meeting marianne: east of málaga to la axarquía

Friday, July 12:  After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband Michael, of East of Málaga …. and more!.  They live in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía.   This will be the first time I’ve met her, even though I’ve been reading her blog for some time.  Since she’s lived in Spain for about 8 years, her blog has great information about the area as well as beautiful photos.   She is so generous to offer me her hospitality for a couple of nights while I’m here in Spain.  I’m very excited to meet her because she obviously loves the country and the culture, and I’ve become quite fond of it myself.  Who is better than a local to give you the true feel for a place?

I get my first glimpse of Marianne standing outside the door of Hotel Lario in Málaga.  Wearing a gauzy coral top that’s very becoming on her, she’s looking in all directions for my arrival, as Barry has told her we’ll arrive at 1:00 and we’re a bit late.

We hug each other hello, and at the same time, I introduce her to Barry and Barry and Carole.  I give hugs all around to my traveling companions and tell the two Barrys and Carole that I’ll miss them, it was great to meet them, and parting will be such sweet sorrow. 😦

As all this is happening in front of the hotel where parking is prohibited, it’s all a blur.  Before I know it, Scottish Barry has driven off, Barry and Carole have disappeared into their hotel, and Marianne and I are hauling my suitcase and carry-on to a busy main street in Málaga.  Marianne texts Michael and in short order he drives up, we quickly throw my suitcases in the trunk, Marianne takes over the driving, and we head down the highway East of Málaga, following the title of Marianne’s blog, to their beautiful home perched on the side of a mountain between Torrox and Competa.

The house is perfectly situated for a stunning view; Marianne and Michael tell me if it weren’t so cloudy this afternoon, we could see Málaga and the sea.  They are baffled by the clouds as apparently they are a rare thing in the south of Spain.  For some reason the clouds, along with a cool breeze, have come to hang out today, but it’s fine by me as I haven’t seen many clouds in the two years I’ve lived in Oman.  Neither have I had any cloudy days since I arrived in Spain.  I’m not bothered by them at all and actually find them a welcome relief from the heat I’ve experienced during our tour of Andalucia.

the view from Marianne and Michael's house between Torrox and Competa in Spain
the view from Marianne and Michael’s house between Torrox and Competa in Spain

The whitewashed house is decorated beautifully but simply.  A patio with a swimming pool beckons;  Marianne says she often takes a dip right before bedtime; it helps her to cool down and she enjoys floating on her back and looking at the bright pinpoints of stars in the black sky.   Flowers and gardens are all abloom around the house and on the hillside.

Marianne and Michael have been happily married a long time.  It’s lovely to see how smitten Michael is with Marianne.  He brings her a flower every day and he’s always complimenting her on how she looks, how well she cooks, on everything.  I love how they keep their romance alive.  They make me feel hopeful.

Marianne and Michael beside their pool
Marianne and Michael beside their pool

Marianne is warm and easy-going and makes me feel comfortable right away.  She invites me to settle into the guest room while she prepares a lunch of melon and prosciutto.  It’s the perfect lunch, light and cool and refreshing, a lovely counterpoint to all the large meals I’ve been eating lately.  Perfect.

melon and prosciutto
melon and prosciutto

We eat our lunch on the patio with the mountains unfolding before us and make a toast to our meeting with tinto de verano, a mixture of red wine and gaseosa (or Fanta) or lemonade.  We all have a great conversation about our love of travel.

Marianne and Michael have been spending about 4 months out of the year in Australia during the winter months and have come to love it.  One of the things that took them there was their love of motorsport.  They’re self-proclaimed “petrol-heads” and have been able to watch Formula 1 Grand Prix racing in Albert Park, Melbourne on a couple of occasions.  They have developed a great love for Australia and New Zealand and tell me I should really try to travel there.

I wonder how they are able to travel for 4 months out of a year, as I know travel can be expensive, but they manage it quite frugally by doing house-sitting.  Marianne tells me of a website, housecarers.com, where they are able to arrange some great house-sitting opportunities.  Sometimes they have to take care of pets, pools or gardens, but it enables them to travel for long periods of time.  I like the idea a lot and determine I must look into it myself.

me making a toast with Marianne
me making a toast with Marianne

Michael has brought Marianne some hibiscus today.  Two blossoms brighten up the table.

colorful hibiscus
colorful hibiscus

After lunch, we take a stroll around the garden, which grows abundantly and wildly on the hillside.  I fall in love with a delicate passion-flower.  The “Passion” in the name refers to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology.  In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Christ and especially his crucifixion.

passion flower
passion flower

There are fruit trees, cacti and aloe vera in abundance, among other things.

in Marianne's garden
in Marianne’s garden
cacti in the garden
cacti in the garden
Marianne's garden
Marianne’s garden
in Marianne's garden
in Marianne’s garden
view again
view again

Some Spaniards own a house down the road from Marianne’s, but they only come to the house periodically to work on their gardens and relax.  They leave their dog at the house, and he has taken to showing up at Marianne’s door.  Since she feeds him, he has become her loyal companion.  He’s not even her dog, but try telling him that.   He wouldn’t believe it for an instant.  He follows her faithfully everywhere and comes to greet her whenever she goes away and returns.  She calls him Spud, even though that’s not his real name.  Marianne’s a lucky lady, having a husband who obviously adores her, and someone else’s dog who loves her too. 🙂

Spud the dog
Spud the dog

After we take a walk around the garden, we walk to a neighbor’s house to meet them since we have plans to go out for dinner with them tomorrow night.  Ross and Daniella are Brits, as are Marianne and Michael; they offer us a glass of wine when we stop by.

Since I haven’t planned the next step of my trip to Tavira in Portugal’s Algarve, I don’t have a clue yet how I will get there.  I am thinking of taking the lazy man’s route and renting a car, but this will be very expensive.  I spent $446 just to rent a car for three days from Barcelona to Toledo to Malaga; I don’t want to spend a fortune on another rental car, although I love the freedom a car offers.  Luckily Marianne knows the ins and outs of the bus system and helps me to book bus tickets online.  Together, we book a 7:20 a.m. ALSA bus from Torrox (e) to Sevilla (Plaza de Armas).  I can’t book this leg of the trip online as the ALSA website won’t take my American credit card.  Luckily Marianne is able to put it on her charge card and I pay her 25 euros for it.  The second leg of the trip has to be booked through the EVA Transportes website. The EVA bus goes from Seville all through the Algarve.  I am able to book that ticket online with my credit card for another $25.  I’m so thankful that Marianne helps me book these tickets and figure this out, because it gives me a lot of confidence with the bus systems and saves me a lot of money.  I end up taking buses and trains for most of the rest of my trip through Portugal.

After booking my bus tickets, I lie down and take a nap for a bit.  When I wake up, Marianne is preparing a dinner of Moroccan chicken with dates and rice.  I wish now I had written the recipe, as now I’ve forgotten all the ingredients.  I hope she posts the recipe on her blog (soon!) because it is a most delightful meal.

looking out over the pool
looking out over the pool
view at dusk
view at dusk
Marianne's house and pool
Marianne’s house and pool
the patio
the patio
Marianne's special chicken and rice recipe: delicious!
Marianne’s special chicken and rice recipe: delicious!

We have more lively and interesting conversation about travel and cultures over dinner and wine. This is my first afternoon with this lovely couple and I go to sleep wondering what surprises tomorrow will bring. 🙂

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. 🙂