Michael Portillo returns to his native Spain as he follows the railway lines travelled by the intrepid tourists of the Belle Epoque.
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I'm embarking on a new railway adventure
that will take me across the heart of Europe.
I will be using this,
my Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide, dated 1913,
which opened up an exotic world of foreign travel
for the British tourist.
It told travellers where to go,
what to see and how to navigate
the thousands of miles of tracks criss-crossing the continent.
Now, a century later,
I'm using my copy to reveal an era of great optimism and energy,
when technology, industry, science and the arts were flourishing.
I want to rediscover that lost Europe
that in 1913 couldn't know
that its way of life would shortly be swept aside
by the advent of war.
A train in Spain,
and though I'm hundreds of miles from my London house,
I feel at home here because my father was Spanish,
because Spanish blood runs in these veins.
And though I visit this country maybe once a month,
every time I come here,
I feel the excitement of being in a place where I feel that I belong.
My family's Spanish roots are in Salamanca, in the north-west.
My father came to Britain as a refugee
at the end of the Spanish Civil War.
I grew up in England with a love of Spain and the Spanish language.
Today, my journey starts in the capital.
Madrid is the beating heart of modern-day Spain.
I'll travel south-west to historic Cordoba,
a city with ancient Moorish roots,
before crossing the southern Spanish region of Andalusia to Seville
and on to Jerez in the south-west.
The hilltop town of Ronda will be my final inland stop,
before I descend to the Costa Del Sol.
My journey ends on the Rock of Gibraltar.
On this journey, I explore the rich culture of Spain,
which drew our 1913 Bradshaw's travellers
in search of a taste of the exotic.
'I meet my most unusual dance partner ever...'
'..Immerse myself in Cordoba's fair...'
'..Discover in Jerez
'how we have been getting a British tradition so wrong'.
-How do we drink sherry?
-Well, in England, very badly.
'..Celebrate the ingenuity of British rail engineers.'
180km through very difficult terrain,
and they literally had to bevel out the tunnels from pure rock.
'And find out the lengths that the British went to
'to keep the Rock of Gibraltar.'
Six men were prepared to entomb themselves
literally inside the rock. It's a total James Bond story.
Oh! It's an absolutely perfectly designed lookout.
Madrid is the highest capital in Europe,
surrounded by mountain ranges.
Before the railways, it was easier to move goods
from Barcelona to South America than it was by road to Madrid.
My Bradshaw's Guide, 1913, tells me
that Madrid is "a fine, attractive city,
"the capital of the kingdom of Spain,
"built upon an eminence rising from a wide stretching plain."
Think of the Iberian peninsula as a square,
and Madrid is at the very centre,
the perfect place for a visitor to begin
an exploration of the Spanish regions.
This fine structure of brick and iron and glass
was built at the end of the 19th century.
But with high-speed trains,
it was necessary to have longer platforms and a wider space,
and so they moved all the trains down the line,
making out of the old station a conservatory,
a railway terminus with a tropical touch.
But Madrid has been drawing the world to it for hundreds of years.
In the 16th and 17th centuries,
it was the mighty nerve centre of the Spanish Empire.
It's still the country's political heart today.
Back in the time of my Bradshaw's guide,
Spain avoided the rivalries that would embroil Europe in war.
It was distracted by its own economic and political troubles.
I'm meeting Kirsty Hooper,
reader in Hispanic Studies at Warwick University,
to discover more.
In the early years of the 20th century,
-what sort of condition was Spain in?
In 1898, Spain had lost its last Atlantic colonies
to the United States as part of the Spanish-American War,
which is known in Spain as El Desastre, or The Disaster.
So while the British Empire was growing,
and the most powerful empire on earth, the Spanish Empire was reduced
to a tiny number of possesions, mostly on the north coast of Africa.
As Spain's imperial fortunes fell,
the British, still basking in their own colonial might,
were keen to indulge in a bit of dynastic diplomacy.
Britain's King Edward VII, connected by birth or marriage to most of
Europe's royal families, understood the power of these royal alliances.
In 1906, at the Real Monasterio de San Jeronimo,
an event occurred which linked Britain firmly with Spain.
Behind the scenes, Edward had arranged for Queen Victoria's
19-year-old granddaughter, Princess Victoria Eugenie,
known as Ena,
to marry the 20-year-old King Alfonso of Spain.
How did people feel in Spain and Britain about this union?
The establishments in both countries were not terribly happy
when it was first announced.
Alfonso himself was very keen on the idea of a British bride
and he'd worked his way through a couple of Queen Victoria's
granddaughters before, in the previous year, who had,
for whatever reason, turned him down until he ended up with Ena.
But the Spanish aristocracy were not terribly happy
because Ena wasn't Catholic. The British were rather surprised
because she was very low-ranking, and they weren't sure about losing
one of their princesses to the Catholic Church.
Determined to see his glamorous niece on the Spanish throne,
Edward allowed Ena to convert to Catholicism, her fiance's religion.
Well, it has the rich grandeur of a royal chapel.
I'm thinking with an English princess and a Spanish king,
-it must have been a big royal event.
-It was enormous.
Really, it was one of the first global royal weddings.
Although he didn't attend,
the King saw off the royal party at London's Victoria Station.
And they travelled down through France, Alphonso met them
at the border and the royal train processed on to Madrid.
But as the world watched,
the wedding day celebrations turned to tragedy.
Now, Bradshaw's says it was from a window on the top storey of number
88, Calle Mayor,
that the bomb was thrown at the carriage of the king and queen.
And indeed this commemorates it. What an appalling incident.
Who was it who did it?
It was a young Catalan anarchist called Mateu Morral
who had taken rooms up at the top of the building
where you can see the rosettes.
He believed that the social injustices in Spain were so great
that only through an event designed to raise the consciousness
of the public would he be able to really get his message across.
The bomb was thrown, it was part of a bouquet, it was thrown,
it bounced off the tram cables that lined the streets.
So although it missed the royal carriage, it exploded,
killing many horses and up to 30 people.
Bradshaw's is mentioning it as though it was a place that tourists
-might want to come.
-It was one of the most notorious events of its time
and British people were very keen to see the place where their princess
had been attacked, and so they added it to their itineraries.
The king and queen were lucky to escape with their lives.
But Mateu Morral shot himself rather than face arrest.
Today, over 100 years later,
this tragic assassination attempt is still remembered locally.
-Hola. Buenos dias.
What is that photograph of?
-MAN SPEAKS SPANISH
-It's an authentic photograph?
It was taken just after it happened. It shows a dead horse here, there is
a carriage here that must've been part of the royal procession.
There's a little X that marks the window from which the bomb was thrown.
MAN SPEAKS SPANISH
He's saying that every year he goes out and he puts a bouquet
on there in memory of the 25 people who were killed
and the many who were injured.
How long have you been here?
MAN SPEAKS IN SPANISH
He says he's been doing it ever since the monument was opened
and he had to open the monument himself.
He said no-one was coming along to do the ceremony
so he went out there with a broom and a Spanish flag
and he performed an opening ceremony on the monument.
THEY CONVERSE IN SPANISH
Having made their royal pilgrimage, Bradshaw's travellers' spirits
could have been lifted by the crowds
and the noisy chatter of one of the city's most popular meeting places.
This is the lovely Puerta del Sol at the very heart of Madrid.
Bradshaw's tells me that the cafes in and around here
may be used without question during the day
but at night are not suitable for ladies.
Especially those cafes where music is provided in the evening.
Luckily, I'm male. And this is the midday sun, so I should be safe.
But one tip - in Madrid, always look up.
The architecture is wonderful, particularly these balconies
with their marvellous wrought-iron work,
so typical of Spain.
-Una cana, por favor.
I defy any traveller, Edwardian or otherwise,
not to fall in love with Spain's tapas.
These small snacks originated from Andalusia in the 19th century
to accompany sherry.
Traditional dishes range from olive, meats and cheese
to these croquettes.
Very, very nice. They've got cod and flour and a little butter.
A bit of nutmeg, and then breadcrumbs and egg on the outside.
And then they're...
deep-fried and they're lovely. Gracias.
Despite being the most reluctant European country to join
the railway age, Spain proved very much a magnet
for Bradshaw's 1913 railway tourists.
One of the biggest draws would have been Madrid's stunning
royal art collection.
Any young artist who came to the Prado Art Gallery
around the beginning of the 20th century would have studied
Diego Velazquez, the greatest genius of Spanish painting history.
A man who made his fame and fortune with religious paintings
and portraits of the royal family,
but whose real greatness lay in the way that he captured light
and the way that he portrayed ordinary people, workers,
drunks, the lowest rungs of society.
Velazquez was at the height of his powers in the 17th century.
Early 20th-century travellers might have been more drawn to one of
their era's most brilliant artists, who was also a devotee of Velazquez.
I'm heading to his studio.
This grand mansion was formerly the home of Joaquin Sorolla,
and has changed little since he died in 1923. It now houses his works.
I'm meeting the director of the museum, Consuelo Luca de Tena.
He lived here for the last ten or more years of his life.
-He had this house specially built for him.
-It's absolutely magnificent.
-I recognise these people. This is Victoria Eugenie, isn't it?
And King Alfonso XIII.
-The king must have been a friend of Sorolla.
And this says, "To Don Joaquin Sorolla, I am supposing that
"you're going to like the contrast of the light in this photograph."
It's quite a nice little joke, isn't it?
Sorolla portraited the king in the open air.
The king is covered with spots of light that comes through
the trees and it's very special.
Born in Valencia, Sorolla used the train to travel back to
the coastal city to paint some of his finest work.
This is a huge room.
I imagine, with all the light here, this would be where the artist
We have so many paintings that show how Sorolla depicted light.
I mean, here, for example, these ladies on the beach -
the intensity of the light on their clothing
-and reflecting off the sea, this is quite typical.
Sorolla was very fond of painting the beach, the light in the open air
and particularly the light reflecting itself in the waters.
In complete contrast is this poignant picture,
painted in 1895, called The White Slave Trade.
A group of young women travelling in a third-class railway carriage
is being taken to the city to work as prostitutes.
So, did Sorolla paint a lot of this kind of social realism?
Not so many paintings.
He disliked the insistence of some artists and writers
of his time on the poor social conditions of Spain in that moment.
He was a very optimistic man and very positive
and thought that it was better to find the good part of things.
How do you think we should remember Joaquin Sorolla?
I think his paintings, many times, make us happy.
He is very contagious in his optimistic feelings.
Sorolla has left us a wonderful vision of the early 20th-century Spain,
even if most of his scenes are rose-tinted.
Across the city, in the Retiro district of Madrid,
is another building with royal connections.
When guests arrived in 1906 for Alphonso and Eugenie's wedding,
they discovered that they had nowhere suitable to stay.
Afterwards, the couple honeymooned in the Ritz in Paris.
And they liked it so much,
they decided to commission one for Madrid.
While I'm in this magnificent hotel,
I'm sneaking a view of the Royal Suite.
Edward VIII stayed here with Wallis Simpson
and Prince Rainier with Princess Grace.
And they enjoyed all this elegance and luxury.
I'm going to enjoy the view that they had.
No time to get used to this royal luxury, as today I'm heading
south-west out of Madrid.
Early 20th-century visitors from Britain to the high central
plain of Spain would have found their fair share of strange noises
and smells, but at least Madrid, with its royal family
and its works of art was familiar enough.
Those visitors might have needed a fortifying breakfast of omelette
and ham and cheese before venturing south over the mountains to
somewhere altogether more exotic, with its Islamic history,
its gypsies, its bullfighting, its crimes of passion
and other thoroughly un-British activities.
I'm taking Spain's high-speed train from Madrid, the Ave,
and travelling about 400km to Cordoba.
Bradshaw's has warnings for the British traveller.
First-class carriages are tolerably comfortable.
Second-class carriages are wanting in comfort.
Third-class carriages are unsuitable for British travellers.
Railway speed is slow, rarely more than 15mph.
Well, since today there is a club class and a preferential class
and I'm in tourist class, you could say that I'm in third,
but now the speed is more like 170mph on the high-speed trains
that were introduced in Spain more than 20 years ago.
But I remember the really slow Spanish trains.
When I was eight, I travelled to meet my Spanish family
and the trains felt not a lot faster than in Bradshaw's day.
The seats were wooden and extremely uncomfortable. But it WAS exciting.
-Hello, how are you?
-Do you mind if I join you for a moment?
-Not at all, it's a pleasure.
-How do you do?
Do you regularly use this train?
Regularly, yes, to go to Seville, to Barcelona.
It's a big, big difference with the past.
How is it that Spain has made such a big change?
I think it's our generation who has started after Franco's
death, I think the political transition has created common ground
to grow together.
Well, my guidebook from 1913 tells me
that third class is not suitable for British travellers.
-Do you think this is suitable for British travellers?
-I think so.
I am a chairman of a company in Spain with 6,000 people working in it.
Precisely today we go to our shareholder meeting.
-And all the board, we are in tourist.
-You're all going tourist class.
Because we are in times, we need to save money and secondly,
I'm not seeing any difference between first, second and tourist.
Travelling at this speed, in an hour and a half, we go to a different
climate, to a different people, with a different take on life.
We swap the austerity of Castile for the exuberance of Andalusia,
people who bear the influences of centuries of Islamic
rule during the Middle Ages and of Gypsy culture.
And in their singing, their dancing and their bullfighting,
they are fired by an inner spirit known as duende, which
drives them to poetry and passion.
Cordoba's period of greatest glory began in the eighth century
after the Moorish conquest.
With 300 mosques,
it became the greatest Islamic centre in the Western world.
Ever since Roman times, it's had a unique position
as the crossroads of Spain, because of its bridge.
Situated on the mighty Guadalquivir River, Jews from the east
and Arabs from the south were funnelled through
the city by this natural geographical divide.
I find this really very moving.
I am walking across a Roman bridge that has spanned
this river for 2,000 years and is still doing its job today.
And I can now see the perimeter of the Islamic mosque,
one of the great mosques of the world -
and then imprinted in the middle of it
is a Catholic cathedral.
The three cultures mixed in one moment.
With its towering walls, the Great Mosque, dating back 13 centuries -
is a masterpiece of granite, jasper and marble.
I wouldn't feel comfortable speaking inside the cathedral, so let me say some thing now.
It was originally a mosque, begun in the eighth century,
and the Muslim architects used pillars
and columns that has been recycled from the Roman and Christian
civilisations and they support arches so that as you're
moving around inside, sometimes it's as though you're moving
through an avenue of trees, but also as you look to left and right,
it's as though you're in a forest, you're not quite sure where you are.
That simple device of pillars and arches is repeated again
and again on a grand scale.
But it also provides a feeling of spirituality.
And embedded in its centre, this remarkable
Gothic Catholic Cathedral edifice, added in the 16th century.
Cordoba is a living expression of the different cultures that
have existed here.
I've met up with local guide Isabel Martinez to learn about this
remarkable city's more recent Christian culture.
I am very sure that you will be enlightened, what you will see.
In 1570, King Philip II ordered
the building of the Royal stables.
His ambition was to create a pure Spanish thoroughbred,
the Andalusian horse.
Today, the Royal stables are home to an intriguing equestrian display.
This is the most extraordinary sight -
a horse dancing with a woman.
I told you that it will be a very big surprise!
This is something very special here from Cordoba,
combining the horse dancing, of our famous Andalusian horses
together with the famous flamenco dancers.
This building is obviously very, very historic.
It's a beautiful royal stable of the 16th century.
-What sort of horse is that?
-It's the Pura Raza Espanola as we call it -
the pure Spanish race, the Andalusian horse.
It's a very noble animal, very intelligent
and it was very admired in all of Europe.
In fact, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the pure-breed
Andalusian horses were THE horses of the British court.
Is flamenco gypsy?
Flamenco is a melting pot which received
influences from very different countries and cultures.
You will recognise Indian movements if you look at the hands, her hips...
-..and very passionate.
It's something you want to express with your body language.
Congratulations. What's it like to dance with a horse?
REPEATS IN SPANISH
SHE REPLIES IN SPANISH
So she says it's a very, very beautiful dance
and she's kind of absorbing from the horse the elegance
of the Andalusian horse, those beautiful, beautiful movements.
-ASKS FIRST IN SPANISH:
-Would you like to show me how to do it?
I have to go very, very slowly, she says.
This is definitely a first for me.
Look at the way the horse dances.
What a lovely dancing partner!
Thank you so much.
I really enjoyed that. Thank you.
As the heat of the day begins to cool,
I feel the duende calling me to the Andalusian city's nightlife.
Every town and village in Spain has its feria, or fair.
In some ways, they're like British funfairs -
you've got Ferris wheels and terrifying rides,
but the special thing about Spain is that the ladies in particular
get dressed up and people ride on horses
and there's flamenco dancing... Oh, and did I mention booze?
I'm pretty sure that Cordoba's feria would have surprised
and transfixed Bradshaw's 1913 travellers.
Buenas tardes. Are you having a nice time?
THEY CONVERSE IN SPANISH
HE SPEAKS IN SPANISH
I'm saying they're very young -
is the enthusiasm for the ferias growing with the young people?
SHE REPLIES IN SPANISH
Whether you're young, whether you're old, we all enjoy the fair.
SHE REPLIES IN SPANISH
Ah, that's what special!
The Cordoba girls are what are special!
Let's see if we can get...
THEY SING AND CLAP
What I LOVE about the Spanish feria is the energy, the passion
and the zest for life.
When this guidebook was published, the exotic
and adventurous rail journey across Spain would have been slow.
Now the country has over 3,000km of track and its high-speed system
serves a staggering 60% of the population.
I'm heading further south-west to Seville,
a journey of around 130km through Andalusia's rolling hills that
today will take me only 40 minutes.
Bradshaw says that Seville is the capital of Andalusia.
"The streets present a bright cheerfulness of life
"and a charm that go far to justify the boast..."
HE QUOTES IN SPANISH
"Who hasn't seen Seville has not seen a wonder", and indeed,
with its avenues and fountains and gardens and cathedral, all enveloped
in the scent of orange blossom,
it is indeed one of the world's wonders.
Seville's fortunes have been shaped by its river port.
The 16th century was its golden age, when it became the major
European point of departure for the New World of the Americas.
During the 19th century's rapid industrialisation,
rail connections brought an influx of artists and intellectuals,
keen to escape the manufacturing cities of northern Europe.
Touring the city of Seville in 1913 would have been made easier
for the traveller by the tram system.
Bradshaw's tells me that the cathedral in Seville is
"a Gothic edifice of surpassing architectural and historic interest.
"It suffered much from earthquake and two or three times,
"the dome has collapsed, the last collapse being on August 1st, 1888".
I've often been in Seville and I didn't know that.
But what I DO remember is that the vast majority of the steeple
was formerly an Islamic minaret and it has an exact twin in Marrakech.
I love Seville so much that now I have a house near here,
in a town ringed by Roman walls.
It means that I can truly enjoy this beautiful city
and THIS place has always intrigued me.
"The tobacco factory is usually included among the sites
"of Seville", says Bradshaw's. I'm curious to know why.
"It's an immense building where are employed 5,000 cigareras" -
that is, of course women cigar workers.
That could be the clue.
Columbus's sailors brought the first tobacco plants
from the Americas at the end of the 15th century.
By 1728, Spanish King Philip V began work on what is
possibly the grandest tobacco factory ever built.
Originally, only men were employed in the tobacco industry,
to make snuff, but by 1829,
the nimbler and cheaper fingers of women were in demand to make cigars.
Today, the Seville factory houses the city's university.
I want to find out why it became such a tourist attraction.
My Bradshaw's guide recommends visitors to come to the factory
and I'm just wondering why visitors would want to come here.
Most of the 19th-century travellers came to Spain
escaping from the dreary life of industrial Europe.
The first thing they visited was a factory, which is
a bit of a paradox!
But of course there was this added charm of seeing lots of ladies.
And how would the tourists see them?
They had to be invited by the administrator,
but normally people of some standing,
some social standing, had no problem in getting here.
And were these women very beautiful?
Well, according to the visitors, yes, they were.
But in fact, the photographs we have of them taken at the end
of the 19th century show that most of them were pretty awful.
It's a myth of the cigareras - it was obviously an imaginary thing!
Well, my experience of Seville women is that they're very beautiful!
My experience, too!
MUSIC: "Habanera" from Carmen by Bizet
These fierce cigareras were immortalised by the French
composer George Bizet in his passionate opera, Carmen.
Bizet depicted the heroine Carmen as an amoral seductress with
both men and women behaving badly.
Did Spanish people get a bit offended that their women
-and their men were being represented as libertines in opera?
Not really, I don't think so.
This sort of reaction took place in the very recent
times in the dictatorship of Franco
when some composer decided to create a figure which was the good
and virtuous Carmen, which embodied the virtues of the Spanish people,
to come to balance the influence of the French Carmen,
which was, er...rather libertine.
It was composer Manuel Quiroga who wrote the more reserved
WOMAN SINGS IN SPANISH
Seville would have seemed risky, exotic and a little rough around the
edges, but as the Edwardian tourists headed south, they were about
to discover a taste of Spain that would have been far more familiar.
Because the next stop on my journey is Jerez de la Frontera -
the sherry capital of the world,
thanks to the town's perfect conditions for growing
the palomino grape.
As well as being famous for its fortified wine,
Jerez is the transport and communication hub of its province.
Adios. Hasta luego.
Throughout my Spanish journey so far, I've been at stations
which are utilitarian, modern, made of concrete and glass, reflecting
how much railway building has been done in the last two decades.
It's so nice to arrive now at a traditional station,
here covered in ceramic tiles in these brilliant, bright colours,
so typical of the south of Spain.
Jerez's success and the British love affair with sherry all
started with a military incident.
In 1587, Sir Francis Drake made a daring raid on the Spanish fleet.
His triumphal return from Spain included
a cargo of 2,900 butts of sherry.
His liquid spoils of war were instantly popular.
In 1855, British businessmen Robert Byass joined forces with
Manuel Gonzalez and their sherry empire started
with the production of 7.5 hectares of vineyards.
Today, it's his great-great-grandson
and my friend Gonzalo del Rio who is a leading light at Gonzales-Byass.
Lovely to see you. I'm good. Is it time for a little sherry?
I've heard you love sherry, now you follow trains!
I do, I'm a trainspotter!
-Is there any connection between sherry and trains?
-Yes, a lot.
Look, this is a book written by my grandfather and where he does a
big description about the project of the railway
to Jerez Puerto in 1829.
This is about the time of the very earliest railways in England.
So this is going down to the port?
This is going down to the port of Santa Maria.
This was a way to try
and transport the barrels of wine
in a faster way and in a better way.
And the founder of this company, my great-great-grandfather,
-he financed all that project.
-So he was very forward-looking?
Yes, and used to go all the way through the different
sellers of the winery to fetch the barrels of wine.
-So the railway wasn't just picking up from this bodega?
All the different wineries - or bodegas - had their own place
to put all the barrels inside the train.
Sherry is produced in a variety of styles, from the driest
and palest fino to the darkest and smoothest oloroso.
The grapes are harvested in September, lightly pressed
and then the juice or "must" is fermented in vats.
The longer the sherry spends in the 600-litre oak barrels, the more
character the wine takes on in terms of taste, colour and alcohol.
Probably the oldest brand is Tio Pepe.
-How do you do?
-He's going to give us a glass of Tio Pepe.
At last, I thought you'd never ask!
Now, Gonzalo, how do we drink sherry?
Well, in England, very badly!
We failed in that - it's not your fault, it's our fault.
We haven't shown people how to drink sherry properly.
Two different ways - one way, because they don't have it cold.
In the second way, they open it on Sunday lunch
and after three months, they go back to it.
A bottle of wine should be drank immediately.
You're absolutely right.
I remember I had some lovely aunts and they would always
serve us a glass of sherry, but we might go there every three
months and it would be the same bottle again and again and again!
Then you agree with me?
Yes, but I didn't realise it was a bad thing to do -
-sherry doesn't last that long, no?
-No, no. This is alive.
So, two easy rules - drink it cold and drink it fast!
To sherry and to the railways!
-How was that?
-think it's pretty good!
-Smell it, smell it.
It's REALLY good!
I can't think of a better way to finish my day than
a glass of sherry, catching up with an old friend.
A new day and I'm taking the Algeciras to Bobadilla line,
climbing high into the Andalusian mountains.
My next stop will be Ronda.
Bradshaw's tells me "it's a finely-situated,
"interesting town, 2,460 feet above sea,
"on a projection of the Sierra Nevada,
"in the midst of a magnificent range of mountains.
Ronda's impregnable position made it one of the last Moorish strongholds.
Its fame as the spiritual home of bullfighting made it
a magnet to the Edwardian tourist.
Nowadays, there are few bullfights at the Plaza de Toros,
but every year, a traditional festival is held
in honour of Pedro Romero, one of Ronda's most famous matadors.
Arriving here early, I, like the rest of Spain, need my traditional
breakfast and it's definitely best eaten freshly cooked.
HE ORDERS IN SPANISH
I've asked for churros, which are a kind of floury,
battery, sausage-like thing cooked in very hot oil
and then you dip them in chocolate, you can have them with coffee, too.
He plunges the batter into the boiling oil...
..and then they come out all crisp and golden.
Sometimes, they get covered in sugar as well.
Gracias. There's my chocolate, as well.
So... Just break off a little piece of this...
dip it in the chocolate...
Wow. That is amazing.
I don't recommend that you do this every day,
but on the other hand, you DEFINITELY have to do this once.
Bradshaw's tells me that here in Ronda, the old
Moorish town is separated from the modern quarter by the "tajo",
an imposing gorge over the River Guadalevin,
350 feet deep.
This is known as the New Bridge, built in the 1790s, but the
previous effort collapsed into the ravine
with massive loss of life.
You might think this is pretty unpromising territory
for railway builders, but that would be to underestimate
British engineers at the height of their powers.
To discover more about how they tamed this rugged
and inaccessible landscape, I'm travelling on the Ronda to
Algeciras line, heading south towards my final stop, Gibraltar.
I'm meeting railway enthusiast and guide Mani,
who knows about the engineers' epic achievement.
I think this ride is quite a treat, isn't it? Beautiful scenery.
-Yes, it really is.
-Who built this railway line?
It was built by the British, Greenwood and Company, out of London.
-Did they have experience of difficult terrain?
they had been... The owner of the company was called Mr Henderson
and together with Morrison, they'd already installed
lots of the trains in South America, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina.
So this was 180km through very, very difficult terrain,
but to them, it wasn't too much of a challenge.
For the British, there was
also another reason for wanting to build the railway.
Beyond the end of the line is Gibraltar,
which was totally cut off and only reachable by sea.
Originally, they wanted to take the train
all the way to the border with Gibraltar
and the Spanish didn't allow that - that's why this train
finishes in the Spanish city of Algeciras. Because they couldn't
take the train there, Mr Henderson's company had to build a link by sea
and there were two steamboats that crossed the Bay of Gibraltar.
With the line in place, soldiers stationed at the British
garrison on Gibraltar had a chance to escape and relax,
drawn by the excitement of the bullfights
and the hilltop pleasures of the Ronda.
And what were the challenges of the terrain?
They were vast, one because of the elevation - climb -
sea level to Ronda is 750m.
And the second because of the actual terrain.
We're just about to go into the gorge,
we're following the track of the river, the Guadiaro River.
They literally had to bevel out the tunnels from rock, from pure rock.
They had to build a series of switchbacks over the river -
16 tunnels and about six bridges.
-Tunnel number one.
-Tunnel number one!
So what was the impact of this railway when it opened
at the end of the 19th century, on the communities here?
Vast - they called it railway fever.
The great thing about this railway and I suppose all railways
that opened at that time is that they transcended class.
They were important for everybody,
because all these communities were very,
very cut off and it gave them all a vital lifeline to the rest of Spain.
-What is the future of the railway?
-Right now, it's up in the air.
Renfe, the national rail company,
they are studying the closure of about eight lines in Andalusia.
It makes me very sad that this is one of the lines that might be close.
-And is there a fuss going on about that?
A lot of people are reliant on this railway, not just for pleasure
but to get to work, to get to school, to go shopping.
So there's a campaign under way
-and some poor politician has to make the decision!
-I think so.
I can see what a valuable lifeline this route is.
Britain's experience with the 1960s Beeching cuts was that once
a line had closed, it rarely reopened.
My last stop by railway is Algeciras,
which was very different in 1913 from what it is today.
The then-quiet beaches are now obscured by a vast
network of cranes, ships and lorries.
It's Spain's second-busiest container port.
Having constructed the railway line,
Mr Henderson built a hotel for his travellers in Ronda.
Its sister hotel is here in Algeciras.
This irresistible advertisement in Bradshaw's guide has
brought me to the hotel Reina Cristina.
"Modern hotel, furnished by maples.
"Frequent saloon steamers daily to and from Gibraltar.
"Best sanitary arrangements."
It's also the very first hotel to be built on the Costa Del Sol
and very early in its history, it welcomed Winston Churchill
to the Algeciras Conference to resolve the Moroccan Crisis.
In 1905, Germany was eager to expand its empire to rival
those of Britain and France.
Kaiser Wilhelm landed in Morocco and controversially backed
the Sultan in his bid for independence from France.
The French were furious and the Algeciras Conference was
called to try to get France and Germany to negotiate.
A diplomatic solution was found,
but Britain, France and Russia allied themselves against Germany.
-Hola, buenas tardes.
Michael Portillo, por favor.
The hotel became a firm favourite with the garrison officers
in Gibraltar, who wanted to get off the Rock to relax,
which is exactly what I'm going to do.
Algeciras is very definitely in Spain, but this morning I've
chosen an English breakfast, because Gibraltar is very close by and it's
my next destination, so today, it's eggs, bacon and baked beans.
Gibraltar is 2.5 square miles of Jurassic limestone,
rising in a bold headland fronting the Straits of Africa.
On a clear day, you appreciate how narrow those straits are
and why that little stretch of water was so important to the British.
For three centuries,
British artillery on the Rock has been able to deny access to
shipping from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and vice versa.
Given its strategic importance, you can see why
the British have clung to it like a limpet to a rock.
In 1704, the British took Gibraltar by force and ever since,
there have been Anglo-Spanish tensions.
The best place to understand why the British were prepared to
fight to keep possession of Gibraltar is up here.
It's like taking off in a plane, the views come rushing into sight.
We're going up 412m, so we're going up about the height
of the very top of the Empire State Building in New York.
I think the panorama today is going to be spectacular.
Spain is laid out before me today like a map.
The coastline snaking away there towards Malaga,
and on that side towards, eventually, Portugal.
Ronda will be up there, and then of course the railway
snakes its way down to...Algeciras, there.
And my early 20th-century travellers would then have taken
a saloon steamer across here
But my crow's-nest view also reveals why the British
so badly wanted Gibraltar.
It was only 14 miles away from the coast of North Africa
and the waters were a shortcut for shipping through to the
Mediterranean and the rest of the British Empire.
Without access to Gibraltar, ships would have had to go all
the way round the African coast, taking more time
and more risks.
With tensions over Africa hotting up between the European powers,
Gibraltar looked as though it might be the front line in war.
I'm meeting Prof Clive Finlayson, director of Gibraltar's museum.
Clive, in 1913,
we're only, as it turned out, a year away from war and already
the colonial powers were in dispute over bits of North Africa.
The visitor from Britain, clutching his Bradshaw's guide,
what might he have noticed in Gibraltar at that time?
Well, intense activity related to the dockyards
and the whole of the port was built over a period of 12 years.
That really transformed the whole of Gibraltar.
There was intense quarrying,
the whole physical landscape of Gibraltar changed completely.
It was of course related to the fact that the British knew
the German submarines, U-boats, posed a threat
and they wanted to construct a torpedo-proof harbour.
So that's what they would have seen.
Was this traditionally the Royal Navy area of Gibraltar?
Right from the start, in 1704, the port had been in the North,
but suddenly, the enemy was in the North, so they had to move
the harbour, the naval facility, away from the land and the guns.
So it was brought here.
Tunnels begun in the 18th century were used to store naval
ammunition during the First World War.
During the Second World War,
they were developed into a clandestine network and Clive's got
a recently-declassified top-secret surprise for me.
Well, we've come through a huge number of tunnels - what was
the purpose of this, Clive?
Well, this was one of the most secret projects of the Second World War.
The British planned that should Franco reach an agreement
and allow Hitler through Spain, Germany took Gibraltar.
Six men were prepared to entomb themselves,
literally inside the Rock and spy on the Germans from the inside.
It's a total James Bond story.
So we're coming through another tunnel, we're now pointing west.
If you don't mind, to go up there and look through that little slit.
This tiny slit, which can only be what, six inches long
and half an inch wide, I can see all the bay down to Algeciras...
And actually, I can see down to the wharfs of Gibraltar as well.
An absolutely perfectly-planned lookout.
From inside, you could see any movement of enemy ships
and then push an aerial out at night when nobody is watching
and transmit that information back to London.
Hopefully, they'd be able to come and re-take Gibraltar.
Having served as Defence Secretary, I can appreciate here that the
Rock is the best sentry box in the Mediterranean.
Although the Rock was bombed
during the Second World War, Nazi Germany did not invade Gibraltar.
But in the years after the war,
struggles between Spain's military leader General Franco
and the British have left their mark on its 30,000 inhabitants.
To find out how it's affected this multinational population,
I'm meeting local, Tito Vallejo.
-Hello, Mike. How are you?
-Good to see you.
I see you're here with your fish and chips
and of course I see the post-boxes
and telephone boxes - all of it very reminiscent of the UK.
But you're a Gibraltarian - what does that mean, really?
We are British, obviously, British subjects, but the English
usually call us Spanish and the Spanish call of English.
But we cannot say that,
because we have our own roots - for example, I am half and half.
Given there are so many nationalities in Gibraltar,
why are they so pro-British?
I wonder if it's partly
because of the difficulties that there have been with Spain.
That is one of the main problems. The constant strangulation of Gibraltar.
It didn't intensify until the Queen came to Gibraltar in 1954.
Franco got annoyed.
He said, from now on, I'm going to strangle Gibraltar
and I want it back. From then on, things started to heat up.
Because of that rift,
our young children are now losing the way of speaking Spanish.
It's a very great pity about that.
-How do you describe your nationality or ethnicity?
British to the core. But how about you? You're in the same boat!
Well, I regard myself as British AND Spanish,
but I think they're both so different and so marvellous
and so distinct, I don't see them being put together in one country.
I find it frustrating that Spain and Britain are in dispute.
If the two countries could only work together, Gibraltarians
and Spaniards could reap richer rewards.
I've travelled down across Spain on fast and efficient trains,
quite a change since my guide book was written.
The early 20th-century traveller would have been struck at the end
of the journey as I am that Africa
is almost within touching distance.
Invaders from there occupied Spain for centuries.
Perhaps that helps to explain why, for all its modernity,
in its food, its customs, its dances and its architecture,
Spain remains today unlike anywhere else in Europe.
Next time, I find out how the Edwardian traveller
discovered a love of the high life.
A traveller with my Bradshaw's guide in 1913 could have gone
-up in a plane and seen this wonderful view.
And on the Grand Canal,
I hear about the amorous conquests
-of Venice's most famous son.
-Casanova loved women.
He only had 130 lovers.
-That's extremely moderate.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Armed with his 1913 railway guide, Michael Portillo returns to his native Spain to discover what the intrepid tourists of the Belle Epoque experienced on their travels through the fading Spanish Empire. Hard on their heels in Madrid, he visits the scene of a grim assassination attempt at the royal wedding of a British princess and a Spanish king.
Striking south to historic Cordoba, Michael dances with an unusual partner and enjoys all the fun of the feria. Heading further into Andalusia, Michael arrives in Seville, the city he has made his Spanish home and where, in the city's tobacco factory, he learns about a gypsy girl named Carmen.
After sipping sherry in Jerez, he traces Winston Churchill's tense diplomatic mission to Algeciras on Spain's Costa del Sol and finishes with tales of British espionage on the Rock of Gibraltar.