We invited three travel writers to argue in favour of their favourite country from our shortlist of potential Amberlair locations. In this, the second in the series, Fiona Flores Watson (The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, andalucia.com) makes the case for her adopted home, Spain.
When you think of Spain, what springs to mind? Golden beaches, flamenco dancers, fighting bulls? Many people’s view is unfortunately limited to popular, cliched images, but I’d like to think Amberlair’s community of #boholovers appreciates that Spain is so much more than this: a country of huge variety, from its landscape to its people – the party-loving Andalucians in the south; industrious Basques and entrepreneurial Catalans in the north, not to mention the Canary and Balearic islanders – but what they all have in common in their love of eating, drinking and enjoying life. Geographically, it’s all-terrain: did you know that Seville has Europe’s only desert, Tabernas in Almeria, used as a location for countless movie shoots? Or that you can ski and go to the beach on the same day in Granada?
Forget all those images of packed beaches on the Costa del Sol – Spain has a whopping 5,000km of coastline, so there’s plenty of room for families, kitesurfers, paddle-boarders, nudists and everyone else. Many are served by chiringuitos, wooden restaurants serving that morning’s catch – have you ever eaten freshly-caught sardines grilled over hot coals, in a beachfront restaurant, with the sand between your toes? Or tender blue-fin tuna, caught in a sustainable netting system used for 2,000 years? Moving inland, how about some sweet, nutty jamon iberico, from free-range pigs who chomp on acorns snuffled from under trees in rolling countryside? These ingredients are unbeatable, and that’s before they arrive in the kitchens of Spain’s innovative and creative chefs – Ferran Adrià, Joan Roca, Martín Berasategui and others – who have revolutionised 21st century cooking.
And to wash it down, Spain produces more wine than any other country in the world, but it’s not just about Rioja. Sherry is enjoying a new resurgence, as a cocktail ingredient in hip bars – a trend originating in the US, while home-grown gins are also big. Albariño (white, peachy) and garnacha (red, blackberry) are two grape varieties winning over new fans. Exploring a vineyard followed by a tasting and lunch at the bodega is a great way to spend an educational-yet-indulgent day out.
And what of the cities? Spain’s metropolises such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia offer nightlife second to none. Enjoy a drink on a roof terrace bar for most of the year – the wonderful climate allows you to be outdoors nearly 365 days in southern cities like Malaga and Seville. Life is lived en la calle (in the street) – even in small towns, locals stroll through parks and along avenues until the small hours, with children in tow. If culture’s your thing, you will find art galleries and museums with Golden Age painters or the latest contemporary installations. Some of the most famous and iconoclastic figures in 20th-century art were Spanish, and you can visit their homes adorned with works: Gaudi in Barcelona, Picasso in Malaga, and Dali in Figueres.
But for me, as a foreigner living in Spain, the main reasons I love the country – and why Amberlair should definitely have its first hotel here – are three: the food, the weather, and the people. Italy and South Africa are both fabulous countries to visit, but they just don’t have Spain’s infectious zest for good living. Where else can you eat your fill of superb, inventive tapas and plenty of glasses of excellent wine for just 15 euros, with such warm, friendly people? And the sunshine is free. Ole!