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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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Spain is the world’s number one tourist destination!

April 20, 2017 – 12:59 pm


The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017 ranked Spain as the world's top tourism destination.
The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017 ranked Spain as the world’s top tourism destination. (Source: World Economic Forum)


For the second time, Spain has been ranked as the world’s top tourism destination, above France and Italy. Among the country’s key strengths recognised were that it is extremely well-prepared for visitors, with a superb infrastructure and outstanding cultural attractions, and the high value placed on the essential importance of tourism to the economy.

The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) 2017, which is produced biannually by the World Economic Forum, covers 136 countries and measures “the set of factors and policies that enable the sustainable development of the travel and tourism sector, which in turn, contributes to the development and competitiveness of a country”.

Spain beat the other 135 nations with a total of 5.43 points, taking top ranking for the second time running – in 2015, the country made its debut in the top spot.

Its closest European competitor is France, in second place with 5.32, followed by Germany in third with 5.28 – these top three countries have kept their positions from the previous index in 2015. The UK is fifth, with Japan ahead in fourth place, while the US takes sixth spot.

The factors which were seen as decisive were the tourist service infrastructure and cultural resources and business travel, both classified as the second-best in the world, while prioritisation of travel and tourism took fifth position in global rankings. You can search for each country’s global ranking by factor within the report.


One of Spain's biggest tourist attractions is its beaches.
One of Spain’s biggest tourist attractions is its beaches.


According to the report: “Spain’s success can be attributed to its unique offer of both cultural (2nd) and natural (9th) resources, combined with sound tourism service infrastructure (2nd), air transport connectivity (9th) and strong policy support (5th). Spain’s T&T sector has not only benefited from the recent ease of its fiscal policy, but also from diverted tourism from security-troubled Middle East. These developments, however, do not take anything away from Spain’s ability to provide an excellent environment for the T&T sector to flourish. The challenge now is to continue to find ways to improve, given the sector’s maturity. While Spain’s ground transportation is ranked in the top 15 economies, it has started to show signs of initial decline, suggesting that upgrades and modernizations are expected. In addition, the business environment (75th) can be improved, as dealing with construction permits remains burdensome (104th), and there is room to improve international openness further (43rd, down two places).”

The penultimate factor may strike a chord with homeowners here in Andalucia.

In 2015 Spain headed the TTCI ranking for the first time ever, “thanks to its cultural resources, infrastructure and adaptation to digital consumption habits”.


Spain's heritage is also highly valued - the Alcazar of Seville is a jewel of Mudejar architecture. Photo: Fiona Flores Watson
Spain’s heritage is also highly valued – the Alcazar of Seville is a jewel of Mudejar architecture. Photo: Fiona Flores Watson


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10 things to do in Andalucia when it rains

February 19, 2017 – 12:39 pm
-Contemporary art at the CAC Malaga. © Michelle Chaplow
Contemporary art at the CAC Malaga.

While we are lucky to have sunshine most of the year round in Andalucia, paradise is never perfect. We need rain to feed our lakes, rivers, reservoirs and our precious crops of olives, grapes, almonds and many more besides. The rainiest months are November and February to April – so what can you do to entertain yourself and your family if the heavens open while you’re on holiday in southern Spain? Apart from the obvious roofed shelter provided by ubiquitous, and often impressive, religious edifices, here are a few indoor ideas:

1. Seville – Ole ole ole!
What better way to escape from inclement weather than with the passion and colour of flamenco? The Museo del Baile Flamenco, in the heart of Seville’s old town, is very much a living celebration of one of Andalucia’s most famous cultural forms. Learn about the music and dance in interactive exhibits, see paintings of flamenco artists, watch a live performance, or take a class. More>

2. Art and archaeology together in Malaga
Opened in late 2106, the new Museo de Malaga, in the old customs house, ups the city’s already impressive museum offering yet another notch. With Malaga’s fine arts and archaeology collections gathered together in one building, you can gaze upon 5th century BC Phoenician masks and paintings by Murillo, Velazquez and Goya. Allow plenty of hours to take in so many extraordinary historic objects – 15,000 in total, many unearthed in the city’s streets. More>

3. Contemporary art in Malaga
A world-class contemporary art centre, the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo (CAC) in Malaga has featured during its 14 years works by internationally-renowned artists such as Ai Wei Wei, the Chapman Brothers, Anish Kapoor, Marc Quinn and Marina Abramovich. Art is a universal communicator, so this visit is great for those of us whose Spanish can’t cope with linguistic challenges. Good café, too. More>

4. Benalmadena – A butterfly’s wing
A top choice for families, the Mariposario (Butterfly Park) in Benaldamena has 1500 butterflies, as well reptiles, birds and small mammals. They live in a beautiful environment among tropical flowers and waterfalls, where you can also see different stages of reproduction, including caterpillars and chrysalis. More>

5. Driving force in Malaga
You’re spoiled for choice for museums in Malaga, but one of our favourites is the Museo Automovilistico (Automobile Museum) in the old tobacco factory. This impressive car museum has many models of auto customised by artists; it also has an excellent collection of super-elegant hats, and painting and sculpture shows. More>

6. Cordoba’s Jewish roots
Centuries ago, Cordoba had a large Jewish community. Learn about Sephardic (Spanish Jews) culture at the Casa Sepharad, including the main ceremonies celebrated, as well as dress, language and music. More>

7. Granada: Here comes the science…
Located just outside the city, Granada Science Park is full of interactive and educational exhibits, about technology, engineering, physics and geology. The Exploration Hall has hands-on fun for little ones, and there’s also a Planetarium. More>

8. Granada: Captain Caveman
Since prehistoric times men have been sheltering in caves, so why not check out troglodyte life for yourself? You can stay in cave houses around Guadix, but if you’re in Granada city, in the gypsy quarter of Sacromonte, you can visit the Museo de Sacromonte which explains all about these unusual dwellings. Mora>

9. Aracena: Ham hunting
If you’re in the Huelva area, and you’re a fan of jamón ibérico (Iberian cured ham) – and what carnivore isn’t? – go to the Museo de Jamon, to see how this Spanish gastronomic essential is produced. Then visit the Cinco Jotas factory in Jabugo – this is one of best producers in Spain. The tour ends with a tasting and a chance to buy some premium-quality wafer-thin porcine delight to take home – a packet is more suitcase-friendly than whole leg! More>

10 Silver screen in Seville
Seeing a movie may not seem like a typical holiday pastime, but if they’re showing one you haven’t had time to see, and it’s raining,, then why not? Avenida 5 Cines cinema in Seville shows version original (non-dubbed, with Spanish subtitles) movies, many of which are English-language. With five screens, usually some showing low-budget art house offerings, they cater to most tastes. Many cinemas on the Costa de Sol also have VO films. More>

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12 places to visit in Andalucia in 2017

January 27, 2017 – 12:08 am

Andalucia is full of cultural and gastronomic treasures, from Moorish castles to the best prawns in Spain. Some of these are, at long last, starting to receiving wider recognition, with international attention being focussed on our diverse landscapes, extraordinary monuments and unique culinary history.

Across the region’s eight provinces, each with its own distinctive gastronomy and historical delights, you can find a wealth of places to discover and dishes to sample.

We have selected ten unmissable experiences which we recommend that you check out when visiting Andalucia in 2017. Can you complete the dozen by suggesting two more?



1) Dolmens of Antequera


El Romeral dolmen, recognised as UNESCO World Heritage last year. Photo: Michelle Chaplow

El Romeral dolmen, recognised as UNESCO World Heritage last year. Photo: Michelle Chaplow


Last year, these three dolmens were declared World Heritage by UNESCO, the seventh site in Andalucia. Located close to Antequera, with its stunning El Torcal rocky mountain range, this ensemble of prehistoric tombs is one of the most magical places in Spain, with a history going back 5000 years. The ensemble also includes the Peña de los Enamorados, or Lovers’ Rock. Read more about the Dolmens of Antequera here.



2) NEW! Museum of Malaga – Palacio de la Aduana


Palacio de la Aduana, the former customs house, now the new Museo de Malaga © TYK / Wikimedia

Palacio de la Aduana, the former customs house, now the new Museo de Malaga © TYK / Wikimedia


After decades of restoration work, this new provincial museum was finally opened last month in the magnificent 18th-century Palacio de la Aduana, the old customs house, situated on the Paseo del Parque. The museum houses the combined collections of the Fine Arts Museum (formerly housed in the Picasso Museum) and the Archaeological Museum (which previously shared space with the Library).
With 18,000 m2, the museum has eight galleries – the first five are dedicated to archaeology, and the other three to fine arts. Among the 2,000-plus works in the fine arts collection you can see paintings by Spain’s most celebrated artists – Goya, Murillo, Picasso, Sorolla, Velazquez and Zurbaran, while the archaeology collection has more than 15,000 pieces, including Phoenician gold, Roman mosaics and bronzes, and Nasrid glass. Read more here.



3) NEW! Noor Restaurant, Cordoba


Michelin-starred Noor restaurant in Cordoba uses 10th-century recipes from Cordoba's caliphate era.

Michelin-starred Noor restaurant in Cordoba uses 10th-century recipes from Cordoba’s caliphate era.


This Islamic-era cuisine restaurant won a Michelin star in November. Chef-owner Paco Morales set himself the challenge of using only historic recipes from the most powerful Caliphate period of his city, in the 10th century. This means that at Noor (which means “light” in Arabic) no tomatoes or potatoes, two firm staples of Andalucian cooking, can feature in his dishes – brought back from the New World after the discovery of America, they weren’t used in Islamic Cordoban gastronomy. An intriguing idea which necessitated massive amounts of historical research  to ensure the recipes were authentic, not something you’d expect from every restaurateur. Read more about Noor here.



4) Huelva: Gastronomic Capital


Huelva: Gastronomic Capital Spain 2017

Huelva: Gastronomic Capital Spain 2017


This year Huelva is the Spanish Gastronomic Capital – famous for its prawns and jamon iberico, it’s a foodie’s paradise. You can sample the superb seafood and other local dishes at Acanthum, the city’s Michelin-starred restaurant, and this coast’s many resort towns have excellent beachfront restaurants.



5) Me Vuelves Lorca, Alpujarras


This annual open-air theatre festival takes place in Las Alpujarras in July and August.

This annual open-air theatre festival takes place in Las Alpujarras in July and August.


If you’ve ever been to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, built into a cliffside overlooking the sea, or if you’re a fan of Lorca, then you’ll be interested in Me Vuelves Lorca.
This unusual theatre festival takes place every July and August in a tiny Alpujarras village called Laroles, part of an award-winning social project started by dynamic Brit Anna Kemp in 2013. The four-week season pays homage to Spain’s most celebrated playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca, who took stage performances to rural areas with his theatre group, La Barraca. What makes it different is that the theatre is outdoors, with panoramic mountain views, and the stage is an old circular wheat-threshing platform.



6) Castillo de Almodovar


Sword in display at Almodovar Castle, one of the locations for Game of Thrones Season 7.

Sword in display at Almodovar Castle, one of the locations for Game of Thrones Season 7.


During October and November, the seventh and final series of HBO’s historical fantasy TV series Game of Thrones was filmed in various locations around Spain, including three historic locations.
Castillo de Almodovar, a castle next to the river Guadalquivir in Cordoba province, has all the courtyards, battlements and towers you could want for daring duels and secret trysts. It’s great for families, with displays, models and spectacular views; unusually, it opens all day at weekends. The series will be shown this summer.



7) Roman ruins of Italica


Another location for filming Season 7 was Italica, the Roman site near Seville. Photo: Michelle Chaplow

Another location for filming Season 7 was Italica, the Roman site near Seville. Photo: Michelle Chaplow


Another location for Game of Thrones was this archaeological site near Seville, the first colonial city built outside Italy.
The gladiators’ pit seen here will be transformed into a stage, with the two narrow channels open and steps coming up from the pit. Other past filming locations near Seville include Osuna, where the bullring was  used for the big dragon battle scene at the end of Season 5. Coincidently 2017, is the 1900th anniversary of the death of Emperor Trajan, and the ascension to power of Emperor Hadrian, both born in Italica!



8) Royal Shipyards, Seville


The Atarazanas of Seville - the Royal Shipyards, where Game of Thrones Series 7 was filmed.

The Atarazanas of Seville – the Royal Shipyards, where Game of Thrones Series 7 was filmed.


Las Atarazanas, where many of the ships which sailed to the New World in the 16th century were built, were used for scenes which united a large part of the Game of Thrones cast. How do we know? Because they were all staying at nearby Hotel Alfonso XIII, where they were regularly spotted coming and going, as well as out and about in the city.



9) Alcazaba, Almeria


Ellaria and Prince Dorian in the Kingdom of Dorne, aka the Alcazaba of Almeria - you can visit locations for the Game of Thrones upcoming final season.

Ellaria and Prince Dorian in the Kingdom of Dorne, aka the Alcazaba of Almeria – you can visit locations for the Game of Thrones upcoming final season.


This Moorish fortress is the largest remaining such monument, and dates from the 10th century. Over the centuries, the mighty defensive edifice which guards Almeria city and port has been occupied – and besieged – by Moorish rulers, Christian kings, and their soldiers and servants.
The Alcazaba was used for filming a key scene in Season 6 of Game of Thrones. The Governor’s Palace and garden was digitally merged with the Alcazar of Seville’s Grutesco Wall. Read about the Alcazaba in Almeria here.



10) Rio Tinto Mines, Huelva


The Royal Railway Carriage in the Rio Tinto Mining museum was built in Birmingham in 1892.

The Royal Railway Carriage in the Rio Tinto Mining museum was built in Birmingham in 1892.


If you’re interested in British industrial heritage, or you just love trains, then this mining park in Huelva makes an educational and varied day out. British copper mines in the town of Riotinto (named after the reddish-coloured river, from the ores), which operated during the 19th and 20th centuries, left a legacy of Victorian engineering and architecture.

Take a train ride, go into a mine, find out about the area’s geology and the colonial community in the museum, and visit a house in the English barrio, Bella Vista Ingles, where an English mine official lived.


We have selected ten unmissable experiences which we recommend that you check out when visiting Andalucia in 2017. Please help complete the dozen by suggesting two more? Post a comment below or on our Facebook page our Forum or Twitter

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Literary Andalucia

December 23, 2016 – 10:53 am
Andalucia Literary Guide for Travellers

An invaluable companion for anyone who is interested in the literature of Andalucia.

Andalucia – A Literary Guide for Travellers by Andrew and Suzanne Edwards (IB Tauris)

This is a thoroughly-researched, comprehensive guide to every major writer who has ever lived, or spent time, in Andalucia.

From Miguel de Cervantes to Michael Jacobs, Washington Irving to Chris Stewart, the book’s authors take an exhaustive journey across the region from west to east, cataloguing the impressions of illustrious visiting men of letters, as well as the works of those born in the region, or who chose to set their works in Andalucia. In total, over 100 writers are mentioned in varying depth.

The impressive range stretches across eras and genres of literature, with many from the last couple of centuries: iconic authors long associated with Andalucia such as Lorca, Machado and Hemingway, as well as those whose connections with, and influence from, the region are less celebrated, although still significant – Aldous Huxley, Hans Christian Andersen and George Eliot.

The literary journey starts in Seville, which has received and delighted the likes of Somerset Maugham and Lord Byron, as well as the bible-selling hispanophile George Borrow, who was fascinated by gypsies and spent time with them in Triana, then a dark and dangerous place. In the year of Cervantes’ 400th anniversary, you can trace the plaques around the city which mark spots mentioned in the Don Quixote author’s Exemplary Novels, notably Rinconete and Cortadillo, about two young hoodlums.

One of the most entertaining Seville sojourns is that of Lord Byron in the early 19th century, featured in the celebrated satire Childe Harold, as well as his (unfinished) version of Don Juan. Byron notes that “the freedom of women which is general here astonished me not a little, and in the course of further observation I find that reserve is not the characteristic of the Spanish belles.” In Childe Harold:

“Here Folly still his votaries enthrals,/And young-eyed Lewdness walks her midnight rounds:/ Girt with the silten crimes of capitals,/ Still to the last kind Vice clings to the tottering walls.”

This book moves province by province – the furthest west, Huelva, gives us Nobel Prize-winner Juan Ramon Jimenez and his faithful donkey Platero in Moguer, as well as British naturalist-writers who worked in Doñana in the park’s pre-UNESCO-recognized 1950s.

We end up with Laurie Lee in Andalucia. Lee’s description of Cadiz must be one of the most lyrical and unforgettable of any Andalucia city: “from a distance… a city of sharp incandescence, a scribble of white on a sheet of blue glass, lying curved in the bay like a scimitar and sparkling with African light.”

In terms of historical reach, the earliest mention is by Pliny, moving on to early Cordoban intellectuals Muslim Averroes, and Maimonides of the Jewish faith, touching on the region’s long multi-cultural past.

Anyone familiar with Andalucia will be aware that Gerald Brenan lived in Alpujarran village of Yegen in the 1930s, receiving Bloomsbury Set luminaries Woolf and Carrington in his house; what they may not know is a darker side of the story which this book explains. The daughter he had with his Spanish maid was taken away from her mother to be brought up by Brenan and his wife Gamel Woolsey, losing all contact with her maternal family.

One author which every British visitor to Andalucia should read, if they haven’t already, is the superb Michael Jacobs, a historian and translator who lived in the Jaen village of Frailes, as recounted in A Factory of Lights. Jacobs doesn’t follow the stereotype of restoring an old house, instead writing with insight and wry humour about the village’s characters and local events, including the traditional, back-breaking labour of collecting olives in the harvest.

Especially useful are short biographies of each writer featured (many more than I’ve mentioned here), plus a timeline of literary and cultural events in Spain along with pertinent political developments from 1100BC to present day, along with an index of works, writers and places.

If you live in Andalucia, and have any interest in literature, this book is well worth buying to surprise and delight with snippets about your own home province. Equally, if you’re interested in the region or are planning to visit – or someone you know is making the trip or has made their home there – it offers a valuable introduction to the history and culture, which are the essential context for these literary tales.

Read our pages written by the book’s authors on various writers mentioned.

To order a copy of Andalucia – A Literary Guide for Travellers click here.

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Seville Tourism Week

December 2, 2016 – 7:47 pm


Sevilla Tourism Week was a four-day conference looking at the present and future of this key industry in the city. Sevilla Tourism Week was a four-day conference looking at the present and future of this key industry in the city.

A couple of weeks ago, a new tourism conference was held in Seville, organised by dynamic Tourism Director Antonio Jimenez.

Based around talks and round-table discussions, with plenty of robust questions from the audience, Sevilla Tourism Week (15 to 18 November) addressed a number of key issues relevant to Seville, its booming visitor numbers, and the potential for sustainable development as a tourist destination.

These included:



  • How can we capture, and utilise, data about the visitors who come to Seville, such as which countries they come from, where and how long they stay, and how much they spend?
  • Who is the “perfect tourist”? What is a “quality tourist”? Is it someone who stays at a luxury hotel and spends a high amount eating and shopping, or is it someone who respects their destination, regardless of their travel and spending budget.
  • Should we consider limiting the number of visitors to the city, or capping the number of hotel rooms available the historic city centre, as Barcelona has done? Venice was cited as an example of a city which has been adversely affected by an unmanageably high amount of visitors.
  • What methods can we use to move the pressure of visitors away from the area around the Cathedral and Alcazar, which get extremely busy and crowded during high season?
  • How can we convince people to stay here longer? We need to offer more (paid-for) tourism products, according to Antonio Muñoz, Culture and Tourism Delegate  of Seville City Council. And we need to seize advantages to distinguish ourselves from other cities – if Murillo 2017 (see below) goes well, we can plan other such events.
  • Events
    • How can we make the most of important anniversaries in the city, such as the Año de Murillo 2017 – the anniversary of the birth of Murillo, the Golden Age painter (1617 – 1682)? What is the best way to bring this major cultural event to the attention of potential visitors? What other parallel events could be organised around the theme, such as music, dance and gastronomy? This thought-provoking talk was given by Victor Cobos, Sponsorship Director of M&C Saatchi London, who was part of the team behind the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in 2012, although as with many such talks, the direct relevance to Seville, along with actionable advice, was lacking.

(From left): Antonio Muñoz, Urban Area Delegate for Seville City Council; Juan Espadas, Seville Mayor; Antonio Jimenez, Director Seville Tourism

  • Impact on the city
  • How can we ensure the impact of tourism on the residents of the city remains positive, ensuring that the city is a living entity, not a ciudad museo?
  • How can we avoid the historic city centre being swamped (and thereby visually affected) by fast food outlets, mini-markets and souvenir stalls (especially prevalent in barrio Santa Cruz in Seville). In Rome, a group of academics has written to the city council asking that a ban be placed on allowing any more such retail outlets in the areas around historic monuments, claiming “the historic identity of the city” is being “damaged”. In Florence, meanwhile, they have insisted that restaurants in historic areas must sell a minimum of 70% locally-sourced food. When the Florentine City Council denied McDonalds permission to open an outlet in the Piazza del Duomo, the fast-food global giant responded by suing the city for $20 million.
  • How do we ensure standards of quality among tour guides, when some (unlicensed ones) are ill-informed and unprofessional?

Other issues

  • What is the best way to make better use of the river Guadalquivir, Seville’s artery, and the area around it? How can the weight of visitors around the monumental area be redirected towards the river? As a port city from where many trading ships left for the New World, the river played a key role in the city’s Golden Age prosperity and power, as well as being the departure point in 1519 for Magellan’s round-the-world voyage. Current plans include the soon-to-be-finished Tourist Information Centre on the Paseo del Marques de Contadero, the riverside area between the Torre del Oro and the Triana Bridge, which will include a scale model showing the geographical relationship between the river and barrios of the city, and also the river-s historical significance. Sadly, the riverside Noria (big wheel) next to the Aquarium was not a success, and is being taken down. In this discussion Manuel Aranha of Porto City Council explained how key the river Douro is to his city’s tourist offering, including being able to travel by river to visit wineries.
  • How can we be more family-friendly – restaurants should provide baby changing tables and hotels baby baths – this was brought up Seville Con Peques, an excellent website on things to do with kids in Seville.

Some illuminating observations from the four days:

  • millennials are more concerned about having good WIFI coverage than a shower where they-re staying
  • being a “destino intelligente” with free WIFI spots is key
  • young Chinese prefer to save their money to travel, than to buy a house
  • 30% of UK travellers list need a list of thing to see, do and eat which they can check off – such as gazpacho and flamenco

In 2016 Spain will have received around 120 million visitors, up from 109m in 2015, with that number set to rise to 150m within the next few years.

Some extremely interesting discussions came out of these talks, and the widely varied but uniformly passionate audience of hoteliers, restaurateurs, taxi drivers, tour guides, rental property owners, tour operators, travel agents, bloggers and others, entered into lively exchanges with the panellists.

The general agreement was that the conference was a major success, although it may have raised more questions that it answered. Which is not necessarily a bag thing, as such broad and fundamental issues are constantly developing and evolving, and need to be addressed in a flexible and creative way.

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Finos Palmas and poetry in a Sevillano palace

November 10, 2016 – 4:10 pm


FINOS PALMAS 2016the finest sherry in a rarefied Sevillano setting


Gonzalez Byass

Pedro Rebuelta of the Gonzalez Byass family, Cayetano Martinez de Irujo, the Casa de Alba, Antonio Flores, Chief Winemaker at Gonzalez Byass


The launch of this year’s Coleccion Finos Palmas, four very special Sherries from the Tio Pepe bodega, chosen by Gonzalez Byass chief oenologist Antonio Flores, took place last week in a suitably unique and historic location: the Palacio de las Dueñas in Seville, home of the late Duquesa de Alba.
A privileged group of guests, including this blogger, was shown around the palace, trying each sherry in a different area of the gardens and patios – accompanied by music and poetry, with the cata led, of course, by Antonio Flores (@hacedordevinos, winemaker, on Twitter). To represent the Casa de Alba, the late Duquesa’s youngest son Cayetano, Duque de Arjona, welcomed the guests from the tree-lined patio in front of the house, which looks more like a country mansion than a grand palace, densely covered with pink bougainvillea.
Standing in front of the façade, Antonio explained that Tio Pepe was Spain’s most international wine, and the most famous from Jerez. He describes it as “pura vida”- pure life, saying that all of these special sherries have to be aged (and blended) – “nothing is done in a rush in Jerez; everything worthwhile takes time”. A very Andalucian sentiment.





Taking a glass of Una Palma from waiters stationed in the stables, we walked through to the famous Patio de los Limoneros, where Antonio Flores read the famous lines by Sevillano poet Antonio Machado, about this very patio in the house where he grew up. “Mi infancia son recuerdos de un patio de Sevilla, y un huerto claro donde madura el limonero.
This is a light sherry, Tio Pepe aged for six years, with a yellowy-golden colour, and a bready, salty taste from the flor (layer of yeast to protect the wine from oxygen) that is typical of fino sherries. It’s also a very dry sherry, ideally served ice-cold at outdoor events in the warm Spanish spring; like all the Palmas, it is unfiltered. Ever the man of words, Antonio described it as “a punch from the sea”. Three barrels of Una Palma have been bottled out of a total of 142 in the solera.
Moving into the magnificent main patio, we tried Dos Palmas – this is slightly darker in colour, with a yeastier taste after eight years of flor, and to me, musty and reminiscent of bodegas (in a good way). Sherry has such a different taste to any other type of wine, it can be tricky to describe without it sounding outright bizarre. Two barrels were chosen from 150 for Dos Palmas. Antonio quoted Luis Cernuda. another Seville-born poet, while a flamenco guitarist played by the central fountain. A palace, flamenco, poetry and extremely fine sherry.
Passing through this patio into the smaller Patio del Aceite (where the palace’s almazara, olive oil mill, was located), the stronger Tres Palmas had a darker, more intense gold colour. This sherry has started to interact with the oxygen, and is bottled from just one barrel out of 150. The flavour is also deeper, with hints of almonds and hazelnuts – a fino almendradado, with a saltier finish, but creamier – “between life and death” as Antonio put it, master of the Andalucian melodrama, meaning at the limit of the biological aging process. He read us another poem: “El Angel de las Bodegas” by Rafael Alberti.
Our final stop was in the Apeadero, where people used to dismount from their carriages. Here Cayetano Martinez de Irujo spoke to the assembled guests, saying that this was a perfect place for the Finos Palmas launch “Va tan bien en este espacio”. We tasted Cuatro Palmas, an old amontillado of 51 years, taken from one of six barrels, which Antonio described “el mejor vino generoso del mundo”.





Mahogany-coloured, this sherry was richer than the previous sherries, and sweeter with scents of walnut and varnish. At 22 degrees, this is a strong wine which packs a punch, albeit an elegant one. “Tan afilado como una saeta” (as sharp as a saeta, a Semana Santa song) said Antonio, referring to the procession that afternoon of Jesus del Gran Poder, the Duquesa’s favourite hermandad, and in whose church her ashes are interred. Cayetano said that he had been both a costalero and nazareno in the procession. It was a nifty way of linking an aspect of Sevillano life so dear to the Duquesa, whose spirit can still be strongly felt within the salons and patios of the palace, and whose identity is firmly imprinted on every tile, stone and leaf.
Pedro Rebuelta Gonzalez, of the family company Gonzalez Byass which produces Tio Pepe, told us that the Finos Palmas, along with Tio Pepe en Rama, the unfiltered version which is launched every spring, were introduced out of need to innovate, and to appeal to a new generation of drinkers. Inspiration was sought in the historical archive of Gonzalez Byass, which includes many labels on which the Finos Palmas design are based, 10,000 bottles, and many thousands of barrels.
Finos Palmas is always produced in consultation with a top oenologist – this year, Master of Wine and Master Sommelier Gerard Basset, one of very people to hold both titles, and co-founder of the UK Hotel du Vin group.
After the four sherries had been presented, we treated to superb dishes – rice with prawns, tuna tataki, prawn pastry nests, ajoblanco (chilled almond soup), adobo (marinated dogfish), and asparagus in batter, among others.  Strategically placed food stations meant that you didn-t have to be constantly hijacking unsuspecting waiters to get some nibbles, as often happens at these events, which made for a much more relaxing eating experience.
You can buy Finos Palmas at Corte Ingles Gourmet Experience and from selected wine merchants.
If you’re a sherry lover, don’t forget it’s International Sherry Week this week, until Sunday 13 November. To find out where events near you are happening, from tastings to pairing menus, visit

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Huelva Capital Española de la Gastronomia 2017

November 1, 2016 – 10:36 am


Huelva CG logo

Huelva CG logo

Huelva CG logo


In a country which takes its food culture as seriously as Spain, to be chosen as Capital Gastronomica (Gastronomic Capital) is an honour indeed. And gastronomy is often quoted as a main reason why visitors choose to come to Spàin for their holidays, whether weekend breaks or summer vacations.

Beating other finalist city Cuenca (Castilla La Mancha), which was also competing to earn the title, Huelva will be Capital Española de la Gastronomia for next year. The city will succeed Toledo, the gastronomic capital for 2016.

The Atlantic port, capital of Andalucia’s western-most province, is often overlooked due to its comparative lack of star attractions – compared to nearby Seville, with its palaces, cathedral and famous tapas culture, Huelva doesn’t even make it onto most tourists’ itineraries.

But as any foodie worth their salt will tell you, this coastal, plain and mountainous province boasts the finest jamon iberico de bellota (acorn-fed cured Iberian ham) in all of Spain, while its ocean waters produce fish and seafood the likes of which is also hard to beat, such as coquinas (small clams), gambas blancas (white prawns), mojama (dried tuna) and choco (cuttlefish) – such is the love of Huelva’s inhabitants for the cephalod that they are known as choqueros.

Further inland you will find the DO Condado de Huelva with young white wines (vino joven), orange wine (vino de naranja), while the town of Lepe is famous for its strawberries

Last year, the city was justifiably proud when it won its first Michelin star – Acanthum, where chef Xanty Elias serves innovative fish dishes, joined the list of 13 illustrious restaurants in Andalucia recognised by this highest accolade. Some of his dishes include choco with yoghurt, and ensaladilla of potatoes, prawns and melva, a type of mackerel.

For more information, and details of activities and events to be announced soon, see Huelva Capital Gastronomica

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Contemporary Photography Show in Seville

October 19, 2016 – 4:16 pm

by Fiona Flores


Eduardo D'Acosta - Curator of the Spin Off Exhibition, The Artists, Michelle Chaplow with the Pool of Life and the facade of the Fundacion Valentin Madariaga (From top, L to R) Eduardo D’Acosta – curator of the Spin Off exhibition, the artists, Michelle Chaplow with the Pool of Life, and the facade of the Fundacion Valentin Madariaga


Seville is not known for its contemporary art scene – Malaga has long had the advantage in that cultural arena, with its excellent Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, or CAC.
So it was gratifying to attend the opening of a photographic exhibition at the Fundacion Valentín Madariaga in Seville, an arts foundation housed in the former US pavilion from the Expo 1929. Read more about the Fundacion de Valentin de Madriaga.

A group of photographers, who have studied the renowned photography course at both the CAC Malaga and in Seville, run by charismatic Eduardo d’Acosta, partly funded by the Foundation, will be showing their work until the 8th January 2017. The course has now been run 10 times since 2010, with over 300 students taking the course; of this total, 30 were chosen for the show, along with 10 guest lecturers from the course. Artists include: Pierre Gonnord – José Manuel Ballester – Juan Manuel Castro Prieto – Miguel Trillo – Luis Baylón – Dionisio González – Bleda y Rosa – Tete Álvarez – Jesús Madriñán – Adela Aguilera – Diego Diez – Laurent Perrot – Rando – Alejandra Vera – Álvaro Trigos – Silvia Torres – Benito Alcón – Cristina Lorenzo – David Villalba – Diana Mingorance – Diego Fajardo – Javier Orive – José Bellido – Gloria Rico – Lía García – Luis Colmenero – Luismi Zapata – Manuel Ibañez – Manuel Viola – MariCarmen Quintana – Michelle Chaplow – Miguel Torés – Naikari – Pía Arrieta – Roberto Cerrato – Frank Gámiz – Violeta Niebla – Silvia Diaz – José Luis Moreno – Juan Carlos Carmona -Esther Pita.

The result is an eclectic mix, with portraits, landscapes, still lifes, architectural shots and abstract studies. One of the 30 chosen photographers, the cream of alumni from the course, is Michelle Chaplow, the award-winning photographer who is a director of

Michelle’s photos were from her series, Pool of Life, which is still a work in progress. The series examines the female form, with naked women in abandoned swimming pools. Her photographs have a dreamy, surreal feel to them, and the creamy texture of the model’s skin, contrasted with the greyish surrounding water, is very striking.

The photos, entitled Hannah, have been recognised in several awards, including honourable mentions at the Black&White Spider Awards, the Photography Masters Cup, an exhibition by the Royal Photographic Society, and in an article by Nikon.


The opening of the Spin Off Exhibition at the Fundacion Valentin Madariaga
The opening of the Spin Off exhibition at the Fundacion Valentin Madariaga – Valentin himself is middle left with Michelle.


The exhibits in the show which were most effective were the groups or series – such as six architectural black and white shots of unusual structures on stilts raised off the ground, whether residential or industrial, in open wasteland. All have a futuristic look, whether 1960s pods, 1980s deconstructions, or timeless egg-shapes. It is left to the viewer to surmise what, or indeed, where, they might be, but these intriguing images certainly fire up the imagination.

Other notable works included Good Night London by Jesus Madriñan, four portraits of young people on a night out in the UK capital. All are staring with a degree of menace and suspicion at the camera, and each holds an iconic item in his or her hand: a mobile phone, a glass, a bottle of beer, a handbag. Two of the girls are scantily clad, wearing only a bra on their top half. As studies of British youth in their natural nocturnal habitat, they are superb. Behind each figure, in the background, you can see other semi-naked young people in the club or pub dancing and talking.

The shades, postures, and the subjects’ disdainful expressions – the intense red hair or blue skirt, the tilt of a head, the knowing look – remind the viewer of classical portraits of religious figures by Sevillano painters such as Velazquez and Zurbaran. They are not embarrassed or self-conscious, but defiant.

You can also see excellent reportage photographs of children in an Africa school, by a Spanish doctor-photographer who works as a missionary in the Third World, and innovative holographic pieces by Manuel Viola Figueras.

The exhibition is spread over seven or eight rooms on the ground floor of the Foundation, around its delightful central courtyard. Well worth the short walk from centre to see this contemporary photography show. Don’t miss the tourist information office next door, in the exquisite Costurero de la Reina, the striped orange and white building on the corner of Avenida de la Palmera and Avenida Maria Luisa, opposite the Los Remedios Bridge. This building is one of those which you drive past many times and admire fleetingly, but rewards the effort of a visit, with its stained glass windows and neo-Mudejar arches.

Foundation Valentin Madariaga is at Avenida Maria Luisa (next to the Biblioteca Infanta Elena), Seville.
Tel 954 366 072
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 10.00 – 14.00, 17.00 – 20.00; Saturday and Sunday 10.30 – 14.30.
Public transport: 6, 34, C1 and C2 pass close by, and both Puerta Jerez and Prado de San Sebastian metro stations are a ten-minute walk away.

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