important to us - we had a lengthy chat with Adrianna, who checked us in.  Then, recovering from our overnight flight / lack of sleep a nap was on the agenda.  

Fortunately here in Spain dinner is quite late, not starting until 8:30 pm.  We arrived in the restaurant closer to 9:30 pm for a 'light' dinner.  After amuse bouche of both skewered shrimp and mango gazpacho with a cream cheese puff Gayle had a Cream of pumpkin soup with carrot gnocchi, cheese mousse and vanilla oil while Norm had the Mountain rice with sausage, mushroom and Iberian pork ribs - delicious.  For dessert we enjoyed the excellent Chocolate mousse with Guinness sponge cake, sorbet and red berries.  All accompanied by our favourite wine - Muga.  When I saw Muga on the wine list there was clearly only one choice.

We returned to our room where immediately it was lights out and straight to sleep.

The drive from Barcelona's airport to La Vella Farga is 127 km / 1 hr 40 min direct non-stop.  Of course it took us somewhat longer with a need to add oil to our rental vehicle and the odd photo stop.

The castle / Parador of Cardona, where we stayed on a previous trip.                     "Smile, he's taking our photo

Looking north from Llardurs.                                                The welcome signage to La vella farga.

Our first glimpse of La Vella Farga.

Welcoming Cava and cookies.                                              Even when tired there is time for Cava.

Our outdoor space accompanying our room Oncle.

Even the towels are embroidered.                                           Our large clawfoot tub.

Two amuse bouche - the first being a shrimp skewer... 

and mango gazpacho.

Muga with dinner.

Cream of pumpkin soup with carrot gnocchi, cheese mousse and vanilla oil.

Mountain rice with sausage, mushroom and Iberian pork ribs.

And for dessert a Chocolate mousse with Guinness sponge cake and red sorbet and berries.

Back to the Pyrenees, Spain - May 21, 2023 to June 06, 2023

Our spring trip will return us to the Pyrenees where we last visited in 2018.  Shortened a bit due to our son's wedding mid June but still two and half weeks will be nice.

The highlight will be returning to Casa de San Martin,  an isolated boutique hotel where we have stayed twice before (2011 and 2018).  The wonderful host David is looking to sell the Casa which spurred us on to visit one last time.

Again we will be staying exclusively at small (4 to 15 rooms) boutique hotels (number in red matches location on map above).
Check back May 23rd or so if interested in following along.