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Fortuny’s vision of Andalucia at CaixaForum Seville

October 3, 2017 – 2:01 pm La Maestranza de Sevilla by Mariano Fortuny La Maestranza de Sevilla by Mariano Fortuny


A new exhibition at CaixaForum in Seville, Andalucia in the Imagination of Fortuny, examines the Granada period of Catalonian painter Mariano Fortuny.

Fortuny (1836-1874)  is considered by many the greatest 19th-century painter after Goya, and one of Spain’s most important artists, despite his tragically short life and career.

The artist lived in Granada with his wife and their son from 1870-1972. At the time when the Fortuny family arrived, the city was an isolated spot, culturally as well as geographically, well off the map of established artistic hotspots like London, Paris and New York. The painter, flushed with recent critical and commercial success in the French capital, but also wanting to escape the associated pressures of his new status, found a sense of peace where he could rediscover his creative talent.

Fortuny’s production while living in the city of the Alhambra was prolific. He painted many of its streets and buildings in romantic style – he loved the atmospheric narrow alleys – as well as scenes of Seville, and of Morocco.

La Matanza de los Abencerrajes by Mariano Fortuny La Matanza de los Abencerrajes by Mariano Fortuny

One of his most famous works was painted in Granada, La Matanza de los Abencerrajes. The bloody scene is set in the Alhambra’s Sala de los Abencerrajes, off the Courtyard of the Lions.

Legend has it that the Banu Al-Sarrya (the original Arabic version of the name), an important political dynasty, were massacred here by the Zenete, a rival family. The Zenete claimed that one of their women was involved with a man from the Al-Sarrya, and so 36 of that family’s men were invited to dinner and slaughtered (perhaps inspiring a notorious episode of Game of Thrones).

Another notable painting, toward the end of the exhibition, is La Maestranza de Sevilla, showing the bullring with the cathedral behind. Also look out for Torre de las Damas, part of the Alhambra which so entranced Fortuny.

Marroquies by Mariano Fortuny Marroquies by Mariano Fortuny

Some paintings have a Moroccan theme, as Fortuny was sent there in 1859 to document the Spanish-Moroccan war (remember, this was before the era of photography). He painted Moroccans and also Islamic ceramic tiles with typically striking geometric designs.

Childrens area - as always as CaixaForum exhibitions, handicrafts activities related to the show are offered free. Childrens area – as always as CaixaForum exhibitions, handicrafts activities related to the show are offered free.

This show consists in part of sketches and drawings, studies for oil paintings, some of which you can see in the exhibition. Many of these show fascinating details of local granadinos, their clothes, houses, patios and gardens.

One curiosity worth mentioning is that each of Fortuny’s works is stamped with a “Fortuny” mark. This is to certify its authenticity as one of the painter’s works, dating from when all his oeuvre was gathered together by the National Museum of Catalonian Art.

Sadly, Fortuny died of malaria shortly after his stay in Granada, in 1874, at the young age of 36. His son, also Mariano Fortuny, who was born in Granada, became a successful fashion designer.

Fortuny fans may be interested that the Prado in Madrid is hosting another exhibition of his work, Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874), from 21/11/2017 to 18/03/2018.


Andalucia en el Imaginario de Fortuny is at Caixa Forum, Seville until 7 January 2018

Camino de los Descubrimientos, esq calle Jeronimo de Aguilar, 41092 Sevilla

Open daily 10am-8pm (Closed 25 December 2017, 1 and 6 January 2018)


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Sorolla’s Garden Paintings at CaixaForum in Seville 

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Most unusual Andalucian festivals in September

September 1, 2017 – 6:47 pm

Guest post: Andrés Lopez Sheridan

Andalucía is well known for its authentic and traditional parties and celebrations. If you thought everything was over after the high summer season season, think again – Welcome to September!

Cascamorras Festival
Cascamorras Festival ©Michelle Chaplow

I have just discovered one of the coolest celebrations that takes place in Andalucía, yet it’s surprisingly unknown outside of Granada. Cascamorras has everything to become a mainstream festival; I can already imagine the towns of Baza and Guadix flooded with hundreds of tourists coming to get completely drenched in ecological paint.
The story says that Juan Pedernal, a workman from Guadix, found a holy image of a virgin while working the field in Baza. He tried to take it back to his hometown but Baza claimed it as their own. It was decided that the statue would stay in Baza but it would be taken to Guadix for just one day. When Juan Pedernal, also known as Cascamorras, attempted to take it back to Guadix he got literally whacked out of town. The poor man was also beaten up by his fellow countrymen again, when he came back empty handed. Today, if the Cascamorras (a person picked yearly from Guadix) remains clean and reaches the virgin that is kept in the church in Baza after being attacked by the whole town with black oil, he will be able to take the sacred statue back with him.

Sound impossible? That’s because it is. And the story doesn’t finish just there as the chosen Cascamorras still has to return to his hometown. Three days later the party relocates to Guadix where, when the Cascamorras arrives empty handed, the locals decide to punish him by covering him and themselves with coloured paint.
Feel like ruining your clothes and joining in on this splashy festival? The Cascamorras festival takes place between Guadix and Baza in the region of Granada during the 5th to the 9th of September.

For a personal account of experiencing this festival, see this article on last year’s event.

Fiesta de la Vendimia or The Harvest Festival
Grape Harvest Festival Jerez

Among the famous Vendimia Festivals in Spain, it’s impossible not to mention the Grape Harvest Festival of Jerez de la Frontera, which celebrates one of the most important harvest festivals in Spain. These are the very same grapes used to make its internationally recognized sherry. During the first two weeks of September Jerez pays tribute to its wine and the people that make it. The treading of the grapes, ‘Pisa de la Uva,’ is celebrated in front of the Cathedral.

It is the most important and iconic moment of the festivity. It’s an homage to those who work the land of Jerez to produce one of the most important wines of the world. At the end of the treading, they offer a glass of fino (dry sherry) to the attendees. The Vendimia Festival of Jerez includes plenty of other activities during the two weeks of festival, such as different wine tastings, wine pairings with Andalucian gastronomic delicatessen and concerts that take place all over the city.
Want to try one of Spain’s most famous exports? The Fiesta de la Vendimia in Jerez takes place during the first two weeks of September.

Festival de la Luna Mora
Luna Mora Festival in Guaro. Pic courtesy of Guaro Town Hall

The village of Guaro represents that classical image that comes to your head when you think of an Andalucian white village. This small town is located very close to the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park. During this festival, this village takes you back in time five centuries. Merchants sell their handcrafted products in the towns market, Arab-Andalucian-Sephardic melodies echo through the small streets all the way to the main square, and all under the sole light of 20.000 candles that transforms this beautiful village into a magical experience. Snap some photos at this beautiful feria and you can easily boost your Instagram followers. #candles #andalucia #lunamora #comeonbabylightmyfire
The atmosphere at Guaro’s Luna Mora Festival is completed with other activities for adults, romantic couples or youngsters such as concerts, workshops, street performances, parades or storytellers. This spectacular festival takes place during the first week of September in Guaro, Málaga.
As you can see staying home in September is not an option! Get out there and let me know what your favourite September festival is!

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Jon Rahm will make his first professional appearance in Spain at Valderrama

September 1, 2017 – 4:58 pm

“I look forward to playing in front of the Spanish fans.”

Rahm will make his first professional appearance in Spain at Valderrama. ©Getty Images Jon Rahm will make his first professional appearance in Spain at Valderrama. ©Getty Images

Rising Spanish golf star Jon Rahm will make his first professional appearance in Spain at Valderrama, during the third edition of the Andalucía Masters on 19-22 October. The event is hosted by the Sergio García Foundation and sponsored by the Junta de Andalucia.

Rahm currently ranks 5th in the OWGR and the FedEx Cup, and 3rd in the Race to Dubai in his impressive rookie season. He won the Farmers Insurance Open, his maiden PGA Tour title, in January. In July he earned his first European Tour victory by winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open by six strokes.

The Spanish rising talent (born in Barrika, Vizcaya, on 10 November 1994) is relishing his home debut. “I really look forward to playing in front of the Spanish fans. Right after the Irish Open I went to Valderrama to practice for October. I felt a big sense of anticipation as I teed up on the first hole. I wish to encourage everyone to come and support us and watch some great golf. If the public enjoys it, we will enjoy it.

“My first round at Valderrama was five years ago when I played the Sotogrande Cup with the Spanish national team. It was a different experience because my game has changed a lot since then. I remember playing in a gale.

“Valderrama is one of the best layouts I have ever played. It is visually attractive and wonderfully maintained. Golf courses don’t need to measure 10,000 yards to be challenging. I find Valderrama very exciting and a good test. You really have to think your way through and play all kinds of shots. Mistakes can be costly, so it keeps you on your toes.”

Jon was two years old when Valderrama staged the Ryder Cup; his father Edorta recalls how the 1997 showdown introduced golf to his family: “We are a group of friends from Bilbao who enjoy a lot of sports together, particularly skiing. Two of our gang were invited to the ’97 Ryder Cup. They had no idea of golf, but they returned home full of enthusiasm. Two years later, Eduardo Celles opened his golf academy in Bilbao and we all started taking lessons. My wife Ángela, and our sons Jon and Eriz took up golf in 2003.”

The family became so addicted to golf that they took a week’s vacation every year to go to Valderrama for the Volvo Masters. Jon has vivid childhood memories of those tournaments where the trophies he collected on the course were the autographs of his idols.

“I remember my first visit with my father during the 2007 Volvo Masters. The first player we saw was Thomas Björn on the 7th. Then we went to the first to watch Poulter and Sergio tee off. We followed Poulter who played a great shot on the first. I went ahead of my dad and was lucky enough to see Justin Rose ace the 3rd, but my dad didn’t see it. We followed Poulter along the 4th and we waited for Colin Montgomerie on the 5th. The next thing I remember is the 17th, a great hole. You need a perfect drive to a tight fairway and then you are facing a daunting second – it reminds me slightly of the 15th at Augusta.

“On the 18th green I got my shirt signed by Nick Dougherty, Paul Casey and Miguel Ángel, but I don’t think he remembers. Harrington had won the Open Championship that year and I asked him for his cap but he couldn’t give it to me. I didn’t bring home any balls, hats nor gloves, only my shirt with six signatures on it. We went from there to the putting green and to the driving range to see some more golf.”

Ten years after collecting those autographs, Jon returns to Valderrama as one of the world’s top players. “In October I will be proud to play my first professional event in Spain. I look forward to playing the Andalucía Valderrama Masters in front of my home crowd and will do my best to give a good show.

“The boy that went to Valderrama in 2007 is still there, with the same dreams and the same ambition. I am extremely fortunate that my dreams are coming true, but this year feels more like a Steven Spielberg film – winning at Torrey Pines and again in Ireland the way I did doesn’t even happen in the wildest dreams.”

Edorta Rahm shares the same feeling. “I never imagined that Jon would get so far so fast. You dream that your son will make it, but being realistic, we insisted that he should complete his studies. I only started to believe that the dream could come true in 2015, when he finished 5th at the Phoenix Open playing under an invite as the leading world amateur. “All our family and friends will go to the Andalucía Valderrama Masters – we are looking forward to a great week.”

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5 Things I’ve Noticed as a Repatriated Spanish Expat

August 22, 2017 – 6:09 pm

Guest post: Andrés Lopez Sheridan
My name is Andrés and I have just returned to Málaga after living abroad for nine years. I grew up in a bilingual home in a small town 80 km away from Málaga. When I turned 18 I moved to the capital to study journalism at Málaga University. During my student years I had the chance of living in Portugal and Colombia thanks to the mobility programmes offered by the university. Since then I have been combining studies and work in different countries around the world including Scotland, Holland, Chile and the U.S. among others. In all these places I’ve met fascinating people, I’ve discovered incredible places and learned about different customs that changed the way I understood life. Despite all this I have always felt really Spanish at heart. However now that I’m back in Andalucía, there are certain things I don’t completely relate to anymore. Here are my five biggest culture shocks after returning “home”.

“Silence please, this is not Spain” “Silence please, this is not Spain”

“Silence please, this is not Spain”
Growing up in Andalucía I was a loud boy, a loud teenager and, looking back, weirdly proud of my high volume setting. For me, and I think for most Spanish people, being loud correlates with having a good time. I guess this opinion has changed while I’ve been living abroad. In Portugal I laughed at a sign on the bus that said: “Silence please, this is not Spain, and I’ve often felt self-conscious in Scotland or Amsterdam when Spanish friends couldn’t control the volume of their voices. Now that I’m back in Spain, my Spanish friends who ask me why I speak so quietly.

“Sorry, I lived in northern Europe for too long”
Greeting people is undoubtedly the most confusing of social practices to learn while living in a different country. Each nation has its own system: shaking hands, a hug, one kiss, two kisses, three… Scotland was the first English-speaking country where I lived, which meant I found its etiquette the hardest to understand. It was tricky to know whether I should shake hands, hug or just say hello. I felt constantly confused, particularly after coming from a place where the norm is two kisses for men and women, and shaking hands between men. But now, years later, I’m incredibly confused to realize that I can’t approach a Spanish person in the usual local way. “Sorry, I´ve lived in northern Europe for too long”.

Winter is not coming
For the last four years I’ve been based in Amsterdam. It’s my favourite city: the perfect size, with a great cultural offering, beautiful architecture and lovely people. The only real problem living there was the horrible, never-ending cold. I would actually feel afraid leaving the house in winter. The Amsterdam chill felt like a bunch of angry kickboxers slapping your face. Now that I’m back in Málaga, all I can complain about is the fierce heat that increases every year, and how overrated coats are!

“Mum, send me some jamón!” “Mum, send me some jamón!”

“Mum, send some jamón!”
If you ask any Spaniard living abroad what they miss most about their home country, 95% will say the food. Spain is incredibly proud of its gastronomy and probably the most difficult change when you live abroad is adapting to new food. That’s why I found it so strange when some North Americans asked me if we only eat Spanish food in Spain. I had never really thought about it; the UK has a big tradition in Indian food, it’s easier to find a Indonesian restaurant in Holland than an actual Dutch one, but Spain’s long gastronomic tradition – plus the isolation during the dictatorship years – means most menus still feature traditional dishes my abuela would have cooked.

“Bye again, Spain”
In the months before I came back to Málaga, I was really excited about returning to start a new life in my home city. Once I got here, all it took was one visit to an administrative office to swear I was leaving Spain and never coming back. Eventually I calmed down after remembering how painful bureaucratic visits had been anywhere I had lived. Maybe being in a foreign country, or not speaking the language, made me less demanding and more patient.

After all this I still can’t decide If I would rather complain about the cold or the heat, or if on a Tuesday night I should go for tapas or look for an Ethiopian restaurant. Anyone else have the same problem?


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Summer in Seville – Pick of the Palaces

July 25, 2017 – 12:32 am

Outdoor events rule the scene in summertime Seville, as temperatures climb to the 40s on a regular basis (105F). Here are some of the cultural events on during July and August, from music, theatre and dance to outdoor cinema.

One of the most long-standing events is the Noches en Los Jardines del Real Alcazar, now in its 18th season.  These concerts in the gardens of the royal palace, next to the Charles III Pavilion, take place from Monday to Saturday until 9 September, and include flamenco, classical and world music.

Especially recommended are dates featuring superb Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra oboeist, Brit Sarah Roper, who plays on 3 August in a duo with guitarist Maria Esther Guzman, and on 5 September in the MeSaMoR Trio, featuring Maria and flautist Vicent Morello. For the full programme, and to book tickets (avoid the online booking fee by collecting tickets in person, see Concerts take place at 10.30pm, with the gardens open an hour earlier.



This season of concerts and plays continues until the end of August.
This season of concerts and plays continues until the end of August..


In an equally historic, though less celebrated setting, the 12th-century Palacio de la Buhaira in Nervion, you can see concerts almost every night until 17 August and then plays until 31 August, in Noches en el Palacio de la Buhaira. Music includes opera recitals and soundtracks. Performances start at 10pm. For more, see this page.



In the Macarena district of the old town, behind Feria market, Palacio de los Marqueses de Algaba has a season of theatre which lasts until 24 September. Find out more here.


The Tobacco Factory sees a varied season of events.
The Tobacco Factory sees a varied season of events.


Another historic building, the Fabrica de Tabacos, hosts a season of cultural events, including flamenco, movies, poetry and theatre. See the full programme here.


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Sorolla’s garden paintings at CaixaForum in Seville

July 13, 2017 – 9:28 pm


The exhibition is on until 15 OctoberThe exhibition is on until 15 October.


For all garden lovers, this art exhibition – Sorolla: Un Jardin Para Pintar - is a treat.

The show of paintings by the Valencian artist, which has just opened at CaixaForum, a major new cultural centre in Seville. runs until 15 October.

Joaquin Sorolla was an internationally-renowned post-impressionist painter who worked in the late 19th and early 20th century, with many exhibitions in Paris, London and the US.

Sorolla loved gardens, and often visited the Alhambra and Alcazar of Seville; his paintings are known for their exquisite use of colour and light.


A tiled bench with pool in Sorolla's garden in MadridA tiled bench with pool in Sorolla’s garden in Madrid.


In 1911, the artist decided to design his own house and garden in Madrid. He wanted to bring together his studio, living quarters, family and a beautiful outside space. In the heart of Madrid, on Paseo de General Martinez Campos, he built a house with a wonderful garden consisting of several Andalucian patios, inspired by his favourite spots in Granada and Seville, complete with fruit trees, Moorish-style pools and fountains, and tiled benches.

Plants were chosen carefully for their colours – rose, oleander, azalea, hydrangea and lilac – with many shades of white, pink and blue. Many of the plants, trees, tiles and statues were brought from Andalucia.

You can visit his house and garden, now the Museo Sorolla, an oasis of tranquillity in the vibrant Spanish capital – which is exactly as the painter envisaged it, for himself and those closest to him.


The Patio Andaluz in Sorolla's house in Madrid, by SorollaThe Patio Andaluz in Sorolla’s house in Madrid, by Sorolla.


Painting his garden became a source of great pleasure to Sorolla, and this exhibition in Seville portrays his love for this very personal sanctuary, right up until 1920 when illness prevented him from continuing to paint.

The exhibition consists of more than 170 paintings, drawings, sketches and photographs, mostly from the Museo Sorolla in Madrid.  It’s fascinating to see how his vision for the garden developed through from rough scribbled notes, to careful detailed plans.


Handwritten note from Clotilde and Maria, Sorolla's wife and daughter, to the painter, with pressed flowersHandwritten note from Clotilde and Maria, Sorolla’s wife and daughter, to the painter, with pressed flowers.


Other delightfully personal exhibits include hand-written notes with pressed flowers from the painter’s wife and daughter to him – a deeply thoughtful and touching gesture in these days of instant messaging across the globe.

Although many of the paintings of Sorolla’s own garden are similar – or at least variations on a theme – it is fascinating to see how he drew from the famous Moorish gardens of Andalucia’s greatest monuments, continuing the Moorish style.

If you go as a family, don’t miss the excellent hands-on children’s activities within the gallery, themed around the exhibition.

CaixaForum is open daily from 10am-8pm. It is located next to the Torre Sevilla, on Camino de los Descubrimientos, with the entrance on Calle Jeronimo de Aguilar. There’s an underground car park; street parking is difficult on weekdays during the day, but easy in the evenings and at weekends.

Family visits to the exhibition are available at weekends, while guided tours take place daily on Monday and Thursday to Sunday. In September there are poetry readings and concerts.



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Teen Star Mozart Dee Comes to Andalucia

June 22, 2017 – 8:28 pm

This month music fans in Torrox Pueblo and Estepona have a treat in store.

American child prodigy Mozart Dee is playing two concerts: at La Casa in Torrox Pueblo on 28 June, and at the Fuerte Hotel Estepona on 30 June. (Info about Concerts)

These appearances are part of the 16-year-old singer and musician’s European summer tour, otherwise known as the Mozart Ignite Tour. (#MozartIgniteTour)

She and her parents were based in Frigiliana for five years, when Mozart was between the ages of 5 and 10, travelling during the summer months, and living and going to school in the Axarquia village in the winter.

Since 2006, Mozart has been home-schooled, or as she says, “world-schooled”, travelling from country to country with her parents, visiting 48 in total. Currently based in Los Angeles, Mozart is trilingual, speaking English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, and has worked professionally in all three languages.

She lists her musical influences as Ed Sheeran, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, Jesus Corbacho Enrique Iglesias and currently Halsey and Rixton. Playing the violin since two years old, and piano since three, Mozart started writing songs at the age of four. No slouch on the literary front, she loved Shakespeare as a toddler. Her early creative development was no doubt helped by the fact that her parents are both artistic-performer types – mum is an actress/writer, and dad a visual artist/creative director.

In addition, Mozart champions environmental and social issues, and is an actress. With a very high IQ, she has already finished her first year of college.

Mozart will be travelling with her parents first of all in the UK, where performed at the Baltic in Newcastle (8 June) and gave a keynote speech at Tech on the Tyne conference (9 June) about being a world-schooled digital nomad tech-teen.

In total, her trip will cover nearly 3,000km, merely a dainty footstep compared to her global wanderings.

You can follow Mozart on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube at MusicByMozart
To read more about her, see our in-depth interview

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The Reign in Spain – the Spanish Monarchy in the 20th century

June 22, 2017 – 3:45 pm This fascinating book ofers an in-depth look at the Spanish monarchy, from Alfonso XII to King Felipe. This fascinating book ofers an in-depth look at the Spanish monarchy, from Alfonso XII to King Felipe.

For anyone with an interest in modern Spanish history – the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of the Spanish Royal Family, from Alfonso XII in the late 19th century, through his son Alfonso XIII, exiled as the Second Republic is declared in the 1930s; the Civil War and Dictatorship, and Juan de Borbon’s court-in-exile; to Juan’s son King Juan Carlos and the Transition in the 1970s and 1980s, and his grandson, our current King Felipe – this book is highly recommended.

The Reign in Spain: Fall & Rise of the Spanish Monarchy is written by dedicated US hispanophile, W Kristjan Arnold. He penned this self-published book after being unable to recommend a tome on Spain’s recent history, especially in regards to the monarchy, when asked for one by friends and family. “You should write a book!”, they told him. So he did – and it took him 10 years, plus four more to edit.

The result of this labour of love is an extraordinarily detailed and comprehensive, in some cases hour-by-hour, telling based around the conflict between Spain’s two heads of state in the 20th century – the royal family and Dictator Franco. It doesn’t go into great detail on King Juan Carlos’s abdication in 2014 and the events leading up to it, about which I’d love to hear more, but that’s another whole book in itself.

As ever such books, we see themes like duty and loyalty, betrayal and courage, intricate plotting and diplomacy. A monarchy divested of all its official power and authority – Juan de Borbon, Count of Barcelona, exiled king-in-waiting held court in Italy, then Portugal – yet by playing cautious, carefully-planned, chess-like moves, restored after decades thanks to the patience, skill and dedication of Juan. The story is narrated from the point of view of one of the king-in-waiting’s most trusted advisors, and gives us a behind-the-scenes insight into the machinations of his council in exile, with the action starting as an ailing Generalisimo (referred to by this courtier, in frequently colourful language, as “the Prick”) prepares to name his heir.

It is an extremely dense book, with much detail, which is rather heavy-going in some places (the letters from Juan, Count of Barcelona to Franco go on for many pages). Also, some of the phrasing is odd, and in my own view the book could have been further edited to reduce its 450-0dd pages. Having said that, reading the actual missives between the king-in-exile and his nemesis, General Francisco Franco, is illuminating in how they subtly score points against each other, push their own agendas, and negotiate for Juan’s son, Juan Carlos, to be educated in Madrid and effectively prepared and groomed as Franco’s successor.

The most gripping sections are the dramatic parts, which were the decisive moments in the country’s history.

  • Alfonso XIII (of the eponymous Seville hotel) and his English queen – Victoria Eugenia, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, and known as Ena – flee into exile with their children as the First Republic is declared in 1931.
  • Juan and Franco finally agree terms for Juan Carlos to be declared formally as Franco’s heir.
  • Juan Carlos weighs up carefully what to say in his first, crucial speech as King, setting out his values, beliefs and aims, taking the first steps to establish a democracy, and subsequently ousting his first Prime Minister.
  • The attempted Coup d’Etat by various generals in 1981, and Juan Carlos’s calm handling of the potentially explosive crisis, which won him the support of many Spaniards.

My own knowledge of recent Spanish history is reasonable, if nothing special, but this book filled in the gaps, and fleshed out those key periods. The main characters, with their strengths and flaws, are vividly brought to life. Whatever his later misjudgements and indiscretions, Juan Carlos` deft and delicate handling of highly sensitive situations, and a sense of political acuteness, were instrumental in Spain’s return to a peaceful democracy.

This is not a quick beach read, but is for history lovers, hispanophiles, and Spanish residents who want to know more about the turbulent recent past of their adopted home country.





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Across the Alpujarras in a campervan named Pepa

May 10, 2017 – 1:30 pm


About to head up into the mountains - the van's roof window was an instant hit.

About to head up into the mountains – the van’s roof window was an instant hit.


We all have our lists of places we want to visit – in Andalucia, top of mine for some years has been the Alpujarras, the mountainous region south of the Sierra Nevada in Granada and Almeria provinces. I read the Gerald Brenan book about living here in the 1920s and 30s, South From Granada, soon after arriving in Spain, as well as Chris Stewart’s more recent Driving Over Lemons series, both of which describe the area and its inhabitants in invitingly lyrical but also intriguingly realistic terms. In addition, an unusual cultural project had piqued my curiosity, more of which later.

However this remote area of small villages with centuries-old customs is located right over the other side of Andalucia from where I live – Seville. So I was delighted when I was offered a campervan for the weekend to go away in with my family. As my eight-year-old daughter, Lola, has long been fascinated by campervans, and has always yearned to sleep in a little house on wheels, it was a no-brainer to head off to the Alpujarras for a couple of nights on a sunny spring weekend.


front seats


We picked up our pretty blue polka-dotted Ford campervan, named Pepa (like my mother-in-law, to my husband’s delight; Lola van was otherwise engaged, to my daughter’s disappointment), from Flamenco Campers, handily located near Malaga airport (they offer pick-ups). Gonzalo carefully explained how everything works – upstairs, the spacious top bed comes down; downstairs, the sofa folds into another double. If you want to eat inside, the driver’s and passenger’s seats turn 180 degrees to face the sofa seat, and a table pops up. He also lent us bedding, as well as folding table and chairs – after all, the best part of camping is eating alfresco.


The compact kitchen, which comes complete with fridge, gas cooker and sink.

The compact kitchen, which comes complete with fridge, gas cooker and sink.


All this ingenious use of space (the outfitting company is Westfalia, world-leader in campervanning) will be familiar to seasoned caravanners, but was new and exciting for us. My daughter wasted no time in neatly arranging all the dried goods in their own kitchen cupboards, and placing toys and clothes in others. The food went in the fridge, and the inevitable tech gadgets were plugged into the numerous sockets – cigarette-lighter type while you’re driving, and regular sockets when you’re stationary and plugged into a power source.

We refused the kind offer of a portable chemical toilet, preferring to take our chances with the campsites’ facilities. Well-briefed and prepared, with our handy folder containing brochures of campsites around Andalucia, we set off. My husband drove as I have a shoulder injury which makes driving for long periods uncomfortable. He loved manoeuvring the van, which was steady and stable – and, best of all, highly economical in fuel consumption.


The town of Orgiva, the start of the Alpjuarras route.

The town of Orgiva, the start of the Alpjuarras route.


It’s an easy journey by motorway from Malaga along the A-7 to Motril, and then inland up the A-44 and climbing the A-346 to Orgiva. Once you’re in the High Alpujarras, on the A-4132, the scenery is truly breathtaking, with soaring peaks and lush slopes. Indeed, the best part, for me, was the windy mountain roads themselves, which hugged the steep sides, snaking up and down in zig-zags that almost went back on themselves. We passed fields planted with row upon row of almond, orange and lemon trees, as well as vines. The meadows were ablaze with colour, spring flowers in blue, purple and yellow. And then the villages, splashes of white spread across the mountain sides.


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Typical Alpujarras mountain road, with stunning scenery. One of southern Spain's best drives!

Typical Alpujarras mountain road, with stunning scenery. One of southern Spain’s best drives!


As the passenger, I had fabulously scenic views through the high windscreen and open side window, and my camera worked overtime. Lots of handy dashboard pockets accommodated my notebook, maps, camera bag, sunglasses and mobile phone, so they were always to hand. The kids sat on the massive triple sofa-seat, with a big space between them for toys, games and snacks. A sliding window was handy for fresh air when queasiness struck my son Zac (though this was best tackled, unfortunately, by him stealing my beloved front seat and top photo spot).


Parked up in the shady Alpujarran  campsite of Balcon de Pitres.

Parked up in the shady Alpujarran campsite of Balcon de Pitres.


Gonzalo had recommended a campsite called Balcon de Pitres, in the village of the same name, along the A-4132. As it was already quite late when we started climbing, we drove through famously pretty Pampaneira or Bubion, spotting brightly-coloured jarapas (traditional cotton rugs) but didn’t stop – another trip beckons. The campsite was deliciously rural and peaceful, shaded by trees and blooming with flowers – even the bathroom block was delightful, covered with wisteria and roses.


Alpujarran scenery - dramatic and unspoilt.

Alpujarran scenery – dramatic and unspoilt.


That night a strong wind picked up, so we ate indoors at the campsite’s restaurant – a big bonus being so close – with hearty fare and huge portions. Cosy inside our heated van, having brushed our teeth in the little sink, we listened to the gusts and fell asleep – kids upstairs, adults below. The next morning was calm, and I went exploring and found a little stream behind the site and soaked up the views. The Alpujarras is very well-served with natural springs, and you see fountains in every village, as well as by the roadside.


The stage of Un Teatro Entre Todos, the open-air theatre in Laroles.

The stage of Un Teatro Entre Todos, the open-air theatre in Laroles.


One of my main reasons for wanting to visit the Alpujarras was an open-air theatre in the village of Laroles, in the extreme east of the area, so that’s where we headed after breakfast. After winding up to Trevelez, the highest village and closest to the peak of 3,000-odd-metre Mulhacen, the scenery changed, becoming drier and less verdant, but no less stunning.


The seats of the theatre are hand-carved from local granite.

The seats of the theatre are hand-carved from local granite.


The theatre in Laroles, Un Teatro Entre Todos, is an award-winning community project spearheaded by a dynamic and creative Englishwoman, Anna Kemp, who fell in love with the area when working on a movie adaptation of the aforementioned Brenan novel, set in nearby Yegen. The theatre was built in 2014 and has run a season of plays every summer since 2015, featuring top Spanish and international performers.


Pepa the campervan parked up in Laroles.

Pepa the campervan parked up in Laroles.


Inspired by the Minack in Cornwall, it is built around a traditional, circular threshing platform called an era – most villages had them. Seating rows have been built into the hillside, using local slate under the auspices of a stonemason. The setting is, of course, stunning, with almond and olive trees, and views for miles. After spending some time imagining how it would be at night, with actors on a lighted stage – we explored the village’s steep streets.

Having traversed the High Alpujarras in our van, we decided to head down to the Costa Tropical. Although much of this is taken up by plastic tents under which vegetables are grown, we found a good campsite in the seaside town of Castillo de Baños – being off-season, you can just turn up and pick your pitch. Ours was next to the sea, with only a fence and some bamboo separating us from the sand.


Cooling off at the campsite in Castillo de Baños on the Costa Tropical.

Cooling off at the campsite in Castillo de Baños on the Costa Tropical.


A nicely-designed pool, with rocks, slide and waterfall, was a lucky bonus. After dining on salad and a veggie fry-up (sausages and burgers) cooked in the bijou kitchen (two gas rings), we played card games and slept to the sound of the waves gently lapping on the beach. The bathroom block proved less impressive than Pitres, but was still passable.


Beach at Castillo de Baños - grey sand but spotlessly clean.

Beach at Castillo de Baños – grey sand but spotlessly clean.


The first rule of family holidays is that The Pool Must Be Used, so we waited for it to open, had a jumping, sliding and somersaulting session, and then set off along the coast towards Malaga, stopping to admire the clifftop views of Almuñecar, Salobreña and La Herradura. We were sad to bid goodbye to Pepa, and headed back home to Seville – but hopefully we’ll see her, or one of her compañeras, again.

Although personally I prefer to have a little more living space, as a thoroughly spoiled hotel reviewer, a short adventure of two or three nights is great fun – the kids would have happily carried on for a week! Fresh air, sea or mountain, meeting other campers and their dogs, and the feeling of flexibility and freedom make it an ideal way to travel around an incomparably scenic region of Andalucia.

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New caseta for tourists at the Feria de Abril in Seville

April 28, 2017 – 4:52 pm


The portada (gateway) of the Feria
This year’s Feria portada (gateway) celebrates the 25th anniversary of Expo 92, and the Murillo 400th Anniversary too.


Big changes are afoot at one of Seville’s biggest annual events, the April Fair, known in Spanish simply as “La Feria”.

As well as the Fair starting two days earlier – tomorrow night, Saturday, rather than Monday – and including a national holiday (1 May, Dia de los Trabajadores, which falls on a Monday this year), there will be WIFI zones, and a new caseta for tourists.

What is a caseta?

A caseta is a tent, usually small, and green- or red-and-white striped; more than 1,000 of them line the sandy pavements of the recinto (fairground) in Los Remedios, to the south-west of the city centre. They’re the heart of the Feria, where Sevillanos eat, drink, talk and dance; tables and chairs in the front part, decorated individually by each caseta’s group, and the bar at the back – where you’ll often find the liveliest atmosphere.

At the Seville Fair, unlike others around Andalucia, most casetas are private, and you can only enter if invited. This means it is virtually impossible for tourists to experience, as they’re unlikely to have an “in”. The smaller ones are generally owned by families, groups of friends, or associations – these make up the vast majority. Larger tents, more like marquees, are either owned by private companies, trade unions, political parties or the city council, which has free-entry casetas for each city barrio, so that the citizens of Triana, Macarena et al can enjoy their jamon, rebujito (sherry and lemonade) and Sevillana dancing without the expense of hiring a caseta.


A group of feriantes at the Feria de Abril in Sevilla.
A group of feriantes at the Feria de Abril in Sevilla.


With the limited space of the recinto - it is not small, with 13 streets and 240,000m2, but many feel the Feria needs a larger area – there is always a long waiting list for casetas at the Feria, and many groups have been hoping to secure their own base for years. So the decision by the Ayuntamiento (city hall) to use a large caseta, previously rented by Abengoa, the troubled Seville-based multinational sustainable energy company, for tourists, was controversial.


Invitation to caseta for tourists at Sevilla's Feria de Abril 2017.
Invitation to caseta for tourists at Sevilla’s Feria de Abril 2017.


The city hall is distributing 30,000 of these invitations around Seville’s hotels, so that tourists know there’s a caseta at the Feria which they can head straight to. The address of the caseta is Pascual Marquez 225-229, at the furthest end from the entrance, near Calle de Infierno funfair. It’s also next to three free-entry public casetas.

English, French and German spoken

This caseta is also public, but its purpose is firmly focussed on making tourists at the Fair feel welcome at what can be a huge and bewildering event. Staff from the Seville Tourism office will be on hand to explain and answer questions, from 12.30 to 7.30pm, in English, French and German; menus will also be available in these three languages. The caseta accommodates 400 people, so there should be a lively atmosphere. The caseta will also have cashpoints and live Sevillana dance shows.

The QR code shown on the invitation links to Google Maps, so tourists can easily find their way to the caseta using their mobile phones – maybe more useful than the somewhat minimal plan on the invitation.


Simple map to show where the  tourists' caseta is located. The QR code links to the location on Google Maps.
Simple map to show where the tourists’ caseta is located. The QR code links to Google Map’s


As well as some Sevillanos feeling that locals should have had priority for a much-sought-after vacant lot, I’ve read comments on news websites about a perceived danger of the Feria becoming simply a tourist attraction, and adding that this hallowed event should be exclusively for Sevillanos. Sadly, that attitude is fairly prevalent among certain sectors of Sevillano society, although whether one caseta could change the fair’s atmosphere to such an extreme extent remains to be seen.

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