Monday, 14 October 2013

Autumn in Córdoba and a moment in Málaga

Wall painting detail in Alcazar, Cordoba

Could Cordoba possibly live up to my romantic ideal?  A cancelled flight that lost us a whole 24 hours was not an auspicious start, and arriving anywhere just too late for lunch is unacceptably bad planning. Instead of feeding our stomaches, we were forced to feast on the more cerebral glories of this former Roman capital of Hispania Ulterior and, 8 centuries later, Moorish Al Andalus.  The dry 30C heat of Andalucia  was welcome with the prospect of winter in London looming.  We dropped our bags at the welcoming Hospes Palacio del Bailio Hotel and went to explore.

Cuesta del Bailio, Cordoba

Cordoba has beauty around almost every corner.  White-washed or yellow ochre painted houses adorned with tumbling bougainvillaea or heavily-scented jasmine; cool, shaded courtyards; gardens; fountains; narrow winding lanes and the sudden reveal of a church, mosque or synagogue.  Moorish, Christian, Roman and Visigoth sit companionably alongside, and sometimes inside, one another.  Apart from the pleasures of simply wandering, there are a few unmissables.

Mezquita, Cordoba

La Mezquita is astonishing.  Visigoth, Moorish and Christian architecture come together to breathtaking effect. Get there between 08.30 and 09.15 to see it at its atmospheric best.  At 10.00 the tour groups arrive and admission charges come in.

Alcazar Gardens, Cordoba

The Alcazar is an impressive meandering fortress.  There's a surprisingly stark peaceful chapel with some beautiful mosaics and there are wonderful Moorish gardens.

Palace of the Marqueses de Viana

The Palace of the Marqueses de Viana is a 15th century mansion with 12 strongly Moorish-influenced gardens.  Lovingly cared for, it's a great place to escape the traffic.  On the subject of traffic, the car is king here even on the narrowest lanes, so be prepared to duck into doorways at a moment's notice.

The Almodovar Gate area,  Cordoba

La Juderia area is close to La Mezquita.  It's a maze of narrow lanes, but then most of Cordoba is like that.  It can begin to feel quite claustrophobic, especially when you come upon a tour group.  If you want to escape these clusters of folk who cling together like limpets, leave La Juderia at The Almodovar Gate, pass the statue to Seneca, and you'll come upon my favourite place in Cordoba.

Between the Medieval wall that enclosed the Jewish Quarter and a row of modest yet covetable residences you'll find a series of cisterns and runnels lined with Oleander.  It's a haven of peace and tranquility that few tourists seem to find. It's also that rare thing in Cordoba, a street where cars are not allowed.

Nearby stands the Roman Bridge …

Roman Bridge, Cordoba

The Roman Bridge forms part of Via Augusta and dates back to the 1st Century BC.  It's an impressive sight spanning the wide Guadaquivir river alongside a bird sanctuary.

Date palm, Cordoba

What about the food?  This is Spain, it's got to be good, right?  Well, I have to say we didn't fare too well. After some digging, we found a Mercado in Plaza Correderia.  Now, I have a theory that a town's food market is a good indicator of its restaurant scene and we found nothing to excite in either.  The ancient menu posted by the door is not something that attracts me either.  The fact that three restaurants on our short list had closed down would indicate a less than thriving dining out culture.  That said, the Bodegas Campos bar and restaurant at Calle de los Lineros 32, owned by the Campos wine company, is pretty good.

Tapas seems to be more appreciated in Cordoba and there are plenty of tapas bars that have been around for many years.  Casa El Pisto at Plaza San Miguel is a traditional place, popular and reliable.  One interesting development is a gastro market which opened this Spring.  Mercado Victoria is housed in the restored Casteta de Circulo, a wrought-iron pavillion on tree-lined Paseo de la Victoria.  Its focused stalls are working hard to attract a mixed crowd.  Buy a plate of freshly carved Bellota from one stall or some freshly fried fish from another.  Pick up a glass of wine or a beer, find a space to suit you and people-watch while you eat. It's a mixed bag but it's lively and fun already.

On to Malaga...

Market stall, Malaga

Malaga is only 50 minutes by fast train from Cordoba, but a world away.  Its market doesn't disappoint and it's not difficult to find a good restaurant.  We spent only a short time in Malaga on this trip but dinner at Refectorium at Calle Cervantes 8 managed to be old school and delicious (no website but there's a new, sleeker El Refectorium at Paseo de la Sierra 36).  The port area of Malaga has been beautifully revived and the City has it's soaring Cathedral and the simply wonderful Museo Picasso.  I'm sure I'll be back to explore the new Museo Carmen Thyssen and more.

Malagan fruits

It was in Malaga that we finally felt inspired to shop -  Malaga raisins, semi-dried figs and almonds, of course.

Did I leave Cordoba with my romatic ideals intact?  My advice is to visit Cordoba to feed the soul, but Malaga to feed the stomach.