Spain, Ireland, Gibraltar · 111 Days · 47 Moments · December 2017

Wintering in Spain


5 April 2018

Our last day in Nerja! We will miss it, but we are looking forward to seeing everyone back home.

1 April 2018

The final Holy Week procession began at noon on Easter. Knowing how long the other processions were, we went to lunch at our friends place at noon, had a leisurely meal, and then walked 25 minutes into town. Our timing was perfect as the procession was on the final street before entering the church. The Spanish usually eat their midday meal on Sunday around 3:00 so that is probably why this one moved a little more quickly. The mood was much more festive with participants decked out in red and white. At the plaza in front of the church, the procession halted. The throne (float) carriers moved their heavy loads from their shoulders to their upraised arms as cheers and responses were shouted. Each throne was then marched triumphantly into the church as bands played and church bells tolled.

30 March 2018

The Good Friday procession was very somber. Most of the participants wore black, and the spectators were very quiet. The statues carried on the thrones were those of the burial of Jesus and sorrowful Mary. It was very moving.

29 March 2018

The Holy Thursday procession was very somber. It was also scheduled to begin later - at 9:00 - but as we have learned to expect in Spain, it was closer to 10:00 by the time it started up the first street. Like other Holy Week processions, it had two thrones (floats) with Jesus and Mary. Periodically the procession stops so the throne-bearers can rest. At one of the stops, there was singing. An older woman sang a mournful tune in the traditional flamenco style, and the marchers sang the next one as they began moving up the street. The throne bearers walk in a side-to-side motion so the throne seems to dance above the crowd. It was after 12:30 when we headed home, but the procession still was not nearing the end. Bars and restaurants were still full with families, many with young children.

28 March 2018

Spaniards love a celebration, and it is evident in Holy Week with religious processions on most nights. The processions are organized by different brotherhoods who wear the traditional robes and pointed hats that resemble the garb of the Ku Klux Klan. The Wednesday evening event featured a children’s and a women’s parade through the old section of Nerja accompanied by bands with young and old members. There were two floats (“tronos” or thrones) adorned with silver, candles, and flowers with statues of Jesus and Mary on top. These thrones are carried on the shoulders of the marchers, and they can weigh several tons. There were 144 women carrying the throne of Mary. In Malaga where the streets are larger, the biggest throne has 250 people carrying it. There are three teams that switch off on the parade route so each team can rest before taking up the heavy weight again.

26 March 2018

Andalucia has such varied landscapes within an easy drive of our Nerja apartment. Mark had the pleasure of chauffeuring me and our friends Linda and Petter to see the unusual rock formations at the Torcal de Antequera Nature Reserve in the mountains north of Malaga. The area was once a seabed that later was forced upwards into hills and mountains. Over time, the limestone was eroded by wind and water, resulting in strange karst formations. Some look like rocks piled on top of each other, and they occasionally take the shape of animals. The trail wound round and through the rocks, sometimes with views down to the Mediterranean. A section even looked like a stack of pancakes!

23 March 2018

The Caminito del Rey was formerly known as “the world’s most dangerous pathway.” Originally constructed in the early 1900s for workers at hydroelectric power plants at each end of the El Chorro gorge, the pathway clings to a cliff face over 300 feet in the air. Over the years it fell into disrepair but still attracted rock climbers and other thrill seekers. After several deaths in the early 2000s, it was closed and then reconstructed with safety in mind. We were eager to try this unique experience. The walk is about 5.5 miles long, with some sections on high walkways and others on paths through the valley with griffin vultures circling overhead. The improvements made the path safe yet retained the thrill. The trail began at a reservoir formed by the dam. It’s a beautiful area! (Continued below)
On our visit to the Caminito del Rey, the weather started out sunny but later became overcast and windy. One of the final walkways was closed for safety so we detoured through a tunnel. To reach the end, we still needed to cross a suspension bridge over the gorge and then walk along the opposite cliff face. Our guide told us the bridge could be very dangerous so make sure our hard hats were secure (protection from falling stones) and to cross quickly. I had to hold onto my hat because it felt like the wind could rip it off. We safely made it to the other side and continued along the walkway to the end. It was an incredible experience!x

20 March 2018

On are way back from a coastal walk we stopped for some touristy pictures with the Nerja sign!

19 March 2018

Just east of Nerja is the natural park - Cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo. The weather was warm and sunny so it seemed like a good idea to try a walk to the old Moorish watchtower in the park. The trail began at the same elevation as the coastal road, and the tower was far below us. The rocky path, however, went straight up to the top of a hill before descending towards the sea. As we reached the crest, the winds became very strong, and actually knocked me on my butt as I was scrambling over a rock. Maybe hiking cliffs wasn’t a great idea in the windy conditions! I took the last picture of Mark’s beloved hat before it blew off his head into the sky and then was lost, probably into the Mediterranean. Mark created a panoramic picture that has a strange picture of me at the end at http://m.360.io/PBQ7d3

14 March 2018

We drove to Granada to meet up with my brother Jeff, sister-in-law Tampa, nephew Mike, and his partner Doug who were on a weeklong trip to Spain. We joined them for a private tour of the beautiful Alhambra. That evening we had dinner at a restaurant on an adjacent hill with stunning views of the illuminated Alhambra, and then went to a flamenco show in a cave house in the gypsy area of Sacromonte. We spent the night in the parador hotel within the Alhambra complex. The hotel originated as a 16th century monastery built on the orders of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella on the site of a Nasrid Palace, and it still retains much of its historic charm. The following day we all toured the incredible cathedral of Granada and the Royal Chapel where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried. It was a lot of fun to experience Granada with family we see so infrequently back home.

12 March 2018

The pretty village of Moclinejo is known as the Puerta de la Ruta de la Pasa ("Gateway to the Raisin Road") and is the first of the white villages on the route famed for its raisins and sweet wines. We visited a bodega, learned about the wine-making process, and sampled their wine. The bodega also had a museum with old wine-making implements, the most unusual being a goat skin that was used to store the wine. The village was decorated with colorful mosaics. When we were strolling through the town, a van drove up a street loudly honking its horn. The driver emerged and began yelling. It was a mobile “convenience store” that brought fresh produce and supplies to the isolated village, and some elderly women were eager to make their purchases. The last village we visited on the excursion with the International Club was Benaque, which featured a church with 16th century frescoes that had been converted from a 13th century mosque. Its bell tower was the former minaret.
The International Club organized a trip to the mountain village of Macharaviaya, once nicknamed “Little Madrid” because of its economic importance. It has an interesting connection to the American Revolutionary War. Bernardo Galvez, who was born in the village, was the governor of Spanish Louisiana. He led the Spanish forces battling the British in the war, with victories along the coast, including the battle of Pensacola. The city of Galveston is named after him. Macharaviaya has a big celebration every Fourth of July to commemorate the role one of their citizens had in the fight for American independence. We also visited the neighboring villages of Moclinejo and Benaque. The municipal area, which includes the three villages, has a population of only around 500. Our guide was a British woman who grew up in Macharaviaya after her family moved there when she was 10 so she provided much local color.

9 March 2018

Just west of Nerja is a long sandy beach where we walked in the warm sunshine. A packed sand road separates the beach from small farms that mainly grow fruit trees - avocado, mango, lemon, and orange. We came across some horses who seemed to be waiting for something; they may still be used for agriculture. We found a nice chiringuito (beach restaurant) that was cooking paella over a wood burning fire so of course we had to try it. We really appreciate being able to experience the charm of Spain this winter instead of the cold back home.

5 March 2018

Nerja is home to many stray cats, but they seem to be taken care of well. Most have a notch in one ear that indicates they have been neutered and released. Two of the friendliest ones live on the Balcón de Europa, a wide balcony on a cliff above the sea that is the major attraction in Nerja. The cats calmly sunbathe as flocks of pigeons and tourists mill around them. One afternoon they joined us on a bench as we gazed down the sea coast. Another friendly cat enjoyed some lap time with Mark on the beach. We bought some cat food for a cat that lives in a wooded ravine that runs along the street outside our apartment complex. He usually greets us as we leave or return home. Other neighbors also feed him. It’s wonderful that the people here care so much about their feline friends.

28 February 2018

We drove through the mountains to reach the beautiful city of Granada. The top attractions is the Alhambra, one of the best examples of Moorish architecture. Ferdinand and Isabella’s forces conquered the Moors in 1492 and built a palace on the site. Although the day was overcast, the rain held off until after we finished touring the grounds.

27 February 2018

Our favorite place for a walk is the Torre de Maro, and we took our friends to see it. Occasionally we see other walkers, but on this day we were the only ones. The view down the coast is always amazing.

22 February 2018

Malaga is a vibrant big city that is an easy hour bus ride from Nerja. Many interesting spots throughout Europe seem to involve a climb, and the two main sites we visited were true to that rule. Our first stop was the Malaga cathedral. It was built between 1528 and 1782 on the site of a former mosque. When they ran out of money, the second tower was never completed, hence the nickname La Manquita, loosely interpreted as "one armed woman.” Two hundred winding steps up the existing tower brought us to the rooftop with panoramic views of the city and sea. After lunch and a stop at a Roman amphitheater, we made the lonnng climb up the hill to Castle Gibralfaro, which dates from the 10th century, although today only the ramparts are intact. From them we could see the city, including a bullring and the Pompidou Center, a multicolored cubic building that houses modern art.

21 February 2018

Our friends Carol and Bill are staying with us for a couple weeks so we are showing them some of our favorite places. Frigiliana captivated all of us with its beauty and charm.

16 February 2018

Lost Village of Acebuchal - Nestled in a mountain valley within a natural park is a rural village that was deserted for decades. After Spain’s civil war, guerrillas opposed to Franco hid out in the nearby mountains. Believing that the villagers were aiding the guerrillas, Franco’s forces ordered everyone to leave the village in 1949, and it eventually fell to ruin. It remained deserted until 1998 when a former resident returned and began restoring some houses. Today most of Acebuchal has been rebuilt, and his family runs a restaurant featuring wild game from the area. I enjoyed a lunch of partridge in orange sauce with homemade bread on the outdoor terrace. Delicious! We had to walk a mile on a dirt lane through a pine forest from the end of the winding paved road to reach Acebuchal, but it was worth it.

14 February 2018

With five other members of the International Club I took a bus from Nerja to Frigiliana. After walking through the old town section we began a challenging walk, called The Dragon’ Spine, to the top of a peak named El Fuerta, elevation 963 meters. The walk begins on secondary roads but quickly shifts to rocky paths used for centuries. The walk provides wide views of the Mediterranean Sea, and countryside , including Malaga and beyond. But for the haze today we could have seen the mountains in Morocco. The return trip followed the same route back, lasting five hours total. This is a class 6 walk, the most difficult class the club takes on. Candace passed on the walk and had a nice walk into Nerja for lunch. Mark

11 February 2018

The final day of Carnaval has the ceremonial burial of the sardine - Chanquete’s funeral. It symbolizes the burial of the past, and the rebirth is at Easter. Pall bearers carry a larger than life sardine through the streets followed by mourners dressed in black. The funeral ends as the now skeletal sardine is solemnly carried to the the shore and set ablaze while fireworks shoot overhead.

10 February 2018

The Nerja Carnaval parade was on Saturday. Hundreds of residents made elaborate costumes and paraded through the streets accompanied by festive music.

9 February 2018

Nerja Carnaval The pre-Lent festival was four days of costumes, parades, and parties, and visitors like us enjoyed watching the celebrations before the Lenten deprivations. The first day featured music in the streets and costume contests.

8 February 2018

Flamenco! The international club brought in a a dancer and guitarist to entertain us at a social night.
The tourist office in Frigiliana recommended some hiking routes that began in the high village and wound through the adjacent natural park. We chose one that was described as “easy” with modest elevation changes. We soon learned that the description might not have translated well. Our walk took us up and down mountains on paths that varied from a dry river bed to rocky trails to stretches of wide lanes. Sections were in deep gorges carved by the river, and others were along ridge tops. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and our well deserved lunch back in the town.

5 February 2018

Vélez-Málaga fortress and lunch on the beach (despite the chilly weather)

2 February 2018

Ronda is a picturesque mountain town with a deep gorge that runs through the middle, dividing it in two. Spanning the gorge is the iconic 18th century Puente Nuevo bridge. During the Spanish civil war, prisoners were housed in the bridge and were easily executed by being thrown off. More recently, according to our guide, a tourist met an untimely death when he attempted a selfie from the bridge’s stone railing. Hemingway loved the town, which is also the birthplace of modern bullfighting, and Olson Welles’ ashes were buried here. Statues to both men are in the cliff side park with the iron gazebo.
The town of Sentenil is tucked under an outcropping of rock at the base of a hill northwest of Malaga. It looks like a blob of rock is oozing over the houses, ready to envelop them. We stopped at the village on our way to Ronda on a day trip with the International Club. It was also market day so we got to see local vendors selling their fresh produce, even in winter. It’s colder in the mountains than it is along the coast!

31 January 2018

Gibraltar was the destination of an excursion with the International Club. Most of are fellow travelers were British, and a large number of them joined the trip for shopping at the British shops in the territory. Our goal, however, was the top of the rock to see the view and visit the monkeys (Barbary macaques). The day was overcast and the winds were strong enough that cable car to the top was closed. Instead, we buddied up with friends Madeleine and Phil for a taxi tour. The first stop was St Michael’s cave, which has a beautiful variety of stalactite formations. The area that is now an auditorium was used as a hospital during WW II. A series of different colors were projected on the walls and made for some strange effects.
The next stops on our taxi tour of Gibraltar were the monkey feeding area and the siege tunnels. The taxi driver fed the monkeys peanuts, but occasionally they would jump on us. One seemed to like grooming me because it sat on my shoulder for several minutes. The siege tunnels were built by hand by the British in 1782 to defend the Rock from the Spanish and French. During World War II, the tunnels were extended to form a 32 mile long network, and debris from the excavation was used to extend the runway below the Rock.

30 January 2018

We joined a group from the International Club for a walk through the barranco (gorge) of the Sierras Tejeda, Almijara, and Alhama Natural Park. The park is close enough to Nerja that the walk began from a meeting point near our condo. It’s fun to join others with similar interests, and we have become friends with several of the couples.

29 January 2018

We walked into town for tapas last night and stopped at a restaurant when we heard the strains of flamenco music. Inside a guitarist and two dancers were performing. We spent the evening watching the show, drinking wine, and eating a variety of tapas. Each drink was €2.50 and came with a choice of a free tapa so for €16.50 (including €1.50 for performance) we had six tapas and (hate to admit it) six glasses of wine!

28 January 2018

With a forecast for rain, it was the perfect time to visit the caves of Nerja. The caves were discovered in 1959, but they were inhabited by ancient humans since around 25,000 BC. The Nerja museum has displays of artifacts found the caves - skeletons, pottery, stone tools, and ornaments from prehistoric eras. There are several cave paintings, inaccessible to visitors, that are thought to be the oldest in the world (over 43,000 yrs.). We were impressed by the enormous size of the stalactite draped caverns and the beauty of the formations. You can get a sense of the size of the cave from the walkway railing in the first picture.

24 January 2018

Sights around Nerja

23 January 2018

Just north of Nerja is the hillside town of Frigiliana. It is one of the “white villages” (pueblos blancos) of Andalucia that are characteristically filled with whitewashed houses and narrow winding lanes that meander up and down in the maze-like Moorish style. Most lanes are impassable to cars so donkeys and mules are still used for hauling heavy loads. We watched as a mule carried bricks up to a house that was being renovated. As with many of our treks in the region, we made sure to find a scenic spot for our lunch. In the pictures, notice that the red flowers are poinsettias and the language of the lawyer’s sign.

22 January 2018

A half-hour drive down the coast from Nerja is the town of Salobreña where a 10th century Moorish castle sits on a rocky prominence high above the town. The 360 degree view from the ramparts takes in the Mediterranean coastline and snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains. The old town is a maze of whitewashed buildings with flowers blooming even in January. When we get up in the morning and decide what to do for the day, it’s fun to have visiting a castle as an option.

20 January 2018

After visiting a weekly market in a neighboring town, we drove along the coast looking for a nice spot for lunch. We found a great restaurant in the town of Agarrobo. The restaurant was a chiringuito, which is a beach restaurant with an outdoor grill. The freshly caught and grilled fish was the best we have had so far, and the location at the edge of the sea was exceptional. The grill is on the left in the pictures. It had a circular hand crank for raising the grill grate so more wood could be added to the fire.

19 January 2018

Our second walk with the International Club of Nerja took us high into the mountains to a shrine dedicated to the Virgen de Carmen. It was built in the 1600s to give thanks for a shipping fleet surviving a storm. The views from the mountain top are spectacular, but getting there was a bit of a steep climb. We’ve met some very nice people in the club, primarily from the U.K. and Canada.

18 January 2018

The “Sexi” city In 49 BC, the town now known as Almuñécar became the Roman town Sexi Firmun. It was famous throughout the empire for the production of a fish sauce called garum. The ruins of the fish-salting factory lie below the San Miguel castle within a botanical park.

15 January 2018

Another hike in Maro took us past the 19th century aqueduct that was built to provide water to a sugar refinery. Although the factory is now closed, the aqueduct continues to supply water for irrigation for farms. Turning toward the beach, our path took us through some low tunnels created by arching bamboo. It looked like a perfect smugglers route!
A series of ancient watchtowers dot the Spanish coast. The Moors first built them in the ninth century for communication, but most of the existing towers were built in the sixteenth century to warn of pirates from North Africa. A short hike through fields of wild rosemary, thyme, and lavender brought us to the tower at Maro, one of the “newer” towers. The promontory provides great views over the town of Nerja. Note that the door to the tower is up about 30 feet and required a ladder - a small measure of protection for the sentry.

13 January 2018

The Fountain of Europe monument was erected in 1986 to commemorate Spain joining the European Union (EU). Notice the block marked England holds up the block marked Spain. What happens after Brexit?

12 January 2018

In the nearby town of Almunecar sits an ancient castle high on a hill with commanding views over the coast. Originally a Roman fortification, the Moors constructed the castle, and the Christian rulers of Spain enlarged it after they drove the Moors out. Today some of the original walls remain as well as some reconstructions. After the long climb to reach the castle, we had a well deserved lunch outside at a restaurant overlooking the sea.

10 January 2018

Sunshine! We finally arrived at our winter home in Nerja. After the monochrome of the snow covered northeast U.S. and the gray gloom of Dublin, the colors seem so vivid. The Mediterranean shimmers to the south while snow capped peaks rise to the north, and the condo balcony has views in both directions. After dining outside midday in the town, grocery shopping, and unpacking, we relax with a nice Rioja while listening to Spanish guitar music. Aah!

9 January 2018

It was not a good day for flying. The plane left Cleveland 2 hrs. late because it was delayed out of Boston. Still had enough time for the connecting flight to Dublin in Newark, but then we sat at the gate for 1 1/2 hrs because there weren’t enough baggage handlers to load the luggage. Arrived too late for the only flight to Malaga so we enjoyed an overnight in Dublin courtesy of Aer Lingus. Dublin was cold and rainy, typical winter weather.

15 December 2017

After experiencing single-digit temperatures here at home, we are looking forward to the warm and sunny weather of southern Spain. Our winter destination is the town of Nerja on the Mediterranean Sea in the Andalucia region of Spain. We chose Nerja because, unlike many of the towns on Spain’s Costa del Sol (Sun Coast), it managed to retain some of its Spanish charm despite decades of tourism by northern Europeans, primarily the British. We visited Nerja in 2012 as part of a trip to Spain. Our day in the town was designed to be a “vacation from our vacation,” i.e., a day to relax on the beach after over a week of touring many sites. The area has a striking coastline, where mountains seem to tumble into the sea and beaches are tucked under the cliffs. Winters are mild with temperatures reaching the low 60s, and it is sunny on most days. Perfect weather for long hikes and discovering nearby towns and villages. (Pics are from 2012)