Tag Archives: San Sebastián

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

Twelve Treasures of Spain – Beach of La Concha, San Sebastián

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited.  Eleventh in the competition (and this one surprised me, I confess) was the beach of La Concha in the Basque city of San Sebastián in Northern Spain.

We visited San Sebastián on a cold day in May and after leaving the tedious coast road from Bilbao speeded up and completed the final thirty kilometres of the journey in less than half an hour.  As we approached the city I was struck by the fact that it was much bigger than I had been expecting and fairly soon it was much busier than I had imagined as well.

As we followed signs to the centre we joined a queue of crawling traffic with snarling engines, red hot clutch plates and frustrated drivers and we made slow progress towards our destination.  This seemed strange, we knew it was Mother’s day and this was making everywhere busier than normal but we couldn’t understand how this could have produced so much congestion.

As we nudged our way slowly through the obstructions the car parks all showed full signs and police were moving cars along and we circled the city centre twice looking for a parking spot.  I was all for giving up and finding somewhere else to go and I was regretting the decision to drive east this morning when perhaps we should have stayed in Cantabria or gone to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao when we finally found an underground car park with a few remaining vacant spaces and after nearly three hours of driving finally stopped the car.

We were unsure of our position and we were ready for refreshment so we walked around the cathedral square looking for somewhere suitable but almost everywhere was crowded and boisterous and I began to detect a lot of Irish accents in the bars.  Eventually we found a bar with some empty seats and went inside.  The room was a sea of red shirts and I had to jostle myself into position by pushing through the scarlet rugby tops that were pushing against the bar as though part of a set-scrum..

Now there were French voices alongside the Irish accents and the penny began to drop – somewhere there must be a sporting event and my enquiries revealed that not only was the place busy because of Mother’s Day this was also Rugby Football Heineken Cup semi-final day and Biarritz from France were taking on Munster from Ireland right here in San Sebastián.  This was not turning out to be a very well planned day at all!

Biarritz Rugby Shirt in Basque Colours

I still wasn’t quite sure why a Biarritz home fixture was being played in San Sebastián in Northern Spain but I learned later that Biarritz consider themselves to be the Rugby Union representatives of the wider Basque community so often play games in Spain especially for important fixtures when they need a bigger stadium than they have available in France, but I suspect there is an economic driver in there somewhere as well.

It was quarter to three and the bar remained packed but having established that kick off was at three-fifteen we were confident that it would soon begin to clear out but at three o’clock it remained just as lively and at five past and at ten past and soon we began to realise that a lot of people hadn’t actually got tickets to the match itself at all and had just visited San Sebastián to be close to the event and to savour the atmosphere.

After a drink we abandoned the noisy bar and the throng of scarlet shirts (both sides play in red!) and went outside to see the city.  We made our way to the seafront through streets of tall, elegant  well maintained buildings with balconies with elaborate iron railings and not a washing line or a satellite dish in sight to spoil the view because this is a wealthy resort town with the highest property values in Spain, which is especially popular with holidaymakers from France.

There weren’t many holidaymakers today because it was grey and cold with a sharp wind ripping in from the Atlantic and I really could have done with a hat and scarf.  We walked along the beachfront boardwalk lined with stylish and expensive hotels, street art, gardens and fountains.  The beach was deserted today but it was easy to imagine just how busy this golden crescent of sand might be during the summer because this is the busiest and the most popular of all seaside resorts on the north coast of Spain.

It was too cold to loiter so we walked briskly across the beach and through the old town back to the car and then fearful of getting caught in traffic again at the end of the Rugby match left San Sebastián with the intention of finding somewhere to eat.

 

And that as they say is it because I cannot post about number twelve in the list of Twelve Treasures of Spain because I have not visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Basque Country, Biscay and San Sebastián

The journey speeded up now of course and we completed the final thirty kilometres of the journey in less than half an hour.  As we approached the city I was struck by the fact that it was much bigger than I had been expecting and fairly soon it was much busier than I had imagined as well.  As we followed signs to the centre we joined a queue of crawling traffic with snarling engines, red hot clutch plates and frustrated drivers and we made slow progress towards our destination.

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Basque Country, Guernica

The racial pride of this mysterious people has always revolved around the sacred oak of Guernica, beneath whose branches the laws of the Basques were promulgated and the Kings of Spain swore to respect their privileges” – Jan Morris

Guernica was bombed at the invitation of General Franco and the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War because the Basque Country was a stronghold of the Republicans and because it was a symbol of Basque nationalism.  It was of no real strategic military importance but Franco wanted to end the war in the north as quickly as possible and to do so he needed to take Bilbao and this act of aggression demonstrated his power.

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