The scent of orange blossom, the swish of a flamenco dress, the glimpse of a white village perched atop a crag: memories of Andalucía linger.
The Essence of Spain
Immortalised in operas and vividly depicted in 19th-century art and literature, Andalucía often acts as a synonym for Spain as a whole: a sun-dappled, fiesta-loving land of guitar-wielding troubadours, reckless bullfighters, feisty operatic heroines and Roma singers wailing sad laments. While this simplistic portrait might be outdated, stereotypical and overly romantic, it does carry an element of truth. Andalucía, despite creeping modernisation, remains a spirited and passionate place where the atmosphere sneaks up and envelops you when you least expect it – perhaps as you're crammed into a buzzing tapas bar or lost in the depths of a flamenco performance.
A Cultural Marinade
Part of Andalucía's appeal springs from its peculiar history. For eight centuries the region sat on a volatile frontier between two faiths and ideologies: Christianity and Islam. Left to ferment like a barrel of the bone-dry local sherry, Andalucía underwent a cross-fertilisation that threw up a slew of cultural colossi: ancient mosques transformed into churches; vast palaces replete with stucco work; a cuisine infused with North African spices; hammams and teterías (teahouses) evoking the Moorish lifestyle; and a chain of lofty white towns that dominates the craggy landscape, from Granada's tightly knotted Albayzín to the hilltop settlements of Cádiz province.
It takes more than a few golf courses to steamroller Andalucía’s diverse ecology. Significant stretches of the region's coast remain relatively unblemished, especially on Cádiz' Costa de la Luz and Almería's Cabo de Gata. Inland, you’ll stumble into villages where life barely seems to have changed since playwright Federico García Lorca created Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding). Thirty per cent of Andalucía’s land is environmentally protected, much of it in easy-to-access parks, and these conservation measures are showing dividends. The Iberian lynx is no longer impossibly elusive; the ibex is flourishing; even the enormous lammergeier (bearded vulture) is again soaring above Cazorla's mountains.
One of Andalucía's most intriguing and mysterious attractions is the notion of duende, the elusive spirit that douses much of Spanish art, especially flamenco. Duende loosely translates as a moment of heightened emotion that takes you out of yourself, experienced during an artistic performance, and it can be soulfully evoked in Andalucía if you mingle in the right places. Seek it out in a Lorca play at a municipal theatre, an organ recital in a Gothic church, the hit-or-miss spontaneity of a flamenco peña (club) or Málaga's remarkable art renaissance.