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Christmas in Seville

December 19, 2014 – 11:31 am

This Christmas visitors are spoiled for choice for things to do and see in Seville.

From traditional nativity scenes to delightfully original handicrafts – which make ideal Christmas presents – as well as camel rides and ice-skating, together with the pretty Christmas lights which make the centre into a magical wonderland. Christmas markets abound all around the centre, fron the Alameda to the Prado.

Christmas lights on Avenida de la Constitución. Christmas lights on Avenida de la Constitución.

Luces navideños – Christmas lights

If you are taking a stroll around the monumental part of Seville, don’t miss Avenida de la Constitucion, alongide the cathedral, with a sequence of stunning lights; Mateos Gago with its orange trees backed by the Giralda; and Plaza Nueva, where the colour-changing Christmas tree is set up in front of the illuminated Ayuntamiento.

Christmas tree and star. Christmas tree with star and lights on Ayuntamiento façade.

Mercado Navideño de Artesania – Christmas Craft Market

In Plaza Nueva until 5 January you will find the Mercado Navideño de Artesania. This has over 70 stalls selling handmade jewellery, leather goods, toys and clothes. We found handbags made out of colourful men’s ties, traditional wooden children’s toys, such as pullalong dogs on wheels, old-fashioned balancing tricks, and praxinoscope – an early version of animation. Mini-works of art inhabited a beautifully laid out stall full of antique books (300 years old), with little bronze figures of girls and boys reading in various postures – sitting, standing, lying. Our favourite of these was sitting on the loo.

Christmas craft market in Plaza Nueva - great for finding unusual handmade presents, direct from the maker. Christmas craft market in Plaza Nueva – great for finding unusual handmade presents, direct from the maker.

As always in these fairs you’ll find innumerable presents for ladies – jewellery in gold, silver, leather, titanium, copper… one stand had necklaces of paper woven with copper thread. Nuna is a clothes designer who has woollen wraparound collars and scarves of softest merino mixed with silk, exquisitely dyed.

More manly were the cast-iron toasters, coat hooks, and even roses – the ultimate example of a delicate piece of nature rendered in the strongest, toughest material.

This Mercado Navideño is very well organised and has a programme listing all the exhibitors.

Hours: 11am-3pm, 5pm-9pm; 24 and 31 December 11am-3pm (closed 25 December and 1 January).

Christmas craft market in Plaza Nueva Christmas craft markets in Plaza Encarnacion and the Alameda.

Mercados de Encarnacion, Alameda and Prado de San Sebastian

Venture up to the Plaza Encarnacion market and there are further stalls as well as children’s rides – these were more picturesque, with their pointed alpine rooves against the backdrop of the Mushrooms, though less impressive in their contents. The notable exception was Saray of De Jaquete a Broche, who had ingenious roll-up blackboards – fun, colourful fabrics with wipeable “boards” which kids can write on with the chalk and wipe with the cloth provided.

Metropol Parasol also has its own programme of entertainment, including shows during the day.

Up at the Alameda you will find yet another Christmas market, this time with some fairground rides, camel rides and a flea circus. Be prepared to queue for the camel rides, which take in a generous circuit of the Alameda itself.

At the Prado’s market there is also an ice-skating rink.

Mercado de Belenes

The annual Belen market has nativity figures to populate the scenes that you’ll find in many Spanish homes, banks, offices and restaurants. From the asses, cows and goats of Jesus’s stable, to every conceivable type of food, the village houses, wells, and of course the shepherds and Three Kings, this market is great to fun to look around even if you don’t have your own nativity scene. And watch out for belenes all over the city.

Mapping – Plaza San Francisco

You can see the Mapping show, a laser video projection onto the rear façade (Plaza San Francisco) of the Ayuntamiento. This takes place at 7, 8 and 9pm from Monday to Thursday and 7, 8, 9 and 10pm Friday to Sunday.

The shows are usually full of detail, and the images move and change fast, so it’s tricky to catch every part. For this reason, it’s worth sticking around to watch a second time, to make sure you don’t miss anything. Check out some belenes in between shows.

All of these markets and shows are on until 5 January, in time for the arrival of the Three Kings.

Saturnalia at the Antiquarium

Not connected in any way to the Christmas season, but well worth seeing if you’re in the area and have an interest in the history of Seville, is the exhibition of the gates in the city walls. Built by the Moors, these stood for the best part of 700 years, enclosing the entire city centre, from Puerta Jerez to Puerta Macarena and along what’s now the ring road, and had 15 gates located all the way around. You can see paintings, and latterly photographs, of each one, with fascinating historical background; a huge blown-up map of the city showing the locations of all the gates, a 3D film about the gates; contemporary photographs of where each was; and braille models of the puertas. Sevilla Y Sus puertas is on at the Antiquarium, the Roman museum under the Setas. This is on till 22 February.

In the Aquarium, they also have a programme of “Saturnalia” activities – about socially egalitarian Roman festivities held in December in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture, to celebrate the end of the shortest, darkest says of the year. You can see what they ate and drank, and the games they played. These activities are available on 20 and 21 December.

For a complete programme of all the activities in Seville this Christmas, with opening hours, including zambomba (flamenco carol) concerts and other entertainment, as well as a list of belenes, and QR codes for some events, click here to Sevilla Turismo to download a PDF copy.

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Some Andalucian sparkle (in a glass) for your festive season

December 9, 2014 – 5:39 pm
Fragrant muscat Botani's sparkling version.

Sparkling version of fragrant dry muscat Botani.

The Christmas season has now officially started here in Spain, with the Puente de la Constitucion – the December bank holiday.

Families all over Andalucia are starting to think about their big Christmas dinner, which takes place on the night of 24 December – Christmas Eve here is called Noche Buena (Good Night).

Many people will be popping bottles of bubbly over the festive season – cava is very popular being (currently) a Spanish product, made in Catalonia. And of course on 31 December (Noche Vieja, Old Night) at midnight, once the 12 grapes have been eaten for good luck, more corks will be popped.

But now, here in Andalucia, new types of sparkling wine are being produced, providing a local alternative to Freixenet and other popular brands.

Most Malaga wines are sweet, made from the muscatel (muscat) grape, but one family winery bucks that trend by producing a dry muscatel: the deliciously fragrant, fruity, and floral wine called Botani. Bodegas Jorge Ordonez also makes a sparkling version of this award-winning DO Sierras de Malaga wine – Botani Espumoso.

Produced from Muscat of Alexandria grapes grown in the mountains of Almácha, at 600-800m. Bodegas Ordonez is a traditional, artesan wine maker, using old-fashioned methods to ensure an exceptional result: the grapes are harvested by hand, in small boxes of 10 kg, to prevent damage to the fruit, and the boxes are carried uphill by hand and loaded onto mules, so they arrive at the winery in perfect conditions. The wine is lighter than other sparkling wines at only 6.5%, but with the distinctive floral aroma and taste of Botani.

Umbretum - sparkling wine from a family bodega near Seville.

Umbretum - sparkling wine from a family winery near Seville.

Another option is the sparkling wine made by Bodegas Salados, a winery in the small town of Umbrete near Seville. Salas is well-known locally for its mosto, unfermented young wine, and its sherry-type wines. But this centuries-old family bodega also produces a sparkling wine, called Umbretum. At a heftier 11.5%, this is made from the Garria Fina grape, native to the Aljarafe region west of Seville, and comes in semi-sweet and dry (Brut Nature) varieties. The taste is fruity and citric, with a hint of honey in the sweet version.

Pretty bottle of BurNarj, sparkling wine made from oranges.

Pretty bottle of BurNarj, sparkling wine made from oranges.

And for something quite different, how about orange sparkling wine? In Palma del Rio (Cordoba), a company called BurNarj – bur from burbujas (bubbles) + narj from naranja (orange) – makes a wine from oranges. This is not orange-flavoured wine, as made in the DO Huelva, but wine made from pure fermented orange juice, using the champage/cava method.

Made with oranges from the Guadalquivir valley, this vino espumoso is the first-ever natural sparkling wine made from oranges. It is fermented to obtain the alcoholic content from the sugar, then fermented a second time inside the bottle, with two litres of juice needed to produce one 75cl bottle of BurNarj. This sparkling wine comes in four varieties: Brut Nature (very dry, 11%), Brut (dry, 11%), SemiSeco (semi-sweet, 11%) and SemiSeco Light (7%). The flavour is not overpoweringly citrussy, and the colour is pale. The drier wines pair well with caviar (such as Rio Frio from Granada) and smoked fish, while the lighter, sweeter types are less fizzy and go well with puddings, especially dark chocolate. Unlike the other two espumosos, this is made by a very new company, which celebrates its third birthday this month.

What better way to celebrate Christmas in Andalucia than by enjoying some locally made fizzy wine? Cheers! Y salud!




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The “Chef del Mar” gets his second Michelin star

November 27, 2014 – 12:40 pm
Fish chef Angel Leon as seen on the website of his two-Michelin-star restaurant Aponiente in El Puerto de Santa Maria.

Fish chef Angel Leon as seen on the website of his two-Michelin-star restaurant Aponiente in El Puerto de Santa Maria.

Last week the Michelin Guide to Spain and Portugal 2015 was launched, with the announcement of the all-important stars.

Andalucia still has seven restaurants with one Michelin star each, largely concentrated along the coast – Choco in Cordoba; La Costa in El Ejido and Alejandro in Roquetas del Mar (Almeria), Abantal in Sevilla, El Lago and Esquina both in Marbella, and Jose Carlos Garcia in Malaga.

But the big news for the region’s gastronomic scene this year was that Aponiente, the experimental and highly innovative restaurant of chef Angel Leon, known as Chef del Mar, won its second star. El Puerto de Santa Maria, the port town where the restaurant is located, will now become a gourmet mecca.

Angel Leon in action with his restaurant team at gastronomy conference Andalucia Sabor in 2013.

Angel Leon in action with his restaurant team at gastronomy conference Andalucia Sabor in 2013.

Leon, who opened his restaurant in 2007 and won his first Michelin star in 2010, has long been advocating revolutionary new ways of cooking not just fish, but all kinds of marine products such as plankton. His signature dishes include fish sausage, a “pepper” made of crab and baby squid, navajas (razor clams) with capers and anchovies, oysters with plankton, and slow-roasted almadraba tuna.

Beetroot and cuttlefish-plankton.

Beetroot and cuttlefish-plankton.

This is the Michelin inspector’s review from the guide:

“Close your eyes and savour the full flavours of the sea at this restaurant, where chef Ángel León creates innovative cuisine that will certainly cause a stir. As a result of his outstanding skill, ingredients and techniques (marine plankton, bioluminescence etc), the traditional cuisine of Cádiz takes centre stage, reaching incredible heights of creativity.”

Sausage made of seafood.

Sausage made of seafood.

Watch the video of a delighted Angel Leon celebrating the good news.

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Pushing the boundaries of Spain’s favourite dance: Beyond Flamenco

November 20, 2014 – 9:42 am
Rocio Molina, one of flamenco's most exciting dance stars, in new documentary Mas Alla del Flamenco.

Rocio Molina, one of flamenco's most exciting dance stars, in new documentary Mas Alla del Flamenco.

Living in Seville, considered by many to be the cradle of flamenco, I have written quite often about such a very Andalucian music and dance form on this blog. Two years ago I had the good fortune to attend the premiere of the movie Flamenco Flamenco in the Seville Film Festival. This documentary depicted the top stars of today’s scene, largely in terms of dancing (baile) and singing (cante).

In the recent 11 edition of the Seville Film Festival, another film on this entrancing and intriguing topic had its premiere: Mas Alla del Flamenco (Beyond Flamenco), directed by Javier Vila.

My interest, and love for, this musical form means that I’ll always try to see any film about it. Aficionados would say you should only see it live, and I have done many times but the beauty of these documentaries is that they bring together the absolute cream of today’s stars, all in one 90-minute feast.

In the case of this feast, it was a delectation of the most cutting-edge, out-there contemporary performers who are pushing the boundaries of the form – turning it inside out and upside down. Rocio Molina, described by the Guardian as “exceptional for the spectrum of her ideas”, and by the New York Times as “one of the best dancers in the world”, Eva Yerbabuena, and Israel Galvan, all impressed with their creativity and originality.

The film was recorded at the 10th Sadlers Wells Flamenco Festival, an annual event which is considered one of the most important showcases for musicians, dancers and singers in the world. It also features insightful comments from critics such as Donald Hutera of The Times and Neil Norman of The Stage. Norman says that he reckons the reason why the English love flamenco so much is that it personifies the kind of intense emotion which we shy away from. It’s like being “fed and nourished,” he says. “Something deep down we can never express because we’re too reserved – flamenco is like a  dream come true.” He certainly has a point.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the film, for me, was seeing the creative process of the artists, as they work at coming up with sequences for their shows. Israel experiments with dancing on top of a wobbly table, using the rhythmic rocking as part of his performance, while working with a French contemporary composer and pianist. Rocio collaborates with a Berlin-based Korean hip-hop artist – the resulting performance was, for me, one of the high points of the film, a work of extraordinary skill and subtlety involving the use of shadows.

Eva Yerbabuena is a lyrical, dramatic dancer who tells stories in her performances, as seen in this film.

Eva Yerbabuena is a lyrical, dramatic dancer who tells stories in her performances, as seen in this film.

Her style of dancing is less elegant than traditional flamenco, and has outraged the more conservative strands of the establishment, but she is extremely communicative and quite fascinating to watch. Eva Yerbabuena stands on a platform which is also used as an instrument of percussion, showing a series of dramatic, moving gestures.

When you see them finally performing their artistic creations, by turns frenzied and contemplative, in front of an audience in the festival, these seemingly random movements suddenly make perfect sense. Having an inside view on how these new performances, new combinations and collaborations, come together, was a privilege. Where else could you see Estrella Morente singing in the corridor, or Farruquito rehearsing with his dance partner?

The film is beautifully shot – Tomatito from behind, so you can only see the back of his guitar, the curve edged with light, and his black, curly hair backlit. Another wonderful visual image is the Korean dancer, Honi Wang – just her loose trousers with light catching their outline. Very simple, but striking.

Flamenco dancer Israel Galvan is known for his minimalist experimentation and is always exploring new ground.

Flamenco dancer Israel Galvan is known for his minimalist experimentation and is always exploring new ground.

In more comments from the film, which were infinitely more interesting and useful than those in many such documentaries, one choreographer said that the young flamenco dancers are “allowing flamenco to be relevant to our world today”, which I think is an important point – perhaps some purists are shocked, but a new generation of fans may be more receptive to dancers who wear less classical costume and have different, more  types of moves. Obviously it’s not just about appearance, and some dancers in the film do adhere to a more familiar form, in couples, wearing typical flouncy dresses.

It’s about moving away from uniform styles, but not leaving them behind altogether – the festival embraces a wide variety of treatments. As Donald Hutera puts it: “The younger generation is taking it to places it hasn’t been before, playing with form, and that keeps it alive.” Another comment which spoke volumes about the power of flamenco  was: “The emotion and visceral impact lasts, and gets under your skin. Flamenco touches through sight, sound and soul.”

Whether or not you are familiar with traditional flamenco, if you like being privy to the most ground-breaking developments of an art form with a rich heritage going back a century, I’d highly recommend this film.

Mas Alla Del Flamenco is showing tonight at the Festival de Cine Iberoamericano de Huelva.

Here is a trailer of Beyond Flamenco.



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Seville European Film Festival 2014 – starts tonight!

November 8, 2014 – 12:17 am
The Seville Film Festival starts today and lasts till next Saturday, 15 November.

The Seville Film Festival starts today and lasts till next Saturday, 15 November.

The Seville Film Festival starts today and lasts till next Saturday, 15 November. Tonight Seville, whose Alcazar Palace was recently used as a set for the fifth season of one of TV’s biggest series, Game of Thrones, hosts another major screen event – the 11th Seville European Film Festival.

As usual the festival is divided into sections, with around 120 works showing in total.

The sections include:

Official Selection – in competition for Giraldillo awards

Focus Europa - the invited country this year is Austria

Las Nuevas Olas – refreshing, original views from contemporary cinema

Short Matters! – Short films

SEFF Para Toda La Familia – family movies

Panorama Andaluz – Andalucian films

EFA – in competition for European Film Awards


These are some of the films which caught our eye, including a couple of intriguing creative genius biopics:


This film was adapted from "The Blind Man of Seville".

This film was adapted from "The Blind Man of Seville".

La Ignorancia de la Sangre
(Official Selection: 7 November at 12.30pm, Cines Sur Nervion, and 9pm, Teatro Lope de Vega; 8 November at 10pm, Nervion; 11 November at 12.15pm, Cines Sur Nervion)
Very loosely adapted from (or inspired by) the Richard Wilson thriller, The Blind Man of Seville, which was also made into an English TV series by Sky. A murder mystery, it is set in Seville and Tangiers. In Spanish. See trailer here


Mas Alla del Flamenco
(Panorama Andaluz: 12 November at 8.30pm, Teatro Lope de Vega)
This documentary looks at the most talented contemporary performers who are pushing the boundaries of flamenco baile as they appear at the 10th annual Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. In English/Spanish. See trailer here

An off-beat comedy about a young family in New York's Lower East Side.

An off-beat comedy about a young family in New York's Lower East Side.

Swim Little Fish Swim
(SEFF Joven: 8 November at 12.30pm, Cines Sur Nervion; 9 November at 7.15pm, Cines Sur Nervion; 15 November at 7pm, Teatro Alameda)
Franco-American comedy about an unconventional family in New York who take in a French lodger. In French/English. See trailer here

Mr Turner, about the landscape painter, has had glowing reviews.

Mr Turner, about the landscape painter, has had glowing reviews.

Mr Turner
(Official Selection: 12 November at 12 midday and 5.15pm, Cines Sur Nervion; 13 November at 10.15pm, Cines Sur Nervion)
Extremely well-reviewed Mike Leigh film about the English landscape painter William Turner, played by Timothy Spall who won an award at Cannes for his performance. In English. See trailer here

The biopic of the fashion designer was nominated for several Cesar awards, the French Oscars.

The biopic of the fashion designer was nominated for several Cesar awards, the French Oscars.

Saint Laurent
(Official Selection: 9 November at 9.30pm, Teatro Lope de Vega; 10 November at 10.15pm, Cines Sur Nervion)
Film about the French fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent, focusing on the 1960s and 1970s. Produced by Luc Besson. In French. See trailer here

The films are showing at various venues around the city, including the multiplex at Nervion Plaza, Teatro Lope de Vega and Teatro Alameda.

For more information you can download the full programme here



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Joe Strummer: the Spain years. “I Need A Dodge!”

October 30, 2014 – 11:41 am

Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash, in Granada in 1984/5 - a still from the documentary.

Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash, in Granada in 1984/5 - a still from the documentary.


Here at the blog, we’re always interested in quirky stories about the British in Andalucia, such as an English soldier who fought against Napoleon for Spain, buried near Seville , a certain Mr Henderson’s railway from Algeciras to Ronda,  and Laurie Lee’s fabled journey in the 1930s.

Not so long ago, a square in Granada was named after Joe Strummer, founder and lead singer of The Clash, described as “one of the most overtly political, explosive and exciting bands in rock and roll history”. Strummer visited Spain on numerous occasions in the 1970s and 1980s, and was quoted as saying that he wanted to give up music and open a ferreteria in Granada. At the time of his mid-1980s visits, he was pondering his musical future with the band, and was at a turning point in his life.

Now a Barcelona-based British indie film director, Nick Hall, has made a film about Joe Strummer in Spain, based around the American Dodge car he lost in a Madrid car park in 1986. The documentary is called I Need A Dodge! and looks at Strummer’s sojourns in Spain.

Nick Hall explains how the idea for the film first came about: “Soon after I started investigating Joe Strummer’s ‘refuge’ in Spain in 1984/5, I heard a recording of an interview on Spanish national radio from the 1990s. In the interview Joe talks about a car he had in Madrid some years earlier. One day he left the car in a car park but couldn’t remember which one. And there it stayed. In the interview Joe appeals to the Spanish people to help him find his car. I couldn’t help wondering what had happened to Joe’s Dodge and what he was doing in Madrid without the rest of The Clash. I thought I’d dig around a bit…”

Hall explains about the effect the musician had on Spanish people: “Joe Strummer touched many people’s lives in Spain during this period. He became friends with the biggest stars in Spanish music and produced an LP for a local Granada punk band [called 091]. Everyone I have interviewed for the film tells an interesting, and sometimes funny, tale of their time with a rock star at a crossroads in his life. I believe it’s a story that needs to be told and an investigation that needs to be completed – just in case!”

The film features interviews with members of 091, Radio Futura (a famous Spanish rock band, which Strummer asked to help him buy the Dodge)  and The Clash, as well as some of Joe’s closest friends.

Hall also reveals that Strummer “spent months on end here; over a year and a half period he was here more than he was back in London.” “I had this image in my head of Joe Strummer going off to dig up [Spanish poet and radical Federico Garcia] Lorca and discovering – the contrast would be huge. It’s difficult to imagine now, the contrast between the life with the Clash – he’d been playing in Shea Stadium – compared with life in Andalucia in 1984.”*

Strummer first visited Spain in the 1970s, the filmmaker says:

“Before [the Clash] he lived in a squat with two sisters from Malaga. He had a girlfriend from Malaga [Paloma Romero], who went on to become the drummer from the Slits. That is the connection. Richard Dudanski, who was his big friend, they had a Romero sister each, and they all traveled to Malaga in ’73 or something. They’d talk about Lorca. [Dictator Francisco] Franco was still in charge then. He was very interested by Spanish culture and politics. Spanish Bombs would have come out of that. And once the Clash was falling apart and he needed to run somewhere, he went back.”*

Here are the lyrics from Spanish Bombs, about the Spanish Civil War, which was on the band’s massively successful album London Calling:

Spanish songs in Andalucia
The shooting sites in the days of ’39
Oh, please, leave the ventana open
Federico Lorca, dead and gone
Bullet holes in the cemetery walls
The black cars of the Guardia Civil
Spanish bombs on the Costa Rica
I’m flyin’ in on a DC-10 tonight

Spanish bombs
Yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazon
Spanish bombs
Yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazon

Spanish weeks in my disco casino
The freedom fighters died upon the hill
They sang the red flag
They wore the black one
After they died, it was Mockingbird Hill
Back from the buses, went up in flashes
The Irish tomb, drenched in blood
Spanish bombs shatter the hotels
My Senorita’s rose was nipped in the bud

Spanish bombs
Yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazon
Spanish bombs
Yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazon

The hillsides ring with, “Free the people”
Can I hear the echo from the days of ’39
With trenches full of poets
The ragged army, fixin’ bayonets to fight the other line
Spanish bombs rock the province
I’m hearin’ music from another time
Spanish bombs on the Costa Brava
I’m flyin’ in on a DC-10 tonight

Spanish bombs
Yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazon
Spanish bombs
Yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazon
Oh mi corazon
Oh mi corazon

Spanish songs in Andalucia, Mandolina, oh mi corazon
Spanish songs in Granada, oh mi corazon
Oh mi corazon
Oh mi corazon
Oh mi corazon

And Hall comments on the Clash’s huge popularity in Spain:

“Well, he sang about Spain. Can you imagine? Spain wasn’t on the map then, in terms of British-American rock music. And there’s only so much flamenco and copla a young person can take [laughs]. Young Spanish people were listening to what everybody was listening to. There was a punk movement. The bands that were coming out of the young crowd were influenced by the British bands more than anything, and for one of them – one of the most important – to be singing about Spain, that would be massive. They only played three gigs in Spain, ever [in 1981], but it feels like they were always much closer to Spain. Those three gigs left a mark.”*


Here are the dates for the film’s showings, but sadly thus far there is nothing planned for Granada or other cities in Andalucia. Let’s hope they can find an interested venue.


30/10/14 In-Edit Music Doc Film Festival Barcelona
01/11/14 In-Edit Music Doc Film Festival Madrid
01/11/14 In-Edit Music Doc Film Festival Bilbao
01/11/14 In-Edit Music Doc Film Festival Pamplona
20/11/14 Phono-Cinema at Bestia Festival Montevideo
tbc/11/14 Phono-Cinema at Bestia Festival Mexico City
For more information about the film, go to

* These quotes are from an interview on


Here is the trailer for the film.





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Autumn – gathering season in Andalucia

October 15, 2014 – 2:58 pm
olive, olives, aceituna, aceitunas

Ripe olives ready to pick.

olive, olives, aceituna, aceitunas

Jars of seasoned olives at a food fair - they're a very versatile ingredient.

There are many activities you can join in with around Andalucia at this time of year, as natural products are harvested in the sunny autumn, as morning mists rise, jumpers are pulled on and fires lit. Nights are chillier as the days get shorter, but daytime is still delightfully warm.

In the Sierra Sur of Seville, you can have a day picking and preserving olives - start off with a breakfast at the farmhouse featuring, you guessed it, olives. Did you know that Spain produces more than 250 types of olives, both for table and to be made into olive oil?

olive, olives, aceituna, aceitunas

An olive-picker in action.

Then you go into the fields with expert pickers to see how it’s done – there’s a lot more skill to picking olives than just grabbing the fruit off the tree. This process is known as el verdeo.

Later back at the farmhouse you can learn how to prepare and preserve the olives you collected – the aceituna aliña (seasoned olives) of the area is famous.

And naturally, the experience finishes with a tasting of different types of the popular Andalucian speciality, accompanied by wine, beer or other drinks. You can also choose the option of staying to have lunch in the farmhouse – a traditional meal of rice, meat, and pastries.

This activity takes place near the town of Arahal in Seville province – contact Foodies Andalucia for more details.

In November last year I went with my children to see olives being picked, this time to be made into “liquid gold” – otherwise known as olive oil – in deepest Jaen. It was a real eye-opener for me, and fascinating to see the journey from branch to bottle. Those olives were of the picual variety, and I’ve been a convert to this strong, spicy oil with a (natural) brilliant green colour ever since.


olive, olives, aceituna, aceitunas

Freshly-foraged fungi in the Sierra de Grazalema.

olive, olives, aceituna, aceitunas

A very tasty dish of freshly-picked wild braised mushrooms.

olive, olives, aceituna, aceitunas

Mushroom tapa route in the Cadiz hilltown of Cortes de la Frontera.


For fungi fans, many towns around the Sierra de Aracena and Sierra de Grazalema offer mushroom-hunting expeditions, and special seasonal menus featuring foraged fungi. Always best to go with an expert, so that the meal cooked with your spoils is safe. One of the hotels in our new Special Hotel Collection, Hotel Castellar, is in prime mushroom-picking territory.

If you prefer just to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour, restaurants in these hill towns, such as Aracena and Cortes de la Frontera, offer special mushroom menus and tapas routes.

Autumn in Andalucia is also the season for many other delicious natural produce, such as persimmons, figs and chestnuts, many of which have their own local fiestas.

These days it’s called agricultural tourism, but really it’s just learning about traditional techniques which Andalucians have been using for centuries, to gather and prepare their natural bounty for the table.

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Spain NOW!

October 3, 2014 – 2:51 pm
See the best of Spain's contemporary cultural scene this autumn in London.

See the best of Spain's contemporary cultural scene this autumn in London.

From next Thursday 9 October until Tuesday 25 November, you can see the best of Spanish creative talent in London, in the sixth annnual season of Spain NOW! – Contemporary Spanish Art and Culture.

The season, which first took place in 2009,  showcases cutting-edge Spanish arts: visual art, architecture, literature and dance at venues including the Barbican Centre, Sadler’s Wells, Maddox Arts, and 12 Star Gallery, with the creative hub at Hanmi Gallery in Ftizrovia.

These are some of the highlights:


14-24 October Photography exhibition by Ricky Davila at the 12 Star Gallery, Westminster, in conjunction with PhotoEspaña festival. Ricky has won the Best American Picture Prize and FotoPress Award.


23 October El Edificio, Screening of Victor Moreno’s documentary about the iconic Madrid building Edificio España, and talk afterwards, by Brendan Cormier, lead curator of 20th Century Design at the V&A.

This year's programme features art, film, literature and dance - the best of Spanish vanguard culture.

This year's programme features art, film, literature and dance - the best of Spanish vanguard culture.


7-9 November Open Studios Weekend – Spanish artists open their studios in various locations around London to the public


24-25 November Dance Performance at Lilian Bayliss Studio, Sadler’s Wells


For more information, see the Spain NOW! website.

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Special Hotel Collection

September 30, 2014 – 10:20 am
Our new Special Hotel collection only features the finest establishments which we recommend personally.

Our new Special Hotel collection only features the finest establishments which we recommend personally.

When you’re booking your holiday in Andalucia, you want to make sure that you’re getting the best hotel in the best location.
With such a vast array of places available, how do you know which hotel to select?

We’ve just made it easier for you, by selecting an exclusive group of luxury hotels which we recommend as being among the most exceptional in Andalucia, and have visited personally to ensure they have the high standards we expect from a hotel in terms of outstanding style and service, and all in unparalleled locations.

Corral del Rey is an exquisite boutique hotel in Seville.

Corral del Rey is an exquisite boutique hotel in Seville.

Currently the Special Hotel Collection, which has just been launched, has three hotels: Corral del Rey, a boutique hotel in the historic centre of Seville, with gorgeous interiors mixing Moroccan and Asian influences in a 17th-century Sevillano house with patio; its sister hotel, Hacienda San Rafael, a converted 18th-century olive farm midway between Seville and Jerez, with a garden bursting with colourful bouganvillea and oleander, three swimming pools and endless romantic corners; and Hotel Castellar, an elegant spa hotel on the doorstep of the Grazalema National Park, Europe’s largest cork-oak forest.

Hotel Castellar offers luxury in beautiful natural surroundings.

Hotel Castellar offers luxury in beautiful natural surroundings.

So when you’re looking for somewhere special to stay in Andalucia, perhaps for a birthday, anniversary or other family celebration, or even just a much-deserved break, you know where to find the most individual, superbly-located and delightful hotels, for an unforgettable experience:’s Special Hotel Collection.

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La Vendimia – the grape harvest

September 17, 2014 – 4:05 pm
Manilva´s grape harvest takes place every year and is known as the ´Feria de Vendimia. Photo by Michelle Chaplow.

Manilva´s grape harvest takes place every year and is known as the ´Feria de Vendimia. Photo by Michelle Chaplow.

The calendar here in Andalucia is very much in tune with nature – marked by harvests of seasonal fruits, vegetables and other crops grown all around this fertile and highly productive area, from the lowlands with their rice, to the mushrooms in woodlands, and the rolling hills of olive trees.

One of the most important of these agricultural celebrations is the autumn vendimia, or grape harvest. Wine is made throughout Andalucia, but two of the most important regions are Jerez, where sherry is produced, and Malaga, home to the Malaga sweet wine, or moscatel as it’s made from sweet white muscatel grapes. This traditional event takes place on the Saturday closest to 8 September.

Even the smallest towns in Andalucia make their own wine – for example Manilva, a hilltop village in Malaga province, just inland from the coast, where a vendimia ceremony starts off with the grapes being blessed, as tradition dictates. The relationship between farming and religion in Andalucia is a close one; many consider the Virgin Mary to have qualities in common with a pagan “Earth Mother”. Manilva is known as Andalucia’s greenest village in summer, because of the abundance of verdant foliage in its terraced vineyards.

Then the grapes are ceremonially trodden – though don’t get the idea that this is just for fun: the grape-treaders may practise for up to a week to make sure that their rhythm of stamping is perfect. As they get tired from their highly aerobic grape-treading, the crowds will cheer on the treaders, encouraging them to continue with their labour. The first drink of this unfermented, foot-pressed grape juice is considered lucky, while as part of the vendimia festival the vineyard owner with the largest racimo (bunch) of grapes will often be awarded a special prize – and enjoy the higher status which this accolade brings.

Young, unfermented wine which costs less than 2 euros per litre.

Young, unfermented wine which costs less than 2 euros per litre. Photo by Fiona Flores Watson.


Bodegas Salado in Umbrete produces 300,000 litres of mosto every year. Photo by Fiona Flores Watson.

Bodegas Salado in Umbrete produces 300,000 litres of mosto every year. Photo by Fiona Flores Watson.

Mosto, or very young unfermented wine (must, as in musty), is available from October, and is best drunk within a few months. The mosto of Umbrete, an even smaller town in the Aljarafe región west of Seville city, is a local speciality, and townsfolk come to the Salado bodega, a family-run winery which dates from the 19th century, to fill and refill their plastic containers with the grapey liquid.

Such wines as Rioja, cava and sherry are already widely appreciated, but now more Spanish wines are finally being recognised for their superb quality, and excellent value for money. The Spanish wine industry is on the up, so the vendimia is a big reason to celebrate los vinos españoles!

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