September 30, 2019
5 Unusual Things to Do in Madrid: Plant Lovers Edition

5 Unusual Things to Do in Madrid: Plant Lovers Edition

September 30, 2019
dessert city madrid cactus garden
The last few weeks of summer have been packed with really exciting plans. The main reason we love Madrid so much is the wide variety of things to do. Possibilities in big cities are endless, from the most common things you can do everywhere to unusual and unique plans and events. On this post you can find a guide to the later which is dedicated to all plant lovers out there. These are unique things to do in Madrid I'm sure you've never heard before.

Need more ideas for great plans this fall? Check out my guide to the Best Things to do in Madrid this Fall or What to do in Madrid in November.

UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN MADRID: VISIT THE BIGGEST CACTUS GARDEN IN EUROPE

We recently discovered Desert City, the biggest cactus garden in Europe. It consists of an impressive 5000m2 garden and a nursery -closed at the moment- which are a must for any cactus and plant enthusiast. Plus, you can join a free tour in Spanish where you can learn all about these peculiar plants.

Desert City
Opening times: Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 to 13:30.
Guided tour: 10:30
Free Admission
Google Maps
dessert city madrid cactus garden
dessert city madrid cactus garden
dessert city madrid cactus garden

UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN MADRID: HAVE LUNCH IN A GREENHOUSE

Continuing with plans for all-things-green lovers, there's a beautifully decorated restaurant called El Invernadero de los Peñotes, which serves delicious food. Invernadero is Spanish for "greenhouse" and it's called like this because the restaurant is located in a former greenhouse. The restaurant is huge, with three areas each decorated in a different way. Portions are small but the cuisine is delicate and they use good quality ingredients.

Prior or after your meal, you can shop next door at one of the biggest garden shops in Madrid, Los Peñotes.

El Invernadero de los Peñotes
Google Maps
invernadero peñotes restaurant garden shop alcobendas moraleja madrid
invernadero peñotes restaurant garden shop alcobendas moraleja madrid
invernadero peñotes restaurant garden shop alcobendas moraleja madrid
invernadero peñotes restaurant garden shop alcobendas moraleja madrid

UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN MADRID: HAVE LUNCH IN A BUBBLE

Los Peñotes has two restaruants: El Invernadero and La Cúpula -Spanish for "the dome"- which is just as beautiful as the other one but smaller and cozier. We had had such a wonderful experience at El Invernadero that we went back to try La Cúpula just a few weeks later.

This place is amazing no matter the weather. The see-through glass dome looks like a bubble and it shelters you on a rainy day. The place is surrounded by nature: there are trees, a pond, plants and flowers. So if it's a lovely day, you can eat al fresco outside, around the dome.

The restaurant was flawlessly decorated by the decorator team at the garden shop so if you like anything from the restaurant you can actually buy it!

And if that wasn't enough to like, this place is environmentally friendly: napkins are biodegradable and plates and glasses are made with 100% recycled glass.

As far as the food is concerned, the menu is similar to that of El Invernadero. All the dishes are healthy and cooked with first-class ingredients.

La Cupula de los Peñotes
Google Maps
cupula peñotes restaurant food bar garden shop alcobendas moraleja madrid
cupula peñotes restaurant food bar garden shop alcobendas moraleja madrid
cupula peñotes restaurant food bar garden shop alcobendas moraleja madrid

UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN MADRID: HAVE DINNER AMONG OLIVE TREES

You may think city centers are all houses houses houses. You'd have never imagined there's an olive tree garden in the center of Madrid, right? Well, it gets even more unique. Every summer there are classical music concerts and afterwards dinner is served among centenarian olive trees.

What's the name of this place? Fundacion Olivar de Castillejo. They are open from mid-July to mid-September. Don't bother making reservations online because those who attend the concert have priority even if you have booked a table online. Concerts start at 8pm so be there a bit early and book a table then. Concert tickets are 10€. Dinner starts after the concert, around 10pm.

As dreamy as it sounds, we didn't have the best dinning experience. First, because it's not the comfiest setting and second, because we found the food scarce and expensive. But it surely is something unusual to do in Madrid!

Fundacion Olivar de Castillejo
Google Maps
olivar castillejo fundacion concert restaurant olive tree madrid
olivar castillejo fundacion concert restaurant olive tree madrid food
olivar castillejo fundacion concert restaurant olive tree madrid chill-out

UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN MADRID: HAVE RETIRO'S MONUMENTS TO YOURSELF

I hope you are a morning person because this requires some effort on your side: waking up VERY early. If you are anything like me, you are probably tired of having to share city landmarks with swarms of tourist trying to get the best photo.

One day this summer, I realized the best thing to do was to go to Retiro Park when they open it at 6am to have the park to myself. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. It was so calm and quiet, there were just a few joggers and only ducks could be heard. Totally worth the early wake up call!

As far as photography is concerned, it's not only the best time to avoid crowds but also the light is amazing for photos.
retiro park pond lake monument madrid
retiro park pond lake monument madrid
retiro park pond lake monument madrid
retiro park pond lake monument palace crystal glass madrid

Are you spending Halloween or Thanksgiving in Madrid? Check out these guides:
Halloween in Madrid
Places to Enjoy a Traditional Thanksgiving Meal in Madrid

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September 16, 2019
Best Beaches in Almeria: Roquetas de Mar

Best Beaches in Almeria: Roquetas de Mar

September 16, 2019
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast
Almeria is a coastal region in Andalusia washed by the Mediterranean sea. Almeria's beaches may not be the most popular in Spain but they still deserve a chance. Back in August, we spent 5 days in Roquetas de Mar, a seaside town 18km from Almeria. We were looking for a quiet place for some rest and relax and we got it.

Living in Madrid, we need the occasional break to flee the concrete jungle. Escape the busy routine, the noise and traffic jams. So every year, we like to spend a week in the south of Spain. In Andalusia you are sure the weather is going to be nice, unlike beaches in the north of the country. Despite the charm of regions like Asturias or Galicia, they are less popular for summer vacations as it is far more likely to get rain in summer.

Read Best Beaches and Resorts in Andalusia

On this post I'm going to tell you why the region of Almeria is worth visiting, things to do and where to stay in Roquetas de Mar so that you can plan an unforgettable Andalusian vacation.

BEACHES IN ALMERIA: PROS AND CONS


  • Since it's the Mediterranean sea, water is much warmer than in Huelva or Cadiz for instance.
  • Instead of sand, there are little pebbles that make it difficult to take a walk by the sea. Get a pair of water slippers and your feet will be thankful.
  • The heat: Almeria is desert-like so excursions in July or August may be challenging. If that's the case when you visit, you'll be better off by the sea instead of going inland.
  • It's much less crowded than the region of Malaga.

almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast

BEACHES IN ALMERIA: ROQUETAS DE MAR

ROQUETAS DE MAR: HOTEL

On our Andalusian vacation this year, we stayed at Protur Roquetas de Mar. This five-star resort is right on the sea front and offers direct access from the hotel to the beach. It has two pools -one indoor and one outdoor- a spa and a gym. The board is all inclusive so the price you pay for the room is final. All meals, drinks and access to the facilities are included. It's wonderful for families as there's also a water park and many activities for children.

We had a wonderful time at the hotel. The staff was really kind, the food was good and varied and we got the R&R we were looking for. However, we didn't find it 5-star quality. I'd say it's more of a good 4-star hotel. I still highly recommend it though.
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast protur hotel resort spa
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast protur hotel resort spa

ROQUETAS DE MAR: BEACH

The beach you access from the hotel is La Serena. The water is warm and calm but as I said a pair of water slippers will be your best friends.

The beaches in Roquetas go on for 8km and include those of Aguadulce, Romanilla or La Bajadilla. All of them suitable for families and water sport fans alike.

almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast

ROQUETAS DE MAR: OLD TOWN

You can follow the sea promenade all the way to Roquetas Old Town for a lovely walk. It takes 50 minutes. There's a bike lane if you want to rent a bike. If it's too hot, you can either drive or take the bus.

Honestly, Roquetas is not one of those dreamy white-washed Andalusian villages. It's more of a touristy coastal town. In the Old Town you can find:

  • A lighthouse
  • The modern Santa Ana's castle
  • The marina and fishing port
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast old town lighthouse
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast old town castle
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast port marina
almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast

WHAT TO DO IN THE REGION OF ALMERIA


  • Visit the beautiful natural park of Cabo de Gata. This is the only real desert in all of Europe. What are you going to find here? Preserved nature, wild beaches, forts, ancient ruins and tiny villages.
  • Spaghetti western fans can visit the film sets that were used to shoot movies in the 60's and 70's such as “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Cleopatra”, “The good, the bad and the ugly”, “Death had a price” or “Indiana Jones and the last crusade”. More info here.
  • Visit the jaw-dropping Geoda de Pulpi. It's the largest geode cave in Europe. This gigantic cave of crystals has been recently opened to the public. Get your tickets and plan your visit here.
  • There are two villages in Almeria that made it to the "most beautiful villages in Spain" list: Nijar and Mojacar.

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 almeria beach spain roquetas mar coast protur hotel resort spa

September 9, 2019
The Spectacular Roman Ruins in Spain No-one is Telling You About

The Spectacular Roman Ruins in Spain No-one is Telling You About

September 9, 2019
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There's a place in the region of Palencia where you can take a trip back to Roman times: the Roman Villa of La Olmeda, a must for any art and history lover out there. These spectacular Roman ruins are not the most famous in Spain but they surely deserve your attention.

ROMAN RUINS IN SPAIN: VILLA ROMANA LA OLMEDA

The Roman Villa of La Olmeda was discovered while doing some agricultural work at the beginning of the summer of 1968. After years of archaeological work, the remains of a Roman palace emerged. Despite being known by few, this rural mansion of the Late Roman Empire (4th century AD) is one of the most important Roman ruins in Spain.

La Olmeda may not be as famous as the roman remains in Tarragona or Merida but this roman site has won international awards or mentions; namely the one made by National Geographic magazine, which considered it one of the 12 greatest discoveries of modern archaeology. The most impressive part in my opinion are the amazing polychrome mosaics which are excellently preserved. Many believe that these are the best Roman mosaics in Spain.
villa romana olmeda palencia roman ruins spain
villa romana olmeda palencia roman ruins spain
villa romana olmeda palencia roman ruins spain
villa romana olmeda palencia mosaic roman ruins spain
villa romana olmeda palencia roman ruins spain
villa romana olmeda palencia roman ruins spain
villa romana olmeda palencia roman ruins spain

ROMAN RUINS IN SPAIN: THE VILLAGE NEAR THE VILLA

Saldaña is the closest village to the Roman Villa of La Olmeda and it houses a museum where you can see everything that was found in the excavations that took place at the Roman site. The museum is located in the Church of San Pedro.

More things to see in Saldaña:
  • The crooked house. This unique house is now a restaurant.
  • The statue of Javier Cortes, the owner of the land where the roman ruins were found and the man who started the excavation work.
  • The stately houses with beautiful coats of arms. The one next to the museum is a rural house you can stay in.
  • The remains of a castle: Castillo del Infantado
casa torcida saldaña palencia españa
casa rural saldaña palencia españa
villa romana olmeda palencia museum roman ruins spain
iglesia san pedro saldaña palencia

ROMAN RUINS IN SPAIN: WHERE TO STAY & EAT

There are many lovely places to eat in Saldaña but we had made reservations at Monasterio San Zoilo in the nearby village of Carrion de los Condes.

This monastery turned hotel/restaurant is very similar to the Paradores hotel chain. It is located along Camino de Santiago (St. Jacques Way) and has its origins in the 10th century. Monasterio San Zoilo is a haven of peace. As soon as you enter you feel relaxed. You can spend hours in the cloister just wandering around immerse in your thoughts and there's also a park in front of the building great to unwind while reading a book or playing some games.

The food at the restaurant is out-of-this-world delicious. You can feel they use great ingredients and wonderful cuisine with every bite. Despite the ancient surroundings, the restaurant serves a modern take on traditional Spanish food.

monasterio san zoilo menu restaurante carrion condes palencia
monasterio san zoilo menu restaurante carrion condes palencia
monasterio san zoilo menu restaurante carrion condes palencia
monasterio san zoilo menu restaurante carrion condes palencia
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claustro monasterio san zoilo carrion condes palencia
claustro monasterio san zoilo carrion condes palencia
anthropologie floral midi skirt maeve

ROMAN RUINS IN SPAIN: GUIDED TOURS, TICKETS & OPENING TIMES

The Roman Villa is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.30 am to 6.30 pm

If you speak Spanish, I highly recommend the guided tour. Advance reservations are required for guided tours. People who do not belong to a pre-booked group can join a guided tour, subject to availability. Information and booking phones: (+34) 979 119 997 / (+34) 670 450 143 / info@villaromanalaolmeda.com

The ticket to visit the Roman Villa allows you to visit the museum of La Olmeda in Saldaña. General admission is 5€.

Free admission: Tuesdays from 3pm to 6.30pm (not guided tours). May 18th, International Museum Day.

ROMAN RUINS IN SPAIN: HOW TO GET THERE

There are two options to get there from Madrid:
  • A-1 to Burgos / A-231 towards León / Carrión de los Condes / C- 615, km. 55th.
  • A-6 to Tordesillas / A-62 to Valladolid, Palencia / A-67 to León / A-65 to León and take exit 8th / C-613 to Palencia / C-615 towards Riaño, km. 55th.
Google Maps

If you are in the area for a few days, I recommend you visit my hometown: Leon. It's a small city full of historical sites and with great food. It's one of the few cities in Spain that serves tapas for free! You can read my complete guide to Leon here.

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