Spain: Los pueblos blancos de Andalucía

Our first view of Sevilla during Holy Week came during our trip out of town to Guacin.  I will say more about Semana Santa and this apparel in a later update.

Semana Santa begins in Sevilla

Renting a car from Auriga Crown rental was quick and relatively painless, if you don’t count the insurance and fill-up fee.  We are used to us and the car getting the once over on our way out the gate, but there was no one to report to that our car had a major dent in the passenger side door.

With our limited Spanish vocabulary, we were worried about navigating Spanish roads, but we needn’t have fretted.  The roads were well marked and except for an unanticipated detour into Ronda en route to our destination, we found our way easily. (And, I am so glad to be partnered with a man who does not mind stopping to ask directions at the local petrol station!)

One tends to think of Spain as somewhat arid, but this section of Andalucía – and actually into Malaga Province – quickly becomes mountainous, moving from scrubby vegetation to lush, and adorned with pueblos blancos (white villages) that cling to the mountainsides like shimmering jewels in a crown.  The road between them is reminiscent of the Going to the Sun Highway minus the guardrails and frequent turnouts, hence few pictures along our route!  You will have to imagine the “ooos” and “ahhhs”!  This part of Spain is also a central flyway for birds migrating up from Africa and we planned to do some birdwatching here.


on the way to Guacin

wildflowers blooming on the way to Guacin

pueblo blanco

Guacin is one of the southernmost pueblo blancos, sitting at about 630 km above sea level.    On a clear day, you can view all the way to Morocco from the village. Derived from the Arab word, “guazan” (strong rock), the village is perched on the crest of the Sierra del Hacho, and due to its key strategic position was once a major Roman settlement.  Many ex-pats and artists live here, as well as traditional Spanish families.  The main business is tourism.  The streets are as narrow if not narrower than in Cordoba.  We saw why our car had a dent and realized every car we looked at had similar scrapes and dings.  If you want to know how narrow, think of any movie filmed (or stage filmed) in a European city that has car chases and pedestrians jumping back into doorways as the cars scream by!  That was us in Cordoba and Guacin!


narrow streets in Guacin

Once we managed to rouse the innkeeper at La Fructosa  and figured out where in town to park the car (not on the street!), we headed out to the only restaurant open that evening:   a patio setting for tapas once again, with the freshest possible olives and mediocre red wine.  It started to get chilly so we moved indoors.  I engaged our server about the FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid soccer match we had seen on TV the night before and the second glass of wine was the ‘good stuff’.  Maybe he subscribes to the Cana method.  (The Spanish are near to fanatic about their soccer and posters of the World Cup winning team are posted in most of the train stations!)

courtyard where we ate dinner - Casa Antonia's


We kept our binoculars handy to see the passing Griffon Vulture, but were not rewarded.  So it was off to sleep, dreaming about seeing Africa from our bed, and hoping for good luck in birding the next day.

view looking west from our balcony the first evening

looking toward Africa. If you squint, you can see it, maybe!

La Fructosa, formerly the 3 story Pensión La Española (early 20th century) has been restored by the current owners.  The very lowest floor, where there is an ancient wine press that served for consumption by the original owner’s family and other locals, has been transformed into a restaurant open on the weekends but also where we had breakfast each morning.


the old wine press at La Fructosa

This was the view the next morning.

We headed out on a hike, anyway, guided by a typewritten, two-page extremely detailed description we found in our room. For example: “Continue along the path, pass a rusting black and white sign “Ojo al tren” and you reach a sign “Via Pecuaria”. Here loop sharply to the right, cross the railway track then bear left and follow a narrow path between a fence on the left and brambles on the right.”

We guess it must have been a description written some time ago, with ensuing property and gate changes, as eventually where we were walking and what the paper said no longer matched!  No matter, we enjoyed the cork trees,  the views of El Hacho,  the flowers, Red-legged Partridge, the fields of olives and oranges, and the walk.

olives! (even fresher!)

blue flower in Spain - like shooting star










orange trees

cork trees









el Hacho


If we had continued, we would have been caught in the drenching rain storm that continued for most of the rest of the day!



Based on a recommendation from a birding acquaintance, we drove the 15 km down to El Colmenar on the Rio Guadiaro, to see if we could find the vulture feeding station behind the railway station there.  This road was even narrower and more winding than the one the day before—on the map it looks like a slinky ready to expand and is the sort that could bring on queasy stomachs! When I dared to look, the scenery was breathtakingly gorgeous!

coming into El Colmenar


many goats


organic farming (olives!)

We finally did see Griffon Vultures and a few other choice birds as well, not at the feeding station, but soaring up in the sky where they belong!  That night, Monday, we found another restaurant open and had to go in, not only because it was the only one open but because of its name!


La Taberna del Zorro

Which was, ironically,  located right across from the police station!

Returning to our rural hotel, we found the local church and some signs going up for Semana Santa.


Iglesia de San Sebastian-early 16th century

Maria Dolorosa


which apparently includes a run with a bull!

The next day it was on to Gibraltar. But not before we got up very early for a hike up to the old castle in Guacin.  The Castillo del Aguila (Eagle’s Castle) dates from the Roman era and was later expanded by the Arabs into a fortress.  It wasn’t open on Tuesday, but we thought the hike would make good exercise before breakfast.  What a treat that was!



view from the path up to the castle

castle looking up

We even saw a black kite riding the thermals and a surprise when we reached the summit.


this guy was waiting for us when we reached the top!


view of the descent from the castle

One last view of the village fountain, and we were on our way to Gibraltar.


Gaucin fountain of the 6 pipes

We were holding our breath for good weather and bird-watching en route.  And if birds weren’t in the market, then at least we would see the Rock, with the Mediterranean on the left and views to the Atlantic on the right!

Spain: Charming Córdoba – Sephardic and Kingly Cultures

After the amazing visit to La Mezquita, we weren’t sure what (or if) we wanted to see (anything) next – so moving had been the experience.  We tend to alternate between figuring out our destinations (and doing prior research) and just letting our feet wander and see where we end up.  Now was one of those times.

In the tenth century Córdoba was the seat of Jewish learning, scholarship and culture.

Just down the street we happened upon a priceless gem: one of the remaining Jewish Synagogues.  It was built in 1315 and is the only synagogue in Andalusia to survive the expulsion and inquisition of the Jews in 1492 and one of only three ancient synagogues left in all of Spain (the other two are in Toledo).

After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, the synagogue of Córdoba was turned into a hospital,  a Catholic chapel in 1588 and later housed a nursery school.  It became a national monument in 1885, and was restored by 1985 in time to celebrate the 850th anniversary of  Maimonides, one of the most important Jewish scholars in history.


statue of Maimonides

a very small but beautiful space

A minyan (ten men) needed for worship

the women's gallery


West wall of the synagogue (note remnants of cross from the chapel days)

East wall - oriented towards Jerusalem

Psalm texts written around doorways and the balcony

Today the Synagogue is an historic site, no longer used for worship.  It is also very crowded as tours from all over the world pour in to the tiny space.  But I was worshiping as I read the (translations of) the Hebrew words inscribed on the walls and I was thinking of so many of my friends who were celebrating Passover this same week.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good. (from Psalm 122)









Just opposite the Synagogue, was a marvelous museum of Sephardic History, with implements, musical instruments, and items from what might be a typical Sephardic household in Spain. The collection comes from all over the Mediterranean where Jews settled during the Diaspora.  There were not so many people here, so easy to enjoy at our leisure, and the explanations were not only in Spanish but also English.  Super!















cabinet to hold the Torah when it is not in use in worship









courtyard at Sephardic museum










poetry from a Sephardic woman poet














By then, we were getting hungry and stumbled upon a small grocery, where the proprietor made us some delicious sandwiches with Serrano jamón, queso, los tomates… while an elderly lady waited for him to finish!  We also got chips, two amazing FRESH oranges, and some Fanta (which I hadn’t had in years!)

the little grocery store where we bought lunch


nice grocer who made us sandwiches of serrano and tomatoes in Cordoba

We took our meal back to the courtyard of La Mezquita and enjoyed the shade of the orange trees (as countless others before us must have enjoyed the same!) while the pigeons begged for food.  Really!  No telephoto needed!


orange trees everywhere

in the Mezquita courtyard

begging pigeon












We finished our day with a tour of the old fortification across the river from the Mezquita.


museum (and former fortification) at the end of the bridge in Cordoba - old roman bridge

The bridge is built on the foundations of an old Roman bridge.  At the other (Mezquita) end, is a monument to Raphael the Archangel in thanksgiving for the end of the Plague. (There are many such statues and monuments, all over Europe!)


statue to St. Raphael the archangel in return for protection from the plague

view of La Mezquita from the tower of the Museum/fort

La Mezquita is the large building on the right. You can see how the cathedral is plopped right into the middle of the mosque.

As we walked back to our hotel, we enjoyed many charming moments in Cordoba.


plants growing between the roof tiles

an impeccably dressed Andalucian gentleman












kids playing soccer in Cordoba

laundry on the rooftops (we can relate!)


The next day was Palm Sunday. We began the morning on the rooftop terrace of the hotel (location of the pool not yet open for the season and blissfully deserted!), watching the swifts and enjoying our grocery store breakfast of somewhat stale croissants and room coffee.



We had hoped to be able to stay for the service in the Cathedral but the timing was not good for our train back to Sevilla.  So instead we wandered over to Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Spanish for “Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs”), also known as the Alcázar of Córdoba, which is a medieval palace next to the Guadalquivir River and near the Mezquita, that served as one of the primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.

Here there are beautiful and extensive gardens,  a statue of Christopher Columbus with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, as well as lots of other ‘eye candy’ – fountains, orange and lemon trees, roses, calla lilies, one little girl making her first communion that day (probably with the bishop who was coming for the service at the Cathedral) and a few feral cats.  I could have stayed all day!


first set of gardens and fountains at alcazar

fountains everywhere

lemon trees

fun 'sculptures'

gorgeous roses












feral cat





statue of Columbus with his royal patrons

a little girl (and friend) getting ready to make her first communion

Our last memory of Córdoba was of the buggies and the bells pealing to call people to Palm Sunday mass! (In Austria the parade of palms is done with pussy willows, as there are no palms readily available.  However, in Andalucía, there are no such problems! Palms –and olive branches – are everywhere!


buggy driver - a fixture everywhere, only the hats seem to change!

buggy driver - a fixture everywhere, only the hats seem to change!


Click on the photo to hear the bells from outside the wall of old Cordoba.


From Spain 2011

Then it was back to Sevilla to pick up our rental car for the drive to Guacin.

Thanks as always, for reading!


Salmorejo or one of the best tastes of Andalucia

As we were traveling throughout Andalucia, one of the constant offerings on the tapas menu was Salmorejo, a thick gazpacho originating in the area of Cordoba.  We tasted it our first night in Cordoba but enjoyed it, as well, in Gaucin and Sevilla.  You could use bread to dip into it, or just scoop out all the yummy tomato goodness with a big spoon.

I’ve made Gazpacho before – the kind with chunks of vegetables floating in a suspension of tomato puree — and also creamy ‘white’ gazpachos, made with honey dew melon or cantaloupe.   This is a sort of cross between the two – no obvious vegetables, but a thick puree of tomatoes augmented with delicacies of the region.  In Cordoba, ours was served with chopped garlic and Serrano ham on top, with bread on the side.

When our French friends were visiting I wanted to serve something that might be new for them, and yet easy to prepare (or so I thought) that we could eat for either an appetizer or a small meal.  As it turned out, I have no food processor or blender at our flat here in Graz, so made do with the attachment to the electric hand mixer that seems to work quite well for soft foods but makes a bit of a mess at the same time!

Nevertheless, this recipe was perfect.  I didn’t follow exactly because I am a kind of taste as you go cook.  I’ve put my alterations in parentheses.


ingredients for Salmorejo

Spanish Creamy Cold Tomato Soup Recipe

Salmorejo Cordobes adapted from Lisa and Tony Sierra
website here

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes (plus longer to cool in the refrigerator)

Yield: 4 Servings


* 2 eggs – we’d already had eggs that day so I skipped this part

* 2 oz Serrano ham (substitute prosciutto)

* 1 (8 oz) baguette, stale

* 1 large clove garlic – after tasting, I increased to 3 cloves

* 2 lbs (1 kg) ripe tomatoes (or in a pinch or if without a proper blender/processor, use tomato puree)

* 8 oz (250 ml) extra virgin olive oil  – I used only about 1/4 cup olive oil

* 2 oz (60 ml) red wine vinegar – about 1/4 cup  (more traditional recipes use Spanish sherry; I think I added a tablespoon more)

* salt to taste



Hard boil the eggs. Place in ice cold water to cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cut off hard crust from baguette, then cut into slices approximately 1/2-inch thick. (If your baguette is skinny, like mine was, simply slice the whole thing down the middle and pull out the stale bread with your fingers.  Eat the crusts or save for later crumb-making.)

Pour about a 1/4-inch water into a large glass baking dish. Add bread slices and allow bread to soak for 30 minutes. Squeeze excess water out of slices and place in a blender or food processor. (or in a container that will contain any agitation from a hand blender!)

Peel and mince garlic and place in food processor. (I simply pressed the garlic and added it to the above container.)

Peel tomatoes and remove seeds. Add to the food processor and pour in vinegar. Process. (Because of time and tool constraints, I used mostly already prepared puree and a few tomatoes.)

Slowly pour in oil while processing. Continue to process until smooth. If mixture is too thick, pour in a bit of cold water while processing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve: Dice Serrano ham. (I first precooked the prosciutto in the microwave until it was barely crisp.)

(optional:  Peel and quarter hard boiled eggs.)

Pour soup into four bowls. Sprinkle ham over bowls.

(Add two egg quarters to each bowl.)


we ate every bit!