Friday 26 May 2017

Andalusia: Sun, culture... and a little dance too

Sun holidays in Europe

The Plaza de Espana in Seville, where scenes from Laurence of Arabia and Star Wars - Attack of the Clones were filmed
The Plaza de Espana in Seville, where scenes from Laurence of Arabia and Star Wars - Attack of the Clones were filmed
Eleanor takes a flamenco lesson

Eleanor Goggin

From Seville to Osuna, Ronda and Malaga, Eleanor Goggins enjoys a breathtaking tour of southern Spain.

Serendipity played its part in my recent trip to southern Spain.

I was at a fundraising car boot sale, spotted a book on Andalusia and thought to myself it might come in handy some time. The following day I was given the opportunity to visit this wonderful region. 

We began our trip in Seville, Andalusia's capital. A charming and elegant city, it was one of the earliest Moorish conquests. The 'old city' on the banks of the Guadalquivir is a warren of white alleyways and is home to the famous cathedral.

The cathedral is a former mosque that dates from the 12th century. The construction of the Christian cathedral began in 1401 and was completed a century later. It's the second biggest in Europe after St Peter's in Rome.

The Real Alcazar is nearby. A palace complex, it has been remodelled by various monarchs over the centuries and the Spanish royal family still uses the upper floors today.

The Gardens of the Alcazar comprise terraces, pavilions and fountains, and the patios all have quirky names like the Patio of the Dolls, the Patio of Plaster and the Patio of the Maidens.

The Jewish Quarter of Barrio Santa Cruz is a maze of little streets and has a poignant reminder of days gone by outside one of its houses.

Susanna Ben Suzon, whose father was a rabbi, fell in love with a wealthy Christian in the 15th century. She used to sneak out at night, while her father slept, to meet him. One night she heard her father and his cronies planning the demise of some of the wealthy Christian families, including that of her lover.

She warned her lover and his family subsequently killed her father and his friends. Broken-hearted, she entered the convent and before she died, requested that her head be encased in a carved-out structure on the front of her house. As you do. The street is named after her.

Seville is full of culture and history. The Plaza de Espana, built in 1928 for the Ibero-American exposition, is beautiful. Scenes from Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars - Attack of the Clones were filmed here.

When I watch Strictly Come Dancing, I fancy that I'm well capable of doing better than some of the contestants. Well it's now evident that I'm most definitely not.

Flamenco is huge in Andalusia and I'm absolutely crap at it. Jose, in the Flamenco Dance Museum, was our teacher, and he actually stopped the class to tell me to stop shoving my big feet miles out in front of me (he didn't actually say big feet). I have absolutely no rhythm. None. I like to think it was mainly because I didn't have the right shoes on, but I'd be lying to myself.

I watched a video of my performance and suffice it to say I resembled Ann Widdecombe on Strictly. But it was great fun. One of our gang thought it was called Flamingo dancing. I think I'd have been better on one leg.

Osuna, a Roman garrison town east of Seville, is sleepy and charming, and boasts many stunning properties owned by wealthy local families. The Collegiate Church houses an amazing collection of Baroque paintings, The Panteon Ducal is at a lower level and houses the tombs of the Dukes of Osuna and their families. Scenes from the fifth season of Game of Thrones (Juego de Tronos) were filmed in the bullring here and there's even a museum dedicated to the TV series. We had great fun finding our inner Jon Snow and Brienne of Tarth by plundering the dressing up box.

Ronda, south of Osuna, is a breathtaking city. Built on a massive rocky outcrop above a deep gorge, the views of the surrounding countryside are spectacular. There are no traffic lights here. Maybe we should all ditch them because the traffic moves smoothly.

Orson Wells and Ernest Hemingway both came here a lot for bullfighting, and Wells's ashes were brought to their final resting place in the nearby garden of his good friend Antonio Ordonez, the bullfighter. Joyce mentions Ronda in the last chapter of Ulysses.

A stroll through the hilly streets and down through the tiered gardens is a must. Beautiful buildings abound. The Palace of the Marquis de Salvatierra is adorned with carvings of naked South Americans, covering their privates. The Mondragon Palace, with its courtyards and ornate ceilings, and the Town Hall are architecturally stunning.

Malaga was our last port of call. I've often flown in and out of Malaga on my way to the coast, but never spent time there. What a mistake.

Over recent years the birthplace of Picasso has become a vibrant and buzzing place. There is plenty of culture with a magnificent cathedral, Roman Theatre and its 11th century Alcazaba citadel, it's an ideal city break destination, its outdoor restaurants full to the brim.

The Pompidou Museum is a recent addition to the city. Housed in Malaga Port, it's a striking cuboid building and houses some very unusual art. It's the only Pompidou Museum outside of France. A film of children from Liverpool putting their own interpretation on a modern painting of a woman crying is hilarious.

Food in Andalucia is second to none. We took a trip to the Atarazanas market, which is open six days a week, with Experience Spain Food Sherpas and came across every conceivable variety of fish, fruit and meat. And I have never seen so many different mushrooms in my life.

We also ate tapas in La Recova in the heart of the town. Antonio, the owner, sources craftwork from all over Spain and sells it here. When you are finished browsing you can sit down and partake of a huge slab of bread served on thick paper with a variety of different pates and lard with chorizo or whatever he has that day. All for €2.40.

The fabulous food, along with the good weather, lovely people, culture and, of course, the local wine make Andalusia a wonderful place to visit.

Whether you tour around the various cities or stick with one it's all a culinary and cultural delight.

Get there

Eleanor travelled with the Andalusian tourist board. See andalucia.org, turismosevilla.org, visitasevilla.es, visitacostadelsol.com and spain.info for more.

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