Galleons of fun in Huelva © David Cussen
Galleons of fun in Huelva © David Cussen

THERE probably isn’t an English speaker on the planet who doesn’t know the date Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Rather fewer would be able to tell you he sailed from Palos de la Frontera, across the estuary from Huelva city, where three perfect replicas of his famous galleons – the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria – bob anachronistically at anchor in a pretty palm-fringed bay. 

The wooden ships and their picturesque mooring, the Wharf of the Caravels, were created in 1992 to mark the Fifth Centenary of the Discovery of America.

Climb aboard and mind the bowsprit! You’ll be amazed to see how cramped and flimsy these 15th century sailing ships were, all creaking decks and headroom hazards.

Cristobal Colon, as he’s called in Spain, crossed the Atlantic in one without a proper map!

Although the real Santa Maria sank, the three replicas have proved their seaworthiness, participating in their own voyage around Europe and sailing up the Gualadquivir to Sevilla in style for Expo 92.

Huelva isn’t exactly on mass tourism’s radar but it was a record year for visitors to the province, the city and the wharf.  

This year should be even better because this quietly innovative city is Spain’s 2017 Capital of Gastronomy, and justifiably planning to make a song and dance about its D.O. wine, Jabugo ham and ocean-to-table cuisine.

A packed programme of events over the coming months will see top chefs from all over paying homage to Huelva’s home-grown larder and there’ll be more strawberries than Wimbledon on the menu.

The ones served at the famous lawn tennis club almost certainly come from Huelva, which accounts for 95% of Spain’s strawberry exports.

The landscape is an ode to The Beatles with Strawberry Fields Forever growing under plastic tunnels as far as the eye can see.

For another surreal landscape check out the rice paddies encircling the protected wetlands of Doñana where wildlife and crops are both competing for water.  

Agriculture’s drain on local resources is a sore point with environmentalists who hope to increase awareness during Huelva’s spell in the spotlight.

Columbus would have understood the importance of Huelva’s aquifers, having supplied his own ships from the local well.  

But he might be surprised to find that La Fontanilla, now a National Monument, has been shunted several kilometres inland over time as the river changed course, along with the town of Palos itself.

Huelva produces Andalucia’s only sparkling wine and no doubt there will be many a toast drunk in Raigal this year to the Capital of Gastronomy’s famous adopted son, who introduced potatoes, tomatoes, vanilla and chocolate to Spain and took Huelva wines back to the New World.

Columbus certainly deserves a place at the feast, not least as 2017 is the 525th anniversary of his famous sea voyage.

So he might be miffed to find that while everyone else is making capital out of a pretty landmark year for Huelva, his galleons are still in dry dock being titivated for this year’s big celebrations on August 3, the date he sailed.

A notice on Huelva Tourism website states that the Wharf of the Caravels is closed for renovation and not expected to reopen until June!  

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