Torre del Oro, Sevilla

Sevilla's Golden Tower
Sitting on the city side of the Guadalquivir River in Seville, visitors to the city flock to the Torre del Oro, translated it means Gold Tower, and was built during the 13th century by the Almohad rulers of Al-Andalus to protect the city from Castillian invasions.

Originally the tower was part of a pair, the other being located across the river in Triana, and together they were the end points for a solid chain that could be lifted or lowered in the river to prevent ships from passing.

The reason for the name Torre del Oro has two possible origins, one being that precious metals arriving by ship could be stored in the tower until their owners could transport them into the city proper. The second possibility is that the tower which to this day has a gold leaf covered top may have originally been covered from top to bottom in gold leaf.

This second explanation is given widen credence, especially given the tower has a twin located on the city walls on the opposite side of the city which is known as the Torre del Plata (Silver Tower).

During the Middle Ages the tower was restored by the Castillian kings and used for a time as a prison, as well as defensive tower with cannons located on the riverside aimed downriver.

Sevilla’s Torre del Oro commands an impressive vista of the river, Triana, and parts of the old town, and it is well worth the effort to visit the top level for the view.

Directly below the tower there are also open decked tours buses that leave every 30 minutes or horse and carriage tours on demand, whilst on the river there are tourist ferries that ply the port and scenic sections of the Guadalquivir.

Visits to the tower and the Maritime Museum contained within at are possible daily.

Tortilla Española

Before we proceed to making this simple and delicious dish, let’s clear up a couple of confusing points. Here in Spain, a “tortilla” is an omelette. It has nothing to do with thin wraps of unleavened bread. Those are Mexican tortillas.

Secondly, an omelette pure and simple, consisting of nothing more than beaten eggs, is known as a “French omelette” (tortilla francesa). Much more substantial, with chunks of potato, is the meal we are about to prepare – the Spanish omelette, or “tortilla española”.

This filling dish is nothing if not versatile. It is delicious hot from the frying-pan, but can also be kept and eaten cold. A “wedge” of tortilla española makes an ideal snack or starter, and it can be complemented with salad, fish or just about anything.

Ingredients (serves four)
1 kilo (35 oz) potatoes
5 eggs
30 grams (1 oz) chopped onions (optional)
half a litre (just under 1 pint) olive oil

Peel the potatoes and dice them into cubes (this is very much the traditional way to prepare them). Get the olive oil very hot, then add the potato cubes and the onion. It is important to make sure that the potato pieces are completely sealed by the oil. Reduce the heat slightly, and cook the potato until the cubes turn golden. This should take about fifteen minutes.

Once the potato cubes are soft and cooked through, drain off the oil, save it, and place the potato in a bowl. Now beat the eggs, adding salt, and when they are evenly mixed, add this to the potato cubes and stir thoroughly.

The retained oil can now go back into the frying-pan. Heat it up again, then add the mixture of potato and egg. Really, you are making a standard omelette now, so do as you would normally do – keep freeing the outer edge of your mixture, using a spatula, and ease any uncooked mixture towards the outer edges, where it will get more heat. Don’t let the omelette brown too quickly.

Now comes the fun part. The upper half of your tortilla española is not cooking as rapidly as the underside, so you now have to turn it over. When you’re sure that it is no longer too runny, place a plate over the frying-pan and (holding the plate, of course!) flip the whole thing upside-down.

If you’ve done it reasonably deftly, the omelette will pop neatly onto the plate. It’s a simple matter now of sliding it back into the frying-pan; with the well-cooked side on top! Return it to the heat, and very soon the whole tortilla española will be evenly cooked, and ready to serve.

¡Buen provecho!

Antonio Marin Lara and Former Councillors Arrested

This morning Antonio Marin Lara, and three other PSOE councillors Francisco Cañestro, Rafael Lara, and María José Martín de Haro were arrested and will be charged with corruption and money laundering offences.

Agents from the National Police division, the Unidad de Droga y Crimen Organizado (UDYCO), the drugs and organized crime unit, this morning arrived with warrents to arrest the four former councillors at the offices of the town hall and the Office of Urban Develepment, both of which have been registered as crime scenes.

The investigation against former town councillors has been ongoing for more than 12 months with specialist agents drafted in from Malaga to collect and assess evidence against the accused.

Ronda Today understands that all charges will likely be related to urban planning discrepancies. This morning staff arriving for work in both of the offices affected were prevented from entering the premises as further police arrived with large numbers of empty boxes to remove files and documents.

Police have confirmed that they will be widening their investigation and that the private homes of the accused will be sequestred to collect further evidence. Court approved wire taps have been used, and police say several other people, including civil servants and private citizens will be questioned with possible further arrests.

Update 12pm: The regional PSOE-A of Andalucia moved this morning to suspend all four of the accused, meaning that their seats in Ronda’s town council will shortly be filled by other list candidates from the recent municipal elections.

Update 3:30pm: A further three people have been arrested and will join the first four detained in Malaga where all will be formally indicted in court. The police have further announced that crimes being investigated also include forgery, malfeasance, destruction of evidence, and bribery.

Estepona Golf Club

18 Holes, Par 72, and 6,001 metres

Situated on the Costa del Sol, this course was inaugurated in 1989 and makes the most of the beautiful natural surroundings, at the foot of the Sierra Bermeja mountains, to offer a round of wide fairways and very long greens.

It is a very beautiful course with an abundance of vegetation and water, with large lakes skirting the greens. The design of the course follows the natural layout of the terrain, including the hazards, and the wide fairways are the pride of Estepona.

It’s a fast round and the greens have been described on numerous occasions as the best on the Costa del Sol.

Estepona Golf once boasted the longest hole in Spain. Known as the “Ski-run”, the par-5 3rd measuring exactly 568 metres, which has now been shortened to a par 4. If you get a good bounce with the drive the green is reachable in two. Beware thick rough on the left and shepherds pastures on the right.

Many water hazards, dangerous rough, long par 3’s and lots of sloping fairways make for a challenging day. This relatively short course offers a good test, mainly narrow fairways with many ups and downs.

Estepona’s splendid clubhouse has terraces which offer spectacular view of the sea and the mountains. Buggies Recommended!

Address: Estepona Golf. Arroyo Vaquero, Ctra. de Cadiz, Km 150, Apdo. 532, Estepona (Malaga) Spain
Tel: (+34) 952 937 605

Spain to Reintroduce Wealth Tax

With growing concern at the state of the Spanish economy and ongoing efforts to reduce the budget deficit failing, the Spanish government will today reintroduce a wealth tax (patrimonio), which it abolished just 3 years ago. Spain’s deficit reduction is part of a stability agreement with the European Union in response to the current financial crisis affecting the Eurozone.

The new tax is expected to assess wealth in the 2011-2012 years, with income to the government coming into treasury in 2012-2013. Hoping to raise an additional 1 billion euros, Elena Salgado, finance minister in the PSOE led government stated that the tax will likely affect 160,000 of Spain’s wealthiest people, who will face tax bills of upto 2.5% of their declared assets.

Citing concerns within PSOE that Spain’s former wealth tax unfairly targeted middle class savers, Salgado confirmed the new wealth tax threshold has been raised from 120,000 euros to 700,000 euros, but refused to speculate on post-election threshold. In addition, exemptions for people’s homes will be set at 300,000 euros.

The introduction doesn’t require parliamentary approval, a full sitting of cabinet being sufficient, and it is understood the opposition PP who have previously rejected a reintroduction of the wealth tax will accept the measures, and may choose to retain the tax after the election if successful in forming a government.

The move is expected to be popular with left wing voters, and could reduce the 15 point difference in opinion polls between PSOE and PP, though with decisions by PP recently to back the government on stimulus measures, including the constitutional change to ensuring Spain’s central and community governments balance their books, polls may not be as affected prior to the Nov 20 general election as is hoped by PSOE leaders.

Currencies Direct Announce Partnership with La Caixa for Zero Commission Transfers

Currencies Direct Ltd and Spain’s La Caixa, one of Europe’s leading savings banks, have announced a partnership offering zero commission transfers between customer accounts and Currencies Direct, specifically for people needing to transfer funds between the UK and Spain whether to buy or sell property, or to cover monthly expenses.

The agreement has been hammered out to provide relief from fees for bank drafts in Spain, which are often charged at 0.6% and have been known to be 1.25%, still cheaper than using the bank for end to end transfer, but an expensive and unnecessary fee nevertheless. As well, other commissions charged by La Caixa will be waived if the account is a Currencies Direct ‘la caixa’ account.

Jose Ivars-Lopez, head of marketing at Currencies Direct in London explained “We also offer some great benefits on banking through our partnership with la Caixa bank. If any of our customers open a Currencies Direct la Caixa account in Spain they can make immediate transfers to that account from the UK via Currencies Direct. No more clock watching, or cut off times”.

Under the agreement, all funds transferred via a Currencies Direct ‘la caixa’ account will be available in the client’s Spain account as soon as the funds hit CUrrencies Direct, a significant improvement on past transfers that could only be completed by a certain time of the day. The service is of particular use to property buyers who need to have funds cleared in Spain prior to signing property transfers.

British expats living in Spain and making regular monthly transfers to cover living expenses and who open a La Caixa account with Currencies Direct will also now have funds available for direct bank payments to utilities on the day the funds arrive in Spain, and not have to wait until the next business day.

The number of expats resident in Spain is still a significant number, with the British consul in Malaga estimating that over 400,000 British stay full time or part of the year in the Costa del Sol, and with rising numbers of Spaniards working in the UK and repatriating funds to support mortgages and other expenses, the market for pound/euro transactions is significant.

Customers of Currencies Direct have been mailed a letter with the following benefits to opening an account through La Caixa;

  • 0% commission charged when you deposit a bankers’ draft
  • Immediate transfers from UK to Spain – no cut-off time
  • No fees to make transfers from Spain to UK or reverse if you use your ”la Caixa”
  • Online banking in English
  • Exclusive Visa Debit Card


La Caixa currently have 5,500 branches throughout Spain, and over 8,100 ATMs, servicing 10.7m customers. Read more about Currencies Direct.

Natillas, a tasty Andalucian dessert

To say that natillas is custard is rather like saying that champagne is only wine. This dessert has a fresh delicacy and a charm which makes good old English custard seem dull and heavy in comparison. Nothing completes a delightful family meal on a summer afternoon than a “pudding” of natillas!

Ingredients (serves four)
half a litre of milk
the whites of 2 eggs
1 stick of cinnamon
150 grams (5 oz) sugar
4 egg yolks
lemon juice
lemon peel
bizcocho soletilla (ladyfinger biscuits)
vanilla bean

Place the milk in a saucepan, add the cinnamon, vanilla and lemon peel, and bring slowly to the boil. Once it reaches that point, take it off the heat and let it cool a little before you strain off the peel.

Fold the egg yolks and sugar together and place the mixture in the top section of a double-boiler (also known as a “bain-marie”). Hold back a tiny amount of the milk (three or four tablespoons). Whip up the yolks as you add the warm milk.

Using the held-back milk, dissolve the cornflour and then work this into the larger mixture. Heat this custard mix over boiling water for about ten minutes, stirring constantly, until the custard has thickened up. When it has reached the consistency you desire, take it off the heat.

Place one of the ladyfinger biscuits in each of four dessert bowls. Pour the custard evenly over each, and then place the bowls in the fridge to cool.

Whisk the two egg-whites until the liquid is quite stiff. Stir in the sugar, a pinch of salt and some lemon juice.

Butter an oven tin, and put the meringue in, creating four separate portions. Dust them lightly with cinnamon, and give the lot ten minutes in a medium oven, taking the tin out when the meringues have started to turn golden.

Cut the heat, and let the meringues cool to room temperature inside the oven before placing them on top of the four custard portions.

¡Buen provecho!

eBook Review: Spanish Legal Property Information by Perez Legal Group

The current financial crisis in Spain, dwindling property values, and the desperation felt by many as they try to sell their homes before they are repossessed has created a buyers market for those with cash or approved funding. It seems prudent therefore to be aware of the legalities of buying or selling Spanish property, and thankfully Perez Legal Group in Marbella have created a freely downloadable ebook that runs through almost everything you should know.

Raquel Perez created Perez Legal Group with the objective of being different from other legal offices in Spain, and with her offices in Marbella, she and her team are very accessible to expat residents in Malaga province. Her group is the first to offer a weekly free legal clinic, and has created a book entitled “Spanish Legal Property Information” that can be downloaded free from the firm’s website.

“Spanish Legal Property Information” is a mini format ebook, that if printed on paper would be about the size of a typical language phrase book, and is 55 pages of legal advice that aims to give English speaking people a solid introduction to the basics of buying and selling property, property taxes, resident status, Spanish wills and inheritance taxes, and bank accounts.

The first thing to realise is that any transaction of property needs to be completed correctly in accordance with Spanish law, and the laws here in Spain are not the same as the UK, Ireland, or the USA. As well, Spanish law when followed correctly offers all of the protections expats expect back home, but in Spain many have lost a lot of money through incorrect application of the law. In many cases this has been due to unscrupulous sales agents, but the majority of cases might have been avoided if local laws had been better understood.

This is where “Spanish Legal Property Information” steps in. The guide briefly and succinctly explains how property ownership is registered, who has to pay the taxes, what your lawyer (abogado) has to check to make sure your rights are protected, and defines the various values that can be attached to property.

Specific vocabulary that is mentioned and explained includes plusvalia, IBI, escritura publica, catastro, hacienda, fiscal representative, NIE, incremento de patrimonio, padrón, usufruct. Whilst the guide is short (only 55 pages), this type of vocabulary is essential if you wish to understand the jargon used in property transactions, and without which you may misunderstand something important.

As an expat writer in Spain I find the majority of property owners will quickly learn about the legalities of owning property, but often never take the time to understand wills and inheritance, and as a consequence blindly ignore what Spaniards know in the mistaken belief that their foreign will protects them, or that they can register a foreign company to own their assets in Spain and never worry about inheritance tax.

This is dangerous thinking and has led to many dependants losing far more of their inheritance than they needed to, simply because the relative was too bloody minded to research their options for leaving assets to spouses and children before they passed away. In fact a family trust in the form of a Spanish company is possible, but only with foresight and the writing of a Spanish will. Chapters 7 and 8 of “Spanish Legal Property Information” should be considered a mandatory read.

Furthermore, the authors explain that it is possible under existing Spanish law to mitigate upto 95% of the inheritance tax payable upto the 120,000 euros if you were resident in Spain prior to dying. Given today’s depressed property values this amounts to a significant saving.

Whilst “Spanish Legal Property Information” should not be considered an exhaustive guide to property ownership, it is a worthwhile read for anyone considering or already owning property in Spain. It as also small enough that most readers will take on board the essentials in a very short time.

The ebook can be downloaded free from the Perez Legal Group website.

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