Planning your big vacation to Spain? Don’t make the mistake of thinking the whole country is warm and sunny year round. Here’s our quick and dirty on the country’s climate, so you can plan your trip effectively.
Spain is known for being a vacation destination for those who want to relax; it’s food, wine, and sun abound around here. But luxuriating on beaches and sampling tapas isn’t the only thing you can do in Spain. It’s also a great destination for sporty people.
Everyone knows the Pyrenees are a great place to ski and the Basque Coast a great place to surf, but there are other affordable and out of the way places with a lot to offer a sporty and independent traveler. Here are our 5 favorites.
In the 1500s during the rise of Spanish and Portuguese exploration, the area around Cadiz and Tarifa was either a blessing or a curse – going south was as easy as unfurling a sail, while going north meant fighting quite a jet stream. The area is known for its high winds, which makes wind sports like kite surfing and wind surfing extremely popular, and extremely fun.
Add to it that Tarifa has some of the best beaches in the country, the region’s gastronomy, and the fact that nearby Cadiz was once the seat of a pre-Roman age civilization, and you’ve got yourself quite a package. Plus, Tarifa’s weather is nice year round – gorgeous in the summer, and mild in the winter.
Granada is best known for its gastronomy and being the home of tapas. But it’s also right next to the zone of Las Alpujarras which is right in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the winter, the Sierra Nevadas are a great destination for skiing, which is surprising as they’re relatively close to the Mediterranean coast. But high altitudes make for good snow and the ski life there is prominent every winter.
In the summer the area is just as active. It’s easy to hike for miles along the foothills and find plenty of places to go mountain climbing as well. And, though the area is not as often frequented as more popular destinations it is well prepared to support sporty vacationers who want long and challenging hikes across beautiful landscapes. There are also natural mountain spring spas and ecofriendly hotels and restaurants dotted throughout the area, for after a long day of trekking it.
Navia is the little known Asturian cousin to Gijón and Ribadesella, located on the other side of the province from them near the Galician border. It’s a small town but with some fabulous country homes you can rent for cheap, even in high season. Aside from the fact that Navia and its surrounding area is a hiker’s paradise, boasting miles of trails by the coast and inland where the paths go winding through the waterfalls and the hillsides, it’s also a fantastic spot for water sport.
Lately surfing and paddle surfing have grown by leaps and bounds in popularity. With its many rivers and ample beaches, it makes a perfect place to learn to get on a board and ride. And when you’re done that for the day, there are always the local cider houses, music festivals, and ruins of ancient Celtic settlements to visit that are all a stone’s throw from the beach.
Soria is a surprise that shows up on almost all of our lists. It’s inland and tucked away between Madrid and Logroño, so it’s often overlooked for either the capital or the wine country. Besides the perk that it’s close to both aforementioned zones, it’s a mountain paradise for sportspeople.
Mountain biking, climbing, and paragliding have all taken the area by storm in recent years. The high peaks make it a great place for all three, though only during the summer. It’s the coldest place in Spain during the winter, with temperatures often subzero, but in the milder months it’s not too hot and a welcoming outdoor arena.
Horseback riding is also an easy option to find. Soria has some incredible heritage, between the Monastery of Saint Bartholomew hidden in the canyons, or the Celtiberian ruins of Numancia, once the site of a famous Roman siege, and all of these incredible visits can be done by walking or by horse.
5. La Pedriza/Madrid
La Pedriza is just outside of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama. It has over 1,500 trails for hiking and for mountain biking, and the incredible rock formations make for an unforgettable climbing experience. Most of the locals in the central plains go there for their sporty weekends, so you’ll be in good company.
Plus, it’s only a few hours drive from Madrid, and even closer to the sierra towns like Rascafria, which are surviving testaments of Middle Ages architecture.
It’s a short drive down into Ronda’s ravine, then back up a small mountainside by foot to get to the new entrance of La Pileta Cave. There are roughhewn stairs set into the hill to help travelers find the entrance the site where, 500m into the rock face, our prehistoric ancestors once dwelled. But it wasn’t an easy hike, especially considering I’d already hiked the ravine back in Ronda the day before.
But I make it to the top, to an unceremonious iron gate that looks something between a Resistance friendly steam tunnel entrance and a bootlegger’s storehouse. It is actually there to bar people from getting in to the cave without supervision, and is the entrance to the office and the gift shop. Both are inside the cave, which I find a clever economy of space.
Our guide that day speaks good English and informs us to please watch our step – where we’re going, there’s no natural light. Before we go much further, he lays out some ground rules – everyone must carry a lantern, which he passes out to us. No touching anything, an unsurprising and standard rule inside caves (even touching just the rock face can leave oil and damage the tracks the water takes to form stalactites. These caves are heavy and the open space is vast, he tells us, and one day it won’t be able to support its own weight anymore. We would like to delay that as long as possible).
There will be no photography, either. Not only is it bad for the art, the same reason museums have this policy, but the sensors are bad for the many hundreds of bats who are in residence. So we pocket our phones. After all, we’re in their home, it wouldn’t do to be rude.
Though it’s mid-September, and in Andalucía that means just this side of roasting hot, as soon as we start into the cave I start feeling clammy. I see why Jose – that is, our guide – told us to watch our step; everything, every surface of the limestone is slick with a slight and slippery alkaline water sheen. We move slowly up the carved stairs, which had been cut into the rock during previous periods of exploration and excavation.
One of the first caves we come to is called the Gallery of Bats. The ceiling is far too high to see any of them, but we are assured that they are there. As they are asleep at 3pm, as good little nocturnal creatures should be, we don’t even hear them chittering. For some guests that is probably a good thing.
The next room on the open circuit (we pass a few small tunnels that Jose tells us are restricted access due to slipping or rock slide hazards), is the Castle Room. It is named for the incredible rock formations that do honestly look like castle turrets. I wonder who could have lived here before? It’s already growing cold and so dark I feel miles beneath the earth. In reality, we’ve only gone in about a hundred meters.
They call this cave Pileta, meaning pool, and in the third ‘room’ I see why. To my right, over a flimsy rope strung along precariously posted rebar, is a deep cave pool. The water is dark, until I shine my lantern over it, and I see that the water is perfectly clear. But the lantern only penetrates so far, and beyond the weak reach of the light I imagine eyeless fish sliding around unseen. Jose tells us there are no fish in these waters, but with the echoes of water dripping and the occasional groaning of the rock, the darkness and the awareness of vast, empty, cold space around me, I find it easy to perceive some eldritch monstrosity waiting in the caverns. I shiver – but it’s mostly with delight.
It’s about this time that we start to see cave paintings. Running animals, symbols no one can discern the true meaning of. Like all prehistoric caves, animals, especially in motion, is a continued motif. In the central nave there are several depictions of what appear to be horses. As to what the symbols mean, well, the automatic go to is fertility. It’s always the easiest to assume that, the guide explained, but realistically there is no hard evidence.
The paintings are red and black and caper across the walls haphazardly. The guide informs us that most of these paintings probably date to the Solutrean period, that is, the Upper Paleolithic about 25,000-20,000 years ago. These paintings are the origins of art. One has to wonder, were they for didactic purposes? Showing the youngers how to hunt and forage? Warnings? Or just for the pure fun of drawing them?
From the central nave to the Hall of the Fish, as they call it, we see many more drawings, and other evidences of human occupation. It seems to me, and the guide confirms, that the occupation was aggregate, meaning it was not only one people at one time that used this cave for shelter. There is evidence of bone disposal and rock deposits – the kind you find when early peoples make stone tools and discard the flakes they don’t need. There is also evidence of fires having burned in alcoves, and some smoke residue still on the walls. Somehow the atmosphere of the cave has preserved all of this, and it’s aweing.
We’re almost 400m back now and it has taken us a while, carefully stepping, sometimes slipping, to navigate our way back here. We would have been in total darkness had it not been for the lanterns. I try to imagine any diurnal creature living in here, indeed, ones that make art and share meals. The space is certainly big enough to house a whole community, but how could anyone bear living in this kind of dank cold? It’s Tolkienian. I expect something slinky to coalesce beside me and ask me riddles in the dark.
Finally we arrive at the last chamber of the cave, well, the last one we’re able to visit. The final chamber, Jose says, is too dangerous to go into, the same as the subterranean caves that run beneath us (at several points during our 45 minute long trek I have had creeping moments of realization that there is only one layer of rock between us and the yawning caverns beneath the ones I’m already in. The weight of the mountain bears down on me in those moments). In this final chamber we see the famous Fish. It’s a pretty good rendering. Even though some of these drawings seem crude, the sense of motion and proportion is not bad, especially considering they’re drawn on uneven limestone. Probably better than I could do!
The Fish solidifies the idea that these caves are from the Solutrean period, which was around the time fishing as a human practice was beginning to develop. There are other depictions of fish across southern Spain in caves near to this one from the same period. But none as big and as well preserved as this one.
Around the Fish (as you can see) are a lot of hash marks. The other animals have them too, some that seem to correspond with the animal drawing, some that are simply hash marks by themselves. Common postulation is a numerical notation, or a calendar. Seems logical enough.
There is also an alcove that is wall to wall, floor to ceiling covered in rough depictions of what appear to be female genitalia. ‘Fertility’ the guide says again. Fertility is always the going theory. Someone asks whether or not this could be seen as a form of religion. The guide, nor I, am completely convinced. Begging for luck or associating symbols with a human event (such as drawings of female genitails with healthy childbirth), does not a religion make (despite a ‘venus’ having been found in the Gallery of Bats. It is an hourglass shaped creation that looks more like a bowtie than a venus, so it’s intention is much more debatable than the obvious alcove of genitalia). There isn’t any hard evidence of religious practice, so it might be a stretch to call this, ah, coital corner a belief in a Goddess. Could it have been? Could it have been the precursor to a more complex and fleshed out belief system? Anything’s possible, but no one really knows.
As the guide is explaining this someone next to me nudges me. Jose’s got a flashlight, not a lantern, and it’s resting on his shoulder, the beam pointed up. It spotlights on the end of a stalactite, where a tiny bat yawns and stretches out one wing. It’s about three feet up from Jose’s head. Turn off the lights, it seems to say, don’t you know what time it is?
It’s time to be heading out, the tour is ending. We carefully make our way back through the caves, two people slipping but thankfully not falling. Sturdy shoes are a must for this adventure. Once we’re back to the gift shop area, there are books about the cave paintings, in Spanish and in English, and postcards with some decent photographs of what we couldn’t take pictures of. None of it is expensive, and the cave needs the money for upkeep. One of these days, Jose says, they want to do more exploration of the lower chambers. But that takes grant money and a lot of equipment.
It is a shame they haven’t excavated the rest, because there seem to be more skeletal deposits and perhaps other paintings in the caves below. Still, there’s time. The cave might eventually collapse in on itself as Jose told us, but something tells me it’s going to be around, at least for a little while longer.
Many thanks to the Bullón family for the tour and the photos.
Soria is not the best known province in Spain, but it is the best hidden jewel. This summer, Colorfully has exciting tours for sporty clients that also want a taste of luxury.
The three biggest sites to see in Soria are the Hillfort of Numancia, site of a famous Roman siege, Wolf River Canyon with its hidden hermitages, and the Black Lagoon – sounds spooky, but is one of the most pristine and beautiful places in the country. Colorfully Spain offers horseback and hiking tours to all three places, as well as exclusive access to the ongoing archaeological excavation of Numancia.
Numancia, located in Soria,was one of the last but most famous Celtiberian settlements in Spain. It was besieged by the Romans in 133bce, who had been in conflict with the settlement for nigh on 20 years by that point. Rather than giving in to the Roman army, the Numantinos decided to die free than live as slaves, and burnt their city to the ground.
As many Celtiberian settlements were, Numancia was built on a high hill. This meant no shelter from the rather harsh winters in Soria, but it also meant a highly defensible high ground that managed to repel the Roman army for several decades.
Wolf River Canyon (Cañon de Rios Lobos)
The Black Lagoon (La Laguna Negra)
And, after a great active day, at night our clients have access to wine spas, tastings, gourmet meals, and the luxury of the Parador – a unique and first class hotel you can only find in certain cities in Spain. So come with us this summer and find out why you should be talking about Soria!
If you would like more information about our active summer tours to this area, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Of course Spain is known for its incredible food. ColorfullySpain is now offering our clients a chance to intimately learn about the gastronomy and food culture of Spain – by cooking it themselves.
We are now offering day and night opportunities for small groups to have tapas demonstrations, specially prepared gourmet meals with award winning chefs, or have hands on one evening cooking courses themselves. And, all of these options are of course accompanied by a short explanation given by a professional about the history and culture of tapas across the country.
Why just eat when you can dig in yourself? This summer, make your vacation delicious.
For more information about our gastronomic opportunities, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
4 Things in La Rioja You Can’t Miss this Summer
Colorfully Spain’s summer programming has everything you need for a perfect vacation. La Rioja is famous for its wine making, but that isn’t all it has to offer. Here are 4 things that you can’t miss in Spain’s wine country this summer.
As we have said before in this blog, Spain offers a wide variety of sports, activities, food, color, culture, and history. Every season we aim to find an expert in one of Spain’s tourist draws, and run an interview with them.
This month, since surf and beach season is upon us, we got the pleasure of having a chat with professional surf instructor Henalu de Barros. Henalu is the English language instructor at our partner Alma Surf School, in Asturias, Northern Spain.
ColorfullySpain: So, how did you learn how to surf? And where?
Henalu de Barros: While my first steps into the world of surf were on Lanzarote, a small island in the Canaries, when I really started getting into the sport was when I had my first adventure in the Bay of Biscay, in the Principality of Asturias. This probably seems contradictory, since the climate in Lanzarote is warm and a lot more agreeable for water sport than the often inclement weather in Asturias, but it is also true that no one exactly knows what goes on in the head of a 12 year old. Somehow, and for whatever reason, that’s when I decided to head back to the ocean as I’d done plenty of times, but this time with a board under my arm. I decided to really commit myself to the sport at Frexulfe, a beautiful natural beach in the western stretch of Asturias. After that, I started going all over the world just trying to enjoy the uncountable and wonderful experiences surfing has to offer, and of course, like all surfers, looking for “the perfect wave”.
CS: What are, in your opinion, the three best things about surfing?
HdB: One, surfing, as I once heard a pro surfer in Hawaii say, “is a sport, a lifestyle, and an art form where the wave is your canvas”. What I can add myself to this beautiful quote is that surfing is in essence a way of making a personal connection with something so absolutely changing and unfathomable as the sea. This connection might sound a bit mystical, but it is the truth, and if you let it and you pay enough attention, you can learn so much about yourself and your own abilities. That is, for me, the most beautiful part of surfing, even though it is frustrating at times, because you don´t always know exactly what you should be learning with each ‘lesson’.
Second, I would have to say, is without a doubt, the pure enjoyment and fun that comes along with throwing yourself into the sea to play in the waves and look for adventure. That is definitely one of the best things about surfing, and better still if these moments are in the company of friends and family.
Third, but no less important, surfing challenges you every time you head into the water – and as I said before, it is constantly changing with no warning, and there is nothing you can really do about that. But why do I say surfing challenges you? Well, you need to learn to adapt and react in the middle of everything, at high speeds. Also you need to correct errors from time to time, so you need to learn to be self critical and make an effort towards personal improvement – all things that can be subsequently applied to other aspects of life.
Of course, doing that alone won’t make you a good surfer, you first have to understand and internalize what on paper looks nice and easy. But as I said, that is the challenge, and the beauty of it.
CS: You and your family have established a surf school in Asturias – why Spain? And why Asturias specifically?
HdB: Probably being Spanish residents ourselves was a major influence in that decisions, but there were many other factors: Spain is without a doubt a country with impressive landscapes and the northern coast offers some of the best and most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, and I have to say I have visited many beautiful beaches in a variety of places.
Asturias, just like the publicity states, is a natural paradise, and all you have to do is visit for a day to realize how true that is. So of course, where better to surf than in such a dreamy place like the beach at Frexulfe, which is why I started out surfing there.
CS: So, you would say Asturias is a good place to start learning to surf? What about for veteran surfers?
HThe Asturian coast is the perfect place to start out, thanks to all the sandy beaches that offer easy access; this in turn assures safety during beginner surfing sessions. And of course, another important factor is that there are always surfable waves thanks to the swell from the Atlantic Ocean, so there is almost never a day that you can’t hit the water and catch at least a few good waves.
For those surfers already at an intermediate level, there are a few beaches that have good waves and also a certain level of difficulty, for honing skills and working on technique. Overall, the coast here has something for everyone, every level.
CS: So, tell me more about Alma Surf School, and what its objective is? Do you offer just surfing lessons or other activities as well?
The consuming passion and devotion for surfing in our family is what defines the school. We are dedicated to understanding not only the sport, but the life style, and how it is different for different generations, so that we can offer anyone who wants it the chance to open themselves up to the world of surf and learn to see things from different perspectives. The surf school teaches surfing, yes, but also helps our surfers get to know new people, as well as themselves, in a fun and accessible way. It helps combat getting in a rut, weight gain, and stress. This is because surfing reinforces self-confidence and healthy self-criticism, willpower to better oneself, and also just gives you a chance to socialize. And of course, the sea offers a type of relaxation and calm like no other place on earth.
At the school we offer not only beginner and lower intermediate classes, but also more advanced classes in technique that include video correction, and also ‘mental surfing’ among other things (check out our website for more information). Our latest addition is stand up paddle surfing, both sea and river routes, which entail floating down mountain and forest lined rivers, with stops for exploring areas of interest.
CS: I noticed a new program as well, called Surf the Lead – can you tell me about that?
This project, built ground up with great passion on the part of my family and our collaborators, is a program built around activities that let the participants not only learn the sport of surfing, but the philosophy as well, and then taking these lessons and benefits to the level of personal benefit and betterment. The program is designed to help translate what the participants learn about themselves and their own development to real world application, with relation to their social lives, work, or school. In order to get these results we have created a fusion course that joins the sport with a leadership workshop which is required of all the participants.
With Surf the Lead, the students get to stay in a typical house from the region, and at the opening night dinner we reinforce that our main objective is for them to have fun, and also be safe, and that the living experience will work out best if it is based on mutual respect. Over the next two or three weeks during the program, they will learn not only how to surf but also have the opportunity to try other sports like yoga, paddle surf, hiking, etc. We have games and downtime directed around leadership and trust building, and also English classes if they so desire.
We like to emphasize that it is fun learning, because we never want any of the development to be forced. The goal is to grow organically, at the individual’s pace.
And of course, the food, we can’t forget that. It’s always prepared fresh and with whatever requirements an individual might have, but based on a healthy diet that the participants need to keep up with the active lifestyle. We always adapt to whatever intolerance or allergy someone might have, as this whole program is, at its core, about well being.
Many thanks to Henalu for the great and informative interview. At Colorfully Spain, we prize partners like Alma Surf School who are so obviously invested in not only the well being and satisfaction of our clients, but also in finding new and refreshing ways to present their corner of the world to others.
Colorfully is happy to announce that starting in June of 2016 we will be offering tours Asturias and Playa Frexulfe so our clients can also enjoy the wild fun of Northern Spain’s World of Surf. So if you are interesting in surf classes with Henalu, paddle surfing and tapas crawling around the gorgeous river-fed landscape, and hiking around some 3,000 year old Celtiberian hill forts, then contact us today to book your trip.