Eating and drinking my way through life and learning all the while

A brilliant beach break in Almuñécar on the Costa Tropical

This weekend we left the city behind us and headed to Almuñécar for a flamenco gig and to see some friends.

Back on June 1st, I’d seen an advertisement for a Tomatito gig in Almuñécar as part of La Caña Flamenca 2020. At this point, Spain was still in lock down and it felt like a ray of hope that in six weeks or so we’d once again be able to enjoy live espectáculos in Spain. This gig was to be staged outside in Parque El Majuelo, the botanical gardens in Almuñécar, at the foot of the San Miguel Castle.

The set up for La Caña Flamenca ahead of its first performance

Tomatito is one of the last living flamenco stars from the golden era of flamenco, he played alongside the late great Camerón – undoubtedly Spain’s greatest ever flamenco singer – and Paco de Lucia RIP – affectionately known as ‘Dios’ or God in flamenco circles.

I recently watched a documentary about Tomatito – as part of a series about the hijos de Andalucía, the children of Andalucía, he is an outstanding player and comes across as a truly nice guy who loves to play and has less ego than most with his skills. I figure it would be a great gig to see and the tickets are super reasonable at just €18. 

I ask a couple of my friends who live in Almuñécar if they’d want to come with us, they are a cool couple who worked in the flamenco scene in Granada for 20 years recording some of the top artists before retiring on the Costa Tropical – they are up for the gig and we decide to make a weekend of it and stay with them.

Almuñécar is a little town on the Costa Tropical. Approximately an hour south of Granada city by bus, or 6 hours on the bus from Madrid where we now live. Traveling by bus is super cheap and easy in Spain and if travelling in Andalucía ALSA is your go-to bus company. The buses are always clean, generally have wifi and for long journeys there is a comfort break of 30 minutes plus a bathroom on board. We could have taken a flight or train to Granada or Malaga and then a bus, but to be honest it was cheaper and more straight-forward to sit on a bus for a few extra hours and save the pennies to spend when we were down there.

It’s called the Costa Tropical as this stretch of coast enjoys a weird tropical micro climate which means my friends, who have a beautiful house with a huerta and land, can cultivate mangos, avocados, bananas, lychee, passion fruit and all manner of fruit and vegetables. They are truly living the good life and enjoying excellent, fresh food in season.

We arrive Friday afternoon and after a welcome drink or two we decamp to the beach to get a swim in before dinner. It’s a 5-10 minute walk to the beach down through the bottom of the garden and a dried up river bed.

The beach is black sand but the water is crystal clear – I mean crystal. La Playa de Cabria used to be quite quiet but since the other beaches have been overrun during COVID – this little one has been discovered.

There is a good bar and restaurant – Casa Antonio – where we grab drinks and later dinner, it’s a great spot serving up fresh seafood and salads with local tropical fruit. Watching the sun set across the bay here is just beautiful.

Playa de Cabria, Almuñécar, Costa Tropical at dusk

After dinner, we grab some more drinks at the house and sit on the large terrace where the stars twinkle overhead. We try some homemade Grapefruit gin made using red grapefruit picked from the garden, it’s remarkably good and doesn’t need anything in terms of a mixer.

We sit up talking until the wee hours, regaling stories of Granada, gitanas, music and rock n roll. We don’t know that many British people here in Spain and it’s nice to be able to tell stories and not have to worry about translating. They are a seriously cool couple, that have indeed lived life, and have experienced all the highs and lows that it brings. I love their attitude to life, even the dramas they see as an adventure, a lesson learned, something interesting to overcome. They radiate positivity and are great company, I love hanging out with people like this.

The next day, my head fuzzy I move slowly – I can sleep like a teenager unless forced to get up at the weekend. I was coaxed out of bed with coffee and toast with homemade grapefruit marmalade from the garden – delicious.

We head back to the beach and decide to take a dip before a late lunch and siesta. Conserving some energy for the flamenco show that night which starts at 10pm, as is pretty standard for Spanish shows.

Playa de Cabria, Almuñécar

Man, there is something about swimming in the sea that is just incredible. I’ve missed this. Again, we make vague life plans to live by the sea at some point. But which sea, we’re not so sure anymore – we’ll have to explore more options and try a few on for size.

We grab a few drinks in Bar La Cabaña near the show, it’s still officially in Granada, so the tapas is, yes you’ve guessed it free! I miss this in Madrid, I know there are places that serve free tapas in Madrid but they are few and far between, I intend to track them all down over time. But the tapas here is both gratis and generous in proportions and, key when eating with people with dietary requirements, you can select what you want rather than just get what you’re given.

The setting of the show in the Parque El Majuelo is stunning, it is a botanical gardens in the heart of the town with ruins of the ancient Roman fish salting factory. This is the first show of the season for La Caña Flamenca 2020 and later shows include performances by Vega Pasión, Diego Carrasco y Sara Sánchez, Estrella Morente and the incredible, Marina Heredia – I wholly recommend you book one of these in.

The show is socially distanced with space in between each seats or sets of seats. Everyone must wear a mask during the performance, a policy which is largely policed. 

It’s an intimate show maybe 250 people. It was Tomatito’s first performance since COVID-19 and he thanked the audience for being brave enough to come out. There is something special about watching musicians play their first show in several months, the need to play for an audience is so urgent and real. It’s an honour to be amongst the first to see them back.

Tomatito at La Caña Flamenca 2020

Tomatito played alongside his super cute son – José del Tomate, two great cantes; Morenito de Íllora and Kiki Cortiñas, with Israel Suárez “Piraña” on percussion. It was an incredibly special show, I’ve missed the sound and rhythm of flamenco, I was so spoilt to enjoy regularly when living in Granada.

In terms of how I felt going to a show in this post COVID age, I was pretty relaxed and comfortable with security /social distancing preparations – I only got slightly anxious when a large family group arrive without masks and start adding extra seats – maybe the news that currently 40% of COVID cases in Spain are linked to big family gatherings had got to me.

We decide to take a post show drink at home rather than in town – at midnight the masks are slipping somewhat and we need to drive back anyway.

I open a bottle of wine I’d brought for the weekend. Venus La Universal – Dido – I love wine with a story. This is a 2017 Montsant, made with Garnacha, Merlot, Cab Sav and Syrah. It is a silky smooth, sensual wine with a powerfully intense, rich almost savoury nose.

It’s made by husband and wife team, René Barbier and Sara Pérez. Both children of Priorat D.O. greats – René Barbier senior of Clos Mogador and Josep Lluis Pérez of Mas Martinet. Barbier & Pérez met growing up picking the families’ grapes and it wasn’t until they were both travelling in California showcasing their respective families’ wines that love blossomed. Married and now living in Montsant a neighbouring D.O. to Priorat – this is a labour of love, small parcels of organic grapes grown on sandy granite soils. It’s almost 3am before we’ve finished the bottle and stopped putting the world to rights and retire to bed.

A slow start to the day again, and then a late lunch at Casa Antonio – for some incredible sole, mussels and salad – I’m enjoying eating with someone who loves seafood as much as I do. We head to the bus station and start the long trip back to Madrid, knowing we’ll sleep most of the way, our bellies full and satisfied from a glorious weekend on the beach.

Casa Antonio, Playa de Cabria Almuñécar2

We’ll wake up tomorrow back home in the thick of the city, refreshed and energised by the weekend break and ready to tackle the week ahead.

On the journey back I check where else we could explore for a weekend warrior trip, being based in Madrid, so much of Spain and Europe is on our doorstep and accessible for mini adventures. I see return flights to Jerez for less than €50 and almost book, but there’s also return tickets to Bilbao, Valencia, Sevilla, Barcelona for the same price. And for less than €70, Lisbon, Berlin, Nice, Morocco, Milan are all accessible. If you don’t fancy flying there are still plenty of options via train or bus to explore in Spain, Portugal, France and beyond. After I pin down my work travel for the next few months, I’ll start booking some more little breaks and take advantage of being based in a travel hub once more, a key reason we moved here to Madrid.

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