The Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden

Completed in 2005, the Turning Torso in Malmo is a landmark that’s hard to miss. With a height of 54 stories or around 190 meters (623 feet), the Turning Torso skyscraper is the tallest building in Scandinavia. It was selected as one of the 7 wonders of Sweden.

The Turning Torso is also quite interesting to look at – the design was based on Santiago Calatrava’s “Twisting Torso” sculpture and Malmo visitors immediately notice the creative 90-degree twist in the entire building.

Does the Turning Torso actually move?
No, the building doesn’t move or turn. The residents on the upper levels would probably get seasick.

Is the Turning Torso one of Malmo’s attractions?
The Turning Torso is definitely Malmo’s most popular landmark. Lots of visitors take pictures of the Turning Torso and it’s found on many postcards in Malmo. However, it’s not an attraction you can enter, sorry. On the inside, the Turning Torso houses offices and apartments, so they can’t allow sightseeing tourists inside.

Where can I find the Turning Torso in Malmo?
Actually, the Turning Torso is hard to miss – you will see it as soon as you get close to Malmo. From the sea, the Turning Torso is found on the Swedish side of the Öresund strait.

Sun, Sand and Sea – Beaches of Spain

THERE’S SOMETHING along Catalunya’s coastline for every beach bum. Stretching from Port Bou, on the French border, down to Valencia it offers picturesque fishing villages, package tourist hot spots, quiet coves, city beaches, good water sports and lots of sun. You can make as much or as little effort as you want: the nearest sand is a metro ride away, the furthest a few hours in the car.

The closest to home are the beaches of the Costa Dorada, south of Barcelona, and the Costa del Maresme, which reaches north, up the coast to Blanes. The Costa Dorada beaches are seemingly endless stretches of golden sand (as the name suggests). The Costa del Maresme is also characterised by long flat beaches. The train line from Barcelona stops in all the seaside towns up coast, and leaves you pretty much on the beach itself. Very useful, if not particularly attractive. Most popular by far is the Costa Brava; the rocky stretch of coast from France down to Blanes combining busy tourist spots with quieter towns and small coves.

Costa Dorada
Costa Dorada

The paranoid can swim easy. According to the first analysis carried out by the Department de Medi Ambient, the overall quality of Catalunya’s beaches has improved over the last year and over 91 percent of the beaches analysed (192 in all) were considered to be of a high standard according to EU norms. Twenty-eight beaches achieved the maximum five-star rating for excellence. Of these, 25 are situated on the Costa Brava (see map).

BARCELONA’S BEACHES
MOST OF US
are sceptical about city bathing. But, there’s nothing to fear on any of Barcelona’s six beaches. Nova Mar Bella, Bogatell and Nova Icària are rated as four star (good) and Mar Bella, Barceloneta and Sant Sebastià get three stars (acceptable). Only one beach near the city gets the official thumbs down: the stretch in El Prat where the river Llobregat opens into the sea. Not for swimming!
Facilities for sailing and windsurfing are available at La Barceloneta and Sant Sebastià. Kayaks and jet skis can be hired in Bogatell and Nova Icària. As from now on, there is also a stretch of approximately 200 reserved for nudist bathing in La Mar Bella.
The Red Cross is present every day from 10 am until 7 p.m.

A PICK OF THE BEST

NUDIST BEACHES

There are over 20 official nudist beaches or zones on the Catalan coast. Worth making a detour for are:
Senyor Ramon. Sant Feliu de Guixols. An attractive cove, with over 200 metres of beach. Kiosk and restaurant.
Vallpresona. Sant Feliu de Guixols. Less crowded than many, probably due to the 800m walk from the road. No services, beautiful landscape.
Waikiki. Torredembarra. Almost as exotic as its name. Fine, golden sand, no services and surrounded by trees.

THE MOST ISOLATED

Small coves with no services and beautiful landscape. Less frequented than most places and a short walking distance from the main roads.
Cala Canadell. Roses. A tiny cove, 1km from the main road.
Cala Morisca. Tossa de Mar. Better reached by boat, but you can get there on foot, 500m from the main road.
Tortuga. 1.3km walk from Lloret de Mar.
Cala Trebal. Calafat. 400m from the road.

THE SPORTIEST

And if lying in the sun doing nothing makes you restless… Sant Pere Pescador. Catalunya’s windsurf mecca.
Estartit. Excellent diving and windsurf.
Palamós. Sailing, windsurf and jetski.
La Palma. Tossa de Mar. Windsurfing, sailing and jetski.
Llorell. Tossa de Mar. Large selection of water sports.
Canyelles. Lloret de Mar. Sailing, windsurf and jetski.

Sitges: more than sand & sun

During the Roman occupation of Iberia, Subur was one of the most prominent commercial ports in the western Mediterranean. Nowadays, Sitges, as it became known during the Middle Ages, has a different, albeit still commercial reputation for holiday-makers who have come from further afield.

What we know today as a busy, attractive resort – especially in Carnival time at Lent – and somehow a magnet for gays of all nationalities, seems to have developed towards the end of the last century.

Sand Sculpture in Seaside of Sitges, Spain
Sand Sculpture in Seaside of Sitges, Spain

Apparently, it’s all down to the painter and writer Santiago Rusinyol, who invested in a couple of fishermen’s houses, around the turn of the century, improved them in true 1980’s yuppie style, and set the result up as a centre of culture, first inviting, then receiving a range of the art world’s figures of the era.

Few who live or who have visited Barcelona these days can have avoided at least a day trip to Sitges, whether to sit on one of the beaches, take a meal in one of the many good restaurants or trip the light fantastic in the various late night bars and discos.

The most recent and eagerly-awaited addition to the more sedate aspect of Sitges is the Palau Maricel, used over the past few years as a conference centre and for exhibitions, but opened this summer to the general public. The town’s Consorci del Patrimoni has been running guided visits, lasting 45 minutes, to this prime example of modernist architecture, built in 1910 for American millionaire Charles Deering by artist Miquel Utrillo.

Visitors will be shown the interior, moving through the Saló d’Or, the chapel, the shady patio and the palace’s terraces. Ending up in the cloisters, you can take a free glass of cava and enjoy some beautiful views over the town, the sea, and the surrounding countryside.

The other two main, more cultural attractions of Sitges are conveniently close to the Palau.

Rusinyol’s original bijou converted cottages now form the Cau Ferrat museum, containing pictures from the original owner, as well as some fine works by El Greco, Casas, Utrillo and some Picasso sketches, and one of Spain’s best collections of wrought iron works. The Museu Maricel, meanwhile, boasts a small but interesting set of medieval art and sculpture in a beautiful modernist building.

These three buildings, together with the parish church, Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla – which dominate the town from the seafront, and appear in every postcard you’ve ever seen of Sitges – are right next to what many consider the prettiest beach, Sant Sebastià. It may be the smallest and least fashionable in the main part of town, but it is almost never over-crowded and even in winter it is charming.

The pleasures of Girona

GIRONA is small in size, in fact it’s the smallest of Catalunya’s four provincial capitals, but this city of 70,000 has plenty to attract visitors, including one of the most charming riverside city frontages in Spain.

It is easily reached from Barcelona – 100 km. north towards France – and a day trip will probably be sufficient to cover its impressive collection of historical monuments, acquire a better knowledge of Catalunya’s history and enjoy some good food.

Girona has one of Catalunya’s richest historical patronages – its Jewish quarter is known world-wide. The part of town just behind the cathedral, which served as home to the city’s Jew’s during the Middle Ages, was walled over following the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492.Girona

The discovery of Girona’s modern Jewish quarter began only a decade ago, after the death of Franco and the democratic opening to religions other than Catholicism. This was when Girona uncovered and began restoring the call, as the ghetto was known during medieval times. The Jews in Girona were known around the world for their learning and erudition, and particularly for their studies of the kabbala, a Jewish mystical system of thought that owes much to medieval scholars from Girona. The narrow, steep streets of the call still echo the presence of those deep thinkers.

MEDIEVAL CATHEDRAL

Girona was amongst the last to give in during the Spanish civil war, but in spite of its resistance it remained remarkably un-damaged, preserving its heritage. In addition to the Jewish Quarter, there is a spectacular medieval cathedral, Santa Maria, and evidence of Moorish influence as seen in the Arab baths that date from the Middle Ages.

The city’s cathedral was started in the 14th century, incorporation earlier, smaller constructions, which are now museums showing early religious art, and the Sant Pere de Galligants monastery.

Abundant information about the epoch is available from the local tourist authority, in English, but even a brief visit to the city should include the Isaac El Cec (Isaac the Blind) centre and museum, named Bonastruc Ça Porta in the heart of the call. This will give the visitor an idea of how important the Jewish presence was in Spain during the Middle Ages.

The Arab Baths, of course, are the other reminder of early influences. Built in the late 12th century, some time after the Moorish occupiers had departed, the baths as preserved show how strong the Arab presence also was in Girona and Catalunya.

If you don’t want to make more than a gesture towards cathedrals, history, or Jewish quarters, a short walk around the houses by, and bridges over the Onyar river will be a treat. Follow it with a meal – if a carnivore like me, try something involving the excellent beef from the province.

Whatever your tastes, you are likely to enjoy a day spent in Girona.

My Barcelona Trip

I just got here to Barcelona last night. With the exception of losing our luggage and my friend forgetting to bring his credit card, everything else seems to be okay. Hopefully, the airline will find our stuff and delivery our luggage as promised. The connection at Copenhagen was ridiculously tight, we had to go through customs and run through two terminals in a 10 minute mad dash. Our luggage must have missed the flight. The baby sitting in front of me on the Copenhagen->Barcelona flight was quite friendly, he kept on smiling and waving at me. His parents were quite pleased that some stranger decide to amuse their kid a little. Scandinavian babies must be the cutest of them all, fair skin with light blonde hair.

La-Rambla Barcelona
La Rambla – La Rambla view by night

Last night after settling down at the Hostel, we head out for a stroll on La Rambla in Old Town. From what I saw so far, I am pretty impressed with the city. The subways are on-par with most major metropolitans around the world. Barcelona is the capital of the region called Catalonia. Catalonian have their own language and culture that is different from the rest of Spain. From my non-existing linguistic skills, I gathered the language is like a blend of French and Spanish that’s closer to Latin than either two?

Anyhow, back to our stroll, the retail scene seems extremely thriving here. An abundance of street flower vendors were present even at 10pm. It’d be really easy to sweep a girl off her feet in this town. Too bad I was with a guy friend. In addition, I noticed that Barcelona girls seem to be a lot more trendy and skinnier than their American counterparts. Something I definitely don’t mind as I walk down the streets. For dinner, I had an Argentine bovine bone-in steak weighing 950 grams (That’s almost 1kg!) at a restaurant on Port Vell. It was served on top a a big sizzling ceramic block. It was quite tasteful as far as the meat is concerned. It’s weird, it reminded me of this steak I had in Mexico years ago, must be something to do with Spanish method of cooking it? Afterwards, we went to this dance club/bar place. It’s really like nothing I have seen before. I saw what appears to be bunch of local high schoolers (about 16?) dancing and drinking like nobody cares.

I guess Europeans really are a lot more open about alcohol and sex as they say. I thought I’d never say this, but I felt like an aging dinosaur in there. My friend and I bought two shots of Tequila and had our first drinks in Barcelona, we left shortly afterwards since we felt kinda out of place. We had a nice stroll back up La Rambla, and did a little bit more of sight seeing, then head back to the hostel around midnight (I know, pretty early for Catalonian standards.) We decide to hang out a little in the common room in hostel. Met some American girls, and just chatted away about our findings and stories. We called it a night around 2:30.

This morning I got woken up by the heater in our room around 6:00, I was literally getting fried by the radiator next to me. Getting back to sleep was hardly an option since I was completely awake by then due to the time difference. I guess I will have to go find myself a good coffee somewhere around town today. Shouldn’t be too hard to find here in Europe. Speaking of which, I am a big fan of sparkling water and espresso, which are both popular over here. In fact, when you refer to drinking “water”, by default it’s sparkling. You have to say “still water” to refer to the normal kind. I am now sitting in the hostel common room looking down at the city streets. I really like the feel of it all, pigeons playing around the cobblestone sidewalks and the super narrow alleys just forms a picture perfect Barcelona moment. You can see early morning pedestrians going about their own business. That’s it for now, I am going to start my day now. How about that coffee?

U K Bournemouth – Traveler’s diary

What do you think of when someone mentions historic landmarks, fish and chips, vintage cafes beach, nightlife, parks etc., You might think of UK, but these things don’t give the whole picture because they say nothing about the UK people. Last summer, I got a real taste of UK life and self-reliance when I spent two weeks with a host family in the Bournemouth.

After much preparation and many last-minute errands, my departure time arrived. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous. All I knew about my host family was that it consisted of parents and three kids. I knew I was staying in a place called Wimborne in central Bournemouth.

My host father picked me up at the train station and drove me to Wimborne. Arriving in Wimborne, I knew I couldn’t have asked for a better setting. There was one store, a bakery, a church and something most Swiss towns require: a train station. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family, either. They made me feel like part of their family. I don’t have brothers or sisters,so living with the family of three kids was quite different, but I genuinely enjoyed the company of host’s siblings.

One of the best things about living with a host family was not feeling like a tourist. I wasn’t traveling around Europe seeing the major sights; I was immersed in a different culture. I participated in my family’s day-to-day activities, whether helping to pick berries in the garden or going to friends’ houses.

During my stay I also visited places like Bournemouth aviation museum, Christ Church, Poole Harbor, Bournemouth International Center, Tower park and Shell bay night clubs. While on my two day trip to London I saw London eye, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Wax Museum, Wembley Stadium, Undergrounds and Big Ben.

While some aspects of the UK culture are similar to India’s, there are lots of differences, too. The trick for me was to keep an open mind. Sometimes I caught myself thinking, What are they doing? For example, my host family left their windows open – without screens – all the time. At first I thought, Oh my gosh! all the bugs are going to get in and eat me alive. Why don’t they close the windows and turn on the air? But then I realized there weren’t many bugs and I really enjoyed the fresh air. The environment in UK is a lot cleaner too.

While there, I participated in a week-long Bournemouth beach community service project which was the main reason I had gone for, with nine other people from Greece, Russia, Japan and the Italy.. The ten of us helped in changing of beach sand which is done once in 10 years as it is an artificial beach. It was not easy, but I enjoyed every minute of my stay above the clouds.

I became more self-reliant as a result of my two weeks stay. My host parents were busy and worked a lot, so if I wanted to go somewhere, I had to take the train by myself. When I landed in UK, I carried my cultural baggage: my beliefs and ideas shaped by the India. Conversely, I did not want to enhance any stereotypes Europeans had of Indian.

I found UK people very open-minded, much more so than Indian, probably because UK is a country permeated by many cultures. The UK people were very friendly and treated me kindly; I hope they would say the same about Indian.

Having an open mind was essential to my successful cultural experience. I didn’t want to think, My way or the highway. Also, being okay with failure was imperative, as I put myself on the line every day.

Signing up for a cultural exchange was probably the biggest risk I ever took, but it was also the most rewarding. I don’t want to say it was life-altering, but living in UK did change my perspective on the India.
I still keep in touch with my host family via email. I hope to return and stay with them for a year, which they have encouraged me to do. When I left, I promised I would return to Bournemouth. There is more to UK than historic landmarks, fish and chips, vintage cafes beach,-nightlife and parks.

Snowboarding on El Teide

Sitting on the beach in this glorious heat, looking up at Teide, it is hard to imagine the mountain covered in snow. Of the many words one tends to associate with Tenerife; sunshine, beaches and carnival among others; snowboarding is certainly not one of them. But little more than a few weeks ago we are doing just that: snowboarding the east face of Teide!

After several failed attempts, including storms, flooding, rock falls, broken bindings and a flat tyre, we eventually made it up to Teide on a glorious sunny day, with the mountain covered in a layer of beautiful white powder. We pulled the assortment of gear from the car, and, with our snowboards slung under our arms, started the long hike up. At this altitude, any walking is quite strenuous, but with snowboarding boots on and lugging your snowboard with you all the way, it seems to go on forever. When you finally reach the top, and you see a boarders dream of a mass of white snow falling away in front of you, down into the caldera, and beyond the circular ridge of mountains; the magnificent silhouette of Gran Canaria beautifully placed on the horizon in front of you, a big fat smile appears on your face, and your pounding heart beats just that little bit faster. Where else in the world can you sit on top of a perfect slope, with a snowboard on your feet, and gaze down at the sea and neighbouring islands?

The impatience sets in and you want to set off immediately, but your frantic breathing, grasping what little oxygen you can out of the air at this altitude, is screaming at you to stop for a minute or two. When your breathing returns to normal, being replaced by the adrenalin in your blood as you know the time is nearing, you push yourself to your feet and start to fly down the mountain. The feeling of freedom at this speed, coming as close to real flying as you will ever get still touching the ground, fills your body from your tingling toes to the tears in your eyes as the wind whistles through you. The knowledge of total control being stretched to the limit as you push yourself just that little bit harder, fills your body with even more adrenalin. You tear down the mountain, the only sounds reaching your ears being the crinkling whoosh of the snow under your board, pulling turn after turn, on each, reaching out with your hand held high as your body brushes the snow underneath you. You do this again and again, the walking up dulled as much as possible by taking your mind far away and inventing hundreds of weird and wonderful ways of getting up the mountain without actually having to walk, until you finally give in to your body and what the exertions at that altitude do to it and you set off back on the long walk down to the car.

What a better way to end a days snowboarding with a beer or two on the beach watching the sun go down behind La Gomera? I ask you; where else in the world would you be able to do this?

Las Teresitas – the people’s paradise

One of the first things I noticed after moving to Tenerife was just how little effort was needed by the islanders to find a reason for celebrating.

Whether walking the streets after the local football team had won (a rare event this season I’m afraid) or just simply enjoying the lively Latin ambience at a local bar, the Santa Cruceros refreshing joie de vivre was in stark contrast to the grey and reserved England I’d left behind.

As the bus I’m sitting on winds its way east towards the verdant Anaga Mountains, they’re at it again. Passing through the charming little coastal town of San Andres (full of excellent seafood restaurants) I wonder for a moment if I’ve been caught up in the Spanish equivalent of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday. With laughing kids singing pop songs and elderly couples cracking jokes with the driver, it seems impossible to believe that our destination is merely a day at the seaside. But that, as I am soon to learn, is where I’m wrong. To the people of Santa Cruz, Las Teresitas isn’t just a beach. It’s the beach.

Strolling along the golden seafront, slapping on the factor 50, it’s immediately apparent that Las Teresitas is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Built in 1973 to satisfy the local’s yearning for a resort similar to those found in the south, the most challenging task in creating the beach was finding enough sand to cover the rather dour rock and shingle shore that nature had provided. Discounting a rather cheeky offer from their neighbours (and chief rivals) in Gran Canaria, the powers-that-be instead opted to import four million sacks of sand from a Spanish-owned part of the Sahara. After being thoroughly inspected for any signs of life (scorpions, spiders, etc) the powdery material was shipped to Santa Cruz and then transported the eight kilometres to Las Teresitas by road.

Once the sand had been located, conveyed and laid, there were other problems that needed attending to, ranging from the practical to the grievous. Whilst providing sufficient parking (1,000 spaces) caused few concerns, dealing with the ferocious underwater currents of the Atlantic was a different matter altogether. Although notoriously dangerous, in the years preceding the renovation of the beach, it was not uncommon for one or two people to fall victim to the ocean each year. To overcome this perilous quandary, a substantial breakwater was built 50 metres from the shoreline, which nullifies the pull of the tide and provides a tranquil haven for bathers. Today, this 400-metre long man made seawall is a popular spot for fishermen, who in typically relaxed Canarian fashion while away the hours chatting, eating and drinking, seemingly unconcerned about the lack of bites.

Continuing a leisurely promenade along the shell-shaped shore, the early afternoon sun making me grateful for the shade provided by a variety of native palms, I suddenly find myself confronted by something I’ve never before encountered in such a setting. Set to the rear of the beach and lined by a white picket fence stands a small cemetery. With each sandy plot marked only by a simple wooden or metal cross, the sombre aura emanating from this graveyard is in stark contrast to the lively adolescents playing volleyball just a few metres away.

By the time the sun finally dips behind one of the surrounding mountains, I’m already nursing my sunburn (and a cold beer) at one of the kiosks dotted around the beach. It’s only then I discover that widespread changes to the area’s appearance are afoot. It seems that Las Teresitas is about to become a bonafide resort, complete with grand hotel, plush apartments and an extensive range of leisure facilities. Whilst this would undoubtedly benefit the region’s economy and provide new employment opportunities, from my dealings with my bar buddies, Jacinto and Pedro, I get the impression that my fellow beach dwellers wouldn’t mind things staying just the way they are.

As dusk approaches, and the last sun lounger is being packed away for the night, I join the exodus streaming towards the bus stop fully expecting another joyfully riotous bus journey. But no. As the lime green guagua trundles back towards Plaza España, the singing and laughing has been replaced by a silent, glowing contentment. And when I think about it, I’m not overly surprised, as never before have I witnessed such a fanatical group of playistas, united in wringing out every last drop of enjoyment that their favourite local oasis has to offer. Fair enough I suppose, but for a single reason alone, I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed that the trip home is so lacking in the day’s earlier vivacity.

Animal Magic – Parque Las Aguilas

Perched atop a mound of ochre coloured rocks, a small black cat peers sedately into the lion’s den. A couple of very rare white lions gaze back – lioness Saskia offering up a lazy scowl. A group of visitors ooh and ah as Nanouk shakes his young mane. Expertly judging the crowd, the king of the jungle emits a low, thunderous roar. The observers gasp. Kitty doesn’t as much as move a whisker.

Clearly at ease in such close proximity to its larger, more ferocious cousins, this domestic cat is one of a handful of creatures that have decided to pick up sticks and move into the green oasis of Parque Las Aguilas Jungle Park. Similarly, a community of frogs has sprung from nowhere to fill the lush ponds, while an assemblage of birds and insects also pay regular visits.

Situated on the hills overlooking Las Américas, this park is the animal equivalent of a five-star holiday resort – a verdant sanctuary sat amidst the arid, rocky landscape that distinguishes the island’s southern coast. The dense arrangement of greenery harbours an array of enclosures. Home to some 600 animals, the impressive menagerie includes tigers, leopards, penguins, meerkats, apes, monkeys, crocodiles and hippos.
When the park opened a decade ago, its original theme centred on birds (águila translates as eagle), though evidently the focus has broadened greatly since then. As a result, there have been a handful of different names for the park over the years, including ‘Las Aguilas del Teide’ and ‘Ecological Park’. Its current moniker, ‘Parque Las Aguilas Jungle Park’, is a bit of a mouthful but, according to the zoo’s marketing department, the park aims to rest with the much snappier ‘Jungle Park’.

Birds still play a major role here at the park. Aside from a standard procession of displays, there are also two highly entertaining shows. The ‘birds of prey’ show features eagles, vultures and hawks, with the majestic creatures taking it in turns to swoop in from various areas of the park.

Throughout the open-air display, handlers circle the central plaza, carefully choreographing the birds’ actions; while a bubbly presenter tells the audience about each species. One of the last performers to glide in is an imposing condor with a 3-metre wingspan, inducing a communal ‘wow’ from the crowd. This half hour show is only in Spanish, but the ‘exotic bird show’ sees two presenters alternating between Spanish and English.

Aside from an abundance of plant life, the jungle theme is also expressed in the zoo’s décor. African motifs decorate heavy doors; benches are shaped like lizards; Bengal tigers are housed in an Indian temple and two resident pythons twist around a serpent-shaped sculpture.

On a larger scale, a realistic cave sits at the zoo’s northernmost point. A foamy gush of water cascades along the rocky exterior; while inside, an array of stalactites drop authentically from the dank stone-like ceiling.

A small group of performers, dressed in traditional African costumes, dance and play the drums for passersby; further enhancing the jungle atmosphere.

What makes this park special is its layout. Hidden amidst a thick bulk of trees and plants, tangled trails loop around a collection of shaded enclosures. Visitors marvel as creatures large and small roam the grasses, scale trees and slip behind rocks. The enclosures blend easily into the surroundings and are successful in emulating the animals’ natural habitat. Stressing the earthy feel of the park, many displays forsake glass barriers in favour of more creative alternatives. Many are designed so that observers actually view the animals from above. The crocodiles and alligators, for instance, are a gleaned as you walk bravely across a 12-metre hanging wooden bridge. Similarly, the vast enclosure that’s home to the orangutans is a sunken valley of rocks, trees and watery trenches.

Since apes generally dislike water, there’s no need for a barrier when it comes to the gibbon display. The father and son team have their very own island, while the surrounding moat hosts a flock of pelicans. There’s also a chance to pet the animals; an open enclosure houses a group of squirrel monkeys, which happily jump from one person to the next as if hopping between branches.

If you’d like to see the zoo’s community of ostriches, you must slide to their location via a swirling bobsleigh track. A clever idea, though a little unfair if you happen to be with a hoard of children (it costs €2.50 a pop). Luckily there aren’t many other hidden costs at the theme park. A free obstacle course dubbed ‘Jungle Raid’ criss-crosses above the bob track; old and young alike can put their agility to the test in this network of ropes, poles, bridges and tunnels. Or if you’d rather conserve your energy, opt to keep to the stream of footpaths instead.

At times the greenery takes over and visitors are simply required to walk through dense patches of jungle or along narrow paths flanked with towering trees, thick masses of cacti and brightly coloured flowers.

It takes at least two hours to walk around the park and see everything (wear comfortable shoes), although you can happily while away most of the morning or afternoon here. There are plenty of reasons to enjoy a lengthy pause; whether to watch the penguins being fed, take in a show or stop for lunch at one of several snack bars scattered around the park. Alternatively, a handful of picnic areas provide an unusual setting in which to park your hamper.

Doñana and other treasures

Wild, protected nature, good food and age-old traditions are just some of the attractions of the province

The Parque Nacional de Doñana is big protected natural area with more than 100,000 hectares between the provinces of Huelva, Cádiz and Sevilla. The original mélange of land and water created an environment shunned by people but ideal for wildlife. The park has a rich history as a royal hunting estate, property of the Kings of Castilla and the Andalusian Nobility. The National Park was officially created in 1969. The conservation laws protect the precious lynxes and the thousands of bird species such as grey herons, lanner falcons, ring and turtle doves, partridges, oxpeckers, cattle egret, storks and vultures. If you’re lucky you may also catch a glimpse of a Spanish Imperial Eagle, now down to 14 breeding pairs. You can explore the park in a veritable safari jeep and there are organised camping trips for children, as well as audio-visual shows and exhibits. Doñana comprises delta waters which flood in winter and then drop in the spring leaving rich deposits of silt and raised sandbanks and islands. These conditions are perfect in winter for geese and ducks but most exciting in spring when they draw hundreds of flocks of breeding birds. In the marshes and amid the cork oak forests behind, you’ve a good chance of seeing numerous species of the birds and animals that abound here. Doñana is particularly well known for the variety of bird species, permanent residents, winter visitors from north and central Europe or summer visitors from Africa, such as numerous types of geese and colourful colonies of flamingo. Entrance to the park is strictly controlled. You can take half day trips with official guides or explore the environs of the visitor’s centres on foot.

To visit the park take the A483 past Almonte and El Rocío to El Acebuche (near Matalascañas) where one finds the main visitors’ centre. There are trips into the park at 08.30 and 17.00 every day except Sundays in the summer (1/06 – 15/09) and at 08.30 and 15.00 every day except Mondays in the winter. Booking is recommended by phoning the visitors centre on +34 959 430432. Full day trips can also be organised for groups. The visitors’ centre ‘El Rocina‘ is nearer to El Rocío, and it has an audio visual display and nature trail. The park can also be reached (but not entered) by taking the ferry boat across the Guadalquivir river from Sanlúcar de Barrameda where a new visitors’ centre is projected.

El Camino del Rocío, the typical Spanish devotion

Every spring around one million people converge on the shrine of El Rocío, at the edge of the Doñana national park, in the biggest Romería in Spain. The devotees of the Virgen del Rocío take part in a celebration which combines religious fervour and festive color. Many of the pilgrims make their way to the shrine on horseback, in brightly decorated carriages, and multi-coloured caravans that wind across the Andalusian countryside. They dress in flamenco style and perform the traditional Andalusian songs, a mixture of tradition, religion, and a pure flamenco party with good tapas. And, of course, the excellent wines from El Condado de Huelva, the region that in the past was a private property of the counts of the medieval wall protected village of Niebla.

Sierras de Huelva, hills, forest, and good food

In the north of the province lies a mountainous area famous for its magnificent groves of chestnut, which are well-suited to the more Atlantic climate in this region. The Sierra de Huelva has a very diverse flora and fauna and the terrain is ideal for breeding black pigs (“ibéricos”) which provide the famous Jabugo ham. The nearby villages of Cumbres Mayores and Cortegana are also devoted to production of fine hams. It is said that the micro climate of these hills is ideal for the oak trees which provide the acorns on which the pigs feed. Pata Negra ham is the finest and most expensive, it is produced from pigs that have had a diet exclusively of acorns.

Another of Huelva province’s better known attractions are the Caves of Marvel in the small town of Aracena. The different parts of the cave have particularly evocative names referring to their shapes and include the Hall of the Organs, the Hall of the Jewels, God’s Glassworks and the Great Lake of the Emeralds.

Costa de Huelva, with wide uncrowded beaches

The Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light) is the western part of the Andalucía coastline that faces out to the Atlantic, including the province of Huelva until its limit with Portugal. It has beautiful golden sands and small seaside towns devoted to national and international tourism. From west to east these are: Ayamonte, Isla Cristina, Islantilla, La Antilla, El Rompido, Punta Umbría, Mazagón, Matalascañas…

Whether they belong to old fishing towns or modern resorts, the typical beaches here are more expansive and backed by sand dunes and pine trees. This part of the coast has not seen the high-rise hotel development of other areas. The temperatures are slightly milder and the often strong Atlantic winds and waves are favoured by wind surfers and surfboarders alike. The Huelva cuisine is always present on the coast too; the Chocos (local squid) and the Gambas are on the top of most people’s list of preferences.

Tuna, sword fish, and a rich variety of other species. Big spaces, pure waters, clear sand, nice weather. The Costa de Huelva has a lot to offer, along with its always warm welcome.