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Trip Report Trip Report SEVILLE, CORDOBA, RONDA, GRANADA, AND LAS ALPUJARRAS NOVEMBER, 2007

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Hi, everyone. DW and I are back from our Andalusia trip -- we got in last night.

This will be a long report (most will want to skip the most boring of the details), so I'm breaking it into three parts. Here is the first third of the trip:

Thursday, November 1 – Departure

Iberia flight nonstop from Dulles IAD to Madrid, Spain. On our flight, we were seated in the back of an Airbus 320 in the center section, and I swear the seats were narrower and shorter than the rest of the plane. It was incredibly uncomfortable, and neither one of us was able to sleep much at all.

Friday, November 2 – Arrival in Seville

Our original overseas flight was supposed to leave Dulles at 6:00 pm and arrive in Madrid at 7:20 am, but because the departure was moved back an hour, it was actually 8:20 when we arrived. Then the race was on, because our connecting flight from Madrid to Seville was leaving at 9:25, which sounds like plenty of time unless you’ve ever been in the Madrid airport. We were as far away from our connecting gate as humanly possible. In fact, they put up little signs telling you how many minutes of walking time (28 minutes, in our case). And we also had to go through passport control (LONG line!) and security again. Oh, and there is a fairly lengthy train ride between terminals. We ran to our gate, panting and sweating, and were the last people on the plane seconds before they closed the doors. The plane took off at 9:30 and arrive in Seville at 10:20 a.m.

Seville Airport was small and sleepy, without a working ATM machine -- a shame, since we had no Euros with us, and had been counting on getting cash at the airport. However, the Iberia ticket desk was happy to exchange our U.S. dollars ($140) for Euros (96€). The exchange rate was a dispiriting $1.45 to 1€. With cash in hand, we caught a taxi to the very center of Seville, which has truly gruesome traffic, for our stay at Hotel Alminar, on Calle Alvarez Quintero, a narrow pedestrian-only street radiating from the Cathedral square. The taxi ride from hotel was 25€. The hotel is in a converted shawl factory building, very historic, and just opened a couple of years ago. It has been remodeled in a sleek, chic and comfortable style, and is literally about 25 steps from the Cathedral gates www.hotelalminar.com . We had reservations for 4 nights, in a superior double room on the 2nd floor. We overlooked c/Alvarez on one side of the room and could look out at the weathervane atop the Giralda, the symbol of the City of Seville, from the other. This was the most expensive of our three hotels – 155€ for the 3 nights and 110€ for the last night (because the first weekend in November was the official end of high season). We arrived at the hotel at 11:30 a.m. and were able to check in immediately, no waiting. The staff at Hotel Alminar were really something special. The two desk clerks – Francisco in the morning and Maria in the evening – had perfect English, and were always happy to make suggestions for places to eat, the best way to get around the city, what was touristy and what was wonderful, and other personal recommendations and opinions.

I immediately crashed on our “Italian” bed (two twins pushed together, which was how all our beds were throughout our stay. Are there no queen- or king-sized beds in Spain?). DW unpacked, and then walked about 6 blocks to the local grocery store, MAS. We had a minibar, and the hotel had free coffee, mineral water, juice and sodas available 24 hours a day in the lobby, but we always like to have some chocolate, bread or sweet rolls, and other snacks on hand as well. DW got very lost walking back, despite having Francisco’s marked map in hand.

After a nap I wanted lunch and to try to get on local time. Francisco recommended Casa Blanca, a traditional restaurant off Avenida de la Constitucion, a block below the Cathedral. He suggested getting there before 1:30, before it fills up with locals. We got there at 1:20 and got a table, but most people ate at small tables standing up. We ordered a bottle of red wine, but most patrons had small beers. The food was great – very earthy and delicious. Cold garlic potatoes, salmorejo (cold cream of tomato soup with chopped ham and egg), a matrimony of anchovies (two kinds of fresh anchovies on toast with tomatillo cream), broiled langostinos, fried cod fritters, and a wonderful cold salad of very thin asparagus, stewed tomatoes, and fish noodles (what are they called?). It was a bit pricey – 48€ for lunch – but not bad for a hearty meal and a full bottle of wine (which we didn’t finish).


After lunch, we walked more than a half mile north along streets border the River Guadalquivir to the Museo de Bellas Artes in the El Arenal neighborhood. The museum is in a beautiful old 17th Century convent built around two courtyards. The paintings and sculptures are almost all by Sevillian artists, from Medieval to 20th Century. Due to fatigue, we only made it through the first of the two floors, or up through the Baroque period. Admission was free.

We walked back along the riverbank, in the full sun. It was very hot, probably around 80 degrees F. We were really exhausted by the time we reached the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) for a one-hour river cruise. The recorded commentary was in 4 languages. Seville hosted an International Exposition in the 1990s, and there was a lot of modern architecture (especially bridges) on the north end of town for the Expo. The river cruise was cool and relaxing, and a great way to get oriented in the city. Afterward, it was a short walk back to the hotel.

We recovered with a cup of coffee in the lobby and chatted with Maria. She suggested a favorite restaurant of hers for dinner, Vineria San Telmo, a lovely locals’ spot on the busy Avenida Maria Luisa near the Murillo Gardens, about a 15 minute walk away. It was full dark by the time we left for dinner, and the cathedral was beautifully spot lit and the streets were busy with Sevillians promenading and drifting from one bar to another. We arrived at the restaurant at 9:30 p.m. – quite early by Spanish standards. Our dinner was fantastic. The restaurant was continental and very imaginative. We had foie gras, carpaccio, basmati rice cooked with beetroot, grilled tuna, delicious Argentine beef on crusty potato chips, and a gorgeous scallop dish with those fish noodles (?) again. Each dish was only four or five bites, so it wasn’t as filling as lunch, and was much less expensive, 28€. Maria wanted us to report back to her - whose restaurant recommendation was better: hers or Francisco’s? (Both were wonderful, but I give Vineria San Telmo the edge.) We walked back to the hotel and got to bed after midnight.

Saturday, November 3 – Seville

We slept in very late, even with the church bells ringing every 15 minutes (and sometimes more frequently, it seems). We walked up c/Alverez Quitero to Plaza Salvador, to try to visit Seville’s second most important church, Inglesia Salvador, while it was open for visits, from 9-10 am and 6:30-9 pm). But the church was completely closed for reservations -- a point that our guidebook had missed -- and would not reopen until 2008. We had coffee and a chocolate-filled eclair standing at a corner bar, then walked back to the Cathedral, getting in the very front of the line for the 11:00 am opening. While I waited in line, DW walked around and explored for a half hour, following the streetcar tracks down to Maria Luisa Park and the famous Hotel Alphonso XII. She made it back to the line with minutes to spare, and we had a wonderful time touring the Cathedral. Christopher Columbus is buried in a beautiful tomb inside the Cathedral, borne by four giant carved men representing four regions of Spain. (There is some controversy, however, as to whether Chris is actually buried within. Officials from the country of Santa Domingo say that Columbus never made it back to Spain from the New World and is actually buried there.) Part of the Cathedral tour is climbing the Giralda Bell Tower. It isn’t a bad climb at all, because instead of steps, you climb 34 short ramps to the top. This is because the tower was originally a Muslim minaret in the 1100s, and the Muzzein could ride his horse to the top of the tower to call the people to prayer.

After the Cathedral and Giralda tour, we went to the Plaza de los Venerables in Barrio Santa Cruz, to the east of Cathedral. This neighborhood felt a little like Venice – narrow alleys with high walls, arched doorways, and VERY easy to get lost. We ate lunch at a restaurant recommended by Francisco, Casa Roman. It was very traditional, and known for its excellent Iberia ham. These pigs are raised eating nothing but acorns, and the thin-sliced ham is rich and delicious.

After lunch, we walked back to the Cathedral square through the Murillo Gardens, and saw the monument honoring Christopher Columbus. We got to the Real Alcazar, or Royal Palace, at 2:30 p.m. There are two main palaces, the Mudejar (the older section, built in the 1300s) and the Gothic (built in the 1500s by King Carlos V). The King and Queen of Spain still stay at the Real Alcazar when they are in Seville. The palaces are lovely, though completely empty, not a stick of furniture anywhere. We admired the intricate painted tiles and plaster work. But even more impressive were the expansive gardens. After a couple of hours, we were ready for a siesta.

We rested and napped until 7:00 p.m., then got dressed and went down to the lobby to inquire about Flamenco reservations. Maria recommended a Flamenco club called Tablaos Los Gallos, which is in a concert setting, serious and professional. The other shows we had read about were either too touristy, or set in bars – not good enough for Maria! We needed to have an early dinner, but restaurant kitchens are not open before 8:30 or 9:00pm. We ended up at Vineria San Telmo again (something we normally wouldn’t do), and our second meal there was as wonderful as the first. We really needed vegetables after all that ham at lunch, so we had a very different, much lighter dinner than Friday night’s. After dinner, we enjoyed the dramatic, emotional, and thrilling Flamenco show at Los Gallos, which featured a dozen different singers, dancers, and guitarists. We got home after 1:00 am – we were adjusting to Seville time!

Sunday, November 4 – Day trip to Cordoba

We slept very late after our Flamenco club adventure, until 9:30. The church bells pealed for a solid 15 minutes at 9:00, which woke me up. I guess the bells on Sunday morning are more intense to get the slugabeds up and off to church.

On the advice of Francisco, we walked up to Plaza Magdalena, a busier part of town, because he thought it would be very difficult to find a taxi on Sunday morning. He suggested that we take the bus to the train station, but we had already missed the 9:00 and 9:30 trains, and knew that, after the 11:00 train to Cordoba, there is a long gap in the schedule – we couldn’t take time for a bus ride. So we flagged down the cab, and got to the train station by 10:30. The Seville train station, Santa Justa, is much more impressive than the airport: huge, modern, clean and bright. We bought tickets on the AVE high-speed train, 45 minutes from Seville to Cordoba, which is pretty fast, since the distance is 150 km or 94 miles. The tickets were 14€ each, and since we were buying return tickets in the afternoon, the return tickets (bought separately in Cordoba) were reduced to 11,20€, or by 20%. We caught the 11:00a.m. train and enjoyed a very civilized trip – assigned seating in large, comfortable seats with complimentary ear buds for audio channels or the movie.

In Cordoba, we took a taxi to the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos (Palace of the Christian Kings), at the edge of the medieval walled city nestled against a bend in the Guadalqivir River. The old city is dominated by the huge Mezquita (or mosque), second only to the Alhambra as the most visited attraction in Europe. Once there, we decided to skip the Christian kings in favor of the Jews, since we had just seen the Seville Alcazar the day before. Instead, we headed to the ancient Synagogue, one of only three in Spain that were not destroyed during the Inquisition. The Synagogue is small and very beautiful, with psalms inscribed in Aramaic around the walls. There was also an interpretive museum, the Casa de Sefarad, which gave an excellent tour on the culture and history of the Jewish people in Sain, both before and after the Diaspora. After the tour, we had a light lunch of tapas at El Caballo Rojo (the Red Horse). We ha d calamari, fried grouper with lemon, sauteed artichokes, and a potato omelet.

After lunch, we went to the Mezquita (actually, the formal name is Cathedral Cordoba – remember the Christians won in 1492!). In Roman times, there was a church on this spot, and then in the 8th through 10th Centuries, at the height of Cordoba’s position as one of the leading cities of the western world, the enormous mosque was built, with literally thousands of granite, jasper, and marble pillars topped by double red and white candy-stripe arches, creating a dazzling and almost infinite effect. In the 1500s, a cathedral was plopped down in the middle of the mosque, and it all somehow works together. We savored our tour of the Mezquita, then we walked out to the Puenta Romano, an ancient Roman bridge that was, surprisingly, getting a fresh cement decking.

After some souvenir shopping, a restful cup of coffee, and a beer - we caught a cab back to the train station and left at 5:45 pm. We were exhausted – no big night out for us. Instead, we went out to Avenida de la Constitucion to for a light dinner of pizza which met the essential requirements of the moment: it was quick, close, and open before 9 at night. It hit the spot. It felt good to turn in early.

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    Great report - I love the details.

    The Hotel Alminar is indeed very special. I discovered it only a month after it had opened during Semana Santa in 2005. I've stayed at the Hotel Alminar every Semana Santa since 2005 and already have my reservations for next year. I had stayed 3 times previously in Sevilla in the Santa Cruz quarter but liked this location much more. The staff are probably the best I have experienced - not only are they helpful but they're also genuine, you don't get the feeling they're just doing their job. Francisco is actually the Manager of the hotel. The "secret" is out on this little hotel (only 11 rooms) - they're rated # 1 in Sevilla on Trip Advisor!

    Sorry to hear the Iglesia Salvador is still closed. I'm hoping it's open early in 2008 as I've never had a chance to visit and would like to see in March.

    I'm taking Iberia for the first time (outside of Spain/intra-european) from JFK to Madrid and then Sevilla next spring. I'm a little concerned about my connection time - only 1 hour and 10 minutes. I guess I need to be prepared for a sprint after the long flight!

    Question - was your luggage checked through to Sevilla or did you need to go through customs in Madrid and recheck to Sevilla?

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your report. You are making me miss Spain even more than I already did.....

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    Cathy & Bardo:

    Would you say location was better of the Alminar than say for instance Hotel Amadeus or Casas de la Juderia?

    Also Bardo, how many people were up with? Just 2 or more?




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    Ana, I was in Sevilla a couple of weekends ago.

    I had intended to stay at the Alminar, but it was the night of the "Heroes del Silencio" weekend, and I couldn´t get a room for Saturday night. I ended up staying at Las Casas de la Juderia (and loved it), but I checked the Alminar to find out about the location. It is very, very near to the Cathedral, so the location is really good.

    Bye, Cova

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    The hotel Alminar is on calle Alvarez Quintero, a small street near the Cathedral. It is basically next door to the popular Casa Robles restaurant. It's a more central location than Las Casas de la Juderia. Since I visit during Semana Santa and I usually travel solo this is an ideal location.

    Las Casas de la Juderia is in a beautiful location deep in the heart of the Santa Cruz quarter. It's near the Restaurant Modesto.

    I actually accidentally discovered the Hotel Alminar. I was late planning my 2005 trip and the 2** Hotel Alcantara, where I had stayed the previous year, was booked solid. The Hotel Alminar is their 3*** sister hotel that they recommended at a very reasonable introductory price. There was no websites and they had only opened a month before so no postings. I took a chance and was very happily surprised. During Semana Santa 2005 the hotel was so new they were not even full! How things have changed....my friends tried to book a room in May for their September trip and they were completo.

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    Wow what luck Cathy.
    Also Cova I am thinking of both hotels are a possibility, but for 09. Wish it were sooner
    Thank you so much. Someone my DH works with just returned from their honeymoon @ Casas de la Juderia and they loved it too. They said they were still renovating some rooms.
    Do they offer breakfast there?
    It is muy importante when traveling with diabetics, or at least a small kitchen. I also heard of the new Suites del Maestro (not the Casa del Maestro) they have kitchens and look good too.

    I wonder if Bardo1 is ready to temp us with some more details?
    We are anxiously waiting the return to Andalusia with you Bardo1

    What on the menu?

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    A few notes before continuing...

    We didn't check any bags on the trip over since it was only an 11 day trip, though we did drop off a few cloths just once (in Seville). However (due to shopping) we did check bags for the trip home - the bags were checked through from Granada to Washington, DC (we did need to go through passport control twice - once in Granada and again in Madrid).

    This trip was just me and my dear wife (DW).

    The hotel Alminar was just perfect for us: location (of course!), the free breakfast, unlimited free minibar, free internet (they lend out a wireless laptop), and very nice rooms, but most of all THE STAFF. The best hotel staff we've ever met.

    On with the report - part two...


    Monday, November 5 – Seville

    We slept late (it’s getting to be a habit) and had breakfast at Horno de San Buenaventura, a panaderia, sweet shop, and sandwich/salad café. I had a strange deviled ham-type sandwich, which was the breakfast special (and showed up at breakfasts throughout Andalucia) and a fresh orange juice. Seville is full of orange trees, and the fruit was ripe or ripening. The juice was wonderful! We walked to a wash-dry-fold to dropped off laundry, then went to Plaza Nueva, the large, modern square that is the heart of the business downtown. DW shopped while I relaxed in the park.

    From Plaza Nueva, we walked to the Palacio de Lebrija, the “best-decorated palace in Europe.” The 16th century convent was bought and turned into a lovely home by the Countess Lebrija, a wealthy widow, in the early 20th century. This is the newest museum in Seville, having only been opened to the public by the Lebrija family in 1999. The ground floor of the palace is FILLED with ancient Roman mosaics, Delft tiles, and other collections. The upstairs living quarters, on view only by guided tour, were also filled with amazing collections from the Countess’s extensive travels. When the remaining Lebrija family members come to stay in Seville a couple of times a year, the museum is closed.

    From the Palacio, we walked along the downtown streets to the Convent de San Leandro, Spain’s oldest convent, where we bought Yemas, traditional egg yolk and
    sugar sweets, from an unseen nun behind a turntable. Then we walked another block to the beautiful Casa del Pilato, a wonderful High Renaissance Italian
    style home with a mix a Mudejar styles thrown in. In the early 1500s, Enrique de Ribera, a regional governor of Andalusia appointed by the king, had gone on a
    Grand Tour of Europe and the Holy Land, during which time he visited the home in Jerusalem attributed to be that of Pontius Pilate. De Ribera was inspired by the
    architectural and decorative wonders of Renaissance Italy, and he believed that his home in Seville resembled in several important ways the house of Pilate in Jerusalem. So he spent the rest of him life bringing the new styles he had discovered to Spain, using his home as a model. The gardens, statuary, and tile work were extraordinary.

    After the Casa del Pilato, we caught a taxi back to the hotel, dropped off our morning’s purchases, and then had lunch at the famous Casa Robles Restaurant right next dooor. We shared a rice dish with seafood (not paella – it was actually characterized as “rice soup”); it was absolutely delicious. After lunch, we took the streetcar a couple of stops west to Parque Maria Luisa, Seville’s Central Park. We meant to rent bikes to ride around the park, but we couldn’t locate the bike rental stand! We walked all over (based on bike rental location advice from locals on the street) – through the University of Seville (where the tobacco factory of “Carmen” fame was located), to the beautiful Hotel Alfonso XII – but no bikes. Finally, we found the stand
    right next to the streetcar stop we originally got off at (D’oh!), but the rental kiosk was out of order. Never mind!

    We visited the enormous semicircular Plaza de Espana in the park, which features tile panels representing all 50 provinces of Spain, and took pictures of the panels of the 5 provinces we would visit on our trip: Sevilla, Cadiz, Malaga, Cordoba, and Granada. And then, we walked back to the hotel and collapsed.

    About 8:30, we headed across the Isabel II Bridge to Triana, a neighborhood known for its pottery and tiles. We had tapas and beers at a couple of bars. It was a bit dead – Triana isn’t touristy to begin with, and Monday nights are dead the world over. So we were back to the hotel by 11:00, ready for bed.


    Tuesday, November 6 – Drive from Seville to Ronda and the Pueblos Blancos

    We awoke at 8:00 and checked out of the wonderful Hotel Alminar, after saying goodbye to the incredible Maria, who was working the day shift. About 9:00, we took a taxi to the Santa Justa train station and picked up the Avis rental car we had reserved through Auto Europe. The car was an Astra, 4-door diesel with manual transmission that ran like a top and had great brakes. By 9:45 or so, we were headed out of Seville on the A-4. After one spectacular wrong turn westward toward Huelva, we got going south on the main toll road to Jerez de la Fronter, 60 miles away. The toll was hefty, about 6,75€.

    Jerez is the most important sherry producing region of the world, and is home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. We missed our exit and had to backtrack through downtown Jerez. There were no street signs at all, which made following our little Mapquest map rather challenging. But we got to the Escuela (school) just in time for the 12:00 show of the Dancing Horses of Andalusia. It was very beautiful and formal. The horses do complex hesitation steps, walk backwards, stand on their hind legs and jump in midair, and actually dance to music. We have no pictures from the show, however; they are strictly forbidden. Nor do they sell any postcards or other pictures, except for the 20€ official DVD of the show. And we didn’t love it THAT much. After the show, we walked a few long blocks down to Jerez’s bull ring and ate at Tendido 6, a locals’ restaurant popular during bull fighting season, though empty when we were there. We had Fino, or light, sherry (Tio Pepe brand), and a couple of tapas, including – we didn't realize it at the time – bull’s testicles. They tasted like calf liver.

    It was challenging to find our way out of Jerez, but we finally got going eastwards to Arcos de la Frontera, a pueblos blancos (“white village”) on a high bluff overlooking the Guadalete Valley. There are two major churches in this village, St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s. When the pope decreed in 1764 that St. Mary’s was the major parish of the town, it so ticked off the parishioners of St. Peter’s that they changed their prayers to pray to “St. Peter, Mother of God.” They wouldn’t even say Mary’s name! St. Mary’s was under reconstruction, but we toured St. Peter’s. It was austere on the outside, and had a faded, tattered opulence inside.

    From Arcos, we continued east toward Ronda. We started on the main highway A-384, but it ran north, up and over the lake area, and I decided we needed to cut south and get on the more direct east-west route A-374. More direct doesn’t mean shorter, though, because after we passed the town of El Bosque, we entered the Sierra Margarita mountains, and the speed limit dropped to 30 kmh – and that was on the “straight” stretches! The road was incredibly twisty, scenic, dramatic, and just a little bit scary.

    Near the village of Grazelema, a pull-off allowed us to snap a photo of the sun setting over the mountains. Now we were driving over unfamiliar mountains in the dark! But Ronda was drawing nearer – only a half hour past the (very) charming white village of Grazelema, we finally pulled into the mountain stronghold of Ronda, an ancient city that was once Roman, then Moorish, and finally Spanish. The River Guadalevin divides the town in two, cutting a 400-feet deep gorge that is spanned by a dramatic arched stone bridge called Puenta Nuevo (the “new bridge”, built in 1751). We pulled into Ronda’s Parador at 7:45 pm. Paradors are Spain’s state-run hotels, located in historic or cultural areas. They are usually historic properties, and the one in Ronda was just gorgeous, perched on the rim of the gorge, overlooking the Puenta Nuevo. Our room was superb – it was a huge corner room on the 2nd floor with a sitting area, Italian bed, huge marble bathroom with its own lovely view over the garden and pool.

    After checking in, we treated ourselves to the most luxurious baths of our lives, then went down to the Parador’s four-star restaurant, which specializes in regional cuisine. Our meals were exquisite. DW had cold almond soup and stuffed pheasant breast; I had anchovies on toast and rolled sole in shrimp sauce.


    Wednesday, November 7 – Ronda

    We slept late, until 9:00, and awoke to an amazing landscape of mountains, fields, and the dramatic cliffs on which the town of Ronda precariously perched. We got dressed and walked straight across the Puento Nuevo. In the old town on the other side, we admired the beautiful Maria Mayor church and the quiet green city park called Plaza Duque du Parcent. We breakfasted at a tiny bar near the church (2 bar stools and 2 folding chairs - about 80 sq. ft. total), eating toasted bread, butter and jam with the motherly owner and her parakeet.

    From the church, we moved down to the San Francisco neighborhood, where the hulking Spirito Sancto church stands guard. We visited the church, which is painfully plain on the outside and rich and bright on the inside. We climbed the small bell tower and looked out over the town, then returned to ground level to explore the eastern side of the old town, including the Arab Baths and the city’s two other bridges, the Puente Viejo and the Puente Arab (the oldest of the three, going back to Roman times). Crossing the Puente Viejo brought us back into the new town, about 1/4 mile east of the Puenta Nuevo. We wandered around, seeing the lovely Padre Jesus church, the tiny street front Temple of the Virgen Dolores, and the compact downtown area closest to the bull ring, where we stopped at a bar for sandwiches. I didn’t realize how hungry all our walking had made me until I took the first bite!

    Then we toured the Plaza de Toro (bull ring), one of Spain’s oldest, and home of the famous Pedro Romero, father of bullfighting. The bull ring is home to an important bullfighting festival in September, Corrida Goyesca, which the royal family often attends and tickets cost upward of 1000€. We visited the comprehensive Museo de Toro inside the bull ring, as well. A small garden behind the bull ring had amazing views, and from there, we were steps from the Parador, where we had a very late lunch on the terrace. At 4:30, we returned to our room for a siesta. About 7:30, we went back into the old town, and drank in the scene of families walking together in the dusk. Spanish parents are so solicitous and protective of their children – throughout our trip, we saw parents walking their children to and from school (and not just little kids, either - "children" up to 14 yrs old being walked to school by mama was quite common), hugging and kissing (even their teenage kids), and generally being very close and loving with their families.

    We finally ended our day with a delicious dinner at Dona Pepa on the square in the "new" downtown. We had a fantastic meal there featuring the ubiquitous Iberica ham, cheese, fried fresh seafood. Dinner included a bottle of a local merlot called Los Aguilares that was out of this world. We walked back in the chilly darkness and turned in at around midnight.

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    The Ronda Plaza is in fact Duquesa de Parcent (Duchess). The wine you mention is Cortijo de los Aguilares, and they are making an excellent wine with local grapes.
    It is a very good report, and I'll take some notes for further reccomendations.

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    Yes, a nice report indeed, Bardo1. I also like the choices of food you made. May be with the exception of the meal at Tendido6 that doesn't sound appealing but hey, if you liked it, who am I to say anything :) Also appreciate your enthusiasm in sharing it (I can't write reports within several weeks of coming back much less a day).

    Alminar is nice indeed. It is a new hotel, opened in 2005 in one of Seville´s older buildings that for more than half a century belonged to Foronda, the leading company in Spain for hand-made bright silk shawls and Flamenco dresses. The good news here.... nice sized beds, surprisingly large baths (you really can't open the shower doors by bumping against them, here!), friendly staff, within 200 steps to the Cathedral, etc. The one "bad" news is that the hotel is more modern than Amadeus etc.

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    Here is the final part of our Spain trip report. Hope you all have enjoyed it.


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    Thursday, November 8 – Drive from Ronda to Granada and El Torcal Natural Park

    We slept until 8:30, got packed, and had a quick breakfast at a local bodega of coffee and toast with butter and jam. I asked for marmalade, but got a strange ground meat product in a tub that tasted like chorizo – not very breakfasty. We were checked out of the lovely Ronda Parador a little after 10:00. I didn’t want any more mountainous back roads – at least not first thing in the morning – so instead, we actually backtracked a bit north and west to Algodonales, in order to stay on the highway. From there, we headed east again, passing by Olvera, with its church and castle set high above the town, and drove into Antequera, a fairly major town between Ronda and Granada.

    We drove south of town about 10 miles on very twisty country roads high into the hills to El Torcal National Park. The strange limestone formations and beautiful views of the valley below were well worth the drive. We hiked around the park for about 45 minutes, and then asked directions to La Posada El Torcal, a local farmhouse turned retreat center where we wanted to have lunch. We were told that it was in the village of Villanueva de la Concepcion at the base of the mountain on the far side away from Antequera. Well, we had no luck finding the place, though we drove through town a couple of times asking around, and everyone we stopped and asked had an opinion. Unfortunately, none of the opinions agreed, and none panned out. So we drove on eastward, planning to meet up with the Malaga highway coming up from the south. We took the highway north to Loja, where we were going to “Plan B” for lunch, the famous Hotel Bobadilla’s La Finca (“the Farm”) restaurant. http://www.barcelo.com/BarceloHotels/en-GB/Hotels/Spain/Granada/LaBobadilla/Home Little did we know that the Malaga highway brought us to the town of Loja one exit too far east. We spent about an hour and a half driving north on very rural, curvy roads, through tiny villages. We asked for directions constantly, and finally, a local bartender knew the restaurant and gave us clear directions on how to get there. If we had only gone west one exit on the highway, it would have been less than 5 km off the main road! We were exhausted and very hungry by the time we pulled into Hotel Bobadilla at 3:00, and had a fantastic, relaxing lunch while admiring the gorgeous country afternoon. It was a peaceful break in what had turned into a somewhat stressful afternoon!

    From there, it was less than an hour to Granada, on highway all the way. Our hotel, Casa Morisca, had sent us very good driving directions for getting into the city and to the hotel, which were much needed, because Granada is a driving nightmare. No street signs, many streets are restricted access, there are pedestrians walking in the road everywhere, and all in all, it’s very confusing. The Casa Morisca is directly below the Alhambra in the Albaicin neighborhood, across a narrow stream. Our room was quite tiny, but had a lovely view of the Alhambra. The only real problem – and it was a real problem – was that the bathroom smelled. I suspect it may have been a drain trap issue, as the toilet and bath were raised 8 inches higher than the rest of the bathroom, perhaps to make room for a small (too small?) drain trap. We adapted by keeping the bathroom door closed. It was a bit of a comedown after the Ronda Parador, but the location was perfect and the bed was comfortable.

    I collapsed into bed for a late nap, and DW went for an orienting walk in the Albaicin, an ancient Moorish neighborhood built on the hill opposite the Alhambra, full of alleys and roads that are actually just stairways. Despite carrying two street maps she got terribly lost (easy to do), but was able to make her back.

    At 8:30, we set out to the Mirado de Morayman, a restaurant just blocks from the hotel. Dinner was a mixed bag, with delicious bread, soft cheese, and a “fall salad” of oranges, onions, cheese and olives. But then things went wrong, with undercooked shrimp in one dish and a spoiled shrimp in another. The head chef came out on my request, and our bill was adjusted accordingly. We walked back to the hotel and turned in. The night clerk promised us to do something about the smell in the bathroom in the morning.

    Friday, November 9 – Granada

    We awoke at 8:30 and hustled to dress, eat the 12€ hotel breakfast (not very good), and walk up the hill to the Alhambra. We had reserved tickets ahead of time on the Internet, but needed to get in to the Alhambra complex and down to the Nasrid Palaces between 10:00 and 10:30. Because the path we had walked up was not the main drive and we sort of came around the back, we had some trouble locating the entrance. But at least we didn’t have to wait in line once we found it – we went to the ticket machines, put in my credit card, and got our tickets immediately, then walked in past the waiting throngs. I LOVE that feeling!

    The Nasrid Palace is actually made up of three connected family palaces, the Nasrid, the Comares, and the Palace of the Lions. The Court of the Myrtles and Room of Two Sisters were the standouts of the Palace area, with intricate woodwork, plaster carving, and hand painted tiles. The Room of the Two Sisters had a beautiful star-shaped honeycomb plaster dome ceiling – I had to stand in the middle of a (dry) fountain and point the camera straight up to get a picture. It was all quite beautiful, but I couldn’t help wishing that someone would re-paint the carved plaster with the original bright colors. Everything has faded now to almost white. Sadly, the lion statues from the famous Patio of the Lions were off being restored and refurbished. This is typical of our travel luck: the one thing that is most strongly associated with a place (like the Astronomical Clock in Prague or the lions from the Alhambra) is the thing that’s being restored and can’t be seen when we visit!

    The second main area of the Alhambra was the Carlos V Palace, a startling renaissance presence in the middle of an Arabic fantasy. The palace is a hollow square with a giant, perfectly circular portico inside. The acoustics were amazing, as was demonstrated by one English soprano who stood in the center and sang the “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem, to much happy and surprised applause. The third, and oldest, area was the Alcazar, the original red fortress (which is what the word “Alhambra” means), built in the 9th Century. The barrio of soldiers’ quarters are still there, though without ceilings, making it possible to marvel at how cramped and tiny the rooms are. The view from the watchtower was incredible, and made us appreciate how truly enormous Granada’s gothic Cathedral is. Finally, we visited the fourth major area, the Generalife – the beautiful gardens of heaven. These multi-leveled gardens have fountains and pools throughout, and really were perfectly heavenly . Altogether, we were at the Alhambra about four hours. Right outside the main entry gate, we stopped for lunch at a charming restaurant, La Mimbre, with good food and enormous portions.

    Rested and well-fed, we hopped on the Alhambra Bus and rode down the hill to Plaza Nueva, getting off to walk up the big main street, Gran Via de Colon, on which the Cathedral and Capilla Real (royal chapel) is located. The Cathedral was closed for the afternoon siesta, but the Capilla Real had just reopened for its afternoon hours, so we went in. This is where Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand are actually entombed, and it is quite grand. The chapel itself is dripping with fantastic sacred art. In fact, Queen Isabel’s personal art collection is displayed in the Sacristy, including a Van der Weyden and a Boticelli.

    After the chapel, we got some coffee, then decided to push the envelope and try for one more tourist site. We hopped on a bus (well, two buses, since the first one was going in the wrong direction), and wound our way eastward toward the University of Granada and the Cartuja Monastery. The chapels at the monastery are known as the “Christian answer to the Alhambra”, and if you like your religious art gaudy, this is the place for you! The Sancta Sanctorum behind the main altar was overwhelmingly beautiful, the kind of place where you forget to breathe for half a minute. We just managed to squeeze in a tour of the monastery before they closed at 6:00 pm, after which we cabbed back to the hotel and collapsed for a late nap.

    At 8:30, we set out to find dinner. We walked to Calle Elvira, at the foot of the Albaicin. There was one narrow street lined with booths selling Middle Eastern fabrics, rugs, shawls, incense, and jewelry. Interspersed between the booths were tea houses with tasseled couches, Moroccan tea and hookahs for puffing. We found the Restaurante Arraynes at the top of this street, with very traditional Middle Eastern foods like couscous and tajines. It was exotic and a nice change from all the ham. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and bed. The staff at Casa Morisca had tried to improve the bathroom odor by emptying a package of Ty-D-Bowl into the toilet. It helped (a little), but didn’t address the underlying problem.

    Saturday, November 10 – Day Trip to Las Alpujarras

    We awoke at 9:00 and had breakfast in the hotel (to save time). It was no better the second day. (In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the same bread that was put out the day before: quite stale.) By 10:00, we were on the road south to Las Alpujarras, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Europe’s highest mountain range. After a quick 30 miles on the highway, we took the exit to Lanjaron, a spa town known for its mineral waters. Lanjaron bottled water is drunk throughout Spain. About seven very twisty miles further, we reached the outskirts of Orjiva, the major market town of the region, and gassed up the car before starting our climb up the Porqueria Gorge. About nine stomach-churning miles up was the first village, Pampaneira. We walked around town, admiring the local fuzzy woven blankets for sale and the trademark Berber homes that are whitewashed, rectangular, very few windows, and have flat roofs made from crossbeams covered in shale.

    From Pampaneira, it was only a 1,5 km walk, but a 5 km drive, to the next village up the mountain, Bubion. This village seemed sleepier than Pampaneira – of course, we had gotten ahead of the tour buses, so there weren’t many other tourists milling about. Just 2 km higher was the third village in the little grouping, Capileira. Capileira is the second-highest village in the entire country. From here, if you are that sort of person, you could mount an ascent of Mulhacen, the highest mountain in the Alpujarras. Not being that sort of people, we were content to wander the town, stopping to admire the views and have lunch at a local bodega. More Iberian ham and sausage! I hate to think what this trip has done to my cholesterol level.

    At around 2:00 pm, we started our descent, getting back to Granada and our hotel at about 3:30. I was feeling nappish, which meant just one thing for DW – time to go shopping. An hour and a half later we stepped across the street to the lively plaza looking up at the Alhambra, and had a very early and very mediocre (I should have suspected as much due to the location and view) dinner. We headed in to pack, watch TV (The Apartment w/ Jack Lemmon – fortunately we knew the movie well so the Spanish dubbing was fine with us) and to go to bed early, so that we could get an early start to the airport for our trip back home.

    I cannot recommend the Casa Morisca hotel in Granada (even though it was highly recommended on the Trip Advisor website). It had an absolutely perfect location, but the stinky bathroom problem (maybe it was just our room - no. 11). It really was detrimental to the experience.


    Sunday, November 11 – Departure

    For the first time, we asked for a wake-up call (6:30). We were out of the hotel by 7:15, and drove to the Granada Airport in a heavy fog, our first less than perfect weather during the entire trip. We returned the return rental car at the airport, and were told that it was too early (at 8:15 a.m.) to check in -- come back in 20 minutes. Because Granada Airport is VERY small, I cannot imagine needing to show up more than 45-60 minutes before a departure. Our plane departed Granada at 10:10 am to Madrid, and we made a much more leisurely connection to a 1:30 pm flight to Dulles, which arrived at 4:30 pm EST.

    Our trip was amazing and – OK, I’ll say it – very well-planned. While the basic two dozen or so phrases we usually learn have been enough for our travels to all the major European cities in the past, it was not really adequate for the smaller, more remote villages of this trip. I would learn a little more of the language if you are going to visit smaller, less touristed towns.

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    You shouldn´t worry too much about cholesterol and Iberian ham. If it´s good, real ibérico or jabugo or guijuelo, it is full of good cholesterol and it´s very healthy. It is the "trans" fat that provokes the high levels of cholesterol, and jamón ibérico has none.

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    Bardo what a wonderful trip report.
    It was evident that you did do your planning well.

    I know the experince of getting lost is frustrating. We also had an experience in Madrid looking for Casa Patas which, after all, was not hard to find. But we passed it accidentally and ended up asking locals where the streets were. We got all sorts of conflicting info.
    Oh well now we know just because they are locals does not know they know their directions.

    I have a question about the weather while you were there. You did say it was in the 80's ?? Overall what was the temp? Did you & your DW find you needed to wear a coat/jacket during the day?

    Again really enjoyed the report thank you for sharing it.

    ams

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    ams,

    Thanks for the compliment.

    Only once did it get above 80F. The temperature during the day was mid 70's in Seville and mid 60's in Ronda and Granada.

    In all locations we wore a light fleece jacket before 11 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

    Mid-day we ditched the jackets at the hotel (or car) and were always quite comfortable with just a shirt.

    Ronda in the evenings were coolest of all due to the altitude and wind but even then the fleece was more than adequate.

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    ams,

    Great report - you make me want to return to Granada and Ronda. I think I'll have to skip the bulls testicles in Jerez though - I'm pretty food adventurous but not that much!

    I do have to comment that the Sierra Nevada peaks are the highest on the Spanish peninsula, but definately not the highest in Europe. The highest Western European peak is Mont Blanc in the Alps. The highest peak in all of Europe is Mount Elbrus in the Ural mountains.

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    Loved reading this trip report, bardo!

    My husband and I stayed outside of Granada for our honeymoon last April(and I still need to do my trip report).

    We also stayed at the Parador in Ronda one night and just loved it! Huge room, and yes, we also enjoyed that bathtub!

    Sorry to hear the Lions still are being restored...they weren't there when we saw the Alhambra either :(

    Thanks again for the detailed report!

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    Hats off for not psyching out on the road to Capiliera. 10 years ago it was a scary mother!

    The other interesting thought I have is, having spent a fair bit of time in Sevilla and Granada over a couple of years in the late '90s, the restaurants mentioned are not the ones I remember. I guess that speaks to the hazards of the business.

    One final thought: anyone going to Sevilla would enjoy the book Seville Communion by Antonio ???? Peretz. Light hearted mystery in current day Sevilla based on actual restaurants, streets, etc. Great fun. the [perfect book for the plane.]

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    Bardo enjoyed your report for a second time around.

    Question for you about your travel to white villages, after leaving Sevilla did you see all of that in ONE day? Jerez, Ronda? I am confused seems impossible?

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    Thanks for your interest.

    We left the car rental office in Seville close to 10am and immediately got headed in the wrong direction. After getting straigntened out we arrived in Jerez about 11:30am (and got lost again). We finally located the equestrian show, found parking, and got to seats right at noon as the show was starting.

    After lunch in Jerez, we drove toward Arcos de la Frontera where we spent maybe 2-3 hours - which was fine. Arcos is pretty small.

    As mentioned in the report, the drive from Arcos to Ronda was pretty hairy (I don't advise our route - stick with the highway). We arrived in Ronda about 7:30pm - well after dark and stayed in Ronda for two nights.

    So.... while we left Seville and eventually arrived in Ronda, what we really "saw" that day was Arcos and Jerez (and a lot of highway).

    Hope this helps.

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