Our Top 10 Spanish Delights

Our Top 10 Spanish Delights

As we sit just across the French/Spain border, it seems appropriate to reflect on our Spanish odyssey over the last seven weeks and compile our favourite Top 10 Spanish Delights. It has been a real immersion into the soul of another country and we have come out the other side with a greater understanding and love for this Iberian land and its hidden treasure. Whilst there is so much more to explore, these were our highlights.

Stunning Segovia – Castilla y León
We were often overwhelmed by Spain’s irrefutable religious devotion, evidenced by the passion that went into the construction of their religious monuments. The most memorable collection for us is Segovia accompanied by its charming old town, which requires a whole new vocabulary of colourful adjectives. From the Roman aqueduct which powerfully imprints its historical legacy, to the market of the Plaza Mayór overseen by the shadow of its magnificent Cathedral and of course the Castle, which looks like it’s jumped straight out of a Disney film. Perched high, Segovia commands your admiration as you wonder through its characterful alleyways, its network of cobbled streets and plethora of religious masterpieces that caste a magical spell over you forever.

Seductive Seville – Andalucía
Seville was an attack on our senses, and powerless to her charm, we surrendered with every fibre of our body. Aside of the tourist haunts that seem an inevitable drawn, Seville has so much more that the hop-on, hop-off buses and over-priced horse-drawn carriages. When you look deep into Seville’s soul, it tells a story that engages you with each turning page. It’s a real sensory explosion that left me feeling touched by something far more than bricks and mortar. The Orange Blossom trees that line the avenues, the magnetising allure of Alcazar’s Palace, the doves that don the silver birch trees in Plaza España, the ornate historical and modern buildings and the elegant feel of each city corner that held its own secret. Seville is a stunning place to let yourself go and experience something so much more than a touristic excursion.

Delightful Doñana and El Rocío – Andalucía
After the buzz of Seville what better place to soothe our racing heart than Mother Nature’s rhythm. Doñana National Park is one of Europe’s most important and diverse parks, offering three unique ecosystems; forest, wetlands and sand dunes. This wild south-western corner of Spain is, we suspect, much missed out by many visitors, unless you are going in or out of Portugal. If bird-life is your thing, then Doñana is a must on your Spanish odyssey. Add to this, the intriguing El Rocío that with its eclectic, non-conformist community, leaves you treading through its sandy, unsealed roads, feeling like its been a Holywood movie set. El Rocío is just one of those places that has to be seen to be appreciated. Words and pictures just don’t do it justice.

Gorgeous Grazalema – Andalucía
The mountains in Spain hold so many treasures that when you can tear yourself away from the motorway south or the beach lounger along the Costas, they will simply make your heart skip a beat. We loved the mountains and we danced amongst them as often as we could, as this is where we felt most at home. Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, east of Jerez is just a joy. After the buzz of towns like Cadiz and Seville, this haven of majestic giants is like the soothing feel of a velvet blanket around your shoulders on a cold night. This region is home to the famous ring of Pueblo Blancos – White towns, which as the name suggests are full of white-washed houses that each have their own character and history. As you climb the mountains exhausted by the hair-pin bends, you gently sink into Grazalema’s welcome. This spectacular village clings purposefully to the side of the mountain claiming its right to perch there for all eternity. I was moved to tears when driving into this village, as around every bend more of its beauty is revealed and you get drawn into its cobbled streets, España Plaza and its dazzling whiteness. I defy you not to fall in love with this hidden treasure chest of loveliness.

Magnificent Monfragüe – Extremadura
Purely by chance, we were looking for a change from the religious cultural explosion that we had experienced in Burgos, Segovia and Salamanca – and Monfragüe popped up offering us sanctuary. With Red Kites, Storks and Vultures flying overhead, we soon began to appreciate the preciousness of this natural park.  It is home to a number of rare breeds, namely the Black Vulture and Black Stork, which are, worldwide, endangered species. Amongst it voluptuous mountains and deep river valleys, you are entertained by clouds of these amazing raptors, as they sedately catch a thermal or two. The walks through the area are just stunning and you can easily while away a week here, if you’re a nature lover.  Peace, tranquility and raw nature welcome you in this Spanish heart-land.

Resplendent Ronda – Andalucía
Ronda’s iconic bridge over the plunging gorge features heavily in Spanish holiday marketing – and it is not be to be missed. Its stunning city walls, old town offerings and of course the gorge, will treat you to a veritable feast of photo opportunities, walking or simply coffee drinking and people watching to the echoes of the church bells. We watched a Flamenco dance here too, which was mesmerising and so emotional that you will leave feeling blessed to have witnessed something so heart-driven and passionate.

Glorious Güejar Sierra – Andalucía
Deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains, north of Malaga and away from the Costa crowds you stumble upon Granada. Now whilst this is indeed a beautiful place to visit and the Alhambra Palace the major draw for most people, what was more memorable for us was the spot about 8km outside of the city, up in the mountains. Güejar Sierra is a small and charming village that has adjusted to mountain life admirably and with a bus that takes the Snakes and Ladders route to the city twice an hour, civilisation really isn’t far. There are plentiful walks, and the ice-blue Embalse de Canales to feast your eyes on too. If you are lucky as we were, to have a spring storm, then you will be rewarded with snow-capped mountain peaks making for a picture-postcard album of photographs. The peace we found here was soul-soothing and yet another one of those places that you just could have stayed at forever.

Dazzling Denia – Valencian Community
East from Granada on the coast you have another Costa that lures in the English tourist. Yet beyond the traditional Costa Blanca holiday destination is the more tranquil host of towns that includes Jávea, Denia and Olva. We didn’t quite make it to Javea as the pine-clad campsite of Los Pinos in Denia seduced us into enjoy its delights; its elegant promenade, cliff and mountain walking, its classy marina all entice you to simply hang out. We loved our goat impersonations as we hiked along precarious cliff edges and our training for the Tour De France took shape, as we cycled along the towns many dedicated cycle routes, often distracted by the stunning scenery passing by our eyes. Whilst not the nightlife you might expect from further down the coast, this was a super place to park up for three or four days and just be.

Visionary Valencia – Valencian Community
One thing you can’t do in Valencia is be. Valencia invites to you walk amongst its city streets and marvel at its understated pleasures. After the historical dunking from our previous cities, Valencia offered us

a refreshing modern twist on architecture. The parks running around the outside of the city are a haven for fitness enthusiasts and the Catalonian culture speaks volumes here, as ladies in their La Falla customs glide through the streets after church and the local flag proudly flutters from windows stating their allegiance. Valencia needs to be savoured and our one day trip was simply not enough.  It needs – no, it deserves more time to wander.

Colourful Costa Brava coast – Catalonia
Our final highlight is the Costa Brava. Its fusion of rugged coastline with bays, coves, mountains, peninsulars and beautiful beaches show little evidence of flocking Costa tourists. This is the quiet, more elegant Costa, just east of Girona and only a handful of kilometres from the French border and the Pyrenees. We called home, a place just east of L’Escala on the Montgó peninsular with a sandy beach one side and a craggy cove the other.  Its mountain backdrop frames the bay and its coves beautifully, as they try to shelter from the tempestuous Tramontane wind.

The highlight of this part of our trip was heading over the mountain to Salvador Dali’s territory, Cadaqués, which had a very special, creative energy about it.  Built into the rocks, this town sparkles with artistic talent from its painted electricity cupboards to its artisan shops selling their wares and the iconic bay upon which the town gazes for its inspiration.

With a very contented sigh, I reflect back upon the journey we’ve taken, that not only was virginal for us in Spain, it was also our first experience of living in a motorhome full time, with no house to speak of and no jobs. Just us, the road, our chariot and the Spanish countryside waiting to inspire and teach us and what a classroom it’s been. With gratitude we appreciate all that we’ve experienced and look ahead to our French adventure with eager anticipation.  It calls us to return and savour its delights some more.  And in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘We’ll be back!’

An Alternative Guide to Seville

An Alternative Guide to Seville

The Motoroamers’ City Tour series

 

Now you could be forgiven for thinking this is one of those blogs that shares the Top 10 traditional city sights that you must put on your visitor’s list.  Let me assure you that this could not be further from the truth, because as a countryside lover, I tend to tolerate cities, at best and endure them at worst.  So when, as nomadic travellers, we decided to take a road-trip around Europe in our motorhome, Scoobie, we knew that visiting cities would be part of the mix.

I love to be surprised and Seville is just one of those experiences that I felt compelled to write about, such was its profound effect on me.  This Alternative Guide to Seville is about how this pulsating city touched me through each one of my senses and how it remains in my heart as my second favourite city, running closely behind Venice.  Throw away your Tour Guide Map and experience Seville’s dazzling sensuality.

After an unfavourable arrival in Seville during rush-hour, I had little hope of it leaving a mark on me.  Although we had promised ourselves at the start of our trip, that irrespective of our likes and dislikes, we would throw ourselves into everything.  So throw ourselves into Seville we did – and boy are we grateful about that.

 

1. Seville is a sight for sore eyes

My intuition tells me to recommend staying outside of the city centre – irrespective of your budget.  There’s something incredibly specially about a relaxed arrival into the city zone. As you drive over one of the many bridges, you feel the weight of your hopes and expectations supported by its arches as it guides you into the bosom of Seville’s sanctuary.  Immediately you are greeted with an early vision of splendour as palaces, fountains and parks present themselves to each incoming visitor as if selling their wares to you.

We headed straight for the nearest Tourist Information Centre, which, as it happened was planted in Plaza del Triunfo where two historical giants compete visually for your affections; the Moorish yet Gothic blend of the Palace Alcazar on your left and the theatrical grandeur of the Cathedral to your right. Having visited three UNESCO Cathedrals in Burgos, Segovia and Salamanca the previous week, we decided that the unique looking Palace won our vote and what a feast for the eyes this was. Every colour of the rainbow must have been represented in this magnificent building, which boasts 11 centuries of cultural intervention from Muslim to Gothic to Christian. Each architectural hand delicately offers you its own story and with each corner you turn, more of the visual legend unfolds.

The gardens are staggeringly beautiful and when you realise that beyond the monstrous walls is the bustling city, it made its fascination even more palpable. Follies, waterfalls, peacocks, fountains, domes, arboretums, ponds and pagodas would fascinate even the most modest of gardeners. I dare you to look at this and not be wowed by its magnificence.

The spectacle that is the Plaza de España is special on a plate. As you walk through the signature Parque de Maria Luisa, little do you realise the secret that she holds at the head of her intricate maze of orange trees. The crescent shaped Plaza stuns your eyes with its relatively new composition of brick and highly coloured tiles, little waterways and bridges that if you shut your eyes could almost transport you to Venice.

Outside of this treasure chest spectacle, the Hop on, Hop Off City Tour Bus, offers you a glimpse into the depth of Sevillian history. Whether you love the past and religion or not, you can not leave without feeling just a little bit touched by the stature of the buildings, the love and passion that went into their creation and the spectacle that the multicultural palatial homes present to you.

You will look, you will see and you must surrender to its beauty.

 

2. Music to your ears

The first sound that reaches your ears is that of the traffic buzzing through the city with passionate Spaniards sounding their horns in impatient determination to reach their destination. This cacophony is strangely inoffensive as the city envelopes you into its historical narrative.

Then there is the cheeky, flirtatious melody from the city’s parakeets that brings a smile to your face, as they flit between the palm trees.  The doves coo romantically amongst the gardens’ Silver Birch, often looking like magnolia flowers as they adorn each branch like blossom, offering hope and peace to the passing strollers who barely pass a glance.

Conversely the silence of the Palace garden is strangely deafening, as it attempts to hide its jewels away from the hubbub of chaos behind its protective walls, enabling it to honour its past masters as their ghosts lay to rest.

Stop and listen to the sounds; you will be stunned by the orchestral composition that the city composes for you if you are willing to hear.

 

3. Smelling like roses

Who would have thought that a city could smell of anything other than exhaust fumes?  Seville has its own distinct bouquet that is unforgettable.

The orange trees that bear both fruit and flower simultaneously, intoxicate you with their sweet, romantic perfume leaving you wishing you could bottle it.  Its sensual aroma acts as an instant relaxant as you will feel the busy-ness that exists around the city walls, simply melt away with each breath.

Take a breath and, for a moment, stop to take in the sweet smell of beauty.

 

4. Taste beyond the tourism

Traditional Sevillian kitchens will tantalise your tastebuds as you walk past the many cafés and tapas bars, enticing you with the melee of pungent smells from their gastronomic delights; garlic prawns, paella and a host of jambon related dishes that draw you in and encourages you to stop and watch the world go by whilst sampling its treasure. Breath it all in and allow your tongue to tingle with Sevillian cuisine.

 

5. Taking Seville to your heart

Seville magnetises you in so many ways and the vibe that captures your heart is subtle as it bounces around your city experience. From the stories that are etched between the buildings’ fibres, holding so many intriguing secrets, to the sheer intricacies of the balustrades, you will leave wanting more like a perfect thriller.

The energy from the people who call Seville home, for a short or permanent amount of time, vibrate noticeably as they go about their business. Bicycles, green trams, horse and carts who carry incurable romantics hoping to capture their loved one’s hearts, all combine to generate a pulsating energy that symbolises love, culture, passion and genuine devotion to something greater than the human being. The web of intricate alleyways and winding streets, hold secrets that define a historical place and time, if only the ghosts of the past would reveal them.

Feel the city’s heart beat, as it speaks to those who listen.

 

Visiting Seville will leave you forever moved and entranced by its blend of history, religion and modern culture and if you experience it beyond the ‘Hop on Hop off’ buses and Tourist Guides, then you will have a memory that will last forever and you will be moved by your sensual experience.  Let Seville in and it will remain a love affair of never-ending devotion.

For more on Seville, why not check out this link from Trip and Travel Blog:

http://tripandtravelblog.com/april-is-one-of-the-best-times-to-visit-seville/

 

Check out our gallery of images below.

Want to save to read later? Why not Pin it? 

Other posts you might like…

Scoobie’s Travel Blog – A Game of Two Halves

Scoobie’s Travel Blog – A Game of Two Halves

Well this week has been a game of two halves. Forest v City.  Sounds like a football game, the result of which has to be a draw, although it’s a tough call.  Now we love our mountains, wildlife and Mother Nature’s call and we’ve revelled in it this week in a Park just east of Plasencia. Monfrague Nacional Parque did not disappoint, being home to a couple of endangered species of bird who thrive in this very special ecosystem.

Our campsite was fabulously rustic, yet impeccably clean and welcoming. We were surrounded by trees with cheeky Magpies, that had sparkling azure wings and tails who chuckled and chortled in the early mornings as they played amongst the branches. Then there was the odd Red Kite who would do a fly-pass – of course when your camera is least ready for action!  And white storks, with their red legs and beaks who nest on anything that is tall and narrow, balancing as perfectly as any circus performer. We were also entertained by darting swallows, honing their fly-catching skills, which just seems so odd to see in March.

The Parque itself was captivating and lured us into the bosom of its reserve, enticing us with spectacular views, long and winding roads, undulating mountains with lakes and rivers that had carved fascinating shapes into the valley floor.  The birdlife was astounding, with raptors (not of the dinosaur variety) having 2 metre wing spans, who would roar like lions. These majestic Griffin Vultures would soar above you, catching thermals, circling and floating in the summer sky.  These often, tiny black spots in the sky were, I must admit, tricky to photograph, although suddenly you would hear the sound of an incoming fighter-jet swooshing past your ear, only to see a glimpse of a Vulture diving past you at break-neck speed, towards its craggy nest on the rock face. And then, as if by magic, a swarm of 100 vultures ascend from no where, when the thermals are right, encircling your head, chilling on the waves of the wind. What an incredible sight and no wonder this place attracts ornithologists from all over the world. I took a few photos – that might rival a Japanese tourist with a selfie-stick.

Interspersed with these flocks of fascinating aves, are their Black Vulture cousins, who are the endangered ones, as too are the Black Storks and Black Kites who try to compete for airspace with the Griffins. Oh it is bird heaven and I was in the heart of it. Poor Myles did his best to be patient, although we resorted to taking Scoobs with us on day two rather than hiking, so that he could work and I could practise my David Bailey impression, which has been in hibernation since our NZ trip.

We had only planned to stay for a couple of nights at Monfrague although four nights on, we were totally converted. Now it would be worth adding at this juncture, that our stay wasn’t totally wildlife focused. There were domestic duties and work calling. My inaugural edition of the Scoobie Club, A Travel Education Programme for kids had to be issued to its first customers. I had a book on Mindful Leadership that needed proof reading and we had the toilet to fix. Somehow or another it had become impregnated with a sharp object that had generated the biggest crack you’ve ever seen. Now the jokes about what we’re putting down that toilet have been done to death, of course, over on our entertaining Facebook page, (www.facebook.com/motoroaming) yet Myles’ DIY skills were seriously put to the test as he executed his fixing solution. I won’t go into detail, although it had to be mended, as the alternative option was not pretty. Anyway, my hero, he did it with dexterity, determination and tenacity, as he does with all his challenges. So now we are with toilet again and leak free – for the moment at least.  A new one is waiting, we hope in Malaga.

Oh, and did I mention that the sun came out? After the snow and rain of the previous week, our patience was rewarded with the most gorgeous sunshine, warm winds and the right type weather of the short sleeve, summer sandal variety. Hip hip hooray. And of course, we both got burnt on the first day of our beached whale competition. This weather has pretty much stayed with us all week, which has just been delightful.

It was with great reluctance that, on Wednesday, we left Monfrague and its bird sanctuary, heading a little bit further south. Again following our ‘Road Less Travelled’ route back through the Park and out the other side to experience the booty waiting for us on the planes outside of the Parque’s treasure chest that we had called home. The road was spectacular with oak tree fields, hidden gorges rising up out from the middle of the earth and simply no traffic! I tell a lie, we had a slight interruption to our journey as we waited for a herd of goats to be shepherded across the road in front of us. They sounded like something out of Heidi with their Swiss style jangling bells soulfully tuning the air.

As we move south from the Extremadura region into Andalucia, the countryside is forever changing. We are seeing palm trees and cactus plants, olive groves and orange trees, which are all firmly in Spring’s grasp. It’s fascinating to see the differences as we travel down.

After a failed attempt to find a sleep-over spot half way to Seville, we resorted to a mile crunching journey south.  After a five hour trip and 200 miles, we finally arrived in the city of sour oranges two days earlier than intended. Now, hitting any major city at 6.00pm is a big mistake and Seville is no different. Can you imagine it – after miles of no traffic to speak of, suddenly three lanes of hot blooded Spaniards, jumping lanes like their lives depended upon it and in the middle of all this, an English plated motorhome with the Mrs at the wheel trying to find their way through the myriad of foreign looking signposts. Interesting, to say the least. After a few laps of Seville’s Ring Road, we found our intended overnight spot in a marina alongside Seville’s new river. On the face of it, it sounds idyllic although sadly being squeezed in, outside the Chandlery was not quite as romantic as the vision suggests. Still we were just very, very grateful for a place to stay having not arrived until 6.45pm. This city introduction was most certainly a bit of a shock to the system after our mountain tranquility.

And so this second half of our week, the city element, did not really hold much promise, given the moods we had arrived in. Still we put on our open-minded heads and took ourselves on the local bus straight into the heart of the city. We were not expecting yet another city to capture our hearts so dramatically, although capture it most certainly did. Now, I could tell you about the Alcazar Palace of Gothic design with ornate gardens and follies that transport you to somewhere in Morocco or talk about the mini Venice housed within the intricately tiled half-moon Plaza Espana. Instead I feel compelled to tell you about Seville, The Sensual City.

Whilst, like any city, you can visit one museum after another and probably fill a week, dancing from one memorable site to another; for me it was the way the city played with each of my senses that truly places it up there with my love for Venice. Its Cathedrals, Palaces and historical buildings, swathed in regal dignity, dating back to Christopher Columbus, share with the onlooker their rainbow coloured fascias, haunting us with their intricate artwork – a feast for the eyes. Seville’s orchards of orange trees that line every street and Plaza, tantalise your nose with their intoxicating blossom. The sounds of the doves and parakeets play melodies for your ears and the buzz of its visitors dashing around its many historical treasures, pulsates in tune with your heart. Around every corner, the energy of its historical and religious ghosts produce a story that surpasses every page of War and Peace and is palpable as it vibrates through your soul. I dare you to not fall in love with Seville. We did, despite our reluctance. It pulls you in with every sense you possess and dazzles you with its beauty, Spanish passion and charm.

To get a feel for the city, we must admit to doing the very touristy Sightseeing Bus tour, which meanders its way through the heart and fringes of the city, showcasing its magnificence. It was such a great introduction as there is no way you could cover the same ground on foot, so it seemed like a sensible way to experience the Sevillian big picture. With lunch in a quiet Plaza, surrounded with that heady orange blossom scent, a couple of cervezas and a paella, away from the hum of the tourists, we felt right at home here.

It is a stunning city with so much historical and modern culture that you are definitely in for a treat. Next week, the city becomes infamous for its traditional Samana Santa, Holy Week which is where the whole city throbs with processions of the Brotherhood as they celebrate Easter. It’s quite a morbid affair by all accounts and although all the cities in Spain celebrate, Seville is the capital of the festivities, which people flock to be part of. Our cue for leaving.

Before I go, having reached the pinnacle of this week’s adventures, there is a old Arab proverb worth noting, ‘He who has not at Seville been, has not, I trow, a wonder seen.’

I hope our experiences share just a little of our week’s magical ‘game of two’ halves. ‘I think it’s all over, well it is now.’ Adios until next week.