When we set out to plan our sabbatical, we knew Spain would be our first stop. The only questions was, how do we fit it all in? The answer was simple – we couldn’t. Despite having four weeks at our disposal, Spain is a vast country with treasures both simple and great unfolding at every turn.
Miss A desparately wanted to revisit Barcelona, Mr. N wanted to spend time in Madrid and Mike and I wanted to do both of those plus Segovia, Pamplona, Valencia, Zaragoza and Andalucía’s Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba. While a trip like that is doable – especially with a car – it didn’t seem like the best course of action. We knew leaving home would be challenging, particularly for the kids (not to mention we have seven months worth of luggage with us). So we opted to find one location from which we could see the most stuff, while also allowing time to settle into our nomadic life. (And promising ourselves we’ll be back another time to see the rest!)
So, we chose to spend two weeks in Arcos de la Frontera, one of Spain’s White Hill Towns. It’s located on the western side of the hill town route, near Jerez. From here we figured we could get to Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, Jerez, the other White Hill Towns and the southern coast within a few hours drive.
Instead we fell in love with the old Spainish culture of Arcos and limited our day trips. While we did make it to Jerez, Cadiz, Sevilla (twice) and Cordoba, we opted to visit Granada, Ronda and the coast after leaving our little Andalucían home.
Arcos sits high atop a sandstone ridge and is characterized by its quiet, residential old town with windy, narrow cobbled streets and its new town with more open boulevards, plazas and lively spirit. Most of the buildings date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, but the castle dates from the 15th century! We were happily nestled in the old town with incredible views of the Guadalete Valley below.
From sunrise to sunset, the views were never the same, but always magnificient.
It was easier than we expected to relax and welcome the complexities and simplicities of our new life.
We spent a number of days “at home” getting acquainted with the Arcos way of life. We found our favorite breakfast cafe down a steep hill, which served coffee and sherry to locals all day. In the morning the outdoor seating was full of rugged Spanish men, both young and old, smoking and drinking their coffee. By afternoon it was filled yet again with many of the same men back for their afternoon glass of sherry. Occassionally families would pop in, always at the inside seats for a quick sandwich. They never lingered. We followed suit.
Not surprisingly the staff came to recognize us (we didn’t exactly blend in), and they were always happy to see the kids – often sneaking them a few extra cookies. It was surprising and wonderful how quickly we felt at home. Next to the breakfast cafe was a small courtyard and park. We’d spend our evenings here, after stopping in at the local market to buy food for dinner, and the kids would play at the park.
After a few nights, Miss A was feeling comfortable enough to join in a soccer game with the older local boys (who I think were a little surprised to have a girl interested in running with them). This is a very traditional town. The older boys were gracious (albeit a little annoyed) and let her join in, but the younger boys were happy to have her to play with. They quickly figured out how to communicate without speaking and were running around the playground and on the slide in no time.
We walked everywhere in Arcos – diving into doorways when a car would come down the street (yes – the streets were that narrow!) and getting lost in the labyrinthe of Arcos. Aside from dodging cars, it was safe day and night. While it’s small enough to get from one end of town to the other in about 30 minutes, the walk is largely uphill. Now I know that what goes up, must come down, but for some reason we always felt like we were walking up in Arcos. And often nearly straight up! Talk about a work out! Fortunately for us it helped us to work off all the tapas we found along the way.
Our jet lag slowly began to wear off and soon we found ourselves in an easy Andalucían rhythm, which I would describe as relaxed, happy and absolutely in the moment. We weren’t worrying about missing home, we weren’t thinking about what was next, we just lived. Mike and the kids even learned how to hang clothes on the line – a chore I detested as a child, but long for now! How refreshing the smell of sun dried clothes can be – the view didn’t hurt either.
In short, Arcos was exactly what we needed. It enveloped us into its fold, calmed our nerves (which after preparing for this trip and the intial travel were a plenty!), and it allowed us to easily slip into this adventure. It also provided the perfect home base from which to explore other Andalucían cities and to prepare for the two week road trip to come.
We already miss this home away from home.
Arcos was the perfect place to find ourselves at the onset of this adventure.
It’s people, food, culture, sights and spirit will live long in our memories.
It was a sensory treat with fantastic vistas at every turn.
It’s an old town, with an old spirit and we loved our brief glimpse into traditional Spanish life.
We’ve got a few more posts to highlight our adventures in Spain, then we’ll take you with us to France en route to our Polish abode. Until then, I absolutely loved this quote shared by a friend this week:
“Travel far enough you meet yourself.” David Mitchell