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Our life in a magic corner of Andalucía, Spain

Our life in a magic corner of Andalucía, Spain

There is a word in Spanish, ‘Duende’. To different people and situations it means different things and it is not a word that translates easily; from goblin to charm, a magical creature to a spirit… when something or someone has a certain magic or mystery.

The very smell of Spain stirs a feeling deep inside, warm thyme on rocky hills, the bitter earthy smell of olives being pressed, eucalyptus and fig trees, salty humid air from the sea, even coffee and tobacco, all seem to be mixed to create the most heady of scents to be found nowhere else in the world. I challenge anyone who hasn’t visited Spain, to not feel something that moves you just a little, a little more than anywhere else.

A short drive from Spain’s most southerly airport in Malaga, you find yourself in a world away from the bright lights and brashness of the Costa del Sol. Don’t get me wrong, what the coast does it does well and there is something for everyone, but sometimes it’s nice to escape the madding crowd.

Málaga province’s north-eastern area borders Córdoba and Granada provinces. It is perfectly central for anyone wanting to discover the architectural gems including Córdoba’s mosque and the world famous Alhambra in the heart of Granada, but this area has an unspoilt beauty of its own and you don’t have to travel far to experience the unique feel of this area.

Our boutique hotel, Almohalla 51, is in the town of Archidona which is set behind a range of high, craggy mountains that extends from the Sierra Nevada down to the straits of Gibraltar.

Where we live is separated from the sea among thousands of olive groves, fields of sunflowers, corn and wheat. A silver green contrasts with a burnt golden yellow and the sun is so hot in the summer you are forced to stop work until it goes down. It’s on these hot nights that locals will say they can smell the freshness of the sea blowing in across the mountain peaks, and the world comes alive once again.

Inland Andalucía is dotted with well preserved, working towns which while not totally reliant on tourism, are well aware of its benefits and will always offer a warm welcome to the visitor, gay, straight or otherwise. In fact the warmth of the welcome I received nearly 10 years ago made me buy a small house that would bring me back more and more often until eventually it hauled me and my now husband, hook, line and sinker.

Archidona, was once the capital of Málaga province under previous Moorish rule, where now almost 9,000 inhabitants fill traditional houses that line cobbled streets. People here seem to enjoy a peaceful life, old men still sit on a bench smoking cigars complaining this current administration is worse than the Franco dictatorship, ladies mop the street at the front of their houses, and are aghast when you say you’re ‘popping down to Málaga’ like it was a million miles away.

The town is looked over by a white washed chapel, popped right on the top of the hill, on what was previously a mosque. You can see 360 degrees around and it’s obvious why the town was so important logistically.

Yet even now in 2013 you can still walk into a town where Easter, or Semana Santa hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. It is celebrated to such a level the event itself has earned the town Artistic Heritage recognition. A week of sombre processions, stunning costumes, effigies of Christ and Mary carried on solid silver floats, men crying and women who still walk in black veils barefoot in front of a forlorn Jesus on the cross in a cloud of incense. It really is magic to see, whatever your religious persuasion.

And if you come on Good Friday, you’ll see the Legionnaires marching in very tight trousers, knee length boots, and chest and arms that are popping out of tight military green shirts! Religion aside that’s certainly worth a peek.

The summer is dotted with fairs, where women in Flamenco dresses flirt with young men bolt upright on horses, cutting a dash with mutton chops and slick jet black hair. Bars and terraces serve the best chilled sherries, made only a short drive away in Jerez, fine wines from Rioja and the best of fresh seafood is driven up daily from the catch in Málaga capital. And when you fall asleep at night, warm yet relaxed and having imbibed maybe an extra glass of sherry, the cicadas play their tune.

If you can tear yourself away from a relaxing coffee or a few hours by the pool, there is plenty to explore. In fact it’s an outdoor adventurer’s paradise with activities ranging from sedate walks in the sierras, to cycling, horseriding, kayaking, paragliding, birdwatching, even tyrolean zip wiring which is great fun, yet requires a steady nerve.

Some of the walks are the most beautiful in Andalucía, deep valleys with rivers running through them, rolling hills and fields lined with olives and grazing goats, and if you get up early enough, sunrises that make you stop in your tracks.

May and June are beautiful times of the year to come inland as the wild flowers are in abundance with the birdlife at its best, yet autumn turns all the trees gold and red; all the seasons here are special. Even in the deepest of winter, the days are long and the sunshine still warms you.

Once you have had your fill of a culture and way of life that is vibrant and colourful, surrounded by the best of natural beauty, you might want to nip down to the coast for a few days.

The Costa del Sol has some surprisingly quiet and unspoilt beaches, and there are several naturist beaches for those who like an all over tan. In fact all are an easy distance from inland Málaga given the excellent road system.

For the evening, Marbs (Marbella) and Horrormolinos (Torremolinos), as they are playfully known by some, offer a wide variety of nightlife. Go to Puerto Banús if you have a few extra euros to spend, with plenty of people watching and a glitzy world away from the hills. However if you fancy something more gay-centred, then Torremolinos is your place with a wide selection of bars and clubs around the Nogalera area of town with something for all tastes and types.

Either way, it’s not called to Coast of Sun for nothing; with over 300 days of sunshine per year, long days throughout, wonderful Spanish wines and cuisine to enjoy, and, all of the above. As they say, there’s only one Andalucía.

Málaga essentials

Getting there: Málaga Airport is served from nearly every UK and Irish airports, as well as direct services from nearly all major European cities. There are direct flights from New York in the summer.

Places to stay: Almohalla 51, Archidona.

Best beaches: Try Cantarriján, near Nerja east of Málaga; Benalnatura, in Benalmádena west of Málaga; Cabopino, between Fuengirola and Marbella.

More help: You can find general tourist information on the Andalucía region here.