Huelva: Andalucía’s overlooked province and why I love it

Jessie called me to give me the bad news: “They placed me somewhere called Huelva,” using the hard h sound we’d learned to adopt in Valladolid. Without looking at a map, I assumed Huelva was on the other side of Andalusia and sighed heavily, sad that we couldn’t continue our Vdoid antics with an acento andalú for eight more months.

Jessie (on the far right) and I in San Sebastián. June 2005.

As a matter of fact, Huelva is the little slice of overlooked Andalucía is wedged between Seville, Cádiz, Badajoz and Portugal, a far-flung yet varied region.

Confession: I think Huelva has more to offer by way of destinations and gastronomy than Seville does. Gasp!

Bet you didn’t know that Christopher Columbus prayed at the La Rábida monastery before setting off for the New World (and that you can visit recreations of the Nina, Pinta and Santa María in its port), or that the Recreativo de Huelva is Spain’s oldest football club, as the English settlers to Río Tinto brought the game over when they came to exploit the mines?

I mean, yes, it smells like a swamp and it’s not exactly a beautiful city, but there are some redeeming factors that make the province of Huelva worth a day or two, particularly along its coastline or a trip to Doñana National Park.

THE HAM and other eats

I would clearly start with my taste buds and my beloved jamón ibérico. The black-footed pigs in the northern hills of the province, part of the Cordillería Bética, feast year-round on acorns, giving the cured meats a buttery smooth taste and texture. They’re taken to the slaughterhouse in Aracena in early Autumn to be turned into meats and other products from the Denominación de Origen Huelva (note: this weekend kicks off the Feria de Jamón in Aracena, where free samples abound!). 

Huelva is also famous for fresh seafood and strawberries. The gamba blanca de Huelva is a local favorite that is simply boiled and served with rock salt, and it’s characteristic of the region. The fresas and fresones are cultivated in the greenhouses along the coast from Palos de la Frontera to as far as Lepe, with their growing season lasting just a few months in the springtime. Migas, a bread dish with garlic, is also common in the mountains.

And then there’s wine! The bodegas around Bollullos Par del Condado produce a young white wine similar to mosto that’s a bit sweet, as well as vinegars. You can visit the bodegas and wine museums from Seville, as it’s only a 45-minute drive from the capital.

The beaches and mountains

Huelva shares a coastline with the Atlantic, with the Ríos Tinto and Odiel forming the Sebo peninsula where upon the capital sits, and the Guadiana separates Spain from Portugal. Many sevillanos flock to the coast during the warm summer months because of its proximity to the capital hispalense – less than 100 kilometers. The beaches are of fine sand, moderately windy and relatively clean. Seven of Huelva’s beaches have been bestowed with the Bandera Azul – three in Punta Umbría, two in Isla Cristina and one each in Moguer and Almonte.

In the Northern part of the province, the last little push of the Bética becomes the Sierra Morena. This region is full of great hiking trails, ideas for excursions like mushroom hunting, and gorgeous little villages where you can eat well and on the cheap. Aracena is the ‘capital’ of the region and boasts a series of underground caves and a crumbling castle that crowns the hamlet.

Huelva is also home to Spain’s largest national park, Doñana. These protected wetlands and pine groves cover about 135 square miles and is the breeding ground of the Iberian Lynx. The park boasts quite a few beaches, too, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can visit the park with a guide, though my mom and I snuck in a horseback ride from nearby Mazagón.

The fiestas

For years, I equated Huelva with a hangover due to its enormous Erasmus population and cheap bars (and because I was 22 and 23 when I went every other weekend), but Huelva knows its fiestas poplars.

Each Pentecost Sunday, those faithful to the Virgen del Rocío (known as Our Lady of the Swamps) take a pilgrimage to the Aldea outside of Almonte to witness the festivities to exalt one of Spain’s most popular symbols. It’s like the Feria de Sevilla set in the Wild West – hitching posts, covered wagons that people live and travel in for a few days, the palios that carry the image of the virgen towards the sacred ground where her image was found in a tree trunk or some business like that. And get this  - people flock from as far away as Brussels on foot, and then return the same way they came! If you’re on the way to Doñana, definitely stop in El Rocío and visit the gorgeous whitewashed shrine – it’s lovely.

Huelva also celebrates its connection with Columbus during Spain’s national fiesta, October 12th, has several smaller romerías for various saints in the province and has its own version of Carnival and Holy Week.

Living well and living cheap

For everything that Seville lacks, Huelva makes up for it. Onubenses enjoy a better microclimate than Seville, are closer to the beach and can live comfortably for cheap – Jessie and company lived right in the center of town in a Duplex for 180€ a month! I would grab a bus every other weekend to go see her and the other girls, enjoying a few days near the beach for cheap.

Getting to Huelva capital from Sevilla is easy: Damas runs an hourly bus on weekdays from Plaza de Armas for 16€ roundtrip. Have you ever been to Huelva? Any recommendations on other things to see?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. I always love when “second tier” of Andalucían provinces get some blog love, provinces like Almería, Huelva, and Jaén that are rarely on people’s to-visit list (or dream job location list) for the region. I’ve never been to Huelva province, but now at least I can say I know *something* rather than nothing about it :) From jamón, to Columbian history, to religious pilgrimages…it seems like a unique corner of the comunidad. The rocío to the Virgin of the Swamps (what a name) sounds a lot like the Camino, especially if people walk from Belgium! :O

    Could you explain what you mean by the Valladolid “hard H”? I’m wondering if it’s anything like what I picked up in Jaén last year: pronouncing Huelva as “Güelva” :P
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Photo Post: The Cozy Renaissance Village of Baeza, SpainMy Profile

    • Kaley says:

      Haha I was also curious about the “hard H” thing, because the H is silent … in all accents, I thought. That’s why Spaniards have such trouble with ortografía (a ver, haber, etc.). I think the jota is a bit more throaty farther north, though.

      Anyway, I do love some overlooked provinces as well, and the jamón would be enough to get me there!
      Kaley recently posted..So You’re Dating a Spaniard—ChelseaMy Profile

      • Sunshine and Siestas says:

        When I studied in Valladolid, I was corrected to pronounce the h sound in front of words as if it were a J. No one understood me the first time I asked for a bus ticket to Huelva!

        In andalú, I say Huelva without the H, along with every other H word! And my Ls often become Rs, too!

    • Psst…is Huelva a Free Tapas zone like Jaén, Granada, and Almería, or do you have to pay up for a bite to eat like in Sevilla, Córdoba, and Málaga?
      Trevor Huxham recently posted..On Saying “Enjoy Your Meal!” to Strangers in SpainMy Profile

      • Sunshine and Siestas says:

        Good question – I’ve been to a few places with free tapas, but I think you mostly have to pay to eat.

  2. Patti says:

    Sounds lovely! Is that Nancy in the pic on the horse?!

  3. Kirstie says:

    I was never very fond of Huelva capital in my few visits there, but working in Villarrasa, I grew to love the region, its adorable white towns, the fields of agriculture, and the people. Plus, the Romería de Montemayor near Moguer was one of my all-time favorite experiences in Spain! So, although I wouldn’t choose to live in the city of Huelva, the region certainly has my heart.
    Kirstie recently posted..Sydney: Twelve Days InMy Profile

  4. Christine says:

    I must admit it wasn’t first on my list until I was lured by the love of jamon; when I knew I wanted to make my big jamon leg purchase, that’s where I headed. My friends thought I was crazy(yelling you can buy jamon here in Malaga) but my neighbor smiled and encouraged me..ahhh she knew! I visited Doñana, ate wonderful seafood and the fresas…yummm!
    These are the things I love and miss about Spain, there are sweet surprises and wonderment to be found in every province.

  5. I got a little lost driving round there one time (but no worse than driving round Seville!) but quite liked what I found once I was “orientated”. :)
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  6. Pedro Meca says:

    i am not surprised with the name of the Lady Of The Swamps, in Spain our Virgins may have curious names, such as Nuestra Señora De Los Dolores (Our Lady Of The Pain/Sorrow), Nuestra Señora De La Consolacion (Our Lady Of The Consolation), Nuestra Señora Del Buen Consejo (Our Lady Of The Good Counsel), Nuestra Señora Del Socorro (Our Lady Of The Help), etc

    Huelva is a nice province, but its problem is that it hasn’t got famous medieval castles/fortresses/mosques like the ones in Granada or Cordoba that are famous destinations. Huelva is recognised by most Spaniards as the worst and ugliest province of Andalucia, something i don’t agree with

    as for the jamon iberico of Huelva…well some people say it is the best, although i think that people from Salamanca in Castilla or people in Extremadura wouldn’t agree with it….

    nice and interesting blog Sunshine! i’ve just subscribed!

  7. Paddy Waller says:

    Nice post Cat! I don’t know Huelva well but have been once a very very long time ago and with fond memories.I was hitching with a friend round Spain and we were 18 years old so loads of fun. Then I have been to the Sierra de Aracena with Julia for a long weekend and ate loads of jamon and good wine and loved it. Much prefer places like Huelva to mainstream cities/places
    Paddy Waller recently posted..A Visit to Cuenca SpainMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It’s definitely a nice suspiro to all of touristy capitals in Andalucia. We’re headed to Aracena tomorrow for the ham fair!

  8. Yolanda Solo says:

    It´s so nice to finally hear someone talk about Huelva! It is true that when you first arrive at the city it is underwhelming when compared to grand historical centres of other capitals, but there is so much going on that is not publicised. There are a lot of hidden gems in Huelva, you just have to make the effort to find them.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Much agreed, Yolanda. For years, I’ve not said much about it, but it’s really got a lot to offer – outside the capital, of course! Thanks for your input.

  9. Dale says:

    I’d not heard of Huelva before reading this post and I can’t see why as it looks and sounds like a great place to be, with a little something of everything and above all a localness that you can’t help falling in love with.

  10. I’d like to come there and eat, please.
    wanderingeducators recently posted..No Monkey BusinessMy Profile

  11. This looks so beautiful! And it’s even cooler because it sort of looks like “Helluva” as in “Helluva good place to visit.”
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..Happy Photos of Rainbow Autumn Leaves in BostonMy Profile

  12. Huelva looks like a gem with all of the culture and culinary delights of a city without the hassle. Thanks for sharing this special place. We’ll be sure to add it to places to see in Spain.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..Top 5 Autumn Activities Around AtlantaMy Profile

  13. wow Huelva sounds (and looks) awesome! Looks like I have yet another place to add to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing :)
    Wheres Sharon? (Sharon) recently posted..A happy victim of a Bangkok scamMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It’s sadly not well-advertised. Most visitors skip right over it without knowing much about Huelva. Thanks for stopping by, Sharon!

  14. Oh, interesting! We drove through Huelva on the way from Sagres to Nerja, and really didn’t think there was much to see, so we didn’t stop. Now, I wish we had :)
    Micki at The Barefoot Nomad recently posted..The Best of Lisbon 10 Things You Shouldn’t MissMy Profile

  15. Sounds like you work for the Junta de Andalucía’s Oficina de Turismo. Good thing they are called Onubenses and not Huelvinos. I have my eye on Doñana next.
    Eduardo@Andaremos recently posted..Hiking in the Cazorla Natural ParkMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I only wish I could! In truth, I love Andalucía as if it were my home province. Seville hasn’t got much outside the capital, the mountains and a few nice cities, but Huelva and Cádiz have loads!

  16. Larissa says:

    This sounds like my kind of place. . . a little off the beaten track, cheap. . . but with great food!!!
    Larissa recently posted..A foodie taste of Chapel Hill, North CarolinaMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Most definitely! If you’ve ever got the time while in Andalucía, it’s an interesting place to spend a few days.

  17. Huelva is an amazing place.Hope i can visit there as soon as i can.
    Gabi (The Nomadic Family) recently posted..Life on the Road Interview: Fiona Backpacker From Scotland- Kanchanaburi, ThailandMy Profile

  18. What a neat Christopher Columbus factoid. Huelva looks and sounds great, not to mention delicious.
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