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Andalucía

- by Don Harris

Andalucía is an amazing place rich in its monuments, warm and engaging people, abundant citrus fruits and fresh produce, and incredible variety of seafood. It is a virtual cornucopia of shrimp, langostinos and any fish one can imagine.

Where to start writing about Andalucía? With the fabled castles and wine bodegas, the city streets lined with orange-laden trees, the rugged snow capped mountains and endless beaches, or the olive groves which stretch beyond the horizon? Andalucía is a simply fabulous and romantic destination; it is a place of fervor and fiesta. After more than forty years of traveling there, our family still has places in Andalucía which we want to visit for the first time.

It seems many civilizations have shared our attraction to this sun-swathed portion of the Iberian Peninsula. In beautiful Cartagena, Medina Sidonia or Cádiz you will see evidence of Carthaginians and Phoenicians. Andalucía contributed significantly to the Roman Empire: it is the birthplace of Hadrian, and provided nearly all of the olive oil used in Rome. Greeks and Visigoths also left their marks there for over 700 years, and called it Al Andaluz.

Standing on the shores of Tarifa, you are at the western boundary of many an ancient civilization. To your right, wind surfers ply the pounding waves of the Atlantic. Straight ahead of you, south across the gentle Mediterranean, you can see the mysterious mountains of North Africa, the land of Berbers and Moors. It is only eight miles way.

It was right here that the Muslims crossed over into Christian Spain in 711 AD and established the amazing culture of Al Andaluz, which, for centuries, was the envy of the Mediterranean Basin. The Moorish era came to a close in 1492 AD with the surrender of Granada to Fernando and Isabel, Los Reyes Católicos. They are buried overlooking the glorious Alhambra, a former seat of Muslim power, just as Columbus is buried in the great cathedral in Sevilla with its Giralda tower (formerly a minaret). Although we regularly visit these historic places, we find that simply standing quietly in the Mesquita, the Mosque of Córdoba, is a spiritual experience unto itself.

Most significant for us are the people: the garrulous and generous Andalucíans. They live a life of intimacy and warmth that spills over into just about every contact we have with them. They freely share their lives with one another – and with us. This is especially expressed in a seemingly endless series of festive public gatherings.

Each city and village sets aside nearly a month to celebrate the Christmas and Three Kings' Day holidays. Not long after, the ancient city of Cádiz stages its fabled carnaval. Next is Semana Santa, Holy Week, celebrated in pious efforts of small cities, and the amazing processions of Granada, Córdoba, Málaga and Sevilla.

There are ferias to visit one after another from early spring until summer, such as the amazing Feria de Abril in Sevilla, the courtly Feria del Caballo in Jerez de la Frontera with its parade of exquisite Andalucían horses drawing classic carriages. At other times we enjoy a 'hometown' fair in El Puerto de Santa María, and later go to Sanlúcar de Barrameda to share the joy, the alegría, of the two other sister sherry cities.

Perhaps the most extraordinary experience our family has witnessed is the Rocío, a pilgrimage of up to a million people on Pentecost. On their way to venerate La Paloma, the Virgin whose image resides in the dusty town of Almonte, pilgrims converge on the banks of the Doñana National Park, which is a wildlife preserve. Many families with flamenco-dressed women of all sorts and sizes make the pilgrimage in rustic painted wagons, vans and carts, punctuating their journey with flamenco guitars and song – and lots of manzanilla sherry.

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