Murals of Estepona

The Tourist Office provided a helpful map of the murals of Estepona. We had seen a few around the town and read that the number is constantly growing. There are now over 50 murals and the whole thing began with a competition and has grown from there. We saw fewer than half of them and were impressed by their diversity of subject and style. A map of them is downloadable here: https://docs.google.com/gview?url=http://www.estepona.es/turismo/images/folletos/murales/folleto-murales.pdf

Here is a small sample of these amazing wall paintings:

Jump Into Blue

Dreams of Freedom is about Antonia Guerrero who left money in her will to provide education for women from poor families.

These two are called Eyes of a Child and Loving Mother and are the artist’s grandchildren.

Dia de Pesca (Fishing Day) is the largest artistic mural in Spain.

Forest of Wonders

Watering the Garden. I waited a while for the man to move but he wasn’t going anywhere.

Eastern Memories

Auburn Estepona

Porticoes of the Sky

Come and See

With its murals, poetry plaques and statues around the town, car free streets and of course the abundant flowers, Estepona was a perfect town for strolling.

Estepona, Village of Flowers

We were not sure if the Costa del Sol was for us. It seemed to be very busy and overdeveloped. But we were keen to stay near the beach and just relax for five days as a kind of mini break within our longer trip. Researching the area, I noticed that Estepona seemed to have retained at least some of the Spanish village feel we were looking for. Seeing some pictures of the flower lined streets, then finding a traditional white house to stay in, sealed the deal. It turned out to be perfect for us.

After settling in, (and making use of the washing machine!) we explored the beautiful streets. Around 100 streets have flower pots and tubs along them. Each street had a colour scheme for the flower pots.

In some corners, there were clusters of multi-coloured pots. There were also bigger floral displays and gardens everywhere.

Over the next few days, we wandered the streets, went to the beach, ate out (and in), walked to the port, walked the other way along the boardwalk, went to the Orchidarium and enjoyed this delightful town. We had intended to go to Marbella or somewhere else for the day, but found we were happy just to stay put for the five days and enjoy Estepona. Hence this is not such a wordy post. We had restaurants nearby (loved Taberna Miguel) as well as fruit shops and a supermarket, so had no need to venture further afield. Finding a central and free parking spot the first day probably had something to do with it too. We were reluctant to move the car until we had to and judging by the bird poo and leaves on some of the other cars, we were not the only ones.

The orchids were amazing in the Orchidarium, especially the aptly named slipper orchids. We also loved the street murals – there are so many that I have done a separate post about them. Estepona’s mayor seems to be very go ahead with fantastic projects for improving the town. I want him for my suburb!

Loved this tiny ‘supermarket’ – so different from the larger places around town.

Feeling totally relaxed and well fed, we were ready for La Linea and a visit to Gibraltar.

Ronda via another (unusual) White Village

Setenil de las Bodegas is a strange town built in and under the rocks. Following the signs for parking in the centre, we ended up in a depressingly ugly multi-storey car park. Up a few stairs, though and we were perfectly placed in the town centre. There were cave houses and overhangs everywhere. As with many of the white villages, it was a place to wander rather than see specific sights.

After a delicious but expensive lunch, we headed for our hotel, Ronda Moments. We knew that it was in the countryside outside Ronda but were relieved to see that it was very well signposted from the main road. It’s a former olive oil mill, nicely renovated with lots of shaded areas for reading and relaxing. We treated ourselves to the suite which was huge. The pool is surprisingly situated out in a field and was a peaceful place apart from a tractor harvesting around us!

The hotel did not have a restaurant but did do a simple gourmet tapas meal which we enjoyed on our first night. We had decided to have an alcohol-free day but then they brought us complimentary limoncello so we couldn’t resist. With no such resolutions on the second night, we enjoyed pre-dinner sangria before driving into Ronda.

One day was enough time to explore Ronda. Maria at Ronda Moments suggested where to park, where to get the best view of the bridge and where the best places for lunch were. We followed them all. As she suggested, we walked to the Plaza Maria Auxiliadora and walked down, down, down to get the postcard view of the ‘New’ Bridge, built in the 1700s. Not many people walked all the way down and we understood their logic on our way up. The Puente Nuevo is one of three bridges crossing the Guadelevin river and is the highest by far. It connects the new and old towns . The Old Bridge is from the 16th century and the Arab bridge near the Arab Baths is the oldest from the 1100s. We wandered down to them as well, passing various former palaces on the way. Great views all around and the walk back up through the Cuenca gardens was lovely.

We visited the Don Bosco house perched overlooking the gorge. Only €2 so definitely worth it for a look around a palatial house with pretty gardens, a different view of the bridge and a clean WC! Here is part of the garden and its view.

We were in two minds about visiting the bullring as they still have bullfights. It was heartening to see hat they have symphony concerts and other events so we decided to have a look. It is the oldest in Spain, built in 1785. The history was interesting but a pity that is not yet confined to history, as it is in Barcelona. Adjoining the bullring was the Royal Cavalry, the Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Ronda founded in 1572. There were beautiful stables, an indoor dressage arena and a display of uniforms, saddles and bridles.

For our second dinner in Ronda, we relied on reviews and found Tropicana. It seemed a strange name for a restaurant in Ronda and it did not look anything special from the outside, but we had a great meal. The stars aligned and we got both the last unbooked table and a free parking spot. We shared a starter of artichokes and jamon with truffles, then our main courses were octopus rice and steak. Nicely presented and so delicious. The owners and staff are obviously passionate about food and were friendly and fun as well. It was a great finale to our short Ronda stay.

Next we were off, down out of the mountains for a beach break.

Grazalema and the White Villages

As has been usual in our car hire experience, we did not get the car we’d selected. So no snappy little Mercedes, but the Opel SUV with GPS was perfect for the next couple of weeks.

Leaving Seville, Arcos de la Frontera was our first stop. We found a large and seemingly free car park and walked up to the top. We wandered around this, our first Pueblo Blanco and enjoyed just being there. There were not ‘sights’ to see, just this white village atop a hill. This view was from the road to El Bosque, just before the bridge.

We noticed these contraptions, where Nuns’ sweets made by closed orders are sold without coming into contact with the nuns.

Winding mountain roads with spectacular scenery got us to Grazalema where we were booked into the Hotel Villa de Grazalema. We knew it was a fairly simple and inexpensive place so were pleasantly surprised by the standard. Though we had a chuckle as we had requested a double bed on the upper floor and ended up with twin beds on the lower floor. I used my very basic Spanish to ask for one large bed and got the answer ‘No es posible’ with a smile. The ground floor turned out to be perfect as we had doors opening directly to the pool. Here’s the hotel (middle long building)

and here’s the view from it and the swimming pool. There were mostly Spanish families staying there.

We drove up to the high pass called Puerto de las Palomas and did this beautiful walk, https://www.spain-holiday.com/Grazalema/articles/a-family-walk-in-grazalema-up-the-cerro-coros-mountain The views were stunning and the path not too difficult. We noted a couple of changes. The road up there seemed to have a different number now. At one stage there was a fork and we took the right hand path which was correct, then near the end where the walk’s directions say the path will be unclear, there now seems to be a (very clear) road. Easy!

Lots of wildflowers, a few goats and the pinsapo trees that are only found in this area. There were lots of other walks in the area and our hotel had maps and books showing hikes of all levels, but we only had time for one.

Cadiz el Chico was a great restaurant on the central square. We were relieved that it was open as the other two places we’d thought of were closed for holidays. The food was excellent with a mountain influence. We enjoyed the wild boar and venison.

We could see Zahara de la Sierra’s ruined castle on our walk but the rest of the village was hidden, so we drove over to explore it. It was the quintessential white village, perched on a hill.

The views from the ruined castle were worth the uphill walk in the heat.

Next we were off to Ronda via another white village.

Córdoba – a day trip from Seville

Spain’s fast trains made a 140 km day trip to Córdoba possible. We had booked ahead on the AVE train and allowed plenty of time to get to Santa Justa station. Luckily we did as there were queues for security. The train whizzed along at 250 kph, taking only 44 minutes. Once in Córdoba we walked via an orange tree lined park for 20 minutes and arrived in the old town. We did taste one but it was very bitter so that explained the fact that nobody took or picked them.

Streets in the old part were narrow and lovely. I had read somewhere that it was best to go to the Mezquita first then the Alcazar. This was a mistake as we found out later. The Mezquita though was no mistake. Wow! Originally a Christian Church, then the fabulous Great Mosque then again a Christian church and later a cathedral. The contrast between the austere but stunning columns of the mosque and the ornate gold of the cathedral was just amazing. It was a forest of arches and light.

We did not realise that the nearby Bell Tower (formerly the minaret) was open to the public. We booked in for a time an hour later and enjoyed the tour and views of the city and the patio of oranges. We could see the cathedral ‘popping up’ through the original mosque.

The Roman Bridge has been rebuilt many times but still has Roman foundations hence the name.

We thought we had planned the day out perfectly, knowing that our train back was around 7 pm. We had a long lunch at a little place called La Luna, but then our day took a turn for the worst. We headed over to the Alcazar and I noticed a small sign with different opening hours from my book, thinking what a pity that we wouldn’t have long in there. But it was worse than that, the last entry was half an hour before the actual closing time, so we missed out completely. I knew the buildings were not spectacular but I was looking forward to the gardens. We were so disappointed as we could easily have seen it first, then the Mezquita. Message to self – check and recheck opening hours, especially in Spain.

We then had hours to fill in before our non-changeable train tickets. We went to the Tourist Information to see what else was open but by then it was closed too. We had a look at the mills on the river (2 minutes) the Synagogue (interesting but tiny) then wandered the little streets and found two houses next to each other that were open to the public

Casa Andalusi was quite interesting, showing an ancient Jewish house in the city walls from 1000 years ago. It was a peaceful little oasis. Its next door neighbour was the Museum of Alchemy. Tired and hot, we did not realise that this was Alkimia meant. It was a bit weird and we zipped through quickly. We found a little cafe with a courtyard and filled in a couple of hours with cool drinks before walking along the city wall, returning to the station and buying some jamon rolls to eat n route back.

Seville June 2019

After a 4.30 alarm, a bit of an argument with a taxi driver, a fairly dry sandwich in the hotel’s packed breakfast, huge airport queues then a 7 a.m. flight, my excitement at being able to fly directly to Seville (Sevilla) from Bristol was a bit diminished. But our flight left on time and arrived into Seville early. This was the start of nearly three weeks in Andalucía, the southern part of Spain. A taxi took us close to our Airbnb in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood and we walked the last bit. As we walked through the heavy wooden door, we were immediately delighted with our choice.

It was not our usual style where we have the entire place. In a happy accident, I forgot to use that filter and found this lovely place, more like a small hotel, with only three rooms. The little pool was a factor in our choice and it was a perfect place for the included breakfast or for a pre-dinner drink. We had access to a large fridge and kitchen though we only used it for chilling wine and borrowing glasses. In our four nights in Seville with two events prebooked. The Alcázar, including the Royal Apartments (Cuarto Real), and train tickets for a day trip to Córdoba. The first day we wandered around the Santa Cruz neighbourhood with its narrow streets, no cars, little squares with orange trees, great atmosphere and multiple restaurants. The temperature was perfect – in the high 20s.

The Alcázar was stunning. A Royal Palace in the style of the Alhambra in Granada, it combines Moorish and Christian architecture. We had booked ahead for the Royal Apartments and we highly recommend this and prebooking general admission. (Website here:https://realalcazarsevilla.sacatuentrada.es/en I had to try a couple of credit cards before one worked, so persevere).

The tour of the apartments was a bit of a circus! We had to read the rules and agree to them, then we were told MANY times not to press any buttons on the audio guide until they said. Finally they scanned our bags and we had to leave everything in a locker, so not photos in there. Luckily it was worth it after all that. Lavish rooms, including a huge dining room, amazing floors, huge paintings and a definite feeling of wealth. The Spanish Royal family still stays here when they are in town. It was over in about half an hour, but the rest of the building and the gardens were beautiful and we spent more than three hours there.

We loved the Moorish style buildings, baths and courtyards. We were able to get up on the old wall for a great view and managed to get away from some of the crowds in parts of the garden.

The Archives of the Indies was another amazing building in central Seville. It contains all sorts of letters, including some from Columbus who set off from near here. Despite being inland, Seville was a port (as was Bristol, our previous city). The building was free to enter and was worth seeing for its magnificent staircase as well as its contents.

We knew of some operas set in Seville but were surprised to read that more than 100 had been. We enjoyed seeing the Tobacco Factory where Carmen was meant to have worked, Plaza Dona Elvira (Don Giovanni/Don Juan) and Rosina’s Balcony from the Marriage of Figaro.

Plaza de España was built for the 1929 World’s Fair. Its large semi circular Art Deco style building contains tiled alcoves representing every province of Spain and its geography and history. There are four bridges and two towers.

After a good look around, we went to the lovely Parque de Maria Luisa next door. There were formal and informal parts, with ponds, fountains and bougainvillea.

We tried several times to visit the Cathedral but it was closed for religious festivals so we had to be content with the Giralda (Bell Tower). It had no stairs, just 34 ramps to the top, apparently so horses or donkeys could be ridden up there in its former life as a Minaret. It definitely made the climb easier and the levels were labelled so we knew when we were getting close to the top. There was a great view of Seville and the Patio of Oranges below.

A day trip to Córdoba was another highlight, but deserves a separate post. After that we were off into the mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema.

Bristol June 2019

After meeting up in London for a single night after our respective flights from Australia, we were off to Bristol by train in a somewhat jetlagged haze. Mr Frequent Flyer for work and me to tag along. The comfortable Great Western train from Paddington took under two hours. Luckily it was not a South Western train as they were on strike. We arrived with some trepidation as our hotel, the Mercure Grand, seemed to be rated 37 of 38 hotels in Bristol. Oh dear! We were pleasantly surprised by the both the quality of the room/hotel and the helpful staff. Mr Frequent Flyer was busy with work for a few days, so I got out and about to see the sights. I found Bristol a vibrant small city with plenty to see. Most things were an easy walk from the Grand.

First stop was the Museum/Art Gallery. I walked up through the Christmas Steps area. I especially wanted to see the Japanese Prints (including The Great Wave by Hokusai). It was a small exhibition and at first I was disappointed, but they were beautiful.

I had a look around the rest of the gallery/museum. There were other lovely works and a bit of an eclectic mix of exhibits, like a Romany caravan, old aeroplane (how must it have been sitting up there in that flimsy thing?) which a reader tells me is a replica of the Bristol Boxkite bi-plane and was built for the movie Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, stuffed animals and Roman coins.

Banksy, a native of Bristol, was of course represented, with his Paint Pot Angel (‘The intention is to challenge what people expect to see in a museum like this…’) and large painting of Parliament.

I sought out a few other Banksy works. Some have sadly been vandalised. Well Hung Lover, apparently the first piece of legal street art in the UK, has been defaced several times. Someone with a good sense of humour allowed it to be painted on the side of a sexual health clinic. The Girl with the Pearl Eardrum was a bit hard to find but I got there in the end.

Bristol’s street art was not limited to Banksy. There seemed to be art everywhere I looked.

M Shed museum provided a wonderful history of Bristol and the roles of slavery and sugar in its history. Having had no idea of this, I spent a few hours there. And there was another Banksy. Like the Gallery, it was free admission but they requested a donation, which I gladly gave. From the roof, I got a great view of The Matthew, out on the water of the floating harbour. It’s a recreation of the boat used by Cabot to travel to Newfoundland.

College Green and Queen’s Square were great green spaces in the centre of town.

The city centre was an attractive combination of lovely buildings, water and boats.

I took a number 8 bus to the lovely Clifton Village, (about 25 mins) then walked to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Brunel. Sadly it was abandoned in his lifetime and completed five years later. I walked across it – what an amazing structure! It was so high because tall ships had to pass underneath. Enjoying my outing, I was jolted into some people’s reality by the signs from the Samaritans saying ‘Talk To Us’. Not everyone comes to the bridge for the same reasons sadly.

The small Visitor Centre was great with all sorts of interesting and slightly bizarre stories about Brunel. There were great views back towards the Observatory and the large houses of Clifton.

I had planned to do this walk: https://www.cliftonbridge.org.uk/over-and-under-clifton-suspension-bridge-self-guided-walk but had already walked a lot that morning, so instead explored Clifton Village for an hour or so before catching the bus back. The charming shops, Georgian houses and large gardens made for a pleasant walk.

Our last dinner was at the historic Hole in The Wall pub, built in the 1700s. We sat in the garden for a couple of drinks then a quick meal before packing up for our dreaded early start to Spain the next morning.