Seville: Perfect for a Fall City Break

Earlier this week, my friend Mar and I were enjoying a light breakfast (read: an entera with Iberian ham and tomatoes) in a small plaza right of Constitución. Our bare arms caught the morning chill as we chowed down, surrendering to the fact that Autumn has snuck up on us.

photo by kelly m. holland
 

Fall is one of my favorite times in Seville – expat celebrations, the return to school and snuggling on chilly mornings for just a few minutes more (dios I sound like an abuela). When friends talk about coming to visit, I tell them that Seville is perfect for a holiday city break during this season:

Cheaper Accommodation and Flights

Look up any flight to Seville come October and want to hug your computer. I mean it. Not only is it cheaper to get to Southern Spain (or anywhere in Europe), but the hotels are a bargain, too. Using sites like Hotel Scan will net you savings of about 30-40% on average, making Seville a bargain for a long Fall weekend.

Do be aware that October 12th is Día de la Hispanidad (Spain’s take on Columbus Day when the Catholic Kings get most of the glory) and November 1st is Día de Todos los Santos Difuntos (don’t forget to eat your huesos de santos!), so hotels typically up their prices a weeeee bit.

A Multitude of Festivals

Seville and the surrounding cities hosts several different fairs during this time, including the Feria de Jamón in Aracena (Huelva), the Salon International del Caballo in tribute to the Andalusian horse breed and the biannual Flamenco celebration.

You can also take great hikes around the province, gather mushrooms and acorns in the Sierra Norte and Aracena and escape to the beaches without all of the crowds.

Less tourists, less lines

For whatever reason, there’s always loads of tourists in Seville when the weather is at its hottest. They flock the central part of town and fill the bars near the cathedral, but these tourists have also made the city one of the top destinations in Spain. This is great news for the local economy, but it also means you’ll wait in line at the bank and the Corte Inglés and even eating out can mean a wait for a table.

Opening hours are typically shortened in the afternoons, so take advantage of the early hours for sightseeing, and then use the afternoon to stroll off a huge lunch. Sandra of Seville Traveler made a perfect itinerary that’s catered towards the non-touristy months in the city.

Um, it’s not sweltering anymore, either.

Yeah, that’s the other thing – you can actually enjoy roaming the streets around Santa Cruz and Triana while still dining outdoors or having a drink at a terrace bar. temperatures are, on average, around 22 degrees in October by midday, cooling off in both the shade and at night so that you can actually sleep and not waste hours tossing and turning because it’s so freaking hot.

Fall is perfect in Seville, and even as I began to love and understand the rhythms of my new city, my friends warned me: if you love Seville in the Autumn, you’ll really fall for it in the Spring.

Have you ever visited Seville off-season? I’m psyched that Alex of Ifs, Ands & Butts, Trevor of a Texan in Spain and Julia of Nowhere to go But Everywhere will be here in the coming weeks and I get to show Seville off to them! If you’re ever in town, look me up!

Roots&Boots: Santiago de Compostela’s Pilgrim Hostel

The elation of arriving to Santiago de Compostela after 200 miles and 14 nights alternating between pilgrims inns and pensiones was only met with the elation that we’d have a place to rest our heads. We took rounds of photos in the Plaza del Obradoiro, packs over our heads, sunbursts creeping in our shots.

Located just 350 meters (and downhill!) from the magnificent square, Roots&Boots hostel was to become the roof over our heads that night. A cross between a pilgrim’s inn and a hostel, the owners converted a gorgeous four-story casa señorial, or a state house, into a hostel complete with intricate woodwork, creaky floors and a huge outdoor terrace with bean bag chairs.

Admittedly, Hayley and I spent very little time in Roots&Boots because we had a beautiful, compact city to enjoy and a dozen other pilgrims to meet for a goodbye beer.

What I liked

The common areas and bar – For me, a hostel must have comfortable common areas with wi-fi. Since Roots&Boots is in a huge house, the yard is equally as large, with couches, tables and plenty of grass to read or check your email. They’ve also got a bar that serves breakfast for 2€, beers for 1,50€ and enormous bocadillos for 2,50€. The staff even let us use the space after we’d checked out, and we had lockers to store our bags until our late flight out. Roots&Boots also has a huge kitchen with a parrilla in the garden with enough room for many guests to eat comfortably.

The location – Roots&Boots is located adjacent to the beautiful Alameda park and has priviledged views of the cathedral through the alleyways. If you want to be close to the pulse of the city and all of its sites without dealing with the tourists, the hostel can’t be beat, and the prices are on-par with any hostel in the area.

The staff – The three people we came across at the front desk were beyond friendly – they gave us our room early, let us shower the following day after we’d checked out and even gave us leftover shampoo to use.

What didn’t work for me

The hygiene sheets: Alright, I get that the hygiene sheets are the best for combating against bed bugs and smelly pilgrims, but come on! For 15€ or 17€, I think I deserve a clean set of cloth sheets and to have someone put them on the bed for me. What’s more, there were rooms upstairs with real sheets, so what gives?

The lack of bathrooms: When we got to the hostel around 11:30a.m., our room was ready, but I had one order of business: use the facilities. Unfortunately, there was a severe lack of aseos in this hostel. We had to wait to shower, wait to pee, wait to brush our teeth, wait to change. In a hostel that has four floors and four dozen beds, four bathrooms doesn’t cut it.

The specifics

Like any hostel, Roots&Boots offers free wi-fi, lockers, city maps and a fun mix of travelers. There’s also a few computers to use with printers on the second floor. Rates vary by season and type of room, which are bunks of 4, 6, 8 or 10 beds. Expect to pay up to 17,90€ per person per night in the high season for a bed in a shared room.

I used the site Your Spain Hostel to look for and book a room, an excellent resource that focuses on all types of lodging in Spain, from hostels to paradores. Its easy-to-use interface makes searching for a room or bed beyond simple, and the site offers discounts on for groups, as well as vouchers for saving on tours, breakfasts and rentals.

You can find Roots&Boots at Rúa Campo do Cruceiro do Gaio 7, near the Alameda park. Call them at  699 63 15 94 or shoot an email to  info@rootsandboots.es.

My stay was provided by Your Spain Hostel after my long walk on the Camino. But don’t worry – my post is as real as the sore muscles after 200 miles.

Places with Encanto: Almohalla 51, Casa Rural and Guest House in Archidona, Malaga

Sending special thanks to the dozens of you who participated in my giveaway with Your Spain Hostel for a 30€ voucher. I’m thrilled to announce that the special winner is Revati!! Please get in touch, guapa, and I’ll relay all of the details! Speaking of staying in Spain…

If only the walls of Almohalla 51, an ancient rural house cum gorgeous boutique hotel in Archidona, Spain, could talk.

“The whole place was decrepit, you see,” David tells us on the quick ride over from Antequera, where he’s met us at the train station. “Just absolutely uninhabitable.”

David and his partner, Myles, bought the house – which hadn’t been lived in for fifty years – and the one adjacent to it, merging the two into a five-bedroom hotel. The 14-person family who sold them the houses were true archidoneses, and the house had the original beams intact. The place is steeped in Andalusian charm.

Upon entering the cozy entrance hallway, David offers us a glass of Mahou beer and some salty olives. “You know,” he starts, topping off his own cerveza, “Myles’s family had been coming down for years and living on the Costa del Sol. There’s this great picture of his mother dancing with the wife of the owner of Mahou before the family sold the company to San Miguel.” Like many British expatriates I’ve met in Spain, there is always some kind of story, some legend, anchoring them to Spain. Myles summered in Estepona during his youth before he and David decided to relocate to Spain permanently, choosing picturesque Archidona as their new home.

Collecting our beer glasses as Lana del Rey crooned from the nearby reading nook, replete with books and old editions of magazines in both Spanish and English, David and Myles offer to show us the rest of the property. Passing through a small courtyard just behind the entrance hall and up a set of stairs, a small but inviting pool was the focal point of another patio and small bar.

“We operate on an honesty policy,” Myles explained. At any hour of the day, guests are invited to help themselves to refreshments, tea or coffee. My guest, Hayley, duly noted that the sweeping views of the nearby mountains and a dip in the immaculately kept pool would be worth coming back for in the summer.

I curiously notice a wrought iron Osborne bull nestled next to a small olive tree just in front of the pool. David, sensing my curiosity, tells me that the tree had actually been brought over from London when they moved to Archidona 18 months ago.

“Does it fruit?”

“Yeah, yeah. But the birds enjoy it more than we do.”

Inside, we are shown to our room. Wood beams stand out against the whitewashed walls, and Andalusian hallmark. Two fluffy twin beds with linens brought in from Mumbai stand next to one another and a weathered wardrobe. A private bathroom features smooth, gorgeous tiles and modern fixtures. Setting down our bags, we continue through to the other guest rooms.

The duo enjoy pointing out each part of the house that had been left over by its previous owners –antique headboards adorning the beds where they’d been born,  an interior patio where horses had been led – as well as the treasures Myles’s mother had found in antique stores and estate sales around England. The other bedrooms each have their own charm, like a split-level with a cavernous shower or a crystal chandelier. I suddenly can’t wait to dive into bed and relax with a book, convinced that the fresh air and sleepy midday would lend to a gorgeous rest.

After lunch in town at Bar Central, we join guests Mary and Thomas, an infinitely friendly and interesting Irish couple, near the fire. Their first trip to Spain, they recount us their tribulations driving on the other side of the road and trying to understand the bullfighting museum in Antequera.

“Dinner’s at half eight girls, but come round earlier for a cocktail.”

Squashing any girlish desires, we refrain from jumping on the small mountain of bed and instead rest up for the evening. The last light of the day is streaming in from the skylight as we read in bed. I drift off for over an hour, lost in the soft mattress and heaps of blankets.

Aperitifs are served promptly at eight, and we all sit round the fire chatting about whatever comes to mind – travels in Spain, language blunders, Mary and Thomas’s work as anthropologists, David and Myles’s favorite scenes as the resident guiris in Archidona. As sweet smells waft from the hallway we are ushered into the dining room.

“Yep, well several of the sisters claim to have been born in this very room,” David had told us earlier, but now the room is crowned by a gorgeous hutch with carvings related to the city of Granada – pomegranates and a knight – and a rustic wooden table whose legs were the originals. While doing the work on the house, Myles used local artisans to give the house a makeover rooted in both old and new.

What follows is one of those epic meals where your wine glass is never empty, your belly is full and the conversation and company can’t be bettered. We had a chutney made of local pears with warm goat cheese and puff pastry, followed by succulent lamb, steamed broccoli and papas a lo pobre. After nearly five hours, a rehashing of Catalonian independence and the draw of the Camino de Santiago (which Hayley and I are walking this summer), and a coffee and gin tonic, Hayley and I barrel into the beautiful Plaza Ochavada for a drink.

The next morning, David and Myles serve the four of us breakfast in the dining room, as rain had hampered plans of having breakfast on the terrace. I dig into coffee, fresh orange juice, natural yougurt with honey and cinnamon, fruit and toast with fig jam and cheese. David invites us to walk up the hill to the bastions and hermitage, affording us the views of the surrounding countryside. From this vantage point, one can see the nearby provinces of Sevilla and Cordoba, as Archidona is practically in the geographic center of Spain and just 45 minutes from Malaga’s international airport.

David comments on the city’s raucous festivals, from a bullfight in the oval of Ochavada to the pedigree dog shows. Their own dog, Ronny, barrels up and down the hill, bounding around the hermitage where faithful crawl on their knees during Holy Week and to the city walls at the top of the mountain. These walls can talk on their own, too, of course – of the Moorish Reconquista and the rebuilding of one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

And we’re listening.

If you go: Almohalla 51 is located in the village of Archidona (Malaga), near the geographical center of Andalusia and the A-92 motorway. Its five bedrooms are charged based on high and low season, and include breakfast, housekeeping and all local taxes. Guests under age 14 are not permitted.

 My stay at Almohalla 51 was graciously provided by David and Myles. All opinions, as always, are entirely my own. If you stay, tell them I sent you!

Four Mini-breaks from Seville

Part of the attraction of residing in Seville; apart from the sunshine, siestas and delicious oranges is its proximity to so many weekend break destinations. Whether you’re after a quick city fix or an island beach break, you can take your pick of cheap flights from Seville.

The local government recently expanded the bus line to Aeropuerto San Pablo, the airport that services Seville and western Andalusia. The EA bus will now travel all the way to the Plaza de Armas bus station for 4€ one-way.

Lisbon, Portugal

In just six hours you can be in the beautiful Portuguese capital, Lisbon. The enchanting whitewashed houses climb high into the hills of this easy going city on the edge of the wild Atlantic Ocean. Quirky canary yellow trams navigate the windy streets of Lisbon passing the elegant architecture of the Castelo de São Jorge and the beautiful Museu do Teatro Romano.

Take a leisurely stroll along the Ponte Vasco da Gama, Europe’s longest bridge on the way to a Pastelaria where you’ll find heavenly sweet treats fresh from the oven. You can shop in the Centro Comercial Colombo or enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the lush Lisbon Botanical Gardens.

Museums and galleries mingle with local markets and cosy cafes. At night the famous Barrio Alto glistens as the clubs and ritzy wine bars throng with people, while the sound of Fado drifts on the air.

Marrakech, Morocco

‘Souk’ up the sun in this magical, dirty, spice scented city. Head for the bustling medinas to try out your haggling skills for that special carpet, teapot or Moroccan lamp; escape to the solitude of a glorious hammam where you can luxuriate in warm thermal waters while being pummelled and pampered to your heart’s content.

For something more energetic, take a hike into the breath-taking Atlas Mountains before discovering the city at night. Wind you way through snake charmers and story-tellers until you find a cosy little restaurant where you can feast on tangine and couscous to the sound of swaying palms.

Barcelona, Spain

For a chic city break brimming with bright colours and a vibrant art scene, grab a cheap flight to Barcelona.  Stroll around the local markets and marvel at the magical architecture of Anton Gaudí s dreamlike Sagrada Família.

Get lost in museums dedicated to Picasso and Miró, or the jewellery boutiques and artisan workshops in the maze of streets around Mercat del Born. Explore the beautiful winding lanes of the Barri Gòtic, the city’s most historic quarter as you stumble upon mouth-watering dishes of tapas.

Don’t miss the lovely sight of Sunday’s at the Cathedral La Seu, where local elderly couples come to dance a Catalan folk dance called the Sardana. In winter, the Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona comes to town. Cool bars and all night clubs make Barcelona the place to be if you’re after some non-stop nightlife, so consider staying in a swanky apartment.

 Palma de Mallorca, Mallorca

If you’re after a getaway that offers culture, history and city life but with a side order of white sandy beach, you can’t do better than a weekend in Palma de Mallorca, which is actually a destination I’m hoping to get to in 2013.

Castles and classical Spanish architecture combine to give Palma elegance, with just a hint of ‘the Riviera’ as yachts glisten and bob in the blue harbour waters. The ancient historic centre boasts Arab baths and the Museum of Contemporary Art, showing Miro, Dali and Picasso. Palma is a fantastic place to bring the whole family. Kids will love a day at Aqualand Water Park or Marineland zoo, while adults can try a spot of sailing or windsurfing.

Alternatively, spend your days languishing on the beautiful Ciudad Jardin beach with its soft white sand, or on Cala Major beach whose waters are clear as crystal.  At night, as the city lights twinkle, visit the famous Abaco cocktail bar in a former coaching house in the old town. There, every Friday at 11.30pm, fresh rose petals fall from a hidden balcony above a magnificent stone fireplace to the sound of classical Spanish music.

This post was made possible by Skyscanner, but all opinions are my own.

Sleeping in Spain: A Guide to Accommodation (and 30€ Voucher Giveaway!)

If there’s one thing that’s weathering the Spanish economic downturn (no doubt tied to the weather itself), it’s the tourism industry. Accounting for nearly 11% of 2012’2 GDP, Spain constantly pushes the envelope within the tourism industry and has grown to be the second-largest in the world!

Where will you be pillow hugging tonight?

One aspect that sets Spain apart is its ample offering of accommodation and luxury brands. Iberostar, Melià and Bareclò hotels are considered some of the best brands in the world, and backpackers can find a haven nestled on cobblestone streets or just steps from a private beach. Still, in an ever-changing industry, there’s quite a bit of confusion as to each type of accommodation, and sometimes where to find it at an affordable price (don’t worry, there’s an entrance to a voucher at the end of this explanation!).

The view from the rooftop bar at Seville’s Hotel EME.

Hotels, like in any country of the world, are plentiful and of varying quality. There’s also been a recent surge of new hotels offering boutique accommodation, quirky decor and plenty of character. Spain’s tourism board has instituted a nationwide ranking, using the Q of quality and between 1 and 5 stars. Hotels are marker with a white H and the ranking below. High season is during the summer months, local festivals and Christmas time, so expected steeper prices and less availability.

The Spanish government now controls a network of historic buildings converted into luxury hotels, called paradores. From castles to convents, a night in the sumptuous lodging will typically run you more than an average hotel, but booking during the low season can ensure a one-of-a-kind experience in a historically important building.

Tiles on the outdoor terrace of the parador in Carmona, Andalusia.

Hostels and Albergues  are often considered a common type of backpacker accommodation, they are as varied as one could imagine. Typically, they can be found in city centers and offer beds in shared or private accommodation, shared bathrooms and common areas such as living rooms, rooftop terraces or kitchens. Most beds in a shared dorm are less than 20€ a night, making it an ideal place to meet other travelers through free events and walking tours.

A typical dorm room in hostels. This one is Grand Luxe in Seville.

Slightly nicer than hostels, pensions (pensiones) are more budget-friendly than hotels and are typically smaller, too. Most similar to boarding houses, one can expect loads of hospitality and often meals!

Thanks to Spain’s varied landscape, rural accommodations are becoming popular, particularly for families wishing to escape city life.

A bed at Almohalla 51, a luxury rural house in Archidona, Spain

Apartment Stays are also becoming a popular way to live like a local in larger cities. Available for days, weeks or months, a piso turístico will allow travelers the privacy of their own space while having access to amenities. Typical rates for a month can be between 500 – 800€, depending on the season.

Camping remains a cheap and popular option for staying in Spain, particularly on the coast. Rates are low, even during the summer season, and most offer on-site food and washing facilities.

No joke, I spent a night here in the Islas Cies.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in a tent on the pristine Playa de Rodas in Galicia, an ancient piso in front of the Basilica Santa María del Mar in Barcelona and a friendly pensión within earshot of the tingling churchbells of Santa María la Blanca in Seville. My head has rested in sumptuous hotels from Toledo to Valladolid, as well as old fortresses, which is why I’m excited to present you all with my newest giveaway.

I’m teaming up with Your Spain Hostel to offer a giveaway of a 30€ voucher to be used on Your Spain Hostel on any property in any city you’re interested in visiting in Spain. Simply enter by leaving your email address and telling me in the comments where you’d like to travel to in Spain should you win the voucher (extra points if you send a postcard!), or otherwise!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

From a bungalow on the beaches of Ibiza to a casa rural in Cangas de Onís, Your Spain Hostel is your one-stop destination for unique and quality accommodation around Spain. The site also provides discounts on tours, entrance to sites, food and even taxi pick-up! You can win extra entries by following both Your Spain Hostel and Sunshine and Siestas on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy travels for 2013! Where are you headed, and where do you like to rest your head at the end of a long day of tourism and tapas? Got any great recs?

 

LUXE: Seville’s Luxury Hostel

When  I first moved to La Hispalense, I was in touch with Shawn, the woman behind Seville Tapas Tours, about an apartment. The balcony overlooked the bustling Mateos Gago Street and was within earshot of the Giralda’s massive church bells. I could image the smell of orange blossoms wafting into my bedroom window at night as the sounds below lulled me to sleep, but the apartment was not meant to be. Living right in the middle of the historic quarter would have been lovely, but perhaps a bit noisy.

When visiting, my friends who prefer to stay in the city center always look for a place near the Cathedral for its proximity to tapas bars and attractions. Tucked into a side street just steps off of the Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes is Grand Luxe Hostel, a hostel concept offering premium accomodation in the middle of Spain’s most vibrant city.

The cobblestoned alleyway leads you to the heavy wooden door of Grand Luxe Hostel. The building, restored in the late 19th Century, is modern and fully-quipped, featuring in-suite bathrooms and rooms especially for families. Grand Luze features 64 for beds in a mix of private double, mixed dorms, girls-only dorms and private twin, all at afforable prices right in the heart of Seville’s quaint Santa Cruz neighborhood.

The building has several ammenities – such as an elevator, free wi-fi, a kitchen with complmentary breakfast, and even free gym access at nearby Cuesta Sport in the morning. What’s more, the open areas are comfy and condusive for mingling.

Owner Kate’s eye for design makes the space modern, bright and fun, while the building still retains its charm. In each room, guests enjoy free reading lamps, personal cubbies and private lockers.

The hostel’s best kept secret? The terrace views of the Cathedral and Giralda, which can be enjoyed with a complimentary glass of wine at dusk. The hostel is a prefect jumping off point for Seville’s famous nightlife – great tapas bars, flamenco peñas and cocktail bars are only a stone’s throw away from Grand Luxe, and it’s also within walking distance of the bus station for a quick getaway.

Owners José Luis and Kate

Rooms and bed are available from December 16th, 2012. You can find LUXE on Hostelworld, Hostelbookers or their personal website. They’ve also got a Facebook page, or you can look them up on twitter at @grandluxehostel.

I was not compensated in any way for this article. All views and opinions are my own.

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