Flavours of Spain
Six days exploring the culture and cuisine of Southern
Spain with Solos Travel
is the first Solos holiday I have done. There were 22 in the
group with a tour leader and ages were from 40-70. A singles
holiday is completely different. As no one knows each other,
it is a much more fluid group and everyone is soon on first
name terms and mixes more. I found that everyone was very
supportive and kept an eye on each other.
I was booked on a flight from Manchester as there is a direct rail service between Scunthorpe and the airport. With a 5am check in, I’d booked the night before in the Radisson Blu which is five minutes walk from the Railway station and five minutes walk from Terminal 2. It was a very comfortable room and a bonus was the ‘Grab and Go’ service offered in reception from 3.30am for those on early flights. This offers complementary drinks, fruit and cereal bars.
There were four of us booked from Manchester and we flew with Monarch Airlines. Most of the group, along with the Tour Leader, were coming from Gatwick and their flight was delayed by fog, arriving an hour after we’d landed. We had assumed from information sent out by Solos there would be someone to meet the Manchester flight at Malaga airport, so were beginning to panic big time before the Tour Leader eventually appeared with the Solos sign. After that, things could only get better, especially as we had left a cold and dull Manchester and arrived in a warm and sunny Spain.
It was about a two hour drive in the coach from Malaga airport to Lanjaron along a fast dual carriageway. This is quite a construction with substantial bridges and tunnels through a semi arid landscape with deep valleys and steep mountains. There were glimpses of the Mediterranean. Olives, sweet chestnuts and almonds grow here as well as semi tropical fruits like cherimoya, mangoes, papaya, avocados. After the turn off for Lanjaron, the road is a single carriageway, narrow and with a lot of bends as it climbs up to the town.
We were booked into the Hotel Alcadima in Lanjaron, a building of great character with rooms in different buildings and surrounded by lovely gardens. Rooms were comfortable with plenty of space and their own private balcony. Mine overlooked the swimming pool across to the mountains.
Breakfast was a typical Spanish breakfast. There was plenty of choice, especially with all the different breads - the Mediterranean and Gingerbread were particularly good, as was the Spanish omelette. My only criticism would be the lack of fresh fruit.
There was a good choice of evening meals. The starters were very generous and would have served as a main meal. The mains choice could be a bit exotic with squid in ink and rabbit one night. I was surprised they didn’t seem to go for fresh veg. It was usually frozen beans and carrots. We also discovered that the Spanish don’t do hot food. Being a large group, the main meal was often luke warm by the time it was served.
We had a full day trip to Granada on the first day. It was a lovely drive across the mountains with views of the old road below in the valley. Granada is a large city sitting on a high plateau surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with white houses with shallow red tiled roofs climbing up the sides of the mountain.
We had a guided tour of the Alhambra Palace in the morning. This is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and it more than lived up to expectation, especially the wonderful plasterwork and ceilings of the Nasrid Palaces.
It is one of the most visited sites in Spain and there is a daily limit on numbers and a strict timetable for visiting the Nasrid Palaces. In the two hours available we only had time to walk through the gardens (wonderful), Charles V Palace (unrestricted entry) and the Nasrid palaces (amazing), not forgetting the view everyone takes a picture of.
The following day was an easy day, with a stroll around Lanjaron and a visit to the honey museum. Lanjaron is a long linear settlement with small attractive alleyways and courtyards off the main street.
We then headed back to the hotel for a cookery demonstration, which included making the Spanish omelettes. The afternoon was left free, so I joined a group going to explore the ruined castle standing on a pinnacle below the town. Overlooking river valley, it protected the town from attacks from the south. There isn’t a lot left of the castle but there were good views of the surrounding countryside and Lanjaron. This was another highlight of the trip.
The next day we visited Guadix which was about a 90 minute drive, taking us past Granada again. Beyond, the road climbed up through the Sierra Nevada to Guadix. This is on a fertile plain growing olives and almonds. There were a lot of poplar trees which were beginning to change colour.
We had a guided tour of the cathedral with its tall bell tower that dominates the town.
We had thirty minutes free time to wander or have a drink before catching the tourist Tonka train to Barrio de las Cuevas, the cave district at the top of the town. The caves have been inhabited since the C16th and are carved out of the mud hillside. Many of them are still lived in and now have all mod cons.
There is a small museum with a cave as it would have been around 1930-40, complete with stable and pigsty behind the kitchen area. I really enjoyed this and there was basic information in English. Other enterprising owners also open up their cave homes for a donation. We also went into the parish church which was built after the Second World War, in front of the original cave church.
After a very good but very leisurely lunch, the final stop of the day was at a small winery, Bodegas Pago de Almares producing some very good wine. The vineyards are 900-1600m above sea level and the big daily temperature range means the grapes mature better with more flavour. We had a quick trip round the winery before a very good tasting session. These are very serious wines.
The final full day was visiting a couple of the villages high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was a marvellous drive along a road cut out of the side of the mountain. With horse shoe bends and a steep drop down into the valley, it was not for the faint hearted. This is semi arid desert country with really steep and narrow water courses. We had a break at a view point for views south across the mountains.
There was another short stop at a tiny chapel (locked) with a mineral spring behind it (very iron flavoured water) and a small waterfall.
Our first stop was at the small village of Trevelez, the highest village in Spain at nearly 1500m. The area is famous for its air dried hams and we visited a small factory to see them hanging and drying. We had about 30 minutes free time in Trevelez to explore its narrow alleyways and shops selling home woven rugs.
Our final visit was to Pampaniera, not quite as high at just under 1100m, with flat roofed white houses climbing up the hillside. The group had lunch while I went to explore. There were very photogenic alleys and passageways running up, down and along the hillside. They weren’t wide enough for cars although motorbikes zoomed along them. I haven’t a clue where I got to, but knew I couldn’t get lost as all I needed to do was head downhill to pick up the main road. After lunch there was a ‘guided walk’ of the town.
The final day was a free day as the coach didn’t leave for the airport until 4.15. I had a quick trip into Lanjaron after breakfast to visit the market (not much happening and a bit of a waste of time) and went into the church which was open. The tour guide had arranged an optional visit to the brewery and cheese farm for us. Craft brewing has only recently arrived in Spain and it was an interesting visit, with some very good beer to taste. Fortunately a ham roll was provided for each of us to soak up the alcohol. The cheese factory was 2km out of Lanjaron. I opted out of this as it involved a walk along the main road which was narrow, winding and with no footpath.
It was then time to drive to Malaga airport for the flight back to Manchester. The cold and wet came as a shock to the system after Spain.
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