Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – or so they say. But it can still be highly profitable.
Just ask the hotel and restaurant owners of southern Spain who are tapping into the region’s lurid past when “bandoleros” (bandits) roamed the region.
Legends abound about those desperadoes who were particularly active in the 19th century. To believe some anecdotes, they were gallant, romantic types.
The truth was far different, but that hasn’t stopped the tourist business cashing in. Today you can sleep the sleep of the just in a wayside inn named after one of those rogues. Or tuck into gourmet food in a top restaurant bearing the nickname of another.
Allow plenty of time if you tour Andalusia’s bandolero country as the back-roads are tortuous affairs in this spectacular region of chasms and cliffs and secluded, whitewashed villages.
Visiting after the Napoleonic Wars, English writer Richard Ford advised the wise traveller to bring along “a decent bag of dollars” to appease any highwaymen.
He also suggested carrying an impressive-looking watch, noting “The absence of a watch can only be accounted for by a premeditated intention of not being robbed of it, which the thief considers as a most unjustifiable attempt to defraud him of his right.”
Travel is less perilous these days. In the mountain village of El Borge near the city of Malaga you find the olive mill where the fearsome El Bizco (the one-eyed) was born. It has been converted into the Posada del Bandolero, an attractive hotel and restaurant.
Look for two holes in the local church’s weather-vane. It never worked – until El Bizco blasted it with his shotgun.
On the old road from Malaga to Granada stands the Venta de Alfarnate, reputedly the oldest inn in Andalusia. At weekends the inn is crowded as trippers tuck into roast kid, partridge and pork.
El Tempranillo, most notorious of the bandits, visited here. He claimed: “In Spain the king rules, but in the sierra I do.”
He did have a certain style. After stripping a lady of her jewellery, he would kiss her hand and assure her: “Such a pretty hand needs no adornment.”
The town of Ronda, breathtakingly located on the edge of a gorge, has a museum devoted to the outlaws. This was the heart of bandolerocountry.
One local bandit even has a wine named after him. And a famed Ronda restaurant, Tragabuches, bears the name of another. It has earned a Michelin star, but you may have to rob a bank yourself to pay the check.
Some travellers exaggerated the bandit peril, believed Ford. When he inquired about thieves, “according to all sensible Spaniards, it was not on the road that they were most likely to be found, but in the confessional boxes, the lawyers’ offices, and still more in the bureaux of government.”
So some things don’t change.