The last leg of our Spain trip in 2008 was spectacular: Ronda, the city on the cliff, Nerja, the beach on Costa del Sol, Granada and its architectural jewel Alhambra, and a stop for cheese in the countryside of La Mancha.
The town has an old soul, and a cool and composed feel to it. It stands tall on top of El Tajo gorge carved out by Río Guadalevín. We crossed the Puente Nuevo and continued on to the overlook, taking in the dizzying height of the city, its solid stone presence contrasting the rolling verdant countryside peacefully stretching for miles at the base of the gorge. On one side of the gorge sits the old town, dating back 15th century Moorish times; opposite side, the new town displays its famous bull fighting ring Plaza de Toros, a legendary 18th century edifice.
We followed the winding road down from Ronda, from the mountaintop to the sea. We dipped our toes in the Mediterranean, and took in the spectacular views of the mountains and Costa del Sol.
One hour north of Costa del Sol, we arrived in the famous Granda. I could easily live there…. I loved the town’s mix of cultures, reflected in its architecture and food, its cobblestone promenade, and its friendly people.
Our B&B was hidden behind a typical Spanish door-in-door (one large door, with one smaller opening for every day use), across an interior courtyard. Its kitchen and bath were minuscule (and we were reminded to slow down and duck every time we hit our heads on the low arch above the kitchen counter). However, it was clean and quiet, and only a short walk to the main promenade.
The promenade, La Carrera del Darro is one of Granada’s oldest and most scenic walks. In addition to views of the Alhambra and other 15-16th century buildings, it puts on quite a live show: cats reside in the grassy area between old stone walls, watched (and occasionally chased) by dogs; locals sit at windows and on terraces facing the promenade, chatting and people-watching.
We discovered a hole-in-the-wall grocery store and made friends with the owner, as we bought a constant supply of local goodies: Rioja, cheese, and bread. He was sure to offer freebie or two (like juicy sweet tomatoes, yum!).
Of course we couldn’t skip a visit to the famous Alhambra, its praise living up to reality. We spent hours admiring every little architectural detail, carefully crafted. The 9th century castle is an impressive artistic feast for the eye and one can find that many of its ornate decorations are the words of poets. We strolled through the maize of the garden, relaxed at the sound of water fountains, and admired panoramic views of the city below. Ah, to have such a garden, what Paradise….
We spent our days exploring the city, from its narrow cobblestone alleys, passing under balconies with flowers and old street lamps, to the open plazas with cathedrals and bright shops, to the many lookouts (mirador) for more spectacular views of the ancient town.
Tapas at Bodegas Castañeda and a night view of the Alhambra were two of our favorite treats.
All good things come to an end, and our trip ended with something good: cheese! As we were driving through the countryside of La Mancha region, famous for its Manchego cheese, I spotted a handwritten note on a cardboard, stuck on the side of the road. We diligently followed the note down a dirt road and to a local farm, not knowing if we were trespassing but too committed to quit. Our pursuit was confirmed: outside a door, another handwritten note encouraged visitors to ring the bell for cheese. From behind another door, a lively man appeared and we followed him to the promised reward. In rapid Spanish he explained the different options for the buttery mild delicious sheep cheese he offered: fresh, aged, or well aged. He also proceeded in telling us how to preserve cheese so it lasts longer: cubed, in a jar filled with olive oil. Of course, for us left over cheese is like left over wine: not likely to happen. We bought a couple of wheels, then bobbed down the dirt road back to the main road to Madrid, smiling from ear to ear.