Early in 2005, my old schoolfriend Taz and I started talking about returning to Spain. He was deep into learning the Castilian language to an impressively high standard, and wanted to try out his newfound linguistic skills on the natives. While my own knowledge of Spanish was still pretty limited, I was hugely keen to explore the Moorish history of the Iberian peninsula.
So we hatched a plan to take a ten day tour of the Andalusia region. Taz, with his superior knowledge of the language and local culture, would take care of the logistics. And me, being the one with a European car licence, would hire us a cheap hatchback and do all the driving. It was also a great opportunity to get myself one of these newfangled digital compact cameras that were becoming all the rage… it’s just a shame I forgot to turn off the datestamp function (as you’ll see below)!
Our journey began with breakfast at a Lebanese restaurant near our home in Chiswick, followed by a loooong tube ride to Heathrow. Unfortunately, as we were still men of modest means, we had to make the trip over there with Ryanair.
Our plan was to fly into Málaga and use that as our base to explore the wider region. Many British visitors flying into the city see it as nothing more than a cheap gateway to the Costas. However, being students of the region’s history and culture, we knew there was a hell of a lot more to the city and made the most of our time there.
As well as plenty of serene green spaces and the beautiful beaches, Málaga is also home to numerous museums that are well worth a visit. During our short stint in the town, we didn’t have time for any of those cultural delights. The best we could manage was brief trips to the Teatro Romano (Roman Theatre) and the Alcazaba – a 900+ year old Moorish fort built on the instruction of a Berber King.
Our next stop on the tour involved driving up to the mountaintop city of Ronda, which sits above the El Tajo gorge. It’s definitely one of my most favourite places in the world to visit and I was delighted to discover it was once home to legendary filmmaker Orson Welles. It’s also home to one of the most famous bullfighting rings in the world, which I did visit despite being firmly opposed to the barbaric bloodsport to which it plays host.
Also, despite Taz’s objections, I insisted we spend at least one evening having dinner at the local Indian restaurant, Punjab2, as I was amused by the idea of eating curry in the Andalusian mountains. Subsequently, it’s become a personal tradition for me to try and visit a local desi restaurant no matter where I end up in the world. Thanks to the entrepreneurial diaspora, I’ve yet to fail in that mission!
After a couple of days exploring Ronda – and we’d come back again later in the tour – it was time to make the scary journey down the mountain – driving an unfamiliar car right next to a drop several hundred metres down to certain death. Luckily, we arrived at our next destination, a hotel in Granada, not too long after dark – although finding the place was an adventure in itself!
To me it was all worth it though, because this city and it’s historic delights were the very reason I’d wanted to visit Andalusia. Having the opportunity to see in person the glory of Islamic Iberia, well certainly I wasn’t disappointed.
Entrance to the Alhambra is very strictly ticketed and timed, and we couldn’t get access first thing in the morning. But we started out early and made the most of that free time to see as much of the city itself that we could, both before and after our Alhambra visit.
The entire city is truly beautiful, but the Alhambra complex is perhaps the most stunning architectural marvel I’ve ever seen. I just wish my camera and my photography skills could have done it justice… (#SpoilerAlert They didn’t.)
For part 2 click here