Tag Archives: Andalucía

Favourite Places in Spain, Antequera in Andalucia

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When planning a road trip in Spain at least for one night I generally like to find a place to stay off the usual well beaten tourist trail.  I have had great success with this and in picking places like Carmona, a few miles east of Seville in Andalucía, Pedro Bernardo in the mountains of Castilla y Leon and Almagro on the Ruta de Don Quixote in Castilla-La Mancha.

I was optimistic that Antequera was going to be added to the list of good selections.

Because of geography, tradition and culture Antequera is called the heart of  Andalucía and was once considered as a suitable candidate for the regional government to be based but it eventually and inevitably lost out to Seville.

My instincts proved to be correct and I was not disappointed.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Travels in Andalucia

Travels in Andalucia

 

Travels in Spain, Roman Ruins and a Bodega in Carmona

Carmona Street 01

“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. White sierras, goatheards, dungeons of the Inquisition, Moorish palaces, black winding trains of mules, grey olive trees and groves of lemon, girls in black mantillas,  cathedrals, cardinals, bullfights, gypsies, serenades – in short, Spain.”  –  George Orwell

I have seen Roman ruins advertised before and sometimes they can be quite disappointing so I didn’t have high expectations of those in Carmona but they turned out to be a real surprise.  It wasn’t the Aqueduct of Segovia or anything of the scale of Segóbriga  or Mérida of course but there were extensive excavations and a museum with an informative film about the Romans in Andalusia and the significance of this place.

It was principally an ancient Roman burial site or necropolis near the Seville road that was discovered in 1881 and there was also the site of what had been a rather large amphitheatre.  The best part of all was that there was free admission and we spent well over an hour to look around the site.

It seemed that we had underestimated the town of Carmona and there was a great deal more to do here than we had originally thought.

Close to the fortress gate there was a little bodega that we had picked out earlier for lunch.  The Abacería L’Antiqua was full to overflowing and heaving with activity and just as we were pondering whether or not to stay a table became available and we elbowed our way through the wall of people and made ourselves comfortable. The food looked good and the bar was doing brisk trade so we selected some items from the tapas menu and waited for our food to arrive.

All around the bar there were barrels of sherry and this is something else that Andalusia is famous for.

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez on the coast. In Spanish, it is called Vino de Jerez and according to Spanish law, sherry must come from the small triangular area of the province of Cádiz between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.  After fermentation is complete, sherry is fortified with brandy and because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol.  So now you know!

The food arrived quickly and it was delicious and we enjoyed it so much that we ordered second plates of those we liked best and more drinks.  The bodega was a vibrant and effervescent place with people of all age groups and whole families enjoying their Sunday lunchtime gathering and we enjoyed the garrulous atmosphere and just being a part of it all.

But we couldn’t stay all afternoon because there were still things to see.

At the fortress we fished around in our pockets for the admission fee only to be told that today the entrance was free, so how glad we were that we hadn’t visited yesterday.  It wasn’t a big castle but it was a good place to visit with commanding views in all directions across the Andalusian plain.   This place had been chosen well as a castle of strategic importance.  It had been restored and modernised of course, some time in the 1970s, but that didn’t spoil it one little bit.  The sky was blue and it was warmer today so we had a good time climbing the towers and taking in the breathtaking views

I especially wanted to retrace our car journey of the first evening and we found the very narrow street and wondered just how we had managed to negotiate it without adding to the cars dents and scratches.

Practically every car in the town had some form of damage either from scraping past walls or from other cars squeezing past and a very high proportion of them had had their wing mirrors removed and were now only kept in place with sticky tape.  This wasn’t the sort of place to live if you are at all fussy about the appearance of your car.

We found Micky in San Fernando Square sitting on a bench in the sunshine with a red nose and flu weary eyes and looking very forlorn.  The man from Bar Plaza saw us and told us he had prepared paella for this evening but unfortunately for him we were determined to return to the Abacería L’Antiqua and so he had missed his opportunity.

We went first to the Forum Bar, which was busy and then walked to the Bodega, which was empty.  The contrast from the lunchtime bustle made the place almost unrecognisable and although other diners began to drift in the place never achieved the sociable levels of lunchtime.  We ordered some repeat dishes and experimented with some different ones and the food was equally as good and we stayed all evening before going back to the hotel for our final night at the San Fernando.

Travels in Spain, Men on Street Corners

Carmona Old Town Gate

“…anyone that knows Spain will be aware of the frequency of the marriage in which the wife is deeply pious and the husband is irreligious.  This is indeed a fairly normal situation.  The man’s sense of self-esteem conflicts sharply with the teachings of the Church, while he is irritated by its many small, fussy rules and regulations, which treat him, he feels, as though he were a child.”  –  Gerald Brennan – ‘South From Granada

Once again it rained heavily in the night but by morning it had cleared when I went out into the street to check the weather.  There were blue skies and as this was Sunday there was a church bell ringing with frosty clarity and calling people to service as I wandered aimlessly about checking the breakfast options in the little bars around the square.

The only place open was the Bar Plaza so we returned there for the fourth time and had the same breakfast as the previous day except that due to a misunderstanding we ordered way too much Serrano Ham and ended up with far more than we really needed and a much bigger bill than we anticipated.

The bad news this morning was that Micky had gone down with a nasty little case of man flu and he wasn’t feeling very good at all.  This was the strain that affects the sense of humour and social skills and after breakfast Mick invited us to go out without him.  Naturally we said we would do no such thing and then as we watched his normally stoic temperament evaporating in front of us he demanded firmly that we should go out without him and we took the hint.

We were planning to go for another drive out, possibly to the town of Ronda but this didn’t seem fair so the rest of us decided instead to stay and explore Carmona instead.  We weren’t sure that there would be enough to do to keep us amused all day so we walked very slowly from the hotel towards the eastern gate of the old town, the Puerto de Córdoba which is of part Roman construction.

Because Carmona is built on an elevated ridge overlooking the central plain of Andalusia the view beyond the gate opens to a glorious vista of the surrounding countryside which today entertained us with the drama of magnificent skies.

The welcome warmth of the sun was in contrast to the chilly shade of the street and we stayed a while and admired the view and warmed ourselves up before going back through the gate and climbing steadily towards the Alcázar Del Rey Don Pedro, which is an old castle at the top of the town that has been converted to a luxury Parador hotel.  We went inside and admired the lounges and the restaurant and the stunning view from the balcony but it didn’t seem that they particularly welcomed non-paying guests so we quickly left and carried on.

Next around the southern rim of the town and there were more good views over the plain and we sat for a while and soaked up more weak sunshine that was struggling to get up to full late morning temperature.  Our route took us now to the Alcázar de la Puerto de Sevilla, which was the western gate protecting the entrance to the old town and then we walked for a little way into the new town because I wanted to take the girls shopping but sadly on account of this being Sunday they were mostly closed.  I was desperately disappointed about that as you can probably imagine.

There seemed to be strange goings on in the main town square because it was full of men just standing around and chatting in groups and making an enormous din as they competed with each other to be heard about the great political  issues of the day or the previous day’s football results perhaps.

Mostly elderly men because  as Gerald Brennan explained in ‘South from Granada’ “…almost every Spanish peasant becomes wise when he passes fifty.”  This was obviously a Sunday morning ritual while wives attended Church and the street corners and the public squares were overflowing with men all in animated conversation waiting for the service to end.

Brennan also explains that – “At bottom the husband almost always approves of his wife’s devoutness, is aware that he is only playing truant and that, after a lifetime shrugging his shoulders at the Church, he will return to it in time to receive its last sacraments.”

Back at the Puerto de Sevilla there was a sunny pavement with café tables so we stopped for a drink before going back to the hotel to see if there was any sign of Micky.  There was none so we continued our walk around the town without him, this time back to the Roman ruins about a half a mile away back in the same direction that we had just returned from.

Carmona Wise Women

Travels in Spain, Andalućia in Postcards

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Postcards of 2016

Essaouira PostcardAndalusia Postcard 2Cobh PostcardYorkshire AbbeysCosta Del Sol PostcardBorth PostcardDelos Greece PostcardCosta Calida Postcard

Postcard Maps of 2016

Morocco Postcard Map

January…

I really need to be careful about making bold statements because upon returning from Morocco in December 2011 I said that I would never go again.  This is what I said…

“I enjoyed the experience of Fez, the Riad was excellent, the food was good, the sightseeing was unexpected and we were treated with courtesy and respect by everyone associated with the Riad but I have seen Morocco now and I think it may be some time before I return to North Africa as we resume our travels through Europe.”

Well, now I have to eat my words because our first overseas trip in 2016 was to Essouria on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.  Why did I go back on my statement – return flights for less than £40 each are just too good to resist and nothing beats getting on a plane with temperatures hovering around zero and then getting off again three hours later into 20°, blue sky, sunshine and swaying palm trees.

April…

We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.

After picking up the rental car we headed immediately to the Autopista del Sol,an ugly, charmless toll road which conveniently by-passes the congested coast road and moves traffic from east to west with brutal efficiency.  It reminded me of what Laurie Lee had to say about it: “The road to Malaga followed a beautiful but exhausted shore, seemingly forgotten by the world.  I remember the names, San Pedro, Estepona, Marbella and Fuengirola.  They were salt-fish villages, thin ribbed, sea hating, cursing their place in the sun.  At that time one could have bought the whole coast for a shilling.  Not Emperors could buy it now.”

June…

We travelled to Ireland in 2014 and went to the west coast and a year later we went to Northern Ireland and stayed in Belfast.  Despite Ireland’s reputation for Atlantic storms, dreary weather and lots of rain we enjoyed blue skies  on both occasions.  So good was the weather that Kim thinks it is permanently sunny in the Emerald Isle so we arranged to go again this year and this time chose the city of Cork, the county of West Cork and the south coast of the country as our destination.

north wales

Also in June…

I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation in Borth because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen and after preparing and enjoying a full English breakfast I walked out with a spring in my step on a voyage of rediscovery.

August…

At school holiday time there is always the threat of an extended visit from the grandchildren which can be a stressful experience as they spend a week dismantling the house and trashing the garden.

This year I decided to rent a holiday cottage elsewhere and let them destroy someone else’s place instead.  I chose a cottage in the village of Thornton Stewart in North Yorkshire and drove there one busy Friday afternoon along the A1 – The Great North Road, which many people claim is the only good thing that comes out of London.

cyclades-postcard

September…

We had not visited the Cyclades Islands in Greece since 2011 and so we were interested to see what changes there might be in five years.

We no longer choose to fly to Athens because there is always the risk of industrial action on the buses or the metro or the ferries, or getting caught up in a demonstration in the city centre as we did in 2011, so this year we flew instead to Mykonos, a popular tourist destination in the centre of the island group.

south-wales-map

October…

South Wales isn’t new to me of course, I studied history at Cardiff University between 1972 to 1975, worked a summer season at Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Barry Island and I have visited several times since but on this occasion I was travelling with my good friend who hails from the Rhondda Valley and he had promised to show me some things that I might not otherwise have expected to see.  A privileged insider’s view as it were!

Malta Map Postcard

Also in October…

I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence.  I love it I went several times in the 1990s on family holidays and I returned for the first time since then in 2015.  I hoped that Kim would love it too and as it happened she liked the place so much that we returned for a second time in October 2016.

November…

My sister, Lindsay, more or less lives permanently in Spain now on the Costa Blanca so this provided a perfect opportunity to go and visit her and spend some time in a part of Spain that I haven’t visited for several years.  I have never considered it one of favourite parts of the country so I was interested to see what impression it would make this time!

Travels in Spain – Memories of Andalucía

Seville FlamencoAndalucia BullFlamencoAndalucia Bottle ShadowAndalucia Bar RestaurantBullfight Poster SpainRonda Matador

Travels in Spain – Andalucía, Malaga

Malaga Postcard

It was our final day in Andalucía.  The sun was shining.  We debated changing our plans.  We decided to stick to the agreed itinerary and drive to Málaga.  After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed south to the city which happens to be the birthplace of the artist Pablo Picasso, the actor Antonio Banderas and the golfer Miguel Ángel Jiménez.

It took about an hour to drive to the city and when we arrived I was horrified to discover just how big it is and difficult to navigate.  Málaga is the sixth largest city in Spain and the biggest most southerly city in all of Europe (apologies to Valletta which is slightly further south but only half the size).  Eventually we found a parking space in an underground car park and emerged from subterranean level blinking into bright sunlight somewhere close to the old town.

The journey had been stressful.  We needed a drink.  We found a pavement bar close to the centre and found a vacant table where we could examine the city map and get our bearings.

Malaga Andalucia Spain

It was Saturday and Málaga was busy.  There was a cruise ship in the harbour and tourists were wandering around like a plague of locusts, local people were out shopping (Kim reliably informs me that this is what people do on a Saturday morning) and the area was well provided for by roaming street entertainers.  We stayed for a while and after paying the staggeringly high bill then wandered off in the direction of the cathedral but we didn’t go inside because having just spent so much on a beer we were put off by the cost of admission so instead we made our way to the harbour and after that the beach.

Malaga Beach

It has to be said that this is a very good beach indeed and we walked for a couple of miles along a promenade which ran adjacent to a crescent arc of lush caramel sand and gentle blue water that softly caressed the inviting shoreline.  As we walked we assessed the beach restaurants where fresh fish and bubbling paella was being prepared on flaming barbeques and made a decision where we might eat.

Unfortunately we left this a bit late and by the time we had decided our first, second and third choices were all full up with no prospect of available tables for at least an hour or more.  So we walked some more and then some more again and when we guessed that the time might be right we returned to our first choice and luckily there was a table free and we enjoyed a meal of fresh red snapper and a house salad.  It tasted divine.

Malaga Cathedral

After lunch we walked back to the city centre and while Kim went to the shops I returned to the cathedral.  There was a service in place now which meant there was no longer an admission fee and because that is the sort of good luck that I really appreciate I took advantage of my good fortune, wandered inside and mingled with the worshippers until it was all over and then spent an agreeable thirty minutes exploring the church and the side chapels before stepping back into the sun-splashed streets.

Aging Hippies Costa Del Sol

I confess that I hadn’t been absolutely sure that I would like Malaga, it once had a reputation for boozy Brits and cheap holidays but this is a city that has thoroughly reinvented itself. Gone is its seedy reputation as a playground for misbehaving tourists and instead the capital of the Costa Del Sol has been revived as a cultural destination only narrowly missing out to Donostia-San Sebastián as the 2016 European Capital of Culture.  As I stepped out of the Cathedral I knew that I liked it here.

Malaga is a business hub and a tourist city now but it has a long and varied history.  The Romans built a city here and we walked alongside the ancient theatre, the Moors were here of course before the Reconquista and then the Christians built a castle on the site of an abandoned Alcazaba.

Malaga Bullring

Málaga was one of the locations where Muslim rule persisted the longest, having been part of the Emirate of Granada. While most other parts of the peninsula had already been won back the Moors still occupied Málaga. It was finally retaken by Christian forces in August 1487, only five years before the fall of Granada.  The Muslim inhabitants resisted assaults and artillery bombardments before hunger forced them to surrender – virtually the entire population was sold into slavery – that is Christian charity for you!

We paid the modest admission price and then climbed steadily towards the top.  The lower areas of the castle are functional and militaristic but at the top there is a Palace almost as good as that at the Alhambra with shaded gardens where sunshine was trying to break in like a thief, fine Moorish architecture and a sense that this was once a place not just of military muscle but also of intellectual appreciation of the finer things in mediaeval life.

When we arrived six hours earlier we wondered how we would fill the day as we waited for our flight home but as it happened the day was slipping away rapidly now as we left the castle and returned to the car park along a busy street that was filling up with local people out for a wander around the Saturday night streets.

We stopped at a bar for a final drink and watched the evening entertainment and then reluctantly paid up, left, returned to the car and drove to the airport for our late night flight back to UK.

We had enjoyed our few days in Andalucía but with so much more to see we agreed that we would surely have to return.

Malaga Street Entertainers

Travels in Spain – Antequera to Córdoba

Antequera King Fedinand

“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than most countries.  How easy it is to make friends in Spain!” – George Orwell

We woke to a glorious morning and sunlight spilled like a waterfall into the room through the splintered cracks in the solar-bleached  shutters weathered over years by rain and sun and in contrast to the previous two mornings there was a perfect piercing blue sky.  These are my favourite sort of mornings!

The hotel was wonderful but didn’t provide breakfast so we found a place nearby and enjoyed hot tea, cheese, ham and pan con tomate, in the company of groups of young men who were sitting around chatting, preparing for later life and practising what the old men of the town do – sitting around and chatting –  just as as Gerald Brennan explained in ‘South from Granada’ “…almost every Spanish peasant becomes wise when he passes fifty.”

For the first part of the morning we split up once more, Kim went to the main shopping street, I declined the opportunity to join her and in the ninety minutes that was allocated I planned a speed sightseeing tour of the city.

I began in the church opposite the hotel but there was a service taking place and I felt like an intruder so I made my way to the city museum which was still closed and not due to open for another hour so instead I walked to the bullring at the opposite end of the city but that was closed as well, with an apologetic sign that explained that it was being prepared for some sort of military display.  I snapped some pictures and then walked back to San Sebastian.

Antequera Bullring

With all of the unexpected closures I still had time to spare so walked back to the Alcazaba and Plaza de Santa Maria where the weather today was so much better for photographs of the city from this elevated spot.  Reunited with Kim I explained about the bullring closure but I don’t think she believed me and we walked all the way back to get exactly the same result!

Now it was time for the moment that I had not been looking forward to – trying to manoeuvre the rental car from the cramped parking spot without damaging it so after settling up at the hotel I made my way pessimistically back to the garage.  I was absolutely certain that it would be impossible to get out of the tight space.  I was sweating, I was panicking, my stomach was tied in a Gordion knot but as it turned out I needn’t have worried, by a miracle ours was the only car in there and getting out was piece of cake but despite this piece of welcome good fortune I still told Kim how difficult it was and that it required all my driving skills to plot a safe way out – that is a secret by the way and I am trusting you all to keep it that way!

It was early lunch time now so before leaving Antequera we found a restaurant on the edge of town with a sunny terrace and a splendid view of the castle and the whitewashed town gleaming like salt flats in the sun or as though there had been an unexpected fall of snow so we stayed longer than intended and ordered more food than we planned and then we left and headed for Córdoba.

Alcazaba Antequera

We didn’t drive directly there but made a short detour to Almodóvar del Rio where a large castle was perched strategically on the top of a hill and this looked well worth stopping for.

The Castillo de Almodóvar is a grand fortress erected on a strategic  mound along the valley of the Rio Guadalquivir, which incidentally at four hundred miles is the fifth longest river in Spain and is one of the country’s most important because it irrigates a fertile valley and creates a rich agricultural area.

Square towers flank its towering walls and the entire castle is surrounded by a large moat.  During the years of Moorish occupation it was an Arab stronghold and after the reconquest it became the medieval home for members of the Spanish nobility.  After the Reconquista and no longer required for a military purpose it gradually fell into disrepair and much of it was plundered for convenient building material by the people of the nearby town but the Count of Torralba rebuilt it a hundred years ago restoring the external appearance of the original Arab fortification.

At its elevated position there was a spectacular view of the plains to the south and the mountains to the north and although the sun was shining it was getting cold and the clouds were getting closer.  We visited the castle in the company of a school outing who were enjoying an interactive history lesson which must have been highly entertaining judging by all of the laughter and giggles.  It was a good castle and well worth the €5 entrance fee and we climbed the towers and walked the ramparts and when we had seen all there was to see we left and continued the drive to Córdoba.

More castles of Spain