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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

El Camino Levante - Day 15 & 16 Castronuño to Toro

Morning visibility!  Or rather lack
of it!
Well the morning started off darker than ever with rain clouds gathered about us and the water falling from the skies.  I kitted myself up with waterproofs and Kaishi in her jacket and we set off into the deluge.  The street lights took us to the edge of town and I crossed via the gas station.  I could see a car, lights off, at one of the pumps and as I approached one of the doors opened and someone leant out while sounding the horn.  I continued through the forecourt and on toward the Camino, thinking that this must have been someone thinking that I was an attendant arriving for work - and the poor chap in the car must have been wanting to fill up before heading off for work!  

We followed the guidebook instructions and headed down a steep (very steep) muddy hill in the direction of one of the arrows we had located the day before.  We had done this as on entering the town, all markers disappear and I wanted to be sure I was going to head the right way, especially in the early morning dark!  With the rain, the slope was a little treacherous and I slipped here and there trying to find some grass to walk on rather than slick mud.  Kaishi and I managed to make it and I was much relieved to be at the bottom.  We continued in the direction of the track and came into a small wooded area... but where were the arrows?  Not a marker in sight.  I walked up and down, came out into a clearing, turned around, walked back again... read, reread an read again the guidebook and then studied the map.  I really did NOT want to go back up that hill but as the time ticked on, it seemed more and more likely this would be the case.  I was getting irritated and swore at the book and map - I don't mind rain and love walking in these conditions, but I don't enjoy standing around in them going nowhere!

The view after crossing the river bed area - the arrows are
hard to find before this point and in fact I only
saw them when I had turned around and was on my way
back to the town.
The guide says that the way leaves Castronuño by way of the road to Toro, first passing a cemetery.  That bit was easy.  It mentions that it descends - it then says "At the junction with the road coming from Bóveda, go straight on, coinciding with a GR.  Go straight on, ignoring the roads branching off on both sides.  On passing the large pool formed by a stream, the route passes a house on the left and takes the road to the right, following the waymarking of the GR"... Well, there was NONE of that!!!  

The "house on the left"!
The way to Villafranca Del Duero
I never did see any GR route marking and I never found a road coming from Bóveda.  There were no roads branching off (or maybe it was just too dark but even as the light started to appear, there were tracks that led into fields, certainly no roads branching off that could be called roads or specific tracks of any kind!)... and I never did find a pool!  There was an area of gravel/sand that could have been a pool and which seemed to be part of a river bed, but there was no water in it and only as it got a bit lighter and I had resigned myself to the fact that I was likely to have to walk back up the steep hill did I find the yellow arrows (one rather faded and painted on a tree trunk that would have been behind me as I walked!)  These took us "across" the river bed - which to me looked like it might be where the pool would be (this looked a little like a track at first but once crossing it was most definitely a river bed)... and I can only say that in heavy rain or after bad weather, you are likely to need a raft to cross as I doubt very much there would be a way to cross on foot here.

One of the distributor's buildings!  No doubt displaying
his wares
Once on the other side the track heads uphill and past a little fountain (as in the photograph) and where there are yellow arrows.  It is only at this point that you see the house on the left mentioned in the guidebook!  From here the route is easy to follow and crosses rolling hills, up and down, up and down all the way to the village of Villafranca del Duero which is right on the edge of the famous River Duero.  Before arriving in the village Michael met us with the lovely cake and coffee from our previous night's accommodation and a freshly peeled carrot and some cheese... mmmmm.  He and the dogs had headed out towards us along the muddy tracks and they were covered from head to foot and full of joy. 

Camino Yellow Marker Ribbon
Even Ndzilo was to be seen, flat out at the gallop through ploughed feilds, which are hard going at the best of times!  My comment just before this, when she had disappeared, was one of worry that she had been gone too long and she might have had a heart attack... as she came over the rise, legs going nineteen to the dozen (what DOES that mean??) Michael's comment was that she certainly looked like she was on her last legs (!)  We walked back to where they were parked (past some very frisky cattle that I was glad were behind a fence!) and where there were some interesting cave type buildings - but instead of being houses were kind of storage/trading places.  The building shown here with the meaty wares had a "mule train" sign on it which reminded me very much of the monument in Death Valley of the 20 mule strong mule train which used to carry Borax!  As Michael said, it's not quite the logo one would easily fit on a business card!  

My newer walking shoes have some good tread!
The guidebook had at times warned the pilgrim to look out for the marker ribbons.  I had no idea to what it was referring until we got to this stretch, and from there, on a couple of other occasions on this stretch and past Toro to Zamora, I found these ribbons.  They are yellow plastic tape tied onto trees and when you see one, you of course immediately know that it is what the guidebook is talking about.  The ribbon guided us down into the village of Villafranca del Duero and onto the path that runs alongside it.  Sadly, it is not really close enough to get many good views of the river, and the arrows again take us on a different route from that marked on the map or described in the guide.  It is also very hard going and so today's 22.5km seemed much further - why - because it was once again "tar road" and as always, this is the most tiring to walk on.  Even 5km seemed like 10 and I was glad of meeting up with the vehicle regularly for short breaks and some morale boosting.  One thing that did lift our spirits was the amazing road in Villafranco del Duero that takes you onto the road along the river (a Camino Rural) and which has a new surface that "squeaks"... yes seriously, it is a squeaky road.  I filmed it as it really made me laugh and you can get an idea of what I mean although the squeaking is far more obvious when you walk on it yourself.  No doubt it was also due to the perfect conditions - the new tar, the rain on it and my new (well new ish by now) walking shoes!  

The Roman road as it appears just before entering Toro
Akina admiring the Duero
The way is easy to follow, although the map shows the path crossing the land part of an oxbow between the two points that make the top of the bow, but in fact the path (which is on the map) is one that more follows the oxbow of the river itself.  This makes the journey a bit longer too and it is quite hard gravel.  The drizzle was constant but not unpleasant and the river appeared from time to time.  

Kaishi checking out "which" arrow we follow - notice the
one on the pylon behind!
At one point, there was an amazing weir with an electricity generating station (you could tell the power of the river here) and as we neared the town of Toro I admit I was starting to flag.  However, as you get closer (and again just before the town there are yellow arrows heading in two different directions which is a bit confusing but I stayed next to the river) you find yourself once again walking on large Roman road flags.  It is an amazing feeling and each time I walk along them I always feel that joy of connecting with the past - it never fails.  The road at one point had been concreted over and then later tarred over and much to my amusement, these were crumbling away, only to reveal "perfect" Roman road beneath - bravely resisting time and making itself known 2000 years after it was originally laid.  

Roman milestone marker
Roman road standing the test of time
against the modern tar and concrete layers
The road heads into Toro via the restored Roman bridge and what a sight this is.  It is magnificent and the perfect way to end the day's journey.  It is stunning and awe inspiring.  The views from Toro itself, looking down onto the Duero and the bridge are the famous ones, but it is well worth crossing the bridge as the way into the town and you can imagine pilgrims having done this for hundreds of years.  The town posesses many historic buildings and we had decided that this would be another good place to be tourists for an extra day before our last walk and journey home.  Wow, home, I could not believe that we were nearing the end of this section of the Camino.  Almost 18 days away had seemed daunting at the beginning, yet step by step we had arrived - and in one piece, feet still going strong!

The sugar factory - you can't miss
Hostal Estación - 18 Euros per night
As we approached the bridge it was spectacular and everything I had hoped for - and Kaishi and I had it all to ourselves!  The view however and the way to see how truly impressive it is (a feat of engineering from Roman times considering the power of the Duero) can be seen from the top of the town looking back.  Here one really appreciates the distance walked as on a clear day, in the far, far distance, the peaks toward Cebreros can be seen.  Had we really come that far - on foot?!

Arriving in Toro on the Medieval cobbled road
My room in the hostal
We met the support vehicle on the other side and headed to the accommodation - Hostal Estación, a converted station with each room individually decorated.  It was very friendly and welcoming and the lady who ran it was very excited when we had booked on the phone to have someone walking the Camino.  It is just off the route, only a few hundred metres, and is very welcome if you don't want to walk up the steep hill into town, although it has to be some time of course!  As you come from the bridge, you follow the road to the town, but on a steep left bend, there is a road to the right that takes you to the sugar factory, signed, and just before it, there is the hostal.  I have to say, it was comfortable and clean enough and welcoming, but at night, it was a scary and noisy place with many of the "young" meeting to have drunken arguments with boyfriends or girlfriends!  I'm not sure that everyone would feel comfortable staying alone.
The Roman bridge from the viewing point
at the top of the town

The road that leads to the town is also old and still with its original cobbles!  The place is amazing and even with modern vehicles driving over them, they are wearing well!

Wikipedia's History and information on Toro: 

Kaishi crossing the old
Roman bridge into Toro
The Roman bridge from the Toro side - it has been well
restored but it now only a walking bridge
Toro is an ancient town, possibly the Arbukala of the Vaccai tribe which was conquered by Hannibal in 220 BC but survived to trouble the Romans. The Roman town was called Albucella. The modern name may derive from the bull totem of that Celtiberian people. In the 8th century it was conquered by the Moors. After the Muslims had been partially rolled back, Alfonso III repopulated the town in about 910.  

Arch that takes you to
a picnic area and viewing
place to see the bridge

Ferninand III was crowned King of León in Toro in 1230 and his wife Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen (Beatriz) died here.Enrique II, first of the Trastámara line, summoned his first Cortes here in 1369. Juan II of Castile was born here in 1404, but the town was to have greater significance for his daughter Isabella I of Castile.
The clock tower as
you enter the main part
of town toward the
Isabella (married with Ferdinand) had a rival for the succession in Juana la Beltraneja, supposedly the daughter of her half-brother Enrique IV, but allegedly the daughter of the queen's lover, the courtier Beltrán de la Cueva. La Beltraneja's supporters arranged her betrothal to Alfonso V of Portugal who was feeling upset over his earlier rejection by Isabella.
Alfonso invaded Castile in May 1475, backed by a number of dissident Castilian nobles. Isabella made Tordesillas her headquarters, while Ferdinand moved to secure the loyalty of Salamanca, Toro, and Zamora. Alfonso reached Arévalo in July and both Zamora and Toro went over to him, a serious blow for the young monarchs.
Intrigue seethed as troops marched. Zamora swung back to Isabella's cause. The Portuguese crown prince arrived with reinforcements and in March 1, 1476 the rival armies met at Peleagonzalo, a few kilometres southwest of Toro. Ferdinand was victorious in this battle decided by light cavalry.The Portuguese under Alfonso broke and the king took refuge in Castronuño. However the result was uncertain [1][2] since the forces under the Portuguese crown prince defeated the Castilian right wing and remained in possession of the battle field - and thus both sides claimed victory. But the fortress of Zamora surrendered to Ferdinand soon thereafter (Mars 19, 1476) while Toro remained in Portuguese hands during more than half a year (until September 19, 1476). After that Alfonso gave up the fight and la Beltraneja retired to a Lisbon convent where she died in 1530, aged sixty-eight.
The main church worth visiting 

1500 to present[edit]

When in 1520 the towns of Castile, the Comuneros, rose against her son Charles I, who had succeeded his Spanish grandfather in 1516, Toro sided with them. Charles defeated the Comuneros at Villalar de los Comuneros, east of Toro, the next year.
During the Peninsular War, in the bitter cold of December 1808, Sir John Moore began his famous retreat from Toro in the face of superior French forces. The ghastly ordeal ended in Moore's death before La Coruña (Galicia) in January. In May 1813, 100,000 British troops gathered in Toro under Wellington's command and from here Wellington launched the final campaign which expelled Napoleon's armies from Spanish soil after five terrible years.
Perfect day for sight seeing -
the skies
and light were lovely
Across the plains where we walked - from the
viewpoint above the town and outside the main church
The town of Toro is built in the shape of a fan, in whose center stands the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor, dating to the 12th century. Outstanding on the outside is the polychrome western door, called ; and on the inside, the famous Flemish painting La Virgen de la Mosca ("Virgin of the Fly") and an unusual pregnant Virgin.
Next to the collegiate church is the Espolón viewing point, which offers views of a fertile plain known as the "oasis of Castile."
Toro has been long famous for its wine (Toro (DO)). The Toro wines were so prestigious that King Alfonso IX of León conceded privileges for its production in the 12th Century. Columbus took Toro wine with him on the expedition to discover America in 1492, because it could survive large journeys, due to its structure and body. Friar Diego de Deza, from Zamora, one of Isabel the Catholic's confessors, collaborated economically in the expedition, for which he was allowed to name one of the caravels, the Pinta that was half full of Toro wine. The Designation of the Toro Region is recent, beginning in the mid 70s, under the Specific Designation (Denominación Específica), which preceded the attainment of Designated Region (Denominación de Origen) on 29 May 1987. 

Saint's Bones - the ones at the front
were the most delicious!  
It is not hard to find places to sample the wines of the region.  It is famous for its wine and the ones we tried were certainly some of the best we have had since our arrival in Spain.  We also went to a bodega where they had a cellar with the history of their wine and a video running telling its story.  We also had some delicious tapas but for our supper we had the "worst" meal of the entire trip - cold in the middle and microwaved!  Such a shame, but it was one of those weekends where very little was open.  The best place (although we didn't get to try it) seemed to be the Hotel V Centenario - a lovely old building that also offered accommodation - a double room being 40 Euros.  It is central and opposite the ayuntamiento and, as I said, in a lovely old building.  There were many of these old timber framed buildings in Toro and we enjoyed time just wandering around looking at them.  There were also some delicious cake shops and we did treat ourselves to some naughties - one of these were the irresistibly named "Saint's bones"... the most garish of these being the ones with a kind of jam like blood!  Well, we were heading toward Halloween I suppose!

As most of the stonework appears today
Chruch entrance -
in all the original glory!
Inside the bodega museum they had a photo of the polychrome door of the church which has the most amazing colours and is how many of the churches would have been painted years ago.  We think they are just stone colour but actually they would often have been very bright.  Inside there are also some polychrome tombs and statues and here there is a picture of some what is mostly just stone around one of the doors, but with bits of colour peeking out giving a glimpse of what it would once have been.  As an aside, outside this door a Spanish many captured us to earn a few coins - a bit of a "con" game but he recited a poem, and did it beautifully!   

Monasterio Sancti Spiritus
What we think is the
accommodation block - wish
I had stayed here!
Here in Toro is a working convent - still making the traditional sweets as part of their upkeep.  It is the most beautiful and peaceful place, with a wonderful history and a guided tour well worth taking.  Here pilgrims can also stay for the night and on visiting I soooooo wished that I had planned this as my "monastery" stop as opposed to Nava del Rey and it would for sure have been a lot more peaceful!  For anyone walking this way - do take the opportunity to stay at the Monasterio Sancti Spiritus.  Within the cloister stands a 1000 year old olive and I have to say that it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful cloisters I have ever visited.  It made me want to stay.  There is a blog and website for them and also one for their sweets - do take a look and in particular if you want to see photos of the inside (we could not take pictures) and also how large it is from an aerial photograph - check out the "history" page on the blog site.  There is an option to translate to English if you go via Google although it is a tad quirky so if you can read it in Spanish, that's your best bet!
The way to the bodega
cellar museum

Outside the Monasterio

Do visit the bar near the ayuntamiento for some tapas or a breakfast - it was the best and most friendly we found - Noche y Día and with naughty but wonderful fresh bread and delicious coffee, good tapas and wines of Toro.

It was hard to believe that after our day of being tourists we now had only one day of walking left to do!  We headed from Toro to the Hostal Aurelia nearer Zamora as it is pet friendly and I had made the decision to book that for us rather than to stay another night where I was as it was a tad chilly and of course very noisy!  The Aurelia is large and commercial but lovely and warm!  We would take a drive back to Toro the next day in order to start from there on the last part of this leg of our Camino.  

Friday, 3 January 2014

El Camino Levante - Day 14 Nava del Rey to Castronuño

Akina on the moody wet hilltop in her jacket
The horse in his makeshift shelter
The morning started off in the dark from outside the convent.  The hotel had provided us with a wonderful flask of coffee ready for our break and some to start the day.  They also had the crispest and most wonderful sweet and fresh "Palmiers" (I have no idea if that is the right way to spell this delightful kind of pastry biscuit, but no doubt you will know the thing I mean!  A perfect start to a perfect day.  Perfect for us - depsite the rain and threat of thunder.

It was damp but pleasant and the way, although not blessed with a lot of markers was easy to follow.  It was quite windy as we headed up on

the rolling hills and it started to rain, however, it was one of those wonderful days where you feel protected by wearing the right gear and joyful at the freshness of the air and being out in the elements.  I was warm, Akina was warm and when dressed and prepared for this kind of weather it makes the best walking.  For me I far prefer it to walking in the heat of the day and my first choice of Camino walking weather is always cooler rather than warmer.  Give me

October to January any time, in fact I have had some of my best walks in November and December.  Akina, who previously would have been hunched and cold (and this has caused her to cramp her back muscles in the past) was trotting out confidently and with pure joy in her jacket.  I thought again how delighted I was with them and how glad I was that I had made the investment.  Even the horse we passed up on one of the hilltops was quite happy munching on hay in his makeshift shelter and there were plenty of chickens keeping him company.  I decided to take a couple of movie clips from the morning as they really give a feel for what it is like to walk in this weather and for you to see how joyful we felt about the day.  It really was one of those that just makes you smile - you don't need the sun to be shining to have a great day!  It is what it is when you are walking the Camino and the energy is of your own making.

The next video clip is at a rather jaunty angle (!) but don't mind that - it still works and shows Akina enjoying the day's walk too.  The storm actually blew over and we never did get the threatened thunder.  As we neared the town of Siete Iglesias de Trabancos (we only saw one although the guide says you can see all 7 poking their various towers above the town?!)... Michael had found a gas station on the old part of the camino route and here we stopped for a "slap up breakfast" of chorizo sausage and egg!  Mmmmm!  It was just what I fancied in the cold morning and set me up nicely for the next part of the walk.  Hot water also meant that I could get out my Earl Grey teabag supply and have a proper cuppa with breakfast!  You see - I said it was a perfect day!

Routes and hostals...
The route does take a slight diversion from the one on the map but is well marked, however, the gas station is in fact the hostal accommodation (Los Torreros de Tranbancos) mentioned in the guidebook, but you would have to walk a bit of a diversion to get to it as the route no longer goes direct to the hostal, but crosses the main road first.  It is easy to find, but pilgrims would end up walking a bit of a square - cross the road, turn left, then left again and back over the main road in order to get to it.  You can see it on the map here - where I mark the dog swap point, there is a bridge that crosses the road and this is the way the arrows take us, not left beside the A-62.  There is also another hostal which looked like it would be a suitable stopping point and that is marked on the map also on the N-620.

Before getting to Siete Iglesias the route follows the one I have marked here on the map, although in the guidebook for some reason, it gives you two options - one is the one I have marked with "x's" although it is not marked with yellow arrows.

Footprints in the sands of time!

Coming into Castronuño with
the scallop shell on the
welcome sign
The route heads out of Siete Iglesias uphill - and it's a bit of a surprise as although it does not look too bad, it is surprisingly steep and long.  I guess when one is faced with a mountain, mentally we are prepared, but I had not got myself at all ready for this and so I felt more tired than when climbing up from Cebreros!  Kaishi seemed to feel the same as she too lay down a couple of times!  I even got a bit worried she was unwell as it is so unlike her!  Anyway, by the time we got to the top she was in fine fettle and bouncing as usual.  It was a lovely walk and extra special as Michael had managed to park up and walk a decent distance back towards us.  As I caught sight of him and the dogs playing and running and Cressa a small streak of white lightning across the green fields my spirits were lifted higher and Kaishi and I strode out to meet him.  The roads were sandy and with the rain captured some great foot prints.  It was even hotting up and it was lovely to have someone offer to carry the extra jackets and shirts I had worn earlier and lighten the load I had been shedding as the day warmed up!

Long view from dining room and kitchen toward the
sitting area
Kitchen - well equipped
I had been looking forward to this stop for a while - it was at Castronuño and was at a Casa Rural with a lady who is a writer and who had designed the whole cottage herself.  Wow, what a perfect end, to a perfect day.  As the rain closed in again, we arrived to warmth and friendliness and although Maria José could not be there to meet us herself, she phoned us and her parents (who only spoke Spanish and were the warmest most lovely people and allowed us to practice on them) welcomed us and showed us around.  Maria José had given us a wonderfully special deal as there were only two of us - and had trusted us, allowing us to bring the dogs.  I have to say that if I return to this part of the world, and I hope I do as I would love to bring friends and family here, I would want to stay here and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone.  There was a kitchen, home baked cake, home cooked and grown food provided, washing machine, baths and showers, games and books, a little garden area and HEAT!  All the produce is from Maria José's parents farm - all organic and this included the wine.  Wow, we were spoilt and I have to say that the apples and grapes were the most delicious I have ever tasted!
Our room - the rose room

Looking back toward the kitchen
from the lounge area - the little
breakfast bar on the right
has teas (Earl Grey!!) and home made
If you are heading this way - please do support them.  They are the most wonderful and warm people and I can not see how you would be disappointed.

The decor in the cottage is perfection and the attention to detail astonishing.  This is definitely the most wonderful and beautiful place that I have stayed in Spain.

The dogs in their residence near the radiator
in the dining area

The place is called Las Alamedas and there is a website

To top off the day, at Castronuño I got the best sello of my trip so far - a scallop shell from the ayuntamiento.

As I had planned a shorter walk for the day in order to take the opportunity to enjoy the place, we were able to put our feet up, read, have a long soak in the bath and do all our washing in the machine and get it dry ready for the next day - which was due to be another wet and windy one!  A good nights sleep would be possible in the wonderfully warm and comfortable beds, there was breakfast (and cake to take with us) and I was able to start the walk right from the front door.

The most fabulous shell sello - from Castronuño ayuntamiento.  It is in the new passport, the one
now specifically issued for El Camino Levante!  

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

El Camino Levante - Day 13 Medina del Campo to Nava del Rey

Safe Journey - Experience through the eyes of
a child (Alida)
I had been looking forward to this leg of the trip as I was planning to stay at the convent in Nava del Rey.  Apparently pilgrims can just arrive and as long as they call in before 20.00 hours, there is no need to book.  However, it was a rather interesting day in regards to things not being quite as they seem!

Firstly, do take care when leaving Medina del Campo.  On leaving the city, follow the directions as outlined in the guidebook and map as there are arrows under a railway bridge on route that look as though they are a "new way"... however, Michael decided to drive that way after parting with me just to see where they went (I followed the old and rather faint arrows as per the map) and he found that they took him right back into the city centre.  Very confusing!  The real way is not clearly marked, but once on track, over the overpass of the railway, it is not difficult because the route is straight, straight and straight again!

It was a stunning morning - clear and fresh with those wonderful damp autumn smells.  The route follows the railway tracks and has a nice, old feeling about it and is very rural, but as the railway is unfenced, it means "on leash" time for the dogs.  Nearing a working winery, small and private, there was a bird of prey watching us.  This was at Dueñas de Medina.

Church with large nest above the
private vineyard
The track goes gently uphill onto rolling downs
From here the track heads up a long but gentle hill and then over some rolling downland toward Nava del Rey.  We had a morning coffee break up on the top of these rolling hills just as the sun was coming out and watched trucks in the distance taking building materials up and down the new motorway being built right through this region.  I feel very fortunate that although I can see it being constructed, I am not assaulted by the noise of traffic that it will no doubt bring to the ears of future pilgrims once it is opened.
The new road which we have followed
on and off along this Camino
Well marked to show where to cross the new road, the
arrow interestingly, is made from steel reinforcing rod
and painted yellow!

On entering Nava del Rey, the convent was easy to find, however, getting attention was another matter.  We had arrived well before the allotted time but ringing the bell yielded no response.  I phoned the number in the guide book and left messages, I then got a call back, from a different number and fortunately had enough Spanish to understand that the convent no longer offers accommodation.  I asked where I was supposed to stay and they suggested asking at the ayuntamiento - which was my next plan anyway.  They would also be able to provide my sello for the day.

The ayuntamiento was easy to find and a nice lady explained that sadly the convent had been closed for a year (!)  As a suggestion to the amigos, maybe when sending out the maps and guidebooks, a piece of paper with any amendments could be included, as I understand that reprints will be expensive and an unnecessary cost done too regularly.  It was such a shame and when I asked why she said that there were no more nuns.   I will have to have my monastery experience on a different part of the Camino - that's if there are some nuns or monks to be found?!  She directed me to Hotel Zamora which was opposite and also mentioned in the guidebook, and this was a lovely and welcoming little place.  18 Euros for a room with bathroom along the hall - very clean and cozy and with a menu del dia which saved us traveling out for food.

Nava del Rey in the distance