A Catalan in Cantabria

Villa Quijano, commonly know as El Capricho is a house that was made for Máximo Díaz de Quijano, a wealthy man who made most of his money as a sugar tradesman in Cuba.

Built and designed, between 1883 and 1885, by Gaudí when he was 31 years old and is one of the only 2 buildings of this architect outside Cataluña. The house is in the coastal town of Comillas in Cantabria and it is also one of the first buildings of Antoni Gaudi.

Around 100.000 people visit this house each year and pay the 5 euro entry fee to witness some of Gaudi’s earlier designs.

Andorran gastronomy

The “bordas” are typical rural buildings made of wood and stone, legacy of Andorra’s rural past. Bordas were used as haystacks, stables, refuges or to store farm implements. With the change in lifestyle, many bordas were abandoned and only recently converted over the years into hotels, houses or rustic restaurants.

Borda del Rector is in the entrance to Incles Valley, between Soldeu and El Tarter. It has been opened since 1968 and specializes in homemade Andorran cuisine.

Being in between Spain and France, Andorra has taken on cooking traditions from both these countries and has also developed and maintained some of its own, unique recipes, using local wild produce as much as possible.

High in the corner of Andorra

In the extreme northwest of Andorra, in the parish of Ordino and adjacent to the border with France; protected by the top of some of the Pyrenees mountains, and chaired by the Tristaina peak (2,878 meters high), is a group of three lakes.

A 6.5km walk will take you through the three lakes starting with a steep initial climb which has a slope of around 300 meters. The first lake, “Estany Primer”, is at 2250 meters high. The third and highest, at 2330mts, is called the “Estany de Més Amunt”.

Start the walk early for two reasons. First, there will be a lot less people. And secondly, local knowledge says that the best weather is in the mornings, and that it is more likely to rain in the afternoon.

In each lake fly fishers try their luck. They can only take a maximum of 8 fishes of 22cm long as a minimum. Fish introduced a long time ago by humans as originally this glacier did not have any fish.

A country of valleys and peaks

In Europe Andorra ranks in as the sixth smallest nation. It consists of 181 square miles and a population of only 78,000.

This tiny country has one of the highest human life expectancies in the world, the expected life span of a person is 82 years of age.

With no airports and no rail system it is a wonder that over 10 million tourists visit Andorra each year, mostly for the skiing. Andorra’s revenue is generated from all these visitors; it constitutes ~80% of Andorra’s GDP along with the finance sector.

This little country in the Pyrenees is divided in parishes. Ordino, at 1,298m high, has 4810 inhabitants and is one of the most beautiful Andorran towns. A nice place to stay with numerous restaurants to pick from

Tammie Norries

Puffins, or clifftop clowns, have one of the biggest colonies here, in a tucked away British island somewhere between Scotland and Norway.

As advertised, Shetland is a birdwatchers paradise and these little fellows share the impressive cliffs with gannets, fulmars, guillemots, razorbirds, kittiwakes and shags.

Their beaks full of colour remind me of toucans, but puffins are not graceful landing nor flying. If anything they are rather clumsy and quite comical. They use their colourful beaks and powerful legs to dig out the same burrows where each spring puffin couples return to procreate.

How many can you count?

The water of life

To make the water of life all you need is barley, water, yeast and time.

The barley is best if it is still slightly green and it is then heated up with steam from peat to give the grains a smokey flavour. It is wetted and spread out on malting floors to germinate, being turned regularly to prevent the build up of heat. The barley is grinded to a perfect consistency to then be mixed with water at different temperatures. The mix gets yeast added to it to ferment. It is then distilled twice in specific stills. Some say their shape affects the whisky reason why distilleries try and keep their stills exactly the same for years. Whisky, to be called that, and to be sold needs to be aged in either sherry or bourbon barrels; this gives the drink its unique colour.

All the distillate passes through a mechanism called the still safe which were traditionally controlled by the Customs department by holding the key. The contraption allows whisky makers to test the alcohol contents and nowadays the keys are held by the distilling houses but still need to keep tight controls of who has access to prove the beverage was not tampered with.

Whether you like your Scottish drink light, smoky, rich or delicate, there is no other place better than this Scottish corner.

The key to Scotland

Stirling Castle was the key to the kingdom of Scotland. So much that the popular saying is that “if you hold Stirling Castle, you hold Scotland”.

This stone castle witnessed some of the most dramatic and important events in Scottish history, including the infamous murder of the earl of Douglas by James II. The castle later became an important military base until the 1960’s.

When the soldiers left, the castle has been subject to major restoration projects to return the main buildings to their original glory for just £12 million. The castle re-opened to the public in June 2011 and aims to take visitors back in time to the 16th century life. Impressive work was done to the Great Hall. Its hammer-beam roof and parapet were replaced using the same traditional way than centuries ago. An interesting fact is that not one nail was used in this upside-down boat like structure; the woodwork is held together with 2328 oak pegs.

Part of making visitors feel in the era is impersonating people from the time. If you are lucky you might get a chance to play House of Fortune. A gambling game originally called Glückshouse; though the brits later changed its name to House of Fortune or Lucky Pig.

A visit will tell you even more stories from the castle’s long history as a special place in Scotland.

A history of escapes

With the risk of loosing Perth and WA to other colonies, the brits saw no other way to keep this side of the world than to do the same as in the rest of Australia: build a city with convicts. Freemantle prison was first known as the Convict Establishment; it was built by convicts for convicts between 1852 and 1859 using limestone quarried on the site. The first prisoners moved into the main cell block in 1855 and the prison continued to be used until 1991.

On its own, Fremantle Prison isn’t World Heritage though it is part of a group of 11 convict sites in Australia which together are on the list.

One of the Prison’s most famous inmates was Joseph Bolitho Johns, known as Moondyne Joe. He became famous for a lifetime of escapes from the prison. A habit that never died, even after finishing his last sentence, Moondyne Joe escaped three times the psychiatric ward he got put in.

Walking in the sky

A good stop to stretch your legs, if you are heading North from Denmark, is the Granite Skywalk. A 4.4 km return hike up 282 meters incline through the Porongurup National Park. During the bushwalk you can enjoy the vegetation or admire the massive granite boulders that nature has created. These rocks are, and have been for millions of years, in an eternal balancing act that started with a crack and rain drops running through them; until eventually they are what we see today.

At the top of the hike you have a choice of two lookouts. The upper lookout perches over the side of Castle Rock and requires scrambling over and under rocks and climbing a rattling ladder. The lower lookout, the Karri Lookout, for those who are not comfortable with the adrenaline pump to go up to the upper lookout. Both offering amazing views of the region and a healthy dose of cold wind blowing in your face.

In WA not Europe

With so much to do around the area, Denmark is a popular tourist destination. It is surrounded by beautiful beaches and tall forests and a small town which is home to 5,000 people. The Denmark region is known to the aboriginal community as ‘Koorabup’ meaning ‘place of the Black Swan’. The Bibbulmum Track, one of the world’s great long distance walking trails, crosses the town. This walk is nearly 1000km. Other walking, or running, tracks are just as spectacular, if not as long.