All EOS blogs All Spain blogs  Start your own blog Start your own blog 

Our Andalucian paradise

My husband and I had lived in Mexico City, LA, Paris, Guadalajara, Oslo, Montreal and Vancouver. On a rainy November night we moved to a small town an hour inland from Malaga. 'Our Andalusian paradise' is about the historical town of Ronda, the mountains that surrounds it, the white villages dotted amongst them, of hikes, donkey trails and excursions around Andalucía and journeys further afield.

Mindfulness through the quiet storm
22 March 2020

Ronda behind bars. Photo © Karethe Linaae

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The virus, I mean. The planet is a very small place, and we are all interconnected - in sickness and in health, as the traditional wedding vow goes.

Take the example of Spain. With a staggering 83.7 million tourists visiting last year, this country is like a revolving door of cultures, money - and germs. Consider next the millions of nationals who work, study and vacation abroad, and then add every single item that is fabricated overseas and shipped here, and it is easy to see how a virus can become a global pandemic.

Reflections of the outside world. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Last Friday Spain declared a state of National Emergency. Together with the rest of the country, Ronda went into lockdown. Schools, businesses, stores, associations and churches, and even their beloved tapas bars shut down for an undetermined length of time. Reluctantly at first, the overly social Andalusians had to learn about public distancing, and though hand washing habits leave much to be desired here, the traditional kissing as a greeting is probably the hardest habit to break for the local populous.

Stay at home. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Now in week 2 of ‘house arrest’, most Spaniards have adapted to their new circumstances. In our little town, police are on the street ensuring that rules are enforced. The Spanish Legion is patrolling outside the regional hospital. Only one person from each family can leave the house for approved errands, such as buying food or medicine, or dog walking, preferably sporting surgical gloves and mask. No other outdoor activities are allowed, except a peak-over-your-shoulder jog to the garbage and recycling containers. Anyone breaking curfew risks being fined thousands of euros. Yet, as we scrub our hands, wipe door handles with alcohol and bathe our vegetables in diluted disinfectants, two people have now succumbed to the virus in our town. Others are in isolation, awaiting verdict.

Stay healthy. Photo © Karethe Linaae

At the moment, this is the new normal.

People are coping as best as they can in their homes, reading, cleaning, studying, sending stupid jokes on WhatsApp or watching movies. To be sure, most of us are not suffering any hardship, certainly not compared to let’s say the people of Syria. We have roofs over our heads, food in our fridge, electricity, running water and high speed Internet. Although the Amazon delivery guy looks like a character in Mask, online orders are allowed, and while mail is no longer delivered, we can still phone our loved ones.

Watch the birds. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The so-called isolation we are experiencing is probably good for us in more ways than one.

Speaking for myself, I might eventually learn to be a tad more patient. I have always done things as quickly as possible, but now with all the time in the world, I strive to approach what I am doing mindfully, even if it is something as inconsequential as cleaning the utensils drawer in the kitchen. Being legally required to stay at home forces us to become more inventive and possibly step out of our comfort zone. My almost 90-year-old mother has had to start washing and ‘setting’ her own hair, a task she likely hasn’t done for half a century.

 

Face your fears. Photo © Karethe Linaae

During house arrest we might be forced to face and even befriend our demons. Stillness is my nemesis, which I now have to embrace. Those who fear living alone might search for company in new things, be it a bird perched in their windowsill or the clouds blowing by. For others, the challenge is being enclosed with a partner 24/7. It is easy to snap at the only person that is near us in such trying times, but since there are no place to run away to, we must be aware that our words and actions may have different effects and consequences in our current situation. To get over this and come out better than we started, we should strive to be more malleable to change.


Quarantine means cleaner air.  Photo © Karethe Linaae

The other day my phone pedometer registered my daily step count at 72, while it usually is over 10.000. This would normally have driven me up the wall, but these are not normal times. So I practice my very short patience. I try to lengthen every move and every breath when I do my morning yoga. After all, there is no bell at the end of the hour or incoming class after me. I see breathing slowly into a pose that sometimes is not very comfortable as an analogy for the current situation.

Lonesome, but not alone. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Though my husband claims to have computer work until Kingdom Come, there is no end to what one can do enclosed en casa. We witness locals inventing creative ways to stay in touch and support each other. A friend recorded himself playing guitar. A priest has started an online prayer group. Another friend started singing the first lines of a song, prompting others to continue, like a musical WhatsApp chain reaction. People we hardly know send suggestions for movies and documentaries to watch, articles to read or online TED talks to listen to. A Dutch couple we know have created an impromptu gym in their hallway. Others walk the stairs instead of the Stair Master or do walking meditation rounds on their stamp-sized balconies. I bet that our friend Pilar dances flamenco in her living room. Though I am a terrible cook, once I have finalized deep cleaning the entire house with a toothbrush, I might find a step-by-step video to finally learn how to make a decent Spanish tortilla.


When chores become joy. Photo © Karethe Linaae

What is positive about this communal confinement is exactly that - that it is a shared experience. Though we are in separate homes, we are in it together. There is a growing sense of solidarity. Increasingly, people seem to be less concerned about their appearances and more concerned about the well being of others. While in some places people may fight for the last package of TP in the grocery stores, here I find a growing sense of empathy, kindness and solidarity.

Closed, but not forgotten. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Every night at 8 pm residents all over Spain go to their windows or doors and clap for the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, police officers and emergency personnel risking their heath and safety to help us through the crisis. Whether they have a choice or not, or are bound by a Hippocratic oath, it is still a commendable act. And for us, the enclosed masses, we thank them in our simple, yet exhilarating way, by clapping and cheering every night.

Sleep longer. Photo © Karethe Linaae

From her balcony in Barcelona a former opera singer and voice coach sings for the people living in the surrounding apartment buildings every evening, while her young son holds the tape recorder with the musical accompaniment. I can find no nicer way to share ones skills and passion in the current situation

Brighten someone's day. Photo © Karethe Linaae

It is an uncertain time for many. I feel for two neighbours who are about to give birth, whom I am sure are not only worried about the safety of the hospital itself, but also what world their new child will grow up in. My heart goes out to friends and family in northern Italy, to people who are sick, and for those waiting for hospital treatments, surgeries or results on cancer tests. What hardship do we have compared to theirs?

A chance to heal. Photo © Karethe Linaae

A doctor friend was quarantined after being exposed to a patient with the virus. The first thing he did when he returned to his office was to personally call every one of his patients to check how they were doing. Many are older and most were terrified. They know that they are the most vulnerable, yet they are often the least equipped to find out how to protect themselves. So, with all our extra time, we should try to find ways of helping those who cannot help themselves.

Pray. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Come what may, this is something we have to go through. In Ronda we are only in our second week of house arrest. We know it will go on for weeks and that it will get worse before it will get better. However, while we must shut our doors to our friends and neighbours, this is a great opportunity to open our hearts out to others and show random kindness, even if it is over the Internet.

Don't read too much news. Photo © Karethe Linaae

This crisis is a chance to learn to want less and live with less, to be grateful for what we do have and to willingly share our bounty. It is time to slow down, and stop counting our assets but rather our blessings. This is the time to be generous with our time, lending our ears and showing empathy. We cannot hug each other, so a friendly wave or a timely note means so much more. 

See the light, not the darkness. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The virus has forced us to stop in our tracks, giving the planet a break from our incessant pollution. It proves that we can stop Global Warming if we want to, or if we are afraid enough... This is not the last virus that will plague the earth. We ought to be mindful of its lessons so we might be better prepared next time around.

Light a candle. Photo © Karethe Linaae

I hope that humankind will come out of this crisis a bit wiser, kinder and more patient, and that we never forget that something as simple as going outside can be a privilege.

Simplicity. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 2        Published at 16:10   Comments (7)


Lérida and the lesser known Spain
27 February 2020

Road tripping in the lesser known  Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae

If you ask what Andalusians know about northern Spain, they might say the Camino de Santiago or Costa Brava, but almost certainly nobody will mention Lérida. So, when a ‘native’ friend invited my husband and I to explore her home province, we immediately signed up to find out more about this lesser known part of Spain.

Door detail, Vall d'Aran. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Lérida, or Lleida in Catalonian, is one of four provinces in the disputed autonomous community of Catalonia. The interior province spreads from Tarragona in the south to the French border in the north, and though less than half a million people live there, Lérida has three official languages: Catalan, Spanish and Aranese.

 

A city with a crown

Lérida by night. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Most leridanos live in the city of Lérida, one of the oldest towns in Catalonia. A mere hour train-ride from Barcelona, the provincial capital is much lesser known than its coastal rival. But that is the best part  - you can still explore without being overrun by other tourists.

 

Magic alley. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Its name is derived from the llergetes, an Iberian tribe that lived there in the Bronze Age. The Romans finally annihilated the tribe, though many upheavals followed, such as the famous ‘Battle of Llerda’ in 49 BC, when Julius Caesar came to the city with 50.000 soldiers. Lérida was a Roman municipium of considerable importance, even minting its own coin. In the cellar of the city hall, a dock where prisoners were brought from the River into the town jail can still be seen.

 

Roman prison and river dock in the basement of Lérida's city hall. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Later, Lérida was under Visigoth and Moorish rule until a Catholic army re-conquered the city in 1149. Next followed a period of flourishing art and culture, when the University of Lérida, the third oldest in Spain, was founded in 1297. The city’s affluence was partly due to wealthy Jewish and Muslim communities, though the Inquisition brought this to an abrupt end.

 

Lérida today

The Llergetes, statue in Lérida. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Unless one hits their famous fog, the first thing visible when entering Lérida is the old cathedral towering over a city, with the town spreading beneath on either side of the River Segre. The pedestrian street crossing the old town must have Spain’s highest concentration of chocolate, marzipan and cake shops. The most famous is Pastelería Tugues, which is member of the exclusive Relais Dessert and produce such exquisite pastries that they occasionally supply the royal family.

A must for every visitor is the Seu Vella, Lérida’s most emblematic building. Constructed in the 13th Century, the Byzantine-Gothic cathedral was turned into a military citadel in 1714. With the adjoining Moorish fort, this republican army stronghold was bombed extensively during the Spanish Civil War. Today a museum, the lofty interior is lit up by arched windows with alabaster panes instead of glass.

Windows with alabaster panes in Seu Vella. Photo © Karethe Linaae.jpeg
 

Even if you do not enjoy a trip back in history, you will be overwhelmed by the majestic views that on clear days include the Pyrenees.

View from  Lérida's cathedral hill. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Needing a break from the sightseeing, we join the leridenos in their favourite afternoon activity – the vermouth hour - on the sunny outdoor terrace at Bodega Blasi. We order a glass of the local Vermú, served on ice with a lemon slice and filled up with a vintage style soda spritzer bottle. Add some local finger seafood and it doesn’t get much better.


Vermouth hour. Photo © Antonio Gomez

 

A Gastronomic Eden

Lérida’s plains are the Catalan food basket, with fruit orchards, olive groves and undulating meadows. The province’s agricultural based economy includes food-processing, farm equipment, feed factories and breweries.


The bountiful Lérida Plains. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The mild climate in the south favours cultivation of peaches, apricots and cherries. The north offers rich grazing land, while the higher Pyrenees is the stomping ground of wild boars. In Lérida, you can follow your taste buds from one unique village to the next. And the leridenos do not easily push away from the table, as we discovered when we were invited to a village feast.


La Negreta of Mafet. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Mafet in the municipality of Agramunt has only 67 inhabitants. This count might include the vagrant dog ‘Negreta’ which everyone cares for. A hamlet of merely two streets, most supplies have to be brought in from outside, certainly when hosting a BBQ for fifty Catalans, a dozen children, a handful rescue dogs and 4 adopted Andalusians. So while the locals lit a BBQ large enough for three whole pigs, we went to hunt for dessert.

 

The Communal Catalan Sweet Tooth

Pure sin. Photo © Antonio Gomez


The people of Lérida have an undeniably sweet tooth and Agramunt is their Mecca. The nougat, called turrón, is even copyrighted. The biggest producer is Turrón Vicens, which exports throughout Spain and receives daily tourist buses full of sugar-fanatics. Traditional turrón contains honey, sugar, egg whites and nuts, but Vicens’ repertory also includes mojito or raspberry-vinegar flavour.

Yet the real connoisseurs know that the best turrón is found at Torrons Fèlix, a small family business a few streets away where Fèlix and his daughter make everything by hand in the back room.

 

Wall decor at Turrons Fèlix. Photo © Antonio Gomez

 

Our friends insist on another quick stop – in chocolate heaven. The Jolonch chocolate factory, anno 1770, displays old chocolate making equipment and their historical wrapper designs.

 

Jolonch chocolate factory, still producing by hand. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

It is said that in 1940, when Franco’s forces were about to shoot President Lluís Companys, his last wish was a piece of Agramunt chocolate.
 

Jolonch historical chocolate wrappers. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Jolonch chocolate, since 1770. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Following his advice, we order a cup of hot chocolate, so thick that a spoon will stand up straight in it, before return with more deserts to the party.  

 

Village feast a la Mafet

In Mafet’s community hall a 25-meter table is filled with local specialties, including heaping trays of Catalan pizza coca de recapte. As we sit down, I take the opportunity to ask my fellow diners about local cuisine.

Coca de recapte, pizza Lérida style. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The first staple of any Iberian table is of course wine. Most bottles produced in Lérida have a Denominación de Origen seal. Local whites are light and fruity, while reds have more body and zest. There are also fortified sweet varieties, one whose name certainly caught my attention - Vino Rancio (Rancid wine).

 

Rancid wine anyone... Photo © Karethe Linaae


One cannot speak about Lérida without mentioning cava. If you think Freixenet when you hear the word, you obviously haven’t travelled around Lérida. Like the rest of the territory, the province has more cava producers than Rioja has wine makers. And while most of us think of sparkling wine for festive occasions, leridanos will drink it morning, noon or night, even accompanied by chocolate and churros!

 

Leridanos, 1958. Photo from Jolonch Chocolate Factory museum

 

Next on the menu is carne, and lots of it. Leridanos are big meat eaters for a reason, their lamb being the best we have eaten in Spain. In addition are their tasty sausages, especially the Longaniza and Butifarra varieties.

 

Butifarras on the BBQ. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Talking of meaty bits, although snails weren’t on today’s menu, they shouldn’t be ignored. Lérida is considered Europe’s snail cooking capital, with a dedicated festival. Every May, twelve tons of snails are cooked and consumed, using only toothpicks.

 

Escargots, traditionally cooked in a tin pan with salt and pepper. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Lérida cheeses are also second to none. Buttery and slightly pungent, they bring the green pastures of the Pyrenees straight to our table. Our party managed to polish off two wheels without sweating, and still there should be space for deserts…

Seven hours after arriving, our group is among the first to bid farewell, while the rest of the party continue into the night. Clearly, the slow food movement is not a new invention in Lérida.

 

From monks to labour unions


The Catholic re-conquest initiated the construction of many monasteries. One of these is the impressive Cistercian Monasterio de Poblet, founded in 1150.

Poblet monastery and surrounding fields. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains a royal pantheon and a priceless scriptorium (library) with works from the 13th Century.

 

Poblet monastery. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Once housing nearly 1000 religious brothers, today the enormous complex is home to a mere 25 monks. Yet the monastery is not stuck in the past.


Poblet monastery. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The monastery offers tours and sells in-house fabricated ceramics, wine, honey and jam. The cloistered monks also offer spiritual guidance and organize concerts. In addition, the abbey has a retreat centre and a restaurant, where you have the option of eating the monks' daily meal. 

 

Brothers in stone. Poblet monastery. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Lérida and the separatists

The organisational skills of the Cistercian monks were transmitted to local agriculture workers, to help them through difficult economic times. This idea promoted agrarian cooperatives, which later became the region’s agricultural unions.

 

Fruit picker. Statue outside Portell winery. Photo © JDLB

 

Since Lérida with its strong labour movement is sometimes said to be more separatist than Barcelona, travellers might be concerned about speaking to the locals. Many people from other parts of Spain believe that Catalonia is teeming with radical independistas who hate anyone from ‘the other side’, so how do leridanos treat visitors, especially if you don’t speak Catalan?

Buddies. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Though the Catalan flag hangs from almost every public building, in our experience, the people are courteous and friendly. Nobody looked at us twice, let alone mistreated us for not understanding their language.

 

Street. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Most leridenos are bilingual and many speak English. We generally spoke Spanish to people, who automatically would answer us back in Castellano instead of their native Catalan. Even local children seem to juggle the two languages with ease, flipping from one idioma to the other.

 

 

Lower and Higher Pyrenees

 

Mountain villages. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Northern Léria is one of the most mountainous regions in Spain, offering adrenaline junkies an action-filled holiday. The particularly vertically inclined might enjoy the vía ferrata, a trek by steel cables discovering troglodyte dwellings while crossing Tibetan bridges and zip-lines. If this is not your thing, the Pyrenees also offers nature walks, paddling and skiing in one of many local ski-centres.

 

Slaloming through the high Pyrenees. Photo © JDLB

 

For those seeking more leisurely pursuits, there is the scenic Tren dels Lacs (Lake Trains), a pleasant vintage train-ride from the capital to the Pre-Pyrenees.

The lower Pyrenees. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Vall de Boi – Patrimony for Humanity

The quaint villages in the Vall de Boi are dappled with hobbit-like stone houses and surrounded by snowy mountain peaks. However, the valley’s real attraction is nine Early Romanesque churches built between the 11th and 12th Centuries.

The magical Vall d’Boi. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the ensemble is unique in the world and holds Europe’s largest concentration of Romanesque art.

 

Romanesque church in Vall d’Boi. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Perhaps the most astonishing of the lot is Sant Climent in the village of Taüll.


Romanesque church Sant Climent. Photo © Antonio Gomez

 

nside, ancient religious frescos are still detectable and get completely revealed in a mind-blowing light and sound show, literally transporting one back to the 12th Century.

 

Frescos in Sant Climent. Photo © JDLB

 

Light and sound show in Sant Climent. Photo © JDLB

Do not forget to climb up in the bell tower, an elegant 800-year-old construction of six floors with a to-die-for vista, as Taüll perfectly demonstrates harmony between cultural heritage and natural environment.


Vista from Sant Climent. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The Aran Valley – a tribe of its own

Feeling travel weary, we turn off the main road, cross a creek, make a few sharp bends and enter one of the last villages before the French border, the Aranese town of Es Bòrdes.

 

Es Bòrdes in Val d’Aran. Photo © Antonio Gomez

 

Lérida’s northernmost valley, Val d’Aran has unique autonomy and its own language - Aranese. Variations of this language are still spoken in an area known as Occitania, also including Southern France, Italy’s Occitan valleys and Monaco. Though nearly all locals understand Aranese, only 65% speak it.  For this reason, the language is protected and considered one of Catalonia’s official languages. 

Welcome to the Vall d’Aran. Photo © JDLB

In such an isolated spot, we are lucky to find a place to eat at all, though to our surprise the local restaurant serves excellent Aranese dishes, including wild boar stew. Our friend recommends Olla Aranesa, a root vegetable soup with white and red butifarra sausage, bones, chicken feet and anything else the cooks can lay their hands on - in other words, a perfect high-energy meal after a day in the mountains.

 

Olla Aranesa. Photo © Antonio Gomez

 

At the next table sits a French couple that has come across for lunch on the Spanish side of the border. They are the first foreigners we meet in a week of travelling around the province. To be sure, the province of Lérida is not the tourist hotspot it perhaps ought to be, but you better hurry as it won’t remain a secret for much longer.

 

Stone detail. Poblet. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Heading home to Andalucía, we load the car with our communal purchases: half a lamb, several lengths of butifarra, cheeses, farm-fresh butter and three cases of sparkling wine.

It is time we introduce the lerideno tradition of ‘cava around the clock’ to the Spanish south!

Cava. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 



Like 1        Published at 11:53   Comments (3)


Growing Nuts in La Serranía de Ronda
20 February 2020

Acorns, another Serranía nut. Photo © Karethe Linaae

For most people nuts come shelled, bleached, salted, and packaged until they are but a pale relation of the original fruit. Here in the Spanish south though, nuts still grow on trees. Frutos Secos (dried fruits) as they are called are named after their low water content and include all nuts and some seeds.

In Ronda and surrounding mountain regions locals have been growing nuts since time immemorial. The traditional family farms included citrus and nut trees and what couldn’t be produced would be bartered for. Unfortunately, this type of small-scale bio-diverse farming is no longer profitable and therefore quite uncommon, but times are changing…

Autumn ground cover with chestnuts. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Health nuts

People recognized the nutritional value of nuts long before we began eating ‘health food’. During periods of famine they were a source of much-needed calories, but since almost 80% of a nut is fat, a little goes a long way.

Chestnut products made in La Serranía de Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Like natural energy bars, nuts are rich in proteins, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals. Their health constituents are said to balance cholesterol levels, improve heart function and prevent diabetes and cancer. Nuts also keep well, and are an economical and convenient snack.

 

Almonds – a sensitive beauty

Almond tree in bloom. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Originating from the Far East, el almendro has been growing in the Mediterranean region since it was introduced by the Phoenicians 3000 years ago. People here say that the tree improves the rock, because they will grow on the most inaccessible crags.

Almond trees are some of la Sierra’s earliest bloomers and the first nuts to be harvested. Due to climate change, blossoms can now be seen in January. Maite Teresa Martos, who has a small organic almond orchard in Ronda’s gorge, explains that early sprouting risks later frost potentially ruining the crop. “Everybody around here used to grow almonds”, she tells me, “but people stopped picking them”. Producers like her cultivate almonds for private consumption or sell to wholesalers who supply the Spanish Turrón industry in the North.

Traditional almond orchard in Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Almonds contain Omega 6, magnesium, potassium, calcium, Vitamin E, thiamine and niacin. In addition to the fruit’s many food uses, almond oil is used in the cosmetics industry for creams, massage oils and other skin products, while the oil from bitter almonds is used as natural flavouring.

Almonds in shell, right from the tree. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Almonds account for most of global nut production of 2.4 million tonnes in 2018. 67% were grown in the USA, making the Spanish 5% share negligible by comparison. Ironic since Spanish missionaries is said to have brought the fruit to America in the 18th century. With increasing global demand and the popularity of new almond products, Spain’s production is once again increasing.

 

Chestnuts – a spiky lot

Chestnuts in summer. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Spanish chestnuts (castañas) were thought to originate in the Middle East, but recent prehistoric excavations have re-classified chestnut as native to Mediterranean countries. “Chestnuts were popular with the Romans because they could be dried,” says archaeologist Pilar Delgado explaining that the Romans also spread the species throughout the Iberian Peninsula.

Walking on Chestnuts. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Chestnuts and acorns were a vital part of people’s diet until the Spanish began to import potatoes from the Americas around 1570. The wood was used in carpentry and furniture making. Castanets used by Flamenco dancers were also made from chestnut wood - hence the name castañuelas. The trees can become ancient and giant, as one can see when visiting Andalucía’s majestic Castaño Santo, said to be almost 1000 years old.

Andalucia's old giant, el Castaño Santo. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The highly valued Spanish chestnuts (annual production of 18.000 tonnes) are exported to Europe, America and even Japan. With its ideal mountain climate, the Genal Valley produces 4 million kilos. Chestnuts are an important side-income for the white villages of Pujerra, Jubrique and Parauta with crops being sold to local cooperatives. The trees are picked in October, when the leaves turn golden and the valley becomes a Bosque del Cobre (a copper forest). 

Copper autumn with chestnut trees in Genal Valley. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The chestnut harvest is celebrated with traditional village fiestas, often dedicated to the towns’ patron saints. The menu offers roasted chestnuts and artisanal products made from the nuts, accompanied by a fortified sweet wine called Mistela.

 

Walnuts – cerebral and sundried

Walnuts on tree. Photo © Nueces de Ronda

The walnut tree is full of history. Originally from the East where it grew along the Silk Route, the tree is also the protagonist of one of Aesop’s fables, written by a Greek slave around 600 BC. The Romans introduced nogales or walnut trees to Spain. Today, China and USA are the biggest producers of walnuts, which are said to prevent cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, while having antiarrhythmic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Walnuts from Nueces de Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Archaeologist Pilar Delgado confirms that our region had enormous walnut trees. As late as the 1970’s, pickers would climb into the tree crowns, some 50 meters tall, to harvest walnuts. Never touching the ground, they used an elongated hook, grabbing onto the next tree and flinging themselves like Andalusian Tarzans from tree to tree. What I would give to travel back in time…

 

Nueces de Ronda – a seal of quality

Walnuts from La Molinilla ready for consumption. Photo © Karethe Linaae

When nobody in Ronda wanted to pick walnuts anymore, the trees were cut down and sold as wood. Their cultivation was forgotten until the 1980’s, when José Luis Fernández Cantos decided to convert his olive farm La Molinilla to a walnut orchard. “It was a total experiment, starting out with 100 trees of 15 varieties”, smiles his son and current owner Álvaro Fernández Nebreda. Since nobody knew about modern walnut cultivation, they had to study American and Chilean farming techniques.

Álvaro Fernández Nebreda at La Molinilla walnut orchard. Photo © Karethe Linaae

More than three decades later, Spain’s oldest walnut orchard Nueces the Ronda has over 10.000 trees, yielding 40 tonnes in a good year. This could double within a decade with recent additions. “Our trees are like our children,” says Álvaro. Once picked and rinsed “with water and nothing else” the nuts are dried in the sun for about 3 days. Only with rain are drying machines utilized.

Walnuts drying at La Molinilla. Photo © Nueces de Ronda

The quality of Nuceses de Ronda is renown throughout Spain, though the company is yet to enter international markets. Like any crop walnuts have their challenges. The trees need huge amounts of water, yet a big rainstorm can be fatal. However, Andalucía nut industry’s biggest contenders are the enormous nut factories abroad, which bleach the walnut shells with chemicals. Consumers believe that is how nuts are supposed to look and taste, but that is only because they have not tried the walnuts from La Molinilla yet...

 

Pistachios – the Middle Eastern cousin

Pistachios from Los Llanos first harvest. Photo © José Manuel Dorado

In recent years, growers on the coast have experimented with Macadamia and Brazil nuts, but the latest trend in nuts in Andalucía is pistachio. Originating in the Middle East, where Iran used to be the biggest global producer, archaeological digs have found that Turks ate pistachios 7000 years ago. Though most Andalusian farmers are unfamiliar with pistachios, the nuts were common here in the Andalusi era. They disappeared completely right after the Catholic re-conquest. For centuries, nobody knew why…

“Christian farmers noticed that some of these foreign trees bore no fruit, so they cut them down” explains pistachio farmer José Manuel Dorado. What the farmers didn’t realize was that these male trees were needed to pollinate female ones. With no pollination there were no nuts, so shortly after the rest of the pistachio trees were also cut down. It took almost 500 years to bring the pistachios back to Spain. 

Pistachio fruit in summer. Photo © José Manuel Dorado

Apparently, eating pistachios makes you happy, since zinc and iron helps with brain function. Pistachios are also high in thiamine, magnesium, Vitamin B6, phosphor and copper, which aid metabolism and reduce fatigue.

Spain imports 95% of its pistachios, so the nuts are in high demand. While walnuts might cost 3-5 euros per kilo, this will only get you 100 grams of high quality pistachios. No surprise they are the new nut-farming fad! The fruits are harvested between September and October and the nuts have to be shelled and dried within 24 hours, or they may become toxic. Other farmers in La Serranía have pistachio orchards, but José Manuel is the only organic grower. “ I am a book publisher and knew nothing about farming,” so he spent a year learning everything he could about pistachios.

José Manuel Dorado grows organic pistachios in Alcala del Valle. Photo © José Manuel Dorado

After 5 years, his first harvest was given to friends and family who had supported him through the process. In a few years, he expects his farm in Alcalá del Valle to yield 1000 kg per hectare. “I could get double if I watered the trees, but I am not doing this to maximize production” he says. While others plant their trees 4-5 meters apart, his trees are 7 meters apart, having 49 square meters to spread their roots. After the first couple of years, pistachios can grow without watering, producing fruit for 150 years, contributing to their environmental suitability.

Dormant organic pistachio trees at Los Llanos. Photo © Karethe Linaae

What is the future of nuts in la Serranía? Our mountain region can never compete with the vast mechanical nut farms in California and China, but if Andalucian growers continue to cultivate nuts in smaller orchards with natural farming methods, their product will always be superior.

Rural Andalusian mountain farm. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 1        Published at 17:40   Comments (1)


Divine Spanish Holiday Treats – spending a day in our local convent kitchen
13 January 2020

Our Franciscan nuns at work. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Say the word Christmas and people’s mouths begin to water. T’is the season for sweet indulgences and sins to abound. In Spain bakers get into high gear, as amigos, families, companies and brotherhoods prepare to celebrate this more or less religious occasion.

Baking frocks. Photo © Karethe Linaae

With Christmas approaching, Andalucía’s streets are filled with the buttery smell of mantecados and other confections. The best ones are produced behind the walls of local convents. Some sisterhoods have held onto their secret recipes since the Middle Ages, while others are newer to the trade, since their work as teachers, nurses and seamstresses have diminished.

Symbol of Franciscan Order on cupboard. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The names of convent pastries often reflect their saintly origins, such as Pastelitos de Gloria, Trufas de Madre de Dios and Corazones de Santa Clara. In Seville’s Convento de San Leandro, Augustinian nuns have been baking since the 16th Century. Their most famous pastry, Yemas de San Leandro, has only three ingredients: egg yolks, sugar and a few drops of lemon.

Gañotes from San Francisco Convent. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Hundreds of different types of artisan reposterías are made in Andalucía’s convent kitchens. Carmelites, Cistercian and Franciscans are some orders that will produce sweet temptations for the holiday. While initially selling to the surrounding communities, some convents now have websites, offer gluten-free alternatives, and can ship anywhere in the world.

Batatines with sweet potato. Photo © Karethe Linaae

One of the most typical Christmas pastries are Roscos de Vino. Andalusian children will keep three roscos to give to the Holy Three Kings on Dia de los Reyes, hence called Roscos de Reyes. While the grandmothers of every household used to bake them, today the duty often falls to local nunneries.

Roscos. Photo © Karethe Linaae

A special Christmas pastry from Malaga’s villages is the borrachuelo. Borracho means drunk, so they include alcoholic cider. The miniature empanada is filled with cabello de angel (angel hair) spaghetti squash marmalade. Each piece is deep-fried and dunked in sugar to add naughtiness to the sinful experience.

Pumpkins to make Cabella de Angel. Photo © Karethe Linaae

It is no surprise that some pastries date from the Al Andalus era, for example el Alfajor (Arabic al-fakher, meaning luxurious). Found in the Spanish dictionary since the 14th Century, Alfajos were exported to the New World and has become a traditional Christmas treat in South America.

Sor Isabel by the oven. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Our local nuns at Convento San Francisco in Ronda have also gained quite a reputation for their blessed dulces. When we catch the ancient Sister Natividad with a giant hammer cracking a sack of almonds on a tree trunk in the convent patio, we know their preparations have started.

Parting almonds the old way. Photo © Karethe Linaae

As December approaches, the sisters roll dough around the clock, kneading their love, care and culinary traditions into every bite-sized treat. I went to visit them during one of these busy days, when they were making 35 kilos of mantecados – meaning a few thousand cookies – by hand in a single day!

Hecho a mano. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Originating in Antequera and brought to fame in the tiny town of Estepa, mantecados can now be found all over the country and is synonymous with Spanish Christmas. What’s the secret? Could it be the generous amount of lard?

Sifter anno 1950's. Photo © Karethe Linaae

In their industrial-sized 19th Century kitchen, the sisters chat softly as they fill tray after tray with round little dough balls that later one of the novices will top with sesame seeds.

Adding the sesame seeds. Photo © Karethe Linaae

After cooking, each mantecado is individually wrapped in a silk paper with the convent’s seal.  “Working and praying is our life”, Sor Isabel says and Madre Nieves, the Abbess adds that with all the bitterness in the world, they prey that their treats will sweeten the lives of those who eat them.

Sister Natividad, soon 90. Photo © Karethe Linaae

When I ask them where they keep their recipes, they look down at their busy hands pretending not to hear. Each convent has their own specialties and the recipes are a tightly guarded secret. What I can disclose is that no pastry has more than a handful ingredients, and that there are no preservatives or artificial flavourings. Ground almond or wheat flour, butter or lard, cider or sugar and a touch or cinnamon, lemon peel or orange zest. Most ingredients are grown locally, some in the monastic gardens. There are still convents who will sell the sweets through the traditional lazy Susan embedded in the wall not to show their faces, but our nuns now sell them from their little store, albeit still behind bars…

Sor Isabel in the convent shop. Photo © Karethe Linaae

People here say that the nun’s reposterías taste of home cooking, old village kitchens and a bit of heaven. Thanks to the income from their baking, they can continue their simple lives and maintain the convent. By purchasing their artisan pastries, you are not only getting to know an important part of Spanish gastronomy, but also keeping alive part of the country’s history.

Ready. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The convent is open for holiday purchases from 10 - 18.

Convento San Francisco
Passage de las Franciscanas 1, Barrio de San Francisco, Ronda, Malaga
Tel: 952872177

The traditional Lazy Susan. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 2        Published at 15:28   Comments (1)


The Madrid Climate Conference and the ‘no-pasa nada’ rural Andalucía
06 December 2019

The sun is killing me. Photo © Karethe Linaae

As world leaders meet at the United Nation Climate Change Conference in Madrid these days and a brave young Swede has sailed across the Atlantic to get there, I thought it time to take a look at Spain’s own ecological backyard – more specifically the rural Andalusian environment.

 

Sunflowers. Photo © Karethe Linaae


It often feels like the urban cites in northern Spain and our small southern town of Ronda are in completely different countries. Occasionally we even seem to live in separate millennia… When looking up at the nearly eternally blue skies, drawing in the fresh mountain air and beholding the spectacular Serranía de Ronda all around, one can almost be tempted to think that we are not affected by the global climate crisis.

 

Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Indeed, some naysayers insist that there is no problem at all. No pasa nada. But you only need to open your eyes to see the stark reality. Andalucía’s alleged White Villages or Pueblos Blancos are not only affected by the climate crisis. We are also contributing to it.
 

We are the river reflections. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Greta  - role model or laughing stock? 

Yesterday, I asked a couple of my students what they and their classmates thought about Greta Thunberg. They smirked and said that she had some kind of problem. I know that teenage boys will snicker at almost anything, but I had thought that they would admire someone of their own age who dares to speak up about their future for all the world to hear. Instead, their reaction echoed the ignorant, ill-informed and completely insensitive Donald Trump, who mocked Greta because of her Asperger syndrome. Some people might perceive her as ‘mentally unstable’, but with the desperate state of the current environment, we should all feel mentally unstable. Actually, we should be terrified into action!

 

Dry earth. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Greta’s ailment hasn’t stopped her more than acne or asthma has limited my students. I hope that they represent a minority of Andalusian youth, and that most young Spaniards are encouraged to protest alongside Greta. For those who make fun of her, she is far braver, more articulate and driven than 99% of the world’s teens and adults, politicians included!

 

Climate Conference vs. rural Spain

Ciudad soñada. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

While the UN Secretary General opened the Climate Conference by saying that we are ‘close to a point of no return’, and the conference aims at promoting civic action and social participation, back to our small town people are still debating whether recycling makes a difference. We do have recycling containers, but many claim that everything ends up in the skip anyhow (possibly true some years back…) or simply don’t give a damn and put all their refuge into to the garbage.

 

Recycling nightmare. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Of course there are many eco-conscious citizens, but judging from our neighbourhood, I’d say that most rondeños do not recycle. The biggest political issue here is not a cleaner environment, but getting a freeway from the coast so bigger hordes of tourists can invade our town. So, the first rural environmental challenge is to convince people here that the environment matters and civil duties refer to all of us. 

 

Horses in trashy paddock. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Unlike most developed countries, there is unfortunately no money-back system for empty plastic bottles and metal cans in Spain. People therefore see such envases as worthless and discard them as rubbish. Collecting ‘empties’ is a livelihood for many people in other countries, so why can’t it be done here? Way back in 2012, there was a study done to examine the cost of introducing a bottle deposit refund system in Spain. Nothing has come out of it yet, but can Spain really afford NOT to implement this system?

 

Beer bottles. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Drive or walk to school?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most carbon monoxide pollution comes from motor vehicles. While emissions per mile driven is significantly less than in the 1970s due to alternative fuels and ‘cleaner’ vehicles, the sheer number of drivers and cars on the road counteract these improvements. Everybody knows that we should limit our car use, but the rural south is, as always, lagging behind the times.

 

No parking. Photo © Karethe Linaae


In our relatively small town (approx. 34.000 inhabitants), everything is more or less within walking distance. Neither dangerous traffic nor threats of kidnappings prevent children from walking to school, yet most local students are driven door to door. When I asked a neighbour why she drove her teenage daughter the 3.5 blocks to school, she told me that this is what is done, or else other parents might think you don’t have a car.

In a time of increasing childhood obesity, diabetes and ADD, a few minutes daily walk is not only advisable, it should be compulsory. Yet driving your offspring is considered good parenting. Kids won’t protest, of course, or they might have to get up 10 minutes earlier to arrive to school on time. But if a 16-year-old girl can sail across the Atlantic, they can surely stroll the few hundred meters to their colegio?

 

School children. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

It is not only local children who are over-chauffeured in rural Andalucía. Even if it means circling around for 15 minutes to find parking near their destination, some locals will still drive a few blocks to get to work, go shopping or meet buddies at the bar. The second set of rural environmental challenges are therefore to advocate for frequent, subsidized, round-the-clock public transportation, traffic-safety lessons for school children, city cycles, car-free zones and reserved bike lanes, and a massive walk-to-work campaign starting with the mayor and every civil servant in town. 

 

Renewable energy in sunny Spain

Scalding sun. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Spain has the most hours of sunshine in Europe, yet only 5.2% of its renewable energy comes from solar power. Actually, Germany, Italy, France and even rainy UK produce more solar power than Spain! Between the financial crisis and the debilitating “sun tax” of 2015 (only eased last year), the solar power revolution ground to a halt, leaving endless work to be done. On the other hand, wind power accounts for over 20% of the national power production and might soon overtake the biggest Spanish power source, nuclear energy. On a positive note, only 4.5% of Spanish power production comes from fossil fuels.

 

What the future will bring. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

A rural eco-challenge many towns in Andalucía have to deal with is how to protect historical areas while still allowing the use of solar panels and other renewable power-sources. The technologies are there.  Surely there are alternatives that will neither endanger nor blemish Andalucía’s historic town centres.

 

Cadiz. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Water wasting fiesta in the 21 Century

Water is a resource that soon will become extremely scarce, particularly in southern Europe. Every year the temperature rises and draughts last longer. Yet, Ronda is the only place we have ever lived which does not have a compulsory public water-rationing program every summer, which is my next rural eco challenge.  

 

Saintly water fountain. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

In 2004, around the time of the Kyoto accord, a new fiesta was introduced in our neighbourhood – la fiesta del agua. While the Sahara desert is threatening to move north and masses of people worldwide are living without drinking water, our town brings in the local fire trucks to hose down the people in our neighbourhood square every August.

 

Water fountains. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Of course, it is a very popular party. Kids love playing with water and teenagers get a chance to participate in an impromptu wet T-shirt contest. But this is not the time to be wasteful with resources, so how about saving that water for the next time a forest fire rages through the sierra?

 

Forest fire warning sign. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Sewer waste vs. geothermal solutions

One of our gravest rural environmental challenges is the lack of water processing plants in Andalucía’s White Villages. Several of these towns are situated within Natural Parks and some are declared European Places of Cultural Interest. Yet many have no sewer processing facilities, so human waste goes directly into the local river systems.

 

Pueblos Blancos. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

This includes favoured eco-tourist destinations such as Montejaque, Jimera de Libar, Cortes de la Frontera, Atajate, Benarrabá, Algatocín, Benadalid, Alpandeire, Júzcar, Farajan, Pujerra, Cartajima, Parauta and Benaoján. The latter village is a hob for the meat processing industry and all their dirty slaughterhouse water also gets flushed into the Guadiaro river!

 

Water pipe lead to the Guadiario river by Estación de  Benaoján. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The general excuse from the Spanish government, be it local, provincial or national, is always that there is no money. But in a country that receives more than 60 million tourists per year, surely there must be enough money to clean up our ‘shit’, so to speak? 

 

Trash bins in our hood. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Ronda only got its water processing plant in the early 2000s. Better late than never one could say, though when a sewer pipe broke in October of last year, it took the town nearly a year to fix the crack. Meanwhile, the leak polluted the tributary creek Arroyo de las Culebras that feeds into the Guadalevín River, the very same river that goes through Ronda’s much-photographed Tajo gorge. And, we are still waiting for the local government to clean up the spillage…

 

The Guadalevin river. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

On several occasions, Ronda town hall has had to send out warnings about swimming in the local rivers due to ‘accidental’ leaks. Meanwhile, the local government recently proposed to make a public beach on the banks where these two rivers meet. If it happens, perhaps we will have to share the space with sewer rats?

 

Polluted dog after entering into Arroyo de las Culebras. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

 

Saving trees?

Lonesome. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

At a time when forest fires destroy millions of trees every year and the natural environment should be protected at all costs, Ronda is cutting down trees. The multinational electrical company ENDESA was given virtually free range to chop down the trees along the before-mentioned creek so their branches would not interfere with their electrical lines. These same trees were planted and cared for by Ronda’s school children almost 30 years ago. Protestors managed to stop the company’s first attempts at buzz-cutting the trees, but it is only a question of time before they come back with the chainsaws.

 

Arroyo de las Culebras, Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The irony is that a few years ago, Ronda’s town hall had money allocated to put these unsightly electrical cables under-ground. Furthermore, there are pipes in the ground alongside the creek installed just last year to lead electrical cables to the town’s new hospital. So the pipes are there, the money should be there (though they were likely misspent…), and the electrical company on their ever so green web page speaks about their grand mission of sustainability. But ‘no pasa nada’…

 

"We are keeping our river clean". From Setenil de las Bodegas.  Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Spain has the natural resources and the know-how to become a leading nation for the environment. But are people willing to sacrifice some of their present comfort and convenience to make the future of their children and their children’s children more liveable?
 

Ronda's young - our future. Photo © Karethe Linaae


I hope that the Madrid Climate Conference and the acts of a brave young Swede will have a positive impact not only on the world at large, but even bring positive change to Spain’s rural communities. Despite the existing challenges of tackling climate change, the risk of doing nothing is much greater. Ronda, our beloved city of dreams will not be la ciudad soñada for long if we do not do something fast.  

 

 Where to go? Lost baby turtle on the road to Benaoján. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 2        Published at 15:45   Comments (7)


Want to learn Spanish? Seven tips on how to go native
29 November 2019

Faux flamenco. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

 

Many foreigners live in Spain for years and never learn to speak the local language. Some say they are too old. Others won’t even try, surviving I suppose, with English and sign language. I am the first to admit that my memory isn’t as receptive now as it was when I was young, but for us who have chosen to live in rural Andalucía, not learning Spanish is really not an option.

 

Barrio street. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

For those who struggle with past and future verb conjugations and find Andalu’ twang hard to understand, here are a few tips on how to go native and achieve semi-fluency at any age.

 

1. Change el Chip

 

The fishmonger. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

To quote a much-used Spanglish expression, the first thing one must do to learn Spanish is to ‘cambiar el chip’. In other words, start with the attitude. We must tell ourselves repeatedly and truly come to believe that we will speak Spanish. Every time we say to ourselves that something is too difficult, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Solito. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Learning a foreign language isn’t only a way to widen ones horizons and enables one to communicate with the locals, it is also healthy for the brain. Practicing multiple languages can keep Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay. It is never too late. My role model for continual learning is a friend of my mother in Norway, who still reads the French Le Monde newspaper every morning even though she just celebrated her 100th birthday…

 

2. Find a new maestro

 

Victoriano - Once a rebel, always a rebel... Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

When we came to Ronda, I was recommended to enrol in a Spanish course for foreigners. Actually, nobody we know became fluent through that school, though several of the students redid the beginner course numerous times. I left after a couple of months, finding that I learned less stuck in a classroom between other foreigners than on the street.

 

Salvador and María Jesús on second honeymoon. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Most foreign residents in Ronda attend a private Spanish school. It is a great place to meet the local international community, but once again, nobody we know who has taken classes there for years seem to speak fluent Spanish. At least not yet…

I am not trying to discredit the value of formal education, but one cannot achieve total immersion in a classroom. Cliché as it may sound, try to attend ‘the school of life’ as well. Begin by talking with the neighbours.

 

Manolo teaches us basket weaving. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

There are no better teachers than the locals. Take Monolo, who taught us the classic (and sadly dying) art of reed basket weaving. The lesson took place on his patio, didn’t cost us a cent and we even walked away with a basket as a present and offers of a future lesson in broom making!

 

3. Slow down

 

It’s a dog’s life.... Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

We all want things to happen instantaneously. This is certainly the case for us who came from North America to the Spanish south. But when you move to a mañana culture, you have to embrace the fluidness of any situation and accept what may come.

 

Thursday afternoon at Miguel's. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Though Andalusians talk at break neck speeds and never seem to run out of topics, the general pace of life here is more leisurely than in northern climates. It is a challenge for some of us to slow down, and more difficult still to try to calm our urgency to speak perfect Spanish right away. But learning one expression per day is sufficient. Daring to engage with one local person per week is a step in the right direction. If you cannot read a whole book in Spanish yet, start with travel brochures or Hola magazines. The know-how will come in it’s own good time one of these mañanas. If you have chosen to come to Spain in your latter years, there is no hurry, is there?

 

Two of our favourite neighbours, Isabel and Mari KiKi. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

 

Many of the elderly in our neighbourhood love to chat, like Mari-KiKi. Now in her late 80’s, she grew up in the mills in Ronda’s Tajo. The buildings are now in ruins, but she will gladly tell you how our town used to be. Ask as many questions as you like. The bell wont ring and she has no time restraints.  And more importantly, you will be doing your elderly neighbours a social service by offering them your ear.

 

4. Go shopping

 

Laura in another barrio mom and pop store. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Some people do not need much encouragement in this department, while for others the mere thought of going into stores is torturous. But do not undervalue this seemingly trivial pastime.

There are endless language lessons to be had by simply going to a local corner shop. We love and frequent all of them, though one of my favourites is Pepe’s. His store is so small that barely two clients can fit at the same time, but you won’t believe what you can find behind his counter. These types of stores are also the best to source local produce. Pepe’s vegetables come from his father’s field, which provides fabulous organic vegetables, like this Romanesque Borccoflowers, almost year round.

 

Pepe with his father's organic broccoflower. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The smaller the establishment, the more regulars you will meet and thus, the better the conversation. Besides, by buying from these mom and pop businesses, you contribute to the local economy.

 

Miguel cuts Iberian ham. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Make sure to become a regular, so the shop owner knows what you like and will stock it for you. If they do not have something, ask for it – in Spanish of course. If you are not sure which brand to get, ask again.

Ask Juan Lu at our mini-market which vinegar to use to clean windows and there will immediately be three amas de casa starting a major debate on the pros and cons of effective window washing. Soon you will find yourself joining in with your own opinion.

 

Right or left? Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Brace yourself and stand for half an hour lining-up at the butchers while listening to local gossip. Though I dread cooking, my inevitable waits at the butchers have been immensely productive, expanding my cooking vocabulary significantly, while giving me a chance to catch up on births, deaths and weddings of every family in town.

 

5. Do what you love

 

Our fellow community gardeners or hortelanos. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

A magical way to learn a language is to do so subconsciously. You hear a word enough times and whoops, there it is as part of your own vocabulary. It snuck in the backdoor of your brain without you noticing or trying to capture it.

The easiest way to achieve this type of indirect learning is to concentrate on doing something you love. If you like motorbikes, join an MC club and make frequent visits to the guys at the local mechanic shops. If your special interest is sewing, you will get great ideas at the fabric store or the haberdashery, where the waits are always long and customers always want to share their craft projects with the proprietors.

When we moved to Spain we decided to try new things. My husband always wanted to learn woodcarving, so he joined a wood workshop. I took up furniture restoration and together we became members of the local Friends of the Opera. As we love hiking, we also joined a couple of senderismo clubs. Why not?

 

Hiking mates. Photo © Rafa Flores, RF Natura

 

Whilst in the mountain doing what we most enjoyed, I couldn’t avoid picking up expressions about the trail, the kilometres ahead, altitude climbed, packs carried, aches and pains, lunches to be had or other trails that we were advised to do. I didn’t consciously try to learn anything, I just chugged along and the words magically lodged themselves somewhere deep inside my cranium.

 

6. Become an amigo

 

Neighbourhood kids collecting money for their religious ‘hermandad’. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

To truly get a sense of belonging as a foreign resident, you need to make local friends. However, this is a to-way street. To make amigos, you yourself need to be a friend of the locals. If they see you only mingling with other foreigners, they will naturally assume that you are not interested in their lives and thus will not be interested in you.

To become an amigo, you need to become one of them. Be an active participant and a good neighbour. Greet them, ask them how they are and offer to help whenever possible.

 

Giving a helping hands at our local convent. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

People are generally patient with one, even if ones grammar is limited to present tense. It is the effort that counts. Enquire about neighbours’ health, and they will soon do the same in return. Learn the names of their children, their spouses and their pets. Participate in local meetings and go to church concerts. Dress up and join the local fiestas.

 

Ronda Romántica. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Help the kids in the hood with their English homework. Become member of your neighbourhood association. Volunteer your time in something you believe in. Vote in local elections. Go to church. Get a garden plot. Buy and consume local produce. Help friends and neighbours with the harvest.

 

Volunteering for a cleaner town. Photo © Rafael Flores

 

Buy Christmas goodies fro the local kids to support their school trips. Attend fundraisers and walk the solidarity walks with the people of your town. The locals will appreciate your interest and eventually begin to consider you their friend.

 

 

7. Realize your limitations

 

Costaleros in Easter procession. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

It is sometimes easy for those who have lived in other places to unconsciously look down at the rural population for their lack of worldliness and international savvy.  The one lesson I have learned by living in small-town Andalucía is that experience is very relative. I might speak half a dozen languages and have travelled the world, but I do not know how to dance the Bulería, recite the poems of Federico García Lorca by heart, make our orange tree bloom year round, saddle a horse, identify all the different species of wild orchid in the sierra or make a fluffy tortilla. So, in the end, I certainly have lots to learn to become a true Andalusa!

 

Auxi with her 'body guards'. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 



Like 3        Published at 09:22   Comments (3)


Long weekend in Lisbon - a pastel city portrait
08 November 2019

Pastel city. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Mysterious, magnificent and mellow - many words have been used to describe Portugal’s coastal capital, though I see it as a portrait in pink and blue. Arriving across the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, the city lays bathed in pastel light, begging to be explored.

Lisbon, or Lisboa to the natives, has become a favoured European weekend escape and one of Southern Europe’s busiest capital destinations. Spending a few days here, one can certainly see why. Hailed as Portugal’s most liveable city, it has a year-round mild climate and an inordinate amount of sunny days. With an urban population of merely half a million people (3 million including the wider Metropolitan area), it is easy to navigate. Lisbon is also reasonably priced and relatively safe as far as European capitals go. And in a world where over-tourism has become a threat, one can almost miss the crowds by avoiding major tourist destinations and walking a bit further afield.


Magical alley. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

400 years older than Rome

One of the oldest cities in the world and the second oldest European capital after Athens, Lisbon predates London and Paris by several centuries.

Its original name, Olisippo, might be a derivative from Phoenician alis ubbo meaning ‘delightful little port’, though the city could also have been named after its mythical founder, Ulysses.

 

Mythical sea creatures from Monastero dos Jerónimos. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

What we know for a fact is that Phoenicians settled in the area around 1200 BC. Julius Caesar made it the municipium of Feliecitas Julia a couple of decades before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact there are still underground Galerias Romanas from the era of Emperor Augustus open to a few lucky visitors twice a year. The galleries are accessible through a sewer hole in the ground right under the tramline on Rua da Prata. Sounds irresistible? I will certainly plan our next trip accordingly...

 

Sewer rat. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Since Christian crusaders re-conquered Lisboa from the Moors in 1147, it has been the political centre of Portugal, though not always its capital. Sometimes abbreviated as 'Lx' from the old spelling Lixbõa, the city is today an important centre of finance, commerce, arts, media, trade and tourism.

 

 Lisbon city. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Navigating the town

With our car in long-term parking for the duration of our stay, we leave our bags at the hotel - a former magistrate’s residence from 1758 filled with character, antiques and hand-painted Portuguese tiles.

 

Tiled hotel interior. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Our first afternoon is spent vicariously wandering towards the Tagus River. Lisbon is infinitely walkable and just big enough to get pleasantly lost. You can easily orient yourself by looking downhill to locate the river or uphill to discover where you are in relation to the Castelo de Säo Jorge (St George’s Castle), the tallest landmark in town.

 

View from mirador. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

A wide selection of guided tours is on offer, but we choose to discover Lisbon for ourselves. Occasionally we jump on a metro or hail a tuck-tuck when needing a break, after having strolled up and down the city’s seven or eight (but who is counting) hills. Lisbon has an excellent public transport system. A transferable bus or metro ticket costs a mere couple of euros and other than rush hours, it is an easy way to get around. Some of the metro stations are worth it for the artistic tile work alone.


From Tuck-Tuck. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The famous Lisbon trams are not included in the regular system and do not allow transfers or stopovers. Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque tram rides in the world, Lisbon’s electric streetcar system opened in November 1873. Today however, the americanos as they used to be called, are victim of their own success. Every tourist has read about and wants to ride in the legendary Tram 28. As we didn’t want to be squeezed in like vertical sardines between Texan and Taiwanese tourists, we contented ourselves by observing them from the outside.

 

Tram riders. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Another former practical way to get up-town and avoid some of the pesky hills was to take the Ascensor de Santa Justa. The 45-meters high street elevator brings passengers from the lower or Baixa area to the Barrio Alto, a higher neighbourhood. The locals don’t use the elevator anymore. While long queues of visitors also discourage us from catching a lift, it is an impressive sight to behold with an interesting history. Lisbon’s last remaining conventional vertical elevator opened in 1899. A latticework of iron beams in Neo-Gothic style, the twin elevator cabins travel up seven stories to a panoramic viewpoint above. The architect, Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard is said to have been a student of Gustave Eiffel, but like many young engineers of his time, he might simply have been inspired by the French master and followed contemporary iron construction trends.

 

Ascensor de Santa Justa. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The earthquake that became pavement

On All Saints Day in 1755, Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake, which took 40,000 lives. Almost the entire town had to be rebuilt, giving the overall building style of the Lisbon we see today a rare uniformity.

 

Blue reflections. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

There are still examples of earlier architecture, but most of the downtown area is built in the post-quake Pombaline style, named after the Marquis of Pombal, the nobleman who was in charge of the reconstruction. Lisbon’s new centre was completed within just a few years, but nothing feels hurried about the utilitarian and plain edifices, embellished by occasional Neo-classic details.

The Marquez was ahead of his time in many ways. He instructed the ruins of the fallen buildings from the quake to be re-used to pave Lisbon’s streets. Today we can admire this unique underfoot art gallery on almost every sidewalk and square in the city.

 

Sidewalk detail. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Not only is the polished stonework beautiful, it is also a timeless tribute to the pavers who built the ground we tread. 

 

Sculpture by Sérgio Stichini. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Lisbon is said to be one of the best graffiti capitals in the world, though I would extend that to random public art, as well. The city encourages graffiti and has hired the best street artists to make huge murals all over town with the dual purpose of livening up boring walls and making the urban landscape more entertaining. 


Street art. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Azulejos abound

One cannot speak about Lisbon without mentioning the ceramic tiles. Decorative tiles go back thousands of years - from the Egyptians, Assyrians and the Babylonians and beyond. Though they weren’t introduced to Lisbon until the Moorish era, the azulejos (or Arabic az-zulayj meaning ‘polished stone’) have become a symbol of Lisbon.

 

Tiles CU. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Most traditional Portuguese tiles are blue on a white background, possibly echoing the country’s nautical past. In the 15th century, Portugal’s King Manuel I visited Seville in Spain and brought back a design fad that has lasted to this day. Tiles are part of Lisbon’s architecture and culture. You see them everywhere, covering entire building façades, in home interiors, on store signs, wrapping fountains and benches, and everything in between.

 

Tiled Lisbon homes. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

To know more about them, visit the tile museum or simply stroll around the city to behold the vast selection of hand-painted Portuguese tiles. If you want to purchase some, it is advisable to go to a reputable antique dealer, as the oldest tiles can cost several hundred euros a piece and copies are virtually impossible to distinguish from originals.

 

Antique tiles. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Shopping for Sardines

Talking of shopping… like any other tourist destination, Lisbon has a souvenir shop on every corner. However, between all the mass-fabricated cups with ‘Lisboa’ on them, you can find some genuinely good ceramic stores, a few of which have lovely colourful porcelains worth bubble wrapping and popping in your luggage. Lisbon is also an antique hunters’ and bookworms’ paradise. You will rarely see as many new and used bookstores, and though most titles are in Portuguese, they are worth a peek inside. Lisbon’s Livraria Bertrand, which opened in 1732, is apparently the world’s oldest operating bookstore, followed by bookstores in Nurnberg and Bethlehem! The city also houses the world’s smallest bookshop, which due to its 4000 titles barely have space for clients.

 

Bookshop detail. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Of course Lisbon has its grand Avenida da Liberdade for shoppers who want Burberry or Cartier, but it is really on the alternative front that the city’s commerce stands out. You will have a pick of interesting merchants and cool not-to-be-found-elsewhere products in Lisbon’s Boho style Chiado district or in the ethical market of the converted Lx Factory.

 

Lisboeta in drag. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Those who love a good flea market should not miss the Saturday morning Feria de Ladra in Santa Clara square. Though Ladra means a female thief in Portuguese, it also refers to a type of wood bug, which must have been equally abundant at this historical market. There is still great junking to be done and actual antiques for sale, though while fleas might have been replaced by vegan cafés, one should be wary of pickpockets.

 

Lisboeta playing at market. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

If your urge for shopping hasn’t yet been satisfied, there are still canned sardines. These were the staple food of the sea-faring Lisbon population in the past, but in recent years funky sardine shops have popped up all over town, selling colourful and collectable tins of the stuff, with or without oil, chilli and other flavours.

 

Pink sardines. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Gastronomic Lisbon

Dessert lovers beware. Lisbon has a huge communal sweet tooth. I have never seen so many pastelarias (pastry shops), in addition to endless cafés and restaurants with heaping cake counters. The most famous is the Pastéis de Nata, meaning cream pastry, though it is more of an egg custard tartlet. This traditional delicacy has caused culinary battles and near-death threats among local pastry chefs. The original anno 1837 recipe belongs to Pastéis de Belém pastry shop. The specific formula has never been written down, having been passed along orally through generations to the three people who know the recipe. They guard the secret with their lives, never going on the same flight or eating the same dish at a restaurant. Very 007-ish! As we are more savoury types, we didn’t pilgrim to the Mecca of cream cakes, especially since dozens of other Lisbon pastry shops claim theirs are equally good…

 

Feed me. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

As well as sweets, Lisbon has a wide choice of international cuisine. We found a first-class Japanese restaurant with only local patrons, a brilliant hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese Pho ‘soupery’, and, please don’t tell our Lisbon hosts, enjoyed a fabulous meal at Jamie Oliver’s Lisbon based Italian restaurant.

 

Oliver Lisbon special. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

However, the hands down best gastronomic experience in Lisbon is the frutos do mar (or sea fruit) and the fish. With the proximity to the ocean, you can always be sure that the seafood in Lisbon is fresh. Try the day’s catch, often displayed in the front window of the restaurant. Clams, oysters, octopus, prawns, barnacles and fish stew are popular dishes, though my personal favourite is the Bacalao (cod), which is absolutely to die for.

 

Bacalao. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Another enjoyable way to share a meal with the locals is to go to one of the unpretentious family restaurants in almost any district. They will serve you a small fresh cheese and sardine pate with the breadbasket, and a menu of the day is around 10 euros, wine included.

 

Port. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

One cannot go to Portugal without trying their Port wine of course, though I developed a taste for a typical Lisbon liqueur called Ginjinha. You can get it almost anywhere, though the best places to enjoy a shot with the locals seemed to be in the tiny bars specializing in the sour Morello cherry liqueur. We bought a bottle from a tiny granny, selling her homemade brew from a card table on a sidewalk in Alfama. Not exactly EU regulations, but all the more charming, especially coming with a taster shot.

 

Meet the ‘Lisboetas’

 

Charlotte. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

People from Lisbon are called ‘Lisboetas’, and we had the pleasure of getting to know a few. Everybody we met spoke either English or Spanish, some both. While I understand their written language, which seems like a blend of Spanish, French and ancient Roman, spoken Portuguese sounds completely different from other Latin tongue I know.

 

man with mint green car? Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The sixth most spoken language in the world, Portuguese is the official language of nine countries. It has a lovely melodic, drawn-out quality, which makes the Lisboetas sound quite mellow and easy going compared to their temperamental and at times louder neighbours to the East. We hardly heard any car honking or yelling, which is part of daily life here in Andalucía. In fact, it seemed like the local mellowness was contagious. The hotel staff was sweet and soft spoken, and the guests seemed to gradually adopt this laidback Lisbon way of being as well, regardless of their origin.

 

From the series Alma de Alfama (the soul of Alfama) by Camilla Watson, mounted on plaques throughout Alfama. Photo by Karethe Linaae 

 

Sad and romantic

Every city has its palette. Lisbon is creamy white, golden beige, soft yellow, light pink and baby blue. One would think this might make for an overly sweet urban impression. But Lisbon is not naïve. It is classic, yet alternative. Mellow, yet open minded. Straight lined, but slightly bohemian and esoteric. 

 

View with 'Luis Vuitton' tile bulding. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Unlike other tourist destinations, the city is not depopulated. Locals still live and work in Lisbon, though not as many are fishermen or sailors as before. One of the most unique neighbourhoods is Alfama. Being Lisbon’s oldest district and the only to survive the 18th century earthquake, it has a true village feel with laundry hanging in its picturesque lanes.

 

Laundry. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Many restaurants in Alfama will have live Fado music at night. A Lisbon born musical genre sung with few instruments and lots of sentiment, Fado comes from the Latin word fatum or destiny. The melancholic lyrics deal with poverty, unrequited love and endless sea journeys, while the melodies seem to have travelled on the waves from distant southern shores.

Some Fado restaurants are more formal and include a three-course meal, while in others you may experience an impromptu performance by a local guest or even the proprietress herself.

 

Porta d’Alfama mureal. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Live music can also often be heard while walking around the city - someone plucking the strings of a guitar or caressing a melancholic accordion. Every street musician seemed to have a touch of the Lisbon blues, singing sad but beautiful tunes about lives many let downs and heartaches. Actually, the girl from Ipanema could easily have been from Lisbon. 

 

But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead not at me

 

Street art portrait. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Sea journeys

Every morning the salty air hits us, reminding us that we are in a coastal town and that this indeed is a nation of seafarers.

 

The Monument of the Discoveries by Cottinelli Telmo.  Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Portugal was a pioneering nation of nautical explorers from the 15th to the 18th centuries during what later became known as the Age of Discovery. The country was known for its capable captains, easily manoeuvrable Caravel ships and their excellent cartography. The Portuguese captain Bartholomeu Dias was the first to officially round the African continent in 1487. By the 15th Century, Vasco da Gama had discovered a shorter sailing route to India and Pedro Álvares Cabral had ‘discovered’ Brazil. Portuguese sailors were also the first Europeans to get to Japan, albeit by accident, and Ferdinand Magellan’s expeditions to the East Indies resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth in 1522.

 

Sailboat on the Tagus. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Lisbon was one of the busiest harbours in Europe at the time, bringing ginger, pepper and saffron from India, nutmeg from Indonesia, cloves from the Moluccas and cinnamon and tea from Ceylon. The taste for international fare never stopped, as Lisbon became the first city in the world to import Guinness beer in 1811.

Apart from Lisbon’s many scenic miradores (lookout spots), one of the best ways to get an overview of the city is from the river. In addition to the two bridges (the 17.2 km Vasco Da Gama bridge being Europe’s longest) the easiest way to cross the Tagus River is by boat.

 

From Ferry. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Following the advice of our softly spoken petite hotel night porter Paolo, we decided to do like the locals and take the ferry across to Cacilhas. For the price of a bus ticket, we arrived at the small town on the other side of the river, to enjoy yet another irresistible meal of bacalao.

The next day a thick fog covered the pastel city. It was time to head home, but we will certainly be back for more seafood and sour cherry shorts, and possibly a tour into the hidden Roman Galleries from Lisbon’s distant past.  

 

Pastel city. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

 



Like 3        Published at 14:31   Comments (4)


A subterranean meeting with the new Neanderthals - La Cueva de Ardales
23 October 2019

Pre-historic cranium from Ardales Information Centre display. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Imagine a perfect prehistoric time capsule laying undisturbed for millennia. This is La Cueva de Ardales, an enormous cave near the small town of Ardales, 50 kilometres from the Mediterranean coast. The cave would likely never have been discovered had it not been for an earthquake that shook the region in 1821. The tremor opened a small crack into an underground world that had not seen light or been visited for at least 3,000 years.

 

A cave tour in the 1800s

 

Engineer and geologist Miguel Such visiting cave in the 1920's. Photo from Ardales Information Centre Photo Display

 

Only two years after its discovery, in 1823, the cave became the first in Spain to open to the public. For a mere 2 reales people could visit the new national tourist attraction, said to contain fossilized human remains. Doña Trinidad Grund, a woman much before her time, bought the cave area in 1860, adding the current railings and stone steps to improve access – and on occasion using her acquisition as a staging ground for flamenco shows for the high society of Malaga and Sevilla.

The first scientist to study the rock art in the cave was the famous French archaeologist, geologist and priest Henri Breuil, who visited the cave with the Spanish geologist and engineer Miguel Such in 1918. Breuil’s findings were published in the prestigious Parisian scientific journal L’Antropologie in 1921. It was clear that the ancient rock paintings were significant, but research methods then weren’t able to specify dates beyond ‘prehistoric’.

 

A subterranean walk of otherworldly beauty

If you have never been into a natural subterranean grotto, it is an otherworldly, or actually under-worldly experience.

 

Cave explorer by underground ponds. Photo © Manu Guerrero Sanchez

 

Caves keep a steady year-around temperature, in the case of Ardales of 17 degrees Centigrade with 90 to 100% humidity. It is a practically enclosed atmosphere that undergoes microscopic changes in the space of millennia. This makes cave interiors completely different from anything you will see on the earths’ surface.

 

Underground wonder. Photo © Manu Guerrero Sanchez

 

Visiting La Curva de Ardales is worthwhile for its natural beauty alone. From the information centre, visitors drive on a meandering road into a hilly region, where the coastal planes and the interior mountains meet. A pyramid-structure protects the entrance, only allowing 15 visitors per day, as preservation is essential. Our guide tells us to leave bags, cameras and cell phones in the cars, so nothing will ‘accidentally’ be photographed or inadvertently end up in someone’s backpack. Once inside, he distributes flashlights and locks the door securely behind us. Then, minding each slippery step, we begin the two-hour underground adventure.

The 1577-meters long cavity takes us through narrow passages and enormous underground galleries, past upside-down columns, hidden lakes and million-year-old stalactite formations. Each section is known for its visual counterpart above ground, like the Waterfall, the Church Organ or the Hall of the Stars, while the naming also helps map out an otherwise hard to navigate subterranean landscape.

 

Ardales Cave interior. Photo from display

 

Some sections shimmer as if encrusted with microscopic diamonds, though actually it is our flashlights catching particles of calcium. Other places, iron and copper deposits have coloured the cave wall yellow or red, which become brighter when wet. The entire cave interior is like a surrealist film set, where stone appears to have melted on to itself and every wall is a genuine piece of art. Anyone who has been to Gaudi’s Sacrada Familia will clearly see from where he got his inspiration!

 

Melted landscape. Photo © Manu Guerrero Sánchez

 

Dating the cave - From Carbon 14 to Uranium-Thorium and 3D scans

Though it became a National Monument in 1931 and was used as an air shelter during the Spanish Civil War, the cave was semi-abandoned for much of the 1900s. It would be almost a century after Breuil’s initial exploration before a team of international scientists were able to accurately date the oldest rock paintings.

Many have heard of Carbon-14, a scientific method of dating organic material by measuring content of the radioactive isotope of carbon. Discovered by Willard Libby in 1946, it provided the first objective age-estimation of up to 30,000 year-old prehistoric findings. It was the state of the art in its day, but as a dating method today, it is rather outmoded.

 

Stalactite in the making. Photo from Ardales Visitation Centre photo display

 

The latest method, known by scientists as U/Th dating, uses a precise uranium-thorium technique, which overcome some of the limitations of carbon testing. “U/Th method dates geological processes without having to touch the colouring material of the cave art”, explains Pedro Cantalejo Duarte, the director of the archaeological complex. The process avoids contamination during collection and handling while enabling definite dates without age restrictions. With new computer technology, researchers can also discover if a piece of flint was worked with a stone, bone or other material, to better understand the prehistoric human way of life.

Terrestrial laser scanning is another recent technique in geoarchaeological exploration. This has been used in Ardales to create a topographical 3D model of the cave and surroundings. The scans can help establish cave dimensions, ceiling thicknesses, entrances, as well as creating lighting simulations to determine areas reached by natural light.

 

50,000 years of cave art
 

Pre-historic painting tools from Ardales Information Centre display. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The Ardales cave is a perfectly preserved time capsule of not one, but several prehistoric époques. Tens of thousands of years ago beings like us left messages on the walls for reasons that are still unknown, but with the help of science, a new door of knowledge is opening.

A multidisciplinary international research team has been investigating the cave since the 1990s, led by the Universities of Cádiz and Köln. To date, more than 1000 motives of rock art made over 50,000 years have been discovered, which granted the Ardales cave a Patrimony of Humankind in 1998. “This is one of the most interesting places on the Iberian Peninsula, and perhaps one of the areas least known to the general public,” says Pedro Cantalejo Duarte.

 

Scientists at work. Photo from Ardales Information Centre

 

The first hominids arrived on the Iberian Peninsula about 1.2 million years ago in the Palaeolithic period. Mostly nomadic, their lives consisted of hunting, gathering and struggling to survive. They carved stone and bone into tools and weapons and used fire for heat and protection. Skeletal studies indicate that their society was more egalitarian with food distributed evenly amongst a group. Palaeolithic art is figurative and life-like. In the Ardales cave it includes paintings of goats, bulls, snakes, birds and human female figures.  

 

Palaeolithic art in cave. Photo from Information Centre photo display

 

The introduction of agriculture about 10,000 years ago started the Neolithic era. Farming led to a more settled life, new tools and pottery, while also introducing the concept of private property. Cave art from this era is more abstract, using lines, dots and symbols.

 

Palaeolithic art in cave from Information Centre. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The Ardales cave was also used as a necropolis. Funeral deposits with 5,000 year-old human remains were discovered near the original cave opening. Recent excavations have revealed findings from 60-70,000, 45,000, 20,000  and up to 12,000 years ago, in layers less than a foot apart. Discoveries of micro-fauna has made it possible to study Palaeolithic diet and health, indicating that they ate mostly dear, mountain goats and wild cattle. The studies confirmed that life would have been tough. Children had to work and hunt from an early age and few adults lived past 40.

 

Recreation of the Neolithic necropolis from Ardales Information Centre display. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The cave also contains nine rare negative hand imprints, only found in 32 caves worldwide. The imprints were produced about 30,000 years ago by putting a hand on the rock. Using straws as a primitive paint dispenser, they would spray natural pigments onto the wall, leaving a negative imprint where the hand had been. The different fingers positions have led scientists to believe that it was some sort of hand signal.


Prehistoric negative hand imprint from Cueva de Ardales. Photo from Information Centre

How Neanderthal are we?

The Neanderthal “cavemen” never had their permanent homes inside caves. International scientists have found no proof of on-going prehistoric habitation in caves, which have limited supply of light, oxygen and food. Caves can extend for kilometres into a mountain, making for a very dark home. In addition, most nutrients cannot be found in caves and fires can only be lit where smoke can escape. Prehistoric populations therefore are believed to have lived near caves, finding temporary shelter inside them.

 

At cave mouth. Photo © Manu Guerrero Sánchez

 

We often think of Neanderthals as hairy, squat-brained creatures of low intelligence. In fact, we might be embarrassed to discover that ancestry swab-tests reveal that we are a tiny percentage Neanderthal! All non-African populations apparently have between 1.5 to 2.1 % Neanderthal genetic material, while as much as 20% of Neanderthal DNA may have survived in modern human skin, hair and diseases. Our Neanderthal ancestors were physically stronger than us, but similar in size and weight. If they survived their first 20 years, they might live almost half a century. They died out about 40,000 years ago, having shared the sparsely populated planet with the subspecies Homo Sapiens Sapiens, who lived at the end of the Neanderthal era.

 

Early man. From Ardales Information Centre display. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

If you happen to carry Neanderthal genes, do not despair. New discoveries from Ardales have brought exciting knowledge about our long gone ancestors, which almost will make you proud to be one…

 

Neanderthal fingerprints

The most remarkable cave art in La Cueva de Ardales go back at least 65,500 years. Using U/Th dating, scientists have now proven that the markings are 20,000 years older than when formerly believed that prehistoric art began, and, more significantly, 20,000 years older than our species. They have therefore concluded that the first pre-human inhabitants to the Iberian Peninsula, the Neanderthals, produced Europe’s most ancient art. Before this discovery, artistic expressions were exclusively attributed to Homo Sapiens, thinking Neanderthals didn’t have sufficient mental capacity for art, but the cave markings challenge this belief.

 

65,500 year-old Neanderthal finger marks in the Ardales cave. Photo from display

 

Neanderthals made red paint from iron deposits and marked almost the entire cave with finger and hand imprints (except areas now only accessible by metal ladders). Leaving signs for future visitors, they planned where to put these to avoid calcium deposits covering them. From the size and placement, scientists have determined that children, likely held in the arms of their Neanderthal parents, made some of the markings. What? Thinkers, teachers, caring parents, strategizers and communicators, this is not how most of us have regarded our pre-human ancestors…  

 

Total darkness and Neolithic lanterns

 

Reproduction of Palaeolithic cave art. Photo from Ardales Information Centre

 

Modern humans are rarely in the dark. Contemporary society doesn’t allow us to be in total darkness, nor in complete silence. When our trusted guide Gerardo asked us to turn off our flashlights, some found it uncomfortable. With absolutely no light, we become acutely aware of our other senses - the smell of wetness and stone, an occasional drop falling, the silent echo of a cavernous space. After a brief moment of adjustment, a deep feeling of peace and reverence descended upon me. I could almost imagine how prehistoric visitors must have felt and why they ventured on a dark and risky journey into the centre of the earth to leave their fingerprint in this very cave.

 

Ardales cave Neanderthal markings. Photo from Ardales Information Centre

 

Taking about darkness, fire has been known to humans for more than a million years. Our ancestors might have carried flaming torches when clambering around bare footed in the slippery cave, but at one point they invented the prehistoric floor lantern. Carving hollows into broken stalagmites, the first Neolithic wax candle was created from bone marrow and bees’ wax, using juniper root as wicks.

 

The last unwritten chapter

Ardales cave surroundings. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The Council of Europe Cultural Routes included La Cuava de Ardales under Prehistoric Rock Art Trails in 2010, making it part of a new concept of scientific tourism. But the cave still has unexplored parts and chambers to be excavated.

What other stories does the cave have to tell? Is it a key to pre-human existence and an answer to where we came from? The prehistoric art was made for us to see. Scientists explain cave paintings as our traffic signs - a system of structured graphic symbols clearly understood by those who lived at the time. Yet for all our scientific progress, we still do not know exactly what they are telling us. Some paintings are found a thousand meters into caves in places that are virtually inaccessible even now. Why did they do it? It had to have been more than an artistic urge to paint a horse. Were they topographic marks, calendars, pledges, celebrations or part of religious rituals? We do not know for sure. What we do know is that they were extremely important.

The research at the Ardales cave continues, but some mysteries might be left to crack by a future generation of hominids.

 

What does it all mean? Palaeolithic art in Ardales cave. Photo © Manu guerrero Sánchez

 

General notes:

As picture taking is not permitted in the cave, some of the photographs used in this article are taken from the Ardales visitation centre or from display panels outside the cave.

Guided tours must be pre-booked, and are generally in Spanish. For more information, please go to La Cueva de Ardales

Resources:

  • Academía: Cueva de Ardales, (Málaga, España) Patrimonio Prehistórico en el Sur de la Península Ibérica.
  • Caminito del Rey and its surroundings - Nomination Proposal for inclusion on the World Heritage list
  • Unesco.org
  • Cueva de Ardales o Doña Trindad - Ayuntamiento de Ardales
  • Diputacíon de Málaga
  • Junta de Andalucía
  • Malaga en el Corazon - La increíble historia de la vida de doña trinidad grund
  • Axarquiaplus - El hallazgo de pinturas en cueva de Ardales habitada por neandertales revoluciona la historia del Arte
  • Henri Breuil La grotte d'Ardales, L'Anthropologie, Paris 1921
  • Editorial La Serranía – Interview with Pedro Cantalejo Duarte

Tickets. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 2        Published at 21:24   Comments (3)


Nocturnal grape harvest at Descalzos Viejos – Possibly Spain’s most spectacular vineyard
20 September 2019

Picker with headlight. Photo © snobb.net

Have you ever dreamt of taking part in a traditional wine harvest? I certainly have, so when my husband and I were invited to this year’s vendimia at Descalzos Viejos winery, we accepted immediately.

While our hometown Ronda in southern Andalucía is a perfect place for a romantic getaway, it is also becoming a favoured destination for wine tourism. Our region produces many outstanding wines, but when it comes to the combination of taste and setting, no winery can compete with Descalzos Viejos.


Descalzos Viejos wine and view. Photo © snobb.net
 

Situated at the northern end of the Hoya del Tajo valley, tucked underneath the cliff, the vineyard has a microclimate that is unique in the Serranía de Ronda. It might be for this reason that a couple of friars were granted royal permission to build a monastery in this exact spot in the year 1505, just a couple of decades after the Catholic Monarchs won back the region from the former Moorish rulers. The Trinitarian monks remained until 1664, when the threat of earthquakes and rock falls made them move closer to Ronda. Only the most senior Brothers chose to remain, lovingly tending to their vegetable garden and fruit trees. Once these Descalzos Viejos (old barefoot) Brothers whom the vineyard is named after, passed on, the monastery was abandoned.

Wine container. Photo © snobb.net


Fast-forward 300 years to 1998, when the current owners, Paco Retamero and Flavio Salesi first laid eyes on the ruin. The architects immediately fell in love with it and decided to purchase the former monastery. From the very beginning, it was a family project needing all hands on deck, though they admit that their wives, who are both doctors, are more the silent partner types. “We go to them when we need their purses”, Paco says half-jokingly.


Descalzos Viejos winery. Photo © Carlos Aires


The initial goal was to bring Descalzos Viejos back to its former splendour, primarily restoring the main building with its gardens, as well as the natural spring that feeds several ponds and fountains. The restoration, which started in 2000, was a complicated process - structurally, legally and practically - as Paco and Flavio needed their day jobs as architects to pay for the massive renovations.


Wall of former monastery. Photo © snobb.net


Visiting the property, it is clear that this was and still is a true labour of love. Descalzos Viejos is a magnificent blend of Gothic-Mudejar and Modern architecture, innovatively and fearlessly mixing ancient stone with contemporary elements of glass and steel.

 

Descalzos Viejos blends old and new architecture. Photo © snobb.net

 

Such a lofty vision could only have been achieved because the owners are more artists than businessmen. Had Paco and Flavio not taken on this monumental task, the building would have fallen down, as no government funding was granted towards the restoration of this important piece of Ronda’s history. Other buyers might have injected the funds needed for a basic renovation, but I doubt that anyone would have invested the care and passion that Paco and Flavio have brought to this unique estate.

 

Architects and wine makers, Paco Retamero and Flavio Salesi. Photo © snobb.net

 

To understand the scope of the restoration, one simply has to look at the before and after photographs. The church had half crumbled walls and a lean-to animal shed where the altar once stood. The local shepherds who built the haphazard barn construction had also dug out various openings in the wall for their chickens and other farm animals.


Photograph of Descalzos church ruin from 1998. Photo © Descalzos Viejos

Photograph of Descalzos church ruin from 1998. Photo © Descalzos Viejos


From the few scattered remains hidden behind layers of lime-wash and grime, it became clear that the walls of the chancel had been decorated with religious frescos. Once the structure was rebuilt and a new roof added (which could not touch the original walls…) a team of restorers from the University of Seville spent almost half a year bringing back the original frescos dating from the early 16th Century.


Pepe restoring frescos in 2002 . Photo © Carlos Cáceres

The marvellous centrepiece the restorers unfolded depicts St. Rufina and St. Justa, the patron saints of Seville and the guardians of the Brotherhood.

 

Altar wall with frescos. Photo ©snobb.net

 

Andalucía has far too many tourist sights to attract people by merely opening a former monastery to visitors, so Paco and Flavio had to find another way to get a return on their investment. Ronda was an important wine-producing region since Roman times until the Phylloxera pest killed virtually all the European grapevines in the late 1800’s. The monks had also produced wine on the property, so they decided to try their hands at growing grapes. “We knew hardly anything about the wine industry,” they tell me. This however, didn’t stop the forward-thinking team. Paco, who later became the first president of the association of Ronda’s vinicultores or wine producers, took a Master in Oenology merely to understand what other vintners were talking about.


Grapes ready for pressing, Photo © snobb.net

 

In 2003, they had their first harvest. By 2005, Vicente Inat, an agricultural engineer and oenologist from Valencia, joined the team. Their 2006 vintage was almost too strong for consumption, yet the very same wine won the gold medal at the world wine competition in Brussels in 2010, and the grand gold medal in 2011, the only Andalucian red wine to receive the prestigious award that year.


Descalzos Viejos' six wine types. Photo © snobb.net


While other producers would have wanted to profit from such honours, Descalzos Viejos did the opposite. In spite of becoming one of the best wineries in Ronda in a very short period of time, you will not find a Seal of Distinction or a Certified Organic label on their bottles. “We are not interested in accolades. We want our clients to recognize the quality of our wine from the taste, not from its labels,” Paco explains. Over the past 16 years, the architects and their small team of helpers have become experts in the art of winemaking, offering a fully organic product, grown in small plots of land with the collection, fermentation and bottling done by hand.
 

Harvesters only tools. Photo © snobb.net

 

If you have a chance to taste a Descalzos Viejos wine, consider yourself privileged. The wines cannot be bought in supermarkets, nor are they sold at airports. Only a selection of wine merchants and restaurants carries the brand, as well as a few international distributors. Compared to the huge vineyards of the Rioja region, the estate is very small. With an overall area of 15.5 hectares, out of which 10 are planted with grapes, nearly all of their production can be called ‘limited edition’. They did produce 15.500 bottles of their regular DV wine in 2017, but their specialty wines, like the DV Rufina and DV Iusta wines, named after the Monastery’s saintly protectresses, are only produced in a restricted quantity of 2000 bottles per year.


Vines with fall colours. Photo © snobb.net

 

The grapes are grown between 600 and 650 meters over sea level in three distinct properties, each with their own characteristics. The extreme seasonal temperature variations, the dry mountain climate and the poor, rocky or clayey soil make good growing conditions for their grape varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Graciano, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Chardonnay.

 


Descalzos Viejos grapes. Photo © snobb.net


Paco asked us to meet him at the entrance of the estate several hours before sunrise, so we could see their pickers at work. The purpose of nocturnal harvests are to prevent the grape fermentation process from starting prematurely, but the fact that it happens in the wee hours of the night just added to my excitement. I have to admit, I had a slightly dated picture of how wine harvests unfolded, visualizing an operetta-like scene of buxom maidens in flowing skirts with straw baskets slung over their shoulders and grape leaves tangled into their raven black locks. Of course, none of this happens anymore, but the vendimia still has its charm, certainly when one is on the observing side.   


By the fire. Photo © snobb.net

 

We arrive in the dark valley below the monastery to see a dozen or so pickers sitting around a campfire having a pre-dawn breakfast. One of them motions for me to sit down on a plastic crate (the same ones they pick grapes in) and I join them by the fire. They tell me that they are from the village of Algamitas, where Paco’s wife Chelo is from. In fact, a couple of the pickers are from her family, while the ones who aren’t are still treated as such. I learn that the people from Algamitas have a reputation as excellent pickers, moving from harvest to harvest, following the seasons from peaches to grapes, and chestnuts to olives. This year’s harvest at Descalzos Viejos takes place over 10 non-consecutive days, when the oenologist deems the particular grape to be ready. Today’s crop of Syrah grapes grows on a slanted hill by the Guadalevin River where no artificial watering system is needed.

 

Daybreak. Photo © snobb.net

 

The pickers’ workday starts at midnight and they will be at it until 8 am. Looking at the expanse of grapevines, it seems impossible to me that less than a dozen people with only a pair of clippers and head lanterns will handpick the entire area clean in a few hours. But that is before the last cigarette is butted out and I see them go to work. Efficiency cannot even start to describe them as they move through the vines, swiftly yet carefully snipping each mature bunch, while leaving unfit grapes on the ground.

 

Nocturnal grape harvest. Photo © snobb.net

 

As soon as the first row is done, a miniature tractor with an open trailer rolls in. It fits exactly between the vines, which are planted 2.20 meters apart. A couple of young men hand the already filled boxes, weighing 14 kilos each, to another man who stacks them on the trailer. One senses the pride of these professional harvesters, who has been part of the Descalzos Viejos vendimia since the very beginning. Today’s expected harvest is 5000 kilos. Though output varies depending on the grape variety, a kilo of grapes will yield nearly a 750 ml bottle of wine.

 

Catching a ride. Photo © snobb.net

 

While the pickers work, Paco shows us their other grape varieties, while explaining their system of grafting different types of vines onto already established roots. All the grapes we see look spectacularly healthy and plump, with leaf colours varying from green to the russet red foliage of my favourite - the Garnacha Tintorera grape.

 

Garnacha Tintorera grapes. Photo © snobb.net

 

Outside the monastery, Vicente the oenologist is overseeing the pressing process. When fully loaded, the tractor struggles up the steep hill with the cases. These are emptied into a moving assembly line, where Vicente and Paco’s daughter María, a graphic designer who has come home to help with the harvest, sort through the fruit.


Loading grapes. Photo © snobb.net

Vicente and María sorting grapes in early morning. Photo © snobb.net

Next, the grapes are rinsed and mulched before the juice and the grape skin, which gives the tinto its colour, travels through a thick hose, directly into huge stainless steel fermentation tanks.


Church with stainless steel wine tanks. Photo © snobb.net

 

What particularly differentiates Descalzos Viejos from other wine producers is the bodega where the wine is aged. The steel tanks of the winery are located inside the ancient church. Standing like enormous modernist columns, they line the nave towards the former alter.

Church nave looking towards entrance. Photo © snobb.net


Only the chancel area is filled with the traditional wooden wine barrels, used for special vintages. The grand church with its favourable acoustics is sometimes used for musical performances, with the audience seated between wine barrels. And with the frescos of the saints overseeing the ageing process, how can it not taste divine?

 

Fresco detail. Photo 2002 © Carlos Cáceres

 

As dusk becomes day, everything is hosed down and put away. While the pickers head home, we take a walk in the monastery garden, following the windy paths once trodden by barefoot monks.


Cloister walk Photo © snobb.net

Breathing in the aroma of ripe fruit and feeling the peace of their sacred Eden, I can certainly understand why the oldest Brothers chose to spend their remaining days here, caring for their beloved orchard.

 

Water feature. Photo © snobb.net

 

The sheltered location allows fruit to grow here that usually won’t survive at these altitudes. The branches of an enormous avocado tree, probably Ronda’s largest specimen, hang heavy with fruit. There are also quince, figs, persimmon, cumquat, lemon, almonds, as well as a pomegranate tree that has been dated back at least 500 years. In fact, its first fruits are just breaking open, displaying their spectacular crimson core.

 

Pomegranate. Photo © snobb.net

 

Those who are lucky enough to visit Descalzos Viejos are in for a treat. In which other world-class winery will you get a personal tour by the people who actually designed the premises? Wine tastings take place on one of the many picturesque seating areas with astounding views towards Ronda. Being no expert, I cannot say if the wine has a nose of blackberry or chocolate. You have to taste for yourself, but to me, the wines from Descalzos Viejos are exquisitely complicated, like their past. They encapsulate the taste of Andalusian soil, the almost ever-present sun, the sweet aroma of fruit in season and the tender care of ancient barefoot monks.
 

View of Ronda's Tajo seen from Descalzos Viejos winery. Photo © snobb.net

 

When you make an appointment to visit the winery, do not expect a commercial enterprise. There are no Descalzos Viejos T-shirts, stickers or other wine paraphernalia for sale. In fact there is no store at all. The only thing you can purchase is wine, but when you have the quality and history of Descalzos Viejos, what more can one ask for? You will not regret your visit, and I assure you, nor will you forget it!

 

For more information about Descalzos Viejos winery or to book a tour, please contact info@descalzosviejos.com


Cork CU. Photo © snobb.net



Like 0        Published at 08:01   Comments (3)


Sensational Andalucía - sight, sound, smell, taste and touch impressions from the Spanish south
05 September 2019

Flamenco dress, Antequera. Photo © snobb.net

Some of the best things about travelling are the sensory impressions that we retain long after travel photos have become dusty memories in forgotten albums.

When I visited India some years back I took several thousand photos, yet what stuck with me were the sensory flashes that I never could capture on camera. Take the Chai Wallahs running along the train at every station selling tea. I can still close my eyes and see them passing the scalding hot glasses through the train window. I can hear them chatting in a mixture of Indian and English, politely yet hurriedly receiving their payment of a few rupees. I can feel the heat of the small glass in my hand, smell the aromatic brew and taste the sweet and subtly spiced chai. No single photo could do this experience justice. Like so many memories, it is a sensation that far exceeds a single frame.

Train to Varanasi. Photo © snobb.net

Living in southern Spain, I am constantly hit by such sensory impulses. Of course there are far too many to list, so I am limiting myself to a handful of choices for each of the senses. So without further ado, here are some of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that to me are the essence of Andalucía.
 

Peaking into history in Übeda. Photo © snobb.net

 

 

Visual impressions

ink Bougainvillea, Jerez de la  Frontera. Photo © snobb.net

The Spanish south is sunny, breezy, rocky, ancient and simply stunning.

 

Amapolas:
The first time we visited Andalucía we drove into the village of Nigüelas to have lunch. When a flock of sheep crossing the road forced us to stop, we saw this apparition across the way. Had Monet been with us in the car, he would have leapt out and insisted on painting it. This field has become our benchmark for flowering fields, and so far we have not found its equal.
 

Poppy field in Nigüelas. Photo © snobb.net


La Mezquita de Córdoba:
Córdoba’s famous mosque is in my view one of the remaining Seven Wonders of the World. It doesn’t matter how many photos or documentaries you have watched about it - when you are actually there and see it ‘live’, it is simply out of this world. I admit that there are multitudes of other astonishing places here, but when it comes to architectural structures, La Mezquita is beyond any other. 
 

La Mezquita de Córdoba. Photo © snobb.net

 

Colores:
When I visualize Andalucía, I see warm and vibrant colours, like this classic buildings in the historic quarter of Málaga.
 

Mellow yellow wall, Malaga

 

Auditory impressions

The rebellious donkey in Plaza San  Fransisco. Photo © snobb.net

The sounds of rural Andalucía are completely different to those of urban centres. Instead of a steady hum of traffic interrupted by sirens, our ears are filled with braying sheep and prattling neighbours. These are some of my favourite audio impressions from Andalucía.

 

Bells around the clock:
When we lived in Vancouver we never heard church bells, which were possibly outlawed due to overly political correctness. Though neither of us are Catholics, I love to hear the bells morning, noon and night, as a reminder of the ceaseless passing of time.
 

La iglesia de Santa María la Mayor, Ronda. Photo © snobb.net
 

I learned as late as yesterday that the bells of la iglesia de Santa María la Mayor were pulled by human hands up to a decade ago. There are also different sounds for different type of masses, from festive storm bells to the sombre tolling of luto or funeral bells.
 

Church tower by night. Photo © snobb.net

 

Baaas and Mouuus:
Animals clucking and neighing like the song goes are no longer part of most people’s daily soundscape. For this reason, it is especially enjoyable to wake up hearing the braying sheep up the hill or a wailing donkey in the valley beneath us.


Flock of sheep with shepherd outside Ronda. Photo © snobb.net

 

Impromptu performances: Andalusians are a spontaneous lot. On any social occasion our friends will leap to their feet and start belting out a song or dancing la Sevillana without any prompting. 
 

Coti singing. Photo © snobb.net

 

 

Olfactory impressions

Oranges, Sevilla. Photo © snobb.net

As for the nose, what a treat! Andalucía simply exudes olfactory pleasures (and a few less desirable odours…)

 

Azar Heaven:
While Southern Spain blesses us with fragrant blooms, none has a more divine perfume than the azar, or the orange blossom. To experience the orange trees at their peak, head to the Lecrine valley in mid May and you will think that you have gone to Nirvana.
 

Lemon blossom, Valle Lecrin. Photo © snobb.net

 

Holy incense:
Ever since our first Easter in Spain, my nostrils remember with fondness the fragrant incense of Semana Santa. The scent lingers in the air, seeping out from stores, chapels and homes. I have thought about stealing one of the incense dispensers they use in their mass, but so far I have managed to hold back. The smell of hundreds of candles lighting up a dark church interior combined with the incense feels mysterious, timeless and even, for a quasi-heathen like myself, holy.  
 

Incense carrier, Ronda. Photo © snobb.net

 

Wild herbs:
As hikers in Andalucía, we always come across herbs growing in the wild. Cultivated herbs can certainly smell nice, but there is nothing lovelier than sticking your nose into a wild growing thyme, a fragrant wild lavender or a shrub of wild rosemary.
 

Wild lavender, La Serranía de Ronda. Photo © snobb.net

 

Gustatory impressions

Fresh from the campo. Photo © snobb.net

 

Oh, decisions, decisions. Andalucía is a tasters’ paradise, particularly since everything comes in bite-sized tapa format. Nearly every fruit and vegetable under the sun can grow in southern Spain, while you can find local organic olive oil, delicious sheep milk cheese, free range eggs and superb tinto wine from the area, if not from your own neighbourhood. Difficult as it is to narrow down the top taste choices, here they are:
 

 

Tomates aliñados:
For all the more elaborate dishes on the menu, I like the basics. When the enormous black tomatoes and the Corazon de Toro tomatoes are in season, nothing beats Tomates aliñados - tomatoes simply dressed with course salt and olive oil. Some will add chopped garlic or a pinch of dried herbs, but when it comes to this dish I am a purist.
 

Tomates aliñados. Photo © snobb.net

 

From the sea: Having both the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean close at hand, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to fresh seafood, (while there is still life in the oceans…) If you haven’t tried it yet, order the locals’ favourite, a skewer of sardines cooked over flames at a beach Chiringuito. This fabulous summer treat should ideally be accompanied by a bit of an ocean breeze and the smell of a tarred pier.
 

Sardines from Chiringuito in Malaga. Photo © snobb.net

 

Café con leche: I have a weakness. I never used to like coffee in Canada - usually meaning Starbucks’ milky brown substance served giant environmentally devastating paper cups. Since moving to Spain however, I have become hooked.


Café con leche as it ought to be served. Photo © snobb.net

Once in Malaga, sitting with my far too healthy herbal brew, I observed my husband getting a glass of dark-as-my-soul espresso, into which the waiter splashed some milk. The latter can make up any one of ten colour variations, as here in the Province of Málaga we do not measure shades of grey. We like our shades java brown.
 

The coffees of Malaga. Photo © snobb.net

 

Tactile impressions

Cork Bark. Photo © snobb.net
 

Of all the senses, touch is probably the one we are the least aware of and truly ‘in touch with’. Most of us are too busy being bombarded by visual and auditory stimuli to feel the subtler sensations under our fingertips. So, what are some of Andalucía’s most profound tactile impressions?

 

Touching Wood:
“Touch wood” we say when we wish something to happen or hope that something won’t happen. Wood therefore, somehow equates to safety. This feels particularly true by the ancient Castaño Santo, a venerable old chestnut tree that grows on the old walking trail between Ronda and San Pedro.

How could you not want to hug this friendly giant?
 

Touch wood, or like Rafa, just embrace it. Photo © snobb.net



Touching history:
Ronda is rock. We live on a rock split by a deep gorge. The landscape is peppered with rocks and everywhere we look we see the rocky Serranía de Ronda mountain chain. These rocks built the bridges over our Tajo, the walls that protected our town and the houses that gave people and animals shelter. The rocks came long before us and will outlive us into oblivion. Touching Andalusian rock is therefore touching a piece of timeless history.
 

Rock formation, Ronda. Photo © snobb.net

 

Your favourite sensations are probably completely different from mine, as we all hear and smell things differently. The importance is not what we sense, but that we sense at all.

I hope that reading this will inspire you to celebrate the sensational sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches wherever you may be.
 

On another sensory journey. Photo © snobb.net

 

 



Like 6        Published at 16:12   Comments (3)


Spam post or Abuse? Please let us know




This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse you are agreeing to our use of cookies. More information here. x