Spain, The Sherry Triangle – Sanlúcar de Barremeda, Jerez and El Puerto de Santa Maria – plus art and flamenco!

Just enjoyed an interesting side trip from Estepona – visiting the three towns of the sherry triangle which is the only official part of the world where the wine made can be called sherry (or in the case of Sanlúcar de Barremeda Manzanilla which is a different version again).

I have learned that sherry is wine that is aged differently and for much longer. There are three main kinds (although actually about nine) all from a white grape – fino (dry and my favourite); amontillado (medium sweet) and ollorosso (sweet) – the darker colours of the latter two come from the aging process and oxidization (fino never sees the air as it is covered by a layer of yeast while it ferments) and most sherries age between 7 years minimum and up to 30 for some.

Anyway enough of the technical stuff – the towns we visited were all interesting to see and also include many bodegas where you can taste all kinds of sherries (plus a few brandies too)

Below is Sanlúcar de Barremeda – downtown and the seaside (a ten minute walk away). Very pretty.

This was our first bodegas visit. You can see the barrels are only partially filled to give room to the yeast to ferment on the top.

Then on to Jerez which is the largest of the three towns and has the most bodegas with names some of you will know – Croft, Timo Pepe and Gonzalez Byas. A visit to the local market was colourful.

The bodegas in Jerez is called Tradicion and that is because everything is done by hand – including the bottling. At this bodega there is an unexpected bonus of being able to see the (obviously wealthy) owner’s art collection. Yes that is a tile by Picasso and paintings by El Greco and Murillo.

In Jerez we also visited a traditional and very authentic flamenco show. Started at 10pm of course! We were just about the only non Spaniards there and it was amazing. Tiny bar, tiny stage and fantastic music and dancing. And as a contrast we visited the world famous Spanish Riding School and training centre – unfortunately no photos of the show allowed but suffice to say those riders and their horses are very well trained. And the last of the jacaranda trees too.

Of course Jerez has a cathedral which is as always in this part of the world impressive and very full of silver and gold!

And also a Small Alcázar in moorish style

We didn’t see much of interest in El Puerto de Santa Maria but we ate an amazing selection of tapas at Bespoke – worth it just for that!

Spain, San Sebastian and Loyola Sanctuary

Had to make sure to visit San Sebastián (foodie capital of the world?) while in Bilbao if only for the day – next time will spend more time there.

First stop was the Loyola Sanctuary and church – which is where the whole Jesuit thing started. Interesting historically if less so for me, religiously. The dome ceiling in the church and the spectacular chandelier beneath it were my faves.

Then on to San Sebastián via some gorgeous countryside even thought the weather was grim.

The town of San Sebastián has 3 3 Michelin star restaurants, one 2 start and about 12 more with one star. As a result it brings people from all over the world who love their food and they even give out awards for the best pinxtos. But I have decided to restrain myself with no more pinxtos pics:(

The sun came out finally at the end of the day which was perfectly timed as we headed up to the top of the local hill and got the best views of the wonderful city beach with some sun. For some reason they have a very tacky amusement park at the top of the same hill which I avoided photographing – luckily it doesn’t open until mid June. Why oh why???

Spain, Bilbao – Guggenheim – more architecture than art

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has always been on my must visit list and I was not disappointed with the building. It is a fantasy of soft metallic curves with light flooding in from all directions and a different feel depending on what angle you look at it. The setting next to the river and close to two bridges which have extraordinary designs works well too.

The art itself was mixed. There was an interesting Chagall exhibit and also one of modern Chinese artists – mostly video – but annoyingly they do not allow any photos of art exhibits – kind of strange in this day and age?

Spain, Bilbao – Museo de Bellas Artes and pinxtos tasting

Obviously everyone visits the Guggenheim in Bilbao (and of course I did too) but it is worth taking time to see the Museo de Bellas Artes too. It has a permanent collection including some big names but also houses a great selection of more modern Spanish art. I liked the variety it offers (it is celebrating 110 years of existence this year so there is a retrospective of some of their favourite pieces.

The picture on the left is a Rembrandt on loan from the Dulwich Gallery – it is stunning and unusual to see a portrait of a young female from him. She seems to be jumping out of the picture. On the right is the moustachioed Philip of Spain by Velasquez. I am particularly fond of the Zuloaga painting of the Countess Matthieu de Noailles – bottom right – she looks like a lady who knew her own mind even back in the mid 19th century and apparently she was a trendsetter, writer and contributed to society in many ways.

My favourite in this group is the young girl with the carnation in her mouth – lovely soft colours – by Guiard. Of course the Murillo of St Peter in Tears is pretty good too!

And now on to modern contributions including a huge room with a video exhibit called the infinite garden – it runs for 75 minutes and I happily sat in it for 20 minutes – wish I had had more time. The Spectator by Cronica is also fun – made of paper mache.

And finally I went on a pinxtos tour (pinxtos is roughly the Basque equivalent of tapas but both parts of Spain insist that what they make is very different to the other!). I just know they taste delicious.

Spain – Old and new on a day trip from Bilbao – Vitoria-Gasteiz

I jumped on a bus and rattled into the pretty countryside outside of Bilbao heading for Vitoria-Gasteiz – which I had never heard of although it is the capital of the Basque Country in Spain.

It was full of surprises. Not too many people. Lovely old alleyways but also splashes of fabulous street art which I always love especially when it is in places that are very old. The pinxtos were pretty good too.

Spain – a visit to Cordoba and Carmona

It is an easy day trip to visit Cordoba and Carmona from Seville. The main tour was Cordoba and included the Alcázar and gardens, the Jewish Quarter and finally the unusual mosque/cathedral. I really wanted to like Cordoba but maybe the combination of a rainy day, too many tourists and a tackiness in the trinkets sold as well as a really bad guide wrecked it for me. I have since been advised that once you have seen the mosque/cathedral – which is amazing you need to head to the medieval part of town where there are far less people and genuine artisans to be seen.

Anyway, not everything is perfect:). These are the gardens in the Alcázar – as ever in Southern Spain they are impressive.

I liked these statues. Two show Chrstopher Columbus asking the King and Queen of Spain for money so he could go exploring. The rest as they say is history. The column is Roman and shows how this city was built on Roman ruins – like many places in Southern Europe

Then on to the Jewish Quarter which has a number of memorial to some of the Great Jewish philosophers and writers and contributors to the city.This is Maimonides the Jewish philosopher. Cordoba is also well known for its flower pots on the sides of walls. Very pretty.

Then to the Mosque which was turned into a cathedral after Catholicism became supreme following the ousting of the moors.

On the way back we made a stop in Carmona – a place I would have liked to have seen more of as it is the oldest of the key cities in this part of Spain and is devoid of tourists! We visited the parador (Spanish state run hotels in interesting old buildings – would love to stay here one day – spectacular views)