Why again? Because Spain is one of my favourite places, and I never tire of going there, whether it be to the mainland or to one of the islands. I enjoy the scenery, the history, the chance to practise my rusty Spanish and of course the weather seldom disappoints. Moreover, in the several times I have been there, I have never yet repeated myself. Nor do I ever expect to run out of new and interesting places to explore. Today, in the month of February of the Year 2001(first year of the Third Millennium by my reckoning), if I turn my head to the left and look out of my office window, I can behold the exhilarating sight of a flat grey sky with ground and trees covered by snow - the heavy wet variety, not the powdery and pretty kind. So it is a good day on which to start recalling the warmth and sunshine of last year's overseas adventures.

I went to Spain for a Spring warm-up, just a week, from 11th to 18th June 2000. For the second time I chose to book with Saga, being attracted both by their choice of destinations and the excellent value for money, especially the 'No Single Supplement' offer applying to many of the Saga holidays. For the second time I was highly satisfied (except at the very end - but that was not Saga's fault).

As usual these days the trip started off at my own back door with the arrival of Jack's Taxi complete with one of Jack's relatives (his son-in-law Steve on this occasion) to drive it. I was duly deposited at the departure entrance to Manchester Airport's Terminal 1, equipped with a luggage trolley. Then I was on my way.

There is nothing special to report about the flight-apart from the fact that it left and landed on time. Come to think of it, these days that IS worth recording. We flew with JMC, one of those sardine class charter firms -'leisure airlines' they like to call them. Bearable for short flights, but don't try going long haul. We were heading for southern Spain and arrived in Malaga at 11.50 a.m. Spanish time. Here of course we were directed to our different coaches and driven off to our various destinations.

Mine was a little spot called Salobrena, located on the Costa Tropical. It thus lies on the southern coast of Spain to the east of Malaga, i.e. in the opposite direction from the crowded resorts of the Costa del Sol. As I was shortly to discover, the Costa Tropical is as yet not overrun by visitors, and many of the tourists who do choose it are Spaniards taking their own holidays, a very good recommendation, I felt. The coastal area with its cliffs and bays is spectacular. In land too is dramatic to contemplate, for there are mountain ranges coming close to the sea: Las Alpujarras, rising to about 6000 feet, then behind them the Sierra Nevada itself, nearly 12000 feet high and with a few vestiges of snow remaining on the peaks, even in June.

The Hotel Salobrena is perched partway up the cliff side and affords splendid vistas of the coastline in both directions. Even my single room (adequate for my needs), though it had no balcony, provided me with a sea view. It was a four-star establishment with fine food, spacious function rooms, attractive gardens and a large swimming pool. The first time I went in the water it felt cold (apparently there had been poor weather before we got there) but a couple of days later it had warmed up and I was able to enjoy my swims.

Salobrena village itself is quite a long way from the hotel named after it. Some people in our group complained of the isolation - why don't they read their brochures properly? They told us we were not in the thick of things, quite clearly. Anyway, we were not completely cut off from the world. In addition to taxis, the hotel's courtesy bus and the excursion coaches, there was also a local bus service which plied along the main road outside the hotel gates.

On the first morning (Monday, 12th June 2000) we had the usual orientation meeting with the Saga travel reps. (there were actually two or three of them resident in the hotel). I always go if I can, because these gatherings usually provide helpful information, especially about the excursions. There were three included in the price of the holiday, plus a choice of optional ones. By the time I had made my selection, I had missed the hotel bus to town, so set off to walk to Salobrena. The paths and roads wound eastwards along the coast, affording marvellous views at every bend. Part of the way I had company, as I encountered a couple who had arrived at the hotel only that morning from Belgium. Their room was not yet ready, so they were looking for something to do and had also set off to walk. Therefore as well as company I also had some French practice. In the end, the trek to the centre of the town (which is overlooked by a hill with a castle perched on top) took an hour and a half - all downhill, fortunately. Needless to say, we did NOT walk home. Instead, after quick visits to the white and bright main plaza and one or two shops, we caught the hotel bus back up the steep highway to our lodgings.

That afternoon I had my first swim of the stay - the cold one, so that I didn't try again for a couple of days. And that evening I attended the Saga Farewell Dinner. Don't laugh I'm serious. The Saga social schedule involves having the same event on the same day of each week. At Salobrena this meant that the Gala Going Away Dinner happened on a Monday and the Welcome Cocktail Party on a Wednesday, so they waved me good-bye before they had even said hello. Not that it mattered to me what order the events came in - they were free and most enjoyable. Anyway, other people coming from other airports arrived and departed on other days.

The first compulsory (not really - you can drop out if you want) outing was a full day one on the Tuesday to Malaga. I had set foot in the place many years earlier while staying in Torremolinos, but could not claim to know it. For most of us, myself included, Malaga is just an airport. We land and take off from there while proceeding to or from our respective resorts, but that is all we see of it. No more! I now know that Malaga is an elegant city with many sights old and new.

At this point perhaps I should mention that Saga excursions are sensibly organised. We have our own bus and guides (so are not obliged to listen to the commentary being repeated in several languages - which can be tedious if you understand all of them). The trips start and return at civilised hours and are varied in content. The first stop in Malaga was the fortress of Gibralfaro which dates from the Middle Ages and from its perch on a mound at the eastern end of the town overlooks the whole city and harbour. After that we were let loose to amble around on our own for a couple of hours, which I happily did, wandering around to explore (first halt - excavations of a Roman theatre), then enjoying a Spanish omelette and cold beer before making my way to the rendezvous at the Saga bus.

Here we experienced our first hitch. Everyone had turned up except for one couple who soon became notorious with both travellers and guides. This pair looked as though they must have been married for fifty years, though later rumours asserted that they had in fact only been wed for two years, having met on a Saga holiday. As for the truth, we never discovered it. Anyway, they were missing in Malaga and our unlucky guide was in a quandary. The other bus (we had filled two of them) could leave, but we had to stay while we searched for the strays and the guide phoned his boss to check how long he should wait. Just as we had lost hope and were about to take off, they were found, sitting on a park bench on the other side of the road, taking their ease. Once they had been embarked, we finally moved off back towards Salobrena again, stopping for a break at Torrox Costa, a small modern resort which provided a contrast to the history-filled Malaga.

Wednesday brought the second included outing, a half day one. As we did not get home until 1.45 p.m., we could hardly complain of short shrift. This time we visited Frigiliana, a lovely village in the mountains behind and to the west of Salobrena. Here we had to park the bus and walk up and down the steep - sometimes stepped - narrow twisting streets between old white-painted houses. Flowers were growing everywhere, in all colours. The path along which our guide conducted us was marked by ceramic wall plaques which told the history of the village and environs, principally tales of the 16th century. This area of Spain, on the edges of the Sierra Nevada and not far from Granada (which is just on the inland side of the range) was the last stronghold of the Moors during the centuries of the Reconquista. Though the city of Granada capitulated in 1492 to those zealous (keen on religion - or hungry for power?) sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella ('Los Reyes Catolicos' - not among my favourite historical figures), many persons of Moorish persuasion still hung on in the mountains and were only defeated years later after heroic last ditch resistance. Therefore in southern Spain the Middle Ages were Moslem, and you see no Christian cathedrals earlier than the sixteenth century.

On this outing too we had a stop on the way home, leaving history behind and being offered a brief taste of modernity at Marina del Este, a tasteful development with cafes (one of which served me an excellent cup of coffee) and a yacht basin full of boats of all sizes and presumably of all prices - from high to the highest. Back at the hotel, the rest of a pleasant day was easily filled with a doubtless-much-needed siesta, satisfying buffet supper and the Welcome Party which meant that at last I had officially arrived.

Thursday was a free day (i.e. no excursion) so I made use of it to try out the local bus service. The time-table was posted up at the front desk of the hotel, which was useful, so off I went down the drive to the main road, where I was able to flag down a bus heading to Alumunecar, the next town along to the west. We had passed here on our trips, of course, but by-passed would be a more suitable word, as we did not actually penetrate the place. It turned out to be of pleasing aspect with two bays divided by a small promontory, paved promenade sand smart boutiques. In one of these on the sea-front I bought a T-shirt with ESPANA inscribed thereupon in fancy vari-coloured script which has since run in the wash. Almunecar is also the site of a Saga hotel, the Helios, which is a stone's throw from the beach, so would suit those who complained that our home-from-home was at the back of beyond. From a small but clean and newish bus-station I caught my return transport to the Hotel Salobrena in time for lunch and a relaxing afternoon. I am happy to report that the weather and the water in the pool had both warmed up and that a delightful swim was had by me and others of the Saga guests.

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