andalucía: antequera’s bronze age dolmens & on to málaga

Friday, July 12:  It’s time to pack up and leave our little villa, Puesta de Sol, in Mollina because our tour is over. 😦  I for one am sad to have it come to an end.  We have a leisurely breakfast, painstakingly prepared by Alan and Verna.  Barry picks us up at 10:30; we load all our bags into the van, say our goodbyes to Alan and Verna, and head to Antequera, home of the impressive 3,000-5,000 year old Dolmens.

La Puerta del Sol ~ our villa in Mollina
La Puerta del Sol ~ our villa in Mollina
the whole gang: Scottish Barry, Australian Barry, Verna and Carole at the villa
the whole gang: Scottish Barry, Australian Barry, Alan, Verna and Carole at the villa

Antequera is a city in the province of Málaga.   It is known as “the heart of Andalucía” because of its central location between Málaga, Granada, Cordoba and Seville.  It is noted for two large Bronze Age dolmens.

In addition, the Vega de Antequera, watered by the river Guadalhorce, is a fertile agricultural area that provides cereals, olive oil and vegetables in abundance.  There are also fields and fields of sunflowers.

a blur of sunflowers seen from the van on the way to Antequera
a blur of sunflowers seen from the van on the way to Antequera

On the northern outskirts of the city there are two Bronze Age burial mounds (barrows or dolmens), the Dólmen de Menga and the Dólmen de Viera, dating from the 3rd millennium BC. They are the largest such structures in Europe. The larger one, Dólmen de Menga, is twenty-five meters in diameter and four meters high, and was built with thirty-two megaliths, the largest weighing about 180 tons. After completion of the chamber (which probably served as a grave for the ruling families) and the path leading into the center, the stone structure was covered with earth and built up into the hill that can be seen today (Wikipedia: Antequera).

There is a great visitor’s center at the site where we sit and watch an animated film showing how the dolmens must have been constructed.  It seems the people wanted a connection between the spiritual realm and the earthly realm, and they positioned the Dolmen de Menga so that its opening faced the Sleeping Giant, a giant rock in Antequera.  It must have taken a long time and hundreds of strong people to build these dolmens.  Australian Barry notes that the people must have had plenty of food and other resources at hand for day-to-day living, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to devote so much time and energy to building these dolmens.

a great recreation of how the dolmens were built in the excellent Visitor's Center
a great recreation of how the dolmens were built in the excellent Visitor’s Center
a visual of the mound from above in the Visitor's Center
a visual of the mound from above in the Visitor’s Center

When the grave was opened and examined in the 19th century, archaeologists found the skeletons of several hundred people inside.

Dólmen de Menga
Dólmen de Menga
Dólmen de Menga faces the Sleeping Giant
Dólmen de Menga faces the Sleeping Giant
entrance to Dólmen de Menga
entrance to Dólmen de Menga
Carole inside Dólmen de Menga
Carole inside Dólmen de Menga
the view from inside Dólmen de Menga to the Sleeping Giant
the view from inside Dólmen de Menga to the Sleeping Giant
the countryside and clouds around Antequera
the countryside and clouds around Antequera
Dólmen de Menga
entrance to Dólmen de Menga
me, Barry and Carole at Dólmen de Menga, with the Sleeping Giant behind
me, Barry and Carole at Dólmen de Menga, with the Sleeping Giant behind

We visit the smaller dolmen, Dólmen de Viera.  It’s not nearly as impressive as Dólmen de Menga.

entrance to Dólmen de Viera
entrance to Dólmen de Viera

The Dólmen del Romeral, which dates from the early 2nd millennium (about 1800 BC),  is outside the city. A large number of smaller stones were used in its construction.  We have to drive through a palette factory to get to this dolmen; the palette factory even has some apartments for rent.  I think it might be cool to live there so I could tell people: “Drop by for a visit at my apartment between the palette factory and the Dolmen!” 🙂

entrance to Dólmen del Romeral
entrance to Dólmen del Romeral
walking around the Dólmen del Romeral
walking around the Dólmen del Romeral
the Dólmen del Romeral
the Dólmen del Romeral
inside Dólmen del Romeral
inside Dólmen del Romeral
Dólmen del Romeral
Dólmen del Romeral

After we finish exploring the dolmens, we head to Málaga.  We’ve arranged to meet Marianne at the hotel where Barry and Carole are spending the night before they fly to Paris tomorrow: Hotel Molino Lario.  Barry and Carole are so sweet; Barry says to Scottish Barry: “I’d prefer to make sure Cathy is situated with her friend before you drop us off.”  They’ve become a little protective of me, I think, during this trip, especially as they seem to think I’m a little disorganized.  I wonder why?  Usually I’m a very organized person, but as I seem to be doing everything on the fly during this trip, I think they have a wrong impression of me.  Or, maybe it’s a correct impression as far as this trip goes!

The whole time we’ve been on this tour, I’ve tried to be careful not to become the third wheel with Carole and Barry.  Often, when we got to the historic sites, I would drift off on my own: 1) because I like to take my time and soak in the atmosphere and take pictures at my own pace, and 2) because I wanted to give them time to themselves.  They never made me feel like an intruder, though, and I love them for that.

Our tour, Tour Andalucia, was operated by Gary Montagu from the UK.  We met Gary the first night of our stay, and had dinner with him in Mollina, but the face of our tour was Barry Simpson, our guide, who also runs his own tour company: Your Andalucia.  As we got to know Barry quite well, and found him laid-back and highly knowledgeable, and since he will tailor-make tours for his clients, I highly recommend him.

My first look at Barry’s website had him referring to his tours as “bespoke.”  As an American English speaker, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and thought the word sounds rather medieval.  So I bring this up to him as we are driving to Malaga today.  Australian Barry knows the meaning of bespoke, but he says it isn’t used much in Australian English either.   I learn that bespoke is a British English word that means a clothing item made to a buyer’s specification (personalized or tailored). While it can be applied to other items, including computer software or luxury cars, the term historically was applied to only men’s tailored clothing, footwear and other apparel, implying measurement and fitting. For most non-clothing items, the term build to order is usually used instead.

I notice much later, when I look at Barry’s website, he has changed the word bespoke to “a totally personalised tour holiday in Andalucia designed by YOU.”   Ah, okay, now it’s perfectly clear. 🙂

my itinerary for spain: here’s what i’ve got so far…

Tuesday, June 11:  I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal.  I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.

Here’s my itinerary so far.

June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat.  I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)

I decided to skip Madrid altogether.

July 3-6:  Toledo, Spain.  I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire.  She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal.  She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo.  Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.

July 6-12:  I will head straight from Toledo to Malaga Airport, where I will meet Tour Andalucia: Tour Andalucia: Villa Tour

The small group tour includes the following:

  1. Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
  2. Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
  3. Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
  4. Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
  5. Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
  6. Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  7. Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.

July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of  East of Málaga …. and more!.  She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía.  I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.

July 14-25:  Heading to Portugal.  I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon.  While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire.  I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon.  No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂