1. First ever blog post

Hi, I’m Freya,

Welcome to my blog, Here for the Journey, where I’ll be writing all about my travels during the summer of 2017.

I wish to share my experiences and thoughts on the three trips that are happening this summer in the hope that I can entice you to visit some places you may not have been to before. If that fails, you can at least learn something interesting about them!

As, for now, this is a short-term project and I’m (unfortunately!!) not a professional travel blogger, my aim is to just be posting on here about once a week, but I hope you’ll say with me as I do have some exciting destinations that I definitely want to write about.

Anyway, that’s it for now, but you’ll be hearing more from me very soon… 🙂

 

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Why I loved my experience in Zermatt: climbing the Breithorn

Waking up at 5am may not sound like a very fun idea to you, but for me I was waking up on the morning of my exciting mountaineering venture with my dad. We woke up early at the Randa campsite to walk a short distance to Täsch train station and from there to the beautiful Zermatt, the mountain town home to the iconic triangle shaped Matterhorn peak (or for those of you who don’t know it, it’s the mountain on the packaging of Toblerone chocolate!)

Visiting Zermatt was definitely a top highlight from my European road trip because it is such a unique place. Although Venice might also spring to mind when you think of a car-less resort, Zermatt is entirely different. Yes, this place is devoid of transport too, apart from its bright Swiss-red train, little taxi-cars ferrying people to and from its hotels and horse and carts, but this village sits right underneath an iconic mountain!

We went through the town the day before to check out the cable car that we would be getting up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. We had fortunately picked to stay over during their annual Folklore weekend, meaning that the whole town was deep in celebration of their Swiss heritage by participating in cultural festivities. We were surrounded by girls dressed in blue peasant dresses with white puffed sleeves to soldiers on street parades playing unbelievably long alphorns and ringing oversized bells, with the stunning Matterhorn looming down below us. The hills were literally alive with the Sound of Music (oh wait that was in Austria…)

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Could you get more Swiss than this? A picture of the tips of snowy mountains with three girls in traditional peasant wear passing by in the cobbled street

But the main reason for the trip was climbing the Breithorn; on its summit we saw a south facing view of the Matterhorn. Climbing it was an achievement in itself, but we were also lucky that the weather conditions were fine too. In this environment, the weather is notoriously unpredictable meaning that it can make it too dangerous to even attempt to climb up such mountains (and even during the actual climb there is also a risk of avalanches if it clouds over too much).

I would seriously go back to just stay there and try out its many appealing bars with outdoor seating areas, or to attempt summer skiing there, but the fact that we got to achieve our aim of climbing the Breithorn was certainly enough, and this was my first snowy ascent to a 4,000 metre summit. We walked down a long, straight stretch for 20 minutes from Randa to Täsch train station, with a view of Glacier Paradise for the whole journey- you don’t usually get to see where you are heading to! When we reached Zermatt and walked to the cable car station we had to then take a few cable cars in order to reach Europe’s highest summit station. The last cable car up was particularly memorable when the cable car driver loudly played We are Family by Sister Sledge, which instantly lifted everyone’s spirits- it was just like in films when background music is provided to the movie scenes!

What you enjoy in life really varies from person to person. For me, the challenge of climbing up such a spectacular natural feature and being able to stand on top of it is an amazing experience and one that I feel is so much more invigorating than something like a shopping trip which isn’t as enriching. The slog up its “back” was definitely hard work as I had to plough through the thick snow. I may also have lost a bit of faith when I was passed by groups roped up to guides and even a young boy(!) and his dad, but once I had reached the highest point, it was all worth it. I opted for taking regular slow paces up to the top, whereas my dad preferred taking bigger advances of 20 steps and then taking a break. However, whatever time you take or method you use, everyone reaches the same summit at the end of the day!

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Surrounded by the all-encompassing snowy caps really did feel like you were on top of the world.

Check this photo out over on my insta!

It was an amazing sense of achievement once I had gone around the last curve onto the steep ridge. I loved how peaceful it was up there with all the snow-clad muffled mountains. However, we couldn’t stay there forever because we still had to descend to reach the cable car again. We had to be particularly careful for avalanches, which are common later in the day when the clouds thicken, and thus bring the risk of snow, and hidden crevasses which you have to navigate around so that you don’t fall down into a potentially 50 metre hole! To be fair, the descent didn’t take us very long once we got into a rhythm and before we knew it we were back on the cable car home- but I think part of our speed was down to my dad wanting to get lower down so that he could curb his altitude sickness- another effect of being up high in the mountains.

I loved the cable car journey home as well because as we passed craggy hills and hiking paths I got to see even more angles of the Matterhorn! I’ve got to say though that my favourite view of it was when I was on top of the peak looking across at it, because it didn’t look quite as imposing!

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The view of hiking trails from the cable car

We stopped off at a tent where festivities were ongoing. With beef sausages in tow we watched dance partners and listened to a choir that was singing along to male accordion players. I particularly enjoy this part after a climb when you are taking a well-deserved break by relaxing and talking about your achievement. We were fortunate to experience that in the heart of the festival, instead of sitting inside in a touristy pub which we could have just done at home. It was a great end to the day.

Overall, the four hour climb of the Breithorn was not too difficult as it didn’t require you needing outrageous mountaineering skill (but I wouldn’t obviously recommend just rocking up without any previous mountaineering skill). Now that I am back in England looking out at much less spectacular views of houses from my bedroom window, as opposed to the view of the mountains from my tent or driving on zig-zag paths past glacier lakes and green-tinged granite rocks on Grimsel Pass, it has now encouraged me to want to visit back to be amongst this amazing scenery again. I would also love to go back to Zermatt to discover more of its backstreets with its quaint, ancient chalets but I would have to save a few hundred up for the cable car passes alone first!

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Our tent with Toblerone chocolate balancing on the top of it, looking out to snowy peaks in the distance

Does visiting Zermatt sound like something you’d like to do?

My Via Ferrata Climb Without a Guide

Sometimes when I’ve brought up via ferratas, blank faces and puzzled expressions have glared back at me. So, for those of you who do not know what they are, via ferratas are fixed climbing routes on mountains: a great way to see spectacular views from a high vantage point. During my trip to Morzine, the snowy ski resort in winter which transforms to a biking haven in summer, I went on a joint climb up du Rocher de la Chaux and saw the beautiful French Alps. However, it is not only on the summit, but during the actual climb that you see the valleys down below between the enormous lush green hills in August: a worthy sight if you’re holidaying in the area!

 

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Beautiful valleys in the French Alps

On first glance of the rock face it immediately became apparent that it was in the shape of an elephant! Indeed, the name of the route, Route A (technical grade 3, exposure 5, seriousness A) is called La Tête de l’Éléphant, a short drive away from our chalet in Morzine. This route is definitely easier than Route B, the face of the ‘elephant’ (technical grade 5, exposure 5, seriousness A) which is more technically advanced and requires excellent footwork on the overhangs and because there aren’t as many generous stemples to help you, like there are on A.

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La Tête de l’Éléphant resting its head on furry green trees

Although taking a cable-car up to the top of a mountain is quick and easy, via ferratas are more fulfilling. They require strength, agility (especially for tricky overhang sections where you don’t have much room for going wrong) and remembering to use your strong leg muscles as opposed to straining your arms.

I did the route in the French Alps without a guide, but I still had a climbing partner. I enjoy the freedom without a guide as you can take your time if you want to and you don’t have that pressure from all the people watching you like when you are in a group! This was my second time doing this particular climb, (five in total), which I have found have all been sensational climbing adventures, besides the one or two overhangs! The ladders, bridges and balance beams add to the fun, making this a thrilling obstacle course in the air. The balance beam on this latest climb may have only been 4m long, but looking down from the thin wooden plank into the abyss below definitely rattled my nerves… or was that the wooden plank actually coming loose?! 😉

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The drop from the via ferrata wooden plank
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Me with all my via ferrata gear on on the plank!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it is your first time however, I would strongly recommend going with a guide, who will be able to teach you and will provide all the necessary equipment for you. After that, if you enjoyed it and want to go again, maybe think about purchasing your own equipment so that you can go without paying additional costs for the guide each time! You’ll be doing Go Ape to via ferratas in no time.

What I had for my latest via ferrata du Rocher de la Chaux in St-Jean-d’Aulps

(*NB: The following is a basic guide only that is designed to give you an insight into what you need for a via ferrata. Seek extra information for a more precise guide on how to do the knots and for which equipment to buy.*)

  • Helmet

Helmets are not just for cycling y’know! These head guards may slightly detract from your appearance, but when you’re halfway up a mountain with your crush nowhere in sight, who cares what you look like! On a more serious note, they are good to protect you against the rock in case you bang your head, so you should wear one all the time you are on the via ferrata.

  • Harness

I used a sit harness, which is fairly easy to use: you attach it to your body with two leg loops and also one for your waist. A via ferrata lanyard (see below) is attached to the harness which is then used to attach you to the steel wire to enable you to climb safely. Just like the helmet, make sure the harness is tightened appropriately to ensure maximum safety.

  • Via ferrata shock-absorbing lanyard

You will need to attach the lanyard to the stiff loop (the belay loop) on the sit harness. Tie a lark’s foot knot to tightly fasten it. At the end of this there are two karabiners which you attach to the steel wire. This is to keep you secure in case you fall, whilst you hold onto/walk on the stemples (hand and feet footholds). There are two karabiners which are designed so that you can keep at least one attached at all times. For example, when you need to move along to the next section of the cable you can still keep one on whilst you move the other one.

  • Rest lanyard

As the name suggests, you can take an additional lanyard with you for in case you want to take a break. We took a small one and a medium one to suit the different distances from the rock, but we didn’t actually need to use any because it wasn’t too long a climb (1 hour 30 mins). But, you may want to take a break after the vertical climb at the second escape path if you need to.

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The view of the rock after the ascent through the trees
  • Clothing

On the morning of this latest via ferrata climb (1st August), it was cloudy and the sun only broke through occasionally (unfortunately no clear view of Mont Blanc today), so I wore a polyester sports top which was good as it didn’t uncomfortably cling to me. It would also be suitable for rainy conditions as it would stop water from soaking through, like cotton would do. However, in case of heavy rainfall, a thin, waterproof coat would probably be good to carry as well as it would offer further protection. For my legs I was fine with my 3/4 length sports pants.

  • Footwear

I would recommend using walking boots instead of trainers as a thick sole is better than a flimsy sole which would cause you to feel the stemples and would give you less grip.

  • Gloves

I would recommend wearing gloves as they can protect you against cuts on sharp pieces of rock, if there are any- just make sure that they are finger-less so that you still have control and good grip.

Of course, you will be able to hire this equipment. However, if you buy these items yourself you will have the advantage of them not being used before, thus eliminating the risks that come with used equipment (damage and wear).

We put on all of the attire once we had finished the 25 minute ascent to the route, as we didn’t need it for the walk up: it would have gotten in our way otherwise.

After completing our via ferrata challenge, we had one more mission to complete. There was a shorter cabled section which brought us to a steep forest descent. The desired descent was a thin trodden path which looped down and bypassed the trees. However, with no guides to lead the way, we took the quicker, more fun route home. We ran down thick leaved mud slides to reach the bottom. And that was the end of the via ferrata!

Overall, I found this via ferrata an enjoyable, not too tricky climb. I felt that the actual climb would have been ever better if it was longer but when taken together with the ascent and descent, it was a good few hours adventure which I would certainly go on again for a third time! Having no guide meant it was good too because I felt almost more free to take in the views and not worry about what the rest of the group was up to.

Two images. One view.

Have you ever done a via ferrata before? If so, which one did you enjoy doing the most?

A Tale of Two Capital Cities

The good and the bad about stop-overs

Stop-overs: places en route to your ultimate destination that you stay at for a short time only. Usually when you are travelling by car or on a long distance flight.

As an avid reader, I just had to use the title from Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities for this blog post. Although it may be far from his story surrounding the French Revolution, I thought it quite apt to name this post on my overnight visits to Brussels in Belgium, and Bern in Switzerland.

Unfortunately, stop-overs mean that you cannot fully explore a place. Nevertheless, they do also enrich the journey to your ultimate destination, as you get to experience different cultures, so I was prompted to raise the issue by addressing both the pros and cons of such a trip in my post about my journey to Morzine, France.

Brussels

Although Belgium is chiefly known for its chocolate, sprouts (Brussels sprouts), fries, beer and waffles (I’ll leave order of preference up to you 😉 ) , its music scene is worth mentioning too. As soon as I entered the streets leading up to the Grote Markt, or The Grand Place, I could hear multiple musical acts. Particularly striking was a band playing popular music such as from Adele. However, upon closer inspection, this “band” turned out to just be coming from a violinist! (That shows how bad I am at distinguishing musical instruments in songs 😮 )

To be truthful though, most city centres are usually teeming with musical artists. So, how is Brussels’ music scene out of the ordinary? Well, for starters, music cafes are popular in this city. Place St. Gery is a notable hub that is easy to find, even when you’re short for time, as it is located very near to The Grand Place and to Brussels’ Central Station. If you want to act like a “classy student” away from the very cheap alcoholic region then this is the place to be for places like Mappa Mundo. However, a longer stay would allow you to explore deeper into the city, instead of going to the first place you find. For example, I would have loved to have discovered its jazz in Ixelles. On the same musical note, I would also have loved to have visited the Museum of Musical Instruments for its four floors filled with vertical pianos to harpsichords. This would have been a great culture trip to appreciate the music you are listening to in the bars! However, if you visit on a Monday then their museums will be closed, so it might be best to plan accordingly! Indeed, on a trip to Paris last year, we visited on a Tuesday and when we walked over to the Louvre we found that we were there on the only day that it was closed…Typical.

On our stop-over it was difficult to fully understand Brussels’ history, without a tour guide or to find out about it in our own time, but we still sought out some of its architecture and enjoyed the views nonetheless! We soon came across the gold-leafed Grand Place, like Gustav Klimt’s work, a square filled with architecture. We got to experience a bit of culture there: we adopted the people of Brussels’ relaxed ethos by joining them as they sat down in groups on the cobbled floor.

Brussels' clock tower peeps out between a side street. Click heree to discover more about other interesting sites in Brussels which you can visit on a short stop-over trip!Brussels’ tall town hall tower

Check out my Instagram to see this picture and more!

However, a disadvantage of our stop-over was our time of arrival. We arrived in the evening which meant the darkness and the late time wasn’t kind in letting us find the Manekkin Pis or the good luck statue, and I think I took a picture with a statue of a random man instead… oops!

Bern

We then drove through Vins d’Alsace, a famous wine region with a heck load of hectares, to reach Bern. Now, the first thing that I noticed here was the amazing tram-line system running through all of the city- a bonus for a stop-over visit! From our Ibis Budget hotel, in Expo, it took only a 7 minute train journey to reach the Zytglogge, Clock Tower, a magnificent gold trimmed circled clock with roman numerals on its perimeter. If you visit Bern, I would recommend stopping off just before the Kornhausbrücke bridge to enjoy a walk into the centre, and then you can take in this view:

20623357_1358526734255047_1228821348_oThe stunning landscape where the Swiss and Italian alps encompass the horizon. If you look carefully enough you can see the Matterhorn (see Toblerone!), but be careful not to miss this by mistaking them for clouds!)

At the end of the nearby Nydeggbrücke bridge there was the bear enclosure; only a city with a name which means bear could get away with that! It was evening when we came across their small dug up pit, but the darkness meant that we couldn’t see them properly! Fortunately, we revisited the area the next morning and found that they had actually been moved to an improved living space, which had been there since 2009. We walked over the stone floor to reach it. Engraved in it was the names of  people who had contributed to the paying of the bears’ new home.

20623323_1358526777588376_1235872788_oThis is where Bern’s bears live: on a wide grassy slope with a water area

Just down past this was the river Aare which we followed for a leisurely walk through the woods. You can actually swim there but unfortunately we didn’t know that until we got there so then it was too late, another disadvantage of stop-over trips. However, at the end of that we then reached Restaurant Schwellenmäetteli. This then made it an overall great day out to experience a bit of everything from exploring its culture to exercise and relaxing with a drink at the end, so it didn’t matter about not being able to swim! 

Even though these were only stop-over visits, it didn’t stop us (pun intended) from being able to experience some of the capital cities’ culture. We may not have fully understood the history of the architecture in Brussels nor the full history of the bears in Bern, but we still appreciated the significance of them to the politically important centres. Another person who enjoyed the stop-over to Bern was a relative of mine who we met up with when he was passing through Switzerland on his European motorbike tour. He was really glad to have “stopped over” in Bern as it was a change from him normally just passing through to reach the next place! Overall, we may not have had chance to venture far out from where we were staying, but now its made me personally want to go back to discover more about the places!

Do you like stop-overs or do you prefer to get to your destination straight away?

 

 

My top 3 reasons for why you should ditch the city and head to inland Spain

Holiday round-up

So, I thought that I would bring it down a notch with a top 3 for my last post on Spain! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing on this blog and I can’t wait to write about my next adventure in France and in surrounding areas. I do hope that someone out there is actually reading this and its not just me talking to myself haha.

2017. Let it be the year that you are bold enough to seek out a place that you’ve never been to before. Right now the internet has been the best it has ever been, so why not exploit all of the information that it holds to research a place that you’ve never been to before. Here is a list to encourage you to try somewhere new for a change.

  1. Money

You can visit worthwhile sites without the ridiculous costs

We all know that getting things for free is a bonus in this day and age. A hug, a smile and even abstract qualities like kindness are what comes to mind immediately, but did you think about how we are also blessed with natural lakes and mountains? Or did you think about the fact that you don’t even have to spend money to just look at buildings. Take the Sagrada Familia for example. Of course, it looks absolutely stunning on the inside, but the construction that you can see on the outside is worth a mention too. (To be truthful, at Alcalá del Júcar, we didn’t even need to go inside its castle (see my previous blog post), to enjoy the landscape, because it was just as stunning from where we stood next to it!

20316831_1347061652068222_842264830_oVisit Alcalá del Júcar to see its Church of San Andres

Its not as expensive to stay at

Coastal resorts are usually No.1 on a lot of people’s lists because of its guarantee of sun, sea and sand. Equally, you can be sure that any city that you go to will have many tourist attractions to choose from. However, why not save the money from the more pricey places to stay at and from all the expensive excursions?! Instead, you could travel to a cheaper, lesser known destination to discover things there you never knew!

Quick tips on how to save money on a trip

  • Stay in basic accommodation

If you still want to enjoy the sites, you could stay at a hostel or find similar places to ‘The White Horse Inn Bunkhouse’ in England because it is ideally located at the bottom of the climbing hot spots: the Blencathra and Sharp Edge. For as little as £12 pp, it gives you room to cook your own food there, with its communal kitchen, and you can sleep there too, if the name didn’t give that away! It just goes to show that you can stay in a decent place, which may not be luxury, but it will certainly provide the basics, and still enjoy the sites without having to spend too much.

  • Stay in the outskirts

If you still want to visit a city, you could have the best of both worlds if you trade the pricey hotels in the city centre for the cheaper options in the outskirts, and when you want to venture into the city then simply take a train. That way you can discover the lesser known place you’re staying at and also see the places where everyone flocks to!

2. You’ll have something extra exciting to talk to your friends about

We’ve all been there before when as much as you’re excited to share your holiday stories and pictures to your friends, they’re not quite as excited about it as you are. However, talking about a unique place that you’ve had the chance to visit will make for a good conversation. If they don’t know anything about it, then I’m sure that they’ll at least be a tad bit more interested to learn something new!

Hey, ever heard of Alatoz before?…

3. Do something different for a change

One thing that is inevitable about beach holidays is…well… the beach. But why not mix it up a bit and trade it for long walks in the hills where who knows where you’ll stumble across?! It may be a small body of water that you can go swimming in, like we found in Alatoz (see ‘A day in Alatoz’), or if you climb high enough, you’ll reach an amazing vantage point. Or, if you’re unlucky, you’ll do what we did and go on a walk to a stream to find that its all been dried up! (Never mind, it still made for a good walk and a good picture!)

20180167_1343705062403881_797289094_oLandscape view of Alcalá del Júcar

20196353_1347080785399642_1359686498_oDried up stream

What do you think? Does planning your next trip to a place you have not heard much about before sound like a good, exciting and different idea?

Further afield: Places to visit beyond Alatoz

I really recommend hiring a car whilst you’re abroad because it makes it so much easier to visit nearby sites and towns that may not be so easily accessible by walking. Of course, don’t then completely rule out walking or cycling because they are an equally great alternative which will allow you to really take in your surroundings.

Within 40km you can venture into other Spanish streets besides Alatoz and discover their special places to gain a wider insight into different Spanish towns.

Long, sometimes winding, but always quiet roads stretch out to various towns beginning with ‘A’. With a backdrop of ‘Table Top Mountain’, (but not the one in South Africa!), to guide the way, along with the signs, you can easily locate the shopping towns, Alpera and Ayora.

If you are looking for a lively day out, visit Alcalá del Júcar.

On the journey in, there is a turn to the right which offers a vast overview of the jungle of rectangle houses with lead up to the focal point of the town, its castle. The road descends for a short while and then it settles for a flat walk into the centre.

At the bridge, you can closely inspect the criss-cross of walls that lead up to the castle, set amongst the houses that are actually built into the rock! If that doesn’t entice you to go exploring, walk less than a minute to the natural body of water and see if you can find the view of the Adam and Eve lookalike (Tryfan Mountain, North Wales), the castle, and the houses all peeping out above the trees. Take a dip in the water’s icy breath as you try to chase the little fishes in its depths.

20182188_1343705032403884_1807278070_oBridge leading up to the castle

There are thick stone slabs which gently ascend to the fortification. They lead to narrow corridors between the houses, which act like a maze as you have to weave through them to find your way. I can imagine that for the people who live up there it would be tiring for them having to traipse through that every day to reach their houses. Nevertheless, the view would certainly be worth it! Some houses were even falling apart, with their red bricks exposed as they glowed in the sunlight. Along with many ‘for sale’ signs, this perhaps paints a picture of the poverty that exists in the cracks of the beautiful and peaceful landscape.

20182238_1343705055737215_106834711_oNarrow walkway between the houses

You can enjoy the view best of all from the top. Now, from a high vantage point, you can see a bull-ring in the distance, within a large amphitheatre-like structure, which was an important strategic point from ‘The Christians of Alfonso X’, the short placard there briefly reads.

20205515_1343705075737213_1235486573_oA birds-eye-view encompasses the bridge which cuts through the trees, and the bull-ring

There are also arrows which point to the ‘Cuevas del Diablo’, or the Devil Caves. €3 can cover a visit to the dugout phenomenon and a drink too. It is well worth a leisurely stroll through the vast tunnels where assortments of antique collectables await, from colourful stamps to sewing machines through the ages. As you traverse deeper into the never-ending tunnels you come to small, divided rooms which are lit up with bright red lights and are unexpectedly accompanied with pop music. Although this is an unusual contrast to the old setting, it sets the scene for night-time when the place opens up as a restaurant! If you mind being watched by figures and pictures of the devil and of the man who built the place, who is also known as the devil, there is a shaded outdoor seating area instead, which overlooks the stunning Júcar River that is sometimes home to kayakers!

20182353_1343705082403879_1605256921_oArrows pointing right to the ‘Cuevas del Diablo’ and the ‘Castillo’

If you would rather spend some money, you’ll find affordable deals at Alpera market.

The sizeable market is a main feature in the town that belongs to the region of Castilla-La Mancha. However, away from the busy stalls, its sporadic, lonely benches and its broken clock resembled a lowly populated town.

The market runs parallel through a long walkway. The first thing I saw there was a straight line of people patiently queueing up in line for spices and seeds. It looked like they were well-acquainted with the process, whereas I was mesmerized by the volume of people and I kept on getting distracted by colourful baskets of flowers! Clothes were also sold there, including pastel dresses which were surrounded by women who chattered ‘quince, quince’ as they strained their necks at the reasonable prices.

If you would prefer a larger selection of shops, try Ayora

…for its collection of specialised clothes shops from children’s-wear to exclusive fashion items. It is also home to quaint boutique shops of items for the home, including candles, lanterns and dressers. In fact, it accounts for any nice self-indulgent items you may want to buy for yourself, a larger selection than in Alatoz.

Sip strong coffee at ‘Nikkei bar’ in its Plaza Mayor. This can be enjoyed in the morning when the sun will just be breaking through the clouds. Copy the men reading their newspapers under the cover of the shade, or wait for the sun to fully come out so you can sit in the sun like a typical mad-Englishman! Indeed, it is possible to find English people in Ayora, who have moved to the capital of ‘Valle de Ayora-Cofrentes’, a recent attraction for people in seek of the hilly surrounding and rural setting instead of the coastal resorts of Benidorm and Torrevieja.

The ‘Parish Church of Our Lady Assumption’ is just around the corner. It is impossible to miss, but you need to strain your neck to get a good view of the imposing structure of over 400 years old.

Alcalá del Júcar, Alpera and Ayora are just a selection of neighbouring towns that I recommend that you visit if you are staying in Alatoz. In particular, I enjoyed Alcalá del Júcar most of all; I could easily spend another day there so that I could explore its newly improved walks alongside the river Júcar. However, a combination of all three days out, alongside Alatoz, will altogether make for a satisfying trip!

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A day in Alatoz

Our visit to a Spanish village was an exciting opportunity to act like a local. With my family I discovered so much about the place by getting involved in the typical daily outings of a villager: eating at their bars, conversing with families of over three generations that all lived there, buying from their market. And in Alatoz, which lies approximately a 45 minute car journey beyond the province of Albacete, its quaint quarters were perfect for discovering.

From just one morning venturing into its ‘centre’, we had already bumped into the plumber’s wife and the mayor a couple of times! (If you’re lucky at college, you’ll see the head teacher that many times in a year…) Of course, the identity of these people was not so obvious at first. However, my great-aunt was happy to introduce us. Even without relatives to help you, I doubt it would take too long to get to know people there, or in any village perhaps, and I would highly recommend doing so, as I will go into later on.

To get your bearings, take a walk

An early morning stroll can never go amiss as you can explore the buildings and skirt up to the hills at your leisure. On the outskirts we were welcomed to a view of crowded balconies and windows of flowers in bloom. It was set against an untouched pearl blue roof; for me it was a perfect view, one that lingered in my mind as I ambled up the dusty road.

20049528_1338182782956109_1312165205_oFront of a typical Spanish house with push-bikes leaning against it

19897748_1338182762956111_1170541345_oDrawn green blinds match another green, and tall, wooden bench outside of a Spanish house

Although it was slightly reminiscent of the rocky terrain from ‘The Hills have Eyes’, this was not a scary place at all. Instead, the silence allowed for busy thoughts as we took in the setting. As we continued to edge up the slow incline, the trees appeared, concealing the sandy rolls.

Adventure

30 minutes into the walk and we had come across a running tap which spewed out a small pool of turquoise liquid. The largely undiscovered natural water feature against the layered backdrop was an idyllic setting. I personally found it a satisfying alternative to the village pool. Although the local pool was just as inviting, it was special to stumble upon a unique spot on our adventure. It was hard to break away from the infinity-esque pool, but the hopping crickets and bouncing butterflies entertained us as they wound us down to the centre of the village where the market was just starting.

19911635_1338182766289444_1801624619_oA small body of water surrounded by wild bushes

We snaked down the centre’s streets to find a stack of stalls. Open every Tuesday and Friday, there are normally a couple of vegetable tables and muchas ropas there, which are very affordable, but if you’re lucky you might also be able to buy shoes for just ten euros. Join the locals and buy your basic necessities too: maybe try cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes for a simple salad, or bananas and kiwis for a fruit option.

Make friends

Upon beginning the day, it never struck us that we would spend half of it with a Dutch woman and her lovely husband. The beauty of spontaneously striking up a conversation with someone is that you can listen to their experiences and recommendations and share some of your own too, even better if you can converse in their language too. We were then invited into her courtyard: a jungle overflowing with potted plants. Beyond the courtyard lay a patio which was instead dotted with little ornaments like a blue and white encrusted mirror that reflected the warm yellow walls.

All things food

After a cool afternoon, paired with appetizers of deep-fried cheese and patatas fritas and accompanied with orange marmalade and curry sauce, an unusually brilliant combination, they then invited us back to share an evening meal together. That was tea sorted!

19911592_1338182772956110_2042138902_oA blue and white chequered tablecloth laden with matching seaside plates and wine glasses with multi-coloured stained glass stems

We enjoyed rosemary infused paella which sizzled on the outdoor fire. Even though our Spanish wasn’t perfect, our conversations still flowed as well as the wine did; it was a special insight into their culture.

19875889_1338182776289443_608687381_oA large pan of paella with a top layer of neatly aligned prawns and sticks of rosemary

An alternative way to experience Spanish cuisine is to dine at their local bars. ‘Taberna La Romana’, or what the locals refer to as ‘Felipe’s’, located on Avenue la Paz, and ‘Ovi’s Bar’, in Plaza Mayor, the focal point of the village, both offer a range of tapas dishes including beef magra (which I highly recommend), fried vegetables, prawns and pork. On the weekend and for the whole month of August, the former eatery expands as its garden is opened up as well, where you can enjoy freshly cooked meat on the barbecue.

Alatoz is just a small boat in a vast ocean but it still packs in a lot. You can take worthwhile walks from the houses with adjoining courtyards to the hills, you can lounge and eat in a couple of bars, and meet friendly people too. It may be off the beaten track, with an approximately two hour car journey from Alicante airport. Indeed, the size means it is not teeming with lots of places to eat at or places to visit, so it is perhaps too small to purely spend more than a couple of days there, but don’t let its size put you off as it is still definitely worth a visit to experience Spanish village life.

If you liked this then look out for more posts on Spain coming soon!…