At Cosmic Tomatoes, the summer holidays took place in September. Lucie left to the south of Italy to visit Puglia and I went in the south of another neighboring country, Spain. My one-week trip to Andalusia was rich in culinary, historic and architectural discoveries. Today, I will try to share with you bits of my findings.
The journey began in Seville, continued with the beautiful city of Granada, the city of Ronda, the mountains of the Sierra de las Nieves and its surrounding villages.
Located in southern Spain, Andalusia is one of the most diverse regions in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the only European region to benefit from both shores of the Mediterranean and those of the Atlantic. A region with beautiful scenery and a rich gastronomy!
The food in Andalusia
Until not long ago, I knew very little about the Andalusian cuisine (well, I did not become an expert in the meantime either, but it getting better). So before leaving, I made myself a Pinterest board by bringing together different Andalusian recipes I could test. Which obviously made me impatient. During the trip, I had the chance to test a lot of these things and I was not disappointed.
Andalusian cuisine is very carnivorous. If you like ham, you will be happy over there! But it is also possible (especially in the big cities) to eat well vegetarian, by composing a full meal with different vegetarian tapas.
On the menu of the majority of Andalusian restaurants, there is a food in its “full meal” version and in its “tapas” version, meaning in smaller portion. Personally, I’m fed myself with tapas only, during this trip! As I was discovering the food of this region, it allowed me taste as much things possible. Eating tapas also allows to adapt the size of a meal to one’s hunger and save money. Long live the tapas!
Seville is the artistic, cultural and financial capital of Southern Spain. The city abounds with beautiful architecture and history, and has a dynamic life. It has lots of famous and impressive churches, winding streets, and especially a great flamenco tradition. I had a great list of things to do and places to visit, but because of time I could reach one third of my goals.
The Alcazar was built starting from 844 by the Umayyads of Spain during the reign of the emir Abd ar-Rahman II. An alcázar is a fortified palace for military protection that is also used for accreditation requirements of the Muslim rulers of Al-Andalus. Al-Andalus means that part of the Iberian peninsula under Muslim influence in the Middle Ages (from 711-1492 ).
The palace has been amended several times depending on the kings in power (whether Muslims or Christians after the Reconquista). That is why there are both an Eastern and Western architecture … It’s King Peter that gave it its acclaim in the fifteenth century and the palace et turned it into a true treasure and one of the most beautiful buildings in Spain .
Note that the Spanish royal family still uses the top floor of the Alcazar.
The gardens which are in moorish and Renaissance style, are just as beautiful as the palace and are a real oasis of calm in the heart of the city. Filled with fountains, lush vegetation, palm trees, orange trees … you can spent all day walking around the place.
The Triana district claims to be the most festive of the city! But that’s not the only thing claimed by the neighborhood: Triana is known for its ceramics, for having sent its sailors alongside Columbus and for inventing Flamenco music and dance ! Yep. Although everyone does not agree on the accuracy of these claims (and especially the last one), we must admit that Triana is a charming neighborhood and as my personal experience goes, home to extremely beautiful ceramics.
For dining, I made a great discovery in Triana. Not very traditional or typical of this area, but in a very nice location, frequented by the Sevillans. It’s the Sala Cachorro, which is actually a theater with a very good tapas bar. You can sit in their courtyard overflowing with plants of all kinds and order tapas, of course, but also fresh pita bread sandwiches that are heavenly.
The cathedrale of Seville
The Cathedral of Seville is the third largest in Europe and the largest in the world by volume. It is the subject of the annual processions of Semana Santa, and has (apparently) the body of Christopher Columbus! For me who usually compares all the cathedrals with the one of Strasbourg (where I live) my first impression was: too much Bling Bling! Indeed in this cathedral and other churches in the area visited, the profusion of golden surfaces is most impressive. The most spectacular part of the interior of the cathedral is probably the main altarpiece, all in gold!
The cathedral also offers a beautiful view of the city skyline from the top of its legendary Giralda tower. To appreciate these views, we must have the courage to walk up among a horde of tourists, but it is well worth it.
Even though we could walk around the historic quarters and between the beautiful Sevillian monuments for hours, and not get bored, it’s also a good idea to find time for the less touristy areas and the places where locals hang out . The macarena district and particularly the Alameda de Hercules (Hercules walk) is the ideal place to live a true Seville experience. Based on my Airbnb host’s words, this area was, until ten years ago still, very creepy. But gradually, the best tapas bars settled there to turn this neighborhood into THE place to be.
My host was also kind enough to give me a long list of bars and restaurants list in this district.I tried almost half of them and was not disappointed.
I continued my trip by passing through Antequera on the way from Seville to Granada. My Lonely Planet guide described it as: The Florence of Andalusia. I’ve never been to Florence, but according to Lucie, who was there earlier this year, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. So stopping in Antequera seemed to be a good idea.
Unfortunately, I only stayed a few hours and those hours coincided with the siesta time (nap times are taken very seriously in spain). The town was completely deserted and most shops / bars / cafes / restaurants were closed and I did not test the typical gastronomy of the city there. On the bright side, the quiet atmosphere allowed me to enjoy strolling around and checking out the facades of its many churches. There is indeed something like 30 churches in this small town. Like many Andalusian cities, Antequera had its Alcazaba, a Moorish castle fort. You can climb up to its doors for an impressive view over the city.
I tested the food of Antequera later in my trip. I learned that the famous Spanish cold soup, gazpacho, was from this city. The other specialty of Antequera is something a little like gazpacho: The Porra. It is a tomato puree with garlic, red or green peppers, mixed with vinegar, olive oil, and some bread. Like absolutely everything edible in Andalusia Porra gets some diced ham as a topping.
Antequera is also known for its Mollete breads. It is a kind of small soft bread (barely cooked) and round. I saw some Andalusians have them for breakfast with olive oil and mashed garlic.
Granada is a city full of mysteries and surprises. Each alleyway refers to a postcard picture, with winding roads, old stone staircases, and lovely houses covered with green plants.
Upon my arrival the first thing I saw was this beautiful skyline with beautiful prickly pears in the foreground. Enough reason to fall in love with the city immediately.
Food wise, the bars and taverns of Granada are known for their generous portions of free tapas. You can go to any bar, order a small cerveza or a copa de vino, and see tour tapas coming immediately.
Granada is also known for its Moroccan markets. These markets are in Albaicín, a neighborhood with narrow streets, vestiges of the medieval times. With its well kept traditional houses, the neighborhood has retained its charm and is the ideal place to discover the Moorish architecture. Albaicín summarizes perfectly the Spanish and Arabic cultural mix in Andalusia, and the food is no exception.
I made my first culinary experience in this area at Taberno del Besos. And it was probably one of the best dishes I tasted on this trip. Since the weather was always nice, I was able to sit in the beautiful patio of the restaurant patio and taste a “roasted lamb with garnish” which was extremely delicious. The food was accompanied by the best sangria in the world. A very simple dish at first, with few ingredients, but it made my taste buds travel very far away.
Adresse : Taberna del besos, Cuesta de San Gregorio, s/n, 18010 Granada
Albaicín is an Arabic word meaning “the miserable”. The area was, indeed, once inhabited by poor Muslims who fled the Reconquista at the time of the Nasirides.
Today this area has become (besides being a favorite of tourists), the district of artists and other creative people, seduced by its beauty.
The best way to reach this place is by the historic center of the city and more precisely by Calle Nueva. You can climb the alleys and stairs of this district, passing by the colorful lantern and leather shops. The higher you, the more you get lost, and the more fun it is. It can take a break by stopping at one of the many oriental teahouses and enjoy a fragrant tea; and then continue to climb, to finally reach the Sacromonte.
The Sacromonte quarter (sacred mountain) is home to the gypsy community of Granada (or was once maybe). At the entrance of the neighborhood, you will see the statue of the Chorrohumo. He is known to be the king of the gypsies of Grenada! This Churrohumo man was very popular in Granada in the 50s, and who loved to guide people around the city.
Sacromonte has a main road, the Camino del Sacromonte. This street is lined with Flamenco Caves and bar terraces overlooking the entire city. In the caves we can go see Zambra performances, a variation of flamenco with oriental influences, in which the singer also dances. In these shows, the spectators have the advantage of being very close to the dancers and musicians. The atmosphere is friendlier than in stage shows as everyone takes part in the performance. For exemple you can hear everyone shouting “olé” to encourage the dancers.
It was somewhat impossible to go to Granada and not visit the Alhambra. It is a very crowded place. To have tickets I had to wake up at 6 in the morning and stay in line for hours (which wasn’t the case for the ones who had thought of booking tickets 3 months in advance). Still I do not regret having gone to this place. The Alhambra will remain one of the finest monuments I’ve ever seen.
For those who are not familiar, the Alhambra is one of the most emblematic monuments of Granada and is one of the most visited attractions in Spain. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, this former palace / Moorish fortress dominates the skyline of Granada. The Alhambra takes its name from the Arabic word al-Qala al-Hamra (Red Castle). The first palace on the site was built by Samuel Ha-Nagid, the great Jewish vizier of one of nasirides sultans in the 11th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Nasirides emirs transformed the area into a complex of palace / fortress / small village of workers. You should really take the time to visit this monument as it should be: you could stay a whole day walking around the gardens between orange and pomegranate trees.
The Nasiride place is the most famous part of Alhambra, which is actually a combination of three palaces. Each palace was built in a different era. Most rooms are connected with white marble solariums, with four walls, an open roof and a beautiful fountain in the center. Exotic middle eastern tiles and intricate carvings adorn the walls. Visits of the nasiride palace take place in very specific hours. I couldn’t have tickets for a day visite so I went there at 11 o`clock at night, which was also nice.
From the top of the towers of Alcazaba (the fortress of the Alhambra), you can have great views of the city. Conversely you can go to Mirador San Nicolas on the other side of the city for stunning views of the Alhambra.
Grenada city center
The center of Granada, although it is not the most charming part of it, is also worth a visit. Just avoid the center aisles where the chain shops are, and head to the squares surrounding the cathedral. You can also find local merchants selling vegetables and fruits like cherimoya and prickly pears when in season.
It’s in downtown Granada that I could eat my second favorite dish of the trip: remojón grenadino. It’s a typical grenada salade, perfect for summer.
Yunquera and the Sierra de las Nieves
To vary my trip a little, I decided to spend some days in the Andalusian countryside. In the deep countryside to be more precise: At the edge of the Sierra de las Nieves, in a place lost between three villages Yunquera, Alozaina and Tolox. This part of the trip was less about historic and architectural discoveries, and more instructive on the Andalusian vegetation and geography. Through Airbnb my husband and I were able to find an accommodation near a stream running through the mountains at a very nice gentleman’s house who taught us a lot about this region full of mysteries.
My stay in las Nieves Sierra was mostly spent on small mountain walks, gatherings (almond, olive orange. Etc.), naps, and watching the beautiful scenery.
La Sierra De las Nieves” which includes the villages of El Burgo, Monda, Tolox, Parauta, Ronda and Yunquera, is declared a natural protected area and Biosphere Reserve. It has a surface of 20,163 hectares. This park can boast a territory with more than 3,000 hectares of “Pinsapo” an endangered species. The “Pinsapo the Escalereta” is the oldest tree of the “Sierra de las Nieves”. It is estimated over 500 years old, 26 m high, with a trunk that reaches 5.10 meters in perimeter and foliage that exceeds 200 square meters.
The Sierra de las Nieves park has the distinction of being a mountainous region with deep crevices like that of the Caina (with a vertical drop of over 100 meters), ridges like the Gesm (more than 1 100 meters), and peaks over 1900 meters of altitude such as Torrecilla located in the Sierra Blanca of Tolox.
Our host explained that the Sierra de las Nieves is historically known to be the perfect hiding place for thieves and bandits! There was even a bandits museum in the area!
Ronda is one of the oldest cities of Spain. People come here to admire the famous Puente Nuevo, this gigantic three-arched bridge that connects the city cut in two by a dizzying ravine. A grand spectacle! Above this eighteenth century bridge, which offers stunning views of the valley, stands old squares and whitewashed houses.
I took great pleasure in walking the cobblestone streets of the Moorish old town and discover charming churches and houses
You should not miss the best view of the bridge. Take the path down from the plaza del Campillo to get closer to the river.
A noce place to eat: Mesón El Sacristán, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, 14, 29400 Ronda
My time in this city (like it was in Antequera) was like a break. I was on the way to Seville to complete my journey, and I chose to stop in this small town which seemed nice in pictures. I wandered for a few hours, but I still had the opportunity to eat very well.
Although Osuna is a rather charming town with a beautiful cathedral and an impressive arena, it has been known since 2014 for something else: the mother of the dragons passed through here with one of her children and her Soldiers. You may have guessed, a part of the filming of Game of Thrones took place in this city. Specifically, to represent the arena of the city of Meereen that of Osuna was chosen as a filming location. The people of this city are very proud of it, because some of them could even be extras in the series. When I arrived in the tourist office I noticed immediately a Targaryen shield posed next to a model of the cathedral of Osuna!
Food wise the city had surprises too. Initially I relied on my travel guide to find a good restaurant. There appeared two addresses, and both were closed that day. In the end, tired and hungry, my husband and I moved to what appeared to be a somewhat deserted bar, hoping to eat some fries as a tapas. To our delight the server told us that we could also eat there, and not just chips.
Half an hour later we found before us two good meals that seemed to be prepared with really good quality products. I could taste a delicious avocado stuffed with crab while my husband had a pork tenderloin with Iberian ham. Because in Andalusia, there is never too much meat!
Adresse : Mesón Del Duque, Plaza Duquesa de Osuna, 2, 41640 Osuna
Time to go home
My trip ended, and it happened too fast. There were so many more things to see in these beautiful cities, it would have took me 3 times this trip to do everything. Fortunately, Spain is not far away and a new journey in Andalusia does not seem impossible. So if you, dear readers, have also traveled to Andalusia and that you had other great finds, I’m all ears.
If you intend to travel in Andalusia and have questions on points that I have not developed in the article, feel free to leave a comment. I will try to supplement and correct this article progressively according to your questions.