Malaga hosts the Spanish cycle race – La Vuelta

Riders in La Vuelta, Spain

Málaga province has been experiencing the passion, emotion and excitement of La Vuelta a España (the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France) during the first four days of the famous cycle race, before it moves on to other parts of Spain.

The time trials began last Saturday in Marbella, before the race pushed off with Stage 2 from Alhaurin de la Torre, finishing the day at the world’s most infamous walkway, the Caminito del Rey.

Stage 3 brought La Vuelta riders to the east of Málaga, yesterday, through spectacular mountains before heading down to the coast and turning west towards the finishing line in Málaga city.

Road closures meant spectators being in position more than an hour before the riders came through, but fold-up chairs, beach umbrellas offering shade from the hot sun and a cool-box full of cold drinks made the wait all the more pleasant.

Looking towards Torre del Mar

Having decided to watch the race pass by at the start of the sprint section, just west of Torre del Mar, we were hoping to catch a glimpse of Tour de France winner, Chris Froome, riding for Team Sky.

We had stunning views of the mountains and the road back towards Torre del Mar.

First sight of La Vuelta riders

Soon enough, motorcycle outriders started appearing and roaring past, first one then another. Surely they must be coming by now? The time of the riders’ scheduled arrival came and went, when suddenly, a helicopter appeared.

They’re here!

The first six riders sprint towards Malaga

The leading group consisted of just six riders and the few people standing outside the Go Karting track on the N340a near to Almayate, started waving chequered flags, clapping and cheering.

Only just over a minute later came the main body of cyclists known as “the peloton”.

Would I be able to spot Chris Froome?

HAwatch my video and have a guess!! (HINT: it takes 50 seconds)

The support vehicles follow closely behind

The peloton streamed by and, it was all over in moments.

Following closely behind were the many support vehicles vying for position and pipping their horns.  At one stage, I thought I might end up filming a pile-up of vehicles!

All that was left was to collect the water bottles that had been discarded by the riders as they passed.

Did you notice one come whizzing my way (at 11 seconds) during the video? Yes, it hit me on the ankle!

Discarded water bottles from La Vuelta riders

Anyone want a used water bottle?

Torrox: Let me take you to Funky Town

Umbrellas in Torrox pueblo

You might not think of one of Andalucía’s famous white villages as being “FUNKY”, and neither did I, until yesterday morning when I went into Plaza de la Constitución in Torrox pueblo on an errand.

WOW! THAT’S PRETTY FUNKY!

A passing plane as seen through the Torrox umbrellas

Shadows from the umbrellas in Torrox, Andalucia

There are hundreds of umbrellas, in six different colours, hanging from discreet wires all around the square.

WHY?

To give much needed shade, as well as making the town (even more) attractive to visitors!

Amused by the Torrox umbrellas

Multi-coloured umbrellas in Torrox pueblo, Andalucia, Spain

They certain made ME smile :)

How cool/funky/quirky is this, huh?  Let me know what YOU think ….

Baños de Vilo: The Incredible Moorish Baths at Periana

Around three kilometres from the village of Periana is the old Moorish pool in the little hamlet of Baños de Vilo (Baths of Vilo).

During the 18th and 19th centuries this pool was considered one of the most important in Andalucía, so much so that in 1892 its waters were declared “medicinal mineral”. The magnesium, calcium and nitrogen found within the waters offered healing and therapeutic properties to those with skin complaints, and people flocked for miles around to bathe in the sulphurous-smelling pool.

Despite it’s popularity, there was much squabbling over ownership of the pool and even though some improvements were made, the facility was wrecked in 1907 when a huge storm ripped through it. Subsequently, the baths fell into disrepair.

The Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) of Periana acquired the property in the 1990s and restoration work began to recover the Baños de Vilo for tourism purposes.

Where to find Los Baños de Vilo:

Soon after you leave the village of Periana, heading north-west on the A7204, there is a split in the road. Stay on the A7204 towards Riogordo and Colmenar. A few hundred metres after the 10km road marking, look out for a tiled sign on the right-hand side of the road.   Turn here and after about 100 metres you will cross a narrow bridge over the river Vilo.

Continue up the road for a further two hundred metres, until you see a sign on a white wall on the left. I parked my car here.

It isn’t obvious where to go, but you should head through the large iron double gates into a patio area, which looks like you are going into someone’s garden – but you’re not!

Ahead of you to the right is a path covered with flowers growing over an archway. Walk through the flowering arch and you will see a little stone bridge leading you across the river, with a small construction of walls and a stone tower on the far side.

Here you will see the turquoise water shimmering in the sunlight and you’ll probably also notice the smell of the sulphur, normally associated with natural thermal pools.

Here’s a cool video of Los Baños de Vilo

It’s time to roll your trousers up!

Cost of living in Malaga, Spain: July 2015

Cost of living in Malaga, Spain

If you are considering a move to Spain, either to purchase a property or just to rent for a couple of months, the cost of living will be very much in your mind.

Prices may be different in other parts of Spain, especially in bigger cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, so bear in mind that the prices you are reading here are applicable to the area of La Axarquía – to the east of the city of Málaga on Andalucía’s Mediterrean coast.

The kind of lifestyle you choose to embrace is also an important ingredient in the financial mix.

My family eat fresh, locally-grown seasonal produce, buy mostly Spanish-branded foods at the supermarket, and eat and drink in bars and restaurants where the locals hang out.  This has not only saved us money, but we feel has also enhanced our experience of moving abroad.   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’ve always dreamed of moving to southern Spain or you’re just curious, here is my up-to-date cost of living report.

Village houses in El Acebuchal, Andalucia, Spain

ACCOMMODATION 

Whether you choose to rent or buy is a matter of personal choice depending on how long you want to stay.  

My advice would be to rent for a full twelve months prior to buying so that not only will you get a good feel for the area, but also you’ll experience it through all the seasons.  This summer, Spain has been experiencing a long heatwave, but temperatures can be surprisingly chilly inside the house during the winter months.

It’s no secret that Spain has been gripped by a financial crisis over the past few years, but the signs are that things are improving.  House prices are up to 20% lower than they were in 2006/2007 and there are plenty of houses on the market for sale.   (For an idea of individual prices, search for estate agents on Google using the search terms: Axarquia, east of Malaga, or by the name of any of the villages or towns in the area including Nerja, Frigiliana, Competa, Torrox or any of the others I have written about previously on this blog).

Another key factor to bear in mind is the fluctuating currency exchange rate between your home currency and the Euro, especially if you need to transfer large amounts of money into Spain.  As I write, the exchange rate stands at an 8-year high and would give more than €1.43 for each British pound sterling (£1).  This has made a considerable difference to our income from when the rate stood around €1.08 a few years ago.

You can easily rent a lovely furnished apartment with 2-3 bedrooms, 1-2 bathrooms and a communal pool, on the coast but away from the main tourist area, for €450- €500 per month (on an 11 month contract).  If you choose somewhere further inland or nearer the city, prices will vary, but there’s no substitute for actually being here and asking around.  Lots of people know of places available for rent that will never make their way onto websites or an estate agent’s rental list.

If you are looking for somewhere to rent in the Axarquía area for a month or two, I have had dealings with, and can recommend Anubis in Torre del Mar.   Speak to Anna and tell her I sent you (and no, I won’t earn anything for saying that)!

Cepsa butane gas bottle

UTILITIES

Electricity: For a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom detached house in the countryside with a swimming pool, we pay around €100 per month. Our consumption is generally higher in the summer than in the winter as we have air conditioning units (cooling in summer and heating in winter) plus the swimming pool pump running for 8 hours a day.  We try to use the air conditioning sparingly – preferring to open windows during early morning and late evening and make use of the ceiling fans.  Although sometimes, especially in July and August, you just have to put the air-con on!

Gas: We do not have a piped gas supply here, so we use bottles of gas.  This is a common feature throughout many areas in this part of Spain. Gas prices in Spain are strictly controlled by the government, rather than the gas companies.   A year ago, a 12.5kg bottle of Butane gas cost €17.50. They are now €14.11 (a reduction of almost 20%), with an 11kg bottle of propane gas costing a mere €12.42.  For us, one bottle lasts (on average) four weeks for two people, although this could be longer in summer (depending on how many visitors we have), for all hot water, showers and cooking on a gas hob.

Water: Because we live in the countryside, approximately five kilometres from our home village of Cómpeta,  we do not have mains water.  When we bought our house, part of the purchase cost was for a share in a local water company. We have a 14,000 litre water deposit in which to store our house water. Our water share gives us an allowance of up to 17,500 litres of water each week at reduced cost, though if we use more than this, the price rises steeply. Needless to say, we don´t use this amount of water, even allowing for swimming pool top-ups and garden irrigation in the summer months. Our water company, Patamalara, send out their bills every two months, and some of the cost depends on the amount of repairs that have been undertaken on the system. Over the past twelve months our annual water bill has amounted to €119.

IBI or Council Tax: Paid yearly to the local council. This year’s bill is €337 – the same as it has been for the past nine years.  We don’t have a rubbish collection here as we live in the countryside, so we have to take all our household waste to one of the collection centres in a local village.

Telephone: Living in a mountainous area of the countryside, Telefónica (the largest fixed phone and ADSL operator in Spain) are unable to supply us with land-line telecommunications. We therefore rely on Skype (via the internet) for most calls (which are free to other Skype users, or by using credit, if not) and have a mobile phone contract with Movistar (also owned by Telefonica) which costs €11 per month for 800 MB of data and free calls (after an initial connection charge of €0.18).

Internet: We use a wireless internet option costing €29 (inclusive of IVA tax) per month, with unlimited downloads (within reason). Speeds up to 3 Mbps.

House and Contents Insurance: Based on the re-building costs of the house, including contents, we pay €241 per annum with Linea Directa.

Peugot 308 saloon

MOTORING COSTS

The cost of motoring in Spain has fluctuated considerably over the past few years.

New cars which until the last year or two were relatively expensive in Spain, now cost a similar amount in euros as their UK equivalent does in sterling.  But, the currency exchange rate is €1.43 for each British pound, meaning that at present, some new cars in Spain are considerably cheaper than in the UK, though this is not true of all marques – BMW for example.

Second-hand vehicles (often with high mileage) hold their values well in Spain, making a comparable model of the same age in the UK (for example) much cheaper.

FUEL: Unleaded petrol (gasolina sin plomo) 95 Octane was €1.52 per litre last year.  It is now €1.33 at the Repsol garage in Torre del Mar.

Diesel: (gasoil) at the same garage was €1.42 per litre last year and is now €1.16.

As in most countries, branded petrol stations such as Repsol are often more expensive for petrol and diesel compared to supermarkets and hypermarkets such as Carrefour.  The cheapest fuel prices in the Axarquía area at the moment are:

Unleaded: 1.269 €/l  at BALLENOIL, Camino Higueral El, 28  Vélez-Málaga
Diesel: 1.087 €/l at EROSKI, Avenida Juan Carlos I (at the El Ingenio shopping centre) because you can get a further 2% discount by using your credit card if you use the self-service, pay-at-the-pump option.

Click HERE for an interesting interactive map displaying the current cheapest petrol/gas stations in the area.

Car tax (Impuesto vehiculos traccion mechanica) is based on fiscal horsepower (which bears no resemblance to the mechanical horsepower of the vehicle) and is a means by which the taxation is calculated. This rate of taxation differs from village to village, depending on where you live.  For our car, a Peugot 308, the cost is €51.12 per annum.

Car insurance for a two year old Peugot 308 1.6 E-HDI (with Linea Directa – the Spanish equivalent of Direct Line in the UK), for fully comprehensive cover with legal assistance included, and an excess of €150, cost €570 two years ago.  However, last year we thought we could do better.  We asked for quotes from other insurers and threatened to leave Linea Directa unless they matched the price.  After initially refusing, they eventually relented and this year our premium was €426.

ALSA bus, east of Malaga

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Spain’s public transport system is relatively cheap and reliable.

Trains: Because of the mountainous terrain there are no trains running through La Axarquía, though you can catch a train from Málaga to many other Spanish cities, including Granada, Seville, Córdoba, and Madrid.  I can certainly recommend the AVE train (Spain´s equivalent of the Bullet Train) as an alternative to budget flights, with favourable prices being found in advance, online, via state-owned train operator, RENFE.

Buses: The main bus operator here is Alsina Graells (ALSA). Their website is in English, and from here you can study bus schedules and purchase tickets in advance of your trip.  There are generally plenty of buses between towns and cities, and they usually leave on time. Buses may be infrequent to remote villages in the Axarquía, with often only one bus per day or none at all at the weekend. The cost of a bus ticket with ALSA, from Nerja to Málaga, (approx. 60 kms) one way is 4.52 € or €8.18 for a return trip.

MY TIP: If you are over 65 years of age, a resident in Andalucía and registered on the Padron of your local town hall, you can apply for an Andalucía Tarjeta 65 (full information, link to download the form and address to send it to, HERE)  Once you have the card, you will not only be able to get 50% off bus fares with ALSA, but showing the card will get you a discount at many local attractions :)

Brujas - Ruta de la Tapa, Torre del Mar

ENTERTAINMENT

Eating out: Menu del Día (menu of the day, usually at lunch time) 3 course meal, including bread and one glass of beer, wine or a bottle of water) 8 – 10 €

Evening dinner for 2: (three courses) at a mid-priced restaurant, including a glass of wine 45 €

Tapas: small beer or glass of wine including a tapa 1-2 € (depending on whether it’s a tourist area or not).

Cinema ticket (International release, Yelmo cinema, Malaga) 4.90 €

Round of GOLF (18 holes, 2 players + buggy, Baviera Golf course at La Caleta de Vélez) 100 €

Cigarettes (pack of 20, Marlboro) 4.85 €

Shopping trolley in Mercadona supermarket, Spain

STANDARD GROCERY LIST

This is the up-to-date Standard Grocery List I have published previously.  The first price shown in black is as it was in February 2014, with this month’s prices in RED alongside.  

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

Milk (semi–skimmed UHT, own brand), 1 litre   0.60 €     0.61 €

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

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

Butter (250g, own brand)    1.25 €       1.15 €

Sugar (1kg, white)   0.93 €      0.76 €

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

Eggs (12, own brand caged, medium)   1.35 €         1.20 €  (special offer)

Olive oil (1 litre, extra virgin, own brand) 3€  3.85 € (5 litres 14.50 €) (5 litres 19 €) **

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

Pasta  (1kg, own brand)   0.75 €       0.85 €

Pasta  (500g, wholewheat)   0.99€       0.99 €

Tinned tuna  (6 x 80g, own brand in sunflower oil)   3.35 €       2.98 €  (special offer)

Chicken breasts (1kg, boneless, skinless, packaged))  5.80 €         5.10 €   (or bought loose at the counter 4.65 € per kg)

Pork chops (1kg, packaged)  4.75 €        4.10 € 

Beef mince (Store brand, pre-packed, 700g)   3.80 €          4.95 € (now packaged as 1kg pack)

Fish  (1kg Salmon steaks)  10.75 €          11.65 € 

Fish  (1kg Dorada, Gilt-head bream)  6.95€         7.50 € 

Apples (1kg, green, Golden Delicious)   1.85 €            1.39 € **

Oranges (loose) (1kg)   0.79 €            1.15 € (or 0.91 €  per kg if purchased as a 5.5kg bag for 4.99 €) **

Bananas (loose) (1kg)   1.39 €        1.25 € **

Potatoes (loose) (1kg)   0.89 €        0.89 € 

Lettuce (1 head, Iceberg)   0.87 €         0.49 €  (special offer)

Red Peppers (1kg, loose)    1.89 €         1.99 €  **

Green pointed “Italian” Peppers (1kg, loose)    1.99 €              0.99 €   (special offer)

Tomatoes  (1kg, loose)    1.29 €          0.79 €  (special offer)

Coca-Cola (1.5 litre bottle)  1.09 €         1 €

Water (2 litre bottle)  0.42 €         0.42 €

Domestic Beer (1 litre bottle, Cruzcampo)  1.25 €    1.37 € (now bottled as 1.1 litre)

Imported beer (6 x 25cl bottles Heineken)  3.65 €           3.15 €

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

Colgate toothpaste (100 ml)   1.75€          1.55 € (now packaged as 75ml)

Pantene shampoo  (300 ml)   3.00€         2.90 € (now packaged as 270ml)

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

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

** Seasonal changes

Currency Conversion from XE €1 = 1.08 USD
0.70 GBP
1.47 AUD
1.40 CAD
1.64 NZD
13.46 ZAR

So, tell me – HOW DO PRICES COMPARE WHERE YOU LIVE?

El Torcal: Welcome to Jurassic Park – Andalucían style

El Torcal Nature Reserve, Antequera If you thought that this part of Spain was all about white villages, a visit to Andalucia’s very own Jurassic Park – El Torcal Nature Reserve near Antequera, will soon change your mind.

Situated around thirty kilometres north of the city of Málaga, and near the geographical centre of Málaga province, El Torcal is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Spain. Limestone rock formations at El Torcal, Antequera The area is well-known for its unusual limestone rock formations which had their origin under the sea around 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. In time, immense pressure caused by movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates forced the seabed to rise to an altitude of more than 1300 metres, forming one of the most striking karst landscapes in the whole of Europe.

The grey limestone has been shaped by a peculiar erosive process known as karstic moulding, which is the name given to the chemical reaction on the soluble limestone rock by carbon dioxide in rainwater and ice. El Tornillo rock formation at El Torcal, Spain But you don’t need to be a geologist to appreciate that El Torcal offers a wonderland of limestone structures, rock towers and cliffs with caves, galleries and alleys thrown in.  Even the road up to the Nature Reserve makes for an impressive ride, but nothing can prepare you for your first sight of El Torcal.

You might think that because of the altitude there would be little vegetation, but nature lovers will be in their element. Unsurprisingly there are many types of rock plant, which flourish in the cracks between the rocks, but there are many other interesting plant species including numerous varieties of wild orchid, saxifrage, peonies, wild lilies and roses.

If wildlife is your thing, then look out for geckos, lizards, snakes, wild goats, cattle and many small mammals such as moles, dormice or rabbits. Don’t forget to keep scanning the skies for golden eagles, griffon vultures and kestrels circling overhead. Limestone rock formations at El Torcal Entry is free to El Torcal Nature Reserve and, with no specific opening or closing hours, the park is open to the public anytime. The visitor centre has regular limited opening hours, depending on the time of year, and facilities which include a cafe, gift shop, information desk, exhibition/film area, clean toilets and plenty of free parking.

Even if you have reduced mobility, the road to El Torcal is worth the ride. There is a ramp up to the visitor centre and the viewpoint, “Mirador Las Ventanillas” is only 100 metres away and has level access.  From here you can enjoy a stunning view of the town of Villanueva de la Concepción, the Río Campanillas area, Málaga and, on clear days, you can see the mountains of Morocco, on the African continent. Rock formation at El Torcal From the visitor centre there is a circular, self-guided route, marked with wooden posts which will take you about an hour to complete. For longer routes you need to hire the services of an experienced guide, which can be arranged through the visitor centre.

The paths are not made up, but are simply worn by the feet of humans and animals. You’ll need to pick your way carefully between the rocks or risk a sprained ankle, especially if it has been raining and the rocks are slippery. Sturdy footwear is required and, although you don’t need hiking boots, flip-flops are not suitable.

It’s advisable not to deviate from the paths as it’s easy to get disorientated. Landscape at El Torcal In the summer months the rocks get very hot, radiating their heat so you should take sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water.  During the rest of year, the weather at El Torcal can be cold (well, it is more than 1300 metres) so it’s best to take an extra layer of clothing for warmth.

There’s no doubt that the weather conditions will determine your experience, so you might have to be prepared to return on another day.

As you might imagine, the area can get very crowded during the daytime with coaches full of tourists, so if you are a photographer, an early morning or evening visit away from the well-trodden path makes for magical photographs.

We took a 3-4 hour guided tour in the Nature Reserve with David, a knowledgeable local guide with SenderoSurAventura, who skipped along the paths like a mountain goat. He pointed out many Ammonite fossils (hard-shelled sea creatures that lived more than 200 million years ago) along the way, as well as leading us to areas and enigmatic formations that we would never have found for ourselves.

Popular imagination has defined many of the strange shapes, which have been given such names as El Tornillo (the Screw), Los Cuchillos (The Knives), La Mano (the Hand) and El Sombrerillo (the Little Hat). El Sombrerillo (the Little Hat) at Torcal Early humans and neanderthals inhabited this area for thousands of years and there is evidence that they lived in some of the caves within El Torcal. But this should come as no surprise given the proximity to the ancient dolmens in Antequera and the best-preserved remains of Neanderthal man ever found in Western Europe, in a cave near to the Zafarraya Pass.

My advice: Take a picnic, don’t forget your camera – OH and watch out for dinosaurs!