The End is the Beginning – April II

Good-bye Matalascanas,   Hello Almonte !

We have moved into the finca, Casa Halcon, Falcon House!

Finally the day has come where we spent the night listening to a thunderstorm with the drum roll of the thunder and lightning strikes illuminating the Andalucian sky. It was a rather dramatic first night.

So this is the final part of my travel blog ‘From Ireland to Spain’. It will now be continued as the diary of finca Casa Halcon. It has been nearly exactly one year since we set out to find our piece of paradise and the process has taken 11 months from our first viewing of the property in May 2017 to finally moving in on the 24th of April 2018.

We have worked here since September 2017, harvesting the olives, pruning the olive trees and landscaping the garden. But only since February could we seriously invest and renovate the house and put in place the photovoltaic system that will give us all our electricity without the need to be on the grid. A lot of plumbing and rewiring had to take place to make the house liveable, but it is done.

Did we have a lot of trouble and bad experiences?

Not really. Even though the whole sale and renovation took six months and is still not finished, we think it is worthwhile and made the whole experience more interesting. Cris was of invaluable help, putting us in touch with businesses and contractors and giving advice. Our only disappointment was the electrician that really fleeced us, but he did the work in the promised timeframe and that doesn’t happen too often.

Everything else can be put down to experience and if we had to pay ‘tourist tax’, the bonus on top of the price for locals, so be it. It goes back into the local economy. The real 8% property tax on the purchase of the finca is hard to take but essential. All is documented; there is no hiding of transactions possible if you want to be legally protected. Going by past experiences of people that bought property in Spain a lot has changed and if there is corruption it is in the government, not in the dealings with companies. Even our speeding ticket had to be signed by three officers and we have it in all its glorious details.

The final touches are being put in place, interior painting is finished and now it’s the outside of the house, the terrace and entrance that needs our attention. But with temperatures being very comfortable around 20-25 degrees celcius, it’s a pleasure to work outside. After that it’s back to olive pruning and we hope to open as an AirBnB premises in the summer.



Spring in Almonte – Andalucia (March-II)



Above: three coloured stream bursts over the road and dark clouds over El Rocio, El Rocio carriage

March has brought an enormous amount of rain and filled our well nicely. More is forecasted during April but this is ok as it will need to tie us over until next autumn or indeed next year. The rain and increasing temperatures (on April 2nd we had 22 degrees!) brought out every imaginable Mediterranean plant: wild Lupins and Lavender, Grape hyacinth, yellow Broom, Poppies, Marjoram and many more (yet to be properly named).

Nigel has reseeded the lawn as the first attempt to sow Grama grass in January failed. The plot was diligently dug over, raked, seeded and then compacted with a roller made out of the interior tube from the fleece we used to line the drain. And, yes, first shoots are coming up together with the tulips and one of the daffodils I planted in December.

My friend Jani visited to see where we disappeared to and helped with fixing up things in the house and cutting the dead twigs of the olive trees. She loved to ‘stalk the storks’ nesting on every available heights.

We took a day trip to see the delights of Sevilla, most importantly the Real Alcázar with its extensive gardens []. It is an exotic oasis in a city bursting with architectural gems from the Arabic period, the late Middle ages Mudéjar, Renaissance, Baroque and the XIX century and also quirky modern architecture.

This visit needs to be booked in advance to avoid the queues and really visiting any one of the monuments in Sevilla on one day is enough for the brain if you also want to wander about and enjoy the city’s streets and bars, or the Parc Maria Luisa with the Plaza de España, which was built for the 1929 Ibero-american exhibition and maybe stroll along the promenade of the river Guadaliquivir with the Torre del Oro []. Better give the interior of the monumental, awe-inspiring Cathedral with Cristopher Columbus (aka Cristobal Colon) another full day, which also requires booking tickets for your time slot well in advance. Parking is expensive but many underground car parks provide secure parking and are signposted.

Dangerous Times in Andalucia (March I)


Just when we thought spring will come, Emma arrived.

Storm ‘Emma’ and in its wake ‘The Beast from the East’ bringing snow storms from Sibiria. Ok, we have little to complain after much of Western Europe was beaten about by torrential rain and gale force winds and much of Britain and Ireland blanketed in snow not seen since 1991. Here the rainy season started early and hasn’t abated yet, 10 days later. It’s rather Irish, with air humidity up in the 80% and every day brings showers, and the wind is bowing over palm trees and toppling flower pots.

The beaches and harbours in Cadiz and Huelva got badly damaged and our lovely beach in Matalascanas doesn’t look so pretty anymore.

last summer on the beach in Matalascanas (above), after the storm now (below)

But there is always a silver lining in every cloud and our well is filling up. This rain is badly needed here in Andalucia as last year there was little of it and the olive harvest suffered, so the eating olive harvest and olive oil amounts were down.

The ground under our olive trees is carpeted with Common Yellow sorrel, wild borage and wild white rocket or arugula, Eruca Sativa. Unfortunately I only discovered it was the spicy flavoured plant when it was in bloom, so a bit late for harvesting.





Our lemon tree however isn’t doing so well. In fact I have not seen lemons on it last year and there are very few flower buds. It got burned by the frost earlier and looks yellowish.

Another discovery is a pretty green spider. Now I am not a spider lover and rather have them at a distance but this one is a more elegant species and is called green huntsman spider, Micrommata virescens (I think). According to the website ( ‘a bite from this spider on a human may cause some local swelling and a little bit of pain, and would be gone within 2 days’. Well, even ants bite so we can live with that threat.


Walking the beach yesterday I came across many little what I thought to be blue jellyfish with air bladders strewn across the beach. They are in fact the Very Venomous Portuguese Man O’ War (Physalia physalis) – ‘also known as the bluebubble, bluebottle or the man-of-war, is commonly thought of as a jellyfish but is actually a siphonophore, a colony of specialized polyps and medusoids. The Portuguese Man O’ War has an air bladder which is an internal organ that contributes to the ability of a fish to control its buoyancy. It enables the Portuguese Man O’ War to stay at the current water depth, ascend, or descend without having to waste energy in swimming.

Below the main body dangle long tentacles, sometimes reaching 10 metres (33 feet) in length below the surface, although 1 metre (3 feet) is the average. They sting and kill small sea creatures such as small fish and shrimp using venom-filled nematocysts. The sting from the tentacles is dangerous to humans. These stings have been responsible for several deaths, however, they usually only cause excruciating pain. Detached tentacles and specimens which wash up on shore can sting just as painfully as the intact creature in the water for weeks after their detachment. The venom can travel up to the lymph nodes and may cause, depending on the amount of venom, more intense pain. In extreme cases medical attention is necessary’ [see].


So I hope to never meet one when swimming in the Mediterranean.

Ending on a positive note, here are some of my pretty ladies, Camelias and a Kumquat tree:





Spring In Spain – February 2018

My readers will by now be wondering why this is still titled a travel blog. It started out in March 2017 when we left Ireland by ferry to Cherbourg. We then travelled through France and started to explore Spain, until we finally arrived at Matalascanas. There we rested our weary bones at the splendid beach, tired from all the driving. And we decided that this was as nice a corner as any to look for a permanent home. But as we have not yet moved into our finca, I still consider it to be a travel blog. We are still living in rented accommodation in Matalascanas but our finca is close to Almonte. We still have to bring over all our belongings from Ireland, with which I will finally be making a new home. We still only have our clothes and a few bits and pieces that fit into the Toyota that we drove all the way in September to Spain.

Sometimes we drive the scenic way through the country-side to our finca. We can get a good look at the tunnels with millions of strawberries ripening nearly all year long. This is an area which is covered with over 1000 ha of tunnels for these soft fruit that are being exported all over the world. But unfortunately even though they get some sunshine they still do not taste like a juicy, sweet strawberry should taste, what a shame. Often we see herds of goats grazing the fields left and right or horses. Some of them are being tethered at the fetlocks and left grazing on their own devices. This is part of the Donana National Park and so anybody can use it for grazing livestock.

We have Mediterranean house geckos here, which I am really happy about. They look like small lizards and are very, very fast. They are only about 10-15 cm long and are usually to be found along the walls and behind the shutters. This species, (Hemidactylus turcicus), has spread from Turkey to all Mediterranean countries and Africa, the Far East, South America and Southern USA [].

Because they eat insects and do not do any harm to anybody else they are tolerated and even kept as pets. It is taboo to harm them in Turkey and Cyprus.

During our tidy-up phase we disturbed a few of them but I hope they have settled down again. One poor fellow drowned in the olive tub after a nights downpour.

Another resident creature is a snake. During our first month here I nearly walked on one and found a big old skin of another specimen and now we dug up the rubble heap and found this little baby snake. She wasn’t really happy to my trying to have a good look at her for identification purposes, but I had to rehome her anyway. I am not sure what type it is. It could be the Smooth snake Coronella austriaca.

I found some info’s on Spanish wildlife on this site: which I hope will help me in future to address creatures and plants by their proper names. I also ordered three nature reference books on Amazon to help me with identifying what grows, flies and walks or crawls around me.

Our bamboo or rather caña fence project is now finished, complete with pillars. All that is needed now is a little gate.

But we are on to the next project, which is landscaping the drain around the lawn area. This involves white stones and a barrier fabric. And then hopefully it will be time to sow the grass seed which several people have warned us against. I do understand that a lush, green lawn is not practical in this sun-burned corner of Spain and we will be slaves to the watering needs of the grass, but this is what Nigel yearns for and so we will go forth and make our experience, be it gratifying or foolish.

We are just after showing off our new-found home for a second time. Nigel’s sister Elaine and husband Ian were here to have a look how we are doing. This gave me the opportunity to visit Seville with them, which Nigel and I have so far neglected. I did try to book tickets online for the Cathedral, but sadly the link to the payment page was broken and so we just took a chance. Well, don’t do what we did if you ever want to see this imposing, impossibly ornate and grand building from the inside yourself. Plan well in advance and get tickets to avoid the long queue. Even on a Monday morning in February it is amazingly busy. And so is the Real Alcázar, a fortress with walled gardens in a merger of styles from the Mudejar to Renaissance. So get tickets in advance, for example here: Read more here:

But even if you don’t visit these grandiose, beautiful and ornate buildings Seville has a lot more to offer and it was nice to just discover some of its charm walking the medieval lanes and find lush inner gardens and parks. We found the Parc de Maria Luisa [see ] with the Plaza de España, which is another of Spain fantastic architectural gems and it has the advantage of having no queues and is free to visit.


I really have to point out that Spain does architecture really well. For it does not only have artefacts, bridges and vast buildings from as far back as pre-roman times, it also does modern architecture very well with astonishing results. I always admired Gaudi’s quirkiness and colour schemes but the inventiveness and bravado of Spain’s other architectural heros can be admired in most Spanish cities.

Of course we also paid a visit to Aracena because of the mountainous backdrop and very different landscape to the flat expanses near Huelva. From the Castle on the hill you have fantastic views in all directions and the very friendly guide will give you a great historic overview of what happened in this corner of Spain. The curiosity about this hill is that you stand on top of the limestone caves La Gruta de la Maravillas (the Cave of Wonders), [see ]. Normally you would expect caves to be underground; these here are above sea-level inside the hill that towers over Aracena. You don’t need to pre-book tickets but be early to get tickets for one of the daily group tours that take 50 minutes.

View from the hill: Aracena Castle and the Priory Church, together known as the Castillo-Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores

Church on the hill:

More see  .




The lovely green carpet under the olives. Can anybody tell me what this pretty flower is? It belongs to the clover-like leaves, but is not a clover.

Our olive harvest is now finished, the pressure is off. It is hard to believe that we only started at the end of September for the first time ever to get close up and personal with this ancient, celebrated fruit. For over 4,000 years olives have been cultivated and used for nearly every aspect of life: as medicine, cosmetic ingredient, lamp oil, preservative, massage oil, lubricant for tools, furniture polish, leather treatment, paint remover, culinary additive and many more uses.

And we have had a steep learning curve in the past 3 months and developed a very intimate relationship with ‘our’ olive trees. Because they have been neglected for a number of years they have grown suckers and innumerable side shoots to the detriment of producing fruit.

Collecting the olives has been hard, but rewarding work and we hope it will be that much easier in the coming season. Payment however will only come when the olive oil has been sold through the Co-op, so we have to wait.


‘Blanca Paloma’ is the unfiltered virgin olive oil produced in our Co-op in Almonte. But they also produce wines from the local grapes. Reds, whites and sherry. So no need to ever run out of a good drop….

We now have to go back to every single tree and do some more pruning and ‘cleaning’, so that the trees will maximise fruit production and we get a better return on our work. We will also have time to learn and figure what is the best way to water the trees, when and how much.

We also took time to design and lay out the back garden. It is now populated with some flowering plants and some vegetables and herbs, the start of a wonderful friendship. I am so happy to invite these lovely beings into my life again. I did miss having a garden for the past year. Here, with the daily sunshine, it is even possible to sit and enjoy it in January.

Forgive me if I sound dramatic, but in my mind I have the past few years as dreary and rainy in memory. No sooner did I venture out in my cottage in Ireland I had to abandon my gardening ambitions and retreat inside again for the rain. The summers did seem to get ever wetter and duller and the winters marginally drier but still cold and dark, as winters are due to shorter daylight hours. Here in Andalucia we have sunshine every day and it does not feel like winter at all but rather like springtime, as the ground under the olives is a green carpet with dainty yellow flowers. The birds are chirping and everything is ready to spring to life again.

At Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, where we had a stop-over for 4 1/2 hours. We discovered the delight of the ‘Park’, complete with bird song and plants.

After a few days in Berlin to see my mum we are back in the finca.

Our neighbour expressed his horror about what we have been doing to the olive trees by making a cut-throat gesture with his hand. Even though looking around the other olive groves our trees look similar bereft of foliage. This discouraged Nigel to continue the work with the chain saw. But scrub at the base of the olive trees has to be cut. We will take a break until we get the promised expert to show us exactly how to prune overgrown trees and which of the branches to cut out.

We have now the start of a citrus fruit grove, with one mandarin tree and three orange trees fruiting at different times, together with the already in place lemon tree.

Our next project is a bamboo fence. Because it cost us nothing as the stuff (not sure what it is but it looks like bamboo) grows along the drain at the entrance. And also building a stone wall was not feasible as no natural stone can be sourced around here. We would have to haul stones from some distant quarry in the mountains. And so daily we gather, cut and stick bamboo sticks into the bricks that Nigel laid out. These will then be tied together with fine wire, my job.

We also did some experimenting with our olives. The first batch has now been in brine for 2 months and is ready for consumption. A jar full is now marinating in a Mediterranean Olive Oil Marinade for a different flavour and a second batch is now steeping in the brine. These olives are more of the riper stage, more black than green, as they were left-overs from our harvest. First tasting proves them to be rather of a strong flavour. Suited to inclusion in stews I think. We should try this again when they are still green when they are harvested for eating.

Nigel took a small quantity of black olives from the last tree and proceeded to squash them in a container and pound them to re-enact the very first humans making olive oil. I laughed seeing his efforts, but no more. To my utter astonishment these approximately 5 kgs of olives have already yielded a 450 ml jar of pure oil!

And that without any sophisticated equipment. The average yield is supposed to be 5 kgs of olives to one litre of olive oil [see ], which can vary due to variety, season, time of harvesting and numerous other influencing factors. We already brought home 20 l of unfiltered virgin olive oil from our co-op. And it looks more or less like the stuff Nigel patiently drained from his container. This makes us hopeful, although our area is dedicated to eating olives, which need more management but will give a better financial return. But when we watch our neighbouring olive farmers rattle their tractors through their olive groves to spray, plough, harrow and fertilise, we wonder about the actual return or profit of the crop. Cris’s father admitted that his 10 hectares of olives only give him ca. €5,000 after he has paid staff, machinery and input costs, which makes me question if it’s worth the effort. But at least he provides employment and can be proud of his excellent olives.


Storks nesting in Almonte.

Progress at the finca ‘ Casa Halcon’ (December 2017)


view from the upstairs terrace    –    first mandarin tree

The falcon is still circling our finca and looking probably for a new place to hatch next year’s young because we intruded into her territory with our chain saw and dogs. So far we have not inhabited the house, but now most windows are in and that curtails the falcons free movement, as they are still using the house occasionally to rest, as the dropping show us.


I see her often on an olive tree at the side of the road when I pass by as if waiting to see if we finally disappear in a cloud of dust. Alas, this is not going to happen, so we must get used to each other’s presence. She can still have the window she nested in last year, as it is still untouched and was not taken out. It is in the ensuite bathroom and I would shield it with a curtain or cardboard to grant her peace if she elects to return.

So far we have installed a gas cooker, which is a marvellous invention. It doesn’t need electricity and provides warm meals and hot tea. Only if you have lived on sandwiches and semi-warm tea for three months will you appreciate this wonderful appliance. And it gives me hot washing up water from the three euro kettle I bought off the iron monger. Happiness lies in small mundane things.

We also have two beautiful lanterns, one a solar and the other rechargeable. Again they so much add to our sense of wellbeing.

The back room has been tidied up and we can now sit at a proper table for our lunch break, which again is a relief after making do with the stairs and an improvised table from a wooden board and a huge overturned flowerpot.

The back garden has now been beautiful laid out by Nigel. I love its design as it looks ancient with its brick and timber paths and not like some newly installed thing. The whole house oozes traditional style and has a mature look about itself, being in its position about ten years. Maybe this has something to do with the flaking paint and broken tiles from the meandering horses, but you just have to love it, sitting pretty and centred in the olive grove.

trial and error   –          settled on a design     –    complete

First Christmas in Andalucia

I am not a Christmas-lover. I resemble a Mr Scrooge, with no inclination to follow suit the hunt for the perfect presents, for I usually get it wrong.

I also don’t like prescribed jolliness, calendar-dated happiness commands and pressurised commerce.

In this day and age of waning religious fervour and genuine Christian worship, which is replaced by scientific worldview and reasoning rather than century-old stories centred on long-gone historical settings I celebrate the return of the long days full of sunshine and new growth. So the 21st of December has more meaning to me, as I have studied agriculture and am aware of the influence of sun, moon and seasons on the life that sustains us. Sadly it seems that most farmers have lost touch of what really makes crops grow and animals thrive. Most of it comes now from a bag or the containers of the chemical industry. I digress. So our first Christmas here in Andalusia beside the Mediterranean was the quietest ever. We had no decorations (all left in my house in Ireland), no visitors, even our friends had left for a three week holiday in Romania. The closest we got to a Christmas tree was driving past the lights of a fir tree outside the Bionest factory. However, I spotted 9 Santa Clauses on motorbikes beeping their way through Almonte. IMG_20171221_175802

Apart from some street decorations, mild Christmas music in the supermarket and some selection of sweet treats that was it. I didn’t even see any Christmas cards that I could have been tempted to post to alleviate my conscience. A very small parcel, with no Christmas wrapping, to my kids did get to Ireland before Christmas. This is a major miracle as some important documents I posted earlier to Ireland took two weeks until they finally arrived.

We spend the 24th with the dogs and olives on the finca. On the 25th we allowed ourselves a day off and went to the Restaurant Remo in Mazagon with view of the beach. To my relief they did not fuss over Christmas either but served us an excellent meal, which Nigel washed down with a bottle of Rioja while I enjoyed sparkling water. This was because we were stopped and breathalysed the day before. Luckily they did not pass any remark on our still Irish registered car with the tax run out since October.

December, 31st 2017

Today was my day off, and boy did I need it to rest my weary bones and mind. It’s hard to keep up with a workaholic’s schedule. I am an academic and enjoy the written word and learning and studying and when you’ve worked physically 8 hours there just isn’t much left to engage the mind meaningfully. So the last day of 2017 I chose to cycle the 5 km long beach promenade of Matalascanas. Because still renting here I can do that .

Because in my 20odd years living on the island of Ireland I often wondered what it would be like to live near the sea and not in the landlocked counties of Westmeath and Longford. And of course the advantage of being in southern Spain is the warm climate even in the winter. It’s gorgeous, balmy and dry. I feel like I have lived fifty years in darkness. And it’s quiet. Not like in summer, when you can’t cycle along the promenade because of the many people also wanting to enjoy the expanse of the golden sandy beach.

Andalucian style tiles                          Full Moon over El Rocio

  1. January 2018     THE BEST IS YET TO COME

Sylvester was very quiet here in Matalascanas. We actually ventured out a few minutes before midnight to seek out revellers that would count down the minutes to midnight around the church tower. But – there was nobody in sight. Ok, we know it’s quiet here in winter, but earlier I did see some people enjoying the beach promenade and some restaurants were open. But not even one bar was open. So we went back home to drink the bottle of fizz we had brought with us and switched on the TV to see the famous celebrations in Madrid.

On our way back from the finca today we realised that everybody had congregated in El Rocio for the midnight countdown, as a long queue of cars headed towards the motorway. So next year we will be part of that crowd in front of the Ermita de El Rocio.

No sooner is the New Year celebration over another one is looming: the feast of the Three Kings which takes place on the 6th of January, or before, or after. Because on my shopping trip into Almonte on the 4th I came across a procession and marching band and several hundreds of Reyes Magos, throwing sweets in the air. This is a much bigger celebration than Christmas, it’s big and bold and takes place in the streets, everybody dressed up and trying to catch sweets and presents. [see ]

It resembles our Sankt Nikolaus in Germany a bit, where shoes are left out on the 6th of December which will be filled with goodies, here it is the 5th of January. But hay is also left out for the camels the kings ride on. This is similar to the carrot for the reindeers of Santa Claus. Traditions are as diverse as cultures and everyone has their very own flavour.

I have now purchased a Spanish diary to keep up with the many festivities and holidays. The next one looming is the start of Carnival, before Lent starts, this year on February 11th. It promises to be another colourful, lively few days of celebrations and music, particularly in Cadiz. [see ]

Orange Trees have Thorns


Here are a few observations about life in Spain compared to life in Ireland or Germany,

where I have lived over 20 years each.

*Free Fruit: We never realised that orange trees have nasty thorns, so have lemon trees. So beware if you are walking through an Orange Grove wear a hat because the thorns sit underneath the branches and will give you a bad cut.

One day we wandered around our area in search of Joaquim and came across Antonio in his vineyard, picking olives off his olive trees that border the field. He was so kind to give us a bagful of the most delicious oranges. We had a little chat and went our ways very happily. You will also observe people picking the prickly pear cactus fruits that grow wild along the boundaries. These are very prickly and taste a bit like kiwis. When I brought some home to try, with gloves and even being careful, I ended up with a thorn on my lips, my tongue and my finger. They are so fine and small you cannot see them, so that’s a bit of a drawback to free fruit.

Image result for cactus fruit spainIMG_20171216_202018

* Recycling is up to your own conscience in Spain. There are no incentives to separate your rubbish and dispose of it carefully. There are ample rubbish containers for mixed rubbish all over the place which are emptied every day, so dumping should not be a problem but sadly happens. Everything goes into them: food waste, home decor, styrofoam, garden waste, building waste, plastic, and if it doesn’t fit inside it sits beside it, occasionally a garden chair, sofa, table etc. Strategically placed recycling bins for glass, cardboard and plastic packaging are also available and used more or less. This setup is paid through the general tax so nobody needs to pay extra when generating a lot of waste. And it is not monitored as it would be when the waste can be traced back to the owner of a private bin, as it is done in rural Ireland. There you have to take full responsibility and pay for your waste, which is cheaper if it goes into the recycling bin and more if it is mixed waste.

At the same time the Spanish are thrifty and will use what they can.

Several scrap yards and recyclers can be found in the industrial estate and people will collect timber beside the main road for their fire places.

At the corner of our road to the finca is a business that sells firewood and fencing posts and hurdles from Eucalyptus trees. And the father and son team also steam the Eucalyptus leaves to distil eucalyptus oil. The residual leaves are then used for the fire of the burner. The bark is sold for mulch so every bit is used and generates an income. This is where we bought our fencing stakes for the dog and pig fence around the house and garden.

*making friends is hard to do. Like the Germans the Spanish are reserved at first, until they have figured you out and know about you. That is only natural for a country that has seen many cultures invade and put their customs, religion and political system forcefully on top of what was already in existence. The other reason I imagine is that there is still a little bit of the Franco-Era mistrust around. This brutal military dictatorship was in place from 1939 to Franco’s death in 1975. Under his harsh regime unions, all religions except Catholisism and regional languages were banned and people were persecuted and imprisoned. [see] .

But on the other hand we have been lucky in finding and being accepted by our friends here, which have been invaluable in helping us get settled and have been going out of their way to include us in their daily lives. We hope to build up good relations with our neighbours beside the finca also.

* The bureaucracy here is even worse than in Ireland or Germany. Everywhere we have to sign a contract for direct debit or register anything from a dog to a car we need to present our passport plus the NIE, the official card with our social number. We also have to carry this with us at all times, even our dog Sofie needs to show she is properly registered and vaccinated.

*Food, again. The Spanish love to sit and drink and eat together, but not in an overindulgent way. The folks around our neck of the woods are not overweight, they work too hard. A stroll around Almonte will reveal numerous cafes and bars where people sit and have a small coffee or a short drink. Rather than sit at home they seek the company of neighbours and friends.

*And they know how to celebrate. Most nations have their dedicated holy days and national days, but Spain stands out. In 2017 there were 43 holydays altogether; admittedly some of these are regional only. A comparison between all European countries reveals that Ireland is at the bottom with only 8 official holydays and Germany with 11 holidays, which apply to all regions, Spain had only 9 official public holidays.

In El Rocio, the calm-looking sandy town near Almonte, there are 38 different festivities scheduled from September 2017 to April 2018. These are all based on the catholic faith but as in most European countries nobody passes much heed for the church, it’s just another reason to celebrate and come together. [].

And our finca lies on one of the Caminos of the pilgrims into El Rocio, so often we see and hear gun fire, horse-drawn carriages, song and walkers passing by. On the main road from Almonte to Matalascanas every weekend on a Sunday evening the road out of El Rocio is gridlocked with cars returning from yet another gathering of the Hermanas. And yet walk through El Rocio on a Monday or Wednesday it is near deserted, like a Sleeping Beauty, ready to awakened again.

*Public transport is absolutely great here in Spain. In comparison to Ireland any decent system ismuch superior but even in this deserted holiday town, where from Mid-September to June 95% of houses and apartments are empty, there is a daily bus service between the different sections of this town, now shrunk to a population of merely 2,000 inhabitants. There are of course also buses to Almonte and Huelva and Sevilla, the next bigger towns. Even Germany has 1,000 km less fast-train tracks than Spain.

Las Tres Amigas – The three friends


Our baby Mastin Sofie is growing rapidly, she is putting on 4 kgs within a fortnight and will soon outgrow her friends Elena and Manchita. These are the dogs of our friends and have come to our finca during their holidays away. So the three girls have a whale of a time, running around, playing and ‘helping’ us gathering olives. But of course there are also there to fend off intruders and give a good old bark when cyclists, walkers, riders and cars pass our gate.

Elena is a Spanish Water dog, perro agua, with soft fluffy slightly wavy hair and a bouncy personality. These dogs love the water so are good to have when you live near the beach or a lake. Manchita is mastiff cross, a charity case, as she was in a bad way when she was taken on by our friends and has no hearing. She is quite big and runs like the wind; whereas our Sofie has a rather retiring nature. It already shows as she is a lot slower than her friends running up to greet us each morning and she will not jump, not even to get out of the boot of the car, which she hates. But she had to be ferried to the vet already three times for her injections and micro chipping. She has now more documentation than I have for myself.

Unfortunately hunting takes place beside and around our finca, and dogs will stray onto our land chasing after a rabbit. We have a good high fence, but dogs can burrow beneath this and push their way in. And then they need to be retrieved by their owners. So how can they do that? Only by cutting another hole in the fence. And that’s what’s been happening. Only when we secure the whole bottom of the fence will it stop or when we are permanently on-site.




Olives, olives everywhere (Nov’17)



We are now back to working six days a week pruning and harvesting olives. Olives are everywhere, on the trees, below the trees, hidden in already harvested trees, at every step of the way; in the house, waiting to be driven to the Co-op in Almonte, and in our dreams. Some trees are so big and overgrown it takes us up to three hours to get all the olives down and to cut back branches.

But we are now professionally equipped. We bought two nice big netting sheets to cover the ground around the olives when we rake them off the upper branches. We have two pickers buckets for around our necks and several black baskets and crates to bring the olives to the co-op in Almonte.

Co-op crate     –    olives into weighing chute  –  leaves been blown out

We have three ladders to get at the olives: a small rickety bamboo one, a long wooden heavy one and now also a steel-made locally hand-crafted typical olive-pickers ladder. This cannot be bought in the shops, it probably doesn’t comply with any European safety regulations as none of our ladders do. And the way Nigel clambers up the ladder, into the high trees and wields his chain saw is probably not safe either. But here we go and stoop and stretch and scrape and scoop the olives, or aceitunas as they are called here.

30 Nov. 17

Today is my day off after two months of daily work on the finca, even Sundays, as then we can bring our olives to the co-op. Any other day not spent with the olives was for attending birthday parties or a christening which makes for a nice break of course. Especially with all the good and plentiful food and drink that goes with celebrations like that.

But today I can just enjoy my own company, with Nigel and Sofie at the finca, as that is the place they like best. It’s gone a bit cooler finally after a night full of thunderclaps and lightning and lots of much needed rain. But the sun will be back by tomorrow and all will dry out again.

We finally have wifi now and I have to attend to emails, get back on track with the blog and research olive farming and organic pig rearing; book a trip to Berlin for my mum’s 94th birthday and other chores which are just too much at night when all we want is a nice hot meal, a long hot shower and a warm bed to fall into.




A New Family Member and our first ‘Woofers’ (17.11.17)


This was a very eventful fortnight.

Not only did we welcome our new family member, Sofie into our house and hearts, but we also welcomed Nigel’s brother and son for a short visit.

We finally managed to open a bank account at Caja Rural. This opens new possibilities, and taxes….

We had been looking for a while for a dog to take over guard duties after being told this would be the unfailing way to deter any unwelcome visitors to the property – any property. We had several attempts made and came across a bunch of very sleepy pups, that wouldn’t even open their eyes or wag their tails at our appearing; a rather disappointing performance. These were three months old. Not something that would be the expected behaviour of a keen guard dog.

Finally we were brought to a sheep farmer outside of Almonte, who had five-day old pups. We could choose any one of them. It would be hard to judge the character of a dog at that age. All we could determine was their sex and the colour. But our attention was drawn to a friendly, nice pup with a heart on her side. Seriously, she does wear her heart for all to see. Nigel fell immediately in love and the farmer had to concede seeing Nigel with Sofie in his arms. She was initially not for sale, but you couldn’t separate the two. Even though Nigel wanted a male dog we are now proud owners of a beautiful two months old female Spanish Mastin. She is cute now but will, when grown out, reach ca. 70 kgs. This race is predestined to watch your property. Spanish Mastins are not herding dogs, but vigilant animals that will defend farm and home and their owner to the death. Just what we need!

We brought her home with us then and there and the next day we went to Faro to collect Nigels family. We had a few lovely days together, Ivor and Daniel helping with the harvesting of the olives, thankful for the warm sunshine on their backs and Sofie’s antics.

They came all the way from Canada, with a stop-over in Ireland to visit other family members. Canada and Ireland now being in deepest winter, the short swim in the Mediterranean on Sunday was a real treat for Daniel. The other treat was for Ivor, as he is a geologist we visited the Rio Tinto Mine.

The river Rio Tinto is naturally coloured red through the high content of iron and other minerals in it. Of course the mining activities have their impact on the surrounding area, which is mountainous and afforested.



This is a giant open cast mine, its origins going back to 3000 BC and the Romans mined silver there to mint their coins [see We took the train ride through the old closed parts of the mine, which was very quaint and interesting.

(photos taken through the train window)




First Olives (27.09.17)


Today and yesterday we spent our first day working on ‘our’ finca. We had another look with Chris to see the destruction of the thieves who took up until then not just all electrical cables out of the walls and light fittings but now came back to take a lovely carved dresser and nearly all windows and doors! That was such a blow to the owners that they ask the auctioneer to sell the property quickly before more damage was done. This simply was the case because nobody has lived there for the past 5 years.

So the time has come for us to agree on a price, but only after getting quotations on what it would cost to install water, electricity and replace all doors and windows. We won’t buy it at any price, but nevertheless started to fix all the holes in the boundary fence and added a lock to the side gate. And today we started the olive harvest. Since the trees have not been looked after, watered and pruned, there are not so many olives. So far we finished one row of trees and managed to fill two containers.

On a good olive farm, you should get about 3-5 containers of olives per tree. We reckon this year’s yield is only about 15-20% of what could be achieved with careful management.

It was lovely as the day was perfect, warm, overcast and humid. I nearly walked on a snake and Nigel spotted a rabbit. Apart from that the birds are chirping, the two resident horses are curiously watching us and we hear the hens and cockerel making their noises in the distance. A typical country-side setting under the Andalusian sun.



We have now worked hard harvesting olives, first by hand picking from branches that are easy to reach , then raking them down and then by Nigel climbing up the ladder and me picking fallen olives from the ground. But there are still branches that we cannot reach so they get the chop. To that purpose Nigel has invested in a hand saw and a small chain saw. Our progress is painfully slow. A good picker can fill 8 baskets per day from well managed trees. We manage only one and a bit between the two of us because we need to prune and find the olives in the overgrown trees. And it is still incredibly hot here in October, up to 34 degrees during the day.

Our neighbours are other olive farmers and many horses, as the Spanish love their horses, hunting, riding and dogs.


I managed to get away for a 5-day break to see my mum in Berlin and to cool down. And make my friends jealous by describing our new life amidst the ancient olives and blue skies. What a change from the rain-sodden shores of Ireland. Of course the colours here are now sandy, golden and dusty, whereas the Emerald Isle is always green and juicy.

But we enjoy the challenge to restore the trees to full production and hopefully make the house ready for the winter if everything works out regarding the electricity and water installation.

Part of our settling here involves of course paper work and proper registration with the authorities. Apparently we need a document called NIE, which I have heard of before. With that we can open an account with the local bank and get a much needed cheque book for all our future expenses.

We had further instruction from Chris father regarding the care of olive trees and a demonstration on our finca. It was a boiling hot day and we had to cut the demonstration short to seek shade and shelter inside.


We also visited the Co-op in Almonte, where farmers bring their grapes and olives. So far our olives are mixed with Chris’s fathers as we are not yet members of the co-op. But because ours are of very varying quality, small and big, green and black, and anything in between, it brings the price down he can achieve with his absolute perfect crop of eating olives. So we are told to stop harvesting and to concentrate on pruning the trees instead until the harvest for the oil olives begins. Olives for eating need to be big as the stones will be removed and of a good quality whereas the olives used for oil can be like ours; nobody is going to see them as they all go together to the oil mill.

Olives at the Co-Op in Almonte and our mixed quality olives.

A New Home – Orange Grove (23.09.17)


On Tuesday we moved into the third accommodation in Matalascanas. When we came here first we started at the east end of the town and moved further west every time. The last place was a bit grotty, but had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a dried up garden with a view of the defunct golf course and its driving range. But it was only 7 minutes walk to the beach and we had a quiet last week as all other guests in the vicinity had moved out.


We have now rented a smaller but much cosier house in a cul-de-sac, surrounded by leafy green villas and their ever gurgling swimming pools. We are calling it Orange Grove as we have two orange trees and a lemon tree in the front patio and hoping this will be our last destination before acquiring the much desired finca.

We are now proud owners of a brand new chic Russell Hobbs toaster and a kettle, vital for a nice buttered toast in the morning and a cup of tea. As there is no heating whatsoever in Spanish houses here we also bought a radiator for the chilly nights to come and some patio plants to make it even more our place.


This cat found her way through the fence where she was nursing her kittens. Of course we welcomed her and shared our food.

One evening we went with our friends to El Rocio at night. It’s sandy roads looked magical, with the lights of restaurants, the church and men and boys on horseback strolling through town. It is no wonder, that every weekend at least three wedding take place each day.







House Hunting, the III. (07.09.2017)

Lonely Toilet

We met our friendly auctioneer in Almonte and he brought us out to a place just outside of the town. He did prepare us by saying that this is a cheap 1 ha finca and the house is not completed so we can put our own stamp on it and there was also a big barn which could be converted into a bigger house. I was not convinced by that sales pitch and reality was even less attractive. The photos speak for itself, but again I thought it was rather funny to be offered such a place. The blue toilet sat forlornly in a recently added room with a view of the sky. There were three bedrooms but again no electricity or water connected, but a well with a functioning bucket was indeed there. The plastic tunnels hang in tatters. Altogether a sad view and not what we expect about selling a property and trying to make it look presentable. This is part of the job of our auctioneer as he has to be seen to show us also properties from his friends even if they don’t suit us.

Beach Cabin

However, we went walking along the beach with Julio and Rocio this morning and visited an old man in his beach-side property. It is a fine casita, built by his parents in 1992. The roof and sides are covered with beach-grass, a well with sweet tasting water is installed outside and inside carpets, television and cupboards, table and chairs, a settee and a canary bird in its cage. This is a real cosy cabin that is powered by three solar panels on top of the roof. Antonio has been living here on his own permanently for the past 25 years, enjoying the solitude and peace. His brother takes him shopping regularly and he has a little dog for company and a vegetable patch at the back, altogether much nicer prospect then the desert-like finca that was offered to us the previous day.

German Embassy in Malaga

I now have to praise the German embassy in Malaga. It was with trepidation that we went to get my passport renewed yesterday. That is because I just about made it into Spain before it was out of date. I only realised in July that it was only valid until the 22nd of August this year and blightly went ahead to book our flights to Canada, which were such a good price that it would have been dumb to let that opportunity pass by. But because I was out of the country I could not get an appointment with the embassy in Dublin before September. Chris got me registered to his address in Matalascanas, which was more complicated for him then for me; I grabbed all my documents, printed the application form and Nigel drove the three and half hours to Malaga. Even though I did not have originals and only the application for residency they were able to give me a temporary passport there and then. I had to promise to hand over originals when I would collect the 10-year valid proper passport eventually in Jerez de la Frontera. But it means I can now visit my mother in Berlin or go back to Ireland if the need arises. What a relief.

(guilty fry-up Irish style)

guilty fry-up

New Friends

One of these days I heard a voice that sounded a lot like German that came from the apartment above ours. I listened closer and indeed there were Germans here in Matalascanas. This was a surprise as we had not heard any other language then Spanish here. I introduced myself to Martin and Necha the next day and invited them to our little tapas & wine because they are also looking for a place in the sun around here and our friendly auctioneer and his wife were going to be here with us. We had a lovely evening, with German, English and Spanish all thrown into the mix and some guitar playing and singing at the end. The ants had a feast under the table later.


House Hunting, the II. (29.08.2017)

Wildlife bridge over the road through the Donana National Park

Today we actually started at 9 am, met Chris and went off to look at several properties in the area around Almonte (and I am sorry but in my haste to tidy up files on the laptop I mistakenly deleted these photos).

The first one is a definite runner so we might start negotiations. It’s perfectly situated and has olive and fruit trees which would provide us with some work and income.

The second was a complete joke. It was part of a big Finca, that was to be divided into 4 parts. The part that we could ‘afford’ as put by the other auctioneer, was off the main entrance. It was not actively farmed, it boasted a mini-Bull ring, an old watering well supplied with a bucket and a casita, a small house. No electricity, no bathroom, not even a bedroom. It consisted of just a big room and an outside barbeque. Rather rustic. The sales pitch was that we would divide the cost of installing a transformer to the farm with the owner. We could also double the size of the casita to 80 square meters. The well would need a generator to get water pumped up. I thought it was funny when the owner asked for €90,000 for THAT! Needless to say we walked away from it at a quick pace.

The next place had a nice house and a piece of long, narrow land with olive trees that literally bordered the main Huelva-Sevilla railway line, with no fence in place. A public road runs also along the railway tracks. It has a nice long entrance bordered by rosemary bushes. There is a certain charm to this property and more land can be bought along it. But it would not provide enough income for us.

This was followed up by a horsey finca. It looked as if the dogs and horses owned the place as they had free run of it and had grazed everything to the butt. Even the lemon trees were nibbled on. There was actually a small swimming pool but that didn’t really take much off the depressing look. It was as bare as the moon landscape, even though a few olive trees were scattered about and it had a dried up river running along the narrow bit. Altogether not what we had in mind.

We also went back to a property that we had already looked at and put in an offer, as its house is perfectly built and cosy, with 1 ha of gardens and 3 German neighbours, so that must mean something!

IMG_20170828_205244                                                sunset in the Donana Nature Reserve

Back in Spain – August 2017 UPDATE

Bye bye my lovely cottage and cats…….

After returning from lovely Vancouver Island, Canada, we spend a short week in Ireland in July, as both our houses are now rented and we had to squat with our friends.

This meant moving around again; from Newtownforbes to Muff in Donegal and back to Manorhamilton and finally Edgeworthstown. This included checking post (from 3 months back for Nigel), tying up loose ends and even paying the Department of Agriculture a visit in their lair in Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford. They dragged their feet over payments due to ex-farmer Nigel and turning up in person makes quite an impression as numerous phone calls yielded no result.

Finally the car was packed full to capacity, Nigel’s bike fastened onto the roof and off we went again to catch the ferry in Roslare. This time it brought us to Roscoff. Because we only booked a week in advance we did not get a cabin, as all were booked out. A seat would have to do us for the 16 hour journey.

I just could not face this particularly as Nigel proposed not to stop in France at all but to drive all the way to Spain in one go. As soon as we boarded ship I went to the service desk and ask if a cabin was free. And Bingo – for €36 we got a two-berth cabin with shower/toilet. We had already paid €18 for pre-booked seats. So we had a good night’s sleep as the sea voyage again was calm and pleasant.

We drove what turned out to be 1,354 kms to impressive Salamanca. This took us over 13 hours with short stops to stretch, and to have toilet breaks and food and a snooze in the cramped car. France has great motorway service stations and rest places, so it was no hardship.

In Salamanca our booked hotel was closed – so was the other one whose address was given on a note at the door. So we quickly had to rebook a hotel which was simple but suitable. We walked over the ancient bridge into old Salamanca and admired the oldest university of Spain, founded in 1218, the third oldest in Europe.

Salamanca is considered one of the most beautiful Spanish cities. Again it has amazing architectural gems, as the old university buildings are vast and built in Renaissance style with golden sandstone and Latin inscriptions. These are particular pretty in the setting sun. [see]

From Salamanca we traversed central Spain to visit the caves of Aracena, which were another 433 kms and 4 ½ hours driving in boiling heat of 39 degrees. And our Toyota Auris does not do air conditioning well.

Aracena is a pretty village amidst the National Park of the Sierra de Aracena mountains and Picos de Aroche. Aracena is famous for its spectacular limestone caves, the Gruta de las Maravillas (the Cave of Marvels), one of the best caves in Spain. And they are stunning and well worth getting up for early, as only groups of up to 40 persons are permitted in at any one time. So be in time to book a guided tour!

From Aracena we drove back to our beloved Matalascanas, and without pre-booking we were welcomed by Julio, who had indeed a vacant holiday apartment at Apartamentos Rodriguez. So here we are until we find a house to rent in the hinterland of Matalascanas. Our agent Chris is hard at work and we already spent time in his pool discussing our strategy. He just doesn’t get excited but knows what happens in the property market in this area.

Visit to Neil’s Cranberry Farm 05.08.2017

Cranberry Farm (12)

On Friday we went on a fact finding visit to Neil’s Cranberry farm. I knew nothing about cranberries except drinking Oceanspray Cranberry juice or eating Cranberry sauce with turkey. Cranberries grow on a vine close to the ground. Before the harvest in November the fields are flooded and the berries beaten off the vines and collected on the surface of the water, all mechanised of course. This operation is family run and has a lot of expertise in growing these tart little fruits. It was nice to see the berries taking on the first blush of red and a field that was still producing good berries even after 30 years, being planted in 1983.

Neil’s berries go to Oceanspray, where they are graded and frozen, to end up either as juice or as dried cranberries.

Neil needs bees or bumblebees so that his 65 acres of cranberries get pollinated. Because there aren’t enough bees about anymore he hires bees to do this essential work. A beekeeper supplies him with 180 hives at the cost of $20,000 a year! That is how much the bees work is worth and without them there would be very few berries (and any other fruits). Other growers are prepared to get even more hives per acre to make sure all flowers are pollinated and there will be a plentiful harvest.

Bee HivesCranberry Farm (4)

Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines in the subgenus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium. In Britain, cranberry may refer to the native species Vaccinium oxycoccos,[1] while in North America, cranberry may refer to Vaccinium macrocarpon.[2] Vaccinium oxycoccos is cultivated in central and northern Europe, while Vaccinium macrocarpon is cultivated throughout the northern United States, Canada. Cranberries are low, creeping shrubs or vines up to 2 metres (7 ft) long and 5 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 in) in height;[5] they have slender, wiry stems that are not thickly woody and have small evergreen leaves. The flowers are dark pink.

insect monitoring station

And because I do not reinvent the wheel I just let Wikipedia speak about the lovely fruits:

Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Today’s cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas with a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dykes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in and spread to a depth of four to eight inches. The surface is laser leveled flat to provide even drainage. Beds are frequently drained with socked tile in addition to the perimeter ditch. In addition to making it possible to hold water, the dykes allow equipment to service the beds without driving on the vines. Irrigation equipment is installed in the bed to provide irrigation for vine growth and for spring and autumn frost protection.

A common misconception about cranberry production is that the beds remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season cranberry beds are not flooded, but are irrigated regularly to maintain soil moisture. Beds are flooded in the autumn to facilitate harvest and again during the winter to protect against low temperatures. In cold climates like Wisconsin, New England, and eastern Canada, the winter flood typically freezes into ice, while in warmer climates the water remains liquid. When ice forms on the beds, trucks can be driven onto the ice to spread a thin layer of sand that helps to control pests and rejuvenate the vines. Sanding is done every three to five years.

Cranberry vines are propagated by moving vines from an established bed. The vines are spread on the surface of the sand of the new bed and pushed into the sand with a blunt disk. The vines are watered frequently during the first few weeks until roots form and new shoots grow. Beds are given frequent light application of nitrogen fertilizer during the first year. The cost of establishment for new cranberry beds is estimated to be about US$70,000 per hectare (approx. $28,300 per acre).

Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. Berries that receive sun turn a deep red when fully ripe, while those that do not fully mature are a pale pink or white color. This is usually in September through the first part of November. To harvest cranberries, the beds are flooded with six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) of water above the vines. []

The Myra Falls Mine Expedition 28.07.17

On this day Ivor took as to his former place of work, the underground mine, a polymetalic ore mine from which zinc, copper and iron are extracted. This mine is situated at Myra Falls in the Strathcona Provincial Park. This meant a 1 ½ hour journey north-west into the mountains.

On the way we had picnic at yet another lake, the Buttle Lake and went as far as Gold River. This used to be another town with a vibrant logging industry and paper mill that has shut down and the population has shrunk. Logs are still being sorted there for transport to major ports.

The Myra Falls mine operations are temporarily suspended and is now in maintenance-only stage as it is to be sold on. The maintenance alone costs 1 million dollars per month!

The amazing thing about the mine is that it is in the middle of the Provincial Park and the main road runs right through the operation and one of the entrances to the Provincial Park is also nearby together with parking and trails.

The photos show the extensive heaps of the spoil, that is dug out during drilling and there integration into the landscape. Trees and natural vegetation take hold after a while. The used water is filtered and directed into an open stream, that will eventually attract fish.

Canada geese on the road               archive of drill cores

Myra Mine Trip (7)


21.05. – 31.05 Monte Gordo , Portugal

Monte Gordos beach is an extension of the lovely soft sandy beaches of the Costa de la Luz. It goes on for miles. And even now at the beginning of June it is relatively empty, but filling up slowly as the hotel attendants bring out loungers, wind breakers and a little table to collect fees. Time to go!

One evening on the way to the bar we met a little Dutch great-grandmother who was rather drunk and unsteady. Nigel chatted her up as we were a bit concerned whether she would make it safely home. She told us her life story and we said good-bye near her hotel. When you have lost your husband and your kids are grown and you want a bit of sunshine you have to travel solo. But in a place like Monte Gordo that is quite safe. Lots of Dutch come here and bring their bicycles. So now there is bike hire everywhere and you feel as if you are in Amsterdam.

Again we were very lucky with our Airbnb choice, as we had a whole apartment with large terrace for a knock-down price of €30/night. This was in walking distance to the beach.

One day we took a drive into the hinterlands and the fishing village of Fuseta with its archipelago of sandy beaches.

In Vila Real de Santo Antonio you can get free books to read on the beach and advice in the tourist office and there is a gorgeous fish restaurant at the end of the harbour where the campers park, called Tasquinha da Muralha. It looks like a shack and has wobbly benches outside. But inside you can choose your fresh fish caught the same morning from the chilled display, it is weight and then baked in loads of olive oil and garlic and served with fresh bread and salad. We had green wine with it, which the owner had on hand from Northern Spain. Absolutely Delicious! And the price of €22.50 for two was also very easy to digest.

One day was spent driving around looking at more real estate with our agent. Most of these split up farms have relatively new farm houses with up to 5 bedrooms and around 5 ha of olive, fruit or almond trees. Some we liked, but not the price. So now it is a waiting game to let the prices cool. In the meantime we will try to learn about how to look after almonds and olives to be prepared shall we become care-takers of a small holding.

Pictures prove oranges are all-year round growing on trees (see mature and small green fruits middle right). The tree on top is a carob tree with the carob pods.

8.05 – 14.05.17 It’s all bull – Algar – Cadiz province


unusual tapas (sweets)  and a basketful of olives at a roundabout:

Moving further west, we found a lovely small town in Cadiz province, near Arcos, which is not far from Ronda. But we like it peaceful and calm, so Algar was just right. Algar is a sleepy town, which you could comfortably walk all the way around in 30 minutes. Or cross, up and down small streets, in 10 minutes. But the views are again breath-taking. Really, Spain is spoiled with scenery, this area has a large ‘embalse’, Embalse de Gualalcacin, a man-made reservoir nearby which adds to it attraction; the waters being turquoise, even on a rainy day. It has also green hills and valleys, which makes it look like Ireland in sunshine.


Cadiz province is blessed with fertile, undulating land which is used for all types of agriculture:

From tillage, potatoes, tomatoes, sunflowers, pasture, goats, sheep to bull breeding. Yes, we came across a ranch that has 400 cows to breed the TORO BRAVOS, the bulls used in bull fights. Nigel of course had to get up close and a security guy drove out in his jeep to see who we were nosing about. But he was a very nice man that explained everything to us and drove us into the place. We even met the owner and his assistant on their very beautiful horses. Passing earlier we saw them rounding up the 3-year old bulls on their horses. These bulls are exercised daily and fed grain to make them strong and muscular. One bull can sell for up to €18,000 in Madrid’s bull ring!

(photos: bull breading ranch)

Ronda – Bull ring

In beautiful Ronda I wanted to see finally a bull ring from the inside. There is something fascinating about the bull fighting thing. It’s probably because it is dangerous, bloody and gruesome, even violent and brutal. It is an intrinsic Spanish phenomenon, a part of Spain just like Paella and Flamenco, so I wanted to see about the why and how.

Being bitterly disappointed in Pamplona (well, it is famous for the running of the bulls in July) and in every other town on our way (nearly every town has its own bull ring, but nearly all of them are closed and not in use anymore), we could finally indulge our curiosity.

Ronda’s bull ring is one of the oldest and unique in that it features covered seating. It is impressive in its architecture and facilities, as it also incorporates a riding school and stables. So it is not all blood and gore, but always ends that way….

There is a museum housed also that shows some artefacts of the life of a torero and other country sports and the military.


But this is all I want to know and see about the demise of a beautiful animal like a bull, bred and reared in the countryside pastures, to end as a piece of bloody meat at the admittedly old age of 3 or 4 years (as beef usually ends up being killed at 18-36 months of age).

The Story of the boom and bust in Spain 01.05. – 08.05.17 (Zagrilla)



After a stint in a town apartment we spoiled ourselves with a Spanish villa in the countryside.

It was advertised on and airbnb as room with mountain views (yet again, I know), pool and breakfast and kitchen use. However, the pool was not yet awoken from winter hibernation and the kitchen had not seen a decent cook in ages, i.e. most essential items were missing. It also behaved like a haunted house – creaking doors everywhere that refused to be opened and closed.

But it is a charming villa with sumptuous decor, Arabic style tiling and open fire place. The view over the valley is lovely, the view at the back however reveals the true story of this property.

There you can see a redundant crane, a big circular hole in the ground and a building site containing the hastily built shell of a conference centre. There are steps down to a farm style building with bar, several bedrooms and showers. This obviously used to be a holiday apartment and party pad.

Arriving at the entrance to the Cortijo Mirador you can see 12 nearly completed detached 2-storey houses, but no plumbing, landscaping or electricity connected. This is the sad picture of a dream turned into a nightmare; the bubble that burst in so many countries when the property boom and financial speculation finally came to a shuddering standstill and reality hit very hard. It hit so hard that many families in Ireland had to emigrate to find a new life and jobs elsewhere. It bankrupted many a man and woman and left people frustrated, helpless and suicidal.

So the owners of Cortijo Mirador and the planned holiday camp of Oriel Village had to find jobs elsewhere, mostly in Malaga. This family can count themselves lucky to still have some control over their property and now try and get some money in by renting it out.

During our 6-day stay we only had people in the house on the first night and the weekend, the rest of the week we had the whole grand villa and garden to ourselves. It was a very relaxing, tranquil week, with only the cockerels and dogs bothering us in the early mornings. We made do with an improvised washing line (thanks to Nigels ingenuity) and I managed to cook with one gas ring working and a lethal toaster.

From our sanctuary we took trips to nearby Antequera, a pretty medieval town with pre-historic dolmens. In Ireland we can be pretty proud about the ancestors that left behind monuments like Newgrange and other dolmens, passage graves, souterrains and crannogs and so on. But this dolmen blew them out of the water with the sheer massive size of the stones standing upright and laid on top.

We also went to see Torcal de Antequera, an amazing karst-landscape, shaped by 200 million years of being under the sea, and of wind and rain.

At the salt-lake of La Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra there are flamingos to see. Unfortunately only very few were present and instead we got to see some small turtles. They looked like rocks lying along the shore, being very shy creatures, that would quickly disappear into the pond from the slightest noise or vibration. []

28.04. – 1.05.17 From the mines to the Olive Groves of Jaen

We now wanted to leave the mountains and move further inland towards Jaen and Cordoba.

What a sight – millions of olive trees, all over the valleys and hills of Jaen province. Oceans of the small green olive tree, in rows upon rows…

We settled with Lee in Martos for a few days to admire this truly Spanish landscape, the production of 28% of the world’s olive oil. More than 60 million olive trees grow here, producing 43% of Spain’s olive oil.   []

To get up and close we went on the Via Verde de Aceite, a green way on the old railway track from Martos to Jaen.

We also visited the old Arab Baths and Museum in Jaen, which is for free.

Another day brought us to the very beautiful city of Cordoba, which is comparable to Granada or Seville in its amazing architectural witnesses of an era now gone. It is impressive to see how once Islam, Judaism and Christianity existed side by side. In the long run, Christianity won out and has altered and added onto the ancient sites.

We visited the Mezquita, which is a Mosque-Cathedral. Its oldest part dates from 786-788, when it was started as a mosque by Abd al-Rahman. The latest addition was added in 1748, so many different architectural styles, like Islamic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, have shaped this huge structure. And it is awe-inspiring and at the same time beautiful.

It is true, both religions have their artwork and prayer sites in this one building but respect each other’s spaces. This building-complex is big enough to give both world religions a home and allow for peaceful contemplation within its lofty airy space.