Spain Part 4 – Spanish World Heritage Cities and our road trip back to London.

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April 12th 2016
Published: April 12th 2016
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Malaga – City of Pablo Picasso, awesome Tapas bars & great wines

We fly back from Ibiza to Malaga (in Andalucia) and pick up our car from a garage nearby (arranged via Ryan Air & definitely the cheapest option) and spend an hour trying to find some parking near to the hotel Pension Juanita, which is slap bang in the centre. No such luck so we go to our regular spot near the bus station – which is free after 6pm and only 15 mins walk away.

The hotel is in a great location by the main street (Central Calle Marques de Larios) into the city centre, though the room has only a small fan and in the heat of summer we are not sure how folk would cope, as we were hot.

It’s off to our favourite spot, La Malaguena for some snacks and after we wander around the pretty city admiring all it has to offer and – it does offer a lot but you need to look for it. Among the main attractions are the impressive 16th century Cathedral which is huge and stands out, the Museo Picasso Malaga, which we really enjoyed (even though we weren’t fans of the artist), the Alcazaba & lovely Roman Amphitheatre, the Castillo de Gibralfaro (remnants of Malaga’s Islamic past), Plaza de la Merced (a lovely square) alongside which the childhood house of Picasso is now a Museum.

Apart from all this history & cultural riches the city (it has bid to be the Capital of Culture 2016) has local beaches as well. The Central area has many brand named shops and boutique shops & in the evening the city looks fabulous lit up.

Eventually in the evening we discover what can only be described as the foodie street of Malaga & ended up in Lola for an awesome dinner. We enjoyed some terrific Malaga Wine for the first time accompanied by some really good and creative Tapas.

Malaga is a must for any visitor to Andalucia and we will definitely be back. It definitely helps to stay a while. We rise early and rush to the Market for Marcona Almonds to take back & some green Olives in garlic oil before hitting the road to the city of Toledo

Toledo - Unesco World Heritage City – impressive Fortress City on a hill

After a long drive (and surprisingly Toll free on motorways), we make it to our destination in 5.5 hours after stopping off at Consuegra to see the windmills made famous in Cervantes classic ‘Don Quixote’. While the windmills are quite charming and impressive, the town doesn’t have much to recommend it to travellers.

We arrive in Toledo (in Castilla – La Mancha Province) in the afternoon and check into our YHA Castle - and it really was one once and is still pretty impressive with a lot of history. There’s handy free parking just across the road. After dumping our stuff in our large room, we stroll into the city across the impressive bridge over the Rio Tajo, which acts as a moat around the fortress city. Eventually, after mooching around for a while, we find our way to the Palacio (a local bar & restaurant) for some cool beers & tapas, as it’s quite hot - 38 degrees.

The owner of the place is quite a character and it seems that as we make the effort to speak the language, the locals are impressed and an interesting part English, part Spanish discussion on travel & life ensues. This was the best thing that could happen as from then on each time we visited the place the owner made sure we were treated like locals and got tapas with our beers from the bar (which didn’t happen the first time we ordered drink!). We were even treated to the odd free glass of vino. The lesson here is make the effort and you never know what lovely things will happen.

After a good thunderstorm late in the late afternoon, which helps cool things down, we are back for dinner at Palacio (as we weren’t wowed by the other eateries – a lot more expensive and not as charming as Palacio).

We try the fish stuffed peppers, deer steak in sauce & Carcamusas - all local dishes, washed down with Matue local wine, which is really good & inexpensive. The owner is now more impressed and pretty chatty.

The next day we do the exploring bit by walking around the Historic old town and Old Jewish area – they are theSephardic Jewish Community dating back centuries despite persecution in Spain & Central Europe. They also run a restaurant that serves pork - which surprised us.

The Old Town is a treasure chest of churches, museums, synagogues, and mosques set in a labyrinth of narrow streets, plazas & inner patios in a lofty setting high above the river. Notable buildings are The Cathedral (this too was a mosque during Islamic rule), essentially a Gothic structure now from the 13th century.

The Cathedral is well worth a visit & cots Euros 8 each to get in. Apart from the amazingly crafted religious sections is a room with painting by masters such as El Greco, Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael & Velazquez that is pretty impressive.

Other highlights are Alcazar at the highest point in the city, Sinagoga del Transito, Museo del Greco – a museum & gallery in a building thought to be El Greco’s house, various Monasteries & Mezquita del Cristo de la Cruz – a mosque.

Wandering the area and tracing the path suggested as a city walk we go from Plaza de Zocodover (the old market place & bull ring/execution site), across the city to the Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes. We pop into a local store that makes us a great offer to buy various types of Pimenton (from Vera which is reputed to be the best smoked paprika in Spain) & Zafaran here. This region is famous for these spices. Apparently Spain’s Moorish name is actually Zafaran!! We never knew that.

Segovia – Unesco World Heritage City – the longest & tallest Roman aqueduct at the city entrance

On our way to Salamanca we decide to detour and visit the ancient roman city of Segovia (in the Castilla Y Leon Province). The main attraction here is the awesome 163 arch 3-storey Roman aqueduct (Acudecto) built with huge granite blocks & without any mortar in the 1st Century AD. It’s almost the gateway to the city and very impressive.

The city itself is quite small and walkable. It has some beautiful buildings notably the Alcazar (castle), which with it’s turrets looks like a fairy tale castle. The Iglesia de Vera Cruz is a 12 sided church built in the 13th Century by the Knights Templar based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Cathedral is Gothic in structure and quite imposing by the Plaza Mayor and reminds us of the Notre Dame in Paris. There are a host of Art Galleries, Museums, churches, convents and monasteries – all grand buildings of a by gone era. The city is largely pedestrianized which makes getting around easy.

It’s the weekend market in full flow when we arrive – an interesting insight into local life. We are tempted to buy some local red garlic (2 Euros for a bunch! Bargain), which the region is renowned for.

Later we treat ourselves to a fancy lunch at Restaurant Jose Maria near the main square. It’s a bit of a local institution. The entrance area is packed and looks like a Spanish version of an English pub. Lunch is served downstairs and we have Chochinillo asado - the house speciality plus Judion beans with rabbit and pig snout (a bit rubbery). The presentation of the Asado (whole roasted pig shared with other diners) is a bit theatrical (it’s picture time for all), before the waiter serves us our portions with flair. It’s tasty and a great experience even if a bit pricey.

The city is definitely worth a detour and good for a half-day visit. If you have a car take the road towards Cuilar for about 2 kms and you get fabulous views of the city looking back onto it. Picture postcard stuff.

Salamanca - Unesco World Heritage city & ex City of Culture

We eventually get to Salamanca (in Castilla Y Leon province), which we had heard so much about from our neighbour Terri who has been here. We find our very conveniently located hotel, near the pedestrian area leading into the heart of the city. We are also very lucky with car parking around the corner from the hotel on an off chance and we leave the car there for the whole time we are here at no charge.

We walk into the city centre and find that Plaza Mayor is buzzing. This is a historic University City & there are many young people (and quite a few foreign students) here. It gives the place a really lively and relaxed atmosphere. Many people bring food and drink and sit on the floor in the square and enjoy a picnic. It’s great.

The city looks magnificent lit up at night. It’s awash with sandstone overlaid with ochre-tinted Latin inscriptions and Renaissance styles. Notable buildings are Universidad Civil with the entrance to the university like a tapestry in sandstone, Cathedral Vieja - Roman origin, Puerta de la Torre that allows fabulous views of the city, Cathedral Nueva, and many convents, churches, towers & Museums. It’s impressive and all within walking distance.

We soon discover that the Supermarkets are cheaper here and water costs only 20 cents for a litre & our favourite Spanish Brandy Magno is also cheaper – so we can stock up to take some back in the car, along with reputedly some of the best preserved pork meats including Jamon Serrano (though the very best in Spain comes from Jabugo – a small town near Seville we learn). We find a fantastic undercover Market with loads of local specialities on sale and the place full of local people. We bought loads of cured meat to take home from a most helpful stallholder.

After a lot of searching, we discover a lovely eatery from the LP guide for dinner - Cocina de Toño. It’s slightly away from the centre and is such more reasonably priced. The atmosphere is relaxed and very friendly and we have some extremely creative Tapas & Pintxos (Basque Tapas) with some superb wine. The service was pretty awesome as well & we definitely went back again.

One thing up in this part of the Northern bit of Spain – it’s hot between 33/36 degrees C.

Meandering around Salamanca is a real pleasure. It is a sandstone built city (at least the old and most beautiful parts are). The carvings and craftsmenship are fabulous and it’s not surprising this is such a popular place to visit. At night it transforms due to the lighting and is quite magical.

The walk across the Roman bridge is a trip into history and the views from the bridge and across the river are quite spectacular. We walked along the bank across the river enjoying the views and made our way back to the centre over the new bridge, which is also quite impressive.

We tried a place called Paco for lunch near the centre – a mistake – small plates and expensive prices. So our advice is keep away from all the eateries near the centre and go to the local areas to enjoy great food at affordable prices. You would have thought that as seasoned travellers we’d know by now!!

San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia) – ‘Pintxos Capital of the World’

The last leg of our journey is via Burgos instead of Lerma (as that would be a detour too far); besides we wanted to get some Morcilla from the city to take back home with us, as in our travels it’s definitely the best we’ve ever had.

We arrive in Burgos mid morning and there’s a fiesta on and posters showing some sort of Bull Run through the city. A mini Pamplona maybe? We never did find out. There’s a food market being erected and music in the air with people in traditional white and red outfits.

The local undercover market is also open and it’s full of interesting stalls with great food – so we watch the locals and head for the places with the longest queues. Good move as we find the nicest morcilla where the lady slices some and gives us a taste – wow. Great sales person – we buy quite a few from her. Then some Semi Curado Manchego Cheese (rarely found), which is so much better than the mature stuff and a delight to eat.

After some light lunch we set off for the Basque country not quite sure what to expect as there are so many stories about the region and people that are contrary. It’s surprising that in this modern technological age, no one can say for certain where the Basque language originated as its so different from most source languages such as Latin, Greek, Sanskrit etc.

What we do find when we get there that it’s a little bit of France that in Spain! In a nutshell!! The second thing is that parking is a challenge & the nearer the beach you are the more expensive it is. Finally, the food and people are absolutely fabulous. Crudely the bay reminds us of a French version of Weymouth in the UK, but on the north Spanish coast.

As we have plans to take quite a bit of food stuff home we drive straight to the local Mega Carrefour to buy what we want to sustain us through a year before we are back & it only cost Euro 435 (£250 approx.), this includes loads of wines, cured meats etc.

We are booked into Pension Edorta in the Old Town, which is a lovely place in a great location and with really helpful family owners, who kindly put our meats and perishables in their fridge while we are there.

Later, thanks to a tip from the lady at the Tourist info centre we get Free Parking about a mile & half away. As we seem lost on the way back a local elderly gentleman comes to our help and with our little Spanish he initially directs us on which way to go, then proceeds to accompany us across the strange cross section of traffic lanes so we can get back to the city centre. What a dude. Thanks a million.

The first two days are a bit cloudy but warm non-the less. It’s the weekend so the place is packed. What is surprising is how many visitors there are here from the US, Australians and Brits. The latter mainly on ‘stag dos’.

The city is small enough to explore walking around. Most large properties and streets have a French architectural feel to them. However, other than the harbour area, the central area is slightly disappointing. They seem to have succumbed to the Spanish disease of selling their great buildings on the main squares to MacDonalds and/or Burger King. It’s across the country not just here and a shame. Overlooking the harbour area is Monte Igueldo with a Christ the Redeemer type statue at the top. There’s a funicular railway that takes you up there for good views of the city.

The main Pintxos bars are located almost side by side along 3 parallel streets in the old part of town by the harbour, and are absolutely packed on Saturday night. Sunday surprisingly is relatively quiet & sedate.

The bars serve fantastic wines and the arrays of Pintxos are mind-blowing in terms of the variety, creativity and tastes. You just get a plate and help yourself to what you’d like. They are also fabulously cheap. So the best bet is to go on a ‘Bar Crawl’ sampling great wines and food all evening. We discover the lovely local pepper called Guindillas, which they use a lot and it definitely is tasty. As the bars are quite compact, on dry warm nights the streets are full of revellers eating & drinking outside their specific bar and this provides a great atmosphere.

Some bars worthy of note are Gandarias (an old fashioned local institution and packed out), Balzan, Alaras, La Cepa to name a few. La Mejillonera is next to the Hostal Edorta and specialises in Mussels only. We’d definitely recommend a visit here to sample great food at reasonable prices; local life and a unique atmosphere. It’s narrow and standing room only but the service is quick & food delicious. We visit a few times.

It’s not surprising that the city has a great reputation for creative cuisine & has many Michelin star restaurants as well. There is a Culinary University and many places run cookery classes, which would be worth a try.

Our final day here is warm & sunny and as it’s Sunday the locals are out in force, the beaches are packed & C even gets an hour’s sunbathing in in till someone tips some sand on her. The main one is Playa de Concha a quintessential sandy beach.

And so, after some last minute shopping for picnic food we depart for Bilboa where we will get the ferry back home.

Ferry to Portsmouth

The drive to Bilbao isn’t much fun. It’s on a Toll road (pretty expensive for the distance travelled), fast but very winding even on the motorway & people’s driving is pretty awful (worst we’ve experienced in Spain to date!). However, the alternative Toll free road takes 3 or 4 times as long.

There aren’t any useful stopping points along the way so we didn’t manage to get any petrol or ice (for our cool bag to keep the food fresh). The latter we did managed on the Ferry though, by fair means and foul!

The trip back is long and largely uneventful although we do manage to get in some sun bathing by the pool (a small deep paddling pool designed for adults actually) on the upper deck. We treat ourselves to a bottle of Madiran (French wine from the Pyrenees region) for lunch with our picnic, and so after a decent night sleep we return back home……….till the next time.

Additional photos below
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13th April 2016
Pintxo time - San Sebastian

The fabulous, feasting foodies!
I love that you visited so many delicious restaurants and tapas bars, and markets for treats to take home! I stayed in each of these places much longer, one to two weeks each, but didn't sample the local food except in the markets. Thus, I'm enjoying prepared Spanish cuisine through you. I was in Malaga in the spring, and as you predicted, it was sweltering, though Salamanca in the snow was charming. Great that you have wheels for freedom! Thanks for the wonderful, tasty tour.

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