When I moved to Spain, some 13 years ago, glimpsing the black metal toros on the horizon caused huge excitement – and still does. The Osbourne Bulls – named after the sherry family – are dotted across Andalucía, and the whole of Spain. They started life as fancy billboards to promote the bodega’s brandy, but have now become iconic, cultural symbols. Designed by the Cadíz-born artist Manolo Prieto, the former advertising hoardings have now been declared part of Andalucían Heritage and 21 bulls still stand proud in the region, complete with their impressive cojones.
When I first moved to Spain, one of my favourite interiors stores (now, sadly, long gone) had a black and white photograph for sale of a young kid dressed up in a Native American headdress, standing underneath one of the Osbourne Bulls, arms aloft, fists clenched, yelling into the sky. It was such a powerful image and is one of those pieces that I regret, still to this day, not buying. I have no idea who the photographer was, whether they were important or not, or even how much it cost. But I think of it often.
So, for years – literally, for years – I have been trying to find a bull accessible by foot, in order to recreate that image. Last summer, near Bolonia, we pulled the car onto a dusty track and walked up a steep hill to reach a bull. However a field full of sharp thistles on one side and cattle on the other stopped us from reaching it. Legs scratched, and slightly terrified by the approaching herd, we retreated, defeated.
But the story ends well, dear reader. On our way to the Sierra Nevada this year, for late-season skiing and a stay at the wonderful El Lodge (review coming soon), we spotted a possibly-accessible bull. Could it be? Despite my excitement, the pull of five-star luxury was too much, so we promised to explore on the way back down from the mountains. There’s an old Costa del Sol legend: that you can ski in the morning in the Sierra Nevada and waterski in the afternoon down on the Med, and we were about to test that theory out. But first, the bull.
With the top down on the hire car, we descended slowly along the winding mountain roads, on a bull hunt. Every now and again we could see its horns come into view, so we slowed, carefully, looking for a turn-off. On a terrifying dog-leg bend, we saw our chance: a dirt track heading directly to the bull. GOLD! We pulled in, expecting hordes of tourists – because, well, it’s an accessible bull. Not a soul. Not a sound. Just the snow-topped mountains in the background, and the city of Granada below us.
It’s even more magnificent up-close. I’d never really noticed the framework that holds it up before. And the size of it, when you’re stood at its hooves, is quite remarkable. Over 13 metres in height, it’s majestic and powerful. We clambered up onto its two-metre high concrete base and looked up in awe and wonder. It really is not just a piece of beautiful public art, but also an incredible feat of engineering. A wonder. Now 50 years old, I wonder how long these beautiful icons can last.
So we posed and pranced and took more photographs than we needed to. It’s beautiful. It’s proud. It’s Spain.
Check out this amazing Google map of Spain showing the location of all of the Osbourne Bulls. Some fool needs to visit every single one. It might be me.