The rain in Spain lies mainly….. everywhere at the moment! Similar to a lot of Southern Europe it’s been very wet, lots of folks bemoaning their inability to use sun loungers at Costa del Brexitland… find something else to do for goodness sakes! Anyway we continue and adjust as we go, not saying we haven’t taken refuge in the van can with the racket of rain on the roof but we’ve also kitted up in the right gear and headed out! Mmm…
We’ve explored some great places though recently. The first being Écija, a large town known as ‘The Frying Pan of Andalucia” due to the summer temperatures it gets to. We had none of that pleasure, on arrival it was raining slightly so we put out coats on and headed out, it was quiet, sensible people were indoors! Écija is also known as City of Towers, over 20 churches and convents in the town have stunning Baroque towers piercing the sky. There’s also lots of Palaces, in varying states of decay, stemming back to a few centuries ago, when much wealth was built by merchants and landowners as trade began to globalise. In their day they would have been splendidly ornate inside and out, as show off homes. These days, very few are kept and sadly, like we’ve seen in most places, many look like ruins. Not surprisingly, to restore them runs into millions and that’s not the first choice of the wealthy these days.
So we spent some time wandering the streets, dodging showers, having a late tapas lunch before we were caught in a torrential downpour, we realised after we peeled our jeans off in the van that they were indeed the ’wrong’ trousers. Rest of day abandoned!
The following day it had brightened up so out we went. Given it was a weekend we knew many churches close early and given much of Écija is about seeing the variety, this was our first endeavour. We gate crashed the wedding of Alfonso and Maria, admiring the dapper wedding attire of the blokes and wondering how the women folk didn’t fall off their heels. We also attended quite a few Christenings, also it seems, a reason to dress up. Five churches down we decided we needed a snack so joined the locals in the main square. Believe it or not, the town square used to house a well preserved Roman bath house, forum and temple but the council decided a car park under the main square was more important…. no, not kidding! After a typical long lunch we popped to the tourist Palace in Écija, Palacio de Peñaflor, a decadent building reflecting the times very well. Externally painted and very ornate it was in the same family until 1958 when the widower passed and the council took it on, much to their chagrin given what they have spent doing it up. We bumped into our new pals Alfonso and Maria on the way out, posing for photo’s by their horse drawn carriage. They didn’t want to join us in our selfie… Anyhow, Écija is great little place, a buzz about it, lots going on, including what seemed to be numerous children’s running races around the streets and adults drinking and cheering at the side of the road.
Osuna is small tucked away town also famous for its Palaces. Here’s most of them seem to be on the same street, San Pedro. Being a Sunday it was quiet but still, it’s lovely to see the families out in the parks with a picnic or just taking time out with each other and ice cream. Walking and exploring, the heady aroma of orange blossom was everywhere, the narrow streets and small squares containing the scent. As usual, they still have their working bull ring dating back to 1904 but fail to maintain their C18th Iglesia y Torre de la Merced, an imposing building overlooking the town, such incredible views.
The next day we woke up in a haze, noting to do with the drink, we had been engulfed by a Sahara sand storm which flattened the light. Very eerie experience and difficult to drive in. What we didn’t need after the van changing colour to a distinct pinkish hue was any rain….. Arriving in the rain at a town called Marinaleda, looking like a red and white zebra, we had a short wander down Calle Ernesto Che Guevara. Yes, this is a communist enclave in Andalucía. Can’t say it was anything like even the remotest parts of Cuba we’ve been in, but his influence stretches far and wide. The town is self governing, no police, no unemployment, self build homes…. built on an ideology decreed by the former Mayor, this place is fab! It started when the Mayor allowed locals to illegally take over some untended agricultural land to grow their own food at a time of high poverty. From there a food co-op started, factories built to process it and the town found its place. Replicating communist themes there’s an Olympic sized swimming pool, Che murals everywhere and manicured parks and gardens. Sticking to his principals, in the 2008 financial crisis he led a raid of the nearest supermarket chains (who could afford it) and redistributed the food among those who needed it, becoming known as The Spanish Robin Hood.
Arriving after our dose of communism in Olvera it was still raining so we headed out to take a look around. Streets empty, funny that, we hiked to the top of the town, Fred Astaire style taking in the Moorish alleyways and narrow streets of Barrio de la Villa and the lovely neo-classical Iglesia Arciprestal Nuestra Senora. Ugly on the outside it was far from it inside, and worth the €2 entry. Their statues were so lifelike it felt as though we were being watched. Wandering, we found fun pavement symbols for the property phone, electric and water supplies, and some fun statues around town in crochet clothes to keep them warm… and dry…. What there were not, is long majestic countryside views!
Olvera is not only visited for crochet classes but for one of the most stunning Via Verde’s in Spain. The Via Verde de la Sierra is a 38km ride through mountainous landscape from Olvera to Puerto Serrano and crosses the provinces of Cadiz and Seville. Not wanting to be outdone by Dave and Lesley who recently did it, we set off, in the drizzle, to check out the 30 tunnels, 4 viaducts and converted stations. At one, we found that maybe Elvis was still in the building even though it was all shut up ;-0 …. (see pic, it’ll make sense) Griffon Vultures were soaring above the craggy rock of Sierra de Lijar and the Rio Guadalporcún was swollen and finding new ways to flow, its banks burst. The landscape was lush and green. Thankfully, there was a super cafe at Puerto Serrano. We did the chap a favour and sat outside, not wanting to ruin his interior with splats of mud. When he wiped down the table for us we did ask if he could do the bikes too… maybe it was my Spanish but he just laughed! On our way back I decided I need to get into a different saddle, Liz and Julia have already given me posture feedback! Anyhow, there’s a reason it is known as the most picturesque Via Verde, it is, even when it’s not bathed in sunshine. Arriving back at the van, weary after 76km, we set about washing the zebra and the bikes!
At time of writing we decided we’d had a ‘White Out’… there are so many gorgeous Andalucían white towns, we’ve seen a lot but now we’ve decided we need to drive past a bit. Final place of white note was Sentinel de las Bodegas. It’s a unique place, built on and under rock, not far north of Ronda. It’s worth a small detour just for the architectural insanity of it, not the tourist cafe’s under the rock canopy! Beware the Tourist Tuk Tuk and the Tourist Tat Tat in the shops and it’s a pleasant and interesting Pueblo Blanco.
Anyway…. sherry time…. yes, the next blog is Jerez de la Frontera…. sweet!