We are creatures of habit. Everyday we witness life through only a microscopic window of repetition. Our level of independent knowledge and expertise of our immediate surroundings is lower than that of our predecessors (thank you, Sapiens). The Spanish - especially those in the region of Andalusia - however, have a wonderful, broad-ranging knowledge of their country and the Iberian peninsula. Everything is spoken about as art. Everything has been pored over and meticulously preserved and perfected in order to be enjoyed and experienced at leisure. Throughout my trip to Spain with Cathay Pacific I would meet individuals whose independent knowledge of their surroundings was a compendium of resources, so innately proud of their country and its offerings.
And therein lies the beauty of Spain. Yes, the tapas are insanely good (seriously go to La Casa del Abuelo - the garlic shrimp is mouthwateringly delectable) but the anecdotal conversations had with locals, guides and strangers were the refreshing after-dinner palate cleanser that the Spanish have perfected. If the Italians have limoncello, the Spanish have conversation. What do we know about the Iberians? What inspired Spanish guitar? Why is Iberico Jamon so good? What is the real Traje de Flamenco (and what inspired someone to make an emoji version of it)?
Getting to Spain with Cathay Pacific was a breeze - boasting without a doubt one of the greatest airport lounges in the world. What I consider to be noodle bar heaven is a welcome break from my usual mid-transit cram of something resembling a sandwich and a Kinder Bueno with green tea. The sunrise from the plane was the ultimate reason
to switch off and reconnect to the world via the Times and a Modern Family cram session. We spent in each of the following Andalusian towns only a single night; Madrid, Malaga, Ronda, Jerez, Sevilla, Caceres and Salamanca - each providing an experience worthy of its own story here on this website. Malaga for its Pompidou Museum, Ronda for it's historical quaint streets and phenomenal Spanish guitar, Jerez for the most majestic Andalusian horses, Sevilla for the Alcazar and Plaza De España, Caceres for its meandering medieval streets and finally Salamanca, for it's 11th century university and cathedrals (and library).
With such a rich history, the varied cultures of Spain's past have shaped an equally rich collective culture that permeates down through government and trade all the way to entertainment, architecture, art and yes, food and wine. With the amount of detail and story that is apparent in all of the former, the latter is refreshingly simple. Artichokes are not doused in a variety of complicated flavours to impress, they are served as is; their robust and nutty flavour emphasised only with olive oil and salt. The bread is served on the table, no plate. The Iberian Ham; served alone laid out like petals of a pomegranate flower on a plate in paper thin slices cut by a professional ham cutter to be enjoyed with a glass of homegrown sherry. The Spaniards just know beauty (just ask Picasso, Miro and Antonio) - they know that sometimes it requires embellishment and sometimes it doesn't - only olive oil. There are equal amounts of restraint and effort in everything they do.
Speaking with the impassioned locals was refreshing and educational - I've never met anyone who can so thoroughly explain such culturally dependent characteristics of their country. Every local was a tour guide answering my questions as swiftly as I could ask them. The differences of olive oil? No problem! The importance of acorn-fed Iberian pigs or the intricacies of raising horses on sand sourced from Seville? Like reciting the alphabet. You can talk to the Spanish about anything. Engaging in conversation about the values and measure of hard work in our generation (and defending the fact it does exist) over Iberico Jamon in the Spanish countryside proved to be one of my favourite moments of the trip. It is the part of the trip I will carry with me and remember as I tightly grasp the last remnants of my family's Spanish blood. (Having that very, very thin thread of commonality was, embarrassingly, my opening remark to almost everyone I met in Spain - but it's difficult to not want to be included in a culture as alive as theirs.) The people will always be the best part of Spain for me. With their enthusiastic gesticulations, exuberant expressions and passionate dialogues of opinion, it is easy to see why lunches can continue hours into early evening and the memories of conversations well after the trip is over.
In partnership with Cathay Pacific
Photography: Kim Jones
In order of images: Basic Movement Top, Vika Gazinskaya Trousers / Basic Movement Top / Jacquemus Top, Exhibit Trousers / Rebecca De Ravenel Earrings, Celine Pants, Alice McCall Top / Basic Movement Dress, Jacquemus Hat