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Report 856: The Romance of Moorish Spain

By janie and geoff from Canada, Fall 2004

Trip Description: May 2004 - After reading “Tales of the Alhambra” by Washington Irving, I fell in love with the romance of Moorish Spain. If you love history, architecture, the strong flavours of the Mediterranean and fabulous sherry, Andalusia is a must and will not disappoint.

Destinations: Countries - Spain; Regions/Cities - Andalusia

Categories: Hostel; Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 3-4 people

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Page 1 of 13: Malaga ... and Jet Lag

photo by Geoff Chambers

View of Malaga from the Alcazaba


Geoff and I landed at Malaga International Airport, the busiest in the south of Spain, and picked up our rental car at Hertz (thank you American Express points!). Our plan was to use the condo only for sleeping, showering, and breakfast and to spend the rest of the time touring. The time share membership made the condo so cheap that we could afford to book a few hotel nights away in Seville and Granada, because we wanted ample time to tour those cities. We knew that Andalucia had such a wealth and density of historical sites that we could see a lot just with day trips. That and the fact that highways there have speed limits that would be illegal on this side of the Atlantic, so distances are smaller.

We had some forewarning about the Costa del Sol as we headed west on the N340 towards Malaga. Something about the place being overrun with Brits and Germans. I’m not sure about the Germans, but every other billboard for real estate, golf and furniture stores was in English. We found out later that the local English language radio station has an audience of around a million people. There was much that was tacky about the resort developments, but the Mediterranean was as blue as the promotional brochures and somehow those Spanish-style condos don’t look as bad in Spain as they would in Vancouver. Whitewashed walls, terra cotta roof tiles, bougainvillea and palm trees really do work in that kind of environment.

The Club Marbella resort is in Calahonda, one of many towns that are really just tourist developments. As we got off the highway, the place fulfilled all my worst nightmares and at the same time, it was so funny you just had to accept it as part of the reality of the Costa del Sol. There were restaurants lining the street, fish and chip stores with Union Jacks, English style pubs, Plumley’s Tea Rooms, cheap Chinese, Italian and Indian restaurants (“You’ve tried the cowboys, now try the Indians!”), burger and pizza joints. It was like the East End of London, only with better weather and palm trees.

Fortunately our condo was just perfect, and all the plumbing worked. We had a very large and shady balcony to make up for the tiny living room/dining room area, and a very well-organized kitchen. There was no dishwasher, but the cupboard over the sink was fitted with racks rather than shelves, so that you could put wet plates in there to drip dry down into the sink. Very practical. It’s these little differences and ideas that I love about travel.

We then went to the local super-mercado to buy fruit, water and breakfast foods and there Geoff found that beer was cheaper than some bottled waters. No wonder all those sunburnt Brits think that Spain is paradise, what with the sunny climate, cheap beer and working plumbing.

As the sun hovered down the horizon, we decided to drive into Marbella, which was closer than Malaga to find a place for dinner. Somehow the thought of English food on our first night didn’t seem appropriate. We followed our noses into Marbella and explored a bit by car. We ended up in a residential street a few blocks away from the center of the city and had dinner in one of the many neighbourhood restaurants. It was obviously patronized by regulars because the owner greeted each of the groups by name and with many kisses. We entered at around 9 pm and left more than an hour later, and people were still just strolling in.

There on green and white checked tablecloths under a wall hung with beautiful rustic plates, we had our first taste of the intensely flavoured cuisine of Andalusia. We started out with some fino sherry, lovely and mellow. A small dish of olives and bread appeared. Andalusia is the world’s leading producer of olive oil, and the olives were small and green with a satisfying meaty kind of flavour. The mixed salad came with chunks of tuna, grilled peppers and whole anchovies. Geoff’s aubergine in béchamel sauce was extremely rich and so was my red pepper stuffed with mixed seafood. All in all, perfect when accompanied by the bread. At the end of the meal, the waiter gave us shot glasses of some unidentifiable liqueur, a digestif on the house. I couldn’t understand what it was made of, but the word started with a ‘B’ and the waiter rolled his thumb and forefinger to show that is was a small, round fruit. By now we were like zombies from jet lag, and went back to the condo to collapse.

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