Jumilla is renowned for its wine – tipped by the American wine guru Robert Parker to be one of the stars of the wine world by 2015, outselling both Rioja and Ribera del Duero – so stock up now!

However Jumilla is also becoming well-known locally for its gastronomy, which is why, during last year’s Semana Gastronómica, so many people travelled from places like Murcia, Orihuela and Alicante to enjoy a gastronomic feast in Jumilla’s restaurants.

This year the 6th  Semana Gastronómica takes place from Saturday 5th November until Sunday 13th November, giving you plenty of opportunities to visit Jumilla for a special meal in one of the nine participating restaurants for an inflation-proofed 30€ (the same as last year), which you will be pleased to hear includes your drinks.  You can also enter the prize draw to win a weekend for two in the Balneario Vichy Catalan near Girona: I have my fingers firmly crossed!

Many of the restaurants will be featuring local specialities, which tend to be meat-based, so you might want to check out the menus before making your reservation if you are a pescatarian like me.  Click on the link below to see the leaflet, which includes all the menus at the individual restaurants, as well as a list of establishments on the tapas route.

FOLLETO S. GASTRONOMICA

We plan to go to Restaurante Monasterio as six of their seven starters include fish or vegetables, and the good news is that you share the seven starters between you.  I just hope that I have enough room for my main course and dessert!

If your budget doesn’t stretch to a meal out, why not come along and take part in the Ruta de las Tapas?  You can try a tapa and a glass of Jumilla wine for just 2€, and there are eleven different bars and restaurants to visit, though preferably not on the same day – especially if you are the driver!  If you go to four different venues, make sure that you get your leaflet stamped at each one so that you can participate in a prize draw to win a meal in one of Jumilla’s  fine restaurants.  We are hoping to visit at least eight of them – obviously on different days – which will give us two entries.

Other activities that will be happening during the Gastronomic Week are as follows:

For early risers who drive a 4×4, there is a guided route around the area on Sunday 6th November, leaving Bodegas BSI at 8 a.m. and finishing in Bodegas Viña Elena.  Not having a 4×4, I won’t be there – at least, that’s my excuse! For more information, please contact:  693758933 (movil).

The tourist office is offering guided walks around Jumilla on Sunday 6th and Sunday 13th November.  Contact them for further details at: oficinaturismo@jumilla.org.  Please note that the guided walk will be in Spanish, though there are information boards in both Spanish and English outside the main sites.  However, if you would like a personalised tour in English, you can contact John and me via the Walkers Tours of Jumilla page on this website.

Sunday 13th is the European Day of Wine Tourism, and where better to celebrate it than Jumilla?  All of the bodegas on the Ruta del Vino will be open. Click on the links for each bodega on the Ruta del Vino website to get more information.

Finally, also on Sunday 13th November, there will be an artisans’ market in Plaza de Arriba, which sadly we will have to miss as we are running the Race for Life (Carrera de la Vida) in Los Alcazares on the same day.  If you don’t know Jumilla, there is a street plan on the Jumilla official website to help you find your way to the Plaza, as well as all the bars and restaurants.  However don’t worry if you do get lost – there will be plenty to see and do in Jumilla during the Semana Gastronómica and you are guaranteed a warm welcome in any bar or restaurant that you stumble upon.

Restaurante San Agustín, where you can enjoy a gastronomic meal as well as tapas y vino!

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Vineyards at Bodegas Martínez Verdu

The Vendimia is in full swing in Jumilla – we can tell as soon as we leave the house and sniff the air!  There is no mistaking the heady aroma of fermenting grapes, which will no doubt end up in a bottle of wine in a supermarket near you.  We are lucky, as we can walk down the road to buy our wine from the local bodegas, which saves us a bit of money as well as being very convenient.

In some parts of Spain they are celebrating the Fiesta de la Vendimia right now, however we think Jumilla has made a wise decision in celebrating its Fiesta in August before the hard work begins, especially as the beginning of the harvest is a moveable date, rather like the Fall in New England.

Jumillanos always enjoy a good party,  so I am sure they will find another excuse to celebrate once the Vendimia is over for another year.  After all, where else do you find people celebrating their saint’s day as well as their actual birthday?

The Vendimia in Jumilla started a couple of weeks earlier than it did in 2010.  We soon spotted the tractors and trailers heading down the road beside our house, and we also read about it on Facebook.  I am a Facebook friend of many of Jumilla’s best bodegas, including Viña Campanero, Hacienda del Carche, Silvano Garcia, Martínez Verdu and BSI: it helps to keep in touch!

Which way to the bodega?

This year we have noticed lots of lorries carrying grapes, as well as tractors and trailers of varying sizes.  We have also spotted several cars pulling smaller trailers full of grapes.

We were worried when we had some heavy rain recently, but fortunately it did not damage the crops as we had feared and it actually helped in the process of maturing the grapes.

You can tell that I am no wine expert when it comes to the technical details, in spite of having had several tours around local bodegas – but I do know a good wine when I taste it!  We are lucky to be living in Jumilla, with so many excellent bodegas around us.  The American wine guru Robert Parker consistently rates Jumilla’s wines highly, with many wines achieving over 90 points, and in particular for their excellent price to quality ratio.

Initial reports for 2011 sound very promising.  The volume of grapes is down 20% but we have heard from several sources that the quality of the grapes is good and expectations are high that this will be another very good vintage.

We will report back once we have tried this year’s wines, although sadly the Tinto Joven 2011 won’t be available until 2012, so we will have to make do with the rosados and blancos until then. On the whole we didn’t find last year’s wines as good as those from 2009, however – from what we’ve heard on the grapevine – 2011 should be a winner.  ¡Salud!

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If you enjoy meeting friends for a few drinks but don’t have unlimited funds, Spain is definitely the place to be.  I have been horrified by prices in London recently – even when meeting friends for a coffee – never mind the cost of a glass of wine!  No wonder so many fellow Brits have decided to retire to Spain, where they can still afford to have an active social life.

The best value for money is having a menú del día in a Spanish bar or restaurant, but sometimes you want to go out in the evening just for a change.  Spain again has to be the winner, especially as many places give you a free tapa with your glass of wine or beer.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the best bars in Jumilla if you fancy going out for some tapas with your friends.  Although free tapas are rare here, prices are so low that we don’t mind paying a bit extra: two euros for a drink and tapa isn’t exactly going to break the bank!

1.  Cervecería Borneo Avenida de la Libertad

Our dog Lisa recommends this bar.  There are tables outside, so she can sit with us while we enjoy our coffees, or a glass of wine in the evening.  The owner always makes a fuss of her too, so it is no 1 on Lisa’s list. Although they don’t do a menú del día here, the food is very good and reasonably priced.  We tried their hamburgers (in my case it was a fishburger) and can confirm that it made a very tasty and filling snack for less than 3€, and they always have a good selection of tapas on display, which we all enjoy sampling.

Borneo – recommended by Lisa

2.  Bar La Casa Avenida de Reyes Católicos 13

If you want to bump into lots of expats come here on Tuesday mornings at around 12 noon, and especially on the first Tuesday of the month when we have our English book swap from 11.00 to 13.00.  If you want to avoid your fellow Brits, then give it a miss on Tuesdays!

Although the bar is tiny, there is a dining area behind where you can sit if the bar is full and – even better – a lovely walled patio at the back where we sit in the summer months, though sadly Lisa isn’t allowed in there.  Cristina and her parents always give us a warm welcome – and in the winter months, when the wood fire is burning, it is lovely and warm in the dining area too!

Bar La Casa

3.  Bar Central Plaza Alcoholero de Menor

This is a recent addition, situated in the Roque Baños Centre, although we understand that there was a Bar Central on Calle Canovas during the 60s.  Their tapas are very good and their prices are very cheap, so not surprisingly it has become a favourite haunt, especially after our Spanish lessons in the nearby Adult Education Centre twice a week. Lisa also enjoys sitting outside this bar, watching the world go by, though she doesn’t find it quite as relaxing as Borneo.

4. Cafetería de Estacion de Autobuses Avenida de la Libertad

This is another venue with the Lisa seal of approval, especially during fiestas.  We sat outside with friends, plus Lisa, after watching one of the processions during the Fiesta de la Vendimia and had the best sepia y champiñones ever. We realised that Lisa liked this bar when we tried to walk past it last week, and she pulled on her lead until we walked over to one of the tables and sat down to order coffee!

5. Nuestro Bar Los Milanos

Incredible food at incredible prices: if we only lived closer to Nuestro Bar it would be our regular haunt.  Faustino had a well-deserved excellent write-up onTripAdvisor, after two American visitors had eaten there a couple of times.  Having shared the paella with Cathy and Ed on their second visit to Nuestro Bar, we can wholeheartedly agree with her comments!

Whenever we are near Nuestro Bar we pop in for coffee or wine and tapas, and always receive a warm welcome and very good service: the one time we thought they were being a teeny bit slow, we discovered when we left that dozens of people were sitting outside enjoying drinks and tapas as well!

Faustino joined us for the photo call in Nuestro Bar

6. Bar La Tapa “Rincon de Pedro” Calle Marchante, 8

A typical Spanish bar: small, always busy, usually noisy and with a good selection of tapas as befits its name.  It used to be a regular haunt when we first moved here and were renting a flat in the centre of Jumilla.  The biggest smile we have ever seen on Pedro’s face was reserved for John’s grandsons when they came to visit us: Pedro presented them with Kinder eggs and bags of crisps.  Pedro enjoys good music and has been known to increase the volume when his favourite tracks are playing, drowning out all conversation.

7.  Bar California Calle Canovas de Castillo

This is the exception to the unwritten rule that the floors of the best bars are always covered in litter.  Whenever we go into Bar California it is busy, however the floor is always spotless, and it is renowned for being the cleanest bar in Jumilla.  Their tapas are good and it is very popular with the locals – presumably because of the tapas rather than its clean floors!

8. Bar Canarias C/Jesús Sánchez Carrillo, 4

In our neighbourhood, and near the local market, Bar Canarias is one of our favourites.  Lisa enjoys visiting it during the summer when tables are outside, and is always made to feel welcome.  The owner speaks good English, though we always try to speak to him in Spanish.  Depending on his mood, he will greet us in English, Spanish or a mixture of both!  We took friends here for wine and tapas after going to a carol concert last year and they were impressed by both the food and the prices.

Bar Canarias

9.  Bar Chaparral Avenida de Yecla, 75

A good place to go to with friends when you are very hungry but don’t want to spend a fortune: its tapas are excellent and unbelievably cheap, so you can afford to buy loads.  Our best Christmas party ever was upstairs in Bar Chaparral, which the Adult Education Centre had booked for its students.  The amount of dishes they produced was amazing, and all of them were delicious.  Fingers crossed that we go there again this year!

10. Bar Gatico Negro Calle San Roque

Apparently the original bar wasn’t very salubrious, however it had closed down before we moved to Jumilla.  After being completely renovated, it re-opened under new management about six months ago.  It is a small, friendly bar with good tapas, plus they have a room upstairs for larger groups.

11.  Cafetería Los Angeles Plaza Pablo Picasso

Recently opened and conveniently close to home, so we often stop here with Lisa for a coffee on the way back from the shops.  She has her favourite table and looks very annoyed if somebody else is sitting there!  Although they don’t do tapas here, if we stop for a glass of wine in the evening we ask for olives or almonds with our drinks.  I don’t think I have ever seen local people have an alcoholic drink without something to nibble on, which is a healthy habit we have adopted since moving to Spain.

Cafetería Los Angeles

12.  Heladería Cinema C/ Canovas del Castillo, 67

I know that strictly speaking ice-cream doesn’t come under the heading of tapas, but on a hot summer’s day, when you really fancy an ice-cream, this is the best place to go for one in Jumilla.  All their ice-cream is home-made, there is a huge selection to choose from, and they are all absolutely delicious.  Sadly they don’t sell ice-cream during the winter months, so John’s daughter-in-law Katy was bitterly disappointed when she visited us in February and couldn’t sample their ice-creams!

13.  Restaurante San Agustín Avenida de la Asunción, 64

A long-term favourite of ours for their menú del día, we also enjoy going to San Agustín for tapas in the bar, though unfortunately they don’t have tables outside so Lisa has to stay at home.  Popular with the locals, which isn’t surprising considering how good the food is, and there is always a lively atmosphere.

14.  Bar las Delicias C/Lope de Vega-C/Hernando de Nuño

This is a comparatively new bar in our local barrio of San Juan.  In recent years, sadly, we have seen many businesses close down or change hands, however we are confident that Bar las Delicias will be here to stay because of their good tapas and cheap prices.  I am always on the look out for special offers on the facebook page of the manager, Ester Delgado Rodríguez.

Of course these aren’t the only places in Jumilla where you can find tasty tapas, and the following bars and restaurants are also good places to visit on your tapas trail:   Restaurante Reyes Católicos; Bar Paraíso; Restaurante Monasterio; Duque de Lerma; Meson Jumillano; Bar Ave: Cervecería Castillo; Cervecería Levante.  Plus many, many more!

Before you visit Jumilla, why not print out the street map to help you find the recommended places?  Otherwise, just pop into any bar that takes your fancy: you are sure to have a good time.  ¡Aproveche!

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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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Official launch of La Fiesta de la Vendimia, with the Niño de las Uvas

 August is an exhausting month for those of us who live in Jumilla, even if we are only spectating.  We met a couple of people last week who live near Pinoso, who said they were “all fiesta-ed out” after their own fiestas, and we knew exactly what they meant.

The programme for the Feria y Fiestas de Agosto shows 10 days of celebrations: at the time of starting this post we were only into day 7 and I was already flagging a bit and seriously considering having a siesta, which may have been the only sane way to survive all the partying.

Although there are activities throughout the day, most of the main events are held at an hour when many of our compatriots would be considering retiring for the night. Not only that, but you usually have to add at least thirty minutes to the official start time.  The Noche de las Antorchas was held in the castle, and with such an atmospheric setting we weren’t worried about the lateness of the hour.

The night of the torches in Jumilla castle

 We were fortunate to get tickets for the Gran Fiesta de la Exaltacíón del Vino held in the gardens of Salones Pio XII, which kicked off the proceedings for the 40th Fiesta de la Vendimia.  Our first year in Jumilla we had joined the queue outside the Ayuntamiento to buy tickets, but they had sold out before we reached the head of the queue.  The following year we queued outside the Roque Baños centre for several hours and this time we succeeded in getting tickets, presumably because they had limited everyone to a maximum of two tickets.  This year we used our contacts and reserved our two tickets in advance: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know……!!

Apparently there were over 1,000 people at the Gran Exultación, and we soon realised that it was the place to go to and to be seen at.  In our slightly biased view it wasn’t as enjoyable an evening as La Gran Cata, however with all our favourite bodegas being present, allowing us to wander around with wine glass in hand and ask for a taste of their best wines, plus plates of food constantly appearing, it was still a pretty damned good night out.  Being a child at heart, I absolutely loved the firework display at the end!

Entrance of the Christians

The first procession of the August Feria was the Entrada Cristiana on Saturday night, where we saw the first Christians approaching us at about 20.45.  As they were due to start at 20.00, we calculated that they probably left the Plaza del Rollo at 20.30, with the customary half hour delay.  Not that we worried as we were sitting with friends at a table outside Bar California, which was a prime viewing spot, enjoying some Jumilla wine. 

I have to say that I was impressed by the Gran Entrada Mora (the Moors) on Sunday night.  We went to watch the start at a spot conveniently close to Nuestro Bar, where we saw a group of splendidly dressed Moros enjoying tapas and drinks outside, while two of the bands had congregated inside the bar, with only ten minutes to go before the scheduled start time.  We decided to have some of the aptly named delicias de bacalao and a cold drink, as it didn’t looks as if the participants were about to go anywhere soon.  Much to our amazement, the Gran Entrada Mora set off barely ten minutes late. 

Although there are separate processions for the Moors and Christians, it’s all very civilised (apart from the fighting, that is) so lots of Moros appeared in the Cristianos procession and vice versa.  I do think that it is a bit unfair that the Moors have the most sumptous costumes, though the Christians looked impressive too.

Entrance of the Moors

If one fiesta wasn’t enough, we also enjoyed the National Folklore Festival last weekend.  The inaugural event was on Saturday night after the Entrada Cristiana, starting at 22.00.  The Jardín de la Glorieta was packed as we witnessed Los Armaos marching onto the stage for the traditional “el Caracol” before we watched several folk groups playing music, singing and dancing.

Impressive though it was, I think we preferred the more intimate atmosphere on Monday in the barrio of San Antón.  After performing several lively dances, the Grupo de Folklore Caramancho de Badajoz responded to the cries of “Otras” by persuading several onlookers to join in.  Luckily John and I were hiding in the shadows!

The neighbours joined in the dancing

If we had had the stamina there were dozens of events that we could have enjoyed, however we decided to limit ourselves as we were due to go away the following weekend – and we needed to conserve our energy for that.  We still managed to enjoy several folk dancing events, the Artisans´Market, the Solemn Procession in honour of la Patrona, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, the Children’s Cabalgata and the finale of the Moros y Cristianos Fiesta.  The dramatic re-enactment of the Ambassadors and Parliament took place on the Paseo.  This event involved lots of fighting and bodies falling to the ground, the clashing of heavy swords with sparks flying and a large horse charging towards the Moros.  Spendid stuff!

Waiting to charge at the Moors

Of course most people associate August in Jumilla with the Fiesta de la Vendimia, and so we had two groups of British visitors on Thursday who wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  We showed them around Jumilla in the morning, stopping only to enjoy the Feria de Día (a glass of wine and special tapa for 2€) in a couple of good bars.  We had also booked a visit to Bodegas Silvano Garcia to keep them occupied in the afternoon. 

 The visitors had opted for the Cabalgata Tradicional (the one that doesn’t involve getting drenched in red wine) so we all met up again at 20.30, having booked a couple of tables across the road from Nuestro Bar.  Everybody ordered drinks and tapas, though once the procession reached us we were being handed tiny plastic glasses of wine and sangria, plus tastings of food, so we weren’t in any danger of becoming thirsty or hungry.

Cabalgata Tradicional - wine anyone?

I nearly forgot to mention the Miniferia del Vino that took place on the first Saturday of the fiestas.  3€ for a wine glass that you can take home, then a stroll through the gardens, where we tasted wine at the many stands representing some of Jumilla’s best bodegas and snacked on cheese, ham, nuts etc.  Not surprisingly we were there - as we have been for the last three years - tasting our favourite wines. 

An honourable mention too for the Ofrenda de Uvas to the Niño de las Uvas, which is one of the most popular processions.  We sat outside the ice-cream parlour enjoying home-made ice-cream (as you do) while watching men, women and children dressed in traditional costumes carrying their baskets of grapes into the Jardín.

Offering of the grapes and first must

 An amazing ten days of celebrations in Jumilla – now we have to catch up the many hours of sleep that we missed!

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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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My intention for the last post in July was to give detailed information about the forthcoming Feria y Fiestas de Agosto.  However trying to get advance tourist information in Jumilla is like trying to pull teeth – and isn’t helped by the fact that the Oficina de Turismo is closed until 2nd August! 

There are colourful posters on display all around Jumilla, depicting the 40th Anniversary of the Fiesta de la Vendimia, the 30th Anniversary of the National Folklore Festival and the 25th Anniversary of the Moors and Christians, however there don’t appear to be any leaflets or booklets giving more specific details. 

Research on the internet has given me a few key dates, but all I know about the Moros y Cristianos so far  is that the Noche de las Antorchas will be at 21.00 on Saturday 6th August in the Castle - and the other main events will be taking place between 12th and 16th August.

Moros y Cristianos procession 2010

National Folklore Festival

Music and dance groups from Badajoz, Almerís, León, Tenerife and A Coruña will be performing, as well as the Coros y Danzas de Jumilla.

Saturday 13 August

22.00 Inaugural session in the Jardín de la Glorieta.

Sunday 14 August

13.30 Music and dancing in the streets. The groups will perform in the different barrios of Jumilla.     

18.30 Traditional games.  Paseo Lorenzo Guardiola.

20.00 Sones de España – concert of traditional music.  Julián Santos Auditorium

Monday 15 August

13.30   Music and dancing in the streets. The groups will perform again in the barrios of Jumilla, giving you the opportunity to watch a different group.                 

21.30 Procession of the participating groups from Plaza de Arriba to Jardín de la Glorieta, where the closing gala will take place at 22.00.       

Festival Nacional de Folklore 2010

 The complete programme, plus details about the participating groups, can be found on the FNF website.

Fiesta de la Vendimia

Friday 12 August

21.30 Inauguration of the Fountain of Wine (yes, wine will be flowing!), Jardín de la Glorieta

22.30 Inauguration of the D.O. Jumilla wine stand, Paseo Poeta Lorenzo Guardiola.  This is where you go for your free samples!

Saturday 13 August

08.00 Gran Pitanza Fiesta del la Vendimia in the Plaza del Mercado.  This is a new event, but I gather that it will be going on all day, allowing you to sample various local dishes.

12.00 Miniferia del Vino,  Jardín del Rey Don Pedro.  Sshhh!  So far I haven’t found anything in print or on the web, but my sources have assured me that this popular event will be taking place on Saturday, and it usually starts at 12.00, so we will be heading there hopefully.  It is a great opportunity to try 2 or 3 different wines  and discover your favourites.  (OK, we usually try a few more than that, but we don’t want to be seen favouring a particular bodega!) The usual format is to buy a glass for a few euros then go round the many stands sampling different wines.

Tuesday 16 August

20.30 Cabalgata Infantil.  The children’s procession starts assembling in Plaza del Rollo at 20.00, then goes along the main streets of Jumilla, finishing behind the covered market.

Wednesday 17 August

Día del Niño The day for children of all ages to go along to the fairground, where they are offering 2 x 1 on all the rides.

21.00 Offering of the grapes and first grape juice to the Niño de las Uvas, Jardín de la Glorieta.

Thursday 18 August

11.00 – 13.30 Exhibition of all the floats taking part in the annual competition, Paseo Lorenzo Guardiola.

Cabalgata tradicional 2010

20.30 Cabalgata Tradicional  This is the traditional procession, for those of us who prefer to sample wines rather than getting soaked in the stuff! Again it starts assembling in Plaza del Rollo at 20.00 and follows the same route as the children’s procession. We can definitely recommend this one, as all our friends have enjoyed it.

Saturday 20 August

19.00 Gran Cabalgata del Vino  OK.  If you insist on getting drenched in red wine (don’t wear your best clothes) then head to Avenida de Reyes Católicos and Avenida de Murcia where the procession starts assembling at 18.00, going along the main streets of Jumilla.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 

For more details about all the events in the Fiesta de la Vendimia, check the Federation of Peñas website.  Watch this space for further updates, as there will be 4 concerts taking place, but so far I don’t know the dates!

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Wow!  That was the first word to come to mind when we entered the Jardín Botánico last night: José María of Los Chilines had surpassed even his high standards.

This was the third Gran Cata that we have attended since moving to Jumilla.  We thought the first one in Jardín de Los Caños was great – lots of good food and lots of good wine - even though we were sitting on stone seats.  We encouraged our friends Lesley and John to join us for last year’s Gran Cata, which proved to be even better, with live music from a local group, plus chairs had been provided for us all to sit on. 

We all reserved our tickets for this year’s Gran Cata as soon as details appeared, which was lucky as they sold out almost immediately, such is José María’s reputation for organising excellent wine tasting events.

La Gran Cata 2009

La Gran Cata mark III was held in the beautiful surroundings of the Jardín Botánico however the first thing we noticed on arrival was a red carpet!  We walked along the red carpet, stopped to have our photos taken by Fotocool and then headed for the lounge area.  I was wearing flat shoes, suspecting that we might have to stand up all evening as it was a far bigger event than before, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that tables and chairs had been set out.

We were soon joined by a group of young people, one of whom introduced herself and said she was keen to practise her English on us.  She was called Victoria, and we realised that she was the singer who would be providing the evening’s entertainment later on.

The whole evening was exceptionally well organised, especially considering there were two hundred and fifty people present.  Bar Paraiso were in charge of catering again, so we knew that the food would be very tasty.  The wine waiters timed things to perfection, so we all had the right wine to taste as the wine makers from the 10 participating bodegas introduced their individual wines. 

Waiting with Lesley and John for the food and wine to appear

I think the four British pensioners were the only people present to appreciate the irony of one wine being named Crápula, though we tried to explain it to the chicos and chicas at our table.  Our favourite wines were Divus, Gemina Cuvee, Calzas and Juan Gil 18 meses.  Wine tasting is all about individual taste though as, in spite of us not rating Crápula, the wine guru Robert Parker gave it 90 points!

While we were tasting the first five wines, plates of delicious food kept arriving.  Our Spanish companions were eagerly waiting for the jamón, which the champion Maestro Cortador de Jamón was carving, so I kindly helped them out with the seafood tapas and cheeses. 

Victoria disappeared with Paco her guitarist just after we had tasted the fourth wine (she was being abstemious though, only drinking water and coke) and she then appeared on stage to perform her first set.  Victoria had already told us that only three of her twenty five songs would be sung in Spanish, so not surprisingly we knew most of the words.

After tasting the final five wines we listened to Victoria’s second set, while more bottles of wine were being brought round, giving us a chance to taste our favourites again.  By now several people were up dancing and, once I had twisted John’s arm, we joined them for a couple of lively numbers.  After that Lesley and I discovered the Dulce Zone, where tiny desserts and chocolate truffles had been laid out, so we headed eagerly in that direction.  Yummy!

Listen to Victoria singing “Mrs Robinson”

We left at one o’clock, having had more than enough food and wine, however we noticed on the way out that Chaplin Bar was serving drinks to those with more stamina than us.

Many congratulations to José María and his team for organising such an amazing event – we are already looking forward to next year’s Gran Cata!

PS What do you think we had to pay for this great evening?  Please leave your guesses in the comments box below, and I will post the answer next week.

La Gran Cata 2011

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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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Of course you should never generalise - and I guess a lot of what I am about to say will be true about Spaniards generally and not just those who live here in Jumilla – however these are my observations about our Spanish friends and neighbours. 

1.  They are direct and blunt, to the point of being almost rude.  They see our dog Lisa and tell us she is gorda.  Our little dog isn’t fat, we tell them, she’s just well-built.  She has big bones.  At least it keeps me on my toes and ensures I don’t over-indulge: I don’t want them turning round and saying that I am gorda the next time they see me!  They also want to know how much money we paid for our house.  No beating about the bush, just a direct request to tell them how much dinero we handed over when we bought it.  John and I don’t mind this, maybe because we are both northerners (I’m from the northeast of England and he is Scottish) so we are used to people speaking their minds.

2.  They are very helpful and caring.  Not long after we moved into our apartment our trastero (storeroom) was broken into and some items were stolen.  One neighbour we hardly knew offered to drive us to the Guardia Civil to report the robbery, and then said she would wait with us there.  Another neighbour whom we had never met before rang our doorbell, said how sorry he was to hear about the break-in, and then said we were welcome to keep our remaining belongings in his trastero until our door had been replaced.

3.  Jumillanos are very friendly and chatty.  Whenever we walk down the road, children will call out Hola or sometimes Hello, and the adults will also greet us and ask us how we are or comment about the weather.   I guess it helps that we have a dog, as we now know all the other dog owners in the area.  Now when they see us without Lisa they ask us where she is.  If they aren’t close enough to speak, for example on the far side of the road, they will call across and wave to us.  If they are in a car they will toot their horn until we see them and wave back.  Sometimes they will stop their car on a crossing so that we can have a conversation.

4.   Jumillanos love to party and don’t need much of an excuse to have a celebration.  In Spain you don’t just celebrate your actual birthday, you also celebrate your saint’s day.  I like that idea, especially since I discovered that August 11th is the feastday of St Susanna, so I don’t have too long to wait.  We had a party with our neighbours for the inauguration of  our apartment block and another one for the anniversary of the inauguration.  We invited them to our apartment for a party to celebrate the launch of my book.  We live in the barrio of San Juan, so obviously we have a good time during the Fiestas de San Juan, with several days’ partying.  August though is one of the best months for fiestas, with the Fiesta de la Vendimia, Fiesta of the patron saint of Jumilla (Our Lady of Assumption), National Folklore Festival plus Moors and Christians festivities.

Spanish friends and neighbours at the fiesta for my book launch

5.  Jumillanos aren’t too worried about punctuality.  Today we showed a group of about fifty people from San Pedro de la Pinatar around Jumilla.  We had arranged with the town hall for the castle to be opened at 11.00, as it is usually only open at weekends.  We waited outside the castle gates in the coach, looking at our watches a bit anxiously, as it was 11.00 and nobody was around.  A couple of minutes later a car stopped beside us and a man got out, brandishing a large bunch of keys.  He noticed the group leader looking at his watch and smiled as he said: “A las once!”  By now it was five past but as far as he was concerned he was there by 11.00.  Personally I was amazed that he had arrived that early, as the majority of events here start at least 30 minutes later than advertised.

6.  Jumillanos are very proud of their city.  When a local wine shop had a wine tasting evening: Rioja vs Jumilla, we weren’t at all surprised that everybody voted for the Jumilla wines.  We like the local wines, and they have won many medals, but a couple of the wines from Rioja were very good as well.  A couple of other people said the same, but when it came to the vote, Jumilla won.  The greatest compliment that we have been paid since moving here is to be called Jumillanos, and to know that we have been accepted as one of the vecinos (neighbours).

So where do you live?  What are your neighbours like?  Please leave your answers below, but nothing too libellous please!

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