Colours and tastes of Andalucia

Years ago I was sitting in a jazzbar with a friend, enjoying a live band and chatting away as we finished our meal. On the spur of the moment I ordered a glass of port to round off the evening. The taste was a mix of sultanas and a hint of chocolate and extremely smooth. As I exclaimed over the flavour and urged my friend to taste it, I noted the name on my phone and decided that I had to have a bottle of my own. So began a quest that lasted years. That phone died and was replaced, but the name stuck in my mind. Bar staff were questioned, bottleshops explored, bottleshop staff asked, friends of friends who knew someone put out a word and time passed. It seemed as if it was unattainable. Then one day in a bottleshop across the road from my home at the time, there it was. Despite the gasp-worthy price tag I pulled it off the shelf and took it home. It was slowly savoured, after a nice meal or over a good book.

Then came the time when we were to move overseas and we threw a party, leaving our accumulated bottle selection on the bar. My port was nestled at the back, out of sight, but as the night and drinking wore on it was uncovered and someone assumed it was wine and, well, let’s not dwell on that bit.
Having moved to a new country my search continued, checking the back shelves in the government owned monopoly bottleshops and the menus in bars. It began a habit more than anything else and not a sight was seen.

Which brings us to an early afternoon in Ronda, a couple of hours north-west of Málaga in Spain. Lunch was finished and we had begun our slow wander back to the bus station. We stopped in a tourist shop and found a lovely bowl, decorated with bright red hues and dark grapes that now sits as a contrast to the whites and creams of our Swedish apartment. My partner also wanted a souvenir of the bottle variety, so we investigated a little shop selling wines, cheeses and delicacies. As I glanced around, admiring the local reds, I saw it. A bottle of Alvear Pedro Ximinex Dulce Viejo 1927.

My precious

My precious

It’s now up on the shelf nestled between champagnes, wines and port from all around the world. It seems obvious now that I’d find it in Spain – perhaps if I’d thought of that I’d have visited sooner.

Still aglow from my discovery we crossed the bridge to the new town, dodging tourists, cars, cyclists and horse drawn carriages. We had enough time to sit and bask on the pagoda overlooking the valley and canyon as the guitarist played Spanish melodies behind us. Finally we left, glancing one last time at the view, as he struck up Recuerdos de la Alhambra. It had been the first thing I hear when we reached the platform, so it was fitting that it would play for us as we left for the bus, a sort of goodbye from the amazing views, sun and flowers of Ronda.

Goodbye Ronda

Goodbye Ronda

Back in Málaga we rested for a while at the apartment and planned our final night. After a few sips of wine, we headed out for dinner and finally settled on a place specialising in paella. We continued the night on the terrace of the apartment, finishing off the last of the wine as we looked out over the city.

The amphitheatre and fortress at night

The amphitheatre and fortress at night

The next morning we packed, tidied and cleaned, leaving the apartment in as close to the condition we’d found it in as possible. Then we said goodbye to the lovely little place and wandered town with our suitcases, using up our final hours with slowly perusing shops and windows, and seeing the amphitheatre and fortress for the last time. Down at the harbour we found a seat in the sun and finished off the fruit, chatting, napping and making notes for this blog.
Then the time came for the bus, and we said goodbye to the gardens, horses, sunlight, bustle and citrus-scented streets of Málaga.

Colours of Spain

Colours of Spain

I hope we can return someday, to snack on fresh fish at El Palo, gaze out over the Mediterranean from Gibralfaro and finish off a bottle of local Rioja over a table full of tapas.

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Beaches and almond blossoms

Last week’s post left us on a sunlit wall on Gibralfaro gazing out over the Mediterranean, sipping local red. I’ll let you pause and absorb that feeling, from wherever you are. Take as long as you need.

Ready? Ok, on with the journey.

A gull guarding Gibralfaro

A gull guarding Gibralfaro

Leaving a tip for the waitress and the comfortable wall behind, we descended the hill, winding down the twisting path that seemed quite a lot easier this time around. Our next stop was a place we had spotted from the fortress – El Palo. A lady at the tourist office recommended it as a beach that was more for locals and well worth a visit, so we hopped on what we hoped was the right bus and headed off along the coast. At what seemed a good stop we jumped off and tried to spot the sea. Between houses and across roads we caught glimpses, until finally a path by a dry riverbed lead us to our destination. On either side of us stretched seemingly endless boulevards of palms, shaded paths, sandy beaches and stalls selling local delicacies.

El Palo

El Palo

We wandered for a while, trekking across the sand to the shore and feeling the chilly water, being investigated in turn by small dogs, considering which beach side stall to stop at for a bite and taking photos. We wended along the beach and boulevards until the sun began to sink, and then turned around to make our way back. As we went most of the stalls were closing, the ashes in the firepit-boats cooling and the stereos turned off. There were last drinks at a few more permanent restaurants, but we decided to take our chances in the big city instead.

Back in town we did a little bit of shopping. A search of a bookstore managed to uncover exactly no English-Spanish phrasebooks and a grocery store produced exactly as much wine, cheese, ham, fruit and bread as we would need for a quick Mediterranean breakfast the next morning. It seemed as though even something as domestic as taking groceries home was an adventure of sorts in a city like Málaga, as we found out as we walked along beside the dried river bed. The Guadalmedina was empty of water when we were there, but full of people rollerblading, practicing badminton, skateboarding and walking the dog. A sort of below ground, open air leisure centre filled the space between the roads and under bridges, which seemed a pretty sensible use of a river that’s dry for most of the year. Close to the apartment we found a crowd who were gathered around for a match, and judging by the cheers and stacks of beer bottle it was a regular and competitive game. On each side of a volleyball net 3 men headbutted, thumped and shouldered a ball, trying to keep it off the ground. We watched for a while, admiring their skill and speed, and wondering what they must be like on a soccer field.

Guadelmedina in the morning

Guadelmedina in the morning

After relaxing for a little while at the apartment and planning the next day, we went out onto the street to find dinner. We decided to try the restaurant recommended by Plane-man and our host, which we’d located during our earlier explorations. We found it, took a table and spent a while drinking wine and eating. By the time we left I was tipsy and we’d decided not to follow all recommendations in future, especially when they were at touristy locations. As we would need to be up early the next morning we called it a night and, in my case at least, wobbled back to the apartment.

The next day dawned clear and sunny, and after a quick breakfast of fresh bread, salami and cheese, we went out in search of the bus station. After a bit of a fuss we found it, bought tickets and got on the bus with a few minutes to spare. As we drove out of town, the apartment blocks gave way to fields, scattered villas and far off hills. We passed through a few small towns warming in the morning light, and vast spreads of lemon trees full of fruit. Soon these were replaced by olive groves that seemed to stretch on forever, all in neat rows. Given the history of the area, we wondered how long farms like those had been there, and mused on the lifespan of olive trees. The road led us gradually upwards until we reached a built-up town and the bus suddenly pulled into a garage and stopped. It seemed we had arrived. Out on the street were groups of tourists, all headed in one direction, and only having a vague idea of where to go, we followed.
We passed shops, more tourists and some locals, and then the road ended at a small bullring. According to the brochures it was the oldest bullring in Spain, though we didn’t get a chance to have a look at the inside. Next to it was a small fenced off garden with a bull statue, and tied to the fence was a horse dressed up in tassels and decorations. After watching for a little while I realised that it stuck it’s front left leg out whenever a person stepped close, and my suspicions were confirmed by a man dressed up in a similar way sitting watching in the shade. A few tourists stopped for photos and to pat the horse, who obediently stuck it’s leg out and then waited patiently for the next visitor.

A view with a Spanish guitarist

A view with a Spanish guitarist

Beyond the horse and the ring was another garden, which slightly blocked our view of a small pagoda where a man was playing guitar. And beyond the pagoda was a view. A platform stood out from a cliff, a few hundred metres high and surrounded by a distant ring of hills. If we peered around to the left we could make out a bit of the canyon that made this town, Ronda, so famous. We stood there for a while, taking photos and soaking in the scenery and the sun, and listening to the guitarist playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra, the the occasional bah of sheep or snatches of singing from the valley below. It was one of those perfect moments that even crowds of tourists, selfie-sticks and worries about tomorrow couldn’t tarnish.

A hill of almond blossoms

A hill of almond blossoms

From the platform we followed the crowds around to the canyon, and saw the bridge for the first time. If you haven’t seen pictures of the New bridge at Ronda imagine a narrow, steep canyon between two halves of a town and then shove in an immense bridge a bit like an aqueduct. Or look at the photos coming up soon. We crossed the bridge and took a selfie on the other side, with terraced houses and hills behind us, and then continued on to the old part of town. I’d made out a path along the hill and guessed that there might be a viewing spot, so we wandered till we found it and then descended under the shade of almond trees in full bloom. Rather than go all the way down and risk having to then come all the way back up again, we stopped halfway and found a good vantage point for photos. The bridge was even more dramatic from here, and the steep walls of the canyon and the sheer size of everything began to make me feel a little vertiginous.

Puente Nuevo

Puente Nuevo

We then climbed back up again, hunger and thirst making us a bit more energetic and went in search of food. It was eventually found at a restaurant down a side street in the old town, which served us delicious tapas, a burger and wine, which we ate contentedly as the sun moved slowly overhead. Soon we would have to head back the way we’d come to get a bus back to Málaga, but not just yet, not when there is one more glass of wine and dessert on the way.

(Photos 2, 4 and 6 by JG31)