Spain on a budget

John and I love to travel, however now that we are pensioners we don´t have unlimited funds. If you don´t want to backpack but can´t afford 5-star holidays, read our tips for enjoying Spain on a limited budget.

Las Casas Colgadas de Cuenca

If you’ve heard of Cuenca – most of our friends said “Where?” when I mentioned our proposed trip - then I wouldn’t mind betting it was Las Casas Colgadas, the Hanging Houses perched precariously over a gorge, that you have heard about.  They are what Cuenca is famous for, however we discovered that there are many more places of interest in this fascinating mediaeval city.  We enjoyed our short visit and managed to pack a lot into our two days.

Plaza Mayor, with the Ayuntamiento in the background

To do justice to Cuenca you really need to spend a few days there as we did, however if you are staying in Madrid or Valencia you could visit on a day trip taking the high-speed Ave train.  Less than one hour and you will be in Cuenca’s brand new station, but a word of warning; it is about 4k to the centre of Cuenca from the new train station. 

Although our journey from Alicante to Cuenca took more than two hours, the time went very quickly.  We had spotted Estrella online fares when we booked, which meant we travelled first class for the cost of a second class fare.  We settled down into our comfortable seats and soon afterwards were given a free newspaper, the Renfe magazine plus a pair of earphones so that we could watch a film or listen to music.

The catering service then began with the offer of a cold drink and packet of nuts, followed by a hot towel, and then we were handed the drinks list.  Our train had left Alicante at 16.05, so the meal we were given was Merienda, which consisted of a sandwich and cake, accompanied by cava, wine or soft drinks.  Coffee was served after our snack and finally we were offered spirits or liqueurs to round off our meal.  What a civilised way to travel!

View of Cuenca

As we had carefully printed off directions from the “train station” (for which read “former train station”) to our hotel, it was a bit of shock to alight from the train in the middle of nowhere!   It was obvious that it would take us far more than the promised ten minutes to walk to our hotel.  There were plenty of taxis waiting outside however, as we were travelling on a budget, we took the bus instead, at a cost of 1.10€.  The bus was almost ready to leave, so we had timed it well, though as  the buses run every 20 minutes it wouldn’t have been a problem if we had missed it.

Parque del Huécar, near our hotel

By the time we checked into Hotel Pedro Torres it was almost time for dinner, however having had lunch in Alicante plus a snack on the train, we decided that wine and tapas would be more than enough for us.  This was a good decision as we discovered that most of the bars in Cuenca give you free tapas with your drink, so it proved to be a cheap night out, made even cheaper when we wandered into the opening night of an art exhibition and were offered wine and a selection of nibbles, including cheese and cold meats. 

Cuenca at night

After a buffet breakfast in our hotel the following morning, we decided to walk up to the old town, although the helpful receptionist had told us we could take a bus there from outside the hotel.  We soon discovered why she had said that, as it was a very steep uphill walk, though luckily being September it wasn’t too hot.  We were rewarded though with the best views of Las Casas Colgadas from the opposite side of the gorge.  We walked as far as the Convento de San Pablo, which now houses the Parador of Cuenca (at a room rate of 168€, it doesn’t exactly count as budget travel!)  as well as the Espacio Torner art gallery.

View of the Parador and Puente de San Pablo

Unfortunately the Espacio Torner was closed, though according to the information on the back of our city guide it should have been open.  Even more unfortunately, from my point of view, the quickest way to access the old town on the other side of the gorge was via the Puente de San Pablo as shown in the photo above.  I am NOT good at heights and walked very carefully over the bridge, my eyes firmly fixed on the other side.

Santa Cruz Crafts Centre - in a converted church

Once safely across the gorge, I could relax a bit as we explored the winding streets of Cuenca, discovering yet another treasure each time we turned a corner.  We found the city guide very useful in highlighting the museums and art galleries where entry is free: Antonio Pérez Foundation, Antonio Saura Foundation, Santa Cruz Handicrafts Centre, and the Church of the Virgen de la Luz. 

Church of the Virgen de la Luz

The Science Museum, where the helpful English-speaking guide told us that their one rule was that you had to touch everything, is free at weekends, and the Cathedral is free on the first Monday of each month.  I have to admit that one of the highlights for me was the Science Museum, maybe because I am just a big kid and loved playing with all the exhibits.

Entrance to the Science Museum

If you are retired make sure that you carry some ID to prove it, as you will get free entry to the Museum of Cuenca, an archaeological museum, which I also enjoyed wandering around.  Possibly because it made a change from all the modern art in Cuenca!  You will also get half-price entry to the Túneles Alfonso VIII and the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, which is not to be missed, as it is in Las Casas Colgadas. I found it a bit surreal to be looking at modern art in a mediaeval building.

John enjoying a bit of culture

Walking around Cuenca we had worked up quite an appetite, so we decided to stop for lunch at 2pm.  John had spotted a 10€ menú outside Restaurante Don Pablo on Plaza de los Carros, so we agreed to investigate the inside of the restaurant.  When the waiter brought the menu we noticed that the price shown was 12€, however he reassured us that the price we had seen outside was the price we would pay.  We both enjoyed our meals and wouldn’t have minded if we had been charged extra, as the food was very good.

On our walk we spotted Cuenca's "beach"

We discovered that many of the restaurants had special menus in the evening, as well as the usual menú del día at lunchtime, however our choice was a bit limited by the fact that I don’t eat meat.  We struck lucky though at Restaurante Aljibe, which is part of Hotel Convento del Giraldo – yet another converted Convent! 

Their Menú Noches for two people cost a total of 40€.  Well, it was my birthday, so we decided to break the budget for once!  We shared three delicious starters followed by a choice of main course (I had the Risotto de Mar, which was very tasty) and then a selection of desserts to share.  A very good rosado wine and two bottles of mineral water were included in the price.

Desserts to share: one for you, the rest for me!

We had tapas in two bars on Calle de las Torres: El Fuero and La Leyenda de la Cruz de Diablo, both of which were good value, especially as we only paid 1.20€ for a glass of wine with free tapas, and as an added bonus the staff were very friendly.   We also had the 10€ menú del día in El Fuero on Saturday before we left Cuenca, which had a wide selection of dishes, including a yummy salmón a la naranja.

Our verdict on Cuenca, the city of the Hanging Houses?  It is worth visiting, not just for Las Casa Colgadas, but because there are so many other places of interest to see in the old town.  Be warned though that, with all the free tapas and reasonably priced menus, you will probably need to go on a diet after you get home!

Cuenca Cathedral - spot the tourist train!

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Cirque du Soleil at Zaragoza Expo

John and I first saw Cirque du Soleil when we visited the Expo in Zaragoza, where we saw many of their acrobats and jugglers taking part in a procession.  When we discovered they were due to perform in Alicante, we asked our friends John and Lesley if they were interested in seeing them too, and luckily they immediately agreed!  Even if we hadn’t been chauffered there and had travelled on three buses from Jumilla, we would have said it was worth going, as it was an incredible show.

La Gran Carpa – Cirque du Soleil, Alicante

 When we arrived at the entrance, a nice young man from Barcelona told us that our seats weren’t that good (we are all pensioners, so we had bought the cheapest tickets available!) and showed us to the front row.  Yes, he gave us the best seats in the house – result!

No superlatives are good enough to describe the amazing, fantastic, brilliant, best show ever that we witnessed.  The first hour went by incredibly quickly as the artistes spun, juggled, flew through the air and amazed us with their skills and daring.   It was colourful, spectacular and they even had live music, which enhanced the whole experience. 

Even the stage curtains were spectacular

There was comedy as well as drama: John had a hat full of popcorn emptied over him, before the hat was plonked on his head.  The other John, Lesley and I thought it was very funny!  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera ready to hand to capture the sight, as we had been told not to use cameras during the show for safety reasons.  This was quite understandable when you saw the split-second timing as two catchers threw two trapeze artists through the air simultaneously and then caught the one flying towards them.

The organisation was superb: the show began on time (virtually unknown in our part of Spain!), with a half hour interval after the first hour of the show, followed by another hour’s entertainment.  Lesley and I browsed round the stalls, however we couldn’t justify buying anything as most articles on sale were fairly expensive, though of good quality.  There was air conditioning too, so don’t go in shorts: our friend John said his knees were cold!

Drinks cost over 4€, however we had brought bottles of water with us, and we had also enjoyed a cool copa de vino latino beforehand, so we didn’t bother.  Our tickets had cost us 26.50€ (discounted on the Cirque du Soleil website) which we thought was amazing value for money, especially when we were shown to the prime seats!

All I can say is that if you get the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil, do so.  If you become a member of the Cirque Club they will send you details of any offers: sign up on the Cirque du Soleil website.

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There is usually so much happening in Jumilla that we rarely go away for the day.  However our friends Lesley and John had decided to visit Villajoyosa (also known as La Vila Joiosa) for the Moors and Christians fiestas and asked us if we would like to go along.  Living inland we don’t see much of the sea, so we happily accepted their offer.

I think it was more by luck than good planning (sorry John!) that we managed to find a parking spot fairly close to the sea and, as we found out later on, very close to the processional route.  The festivities were due to start at 1815 however, although we didn’t park the car until after that, we saw a whole load of pirates having a drink so knew we hadn’t missed anything. 

Traditionally the assorted pirates, smugglers, fishermen and sailors arrive by boat, however on Wednesday the red flag was flying.  I suspect that in past times this wouldn’t have mattered, but Spain is gradually becoming health and safety conscious, so a group of them gathered at the edge of the sea instead and then ran towards the castle. 

We were slightly disappointed that there wasn’t any hand to hand fighting or swordplay, however there were lots of loud bangs, followed by even more loud bangs, and groups of people in various costumes running backwards and forwards.  Eventually the Christians were evicted from the castle (though we heard a rumour that they were going to re-capture it the following night) and once all the ammunition had been used up by the victorious pirates and smugglers, people started leaving the Playa Centro. 

We assumed that this was the end of the evening’s entertainment so headed back  towards the car.  The two men had decided that they needed a glass of wine until their ears recovered from the onslaught, so we were walking up the road to find a suitable bar when suddenly we heard music playing.  We had somehow stumbled on a large, colourful procession.   We managed to grab a table outside the bar on the corner and settled down with our wine and a plate of nuts to watch the Moors and Christians parade.  We enjoyed the amazing costumes and the music provided by several bands that were marching in the procession.

Four hours later, having had a free night’s entertainment, we headed home.  We had spent eighteen euros between the four of us for several large plates of delicious tapas plus drinks down at the seafront.  At the bar where we watched the procession, a glass of wine cost 1.50€ plus we had free nuts with our drinks.  It was a fantastic and cheap night out for pensioners and other people like us who are on a budget.

I would recommend visiting the town even if there aren’t any fiestas, as it is very picturesque.  Traditionally all the houses facing the sea are painted different colours: this is so that the fishermen can spot their homes when they are out at sea.  We also liked the fact that it wasn’t over-run with tourists and the prices for a bar overlooking the sea, in the middle of a fiesta, were extremely reasonable.  Not only that, but entry to the two chocolate museums is free!

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Many people visiting Jumilla for the first time say that they want to go somewhere “really Spanish”.  To be honest they would be hard pushed to find anywhere in Jumilla that isn’t Spanish: two Chinese and one Italian restaurant is about it.  The following are John’s and my favourites for what we feel are very good reasons, so why not check them out and tell me what you think? Remember that Spanish people rarely go out for lunch before 2pm, so if you get there by 13.55 you should get a table.  ;-)

1. Restaurante San Agustín  (Av. de la Asunción, 64)

Good food, a great atmosphere and fantastically friendly staff: this has to be our number 1.  As I don’t eat meat I love coming here for their delicious fish dishes, using fresh fish from Santa Pola.  Their desserts are also yummy, making it very difficult for me to choose just one.  Menú del día is 10€ in the bar, where we usually eat when we are on our own, as we enjoy the lively atmosphere.  It is still a very reasonable 12€ in their new, stylish restaurant where the posh people eat, and where we eat when we go out with friends.

2.  Bar Paraíso (C/Cura Abellán, 23)

If you want to go to a typically Spanish bar, for an excellent value ménu del día at 8€, this is the one we would recommend.  This is also one of the few bars to offer their menú at weekends, including festivos.  Friends we have taken there have said that it is some of the best food they have tasted in Spain, so why not give it a try? 

3.  Restaurante de Loreto  (C/Canalejas, 73)

This is the place if you want to splash out: we paid 20€ the last time we went there for menú del día.  Of course if you are based in the UK you will think that is ridiculously cheap for an excellent meal in lovely surroundings!  We had to admit that it was good value considering the quality of the food and the wine served with it, which was Tavs: one of our favourites.  The restaurant is set in a 200 years old mansion, with six beautifully decorated individual rooms, and a summer courtyard at the back, so if you go there you will enjoy looking around. 

The courtyard in Restaurante Loreto

4.  Duque de Lerma  (C/Rambleta del Convento, 7)

By the time we walk up the hill to this restaurant, we are always ready to enjoy their reasonably priced menú del día at 9€.   The bar is small and cheerful, whilst there is a large restaurant at the back for groups.

5.  Restaurante Reyes Católicos (Av. Reyes Católicos, 33)

This is a popular restaurant, with a small bar, where they do a menú del día for 12€.  It is conveniently situated on the Avenída of the same name.  When we went there with Spanish friends nobody looked at the carta – they just ordered what they fancied, and luckily everything was available.  The staff were very obliging when we asked for queso frito con tomate without the tomato, for me.  They also cooked some calamares separately for our friend Lesley, who is on a gluten-free diet.

6.  Restaurante Monasterio (Av. de la Asunción, 40)

We have enjoyed the 9€ menú del día here on many occasions.  The restaurant was refurbished about a year ago, and we were very dubious the first time we went in after that, as it seemed very new and very quiet.  However it is back to its normal noisy self and is as popular as ever, especially for take-aways.  For some reason, the last few times we have been there, people were popping in to buy their lunch and take it away.

7.  La Brasería del Ave (C/Valencia, 11 – corner of Reyes Católicos)

We have a soft spot for their bar, as we inadvertently gate-crashed the opening party after it changed hands.  We were walking past just after it re-opened so decided to go in for a glass of wine and a tapa.   John ordered our wine and was asked if we wanted a tapa so chose something.  Later on, a member of staff brought over more tapas, so we had another glass of wine.  After enjoying lots of delicious tapas and wine, John went to the bar to pay our bill, only to be told that it was free as they were having an opening party for their family and friends.  Oops! 

Having enjoyed tapas in the bar, we were delighted when they opened their restaurant, where they do a good menú del día for 10€.

8.  Bar Las Delicias (C/Hernando de Nuño, corner of Calle Lope de Vega)

This tiny bar is tucked away in our local barrio of San Juan and deserves a special mention for their Thursday bargain menú del día at only 3.80€.  They also serve delicious tapas and have weekend specials, so although this bar is new we expect it to be around for a long time.

9.  Casa Sebastián (Av. de Levante, 6)

Very handy for the Tuesday market, as it is situated in the market building, Casa Sebastian is the only restaurant that isn’t open in the evening and that doesn’t do a menú del día.  Their carta though is reasonably priced and the food is very good, so if you are laden with shopping and don’t want to go too far, why not have a meal there?

10. Méson Jumillano (Av. de Murcia, 47)

Méson Jumillano

Convenient for people shopping at Aldi, and easy to spot as it is also on the right-hand side as you head into town, this is our local restaurant.  The first time we went there we decided that the man behind the bar looked uncannily like René from ‘Allo ‘Allo.  Since then it has changed hands, and in my opinion the food has changed for the better, so we pop in there for the 9€ menú del día on a fairly regular basis.  When the weather is warm, we occasionally sit outside for a coffee or glass of wine with our dog Lisa.

11. Cafeteria Monreal (next to Hotel Monreal, Calle del Doctor Fleming)

This café, adjoined to the hotel, serves consistently good food.  It has a 9€ menú del día during the week and also on Saturdays.  We have always enjoyed the food there and the staff are very friendly.

12.   Michelangelo (Av. Reyes Católicos, 58)

Sometimes, no matter how much you like Spanish food, you just have to go out for an Italian meal don’t you?   Not surprisingly it is popular with families and it is probably one of the  safest choices for eating out in Jumilla if you are a vegetarian.

¿Hablas Inglés?

Most staff in the above restaurants don’t speak English, although some restaurants do have menus in English if you ask for the “carta”.  We have discovered however that a couple of staff in San Agustín speak a few words of English, as do staff in Loreto and Monasterio. 

Be warned, when you are going somewhere for the menú del día, that some waiters will rattle off the choices in rapid Spanish, making it hard to follow even if you speak Spanish fluently!  They are always willing to repeat it more slowly though (más despacio), and if you are lucky the menu will be written down on their pad so you can have a sneaky look at it. 

If you come on one of our “Walkers Tours of Jumilla”, we will be happy to book the restaurant of your choice for you in advance.  Please leave your comments and your own recommendations below, even if you don’t agree with our choices.

¡Que aproveche!

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The world-wide recession has hit Spain badly, although in Spain they refer to the “crisis” (pronounced cree-sis).  We have noticed several shops and bars closing over the last couple of years, occasionally re-opening under new management before the inevitable happens and they close for good.  Existing shops and bars are always coming up with ofertas to attract customers and some bars that previously only opened in the evenings have started opening earlier in the day for desayuno.  The Spanish tradition of going out for breakfast is still going strong, in spite of these tough times, and bar-owners are doing what they can to stay in business.

The special offers are particularly helpful for British pensioners living here, who have seen the value of their pensions plummet because of the worsening exchange rate.  We have happily taken advantage of the Thursday special menú del día at Bar Las Delicias, which costs a mere 3.80€ for three courses including drinks, and are strong supporters of the various Ruta de Tapas promotions that have taken place over the last few years. 

Even before the summer sales started, many shops were advertising special offers.  I ventured into Juan Guardiola, one of the most expensive clothes shops in Jumilla, when I spotted their “Outlet” sign.  I emerged triumphantly with a matching evening top and skirt plus another top for a grand total of 25€.  Female readers will understand when I boast of saving over 100€!

The last time we went into Murcia on the bus, we were sorry to see that the shop advertising “Precios Anti-Crisis” had closed down.  Presumably because, even with their precios anti-crisis, the crisis had proved too much for them.

In spite of the crisis, new shops and bars have been opening in Jumilla.  I think this is a sign of Spanish optimism, plus their willingness to word hard.  Rather than bemoaning their lot and signing on for the “paro”, they choose to start their own business.  I hope for their sakes that they manage to ride out the storm.  We are more than happy to support them by shopping in the new shops and having coffee (or wine) in the new bars for as long as our dwindling pensions allow us!

A young man I know through facebook has been writing messages on his facebook wall, advertising the fact that he is looking for work.  He makes it clear that he is willing to work hard and prepared to take a lowly position, though he would hope to progress.  If I had work to offer, I would be happy to employ someone who is showing a bit of initiative.

We also saw in La Verdad, one of the regional papers, that the budgets for fiestas have been cut back.  To me, that sums up living in Spain in these hard times: they wouldn’t dream of cancelling a fiesta, however they recognise that spending needs to be curtailed.  Jumilla hasn’t been as badly hit as some towns, possibly in recognition of the fact that this year is the 40th Fiesta de la Vendimia, however the budget has been cut by 30%. 

Apparently this is likely to be achieved by savings on fireworks and concerts, though the line-up just announced for the concerts taking place during the Fiesta looks pretty good to me.  Pablo Abarán is a young singer-songwriter whose debut album went to no 1 in the Spanish charts and gained him a platinum disc.  Joana Jiménez won the TV competition “Se llama Copla” and apparently she is the voice of the moment.  Having listened to them both on youtube, I am looking forward to hearing them perform live in Jumilla.

As for saving money on fireworks – nobody told the organisers of the Fiesta de San Fermín, judging by the number of fireworks lighting up the sky!

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I imagine most people’s reactions to the title of this post will be “I wish!”  How many times have you had a wonderful holiday, used your credit card to its max, then returned home to the worry of paying your credit card bill?  Doesn’t it negate some of the positive effects of your holiday – so why not do things differently this year?

Lock up all your credit cards!

The first step is to plan your holiday well in advance, looking online for information about the area you will be visiting.  I can give you plenty of general tips for saving money in Spain - and most of those will apply to other countries - but even within Spain different regions have different traditions.  Some holiday-makers may return home from Spain raving about the free tapas they had with every drink, but others may say they had to pay for their tapas, albeit they were very cheap, so it helps to know in advance.

Before moving to Spain, we decided to use the train to travel there, partly because it is stress-free compared to flying, and partly because we didn’t have to worry about the weight of our cases!  On checking online we discovered that Renfe have a special discount card for over 60s (la tarjeta dorada), which gives discounts of between 25% and 40%.  At a cost of 5€ for the annual card, we were soon saving money! 

Don't try checking those in for your flight!

We also discovered that Renfe have occasional Estrella offers, so we were able to travel first-class for the same price as normal second-class fares.  Not only did we have more comfortable, spacious seats, but our lunch and drinks were included, so we were actually saving money.  Note however that, if you are a vegetarian or have special dietary needs, you will need to book your meal in advance. 

If you are staying in a hotel, check what is included in the price.  If a buffet breakfast is on offer it may be cost-effective, as a good breakfast will keep you going for hours.  However if breakfast is extra, and especially if it is a continental breakfast, it could be cheaper going to the nearest bar.  This is where prior research is useful: I have to thank fellow travellers who posted on tripadvisor for identifying local bars where we could buy a cheap breakfast and good budget restaurants close to our hotel.

Families may find it cheaper to stay in a self-catering apartment, however be aware that supermarkets on a resort may be surprisingly pricey, and what you don’t want to do is arrive just before it shuts and spend a small fortune trying to stock up for your holiday!  If you have done your advance research, you will know where the nearest large supermarkets are and, more importantly, what is the local market day.  All you need when you arrive are a few basics until you can go shopping in the morning.   Fruit and vegetables will be a lot tastier if you buy them in the local market, as well as cheaper, and you may find good cheeses, cold meats and other local delicacies on offer there.

Explore the local markets

A good option on a hot day is to visit a couple of air-conditioned museums!  Be aware that in Spain many museums are closed on Monday, however if you have checked in advance you will already know that.  You will also know whether museums are free on certain days (in Madrid, for example, many museums are either free or cheaper on Sunday mornings) and whether discounts are given for EU residents and/or pensioners (have your passport with you!) 

If you are going out for the day, budget for a cheap menú del día (in Spain) or look out for le menu or la formule (in France) or similar offers.  If you decide to have just a snack for lunch and eat later on, you will probably end up spending a lot more money, particularly if you become very hungry!  I know – that happened to us in Paris!  

Beware of optional day trips, which may sound tempting but often end up costing you a lot of money.  When we were staying at an apartment-hotel in Marbella, we were told about a day-trip to Gibraltar.  We thought it was a bit expensive for what was basically a coach-trip with nothing extra included, so investigated the alternatives.  We found out that the local bus to La Linea was a lot cheaper, so we took that to save money.  We discovered that it saved time too, as lots of coaches and cars were lined up waiting to cross the border, while we strolled across in seconds!

Don’t stop for food or drinks in the main plazas or squares in any tourist area, or you will be charged tourist prices.  John and I saw a reasonably priced menú in the window of a restaurant on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and were impressed by the cost in what we expected to be a pricey area.  We then noticed that it didn’t mention any drinks, even though a menú del día usually includes one, so we went inside to check.  The waiter was keen to take us to a table (it was obvious that we were tourists!), however before sitting down we asked whether drinks were included.  They were not.  We then asked to look at the wine list, before beating a hasty retreat!  The food might have been reasonably priced, but the drinks were definitely over-priced. 

We turned down a side street and soon discovered a good neighbourhood restaurant, which seemed to be full of locals rather than other tourists, and where the final bill came to less than the food alone in the first restaurant.  Lesson learnt!

Join in the local fiestas for a great and cheap night out.  Many resorts offer free entertainment, but some acts are not much better than a karaoke evening, and most bars will charge you a lot for a couple of drinks – remember the worse the act, the more you are likely to drink!  I hasten to add that we have enjoyed watching some very talented performers while on holiday, but these have been the exception rather than the rule.

Wander into the town centre where the local fiesta is taking place, and you will soon be enjoying a real party atmosphere.  The entertainment will be free, any food and drinks will be either free or far more reasonably priced than back at your hotel or resort, and the whole experience will be one to remember.  No doubt we are prejudiced, but we can highly recommend a visit to Jumilla in August.  As well as the renowned Fiesta de la Vendimia, you can enjoy the National Folklore Festival and the spectacular Moors and Christians parades.

Entrance of the Moros

I suspect that you won’t be brave enough to leave your credit card at home when going on holiday, but I am hoping that with a bit of advanced planning, and by using your common sense while away, you may be able to leave it in the safe until you return home.

If you have any of your own budget holiday tips to share, please send them to me via the comments box below, and maybe we can have an “International Budget Holiday Tips” feature next time!

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For John and me - and anybody else living on a restricted budget - one of the benefits of living in Spain is the cheap entertainment.  We have a wonderful theatre in town (Teatro Vico) and tickets for performances there don’t exactly break the bank, however we have two other theatres in Jumilla where entry is free.

Teatro Vico

 As part of their mandate, Spanish savings banks provide social, charitable and cultural services.  Both CAM and CajaMurcia in Jumilla have exhibition halls where art and photographic exhibitions can be held, and they both have small theatres for concerts, drama and dance displays as well as many other events.

Last night we went to see a video presentation in CajaMurcia’s theatre, which is above their main Jumilla branch. They have an exhibition room there too, so beforehand we looked at the display of posters for this year’s Cabalgate Infantíl, which children from local schools had designed. The children’s procession takes place during Jumilla’s Fiesta de la Vendimia  in August, so naturally wine featured in many of the posters, but Bob Esponja also seemed to be a popular theme!

The video presentation was scheduled to start at 20.00, so being optimistic we wandered into the theatre at that time.  It looked promising, as we could see that everything had been set up and a few other people were already in there, however Jumillanos aren’t exactly noted for their punctuality.  The señor in charge kept looking at his watch, and we heard a few words being muttered about not everybody being there, and “puntualidad” was also mentioned.

Eventually the show began at 20.15, which is impressive by Jumilla’s standards.  The video showed scenes from Jumilla’s Fiesta de la Vendimia going back to the early 80s and finishing with last year’s celebrations.  There were plenty of laughs from the audience and a few sarcastic comments as people recognised the participants, which added to the atmosphere.  We recognised at least three people taking part in earlier years’ festivities.

Each video clip showed a procession with adults and children carrying baskets of grapes, a group treading the grapes (all looking remarkably similar to each other), lots of people kissing each other as they presented bouquets of flowers, glimpses of traditional dancers, plus the revellers getting covered in red wine during the Gran Cabalgata del Vino at the end of the fiesta.

Soaked in red wine

If you are coming to Spain for a holiday, or if you plan to move here permanently, I recommend finding out where your nearest savings bank is.  We have seen some fascinating exhibitions since we moved to Jumilla, and enjoyed some amazing concerts, and it hasn’t cost us a cent!

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 Spain has always been a popular holiday destination, however many tourists don’t get the most out of their stay.  Sure, they return with a suntan (or more likely sunburn!), several pounds heavier weight-wise, several pounds lighter money-wise (having spent far too many euros), some tacky souvenirs and lots of exciting photos of them on the beach, by the pool or in the bar.  Is that what you want? Or do you fancy doing something different this year?

Before you go on holiday, use the internet to research your holiday with a difference.  Staying on the Costa del Sol? Away from the beaches there are some lovely villages to visit on the ruta de los pueblos blancos, or discover the city of Malaga instead of bypassing it in your rush to reach the beach.  Costa Blanca?  There is a lot to see in Alicante (the city, not the airport!) and if you are a wine lover, come and visit Jumilla, known as the city of wine.  A good place to start your research is http://www.spain.info/en/, and don’t forget to check whether there are going to be any fiestas in the area you are visiting.

Visit Mijas for the day when staying on the Costa del Sol

The first thing you will have to learn when you are on holiday is to get up a bit earlier than usual, so that you can enjoy the whole day, and to leave your hotel/apartment/resort/comfort zone.  You are going out for breakfast, which for Spanish people is best enjoyed in a café or bar between 10 and 12.  They will have had a cup of coffee first thing, but the morning break is a time to meet friends and have a chat over a coffee and tostada or maybe chocolate and churros.  You will definitely need a snack then, because you aren’t going to have lunch until 2pm at the earliest!

Spend your morning walking around the nearest town, visiting museums and churches, strolling through local parks and generally working up a good appetite for lunch.  Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, to slap on the suntan lotion, to bring your camera (this year your friends may find your photos a bit more interesting than usual) and remember to carry a bottle of water. 

Keep your eyes open while you are enjoying your walk because you are looking out for a good menú del día, however be aware that many restaurants won’t advertise them before 1pm.  This is a top money-saving tip in Spain: have your main meal at lunchtime like the Spanish do, though avoid obvious tourist areas to get the best value for your money. Menú del día will usually cost you between 8€ and 12€ for a minimum of 3 courses, bread and a drink.  We know a very good bar in Jumilla where for 8€ we get a shared salad to start with, a basket of bread, a wide choice of starters, mains and desserts, a carafe of red wine with water or refresco plus coffee to finish our meal.  After that, we don’t need much food in the evening!

Drive inland from the Costa Blanca to visit Jumilla castle, a local bodega, and have menú del día

Lunch will be a leisurely affair, which is good news, as you will be indoors during the hottest part of the day.  If you want to go native, observe how Spanish people avoid sitting in the sun.  They love being outdoors during the summer: enjoying a drink, chatting to their friends, promenading along the sea front, but they walk in the shade or sit under a parasol.  Also observe that, even though Spanish chicas will wear miniscule skirts or shorts in town, beach wear is kept strictly for the beach.

After lunch you can stroll back to your hotel or apartment for a siesta if you fancy going really native, or plan ahead for the evening, relax with a good book, and enjoy a cold drink.  In tourist areas there may be shops open in the afternoon, but elsewhere only supermarkets disregard the traditional siesta.

If you haven’t gone out for a menú del día, be prepared to pay more for your evening meal, and also be prepared to wait for it!  We were staying in Barcelona a few years ago, and left our hotel at 8pm to find somewhere to eat.  Nearly every restaurant was shut, and as we were hungry we were becoming a bit anxious.   We popped into a bar that was open,  for a glass of wine and some tapas to calm our nerves.  As we left the bar just after 9pm, we saw that restaurants were beginning to open up again.  Lesson learnt!

Depending on where you are staying, you may be given a free tapa with your drink when you go out in the evening for a glass of wine .  If you had a big lunch, that may be all you need.  If not, look for a bar that is full of local people and you should find the best and cheapest tapas there.

A peaceful square in Valencia

Finally, don’t go to bed too early or you may miss the best part of the day.  On the last night of a holiday in Valencia to enjoy the Las Fallas festival, we were on our way back to our hotel just after midnight, when we decided to stop for a coffee.  Noticing a large marquee in the square behind the bar, we decided to take a quick look and discovered that a band was tuning up inside.  Local people were beginning to go into the marquee and encouraged us to join them, pointing out that there was a bar set up in the corner, which was selling drinks for 1€.

Soon everybody was up dancing to the music, chatting away to us in a mixture of English and Spanish and generally having a good time.  There was a mixture of both young and old, from niños to abuelos, all making a lot of noise (Spanish people tend to be noisy) but nobody appeared to be drunk, even though vast amounts of alcohol were being served at the bar.  When we left at three in the morning the party was still in full swing, however sadly we had a flight to catch!

If you decide to go native in Spain, you are guaranteed to have a great time.  Please tell us all about your experiences and any recommendations in the comments box below.

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You can live very cheaply in Spain - making it ideal for people who retire here - but if you’re a keen reader you will soon discover that buying books in English can break your budget!  This is particularly true for those of us who live inland, as local bookshops stock mainly Spanish books (which aren’t exactly cheap) and the few English books that they sell are expensive. 

That was how we came up with the idea of having a monthly bookswap for other British people living in the area.  I think all of us had brought piles of books  with us when we first moved over here, but had read them all after living here for a few years. 

The garden at Bar La Casa

We decided to hold the bookswap between 11.00 and 12.00  on the first Tuesday of the month in Bar La Casa, which is next to the Centro de Salud in Jumilla.  We chose Tuesday as that is market day, so most people come into Jumilla to buy the delicious – and cheap - fresh fruit and vegetables in the local market.  We decided on Bar La Casa partly because – from necessity – most retired people know where the Health Centre is and partly because there is a lovely enclosed garden at the back, which is an ideal place to enjoy a coffee or cold drink in the summer months.  During the winter months we sit inside in the restaurant area, as they have an open fire there, which usually has a couple of smouldering logs to keep us warm!

If you are thinking of moving to Spain, you may want to set up a similar scheme.  Not only is it a good way of saving money, but also it helps you make more friends who speak the same language.  We have some wonderful Spanish friends here, but it is good to be able to speak your own language occasionally and not have to think about it.  Having said that, one English friend speaks Spanish so fluently that she sometimes forgets the odd English word!

Although the bookswap is a monthly event, most of us now pop into Bar La Casa at about 12.00 on the other Tuesdays of the month, for a general catch up and gossip. Today we looked at the programmes for the fiestas of San Fermin and San Cristobel, and decided which acts we would watch later on in the week.

The good news though, if there aren’t any other English people living in your area, is that you can now order books online from Amazon.co.uk and, if you spend a minimum of £25, they offer free Super Saver delivery to Spain.  If you haven’t read my book “Retiring the Olé Way” yet, why not add it to your basket? (Shameless plug alert!)

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Castellers of Tarragona

Tarragona is surprisingly free of foreign tourists, which for John and me was one of its many charms.  We decided to visit the city to celebrate my 60th birthday: as pensioners we are always looking for somewhere a bit different that is not too expensive.  Since then we have retired to Spain and now live in the Murcia region, however we plan to visit other parts of our adopted country for holidays, which will include a return trip to Tarragona.

Our ideal holiday is not about lying on beaches soaking up the sun, which we both regard as a total waste of time; it’s more about visiting places, soaking up the culture and enjoying the local food accompanied by a few glasses of good wine.  This being the case, Tarragona proved to be the ideal destination for us.

We had looked at the Tarragona Tourist website beforehand, so that we could plan what to do and see to make the most of our stay there: http://www.tarragonaturisme.cat/.   Information is available in English and other languages, as well as Spanish, and the website is very comprehensive.

We decided to buy a one-day Tarragona Card, which gave us free entry to the city’s monuments, free bus tickets, plus discounts in many restaurants, shops etc.  Rather than try and fit everything into one day, we bought the card after lunch on our first day. As it lasted 24 hours, we could then spread our “site” seeing over two days.  We also made sure that we used the card at those monuments that cost the most, in case we couldn’t cram them all in.  For other penny-pinching pensioners, check whether you will in fact make a saving buying the card, as over 65s get half-price or free entry to many of the places listed.  The card cost us €14 for 24 hours, however it is now on sale at €15 for 48 hours, which is definitely a bargain!  You should be aware however that most museums are closed on Mondays, so that isn’t a good day for visiting them!

We spent our first day walking along Tarragona’s Roman route.  As the Roman archaeological complex of Tarraco has been declared a World Heritage Site, we didn’t want to miss any of it.  The highlight for me was the well-preserved Amphitheatre with views of the Mediterranean, although the Roman Circus, where you could almost hear the thunder of the horse-drawn chariots and the roar of the crowds, was a close second.  John enjoyed wandering around the Local Forum and also walking along the Walls, which had great views over the surrounding countryside as well as the city.  We had a lot of fun trying to find the Francoli River Paleochristian Complex until we realised that it was actually within the shopping centre, down in the parking area!

Approach to the city walls

There is more to Tarragona than its Roman remains, as we discovered on our second day when we walked along the Mediaeval route.  We explored the streets around the Cathedral, which was of course the star attraction, however there were many other monuments worth seeing, amongst them the Cloisters, the Chapels of St Paul and St Tecla. The Ancient Hospital of St Tecla,  and the King’s Castle.  St Tecla is the patron saint of Tarragona and we have been told that the fiesta of Santa Tecla, which is held in September, is well worth seeing.  We plan to visit Tarragona in September next time as we always enjoy taking part in Spanish fiestas.

We also appreciated the splendour of Casa Canals and Casa Castellarnau, which shouldn’t be missed if you like looking around magnificent old houses.  Other cultural highlights for us were the Museum of Modern Art, the National Archeological Museum and the Museum of the Port of Tarragona. 

Courtyard in Casa Castellarnau

If the weather is good and you don’t want to be indoors, many of the monuments I have mentioned are outside. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Rambla Nova and the Balcón del Mediterráneo, then pop into the Amphitheatre, before heading along Rambla Vella to see the Roman Circus and then make your way to the maze of streets around the Cathedral . 

All this walking increased our appetite, so luckily eating out in Tarragona proved to be a pleasurable experience.  We discovered that many good restaurants do a cheap menu del día at lunch time, so we would make that our main meal, having either one course or just tapas for our evening meal.

Tarragona is a charming city, with plenty to see and do. We crammed as much as we could into the four days that we stayed there, however a longer stay would have allowed us a bit more time just to relax.  In case I haven’t already tempted you to visit Tarragona, I should mention that there are plenty of shops and lovely sandy beaches too, making it the ideal holiday location for everyone – even those of you who aren’t interested in history and culture.

Top Tips

Restaurants

Down at the Port, which we expected to be pricey because of the location, we enjoyed a delicious menu del día at La Botiga on Calle Trafalgar for only €10.50. 

We also enjoyed an evening meal at Restaurante Passadis on Calle Estanislau Figueres, where we were given 10% discount using our Tarragona Card.

After a filling menu del día we went out for tapas in the evening.  Cañas y Tapas on Calle Apodaca had some good special deals but there are many other inexpensive bars and restaurants to be discovered.

Hotels

We stayed at the SB Express*** on Plaça de les Corts Catalanes, which we chose on the basis that it was a budget hotel and looked fairly central.  We discovered that it was actually a bit of a walk into the centre of Tarragona, so it was fortunate that we are both pretty fit.  The hotel was in a quiet area and for the price we thought it was good value.

The Husa Imperial Tarraco **** on Passeig de Las Palmeres is in an ideal location for sight-seeing, although obviously you pay the price for that, especially with its four-star facilities.

For those on a strict budget the 2-star Catalunya Express is worth considering, and as a bonus it is close to the regional Railway Station.

Don´t miss

 

Tarragona is renowned for its Roman archaeological complex, and even if you don’t enjoy history you can’t fail to be impressed by the Amphitheatre and Roman Circus.

If you like the sea no doubt you will want to head for the beaches, but don’t forget to visit the Port too, especially at lunch time when you can enjoy the fresh fish.

After that delicious lunch, why not walk off all those calories and enjoy the views with a promenade along the city walls?

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