I’m sitting in a whitewashed Spanish casa, in a tiny town made of confusing and exhaustingly steep streets, perched on the side of a hill. It is about a million degrees; shade makes no difference. The male half of the family is taking a siesta (both having done a bit too much fiesta-ing last night) and Addie is off chit-chatting to herself, primarily about how long it will be before she will have another swim and whether or not she will put her whole head underwater (currently: not, but maybe tomorrow).
When planning this, our summer holiday proper, we didn’t realise how heavenly the season in Switzerland would be. It felt like we’d already had a solid summer before we even left home. Apparently it is the year of double the fun for us, as last Thursday we barrelled into the car to drive over 2000km to get here (not in one hit. We’re clearly a bit idiotic but not that crazy).
Our first stop, for convenience and to get a few miles under our belt, was Chambéry in France, not far from the Swiss border. Given the road trip was going to be intense, we decided to hold off on sightseeing until we reached our final destination. We figured we’d aim for one sight and one (hopefully decent) meal at each stop en route and not put too much pressure on ourselves to do much else. At Chambéry, this equated to a delicious Lyonnaise-style meal and a visit to the Fontaine des Éléphants. A tribute to a local military hero returning from a campaign to India, the fountain is locally know as ‘the four arseless’ as the pachyderms are lacking their rear quarters.
Unfortunately our excellently located AirBnB was also weird, hot and mozzie ridden, so we departed absurdly early the next morning. Perhaps it was for the best as it was our longest driving leg, down the coast of France and Spain to Valencia. Due to our pre-dawn departure we arrived in time to check off our Valencia activity: Turia Park. We hired bikes and cycled around the former river turned massive green space. The kids, who had done amazingly well on the ten hour drive, were indulged in their every request for parks and splashing in any available water. (Our meal here: seafood tapas. Hurrah for no longer being land locked!)
Our final day of transit – coincidentally my driving leg – was also the most spectacular scenery wise. We made our way from Valencia to the town I’m now sweltering in, Jimena de la Frontera. The route was made of wide brown expanses, hills lined with cultivated olive and orange groves, and craggy odd-shaped peaks, all spiked with the occasional peep of the Mediterranean.
We arrived late afternoon, and after meeting my friend for a drink (red wine and lemonade. When in Jimena, as they say) made our way to our digs for the next week or so. The house has been a year-long renovation project for my friend; we’re the inaugural visitors in what will be a holiday rental. It is traditional for the area: white washed and multi-leveled, with cooling tiles, exposed beams, low doorways (Tim’s noggin can attest to this) and hidden terraces. It also, to the delight of the kids and the relief of the parents, has a tiny pool which is the perfect size for sitting in with a beverage after the heat of the day has subsided.
It’s a slow moving town. Partly because it’s Spanish, partly because it’s hot, and partly because it’s steep (but probably mostly because it’s Spanish). The weekend we arrived was the annual Féria so around 9pm the town – the Purler ring-ins included – started mobilising down to the main square, which became a hot spot of cerveca, jamon and flamenco (and several far less traditional Spanish things: dodgem cars and jumping castles). I couldn’t quite bring myself to let my kids stay out fiesta-ing as long as the Spanish brats (2am!!) but they made it to a very respectable midnight.
Today, we walked up winding cobbled streets past wild blackberries, fig and avocado trees to the medieval Castillo de Jimena de la Frontera. Built by the Grenadian Moors, it was one of many points that guarded access to Gibraltar and the Bay of Algeciras. Although in ruins now (another ‘broken castle’, to Addie’s ongoing confusion. Actually, not ‘Addie’: she insisted on being called ‘Princess Anna’ for the duration of our visit. I was apparently to be called the less glamorous and far less explicable ‘Fireman’), its strategic position was obvious as it looms above not only Jimena, but all surrounding land.
We are trying to adjust to many things – the heat, Spanish timekeeping, red wine and lemonade, the bloody hills. This is most difficult for me, as I seem to operate on two functions: rushed or even more rushed. I’m trying to relax, to not worry so much about time frames (meñana, meñana as they say here) and to embrace slow walking in the shade, long lunches, late afternoon siestas and even later dinners. I am pleased to report that it’s not going too badly thus far, but I suspect we have the red wine and lemonade to thank for that.