April 11 to April 25, 2013 - Lasting impressions of Andalucia, Spain

Our lasting impressions

  • the white-washed towns and villages
  • the blue Mediterranean as seen from the Parador de Nerjas
  • the number of elderly men passing time on park benches
  • the cortijos - traditional farmhouses with a personal touch
  • the well behaved children, while their parents ate dinner late at night - dinner in Spain never starts until at least 8:00 pm and many eat much later
  • Granada's impressive Alhambra
  • the continuation of traditional life - coastal fishermen, shepherds, and the ferias
  • the Seville Feria - with its beautiful flamenco dresses; carriages and horse pageantry
  • the food, in particular the meals at the cortijos
  • the wine
  • the seamingly endless miles of olive groves
  • the wonderful vistas -  rolling countryside; the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas; the wildflowers ...
  • the history of the Alhambra, Ubeda, Alcala de Real and Arcos de la Frontera
  • day after day of sunny blue skies and warm weather
  • the abundance of crafts - ceramics, copper etc.
  • the narrow, at times cobblestone, streets
  • the concept of tapas, particularly in Arcos de la Frontera
  • the locations and/or historic buildings of the paradores
  • that Spain is a great place to visit and travel 

Gayle in her best Spanish dress on our balcony at the Parador de Toledo, with the lights of Toledo in the background.

April 24 and 25, 2013 - Toledo to Madrid to Newark to Boston to home

     We were very pleased with our decison to change plans, drive to Madrid with a stop for our last night at the Parador in Toledo.  In order to get to the airport we needed to have a very quick breakfast and leave quite early to catch our flight.  We did so with only a couple of slowdowns of early morning traffic on the major highways entering and circling Madrid.

     Historically we have had very few issues with flights but this trip signifcantly increased the average.  You may recall the cancelled flight getting to Madrid and the scrambling to arrange alternate routing.  Well on the return it happened again, starting with a 2 1/2 hour delay in Madrid due to an apparently minor mechanical issue, followed by an apparently lengthy sign-off /paperwork process.  But that delay did not impact us as we had a lengthy layover in Newark.  In fact we shortened that layover by changing to a 7:07 pm (versus 9:11 pm) flight to Halifax.

     The real 'fun' started when we landed in Newark.  When we deplaned we noticed our flight had been delayed until 7:40 pm "due to a late-arriving aircraft" - no big deal.  But then the delay was extended to 8:10 pm, and then 9:25 pm now "due to air traffic control", and then to 9:51 pm, and then to 10:20 pm, and then at 10:04 pm (4:20 am Madrid time) our flight was cancelled, as was the later flight.  Of course everyone scrambled to customer service - we were perhaps mid-way in the long lineup - to rebook flights.  The early morning direct flight was grabbed quickly.  Rather than risking standby on that flight we booked a 6:30 am flight to Boston and then the 9:15 am Boston to Halifax flight.  This combination actually arrived before the direct Newark to Halifax flight, although our luggage did not make it (but was delivered the next morning).

     Being as it was after 11:00 pm before we had our flights booked and we needed to check-in around 5:00 am we chose to stay at the airport, trying to get whatever sleep we could on the not so comfortable seats.  Not the best way to end the trip, but as we continue to remind ourselves there are a lot worse things in life. 

The not so comfortable sleeping arrangements at Newark's airport - not exactly a parador or cortijo. 

 April 23, 2013 - Cortijo del Marques (north of Granada) to Toledo

     And yet again the morning just seemed to whiz by.  We spent some time packing - the checked-in suitcases versus the more delicate, e.g. ceramics carry-on luggage and then after breakfast updated the blog.  The balance of the morning was simply enjoying the cortijo and chatting with Eva.  We were very surprised and appreciative to be presented two parting gifts - a bottle of very nice Toro Matsu wine from the owner, who while not having met sent us a very nice email thanking us for our TripAdvisor review, and a bottle of local olive oil from Eva.  These were very nice gestures from the owner and staff of the Cortijo del Marques.  This is a wonderful place we would highly recommend!

     As mentioned, rather than fly to Madrid we changed our plans and drove - firtst to Toledo and then the following morning to Madrid's Barajas airport.  The focus of the first half of the drive to Toledo was to make time, driving the autovista at 120 km /hr north past Jaen.  This section continued to be very picturesque, with rolling small scale mountains and groves and groves of olive trees.  The terrain then flattened out as we continued north, where we took a somewhat smaller rural road (although we still made time as opposed to most roads in Andalucia this one was flat and straight) past Almagro and Ciudad Real.  In doing so we saw yet another shepherd and a wealth of wildflowers, including the bright red poppies that are now beginning to bloom both in the fields and along the roadside. 

     The parador in Toledo is quite easy to find being south of the river Tajo that curls around and effectively encloses the city itself.  Located on the hill called Cerro del Emperador the parador offers an unequalled panorama of Toledo, including its greatest jewels, the Cathedral, the Alcázar and the synagogues.  Visually Toledo is very different form the white-washed cities, towns, and villages of Andalucia, being of brown brick and stone throughout including the roof tiles.  We never actually went into the city, but rather spent our last night only at the parador enjoying the view form our balcony and then a last dinner.  It certainly looks like a place to return to.

     Another parador where the food is somewhat hit and miss - rarely bad, but rarely superb.  Tonight was much the same - a nice meal but not a great meal.  We each had a soup - my 'tipica' Sopa de Ajo Castellano con Huevo y Puntas de Jamon was quite good while Gayle's Crema de Calabaza con Esparragos Blancos y Pan Frito (a pumpkin and leeks cream soup with fried bread and natural asparagas) much less so.  Fortunately her Pucherett de Fares con Menestrilla de Setas (a white bean stew with mushrooms) was much better whereas my Magret de Pato a la Sarten con Pure de Manzana y Salsa de Naranja - you have to give the Spanish credit for the longest meal names (gilled duck magret with sour orange sauce) was not nearly as good as it sounded.  For dessert I had the Mazapanes Tipicos de Toledo - a small selction of typical Toledo sweets and for those chocolate lovers (of which Gayle is one) a very nice Semifrio de Almandras y Pinones Sobre Chocolate (almonds and pine nuts tender ice cream onto chocolate sauce - not that we know how ice cream can be "tender").

Return tomorrow for our journey home and our 'Impressions' of southern Spain.

The church and the pool area highlighted by blossoms at the Cortijo del Marques.

With Eva.

More roadside flowers, this time dominated by red poppies.

A windmill in Castilla y Mancha - Don Quioxte country.

The city of Toledo as seen from the Parador.

Semifrio de Almandras y Pinones sobre chocolate, or as translated "almonds and pine nuts tender ice cream onto chocolate sauce"

April 22, 2013 - Casa Olea, Zamoranos to Cortijo del Marques (north of Granada)

     After another pleasant, relaxing morning including a nice chat with Tom and Claire we left Casa Olea.  We do seem to make it a habit not to get out until near, or at times after noon.  As expected, being Monday, the Almond museum in Zamoranos was closed so we continued on, again along the small twisty back roads, through the olive groves and eventually to Alcala La Real.  During our stop we bought a few nice pastries and then I purchased a new wallet - nice Spanish leather - that I was desperately in need of.  The information centre strongly suggested we take the time to visit the Forrtaleza de la Mota, it being much more than simply a fort but rather a restoration of a complete community with the first settlers dating from the Neolithic Age.

     So we drove to the top of the hill of Alcala la Real and having a short drive ahead decided to tour the restored ruins.  We're glad we did as the fortress contains a number of very interesting historical buildings including towers, homes, bodegas, wineries, prisons, a botica and of course the church.  A most worthwhile visit.

     Our original plan was to fly from Granada to Madrid where we were going to spend our last afternoon and evening.  But with a delay in our flight and the prospect of dragging our luggage into and out of the city for only an evening we decided instead to drive to Madrid, staying our last night at the Parador in Toledo.  To do so we detoured to the Granada airport where we arranged with Europcar to extend the car rental for one day.  From the airport it was a short 20 minute drive to the Cortijo del Marques where we had stayed earlier in the trip.

     Eva's sister Edherlinda and her husband Florin were there to greet us and show us to our room - La Cuadra - a most unique room with the original wooden mangers fixed to the entire length of one wall.  In addition they provided us a tour of the other (unoccupied) rooms, including the beautiful Mirador with its sweeping views of the countryside.  We decided to order a special bottle of wine that Florin brought to our room, along with olives and warm toasted almonds.  The wine - a Rioja Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay 2001 - was very very nice,  both before and with dinner.  Speaking of dinner we enjoyed one of the nicest meals we can recall.  The first course was a wonderful Lenteja, or lentil soup.  Edherlinda and her mother then outdid themselves with the main courses, artichoke hearts on a bed of spinach with fried eggplant stuffed with cheese for Gayle, although I too thought they were fantastic, and chicken for me.  Now chicken may not sound all that exciting but if you ever tasted the almond sauce that smothered the chicken you would understand why I'm raving over the meal.  And then for dessert a refreshing lemon mousse - so so good.  A perfect ending to the day and a wonderful return to this beautiful cortijo.

The Fortaleza de la Mota's Iglesia Mayor Abacial. 

Some of the Plaza Alta, the location of the marketplace and the setting for performances and public events.  

 'La Cudra' - our room with the original wooden mangers.

 A portion of the wall of animal feeding troughs.

Florin serving us our wine before dinner. 

Our first course was a Lenteja, or lentil soup with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil - delicious. 

Gayle was served another original and excellent dish comprised of artichoke hearts over a bed of spinach and lightly fried eggplant stuffed with cheese. 

Chicken is often just chicken but this almond sauce was unbelievably tasty, transforming this chicken into something really special. 

Great food, great wine, great dinner!  One very happy traveller. 

April 21, 2013 - Casa Olea, Zamoranos, with a drive in the nearby countryside

    Today was a slow relaxing day.  After a leisurely breakfast and enjoying time on our terrace overlooking the olive groves mid afternoon we went out for a drive.  Our first stop was the small village of La Fuente where we had a light lunch (gazpacho and ajo blanco soups) at a restaurant of the same name, enjoying the sounds of the passing brook and natural spring where locals came to fill up with water. 

     We continued our drive through more olive groves - really there is nothing but olive groves here, an area that supplied olive oil to the Romans two thousand years ago and has recently won many international awards - to the town of Almandanilla where we were searching out a restaurant the Casa Olea had recommended.  Being unable to quickly find the location/square we tried asking an elderly Spanish fellow strolling down the stree.  He tried to find someone with a bit of English but being unable to simply jumped in the back seat of our car and started pointing - forward, left then further until he found the square.  After posing for a photo he got out, smiled, said Adios and walked off.  You had to be there.  And then being around 6:00 the restaurant turned out to be closed.

     We returned via Priego de Cordoba, the largest town in the area.  Again a very pretty old part, with small parks and narrow alleys made colourful with potted plants covering many of the walls.  Although we couldn't find a restaurant that was serving dinner (it was still only 6:30 pm) we did find one on a nice square by the church that had cold plates of jamon and queso.  We ate perhaps half of the large servings and took the rest back to the Casa where we enjoyed it later in the evening, along with some wine left over from the previous night on our terrace, watching the sun set in the hills over the olive groves. 

Colourful geraniums. 

The pool area at and the countryside around Casa Olea

 A tower amongst the olive groves near Casa Olea.

 Enjoying bowls of gazpacho and ajo blanco soup at a small village restaurant.

Collecting the day's water from the local spring. 

 The gentleman who went above and beyond the call in providing us directions.

Gayle suggests there's a colour match here although I just don't see it :-). 

Pots of flowers on the walls of a lane in Priego de Cordoba. 

Enjoying our left over wine from last night and the cheese and jamon from the afternoon on our terrace watching the sun set over the olive groves

 April 20, 2013 - Arcos de la Frontera to Casa Olea, Zamoranos

     Last night, after late-afternoon plates of jamon and cheese at the parador we went for a short walk through the old part of Arcos de la Frontera.  During our stroll a group of four young (16 and 17) year olds overheard us speaking English and asked if they could interview us about our thoughts on Spanish gastronomy - for a school project.  What the hey we said and cameras (well an iphone) began to roll and microphones (well another iphone) began to record.  Two interviewed us while the other two taped and recorded.  Not sure we said anything profound but they were polite (and in some cases nervous) students who it was nice to be able to help.

       Rather than again eat at the parador we went out to a small restaurant we had come across earlier for some late night tapas.  In addition to the food and the sangria which was relatively decent, the interesting part was watching and listening to the Spaniards, including the many women trying to navigate the cobble-stoned street in really high heels.  We didn't leave until after 11:30 pm and it was still going strong.  The only thing that would have improved the atmosphere would have been some music but all in all it was a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

     After another typical, and filling parador breakfast we left Arcos for a lenghty drive back towards Granada.  For the most part it was a pretty quick trip along a 'red' road except for one big oops.  We decided to cut 38 km across the interior on a smaller, more narrow 'yellow' road - somewhat slower winding its way back and forth up and down mountain slopes and switchbacks.  We had driven many with no problem until 14 km in we encountered a washed out road - no way to get through and no way to get around.  We regret not taking a photo of the landslide but there only was one choice - the 14 slow kms back to the main road.   Oh well ... we worked our way east past Antequera and then north past Iznajar, where we stopped for a quick road-side picnic, on to Priego de Cardona and the small village of Zamaranos from where one takes an even smaller country road to the Casa Olea, our home for the next two nights.  The Casa Olea was renovated and run by Tim and Claire, a young British couple, along with their four-month old Max and the house dog Rubia (or Ruby).  Claire prepares dinner (five nights a week) with this evening consisting of garlic langastinos and chicken, spinach and olorosa arroz for the fish and meat eaters and cauliflower with cumin fritters and Zuheros goat's cheese salad with quince, peppers and walnuts for the vegetarians, e.g. Gayle.  Another excellent meal enjoyed overlooking the rolling terrain covered with olive groves.  We then retired to our appropriately name room - Oliva. 

 A plate of Spanish jamon - life IS good.

A typical Spanish courtyard - lot of plants - this one with a guitar ready to be played. 

So many tapas choices - even more if we understood what half this stuff is. 

... olives, stuffed red peppers, a potato salad, a chicken dish with potatoes and pulpo (octopus) with paprika - Andalucian style.  

Enjoying my tapas and sangria. 

Arcos de la Frontera as we were leaving. 

 The new and the old - wind turbines and olive groves.

Just like the French, picnicing out of the back of our car, with Iznajar in the background. 

Before dinner at Casa Olea.

My first course for dinner - garlic langastinos

Our postre (dessert) this evening - a meringue 'ice-cream' cake with coffee, ginger and Pedro Ximenez La Tercia sherry sauce.

 April 19, 2013 - Utrera to Arcos de la Frontera

     After a decent breakfast at a relavitely inexpensive hotel our route today took us south through a number of additional white-washed Andalucian towns.  We first stopped at an old Castillo - de las Aguzaderas a quite well preserved fortress built, according to some sources, for the Arabs with the foundation dating from the 14th century.

    Shortly thereafter we passed the youngest sheppard we had ever encountered, complete with his iPod.  We again detoured into a small village, this one Zahara de la Sierra where we stopped for a coffee and a local brie cheese, smothered with olive oil pesto and served with small tostados.  A picturesque drive brought us to Grazalema, another pretty white-washed Andalucian town that we also spent some time wandering through.

     From Grazalema we drove through the Parque Natural de Grazalema - there are a surprising number of Parque Naturals here in Andalucia - to the spectacular cliff-top town of Arcos de la Frontera - an independent Berber-ruled kingdom for a brief period during the 11th century in 1255 Arcos was claimed by Christian King Alfonso X for Seville and remainded 'de la Frontera' (on the frontier) for the next 237 years until the fall of Granada in 1492 (our history lesson for the day).  Of course most of the places to see - the castle, the cathedral and the parador are right at the top of the town, accessed only by very narrow - we're talking turn your side mirrors in or they will scrape the walls narrow - alleyways - perhaps the locals consider them streets but as far as we're concernced they are alleys.  After missing the turn the first go around and descending only to have to do it all again we found the parador and a (tight) place to park in the busy square.

     The Parador, situated on the banks of the Guadalete river, was formerly the Casa del Corregidor.   It boasts an impressive view over the fertile plains surrounding the river, as well as the Arcos de la Frontera old town.  The bedrooms with terraces provide some magnificent views of Arcos.  The interior contains traditional Andalusian courtyards along with other decorative features, such as grilles and azulejería (blue and white ceramics).  Wooden beams, rugs and archways finish the Parador's decoration. The restaurant offers a welcoming ambience and traditional dishes from the Sierra.

     We enjoyed some jamon and cheese on the terrace (until it got too hot and we moved inside) in the afternoon but then went out for tapas at a local restaurant later in the evening.  More on that tomorrow.

The Castillo de las Aguzaderas. 

The youngest sheppard we've ever seen. 

The church bells in Zahara de la Sierra. 

 Our brie in a pesto-oil sauce with balsamic.

 For those who saw my photo from Greece of a goat in a tree, I think I found his long lost brother.

 Entrances to Spanish homes are often tiled with plants and flowers.

... and of course many of the balconies of covered with pots of flowers. 

Saturday afternoon entertainment in Grazelema - a game of dominos. 

A number of the TripAdvisor reviews cautioned that the drive up the town to the parador was tight in spots.  They were right!

The moorish courtyard of the Parador Arcos de ls Frontera. 

 The Inglesia de San Pedro prominent on the edge of the cliff as seen from the parador's terrace.

The Castillo de los Duques, across the square from the Parador Arcos de la Frontera, lit up at night. 

April 18, 2013 - Cortijo El Guarda (Alcala del Valle) to Utrera and Seville

     We left the cortijo after a delicious and filling breakfast, again enjoyed outdoors under another day of nothing but blue skies, not a cloud to be seen.  We drove the back roads through some very pretty countryside and by and through a number of white villages such as Alcala del Valle, Torre Alhaguime and Olvera.  We then made some time on the highway to Utrera, about 50 km outside of Seville.  After finding and checking in to our hotel we walked the 10 minutes to the train that took us to Seville.

    From the train station we walked through the old part of Seville, by both the impressive cathedral and the hotel where Gayle stayed many years ago (1974).  During the walk we encountered a number of women in their best flamenco dress on their way to the Feria.  The Seville Feria (or fair) is a six day event that apparently goes pretty much 24 / 7.  There may be some down time late morning - we read the dancing and partying goes on every night until sunrise, but the place was very much packed when we arrived late afternoon.  The streets were full of horses and carriages parading individuals and families to their tents.  It appeared every business and organization had a tent where their friends and associates were invited to socialize, drink, eat, sing, dance and enjoy themselves.  It was loud and colourful.  Unfortunately it was also hot - twice we saw 36 C which with all the walking drained us a bit.  We only wandered through perhaps a quarter of the area/tents yet were totally overwhelmed by the partying.

     I've uploaded a couple of videos of the Feria that you can find at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRq_uZtsvA0&feature=youtu.be and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GNWcybHIX8&feature=youtu.be

     After a couple of hours we made our way back to the train station, first through a couple of the beautiful parks along the river in central Seville and after a stop for some tapas at a bar on the way.  We then caught our train back to Utrera, a very easy and efficient process, and really quite inexpensive - only 10.10 euros ($14 Cdn) for two tickets return.  A short walk back to our hotel to rest our weary feet/legs.  

Breakfasts in Spain are generally great, and at a place like the Cortijo El Guarda beyond great ... with fresh baked bread, meats, cheeses, fruit, juice, eggs, yoghurt and on and on.  No need for lunch after breakfasts like these.

 Hans, Gayle, Norm and Miranda in front of the Cortijo El Guarda.

A typical narrow balcony lined Spanish village street - this one in Alcala del Valle. 

Andalucia has many of these white-washed villages - this one being Olvera, sitting on a hilltop, the church prominent.

 Seville's cathedral.

 Two of the many traditional and colourfully dressed Spaniards we saw on our way to the Feria. 

The horse is a huge part of the feria as seen in these next few photos. 

 People everywhere, most in traditional flamenco dresses (then women) and suits and ties (for the men).

 Some of the impromptu dancing in one of the public tents.

Again with my apologies but April can be pretty hot in southern Spain. 

After the Feria we stopped for tapas - these being queso with a tomato marmalade and a spinach croquette.

 April 17, 2013 - Ubeda to Baeza, Jaen and on through Andalucia to Alcala del Valle

     We left Ubeda a little before noon for what will be our longest day of driving, just under 300 km.  The route took us west through Baeza and around Jaen, where in 2001 we stayed at the spectacular parador perched high on the hilltop overlooking the city.  While this was not the most picturesque drive in the world, with continuing miles and miles of olive groves there was a splash of colour now and then with bright wildflowers and red poppies along the road. 

     About half way, and needing a break from driving, we spotted an interesting-looking white town clinging to a hillside so decided to veer off the road and wander around.  Luque has a very pleasant town square with the church dominating one side and a nice area with benches and orange trees in the centre.  It is too bad we had the full parador buffet breakfast only a few hours earlier as the village must be famous for their 'caracoles' ... or snails as every bar and restaurant advertised them ... but I was still too full from breakfast so passed trying any.

     Late afternoon we arrived at our stop for the night - a small (five rooms) cortijo - the Cortijo el Guarda.  As it turned out it is fortunate there were five, rather than only four rooms as there was a mix-up with our reservation - it was originally for the following Sunday but the change to tonight was overlooked.  Hans and Miranda, the Dutch couple who own and host were wonderful, being appropriately apologetic, while seemingly understanding it was not a big deal to us as long as we had a place to sleep.  Still they felt bad that we were in a standard room, rather than the superior room with the terrace under the fig tree we had booked as it was already occupied.  As we said to them if this is the biggest problem we encounter life is pretty good.  Although unnecessary dinner was "on them" so all worked out well.  What a great couple, living their dream, having renovated the cortijo ... and what a beautiful and tasteful job they did ... and providing the opportunity for travellers such as us to enjoy a traditional Spanish farmhouse.  Of course with the mixup the chef, Montse was not prepared for Gayle's vegetarian limitations but on short notice made her an excellent meal.  I, and the four other couples (two from the Netherlands and two from England) had a regional specialty - Rabo del Toro, or beef tail ... it was so tender, simply melting in my mouth.  Eathing outside, under the stars, with a bottle of local Ronda wine Miranda and Hans had personally sourced made for a very enjoyable evening. 

Wildflowers along the side of the road, adding colour to what is otherwise miles of green oliver orchards. 

Another of my Spanish friends

Well into our long drive and in somewhat of a break we detoured to this attractive village of Luque, positioned on a hillside, for what turned out to be a nice short stop.

The Inglesia Parroquial de la Asuncion in Luque. 

We stayed at another cortijo (farmhouse) tonight, and what a beautiful spot.  Small with only five rooms it is so attractive, with this beautiful courtyard.  Our hosts, Miranda and Hans, from the Netherlands, were so informative and interesting to chat with, spending considerable time with us.  A great experience.

Some of the beautiful Spanish architecture at the Cortijo el Guarda. 

We enjo yed a delicious outdoor candlelit dinner under the stars.  Gayle's pasta with red peppers was both very tasty and colourful - the roasted red peppers nicely set against the green pasta while I had a regional Rabo del Toro, or bull's tail - which effectively melted in my mouth it was so tender, all accompanied by a nice local wine from Ronda.  Hans and Miranda, and the chef Montse made such efforts in both presentation and creating something special for Gayle.  We were vey appreciative.

 Enjoying a glass of regional vino tinto (from Ronda) after dinner.

 April 16, 2013 - morning in Ubeda; afternoon drive to the Parque Natural and the Parador de Cazorla

     Rather than having the large buffet breakfast at the parador we went out into the town.  We first stopped for coffee and churros and then later on had another cafe con leche, some fresh squeezed orange juice and tostadas.  Tostadas being a half roll grilled with garlic and olive oil, then covered with tomato puree and if one wishes (which I did) cheese and jamon.  It was very enjoyable to be sitting outside in the warm sun (sorry to all those experiencing less than great weather back home), on a pedestrian friendly boulevard having a typical Spanish breakfast. 

     On our walk back we came across a shop where we bought a nice piece of copper and a small locally made plate.  We then stepped into the Museo Andalusi Legado de los Tres Cultavos, a small but impressive museum set in a very typical Spanish courtyard with a wonderful intimate room for flamenco performances.  Unfortunately the flamenco is only presented once per week - on Saturdays, which regrettably today is not.

     We then took what turned out to be a very long drive with the original destination being the Parador de Cazorla, isolated in the Parque National's Sierra de Castril range.  After a challenging drive to the parador we took a short break enjoying a drink on the terrace overlooking the mountains.  Rather than driving the same route back we drove down a valley along the Embalse de Tranca, a picturesque turquoise reservoir in the mountains.  During the drive we encountered three deer, and read there is wild boar in the region as well.  Returning through a steep and narrow valley we were amazed at not only the vast number of olive trees but the fact they are planted well up the extremely steep sides of the mountains.  When we finally reached relatively flatter land the number of olive trees increased even further, covering the entire landscape - something one can't capture in a photo (although I tried) but rather has to be seen to be believed.

     After returning to Ubeda and a short walk we again in the Parador as a nearby alternative restuarant was closed.  I had the Menu Museo, a sampling of first five cold and then five hot appetizers, a main plate (spinach and pine nut stuffed pork loin) and a dessert.  Gayle shared my vegetarian appetizers, e.g. the garlic and almond soup, along with a very nice asparagus and mushroom risotto.

 The Parador de Ubeda (on the left) and the adjacent Sacre Capilla del Salvador.

The Antiguo Posito and the Plaza Vazquez Molina as seen from out balcony. 

The four poster bed with headboard and trim all engraved with designs.

Gayle relaxing with a book looking out over our small balcony.  Note her colour coordination with the chair, curtains and wall trim. 

The Parador de Ubeda's inner courtyard.  "The Renaissance courtyard is considered among the most elegant in all of Andalucia.  It occupies the centre of the building with the rooms arranged around it.  It is made up of a double gallery of semi-circular arches supported by slender Nasrid-inspired marble columns with Doric capitals and the thinnest shafts in the city.  The simple mirrors which adorn the spandrels in the place of coats of arms are typical of Vandelvira's work" 

 The parador's central courtyard reflected in an attractively painted mirror.

The Sacra Capilla del Salvador, next to the parador as seen from the balcony of our room. 

Breakfast of cafe con leche (with milk) of course, fresh squeezed orange juice and tostadas. 

Some of the stunning interior of the Museo Andalusi Legado de los Tres Cultavos. 

 The Embalse (man made reservoir) del Tranco in the Parque Natural Sierra de Cazorla. 

 North, south, east or west - flat plains or mountain sides ... nothing but olive trees.

 The Sta. M de los Reales Alcazares, across the square from the Parador, at night.

Tonight it is Gayle's dish that is most photo and taste worthy - Arroz Verde Jugosa con Menestrilla Forestal y Cebolleta - Risotto with asparagus and mushrooms.

April 15, 2013 - Cortijo del Marquis to Parador de Ubeda, Ubeda

     A portion of this morning was spent trying to catch up on the blog while at the same time enjoying the peace and quiet of the Cortijo - we were the only guests last night.  We certainly hit a home run in choosing to stay here, not only for these two nights but our final night in the south (being as it is reasonably close to the Granada airport from where we will be flying to Madrid) in a week's time.  Our room, El Granero or The Granery is a very large 80 m² suite in the former granary of the Cortijo with a five metre high original wooden ceiling and stone walls.  Other special features are a four-poster bed, a beautiful sitting area and an enormous tiled bathtub.  The Cortijo dates from 1878 - the date is enscribed on the top of the church - and was entirely self-sufficient for 13 families.  It includes an impressive on-site church.  The courtyard, with its small fountain and orange trees is very peaceful and relaxing.  We look forward to returning for another night.

     We left for the 120 km drive to to the north-east and Ubeda.  The area passes through miles and miles of olive groves, often as far as the eye can see, albeit that was pretty much all there was to see - a few small hills and lots and lots of olive trees. 

     We arrived in Ubeda mid afternoon and found the historical Parador de Ubeda with relative ease, there being very little traffic on the streets during siesta time.  The parador is located in a Renaissance palace in its purest Renaissance plaza, next to some of the town's most beautiful buildings.  Originally built in the 16th century it was then remodelled in the 17th C.  Behind the façade is a very beautiful inner courtyard (www.parador.es/en/parador-de-ubeda)

     After a relaxing afternoon in our room overlooking the square we ate dinner at the parador, where I had fresh artichokes with jamon and a wonderful lamb stew and a nice half bottle of our favourite Spanish wine - Muga.

A number of photos of our beautiful room, with stone walls, and even stone wash basins. 

The Cortijo comes with its own church (with weddings hosted here) seen at night. 

The next two photos are of the courtyards within the Cortijo. 

The restaurant looking out over one of the courtyards. 

 The vista across the fields and olive groves from in front of the Cortijo.

The snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range just east of Granada. 

Olive groves as far as one can see. 

My main course Cordero Guisado en Salsa de Almendras y Pinones (lamb stew in almond and pine nuts sauce)  

Dessert was a Pastel de Almendra y Sorbete de Fruta Roja 

 April 14, 2013 - Granada and the Alhambra

     After a relaxing morning we drove the 18 km into Granada to see the Alhambra, the major attraction of not only Granada but the south of Spain.  Alhambra takes its name form the Arabic al-qala'a al-hamra (the Red Castle) due to its sheer red walls rising from the woods of cypress and elms.  Inside is one of the more splendid sights of Europe, a network of lavishly decorated palaces and irrigated gardens.  The Alhambra has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1984.  At times there can be up  to 6,000 visitors a day.

    The Alhambra was first referenced in 900, with construction beginning in 1237 by Muhammad I, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty as a defensive fort to protect against the "beligerent Christian armies".  In the early 1300s the fort was expanded to serve as a palace-cum-country estate for Granada's rulers.  Then in 1333 Yusuf I began construction of the Palacio Nazaries, still considered the highpoint of Islamic culture in Europe.  Other palaces followed in the late 1300s presenting further architectural brilliance.   Then in 1527 the Christians added the Palacio de Carlos V, which some consider an inspried Renaissance palace while other an "incongruous crime against Moorish art".  The Alhambra was 'rediscovered' in the 1800s, with gardens extended in 1954 and UNESCO recognition in 1984.

     The walk up to the Alhambra, located on Sabika Hill overlooking Granada, is a challenge in and of itself but worth the effort as the grounds, gardens and palaces are quite impressive.  Upon descending back to the centre of Granada we felt we had earned a Spanish treat - churros dipped in hot chocolate, which we enjoyed in one of Granada's many people friendly squares.

     We then returned to the Cortijo del Marques where we had another great meal - a wonderful leak soup, a regional huevos flamenco - an egg in a vegetable stew like dish, with me also enjoying a plate of delicious Spanish jamon (ham).  For dessert we were given two regional specialties - Piononas from Granada and Locas from Malaga.  A glass of sherry before dinner and a bottle of wine with made for another great evening.  Afterwards we chatted at length with Eva about her role as host at the Cortijo, her son and his schooling and our travels throughout Spain over the years.  Being 11:45 pm we finally called it a night. 

 The town of Granada as seen from the gardens of the Alhambra.

The following number of photos show some of the intricate stucco work adorning the walls of the Palacio Nazaries, dating from 1333 to 1354. 

 A window in the Alhambra's Palacio Nazaries.

 Churros and hot chocolate.

Two traditional Andalucian desserts - on the left Piononos (a thin layer of pastry rolled into a cylinder fermented with different kinds of syrup creating a sweet texture) from Granada, and on the right a Locas, a type of sweet cookie, from Malaga.

 April 13, 2013 - Nerja to Granada 

     Of course we had a late start to the day, after sleeping in and then enjoying another wonderful and filling parador breakfast on the terrace overlooking the blue blue Mediterranean sea.  With such a large breakfast there is no need for lunch which is both good and bad - good in that we don't have to take time to eat during the day but bad in that we don't often try small local restaurants for and tapas or a light lunch.

     We drove inland, only 7 km to Frigiliana, considered by many as the prettiest village in La Axarquia, with its narrow streets lined with simple whitewashed houses adorned with pots of blood red geraniums.  "Frigiliana prides itswelf on ist sweet local wine, its local artists, its local honey and by simply  being just so sugar-cube perfect and picturesque" - or so the tour book says.  Throughout the area there were these orchards with a small yellowish fruit.  We stopped an elderly Spanish fellow who had a bag of these fruits.  Although we unfortunately didn't understand what he called them he insisted on giving us a handful.  We later found out they are Nispero, quite tasty.  We wandered through the narrow lanes and streets of what is a wonderful village.  Rather than being overrun with tourists this is still a village of locals with many elderly gentleman enjoying a Saturday afternoon sitting on the many benches throughout town.

     We then drove some twisty, winding roads through the whitewashed villages of Axarquia, stopping in Sayalonga where we enjoyed a relaxing stop in the village square.  A coffee and cerveja (beer) with a plate of olives made for a nice stop.  As we were leaving a number of cars stopped where we were parked and out came perhaps a dozen or more women, of all ages, similarly dressed in traditional red and black, obviously going to sing or dance in the village.  Being late we chose not to follow them but rather made our way north through a mountain pass into Granada province, eventually to the Cortijo del Marques where we are staying for two nights.  After having said it was rare to encounter shepherds we came across another two along with their dogs and flocks along the drive.  The Cortijo is 4.7 km off the main road through olive groves over a pot-hole filled service road, to what for us is the perfect place and location, a farm well out in the country. 

     Dinner was superb, with Gayle having risotto and lasagne and me vol au vent - with shrimp and a mushroom puree and then fruit stuffed pork, accompanied by a very nice bottle of Toro wine, from a region we passed through on a previous trip.  Gayle rarely has two courses, and more rarely finished them both let alone dessert but all plates were clean.  Two days later she is still raving about the meal.  Being Spain we didn't begin dinner until nearly 9:00, finishing around 11:30, so again we crashed quite quickly.

 Yes it was hard to leave the beautiful Mediterranean sea after breakfast here on the terrace of the Parador. 

 The fellow who gave us a handful of Nispero, a Mediterranean fruit.

One of the many narrow alleys in the town of Frigiiliana, considered by many to be the prettiest village in La Axarquia. 

The white-washed village of Frigiliana.

 Frigiliana through some of the many wildflowers currently in bloom.

Another whitewashed village perched on a hill below the mountains. 

 The town square of Sayalonga, where we enjoyed a relaxing break (coffee and an Alhambra cerveja)

 One of the group of a dozen or so traditionally dressed singers/dancers we encountered while leaving Sayalonga.

Dogs doing their job as the sheep cross the road (jaywalking of course as there was no marked crosswalk). 

 The shepherd and his dogs crossing a field.

If not the best, certainly tied for the best vegetarian lasagne Gayle has ever enjoyed.

 April 12, 2013 - Nerja, Andalucia, Spain

     We made it ... here to the sunny south of Spain, the area known as Andalucia.  In addition to arriving four plus hours earlier it may have been very fortunate that we arranged for alternate routing as the United flight from Halifax to Newark was again delayed, arriving only 18 minutes prior to the flight to Madrid actually departing.  Given the need to change terminals it appears we may not have made the connection.  And the other benefit - yes W. we did get chocolate on our Swiss flights. 

     Nerja is about 50 km east of Malaga.  Driving along the coast we were somewhat surprised to encounter two very traditional ways of life – first a bunch of fishermen working on their nets and preparing their boat and then even more surprising in a vacant field between apartments in town a shepherd with his flock.  On past trips it was rare to come across a shepherd so seeing one within the first hour was unexpected.  We arrived at the Parador late afternoon.  While the room itself was nothing to rave about the location and grounds are spectacular – overlooking the beach and the Mediterranean.  We enjoyed our glass of wine (Amigos members receive a free drink upon arrival) and being a tad hungry had a plate of four tapas – lettuces, papaya and caramelized cheese salad, a potato and egg soup with mayonnaise, marinated dogfish Andalusian style and grilled Iberian pork fillets – which nicely hit the spot. 

     We then wandered the 15 minutes into town – a nice stroll through whitewashed winding streets.  We easily found a highly regarded restaurant - Oliva (we now understand why) and took their last available table.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal starting with crisp baked parmesan ‘lollipops’ accompanied by radish sprouts, a tomato marmalade with Malaga balsamic, an organic olive oil along with an olive butter in a small flower pop on slate – an artistic presentation.  Gayle then had a Spanish cheese fondue, with an egg that you apparently cook in the remaining cheese at the end (?), while I had a rack of lamb with herbal moss (?) and couscous, all of which was excellent. 

     We finished dinner just in time to attend a flamenco guitar concert.  We arrived during a week long event in Nerja where tonight Antonio Soto played along with a percussionist and two very enjoyable wailing singers.  A perfect welcome to Spain.  As we were walking back to the parador we heard more music in a bar and decided to step in.  Glad we did as we listened to more Spanish music and enjoyed a couple who clearly knew what they were doing, passionately dancing the flamenco. 

     Needless to say it did not take us long to fall asleep.

Fishing boats along the beach. 

While driving along the coast we noticed these fishermen, presumably preparing to go out later in the evening or early morning.

More fishermen working on their nets.

It is actually not that common to see shepherds with their flocks of sheep.   We were shocked to see one in a field right near the coast.  

 The shepherd.

The pool and absolutely beautiful parador grounds as seen from our balcony - a prime location looking out to the Mediterranean.

The beach in front of the parador at Nerja and the coastline. 

Our first glasses of wine - our welcoome drink (for Amigos members) at the parador.

My rack of lamb with herbal moss and cous-cous. 

Antonio Sotoa - Guitarra Flamenca ... Rosas blancas 

I'm not sure if this audio file will play and the sound qauality is likely not that great but it is a sampling of the enjoyable flamenca guitar of Antonio Soto.

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Type : AVI

April 10, 2013 - Dartmouth, Nova Scotia - stuck at home 

    Ah, the joys of travelling.  So our flight from Halifax to Newark was about an hour late but all appeared good as we boarded the plane in theory with time to make the connection to Madrid ... until the pilot announced that due to thunderstorms and high winds the flight was cancelled.  Although we were confirmed on the same flights today (April 11) we found an alternative through Ottawa to Montreal, then over-night to Zurich on Swiss, finally with a direct Zurich to Malaga Swiss flight.  Although it will be one more flight and more time in airports the benefit of this routing is that we are scheduled to arrive four plus hours earlier and we don't have to repurchase the separate Iberia flight from Madrid to Malaga, which would have cost a considerable amount.

     Regrettably this means we won't have a full day to enjoy the coast of the Mediterranean in the seaside town of Nerja, although arriving in Malaga at 12:40 pm rather than 5:00 pm helps.  In the grand scheme of things life could be a lot worse.

     Chelsea (a young woman we met at the airport who was travelling to Madrid to meet her fiance who she had not seen in months due to his deployment in the Arabian Sea on the HMCS Toronto.  She was understandably devastated at the cancellation of our flight), if you are reading this, with our rerouting we won't cross paths again.  We so much hope you get to Madrid and enjoy a wonderful time with your fiance and your tour of southern Spain.