A Winter Trip to Spain: Days 12-16, a postcard from the pre-Covid past

Remember when you could just decamp to Spain for all of February?

This is my record of travelling from the Isle of Islay in Scotland to Spain in February 2019 with my partner and our two boys: Hugh, who turned 6 during our trip, and James, who was four just after we get back to Britain.  Idea was to chart the experience of a family road trip mixed with some reflections on how it went and what we saw against the backdrop of then-impending Brexit. I was trying to write up the entries as I went along but ran out of steam. So this episode comes two years late but with the benefit of hindsight and the poignancy of not knowing when we’ll be able to do something like this again. You can read earlier entries and other travel related blogs here.

Our route north, from the Costa del Sol to the Basque Country via Cordoba and Salamanca

Re-reading the previous entries in this series reminded me of the value of keeping journals of any sort. In the Day 11 one, covering Hugh’s 6th birthday in Granada, I’d recorded how he liked to twiddle with his Mum’s hair when he got into bed with her, a soothing tic he no longer needs. I’d forgotten that. She hadn’t, of course.

The boys have not forgotten their Spanish trip either. Yesterday, I made chocolate porridge for their breakfast and it prompted James to start a convoluted story about eating “what-do-you-call-them-again, those stirry things that we had in that … you know, that place … where the ramps were.” Eventually after much miming of dipping and stirring and scooting, I realised he was talking about dipping churros in hot chocolate so unctuous you can understand why eating chocolate porridge would trigger memories of it in the mind of a not-quite six-year-old.

The ramps James was talking about were, I think, outside our hotel in the main square in lovely Zaragoza (see the Days 7 & 8 entry). It wasn’t there that we had the best churros of our trip: that prize goes to Churrería La Guapa, a stall just outside the market in the old part of Cadiz, where we decamped after Granada to stay with friends.

Then it was on to Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol for a few days that we’d planned as child-friendly down time: a Moorish architecture-free zone.

Fuengirola is the type of place that gets derided in a comedy Essex accent (Fwen-Ghee-Rola, innit!). If you Google a question about the town, the search engine offers you, via its annoying People Also Ask function, “Is Fuengirola tacky?”.

This is unfair. It’s true, you can still find places serving all-day fry-ups with a large brandy on the side at the bottom of a Franco-era tower block that could give the Barbican lessons in concrete brutalism. But away from the architectural vandalism of the seafront lies a friendly Spanish town with plenty of charming corners.

We stayed on the tenth floor of one of the tower blocks and, despite the odd pang of anxiety about the balcony giving way under my every-increasing weight, we had a lovely few days enjoying the balmy charms of an off-season resort with its excellent play parks and mini-zoo.

The day we went to the Bioparc zoo, we ended up eating lunch on the pavement terrace of a simple neighbourhood restaurant that slowly filled up with single pensioners from Ireland, France, Sweden and the Netherlands. They all seemed to know each other and, watching these snowbirds being nourished by the southern sun, the company and the assiduous attention of the same-generation brothers who ran the place, I felt like I was watching an advert for the unheralded benefits of European integration. Interestingly it sounded like their main lingua franca was French, not English.

Our time at Fuengirola included a day trip to Malaga, the centre of which has been transformed in the 30 years since my first visit.

The seaside suburb we headed to for lunch has not had the same makeover, but it was here that we ate one of the most memorable meals of our trip: a feast of sardines, sprinkled with chunky flakes of salt then grilled on skewers over wood embers in sand-filled boats that line the beachfront.

We had some fabulous food in Spain but nothing surpassed the perfect simplicity of these beauties.

How I wish we could cook fish as well as this in Scotland – I suspect we’re likely to run out of fish before it happens, sadly.

Next stop: Cordoba

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