697 nights : 25,671 miles travelled : countries visited: 26
“We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us” W. B. Yeats
It is ridiculous to try and squeeze our entire time in Andalucia into one blog post. We have been here for six weeks gathering countless multisensory memories but we can’t move on until we have absorbed and shared the experience. Photographs cannot describe the heady scent of orange blossom, the birdsong on full volume or the shivers that evening brings as the hot sun gives way to a chilly night. But there are plenty (!) of pictures to show you the wonderful places we’ve seen and to remind us how lucky we are when we return home.
It’s always a good sign when the road on our Michelin map is accompanied by a green line. The A92 is a spectacular road gradually climbing around the Sierra Nevada, through a wild west desert which gives way to olive plantations, a sunny plateau filled with almond blossom and finally on to magical Granada.
The headline act in Granada is the Alhambra, a complex of fortress and palaces occupied by Moorish and Spanish rulers for centuries. The Moorish architecture is breathtaking with the use of courtyards and water keeping the heat of the sun at bay while bringing the outside in. Tessellated tiling is symbolic and inscriptions of poetry and spiritual texts surround the rooms with blessings and praises.
Unfortunately in Spain we cannot take Kipper on public transport so we have to find camperstops close to where we want to be. Fortunately we were able to sleep on the car park of the Alhambra which meant we were within steep walking distance of the narrow streets of the Arab quarter and the historic centre of Granada. We got up early to explore the city and to view the Alhambra from afar.
The biggest surprise was as we turned a corner and the cathedral unexpectedly ‘found’ us . It was built by Isabella and Ferdinand, parents of Catherine of Aragon, who rest in a crypt in the royal chapel next door.
The woodland around the Alhambra gave welcome shade as we walked back up the hill to Brian, while the irrigation channels gave Kipper the most fun walk in days!
The boys settled into the gentle rhythm of life in Humilladero while I had a quick trip back to the UK. This is a small village close to the rugged hills of the Paraje Natural Torcal de Antequera and was the first place we saw evidence of the financial crisis, with many plots and buildings unfinished. However the surrounding countryside was soothing and the biggest stir of the day was the movement of sheep and goats to new grazing areas in the village.
We were drawn to the Fuente de Piedra Natural Park by the promise of flamingos and they were there but very low water levels on the lake meant that they were barely visible. We didn’t need a telescope to enjoy the sky though!
My brother joined us for a couple of weeks and we moved on to Olvera which has a stunning hilltop castle and church. However, the camperstop was at the bottom of the hill. We were at the end of the Via Verde de la Sierra, a walking and cycling trail along a disused railway and this was an easy way to enjoy the gorgeous green countryside.
The two parts of Ronda are bridged across the dramatic El Tajo gorge and we found it’s setting and varied history fascinating. Popular with tourists but the uniqueness and charm of the town shines through.
Spanish towns come to noisy life at weekends and we were lucky to catch a marching band competition and an exhausting cycle race.
The eighteenth century Puente Nuevo spans a 100 metre chasm and gives wonderful views of the Serrania de Ronda mountains. We were drawn back here again and again.
Ernest Hemingway celebrated the complexities of Spain’s character and describes this area’s dark Civil War days in For Whom the Bell Tolls. There is a memorial to him close to the town’s bullring. Ronda is regarded as the birthplace of modern bullfighting and the Plaza de Toros is now a museum. Graham and Kipper created a less bloodthirsty entertainment for the tourists. No animals were harmed in the taking of these photographs!
A stunning mountain road took us to the coast once again and as we descended we could see our destination from around fifty kilometres away. Our son was flying into Gibraltar and the camperstop gave us a front row view of ‘the rock’.
We were a ten minute walk from the frontier and almost the first thing encountered is the airport runway. It was amazing to stand and watch Rob’s plane circle and then land right in front of us!
Across the runway a further fifteen minutes on foot takes you into the heart of town. Walking around Gibraltar is like walking around with your underwear inside out. It all looks familiar but something doesn’t feel quite right. It was very strange to be suddenly reading signs in English and using sterling again. The shopping streets hark back to the 1970’s and there is a faintly colonial air to official buildings.
The boys took the cable car to the top of the rock for a spectacular view down to the marina where we were parked and across to North Africa.
Within minutes of arriving at the camperstop in Jerez de la Frontera we were poured glasses of ice-cold sherry of varying tastes and colour by the enthusiastic site manager. Not speaking each other’s language, our judgements could only be expressed via facial expressions. It is surprisingly difficult to lie when not using words!
Gonzalez Byass is the largest producer in a city full of bodegas and has a town sized complex within Jerez, given over to producing and storing wine, sherry, brandy and whiskey. Tio Pepe is a worldwide brand, recognisable by the sombrero wearing bottle and it was fun tasting that alongside the British brand Croft Original.
Gustav Eiffel (yep the French guy!) was commissioned to create a special sherry store in honour of a royal visit in 1869. The Real Bodega de la Concha holds 214 casks of Amontillado, bearing flags of the regions of Spain and the 115 countries where the wines are exported. The smell walking past the casks in all the bodegas was heavenly!
It is always dangerous visiting somewhere with high expectations but we need not have worried with Seville. It is a fabulous open city that could consume weeks of your life and still leave more to see. But mostly it is a friendly place to wander or sit at a table and watch the world pass by.
The cathedral is one of the largest in the world and is Gothic with a capital G! It was started in the 12th century on the site of the Great Mosque and the bell tower, once a minaret and Orange Tree Courtyard date from before then.
The tomb of Christopher Columbus is carried aloft by four figures representing the regions of Spain at the time of his death. However because his remains have been moved between continents several times, there have been questions raised as to whether it is actually him held high.
The university campus is based in what was once a tobacco factory, the fictional setting for the opera Carmen. The wall is inlaid with plaques demonstrating Seville’s distinct style of ceramic decoration.
The Metropol Parasol claims to be the largest wooden building in the world and is known locally as the mushroom. It houses restaurants and shops and a museum displaying roman ruins unearthed during it’s construction but Graham and Robin most enjoyed the views of the city from the undulating walkway on the roof.
Our camperstop was just across the river from Maria Luisa, one of the most beautiful city parks. Grand pavilions house museums at one end while nearer the city, the magnificent Plaza de Espana features symmetry, ceramic decoration and the Andalucian art of mixing outside with in perfectly.
The third in our golden triangle of car park accommodation was by the city walls of Cordoba. Here the Mezquita stands out, a unique curious blend of mosque and cathedral. No amount of reading prepares you for it’s beauty.
Cordoba’s hot dry climate has meant homes are built around a central patio since Roman times. Filling the patio with plants and water features helps to keep it cool and once a year a competition is held and visitors get the chance to see behind the iron grills and enjoy the colour and scents. We were too early for the festival but found a food market with a sequence of patios in which to sit outside in.
There is nowhere quite like El Rocio. The tarmac ends at the edge of town and Kipper skips as though we are at the beach when we cross the ‘road’. At weekends we dodge horses topped by people of all shapes and ages and carriages filled with smiling families.
We are on the edge of the Donana National Park, home of the Iberian Lynx which is very hard to spot and countless amazing species of birds, which are joyfully easy to see. Throughout our time in Spain we have seen storks nests with storks in them! Here we have also seen eagles, ibis, spoonbill and more flamingos than anywhere else. If only either of us was a skillful photographer we could prove it….but this is the best we could manage so you’ll just have to believe us!
Easter is a low key event here, compared to the festival at Pentecost which attracts a million people . On Good Friday we watched the Crucifix being processed around the town, followed by a faithful congregation, curious visitors and children on horses.
We are finding it hard to leave the neat campsite here. We love the alternative feel of the town. The sun is hot every day and our limbs are still looking dip dyed as we expose more of them to the light. But we are within a whisper of Portugal and it would be a shame not to go and have a look.
M & G x
Treat of the week: For me, sharing part of the trail with Rob and Robin on Mother’s Day!! For Graham it was a road sign which gave rare advance warning that Brian would definitely not squeeze through!