Category Archives: Tourist Attractions

A Green and Pleasant Land

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I haven’t ranked green and pleasant lands, but I’m with Blake in thinking the description rather suits much of England. Green and pleasant is the payoff for rain, the dubious compensation for damp clothes, cold knees, and waylaid picnic and camping plans. Green and pleasant smells like wild garlic. And wild garlic is rural England schooldays.

That said, there are other green and pleasant lands like Uganda (smells like hot wet earth) and Costa Rica (ylang ylang) and summer time Siberia, and New Zealand, and this area here in the northwest corner of Cadiz, where the Atlantic winds run smack into the peaks of the sierras, make clouds, rain, and consequently, greenery. 

Some years, once all the litres per square metre reports have been totted up, the Sierra de Grazalema area wins the title of Spain’s rainiest place, beating the Spanish places I think of as perennially damp, on the flanks of the Pyrenees, the milk farms of Asturias, and throughout drizzly Galicia. And for around 340 days of the year this ‘fact’ seems extremely questionable. But the thing about this area is that all the rain comes at once, and it has to be a lot, because even now, after just one deluge in many dry months, somehow, everything is still green. No longer quite lush, but bearing up under the onslaught of 30 something degrees days.

Not for long, though. The fields have been ploughed, putting the wildflowers one foot under before they steal what remains of the damp in the soil from this year’s olives, or crisp up and spontaneously combust, and one day soon when I get to the crest of the hill on the way to the Our Lady of Rosario Cooperativa to buy a hose extension, I shall find myself staring into the faces of one million sunflowers – something I find most unsettling.

 

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All The Fun of the Fair

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Horse fair that is. Jerez. Big day out for us country folk.

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This Month’s Blossom

Daisies below the hen house. Unfortunately, eventually, I’m going to need to clear some in order to create a space where I can put lettuce and tomatoes seedlings. However, 6ft daisies are a great cover for wildlife, including hares, and there must be about 2 or 3 acres of them, so I’ll be leaving plenty just standing wild.
These mountains on the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema National Park are covered in flowers right now, and will be for the next couple of months, although the different species will take turns to shine.

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Clap Your Hands if You’re Happy, Jerez

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You can read a brief guide I wrote to nearby Jerez over at The Guardian. I highlighted some options for people visiting the city for the annual flamenco festival (which runs until March 7). It’s not always you have the biggest names in flamenco performing on stage in multiple venues and live music (and dance) in just about every bar and peña on every single night, but there is always flamenco – the good sort, the loose, earthy, in every fibre of the body sort, and I mention a couple of places you can be fairly confident of finding it, along with some ways to spend the days.
I absolutely love Jerez; it’s an eminently walkable city (until it hits 40 degrees). It’s historic heart with its churches, cobbles, and Moorish walls isn’t a preserved tourist attraction, but the place where a lot of energetic, enthusiastic people live and work. The fact that the streets are lined with tables and umbrellas, and that it’s home to some of the best wine in the world, doesn’t hurt either. During the first heavy duty stage of restoring this old farm building, most of my time in Jerez was spent in warehouses on trading estates looking at boilers and roof insulation, but happily, I’m now meeting people doing interesting things in arts, tourism, and the wine world. Good times.
By the way the article has now been shared lots of times so I hope it serves as a useful starter guide, and it no longer has 0 comments. The comments are always pretty interesting, but the one suggesting that the festival of Jerez is not something that people who actually live in Jerez can afford or enjoy is as another commentator says, ‘cobblers’. Like everything in Jerez, it’s an event put on by the people here for the people here; tourists aren’t essential, but they are welcome.

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Hot Beach, Cold Nights

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There are five clouds on the horizon – fact, not metaphor. Every other day this year the skies over Cadiz have been royal blue and vast. January was always such an easy month to work through in London; no inclination whatsoever to leave the desk, unless to meet someone in Soho for drinks at six, that is. But here it’s a little more tricky. Daytime temperatures have been in the low 20s, and hiking the muffled trails through pine forests at the top of the sierras has proved irresistible, as has lying with a book in the long, herby grass by the henhouse, even pruning the last olives. But then I haven’t got any interesting work on at the moment. A few days ago I pushed a kayak into the water and paddled slowly across the mirror flat lake, looking up at Zahara, everything steamy hot, and still and silent apart from goat bells up the mountain, a tractor, and choughs – one of the five kinds of non-tropical birds I can name.

And depending on the wind strength and direction, it’s hot two hours downhill, curled up in the dunes as well. Bolonia is never crowded, even in August, but in January people are so spread out along the long beach they look like dots. Further towards Tarifa the dots are swinging from pink and orange kites – kitesurfers skimming the surface of the sea. They don’t stop for winter either.

There are fewer people around, and some of the bars and restaurants are shut (many of the chiringuitos included, along with cheery Lola’s in Tarifa), or operating on a whimsical (annoying) ad hoc basis, but the coast is as lovely a place to be in winter as summer. It’s still got the sun, sea, sand.

Having said that, night and day in winter are as different as . . . well, night and day. The heating gets turned off in the province of Cadiz around 5.30pm, even before the sun goes down, and the temperature sinks to four or five degrees. I know that’s considered balmy in Philadelphia, Siberia, and Toronto but the daily rise and fall means I’m constantly surprised first by how hot, and then by how cold it actually is.

Dress code 10am-5pm: jeans and t-shirt. Dress code: 6pm ’til late: jeans and t-shirt, and two pairs of socks, two thermals, polo neck jumper, scarf, bobble hat, padded winter coat . . . and that’s just indoor wear.

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A Level Walking Trail

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The weather is about to change and the pressure is on to make the most of the sun while it lasts, hence I decide to Go for a Walk. There are no end of trails hairpin bending through the Sierra de Cadiz; from my door I can walk for hours in any direction. I’ll probably have to once the rains start and the gullies in the track get more entrenched and the car’s sump and wheels get shredded again.

However, as well as the unmarked open rambles along rivers and lanes, and the bonafide marked trails through the Sierra de Grazalema National Park, there’s a 36km Greenway nearby, a Via Verde, that follows the course of a disused railway from nearby Puerto Serrano to Olvera.

There are more than 90 Via Verdes across Spain covering 1,900 km of vehicle-free – and relatively flat – cycling, riding, and walking routes. All are well-signposted and maintained thanks to an  annual injection of cash, and they vary in length from a couple of kilometres to 190km.

The Puerto Serrano – Olvera route is the only Via Verde in Cádiz, and quite possibly the only trail without a climb so steep it makes you want to heave. I could have done it on a bike (I don’t have one, you can rent them), but I walked, and stopped to admire the views and take pictures along the way. As a result, I got to the not-quite-halfway point, La Estación de Coripe, too late to continue and reach Olvera before dark. What a shame.

In truth, the old station house, now an immaculate bar, and restaurant with yellow trim surrounded by crags and forest and birdsong seemed like a good place to stop. I had one nice cold beer, then another, then some rollitos de calabacín, queso y jamón. Maria and Eugenio took over the place a year ago, and the combination of excellent home-cooking and convivial hosting has made it a popular spot. There are six spotless and calm rooms, half looking out across the valley, half up to the sierra. If I hadn’t been invited to a birthday party the following day, I’d have maybe stayed and set off early the following morning to complete the route. The current plan is to wait until a bright crisp December Sunday and start out from Olvera in order to get here in time for a restorative lunch.

Obviously not everyone walks or cycles to this point; there’s road access to this and six other points along the way. Walkers be warned, though: it may be flat and easy but it’s still pretty isolated and you can walk a far while without seeing another soul even on a sunny day (unless it’s national via verde day, the second Sunday in May) so go prepared. Also, if you have a tunnel phobia, forget it: there are many, the longest (a cool treat on this, a hot day) just under 1km. Nice views over the Guadalete river, and across olivars and asparagus fields, as well as the craggy sierra. I also got to take a long, hard look at a gem of a house perched above the Via Verde which we once considered buying but, surprise, surprise, couldn’t afford.

To be honest, the views from the farm are just as beautiful, and the walks I can take more varied., but anyone with older or younger companions looking for a level trail should take advantage of this one. The Estación de Puerto Serrano, signposted to the left as you enter the village is the foundation HQ for the Vía Verde de la Sierra. Like Coripe and Olvera, it is also a bar-restaurant with accommodation. There’s information about the route, history and wildlife (birds) there and at www.fundacionviaverdedelasierra.com.

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