playa GeteriaWhen the sun shines, which is often in Spain, the Spanish flock to the beach like ants to honey. The Spanish people love the beach, as do many Europeans.

It is not surprising as Spain occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula with most of its boundaries on water. 4,964 kilometers (3,084.6 miles) of coastline extend along the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Bay of Biscay. Some of Europe’s most beautiful and sexiest beaches can be found on the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish Islands.

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I admire the Spanish (and European) women for donning their 2-piece and bikini swimsuits con o con sin tapas (with or without tops,) no matter their size, shape, or age, to stroll la playa. Thongs are out, strings are in on the beach. I feel overdressed in my 2-piecce TYR suit. You see very few one-piece swimsuits and most girls under the age of 5-6 are topless. No body images issues here. Perfectly acceptable. (Take note New Jersey).

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There is always activity on the beach – futbol, volleyball, or beach paddleball – and in the water – kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, boating, surfing, swimming, and fishing. It surprises me how many people swim in 60plus degree water temps.

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So take your pick – Costa del Sol, Andalucía playas en el sur,
las playas en el norte de Espana along the Basque Coast, or las playas on one of the many Spanish Islands – you are sure to find your favorito!

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I rented a sturdy silver steed today and took off following one of the many bike paths through and around San Sebastian. The bike paths are well organized and designed next to the pedestrian walkways, so there is less dodging walkers. Or they are situated along side the roadway and marked with cones or paint as designated bike lanes.

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Specific bike traffic lights are also positioned at intersections and cross walks. Cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists are quite courteous and obey the traffic lights and cross in the cross walks, keeping everyone safe.

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I happened upon a tree canopied side street that looked intriguing and decided to see where the calle would take me. It climbed for several kilometers past hillside villas and through a lush and fragrant forested area, ending at a delightful parque with numerous hiking trails high in the hills of San Sebastian. The descent offered stunning views of the ocean.

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Cycling the malecon along the sea I visited all three beaches and navigated around the peninsula. The views were spectacular! There is just no better way to see a country than on a bicycle!!

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Pampaneira

Pampaneira

Three small pueblos cling to the slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains north of the town of Orgiva, Spain. Capileira, Bubion, and Pampaneira are stacked along the small roadway that snakes up the gorge of the Poqueira river in La Alpujarra region. The last refuge of the Moors in Spain, La Alpujarra is known these days for its mountain-cured ham, goat’s cheese, honey, strong wine, and rural tourism.

Sierra Nevada mountains

Sierra Nevada mountains

The bus drops you off at Capileira, the highest and most northern of the three villages. With a population of 600, it′s the largest villages and has a good selection of accommodations, small local vendors, bars, and a panaderia full of tasty breads and baked goodies.

The dramatic setting with spectacular views down the gorge and up to the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada mountains is punctuated by the beautiful labyrinth of narrow whitewashed streets, splashed with color by geraniums, roses and an assortment of plants spewing from the balcones, doorways, and windows.

Flores everywhere

Flores everywhere

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Walking routes along the Barranco de Poqueira are clearly marked with signposts and link the three villages. The trail from Capileira leaves from the south end of town and meanders quickly downhill to Bubion, 2K below, passing fields of sheep, a plethora of wildflowers, canals of cascading water, small rustic casitas, and spectacular views of the gorge.

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Bubion contains more tiendas of local arts and crafts and of course small bars and restaurants that offer a cold beer, tapas, or more significant fare to continue the trek downward, or to return upward if so inclined.

Local crafts in Bubion

Local crafts in Bubion

The final picturesque whitewashed pueblo is Pampaneira, population 355, and centers around a pretty square dominated by a 16th-century Mudéjar church, the Iglesia de Santa Cruz. The church is surrounded by numerous bars and handicraft shops.

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The trek down the gorge, exploring each pueblo, and enjoying a cold cerveza, tapas, and fresh trucha (trout) made for a delightful day en las montanas.

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Life in Lanjaron

Four years ago I saw a photo of a small stone cottage in the mountains of Spain on the Rentalia website . It looked idyllic. Immediately I thought, I want to go there. Bookmarked! Each year I would check the site and the cottage was still listed.

Today I am sitting on the flagstone patio, under the vigas covered by grape vines at a small wooden table studying Spanish with my host, Eduardo, who is a professor de Espanol. The surrounding hills are flush with Moorish terraces of olive groves and gardens, pathways, and small casitas. A lovely vista for gazing, listening to bird life, writing, reading, or enjoying a glass of the local vino blanco.
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El pueblo de Lanjoron lies 2K below my casita. Lanjaron is located in Andalusia, on the southern slopes of the arid and majestic Sierra Nevada montanas in el sul de Spain, 50K from Granada and sufficiently off the beaten track. Because the pueblo is built on the side of a mountain you are always walking either up or walking down.

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Overlooking the town is a rocky outcrop capped by a ruined Moorish castle. This area was the last Spanish stronghold of the Moors before the Christian Reconquista and the region has a enduring Moorish flavor.

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Las casas de Lanjaron are typically Mediterranean Moorish, whitewashed, with a plethora of flores y plantas surrounding the doorways y balcons.

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The area is also know for its cured jamon (ham), miel (honey), and for its aqua pura (the pure spring water), some of the freshest, cleanest water you will ever drink. Over 20 small fountains are located throughout the pueblo bubbling with la aqua fresca for drinking. The spa waters have been celebrated for centuries for their curative properties.

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After two days touring Madrid and 5 days exploring Granada (a lively, bustling, and Bohemian ciudad with fabulous Flamenco) this tranquil rural life suits me. I spend my days with a Spanish lesson, blogging, reading, hiking the surrounding hills, wandering about Lanjaron, and exploring nearby pueblos. My hosts (Rakhi y Eduardo) appear a bit amazed that this Americana does not have a car and walks the 2K to town and back and uses public transportation to meander through Spain.

iglesia blanco

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One of the pleasures of slow travel is stumbling upon small gems – unique, local enclaves like Vila Nova de Misfontes, located on the coast of Portugal, midway between Lisboa and the Algarves. The town caters to Portuguese and European tourists in the summer and transforms to a relaxed, sleepy pace from October to May, which suits me perfectly.

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A small mercado with stalls of fresh seafood and local produce, along with a super market, several pasterlias, and coffee houses supply all my needs, including the light, low alcohol content, and inexpensive vino verde, which I have developed a fondness for. Vino verde is specialty of Portugal, best served chilled, like Prosecco, and a nice bottle is purchased for a mere 3.25E.

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A lending library is set up in the decommissioned telephone booth. Leave a book-take a book.

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A natural inlet from the Atlantic Ocean, provides safe harbor for small boats in the rio Mira. Sandy beaches expand at low tide, lining each side of the rio and coastline with swim areas, tide pools, surf, caves, rock, sand, and beach art, surrounded by rugged, monolithic cliffs.

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A small ferry, captained by Maria and her dog, shuttle lazy beach combers and trekkers hiking the Rota Vicentina, across the rio.

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The Rota Vincentina, a 120k coastal trail, provides exquisite hiking both north and south of town. Stunning vistas, unique coastal vegetation, hidden coves, local fishing ports, rugged cliffs, pounding surf, and desolate stretches of soft, fine sand beaches bombard the senses and offer space for invigorating hiking, naked frolicking, sun bathing, time for solitude and reflection, and leaving footprints in virgin sand.

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Upon renting a comfortable patio apartment for a week I searched about and found a cozy attic apartment in a family villa in the old town with a captivating view of the bay and ocean for a second week.

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Ahhhhh….the life of slow, unplanned travel.

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The conversation at my hostel was the coastal Camino route from Porto to Vigo, Spain was
stunning and easy to cycle. With winds constantly blowing from the north/northwest, “Why ride north into the wind”. Instead train to Vigo and ride south with a tail wind.

Weather looked good. On a whim, I rented a 40lb. steel stallion, adjusted the handlebars and seat, strapped my small waterproof backpack on the rack and headed to the train station and north to Vigo, Spain. No cycling-specific gear, only flat pedals, trail shoes, one ratty pair of bike shorts I tossed in at the last moment when leaving home. Once I found the route out of Vigo with the help of a local cyclist, a large industrial port city, a perfect bike path hugging the sea cliffs provided spectacular views. Small beach cabinas located in campismos complete with comfy amenities: showers, kitchens and a bedroom, became home for the next several nights.

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Fueling on cappicino, fresh pastries, cheese, hard sausage, bread, fresh seafood, and of course the cyclists staple- cerveja (beer).

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Extemporaneous exploration, riding cobblestone pathways, seaside boulevards, pathways hugging the ocean cliffs, ferrying across channels, through small villages, port towns, and cities. Getting lost, finding my way, asking local directions in Portuguese, I returned safely to Porto four days later.

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Sheer joy!

Thanks Joao for your encouragement, suggestions, and bike rental!

Thanks Joao for your encouragement, suggestions, and bike rental!

Another way to go shopping – the theme of a contest Of local shops to promote shopping by bike instead of car in Averio, Portugal.

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Wandering the town of Averio I noticed numerous store fronts incorporating a bicycle in their window display. Conversing with a store owner, she told me of the initiative in Averio to promote commuting and recreational cycling. The shop owners were invited to participate in a contest using bicycles in the window displays.

Here is a sampling of creative designs:

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Check out these websites to see the many ways Portugal is promoting cycling for everyone:

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2011/04/aveiro-portugal-promotes-cycling.html

https://ecf.com/news-and-events/news/portugals-silent-pedal-revolution

https://www.cyclingfestivaleurope.eu/images/Portugal—Ciclaveiro-contribution-to-the-Cycling-Promotion-Toolbox_v2.pdf

https://www.facebook.com/ciclaveiro/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1624625851156204

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Azulejos are everywhere in Portugal. They decorate everything from walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces, ordinary houses, park seats, fountains, shops, and railway stations. They often portray scenes from the history of the country, ravishing sights, or simply serve as street signs, nameplates, or house numbers.

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The first tiles used in Portugal came from the neighbouring Kingdom of Castile in Spain but influences from the Moors, Italians, and Dutch all contributed to the Portuguese tile work. The original motifs were mainly geometrical using blue, white, yellow, and greens.

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In the seventeen century the Portuguese painters moved their art to tiles to create the Portuguese Azulejos (tiles). They are distinctively blue and white, graphical, and depict religious scenes, rural landscapes, and prominent local edifices and neighborhoods.

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Today tile continues to cover the exterior walls of homes as it weathers the sea air, salt, and wind.

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In Lisboa don’t miss the wonderful Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum).

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Ahhhh – Portugal’s most famous and emblematic pastry – the pastel de nata, a small egg-tart pastry originating with 18th century monks at Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon’s Belem district. As in most cities of the world I seek out the best pastelaria (bakery/panderia) and specifically in Lisboa I searched for the crème de la crème pastel de nata.

Every street in Lisboa has a pastelaria and they all make pastel de nata. With only a week in Lisboa I have been taste testing a lot of these little delicacies. My barometer for goodness is based on the custard, crust, camelization, and over delicacy of flavor.

Today was the day – while touring Barrio Alto I stumbled on Sede Da pastelaria, footsteps from the Praca Luis de Camoes.

Rolling out the crust

Rolling out the crust

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What ecstasy!

Perfecto

Perfecto

jinjinha

Ginjinha or ginja is the famous Portuguese sweet cherry liqueur made from infusing ginja berries (sour cherries) with alcohol, sugar, and cinnamon and served with a piece of fruit (often a sour cherry) in the bottom of the glass. The recipe originated when Cistern monks mixed the all natural ingredients with aguardente (a Portuguese brandy) in the 15th century. The success was immediate!

There is no specific time for drinking ginja. The Portuguese tend to drink it any time of day. It’s like hitting a café bar for a quick shot of espresso. Lore has it that elder women who drink 5 ginjinha per day and elder men who drink 7 ginjinha per day maintain a strong physical constitution and good health. Perfecto! E uma gingjnha, por favor. Salude!

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