In April 2010 I went with a friend for a short break to Seville, fly out Monday come back Friday – perfect. I’d always wanted to see the Alhambra in Granada and Sheila had always wanted to go to Seville. So this trip was intended to combine both. The universe however had other plans and our brief 4 night stay was extended to 12 courtesy of a certain Icelandic volcano. The day it decided to erupt, we were innocently strolling through the Alhambra followed by a late lunch in Granada with an interesting American couple we met on the coach from Seville (that’s a whole other story!).
We got back to the hotel, tired, but elated, to find several missed calls from our frantic husbands. When we caught up the conversation went along the lines —
V – Where have you been? Me – ‘We’ve been in Granada and …
V – Have you not seen the news? Me – No we’re on holiday and …
V – Well, you’re not coming home! Me – Stop messing about ( or words to that effect!)
Anyway the upshot was, we were indeed ‘not going home’ as our Friday flight was cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud. The earliest possible option would have been the following Monday and (assuming it would fly) was now full. The unspoken words here, were, full of people who watched the news and acted quickly. So at the very least we would be stranded in Seville for an extra week. Oh joy!
We were luckier than most people in our position, Sheila was retired and I worked from home with my husband, so assuming things were sorted air wise in the not too distant future it wasn’t a major problem. Once we’d got the husbands checking updates and sorting our flights home (when they became available) we got on with enjoying our unplanned stay.
Our hotel, a quaint, quirky converted 15th century convent at the heart of the old town came up trumps and sorted us out with accommodation for the extra stay. What I haven’t mentioned is that our extended stay coincided with the event we had wanted to see, but couldn’t have afforded – the Spring Feria. All the hotels fill up, and prices hike up accordingly, but our hotel only increased our price to a still reasonable rate per night (and we were assuming at this stage that somewhere along the line we would be recompensed).
So there we were, in Seville for the Feria and beyond happy. The atmosphere really was one of carnival, with the costumes, the caballeros and casetas. Our lovely reception staff at the hotel even gave us an invite to get us into one of the private casetas so we could see what it was like from the inside ( we might just have mentioned to them once or twice how delighted we were to be there during Feria!). We made the most of our stay by getting to grips with the bus and took ourselves off to Cordoba. The train might have been a quicker option, but a quick visit to Santa Justa Station (which was snowed under with stranded visitors trying to get to anywhere to continue their journeys) was not our idea of fun. Plus, buses are far more enjoyable, you get to see the little villages along the way and enjoy the scenery.
The rest of time, we spent in Seville ambling around the tiny twisting narrow streets of the Juderia, peeking into courtyards, stopping off for cafes con leche (and the odd jug of Sangria) and generally taking in the atmosphere. We did all the typical touristy things and just totally fell in love with the place. One of my happiest memories is sitting at dusk in the Plaza del Triunfo listening to a flameno guitarist, it really was my idea of heaven.
Wonderful I hear you say, but why is she telling me this? Well, it began my ongoing love affair with Spain and all things Spanish, including books set in Spain. I have been back numerous times since, to various parts of the country, including walking the Camino Ingles to Santiago de Compostela in 2012. However Seville will always hold a special place in my heart. When I win the lottery (note to self – best start doing the lottery) I already have my heart set on an apartment in the Plaza de Santa Cruz.
I wanted my husband to love it just as much as I did and so I took him in 2012 for our 25th wedding anniversary. We visited Mijas, Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and ended our stay in Granada. Sadly he had an attack of gout and was confined to our hotel room so he has still not seen the Alhambra or anything else of Granada. This seemed the perfect excuse to repeat the trip for our 30th wedding anniversary and consequently we’re heading off again next week. Our wedding anniversary isn’t actually until June, but my father died on our first wedding anniversary so we’ve never really celebrated it. To head off in March marks the event without any attached sadness. (though best hope he doesn’t file for divorce before June).
So from my personal collection here are the books I’ve either read or anticipate reading that have an Andalucian setting. I’ve restricted it to fiction to exclude the plethora of travel memoirs and also my growing collection of fictionalized royal histories. If you have any you can recommend please don’t hesitate to comment. Books set in other Spanish regions may well follow at a later date.
10th century Spain – Cordoba, the capital of Moorish Spain is at the centre of a power struggle in the medieval world.
With its diverse population of Muslims, Christians and Jews, political and religious rivalries are never far from the surface in the city.
After a tense chess match between high ranking officials, one of the players, Aiden – a Christian professor of mathematics at the university – is found murdered.
With the threat of an international war at stake if the crime isn’t solved, the Caliph’s Jewish Vizier, Hasdai ben Shaprut, finds himself in a race against time to catch the killer. Each of the chess players comes under scrutiny and it isn’t long before another murder is committed.
As the plot thickens will the answer slip through Hasdai’s fingers? Or will he manage to Checkmate the killer?
961 AD, Cordoba, Al Andalus. A body is found.
A university professor has met with a terrifying, painful and violent end. It is the duty of General Ghalib and Brigadier Zaffar to investigate.
With the passing of the old caliph, abd al-Rahman and the organisation of the inauguration ceremonies of his son and successor, Hakam II, the two soldiers have more pressing things to do than investigate the seemingly open-and-shut case of a dead professor.
But what at first appears to be a routine enquiry quickly reveals itself to be something much more complex and sinister…. The professor had in fact been poisoned, but by who and for what purpose? What had he been working on and why had he been borrowing so much money?
Hasdai ben Shaprut, the old caliph’s vizier, and a Jew, knows that his position with Hakam is a delicate one and when the new caliph rejects his carefully written sermon in preference for his own, Hasdai’s fears for his safety, the security of the caliphate, and, most importantly his dear friends are confirmed.
As they get closer to discovering the truth behind the professor’s last days, Hasdai, Ghalib and Zaffar find themselves becoming entrenched in a dark and dangerous world of treachery and the occult.
Who is trying to destabalise the caliphate, and why? With a capricious and cruel new ruler, how will they be able to maintain order, whilst preserving their lives and liberties and those of their loved ones?
Sub-inspector Max Romero is asked to help investigate the death of Leila, a beautiful Muslim postgraduate student, researching the impacts of the Spanish Civil War on Max’s home village in the Sierra Nevada. The prime suspect, Hassan, has links to a supposed terrorist group but the police’s insensitive handling of the case leads to his tragic suicide. As a result, Max gets co-opted into the anti-terrorist operation based in Granada, which is destined to go terribly wrong.
Meanwhile, Max’s fascinating family, headed by his charismatic grandmother Paula, loom large in the gathering events, while shadows from the Spanish Civil War crowd in to influence the present.
The story moves from the ancient cobbled streets of Granada to the sultry mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Over it all hovers the mesmerising but tragic beauty of the city of Granada.
The historic city of Granada is vibrant with the spectacle of its Easter processions; its bars and streets brimming with life. But high in the adjacent Alhambra hills, gypsy guitarist Paco is found dead in a Sacromonte cave.
Sub-Inspector Max Romero is brought in to investigate Paco’s death. An initially straightforward inquiry, it soon shades into something more sinister when Max reveals a link with a major property speculation in the beautiful Sacromonte valley below the Alhambra Palace; one that involves laundered drug money, city corruption and Opus Dei.
As Max sinks ever deeper into a political quagmire, he clashes with old foe Inspector Ernesto Navarro. He discovers that, even in vibrant Granada, amid its beauty and drama, the dead can reach out to the living.
Snared between two cultures and two loves, one man is forced to choose…
1564, the Kingdom of Granada. After years of Christian oppression, the Moors take arms and daub the white houses of Sierra Nevada with the blood of their victims.
Amidst the conflict is young Hernando, the son of an Arab woman and the Christian priest who raped her. He is despised and regularly beaten by his own step-father for his ‘tainted’ heritage.
Fuelled with the love of the beautiful Fatima, Hernando hatches a plan to unite the two warring faiths – and the two halves of his identity…
Beneath the majestic towers of the Alhambra, Granada’s cobbled streets resonate with music and secrets. Sonia Cameron knows nothing of the city’s shocking past; she is here to dance. But in a quiet café, a chance conversation and an intriguing collection of old photographs draw her into the extraordinary tale of Spain’s devastating civil war.
Seventy years earlier, the café is home to the close-knit Ramírez family. In 1936, an army coup led by Franco shatters the country’s fragile peace, and in the heart of Granada the family witnesses the worst atrocities of conflict. Divided by politics and tragedy, everyone must take a side, fighting a personal battle as Spain rips itself apart.
Jeremy and Yolande enjoy life in London’s artsy Islington. He’s a novelist; she’s in a flute trio. They love the dance theatre, Spanish films and arm-in-arm walks along the canal. But both are searching for a dark and sensitive Mr Right – and at thirty eight, Yolande is running out of time.
When Jeremy offers a ‘consolation prize’ after another failed romance, she asks for his baby. But he can’t face fatherhood, and gives her flamenco instead – tickets for the London festival, followed by classes in Spain.
An entranced Yolande returns from Granada having started a cosy relationship with guitarist Javi, and Jeremy falls for Fernando – an enigmatic dancer with whom Yolande has had a hidden brief liaison. So begins a whirl of secrecy, love and jealousy that has them all wondering if there’s more than one way to have a happy-ever-after…
Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey and a favourite book. So when he is sent to shut down a failing literary magazine in Madrid, he packs both. A short Spanish jaunt later, he’ll be back in Kent, cup of tea and smoked-salmon sandwich in hand.
But the five ladies who run the magazine have other ideas. They’ll do anything to keep the jobs they love – even if it involves hoodwinking Atticus with flashing eyes, the ghosts of literature past and a winding journey into the heart of Andalucía.
With not the most efficient of detectives in pursuit, it’s only a matter of time before Atticus Craftsman either falls in love, disappears completely or – worst of all – runs out of Earl Grey.
When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Charlotte Kavanagh will do whatever she asks of her—even if it means traveling to a country that broke her abuela’s heart. Can an unsigned painting of a flamenco dancer unlock the secrets of her grandmother’s youth in Spain? To find the answers she needs, Charlotte must convince the charismatic and gifted musician, Mateo Vives to introduce her to a secluded gypsy clan.
The enigmatic Mateo speaks the true language of flamenco, a culture Charlotte must learn to appreciate if she wants to understand her grandmother’s past—and the flamenco legend that has moved souls to beauty, and bodies to the heights of passion. As Mateo leads her into the captivating world of the music and the dance, Charlotte embraces her own long-denied creative gift and the possibility of a future rich with joy…
Granada, 1920. Free-spirited Luisa and young poet Eduardo fall in love, cementing a bond that can never be broken.
Behind the jasmine filled courtyard, perched amongst houses like clouds on a hilltop, stands a beautiful villa; Carmen de las Estrellas. Beneath its walls live Eduardo and Luisa with their thriving family, but war is looming, casting its shadow over the household.
When Civil War finally breaks out, Luisa and Eduardo must fiercely protect those dear to them. Yet these are turbulent times, and as each of their children begin to make their way in the world, the solace of home cannot shield them from the horrors of war.
Then. Now. Always by Isabelle Broom. (Not published until April but I jumped at a review copy)
Hannah can’t believe it when she’s offered a trip to sunny Spain with her best friend and dreamy boss . . . what’s the catch?
Twenty-eight year old Hannah is ready for an adventure. She and her colleagues are in Spain for a month to film a documentary, and it’s a dream come true. Not least because Hannah will get to spend long summer days with Theo, her boss (and crush). If only Tom (Hannah’s best friend and cameramen) and Claudette (the presenter) would stop getting in the way…
Then things become even more complicated when Nancy, Hannah’s half-sister arrives. What on earth is she doing here?
For once in her life, can’t Hannah just have one perfect summer, free of any drama?
1748, Seville: Caridad, a recently freed Cuban slave, wanders the streets of the city. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When she meets Milagro Carmona – a young, rebellious gypsy – the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon bring them love and change their life forever.
From the tumultuous bustle of 18th-century Seville to the theatres of Madrid, THE BAREFOOT QUEEN takes us into the murky world of tobacco smuggling and ther persecution of the gypsies.
Showing us the birth of Flamenco, it is a historical fresco filled with characters that live, love, fight and suffer for what they believe.
It is Holy Week in Seville and the heat is rising. A murderer is on the loose and visiting academic Maria Gutierrez can see something in his ways that the police are missing. But her insight does nothing to help her popularity in the force – and draws her to the attention of the killer.
The Angel Brothers, two controversial modern artists, are found dead in a killing that emulates a famous painting, and an old lady remembers the atrocities of the Civil War. Maria was supposed to be an observer to the police investigation. But her own past in the city soon puts her one step ahead of the cops … and in the killer’s sights.
First published as Semana Santa in 1996 by HarperCollins.
A diabolically good hacker puts a message on the pope s computer, pleading for him to save a seventeenth-century Spanish church a church that is killing to defend itself.Although Our Lady of the Tears is but a crumbling baroque building in the heart of Seville, it is also the center of a multilayered mystery one that will force ecclesiastical sleuth Father Lorenzo Quart to question his loyalty, his vow of chastity, and his faith itself.
He appears out of the sea, washed up naked, in the treacherous Straits of Gibraltar. Seemingly delirious, and claiming to be Christopher Columbus, he is taken to an insane asylum in Seville, where astonishingly he starts to reveal the true story of how he set sail on behalf of the Spanish queen five hundred years ago.
Consuela, a nurse at the Institute, is charged with helping him back to reality. She listens to his fantastic tales in the hope of discovering the truth. But as his story unfolds, she finds herself falling for her patient – no longer able to tell where truth ends and fantasy begins.
Meanwhile, across the continent, Emile Germain is involved in a different search. He’s an Interpol officer on the hunt for a missing person, presumed dangerous. He’s a determined man, and when his investigation leads to Spain these two stories collide.
Lizzie and Frances are twins, together forming part of a unit.At least that’s the way Lizzie sees things. Lizzie is the twin who has everything, husband, children, a flourishing career and a beautiful house and worries about Frances who seems to lead a solitary life in London ricocheting from one disastrous man to the next. Lizzie just wants Frances to share in her own complete and satisfying life.
Then one day Frances announces she isn’t coming to Lizzie’s for Christmas, she’s going to Spain instead. And, equally unexpectedly, Lizzie’s world begins to tilt, Frances’s Christmas defection seems overwhelmingly threatening to their unity.
As Frances’s future begins to change into something exciting and Lizzie’s deteriorates as financial pressures eat into her ideal lifestyle, could it be that Frances is the twin with everything?.
The man is bound, gagged and dead in front of his television.The terrible self-inflicted wounds tell of his violent struggle to avoid some unseen horror. On the screen? In his head? What could make a man do that to himself?
It’s Easter week in Seville, a time of passion and processions. But detective Javier Falcón is not celebrating. Appalled by the victim’s staring eyes he is inexorably drawn into this disturbing, mystifying case. And when the investigation into the dead man’s life sends Javier trawling though his own past and into the shocking journals of his late father, a famous artist, his unreliable memory begins to churn. Then there are more killings and Falcón finds himself pushed to the edge of a terrifying truth…
Mario Vega is seven years old and his life is about to change forever. Across the street in an exclusive suburb of Seville his father lies dead on the kitchen floor and his mother has been suffocated under her own pillow. It appears to be a suicide pact, but Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón has his doubts when he finds an enigmatic note crushed in the dead man’s hand.
In the brutal summer heat Falcón starts to dismantle the obscure life of Rafael Vega only to receive threats from the Russian mafia who have begun operating in the city. His investigation into Vega’s neighbours uncovers a creative American couple with a destructive past and the misery of a famous actor whose only son is in prison for an appalling crime.
Within days two further suicides follow – one of them a senior policeman – and a forest fire rages through the hills above Seville obliterating all in its path. Falcón must now sweat out the truth, which will reveal that everything is connected and there is one more secret in the black heart of Vega’s life.
As Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon investigates a faceless corpse unearthed on a municipal dump, Seville is rocked by a massive explosion. An apartment block is destroyed, and when it’s discovered that its basement housed a mosque everybody’s terrorist fears are confirmed.
Panic sweeps the city, more bodies are dragged from rubble, the climate of fear infects everyone and terror invades the domestic life of flamboyant judge Calderon and the troubled mind of Consuelo, Falcon’s one-time lover.
With the media and political pressure intensifying, Falcon realizes all is not as it appears. But as he comes close to cracking a conspiracy, he discovers an even more terrifying plot – and the race is on to prevent a catastrophe far beyond Spain’s borders.
A sweltering Seville is recovering from the shock of a terrorist attack and Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon is struggling to fulfil his promise to its citizens: that he would find the real perpetrators of the outrage. The death of a gangster in a spectacular car crash offers vital evidence implicating the Russian mafia in his investigation…but pitches Falcon into the heart of a turf war over prostitution and drugs.
Now the target of vicious hoods, Falcon finds those closest to him are also coming under intolerable pressure: his best friend, who’s spying for the Spanish government, reveals that he is being blackmailed by Islamist extremists, and Falcon’s own lover suffers a mother’s worst nightmare.
In the face of such fanaticism and brutality, their options seem limited and Falcon realizes that only the most ruthless retaliation will work.
But there is a terrible price to pay…
So if you’re still here, thanks for staying with me so long. I hope you’ll be tempted to visit Andalucia, if not for real, then by dipping in to some of the selected reading. So all it remains for me to say is – adios y hasta luego!