los caracoles : frigiliana : andalucia : spain

los caracoles : frigiliana : andalucia : spain

On a drive, high up in the Andalucian hills, above the white washed town of Frigiliana and the coastal town of Torox, we spotted some very unusual shapes ahead of us. White domes, almost hobbit-like, overlooking the sea. From the roadside, they looked a bit forlorn, and we thought that they were possibly abandoned, so of course, we just had to find out what they were…

Turns out, they’re not abandoned buildings after all. They’re a complex of hobbit-like, cave dwellings which combine to form Los Caracoles (The Snails…), an amazing and unique hotel, with panoramic views over the Axarquia area of Andalucía, which we just had to investigate. Although we were staying in Nerja, we made a booking to explore – and each time we have been back in the area we’ve ensured that we’ve incorporated a stay at Los Caracoles, as we were so enchanted by it and its surroundings.

The complex is made up of five Snails (bungalows), each consisting of a master bedroom, a living room, bathroom and balcony, plus six double rooms with en suite bathroom and terrace. We’ve stayed a number of times and so have experienced both the Snails and the double rooms, and all have been pretty magical. The restaurant is located in a snail shaped dining room, with a spacious outdoor terrace. All tables have spectacular vantage points with views across the Andalucian hills, sprinkled with many pueblos blancos, and down to the sparkling Mediterranean sea. Landscaped gardens roll away, almost as if they fall off the hillside, and a beautiful pool, with sun loungers and accessorised with Moroccan lanterns, is a much needed addition – even in the winter we were warm, so can only imagine how much this pool would be required in the height of summer.

Because the buildings are made of stone – they are cave-like dwellings – they are not pristine. Each room/bungalow does have heating, in the form of wood-burners and electric heaters, and when we’ve stayed, these have been most welcome. We’ve only ever visited out of high season, and so we’ve experienced chilly weather, foggy weather and torrential rain, as well as blue sky and very warm sunshine, for the time of year. But, because the temperatures haven’t hit the highs they reach in the summer, the accommodation can feel cold, and at times, almost damp. However, once the burners are going, the rooms do heat up quickly, but if the initial feel of cold bedding leaves you cold, Los Caracoles might not be the place for you. If it is though, and if you can appreciate the unusual qualities on offer, then like us, we’re sure you will absolutely appreciate this very unique accommodation.

Being so high up in the hills, the views are just spectacular. And, so is the weather. On one visit, thick, impenetrable fog enveloped all of the site and it was so atmospheric, seeing white domes emerging in front of you in the mist. You do feel as if you are up in the clouds when the weather rolls in…

But the beauty of being so high up, is that as soon as the weather clears, you can see the beauty that lies in front of you…

As I said previously, if you want accommodation that is high end boutique and utterly pristine, maybe on this occasion, Los Caracoles is not for you. It is a little bit on the rustic side, perhaps even rough-ish around the edges in places, but it is totally unique. It’s a bit of a thrill to be so high up in the mountains, in very quirky accommodation and take your morning coffee, on a balcony overlooking the spread of Axarquia below you. The restaurant is definitely one of the highlights – and factor in eating here, because Los Caracoles is quite isolated. Although not too far from Frigilana, it’s a bit of a drive across the winding roads, so this restaurant is an excellent option. The menu is very inventive and when we’ve stayed in the past, the chef has been superb. Food is of a very high standard and quite different to your normal Andalucian fare. Fish and meat feature highly on the menu, but there is also a range of vegetarian options. Everything is fresh and cooked to order – we had, on one occasion, John Dory and Skate. The smell of the sea was still on them and they were the most delicious fish I have ever eaten. Breakfasts are substantial – and in the cooler months, just a lovely morning experience, as the wood burner is lit in the dining room, and soft lighting enhances the Moorish-inspired decor.

We are so looking forward to revisiting Los Caracoles on our next trip to Andalucia – and hoping that Blass, who was the largest puppy in the world – is still part of the fixture and fittings.

 

 

 

alhambra : granada : andalusia

alhambra : granada : andalusia

The absolute beauty of Andalusia. One moment, you can be lying on a beach – this was in November – and the next, up in the snow of the Sierra Nevada mountains. With a trip to the Alhambra, in between.

the alhambra palace and generalife gardens

So, a bit about the history of the Alhambra, from alhambradegranada.org

The Alhambra was so called because of its reddish walls (in Arabic, («qa’lat al-Hamra’» means Red Castle). It is located on top of the hill al-Sabika, on the left bank of the river Darro, to the west of the city of Granada and in front of the neighbourhoods of the Albaicin and of the Alcazaba. 

The Alhambra is located on a strategic point, with a view over the whole city and the meadow (la Vega), and this fact leads to believe that other buildings were already on that site before the Muslims arrived. The complex is surrounded by ramparts and has an irregular shape. It limits with the valley of the river Darro on its northern side, with the valley of al-Sabika on its southern side and with the street Cuesta del Rey Chico on the eastern side. The Cuesta del Rey Chico is also the border between the neighbourhood of the Albaicin and the gardens of the Generalife, located on top of the Hill of the Sun (Cerro del Sol). 

The first historical documents known about the Alhambra date from the 9th century and they refer to Sawwar ben Hamdun who, in the year 889, had to seek refuge in the Alcazaba, a fortress, and had to repair it due to the civil fights that were destroying the Caliphate of Cordoba, to which Granada then belonged. This site subsequently started to be extended and populated, although not yet as much as it would be later on, because the Ziri kings established their residence on the hill of the Albaicin. 

The castle of the Alhambra was added to the city’s area within the ramparts in the 9th century, which implied that the castle became a military fortress with a view over the whole city. In spite of this, it was not until the arrival of the first king of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar (Mohammed I, 1238-1273), in the 13th century, that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra. This event marked the beginning of the Alhambra’s most glorious period. 

First of all, the old part of the Alcazaba was reinforced and the Watch Tower (Torre de la Vela) and the Keep (Torre del Homenaje) were built. Water was canalised from the river Darro, warehouses and deposits were built and the palace and the ramparts were started. These two elements were carried on by Mohammed II (1273-1302) and Mohammed III (1302-1309), who apparently also built public baths and the Mosque (Mezquita), on the site of which the current Church of Saint Mary was later built. 

Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391) are responsible for most of the constructions of the Alhambra that we can still admire today. From the improvements of the Alcazaba and the palaces, to the Patio of the Lions (Patio de los Leones) and its annexed rooms, including the extension of the area within the ramparts, the Justice Gate (Puerta de la Justicia), the extension and decoration of the towers, the building of the Baths (Baños), the Comares Room (Cuarto de Comares) and the Hall of the Boat (Sala de la Barca). Hardly anything remains from what the later Nasrid Kings did. 

From the time of the Catholic Monarchs until today we must underline that Charles V ordered the demolition of a part of the complex in order to build the palace which bears his name. We must also remember the construction of the Emperor’s Chambers (habitaciones del Emperador) and the Queen’s Dressing Room (Peinador de la Reina) and that from the 18th century the Alhambra was abandoned. During the French domination part of the fortress was blown up and it was not until the 19th century that the process of repairing, restoring and preserving the complex started and is still maintained nowadays.

Our visit took place in November and we guessed it wouldn’t be quite as packed as in the summer, so chanced tickets when we arrived, and bought General Day Tickets which were approximately €15 each. These gave us access to a lot of the site, including Alcazaba, the Nasrid Palaces, the Generalife and Gardens.You can purchase a separate, less expensive ticket for just the gardens, but as the one we bought included the Gardens, we could also visit the Walk of the Cypresses (Paseo de los Cipreses), Unirrigated Land (Secano) and Saint Francis´Gardens (Jardines de San Francisco.). Your ticket will give you a time of entry and there is queuing system to enter – although obviously in November this was quite short. If you intend to visit in the summer months, come prepared for the heat and a long wait.

Once inside, the site is extensive and can be a bit overwhelming. Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s probably advisable to know a little bit about the Alhambra so that it makes sense. However, it is awe-inspiring and around every turn, your jaw will drop,

These photographs were taken in NOVEMBER. And, right at the end of November, too. A time of year when we’re used to it being grey and overcast – and even if sunny, there’s no colour to speak of. But not in Granada. The gardens are still full of colour and life and vibrancy. The sky, blue and cloudless. Perfect autumn weather. And a perfect time of year to visit this stunning Moorish site, which will make your jaw drop regularly, as you take in its vast splendour and beauty.

 

 

 

puerto banus : andalusia : spain

puerto banus : andalusia : spain

Puerto Banus was built in May 1970 by José Banús, a local property developer, as a luxury marina and shopping complex. And, as we were staying in the area, we decided to check it out – depsite our reservations. And, my goodness, it was EVERYTHING we expected it to be. And more. It was totally over the top and ridiculously hideous, attracting everything that we dislike. The actual town is mostly pretty – but it’s around the harbour that it is just gross. The displays of wealth are totally over the top and everything just seemed designed to be flashy and to impress the kind of people who’d be impressed by flashy shows of extravagence. It was truly, truly awful. From the designer menswear boutique called “Billionaire”, to Jimmy Choo & D&G, to the tosser who screeched around the harbour, repeatedly, in a vile red sports car. Whilst it may well have been his, I do hope he was the kind of idiot who rented it out for a short timeframe for stupid amounts of money. I suspect it – and dearly hope – it was the latter. I still remember this ridiculous show pony, who is still presumably behaving like an A-grade idiot. The harbour is awful – rows and rows of super expensive yachts, sometimes dispensing the people on board. And strangely enough, often glamorous (plastic) young women and much older, highly unattractive men. Maybe they were their fathers, but I don’t think so…

Anyway, we beat a hasty retreat from the harbour and headed away from the throngs of people who just wanted to be seen. I’ve never disliked a place quite as much, and so glad that I can have a whale of a time, in places that are authentic, rough around the edges, unpolished and visited by more real, authentic people. Anyway, I’ve done it, can tick it off my list, and NEVER return.

But, just a short walk away from the super yachts and super rich, we found the real Puerto Banus. And the real people. Families walking together. People of all shapes and sizes. People who seemed to be very happy to be with friends and family, rather than preening like peacocks. From this part of the beach, we could still see the playground of the rich – but we were so relieved to be back in amongst “normal” people…

So, there you go. An awful place, which we will always avoid in the future. Definitely not for us…