Spain Snapshots: Setenil de las Bodegas (and why I never need to return)

The eternal question I get from my visitors is: Ooooh, where should we go on your days off? I’m not the type of person to sit still on the weekends so long as there is sunshine, half a tank of gas and someone to watch the ever-changing highway signs for me.

Tobes works in the travel industry, so when we went down the list of obvious choices (Granada? Nah, was just there. Portugal? Let’s skip it because of the holiday weekend.) Nothing really stuck out at us.

It was time to get Señor Google involved, and the page rank spoke: Pueblos Blancos.

The white villages, known as pueblos blancos, are a string of whitewashed villages perched on mountains and in valleys in the Cádiz and Málaga provinces. Many, like Ronda and Grazalema, are quite well-known. There are two dozen of them, and I can count the number of them I’ve been to on one hand.

Once she’d recovered from jet lag, we hopped into my car and drove south out-of-town. Once you hit Puerto Serrano, towns begin to pop up in the distance as small white blips on a mountain, reached by snaking roads over hills and through farmland.

In a last-minute decision, we stopped in Ronda for libations and to stretch our legs, and while we could have spent the entire afternoon callejando, I had been intrigued by a village I’d seen on Trover – Setenil de las Bodegas.

Believed to have been around since the Roman times, the river gorge on either side of the Trejo has been exploited for shops and homes that are built into the overhanging rock. The result is something that kind of twists your mind:

Could you imagine going outside to see if it’s raining but come face to face with this rock? 

Tobes and I arrived at the merienda hour, when people were beginning to wake up from a Sunday siesta and head to the streets. The road that leads into town immediately shoots you onto a one-way street that winds through homes and uphill. Seville is as flat as Illinois, so we had several small scares as I tried not to stall or roll down the hill.

I found a parking spot at the highest point in town, right next to the city’s main attraction:

Setenil has just over 3,000 residents, though very few of them actually have houses built into the rocks. Apart from this alleyway, calle Jabonería and calle de las Cuevas de la Sombra are the only evidence of that this village has a claim to fame. You can drive under some of the overhangs, but we found that people weren’t willing to corral their dogs or small children or move out of the street for you.

We did climb to Calle Cerrillo, home to the San Sebastian hermitage and the supposed place where Isabel I of Castille (the most badass women in Spanish history) gave birth to a stillborn child of the same name. The sun was setting behind the mountains, turning the gorges golden and the buildings a dreamy off-white.

For a town with a rich history (Romans! Arab fortresses! Catholic Kings!) that’s known for its gastronomy, we left pretty disappointed with Setenil. The town was shabby, the locals indifferent to visitors and I saw very little encanto.

The town is a mere 20 minutes from Ronda and 20 more from El Gastor, so don’t go too far out of your way to visit – hit Vejer, Olvera and Arcos de la Frontera instead.

Like small towns in Spain? Tell me about your favorites or read a bit more on ones I love: Garganta la Olla (Cáceres) // San Nicolás del Puerto (Sevilla) // Carmona (Sevilla) // Osuna (Sevilla)

10 Reasons Gran Canaria is a Magical Experience

I’m pleased to bring on a guest post for the first time in ages. Like me, Sven fell in love with Spain a decade ago, and has been residing on Gran Canaria ever since. I’ve written about the islands a few times, but hear this local out – there’s a lot more to Gran Canaria than you’d think!

Maybe you’re already thinking about Gran Canaria for your next holidays? Or you just want to find out more about this beautiful island, not so far from Africa.

After all, there must be something special to attract over 3 million tourists every year, many of whom return time and time again.

In fact, this unique destination has so many unexpected charms they’re too numerous to mention, but here are ten of them:

1. You can walk through the Sahara without being in the Sahara

The Canary Islands are quite close to Africa – about 140km of ocean separate Lanzarote and the Western Sahara.

The unique climate conditions in the Canaries carries in a few thousands of years tons of Sahara sand to the Canary Islands in the air, and the most stunning result of this phenomenon are the Dunas de Maspalomas.

Follow the shore from the south point in Meloneras until you reach Playa del Inglés. You get an extraordinary feeling of how it feels to be in the Sahara on 12km of natural dunes without the heat.

The Dunas de Maspalomas is one of the most visited places in the Canaries.

2. Feel like heaven in Gran Canaria’s alpine world

The highest peak of the island of Gran Canaria, known as El Mar de Nubes, is Roque Nublo.

You get a similar feeling when you’re sitting in a plane, as you’ll see nothing else than clouds until the horizon below your feet. With an incredible view up to the neighbor island Tenerife, whose volcano Teide  sticks out of this ocean of clouds.

If it’s cloudy and rainy at the seacoast, get a car and drive up to the mountains. When you reach 1500 meters, you pierce through the clouds and the sun welcomes you. Remember to wear suitable clothing, as it gets chilly!

3. Just one season all over the year

There is no such thing as four seasons on the Canaries.

Well…as a local, of course you feel the winter. It’s the time with more or less 20 to 23 degrees in the north, when locals dress up with thick clothing.

As a short time visitor, your body is not accustomed to the local climate. That’s why you are able to enjoy 365 days of summer with mild temperatures between 25 to 32 degrees all over the year. In fact, the Canaries are considered to have one of the best and most stable climates in the world!

4. You get to see different continents in 30 square miles

Gran Canaria is like a miniature continent and was awarded a Biosphere Reserve label by UNESCO for its natural diversity.

This makes it an interesting place to visit, because the landscape changes drastically in just a few short miles. Apart from the desert dunes and the mountains, Gran Canaria also has tropical beaches, fir forests, more than 60 lakes, a green lung and dry and dusty desert areas.

And besides, you can get into another climate zone in between an hour if you want. In winter, you can even see frost or snow while tourists are enjoying the beaches in the south of the island.

When you’re sick of being in the steppes in the south of Gran Canaria, just follow the highway to the north for 40 Minutes and drive to Tafira.

You will find a green natural oasis, palm trees and flowers in all directions. And that’s the whole north part of the island. 

Since you’re already here, visit the island’s Botanical Garden.

5. Plants that don´t exist anywhere else in the world

I just mentioned the botanical garden in Tafira. This place shows you a few hundred endemic plants you can find only in the Canaries.

Sure, you will pass them by when you make a tour through the island. But certainly you won’t recognize them without a label. Those labels, you get to see in the Botanical Garden.

The “Jardin Canario” is not like those typical botanical gardens you walk through in half an hour, where you just get to see some trees and flowers. 

Its a huge area with forests, rocks, small lakes, animals, waterfalls and uncountable stone paths up to the top of the valley. It’s full of endemic plant species and even trees you won’t see elsewhere.

If you feel physically fit, follow the stone paths upwards. From the top of the valley,  the botanical garden presents you a wonderful view all over the green paradise and the valley surrounded by mountains.

On one of those stone paths you will find a little wide open cavern with space to sit down and enjoy the silence. You will know that you’ve seen the whole park when you find the founder’s tombstone somewhere hidden in the forest.

6. Your allergies and pains can disappear

Apart from having the world’s best climate, the Canaries is a haven for people who suffer from many different diseases and conditions. One important point is that there’s not much industry that could pollute the air, and an island like Gran Canaria gets fresh air from the Atlantic from all sides.

Many people with Asthma are report breathing normally, and people with muscle tension, rheumatism feel much better in Gran Canaria because of the favorable temperatures. People who suffer from skin diseases like neurodermitis, experience a significant improvement, too.  

This, of course, is not a medical advice; it’s subjective experience from thousands of visitors. That’s why Gran Canaria is not only well known as a holiday paradise: many retired people from northern countries move to this healthy island to live their life with less pain.

7. A dreamlike above- and underwater world

Water is an intimate part of life on Gran Canaria, particularly with water sports. Surfing far away from the coast, accompanied by sharks or even whales is an unforgettable experience for many surfers.

And sometimes they get to see orcas here, though  you can charter a boat trip to see whales and dolphins from out of a secure distance.

Snorkelers and divers will find an awesome living underwater paradise. With steep rocks, dropping down into unfathomable depths. Underwater trenches, volcanic caves, underwater dunes with countless wrecks. And of course, an impressive amount of beautiful fish and other sea animals awaits you.

It’s a fascinating sequence of the most beautiful underwater landscapes from the world’s oceans.

8. Perfect Produce

The first time you go into a fruit store in Gran Canaria (not a supermarket) you probably will call your family in your home country to tell them how great it smells here inside a fruit market. Tomatoes, Bananas or Mangos have such a yummy smell that you would love to bite in immediately. 

So when you’re on holidays here, get fruits in an outdoor market or individual fruit market. Fresh local fruits from Gran Canaria and not the frozen imported ones are incredibly delicious here. Look for the label “Producto de Canarias.”

Canarians also produce fantastic seafoods, cheeses and wines, so get crazy!

9. Get a front row seat for a specutacular view of the universe

The nights are absolutely clear on Gran Canaria, free of air pollution. And clouds are very rare on the south of the island, which gives you a mind-blowing view to the universe. 

You see the stars so clearly that you feel like you’re in the middle of the Milky Way. Because of this, NASA has some observatories in the Canary Islands, including one on the south end of the island.

Interestingly enough, the signals from the Apollo 11 mission first reached Gran Canaria. From here, Neil Armstrong’s “That’s one small step….” got forwarded to the Kennedy Space Center in the USA.

10. A paradise for history lovers

A few hundred years ago, Christopher Columbus left Gran Canaria bound for India, just after he prayed in a little church in Las Palmas for success and a safe passage.

So the capital of Gran Canaria is full of Columbus’ footsteps and there are a lot of historic buildings left to discover. Gran Canaria has its own interesting local history.

People still love to live in cave dwellings like their ancestors, the Guanches, and you’re able to visit some of those old caves, hidden all over the island.

As you can see, there are a lot of great secrets to discover in this tiny island and if you haven’t already, it’s time to book your flights. And who knows….many people who have been here for holidays got the idea to live here forever.

About the author: Sven is a writer, living since 10 years in the Canary Islands. He fell deeply in love with Gran Canaria and he wants to pass over his passion for this paradise to travelers on his blog adventuregrancanaria.com, where you can download his latest Guide “Triana y Vegueta in one day”.  Follow his stories and photos in Google+ and Twitter

Rainy Days in Oviedo

It’s raining in Seville, rare in September but welcome after a hot and excruciatingly long summer. They’re those sort of spotty showers that come and go as fast as takes you to find a cozy cafe to wait it out. Usually, I’d be cursing having to take public transportation to work or scrambling to bring in laundry I’d hung in the sun, but this last week of rain has been incredibly relaxing.

In between the raindrops, people run into the street to do their errands, to have a coffee, to meet with friends. I was virtually the only person on the street last Friday as I let the bottoms of my jeans get wet on the way to sue my bank (pequeños placeres, people). For sevillanos, rain means literally raining on their parade, but so many places in Spain get rain almost daily.

I spent two days in Oviedo last summer with my local friend Claudia, ducking into boutiques, cider bars and bakeries when the rain clouds closed in and sipping coffee in the sun when they dissipated. In the summer months, the capital of the Principality of Austurias still gets rain nearly half of the day!

Clau lives right behind the train and bus station, so after I set down my bag, all packed for the Camino de Santiago, we stopped off at a bakery for an early afternoon treat. The repostería’s outdoor seating area looked inviting, so we caught up between mouthfuls of cupcake.

Just as we were counting out change for our coffees, a waiter came to zip the plastic enclosure around the patio. Asturianos are like dogs – they know when the weather is about to change.

I’d been to Oviedo once before with the Novio and some friends – his mom’s family is from Asturias – so we could skip the museums and touristic sites. The rain came and went quickly, leaving the marble pavement in the city center slick. 

Claudia is Argentian and once lived in Seville, where we met. After years of almost nothing but sun, she’s learning to live with rain.

Even with the spotty weather, Asturias shone. The colorful buildings stand apart amidst the grey skies that dogged my first of seven days in Asturias.

Having known one another for five years, Clau led me exactly where I wanted her to: a place to eat and drink in Plaza Fontán. We ordered a bottle of cider and two bollos preñaos, hardly breaking our chatter to have a bit to eat.

Once again, the sky opened and we could hardly hear one another over the rain drops on the canvas umbrellas. Unlike in Seville, no one ran for cover, but scooted their chars a bit closer to the table, lest a few raindrops splatter on them.

We ordered another bottle of cider to wait out the storm. Now with hazy brains, we took long naps and headed to Calle Gascona later on for endless rounds of cider, cachopos and giggles. 

The next day’s sun burnt the clouds off early in the morning. We hiked to the Pre-Romanesque churches of Monte Naranco, taking time on the way down to stop in bars for the views over the valley, have a caña and share a few snacks.

The rain held off all day in Oviedo, only to pour that evening in Avilés. No wonder the cows here produce such great milk – the grass really is greener on the other side of the Picos! 

Surprisingly enough, for the five days Hayley and I walked through Asturias on the Camino de Santiago del Norte, we had not one drop of rain. We were instead met with soaring temperatures and beach weather, a rare but celebrated thing in this corner of Spain.

I’ve dealt with rain in Lisbon, in Brussels, in Ireland, often sticking around in my hostel to relax or get to know other travelers in the bar or common areas. But somehow, rain in Oviedo just seemed like something to work around, and not get worked up about. Way to not be an aguafiestas, lluvia!

How do you cope with rain when you’re traveling?

Five Places in Spain that Surprised Me

When you’ve criss-crossed Spain as I have – both on four wheels and on foot – you’re bound to see a number of sites, of cities, of open road. While Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Granada are the cities most synonymous with a ten-day itinerary through Spain, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the, um, surprises in lesser-known cities and towns we’ve hit along the way.

Some have been planned, others were by pure luck or a because of a tummy rumble, or the place where I’d planned to rest my head. If you’re planning a trip to one of Spain’s big cities, there are plenty of other stops to consider not too far away:

Don’t go to SEVILLA: go to Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz)

Sitting smack dab in the sunflower fields between coastal Cádiz and Seville is Jerez de la Frontera, a city renowned for its sherry and purebred Andalusian horses. Their fair is open to the public, their pubs fun and cheap, and the city is a gateway to the pueblos blancos in the region (as well as the beach!). I love Jerez because it’s like Sevilla lite - all of the andalusian salsero without the cost or the snobbery.

read more about Jerez.

Don’t go to OVIEDO: go to Avilés (Asturias)

Choosing a place to start the Camino del Norte last year was easy: we had two weeks, so we counted back 14 stages and ended up in Avilés, the third largest town in Asturias. While we’d heard that the city was smelly, industrial and a little unwelcoming, Hayley and I explored the town on foot the night before starting the big hike and found it a beautiful juxtaposition of traditional and up-and-coming. The food choices were outstanding, the buildings colorful and there were small pocket plazas and green spaces throughout the city center. It’s a quick FEVE ride from Oviedo and worth an afternoon.

Read more about Asturias

Don’t go to CÁCERES: go to Garganta la Olla (Cáceres)

After a disappointing visit to the Yuste monastery in the backwoods of Extremadura, we steered our car down the steep, cherry-blossom covered hills to the hamlet of Garganta la Olla. Rumor had it that it was one of Spain’s most beautiful villages – and it was – but it won me over with its bountiful free tapas, its dilapidated wooden porches and its local legends. It’s a bit out of the way, but a wonderful little place to wander through.

Read more about Extremadura

Don’t go to BARCELONA: go to Girona

I ended up in Girona after booking two flights with a long layover in the RyanAir hub of the same name. I expected to find an airport with something to keep me entertained, but instead saw little more than a snack bar. Plan B: get my poor culo to Girona and walk around to kill time. The city’s colorful buildings seem to tumble into the river, and its medieval alleyways and religious statues provide plenty of entertainment. It’s also home to some of Spain’s best dining! I don’t like Barcelona, but Girona is a quick escape away.

Read more about Cataluña

Don’t go to BENIDORM: go to Calpe (Alicante)

I was psyched to be invited on my first blog trip, #Calpemoción. I knew very little about the beach destination, other than that it was just north of Benidorm. From our first glimpse of the Ifach to the fresh seafood to stand-up paddle surfing, it was a beach escape worth repeating. What stood out about Calpe were the people we met, who had worked hard to be sure that tourism – while the city’s lifeblood and its most important sector – didn’t take away its charm.

Read more about Calpe

Spain is most like itself in its small towns and off-beat destinations. There are plenty of other places I’ve really enjoyed – Murcia, Cádiz, Alcalá de Henares – and others that are pure hype. Sure, Madrid has its museums and Barcelona has Gaudí, but getting out of the big cities makes trips more and candid. Thanks to a new house, I’m sticking close to home for my next few trips – Valverde del Camino, hiking in the Sierra Norte and a quick jaunt to Madrid with a visiting friend.

This post was brought to you by Booked.netTop Destinations to Go There Booked.net – Top Destinations to Go There, and I’m encouraging other bloggers to take part. So let’s hear it, Jessica | Mike | Tiana | Kaley | Courtney!

What’s your favorite city or town in Spain? Why do you love it? Have you been to any of the places listed above?

Ten Mistakes New Language Assistants Make (and how to avoid them + eBook giveaway)

My Spanish now-fiancé couldn’t help but laugh when I looked, puzzled, at our new coffee maker. I was jetlagged, yes, but also coming off six weeks of straight drip machine American coffee. The cafetera had me reconsidering a caffeine boost and swapping it for a siesta.

‘Venga ya,’ he said, exasperated, ‘every time you come back into town, you act like you’re a complete newbie to Spain!’ He twisted off the bottom of the pot, filled it with steaming water and ordered me to unpack.

Even after seven years of calling Spain home, I can so clearly remember the days when everything in Seville was new, terrifying and overwhelming. That time when the prospect of having a conversation with my landlord over the phone meant nervously jotting down exactly what I’d say to him before dialing.

You know my Spain story – graduate, freak out about getting a teaching job in Spain, hassles with my visa, taking a leap by moving to a foreign country where I knew not a soul. How I settled into a profession I swore I never would, found a partner and fought bureaucracy. I’ve come a long way since locking myself in my bedroom watching Arrested Development to avoid Spanish conversation, though each year I get more and more emails from aspiring expats and TEFL teachers who ask themselves the same questions:

Is it all worth it? Is it possible at all? How can I do it?

Like anyone moving to a foreign country, there’s a load of apprehension, endless questions, and a creeping sense of self-doubt as your flight date looms nearer and nearer. I tried and learned the hard way how to do practically everything, from look for a place to live to pay bills to find a way to make extra income. Call it dumb luck or call it nagging anyone who would lend a friendly ear, but I somehow managed to survive on meager Spanish and a few nice civil servants (and tapas. Lots of tapas.).

As a settled expat, I am quick to warn people that Spain is not all sunshine and siestas, and that it’s easy to fall into the same traps that got me during that long first year. Year after year, I see language assistants do the same, so let these serve as a warning:

Packing too much

Back in 2007, I packed my suitcase to the brim and even toppled over when I stepped off the train in Granada. Lesson learned – really think about what you’re packing, the practicality of every item and whether or not you could save space by purchasing abroad. If you’re smart about packing, you’ll have loads of room for trendy European fashions to wow your friends back home (and you won’t have to lug luggage up three flights of stairs).

Deciding on an apartment without seeing it

I was so nervous about the prospect of renting an apartment that I found one online, wired money and hoped for the best. Despite my gut telling me it was maybe not the smartest idea, I decided to grin and bear it. I ended staying in that same flat for three years. In hindsight, choosing a flat before seeing it was a stupid move that could have turned out poorly. What if I didn’t like my roommates, or the neighborhood? How could I tell if it was noisy or not? Would my landlords be giant jerks? Save yourself the trouble and worry about finding a place to live when you get here.

Choosing not to stay in touch with loved ones

My first weeks in Spain were dark ones – I struggled to see what my friends and family were up to on Facebook or messenger, and I did a terrible job of staying in touch with them. I was bursting to share my experience, but worried no one would relate, or worse – they simply wouldn’t care. Get over it and Facetime like crazy. That’s what siesta hour was invented for, right? Or at least Skype.

Not bringing enough money

Money is a sticky issue, and having to deal with what my father calls “funny money” makes it more difficult. Remember – even coins can buy you quite a bit! Consider bringing more money than you might think, because things happen. Some regions won’t pay assistants until December, or you may not be able to find tutoring side jobs. Perhaps you will fall in love with an apartment that is more expensive than you bargained for. Having a cushion will ensure you begin enjoying yourself and your new situation right away, without having to turn down day trips or a night out with new friends. 

Not taking time to learn Spanish

Moving is scary. Moving abroad is scarier. Moving abroad without being able to hold your own in the local language is the scariest. Take some time to learn Spanish and practice conversation at whatever cost. Spanish will help you accomplish things as mundane as asking for produce at the market to important situations like making formal complaints. Ah, and that brings me to my next point…

Not interacting with locals

I studied abroad in Valladolid and met not one Spanish person during my six weeks there. While I have great memories with my classmates and adored my host family, I feel that I missed out on what young people did in Spain (and I had trouble keeping up when they did talk to me). In most parts of the country, Spaniards are extremely friendly and open to meeting strangers. Even if it’s the old man having coffee next to you – lose your self-doubt and strike up a conversation. I scored cheaper car insurance just by talking to a lonely man at my neighborhood watering hole.

Adhering to timetables and traditions from your home country

As if adapting to language and a new job weren’t enough, Spain’s weird timetables can throw anyone into a funk. I tried getting a sensible night’s sleep for about two weeks when I started to realize that being in bed before midnight was nearly impossible. If you can’t beat them, siesta with them, I guess.

And that’s not to say you can’t bring your traditions to Spain, either. Making Thanksgiving for your Spanish friends is always memorable, as is dressing up on Halloween and carving watermelons for lack of pumpkins. Embrace both cultures.

Not exercising (and eating too many tapas)

My first weeks in Spain were some of my loneliest, to be honest. I hadn’t connected with others and therefore had yet to made friends. I skipped the gym and ate frozen pizzas daily. My weight quickly bloomed ten pounds. The second I began accepting social invitations and making it a point to walk, I dropped everything and more. Amazing what endorphins and Vitamin D can do!

Not getting a carnet joven earlier

Even someone who works to save money flubs – the carnet joven is a discount card for European residents with discounts on travel, entrance fees and even services around Europe. I waited until I was 26 to get one, therefore disqualifying myself from the hefty discounts on trains. This continent loves young people, so get out there and save!

Working too much

Remember that you’re moving to Spain for something, whether it’s to learn the language, to travel or to invest more time in a hobby. Maybe Spain is a temporary thing, or maybe you’ll find it’s a step towards a long-term goal. No matter what your move means to you, don’t spend all of your waking hours working or commuting – you’ll miss out on all of the wonderful things to do, see and experience in Spain. When I list my favorite things about Spain, the way of life is high on my list!

So how do you avoid these mistakes?

It’s easy: research. I spent hours pouring over blogs, reference books and even travel guides to maximize my year and euros in Spain. While there were bumps in the road, and I had to put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d like to recall, I survived a year in Spain and came back for six more (and counting).

That’s why COMO Consulting has brought out a new eBook to help those of you who are moving to Spain for the first time. In our nine chapter, 110-page book, you’ll find all of the necessary information to get you settled into Spain as seamlessly as possible. In it, we cover all of the documents you’ll need to get a NIE, how to open a bank account, how to seek out the perfect apartment, setting up your internet and selecting a mobile phone and much (much!) more.

Each chapter details all of the pertinent vocabulary you’ll need and we share our own stories of where we went wrong (so hopefully you won’t!). Being an expat means double the challenge but twice the reward, so we’re thrilled to share this book that Hayley and I would have loved to have seven years ago – we might have saved ourselves a lot of embarrassing mishaps! The book is easy to read and downloadable in PDF form, so you can take it on an e-reader, computer or tablet, and there’s the right amount of punch to keep you laughing about the crazy that is Spain.

Downloading Moving to Spain is easy – the button above is linked to COMO’s online shop. Click, purchase thru PayPal, and you’re set! You will receive email notification of a successful purchase and a link to download the eBook. You can also click here.

If you act quickly, you can score Moving to Spain for a discount this week:

         Timetable            Discount          Final Price
Monday, September 1 thru Wednesday, September 3                50%                 5€
Thursday, September 4 thru Friday, September 5                 25%               7,50€
From Saturday September 6                  0%                                            10€ 

 

(note that days are defined as GMT+1)

And get this – I’m giving away TWO of our eBooks, free of charge, to aspiring auxiliares. All you have to do is post a question in the comments, which I will gladly answer, and follow COMO Consulting on social media to win more entries. This contest is a quick one – just 48 hours – so if you don’t win, you can still get the eBook for a discounted price.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As someone who has been there, I know it’s tough to leave a life behind for a new one you know nothing about. But trust me, it’s worth it. You only have one life, why not make la vida española part of it? 

Please remember that intellectual property is just that – this eBook belongs to COMO Consulting Spain, is copyright and should not be duplicated, reproduced or resold. Remember that science project you worked crazy hard on in elementary school, and you beamed when it was over and you were proud? That’s how we feel about Moving to Spain: A Comprehensive Guide to Your First Weeks on the Iberian Peninsula. Gracias!

Autonomous Community Spotlight: Las Islas Canarias

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

When the Novio asked if it would be ok if he took me to a wedding on Gran Canaria island, I started looking for flights before I even agreed. Located off of the coast of Africa, this archipelago is comprised of a dozen islands, has two capitals and is famous for being a holiday maker’s paradise. 

As we drove around Gran Canary on an amazing road trip, dined on fresh seafood and I attended my first Spanish wedding, I almost forgot that most of the people we met or who served us spoke English. Six years later, I was on a Tenerife road trip with locals, exploring caverns, colonial cities and Spain’s highest peak.

The islands are definitely Spanish while retaining a little bit of a wild heart.

Name: Islas Canarias

Population: 2.1 million, the majority of whom are on Tenerife and Gran Canaria

Provinces: The Canaries consist of seven main islands: and Tenerife in the Santa Cruz de Tenerife province; and Gran Canaria in the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria province. What other autonomous region can boast two regional capitals?!

When: 11th of 17 regions, June 2008 

About: The islands’ name is said to be derived from the population of monk seals that once inhabited the islands. Volcanic eruptions led to the formation of the seven inhabited islands and five smaller islands less than 100 kilometers off the coast of Morocco, which are believed to have been inhabited from the Roman times, or perhaps earlier by aboriginals once called guanches.

Thanks to its strategic positioning, the islands have served as an outpost for explorers (including Columbus), mission bases for galleons and fleets and pirate hideouts. The islands were colonized by the Castillian crown in the early 15th century, and the autonomy gained status as one of Spain’s 17 in the early 1980s. Nowadays, sugar and bananas are huge exports, and small pockets of immigrants from the mainland, Europe and northern Africa make the islands an interesting cultural melting pot.

Must-sees: The big draw to the Canarias is the sun – the islands get more sunny days and a more stable climate than any other place in Spain. So there’s the beach, the sand and the sun, which is why droves of budget flights congregate in the two largest airports in the archipelago, Tenerife Sur and Gran Canaria. In fact, I flew for free to Tenerife earlier this year! Lanzarote also draws those with a love of hiking and adventure sports.

On my first visit, we spent time on Gran Canaria, hitting the capital, the touristy southern resort towns of the island like Maspalomas, Playa de los Ingleses and Puerto Mogán and the northern gems of Arucas and Agaete before visiting the central mountains of this near-circular island.

My long weekend in Tenerife was full of adventure – from the guachinches to scaling Mount Teide, Spain’s highest point. While the southern part of the islands draws the sun seekers and the cruise ships, the north is a bit more local and untamed, as well as wallet-friendly. The cliffs are just as dramatic as I’d expect them to be on the other islands, which are far less touristy.

Undoubtedly, what stands out about the islands is the biodiversity, from marine life to plants. The islands boast four national parks, a number of celebrated canarios and a dedication to preserving the island way of life. I was shocked to see so many local fairs, Canarian kitchens and a pidgin-holed language that uses gua-gua instead of bus or employs whistles.

Oh, and then there’s the Carnival, one of the largest outside of Brazil. And the food – the fresh shellfish, the soft cheeses and the mojo picón-drenched wrinkly potatoes.  

My take: I am always a bit hesitant about places that are overly touristy and catered towards those wallets. When the Novio took me to Gran Canaria, we sat on the dunes in Maspalomas, sun bathed on Playa de las Canteras and ate in a British pub. But we also partied at a Spanish wedding in a beautiful church in Arucas and drove to Roque Nublo in the center of the island.

We truly got the best of both worlds – the familiarity of my Anglo world with the charm of an island community, plus the melting pot of so many other languages, cultures and histories. I felt like it was a bridge between my two worlds.

Have you been to the Canary Islands? What would you recommend seeing, eating and doing?

Check out the other regions I’ve highlighted: Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares . If you’re looking for other great blogs on the Canaries, don’t miss Gran Canaria Local or Island Momma.

Each month for the next 14, I’ll take a look at Spain’s 17 comunidades autónomas and my travel through them, from A to, um, Valencia. I’d love your take on the good and the bad in each one, so be sure to sign up for my RSS feed to read about each autonomous region at the end of each month! Next up for August is Cantabria.

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