Tag Archives: Andalucia

An Andalucia Guide–Really Seeing Southern Spain

book cover: Andalucia Guide
 Destination: Andalucia, Spain

Book: The Andalucía Guide, by Michael Jacobs.  NEW, October 2013

Reading Michael Jacobs new book, published by Interlink Books makes me realize that I probably should not claim that I have been to Spain.  Other than a short visit to Madrid, and drive through the Don Quixote La Mancha country, I only visited Andalucía.

Jacobs points out in the opening of The Andalucía Guide that eight generations of Moorish rule has left Andalucía more African than European, and totally different than the whole of Spain. It is an exotic region–not just in extravagant architecture and gardens, but also because its botanical and geological characteristics separate Andalucía from Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

Gateway described in andalucia guide
Despenaperros Pass, Spain–gateway to Andalucia. Photo shared by Spain’s Minsterio de Fomento

I vividly remember passing through the Despeñaperros pass that separates northern from southern Spain, but at the time did not realize it has long been considered by travelers at the gateway to Paradise. In the midst of this dramatic twisting canyon, we stopped at a small restaurant/shop and bought Spanish cheese for picnics on our road trip explorations of Andalucía. Coming down from the mountain pass, you can suddenly see the glint of the sea. Somehow the landscape seems to come to life on the southern side of this great divide. (At the bottom of this piece, you can find a link to a You-Tube trip through the pass)

Andalucia Guide: Alhambra
Washington Irving’s Room at the Alhambra, Granada Spain

The other fact that did not occur to me when I traveled in southern Spain was how influential the literary and artistic Romantic era– in the second half of the 19th century– had been on my thinking about Spain.  I have acknowledged here my debt to Washington Irving, one of the great popularizers of the romance of Moorish Spain. It was Irving who drew me like a magnet to the incomparable Alhambra in Granada. Jacobs says, ” Andalucía seems at times less of a real place than an invention of poets and story-tellers.” A theme that runs through this idiosyncratic  Andalucía Guide is the impact of the romantic writers on the region.

Very individual in its choice of subjects and places, The Andalucía Guide‘s major divisions follow a rough chronological pattern.  The author makes it clear that he has assembled a very personal selection rather than an making an attempt to cover everything. Interestingly, his focus seems to be strongly influenced by the romantics that he wants us to doubt. For instance, “Flamenco” and “Gypsies” and the “Moorish Age” each get a chapter and these are the three principal factors that delighted the romantics.




Reflecting pool in the Alhambra
Reflecting pool in the Alhambra

Throughout the book, the author quotes liberally from long-ago travelers who wrote about the region.  The traveler who loves to read (that’s YOU, right?) will be delighted that so much attention is given to both Spanish and foreign writing about Andalucía.

The choice of subject matter of the few color photos, seeming  almost an afterthought, further emphasize the author’s contention that our views of Spain are largely formed by the writings of the Romantics.

Some random tidbits from The Andalucía Guide that may be of practical use for travelers:


If you’re looking for Gypsies in their picturesque costumes, living in their caves–

Triana [a neighborhood of Seville] is no longer a gypsy suburb, and few gypsies remain in the Albaicín…those in Granada’s famous Sacromonte are now only used by the gypsies to put on tourist entertainments.


Beware of superstitions (shared by Andalucians and gypsies, it seems.)

The very mention of the word ‘snake’ is meant to bring on bad luck, and the only remedy is to shout afterwards, lagarto or ‘lizard.’  


Every day I discovered new sources of bad luck, ranging from the c0lour yellow to a chance encounter with a funeral procession.


Jacobs is singularly unhelpful in answering the question he acknowledges that  all tourists pose, “Where  canthe ‘real flamenco’ be heard?”  He says that fewer bars now have flamenco performances, because patrons want T.V.  He suggests going to Peñas Flamencas–private clubs, but doesn’t give us a clue as to how to find them.


The chapter on food and drink warns you about the extremely late hours of dining in Seville and the south, later than any other part of Spain.

…it is not uncommon to have lunch as late as five in the afternoon or to dine at midnight.  If you do insist on eating in a restaurant at times to which you have been used elsewhere in Europe, you will probably end up in the blandest of establishments.  But you must also remember that Andalucians frequently forsake conventional meals altogether in favor of the tapa or bar-snack.

Ah, yes, I remember it well. We were roaming through one of the white villages that cling to a hillside in southern Spain and getting hungrier and hungrier as the time approached mid afternoon.  No one stirred in the village–all taking a siesta.  We finally found a bar that was open, and ate the tapas that they had available–delicious even if we had not been starving. However, one point that Jacobs does not mention is the Seville habit of standing at the bar for your drink, coffee, or even tapas.  Rural areas are more relaxed, and you can sit at a table, but in Seville, a tired traveler’s tootsies will just have to put up with standing around until the approved dining hour of ten p.m. or later.


Jacobs agrees with the characterization of Sevillianos by English 19th-century writer Richard Ford.

One of the greatest promoters of Seville’s charms was Richard Ford, who was also one of the few people to write perceptively about its people, with their caustic humour, refusal to be hurried, and wild outbursts of child-like enthusiasm.

This book delighted me, and made me yearn to return to that “invention of poets and storytellers” that was so–yes, it was–romantic.

Finally, for those looking for the practicalities, about half The Andalucía Guide is devoted to describing specific towns. The appendix has a wealth of practical material, including vocabulary, time line and 23 pages of suggested additional reading.  I have a few suggestions of my own below, but definitely not 23 pages.

What do you prefer in a guidebook? An encyclopedic “just the facts, ma’m” style, or the idiosyncratic choices of the author? Do you have a favorite guide to Spain?

 MORE Andalucía Guide Information

For an up-to-date culinary tour of Seville and some gorgeous pictures, see this article by David Lebovitz.

To see what it is like to drive south through the Paso de Despenaperros, here’s a trucker in Spain on video. (Caution, if you suffer from car sickness, beware.)

You can see the my favorite books about Spain in this article.

The Andalucia Guide was provided to me by Interlink for review, however, they know that I will tell you what I honestly think.  The highway photo is identified, and comes from Flickr. The others are my own. The first link to the book takes you to Amazon, because I am an Amazon affiliate and make a few cents off of each sale. However the 2nd link takes you to Interlink Books,  so that you can buy form an Independent book seller.


Read These Books about Spain; Do Not Follow

Destination: Spain

Book: Driving Over Lemons, An Optimist in Spain(1998) and Almond Blossom Appreciation(2009) by Chris Stewart

Although I loved  Spanish Andalucia when we drove from Madrid to the Costa del Sol, up to Granada, down to Seville and the white villages of Malaga, Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain has been sitting on a shelf in my travel library for a long time.  I knew it was about an Englishman settling in Spain.

I thought, “I  really have my fill of Englishmen and Americans going through the exercise in Italy or France (or Spain) of building/remodeling, mispronouncing words so that they became obscenities, blaming their lack of progress on a manana attitude, and then falling in love with the romance of it all.” ” Spare me, I thought.

(Since 1998 when the first book came out, Chris Stewart has written two more books on Spain, so I’m even further behind than I thought.)  Driving over Lemons (1998) is kind of that sort of book, and kind of not that sort of book.  Chris Stewart already spoke very good Spanish when he decided to buy a property in Spain. And he has experience as a farmer, so he understands what it takes to really work the land.  These two factors help with the third essential–he melds into the neighborhood.  And as anyone who has ever moved into a small town anywhere knows, that is no small feat.

Stewart neither romanticizes nor patronizes the peasants. He is one of them. He gives credit to a couple of good neighbors who give him tips about who to trust and who not to trust, although he goes on for far too long blindly trusting the man who sells him the land and then continues to live on it for months and months afterward. Finally, to his patient tutors’ relief, the Englishman admits that he might not have been such a good judge of character.

I liked the book because of its down to earth approach, and lack of romanticism.  Whenever Chris gets overly optimistic, his wife is there to pull him down to earth.

I also liked the book, because while Peter Mayles’ book singlehandly meant the overtouristing of Province and Frances Mayes can be held responsible for the cloud of diesel fuel from tour buses that hangs over Tuscany, there is less chance that tourist mobs have followed Chris Stewart up dirt roads in mountain gorges somewhere south of Granada. This is no quaint village, no Earthly Eden. It is a little pocket of hardscrabble farmers.

Thanks, Chris, for picking a place so resistant to tourists infiltration. And my blessings on those who want to hoof it in without spoiling what brought Chris to the place to begin with and to those who read such a book only to dream. More credit to Chris for showing would-be urban back-to-the-landers that having your own farm in a far-off land isn’t a piece of cake. He’s funny, but about that, he isn’t kidding.

If you want more, Stewart has two more books in his series on Spain, Parrot in the Pepper Tree  and Almond Blossom Appreciation Society .

And despite my curmudgeonly title, I will say that if you learn from these books about the natural beauty of Spain and the character of the Spanish people and some of the Moorish and Roman history, please do go to Spain. Just don’t trudge into these good farmer’s corner.