Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spanish christmas customs 5 – saints and canelons!

A post by Valerie Collins co-writer of "In the Garlic"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas in Spain

by Robert Bovington

Spain is especially enjoyable during the Christmas season. Firstly the weather is so much better, but the main reason is that we do not have to put up with the sheer commercialism that is so prevalent in the UK. In Britain, stores seem to start selling Christmas items as soon as the summer holidays finish. Until quite recently, traditional Christmas goods did not appear in Spanish shops until December. They now appear in November. I hope Spain doesn't go the same way as the UK.

The actual act of celebrating Christmas goes on for much longer than in the UK but I find it enjoyable. For a couple of weeks before Christmas nativity scenes are displayed in churches, town halls and shops in all the towns and villages. Every year in Roquetas and Almería there is usually a superb display that includes hundreds of figures and buildings - some of them working models!

The main Christmas events, though, centres around two days, Christmas Eve and Three Kings day. Christmas Eve is the time when families get together for the traditional feast. Every member of the family from great grandparents to the tiniest baby dress up in their best clothes and tuck in to a veritable feast. The meal usually starts around 9pm and the food is not like the traditional British Christmas dinner. No roast turkey and definitely no sprouts! First of all great quantities of seafood are eaten such as prawns, squid and salmon. This is followed by the main course, which could be another fish dish or meat. After the meal the family relax over coffee, liqueurs and turron - a nougat type sweet. The adults open their presents. The children may get a present but their main day for receiving gifts is Three Kings Day. At midnight some members of the family might go to church to celebrate Midnight Mass, others may stay at home to celebrate the birth of Christ with champagne. For the Spanish the night is yet young and so they they will probably go out and party until dawn. I will be getting my beauty sleep while they're doing that. I need it!

Christmas day is a fiesta day with shops, offices and banks all closed. Unlike the other Spanish fiestas though there are no processions or celebrations - they are probable at home nursing sore heads. Boxing Day is not celebrated in Spain and so December the 26th is just another normal day for the Spanish. Christmas is not yet over though!

On the 6th January the Spanish commemorate Three Kings Day, which celebrates the day on which the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem bringing gifts for baby Jesus. It is the highlight of Christmas for children. Father Christmas doesn't deliver presents to Spanish children. It is probably too hot for the reindeer! Las niños español don't miss out, however. The Three Kings arrive overnight on the 5th January, riding horses, and leaving presents for the children who will probably have left some food out for the horses. The children make their way into town to see the Procession of the Three Kings, which is always a spectacular event. During the procession, tons of sweets are thrown from the floats for the children to catch. The wiser youngsters take carrier bags to collect the goodies!

Sandwiched between Christmas Eve and Three Kings Day is New Years Eve. This is celebrated in much the same way as in the UK and many families will eat out on this night and the restaurants are always full. At midnight the Spanish see the New Year in with Cava (the Spanish equivalent of champagne) and grapes! The custom is that you have twelve grapes and you eat one on each chime of the Spanish equivalent of Big Ben! Of course the festivities do not end there. Partying goes on until at least dawn as New Years Day is another holiday which allows the population to recover from the excesses of the night before.

Christmas Lights in Almería
belén (nativity scene) in a shop window in Almería
a small part of the belén the Rambla Almería

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Spanish Christmas Customs 4 – The Big Bun | In the Garlic

....and another article by Theresa O'Shea

Spanish Christmas Customs 4 – The Big Bun | In the Garlic:

Spanish Christmas Customs 3 – the villancico | In the Garlic

Spanish Christmas Customs 3 – the villancico | In the Garlic:

Spanish Christmas Customs 2 : building the belén | In the Garlic

Another interesting article by Theresa O'Shea...

Spanish Christmas Customs 2 : building the belén | In the Garlic:

belén in the Bovington household

Spanish Christmas Customs 1- Fleecing the relatives | In the Garlic

This article is not one of mine but Theresa O'Shea's, joint author along with Valerie Collins of  "In the Garlic". Both Theresa and Valerie have written extremely interesting anecdotes about life in Spain....

Spanish Christmas Customs 1- Fleecing the relatives | In the Garlic

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Antoni Gaudí
by Robert Bovington
File:Antoni Gaudi 1878.jpg

He was an extremely original exponent of Art Nouveau who disliked straight lines as demonstrated by the wavy façade of Casa Milá. He used colourful collages of appliqué materials to add further ornamentation to the surfaces of his structures.

Seven of his Barcelona accomplishments are World Heritage sites. They are Casa Milá, Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló, Palau Güell, the crypt in Colonia Güell, Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia church.
Sagrada Familiaphoto: public domain 
Gaudí was born in 1852 in Catalonia. He died in 1926 having been run over by a tram and, fittingly, was buried in La Sagrada Família.

Gaudí was a Spanish architect who worked mostly in Barcelona which contains some superb examples of his brilliantly inventive work - like the enormous, but unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia; the fascinating Parc Güell and Casa Milá with its wacky rooftop.

by Lorus Maver
The wacky rooftop of Casa Milá
photo: public domain

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Turismodealmeria's 'blogosphere'! - a useful site for viewing blogs about the diverse province of Almería...

Click here ----->  Blogosfera

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Aragón is an autonomous community in Northern Spain comprising the provinces of Huesca, Zaragoza and Teruel. 

Zaragoza, the capital, with its many magnificent buildings, and the spectacular Ordesa National Park are both in Aragón. What else is Aragón famous for apart from Henry VIII's wife, Catherine? - well skiing for a start. The Pyrenees of Aragón are situated in the north-east of the region in the province of Huesca and include great peaks and secluded valleys that have retained their unspoiled beauty due to their inaccessibility.

Teruel in the south of the region is famous for its Mudéjar-style architecture. The city of Huesca also has many fine buildings, especially churches.

Teruel - Mudéjar architecture © Robert Bovington
 There are a number of other places of note in Aragón. Jaca, a city in the province of Huesca, has many notable landmarks that include the 10th century Romanesque cathedral, and the Citadel, which was begun in 1593 and recently restored. The city was a favourite residence of the Aragónese kings.

Another interesting place in Huesca, is Barbastro, a town of Roman origin that has a number of medieval attractions including the 16th century cathedral. Orchards and vineyards surround the town and the excellent Somontano wines are produced in this neighbourhood.

Near Babastro lies the medieval village of Alquézar, which is dominated by a beautiful building that is both castle and church - the Colegiata is the high point of one of the prettiest villages in Aragón. From this strategic position there are panoramic views across the surrounding countryside.

Describing the beauty of this area of Spain one could easily be lost for words - maybe that is why there are so many languages spoken in this region! In addition to Spanish, spoken by the entire population, there is an original Aragónese language, still spoken in some valleys of the Pyrenees. Catalan is spoken in areas close to the adjacent region of Catalonia and a number of dialects persist elsewhere in the region.

text extracted from "Spanish Impressions" by Robert Bovington

ISBN 978-1-4452-2543-2 available from 

also available in e-book format from Lulu and in Kindle format from etc

Sunday, December 11, 2011


by Robert Bovington

There are a number of schools of thought as to how the excellent Spanish custom of having a tapa with a drink came about. A popular theory is that the practice started in Sevilla. Something was needed to prevent flies, especially the minute fruit flies, from getting into peoples' drinks. The solution was to put a piece of bread on top of the glass, to keep out the flies between sips. The idea of balancing an extra morsel of food on top of the bread was then thought of and tapas were born. The word tapa actually means lid or cover in Spanish. Another theory is that small morsels of food were served with a glass of wine to travellers who had stopped briefly at a country inn but who were too rushed to get down from their horse. I prefer the first version - the latter doesn't ring true. I mean, come on, Spaniards too busy to stop for a meal! No way - especially if it is true that the practice started in Andalucía!
Even if the idea of serving a tapa with a drink did actually originate in Andalucía, it is now a national institution. I think it is a delightful custom - a couple of drinks and a few tapas is a splendid way of socialising with pleasant company!
Some people say that having a tapa with your drink is not a right. However, it is usually given, although it does depend on the time of day. I have never really been sure whether one should ask or not. Some would say it is bad form. Yet, on a couple of occasions when I have not requested a tapa with my beer, I did not receive one. This, I admit, has not happened too often and is usually when they think I am an English tourist who does not know any better. Locally, I know the best tapas bars and, at most of them, I ask for the tapa of my choice. In some bars you get what you are given which is not good news for the vegetarian if you get a dish of carne con ajillo - meat in garlic sauce. Even if you ask for habas - broad beans - you are likely to get pieces of cured ham in it.
So, what are the popular tapas? Lomo - loin of pork - is a popular choice. I like boquerones fritos - fried anchovies that are a bit like whitebait and the popular Spanish sausages - morcilla and chorizo. Other tapas commonly served are:

carne con tomate
pork in a rich tomato sauce
 kebabs - normally of spicy pork
rings of squid - normally fried in batter
cured ham
ensaladilla rusa
Russian salad - a sort of potato salad
patatas bravas
fried potato cubes in a spicy tomato sauce
battered and fried baby squid. 
tortilla de patatas
Spanish omelette
pulpo a la vinagreta
small pieces of octopus in a vinaigrette dressing

Robert Bovington

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Andalucía in pictures

Photos of the fantastic region of Andalucía on my Panoramio site.

Hope you like them

Robert Bovington


by Robert Bovington

map of Andalucía © Robert Bovington
Andalucía is the southernmost region of mainland Spain. It is the land of bullfighting, flamenco and gypsies. It is the land of high sierras, charming white villages and magnificent cities. It is the embodiment of Spain and yet its people think of themselves as Andalucian first and Spanish second - Andalucía became an autonomous community with its own parliament in Sevilla in 1982. The regional government - the Junta de Andalucía - administers things like taxes, health and most governmental day-to-day affairs. However, the Andalucian people have voted for independence from Spain. They already celebrate Andalucian day - on February 28 each year.

Andalucía is diverse - a country of extremes and its people live life to the full. Most British holidaymakers head for the beaches of the Costa del Sol. The more adventurous and perhaps slightly more cultured may venture further afield - perhaps to the cities of Málaga or Granada. Some might even visit the fantastic Alhambra! Most do not see the real Andalucía and miss an incredible array of cultural and ecological splendour.

There are eight provinces in Andalucía: Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla and, within this land, the diversity of things to see is astounding. There are the green foothills of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, the alluvial plains of the Guadalquivir River and the desert lands of Almería. There are fields of golden barley and yellow sunflowers, rolling hills of olive, almond, citrus and terraces of grape - all under an intense blue sky. Scattered across this spectacular fabric are the charming white villages that often cling precariously to the many mountain slopes in the region and the great cities like Granada, Sevilla and Córdoba.

Andalucía is the second largest region of Spain and the most densely populated yet it is seventy percent of the size of England but with only seven million people and most of these are congregated around the Costa del Sol - poor sods. The result is that there are many wide open spaces and a lot of these are conservation areas. In 2005, Spain had 1.6 million hectares of protected landscape representing 9.1% of the total area - the highest in Europe. Andalucía, however, had a whopping 18.92 per cent! One hundred and sixty three actual sites were under some sort of protection including two National Parks (Sierra Nevada and Doñana), twenty-four Natural Parks and eight Biosphere Reserves.

The areas that I have visited are delightful places to visit, walk, drive or live. The Sierra Nevada is a favourite of mine and it is the location of the highest mountain in mainland Spain, Mulhacén. It also has the charming Alpujarras spread across its southern slopes. The Doñana National Park is the largest of Spain's national parks and has three distinct ecosystems: the salt marshes, the brushwood and the salt dunes. An amazing array of fauna and flora is to be found there. The same can be said of another favourite of mine - the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata-Níjar to give it its full title. Located a short distance from Almería, some of its species of flora are unique to the area - like the pink snapdragon antirrhinum charidemi. This park really mirrors the diversity of the region - it is volcanic in origin and comprises coastal dunes, steep cliffs, spectacular beaches, salt marshes, saltpans, arid steppe inland, dry riverbeds and a substantial marine zone. It is probably this ecological diversity that has led to the park being designated a UNESCO Biosphere reserve.

Near Ronda there are other beautiful protected areas including the Sierra de las Nieves and the Sierra de Grazalema. I discovered the former when I drove from Fuengirola to Ronda via Tolox and Coín, a longer but much more splendid drive than the more direct route via Marbella. When I visited the Sierra de Grazalema I decided that I liked it even more than the Alpujarras. It too has charming pueblos blancos - like Zahara de la Sierra, which is reckoned to be one of the most attractive of the 'White Villages of Andalucía'. Grazalema too is delightful. However there are charming white villages throughout the region - many clinging precariously to hillsides.

It is not just countryside that has been afforded protection - buildings too are on the list of protected sites. For example, the Alhambra Palace in Granada is a World Heritage site - but then the great cities of Andalucía are magnificent - Sevilla with its Cathedral and the Giralda - Córdoba and the Mezquita - Granada.

The reason for this splendour was the great influence of Muslim rule on Andalucian culture. The Moors ruled over this region for eight hundred years until the Catholic Monarchs re-conquered Granada in 1492. These Arabs and Berbers of Muslim faith had a profound effect on architecture; agriculture and the arts in this region whose name, incidentally, was derived from the Arabic name "Al Andalus".

There are other fine towns in the region: Cádiz is purportedly Europe's oldest city, Ronda is the largest of the 'White Towns' and the birthplace of bullfighting, Baeza and Ubeda have magnificent Renaissance buildings and Almería has the imposing Alcazaba - also built by the enterprising Moors.

Yes - these Arab peoples built some of the most marvellous buildings in Spain and introduced irrigation systems that are still in use today in places like the Alpujarras. It beats planting bombs and running corner shops! But I digress.

Andalucía has so many wide open spaces, delightful countryside and magnificent cities that it amazes me that most holidaymakers head for the Costa del Sol. However I hope they continue to do so - the beauty of this delightful region is enhanced by the fact that most of it is not despoiled by mass tourism. I don't want English bars in the Alpujarras thank you!

Robert Bovington


by Robert Bovington

Marbella is advertised in holiday brochures as the most exclusive resort on the Costa del Sol, which could possibly mean that if people haven’t got loads of money they are excluded! Certainly it is the playground of the rich and famous – and infamous! Film stars and footballers rub shoulders with foreign royalty but the town has also been the haunt of crooks and undesirables including the Russian Mafia and Osama Bin Laden though, to be fair, this was before he embarked on his terrorism career. Even local government has been corrupt there – so much so, that the Spanish government took the unprecedented step of suspending the Marbella council.

However, the town is a major tourist centre and for good reason. This jet setting resort has hotels, villas and mansions fit for kings yet despite its opulence it has a perfectly preserved old town. This old Moorish quarter is a warren of narrow twisting streets and alleyways. Small restaurants, cafés and boutiques occupy many of the whitewashed buildings that often have wrought iron balconies festooned with geraniums or bougainvillaea. This part of Marbella is extremely photogenic and is a mix of Moorish and Christian architecture because the old houses are interspersed with the occasional church.

Plaza de los Naranjos

The heart of the old town is the delightfully named Plaza de los Naranjos – so called because of its orange trees. Attractive buildings surround the square including the 16th century Town Hall. There are several outdoor cafés here and it is the perfect place to unwind over a glass of beer.

A couple of miles away is Puerto Banús. Here you can see how the rich spend some of their ill-gotten gains, as many luxury yachts are berthed at the marina in this chic suburb of Marbella.

more blogs by Robert Bovington...

"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Los Vélez

by Robert Bovington

Los Vélez is situated in the Sierra de Maria in the north of the province of Almería. Within this area is the impressive Parque Natural de María-Los Vélez as well as the twin towns of Vélez Blanco and Vélez Rubio.

Archivo:Castillo Vélez-Blanco.JPG
Castillo Vélez-Blanco - Juan José Rodríguez

Vélez Blanco is a typical pueblo blanco with its whitewashed houses nestling at the foot of a rocky outcrop. At the top of this prominence, a majestic castle looms over the town. It was built in the 16th century on the orders of the first Marquis of Vélez. Unfortunately, only the impressive exterior of the fortress remains - the insides are in New York, on display in the Metropolitan Museum.

There are a number of fine religious buildings in the town. The 16th century parish church of Santiago mixes Gothic, Renaissance and Mudéjar elements. The Church of Magdalena was built on the ruins of an old mosque whilst the Convent of San Luís was also built in the 16th century.

A few miles away is Vélez Rubio. It is a small town with several mansions and a number of religious buildings. One of the churches is quite magnificent - the Baroque Church of La Encarnación which was built in the 18th century. The twin bell-towers dominate the town's skyline.

Another important building in Vélez Rubio is the former 18th century Royal Hospital, which houses a museum, dedicated to local history.

Despite the historic monuments in the two towns, Los Vélez is better known for its caves, which have UNESCO World Heritage status, particularly the Cueva de los Letreros which is situated between Vélez Blanco and Vélez Rubio. It was here that prehistoric wall paintings were discovered in the 18th century. The cave was declared a National Monument in 1924. One of the paintings, the Indalo, is the symbol of the province of Almería.

Robert Bovington
Roquetas de Mar
December 2011
more blogs by Robert Bovington...

"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nerja and Frigliana

Robert Bovington

On the way back from a trip to Gibraltar, I stopped for a couple of hours at the delightful town of Nerja.

Nerja - view from Balcón de Europa


There are more photographs on my Picasa Nerja and Frigliana Album. To see them, please click on the link below...