Costa de la Luz – tribute to the sun

Travel

Last week the summer officially started, bringing long, intense days, scorching sun, smell of the sea and the appetite to discover new places around. As soon as the travel between the provinces had been allowed, I set myself to my revisit my beloved Ocean, the part of Andalucia called Costa de la Luz. After last year’s visit to Tarifa, I always wanted to return there as much as I could. 

Leaving at the sunrise, the roads were still pretty empty and it was such a pleasure driving slowly around the steep mountains nearby Marbella, changing naturally into the landscape of vast fields, Atlantic forest and dunes as soon as you leave towards the Cadiz province. From time to time I could see the birds of prey or even vultures hovering in the sky just above the car.

Passing by the white towns of Vejer and Barca, I chose my first destination: Conil de la Frontera. At the end of May there was still only a handful of people visiting and it allowed me to enjoy the vast Ocean beaches almost alone, something hard to imagine during the high season. I took my Mom with me as she loves this type of places and it was a great reunion for us to spend a few days together in such a scenery. Conil is one of the most picturesque ‘white towns’, founded by the Phoenicians, famous for the Spanish Reconquista and for its almadraba fishing method. 

The appreciation for the local cuisine led me to check the menu of various taverns, who compete for the most creative tuna dishes. My absolute favourite in Conil would go to Taberna Chanca, full of creative yet simple tapas. I rarely repeat places when travelling, but I enjoyed it so much, I returned there after 2 weeks, this time with my partner. I only hope that the traditional method has the appreciation for this magnificent species. Even the local Virgen del Carmen is blessing the fishermen and the tuna itself.

From the natural paradise lens, another place that completely blew my mind was the endless lagoon on Playa de Castilobo with an ancient Moorish tower, currently inhabited by Hermit Ibises, re-introduced by the group of local ornithologists. Its colonies once existed all over Europe, North Africa and Middle East, and currently it is considered one of the most endangered species on our planet. There, you can hear and watch a few couples, producing synthetic, squeaky sounds and breeding happily – it is a treat for bird watcher’s eye. 

On the way between Conil, Palmar and Barbate there is also a lot of hiking trails around the Natural Park of Brena and Marismas, leading through steep ocean cliffs and forests. I met no one there, except from a few rabbits and a hoopoe! If the visibility is good, it is quite easy to observe the other side of the Gibraltar Strait, and Atlas Mountains in Morocco. 

During my second trip, I stayed at the laid-back town of Zahara de los Atunes, where again I spent a lot of active time on the beach, hiking and enjoying the local 0 km cuisine. A special mention goes to the Taberna del Campero for a lovely treat, heart-warming patio where not only humans, but also doves have their special place. The waiters were quite mindful of the pair of doves, nesting on the patio, disregarding the comment of some customers about the presence of the birds. They simply said “Yes, there are doves here. They live here with us. And they have little chicks now, that’s why we put them a special nesting cardboard to help them out”. 

The importance of being respectful, not only to the local towns visiting, but also the animals living there, like the mentioned tuna, gekkoes, spoonbills, storks and herons one can notice when spending time next to the lagoons and beaches. The South of Spain has an incredible offer for the nature lovers and slow travellers – we cannot destroy it with the new wave of massification of the tourism. And here comes my tribute to the sun, sand and sea. 

Senda Litoral to Marbella – on four wheels

Personal, Travel

The title of this month’s post is only slightly misleading. It has been a long, intense and beautiful month for me and I can’t pin point a single cause of that fact, so I have to choose one. And it is the general kinetic pleasure of being able to travel, on four wheels, further than usual, as the movement restrictions and over six months of Estado de Alarma have been lifted. 

On FOUR wheels though? What happened to the Peugeot urban bike who was a protagonist of most of my recent posts? Here comes the pun! Two bikes equal four wheels (let’s not forget about the brave Kross who came with us all the way from Berlin, and earlier, from Poland!), true. But the fact is, the bikes share a parking lot with a car now! And the best part of it is, that in order to buy the car, we went over 50 kms using our own bikes, to the big surprise of the seller. Who started to doubt if we really need a car, even prior to see us driving it. 

Let me tell you about the way first. Since I moved to Costa del Sol, I started fantasizing of a long bike ride towards the Cadiz coast and learned, that currently, the path leads almost to Estepona, with some degree of creativity. Since I am not a big fan of using the major roads crowded with cars, I try to look for an alternative. It is not as easy in Malaga though as it is in more plain provinces. On one hand, you are limited by the rocks at the sea, and on the other by the steep mountains. So the choice of roads to use is fairly limited. There is a way to reach Marbella/Estepona currently, using the beautiful Senda Litoral via Mijas Costa, but only during weekdays and particular timeframes, not clashing with the pedestrians (9-11 am or 2-4 pm). So here comes the right amount of creativity and planning into the mix. 

While the town of Cala de Mijas looks like the most of the other Costa del Sol beach towns, the magic starts after passing by the next town, Sitio de Calahonda. There is where the Natural Park of Dunas de Artola brings peaceful landscapes of vegetation, sandy beaches and if you are lucky, you can recognize colourful flowers and birds on the way. We were very lucky to hear, and then spot about three hoopoes on that particular ride! Although some of the legends claim that to hear the hoopoe’s call brings sudden death, I prefer to attribute it to the springtime nuptial ceremonies among this species. Especially when I am learning to drive once again. Apparently, the females choose the most attractive male by the quantity, frequency and profoundness of their calls. To learn more about the hoopoe, I truly recommend the movie ‘Return of the Hoopoe‘!

But it is not all about the hoopoe. The vegetation and the wildlife observed by this beautiful path is endless, especially during springtime. The path offers whale and dolphin spotting outposts, especially around Fuengirola’s nudist beaches, making the others doubt if you really do whale or birdwarching (facepalm). This least pleasant part of the ride goes close to the motorway, so escaping the ongoing sound of the roaring engines by looking at the big blue is one of the best strategies to enjoy this 8 km ride. However, I recently learned that the local authorities plan to build a proper path, further down the rocky coast and not so close to the motorway. Judging by the amount of the runners, bikers and pedestrians it is a great idea.

The reality though, at least for now, is that we can’t go wherever we want to by our beloved four bike wheels. Hence, the decision to buy a car came just before turning 2 years living in Malaga, which is by the way, exactly today. Since we have not driven a car for many years, we are quite nervous behind the wheel but still love beautiful design and can’t agree to use a SUV, we decided for a fun, second hand car with a good condition and low mileage. So far we are still learning, yet the freedom to choose to go to the ocean or wherever we point the finger on the map, is priceless. 

Since then, almost three weeks passed and the car is not in use unless we go to practice or if we need to go somewhere further. I still recommend using collective transportation, bike or own feet to discover Andalucia, when possible, thinking about our own health, and the condition of our planet. 

Walking or driving slower, does not take the magic of the discovery, quite the opposite. Thanks to these long walks, lurking into and mindful registering of the nature, I was able to spot this gourmand sparrow, enjoying jamón ibérico, among other magical happenings that we miss by, if we live too fast.

The wonders of wandering

Travel

Following up on my springtime post, I wanted to share some hiking highlights of the past weeks. Since I am currently living in a municipality surrounded equally by the Mediterranean Sea and the Mountains of Malaga I have the best of the two worlds.

Walking up 500-900 m in the neighbouring vicinity, if you are lucky, there are goats, vultures, eagles to be spotted. These days the slopes are also blossoming with flowers and you can witness a buzz of the bees moving from one spot to another.

What I don’t necessarily enjoy are the humans exploiting the hiking paths with their bikes, causing havoc, natural damage and potential accidents to more respectable passer-byes. Extreme sports seem to be the passion of many these days though. In search of less popular hikes I believe it is crucial to leave Costa del Sol and seek slightly more hidden trails of Gran Senda de Malaga. 

Last Sunday our friends took us to Frigiliana to discover the beauty of its forestal paths with hidden wells, Ermitas and waterfalls. During the springtime months you have to be wary of the weather changes as those narrow, quiet mountain streams may change within minutes to dangerous rivers. Similarly, as the sun goes up, waterfalls are drying up – witnessing these changes within only some hours of walk is somewhat magical.

After the long way up the river Higueron we got lost and turned back towards Nerja. Before continuing on the trail, we made a detour to Frigiliana’s Old Town to try a very authentic Polish Restaurant Sal y Pimienta, offering the most famous dishes as both mains, as well as tapas. The restaurant is a family business and both the food and the service were great, and welcoming. Definitely coming back if I am home sick at any point!

After having highly caloric feast, we came back towards on the trail, discovering wild beaches of Maro, self-made shelters of those living the alternative way in the beautiful surroundings, as well as ancient Moorish towers. 

Ending up our walk at the top of a high rock, we could observe sea birds flocking around the school of fish, while breathing the fresh air of water, flowers and Mediterranean spices growing alongside the trail. What a beautiful way to start off the spring. Before the summer and beach time is here to stay again, I am looking so much forward to discovering more of the winding hiking trails of Malaga.

Daylight saving time

Personal

I made it to another springtime! Back in a day, living up East/North, advancing clocks on the last weekend of March announced the long-awaited arrival of longer days, more light and beautiful spring/summer feeling around the corner. Even if snow in April/May is nothing uncommon these days in Berlin or Poland, the ritual of a time change was sacred to me almost like the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. I feel like this transition is much more celebrated by the folks born under a dramatic weather where you never know what to expect. Now, living under more sunny hemisphere where winters look more like springtime, the passage is less dramatic nor awaited, I can’t help but be happier of having more daylight in the evenings. Even more so, after not being able to fully experience the spring last year, due to a home confinement during the first wave of COVID-19 in Spain, this year it makes me wanna dance like the finest Pina Bausch dancers to experience the beauty of it to its fullest. 

This year, still going through various levels of lockdown restrictions, one thing which was not taken away is the possibility of long walks and bike rides within the vicinity. Whenever the restrictions are lifted outside of the province level, I explore the long bike rides, too. Something which I tried last month are more strenuous rides uphill along Costa del Sol, equally satisfying though. Found the magic trick not known to me before – not trying to climb up the same velocity as I use at the plains xD That’s me, always trying to go for the record speed. Also, I managed to find some hidden coastal trails alongside the rocky ‘calas’ of Torrequebrada all the way to Torreblanca, where I can enjoy walking slooowly. Especially if combined with exploring the local and exotic restaurants! I am so happy the opening hours for the gastronomy have expanded this month too.  

Some aficionados of refreshing water try snorkeling and sea baths already – I haven’t been that adventurous yet. I can’t wait to paddle surf again and come back to yachting, too. So far I’ve started with more physical activity on a daily basis. It is hard not to be active when in Malaga! Taking it day by day, step by step at a time, I feel like the fight against the COVID-19 game is unlocking the superpowers to: avoid the virus/not ruin the economy/progress against the infection rate/stay mentally ‘OK-ish’. Quoting almost line by line Roy Ayers, I find myself awaiting for this sweet awakening… 

The daylight in my life is brought by various aspects: apart from keeping the basics of keeping the physical activity/sleep, not compromising on the relationships – both with the closest and more distant ones, only due to the current pandemic circumstances. There have been highlights as well as bringing an acoustic piano home after almost 20 years of living like a nomad without a proper one thanks to my partner’s passion. Hearing those Chopin/Debussy/Rachmaninov notes once again from this beautiful instrument can’t help but make me happy. So, the daylight saving time and daylight in life is here to stay, against all odds. Because, guess what, everybody loves the sunshine! 

Notes from the Giant Rock

Travel

As we’re approaching another wave of COVID-19 in Spain, writing about short getaways when the summer was still around gives me a lot of energy and hope for the better days to come. Here is a short post about my getaway to Gibraltar last month. As we’re approaching another wave of COVID-19 in Spain, writing about short getaways when the summer was still around gives me a lot of energy and hope for the better days to come. Here is a short post about my getaway to Gibraltar last month.

Gibraltar is located about only 80 kms away from Malaga and to get there, you can easily drive or take a bus to the ‘famous’ La Linea de Concepcion, bordering town, allegedly one of the most dangerous places in Spain according to the latest Netflix series. Surely it looked rundown in some parts, and incredibly luxurious in others, which is never a good sign. To get to Gibraltar, you have to pass through a border control within a few steps away from the bus station. To get into the city centre, sometimes you may have to wait to pass through the international Gibraltar airport’s landing stripe, as space is very limited by the Giant Rock.

My first observations were related to the language, indeed both English and Spanish are heard equally often and in various constellations of Spanglish and Englanol. The old town also brings back memories of commercial streets back in the UK and at the same time, has a charm of any Mediterranean town. Beers are served in pints and tapas are counted in pound sterling, which does make a difference from the neighbouring La Linea, where apparently a lot of people eat out. Gibraltar’s location is strategically related to one of the most neuralgic point between Africa and Europe and its history remembers wartime, sieges and endless battles. The remnants of it are visible within almost every step, even in parks in a form of a childlike quiz.

The wildlife of Gibraltar reside in the special zones: Barbary macaques are kept away from the city in the Apes Den and are very much used to being fed by the human beings. They are quick to check one’s rucksack belongings in search of food, causing big havoc. My boyfriend has been confronted with such situation simply passing by, ending up with a macaque sitting on his head, who meticulously performed search for anything else than our camera or bottle of water. Unsatisfied with the result she left – unfortunately this moment has not been recorded. Also butterflies receive their daily portions on the Butterfly Feeding Table, to the amusement of the visitors of the Alameda Park.

Wandering around the Upper Rock Natural Reserve Park you can see two continents and three countries, including Spain and Morocco. If you are lucky, you can notice whales passing by the Gibraltar strait if the ship traffic isn’t too heavy. Looking at the closeness and yet, distance, one can reflect about the relativity of the perspective and history. On that day we spoke to a birdwatcher observing some species trying to cross the Strait for the winter. Possibly a Honey Buzzard, according to the birdwatcher, who struggled with the unfavourable wind conditions, similarly as the BA plane approaching the landing stripe.

Nowadays Gibraltar is home to investment banks and tech companies, and the wartime and ancient history seems to be indeed a distant past. The dine out options and nightlife concentrate around the modern neighbourhood of Ocean Village full of fusion and international food options, as well as very typical pubs. I stayed there for one night only and it was enough to see the National Reserve Park, wander around the city and its historical attractions. The highlight of my stay was the Rock Hotel itself: an emblematic location overlooking the bay, serving English Breakfast on their patio where hundreds of famous people ate out, including Prince Charles, Ernest Hemingway and one mysterious guest, whose picture (next to Prince Andrew’s…) has been removed. Wonder if this may be related, and still thinking of whom could be the persona non grata.

Pais Vasco – ozeano, janari eta kultura

Travel

In search of the Atlantic Ocean, nature and culture this month I was lucky to visit Basque Country. Until the very end I was not sure if the trip will be possible, due to COVID-19 still present in our lives.

With all the precautions, I decided to take off and landed in sunny (!) Bilbao. I planned this trip in advance as a part of anniversary and birthday celebration with my boyfriend, knowing how much he loves the green landscapes of the North of Spain. As well, that Basque Country is one of the places no foodie can miss!

Travelling by air was not as dreadful as we expected – Malaga airport was almost empty on that day and we almost dreamt that air travel would look like this everyday. People being respectful and keeping the distance, simple as that. Similarly, the streets of Bilbao were spacious and only with some notion of tourism (people who were, unfortunately, the only ones not wearing masks). 

Bilbao anyhow is a living example of perfect rejuvenation of the post-industrial landscape. Awarded with the ‘urban Nobel prize’ in 2010, this city is perfectly friendly to breathe, walk and enjoy life. The sidewalks are broad, the road signals signs are melting ideally with the surroundings – to the point that at the back of them, you can find a depiction of tree leaves shapes!

We were very lucky with the weather, which is mostly rainy and windy throughout the year, and thus it is so beautifully green. Coming from Costa del Sol, where the climate is probably the sunniest and mildest on this planet, but largely affected by deforestation, green spaces are more of an oasis than regularity. 

We visited a few bars and restaurants in Bilbao and regardless of the pricing range, the experience was exquisite. There is no such thing as mediocre food, nor wine in Basque Country! As long as you are flexible and let yourself be surprised – most of the dishes contain fish or seafood, which is the zero Km dish there. We dream of pintxos for breakfast until today.

We also went to the famous Guggenheim Museum, where we visited permanent exhibitions, including the magnificent works of Jenny Holzer and Richard Serra, as well as some interesting temporary exhibitions of Olafur Eliason (the light!) and Richard Artschwager (the useless piano!). 

When talking about culture, it is hard not to mention the very separate language if the Basque. I’ve been fascinated by it and tried to grasp as much of it, as possible. Since my mother tongue, Polish, is often referred to as one of the most difficult languages to learn, why not trying to pick some Basque? My favourite word spotted in public space was probably komunak. I absolutely loved the idea of naming public toiler as a common place to go to, when needed.

Apart from the city, we took some time to visit the coastal town, even though we didn’t have too much time to wander about. Thanks to my colleague, we went to a coastal town Mundaka, famous for its picturesque landscape and one of the longest and strangest waves forming at its Atlantic shore, due to sedimentation of the river floating to the ocean. This attracts surfers from all over the world to practice. On the way, you can visit the town of Guernica and the natural park of Urdabai.

We needed this break, although the times are not perfect for any further travel. We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful countries full of diverse cities, cultures, languages and landscapes to choose from, close and far. Even if we are confined again soon, we will have pictures to come back to and travel back in time. 

 

 

At the Sierra’s feet: Jerez del Marquesado

Travel

New month, new updates from Spain and particularly Andalucia: amidst the pandemic, however in the ‘new normality’ tomorrow, we will be allowed to enter so-called Phase 3. Apart from the freedom to leave home anytime, go to the beach and enjoy the nature, one can also gather up with friends at a safe distance. Hoping for discovering new, remote places nearby, I’m reminiscing a day in Jerez del Marquesado, a charming village at the feet of Sierra Nevada.

What brought me there? A recommendation from the local tourist guide I asked earlier on in Guadix, where to spend a relaxing day as well as hike around without a necessity of renting a car. There was no such place in Guadix opened on that day anyway. Jerez currently counts less than 1000 habitants and this number is sadly, steadily declining. On that day the streets of its beautiful old town were completely empty, apart from the cats laying lazily in the sun.

I took my time to wander around the town, drink tinto de verano in the bar Los Cortijillos. Unlike in touristy places, the drink was followed by a huge portion of migas tapas, famous in this region as high-protein leftover food. The owner must have thought I would be hiking all the way up to Pico de Jerez, while I only took a famous Chestnut Walk all the way to a millenial tree, which could shelter up to 4 adults. 

The mountain range surrounding Jerez is particularly steep and was a place of a US military plane crash in the 60s, where thanks to the brave help of the locals all the crew members miraculously survived.

After all, I spent half a day hiking in Jerez and it stole my heart completely. Blossoming chestnuts, vivid streams and creeks, and a green forest oasis on this Spanish ‘Route 66’ will stay on my mind as one of the perfect days I lived.

Cinematic dreams of Guadix

Travel

After spending almost 50 days fully confined, I have to admit my imagination leads me to the places I’ve visited even more often. Since yesterday, I have been allowed to go out for a walk or exercise during certain hours nearby, and this makes me already very contented. Although I know the pathway to the ‘new normality’ will take some time and who knows how long it will take, and how the new world will look like.

My imagination today takes me back to Guadix, a very special town I had pleasure to visit last year, touring around Andalucia. After months of intense work, I was craving for a remote, desolated place surrounded by stunning nature. Curiosity and a random cinematic guide brought me an idea of renting a few nights in a ‘human cave’. Houses underneath the soil were very popular in this part of Spain, especially during the great migration of mining and agriculture workers. Almodovar’s ‘Dolor y Gloria‘ depicts this period of time very accurately.

Upon my arrival, what surprised me more, is that Guadix used as a film stage for other movies I’d never think of! ‘Indiana Jones’ being probably the most famous one, and ‘Karol, un uomo diventato Papa’ about John Paul II – the most surprising one. Not sure if Guadix staged as Vatican City, or Wadowice – provincial town in Poland, judging by the looks: could be both.

It does not surprise when you get to know Guadix a bit more: the town consists of various neighbourhoods, varying greatly in their architecture, wealth and even: light. The ‘cave’ neighbourhood is full of red rocks and sand contrasted by the while houses, and scorching sun, while downtown is rather shady and full of winding, narrow streets with stray cats on every corner. There is also an impressive castle and cathedral in between.

This is why Guadix can pretend almost any Wild West, Roman or provincial town. I like it most for being Guadix though. Surrounded by stunning Sierra Nevada and deserts, the sunrise and sunset shed thousands shades over this special place. As you can see below, I could not help but stare and capture the most of its beautiful light.

I found peace there. Spending a few nights in the cave (thanks to renting it from the local owner, named Maria) made me realize about how important it was to design such a place to shelter from heat in the day as well as during freezing nights. Also, how spacious the caves are and how sustainably one could live in such a close connection to the nature.

I hope for discovering more gems in Andalucia at some point later in the year, when I might be able to live the city. For now, I am lucky to have lived the authentic, Guadix experience and stayed there longer than initially expected, doing absolutely nothing.

Sierra de las Nieves

Travel

February = springtime at its fullest in Andalucia. It is probably one of the best months to experience hiking trips in the Malaga province, and this post is dedicated to describe a gorgeous hiking trip in Sierra de las Nieves, aka Snowy Range near the picturesque town of Tolox.

I was encouraged to take part of this hike thanks to the nature- and outdoor-activity loving community from the tech world of Malaga. I love to meet new people and also get to know them while doing things I enjoy: breathing the fresh mountain air while working out over a moderate 12 km route with over 600 m ascension/descend.

The route starts at the Balneario of Tolox – and in this part of the year is very green. The scent of the forest, multiple birds and water creeks are present throughout the first 3-4 kms. My hiking boots survived walking around the ice trails on Svalbard so I was not worried about their condition.

On the way you can spot at least three waterfalls: the first one is great for taking an actual leap on warmer days, the second one can be noticed from afar – taking winding curves and thus making it the highest waterfall in Andalucia. The last one you are literally walking over a tiny bridge. Unfortunately, as the land is quite arid, it dries out for most of the months. We were very lucky to see it, but we could also be unlucky if it’s too humid: the trail might be slippery when not properly dried out after springtime rainfalls. As in Andalucia rain is rare, when it happens, it is torrential.

After 13 kms the descend starts towards the picturesque village of Tolox, one of the emblematic ‘while villages’ of Andalucia. On a Sunday afternoon, it is the oasis of tranquility. After a straining hike, resting in the local bar overlooking the various mountain ranges, up to El Torcal and Sierra Nevada while eating tapas was the best reward.

To top it up, Tolox is full of actual art, depicting the local art inspirations, naive art and poems of Pablo Neruda. I can’t help falling in love in a place like this.

Montes de Málaga

Travel

Málaga is associated primarily with the sea, and a gateway to the ‘Sunny Coast’ known as Costa del Sol. Nothing more misleading: its province is by far the tallest in Spain, containing of some of the youngest, and highest mountains in the country.

You can easily experience their scope already while approaching the landing at the airport, especially if you take some additional turns around the province. One of the first trips I’ve done when I moved here, was to hike around countless trails of the National Park of Montes de Málaga, just a few kilometers away from the city centre, and within the public transportation reach. I learned though that hiking in June is already too late – it’s too sunny and too dry to truly enjoy it.

Instead, I visited the historical Botanic Garden, home to abundant and exotic flora and fauna. This stunning scenery can be found in the Northern part of the city and is also accessible with the public transportation, followed by a 15 minutes walk. The garden hosts shelter to various bird houses: if you are patient you can spend hours looking at their nesting areas and spot interesting species. It is great that Málaga has made this garden available to public, especially that the city itself lacks green spaces.

Another destination worth mentioning is Mijas Pueblo, a little village located in Costa del Sol, about 45 minutes drive from Málaga and again, accessible with public transportation. It is one of the typical white, Andalusian scenic villages with castle ruins, beautiful town hall square and breathtaking views over the coast.

Also the trip through the winding road can take the breath away, if you are sensitive. I think that the village itself is as touristy as Ronda, and it takes its toll. I was particularly saddened by the use of donkeys for the touristy rides. I escaped the crowded trap quite soon and wandered around the hilly streets followed by eating lunch at an inexpensive, unpretentious place far away from the masses.

I enjoy the little escapes around Málaga, even without having a car for now. I am conscious that the best places are out of my reach for now, but I am trying hard not to own a car – driving though is a good skill to acquire when living on Costa del Sol and is a different story. Looking forward to bringing you more tales from the trips I will take in 2020, to be honest I have not planned anything and have no idea where my imagination will take me.