map of Andalucia from Cycling Country
In April 2006, Jon and I spent three days in Granada, one day in Cordoba, and two days in Seville during semana santa, which is the week that ends with Easter Sunday. Below are a few notes from our trip, starting with Granada and ending with Seville.
Casa de los Migueletes, Calle Benalua 11 (Plaza Nueva), Granada, +34 958 210 700
Attractive, small boutique hotel in a renovated mansion dating to the 1600s. Just a two-minute walk into Plaza Nueva. The front desk is extremely helpful and spoke good English. Because it was semana santa (holy week), I assume it was the most expensive (but fun) time of year to visit Granada, and even then, the hotel was 129 € a night for a regular room, and 179 € a night for a big room with a view of the Alhambra.
The hotel breakfast at Migueletes isn’t bad for a continental deal. It’s served in a vaulted downstairs dining room across from the hotel bodega. There’s classical music playing in the background, juice and water, tortilla Espanola, various meats and cheeses, and the usual bread, jams, yogurt and fruits. On the whole, a good breakfast for 9.50 €, but I’m too cheap to pay for it every day. It was a useful option the morning we woke up early to go to the Alhambra (for which you should definitely order tickets beforehand on the Alhambra website to avoid long lines or the very real possibility that they sell out).
Eating in Granada – Just a general comment that a lot of tapas dishes we had in Andalucia were fried, which was, for me, a dream come true at first. But it got old. At the end of our six days in Andalucia, I was crying for a salad. Bacalao, the salted cod, is served everywhere and worth a try. Same with the manzanilla (dry sherry). Tapas in Granada is still served the old-fashioned way (i.e., you get free tapas when you order drinks at the bar, and the tapas become more elaborate as you order more drinks). In Seville, which isn’t frozen in time quite as much as Granada is, you pay for all your tapas, which come in two sizes – media racion (small snack size) and racion (sharing size).
Bar R. Sibari (Plaza Nueva, 3, 18010 Granada)
Slow service, but good for late breakfast or coffee/snack in the afternoon while people-watching in the big square in Granada. The place has what seems to be just one waiter serving all 20+ tables out on the plaza. The tortilla espanola is pretty good. Otherwise, the churros were good but didn’t come with the thick gooey chocolate. Still, all those churros for just 1.50 euros = no complaints, right? The café cortado (aka strong coffee cut with milk) is the real winner here.
Ajo Blanco, Palacios 17, near the Santo Domingo Church
GREAT for a light lunch or late-afternoon snack/loafing. Four of us shared the most delicious plate of hams and salamis, along with a plate of cheeses (10 € a plate) along with some wonderful “free” tapas (slice of orange, pickled red onion, bits of cheese on rounds of bread) and some tasty cavas and chardonnays. And while we nibbled these goodies outside in the sunshine, we saw a semana santa procession leaving from the S. Domingo. Would not sit at the small tables inside. The place welcomes people spilling out and sitting outdoors on the walls/ledges.
Avoid all the restaurants on Calle Navas, which is packed, but it’s definitely tourist hell in Granada (though to be fair, it was mostly Spanish tourists when we were there). We waited forever for a table, and then the food we ordered got progressively worse. It was called Café Jose or something generic like that.
Also, while we’re on the topic of not worth the money: Restaurante Las Tinajas, (Martinez Campos, 17) which is supposed to be one of the big-name fancy places to eat in Granada, was so disappointing. It was highly recommended by our hotel and we’d read about it someplace else, too, but I would avoid it if I were you. The decor was dark woods and yellow lighting with china that looked last updated in the 60s. My appetizer of artichoke hearts with ham, pickled onion and raisins was, to be frank, totally gross – the worst part being the clear, gloppy mucus-like sauce that drowned the ingredients. On the other hand, my friend C’s almond soup was wonderfully savory and creamy, and J’s stuffed aubergines was good, too. So I had high hopes for my monkfish entrée, which ended up also being disgusting because of yet another gloppy sauce coating the fish and pine nuts. The wine was the only good thing we ordered, and our total tab for four was about 200 €. Money poorly spent.
Things to Do in Granada (with eats thrown in):
The Albaicin (traditional wealthy nbhd) – fun to browse the touristy shops stocked with Moroccan knicknacks and to enjoy the views of the Alhambra. There’s even a street that’s all bright colors and crowds, and it’s supposed to be a dead ringer for a Moroccan bazaar, but since we haven’t been to Morocco (yet), I can’t confirm or deny.
Café Bar Panero (Plaza Aliatar, 18) close to the top of the hill in the Albaicin. Kind of a run-down-looking square, but full of locals and the food is uneven, but overall, good. There’s Alhambra cerveza on tap at 1.50 € a glass, a slightly creamy but still savory and cool gazpacho at 3.70 € a bowl, and all kinds of other tapas for between 7 and 12 € a plate. The ubiquitous gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic and butter) was so heavy on the butter such that the garlic flavor was diluted. Still, the shrimp was tender and flavourful, so no big complaints as we sopped up the butter and garlic with our bread. Croquettes were definitely my favourite, but I do have a weakness for the fried goodies, especially if potato and bechamel are involved. The mixed fried treats (fritura pequena) included pretty good fried fish, but only so-so calamari. Why must fried calamari so often come out rubbery? Why?
The pimientos de padron were good once you added salt, which of course we had to ask off the table next to ours. Our server was this huge surfer-looking guy who definitely didn’t dispel any stereotypes when he painstakingly took our order down on his notepad and then spaced out the rest of our meal. C suggested we spell out our orders for him, letter by letter.
The sangria, by the way, was very tasty – good mix of fruit and wine. The octopus pulpo we ordered was extremely nasty – rubbery and dry. Our total tab for four was 53 €, so despite the hits and misses, overall worth returning.
Alhambra & Generalife:
Getting to the Alhambra is just a quick walk up a steep hill from Plaza Nueva. Took us just 20 minutes to reach the ticket booth at the top/far end of the Alhambra. It was a steep walk, but nothing bad. We had to arrive by 8 a.m., though I can’t remember why. Some rule about picking up your tix two hours early or forfeiting them?
Tickets were 10 € per person (and a 5 € reservation fee on-line), and we’d reserved a 10 a.m. spot, so that was good given the enormous lines that were forming there.
You don’t want to miss the Alhambra – it’s stunning. Definitely spend at least 3-4 hours there. The rooms are dreamy. Everything is soothing and a perfect balance of ornate carvings and simple perspectives.
We took a metered taxi from Plaza Nueva to Granada Stacio de Autobus, and 7 € later, we were at the bus station and had bought one-way bus tix on the Alsina Graells line to Cordoba for 11.50 € each, which is not bad for a 2.5-hour ride. The bus was so comfy and clean that I even managed to read during most of the trip w/o getting carsick. Considering how easily I get carsick, this tells you something about how nice the bus was.
The Cordoba bus station was pretty dumpy – not nearly as snazzy and modern as the one in Granada. However, the Cordoba train station across the street is gleaming – mostly white marble and glass. We went through a whole rigamarole to leave our suitcases in lockers – the suitcases had to go through the screening machines, and then we had to cough up enough coins for the lockers.
We hopped in a taxi and a 6 € fare later, we reached the Mezquita, where we met up with our friend Jane. Definitely our logistical achievement of the week. The Mezquita (which means mosque in Spanish) is a grand, imposing space. Like a lot of religious buildings in Andalucia, it’s been used by many religions. In this case, when the Catholics took over, they built a cathedral inside the mosque, and it’s definitely unreal seeing the mix of styles and religious symbols. For example, you’re admiring all these ornate Moorish horseshoe-shaped arches and then your eye catches a crucifix tucked into the curve of an arch. Mezquita tix were 8 € each.
We ate lunch nearby at El Faro, (Calle Blanco Belmonte, 6) which at 3 p.m. wasn’t very crowded except for a large Spanish family and an older Spanish couple. We ordered (as usual) tons of food – glasses of wine, a pitcher of sangria, and I appreciated the croquettes again. The tortilla de camarones was OK –a crispy fried disk with vaguely seafood flavor. We ordered it bc the Spanish family sitting near us ordered one and it looked good when the waiter passed by us carrying the dish. But it was kind of dry. Must have been for the kids! Fried calamari was good. The fish in orange sauce got my attention, though it could have used salt.
For more on things to do in Cordoba (along with a nice photo of the Mezquita), check out this 12 November 2006 article in the NYT travel section.
The high-speed AVE train from Cordoba to Seville cost 21.50 € per person, and it got us into Seville Santa Justa train station in just over 30 minutes. Very snazzy. We took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Puerta de Sevilla on Santa Maria La Blanca, which is on a corner with busy cafes and restaurants, so the buzz/noise from our balcony, while loud, is very cheery. The rooms are clean and very bright, but overall, not worth the money (200 € a night). Priced too high for what it is, bc of Semana Santa.
Semana Santa processions in Seville are pretty grand, though. We were already impressed by the pomp and seriousness of the processions in Granada, but the Sevillan ones were a whole different level.
We set out to find dinner at El Toison, highly recommended in our Time Out guide, but it seems to have been replaced with some cheesy Mediterranean-themed yuppie bar.
So we checked out Jane’s recommendation (bc she had just spent three days in Seville) and ate at Meson de la Infanta, Dos de Mayo, 26. 954 22 19 09, which was really lively when we arrived around 10:30 p.m. We stood at a converted barrel (now used as a table, of course) and ordered beers and fried bacalao, spinach and chickpeas that were pretty good, though a little bitter tasting, and some more good ham.
Then we walked past the Cathedral of Seville and the Alcazar lit up prettily at night, watching all the workers put away thousands of folding chairs from semana santa and sweeping the streets.
As tempting as the churros place near the Hotel de la Puerta is, we were in search of eggs one morning. So we walked a few blocks further to Café Caceres, Calle Los Olivos, 9, which was kind of a diner-style place. We took seats at the bar/counter, and I’ve never been more pleased with scrambled eggs in my life. The great fresh OJ and café cortado was just icing on the cake.
We sat in theMurillo Gardens near the hotel for half an hour, killing time until our 12 noon appointment at the Arab baths, calle Aire. For 20€ a person, you get the hammam experience, and for a mere additional 4€, you got a 15-minute massage. (J, of course, opted for the massage , which turned out to be not very good). But back to the baths – you start in the large warm pool, move to a really hot pool, and then spend time in a really cold (16 C/60 F) bath. And then after freezing your butt off, you jump back into the large warm pool, and you know what? You end up feeling surprisingly good. Tingly and relaxed. These baths are large indoor pools that are pretty dark except for the small rays of light coming in through the delicate Moorish carvings high up in the walls.
After the baths, we went to some sort of jacuzzi-like room, which was OK, but despite the powerfully loud jets, it was hard to get the full massage effect. I actually enjoyed the sauna more than I expected – there the strong smell of mint everywhere. You could feel the mint seep into your pores and you couldn’t help but relax. Then we took a break in the waiting room and had some cold tea and sat on the heated stone benches.
We finished off the hammam by going downstairs into the basement to hang out in a tepid salt water pool. The goal seemed to be floating around, which was entertaining, but I would’ve been happy ending with the mint sauna.
After the baths, J and I walked to the Seville Cathedral, which opened at 2:30 p.m. to the general public. The place is definitely huge, but there’s very little to see or do inside – at least, the historical significance of the place isn’t clear to me.
We walked up the Giralda tower, which had some cool views over Seville, and I enjoyed that the entire walk was up a series of ramps. Apparently horses used to carry the rider to the top. I thought about all the people who had seen the same views I was seeing, but 1300 years ago. How crazy. I know that’s not an original thought, but sometimes the feeling strikes you at the most unexpected moments, and then it feels original to you.
J and I then sought out some lunch around 3:30, and we ended up at La Bodeguita Santa Justa (Calle Hernando Colon 1-3), only to find out the restaurant was about to close and had only ham and cheese available. So that’s what we had – an excellent half-portion of ham for 8 euros and some aged cheese for 6. In total, we paid 18 € there for our “snack” and then moved on to El Rincon Gallego (Calle Harinas 21), which was packed with spanish speakers (unlike La Bodeguita). We ordered pulpo del feria, which was the way grilled octopus should be – thin and flavourful. The empanada aton was not what I expected, but so tasty. Instead of a thick pastry shell, it was more like puff pastry with tuna in the middle. Very buttery and moist. J then ordered some type of “house roll” that tasted like a giant pork meatball with cheese or cream inside, but we’re not sure exactly what it was. Along with a glass of rioja, we paid about 18 € again for what amounted to Phase 2 of lunch.
J and I then paid our 7 € each to tour the Alcazar, which was lovely, but not as quiet and calm as the Alhambra. Alcazar is definitely grander, possibly because of the Italian renaissance influence obvious everywhere, especially in the formal gardens out back. But the Alhambra is more romantic and serene. When we were entering the Alcazar at 4:30, all the guards at the ticket sales counter told us we “only” had an hour. An hour turned out to be plenty of time. But given how tempting it is to linger in the beautiful gardens, I can see why the guards are annoyed with having more people to kick out at closing.
After Alcazar, we came back to the hotel, rested a little, and then at around 7 p.m. headed back out to go running. We checked out Plaza de Espagna, which looked prettier from far away, I thought. When you got close, you noticed a lot of trash and dust everywhere, plus all the sand from the nearby park blew into your eyes and mouth and made me cough. So we didn’t stay there long, especially bc the area is undergoing restoration and there is hideous construction netting everywhere.
J and I continued our run through the Maria Luisa park and then down to the Guadalquivir river. We followed the river until we reached the bullfight ring, which you’d think would be noisy given that it’s opening day for the bullfight season, but we heard nothing when we were walking around the ring.
We ate dinner at the early-bird hour of 9:30 p.m. at the really outstanding Cava de Europa, just three doors down from the hotel on S. Maria La Blanca. J had seen three reviews from Spanish newspapers hanging up, so we gave it a try even though we couldn’t read the reviews at all. This had to be our favourite meal in Spain during this trip, slightly edging out El Rincon Gallego. We had really creative and delicious tapas overall, and the wines were also great – not surprising given that it’s more of a wine bar.
Our favorite dish there was pork served with an “argentinian sauce.” The won-ton specialty was definitely disappointing (sitting under a heat lamp somewhere), while the beef and the smoked salmon we ordered were also very good. Our tab was around 35 €, which was a good deal, and then we went to watch a cool flamenco show at the nearby cultural center. Our tix were just 12 € each, and I wondered if the performers (a male and female dancer, a guitarist, and a singer) were able to make a decent living off these shows. The emotion and skill that goes into every gesture and head-turn were so impressive.
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