March 29th, 2011
Granada province is getting ready for a royal visit. Prince Charles and Camilla are coming to the town of Íllora on Wednesday March 30th. I don’t expect to see them in the bars I have visited there. I somehow doubt they will be at the local market. They are in Spain for some serious business meetings, visiting Seville, among other cities. They will then spend the following weekend relaxing on the splendid Duke of Wellington’s estate located in very private grounds outside of Íllora.
Molino del Rey
The Prince and Princess of Asturia, Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, will welcome the royal couple. But don’t expect the local Spanish people to be out waving union jacks. The reasons for that date back centuries. The Molino del Rey estate was awarded to the Duke of Wellington in 1813, though he never actually stayed there. It was a reward for Britain aiding Spain during their Peninsular war with France.
The estate was passed down through the family of the late and most famous Duke of Wellington. It is currently owned by 95 year old Arthur Valerian Wellesley, the eighth and current Duke of Wellington. He is a close friend of the Queen and she has made the estate available to members of the Royal family in the past.
Indeed Prince Charles has taken at least two past girlfriends on holiday there, including the late Diana, Princess of Wales. It is also where he hid away from the UK press when the story broke of his relationship with the divorcee, Camilla Parker Bowles. Now the Duchess of Cornwall.
There has long been an underlying resentment at the British ownership of the estate. The mayor of Íllora, Francisco Domene, has begun a legal action to challenge the ownership of the estate. He called it “a mini-Gibraltar.” He maintains that the royal decree that gifted the land to the Duke of Wellington was extended and expanded without proper authorisation. He wants 1,000 hectares of the existing 5,000 to be taken back for the local people. The case goes to court later this year.
Protests can be expected when the royal couple visit, but the locals will not get too close to the gates of the plush estate. Anger towards the wealthy royals spending time at the estate, but paying scant regard to the local community, is evident on the streets of Íllora. The Prince of Wales usually spends some of his time on the estate shooting.
One local shop owner told a Granada newspaper: “This is one of the last bloodstained bastions of medieval privilege in one of the poorest regions of Granada. The dukes merely use it as a hunting lodge for their wealthy, aristocratic European friends.”
Officials at Íllora Town Hall said: “Relations have disintegrated to such an extent between the estate managers and the council that they haven’t even bothered to tell us about the Royal visit.”
So what are the royal couple missing in the local area known as Poniente Granadino?
Íllora is a busy Spanish town surrounded by stunning countryside. It is a hard working town that is very dependent on the local farming community. I met Essex man in Íllora. Only Francis Ramos is well and truly a Spaniard and was born in Íllora. But he lived in England for thirty years and spoke to me with an odd mixture of Spanish and ‘cor blimey English.
He said: “The town has a total population of around 7000 people, but only 100 or so are British people. Íllora is big enough that if you do not want to mix with your fellow countrymen, you don’t have to.”
Charles and Camilla could take a road trip out to Montefrio (cold mountain). Perched high on a crag to the north west of the city of Granada, the town has many splendid buildings of which one stands head and shoulders above the others. ‘La Villa’ is the name the Christians gave the Moorish fort that soars high above Montefrio. It peers down on what is a very atmospheric town. The Gypsy quarter, known as ‘El Cero’, is more genuine than in areas such as Sacromonte in Granada, where tourism has taken over.
At Montefrio Las Peñas de los Gitanos, or the Cliffs of the Gypsies, is also worth a visit. It was inhabited by the nomads until the end of the 18th century and around one hundred dolmens (prehistoric tombs) can still be seen there.
Somehow I can’t see the royal couple spending their time looking at old graves. Nor practising their flamenco skills in a cave in Montefrio. Equally, I don’t expect to see them in Riofrio and Loja. A pity, as in Riofrio they could try locally bred trout, and in Loja they could drink from one the 100 or more fountains in the city.
Great pity. I was taken by the region. The land. The people. And the fact that it is so unknown and unspoilt. In every sense it is far removed from coastal Spain.
This is an area north of Granada that should be appreciated by all. The man in the street and the man on the private royal estate.