Andalucía, Gibraltar and Tangier
Exploring Andalucía, we experience the quintessence of Spanish culture. Starting up high, in Spain's whitewashed hill towns, we roll down to the coast to enjoy the windsurfing mecca of Tarifa. Then we catch a bit of Britain on the Rock of Gibraltar, and sail to Africa for a Moroccan finale in Tangier.
Jerez's Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art
If you're into horses, this is a must. Even if you're not, this is art like you've never seen. The school's Horse Symphony show is an equestrian ballet with choreography, purely Spanish music, and costumes from the 19th century. Training sessions on non-performance days offer the public a sneak preview. After the training session, you can take a guided tour of the stables, horses, multimedia and carriage museums, tack room, gardens, and horse health center. Sip sherry in the arena's bar to complete this Jerez experience (tel. 956-318-008).
A tour at the Sandeman Winery in Jerez is the aficionado's choice for its knowledgeable guides and their quality explanations of the process. Each stage is explained in detail, with visual examples of flor (the yeast crust) in backlit barrels, graphs of how different blends are made, and a quick walk-through of the bottling plant (tel. 956-151-700).
Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park
Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is home to wildflowers, wild ibex (mountain goats), and Europe's largest colony of griffon vultures. The park's plant poster child is the pinsapo, a fir tree left over from the last Ice Age. Drivers will get an eyeful of scenery just passing through the park on their way to sights in Zahara, Grazalema, and the Pileta Cave, all of which fall within the park boundaries. To more fully experience the park — by hiking, caving, canoeing, kayaking, or horseback riding — consider a tour with Zahara Catur (in Zahara) or Horizon (in Grazalema). To hike on your own you'll need a permit, available in the park office in El Bosque (Avenida de la Diputación, tel. 956-727-029, email@example.com).
Hotel San Gabriel
Hotel San Gabriel has 21 pleasant rooms, a kind staff, public rooms filled with art books, a cozy wine cellar, and a fine garden terrace. If you're a cinephile, kick back in the charming TV room — with seats from Ronda's old theater and a collection of DVD classics — then head to the breakfast room to check out photos of big movie stars who have stayed here (tel. 952-190-392, fax 952-190-117, firstname.lastname@example.org, family-run by José Manuel and Ana).
Tragatapas, the accessible little brother of the acclaimed gourmet Restaurante Tragabuches, serves super-creative and always tasty tapas in a stainless-steel minimalist bar. There's just a handful of tall tiny tables and stools, and an enticing blackboard of the day's specials. If you want to sample Andalusian gourmet (such as asparagus on a stick sprinkled with manchego cheese grated coconut-style) without going broke, this is the place to do it (Calle Nueva 4, tel. 952-877-209).
Ronda's bullring and museum are Spain's most interesting to tour (even better than Sevilla's). You'll see the ring, stables, chapel, and museum, all described by an excellent audioguide. The bullfighters' chapel is where every matador would stop to pray for safety. The museum has exhibits on bullfighting, horse gear, and weapons, with plenty of stuffed bull heads, photos, artwork posters, and costumes. Take advantage of the opportunity to walk in the actual two-tiered arena, with plenty of time to play toro, surrounded by 5,000 empty seats. Bullfights are scheduled only for the first weekend of September during the feria (fair) and occur rarely in the spring (tel. 952-874-132).
Fast Boat from Tarifa to Tangier, Morocco
While the trip from Spain to Tangier can be made from three different ports, only the ferry from Tarifa takes you to Tangier's city-center port (boats from Algeciras or Gibraltar dock at Tangier MED, about 25 miles east of the city center). Ferry tickets are sold at the port, through your Tarifa hotel, or from a local travel agency. There is only one ferry company — FRS — and prices should be the same everywhere (FRS Maroc at Tarifa's dock: tel. 956-684-847).
Aziz Begdouri is a great local guide who will show you around his hometown and enjoys teaching about Moroccan society and culture. Aziz can also arrange ferry tickets from Tarifa in advance. If you don't want to do any shopping, make it very clear to him (easier to reach him from Spain on his Spanish mobile — tel. 607-897-967 — than his Moroccan mobile, tel. 00-212-6-6163-9332 from Spain, email@example.com).
 Hola. I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe. This time we're parading through some of the highlights of Southern Spain. Thanks for joining us.
[2 Show open]
 Perched here atop the Rock of Gibraltar, I can just about see everything we'll visit in this episode. This is the only place in the world where you can see two seas and two continents at the same time. And when all this natural and cultural excitement churns together, you know you're in for some great sightseeing.
 We'll enjoy attractions of Andalucia — prancing horses, whitewashed hilltowns, kite surfing on sunny beaches. We'll summit the Rock of Gibraltar with its thieving apes and sample Morocco: from tribal musicians and busy artisans to the magic of its markets.
[5 map] In the far southwest of Europe is Spain. And in the far south of Spain lies the region of Andalucia. From Jerez we travel the route of the white washed hilltowns to Ronda. Then, after visiting Gibraltar and Tarifa we cross the straits to Africa for a Moroccan finale in Tangier.
[ 6] Andalucia's rich heritage is alive in today's culture and it expresses itself in iconic themes. The town of Jerez is famous for three of them: dazzling horses, velvety sherry, and a spring fair that brings out the entire city for a week long party.
 Originally a horse fair, when the sherry producers joined in, it got really big. Today, the Jerez fair is a vast collection of over 200 casetas or tents — each owned by a family or local business who host parties until late into the night. For locals, the fair, which takes please early each May kicks off the summer season.
[8, finish with dance in the sun] During the day, the fair grounds are jangling with fancy carriages. It's all about fine Andalusian horses... and proud traditions they represent. Women, dressed in their peacock finery, seem ready to break into dance at the click of a castanet.
 Just down the street, the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art provides a foundation for this culture of horses. Performances pack its arena several times a week.
 It's exquisit horsemenship. The stern riders and their obedient steeds perform to the delight of both tourists and horse aficionados.
 The riders cue the horses with the slightest of commands, whether verbal or with body movements. The horses are bred and trained to be balanced and focused — both physically and mentally. The equestrian school functions like a university, open to students from around the world.
 And all over Jerez sherry bodegas welcome visitors. Just around the corner from the horse school, the venerable Sandeman winery has been producing sherry since 1790.
 Tours explain how the stacked barrels are part of the production process. In a time-honored tradition, new wine is blended with aged wine which is then fortified with alcohol.
 The vintner shares his product with a passion and finesse that mirrors the richness of the sherry tradition. And the crowd-pleasing finale of every tour is a chance to enjoy the finished sherry.
[15, montage: Grazalema, Ronda, Arcos, and others] Nearby, in the mountainous interior, the Route of the Pueblos Blancos laces together a characteristic string of white washed hill towns. Whether crouching in a ravine or perched atop a hill, each town — painted white to stay cool in the scorching summers — has a personality and a story of its own.
 Zahara, set under its imposing castle, was a Moorish stronghold in the 13th century. Like so many sights in Andalucia, to understand Zahara, a little historical background helps.
 In the 8th century Muslim Moors from North Africa invaded Spain and ruled here until the 15th century. The long struggle by Christian forces to push them back south and reconquer this part of Europe was called "The Reconquista". And in the Reconquista, Zahara was a strategic prize.
 Today Zahara is a delight to explore. The tour's quick — a church, a plaza, a few sleepy restaurants and a grand view.
 The dramatic road linking the towns cuts through the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. This park is famed in Spain for its lush and rugged mountain scenery.
 The queen of the white towns is Arcos de la Frontera. Arcos smothers its hilltop, tumbling down its back like the train of a wedding dress. The old center is a delight to explore. Viewpoint-hop through town. The people of Arcos boast that only they see the backs of the birds as they fly. Feel the wind funnel through the narrow streets as cars inch around tight corners.
 Driving is tricky. It's a one-way system — if you miss your hotel, you'll drive all around again. Under the castle and facing the church the town's main square once doubled as a bullring.
 Towns like Arcos with "de la Frontera" in their names were established on the "frontier," the front line of that centuries-long fight to take back Spain from the Muslims. As the Moors were slowly pushed back into Africa, the towns, while no longer of strategic importance, kept "on the frontier" in their names.
 The main church is a reminder of that re-conquest. After Christian forces retook Arcos from the Moors in the 13th century, it was the same old story — the mosque was demolished and a church was built on its sight.
 Another short drive takes us to the biggest white-washed town on the route...Ronda, with nearly 40,000 people. While crowded with day-tripping tourists from the nearby Costa del Sol, early and late locals retake their streets and squares.
 The city is famous for its gorge-straddling setting. Its breath-taking perch, while visually dramatic today, was vital when it was built. For the Moors, it provided a tough bastion, one of the last to be conquered by the Spaniards in 1485.
 The ravine divides Ronda into its old Moorish town and the relatively modern new town which was built after the Christian Reconquest. The two towns were connected by this bridge in the late 1700s.
 Part of the joy of Ronda lies in exploring the twisted lanes of its Moorish quarter. Wandering among its beautiful balconies and exuberant flowerpots, each corner reveals a yet another suprise.
 This cliff-side mansion comes with a belle epoque garden. And from the garden an evocative staircase leads to the floor of the gorge. It was dug seven centuries ago by the Moors to access water. Imagine Christian slaves hauling water in leather bags up these stairs ... all day long. The landing where the staircase finally hits the river marks a legendary turning point in Ronda's history.
 In 1485 Reconquista forces took control of this — the city's water source — and within ten days, thirsty Ronda above surrrendered.
 At the base of town is the old bridge, some surviving bits of the old Moorish city walls, and the remains of what was for centuries the main gate to the walled city.
 When Ronda was a fortified town and under Muslim rule, you entered from here. And according to Moorish custom, before entering you'd wash and pray. That's why there was a public bath and a mosque just outside the gate.
 I stay right in the old town action. Hotel San Gabriel has great character: a caring staff, inviting public rooms, and bedrooms that make you feel quite noble.
 And, just over the bridge, the newer town while more stately, has equally inviting streets and plazas. Strolling the streets you feel a strong sense of community where everyone seems to know everyone.
 While I generally go for the rustic old bars, tonight a local friend is taking me to a modern one. Traga Tapas puts a contemporary spin on traditional tapas. We're just eating our way through the list of daily specials. [deletable: Sure, you'll find your olives and ham. But you'll also enjoy asparagus snowed in with manchego cheese, delicate cod cheek sandwiches, and spicy pulled pork.] One basic rule is the same everywhere: if you want a chance to mingle with locals, grab a stool at the bar.
 Ronda, near and dear to Spaniards as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, has the first great Spanish bullring — built in 1785. Visitors can imagine confronting the bull as it thunders into view. The arena's columns corral the action creating a kind of neo-classical theater.
 Bullfighting originated centuries ago as a kind of military training — refined knights fighting the noble beast on horseback. It evolved from that to the spectacle that survives to this day. While controversial to many for its brutality, afficionatos insist that bullfighting is not a sport... it's an artform.
 And the museum of bullfighting celebrates this tradition. Matadors, in their suits of light, were heart throbs. Etchings by the great Spanish painter Goya show that he was clearly an enthusiast.
 The museum feels like a shrine Pedro Romero. In the 18th century, here in Ronda, Romero established the rules of modern bullfighting.
 Leaving Ronda, we wind out of the Andalusian mountains, and leave Spain for a visit to the famed Rock of Gibraltar.
 Gibraltar stands like a fortress, the gateway to the Mediterranean. A stubborn little piece of old England, it's one of the last bits of a British empire that at one time controlled a quarter of the planet. The rock itself seems to represent stability and power.
 The border between Spain and Gibraltar is marked by an airstrip. The border actually closes for each plane that lands. When the plane reaches the terminal, cross border traffic resumes.
 The sea once reached these ramparts. A modern development grows into the harbor and today half the city is built upon reclaimed land. Gibraltar's old town is long and skinny, with one main street. Gibraltarians are a proud bunch. Remaining steadfastly loyal to Britain, its 30,000 residents vote overwhelmingly to continue as a self-governing British dependency. In a generation the economy has gone from one dominated by the military to one based on tourism.
 But it's much more than sunburnt Brits on holiday. Gibraltar is a crossroads community — with a jumble of Muslims, Jews, Hindis, and Italians joining the English and all crowded together at the base of this mighty rock.
 With its strategic setting, Gibraltar has an illustrious military history and remnants of its martial past are everywhere. The rock is honeycombed with tunnels. Many were blasted by the Brits in Napoleonic times. During World War II, Britain drilled 30 more miles of tunnels.
 The Hundred Ton Gun is one of many cannon that both protected Gibraltar and controlled shipping in the straits.
 A cable car whisks visitors from downtown to the rock's 1400-foot summit. From the "Top of the Rock" Spain's Costa del Sol arcs eastward. And 15 miles across the hazy Strait of Gibraltar, the shores Morocco beckon.
 These cliffs and similar cliffs in Africa create what the ancient societies of the Mediterranean called the Pillars of Hercules. For centuries, this was considered the foreboding gateway to the unknown.
 Descending the Rock, whether you like or not, you'll meet the famous Apes of Gibraltar. Two hundred of these mischief makers entertain tourists. And with all the visitors... they are bold and very well-fed. Legend has it that as long as these apes are here, the British will stay in Gibraltar.
 Driving west from Gibraltar, a stiff Atlantic breeze powers a forest of windmills. Nestled snuggly on the southern-most tip of Europe is the town of Tarifa. Passing through its medieval wall we find the humble charms of a whitewashed town with hints of its Arabic past. Cafes and tapas bars complement the laid back scene.
 The main drag leads to the Church of St. Matthew. And today, the community is gathered for a special Mass. The children are all dressed up for their first communion. And for the families looking on, it's a proud and happy day.
 The same wind that powers its windmills makes Tarifa a wind sport mecca. Just outside of town a five mile long stretch of sand hosts young thrill-seekers from across Europe. Kite surfing is all the rage. Ideal conditions? The more wind the better. Around here, instead of you flying a kite... these kites fly you.
[52 show on-lookers] And the scene includes spectators. Here, far from the city squares and ubicuous cafes, these Europeans have found yet another way to embrace life.
 For me, Tarifa's top attraction: the fast boat to Morocco. Several boats a day make the inter-continental trip in about an hour. Tickets are easy, all you need is a few euros and your passport.
 The Strait is Gibraltar is where seas, continents, and cultures collide. Fishing, shipping and movement of peoples, this narrow stretch of water has seen it all. And it's here that Islam and Christendom come together like cultural tectonic plates.
 Over the centuries, this narrow passage has witnessed lots of turmoil: eighth-century Muslim Moors sweeping north, then, in 1492 those same Moors retreating south making this very same voyage. Today, wealthy Europe has invited back the people of North Africa to harvest its crops and to do its low end work. And today, as anywhere, with all this back and forth there are both challenges and opportunities.
 Independent travelers walk right off the boat and into Tangier. It's an intense scene. The busy port seems to pump life into the city.
 Tangier had long been considered a charmless and dangerous place. But today that's changed and this city is becoming a proud showcase of a new Morocco.
 Like so many Moroccan cities, Tangier is split in two: its old tangled Arab quarter and a new French colonial quarter. While new town buildings feel distinctly European, it's immediately evident that this is north Africa.
 Tangier's new town faces its fine beach. The broad stretch of sand is treated as a park by locals — ideal for a quiet stroll or some exuberant gymnastics. And what better place for some barefoot soccer?
 A grand boulevard parrallels the beach. It's named for Morocco's popular king, Mohammad VI, the man who's policies have given Tangier its new vitality.
 Through the mid-20th century, Tangier was considered too strategic for any one nation to control and therefore was jointly governed by the European powers. It attracted playboy millionaires, spies, romantics, and scoundrels. Because of its western outlook, Morocco's previous king essentially disowned the city, leaving it dispirited and neglected.
 But when the new king was crowned, this was the first city he visited. His vision: to make Tangier a leading city once again. And it's well on its way. In the early evening, Moroccans hit the streets and stroll as people do across the Mediterranean world. Amid all the new, old ways persist. Cafe sitting and people watching remains a mostly old boys' pastime.
 Once Tangier's main square, the Grand Socco, stands like a referee between the new and old towns. A few years ago this was a pedestrian nightmare and a perpetual traffic jam. Today this smart square is emblematic of the new Tangier.
 Visiting this revitalized city lifts my spirits. I see a society that isn't pro-west or anti-west. It's just people...making the best of life. It's becoming more affluent and modern on its terms.
 From the Grand Socco a medieval wall encircles the old town. Passing through the gate, you enter a laberynthine wonderland.
 The old town is delightfully disorienting. When exploring on my own, I just wander knowing that uphill will eventually get me to the castle or Kasbah and downhill will eventually lead me to the port. Expect to get a little lost...going around in circles is part of the fun.
 You can visit Tangier on your own or take a tour. Most visitors take a tour, daytripping in from Spain for a predictable series of experiences: They get their shopping opportunities and a few set up photo ops. Snake charmers turn on the charm.... hustlers hustle for tips... and folkloric musicians strike up the band.
 For lunch, tourists sit together in Ali Baba elegance to enjoy a meal with more local music.
 And then they follow their guide, single file, back down to their waiting ferry past one last gauntlet of merchants hungry for a sale.
 Once the day-trippers are back on their boats heading home to Europe, it seems there's hardly a tourist left in Tangier. That's why I like to spend the night.
 Wandering is fun. And to enjoy it with maximum understanding, you can hire a local guide. I'm joining up with my friend and fellow tour guide Aziz Begdouri.
 These men are looking for work. There's a plummer ready to fix your pipes, a builder with his gear, and a painter ready to paint.
 The community works together. Many people don't have a phone so they go to the phone center. Many people don't have their own bath, so they use the public bath. And here's the community bakery.
 And community ovens are just the place to get something cooked if you don't have an oven. Women send in their ready-to-cook dough and a few coins and this man cooks it up.
 The old town is spinning with traditional artisans. And Aziz knows just which passage to duck into to witness cottage industries trapped in time.
 These men are weaving the same way their fathers and grandfathers did. They are proud to do this work. It is from their heart and hand made which gives them a good feeling.
 Mosaics are made as they have been for centuries. Muslims don't make images, so these patterns are important. Because we believe only God is perfect, hand made is better because it is not perfect. Infact, the lack of perfection makes this more beautiful.
 In the Market wander past piles of fruit, veggies, olives, and stacks of fresh bread. You'll find everything but pork. Today, the Berber women have come in from nearby mountains with sheels of fresh goat cheese wrapped in palm leaves.
 Being a city on two seas — the Mediterranean and the Atlantic — fish is a big part of the local diet. The fish market is clean, slippery, and full of life.
 And it's no suprise Aziz is taking me to a restaurant that serves only fish. There's no menu. Just sit down and let them bring on the food.
 The sink in the room is for locals who prefer to eat with their fingers.
 It's fish soup, tangine spinach with shrimp, baby calimari and sword fish, and the catch of today...jon dori.
 We've sampled an amazing variety of cultural treats from horses and fairs to white washed hill towns, to kite surfers to a bit of jolly old England and over to Morocco.
 Lots of variety all within a couple hours drive — and a short ferry ride. That's one thing I love about traveling in this part of the world. I hope you've enjoyed are look at the place where Europe and Africa meet. I'm Rick Steves. Until next time, keep on traveling.