How the Andalusian Horses Dance

“We must see this” and so we did.  What sealed the deal for Cadiz to be part of our itinerary besides Anton’s family were actually the horses.  And if you too love horses, this you must not pass up.


Jerez de la Frontera, a municipality of Cadiz, lies in a fertile upland region on the southern edge of the Andalusian plains, between sea and mountain.  This fertile land that surrounds the city produced some fine wines and sherry that has given rise to some of the most prominent families in the area.  This wealth enabled them to invest on impressive stud and bull-breeding farms all around the city.


And for breeding the famous and the beautiful Andalusian Horses, Jerez became the cradle of Spanish horsemanship.   Beautiful, docile, and gentle, the purebred Spanish horse impresses with its sculptured beauty of noble bearing and natural high action.  Extremely elegant, naturally graceful in its rhythmic pace, and extraordinarily beautiful, the PRE (Pura Raza Española) is a horse breed from the Iberian Peninsula with 3,000 years of history.  It has been known for its deftness as a warhorse and was prized by nobility.


One of the best places to learn more about these beauties is in the Royal School of Equestrian Art or the Real Escuela Andaluz del Arte Escuetre, a riding school comparable to the world-famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna.



A beautiful garden surrounds the premise.  A 19th-century palace, the Palacio de las Cadenas, serves as its headquarters and visitor center.

And whatever else you do, make sure to catch its equestrian ballet show entitled “How the Andalusian Horses Dance.”


To the beat of traditional Spanish music, the horses perform complex and arduous movements with effortless grace and control.

An absolute must.

Useful Info:

Real Escuela Andaluz del Arte Escuetre
Avenida Duque de Abrantes S/N,
Jerez de la Frontera
+34 956 319635
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Bounded by the sea on a narrow wedge of land is the province of Cadiz, said to be Europe’s oldest inhabited city.  A typical Andalusian city with a wealth of well-preserved historic landmark in its charming old quarter.

It may not have architectures that shout “look at me!” like Barcelona’s Casa Batllo, Bilbao’s Guggenheim, or Granada’s Alhambra, but the Moorish looking old city offers a taste of the great days of the 17th century.


Walk around its cobblestone narrow, winding alleys and open squares and you will feel like nothing much has changed.


This and the easy-going, everyday vibe of Cadiz makes for a pleasant walk around the ancient city, the rain notwithstanding.


Friendly locals would always strike up a conversation, if you speak Spanish that is; otherwise a welcoming smile is always at the ready.

Founded as the Phoenician port of Gades a millennium before Christ, Cadiz has an old and interesting history.


A worthy place to learn more about it is at the Museo de Cadiz, on Plaza de Mina.


It offers a journey that goes from Phoenician and Roman culture through to the 20th century Spanish paintings.

Just across Cadiz is El Puerto de Santa Maria, our home for a few days.  A lively harbor town and beach resort during the summer.


It was quiet, however, when we there in April.  We’d walk around and end up at La Playa de Valdelagrana, the beach closest to where we stayed.



It is one of the Costa de la Luz beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean.


The various cafes, restaurants and pubs dotting the promenade are a telltale sign that this playa can be very busy during summers.

Never on my radar, if truth were told, but thanks to Anton for wanting to visit his roots, I am happy to have made it to Cadiz.  We had the grandest of time chilling as activities get halted every afternoon for siesta.  Nothing beats excellent home cooked meals coupled with fantastic stories shared till the wee hours of the morning.

Useful Info:

Museum of Cadiz (Museo de Cadiz)
Plaza de Mina s/n
11004 Cadiz, Andalusia
+34 8 56105023
+34 8 56105034

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Andalusia’s White Town Jaunts


Between the provinces of Malaga and Cadiz, lodged between the valleys and mountains or clustered high on the hillsides within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, lies a cornucopia of sleepy white towns and villages.  Traditionally lime-washed but now painted white houses make up these towns.  Known as the Pueblos Blancos, they create a striking contrast amid a backdrop of rugged limestone mountain.

Out of the 6 or 7 noteworthy villages on the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, we managed 3 on a rented Opel.


After breakfast, from Ronda we headed north via the A428 and found our way to the first village on our route, Setenil de los Bodegas.


This quaint little village has houses built into rock overhangs above the Rio Trejo, many of which have the rock as its natural roofs and walls.

Setenil structures-built-on-caves

Fetching in an unusual kind of way, this Setenil.


Looking for a place to have a few beers and tapas (as it was nearing lunch time), we discovered that the hilly, winding streets in some parts of town are intimidatingly narrow


especially if one’s stick shift skills are rusty and the car is rented.

Setenil rocks-make-natural-roof

On Plaza de Andalucia, we found Bar Restaurante Dominguez quietly tucked in a corner of Calle Herreria.

Setenil Restaurante-Dominguez

I don’t remember anymore what drew us there (hunger perhaps) but following the recommendation of the owner, lunch was truly satisfying.

Let me first tell you about this stunning natural park, Sierra de Grazalema.  It was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977 because it has an exceptional variety of flora and fauna.

Grazalema-limestone-mountain-rangesDo you see the eagle perched on the craggy edge of the limestone?

A karstic region set in 51,695 hectares of land that is surrounded by a string of limestone mountain ranges known collectively as… Sierra de Grazalema.  So imagine the spectacular vista of rugged limestone cliffs, and impressive gorges, magnificent forest of rare Spanish firs, and the attractive white towns dotted around the sierra.


The village of Grazalema is located right at the center of its foothills.  A beautiful white town beneath the craggy peak of San Cristobal.


It has its own charm with a simple central square, the Plaza de España, and cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses with wrought ironed railing covered windows.


The town has two beautiful churches, Iglesia de la Aurora on Plaza de España and Iglesia de la Encarnacion.  It is an ideal base for those who want to hike the sierra.

The last village we managed was the most picturesque among the three and a real must.

Zahara overlooking the lake

At the northern end of the Grazalema Natural Park, this pueblos blanco overlooks the turquoise water of El Embalse, a huge reservoir that dominates the view from the village perched atop a hill.


Zahara de la Sierra, once an important Moorish town has the surviving tower of the 12th century Moorish Castle looming over the valley.


Scattered below on the slopes are the red-tiled roof whitewashed houses of the village.

This couldn’t be a more outstanding finale to this excursion.  Although we barely scratched the surface, like Ronda, visiting these pueblos blancos gave us a taste of the real Spain, its laid back way of life.


Amid such splendor, how can you not stop and smell the flowers?  Cherish its beauty?  Why would you even want to go anywhere?

Useful Info:

Bar Restaurante Dominguez
Plaza de Anadlucia, 11
Setenil de las Bodegas, Cadiz
Contact: +34 956 13 45 31
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Magnificent Town of Ronda

Tired from traveling the whole day, but I look out the window of our train plying Mr. Henderson’s railway en route to Ronda and all is well.


The scenery was stunning and the countryside, beautiful.  It was a good decision, taking the train to Ronda as it was a gloriously scenic route.



On the plateau of a large rock outcrop stands the magnificent town of Ronda,


surrounded by rugged tracts of mountains, the Guadalquivir River running through it.


Gorgeous city steeped in history, set in and around a deep gorge known as El Tajo (the edge),


and spanned by an astounding 18th century arched bridge,


the Puente Nuevo, connecting La ciudad, the old Ronda with the new.

The old quarter charms with cobbled stone streets,


lovely churches, striking white houses


and buildings with wrought iron balconies


but not to let pass the cafes, tapas bars and restaurants that sprinkle the town.


For decades, Ronda has been favored by those with a passion for Spanish food and likes to eat well. Tapas, small portions of food, both hot and cold, are served in bars and bodegas to go with a copa de fino (dry Spanish sherry) or beer.

A pleasant and enjoyable way to take in its rich heritage is to wander around town to savor not only the sights but its cuisine as well.


We spent a whole lot of time walking the streets of Ronda, captivated by the spectacular views it offered at every turn. No wonder Welles and Hemingway spent so much time there.  I wish I had taken their cue and spent more time there.

Ronda delivered beyond my expectation.  It was a fantastic kick-off to an Andalusian adventure.

More of Ronda through my lens:

on-the-bridge-to-the-old-townOn the Puente Nuevo
plaza-del-toroPlaza del Toro — Ronda’s bullring known to be the world’s first purpose-built bullring.  The first fight in this bullring took place in 1785 with the famous matador, Pedro Romero and Pepe Hillo.
Iglesia-de-Sta.-Maria-la-MayorIglesia de Sta. Maria la Mayor
white-housesRonda is symbolic of Andalusia’s white town
la-cuidadOn the bridge facing the south side of the gorge, La Ciudad and the heart of Moorish Ronda.
Ronda-at-nightRonda at night.
modern-townPlaza de España– Ronda’s modern ide of the gorge.
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Flavors of Andalusia

AndalusiaCredits:  Papers by Scrapmuss Designs, Page Frocks and Pri Rocha Designs; Stitch and label by Crystal Wilkerson; The Boyfriend Alpha by Carina Gardiner

Seductive, vivacious, relaxed, stunning, delectable… This is Andalusia in my eyes. It is the quintessential Spain where bullfighting, flamenco, sherry and ruined castles first originated, an autonomous region where the cuisine is all about simple pleasures in an unhurried way, a region of contrast: ancient cities and beautiful countryside, wind-swept, sandy beaches and remote mountain ranges, Christianity and Islamic as manifested in its culture and architecture…

Stay tuned for flavors of Andalusia and its way of life.

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Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar

Photo-collageCredits: Template by Jessica Sprague (JS Photo 8x10V-01); Papers by Scrapmuss Designs and Happy Scrap Girl

Onboard the FRS ferry bound for Tarifa, I stayed out on the deck for a little while, soaking up the last of this exotic African getaway, not that there is much to soak up in Tangier, a port town.


Like Casablanca, Tangier was our jump-off point and if we had time to spare, we’d most likely find worthwhile sights to explore.

However, we didn’t.


We spent 10 hours travelling from Marrakech to Tangiers, with a 2-hour stop to change trains in Casablanca. We arrived in Tangier way after the sun has set, too tired to even bother to find a place to eat.


We settled for a steak dinner at the Ibis, where we stayed the night.  The first ferry to Tarifa the next day was at 7 in the morning.

Now out on the deck, I bid goodbye to Morocco. A stupendous experience had of getting lost in ancient medinas with its bustling souks and spice markets, shopping and bargaining with the vendors; of people watching in panoramic terrace cafes sipping sweet Moroccan tea; of sweating and scrubbing in a hammam; of staying in a riad and getting to know one of the friendliest people on earth. Many scrumptious meals were devoured in fancy establishments to hole in the walls. Just across the Mediterranean Sea from Southern Spain yet a world apart from its neighbor, it is unequivocally exotic and oftentimes overwhelming with its incredible colors, smells and sounds.

A pleasant 45 minutes ferry ride transported us into a different world.


Tarifa is a small town in Cadiz, Andalusia just across the Straits of Gibraltar facing Morocco.


Though this bohemian town in the southernmost coast of Spain shares similarities with Morocco—its culture, its landscape, even the spectacular view of the Rif Mountains across the water—religion separates them.


Our journey continues in Algeciras, where we traveled by train to one of the most scenic villages of Spain.

Useful Info:

Marrakech to Tangier

Travelling by train in Morocco is an ideal way to get around. Albeit not an extensive network, most major hubs and cities are connected.  There is an overnight train for this route and is best taken if one is pressed for time and on a budget. However, there is so much to see and the day train is an excellent one for sightseeing. OCNF operates the railway system. It is a 10-11 hour ride.

Note that there will be a brief stop in Casablanca to change trains for the day train. The night train, however, travels straight through to Tangier.


First class tickets are comfortable and pre-assigned.  The cabins are air-conditioned. Night trains have bunks / couchettes (but not the day trains) and it is best to get tickets early as these cabins are limited. However, you cannot buy or reserve a ticket outside of Morocco so do consider arriving a day or two ahead to buy your tickets.

Tangier to Spain

The shortest route is between the ports of Tangier and Tarifa. FRS has modern high-speed ferries sailing between the ports several times daily. Crossing takes roughly 45 minutes. Alternatively, FRS also connects Algeciras with Tangier MED, the new port situated about 40 kilometers (1 hour each way) from the city. Either way, FRS provides a free shuttle to transport its passengers to either ports. In our case, we arrived in Tarifa from Tangier Ville (the city) and took the free shuttle to Algeciras where the Renfe train station is.


There are several ferry services that connect Europe with Africa and online is the best way to book.  You collect your ticket at the port of crossing by showing an ID or passport. Use services such as aFerry, Direct Ferries, to book.

Posted in Africa, Morocco, Spain, Tangier, Tarifa | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Of Hammams, Ports and Fish Markets

In a room, “Careless Whisper” played in the background, hot water ran from a faucet onto a pail, steaming the room.  On a bench in one side of the room, I sat and waited.

Soon after, a lady entered and impassively poured hot water over me; I shivered at first then felt the water soothingly eased the fatigue away. She asked if I could bear the heat. “Oh, no problem there.” I thought. Then she soaped every part of me, my hair included (I worried about how it would turn out sans conditioner).  She left, came back 15 minutes later, started scrubbing, scrubbing until I can feel dead skin rubbing against my body. And when she poured water on me again, the soap and dead skin washed off, I felt the difference.  My skin and hair, they were silky smooth.  “Can I buy some of that soap, please?”

A Berber massage followed after and for an hour, I was in dreamland. This has always been my gauge of a good massage but how am I getting my money’s worth by not feeling every knead and every rub? I ask myself all the time. I love a good scrub every so often and this, I promise, is the bomb. If I had another day to spare, I’d do it again even if I’ll have to listen to George Michael all over again.

And even if a real hammam this is not, I appreciated the experience and wished I had found the time to go to a real one, perhaps in Fes.




But Essaouira is as good a place, its rugged charm and relaxed atmosphere offers relief from the bustle of the bigger cities. Read: a good place to chill.  Our last leg in exotic Morocco was spent in the coastal town west of Marrakech just a three hour bus ride away.

place-moulay-hassanPlace Moulay, the main town square near the waterfront.

It’s a hidden gem with its windswept beach, open air feel and hip vibe.  A wonderful refresher from the dark, crowded alleyways of Fes and Marrakech.

Behind the 18th century sea walls are artists’ enclaves, Thuya wood workshops, and bright, quiet alleyways.


Ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medina is gorgeous and peaceful.



Although the alleyways around the Kasbah have already quite a few souvenir shops, it is still a market town


where rural Berbers is still seen to hawk their wares.


The streets are full of people selling things from vegetables to DVDs.  And in one of these stores, we found some great CD of Gnaoua music.

Tall towers bordered with cannons still define the perimeter of the old town and spending

fortified walls

time within its well-preserved ramparts will take you back to when the town was still called Mogador.

The smell of freshly grilled sardines and lobsters will draw you to the town’s famous fish market.


Known for its outstanding fresh seafood,


it is a great place to enjoy a few bottles of beer, soak up the sun and people watch


while your order of the choicest catches grill to perfection.

Essaouira (pronounced: essa weera) has a beautiful port down by the harbor.


The Skala du Port offers a picturesque view of the fishing port with many shades of blue – blue skies, blue sea, blue and white architecture,


blue boats huddled against each other, some still unloading their catches for the day, which they will bring ashore to sell in the fish market.

After my visit to the hammam, we spent the rest of the morning on a rooftop café overlooking the fort and the sea—


an excellent place to relish our last days in Morocco, to cap the trip.

Posted in Africa, Essaouira, Morocco | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments