Tag Archives: spain

All About Tapas

Tapas, small appetizer dishes of Spanish origin, are a staple of the country’s incredible gastronomy. Go to any restaurant, elegant or village hole in the wall, and you will find an assortment of traditional and delicious tapas to choose from.

Tapas will vary from region to region but are consistently served with drinks or before larger meals. In some regions, like Granada which is the most famous for its free with drink order tapas, the portions will be so big that you will hardly need a meal to follow up with!

The idea of tapas is that they are communal dishes to share. They are meant to be nosh foods, foods you can pick at while you talk. Once a full meal is served people of whatever culture are often focused on the meal itself, but tapas are casual. Spain has a very strong food culture: mealtimes are long and leisurely, and there are designated snack breaks between meals where people are meant to gather and eat together. As much as meals are about taking care of hunger pangs, they are also absolutely about having social time as well. So it is no wonder that the tapa, a food that is easy, communal, but not too much that it overshadows the meal itself, is a hallmark of the Spanish culture.

In Spain, lunch is often anywhere from 1pm – 4pm, maybe with a mid morning snack or coffee break. But, lunch is not served until around 9pm, which can leave upwards of 6 hours between the times you can actually sit down and eat. Tapas are generally served even when kitchens are closed for siesta, and, if you’re out with your friends for a casual meal, they can be combined to make full meals if you order many over the course of a night. Plus, they are usually pretty cheap! A plate of grilled mushrooms with garlic for example, might run you five or six euros, even in the capital!

Where the name tapa comes from is debatable, but there are a few interesting takes on it, the most famous of which is that during the summer, Spain is hot, and heat and food attract fruit flies. Since when it is hot people tend to eat slower, often times people would put a plate over their principle dish like a lid – or in Spanish, a ‘tapa’ – to keep the flies off. But our favorite postulated theory is that some rather clever tavern owners in Castilla La Mancha figured out that strong smelling cheeses could ‘cover up’ – tapar – the smell and taste of some, let us say, less than quality wines they were serving, so they began to serve the cheese as a tapa.

None of these origin stories have really been proved one way or another. But what is clear is that tapas are fun, culturally integral to the country, and oh, right – delicious!

5 Types of Sherry

Sherry, Spanish fortified wine, has to be one of the most underappreciated wines out there. Though it has a wide range of taste and goes well with almost any food, it has largely been ignored by the wine drinking population outside of Spain. But, according to Winemag.com, sherry is surging in popularity with the millennial generation.

So let’s take a look at five of the sherries Spain has to offer. If you want some good recommendations on what to buy check out the most recent edition of the buyer’s guide.

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First, what is sherry? It’s a fortified wine, meaning a distilled spirit, usually brandy, is added to it. Sherry comes in a myriad of colors and tastes, sometimes it is a dry aperitif, and sometimes it is an after dinner taste.

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In Spanish, it is called jerez, named for Jerez de la Frontera, where it is exclusively made.

1. Fino

Fino is the lightest sherry, quite dry and slightly acidic, with a significant flor, which is the film of yeast that blankets the top of the liquid while it is in the barrel (shown below). It is typically 15% or so abv (alcohol by volume), and food for pre dinner appetite whetting.

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2. Manzanilla

Manzanilla is also a light sherry, much like its close cousin the Fino, but slightly less harsh and chalky. It’s pretty much perfect when paired with seafood.

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3. Amontillado

Not only a fine drink, but also a great ploy if you need to trick your friend into coming down to your dungeon with you so you can immure him for some unnamed offense (yes I just made a Poe joke). When the flor does’t hold up and the yeast blanket falls through, the nutty, rich taste of an amontillado is the result.

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Careful with it, though, it´s about 18% abv on average.

4. Oloroso

Oloroso is the ‘strong smell wine’ according to it is name, and is made when the wine maker purposefully skims or breaks the flor in order to let air into the brew. It´s about the same abv as the amontillado, but can be sweet or dry depending on what grapes are used.

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5. Palo Cortado

No one is quite sure how a palo cortado happens. It loses its flor much like an amontillado but then somehow becomes much thicker and tastes more like an oloroso, because of a mysterious process that no one is quite sure of. So it is kind of the rebel, doing it’s own thing.

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Most decent brands, Tio Pepe, or Gonzalez Byass to name the big ones, won’t even run you much money. So take it from us, try out a sherry with your next meal, and you’ll be hooked on it, too!

7 Major Archaeological Sites in Spain

Ready for a viritual tour of our country’s archaeological sites? Let’s rock.

Tarraco

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Tarraco, just outside modern Tarragona, Cataluña, was one of the biggest and more important Roman settlements on the Iberian Peninsula. Though the exact date of its founding is unknown, its first official mention was in 218bce, and so it was likely established, at least as a fully Roman settlement, at some point during the Second Punic War.

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Tarraco served as a winter base and resupply area for soldiers at war with the Celtiberians during the Republic, and later as a base of operations and port under the rule of the High Empire. Eventually it would be taken over by the Visigoths once the Roman Empire fell and their hold on Hispania was broken, but the site very much retains an early Roman flare to this day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Itálica

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Situated just outside of Seville, Itálica is a fabulously preserved Roman city. It was founded around 206bce and was originally settled to treat Roman soldiers wounded in the nearby battle of Ilipa, where they defeated the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War.

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Aside from being almost fully excavated and very well cared for, the archaeology isn´t the only reason that Itálica is one of the most frequently visited sites in Spain; it is also host to the Cross Internacional de Itálica, which is an international cross country running competition.

Dolmen de Viera

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The fabled Dolmen de Viera is a single chamber monolithic tomb outside of Antequera, Málaga. It dates to the copper age, being somewhere between 4,500 and 5,800 years old. Though it is presumed to be a burial chamber, as are most dolmen, not much was found inside except a few grave goods and bone tools.

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Also, like most Iberian tombs of its kind, it faces just slightly south of due east, so that daybreak illuminates the burial chamber.

Atapuerca

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The archaeological site of Atapuerca is one of the most important in Europe, because it has traces of hominid life in the area from at least 400,000 years ago. The site lies in the small municipality of Atapuerca, about 20 kilometres north east of Burgos.

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This site represents some of the greatest evidence available for many different generations and evolutions of early man, evidence of their habits including tools, food sharing and cultural activities, and some of the most intact skeletons ever retrieved from the Middle Pleistocene era.

Reccopolis

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Because I can´t very well do an archaeology of Spain summary without mentioning them, Reccopolis, near Guadalajara, is one of the better preserved settlements of the Visigoths. It is one of only four cities in Europe to be newly founded and settled between the fifth and eighth centuries.

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As they coincided with the Moorish rule, the Visigoths were more than willing to let their Muslim counterparts come oversee the settlement in the end of the eighth century. Thus, the site has Moorish influence as well, though the Moors did not keep a hold of it for long, abandoning it at the end of the tenth century.

Medinat Azahara

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An archaeological tour of Spain would not be complete without a visit to the Moors. The Medinat Azahara is from the 10th century, during the Umayyad Caliphate, and was originally built as a small city apart for the Caliph to receive guests.

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Spanning approximately 112 hectares (of which only 11 have been fully excavated), it boasted several living quarters, for the Caliph, as well as the aristocracy and serving staff, a mosque, several gardens, and an administrative district among other things.  Though it is currently still under excavation, you can tour the area.

A Brief History of Zarzuela

Zarzuela is a Spanish style of Opera that can be divided into two general categories – Baroque or Early Zarzuela, and Romantic or Late Zarzuela.

In the mid 17th century, writer Pedro Calderón del Barco and composer Juan Hidalgo de Polanco gave birth to a new style of theatrical performance: the Zarzuela, a perfomance partly spoken, often in poetic verse, partly sung in operatic style.

Zarzuelas could be anything from serious stories, retelling of folk tales, or comedic slapstick productions, and enjoyed great popularity in Spain throughout the 17th and into part of the 18th century.

However, in the 18th century Italian artists began influencing most art forms across the Mediterranean. A tastes trended towards the more Italian standard operatic style, the age of Zarzuela’s popularity seemed at an end. Zarzuela performances ebbed for nearly a century.

Then, in the 19th century, after what was deemed the Glorious Revolution of 1868, the country fell on hard times. This of course was reflected in the theater. As the public could not afford high priced entertainment, short one act plays with low budgets became popular quickly, and the Zarzuela adapted immediately to the cultural shift.

This is how Zarzuela grew back into prominence. There were two types of Zarzuela’s in this ‘Romantic Age’ of the tradition, the chico – which were generally one act, often salubrious or farcial productions, but cheap – and the grande – which were longer more traditional operatic productions.

The Zarzuela tradition grew back and remained into the 20th century and even began to take on an Operetta like quality to some of them, such as one of the most popular Zarzuelas, El Barberillo de Lavapiés, both light in humor and action, but bold in its social criticism.

Exclusive Access to Ruins of Reccopolis

We are happy to announce that we now have a partnership with the Parque Arqueológico de Recópolis. We will now be offering day trips to the great archaeological site, as well as courses ranging from ceramic making, as the ancients would have done, to star gazing and astronomy instruction, and photography.

These exciting new options also offer exclusive access to the site for our visitors.

For more information, contact us, and we’ll take you to the middle ages for an experience you will never forget.

Archaeology 101: The Dolmens of Antquera

First of all, let’s ask, what is a dolmen, anyway?

Dolmens are single chamber, megalithic funerary structures that generally consist of two or more standing stones (called orthostats) with a capstone on top. They were often set into hills or covered in earth to form barrows.

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Most of these structures, which are peppered all over Western Europe, are from the Early Neolithic, that is, 4,000-3,000 bce, or around 6,000-5,000 years ago, though some are from as late as the Early Chalcolithic.

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Before talking about the dolmens themselves, let’s talk about the area of Antequera. It is in a lower lying depression, surrounded by El Torcal National Park to the South (a varied range of Karst mountains), La Peña to the East (which I will discuss later), and then several series of high hillocks to the North and West. The area would have been very different 5,500 years ago, around when the dolmens were built. Paleoenvironmental evidence from the area suggests there were many lakes and ponds, and dense pine and oak forests. Many types of herbs and flowers flourished in the damp climate, and pastures and dry copses of olive trees like the picture above were much rarer at the time.

Humans left their mark on the area, as several other sites have been found surrounding the two main dolmens, though whether or not all of these sites are contemporary to each other is still unknown. The point being, it was a rich area that saw quite a bit of human activity and modification during the mid Neolithic era.

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The Dolmen de Viera is the older of the two dolmens we are going to talk about here. When it dates to is unclear, but experts say between 5,800 to 4,500 years ago. As with the majority of European megalithic tombs, this dolmen is oriented just south of the summer rising sun (azimuth of 96 degrees).

As with many neolithic, so termed ‘animist’ societies, this type of concordance with solar activity was common, and not only seen with megalithic structures. The question always asked is ‘why?’ when examining these orientations, but that is a very complicated answer, and we will leave it for another article. Suffice to say that the Dolmen de Viera follows the same kind of pattern that is expected from a society that viewed its world as cyclic and reccurrent as opposed to linear.

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As you can see the interior of the structure is lintelled and high enough for an average height person to walk down. It is (conincidentally enough :p ) considered a corridor tomb which ends in a funerary chamber. In short, it is a giant, elongated container under a mound of earth.

The tomb was found empty and looted, however since megalithic funeral rite across the continent was ritualized and strictly repetitive down to details, we can make some assumptions about what Viera was used for; burials at this time were collective and often times dozens of skeletons are found inside these chambers. However, it is not necessarily that they were all interred simultaneously, but also possibly of varying generations. Bodies were laid out on the ground, other, older skeletons often shoved out of the way to make room for the newly dead. These corpses were always accompanied by grave goods, from tools to shoes to arrows and knives or bowls.

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If the Dolmen de Viera is typical of the structures across the continent, then the Dolmen de Menga is the complete opposite. It is still a corridor tomb that is under a barrow mound with a chamber at the end, but that is where the similarities end.

First of all, it is huge. The slabs used to create this dolmen are positively enormous and the amount of labor that must have gone into its construction moreso, especially considering it was built in the 3rd milennium bce. It reaches a height of 3.5m in the atrium, truly impressive, and also boasts three large pillars, presumably to help bear the weight of the capstones. But they also give the space more the feel of a temple, and experts are currently postulating on Menga’s possible other uses aside from only the funerary.

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Second of all, in the atrium we can find an almost 20m deep shaft dug into the sandstone that is in alignment with the three pillars.

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It is unclear what the purpose of this shaft would have been. It is a rather unusual element in a megalithic structure such as this. But, also, as this dolmen was previously excavated to some degree in 1847, it is not clear if the shaft was explored by or caused by the previous excavation.

Lastly, this dolmen faces Northeast (azimuth of 45 degrees) unlike most of dolmens. This notable difference from other similar structures is due to the presence of La Peña, which dominates the skyline and is directly in front of the mouth of the Dolmen de Menga.

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It is assumed that La Peña, due to its distinct appearance as a human face and also the positioning of the Dolmen de Menga, played a large role in the area’s prehistoric culture. In the ‘chin’ of the mountain archaeologists have also uncovered a post paleolithic cave which has a myriad of early human drawings.

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It does seem that the opening to Menga faces directly to this cave, but whether or not the neolithic society who made the dolmen were aware of this cave is unknown.

There is a third structure, the Dolmen del Romeral, but that is a very different structure that is almost 1,500 years later than the two dolmens we have visited here, and so, we will visit it another time.

For now, stay megalithic my fellow archaeologists.

If you want more information about the Dolmenes de Antequera, you can visit the website of the Conjunto Arqueolóico right here.

Do you want to visit these incredible dolmens? Well now you can, with Colorfully Spain’s new Fall & Winter programming package to Andalucia. Click here for more details!

Interview with Surf Guru Henalu de Barros

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Archaeology Tours in Andalucía

Andalucia, though most known for sea and sun, has a wealth of cultural and natural resources to offer visitors. Colorfully Spain’s latest programs for autumn and winter highlight the most interesting and unknown gems of Spain’s southernmost region.

From the traditional food of Antequera, to the Paleolithic caves of Ronda, our new tours explore a wide range of exciting archaeological sites, traditional, non touristic restaurants and markets, cultural heritage sites, and more.

We offer our clients a chance to interact and learn about Spain through participation, with cooking lessons, dance classes and spectaculars, and outdoor adventure, led by guides who are experts in their fields, and with 24 hour a day, gate to gate bilingual service.

While we will always go to the main sites – who would miss out on the Alhambra? – we also offer clients the road less traveled, heading to small villages with deep histories, so they will take away experiences other trips will never duplicate.

 If you are interested in more information about our Southern Routes for this autumn, winter, and spring, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Harvest Season in La Rioja

Colorfully Spain has exciting trip to La Rioja you won’t find anywhere else!
With harvest season just around the corner, now is the time to think about autumn trips to one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Spain’s wine country is famous for its gastronomy, but has so much else to offer.

Colorfully Spain has a new route planned to the region that is a fusion of archaeological adventure, light outdoors sport, and some of the best cuisine on the continent. Bike, hike, or horseback ride through a 2,500 year old archaeological site on the banks of the Duero in Soria, or explore the secrets of the Black Lagoon, then head north to the vineyards of La Guardia to participate in the harvest and sample wines from the various smaller bodegas that you can’t experience outside their home towns.

With trips leaving from July through October, Colorfully Spain is continuing its promise of making history and culture come alive for our clients, providing 24 hour gate to gate bilingual service, personalized itineraries, and ecofriendly business.

Interested in our La Rioja route? Check out more information here!

Featured Site: The Great Mosque of Córdoba

Every few months we feature one of the incredible archaeological or cultural sites from our trips, giving you a free mini tour and a little bit of info. Follow us for the next in our series of these Spanish wonders.

The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, (also called the Mezquita and the Great Mosque of Córdoba, or the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady,) is a medieval Islamic mosque that was converted into a Catholic Christian cathedral in the Spanish city of Córdoba, Andalucía. The mosque is regarded as the one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.

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The actual land had at one point been a Roman temple to the god Janus, and later used by various Visigothic sects for their purposes, and finally, taken over by the Moorish Prince Abd al-Rahman I. Around the end of the 8th century, he broke ground and started construction on the Mosque.

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It took two centuries to build, but the end result was a sprawling, red-and-marble palace surrounded by orange groves and ornately carved fountains, which is still intact today. To give you an idea of the size of this marvelous behemoth, it is about 24,000 square meters big and it comprises 19 naves, over 1,200 pillars, almost 300 chandeliers, and it is lit by nearly 1,500 lamps, including some made from the bells of Santiago Compostela, brought to the Mosque in the mid-13th century.

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But enough about specs; the Mosque is more than the sum of its parts. Walking under the high arches through the vast interior chambers is awesome, in the literal sense of the word. Whatever anyone’s faith, it’s easy to feel reverence inside a place like the Great Mosque, if only for they time and faith put into it by the people who built it.

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And it is beautiful; it is easy to spend a half-day strolling the grounds, getting a glimpse of what life was like in ancient times. It is a true testament to the ability of Moorish architects and craftsman, and amazing in its detail and style, considering the age in which it was created.

–> Want to visit the Mezquita de Córdoba? Click here!

**Special thanks to our friends at ArtenCordoba for use of their fantastic photos!