Semana Santa is the holy week of Easter celebrated with a passion here in Spain. It is worth noting that if you travel to Spain the week leading up to Easter many things will be closed or booked out. If you arrive this week there is also a good chance your taxi won’t be able to deliver you to your hotel and you may be carrying your luggage through crowded streets. However the benefits of this week are quite special. At the local tourist office you can pick up a procession schedule and see one of the many beautiful processions that people spend a year preparing. Groups leave a home church and parade through the streets for multiple hours the Gitano procession of Granada last about eight hours from 5pm to 2am, one of the largest processions of Seville last 14 hours from midnight to 2 the next afternoon. The processions seem to have two floats one of Jesus and another one of Marry these...
The Soul of Spain
20 top experiences that will connect you with the essence of Espana
Walking around Granada isn't like walking around most major cities. In most cities you can't catch glimpses of massive snow-covered mountains or an ancient Moorish and Spanish fort (the Alhambra), part legendary summer palace, part stronghold. In most cities you can't wander lost along beautiful winding streets under red tiles and whitewashed walls with both Spanish and Moorish architectural influences in the old neighborhood (the Albaicin) as the delicate and sweet fragrance of orange blossoms swirls around you. Or pop into a bar on Calle Pedro Antonio or Calle Navas for a delicious Rioja or sangria and munch on light tapas, maybe some brie with honey or a small plate of paella. The best part about Granada? You can do all these things.
There are many places to view Flamenco in Granada. There are large shows in Sacramonte that cost 25-35 Euros and have a flare for showing the dramatics and storytelling of the dance, and there are shows that have no dance and play in dark underground pubs. There is every range of Flamenco played and performed. Le Chien Andalou is easy to find, unlike some places father into the Albycin, it is cheap at 7 euros, and the food and drinks are neither life changing nor horrible. The music changes every night, I have been a few handfuls of times and have witnessed a sampling from slightly better than mediocre to quite incredible performances. It is often wise to stop by and make a reservation as the space is limited in this little wine cellar room full of short stools and low tables. I recommend this place for those wanting to experience Flamenco to either be intrigued by it, to fall in love...
If you walk above the Alhambra, through the multitudes of parking lots, you will reach the old Granada Cemetery. I stumbled on this by accident and spent an hour wandering this massive space. This is the largest Cemetery I have seen and I was moved not only by the multitude of tombs but the enormous amount of flowers everywhere. These people seem very much remembered and honored in death. The Cemetery also has beautiful views of the Sierra Nevada and a small tranquil enclosed park with flowering almond trees, a reflective pool, and poetry engraved in the walls.
Shortly after we arrived in Plaça del Pi in Barcelona's Barri Gòtic, so did a parade of gigantes and castellers. The latter (who name comes from the Catalonian word for castles) climb upon one another to build human towers. The tradition goes back to the late 1700s and enlivens local holiday festivals. The castles we witnessed were modest in comparison to those of the region's more practiced and touring ensembles (http://bit.ly/GH1kk7), but they inspired much delight in the spontaneously gathered audience.
When Christopher Hall reported his "57 Small Bites of Spain" story about tapas in four Spanish cities, he visited Bar Txepetxa in San Sebastian's old quarter. We brought the December/January 2010 issue of AFAR with us and shared it with the pintxo purveyors in this tiny bar, renowned for its anchovies and sardines. The menu board on the back wall appears in the photo in the lower right corner of the magazine page. The "pintxos" on the platter being tilted toward the camera are actually plastic models, with magnets holding them to the plate. One of my favorites--a sardine with a thick smear of blueberry jam down the middle!
Fatigued and stomachs rumbling, we stalked the side porch of the house, trying to see if anyone was there. It says restaurant, we grumbled, knowing full-well that at this point we would eagerly knock on the door of someone's home, just to gain directions to the nearest open eatery. It was either that, or try our hand in the shining azure depths of the Mediterranean. Our group of 4 looked salt-tangled and sun-soaked.
Fortunately, a smiling man noticed our snooping and patiently led us to the front door of his empty abode, through the dining room, and out to the blissful shade of the flowery back patio. "We'd like paella and wine," we offered -- a unanimous vote. He explained that it would take "a while," but that it was well worth the wait, and we should enjoy a bottle of wine and some relaxed conversation.
That, we did. It was like stepping into an air of Diazepam, and the tranquil,...
We arrived at night, when the glow of christmas lights in the trees outside the front door illuminated a structure that looked far too small to house all of the rooms we would need.
Morning brought with it clarification and what we found was a villa not only large enough for all of us but small enough to warm us from the outside in. Dating from the Fourteenth Century, Mas Garganta is a guest house set into the hillside in a valley between 40 dormant volcanoes in the Pyrenees region of Northern Spain.
Breakfast is included every morning, laundry services are available as well as bike rental and an outdoor pool refreshes guests in the hot summer months.
It is the warmth of the owners and the history of the place that makes it most recommendable. No place I have ever slept away from home has ever felt so very immediately like it was in fact, more my home than where I left.
Located a short drive out of Barcelona, Montserrat Monastery is a must see while in Barcelona. Try the honey and fig cakes. There are many tour operators that offer this day trip from Barcelona. Take your time and hike some of the trails. The views are incredible!
This is Mark Bittman's favourite sandwich ever: a flauta d’ibéric jabugo at Cafe Viena on La Rambla in Barcelona. I can attest to the fact that it is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had! The ham is just delicious and the bread is crispy without being too hard. Just perfect!
There are no roads to the small village of Bulnes, located in the Asturias region of northern Spain. To reach the village, locals and wandering visitors must either ride the funicular (cable railway running through the mountain) or hike about an hour from Poncebos. The hike itself is not too strenuous; the true difficultly lies in not stopping to take a photo after every 20 steps.
The churros here supposedly get their crispy exterior from being cooked over an ax-cut beech-wood fire. You can sample the results when the 140-year-old shop is open: only two Saturdays in June, every day during the San Fermín festival in July, and Sundays in October.
34/948-227-627. This appeared in the May/June 2012 issue. Photo by Markel Redondo.
When in Granada I highly recommend visiting one of the Moroccan tea houses in the Albaicin. I have visited many but have two favorites that I return to repeatedly. “ La Teteria del Banuelo” is situated away from a main road and is a bit of a haven when you want to get out of the heat and away from cars and sidewalks full of people. It is decorated in soft earth tones with beautiful antique plates from North Africa, a fountain, and singing birds. My other favorite is a bit more of a walk but I think this makes the tea taste even better and I always feel welcomed when I walk in the door. This Teteria is on the corner of Cuesta del Chapiz and Camino del Sacromante. This tea house is like entering a beautiful desert tent, the walls are draped in panels of rich colored fabric, the celling is painted a colorful elaborate pattern, and the owner always makes you feel welcome. Besides Tea...
Quimet y Quimet served the most original pinxtos we found in our trip around Spain. Just walk up to the counter, stand on the sidewalk, and let the bartender / barrista serve you whatever he or she thinks will be good. And it will be. That's some roasted red peppers, some cream cheese, some onions, some olives, some caviar, and who-knows-what-else in that picture! Oh...and the Cerveza Especial of the house was so amazing, we wrapped some bottles in bubble wrap and brought 'em back stateside!
As you enter Barcelona's famous Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boqueria from La Rambla, one of the first stalls you encounter is Tocineria Marcos, purveyors of Iberico ham (upper left in photo) and a stunning array of other cured, cooked, and fresh meats. It's just one of the dazzling displays of delicacies in this, the most famous of Barcelona's 40 or so food markets. (Another favorite, and slightly less touristed, is the beautifully remodeled Mercat de Santa Caterina, short walk away.) La Boqueria dates back to 1217; a pig market was conducted here starting in 1470; and the current metal roof was built in 1914. There's no better place to shop for a taste of Catalan culture.
On any visit to Barcelona, a trip through the city's charming Gothic Quarter shouldn't be missed. You'll find everything there from historic buildings and fun shops to entertaining street performers and delicious restaurants like this one. I love how people in Barcelona linger over their meals, enjoying their food and company. Plan to spend a whole day in the Gothic Quarter, and take the time to enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the quarter's many outdoor cafes. Often the best ones are tucked away down small alleyways, so make sure not to overlook these off-the-beaten-path cafes - they're delicious.
The staff of Madrid's Chocolatería San Ginés might be a bit brisk, but they more than make up for it in taste and atmosphere. Over a century old, take a few turns off the main "calle" and follow the pink neon sign to the small elegant interior. You'll be rewarded with a steaming cup of drinking/dipping chocolate and perfectly crisp-yet-delicate churros.
As food writer Jonathan Gold "warned" me before we went to San Sebastian, "the pintxos bars in the old town are among the best in Spain." Although you can't feel any sense of competition--the convivial spirit spills over from one bar to the next, and there are certainly enough customers to go around--you can see it and taste it. Every spot crafts its small-plate specialties to perfection, and a few, like Zeruko, above, take their pintxos into otherworldly realms of avant-garde food architecture. For pure satisfaction (amazing warm pintxos cooked to order) and neighborhood ambiance, we kept returning to Astelehena and La Cuchara De San Telmo, both recommended by AFAR contributor Lisa Abend. But nothing beats Zeruko, http://bit.ly/HbvQQ0, for a visual spectacle and experimentation with ingredients and presentation.
There are plenty of Flamenco places in Granada, from the 35 euro tourist cave to the 6 euro wine cellar. My love for flamenco has drawn me to each one. I think the best deal especially if you are only in Granada for a week or a weekend is to splurge and go out for a great meal, the best Sangria I’ve tasted in Spain, and some very talented and passionate flamenco. For almost the same price as the tourist filled sacramonte flamenco caves you can have a three course delicious meal and see top quality flamenco at “Restaurante Jardines de Zoraya, tablao Flamenco.” Located in the Albaycin this restaurant has flamenco shows twice a night and a third matinee show on Saturday and Sunday. Come early so you give yourself time to find it in the hilly small alleys of the Albaycin and also to get a seat and order before the show starts.
Unlike many of the neighboring towns along Spain's Costa Brava, the fishing village of Tossa de Mar has managed to retain its simple, distinctly laidback charm. The narrow, cobbled streets of the old town still house funky paella dens and outdoor patios perfect for enjoying a leisurely coffee in the sun. Old women sweep doorsteps with aging straw brooms as the laundry dries on the third-story rooftop, their old-style pensiones available for inquisitive travelers not afraid of venturing off the beaten tourist path.
Home to only 6,000 permanent residents, Tossa de Mar also houses the last remaining Roman fortress found anywhere along the Spanish coastline. Having towered over this coastal hamlet since the 12th Century, it's still possible to find quiet moments such as these while strolling the restored walls on a cool, Mediterranean evening in the springtime.