12 Grapes for 2013 – December – The Ultimate Blog Challenge

31 Jan

So, there’s the last of the 12 grapes waiting for the last chime… This is where I finally admit that I didn’t manage to swallow my 12th grape in time.

Since each grape symbolises a month of the year, Grape 12 equals December. But this post isn’t going to be about Christmas and typical festive traditions in Spain (I’ll leave that to others). Instead, this last grape blog post is dedicated to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

This is day 31 of the challenge and the last day and I’m happy pleased to say that I have met this challenge with success. For the last 31 days, I’ve written a daily blog post, one for each day of January. Read more about these posts.

Costa del Sol Resorts – The Pros and Cons

30 Jan

One of the top popular relocation spots in Europe, the Costa del Sol is also a favourite holiday destination. The stats speak for themselves – more than 1 million people live here (and more arrive every year) and over 10 million foreigners come to the Costa del Sol for their holidays.

There are plenty of Costa del Sol resorts to choose from and although they might be near each other in distance, they’re surprisingly different in character, amenities and even weather. Foreigners thinking of Costa del Sol relocation tend to pick the resort for their new home based on where they’ve been on holiday. But, deciding where to settle permanently is obviously a world apart from choosing a holiday destination.

This is the first of two short guides to resorts on the Costa del Sol. I’ve described the essence of each one and then added pros and cons I think are important for the foreigner looking to relocate to Spain. The first section takes in resorts to the west of Malaga, between Torremolinos and Estepona. 

Find Out What’s New for Malaga in 2013

28 Jan

It’s the capital of the Costa del Sol and as one of Spain’s most up and coming cities, Malaga has plenty to look forward to in 2013. As well as more tourists, Malaga will be admiring new works of art in Andalucia’s largest public museum and speeding from west to centre in a new metro. Find out what’s new in Malaga in 2013

12 Grapes for 2013 – November – Some Old Chestnuts

27 Jan

2013-01-27 15.31.29

The Costa del Sol doesn’t have very defined seasons. Since most of the trees here are perennial there are no colourful, falling leaves to let you know autumn has arrived. And probably in Marbella the only obvious sign that it isn’t summer is that it’s cooler. But a sure indication of autumn are the roast chestnut stands that appear on the streets around the middle of October.

Local Crops

Perhaps surprisingly for a resort where year-round temperatures average 19ºC (66ºF), the chestnuts are local. There’s a sizeable plantation in Juanar, just north of Marbella in the Sierra Blanca mountains and whole forests of them in the Valle de Genal on the way up to Ronda.

These mighty trees (some literally span over a metre) provide some of the most beautiful scenery on the Costa del Sol, particularly in November when they turn from emerald green  to red, orange and yellow. They’re also stunning in spring time when the chestnuts flower white plumes that look rather like candles. The photo above shows a winter chestnut scene near Júzcar in the Valle del Genal.

Local Fiestas

As always in Spain, if there’s plenty of something it needs celebrating. And chestnuts are no exception. The main chestnut festival takes place on the night of 31st October. Called El Tostón (literally the roasting), the festival traditionally includes spending the night out in the chestnut woods with friends and family, with anís (anisette) and songs and stories for company. Not to mention plenty of roasted chestnuts.

Local Delicacies

Chestnuts lend themselves to many local delicacies, sweet and savoury. In season, try some dishes at local restaurants in Marbella and in the villages in the Valle del Genal. Chestnut and bean stew, chestnut soup and meatballs with roasted chestnuts are all tasty local creations. Venison with chestnuts is a favourite of mine and one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted was chestnut creme caramel.

This blog post is 1 of 12 posts, one for each month of the year, that I will be posting during the month of January. I got the idea for 12 month posts from the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes on the 12 chimes of midnight heralding the start of the new year.

12 Grapes for 2013 – October – Anniversaries to Remember

26 Jan

How important is an anniversary? Should we always mark it however long ago it happened?

We seem to spend the whole year remembering things that happened. Every day takes in anniversaries of events, births and deaths, natural disasters, scientific discoveries… This set me thinking about what we’ll be conmemorating in October. Here’s a list of the ones that appeal to me.

In October…

10 years ago – Concorde made its last commercial flight. And I never did get to fly on it.

20 years ago – The Backstreet Boys will be celebrating 20 years ‘together’ with (and here’s the bit that caught my eye) a cruise to the Bahamas.

50 years ago – Germany and Turkey signed an agreement allowing Turks to work in Germany. Turks now account for 5 per cent of the population.

55 years ago – Michael Bond published his first book about Paddington Bear, a real favourite of mine from childhood and a bear who makes me laugh aloud. Even today.

90 years ago – The Walt Disney company was born. Where would we be without Fantasia, Snow White, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean… And of course the soon to be added Star Wars.

100 years ago – The Tour de France set off on the first of many legendary rides round France. The actual anniversary is in June, but I expect we’ll still be talking about it in October.

190 years ago – Up in rainy Scotland, Charles Macintosh sold the first ever raincoat. And thank goodness he did.

200 years ago – Italy’s greatest composer Guiseppe Verdi was born. Expect to hear plenty of La Traviata, Rigoletto, Aida et al this year.

750 years ago – Scots and Norwegians fought the inconclusive battle of Largs. Did the Scots wear kilts and the Norwegians viking helmets?

Oh and here’s one for us: October 27th is National Blogger Day.

This blog post is 1 of 12 posts, one for each month of the year, that I will be posting during the month of January. I got the idea for 12 month posts from the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes on the 12 chimes of midnight heralding the start of the new year.

Eastern Promise – A Guide to Nerja

25 Jan


Nerja was one of the first resorts I ever visited on the Costa del Sol and nearly 30 years later, it remains one of my favourite places. Despite the boom in tourism and construction over the last decade, Nerja has managed to keep its Andalucian flavour and is still quiet and relatively unspoilt.

Popular with families and couples, Nerja has plenty to offer the holidaymaker. And although the summer months are busy, this part of the Costa del Sol is a world apart from the noise, glitz and glamour that pack Marbella to bursting point in July and August.

Landscape – Tropical Ravines

The eastern end of the Costa del Sol has a drier and warmer climate so the countryside isn’t quite as verdant as the western end. But the balmy winters and hot summers are perfect for growing fruit and vegetables. As well as acres of the usual staples, expect to see lush plantations of a long list of tropical delights: avocado, custard apple, loquat, mango, papaya…

Nerja and its surroundings are steeper and rockier too with some of the most spectacular ravines and rugged peaks in the area. The plunging cliffs also make for a coastline dotted with coves, some sandy, some pebbled, some a mixture. But all with warm turquoise waves and the best conditions on the Costa del Sol for snorkeling.

As a general guide, Nerja beaches are smaller and quieter than those in Malaga, Fuengirola and Marbella. This side of the coast even has some practically inaccessible coves where you can spread your towel in almost total solitude. A big plus if you’re looking to escape the August crowds.

Third Most Popular Tourist Attraction in Spain

Nerja’s best known attraction is undoubtedly its caves. This fascinating succession of caverns, grottos and passageways takes you deep underground while you admire nature’s rock sculptures.

The caves are home to the world’s tallest stalagmite (32m) and some ancient cave paintings. Recent research has discovered that Nerja caves are older than originally thought and were probably inhabited by man 43,000 years ago. This could make the caves the Costa del Sol’s first settlement.

An Oasis of Tranquility

Many, many centuries later, Nerja is still a favourite place to live, retire and visit with Spaniards and foreigners alike. It might not have the hustle and bustle of other Costa del Sol holiday resorts, but its tranquility and timeless quality lend it a unique atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else. Why not discover Nerja for yourself in 2013?

Things to Do in Marbella – The 10 Must Dos

24 Jan

One: Stroll/run/skate/cycle along the seafront promenade in Marbella. If you’re feeling energetic, got the whole way to San Pedro. And then back.

Two: Visit the Museum of Engravings and feast your eyes on Miró, Goya, Picasso et al.

Three: Take a boat trip between Marbella and Puerto Banús for the best view of the coastline and the mountains, accompanied,if you’re lucky, by the resident dolphin pod.

Four: Lose yourself in the Old Town, a maze of typically Andalusian streets with palactial façades, intricate wrought-iron balconies and a succession of shrines and chapels.

Five: Try a dish of the local delicacy, pescaíto frito (fried small fish), preferably at a beach bar. And don’t forget to ask for an espeto (stick of sardines) too.

Six: Get a guided tour around the 6th century Basilica in San Pedro, some of Spain’s earliest Byzantine ruins. And then there’s the Roman Villa in Rio Verde, the Roman Baths in Guadalmina…

Seven: Take a trek in Sierra Blanca, the mountain backdrop to Marbella. Choose from a range of trails from easy to some seriously tough climbing.

Eight: See and be seen in Puerto Banús with its marina, boutiques, restaurants and A-list visitors.

Nine: Browse the bargains – Mondays at the main market in Marbella (at the east end of town) and Saturdays (in Nueva Andalucia near the bullring).

Ten: Be a party animal and dance all night at one of the beach clubs in Marbella such as Ocean Club, Nikki Beach, Sala Beach, Purobeach…

Any more suggestions for must-dos in Marbella?