If I had two weeks in Spain I wouldn’t go to Priego de Cordoba. It’s not a designated must-see sight, and it’s not between must-see sights; it’s the kind of small town you bypass on the way to a big city, and that’s a real shame – not that Priego minds.
This driving around Spain to look for a house, is creating a new map. There are no large cities on it; they’re hard to navigate and getting to an ATM, hotel, restaurant, or shop involves several circuits of one-way systems and a row about parking. No. And there are none of the major attractions – no time right now for Cordoba, Granada, Seville, ski lodges in the Sierra Nevada, beach hotels in Marbella despite the discounts. Ronda (flamenco, Orson Welles, Ava Gardner, Hemingway, gorge, Romans, and bridge) is on the map only because it’s got a SuperSol and an MOT centre, likewise Jerez de la Frontera, is on it because it’s got stores selling computer cables (we drive past the sherry bodegas every few weeks en route to buy things to connect things, never stopping).
Instead there are new places on the map: rural petrol stations, the places we have broken down or got stuck, many olive fields, sites of ruined properties and potential properties, bad roads and good viewpoints, a place selling go-karts with flamingo heads, and of course bars. As well, there are new towns – well not new towns as the majority are moorish or at least old – but unexpected surprises, and Priego is one.
It has ‘sights’: seven ancient churches (most baroque), museum and Arabic castle, and it has the picture-perfect setting, perched on a rocky ledge above plains, but it’s not showy (except during fiesta weeks). People appear to lead pleasant, normal lives, parking their cars in the cobbled squares and walking to work, jogging in the early morning sun around the Paseo de Colombia, taking their kids to school, walking dogs, drinking with friends outside the Hospederia Zahori. That’s later. And in the old quarter, every narrow whitewashed street leads to a square, a church, a bar, a fountain.
It does attract tourists, principally around saints days and fiestas, many of them Spanish or foreign residents from these here parts. Along with neighbouring Almedinilla with its amphitheatre and various very important Roman remains (and a barman who taught me all about the difference between the local sherries, none of which I can remember), Priego is a relaxing port of call if do you happen to be in the southeastern corner of Cordoba around the Subbética, or fleeing from Granada. We washed up there in a storm and stayed at the super-friendly local haunt, Hostal Rafi, a couple of times, and also the super-friendly picture-perfect, Zahori, in a room above the bar and facing church, fountain, square . . . and A HOUSE WITH BLUE SHUTTERS FOR SALE …