Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Habiba: a little house at Finca al-manzil

At last the casita is finished, it's been through various stages over the years. From tack room with basic accommodation surrounded by saddles and outside organic loo, then an open studio, now one big room with bathroom, dressing room and outside kitchen on covered porch. It still has the flat roof with amazing views of the countryside and  mountains, on eye level with surrounding trees and wonderful canchales, rock craggy rock formations .
We have called it Habiba which means "little darling" in Arabic, I like this word with a link to habi (tation).
Although it's super simple, it's really romantic tucked away in a beautiful part of the finca, very tranquil and secluded.
It's just for two and available from spring 2019.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Shopping in Trujillo from delicious to quaint

Outside the chocolate and cake shop, hand made chocolates and cakes, established in the 1950s

One of the many shops selling jamon, cheese and wine from Extremadura

Trujillo is really our favourite larger town. The old town is protected by two encircling walls, the inner wall is from Moorish times, protecting the alcazaba, the castle and the site of the mosque, now the iglesia de Santa Maria. The outer wall was built by the Christians to protect their extended town development from the reconquest in 1250, within this wall are superb examples of Casas Fuertes, houses built by the nobility with strong fortifications just in case of fresh invasions.
 As peace became well established and the township became more confident, building was extended outside the wall and trade built up in bustling and affluent community driven mainly by the wool trade.
 The next huge influence in the development of Trujillo and other larger towns in Extremadura was the cult of the conquistadors. Poor citizens had embarked on a great adventure, travelling the long road to Sevilla and Huelva to set sail for the new world and the founding of a huge new Spanish empire. Unfortunately the discovery and populating the new found lands in the Americas was drenched in blood and infamy. The Spanish conquistadors decimated  whole empires, Incas in Peru, Aztecs and Mayans in Mexico. The ill gotten gains from such single minded mayhem, torture and cruelty were beyond the dreams of these simple peasants from Extremadura; gold and silver, gems and slaves, all brought back to Spain and lavished on building cathedrals and palacios. Trujillo had a large share in this bounty brought back by some big names of conquistador fame, Pizarro and Orellano. The development of the town was extraordinary in the middle and late 16th century, huge palacios were built down on the flatter land below the castle, a fine plaza grew surrounded by the grandest palacios. The arcades around the plaza were dedicated to different food selling, bread, meat and fish.

Small streets running off the plaza were a hive of industry and commerce supporting all the trades and artisans. This wealth and affluence continued well into the 18th century and then suffered a setback with the coming of Napoleonic troops during the peninsular wars, the town was sacked and many building were destroyed by fire. 
Extremadura, generally, went into a slow decline, so far from the seat of power in Madrid, neglected and ignored. In the middle of the 20th century many of the fine buildings were in ruins, home to encampments of gypsies. 
A slow revival started from the interest of various investors and historians, including a member of my family, the Portuguese art historian and interior decorator Duarte Pinto Coelho who lovingly restored the beautiful Palacio Chaves Mendoza as well as advising on many other projects in Trujillo and Madrid.
Trujillo still remained a provincial country town but there was some hope and new businesses and shops started in the 50s and 60s. Today many of these orginal shops and businesses are still there, set in a time warp, very old fashioned but charming. New shops are opening to replace the many empty shop fronts, it's beginning to be interesting, especially for the gourmet food shops crammed with all the excellent Extremeno products: wine, cheese, jamon, pimenton and a specialist pastelaria and chocolate shop. Also the regular Thursday morning street market is well worth a visit, sprawling on the streets behind the plaza selling fresh produce, flowers and household goods.

A traditional drapery store with original fittings

A specialist cheese shop, selling all the cheeses that won prizes in Trujillo's cheese fair

Where to get your country cap and big knickers

A new shop called Al Grano, everything sold from sacks, tins and jars by the gram. Coffee, tea, rice and grains, spices and herbs, all put into cute little brown paper bags

Lots of old advertising around the town

Habla Bodega and vineyard is a few kms outside Trujillo on the road to Ibahernando.
It is a modern bodega set in its own vineyards where they produce the very delicious Habla wine. Very worthwhile buying it at the bodega or in local shops   http://www.bodegashabla.com/en/  

Also outside Trujillo in the village of Ibahernando is a big junk shop, treasures and trash. An amazing assortment of furniture, agricultural implements, clay pots and knick knacks. 
A lot of the stock comes from Switzerland as the owners have a house clearance business there so some surprising retro objects from 40s, 50s and 60s appear now and then. The address is CALLE DIECIOCHO DE JULIO, 44 (JUNTO AL CUARTEL DE LA GUARDIA CIVIL), IBAHERNANDO (CÁCERES )  C.P:10280  

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Brookwood....I just happened to be staying within a short walk of this iconic cemetery in leafy Surrey. There were echoes of the legendary Victorian London Necropolis in my mind, especially the train which was designated to take the dead from a special station near Waterloo to their final resting place at Brookwood, on a branch line from Woking. According to the strict rules of Victorian society the coffins and mourners were segregated according to their class and buried in different areas of the vast cemetery.
In the 1850s London was under siege from yet another cholera outbreak, the population had doubled since the beginning of the century, slums developed to house the ever increasing urban poor, cholera exploded, not only affecting the poor but all classes in teeming London. The numbers of dead simply had nowhere to go in the limited small parish churchyards of London.
A 2000 acre estate in Surrey was acquired from the Onslow family, planned meticulously as the London Necropolis, landscaped by gardeners from Kew with giant sequoias and fragrant bushes to accommodate the London dead for the next 500 years.In 1854 it was the largest cemetery in the world. 
Today Brookwood has an appropriately haunting atmosphere, one walks through the silent avenues of now magnificent trees, sees the scattered Victorian graves and mausoleums among the ferns and undergrowth but it seems to have reached a dead end as it were, no new burials for a long time, forgotten graves with gravestones leaning haphazardly.
However, the areas of the cemetery dedicated to non Christian burials such as Muslim, Zoroastrian and other religions still have many visits and tributes, flowers, incense, balloons. I found myself wandering back to the neglected graves of Victorian and Edwardian worthies, only they could afford a headstone or monument. The vast numbers of London poor were at least buried in an individual graves instead of the traditional mass pauper grave but there were no markers, just anonymous mounds, perhaps that's why the cemetery feels so sparsely populated with only the more solid gravestones still in evidence.
The cemetery is a grade I listed site which is good news as the vast peaceful area cannot be threatened by any development, the enormous sequoias grow in peace guarding what is really a huge nature reserve, silent as the grave.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Heaven at the finca

Thanks to one of our lovely guests we have this amazing image of the sky above the finca, my camera could never capture the glory of the milky way and is that Venus?

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Salvaterra do Extremo - a little village in Portugal

A forgotten little village in Portugal right on the border with Spain, the border crossing is a ford across the Rio Erges, a tributary of the Tajo. The village is built on the edge of the river gorge with amazing views into Spain including the Castillo de Peñafiel. Always so peaceful in the winding streets, nothing spectacular to see, a little melancholy with many houses in picturesque ruins and the graveyard with the the poignant words above the gate "campo da egualdade" once in there all men are equal.
 I wonder why we like going there? But it was a good thing to do on this hot, hot day, a picnic by the river with feet in the water.


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