Who was San Isidro Labrador?

Only 2 more weeks to go and there we go, on a ‘Romeria‘.

Firstly, what is a Romería?

Romeria-MalagaRomeria‘, an expression reflecting a travel to Rome, is a religious pilgrimage.

Wikipedia describes it as a Catholic celebration that consists of a trip (in cars, floats, on horseback or on foot) that ends at a sanctuary or hermitage.

One of the most known of them, practised by almost any inland village or town, is the romería around San Isidro Labrador.

Who was San Isidro? And why is he Labrador?

San-IsidroIn Spanish, a ‘labrador‘ is a labourer of the land:
A farmer, traditionally leaving the small house in the pueblo or city in the morning, for the campo, where he worked all day in the heat, and walked home again in the evening.

‘Isidore the farmer’ was a hired hand in the service of a wealthy landowner, on a farm nearby Madrid.
He is said to have stood 6ft5 tall, which in the 11th century  must have been an incredible giant, so it could very well be that his height increased with every century that passed by: then, as now, heroes needed to be ‘larger than life’.

At what point did he turn from simple worker of the land… into a celebrity? 
For his sharing of what he had, with the poor, and for his love for animals.

A famous story handed over from generation to generation, is that on a frosty morning he poured half of his sack of precious corn upon the ground for a flock of pigeons. This despite the mocking of witnesses – the idea of animal welfare yet had to be born, and we could assume that it was initiated by personalities such as Isidore.

When he reached the mill though, the bag was still full, and the corn, when it was ground, produced double the expected amount of flour.

It is but one of several stories. That, over time, changed – for corn wasn’t known in Spain until the 15th century.

Be it because of such miracles, or the highly unique compassion for animals, or his stature… his reputation spread like wildfire (in the 11th century that must have been: in a matter of decades).

In 1619 he was beatified in Rome, canonized 3 years later, and in 1696 his relics were moved to the Royal Alcazar of Madrid.

He is very widely venerated as the patron saint of farmers, peasants, day laborers and agriculture in general, as well as brick layers. From his hometown of Madrid to cities as Leon and Seville, to towns and villages all around Spain and in the former Spanish Empire, all the way to the Philippines, he is honoured as patron saint. 

His feast day is celebrated on May 15th.

What do we celebrate on San Isidro?

San-Isidro-MalagaObviously Isidor himself, the example he set and the influence he had. More than any other fiesta though, San Isidro is a celebration of the community: in which everyone, farmer, builder, agriculturer – or nowadays a whole array of professions and social tasks – plays a role for and in its protection, harmony and success.

It is very much an event in which everyone automatically mingles with everyone, or is invited to do so.

Also read 5 things to take with you to the Romeria

Grapevine Properties
Guaro, inland Málaga

Sheepish: the spotlight on shepherds

Let’s put the spotlight on someone we all know…

Everywhere in Málaga. Every day. The shepherd. El ‘pastor‘!

Of cabras (goats) or ovejas (sheep).

Sheep on Forest Path

For Mary might have had a little lamb, we are so lucky to have thousands of them, and to see them live just as they did thousands of years ago:

From green pasture to tranquil waters, under the guidance of tireless dogs – and the responsible for their safety and well being, the shepherd.

The real oldest profession in the world?


No, that would have been hunter or gatherer of course. Shepherd must have followed suit pretty quickly though.

Adam and Eve would have been herders.

There has been a period of herding in the lives of literally all prophets of all 3 Abrahamic religions, all the way from Abraham in 1800 BC to Muhammad in 600 AD.

Try to count the sheer number of porcelain shepherdesses, nursery rhymes, psalms, parables, metaphors, dogs that popped up in your life – it’s a profession that is deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness, which possibly is the reason why it fills us with a little bit of warmth whenever we encounter it. Its mere existence is a stress reducer.

The most famous shepherd of all time?

David-MichelangeloLittle David, that intriguing 5ft-something teenager with all his far taller brothers… but who was the one daring to take on Goliath, and went on to become King David and the author of the Psalm ‘The Lord is my shepherd‘.

Fast forward 3000 years and he ended up as the King of Spades in everyone’s deck of cards (early Middle Ages), another 200 years and Michelangelo made a (for sure slightly idealised) sculpture of him (1501-1504)… and yet another 500 years and he ends up in this blog that is world famous in downtown Guaro.

The work of a shepherd

Sometimes we think that all a ‘pastor’ needs to do is to tag along all day, and strike the occasional photogenetic pose. Nothing could be further from the truth; he is the one behind your wool, cheese or milk needs and responsible for quality. For this he has to master quite the number of skills, absolute vigilance for his flock, care for the individual animal, and knowledge of pastures chief among them.

Nobody can wreck a land so much as a herd of cabras (goats) or ovejas (sheep). They can be the saviour of soil, but also its ruin. For that reason they need to be permanently on the move, according to the seasons and the type of grass.

Especially sheep are fragile creatures and prone to dozens of dangers, in today’s Andalucía dogs and parasites being the most known ones. A cast down sheep is not capable of getting up, so as its guide you have to be on the permanent look out that no sheep is left behind – and thus in mortal danger – and get it up and massage its legs for blood circulation.

Any shepherd can tell you that sheep come with their personalities, and one bad apple in the flock – for example the ewe teaching her lambs where to find holes in the fence, an overly dominant ram – can cause one headache after the other.

Shepherd in 2017

Shepherd-in-Malaga2In the midst of modern day traffic, a shepherd must sometimes really feel to be a little David, a little bit ignored amidst the hustle and bustle of all those more hectic brothers: it might have become easier to keep the flock free from predators, but not of stress.

Yet, little David was the only character in the Bible to ever have made God smile. “Somehow who is so good with his sheep, must be good with mine”. 

(*) The 4 most formidable kings that made it to the deck of cards are: Alexander, King DavidJulius Ceasar and Charles The Great. The most intriguing thing about the 2nd is whether he existed at all.

Fun facts about sheep


There are 1 billion sheep in the world. The person who counted them fell asleep.

They are divided into 900 breeds.

Their natural average lifespan is of 10-12 years. The weight of a male can go all the way from 45 to 160 kgs.

The ram has become a symbol of virility, power and determination, and a lamb of tenderness. The female is named an ewe. Theirs is a highly hierarchical society, the moving of the flock is correlated with social dominance, and the horn size is a factor in the flock hierarchy.

They find that the wool of a black sheep is just as warm. And that humans look extremely alike and all bend out of the car window with the same camera in the same Selfie-angle: they call that ‘human like behaviour‘.

More about sheep here on Wikipedia.

Grapevine Properties
Guaro, Málaga

December 8th: the celebration of Immaculate Conception

You might have noticed: in winter the fiestas in Málaga are less ‘olé‘.

There is the Big Boomer of New Years’ Eve in Coin coming up, that miniature version of carnival in Rio, but apart from that also the festive character of the Andalusians is hibernating: the events are much more intimate and serious in nature.

That does not mean they are less lovely or less unique. As for example this exquisite little jewel: the celebration of Inmaculada Concepción on December the 8th. 

It is one of these little surprises that we as foreigners in inland Málaga can bump into, and reduce us to tears, and we don’t know why. Possibly it’s the feel of being reconnected to history, to our Christian roots or the evoking of simpler, purer days that gives us this chill down our spine.

Yes, celebrated possibly as early as the 5th century (in Syria) and in the Spanish Empire non-stop for the past 400 years, very little has changed or has been adapted to momentary fashion to this celebration – of the conception of the Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne.

Mary might be the only person in history who does not get birthday wishes, but a celebration of her conception (ergo: no fiesta on September 8th, but 9 months earlier).

According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, this stands for the Virgin Mary’s freedom of original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son Jesus. Mind: the Church does teach that Mary was conceived by normal biological means, but God acted upon her soul at the time of her conception, keeping her ‘immaculate‘.

On that procession of the night of December 7th, for sure someone might want to start humming “Happy conception to you, happy conception to you” – and yet this is the magic of processions in inland Málaga: in all the sarcasm or irony of our post-modern 21st century, in which snow has become ‘traffic misery’ and the sky polluted, there are still moments in which we celebrate purity. Just like our forefathers did. It’s a moment of absence of centuries of luggage.

Hence why a procession, no matter how small, can trigger such an emotion in us?


Dia de Todos Los Santos in Málaga

You may have seen by now in the local supermarkets, the sections dedicated to Halloween, a U.S holiday that has been adopted now worldwide.

This adoption in Inland Málaga only really began around 10 years ago and has been growing ever since, 2016 easily beating previous with regards to decorations and festivities. Never have I seen so many carved pumpkins and bags of themed sweets.

In Spain however it’s not the 31st that is traditionally celebrated, but the 1st of November. It’s a day known as Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day, in English).

This Catholic public holiday is dedicated to honor those that have passed. People often visit the cemetery on this day to lay flowers, traditionally chrysanthemums, and pay respects. You will actually notice that the cemeteries leading up to and after this holiday are immaculately decorated with floral designs left by loved ones. This tradition is especially popular with the older generations, some even taking time before the 1st to go and clean the grave to prepare it beforehand.

As for most public holidays in Spain, there are also traditional things that are eaten too! On this occasion the sweet treats prevail, the most popular being:

Buñelos de Viento (Doughnut balls of the wind): Doughnut balls filled with fresh cream, crème patisserie or chocolate. This baked good was created during the reign of Felipe II towards the end of the 17th century when it was believed that eating one of these doughnut balls would save a soul from purgatory.

Huesos de Santo (Saint’s Bones): these are finger-like tubes of marzipan filled with a sweet egg yolk mixture. The name comes from the bone color they turn when baked.

Panellets: originally from Cataluña, rounds treats are made of almonds, potato, sugar and pine nuts. It is suggested that these are enjoyed with a glass of sweet moscatel wine.

Are you going to celebrate Día de Todos Los Santos?

Grapevine Properties SL
Guaro, Málaga

About the Flemish, the Flamenco and the flamenquin

Everyone the world over might know the song ‘Y viva España‘.
Few know though that this was a Flemish song, written in 1971 – in Dutch – for the singer Samantha from Antwerp.

(Flanders is the Dutch speaking north of Belgium: because of the typical accent it’s often referred to as ‘Flemish‘).

The Flemish and Spain: a few conquests but mainly a love affair – and one that goes back 600 years. And Spain has always been sending kisses back. You don’t have to monitor the voting behaviour at the Eurovision Song Contest to see there’s forever a silent greeting between the 2 people. For example…

1. Meet the flamenquin, the dish

meaning-of-flamenquinLong, thin and blonde.

Thus the inventors of this very popular Andalusian sausage roll did not have to think long about a name for it:

‘Flamenquin’, or little Fleming!

That was in the 19th century in Córdoba, so one could wonder why a Cordobese of that century had to think about an inhabitant of Flanders when serving a sausage.

Why, say, not the Vikings?  Well, probably nobody remembered them. Whereas this person…

2. Meet Charles V, the emperor of emperors

Or, in Spain better known as Carlos I of Spain.
This best known of all emperors of the Holy Roman Empire was born – and had his seat – in Ghent in Flanders.
charles-vFrom there this heir of 3 leading dynasties ruled over not less than 4 million square kilometers. His empire was the first to ever be described as ‘the empire on which the sun never sets‘.

When in the 16th century he traveled to his castles in Sevilla and Granada, he did so with a very, very large entourage.

In those days that must have been quite the spectacle, such a colourful and long convoy criss crossing mountains and villages. Thanks to the flamenquin we can safely assume they were mostly blonde, tall and thin (or otherwise a real dish).

Just one part of the convoy consisted of his own musicians, playing music ‘a la flamenco‘ – or like a Fleming. This is almost surely the reason why the word ‘flamenco‘ slipped into the Spanish language – and why the weeks long parade left such a mark it sunk deep into the collective memory.

3. Meet Flamenco, the music and dance style

Now, the question remains how that word ‘flamenco’ then got attached to the music we know nowadays. After all, that music or dance style is not Flemish at all.  And the art of Flamenco was only born in the 19th century.


One train of thought is that it was Andalusian humourthe first singers and players of Flamenco to be gypsies, short, stocky and dark.

But in fact it’s one of these mysteries of history, the reasoning or links lost in the mist of time: myths tend to have a long lifespan.

(Just think of how we still speak of Gypsies, centuries after we know they do not come from Egypt).

Not a myth: also that other Superstar of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, the first unifier of Europe after the crumbling of the Roman Empire, was thought to be born in current day Belgium: in his case in the French speaking region.

in 2016 the Belgians are thought to be 5th on the ranking of which nationalities buy most property in Spain – after nationals from the UK, France, Russia and Germany. In inland Málaga they are almost equally divided between Dutch- and French speakers, and a few German speakers from the small German speaking eastern part of Belgium).

‘Eviva España’

That, by the way, was the original title of the song. It was a spelling mistake: the word ‘eviva‘ does not exist in Spanish.

The song was surfing on the birth of the popularity of beach holidays abroad – and the knowledge of the language still had to follow. Today, Spanish is the 4th most popular language to study in Belgium – and that’s quite something since the other languages or more or less compulsory or national languages.

PS: On October 1, 2 and 3 you find us on the Second Home Expo at the Expo in Brussels. 

A bientôt  / Tot gauw – in French, Dutch, Flemish, English, Spanish…


The original version:

Other songs you didn’t know where from Belgium:
– Pump up the jam
– The Way To Your Heart
– Hey, even Gotye of Somebody That I Used To Know was born in Bruges as Wouter De Backer

Autumn in Inland Málaga

The older we get, the more we like the middle seasons.
Summer is too much ‘in your face’ – a hamburger in comparison to the nouvelle cuisine of spring or autumn.


And of the 2 middle seasons, autumn is mostly for gourmets.

One by one, all the guests and holiday renters and day trippers and tourists are saying goodbye – and we are going to have the valley again to ourselves. No feeling is more lovely and luxurious. The soft weather, the sunbeams of gold, the incredible play of shade and light – suddenly  we pick up on it.

With a now pleasant sun and warmth, instead of the knock-out effect of the summer heat, it’s the time of city trips to Seville or Cordoba, it’s the time of enjoying long, slow hikes in the hills, a slow and impromptu exploration of a nearby village, the ideal time for property viewings, the tranquil chatter on terraces and the waiters and cooks again having time…

Just seize the day and decide to drive in any direction, whether it’s to follow a rio, hike up or around a mountain, to get a feel for the birth region of Seneca, the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Trajan (southern Iberians, of course),  or García Lorca for that matter, or the composers Manuel de Falla or Paco de Lucía… or… or… Andalucía is one big cultural treasure chest.

And october – the loungy after-party – is everyone’s favourite season. It’s got ‘duende‘.

andalusian-tilingA pleasure for the eyes

“You’ve got watches, we’ve got time”. 

October is – art. The time, tranquillity and space to actually pick up on that formidable geometry and feel for design that is all around us.

It’s but one of the remaining treasures of the Moorish era, this heightened sense for the importance of geometry, not just in some museum but everywhere and for everyone. Long before we humans learned to read, we ‘read’ skies, the ambiance around a cave, the position of leaves and the patterns in nature – which is the reason why geometry or the trickling water of a fountain can have such a soothing effect on us: it’s literature avant-la-lettre.

We’re no longer studying life, but letting it study us, the still life of the Andalusian earth colours and the conjoint of the village houses with their brown and golden tiles, the shadows of the ‘rejas‘ – all responsible for this glow of an ‘indian summer’ like quality. Many a small Andalusian village still projects this importance of the unity and the community: it’s not one white house that projects an identity, but all of them together. It’s not one golden coloured facade, but the web of them that make the evening light so special. Once again individuality-within-the-community, with the latter always being a tad more important than the first.

andalusian-tilesFestivals? Fiestas?

Hurray: there are none!
That is: we all have our local favourite one, but there are no Musts. October is deliciously free of Musts. It is here to recover from all those months of Musts, all the socialising and hosting and running from barbecues to pool parties to national and regional holidays.

The sun will set a bit earlier every day, and then, then we will soon feel Halloween coming up.

(It goes without saying that Andalusians warmly embrace this new fiesta too: give it 15 more years and they might celebrate Chinese holidays: we are not seriously going to skip any chance to celebrate life and the community, do we?)

andalusian-balconyMuseums? Concerts?

Check: none.
Zip. Nada.
(A digit that only found its way to Europe in the 12th century – via Andalucía, obviously).

Leave all that ado to other regions. The coast is but half an hour away anyway. We here in inland Málaga can’t possibly imagine this, that you have to book and print tickets and drive half an hour and struggle with car parking and queues.. to get a little culture.

We live in living musea and living culture. History, culture, agriculture, architecture, a local museum, a Peña Flamenca or a neighbour who still plays the Spanish guitar or very, very patiently and thoroughly puts his craft into a wooden door or creative ‘rejas’:  it’s all around us.

October is not to tick off items of your Bucket List. It’s for the true highlights of life: those you stumble over without any plan, and not a single moment of organisational stress or the paradox of too many choices.

Our lovely visitors have got watches and schedules and lists – and we have got time.



One week till Moorish Moon!

Only one more week to go and it’s…  Luna Mora!
Mark the date, Don and Doña: September 9th and 10th. 

Luna-Mora-GuaroUnder a half moon and in the light of candles, our whole valley celebrates the one and only traffic jam of the year and the longest queues ever.

Pardon, that’s obviously not what we celebrate, these are the consequences though. If the past years are anything to go by, there’s one tip and one tip only: be on time!

If you still try to get into Guaro by 10PM you might wish you never tried. And try to be hungry before all others are – or only after 3AM – for even if half Guaro turns into a bar or restaurant, at some point in the night standing in line for an hour to conquer a chair is no exception.

Do it in the Andalusian way though and no night is more lovely, no weekend more romantic and stylish, as  the original and strangely appealing ‘Festival of the auditorium of  Luna Mora of Guaro’.

Sure, many a village has started to organise its own version – and still it’s in Guaro that the feel its ‘most Moorish’.  It feels real here. It’s one of those hyperboles of Al Andalus to be thought of an era of Muslims-Jews-Christians-living-together-in-peace-and-harmoney  – which in fact was only very relatively so, … historians found that in Guaro this was the case indeed.

(Be it possibly only for the ‘moriscos‘ – the muslim Moors who were forced to convert to Christianity – and the sephardim, the Jews who came via North Africa: not entirely kumbaya, it wasn’t the garden of Eden our imagination wants to make of it, but still pretty pretty Woodstock when the rest of Europe was still scared of people of a neighbouring village).

Why not try it this way?
  arrive around 5 or 6PM, long before all others, so you still have the streets to yourself and see the slow build-up, explore the village before thousands do the same,  have dinner or a bite – so you are well prepared to disappear in the crowd later on.

The Friday evening is the more calmer one of the 2 nights, on the Saturday evening the streets are packed. One of these uniquely Andalusian traits though that makes us fall in love with this region time and time again… everyone is cordial, there’s not so much of a push or pull (and completely forget about brawls). Nobody needs to be reminded that it’s risky to sit on a candle, or that we all play a specific and needed role in our community and deserves respect and attention.

O, by the way, what are we celebrating?

The Moorish heritage of Andalusia – our southernmost region of Spain that lived under Moorish rule for 7 centuries: that is more than 6 centuries longer than all other regions of Spain, which is the reason for Andalucía to have such a distinct look and feel: the massive wall of mountains of the Sierra Nevada acted as a Berlin Wall for centuries on end.

‘The Moors’?  
90% Amazigh (= ‘Berbers’, the original inhabitants of North Africa) and 10% Arabs, who in the 8th century were so advanced in seafare that in 711 they were able to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and conquer Hispania.

Gibraltar means nothing else but Gibr-al-Tarik, or Mountain of Tarik, after the admiral who led the conquest. We could say we thank the word ‘gibberish’ to the Moors. Admiral, of course, is also a word stemming from Arabic.

Ever wondered why the whole world has more or less the same word for olives (olives, oliven, olijven..), except the Spanish who come from left field with ‘aceitunas‘. Arabic. ‘Gua‘ in the name of villages or rivers? Arabic (for ‘water’).

Not to mention that it’s the Moors who brought the knowledge of Aristotle and Plato to Europe,  and translated the ancient Greek philosophers into Latin, here in Córdoba, so that the Europeans who at that time still ate with their hands and were dressed in bearskin could also enjoy a bit of culture.

Townhouses-in-GuaroAll this we celebrate. The amazing motor of European civilisation that Al Andalus was.

For sure, more often than not we do not know how to do so. For the Moorish history of Guaro is buried and has completely disappeared – the current town was only found  after the Reconquista. The original Guaro (‘Guaro viejo’) was built around a Moorish fortress 2 kms out of the centre, where it was part of the defensive line around the Valley of the Guadalhorce.

Where we walk the nights of Luna Mora, used to be only the spot where the rich people withdrew in their farms, and only around the 15oos more houses and a church were added. What we do know: for sure there was no electricity. Hence the candles. The rest is an eclectic  attempt to convoke the 1900s, 1700s, … anything that brings us a bit closer to that ideal of ‘the tolerant colourful times’.

What to expect this year?

Impossible to predict. In its heyday you could see the occasional coach from Madrid or Barcelona arrive by 5AM: thus terrible were the traffic jams. And for all we know people might have been demotivated by the chaos of last year, and decide to stay away – and you and us and 5 die hards will be the only ones in the village. We can’t tell.

But, well, let’s face it: the ferias are all 1 or 2 or 3 weeks ago, so it’s high, high time for another one.