The Spanish Frontier

Before the blog leaves Spain, there are a few towns out on the frontier of Andalucía that we wanted to to tell you about.

Jerez del la Frontera
There is a lot more to Jerez than we were able to experience given the time of year that we traveled through it. We were drawn here by the promise of sherry. There are a lot of bodegas here and they give tours! Yay! But not in the winter months! Boo! That didn’t stop us from drinking a lot of sherry, though. I became a fan of the fino and the Pedro Ximenez, but R preferred the amontillado. 

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The sherry barrels at Tabanco El Passaje. Really good tapas and montaditos (small sandwiches) too. Plus, flamenco! Photo by R.

We also saw an equestrian show at the Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre. Well, half a show. It’s super impressive what these trainers are able to get the horses to do and I have a lot of respect for them, but it turns out it’s not really my thing. If you enjoy dressage, you’ll absolutely love this place.

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A trainer and his horse at the equestrian show. The next move is for the horse to jump and kick it’s hind legs out. Photo via.

My favorite stop in this town was the Alcázar, an old Moorish fort that the municipality is painstakingly preserving. The fort dates from the 11th or 12th centuries and is in a near constant state of rediscovery.

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Unearthed ruins of the Alcazar. A water wheel is shown at left, which pulled water from a well and supplied it to the baths at right.

Ronda
I loved this beautiful hillside white town. It rests on a plateau that is split in two by the El Tajo gorge and hosts some of the most interesting sites in Spain.

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The old town of Ronda on the right and the new town on the left, separated by the El Tajo gorge. Photo via.
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One of three bridges that connect the old town with the new town. Photo by R.
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Ronda is beautiful even at night. Photo by R.

There are a lot of fun and interesting things going on here, from the old Islamic palaces and bath houses to the whimsical museums and stunning walks. I recommend the Casa del Rey Moro (House of the Moorish King) if only for the passageway down to the river. It’s 300 steps carved into the rock, so if you suffer from arthritic knees it might not be for you, but it’s a wonderful way to see how the people maintained their water supplies when it was under attack. The home itself was closed for renovation when we were there, but we still enjoyed the steps back in time.

The museums in Ronda are all must sees. First up, the Bandeleros Museum. It’s small and there’s a ton of reading material, but the exhibits are precious. The Spanish romanticize their frontier “bandits” the same way we do in the U.S. (think Billy the Kid or Jesse James). This museum tells the stories of the most famous bandits and includes some wonderful pop culture items.

Next, the Lara Museum. This place belongs to Juan Antonio Lara Jurado, who still lives in a small room upstairs. Juan has been collecting stuff since he was ten. When I first heard that I thought this was going to be more of a hoarder museum, but this guy has a great eye for antiques and collectibles. He also has a whimsical sense of style, as evidenced by the downstairs witchcraft and Inquisition displays.

The final museum was the Museo de Ronda, which hosts quite a collection of Roman and Islamic funerary artifacts. I was not expecting to like this museum as much as I did. Check it out if you ever make it to Ronda.

Caves of Pileta
Just outside of Ronda there exists some of Andalucía’s most ancient caves. Side note: I love caves; have loved them since I was a kid and was let loose on Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disneyland without adult supervision. Whenever I’m having a low energy day R just finds me a cave to wander through and I’m back to my old self. Caves are magic.

We rented a car to get here as the caves are still in private hands and there is no public transit available to the remote location. Access is only granted via guided tour. Upon entering the cave the guide hands out electric lanterns, which light the way through the hour long tour.

You guys, it’s amazing. Not only are there terrific stalactite and stalagmite formations, but there are 20,000-25,000 year old cave paintings in there. The owners don’t allow photographs in the caves – it’s so dark that a flash would be required and that would damage the paintings over time. Normally I’d try to sneak one or two, but it was slippery and I was entranced by what I was seeing. So these are pilfered from the Internet.

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Cave paintings in Pileta. They were made using animal fat mixed with various minerals. Photo via.

Arcos de la Frontera 
Here is another clifftop town with views that will take your breath away. It was quiet and peaceful while we were here, which meant that a few of the churches we wanted to see were closed. But we still had a lovely time here. The food was excellent and we were delighted to find a group of naturalists talking about owls.

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The cliffside town of Arcos de la Frontera. Photo by R.
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A boy holds an owl on a terrace in Arcos de la Frontera. The owls were less excited about this than the humans. Photo by R.

We recommend hiring a car to drive around the Malaga Province in Spain. Just seeing all the white towns tucked into the hills is a wonderful way to spend a day.

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The white town of Grazalema. Photo by R.

This pretty much wraps up our Spain posts. Next up is our three days in Paris and then we’re on to Morocco!

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