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?  

One Trip EVERY Month: Canillas de Aceituno

Canillas de Aceituno

My trip this month, is just the kind that I began this challenge for – to go somewhere I’ve been meaning to go, but have never got around to it!

The white, mountain village of Canillas de Aceituno lies, like several others, in the shadow of the largest mountain in the Axarquía region – La Maroma, a bare, pointless peak reaching to a height of  2065 metres.

I chose to take the back road to Canillas de Aceituno from Cómpeta, driving past Archez, Salares and Sedella along the way.  It’s a beautiful drive, with a natural landscape of hills, mountains and ravines and it was worth stopping a few times to take photographs of the open vistas towards a shimmering La Viñuela reservoir in the distance, or the towering Monte Maroma, nearby.  A quicker route would be up the A356 from Vélez-Málaga and then turn right towards the village, but I had the time to linger.

On the approach to Canillas de Aceituno, I came across La Rahige, which is a wooded area with a ravine, pools and waterfalls.  As it was late July, the water was only a trickle, but I’m sure it rages through here during the winter months.

As I explored the shady ravine, I looked up and caught a glimpse of a mountain goat – the first I have ever seen.  He seemed to be watching my every move as he expertly perched on the edge of the cliff face.

Arab archway, Canillas de Aceituno

Records show that there has been a settlement on the site of Canillas de Aceituno since the Moorish occupation in the 8th century, when the main industry was the growing of mulberry trees for silk production. Indeed, there are still two Arabic arches preserved within the village, the first on Calle Agua (which is the prettier of the arches, pictured above) and another on the narrow Calle Calleja, a little higher in the village.  These arches once formed part of a wall that surrounded the settlement, and in which gates were closed at night for protection.

After parking the car, I headed towards the Town Hall in Plaza de la Constitución at the centre of the village, to the Tourist Information Office (open Monday to Friday 10am-2pm) to obtain a mapCanillas de Aceituno is not a large village, but if you visit, it would probably be wise to ask the lady in the Tourist Office to mark the position of the 1000 year old Arab Cistern, as you would probably never find it without some directions.

House of Tithes. Canillas de Aceituno

As you leave the Town Hall, on the diagonally opposite corner you will see the white tower of La Casa de Diezmos (the House of Tithes).  Now a private residence, this is where the production of the mulberry tree leaves and the manufacture of silk were controlled and taxed.

Wandering around the village with it’s impossibly white walls reflecting the summer sun and flanked by flowerpots overflowing with blooms, I came across the plaque where the old castle used to stand, and the Church of Nuestra Señora de Rosario, constructed during the 16th century on the site of the old Arab mosque.

Canillas de Aceituno

From the square at the side of the Town Hall, a maze of narrow streets climbs steeply up the hillside to the Mirador Blas Infante, a scenic viewpoint which offers panoramic views across the terracotta roofs of the village towards La Viñuela reservoir.  There are many other white villages dotted on the hillsides in the distance.

Pathway to La Maroma, Canillas de Aceituno

If you are a hiker, it is from here that you can continue the 6 kilometre climb to the summit of La Maroma – but as it was a hot July afternoon, I decided to pass on that option.

Almonds, Canillas de Aceituno

In the upper part of the village, I stopped to chat with a Spanish couple who had almond shells spread out on their doorstep, ready to be cracked open to expose the nuts inside.  This is a laborious, time-consuming job which I know only too well, as we have 47 almond trees on our land (though this is not something we do as we have never developed the knack of being able to extract the whole nut from it’s tough exterior with ease).

It’s difficult to explain where the old Arab cistern is, but I’ll try.  Sadly there are no signs and the area is in a state of disrepair.  If you have the mark from the Tourist Office on your map, you will see that you should head for Calle Placeta and as you pass the parking area, there is a row of houses on your right side.  Walk past these houses and you will now be next to a patch of rough ground.  As you approach the next house on your right, you will see some very rough steps going down to the side of the house, and an opening in the side wall.  Here you can see into the 1000 year old cistern full of water, which is still used to irrigate the nearby terraces.

Morcilla, Canillas de Aceituno

Each year, on the last Sunday in April, the village of Canillas de Aceituno hosts the the fiesta of El Día de la Morcilla (the Day of the Black Pudding) when the speciality black-pudding stuffed with onion, and for which the village is famous, is celebrated and available for all to try.

If you don’t fancy the black pudding, I can certainly recommend Asador La Maroma for lunch, where not only are the food and surroundings very pleasant, but we were treated like old friends by Paco, the owner and his family.

OH and by the way, don’t forget your camera when you visit Canillas de Aceituno!

One Trip EVERY Month Logo

This post is my contribution to the One Trip EVERY Month Challenge. If you’d like to join me, here’s how:

  • Each month, visit somewhere and then write about your trip or describe it using photographs – whichever suits you best.
  • Don´t forget to title and tag your entry ’One Trip EVERY Month Challenge’, and link back to this page.
  • Display the Challenge logo on your post or in your sidebar.
  • HAVE FUN!  

Are you ready to join me by taking ONE TRIP EVERY MONTH? What are you waiting for? GO!

Black pudding Image credit: Town Hall of Canillas de Aceituno

WARNING: Malaga’s Atarazanas market will EXPLODE your sensory perception

 Fruit and veg in Atarazanas market, Malaga

I’m a HUGE fan of food markets.  They are something I seek out, wherever I am in the world – from Barcelona’s Boqueria and Melbourne’s Queen Victoria to local street-markets in Cambodia and Thailand, I’ve visited them all.  So, a trip around Malaga’s Mercado Central de Atarazanas is always a pleasure, every time I’m in Malaga city, as well as featuring high on the list of places to take visitors to.

The Moorish arched entrance blends seamlessly with 19th century industrial design and the huge, colourful stained-glass window, to create not only a beautiful back drop but also to tell the history of the origins of this bustling market-place.


Stained glass window of Atarazanas market, Malaga

Set near the heart of the city, Atarazanas has undergone many transformations since it was originally built in the 14th century as a shipyard, when the waves of the Mediterranean Sea lapped at its entrance.  Over the years, changes have seen the building used as a convent, military arsenal, hospital and medical school before finally being demolished in 1868 and re-built using the current iron structure, as the city food market, in 1879.  Further renovation took place from 2008 to 2010, when Málaga’s Atarazanas market was once again restored to its former glory.

Wild mushrooms for sale in Atarazanas market, Malaga

You might not expect to be given a warning when you visit a city food market, but as you walk through the main entrance, which is the only remaining marble archway of what was once a seven-arched shipyard, I can guarantee your senses will explode!

Taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch – the clean interior of Mercado Central de Atarazanas has it all, from pig’s ears to pink Himalayan salt!

The market is structured into three navesfish, meat and fruit and vegetables, and with more than 250 stalls there is surely something to tickle your tastebuds.

Fresh fish for sale in Atarazanas market

As you wander around, take in the dazzling displays of freshly-caught fish with their scarlet gills and scales glistening under the spotlights.   Marvel at the kaleidoscope of colours in the artistically displayed fresh fruit and vegetables that smell like they’ve been picked only that morning.  And savour the counters of aromatic cheeses, spices, bread, olives, dried fruits, nuts, sausages and hams, where the stall-holders are usually happy to let you taste before you buy.

Fresh seafood for sale in Atarazanas market

A cacophony of sound fills the market, as the competing stall-holders call out to prospective customers and in turn are interrogated by discerning shoppers, eager to discover where the produce is from and how it should be prepared.

I love to watch the locals, who are not only trying to buy the freshest seasonal produce but also socializing with their neighbours as they block the aisles with their roller-trollies, discussing the latest gossip.

Shopping is a much more personal experience in Atarazanas market and, with so many stalls to choose from, cheaper than most supermarkets, too.

Tapas of skewered tuna and prawns

If you have time and are ready for some lunch after feasting your senses on all the wonderful produce, then make your way to one of the tapas bars at either end of the market, El Yerno or Cafe-Bar Atarazanas – they are both equally good.  Stand near to the bar and you will soon be noticed by one of the staff who will make a space for you.  It’s standing room only and always crowded, but well worth it to taste the freshly-cooked, mouth-watering pinchos de gambas, atun o cerdo (skewered prawns, tuna or seasoned pork), boquerones al limón (deep-fried whitebait with lemon) or frito de verduras (tempura-battered vegetables), which you can wash down with a caña (small beer) or vino tinto (red wine).

Tapas of freshly cooked mushrooms

Whether you are a foodie visiting Málaga or a local living nearby,  you won’t want to miss a visit to this authentic food market.

Where is YOUR favourite food market?

 

Mercado Central de Atarazanas
Calle Atarazanas 10
Malaga

Open: Monday to Saturday, 8am – 2pm.

 

 

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?

Cost of Living in Spain Series: Watching The Currency Market When Buying And Selling Spanish Property

House in Spain

When I got to point #2 in a recent article entitled 10 Ways To Save Money When Buying Your Spanish Property, it had me casting my mind back almost nine years to when we were about to buy our first property abroad, here in Andalucía.

We had sold our house back in the UK in record time, and were renting a town-house in the pretty, mountain village of Frigiliana.

Having never rented a property before, it seemed sensible to see if we liked the area as a place to put down roots, as well as to experience the full range of the seasons of the year, before we actually bought somewhere. After all, the weather may have been hotter in summer or cooler in winter than we had imagined – and indeed, it was!

We made many house-hunting trips to various towns and villages, both inland and along the coast towards Málaga, and eventually as far along the western Costa del Sol as Estepona. For various reasons, but mainly because of fewer high-rise buildings and built-up areas, we decided that the Axarquía region, to the east of Málaga, was the place for us.

We knew we would be transferring a sizeable chunk of the proceeds of our UK house sale via a currency firm (into Euros) to pay for our new house, so we took the opportunity to keep an eye on the fluctuating currency market.

As a result, we were able to jump in right at the top, to bag a cool €1.50 euros for each £1 sterling.  This gave us almost ten thousand euros more than we had originally been expecting, which was enough to put a brand new kitchen with matching appliances into our new property. Quite a bonus!

And yes, I do know that the market could have gone the other way, but on this occasion, it didn’t.

Blue door in Frigiliana, Spain

Over the next few years, the British Pound made a steady decline against the Euro until it almost hit parity (when £1 only bought €1.08, at its lowest rate).  This meant that for many British expats living in Spain and relying on an income, savings or a pension from the UK, their income in real terms had reduced by almost one third.

Then, of course, came La Crisis, as it is known in Spain, when the difficult economic situation has meant that some British expats who may not have carefully planned for their future (as well as some who did) have been left in the unfortunate position of having to sell up and return to the UK.

Things have improved a little over the last few years, with the current exchange rate against the British Pound being €1.26 as of today’s date (15th July 2014).  But there are still anguished mutterings amongst British expat house sellers that they are having to accept lower prices than they paid for their properties, several years ago.

I want to look at this in more detail, using reverse psychology to see if the situation is really as bad as they think.

Key in house door

Back when I bought my house in January 2006, with the exchange rate at £1 buying €1.50, a €300,000 euro house in Spain actually cost £200,000.  To keep the figures simple, let’s assume that almost nine years later the price of that house has not risen at all and is sold today for €300,000.  Converted back into British Pounds (again keeping it simple, so let’s use €1.25 for each £1) then the initial £200,000 investment now converts from the €300,000 sale price, to £240,000 - an increase of 20%, due entirely to currency fluctuations.

Even if that self-same house were sold for only €280,000 (€20,000 less than was paid for it) the conversion into British Pounds would be £224,000 – which is still an increase of 12% over the £200,000 that was initially paid for the property.

So maybe the situation is not quite as bad as some people imagine.

Rooftops of Frigiliana, Spain

Of course, my example above is a simple one and does not take into account any of the following:

  1.  Capital gains (or any other) tax which might become due once the house is sold.
  2.  Where under-declarations were made at the time of purchase (when everyone in Spain was expected to pay for part of the price of the house in cash,  and furtively sneak  €80,000 to the vendor in a plastic, Mercadona shopping bag).
  3.   Legal and/or estate agents fees.

Whilst the above example is only applicable if someone is selling up in Spain and moving back (or at least sending their money back) to the UK,  if you are selling and want to re-purchase in Spain, because of the current housing market, you are now in a powerful position to negotiate prices when buying your next property.

Stairway to Heaven

To illustrate my point, I have only used simple, rounded figures, and it’s always wise to take legal and financial advice when making substantial property purchases.  

The purpose of this post is to indicate the advantage of never under-estimating the fluctuation of the currency market, which is a point often missed, or at least not discussed, as it should be.

This post is not meant to offer legal advice, merely an observation.