Back from Gredos -- Thanks everyone

Jan 1st, 2009, 12:19 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 1,181
Back from Gredos -- Thanks everyone

I got many wonderful pieces of advice from people here, and want to send a huge gracias to you all.

The weather gods smiled on us. After weeks and weeks of rain and grey, the day we went to the Madrid airport to pick up our kids, it all changed and we had spectacular sunny weather -- until two days ago, when we arrived in Lisbon and the grey and rain started up again.

We rented a house through Toprural, and I cannot recommend it more highly. We were in Navalonguilla, a small town near the end of the road into the mountains, about 12 km south of Barco de Avila. The town's population has shrunk to about 225 (only three children), and it now has 12 casas rurales. We stayed in the house named La Plazuela, it was 780 euro for 8 nights. It was perfect for us, a completely renovated 17th or 18th century stone house, three floors -- modern kitchen (washing machine and dishwasher and good quality pots and pans), half bath, and living/dining (with fireplace, two couches, and big sturdy dining table. The first floor had two bedrooms and a bathroom, and the second floor had a very large bedroom with full bath. It took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes from the Madrid airport (at night and unfamiliar with the roads) and for the five of us (my husband and I, daughter and her husband, and son), it was just perfect.

There is no commerce in Navalonguilla, just one extremely smoky bar, but trucks come through daily and the woman who takes care of the house will always buy food for you, if you're going to be out. We preferred to buy our own in Barco de Avila or other places we visited.

We divided our time between hiking and doing the day trips Maribel had recommended. We did venture over to the eastern Gredos for one hike (near the parador and Hoyos del Espino), and if you're a serious hiker, I think you'll prefer the western side where we were. We were in a fairly relaxed mode, so we didn't do any 30 km days, but just walking out our door or driving four or five km put us on beautiful trails. Snow covered mountains, tons of ibex hopping around, lagunas, rushing rivers, lots of amazing rock formations.

We were located about 100 km from both Salamanca and Avila and spent one full day in each. Great lunch in el Pecado in Salamanca (thanks Maribel, the flan de queso for dessert was outstanding) and excellent traditional food in Meson del Rastro in Avila. We also took a day to visit Candelario/Bejar/Hervas (with lunch at la Bejarana, very good).

We sort of fell into a nice routine of staying out all day, either eating lunch on the hike or a big meal in town if we were travelling. On our way back home we'd stop in Barco de Avila (there's an excellent vinoteca there, and a couple of good small stores with great produce), buy food for dinner and have something simple sitting around the fire. It was relaxing and comfy.

We spent Christmas with a very nice 13 km hike near the Plataforma de Gredos (and were surprised to see so many people after days of solitary hiking on the western side), followed by a fabulous, absolutely fabulous meal at El Milano Real, another Maribel recommendation. I am not much of a meat eater, but two in our group got Solomillo de ternera and it was probably the best two bites of meat I've ever had. We had a Ribera del Duero for dinner that was also memorable -- Tamaral was the brand, anyone ever see it in the US?

We had a few extra days after our house rental, so we spent one night in the parador in Plasencia (beautiful and a very good meal in the dining room of the parador), and were able to visit Yuste. The second night was in Zafra, not really much of a destination, but it was convenient for us because one person in our group continued on to Sevilla while we headed back to Lisbon. The parador menu and dining room didn't look too inspiring, so we ate at the hotel right next door. It was a lovely dining room, lots of wood and Christmas decorations, and the food was a little untraditional and good.

This was a great time to visit the Gredos. I imagine a lot of the hikes we did would be quite hot in summertime, but we were never too far from a crystal clear river stream with some amazing swimming holes that must be fun in summer.

The whole area is pretty sparsely populated. We learned that the population has been dropping very rapidly, and the EU is widely viewed, wrongly or rightly, as the culprit. The mainstays were either livestock or beans/potatoes, and the advent of the EU bureaucracy, they told us, meant that the family that used to have six cows, a few chickens, and a pig or two, found itself subject to all kinds of health regulations involving separation of humans and animals, vaccinations, registrations, etc, that no longer made the small scale farm do-able. I don't know any of the real details here, but it did occur to me that, if it's true, there's a certain irony to a policy that, on the one hand, makes it impossible for people to make a living in their small towns, and then on the other hand, gives them money to subsidize rural tourism with the hope that they'll be able to reinvigorate the towns they've just killed off.

Anyway, the Gredos is a terrific place to spend a week or so, and our little town of Navalonguilla was quite special.

Thanks again to everyone who gave such good suggestions and advice. You guys are terrific! Happy New Year, Laurie
lreynold1 is offline  
Jan 1st, 2009, 05:25 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,513
Thanks for reporting back. That area was a real suprise to me as well.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jan 1st, 2009, 06:02 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,940
Laurie: I also thank you for this report on a lovely area that we do not often read of here. I've been wanting to try a TopRural rental..

Here is the link for the house, in case anyone is interested; it looks great!


http://www.toprural.com/casa-rural-a...s-05-11217.htm

ekscrunchy is offline  
Jan 1st, 2009, 06:03 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,940
Direct link here:


http://www.casalaplazuela.com/index.php
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jan 1st, 2009, 10:10 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Hi laurie,
What a wonderful and insightful report! It certainly makes me put Christmas in and around Gredos as a high priority for us someday...sigh...I'm delighted to know that the sun god smiled upon you while you were there. Since you were prepared to embrace the cold and the rain, the sunny weather was an added bonus!

The house looks lovely and very reasonably priced for such ample space and so many amenities.
Top Rural has really served us well, and I know that we can find something just right for the two of us in the Gredos area, since there are so many properties there. Spectacular scenery, a leisurely pace and small town life (with a market town nearby) is exactly what we like for a winter vacation.

Glad to know that you were able to make so many nice excursions and beautiful walks, to dine well and spend the night in the stunning Plasencia parador.
The Tamaral winery is located in Peñafiel (Valladolid province), and I've put it on my list of RdelD wineries to visit now. Thanks!
www.tamaral.com

On our Gredos/Extremadura trip we too made it down as far as Zafra, and I completely agree about the restaurant/hotel next door to the Parador, the Barbacana in the Hotel Huerta Honda, It's a very pretty place.
www.hotelhuertahonda.com

Thanks again for your great report, and I wish you many more wonderful Iberian explorations in '09.
Are you living for the year in Lisbon?
Maribel is online now  
Jan 2nd, 2009, 01:15 AM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 1,181
Thanks for posting that link to the house, ekscrunchy. The pictures really represent the house accurately, there were no hidden surprises. The owner is a 40-ish woman who grew up in town (and whose parents still live in town). She lives in Guadalajara (about 50 km out of Madrid on the highway to Barcelona), and she and her husband drove up just for one night to meet us and to take us to several trailheads in the area(not all obvious) and give us clear walking instructions. I thought that was an extremely nice thing to do. There is also a local woman, Josefina, who is the one who takes care of the day to day things. She is energetic, enthusiastic and very helpful.

Maribel, I remember you suggested El Remanso de Gredos as a possible place to eat -- we checked it out. It's a rural hotel, recently built I think but done in stone and done to a very high standard. http://www.elremansodegredos.com/datab/inicioeg.htm We inquired about eating there, but the owner told us her license doesn't allow her to serve meals to people who don't stay in the hotel. It is on the edge of the "core" of town, with terrific views. I also saw another hotel in town that was closed but looked very interesting, el Macho Montes. http://www.elmachomontes.com/index.asp This one was located right across from the church and looked like a small complex made up of old buildings that had also been redone very nicely. But since it was closed, I didn't get much of a look.

So, based on the fact that there are two hotels and 12 casas rurales, I'd say Navalonguilla gets pretty lively in the summer. The river is about a 2 km walk/drive away, with unbelievable crystal clear water, and a few swimming holes with rock slides that look just perfect. That's where the town's "beach" is, and the owner told me it's very popular in the warm weather.

I have some pictures on Picasa, but there are hundreds and many family shots that would not be of interest, but when I have more time I will select a few to post. That is, if I can figure it out without my children here to help me.

Maribel, yes I'm spending this year in Lisbon. That's how I was able to do so much walking in the fall -- I posted reports on the Camino Ingles (Coruna to Santiago), Camino del Salvador (Leon to Oviedo), and Camino Primitivo (Oviedo to Santiago), I don't know if you saw them, because I think I posted them while you were in Navarra. In the spring, I hope to walk the Via de la Plata, Sevilla to Santiago, and this time I will finally make it to the Restaurante Ana that you recommended -- on my Santiago arrivals in the fall, there was always some reason I couldn't make it!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year! Laurie
lreynold1 is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2009, 12:04 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Hi laurie,
Lucky you to be able to spend the year in Lisboa, one of my favorite cities-we're long overdue for a repeat visit there!

I did read and enjoy very much your postings on your Camino walks. We've had to postpone our spring Galicia trip until late Oct. It would have been nice to meet you in Santiago, and cruiseluv as well, who's also headed there in March. In the spring business calls us back to Navarra, but unfortunately we'll be driving the Camino rather than walking it, for the most part.

Last night I was re-reading Off the Road- the hilarious chapter on THE don Ramón of Casa Santa Bárbara in Torres del Río. When we were there in November to visit the beautiful Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro, we saw the house (I think) but didn't run into the crazy don Ramón. Have you experienced him? Does he still exist?

Thanks for checking the Remanso de Gredos. I had the feeling that their dining room was only licensed for their hotel guests. It will remain on our list for a future stay, But then, what wonderful views from the balconies of the Macho Montés. A difficult choice. Either would be lovely if we decided to do a long weekend rather than a full week.

Again, enjoy your Iberian adventures and Ħbuen camino!
Maribel is online now  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 01:43 AM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 1,181
Hi, Maribel,

Too bad you won't be in Santiago this spring. I hope to leave from Seville the week after Easter, and arrive in Santiago in late May, roughly around the 26th, in case any Fodorites will be there then.

You say you are going to Navarra in the spring -- have you ever been in Pamplona for their tapas contest? I think it's usually in late spring.

In case you're going to be in Pamplona, I'm sure you have a lot of favorite restaurants, but every time I walk through, I make a point of eating at Bar Restaurante Basseri on the pedestrian street San Nicolas, right off the Plaza Mayor. I know it's not hard to find a great meal in Pamplona, but I've never gone wrong there. The tapas in the bar out front are excellent, and I confess that I have eaten a big meal in the restaurant in the back in the afternoon and then gone back for tapas at night.

Well, thanks again for all your help, and you're right I'm very lucky to be in Lisbon. Except for the fact that it is STILL raining. Apparently this is the wettest fall/winter on record for many years. The last time I spent time here (2004-05), there was a drought and we had maybe two days of rain the whole year, so now it must be payback time!
lreynold1 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 09:53 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Hi Ireynold1,
I think our tastes in food may well be similar, as I just love the Bar Baserri! They are yearly winners in the spring pintxos competition (yes, we've been in Pamplona for the event). I do love the pintxos there, along with the truly phenomenal Bar Gaucho on Espoz y Mina, off the Plaza del Castillo on the way to the Plaza de Toros. So try the Bar Gaucho as well if you haven't already (although a bit of a detour from the Camino through Pamplona).

Another we like, especially for its mouth-watering foie is Bar Iru, also on San Nicolás, across the street from Baserri. They do a very nice, good value, menú del día during the week at the tables next to the bar-no formal dining room.

I envy your year in Lisbon so much, even with the incessant rain! I'm sure the continuous Lisbon drizzle made your sunny days in Gredos seem even more glorious!

In preparation for our late October Galicia trip, I've been reading quite a bit about Galician Camino sites lately, particularly on the eastern side, where I haven't spent much time, and I want to thank YOU for your recommendation of
www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com on another thread.
It's really quite informative, and I'm enjoying both the forum and the archive of blogs.

If you ever decide to do the Camino baztanés from Urdax, (which I don't believe is "official"), just yell!

Someday I may be ready to take baby steps with a trial run on the Camino Inglés. We'll being staying in the Pontedeume-Betanzos area for several nights on our Oct. trip. The area is really lovely, and I did enjoy very much your trip report which made this 7 night walk so tempting. I've saved it to take along with us.
So many thanks to you.
Maribel is online now  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 11:39 AM
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 1,181
Camino Batzanes! Maribel, you never cease to amaze me. Here I thought I knew my Caminos, but I had never heard of this one. I found some info on the Navarran tourism website and it sounds absolutely gorgeous! http://www.turismo.navarra.es/esp/pr...o+baztanes.htm

And I wouldn't be at all surprised if in a matter of a few years, there were peregrinos running all over the route. The Camino Frances is really getting saturated, and these alternatives are going to be more and more popular.

Thanks for this information, Maribel. And I hope you enjoy the camino ingles if you take those "baby steps." But beware, because the Camino is addictive! Laurie
lreynold1 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 12:24 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Laurie,
I've just been enchanted by your photos of the Camino del Norte that you posted on
www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com

They're simply exquisite, and they bring back such wonderful memories for me of that route, which has to be one of the most beautiful in Spain.
Maribel is online now  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 02:03 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Hi laurie,
Forgot to mention that the Navarran tourist board is really trying to recoup this ancient branch and promote it. It's a beautiful alternative to the Roncesvalles route down to Pamplona. You can start from Bayonne (a lovely, authentic, genuine French Basque city-maybe you know it) or begin from Urdax, in the comarca de Zareta, where one can walk the cave triangle, from the caves in Urdax to the witches' caves in Zugarramurdi to those in Sare, on the French side in the unrelentingly scenic, pastoral Pays Basque (as you know from St. Jean Pied de Port!)

We spent part of our honeymoon in the Baztán at the Señorío de Ursúa (a gift from our padrinos) in Arizkun and fell in love with the pristine beauty of the valley.
http://tinyurl.com/8m87kf

Amaiur is an exceptionally pretty village, as well as Iruita, and at the end of the valley walkers are rewarded with the gorgeous Parque Natural Señorío de Bértiz, for more stunning scenery amidst the walking trails. The most magnificent time to visit, foliage wise, is mid October. It will take your breath away.

The association Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Urdax-Baztán was created a few years ago. So far 200 pilgrims walked this alternate route this past summer.
Right now there are only 3 functioning albergues (plus one youth albergue), but since the Roncesvalles route is becoming so saturated, as you say, they'll surely be opening more.

But inexpensive casas rurales abound, especially in the hamlet of Amaiur. You can even spend the night in a working mill that makes yummy talos. And they're making a former guardia civil cuartel into a 4 star hotel for the luxury pilgrims!

I'll pick up more info when we return this March.


Maribel is online now  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 02:14 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Oops, make the comarca de Xareta, where the caves are located.
www.xareta.es

Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2009, 12:37 AM
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 1,181
Maribel, do you know if this route is waymarked, either with yellow arrows or with the mojones with the conch shell?

It looks to me that it's about a 100 km walk to Pamplona, so if those albergues are well placed, it could be done in 3 days, though four 25 km days would be even better!

I haven't been able to find any sketches of the route, with suggested etapas, but I suppose this will all come in time. Thanks for that information, Maribel. I'll have to post something about it on the Santiago board, because I don't remember that it's ever been mentioned, and there are always people interested in trying out new alternatives to the Camino Frances. Laurie
lreynold1 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2009, 09:31 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Hi Laurie,
I do have a bit more info for you. First, I did see yellow arrows on the part of the route that we traversed in Nov. in the villages, since we did the route by car.

Here are the six stages, if one starts from Bayona in France (but one can also start at the border in Urdax with only 4 stages)-

1: Bayona-Ustaritz (lovely town)
2: Ustariz-Urdax
3: Urdax-Amaiur
4: Amaiur-Berroeta
5: Berroeta-Olague
6. Olague-Pamplona

The advantages of the camino baztanés:

20 fewer kilometers to Pamplona, a more benign climate, more green (the Baztán is 50 shades of green!) and easier, fewer climbs!

It's also called the "Camino Verde" for its lush-ness.

They put the first albergue in the back cloister of the Monastery of San Salvador de Urdax.
The second is in the former Herriko Etxea of Amaiur,
the 3rd, a youth albergue is found in the Colegio de Lekaroz
the 4th is in Berroeta, in a former school.

They're working on a 5th albergue to be located either in Lanz (the town famed for its carnaval) or Olague.

But this is not the only other ramal del Camino in Navarra. There are at least two more, one that connects the camino aragonés with the camino francés and runs through La Valdorba, where we recently spent a week.
This very pretty and rather unknown area, la Valdorba, has some amazing Romanesque churches.
Our host was the mayor of one of the tiny towns, all ending in -ain, and a Romanesque specialist.
He took us to these churches and helped us learn to "read" the corbels, some quite "risqué" (as you know!)

The owner of the AH apartments (which are quite nice, new) in Pamplona has put up an explanation (in Spanish) of these other routes, the "rutas menores", which is quite informative. Here's the link:

http://tinyurl.com/8fwj6x

Hope this helps.
Again I'll make a note to look for the yellow arrows when we are back there in mid-March.
Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2009, 11:09 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Hi laurie,
Once again I forgot to mention an important detail:

A fifty page topographical guide has been published about the camino baztanés. It's on sale for a nominal fee in the valley bookstores-we saw a few bookshops in Elizondo. If you email the area's tourist office in the Parque del Bértiz (which is just great and even has a Q for quality), they can probably send it to you in Lisbon.

[email protected]
phone: 948 59 23 86

If not, I'll try to pick one up for you when we're touring there in March.
Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2009, 11:15 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
Another article, "Vuelve la ruta baztanesa"

http://tinyurl.com/7pof36
Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2009, 12:19 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
laurie,
So sorry that info from me comes out in such bits and spurts but I just found this that explains, in Spanish, each stage in more detail:

http://tinyurl.com/75q7t6

Most peregrinos that have done this secondary route must start in Bayona (which is such a lovely place to start anyway with a beautiful cathedral), since there's no bus service from Pamplona all the way up to Urdax (Urdazubi in euskera), just only as far as Elizondo, the capital of the Baztán valley.

The second stage in the Pays Basque from Ustariz through Ainhoa to the border just reeks of pastoral beauty.
Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2009, 12:20 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 1,181
Wow, this is great information, Maribel. I will write and ask for the guide.

I hope that the next time I walk the Camino Frances, I will be able to start in Bayonne and walk the Camino Verde to Trinidad del Arre. It must be incredibly beautiful. So many Caminos and so little time!

Laurie
lreynold1 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2009, 01:42 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,475
laurie,
Here's a 7 page guide in French:

http://tinyurl.com/a3y9ts
Maribel is online now  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 08:06 PM.