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Destination: Gambia. The Gateway to Africa

By Clara Arnedo

I’ve just got back from Gambia and some of the sights still linger in my mind: the rainbow that appears onTanji beach every day at sunset, when fishing boats laden with fish come back to the port, and the whole town takes part in collecting and selling the fresh fish. These are just a few of the memories that this small but perfect country leaves with you, to help you get an idea of what Africa is really like. Now Vueling makes it easier for us to travel to the Gambia, with a new route connecting Barcelona and Banjul, the capital of the country.

The journey starts in the capital, Banjul, a city that is small and pleasant. And so is the country, with a population of 1.6 million. Banjul is a relatively safe and peaceful city, where it is worth exploring the crowded colourful markets selling all kinds of wares. The most outstanding is Albert Market, a large typically African market mainly selling fruit, vegetables and fish. When sellers and customers see us they are reluctant at first and quickly avoid our cameras. But after a while they gradually become more open and available. All they need is a little time.

Another attraction in the city is Arch 22, in honour of the president, the bodyguard of the former president, who took his position on 22 June 1994. Since then he has been the great protagonist of the Gambia: we see Yahya Jammeh everywhere – on posters stuck on walls and lampposts in every village and every town.

But the Gambia is especially a country with a coast that opens out to the Atlantic Ocean; a wedge-shaped country that cuts into Senegal and is divided in two by the river that gives the country its name – the Gambia.

First we go to the coast to discover the long, fine sand beaches of Banjul. There are hotels on the seafront, affording a spectacular view of the ocean. But the most memorable fishing scene has got to be Tanji, where you can find a flurry of colours and life every evening on the shore when the fish is brought in. It seems like chaos but there is actually an internal organisation and hierarchy, and laws that enable the same spectacle to happen every day at sunset. The men are strong and muscular and are in charge of carrying tons of fish from the boats to the beach, balancing the baskets on their heads. Once they are on the shore, the women collect the treasure to wash it and prepare it to be sold… young men run further to look for spots to set up and sell the fish. The children often follow, running fast at their heels, hoping to catch a bit of fish that might fall on the way. This makeshift fish market on the sand is the tip of the iceberg of this small country that is bursting with life. In the morning, in that same spot, a colourful fruit and vegetable market materialises, dominated by women buying and selling food. One of these women is Ida Cham Njai, a beautiful and energetic chef who offers the unique experience of accompanying her to shop in the market, and then spending a pleasant day cooking local produce with her at her home. The gastronomy and local produce are the best ways to learn a bit more about this pleasant destination.

A British redoubt in colonial times, it is now one of the smallest countries in West Africa. It also has one of the highest birth rates. The Gambia is full of children, and mothers who wrap them to their hips: it is a beautiful and typical scene of the country. The rest of the country is made up of the jungle, nature and many animals: monkeys, birds and even hippos. The further upstream you go, the wilder nature is, and the more rural the population is… it is a wild adventure to go up the river towards the town of Georgetown, because there are not many places for accommodation. Tourism is not widely developed in the Gambia, and that is part of its charm. In any case, you don’t have to travel very far from Banjul to discover the wild. NearSerrekunda, the largest and busiest city in the country, we find Bijilo National Park, or Monkey Park, which includes easy paths to walk around. In this area you can also visit a crocodile pond, and you can even touch one of the crocodiles! This is the other side of the Gambia, with its river and mangrove swamps; the more authentic Gambia, one of the least developed countries on earth, with a life expectancy of 54 years and a literacy rate of 40%.

But this is not the end of the journey, and the Gambia, despite being a small country, still has a few surprises in store for us. Can you imagine remote African villages invaded by Street Art and graffiti? Well, this is what you can find in the Gambia. Specifically in Bafuloto and Makumbaya – two names that are hard to remember, two villages with small and simple houses, streets made of sand and dirt, where children play under the sun. And on the walls of these huts is where the Wide Open Walls movement found one of its favourite canvases. Pictures that depict nature, with animals from the area and other motifs that fill these places with colour.

A great way of discovering the Gambia from different perspective. Another way of penetrating Africa through this small gateway.

By Clara Arnedo

 

Makes you want to go, right? Do it! Check out our prices here!

 

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Asturias – Your Ski Destination This Season

Two ski stations – Fuentes de Invierno and Valgrande-Pajares – promise exciting days of skiing, as well as good food in a cosy, family environment. They are ideal for families, and for those who want to get away from it all, eager to seek out tranquil, more relaxing destinations.

Fuentes de Invierno – The Last Glacier in the Cordillera

Located in the municipality of Aller, Fuentes de Invierno boasts the most up-to-date ski lifts of all stations in the Cordillera Cantábrica. It is the ideal resort for enjoying the white sport in tip-top conditions. The rugged mountain terrain, combined with small clusters of forest and cabins dotted across the lower reaches of the resort, make this diminutive skiable tract (8.7 km) one of the most picturesque spots in the Principality of Asturias.

The beginner slopes, halfway up the resort (1,650 m), and the areas of La Llomba and Entresierras for the more seasoned enthusiasts, will appeal to all skiers, whatever their level. At the end of the day, make sure you stop off at one of the villages near the resort, such as Felechosa or El Pino, where a large number of restaurants offer the finest Asturian cuisine (pote, fabada, picadillo, carnes roxas), as well as succulent dishes typical of Aller. You are certain to find game on the menu – plentiful in this part of the Montaña Central – in addition to such confectionery delicacies as cuayá or panchón.

Valgrande-Pajares, the Oldest of the Cantabrian Resorts

Inaugurated in 1954, the Lena resort of Valgrande-Pajares has had skiers on its pistes for over 60 years. It is considered one of the benchmark ski stations in the Cordillera Cantábrica. With a skiable tract of 21.5 km, it is strategically located at just over half an hour from several major cities (Oviedo, Gijón and León), and is equipped with snowmaking systems to guarantee hassle-free skiing throughout the season. The ski lifts that connect the whole resort start out from the base station (1,350 m), where all the main facilities are located.

At its highest point (1,870 m), towered over by the Cuitu Nigru,Cellón and Tres Marías peaks, you can see out across the landscape of the Cordillera Cantábrica range, and even catch a glimpse of the sea on clear days. Depending on your level of expertise, from this point you can access the beginner’s area, traverse the main axis of the resort – the Valle del Sol – or get to the crown jewel – El Tubo – the only officially sanctioned competition piste in Asturias.

Whether you’re reluctant to try out skiing, or have skied your heart out and need to regain your strength, make sure you head for the Cuitu Negro café and indulge in a veritable culinary tribute. Their tripe and the meat stew are some of the hallmarks of the house.

The ski resort’s ease of access and its accommodation capacity of 150 at the foot of the ski slopes make Pajares the perfect destination for those eager to do sport as well as spend time visiting the main cities and towns in the vicinity to enjoy other activities – cultural tours, shopping, cinema, concerts, theatre…

In short, both Valgrande-Pajares and Fuentes de Invierno are ski resorts with charm. Their friendly service and family atmosphere are paramount, and you can enjoy skiing starting at €24 – peerless prices for a winter getaway.

Here, then, is our advice, if you are undecided about where to head this winter. Check out our flights here.

 

Text and images by Turismo Asturias

 

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Top 5 Gastronomy Or Why Lanzarote Is An Indie Destination

“The moon? Mars? Iceland? No, it’s Lanzarote!” You will often catch yourself thinking this as you roam this fascinating island along roads traversing uninhabited places, without anyone for miles around you. You will also wonder what it might be like to live in this pleasant land of disturbing beauty, surrounded everywhere by raging Atlantic waves relished by surfers from all over the world.

Tracts of lunar land alternating with stretches of desert, and others carpeted in vegetation, where palm trees stand side by side with lava fields, wild beaches, small fishing villages and, of course, the ubiquitous seaside developments catering to mass tourism.

And, as you contemplate the impossible patterns forged by centuries of intermittent lava flows in the rocks, and you hear the roar of the waves while munching on papas con mojo,you regret that the incomprehensible tourist dynamic should have earmarked Lanzarote as the almost exclusive preserve of family holidaymakers and honeymoon couples. That is when you wish Lanzarote would bare its Indie streak, without renouncing its conventionalism, and that we “Peninsulars” – that is what we have been dubbed by the witty locals – would make the trip at least once a year to this island overflowing with charm, which also has its less predictable side. And this chart of rankings proves it.

1- El Chupadero. Its owner, Barbara, is a former model and erstwhile German New Yorker. One day in the eighties, she came across a derelict building in the middle of the island and fell prey to its charm. She decided to refurbish it with her own hands and settle there permanently, along with her two small children. That was how this restaurant was born, unwittingly hipster to the marrow, where every corner is a marvel of good taste and the menu the epitome of indigenous cuisine based on excellent produce.

2- Bar Stop. At the other end of the island, in Yaiza, lies this legendary establishment, which dates from 1890. It has a homely feel and more than reasonable prices and appears not to have changed one jot since its beginnings. Bar Stop is a place where you can enjoy deliciously rustic home cooking any time of the day while you eavesdrop on the locals chattering away – they also seem to have come fresh from 1890, brimming with friendliness and hospitality.

Plaza Ntra. Sra. de los Remedios (Yaiza).

3- La Lupe. Going to Lanzarote only to end up eating in a Mexican, considering the oodles of papas arrugadas that are shouting to get our attention, may seem rather reckless. But, once you’ve tried La Lupe’s delicatessen and sense that it comes hot from the heart of Mexico City, you realise that you have found an exceptional Mexican cuisine. Carefully crafted tacos, enchiladas, moles and other delicacies in a highly recommendable Mexican restaurant. Ideal for dining to a Tequila rhythm before lighting up the night at Noise.

4- NoiseClub Lanzarote. This is what we might term Lanzarote’s underground concert venue, whose owners fight daily to create an Indie atmosphere in the very heart of the capital, Arrecife. Noise is a small, inviting venue featuring live performances on Friday and Saturday after 11.30 p.m. Performers are often musicians from the Peninsula, in line with the open-minded approach of the artificers of Noise and their urge to bring out a less conventional side of Lanzarote. Performances are variegated, ranging from funk to techno.

5- Lagomar. One of the world’s greats who succumbed to the charms of Lanzarote was Omar Sharif. Indeed, he ended up building a formidable house at the seaside, by way of a large, stunningly beautiful fortress, now turned into a restaurant and wine bar. Every nook in the maze-like interior of Lagomar is a fiesta, from the elegant dining-room to the small bar counter surrounded by armchairs, the beautiful gardens and the pool crowning the patio. It is the ideal spot for having a well crafted glass of wine and for enjoying, any day of the week, the pleasant temperatures of Lanzarote and the anachronistic aura – in the best sense of the word – which still pervades this legendary precinct.

Where to Sleep

Sands Beach Lanzarote: This stunning, four-star resort on the Costa Teguise, just 15 minutes from the airport, will play havoc with those who have difficulty getting their bearings. Six huge swimming pools – one of which is heated – a spa, gaming hall, supermarket, activities at all hours and enormous rooms with a kitchen make up this complex with its private beach, where guests are treated like kings and prices are actually affordable.

 

Text and photos by Laura Conde of Gastronomistas

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Where to travel in December

If you're looking for a destination in December for that last getaway of the year, here is a bit of inspiration!

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