Cabo de Gata Road Trip Part 2 - Tale of Two Partridges
Lunch in Tabernas was not successful. For some reason, the tapas we had (Chorizo) tasted of fish, so we didn’t linger. After taking the short hike to the Castillo de Tabernas we got back in the car and decided to head further east and towards Nijar and grab something more substantial on the way.
Once we left the main road to go cross country, the landscape changed yet again and we left behind the hard desert and ventured into scene that looked as we imagine the Australian outback might look. As neither of us has ever been to Australia we had to rely on ‘Neighbours’ for some traveller guidance. The road was lined with eucalyptus trees, and on either side there stretched scrubby hillsides dotted with thirsty-looking shrubs.
The first village we came to was Lucainena, and it appeared to be very promising from a lunch perspective. We drove up in the heart of the village, passing one hostelry that promised a Menu del Dia for €10, and parked slightly higher up in the little square next to the town hall. There, we were tempted by Meson la Plaza - a bar that seemingly had all the right ingredients: tables shaded from the fierce sun, trees, a laid back atmosphere - and so it was here we decided to eat.
The hostess was a jolly lady, short of a few teeth but she looked as thought she might be very handy in the kitchen. Asking for the menu, we were verbally given a list of the dishes that were available that day. We probably still had the idea of a €10 Menu del Dia as we decided on some cheese, melon, jamón, salad and the special - something like chicken but better. We didn’t quite catch the name of this dish, but ordered it anyway, to share.
The cheese had been stored in olive oil and was delicious. The jamón and melon were equally delicious, as was the salad. We are still learning that when you veer off the tapas-sized dish route, plate sizes are enormous. Unless you can order a media racion, there is no halfway house between tapas and enough food on a single plate to feed the 5,000. We were enjoying our entrantes when the hostess arrived with two more large plates, each sporting a whole partridge arranged on a bed of patatas a la pobre. The birds were cooked to perfection, and it was only then that the penny dropped and the hostess had tried to translate the name of this poultry for us and we realised what they were. Mind you, on top of a large chunk of cheese, half a pig, melon, salad et al, wading our way through two partridge was a challenge. How do people manage to eat so much food? I now realise why lunch is such a long process in Spain, and should never be hurried, but we had other fish to fry.
I estimated that the bill might come to around €40 given the amount of food we had consumed, but when the bill arrived it clocked in at just over €80! That might not sound much but it is probably one of the larger lunch bills we have ever had since living here. Why do we never learn?! Oh for the €10 Menu del Dia down the road. No wonder the Hostess-with-the-missing-teeth was so charming.
Lunch was lovely, it has to be said, but it was costly. A salient lesson hopefully now learned.
We arrived at the Cortijo la Alberca, our chosen hotel in Níjar, at around 4pm, and the brief description that we had previously read did not disappoint. However, we might not have followed the route perfectly, as we did get stuck in the village of Níjar as we tried to find the track to the hotel. This is nothing new: on more than one occasion, we have taken what appeared to be a normal village road that peters out to some sort of footpath for extremely thin people, with no place in which to turn around, so reversing skills come into play. This time, the road narrowed and was interrupted by a large bump on which, it seemed, many a car had come a cropper. So, another reverse down a narrow lane in the heat of the day - always relaxing!
We were met at the Cortijo by Matilde, an effervescent colleague of the hotel’s owner, Celeste. The Cortijo really is in a charmed location - up the hillside above the village of Níjar, with craggy mountains rearing up behind, and wide open plains stretched out at the front. It is quiet, and low-key. The accommodation is in a series of humble, whitewashed cubic buildings that step down through the lovely gardens. Outside the main building is the Alberca, a naturally fed swimming pool surrounded by terraces with great views and shaded seating areas. Our room was lovely and the mattress was possibly one of the most comfortable we had experienced so, needless to say, we had two great sleeps here!
We met the owner, Celeste, on our first evening. She was working in her family’s restaurant in Níjar. We had read a lot of reviews about the magnificence of Celeste as a host, and her welcome when we arrived at the restaurant was effusive. Believe the reviews, as Celeste is, (as are all her colleagues) lovely. She is helpful, hugely efficient, discreet and everything about the Cortijo shows that she pays great attention to detail, knows her business inside and out, and clearly loves this part of the world.
A quick word about Níjar, too, at this point. As we had no idea what to expect of this area, we took a bit of a gamble. We had initially thought we might spend one night here, and another in San José on the coast, but we were extremely glad that we simply stayed put in Níjar. It is a lovely village that had us slightly flummoxed. It is not large; there is the expected church sitting proudly at the heart; a few quaint touristy shops. Then there is the high street - a long, tree-lined avenue with an assortment of bars and cafes, and two rather glorious interior design showrooms! These shops would not look out of place in the centre of Granada, Málaga or Sevilla - imports from Africa and India, mainly, but selected and grouped with great taste and an obvious eye for design and fashion. The prices, too, were reasonable on the whole. The craftsmanship on particular pieces (the larger items of furniture, for example) was beautiful. But, this is a rural village - where on earth do the clients come from?
Secondly, the village is renowned for its ceramics. Matilde had recommended a place called El Oficio in the High Street - I should call it by its proper name: Avenida Federico Garcia Lorca. On our first evening, we did stumble across the workshop, but it was closed. The next day, at the end of the Avenida, we found their showroom, and it was glorious. A huge range of beautiful ceramics, many of which were works of art in their creation and use of colour and glaze. If I were ever to set up a Spanish ceramics export business, this is where I would source my products - and the prices were sensible!
To conclude this little summary, we did, of course, end up with a few purchases - bowls and a jug from El Oficio, and a beautiful bed cover and a shirt from one of the interior design shops.
We will certainly return to Níjar.