Having just returned from a week in Spain, I can only say that if you have never visited the Andalusian cities of Seville, CordÃ³ba and Granada, then you should most definitely try to do so.
We started with three days in Seville (via a lunch stop in Ronda, overlooking the ancient bridge across the gorge). The Cathedral is vast and the far reaching views across the city from the Giralda are quite something. The Royal Alcazar is a feast of Moorish architecture and decoration, and the tour of the city in a horse drawn carriage is a pleasant way to spend an hour and see the sights. Wandering in the Barrio Santa Cruz was somewhat challenging as it is easy to get lost in its maze of narrow streets – but then you stumble upon a stunning church and you are amazed all over again at the mass of incredible art and architecture in this City.
There are lots of charming squares seemingly around virtually every corner, with a choice of tapas bars and restaurants. One of our best meals was taken in an interesting tapas bar on a busy road junction (sadly I failed to make a note of its name and location!). The food and service were excellent (much better than the location would suggest) and we took the opportunity to try a couple of sherries. We started with a Fino with the savoury tapas, but I have to confess that we both fell in love with Nectar, made from the Pedro Ximénez grape. This is a delicious sweet sherry with deep rich flavours of figs, raisins, molasses and a hint of chocolate (and was remarkably cheap to buy at the duty free shop on the way home!)
We spent only one full day in CordÃ³ba, but it was long enough to visit the Mezquita – an incredible Moorish Mosque, in the middle of which Carlos V built a Catholic Cathedral! Sadly we didn’t have time to sample the delights of El Churrasco, whose dynamic young chef has ensured a listing for the restaurant in the Jeune Restaurateurs d’Europe, although we did stay in the delightful Hostellerie of the same name.
The drive through the mountainous foothills between CordÃ³ba and Granada provided an insight into the importance of olives as a crop in the region – for miles around you could see nothing but olive groves, spreading far into the distance and high up the hillsides.
Spending three days in Granada, we started with a visit to the Alhambra, which truly is everything anyone ever says, and more! The gardens and grounds are extensive and it was a positive delight to wander around admiring the views. There are large areas of ruins as well as the Palace of Carlos V – an interesting building if ever there was one as, from the outside, it looks like a big square Renaissance building but you walk through into the vast central courtyard which is, unexpectedly, circular. However the most interesting part of the Alhambra is the Nasrid Palaces, another fine example of Moorish architecture and decoration. If you do decide to visit, pre-booking is advised (and entry to the Nasrid Palaces is strictly controlled).
We took an open top bus tour lasting 1.5 hours (and your ticket is valid for two full days) with a very interesting audio guide providing lots of fascinating insights into the history of Granada, and explored the streets of the Albaycin (part of the old city). But the highlight of our whole trip was undoubtedly dinner on the terrace at Estrellas de San NicolÃ¡s high up in the Albaycin on the opposite side of the valley with spectacular views of the city and the floodlit Alhambra.
This delightful restaurant is situated in Plaza San NicolÃ¡s, quite a climb up from the river valley through the winding streets and steps of the Albaycin – although for the fainthearted it is possible to take a taxi! The service was excellent and the food was different (carpaccio of wildebeest with foie gras mousse, wild rocket, chanterelles mushrooms and parmesan shavings for starters), beautifully presented and mouth-wateringly delicious.
We chose a wine from the Ribero del Duero (a region whose wines I have been wanting to try for a while, having read the tasting notes for some of the wines from the region sold by Goedhuis & Co) – Protos, Crianza 2008.
This wine, made from the Tempranillo grape, took me by surprise (I have drunk very little Spanish wine!). It was a deep ruby colour with an intense red fruit nose with hints of spice and vanilla, whilst on the palate it was complex with lots of red berries, spice and hints of the oak in which it is matured, with soft tannins and a medium-long finish – well balanced and an excellent accompaniment to our meal. One word of warning if you do decide to try this restaurant – it is not cheap and, unlike most other restaurants, its prices are exclusive of the 10% IVA (similar to VAT), however to my mind it is well worth the effort and expense!
We can’t wait to go back to Andalucia and these wonderful cities, as well as the Jerez region to taste more sherries, and getting to know the wines of Spain …