If you are involved in a conversation about Spain, you might end up discussing about the dichotomy Barcelona - Madrid, but if you drive Southbound, a harsh, magic land whisks you away, wraps you in its variegated colors and gets you drunk on life and sangria. Covered by its historic blue sky, bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, Andalusia unifies tradition and movida and attracts every kind of traveler. The trip from Costa del Sol to the arabesque paradise of Cordoba is a short drive that skirts villages rich of history and life that makes you feel like stopping anywhere before accelerating again to travel endlessly. Drawing up an Andalusian travel itinerary is a compromise between availability and the inability to discard places that deserve to be experienced. After having admired the majesty of Granada and experienced the Malaguena nightlife, I’ve chosen Cordoba, Seville and Tarifa as the only stakes of a trip to spend freely.
The heat that burns your body when thou get off a plane just landed somewhere South is an indescribable feeling of pleasure, a catharsis for those who live in rainy region of the world. This is a moment that I have always associated with two places, my Puglia and Spain. Day 1 ,We land in Malaga where the smell of summer welcomes us. We have already visited the city of Picasso on several occasions and we are not going to stop here again. We rent a Volkswagen Polo and after a detour in Torremolinos we hit the the road towards Cordoba .We drive the first 50 KM at the stratospheric speed of 40 km/H due to a dreadful traffic jam. But then, while the wheels start to spin faster, we penetrate the heart of Andalusia, observed by a sky that gradually displays all the shades that turn blue into orange.
We arrive in Cordoba at 11 pm. We overnight at the “Eurostars Patio de Cordoba”, a very comfortable hotel that summarizes the splendor of the city, a melting pot of Roman, Arab and Jewish cultures. The center of Cordoba looks like a marvelous stage where everyday life is constantly witnessed by the majestic architecture that makes the city a timeless pearl.
The temperature in the early morning is still mild. We take the Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir as the starting point of our “pilgrimage” and hour after hour, sweat drop after sweat drop we visit the Alcazar, the Mezquita, the narrow streets of the Juderia, the Synagogue, the palace of Mercy , the Malmuerta Tower, the Calahorra Tower, we take refuge under the patios of the buildings, we stop every now and then to drink fresh “claras” and we admire tourists mingling with the locals.
There is an importanti rule to follow: “When in Cordoba eat as Cordobenses eat”. So we start the morning with a tostada and a fresh orange juice, while around noon, when the sun is a fiery ball in the sky, we taste a refreshing salmorejo, a cold soup made ith tomato, garlic , hard bread, olive oil and vinegar .
Before leaving Cordoba we decide to experience its flamenco nights. The city of Joaquim Cortes is full of characteristics restaurants and tapas bar and one of the most popular ones is the restaurant Patio de la Juderia, located in Conde y Luque 6, in the heart of the barrio Juderia. This place gratifies everybody’s senses with the flavor of local dishes and the rhythm of passionate Flamenco shows.
After 140 Km on the road we reach Seville, the heart of Andalusia, known for the mystical Semana Santa, the Feria de Abril and the vibrant Sevillanas. Driving across the narrow streets of the old town, when the GPS signal abandons you, can be a tough business. However after a couple of U-turns we reach the hotel Las Casas de los Mercaderes, in the Casco Antiguo. Seville is a huge city and it is almost impossible to visit it in less than two days. Therefore, we decide to get lost in its streets before visiting the most famous landmarks. Starting from Plaza de Santa Marta we wander around the area dominated by the Giralda, then we head towards the Golden Tower, before visiting Santa Maria Luisa Park to contemplate one of the most amazing examples of Neo-Moorish architecture: Plaza de España. It is useless to describe the glory of this place, you have to experience it, you have to feel like a Lilliputian in this 50,000 square meter square that represents the embrace of Spain and the Gualdalquivir River symbolizes the path to America.
These are the World Cup nights, the night of Germany - Brazil 7-1 and after a tiring day we decide to spend the night in a restaurant in front of the Giralda to gorge ourselves on tortilla camarones and paella .
The second day in Seville is characterized by a scorching sun and a desperate desire to see as much as possible.
The streets of Seville can be very chaotic , but renting a bike can be a smart and time-saving option. A 6 hour bike ride guarantees the possibility to visit the Cathedral, Reales Alcazares, Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes, plaza Triunfo, Triana, the Real Fabrica de Tabacos, the Maestranza bullring, Casa de Pilatos, Barrio de Santa Cruz and the Metropol Parasol de la Encarnacion.
Time in Seville flies away and when we leave the city, we are already in love with its beauty, with its hospitality, and we are aware that this place we will stay in our heart for a long while as its motto NO8DO celebrates… " No me has dejado “
We spend few hours in Cadiz. We want to visit this city before heading south, towards Tarifa. It takes a minute to be fascinated by the contrasts of this city, the white that challenges the deep blue sea, the golden dome of the cathedral that seems to become a small sun on Earth. In Cadiz you need to walk slowly, so we follow its relaxed pace, we walk all the way to San Sebastian castle, then we stop by Playa Caleta, not far from Santa Catalina. The beach at the doorsteps of the old town, is a unique splendor, a long strip of land that joins the ocean and the walls of one of the oldest cities of the Western Mediterranean. The foam of the waves makes the view impressive , it makes me think of La Havana, it makes me feel like staying.
Zahara de los Atunes
Between Cadiz and Tarifa, there is a small village belonging to the municipality of Barbate, a place not well known abroad, but well known to Spanish vacationers, Zahara de los Atunes. The ancient village has unaltered its original configuration, although numerous restaurants and new beach bars characterize its modern profile. A friend recommended Zahara for three reasons: the tuna steaks , the craft markets and concerts along the beach that attract many tourists and hippies. In Zahara we decide to visit some stalls, we drink another clara, we taste a delicious steak of Atun Rojo de Almabrada, we march barefoot on the fine white sand of the beach to watch a beautiful sunset. The magic of the moment is then enhanced by the vital rhythms of of a Hispano-Brazilian tribal band.
The road that connects Zahara de Los Atunes and Tarifa is twisty and challenging. In one hour we reach La Meson de Sancho, a rural hotel located along the Carretera 340, between Tarifa and Algeciras. The rural house is a magnificent place to relax, a perfect pearl to enjoy the surrounding nature and the white beaches of Tarifa. Our room is the icing on the cake of a trip beyond perfection since our balcony is a sort of privileged terrace overlooking the Bay of Tangier.
Tarifa is a place that Gloria Anzaldua would label as Borderland/ La Frontera: a union, a border. Tarifa is the meeting point between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, it is the European window on Morocco, a place where you can feel the touch of two cultures so close and so far away. We spend the day on the beach of Valdevaqueros, before plunging into the amazing Noche Blanca Tarifa, blessed with music, flavors and midsummer sensations.
Gibraltar, one of the ancient Pillars of Hercules, a tiny strip of land, a British Ovearseas territory, is just an hour’s drive from Tarifa. On the way to Gibraltar I sing Clandestino by Manu Chao and I think that we are going to visit an area so important from a political point of view, only to honor the presence of the only semi-wild monkeys in Europe, the lovely Barbary apes. La Linea Concepcion, the last part of Spain before the border is a weird place. It is abhorrent to show my passport before going to the "other side " where people speak English, where the inscriptions are in English, where bars become pubs.
As soon as we pass the border, we observe the unmistakable profile of the calcareous Rock and we decide to abandon the carousel of tourists/locals who flock along the Spanish streets tainted by British sounds. We aim at reaching the reserve to meet the Barbary apes . The view would be stunning if it we could wipe out the terrible port of Algeciras, the residential buildings and the runway of the airport that you can practically walk across.
The Barbary apes wait for us, perched on the railings of the reserve. Their facial expression is attentive and melancholy. You have the feeling they are contemplating the horizon to sight the land from where they were deported centuries before. The semi-wild, semi-free monkeys have always been the true symbol of the place and according to a popular belief the UK will retain control of Gibraltar as long as the monkeys reside in the reserve.
The trip On the Road is about to end. We leave Gibraltar, we leave Tarifa leave and we reach Malaga to spend the last Spanish night. We leave the car at the station Maria Zambrano, we leave our bags at the hostel La Casa Mata Central and we surrender to the residues of this magic holiday. It’s the night of the World Cup final, It’s the night of Argentina- Germany and while we eat the last tapas at my favorite bar Pepe y Pepe, we support the Albiceleste, but our dreams crash on Mario Goetze’s goal that gives the cup to the Germans and marks the end of our holidays .
A million of feelings, sensations and instants have made hese days unforgettable, and they remind me that this elusive life is made of small moments like these.