20 March 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Toledo

Toledo, one of the many fabulous cities in Spain. Last year on the way home form Avila we stopped for a cople of hours to explore, now I want to go and stay. So much history and gorgeous old buildings that I think it'll need a weekend.




See the Monday Morning Photo list.


19 March 2017

Writing Course & Writing Retreat in Spain

I really don't know how I managed not to write much about my Barcelona writing course trip here because I really enjoyed and gained confidence from it, now I seem to be writing about it everywhere else!

Last week's writing challenge on Wanderlust saw me penning a post about a lovely lady I met on the writing course - have a read? The Most Remarkable Person I Met While Travelling


This week on the Thelma & Louise website there's a piece I wrote sharing my experience in Barcelona on the writing course that was a prize win, but not originally mine. The winner backed out at the last minute, it was offered by Pink Pangea to anyone who wanted to take it, and I applied and got in. Read about it here - Rachel, the Travel Writer.

After leaving Barcelona, the writing course and the group of women I'd shared that time with I wrote a piece about the course and how I felt at the conclusion of a pretty emotional few days. It is on the Pink Pangea website if you fancy reading it or want a bit of a push to attend a writing course - Highs and Lows - Preparing to Land


As for writing retreats in Spain, come and stay in my holiday home in Jaen, northern Andalucia. No wifi and no mobile phone coverage in the house, peace, quiet and chill out time. I always find ideas come to me in moments of silence and inactivity and Casa El Reguelo is a great base to relax and write. I live less than ten minutes away if want you help, companionship, shopping doing etc.

13 March 2017

Monday Morning Photos - Fabulous Flowery Cordoba Patios

Last week was warm, blue-skyed and spring-like, this week is grey and wet. So for some Monday Morning cheer here's one of the lovely Cordoba Patios. It'll soon be May and the Patio competition again, is anyone going? I hope to get there again this year.



See the Monday Morning Photo list.

More Cordoba posts on the blog.



06 March 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Spanish Ceramics

I'm always happy to be heading towards Guadix and stop at the roadside ceramic shops. A rather blue, white and yellow theme going on here but here is an incredible array of dishes, sizes, designs, shapes and colours.


Spanish Ceramics, Guadix, Granada



See more Monday Morning Photos.

03 March 2017

Priego de Cordoba, Iznajar and Cortijo Sabila

On an abnormal Andalucia weather day a couple of weekends ago hubby and I set off on a wild, windy, grey trip to Villanueva del Rosario in the north of Malaga province. We were visiting another lovely hotel for our growing portfolio Only Spain ~ Boutique Hotels. We love driving and exploring Spain so our first dilema was which route to take. We don't do the easiest, most direct or quickest, neither do we go loads of kilometres out of our way. So our chosen route was through the two lovely towns of Priego de Cordoba where we stopped for lunch then Iznajar with it's castle-topped town and reservoir.

Iznajar

Priego de Cordoba has a huge, long balcony, better, I think, than Ronda's and some wonderful arhcitecture, well worth a visit or more. We were running late (as usual) so we dumped our planned lunch venue for a smaller spot nearer the parked car.

Priego de Cordoba


Then we took a long, lovely, windy road (one of those that I have to take over driving or turn green) to Iznajar past the lovely, rustic B&B Finca Las Encinas where we stayed and did a cooking class a few years ago and crossed over the aquamarine waters of the reservoir at Iznajar into Malaga province.

As we approached Villanueva del Rosario the skies darkened and I knew the cameras wouldn't be in use outdoors that day. But they certainly were inside. Our destination was  Cortijo Sabila a gorgeous, small, owner-run hotel - just the type I love promoting via Only Spain. With 10 bedrooms this lovely and antique-filled Cortijo (country house) and family home is a real treat and retreat.  It is only about 35 minutes drive from Malaga airport but centuries apart with the relaxing views and laid back loveliness.

Hotel Cortijo  Sabila, Villanueva del Rosario, Malaga


While the wind howled outside we snapped lots of photos, enjoyed the comfortable large living room with  a blazing fire and dined in fine style from the home cooked menu and plentiful wine.

Hotel Cortijo  Sabila, Villanueva del Rosario, Malaga


Cortijo Sabila is gorgeous, even though the weather wasn't and I could imagine those long, lazy summer days helping myself at the pool honesty bar, reclining on a sunbed, breathing in the fresh air and far reaching views. I definitely want to go back in summer! The gardens and different sitting areas  including an English-style fish pond and fountains like in the Alhambra Palace. Lots of care, attention and love have gone into making this a warm, homely and want-to-return small hotel.

See Cortijo Sabila on Only Spain with hotel photos in sunshine!!



27 February 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Flower Pots & Plants, Corners of Iznajar

Everywhere I go in Spain there are charming nooks, lovely details and gorgeous plants, even in winter this pretty spot in Iznajar had me whipping the camera out. Flower pots & plants in corners of Iznajar brighten a grey sky day.



Plants & Patios, Iznajar, Cordoba




22 February 2017

Interview N J Simmonds - 'The Path Keeper '

Today I’m talking to Natali Drake, aka author N J Simmonds, about the first book in her new Fantasy Romance Thriller series ‘The Path Keeper’ part of which is based in Andalucia and so caught my interest and desire to read it.


Over to Natali...

‘The Path Keeper’ is your first novel. How did it feel to be offered a three book deal with Accent Press on your first writing attempt?


Surreal. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t take it up professionally until 2012 (I’m a freelance writer). In September of that year the idea for ‘The Path Keeper’ began niggling away at me and I decided to start a novel in secret. In 2015 I also co-founded The Glass House Girls to which I’ve contributed more than a hundred articles and helped exercise my writing muscles. By the time the book was finished I had the confidence to seek an agent and a year later, after having received forty ‘no, thank you’ emails from publishers, I finally got a yes. I was stunned but also felt relieved, after all...there’s no such thing as luck if you work hard enough towards your goals. I’ve since moved to The Netherlands, I’m still working the day job and I’m also a mother of two, I’m very busy, so more than anything my book deal meant that dreams CAN come true if you just keep pushing.

The book focuses on many themes, from fate and destiny to love and second chances – why were these subjects important to you?

The book initially began as a story about two young people falling in love; Ella – a spoiled rich girl who isn’t as happy as people expect her to be, and Zac – a mysterious blue-eyed boy who has no money and a big secret. But as the story unravelled I realised I wanted to know why she was the way she was, and I wanted to understand her parents, and her parent’s parents. I thought about how our past effects our future, and I pondered on the subject of whether love can be stronger than fate. What if we all have a True Love out there but we fall for the wrong guy? Can we change our life path? So the book went from being a simple love story to a multi-layered journey where the lives of seemingly random characters interweave and ultimately affect the outcome of Zac and Ella’s forbidden love. I won’t pretend that my own experiences and ‘what ifs’ haven’t coloured my work. Isn’t every story a tiny reflection of its creator?


A big part of the book is set in Tarifa and the Andalusian mountains. Why did you base it there?


Two reasons: Because as far as I’m concerned you can’t get a more romantic place than Tarifa. And, because I wanted to celebrate my connection to Andalucia. In the book we see two characters Lily and Leo meet on the windswept beach of Tarifa. We watch as they fall in love among the winding streets of the town, and we see her life crumble as she sits between the two seas; the crashing waves of the Atlantic on one side and the calm waters of the Med on the other. I’ve always felt that Tarifa has a certain air about it - tranquillity tinged with drama. From the old weather station that sits incongruously like a gothic vampire castle looming over a huge expanse of beach, to the evocative Moorish architecture and incessant wind that drives its inhabitants crazy. As for the Andalucian mountains, the fictional village of Las Alas is actually based on Gaucin where my husband and I got married. I passed a little ruin of a house one day and wondered who had once lived there, and it became the backdrop for one of the most exciting scenes in the book.

Do you miss living in Andalucia?

Of course! We moved to The Netherlands a few months after I was offered the book deal. Holland is closer to the UK, where my book is published, and my husband’s job and kids’ schooling is exceptional...plus there’s a fantastic literary and creative vibe where I live in Delft. It’s the home of Vermeer and ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’, as well as the famous blue and white pottery, so everything is very arty and geared towards learning and expressing yourself. What’s not to love? But of course this year has also seen us ‘enjoy’ the coldest winter we’ve ever experienced as a family and it’s been tough. Luckily we still have our little bungalow by the beach in Spain so we go back as often as possible to get some Vitamin D and sea air!


Ella is a strong character- Did you choose such an outspoken protagonist on purpose?

Absolutely! I love Ella, even the most irritating aspects of her personality. I wanted to create a strong feisty female lead because I was tired of young girls in books depicted as being eternally grateful for the attention of a man; girls that always need rescuing and feel incomplete without a controlling male. Ella is a very complex character, on the surface she appears strong and untouchable but she’s also as vulnerable as any one of us. She’s lonely, she’s needy and she’s defensive...plus she’s nineteen...so she’s at a stage in her life where she’s battling between the romance of love and all its drama, and the realities of what it means to be in a relationship. As the story progresses we see her slowly change – to be open to love you also have to be open to pain, and it’s a tough lesson to learn.

‘The Path Keeper’ is part of a series – tell us what to expect in the second book?

From the very beginning I saw ‘The Path Keeper’ as a trilogy, although I may expand it further if my readers want more! The first book is all about Zac and Ella and the risks they’re prepared to take to fight fate and be together, but it doesn’t end in a pretty happy ever after...the story is very much left open. The second book ‘Son of Secrets’ (out late 2017) follows the aftermath of Ella and Zac coping with their new lives. Will Ella choose destiny or her Soul Mate? And what happened to her horrid step-brother Sebastian? Plus we see more of Gabriel and meet Luci – the most interesting character I have ever written about. You won’t forget her in a hurry!

Will we be seeing you in Spain any time soon?

Definitely. I aim to be in the south of Spain during the last two weeks of April 2017 where I am at the moment busy planning signings and appearances along the coast. I also have a few exciting things happening in Gibraltar for the book launch there. So watch this space...


‘The Path Keeper’ is available to buy from 23 February 2017 at all good bookshops or on Amazon. For more information about N J Simmonds and her books please visit her author site at njsimmonds.com or follow # thepathkeeper on all social media platforms.

Cazorla - Town, Natural Park and Where to Stay

Many people get confused as to where exactly is Cazorla. The main reason  I think is when people say Cazorla they mean the Natural Park or Parque Natural de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas but there is also Cazorla town. In the north-east of Jaen province the natural park is the largest in Spain. Rugged, beautiful, varied and green.

The reason for my last jaunt there was to see some autumn colours. Where I live the trees are all evergreen; olives and holm oaks, so pining for some colour we (hubby and I) headed to Cazorla on the recent Bank Holiday taking advantage of the glorious autumn weather we had been having.




Much to my surprise there was very little colour except green! Even so our 24 hours there with stunning scenery, lots of castle steps and great food was thoroughly enjoyable added to that the lovely little boutique guest house that we stayed in was so nice we almost didn't go off exploring but had a leisurely breakfast, with the friendly owners and their Basssett Hounds, and a better standard of breakfast than some hotels we've been to. Have you seen my Hotel Breakfasts are Very Important post?

Map Image Credit  Turismo en Cazorla
Where I stayed - Cortijo San Juan Bautista 

20 February 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Embalse de Iznajar

The Embalse or Reservoir de Iznajar in Cordoba province. Lovely views, great little town and castle even on a rare grey day in Andalucia.

Embalse Iznajar


See the Monday Morning Photo list.

Where to stay in Iznajar - the lovely Finca Las Encinas



13 February 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Traditional Olive Oil Mill

The Tourist Office in  Iznajar is the best I've seen, with displays and models of past traditions. What particularly caught my eye was this great little model of a Traditional Olive Oil Mill.

For the real thing, in my nearest town of Martos there is a mill that still produces some of their olive oil with a traditional press.

traditional olive oil mill


See the Monday Morning Photo list.


Where to stay in Iznajar - the lovely Finca Las Encinas


06 February 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Baeza Renaissance Unesco Town

Beautiful Baeza Unesco Renaissance city twinned with Ubeda. Both are jammed packed with gorgeous buildings, Baeza is my favourite with a smaller, more charming feel.






See the Monday Morning Photo List.

Where to stay in Baeza - the lovely Puerta de la Luna.


01 February 2017

Jaen Fiesta - Lumbres de San Anton - The Fires of San Anton

Traditionally the Fiesta Lumbres de San Anton or Fires of San Anton is held on 16th January, this year for the first time it took place two days before on a Saturday and that's probably why hubby and I decided to go for the first time in twenty years here.

The decision to change the date was to coincide with the famous San Anton running race which attracted over 10,000 runners and closed the city centre to traffic.

In the plaza of the enormous cathedral there were traditional dances and songs, I'll go and watch those next year, they must be more exciting than watching a bonfire! Years ago the neighbours would have sung and dancing around each fire. These days there are still fires lit around Jaen, smaller and spread around the city, there were more than 30 this year.




We checked out where they were going to be and chose one with easy parking and a bar nearby. The bar was closed, but parking was ample and it was another place to check out, which we did a week later and had a very decent, if noisy, Saturday lunch. Not a bad spot, Bar Alambrique, near Carrefour, we'll go again but it seems they are only open at lunchtime, perhaps that's just in the winter.

Anyway I'm rambling. We went to the dreaded Carrefour first (yes on a Saturday evening and horribly busy) and noticed the air was pretty smoky and reminscent of November 5ths many years ago. Then we headed out to our first lumbre on a very nippy night. It does get cold in Andalucia, in the mountains of the Sierra Sur de Jaen where I live we see extremes from -0c - +40c. This year (so far) our coldest night has been -8c. Just the once!

The smoke beckoned us and we soon found an enormous bonfire on one of the old, unused roads. We approached the fire with hands outstretched and welcomed the heat. There was no singing and dancing but piped music and not very traditional either. The group, of about 40, chatted and the put-you-up bar was laden with beer cans, bottles of table wine and bread.

Within a couple of minutes an old man made sure we got a drink and wanted to feed us too. We chose the warming but not special wine out of plastic cups, but soon we were offered swig from a traditional bota or wineskin too - hubby managed to get it all into his mouth, he'd done it before! I declined, I have trouble with water bottles near my mouth, red wine from a distance with a cream coat on? No.


Inquisitive as ever I asked about the fiesta and its origins. This particular Fire of San Anton was organised by the local neighbours' association, and each one across the city is run by some organisation or other. Food and drink being brought and cooked over a make shift barbecue and what more is needed! Warmth, company, food and wine.

We didn't stay long feeling a little uncomfortable not being part of their association and not contributing but partaking of their fare but the warmth wasn't only from the lumbre. Spanish people are open and friendly as once again we witnessed. Yes, it helps, especially with my inquisitiveness, to speak the language but we were amazed at our quickly someone approached us.

There's something rather mesmerising about flames, it takes me back to my childhood, with that and my story-telling old man (and the wine) it was a cosy feeling. He told us about San Anton in his youth when the kids made a doll out of old clothes and filled with straw rather like a scarecrow, sometimes with the empty shell of a pumpkin for its head, and with firecrackers in it. Why firecrackers? When the flames of the fire heat up and the firecrackers explode it represents the devil and his expulsion as 'he' disappears into the sea of flames - a sacrifice for all the wrongdoings

In those days there were fewer but bigger fires, I was told, so the competition between the kids to build the best fire was on. Sometimes they sat on guard all night, with loaded catapults, so nobody stole from their fire to add to another. I think these days it's a little more civilised, material to burn is easier to obtain and a nightwatch isn't necessary. But there again I didn't ask.


This is a modern-day bota do you think you could drink from it?

Bota

Photo thanks to Lourdes @El Viaje de Lu

See the Monday Morning Photo list for photos of Andalucia and beyond.



30 January 2017

Monday Morning Photo - El Balneario in Malaga

If you're in Malaga old town and a seafront stroll is in order then the Restaurante El Balneario de los Baños del Carmen should be your destination and wetting-the-whistle-stop. You can't get a better view and be closer to the sea than this!




See the Monday Morning Photo list.

Read about Nerja - a Great Winter Destination which is just along the coast.

Where to stay in Malaga near the Balneario - Hotel Castillo de Santa Catalina

23 January 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Guitar Player in the Albaicin, Granada

I love the Albaicin in Granada. This was just one of my fabulous 'moments'. The strain of guitar music floating around a corner and then - the picture.

No case for money, just practising. He wouldn't look my way either, so caught up in his moment. I passed him, stopped at the bottom and looked back and he was looking the opposite way again. Great playing too. I could have stayed all day. So quiet, so intimate.





The Albaicin is the old Moorish part of Granada, winding cobbled streets. Go up to the Mirador de San Nicolas and wander back down these streets. Its history, emotion and mystery will move you.


See the Mirador de San Nicolas photo
See the Monday Morning Photo list.
Read my post from my GRXperience blog trip to Granada.



16 January 2017

Monday Morning Photo - Nerja Caves

The astonishing and enormous Nerja caves will take your breath away, so awesomely surreal you could think it's a film set. A sobering visit when you see nature's creation and try and imagine the slow drip, drip formation over so many thousands of years.

Nerja Caves, Cuevas de Nerja


See the Monday Morning Photo list.

Read my blog post on my Trip to Nerja - A Great Winter Destination.