Have Bag, Will Travel
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Tag Archives: Andalucía
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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. Piercing shafts of sun 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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
With the car safely but (very) tightly parked and walking back to the hotel at Plaza San Sebastian 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.
And the sun was shining!
Plaza San Sebastian was at the very bottom of the city at a busy roundabout junction where every major road in the city seemed to converge, a bubbling pink marble water fountain, a modern monument that marks the junction of two Roman roads, a proud church, several grand buildings and overshadowed by the looming presence of the Alcazaba, a steep cobble-stoned hill climb away.
We tackled the steps and entered through a castle gate and made our way directly to the top where we found a restaurant/bar with pavement tables and stopped for a while to draw breath. This was the Plaza de Santa Maria dominated by the biggest church in town and we sat and enjoyed the heat of the sun on our faces as we drank wine and nibbled the inevitable olives. It was wonderful.
Refreshment break over we left and paid admission to the Alcazaba and entered the interior of the fortress. Antequera has always been an important place due its geographical position as it falls on a natural crossroads east/west between Seville and Granada and north/south between Malaga and Cordoba and the Moors built their most impregnable castle at this place to protect their possessions in Iberia.
It took the Christian armies of the north almost two hundred years to overcome this fortress but this was eventually achieved in 1410 and the Muslims were expelled and obliged to relocate to Granada. In the context of the current migrant crisis in Europe this set me thinking. The movement of people, both voluntary and enforced has been going on forever. As I have said before history teaches us nothing except that we live in a sort of hamster wheel of rotating repetition. As we walked around I could just imagine what the reaction was in Granada at the time – “How can we cope with all of these extra people?”, “Think of the added pressure on our water supply systems!”, “How will our Mosques accommodate all of these migrants?”.
We dawdled around but towards the end of the tour around the battlements and towers we had to speed up significantly because there were some uninvited black clouds gate-crashing the sky and we ended the visit rather abruptly and dashed for the shelter of the church as a steady rain began to fall.
There is only so long that anyone can spend in a church of course and after we had watched a video history of the city and finished wandering around the interior, back at the door and finding it still raining there was only one really sensible option so without any sort of debate we returned to the friendly bar on the opposite side of the plaza.
We made it only just in time because within seconds there was a thunderstorm of almost biblical proportions when the sky exploded with thunder and was lit up by lightening brighter than a flashing roadside speed camera and the rain bounced off the cobbles like shrapnel. Luckily it didn’t last long and after one drink we promised to return later for an evening meal – just so long as it wasn’t raining of course.
In the early evening the day settled down into a period of perfect weather and so later we fulfilled our promise and returned for an excellent meal, a history lesson and a weather forecast for the next few days from the helpful waiter.
Back at Plaza San Sebastian we grew concerned about the traffic noise and just how busy the little square might be and with a room on the front we worried about sleeping but I reminded Kim that this should be no trouble at all because one time in Pisa we stayed at the noisiest hotel in Italy, the Royal Victoria Hotel.
Anyway, we needn’t have worried, the noise died down and we fell asleep and the only sound I heard in the early hours when I stirred was running water which I thought might be more rain but which turned out to be the fountain.
“However our friend soon brightened up again and, in answer to my inquiries, told me that the picture that the doctor had drawn of the brigands in the Sierra Morena was greatly exaggerated: they had been a nuisance some time before, but were now of very little consequence. And they rarely killed anyone.” – Gerald Brenan
It was raining again the next morning but it looked brighter towards the east where we were heading and so we didn’t loiter too long after breakfast and made our way out of Ronda towards our next destination, Antequera, about fifty miles away on the road to Granada.
We avoided the direct route and instead took a minor road across the dusty plain towards the town of Campillos which was a place that we never arrived at because a few miles short of the town we took a detour towards a national park and a series of reservoirs. We climbed steadily towards a viewing opportunity and then descended just as quickly to the shoreline of the curiously turquoise waters of the lakes.
There are three reservoirs here – Guadalhorce and Guadalteba and Gaitanejo and we drove a few miles around the perimeter of one of them, I cannot be sure which and then we came to a road junction with Antequera signposted in two alternative directions.
We (I) chose the right fork option and quite quickly left the main highway and came across a very minor unpaved road. This was the point at which sensible motorists with a rental car would surely turn back but rather foolishly we (I) carried on. I kept convincing myself that we (I) could turn around any time we (I) chose but instead we just keep going, higher and higher into the mountains and soaring now like eagles above the reservoirs below.
When you make this sort of decision there comes a point where turning back ceases to be an option for fear of forgetting the way back and after we (I) had reached that watershed there was no option but to just keep driving.
It was very remote up here, a boulder strewn landscape brutally assaulted by the wind and the frequent squally showers. This it seemed to me was Brigand territory and I drove on half expecting that at any moment a grizzled highwayman with a shotgun and a leather cartridge belt slung across each shoulder would step out into the road, raise his weapon and bid me stop, relieve me of my wallet and quite likely drive off with the car (luckily I had paid for full insurance by the way).
The fear of Brigands however swiftly evaporated when we stopped the car for a moment to enjoy the view and a faded sign that had been used for shotgun target practice at the side of the road warned that we were now in an area of special protection for wolves and that we should be alert to the danger. Be Alert! Be Alert! I should say so and we retreated to the car as quickly as possible, checked our underpants and made sure the doors and windows were firmly closed. Now, I am all for supporting wildlife and the reintroduction of endangered species but I am not sure about wolves and that isn’t just because I don’t like dogs, wolves tear people into shreds and eat them don’t they?
Eventually after about ten miles or so we came to a junction and joined another road that didn’t provide a great deal of improvement but at least it was paved and it had an official number which immediately calmed my shattered nerves.
Just a few miles out of Antequera we came across signs for a nature reserve, El Torcal de Antequera and as it was still quite early we made a detour to make a visit.
El Torcal, it turned out, is a unique limestone landscape where a series of fractures, cracks and faults have been sculptured by erosion to provide impressive columns of rocks not dissimilar to the sort of towers of stones that people build on beaches. The blocks of stone have been subjected to both dissolution by water and freeze-thaw splitting action which, working on the limestone’s horizontal beds, resulted in the various shapes scattering the landscape that we were able to see today.
People come here on coach trips that take several hours but it was cold and windy and we found that about half an hour or so was long enough to enjoy the unique natural environment of the park and shortly after we left we were approaching our destination of Antequera.
Generally, we like to pick out a new, non-tourist place to stay when we visit Spain so we had no real idea what to expect…
… We certainly didn’t expect it to be so difficult to navigate and it took several attempts to find our hotel located right in the centre of the busy city and then to find somewhere safe to leave the car while we checked in.
The hotel offered secure parking facilities in a garage nearby but this was rather tricky to find as well and when I eventually did so parking was so cramped and difficult that after I had manoeuvred into a very tight spot I was absolutely certain that I do not have the skills to get the car back out again and that I might have to spend the rest of my life in Antequera and at this point I wasn’t sure that this was such a good thing!
Have you ever been lost when driving in a foreign country?
“Dogs don’t like me. It is a simple law of the universe, like gravity. I am not exaggerating when I say that dogs that have not moved from the sofa in years will, at the sniff of me passing outside, rise in fury and hurl themselves at shut windows. I have seen tiny dogs, no bigger than a fluffy slipper, jerk little old ladies off their feet and drag them over open ground in a quest to get at my blood and sinew. Every dog on the face of the earth wants me dead.”, Bill Bryson – ‘In a Sunburned Country’
The next morning it was raining, raining quite hard, raining very hard and after breakfast and with no immediate prospect of improvement Kim decided to go shopping to buy some shoes she needed which left me free to visit the historical centre.
The weather was thoroughly horrid with gusty winds that turned my cheap umbrella inside out and sharp squally showers which tested even the most boasting of waterproof clothing claims.
I walked for a while and then as though by magic the sky cleared, the clouds blew away in an instant and I didn’t need the umbrella and the waterproof clothing any more. That is what I like about Spain, when it rains in England in the morning it generally rains all day but in Spain it can quickly blow away.
I walked to the edge of the town, through the old gate of the defensive walls of the old Arab Alcazaba and then spotted a path that I estimated would take me to a viewing spot at ground level below the bridge. I asked a local man and he confirmed my judgement and so I optimistically set off. It was a steep downhill path of loose shale and after a quarter of a mile or so I began to have doubts but I had reached that point when I felt committed to carry on even though my confidence was by now beginning to evaporate as quickly as a kettle left to boil dry on a burning hob!
And so I carried on, forever going down into the canyon and increasingly regretting my adventurous resolve to carry on. Eventually I reached the bottom of the slippery path and my worst fears were confirmed. This was a dead end and there was no way of returning to the town without either advanced mountaineering skills or alternatively retracing my steps up a very steep slope.
On the positive side I did get some good pictures of the bridge!
The path was quite remote and deserted and on the way back I began to worry about the prospect of running into a dog. You may remember that it is fair to say that I am terrified of dogs – I suffer from cynophobia. This was exactly the sort of place that I would not want to be confronted with a loose canine beast.
Anyway, I got most of the way back and came to the edge of town and then was confronted with my worst fear. Here was a massive dog with the scent of blood in its nostrils staring down at me from the top of a ten foot wall. I can’t tell you what sort of dog it was because my brain had dissolved into jelly and I wasn’t thinking straight. It desperately wanted to jump down and rip my throat out but luckily it was more afraid of heights than I am of dogs and it couldn’t bring itself to make the leap. I rushed past, my heart thumping like a bass drum from the combination of the stiff walk and the dog scare.
A good friend of mine who loves dogs once asked me why I don’t like them. I tried to explain that I am genuinely afraid of them, I don’t like them anywhere near me, I don’t like the smell of their sweating bodies, I don’t like the feel of their greasy hair, I don’t like their slavering tongues and their slobber anywhere near my hands. Like all people who like dogs he didn’t understand my explanation. Some people don’t like cats – I do but if people come to my house and explain that they don’t like them then I put them in a different room and anyway a cat would have more manners than to keep pestering people, they are so much more intelligent and socially aware.
As Bill said…
“It wouldn’t bother me in the least…if all the dogs in the world were placed in a sack and taken to some distant island… where they could romp around and sniff each other’s anuses to their hearts’ content and never bother or terrorise me again.”
Unscathed but shaking uncontrollably with fear I negotiated the final few steps and returned to the safety of the town and slipped inside the old Arab gate and into the labyrinth of twisting narrow streets, still damp and dripping with residual rain. I followed them for a while dropping down again towards the bottom of the canyon but this time on the opposite side of the town.
Eventually I came to the two earlier bridges and then to the Baños Árabes, the Arab Baths which are claimed to be the most complete and most important example of its type in all of Spain. It was impressive I have to say and well worth the €3 admission charge to go inside.
I almost had time to go to the secret gardens which looked well worth a visit but it was starting to rain again and I was due to meet Kim in fifteen minutes, so I turned down the opportunity and returned directly to the hotel.
Kim was already back. She hadn’t got the shoes she needed because the shop hadn’t got them in the right colour but to make up for this disappointment she had alternatively bought some shoes that she wanted!
This is another of my phobias – Shoe Shops…
“We sighted Ronda. It was raised up in the mountains, like a natural extension of the landscape, and in the sunlight it seemed to me to be the most beautiful city in the world.” – José Agustín Goytisolo
Ronda is one of the pueblos blancos (white towns) so-called because it is whitewashed in the old Moorish tradition and sits like a wedding cake on the surrounding ragged countryside. It also happens to be one of the most spectacularly located towns in Andalucía sitting on a massive rocky outcrop straddling a precipitous limestone cleft in the mountains.
Ronda is most famous for a one hundred and thirty metre high bridge, the Puente Nuevo, whose name means ‘new bridge’ and which spans a dramatic gorge that divides the city in two.
To put that into some sort of perspective it is the height of thirty London double-decker buses, seven times higher than the Presidents’ faces at Mount Rushmoor, four times higher than the Aqueduct of Segovia, two and half times higher than Niagara Falls and more or less the same height as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The bridge was begun in 1751 and took forty-two years to complete. It is supposedly one of the most photographed structures in Spain and often quoted as one of the top places to see in Europe and lots of people must have taken that recommendation literally because this afternoon the town was swarming with day-trippers from Seville and the Costa del Sol.
We crossed the bridge and looked out over the sprawling patchwork landscape of burnt brown, cream, beige and copper coloured fields that spilled out across the flat valley plain punctuated with terraces of irrigated green, a meandering river far below, swollen by recent rain and a dramatic grey sky full of heavy cloud and pregnant stormy menace.
The author Ernest Hemingway and actor and film director Orson Welles both lived in Ronda at some point in their lives (it seems that they lived almost everywhere) and both wrote warmly about the place. Hemingway’s novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ describes the murder of five hundred fascist Nationalist sympathisers early in the Spanish Civil War by being thrown from the cliffs of El Tajo and into the Rio Guadalquivir by the Republican forces.
Or possibly vice versa, I have never read the book so am not absolutely sure and neither are the historical accounts because even after seventy-five years both sides continue to accuse each other of the grisly crime but those who lost their lives are in some small way poetically remembered by Orson Welles who said – “A man does not belong to the place where he was born, but where he chooses to die”
We walked over the bridge and admired the expansive views over the surrounding countryside and from here it was easy to understand why Ronda was one of the last Moorish strongholds in Spain, only finally falling to the Christian armies in 1485 just seven years before the fall of Granada.
It was possible to visit the interior of the bridge by climbing down a set of steps carved into the side of the canyon and then entering a chamber where there was an interesting exhibition in what was once the guard-house describing the history of the bridge and its construction. Just behind the guard-house was the cramped prison, which allegedly both sides used for imprisonment and unimaginable torture during the civil war.
Ronda, it turns out, has three bridges, the first and lowest may have been Roman but was certainly Moorish and the second was built in the middle ages. They are both at the bottom of the canyon and as both the old town and the new town were at the top this meant a lot of aching legs and creaking wagon wheels to get between the two so the third and most famous bridge was built right at the top to make life a whole lot easier for everyone.
In the evening we went into the town looking for somewhere to eat. It was much quieter now that the tourist buses had left and there was plenty of choice. After a larger than planned lunch neither of us were especially hungry so we were easily talked into a tapas bar with a promise of a mixed plate of local specialities.
According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castile, Alfonso the Wise (if I was King I think I would like to be called ‘the Wise’) visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty. The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.
This developed into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.
It wasn’t the best tapas that we have tasted but to be fair it was traditional and authentic and we liked that and when we had finished we left and returned to the Hotel Poeta de Ronda and hoped that tomorrow the rain would stay away.
“History lies underground. On the surface is the bustling life of Spain with its smell, noise, burning sun, decay, street life, mountain shrines, fiestas, markets, dark wine, acrid dust… hard mountains, rushing ravines, hopefulness and resignation, openness, tragedy and song” – Christopher Howse, ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’
In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try to help me to understand something the country that I was visiting.
With an area of just over five hundred thousand square kilometres Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and with an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres it is second highest country in Europe after Switzerland.
Spain is also a country of different people and the description ‘Spaniard’ it seems is just a convenient way of bundling them all together. Richard Ford was a nineteenth century English traveller and in his ‘Handbook for Travellers in Spain’, published in 1845 acknowledged now as one of the very first travel guides, was one of the first to identify that ‘Spain is a bundle of local units tied together by a rope of sand’, and oh, what a wonderful strap-line that is.
Gerald Brenan in ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ similarly observed ‘In what we may call its normal condition Spain is a collection of small, mutually hostile or indifferent republics held together in a loose federation’.
Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.
Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. As a highly decentralised state Spain has possibly the most modern political and territorial arrangements in Western European. Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are designated historic nationalities and Andalusia, although not a nationality, also has preferential status, the remaining are regional Provinces without nationality.
Spain is placed twenty-sixth in the Human Development Index which means that it is categorised as having high human development in an index that ranks countries by data composed from life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. It is twenty-first in the OECD Better Life Index and sixty-second in the Happy Planet Index which is twenty-one places behind the United Kingdom, fourteen ahead of Australia and three ahead of Canada and way in front of the United States which is as low down as one hundred and fifth. Donald Trump will no doubt sort that out!
Spain has forty-seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Second highest to Italy at forty-nine) but the chances of visiting more than one or two in a single visit is very remote because they are spread evenly right across the country. Prior to this trip I had visited twenty-two (follow this link for the full list) and this time I was going to add the Alhambra at Granada.
Spain is one of only two countries (the other is Morocco) with both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic coast-line and has more Blue Flag Beaches than any other participating country with four hundred and ninety-nine along almost five thousand kilometres of coast. the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and forty-four in nearly twelve thousand five hundred kilometres. Greece has the second most blue flags at four hundred and thirty and the most in the Mediterranean Sea and France is third with two hundred and thirty-eight.
On this visit we planned to visit some of the beaches on the famous Costa del Sol.
The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality. Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty-four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.
Spain has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest fifty-five times since making its debut in 1961, where they finished ninth. Since 1999, Spain is one of the ‘Big Five’, along with France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, who are automatically allowed to participate in the final because they are the five biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union. It has won the contest twice, first in 1968 with the unimaginatively titled song “La, la, la” and again in 1969, when “Vivo Cantando” was involved in a four-way tie. The country finished last with “Nul points” in 1962, 1965 and 1983, and then finished last for a fourth time in 1999.
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.
“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 dark eyes and black hair” – Jan Morris, ‘Spain’
After two years I have returned to my travels in Spain, this time to Andalucía where there is no Don Quixote of Castilla-La Mancha or El Cid of Castilla y Leon because this is the land of Don Juan, Carmen and famous bull-fighters!
I will tell you soon about my visit to Ronda, Antequera, Cordoba and Granada…