Monday, 12 February 2018

Lagos, Algarve

A fantastical group of wind driven installations on the roof terrace of the 16th century Ponta da Bandeira fort in Lagos by artist José Maria S. Pereira. In the background are the stunning bay of Lagos and Praia Batata.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Jurramachos of Montanchez, unique to Montanchez carnival

The slightly sinister jurramachos parade around the streets of Montanchez during carnival time. Usually men dressed as women, not glamorous sexy women in Rio carnival tradition but old crones dressed in rags clasping a little basket and the essential element, wearing a white cloth mask crudely cut with eye and mouth holes, they speak in falsetto gibberish, it's a little unnerving. No one seems to know the origin of this tradition but it is unique to Montanchez, these jurramachos do not appear anywhere else in Spain. Perhaps it's an echo from the past when carnival was banned during the Franco dictatorship for fear of dissension and resistance boiling up with heightened spirits;  Montanchez continued with their own version of carnival despite the repression, perhaps protected by their more remote situation up in the heights of the sierra.
It was a lively scene in the main plaza tonight with all the bars open, colourful costumes and fire eaters on stilts, children running in between having fun and games.

Thursday, 11 January 2018


Today on 11th January, it was dreary in the morning but developed into a sunny afternoon with luscious skies, clouds of all shades of white to greyish blue tumbling in magnificent formations. Thank goodness we are finally getting some precious rain which brought a lovely surprise overnight, a field of luminous yellow, only humble brassica or rape, not sure which but it was really cheering.
Later on my afternoon walk I found a few Linaria Spartea, just a few delicate flowers which made them more precious.
I will keep a blog commentary of newly springing flowers over the next few months until the explosion of flowers in April which are almost too many to name. For the moment I am celebrating these two humble yellow ones.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

An article from One Off Places about Finca al-manzil

An article that appears on One Off Places
Finca al-manzil: A special place to stay in Extremadura, the secret province of Spain

Created: 18/10/2017

`Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar....`. This famous quote by Antonio Machado translates as: `traveller there is no path, you make the path by walking`. To me, this sums up our journey - when we found our wonderful finca it was wild and beautiful, it still is but now you can experience it, live within the atmosphere.

We have built super comfortable, ecologically sound houses which do not disturb nature. We live with nature completely off -grid but with the important things in life; good food and wine, pure water, lovely pools for swimming, distraction by choice provided by hundreds of books, cds and dvds, definitely no television and very importantly, birdsong from every tree. We found what looked liked a good path and have created it. Come and see!

We discovered the finca 13 years ago, totally inspired by the magical views up to higher peaks and sweeping down to the olive groves. There were only atmospheric ruins on the land but how could we resist such a very special place? It was love at first sight. The challenge began. We renovated and extended two barns and the main farmhouse, the cortijo, built a swimming pool set into the contours of the mountain and improved the paths into the sierra. We now offer holiday accommodation for up to 6 in the cortijo and for 2 in either of our barns.

The whole finca is off-grid running on a powerful and modern solar system. It’s such a pleasure to live from renewable energy, everything running smoothly with the power of the sun. Our water comes from a deep borehole which brings up the purest water from deep underground streams. We decided right from the start to build ecologically sound houses designed for the climate, cool in summer and cosy in the short winter months. Local builders and craftsmen used local materials to create cool spacious interiors; one barn and the cortijo have double height sitting rooms, all the spaces are airy and light.

The carpentry from Montanchez was made by a family of 4th generation carpenters using seasoned chestnut wood. The interior decoration is a fusion of antiques and well made modern furniture with objects, paintings and rugs from our travels in Morocco, the Middle East and India, and some of the paintings are by me, I always have one or two on the go. There are well stocked book shelves and collections of dvds and cds in all the houses. We wanted the atmosphere to feel like an interesting and welcoming home not the average holiday rental.

The houses sit peacefully in the landscape, they are all in their own grounds and cannot be seen one from the other, nature is very close with old holm and cork oaks creating shade. Bird song is a constant theme. Immediately around the houses are charming terraces, patios and verandahs full of pots growing flowers and aromatic herbs. There are special spots for sun or shade all day, watching the moonrise or the sunset.

The cortijo has a wonderful roof terrace with the best view of the mountain peaks. The bigger barn has 1 hectare of its own private grounds with a copse of holm oaks in the middle of the meadow, perfect for outside dining or lazing in the hammocks.

Habiba, the smaller barn has a roof terrace on a level with the treetops and an especially dramatic rock formation, a great viewing point for the bird life.

This will be ready for booking in spring 2018.

Dinner can be ordered in any of the houses. There are lots of varied menus depending on the season with inspiration from those travels, especially Moroccan cuisine and of course wonderful Extremeno dishes made with the ingredients which are produced locally. We have trail bikes and can arrange horse riding for experienced riders.

And what of the surroundings? Finca al-manzil covers 20 hectares in the Sierra de Montanchez, Extremadura. It’s a perfect capsule experience of this wonderful sierra where life still follows the seasons depending on planting, tending and harvesting, donkeys still plod to places with no roads. On our finca there are lower pastures where horses graze, dense woodland, huge rock formations and on the higher reaches, wild and secluded places, havens for wildlife and especially birds of prey, protected by the astounding rocks and crags, there are Eagle Owls nesting up there.

The whole finca is connected to an ancient network of paths from Moorish times which lead to the most remote areas within the sierra. The characterful village of Montanchez is the central hub, famous for its Moorish castle, jamon and quaint fiestas. The rhythm of life is still very much agricultural; iberic pigs in the woodland, ancient olive groves, vineyards, chestnut woods, fig groves and cherry orchards.

Staying at the finca gives a choice of total tranquility and relaxation within the grounds and by the pool, or venturing out into the sierra for hours of walking, usually never meeting another person, just nature and spectacular views as one wanders further into the higher peaks. Although the finca is a paradise for nature lovers there are superb distractions in our local world heritage historical towns, all 40 kms on excellent roads. Trujillo, a little know gem of conquistador architecture with one of the most stunning plazas in Spain; Caceres, a perfectly preserved medieval town, used as a setting for Game of Thrones in 2017; Merida, the European city with the most Roman remains after Rome, a treasure house of Roman culture with an iconic museum designed by Moneo.

As we have been working and living in Extremadura for 13 years we can help with suggestions for fascinating visits to out of the way places either for a good walk or to explore some culture and architecture in the many historical towns and villages, unique fiestas and musical events, there’s always something going on. We can also recommend local restaurants and bodegas, the best places to buy wine , jamon, cheese and other delicious local specialties.

The finca is in a world of its own with its very special romantic, out of time atmosphere, somewhere to discover and enjoy with friends or family at the cortijo or just for two at the barns. We have made good friends with so many of our clients who have returned over and over again, especially the bird watchers and walkers. People so often ask us how we found this little slice of paradise and comment on how quiet it is. We're so happy we did find it!

Pippa Sharman is the owner of Finca al Manzil, and both the cortijo and the barn are advertised on One Off Places. The cortijo has three bedrooms and costs from €1300 per week. The barn has one bedroom and costs from €650 per week.


Tags: swimming, eco house, holiday accommodation, holiday house, barn conversion, extremadura, spain, off grid, finca, eco, walking, hiking, biking, hidden spain

Monday, 11 December 2017

Happy Christmas!

Our Christmas card this year is from a painting by Mary Fedden, I love nearly all her paintings which reflect her country life in several different locations, always full of flowers, food, wine and animals. Here is an interesting description of her life and work from the obituary in the Guardian, she died at 96 in 2012.  

Friday, 24 November 2017

Walk to choza at the top of Finca al-manzil

We had a misty rain yesterday which left everything refreshed and a bit greener. Went for hike up to the high olive grove and the big choza which is apparently the site of an iron age hill fort, certainly has amazing views. The woods smell wonderful, centuries of damp humus under foot, wild honeysuckle, unidentified fungi appearing, wild asparagus spears pushing up, griffon vultures flying around the peaks, maybe something adding to the decaying layers.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Excursion to Sierra de Aracena from Finca al-manzil

The Sierra de Aracena, north of Sevilla in Andalucia is a complete change of scenery and atmosphere only 2 hours away.
On the way we visited  Fregenal de la Sierra, a charming small town in the very south of the Badajoz province of Extremadura. 
The very special feature of Fregenal is the castle which was built by the order of the Knights Templars after the town was given to them in reward for their part in the re-conquest in 1283. Within the walls of the castle is a perfectly preserved 18th century bullring.  Also within the walls is the renovated market place, still bustling with stall holders selling the freshest produce straight from their own huertas.

After an interesting wander around Fregenal we continued on the winding route south to our favourite village in the Sierra de Aracena, Almonaster la Real, a great place for lunch and just passing time in the village with a climb up the hill to visit the unique mesquita. It was the site of a Roman temple, Visigoth basilica, Moorish mosque and now Christian ermita.


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