The Riches Of Spain

The vast majority of people who visit Spain simply head for the sun-drenched Costas but are missing out on so many riches …

There is little doubt that Spain is a large country covering an area of 505,990 km2 (195,360 sq miles). It is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and the fourth largest country on the continent of Europe. By population, Spain is the sixth largest in Europe and the fifth in the European Union. Spain is divided into seventeen autonomous regions, most of which comprise several separate provinces. I live in the province of Almería which is situated in the north east of Andalucía region in the southern part of the country. Each region is diverse in geography and culture and Almería province provides plenty of interesting places to explore. Much of the area offers clean mountain air, stunning scenery, tranquility and a traditional Spanish lifestyle seemingly unchanged in decades.

In the interests of simplicity, this blog will briefly mention an alphabetical list of places worthy of a visit, beginning with Abrucena. Located in the Alpujarras, a natural and historical landscape on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, this tranquil village has history dating back some 9000 years. Next is Bédar, which lies in the foothills of the Sierra de los Filabres, some 400m above sea level. From the village, there are excellent views of the valley leading to the Mediterranean Sea. The pueblo boasts narrow streets comprising mainly of domestic premises and is a peaceful place in which to relax.

Berja, once famous for its lead mines, is now a wealthy farming village.  Situated in the far south east of the province at the foot of the Sierra de Gádor, this pueblo abounds in historic and artistic heritage. There is a square which once held an Islamic Market, a church dating back to the 15th century, remains of a Roman amphitheatre plus numerous natural water springs.  Cuevas del Almanzora is a thriving market town which is named after caves that can be found there and the river that once ran through the town. Being adjacent to the coast, it attracts large numbers of tourists in the holiday season but away from the beaches, there is history, including a castle, culture and heritage in abundance. Traditional cave homes are noteworthy although these are nowhere near as spectacular as those found in the Granada town of Guadix. Some homes have been completely restored with a museum and tourist accommodation.

Now for a trio of Ls … Laroya, Láujar de Andarax and Lucainena de Las Torres. The first of these is a quaint little remote village almost hidden in the Sierra de Los Filabres and approached via a narrow, twisty road. The main thoroughfares are virtually traffic-free so one can meander at leisure through the narrow streets leading to a 17th century church built in the Mudéjar style and a small square.  Returning to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, one finds Láujar de Andarax situated over 900m above sea level. Points of interest include a late 18th century fine fountain in the Plaza Mayor, a church with a Mudéjar tower and ornate Baroque altarpiece, and quaint cobbled streets. Thirdly, Lucainena de Las Torres, situated 550m above sea level on the perimeter of the Sierra Alhamilla Natural Park. This small village typifies the Andalucian image of narrow streets and whitewashed buildings adorned with colourful plants and flowers. There is an excellent viewing point opposite the 18th century church giving panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and the village mining ovens nearby. Iron was extracted from the hillsides from the late 19th century until the early 1930s and used the latest techniques available at the time. A 35 km railway line was constructed to transport the refined ore to Agua Amarga on the Mediterranean coast from where it was shipped. The village is recognised as one of the most beautiful in Spain although I consider that to be subjective.

Another so-called beautiful village is Mojácar. This ancient pueblo is set upon a rock promontry and overlooks the modern, characterless coastal resort of Mojácar Playa. The pueblo is a mixture of quaint, narrow streets of whitewashed houses and a more commercial element aimed squarely at the tourists. Escape this razzmatazz and you are transported into a world long since past full of charm and antiquity. Back again to the foothills of the Sierra de Los Filabres and the beautiful village of Senés, which due to its location, remains unspoilt by the traits of modern day tourism. About 25 km northwest of Senés as the crow flies is the village of Sorbas with many buildings almost suspended over a ravine as they teeter on the cliff edge. The immediate surrounding area is home to the best karst formation in Spain and one of the most important in Europe. This geological formation is the product of rainfall over thousands of years and yields several stunning caves with stalagmites, stalactites and many coloured gypsum crystals.

Finally, to the very north of Almería province where the charming village of Vélez Blanco and town of Vélez Rubio are situated. A magnificent Renaissance Castle dominates Vélez Blanco and offers spectacular vistas of the village and surrounding landscape. There is also a 16th century church featuring gothic, Renaissance and Mudéjar influences. The village is on the edge of the Sierra Maria-Los Vélez Natural Park with numerous archaeological sites and cave paintings. The main attraction of nearby Vélez Rubio is its 18th century church which has been awarded National Historical Monument status. With its carved facade and main altar carvings, the church is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the province.

To conclude, this is just a small selection of places worth visiting in Almería province. No visit, however, would be complete without time being spent in the Parque Natural Cabo de Gata situated close to Almería city and a hotspot for tourists in the main holiday season. This rugged and semi-desert terrain is punctuated with remote white villages protected from urban development and isolated farmsteads together with eerie rock formations and abandoned mines. It is home to many rare species of fauna and flora.

The best thing of all about these ‘riches’ is that they are all relatively easy to access. The A7-E15 Mediterranean autoroute traverses the entire province of Almería on the eastern side whilst there are good main roads in other areas. Access to some of the more remote locations may require more driving stamina in order to negotiate narrow, twisty and often substandard roads but the ultimate rewards will be well worth the effort.

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Setting The Standard

If you’re looking for a new car in the subcompact class, then the upcoming Audi A1 might be all the car you need …

Despite its premium price in relation to subcompact models from competitors. the Audi A1, which is the smallest car in their line-up, has been a sales success since debuting some seven years ago. With the advent of new models from both the VW Group stable and other manufacturers, the current model is beginning to date and therefore an all-new model is shortly to be released. Following trends, this is an evolution of the current model and therefore instantly recognisable as an A1.

In line with the decision of other brands including sister companies Volkswagen and SEAT, the new A1 will now only be available with five doors. In addition, it is both longer and wider than the outgoing model, and will offer increased technology and practicality. The trend to discontinue three-door models is basically down to a lack of demand as consumers expect greater functionality from cars, even at the lower end of the scale. Furthermore, as each reiteration of a replacement model has a tendency to increase in size, this renders three doors obsolete as they were invariably an indication of either smaller vehicles or sports cars.

Not only will five doors make the new A1 more accessible, but the increased size will provide more driver and passenger accommodation. The driver’s seat will be height adjustable and the steering wheel will have rake and reach movement. Rear seat space will be the most noticeable change with rumours that this could equal that of the larger A3. However, that model is due for an update very shortly. The new A1 shares the same modular platform as its sister cars the VW Polo and SEAT Ibiza. The current ŠKODA Fabia is built on an older platform and will remain so until that model is replaced in or around 2020. The A1’s measurements are 4030mm in length, 1740mm in width and has a height of 1410mm which is lower than the VW Polo to accentuate its sportiness. Normal boot space on offer is 335 litres, an increase of 65 litres over the old model. Folding the rear seats increases luggage capacity to 1090 litres.

In line with current trends, no diesel engine is proposed in the model range. The A1 will offer three TFSI petrol engines from launch, namely a 1.0 litre three-cylinder turbo with either 95PS or 115PS, the highly regarded 1.5 litre turbo with 150PS, and the flagship model boasting a 200PS 2.0 litre turbo. The car is front wheel drive and will have the option of a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox, depending upon engine choice. External styling touches set the new car apart from other Audi models whilst still retaining the overall Audi-esque image. It’s the interior that really sets the benchmark, however, with even better materials than used in the current model. Technology and its infotainment system are streets ahead and, in all but entry level models, the car is fitted with an 8.8 inch screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility as standard. The flagship model will boast a 10.1 inch satnav display which is way ahead of most of the competition.

Standard or optional safety kit will include lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera. Full LED headlamps will be available as will a fully digital instrument driver display in lieu of traditional analogue dials. On top of all this, the car can be fully personalised and customised including interior mood lighting, brightly coloured trim and upholstery. With prices likely to start at around €17420 (£15500), the car should appeal to younger motorists.

The A1 illustrates that one can have a highly specced car without having to part with a small fortune. The standard has been set.