Tag Archives: spain

By the seaside: Vinaròs

Playa del Fortí Beach

After many years of seeing it as just another stop on the train journey between Barcelona and Valencia, I finally had the opportunity to spend a few days in Vinaròs. The friendliness of the people, the wonderful seafood, the absence of a crushing number of tourists and a truly relaxed atmosphere were welcome discoveries in a town only 90 minutes south of Barcelona.

Sculpture on the Promenade

Located on northernmost part of the Mediterranean Costa del Azahar, the town is known for its fishing harbor, canning industry and as an agricultural center. Vinaròs is on a plain at the northern end of the province of Castellón, on the border with Catalonia.

Painting: The Expulsion of the Moriscos from Vinaròs by Pere Oromig y Francisco Peralta, 1613

Vinaròs was first mentioned in a historical record in 1233 as Moorish town. It was under the rule of the Knights Templar order between 1294 and 1311 and had one the most important ports in the Mediterranean, with impressive shipyards. A large part of the more than 15,000 Moriscos expelled from the Kingdom in 1609 embarked on ships at the port of Vinaròs.

Sculptural and Comfortable Seats on the Promenade

More Comfortable Seats along the Promenade

The promenade in Vinaròs town center, alongside the Playa del Fortí beach, has an outstanding design. It is a lengthy promenade is filled with comfortable and cleverly designed seats and lined with many welcoming bars, cafés and restaurants.

Café Mozart

Café Mozart, located between the promenade and the market square, quickly became my favorite seaside spot for evening drinks and tapas.

The Municipal Market (Mercat)

The market square, Plaza de San Agustín, is very busy. The Municipal Market (Mercat), designed by Francisco Tomás Traver, was built in 1928. It is filled with local produce and has an especially impressive selection of fish and famous local prawns.

Casa Giner (detail)

Two of the oldest and most interesting streets, Carrer Major and Carrer Sant Tomas, meet at Plaza de San Agustín. Full of small shops, these streets contain examples of architecture from centuries of history, including the striking Giner house (Casa Giner), located at number 4 Carrer Major. It is a private residence in the Valencian Modernist Style, built in 1914.

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (detail)

Located in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square) the church of Our Lady of the Assumption (Arcipestral de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora) is an excellent example of Valencian Gothic-Renaissance architecture. Construction started in March 1586 and finished on 24th December 1597.

Playa del Fortí Beach in February

Vinaròs is an off-the-beaten-path destination worth visiting any time of year.

12 Favorite Photos from 2018

2018 was another busy year for my camera. Here are my 12 favorite photos:

Mural, Dénia

Dénia is a coastal city on the Costa Blanca halfway between Valencia and Alicante. I was there during a record-breaking winter wave of deep cold and, somehow, this bright mural made me feel a bit warmer!

Photo taken in February 2018

Bicycle, Valencia

Thanks to an initiative from the local government, Valencia has quickly become one of Spain’s best urban areas for cycling.

Photo taken in April 2018

Street Art Fallera, Valencia

A little different from most street art in Valencia, this is a creative representation of a fallera, an essential part of the Fallas Festival.

Photo taken in April 2018

Giant Eggplant, Valencia

One morning in early June, a giant eggplant (!) appeared in my neighborhood plaza as part of a celebration of Valencian fruits and vegetables.

Photo taken in June 2018

Shrine to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bisbat de Girona, Palafrugell

While wandering around Palafrugell trying to figure out directions to the town center, I came upon this small shine in the courtyard of the local parish house.

Photo taken in August 2018

Catalan Curtain, Palafrugrell

In small towns or old neighborhoods in Catalonia, simple linen curtains with a touch of lace adorn many windows.

Photo taken in August 2018

Blue Lights and a Guardian Angel, Girona

The first word that always comes to mind when describing Girona is “bohemian”. The pace of the city is relaxed but at the same time full of creative energy. Distinctly Catalan in style and spirit, I never lack inspiration in Girona.

Photo taken in September 2018

Door, Girona

Doors are practical, but they’re also there to be admired. This door, just around the corner from in Girona’s city hall (ajuntament), caught my eye.

Photo taken in September 2018

Lion, cloister tomb, Girona Cathedral

The Girona Cathedral (in Catalan: Catedral de Girona) includes the widest Gothic nave in the world, with a width of 22 metres (72 ft), and the second-widest of any church after that of St. Peter’s Basilica. Its construction was begun in the 11th century. The Romanesque cloister’s columns depict fantastic figures, animals and plant motifs. The cloister has tombs of prominent members of the monastery, dating back to the 14th century.

Photo taken in October 2018

End of Season, Girona

Autumn is always bittersweet on the Costa Brava. As the tourist season ends, it always feels abrupt, and a bit melancholy, with the cold north wind (Catalan: tramuntanya) bringing an end to long nights on la terraza.

Photo taken November 2018

Window, Casa Sensat, El Masnou, el Maresme

The beautiful county of the Maresme stretches along the Mediterranean coast just north of Barcelona. It has long, sandy beaches, pine forests, and towns with Catalan Indiano mansions where the nouveaux riche used to spend the summer. They are called Indianos, or Americanos because the mansions celebrated the newfound wealth a lucky few locals found in Latin America and the Caribbean. The lavish mansions are a mixture of styles inspired by the architectural fashions of the day – mostly modernist (Catalan art nouveau) and neoclassical.

Casa Sensat, located on the Passeig de Prat de la Riba in the town of El Masnou, was built in 1901 as a summer residence for the  Sensat-Pagès family, whose fortune was made in Argentina.

Photo taken in November 2018

Modernist (Catalan Art Nouveau) Door, Palamós

Located on the narrow main street (Carrer Major) of Palamós, this door is very familiar to me. It reflects the Catalan prosperity of the early 1900’s — missing some hardware, now a bit neglected but still beautiful.

Photo taken in December 2018

Spanish Pop Culture Icon: Miguel Bosé

Music gives everything, to express yourself with your language, to paint landscapes, so that others enter the private prism of your world, but above all to touch the deepest fibers…Miguel Bosé

Miguel Bosé is Spanish Pop Culture Royalty and I am a devoted fan. Through following his career over the years, I have learned much about Spanish media (which he has been relentlessly hounded by) and Bosé was, in fact, my introduction to Spanish pop culture and music history. When the film Billy Elliot was released, the gossip in Spain circulated that it was based on the early life of Bosé. While there is no evidence to prove this, certainly Bosé’s own story has a few points in common with the fictional Billy Elliot — except instead of being the son of a coal miner, he was raised as the privileged only son of a renowned Spanish bullfighter, Miguel Dominguín. His mother is Italian actress Lucia Bosè. Born in 1956, Miguel Bosé decided to pursue a dance career in the early 1970s, taking classes in London with Lindsay Kemp, in Paris with Martha Graham and with Alvin Ailey in New York.

Trivia: In Dario Argento’s Italian horror masterpiece Susperia, Bosé has a small part as one of the ballet students.

His music career began in the late 70’s with catchy if not very memorable pop songs. By the early 1980’s, the Movida Madrileña — the counterculture creative movement begun in the first years after the death of Franco — had rapidly changed the landscape of Spanish Pop Culture. Movida Madrileña helped prompt Bosé to create a more experimental, mature sound which has allowed his music to keep evolving and, at its best, is filled with imagination, profound romanticism, social reflection and even playfulness.

Trivia:  Movida Madrileña icon, director Pedro Almodóvar, featured Bosé in one of his most eccentric films, Tacones Lejanos (1991), translated as High Heels. The male lead was difficult to cast, as the actor had to be believable as both a drag queen and as an investigating court judge. The casting of Bosé gave the film a boost in publicity long before its release.

While he still tours widely — with quite a global large fan base — Bosé is not one of the Nostalgia Acts.  I have selected eight songs (in order of release, though some videos are later versions) that are very well-known including a few that are an essential part of the Spanish pop music history.

Linda (Beautiful) 1977

Linda is a song from Bosé’s early pop music career that has had long-lasting (just over 40 years!) success —and this version, recorded as a duet in 2012 with Spanish singer Malú, demonstrates the creative way Bosé can successfully revive an old hit without even a hint of nostalgia.

Amante Bandido (Bandit Lover) 1980

The first Bosé song I ever heard, Amante Bandido is a wildly popular, enduring pop hit that elevated him to super-stardom in Spain, and beyond.

The music video, filmed in Italy, is a classic itself.

Como un Lobo (Like a Wolf) 1980

Another well-known pop song  that gained even more popularity when it was revived in 2007 as a playful, upbeat version featuring a duet with Bosé’s niece, Bimba. When Bimba Bosé died of cancer in 2017, this duet version was once again heard on the airwaves here as a tribute.

Sevilla (Seville)1984

Sevilla is one of Bosè’s best-known songs, with an enduring popularity due to its subject: the city of Sevilla (Seville). It is brimming with romantic imagery associated with the Andalusian city. Interestingly, the typical music of Sevilla, flamenco, is not incorporated into the production — this is a personal, unique love song to a city. My favorite version of the song is from Bosé’s 2005 concert in Mexico City, with orchestra and chorus.

Aire Soy (I am Air)1986

A great example of Bosé elevating a simple love song into a hauntingly memorable pop masterpiece. The glimpses of Madrid and his dance mirroring the moves of a bullfighter make the video memorable.

Gulliver (2001)

A powerful song, despairing of an indifferent, dystopian world — with this, Bosé expands his musical horizon once more.

Verde Canalla (Young Scoundrel) 2005

Verde Canalla is from my favorite Bosé album to date, Velvetina, which he has called his most personal work. A mixture of pop, electronica and chill-out, it was critically acclaimed and even controversial for its social/sexual openness.

Encanto (Enchantment) 2014

I spent Christmas 2014 in Cordoba and Encanto was all over the airwaves there — no, it is not a holiday song, but it seemed to blend well with the historic city. A beautiful production.


For more information about Miguel Bosé, visit his website.

The photo of Miguel Bosé is from his Facebook page.

Literary Travel Part 2: Non-Fiction about Spain

I’m not a fan of general guidebooks about Spain but immersing myself in books about history and culture is always a pleasure, delving deeper into this beautiful and complex land. With that in mind, here is a (highly) subjective list of my favorite non-fiction to date:


Arts in Spain: From Prehistory to Postmodernism (World of Art) / John F Moffitt

Spain has been an important contributor to Western art, producing many famous and influential artists. This book encompasses the vast span of the Spanish artistic panorama — a good companion for a cultural tour.


The Basque History of the World / Mark Kurlansky

An enlightening and engaging history of the Basque region and its people, fusing political and economic history with cultural and culinary traditions — recipes included!


The Borgias: The Hidden History / G. J. Meyer

The history of Valencia is inextricably linked to the Borgia family (or Borja as they are known in Spain), the greatest Valencian dynasty. As popes, statesmen and soldiers they were at the center of the Italian Renaissance, becoming symbols of ruthless ambition and evil deeds — but is their infamous legend based on actual historic facts? The Borgias: The Hidden History offers new insight into the lives of the mythic Borgias. A fascinating must-read before a visit to the province of Valencia.

Note: In Valencia there is a cultural Route of the Borgias that brings to life the history of the dynasty.


Duende: A Journey into the Heart of FlamencoJason Webster

Journey with Webster as he learns the complexities of flamenco and searches for duende, an untranslatable word that refers to the feeling that is the essence of flamenco. If you are interested in flamenco music and culture, this is an excellent, engaging introduction.


Gaudi: A BiographyGijs van Hensbergen

Gaudi’s work is marketed as the center of Barcelona tourism, making this excellent biography of the elusive architect essential reading for anyone interested in visiting the city. Written in the context of Antoni Gaudi’s Catalan nationalism and Catholicism, the book also provides a history of turn-of-the-century Barcelona and leads the reader through the design and construction of Gaudí’s most significant buildings.


¡Guerra! /Jason Webster

Another great read by Jason Webster. There are many (many) books available in English about the Spanish Civil War, but this is a unique approach to the subject that has left an lasting impression on me. Webster travels across Spain, exploring the lasting impact of the Spanish Civil War and the divisions that led to the war that are still be smoldering below the surface.


 Homage to Catalonia / George Orwell

A classic. The first book I read about the Spanish Civil War that sparked for me a serious interest in Spain. Orwell writes a compelling account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War fighting Franco’s fascists. A recommended read before a visit Barcelona.

Note: If you’re visiting Barcelona, you can stop by the Plaça de George Orwell in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter dedicated to the writer.


Madrid: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Cities of the Imagination) /  Elizabeth Nash 

A wonderfully well-written exploration of exuberant Madrid, which boasts a very rich creative pedigree. An essential guide.


The Ornament of the WorldMaría Rosa Menocal

There was a period of over 500 years when Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in harmony in Spain. The Ornament of the World explores the time of al-Andalus, the Islamic dynasty that still profoundly influences Spain today. For anyone planning a visit to Toledo, Granada, Seville, and/or Cordoba, reading this will put the Islamic art and Mudejar architecture into its historical context.


Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 / Adam Hochschild

For three decisive years in the late 1930s, volunteers from the United States arrived in Spain to help its democratic government fight off a fascist uprising led by Francisco Franco (aided by Hitler and Mussolini). Spain in Our Hearts introduces compelling stories of Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War.


The Story of Spain: The Dramatic History of Europe’s Most Fascinating Country / Mark R. Williams

An essential history of Spain and the Spanish Empire from prehistoric times to the present day. It provides description and analysis of political, social, economic and cultural events which have shaped the history of Spain. The book includes lists of historic places to visit at the end of each chapter.


Valencia Noir – The Beautiful, the Fantastic and the Grotesque of Valencia, Spain / Isis Sousa and Ove Neshaug

“City of bats, dragons and gods. City of artistic daring over the centuries of history.” A wonderfully creative exploration of Valencia through its architecture, sculpture and painting that hopefully will inspire travelers to visit one of my favorite cities.

Literary travel through Spain: Summer 2018

Spain is a vast literary landscape, the birthplace of the novel. I believe that to understand a country, you must read its writers (Hemingway was not a Spanish writer). Here a few novels — all well-known and many best sellers — available in English translation that give some insights into Spanish life. Note: some of my favorite novels by Spanish authors have not been translated.


Don Quixote /Miguel de Cervantes

Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered the most influential work of literature from the Spanish literary canon and it regularly appears high on lists of the best literary works ever written. Credited as the first modern novel, it is heart-breaking,  humorous and timeless.

Cervantes drew on his own life — exiled from Madrid, he became a chamber assistant to a cardinal in Rome, then a soldier in the Spanish navy. After being captured by pirates he was a galley slave for five years until a ransom was paid for his freedom.


Blood and Sand / Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

Born in Valencia, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (29 January 1867 – 28 January 1928) was a journalist, politician and best-selling Spanish novelist. There is a timeless quality about his work and Blood and Sand creates an engaging portrayal of Spanish life and traditions, something that distinguishes all of the author’s writing. The novel tells the story of Juan Gallardo, a bull fighter who rises from poverty to unprecedented heights of riches and fame. As a reader you can enter the bullring with Juan, with his wounds, conflicts and superstitions.

Note: Casa-Museo de Blasco Ibáñez (Museum and House of Blasco Ibáñez) is located on Carrer Isabel de Villena in the city of Valencia. It is a beautiful Greek Revival house, once owned by  Blasco Ibáñez, facing the Mediterranean.


The Time of the Doves /Mercè Rodoreda

Mercè Rodoreda (10 October 1908 – 13 April 1983) has been called the most important Catalan novelist of the postwar period. A classic of modern Catalan literature, The Time of the Doves is considered by many critics as one of the greatest novels written about the Spanish Civil War — it is the story of Natalia, whose personal history mirrors that of many living and dealing with the Second Spanish Republic and the Spanish Civil War in Barcelona. Gabriel García Márquez called The Time of the Doves: “The most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War.”

The original Catalan title for the book, La plaça del Diamant, is named after a square in Barcelona’s Gràcia district.


Southern Seas/ Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Barcelona detective Pepe Carvalho investigates the death of a powerful businessman, found stabbed to death at a construction site after missing for a year. The mystery takes place during Spain’s Transición—the post-Franco transition to democracy—on the eve of Barcelona’s first municipal elections and detective Carvalho travels through the criminal underbelly of Barcelona to find the killer.


The Shadow of the Wind / Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A literary thriller that has gained an international audience, In The Shadow of the Wind centers around the discovery of a forgotten book that leads to a hunt for an elusive author who may or may not still be alive.

A follow-up, The Angel’s Game, is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. The Angel’s Game is set in Barcelona during the 1920s and 1930s and follows a writer who is approached by a mysterious figure to write a book.


Cathedral of the Sea / Ildefonso Falcones

A epic of 14th-century Barcelona where its poorest inhabitants are building, stone by stone, a magnificent church to overlook their harbor during the worst days of the Inquisition. This is the “Cathedral of the Sea”, Santa Maria del Mar: a church to be built for the people by the people.

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a visit to the inspiration for the novel, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar in the Ribera district. Built between 1329 and 1383, it is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic.


The Time in Between / María Dueñas

The story begins in 1936, just before the Spanish Civil War. Seamstress Sira Quiroga is left abandoned and penniless by her lover in Morocco. Gifted and determined, she becomes a successful couture designer, sought-after by the wives of German Nazi officers. Sira becomes involved in a dangerous political conspiracy, passing information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses.


Death On A Galician Shore / Domingo Villar

The body of a sailor washes up in the harbor of a small fishing port in the northwestern province of Galicia. Detective Inspector Leo Caldas from police headquarters in Vigo is sent to sign off on what appears to be a suicide. But soon things come to light that turn this into a complicated murder case.

The Frozen Heart / Almudena Grandes

A sweeping epic saga about the Spanish Civil War. The Frozen Heart is a journey through the war that tore Spain apart and how it still haunts the Spanish today.


The Siege/ Arturo Perez-Reverte

Set in Cádiz, 1811. While the city is under siege from the marauding French army, a serial killer is on the loose. Each murder takes place near where a French bomb has just fallen and police commissioner Rogelio Tizon tries to predict the killer’s next move.

I admit I was especially interested in this novel because of the setting: Cádiz is one of my favorite cities.

12 Favorite Photos From 2017

I take a lot of photos here in Spain — the 12 selected represent what (and where) inspired me the most in 2017.

...Gothic Spiral Staircase, el Museo de la Seda (The Silk Museum), Valencia…

El Museo de la Seda (The Silk Museum) is one of the most important buildings in Valencia. There are many spectacular features, including a Gothic spiral staircase, which remained hidden for centuries behind a wall until restoration of the building began in 2014.

Photo taken January, 2017.

Classics, Valencia…

The window of an abandoned workshop I pass on a weekly basis.

Photo taken February, 2017.

 …Moon Boat, La Vila Joiosa…

I wrote a blog entry about La Vila Joiosa last year. It is a place I enjoy visiting as often as I can and, back in “La Vila” (as the locals call it) in early February of this year, I came across  an abandoned boat on the beach.  Must be a story there.

Photo taken February, 2017.

…Hanging plants and Our Lady, Star of the Sea, La Vila Joiosa…

In the old neighborhoods of La Vila Joiosa, many houses are decorated with hanging plants and images of saints or the Virgin Mary.  The image in this photo is of the Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea — a guide and protector of seafarers.

Plaça del Mercat, Xàtiva…

Xàtiva, about 40 minutes south of the city of Valencia by train, has been inhabited continuously since Iberian times. Tourists visit the city to see its (very) impressive, mountain-hugging castle. Xàtiva also has an atmospheric, well-preserved historic city centre with a charming Market Plaza (Plaça del Mercat). This photo is captures a small corner of it, on a quiet afternoon in early March.

Photo taken March, 2017.

Falla del Pilar (detail), Fallas Festival, Valencia…

The Falla del Pilar this year was designed by local artist Paco Torres. The title of the Falla: Que li tallen el cap (“Cut Off his Head”) reflects its theme of class struggle. This detail is part a carriage carrying aristocrats.  As always, the Fallas festival in Valencia was spectacular!

Faces on Pipes, Xàtiva…

I have discovered (and photographed) many iron pipes with faces in the city of Valencia and this year was surprised to discover more fascinating and mysterious faces in Xàtiva’s historic center…

Photo taken April, 2017.

…Monumento a la Vaquilla (Monument to the Cowboy), Teruel…

The work is a composition of welded iron sheet, integrating three important figures in the history and celebrations of Teruel: an angel, a bull and a cowboy. Crowning the sculpture, a star — the symbol of the city. I took the photo in the late afternoon on the kind of beautiful day that makes Teruel special.  José Gonzalvo Vives was the designer and sculptor  of the monument.

Photo taken May, 2017.

Borja Palace Chapel Ceiling (detail), Gandía…

The Ducal Palace of Gandía was the residence of the Royal Dukes of Gandía, and from 1485, the historically controversial Borgia (spelled Borja in Catalan and Spanish) family held the title. It is also the birthplace of Saint Francis Borja. The 15th century Palace is in the Valencian Gothic style, with a remarkable interior, including the chapel, with a ceiling that captivated me.

Photo taken June, 2017.

Estelada Blava (white-starred flag), Girona…

In Catalonia, Estelada Blava (white-starred flag), the pro-independence flag, has a ubiquitous presence — in fact, I think many non-Spanish visitors mistakenly think it is the official flag of Catalonia.

Photo taken August, 2017.

…Olive Tree (detail), Palamós…

Olive trees are often found in old town squares here — this one is in Palamós, providing shade for a patrons, including myself, of a small café in the center of town. The olive tree arrived in the Iberian peninsula with the Phoenicians approximately 2,700 years ago and, aside from producing wonderful olives and olive oil, olive trees have inspired some fine Spanish poetry including: Antonio Machado (Olivo del Camino), Federico García Lorca (Arbolé, Arbolé), Miguel Hernández (170 Aceituneros).

Photo taken September, 2017.

Teixits, Palamós…

This is a little fabric store just off the main shopping street(Carrer Major) in Palamós — I seems to be from another time, before the shopping became impersonal.

Photo taken September, 2017.

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

A Cookbook Guide to Spain

Spain has one of the most fascinating and diverse culinary landscapes in Europe. Reading a few good cookbooks before traveling here will really enhance the experience of eating in restaurants and shopping in the local food markets. Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks — plus one book of unique Spanish food traditions — that I reach for  frequently when planning a meal or a trip around the peninsula.


The Food of Spain                                                                                                                                                            Claudia Roden                                                                                                                                            Publisher: Michael Joseph

The Food of Spain is a comprehensive and beautifully designed cookbook, featuring hundreds of recipes plus engaging essays on the history of Spain and its people, culture, and food. Claudia Roden writes about the rich heritage of Spanish cuisine, beginning with the influence of the Celts, Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians plus a guide to the food of the autonomous regions, including Galicia, Andalucía, Catalonia and Valencia. The recipes are easy to follow and Roden gives the Spanish names of dishes, making menus easier to understand when visiting Spain.

Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain                                                                                        Penelope Casas                                                                                                                                        Publisher: Henry Holt and Co

This is a favorite! The book offers sixty different  recipes, some traditional, some contemporary — all delicious. If you have always wanted to learn to cook paella, or are looking for some new rice dishes,  this is the perfect book .

A note about the author: beginning in the 1980s, Penelope Casas wrote a number of cookbooks (all of them excellent) focused on Spanish cuisine, including Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain and The Foods and Wines of Spain. She is credited with introducing Americans to Spain’s culinary heritage.

The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito                                     Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero, Rebecca Flint Marx                                                                   Publisher: Ten Speed Press

The Basque Country (Euskadi in Basque and el Pais Vasco in Spanish) is located in northern Spain, bordering France and the Cantabric Sea. The Basque people are an ancient culture, pre-dating the Roman Empire, unrelated to other Europeans — and their cuisine is considered as one of the best in the world, with recipes being passed down generation to generation with great respect. The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito, with a collection of 116 Basque recipes plus photos and stories of Basque cooking and culture, is a wonderful introduction to a rich and unique culinary heritage.

Catalan Cuisine: Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret                                                               Colman Andrews                                                                                                                                           Publisher: Grub Street

One of the best cookbooks I have ever purchased — my copy is well-worn from much use in my kitchen!  More than a cookbook, this is a guide to the history, culture, and cuisine of the Catalan Lands — autonomous provinces that until Spanish conquest in the18th century formed the Kingdom of Aragon. Discover the basics of Catalan cooking from its French, Roman and Moorish roots thorough many traditional recipes. Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Murcia, Aragon, the region of France known as Roussillon, and a single city, Alghero, on the island of Sardinia — Colman Andrews explores the Catalan culinary culture that links them all.

The Desserts of Jordi Roca: Over 80 Dessert Recipes Conceived in El Celler de Can Roca    Jordi Roca                                                                                                                                                            Peter Pauper Press, Inc.

Jordi Roca is the pastry chef of the award-winning restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Catalonia, and this cookbook is an attempt to bring his imagination into the home kitchen. His dessert recipes are truly amazing — and there are more than 80 in the book to try, with gorgeously tempting photos. Highly recommended!

Here is a short video (with English subtitles) that gives an introduction to what makes El Celler de Can Roca a unique experience. Joan Roca, the head chief is seen preparing Pálamos prawns and Jordi Roca prepares his version of  a roast apple dessert:

Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture                                                          Matt Goulding                                                                                                                                          Publisher: Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain

Grape, Olive, Pig is not a cookbook but a celebration of Spanish food traditions featuring great photographs. Matt Goulding fell in love with Spain, its people, and its food, and through his journeys shares insights that most tourists (and published tourist guides) miss, describing meals and sharing uniquely Spanish culinary history and vocabulary as he travels from Barcelona to Salamanca, Valencia, the Basque Country, Cádiz, Asturias, Galicia, Madrid, and Granada.  A unique book I never tire of re-reading.

Spanish Sound: the late 70s and 80s

Spanish popular music, not to be confused with Latino music, has yet to find an American audience — unless you count the success of Julio Iglesias. Or Charo. Discovering the music of Spain, with all its diversity, is a great pleasure. The death General Franco in 1975 was the turning point in the history of modern Spanish popular music. During the years of the dictatorship state censorship kept music safe and conformist. A tremendous amount of creative energy emerged from the music scene of late 70s and 80s that still inspires and pushes boundaries in Spain today.

Here are my 5 favorite songs and performers of the era:


Hijo de la Luna (“Child of the Moon”)

Mecano was a Spanish pop band formed in 1981 and active until 1992, with lead singer Ana Torroja and brothers Nacho and José María Cano. It is the most successful band Spain has produced to date, selling over 25 million albums worldwide.

Hijo de la Luna, a hauntingly beautiful song, appeared on their 1986 album, Entre el cielo y el suelo and was an enormous hit in the Spanish-speaking world. The lyrics tell a gypsy legend:  a Roma woman falls in love with a man of the Calé tribe, who prays to the Moon to marry them because a marriage between their tribes was forbidden. The Moon asks for the woman’s first-born as payment.  When the child is born, his parents are shocked to see that his skin is pale white and his eyes are grey — they both have dark eyes and dark skin. He is a child of the Moon. But the husband believes that the boy is not his and kills his wife, then takes the child and abandons him to die. But the baby is said to live happily ever after with the Moon as his mother — when the child cries, the Moon wanes to cradle and comfort him.

La Unión

Hombre Lobo en Paris (“A Wolf Man in Paris”)

La Unión formed as a band in 1982 with Rafa Sánchez  as vocalist, Mario Martínez playing guitar and Luis Bolín on bass. First released in 1984,  Hombre Lobo en Paris is one of the most popular Spanish songs of the 1980s and still popular today— in fact, it is playing on the radio as I write this! It was at the top of the Spanish charts for 9 consecutive weeks. La Unión were on the first wave of Spain’s indie music scene, which continues to grow today, and the band still tours in Spain.

The song is inspired by the story El lobo-hombre (original title in French: Le loup garou), written in 1947 by Boris Vian, an author known for his subtle wordplay and surrealistic plots. The full moon in Paris shines light upon the Wolf Man on the prowl in decadent and dangerous corners.


He Visto Color (“I see in Color”)

María Isabel Quiñones Gutiérrez, known under her stage name as Martirio (“Martyrdom”), born in Huelva, is a “New Flamenco” singer, emerging in the early 80s. Mixing traditional Flamenco as well as jazz and Latin rhythms with lyrics that reflect, often with humor, contemporary Spanish life, Martirio is an iconic figure. Her flamboyant peinetas (large decorative hair combs), costumes and sunglasses are her trademarks. Martirio still actively tours Spain, and I was fortunate to see her perform in Barcelona a few years ago — unforgettable.

He Visto Color is a celebration of liberating oneself from conformity — she does not care what people say or how they stare, she sees life in color, she is just going to be herself —sung to the music of a traditional sevillana folk dance.


El cementerio de mis sueños (“The Cemetery of my Dreams”)

Fangoria, a favorite on the summer concert circuit here, is an eclectic, eccentric, entertaining band. Lead singer Alaska (real name María Olvido Gara Jova) was one of the founding members of  La Movida Madrileña,  a cultural and artistic movement that emerged in Madrid following the end of the Franco dictatorship in the late 70s. She is a one-of-a-kind entertainment legend here.

El cementerio de Mis Sueños is one of my favorite Fangoria songs. It can be described as a Goth love song, as the longing expressed is to be eternally joined together in death, sharing the same coffin.

Miguel Bosé

Salamandra (“Salamander”)

The son of a famous bullfighter and an Italian movie star, Miguel Bosé has been on the Spanish musical vanguard for over 30 years — and still going strong.  Salamandra is one of the best (and most popular) songs of the 80s — and a superb example of his talent.  I have seen Miguel Bosé in concert many times — incomparable.

Bosé  was inspired to write the song Salamandra after reading Memoiren einer Sängerin (“Memoirs of a Songstress”), the most famous erotic novel in the German language, written by Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient ( 1804 –1860), a celebrated opera singer.

Quien la encantara?/Who will charm her?

Quien cederá?/Who will give in?

Entre la bella y la bestia/Between Beauty and the Beast

No hay superioridad/There is no superiority

Spain in Films

I always enjoy watching films as a way of understanding Spain and Spanish popular culture. Here is a list some of my favorites:

Blood and Sand (1941) Language: English

The film is based on the 1908 Spanish novel about bullfighting, Sangre y Arena by Valencia’s most famous writer, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. There are two earlier versions of Blood and Sand, a 1922 version starring Rudolph Valentino, and a 1916 version filmed by Blasco Ibáñez himself. The story follows the fate of  impetuous young Spaniard Juan Gallardo (played by Tyrone Power) who aspires to become a famous matador, following his dead father’s footsteps into the bullring.

Why I like it: A superbly entertaining Hollywood production depicting the world of Spanish bullfighting culture with accuracy.

Note: “Blood and Sand” is one of the few classic cocktails that includes Scotch. It was named for the 1922 version of the film that starred Rudolph Valentino. The red juice of the blood orange in the drink helped link it to the film. The recipe is first known to have appeared in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the recipe:

Main alcohol: Scotch whisky, Vermouth Ingredients: 3/4 oz Blood orange juice, 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth, 3/4 oz Cherry Heering, 3/4 oz Blended Scotch Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass, add another splash of orange juice then flame the zest over it.Served: Straight up; without ice Standard garnish: Maraschino cherry, Flamed orange zest Drinkware: Collins glass, Cocktail glass

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) Language: English

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is a British film, directed by Albert Lewin, based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman. The film stars Ava Gardner, James Mason, and bullfighter Mario Cabré. It was filmed mainly on the Costa Brava. A Dutchman, living in the 17th century, is not permitted to rest until he finds a woman who loves him enough to die for him. He meets and falls in love with the reincarnation of a woman from his past.

Why I like it:  It is an opulent mix of myth and Spanish culture, with gorgeous cinematography and well-crafted dialogue.

Note: Most of the movie was shot on location in Tossa de Mar, Catalonia, where a statue of Gardner has been erected on the hill overlooking the town’s main beach. Here is a photo I took of the statue:

¡Bienvenido Mister Marshall!/ “Welcome Mr. Marshall!” (1953) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Welcome Mr. Marshall! is a comedy film directed by Luis García Berlanga. It considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish cinema. After finding out that North Americans are visiting Spanish villages, the citizens of Villar del Río start preparing themselves to welcome them when they arrive, with the hope of making a profit.

Why I like it: A well-crafted classic comedy about the stereotypes held by both the Spanish and Americans regarding their cultures, with social criticism of 1950s Spain.

Muerte de un ciclista/ “Death of a Cyclist” (1955) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Death of a Cyclist is a Neorealist drama directed by Juan Antonio Bardem, starring Italian actress Lucia Bosè. While returning to Madrid after an illicit encounter, a wealthy socialite housewife and a university professor accidentally hit a bicyclist with their car.  Although they see that he is still alive after the accident, they decide not to send for help, as their affair would be revealed. They drive away and leave him to die. After the bicyclist’s death is reported in the newspaper, tension keeps rising out of fear they will be exposed.

Why I like it: The film takes the theme of selfishness and uses it as a metaphor of the Franco regime which ruled Spain at the time: the worst government is only concerned with its own interests, not those of the people.

Note: Director Juan Antonio Bardem is the uncle of actor Javier Bardem. Lucia Bosè is the mother of singer Miguel Bosé, who stars in another film on this list, Tacones Lejanos.

El Cid (1961) Language: English

El Cid is a epic historical drama about the life of the Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, called “El Cid” (from the Arabic as-sidi, meaning “The Lord”), who, in the 11th century, fought the North African Moors and contributed to the unification of Spain. The film stars Charlton Heston in the title role and was shot mostly on location in the beautiful city of Peñíscola, Spain.

 Why I like it: Based on the oldest preserved Spanish epic poem El Poema de mio Cid (“The Song of my Cid”), it is ambitious and very entertaining.  Arguably the best of the classic Hollywood historic epics.

El Espíritu de la Colmena/”The Spirit of the Beehive” (1973) Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Set in the 1940s, eight-year-old Ana lives in a small village with her mother Teresa, older sister Isabel and father Fernando, who is a beekeeper. After watching the film Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, Ana becomes convinced that the monster in living in one of the nearby, rundown houses. When an escaped convict seeks refuge in a house, Ana believes she has finally met the monster of her nightmares.

Why I like it: The Spirit of the Beehive is an engaging study of a child’s inner life having just experienced the traumatic violence Spanish Civil War.

El Amor Brujo/”Love, the Magician” (1986) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Directed by Carlos Saura, it is the third (and I think best) film in his Flamenco trilogy. El Amor Brujo is a ghostly love story, told as a Flamenco ballet. The ballet was composed in 1914-1915 by Manuel de Falla with a libretto by Gregorio Martínez Sierra.  At the center of the story is a young Andalusian gypsy girl, Candela, married to a man she does not love — he dies, but continues to haunt her.

Why I like it: The work is distinctively Andalusian in character with the songs in the Andalusian Spanish dialect of the Gypsies. Manuel de Falla’s beautiful  El Amor Brujo celebrates Andalusia in an unforgettable way.

¡Ay Carmela! (1990) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A comedy-drama directed by Carlos Saura. Carmela and Paulino are entertainers during the Spanish Civil War. They travel the country with their mute sidekick, Gustavete, performing for the Republican troops. They’re proud Republicans themselves, which puts them in danger when they are captured by Franco’s soldiers during their tour. But instead of death, they’re sentenced to perform for their enemy, pitting their loyalty against their survival.

Why I like it: The performance of Carmen Maura as Carmela is incredible. The film is unique in its ability to successfully treat the Spanish Civil War with some humor — to quote director Carlos Saura,”I would have been incapable a few years ago of treating our war with humor… but now it is different, for sufficient time has passed to adopt a broader perspective, and here there is no doubt that by employing humor it is possible to say things that it would be more difficult, if not impossible, to say in another way”. (Edwards, Gwynne, Indecent Exposures, PMarion Boyars, 1995.)

Note: The film takes its title from the song Ay Carmela, which begins and ends the film. Originally a song from the War of Independence against Napoleon, it was adapted and became the favourite song of the Republican soldiers and of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Tacones Lejanos /”High Heels” Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Quirky Spanish melodrama written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar and starring Marisa Paredes, Victoria Abril and Miguel Bosé. The film is a murder mystery that follows the broken relationship between a narcissistic mother, Becky, who is a famous singer and the grown daughter she abandoned as a child. Spanish singer Miguel Bosé plays Letal, a female impersonator whose drag act is based on Becky — and he is also the investigating magistrate in the murder case. It’s Almodóvar, it’s complicated — and more than a little convoluted.

Why I like it: I agree with what critic Roger Ebert wrote “Pedro Almodóvar’s films are an acquired taste, and with High Heels I am at last beginning to acquire it”.  A good introduction to the work of Almodóvar, an icon of contemporary Spanish cinema.

Libertarias/”Freedom Fighters” (1996) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

An epic drama, directed by Vicente Aranda, with an ensemble cast that depicts the role played by anarchist women during the Spanish Civil War. It is set in Barcelona at the outbreak of the war. A young nun, Maria, is forced to flee her convent. She takes refuge in a brothel, soon liberated by a woman’s anarchist group. Maria joins the group and eventually goes to fight at the front. She is exposed to the realities of war and revolution, and comes to question her former, sheltered life. In the end, her idealistic dreams are brutally crushed.

Why I like it: It offers a rare cinematic glimpse into the role of women soldiers in the Spanish Civil war. Highly recommended for anyone interested in modern Spanish history and/or the Civil War.

El espinazo del diablo /”The Devil’s Backbone” (2001) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A ghost story and murder mystery directed by Guillermo del Toro. The film is set in 1939, during the final days of the Spanish Civil War.  A twelve-year-old boy, after his Republican father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of terrible secrets.

Why I like it: The Devil’s Backbone is frightening and emotionally complex— a powerful, unique film.

El Laberinto del Fauno/Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A dark fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro that takes place in 1944, during the early years of Franco’s dictatorship. The horrors of the real world and fantasy are perfectly mixed in this story of the strange journeys of an imaginative young girl who may be the mythical princess of an underground kingdom.

Why I like it: In my opinion, a cinema masterpiece. Artistically  and technically ambitious, Del Toro creates a world in which fantasy collides with the horrors of war – and the result is an astonishingly beautiful film.


El Orfanato/ “The Orphanage” (2007) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

El Orfanato centers on Laura, who returns to her childhood home, an orphanage.  She plans to turn the orphanage into a home for disabled children. One day, her adopted son Simón disappears. Simón is critically ill, and as the months go by with no trace of him,  he is presumed dead. Laura believes she hears spirits, who may or may not be trying to help her find Simón.

Why I like it: Full of atmosphere with no cheap thrills, this is a brooding, intense film. The performances are outstanding and I especially enjoyed Geraldine Chaplin in the role of Aurora, the medium.

Garbo: The Spy (2009) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

An engrossing documentary that reconstructs the career of “Garbo”, Juan Pujol García, a Spanish citizen who formed the centerpiece of Allied deception and counter-information to have the Nazis believe that D-Day landing would occur in Pas-de-Calais and not in Normandy.

Why I like it: Few true stories of World War II are more fascinating than that of Garbo the spy.

Ocho apellidos vascos/”Spanish Affair” (2014) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A blockbuster Spanish comedy film directed by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro. Rafael has never left Andalucia, dislikes the Basque country, imagining Basques to be cold and unpatriotic. His opinions are challenged, however, when he falls in love with a Basque woman, Amaia, and follows her to her native region. The story plays on stereotypes to produce a very funny film.

Why I like it: This home-grown comedy gives some keen insight into the diversity of Spain and its people — with their own prejudices — that many non-Spaniards are not aware of.

Note: It is the highest-grossing Spanish film ever produced to date.

La Vila Joiosa: the joyful town

La Vila Blog

… typical old town street of La Vila Joiosa

La Vila Joiosa is a coastal town within easy reach of Alicante via an excellent tram service. It may not be the best known tourist destination on the Mediterranean coast, but for me it is one of the best places to relax. La Vila Joiosa literally means “The Joyful Town”, although the inhabitants often abbreviate it to La Vila.

La playa Blog

…the central beach of La Vila

It has over 2 miles of beach with a promenade and some of the best year-round weather in all of Spain.

House on the Square Blog

… blue house, old town square …

The iconic multi-colored houses of the old town provide a unique backdrop to the beach. It still retains the typical plan of a 14th century coastal settlement, with long streets descending to the sea.

Quiet Street Blog

… colors of the old town …

Local tradition explains that the houses were painted in bright colors so that sailors could spot them from their ships.

Carrer Soletat BlogLaV

… morning laundry, Carrer (street) Soletat

Nuestra Señora de la Asunción Blog

… the Gothic church of Nuestra Señora de Asunción (bell tower)

Jardin Blog

… street garden …

Since the 19th century La Vila Joiosa has been famous as a center for the production of chocolate. The town has three chocolate factories, all of which can be visited. The Valor Chocolate factory is perhaps the most famous, but there is also the Perez Chocolate factory and the Clavileno Chocolate factory.



All photos © La Gringa Ibérica