Ok ok … I know it’s late but here is the rundown of what happened in September & October at Casa Escocia here in the wonderful Las Alpujarras.
Let me cast my mind back, it’s been a hectic but very good couple of months over here with more local fiestas (they know how to party here!) and lots more mountain bike adventures. We also managed to cast the kids back to school after a whopping 3 month summer holiday and the Sunshine Breaks Movie Collection on Youtube has grown again (see below).
September kicked off with a visit from Chris & Anita. Mary was on hand to ensure they had a great time as they explored Las Alpujarras for a few days. Apparently they’re not bad Monopoly players either (according to our 6 year old!).
Next to visit Casa Escocia were Lynne & Tanya who were having a good look around the area and hoping to find a perfect spot to buy a holiday home. We hope you found something of interest and glad you enjoyed the walk back from Valor!! Then some Spanish guests Carman and Miguel stayed at Casa Escocia whilst visiting the area for the fiesta down in Valor.
I unfortunately missed these guests as I was back in Bonnie Scotland on other business but I did manage to purchase another six mountain bikes to add to the fleet at Casa Escocia. I bought Specialized Hardrocks in a range of sizes. These are great solid all rounders and anyone coming over for a bit of cross country and downhill fun can be assured of a decent ride on the Sunshine Breaks hire bikes. We have a good selection now between these and the other bikes we already had.
We then had a busy week or two with guests from
Arthur and Ola then became the first Russian guests to stay at Casa Escocia. They too were touring Andalucia although they opted for a four wheel vehicle. Next to visit were another couple over to do a spot of mountain biking.
It was great to meet all of you and hopefully we’ll see some of you again over here at Casa Escocia.
Then the Stevensons, Philipsons and big Sam arrived and a full on week entailed. Mountain biking, walking, wine tasting, the beach and a good old sampling of the local tapas were all part of the festivities partaken. The new bikes were given a good test as I headed out with the motley crew who were joined by locals Iain and Jane. We drove up to the Puerto de la Ragua (thanks Phil & Karen) and made our way back to Casa Escocia via the route in the Sunshine Breaks Mountain Biking in Traditional Spain video on youtube.
With the movie in mind some of the above demanded a role in our latest movie venture Follow the Dog which stars Storm the dog as he shows the route through the village up to Casa Escocia. It takes away the surprise for guests as they negotiate the narrow streets of traditional Spanish villages but I’m sure you’ll agree Storm plays his part well!!
It was great to see you all again and it was a fun week as usual.
Next to visit for a second time were Andy & Jen who this time brought their latest arrival in the form of their baby daughter Aimée. They had a great week and fairly got around the region visiting
Cliff kept the adventurous side of things going as he headed out Gorge Walking with some visitors who headed up to the mountains from their home down the coast.
Mary’s menu in September & October included locally grown aubergines, chestnuts, almonds, walnuts, mandarins. Dish of the month for September was Mary’s Moussaka and October saw a delicious chocolate mousse with crushed walnut topping hit the tables at Casa Escocia.
Casa Escocia is the Sunshine Breaks Mountain B&B.
It was nice to meet Mary, Mike & Toby our first guests of the month. A friendly family with an interesting variety of career choices!! Hope the new challenge is going well Mary and glad you were able to have a relaxing time at Casa Escocia.
Next out to the Mountain B&B were the Tyrers. They made great use of their week to get out and about the area, cramming in a lot of activities in a short space of time. Wadge was keen to get out on the mountain bikes and joined me on a couple of high altitude route finding missions. These were hard work but great fun. Horse riding was next on the agenda for the Tyrers and Wadge and Carola thoroughly enjoyed a day out in the high Alpujarras with our local stables. Half way through this week they were joined by the Duffys and despite Bob's best efforts the house next door is still standing!!
Everyone enjoyed the Nechite Fiesta and all the kids loved the latest foam party to hit Las Alpujarras. Our high living neighbour Ian joined myself and Bob for some more mountain biking and a great loop from Mecina Bombaron took us over some high tracks before a few thousand feet of downhill brought us back to Casa Escocia. Both Ian and Bob are more used to bikes with engines and despite Bob insisting he wouldn't have agreed to go out had he known about the uphill I know secretly he loved the 14km uphill start!!
Meena, Mehul & Zeeta were our next guests and they had a great time driving around the area and enjoying the cooler temperatures of the mountains. It was great to meet you and you know where we are now if it gets too hot down on the coast!
Virendra, Rita, Rahul and Harsh had a brief stop at Casa Escocia on their tour of the south of Spain. Another family who made use of the nearby stables to sample some adventure in Las Alpujarras.
On the business front, Cliff Lowther and his company RoXcool have joined forces with Sunshine Breaks to offer lots more adventure options for anyone coming out to Granada. Rob & Cliff were able to get out the mountain bikes and make plans for a huge variety of activities in the Granada region ... watch this space!!
Mary's menu in August included dishes with locally grown tomatoes, figs, nectarines and onions which are all in season at the moment. Dish of the month as voted by those that devoured it was Marys fig and lemon pie!
All in all a great month ... hasta luego.
Casa Escocia is the Sunshine Breaks Mountain B&B.
An interview with resident chef Mary Gray
"Excellent food ... wonderful food ... food to die for ... Marys cooking is great"
Mary Gray is the resident cook at the Sunshine Breaks Mountain B&B Casa Escocia. Her cooking gets a lot of rave reviews in the Guest Book page of the Sunshine Breaks website. We caught up with her in her Las Alpujarras home to find out what she does that makes her cooking so well loved.
How long have you been cooking for?
I grew up in a big family so I've been cooking for a long time. I learned to make spaghetti bolognese when I was about nine.
What were your earliest cooking influences?
Where do you get your recipes and ideas from?
I generally make them up as I go along although I do get some ideas from the internet and various cook books.
Do you have a speciality dish?
I do make a fine Lasagne.
What is your own favourite food?
Chicken curry, if I had to choose just one thing to eat for the rest of my life, that would be it!
Where do you buy your ingredients?
At the local market. Sometimes my neighbour gives me stuff from his garden. He grows everything and spends half his life in there, a proper old fashioned local Alpujarran man who is self sufficient.
Do you have a set menu?
No, I use my own imagination to to make whatever is suitable as things are seasonal.
Have you had any disasters in the kitchen?
I once made a cheesecake for guests that didn't set. It looked great but when the guests cut into it, it all fell apart! Still tasted great though!
Would you say you are adventurous with your cooking?
Very, I try and cook new things everyday. I copy things if I see something nice and if I don't have the ingredients I just add my own and try it.
Is it true you are a fan of Masterchef?
Yes, I do like watching chefs under pressure and seeing what they come up with.
Who is your favourite celebrity chef?
Gordon Ramsey, he's just so passionate and full on. He's good at what he does, has character and is a great entertainer!
Is it true your husband Rob is your biggest influence in the kitchen?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ... and so on!
What's your favourite Spanish dish?
Seafood Paella, I love it.
What are you making for dinner tonight?
Lasagne, Rob & one of the other guys who lives near us are going out on their mountain bikes so they'll need a good carbo load when they get in. Lasagne always goes down well.
What are your top tips for cooking a good meal?
Always use fresh ingredients, allow time to prepare, plan ahead and always ensure you have good wine to accompany it!
Mary does 2 course evening meals at Casa Escocia for only 15 euros and that price includes all your drinks. A great deal whatever way you look at it!
July has been an interesting month at Casa Escocia. The start of the month saw the arrival of Mary and Sarah who came out to enjoy a bit of sunshine after a bleak start to the summer in Scotland. They had a great week and Sarah certainly enjoyed the village pool and the water fights!! Glad you had a good time and I'm sure we'll see you back out again.
Kate and Drew were our next guests, both keen mountain bikers and keen drivers! They took the ferry across to Santander and drove down through the middle of Spain in a day arriving late at Casa Escocia. Good effort guys! They enjoyed the drive mind you and bringing their own vehicle allowed them to carry lots of stuff with them including their own mountain bikes. They were so keen to get out on the bikes that they even got themselves a starring role in the Sunshine Breaks movie premier Mountain Biking in Traditional Spain which can be viewed on either our Mountain Biking in Spain page or on Youtube. It was a pleasure to meet you guys and hopefully it won't be too long before we get back together for some more MTB action.
We also visited the Dominio Buenavista Bodega for educational purposes only I may add!! A Bodega is the Spanish term for a winery and the wine produced here is very nice indeed. We were shown around the wonderful set up just outside of Ugijar (about 10 minutes from Casa Escocia) and they are quite rightly proud of their produce. We had to sample a few of the bottles to ensure the quality was of the standard we were being told, which it was! Thanks to our friend Karen for her translation skills, much appreciated.
Then it was off to Granada city for me and a week of intensive Spanish lessons at the Escuela Montalban. This was a fantastic place and if you are thinking about learning the language then I can highly recommend this school. They run intensive courses for whatever standard your language is at. I only had time for a one week course but at least now I'm fluent (I wish!!). Thanks to Jose, a great teacher and despite my complete lack of anything resembling the native tongue I was able to communicate enough to share a few stories, have a good laugh and actually learn and improve my Spanish. The set up at the school is very relaxed yet the lessons are intense and you progress very quickly. They can also arrange a choice of accommodation for you to stay in. Don't forget Sunshine Breaks will soon have our own luxury accommodation available in Granada city to rent.
Back at Casa Escocia we welcomed the Disher family to our humble abode. Pauline, Tommy and the kids had a brilliant time and we all enjoyed their company. The choose a great time to visit as the 21st Cultural Fiesta was on in Valor. This is a week of theatre, music, sport and the infamous Foam Party! A few extracts of the foam party were caught on camera and put on the new Sunshine Breaks Video Collection on Youtube. Click on the link and watch for the particularly good aim that young Grant has as he got his mother Pauline right on the nose!!
The Dishers also made it down to the coast for a dip in the Med at Almerimar. This is a resort but a very nice one where the sea on one side of the harbour after an initial deep part shallows out and is fantastic for kids as it stays shallow for a good distance out into the bay.
All guests at Casa Escocia comment on Mary's cooking abilities. She always makes the most of local produce and in July here in Las Alpujarras the cherries, water melons, courgettes, peaches and plums have all been ripe and made it onto delicious Mary's menu.
Anyway, I think that is enough about July. We're into August and already it's shaping up to being a good month here in this wonderful part of the world.
Until next month, adios.
This happened a couple of months ago, May 2007 to be exact but it has taken me till now to get around to writing about my experience. We had guests staying here at Casa Escocia (Gavin, Sarah, Simon, Ita, Siggi & Helen). Anyway, this particular day Gavin wanted to head out for a cycle, starting with an uphill slog from Casa Escocia all the way to the Puerto de la Ragua, a high pass over the Sierra Nevada from Las Alpujarras to the plains around Guadix on the other side. He then planned to continue cycling south west along the high mountain tracks back to Casa Escocia. I couldn't decide at the time whether he was a hardcore cyclist or just plain mad but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, handed him a bike and thanked God, Allah, Buddha and anyone else I could think of that I actually had work to do which stopped me from joining him until later!!
For anyone who doesn't know, this route involves an initial downhill cycle from Casa Escocia, through Nechite and down to the Mecina Alfahar junction. Then a 4000 ft climb takes you to the high mountain pass of Puerto de la Ragua. Ok, it is on the road but this is no mean feat and has on occasions been part of the Tour of Spain race.
A couple of hours later I left and got a lift from Mary in "The Beast" which is our nick name for the quality vehicle that we use to get around the mountains of Las Alpujarras. I expected to meet Simon somewhere fairly near the top of the pass but was astounded when we drove all the way up to the top of the road without any sign of him or the bike. "Surely not" I figured wondering whether he could have already made it to the pass and carried on without waiting. A lack of phone signal made a mobile call out of the question so I presumed he must have been cycling like Lance Armstrong up the hill. I took my bike off the rack on top of the Beast and after cranking up the quick release catch which attaches the front wheel to the frame of bike, I made my way up the gradual climb above the mountain pass car park.
Initially the track takes you uphill for about 15 minutes and normally I just cruise up this but I was thinking that Simon may have turned from Lance into Steve Peat now that the road had turned into a dirt track and I really pushed it, hoping to see him in front of me every corner I turned. I climbed to over 7000 ft and reached a great spot which allowed me unterrupted views of the mountains running all the way down to the Med. This is also where the first downhill section of the route begins. Still no sign of Simon. "Bloody hell", I thought, he must be really going for it. I pushed on as fast as I could, slowing only for the sharp turns. As I turned one bend I caught sight of two foxes playing on the track in front of me. At least they were playing until they spotted me, at which point they scurried off sharpish into the trees next to the track.
A few bends later I almost crashed into a large cow. I thought it may have been a bull at first, all I saw was a massive body and horns. My heart did skip a beat or two and I pulled hard on the bikes disc breaks to slow me down as I hurtled towards it. Luckily it was only a cow, just as I first thought!! It simply gave me a strange look and I cycled on past it.
A few mountain goats were around as usual, staring at me as I hammered along the track as fast I could go. I turned another corner and a huge part of the mountainside ahead came into view. I scanned the track as far as I could see and was dismayed that I still didn't have any sight of Simon. I stopped at this point trying to do my best maths and work out if it was humanly possible to actually have cycled this distance in the that time. I decided that not even Hong Kong Fuey never mind Lance or Steve could have got here so quickly and my mind puzzled as to how I could have missed him. "Maybe he took a wrong turn", I though but there wasn't really much scope for that up till this point.
I tried again to phone him but still no answer so I carried on going for it just in case Superman had some new competition. An hour or so passed and before I realised, I was above the tracks that lead back down to Casa Escocia. I took out my phone again and discovered a text message had came through from Simon saying that he had got to the top of pass and was now heading back down the way he came. I was relieved, not because I had found out that he was all right but because I now knew that no human was better that HKF after all.
As I cycled along the winding track I looked up and the mountains above just beckoned me to climb up them. I had been eyeing up one summit, Alto de San Juan, for some time now and decided there and then that now was as good a time as any for heading up onto the top of the peak.
I had studied the map many times and knew there was a track that cut up from the one I was on, past the lower slopes of the summit. I found the track and cycled up it for a short distance before a combination of the steep slope and a lack of breath at this altitude made me decide to ditch the bike in a bush at the side of the track and carry on by foot.
I made my way up and into a forest and as I passed through it a feeling came over me which made me pick up a hefty stick lying at the side of the trail. I couldn't explain it but past experience has taught me to go with my gut instinct and having the big stick in my hand somehow made me feel secure. I felt uneasy as I walked on but before I knew it, I came out of the other side of the forest. I passed a building which I presumed was used through the summer by shepherds and on I went towards the pass to my front. As I approached the pass I could see the valley at the other side slowly coming into view. The flat plains around Guadix made an impressive sight but much as I fancied heading further on to take in these views my conquest was still above me.
I turned left and stepped into a bank of snow, the last remnants of the fading winter. I must have been high up now as I was unusually out of breath, pausing every 20 or 30 steps. I slowed down slightly and paced myself up the incline in front, passing ever increasingly bigger snow patches. The last 500 feet were a real slog but finally I came over a rise and could see the trig point marking the summit just ahead of me. I stood on the trig point which marked the top of the mountain which was over 9,200 feet in height.
The views from here were simply stunning. Even HKF would have been impressed here and I think because I hadn't planned to come up here this day, topping out was made more pleasurable. I took a few snaps with the camera on my new mobile phone, technology never ceases to amaze me and after a brief pause I made my way back down towards the forest below. I felt great on the way down and ran for most of it, jumping into the snow drifts and over the loose rocks.
When I reached the path at the edge of the forest the uneasy feeling returned. I carried on regardless, giving myself a slap now and again trying to knock out whatever the feeling was that was getting to me. Half way through my journey back through the forest a loud noise shattered the peacefulness of my surroundings. Then a dark shadow appeared to my front. I tried to stop but my forward momentum kept me moving. I then saw to my horror a huge beast no more than 10 or 15 metres ahead of me launching itself off the banking on my right. It hurtled across the track landing on the left hand edge with a serious thump. It was a wild boar in full flight and I don't mind admitting I was close to staining the cycling shorts I was wearing. It was huge, certainly bigger than any of the beasts I had seen local hunters bring down through the village after a shoot in the mountains. Luckily for me it seemed to be as much spooked by me as I was by it and after the thud of a landing which left huge indentations in the track, it bounded off down the slope to my left, much to my relief. My ordeal was not over however for as soon as I thought I was safe another crashing sound came from my right once again. I glance up just as another beast managed to stop itself in the forest right above me. It glared at me and I reckon I could have given Linford Christie a run for his money over the next hundred meters of that forest track! After about 20 metres I glanced back to check I wasn't being followed by this monster. I almost laughed when I saw that this second beast, which by now had jumped down onto the track and was following the first one, was a mere youngster no bigger than a small dog.
I kept my pace fairly high just in case a third one was waiting for me and this was some kind of wild boar ambush tactic. Thankfully they didn't have me on their menu and it wasn't too long before I was back on my bike and heading for the safety of Casa Escocia.
I have done the next part of the journey many times now and every time it just gets better. From the summit of Alto de San Juan there is almost 6000 feet of full on downhill fun. There are several different options but all of them involve a rapid descent which even the fearless aforementioned cartoon hero would get a buzz out of. Steep tracks, winding bends, loose gravel, rocks, dips, culverts are all taken in top gear as you litterally go as fast as your body and mind will allow you to go and you're always hoping that your brakes will kick in when you need them as the slopes here have rather large drops off the sides.
Several thousand feet lower, I blasted around the last corner which brought me down to the path above Casa Escocia. I swung into the street and stopped at the water fountain outside the house for a much needed drink before heading onto the terrace of Casa Escocia for an even greater needed cerveza!! Simon was safely back and I found out that he had turned off a road just before the mountain pass at the time we passed by in " The Beast". That was a couple of hours before I saw the real "beast" which obviously for the purposes of story telling was as big as a lion if not bigger!
Ok so here we go, another step in the direction of a modern website!! Apparently your not with it if you've not got a blog so this is the first entry to the all new Sunshine Breaks, what's happening update.
So, what is happening ... well over in Spain today the village pool opened and the summer well and truly kicked into Las Alpujarras. The pool was made full use of especially as the temperature sored around the 30 degree mark which was especially nice after a good mountain bike ride. The kids all certainly enjoyed themselves and by mid afternoon their was no chance of swimming a length without the odd collision. Good news for us was the discovery of the local gym in the Valor sports hall next to the pool. We'll make full use of that after our trip back to Scotland for a family wedding which brought on plenty of over indulgence on our part! Congratulations to Andy & Jen, a great day had by all.
Hi to our last guests Julia & Adam. A great few days were had with them. Despite the fact they tried to lose themselves on the mountain bikes in the Sierra Nevada we managed to track them down and guide them in the right direction back to Casa Escocia! Obviously they enjoy the dangerous side of life and because the mountain biking couldn't get him, Adam decided to go horse riding and try and get himself thrown off the horse!! He discovered that a continual pulling back of the reins makes the horse rise onto it's hind legs but despite this he couldn't be thrown off into the valley below and he made it back to Casa Escocia again for a welcome cervetha!! He reckons he was cool throughout and rumour has it he was carrying out this horsemanship one handed!!
Big Stevie and his good lady Maz also appeared for a night out in Valor and after a great meal at the Aben Humeya restaurant a few beers were enjoyed followed by a lovely moonlit stroll up the GR7 track back to Casa Escocia!! Good to see you again big man.
Anyway, I think this initial journey into the world of blogging should be kept relatively short until I get some feedback on what people think, so let me know and if it proves popular with family, friends, guests and anyone else who stumbles upon it then I'll attempt to keep it fairly regular.