Review: Flavours of Spain with Solos Holidays
Escorted Tour - Coach
Six days as a single traveller exploring the culture and cuisine of southern Spain
As their name suggests, they just do holidays for single travellers and there are no single supplements.
A singles holiday is completely different. There were 22 in the group with a tour leader. Ages were from 40-70. Because no one knows each other, it is a much more fluid group and everyone is soon on first name terms and mix more. I was one of the oldest in the group and the only one using a stick. I found that everyone was very supportive and kept an eye on me as well as each other.
I was booked on a flight from Manchester as there is a direct rail service between Scunthorpe and the airport. With a 5am check in, I’d booked the night before in the Radisson Blu which is 5 minutes walk from the Railway station and five minutes walk from Terminal 2. It was a very comfortable room and a bonus was the ‘Grab and Go’ service offered in reception from 3.30am for those on early flights. This offers complementary drinks, fruit and cereal bars.
There were four of us booked from Manchester and we flew with Monarch Airlines. Check in was efficient and quick. The plane was only half full. Most of the group, along with the Tour Leader, were coming from Gatwick and their flight was delayed by fog, arriving an hour after we’d landed. We had assumed from information sent out by Solos there would be someone to meet the Manchester flight at Malaga airport so were beginning to panic big time before the Tour Leader eventually appeared off the Gatwick flight with the Solos sign. At least there were four of us panicking. After that, things could only get better, especially as we had left a cold and dull Manchester and arrived in a warm and sunny Spain.
It was about a two hour drive in the coach from Malaga airport to Lanjaron along a fast dual carriageway. This is quite a construction with substantial bridges and tunnels. This is a semi arid landscape with deep valleys and steep mountains. There were glimpses of the Mediterranean. Olives, sweet chestnuts and almonds grow here as well as semi tropical fruits like cherimoya, mangoes, papaya, avocados. After the turn off for Lanjaron, the road is a single carriageway, narrow with a lot of bends as it climbs up to the town.
We were booked into the Hotel Alcadima in Lanjaron, a building of great character with rooms in different buildings and surrounded by lovely gardens. Rooms were comfortable with plenty of space and their own private balcony. I overlooked the swimming pool across to the mountains.
Breakfast was a typical Spanish breakfast. There was plenty of choice, especially with all the different breads – the Mediterranean and Gingerbread were particularly good, as was the Spanish omelette. My only criticism would be the lack of fresh fruit.
There was a good choice of evening meals. The starters were very generous and would have done as a main meal. The mains choice could be a bit exotic with squid in ink and rabbit one night. I was surprised they didn’t seem to go for fresh veg. It was usually frozen beans and carrots. We also discovered that the Spanish don’t do hot food. Being a large group, the main meal was often luke warm by the time it was served.
We had a full day trip to Granada on the first day. It was a lovely drive across the mountains with views of the old road below in the valley. This sits on a high plateau surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is a large city with white houses with shallow red tiled roofs climbing up the sides of the mountain.
We had a guided tour of the Alhambra Palace in the morning. This is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and it more than lived up to expectation, especially the plasterwork in the Nasrid Palaces.
It is one of the most visited sites in Spain and there is a daily limit on numbers and a strict timetable for visiting the Nasrid Palaces. In the 2 hours we only had time to walk through the gardens (wonderful), Charles V palace (unrestricted entry) and the Nasrid palaces (amazing with their tiles and carved plaster walls) and the view everyone takes a picture of.
We had an English speaking guide and the dreaded audio sets. I hate listening through an ear phone and find the wires loop round my neck get tangled up with camera straps. Having to carry my rucksack on my front in the palaces to avoid damage to the paintwork made things even worse. At least I could listen to the guide’s voice level and could tell when he started to move off, so I didn’t have problems keeping up with the group. The guide was very knowledgable but did talk very fast – too fast to listen, assimilate and understand. He hardly took time to breathe and there was no chance to hop in and ask a question. He was throwing so much information at us that I went into overload and did rather give up. The Palace complex is confusing and I came out feeling quite frustrated. It wasn’t until I sat down with the guide book that I began to make sense of it all.
There is a shop inside the Palace selling guidebooks, postcards and souvenirs. Check how much you are being charged. I didn’t and reckon I got rooked being charged €19 for a guide book costing €9 plus four postcards and stamps.
It was then time to walk back to the centre of Granada for a tapas meal. The afternoon was free to explore Granada. One of the group was getting a taxi back to the palace, so I joined her to finish going round by myself. I went into the Alcazaba, the original fortress but still didn’t have time to visit the museums or the Generalife Gardens. HAving had chancc e to look at the guide book, I began to make sense of the buildings.
The following day was an easy day, with a stroll around Lanjaron and a visit to the honey museum. Lanjaron is a long linear settlement with small alleyways and courtyards off the main street.
Many families in the area have bee hives and their honey is taken to a co-operative on the edge of town for processing. It has a small museum attached to it with examples of old beehives and bee keeping equipment. There is also an old honey press used to extract the wax for making candles. Unfortunately all the information was in Spanish.
The guide was English living in Spain. There was no problem understanding him, but as we didn’t have the dreaded audio guide, only those close to him could hear what he was saying as we walked. I felt his input was thin. We were very much left to our own devices in the Honey Museum. The guide made little attempt to try and explain anything to us, although he would answer questions.
We then headed back to the hotel for a cookery demonstration, which included making the Spanish omelettes. The afternoon was left free, so I joined a group going to explore the ruined castle standing on a pinnacle below the town. Instructions how to get there were confusing and I decided I’d rather get lost in a group than by myself. I must admit I stood at the bottom of the castle and looked at the climb up the steep and very uneven stone steps with no handrail and wondered if I was being wise. I made it up and back safely and gather I was a talking point in the bar before the evening meal. Although there isn’t a lot of the castle left, it was a definite highlight of the trip.
The following day we visited Guadix which was about a 90 minute drive, taking us past Granada again. Beyond, the road climbed up through the Sierra Nevada to Guadix. This is on a fertile plain growing olives and almonds. There were a lot of poplar trees which were beginning to change colour and glowed in the sunshine.
We had a guided tour of the cathedral with its tall bell tower that dominates the town. This is a mix of Renaissance and Baroque architecture inside. It has a glorious dome and beautifully carved choir stalls. The small museum has a collection of church plate, vestments, paintings, statues as well as reliquaries of San Torcuato, the patron saint.
We had thirty minutes free time to wander or have a drink before catching the tourist tonka train to Barrio de las Cuevas the cave district at the top of the town. The caves have been inhabited since the C16th and are carved out of the mud hillside. Many of them are still lived in and now have all mod cons. Enterprising owners also open up their cave homes for a donation
There is a small museum with a cave as it would have been around 1930-40, complete with stable and pigsty behind the kitchen area. I really enjoyed this and there was basic information in English. We also went into the church which was built after the second World War in front of the original cave church.
After a very good but very leisurely lunch taking nearly three hours, the final stop of the day was at a small winery, Bodegas Pago de Almares producing some very good wine. The vineyards are 900-1600m above sea level and the big daily temperature range means the grapes mature better with more flavour. We only had time for a quick trip round the winery. The guide was having to translate for us and it did get confusing with the technical bits when translation fell down. The wine tasting was very good. These are very serious wines.
The final full day was visiting a couple of the villages high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was a marvellous drive along a road cut out of the side of the mountain. With horse shoe bends and a steep drop down into the valley, it was not for the faint hearted. This is semi arid desert country with really steep and narrow water courses. We had a break at a view point for views south across the mountains. There was another short stop at a tiny chapel (locked) with a mineral spring behind it (very iron flavoured water) and a small waterfall.
Our first stop was at the small village of Trevelez the highest village in Spain at nearly 1500m. The area is famous for its air dried hams and we visited a small factory to see them hanging and drying. We had about 30 minutes free time in Trevelez to explore its narrow alleyways and shops selling home woven rugs.
Our final visit was to Pampaneira not quite as high at just under 1100m. The flat roofed white houses climb up the hillside. I left the group to have lunch while I went to explore. There were tiny alleys and passageways running up, down and along the hillside. They weren’t wide enough for cars although motorbikes zoomed along them. I haven’t a clue where I got to, but knew that all I had to do was head downhill and I’d pick up the main road eventually. Coming down a very steep cobbled lane I did wonder again if I was being foolish. After lunch there was a ‘guided walk’ of the town. We straggled along behind the guide who was very knowledgeable but again, I found he talked too fast for me.
The final day was a free day as the coach didn’t leave for the airport until 4.15. I had a quick trip into Lanjaron after breakfast to visit the market (not much happening and a bit of a waste of time) and went into the church which was open and has a marvellous gilt Baroque altar and reredos.
The tour guide had talked to the hotel and arranged an optional visit to the brewery and a cheese farm for us. Craft brewing has only recently arrived in Spain and there are lot of tiny craft breweries. It was an interesting visit, with some very good beer to taste. Fortunately a ham roll was provided for each of us.
The cheese factory was 2km out of Lanjaron and the opposite way to the brewery. I opted out of this as it involved a walk along the main road with no footpath. The road was narrow, carved out of the side of the mountain and had a lot of bends; not a pleasant road to walk along.
I did feel there was a bit too much ‘free time’ in Lanjaron, with the afternoon when we arrived, another free afternoon mid way through the holiday as well as the final day. It would have been helpful if Solos had arranged something a bit more structured for the final day. Having said that, I enjoyed the holiday and came back with a much better understanding of the culture of that part of Spain.
It was a good drive back to Malaga and the airport was very busy. It was a late flight scheduled to arrive in Manchester at 22.30. I’d booked myself into the Radisson Blu again. After Spain with temperatures in the 20˚s, a cold and wet Manchester came as a shock to the system.
I will be writing more detailed accounts of the different places were visited for Silver Travel. In the meantime, all the detail and pictures can be found here.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Solos Holidays