There was much talk about the anti-austerity party Podemos when we visited Andalucía in June. It was hot and sunny, and the orange trees smelt wonderful, but at the same time, youth unemployment sat at 49 per cent, second only to Greece, and that seemed to be what people wanted to chat about.
Podemos, which means ‘we can’ in Spanish, does seem to have generated some hope for bright but frustrated young things, many of whom have given up hope of ever finding a professional job. In Seville, a story was doing the rounds about a low-paid receptionist job that had received 2,000 applications, although tales like this were apparently not unusual. Faced with little hope of finding an office job, many young Spaniards have turned their hand to more traditional pursuits, the results of which may be of interest to travellers looking for something a bit different.
In Seville, the graphic artist Miguel Brieva has made a name for himself with his drawings that focus on the economic crisis, which he exhibits around the city. Others are reverting to older skills such as blacksmithing or flamenco music. David Ciudad, who previously worked as a marine biologist, helps run a cookery school in an old outbuilding. He combines this with tapas tours of the city. It's part of an enterprise called Not Just A Tourist — and it takes you directly to his pick of the city’s top places to eat, drink and be merry. In the Triana neighbourhood — which he compared to Brooklyn — we dined on meaty cuts of pork, marinated carrots and small vials of fino sherry. Later, we dived into a bustling bar in the pottery district for plates of salt cod, quail’s eggs and Ibérico ham. As jobs go, his must beat being a receptionist.
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What’s more, many are using technology to support their endeavours. In David’s case, sites such as TripAdvisor have helped his tapas tours to flourish. In Linares de la Sierra — a pretty whitewashed village in the Huelva region with a population of 300 — Arrieros, the restaurant, is thriving. This is partly thanks to a WhatsApp group that helps the owners Luismi and Adela speak directly with producers in the area, to find out what is available. It’s a simple idea, but it means that local producers can avoid going to market — often a costly undertaking — and the restaurant can offer food that is seasonal, cheap and delicious. On the day we visited, we were served dishes with local goat’s cheese, strawberries, honey and common mallow flowers. Afterwards, we trundled up to Posada Finca la Fronda, a rural hotel run by the Wordsworth family. It’s just up the hill, and is the most divine spot, set in a grove.
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In nearby Jerez, families that have produced sherry for many years are starting to see the benefits of the drink coming back into vogue. Having cast off its stuffy image, sherry is being enjoyed all around Europe by a more youthful audience who love nothing more than a new tipple they can post pictures of online. But in the bars of Jerez, glasses of manzanilla are still enjoyed by old boys who order it alongside pickles and salami while they play guitar and gossip.
All along the bright, breezy Costa de la Luz, it’s easy to find cheap delicacies that would be extortionate at home. In the ancient port city of Cádiz, plates of octopus and marinated dogfish can be enjoyed for next to nothing at bars dotted around the edge of the fish market. In Barbate, Spain’s bluefin tuna fishing capital, local fishermen rely on the Moorish almadraba technique for netting tuna as they migrate from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean. Eighty per cent of the tuna caught is exported, but in a few nearby restaurants, such as El Campero, they serve some of the finest cuts, including the highly prized neck. Even after the price of a budget flight to Seville, plus the cost of the hour’s drive, it would probably still be less than in a London restaurant.
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While the Costa del Sol is still visited by hordes of British holidaymakers every year, Andalucía’s Costa de la Luz has traditionally found more favour with Spanish tourists, who appreciate the good food, Atlantic-facing beaches and historical sites. Some of these haven’t fared well during the recession, and certain parts of the area do look somewhat dilapidated, but perhaps this is to be expected. The current mood in this area of Spain seems to be focused on self-preservation on a slim budget. But despite the region tightening its belt, Andalucía still has plenty to offer.