ROAD TRIPPIN’

WRITER, TRAV­ELLER AND EN­THU­SI­AS­TIC ICE-CREAM EATER SYLVIA MCKEOWN ROAD TRIPS THROUGH THE SOUTH OF SPAIN AND SHARES THE KIND OF AD­VEN­TURE THAT Wilder­ness 36 HOURS Sa­faris AND A TINY CAR WILL GET YOU Jao Camp

Elle (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

through the south of Spain

Stand­ing atop a moun­tain, I could see the end­less ta­pes­tries of green quilted to­gether and form­ing a spec­tac­u­lar view. Cu­rios­ity had caused us to take a ran­dom turn on the back roads near the Caminito del Rey and we landed up driv­ing up the side of a dam, nested into a moun­tain­top. ‘It’s fine – let’s just keep go­ing. We’ll make it to the other side, I’m sure,’ I said. We hit a dead end, but a dead end with this view – a far cry from the busy, touristy streets of Málaga. The air­port cen­tral of An­dalu­sia was packed with hol­i­day­ing Euro­peans in var­i­ous tones of self-tan spray. We had the op­tion of tak­ing a horse-drawn car­riage to the car ren­tal area, but in­stead, we opted for a reg­u­lar taxi from the busy shop­ping district in the old cen­tre of the city. We’d rented an apart­ment there and were kept up all night by the throngs of bach­e­lorette par­ties and a very an­noy­ingly, per­sis­tent flautist at 3am. Now ev­ery­thing was quiet, save the odd rus­tle from the plants as my mother tried to find a spot to pee. ‘Who doesn’t like a pee with a view?’ she asked from un­der some shrub­bery. Ev­ery year since my fa­ther died dur­ing my fi­nal ex­ams at var­sity, my mother and I travel some­where to­gether to re­con­nect. Al­though she suf­fers from in­tense back­seat driv­ing ten­den­cies, this road trip idea has been a win­ning for­mula so far. It was one that came to me the day be­fore I jour­neyed to Spain, af­ter a friend told me about the fa­mous Span­ish sherry re­gion. I clicked, paid and called my mom to tell her: ‘I’ve bought us a tiny car. We’re go­ing on an ad­ven­ture.’ We then took said tiny car up along­side the Caminito – a cliff-face walk that used to be the most dan­ger­ous in the world – and up the side of this moun­tain by the dam. The dam fed wa­ter to a tree-lined lake down be­low, where we’d even­tu­ally sit and eat ice-cream – our daily rit­ual on this trip. I’d told my­self it was a good idea to have one, con­sis­tent thing to do ev­ery day if you’re away and have no real plan; it en­sures a bit of pur­pose to all the wan­der­ing – and ice-cream’s never a bad idea. We me­an­dered our way west, along less-driven by­ways, and ar­rived in Seville. Fun fact: it’s a night­mare find­ing park­ing in any of the Span­ish metropoli­tan ar­eas. How­ever, once the bick­er­ing died down, we found our­selves walk­ing the streets of Seville’s

old town. The Lonely Planet named this the top place to visit in 2018. It’s cheaper than its hip­per Cat­alo­nian cousin, Barcelona and has far more el­e­gant charm. With its mix of Moor­ish and Gothic quar­ters among cos­mopoli­tan life, it’s easy to see why it landed the top spot on the list. The best ex­am­ple was dis­played the next day, as we walked in the rain down wind­ing streets to­wards a mod­ern, mush­room-like struc­ture called the Metropol Para­sol that was built in 2011, while eat­ing fresh straw­ber­ries from a lo­cal market. On the way, we ran­domly stum­bled into an old villa that was fre­quented by counts and kings with the most spec­tac­u­lar gar­dens, just be­cause we could. All this and the best avo toast of my life, com­plete with crispy, soft egg and chorizo at Miche­lin-rec­om­mended restau­rant La Azotea, for the same price as back home. With a lim­ited amount of time, don’t let wan­der­ings al­low you to ar­rive in Jerez too late to drink sherry at the many bode­gas in this sherry re­gion’s cap­i­tal: in­deed, cap­i­tal to the point where ‘Jerez’ is ac­tu­ally the Span­ish word for ‘sherry’. Jerez’s for­ti­fied wine­mak­ing prow­ess goes as far back as 1100 BC with the Phoeni­cians, but it was the Moors in the eighth cen­tury who used the land’s grapes in their dis­til­la­tion process to make it what it is to­day. You’d be sur­prised how many places close in Spain by mid­day un­der the guise of a siesta, never to re-open again. But the sprawl­ing town of many, many traf­fic cir­cles in­stead pro­vided us with food, mini-tourist sou­venir sherry bot­tles and an Ikea, much to my mother’s de­light. Then we were off again, new­fan­gled Swedish home­ware in tow, down to the small har­bour town off the Mediter­ranean penin­sula via a few white­washed towns and hill­top churches. Cádiz is the per­fect spot for an Amer­i­can rom­com: it’s quaint, soaked in his­tory and won­der­ful in ev­ery pos­si­ble way. The old town’s lit­tered with build­ings from the 13th cen­tury along­side much older churches that passed hands sev­eral times be­tween the Chris­tians and the Mus­lims. It’s about 1,5km across, a minute walk­ing space

that Google Maps told us to nav­i­gate in our tiny car nonethe­less. Truth­fully, if our ride was one cen­time­tre big­ger, we’d mostly likely still be stuck in those al­leys. How­ever, we per­se­vered and squidged our way through, mak­ing it to the sun-soaked coast, dot­ted with ma­jes­tic gar­dens and filled with trees ru­moured to have been stolen and brought back by Colum­bus from ‘the New World’. It was so beau­ti­ful that we didn’t want to leave. That, and the fact that we’d eaten the best ice-cream of the trip so far from a small, fam­ily-owned spot nes­tled in a me­dieval court­yard. Not to men­tion the best Bo­cadillo sand­wich my taste­buds ever had the luck to en­counter – freshly baked crisp bread, thin, crisp An­dalu­sian ba­con, roast pork and a thick slice of or­ganic tomato, all per­fectly toasted with ooz­ing, hot slices of cheese. That sand­wich was so good that we sat, for­lorn, on the city’s domed cathe­dral steps count­ing our eu­ros and try­ing to work out whether we could hus­tle our room and car for one more day. In­stead, af­ter do­ing some re­search on a few travel blogs, we ate some miniquiches, bought some ham and climbed back into the car. Za­hara de la Sierra is on a hill in the mid­dle of a sweep­ing na­tional park and lake, where we climbed all the way up to La Torre del Hom­e­naje fort at the very top of the town of charm­ing white houses among many a wind­ing road. We then wound our way down and across to Sete­nil de las Bode­gas, prac­ti­cally In­sta­gram heaven in­side a cave-like won­der, where rows of restau­rants are carved into a cliff-face gorge. Cas­cad­ing plants from the houses and the fort above hang down all the way to the Río Guadal­por­cún river be­low. The per­fect place to walk – and eat ice-cream, of course. Cities on or in­side cliff-faces and hills ap­peared to be the theme of the day as we hit Ronda. This city’s gorge, El Tajo, is fa­mous for its ver­tigo-in­duc­ing bridges, like Puente Nuevo, which stands 120m above the Guadalevín River canyon floor. It con­nects Ronda’s old town and the 15th-cen­tury ‘new town’ and is thick with tourists, who all had to part like the

Red Sea when we drove over it in our tiny car. In­ter­est­ingly, the first thing that comes up when you Google the route we picked to the sea­side is: ‘How scary is the drive from Ronda to Mara­bella?’ But don’t be put off. Sure, it leads you along white-knuck­ling, zig-zag hair­pin bends down a moun­tain for an hour and 40 min­utes, but the adren­a­line washed away nicely when I was fi­nally able to dip my feet in the ocean at a small beach spot called Farro off the high­way, on the way back to Málaga. Waves of re­lief and sea­wa­ter are a po­tent mix, as is driv­ing along the last stretch of coast with the top down, watch­ing the sun­set over an ad­ven­ture.

TIPS FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP: The car

Get the car for the road trip you want. In our case, since we were go­ing to fre­quent very old Span­ish towns with cob­bled roads that make Cape Town in­ner-city streets feel like canyons, the smaller the car, the bet­ter. Car ren­tal com­pa­nies are ev­ery­where – www.doy­ou­s­pain.com of­fers great deals. Also, driv­ing on the wrong side of the car takes some get­ting used to, so opt for a mini car with maxi in­sur­ance.

The ac­com­mo­da­tion

This is a ‘hey, what’s that over there?’ high-on-spon­tane­ity kind of trip. The joy comes in tak­ing the time to

lose your­self along the way. While Airbnb is usu­ally a great idea, ho­tels can ac­tu­ally come in as the bet­ter op­tion, al­low­ing you the free­dom to ad­ven­ture and the flex­i­bil­ity of not hav­ing to plan too far in ad­vance. You may be in luck and get a great deal on an apart­ment-style ho­tel, like we did with the Cadiz Inn Apart­ments (www.innhos­tels.com/cadizin­na­parta­men­tos). If you’re look­ing for old-school charm, there are a num­ber of old vil­las-turned-ho­tels in Seville, such as the Ho­tel Pa­tio de las Cruces (www.hotel­pa­tiode­lascruces.com), or an 18th-cen­tury farm­house that’s been made into a bou­tique ho­tel, like the Ho­tel Molino de Larco in Ronda (www.hotel­molin­ode­larco.com). You can also get some great deals on last-minute one-night stays.

The pad­kos

Snacks are one of the most im­por­tant cor­ner­stones of any road trip. Ev­ery Euro­pean re­gion has its own spe­cialty food. Make sure you visit the fresh food mar­kets, where the cheap, fresh food is a feast for both the eyes and the stom­ach. Don’t get tricked into spend­ing huge amounts of money in the touristy part of town. Cured meats and spe­cial cheeses are com­mon­place and some of the best and least ex­pen­sive places to buy are the lo­cal su­per­mar­kets. You’ll get An­dalu­sian cured meats in the south of Spain for the price of pep­pered salami back home. Check out thecul­ture­trip.com or, bet­ter yet, down­load its app. There are also a sur­pris­ing num­ber of English lo­cal blogs, like span­ishsa­bores.com that steered me to­wards Wendy Gamba in Malaga and a mini ox­tail cheese burger that changed my life.

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