Spain in all its glory

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Spain is a magical country filled with beautiful vistas, wonderful people and some of the best food we have eaten. The rich history of the country is everywhere – displayed in architecture and churches, mosques and town squares. I’m going to try and give you a taste but the best way to understand the country is to go!!!

We visited the following cities: Madrid, Seville, Granada, some of the White Villages such as Rhonda, Cordoba and Toledo.

Madrid: This is where our adventure started. We stayed at the Urso Hotel and Spa, located in an enclave between the central districts of Chamberí, Tribunal, and Chueca. The hotel is a former palace that has old world character in a modern luxury hotel.

The morning we arrived we headed over to the Mercado De San Miguel. This open market is full of all types of foods from sausages, seafood, olives, cheese, wines and coffees. You can have a complete meal or just walking around buying a little something from different food stalls. We chose to walk around with a delicious glass of rose! (FYI – this mercado was a little touristy – my favorite is the one in Lisbon).

Our first night we did the first of two tapas tours. We went with a group from Strawberry Tours -about twelve people and a guide, Rodrigo, who was fun, funny and got the crowd ready to eat!!! We ate first at Refra – here had our taste of the classic artichokes and chorizo bites. Then we went to Jaberna Abaco – they are all about the ham! Imberico is the prized ham of Spain. I’ll describe more about it later. Then to El Jabugo – here we had calamari and sautéed baby shrimp and then onto Taberna Los Angeles – here we tried the famous hard cider that is poured in a special way. The story is that it tastes so awful that this is the only way to drink it y pouring from a long reach up! I’m sure it’s a great show for the locals! Strawberry Tours is free – you just tip the tour guide and pay for your tapas as you go. We were told it would be 15 euros so we assumed 15 euros per establishment. It turned out that we got all this food and drink for a total of 15 euros. Highly recommend Strawberry Tapas Tours and ask for Rodrigo.

One restaurant and the last one we ate at in Madrid deserves its own space. It was an experience in eating that we have only had a few times in our lives. The restaurant is La Manduca de Azagara. It is a Spanish restaurant the specializes in vegetables. I know sounds crazy, right? They are so farm to table that they literally serve what’s in season and then that’s it. We were lucky enough to have the co-owner Anabel Arriezu Navarro put our meal together. There was so much to choose from that we handed the decision making to Anabel. The best decision! Artichokes, white asparagus, roasted red peppers and an egg omelet with chorizo that was so tender it melted in your mouth. For dinner we ordered, for the first time ever, suckling pig and the fish special (I don’t remember what kind of fish….). Every mouthful was an experience and although there wasn’t any room, we had dessert – caramel torrija with ice cream. Take an amazing French toast and then layer cream on it and fry it again…Amazing.

We took the fast train to Seville – a centuries old port village full of friendly people, amazing food and the feeling of a small warm town though there are almost 700,000 people! The streets are narrow and winding. The city takes their streets and buildings very seriously and require owners to maintain their buildings to set standards. Everywhere you look, the tile work, flowers and front facades are beautiful.

We stayed at Palacio De Villapanes, a sweet converted castle in a little back neighborhood street but so well positioned that we were able to walk to town and sights easily. The place that we ate breakfast everyday wasn’t in the hotel, but down the street – Café Bar La Fresqui. A local, no frills incredible place to have coffee and a tomato and ham sandwich – yes for breakfast!

One of the first churches we visited on this trip was the Sevilla Cathedral – the worlds largest Gothic church which houses Christoper Columbus’ Tomb. We did the self-guided tour. Spain grows a lot of oranges, another big industry like the ham. The Queen of England gets her oranges from the only orchard in the courtyard of the Sevilla Church. You can only see the trees from above – they are the Queens trees so you aren’t allowed to touch!!

Seville is where we had our second tapas tour. We booked a private tour, so it was just us and our guide. As we set out, we were excited for what we were going to eat (after all, we basically went to World Heritage Sites and ate). Our guide Maria from La Giralda (the We Love Tapas tour company) gave us the courage to order tapas on our own. She gave us an insight into how to eat and order tapas. She also gave us a tour of the city and its heritage. It was really a lovely evening.

We had tapas at Las Teresas, Alvaro Peregil and Casa Roman. This is where we got our first education about Iberico and the history of Seville. In Seville we ate all things pig. The pride of Spain is the Iberico pig. This is a pig that has a lot of space to forage, a lot of people who care for them and they eat only acorns. The ham has a nutty and almost “meatier” taste. There is no mistaking Iberico – the is no comparison to say prosciutto. They take such pride in the ham, that everyone and everywhere you go, there is a pig’s leg hanging and waiting to be sliced. They don’t refrigerate the leg since its cured and it is protected by a layer of fat that keeps the meat tender and tasty. Everyone has a leg in their home. They slice and eat at any time. I explain it – it’s crazy but they have been doing it for century’s – you have to just go with it at that point. What separates the Iberico (other than everything according to the people of Spain) from any other pig is that the Iberico pig has black hooves. So, when you go and order Iberico, make sure it has black hooves or your out. Some sneaky purveyors paint the hooves black to try and get Iberico prices for regular ham.

On the next night we ate at Az-Zait restaurant and we had a fun and whimsical meal. The most outstanding dish? Egg at low temperature with mashed potatoes and truffle. Yes, it was that good. Our last meal in Seville was at De La O – a hard to find, farm to table, adventurous restaurant with tables right on the river in Triana – right over the bridge from Seville.

We took a day trip to see the white villages. As we entered the highway and left the city, the fields along the highway lit up with yellow blankets. Upon closer examination, we realized that those acres of yellow where in fact sunflowers. They moved with the sun, so the landscape was continually changing but also remaining these amazing fields of yellow.

The white villages are nestled into hillsides and are built tightly together. The area has been settled since prehistoric times. The towns were previously inhabited during Al Andalus, as is evident from many of the names. The reasons for the white color has been thought to be a chemical result of the limestone used. We visited the villages of Zahara de la Frontera and Grazalema and Ronda.

Ronda is one the largest white hill towns (aka white village). The most amazing thing about Ronda is that it the town is literally clinging to the side of a canyon. There is a bridge that straddles the gorge that puts the town on the top of the world! The bridge was built in the 1800’s to join the new and old towns. The towns are small and crazy with tourists, so we chose to do Ronda as a day trip. We toured the bridge and walked the town lazily, had a little tapas and then made our way to out. One word of advice if you are planning to visit Ronda by car – when you arrive in town, find a parking space on the street outside the main tourist area. Parking and driving in this little town can be a nightmare, so save yourself a fight with your partner and park as soon as you arrive.

Our next stop was in Granada. On our way, we stopped at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra where there is an enormous population of Flamingoes. They come from all along the Mediterranean and the North African coast migrate to this spot to breed. They build nests on an island on the lake known as La Colonia. The view is amazing—the entire lake is covered by these pink birds until the horizon.

With the Alhambra as the shining center of this sweet city, Granada and should be on your list of places to go. We stayed for three nights to soak up the city. The tapas experience starts out in a perfect way. If you order a drink in any bar in Granada, you get a free tapas. Order a second drink, you get another free tapas and it can go on and on. We took advantage of this incredible hospitality and saved a bunch of money!!!!

There was one place that stuck out for us for its amazing tapas. It’s called La Tana Taberna and they have an enormous wine selection. They are located on a back little alley and you could walk right by it – it’s so hidden. That obviously isn’t a problem – the place was packed!!! Ordering a glass of wine and experiencing their tapas with the best tomato’s we have ever had – it’s the simple things that can make all the difference!

The Alhambra. First of all, the enormity of the site makes my explanation of it seem so inadequate. I am going to pull an excerpt from the web to explain the origins of the site – “The Alhambra palace and fortress complex were originally constructed as a small fortress in the 800’s AD on the remains of a Roman fortress. It was abandoned and left to ruin until it was renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Emirate of Granada, and Islamic King who built its current palace and walls. After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella. In 1526 Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better befitting the Holy Roman Emperor.”

When the Emirate of Granada lived in the palace – which sits on an impressive 26 acres, all that lived in the space worked for the Emerita, some 1,000 people. Despite the centuries of changes in rule, architecture and neglect, the palace was restored to its original magnificence and glory that began in the in early 1800’s and is still being restored today.

After leaving Granada and driving toward our final destination of Toledo, we spent a day visiting Cordoba. One of the most incredible and moving places we visited was the Mezquita. This is a building that was once a massive mosque and then in the 16th century, when the Christians overtook the Muslims, a church was built in the center (at least the mosques wasn’t destroyed!). As you walk into the Mezquita, you feel as if you are walking into a place of peace and serenity. The arches of the mosque and the low ceilings feel like a sacred and special space. Then as you follow your guide book or map you got when you bought your tickets, you walk into the middle of this incredible vast and muted room and then you are plunged into bright, soaring ceilings and the typical gold and angel formations of the Christian church smack in the middle. A little jarring to say the least. Here is also a word of advice about parking again. Park outside of the main part of town, there are parking garages, and walk into the town center.

Cordoba has one of the oldest Synagogues in Spain. We had the honor to visit. Beautiful.

We finished our trip in the town of Toledo. As we traveled, we drove through the fields of sunflowers again – still breathtaking. We stayed in the Parador de Toledo. A parador is a hotel that has been converted from an ancient monastery or castle. This particular parador had an amazing panoramic view of the old city.

After a crazy and windy ten-minute car ride, we got to the center of the old city. This was our last night in Spain. We walked around the little town at dusk and found the Jewish quarter. The Jewish population in Toledo was one of the largest before the Inquisition. Christians, Muslims and Jews all lived in peace in this great walled city. Here is where we ate our final meal. We ate at La Orza, set above a little square and at the tip of a very windy road. We ate our beets and our last pork dish and toasted an amazing trip with a glass of wine.

Spain was an amazing experience. The country is rich with history, friendly and open people and fantastic food. There is so much of the country that we didn’t see – we are ready to start planning our return trip. I mean, how could you pass up a vacation where every time you order a glass of wine, they give you a little something to eat. A practice we should take up right away in the US!!!

Yes…it came with the wine….!!


  • Reply
    September 16, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Great post – wonderful pics!!!!

  • Reply
    September 16, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    OK, I’m hungry! Your pics brought me back to the wonderful time I had
    many years ago

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