Spain —and therfor any Spain road trip— packs more into four corners than countries several times its size. We could happily pass the entirety of our 16-month trip eating and traveling our way through this fantastic, varied land. But for our three-week trip with the senior Purbricks, we focused on Moorish and Medieval Spain.
After a highly satisfying foodie pilgrimage to Barcelona, we rented a car and started our Spain road trip by heading straight south (because that’s what people from North Carolina do in the height of summer, exactly when the guidebooks tell you not to).
The plan: Barcelona – the Eastern Coast — Granada — Córdoba — Seville — Aracena — Cáceres — Salamanca, and then on to Porto to rendezvous with Cliff’s sister and brother-in-law in Portugal.
Costa del Azahar, Costa Dorada & Valencia
Like many North Americans, I grew up on Hemingway stories of lost generation debauchery along the French and Spanish coasts. I’ve pined for life in an undiscovered Spanish fishing village, and wondered if such an experience is even possible for our generation. The answer, in short, is no.
We had dreamy illusions of cruising the coast, stopping for a swim, a meal, and eventually the night when the right town caught our eye. What we saw was mile after mile of concrete disappointment. On the beaches between Barcelona and Valencia, overdevelopment destruction is total. The Spanish Mediterranean went through a massive vacation development phase in the 60s and 70s that left the once charming coast blighted with sprawling (but eerily under-inhabited) and hideous high rises. Add to that overfishing the Mediterranean, and a drinking problem becomes the least of Hemingway characters’ problems.
The beach a bust, we retreated to urban comforts to spend the night in Valencia, the home of paella. Unfortunately for us, Valencia adheres to the paella as lunch standard, and many of its most revered paella institutions shutter their doors for the evening. Luckily, we found a cute old town cafe that accepted our paella as supper request. The old city is beautiful and had a great blend of medieval architecture and university town energy. Narrow cobblestone streets lend a ton of character. We hope to return to Valencia with more time to explore the city (and plan our days around lunch).
As much as Spain’s coast has been transformed by time, Granada remains as solid and sun-baked as its signature ceramics.
We stayed at the tip-top of the winding Albayzín neighborhood famed for its Almohad architecture, historic significance, and amazing view of the Alhambra. The thick white-walled world was a joy to leisurely explore. Moorish and modern Arab influence pulses everywhere. The neighbourhood is full of reminders that Ferdinand and Isabella’s Reconquista didn’t reclaim Granada from Muslim rule until 1492, or, in the immortal words of VH1, Spain’s Best Year Ever.
The majestically imposing Alhambra dominates Granada’s skyline like it has for close to 1,000 years. Sunset views across from Mirador de San Nicolás at the base of the Albayzín are a site worth basking in every night.
Granada is one of the few tourist towns in Spain that still serves free tapas with a drink order. With this in mind, it’s pretty difficult to resist a drink at one of the several cafes jutting off the mirador cliffs. Granada was the place we discovered the refreshing Andalusian summer drink tinto de verano. One part red wine. One part carbonated lemonade. Ice. All delicious.
Visiting the Alhambra and strolling through its General of Life Gardens (GREAT name) are almost as enjoyable as taking it all in from the Albayzín. The palace is internally adorned with geometric tile work and Arabic inscriptions, the gardens also speak to Islamic design.
Up close the Alhambra is so sweepingly beautiful that’s it’s actually quite difficult to photograph. But here goes:
La Sierra Nevada
We were so impressed with Grenada’s Moorish offerings that we decided to forgo our Cordoba day trip for a hike in the looming Sierra Nevada mountains. We did a 12km loop that took us up to barren heights and down for a delicious drink of the Rio Duero. The landscape was surreally familiar. It’s easy to see how Spanish explorers felt immediately at home in California, and how America’s Sierra Nevadas got their name.
Fresh as daisies, we continued west for a long weekend of culture in Seville. Meaning, we patronized the Mercado de Triana to make elaborate rooftop feasts (hello, baby clams in sherry) at our crazy perfect Airbnb and repeat-frequented one killer tapas bar.
Andalusia’s capital is awash with culture and history (legend has it that Hercules founded the city). Seville rose to notoriety and wealth thanks to a royal import monopoly on Columbus’ New World spoils (the tomb of Cristóbal Colón rests in Seville’s cathedral).
Seville’s history of fine living lives on in the upkeep of the city, and the quality of markets and restaurants.
We joined the few Sevillanos who remain in Seville for July in making the most of an unseasonable cool streak (temperatures in the 80s as supposed to 100+) that gave the city a relaxed, breezy vibe.
Our apartment was right across from the bull fighting stadium but we missed the last fight of season by one night. While Cliff was not pleased, the Purbrick women were immensely relieved.
Next on our Spain road trip we head to Iberian ham country. Stay tuned!