April 2007 issue

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Andalucia's attractions

Andalucia incorporates the typically Spanish traits of sun, sea and a relaxed way of life – a winning combination for language students, as Bethan Norris finds out.

It is not hard to see why language students choose to study in Spain’s southernmost region of Andalucia, attracted as they are by the beautiful beaches, hot climate and wealth of cultural attractions that lure thousands of tourists to the area year after year.

“Andalucia is the most popular part of Spain and ranks sixth in the world in tourism, hospitality and culture,” says Ine Schattefor, from Santa Clara Academia de Idiomas in Malaga. “With the beautiful cities of Seville, Malaga, Granada – with the Alhambra – and Cordoba, it is the perfect place to combine studying Spanish with exploring this enchanting country.”

The beaches of Andalucia are legendary and the coastline spans the whole of the southern tip of Spain from the border with Portugal, where the land meets the Atlantic Ocean, to Almeria and Cartagena in the east, which overlook the Mediterranean Sea. The most popular tourist spots are around the Costa del Sol region, which includes Malaga and Marbella, and an outdoor lifestyle and beach culture exists throughout the coastal areas.

Graeme Black from Comunicación Language School in Roquetas de Mar in Almeria says that the presence of the Mediterranean 500 metres away from the school means that watersports are popular with students. “The school can arrange sailing, windsurfing, golf, tennis, horse riding, quad biking and more,” he says, adding, “Roquetas is very much not on the 18-30 holiday circuit and as a mostly Spanish resort, it has maintained an Andalucian identity.”

Lazing on the beach and swimming in the sea are also popular activities with students after a hard day learning Spanish, although in Cadiz, a more unusual beach activity takes place that students can take part in. “There is a beach tradition in Cadiz which is to meet friends on the beach in the afternoon and start to play bingo,” says Israel Barro from Centro Melkart – Tandem in Cadiz. “It can be groups of 20 people – most of the time old ladies in their 60s – and they play for hours until the sun goes down. One of our students discovered this tradition and learned the numbers in Spanish faster than [their fellow students] and had a great time.”

Meeting local people is easy for language students, according to Barro, who explains that the city’s history as a commercial harbour means “the people are open minded and friendly to foreigners”. He continues, “Cadiz is not a massive tourism city, it’s quite a small place and almost everybody knows each other. That makes the people curious and they start to speak to the students during daily situations – in shops, on the beach, walking around etc.”

The friendliness of the local people is a feature of Andalucia in general, according to schools in the region, mainly due to the many social activities that take place that are an important part of the local life and culture. Going out for tapas is a regular part of Spanish people’s lives throughout the country, but in Granada this tradition is enhanced by the fact that tapas is free. “One of the greatest pleasures of being in Spain is to go out with your friends for tapas,” says Margret Fortmann from Escuela Montalban – Tandem in Granada. “It is normal to only stay in each tapas bar for one or two drinks so you may visit a whole series of bars during the evening. In some tapas bars you can choose which tapas to have whereas in other bars they have a set list which you can get according to which round of tapas you are on.”

Flamenco dancing is also an important part of Andalucian local life and language schools in the area often capitalise on their students’ interest in this tradition by combining language and dance tuition. “Our school is not only a Spanish school but also a flamenco school, offering a high quality standard and large variety of courses on both subjects,” says Monica Capella Soler from Escuela Carmen de las Cuevas in Granada. As well as learning a new skill, language students learning flamenco are also able to integrate with the local people by putting what they have learnt into practice. “We give [students] tips about flamenco activities in the city, where they can often see the teacher they have during the day dancing,” says Soler.

At Taller Flamenco in Seville, where Spanish language tuition is also combined with dance classes, Eukene Izagirre agrees that learning the dance can help students socialise in the evenings. “At night, [students] look for fun, some of them go to flamenco music bars and others to discotheques.”

Part of Andalucia’s attraction for visitors is its interesting history and mixed cultural legacy that has come about through a fusion of Christian, Jewish and Muslim influences. The Alhambra – a palace and fortress built in 1234 – is perhaps the most well known tourist attraction in Granada, highlighting as it does the region’s Moorish influences. Less well known, however, are the Arabic baths, which date back to the 11th Century and are another popular place students like to visit.

In Seville, evidence of previous inhabitants can be found from an even earlier period in history, according to Frederic Parrilla from International House Sevilla – CLIC in the city, who says that “the Roman site of Italica – birth place of the Emperor Adrian” is a popular excursion among students. Other cultural offerings in the city include “flamenco shows, theatres, one of the best opera houses in Europe and a high number of art galleries”. Parrilla adds, “[The local people are] very proud of their cultural and traditional heritage, which makes them extremely eager to share it with foreigners.”

Andalucia spans a wide range of natural terrains and it might come as surprise to some students that skiing is a popular after-school activity at some language schools. The Instituto Mediterráneo Sol in Granada offers students a “Skiing and Beach” course package, which makes use of all of the area’s attractions. “Skiing in the Sierra Nevada and going to the tropical coast are very popular tourist attractions with our students,” relates Juan Carlos Martínez at the school.

One of the region’s most dramatic landscapes can be found in Almeria where the Desierto de Tabernas is the only semi-desert in Europe. The parched landscape was used as a backdrop in many of the Spaghetti Western films and students enjoy visiting Mini Hollywood, where many of the films were made, according to Germán Fernández at Indalhispanica Escuela de Espanol in Almeria. Fernández continues, “In Almeria we also have La Alcazaba [a Moorish castle], the Cathedral and the Refugios – built in the Spanish civil war – which have recently been opened.” There is no shortage of things for students to do in their spare time in Andalucia and many return home having had a uniquely Spanish experience. As Parrilla says, “Andalucia sums up Spanish culture and tradition.”

Agent viewpoint

“Most of our students choose destinations close to the Mediterranean, like Malaga, Alicante or Almeria. This is probably because Austria does not have access to the sea. Highlights during their stay include events and trips to different sights organised by our partner schools. One of our highlight offers is a language course in Malaga during the time of the Feria de Malaga. This is one of the best known festivals.”
Markus Bichler, Internationale Sprachreisen, Austria

“Andalucia, and especially Malaga, is one of our top three most popular destinations in Spain. Only Barcelona gets more reservations per year. The climate is a big factor but the relaxed southern lifestyle also plays a part in our students’ decisions. The sun and the beaches are popular but the friendly atmosphere and [non-stop] nightlife is also highly appreciated. The many tapas bars that you can find on almost every street corner are probably the best known and appreciated Andalucian icon. Some students visit other towns at the weekends and a few take short trips to North Africa.”
Jonas Lerman, Sprakpunkten, Sweden

“Andalucia is the home of both tapas and flamenco and therefore provides students with the opportunity to have a truly Spanish experience whilst discovering some fascinating historic cities, picturesque white-walled villages and spectacular mountainous countryside. Students enjoy discovering the major tourist sights of the region such as the Giralda Tower, Alcazar Palace and Santa Cruz district of Seville, the Alhambra and the Albaicin quarter in Granada and the beaches.”
Scott Cather, Language Courses Abroad, UK

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