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Decidedly Spanish jamon is on a roll,  putting the nose of Italy’s Parma ham seriously out of joint. Only a few years ago,  most foreigners’ idea of Spain’s ham was tough and ropey, derived from the product churned out by huge ham factories on the east of the peninsula. These specialise in industrially produced ham from the white pig, an iniquitous import.

It’s not always bad, in fact some jamon serrano can be delicious, notably those from Teruel and Trévelez, but it doesn’t quite manage that sweet, velvety, melt-in-the-mouth factor.


It’s a pretty surreal sight: a ‘knitted’ town square smack in the middle of a traditional Andalucian pueblo blanco: Iznajar. Even more so as the village dates back to the 8th century, making it one of the earliest Arab settlements of the region, originally named Hins Ashar. Today life proceeds gently in a sea of dense olive groves. Better still, from its strategic hilltop site the restored Moorish castle now surveys a vast, rather dreamy lake or rather embalse (reservoir), created in the 1960s – but you wouldn’t guess. It even boasts an artificial beach and a rather smart hotel (below).

Every few years Malaga manages to make a big media splash. Suddenly it’s hit the headlines again – this time with the pop-up Centre Pompidou Malaga, the first time this dynamic Parisian art centre has branched out beyond its native border. So it’s a real coup for the Andalucian city and, en plus, slots in perfectly with the recently upgraded port area (see my post here); at least the designer shops and cafés eyeing gullible cruise-ship passengers are now backed by serious cultural input.


It’s the kick off of 2015 and they’re all doing it (the mainstream press that is). So, as a professional traveller I thought I’d add my pinch of salt – or spice. Culled from decades of travel, here’s my short-list of affordable destinations that give you the best of all worlds … in 2015.

People flock to Jerez for three reasons: horses, flamenco and sherry bodegas, not necessarily in that order. All well and good, but this cheerful Andalucian city also offers a very decent sideline in tapas bars. So having just returned from a sherry refresher, I thought I’d flag up a few choice venues.


A day spent in Cadiz leaves you on a high – with all neuro-cobwebs swept away. This city is magical, luminous, breezy, packed with baroque and Andalucian gems, as well as possessing a distinct air of north Africa. Not least, it’s the oldest settlement in Europe, founded by the Phoenicians some 3,000 years ago. You get the picture – it is unique.


Dear reader I beg you please tell me if you know of a quality tapas bar in Granada that is a/ not packed with boisterous students (sorry…) or b/ not packed with carousing tourists (I know, mea culpa, I’m a travel-writer). If I go to Cordoba, no problem at all, I’m spoilt for tantalising choice; Seville, the birthplace of tapas? not bad either, though tourists are inevitably thick on the ground. But Granada??? it’s a tough call. And I have tried – (see my previous blog here).


Yet another addition to London’s burgeoning Spanish gastronomy scene is alive and kicking in Lower Regent St. Ah yes, that WAS Lower Regent St, but a few days ago it somehow morphed into “St James – Regent St“. Could this be connected to the vast new upmarket development (St James Market) taking shape just south of Piccadilly Circus? Of course!


Donostia – San Sebastian – is there more to it than just top restaurants and pintxos? In the past (here and here and here) I’ve raved about its legendary pintxos – helped by the fact that San Sebastian famously claims the world’s greatest number of bars per capita. But so great is my gluttony, I haven’t written much about the rest of the city’s enticements.

PLaya de la Concha San Sebastian

After an intensive bout of Andalucian sun and lake-swimming, and an even more intensive bout of Andalucian produce, I’m feeling pretty fit and healthy. Even better, it cost little – in some cases entirely gratis thanks to my generous village neighbours. This is typical of rural Andalucia, where so many people have vegetables gardens which at this time of year are ripe with abundance.


As Andalucian villages are built following the old Moorish pattern of narrow streets to fend off the heat, the tight clusters of whitewashed houses mean no gardens, only huertas – a form of allotment or veggie garden on the edge of the village.