Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some of the details of my travels… as little guides that you can cut’n’keep for later. Or be inspired by. Each one will have a “slow” (mindful, deep-rooted, social, life-loving) ethos and be centred on food and hiking. Because that’s what I do.
So to start, I’d like to do a rundown of my wonderfully dry, minerally rich, sweltering hot time in Southern Spain. A list of highlights. And wonderful lessons learned.
If I were going to Spain, would I do much differently? Nope, I had a perfect time here. I focused on small towns. This is where things are at.
What would I recommend? Focusing on a region. Andalucia (in the south of Spain) would be my pick, absolutely. It’s mad and wild and relatively poor and basic. But herein lies it’s beauty. Artists and hikers and foodies and conquerors and Kings and Queens have gravitated here. I can see why. You will too.
What else? Get away from the ocean into the hills… only really 30 minutes from the beaches.
But to some highlights, blow by blow… and in some sort of order.
- Eating sardines cooked in a boat (they use an old tinnie and pile it with coals and grill the fish on the beach in front of you). Simply head out east toward Pedregalejo from the main part of town. Look out for Las Acacias… apparently the most authentic place on the beach. The servings are huge!
- Doing a tapas tour with Casey from Biznaga Travel Company. She’s an Australian who went wandering and found herself in Malaga… eating. She now runs boutique foodie tours of the south of Spain. She works with Frank Camorra, the big guy from Melbourne’s Movida restaurant.
- Eating fouie caliente con huevo frito (foie on a potato stack with a fried egg on top) at Danni Garcia’s La Moraga. Danni is like Spain’s Jamie Oliver and worked at El Bulli. Also, his “Burger Bull” – bull’s tail cooked osso bucco style…on a burger bun (I ate without the bun). These are tapas… I drank with a Pedro Ximenez.
- Walking up to the big castle on the hill, eating a ripe fig from the markets stuffed with local almonds for breakfast sitting on the rocks up high, then walking back down via the Parador to have a coffee with a view and some very handsome waiters.
- Catching the train up through El Chorro from Malaga. The trains in Spain are just wonderful. Cool, quiet, clean and cheap. El Chorro is a stunning canyon and the best way to see it is from the massive train windows.
- I arrived late to Ronda, tired and hungry. I got decision paralysis, but my wanderings around for The Perfect Lunch saw me end up in The San Francisco area a long way from my hotel (Hotel Baraka… if you’re wondering… very cute and lovely). Lo, I was later told it’s the best area to eat – away from the tourists. I settled for Almocabar restaurant, worried that at 3pm I would turn inside out if I didn’t eat immediately. I happily ate swordfish alone. Then a bunch of local artists invited me over to join them. They wanted to know why I was sitting and traveling solo. Maria – a painter – and I talked about relationships. She shared this:
“If you’re a smart person, it’s hard. Because you’re capable of weighing up the pros and cons of being with a man…and they never stack up…so you stay alone.” I don’t know if it was the wine. But this stuck with me.
They invited me to an art opening with them that night…they ended up not making it…but I met another group of people there…and they took me out for dinner. And I ate the most incredible meal. Sadly, I didn’t take down the name…but Hotel Baraka’s owner has a wonderful list of places the locals go to. This place was one of them.
- You must eat at Bodega Socorro. The locals do. The new-found bunch of artists assured me this was one of the best places for tapas and bigger meals. We ate kidney skewers, asparagus and grilled Iberian pork.
Hiking around the White Villages.
- You must do this. Hike in the area, that is. And if you do, you must consult Guy Hunter-Watts’ guide, Hiking in Andalucia. Contact him or buy his books via his facebook page or his site (check out his accommodation options!). Or you can stay at his place and head off from there (which is what I did).
- I love village-to-village hikes. There’s a sense of purpose in it. Guy set me up with a ripper – three days of hiking, 3-8 hours a day, finishing each night at a lovely little hostel. And eating…
- I started in Zahara. Visit Zahara… even just to eat at Restaurant Al Lago. Mona and Stef are passionate about promoting the region’s food. Stef is an ex-New York chef. The walk I did started from the restaurant (it’s also a hotel…. so you could stay there).
- The walk to Grazalema from Zahara. Temperature: about 38. People seen: 0. I did this video on the way in a moment of “I have to share this with someone!!!”.
- In Grazalema, Meson El Simancon was the place to eat. I had Iberian pork and a… pork consumme.
- The hike to Montejaque from Grazalema. Temperature: even hotter. People seen: 0. I did this video on the way. I talk about cairns mostly, but it’s a good way to see the area and to get a feel for the beauty.
- In Montejaque I stayed at Posada del Fresno, the cutest little place where the owners treat you like you’re their grandkid. The owner is a mad cave walker and can show you some amazing walks in the area. PS Guy Hunter Watts sorted me out with the best accommodation options en route.
- I won’t give you a history lesson on the place, nor will I go on about the Alhambra (the massive Moorish palaces built for the Emirs). But do go. I went late afternoon and spent half the time in the gardens meditating, before descending (the walk back into town is one of the highlights) to eat with friends.
- You might want to consider staying a little out of Granada, towards the Alpujarras or Sierra Nevada (the mountain ranges between Granada and Malaga). I did. I got the best of both worlds – visits into Granada, 25 minutes away, plus easy access (a bus ride) to the mountains. I stayed with a mate Sophie who has an apartment for rent… you can contact her here.
- Tapas tours! Granada is home of the free tapas. You drink, you get fed. I met up with the gorgeous Gayle, a Scottish woman who runs Granada Tapas Tours and what she doesn’t know about the history, the wine, the food, ain’t worth wrapping your brain cells around. Seriously, she’s a hoot. Some joints she recommended:* Bodega Los Tintos (good wine, packed with locals, where you’ll see the ladies in their finest),
* La Tana (a mixed crowd, standing room only wine place)
* Patio Mesón (an old “conversation house” where men learned to be men!)
* Casa de Vinos (no need for explanation – right beside a 500yr old convent)
Now that’s a wine list!
* Corrala (great meat place with a quaint dining room and whiskey room too)
Hiking the Alpujerras.
- Again, I consulted Guy Hunter Watts for the best options – this time from his Walking in Andalucia book. I passed through some incredible “white villages”, hiking 3-6 hours a day for three days.
- Not into hiking? Try horseriding.
- Also try out one of the Hammam’s – the Arabic baths. Get scrubbed and massaged and soak in the waters – it’s almost pitch black inside – and emerge into the searing heat feeling slightly… stoned!
- Meditating in churches: I do this in most cities. Grenada has some amazing churches, which you usually have to pay for and share with tourists. My tip: come back after 7:30 when they open again for the locals to pray in.
Phew. That’s all for now. Feel free, in the spirit of cairns-making, to add your tips for anyone travelling to the region. Oh, and tell me, is there anything more you’d like to learn from these guides??