Archive | August, 2014

Our visit to Fort Bravo, part of Mini-Hollywood in Almeria

19 Aug

I am not a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, but Paul enjoys them. I tend to fall asleep with boredom but quite enjoy watching the inevitable scene in the Saloon Bar, which always ends with chairs being thrown around after a rowdy drinking session and game of poker. However, when he explained that they were filmed in Spain’s only desert in Almeria, within driving distance of where we were  staying in the Alpujarras, I liked the sound of visiting one of the film sets as a day out.

There are three sites to visit, and we chose Fort Bravo, which is probably in between the other two in terms of size and variety of activities. Naturally in August anywhere in a desert is going to be hot, so we would have to leave early and pace ourselves. I was also attracted by the fact that there is a swimming pool on the site; nothing to do with Spaghetti Westerns but an excellent idea for a hot day out in the desert! The largest site, Oasys, we were put off from visiting as we read reviews on ‘Trip Adviser’ from visitors who were distressed by the large number of animals who seemed to be kept in hot cages with little shade or roaming space.

I was absolutely bowled over by the film set. Most of the films were made in the 60s and 70s; for instance ‘Once upon a time in the West’ was made here. Given then that the set is now at least 50 years old, it is in remarkably good shape. Most of the buildings I should imagine would be used just for the outside shots, and some of them you cannot go into, but there are many buildings which you can still enter and walk around. For instance the Saloon Bar is still used as a bar for visitors; it is also the scene for one of the re-enactment shows which run throughout the day. All of the bar maids were dressed in grisette-type costumes and after serving drinks to the public they also took part in the show. Their main role was to dance the can-can. We assume that actors were employed to take part in the show. Some of them, particularly the dancers, were not very good. They were out of time with the music, and one poor girl nearly fell into us as she tripped and we were standing at the side of the stage. However, given that Spaghetti Westerns are a spoof and not to be taken seriously, this all seemed in keeping with the general feel of the event. Most of the visitors were Spanish and enjoyed the bar scene, which included some shooting and I believe some minor chair-throwing (although we did go out for a breath of air and to wait for the restaurant to open and did not actually see the latter).

Later on there was a wonderful show outside, mainly with cowboys on horseback. This was superb, and we really did feel as if we were extras in a Spaghetti Western film. What I really liked about the whole experience was that it was almost a community event. When the shows were taking place, you could not buy lunch or get a drink at the bar; nearly all of the day’s visitors were standing around watching at the same time. laughing and clapping. It had a really good atmosphere and feeling that everyone was enjoying the show together. Despite our Spanish language skills being very limited, we could still enter into the spirit of it. There are some amusing touches on the set too, such as a building named ‘Sky Sports.’ You could also go and pretend to hang yourself on the noose and stand behind bars in the jail. I did consider dressing up in a costume and having a ‘Wanted’ poster made of myself, but in the end resisted, because of the cost and the thought of dressing up in temperatures of about 90 degrees!

The buffet lunch was not available until after the midday show was over, and that was perfectly acceptable, and as always in Spain, a very reasonable cost at 10 euros a head for three courses. After that I went for a swim in the very welcoming cool water of the pool. Next to the pool area are some bungalows which you can stay in over-night, if you are really keen to spend maximum time at the site. I’d say that the experience is really suitable for all ages. We went with a 16 year old, but it would be great for young children too. The only activity we did not take part in which I should have quite enjoyed, was having a ride around the site on a horse-drawn carriage. We were too late for an early afternoon ride, as the afternoon, outdoor show started at 2:30 and there would be no more rides until 3:00; of course we are talking Spanish time here, where everything is relaxed and ‘manana’ and it was getting exceedingly hot, so we headed off before the end of the show. It was a very impressive affair, with wonderfully evocative music and extremely skilled horsemen riding across the desert sand. In fact there was a lot of music played during the day and particularly for the shows; even as a non Western fan, I have to admit that the music is very atmospheric.

This is a place worth visiting if you are in Almeria in Southern Spain, and want a change from swimming, beaches and visiting the fantastic city of Granada and the beautiful mountain villages.




El Nidito – a beautiful holiday villa in Orgiva

14 Aug

I first found this villa four years ago when doing my usual internet search for interesting, out of the way properties to let in Europe. The first thing that struck me was the amazingingly good value rental cost; no difference between coming in April or August. However, the properties (there is a larger one called El Nido) are obviously so popular that the couple letting them get repeat business so you really have to plan ahead. So I found another villa in Spain and forgot about El Nidito. Last year soon before we were due to set off for our holiday in Southern France, for some reason I remembered the little villa in Orgiva and made enquiries. Because of the good price, we made a provisional booking for three weeks in August of this year. We have taken to travelling in Europe by land and sea, so the journey is all part of the holiday and we see much more of the country than we would if flying.

Anyway, back to El Nidito. It is in the Alpujarran town of Orgiva, and is the area of Spain made famous by Chris Stewart of ‘Driving over Lemons’ fame. Paul is much more travelled than I am and was enthusiastic at the prospect of visiting this part of Spain again. After travelling across Spain via Cherbourg, St Nazaire and Gijon (our two ferries, more of which I’ll tell you in another piece) we reached Orgiva on Saturday evening. We had left England early on Monday morning. There are three properties next to each other, and Clare and Ainsley live in the largest house and are on hand if guests have any problems or questions. The properties are reached up a steep, rough track just out of the town. It is a ten minute walk into the town with its wide selection of shops, banks and restaurants. If you are as unfit and vulnerable to the heat as I am, you might find the walk back really tough, and not to be attempted between 10:00 and midnight without a bottle of water!

Clare and Ainsley are an English couple who have lived in the area for over 20 years. They are very in tune with the needs of holiday makers, and as well as the usual welcome pack of wine, butter and yoghurt and a well-stocked cupboard with spices, olive oil and vinegar and local eggs from their neighbours’ chickens, we accepted their offer of a starter veg box. Also Ainsley cooked us a two-course dinner to make it a little easier for us arriving on a Saturday evening.

The kitchen cupboards are well stocked and there are plenty of saucepans and bowls as well as useful utensils such as a vegetable peeler, sharp knives and a corkscrew. I was also impressed by the inclusion of kitchen scales and a good lemon squeezer.

The layout of the house is all on one level; a single and double bedroom each with an ensuite, then one kitchen/dining room. Of course most of the living and, for us, dining, takes place outside in the summer and there is a lovely big table outside under a gazebo/awning construction. As the property sleeps only four and there are only three of us, the space is generous. I sometimes find that if properties are for small families or groups, tables can be very small and there are never extra chairs. Not so at El Nidito, which has plenty of dining chairs, and also extra small tables outside so that you can sit in different locations depending on where the sun is shining. The pool is small, but just right for a family of three as we are. Paul keeps saying he will go for a swim if it gets warmer! Jess and I swim several times a day which we consider necessary to our sanity and well-being.

There is a washing machine in the garden, which I use frequenntly. We have found that in smaller holiday properties there is either a dish-washer or washing machine, and I much prefer the latter given the choice. There is also an excellent charcoal barbecue which heats up really efficiently. Personally I can only barbecue later in the evening given the intense heat. Last night I lit it at about 7:45.

The pool is filled up and cleaned every day, which is very pleasant. I am used to spending much time pool cleaning as we have an above-ground one at home.

Finally, the main bedroom has an air-conditioning unit, which is great if you are hot and weary during the day, as you can just sit and be blasted by cool air. It is far too noisy to use during the night, so we leave the doors and window open; there is a bead curtain and mosquito net to deter biting bugs. Happy to say that in this part of Spain there are fewer horrific insects and mosquitoes than for instance in Tuscany, where Paul acquired some truly ghastly bites.Also we could not eat outside in the evening as much there.

We have just over a week left here at El Nidito and can truly say that it was a good choice, whilst being a very economical option for a three-week break in August!

The gastronomic delights of Spain – part 1

13 Aug

I love Spanish food and my own cooking often has a Spanish flavour to it, even if not always completely authentic. On holiday in Devon a few years ago, we walked into a small, friendly bookshop and ended up buying ‘Rick Stein’s Spain.’ There is just something about the summertime and the holiday mood which makes me long for seafood, gazpacho, Serrano ham and tapas.

There is something curious about eating out on holiday, and this applies to Spain, France and Italy. I single out these countries as they are the ones I have visited most in recent years. The affliction seems to be the worst in France though. Wonderful markets laden with fruit, vegetables and salads and yet in restaurants meat and fish are often served with chips or rather dull salad. It is not always even possible to order vegetables separately. I think what I like the best is the peasant-style food – the bean stews with hearty sausages and big hunks of lamb or pork; squid cooked whole on the griddle, not cut into rings and fried in breadcrumbs.

Happy to say that this year we really seem to have succeeded in finding better food in restaurants. I say this without hesitation, despite my last post on a terrible tapas bar in Salamanca! Eating out is so cheap in Spain that it is also possible to order a vegetable main dish as well as a meat or fish main dish and ask for them to be brought at the same time. At this point I must mention the wonderful ‘El Rinconcillo’ in Seville. We ate lunch there before visiting the Alcazar. Jess is fairly cautious and conservative over her choice of food, so I cannot remember what she had, but Paul and I shared two dishes: Chick peas cooked with spinach, and Cod cooked with tomatoes and spices. They were both beautifully prepared and gave me everything that I had been hoping for and expecting from an authentic Spanish meal.

Other recommended restaurants are: ‘La Carbona Bodega’ in Jerez, and on that day despite it being lunch-time I did sample a glass of fino, as it seemed apt whilst visiting that particular town! I had a beautiful dish of pork there, but it did not come with any potatoes or vegetables. The other really good meal we had was in Lanjaron, at the ‘Castillo Acadima.’ This is a lively spa town close to Orgiva, and it was recommended by our villa owners. The picture on this posting is of my suckling pig cooked with mashed squash, roast asparagus and chips which were more or less crisps. That truly was the first dish which had the perfect matching of meat and vegetables. Paul also had a pork dish at this restaurant. Jess enjoyed her spaghetti bolognaise. Paul and I also both had gazpacho to start with.

In Granada one evening we ate in the ‘Little Morocco’ area and Paul and I both enjoyed a lamb tagine. I did think that could have been served with couscous.

On average dinners for three including drinks have cost us around 60 euros. Usually this is for two courses for Paul and me, and one course for Jess, plus one or two glasses of wine for me and soft drinks all round.At the current exchange rate this is about £48, which we think is remarkably cheap when you are used to UK prices!


The worst tapas bar in Salamanca….. (probably)

13 Aug

We are taking our usual long summer holiday this August and this time decided to head for Orgiva, in The Alpujarras in Southern Spain. The format of the holiday is to take a long drive and ferry trip. We are not keen on flying for various reasons, and Paul loves driving. So on the journey down we camped at various sites until reaching Orgiva after 6 days travelling. The journey also gave us an opportunity to visit some other great cities and regions of Spain.

Those of you who know me know that I love food. That is a big understatement but we’ll leave it at that for the moment! In fact really I prefer to cook than eat out, and fortunately Paul prefers my cooking to restaurant food. In the UK this is not only because of the quality but also the cost. So on holiday (as we are this year for 4 and a half weeks) we eat out more than we do in England for the rest of the year. When travelling this is inevitable; I do not actually cook when we are camping. What we did not have much of last time we were on holiday in Spain was tapas. We seemed to go to the wrong type of restaurants. And we were never offered free tapas with drinks. So on this holiday I have been delighted to encounter both free tapas and plenty to buy from menus.

I am not going to name this restaurant, but I shall just say that it is in Salamanca and was not a good experience. We arrived before 8:00pm and the dinner menu was not available until 8:30. So we decided to go for tapas, or rather raciones, which are bigger than tapas. We did get carried away and order 4 each, so 12 dishes for the 3 of us. Amongst those dishes were some repeats; Paul and Jess both chose Spanish Omlette, and Paul and I both opted for Patatas Bravas. For a start the portions were huge; I should maybe have looked more closely into exactly what a raciones is! It was not just that though. It was all so stodgy, with mainly carbohydrate-based dishes. My Russian Salad was indescribable! Awful dressing and slightly rancid-tasting vegetables. It was the Patatas Bravas which defeated us though. In fact we thought maybe he had brought us the Patatas with pink cocktail sauce by mistake, which was also listed on the menu. The bill listed it correctly though. As is traditional with this dish, the potatoes were cooked separately with the sauce dolloped on the top, but even Jess was not tempted by extra chips! So you should be able to see two plates of that in the picture, barely eaten.

On the positive side, I enjoyed my mussels and Paul enjoyed his potatoes cooked with chorizo. It did become a bit of a competition to compare who had actually managed to eat a complete dish of food. It reminded me of a lovely tapas bar in France last year, when wd really challenged the chef by ordering everything on the menu!

On another positive note, it was a very cheap dinner, as they all tend to be in Spain!