FROM TERRIBLE TORROX TO CAPTIVATING CORDOBA

Sometimes you get a dud place to stay – it happens. When it does, it’s usually because there’s little choice, or else we don’t want to faff around looking speculatively for other options. We had heard of a new paid aire at a place called Torrox Costa east of Malaga, and it had good reviews so far. But since then we suspect those reviews were by the owners’ mates ! It had sea views but with car parks, a main road and billboards in front, it was 2 mins from the beach but it was grubby black sand, the bins were overflowing and the area had a distinctly scruffy feel to it. Still, the other motorhome neighbours were friendly, we needed the electric hookup and we reasoned it would only be for one night.

Which was partly why when we found our next place, we decided to stay a couple of nights. Often the contrast can increase your appreciation of a place. It was a motorhome area next to the marina at a charming coastal town called Caleta de Velez. It was really low rise with little two-story terrace houses facing the beach. The locals leave their door open and sit out on the street, chatting or watching the world go by. There seemed to be a fishmongers on every corner and numerous marisquerias (fish restaurants) dotted along the sea front. It had a big fishing port and we were woken at 6am every day with the drone of the fishing boats as they headed out to sea. Their nets would be laid out to dry in long rows in a nearby yard, and some were being sewn up by hand. You got the sense that the whole town was built on fish. The sun was out but there was a chilly wind, driving me back into the van every time I tried to sit outside. Tim persevered but even he had to give in a some points. We even tried to rig up a wind break to no avail. In the tall palm trees, green parrots nested and they flew around squawking in little groups. I could also see little sparrows using the little burrows as homes. The town was not a glamorous place, but it felt authentic and had a nice feel to it.

Parrots nest in the palm trees at Caleta de Velez, near Malaga
Parrots nest in the palm trees at Caleta de Velez, near Malaga

We were heading inland towards Cordoba and stopped at the town of Antequera which I head read about in the Rough Guide and had a free motorhome area. Wow what a beautiful place! There is an attractive old town centre which is overlooked by the most romantic looking castle – The Alcazaba – originally built by the Moors. We walked up there and had a beer in the sun on the terrace overlooking an incredible vista where we could see for miles.

Arco de los Gigantes
Arco de los Gigantes

 

The church by the Alcazaba, Antequera
The church by the Alcazaba, Antequera

 

View over Antequera
View over Antequera

On the way up we had seen a motorhome negotiating it’s way down a cobbled medieval lane and we couldn’t believe they’d attempted to drive through the town. They were stuck as oncoming traffic couldn’t get past them in the narrow lane. Eventually they must have squeezed through, as the passenger of one of them appeared on foot to slowly guide the van down and stop oncoming traffic to make way. On turning the sharp corner at the bottom of the hill, they once again became stuck and blocked the cars on the other side. She looked, red, and flustered. I couldn’t believe it when a second van followed tentatively in their wake. Medieval streets were not designed for cars, let alone motorhomes – especially in hill towns. It seemed like a bit of a rookie navigation mistake and I suspect the first and last time they’ll make it !

Medieval streets are not kind to motorhomes ! Luckily this was not us
Medieval streets are not kind to motorhomes ! Luckily this was not us

We had walked with Bodger all that way and it kind of showed when we got back, he looked fatigued. We felt guilty for taking him so far – about 2 miles in total. But when the alternative is leaving him behind, it’s a hard choice to make.

The other thing about Antequera is its dolmen tombs. They sit just outside the town and are free to get in. They were created in about 3500-5000BC, which is astounding when you look at the size of the stones and the construction.

Entrance to the Dolmen tomb, Antequera
Entrance to the Dolmen tomb, Antequera

 

Inside the dolmen tomb
Inside the dolmen tomb

The next day we went to a place called El Torcal. A place well-known for it’s limestone formations on top of a huge outcrop 1200 metres high. It also has unusual flora and fauna like Ibex and Griffin vultures. We tend to be careful in choosing to park in public places at the weekend in Spain, as they are often packed to the rafters and there is nowhere to park. This was the case here, and as we arrived we just had to drive on by the car park as it was chocca. Luckily we found a little layby with a spring half a mile down the road and tucked ourselves in there. It appeared unused, but as we often discover with seemingly empty places, they are not what they seem. Within 20 mins we realised there was a steady stream of locals arriving in their cars to fill up their many big water bottles from the spring. Clearly this was a valuable local resource and we’d just parked our Elf in front of it unknowingly! Thankfully they didn’t bat an eyelid. Many even stopped for a chat with each other, the rural version of having a gossip next to the office water-cooler ! We tried the water for ourselves and it was lovely.

The mountain spring at our daytime parking spot proved very popular with the locals !
The mountain spring at our daytime parking spot proved very popular with the locals !

We figured the car park would empty out later in the day so we’d hang around and wait. The views were stunning so we were happy to sit it out for a bit. But we also wanted to see the limestone formations which were at a car park even higher up than that. So rightly or wrongly we drove up and braved a very narrow access road before arriving at a similarly heaving car park (even at 4.30pm). We cheekily parked in a coach space and hoped no one would say anything. Our hopes of seeing some local wildlife were completely dashed as we looked around and saw people everywhere – clambering around, posing for photos and generally milling around. We put Bodger’s boots on him and spent a bit of time walking the easiest route, so he wouldn’t have to walk very far. Then we drove back down the hill, just about squeezing (on the edge of a very steep ledge) past yet another coach load of people on their way up. I think I actually stop breathing in these situations, as if holding my breath will make the Elf a bit thinner when passing other vehicles. But we just about made it and were delighted to arrive back at a practically empty car park at the bottom. It had some of the most incredible views we’ve ever had, and was worth the wait. In the morning as we were walking the dogs, we spotted 4 Griffin Vultures gliding high above. I was so pleased to have seen some of the famed wildlife of the area at last.

Limestone formations at El Torcal
Limestone formations at El Torcal

 

Looking up at El Torcal
Looking up at El Torcal

 

One of our best views ever at the car park at El Torcal
One of our best views ever at the car park at El Torcal

We were at the point where we really fancied a bit of a break from the daily travelling so we booked into a small campsite set in Olive groves south of Cordoba. Here we had some of the most amazing weather we’d had so far this year. Each day the sun would shine all day long and it was warm and best of all wind-chill-free. There were only about 3 motorhomes at any one time so we had lots of space. We had a really good chill-out there.

Having a good back roll under the olive tree
Having a good back roll under the olive tree

 

Our view of the olive groves
Our view of the olive groves

 

Snooze time!
Snooze time

After five nights at the campsite, we left for Cordoba, a short hop 25 minutes’ drive away. Cordoba has to be one of the most captivating cities I’ve ever been to and I would highly recommend a visit if you can. The history and architecture of the place is amazing and it has a vibrant cafe culture. It’s location also means it has a great climate. I wanted to go mainly for the Mezquita – the world-renowned mosque built in the 8th Century but as I learned more about the place, I realised we might need a good couple of days to explore. The old town is surrounded by medieval city walls and doesn’t allow cars in.

The old city walls of Cordoba
The old city walls of Cordoba
Fortress of the Kings
Fortress of the Kings

You can wander around the old cobbled lanes and the city is also known for it’s ‘patios’. These are the inner courtyards each dwelling seems to have and are abundantly planted with flowers and plants. Often, they are lined with marble or blue and white tiles. Each is spotless. The council encourages the residents to show them off. Sometimes you can walk in have a look and other times you just catch a glimpse through the open door. The river Guadalquivir flows through the city and the focal point is the Roman bridge. There is a huge water wheel still in pace where the Moors built it, (obviously the wooden bit is a reconstruction but still impressive). There is the Fortress of the Kings with beautiful gardens, plus Roman temple remains and even numerous hammams – (turkish baths). Outside the city walls there are lots of green spaces and fountains, as well as abundant cafes and restaurants with outdoor tables.

One of the many outdoor cafes
One of the many outdoor cafes

 

There are a lot of water features in the city
There are a lot of water features in Cordoba

 

Patio with a beagle
Patio with a beagle

 

A huge Moorish water wheel on the river
A huge Moorish water wheel on the river

 

The Roman bridge
The Roman bridge

 

One of the famous Cordoba patios
One of the famous Cordoba patios. Not sure they could squeeze any more pot plants here in even if they wanted to!

 

Another patio

 

A pretty patio ceiling
A pretty patio ceiling

Our camper area was next to the cleanest park we’ve ever seen in Spain to date (public spaces are often covered in litter). The dogs really enjoyed running around on the green lawns and having a good back roll. Lawns are precious things in Spain as the water needed to maintain them is expensive. So this felt like a treat.

We had a bit of a scare on the day we arrived as we found out that a Spanish thrash metal band was playing in the outdoor arena we were parked next to and was due to go on till 2am. We thought about moving but it would have been a hassle. After some detective work online, we worked out that they were actually performing in a smaller indoor theatre that we hadn’t been aware of  – phew what a relief!

One of the huge Mezquita doors
One of the huge Mezquita doors

Cordoba has everything. The crowning glory is the Mezquita though. We waited till early on Sunday morning to go to avoid the crowds. There is a very tranquil feeling inside and the details of the lattice work, the seemingly infinite space punctuated by the columns, arches and carvings are exquisite. But architecturally its a complete oddity. The mosque was built on the site of an early Christian Basilica, then enlarged several times by successive Caliphs, and then a huge cathedral was plonked in the middle by a Christian king of Spain. You can’t see the outside walls of the cathedral, as it is set inside the original mosque building. Often the Roman, Christian and Muslim elements are one on top of the other. A part of the floor has been cut way in one area and through the glass floor you can see early Christian mosaics a few feet down. I can’t think of any other places where you get such an immediate impression of the layers of history building up like that that.

I’ll leave you with some photos – I took so many so these are just a few and I’ll let them speak for themselves. Signing off for now.

Cheers.

Martha

A glass cutout in the floor of the Mezquita shows pre-8th century mosaic floors
A glass cutout in the floor of the Mezquita shows pre-8th century mosaic floors

 

Beautiful ceiling rafters
Beautiful ceiling rafters

 

The holiest place of the mosque - the Mihrab
The holiest place of the mosque – the Mihrab
The columns were re-used from an earlier Christian basilica
The columns were re-used from an earlier Christian basilica

Intricate Islamic carvings mixed in with a statue of a Christian saint on the right
Intricate Islamic carvings mixed in with a statue of a Christian saint on the right

 

The Patio de los Naranjos outside the Mequita
The Patio de los Naranjos outside the Mezquita