Category Archives: Spain

Spain, a weekend in Seville

If you’ve ever contemplated a long weekend in Seville – and you absolutely should – here is what my friend Sue and I managed over the last three days. It was great.

First up – a walking tour of Hidden Seville – which involved heading into the old moorish quarter of the city. Once a no go zone and while still gritty become more gentrified as more tourists start to visit. A real community spirit here too with a lot of communal living and focus on music and the traditional arts.

Next stop was to go inside the architectural sculpture that is the Metropole Parasol. Controversial when it opened less than 10 years ago it is not a must see in Seville and it is different again once you are inside and walking around it. Definitely the architect was influenced by Gaudi.

An evening walk into Triana – over the bridge was next on the agenda. The walk involved tapas tasting in some tiny and authentic bars as well as a flamenco show (no pics allowed). Excellent evening.

Day 2 and the first stop was a tour of the Alcazar Palace and adjoining Gardens and for Sue the Cathedral too. The two most viewed buildings in Seville and for good reason. Try to book a timed ticket for early access to avoid crowds. Like many buildings in Andalucia all the artwork and design is mudeja- Muslim design and architecture including mosques which were subsequently taken over by the Catholics who rather than pulling them down (thank goodness) added a cross and bell tower above the minarets and a few coats of arms around the place – and then declared them Christian! Excellent decision in my view and great example of recycling and using skilled local artisans.

After an excellent Middle eastern meal, day 3 started with a tour of the bullring which has been around since 1760. This is a well used arena right by the Guadalquivir River which is used about 30 times a year for bull fights. The tour also includes access to a museum.

Then as the weather was so lovely – a walk though Maria Luisa Park to the Plaza Espana originally designed for the 1928 Ibero-American Expo and still in amazing condition. Each tiled alcove represents a different province in Spain and the key is to find one that matches what you are wearing and then take a photo!!

So for anyone wondering – yes it is worth coming over for a long weekend. Definitely.

Thanks Sue for making it extra fun

Spain, Granada and the Alhambra Palace – two days of gaspworthy sites. (Best viewed on ipad or larger device)

Last time I visited the Alhambra I was in my 20s and it was a very crowded and a very hot day trip with no time to see the town of Granada. This time I travelled by bus from Seville – 3 hours – and spent two nights there (at the excellent Eurostars Washington Iriving Hotel) which gave me plenty of time to explore both to my heart’s content. November is a great time to visit – comfortable walking temperatures, clear skies, far less tourists and snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance (a place where snow belongs as far as I’m concerned).

From my hotel I could walk through the forest by the Alhambra into town. Autumn comes much later here so the colours were a bonus. Like Seville, although festive decorations are up nothing has been switched on yet – it is after all still November! Very civilised. The town of Granada is a decent size and there are nice walks in the modern parts and the old Jewish and Moorish quarters.

Next on to the iconic Alhambra Palace – right outside my hotel. It is hard to realise that only about 20% of the original palace exists (it is still huge) as the rest was destroyed – a fair bit by Napoleon I think?! Washington Irving’s book Tales of the Alhambra,which I now have to read, helped bring in initial money which was used to restore the place. There is still more that can be restored but Andalucian bureaucracy is slow.

There are so many things to love about this place.

Is it the architecture?

Or the ceilings?

Or the interiors?

Or the views from the inside out?

Or the gardens?

Or staggering up the steep roads of the Albaycin- the old moorish quarter on the other side – to get to the St Nicholas lookout and watch the sun set over the Palace and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains?

You can decide………

Spain, A day trip to Ronda, Andalucia

Ronda is about 90 minutes from Seville and is famous for its beautiful setting and bridge. The town has been inhabited by everyone who has invaded Spain – the Visigoths, the Moors, the French etc etc and like many places in Andalucia the main church was formerly a mosque, although virtually nothing remains to show that was the case.

First stop was the bullring – a tour only. Nowadays they only have one actual bull fight show a year – the battle between those who worry about cruelty to animals and those who think it is important to maintain old cultures rages on. Seating for a bull fight is great wherever you are – given they are round so the main difference in price is whether you sit in the shade or the sun.Summer temperatures can get to the low 40s so many choose to pay the extra 100 Euros to be in the shade. Love those outfits too and yes there are female picadors and matadors these days – they don’t wear dresses for the fight!

Then on to the famous terrace walk with the amazing view. Ronda is definitely a place you have to see in the sunshine as so much of its pleasure depends on the gasp-worthy views of the valleys below and the famous old bridge that takes you into the well preserved old town. I chose to have lunch outside the Parador for the view – it used to the the old Town Hall.

The photos above were taken from the wall you can see in the pictures below. It is a decent sized area that you are able to walk along. Best of all – amazing weather and much fewer tourists.

In the old town we visited the Bosco house where the retired priests used to get free room and board to live out their days. Typical Andalucia house with interior courtyard for air and shade. Bottom right is the town square and probably the prettiest part of it – the rest is sadly a bit tacky – Ronda is certainly all about looking out from the town not into it!

Spain, The mural walk in Estepona – last day in Spain!

The wonderful mayor of Estepona has decided to not only make the town the city of flowers but has also commissioned lots of mural and developed a walking map so you can visit them all. I dragged my friend Trudy round most of them – there are about 48 and here is the outcome.

And a final night out with Trudy, Alan and Janice.

Spain, Gaucin – a spanish hillside Pueblo

We took off from Estepona up to Gaucin – a white hillside village about an hour up the mountain. Decided to stay overnight at a cute boutique hotel – La Fructuosa The views at this height are breathtaking and while nothing much happens in the town it is nice to wander around stopping for coffee and cold drinks as you go by white houses, beautifully kept cemeteries and decorations made of what looks like colored wool in a circle – all the while wondering how they build these villages that appear to hang off cliffs!

Spain, Malaga

We took a side trip to Malaga over the past few days. It actually had a nice feel to it and I think it is a town that is evolving into one with a personality and good vibe. We started to see the beginnings of a street art scene, ate at some good restaurants (including the famous El Pimpi where we indulged in the top of the range Iberian ham from chestnut eating pigs! ), we took a ride of the observation wheel, we walked the paseo along the oceanside, saw the impressive fruit and veg market and also visited the more traditional cathedral and the Alczabar. Great place for a short break.

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!