How about exploring some of Spain’s National Parks? 

Mountains and wetlands, beaches and forests, volcanoes, lava landscapes and lakes. Spain's 14 National Parks are distinctive for their variety, but above all, for their stunning ecological wealth. Nature takes centre stage in these unique areas, some of which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Stretching from the Pyrenees to the Canary Islands, Spain's National Parks are well worth discovering. They cover a total of more than 325,000 hectares of land of immense natural and cultural value with special state protection. Each National Park has its own special character which makes it unique and distinctive

In the Picos de Europa mountains, a last refuge for endangered species such as the brown bear and the capercaillie, you can explore trails that will take you across the dramatic Rio Cares gorge, or you can take one of the many routes to waterfalls, rivers and canyons in the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park which, with close to 200 lakes and ponds, is the largest area of lakes in the Pyrenees. In this mountain range you'll also find the UNESCO World Heritage Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, crowned by the peak of Monte Perdido, at 3,355 metres above sea level. Explore its tracks and trails and enjoy some breathtaking scenery in a real paradise for nature lovers. The Sierra de Guadarrama National Park is the fifth largest in Spain's National Parks system. This mountain range in the centre of the Iberian peninsula contains some ecologically valuable areas and is home to 18% оf European fauna including, among others, deer, wild boar, wolf, wild cats, many species оf waterfowl аnd the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Further south, in Andalusía, just a few kilonetres from the city of Granada is the unmistakable silhouette of the Sierra Nevada mountains, with the highest peaks on the Iberian peninsula, Mulhacén (3,482 metres) and Veleta (3,398 metres). If you like skiing, then you're in luck, as these mountains are home to the Sierra Nevada ski resort, the southernmost of its kind in Europe.

Spain has over 400 protected bird areas. Major colonies of sea birds make their nests in the Islas Atlánticas National Park and in the Cabrera Archipelago, the largest land and sea-based National Park in Spain. This biodiversity is particularly important in the Doñana park, which is also a World Heritage site, being the ideal habitat for numerous migratory birds and endangered species such as the Iberian lynx. Come and visit the Tablas de Daimiel or the Cabañeros National Parks, both of which are in the Castile-La Mancha region, and explore their wetlands and forests, criss-crossed by numerous trails that are easy for walking and where you can see a host of birdlife species. Or visit the Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura, home to the world's largest colony or black vultures.

Some of the most dramatic and contrasting landscapes are to be found in the National Parks of the Canary Islands. Head back into prehistory in the laurisilva forests of Garajonay. The volcanoes, craters and solidified lava in Timanfaya will make you think you have touched down on the moon. Enjoy the most rugged, untamed countryside at the Caldera de Taburiente National Park, with its almost sheer canyons and cliffs that soar to altitudes of over 2,000 metres. In Tenerife, Spain's highest peak, the Teide, is an imposing volcano that towers 3,718 metres above sea level, and one of the world's most spectacular geological monuments.

Whichever park you choose to visit you will be sure to find it is well worth discovering. You'll find a wide range of activities to suit all tastes and ages and …don't forget your camera!
 


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Four Fascinating cities of the Murcia Region

Murcia has a lot more to offer than sun, sea, sand and golf – Here is a brief look at four of Murcia’s Cities

 

Murcia
Unbeknown to many, the capital city of Murcia is a wonderful place, which enjoys a rich mixture of ancient and modern cultures. It is a city which boasts flamboyantly modern buildings which sit comfortably alongside such outstanding historic monuments as the Teatro Romea, the Cathedral and the Bishop’s palace. The Moorish and Jewish quarters in the old town are well worth a visit. Murcia city has a certain buzz about it with a busy cultural agenda as well as some of the finest restaurants in the country. The Murcia region is known as the vegetable garden of Spain and its abundance of fresh produce takes pride of place in many of the delicious local dishes on offer such as zarangollo (a sort of rough scrambled egg with spring onions and courgette), paparajotes (crispy battered lemon leaves) or a simple Bonito (salt cured) con Tomate dish (Bonito is a blue fish not unlike skipjack tuna).
 
Cartagena
This city is one of the most seductive of the Mediterranean and has long been a central link between Africa and Europe. The Teatro Romano built between 5 and 1BC and discovered in 1988 is the greatest symbol of Cartagena along with its spectacular museum. And if your interest is museums, why not drop in at the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology and have a look at the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes frigate. One of the main festivals of the city is the weeklong Carthaginians and Romans Fiesta which takes place in September. For typical cuisine of Cartagena, try the ‘Michirones’ bean with ham and chorizo stew or a ‘Caldero’, which is a traditional soupy rice dish made with local fish.

Lorca
Lorca is also known as the “City of the Sun” and is home to the greatest concentration of Medieval Renaissance and Baroque monuments in the Murcia region. Its fortress is the most prominent of these. Today the fortress houses the new Parador. This hotel has been carefully developed within the ancient Jewish Quarter where one can find the only ancient synagogue in Spain never to be used by other religions. Some of the least spoilt beaches and coves are to be found on the coast near Lorca. If you wish to sample some of the local cuisine, try some ‘picardías’ (an almond based dessert) or the ‘tortada’ almond cake.

Caravaca de la Cruz





 
The city of Caravaca de la Cruz is probably not one that springs to mind when one thinks of visiting Spain. It is, however, one of the five holy cities of the world, formerly held by the Knight Templar and pilgrims visit from all over the world. The narrow winding streets of the old town are towered over by the Basilica where within the Cross of Caravaca are fragments of the Cross on which Christ died. Nearby Fuentes del Marqués is one of the most spectacular natural parks in Murcia and the beautiful Cazorla park is not too far from here. Winters can be cold in Caravaca de la Cruz so one of their traditional ‘potages’ (stews) or a ‘tartera’ (a dish of roast lamb and potato with alioli sauce can be most welcome.
 
 
 


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An Upturn In Confidence - International Investors are positive about Spanish Real Estate 

International investors believe the Spanish property market is ripe for the picking. Since this summer, some of the largest US and European investment funds have taken up positions in the residential market and names such as Blackstone, Cerberus, H.I.G. Capital, Lone Star, TPG and Centerbridge will become familiar to buyers over the coming years.
According to Neil Livingstone – partners of Colliers International, opportunist investors are putting pressure on the Spanish market due to attempts to place considerable liquidity in Europe – to the tune of some 700,000 million Euros.

According to some analysts, the objective is the wholesale purchase of homes to be sold on individually or in small lots at a profit of up to 30% and the Madrid town hall has already opened its residential market doors to Goldman Sachs and Blackstone.

The number of investment funds looking for opportunities in Spain is increasing daily and of the ten or so interested in the residential sector, three of four are expected to become the new major property developers in Spain when construction is resumed, says the manager of one of the funds which is close to investing in the Spanish market.
First steps are cautious and in general rather than buying the properties held by the banks, they are buying their sales and marketing platforms and staff, seen as the prelude to a wave of purchases, which could total some 30,000 homes within a matter of months.
Traditionally investment funds have only been interested in investing in offices, commercial buildings and industrial units, with the bolder funds investing in hotels, private clinics and retirement homes or student accommodation.

As soon as thousands of homes fell into the hands of the banks, things changed and investment funds could see an opportunity to buy up hundreds of properties. According to some experts, we will see investment funds buying up lots of 1,500 to 2,000 homes at a time.

Over the coming months, investors will start buying up selections of homes from the banks. To maximise on their returns, they are studying a range of options including selling on homes to the more stable institutional investors – local or sovereign investors – for refurbishment or destined to the rental market. One senior economist says we should be in no doubt that the rental market will double in size to between 25 and 30% of the real estate market.

Following six months of calm and negotiations, in August Goldman Sachs bought 3.000 homes and Blackstone bought 1,860 leased homes (in 18 developments). Most sales at the moment are concentrated around Madrid but it is a matter before investment of this type is seen in other parts of the country. One fund manager said everyone was waiting to see who was going to take the first step and several others have since followed suit.


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Sevilla in The Spring - The Feria is one of The Highlights of the Season

Spain may still be straining under the effects of the recession but contrary to common belief, itspeople are not all siestas and laziness but rather a nation that knows how to work hard and how to play hard.

After the deeply religious week-long Easter processions, some of which start in the middle of the night or go on until the early hours of the morning depending on the start time and the route they take, Sevilla turns its sights to the party atmosphere of the 'feria’.

Ferias are celebrated in towns throughout the whole of Spain and coincide with the anniversary of the patron saint of the town or city in which they take place. All 'ferias’ come with a promise of much music, colour and merriment and the 'feria de Sevilla’ is the most emblematic of them all, drawing visitors from all over Spain and abroad.

Horses and carriages also feature with driving and dressage competitions for the more enthusiastic or just as a mode of transport , riders dressing in their 'trajes de paseo’ and ladies riding  side saddle with their traditional flamenco dresses spilling over the horses rumps.


During 'feria’ week it’s business as usual in the mornings other than on the day of the key saint’s anniversary and come lunch time, whole families dress up in their Sunday best or traditional Spanish costume to congregate in the streets which are festooned with bunting and lined with bars and dance floors ('tablaos’) and the partying begins.

For the aficionado, feria week goes to the very core of Spanish tradition being synonymous with some of the top bullfights of the season.  The atmosphere can be electrifying, but for those who would rather stay away, 'La Maestranza’ bullring is a magnificent building probably best visited at other times.

In the evening festivities move to the huge temporary fair grounds set up specifically for the feria, where adults enjoy the food and sherry or 'manzanilla’ at the numerous stalls and marquees and children have a go on the bumper cars, merry-go-rounds  or some of the more hair raising daredevil rides.

The locals leave their troubles behind for a few hours when they spill out onto the streets and it’s difficult not to become caught up in the party spirit if you care to join them for a taste of the 'Feria’


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Time to think outside the box

While banks are not giving much of a return on investment and with property prices showing a marked drop, maybe it is time to turn one’s thoughts to property which, instead of being close to the sea or several golf courses, is within easy striking distance of one or more of the many Spanish universities.

Buying property suitable for student accommodation, within a university city, has long been a good investment. Add to this concept the substantial reduction in property prices in Spain over the past five years and if you hunt around, you could well find some really suitable candidates.

Student registrations are rising each year and although many foreign investors consistently turn to the tourist orientated areas, there is much to be said for property in university cities where there has not been much of an increase in the supply of student accommodation over the last three years, yet the number of students has risen by almost 20% over the same period.

There are some 75 universities in Spain, more than half of which are public and the others are run either privately or by the church. Most universities are concentrated in Madrid, with Barcelona and Valencia following closely behind. Other wonderful university cities to name but a few are Bilbao, Salamanca, Granada and Sevilla.

According to research, student properties in the main Spanish university cities have, over the past few years, typically shown 100% occupancy and during the weeks when universities are out, you can take advantage of your investment and soak up the wealth of history and culture which is right on your doorstep.

Now is a good time to think outside the box and consider investing in one of Spain’s many university cities.



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Fancy staying in a castle or a palace? Try one of the Famous Paradors - Steeped in History

There is so much more to Spain than the ‘costas’ and if you have two or three days to spare, why not head off and stay in one of the many lovely B&B’s or if you really want to soak up some history while you sleep, maybe spend a night in an old castle or monastery.

Paradores de Turismo de España is a chain of Spanish luxury hotels. It was founded by Alfonso XIII of Spain as a means to promote tourism in Spain, with the first establishment opening in Gredos, Ávila, in 1928. A profitable state-run enterprise, the hotels are often in castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries and other magnificent historic buildings.

They stretch from Galicia in the north-west through Catalonia to Andalusia in the south of Spain, the Canary Islands and to the Spanish cities in North Africa. Prices usually vary according to room, region, and season.

Originally the idea was to build a series of hotels in places which would attract tourism, to some of the most beautiful parts of the country, or to towns which were rich in culture, art and history. The idea was also to refurbish and so make the best of some of the many abandoned artistic and historic monuments.

After 1928, a number of roadside hostels were also built, which were all very similar and which would later be incorporated into the network of Paradores. Almost all of these later establishments have now disappeared and those remaining have been done up completely, such as the ones in Manzanares, Medinaceli, Aranda del Duero and Antequera.

The biggest expansion took place in the ‘60s, coinciding with the boost in tourism the country was going through at the time and with the Spanish transition came a change in management of the Paradores and above all in their dependence on the state. Expansion has since continued to reach the current total of just under a hundred.

Parador de Santiago

At some 500 years old, this is believed to be the oldest hotel in the world.

Parador de Granada

Here as well as taking in the history of the Parador you can also go for a walk around the Alhambra (best to book as entrance is in limited groups)

 



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