Visitors to Spain may have a few misconceptions about the weather on the Iberian Peninsula. Winter in southern Spain is not hot by any stretch of the imagination. Granted Spain is the closest one can be to Africa while still being on European soil, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have winters. Our town is about 800 metres above sea level and surrounded by the La Serranía de Ronda mountain range, which will be dusted in white several times during the winter.
Our daytime temperatures might rise into the low teens, but it can equally easily drop below freezing at night. Here in the South we can take cover from the wind on a sheltered bench and still feel the warmth of the winter sun creeping into our bones through our layers of clothing in January. We are not talking Arctic conditions, but the way that most Spanish houses are built, you are almost guaranteed to be colder than you would be at home on a wintery day in Reykjavik.
The cold certainly doesn’t discourage sun-hungry northerners, who defy metrological warnings, arriving in town before spring in flip-flops and shorts. Never mind that they look like newly plucked hens with their goose bumps and pinkish skin. Some people will do anything to prove they had been to sunny Spain. I can understand why many Spaniards think those dumb blonde jokes are true!
Wake up, it’s snowing!
To be honest, the last thing we thought of when we moved to Spain was snow. Yet it happened during our very first Andalucian winter.
One morning we woke up after a mighty thunderous night and opened our shutters to the most magical snowy landscape. Que?! What?! Snow in Andalucía?
There was no time to waste. We immediately set out to discover Ronda dressed in white.
Young and old alike were out enjoying the snow, a phenomenon that the town had not seen for years. Actually, chances were that every child we met under the age of eight probably touched snow for the very first time that day.
We climbed to the top of the city wall to see our barrio from above and started a snowball fight with young Oscar and his father Curro, who attacked from below. It wasn’t a fair match of course – we had the advantage of elevation and gravity, in addition to a lifetime of training in snowball-fighting tactics. They were grinning from ear to ear all the same.
Continuing our photo-hunt into town, we passed snowy fields that were covered in spring blossoms only the day before. The branches of the orange and lemon trees in the town hall square hung heavy with frozen limbs.
A thick fog was seeping into Ronda’s gorge, making a magical spectacle of haze between streaks of sunlight.
As expected, almost all businesses were closed due to the weather, as the town doesn’t own a snowplough, nor was there a snow shovel to be purchased for miles. One just had to pray that a visit to the hospital would not be needed on such a day, as the icy road up to the ER entrance would be impassable on bald summer tires.
Costa del Snow?
Of course, snow is to be expected in the Sierra Nevada which peak at nearly 3500 meters high, but what about the rest of this southern region?
In 2010 there was a big hoopla when it allegedly snowed – at least a few flakes – fell in the city of Seville. Some experts argued that it was merely sleet, but it was still a very newsworthy event. Why? Because it was over half a century from the last occurrence, on 2nd February 1954. Snow also fell in downtown Malaga the same year, with the city not having seen snow since 1953.
In 2017, for the first time in over a decade, parts of the Costa del Sol were covered in snow. The town of Mijas got as much as 6 cm, bringing out amateur photographers en masse. In January 2018 the residents renamed the coast ‘Costa del Snow’, when the beaches at Fuengirola were transformed into a winter wonderland after a heavy hailstorm. In other words, you never know…
Isabel, the southern snowlady
We met our first Spanish snowman on the winding road leading down to Ronda’s Arab Baths. He was just over a foot tall and had arms of delicate spring-green branches with flowering buds.
Outside the family restaurant just up the road from the Baths, Clemente the owner, was shovelling the snow with a garden spade, while teenager María, was making her first snowlady. Lola, her mother and restaurant cook, was taking photos. Maria’s snowlady was named after her grandmother Isabel, and she was given a leopard-print silk scarf for added flair.
Sad to say, these Andalu’ snow creatures generally have a short life.
Emerging after a warming café con leche less than half an hour later, the air was filled with the sound of trickling water.
The snow was already disappearing, and Isabel was threatening to slide off the fence (you know what they say about sitting on fences…). Rivulets of melting water were running along the cobbled road toward the stables below.
But the big and small rondeño children were happy. We had been lucky to see Ronda in white. Who knows? It might be at least a decade until the next time we can build snowladies on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.