Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Gaucin, Spain - I can see Africa from my bedroom window!

Time for a break from hard hitting news as I invite you to join me (metaphorically speaking) on another jaunt to the sun.

No need to travel thousands of kilometres for it this time around though.

Instead it was simply a couple of hours by 'plane, knees-to-chin style economy class naturally as I counted the centimes and braved the skies from Paris to Malaga in southern Spain and "Goodbye drizzle, hello sunshine."

My destination was Gaucin, one of those picturesque little villages in Andalusia with whitewashed houses - or pueblos blancos - around 25 kilometres inland from the coast or the Costa del Sol.

More on that in a moment.

Now it might seem odd for a Briton resident abroad to choose to visit a place seemingly teeming with my fellow countrymen all year round but I was "on assignment."

My purpose - to report on a couple who have recently set up a table d'hôte, inviting people into their home and cooking up a storm.

It might seem like a long way to go for a meal, but who am I to pass up the chance of some champion grub?

That'll all be the subject of a future post (perhaps).

Right now join me for just a taste as I wandered through Gaucin, plucked an orange from the garden and gazed out towards Africa!

For fear of repeating myself, the easiest way to get to Gaucin is to fly in to Malaga and then hire a car to make the one and a half hour trip to reach the village, which is just under 120 kilometres away.

Driving along the A7, you head west-southwest, following the coast, past Marbella (probably the best way to visit that particular town, in other words giving it a miss all together) and exiting the motorway some 40 or so kilometres later before starting the final 25 kilometre climb to Gaucin itself.

Now that coastal drive of course provides something of a taste of all the "delights" the Costa del Sol has to offer.

Yes, well. What was once apparently a series of small fishing villages has now become almost an endless line of apartments and hotels.

In recent decades there has been an explosion in mass tourism and the whole area is famously overdeveloped and still, somehow, there seems to be room found to squeeze in even more monstrous constructions (see some of the pics).

The lure of reasonably priced accommodation (to rent or buy), beaches and great weather all seem to keep drawing tourists to the area, and another more recent major attraction has been the number of golf courses that have sprung up.

If the number of bags containing clubs on the baggage reclaim carousel at Malaga airport arrivals was anything to go by, there are more than a fair few golfing enthusiasts taking full advantage of the area's greens.

But I digress. The Costa del Sol and its golf courses were not my destination, I was Gaucin-bound.

Being perhaps completely unoriginal, the word that sprung to mind when first capturing a glimpse of the village from afar was "breathtaking".

And the promise of that initial impression was more than fulfilled on arrival.

Those whitewashed houses are every bit as "charming" as they appear on many a photo. The village is dominated by a medieval castle, and a wander up and down the narrow streets and glance over the rooftops gives another perspective and a peek directly into the way people live.

Great for the extremely curious tourist.

From the outside then, the village looks what might be considered to be "typically Spanish", but that's something of a false impression.

Take a closer look and a listen and you'll quickly realise that the British have "discovered" Gaucin too.

There's evidence everywhere. From the shop which carries an assortment of products such as tea bags, water biscuits and tomato ketchup - which you might expect to find on the shelves of many a British high street supermarket - to the market held on the first Saturday of every month from March to October.

There you'll find stalls, manned by Brits resident in Gaucin and the surrounding area, selling fare such as carrot cake, apple pie and samosas!

You see Gaucin, with a population of about 1,200 is also home to around 300 Brits and is a popular stopping-off point for many a British tourist to the area.

There's even an English language website promoting Gaucin.

Of course the British are not the only ones to have bought property in the area, there are plenty of other (mainly European) nationalities around too.

And it's hardly surprising, given the beauty and the great weather, that people have chosen to relocate or retire there to give up the rat race for a gentler, slower life.

It's just perhaps not as "Spanish" (whatever that might be) as could be assumed at first sight.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth visiting. Far from it.

Because apart from the architecture and the picturesque setting and the fact that it's something of a gateway to the other marvels of Andalusia, there's also one very special ingredient the village has to offer.

That's the view it affords as you look south.

Because there in the distance, beyond the orange groves, past the cork forests is Gibraltar and the Mediterranean.

And there's more. If the visibility is good enough you can even make out the shores of Morocco, in other words the continent of Africa and the outline of the Rif mountains on the horizon.

Take a (very) close look at some of the photos and you should be able to see them.

Where else in Europe, I wondered, could you stumble out of bed, pluck a fresh orange off a nearby tree and gaze out into the distance to see Africa?

Coming next - more Brits "abroad" on a trip around Gibraltar.

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