I spy in Spain

October 28th, 2012

Parents will know all about those words they hear from the rear of the holiday hire car. Words guaranteed to send a chill down the spine of mummy or daddy.

Two words. What’s that?

An almost inevitable utterance from children who see something out of the car window. A sight they are not used to seeing when at home.

So, here are some answers to that annoying question. What is that?

Suspiro del Moro, Granada

El Suspiro del Moro (the sigh of the Moor) is one such place. You can see it from almost every part of Granada.

“Look at that big hill daddy, can we go up there?” was the utterance from the son of a friend of mine. Daddy did try to find the way but failed. It would have been easier by horse. That is how the last Nasrid King of Spain, Boabdil, got up there. It is alleged that it was from here that he took a last look at his former kingdom, having handed over the keys to the city to the conquering armies.

It is said he sighed deeply only for his mother to turn to him and say: “Weep like a woman for that you could not defend as a man.”

Boabdil replied: Thanks mum! That’s just what I wanted to hear.

Only joking!

But then how much of this tale is based in fact is itself open to debate.

View of Granada from Suspiro del Moro

A Spanish historian I know says the story is nonsense. Luis Benavides-Barajas says Boabdil could not have seen Granada from El Suspiro del Moro. But you can. I checked it out for myself and the hill does offer magnificent views not just of the city but also of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Perhaps Luis was referring to the Suspiro del Moro campsite and restaurant which is well signposted, but from which you cannot see the city.

There are no signs for the El Suspiro del Moro mound itself. You can’t miss it but getting to it by car can test the patience of the most patient of parents. The nearest town to stay in is Padul, a place that was once no more than a lake and where mammoths are said to have wandered the land.

Moody view of Sierra Nevada from Suspiro del Moro

Now I would be concerned were you holidaying in Spain with your children and they spotted a mammoth. Keep on driving would be my sound advice.

But they may spot another big creature on the hills or mountains of Spain. A fierce looking beast that stands tall and moody like, silhouetted as it is against the sky blue Spanish skies.

You will see them across much of Spain but the good news is these animals do not move. You drive but they stay rooted to the spot. I speak of one of the most photographed emblems of Spain.

Daddy, is that a bull on the hill?

The bull is one of the first things likely to be the subject of a game of ‘i spy’. But I write of the statuesque one, not the live ones you see grazing on the farmland in the province of Cadiz.

Nor the bulls the less faint hearted among you may go to watch in action in rings such as that in Ronda, the oldest in Spain.

I am referring to the bulls that have been a notable landmark in Spain for more than fifty years. They began life in nineteen fifty six when producers of the famous brandy, Osborne, came up with the great idea of using the bull as an advertising symbol. They wanted to get everyone drinking their famous Brandy de Jerez, Veterano.

The clever move came when they opted to make the panel in the shape of the bull rather than simply use an ordinary panel with a picture of the new logo on it.

The very first bull statues were actually made of wood and were as small as four feet in height. Come the beginning of the nineteen sixties and there were sixteen bulls on view around Spain. By nineteen sixty two there were as many as five hundred. That is how fast the advertising campaign took off. One of the most successful anywhere in the world.

Once under threat of abolition, these bulls are now safe from extinction and are once again seen as a symbol of Spain. I have driven past them all over Spain.

The threat came when, in nineteen ninety four, a new law was passed prohibiting such advertising and the bulls were in great danger of being taken down forever.

People protested. This was a symbol of Spain recognised all over the world. How dare the judges order their removal?

A compromise was arrived at. Advertising upon the bulls would have to be at least one hundred and fifty metres from the nearest road. Today’s Osborne bulls are around twelve metres in height.

At the last count there were eighty nine standing bulls left to see from the roads of Spain. Just two have the brandy advert on them. You will come across one of those near the airport of Jerez de la Frontera and the other in the beautiful location of El Puerto de Santa Maria, also in the province of Cadiz. El Puerto de Santa Maria is home to the Osborne company and that is just one of many bodegas in the town.

Andalusia has the most bulls. Twenty three dot the landscape of the region, including the one photographed above, which you pass on your way up to the Sierra Nevada ski resort. It must be good drying weather up that high. Which reminds me…

Washer woman

One of the favourite questions I ever overheard was: “Mummy, what is that woman doing with her clothes?”

The child had spotted a woman in Pinos del Valle, washing the family clothes outdoors in one of the many lavaderos that you will come across in the pretty villages of the Lecrin Valley and, higher up, in the villages of La Alpujarra.

“Ask her if her washing machine is broken” was the question from the inquisitive nine year old. I didn’t ask that question as I knew the answer. The lady in question does not own a washing machine. She simply walks across the road from her house and washes and scrubs in the cold water, and in all weathers.

This may be a dying skill for I have not seen any young Spanish women doing it. But it is far from dead in the water.

The lavaderos I walk past are often very busy with women of the village washing their clothes while having a good old natter. Mondays seem to be a big wash day around my way.

Some of the lavaderos are fabulous constructions. I admire their design and construction much more than I admire the ladies undies!

Does she come here often? As often as she needs to, comes the reply. Silly question, I know.

But then not as silly as some you will have heard when travelling around Spain in the company of young ones. Spending a holiday in Spain is one of the never ending pleasures of life. Hearing those words  “what’s that?” is not

So be prepared. Have your answers at the ready. Even if you make them up!

Posted by vernon
Vernon is a London born, former Fleet Street journalist and, for 25 years, a television producer for ITV, BBC, SKY & C4. In 2002 he began travelling the length and breadth of Spain. In 2005 he settled south of Granada, and is co-author of a guidebook to the 100 best tapas bars in the city and province of Granada.