September 2018

For the first two weeks of September we continued our lazy summer beach holiday at Torre del Mar. The beach, the pool, the market and the local tavernas pretty much summed up our days. The weather continued to be fine and very hot. We have a talent for parking next to the ‘mayor of the campsite’ wherever we stay. This time our neighbours were Stefan and Paula from Rotterdam. They live at the campsite for 9 months of the year and spend the other three months in Thailand or Mexico – not a bad life. Stefan spoke five languages and was a very useful person to know!

Other delightful neighbours were Gordon and Barbara from Nottingham. One day we decided with them to visit the ‘lost town’ of Acebuchal in the mountains not far away. It was about 7km further on from the ‘white town’ of Frigiliana, which is a very upmarket and pretty little town. The 7km was up a very steep, narrow and winding road that had no guardrails. Quite challenging! It was a good thing Gordon was driving their car, as it would not be at all possible in any motor home. The views to the coast were breathtaking and the road took us through the national park of Sierra Tedeja.

Once we arrived in Acebuchal we wandered around and explored the village. It’s a group of 36 homes dating from the 17th century and was originally a main stopping point for the ancient muleteers’ route from Malaga to Granada. Now it seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s called the ‘lost village’ because of its interesting history. In the Spanish Civil War the villagers were caught on the frontline between the Franco regime and rebel forces. In 1948 Franco ordered the area cleared of its 200 villagers and they were driven away from their homes and livestock. The village fell into disrepair until in 1998 the descendant of one of the families returned and began to restore their home. Other families soon joined them and now all 36 houses, the chapel and 2 restaurants are restored. The descendants of the original villagers use the houses as summer or weekend homes and some are tourism rentals.

We had a wonderful meal in the restaurant, eating traditional mountain food of wild boar or goat. It was a great adventure to find and explore this little village.

We made friends with a lovely German couple in our campsite, Claudia and Juergen. They have quite good English (far better than our German!) and we shared a couple of evenings with them that were lots of fun. We decided to ride along the beach path together to the next town of Caleta, where they knew of a nice restaurant. Talk about a bargain! Nine euros for a three-course meal! It was delicious and we ate snails and roast lamb, which isn’t readily available here.

Claudia and Juergen convinced us to go to Cordoba and we’re so glad we did!

 What a beautiful and interesting city, the new part as well as the old. Cordoba is one of the ‘big three’ Andalucian towns with an important Moorish past – the others being Granada and Seville (and Malaga to a lesser extent). Now we’ve covered them all. Claudia and Juergen decided to join us and rode up on their scooter, staying in a little hotel. Claudia is a great tour guide and map-reader, so we covered lots of ground in the 2 days we were there.

Of course the most important site on our list was the Grand Mosque/Cathedral. We went around the outside at both day and after dark, but we were there for the 8:30am opening to see inside. Not only is it free at that time, its also far less crowded. The Mosque is wonderfully tranquil and beautiful but probably the two things that make it so notable are firstly its size (it could fit 20,000 worshippers!) and secondly that a Christian cathedral was built in the middle of the mosque. It’s a shame really, because the Islamic mosque had what feels like miles of columns on which sit a system of double arches and domes. It would have been lovely to see that airy spaciousness before the Christians came and filled in the central arches to make their cathedral. At least they filled them in with fantastic artwork! Outside the mosque /cathedral is an orange tree courtyard with palms and fountains as well as the iconic mosaic pebbles in patterns.

Cordoba is a wonderful city to walk about and we spent many hours getting happily lost in the little lanes of the Jewish and the Muslim quarters. One day we walked from 8:00am to 1:00am! Cordoba used to be the capital of Islamic Spain and has the lovely Guadalquivir River flowing around the walls. It was a Roman city until 711 when the Islamic rulers took over. It was famous for its religious tolerance with Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions all represented. It was also a great centre for learning and medicine, with a very old university. As well as all this history there is a quite vibrant new section of town with malls and good shopping and plazas.

We went (twice) to a great restaurant in the Jewish quarter, eating paella and the local meat stews, along with some terrific red wine. On leaving the restaurant we wandered the town looking for a place for a nightcap when we stumbled across a flamenco-singing club. The little bar/restaurant welcomed us in (even Grubie) with cheap drinks and we settled in to enjoy the ambience. It seemed to us that if you sat around the long table then you must be prepared to sing. There were a couple of guitarists and many different people had a sing, just sitting at the table where they were. The songs were passionate and everyone was very involved. We loved it!

 

Once we reluctantly left Juergen and Claudia in Cordoba we travelled to the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, on the northern edge of the famous ‘sherry triangle’ We stayed on a very basic serviced aire halfway between Sanlucar and the next town of Chipiona. There was a bike track to ride into the towns.

Michael did a sherry tour and tasting at a bodega in Sanlucar while Sue and Grubie walked the old town looking at the gazillion churches and the lovely standard hibiscus trees.

The sherry tour and tasting that Michael did was at the La Gitana bodega, which is the oldest in the town (est. 1792) and is still run by the eighth generation of the same family. The tour included tastings of a range of sherry types and the bodega is famous for the manzilla sherry varietal. Michael was gob-smacked by the age of their American oak barrels, some up to 280 years old. They only use old American oak in their ageing and they never completely empty or move the barrels –they move the wine, not the barrels and always leave a third of the liquid in. The sherry produced in this region has a very distinctive salty taste due to the sandy soil and the moist, salty Atlantic breezes. It must be an acquired taste, as neither Michael nor Sue went back for seconds!

Sanlucar had a rich nautical history and was an important fishing village. Now the fishing village of Bajo de Guia is one of Andalucia’s famous restaurant strips. We had a magnificent meal and the best tiny squid ever!

The town of Chipiona is better known for its stunning beaches. We all rode in for a look, a wander and a seafood meal at a beach-side wood bbq restaurant. This is a really pretty town with a cathedral right on the beach and miles of promenades and restaurants. Spanish people in this region really love their beaches and at this time of year the place was packed!

The ride to and from the towns was less than scenic. To be very honest, one must say that Spain is the land of rubbish and barking dogs. In the towns it’s not so prevalent, but in the villages and suburbs it’s incredible. Especially in the rural areas, the litter is everywhere and there is lots of it! The plastic used in agriculture blows all around (and eventually into the ocean) and there’s piles of debris everywhere. The Spanish peoples’ connection to the environment seems to stop at their front door. The camping grounds are environmentally friendly, but right outside their front gates is what Michael calls ‘shit everywhere’! The Spanish villagers and farmers also seem to have guard dogs that they lock up and who bark all night and especially in the early mornings. The sound has become like cicadas to us – just background ‘white noise’.

It’s still very obvious in rural and village Spain that the financial crisis had a huge impact in 2009 and that they haven’t fully recovered yet. In spite of all this we have found the Spanish people to be friendly, welcoming and helpful.

 

Driving around southern and central Spain one is struck by the number of olive trees. Yes, we know that Spain supplies a lot of the world’s olive oil but the sight of thousands of miles of olive trees, as far as the eye can see, is still pretty amazing. Their other fantastic industry is solar energy. We have seen many miles of solar and wind farms – why on earth aren’t we doing that in South Australia when we have so much of both?

We moved on to El Puerto de Santa Maria just 8km as the bird flies from Cadiz.  It was HOT! The weather forecasts said a predicted 330, but our neighbour’s thermometer read 390 and it felt even hotter than that! It stayed that way for 5 days. And then the wind started – gusts of up to 50kph are no fun when you’re staying on a sandy campground. Everything inside and out was covered in grit.

El Puerto de Santa Maria is a 30-minute ferry ride from Cadiz and a lovely town in its own right. We rode our bikes into the town for dinner and a look around. We checked out the local bullring and found the famous sherry house of Osbornes, whose logo is the black bull. Michael did a tasting but not a tour and bought a bottle of their wonderful Carlos 1 brandy.

Then we tried to solve the problem of Grubie not being allowed on the ferry and it being too hot to leave her all day.  Michael and Sue ended up going into Cadiz separately, while the other stayed with Grubie. Those of you who know how directionally challenged Sue is will be impressed that she didn’t get lost!

Cadiz is the oldest continually inhabited city in Western Europe, being settled by the Phoenicians in 1100BC. Its history is tightly linked to all things nautical including explorers, trading and shipbuilding. The town is completely surrounded by walls and there is only one entrance by land. It’s famous for its beautiful long white sandy beaches.

 

Cadiz is still a busy and vibrant city, with the old town absolutely packed with locals. There are three distinct neighbourhoods and it’s charming to walk around each one, checking out the architecture and peeking into the beautiful tiled courtyards. There are lots of restaurants, bars and shops as well as schools and churches. Religion seems to be a big thing in Cadiz, with most of the street art being highly religious or about explorers or poets. The cathedral was very impressive and had architecture from three different eras because it took so long to build.

We’ll be back in Cadiz next month when our friends Sue & Chris Greening join us for a few days.