“The very core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. Our Joy from life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Into the Wild
It’s the turn of the year and January has brought with it a crisp sunshine and warmth rather than the frost that I’m more commonly used to.
Having recently upped sticks (not for the first time) and moved my life out to the South of Spain, I’m trying to come to terms with effectively summer weather in the middle of winter… It’s unusual. What is more unusual however is that the locals all seem to be inappropriately dressed. It appears everyone here is dressed for a bleak mid-winter snowstorm, even though the sun is blaring down a positively scorching 22 Degrees Celsius.
I must be missing something; maybe they know something I don’t…
Fast forward 12 months and I find myself hunched shivering over a fireplace outside a local bar, winter jacket and all. It may be 16 degrees out tonight, but it feels like I’m being chilled to my very core. It’s happened; I’ve become one of them. Without much prior warning I’ve effectively become a local. The Spanish life has taken me, gone are my old ways. It’s now tapas at ten o’clock (I should be in bed), an inability to maintain my own body temperature (it’s just a brisk breeze), and a strange obsession with ordering small beers (A pint… What the hell is a pint?).
They might do things weird here, they might speak the language imperfectly, and they might even enjoy eating snails just a little bit too much. However, this area and its eclectic mix of society are as beautiful as you’re likely to find.
This isn’t just Spain… This is Andalucía!
In Part One of Andalucían Dreaming we delved into the southern world of Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, finding a collective of cities and towns which not only contained the reoccurring theme of culture and history, but a variety of extraordinary characters to go with it. With the uniqueness of each location providing intrigue we were treated to some truly wondrous destinations.
So in regards to this you would be forgiven for thinking it might be a challenge to find five more destinations which would live up to the standards of those visited the first time around.
Be prepared to be surprised, as we explore further into the largest region within the country, embarking upon a trip from the magical to mysterious and from the glamorous to the unknown. Just like travelling in its essence, Andalucía is the gift which keeps on giving…
Some places have the ability to leave a memory which lasts long in the mind. These locations are able to inspire like no other, whilst leaving you almost endlessly dreaming of a return.
Surrounded by olive groves for as far as the eye can see Cordoba sits proudly at the top of the Andalucían food chain, and rightly so.
As you pass through its city walls be prepared to be swept off your feet as you are transported back through time. From modern life to a historical masterpiece the contrast could not be starker. An abode which completely encompasses that of a castle city, with its golden glow to its weaving passageways you won’t visit anywhere like this ever again.
As you make your way around the intricate side streets without a care in the world you almost forget that you have no idea where it is you are actually going.
Mind you this shouldn’t be a bother. In fact embracing it only adds to the experience. As you stumble across one architectural beauty after another whether it be historically Moorish, Roman, or Spanish, its pristine appearance makes it feel too good to be true.
Due to its unrivalled perfection you get the sensation that you have arrived onto the set of a blockbuster movie somewhere in the Hollywood hills.
There is no way this could be real… But it is!
If Seville epitomizes Southern Spanish allure out of elegance, then Cordoba manages to achieve this through sheer aged refinement.
Set upon the banks of the Guadalquivir River as it continues its journey to the Cadiz coastline, Cordoba’s historical centre contains a few truly exceptional landmarks.
The Puente Romano de Cordoba with its blend of Romanic and Moorish influence provides an alternative entry into the city. More importantly however is how it offers some of the best viewpoints of this heavenly like kingdom; the centre-point of which congregates around the Mosque turned Cathedral, which could quite easily just like Cordoba itself be described as one-of-a-kind.
Whilst wandering around its dimly lit hallways, with the light bouncing from the symmetrically sublime archways you get the sense of a house of mirrors effect. It’s astonishing, breathtaking even. Once again that sensation of everything around not being real overwhelms you.
As you exit into the bright light of day, its courtyard with fountains basks in beautiful Cordoban sunshine.
Hidden only a short distance away is the stunning Calle de los Flores; a narrow street lined with flowers in a typically Andalucían fashion, epitomizing why this location exudes such beauty, vibrancy, and life.
Surrounding the city, the district of Cordoba is equally as beautiful. National parks with endless countryside and some of the best olive farms in the world spread out into the distant horizons.
I have always said that it is the imperfections which can make a place what it is. Never the less, in this case it is the total lack of imperfections which make it so fascinating. Just like a supermodel, not a blemish or fault in sight… What you get in appearance does not detract from its typically Andalucían personality. This is a 10 out of 10, and we all know perfection doesn’t exist. Cordoba glowing brightly at the top of the region is that one-in-a-million, an anomaly of creation. A unicorn in every sense of the word… Magical!
Los Alcornacoles Natural Park (Algeciras)
As they say “never judge a book by its cover”, and in this instance it could not ring more true. Unassuming the industrial coastal town of Algeciras isn’t somewhere most would consider a visit, and yet here it is. The diamond in the rough, unpolished and just waiting to be unearthed; what lies in wait is something so special it could well be one of my favourite places I’ve had the fortune of encountering on my travels.
Although a working class area, Algeciras is surrounded by a landscape not too dissimilar to any of our other locations across the region. Rugged rolling foothills provide the backdrop, as a touch of nature sits right on the doorstep. It’s strange to think that only moments away from such industry is a natural park with ravines which sharply cut through mountains, and unique cork forests which engulf almost all the surrounding land… Hidden away amongst these trees a whole new world just waits to be explored.
With its own microclimate and natural beauty Los Alcornacoles Natural Park distinctly gives the impression of a subtropical rainforest. Once inside, outside life almost all but disappears. The noise drowns out and you are left in awe of a universal creation, only normally found in the inner thoughts of a long lost dream. Wildlife emerges from the undergrowth, and although everything closes in on you there is a distinct lack of claustrophobia. Sun creeps slowly through the tops of the trees, and enlightens the colourful world around you. From deep greens and electric blues it appears someone has turned up the contrast button in the part of your brain dealing with vision. The further you delve into its midst the more you forget about reality. Waterfalls and pristine pools appear, giving an impression that you have meandered into the middle of a herbal essence advert. As you wait for the woman with glorious glistening hair to appear from below the falling water, time stops. You almost have to remind yourself you need to leave, and break free of its enchantment.
There’s a sensation you have opened an old book with its torn covers falling off, and then been sucked inwards like an odd case of Jumanji. Mysterious yet unimaginably tranquil this Mediterranean jungle just like a story once experienced is impossible to stop returning to, either in body or mind.
Mention Spain to someone and you will normally get the same response…
“Ooo I love the Costa del Sol…”
The South of Spain has long been a tourist hotspot as thousands descend here each and every year for their summer vacations. There is a reason this area is so popular amongst the sun worshipper, and there are still ways of avoiding the locust like intruders who struggle to pronounce Paella, never mind wanting anything other than a Full-English for breakfast.
At the heart of all this is the capital of the region, a coastal location which gives you the beach and it gives you the culture… That place is the City of Malaga.
Malaga’s calm waters and spacious beaches offer visitors an opportunity to mix relaxation with the chance to explore a historical metropolis full of intrigue. However, with its position located in the heart of the Costa del Sol the appeal of one of the most well known shorelines in Europe certainly plays its part in boosting its meteoric reputation.
But why is that?
The well maintained sandy shores come to mind, but as alluded to in Part One beaches further down the coast in Cadiz match that, if not better those within Malaga.
What the breezy Cadiz lacks is those tranquil millpond waters ideal for bathing on a sweltering summer’s day, whilst those lay on the golden shores are able to sit back and unwind without the feeling of being stuck in a wind turbine. This makes it an idyllic location for those whose main purpose of a holiday is to be reclined.
Two beaches epitomise what Malaga is all about; the small secluded alcove of Playa de Calahonda, and the long atmospheric Playa de Malagueta which spans out from the gorgeous city centre port.
In the height of summer with the sun beating down on sun-kissed skin going for a walk won’t be high on the agenda. Never the less taking a wander along the waterfront will bring you face-to-face with many a chiringuito, a beach style bar serving up food and drinks to those enjoying the Andalucían lifestyle. Chiringuitos line Malaga’s coastline in great numbers serving up ice-cold beverages and traditional dishes, none better than the local delicacy of ‘Espetos’. Sardines freshly caught, speared onto sticks and grilled in a small sandpit usually carved out of the shell of an old wooden rowing boat. You won’t get more typical than this.
If you manage to pull yourself away from the shoreline then Malaga’s centre actually has plenty on offer for those looking for a more cultural experience. From the Alcazaba to the Roman Theatre and from Picasso’s Museum to the Castle of Gibralfaro, the city is more than just a beach dwellers dream. Inspirational and educative Malaga has an ability to stimulate your brain as well as switch it off.
Like two feuding brothers the debate will rage on as to which coastal city has more on offer, Cadiz or Malaga. However, away from the light-hearted local rivalry what is for certain is that Malaga with its Costa del Sol charm doesn’t disappoint. Its reputation precedes itself, and on a trip across Andalucía shouldn’t be overlooked.
Horses and sherry… A strange starting point, but effectively that is what sets our next destination apart from the rest. Although quaint there is nothing which particularly makes Jerez stand out. A kind of middle of the park location; the sports-personality who always achieves without ever making waves, an Actor in their prime who although appears in all the major movies never receives the leading role. However, look a bit further or dig a little deeper and what you find is Jerez isn’t as plain as it initially appears. In fact pull back the layers and what you find is one of the rarest towns in Andalucía.
With over 25,000 acres of vineyards Jerez produces an alcoholic drink famed throughout Spain. The white grapes harvested are the finest of the land for making sherry, not creamy but bone dry. The Andalucían weather really shouldn’t facilitate this, and yet nowhere else can match the rare and exquisite taste of the area.
The secret to Jerez’s sherry lies below the surface; the soil with its chalky and crumbly consistency and more importantly water-retaining qualities is where success lies, thus facilitating the production of this famous fino. With copious bodegas dotted around the town brewing glory it would be worth once again divulging into another Spanish gastronomical wonder, tasting it from the very source itself.
What Jerez has to offer in taste is only matched by what it has to offer in the form of artistry. Home to the Royal Andalucían School of Equestrian Art the city and its horses shine with class. From the Doma Vequera to Classical Dressage, watch on in admiration as the dancing horses and their skilled human counterparts dazzle and delight in one of their many shows open to the general public.
Alternatively you can visit during the month of May, where for one week only the ‘Feria de los Caballos’ roles into town. The local fair famed across Andalucía turns the streets into one big festivity, and sees the horses take the streets in a wonderful show of style. As the sherry flows a tangible atmosphere bubbles away. There is no better opportunity to take in Jerez and its famous flavoursome lifestyle.
Home to the rich and the famous, Marbella has somewhat garnered itself quite a bad reputation amongst those within Spain. Glitzy and glamorous, they come from far and wide to indulge in the high profile Costa del Sol lifestyle, which unless it’s someone serving up an overpriced meal won’t be a local. Prices double if not triple from other Andalucían locations, and with the influx of money to the area that is no real surprise. Never the less, this isn’t as much of a concrete jungle as most anticipate… Benidorm this most certainly is not!
Marbella has in fact had a false image created. Come at the right moment in time, and you will find a wonderful little town nestled on the Andalucían coastline. With a climate which stays fairly consistent throughout the year, it almost makes it a perfect destination for those looking for a bit of out-of-season sunshine. It is also a good way to avoid the crowds and the increased fees associated with the summer months.
As is quite common around these parts the reoccurring theme of turquoise waters and whitewashed villages is no different. It is quite clear as to why it is so popular amongst those with money.
Puerto Banus is widely regarded as the celebrity hotspot of Marbella, and with super yachts bobbing away in the water, more Prada on show than a Milan catwalk, and plenty of overpriced cocktails you’ll know it when you see it. Impossible to miss due to its unmistakable appearance, the stunning little port is worth a visit just to experience the views if nothing else. Despite this it is further down the crystal clear coast and into the centre of Marbella itself where you start to discover its true identity. The old town is as you would expect still full of glamour, yet with its clean-cut appearance and peaceful streets a perfect respite. Whitewashed buildings line the way, and tradition still gleams bright in the beaming sun. At the centre of all this the discreet Plaza de los Naranjos (Square of Oranges) lies in wait. Cafes and bars outline the square, as small birds flutter between the orange trees which surround the plazas centrepiece, the Renaissance fountain.
In fact Marbella has quite a thing for fountains. Not too far away is the Parque de la Alameda, containing the Fuente Virgen del Rocio, a large water creation with subtle artwork and architecture. As with anything Costa del Sol related though then it’s likely the beach will be your final point of call. Cabopino Beach and Paseo Maritimo will provide the setting, as you sit back with a pricey strawberry daiquiri in-hand and just enjoy the Marbella highlife.