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.

Almond liqueur with an Andalusian twist
23 February 2021

Cracking the bitter almonds. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The almond tree, or el almendro as it is called in Spanish, can be found all over the Mediterranean region. Ever since the Phoenicians brought the fruit to these shores some 3000 years ago, they have been an important food source for the Andalusians. Almonds contain Omega 6, magnesium, potassium, calcium, Vitamin E, thiamine and niacin. In addition to its many food and beverage uses, almonds are also used in the cosmetics industry, while the oil from bitter almonds can be used as a natural flavouring.

 

Almond blossom. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

In la Serranía de Ronda, the almond trees are some of the earliest bloomers, and also have some of the first nuts to be harvested. Due to climate change, blossoms can now be seen as early as January. The saying amongst locals is that the tree ‘improves the rock’, because it will grow on the most inaccessible crags and steepest inclines. Everybody who used to have a piece of land would grow almonds. In recent years however, I cannot help but notice that the nuts are left on the branches – nobody cares to pick them anymore.

 

Bitter almond tree with last year’s nuts and this year’s blossoms. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Particularly the bitter almonds (which the locals line their properties with since nobody will steal them), which are basically left to rot. People prefer to buy packages of shelled almonds (likely from a mega-farm in California), to bringing out the hammer and cracking their own almendras.

 

Traditional nutcracker. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Local liqueurs

Inspired by the current almond blossoms and the subtle smell of sweet spring, I decided to make another batch of my own version of almond liqueur. As the locals make liqueur, or licor, out of almost any fruit, herb and nut they can find, I was looking forward to finding the local variant of the famous Italian liqueur Amaretto di Saronna. To my great surprise, nobody in in our town or the surrounding villages seem to make almond liqueur, not even the most dedicated alchemists of local hooch. Not only that, but nobody knew anyone in the entire Serranía who did! In fact, they had never heard of such a liqueur!

 

The local leather bota always seems to be filled with a local 'brew'. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

This of course didn’t discourage me from the task at hand – making my own version of almond liqueur with a local Andalusian twist. You can find many recipes online, though most are far from home-made, merely requiring blending some booze with real or artificial flavouring, and presto, creating a cheer. But I wanted to do it the long and convoluted way. This meant that my planning of the liqueur had already started last summer, when I sun-dried the stones of a dozen or so of apricots.

 

Dried apricot stones. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

This might sound surprising, but other than finding genuine bitter almonds, the soft core of these stones, called kernels, will help give your liqueur that special almond flavour.


 

Chopped apricot kernels. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Like anything I make, please be aware that the measurements are just general indications. As far as base alcohol is concerned, locals in Ronda tend to use sweet or unsweetened Anís to make their liqueurs, but I prefer the more neutral tastes of vodka and brandy, to ensure that almond is the main flavour. Finally, I strive to find all the ingredients as close to home as possible, even if I end up with a bruised finger from hammering the almonds.

So, what are we waiting for? Time to get to work!

 

Licor de Almendra with an Andalusian twist

 

Almonds from the tree in a traditional clay dish. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

What you need

A 1.5 – 2 litre glass canning jar (I use IKEA jars, as we cannot get Mason jars here)

A cup of water (purified/bottled)

A cup coarsely chopped dried unsulphured apricots (Ideally local and organic)

1/3 cup chopped dried local wine-grapes (Pasas de Málaga), plums or cherries

2 to 3 cups (ca 3/4 litre) of vodka – not the cheapest, nor the most expensive

A generous cup of brandy (we buy ours a granel or in bulk from a local store)

As an alternative to the vodka and brandy, use Spanish Anís (the best is the one with the monkey on the bottle)

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped raw almonds (Ideally freshly shelled and local)

A baker’s dozen of bitter almonds (Anyone who grows them will give you a few)

A handful of chopped apricot kernels

A pod of real vanilla in pieces

Chopping the dried apricots. Make sure they are un sulphured and organic. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Instructions

Add dried apricots and water to the glass jar and let sit for a couple of hours so the apricots rehydrate. Add the rest of the ingredients, shake and leave to macerate for 6 weeks, or as long as you can handle waiting (I suggest labelling the jar with the date you started, so you won’t forget).

 

Almond blossom. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Part II

After about 6 weeks, strain the contents from the jar through a cotton cloth into a large sturdy kitchen bowl. This process will need to be repeated a couple of times and is a bit messy. You can use coffee filters for the last few straining’s to ensure that all the ‘gunk’ remains in the filter.

 

Licor de almendra after a few weeks seeping. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

To complete the liqueur

1 cup sugar (I use some stevia, and less sugar) If you use the sweet anís, you might not wish to add any sugar.

1/2 cup purified/bottled water

Another cup of vodka (or anís for that specially Andalu’ flavour)

A dash of genuine vanilla extract, unless you added the pod earlier

A few drops of bitter almond extract (unless you added bitter almonds earlier)

After you have separated the liquids from solids, make a sugar-syrup by mixing sugar (or sugar & alternative sweetener) and water in a pot. Heat it up while stirring until it thickens. When cooled down, add the last cup of vodka/anís and the strained liquid. Check the sweetness before adding all the syrup. If needed, add the vanilla and bitter almond essence.

Shake and stir, then decanter and enjoy!

 

Licor de almendra ingredients. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

NOTE: If you discover a local Andalusian recipe or have successfully experimented with other ingredients, please let me know so I can adjust my batch for the 2022 edition! 

 

 



Like 1        Published at 17:51   Comments (1)


February is for …
02 February 2021

Miniature mountain iris. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

A common expression often heard these days is Corona-fatigue. After a year of masks, disinfectants and almost exclusively pandemic news (except the US election…), is it any wonder that we are starting to get fed up with the entire thing? I can quite understand that people are feeling impatient and wanting to not give a damn. But whilst wishing it to be over, we unfortunately cannot go back to living as we used to - unless of course you are the sole resident of a deserted island. We, humanity, are together in this mess, and like it or not, we must endeavour to find our inner Zen-ness until vaccines and mass-immunisation will allow us to live freely again.

 

Sunset. Photo © Karethe Linaae


It is easy to wonder if we have anything at all to look forward to, save a couple of jabs in the arm? At times it feels like this month only brings bills and belt-tightening. But do not underestimate February!


February calendar with stern nun. Photo © Karethe Linaae

February is the last winter month and the shortest month of the year so it will be over in a jiffy. The Romans officially made into the second month of the year in 450 BCE. The name February comes from Latin Februarius or februare which refers amongst other things to cleanse, amend or renew. And why not dedicate a month to cleansing, be it physical, mental or metaphysical? Since most of us are stuck mainly at home these days, there is no excuse for not starting our seasonal cleanse!

 

Trail into nature. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

February is a transitory month. Well, all months are, really. But in February we can feel it in the air – biting cold one day and almost springlike the next. We can hear, smell and sense the transformation, as life returns. For those of us who live in Andalucía, the first spring blossoms have already come out. The other day during a walk, we came across an entire hilltop covered in the beautifully subtle scented miniature wild irises. The almond blossoms are also showing their pink and white blooms, whereas those at lower altitudes can behold the shockingly yellow mimosas, otherwise called La reina de febrero or the Queen of February.


Trail with miniature irises. Photo © Karethe Linaae

We all know Valentine’s Day, or the day of the lovers on February 14th, but the month has many less-known days to celebrate – some with century-long traditions and others quite new and a wee bit odd:

The month begins with the World Inner Harmony Week, which coincides with the Freedom from Slavery Day on February first. The following day is Groundhog Day in the USA, when it is said that the rodent known as a groundhog first peaks out from its hibernation. If it sees its own shadow, it will hurry back into its comfortable den, only to re-emerge six weeks later. Therefore, if the tale is to be believed, the groundhog will tell us if spring will come early or late.

 

We do not have groundhogs here, but some other critter lives in this hole. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Unless you have gone back into hiding, do not forget to praise your postal worker on February 4th, the ‘Thank the Mailman Day’. The very same day is dedicated to another important cause, the World Cancer Day. Speeding along, on February 5th the Roman goddess Fortuna is honoured - may her good fortune shine upon us all. The Americans celebrate National Pizza Day on the 9th, Chinese start their New Year on the 12th, followed by the World Radio Day on the 13th. The Organ Donor Day appropriately coincides with Valentines and if your heart is still beating, do not forget the Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17th.

Love is in the air. Photo © Karethe Linaae


February 20th is Love your Pet Day, while the 21st is sticky bun day. Towards the end of the month, join the English in celebrating the Wear Red Day on the 26th. And to finish it all with a splash, there is the Polar Bear Day on the 27th, swim optional, so mark your calendars!

For this month and into the foreseeable future, we must learn to coexist with COVID. I choose to spend as much time as possible in nature, which offers me endless joy and diversion, plus much-needed peace of mind. But perhaps you choose to hibernate like the groundhog, cleanse like the Romans, or drape yourself in red like the English instead? What we can say for certain is that February offers something for everyone!

 

Pinker than pink almond blossoms. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 2        Published at 14:43   Comments (0)


«We choose the Costa del Sol» Meet four young Scandinavian golf enthusiasts who are spending the pandemic in Southern Spain
14 January 2021

The put
The put. Photo © Karethe Linaae.jpeg


The Costa del Sol has long been known as a golfer’s paradise. The coast is home to some of Europe’s most luxurious golf clubs and has more than 70 of Spain’s 400+ golf courses, with several more under construction. The major attraction is the Mediterranean climate. With an annual average of 320 sunny days, balmy winters and almost unlimited choice of courses with both sea and mountain views, no wonder some of Europe’s premiere players have chosen to spend the pandemic here.  
 

Alexander, Felix, Philip og Torbjørn on Los Naranjos Golf Club. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Alexander, Felix, Philip og Torbjørn on Los Naranjos Golf Club. Photo © Karethe Linaae


I spoke to four young Scandinavian golfers who have taken what they call a gap-year from their professional golf activities during the Corona pandemic. We met at Los Naranjos Golf Club near San Pedro, where they talked about their chosen sport and the possibilities and challenges for young Nordic golf players. 

 

 

Torbjørn Johansen (29)
Handicap +4,8 - Nordic Golf League

Torbjørn. Photo © Torbjørn Johansen
Torbjørn. Photo © Torbjørn Johansen


Torbjørn is a professional Norwegian golf player. Under normal circumstances, he would have been in the States for winter training and tournaments at this time of year, but now he finds himself in Spain.

When did you start to play golf and how did you become a pro?
“I have played golf since I was 8, though in the beginning it was mostly fun and games at the driving range or in our garden. I took the ‘green card’ when I was 12 and started dedicating myself seriously to the sport from about 14 years of age. As a teenager, I was ranked amongst the Top 10 juniors and amateurs in Norway. Later I began to play as an amateur in the Nordic Golf League. This way I got enough WAGR (The World Amateur Golf Ranking) points to get into a university in the USA. The unique thing with the American educational system is that one can maintain both high level sporting and educational activities. I took a Bachelor of Communication Studies and Business Administration degree, while playing on NCAA Division 1, which is the highest level of college golf in the USA. I was competing against some of the highest ranged amateurs internationally, many of whom now play as professionals on the best Golf Tours in the world. I have been a pro since 2015 and play primarily in the Nordic Golf League, ranked at level 3 in Europe. This Tour gives one the possibility to qualify towards other European tours”.  

 

Torbjørn. Photo © Torbjørn Johansen
Torbjørn. Photo © Torbjørn Johansen 


Why golf? Is it fun, and what attracts people to this sport?
"Golf is definitively fun. Simply said, the goal in golf it to hit a small, white ball from point A to point B in the fewest possible strokes. If you combine all the components, it is a game that gives the player a fantastic sense of accomplishment. Since golf is played at a moderate pace, it might not appear as a real sport to outsiders, but it demands incredible strategy and technique. Golf is a complex and composed game, and often is considered one of the world’s most difficult sports. But being difficult doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun. Everybody can learn and enjoy it, but there is always potential for improvement. You can spend a lifetime mastering all the playing facets, from putting to driving. There are so many nuances and different ways of tackling a shot, that’s the exciting part!”.

 

Where do you prefer to play and what are you doing here on the Costa del Sol?
"Normally in winter I would be in Florida or Texas right now. I really like the USA. I have lived there for almost 6 years combined, and many of my closest friends live there. If you go to an American university as a golf player, you also get access to their clubs and facilities as an Alumni. This winter I have not had the opportunity to go to the States due to the pandemic, so I came here instead. The Costa del Sol has been accessible during most of the pandemic. There is great interest in golf here and the quality of the facilities is generally high. This way, one can get a decent return for one’s investment. Besides, the climatic conditions are good – this coast has sun and grass, which is essential for golf. If you are a skier, you need snow and if you are a golfer you need grass, it is as simple as that”.  

 

Philip Widmark (30)
Handicap +1,2 - Amateur with PGA-coach education

Philip på Augusta National, hole # 12. Photo © Philip Widmark

Philip is from Sweden but had a quite unique upbringing that enabled him to play golf all over the world. He is also the only one of the gang who has played golf with Tiger Woods!

“I have played golf as long as I can remember. My dad is a panellist for Golf Magazine and ranks international golf courses. In fact, he was the first non-American (# 17 in the world) to have played on the world’s 100 top golf courses. I travelled around with him in my youth and have therefore played golf practically everywhere”.

With such a background, becoming a professional golf player was the natural choice, but when he broke his foot 11 years ago, the accident shattered his dream. 

 

How did you return to golf and why are you here on the Costa del Sol now?
“It took 9 years before I picked up my clubs again, so it has been a long journey back to this life. I still wish to be a golf pro, but at the moment I primarily train to keep stable and push myself a bit more each day. I have begun to play more seriously and participated as an amateur in a Nordic Golf League competition last fall and hope to do more this year. Even if I manage to get a sponsor however, it is costly to compete unless one ranks among the very best. In the fall I began advanced golf coach training, so that I can teach other players. This way I can continue to play but can always fall back on coaching. Why I am here is because of the temperature - I cannot be in Scandinavia in the winter due to the cold. I have no feeling below my ankle, and the cold only makes it worse, so I spend the winter months here instead”.
 

Philip at Shinnecock GC. Photo © Philip Widmark
Philip at Shinnecock GC. Photo © Philip Widmark


What qualities are needed to become a good golf player?
“To me the most important thing is discipline. Nothing in golf comes easy. You have to practice, practice and practice. Everybody has weaknesses, so you have to work on them. It is a tactical sport, so for pros it’s different. For them it is a question of what gives the most return. Let’s say that one is a good putter, but can only earn two shots there, it might be better to work on ones drive, and maybe earn 4 instead. Most serious players spend so much time on the course that it becomes their second home. Golf is also an extreme concentration sport. With a sport like tennis, you get the ball back immediately and have to react to what comes your way. Golf is different. You make your shot and then you have time to reflect on how you are going to play your next shot on your way to the ball. Do you have to adjust slightly to the right or the left, or a bit up or down? It’s all very cerebral. Every night I lay and think about how I could have done a shot differently”.

 

Philip med Tiger Woods ca 2004. Photo © Pär Widmark.jpeg


Do you have any golf role models?
“Certainly! It has to be Tiger Woods. I met him when he was in his prime. We played three holes at Isleworth GC, which is his home club. We played two holes and then we did wedge shots on the third hole. I believe I still live on the ‘high’, even if I was only 13 years old at the time!”.

 

 

Alexander Wennstam (29)
Handicap +4,6 - Nordic Golf League

Alexander. Photo © Alexander Wennstam

Swedish Alexander has been a professional golf player since 2015 and has played both in Nordic Golf League and three tournaments in the European Challenge Tour, Europe’s highest level of golfing. For the past 2 years, Alexander has lived in Estepona. Usually, he spends 6 months in Spain and the rest of the year between Sweden and tournaments around Europe. Because of Covid-19, this winter has been different. “There aren’t sufficient competitions to earn enough by solely competing now, so I have to teach a bit on the side. At the moment I give a few private classes and assist the PG Golf & Sports Academy at the Atalaya Golf & Country Club”.

 

Why did you choose golf? You could have become a Swedish Ronaldo…
“All sports came easy to me when I was young, and all one is good at is fun. When I was starting senior high school, the choice was between golf or football. I liked both, but with football it is completely impossible to know exactly where you stand in relation to other players. Even if you perform your utmost, you might still lose the game if your team isn’t good enough. As a golf player you generally play for yourself and know where you stand it the official ranking. At my age at the time, I was number 3 or 4 in Sweden. I knew that I would have a better opportunity to get a golf scholarship than a football one at a college in the USA, so I decided to pursue golf even though I knew it would take more time and effort. I took a Bachelor of Finance degree, thinking that it could be practical to know how to count money - when I win some…!”.        

Photo © Alexander Wennstam

 

How does handicap work in golf and what is your handicap?
“Handicap allows you to play against others, even if you are at different levels. In a handicap-adjusted round of golf, players with different handicaps can compete against each other and have the same opportunity to win. At least in principle. When you are a golf pro, you play without handicap. That is called stroke play. The highest handicap for complete beginners is 54. One can also have a lower handicap than 0, which is defined by adding a + sign in front of the number. In reality, this means that you get subtracted shots, instead of being given them. I have +5 in handicap”. 


Photo © Alexander Wennstam

Photo © Alexander Wennstam

 

Which are your favourite golf courses on the Costa del Sol that you would recommend, and how much does it cost to play here?
“There are many excellent courses around here. Some of my favourites are Valderrama GC, Sotogrande GC, and Las Brisas GC in Marbella. There is also one that has been recently renovated called San Roque, which probably will be a top course. The best courses might cost up to 450 € in green fees, but one can play on OK golf courses for as little as 25€ with a bit of prior planning. Here on the Costa del Sol most courses offer green fee play, so one does not have to be a member. There are also clubs with reasonable membership costs, or where one can take out a temporary membership, anything from weekly to yearly. If you are a pro with PGA-status, there are good solutions where one either can play free as a guest once a month or pay a reduced green fee”.

 

 

Felix Møller Warmedal (25)
Handicap 0,4 - Product specialist for Titleist

Felix. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Felix. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Norwegian Felix is the youngest of the gang and also the most novel player. Though he was active in other sports, he has only golfed for 3 years. He is trying to catch up now by spending all his time on the golf course – and it is starting to show results. His hope is to become a solid golf player at national level. Together with the others, he will play the Toro Tour along the Costa del Sol in January to March of 2021. Usually, Felix works as a product specialist for Titleist in Norway, but he is spending the winter on the Costa focusing entirely on golf.     

 

Isn’t it too late to begin playing now you are over 20, if you want to become a golf pro?
“As with any sport, it is beneficial to begin early. There are exceptions of course, but most elite players have been at it since they were kids. The advantage of golf is that it isn’t a sport that demands enormous physical strain, compared to for example, cross country skiing. You do not see many world class skiers who are over 50, while you do in golf.  There are many players who continue to compete at an international level into their 50s and 60’s. Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer, Jim Furyk, Miguel Ángel Jiménez (who is a Spanish legend), just to mention a few”.

 

And how did you start?
“My grandma’s brothers are keen golfers. In 2017 they arranged the annual family golf tournament on the 7th of August, which is my great grandmother’s birthday. I had never played before, so they gave me 54 in handicap. They got a bit sour when I ended up with over 50 points, and made fun of me when I said I would come back the following year with a lower handicap than them. The following season I became a member of Haga GC near Oslo and took a night shift to be able to play. I was hooked!  In the very first season I was down to 8.8 in handicap and I have not looked back since”.

Felix. Photo © Felix Møller Warmedal
Felix. Photo © Felix Møller Warmedal


Is golf a sport for snobs or can anyone play?
“Golf used to be labelled as a snobbish sport, but in the last few years it has become a sport for everyone. In the summer of 2020, Norwegian golf clubs got over 25 000 new members. So many rounds of golf have never been played in our country before. Memberships have become more affordable, especially for younger players. Our golf club took in several hundred new players last year, as the annual junior membership was less than 100 € for free play. Many other clubs offer reasonable memberships, so you can become a member of a Norwegian or Swedish club for as little as 40€ per year”.  

 

How important is the equipment? Can you buy used balls and rent gear and still have fun?
“Absolutely. Equipment is important, but far from vital. You can have fun on the course with rented clubs and cheap golf balls. If you do have specially adjusted clubs, the game will come easier and you will have less misses. Many players also get more motivated to practice. Any golfer knows that the sport is difficult enough in itself, so if you can get a few extra points by having correct clubs, you will do so, at least over time. For professional players it is essential to have the right equipment. To use a sports metaphor – if you have poor skies, no glide or grab, you will have a miserable day on the trail”.
 

Can our small Nordic countries really compete with the world’s golfing elite?
“Of course! Just look at Viktor Hovland, Suzann Pettersen, Kristoffer Ventura, Kristoffer Reitan and a bunch of Swedes and Danes who have established themselves in the world elite. I can mention stars like Annika Sõrenstam, Henrik Stenson, Alexander Norén and Thomas Bjørn. Viktor Hovland is ranked as # 14 in the world. He has won a PGA-Tour twice and earned millions during his first season as a pro. So, keep it up and give everything and you’ll eventually get PGA status”.

Philip at Winged Foot Golf Club, US Open 2020. Photo © Philip Widmark
Philip at Winged Foot Golf Club, US Open 2020. Photo © Philip Widmark


This article was originally published in Norwegian in Det Norske Magasinet.

 



Like 0        Published at 18:15   Comments (0)


…and then came the snow…
05 December 2020

Bull fighter with extra cape. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Visitors to Spain may have a few misconceptions about the weather on the Iberian Peninsula. Winter in southern Spain is not hot by any stretch of the imagination. Granted Spain is the closest one can be to Africa while still being on European soil, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have winters. Our town is about 800 metres above sea level and surrounded by the La Serranía de Ronda mountain range, which will be dusted in white several times during the winter.


La Serranía de Ronda gets a dusting of snow. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Our daytime temperatures might rise into the low teens, but it can equally easily drop below freezing at night. Here in the South we can take cover from the wind on a sheltered bench and still feel the warmth of the winter sun creeping into our bones through our layers of clothing in January. We are not talking Arctic conditions, but the way that most Spanish houses are built, you are almost guaranteed to be colder than you would be at home on a wintery day in Reykjavik.

 

Sister with a coat. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The cold certainly doesn’t discourage sun-hungry northerners, who defy metrological warnings, arriving in town before spring in flip-flops and shorts. Never mind that they look like newly plucked hens with their goose bumps and pinkish skin. Some people will do anything to prove they had been to sunny Spain. I can understand why many Spaniards think those dumb blonde jokes are true!

 

Wake up, it’s snowing!

Beady eyes. Photo © Karethe Linaae


To be honest, the last thing we thought of when we moved to Spain was snow. Yet it happened during our very first Andalucian winter.

 

One morning we woke up after a mighty thunderous night and opened our shutters to the most magical snowy landscape. Que?! What?! Snow in Andalucía?

 

Field of dreams. Photo © Karethe Linaae

There was no time to waste. We immediately set out to discover Ronda dressed in white.

 

Our street with snow. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Young and old alike were out enjoying the snow, a phenomenon that the town had not seen for years. Actually, chances were that every child we met under the age of eight probably touched snow for the very first time that day.

 

Snow in my shopping cart. Photo © Karethe Linaae

We climbed to the top of the city wall to see our barrio from above and started a snowball fight with young Oscar and his father Curro, who attacked from below. It wasn’t a fair match of course - we had the advantage of elevation and gravity, in addition to a lifetime of training in snowball-fighting tactics. They were grinning from ear to ear all the same.

Continuing our photo-hunt into town, we passed snowy fields that were covered in spring blossoms only the day before. The branches of the orange and lemon trees in the town hall square hung heavy with frozen limbs.

 

Oranges in winter. Photo © Karethe Linaae


A thick fog was seeping into Ronda’s gorge, making a magical spectacle of haze between streaks of sunlight.


Ronda’s Tajo. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

As expected, almost all businesses were closed due to the weather, as the town doesn’t own a snowplough, nor was there a snow shovel to be purchased for miles. One just had to pray that a visit to the hospital would not be needed on such a day, as the icy road up to the ER entrance would be impassable on bald summer tires.

Ronda’s Puente Nuevo. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Costa del Snow?

Of course, snow is to be expected in the Sierra Nevada which peak at nearly 3500 meters high, but what about the rest of this southern region?

 

Snowy palm tree. Photo © Karethe Linaae

In 2010 there was a big hoopla when it allegedly snowed - at least a few flakes - fell in the city of Seville. Some experts argued that it was merely sleet, but it was still a very newsworthy event. Why? Because it was over half a century from the last occurrence, on 2nd February 1954. Snow also fell in downtown Malaga the same year, with the city not having seen snow since 1953.

Brrr. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

In 2017, for the first time in over a decade, parts of the Costa del Sol were covered in snow. The town of Mijas got as much as 6 cm, bringing out amateur photographers en masse. In January 2018 the residents renamed the coast ‘Costa del Snow’, when the beaches at Fuengirola were transformed into a winter wonderland after a heavy hailstorm. In other words, you never know…


Store sign. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Isabel, the southern snowlady

We met our first Spanish snowman on the winding road leading down to Ronda’s Arab Baths. He was just over a foot tall and had arms of delicate spring-green branches with flowering buds.


Southern snowman. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Outside the family restaurant just up the road from the Baths, Clemente the owner, was shovelling the snow with a garden spade, while teenager María, was making her first snowlady. Lola, her mother and restaurant cook, was taking photos. Maria’s snowlady was named after her grandmother Isabel, and she was given a leopard-print silk scarf for added flair.


Isabel, the Andalusian snowlady. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Sad to say, these Andalu’ snow creatures generally have a short life.

 

Another snow creature is melting. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Emerging after a warming café con leche less than half an hour later, the air was filled with the sound of trickling water.


Melting again. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The snow was already disappearing, and Isabel was threatening to slide off the fence (you know what they say about sitting on fences…). Rivulets of melting water were running along the cobbled road toward the stables below.

 

Last hour of snow. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

But the big and small rondeño children were happy. We had been lucky to see Ronda in white. Who knows? It might be at least a decade until the next time we can build snowladies on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.


Frosty is melting. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 



Like 4        Published at 16:26   Comments (4)


The new Scandinavian eco cuisine – a conversation with chef Fredrik Anderson at Finca La Donaira
26 November 2020

Fredrik Andersson, chef at La Donaira

Historically speaking Scandinavians have not been known as the world’s most exciting gourmands. “But this has changed in the last couple of decades,” explains Fredrik Andersson, chef at Finca La Donaira, which is outside the village of El Gastor in Andalucía. Fredrik is part of the new gastronomic wave that favours simple dishes using only the very best organic ingredients. I travelled to La Donaira to talk with this down-to-earth cook who doesn’t like to call himself a master chef.
 

Fredrik Andersson (43) is originally from Stockholm, though he has lived outside of his birth country most of his adult life. During his diverse life, he has worked as a chef in several different countries, ran a biodynamic farm in France, and owned the restaurant Mistral in Stockholm. He was introduced to the owner of La Donaira, who persuaded him to become their chef. After 2.5 years at the boutique hotel, he cannot imagine a better place to work.
 

La Donaira open kitchen. Photo © Karethe Linaae.


And why should he? Vogue Spain called Finca La Donaira one of Spain’s most charming hotels. But it is much more than rural charm – a luxurious boutique-type hotel with nine exclusive and unique rooms, a 1700 hectares nature-focused property with its own organic farm.
 

La Donaira. Photo © Karethe Linaae.

 

In addition to 82 thoroughbred Lusitano horses that can be ridden on the premises, it is also home to flocks of sheep, goats, rare cattle, hens, bees and wild birds, in addition to a couple of friendly mutts that always seem to be hanging around close to the kitchen. The farm is run in line with Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic principles and produces about 95% of all that is consumed in-house, both by humans and animals. Last year this included 5.488 kg olives (462 litre extra virgin olive oil), 528 kg almonds, over 2000 kg Petit Verdot and Blaufränkisch wine grapes, and an astonishing 236 kg of their precious medicinal honey.


 

Bee hive. Photo © Karethe Linaae.

 

When did you decide to become a cook and how were you trained?

“I have always been interested in food. As an adult I have come to realize that my earliest childhood memories all seem to centre around food and meals. I knew that I wanted to be a cook before I became a teenager. However, I didn’t go to cooking school. When I was 18 years old and fed up of sitting in a classroom, I wrote to a dozen restaurants in Stockholm asking if I could work for them for free. The places weren’t exactly Fine Dining establishments, but they were restaurants that I thought were exciting and had cooks that I wanted to learn from. One of them said “Sure, come on over”, so I started and was later employed by them. Since that time, I went on and worked in other places. So you could say that I learned the trade the old way, as an apprentice”.



Fredrik at work. Photo © Karethe Linaae.

 

Who was your first real teacher?

“She was a chef called Karin Fransson, known for her Haut Cuisine at Borgholm Hotel on Öland, whom I worked with in my early twenties. What particularly touched me was how her food reflected her persona. She showed me that food could be much more than just about quality. Of course, the quality should be the highest possible, but she could put her personality into anything she cooked, which for me was a great experience”.
 

Do you have any other role models in the restaurant industry?

“Very many! There are a lot of incredibly clever people who work with food and who influence the development of our gastronomy. Two grand chefs in my books are Michel Bras and Alain Passard from France, who might be seen as the foundation of the natural cooking that we try to achieve here at La Donaira. I am also very fascinated by the Catalan cook Ferran Adrià from the restaurant Bulli”.
 

 

 

Dried herbs. Photo © Karethe Linaae


 

When can one call oneself a Master Chef? And what do you think of the Master Chefs on TV?

“First of all... one should probably never call oneself a master of anything. Personally, I think there are many fantastic cooks around, but very few are actual Master Chefs. To be that, you must have defined your very own style of cooking and developed a gastronomy wave that others follow. Therefore, one ought to be very careful before calling oneself a Master Chef. You have to be a culinary artist and someone that breaks boarders. There also has to be a noticeable before and after, gastronomically speaking, for a real Master Chef, like there was with René Redzepi at the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. People in our trade do not consider all TV Master Chefs as such. There are a lot of decent and educative food programs now and of course creating interest for home-made food is a good thing, but there is a far divide between the real craft and pure entertainment.”
 

 

Food-art a la Fredrik. Photo © Karethe Linaae.
 

At La Donaira you make organic and biodynamic food.  Why? And has this always been your passion?

“Indeed. It has always been my lifestyle when it comes to food. I started working exclusively organic about 15 years ago, but I didn’t physically reside where the things were grown. Here at La Donaira we work with a complete cycle. We follow the entire process and have a personal relationship with the produce as well as those tending to the crops and animals. The union with nature is strengthened and the possibilities are therefore completely unique.

 

Organic bounty. Photo © Karethe Linaae.

Only a small percentage of our produce gets brought in from the outside. The only thing that doesn’t come from our farm, other than coffee, is fish and seafood. We pick up a bit of foie gras from a small producer in Extremadura, and some other types of wine than those we make ourselves.  Otherwise, all our vegetables, fruit, grains and meat are produced or raised right here. We sow the seeds from which we make the flour that we bake into our own bread. It is a continual process, like with our development of rare animal breeds. (Note: All the animals are free-roaming and organic, in addition to being local and are also often rare or threatened species.) Product development is just as big a part of the job as preparing the food. The quality potential is optimal. Here everything is brought in straight from the garden. There is no transportation. Everything is fresh – up to the minute fresh.  Such a system could not be reproduced if everything was to be brought in from the outside”.

 

Vegetable garden, La Dehesa Biodinámica. Photo © Karethe Linaae.
 

What influences you as a cook and how would you describe your own style of cooking?

“More than my own style, I believe we are trying to find something that is unique to here – what can we physically produce with as natural and pure tastes as possible? The natural experience of being at La Donaira should be matched by the food we serve. Since La Donaira is located in Andalucía we base ourselves on Spanish cooking. All the same, we are an international setup. The kitchen-staff alone come from Austria, Spain, UK, Belgian Congo and Sweden.

 

International kitchen staff. Photo © Karethe Linaae.

 

About half of the 77 people who work here come from El Gastor. The local population appreciate and understand the value of the hotel to their community, as the employment opportunities in the village are very limited. Everything we do is a communal effort so that everybody can learn to appreciate the whole process. We strive to find the balance between the international and the unique things that this place has to offer locally. The most important thing for us is that it is a healthy and natural experience, and that our guests find that the food they are served at La Donaira cannot be eaten anywhere else”.


Table is set. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Scandinavians aren’t traditionally known as being gastronomes. How has this changed in recent years?

“There has been a mind-blowing development. Speaking on behalf of Sweden that I know best, the food quality has changed radically. The gastronomic elite in Scandinavia is definitively/undoubtedly world class. When the trend began to alter towards very high quality gastronomy some 20 years back, it took a while before this dribbled down from gourmet restaurants to simpler restaurants and later to food stores and finally to the individual consumer. I haven’t been home to Sweden for a few years, but what I experienced prior to moving was an enormous shift in everyday consumption, as well as access to better quality products/produce, and organic and locally grown food.

 

Yellow Society Garlic. Photo © Karethe Linaae.

In Stockholm the farmers market has become a very established system. Several of my friends earn good salaries from producing and selling directly to consumers. Now during the Corona pandemic, the service has been converted to pick-up. The demand for local, healthy food is enormous – if they can supply 300 clients, their demand is from 3000. Education and interest in food has had a very positive impact generally. People care more, eat better and spend more on healthier food. This development has led to even more organic and locally grown food being produced to meet growing demand. Scandinavia has really taken the baton and led international developments here. So even though our food here at La Donaira is not accessible to all, there is an international movement that tries to support healthy local food. If anything, this might be the one positive thing coming out of this pandemic. People feel the need to take a step in the right direction, food and health-wise”.
 

 

La Donaira organic cold-pressed olive oil. Photo © Karethe Linaae.
 


What is your favourite dish?

“I am not sure if I have a personal favourite, but I have many vivid food memories particularly about my late grandmother who made fantastic food. Her meatballs are something I will always remember. And I love really well made bread. The bread culture is also something that has developed since I started making food. The interest for quality bread has truly returned. My mum grew up on a humble farm in Dalsland in western Sweden and my parents wanted to distance themselves from the poor conditions by going in the opposite direction. Their generation wanted everything to be quick and easy. Everything should be pre-packed. Now as they are growing old, they have gone back to their roots and can recognize the value of what they had in the past”.
 

Fredrik with La Donaira’s very own bread. Photo © Karethe Linaae.

 

How has La Donaira been affected by the Corona pandemic? Before the pandemic most of your guests were foreign. Who are your guests now?

“It has been a difficult time for everybody, but for us it has also been a great surprise. We never thought that Spaniards would become our guest base, but after the first lockdown, that is what happened. The response has been unbelievable. It is really quite exciting. People seek nature and come to us from all over Spain. But of course, we welcome any guests with open arms”.

How is it to be working in the Garden of Eden?

“You are right, that’s how it is! I thoroughly enjoy all aspects of working here and cannot imagine a better working environment. It is a fantastic place with endless possibilities”.

For more information: Finca La Donaira

 

 

Sunset dining. Photo © Karethe Linaae.



Like 2        Published at 16:18   Comments (2)


A jolly pedal along the Spanish Via Verdes
16 November 2020

Biking over viaduct. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Las Vías Verdes is a network of Greenways that spreads all across the Iberian Peninsula. Since 1993 more than 3000 km of Spain’s abandoned train lines have been converted into these bicycle and pedestrian routes, as part of the European Greenway system. They can be used free of charge by cyclists, walkers, wheelchair users and horseback riders. My husband and I set out to try one of the 120 Spanish greenways.

Andalucía offers many exciting activities, but if you are looking for something suitable for the whole family, try a bike ride along one of the territory’s abandoned train lines. Due to the railway’s standard width, wide-angle turns and limited gradient, the route meanders in a leisurely manner across the undulating landscape without steep ascents or descents. The Vías are user-friendly and it is practically impossible to get lost. The signage is impeccable and includes the distance to the next station, traffic signs when you cross an occasional farm road, and signs pointing out upcoming sights. We also pass warning signs for the legendary Spanish Toros Bravos, but these imposing animals are thankfully behind fences.

 

 

Toros Bravos are not a joking matter. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Visitors can also find water, toilets and places to eat at some of the former stations along the way, as well as information panels, picnic areas and observation platforms. The goal of the Vías Verdes is to improve the range of non-motorized tourism, promote nature knowledge and healthier life styles, and contribute to district development and local employment.

Map of Vía Verde de la Sierra. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

 

Bike rental with full service

We have chosen the Vía Verde de la Sierra between Olvera and Puerto de Serrano in the province of Cádiz. On a sunny fall day, we drive to Olvera’s old train station to pick up our rental bikes. While the country’s shortest Vías are only a couple of kilometres long, the longest are well over 100 km and include overnight lodgings options. Our route is a perfect compromise at 36.5 km or a 73 km round trip. It is part of the southern Camino de Santiago de la Plata, and is said to be one of the prettiest and most awarded greenways in all of Europe.

 

Europe’s loveliest greenway? Vía Verde de la Sierra. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

According to its website, the bike rental office is open from 09.00 until 18.00. One obviously has to take this with a pinch of Spanish salt, as not a soul is around when we arrive. While waiting, we decide to grab a coffee at the station cafe, where they just have started bringing out the first tables. No rush, we have the day before us. 

The young man who serves us says that the station never actually opened as such, or trains ever used the line. The construction of the railway that was to connect the villages between Jerez de la Frontera and Almargen began in the 1920s, but the economic depression and the subsequent Spanish Civil War stopped the project before it opened - until now.

 

The old train station in Olvera never opened as such. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

A couple of minutes later the fellow who rents the bikes is ready for business. The company has everything from terrain and tandem bikes, to bike seats and trailers for kids, and even a pedal powered 4-seater rickshaw. In addition, they also provide electrical bikes, but we feel that is a bit like cheating, particularly as in the morning we are still fresh and energetic. We have reserved a couple of terrain bikes online, that we get adjusted to our size. The bikes have decent disc brakes and disc gear and seem perfectly all right, except perhaps that the seat is a tad too hard for my behind. The renter assures us that we are in safe hands. If any problems should occur, we can call a number and they will come rushing with a spare tire or whatever might be needed. In a worst-case scenario, if we cannot handle biking any longer, they will probably even give us a ride back. He shows us a map of the route, highlighting that most bikers turn around half way, since the entire route takes well over 3.5 hours one way and much longer to return. As the route inclines slightly towards Puerto de Serrano, we will have more hills to climb on the way back, he explains, unfortunately to partially deaf ears.

The hour is nearly 10 by the time we set off, which means we have 8 hours before we have to return the bikes. Piffle, 73 km, of course we can manage that, I think. And this would not have been a problem had we been seasoned bikers, but the fact was that we had not sat on a bicycle since we left Canada almost 8 years ago…

 

Us. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

On two wheels in La Sierra

“Ohhhh, how fabulous it is to be on a bike again!” I call out as soon as we set off. Everything goes smoothly and the road seems great. The first couple of kilometres are even paved, but after that it is primarily gravel and sand. We pedal along, me with a perma-grin from ear to ear, past a rolling landscape of farmer’s fields and olive groves, and I insist that we stop to take photos every few hundred yards. We arrive at the first of many tunnels and its perfect opera house echo prompts me to sing out loud. This is going like a dream!

 

Andalusian landscape. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

After about 5 km, we zoom by the first abandoned station, waving to someone resting in the shade of the ruined building. The road leads on into a Mediterranean forest with gnarly oaks, tall poplars, pink oleander and wild olive trees.  There are relatively few people on the road today. Most of the ones we meet are older Spanish men who judging by their appearance must have partaken in many national bike races in their younger days. Since this is the day before a long weekend, we also meet a few families with children, and even an entire primary school class with their teacher.

 

 

Teacher with class from Coripe. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

At about the 16 km point, our surroundings change again, this time to barren rock. We are approaching the nature reserve by Zaframagón. The station here is now used as an information centre for the local vulture colony and there is also a feeding station nearby. As exciting as this sounds, we decide to move on and catch it on the way back.

 

Perfect cliff formations for vultures. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Otherwise there are no lack of sights en route, and we cross four spectacular viaducts. These are bridges composed of arches that would have taken railways across valleys and riverbeds, with inclines which would otherwise have been too steep for locomotives to navigate.

In the following section, we bike through some of the route’s most impressive tunnels before arriving at the station near the village of Coripe. This is clearly the central hub of this Vía. People from nearby villages park their cars here and wander or bike a shorter route before enjoying a longer lunch at the station restaurant. It is almost crowded, so it is probably wise to avoid long weekends or puentes in Spanish.

 

Martina (4) and Pablo (7) taking a break at Coripe train station. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Coripe is also the turnaround point for most of the cyclists who come from Olvera. Only the pros, the unknowing and those like us, the particularly stubborn, bike the whole way. But we have come this far, what is another 14.5 km? We take another slug from our water bottles and jump onto the bikes again.

 

Beautiful, mystical, dark tunnels

The most memorable and unique feature of the Vía Verde de la Sierra, at least for me, are the tunnels. This particular route has 30 of them – everything from elongated bridges to mountain passes that extend for more than a kilometre, where I get to test the echo with a selection of Edith Piaf and mock operas. The tunnels are also beautiful aesthetically speaking, with a classic 1920s hand chiselled look and archways that are repeated at regular intervals. Since no train has chugged through them, the walls aren’t covered in soot either. In addition, they are nice and cool on a sweltering day.

 

Shorter tunnel without lighting. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The first tunnels we go through are short enough for the daylight to more or less shine through. Later we come to longer tunnels, with are illuminated automatically as you enter, some fuelled by solar power, others by regular electricity. It is a tough adjustment on the eyes to come from the bright daylight into a relatively dark tunnel, lit or not. Luckily my sunglasses have a string around my neck so I can pop them off without having to get off the bike. My husband, who uses glasses, wishes he had one of those sunglass attachments that you can just flip up and down. Otherwise, contact lenses would probably be complicated, especially if the tunnels have a lot of dust in the air. And rest assured, this will happen.

In spite of the roads being closed off to vehicular traffic, you will always meet a couple of maintenance vehicles or a pickup from a nearby farm during a day on the Vía Verdes. Speaking from my own experience, this is guaranteed to happen when you are inside a tunnel. The good news is that you can see the car’s headlights from far away, and that vehicles according to the signs are only supposed to drive at a max 10 km/h. Since we do not know if the driver has indulged in an Anís or two for breakfast, we still stop and glue ourselves to the tunnel wall while waiting for the car to pass and the cloud of dust to dissipate.

 

The contrast between the dark tunnels and the strong daylight is hard on the eyes. Photo © Karethe Linaae


It can however, get quite dark in between the lights in the tunnels. Light bulbs don’t last forever and not all are changed as soon as they expire. Neither Jaime nor myself thought about checking for lights and reflectors before leaving the station, something we now realize would have been a wise move. The road surface inside the tunnels is uneven at best. Some have a strip of asphalt, which may end at any point without warning. These can actually be more challenging than a gravel road, as you cannot always see the edge of the many potholes.

 

The longest tunnel is over 1 km. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

After a couple of precarious, half-blind tunnel crossings, I recall that I have a head lantern at the bottom of my pack. I fasten it around my upper arm, holding it in such a manner that the dancing beam occasionally hits the ground. It is not flood lighting, but at least it helps us see the largest holes before we hit them. And in such a way we manage to get safely through tunnel after tunnel.
 

Only lunch guests

Following the river Guadalete. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The road continues along the beautiful riverbeds of the Guadalete and Guadalporcún and continues into rural farming districts with sheep and cattle, where we meet a couple of local gents who are enjoying the road on horseback.

 

Vía Verde on horseback. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Since the last tunnel is closed, we have to take a detour and are relieved when we roll in at the end station. It is just past one o’clock, so it has taken us just over three hours, in spite of my endless photo stops. We peak around the station building, which is supposed to be a restaurant, but see no other diners. A man comes outside and confirms that they are open. Could they bring a table outside and serve us some lunch, we ask, and even if the place seems rather abandoned, the dishes are brought out on the double. We enjoy a tasty meal including an entire grilled octopus leg, beautiful tapas dishes of baked eggplant and venison stew, plus a couple of bowls of their local olives, cured by the owner’s mother. The entire meal including beverages comes to just over 20 €. How can you beat that! I would have loved to bring back a large glass jar of the home-cured olives, but with the ride back in mind, I manage to restrain myself. For the same reason we do not order wine with the meal and decide to enjoy a dessert later en route.

 

Lunch break at Estación de Puerto Serrano, first and foremost water. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

 

Uphill return


By the time the meal is done and paid for, it is two o’clock. Have we already been here an hour? We only have four hours left now before the bike rental closes. Perhaps this is why we were recommended to turn back after half way? I remember the golden mountain rule from my youth in the Norwegian woods: There is no shame in turning around!  We don’t recognize the truth in this saying until we plop our sore behinds back on the bicycle seats and start pedalling. Ouch!

All those jolly little hills that I sang myself down on the way here, we now have to bike up. Thankfully, the road surface is as mentioned fairy flat, but even the gravel feels heavier to pedal through now in the afternoon. The Andalucian heat is also something one always should be aware of, even on a late fall day. When we took off it was a comfortable 13 degrees, but now the temperature has gradually crept up to close to 28 degrees in the sun. We begin to long for the balmy tunnels.

 

Greenway in golden fall can still be hot. Photo © Karethe Linaae

I have always been the first to preach about how important it is to bring enough water on nature excursions. Usually we bring a couple of litres each, plus a bottle of Aquarius with electrolytes as extra provision. This time we only brought our small water bottles, partly because we had read that one could buy water at several places along the way. Think again! Here we are far away from stores and restaurants with only measly mouthfulls of lukewarm water between us.

 

On the way back I long to do like Ferdinand the bull and lay down in the shade of an olive tree. Photo © Karethe Linaae

One ought to take certain precautions on the Vía Verde, as with any other Andalucian nature trip. Sufficient liquids are vital. Always bring more water than you believe you will need. You cannot plan to buy it on the way, as one never knows what one will encounter, and when and if places are open when they are supposed to be. Likewise, sun protection is a MUST all year – sunglasses, sunscreen and sunhat, unless you are wearing a bike helmet, which I would whole-heartedly recommend. If you use your own bike, remember your repair kit and make sure you have proper lights on your bike and even an extra flashlight.

  
 

Sheep, sheepdogs, but where is the shepherd?


The locals are mostly four-legged. Photo © Karethe Linaae

After a while we get back into the rhythm of it and the kilometres fly by. We zoom through another tunnel and are back at the riverbed. There is a flock of sheep on the hillside. I am just about to stop and snap a picture, but get wary when I notice that some of the moving dots have rather long snouts. Then I hear the first barks. At this point I should add that I have an irrational fear of ownerless dogs off leash, ever since a German Shepherd attacked my stroller when I was a baby. Our local shepherd’s loyal sheepdog take care of over 100 sheep without uttering as much as a tiny woof, but these beasts are quite different.

As we get closer (there is no other way but forward…) I discover that there are more of them than I originally thought. I count four, eight, no, at least twelve big hounds, looking like crosses between all the scary guard dogs I have ever met. Some growl and one starts running after me, as if he can smell my fear. “Jaime!”, I squeak while wobbling on the cycle, the beast hot on my heels. “They aren’t dangerous. Just go on”, he calls out. Easy for him to say, as he is behind me… The mongrel is only interested in snapping at my foot, regardless of how much my husband whistles and yells. The tunnel ahead doesn’t seem to get any closer. Where is the darn shepherd?

I have more or less come to terms with sacrificing my left foot, but am not as keen on inheriting the rabies that I in my overdeveloped imagination seem to detect frothing at the mouth of the snarling beast.

“Just step on it, we will soon be in the tunnel,” encourages Jaime. I weaver along towards the opening with a palpitating heart, while the angry hound hisses at my front tire. Jaime uses all his canine discipline tricks to no avail, while the shepherd is likely to be found at the closest bar. If I just had a pepper spray, I think, not that I can stop and get it out of my backpack anyhow. Just as I am about to give up all hope, another dog comes to my rescue. When the nasty mongrel tries to bite my leg off, the other dog jumps in and tries to pull the snarling dog away. Phew! Finally, we enter the safe darkness of the tunnel. Thank goodness, I didn’t become lunch for a pack of mad dogs today, after all…

 

Thankfully not me after all... Photo © Karethe Linaae


The drama is over, but we still have 25 km left to ride. My hands are aching after having been clamped onto the handlebars, but they are nothing compared to my butt. Even if one never forgets how to ride a bicycle, the gluteal muscles will. As I can no longer manage to sit without being in total agony, I stand and pedal for the remaining kilometres, while occasionally resting my extended lateral rump on the seat when I can just cruise along.

Don’t misunderstand me. It is a stunning bike route, just that after 60 km with a ball breaking seat, direct sunlight and limited water, I begin to think like Ferdinand the bull, and look for a nice olive tree where we can lay down and take a long siesta. Or call the bike rental agency. That is just a thought of course, because upon my life, we will not give up. We pass the nature reserve with the vultures again that, not unexpectedly, is now closed. No water for sale either and the next station is a ruin.

 

 

Water anyone?  Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Just half a dozen tunnels and a few more hills and we will be there. We see the old fort over the village of Pruna, and at long last roll in at the Olvera station. It is now 5 pm, so we made it in record time, certainly for us who haven’t ridden for nearly a decade. We return the bikes, ready to collapse in a chair at the station restaurant and order copious amounts of liquids and food to follow. But that is not possible. They close at 17.00. After a bit of friendly negotiating, they reluctantly agree to let us have a couple of bottles of water and sit at the last remaining table that they still have not stored away.

Happily home, a couple of days later we again manage to sit on our tender rears and only remember the jolly part of the ride on the Vías Verdes.

For more information: Via Verdes

Andalusian family in rented rickshaw. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 



Like 4        Published at 17:38   Comments (6)


Autumn 2020 – Seize the possibilities within the limitations
05 November 2020

Leaf. Photo © Karethe Linaae

We live in strange and uncertain times. There are days when I prefer not to watch the news, as whole countries go back into lockdown, economies plunge, the USA segregates into Republicans and Democrats, and record numbers of CoVid cases are counted.

Another lockdown? Photo © Karethe Linaae

It is easy to get a bit down by it all, but since nothing else can be done, let’s try to spin the negatives into new positives. Every prohibition defines some kinds of permission.

If you cannot touch the flowers, you can still smell them. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Instead of focusing on all the restrictions that we are living under, why not seek the possibilities within these limitations?

Tight squeeze. Tree in El Gastor that certainly is seeing the possibilities, not the limitations. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Compared to the seven weeks this spring when we couldn’t leave our homes and were limited to walking rounds on the terrace or trailing between the living room and the kitchen, we have considerably more freedom now.

At the edge. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Of course we have to wear masks, but at least we can go outside. So let’s be grateful for what we have and what we actually can do, and enjoy that we can prance around semi-freely, even if it only is in our own neighbourhood.

 

Into the sunset. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

If you live in a town that is closed off, use this as an opportunity to explore your local surroundings. My husband and I often enjoy being tourists in our own town. We search for streets, alleys, and paths that we have never walked before.


Street peak. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

There is always something new to discover, even if you just go in the opposite direction on the same old street.

 

Fall wall. Photo © Karethe Linaae

When we see things from a new angle, a whole new world can open up before us.

Wall with different eyes. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Every season brings changes, which are also visible in the cityscapes.

 

Quintuplets. Photo © Karethe Linaae

With November comes darker nights, but also golden undertones and surprising patches of green.

Moss in November. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Both in Scandinavia and North America where I used to live, this was a month we generally dreaded and wanted to get over with as soon as possible. It was dark, cold, wet and miserable. Most of all, it was colourless. In Andalucía, it seems that the colour spectrum of the seasons is reversed.

 

Water droplets. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Summer usually arrives by May, when the landscape begins to dry out about the same time as the first spring buds open in the north. Similarly, when all gets grey and dark in the Northern hemisphere, life comes back to the Spanish south. After 6 months of practically no rain, the first November showers transform the Andalucian plains into a sea of iridescent green.

Green fields. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The fall is generally a dramatic time of the year. It is therefore, a perfect time to explore nature, with all it’s range of emotions and disguises.

Leaves. Photo © Karethe Linaae

And when the wind warnings and sheets of rain keep you inside, light a fire, make a cup of tea, read a book, or go on an inward voyage to places where the only restriction is your imagination.

 

The walled city of Cáceres. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 5        Published at 09:51   Comments (5)


A classic high – a hot air balloon flight over Ronda
10 October 2020

Flying above Ronda

Ever since I read Jules Verne’s book ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ in my youth, I have wanted to fly in a hot air balloon. What could be more timeless and irresistible than floating wherever the wind takes you? Since we moved to Ronda in southern Spain, I have often seen balloons over the town and one day I asked myself “What am I waiting for?” With the current world situation, none of us knows what the future will bring. If we want to do something and it is possible, legal and not too immoral, we absolutely ought to go for it. Or throw our caution to the wind, as was my case. The decision was taken – I was going up in a hot air balloon at the first opportunity.

Balloon over Ronda roof. Photo © Karethe Linaae

I contacted two Andalucían companies that fly hot air balloons and immediately heard back from Glovento from Granada, who would take me next time the conditions were suitable and they had space in their basket.   

The following week brought gale force winds, but then the seemingly eternal summer returned and the date was set.

 

Pre-sunrise take off

The rig on a trailer. Photo © Karethe Linaae

I show up at Ronda’s Féria ground with the other 5 passengers at 7.30 on a Saturday morning. The pilot, Santiago Vale Correa and his helper Juan are already there with the rig on a trailer. It is still dark as they evaluate where the take-off should take place. Juan lets a regular helium party balloon into the air and Santiago follows it with eagle eyes, conscious of its every move. Since this type of flying is completely weather dependent, it is essential to be able to read the different wind currents and predict how they will evolve.

 

25 meter long balloon. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Santiago decides that we will take off from a farm field a bit south of town. It is dawn by the time the 25-meter-long balloon is extended, shackled to the basket with ropes and cables, and inflated by a fan and a couple of large propane burners. They are required because even our relatively small balloon contains a staggering 150.000 cubic feet (4245 cubic meters) of hot air. But that is also all that is needed – hot air!


Filling up the balloon. Foto © Karethe Linaae

 

The principle, apparently called Archimedes, describes how the balloon’s buoyancy is determined by the difference in the air temperature inside and outside the fabric membrane. When the temperature rises inside the balloon, the air density becomes lower than the colder air outside the balloon, which makes it rise. The balloon mouth does not need to be enclosed, as hot air always goes up. The maximum legal operating temperature for the balloon is 120°C, which is considerably lower than the melting temperature of nylon and other modern synthetic balloon materials, which is around 230°C.

 

Inside the balloon. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The concept is so simple that even I can understand the science behind it, which I cannot say when I am seated in a Jumbo Jet. While the flames that shoot out seem to make some of my co-passengers nervous, I am even more excited about the forthcoming ride.

 

A classic

Classic basket. Photo © Karethe Linaae

It dawns on me that this type of air vessel hasn’t changed much in the past couple of centuries. The classic knitted rattan basked is still preferred to other more modern materials, as the basket needs to be light and strong, yet flexible for landings. Both the top frame of the basket that we will hang over and the footholds made to ease the climb into the basket, are made of leather. It is truly beautiful and in my eyes could go straight into the latest travel collection of Louis Vuitton.

 

Leather foot holds in basket. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The balloon itself hasn’t changed much either. The traditional inverted teardrop shape is still the most common. Standard balloons like ours are called Montgolfier after its inventors and is dependent on hot air, while solar-balloons use black fabric to attract the heat of the sun. The largest producer of hot air balloons is still the UK, but they are receiving strong competition from Spain. The company Ultramagic has become one of the world’s biggest balloon producers, ever since the three young Catalonian entrepreneurs who started it made their own balloon to follow Jules Verne’s flight over Africa in 1978.

 

Ultramagic balloons from Catalonia. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The fabric of the balloon is divided into 4 to 24 panels, sewn together with structural fabric tape that can take the weight of the basket. Originally the fabric was cotton, but nowadays, synthetic alternatives such as nylon or Dacron are used. The top lid of the balloon has vents that can let out hot air to slow down an ascent or start a descent. The balloons also have a couple of side vents that are used for basket rotations. While the cotton could rip on the first flight, today’s balloons last between 400-600 hours before they are retired, depending on air temperature, height and the weight it carries. The balloons are inspected annually or every 100 hours, depending on which comes first. The smallest balloon, the solo CloudHopper, is only 600 cubic metres, while the biggest hot air balloons can take up to 32 passengers. I prefer our own comfy globo.     

Classic inverted teardrop balloon shape. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

 

The art of flying a balloon

Gorgeous flame. Photo © Karethe Linaae


After the hot air has brought the balloon into a vertical position, we are ready to board. I notice that the husband of one of the passengers who is standing back on the ground crosses himself. We rise so smoothly that it is almost undetectable, and suddenly the ground crew are the size of ants. Inside the basket a silent awe prevails. I stand beside Santiago so I can interview him during the ride.  I start by asking why he became a balloon pilot. “It was the balloon that found me” he jests. He had always enjoyed doing extreme sports. One day he met a balloon and it was love at first flight. Now he has been a professional pilot for over 20 years.   


Take-off. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

 

By the way, it is not as easy as it might appear to steer one of these contraptions. Like any other pilot of air travel, balloon pilots have to be specially qualified. For their specific type of vessel there are schools in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona, and Andalucía now has some 15 authorized balloon pilots. Even if you have the necessary certification, you cannot take passengers with you or work professionally until you have flown 100 registered hours.

 

My fellow passengers. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Santiago tells us that hot air balloons are restricted to flying up to 300 meters over Ronda. Otherwise, I have read that they can fly to extremely high altitudes (the world record is 21.027 meters) and for very long distances. When Per Lindstrand and Virgin Record’s Richard Branson flew from Japan to Northern Canada in 1991, they had constructed the biggest balloon of all time, 30 times bigger than a regular balloon and higher than the Statue of Liberty. Even though Jules Verne’s book from 1873 was a piece of fiction, the world record was broken in 1999 when Bernard Piccard and Brian Jones flew uninterrupted around the world in a mere 20 days!

 

The vertical steering mechanism. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The pilot can make all the difference on a flight, as we get to observe. A balloon from another company flies at the same time as us, taking off just a little further north. Immediately, their balloon starts drifting away from the town. The pilot tries to change course, but the balloon rises and rises and the journey’s goal gets more and more distant. “We can decide where we take off from, but we never know exactly where we will land. Everything depends on the wind” explains Santiago.

 

Santiago, our pilot. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

As such, balloons are completely unique flying vessels. They can only be steered vertically. The only way that they will move horizontally is with the wind. Pilots don’t want too much wind, but not to be completely without wind either, because that will take them nowhere but up. The best flying conditions according to Santiago are early in the morning when the wind conditions are more stable. Otherwise, his ideal conditions are when there are many different layers of air, each with its own wind direction. Hence, flying a balloon is a complicated matter, but an experienced pilot will always try to find a puff of wind that will take the balloon in the desired direction. 

 

What a view. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Thankfully, Santiago is such a captain. He is as cool as can be and performs every adjustment with the finesse of a surgeon. Other than when he opens the propane burners, the flight is comfortingly quiet. Since balloons move at the speed of the wind (they are the only flying vessels that do this), we do not feel the wind up here either. We fly over a farm and the dogs start barking. Santiago explains that he avoids using the propane burners, as the noise terrifies the hens. In a best-case scenario, they won’t lay eggs for a week. In a worst-case scenario, the shock will kill them. As nobody wants to have a mass death of chickens on our conscience, we wholeheartedly agree with him.

 

Balloon flying towards Ronda. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

 

 

The world’s best view

 

We follow our own shadow. Photo © Karethe Linaae

While we drift towards Ronda, a motorized paraglider circles around us.


Different flying vessels. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

We follow our own shadow as we float over Ronda’s Roman bridge, Arab baths and further into the historical part of town.

 

Balloon over Casa del Rey Moro. Photo © Karethe Linaae

We hover over the world famous Puente Nuevo Bridge. Directly underneath us lies the Tajo gorge, with classical Spanish buildings literally hanging over the edge. This is probably what some would call a million-dollar view but to me it is priceless. As soon as you are up in the air, you are hooked. You simply cannot help but fall in love with this peaceful and most unique way of experiencing the world from above. It is like the flight brings out our most innocent and almost childlike joy.

 

Ronda’s Puente Nuevo bridge. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Santiago leans over and calls out “Hola” to some people down on the bridge. They are already photographing and filming us, as seeing the balloon from below is pretty cool as well. In his 20 years of flying he hasn’t had a single complaint or passenger with a panic attack, he says. While people often will shake their fists at the noisy motorized paragliders, they smile and wave at our balloon.

 

Ronda’s Tajo gorge from above. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The balloon is brought up to 200-meter altitude. The streets and houses look like Lego pieces. Even at this height one notices that the horizon curves, though I assume that those who thought the world was flat never got this high?


Ronda from 200 meters. Photo © Karethe

 

Once upon a time there was a balloon

 

People have always wanted to fly. It is said that the forerunner to the hot air balloon was flying signalling lanterns, which the Chinese army used from about 200 AD onwards. Leonardo da Vinci wrote about and sketched more than 500 ideas for propellers, wings, helicopters and flying balloons. His Codex from 1505 AD was the start of modern aeronautics, though it would take almost another 300 years before humans managed to ascend from the earth’s surface and approach the clouds.


Classic balloon. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

The French brothers Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier started experimenting with balloon air flights in 1782. They discovered that a fabric would billow by putting burning wool and straw underneath it. When the Royal French Science Academy heard about their experiments, these were repeated in front of King Louis XVI in Versailles in 1783. The balloon was over 18 metres tall and 13 metres wide and weighed a whooping 400 kilos, partly because it had giant gilded royal emblems painted onto the balloon. The first passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster that were tied to the basket. Under deafening applause, as well as probably some bleating, quacking and cockadoodledoo-ing, the balloon raised 600 metres into the air before it ripped and landed in a forest 3.5 km from the castle about eight minutes later. After this, the king insisted that they use convicted felons for the first balloon flight with humans. However, the nobles Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis François d’Arlandes pleaded for the honour. This happened on 15 October 1783 (exactly 237 years to the day of the release of this article). The first female pilot, appointed by both Napoleon and later Louis XVIII, was called Sophie Blanchard. Not only did she pilot hot air balloons, but she also specialized in sending up fireworks from the basket right above Paris. Combining an enormous hydrogen-filled cotton balloon with pyrotechnics, one can just imagine how that ended…

 

An unforgettable flight

View south. Photo © Karethe Linaae

For Santiago there is no doubt –safety always comes first. “If there are any doubts at all about the weather, we wont go up. We would rather cancel many times, than risk an uncomfortable flight” confides our pilot. Otherwise the precautions are clear. You can only fly between sunrise and sunset, with a minimum visibility of 3 km and max winds of 10 knots. The balloon has to be equipped with various instruments to measure height, wind, speed, and temperatures, in addition to a GPS and radio to contact the ground crew. As far as passengers are concerned, it is recommended that they are in good health and wear comfortable clothing suitable for the prevailing weather conditions. The balloon companies are insured and these days they must also follow the CoVid protocols of the local health authorities. Glovento is associated with the Spanish Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aerea and the European Aviation Safety Agency. So everything is in the best of order.

A hand on the ‘wheel’. Photo © Karethe Linaae

We land as we took off, on a field right outside Ronda and barely feel the little bump as we hit the ground.  It has been an unforgettable experience. So when you plan your next trip to Ronda, make sure to book a flight, as nothing can top a hot air balloon ride over la ciudad soñada, the city of dreams.

The trip includes safety preparations, a 60-90 minute flight plus breakfast, and lasts a total of 3-4 hours.
Group flight: 200€ per person (with 6, 8 or 12 people)
Private flight: 900€
 

Ballon over the dream city Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 4        Published at 16:44   Comments (2)


A dozen + 1 reasons to spend a weekend in romantic Ronda
31 July 2020

Ronda sunset. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Ronda with its world famous bridge and to-die-for views should be on everyone’s bucket list. This Andalucian mountain pueblo simply lives and breathes history, having been ruled by Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Catholic Kings. In the 18th Century, the infamous bandoleros and other law-breakers practically ran the town. It was also the birthplace of modern bullfighting, and later in the 1950s and 60s a favourite hangout of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Wells. Not surprising Ronda is so romantic!

 

Plaza de María Auxiliadora.  Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The town is a perfect place to wander about picturesque streets and sit on a park bench in the shade of a pink Oleander, taking in the views while listening to a trickling fountain or someone playing classic Spanish guitar. However, to fully enjoy la cuidad soñada (the dream city), you must spend at least a night.

Here are a dozen + one reasons why: 

 

  1. Wake up on the edge

Corner room terrace at Parador de Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae


There is nothing quite like it - waking up and looking out your window and seeing this view. The Tajo gorge literally cuts Ronda in two, with the Casco Histórico on one side, and the newer town on the other. Created by the eroding waters of the river Guadalevín, with a drop of 100 - 160 meters straight down, those with vertigo might ask for an interior room.

 

Room with a killer view. Hotel Parador de Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

While the hotels on the Tajo edge are not the most reasonable accommodation in town, they are certainly worth the extra splurge. For a room with a killer view, try a night at the classic Parador de Ronda hotel.

Cost: 150-250 € per night
 

 

 

  1. Take a morning stroll across the bottom of the sea
     

Valley below, Ronda above. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The valley beneath Ronda was once the bottom of the ocean, hence the many seashell encrustations in the surrounding vertical cliffs. The fertile ground has been used for olive and wine farming since the Romans were here 2000 years ago. Ask the tourist office for directions and start your morning walk in the San Francisco or La Dehesa neighbourhoods.

Either way, stop for breakfast at the Albergue los Molinos, which in addition to a stunning view of the town from below, makes its own bread in a traditional outdoor wood oven.

 

Albergue Molinos del Tajo. Photo © Karethe. Linaae


Walk duration: 1.5 - 2 hours
Cost: Free (breakfast not included)

 

 

  1. Step deep down into history in Ronda’s secret Mina de Agua
     

The great hall of La Mina de Agua. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Most visitors forgo this pleasure, but to literally submerge yourself in Ronda’s dramatic past, there is nothing like stepping down some 60 vertical meters into la Mina de Agua. The 700 hundred-year-old ingenious construction was dug into a natural fissure in the Tajo wall. The mine supplied water to the independent Moorish Kingdom Izn-Rand Onda (City of the Caste) during several Christian sieges. You can still descend the steps where slaves carried water up to the city above. Hidden gaps in the shaft provide magical natural illumination, making the mine interior appears like a subterranean cathedral. Enter the hall where a waterwheel once proved the superiority of Medieval Islamic hydraulic engineering and peak through the door where a Moorish traitor let in the first Catholic troops, making the mine the doorway for Ronda’s Reconquista in 1485.

Ticket: 7€
Calories consumed: 300+
 


 

  1. Light a candle by the Virgin of Tears
     

Santa María la Mayor church. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

These days we can all need to light a candle, and no place is better for this than la Iglesia Santa María la Mayor across from Ronda’s town hall. In its lofty interior you can be assured to find peace and quiet and a blessedly cool environment on a hot summer day. Once Ronda’s main mosque, the church is allegedly standing on the ruins of a Roman temple to the goddess Diana. Do not miss a trip up to the rooftop with its magnificent views.

 

Roof walk, Santa María la Mayor. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

In contrast to many other churches, one can still light a real candle and place it in one of the church’ many beautiful candelabras. However, if you really want your prayers heard, leave it in front of the Virgin of Tears, the main statue brought out for the annual Easter processions.

Entrance: 4.50 €
Candle donation: 1 €

 

 

  1. Immerse yourself in an Arab bath - then and now
     

Magic light in Ronda’s ancient Arab baths. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Even for those who do not enjoy museums, Ronda’s Arab baths – Baños Árabes de Ronda - is worth a visit. On the winding walk down from the centre, you will pass some of the town’s other landmarks, the Carlos V gate and El Puente Viejo (the old bridge). The baths, dating back to the 13th Century, are the best preserved in the entire Iberian Peninsula. When you see the magical light therein, you can almost imagine how it was back in the day.

After seeing the historical baños, stop by Ronda’s present day bathhouse Hammam Aguas de Ronda next door, for some very reasonable pampering. Constructed in an old mill (which can be seen on maps of Ronda from the 1500s) the modern and clean facilities takes full advantage of the beauty of the old edifice.

 

Aguas de Ronda Hammam and spa. Photo © Aguas de Ronda


Museum 3.50 €
Hammam with massage 33€

 

 

  1. Eat lunch with El Loco (the crazy one…)
     

De Locos Tapas by the San Francisco neighbourhood. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

There are tapas and then there are great tapas. In Andalucía unfortunately, the former are more common. However, De Locos Tapas just inside the Almocabar gate at the edge of Ronda’s historic quarter, is a rare exception.    
Their spectacular and unique tapas are due to el loco himself, the Basque owner Guillermo (William), and his wife Begoña. With excellent reviews, personal service, vintage tunes and only a handful tables, you need to book ahead. Try their Quails Nest, Thai Prawns or Ceviche, and make sure to keep room for dessert!

 

Tapas. Photo © De Locos Tapas

3-5 € per tapa
 

 

 

  1. Enter the bullring that Hemingway made famous
     

Plaza de Toros. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Though bullfighting isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, Ronda would not be the same without this historical edifice with its glamorous past. Inaugurated in 1785, Ronda’s Plaza de Toros is one of the oldest and certainly most beautiful in Spain, in addition to being the world’s oldest arena specifically made for equestrian displays and bullfights. The site houses one of Europe's most prestigious riding schools - the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, dating back to 1571 (two years after the founding of the Vienna Spanish Riding School). Ronda’s Plaza de Toros is where the legendary Romero family started modern bullfighting in the 18th Century. Frequented by Spanish royalty and movie stars, it was also favoured by Orson Wells and Ernest Hemingway.

 

Plaza de Toros de Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Museum entrance including stables, Tauromachy Museum and Royal Harness Collection: 8 €


 

 

  1. Taste wine in a former convent garden
     

Wine tasting in the monastic garden at Descalzos Viejos vineyard. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Ronda has an inordinate amount of small boutique style wineries, many of which are organic. Almost all can be visited, just be sure to make an appointment in advance (sometimes requiring a minimum of 6 visitors). It is hard to pick a favourite as so many are excellent. The one thing that makes Descalzos Viejos winery stand out is its location. Situated in an abandoned monastery with an open vista towards Ronda, I cannot imagine a lovelier place as a backdrop for a wine tasting than the barefoot brothers’ ancient cloister garden.

Standard visit and tastings: 30 € + tax p.p.
Duration: 2.5 hour tour
Private tasting tour (1- 5 people) with owner: 150 € + tax


 

 

  1. Pit-stop at Los Arcos
     

Tabanco Los Arcos. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

If you need something to hold you until dinner – a tentenpie as the Spanish call it - join the rondeños at Tabanco Los Arcos. This wine bar just off the Puente Nuevo bridge is said to be Ronda’s best. Pisqui and his friendly and speedy team serve regional Spanish wine and tasty titbits in what must be Ronda’s narrowest wedge of a building.

 

Ronda’s narrowest building – on the edge. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Try to get a table near the window, or at least peak out at the abyss below. Ask for their Chicharrón de Cádiz and the wild mushroom paté. Once you are seated in the lively atmosphere, you might not want to leave... 

Tapas 1.5 – 2.5 €

 

 

 

  1.  Enjoy a sundowner on the roof of Hotel Catalonia 
     

 View from Hotel Catalonia rooftop bar. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

This is a MUST when you are in Ronda. Hotel Catalonia, located across from the bullring, has Ronda’s most amazing rooftop bar. The hotel offers modern 4-star accommodation, a great restaurant and a skyline pool – all very lovely. However, the best part is their rooftop bar. Nowhere else in town will you get this birds eye view of the Plaza de Toros and the backdrop of the Serranía de Ronda mountains. The optimal time to visit it is just before the sun is setting when the last rays bathes the town in golden light.

Drinks 3 - 5 €
View: Priceless
 

 

 

  1. Dine with a Michelin star chef
     

Michelin star gourmet chef Benito Gómez. Photo © Tragatá

 

Ronda is perhaps not best known for fine dining, but the Barcelona born and trained chef Benito Gómez changed this with the establishment of his two-Michelin-star restaurant Bardal. Voted the best restaurant in the province of Málaga in 2017, it was described by Conde Nast Traveller as “Without doubt the best excuse travelling south to the evermore romantic Ronda.”

 

Michelin Taster’s Choice Tragatá restaurant in Ronda. Photo © Tragatá.

 

While the celebrated restaurant is closed until 2021 due to CoVid, travellers can still enjoy Benito’s Haute Cuisine in his more informal dining establishment – Tragatá. Located a minute’s walk from Ronda’s Puente Nuevo and his other restaurant, this Michelin traveller’s choice restaurant offers a gastronomic journey with the best products to be found in the Serranía de Ronda.

Tapas 3 -12 € / Main dishes 15 - 30 €
 

 

 

  1. Sleep a la Philippe Starck
     

Cortijo LA Organic Boutique Hotel. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Ronda’s LA Organic Oleoturism Experience offers far more than designer olive oils. In addition to touring the beautifully landscaped farm with design features by the world famous French designer Philippe Starck and tasting the premium organic oils in the restaurant, you can also book a night in their rural boutique hotel, merely minutes outside Ronda. This classic Andalucian Cortijo has a bespoke modernistic interior, designed by the Starck Studio. Reserve one of the 4 delux rooms or suites, or why not rent the entire cortijo for a selected party.     

 

Living Room designed by Starck Studio. Photo © Karethe Linaae 

Delux room - 120-180 € for 2 per night
Suite – 140 – 210 €
Entire cortijo (4 bedrooms) 620 – 930 € per night
 

 

 

+ 1. Start out the day high  - Balloon flight over Ronda
 

Balloon flight over the city of dreams. Photo © Glovento Sur S.L.

 

Nothing can top a flight in an air balloon when it comes to taking in the city of dreams. Balloon pilot and owner of Granada based company Glovento Sur, Miguel Juliá Garrido offers a safe and unforgettable experience. Depending on the balloon size, the flights can take 6, 8 or 12 people. Starting at daybreak in the outskirts of Ronda, the trip includes safety preparations, a one-hour flight and breakfast. Total duration: 3 - 4 hours. The company has Civil Responsibility insurance and follows the CoVid protocol of the Spanish Ministry of Health. Glovento is associated with the Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aerea and is part of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

 

Walk, eat or fly your way through the Ciudad soñada (city of dreams). Photo © Karethe Linaae

Group flight: 200€ per person (in groups of 6, 8 or 12)
Private flight: 900€
 

 

If you need more reasons, check out Tourism Ronda. Otherwise, what are you waiting for?

Fiesta for two at El Parador de Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 1        Published at 15:17   Comments (4)


Tinto de Verano and other Spanish thirst-quenchers
09 July 2020

Sangría. Photo © Karethe Linaae


If the last time you had Sangria you drank three carafes by yourself and ended up on the floor of a Benidorm bar, I can understand why the mere mention of the word turns your stomach. However, Tinto de Verano, Sangría and other Spanish summer drinks can be quite refreshing. And they are just as easy to make at home as to order in a restaurant.


Tinto de verano (summer red wine)


Tinto de verano. Photo © Karethe Linaae

This simple and delightful summer drink is more popular than sangría amongst the locals. The recipe is simply red wine (vino tinto) served over ice and topped up (ca 50/50) with sparkling sweetened soda water. If you ask your waiter for a tinto de verano con Casera, you will be given a traditional Sprite-type gaseosa, whereas tinto de verano con limón will give you red wine with sparkling lemon soda. If you make it at home and prefer it less sweet, try mixing 1/3 red wine, 1/3 lemonade and 1/3 sparkling water. Some also like to add a dash of vermouth or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Either way, it is a cheap and cheery drink, and an excellent way of putting leftover opened wine to good use.


Sangría 
 

Sangría. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The secret to making sangría is a generous supply of over-ripened fruit. Peaches, pears, apricots, plums, berries and even bananas are great. Traditionally the drink is made in a large ceramic bowl, but according to the size of the drinking party, any generous salad or punch bowl will do (min 3 litres).

Start by pouring in a bottle of red wine. No point in splurging on expensive wine for the occasion, so we usually buy a litre bottle of cheap tempranillo at our corner store. Next, peel and chop some fruit, the juicier the better. Wedge oranges and lemons, leaving the peel on and adding some fresh juice if you have oranges to spare. Spaniards generally add a cup or two of sugar, but it is not absolutely necessary. Finally, add about a litre of lemon soda and/or sparkling water. For festive occasions, or to get more ‘kick’, add a splash of brandy, Triple Sec or vodka. Serve with ice in tall glasses, and make sure not to wear your finest whites!
 

Sangria tub. Time for a bath. Photo © Karethe Linaae

As a variation, you can also make Sangría Blanca, where you replace the red with white wine or cava. Don’t ask for too many refills, as it slides down very easily…

 

Rebujito
 

Rebujito. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Similar to the world-renown mojito, the rebujito is typical to Andalucía, especially during férias and other summer celebrations. As with all local recipes, the content varies depending on the maker and where it is made.

The most common recipe mixes two parts sherry (usually a dry Fino or the slightly more floral Manzanilla) and one part sparkling soda. Pour a bottle of the above into a large glass jar, already filled with ice cubes and lots of fresh Hierbabuena (good herb). If you cannot find this fragrant member of the mint family, people say that spearmint is its closest relative. Personally, I would rather use lemon balm as a replacement. Our Spanish friends also stir in copious amounts of brown sugar. You can use soda water instead of sweetened soda. It is all a matter of taste. Serve the rebujito over ice with a couple of slices of lime and a fresh sprig of hierbabuena.

 

Cerveza
 

Cerveza & Clara con limón 1 . Photo © Karethe Linaae

As far as Spain’s beloved cerveza is concerned, other than drinking the beer straight, the Spanish also serve their version of a Shandy. You can order una clara (beer with Casera soda) or clara con limón, which is beer with a splash of sparkling lemonade. Both are too sweet for my palate, so I usually drink a sin, meaning beer without alcohol, not very sinful at all…

 

Agua?


Andalu' friends enjoying Tinto de verano. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

It might sound a bit odd to mix wine or beer with sparkling sodas, so why do they do it? It is certainly not because they want to save on alcohol, which often costs less here in Spain than bottled water. The only explanation I can think of for this summer drink tradition is that people need more liquid in the heat and most aren’t big water drinkers. Spain’s social drinking culture has adapted to the climate, so we can enjoy a cooling drink or two, while still keeping our heads clear.

NB. All the above-mentioned drinks can of course be made without alcohol.
 

 

Sangría-sunset, Ronda. Photo© Karethe Linaae



Like 3        Published at 15:34   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