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It’s too easy to miss out on Andalucia’s mountainous interior, which in some ways is good, as it leaves hidden jewels for the happy few in the know. Ubeda, in the province of Jaen, is a case in point. Because this serene, elegant town packed with mansions and Renaissance churches has a fantastic, centuries-old tradition of pottery and ceramics well worth investigating; the food offerings are excellent too. Altogether you won’t regret a night or two spent here.


You may have spotted a bottle or two over the years, as Lanjarón’s mineral water goes back to 1830, though savvy Andalucians were already lapping up its medicinal springs in the late 18th century. Centuries before that it was a Moorish stronghold, leaving the iconic ruins of a castle teetering on a lone crag in the valley (below). Today, although it’s rare to find a bottle labeled ‘Lanjarón’ (in 2008, new owners Danone fused the brand with Font Vella), the spa town staggers on regardless, lushly green, packed with welcoming shops and cafés – and cheery geriatrics.


May is the big kick-off month in Cordoba when the city comes alive between its post-Easter slumber and the furnace-like temperatures of the summer. So, once again, I steered a car towards this beguiling urban labyrinth from my rustic hideaway in the Subbética. Patios were on the agenda, but what I didn’t expect was to stumble across the famous Rocio.


I love Cordoba, never tire of its sublime 8th-10th century Mezquita (mosque), its Roman walls (above), nooks and crannies, palm-studded squares, silent churches and noisy tapas bars. Luckily the latter constantly reinvent themselves; even changing the ingredients and/or presentation of homegrown salmorejo…Here’s one of the best versions, at Garum 2.1, with a glass of chilled, local Montilla. Read my post about the city’s tapas bars here – all tips are still valid.

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).

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).


Funny kind of airport I thought. There it was, a stunning neo-classical church towering into another of London’s brilliant blue evening skies. And there I was, clutching my ‘boarding pass’ – destination: Andalucia (where else, followers of this blog might ask).


But this time my trip turned out to be a bit of a wheeze, a vaudeville-sprinkled cocktail (including those too) of staged cameo acts and surprisingly good food – eaten in the company of 50 or so other punters. This was a preview of 11 upcoming evenings designed for those jet-set Londoners who want the Andaluz atmosphere minus the angst-ridden travel. Behind it is Dine Mile High, a company that specialises in pop-up restaurants and themed events.

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.