After renting a car from Madrid and driving the six-plus-some-odd-hours including a detour through Toledo without a map, Bianco and I found ourselves in the charming little Andalusian town of Benam
After renting a car from Madrid and driving the six-plus-some-odd-hours including a detour through Toledo without a map, Bianco and I found ourselves in the charming little Andalusian town of Benamocarra (as we were to find out on our journey maps only get you so far anyway.) Bianco and I were headed to Bambu, the lesbian resort in the south of Spain.
I’d never been to Spain and had no plans of going. Like many Americans I’ve had a Franco-Italian-o bias when it came to Europe. Especially as an artist, I thought, its all about Paris, Florence, Venice or Rome! Oh how wrong-o I have been. So if it weren’t for the invitation of Catherine Potter, co-owner of Bambu, I would have never gone.
Avocado groves, Benamocarra
For over a decade Brits, Catherine Potter and her partner Susanne (and their now adult children) had been vacationing off the beaten path in the white villages of Andalucía, a destination for many northern Europeans. And for seven of those years the couple fantasized about opening a resort for lesbians. Two years ago their dream came true when they found a charming farm house set in-between mango and avocado groves along the Coasta del Sol.
Before we could congratulate ourselves for driving through southern Spain sans-GPS, we drove around the town of Benamocarra several times, got caught behind a herd of goats, and finally managed through Bianco’s broken Spanish, to communicate with a local who led us via scooter to Bambu’s gates. We arrived a few days before “singles-week” so had the place to ourselves for a bit. It was divine.
view from Bambu
Bambu is beautifully kept, clean, traditional whitewashed villa that Catherine and Susanne have converted into “self-service resort” with seven fully furnished suites complete with a full kitchen and most importantly, (when you’ve been traveling for days) laundry facilities. The communal area is replete with swimming pool and barbie. The view is spectacular, surrounded by the mountain ranges and clear Mediterranean blue skies. And what is a lesbian villa without cats.
Freddie one of three Bambu cats
Catherine oriented us for things to do around town as well as day trips we could take from Bambu. We opted for horseback riding, and spent one evening in town with two other guests—who became our fast friendsfrom the UK/Ireland—to watch to the European Cup at a local pub. We took a day trip to the historic town of Malaga, birthplace of Picasso and one of the old forts, Alcazaba, of the Moorish Empire.
And who were the Moors?
This is what makes Spain so fascinating. The history of the Iberian Peninsula (shared by Portugal, Spain and parts of Southern France) is one of conquests and re-conquests, where various ethnicities, religions, and Empires flourished, languished, perished, flourished… and then languished again.
After the fall of the Roman Empire… stay with me people don’t fall asleep! After the fall of the Roman Empire the Iberian Peninsula was populated by Basques (who still live in the northern region of Spain), Celts (who contrary to popular understanding do not originate from Ireland but from central Europe), Greeks and Phoenicians (peoples originally from the country we now call Lebanon) and Germanic invaders such as the Visigoths (you’ll have to turn to your 6th grade world civ to brush up on these folks), among other folk lumped into a group known as Iberian.
Still following? Good.
So when the Western Roman Empire fell into shambles between the 4th- 6th Centuries, succumbing to the invading tribes from the north, it was the Catholic Church that held things together, administrating cities and towns when local governance disappeared. As the official religious institution of the former Roman Empire, the Catholic Church went on to play a key role in establishing and backing the monarchies forming throughout Europe.
Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, a guy named Mohamed had several epiphanies and rallied the peoples of Arabia under the religious movement he founded, Islam. In the ensuing decades after Mohamed died various factions of Arab Muslims fought for dominance over the ummah (the community) and expanded their reach across the Mediterranean and central Asia.
Muslim gate, Mezquita-Catedral, Cordoba
In the 8th C. a break-away Prince, Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik, from the Umayyad Dynasty traveled west through north Africa, picking up Berber people (Islamic black Africans and Arabs from Egypt to Morocco) to invade the Iberian Peninsula. Al-Walid set up the first Islamic Caliphate in Europe. With varying degrees of success and geographical reach in Portugal, Spain, Southern France and even Sicily, Muslim rule in Iberia lasted until the 15th C. These Muslims were known as the Moors.
Christian gate, Mezquita-Catedral, Cordoba
Contrary to modern religious stereotype, Islamic Spain was rather culturally tolerant allowing the arts, science, and mathematics to flourish. This paved the way for Spain’s future global dominance (Spanish Armada) during the Renaissance. Moorish control over Iberia varied over eight centuries with infighting amongst each other and against Christian kingdoms constantly trying to regain territories.
Al-Andalus, the Arabic name for the Moorish lands include, the cites of Cordoba, Seville, Granada, and Toledo among many others. These cities became important intellectual, religious, political and trading centers where universities were established. Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Romani all prospered somewhat under the Caliphates.
Forest path leading to the Alhambra Palace
By the mid-15th C. this all came to a dramatic end when Ferdinand of Argon and Isabella of Castile, brought all of Spain under Catholic control. In 1492, the year they sent Columbus to “India”, the Treaty of Alhambra decreed the expulsion or conversion of all Jews, which precipitated the Spanish Inquisition. And by 1610 the same fate was exacted on the Moors.
Today the Real Alcazar in Seville, Alhambra Palace in Granada, and the Mezquita-Catedral in Cordoba stand as testament to the diverse cultural legacy of Andalusia and have been designated UNESCO world heritage sites. Old Roman temples, turned Christian basilicas turned into Islamic forts turned into Palaces, and Mosques turned into Catholic Cathedrals are inter-woven legacies read through architectural details and exquisitely manicured gardens.
From Bambu, Bianco and I managed to hit these major historic cities all within 2 – 3 hours driving distance from each other (give or take the additional hours we were lost driving through medieval streets.) Needless to say, we only scratched the surface of what could be visited and experienced.
Being a queer traveler can be dicey at times, you may feel you have to tone-down your gayness for fear of reprisals in a foreign country. While we found Spain to be a pretty open society, it was definitely an added relief to be able to really let our hair down at a “family run” place that feels like home. When you plan for your next vacation, put Andalucía on your itinerary. Hit the historic sites, but avoid the tourist traps by staying at Bambu you will be immersed in a culture while still enjoying a queer women’s space.
Bianco enjoying the pool at Bambu on a 100 degree day