Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

What is it that draws you to a place?  It’s a good question that Cathy asks on her new blog, Wanderessence and one that I can’t resist answering.  I’m going to start with my most recent visit to a ‘new’ place, Jerez de la Frontera, but I will be returning to this challenge.

Drama and passion are two of the things that brought me to Jerez.  I’m sure I must have gypsy blood somewhere in the ancestry.  The rhythmic stamp of that foot and the proud arch of the neck has me on the edge of my seat, breathing suspended, totally in the moment.  Who wouldn’t travel for this?  Andalusia Day in Jerez, during the Festival of Flamenco.  All was quiet in the city as we arrived on this National Holiday.  Until we stumbled, by accident, into the Centro Cultural Flamenco Don Antonio Chacon, in search of food.  Five deep at the tiny bar, half of Jerez were assembled to watch the show, all chattering like magpies.  A hush fell as the artist took to the stage.  Looking out into the packed hall, he claimed his audience, all eyes upon him.  And then… the passion ignites!

Our lovely host, Alejandro, at La Fonda Barranco, said that he had guests returning year on year to take part in the festival.  And to sample the sherry, of course.  No visit to Jerez would be complete without tasting two or three.  Sherish (Xères) was the Arab name for this city, founded by the Phoenicians three thousand years ago.  The warm climate, with both easterly and westerly winds and soil that was once covered by the ocean, produces sherry, a unique, inimitable wine.  Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, sweet Pedro Ximenez… so many choices!

Something else unique to the city had drawn me here.  The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art trains horses from the age of three, and riders, to perform advanced dressage and Spanish horse riding, country style.  The culmination of their training is the show ‘How Andalusian Horses Dance’.  Performed to classical music, and to a packed house, this is pure equestrian ballet.  Beautifully groomed and beribboned, the horses demonstrate rhythmic trotting and the ‘Spanish walk’.  They twirl, leap and balance on hind legs, all in complete unison with their rider.

Photographs, understandably, were not permitted but I can share a little of the atmosphere and excitement in this video, which shows the beautiful palace and grounds as well as the arena.  I don’t think it would be out of place in a fairy tale.

This is only a small part of my Jerez story.  There’s a mighty cathedral, beautiful churches, bodegas aplenty, distinctive architecture and wonderful food.  I can’t wait to show you my sherry trifle!  But first it’s your turn to share.  What is it that draws you to a place?  Cathy would love to know.

Jo’s Monday walk : Among the fisherfolk

I was all set to take you castanet rattling in Jerez today, but we had a strenuous week last week, didn’t we?  I thought a gentle amble round the latest addition to Olhão’s street art might be a better option.  Truth be told, I could easily have missed these, if it hadn’t been for Becky.  What would I do without her?  A mine of information, she saves me hours of research.  Murals with memories of the city gives details of the artists and how they came to work on this very engaging project.

Images of the sea always appeal to me, but the detail and realism of these bring them alive.  They were taken from a set of photos of life as it was in the canning and fishing industry in Olhão, giving them authenticity and vibrance.  While he was working, a lady asked to have a photo taken with the artist Pedro ‘Mistik’.  Her mother was featured in his painting and she had the original photograph at home.  I wonder if she was one of these?

The serious lady, or the one with the lively face?  Might she stand out in a crowd, or perhaps, be a supervisor?

What a source of pride the murals must be for the older inhabitants of Olhão!  The women, and their menfolk.  And their dogs, of course!

And then there’s the iconic fish market, where the catch is sold.  Close by, the lads still mend their nets.

But the days of the cannery are forever changed, wonderfully portrayed in all these capsules of time.

Four artists combined to create the work, bringing a new lease of life to these derelict buildings in Largo and Rua de Fábrica Velha.  The faces are so full of character, telling their individual stories.  They enthrall me.

It’s highly appropriate that the murals are close to Becky’s favourite fish restaurant in Olhão, Vai e Volta.  We haven’t really done enough walking to merit a meal, but they are only open for lunch, so we’d better pop in now and stroll a little later.   And no, that’s not my cake.  Blame Robert today!

I defy you not to be full when you come out.  And then a wander through Olhão’s atmospheric back streets just might reveal a March Square or two?

Five, I counted.  Thanks so much, Becky, for providing fun and hospitality, as well as all those facts.

As the lights go down on Olhão, I have heaps of walks to share this week.   Please find time to visit, especially if it’s someone you don’t know.  You’ll find some great reads.  I hope you’ve got that kettle on for a cuppa?

Pride of place, as promised, and a delight for you all!  Thanks, Jude!

Garden Portrait : Powis Castle

Closely followed in the happiness stakes by Drake :

Procession of Joy

And this one from Emma, just because I like it.  We share fond memories of Tenby :

Waiting for the Tide

Robin has a nice touch too.  Not too far from my doorstep :

The Cross

Back to basics, with Jackie :

What’s cooking?

Never heard of this place, but Lady Lee is very well-traveled :

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Less exotic, but very nicely presented by Anabel :

A stroll round Lanark

And here’s Shazza, on the hunt for Spring.  I do hope she finds it soon!

Searching for signs of Spring

But fairies would do very nicely.  Lots of rich detail in this, from Theresa :

Following a river to a Fairy Glen

Can you believe I’ve never been to Rome?  Never mind- Jaspa can show us the ropes :

Wandering Rome, The Eternal City, at Night

Not so far away, Cathy has one last romp on ‘In search of a thousand cafes’ :

Our last day in Prague : old town & the Jewish Quarter

And Denzil finds much to give pleasure in the city of Antwerp.  Check out the escalators!

How to spend a day in Antwerps’s historic centre

Meanwhile, Pauline does a fabulous job of capturing the wild waves :

Cyclone Linda whips up the waves

And Becky does a fair job on remembering the names of flowers.  Much better than me!

The art of flowers

I’ve joined Candy on her explorations before.  You should enjoy this one :

Castelo Branco

Recently featured in Inntravel’s ‘Slow Lane’, meet Luke and Nell, in this part of the world that I love :

Rota Vicentina/2/Finding the Fisherman’s Way

And finally, Carol takes us caving.  There are some beautiful shots here!

Hidden Beneath

That’s it from the wintry north east of England.  Hope you enjoyed it and many thanks to those of you who took part.  Join me any time on Jo’s Monday walks.  You’ll be very welcome.  Have a great week!

Six word Saturday

An interesting ‘Traces of the Past’?

Rather special to find the photographic studio of a former war correspondent in Angola on Tavira’s Rua da Liberdade.  Luis Andrade studied film making and photography, as well as journalism, and you can find 4 generations of photography in the tiny museum above the shop.  Read all about the family business here.  The museum is a photographic history of Tavira and I found it fascinating.

I also thought it might appeal to Paula, even though her Traces of the Past is intended to be in full colour this week.  Tavira under snow is a rare sight.  Talking of snow, I’m keeping my fingers crossed this weekend.  We’ve had hailstones this morning.  Enough of Siberia!

Bring on Spring, and share your six words with Debbie!  Happy weekend!

I’d rather be in… Caldas de Monchique

You might remember the camelias from my Monday walk post? I thought I should finish that lovely day off, whilst it’s still in my head.  And those darned March Squares– there’s just no getting away from them, is there?

If you drive up the N266 towards Monchique, from the coast, you will pass the sign for the thermal spa, Caldas de Monchique.  It’s easier to turn off on the way up, but be warned- you mighty dally there longer than you had planned.  You also need to like gradients, but if you just want a flavour of the place you don’t have to climb much.  Set at the bottom of a valley, it’s in a world all of its own.

Better in Spring, the season of wistfulness here on the serra, because in Summer the spa becomes a popular place.  The path drops down to the main buildings, or you can follow a series of woodland paths, in and around the boulders.  The fonte chuckles to itself and, even on a not-so-sunny day, families will be having picnics at the shady benches provided.

Caldas de Monchique was a spa even in Roman times, and was once popular with Portuguese royalty.  The springs (caldas means ‘hot’) are at a temperature of 32C, and are used as a curative for rheumatism and respiratory problems.  The water from some of the springs is bottled.

The combination of Moorish styled main buildings and more rustic dwellings, in such a setting, seems to lend an element of fairytale.  It’s one that appeals to me very much.  I hope you like it too.

The storks?  If you remember, they line the roadside on the way to Monchique.  These are just two of many.  Where would I rather be? asks Krista.  Well, it’s not a hard question, is it?

Jo’s Monday walk : Hunting camelias in Monchique

I had always thought of Monchique as rather a drab little town, despite the approach to it through beautiful countryside.  An astounding number of storks spectated from their nests along the roadside, and frolicked in the fields and orange groves.  Leaving them behind, the road climbs into the hills known as the Serra de Monchique, with their highest point 902 metres, at Foia.  Further down the slopes, I had been lured to the market town of Monchique with the promise of a Camelia Fair.

But where?  Arriving in the town around midday, all was quiet.  The Tourist Information Office was closed, and a large billboard advertised the advent of the Sausage Festival, next weekend.  Expectations lowered, but still with a glimmer of hope, for it was a day to enjoy.

Who would have anticipated the large open air pool?  What a place that must be to splash about in the Summer!  Steps led upwards, an open invitation, with the tip of a bell tower just visible, spurring me on.  Built in 16th century, the Igreja Matriz, or Mother Church, is dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Our Lady of Conception.

The doorways are in the Manueline style, depicting images from the sea and from nature.  I step into the hushed interior, where strong pillars support the wooden ceiling.  Soft blue and gold adorns walls and alcoves.  I linger to admire the Capela do Santissimo (Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament), the azulejos reaching high into the dome. (a lovely ‘square’ for Becky)

No sign yet of camelias but there are other distractions.  A shop offers homemade chocolates, cork products and Happy Donkey walks.  All three appeal.  The direction is definitely upwards, a discreet sign pointing to O Convento.  Escadhinas da Boa Vista promise fine views.

Around about here I get my first hint of camelias, growing nonchalantly in a tub.  And then a second pair, nodding in a ruffle of breeze.

By now I have the bit between my teeth and am in hot pursuit, but there’s that convent to explore.  Upwards I go, dangling washing lines and delectably old houses doing their best to delay me.  Already I’m high above the Igreja Matriz.  A forlorn icon looks down on me, sadly.

Little prepares me for what I will find at the top of the hill.  A small homestead adjoins the most ramshackle ruined convent you ever set foot in.  I’m beckoned forward with an eager nod from the homesteader and, very gingerly, I step up and into the ruin.  My eyes adjust to the gloom and I stare into the central courtyard.  A chicken run occupies one corner, and the small creatures scurry about, pecking busily.

The old lad waves me onward and I gaze in wonder.  Never have I stood inside a more tortured shell of a building, and yet, its spirit shines forth.

Convento de Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile), a former Franciscan convent, was founded in 1631 by Pêro da Silva, later to become a Vice-Roy of India.  According to legend he brought a small image of Our Lady, in ivory, back with him from India.  After his death it was venerated as a relic, and now resides in the hermitage of S. Sebastião down in the town.  Da Silva is thought to have been buried at the convent, and the enormous camelia that almost fills the centre of the courtyard is believed to have journeyed from India with him.

The camelias are lush and profuse, even crumpled at my feet.  As I turn to leave, the chap waves his arms to indicate that I’m not yet finished.  An adjoining room, once a refectory, has on its crumbling walls the remnants of a panel of tiles reproducing Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper.  Beside this, what must once have been an exquisite half tiled wall.  A solitary, poignant cross represents the Via Sacra, or Sacred Way.

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The earthquake of 1755 was largely responsible for the destruction of the convent.  Astounding to me that such treasures should languish unprotected, but access is undoubtedly an issue.  There is no charge to visit the convent, but a small contribution produced an orange and a smile from the old lad, and then it was back down the hill, more easily than the ascent.

I still hadn’t completely given up hope that there might be a camelia show somewhere, but when I finally came upon the deserted showground I had to face reality.  Maybe a piece of delicious almond tart would compensate?  But you know how strange life can be sometimes.  Strolling back to the central square, what should I find?  A whole row of planted camelia!

Many of the blooms were brown and withered at the edges, and it seems likely that the show was cancelled for this reason.  A cold spell early in the year may have caused the damage.  A pleasant sit in the sunlit square would round off my day nicely.  It’s a good vantage point for some of the expressive statuary celebrating local surgeon Dr. Humberto Messi, by sculptor Jorge Melicio.

Refreshed, it was time to drive back down the valley, stopping for a short stroll around the lovely thermal spa at Caldas de Monchique.  I think I’ll save that for another day.  I expect your feet are tired.  Pop that kettle on now and we’ll share some virtual walks.

There and back with Lisa makes this a terrific stroll :

Walkway over the Hudson

Susan’s not been around for a while, but she always makes walking a pleasure :

Walking with the Skyview

Warm this week, with Irene :

Living Desert

But Suzan reminds us of what some of us missed :

Photos with Finesse

I do try not to be envious, but Carol’s trip to the Blue Mountains is turning me green.  Twice!

From the Top to the Bottom


Amanda, meanwhile, takes us to a far less well known part of Australia :

Moore Meanderings at Linville

Jesh likes to look at the world in an arty way (and I spotted a few squares and circles in there too!)

The Movement of The City

Jackie’s having fun again, down Mexico way.  Her posts always make me so hungry :

Comida del Dia

And you really can’t beat living the good life, with Lady Lee :

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Or with my good friend Cathy, and her boundless energy.  Watch out for her new blog soon!

Prague: A day of wandering through Nove Mesto & Vinohrady

Drake needs lots of energy too.  He’s always busy!

Business as usual

And Eunice finally discovers a lovely piece of local history on her doorstep :

A local discovery walk

Hope you weren’t disappointed in this week’s walk.  If you’d like to join me, details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Many thanks to all my lovely contributors.  Here’s wishing you a great week!


Six word Saturday

Beautifully square, or not so square?

That seems to be the theme of my week so far.  In case you missed it, I raised a smile with a square on Thursday.  Today I’m going for beauty.  Becky is determined to turn our March Square.  Why fight it?  And, with a little thought, you can describe it all in six words.

Have a happy weekend!