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Trip Report Andalucia/Provence:churros, tapas & salmorejo, croissants, foie & le pigeon

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A little background first. We started traveling internationally with our kids (and for us as well) in 2005 when they were 9 and 12. Since then we have traveled every spring break and several times in the summer as well. Last year my daughter started college and our kids spring breaks no longer coincided. We were supposed to do our first trip without all four of us (so just hubby and I and our son) last March to Japan, but alas the earthquake/tsunami occurred 10 days before we were to leave so that had to be cancelled. We were all able to go to Vietnam this Christmas together (only time the kids had the same 2 weeks off) and had an amazing time (you can read that trip report here: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/christmas-in-vietnam-with-teens-scooters-bicycles-and-junks.cfm.)

For this year’s spring break, my 16 yo son asked if he could go on the school Italy trip. While we’ve been to Italy three times, we’ve never made it south of Rome and this trip incl. Pompei, Naples, Amalfi, Positano and Sicily so we decided to let him go. That meant we could travel with our daughter during her spring break. She only has a week off so she came with us to Andalucia, Spain and then hubby and I continued on for our first international adventure alone to Provence.

Now, I am usually a super advance planner – generally planning 6-9 months in advance. But with the Vietnam trip in Dec. and this one in early March, I didn’t get around to start planning this one until we returned from Vietnam Dec. 31. That gave me just a little over 2 months before we were set to leave to book airfare, hotels, etc– but I’m here to say that I did it!! While I didn’t always get my first choice of hotel/B&B overall we were very happy with where we stayed.

Our trip was 2 nights in Granada, 2 nights in Cordoba, 4 nights in Seville, then we flew to Marseille and spent 6 nights in St. Remy-de-Provence and then spent our last night in a hotel near Marseilles airport before flying home early the next morning. We had been to Barcelona and Paris before but were looking forward to exploring these other parts of Spain and France.

We live in Oregon and flew down Thurs. morning to LA, picked up our daughter at school, spent the night near the airport and then flew out early the next morning. We flew American Airlines – LAX-JFK-Madrid-Granada. We chose to fly American because it was the only airline that flew all the way to Granada (on Iberia) so I could book one ticket all the way through.

We arrived in Granada in the early afternoon. I had booked through our hotel a driver to come pick us up, as I’d heard so much about the narrow, windy streets, and since this was a very small Carmen, I wanted to be sure the person picking us up knew how to get there. Our driver was absolutely delightful, though he spoke limited English he was so excited and proud to show us things as we drove to the city.

We arrived at our place Carmen de la Alcubilla del Caracol (http://www.alcubilladelcaracol.com/index_en.htm) where the owner, Manuel was there to greet us. He is an extremely kind man and does a fabulous job of running this small hotel. Everything was absolutely spotless, and he is also helpful with restaurant and site seeing recommendations and information. DH and I had a nice large room with a terrace and DD had her own single room. I would have been fine with the three of us sharing one room, but Manuel does not have any roll away beds, so we needed to book two rooms. Manuel kept apologizing for the size of the bathroom, but in all honesty I’ve stayed in places with MUCH smaller bathrooms, and we thought it a pretty good size. The common spaces are very nice. There is a nice living room with lots of windows and sunshine. The terraces have incredible views of the city and Sierra Nevada. The hotel is located about halfway up the hill between the city center and the Alhambra. An easy 5-10 min. walk down to the city center, a bit of a hike back up but we did it all but one time. If you don’t want to walk up you can easily catch the Alhambra bus, which stops at the Alhambra Palace hotel, just a bit up from the Carmen – so then you only have to walk down.

Manuel recommended we have lunch at Carmen de Miguel a beautiful restaurant just up the street. We had a fabulous lunch out on their terrace with a spectacular view. We enjoyed octopus carpaccio, venison carpaccio, veal hamburger with foie gras and anchovies on bread with a tomato and olive pate.

DH was ready to hit the room and take a nap, but DD and I wanted to start to explore so we walked down to the city center. An easy walk down, but streets are made with smaller size stones so helpful to have a heavier soled shoe. We just enjoyed getting our bearings and doing some shopping. We also picked up our Alhambra tickets at the Alhambra bookstore. I just put in the same credit card I used to purchase the tickets online into the machine – it was easy.

For dinner we had decided to try to go to 2-3 tapas bars. Our first choice was Cumino, a seafood place that was highly recommended by Manuel and others. We arrived around 8:45pm, busy but not too crowded yet, though we couldn’t find a spot right up at the bar so stood at a smaller table. Not sure if we just ordered wrong, but we didn’t care for this place. We had fried calamari and and a shrimp dish. The seafood was all good, but we didn’t care for the heavy sauce on the shrimp dish. We had planned to try another bar, but the plates were bigger than we had expected so weren’t that hungry after tjat. We walked down Calle Navas, where there are tons of tapas bars but they were all so crowded, and frankly we’d been up for over 24 hrs. so decided to head back to our Carmen.

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    Thanks Millie!
    DAY 2

    After that trip to Vietnam at Christmas time where everything was go-go-go and a lot of early morning starts, we had agreed that this trip would be a lot slower paced. So, I had booked our entrance to the Alhambra for the afternoon 2pm slot.

    We slept in and had breakfast at the Carmen. Breakfast is simple with ham, cheese, toast, yogurt, fruit and cereal and there was delightful lady serving – but bit of a disappointment that the breakfast is an additional charge considering how basic it is.

    We just walked down to the city center went into the Capilla de Real (Royal Chapel) where in addition to seeing the chapel there are also displays of clothing, crown, jewelry, etc. of Ferdinand and Isabella. After also going through the Cathedral we just walked down along the Gran Via exploring the city. Came upon the Botanical Gardens but they were closed. Had to eat lunch earlier than usual in Spain do to our 2pm Alhambra entrance so we chose the Gran Caffe on Bibi Rambla as it was one of the few places that was open earlier. But we really enjoyed a great lunch of gambas in garlic and butter, a charcuterie plate , ham and melon – we think the melon was cassava, not sure, but it was truly delicious. Then we had our first order of churros and chocolate. Now the last time we were in Spain we spent 5 days in Baracelona, and for some reason we never had churros until the day before we were leaving – STUPID!! Well, we weren’t going to let that happen again. So, we enjoyed every last bite of our churros – so light and airy, nothing like what you get here, and that rich, thick, dark chocolate to dip it in – yum!

    Running a bit late, so we took a taxi up to the Alhambra, got some audioguides and waited for our 2:30pm entrance to the Nasrid Palace. I won’t go into detail about walking through the Palaces or the Alhambra, but just want to say that we were not impressed at all with the audioguides. We felt there was a lack of historical detail and just not informative enough.

    We stopped at the Hotel San Francisco which is in the Parador Granada for a drink on the beautiful terrace. Then went over to the Alcazabar (fort), where there are some spectacular views, before heading back to our Carmen.

    Tonight we had dinner at La Puerta de Carmen which is located in the plaza of the same name right at the entrance of Calle Navas. It is beautiful restaurant with friendly service. This was one of our favorite meals and we enjoyed grilled octopus, tuna tartare, a salad with buffalo mozzerella and the most delicious steak. A chocolate ganache for dessert which they called a brownie – but much denser and chocolately then we think of as a brownie.

    DAY 3

    Today we were going to explore El Albaczin. We sort of followed Maribel’s “walking tour”. This whole area was much nicer that I was expecting. Other than all the hills, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay in this area. We have been to Morocco and explored the medinas of Marakkech and Fez and while this area did not feel as exotic, as others have said, we did still like it. We started at the bottom and walked up to the Plaza Largo which is a neat plaza with small restaurants with lots of people out enjoying a drink or snack.

    We started our way back down and stopped at the Mirador St. Nicolas for the spectacular view of the Alhambra, Sierra Nevada, city, etc. – definitely the best view in all of Granada. From there we continued the trek down to Restaurante Mirador Morayma, for an incredible lunch. They have a beautiful garden terrace with a nice view of the Alhambra. Our charming waiter spoke no English but was still able to help us navigate the menu. We had a ham and cheese plate with ham from aljuparra and a delicious tomato jam, ajo blanco – the traditional cold almond soup with fried garlic (delicious!!) and lamb chops.

    After lunch we headed back down to the city center and made a beeline to Gran Café to get more churros, unfortunately, while they were open they said they didn’t start serving churros again until 5pm. Just a block down was the Alhambra Café which was still serving churros so we stopped there – good, but not as good as Gran Café.

    Back to the hotel to get ready for our 6:05pm train to Cordoba. I had pre-purchased the train tickets for Cordoba. While I was successful in purchasing tickets on the Renfe website, I will say it was not without some frustration. Manuel was so helpful in calling us a cab, and insisted that he and the taxi driver carry our bags to the car. An easy 2 hr. 20 min. ride to Cordoba. Caught a taxi for 5 euros to our hotel Balcon de Cordoba located literally around the corner from the Mezquita in La Juderia.

    Balcon de Cordoba (http://www.balcondecordoba.com/) was a beautiful small hotel. It was my “splurge” hotel for the trip, and worth it! Decorated in soothing whites & taupe’s with a beautiful courtyard when you enter. Our room is very nice and beautifully decorated with a nice size bathroom and double sinks. The only problem was the only exterior widow is in the bathroom – the others all open into the courtyard below. If staying there again, I would request a room with an exterior window, but I suppose those maybe more expensive.

    For dinner we went to Bodegas Campos. It gets fabulous reviews but we thought it was only ok. It didn’t help that they were out of a few things on the menu. We had a salad with fried garlic, albondigas, which was very good, and arroz con ribs – not what I actually wanted but first two choices they were out of. I will say my arroz con leche for dessert was very good.

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    This is a great report, thanks for posting. I have always wanted to stay at Carmen de la Alcubila on my next trip. Some of the restaurants sound incredible, grilled octopus, venison carpaccio? that's right up my alley. Unfortunately a human guide to the alhambra runs about $175. If you get the right guide they make the palace come to life. Granainos are very proud of their history and there are tons of fascinating stories and legends about the palace.

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    Egbert - yes, I would have really liked a great live guide at Alhambra, but I just never saw one recommended here or on TA. Most people said you didn't need one, but I still would have preferred it if I'd had a recommendation. Next time I'll try harder!!

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    DAY 4

    Breakfast at the hotel was a nice selection of the usual meat/cheese/pastries/cereals/fruit, but also included made to order eggs, Vienna sausage and bacon. The price of breakfast is included. The young woman helping at breakfast who also ran the front desk during the day was extremely helpful and spoke excellent English.

    Our first stop was to the Mezquita. We arrived around 10:15am and it still was not too crowded. This is an amazing structure with a fascinating history of going from pagan temple to Christian church to Moorish mosque to Christian cathedral. Next we headed to the Casa Andalusi and the synagogue. Casa Andalusi is a typical old Andalucian house. We found the architecture and interior interesting, and it is only 2,50 euro to enter. From here we just ambled around the Juderia walking through the narrow streets and going into some of the more interesting shops. A lot of nice silver jewelry stores in the area (I’m a sucker for that and bought a ring, daughter bought earrings). Walked up to the Plaza Tendillas which is outside of the Jewish Qtr. and has more brand name shopping.

    By this time it was time for lunch. One of the reasons we had decided to spend two nights in Cordoba rather than just do as a daytrip from Seville was because I had read the food here was amazing. So, after breakfast I had asked the lady at the front desk what traditional Cordoban foods she recommended and where she thought we should go. She suggested Tabernas Salinas. It was a bit of a walk, but soooooo worth it. We loved this lunch so much we almost considered coming back to Cordoba for a daytrip while we were in Seville just to eat lunch here again – if the cost of the train ride wasn’t so expensive we would have definitely done it!!

    We had several regional specialties – salmojero – a thick cold tomato soup with ham and hard boiled egg – so delicious, we licked the bowl clean, fried aubergines (eggplant) with honey – so lightly fried, not what we think of heavy fried food here in the states, marinated anchovies – I started out by saying I wasn’t going to eat any because I’m not a big fan of anchovies but they insisted I try, and boy these were good and I ate my fair share, and lastly ham with melon – again, incredibly delicious melon. Each one of these dishes was a fairly good size, enough for us all to enjoy, and only 6,90 euro each. Then we enjoyed deserts of arroz con leche, chocolate cake and oranges with cinnamon and sugar (a dessert we had enjoyed in Morocco where chocolate and pastries are scarce).

    Walked back along the river and crossed the roman bridge with the great views looking back across at the city. Went back to the hotel and rested up on the rooftop with relaxing sofas and chairs and the most incredible views of the Mezquita.

    For dinner we went to Regadera down near the river. This is a small restaurant with just one “hippie” waiter – and it was excellent. We had beef carpaccio, tuna tartar and a delicious mussel risotto with octopus carpaccio on top, and lastly the most incredible pork dish I have every eaten. So, tender and flavorful, and I generally don’t like pork, but if it always tasted like this I would eat it all the time.

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    DAY 5

    Woke up, had a leisurely breakfast, packed and then headed to the train station. There are so many trains each day from Cordoba to Seville that I didn’t bother to buy train tickets in advance. We went on the 11:44am train and arrived in Seville about 12:30pm and took a taxi to Hotel Amadeus. This hotel is on a tiny narrow street in the Santa Cruz barrio (the Jewish Qtr.) with great small streets and beautiful plazas not far from the cathedral.

    We had a superior double that had a nice terrace in a small interior courtyard. The room sort of had two separate spaces so our daughter had a small pull out couch as her bed (twin) in the small entry room, but that did not leave a lot of room for luggage, but we managed ok. The hotel has a nice rooftop terrace with couches, tables, chairs, sun loungers, small Jacuzzi and bar service. This is a nice enough hotel but we started with two problems. One was that the refrigerator was not cold and the second that the drain in the bathroom shower was so plugged up that when you took a shower the entire bathroom was soaked and even started to go into the bedroom hallway.

    First, with the refrigerator. It was hot when we arrived and hubby wanted some water. Opened the refrigerator and there were several bottles of water there but they were all warm as frig wasn’t working. He went out to front desk to ask for cold water and they said it was in the frig. He explained that frig wasn’t working so they said they would bring some cold water to him and someone to look at the frig. Neither ever came, though he did discover that frig was just unplugged so plugged it back in.

    Then the next morning I was the first to take a shower. I could tell while I was in there that there was going to be a big problem. When I got out of shower, I put on some clothes and went out to the front desk to explain and ask for LOTS of towels. She said let us know when you’re done and will have someone come take a look. I said, I can’t do anymore to get ready until I have A LOT of towels to clean this up and two more of us need to take a shower. She got the message and someone came quickly with tons of towels. The other two had to taken showers by only running the water for short times. I will say that after that, they did come and fix the shower and we didn’t have any more problems with it.

    Back to our arrival day in Seville. After we settled in we walked over to Plaza de san Francisco and had lunch at Albarama (Plaza de SanFrancisco, 5), where we had delicious tapas, particularly the risotto with shrimp – excellent creamy risotto.

    DH went back to hotel to rest and DD and I set out for Tetuan St. one of the main pedestrian shopping streets. DH wasn’t feeling well so DD and I had dinner at Vineria San Telmo. It was so warm that we were able to sit outside even for dinner. Our favorite tapas was the creamy bulghur wheat dish but did also enjoy Argentinian steak, spaghetti with squid ink, salmorejo (it was good but one at Tabernas Salinas was better), and housemade foie.

    DAY 6

    Today I had booked a ½ day tour with Marta Cassis. She was highly recommended on TA. (http://www.toursevilla.com/en/). DH still wasn’t feeling well so DD and I just went. Before meeting Marta at our hotel at 10am, we went to El Toro Toro for churros for breakfast. Hotel breakfast was 8,50 euro and did not include meat or cereal, basically just cheese and pastries, so we decided to find something elsewhere.

    After our churros breakfast we met Marta at hotel at 10am. She was extremely knowledgeable and very nice and we both felt as though we had learned a lot. I’m sorry DH missed this. We started out just meandering through the Jewish Qtr. and Marta would stop and show us things and tell us different stories. Our first major stop was the Alcazar. Very beautiful, and I have to agree with the person I read who said that it was more beautiful that the Alhambra because of the brighter colored tiles. (though when I brought DH there a few days later, he disagreed and said he preferred the Alhambra – something for everyone I guess!!). It is much different than the Alhambra as it was smaller and built/designed by a muslim for a Christian king. Then she took us through the Cathedral and again we learned a lot of history and interesting stories. We said goodbye to Marta after this and headed to lunch at La Azotea (Zaragoza, 5). Again we had tapas – grilled octopus, steak tartar and another dish I can’t remember. This was a more modern place then some of the others we had gone to. Charming service, but also a bit more expensive.

    After lunch DD and I did a bit more shopping and then headed back to the hotel to rest. DH was feeling a bit better now so he joined us for dinner at PaCatar (Javier Lasso de la Vega, 1) a little bit of a walk but so beautiful out it wasn’t a problem. We enjoyed an artichoke dish recommended by our waiter, vegetable raviolis, a salmon and pork dish and this delicious dessert called Galletas Maria. Our waiter, again recommended it to us, though he had difficulty describing it as he kept telling us it had broken biscuits in it – he finally said just trust me and we did! Once we ate it, we realized we were thinking breakfast biscuits or biscuits and gravy, but he really meant cookies or crackers. It was delicious, sort of like a budino with crushed cookies in it.

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    DAY 7

    Today we had breakfast at a large restaurant right across from the cathedral. Can’t remember the name, the service came with a bit of an attitude but we were able to get eggs for breakfast!

    We decided to walk across Triana bridge to Triana and see the pottery places. I had read this was a good place to buy pottery. This is more of a working class neighborhood and frankly, I wasn’t really impressed with the pottery. Although there was one shop that had some very interesting large pots. The neighborhood itself was very quiet. There was an interesting food market just to the right when you get off the bridge on St. Jorge St. The opening to the market is just a small door, but inside the market is quite large.

    From here we walked to the bullring. Odd, but actually kind of hard to find as three sides of it just look like a regular building. Look for the large statue of a woman on a horse along Paseo de Cristo – that is where the entrance is.

    Every half an hour they give a 45 minute tour. We saw the bullring, the museum, chapel and an art gallery. The guide says things in Spanish and then repeats everything in English. We found this very interesting and informative and would highly recommend it. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer everyone’s detailed questions.

    For lunch we went to Bodeguita Antonio Romero (Calle Gamazo, 16), not far from the bullring. We had tortilla de camerones, albondigas with almonds, mixed salad with salmon and ham and cheese. The albondigas and tortilla de camarones were the best. Tortilla de camarones actually reminded us of the Vietnamese pancakes we had in Vietnam, only these were crisper.

    At 7pm we had a reservation at Museo de flamenco for a flamenco show. Marta had actually recommended a different flamenco show, but it is in an uncovered patio, and it definitely seemed as though it might rain so we asked the hotel for a recommendation and they chose this one. In addition, to the show there is also a museum, but we didn’t go inside. We had the hotel call ahead to make our reservation. We arrived about 6:30pm and most of the seats were already taken. You probably need to arrive closer to 6:15 to assure a good seat. A small but beautiful venue with one singer, one guitarist and a male and female dancer. The show lasted about an hour and was quite good. I believe there is another show at 8:30pm.

    We had a 9pm dinner reservation at Az-Zait at Plaza San Lorenzo, 1. A bit further out so we took a taxi. It was a nice dinner, this is a full service restaurant, not just a tapas bar. The service was excellent and even the chef came to serve courses. We ordered the 4-course tasting menu for 31,90 euro. We began with an amuse bouche of gin and tonic gelatinous balls with crackers. Our appetizer was pate that was in a sweet sauce – sometimes a bit too sweet, so would scrape off some of the sauce. Then we had a sorbet palate cleanser. Next, was a fish course that was delicious – cod? with wonderful soft vegetables. The meat course was a beef stroganoff – ok, but a bit of a disappointment for me because I’m not a fan of stroganoff. For dessert, a delicious torta de caramel!

    Day 8

    Breakfast was at El Toro. Right next door was a churreria where you could order churros and bring them to El Toro to eat and order additional food. We walked over to Metropol Parasol or the “giant mushrooms”. It is a large wooden structure in La Encarnacion Square, which from far away looks like giant mushrooms. Actually I thought more interesting to look at from a distance than close up. However, underneath was a beautiful market.

    Last time out shopping and found this great jewelry store called Une de 50 (Calle Sierpes, 56). Everything is designed and handmade in Madrid – mostly all silver and each piece is only 1 of 50 (thus the name). I found a great bracelet and necklace that I love!!

    We had a 2pm reservation at Aires de Bath, the Arab baths. Before heading over there got a quick bite to eat at Tapas baron Fabiola right near our hotel. First off, a recommend you book at least a day in advance for the baths. It was located very close to our hotel so the day before we had gone over there to check out the services and make the reservations. We had wanted to include a 30 min. massage but were only able to get 15 minute massages. Basically, you are in the baths for 1.5 hours which includes your massage. There is a hot bath, a very hot bath, a cold bath, a Jacuzzi bath, a salt bath and a sauna room. They do a good job of limiting the reservations so things are not too crowded. It is a nice space that is dimly lit with candles and lanterns. Everyone is required to wear a bathing suit (apparently they have some to borrow if you didn’t bring one). I had read that this can be a makeout place for some people, but we did not run into this, but maybe because we were there in the mid afternoon. While the massage was a bit short at only 15 min. we all enjoyed it, and just found it a nice break from the baths. Just want to note, that they don’t call you by name for the massage. They just call out “massage 15 minutes” in Spanish. Luckily DD finally figured out what they were saying and we were able to get up the next time they called. Massages are given in a room with several massage tables, but it was very quiet. They have showers, hair dryers, etc. there. Be sure and ask for a plastic bag to put your wet bathing suit in. It was a pleasant, relaxing way to spend some of the afternoon.

    Afterwards, we just spent time relaxing on the hotel rooftop terrace until the sunset.
    We decided to go back to Pa Catar for dinner. Arrived at 8:45pm and this time it was already busy. We had to sit at the bar. We had the same charming waiter and were able to order more tapas this time as DH was feeling much better.

    DAY 9

    Today, DD had to fly back to LA as her classes would be starting back up. She had a 7am flight Seville-Madrid-London-LA. She left the hotel at 5:15am and was sitting at the gate waiting for the plane by 5:50am. This was her first time traveling internationally alone, and everything went smoothly.

    We slept in and went to one of the small bars for breakfast where we enjoyed crepes, omelette and fruit. Went back to the hotel to pack and check out. Left our luggage there and then went out one last time to enjoy Seville.

    Since DH had been sick the day we went with Marta he had not been to the Alcazar or Cathedral. We first walked around the barrio Santa Cruz – I tried to follow the places that Marta had taken us, and I must admit I some how managed to get us to all the charming little plazas and repeat the interesting stories she had told. We went through the Alcazar and enjoyed walking through the gardens. Unlike me, DH preferred the Alhambra to the Alcazar. Then we were going to go to the cathedral but since it was Sunday it didn’t open until 2:30pm. It was 2:15 and there was an incredibly long line to get in and it was quite hot. We decided to skip it and go have a nice lunch. I was disappointed as I had really wanted to go back to the cathedral but, oh well.

    We had lunch at La Cueva (Calle Rodrigo Caro, 18) located in a lovely plaza. We sat outside under some shady trees. We had two great dishes and two so-so dishes. The really good dishes were the clams in marinere sauce and the salmorejo. The not so good were the grilled gambas (not so fresh) and the iberico with melon (ham not so great). Also, they forgot to bring the appetizers – just brought the entrees so had to remind them to bring them afterward. However, it was an enjoyable leisurely lunch.

    Went back to enjoy the rooftop terrace again before heading out to airport for our 7:25pm flight to Marseilles.

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    I'm surprised you have any time to sightsee considering the amount of time you spend in restaurants. Three sit down meals a day is a lot. How boring. Apparently you have enough money to take expensive trips every two or three months and yet worry about trivial expenses, all the while taking taxis wherever you go and just going to the first restaurant you find without checking prices.

    I can't believe you spent all this money going to Sevilla and then go to the cheapest Flamenco show there is (the Flamenco Museum) and not a tablao show. Incredibly you did not find time to properly visit the Cathedral or see Plaza de España or Maria Luisa Park. But then you didn't catch a gypsy show in the caves at Granada either. You spent most of your vacation time in restaurants and barely saw the cities you were visiting. Too each his own, but might I suggest just grabbing some kebabs, a BK burger, or heaven help me some ham and cheese or tuna and make a picnic on a park bench somewhere and see some more of the city?

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    After all the information given and time spent on this trip report the comment should have been thank you..If you (Kino29) can't say something nice (as Thumper's mother said) don't say anything. How do you know the posters didn't see the cities they were visiting??

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