El Rocío, the unique sand town





El Rocío just might be the most peculiar town in all of Spain. El Rocío is located in Andalucía, in the countryside of Almonte, in the Huelva Province. The town is also close to the Parque Nacional de Doñana, a significant national park where you can spot for example bobcats and flamingos. El Rocío’s surprise element is that its streets are completely covered with sand. The town exudes vibes of both a desert town and a classic western. You’ll find horse wagons, the poles for the horse rein, empty verandas, closed window shutters and dozens of swallows sprinting across the clear blue sky. And even a big thin dog passing by sluggishly. The dog almost looked like a prop of the town, playing a designed role in a movie-like scene.

But El Rocío is far from a deserted town. On our daytrip there we saw other fellow travellers, but the true boom takes place every Pentecost, Whitsunday. It is then, when the numerous pilgrims (hundreds of thousands of people!) doing the Romería de El Rocío gather in the town. The procession is done in honour of the Virgin of El Rocio.

In El Rocío there are the properties of more than one hundred brotherhoods (hermandades), whose members take part in the pilgrimage – many by foot, on horseback or in a horse-drawn cart. They begin their journeys from their headquarters, for example in Seville and Cadiz. This religious festival and feria draws people from all around Spain and the pilgrims are dressed in traditional Andalusian costumes, which means gorgeous flamenco dresses for the women. This festivity with the singing and dancing and dining around bonfires in the night time sounds both lively and interesting.

El Rocío is a fascinating day trip destination if you are roadtrippin in Andalucía. A strong recommendation. And remember to take your binoculars with you, if you are heading to the natural park afterwards for some fascinating (and rewarding) bird watching!




Spectacular Ronda



Ronda is definitely one of those places where you first take 300 photos, decide now I have plenty of snapshots and then very soon realize that you absolutely need to take 300 more because a) the light changed just a little bit and everything looks purely incredible in this new lighting, b) this must be one of the top ten most photogenic places I’ve ever been to and c) when everyone else is photographing constantly it is slightly difficult to not to do so yourself.

Ronda is a beautiful small city in the province of Málaga in Southern Spain, around 100 kilometres west of Málaga. I’ll share my dos and don’ts to this gorgeous city situated on the top of El Tajo gorge.

Well actually there’s just one don’t: don’t be afraid to visit the city. Beforehand I was wondering whether Ronda is difficult to reach and if the roads leading up there are narrow zigzag serpentine mountain roads, but nope. There were bends and curves along the way but mostly it was a pleasant ride in a peaceful countryside setting with glimpses of sheep and goats pasturing on the fields near by. Ronda is accessible via highways for example from Córdoba, Málaga and Seville.

And then to the dos. First and foremost, the Puente Nuevo, a bridge which separates the old town and the modern city centre. Far far below in the gorge flows the Río Guadalevín. The view is incredible, dramatic and dazzling. For another excellent view point you can descend to the bottom of the gorge via the rock stairs on the side of the old town and you’ll reach the Camino de los Molinos and several great photo spots.



The deep ravine, the city located on its edge, the sweet sunshine in late December, the vineyards on the hills around the city and the mountains far away: an excellent day trip destination.



I would also recommend you visit the Casa del Rey Moro. There you’ll find La Mina, a tunnel and an Islamic staircase with more than three hundred stone steps which lead down to the river below. Be careful, some of the steps are wet and slippery. The descent is both a bit exciting and totally worth it, because once down there you can see the reflection of the city above in the surface of the water.



After the stair climbing (rather than before) you can enjoy this wine with a view tip: the terrace, bar & restaurant El Morabito (Plaza Maria Auxiliadora 4), located on the backyard of an old palace. As a bonus we spotted this tower-like special place with one table and chairs and decided to enjoy the vista and some local grape products up there.




The Plaza deToros, close to the Puente Nuevo, is one of Ronda’s top sights, but we didn’t visit it. Bullfighting in its modern form is considered to be invented in Ronda. The bullring is the largest and hence most dangerous bullfighting ring in all of Spain. Bullfighting is a divisive issue and you can decide for yourself whether you want to visit the venue or not.

What is for sure is that Ronda will rock you to the core. Promise.

Christmas Vibes under the Andalucían Sun



One of the best things on our Christmas holiday in the South of Spain? Light. Light. Light. Sunlight. Sunrays. After a long period of moist darkness in Finland, my every cell was yearning for solar energy. And that’s exactly what we got. Plus, a bunch of unforgettable experiences.

We spent the yuletide in Andalucía. We flew to Malaga and spent the first half of our vacation at Costa del Sol and did day trips to Marbella, Malaga and Ronda. The second half we spent in historic Córdoba, the city with the mesmerizing Mezquita mosque. It has become almost a tradition for us to spend Christmas abroad. Not to escape Xmas, but rather to make the most of the holiday season and to spice it with a bit of adventure. We’ve had Christmas treats made from various internal organs in Guangzhou, hiked to a mountain with the giant bronze Buddha statue in Hong Kong and bathed in sunlight in Lisbon while enjoying the rich pasteis de nata pastries. And now South of Spain.

Must admit, I was just a little bit doubtful whether the easy and comfortable Costa del Sol life was for me, with the all-day British breakfasts and generous cocktail offers. But what really made me fall for multi-layered Andalucía was the incredible versatility.

Here are some of the memories that are most vivid in my mind right now: Having delicious white fish for lunch in a chiringuito on the beach in December, wearing summery clothing (!). By the way, one popular local treat is a sardine espeto (skewer), warm and fresh straight from the grill.

Torremolinos

Patio de los Naranjos, the Mezquita, Córdoba

Taking countless pictures of tall palm trees (the new Christmas tree) and of orange trees which were ubiquitous. And listening to the mighty waves hit the shore on the beach promenade in Torremolinos when heading back from dinner.

Mercado Central Atarazanas, Malaga

Doing an evening stroll in Puerto Banus in Marbella, the Monaco of Southern Spain, admiring the big boats and yachts and marvelling at the imaginative and everything-but-affordable costumes the small dogs were dressed in.

Port in Benalmadena

The beautiful city of gorges, Ronda

Sipping delicious warm mint tea in an atmospheric tetería in Córdoba. And admiring the many atmospheric patios and inner courtyards of the city, with fountains, decorated balconies, the blooming poinsettia and cobblestoned floorings. For patio-afecionados like myself, in early May in Córdoba there is a festival Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba: in this “best patio” competition many of the beautiful patios are opened for the public and flamenco is played on various plazas around the city. By the way, Córdoba is among those cities in Spain in which I could happily see myself living, in addition to Bilbao, Oviedo and Madrid, without forgetting the little cava village Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

The exterior of the Mezquita, Córdoba


Back to Andalucía recollections. The food, the tapas, the wine and the dry sherry. The grilled chicken we got for lunch from the chicken kiosk Asador, El pollo dorado in Benalmadena Pueblo. The rich salmorejo (a puree made of tomatoes and bread), the oxtail, the morcilla black sausage and the various delicious treats of the sea, from navajas to different tasty types of white fish. Interestingly, we found many counterparts from the Spanish cuisine to traditional Finnish Christmas foods: Jamón ibérico for those who want to have their Christmas pork, arroz con leche – a sweet rice pudding (in Finland we have porridge), enjoyed cold. And Pedro Ximénez, a sweet and dark desert wine, a bit like the remote cousin of the Finnish rusinasoppa, raisin soup, which we enjoy with the rice porridge.


We got to see a lot, but so much remains to be explored: the Alhambra palace area in Granada with its vibes from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, discovering Sevilla more thoroughly and perhaps a skiing holiday at the peaks of Sierra Nevada. Maybe next Xmas. Hasta la próxima.