This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Day in the Albaicin and on to the Costa del Sol

We took the city mini bus up into the narrow streets of the Albaicin neighbor above Granada and wound our way high up to the hill overlooking the Alhambra which sat perched majestically on the opposite hill in the morning sun.

The highlight of our day in this quaint neighborhood was our lunch at Cafe Kiki. An outdoor cafe in a picturesque plaza at the pinnacle of the Albaicin hillside. It was packed with students, locals and tourists alike and doing a brisk business while just next door another cafe seemed to go begging for customers. We ordered our usual beers. Because we ordered a beer we got a tapa with it free. The first one was a small plate of paella. With the second beer came a tapa of some sort of potato thingy. We kept seeing heaping platters of something going to many of the tables. They must know something and so we ordered one. Out came the most amazing fried fish platter piled high with sardines, shrimp, calamari, hake and another fish whose name I missed. Incredible! It was all just delicious and so much fun because of the festive atmosphere in the plaza. Young college age students sat at tables playing their guitars and singing. Other older couples sat chatting. Families munched on their fish platters while the kids played around them. Great people watching! We spent 3 hours having lunch.

Bar Kiki outdoor tables
Rather than take the mini bus back down the hill we chose to walk the winding streets down the hill past shops and quaint residences until we entered a street filled with shops and cafes that seemed to cater to a more alternate, shall we say, lifestyle. In the 60's we'd have called them head shops, selling beads, incense, etc. and many of the cafes featured hookah pipes for hire. Order tea, your choice of tobacco flavor and relax.

After a very long walk down the hill and back into central Granada, the hotel sounded pretty good to relax for me. Instead we headed into one of the plazas for a last dinner here in Granada before getting our rental car and heading to the Costa del Sol tomorrow. We stopped in a very busy place and had a tapas dinner and a couple of beers. Walking home we took the broad pedestrian walkway that ran down the center of the boulevard our hotel was on. It was a lovely starry night, warm and romantic. Tomorrow the weather should start getting even nicer and warmer. On to the Costa del Sol!


We left Granada this morning after a bit of an issue finding our way back to the train station to pick up our rental car at the Europe-car office. Despite telling the bus driver where we were going and his assuring us that he went to the train station, we never saw the station and the driver didn't let us know we had actually driven passed the closest stop which was only one block away. So we wound up in a working class neighborhood across from the bus station. Back on the bus going the other way. This time we sat in front and specifically asked the driver to tell us when we arrived at the stop and Leslie was glued to her city map to ensure we were there. Only a half hour off schedule, we were still a half hour ahead of our pick up time. So no big deal. We got a brand new black VW Polo, a real sporty little car.

The drive from Granada was only about an hour along a nearly completed freeway system. Once in Nerja, we found we were definately overdressed for spring had most certainly sprung on the Costa del Sol.

We arrived in Nerja (pronounced Nair hah) the next day about mid-morning. Here we were making a pilgrimage to one of the beaches along the Costa del Sol. I am writing this while sitting at an outdoor table at Merendero La Parrala "Ayo", a famous beach restaurant that is at one end of the beach here in Nerja. I can hear the surf crashing not 50 yards from me. From my spot I can see the crashing waves on the pristine sandy beach, a rough rocky outcropping jutting out into the sea, and, off to the horizon, the azure blue Mediterranean Sea all the way to north Africa. It is nothing less than stunning and that doesn't begin to describe it.
Ayo's Beach Restaurant
Ayo himself still cooking paella everyday after 40 years
Paella bubbling over the fire at Ayo's

The white hill town of Ronda

Leslie sitting next me with her face to the Mediterranean sun calmly states, "We could be working." She's right, of course. But we're not. We are here on a perfect early-spring day. Shirt sleeves rolled up, shoes off, toes in the sand and hardly a soul here.

Nerja does get crowded in the summer months. It swells in population from 22,000 to over 90,000. We must be here on a day when the locals and a few other foreigners lucky enough to be able to travel this time of year, are all that dot the beaches and cafes. Pick your beach chair, pick your spot on the beach, lucky us!

Our paella, for which Ayo's is famous, has just been served to us. The first bite...paradise. The perfect combination of arborio rice spiced with saffron and layered with the flavors of shrimp, chicken, calamari, clams; a seafood kitchen sink that makes you want to put your head on the table a cry. 6€ for all the paella you can eat?

Another dish that kept going by our table was one called  Cerdo. Only served on Sundays, it consisted of slices of a huge pork roast smothered in a red sauce, piled high with roasted potatoes and veggies. Sadly, my description doesn't do justice to what it looks like.

When we arrived at Ayo's about 11:00, the charcoal fire under the 3 foot wide paella pan was flaring up and over the pan and ingredients, mostly arborio rice and the basic paella spices , bubbled furiously in Ayo's outdoor kitchen. Along side this, on a table piled with the fixings for other dishes was a huge roasting pan in which pork roasts, brown, caramelized and with juices oozing, sat resting. In the bottom was a thick layer of roasted chunks of potatoes bubbling in the the thick pork pan juices. One cook was preparing the pork roast to be carved. He cut the string that tied the roasts together, then sliced off the caramelized, crispy skin, piled it on a plate and slid it across the table inviting the few spectators to take a piece. We each picked up a big gob of the dripping warm crackling and munched away. There was a collective sigh from the small group. Unbelievable!

After our lunch at Ayo's we headed on down the coast toward our goal for the day, the Andalucian white hill town of Ronda. A severely winding road led us up into the mountains, steeper and windier as we went. We stopped along the way and purchased a bag of the most delicious oranges.

Finally, in the distance, there was Ronda, a shiny white jewel sitting on the side of a mountain. In a hurry to get to our hotel, we drove passed Ronda. Five miles further, nestled in a broad valley with a view of Ronda above and along side a meandering stream, we found the small sign indicating the turn off the main road that led us down a narrow paved farm road and through the gate of the Hotel Molino del Puente.

Carly, the daughter of the British ex-pat owners, greeted us and showed us to our room. She also gave us a packet of information that would give us some ideas for how to go about our day in the nearby hill towns tomorrow. About 8 we headed down to the dining room for a bit of dinner.

We went into the library first where they keep coffee, tea and cake at all times for guests and ran into a young couple from Spain who we sat and chatted with for about an hour. Well, actually Leslie did most of the talking since she really wanted to speak in Spanish and they were more comfortable with their own language. I was surprised at the amount I could understand and occasionally tossed in a word or two into the mix.

Elaine and Ian, the very friendly proprietors have been in Spain for 25 years now. They have raised their three daughters, one of whom is at the university in Cadiz. They had run a very successful restaurant in one of the beach towns along the Costa del Sol but had had enough and moved to this quieter slower paced area.

They served us both wonderful lively conversation and a delicious little dinner. We ordered one ensalada and one main to share. The salad was of Ian's homemade gravlax and included thick slices of avocado, greens, cherry tomatoes and was dressed with his own dressing of white wine vinegar, olive oil, honey and mustard and herbs.

The main was a plate of homemade ravioli stuffed with walnuts, Gorgonzola and topped with a buerre blanc sauce. Delicious!

Eventually, tired from another big day, we excused ourselves waved good night to our hosts, a hearty "well done" to Ian for his culinary skills and headed up to bed. 

Tomorrow, we explore the lovely hill town of Ronda.