Photo Post: Ronda and its Picturesque Historic Center

I roused Laura awake. Due to a miscommunication on exactly when her plane touched down in Seville (a day later than I had expected), I was behind in showing her my Spain. I dragged her out of bed, handed her a towel and a mug of coffee and announced Sunday’s destination: Ronda.

Visits to Ronda

Laura had two requirements for a day trip: somewhere quaint and within two hours by car. The beauty of owning a car in Spain – despite being a bottomless money pit – is that destinations that are out-of-the-way or not-traversed-by-public-transportation or too-long-on-the-bus-when-jet-lagged are suddenly on your list.

As the jewel of the typical white villages of Cádiz and Málaga, Ronda and Setenil de las Bodegas were close enough to hit while Laura dozed in the car.

Balconies in Ronda Spain

As the jewel in the crown of Andalucía’s famous pueblos blancos, Ronda hardly qualifies as a pueblo with 35,000 inhabitants. A city made famous in For Whom the Bell Tolls and a favorite hangout of Orson Wells and Washington Irving, it certainly earns its reputation for being one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. I’d visited once in late 2007, long before I knew enough Spanish to enjoy myself, istead stressing over what my family would have for lunch.

But despite its fame and touristic draw, there are still pockets of the city that are devoid of overpriced restaurants and their poorly translated menus, of souvenir shops and of cheesy museums (those things are thankfully clustered around the Puente Nuevo bridge that spans the Guadalevín river gorge). We stopped at a local restaurant, far from the sites, for cheap raciones of huevos estrellados and solomillo as soon as we arrived. Because, jet lag is a bitch and food in Spain is cheap and bountiful in villages.

Elbowing past a few British tourists staggering off a bus, no doubt on a day trip from Málaga capital, we began at the Alameda del Tajo. Rising out of the mountains, the surrounding countryside alternates greens and blues, yellow sunflower fields and stark grain groves.

Ronda countryside

puente nuevo ronda

The Bridge in Ronda

views of the countryside Ronda

Rumor has it that Nationalist sympathizers were thrown to their deaths off of the sides of the bridge, falling 120 meters into the rocky canyon. Laura and I had a coffee after lunch at a nearby café, and as I told her the legend, her eyes grew wide and she backed her chair a little further away from the edge.

But, man, what a view on the way down.

After years of friendship – we’ve known each other since age 14! – Laura and I strolled the Casco Antiguo, catching up on her new job, her upcoming travels and my wedding plans. In a place as old as Ronda with an old friend, everything felt new as I sought to explore Andalucía a bit more.

Ronda Old Town

walking around Ronda

My MUST-dos in Ronda

See: The old part of town is fairly walkable – it’s paved with cobblestones but mostly flat. Be sure to take in the famous bridge, the outside of bullring and the churches and plazas on the east side of the Puente Viejo.

Chow: Food in the Serranía de Málaga is pretty much what you’d expect: hearty meats, stews and plenty of vegetables. We had lunch somewhere on Calle Jerez at a small bar that smelled good, though the roadside ventas are never a bad idea if you’re looking for solid price-quality eats. You can find them on the way in and out of town.

Sip: Have a coffee or drink at the Parador, housed in the old town hall and teetering on the edge of the gorge. It will cost you, but the views of the Puente Nuevo are worth the mark up.

Skip: The old Arabic baths (particularly if you’re going elsewhere in Andalucía) and the bull ring. While gorgeous and the first to stage modern bullfights, the visit isn’t worth the 7€ price tag – spend that money on another beer at the Parador instead!

Have you ever been to Ronda or the Pueblos Blancos? Have car, will travel with my foreign travel slump!

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. 

Logo TNS-01

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.

Photo Post: La Hermandad Rociera de Triana and the Pilgrimage to El Rocío

“No, no, no,” Lucía shook her head fiercely as curls of white smoke escaped from her lips. “You shouldn’t be in Cerro de Águila by yourself. Crime is rampant over there.”

That following morning at the Novio’s new house in Cerro, I was woken up by the fourth-floor shaking as what sounded like a loud pop boomed throughout. I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me.

Turns out the potential guns from the ‘crime capital’ of Seville were actually noisemakers of the neighborhood’s religious brotherhood.

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Fifty days after Resurrection Sunday, those faithful to the Virgen del Rocío (which is practically all of Southern Spain) make a pilgrimage towards La Aldea, a small hamlet full of stately mansions and dirt roads. The striking hermitage – a grandiose white mirage set at the southern edge of la Aldea with views to the marshes of Doñana National Park – was first built on the supposed spot where Alfonso the Wise found an effigy of the Virgin Mother. Today, it’s popular for its most raucous fiesta in the middle of the springtime. 

Seville counts five hermandades – Savlador and Triana are the most famous – whose numbers are staggering. On the Wednesday before Pentecost Sunday, covered wagons pulled by oxen, horses or even tractors set out towards the Almonte and la Aldea, following a silver-laden carriage with an image of the Rocío known as a simpecado. For many of the devout, this spiritual cleansing, characterized by sleeping and eating outdoors, song and dance and prayer, is the most important part.

IMG_4878

When I worked in Olivares, many of my students went missing in the days leading up to El Rocío and the days surrounding Pentecost. I had a handful named Rocío or Paloma in homenage to the Virgin Mary who, quite possible, is the most revered in Andalucía. 

Few things get me out of bed before 8am, but today I was already out the door at that time, Camarón fully charged and ready to shoot (the cohetes would have woken me up regardless). Mass at the chapel on calle Evangelista began at 7:30am, and the simpecado, preceeded by horses and pilgrims, left shortly thereafter. In the past, the carretas that carry supplied for the ten-day pilgrimage were allowed to traverse Triana, but city ordinance now mandate that the wagons start from Plaza Chapina at the northern end of the neighborhood.

romeros ready for El Rocio

Devout pilgrims at el Rocio

Romeros on Calle Pureza Triana

I followed the crowd to Calle Pureza and the door of the Esperanza de Triana church. Here, in one of the most emblematic monuments of the barrio, the simpecado would pass, the devout would pray and the pilgrimage would truly begin.

Perched on the curb just opposite the gleaming white temple, itself a nod to its marisma counterpart 70 kilometers west, I watched as romeros – the name for pilgrims around these parts – flooded the streets. Men wear straw hats and women don flamenco dresses that are easier to walk in, all clutching medals that bear the Virgen del Rocío.

Rocio Fashion 2015

carretas of El Rocio

Gitanas El Rocio

A three-piece band led the procession. Sevillanas with a twist, rocieras use a cane and a bass drum instead of cajas and flutes in place of guitars, and singers belt out songs proclaiming the glory of the Blanca Paloma. Behind them came romeros on horseback and the image of the Virgen herself.

music of el Rocio

prensa en el rocio

Triana to El Rocio on horseback

romeros
Romeros de Triana 2015

Calle Pureza during El Rocio

El Rocio passing by the Esperanza de Triana

Once the simpecado had reached the door of the church, pulled by two oxen, a man on horseback removed his had and, red faced, began to rally.¡Viva La Virgen del Rocío! ¡Viva la Blanca Paloma!¡Viva la Marismeña! Each battle cry was followed by a hearty ¡Viva! 

“¡Y Viva Triana! ¡Viva Triana! ¡Viva Triana!”

Salida del Simpecado Rociero

 

Everyone around me erupted into song as petals were thrown from the roof of the church. While El Rocío has a steady dose of hedonism, the true root of the festival lies in soul-stirring devotion. I felt moved in the same way that Semana Santa touched me. People stopped shoving and began to cry, crossing themselves as they proclaimed that only in Heaven is the Virgen del Rocío more loved.

Want to read more about the festival? I attended the Pentecost Sunday activities –¡vestida de gitana! – in 2012.

Three Reasons Why Seville is a Foodie Haven

“So we’re initially going to just be making plans for cervezas and tapas, correct?” One of my closest friends was just a few weeks away from his trip, and he’d planned the itinerary for me: a week of eating, drinking and catching up (and that’s just what we did!). 

Spain's best city for Foodies

When it comes to showing friends, family and even readers my adopted city, they see less of the city’s monuments and off-the-beaten track gems, and far more grubby old man bars and fancy gastropubs than museums. My heart is happiest when my belly’s been wined and dined, and I love sharing Seville’s food culture with them.

I’ve eaten my way through Spain, from gastronomic sweetheart San Sebastián to family farms in Málaga, and Seville remains my favorite food city in all of Spain for three very important reasons.

Variety of Choices

If variety is the spice of life, Seville can only be described as zesty. Apart from the serving sizes and types of eateries, the sheer number of bars is dizzying.

While it would be impossible to count the number of bars in the city, figures tend to land in the 4,500 – 6,000 range when it comes to establishments for a bite or sip. Even if I wanted to try every single one, from the hole-in-the-wall abacerías to the Michelin-lauded gastro experience, it would take me years. And the question I get most from my readers, ‘Where should I eat in Seville?’ is harder to answer than you’d think. 

Devour Seville Tours

Taking a mid-morning tapas tour with Devour Seville, a food tour company with operations in four Spanish cities confirmed that. In fact, Lauren and I mused about other places that Devour Seville could have included on their four-hour tour through Seville’s central neighborhoods. Andalucía flamboyant capital has no shortage of choices, and tour guides are even thrilled to make recommendations for dinner. 

So, choice is a factor, but it gets even trickier from there. Bar or restaurant? Sit down or stand up? Trendy gastrobar or traditional tavern? Should we split large plates, or have everyone get their own tapas? And just how hungry are we?

What sets Andalusian cities apart from their northern counterparts in many cases is the serving size options you’re allowed. Lauren explained that the word tapa – Spanish cuisine’s most global export – has several different origins, though the most common is that bartenders would plop a morsel of food on a thin-lipped sherry glass to keep out fruit flies. This practice, said to have come from Seville’s little sister city of Jerez, is one of the easiest ways to sample and share food. If you’re hungrier, choose a ración or media ración.

seville sandwich city

And, of course, then you have to pare down a menu and decide what to eat and what to drink. The tour had several Andalusian hallmarks but left behind the tortilla, huevos estrellados and gazpacho. After a morning of chowing down, we’d tried eight different dishes, each with a backstory of is origin and the establishment that served it.

Arabic, Roman Influence on Cuisine

In the middle of the morning, Lauren led us to a cluster of churches in the heart of Barrio Santa Cruz. Once a pocket of the city where Jews, Moors and Christians mingled and traded freely, there are traces of culture on every block and hidden beneath the citrus fruit trees that perfume the city and the almond trees planted further east.

Their sugar and egg pastries are baked in convents around the city (many made with oranges, lemons or almonds!), and though Spanish baked goods don’t do much for me, the naranjines we tried were actually sweet with a touch of citrus!

Convent Sweets in Seville

Additonally, Seville was truly the gateway to the New World and Africa, with ships coming and going from the port and bringing products from far off lands. The city grew fat off of riches from its discoveries before the gold and silver was taken to Madrid on the Via de la Plata, but the gastronomic heritage remained.

After a pit stop for a few sips of orange-infused wine, we walked through the city’s historic quarter and into the once-gritty El Arenal neighborhood, where ships were repaired as they unloaded their goodies. The New World brought the tomatoes from your gazpacho, the chocolate you dip your churros into and the potatoes served with just about everything from montaditos to meat dishes.

Typical Taverns in Seville

Another fascinating tidbit of local history lies in the twelve city gates that once punctuated the walled city. As we walked under the Postigo del Carbón, Lauren gave us a run-down of other food-monikered doors to the city, like meat and olive oil. By this time, we’d snacked and tried several sorts of drinks, but we’d worked up enough of an appetite for the main course: tapas.

Walkability

I felt like we walked less on the Devour Seville tour than my previous taste tests with them in Madrid and Barcelona, but Seville is the longest tour! Even after winding through the streets of Encarnación, Santa Cruz and Arenal for four hours, I felt strong enough to have one last beer with another tour-goer at primetime on a sunny Friday!

Walking in Central Seville

All of my guests are surprised at how easy it is to walk around Seville – even if getting lost in the winding, cobblestone alleyways is part of the experience. The city sits at 11m above sea level and there’s one ‘hill’ in the whole place! 

Besides, Seville is beautiful, between the tucked-away plazas and tiled entranceways, so it’s easy to be entranced.

How to Tapear in Seville

A true tapas tour doesn’t just settle for one eatery – it’s quite normal for the hungry to go from bar to bar, ordering one drink and one plate before moving on to the next. And don’t expect to sit down at a table. Most tapas bars allow you (or force you if it’s that popular) to eat at the bar itself, giving you the chance to bark your order to the waitstaff without flagging down a frazzled waiter. Bonus points for the bar if they tally your tab in chalk right next to your plates.

Seville Food Tour Samplings

The bars clustered around the city center should be your focus if you’re visiting Seville – check out the bull meat entrées served in El Arenal, choose international dishes and Spanish favorites around El Centro, and opt for al fresco dining in La Alameda.

Be aware that many bars will not have English translations, and if they do, they’ll often leave you just as confused (seriously, I once saw ratatouille listed as ‘tomatoes attacked by angry vegetables’). Start by ordering a few plates – you can always get more if you’re still hungry.

On a Food Tour in Seville

If you’re overwhelmed, leave it to the experts at Devour Seville. This four-hour tour will have you sampling eight dishes, which is enough to feel satisfied without being stuffed. The guides are knowledgable and personable. Prices start at 65€ for their Tastes, Tapas & Traditions tour.

Devour Seville allowed me to tag along on their inaugural tour, though all opinions are my own. I’m a big fan of their mission – to use local vendors and provide customers with a taste of Spain – and their excellently assembled tours!

Have you ever eaten in Seville? What are your favorite places to chow down?

I’ve got loads about food in Seville, from Tapa Thursdays, which highlight foods and restaurants, to recommendations on where to eat in town. My instagram is also full of food and beer photos with fancy filters – follow me!

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