Saturday – Rock and Roll
Rain in the UK but blazing sunshine in Gibraltar. A short walk across the road to the Spanish border to the dodgy-looking underground car park for the car hire company (Espacar), who were actually fine once we had pointed out the big set of scratches down the car and lack of luggage cover.
Then the twisting drive up the hills to the village of Cartajima and the rural hotel, Los Castanos.
The village is pretty with white houses and narrow streets. We thought only about eight people lived there (all we saw on a Saturday) but apparently there are 100 permanent residents and 300 in total who now live and work on the coast.
The hotel, Los Castanos, is a Casa Rural, previously owned by a British couple and now in the hands of Frank and his wife, from Dresden. Frank was his own during our stay as his partner is a politician in Germany with work commitments. For someone who had started only 6 weeks before, Frank was doing an excellent job at hotel-running and cooking the meals. We relaxed with a gin on the roof terrace and listened to the birds and the sounds of the street below.
Sunday – All of Ronda and no bull
A short 20 minutes to Ronda. We parked easily near the station and walked down into town. There we caught the start of the Virgin of Paz festival with a huge float (maybe 1000-2000kg and needing 30-40 men to carry it).
Lots of ceremony and women wearing mantillas, priests, local dignitaries. This looked like the first time the festival had taken place since the pandemic and was obviously important to old and young. Not something done for tourists. It was moving to see this.
Next was the bull ring, well worth the €8 each.
Then over the bridge to the old town and a walk around the local streets, stopping briefly for a €8 three course lunch which was basic but sufficient.
A hot day with a reasonable amount of exploring through the old and new towns. That smell of Spain: prawns fried in garlic, orange blossom, disinfectant, and drains.
Monday – Pueblos Blancos
We decided to see a couple of the well known “white” towns on the way up to Seville as this didn’t add much time to the journey. We first went to Setenil de las Bodegas which is known for houses built into the cliff face. We thought there would be some pretty streets and cafes but did not find any.
Not that interesting so we decided to continue on to the village of Olvera which looked very impressive as we approached from the south. But on a Monday everything (though again, there did not seem to be much) was shut so we only managed to get a coke and crisps for lunch. No food to be had otherwise.
Temperatures were in the 30s so hot and bothered we decided to keep on going to Seville. The mountains turned into rolling plains of vast patchwork fields of many colours and textures.
Some of the roads around Seville were confusing and google wasn’t a great help. However, we found the prebooked car park near the Cathedral and squeezed our Kia Ceed into the space. A quick march through the streets got us to the apartment but the owner wasn’t around.
Finally, they turned up and we got into the airconditioned apartment.
We had a beer and a wine mixed with lemonade (tinto de verano) then joined the queue for the Real Alcazar which we had prebooked as the free late entry on Monday evenings. Stunning Arabic-influenced architecture and huge gardens split into squares.
We tried a number of the tapas places on Una’s top list, but they were all shut on Mondays. We found a local restaurant called Bar Postiguillo Tapas and for €60 had plenty to eat and drink.
Tuesday – Kiss a Saint Arrival
We booked a Red Parasol Free Tour of monuments in the city. We started at the Mushrooms – quite an iconic piece of architecture once hated and now loved.
Over the course of two hours, we visited various squares and churches gaining a bit of insight into the history of Seville and the culture. Periods of interest were the Baroque and Renaissance then the Olympics and the 1929 Exposition which led to the creation of some wonderful buildings.
We ended up in the impressive Plaza de Espana built in the Expo which had a tile seating area for every province of Spain with a figurehead above each for well known people. Their significance was shown by whether they were depicted face on, partial or turned 90 degrees in descending order.
We needed a good lunch, which we had in Abeceria del Postigo near the apartment and in sight of the Cathedral. It was a lovely fusion of the traditional foods of an Italian (husband) and Spanish (wife).
In the evening, we went to Fernandez y Roche and I bought a new high quality Panama hat.
Then found El Corte Ingles for some more shorts (under-packed for the heat) before dinner at Espacio Eslava. This was a fantastic and exquisite modern tapas bar with excellent and well paced service.
A lovely walk back through the buzzing streets – how great it is to be back in Europe, the international mix, music, the warm weather, super delicious (and very good value) food and friendly locals. So very unlike what we had last year in Cornwall and Devon in 2021.
Wednesday – Tapas and Flamenco
A day of rest – possibly. We needed to take in more sights and also go back out shopping. An early morning walk for breakfast shows us the real city. People eating tostados and a coffee in backstreet bars. Kids going to school, scooters, pigeons, parakeets. We liked to sit out in a café and have a local breakfast of tomatoes and ham with fresh orange juice and milky coffee. We walked up to the Puente de Isabel II via the Plaza de Toros bull ring, well hidden in the barrio.
There was a local market over the bridge with fresh fish and vegetables. We wandered the streets of the quirky old district of Triana then back along the river towards the Parque de Maria Luisa. We recognised the rear of the posh Hotel Alfonso XIII and decided to have a look in and get a cool drink. Turns out they do tasty patatas bravas. Great to be out of the heat.
Then the Devour Tour of Tapas and Flamenco …. With Maria. This was a walk around the city and a selection of old tapas bars. The first provided vermouth of various styles along with cold meats.
This bar had been run by the same family for generations. Our next stop was another very old bar, Las Teresas, serving top grade jamon with fino sherry.
We then went to an hour of flamenco dancing. Sadly it was culture wasted on us as after 20 minutes, we were tired and hungry.
At around 10 pm our group arrived in our final restaurant, Vineria San Telmo for quite a number of different dishes and drinks. The chicken Pastilla with Moroccan flavours was very good.
Thursday – Cordoba Day
We booked train tickets online, opting for San Bernado station which was walkable rather than Santa Justa which would have needed a taxi from the centre.
The tour of Cordoba by Angelo was very informative and took about two hours.
We liked the clocktower which played flamenco guitar and the mix of history, religions, culture and politics which made the city. We didn’t love the large tourist groups from cruise ships and coaches which were more noticeable in Cordoba than in Seville. Plus more souvenir shops and tourist traps which I guess are unavoidable. The patio festival was a let down with either gardens locked until evening or alleyways chockfull of tourists.
We ended up in such a place for lunch but as it was standard local dishes of salmorejo soup and flumequine it did not matter so much.
Thus refueled, we we ready for the Mezquita and its mesmerising arches and spaces. A unique Mosque/Cathedral but shame that Muslims can no longer use the building as it is their heritage too.
Back on the train then we had some tapas and people watching near the Cathedral before dinner at local place, Vuela. Then a post dinner walk around the backstreets of the local barrios.
Friday – The Light of the Coast
Off to see the wild flamingos of the Donana Nature Reserve.
Then stopping in the strange town of El Rocio. Unique! A cross between a cowboy town in Arizona, a Mexican bandit town and a Spanish Catholic pilgrimage place. Streets of sand, blazing heat, horse stands everywhere and deserted waiting for the gunmen or sheriff to ride into town.
Actually, it’s pretty empty with most houses owned by religious Brotherhoods (like Free Masons or Round Table groups) who come for the main festival each year at the church and other religious events.
We went to a small nature centre and watched the various birds and had lunch in the shade. Then on to the hill town of Vejer de La Frontera.
Vejer is a large white hill town all in white that has recently become a food destination.
We ate in Corredera 55 (beware the portion sizes – we thought we had started with two nibble size plates, but they were full courses). We had to have some mains as well and all was delicious. The owner also came to chat which was a nice touch. Half of a power couple who own several hotels and restaurants in town. We were staying in one of these, Las Palmeras del Califa, a boutique hotel in a central location.
Quick walk around the shops and back to prepare for another day.
Saturday – Roman tuna on Costa de La Luz
The tuna festival was working its way down the coast so we thought we would try to intersect it. The festival is a celebration of the Tuna coming into the Mediterranean to spawn and then the catching of them using traditional methods involving a circle of boats.
The Almadraba. They then serve every last bit of the tuna in the restaurants with some purely specialising in the fish and open seasonally.
To start with, we thought some education was needed and headed to the Tuna Museum in Barbate.
Sadly, this now only opens on some afternoons due to lack of tourists, so we moved on to the rather drab town. It is another town that has missed out on investment but the area around the Mercado was busy and we stopped for a coffee and tapas.
We then moved on to Zahara de los Atunes which is more like a surfy beach resort with miles and miles of wind-blown golden sand. This is where all the people are.
We walked all over the town and then queued for lunch at the extremely busy and very good La Taverna El Campero to sample the local tuna delicacies over a couple of hours. The technique with tapas is to order a few dishes with wine/beer then add to the order when you feel like it.
Last stop today was the town of Bolonia which has extensive ruins in a museum. It was famous for producing garam, (a relish made of fermented fish) and traded extensively with Tangiers and the Roman Empire. Entry was free with a European passport to Una’s delight.
Having seen hundreds if not thousands of Retinto breed cows, we decided to have some steak. These can only be found in Andalucia and roam across hills munching wildflowers and grasses. We hunted high and low around the restaurants of Vejer and found only two serving steaks. We picked El Central de Vejer.
Sunday – A Non-Fiesta
We had found a notice for a local fiesta at the village of Los Naveros promising displays of horses and carts etc. This was all due to start around 11am so we duly arrived a little early to a veritable ghost town. There was us, a few dogs, some people setting out the local hall and 6 groups of about 20 German women cyclists taking turns using the local taverna as a watering hole.
We waited, and waited, for something exciting to happen. A few horses turned up – one very unhappy at being in a horse box. Noon passed, still nothing. A few people walked up, the church opened and rang out a very loud tinned bell. We had had enough.
We gave up and went back to the swimming pool at our hotel in Vejer and a tasty Moroccan tapas lunch.
For the evening we had booked Casa Varo, a well-known restaurant.
Monday – A different Trafalgar Square
Una had found a 9 mile coastal walk which we decided to do.
We drove to Conil and parked at the start of the walk but decided to have a quick tour of the old town a short 15 mins away. Not much to see and we found ourselves on the Playa de los Bateles. Again, miles of golden baked sand with a thin smear of humanity as far as the eye could see. We walked to the cliffs of Playa Fuente del Gallo before heading back.
Wanting to still explore more of the coast we headed to Faro de Trafalgar (lighthouse). Getting out of Conil was a bit of a nightmare – I missed one turn and was then in the depths of the old town through very narrow streets, police roadblocks and road works blocking almost every escape attempt. We eventually emerged via some back alleys on the right route.
Stopped for a quick lunch at the café near the start of the walk then did the 1km tarmacked path between the scorching dunes. Good views of the two beaches either side.
Then a swim before cocktails at the Califa hotel’s tea shop roof terrace. Dinner at the Califa Express for more of the delicious chicken pastilla and to soak up the atmosphere of evening at the Plaza de Espana fountain.
Tuesday – Back to Gib
Easy drive back to Gibraltar and the flight home. We had an excellent 10 days and so much more to explore. A good time of year to go.
Addendum : David’s hire car review…
The Kia Ceed was an awful car with terrible understeer. Its lane guidance control was constantly fighting me unless I stayed perfectly between the white lines: ok on straights but on corners almost had a mind of its own. On country lanes with white markings on either side, it wanted to drive down the middle into oncoming cars. Autonomous cars have a long way to go. Although this isn’t necessarily the best example of one.