The Tour de Espana

During the summer in Dubai, we try to go somewhere for a couple of weeks to escape the Middle East heat and humidity. This year, we also had a friends wedding to go to in Spain so thought we’d use the opportunity to explore some parts of the country we’ve never been to.

We flew straight into Barcelona, which is definitely up there as one of my favourite European cities.It seems to be a city that has everything, great coastal climate, fantastic food and restaurant scene, stunning architecture and a real vibrant feel to it. I could definitely see myself living there, even if to just be able to buy fresh Pan Catalan everyday!

Our friends wedding was at Tamarit Castle, located about 10 minutes from the town of Tarragona, which itself is 1 hour south of Barcelona. You couldn’t pick a more picturesque venue for a wedding with the Castle, set in a small forest, overlooking the Mediterranean. For the few days we were there for the wedding we stayed in a gorgeous town close to Tarragona called Altafulla. The old quarter part of the town is full of steep, cobbled streets and as you wander down them, you get the feeling you’re in a different time, where life doesn’t run at a million miles an hour. Everything seems to happen so much more slowly, you see a few guys sat outside a cafe playing dominoes, with a couple of small shopkeepers watching on.  As you keep walking downhill, passing many small tapas bars along the route, you eventually reach a stunning coastline and beautiful sandy beaches.

View over Altafulla
View over Altafulla

From the Costa Dorada we headed south to Granada, set at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the Andalucia region. The town is probably most famous (to tourists anyway) for the Alhambra, an enormous hilltop complex consisting of, among many other spectacular sites, a Palace, church, gardens, and a surrounding fortress. If you’re in Granada it’s definitely worth seeing, even if for the spectacular views it provides over the city. It’s a tourist magnet however, so if you want to enjoy it at it lowest traffic flow, head there first thing in the morning.

For me, the most enjoyable aspect of Granada is the “free” Tapas rule all the bars seem to have. Walk into any bar or cafe lining the narrow pedestrian streets of Granada, order a drink, and out with it will come delicious free Tapas. Aside from just getting free food, it’s a great way to sample a lot of the flavours of Andalucia! My favourite of the many Tapas bars we tried was Taberna Granados, on Carrera de la Virgen.

Granada Rooftops
Granada Rooftops

After a few days in Granada we jumped on a train and headed west to Seville and spent 5 days exploring this incredible city. Set on the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir, and seemingly drenched in permanent sunshine, Seville is a city that feels like home after spending just 1 or 2 days there. It’s best seeing the city on foot, getting lost in the tiny streets that form the heart of Seville. It doesn’t matter if at some point you don’t know where you are, just keep walking and you always end up somewhere familiar. The more obvious places to visit are of course worth seeing.  Alcazar is again like walking back in time – its incredible to think it has seen over a thousand years of history. For me, one of the most interesting tourist attractions was the Plaza de Toros (Bullring) of the Real Maestranza, purely because it’s a type of building or monument I have never seen before. Amazing to think it was first built well over 200 years ago and is still used today. There will be more on that in another post!

Plaza de Espana
Plaza de Espana – Seville

For an eating stop, I think La Chunga was my favourite of all the places we tried which serves Tapas y platos de aqui y alli! It’s a pretty small bar, just off Calle Albuera, but it is always full, has a great atmosphere and kind of goes without saying that the food (and the Vino Tinto) is awesome!

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The last stop of the tour was Madrid. I’m not normally drawn to big cities but as it was kind of on the way back to Barcelona, and we had never been, we decided to spend just 2 days there. It’s obviously impossible to really appreciate such a big city in such a small amount of time, but my first impression of Madrid was it doesn’t have the same draw as many other cities of the world. Yes there are things to see, grand buildings, museums, squares to wander through and more bars and restaurants than you could ever go to, but for me it lacks the charm of somewhere like Paris for instance.

It was amazing to be back in Europe again and the places we visited in Spain were such a cultural contrast to Dubai where we live currently and even Australian cities. I think it’s made me re-appreciate how amazing some of the countries and cities in Europe are – need to start planning the next visit.

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