I felt I was unduly negative in last weeks blog post. To be fair, I was directly ranting at the folk in charge of tourism in Spain, not the country, which is rich in reasons to visit. So, to redress the balance somewhat, here are my eight great reasons to visit Spain.
1) People have been here since prehistory.
The first time I stayed in Cehegin, the town in which I spent my first six years living here, I booked into a hotel that had copies of rock art on the wall. I didn't think too much of it at the time, but these images were taken from cave art found in the Peña Rubia, the big hill behind the town. It's said that the Peña protects Cehegin from the worst of the rain as the clouds tend to go around it one way or the other. I'm not sure how true that is but the town does seem to have a favourable climate. It was some time later I learned about the caves and rock art in the Peña Rubia and I hoped to visit them but they were unfortunately closed for security, restoration and research. I understand the caves can be visited today if one makes a booking in advance with the tourist office. https://www.laverdad.es/murcia/planes/larutaconunpar/201405/07/cuentos-edad-piedra-20140505190930.html After I learned about it I often marvelled that as long ago as 3500 BC people had made the place where I was living their home. Of course, the Peña Rubia is one of many prehistoric caves containing early rock art in Spain, the most famous of which is Altimira in Cantabria, the discovery of which was the subject of a fascinating movie 'Finding Altamira' starring Antonio Banderas.
2) The Romans
The Romans had an enduring relationship with Spain which I first learned about when a neighbour told me the land on which my house was built in Cehegin was the site of a Roman cemetery! No names no pack drill, but a Spanish chap I met in the same town invited me round for a family lunch one day to his country house. The garden was full of Roman columns, statues, busts and frankly looked like a museum. He told me he ran a construction company excavating roads and railway lines. Work would often stop because another piece of history had been unearthed. Such delays were as unpopular with him as they were with the firm contracting him, so often isolated pieces would quietly disappear into the boot of his car so that work could continue! The rape of Roman ruins was not limited to the private sector though. I saw a group being guided around the ancient Roman ruins of Acinipo near Ronda in Malaga province. A woman stumbled across a piece of pottery which she showed to the guide, who much to my surprise told her to keep it as a souvenir!
The Spanish certainly know how to party. Ibiza is the party capital of the world but nightlife is great all over the country. My wife and I stayed with a friend in Alicante for a week while first looking for houses here. Towards the end of our stay, he suggested when went night-clubbing and he showed us around all of the local gay bars. There seemed to be dozens of them. I recall dancing along to something camp like Kylie Minogue in one of them, when I noticed video being played on the walls around the bar, then I realised they were filming the audience and playing the tapes on subsequent nights. I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of sympathy for the future punters who would have to endure my interpretation of The Locomotion. Despite this it was one of the best nights out ever, as partying with gay people often are. You don't know you've lived until you've been 'cruised' by a George Michael lookalike in the Bang Your Head bar at 2:30 in the morning! Changing tack slightly I've noticed a marked trend for nightclubs in Spain to be empty one minute and full the next. It seems the locals move in packs from one bar to another, so if you happen to arrive at the wrong time you might think the place is not happening. Don't panic though, have a look for evidence of activity. If there are glasses waiting to go in the dishwasher you may have missed the 'pack', but if it looks 'clean', have a drink and give it half an hour. Chances are the party is on the way! (Also nightclubs in Spain never have the word 'Club' in their name - that is reserved for another type of establishment altogether where the dancing is more horizontal than vertical if you get my meaning!)
I'm not much of a beach bum but even so I've visited dozens of beaches over my many years in Spain, all the way from the Mar Menor in the East to Tarifa in the West. With over 5000 km of coastline, Spain has all kinds of beaches imaginable, so you're guaranteed to find something to your taste. My favourite is probably La Playa de la Cortadura at Cadiz which is a sandy shoreline so long you can't see the end of it. Even in the busiest part of the season you're able to find a quiet spot!
5) Quaint Villages
The Spanish landscape is pockmarked with picturesque towns and villages. I recall reading somewhere there are about 5000 though I've been unable to verify that figure for the purpose of this blog. While I've mentioned in previous blogs the threat of rural depopulation hangs over the future of many of these, it's also true that there are more opportunities than ever to find accommodation in them thanks to the Internet and services like Airbnb. I met some American cyclists recently (well, pre-Covid) who were riding from one side of Spain to the other with no formal plan other than accepting the hops that booking their next accommodation online took them. I thought that was a great idea. I wish I was brave enough to do it!
Whether you love modern architecture or megalithic monuments, Spain has it all and everything in between. We have 2500 castles and just shy of a 100 cathedrals. Particularly notable in the south west of Spain where I now reside, is the influence of the Moorish period and the colonial period where huge wealth came back from the country's expansion into South America. Much of these riches came via Seville and spread out all over the region, reflected in fine old buildings all over the Western provinces of Andalusia.
Spain has a remarkable variety of countryside. I've driven back and forth between Murcia and Andalusia many times and I'm always struck by the way the views change. Driving out of the elevated pastures of Caravaca that look like a scene out of the Sound of Music, I would round a bend at the other side of the Puebla de Don Fadrique to reveal a break in the mountains revealing a huge plain, then keep driving to see the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada then beyond them on to the desert of Almeria. The landscape is constantly changing. How many places in the world can you be skiing in the morning and swimming in warm sea water in the afternoon?
I don't think Spain's wines get the international recognition they deserve, which may well be because their focus has most recently been on the domestic market. Grapevines were thought to have first been brought to the peninsula by the Canaanite tribe of the Phoenicians roughly around a thousand years before Christ when they settled in Cadiz, (making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe). The Romans later fell in love with the sweet wines from Cadiz province, particularly from around Jerez, much more of which was turned over to grape production back then than it is today. The Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis wrote of the primitive sherry saying it was "highly regarded in Roman circles". Winemaking in Cadiz is currently undergoing a renaissance with many farmers replacing olive trees with vines. The olive oil industry is under threat from stiff international competition from New World countries however there is little to differentiate one brand of oil from another. Although wine faces similar competition, the difference in character between one bottle of wine and another is much more marked and so today's marketplace is rediscovering the wines of Cadiz with similar joy to the Romans 2000 years ago.