With final programme and DVD masters delivered to the client in every conceivable version and the final invoice sent on 28 September we were finally free to go for a real rest. This really was going to be a restorative break with minimal travel – nine days in the parador at Mazagon and five at the one in Cadiz. We flew to Faro and got an airport shuttle bus to take us into Huelva to pick up a hire car so as to avoid the horrendous extras they charge for crossing borders in a rental car. Mistake! The bus dropped people off at lots of villa and resort locations on the way to the border so it took for ever. And who had forgotten that Portugal chooses to be in a different time zone than Spain? So by the time we reach Huelva it’s past one-thirty and the Avis office is now closed till four. So with me wrangling three pieces of luggage and Dee only managing one because of needing her stick we found literally the nearest bar-restaurant and had a lengthy lunch. Avis did sympathise and upgraded us to a large automatic Skoda which drove very well. It’s only half an hour to Mazagon so we arrived in good time to suss out the parador and enjoy our suite. We had decided to go for a suite as we were there for such an unusually long stay and it was a decision well made – it was huge with a living room, bedroom, massive bathroom and a balcony.
There were outdoor and indoor pools and although not one of the paradors in a historic building it was extremely pleasant with a good restaurant and a pleasant and relaxing bar.
End of blog really, as we just sat around reading, planned a new layout for the garden back home, ate and slept. Right? Nah. Well right next to the parador entrance was a huge pine tree, more than a hundred years old which has been declared a national historic monument. So we had to walk out and view that.
Then there was a half day excursion into the Donaña National Park that we couldn’t miss and feet became itchy for a modicum of sightseeing but we did also manage some calm days at the hotel as well. The Donaña trip involved setting off in the dark to arrive at the departure point by eight a.m. But we arrived and got into a long wheelbase truck that took us on a brilliant trip throughout the varied areas of the park. We drove down the sea shore where we saw turtles, into the marshy bits with loads of flamingos and other birds and then into the forests where there were wild boar, deer and wild horses. Then the return trip was through the dunes. Four exhilarating hours of great interest and fun.
One of our friends had spent a year in southern Spain a while back and had told us about taking part in the pilgrimage to El Rocio so as we were only a short drive away we thought we’d go there for lunch and to see what it was all about. The town is like something out of a western with unpaved roads and yellow dust everywhere. Then there are the hermandades or fraternities where the different groups of pilgrims place their statues of the Virgin de El Rocio until it is time to visit her shrine. There’s street after street of white and yellow buildings with homes, bars and hermandades all intermingled and in true movie style there are hitching rails for your horse. We had lunch there and then drove back via the scenic route to Mazagon – a great day out.
On another day we also decided to make a further excursion to La Rabida where Columbus set sail for the Indies and found America. There’s a dock on the banks of the Rio Tinto where full size replicas of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María can be visited. They are frighteningly small for voyages of that duration and danger. There’s an excellent dockside exhibition of what life was like in Columbus’ time and a great idea of how the galley was the most important part of the vessel.
Just back inland is the monastery in which Columbus signed his papers confirming that Ferdinand and Isabella had come up with the cash for his voyage. It’s all set in a park with specimen plants and massive palms and a very pleasant few hours were whiled away including a stop for lunch which made somebody very happy.
Columbus was also associated with nearby Palos de la Frontera and Moguer which we saved for another day and proved well worth the visit. On the way we saw massive fields growing strawberries and discovered that this is Spain’s principal area for their cultivation. We also learned that there’s controversy because vast quantities of water are being extracted from the Donaña national park’s scant reserves to the extent that if action is not taken to stop the park may lose its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
In Moguer we were able to see close up one of the carriages and virgin statues for El Rocio as well as cowboys roaming the streets on horseback. There was a splendidly tiled theatre that was now used as a cultural centre where there was an exhibition of local artworks that proved leaveable-behind.
Having chilled for nine days in our splendid suite and had some of the rest we both needed we then set off for Cadiz a city we’d stayed in before – also in October – in 2003. Another surprise en route was field after field of cotton – just as with strawberries in Huelva, there’s an awful lot of cotton in Cadiz. We again stayed at the Cadiz parador but since we were last there it’s been demolished and rebuilt completely in a very modern style which works well. We had a room overlooking the luxuriant Parque Genovés and spent a lot of time on the fabulous pool deck.
We did do the open top bus tour to get a feel for the whole city – a spectacular cathedral, a lofty watch tower, Santa Catalina castle right next to the hotel, long sandy beaches and a massive cruise ship terminal complete with three floating apartment blocks on a European tour.
Cadiz is a wonderfully compact city best explored on foot. There’s a great market, galleries, bars and restaurants galore and a fabulous amount of modernisme architecture and details on its buildings. We particularly liked some of the tiled advertisements. Cadiz is a real feast for the eyes and the belly. We were amused by the resilience of al fresco diners during a shower – umbrellas raised they carried on regardless.
We had to drive back to Malaga to fly home and foolishly kept the car but it didn’t leave the parador garage during our five days there at €12 a night. Big mistake, that’s another meal! I also had – there’s an end of holiday theme here – a lengthy Skype call with a publisher from the Netherlands to see if I was the right person to edit and native language check a secondary school English course they were revising and reissuing. It transpired that I am and have worked on it on and off for the whole of 2016 and into 2017.
Well we had actually done pretty much what we promised ourselves in combining periods of rest with a little light sightseeing. And we were treated to some absolutely fabulous sunsets.
The drive back along the coast was fun too viewing Gibraltar from a great height and then driving all along the Estepona, Marbella, Fuengirola, Torremolinos strip towards Malaga airport and home.