Saturday was the big drive day traversing Spain to the north of Madrid. I didn’t get to prepare brilliantly for it. I’d had a very good dinner on Friday in the parador, carrot (lovely word in Spanish zahanoria) and orange soup followed by oxtail in crispy filo parcels with grilled aubergine, courgettes and peppers. Having only eaten a breakfast croissant and some crisps with a beer all day I was peckish and this went down very nicely with a glass or two of Ramon Bilbao rioja. I went and illustrated the blog, posted it and began to feel a bit nauseous. Not common for me at all. It settled and I went to bed but couldn’t sleep for ages and just as I was drifting off a mosquito whined by. Lights on, magazine at the ready but I couldn’t spot it. Brain clicks on in my doziness – I packed jungle formula for down south but why not here too? So I spray myself liberally and pull a sheet over my head. Eventually I hear no more mozzie and drift off for what can only have been an hour before the people two rooms along from me decide it’s time to check out – who checks out at 4 am unless you’re in an airport hotel? They have noisy children, lots of luggage and take ages. Fitful dozing follows until deep sleep at I guess around 7 – not what’s needed with a long day’s drive ahead. So I spring awake at 8:15 in a panic and am out and on the road by 8:40 only a bit later than intended. Just for the record Tortosa to Zamora by the non-toll route is 660 kilometres and I had wondered once or twice about the wisdom of doing it on my own.
E to D? Spain has two major rivers (well they might count the Quadalquivir in Andalusia too), the Ebro which flows east to the Mediterranean just downstream from Tortosa in the famous delta. The Duero flows west and becomes the Douro in Portugal before hitting the Atlantic – Zamora is the last major city on the Duero in Spain. I have once again selected the no toll road route – it’s also the shortest by 50 km. And it proved to be an oenological odyssey. It also gave me a theory about the colours of the Spanish flag – as they used to say on Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne: “The answer lies in the soil”. Few of you will recall these but they were very funny radio shows. The soil is either pale golden yellow or deep red throughout my journey today. The wine route bit? I started in the denomination Terra Alta which includes yesterday’s winery where, as in Penedes the day before, the vines are showing lots of green leaf. As I cross from Catalunya into Aragon we enter Cariñena and on into Calatayud. Here there are a few shoots but the fields are mostly low black vines. Much of the rest of Aragon seems devoted to grain production with fields displaying 30 cm shoots in the most wonderful variety of greens. Whether they are different seeds or just different stages I didn’t stop to ask – in fact I didn’t stop apart for breakfast so no pictures for this section – I’ll have to paint them with words. These greens range from bright lime green like euphorbia flowers, through emerald and forest through to a dark steely bluish green. I really did want to stop because these greens against the newly ploughed bright red fields looked amazing and went on and on. Sadly, although there wasn’t much traffic on the N234, the sides have very steep run offs to discourage the practice of stopping. Then we popped into Castile y Leon and Ribera de Duero right next door to the Rioja where there was no hint of a shoot. We’d just gone through a pass at 1060 km above sea level so even spring is quite chilly up here. One day I will go to Peñafiel the heart of Ribera de Deuro which has a massive castle and loads of great looking bodegas dotted beside the excellent CL116 – a truly great drive – must have been made by the Romans. There are a few stretches of road which are designated A11 – Autovia del Duero but lots of it has been started and looks like the money ran out. There are a lot of unfinished projects of all kinds that reflect the poor state of Spain’s economy but the ones the do finish are very impressive. Once into Valladolid province it’s all Rueda where the verdejo grapes produce their own fine wines and are shipped next door to make white riojas. Then once we cross into Zamora province it’s Toro made from its eponymous grape the vines of which are showing small shoots. Zamora of course also has its own DOC but I’m not sure I’ve tried it – maybe it would be rude not to.
I make it to the parador in time to set up the computer and listen to Watford at Leicester on Hornets Player but I have a premonition and the plethora of cafés in the sunny Plaza Mayor with the promise of a beer win out. I did keep an eye on the progress and was pleased to hear that the crowd were chanting Quique Sanchez Flores – oh that they would bring him back. Anyone but Mazzari next season please – no I don’t mean that. There’s a long list of managers we don’t want. 3-0 again conceding in extra time. Not good enough.
By the way this parador is not a castle but the palace of the Dukes of Alba and Aliste – quite impressive though.
There’s a massive wedding on today so the normally elegant courtyard has an inflatable gonk bouncy castle. Well it keeps the kids out of the bar! Fortunately our favourite resident is still in place and I might take him for a ride around the ramparts tomorrow.
Zamora is a beautiful Romanesque town with the largest concentration of churches in that style in Europe. 24 of them all built in the 12th and 13th centuries – so that’s tomorrow’s photo blog. It’s due to be 27° so it might be shorts and sandals and a gentle walk about. Or inside several of them for a cool moment.
Right next to the parador is the Teatro Ramos Carrion which was a ruined hulk last time we were here. It’s been restored, had a modern extension added and created a new square with views over the Duero. It reopened to the public last year. There’s also another theme of these blogs that followed me to Zamora – the modernisme (oops that’s Catalan – modernismo) trail.
And given I ventured into hydrology on the Ebro in the last blog it’s worth noting that the Duero in Zamora also has a diagonal diverting weir to regulate the flow which you can spot along with the ruins of the first bridge dating from Roman times.
And now we’re out west another fascination for me is storks’ nests. They seem to like church towers in this shape (1) and it’s not often you get above one (2) at feeding time. This one (3) was just around the corner but they had to make do with the lower slopes of this glossy spire (4).
Zamora has one restaurant with a Michelin star and Dee and I dined here the last time we were here together celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. Guess where I’m off to tonight!