Cádiz and some relaxing Sherry for not such a high tarifa.

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Tucked away in the southwest part of Spain, between Huelva, Sevilla and Gibraltar with views of Morocco, Cádiz is, like every Spanish province, a contrast of many things. And as a Pearls Before Swine fan, I just had to make a pun out of this entry’s title.

Cádiz is known for its beautiful pueblos blancos (villages with white architecture), beautiful beaches and being home of Jerez de la Frontera, where they make sherry (Jerez is Spanish for “sherry”. It’s also home of the rainiest part of the peninsula, the Sierra de Grazelema. I’m not even going to ask how a place could be rainier than Bilbao because I don’t even want to consider that possibility.

I spent two summers working at a summer camp in Jerez, a beautiful andaluz city famous for its horses and for its sherry. It wasn’t as hot as some places in Andalucía (in fact, some nights I needed a jacket). The less said about the camp, the better, but I do have fond memories of the city. My favourite was my afternoon off when I was able to visit Cádiz, the province capital city. I walked all around the town, imagining Havana in Cuba (which is said to be very similar). I remember having a very cheap café con leche and admiring a beautiful sunset over the beach. On the train back to Jerez, there were some lovely fireworks.

I also got to tour Tío Pepe, one of the sherry bodegas in Jerez. For the life of me, I can’t remember if I ever made it to El Puerto de Santa María or not. I do know I was in charge of a bunch of rowdy teens most of the time (which included supervising them playing golf, of all sports)    and had no time to explore this beautiful province…although with the winter I’m still recovering from, I’m not wanting to go to the rainiest point of the peninsula any time soon.

By the way, the people of Jerez strongly feel that flamenco was born in Jerez and not Sevilla. I asked my amigo andaluz from the east part of Andalucía who has no stake in this debate, and he says it is from the north part of Cádiz and the south part of Sevilla, so both are correct.

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Set Meravelles

Cádiz

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Cádiz is the oldest continuously lived in city in Spain and comes complete with an old town and old city walls. Nearly 124,000 people call the city home. The metropolitan area is over 600,000 habitants. The Phonetians called it “Gadir”/”Agadir”. It’s located on a sand spit of land, which causes development problems. Today, besides the beaches and the Bay of Cádiz, the city has a cathedral, many beautiful plazas and churches, the monument to the 1812 Spanish Constitution, the Tavira watchtower, a Roman theatre and the Castle of Santa Catalina. It also has Carnivales.

Carnivales

Río is not the only place in the world with Carnival. Every year, Carnivales become more popular in Spain as people dress in costumes. (As Halloween has been adopted into Spanish culture, the Spanish differentiate between Carnival and Halloween by only wearing scary costumes on Halloween. I’ve been called a liar when I explain that in the United States people wear any type of costume for Halloween. I digress). One of the most important Carnivals (if not the most important) is the Carnival of Cádiz. Cádiz has special groups called “chirigotas” who provide satirical music and performances as everyone dresses up in costume/fancy dress.  The “comparsas” work all year on their satire, and there are also “coros” providing music.

Jerez de la Frontera

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Jerez is the largest city of the province with 215,000 habitants and is the fifth-largest city in Andalucía. Located 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean, it is included in the Cádiz metropolitan population of over 600,000. They have a cathedral, la Cartuja de Jerez de la Frontera monastery (a Bien de Interés Cultural), an alcázar (fortress), many churches and plazas, sherry and horses. Despite having lived there six weeks, I didn’t have much of a time to explore the city. I was left with a favourable impression from what little I did see.

Los pueblo blancos (to be discovered)

The pueblos blancos are villages where the houses all have white walls and red/brown tiled roofs. There are a series of connected villages with this look in Cádiz and Málaga. The towns all have a Catholic church and narrow, winding streets. They were first painted white during the Miguel Primo de Rivera dictatorship in the 1920s. There are a ton of hiking and other outdoor activity opportunities here.

Tarifa (to be discovered)

Tarifa, population of nearly 18,000, is located at the very south of the province on the Strait of Gibraltar. The word “tariff” comes from here as it was the first port to charge for its use. It’s home of the Guzmán Castle, the church of St. Matthew, the ferry to Tangier, Morroco, and many wind sports.

Sierra de Grazalema (to be discovered)

Grazalema is a village of 2200 people located in the foothills of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. It is more or less the middle point of the Cádiz-Sevilla-Málaga triangle, allowing for easy access from any of the major cities. The park is home of many caves and vultures. It is said to be the rainiest part of the peninsula and has been a biosphere reserve since 1977. Nine Cádiz populations and five Málaga populations (including Ronda)  have territory within the park boundaries.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda (to be discovered)

Sanlúcar, population 68,000, is located in the northwest of the province on the banks of the Guadalquivir river, about 50 kilometres from Cádiz (30 miles). It is home to some beaches, the Santiago Castle and a few palaces (including city hall) and churches. It’s one of the cities that produces sherry. It’s also close to the Doñana National Park.

Spain. The Set Meravelles of the Greatest Peninsula in the World.

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Today is the one-year anniversary of Set Meravelles. Hoy marca el primer aniversario de Set Meravelles.

Thank you to my readers (averaging 300 hits a month! Yay!) and the people who support me and my crazy Quixote dream of staying in Spain in time of CRISIS. Gracias a todos mis lectores y las personas que me apoyan y mi sueño de locura de Quijote de quedarme en España en tiempos de crisis.

Originally, I was going to do a revisit to the Set Meravelles of Vizcaya, as it is unfair to have grouped Bilbao and Vizcaya in the same entry as there are so many Meravelles in the province. (That goes for every province though!) Estaba pensado en hacer otra vez las Set Meravelle de Vizcaya, como es injusto hacer en la misma la entrada con Bilbao y toda la provicina como hay tantas Meravelle en la provincia.

Then I thought, as I am running out of provinces to write about, and I was planning on writing up the Set Meravelles of Spain to conclude the series, perhaps I should go ahead and just name the Set Meravelles of Spain to celebrate the occasion. (Mallorca, León, Cádiz and Álava are coming, and then when I finally get to visit Lugo, Ourense, Zamora, Huesca, Albacete and Sta. Cruz de Tenerife, they will be done after I have at least spent more than 20 minutes at the bus station (Albacete, looking at you!) Después, me pensé, como ya me queda poco provincias, y estaba planficiando escribir un blog sobre las Set Meravelle de España para acabar con la serie, ya debería nombrar las Set Meravelle de España para celebrar el aniverario. (Mallorca, León, Cádiz y Álava ya vienen en entradas futuras, y cuando por fin visite Lugo, Ourense, Zamora, Huesca, Albacete y Sta. Cruz de Tenerife. Voy a esperar hasta que visitarlas (y no cuento Albacete hasta que haya estado más de 20 minutos en la estación de autobuses)

This is going to be hard. Impossible. In a country as amazing as Spain, you can not name just seven wonders. Impossible. So before I hear “You left out Lepe!”, keep that in mind. I tried to choose from a wide variety of interests for this list. I’m sorry for leaving out whichever wonder, but I can’t write about all  193829382938293918192383982495492 wonders of Spain.

Es imposible elegir solo siete maravillas. Por eso, no te quejas que se me olvidado Lepe o tu maravilla preferida. Lo siento mucho, pero no puedo escribir de todas las 193829382938293918192383982495492 maravillas que hay en este país tan espectacular. He intentando incluir cosas de todas las intereses para esta lista.

There are 17 autonomous communities in Spain, and each of them has a ton of history and amazing places to visit. I tried to spread the love, but the north seems to have more due to my love of the natural beauty found here. I also love Andalucía. Hay 17 comunidades autónomas en España, y cada uno tiene mucho historia y sitios preciosos para visitar. He intentando incluir un poco de todo, pero hay más en el norte porque me encanta la belleza natural del norte. Pero también me encanta Andalucía, tranquilos. 

What are your choices for the Meravelles of Spain? I’ll probably agree with whatever you write as long as it’s not Madrid city! ¿Cuáles sitios elegiría tu para las Meravelles de España? Probablemente voy a estar acuerdo, menos los que dicen Madrid capital xD. 

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Camino de Santiago

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No matter which Camino you take, how you do it, where you leave from, how much of it you do, the Camino de Santiago is a unique experience. Most people who have done it say it was one of the best experiences of their lives. I’ve only done about 120 kilometres so far, but I cannot wait to arrive in Santiago. No matter wherever you are in Spain, you’re not far from some Camino to Santiago.

Granada y La Alhambra

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Granada remains one of my favourite cities in the world. Although I’ve only been to the Alhambra once, I’ve been to the city four times, and I am looking forward to a fifth time in the future. For me, the best of the city lies directly opposite the Alhambra: Watching the sunset from Mirador de San Nicolas.

Valencia y las Fallas (y paella)

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Ay, mi Valencia (i la seua caloret). I wanted to include a festival on here, and after living through the Fallas in March 2011, no other Spanish (or any place) festival compares with the awesomness of the Fallas. And the paella is amazing for the foodies.

San Sebastián- Donostia

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Ay, Donosti. I agree with the guide I read during my first visit to this city. There may not be much to see, but it’s a place you have to see. I probably have offended every single person I know in Bilbao by listing it and not Donosti, but I will also remind them of Miguel de Unamuno’s quote about Donostia being beautiful but insignificant. Although it’s difficult to find good weather, their beaches are among the best in the peninsula for me. I love sitting along the rock along the river watching the wave crash into the shore.

Toledo,

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Segovia

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y Ávila:

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Tres capitales castellanas

The best thing about Madrid is its connection to three amazing Castillian province capital cities. Toledo is beautiful and medieval, Segovia has its Roman aqueduct and Alcázar that inspired Disney’s Cinderalla Castle, and Ávila is also a charm that’s a bit more off the beaten path.

Cangas de Onis y Covadonga

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When I saw this bridge with its cross where the Reconquista of Spain supposedly began, I felt moved. I can’t explain it. The nearby Basilica of Covadonga and the church in a cave are also jewels  of Asturias, and I can’t wait to see the lakes of Covadonga. But it is the bridge and the Asturian cross that somehow spoke to me most.

El Quijote

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 What would Spain be without Quijote? Although a fictional character, Don (Sir) Quijote says so much about Spain. I think my dream of staying in Spain long-term is becoming a bit quixotic itself. Many Spaniards boast of never actually having read this brilliant novel, but they are most definitely missing out.

Córdoba. Flower power!

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I am counting back, and it’s already been six years since my last visit to Córdoba. I regret that news, as it was always one of my favourite cities and one I’ve been wanting to get back to. But life gets in the way, and I’m closer to Paris than I am Córdoba these days.

When I first lived in Spain, Córdoba was my very first visit. It was only an hour and a half away from Linares, and I felt that I should be travelling and taking advantage of living in Spain. I didn’t think about saving money for longer and better trips. I was in a brand new country and wanted to see EVERYTHING. So I hoped a bus, which stopped just ten minutes outside of Linares for twenty minutes. I was lost, confused and not sure of what a “parada de 20 minutos” entailed. We got on the road again, and we were soon in Córdoba provincia and later the capital city. I got off the bus and wandered around lost, trying to get to the Casco Viejo to see what there was to see. I had done no research. I just knew Córdoba was a city we had often talked about in my Early and Medieval Spanish literature university course.

I meandered the old city, crossing the Roman bridge a few times and admiring the horse and buggies that went through the cobblestone streets. I went in to this Mezquita Catedral thing that seemed to be the highlight of the city. I saw you had to pay, and I wasn’t in the best financial situation, so I didn’t go in. I had a quick lunch at Burger King, as I was too shy to go to an actual restaurant (How times have changed!) and later caught the bus back to Linares, vowing to return another day soon.

That day came sooner than I thought, as I was asked to help chaperone a school trip to Córdoba. I instantly said yes. On this fateful November day, I got to tour the Mezquita Catedral. Truly amazing. I regret that my Andalusian Spanish was so rusty during this time as I would’ve learned so much more. We then walked around the city and saw some more sites, including a deep well and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. We were left alone to watch the students as one of them had an emergency and the main teacher had to go to the hospital with her. They had their bocadillos, which we hadn’t known to take, and the students gave us a ton of food and kicked around some oranges that had fallen from the trees. They were quite happy. When the teacher came back, we were off again…to MEDIA MARKT! We spent an hour there. Looking back, I suppose it was because the ruins we were off to see were closed for siesta, but at the time, we were just questioning why so much time was spent at the European Best Buy. We then went to some ruins close to the city, la Medina Azahara, before heading back to Linares. Another sick student on the bus and a half hour at a petrol/gas station/cafetería. I still look back on this day as one of my favourite teaching days ever.

Later, in May of that year, I went back to Córdoba for a job fair where I got told I needed a UK passport a ton. I spent the rest of the day meandering the town.  I lamented that their famous flower festival had been the weekend prior. It would’ve made the city even more beautiful. However, there was a fair going on, which I did check out.

Like so many places those first few years in Spain, I haven’t had an opportunity to go back. If only I could just spend my entire life going from town to town in this amazing country.

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Mezquita Catedral

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Córdoba, once claimed to be the largest city in the world in the 10th century, has many roots to its centuries of Muslim rule. Today the population is around 330,000. It is one of the hottest cities in Spain with an average of 37ºC/99ºF in July and August. And the most famous landmark is the Mezquita Catedral located in the heart of the Jewish quarter and historic centre (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The Visigoths built the original Cathedral, which was destroyed to rebuild a Mosque during the Muslim rules. After the Reconquista, it was converted into a Catholic Cathedral. It is amazingly beautiful inside and one of the Set Meravelles, for me, of Andalucía.

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

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Also located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter of the historic centre is the fortress of the Christian Kings. This is a fortress that was a home of the Catholic Kings Fernindad and Isabel. It was the headquarters of the Reconquista during the final years of it, and the famous monarchs met with Christoper Columbus before that fateful voyage of 1492. Today you can still visit and admire the beautiful gardens. It has been a National Monument since the 1950s.

Puente Romano y la Torre de la Calahorra

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The Roman Bridge and the Calahorra gate Tower form (for me) the most impressive bridge of the seven current bridges crossing the Guadalquivir River. The tower protected the bridge. The bridge was built in the first century BC and is 247 metres long (741 feet).  It has been restored many times, the last time being in 2006, and the restoration efforts were awarded with the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage in 2014.

Fiesta de los Patios, Cruzes y Feria

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While I did see the Feria de Mayo in Córdoba, I missed the fiestas of the patios and crosses.  At the beginning of May, there are crosses made of flowers placed throughout the city, and they have a contest to decide the most beautiful cross. Then they open up private patios throughout the city to choose the most beautiful patio. The patios are decorated with flowers. I saw some of the flowers, but I would’ve liked to have seen the whole thing.

Medina Azahara

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The Medina Azahara is 13 kilometres (8 miles) from Córdoba, located in the foothills of the Sierra Morena, and “the shining city” are ruins of a former Muslim palace city. The views of Córdoba are fantastic, and although only 10% of the original palace-city are visible today, they are well worth seeing. The once important place of al-Andalus was set on fire in the 11th Century.

Cabra y las Sierras Subbeticas (Yet to be discovered)

The rural town of Cabra is the gateway of the National Park of the Sierras Subbeticas and is a major source of red polished limestone. “Cabra” is Spanish for goat, and the goat city is located 72 km (45 miles) from the province capital. It has a medieval tower, some churches and the Castillo de los Condes. It’s central located in Andalucía.

Priego de Córdoba (Yet to be discovered)

 The town of 22,000 habitants, Priego de Córdoba, is located in the southeast of the province on the mountains of the Sierra de Priego. The views from the cliff Adarve are the subject of many paintings and photos. It is a city of “cien fuentes”, 100 fountains, and it also has a castle. I’m sure the best part of this small city are the views. I’m a sucker for beautiful scenery.

Huelva. A forgotten corner of Andalucía.

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Tucked away in the southwest corner of Spain between Sevilla and Portugal, Huelva is a province nearly forgotten by many. Sevilla dominates the western Andalucía scene, Cádiz has its famous pueblos blancos (villages full of white houses) and proximity to Gibraltar, and Portugal has the Algarve with its beautiful beaches and capes. Of course, like any place in the Greatest Peninsula in the World, forgotten does not mean it’s not worth visiting. Au contraire. Huelva has a lot to offer.

My visit to Huelva only consists of half a day returning to Madrid from the Algarve during the Puente de Mayo 2013, two years ago this week. I caught an all-too early bus from Lagos (6:30 if I remember correctly) so I could spend some time in the capital city before spending the night in Sevilla, the city where I always attract bad weather. I had just learned that I would be moving to the Basque Country and was super excited. I walked around the Casco Viejo (Old Town) with a map, just in case of getting lost, with no plan. I saw the buildings, had a cheap, not-so good lunch, walked down to the water front before catching the bus to Sevilla. I was a bit sad I wouldn’t have time to see more of the province, as the capital city doesn’t have a lot to offer. However, the mountains in the northern part of the province would have offered a lot of hiking. Maybe one day I’ll be able to return to the Algarve and see more of the wonders the province has to offer.

A few factoids about Huelva. The football (soccer) club Recreativo de Huelva is the oldest football club in Spain. There are also various sites in the province related to Christopher Columbus (don’t hold that against the province) and his quest to “discover” the Americas. The capital city of Huelva has a population of 149,410 habitants as of 2010.

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La Costa de Luz

The Atlantic Coast from Tarifa in Cádiz to the border with Portugal and Huelva is known as “La Costa de Luz“, the Coast of Light. The beaches are popular with Spanish, French and German tourists. The Parque Nacional de Doñana is an important natural park that protects the coastal ecosystems and is located on coasts here and also in the province of Sevilla.

Catedral de la Merced

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The Cathedral of Huelva was built in the 17th century and is a Bien de Interés Cultural of Spain (National Cultural Interest). The outside is Barroque and many other churches in Huelva province are based on this design.

Lepe

Ay, Lepe, the butt of so many Spanish jokes I just had to include it on here. Any time someone wants to make a joke about someone lacking in the intelligence department, they are said to be from Lepe. However, the city of 25,000 habitants is more than a joke. The wine from Lepe was mentioned in The Canterbury Tales, there is a beach and an old lookout tower (Torre del Catalán) that you can still climb that was originally built to warn of invasions from the Berber pirates.

Ayamonte

Ayamonte, population 18,000, is the last town on the Spanish border before crossing into Portugal. While there is a bridge north of the town to drive across today, for centuries there was only a ferry that crossed the Río (River) Guadiana. The town boasts of a medieval neighbourhood in the center that is pedestrian only. It also has a beach. A river, beach and Casco Viejo? I’m there one day. (I wish I had stopped here instead of Huelva capital.)

La Romería del Rocío y Almonte

Almonte is a small town of 23,000 denizens, and it’s more famous for the pilgrimage (Romería) to the ermita de El Rocío on the second day of Pentecost to honour the Virgin Rocío. The pilgrimage began in 1653 and today attracts around 1 million people. People usually wear traditional Andaluz costumes for the event. ¡Olé! (Please remember that people ONLY wear the traditional outfits for festivals.)

Parque Nacional de Aracena y Picos de Aroche

The National Park of Aracena and Picos de Aroche is part of the Sierra Moreno in the north of the province, and some 41,000 people live in the region near the park. It has been a protected area since 1989, and there are 28 villages within the park’s limits. Any place that is nature and mountains piques my interest.

Mezquita de Almonaster La Real

Although the village of Almonaster La Real has less than 2000 habitants (1800 for population geeks like me), it is home of an interesting trapezoid mezquita (mosque) that was built from a visigoth basilica. It was declared a national monument in 1931. While it isn’t as well-preserved as the more famous Mezquita in Córdoba, it is one of the few surviving rural mosques from Spain’s Muslim past.

I apologise for my lack of photos this entry! Being in only one city for a morning while running on fumes puts a damper on the photo taking!

Málaga…more than just beaches.

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I’ve postponed writing about Málaga as I know the people who live there are very passionate about their home, whether they were born there or moved there later in life. I hope I can do this justice, as I have only been to the capital city once, in 2009, and a return visit to one of the SetMeravelles of the entire country, Ronda, in 2013. It most definitely is NOT one of the worst cities to visit in Spain, as one blogger wrote last year. I know the province has more jewels than the capital city, but I really enjoyed my visit to the capital (much more than neighbouring gaybourhood Torremolinos!) in 2009.

I was ending my first year living in Spain, unsure if I was going to be able to continue and regretting a ton of opportunities I’d miss to travel. We had the “Puente de Mayo”, the “bank holiday” weekend of May 1st. I wanted to go back to Granada and felt I should visit Málaga as I heard so much about it. I caught an early bus from the Linares bus station (I sort of miss that place as it was one of the places with free wifi in 2009 small-town Andalucía and we had no internet). The bus stopped in Granada and then went on through some amazing scenery between Granada and Málaga capital. The bus arrived, as they tend to do, and I deboarded and found myself in a beautiful city. (It’s the sixth largest city in Spain with a population of 542,000). I loved the Roman ruins and the pedestrian tunnel to go to the beach. It was one of my first times going to the beach as an adult, sadly enough. It would become a favourite pastime, although I much prefer a sunset walk along the beach than barbecuing myself. I went to Gibraltar (Gibraltar español. I had to say it!) and then tried going out in Torremolinos, which is very connected to Málaga capital all night long. I wasn’t too impressed by Torremolinos.

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I did find a great café, whose wifi I never deleted until the computer died in 2011 and whose name escapes me today, to have my tostada con tomate. It was located in the plaza where the birthplace of Picasso is located. I had forgotten it, but I did go to the Picasso Museum (I remember going to the one in Barcelona in 2003). I had the opportunity to see some beautiful views of the city. The capital may not have the elegance of nearby Marbella or the Je ne sais quoi of Valencia, but Málaga capital does have a lot of things to see.

In 2013, knowing that I was about to move to Bilbao, I went on a trip to Ronda to cross it off my bucket list. This was sadly my last trip to Andalucía as of March 2015. (I hope to go back soon). Ronda impressed me a lot. I happened to coincide with a cool local festival, so everyone was dressed in the typical Andalucía outfits. I fell in love with the bridge and had a relaxing café con leche at their Parador (castle converted into a hotel). I lamented having to go on to Granada as Ronda was so full of charm and life, but Granada *is* Granada.

From my private journal in 2009 on Málaga: Thursday I woke up real early to catch the 7.15 bus to Málaga. The province of Málaga is beautiful. Málaga sort of reminds me of Honolulu. The hostel gave bad directions again, and it was annoying the way I had to make the reservations as I had to change rooms every morning. Ah well. I was in sort of a depressed mood the first day, from lack of sleep. I went to the cathedral, saw it was 4€ to get in, refused to pay it, then went to see the alcazaba (different word for alcázar or fortress) and castle, which combined were about 3€. The views were quite beautiful. There is an ancient Roman theatre next to the alcazaba. I then went under the tunnel to the Malagueta beach…it was okay, but I’ve seen better beaches……Saturday I went to the Picasso museum where I had my brilliant insight into cubism, Spain and Almodóvar. I went to the beach for a while. Lounged around mostly.

Sounds like a good Andalucían holiday to me!

Setmeravelles

1. Ronda

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Located 100 kilometres west (62 miles) of Málaga capital, this city of 36,000 people is one of my fave places I have been in Spain. It’s a typical Andalusian town full of charm enhanced by an amazing bridge. The Puente Nuevo (“New Bridge” is over 300 years old and is 120 metres high (390 feet or 120ish yards). It took 42 years to complete and both sides threw prisoners off it during the Spanish Civil War. There is a ton of natural beauty and hiking trails to explore around this incredible place.

2. Picasso

Pablo Picasso is from Málaga. His paintings are some of the most famous ever thanks to his Cubist style, and in 2003, a museum was opened in the Palacio Buenavista which is located on Calle San Agustín, 200 metres from his birthplace in Plaza de la Merced. After visiting Málaga, I had a greater appreciation for this artist.

3. Alcazaba de Málaga

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The Alcazaba (Moorish fortress/citadel) is one of the best-preserved in all of the Greatest Peninsula in the World and was constructed by the Hammudid Dynasty during the 11th Century. It’s built on a hill and offers beautiful views of the port and Málaga.

4. Málaga Romana

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Right next to the Alcazaba is a Roman theatre rediscovered in 1951 that dates back to the 1st Century BC. That’s right, Before Christ. As the photo shows, it is currently undergoing restoration.

5. Antequera (yet to be discovered)

The “heart of Andalucía”, 42,000 residents is located equally between Málaga, Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla. Antequera boasts an alcazaba of its own, churches, a palace, and two Bronze Age dolmens (ancient tombs).

6. Cuevas de Nerja (yet to be discovered)

The small town of Nerja is quite popular with tourists and ex-pats (who make up at least 30% of the population if not more) from the British Isles. The mountains have a ton of “pueblos blancos”, or villages with white houses and architecture. The most popular tourist destination (outside the beaches) are the caves, which are large enough to hold concerts in the summer. They were rediscovered in 1959. In 2012, possible Neanderthal paintings were discovered here.

7. Marbella (yet to be discovered)

Eva Longoria and Michelle Obama can’t be wrong, can they? The posh city of Marbella is the second-largest city of the province with nearly 150,000 habitants. The Casco Viejo has ancient walls and many monuments. Most people go straight for the Golden Mile, a 4-mile stretch of villas, hotels and resorts.

Almería. Disney, Beatles and a female cat’s cape.

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Gracias a mi amigo Rubén, un almeriense quien me ayudó elegir las maravillas. Más o menos, hemos coincindido en las maravillas/Thanks to my Almerian friend Rubén, who helped me pick the meravelles. We agreed on the meravelles…for the most part! 

Located in the very south of Spain, Almería is a forgotten about Andalucían province that boasts over 300 sunny days a year (the opposite of Bilbao in so many ways! Opposite side of the country, and it is sunny for every cloudy/rainy day in the Capital of the World). Much of the province is an arid desert, and many people skip over it for more touristy places like Málaga and Granada. They’re making a mistake. Almería is quaint and has a lot of beautiful places to see.

It also has a lot of mythology and rumours about it. There are rumours that Walt Disney was born in Mojácar and was adopted/his father died, his mother met a seaman who ran away with Walt to the States as a youth. Tom Hanks obviously did not play this urban legend up in Saving Mr. Banks. Another claim to fame for the province. Now immortalized in the 2014 Goya (Spanish Oscar) winning Vivir es más fácil con los ojos cerrados, John Lennon filmed How I Won the War in Almería province in 1966. It was here where he began writing “Strawberry Fields Forever”. A more current pop culture item is the sixth album from one of my favourite groups, Lifehouse. It was named for the province as the album has a more western theme and so many westerns were filmed in Almería.

My first and only visit to Almería came in 2011 during the Puente de Diciembre, that time of year that usually gives the Spanish 3-4 (some years even 5) days off from work and travel due to the holidays of el Día de la Constitución (Dec. 6) and an important Catholic Saint Day on the 8th. I caught a too-early Ryan Air flight on Thursday morning (the 8th). I slept the entire flight despite Ryan Air’s desperate pleas to sell electronic cigarettes and scratch-off lottery tickets and advertising another flight that actually arrived without incident on-time flight. I caught a taxi to the city (maybe 15-20€ if I remember correctly? It wasn’t too bad. I want to say only 11€, but it was three years ago and memory makes things better and cheaper most times.) and the taxi driver complemented me on my Barcelona wallet. It was nice being around another culé (Barça supporter) as I was living in Madrid at the time.

I was hit with a calmer pace of life immediately. I checked into the pensión and went for my fave breakfast, done better in Andalucía than anywhere else in the world, pan tostada con tomate (Baguette-style bread lightly toasted with olive oil and a tomato paste).

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Then it was time to explore. I went immediately to the alcazaba, which was free for being a Spanish holiday. It was a great visit with spectacular views of the city and Mediterranean. I later explored the city. I remember a little girl asking me why I was taking pictures of the city, and I told her I thought it was interesting. She was a bit shocked and thought I was “raro” (a weirdo). I saw the cathedral and had some cafés con leche in the plaza nearby (Ryan Air means little sleep and mucho caffeine, folks). I met up with my friend in the evening for tapas and mosto (a Spanish grape juice).

The next day, I really wanted to visit el Cabo de Gata. (Cape of the Female Cat for those wanting a translation) said to be one of the most beautiful natural areas in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. However, public transport to natural areas is not always the best, so with a sigh, I made a vow to return one day and made my way to Granada. Three years later, I would’ve found some way somehow to spend another night in Almería to have had time to get to the park. Hindsight is 20-20.

Set Meravelles

Cabo de Gata (yet to discover)

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Cabo de Gata  is the only region in Europe with a warm desert climate. It has high cliffs and Spain’s largest volcanic rock formation, El Fraile. Although I have joked that “gata” female cat here (it is), it’s actually named for the mineral agate that was mined here in the past. There are numerous coral reefs and small islands off the coast. It has many wildlife and plant life species and attracts thousands of tourists every year.

Alcazaba

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In the capital city (around 192,000 habitants), the Alcazaba and the ruins of San Cristobal castle are the main attraction. The Muslim fortress was began in the late 10th century and was expanded between 1012 and 1028. After the reconquista, King Carlos III added a wall and after the reconquista of the city, the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabel added a third castle. Today it offers some beautiful views of the city.

Catedral de la Encarnación de Almería

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The Cathedral of Incarnation of Almería is a Gothic/Renaissance-style cathedral built in the 16th century. It’s one of the most visited places in the capital city Almería.

Mojácar (Yet to discover)

Mojácar is a beautiful white village of nearly 8000 habitants boasting over 3000 hours of sun a year. (I’m going now. Agur, sirimiri!) Due it’s location on the sea, it has a bit milder weather than the interior of the province. A nearby village, Lucainena de las Torres, has recently been listed on “Los pueblos más bonitos de España” (The most beautiful villages/towns of Spain).

Calar Alto (Yet to discover)

The Calar Alto Observatory  is a German-Spanish astronomical observatory perched high on the Calar Alto mountain in Almería. It opened with a 1.2 metre/47 inches telescope and today has the largest telescope in Europe with an Equatorial mount, which is 3.5 metres/138-inches.

Desierto de Tabernas (Yet to discover)

The Tabernas Desert is a semi-desert located 30 kilometres/19 miles north of the capital. It usually has less than 200 millimetres of annual rain and offers 280 square kilometres of natural beauty. It was a popular location shoot for Western movies and is somewhat similar to the Badlands in the American Dakotas.

Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada (compartido con Granada) (Yet to discover)

I’m cheating as I know I wrote about the Sierra Nevada when I wrote about Granada, but the Sierra Nevada is impressive enough to merit a second mention.  It’s the largest national park in Spain and is popular with skiers and people like me, hikers/trekkers.

And now I want to return to Almería to pick up all that I have yet to see.)

Sevilla…mi arma.

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For many people, Sevilla (or Seville for those English purists, but I’m calling it by its proper name) is the city they think of when they think of things that are typically Spanish. Full of Andaluz flair, passion and heat, Sevilla is Spain’s fourth largest city (after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia) at around 800,000 people. Flamenco was presumably born here (although the people of Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz feel differently and insist flamenco was born there). There is something enchanting about the streets where at any moment you could come across flamenco or a gitano (gypsy), the city of the Guadalquiver, the only river port of Spain (80 km or 50 miles from the Atlantic), the city that bakes in the summer with temperatures averaging above 40ºC/104ºF. While I personally feel Granada and Córdoba (Sevilla’s rivals) have more to offer, Sevilla sparks the souls (alma in Spanish) of many people. Most of Spain will joke “Sevilla, mi arma” due to the Andaluz dialect of Spanish, which the Sevillanos have even a harder to understand version with ceseo and seseo and cutting off most consonantes when they speak.

During the years of Franco, most of what was presented to the public at large was Andalucía. Sevilla is the capital of Andalucía. When many outsiders of Spain visit the country, they expect long, hot days, flamenco music, toreros (matadores/bullfighters), fiesta and siesta. This is due to the use of the Andalucía lifestyle to market Spain as Different. I think some Spanish still resent this marketing strategy nearly 40 years after his date. Who wants the world to think they’re lazy? And it’s not that the andaluces are lazy. They have created some of the most brilliant writers and artists (Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca and Pablo Picasso are just a few of the men who hail from Andalucía.) There’s a time for work, and there’s a time for play. In Andalucía, there’s always time for a cup of coffee with someone. This can be seen in Sevilla’s many bars and cafés, overflowing with people every night. And yes, the shops will close down for three hours between 2 and 5. While most of the biggest cities in Spain are losing any concept of the siesta due to tourists (a country should NEVER lose itself and cater to tourists no matter what country it is), the siesta is alive and well in Spain. After all, who wants to be out and about in 40ºC heat?

However, it took me three visits in Sevilla to find anything even closely resembling heat. My first journey to Sevilla was during my study abroad semester in Toledo in 2003. I had a friend studying in Sevilla, so I caught the AVE from Madrid to Sevilla and was there in about 2 hours. It was November, and I was greeted with a downpour. It rained the entire weekend I was there. I was also fighting a cold, and the rain did not help matters much. I didn’t let that deter me. I was only 21, and a little bit of rain was not going to keep me from seeing the Alcázar. This was the time Lorenzo Alcazar was providing alternatives to mobsters shooting wives in the head during labour on General Hospital, so I had to see this fortress, which today remains my favourite thing about Sevilla.

Sevilla was one of the last places I returned to on account of this. When I was toying with my second novel taking place in Sevilla, I went back to visit in February 2012. It’d be a good escape from Madrid, right? Wrong. It was the coldest weekend in 50 years in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. The pensión I was staying in didn’t have heating. The streets were empty, like a ghost town. Sevilla was just not equipped for cold weather. I returned to Madrid with my fourth case of farangitis (throat infection) of the school year.

I gave Sevilla a third chance on my way back from the Portuguese Algarve and Huelva in 2013. I’m glad I did, as this is the memory that stays with me. It was a pleasant upper 20ºs C in May, and the city was finally bursting at the seams with life and energy.

Sevilla is most definitely the heart of Andalucía, even if I will forever prefer Córdoba and Granada. Many people say Sevilla is the best of the province and are hard pressed to tell me “un pueblo con encanto” (a charming village) to visit, so I’m going to focus on sites in the city. If anyone has any meravelles from the rest of the province, by all means let me know! Also, apologies for not having better photos. I remember now my camera was broken during the 2012 trip, the 2013 trip was rushed, and 2003 was all film, not digital. (What’s film?) I’ll do what I can!

Set Meravelles

1. Alcázar    

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The Alcázar of Sevilla is much more beautiful than this picture shows. The Alcázar is the oldest royal palace still in use in Spain, and it is one of the most beautiful with spectacular gardens. It’s located next to the Cathedral and was developed from the old Moorish palace. Construction began in 1181 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I loved running around here in the rain in 2003, but 9 years later, I wasn’t feeling paying the hefty entry price (probably around 12€). I’m so Catalán with money!

2. Plaza de España

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Located in the Parque de Santa María, the Plaza de España was designed by Aníbal González for the 1929 Exposición Ibero-América. I thought I had seen anything Sevilla had to offer, but I had missed this beauty. It was my first stop on that brief 2013 trip. And it turned out to be a fave. Each one of the 50 provinces of Spain is represented with its own alcove. I immediately looked for my Spanish home Valencia and the province I had just discovered I was moving to two days before, Vizcaya. I was living in Madrid at the time and totally ignored it. It’s a crazy mix of styles that somehow works.

3. La Giralda y Catedral de Santa María de la Sede

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The Cathedral of Sevilla is the largest Gothic and third-largest cathedral in the entire world. The Catholics went BIG when they designed this beauty. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cathedral and it’s towering Giralda is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain.The Giralda comes from the old mosque but was conserved and is named for the weathervane on the top that turns (girar in Spanish). Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) was buried here.

4. Guadalquivir

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I have fond memories of reading about this mighty river in my uni Medieval and Early Modern Spanish literature course. The Guadalquivir is the fifth largest in the peninsula at 657 kilometres long (394,2 miles) and starts in Jaén before ending in the Atlantic Ocean in Cádiz. The river plays an important part in Sevilla’s history.

5. Flamenco

Flamenco is the so-called traditional music of Spain. It plays an important part of the history and culture of Sevilla and grew out of the streets of the gitanos (gypsies). It was first mentioned in literature in 1774 but was around well before that. Dancing, guitar and the applause Lady Gaga would kill for making up this popular genre. Fun trivia fact: In Spanish, flamenco also means flame-coloured, flamingo or the name for the Flemish.

6. Torre de Oro

Built in the 13th Century, the “Golden Tower” is a watchtower on the Guadalquivir. It also served as a prison in the Middle Ages.It was nearly demolished after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, but the Sevillanos persisted in their complaints and the king at the time stopped the full demolition. It was rebuilt, and in 1992, made a sister tower of that awesome Torre de Belem in Portugal. It is now a museum.

7. Barrios de Triana y Macarena

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I’m not sure this is the neighbourhood, but is a great example of the streets in general of Sevilla. These two neighbourhoods are where you can find the real Sevilla, away from the Cathedral and Alcázar. The Triana is one of the most famous barrios in all of Spain on the other side of the Guadalquivir. Both are well worth the time to spend a while absorbing la vida sevillana.

Granada. The Southern Enchantment.

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Granada is my favourite Spanish city that I can actually call Spanish and not offend everyone, although fourth favourite city in the part of the Iberian peninsula lying between Portugal and France/Andorra. My two favourite cities are Basque (San Sebastián-Donostia and Capital of the World Bilbao and Catalán Barcelona.) Granada is one of the most enchanting cities I have ever visiting, and I try to route any trip through Andalucía so I have at least one night in this enchanting city. I’ve been here a total of four times now, and each time I find something new to fall in love with.

My first time was in February 2009. I used a four-day weekend to explore the town and forget about being single on Valentine’s Day (really, Spain, this is one holiday you can let the guiris keep, you’re better off without San Valentín.) I immediately fell in love with the city of 237,000 people. My favourite part was by far the labyrinth of the Albayzín, a cluster of small streets that keep their strong Arab influence. (Granada was the last Muslim holdout to fall to the Reconquista of the Catholic Kings in 1492, the most epic year of Spanish history. For that reason, Granada still has a very Arab feel to it.)  My hostel was at the heart of this part of town, and I explored it as much as I could, always getting lost. However, in Granada, getting lost is half the fun.

I was lucky as I knew someone studying at the Universidad de Granada who could show me around. This is how I discovered the best part of Granada: watching the sun set over the Alhambra palace from Mirador de San Nicolas. This lookout is always full of people, and 95% of the time they are singing flamenco.

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My friend also showed me the university and went with me to tour the Alhambra. I took off on Sunday to the Sierra Nevada, not because I wanted to go skiing but because I wanted to play in snow. Finally, finally, finally, I had snow. There was a traffic jam going up the hill to the mountains, and Spain being Spain, there managed to be a Osborne toro on the highway. Five years later I still remember the fun I had seeing snow and feeling at home.

I went back to Granada a few months later on my way back from Málaga and spent the night just to have an excuse to see the streets once again. My third time was 2.5 years later (I’m getting old) in December 2011 on the way back from Almería. The city still charmed the pants off of me. My fourth time was on the way back from Ronda in June 2013, as I knew by moving to Bilbao it would be harder for me to go to al-Andalus. Each and every time, the city enchants me (enchanting is the best word and most used English word, encantador being the word in Spanish) and leaves me waiting for the next trip.

While the vast majority of the province awaits my exploration, the city is amazing enough to have no shortage of meravelles. I know the city has been written about a million of times, but whatever. I love it, and I want to go back again soon, whenever I have money to go to al-Andalus. Two meravelles await me my next trip.

Set Meravelles

Alhambra

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The Alhambra is Granada’s main tourist attraction, and while we all know I like to avoid touristy stuff, this one is worth the admission price and the long waits to see. The Alhambra began as a Moorish fortress in 889 and was rediscovered and rebuilt in the mid-11th century and later converted into a royal palace in the 13th Century. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is a must-see attraction for history buffs.

Mirador de San  Nicolas

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Hands down, one of the best places in Spain to watch the sun set. It’s located in the Albycín barrio directly across from the Alhambra and offers stunning views of the Arab palace. There is almost always someone playing flamenco, and it is always crowded with locals and tourists alike. The sun setting over the Alhambra is a site for romantics everywhere.

Albycín 

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One of the most popular and well-known barrios in all of Spain, the Albycín is a maze of small streets. One of the streets you can take to get here is the Calle Calderería Nueva, which has many Arab shops and restaurants. Most of the buildings are white, and you never know when you’ll come across a plaza or a fountain. One of the easiest places to get lost even with a map.

Sacramonte

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The Sacramonte is a barrio de gitanos (gypsy barrio) set apart from the rest of Granada. The neighbourhood is beyond the Albycín, found by following the Río Darro. Many of the houses are built into caves on the hill. It wasn’t until my third trip to Granada when I finally discovered this place. A gypsy invited me into see the house, which she had open to the public, and then tried to sell me beer (I hate the taste of beer. Wine is better.) for about 3€. This is Andalucía…beer is a Euro, I think!

Sierra Nevada

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The Sierra Nevada mountains are stunningly beautiful. The ski station is about 45 minutes from the city, but as I don’t ski, I went just for the opportunity to play in some snow. It was well worth it for the views alone.

Salobreña

Salobreña is a town of 12,000 people located on the coast of Granada, complete with a castle and a 6000 year history. It’s off the beaten track between the beaches of Málaga and Almería (Granada has beaches too!).

La Alpujarra 

La Alpujarra is a mountain range in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada. It is the subject of Gerald Brenan’s South from Granada (and the film based on it). The isolation of the area has kept it from progressing as quickly as the rest of Spain, and many people have left the villages to find work elsewhere as the economic crisis has hit the area hard. Still, one day I would love to explore this beautiful region and find out more about it for myself. For more on this region, check out Con Jamón Spain’s blog…someone who actually lives there and is quite informed on the region.

 

Jaén. The land of missed opportunities.

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Jaén is a province in Andalucía located in the middle of nowhere that not many people of Spain have heard of and not many people in Spain know anything about. It has more olive trees than people, which means it has some of the best olive oil in an entire country known for its olive oil. It also means that when I was 26 and assigned a school in Linares, the second biggest city of the province at 60,000 (half the size of the capital city Jaén), I freaked out.

“I’m going to be the only gay in the village!” I shrieked. (Not true. There were maybe three others.)

“There’s going to be nothing to do!”

“I’m going to give up on going to Spain!”

How young and naïve I was. When I got to Jaén, I was amazed by how beautiful it actually was. True, their Spanish is hard to understand (I had maybe a B2 then, Upper intermediate.). Compared to some parts of Andalucía, the Spanish in Jaén is quite easy to understand. The city is located in the mountains and has a vibe of being forgotten. Now? It sounds right up my alley. At the time, I had my heart on living in a big city like Madrid where I could feel free to be me, and in your mid-20s, the idea of Chueca still sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime.

And I was sentenced to Jaén.

Now that six years older and six years wiser, I want to go back and kick myself in the culo. Jaén is a charming city with friendly people and great olive oil.  And the province has many beautiful places I never took the time to appreciate. (Linares is not one of them sadly. I do love how long I thought the 6 kilometre vía verde was at the time. Now it’s nothing!)

During my time there, I got to tour an olive oil factory in Martos, which is a quaint typical Andalucían village. I found myself exploring Andújar in the middle of Carnival. And those three weeks of winter when it was only 10ºC/50ºF and we had no actual heat were some good times.

However, I feel I missed out on what the province had to offer. I didn’t have the knowledge I know now about public transport in Spain. I also lived in a flat without internet, so I wasn’t able to explore my options. However, in 2008-2009, most of Jaén was in the dark about this invention called the internet. Seriously. There was an article in El País about how Jaén was the least connected province in Spain.

One of these days, I’m going to go back there and visit the place I once called home. I hope to have a car, as that bus from Jaén capital to Linares was pretty darn scary…those back roads…on a bus…and to revisit the capital city and see those Set Meravelles that I never took the chance to see before.

Set Meravelles

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Jaén Capital: The capital city is a small, charming city worth visiting to get a glimpse of the real Andalucían life outside the more touristy Granada, Sevilla, Málaga and Córdoba.

Castillo de Jaén

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I never hiked up to see the castle that overlooks Jaén. One of these days, I want to rectify this grevious sin.

Olive Trees

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On that Vía Verde de Linares, I passed a lot of olive trees. A lot. More olive trees than people. But the olive trees makes some of the best olive oil in the world. It’s the perfect place for it. Also, my friend Peter reminded me that almost everyone in Jaén is quick to point out that while many olive oil bottles from Greece and Italy say they’re from those countries, the oil is actually produced from olives from Jaén

A-4 Mountain Pass

Once upon a time, the Autovía del Suro (A-4) took you from Madrid to Andalucía through some sharp and steep curves and mountains that separated Castilla La Mancha from Andalucía. You still can see the amazing mountain views, but now that the new part has opened, the route is a whole lot safer (and a lot less nausea inducing).

Úbeda

Úbeda is an incredible village of 36,000 habitants located in the heart of Jaén province and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. While I’ve seen its beauty from the bus to València, I regret not taking the time to walk around this breathtaking village.

Baeza

And whenever anyone talks about Úbeda, they almost always talk about it’s smaller sibling Baeza. At 17,000, it has even more of a small-town atmosphere while keeping all of the beauty. It shares the UNESCO World-Heritage site with Úbeda.

Cazorla

La Sierra de Cazorla (Cazorla Mountains) is one of the most breathtaking natural parks in Spain. The namesake village and another village called La Iruela are beautiful places to start the journey to this incredible mountain range. I cannot wait to go back to Jaén and correct all my youthful mistakes.