Number Three – Granada
So good that in the UK they named a Commercial TV Station, a Motorway Service Station and an Electrical Appliance Store Chain after it!
Seriously, Granada is all you have probably heard it to be cracked up to be, and then some more. From the simply stunning ‘Wonder of the Modern World’ that is The Alhambra, to its awe-inspiring location surrounded by the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range, on to its Arabian style souks & tearooms and finally on to its vibrant bars and variety of restaurants, Granada has a whole lot going for it (not to mention its wonderful Mediterranean climate)!
Where else to start but The Alhambra, Spain’s (and arguably Europe’s) most eclectic & astonishing site. The fact that it was built by the occupying Moors does not matter a jot to Spain, who are fiercely proud of their architectural jewel.
As regular readers will know, this blog is not a tourist information site, but make sure you book your visit to the complex before you leave your own shores – otherwise you will either not get in at all or at the very least be faced with a very early start and most likely long queues. We visited in February and it was still very popular.
I will let my pictures do the talking, suffice to say that the exquisite craftsmanship that went into its construction is hard to surpass and when added to its superb location, is probably without peer.
The buildings are however only half the story. The ornately designed gardens with their water features, aromatic flowers and secret pathways are a joy to behold in their own right and absolutely in keeping with the majesty of the place.
The rest of the small city is not too shabby either, with the Baroque cathedral also well worth a visit. There is a distinct Arabic flavour to the place. I picked up a beautiful mosaic lamp and a cobalt blue vase at very reasonable prices – both pieces retain pride of place in our house some twelve years after our visit.
We visited a teashop also. The menu had over 100 types of tea. I cannot for the life of me remember our choices, but suffice to say I would have preferred English breakfast. However, it was all about the ambience of the venue and this definitely did not disappoint.
Finally the coup de grace. Each night we were there we visited some fabulous bars. The best bit was that with every drink we were offered (and gratefully accepted) free food, tapas style. Tasty ham, crusty bread, flavoursome tomatoes, fluffy Spanish omelette etc – very nice too.
We hardly needed to buy food after that, but did from some very atmospheric tapas restaurants.
So a huge thumbs up for the Andalusian delight – I think I might just go again soon!
Number Two – Sevilla
The home of flamenco and oranges was the final leg of our 2011 Spanish tour that had started in Santiago de Compostela, continued with an overnight train to Madrid and then saw us speed on ultra-modern AVE trains to Cordoba & Cadiz before our arrival at Sevilla’s impressive modern train station.
We rented a small apartment in the old town and immediately felt like we had arrived in a truly authentic Spain. Our neighbourhood was a bustling area where locals shopped, played ball games, hung out their washing and just hung out. So much better than a cleansed hotel stuffed with tourists.
We had a lot to pack into three days, so started with the Acazar, not dissimilar to its namesake in Cordoba and the wonderful big brother Alhambra. On a recurring theme, we were again treated to intricate Arabian architecture and immaculate manicured gardens, with paths leading off in all directions and small fountains with waters sparkling in the 40 degree heat.
Time for a drink and to experience the common Sevilian occurrence of being sprayed with fine cooling water as we consumed our beverages. Very thoughtful and most welcome.
During our visit we also took in the simply enormous cathedral, visited the ceramics district of Triana across the bridge from the centre, which is stuffed full of shops selling colourful homeware, took a boat trip down the splendidly named Guadalquivir River, viewed the beautiful bullring & the 13th century Gold Tower (Torre del Oro) and generally enjoyed strolling the pretty streets.
This was all great, but for once architecture or natural beauty were not the highlight of our stay. Two things really stand out as enduring memories:
Flamenco – we visited the hugely enjoyable flamenco museum with exhibits including a gallery of photographs showing dance stars from several eras, paintings depicting the passion and drama of the art form, plus costumes worn by flamenco royalty. The highlight was served last. A stunning flamenco show put on by some of the best exponents of the art anywhere in the world. The dancers stamped and flailed through some highly energetic routines, the ladies beautiful flowing dresses creating a whirl of motion in orange, red and black. The guitarist was clearly a highly accomplished musician as his hands kept time with the whirling dervishes front stage. This was flamenco at its absolute best, highlighting the amateurish shows we had enjoyed in Cordoba & Cadiz – and we had thought they were good too! Thankfully we saved the undoubted master until last.
Tapas – we ate in two of the oldest tapas bars in Spain, a real food event on both occasions. The first was called El Rinconcillo and the second Las Teresas.
El Rinconcillo is said to have opened in 1670 and purports to be the oldest restaurant in Spain. Whether that is precisely true or not, the place just oozed atmosphere. We stood at the bar to eat and drink and the food was wonderful. Waiters and bar staff were really attentive despite being very busy, never resting for a moment. Each dish we consumed had its price chalked up on the bar in front of us, to be totted up when it was time for us to reluctantly leave. Las Teresas also had hams hanging from the ceilings and was equally atmospheric. The quails eggs on toast remains one of my favourite ever dishes.
So there you have it, second favourite Spanish city on my highly competitive list. Just writing these words makes me want to be in Seville right now, feeling alive and invigorated just like 4 years ago.
Number One – Barcelona
What can one say about the capital of Catalonia that has not been written already?
All that is said to be great about the city is all true – the uniquely decorated architecture of Antonio Gaudi (Parc Guell, Casa Batllo, Casa Milà, Sagrada Familia), the chilled Port Olimpic area with its golden sands and ambient bars, the lively street known as Las Ramblas with its eclectic entertainers and colourful food market, the medieval narrow streets & alleyways and picturesque squares of the Barri Gotic, the lively shopping districts and much more besides.
Parc Guell Entrance Gates
Port Olimpic Area
I have visited a dozen times including our honeymoon on the first visit in 2000 and for football matches for the last two in 2014 & 15. I never tire of the place, there is so much to do and such a special vibe to the city.
On the first night ever in Barcelona, we stayed at the gorgeous Hotel Arts where our lofty room looked out through huge windows to the Mediterranean far below. The Ritz Carlton hotel was damned expensive, but well worth it. I have never seen such beautiful flowers in a hotel, flowers that were changed twice a day to ensure that their form and aromas were always in peak condition.
Barcelona also contains our favourite restaurant in the world (El Gran Cafe in the Barri Gotic) as well as plenty of other excellent dining and drinking establishments. Great coffee too!
You can take a funicular up into the hills for stunning views, run side trips to the likes of party town Sitges or the serene splendour of Montserrat monastery or even visit a cava chateau on the city’s outskirts.
The best thing to do in Barcelona though is just to wander, hopping on the odd bus or tram to make sure you pack as much into your visit to the wonderful city as possible.
Deservedly number one of a fabulous bunch. A word of warning however – I plan to go to Segovia next year and I have heard wonderful things about the place…..
, Bari Gotic
, Casa Batllo
, Casa Mila
, Hotel Arts
, La Sagrada Familia
, Port Olimpic
[…] Wilbur’s Travels was kind enough to share his top three Spanish cities […]
Spain continues to surprise me the further I explore it! I still haven’t been to Granada and Seville so need to book my tickets! Thanks for linking #citytripping
There are just so many great cities in Spain – you have picked two of my favourites and Seville is high in my list to visit before too long. What a great end to a series of tempting destinations. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
I love Seville and if I am honest it vies with Barca as my no.1