Perhaps because I studied classical guitar I have always held an affinity with Spain and in particular that part called Andalusia which is the heart of Flamenco and the birthplace of Andres Segovia. We visited an area where the Tejeda and Almijara mountains tumble down to the Mediterranean, a land where in spring, the lilac blue Jacaranda the vermillion bougainvillea and the pink carpet of cornflowers enhance the olive green and sky blue backdrop with little pools of brilliant colour.
Drive inland away from the coast and you find yourself in a landscape dotted with little whitewashed villas and fincas strung like a mother of pearl necklace across the olive dotted hillsides. Each interconnected by a network of mostly unseen narrow stony tracks, which must from the air, resemble the workings of a madcap spider. (actually looking at Goggle Maps of the area these little tracks are invisible even from satellite as they weave round the contours of the hilly landscape.) It should be noted here that although the last hundred or so metres to and from these Fincas and Villas will be over these narrow tracks, once you get out onto the main roads you find the kilometres simply ticking away as you glide almost effortlessly over the smooth tarmac surfaces on good well maintained roads that would put to shame any of our own British Regional government attempts at road management. And running just inland from the coast is a smart new motorway that will allow you to cover the distance between Malaga and the little town of Competa in about 50 minutes, and further on along the coast there is a new coast road that is a vast improvement on the twisting one I travelled back in 1970s, remnants of this road can still be seen and is still used in some places and in others as lay-bys and viewpoints over the Mediterranean and from where on a clear day you can see the Riff Mountains in North Africa.
This is not the Spain of package holidays sangria or sombreros and the only donkey you will see are those still working in the tiny fields or retired to the donkey sanctuary at Torrox. The real Andalusia is a hard harsh land where strong willed people have carved an existence literally out of the mountainside, where the little villages cling limpet like and almost magically to the steep hillsides. But it is a part of Spain that is also clean comfortable and very welcoming, where you would be seriously challenged to find a bad meal or glass of wine anywhere, where even the most lowly looking roadside tapas bar will offer a quality you would have to search for in Britain. Where the sun withered and wizened old man driving a few goats up the hillside also owns and runs his own large crystal clean and totally modern milking parlour, housed in one of the largest buildings on the outskirts of Competa, where nothing is really as simple as it might seem and where Andalusian life like its Flamenco music follows its own complex rhythms.
None of this would have been possible to discern when Mr Steve first picked up at Malaga Airport at 11.15 pm and drove us back to his and Val`s Finca just outside of Competa. For a start it was raining which was a bit of a shock as we had left Bristol on a balmy May evening after a day when the heat of the sun had forced us into the shade and made the air conditioning in the car on the drive down to Bristol a welcome respite from the heat.
When we arrived at Mr Steve`s place it was to find that he had prepared a wonderful welcoming tapas selection, for a late evening early morning repast. Steve jokingly quipped he had been preparing the tapas all day, which was probably not far from the truth! As apart from the customary bread and local olives, there was a great big bowl of giant peeled prawn crab and Spanish tomato salad, more prawns this time in garlic, wafer thin slices of Andalusian black ham, sliced Manchego, Spain’s most famous sheep’s milk cheese, tiny fish based tortillas and warm black pudding with honey, a choice of beer or Vina Albali the wine from Valdepenas La Mancha bursting with vibrant aromas of damsons and plums.
I knew that I was finally, after nine years, back in Andalusia, when whilst sitting with such good friends eating such a wonderful Andalusia tapas supper we were entertained by the songs of the nightingales through the open door! As I tumbled into bed at around 3.30 it was with the wine fuddled thought that in the morning I should thank Steve for such a wonderful welcome back.