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CLUAS in Andalucia (page 1 of 3)

(by Eoghan O'Neill)

Ah, the anonymous suburban conveyor belt. It can take its toll. Another evening shopping in Dunnes. Another reminder from the tannoy system where better value beats’em all. It's time to run away from it all. A cue for a plane ticket if ever there was one. Next thing you know I find myself, sometime after midnight one May Friday evening, touching down in Malaga. A one-week search for the real Andalucia is on the cards, something that might just sooth those suburban blues.

So, with the backpacks whipped off the carousel, an unassuming taxi driver was quickly cornered who successfully delivered your favourite on-line magazine to the first stop - a (frighteningly quiet) Torremolinos. Yip, the Cost Del Sol was to provide the first (deliberately contradictory) scene for this trip. Already the journey was off to a perplexing start – aren’t these resorts meant to be home to heaving heathens of hedonistic, tomato red, Northern Europeans partying on Cerveza and Sangria until the arrival of the infernal hangover at sunrise? Well, here at 1:30 am on a Saturday morning and not a single sinner was to be seen on the silent streets of Torremolinos or in the devastatingly empty bars.

Capiliera - groovy white washed mountain town that doesn't have an Irish pubMaybe the absence of activity was something to do with the Monsoon downpours that arrived an hour later. But by morning the sandled masses had emerged from hibernation. With the streets choked and skies above rather grey it seemed an appropriate time to steal a get-away. With hired car picked up and primed - the winding, vertiginous road to Capileira, a tiny white walled village in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, was quickly cut. Tucked away at 1500 metres above sea level, this was another world of thinner air, profound tranquility and simplicity. A principle starting point for hikes into the Sierra Nevada, the village is dwarfed by a plunging valley and snowcapped mountains. A madly beautiful and inspiring place, the bite of its cool mountain air might massage your lungs but the warmth of its landscape will captivate the soul.

The simple delights of Capiliera were eventually forsaken for the city of Granada. Pretty soon after arriving within the limits of this bustling city it was clear that something BIG was going on. The street life was pumping with potent Spanish colour and rhythm. Women in traditional costume cruised the Avenidas and elegant hombres paraded on perfectly groomed horses. Their masses swallowed up the CLUAS-mobile and denied it any chance of pursuing the intended path. What was going on was that, unbeknownst to us, our day of arrival in Granada happened by chance to coincide with the vibrant 'Cruz de Mayo' festival. All the main squares were transformed into throbbing cacophony of street parties of devilish colour. As they say, the best of luck comes when you least expect it. No planning could have conjured a more memorable arrival.

Having negotiated the gorgeous mayhem it was time to check in to the wonderfully run-down Hostal Fabiola which provided a moment of peculiar delight. An old woman scuttles to open the door to her prospective guests. In the background a man, who turns out to be her husband, is watching television but it appears he's not even aware of the flickering images on the screen. With a tongue delivering as fast as a Mexican sharp shooter, she produces from behind a smoky desk the keys for a frugal room. Then, as she leads the way, you soon realise that the grey fluorescent-lit 'reception' is in fact her windowless living room (cum kitchen cum dining room cum hallway). Off to one side is a wing of ten or so doors that provides, it would seem, a modest side-income. The charming mix of homeliness and monochrome grubbiness was a dart of a different reality after the extravagance of the streets outside.

Palacio Nazaries, Alhambra, Granada, Spain (super little gaff, contact Sherry & Fitzgerald for Auction details)The trip had now started to kick. The second day in Granada was marked by the magnificence of the Alhambra, home to the opulent palace and gardens of the Nasrid dynasty that remain a towering testimony to the intense imagination and creativity of Muslim Spain. The indulgent beauty of the Palacio Nazaries with its intricately carved stucco porches, extravagantly carved solid doors and the beautifully proportioned rooms still marvel despite the colonisation of the Alhambra by modern tourist buses. Indeed, watching bus-load after bus-load of tourists trawling through this genuine Iberian wonder I begin to reflect on my assertion that the subtleties of such grandeur are lost on the herded masses. Whatever the truth of the matter you can only be glad that their destination this time around was a treasure as captivating and truthful as the Alhambra and not something contrived or soulless as, for example, our own Temple Bar theme park or Guinness Hop Store.

>> Continue with part 2

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