This is a wonderful time to visit the capital of Andalucia. It has one of the kindest climates in Europe with temperatures often reaching 20°C even in the winter months. There is also the virtual absence of any tourists at this time that means the city, the tapas and flamenco bars and the main sights are all shown at their best.

 This lays the background for a wonderful crowd-free winter weekend and a planned itinerary. Another reason for visiting at this time is that it is the natural pause between Christmas and the New Year just past and the extraordinary activities of Holy Week at Easter.
During the day, one can visit the incredible historic sites and museums to be found in this beautiful city. The Cathedral is over 600 years in being and is located in a wonderful position opposite the Alcazar. It’s Gothic architecture replaced the old mosque that was here when the Moors inhabited Andalucia for 400 years. The builders wanted to replace the mosque with the largest church to be found in Christendom. The interior is huge and was finished just after Columbus returned from his travels to the Americas. It’s spectacular vaulting spreads across its five naves and comprises of the most intricate stonework found in any comparable structure.

Sevilla

 There has always been the inference that was Columbus indeed ever buried here but inside the cathedral the 20th century to dedicate to him is still to be found. The decorative and gilded altarpiece has more than 1000 carved figures and in itself is awe-inspiring.
The Alcazar is Sevilla’s royal palace which again superimposed the original Moorish mausoleum. It is housed in a huge complex of courtyards, sunken gardens, patios and reception halls that are beautifully designed and date back to the 14th century. Interestingly, the Alcazar does retain Moorish influence as Muslim craftsmen remained in the city and were retained to work on the palace. Other Muslim craftsmen were also hired from Granada. On a warm winters day, there is nothing to compare with a stroll through these wonderful gardens and the terraces, framed by low hedges, reflecting in the pools with their backdrop of palm trees.

 In the evening there is so much to do in the city. Sevilla is infamous for flamenco which in turn, epitomises all that is Spain. The city is the home of the best flamenco bars and shows in the country. The origins of the dance and the music reach back to Byzantine, Sephardic, and Moorish times with the inbred influence of the gypsy most prolific. Because of this, the dance in particular was free and open to many interpretations and this is what gives the added excitement of watching or joining in. Those participating learned by natural influences but now however, most are formally trained with shows that are spectacularly mounted.

 What hasn’t diminished is that Sevilla is still a hotbed of Spanish culture, passion and seduction being borne out of centuries long tradition.
Sevilla is easy to get to for a days visit or a long weekend and Cargest, the leading car hire in Malaga will be most helpful in helping plan your itinerary. Simply visit their website for more information.

 

RajoyPrime Minister Mariano Rajoy looked back over his first year in office and said “We must persevere in the reforms we have undertaken” and added that we need “comprehension and solidarity” from all our citizens. He further commented that we need to follow these lines order to overcome the economic situation.
Senor Rajoy explained that to offset the imbalance in the current public accounts it was necessary right from the start, to adopt extraordinary measures that were painful but fair, in order to reduce the deficit. He believes that as a result of approving the Budgetary Stability and Financial Sustainability Act, the foundations have been laid for avoiding a similar occurrence in the future.

Senor Rajoy stressed that to lay the foundations for stable and sustainable growth of our economy for the future is paramount. He said that if these reforms had not been taken, then Spain and its people would now be in a considerably worse situation.

“We still have a very tough year ahead of us, particularly in the first half, but we do expect to see an improvement in the second half of 2013″. He praised Spanish society for the way in which it is facing up to the problem, particularly acknowledging the sacrifices made by civil servants and pensioners.

More recently, Senor Rajoy explained that government reforms had avoided the weekend’s €100 billion loan to save its ailing banks from being seen as a bailout for the country. He added that without the changes introduced by the government, the decision for the loan would have been an intervention instead of what should be recognised as the opening of a credit line. He further explained that if we had not done what we have done in the past five months the recent proposal would have been seen as a bailout of the Kingdom of Spain.

The Prime Minister said of the loan deal: “Yesterday, the credibility of the euro won, yesterday the future won, yesterday the European Union won”. He was positive in the fact that it was he who had pressed for this line of credit, insisting it was different from the bailouts taken by Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Because their lifelines included strict outside control over public finances and Spain does not face these restrictions.

In tandem with the Prime Minister’s comments, the Secretary of State for Employment stated that during December there was a marked decrease in unemployment including Andalucia. He also added that in the last six months, unemployment had performed better than in 2011.

All in all, these recent developments enacted by Spain appears to have given confidence to the markets in general and to its neighbours. There now needs to be a continuing hard effort by everybody to ensure that the country rises from its problems.

 

Jaime Ortiz-Patino, the past owner and honorary president of Valderrama died at the age of 82 on January 3rd. His foresight and absolute dedication to the game of golf went before him. Nobody had ever seen a golf course laid out in the way that Valderrama was. Beautifully designed, it presented the backdrop for many memorable golfing occasions and tournaments.

Known as Jimmy to his many friends, he provided many proud moments in the history of the European tour and indeed, changed the face of the game throughout Europe. So said George O’Grady, the chief executive of the Tour. “His foresight and dedication to the game through the Volvo Masters and of course, the Ryder Cup, was legendary as was his dedication to excellence in terms of the preparation of a golf course. He was also a gentleman and he will be sadly missed.”

In addition to the Ryder Cup, Valderrama hosted the Volvo Masters 16 times between 1988 and 2008 as the season ending tournament. Valderrama also staged the World Golf Championship events in 1999 and 2000 together with the Andalucia Masters in 2010 and 2011.
It was one of Jimmy’s great moments when in 1997 he saw his great friend Seve Ballesteros captain Europe to a dramatic close victory over the Americans to retain the Ryder Cup. This came at the end of a long journey that had commenced 40 years earlier. Incredible years which saw Jimmy mastermind and build one of the top golf courses in the world.

Spanish Golf

It is not well known that his introduction to golf began at the Italian open in 1956 when he offered his services as a caddie to Ryder Cup player Dai Rees who needed a bagman for the final round. As a reward, the professional sent Jimmy tickets for the next Ryder Cup. He travelled to Lindrick in the UK the following year and was smitten by the event. However, it was only in the early 1980s when he was winding down his business career that he took more holidays at his home in Sotogrande and developed his profound interest in golf. And when his plan for Valderrama began in earnest.

Initially, he bought the club with a group of friends so they could have somewhere private to play but it was not long before Jimmy was conceiving the plan that would see the Ryder Cup play in Europe for the first time in its history. He enlisted the great golf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr to match his ambition and sculpture the modern day masterpiece that Valderrama became. If that was not enough, Jimmy travelled to America to study agronomy at the United States Golf Association in order to ensure that he could maintain the course to its incredibly high standard.

The rest is history. The story of a man with vision and a huge personality to match. Many people sadly commented on his passing.
José Maria Olazabal, last year’s winning captain described Valderrama as a masterpiece which was a legacy to Jimmy.

Sergio Garcia said “This is a very sad day not just for Spain but for the whole of the golfing world. Jaime Ortiz-Patino was a great man and the masterpiece he helped create at Valderrama was truly something special.

Miguel Angel Jiminez said “Jimmy had a very clear vision of golf. He transformed Valderrama which he considered as his “third son”. His determination, willpower and perseverance were extraordinary and he achieved all his goals.”

 

New year 2013We are right in the middle of the festive season and ready to welcome in the new year of 2013. The people of Andalusia and especially Malaga love to celebrate and have a great time with family and friends. Most of these celebrations take place on the streets of the city as the mild weather allows it. For even in winter, the skies are normally clear and blue and the evenings just a little chilly. It is a wonderful time to stroll through the evening streets enjoying the thousands of lights and stalls and shops to be found.

A few days ago on 28 December, the Spanish celebrated the day of “Los Santos Inocentes”. This is the time when people make fun of friends and family but in Malaga it is also the day of Verdiales, when dancing and singing are prevalent. For this is the fiesta that is closely linked to folklore and traditions and celebrated with a colourful display of folk music. Verdial in fact, is an olive that always remains green, even when pickled. The rural communities that harvest them are known as Verdiales. The rituals date back to pre-Roman times and many ceramic sculptures from the period depict street musicians performing with instruments very similar to cymbals and tambourines that give today the colourful display and musical offering.

As time is now moving quickly towards the end of the year, all the restaurants, clubs and hotels along the Costa del Sol are offering special packages. With wonderful meals and surprises to make New Years Eve a party to remember. The local people usually eat late and enjoy dinner with the family. This will be just one more rich elaborate feast complete with all the pastries, dried fruits and nuts and traditional desserts that finish off every meal at this time of year. This will be celebrated with a quantity of Cava before all go out to join other folk and to enjoy the coming of the New Year. Particularly in the larger squares including the Plaza de Constitucion where there will be music and concerts.

At the stroke of midnight, 12 grapes are eaten, one for each stroke of the clock, to bring good luck for the coming year. These are enjoyed with more Cava and the celebrations flow into the night. Have your grapes ready but be sure that the seeds are taken out to avoid choking. Look out for the special canned varieties that are on sale already deseeded.

Many Spaniards are found to be dressed in black for the night coupled with colourful wigs and other accessories. The tradition of wearing red underwear still applies as this promises good luck in love for the coming year.

So, if you are near Malaga for New Year, be sure to go to the city centre and enjoy a real celebration and a warm welcome that is the Spanish New Year.

 

Even in todays austere situation in Spain, there is one tradition that will never change. That is the world’s biggest lottery draw called El Gordo (The Big One). Practically every person in the country either has a ticket or a percentage of a ticket and it is normally drawn on the week into Christmas.

No matter where you are in Spain, you can feel the excitement in the air. There are long queues at every newsstand and people walk away clutching their tickets. The Spanish love their national lottery so much on a regular weekly basis that The Big One is particularly looked forward to every year. And no wonder, for the prizes are huge and can change many people’s lives in an instant. It was first launched in 1812 and therefore, is probably the longest running lottery as well.
Most Spanish people, even if they do not gamble during the rest of the year, enter El Gordo. Being Christmas time, they feel that perhaps this year will be their year.

Due to this enormous popularity, each ticket is printed in multiple sections that are each called a series. A unique five digit number is printed on each ticket and each is printed 180 times under different series numbers. Each ticket if purchased whole cost €200 therefore, as this is very expensive, the tickets are sold off in tenths which are called decimos. The price of one of these costs €20 and the payout is 10% of the published prize.

Many businesses by whole tickets and then divide them up and pass them on as participations to their employees or customers.
To give an idea of the value of the lottery this year, this is estimated to be in the region of €2.5 billion. You can understand now why it is called El Gordo, the fat one. In reality this titular applies to the top 180 winning tickets that win €4 million each. Apart from these, there are thousands of multiple chances to win on every single ticket and that’s what makes it so appealing to the majority of Spanish people. Even the second prize is worth €2.5 million and this gives an idea of just how far down the line prizes are distributed.

As the day of the draw comes near, it’s fair to say that the whole of the country is glued to the television. It is not unusual for pueblos to buy tickets in bulk and therefore the level of excitement in these locations is incredible. For it has been known in the past, that several pueblos have indeed won the jackpot.

If you are in Spain during this time then it is well worth while purchasing a ticket or two and join in the fun. No matter which city or pueblo you are in, the excitement of being involved with El Gordo is catching. Malaga and the Costa del Sol is no different and you will find tickets being issued not only in shops but practically on every street corner so do not waste time, have a go and good luck.