Our December in Andalucia

Old Jan 27th, 2024, 09:42 AM
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Our December in Andalucia

Settled back at home from almost four weeks in Spain! This was a trip that got rescheduled a couple of times due to the availability of our adult children. Originally thinking we would travel in the late summer/early fall, we researched Portugal and Northern Italy. Both have charming small towns, art, architecture, restaurants and lots of plazas and cafes for people-watching that we love! But once it was determined that our kids could only travel around the Christmas holidays, we turned to Andalucia banking on sun and higher temperatures. And the lovely weather was in abundance!

We started in Granada for three nights, then moved to Sevilla for three weeks and finished in Madrid for New Year’s. I’m going to set up this report differently from the one I wrote about our month in Aix-in-Provence hoping that you all can find useful information more easily.

Transportation: We chose to go all the way to our final destination of Granada versus stop for a night upon arrival in Europe. Departing from Los Angeles, we thought this meant that we would have to change planes in the US so we could arrive in Europe early enough to change modes of transportation again to get to Granada at a decent hour. There is one nonstop (on Iberia) from LAX – MAD arriving at 2:00 pm but changing planes or jumping to a train would mean arriving in Granada close to midnight. Unfamiliar with Granada, I was nervous to do that, hence we did not take the nonstop. We flew American Airlines from LAX – DFW – MAD. We then went into town, had a 5-hour wait and took a train to Granada, arriving at 6:00 pm.

In hindsight, my nervousness about arriving in Granada was unwarranted. It is a vibrant town with plenty of taxis. People are out until midnight (if not a touch later). Our hotel was in a great part of town and there was no reason for me to worry about arriving late.

Also, as many of you told me, there is nowhere comfortable to sit in the Madrid Atocha train station. We should’ve found a restaurant to settle in for a couple of hours immediately upon arrival from the airport. Last note, I thought I bought first class train tickets from MAD-Granada so we could sit in the lounge just before our train departure but I messed up our tickets somehow. Next time, unless there is a “perfect” train connection to from our arrival city to our final destination, we will fly!

Granada

After a 25-hour journey from Los Angeles, we made it to Granada. While we typically rent vacation apartments for our travels, we decided to start this trip in a hotel, so we would have in-person service to help acclimate us upon arrival. It helped us get our bearings a bit more quickly since were rusty on our Spanish and had not been to Spain since 2017.

We spent three lovely nights in this charming small city. It was crowded and bustling as we were there for the December holiday weekend. There were lots of families from all over Spain who had come for a short break. Everyone we met was warm and helpful.

Arrival:

Arriving in Granada’s train station, it was quite easy to follow the signs to the taxi area. We had no problem getting a taxi right away to whisk away to our hotel for under 10 euros.

Hotel:

We stayed at the Palacio Mariana Pinenda: https://www.palaciomarianapineda.es/

Loved the location as it was short stroll to Plaza Nueva, lots of shops and restaurants in Old Town and the Albayzin, and the Granada Cathedral. We also easily walked to the Alhambra. Like the reviews said, the walls are thin. While we had a room on the interior to not hear the street noise, we still could hear the guests in the room next door. For three nights, this was fine as the hotel was charming, historical, a great value, and had a fantastic helpful personable staff!

Vibe:

Keeping in mind that we were in Granada for a holiday weekend, It was very crowded and bustling. Lots of families from all over Spain had come for a short school break and long weekend. Plazas were filled to the brim, sidewalks were such that we had to “jump out” to merge with pedestrian traffic, and restaurants were full. Christmas lights were unbelievable! I have never seen anything like Plaze del Carmen! The city was a great size – not an overwhelmingly big city but had a buzzing energy, well-dressed people and plenty of bar culture. We walked everywhere!

Surprisingly, we found most in the service industry did not speak or chose not to speak English. Luckily my husband’s high school Spanish kicked in.

Restaurants:

We had great experiences! We had two favorites, but I recommend all of these restaurants, and would definitely go back to any of them!

Restaurante Arrayanes and Restaurante Oliver

On our first night, we went to Restaurante Arrayanes. A Moroccan restaurant, it’s a touch tricky to find. The menu was fantastic. I had Moroccan chicken with vegetables and rice and my husband had traditional baked fish taejine. Of all of the fish and seafood that we had in Spain, this was the best. We finished our dinner with tea and pastries.

Restaurante Arrayannes

Albayzín

Restaurante Arrayannes

Albayzin

The other restaurant that we loved was Restaurant Oliver. Walking through the bar, the restaurant itself was in the back. We did not have a reservation, but the manager worked to find a table for us as it was nearing the end of the lunch period. A delicious fresh salad, garlic shrimp and fried sardines were thoroughly enjoyed. And the TOMATOES during our entire trip were off the charts.


Restaurante Oliver

Restaurante Oliver

Bodegas Castañeda

On night one, we also stopped in Bodega Castaneda and got lucky as a space at the bar coincidently opened. The bartender was quick with service, poured the vermouth on tap for us and served us free tapas with our drinks. With every new drink order, free tapas were served.


Bodega Castaneda

Bodega Castaneda

Bodega Castaneda


Taberna Casa Enrique

Casa Enrique on C. Acera del Darro was recommended to us by the young man who led our tapas tour. Founded in 1870, he coined this place as the oldest restaurant in Granada. We made a reservation for a 2:00 pm lunch. The bar had a medium-sized crowd and the restaurant was empty. By 2:30 pm, each of the five tables in the restaurant was full. Fantastic service, good food – Bull’s tail stew and Sardine stew -- this place was charming.

Taberna La Tana

We had a lovely walk under the Christmas lights and down the lively Calle Navas to this restaurant. We were nicely greeted by the manager whom I had emailed to make our reservation. We were ushered to our table, ordered a glass of wine, and enjoyed the free tapas that were served. The food was delicious, and the restaurant had a homey, charming atmosphere. Our waitress was very busy tending to some of the outdoor tables as well, so we did not see much of her.

Cafeteria Alhambra

On Plaza Bib-Rambla, this was another one of our favorite experiences! One order of chocolate y churros was plenty for us, but it was delicious! And, I had left my package from some earlier shopping on the table by accident and the manager had it safe and sound in the back when I returned for it.



Churros con chocolate


Sites/Activities

Alhambra

We reserved the “Rick Steves Famous” Margarita Ortega Ortiz de Landazuri for a private tour of the Alhambra. She was a bit pricier than other guides we typically hire but was highly recommended and we are so glad we scheduled her. The Alhambra was all you imagine – breathtaking, intriguing, huge, rich with history and stories. It was not as crowded as I thought it might be. We met our guide at 11 am with tickets to enter the Palace at 1 pm. The only hiccup was that we did not make a detailed spot to meet Margarita and many people and guides were trying to meet up. Luckily, someone I asked knew her and was able to connect us. Lesson learned!!


The Albyacin

I wish we had spent more time up here. We took a Tapas Tour that included a walking tour of this neighborhood, and I absolutely loved it. The tiny streets and plazas oozed with charm. I would love to go back in warmer weather and sit on Plaza Larga with a coffee or glass of wine. This was a reminder to myself that I really like the old pedestrian quarters of European towns and cities, and need to spend some focused time in these neighborhoods.

The Old Silk Market

I’m glad I walked through it as I am the type that I would always wonder what it was like. However, like I was told by some of you, it also is touristy and while some of the shops were interesting, I didn’t trust the prices so I moved on quite quickly.

Granada Cathedral

Another breathtaking site. The majesty of the European cathedrals, churches and religious art are very moving to me and this Cathedral was the perfect one to kick off our month in Spain. Sitting close to the main alter, I couldn’t help but have the sense of those who came before me.

Gayle’s Tapas Tour

We took a guided Tapas Tour on our second night in Granada. The only ones on the tour, we were to meet our guide at one of the lookout points at the top of the Albaycin but our taxi dropped us off at the wrong plaza. Once we fumbled our way to connect with our guide we were on our way. Much of the area’s history, we had heard earlier that day during our tour of the Alhambra. But my husband and I both enjoyed the walk down the hill through streets looking at some of the larger houses that were we recently moved into by Europeans from other countries. Again, I really wish I had made time to go back during the day. With regard to the actual tapas bars, this tour wasn’t what I had expected. For some reason, I thought we needed to and would learn how to make our way through the crowded bars and order drinks and tapas. But the bars were very crowded so we almost always sat or stood at an outdoor table while our guide went in alone to order. We were then served and our guide explained what we were eating. We definitely got to know this charming young man, which was fun, and took a very long walk from the top of the Albaycin through the historical center and beyond.

In summary, Granada was a very pleasant surprise! We thought it might be one of those cities that we visited because the Alhambra is a must-see site. However, as a city on its own, we loved the architecture, plazas, restaurants and bars, amazing Christmas lights and the spirit! I’ve put a few more pictures below.


Granada

Granada

Granada

Granada

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Old Jan 27th, 2024, 12:01 PM
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Inviting pix and info, Irice!
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Old Jan 27th, 2024, 12:19 PM
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You are doing a great, great job with both the report and the beautiful, large photos....I am waiting for more!
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Old Jan 27th, 2024, 07:24 PM
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Lrice, I am really enjoying your report, all the wonderful detail, and your beautiful photos. And I agree with you that Granada is a very interesting city in its own right. And I love that it’s very different from Seville and very different from Cordoba. The Alhambra is one of the most amazing places I have seen. So beautiful and so distinctive!
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Old Jan 27th, 2024, 08:23 PM
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Thanks guys! You three all have been so helpful in my travel planning!

I can’t seem to make the pictures smaller. Any hints?

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Old Jan 28th, 2024, 01:06 AM
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Loving your report, as I knew I would, and your beautiful photos! Keep them coming!
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Old Jan 28th, 2024, 05:19 AM
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I don't know how to make the photos smaller. But I like them large!
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Old Jan 28th, 2024, 07:51 AM
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Enjoying your report Irice.

I make my photos smaller by cropping them before I post.
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Old Jan 29th, 2024, 08:51 PM
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Melnq8, I will try that when I get to Sevilla! Thanks!
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Old Jan 29th, 2024, 09:15 PM
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Irice, so enjoying your TR, brings back memories of our trip to Andalucia in March 2020. The Sevilla part was unfortunately shortchanged as Covid struck and almost everything was closed, we caught one of the last flights out of town before airports and borders were closed!
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Old Jan 30th, 2024, 04:06 AM
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I am so happy that you are posting your trip report. We are staying at the same place in Granada. Love the photos and all of the details. I am just getting ready to start a thread with questions on our upcoming trip. Reading your posts and all of the answers have helped me so much. So, gracias.
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Old Jan 30th, 2024, 05:08 AM
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lrice Wonderful report! I was following along on your musings when you were writing live from Seville.
Can’t wait for the rest of your TR! We loved Granada when we visited a couple of years ago. We also had your famous guide. I remember looking out towards the ocean from up high in the Alhambra and Margarita Ortiz pointed out that the area I was looking at is called the Costa Tropical that’s known for its micro climates and popular towns like Salobreña, Nerja and some others that I can’t recall. It’s a region that remains on my list for the next time I’m in that area.
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Old Jan 30th, 2024, 05:37 AM
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Thanks for sharing the details and your love for Granada. As you may have figured out by now, Granada is well-known for free tapas.
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Old Jan 30th, 2024, 07:31 AM
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Wonderful report so far! We loved the area and are thinking of doing Andalusia this Christmas. Were you in Seville over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? I understand most sites and restaurants are close these days but I am hoping some restaurants and bars will be open and there will be some people out and about? Also, did you find it difficult to find places to eat on Sundays and Mondays?

Thanks can't wait to read more!
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Old Jan 30th, 2024, 07:51 AM
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Sunday is a very, very busy day for restaurants all over Spain, a very lively day with the aperitivo and socializing, so no issues for lunch, a bit more complicated for dinner. Monday closures really depend on the city, the restaurant...but it´s quite common.
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Old Jan 30th, 2024, 06:29 PM
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Really enjoying the report so far and very glad that you all enjoyed your time in Granada.
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Old Jan 31st, 2024, 04:19 AM
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Originally Posted by lrice
Melnq8, I will try that when I get to Sevilla! Thanks!
I see no problem with the size of the photos. They loaded quickly on my phone.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2024, 03:14 PM
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Thanks all for your kind words and support. I hope to dig into my notebook and write about our time in Sevilla this weekend!

Jamikins, yes, we were in Sevilla for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve, the city is bustling with locals shopping and people dining. There are beléns open, as well as some tourist attractions like the Palacio de las Dueñas, the Seville Museum of Fine Arts -- both which are A M A Z I N G and I think the Hospital de los Venerables might be open as well. Restaurants are open until 4pm, but you will need a reservation and I'd say 2:30 pm or 3:00 pm is a safe time. Then, on Christmas Eve, we went into the Cathedral for midnight mass. I stayed for the entire service including when the priest brought a baby Jesus doll out so people could kiss his feet. But there are plenty of tourists in this service and people left in the middle of it as well.


Christmas Eve



On Christmas Day, most was closed during the day, however some places in Barrio Santa Cruz were open. We had a late lunch at Casa Roman. That evening we went to a 7:00 pm Flamenco show, which we LOVED, and a 9:00 pm dinner at Restaurante Casa Robles.


La Casa del Flamenco

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Old Feb 7th, 2024, 02:30 PM
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Liking this. I have plans for Granada & Seville at the beginning of May, so I'm loving the picttures and info.
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Old Feb 7th, 2024, 10:38 PM
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Onto Sevilla!

We made our way to the curb where Granada taxis line up to wait for customers. Within two minutes, we were on our way to the bus station. The bus worked better for our itinerary as a bus departs for Sevilla almost every hour I believe.

Arrival:
The bus ride was uneventful. We passed a couple villages perched on hilltops and some beautiful agricultural land. Arriving to the Sevilla bus station on the river, we walked 25 minutes to our apartment maneuvering our medium-sized suitcases along the pathway. Any rain we had seen in Granada was gone and Sevilla had sun and blue skies to greet us.

Rental Apartment:
I really struggled where to stay and had some amazing help and opinions from this community. In the end we selected a 2-bedroom apartment managed by Genteel Homes on Plaza de la Contratacion. The plaza is nestled between the Alcazar and Avenue de Constitucion. It was a fantastic location. There was a small café around the corner, Restaurante Las Lapas, that had tables on the plaza. Beyond this, there were restaurants and shops within a 6–7-minute walk in all directions. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony, watching the horse and carriages trot through the plaza and listening to the Cathedral bells. With three weeks in Sevilla, we had plenty of time to enjoy the atmospheric Barrio Santa Cruz, the lively bars in El Arenal and the shops and bakeries in shopping area on Calle Sierpes and around Plaza de San Francisco.

The apartment was lovely with a modern kitchen, American-style showers, comfy beds, great internet and beautiful floor to ceiling windows that opened to wrought iron balconies.

We stocked up on olives, cheeses and crackers, visited the market and picked up groceries to make some dinners in and found a wonderful wine store on Calle Arfe, appropriately named Wine and Liquor. But WOW, we enjoyed some amazing restaurants!


Our apartment living room


Gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows


Morning coffee on our balcony


The plaza below our apartment

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