'the soul of Andalucia'
30/08/2010 - 10/09/2010 30 °C
We commenced our 10-day sojourn to Spain by flying into Faro, Portugal at 11.30pm. As we had to return to the airport the following morning to collect our car, we organised accommodation as close to the airport as we could. Aaron approached the first driver in the taxi queue, showed him the address and asked if it was possible for us to walk. With gestures and body language he indicated that we should get into the cab (obviously it was too far to walk with our luggage). To our astonishment he then proceeded to take us to our hotel driving extremely fast, erratically and dangerously, annoyed at having obtained only a short fare after his wait in the queue. He practically threw us out of the taxi, took his money and drove away. Welcome to Portugal!!!!!
Not deterred we collected our car the next morning and began our Spanish adventure. When researching our trip we had decided to choose a few locations and take time to explore them well, rather than jump from one place to another and see not much of anything. We decided on the Andalucian area in the south choosing to visit Ronda, Granada and Seville.
Spain is the second largest country in the European Union after France, and Andalusia is one of the largest regions in Spain. Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea it is a land of contrasting landscapes. Endless olive groves reaching into the hillside as far as it is possible to harvest, wetlands which provide refuge and support to the second largest flock of breeding flamencos in Europe, majestic snow-capped rugged mountains, amazing natural parks, and of course the beautiful tourist resorts along the Mediterranean coastline.
Our first destination was Ronda, a beautiful town high in the hills famous for its dramatic escarpments and views. Because of its impregnable position it was one of the last Moorish areas to fall to the Christians (1485). Much of the promotional material describes Ronda in romantic terms, e.g. ‘Ronda is the soul of Andalucía’. It certainly has a romantic energy to it – its Moorish history, the mystical character of the old town as one walks through the cobbled streets, historic buildings in dazzling whitewash, the awesome beauty of the mountains, the size of the Tajo gorge which divides the town with the rio Guadalevin flowing below. On my God, it’s contagious ... see what it has done to me!!!
Back to our story. We settled into our accommodation (Hotel San Francisco) and went for a walk into the town (only 2 blocks away) and found ourselves in the middle of a fantastic parade for the Ferie de Pedro Romero. This was an unexpected surprise. We did not know when we planned our holiday that this festival is held in Ronda in the 1st two weeks of September. It celebrates the founder of modern bullfighting, Pedro Romero. The local community was buzzing as this is a major event for them - people in national dress, confetti everywhere, streamers, music, dancing. There were also visitors from other countries for the International Folklore Music and Dancing Festival who also participated in the parade in national costumes, so we were privileged to see different cultural performances. Splendid. What a start to our stay in Ronda.
The main focal point of the town is the 18th century Puente Nuevo 'new' bridge, which straddles the 100m chasm below, providing magnificent views over the Serranía de Ronda mountains. It is considered the ‘new’ bridge as a previous attempt in 1735 failed killing many people. This bridge (which took more than 40 years to build - finished in 1793) has a height of 98 metres, built with stone masonry taken from the Tajo gorge below, thus linking the modern and the old sections of Ronda.
It was a treat to wander through the old town and experience the many historic sites and beauty. Examples of the Moorish influence is everywhere , the beautiful balcony grills, the exquisite ceramic tiling and ornate plasterwork. Some of the homes are magnificent, especially with the backdrop of the surrounding mountains.
Situated literally on the edge of the gorge is the house of St John Bosco, a canonized Italian saint, built at the beginning of the 20C . (though one article I read said he never actually came to Ronda). Its beautiful courtyard is decorated with excellent examples of the arab style ceramics and a beautiful garden where we sat to rest and enjoy the view of the Serrania. Inside the tapestries and walnut furniture were also exceptional.
Many remnants of the arab time remain. These historical sites were extremely interesting such as the old fortress providing magnificent views to the east, the Gate of Felip V and the arab baths built between the 13th & 14th C. The baths are the best conserved in the Iberian Peninsula. Unfortunately they were closed when we visited so we could only peek through the fence!!
Many of the hilltop towns and villages have retained the Moorish tradition of using whitewash to coat their homes. They call them the Peublos Blancos. Ronda is one of them.
Another we visited was Setenil (its full name is Setenil de las Bodegas which means Setenil of the Wine Cellars). It is an unusual town as they use the natural formation of caves in the rock as their homes. We had coffee and ice-cream at the little hotel (with umbrellas) in this pic. Aaron skilfully navigated the extremely narrow streets which led us through a lovely tour of the village. While the towns are now a major tourist attraction, the people who live there still make their livlihood through working the land (olives, sunflowers).
Religion plays a very big part in the lives of the people with the Virgin Mary holding a special place in their hearts. There are at least 10 churches in this small area. Many of the annual festivals have a religious focus.
I chose not to visit Ronda’s bullfighting ring (Plaza de Toros) because of my opposition to bullfighting even though it is considered the spiritual home of bullfighting in Spain.
Unfortunately, Spain is not a place for vegans. It was very difficult for me to choose meals, and even when requesting a variation to the menu, this was not very successful. The menus were very heavy with meats, cured ham (for which they are famous), and fish, and the restaurants we visited seemed to serve the same dishes (even Aaron, Rikke and Chas commented on this) – and everything came with chips!!
The weather was magnificent (in the 30’s). Walking through the quiet peaceful streets of the old town at night was lovely, the beauty of the surrounding mountains and the awesome Tajo gorge, and the mix of Moorish and Christian influences. Olives and sunflowers are the main crops of this area, however many of the fields were bare as the sunflowers had recently been harvested. I imagine it would be a different world if we had visited in Spring/Summer when they were flowering - acres and acres of sunflowers would be a magnificent sight. Take a look in my public gallery for more pics (don't forget to read the capitons). Ronda was an absolute treat.
Now to Granada.