One Trip EVERY month: Riding on Mr Henderson’s Railway

Remember back to the end of January, when I asked if you would vote for my photograph to win a contest on Facebook?

And, so many of you voted that I WON?!

You might recall that the prize (offered by Toma Tours) was a day trip (with lunch), to one of the most picturesque parts of Andalucía, along a scenic train line known as Mr Henderson’s Railway – a British-built Victorian train line from Algeciras to Ronda.

I promised that if I won I would invite along two local bloggers to share my prize – and take lots of photographs, so I could tell you all about it ….. so here we go!

Start of the day - with Gibraltar in the backgroundFirst stop of the day in Algeciras, with the Rock of Gibraltar in the background.

So, I would like to introduce you to the two lovely ladies who came along with me last Saturday - Ali Meehan, founder of Costa Women, a Social and Business Networking Community for Women living in Spain (of which I am a proud member) and the Queen of SherryAnnie B, who took a well-earned day off from her Spanish Kitchen (and who supplied the superb cream-sherry to accompany my home-made fudge on our train journey).

Who’s the gorgeous guy next to me, I hear you ask?!  NO – it’s not George Clooney, that’s Manni, founder of Toma Tours,  and our highly knowledgeable guide for the day. 

Glorious views from Punta Carnero, Algeciras towards Africa

After meeting up with Manni in Marbella, we continued along the southern coast of Andalucía, past Gibraltar, to our first stop near to Playa de Getares in Algiceras, where we had glorious views from the lighthouse at Punta Carnero across the protected bay-within-a-bay, to Africa.

We were obviously set for perfect weather for our special day.

The route of Mr Henderson’s Railway cuts through breath-taking scenery from Algeciras to Ronda, taking in boutique hotels, trackside restaurants, trains, architecture, wildlife and history, as well as wonderful food and wine and is one of the most popular day trips run by Toma Tours.  You can read more about the history of the railway HERE and HERE.

Orange trees at Hotel Reina Cristina, Algeciras, Spain

We had time to enjoy coffee at the Hotel Reina Cristina, a rather grand British colonial-style hotel, with connections to the railway, and where many famous people including Winston Churchill, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles de Gaulle have visited before us.

Then it was off to the railway station at Algeciras where we boarded the air-conditioned RENFE train (which has now replaced the original steam engines) for the one hour 45 minute journey to Arriate, near Ronda.  

Manni gave us a map of the route, a book all about Mr Henderson to enjoy with our sherry and fudge, and strict instructions to make sure that the train’s conductor knew we wanted to get off at Arriate (which is a request stop only) before waving us off at the station.   His task was to set off in his vehicle to meet us at the other end, while ours was to sit back and enjoy the fudge and sherry (much to the amusement of our fellow passengers) along with the stunning scenery and delightful stations along the route.  

Although the trains themselves have changed over the years, the scenery, 20 bridges, 16 tunnels and almost 750 metres elevation that the railway has to contend with remain as they have from the beginning.    We skirted the cork oak forest of the Alcornocales Natural Park, negotiated mountains, rivers, scenic white villages, orange and olive groves and even sighted storks circling their huge nests.

Manni the Station Master, waiting at Arriate, Spain

Just after 1.30pm we arrived at our destination, where we were met by Manni the Station Master who was waiting for us with glasses of cava (Spanish champagne)!  So many passengers on the packed train were taking photographs of our memorable welcome and it’s certainly one I will never forget!  WOW!

Our lunch stop was at the delightful trackside restaurant of El Muelle de Arriate – but there was no need to worry about the noise of passing trains with only two arrivals each day!  We feasted on huge “sharing plates” of goat’s cheese salad with mixed nuts and balsamic dressing; “Frank’s birthday cake” (named in honour of the friendly owner, Dutchman Frank) containing tender sliced potato, smoked salmon and mayo; tropical fruit salad and a platter of various pork cuts, followed by a selection of delicious desserts.  

What was particularly memorable for me was Frank’s personal introduction to each of the dishes whereby he came over and explained the ingredients and asked for our thoughts.  A very nice touch, indeed :)

After lunch, we continued our journey into Ronda with a visit to the Hotel Reina Victoria (sister hotel of the Hotel Reina Cristina at the other end of the railway line) for coffee, with spectacular views across Ronda’s famous gorge and landscape.

Manni continued guiding us around Ronda with a walking tour, introducing us to the history of bull-fighting,  the Plaza de Toros and the bullfighters’ Walk of Fame.

Ronda is one of the most famous and oldest Moorish towns of Andalucía.   Prehistoric remains show that the first inhabitants were here 25,000 years before Christ.   Whilst the Romans built the first settlements, it was after the Moorish conquest in 711AD that it flourished.

The town has an altitude of 739m and can be found 60 kilometres up a winding mountain road from Marbella on the western Costa del Sol, in the mountain range known as the Serranía de Ronda. 

Ronda sits astride a deep gorge, known as El Tajo, with a stone bridge linking the two sides.  Built in 1793, it is called El Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), because there are also two older bridges spanning the gorge.

So, after our amazing day, all that was left was for us to drive back down to the coast – but we hadn’t counted on one final surprise that Manni had in store for us.  Sadly for you, he’s sworn me to secrecy, so you’ll have to book the trip to find out what it was.  All I can say is that it certainly was a “moving experience”! 


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.

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



Cost of Living in Spain: February 2014

Cost of Living in Spain

Every day, around one hundred people find themselves visiting my blog after typing the search term “Cost of Living in Spain” into Google.  It’s a popular subject, and for that reason at least a couple of times a year, I publish a list of the current prices of a number of items here in southern Spain.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the following information is relevant to the kind of lifestyle and area where I live, east of Málaga.  We choose to live like locals, eating fresh, seasonal produce and frequenting bars full of Spaniards rather than tourists.  Similarly, if your choice would be to only buy internationally branded foods and eat in tourist areas then you will find costs are considerably higher.

So …. whether you are fed up of the wet weather in the UK, have been dreaming of living in southern Europe for many years or you’re just curious – here’s my updated list of standard grocery items for your perusal.

For the sake of comparison,  I have once again used the largest Spanish supermarket – Mercadona.

Mercadona supermarket, Spain


This is the up-to-date Standard Grocery List I have published previously.  The first price shown is as it was in August 2013, with this month’s prices in RED alongside.

Milk (semi–skimmed UHT, own brand), 1 litre   0.59 €      0.60 €

Loaf  (white, baguette 250g)   0.45 €      0.45 €

Loaf (white, Bimbo brand, 460g 100% natural)  1.49€    1.49 €

Butter (250g, own brand)   1.05 €        1.25 €

Sugar (1kg, white)   0.93 €    0.93 €

Coffee (ground, 250g, Santa Cristina)   1.89 €       1.89 €

Eggs (12, own brand caged, medium)  1.35 €      1.35  €

Olive oil (1 litre, extra virgin, own brand)  3.35€   (5 litres 15.50€)    3 €   (5 litres 14.50 €)  **

Rice  (1kg, long grain, own brand)   0.71€    0.71 €

Pasta  (1kg, own brand)   0.79€      0.75 €

Pasta  (500g, wholewheat)   0.99€      0.99 €

Tinned tuna  (6 x 80g, own brand)  3.39€      3.35 €

Chicken breasts (1kg, boneless, skinless, packaged))  5.80 €       5.80 €

Pork chops (1kg)  4.60€     4.75 €

Beef mince (Store brand, pre-packed, 700g)   3.80 €       3.80 € 

Fish  (1kg Salmon steaks)  10.75 €      10.75 €

Fish  (1kg Dorada, Gilt-head bream)  6.95€       6.95 €

Apples (1kg, green, Golden Delicious)  2.00 €       1.85 €  **

Oranges (1kg)  1.19 €     0.79 €   **

Bananas (1kg)  1.29 €     1.39 €

Potatoes (1kg)  1.25 €     0.89 €    **

Lettuce (1 head, Iceberg)  0.85 €      0.87 €

Red Peppers (1kg, loose)  1.95 €    1.89 €

Green pointed “Italian” Peppers (1kg, loose)  1.35 €      1.99 €   **

Tomatoes  (1kg, loose)   0.99 €       1.29 €   **

Coca-Cola (1.5 litre bottle)  1.09 €     1.09 € 

Water (2 litre bottle)  0.42 €       0.42 € 

Domestic Beer (1 litre bottle, Cruzcampo)  1.25 €       1.25 €

Imported beer (6 x 25cl bottles Heineken)  3.05€       3.65 €

Bottle wine (medium priced)  3.00 – 3.50€      3.00 – 3.50 €

Colgate toothpaste (100 ml)   1.75€       1.75 €

Pantene shampoo  (300 ml)   3.00€       3.00€

Toilet rolls (pack of 6, own brand)   1.95 €      1.98 €

Washing powder (Box, 35 washes, Elena brand)   4.87 €       4.87 €

** Seasonal changes

For the costs of accommodation, utilities, motoring, public transport and entertainment – prices are largely unchanged since last time.  Please see HERE.

Village houses in Cómpeta, Axarquía, Spain

Many people dream of moving to southern Spain with the promise of better weather coupled with a healthier, outdoor Mediterranean lifestyle.  There are many other considerations to bear in mind when trying to compare living costs, and the following may be some of them:

  1. Unemployment in Spain is currently running at record levels with 25% of the adult population out of work.  If you are considering moving to Spain, you would need to be confident that your finances are secure or you might end up having to return to your home country after failing to find employment.
  2. Tied in with the issue of employment, comes health cover.   Unless you are employed, self-employed or retired, (thus qualifying for cover under the Spanish health system), you will be required to take out private health cover.
  3. The cost of living is really only half of the equation.  Salaries and wages may be very different in Spain from what you are used to elsewhere.  What is important is what is left each month after you have paid for your essentials.
  4. Fluctuation in currency exchange rates can make a huge difference to you if your source of income comes from outside of Spain.  For example, when we first came to live in Spain ONE BRITISH POUND bought us ONE EURO AND FIFTY-ONE CENTIMOS.  Very handy when we were purchasing our house.  However, a couple of years ago, and completely outside of our control,  we only received just over ONE EURO for each BRITISH POUND – a staggering drop in income of almost one third.
  5. Spanish houses in this area are built to keep out the sun in summer rather than to retain heat in winter.  With tiled floors, small windows and inadequate heating systems, houses can be surprisingly chilly during the winter months, making them expensive to heat.
  6. Whilst some costs are much more favourable in Spain (for example our cost of IBI is about one quarter of the cost of a similar property in the UK for Council Tax), other costs are significantly more (i.e. when purchasing a property, costs amount to approx 11% of the purchase price).
  7. You might have to factor in the cost of flights back home to the UK (or your home country) to visit friends and relatives.  Often these can be bought through budget airlines for reasonable prices - but what if you need to return quickly for a family emergency?
  8. Then there is the question of taxes – not only of the personal variety, but also related to any property purchase.  There are many factors at play, depending on personal circumstances, and whilst I often receive messages from visitors to my blog regarding such matters, I am not a tax expert and would always recommend you seeking professional advice given your own personal financial situation.

MY ADVICE:  There are many more things to bear in mind when considering the cost of living in Spain, than the price of bread and milk.  DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST!

How does the cost of living compare where you live?  Have you ever considered moving abroad?