Travels in Spain, The Moroccan Tea Gardens at Crevillent

Moroccan Tea Garden 09

““Do you like that?” I’ll say and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad.  That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?”  but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say…  it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.”  Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’

In several previous travels to Alicante and the east coast of Spain we had visited much of the coast and the obvious places to go and see so today we set out to do something different.

I didn’t really have shopping at the top of my travel itinerary but you have to give and take sometimes and Kim and Lindsay wanted to go and look at sparkly things so we spent the morning at a modern mall at the town of La Zenia. I didn’t do a lot of shopping I have to say, just wandered about a bit and found somewhere for a drink as the girls enjoyed a frantic two hours or so in the shoe shops.

Later that day we eventually did something quite different. Mick and Lindsay knew of a secret place at the foot of the mountains inland, Moroccan Tea gardens called Carmen del Campillo the ‘Casa Morisca’. This it turned out is an unexpected and enchanting place with echoes reminiscent of Moorish Spain.

Moroccan Tea Garden 10

The description Moors derives from the Latin Mauri, a name for the Berber tribes living in Roman Mauretania, modern day Algeria and Morocco.  It has no ethnographic meaning but can be used to refer to all Muslims, Berber or Arab, who over a thousand years ago travelled north out of Africa and colonised the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors arrived in Iberia in the year 711 and began a period of history which would give Spain a different and unique history to the rest of Europe as the entire region adapted to a new religion, language and culture.

The period of Moorish occupation was to last nearly four hundred years and normally I would look for palaces and castles as a reminder of this time but in the Levante you have to look at the countryside because the Moors created the landscape of the region.

They expanded and improved Roman irrigation systems to help develop a strong agricultural sector.  After the irrigation they planted citrus groves and peach and almond orchards. They introduced many new crops including the orange, lemon, peach, apricot, fig and pomegranate as well as saffron, sugar cane, cotton, silk and rice all of which remain some of Spain’s main products today.

The terraces on the hillsides throughout the region are an everlasting Moor legacy.  There are no olives or vines in Valencia and Murcia just acres and acres of fruit that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Alcoy Spain The Moors Parade

In holiday brochures this might be the Costa Blanca or Costa Calida but it has a less well-known alternative name – the Orange Blossom Coast which owes its name to the sweet smell of citrus that hangs in the Spring air.  Spain is Europe’s largest producer of oranges and two-thirds of these little balls of sunshine come from the region around Valencia. The millions of orange trees are shiny green the year round, clothed in delicate white blossoms in spring and bright orange baubles in the autumn when each tree groans under the burden of up to five hundred fruits.

The Moroccan Tea Gardens are difficult to find and involved a long drive along a dusty track until we arrived at what seems at first sight to be an oasis in a thirsty plain.  Getting in is easy enough but I worried about getting out again when the iron gate was closed firmly behind us with a firm jailhouse rattle.

Moroccan Tea Garden 06

One inside the whole place is a rapturous assault on the senses, the sights, smells and sounds of Morocco, brightly painted walls and decoration, the aroma of burning incense and the music of North Africa.

Terracotta pots with effervescent geraniums and boiling blooms.  The garden weaving intricately and effortlessly through the house, making it an indoor and outdoor experience all at the same time. The house consists of a labyrinth of rooms that open onto open balconies, sun-bleached decks and private terraces that lead directly to the rooftops.  The objective of this tea house is to encourage tranquillity and relaxation and as afternoon slipped into evening it was illuminated with Islamic lamps and traditional wood burning fireplaces in every other room.

After we had investigated the house and gardens we found a table and ordered tea and sweet pastries and waited for the sun to disappear behind the mountain range, the Serra de Crevillent and when it had gone and we felt tranquil and relaxed we left the little piece of Morocco in Spain and made our way back to Rojales and the coast.

The blue of the sky and the terracotta of the earth…

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Travels in Spain, Guadix and the Cave Houses

Guadix and Sierra Nevada

Not a great picture – it was on the wall of a bar and the lighting was poor but still better than any picture that I could get of Guadix!

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –  George Orwell

It didn’t take long to reach Guadix, it is only a few miles east of Granada and we arrived there about at lunch time and instead of going straight to the city centre we took a detour into a neighbouring village in search of something to eat.

We were in a coach trip tourist sort of place lined with shops selling local earthenware and pottery but being just out of high season there weren’t any tourists there today, the shops were empty and we found a bar/restaurant with outside tables and busy with local people, which is always a good sign, so we selected a spot on the pavement in the sunshine and ordered a small selection of tapas.

The owner must have thought that we looked under-nourished because the food just kept turning up, we thought that we had ordered a light lunch but very soon the table was in danger of collapsing under the weight of rustic tapas and plates of fine food. It was rude not to eat it all but this took us some time and after we had finished our glutinous challenge we settled up and continued on our way.

Guadix Street

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about.  We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life.  I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim…  “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.” 

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about 1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

Don Simon wine in a carton

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal.  Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

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This is the main reason for visiting Guadix.  It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones.  People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside.  Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked  us in to his cave home and invited us to look around.  People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build.  Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.

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Travels in Spain, The Flamenco

Granada Flamenco

“We are in the Spanish south.  The castanets click from coast to coast, the cicada hum through the night, the air is heavy with jasmine and orange blossom… the girls have black eyes and undulating carriages.”  –  Jan Morris,  ‘Spain’

Flamenco BarcelonaThe Flamenco Dance of Spain

Some pictures that I have picked up along the way, pictures of pictures in bars and restaurants…

Flamenco Andalusia SpainFlamenco Wall Painting

In The June Garden

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Travels in Spain, Reflections on a Balcony in Granada

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Travels in Spain, Granada Old and New

Alhambra Walk

If you were to visit just one city in Spain, it should be Granada” –  Ernest Hemingway.

We had a leisurely start to the day with breakfast in our apartment and it was gone ten o’clock when we finally left and walked back into the city.

We began the day in the Albayzín neighbourhood which is an important cultural area of the city which is recognised by inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list for the protection of cultural and natural heritage.  The area has a distinctly Muslim heritage with architecture and street arrangement based on Almohad, Berber design which stretches back over eight hundred years to when the North African Moors were in control of almost all of Spain but strongest here in Granada and nearby Cordoba.

Of all the foreign nationals living in Spain the greatest number are Moroccans and as we pushed our way through the busy streets, politely declining invitations to take tea or to look inside the shops I was immediately transported to Marrakech and Fes, Meknes and Tangier.  This was an interesting part of the city which reminded me once again at just how varied and diverse is the country of Spain.

Alhambra Gate

Although we didn’t have entrance tickets to the Alhambra Palace we decided to walk there anyway because we had been told that it was possible to gain access to parts of the complex without tickets.  It wasn’t very far away but once again the walk involved a steep climb especially towards the latter stages through the woodland approach to the city gate.

Once inside it was indeed possible to see quite a lot of the Palace grounds even without admission to the formal gardens, the Palace or the Alcazaba but we could walk around the battlements and enjoy the views over the city, visit the Palace of Charles V and some minor buildings outside of the main complex.

In a moment of mad optimism we did visit the ticket office  but it was not to be and so an hour after we had walked up to the Palace we began our slow walk back down.

After a light lunch we now went our separate ways, Kim and Lindsay went to the ships and because men don’t do shops, Mick and I didn’t.

Granada Cathedral

So I visited the Cathedral.  Mick doesn’t do Cathedrals so he sat outside and waited.

An interesting one this, unlike most cathedrals in Spain, construction here was not begun until the sixteenth century as it had to await until after 1492 and the acquisition of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers.  While its earliest plans were Gothic the construction of the church in the main occurred at a time when Spanish Renaissance designs were supplanting the Medieval preference in Spanish architecture of prior centuries.  As a consequence of this the interior is light, bright and airy with soaring white columns and high windows and a fine collection of Renaissance paintings to boot.  I liked it, it was different to so many other Cathedrals in Spain.

On the way out I visited a small museum with examples of Muslim architecture which I didn’t really understand and there were no interpretation boards to help so didn’t linger and then the City Hall, the Ayuntamiento, but as I wasn’t registering for citizenship or applying for a Spanish bus pass this didn’t take terribly long either.

Granada Balcony 5

We all joined up again at a pavement café in front of the Cathedral and wasted away the last of the afternoon over beer and wine and then returned to our accommodation to prepare for the evening.  This didn’t take a lot of planning because as I have mentioned before once we find a place that we like then we generally tend to use it again and tonight was no exception.

The food was good but the highlight was the street entertainment, not a musician or a dancer or a singer but a street corner beggar who was an absolute professional when it came to wagging a paper cup at people and putting on a show that ranged from high drama to low despair.  He was quite successful too and every time a coin was tossed into the cup he scooped it out, examined it and swiftly put it in his pocket so he could present an empty cup to the next victim.

Granada Donkey Picture

The next morning we got caught in a ‘sting’ ourselves.  We were leaving Granada to move on to nearby Guadix and we were doing quite well navigating our way out of the city until a moment of hesitation was spotted by a man on a tatty old scooter who approached us, went in like a stiletto and convinced us that we were going the wrong way (even though we had a perfectly reliable SatNav) and invited us to follow him and for some unexplained reason we did.

The SatNav was frantically giving instructions to turn around but we just blindly continued on until we reached a point at the opposite end of the city to where we really needed to be and he pulled up, approached us, told us to follow signs for the motorway and held out his hand for payment.  We were going to give him €5 but Lindsay, feeling generous offered 10 at which point he demanded 15 which was completely absurd but Mick didn’t want a screwdriver being run down the side of his shiny new car so we meekly paid up and went on our way.

We made our way to the motorway junction and drove a completely unnecessary ten miles or so to get back to the place where the Satnav would surely have taken us thirty minutes sooner.  We should have got a discount on the €15 for all the extra fuel he had wasted for us!

We had been thoroughly tucked up, completely skewered, absolutely kippered but once on the open road and heading towards our destination we soon saw the funny side of it and laughed about it all the way to nearby Guadix.  People have got to make a living somehow I suppose.

Granada Matador

Travels in Spain, Tiles of the Bullfight

Bullfight Tiles 2Bullfight Tiles 1Granada Matador