I have spent among the most frigid winters ever in supposedly sunny Spain. Tourists who visit in the peak season don’t know what it is all about: freezing. I remember one room in Madrid in January was like sleeping “al aire libre.” I immediately moved myself from the budget hotel to a more expensive place. I longed for warmth whether from a heater or fireplace, and there was one in the lobby. I was off in a jiffy to the south, where it was still cool and rained. Alas. You just have to wait patiently for summer in glorious beach towns like Marbella or any of the picturesque cities a quick train ride nearby.
Seville is no different. To prepare for the onslaught of winter, the firewood is cut and stacked outside the back door. If you have gas logs, no matter. Mentally, you get attuned to what is to come. There is nothing like a great wood stove to gather in front of with friends and family, sipping hot chocolate of the Spanish kind. This is not like the American version, mind you; it is thick, deep and dark in texture and flavor. You learn to crave it and nothing else will do.
Meanwhile, fireplaces in Spain are not as uncommon as you might expect given the sunny climate. They are certainly in need when there is a bit of a chill in the air. There is nothing that creates such a cozy, comfy mood like a nice one. Plus, think of what they do for décor what with black mesh screens and brass andirons. If you can find antique ones, it adds a distinctive character to your sitting room.
Unless a lot of remodeling is going on behind my back, most Spanish dwellings I have visited are modest enough in terms of state-of-the-art amenities. Like elsewhere in Europe, things are old. Southern Spain, however, offers white washed surfaces, terracotta tile roofs, and hot fuchsia bougainvillea galore. It is picturesque beyond belief populated with winding stairways and paths. Then there are the wonderful local tiles that bedeck doors and gates in the house and garden. When such tiles grace the surroundings of a fireplace, you are in Iberian heaven.
I think newcomers want the old world charm more than the new. Sure there are lots of modern apartment buildings that are cookie cutter and bland but offer the latest in conveniences. I say give me an old casa any day. If it has a fireplace, I will lay an area rug right in front. Many a good conversation has gone on this way. You can tell from my pining that I don’t have a fireplace and covet one.
A real wood fire is ideal. Somehow I find the flames to be different from gas, although it may certainly be my imagination. I will take either one and be glad to just have the option. Students can’t be as picky about living quarters as working people with a bigger budget to spend. If someone in your group has one, they become instantly super popular.
In the spring and summer, you move outside to bask under the perpetual blue skies and bright Spanish sun—el sol—that gives the environs distinct life. You immediately feel a siesta coming on about two o’clock in the afternoon. When you wake refreshed and alert, you are ready to roll. I love visiting shops and cafes along cobblestone streets, peering into windows to see what’s inside.
When I want a trek, I go to the Alhambra in Granada for an almost mystical experience. The architecture is so sublime. In Cordoba, you also have an amazing mosque. Southern Spain is known for Moorish influence and there is a wealth of things to see. In my own region, there is an eclectic mix of old and new from the Romanesque arches Gothic flying buttresses to the magical modernism of Matthias Hildebrandt.
In Spain, you are in a visual frenzy all the time taking in the glorious sights. When you are tired and ready to retreat in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine, you know you have had a good day. You look over your digital photos and share the best with friends. You tweet of your adventures and text your thoughts. With the flames licking upward, you may become hypnotized and find yourself falling slowly to sleep. When you awake, you plan a new day in one of the most exciting spots in the world.