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CULTURE

The nine weirdest (and wonderful) museums in Spain

Spain is home to some of the finest museums in the world, but it also boasts some of the most bizarre. From the museum dedicated entirely to melons to the museum of urinals, The Local counts down Spain’s weirdest.

The nine weirdest (and wonderful) museums in Spain
The 'buttocks wall' at Can Ginebreda forest (sculpture park) in Girona, Catalonia. Photo: Josep Bracons/Flickr

Spain is an ideal destination for culture vultures. Madrid’s ‘golden triangle’ of the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen, Barcelona’s Picasso Museum and Bilbao’s iconic Guggenheim are some of the places that many national and foreign tourists add to their itinerary.

But when you get sick of gazing at Goya, marvelling at Miró and peering at Picasso, why not visit some of Spain’s more, how shall we put it, ‘specialised’ museums.

From a warehouse dedicated to funeral carriages to a garden full of explicit stone sculptures, The Local walks you through Spain’s nine weirdest museums. 

The Urinal Museum, Ciudad Rodrigo

A trip to this pretty, walled city in Salamanca province is worth it just to visit this very special museum dedicated to urinals.

Nowhere in the known world will one come across such a vast collection of chamber pots, the result of an obsessional local landlord who gifted his bizarre collection to the town in 2006. Visitors are not required to spend a penny while there.

Photo: Luis Rogelio HM/Wikipedia

Museum of Funeral Carriages, Barcelona

If you tire of the traditional touristy sites of the Catalan capital and feel you’ve had enough of Gaudí architecture, modern art, and even shopping then why not take a break from culture and pop into this dusty old warehouse full of funeral paraphernalia.

Photo: Cementiris de Barcelona/Wikipedia

Forest of Naughty Sculptures (not official name), Girona

The “erotic forest” of Can Ginebreda features the work of sculptor Xicu Cabanyes, whose work leaves little to the imagination. Maybe not the best place to take the kids on a day out in Catalonia, but a good chance to shake off your inhibitions and marvel at everything from giant phalluses to naked women carved from stone. 

Photo: Lara B. Gómez/Flickr

The Witch Museum, Zugarramurdi

The little town of Zugarramurdi in Navarre (northern Spain) has the dubious honour of being the epicentre of the occult activity that led to the infamous Basque Witch Trials during the Spanish Inquisition. The museum recounts how dozens of women were ripped from their homes and put on trial, so if you’re looking for a Halloween day out, look no further. 

Photo: Carla Vidal/Flickr

Torture Museum, Santillana del Mar

This museum might even make some Fifty Shades of Grey fans blush. From guillotines, to clubs, to chastity belts, the torture museum explores all the sickening ways people were tortured and publicly humiliated in the Middle Ages and beyond.

Photo: MiguelAlanCS/Wikipedia

Melon Museum, Villaconejos

Spring is well on its way here in Spain and there’s nothing nicer than biting into a slice of juicy melon…or is there? What about a visit to the only museum in the world dedicated to the fruit and its farmers? The town of Villaconejos near Madrid is home to generations of melon farmers and every autumn celebrates its very own melon festival.

Photo: Malopez 21/Wikipedia

Tooth Mouse Museum, Madrid

While Spaniards may not have the tooth fairy, they do have a little mouse who does more or less the same job. Ratoncito Pérez, the creature beloved by all Spanish children, first appeared in a story by Spanish author Luis Coloma in 1902. Now the mouse has his very own museum in Madrid, where you can find out all about him and his family (he has a wife and three children of course). 

Photo: Jlordovas/Flickr

Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers, Guadalest

Kitschy salt and pepper shakers are a staple of mom-and-pop shops and the kitchen decor of your great aunt Sue, but who would think that such innocuous seasoning-containers deserved their own museum? Spaniards do, or at least those in the Valencian town of Guadalest. Marvel at all the strange ways that one can add flavour to their dinner. 

Microminiature Museum, Guadalest

Ever wanted to see a flea dressed as a bullfighter? Well now you can! The Microminiature Museum in Guadalest (clearly a global leader when it comes to unusual museums) showcases some of the finest works of Manuel Ussá, one of the world’s best ‘microminiaturists’. Marvel at the Statue of Liberty in the eye of a needle and Goya’s famous painting The Shootings of the 2nd of May painted onto a grain of rice. If you like your culture in small doses, this is the museum for you. Unbelievably, it’s not the only microminiature museum in the Iberian peninsula, with a competitor in the town of Ordino in the microstate of Andorra.

Photo: Nicolaï Syadristy/Wikipedia

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UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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