Shining Brightly: Malaga’s Christmas Lights

 Malaga's gothic Christmas lights  2014

During the festive season, the Christmas Lights in Málaga are always a great place to visit, but this year they have really surpassed themselves.

They are nothing short of spectacular!

Each evening, Calle Marqués de Larios, the main pedestrianised shopping street is crowded with people enjoying a party atmosphere with balloons and street performers to entertain them. What I particularly love here in the city, as in every village and town across Spain, you will see all the family generations out taking their evening stroll together.

Whilst they are still open, the shops, as well as the bars and restaurants are brimming over with people either doing their Christmas shopping or just soaking up the festive atmosphere.

Malaga's gothic Christmas lights  2014

Detail of Malaga's gothic Christmas lights  2014

The stars of this particular light show are shining brightly on Calle Marqués de Larios (famous for being paved with marble), and this year’s display has a Gothic feel, with a cathedral-arched frame dominating the street.  

Most surrounding streets have a more modest display of lights too, so have a wander around and see them, but don’t forget to look up at the beautiful buildings, too.

You’ll see bright red poinsettias everywhere – planted on the roundabouts, hanging from lamp posts and displayed in huge cones around Calle Larios.

There’s a huge choice of bars and restaurants to tempt you – many with their gas-flame heaters burning outside to keep you warm.  If you have to drive back home again later, you might prefer to try the best chocolate and churros in Málaga, at Cafe Aranda in Calle Santos.  The light, crispy churros and thick, creamy hot chocolate to dip them in are absolutely scrumptious!

Afterwards, wander down Calle Larios to the main road through the centre, Alameda Principal, to see the beautifully lit trees and the flower stalls or turn left and walk along the edge of the Paseo del Parque to enjoy the many Christmas stalls lining the route.

Xmas lights 2

Marvel at the huge Christmas tree in Plaza Constitución, with the Gothic arches peeping at you from Calle Marqués de Larios, inviting you to come closer.

Malaga's gothic Christmas lights 2014

Malaga's Christmas lights 2014

It’s easy to be fooled by the blue skies and warm sunshine, but yes, it’s only two weeks until Christmas Day.

You can really get in the mood for Christmas by visiting the outdoor skating rink in front of El Corte Ingles, or go to see one of the many the Bélens (crib and Nativity scenes) around the city – of which the best (in my opinion) is in the Town Hall.

Malaga’s Christmas lights shine from 6.30pm – 2am daily, until 6th January 2015

 

What’s YOUR favourite thing to do or visit at Christmas?

 

Málaga Feria: They’ll be Dancing in the Street

Fireworks to start the Malaga feria

Fireworks to start the Malaga feria  [Image credit: Manolo Gómez Flickr CC]

Even the smallest village here in Andalucía has it’s own fiesta or feria, but today sees the final day of the BIGGEST PARTY OF ALL (well, around these parts at least) – the Málaga Feria!   

Held every year during August to commemorate the reclaiming of the city from the Moors by the Catholic Monarchs (Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon) on 18th August 1487, the Málaga feria is one of the largest fairs in Spain with millions of people joining the fun throughout the week.

Many daytime activities take place on the main shopping street - Calle Marques de Larios, Picasso’s birth-place – Plaza de la Merced and throughout the historic centre of the city from noon until  around 8pm each day.  There are open-air bars to tempt passers-by with sherry, delicious sweet Málaga wine and tapas while the sound of music fills the air.

Many people dress in traditional costume and spontaneous demonstrations of flamenco dancing often break out in the street.  

Yesterday, it was a joy to wander around the city, soaking up the party atmosphere before heading to the Bodega Bar El Pimpi for a spot of lunch.  El Pimpi seems to get bigger and bigger every time I go, with it’s warren of rooms and outdoor terraces, which were all packed with feria-goers.  The inside walls of the bar are decorated with photographs of famous visitors and historic posters of ferias past.  You can also see the enormous barrels signed by some celebrity patrons including former UK prime minister, Tony Blair and, one of Málaga’s famous sons, film-actor Antonio Banderas.

Tradition then dictates a short siesta before heading to the outskirts of the city (next to the Palacio de Congresos building, near the airport) for La Feria de la Noche (the night fair), which starts very slowly around ten in the evening and continues all night, until the break of dawn.

Here you will find hundreds of marquees (known as casetas) scattered throughout the fairground where you can enjoy more drinks and food, whilst dancing to the sound of both modern and flamenco music.

And, if like me, you LOVE fairground rides, then you can be flung here, there and everywhere on some wild, mechanical rides or take a gentle journey on the huge ferris wheel, for great views across the feria.

There are shuttle buses throughout the night from city centre to the fairground.

 Would you like to join in the party next year?  

STAR OF THE SEAS: VIRGEN DEL CARMEN

Virgen del Carmen, Torre del Mar, Spain

Over the past couple of days, various festivities in honour of the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of fishermen and sailors, have been in full swing.

Around 16th July each year,  many of the coastal towns and fishing villages of Spain celebrate by parading the statue of Virgin del Carmen through the streets, accompanied by the steady rhythm of a brass band, the resounding thump of a drumbeat and the cries from the crowd of “guappa” or “viva” as the statue passes by.

At dusk, after the procession arrives at the water’s edge, the Virgin del Carmen is taken out to sea on a flower-decked boat, accompanied by a flotilla of fishing boats (jábegas),to bless their fishing grounds.

The Virgen del Carmen is of great importance to the inhabitants of Axarquían towns and villages such as Caleta de Vélez, Nerja, Rincón de la Victoría and Torre del Mar because many larger towns and holiday resorts along the coast were once small fishing villages where the sea provided their daily existence.

But we need to look back to the scriptures of the Old Testament, centuries before the birth of Christ, for the origin of the Virgen del Carmen.

The Bible tells us that the prophet Elijah went up Mount Carmelo near Haife, in Israel to pray for rain to relieve a great drought that had parched the lands.  Whilst Elijah was on Mount Carmelo, he saw white clouds forming, which would bring the much needed rain.  Elijah interpreted the clouds as a sign of the coming of a Saviour who would be born of a Virgin.

In gratitude for the rain, the community dedicated itself to praying for the mother of the Saviour to come, and the Order of the Carmelites was formed.

On 16th July 1251, the Virgen del Carmen is said to have appeared to Englishman, Simon Stock, who was responsible for building Carmelite monasteries throughout Europe in the 13th century.   The story goes that when she appeared to him, the Virgen was holding a scapular and she promised that Carmelites who show their devotion should use this as a sign of privilege that they would be “granted the grace of final perseverance and be delivered from eternal Purgatory”.

Scapular worn for Virgen del Carmen, Torre del Mar, Spain
A scapular was originally an apron, forming part of the dress of a religious order, but for the lay-faithful, scapulars usually bear images, or verses from scripture.  Devotional scapulars typically consist of two rectangular pieces of cloth, wool or other fabric that are connected by bands. One rectangle hangs over the chest of the wearer, while the other rests on the back, with the bands running over the shoulders.

The Virgin Mary of Mount Carmelo (the Virgin of Carmen or Virgen del Carmen) is also known as Stella Maris (Latin for Star of the Sea) which is the name given to the Pole Star (Polaris) used by mariners for centuries as celestial navigation.

EDITED TO ADD: These photos were all taken during the evening of 16th July 2014 in Torre del Mar.  I had to wade out into the sea, above my knees, to take them because there were so many people on the beach, it was the only way of getting the chance of some good shots without thousands of heads or bodies in the way.   My sundress was soaked and I had to try to hold it up with one hand and take photos with my other.   Happy days :) 

Which is your favourite Spanish festival?

The Long and Short of San Isidro

San Isidro, Nerja, Spain

Whilst it’s true that there are fiestas and festivities in Spain throughout the year, I always feel that it’s the month of May that really kicks off the party season!

At the start of the month there’s El Día de la Cruz (the Day of the Cross) and last week I posted about my visit to the Patio Festival in Córdoba where I saw the most amazing displays of flowers.

The Romería de San Isidro takes place on 15th May each year, in honour of Isidro, a farm labourer who, according to legend, received divine assistance to perform his work and was known for his goodness toward the poor and animals. As a result he has become the patron saint of farm workers and other labourers in many Spanish-speaking countries.

San Isidro is also the patron saint of Nerja, so this is one of the biggest fiestas of the year to be held in the town.

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The festivities begin with a service at the church of El Salvador on the Balcón de Europa, before the effigy of the saint, (which normally resides at the Caves of Nerja), is taken back to the Hermitage of San Isidro in Maro.

The spectacular procession to accompany the Saint normally takes more than three hours and is a fantastic opportunity to see the many decorated carts, Andalucían thoroughbred horses, traditional costumes and pairs of magnificent oxen pulling beautifully adorned carts, including the one carrying the statue of San Isidro, himself.

San Isidro, Nerja, Spain

What was of particular interest to me this year, were the beautiful dresses worn by many of the ladies.

I noticed that as well as the traditional Spanish dresses, many of the younger women were wearing much shorter “flamenco-type” dresses with flat boots.  

Long Spanish dresses, Nerja

I love the elegant, longer dresses – but which do you prefer?

Short Spanish dresses, Nerja

Spanish dresses - long and short, Nerja, Spain

Anyway – back to the procession!

On arrival at the Caves of Nerja the celebrations really begin, with families and friends sharing picnics, paella, BBQs and, of course, plenty of wine and beer. This is followed by singing and dancing amongst the thousands of revellers until late into the night.

San Isidro is one of the best festivals of the year – vibrant, colourful and great fun. It usually heralds the start of good weather for the summer, as many locals say that the summer starts on 15th May!

Here´s hoping!

Which is your favourite Spanish festival or fiesta?

 

Cordoba’s Patio Festival 2014


Patio Festival, Cordoba , Spain

Even though I live in Spain, where it was Mother’s Day last Sunday, I still celebrate the day at the end of March, at the time of Mother’s Day in England, because that’s where I’m from and my family live there.

But, I know that many of you are celebrating Mother’s Day today, so I’ve got a real treat for you.

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Last week I visited Cordoba, one of my favourite cities in Spain, for the annual Patio Festival (La Fiesta de Los Patios de Cordoba).  

 The old part of the city consists of narrow cobble-stone streets with the houses white-washed to keep them cool during the very hot summers.  Many of these old houses or apartments are situated around a private, interior courtyard accessible only to residents.

Patio Festival, Cordoba , Spain

The origin of these courtyards can be traced to Roman times, when the courtyard (known as an atrium) was a place where rainwater was collected.

Later, the Moors who dominated this area of Spain for so long, made the courtyard a much more social space.  They planted vines so that their branches could offer shade during the very hot summer months, and pretty water features and pots of flowers were added making the patios a place where neighbours could get together and enjoy the cooler temperatures.

Patio Festival, Cordoba , Spain

Of course, these courtyards or patios form part of private houses, so are normally closed to the general public.   But, for two weeks in May each year, as families compete for the most beautiful patio in Cordoba, they are thrown open so that members of the public can visit each of these patios.

Patio Festival, Cordoba , Spain

A few have plaques on the wall outside, announcing their previous successes in the Patio Festival, but all of the competing patios are identified by two little conifer trees in red pots outside the gate.

All, but one or two of the Patios are FREE to visit, though a small donation is appreciated (but not obligatory) as you leave.

Bear in mind that Los Patios de Cordoba is a very popular (and famous) Festival in Spain, with hoards of tourists – both international and local – descending on the city every day.  Weekends are especially busy, and a free ticketing system has now been established, to enable some semblance of order and safety when visiting the often tiny patios.  (See link below to get your free tickets).

Patio Festival, Cordoba , Spain

You can collect a map from the Tourist Office, on which six colour-coded routes to visit are identified, each with between 8-12 patios to visit.  (See link below to download a map).

The competing patios are open from 11am – 2pm and 6pm – 10pm each day from 5th – 18th May 2014.

How would you fancy watering all these pots?

Further information:

HISTORY OF THE PATIOS

PROGRAMME

DOWNLOAD A MAP OF THE ROUTES

FREE TICKETS