Five getaways for December’s long weekend
Four free days can be put to good use, whether exploring the legendary landscapes of Europe’s large desert, the wineries and grill restaurants of the Ribera del Duero, the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees or what may be the world’s most exclusive forest, accessible to only 20 people a day. And even more so on the night of 7 December, when the hottest party of the long weekend will last until late on 8 December in La Vera.
Las Bardenas Reales, Europe’s biggest desert
With 42,000 hectares, southeast of Navarre and less than four hours from Madrid, Las Bardenas Reales have one of the continent’s most unexpected landscapes, so much so that it was used to recreate the Dothraki Sea in Game of Thrones. Its lands are filled with clay, sandstone and gypsum eroded by the Cierzo – the wind that comes from the Ebro Valley – and the torrential rains have created fantasy-like shapes, such as the Castil de Tierra, the Pisquerra, the Rincón de Bú, the Caídas de la Negra and the Vedado de Aguarás. Without summer’s heat or the occasional spring and autumn showers, December is perfect for enjoying the trails for hikers and MTB bikers in this Biosphere Reserve.
Where can you eat near Las Bardenas Reales?
You’ll need to dress warmly, but the local historical towns such as Tudela, where restaurante 33 is located – and those in the Cinco Villas area, such as Sábada in Zaragoza, home to La Encantaria restaurant, offer many options for warming up.
2,000 years of tradition fermenting grapes in Aranda de Duero
The capital of the Ribera del Duero area 160 km north of Madrid is the best operations centre to visit one of the country’s most important winemaking regions. Here, wine was once made to supply the armies of the Roman Empire, and from here now come bottles used for toasting worldwide, from wineries such as Dominio de Cair, Valduero, Pago de los Capellanes, Carmelo Rodeo, or Hermanos Pérez Pascua, most of them family businesses and many open to visitors. You can also see Aranda’s underground wineries, some 135 spread over 7km of tunnels dug between the 12th and 18th centuries under the city’s historical centre.
What can you eat in Aranda del Duero?
The compulsory complement to the visit must be a grill restaurant, such as Casa Rafael Corrales, Casa Florencio, or Mesón El Pastor, to pair the dish most identified with the area – suckling lamb – with wine. Surely the best lamb that anyone will taste during the Christmas season.
Asturian exclusivity in Muniellos
Only 20 visitors a day may access the Muniellos Forest, the biggest oak forest in Spain and one of the best-conserved in Europe, located in the far southwest of Asturias, in Cangas del Narcea, from where the wood to build the ships of the Invincible Armada was supplied. The place, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, belongs to the Las Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias Natural Park. Besides its characteristic Sessile oaks, there are also abundant yews, hollies, beeches and birches in an area of 2,695 hectares, and an attitude that reaches 1,500 metres from the 680 metres where the entrance is located. In that lower area, next to the river, there are also sycamores, willows and hazelnut trees. And they may also become covered with snow at this time of year.
How can you get to Muniellos?
It’s necessary to request prior permission, which is granted only once a year per person, and there are certain dates for which it’s best to make arrangements far in advance.
A snow safari
Descending 10km in a single day without repeating any slopes is the goal of the Safari 10mil challenge, proposed to visitors at the Aramón Cerler ski resort, considered one of Spain’s best – if not the best – and nestled in the Benasque Valley, on the highest peak of the Pyrenees is Huesca. With altitudes from 1,500 to 2,630 metres high, Cerler is surrounded by more than 60 peaks of more than 3,000 metres, and has the longest descent of the entire mountain range, the slope called “9 km”, with almost 1,000 metres of drop. The other nine making up the challenge include mountains such as Cogulla or Rincón del Cielo that, altogether, have 45 slopes of all levels.
Who can do the Safari 10mil?
Anyone deciding to descend the Safari 10mil needs to have a high level of skiing skill and be in good physical shape. Those who make it will receive a diploma of merit for having met the challenge, which can be used to show off during the dinner.
"Los escobazos" of La Vera
On 7 December, the traditional Los Escobazos festival fires up the winter in Jarandilla de la Vera, one of the villages with the most character in in the La Vera region, and next to the El Jerte Valley. This area in northeastern Cáceres, just two and a half hours from Madrid, is a natural gem, with 46 streams and gorges through which the water from the snows of the Tormantos mountain range flows among Roman bridges and mediaeval buildings until reaching the River Tiétar. This place is also the source of one of the fundamental ingredients of Spanish cuisine: Pimentón de La Vera paprika.
What is the Los Escobazos festival?
They say that it began in the 7th century. When winter arrives, after long periods with their cattle in the Gredos mountain range, shepherds would return home to Jarandilla to be with their families. They would arrive home on the night before the celebration of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, carrying ”escoberas” (bushes) that they would burn to light their way. When they reached the village, they would meet up in the square and everyone would celebrate by exchanging the burning bushes as a sign of joy. A night for playing with fire.