Mountains of peace in Cazorla

Pretty mountain towns flank the largest natural park in Spain

Created in 1989 the Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas is Spain’s largest natural park. With 23 picturesque villages and a staggering 214,336 hectares of land (the size of Luxembourg), Cazorla has one of the country’s most extensive forested zones.

Because of its sheltered location, between the stunning Montes Universales and the Sierra Nevada, this region was a haven for high altitude plants during the ice ages. This explains why, even today, these rugged mountain ranges, rising in places to well over 2,000 metres, are home to the Cazorla violet, the carnivorous Venus flytrap, several species of eagles and the wall lizard of Valverde, a reptile unique to this area, discovered in 1958. It’s no wonder the BBC has made countless nature documentaries here.

“Finding the park is easy: just follow the Guadalquivir River to its source,” friends told me, as I set off on a warm April day just before Easter, with bees droning softly over Bermuda buttercups that dusted the surrounding hillsides like powdered lemon. I drove until the scenery became an endless vista of olive trees stretched across the valleys like fishnet stockings, announcing the beginning of the oil-producing Province of Jaén. The silverleafed trees soon gave way to pines and oaks, and soft hills became sheer cliff faces and high valleys, called navas, covered in scarlet poppies and watered by countless springs.

A this point I knew I’d reached Cazorla. Some 300 kilometres from Madrid and half a day’s drive from the Costa del Sol, this pretty mountain conurbation which has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC buzzes with shops selling ceramics and leather goods and pensiones proposing reasonably-priced accommodation. Bodegas serve mouth-watering specialities like ‘embutidos caseros de monte’ (local home-made sausages), ‘gachamiga’ (made from flour, bread crumbs and bacon) and ‘chuleta de venado en salsa de almendras estilo Cazorla’ (deer chops served in a tasty almond sauce). As the park’s unofficial capital, Cazorla also makes an ideal base for exploring further afield. “We call our town ‘the basking lizard,’” Pedro at the local pastelería said as he sold me a deliciously fluffy ensaimada (pastry covered in icing sugar). When asked why, he replied: “Because it basks all day in the sun,” spreading his hands as if to say it was obvious.

Following Pedro’s advice, I parked just outside town near the Cortijo camping site and took the narrow lane which meanders down from here, past fountains cushioned in moss and the crenellated remains of medieval Yedra castle, to a plaza shaded with trees and crowned by the ruins of the church of Santa María. Built in the 16th century by Andrés de Vandelvira—the Renaissance-architect responsible for a host of magnificent edifices in nearby Ubeda—the church of Santa María was destroyed when Napoleon’s hordes hit town in the early 19th century. Its impressive shell now serves as a fabulous arena for open-air concerts in summer, while the cool web of alleys surrounding the plaza Santa María is home to a Gypsy enclave, whose members are famed throughout Spain for their prowess with horses. A cobbled shopping street leads from here to Cazorla’s main plaza. Surrounded by dignified old buildings and slightly less dignified bars, it is an ideal spot to sit out and watch the world go by.

Sitting at a sunny terrace, I ordered a snail tapa, which came oozing in garlic sauce with sprigs of parsley. Hunks of warm bread doubled as a fork to scoop up mouthfuls of this sapid local speciality, while the waiter Manolo described the Caracoles festival in May, when Cazorla’s narrow streets are festooned with thousands of lamps resembling snail shells.

The enduring appeal of Seville

It’s true what they say about Seville. Temperatures here in the summer months are enough to shatter the hardiest of thermostats. Commonly reaching 45º, Seville is one of hottest cities in the generally balmly Iberian Peninsular. Despite this, Seville is one of the most romantic and culturally-loaded cities in all of Spain. The 2,500-year-old capital of Andalusia is home to countless historical monuments, architectural gems, intricate parks and gardens, and eye-candy neighbourhoods. Consider the time of year you visit and the average temperatures you can handle, but no matter when you visit, prepare for a sensory overload.

El Arenal is one of Sevilla’s most buzzing neighborhoods, and a great place to start. Located right beside the Guadalquivir River, the neighborhood is known for its countless bars and bodegas and is home to one of the city’s most important monuments, the Plaza de Toros de la Mastranza. This bullring, built in the 18th century is one of Spain’s oldest. El Arenal is especially lively during bullfighting season as Sevillanos and tourists alike crowd the windy streets to indulge in tasty tapas and cañas. Nearby, the Teatro de la Maestranza, the post-modern Opera House has one of the best programmes in Southern Spain; architecture buffs won’t want to miss the 13th century neo-Mudéjar-style Torro del Oro,and the baroque-style Hospital de la Caridad all in the area.

East of the Arenal, away from the river, is the must-visit old Jewish quarter, the barrio de Santa Cruz. This neighborhood is picturesque with its whitewashed alleyways and patios adorned with azulejos (these famous ceramic painted tiles are integrated into all Sevillian architecture, from ordinary houses and parks to monumental landmarks). Santa Cruz is also where the city’s most famous monuments stand: The Gothic Cathedral with its giant Giralda tower, the Real Alcazar’s royal palaces and lush gardens, as well as the Casa de Pilatos palace.

If you want a break from the main tourist areas, the neighborhood north of Santa Cruz known as La Macarena (yeah, like the 90s song/dance) is more tranquil. Few tourists venture into these parts, but that can actually be a good thing. Don’t for a second think that this area has nothing to offer; home to at least a half a dozen churches and convents with a mix of Baroque and Mudejar styles, La Macarena offers a peaceful escape from the city center where you can still enjoy ancient architectural beauty.

The area south of the city is home to El Parque de Maria Luisa as well as The Plaza de España and The Universidad. Sitting side by side one another, the park and Plaza are the most striking images in this area and should not be missed.

Across the Guadalquivir the Triana area has a fantastic range of restaurants, many of them serving fresh seafood. Until the Puente de Isabel II was built in 1852, this area (once home to the Gypsy population, potters, and mariners) was entirely separated from the rest of the city. Some locals will still tell you that it is a separate city unto itself. Triana is one of the city’s most culturally rich quarters. It is also one of its most pleasant neighborhoods with pretty cobbled streets brimming with ceramic shops, trendy cafes, restaurants, tapas bars, and discos. Despite the claims that Triana is a very secluded area, it is actually quite easy to get to. All you have to do is take a short walk from El Arenal across the Puente de Isabel II. Another option is to hop on the C3 or C4 city bus which will take you across the river as well.


Top 5 things to see in Seville:

Casa de Pilatos

The Casa de Pilatos was built in the 1490s by the Medinaceli Dukes who desired a palace resembling Pontius Pilate’s home in Jerusalem. This palace, built by Moorish workers, is a striking example of Mudéjar architecture. Today the Casa de Pilatos serves as a residence to the Dukes of Medinaceli. The highly decorated walls and ceilings use a combination of Gothic and Baroque architectural styles to present a delightfully chaotic scene.

Tobacco: Universidad

The local university is home to approximately 74,000 students, but don’t worry, many of them can communicate in English. The fact that such a large population of the student body speaks English, makes Sevilla an easy place for non Spanish speakers to ask for help. The university is located in a touristy area of Sevilla (right around the corner from Plaza de España), so as you can imagine, there are many beautiful things to see. Although the surrounding sites are great to see, do not overlook the beauty and the detailed architecture of the University itself. The main building of the university was previously known as the Real Fabrica de Tobacos which was a tobacco factory until it was converted into a part of the campus in the late 50s.


Constructed in the 1300s by Moorish workmen for royal residents, the Alcazar is a great place to go to witness some of the best remaining Mudéjar architecture. This type of architecture is a combination of designs under Christian rule with Islamic influences. Today the Alcazar is home to numerous paths that navigate you through its massive gardens, dark long underground chambers, and rooms filled with azulejos art. As you enter the palace grounds you will find it to be much cooler than the streets of Seville; the overhanging plants and high walls shield it from the sun.


Acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest Cathedral, this is a must see. If the beauty of craftsmanship on the inside of this cathedral doesn’t take your breath away, the 34-floor hike to the top of Giralda tower will. Once at the top you will be awarded with one of the best possible views of Sevilla in all directions. There is a good chance that you will be swarmed by groups of small shouting children on class field trips or stuck behind tourists waiting for their turn to take pictures; when push comes to shove, the view is more than worth it.

Plaza de España

Prepare yourself for this. Only one word is needed to describe this monument. AMAZING! Contrary to Spain’s numerous “Plazas de España” in nearly every city, this should be called THE ALL MIGHTY PLAZA DE ESPAÑA. The mixture of tiling and intricate detail in every inch of the structure makes for a remarkable site. This Plaza de España has even made an appearance on the big screen. The 2002 sensation, Star Wars II Attack of the Clones used the plaza during one of its scenes. Although it’s a large attraction, it tends to stay pretty light with crowds. The giant fountain in the middle of the plaza is a great place to enjoy the extraordinary surroundings while cooling off on a hot Sevilla day. Temperatures in Sevilla have been known to reach triple digits during the heart of the summer. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and bug spray, as the centre of the plaza is wide open, always exposing you to the sun. The surrounding tiles don’t help much either, intensifying the heat by reflecting the sun. Bug spray is a must because El Parque de Maria Luisa, the park located directly across the street, is filled with pesky flies and insects that feed off passers by. Other than this slight inconvenience, there is absolutely no reason to pass up this plaza.


With its popularity all over Spain, Seville is no stranger to Flamenco. While some Sevillanos claim the traditional dance originated in their streets, nobody really knows. Whether or not Sevilla was the birthplace of flamenco, today there are few better places to enjoy the art than here. You can catch a Flamenco show almost anywhere – tablaos, a bar, or a street corner. Here are a few recommended by locals:

Casa Carmen –Calle Marques de Paradas n°30
+34 954 215 633,

Tablao El Arenal
– Rodo 7 (El Arenal)
+34 954 216 492,

Carboneria (FREE) – Calle Levíes 18
+34 954 214 460

Casa de la MemoriaCalle Ximénez de Enciso, 28 (Santa Cruz)
954 560 670,

Los Gallos – Plaza de Santa Cruz 11 (Santa Cruz)
+34 954 216 981,

Casa AnselmaCalle Pagés del Corro, 49 (Triana)

Navigating through the streets of Sevilla can be frustrating and hot, but you will never be disappointed with what you encounter. The home to the oldest Church in the world, the Alcazar castles and gardens, the monumental Plaza de España, and some of the most passionate Flamenco in Spain your senses will be delighted with the enchanting architecture, culture, and landscape that Sevilla has to offer.

Getting There

Plane: Flights to Sevilla arrive at the Aeropuerto San Pablo, 9.7km (about 6miles) from the city centre where the airport shuttle bus takes you for €2.10. Frequent flights arrive from Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragosa, and Lisbon and cheap deals can be found especially if booking ahead. Low-cost airlines servicing the city include Vueling and Ryan Air.

Train: The AVE fast train is a great way to travel around the country with new routes to Barcelona and Valencia planned. You can purchase tickets in advance online at Dozens of trains leave Madrid daily heading for Sevilla for an average travel time of 2.5 hours.

Bus: The most economical way to travel to and from Sevilla is by autobus. ALSA bus line provides cheap bus transportation for all of Andalusia.

Getting Around

Bus vs. Walking: Sevilla does have a bus system that runs daily. For €1 a trip you can jump on these buses to get around the city. A day pass costs about €3, and for €7 you can purchase a 3-day pass. Buses can be very appealing on a hot Sevilla day when your clothes are soaked in sweat and your legs are tired from wandering the winding streets. Using this form of transportation to get to destinations on the outside of the center is not a bad idea when you need a little break, but for travel around the center I don’t recommend it. Buses within the center of the city are very limited and stop quite often. You can cover much more ground on your own two feet – that is if you have a map. Without a decent map you will waste your time walking in circles. Even with a map you are likely to find yourself very confused, so don’t be afraid to ask for directions. People here are very friendly and willing to help.

Taxis/Cars: Taxis tend to be very expensive. Only use them if you need to get somewhere very far and very quick. Inside the city it is much faster and cheaper to just walk, or use a bus if you must. Cars in general are not recommended. For someone who doesn’t know the city well, the one-way, extremely narrow streets are nearly impossible to navigate by car. You are sure to get lost and lose your sanity in the meantime.

Eating Out

Café Bar Levies
Located in Santa Cruz this popular student hangout is great for cheap, hearty tapas.

Bar El Rinconcillo
With claims to be the oldest tapas bar in all of Sevilla, this always crowded hangout has cheap food and drinks. At the bar the waiters keep your tab on a chalkboard slab and they won’t bother you to pay until you’re absolutely ready.

El Restaurante Chino – Santas Patronas
This family owned Asian restaurant serves awesome Asian noodles and a large variety of Asian food at reasonable prices. It is a great place for families or large groups as they have various combination entrees for different sized parties.

Sleeping Over

Olé Backpacker, Santas Patronas, 31
This hostel, located right in the barrio de Santa Cruz is inexpensive, clean, and fun. It offers interent, a full kitchen to use, free breakfast, a lounge area with television, and an outside patio area. Mixed rooms are available for 4 to 8 people.

Oasis Backpackers, Calle Don Alonso el Sabio, 1A
Voted by many as the best hostel in Sevilla, Oasis supplies laundry service, wireless internet access, air conditioning in every room, as well as the normal amenities of all hostels. Single and double private rooms are available, as well as larger mixed dorm rooms with shared bathrooms.

Both of these hostels and many more can be booked online in advance at

Heart rate monitoring for Bikers

There are some very sophisticated heart rate monitors on the market these days, computer down loadable, flight deck jobs, glow in the dark, double overhead cam shaft, multi buttoned gyro copter types, or the plain old read out & nothing else job – which is what I use.

Now you might say I’m a cheapskate but let’s face it, you don’t need a nice graph on a computer screen to tell you what you should already know. But hey, if you’ve got the extra $1000, then go for it!

No matter what kind of monitor you’ve got, you’ve got to know how to use it effectively. I wonder how many people out there wear their monitors and seldom look at them save to glance at it when going all out up a climb somewhere.

I’m not going to go into every minute detail of using the heart rate monitor as it isn’t the only way of monitoring your progress and in a perfect world the best way to go would probably be to use a heart rate monitor and a lactate tester, as heart rate at times can lie. But used with common sense, the monitor can be a very valuable training tool.

Let’s use long course to Ironman for instance. These races are predominantly raced at aerobic heart rates, which will burn fat. Swimming is the exception, which is actually done at substantially higher rates ie. at or slightly above anaerobic threshold.

When we think about how much time to spend in each heart rate training zone we should look at the type of race we are training for – long distance to Ironman in this case. The aerobic system must be built up and then trained for this type of racing. The volume of training in each heart rate zone should look something like this:

• 70-75% of mileage at low intensity, training below aerobic threshold
• 20-25% at aerobic maximum to low anaerobic threshold, long intervals, Ironman race pace training bricks and the like.
• 5-10% at high intensity, hard intervals, speed work at or slightly above anaerobic threshold.


It is important to keep a few things in mind with regard to doing sessions using heart rate only.

Thresholds can change from day to day, depending on how tired/stressed etc you are. Sometimes heart rates that you achieve during threshold sessions are easy to achieve one day and difficult the next. This does depend on how fresh you are and this is where a little common sense comes into play.

There is another training tool that should be used with the monitor and that is ‘feeling’. You should always monitor your feeling during sessions. If you ‘re sitting on the normal rate you use and you’re suffering, listen to your body and back down a bit. You should be able to get to a point in training where you can feel your threshold zone kicking in . Use your monitor and try to learn the feeling of being in these zones. The human body is a great instrument , far better than a heart rate monitor. Be honest with yourself and it can give you all the information and feedback you need, but only if you open your mind and give it a chance.

Environment has a big effect on threshold. Wind, heat and different surfaces can affect heart rate and this has been proven with lactate testers. Lactate levels taken on a grass surface were substantially higher than on even flat surfaces. Also weather conditions and traffic had an effect on lactates as well as the athletes state of mind. Stress is an anaerobic condition and has a big effect on a person’s ability to train effectively. Coaches should always take into consideration a person’s stress levels when determining the intensity levels of an athlete’s program.

Each training zone has a corresponding heart rate range. The best way to find out what these zones are is to get a V02 max test (treadmill etc). Many sports centres and universities do these tests and it usually costs anywhere from $120 -$190.

It’s worth doing. There are other mathematical formulas which involve subtracting age from a certain number etc. but these are variable and not very accurate so it’s not advisable.

To give an example of how to use your zones lets assume you’ve done your test and the heart rates are this:
• Aerobic threshold- 154bpm
• Anaerobic threshold -173bpm
• Maximum heart rate -182bpm

For long distance and Ironman training you will want to stimulate the zone which is going to burn fat as the major fuel source, mostly below 154bpm. As you move further up the heart rate scale more carbohydrate is burnt for fuel – a source that has a maximum life of two hours. Thus it makes sense that you do the bulk of volume in the lower heartrate zones .

Here is a rough example of the heart rate zones for heart rate monitoring using the above test results:

For running …
• Recovery- <127bpm,
• Lower aerobic- 133-143bpm, – long runs all mileage sessions.
• Upper aerobic – 145-152bpm, – long intervals slightly below long course race pace.
• Tempo/ AT- 159-173bpm, – speed sessions at or above race pace.

You do need to take into account when working out zones for cycling that the heart rates are around 8-10bpm less than running and the heartrates for swimming are around 15bpm less than running. Pay attention to your speed at these zones. It is worthwhile doing a test of some sort from time to time to test your aerobic efficiency. A 3-5km on a track at maximum aerobic heart rate (ie 154bpm the whole way) after a solid warm up. Take overall time and see how your speed increases over time at that heart rate with the improved aerobic fitness. This is what you should be looking for to improve long course and Ironman times. It is an effective measurement for short course specialists too.  

Get tested – aerobic max, anaerobic threshold and max heart rate. Work the zones that are going to improve aerobic fitness- low aerobic to low (AT). Make a mental note of how those zones feel in training this will also help to make you a better racer. Don’t live by heart rate alone listen to your body as well , use them in tandem and you’ll go fast.