The hidden gems of Andalusia

For an authentic Andalusian experience, the port city of Marbella’s Old Town is a good place to start. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 29 October 2020

The hidden gems of Andalusia

  • The towns of Málaga province offer a tranquil alternative to Spain’s typical tourist attractions

MÁLAGA: It’s been a challenging time for Spain and its tourism sector, battered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Well, which country in the world hasn’t been impacted by strict travel restrictions? But there’s something about seeing the liveliness of Spain, with its distinctively festive and open character, dampened because of the state of the world that is particularly unusual.

And yet, the other night, as I was ending the day in the mountainous village of Benahavís, people were quietly chatting while having dinner and all of a sudden, guitarists started singing joyously in the distance: a scene that brought back a sense of ‘normal.’

Marbella’s Old Town is a port city. (Shutterstock)

The southern region of Andalusia has, throughout its history, attracted foreign writers, artists, and travelers with its magnificent views and deeply cultural cities – renowned for their Moorish architecture. Previously ruled by Arab caliphs for 800 years, the province of Málaga is home to quaint white villages and numerous small towns that are well worth visiting.

For an authentic Andalusian experience, the port city of Marbella’s Old Town is a good place to start. It’s a lovely location with old white, terracotta-roofed houses, charming balconies, wall mounted flowerpots — as seen on Calle (street) Carmen — and bursts of bougainvillea and white jasmines.

Plaza de los Naranjos, lined with abundant orange trees, restaurants, and a simple church is a good central meeting point. Most of the churches in Andalusia were originally mosques, converted after catholic monarchs regained control over Spain in the 15th century.

Churros is the sweet local snack. (Shutterstock)

The majestic white-and-mustard-yellow Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation is in the nearby palm-fringed Plaza de la Iglesia, where architecture and history enthusiasts will also appreciate the remains of a former Arab fortress facing the church.

The cozy Plaza Puente Ronda has a number of great tapas joints, including Cafe Cortes and Cafe Mia. Right next to the plaza is the picturesque Calle Ancha with its melange of restaurants, small hotels, and a quirky shop called Zoco Zoco, filled with trinkets from Morocco.

For a sweet local snack, it has to be churros, so make your way to Churreria Marbella Plaza de la Victoria. If you’re feeling indulgent, go for the hot chocolate for dipping and drinking. Alternatively, Pasteleria Cantero offers many sugar-dusted pastries, as does La Canasta on Avenida Ricardo Soriano. You could take your snacks to-go and enjoy them in the adjacent Alameda Park and you can find sculptures from Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali in the nearby Avenida del Mar.

Mijas Pueblo is a mountain village with a population of around 8,000. (Shutterstock)

I’d also advise a trip to Mijas Pueblo, a beautiful mountain village with a population of around 8,000, known for its donkey taxis and stunning views of the Mediterranean. The perfect vantage point is the Mirador Jesús Jaime Mota.

There are dozens of local shops offering delightful (and tasty) mementos to take home with you, including the family-run Spanish Ceramic Paradise, which has multitudes of handmade, vibrant ceramics produced by local craftsmen in different cities, including Toledo and Seville.

The well-stocked Sabor a España specializes in caramelized nuts, brittles, marzipan, nougats and orange blossom-flavored honey. Speaking of food, in Plaza de la Constitución, treat yourself to an exquisite meal of Basque cuisine at El Mirlo Blanco Restaurant.

Benalmádena is home to Europe’s largest Buddhist temple. (Shutterstock)

I mentioned Benahavís, a tranquil town founded by Arabs many centuries ago. It’s a great choice for a short getaway, where you will be especially well taken care of at the rustic, intimate Amanhavis Hotel and Restaurant.

This earthy-toned boutique hotel provides nine themed rooms designed with Andalusian history in mind. There is a distinct Arabian touch in Amanhavis’ spaces: one chamber is named after Granada’s last sultan, Boabdil; a mural in the swimming pool area depicts a desert scene; and an ancient Moorish tower can be spotted from the terrace.

Last but not least, take a road trip to the town of Benalmádena — surprisingly home to Europe’s largest Buddhist temple. Erected in 2003, the interior of the Benalmádena Stupa portrays scenes of the life and enlightenment of Buddha. Its exterior view is striking, overlooking the breathtaking vastness of the Costa del Sol, where land meets sea.

Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

Tom Hanks stars in ‘News of the World.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

LOS ANGELES: Depending on who you ask, Westerns are either on their way out, gone for good, or making a slow comeback in Hollywood. At one point a staple genre of the film industry, the classic Western rarely makes it onto the movie theater marquee these days. Big-budget flops such as 2013’s “The Lone Ranger” have served to usher the genre out of popularity, but critical successes such as Quinten Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” “The Hateful 8” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” are doing their part to keep Westerns from dying off completely. 

On Christmas Day, “News of the World” will be doing its part to keep the Western genre alive, and hopefully bag Universal Pictures a few Oscar nominations. Arab News heard more from the film’s star Tom Hanks.

“I love listening to a great story as much as I like telling one, and that’s why I was so excited about playing Kidd,” Hanks said, giving audiences a taste of what his performance has in store. “He is a storyteller. He is driven, emotional. He is noble. He is moved by a pursuit of the truth.”

Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former army officer who, after the death of his family, makes his living traveling around Texas reading the news to illiterate townsfolk and entertaining with true tales from across the world.

“'News of the World' takes place in the shadow of the Civil War’s end. There is defeat. There is strife and anger. Because of the war, Kidd came back to having nothing left,” he told us. “Reading the news gave him a purpose. He got up. He collected the stories. He delivered a reading and then he moved onto the next town.”

 As he continues in his travels, Kidd comes across Johanna, a young girl who had been taken from her pioneer family and raised by the Kiowa Native Americans. 

“She has no idea who her family is,” Hanks shared. “Burdened by his own decency, Kidd is going to have to return her to her family and this coming from a man who has lost any semblance of what a family is.”

The movie is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Paulette Jiles, and while it is not based on a true story, its main characters are inspired by real people. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is based on the ancestor of a friend of Jiles’ — the similarly named historical figure Captain Adolphus Caesar Kydd — who performed readings of newspapers in the 1870s. Johanna is inspired by the more well-known historical tale of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped and raised by the Comanche Native Americans.

Interestingly, there seems to be a disagreement between Jiles and film director Paul Greengrass about their goals in portraying the story of “News of the World.” In a 2016 interview with Texas Monthly, Jiles stated that she had no intention of making a commentary on contemporary politics with the original book, preferring to “move people into the world of imagination.”

Greengrass, on the other hand, told reporters at Vanity Fair that he saw the film, which features families and communities in conflict with each other, as representative of the societal divide in the modern-day US. With these opposing ideas woven into the fabric of the story, it will be interesting to see what audiences take away after watching.

It is clear what Universal is hoping to take away, and that is an Oscar. “News of the World” sees Hanks and Greengrass working together again after their previous collaboration, 2013’s “Captain Phillips.” While not an Oscar-winner, “Captain Phillips” received six nominations as well as attention at the Golden Globes and other award shows. With the film releasing at the tail end of the Oscar season, and a road-tested team of director and star, “News of the World” could be Universal’s best shot at an award for the 2020 film year.

Between award season dreams and the hopeful continuation of the Western genre, there is a lot riding on “News of the World.” At its core, however, the movie promises A-list performances and a compelling story full of action and heart.

“Kidd goes through something that saves him as much as he saves Johanna. She gave him a true purpose,” Hanks told us. “His real message is ‘when you have love in your life you will be alright.’ That’s what all great stories are. It’s just pure love for another human being.”