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Posts tagged ‘Costa del Sol’

Musings on Málaga: Southernmost City

The beautiful city of Malaga in Southern Spain is not only the 6th largest city in Spain, but also the southernmost large city in Europe. Located alongside the sparkling Mediterranean sea just south of the sun-roasted mountain plains of Andalucia, Malaga is an ancient city whose streets, style and very essence seem to reflect the baking heat of this most southern of European suns. And while its beating heart may run volcanically hot, the city has recently shown itself to be a hot pick for visitors too, boasting some of the best historical sights and cultural highlights in all of Spain.

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Its ancient historical centre is crowned by a magnificent cathedral, unique thanks to its unfinished second tower which has led the monument to become known as “the one-armed lady”. Its eastern hills are topped by the even older Castle of Gibralfaro and the Alcazaba fortress, a potent reminder of the region’s moorish heritage, heavily reminiscent of similar treasures in nearby Granada and Seville. Its newly renovated port and seaside front-line is fringed by stunning botanical gardens which sway gently alongside baroque palaces. And amongst its fantastic collection of impressive museums, the city can count the Picasso Museum, the Carmen Thyssen Museum, the new Russian Museum, the CAC Málaga Contemporary Art Museum and the recently opened Pompidou Centre Málaga amongst its collection. 

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it was largely because of the opening of this new branch of Paris’ Pompidou Centre that I strayed back to Malaga this month as part of my annual trip to my family home in Marbella, the smaller seaside town nestling on Malaga’s infamous Costa del Sol. Not only was I desperate to see the new Pompidou, but equally attracted by a temporary exhibition of Louise Bourgeois at the Picasso Museum and an exhibition of Summer-inspired works at the Thyssen. While I could easily fill this post with my reactions from those shows, I decided instead to be more visual in expressing my Malaga experience by sharing a few of the photos I took in the city. There aren’t many mind you… we were there only 24 hours after all, much of which was spent within art galleries. But I think this little collection pretty much sums up the heat, the colour and the spirit of this southernmost city.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved.

Marbella Twenty-Thirteen | Ojén

When I think Andalucía, I think narrow white washed streets clinging to steep mountain sides; seas of terracotta tiled roofs jostling for space in a crowded maze of twisting ancient streets; houses almost spilling from inside out, as residents take to sitting outside in the cooler evening air; and those white washed walls being intermittently punctuated by rich floral sprays such as the vivid pinks of brugmansia and the fragrant perfume of jasmine. And while Marbella, the location of my ultimate of August holidays, has its fair share of white washed wonders collected together in the winding cobbled streets of its stunning old town, it’s the little hilltop Andalus villages which for me characterise the very epitome of Southern Spanish charm.

So to discover these little hilltop gems one has to leave Marbella, and the sprawling Costa del Sol behind, but this isn’t exactly easy to do for the likes of me who has no car – the Costa, unbelievably is not on the Spanish train network, and the destinations served by the local bus service are limited. Happily however, there is one exception to this sorry state of transportation – every few hours, a bus leaves from Marbella centre and makes the 30 minute journey, up into the mountains, to the nearby hilltop village of Ojén, home to none other than Julio Iglesias himself.

Scenery from Marbella to Ojén

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As soon as you leave Marbella’s centre and begin to ascend the main road into the Sierra Blanca mountain range which rises so prominently behind the town, you notice the scenery begin to change. As the bus descends and the road skirts the steepening mountain sides, the landscape opens up before you so that urban dwellings are replaced by vast ochre planes, their rocky arid topography punctuated by olive trees and the odd cypress. At this time of year the landscapes are particularly dry, but this year they retain the black charred scarring which a devastating forest fire caused last year when it spread across the planes of Andalucía. This does nothing to distract from the beauty of the landscape however, whose slopes and pastures meander and undulate downwards towards a stunning view of the Mediterranean sea and Marbella some 1000 metres below.

A few minutes of winding roads later, and the little village of Ojén appears. Home to around 1000 people, it is a cluster of dazzling white set against the ochres and browns of the surrounding hillsides. Those hillsides are reflected in the streets and homes of the village which, in places, appear to be almost precariously clinging to the hillsides and near vertical angles, the stone sloping streets following suit and making a climb upwards under the midday sun a challenging prospect. But my goodness me, what a gem of a town this is – a magical collection of Andalucía’s best – those white washed houses and little tiled roofs, old woven chairs left outside tiny town houses, windows open in a vain attempt to catch a little breeze.

Perhaps the highlight of this town is the central square, surrounded by little bars and a tiny church at its centre, the baking marble pavements cooled slightly by the sound and spray of trickling water from a large fountain which remains remarkably cold even in the average 40 degrees of a typical summer’s day. It was there that my partner and I headed one lunchtime, braving the heat in order to recapture a moment we had enjoyed in the village a few years before, when we ate a plate of Spanish ham in the cheapest of cafes, but whose flavour was so intensely salty and rich that no tapas has lived up to it since. This time round, the ham did not disappoint, and basking in the almost oven-like heat of the square, we revelled in the soft melting fat and unctuous meaty texture of that ham, washed down with a small cerveza, some bread and olives. Surely as typically, simply delicious as Andalucía gets.

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I leave these reflections with some photos from the day; a collection of images straight from the heart of Andalucía.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. 

Spanish Season 2012: Out of the frost, into the fire.

As the great winter freeze finally began to set in, we at The Daily Norm swiftly decided that the time had come to withdraw from our London offices, and to retreat instead to our little Spanish outpost. And so it was that with a little luck and a lot of expense (Easyjet – once termed a “low cost airline” has almost bankrupted me with its “low cost” flight to Malaga) we have arrived on the Costa del Sol, travelling almost as far south as one can go, while remaining in the confines of our dear, albeit economically shaken, Europe.

Yesterday it was around 2 degrees and lightly snowing when I heaved my suitcase (full of Norms…who tend to be heavy) off the Gatwick Express and boarded a flight due south. When I alighted the flight the other end, things weren’t much better. There was a decided chill to the air in the deserted, white-washed streets of Andalucía, and as a result my winter overcoat remained firmly wrapped about my person. And inside it was even worse – My family and I have found ourselves needing to gather desperately around little electric heaters wrapped in the contents of our suitcases – we look like those motley crowds who gather round vertical heaters on the windy platforms in large echoey French train stations with the result that you feel like a piece of bread toasted on one side – warm and cold all at once. The problem with these old Spanish houses (our home is in Marbella’s casco antiguo – postcard perfect, but otherwise falling apart, damp and consistently calling out for repair and a lot of TLC) is that they are built for the summer. Tiled or stone floors repel the heat while small windows keep the interiors cool. It’s as though their makers presupposed that the Costa del Sol would always be sunny. But it often isn’t, and in the winter, a few hours of daily sun do not compensate for a long night of sleeping inside a refrigerator.

Between seasons: Norm on a Spanish beach in the winter (pen on paper, 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

What a wonderful surprise then when this morning we awoke to beautiful sunshine while not only lifted our spirits but the surrounding temperatures too. As a result we found our bodies quickly warmed from 2 degrees London, through to 10 degrees Spanish night-time to a positively summery 24 degrees basking in the sunshine this lunchtime. Like all things which are scarce in life, the sunshine is never more glorious, never greater appreciated than when, back at home, you know that your friends and compatriots are suffering in the cold. It’s as though you’ve made a lucky escape and are somehow cheating your pre-destined position in life. From London to Spain this has been like leaping from the freeze straight into the fire.

Needless to say, it’s now evening in Spain, and the cold has once again descended as the electric heaters have been boosted onto full power. The problem with these temperature extremes is that you really don’t know whether it’s winter or summer, because you fully experience both seasons in a single day. The key appears to be plenty of layers and a willingness to dress and undress depending on where the sun is, where the clouds are, and how much you can cheat the winter and steal the sun. Of course it also depends on plenty of heating during the evening, and as our electricity system is about as antiquated as our house, the whole lot will probably fuse any minute. With this in mind, I shall finish this post, leaving you with a selection of my photos from the day. Hasta mañana.

The rain in Spain… and other Spanish truisms

There is a common vernacular, made famous no doubt by the mellifluous tones of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. I beg to disagree. The rain in Spain in fact falls on the coast, over the mountains, outside in the garden and sometimes (because the houses here really aren’t built for the rain), inside. This past weekend,

Rain flowing down the roads in Marbella yesterday

staying on the Costa del “Sol” has been like living under a power shower as the skies bucketed down in a continuous barrage of water. The Spanish tourism industry claim that the Costa del Sol enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine per year but I doubt that average reflects current trends. Every time I come out to Spain other than in July or August, it rains, torrentially. The houses, with cool interiors and flat roofs are built for the sun, and feel damp and miserable when it’s wet outside. The road drainage is similarly built to cope with occasional showers. Yesterday my mother and I were stranded in a café as rivers of rainwater gushed down the streets, turning the roads into rivers, leaving all those who had not thought to bring wellington boots on holiday (?!) unable to cross. There is a similarly common vernacular in Spain, that all the English flood into Spain to escape “rainy” England. The tables are surely turning, no doubt as global warming takes hold, and in 20 years don’t be surprised to find a barrage of Spanish owned second homes on Britain’s south coast, as the Spanish flee the newly named “Costa del Lluvia” in search of sun! Read more