Five Reasons Why Andalucía is the Place to Be in May

Andalucía in springtime is perhaps the closest I can get to nirvana. Yes, the azahar flowers met an untimely death in April and my allergies are rampant, but even the short bursts of rain seem more poetic and more welcome now, because I’ll soon be slurping down snails or sneaking in a beer before work. The sky is blue and the temperature is perfect; the beaches are uncrowded and tourists have yet to choke city centers and my favorite tapas bars.

Even with flight deals to foreign destinations, staying close to home in Andalucía is my first choice when it comes to weekend plans and city breaks. From ferias to romerías, my social calendar is already packed with ideas!

Things to do in Andalusia in May

While I’m busy preparing for my sister’s wedding in the US along with the crazed end-of-term tasks, please grab a cervecita and enjoy some of these festivals for me this month!

Jerez de la Frontera: La Feria del Caballo

May kicks off with La Feria del Caballo, a smaller more welcoming version of my local Feria de Sevilla in little sister city Jerez de la Frontera. A city renowned for its sherry production and Andalusian horses, the festivities revolve around just those things. Head to the recinto ferial on the north end of town to dance Sevillanas and gawk at horse carriages, glass of fino in hand.

Feria de Jerez

And no need to wear a traje de gitana, chicas – this feria is way more laid-back!

2016 dates: April 30 to May 6

Córdoba: Cruces de Mayo, Festival de los Patios, Feria de Córdoba

Seville’s big month is April, but May is totally Córdoba’s time to shine. While it may not be as grandiose as its westerly neighbor, the Ciudad Califa has THREE festivals of national touristic interest.

calleja de las flores córdoba

Cruces de Mayo, which typically takes place during the first weekend of the month, sees large flower crosses set up in city plazas as offerings (and, rumor has it, there are small bars selling food and drink). Next up is the Patios Festival, where locals open their homes and gardens to the public, their walls and wells draped in beautiful flowers. If your wallet hasn’t burned a hole in your pocket during your stay in Andalusia yet, the cordobés version of a feria closes out the month.

2016 dates: Cruces is April 28 to May 2, after which the Patios are open daily until May 15th. The Feria will be held from the 21st and 28th of the month.

Málaga: Noche en Blanco

Málaga is an up-and-coming touristic epicenter, and the city has responded by offering 20% more activities, openings and gatherings for their annual White Night. Fashioned after its American counterparts, the museums, galleries, expositions and tours here will operate until 2am.

You can see the full program here.

2016 dates: May 14th from 8pm until 2am.

Huelva: La Romería de El Rocío

My first trip to El Rocío – a mere hour’s bus ride from Seville – was one for the books. Straight out of the American Wild West, I was surrounded by people from all over Spain who were devoted to an effigy found near the marshes of Doñana National Park. From parades to enormous corrales housing groups of hermandades, this is certainly quite an event!

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I call her the lushy Virgin Mary, as her party on Pentecost Sunday is also characterized by hedonism. After the long walk to the Aldea from various parts of Spain, the statue “jumps” over the altar and is passed around town on the shoulders of her followers. The best part of the Salta de la Reja is that it happens at a different time every year, meaning Sunday night reaches fever pitch proportions.

2016 dates: the carrozas leave their respective hermandades on various days leading up to Pentecost Sunday, which is May 15th this year.

Granada and Almería: Moros y Cristianos

This long-standing festival, reenacting the Christian Reconquest of Spain during the 8th to 15th centuries, isn’t limited to Andalucía – many locals in southwest and south central Spain have their own version of the event. Imagine full-scale battles, costumes and an enormous medieval fair (meat on a stick!). And given that Andalucía – Granada specifically – was the last stronghold of the Moors, the region takes pride in their rendition.

2016 dates: Dates vary by municipality, but count on late May or June; check local websites.

come and drink

As for Seville? It’s still recovering from Semana Santa and Feria! I’ve been drinking in the temperate weather, the sunny bike rides to work and the longer evening light. Well, that and draining my wallet on gas and bocadillos.

Even if you’re visiting Andalusia on an all-inclusive holiday or cruise, make time to experience these visitor-friendly festivals – they will give you an insight into Andalusian culture and tradition in the wonderful region I now call home.

Curious about events taking place in other parts of Spain? Madrid’s local festival, San Isidro, is marked by bullfights and events around the city, and Girona is famous for its Temps de Flors. Devour Spain covers the ins and outs of San Isidro, and Jess’s photos of the flower festival are gorgeous! And my apologies: I should have pushed publish on this article two weeks ago – oops! 

What’s your favorite springtime festival in Spain?

Photo Post: The Smurf Village of Júzcar, Málaga

If there is one thing that sleepy Júzcar, a small pueblo blanco at the end of a curving mountain highway near Ronda, can claim, it’s that Smurfs live among them. In this teeny village known for its mytocology and hiking trails, you might notice something that distinguishes it from the other so-called white villages in the region – the whole town is painted bright blue!

Blue village in Spain

This hamlet perched high in the Valle del Genal has gained international fame thanks to Madrid-based publicity agency Bungalow25 (with whom I’m working on the Caser Expat ‘Typical Non-Spanish” project), Sony Pictures and more than 1000 gallons of paint.

Before the premiere of the Smurfs in 2011, Júzcar was a quick pit stop in the Serranía de Ronda, literally drawfed by other, more picturesque towns in the valley. Taking those words to heart, the town was doused in a layer of blue paint to boost tourism to an otherwise blip on a map. Cue allusions to ‘Pitufolandia’ and worldwide media fame.

panorama of Juzcar, Spain

Blue colored village Juzcar

Smurfs in Spain

pueblo pitufo spain

pitufolandia Spain

Smurf related ideas

Tourism in Juzcar Spain

While there’s not much to do in town – we were in, out and fed in an hour – the simple novelty is not lost. In fact, we were there on Día de Andalucía, along with half of the province! Bars were full, kids darting from cerulean shop to shop decked out in their own white smurf hats and parking was a nightmare, proving that a little bit of imagination can do wonders for tourism. That said, the town has yet to capitalize on it to its fullest extent!

Júzcar, Spain-

If you go: Júzcar is best reached by car, but you can take local buses from Ronda, which is 25 kilometers to the northeast. Parking is free.

Typical Non Spanish

I visited Júzcar as part of my Typical Non Spanish project with Caser Expat Insurance and my promise to myself to do 52 new things in 2016! Anything I can’t miss – be it sites, experiences or food – around Andalucía?

Five Things You Should Know About Málaga

Eight years ago, I welcomed my parents to Spain for the first time. They arrived to Málaga via bus after several cancelled flights and a mad scramble to get them from Heathrow to Andalucía before Christmas Eve. Once they finally arrived, jet lagged, smelly and not amused with my cry of ‘Bienvenidos a España!’ we grabbed our rental car and beelined out of the Costa del Sol’s capital and didn’t return.

We missed out on the opportunity to explore what is becoming a cultural capital and a city that embodies cool, and I have yet to really get to know more than Málaga’s airport.

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Paolo Trabattoni via Creative Commons

Many visitors to the golden shores of Spain’s Costa del Sol choose to bypass Málaga in favor of the nearby beach resorts. It’s a shame – this vibrant city offers a great selection of cultural sights and historic gems, plus great dining options, all on the Mediterranean Coast. If you’re visiting for the first time, you may be surprised by these five facts about one of Spain’s up-and-coming cities.

Picasso’s Mark on the City

Arguably the most influential artist of the twentieth century, Picasso remains one of Malaga’s most renowned citizens. Nestled in the heart of the city’s historic center, visitors can explore the artist’s birthplace and family home during his formative years.

An exhibition displays artifacts from his childhood and personal mementos from his family. From here, art fanatics can visit the Picasso Museum located in the 16th century, Buenavista Palace. Showcasing over two hundred and thirty pieces, it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to marvel at some of Picasso’s best works. Plus, it’s just a stumble from great tapas joints (and we stayed at an awesome AirBnB nearby for my despedida de soltera!).

Feria de Málaga

I mean, it’s no Feria de Sevilla, but Málaga’s beachside feria is allegedly just as much fun (and without all of the pomp). The annual fair takes place in August and was established to commemorate the Catholic reconquest of the city in 1487. The weeklong celebration is the time to enjoy authentic Andalusian cuisine, marvel at the trajes de gitanas and take part in a sevillanas dance if you’re fueled by rebujito.

La Feria en Crisis

And it’s ok to go in street clothes – this fair is far more low-key than Seville’s, so you don’t have to put on the airs or sneak your way in to a private tent.

Antonio Banderas and his Devotion

Picasso isn’t the only famous malagueño: another notable native is Hollywood A-lister, Antonio Banderas. Born in 1960, the famous actor began his studies at the College of Dramatic Art in Malaga. Although he no longer resides in Spain, Banderas does return every year to celebrate the Holy Week festivities.

Taking place from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, Banderas joins in several of the processions as a costalero, or a brother charged with carrying the heavy floats through the streets of the city.

Biznagas Malagueñas

Spend a short time in Malaga and you’re sure to come across the handcrafted flowers, Biznagas Malagueñas. Traditional to the region, these are often sold by street vendors, known as biznagueros who are often dressed in an outfit comprising of a white shirt and red waistband.

The floral creations are famed for their sweet smelling scent, usually made with a combination of dried thistle and freshly picked jasmine. Many people are unaware that they have a secondary purpose – they’re also said to repel mosquitoes.

An endless summer

It may come as no surprise that the capital of Spain’s Costa Del Sol receives some of the best weather in Europe, and that it’s not limited to the summer months. With roughly 300 days of sunshine every year, this destination is perfect for a sun worshiper’s fall getaway. The winter also stays pleasantly warm with very few days of rain and highs reaching an impressive 20 °C. The vitamin C alone is worth it.

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Laura Flores used under the Creative Commons

With so many affordable flights to Malaga, there’s never been a better time to explore this beautiful city. From the winding streets and traditional tapas restaurants,  lively nightlife and 

Read more about Málaga: Cooking in the Malagueño Countryside // Ronda, the White Village Capital // Walking the Caminito del Rey near Málaga // Málaga’s El Tintero Restaurant

FIVE THINGS

I need a weekend escape to Málaga – what should I see, do and eat?

Photo Post: Ronda and its Picturesque Historic Center

I roused Laura awake. Due to a miscommunication on exactly when her plane touched down in Seville (a day later than I had expected), I was behind in showing her my Spain. I dragged her out of bed, handed her a towel and a mug of coffee and announced Sunday’s destination: Ronda.

Visits to Ronda

Laura had two requirements for a day trip: somewhere quaint and within two hours by car. The beauty of owning a car in Spain – despite being a bottomless money pit – is that destinations that are out-of-the-way or not-traversed-by-public-transportation or too-long-on-the-bus-when-jet-lagged are suddenly on your list.

As the jewel of the typical white villages of Cádiz and Málaga, Ronda and Setenil de las Bodegas were close enough to hit while Laura dozed in the car.

Balconies in Ronda Spain

As the jewel in the crown of Andalucía’s famous pueblos blancos, Ronda hardly qualifies as a pueblo with 35,000 inhabitants. A city made famous in For Whom the Bell Tolls and a favorite hangout of Orson Wells and Washington Irving, it certainly earns its reputation for being one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. I’d visited once in late 2007, long before I knew enough Spanish to enjoy myself, istead stressing over what my family would have for lunch.

But despite its fame and touristic draw, there are still pockets of the city that are devoid of overpriced restaurants and their poorly translated menus, of souvenir shops and of cheesy museums (those things are thankfully clustered around the Puente Nuevo bridge that spans the Guadalevín river gorge). We stopped at a local restaurant, far from the sites, for cheap raciones of huevos estrellados and solomillo as soon as we arrived. Because, jet lag is a bitch and food in Spain is cheap and bountiful in villages.

Elbowing past a few British tourists staggering off a bus, no doubt on a day trip from Málaga capital, we began at the Alameda del Tajo. Rising out of the mountains, the surrounding countryside alternates greens and blues, yellow sunflower fields and stark grain groves.

Ronda countryside

puente nuevo ronda

The Bridge in Ronda

views of the countryside Ronda

Rumor has it that Nationalist sympathizers were thrown to their deaths off of the sides of the bridge, falling 120 meters into the rocky canyon. Laura and I had a coffee after lunch at a nearby café, and as I told her the legend, her eyes grew wide and she backed her chair a little further away from the edge.

But, man, what a view on the way down.

After years of friendship – we’ve known each other since age 14! – Laura and I strolled the Casco Antiguo, catching up on her new job, her upcoming travels and my wedding plans. In a place as old as Ronda with an old friend, everything felt new as I sought to explore Andalucía a bit more.

Ronda Old Town

walking around Ronda

My MUST-dos in Ronda

See: The old part of town is fairly walkable – it’s paved with cobblestones but mostly flat. Be sure to take in the famous bridge, the outside of bullring and the churches and plazas on the east side of the Puente Viejo.

Chow: Food in the Serranía de Málaga is pretty much what you’d expect: hearty meats, stews and plenty of vegetables. We had lunch somewhere on Calle Jerez at a small bar that smelled good, though the roadside ventas are never a bad idea if you’re looking for solid price-quality eats. You can find them on the way in and out of town.

Sip: Have a coffee or drink at the Parador, housed in the old town hall and teetering on the edge of the gorge. It will cost you, but the views of the Puente Nuevo are worth the mark up.

Skip: The old Arabic baths (particularly if you’re going elsewhere in Andalucía) and the bull ring. While gorgeous and the first to stage modern bullfights, the visit isn’t worth the 7€ price tag – spend that money on another beer at the Parador instead!

Have you ever been to Ronda or the Pueblos Blancos? Have car, will travel with my foreign travel slump!

The World’s Most Dangerous Footpath: Walking the Caminito del Rey

The wind whipped by me as the park attendant handed me back my camera, dislodging my lens cap. As if in slow motion, I imagined it careening down the gorge and ending up passing through the hydroelectric plant to the south. 

Instead, it landed in the cracks between the newly placed wooden planks that made up the boardwalk. I breathed a sigh of relief.

“That was close,” the monitor said, stooping to retrieve it. “It’s 110 meters to the bottom.”

El Caminito

Even though planning my wedding and buying a house has left me pretty grounded, I prescribe to the “Have car, will explore” philosophy. When I heard about El Caminito del Rey, buried deep in the Málaga province, I wanted to plan a visit to what’s been known as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.

Originally inaugurated over a century ago, this one-meter wide walkway became infamous internationally when five climbers fell to their deaths between 1999 and 2000. A decade passed before the Junta de Andalucía and the Diputación de Málaga agreed to saddle the costs of repairing the footpath that was christened with its present name after King Alfonso XIII traversed the one-meter wide trail when inaugurating the dam.

The Caminito fell into disrepair due to its hastily constructed path of concrete and sand, rendering it extremely risky to anyone who had the gall to pass it. I’ve seen images of climbers scaling rock faces, teetering over rusted metal rails and even perched on the edge of the balcones.

But by the time I was ready to try, the path was scheduled for a huge face lift.

 

Entering El Chorro from Ardales, the one-lane path climbed steeper and turns became tighter. Almost at once, my car was plunging into a valley of pine trees and slate a I watched the kilometer signs tick closer and closer to zero.

Then I got caught behind an interurban bus, a true sign that the Caminito del Rey is now accessible to anyone who can walk and not give in to vertigo.

A view of the Desfiladero de Gaitanes

I rounded the bend after the Virgen del Valverde hermitage, and my car spit me out onto a wider paved road. I immediately saw the small crack in the cliff that made up el Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, the old rickety pathway just beneath a more linear, safer replacement and the famous bridge between the two rock faces.

My GPS had long stopped giving me precise location updates, so I found a place to park near the visitor’s cabin nearly 90 minutes before my assigned entrance time at 2pm. 

protective headgear for the Caminito del Rey

Safety precautions have made El Chorro’s big draw a bit lackluster. Rockslides, jumpers, wind and other natural elements have been controlled, experienced climbers hired as monitors and protective helmets purchased for every hiker. If not for the thrill, go for the views.

Hiking to the Caminito del Rey

I wobbled a bit on the stairs that led to a 200-foot stretch of wooden pathway, stepping awkwardly as I tested out my nerves. The same wind that nearly blew an umbrella into me at the bar an hour earlier had picked up. My steps down became sideways to put as much ground under me as possible.

I’ve never been afraid of heights as a former gymnast, so I had no images of falling to my death when I entered the tramo of walkways just past the control cabin – I was more afraid of dropping my ID card or cell phone after taking panoramic shots of the gorge and damn below.

Crossing the Caminito del Rey

German, French and Spanish tourists clogged the beginning of the trail, as many were returning the same way they’d come (and hugging the rocks, making it easy to pass by them). Because the path is linear, hikers now have the choice of entering from the north or south, and of returning by bus or on foot, crossing the desafiladero once more.

As if a death by fire rather than rocks were necessary, the first big moment from the south entrance is crossing the suspended bridge. Spanning the gorge, it’s the most exposed you’ll be to the elements on the whole trek.

Hanging Bridge in Malaga

Posing for a photo on the Caminito

Many parts of the old path have been left as a reminder of the origins of the route – I was either walking directly over it or just above it. In fact, when the Caminito was provisionally closed in 2000, the local government actually demolished the beginning stages to discourage climbers. This only made the leyenda negra grow and attract daredevils from around the globe.

the Old Pathway of the Caminito del Ret

the pasarelas of the Caminito

Pathways between the mountains on the Caminito del Rey

puente del rey

The Caminito is extremely tame since the reopening. At no moment did I feel like I was going to blow off the side of the gorge or lean too far over the railings. I wasn’t terribly disappointed – the day was sunny and temperate, the views of the Valle del Hoyo and the Pantano were as jaw dropping as the gorge itself, and I, for once, wasn’t attached to my computer.

Malaga Caminito del Rey

Hiking in Spain on the Caminito

Traversar el Caminito del Rey
When is the Caminito open? Do I need reservations? 

The Caminito del Rey is open every day but Monday, weather permitting. You MUST have a reservation to enter, as only 50 visitors are allowed every half an hour. I snagged a free entrance through the website a few weeks before the reopening.

What should I bring? Are there restaurants on the Caminito?

are there restaurants near the caminito del rey

Be sure to bring sunscreen, water and sturdy shoes. You’ll also need your entrance ticket and ID card or passport. There are no facilities along the trail – not even garbage cans – so you should use the bathroom and pack any food or water you might want to consume.

How can I get to El Chorro?

El Chorro is a neighborhood of Álora, located just up the hill from the visitor’s center. There are various ways to get there by car, but often on poorly serviced highways. From Seville, I took the A-92 towards Granada, turned south at Osuna and headed to Teba, turning off at Ardales and onto the MA-4503. The whole trip took just over two hours.

access point of the caminito del rey

From Seville, the Media Distancia train towards Málaga will also leave you in a train stop marked ‘El Chorro,’ and vice-versa. Schedule here. Due to road closures along the MA-5403, the train trip is probably preferred in summer 2015 – it will take the same amount of time and cost you the same amount of money from Seville as a car will.

How long is the Caminito, and how long should I plan to be in El Chorro?

The most famous part of the Caminito is, without a doubt, the walkways. Now equipped to support up to 50 people at a time and featuring handrails, the walkways, called pasarelas, constitute about three kilometers one-way.  

Valle de los Hoyos Málaga

There’s a 1.6 kilometer trek uphill to the official entrance point of the walkways from the southern access at El Chorro, another 2 or so in the Valle del Hoyo between them, plus 2.7 to the northern entrance point in Ardales. Round-trip is close to 14 kilometers round-trip, so plan on 4-5 hours. If you don’t want to walk back, you can grab a bus once an hour, whose schedule is here.

More information is available on the Caminito website.

Looking for more outdoor activities in Southern Spain? Check out my articles on the Vía Ferrata, the Minas de Riotinto and the Via Verde.

Climbing the Via Ferrata of Archidona

Something hard hit my boob. I watched a rock about the size of a plum careen down the grassy knoll before rolling to a stop. I squinted up at the rock face. There was a lot of mountain to go, and it had already beaten me up.

The via ferrata is the Italian name given to the iron railings the Italian army used in WWI to scale the Alps and the Dolomites, which may have existed a century or two before. The peñón of Archidona is certainly not the Alps, but as a first time climber, my legs were shaking before I had even strapped my kit to the long wires extending more than 140 meters vertically.

Franci explained the procedure to us once more –  to use the mountains, take off one carabiner at a time and don’t panic. I watched Meg Spiderman crawl over the first half a dozen before I took a deep breath and pushed off the ground, grasping the iron peg above my head.

Reaching the top a few hours later (there were periods of waiting for slower climbers or turns to cross the bridge that spanned a canyon) was a tad anti-climactic because my legs were tired and I’d already seen this view of the town below and the mountains that enclose it. My hands were red and raw and I could feel my nose burning under the hot sun.

We started down the mountain – this time walking – and snaked back around to the cars.

Facing things that make me nervous gives me just as much satisfaction as a really good meal and a glass of wine. Yeah, I like being outdoors and trying new things, but I’m not an adrenaline junkie. That said, I’d consider doing other activities that Ocioaventura offers, like spelunking or rafting. Anything that allows me to keep my two feet on the ground!

Ocioaventura offers a half-day Via Ferrata pack, which includes equipment rental, insurance and a basic training course, plus the climb, for 45€. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes, put on sunscreen and eat beforehand. You’re able to carry a small backpack for water. The course in Archidona is for beginners and can be climbed in 2-3 hours.

And if you’re looking for a place to stay, be sure to check availability at Almohalla 51, a beautiful boutique hotel that will only require a quick uphill trek from the main square.

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