Wine Tasting for Dummies: An Afternoon with With Locals in Spain

“Wine snobbery is ruining the pure pleasure of a nice glass of wine,” Adolfo remarked as he poured us a young Verdejo from Northern Spain. “You like what you like, period.”

We studied the color of the pale yellow liquid before sloshing it around a tasting glass and lifting it to our noses. I don’t pretend to be a wine snob or even to know much about it, but after spending the afternoon sampling wine in Adolfo’s living room, I was convinced that I never would be nor need to be a wine snob.

Wine Tasting for Dummies

Adolfo’s three-hour introduction to wine paired with tapas – plus a short tour around the center of quaint Utrera – was part of the WithLocals experience I was invited to attend. An initiative that began in Asian countries before expanding to Spain and now Italy, WithLocals connects travelers with locals in tourist destinations with the aim of providing organic experiences, from cooking lessons to hikes to excursions from big cities.

In the spirit of full discolsure: I was skeptical about paying someone to spend a few hours with me, especially having been approached as a potential host. But peer-to-peer platforms like AirBnB, BlaBla Car and Couchsurfing have become some of my go-tos for saving money while traveling as well as a way to forge connections with locals, plus learning about wine is something I’d spring to experience (and pay for!) in another country. I have become increasingly disillusioned with tours and operators, but wanted to give wine (and a company in its infant stages in Spain) its fair chance.

how to open a wine bottle correctly

Adolfo called to us from his balcony, which looked over a street appropriately named for a type of regional wine. Part of the WithLocals philosophy dictates that events be held in hosts’ homes whenever possible, so a table was set with three tasting glasses, a few tapas and the tools of the trade were set in his living room. I brought along my friend Hayley, a wine drinker far more experienced than myself in the grape and its magical properties (magic, as in, turning sugar into alcohol, of course).

I’ve been to a few tastings – in family-run bodegas that sell al granel in DO Jumilla, in world famous wineries in La Rioja and even in a fancy wine shop in Seville, but I’d rarely learned much past the three-step tasting process. See, smell, sip and repeat until your brain’s a bit hazy and it’s time for a tapa.

verdejo wines Spain

Adolfo changed all of that: as an apasionado for wine whose hobby has become a lifestyle and job, Hayley and I fired off questions about soil conditions, favorite denominaciones de origen and how to find a decent bottle in a supermarket without knowing about that year’s harvest. Our host knew more than the number of ‘sommeliers’ and winemakers I’d drank wine with, but was quick to tell us his dismay for people using wine as a status symbol (to which I snuff, ponme otra cervecita, por favor). 

The Verdejo was crisp and, though I couldn’t snuff out the banana peel undertones in the smell, refreshing. We snacked on salty anchovies with avocado and onion puree between sips. What struck me was that we could have a normal conversation as friends once we’d sipped the first glass and discussed the mechanics of the fermentation process, how to tell when wine has lost its quality and why some bottles slope and others don’t. We were one glass in, and I’d already learned more than my brain could hold. 

tasting wine with locals in Spain

Spain still pits Rioja against Ribera as far as favorites, much in the way it does with fútbol, so Adolfo skipped the vino heavyweights in favor of a crianza from a little-known region tucked between Alicante and La Mancha, Utiel-Requeña. I’d never even heard of it, much less tried it.

Plates of chorizo, cheese and salchichón appeared as the cork was popped, revealing a faded crimson ring. The glug, glug and slight ring of the liquid against the glass preceded a sip and slosh around our palates, and I went so far as to try and gargle like the sommeliers do (it sounds weird, but the bubbling reveals even more tastes buried deep in the mouthful!).

Typical Spanish Charcuterie

We’d then try a grandaddy Rioja and compare the two tintos in color, smell and taste. I began to smell the earthy wood undertones and hint of black pepper as my sinus cavity cleared up and reminded my brain of the properties of a strong wine that had been aged for two years and then bottled for two more before entering the market. 

In the wake of turning 30, my mom reminded me that age is like fine wine, and Adolfo had saved the best for us to drink with duck paté and strawberry jam: a wine he’d inherited from his uncle from 2002. Even though wines depreciate depending on their aging process, the murky brown liquid still tasted amazing.

Three hours later, we sipped a sweet Pedro Ximénez from nearby Jerez, brains as full as our bellies.

How to Taste Wine:

Most everyone knows that wine tastings have three parts: first you check out the color, then provide a preview for your tastebuds by sniffing inside the glass before finally tasting the wine. But I’ll go further:

tasting wine with With Locals in Spain

Open the bottle correctly. Some restaurants will cut the aluminum cap that protects the cork right near the top, but you should do so under the lip of the bottle. Better yet, press firmly on the cap to pull the aluminum upwards in one piece.

Pour less than one fluid ounce into a proper tasting glass. Glasses should grow thinner at the top to help aromas reach your nose, and while stemless glasses are gorgeous, your hand can heat the wine and distorte its properties slightly.

Remember that red wines have varying properties, so know the differences between joven, crianza, and reserva when tasting Spanish varieties. Everything from the color to the depreciation and especially the taste will vary. Joven wines are very rarely aged in oak barrels, whereas crianzas will have spent 6 months in barrel of its two years aging. Reserva are aged longer in both bottle and barrel. So, the 2010 reserva we tried had spent two years in barrel and two more in bottle before being labelled for sale, but the joven we tried wasn’t half bad because it came from a reputable bodega.

Wine Tasting with Plus Vino Sevilla

The olfactory phase is the most important, Adolfo tells us, because our tastebuds can only perceive sweet, sour, salty and acidic. The nose can sense the nuances of flavors are snuffed out at this phase, and this is why you’re encouraged to move the liquid around in the glass. Take your time.

When you’re ready to taste, don’t swallow right away. Slosh the wine around in your mouth the get the full sensory experience.

If you’re trying more than one wine, pour 15-20 milliliters of the next wine you’ll be trying into the used glass, swirl it around and dump into a recipient.

Most importantly – don’t get snobby about wine. Everything about wine – from the soil from which the grapes grow to the content of the cork – is a science, so just open a bottle you like and enjoy it!

With Locals invited Hayley and me to be guests for the WithLocals wine experience in Utrera. All opinions expressed are my own – I like my opinions as pure as my vinate. Be sure to check out With Locals’s page for more inspiration, as well as Adolfo’s YouTube channel about everything in the Mundo de Vino.

What’s your favorite Spanish wine, and where do you buy it? Sound off in the comments below, and I’ll get down to the task.

Tapa Thursday: Tasting Jerez de la Frontera

I’ll admit it – I have a big ol’ crush on Jerez de la Frontera.

While Seville swoons, Jerez pokes and teases, yet always entices. It moves slower. It seems to stay for just one more round of ‘la penúltima.’ Jerez knows how to party, but it also knows how to stop and smell the sherry.

And at just an hour car ride south of La Hispalense, it’s easy to cheat on Seville with Jeré.


No stranger to Spanish wine culture, Jerez – along with El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – make up the Sherry Triangle and produce white wine of the same name. I discovered the Feria de la Vendimia thanks to Devour Spain‘s monthly newsletter, and though we’d missed the grape stomping and the sherry cooking classes, there was still one lingering activity on a sunny Saturday late in the summer: the Feria Gastronómica.

Feria de la Vendimia Jerez

Set in a shady plaza sandwiched between the Alcázar fortress and world-famous González Byass Wineries, nearly two dozen tents offered special tapas and a drink for 3.50€ under caseta tents. Rather than do a lap, we beelined straight to a brightly colored bar at the west end of the square. Being hangry is a good enough excuse for me to follow my nose and tummy into a tent.

Jerezano cuisine is similar to that of Seville, but because the province of Cádiz boasts both sea and fertile terrain, there is more fresh fish and seafood, plus heartier meats. The Bahía de Cádiz is famed for Almendraba tuna and bull meat, called retinto. While it would have been easy to choose croquetas and solomillo, I was determined to choose tapas that were more regional.

Here’s what we devoured:

Pepe Limon Sherry Spritzer

While I’ve become a sherry convert thanks to the Feria de Sevilla, my friends find it too bitter. Pepelimón is the newest product from the makers of a fino variety called Tío Pepe that is half fino, half 100% lemon juice. Like rebujito, it’s sweet and potent (and don’t fret, I had a glass of sherry after we’d eaten).

Destraperlo beer Jerez

Craft beer is on the rise in Spain (admit you just did a fist pump), and Jerez has a new kid on the block, Destraperlo. Irene invited us in for free samples of their pilsner and red brands. La birra más burra es muy buena – it’s got more body than local favorite Cruzcampo, but with less bite than an IPA, making it just right for the Spanish palate. 

Ensaladilla de Pulpo

Thirst quenched, we stuck around in the Guardia de Ángel tent for ensaladilla del pulpo. Octopus is one of those Spanish foods that I would have never thought I’d like, but mixed with mayonnaise and paprika, the salty taste was too overwhelming.

Albondigas de Atun

Sticking with seafood, I nabbed some albóndigas de atún con queso payoyo with homemade tomato sauce. Both alemndraba tuna and Payoyo cheese are native to Cádiz, and this was indeed the star dish of the day.

eggplant tapa in Spain

The berenjena con queso de cabra carmelizada en Pedro Ximénez came recommended at Bar Papanata’s tent. Washed down with sherry, of course!

Sampling sherry in Jerez de la Frontera

Realizing we’d only been on one side of the food fair, we got one more drink at Restaurante Bar Gula. I wanted to try the hamburguesa de retinto, a bull’s meat burger, but we opted for croquetas de tomate y albahaca con jamón and a chicken satay (hey, when you find international food in Andalucía, you order it!). 

After five tapas a piece, we were stuffed!

Croquetas in Jerez

That day was one of those typical Andalusian Saturdays where you look at your watch and ask, wait! Where did the time go? Between catching up on our summers, sampling tapas and ordering another round, it was suddenly after 5pm and time for merienda.

Spanish desserts and I broke up a long time ago, and Jerez’s dessert game seemed a little off (we were so desperate we hiked to a Foster’s Hollywood, the most jankity Friday’s you can imagine, to find it closed). We settled on cakes from a pastelería.

oreo cake

While Jerez’s food culture isn’t terribly different from Seville’s, I can never resist a decent food festival, especially when all of the bars are clumped together.

While Jerez may not be the food mecca, I have a feeling that Sevill’s kid brother might soon have its swan song.

Logo TNS-01

I visited Jerez’s Feria de la Vendimia with Caser Expat Insurance’s Typical NonSpanish project. All opinions and extra calories are my own.

Have you ever been to a Food Festival in Spain?

Photo Post: Moroccan Art and Architecture at the Fundación de las Tres Culturas

The legacy of the 1992 World Expo has certainly left its mark on Seville – the high speed AVE train was inaugurated to bring visitors to the Andalusian capital and, along with it, loads of tourist dollars. For six months, millions of patrons streamed through Isla de la Cartuja, a sliver of land between the Guadalquivir and the canal and into over 100 country-represented pavilions and themes.

The Legacy of the 1992 Expo Seville

I could see the remnants of many of those buildings 25 years after the doors shut when I moved to Seville, and most had since fallen into disrepair or repurposed as government buildings. I’d often use the empty space to run, dodging weeds and broken glass on uneven pavement.

Once of the few permanent structures is the Pabellón de Marruecos, a gleaming gem of architecture and Moroccan handiwork that site between the Cartuja Monastery, Science and Discovery pavilions. Funded by the Moroccan king and gifted to Rey Juan Carlos I as a sign of cooperation, the structure is extravagent

I’d been past the Pabellón countless times, intrigued by a seemingly new building free of overgrown weeds and graffiti. Thanks to a tweet, the occupants of the building, Fundación Tres Culturas del Mediterráneo, invited me to a free guided tour. 


I arrived by bike as Toñi was beginning the tour at the building’s exterior. Based on an eight-point star, and shaped as thus I was amazed at the inclusion of so many hallmarks of Arabic, Mudéjar and Islamaic architecture, from the arches that led into the atrium to the outdoor fountain that once pumped gallons of water through the space. 

The striking glass wall is meant to represent Morocco’s entrance into the 21st Century.

Sunshine on the Pabellon de Marruecos

All of the work on the pavilion was designed and overseen by Hassan II, and the extensive artwork inside mirrors traditional procedures – including the eggshell plaster in the basement! While the nearby Alcázar palace is a lesson in grandeur, the Morocco Pavilion feels refreshingly modern while tipping its hat to an extensive cultural heritage (plus, patrons are encouraged to touch everything!). From wood to plaster to tile, I wandered from room to room flabbergasted at the symbolism and beauty of every room.

This is one of those places you’ve got to see to believe, so I’ll show you:

detail of Moroccan Pavilion of 92 Expo

Moroccan Lute

Moroccan Art on Display in Seville

Sumptuous Basement of the Fundacion Tres Culturas Sevillla

A visit to Fundacion Tres Culturas Sevilla

Eight pointed Star of Islam

The visit begins in the lower level, “an oasis” as Tonñi explains, going as far as pointing out that there are palm trees carved into the support pillars, just like in a desert oasis. With soft colors and devoid of mentions of idols or gods, the central fountain is surrounded by wood and plaster reliefs.

The sumptuous main hall gets all of the glory – this is where conferences, concerts and even fashion shows are held – but the underground room is calming and striking.

Fundacion Tres Culturas Cupula

Grand Hall and Fountain Fundacion Tres Culturas Sevilla

Great Hall Moroccan Pavilion Expo 92

arches and sunlight

Moroccan woodworking

Moroccan Tile Work

I asked my boss that afternoon if she’d gone to the Expo when she was younger. “Why yes!” she said, eyes lit as she slammed an open palm on my desk. “I was a tour guide – microphone and all! – and got to go to all of the pavillions!” When I mentioned I’d been in Morocco’s earlier than day, she through her head back and waxed poetic about the fluffy couscous that was served on the third floor’s exclusive restaurant.

Moroccan Restaurant Expo 92 Sevilla

Remaining Pavilions from the 92 Expo

Old and New in La Cartuja

To me, the Fundación Tres Culturas bridged more than the past and the future – it bridges cultures and understanding. The Alcázar, the Mezquita and the Alhambra appear dormant compared with a breathing organism dedicated to preserving Spain’s three historic cultures.

The Fundación de las Tres Culturas del Mediterráneo is open daily to members, with free guided tours being given on Tuesday mornings at 11am through their online booking system. Concerts, Arabic and Hebrew classes and conferences are among their other cultural offerings, and they boast an extensive library with free membership.

This coming Wednesday and Thursday, the Fundación Tres Culturas will be hosting a benefit event for Syrian refugees. Listen to Syrian music and watch whirling dervishes in the main hall of the Fundación. Tickets are 10€ and 100% of the proceeds go to the Centro Española de Atención al Refugiado in their effort to aid refugees. For more information and tickets, check their page. They’ll also be participating in Friday’s Noche en Blanco Sevilla, providing free evening tours until the wee hours.

My Seville Superlatives: The Best of the Andalusian Capital

I’ve lived (in Triana and Cerro. a World Cup. the Tomatina). I’ve loved (teaching. long nights. tostadas. the Novio). And I’ve learned (how to fake your way to anyhing by playing the guiri card, mostly).

And after eight years as a sevillamericana – September 13th is my eight Spaniversary! – I think I can call myself a Seville expert. In a city as rancio as this one, two years as a guiri resident means you know the city like the back of your hand – or at least the back bar of Buddha.

The Best of the Best

And thus, dear readers, I present my curated collection of the Best of the Best, in an order as random as the streets of Santa Cruz:

Best Place to Watch a Sunset: As the popular song goes, El sol duerme in Triana y nace en Santa Cruz. My favorite place to see the sun go down is on the banks of the Guadalquivir with a clear view to the Triana bridge that links the city center to my neighborhood. There are loads of bars that way, as well.

seville guadalquivir river

Best Terrace Bar: As long as we’re talking about bars, rooftop bars got hella trendy right about the time I stopped paying rent by moving in with the Novio. This meant I had disposable income that went straight to having fun on the weekends, and I still love one of the first I went to: The Roof on Calle Trajano. Trendy and reasonably priced (as in, 7€ for a G&T instead of 10€), plus with views to the Setas and the Cathedral.

Best Scoop of Ice Cream: Ice cream shops abound, but my favorite is La Fiorentina on Calle Zaragoza. Who can resist cream of torrijas (a Spanish French Toast) or lemon with mint sorbet?

ice cream at La Fiorentina Seville

Best Park: María Luisa is charming and has a bunch of resident pigeons, but Parque del Alamillo is sprawling and includes a zip line and far less flying rats.

Best Local Festival: If you’ve read my blog long enough, you’ll know the cattle fair-turned Andalusian showcase the Feria de Abril is my favorite, but I’ll give the Velá de Santa Ana and Holy Week a nod, too.

La Feria en Crisis

Best Tourist Attraction: Ooh, my first tough question, but I’m going to say Plaza de España. It’s free, always open and is a special part of Seville’s history. Built nearly a century ago by famed sevillano architect Aníbal González, the tiles, benches and moats were the focal point of the 1929 Ibero-American Fair.

Best Museum: I love a good museum, and Seville is bursting with them. Seriously – this city is 2000 years old! From Flamenco to Fine Arts, ceramics to horse carriages. Espacio Santa Clara isn’t technically a museum, but hosts exhibitions throughout the year in an old nunnery. Find it near the Alameda in the Macarena neighborhood.

Espacio Santa Clara Fountain Seville

Best Museum You’ve Never Heard Of: I’ve heard of it but haven’t been, and my friend Karen McCann of Enjoy Living Abroad loves it: The Science Museum, or Parque María Luisa’s Casa de la Sciencia, which she lovingly calls the Little Museum of Horrors!

Best Tourist Attraction to Skip and Spend that Money on Beer: I mean, I would say the Cathedral because often skip taking people in, despite it being free for me, but the Giralda is worthy of you 10€ (or for far less, you can scale the Setas in an elevator for a view that includes the famous tower). The Torre del Oro and it seafaring museum are largely disappointing, and the view from the top isn’t any better from it because of large plexiglass barriers.

Bike Tour Torre del Oro

Or, just grab a liter of beer and sit underneath the Torre del Oro, taking in the sunset (see what I did there?)

Best Cruzcampo Bar: Loaded question. It seems that, in Seville, you’re never more than 100 feet from a bar or an ATM, and the question of who has the best pour is largely debated. I’ll go with my perennial favorite, La Grande in Triana, or nodescript La Melva in Sector Sur, and also give a shout to El Tremendo in Santa Catalina.

drinking beer in spain

Best Plaza for People Watching: Spanish abuelitos stalk Plaza Nueva, just adjacent to Avenida de la Constitución and town hall. You can also watch street performers, witness weddings and join in protests.

Best Plaza for Beer Drinking: While I think there is nothing greater than drinking a beer outside on a sunny day, I often take guests to Plaza del Salvador to stand beneath a salmon pink church that’s centrally located.

Best Chocolate con Churros: Churros on a Sunday morning are one of my treasured traditions, and none are as good as the ones at Bar La Rueca in Plaza del Juncal. It’s a trek unless you’re in Nervión.

best churros in Seville

Best Barrio: Crowing a neighborhood as queen of them all is difficult because of taste. I’m partial to a few for their cultural and gastronomical offering, and am a big fan of mi querida Triana. I also like bullfighting neighborhood El Arenal, hip Feria with its weekly flea market, El Jueves, and even Alameda is growing on me. 

Best Day Trip: Sadly, Seville doesn’t have too many quaint towns or natural highlights. While I’d spring to go to San Nicolás del Puerto at any free chance and hike the Vía Verde, I usually send other visitors to Córdoba. A 45-minute train ride straight to a quainter version of Seville and home to as Spanish of a corn dog as you can get, the flamenquín.

cordoba guadalquivir river

Best Montaíto de Pringá: This mincemeat sandwich is one of Seville’s culinary claims to fame, and most traditional tapas bars will have it on the menu. For me, Bodega Santa Cruz‘s is top notch and a perfect, hot snack if I’m in the Santa Cruz neighborhood.

Best Breakfast: I wasn’t a huge fan of breakfast until I moved to Southern Spain and got coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and bread with crushed tomato and olive oil for 2.50€. It ruined me. If I am craving something traditional, I love La Esquina del Arfe in the El Arenal district, but I’ll splurge with girlfriends at La Cacherrería on trendy Calle Regina every once in a while, too.

Bike Tour Sevilla Patio de las Banderas

Best Bike Shop: Seville’s is one of Spain’s best cities for biking (and within in the top 10 in Europe), and my beloved bike Feliciano gets his tune ups at Quique Cicle in El Juncal. A close second is my neighborhood shop, Ciclo Triana.

Best Haircut: Loli is more than just the lady who trims my split ends – she is my therapist, my language teacher and my biggest fan. Find her and her brother Manolo at Top Image in Puerta de Carmona.

A view of Seville from the Setas

Best Teeth Cleaning: Dental care in Spain is way different than in the US, and while no one can top my Spain fanatic Dr. Clinton back home, my best experience has been with Dra. Ardila in El Centro (coincidentally, she’s just a few blocks from la Fiorentina…!)

Best Flamenco Show: Admittedly, I’m not a huge follower of flamenco, but everyone I have sent to Casa de la Memoria, housed in an old palace on Calle Cuna, has not left disappointed.

La Dalia Tapas Sevilla Croquetas

Best Tapas Bar: I’m often asked about where to dine in Seville, and while this is an entirely personal question, I always suggest La Azotea. Inventive takes on traditional and local fare, plus an unbeatable wine list and terrific service. I usually head to the one in Santa Cruz. Another favorite is Bodeguita A. Romero, which has loads of different types of dishes for any taste.

Best Dive Bar: Can I say I’m a closet metal head? It’s been a while since I’ve been to Matacas (think heavy metal juke box, SciFi movies and the only legit Jägerbomb I’ve had in Seville), but this Puerta Osario bar is one of the most underrated in town.

Madrid Typical Bars

Best Bar Manolo: Call it what you want – Bar Manolo, Bar de Viejos or Old Man Bar, but these establishments are seriously the salt of the Spanish earth. You get beer, house wine, vermouth and a shot of anís on the menu, but what they lack in choice they make up for in character.

In my neighborhood I hit La Estrellita and El Paleta Viejo; in Santa Cruz, Bodega Santa Cruz or El Goleta for orange-infused wine,  Bodega San Jose in El Arenal (it smells like cat piss, I know) or Bodega La Aurora in Alfalfa. Really, if there’s a Spanish abuelo outside, I’ll go in. 

Best Street: My opinion on this has changed yearly, and many streets have a lot of charm. I’ll go with Calle San Eloy in the smack dab center for its shops and gorgeous balconies.

The streets of Santa Cruz, Seville

Best Spot for a Selfie: Calle Placentines where it crosses Argote de Molina. You can get the entire Giralda in for free (though if you’re willing to pay, take the Cathedral Rooftop Tour).

Best Splurge: Seville can be done on the dirt cheap (hostels, bocadillos and beer buckets at La Sureña) or you can make it lavish. While it could be tempting to stay and play at Seville’s only f-Star hotel, Alfonso XII, I’d vote for the hammam and massage at Aire de Sevilla, tucked away in Santa Cruz.

Best Food to Try, Just Because: Caracoles, or snails. Look for them in the springtime. I prefer them to, say, coagulated blood in onions.

Snail Tale

Best Tour: Seville is a dream for travelers: budget-friendly, accessible and full of things to do. I’ve been invited on loads of cool tours but think my favorite would be Devour Spain‘s part-history, part-gastronomy tour.

Best Semana Santa Bar: I always take my visitors to a church to explain Seville’s reverance to Holy Week, and follow up with a beer at a Semana Santa bar, covered with relics and photos of this important celebration. I either do the Esperanza de Triana—Bar Santa Ana route, or skip the church and head right to La Fresquita in Santa Cruz, where the barkeep is a member of the Macarena and has a botafumeiro going every so often.

Carrera Oficial Semana Santa Sevilla

Best Menú del Día: three parts food and a million parts a wallet-saver, the menú del día is a fixed-price menu with two entrees, dessert, drink and bread for cheap. The choices at Bar Bocaíto in Nervión are plentiful and always changing, and you pay just 7.50€. No wonder the place is always packed! 

Best Local Market: I’m partial to two – Calle Feria‘s is set in a crumbling building next to a church with a bar on two of the four corners. In one of those bars, you can actually buy something from a fish stall and have it served up! The other is my local market, el Mercado de San Gonzalo. It’s gritty and cheap and was one of the area’s first permanent buildings.

mercado san miguel madrid seafood

Best Disco: I am not the person to be asking about this (look for me instead at the Bar Manolos), but I like Alfonso in Parque María Luisa during the summer months and Tokio during other times of the year for its proximity to the center.

Best Place to Catch Something Cultural: The Patio de la Diputación almost always has something on during the weekends and summer. Think movies, talks and free food samples.

cordoba tiles

Best Souvenir: If your carry-on can handle it, the hand painted ceramics on sale in Triana‘s multiple shops are my favorite things to buy for friends. Check Calle San Jorge and stop by the newly inaugurated Ceramics Museum if you can.

Best Month for Sevillanos: April. Orange trees are in blossom, the weather is perfect, Cruzcampo seems to taste better and, if we’re really lucky, both Semana Santa and Feria fall in April.

Best Month to Visit: I usually push for October, March and April because of the weather and cheaper prices. But seriously, Seville has a lot to offer whenever you come – even in the stifling summer months!

Plaza del Altozano Triana

Seville seems to have one foot firmly in the past and another stepping towards the future. It’s constantly changing within its parameters but hold true to its values and customs. In eight years, I’ve explored every inch of the city center and a number of barrios, become a fierce supporter of a local team, learned the lingo and have come to feel like one of them.

Challenge me on anything, and you’ll give me something to do at the weekend!

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)
  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.
  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
 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. 

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