The balance of infectious enthusiasm and solid practicality should appeal to first-timers and experienced travellers alike.
My particular favorite, but also the wittiest guide around.
Witty, highly-informed and indispensable.
Cadogan Guides are brilliant – Spain and Mexico for example, are miles ahead of anything else on those countries.
If you venture out into the countryside or to the glorious coast, I recommend that you choose the Cadogan Guide to Spain, by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls, to help you plan. Most travel books on Spain give the Basque country short shrift, because with the exception of its beach resort, San Sebastián, it has never been a major tourist destination. This book covers the Basques knowledgeably and wittily, and offers detailed itineraries.
Unravels all the secrets of this country... you simply can’t travel without it!
According to legend, the first proper garden in al-Andalus (as the Moors called Andalucia) was planted by the first caliph himself, Abd ar-Rahman. This refugee from Damascus brought with him fond memories of the famous Rasafah gardens in that city, and he also brought seeds of the palm tree to plant. He built an aqueduct to Córdoba, partly for the city and partly to furnish his new Rasafah; his botantists sent away for more palms, and also introduced the peach and the pomegranate into Europe.
Following the caliph’s example, the Arabs of the towns of al-Andalus laid out recreational gardens everywhere, particularly along the river fronts. The widely travelled geographer al-Shaquindi wrote in the 11th century that the Guadalquivir around Córdoba was more beautiful than the Tigris or the Nile, lined with orchards, vines, pleasure gardens, groves of citrus trees and avenues of yews. Every city did its best to make a display, and each had a district of villas and gardens. Sevilla’s was over the Guadalquivir in Triana and on the river islands. Valencia, too, which had another copy of the Rasafah, came to be famous for its gardens; poets called the city ‘a maiden in the midst of flowers.’
All this gardening was only part of a truly remarkable passion for everything green. Andalucia’s climate and soil made it a paradise for the thirsty Arabs and Berbers, and bringing southern Spain into the wider Islamic world made possible the introduction of new techniques, flowering plants and crops: rice, sugar, cotton, saffron, oranges (naranja in Spanish, from the Persian narang), even bananas. In the 12,000 villages of the Gaudalquivir valley, Moorish farmers were wizards; they learned how to graft almond branches onto apricot trees, and they refined irrigation and fertilizing to fine arts (one manuscript from the time is a ‘catalogue of dung’; pigs and ducks were considered very bad, while the horse was best for almost all fields).
Sophisticated techniques of irrigation were practised throughout al-Andalus, and everywhere the rivers turned wooden water wheels, or norias (another Persian word, na[line over the a]’ura[line over the a]); one in Toledo was almost 200 ft tall. No expense was spared in moving water; near Moravilla remains can be seen of a mile-long subterranean aqueduct, 30 ft in width. The farmers had other tricks, mostly lost to us; it was claimed that they could store grain to last for a century by spreading it between layers of pomegranate leaves and lime or oak ash.
Flowers were everywhere. On the slopes of Jabal al-Warad, the ‘Mountain of the Rose’ near Córdoba, vast fields were grown for rose water; other blooms, planted for perfumes and other products, included violet, jasmine, gillyflower, narcissus and gentian. And with all the flowers and gardens came poetry, one of the main preoccupations of life in al-Andalus for prince and peasant alike. When Caliph Abd ar-Rahman saw his palm tree growing, he wrote a lyric in its honour:
In the centre of the Rasafah I saw a palm tree growing,
born in the west, far from the palm’s country.
I cried: ‘Thou art like me, for andering and peregrination,
and the long separation from family and friends.
May the clouds of morning water thee in they exile.
May the life-giving rains that the poor implore never forsake thee.’
© Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls