Autumn in Andalusia17th October 2017 • Places to Visit • Stephanie Donaldson
No mists and mellow fruitfulness in southern Spain – instead there was cloudless blue skies and temperatures peaking at 38º. Somehow, by dint of taking breaks in air-conditioned buildings and frequently rehydrating with fresh orange juice, or Spanish beers, we managed to squeeze in stays in Vejer de la Frontera (one of the white hilltop towns) Cadiz, Seville and Ronda and places in between. It’s a glorious part of Spain and somewhere I would like to visit again.
Old Cadiz is a place of great beauty with long, narrow streets that are largely traffic free. Magnificent trees provide shade in the squares and gardens of the old port, including the gargantuan Ficus trees reputedly brought to the city by Christopher Columbus. An indication of how mild the climate is was the presence of an exquisite Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia), a tree more generally seen in the subtropics.
Aside from the plants, it was the wonderful decorative metalwork that caught my eye, especially, but not exclusively, an Art Deco door and window.
The final treat as we left the city was driving over the magnificent new La Pepa bridge that spans the bay of Cadiz, taking us from the city of Columbus to the 21st century in an instant.
Vejer del la Frontera
Vejer is one of the famed white hilltop towns of Andalusia – it perches above the surrounding plains, its narrow, twisting streets only driven by the locals, or the foolhardy. (Top tip – park in the free public car park as you come into the town and take a very inexpensive taxi to your lodgings.) Most gardens are concealed behind the white washed walls, but I did spot a couple of fine plants – a Euphorbia marginata that clearly loves its surroundings and a gorgeous Plumbago capensis half way up a wall.
Somehow, despite the fact that Seville was scorchingly hot, we did cover a lot of ground, although quite a lot of that seemed to involve going round in circles – maybe it was the heat that addled our brains. Fortunately our wanderings took us along plant-hung alleyways and past inviting courtyards, so there was pleasure in the process. – including experiencing a serious case of envy when I spotted the most beautiful glazed balcony.
We did eventually find our way to the Alcazar Real, the magnificent Moorish Palace at the heart of the city. As ever, it was the gardens that drew me and they did not disappoint. From the first courtyard where a pink-flowered Royal Poinciana cast its shadow on the walls, to the heart of the gardens where we walked amongst towering palms, it felt like a true oasis.
The palace was heaving with visitors, but the gardens are sufficiently large that it only took a few minutes to find a quiet corner to enjoy some cool tranquillity.
It’s quite difficult to focus on the plants in a setting as dramatic as that of Ronda – perched high on cliffs that surround ravines it is a place to just stand and stare.
On our way there, we had lunch in a small hotel a few miles outside the town where I was intrigued by a honey locust tree with pods that were gradually changing from yellow to brown as they ripened – they looked amazing and they rattled noisily when the wind blew. It looked most extraordinary and when I posted a picture of it on Instagram some people mistook them for a snake – a very big snake! The deep purple of Solanum rantonnetii looked even more intensely blue against the backdrop of a swimming pool.
In Ronda we stayed on the lower slopes of the town next door to the Moorish baths which have survived in remarkable condition. Inspired by their architecture, our hotel had a distinctly Moorish feel to it.
A laden pomegranate grew in the garden and I loved the variegated flowers of the Mirabilis jalapa – I wish I had enough sun in my own garden to grow this.
Beyond the garden all was parched, but there was beauty in this too, although next time I visit I think I will come in the spring when things are a little less prickly and a bit more colourful.