Tucked away in the hills of La Rioja are two small monasteries with very important histories.
The first is the Monastery of Suso, which dates to the 6th century CE, and stands on a hill overlooking the valley of San Millan de Cogolla.
In this humble, pre-Romanesque building, the Glosas Emilianenses, a most important document, was written.
This text is actually a Latin scripture with notes in the margins written by the monks who studied there. These notes, called ‘glosses’ are shown below:
These glosses are the first written evidences of Archaic Castillian and Archaic Basque.
That is not to say the languages were invented by these monks. Remember a few things about this time period: first is that most people were illiterate, and second is that paper was very, very scarce, so the only place we’re like to find any written evidence is religious institutions or other places with great wealth/access to resources. That being said, the language was already likely spoken in the area, for how long who can rightly tell, and it was the monks’ native language. So, when they were having issues translating the Latin, they write notes to themselves in the margins in their mother tongue.*
*(it is worth noting here that the monk was likely native but could have been from the surrounding area, as some of the place names do not appear to be in Archaic Castillian. Still, it could be those were the only names used at the time, as well, thus no more can be truly discerned).
For anyone curious you can listen to the full restored pronunciation done by the famous Spanish poet and philologist, Dámaso Alonso here for extra nerding out.
And then further down the hill in the valley we have the Monastery of Yuso (the “lower one” in Archaic Castillian), which houses one of the most important and valuable libraries in Spain.
In its collection you’ll find 17th-century hymn books, thirty gigantic books of between 40 and 60 kilos, made from the hides of two thousand Riojan cows. Holy moley.
Also, the relics of San Emillian were transferred here and are to this day preserved in a renovated burial chamber. And, we have to say the architecture of this place is stunning in and of itself. Check out it out:
Even a seasoned traveler might find a few of these helpful. Make your trip to Spain the best it can be with these 7 tips! Check out www.colorfullyspain.com for more info.
Learn a little bit of Spanish.
Even if it’s only basic phrases. Many people here do speak English, but unlike in places like Scandinavia, it’s not a good bet to assume that most people do. Basic phrases such as “I don’t speak Spanish, do you speak English?” can at least help you find someone who can help or direct you. Plus, it’s seen as polite, and a good show if you’re attempting to learn the local language and/or customs.
Plan meals accordingly.
If you have a condition that forces you to eat on a schedule, or are just used to eating at certain times or intervals, bear in mind that Spanish lunch and dinner hours are not the same as those in the United States. Lunch is often not even served until 1:30pm, dinner not until 8:30pm, and often times there is a gap anywhere from 4pm to 8pm where a restaurant may be closed for siesta.
Learn the geography.
Spain might seem small, especially to a person from the USA, but it’s the second biggest country in Western Europe, so don’t plan to see too much of it in one trip. You might want to see one city per day, but due to the actual distances and need for transportation between cities, sometimes it just isn’t feasible. So, if you’re one of our build your own trip customers, check out google maps before deciding where you want to go and how many days you want to spend there.
Be aware of climate differences.
Different regions of Spain are better to see, or more accessible, at different times of the year. While the Southern Coast might be open year round, the Northern Coastal hotels and businesses generally shut down in late fall and stay shut down for several months. The inland plains and north central region are terrible to visit in winter, the south central terrible in summer. So, take a look at a climate guide to pick the best time for the region you want to see.
Guard your purse.
While crime is generally very low in Spain, the one thing that does happen with frequency is pick pocketing, so keep a good hold of your bag while you’re out, and don’t leave anything unattended.
Contact your bank before you come.
Make sure they know you will be using your card or cards in Spain so they do not freeze your account for strange transactions overseas. Remember that you will likely be using ATMs, as Spain has more of them per block than any other country, and cash is the easiest payment method to deal with.
Make sure to carry cash.
Some places, especially in smaller towns, might not accept credit cards and traveler’s checks are hard to break. While it’s not necessary to carry a huge bankroll, you should keep enough cash on you to cover you for a night out just in case credit cards aren’t an option.
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.
As a basic overview, the south of Spain is rather sunny and warm, and though the inland part of the south suffers extreme heat in summer, the coasts are often temperate.
The Mediterranean coast is usually a bit warmer, whereas the Atlantic coast is a little cooler, the sea is cooler, and there is more wind. The interior is a bit bare, though it does have gorgeous red rock cliffs, caves, and fields of sunflower and olive trees. Where the rivers run there’s more forest, but most of the south doesn’t get enough rainfall for thick vegetation.
The central plains, where Madrid is located, suffers; bitterly cold in the winter and sweltering in high summer, there are a few windows of time when the central areas are quite pleasant. The Central Plains are a bit barren, however, without thick forests. You will see many rolling hills and cedar pines, dropping red needles below their green canopy heads.
The wine country is high up in the mountains, approaching the foothills of the Sierra de Cantabria. It has rich soil and enough winter precipitation and natural streams that it provides perfect conditions for growing grapes, and you will see hillside after hillside covered in vineyards.
Catalunya in the north east can be cool and rainy in the winter, and have warm but not scorching summers. It is a very green area with sprawling natural parks. It is also in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains which provide a majestic backdrop for the rugged country (and great skiing in the winter!)
The north Atlantic coast (Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia), is green, lush and reminds one of Scotland more than Spain. It has plenty of rain and mist though does not usually swing to either temperature extreme. The sea is cold but good for surfing, and the beaches are generally less populated even in high season than the Mediterranean coast.
When to Visit
It should be noted here that August is Spain’s own holiday month. Much of the interior of the country is hot, and the natives vacate and go to the coasts or off on their own international trips, making the interior also quiet. However, Spain’s beaches will be packed with people, so if you aren’t in the mood for a crowded resort and you want to go to the sea, best plan your vacation for another time.
Andalucia and the South
Inland Andalucia in summer is blisteringly hot, but otherwise warm and temperate the rest of the year. The coasts are less extreme in summer. Even in winter you can probably take lunch outside and wear a short sleeve t-shirt around the Mediterranean coast. Anytime outside of July and August is ideal for visiting, though local holidays might draw crowds at any given time.
Madrid and the Central Plains
In the spring, they plains are full of flowers, and a visit between mid April and mid June means you are more likely to miss the rainy season. In September and October the summer still lingers though it is not fierce as it is in July and August, and makes for a very warm and fun trip. If you don’t mind the heat, August might be a scorcher, but as said earlier, it’s also a rather quiet month, and a good way to see Madrid without the normal busy throngs of people trying to get to work and living their daily lives.
Soria, La Rioja, and the Basque Country are prime in the summer and in the early to mid autumn, during the harvest. They are mountainous and so generally cooler than the rest of the interior, and they also have very cold winters. There are winter mountain sports that draw tourists, but if you are not a ski aficionado, you might find the area far too cold to visit from about November to May.
Catalunya and the Pyrenees
For an outdoor, beach, and hiking trip, Catalunya is a perfect summer destination. It is not too hot and not overly humid, and has well-kept beaches on the Mediterranean sea and nearby mountains and valleys for whatever a traveler may want. It is also a winter destination for skiiers, as it is a good entry point for tourists headed to the Pyrenees.
The North Atlantic Coast
The North Atlantic has a relatively short but wonderful summer. Much like Catalunya it does not get too hot, but unlike Catalunya, it is a more rugged and less frequented area. The Atlantic is a little cold, but it makes for great surfing and seafood, and for anyone planning to do the Camino de Santiago, July through September is a great time to try it in terms of weather. You will still experience intermittent rains, but the weather stays mild and the entire country is a deciduous jungle, green and wild and beautiful.
During the winter it rains more, but isn’t entirely unpleasant as the coast keeps it from getting very cold. The area normally boasts more outdoors activities than anything else, so the wet weather might put a damper on your plans.
When the Celts first made their migration from the upper reaches of Europe down to the Iberian Peninsula it was the mid Iron Age. With them they brought to this green and familiar seeming land many traditions and stories, only few of which have survived today. Unlike the common view of Spain as a hot, passionate, flamenco dancing, guitar playing culture, the history of the Galician people is marked by ancient nights full of magic and mystery, of witches circled in the darkness, churning fiery brews to ward off evil spirits, and attract the good.
The ‘Conxuro de Queimada’ is one of these surviving rituals (though there is debate if the rite is actually as old as some claim, or if it was in fact a more recent invention around the 1950’s. Entirely possible that even if it was dreamed up in the 20th century, that there was some evidence tying it to an earlier time). Queimada itself is a spirit distilled from wine and then flavored with herbs, then often sugar, lemon peel, coffee, and cinnamon.
The ritual of the drink is supposed to be a warding one that frightens off any spirits in the area with malintent. The forests of Galicia are often referred to as the Bosque Animada, or the animated wood, where said ne’er-do-welling sprites lie in wait to do travelers harm. It was originally a witches brew, but is now an all occasions kind of event, whether you’re just meeting up with friends or having a big party, queimada is a great addition to the get together.
But of course the most perfect night to have your conxuro is the Noche de San Juan, or St. John’s night (also called Witches’ Night), which is June 23rd. The conxuro demands a certain level of spooky ambiance, so once night falls, after brewing up the queimada, people gather round, turn off the lights, and recite the ‘spell’ meant to ward off evil.
Then, the queimada is lit on fire. It burns an incredible bright blue, and as the brandy burns off (and is added back in slowly), the fire makes ‘sigils’ and ‘ letters’ on top of the liquid, supposedly writing in the witches’ language (it is actually just a byproduct of how the brandy burns, but it’s neat nevertheless).
After the fire burns out, the queimada is ready! Poured out into cups and shared among the gathered, making for a happy party indeed.
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.
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.
Liuvigild, also known as Leovigild, was King of Septimania and Hispania from 568 to 586, and also King of Galicia for the latter part of his reign.
So why is this guy important?
For a number of reasons. This man took a dispirate, fractured land of people fighting for their borders and indeed against themselves and united them. He established whole cities at a time when almost no new urban centers were being founded. But I should start at the beginning. First, a little history.
After the (arguably second) sacking of Rome by the Visigoths around 410, things were falling apart for the Roman Empire. They were losing control of their Western territories, and several groups such as the Sueve, Vandals, and Alani had started moving across the Pyrenees and onto the Iberian peninsula. Though they felt the Visigoths to be barbarians, that didn’t really stop Rome from making treaties with them, so they contracted the Visigoths to head over to Hispania and help get things back in line around 416.
^Visigoths aren’t playing around. When they decide to sack, they really sack.
However, as evidenced by the aforementioned sacking, the Roman’s control over the Visigoths was tenuous at best. Though they recalled the Visigothic troops in 418, Rome had little control over whether or not the Visigoths actually followed the order.
Our Visigothic friends had been having problems with their northern Frankish neighbors, and after a series of brutal defeats by the Frankish King Clovis, and the death of their king, Alaric, they moved south over the mountains and into what would become modern day Spain. This wasn’t an easy task, though.
As you can see, there were a lot of different groups who had settled across the peninsula. The Visigoths had to fight their way through most of it in order to carve out a place for themselves.
But if there was one thing the Visigoths were good at, it was fighting. So they did manage to settle, despite opposition. Still, between the vestiges of the Hispano-Roman empire, the ever present thorn in their side that was the Vascones (Basques), and border issues with the Sueve, it was not a peaceful time.
^Batter up, Hispano-Romans.
The thing about Visigothic heirarchy is that it was an elective monarchy, meaning the people chose their King to essentially be their war leader, but also in theory to best represent their interests and their principles. But we know how that plays out in reality; principles clash, power corrupts, or people are just never happy with their ruler. But, when your people solve their problems by whacking people’s heads off with homemade clubs, it’s a health hazard to be their king.
Between 507 and 711ce there were twenty six Visigothic kings, a huge number given the mere 200 years of rule. Of these, five were assassinated, two died under “mysterious circumstances”, and one was overthrown. The rest were plagued by constant rebellion. So how could a culture even hope to quell the problems on all their borders when they couldn’t even sort out their own?
^Please, no more, we’re so tired of being assassinated.
That is where Leovigild comes in. The first thing he did upon taking the throne was to go on a quest of restoring royal authority to this fractured realm. He got on his horse and set forth across every inch of his known country. And then into some other territories as well, with his army in tow. To quote spainthenandnow.com : “Parts of a Byzantine enclave in the south east were recovered (570-71), a rebellious Córdoba was reintegrated into the kingdom (572), and the Sueves of the North West conquered (584). In 583, Leovigild ended a five-year armed rebellion led by his older son, Hermenegild, in Baetica.”
By the time he died in 586, Leo had conquered pretty much everything save a few Byzantine outposts and the ever entrenched Basques in the Pyrenees.
^Knock knock, who’s there, now you belong to Leovigild.
Why was all this conquering important?
Well, aside from being incredible, considering all the religious, political, and principle division within his own force, it allowed Leovigild to take actual legal steps towards unity. Until this point in time, the Visigoths had not truly considered themselves independent of Rome, but more its allies (despite all that sacking). They were still using Roman symbols and coinage. Leovigild, feeling that a national and imperial identity was important, introduced symbols of his own; robes, crowns, coins, thrones, etc, and even founded his own cities, building them from the ground up. Of course, these symbols were still Roman and Byzantine inspired, and nowhere near as good of make as what said counterparts produced.
^Rather misshapen, but it was a start.
However, the most important (and lasting) was the Codex Revisus, which was a unifying codex that revoked laws against intermarriage with Hispano-Romans as well as promoted the Arian faith as the only faith, via the law code. The laws were much more structured and pulled many different previous codes together.
Though Leo’s code itself did not survive, it was a significant influence on King Reccasunith’s Liber Ludiciorum, a code established 80 years later that would become the basis for the Spanish Christian law codes established in the Middle Ages, and still survive today.
So, in short, in a time where unity was a precious luxury, Leovigild created stability. Though his efforts may have been insufficient for the empire to last long, it did for 130 years after his passing, and his legacy, both physical in the form of ruins at Reccopolis, and ideological, still stand even now.
Many thanks to Wikipedia Commons and Getty Images, as well as Spain Then and Now for the images.
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)
Cañon del Rio Lobos, or Wolf River Canyon, is a fascinating place. A natural wonder, the canyon is full of life and forest, and also, the mysterious hermitage of Saint Bartholomew of the Knights Templar. His monastery is hidden in the hills, not too far of a walk, and well worth the trip.
The Black Lagoon (La Laguna Negra)
La Laguna Negra, or the Black Lagoon, was created by glaciers and carved into the Urbión Mountains millennia ago. According to legend, it is nearly bottomless and there is, according to a 1912 story, a creature living in its murky depths. The reality of the Laguna Negra is that it is a gorgeous and one of a kind natural park with an incredible view of the pine forests. There are foxes, deer, and many different kinds of local birds, as well as a few fun surprises along its hiking routes.
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!
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.
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.
The haunted bodega of El Fabulista. You can get wine anywhere in the province, but wine that comes with a story like this one, told by a native storyteller in the spooky cave like cellars of this unique bodega is not something to miss!
A tapas crawl through the Barrio Laurel. Logroño is not an incredibly famous place, but for its tapas, it should be. It is the hotspot of the north, each restaurant in the neighborhood of Laurel specializing in a different tapa, making for an overall incredible gastronomic experience.
The Monasteries of Suso and Yuso. Built up and down from each other on the side of a small mountain, these two monasteries are now an UNESCO Heritage Site, as the elder one, Suso is believed to be the birthplace of the modern Spanish and Basque written languages 1,000 years ago.
The town of La Guardia. If you want a peaceful and picturesque vacation, this is the town to go to – there are no cars allowed in town because the entire village is resting on some 300 underground bodegas! You can see some of the eldest cellars through the glass floors of some restaurants, and many have tours available, and are still functional today. So leave your wheels at the city gate, and take in the medieval architecture on foot.
Colorfully Spain has a great new way to travel Europe; through the pages of a classic novel.
A Movable Book Club’s name was taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel A Movable Feast, which beautifully details his life abroad in Paris in the 1920’s. A Movable Feast is a journey through Paris, and brings Hemingway´s memories to life, letting the reader walk alongside him as he traverses the city and his sea of acquaintances. The idea behind the Movable Book Club is similar; we want to take a traveler on a journey into a classic novel, visiting all of the sights featured in the book, and experiencing a beloved classic by following in its footsteps.
Included in the trip is not only a personal copy of the selected novel for each traveler, but also an accompanying literature talk over coffee led by a professional, to explain and discuss each part of the book as they go along.