Category Archives: Travel Blog

Walking to Zahara de la Sierra

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I love the sweeping roads between Prado del Rey and Zahara de la Sierra. The craggy peaks and pine forests of the sierra are just above, but there’s something smooth, calming and minimal about this Cádiz landscape that never fails to lift the spirits, whatever the weather (which on this day was around 35 degrees hence the heavy sky). Even the graffiti is beautiful (I’m sorry, I love you). It’s a good road walk – during the first 1.5hrs I saw just two cars, but there are endless opportunities for following trails and rivers along the flanks of the sierra.

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Lunch with a View: Benarraba

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I live by a lake, but I still like a wade in a river on a hot sunny day, and one of the best is the Genal. Clear, full of tiny fish, passing river beaches, through open gorges, and under overhanging trees, it has an abundance of natural pools, good for swimming, and good for floating through on a lilo. Best access is off the Guacin-Ronda road, and down the hairpin bend road in the direction of Genalguacil.

What completes the perfect summer day out, is lunch – or dinner – in Benarrabá. That sounds peculiar, as if Benarrabá is like Austin, or St Ives; it’s actually a tiny white village directly below the Gaucin road like a hanging basket, and has a population of around 700. It has a small hotel, Banu Rabbah, super-friendly, with 12 lovely rooms, and extraordinary views over the lush valley and across to distant white villages in distant mountains from the rooms, and the large, flower-filled terrace restaurant. The emphasis is on ecological and vegetarian food, and meals here are a treat. Start with the orange, avocado and mustard seed salad – a perfect example of their original and delicious healthy offering.

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A Night in Cadiz

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Through enthusiasm and bad planning we appear to be buying not one house but two. That’s a house each. Or at least the outer walls of a house and a ramshackle farm. Both need major work, or as friends sweetly put it,  ‘un toque personal’, a personal touch. Just thinking about the amount of work each needs to be fully habitable is fairly exhausting, and then there is the paperwork, the optimistic trips to the two town halls, the two property registry offices, the two local electricity departments to tot up the cost of rewiring for each, and the scrabbling for money to hand out to everyone . . . the work required to generate the money . . . All so exhausting and unfathomable in fact that a day off was called for, and we’re sitting in the sun in the city of Cádiz a couple of hours away, people-watching, and just being tourists.

One of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Cádiz was Gadir to the founding Phoenicians, Gades to the Roman elite who settled in great numbers, and Qādis to the Arabs who ruled here from the 8th to the 13th century. Slightly less certain is that Perseus slew Medusa here in what was once the home of the Gorgons, and that Cádiz is more or less the site of one of  the Pillars of Hercules. But the fact is that for all the history and mythology this city still feels like a secret. Plenty of tourists factor in a trip to Seville, many will get to Jerez for a sherry tour, but few make it down the narrow spit to the old walled heart of this top (hot) place with its wild beaches, narrow streets, and leafy squares. Oh, unless they come by boat. When we arrived, a giant floating planet was parked by the harbour wall and a thousand Thomson passengers were following men with flags down the gangplank.

It is hugely popular with Spanish visitors, however, particularly people living in the wider province of Cádiz – like our neighbours,  Carmen and Montse, who regularly lock up the ancient doors of their village house and hurtle down the mountain, past donkeys and tractors, for a weekend of shopping, dancing, wine, and great seafood. And although there are plenty of sites – churches, museums, monuments – it has a lovely frivolous feel, with a good sprawl of tables and umbrellas outside the cafés, busy parks, and lots of people on the beaches (some even in the sea). The old city is very walkable, but with the sea on three sides and multiple identical plazas, it’s easiest not to have any specific destination in mind – except your hotel, that is.  Hotel Argantonio, built around an internal courtyard with beautifully-tiled floors, is central, super-friendly, and a bargain at around €60 a double (C/Argantonio, 3).

Christopher Colombus sailed from Cádiz on two of his voyages to the new world, and it’s odd, having spent much of my life in the places he discovered, to be standing here by the sea wall, in the same place and the same light.
 

 

 

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Lunchtime Dancing Sevillana Style

Got invited to Ismael’s birthday lunch at the farm. Great food – vegetable stew, asparagus and eggs – cooked over the open fire, marinated meat cooked over flames outside, great wine, great company, and great people.

(Two of the guests were economists. They worked at the University of Seville investigating public spending but lost their jobs when the financial crisis deepened, which, as they say, was ironic. )

Tense Negotiations

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The farm was 40% over the absolute maximum budget pencilled in for the perfect property requiring zero work but, as Manolo said, what was the harm in meeting the owners again, so we rolled up to negotiate.  I told everyone I loved the place, thought the price was very reasonable, agreed there was a lot of land, commiserated with the three brothers for having to sell, took a picture of some yellow flowers, and then went off to look for the puppy.

More people were milling about than I’d imagined, most of them owners of a sort, and the animals were distracting. The darker donkey got my notes which I’d left on the car seat between its teeth. I like notes. I’m actually a REALLY GOOD negotiator with notes – negotiating access to panda breeding labs in China and the FARC in Colombia, and being a stickler in big media acquisitions – but everyone has to SIT DOWN and TAKE TURNS. There was the sound of trailing exhaust pipes and chassis being dragged over rocks as more cars summited the track, and more people arrived to join in the discussion – or various discussions. With more dogs – mainly dobermans. As it got dark we moved inside and nine people talked at once over the barking, and birds (I think they were birds) crossed back and forth.

Dave, whose Spanish is rudimentary, was gazing dreamily out of the window, (bikes, probably) and oblivious to the fact the conversation had finally shifted from asparagus to business, making it difficult to confer.  The vaguest chance that we could make a deal was floating off on a wispy cloud of yada yada, and it was pretty much all my fault, coming at it a) with very small amounts of money, and b) like a dippy loser in a rom-com.  And I really wanted the farm. Yes . . . a ramshackle, ancient place with no kitchen and dubious electrics . . . I’d die without it. I shot my hand up. What about staggered payments spread over a year, a vastly reduced price but still higher than we’re comfortable with in return for the brothers fixing the collapsing road bridge and turning the room that’s currently full of partridges into a bathroom? It was a yes. We agreed a moving in date (May 2nd), and all kissed each other as I wondered exactly what I’d done there.

‘How did that go?’ said Dave as we got back in the car.

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Bring the Money Now

 

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Dring-dring, Dring-dring . . . or the digital equivalent . . . ‘The house is yours. You can buy it. But you have to come fast to the office now. . . RIGHT NOW’ and the agent, or I presume it was the agent, hangs up. I’m still studying my phone when she rings back: ‘And bring the money’. Or the Spanish equivalent.

Unfortunately I was in the middle of a feature on Google Glass and neurodata. But the next day the house was miraculously still available. What’s more we had the opportunity to see inside it, which seemed like a wise idea  – not upstairs, because there are no stairs anymore. It was a bit of a mess. Cosmetic, apparently. Presumably the previous buyer had taken a look inside and backed out – literally – but they hadn’t shown up with the deposit, hence the house was up for grabs again. The views are spectacular, at least. Herded along, still slightly ambivalent, we  paid a small wad of euros to Unicaja, the bank that owns it in order to take the property off the market while we checked the paperwork, got Manolo – a builder on the side – to give it a once over, appointed a lawyer, set up a foreign exchange account, guessed the costs of putting in new doors, windows, and a kitchen, and decided whether we really, really, wanted this displaced Greek fisherman’s cottage, given that it’s smaller than we need, has no garden, and is in the wrong place. Our furniture and possessions have been in boxes now for 18 months, and I really want my books. So on balance we thought we did.

The day after giving the bank a yes, a message arrived from Molino via Manolo to say the owners of the Perfect Farm would be open to discussing an offer.

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