World Travel Market Special,  Sur in English

Twelve good reasons

When you go somewhere new, it is always much more enjoyable if you have someone to tell you the secrets of the place. SUR in English knows all about  southern Spain...

Every year, SUR in English has a stand at the World Travel Market and our representatives spend four days at the show, helping to promote the attractions of Andalucía both to holidaymakers and to prospective residents. They do so through the supplements to the newspaper which are published specially for the World Travel Market, and with the benefit of personal experience to talk about with visitors to the stand. For this edition, we decided to ask those representatives, and other colleagues and friends who already know the area well, to tell us just why they would recommend Andalucía. This is an insiders’ view of just some of the reasons people come here, and why many of them stay.

1- Open Spaces. Riding, walking, climbing....

First we asked  Sue, who has been living in Álora in the Guadalhorce valley for six years. "For me", she said, "it is the wide open spaces, whole mountains and valleys where you can walk or ride for hours and never see another soul. The mountains are interlaced with tracks which go for hundreds of kilometres and the wildlife and views are fantastic. I love the magical lakes at El Chorro and the stunning Torcal national park, every way you turn Andalucia has something new to show you. Many more people venture inland for their holidays now and there are companies specialising in climbing, riding, birdwatching, photography and walking holidays throughout the area. Of course, if you just want to relax there is nothing better than sitting on a terrace in early evening listening to the crickets and watching the sun go down over the mountains.

2- Piece of Paradise. Away from the madding crowd

Eve preferred not to give too much away, and readers can probably guess why! "I count myself as lucky indeed to have found my piece of paradise in Andalucía" she said. "I have lived in other parts of Spain and been happy there, but now, I can watch the sun come up turning the sea into a shimmering bath of gold and in the evenings see it disappear behind olive-strewn mountains. I can watch rabbits play and listen to the clucking partridges on their nightly route to bed. In the midst of all this tranquility I'm only thirty minutes from the centre of the great cultural melting pot that's the city of Malaga. Where am I? It's my secret and I like it that way, but one thing I'm sure of, and that’s that you won't find a better place to live".

3- The little things. The roads, the weather, the noise...

Vivion O’Kelly, who regularly regales readers of SUR in English with his views of life in Spain, had the following to say:
"What do I love about Andalucía? Well, I can tell you what I don't love about it. I don't love the weather, for a start. I don't love getting up every morning and finding the sun perched on the horizon day after day, more than 300 days of the year. I don't love lying on the beach and dreaming of those blustery days on Irish beaches in a former life, nostalgic for the excitement of staring at the clouds and making mental bets on when the sun will decide to peer through, the invigorating shock of ice-cold water on my skin. I don't love Andalusian drivers nudging my back fender on the motorways. I don't love orange-coloured  lard on my toast in the mornings. I don't love going into a shop in a hurry and having to chat for ages to the assistant because that's what I usually do and I don't have the heart to tell him I'm in a hurry this time around. I don't love village festivals that go on right through the night for the best part of a week when I have to sleep because some of us have to work sometimes here in Andalucía. I don't love having a quiet drink in a bar to the sound of a fruit machine being pumped with coins, a television set on the wall turned up so that customers can hear the football commentary over the wail of flamenco music on the radio, and the half dozen people in the bar making more noise in conversation than the crowds cheering at the match. There are lots of reasons I don't love Andalucía.     
So what are the reasons I love Andalucía, and why have I lived there for so long, you may reasonably ask? That's a secret I'd rather keep to myself, if it's all right with you".

4- Chiringuito life. The sardines make all the difference

"I can tell you exactly what I like about life here" said David. "Think of this...the other night I went out for a dinner with a friend to a "chiringuito" in Malaga. The views weren't great (we were looking out over the container port), the restaurant was more of a shack and we sat out on flimsy plastic chairs but what made the difference were the sardines. It seems so easy, sardines, sea salt and a wooden fire and yet they are in a world of their own. A bottle of house wine; slices of tomato (which actually taste of something) with garlic and olive oil; sardines and a balmy Malaga evening is my idea of heaven. It's the atmosphere, the smell, the noise of the people sitting next to you, the sun setting and the Mediterranean. At the end of the evening the owner took us out to where the sardines were being cooked and showed us how to "espetar" (skewer) fish.  She then sat at our table explaining how she had come from Cuba forty years ago and fell in love with Malaga, while filling our glasses with sweet, cold liqueurs until one o’clock  in the morning. What could be better?"

5- Axarquía. Into the mountains for some sweet wine

Rose had much the same sort of story to tell. As she said: "If I ever need to be reminded of why I moved to Spain I take a trip into the Axarquía and drive along the road from Rincón de la Victoria to Comares. At the end of summer when the heat starts to abate, the farmers start to harvest their 'pasas'". (Pasas are sun-dried moscatel grapes, which are used in a variety of local dishes, and their production is a throwback  to bygone days.) "As you drive along the road, with the sun reflecting off the aquamarine sea, you can see the small-holdings hanging off the mountains and the nearly vertical terraces laid out with thousands of bunches of grapes drying in the autumn sun. The farmers have to use mules to collect the raisins, as the terrain is too steep for machines, and in the late afternoon you encounter them coming down the hills riding their mules with the panniers full of fruit. You can then wind down, after all the stress of watching the locals at work, in one of the local bars with a cold aniseed and 'pasas' liqueur.

6- Bringing up baby. A great place for family life

Next to be interrogated was Rachel, who had no doubts about bringing up a child on the Costa del Sol. “There is a different mentality here when it comes to children,” she explains. “They are treated as fully fledged members of the family, rather than a nuisance you have to get into bed as early as possible so that the parents can ‘have some time’, which is the message I seem to get in other countries. Here if the parents go out to dinner the children go too; but you’ll never see a ‘Families welcome’ sign as it would never occur to a restaurant not to welcome them. Then there’s the timetable thing. My mum couldn’t believe that we were about to go out for a walk at 11 p.m. with a two year old in tow. But it was August and just when the children’s playground was getting busy. But the nicest thing is that in an Andalusian village, town or city a child is surrounded by friendly faces: the neighbours who talk to him in the lift; the market trader who gives him a banana; the restaurant owner who’ll come out with a lollipop even if we’re not going in …. all smiling, all genuine”.

7- Community. International and friendly

Nigel lives in Nerja, the biggest resort on the Costa del Sol east of Malaga, and says "Living in Nerja offers the possibility of living in a vibrant international community with all the advantages of a cosy Spanish town. The locals are wonderful and really help me with my Spanish; I've been learning for two years and while still a little stuttering I am coming along thanks to the help of my neighbours and friends. Speaking Spanish really means that I feel part of the community and means that I feel that Spain is my new home. The warmer weather has meant that I have come out of my shell and thanks to all my new friends I seem to be constantly learning something new. In Nerja we have a fantastic Cultural Centre and in the mild winters I can take my pick from seeing opera, ballet, flamenco, modern dance or even a film in English with Spanish subtitles (great for my Spanish!)".

8- History. The most amazing cities

Debbie has been in Andalucía for twenty years and now lives in Cadiz province. She says she loves the history and culture of this part of Spain. "Andalucía has the most amazing cities. They are all beautiful. Think of the Alhambra in Granada, glowing pink against the snow of the Sierra Nevada at sunset, Cadiz's "new" cathedral - which is only three hundred years old! - with its golden dome, backed by the blue Atlantic,  the view over the rooftops from the Giralda tower in Seville, the mosque-cathedral in Cordoba. History surrounds you wherever you go. Walking around the small white villages is like stepping back in time because they still retain so much of their Moorish origins, and sometimes it seems as if every time somebody digs a spade into the ground another archaeological site is discovered!  The history and culture in Andalucía are closely intertwined. Malaga's Picasso Museum is an obvious example, or the village of Genalguacil which is an open air art gallery. It is wonderful to go to famous events like the Nerja Cave or Granada  music festivals, but even small villages like  Jimena de la Frontera and Alcalá de los Gazules hold international music festivals each year".

9- Sport and art. So much choice you might miss something

Heather is interested in the world of sport, and also enjoys a good art exhibition, so she is spoiled for choice. She follows the fortunes of Malaga's football team and also any basketball and rugby games, and gets to as many exhibitions as she can. "Somehow or other", she admits, "I managed to miss the Joaquín Sorolla exhibition at the Malaga Contemporary Art Centre which finished at the end of September. It felt like everyone and their granny saw it except me - even those fabby grand parents who are my mum and dad who were on holiday when it was on and said it was great. And somehow or other I managed to miss the Fernand Legér exhibition in the Unicaja Foundation gallery. It's just not right to miss such opportunities on your own doorstep. But those exhibitions were just two on a never ending list of temporary exhibitions which come to gallery spaces in Malaga and depending on taste of course should not be missed. There's a very common statement which goes something like: "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." I've tried to get to know more about art at various points in my life - not very successfully I have to say but I can pretend - but it's true that I do know what I like and that is contemporary art. And there is no lack of it here".

10- Integrating. Setting up a new home: a friendly affair

Grace moved permanently to Malaga in 2006 after spending four months on a university placement in the city a couple of years earlier. Like all foreign visitors she was attracted by the climate and the laid back lifestyle, but it was the amiability of the 'Malagueños' which impressed her most. "You can be sitting at the bus stop, and someone will come and sit beside you and start up a conversation," she says. "You are really made to feel welcome by the local people which makes setting up home in a new country a lot easier, especially if you are young and a little nervous," she explains.

11- Gastronomy. Eating your way into the region

Not only do tourists and foreign residents learn about Spanish culture and traditions, but Spaniards are also given the chance to  learn about their foreign neighbours' culture in events such as the annual 'foreign residents' day' which takes place in towns such as Mijas, Estepona and Marbella, and in which various foreign associations are invited to display products and foods from their own countries. "I also enjoy the fairs and cultural events which take place throughout the year in the provinces of Andalucía," she tells us. "There is always something to do in Malaga, and each province strives to keep its traditions alive by organising different gastronic and cultural events. My favourite is the 'fiesta de la naranja' in the town of Coín. Hundreds of people attend every year and get the chance to try all kinds of soups, desserts and juices made with local oranges. As Spanish cuisine is one of the best in the world, it really is a privilege to be able to sample so many different dishes for free at the different food fairs. In many of them, such as the 'perotas' soup day in Álora, visitors get the chance to see exactly what goes into the dishes, and how they are prepared. I have learned quite a lot thanks to these fairs and enjoy preparing Spanish meals when I visit my family in Britain. I think they are quite surprised by how much I have learned in just two years!" concludes Grace.

12- Just everything. Even the traffic jams have their charm

The last person we asked was the Editor of SUR in English, Liz Parry, who said that there are plenty  of reasons why she would recommend coming to Andalucía, but most of them had already been mentioned! However as a long-standing resident in Malaga, she asked for a special mention of the city and of the many improvements she has seen over the years. "When people ask me where I would most like to live, I probably sound very unimaginative" she said. "I really do think it would be hard to beat Malaga - and my second favourite place is only just down the road really, because Granada is another wonderful city. But I have lived in Malaga for years, and brought up my children here, and I just love it. Of course it's not perfect, nowhere is, but it has a special feel to it. It's cosmopolitan and there is plenty going on, particularly now with the push to be European Culture Capital, and at the same time it is very Spanish and doesn't feel like a  huge impersonal city. If you walk round the centre you are almost certain to meet someone you know, so it is homely! Every time I go into the centre shopping, or for tapas or a concert or whatever reason, I wonder why I don't go even more often! And on a balmy evening, it is just magic."

What else? Well, Liz is even enthusiastic about transport. Her favourite mode of travel is on the AVE, the high speed train which she loves using for trips to Cordoba or Madrid. Malaga airport is convenient for flying, but she is not a great fan of air travel - or rather, of interminable queues and security controls. "Of course I fly to the UK, several times a year, but I do dislike all the waiting around and lugging of luggage!" she says. Even Malaga airport, though, scores points over other airports in her estimation because of the free carpark which has been made available while construction work is going on. "Free parking at an airport, and a free courtesy bus to go with it? I've never seen that anywhere else. Top marks!" What about the city buses? "Oh yes, I use those too, I am a frequent traveller on the number 11! They are air-conditioned  and drop you right in the city centre, so why would I go by car?" she asks. "I just use the car for getting to work, and sometimes for driving into the countryside, which is a real pleasure in Andalucía. Even on a main route like the one from Malaga to Granada, you can sometimes have the road almost to yourself and I drive along, enjoying the views. The road to work is not so good, I often get caught up in traffic jams, but where in the world would that not happen? And being stuck in traffic with a view of the sea to one side and the mountains to the other, with the sun shining... you can't complain, can you?”

So there you have it. Even the traffic jams around Malaga have something positive about them!

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