Tapa Thursdays: the Best Ice Cream Shops in Seville

It’s 8pm on a Friday night, and I’m currently shuttered in my office, typing away at a computer with the shades drawn and the fan on. They may say ‘hasta el 40 de mayo, no te quites el sayo’ but summer came early and Seville has practically become a ghost town for the next two months – especially on the weekends.

It’s hard to beat the heat in Seville, so I rely on my air conditioning and a change in my diet to help me cope with the sweltering midday sun and the humid air that hangs over the the Guadalquivir valley year round. And that change in diet goes by three words: ICE CREAM LUNCH.


Seville ice cream

There’s no shortage of heladerías in the Andalusian capital, and the golosa in me loves that I could walk into any convenience store, tobacco stand or restaurant and find a popsicle or drumstick. As the kid who ate ice cream for breakfast in high school, however, not just anything will do.

Wedding diet be damned! There is too much ice cream to be consumed (and my mother agrees with this statement). For locations, check out my Bobby Pin map.

La Fiorentina

Far and away my favorite, La Fiorentina is a family-run business that echoes an old-school gelao parlor. Apart from being delicious, this heladería also serves up flavors that you can only find in Seville: like typical Holy Week sweets such as torrijas and pestiños, to cream of orange blossom and chocolate with orange essence. Ask for samples before committing – it’s crazy difficult to choose!

My pick: Hierbabuena con limón (mint with lemon) and crema de azahar. The chocolate with chili packs a lot of bite and a bit of spice! 

ice cream at La Fiorentina Seville

Price range: a small cone runs 2.20€, and cups are closer to 3€. You can also take insulated packages home for 6 or 12€.

Find it at: a good pick if you’ve just finished having tapas in the center or want to head to the river, La Fiorentina is an option if you’re near the city’s main sites. There’s also a small terrace. Find it located on Calle Zaragoza, 16 and open daily from 1pm to 1:30am.

Rayas

I had heard of Rayas long before moving to Seville thanks to a number of friends having studied abroad here. The granddaddy of ice cream shops in the Hispalese capital has two locations in the center and all of the usual suspects, from chocolates to vanillas to mint and strawberry.

You won’t get anything too inventive here, but the ice cream is smooth and natural.

My pick: I’m not as big on Rayas as most people who consider it the undisputed king of heladerías in Seville. I’ll usually go for the cheesecake.

Price range: You pay for the name at Rayas – prices start at 2.50€ for a small cone or cup.

Find it at: Rayas has two centrally located shops, one on Reyes Católicos/San Pablo and the other directly across the street from Plaza Cristo de Burgos on Almirante Apodaca.

Verdú

One warm spring night, I hopped from beers and snails – my ultimate combo – to ice cream thanks to some neighborhood friends. I’d walked by this nondescript shop dozens of times but never bothered to sample their gelato until recently.

Heladeria Verdu

I’m not a big chocolate eater and instead prefer a sorbet, and Verdú’s fabrication process – which follows Valencian ice cream making rules – produces light, fruity flavors. 

My pick: Manzana verde (green apple) and mango are delightful, and you can get the standard chocolate/vanilla/strawberry here, too. 

Price range: 2€ and above.

Find it at: The original Verdú – complete with old school signage – is at Esperanza de Triana, 3. There’s a newly opened branch on López de Gomara, 17, just a few steps from my house. Both are open daily from 11am to 1:30am.

Freskura

Admittedly, I haven’t been to Feskura in years but love that the Alameda has a go-to shop with great reviews and even better service. The shop also boasts, apart from artisan ice cream and two dozen flavors, gourmet cakes and options for people with intolerances and allergies.

Price range: Prices hover around 2,20€ for a scoop; more for the delectable cakes.

Find it at: Vulcana, 4, just off of the Alameda de Hércules. Open daily from 12pm – midnight.

N’ice Cream

If, for whatever reason, you find yourself in the business district of Nervión with an immense need for ice cream, don’t miss N’ice Cream. Located on a backstreet adjacent the Sevilla Fútbol Club stadium, this bakery also does cakes, cookies and – gasp! – cupcakes! You’ll find the traditional flavors and those echoing Spanish desserts, but will pay a bit less than in the center. There’s also an open kitchen concept, so you can watch your goodies being made!

ice cream at heladeria llinares valencia

N’Ice Cream also features lactose-free products, a rarity in many shops and restaurants.

My pick: Will it kill the post if I say the brownie cupcakes with mint frosting? If so, their vanilla is among the tastiest I’ve had in Spain. 

Price range: If you’re paying more than 3€, you probably ordered too much.

Find it at: N’Ice Cream is located right between the Corte Inglés in Nervión and Sánchez Pizjuan stadium, around 10 minutes walking from the Santa Justa train station, at Benito Mas y Prat, 6. They’re open daily from 10.30 to 2 and 4.30 to 8.30pm.

Don’t worry too much – for every ice cream cone I eat before heading to the US for the summer, I’m also drinking a liter of gazpacho.

Have any favorite ice cream shops in Seville to share?

Autonomous Community Spotlight: País Vasco

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain. 

spain collage

I was fascinated with the Basque Country from my time studying abroad. Our shared bedroom was sparse, but had a detailed map of Spain plastered onto the wall, and I’d usually stare it before taking my siesta. Just north of Castilla y León lay a land where Zs and Xs and Ks seemed to make up all of the towns and cities, and once I began modern culture classes at the Universidad de Valladolid, I realized how different Spain was from region to region.

I jumped at the chance to visit regal San Sebastián and hip Bilbao during a long weekend, traveling five hours north by train. The arid meseta – experiencing a drought that summer – gave way to the lush gardens of Vitoria and rolling hills. I noticed the roofs slanted because of the rain. The words on shops and billboards became illegible. Tapas were served on bread.

Toto, we’re not in Spain anymore.

Name: País Vasco in castellano, Euskadi in Basque and Pays Basque in French

Population: 2.17 million

pais vasco region

Provinces: Three; Álava in the south, Bizkaia on the Bay of Biscay and Guipúzkoa. There are rather three regional capitals cities: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Bilbao and Donostia, though Vitoria is the legislative powerhouse of the comunidad

When: 3rd of 17, June 2005

About Euskadi: Located in the Biscay Bay basin and featuring mountains, plains and beach, Euskadi packs a lot of punch for a small region. Quaint fishing villages sidle up to industrial cities, and the mix of sea-mountains-plains make it an attractive pocket of Spain for outdoor enthusiasts.

Donostia

Anyone who has studied Spanish will know that there are two co-official langauges in Euskadi: Castillian Spanish and Basque. After centuries of repression and intense waves of immigration, the language is making a comeback and cries for independence from Spain are becoming louder.

But I’m ahead of myself.

The Basque people have traits that are untraceable to other ethnic groups, and their language shares no common roots with other European tongues. These indigenous people have long inhabited what is now the Basque region, which makes up the northeast part of Spain and southwest of France (St Jean de Luz and Biarritz are worth day trips!).

Aeriel view san sebastian

Though their exact origin is hotly debated, the Basque are said to come from the Vascon tribes that lived at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. For centuries they were left unattacked by the various groups that passed through the Iberian penninsula until finally falling to Castillian forces in the 16th Century.

After years of linguistic and cultural freedom, the constraints put on the vascos from the Spanish crown were surprisingly minimal until the Carlist Wars of the 19th Century, and Franco’s rise to power after the Spanish Civil War meant that euskera was banned and the region lost all of its self-governing rights in an attempt to homogenize Spain.

Bilbao city center

Two decades later, the Basque Separatist group, Euskadi Ta Astatasuna (ETA) was formed, and over 800 people have been killed in terrorist plots – a friend of my aunt’s father among them. After numerous ceasefires and resurgences, the group announced a definitive end to armed activity in 2011.

In the modern age, Bilbao has drawn the attention of economists for somehow sidestepping the financial crisis, and for a millennia old people, vascos are rather forward-thinking. 

Must sees: Euskadi’s three major towns are definite visits: San Sabastián/Donostia’s quaint old quarter boasts more pintxos bars than residents and its Bahía de la Concha is one of Spain’s most photographed beaches (and that’s not to mention the surfing or its world-famous film festival); Bilbao/Bilbo is home to the Guggenheim and a prosperous industrial city; Vitoria-Gasteiz is famous for its parks and gardens and is the administrative capital of the autonomous community.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Further afield lie charming fishing villages and hamlets like Lekeitio or Hondarribia, the jaw-dropping hike to San Juan de Guazalugatxe and Guernika, a city made famous for its role in Nazi bombings and immortalized in a Picasso painting of the same name.

Gastronomy is also a top draw to the region, with four of the top 20 restaurants in the world found here. Pintxos – small, generally seafood-based tapas served atop bread – are the north’s equivalent of tapas. Revelers take part in bar crawls called txikiteo, often imbibing in a sparkling white wine called txacoli or Alavese wines, which form part of the D.O. La Rioja.

Culturally speaking, Basque have their own traditions of Santa Claus, throw enormous parties and have long traditions of Basque strength sports. Local lore pervades daily life and, like Navarra, it’s a place where cultural roots have held firm throughout centuries.

bad weather in spain

Finally, a note on the weather: it’s not very reliable, particularly in Bilbao and San Sebastián.

My take: There was some truth to my initial observations of Euskadi, but as someone who was clueless about Spanish history and hadn’t even been to Madrid, were largely wrong. I traveled north a few years later with a friend, far more interested in what the region had to offer and more acutely aware of the differences between the Basques and the rest of Spain – and in far more than just language.

Andalucía and País Vasco couldn’t be more different, as evidenced in the hugely popular film Ocho Apellidos Vascos, in which a sevillano de pura cepa falls for a vasca on her bachelorette weekend in Sevilla. Rafa is as sevillano as they get, and follows Amaia up to her small town hidden deep within Euskadi, trying to win her – and her father’s – heart.

basque architecture

The film is a bit over the top, of course, but highlights how regionalism is still a big thing in Spain, and no one embraces it like the vascos. The main cities just feel like they’re not as Spanish as Madrid or Seville or Salamanca. Its citizens have darker features and seem to carry themselves differently. Food is a big deal, as is surfing, Athletic and txacoli from what I’ve gathered.

Suffice to say, I’m keen to travel back to País Vasco as soon as possible.

Have you ever been to País Vasco? What do you like (or not) about it? Check out the blogs Christine in Spain, a Thing With Wor(l)ds and Como Perderse en España for excellent insight into life in the region!

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia | La Rioja | Madrid | Murcia | Navarra

Kotor Revisited, and How to Deal with a Travel Slump

Kotor was moody and fickle. Storm clouds – dark and heavy – threatened to ruin our hike, but midway up the mountain, the temperature had surged five degrees, leaving me sweaty for a picture proclaiming I’d reached my 30th country.

MEXICO

But, joder, she was worth the wait.

I’ve always traveled with a heightened sense of awareness – most notably, with my five senses. I can nearly savor the fried grasshoppers in Beijing or hear the call to prayer in Marrakesh (maybe those are just the annoying church bells at my local parish). In Kotor, though, I felt nearly numb to anything else but sight.

Emerald water and beet red roofs contrasted the ominous grey mountains that wrapped around the bay and the slate houses. Small boats bobbed as the waters lulled and lapped against the port. The mountains seemed hung from the sky.

picturesque Montenegro

Our road trip around Europe’s newest country had very loose rules. From our base in Herceg-Novi, we spent a few days doing our normal travel thing:  wake up, drive the car around until something pretty caught our eye, gorge on cevapi sandwiches and local beers (and the addictive JOST! snacks). 

The weather turned from bad to worse as we descended on Montenegro via Dubrovnik, including a hail storm and power outage once we reacher Herceg-Novi on empty stomachs. Each day, we’d simply drive out of town on the main road, keeping the Bay of Kotor on the right hand side of the vehicle and tick towns off the map: Perast, Tivat, Budva.

Fog over Kotor Montenegro

The undisputed jewel of the Montenegran Adriatic is Kotor. An unblemished Old Town, traces of Venetian, Ottoman and Napoleanic prowess and a varied population make it a popular destination and UNESCO World Heritage city.

2013 was a red-letter one for me as a professional and as a traveler, but only now, two years after our trip, do I feel like I found Kotor to stir up some weird feelings in me.

Historic Center of Kotor

Arriving in the early morning, we were told to take the stairs out of town that led to the old fortifications and a smattering of old Via Crucis and roadside temples. The 1350 steps were steep and the humidity hung heavy over our heads. Layer by layer, I took off my scarf and blazer as we climbed closer towards the castle and the gradually lightening sky.

Always privy to climb to the highest point of any given city to see it from above, Kotor didn’t disappoint. I probably blinked a few times. Like Dubrovnik, the views were storybook, like something I’d seen on social media and had dreamed up. 

The Bay of Kotor and mountains

The rain held off enough, but the dark clouds of the morning seemed to have cleared up in the sky, but were beginning to cloud my thoughts. I took my obligatory picture at the top, under a red flag emblazoned with a black eagle. Thirty countries, jaw-dropping views…and I was rather blasé about it.

Back in town, we tucked into a cheap local beer and greasy pizza slices before wandering the small but stunning well preserved old town. I can’t recall many details from the afternoon, save the pristine city streets juxtaposed with the jagged rock face of the surrounding mountains, the cats leaping onto café chairs, the domes of the Orthodox churches. My sight prevailed, but I failed to catalogue sounds or smells or even a local taste.

Nothing exciting, nothing unordinary, nothing particularly great or not great describes my day in Kotor, and even the way I’m beginning to feel about travel.

Historic Kotor, Croatia

Kotor marked a beginning and an end, in a way. Since I was 20, I’d longed to travel to world and learn a language or two. I told myself 25 by 25 would suffice, and pulling into an abandoned bus terminal in Prague at the break of dawn before my 25th birthday meant I’d have to rethink my goal.

Afterwards came Romania, Turkey, Andorra, and Montenegro (and then Slovakia and India), and I surpassed that goal before turning 28. A beginning to more mature travel and an end to constant moving.

Boats on the Bay of Kotor

I’ll be 30 in less than two months, with a mortgage and a new husband to boot. Travel hasn’t lost its sheen completely, but my preferred web sites are decidedly devoid of budget airline sites. I still get delight out of pinning places and reading blog posts about travel gear and news apps and far-flung destinations, but I’ve strangely not had much urge to travel.

A close friend asked me recently about my upcoming travel plans and I realized I hadn’t been on a plane sine January, and that was to Barcelona. That my airline miles on AA had expired from disuse. That my rolling suitcase had collected dust. I’m not packing up my passport, but then again, I’m not 100% certain as to its whereabouts.

St Tryphon Cathedral Montenegro

Since money again became a concern after the house (those things cost a lot of money to maintain – who knew?), my trips have been limited to weekends and any place I can reach by car. That’s meant a bachelorette party in Málaga, a solo hike on the Caminito del Rey, scattered weekends in Madrid or San Nicolás. For someone ready to comerse el mundo, it’s a weird – albeit welcome – feeling.

Back in Kotor, we bought and wrote postcards, sipped free beers as we checked our emails and caught up on Facebook, occasionally popping into a shop or craning our necks for a photo. But, as a destination, it garnered a mere, ‘meh.’

Shutters in the center of Kotor

I didn’t have any profound or life-shattering epiphanies upon reaching my 30th country before turning 30, just as I didn’t find enlightenment in India (just a stomach virus and a love for tuk tuks) nor did I figure out the meaning of life on the Camino de Santiago. For the woman who vowed to never feel tied down, I found that I needed a limit, a destination that failed to wow me, a place that made me choose how to spend my money. Kotor was undeniably beautiful, but lacked spark. 

I have no big trips on the horizon, and even our post-wedding road trip to New Orleans is an afterthought for me. Walking back over the Triana bridge on a balmy late spring night, I felt tears fill my eyes as the sun was setting. The gentle buzz of traffic, the smell of churro grease, the cobblestones under my feet.

As it turns out, my senses feel most alert in the very place I live, so I think I’ll be sticking around here for a while.

Have you ever experienced a travel slump? How did you overcome it?

Desafío Eterno: Learning to Cook Spanish Food

I may have mastered the art of midday siestas, long lunches and dropping syllables, but Spanish cooking has always alluded me. 

A Spanish Cooking Course

Ask me to make a full turkey dinner or a kick ass pad thai? I’m all over it, but I’ve mangled even the simplest of Spanish dishes and count gazpacho and frying potatoes (or just bringing the wine) as my contribution to meals.

Resolute to prove to the Novio that I’m only good for eating and occasionally clearing up the dishes, I visited my local market for a crash-course in slow-cooking with Foodies&Tours.

Housed in the mythical Mercado de Triana, once an open-air market build in the 19th Century, Víctor and Marta set up a state-of-the-art kitchen overlooking ruins of the Castillo de San Jorge just seven months ago. I was delighted to see that they still believed in buying fresh ingredients at the market, making chicken stock from bones and leek and – gasp! – using butane tanks. 

el mercado de triana

María led us through the market that mid-week morning on a day where there were more tourists than locals snapping photos of ham legs and fins-and-all swordfish. Summer fruits were beginning to slowly engulf the avocados and pomegranates. I kept my mouth shut when María pointed out tripe and the different legumes on offer, but I couldn’t help piping up that it takes three years to adequately cure the hind leg of an acorn-fed pig (blame my pork-loving in-laws for that!).

Spanish food has recently become the darling of international cuisine thanks to innovative chefs putting a spin on age-old traditions. After all, the wealth of fresh ingredients from the Mediterranean diet and a dedication to simplistic yet layered flavors have made this gastronomy healthy, comforting and delicious – and this means that food tours and gastronomic experiences are booming all over Spain.

Taller Andaluz de Cocina in the Triana market

I was joined by another American woman, a group of Filipina women on a big Euro trip, a curious couple from Singapore and newlyweds hailing from Australia. It was just right for everyone to put their manos a la obra.

Back at the kitchen, chef Víctor was washing metal bowls and our ingredients were put on display. I may not cook myself, but I do make most of the grocery store runs and can recite dishes based on their ingredients! From the ripe vine tomatoes and day-old bread, I knew we’d be making salmorejo and assumed that crowd-favorite paella would be on offer. A large bowl of raw spinach meant espinacas con garbanzos.

modern kitchen of Taller Andaluz de Cocina

I found a cutting board and apron between Denise from New York and the cooking surface as Víctor laid out the menu. We began with the creamy tomato-based salmorejo: coarsely chopping tomatoes, peeling thin skin off of the purple garlic bulbs and learning not to be stingy with extra virgin olive oil. Apart from turning on a blender and liquifying its contents, I let my classmates take over.

I once again stepped aside to allow other guests to learn how to steam the raw spinach and make a sofrito, preferring to sip on wine and do some more chopping – I have the Novio at home to show me how to quarter a chicken for stock. Instead, I probed Víctor on his background, his favorite places to eat in Seville and the Spanish brands he is loyal to.

learning to make salmorejo

Many of my classmates were used to the flash cooking styles of Asian cuisine, so turning down the heat and turning up the flavor combinations was a welcome departure as we dipped small tasting spoons into everything we’d created. A fan of Asian food himself, Víctor stressed the important of low heat and long wait times.

I’ve always said that my biggest hurdle to learning to make Spanish dishes is patience. A Spanish chef confirmed it.So we waited, slowly stirring the chicken stock and sofritos.

salmorejo cordobés

Three hours later, the paella had finished soaking up chicken stock, the beer has been poured and we were ready to eat. While the sobremesa – mealtime chat – wasn’t as lively as my finca experience in Málaga, the workshop was more hands on. In fact, there was little more chatter than ‘mmmmm’ as we tucked in and Víctor prepared us a palate cleanser.

The cumin in the spinach with chickpeas, the laced leek in the paella and a tinge of garlic translated through the other tastes, a clear sign that we’d done something right under watchful eyes.

Espinacas con Garbanzos (Spinach with Chickpeas)
Print
Ingredients
  1. 900g (30 oz) fresh spinach
  2. 150 g
  3. (5-6 oz.) chickpeas
  4. 1 medium size onion
  5. 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped into slices
  6. peeled crushed tomatoes
  7. cumin, salt and sherry vinegar to taste
  8. olive oil
  9. stale white bread.
Instructions
  1. Add 4-5 spoons of olive oil into a large frying pan, fry garlic on a low heat to caramelize. Set aside
  2. Dice and fry the bread and then add to the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and a pinch of cumin. Crush together and add a tablespoon of water to make paste.
  3. Boil the spinach for 5 minutes and set aside.
  4. In the same pan as before, fry the chopped onion with a pinch of salt until it's caramelized.
  5. Add 5-6 spoons of crushed tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Next add the boiled spinach, the bread paste, a pinch of salt, cumin to taste and a spoon of sherry vinegar.
  7. Finally stir in the chickpeas, mix well and cook until the liquid reduces.
  8. Season with salt and cumin to taste.
Sunshine and Siestas http://sunshineandsiestas.com/
 Did I personally learn any new kitchen tricks? I suppose, but a blast of Saharan heat has had me out of the kitchen and even skipping dinner these last few weeks. The one thing that still rings true is my devotion to Spanish food and everything that goes into it – fresh ingredients, bursts of flavor and the sobremesa chatter.

Have you ever done a cooking course or food tour? Read about A Cooking Day, Devour Barcelona and Devour Seville food experiences. 

How to NOT Plan a Trip to Riotinto, Huelva

Julián was good at exaggerating and making up words. “My town, it is the most fantastical of all the towns of Huelva, simply the bestest.”

Julián and I parted ways long ago, but his stake that Minas de Ríotinto was the most fantastically bestest towns in Spain didn’t fall on silent ears. With a claim like that, I had to make a visit.

So off I set towards Ríotinto on a particularly warm November afternoon after meeting my friend halfway along the Doñana Trail. Windows down and Guns & Roses blasting, I drove north into the Sierra de Huelva via Bollullos. All signs – the brown roadside signs, that is – pointed me in the right direction.

But I never made it. Just as roundabout sculptures went from stone monoliths to oxidized mining equipment, my GPS told me to make a 180 degree turn around a roundabout and head back to where I’d come from. Sixty minutes later, I was back in Bollullos, seeing just a trickle of the red river.

Minas de Riotinto, Huelva

Turns out that Google Maps categorized Ríotinto as both a village and protected natural area. So, really I ended up where I had intended to go, but learned a lesson: Don’t rely on Google Maps when there are directions on the website.

Resolute to visit another day, it took me until May to find a weekend to print out directions and go. I grabbed Kelly and my sunscreen and decided to enter via Castillo de las Guardas in the north rather than risk a faulty GPS and lack of roadsigns (and to avoid the beach-going crowd on the A-49).

As soon as we’d turned onto the N-476, we scoured the twisty highway for the next sign of civilization. Though the hills have been excavated for copper, silver and gold for more than five millennia, the whole region is sparsely populated. As soon as I saw a sizable town, we ignored signs and I pulled off. Instinctively, we found the church and assumed the tourism office would be there. Our GPS said we were in the neighboring town of Nerva.

Nerva Huelva

Lesson learned: do rely on Google Maps when you know you’ve punched in the correct destination.

Around 2pm we arrived in the actual town of Minas de Ríotinto, a town whose number swelled when the Spanish government reopened the mines in the early 18th Century. Kelly asked me what there was to do, and I had to admit that I’d only looked for a place to eat and had paid little attention to the attractions.

Like many websites in Spain, I found the Foundation’s website poorly put together and confusing – both in English and Spanish. So, I decided to just show up. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have ignored the website or simply have made a phone call.

Rio Tinto Mine Tour

After the mines reopened in 1724 and later came under the control of a multinational company called Río Tinto, Limited. Hundreds of Brits flocked to the busy mines for work in the 1870s, bringing with them their language, food culture, Victorian decoration and even football – el Recreativo de Huelva, a second division team, is descended from the club formed at Ríotinto.

The company grew to be the largest mining company worldwide, though their exploitation of the mines in heir namesake town had all but finished by 1925. The mines ceased exploitation in 2001.

We arrived at the Visitor’s Center, housed in the old mining hospital and current mining museum, around 1:50pm. We were surprised to find it still open when most people would be having a leisurely lunch. The museum monitor told me that there were four big ticket options in town: the museum, a replica of a Victorian House, a visit to one of the mines with a guide and a touristic train ride, but that we’d arrived too late in the day to do it all. Don’t arrive midday and expect to be able to see all of the attractions – you’re better off starting early, breaking in the middle of the day for lunch and taking the train for the grand finale.

Mining Museum Spain

Kelly and I, as Chicago natives, have likely visited the Museum of Science and Industry and its mining exhibit a dozen times each, but we knew next to nothing about mining or the history of Ríotinto. The museum was a definite, but we had to choose between the mines and the touristic train. I was about to flip a coin when the monitor stopped us. “Don’t skip the train ride,” he told us. “The visit to the mines is interesting but not as esteemed as riding an old steam train.”

Steam Locomotives Huelva

Museo Minero en Riotinto Huelva

Signs all around the museum prohibited photography and videography, but having entered the museum so late we had missed the last guided tour – this meant we didn’t have to elbow past a group. They all stood baffled as they attempted to take photos on their mobile phones. If the guide wasn’t ruffled that they were deliberately breaking the rules, I certainly wasn’t going to clandestinely take out-of-focus photos on my cell. Ignore the posters.

The museum was small but traces mining activity in the area from the Roman times – complete with an underground replica of a mine – to modern day. Three trains take up residence in the old hospital alongside cancelled train tickets, RTC Ltd.-issued uniforms and excavated gemstones.

Promptly at 3pm, we were ushered out. I had seen that one of the town’s five restaurants was renown for their English take on Spanish dishes. At La Epoca, you can’t miss the menú turístico, a three-course meal served every day of the week for 9,50€. When the Riotinto Company took over the mines, they brought their traditional dishes and savory sauces: I chose an omelette of locally grown vegetables and pollo al riotinto, a battered and fried chicken breast in coronation sauce.

Restaurante La Epoca Riotinto

The scheduled departure time for the touristic train was 5pm, but don’t worry too much about being on time for the train. We left at 5:17, seated aboard train cars once used to transport passengers between the various excavation sites. The mines employed 3,000 laborers in their heyday, and the train line that joined the mines and the province capital of Huelva was traversed by more than 1,300 transport cars, used to move both men and might.

The 12 kilometer journey was slow to start, taking in the alien-like landscapes that reminded me of Teide. Definitely don’t forget your camera because the trip is scenic, if not eery with hollowed out mine cars, abandoned equipment and tracks that lead to nowhere.

Touristic Train of Riotinto Huelva

Touristic Train Minas de Riotinto

rio tinto railway

El Río Tinto is so-called for its crimson color – it literally looks like red wine – and believed to have a chemical component that is heavy in metals and iron. While no animal or fish life can be traced, bacteria thrives. In fact, NASA studied the chemistry of the water and concluded that Río Tinto is the place on Earth that most resembles samples taken from Mars.

visit to Riotinto

Landscapes of Rio Tinto Huelva

Spain's Red River Río Tinto

El Madroño and the Mines

Red River in Spain

Rio Tinto and its Color

Don’t be afraid to touch the water or bottle some up as a souvenir – though the water will stain your clothes, it won’t do any harm to your skin. And if you do get off the train, don’t expect to call samesies on your seat – all of the Spanish abuelos will have changed spots, looking bored and fanning themselves before the train pulls away.

After so many years of living in Seville, I’d seemingly done all of the day trips. The mines and museums of Riotinto stayed off my list for years, so if you have a car and a free day, don’t miss it.

If you go: Minas de Riotinto is located 90 kilometers from Sevilla. The museum, Victorian House, mine visit and touristic train are open daily except for New Year’s, the Epiphany and Christmas Day. Plan to spend a day and around 20€ for the whole visit. Follow my advice and check the website for opening times. 

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I visited Ríotinto as part of the Typical NonSpanish Project, meant to show a different side of Spain and power by Caser Expat. All opinions, text and photo are my own.

 

Have you ever been to Ríotinto or had an unplanned day turn out to be awesome?

The World’s Most Dangerous Footpath: Walking the Caminito del Rey

The wind whipped by me as the park attendant handed me back my camera, dislodging my lens cap. As if in slow motion, I imagined it careening down the gorge and ending up passing through the hydroelectric plant to the south. 

Instead, it landed in the cracks between the newly placed wooden planks that made up the boardwalk. I breathed a sigh of relief.

“That was close,” the monitor said, stooping to retrieve it. “It’s 110 meters to the bottom.”

El Caminito

Even though planning my wedding and buying a house has left me pretty grounded, I prescribe to the “Have car, will explore” philosophy. When I heard about El Caminito del Rey, buried deep in the Málaga province, I wanted to plan a visit to what’s been known as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.

Originally inaugurated over a century ago, this one-meter wide walkway became infamous internationally when five climbers fell to their deaths between 1999 and 2000. A decade passed before the Junta de Andalucía and the Diputación de Málaga agreed to saddle the costs of repairing the footpath that was christened with its present name after King Alfonso XIII traversed the one-meter wide trail when inaugurating the dam.

The Caminito fell into disrepair due to its hastily constructed path of concrete and sand, rendering it extremely risky to anyone who had the gall to pass it. I’ve seen images of climbers scaling rock faces, teetering over rusted metal rails and even perched on the edge of the balcones.

But by the time I was ready to try, the path was scheduled for a huge face lift.

 

Entering El Chorro from Ardales, the one-lane path climbed steeper and turns became tighter. Almost at once, my car was plunging into a valley of pine trees and slate a I watched the kilometer signs tick closer and closer to zero.

Then I got caught behind an interurban bus, a true sign that the Caminito del Rey is now accessible to anyone who can walk and not give in to vertigo.

A view of the Desfiladero de Gaitanes

I rounded the bend after the Virgen del Valverde hermitage, and my car spit me out onto a wider paved road. I immediately saw the small crack in the cliff that made up el Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, the old rickety pathway just beneath a more linear, safer replacement and the famous bridge between the two rock faces.

My GPS had long stopped giving me precise location updates, so I found a place to park near the visitor’s cabin nearly 90 minutes before my assigned entrance time at 2pm. 

protective headgear for the Caminito del Rey

Safety precautions have made El Chorro’s big draw a bit lackluster. Rockslides, jumpers, wind and other natural elements have been controlled, experienced climbers hired as monitors and protective helmets purchased for every hiker. If not for the thrill, go for the views.

Hiking to the Caminito del Rey

I wobbled a bit on the stairs that led to a 200-foot stretch of wooden pathway, stepping awkwardly as I tested out my nerves. The same wind that nearly blew an umbrella into me at the bar an hour earlier had picked up. My steps down became sideways to put as much ground under me as possible.

I’ve never been afraid of heights as a former gymnast, so I had no images of falling to my death when I entered the tramo of walkways just past the control cabin – I was more afraid of dropping my ID card or cell phone after taking panoramic shots of the gorge and damn below.

Crossing the Caminito del Rey

German, French and Spanish tourists clogged the beginning of the trail, as many were returning the same way they’d come (and hugging the rocks, making it easy to pass by them). Because the path is linear, hikers now have the choice of entering from the north or south, and of returning by bus or on foot, crossing the desafiladero once more.

As if a death by fire rather than rocks were necessary, the first big moment from the south entrance is crossing the suspended bridge. Spanning the gorge, it’s the most exposed you’ll be to the elements on the whole trek.

Hanging Bridge in Malaga

Posing for a photo on the Caminito

Many parts of the old path have been left as a reminder of the origins of the route – I was either walking directly over it or just above it. In fact, when the Caminito was provisionally closed in 2000, the local government actually demolished the beginning stages to discourage climbers. This only made the leyenda negra grow and attract daredevils from around the globe.

the Old Pathway of the Caminito del Ret

the pasarelas of the Caminito

Pathways between the mountains on the Caminito del Rey

puente del rey

The Caminito is extremely tame since the reopening. At no moment did I feel like I was going to blow off the side of the gorge or lean too far over the railings. I wasn’t terribly disappointed – the day was sunny and temperate, the views of the Valle del Hoyo and the Pantano were as jaw dropping as the gorge itself, and I, for once, wasn’t attached to my computer.

Malaga Caminito del Rey

Hiking in Spain on the Caminito

Traversar el Caminito del Rey
When is the Caminito open? Do I need reservations? 

The Caminito del Rey is open every day but Monday, weather permitting. You MUST have a reservation to enter, as only 50 visitors are allowed every half an hour. I snagged a free entrance through the website a few weeks before the reopening.

What should I bring? Are there restaurants on the Caminito?

are there restaurants near the caminito del rey

Be sure to bring sunscreen, water and sturdy shoes. You’ll also need your entrance ticket and ID card or passport. There are no facilities along the trail – not even garbage cans – so you should use the bathroom and pack any food or water you might want to consume.

How can I get to El Chorro?

El Chorro is a neighborhood of Álora, located just up the hill from the visitor’s center. There are various ways to get there by car, but often on poorly serviced highways. From Seville, I took the A-92 towards Granada, turned south at Osuna and headed to Teba, turning off at Ardales and onto the MA-4503. The whole trip took just over two hours.

access point of the caminito del rey

From Seville, the Media Distancia train towards Málaga will also leave you in a train stop marked ‘El Chorro,’ and vice-versa. Schedule here. Due to road closures along the MA-5403, the train trip is probably preferred in summer 2015 – it will take the same amount of time and cost you the same amount of money from Seville as a car will.

How long is the Caminito, and how long should I plan to be in El Chorro?

The most famous part of the Caminito is, without a doubt, the walkways. Now equipped to support up to 50 people at a time and featuring handrails, the walkways, called pasarelas, constitute about three kilometers one-way.  

Valle de los Hoyos Málaga

There’s a 1.6 kilometer trek uphill to the official entrance point of the walkways from the southern access at El Chorro, another 2 or so in the Valle del Hoyo between them, plus 2.7 to the northern entrance point in Ardales. Round-trip is close to 14 kilometers round-trip, so plan on 4-5 hours. If you don’t want to walk back, you can grab a bus once an hour, whose schedule is here.

More information is available on the Caminito website.

Looking for more outdoor activities in Southern Spain? Check out my articles on the Vía Ferrata, the Minas de Riotinto and the Via Verde.

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