I stand in shame. How I ever could have written off Spain as a being the sum of Barcelona , Madrid , and Costa del Sol is beyond me. It’s a country I’ve had little interest in but after the road trip from Córdoba to Seville , I’m a convert. Our three stops – Monturqe, Écija, and Carmona – none of them places I’d ever heard of before, left me at a loss for superlatives.
Although not actually on the road to Seville, unless you go out of your way, we made the detour because of the award-winning cemetery (a must for taphophiles) and the Roman cisterns – even though I wasn’t quite sure what a cistern was. The geographical centre of Andalusia, this village of 2000 people perched on a hilltop about 57 km from Córdoba, warrants a blog of its own. It’s doing its damnedest to get on the tourist map and if the lovely Lourdes (our guide) has her way, it’ll happen. The well-preserved Roman cisterns discovered beneath the cemetery in the late 1800s are the fourth largest in the world after Bord Djedid (Tunisia), Albano (Italy), and Cherchell (Algeria) holding some 850 000 litres of water. And they’re still finding them – as recent as last December another was discovered while doing roadworks. Tours need to be booked ahead ([email protected]), cost €3, and run from 9 to 1 pm daily.
We’d passed the church-laden skyline of Écija on our way to Córdoba and made a note to stop on the way back. We nearly didn’t. Known locally as the frying pan, Écija was hotter than anything I’d imagine Hades to be. But life is too short for regrets and curiosity got the better of us. I’m glad we did. It is jaw-droppingly gorgeous with a wow every five minutes. It wasn’t just the heat and the exertion that left me gasping for breath. With more than 20 convents and churches and palaces, it is a truly stunning town. But better to go early morning or late evening because the afternoon is uncomfortably hot. Just 85 km east of Seville, it’s also a good day trip from the city [Note: The car park underneath the main square charges by the minute….]
Carmona was on the list because of the Parador Carmona and the Puerta de Córdoba. But even though I’d seen pictures of the gate, I was still unprepared. We climbed the winding road to the hilltop town, rounded and bend and there it was. I braked and gave my loudest wow of the day. These Roman boys really did know how to build. We went looking for the Alcazar and the Parador intending to have lunch – but we had left it a little late. Lunch ends at 4 pm. Come to think of it, Carmona and Écija were practically closed. The afternoons appear to be sacrosanct so if you’re visiting, go early or late, but avoid the afternoon – unless you want the place to yourself and lots of closed doors.
Like Écija, Carmona has its fair share of gorgeous buildings. We found the last open restaurant on the circular square of Plaza San Fernando and had some gazpacho. I’m a convert, even though I’m not a great fan of tomatoes. With that and the cold carrot starter from Jerez, my culinary repertoire has some nice additions. At 33 km north-east of Seville, it’s another very doable day tour.
While Ronda and Cádiz and indeed Córdoba have plenty to offer tourists, it is the smaller towns and cities like Écija, Carmona, and Monturque that are the real gems. Getting off the beaten path in Spain is doable. And not knowing what you might find is an added bonus. That sense of possibility and discovery really adds to the experience.
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