El Caballo Camina Pa’lante: A Horse-Lover’s Guide to Andalucía

Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost region, is synonymous with many things: flamenco, sun and sand tourism and bullfighting. It’s also the breeding grounds for the Andalusian horse, a strong and powerful race favored by Moorish kings and thought to have evolved from the Portuguese breed. It’s common to see horses in Southern Spain used for sport – rejoneos, hunting and plain old riding – as well for work.

When my mother came to visit in June, she had one thing on the brain (and the tongue, as it’s the only word she could say in Spanish): caballos.

I took my pony-loving parent on a tour of Andalusia’s most famous horse sites, including a visit to the Novio’s farm, which is recognized as an ANCEE Andalusian breed farm.

Horse crazy? Andalucía is a great destination if your brain is more focused on the equine world than tapas.

Jerez de la Frontera

The largest city in the Cádiz province, Jerez is famous for its dry sherries and horse breeding farms, called yeguadas. Jerez is just less than an hour away from Seville by car and makes a great day trip, as you can hit all of its sites and catch a show at the world-famous Andalusian horse training grounds.

Real Escuela Ecuestre de Jerez

Andalusian horses are world-famous for their agility, and the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is home to the show, ‘How the Andalusian Horses Dance.’ I took my mother to this 90-minute spectacle, similar to the Lipizzaners in Vienna, and I was mesmerized by their abilities to jump, side step and control their stops. Even at its steep price, sitting in the front row was worth it.

If you happen to be in town on a no-show day, you are still able to walk the grounds, watch the practice, and visiting the museums on-site. From the center, it’s a 10-minute walk to the compound. Shows are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and select Saturdays at noon. For more info: http://www.realescuela.org/ing/home.htm

Feria del Caballo

Jerez’s version of the Feria is just as brightly colored and fun as Seville’s, just not as pretentious – all the tents are free to enter, you won’t get run over by a horse carriage because the streets are wider and there’s even Mexican food and hard rock tents. What’s more, it’s a living horse show, and the Andalusia giant is put on display. There are workshops, shows, contests and carriage parades all week-long. The fair typically falls in May, about a month after Seville’s annual Feria de Abril. 2014′s dates are May 11th to 18th.

Sevilla

Seville resonates with the clip-clop of hooves in the city center. Horses are everywhere in the bustling Andalusian capital, used mainly for horse carriages, mounted policemen and in bullfights. The annual Feria de Sevilla is full of carriage exhibitions and parades, but this horse-friendly city offers more.

Museo de Carruajes

This small museum right off of Plaza de Cuba opened 15 years ago to house intricate horse carriages in an old nunnery. While the space is used primarily for events and weddings, the exhibitions can be visited for free on Tuesdays. The foundation also puts on the horse carriage parade in the bull ring during the Sunday prior to the Alumbrado of the Feria. (You can visit Monday-Friday from 9:00 – 14:00 and in the afternoons from 17:00 – 19:30 for 3,60€)

Horse Carriage ride

Horse carriages are one of the city’s most romantic rides – it’s impossible to drive near the city center or María Luisa park without giving yield to one of the open-top buggies. While I’ve never done it, you can hire a driver near the cathedral or park and take in the sights, regardless of the weather. A 45-minute trip will run you about 40€, plus a tip for the driver. There is an official rate for the city, displayed on signs near the official pick-up points, so be sure to negotiate the price with the driver.

SICAB

The Salon International del Caballo is an annual horse show and fair held in Seville, typically in November, and considered one of he city’s biggest tourist draws. You’ll find breeders and designers with booths in the Palacio de Congresos dedicated to the Pura Raza Española, and the equestrian championship is also held during the event. Thoroughbreds are displayed in an exhibition hall for purchase – almost like a throwback to the origins of the Feria.

The Novio’s family gets free tickets each year for being an ANCEE-approved farm, but I usually just go in the hopes that I’ll see the Duquesa de Alba. (This year’s even will be held the 3-8th of December).

Doñana/Huelva

Not everyone adds Huelva to their list of musts while in Andalucia (even though you should!), but there are horse-friendly things to do in the province wedged between Sevilla and Portugal.

Saca de las Yeguas

I would have loved to take my mother to the annual Saca a las Yeguas, when the wild horses in The Doñana swamps are rounded up, blessed in front of the majestic chapel at El Rocío, and then driven to nearby Almonte to be sold. For the last 500 years, this festival has been held on June 26th to commemorate Saint Peter. During the five days that follow, the horses are trained, shown off and sometimes bought, with special attention towards the foals. Almonte is only an hour away from Seville and reachable by Damas bus or car.

Rutas Ecuestres in Doñana National Park

It’s also common to see trail groups riding between the pine trees and over the sand dunes of Doñana, a wildlife reserve in the southeast corner of the province. My mom and I got a groupon for Rutas Ecuestres Mazagón for a 90 minute ride, which included a bit on horse care and the topography of Doñana. Getting back in the saddle again after so many years was fun, though I think my mother was bored out of her mind! For more: http://rutasecuestresmazagon.com

Are you a horse lover? What are your favorite equine events or activities in Spain?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE HAM and other eats

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

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

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

The beaches and mountains

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

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

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

The fiestas

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

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

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

Living well and living cheap

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

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

Seville Snapshots: The Statues of Ayamonte

Ayamonte, in my mind, has a touch of good and a smear of bad. On one hand, my dear friend Meag lived there for a year, and it’s impossible to think of the small city that shares a border with Portugal and not burst into giggles. But then again, I was once stuck there during a holiday when my bus to Faro was late, and I missed the last one to leave for Seville.

Still, reader Jill contacted me about sharing pictures of this seaside village, and I was happy to oblige. For a sleepy city, Ayamonte’s art patronage stands out.

Ayamonte is situated on the river Guadiana, which marks the border between Spain and Portugal. Historically it was of strategic importance and has always been associated with fishing and seafaring. The last twenty years have seen a growth in tourism, but it is often still dismissed as the end of nowhere! However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Ayamontinos have a great loyalty to their town and its culture and traditions, from the devotion of Semana Santa, to the Music Festival in August and the patronal festival in September. It is a town where artists and sculptors have flourished. Even Joaquin Sorolla painted one of the fourteen panels commissioned for the Hispanic Society of America in Ayamonte, entitled La Pesca de Atun.

What has fascinated me about the artistic life of the town are the sculptures on roundabouts and in the squares. These are mainly modern, commissioned as part of the expansion and restoration of the town, but commemorating the history and traditions of the location. Statues associated with the past life of the town are those which remember the water carriers, the lime manufacturers and the fish conservers. Before the arrival of piped water the water carriers delivered fresh water.

The ‘caleros’ manufactured and transported the lime used to make the whitewash for the typical white buildings. Fish preserving was almost exclusively the domain of women, and still exists today on a much reduced scale on a modern industrial estate.

The association with sea faring is commemorated by a statue of sailors who joined Columbus’s voyage to the New World. Additionally there exists a statue of women awaiting the return of the fishing boats, though currently being restored after being damaged.

There are also religious statues prominent in the main square and park, as one would find in every Spanish town. Religious statuary is seen at its most historic and elaborate during Holy Week, when the statues – often the work of well known sculptors of the past – are carried through the town on the ‘pasos’.

Ayamonte even claims Santa Ángela de la Cruz as one of its own, as she founded a house of the Sisters of the Cross in the town in the late 1870’s and she too has her statue. Much broader concepts are celebrated too, such as the family and music.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the public art of the town, and will visit one day, when the red roses are in bloom to welcome you.

Jill is a retired teacher who lives part of the year in England and part in Ayamonte, Spain, as well as enjoying travel. Catch up with her on twitter, @mumjilly. If you’ve got photos to share of Southern Spain, please send them to sunshineandsiestas @ gmail . com, and check out my Facebook page for more of Andalusia and beyond.

Travel Highlights from the Last Six Months of 2012

When I reflected on just how much travelling I’d done during the first half of 2012 – from two new autonomous regions of Spain to fulfilling a nagging want to see Istanbul, I vowed to slow down a bit during the second half. Not because I don’t love the butterflies of savoring a new place, but because I wanted to use this year to focus on a bit more than moving – slowing down to complete a master’s, to work on this blog, and stop to enjoy actually living in Seville.

My roommate, Melissa, used to call me Macaco after his hit, Moving. All the people moving, she said, was me; indeed, my parents claim that I never walked, but went right to running.

Go, Cat, Go!

July

After leaving my job and watching my friends Lindsay and David give one another the “si quiero” in the other’s language, I cheered Spain onto victory in the Euro Cup finals, had to say goodbye to Kike, and then set up camp on my own in La Coruña.

My fourth summer in this little rinconcito of Spain was just as magical as always, full of sweeping views of the peninsula, afternoons spent snuggling in bed with my computer in front of me catching up on some work, and plenty of fresh seafood. Our plans to see Fisterrea were foiled by the rain, per usual, but I left camp feeling ok about it.

August

My birth month found me back in Chicago, which truly is the ciudad de mi corazón. My friend Phil was back from a 2-year sojourn in San Francisco, so we spent time catching up and playing tourist in a city we’d both known for decades. Sweet home, indeed.

After 27 years and 28 countries, I finally made it to New York City. Cue Alicia Keys song, and you’ll understand my fascination. Sadly, all of my pictures not on social media were lost, but we hit all of the big places on our girls’ trip – the Rock, Central Park, Fifth Ave, Magnolia Bakery, Le Tren Bleu, The Financial District, Ellis Island. My friends Kim, Pedro, Monica and Cait all came in from Long Island and Jersey to help me celebrate my 27th birthday doing the things I love most – drinking beer, laughing like a crazed person, boating and eating well.

On the actual day of my birthday, Margaret, Nancy and I took the Bolt Bus to Boston for a family wedding. My birthday cake was made of cannolis and toasted with Blue Moons, courtesy of my father, and I ate an enormous lobster. Boston was a gorgeous city and just the right size, and I had the added bonus of celebrating my second consecutive birthday with my friend Bri and attending my cousin Thomas’s beautiful wedding on the Boston College Campus.

From there, I caught up on reading on the Amtak to Stamford, Connecticut, where my friend Christine lives. There were barbecues and flippy cup tournaments, boat rides and water skiing, and lots of laughs as we caught up in Spanglish.

September

Coming back to Spain after Labor Day was tougher than it has been, as I feel a bit in limbo over my future in Spain. As I got off the airplane and into a cab to get to Lauren’s house, I left my laptop in the backseat, never to see it again. There went my pictures, some semi-important documents…but I found that parting with it wasn’t the end of the world (and the excuse I needed to upgrade to a Mac). Baby steps, people.

Lauren, Liz and I attended Travel Bloggers Unite in Porto Portugal, a wonderful and oft-overlooked city with a thriving art scene. I was jet lagged, bummed about the computer and not looking forward to networking or selling myself or anything more than a glass of port and a stroll around the city’s old quarter. I was pleased to find other, well-established bloggers willing to help out and informative talks that inspired me to keep pushing on this project, making me feel less like a clueless newbie.

Kike took me to Cádiz the weekend afterwards as a late birthday getaway for us both. We explored the beaches in Tarifa (pictured above), Zahara de los Atunes, Bolonia and Zahora before the summer slipped away.

October

The ruins of Aracena castle

I started working with my students and a master’s all at once while adjusting to a totally new lifestyle by working in the evenings. Even with Fridays off, I opted to save a little money so I could buy a new Mac and pay the second half of my program in Public Relations. Kike and I did get to Aracena, a gorgeous white village in the mountains, for their annual ham fair. I was even interviewed while stuffing my face full of pig products by Canal Sur!

November

November blustered in with cooler temps, and I began to buckle down on blogging, teaching and masters-ing, taking the time to take care of my friendships and enjoy the lovely destinations in the province. We ventured north to San Nicolás del Puerto, the village where Kike’s family has property, to celebrate their patron saint’s feast day. Unfortunately, Camarón’s auto focus broke, leaving me with little else that weekend but instagram (follow me @sunshinesiestas).

A few weekends later, I was a guest in Estepa with Heart of Andalusia. This pueblo blanco in the eastern reaches of the province is famous for its mantecados and other Christmas treats, and we were treated to a lovely day out in a place I’d always wanted to visit.

December

Spain’s commemoration of their Constitution and the Immaculate Conception means back-to-back days off, so my friends and I rented a car, got pulled over by the cops, and barely made it to one piece to La Rioja, Spain’s Wine Country. While there, we feasted like kings on the famous Calle Laurel and took a trip to Marques de Riscal’s gorgeous bodega in nearby Eltziego.

I also made it to Madrid for my cuñado (brother-in-law)’s wedding, a food tour with Lauren of Madrid Food Tour and a quick trip to visit my host family in Valladolid. The following day, my family descended upon Madrizzz and we spent six days exploring Catalonia and Andorra (country 29 and already with Christmas sales!).

2013

2013′s travel plans haven’t been fully set yet, but my family and I are celebrating New Year’s Eve in the Plaza del Sol. In the works are an anniversary trip to Bologna, heading to Toulouse to visit friends and attending TBU wherever it may be this time around! And, without a doubt, walking the Camino de Santiago this summer!

Where are you heading or hope to visit in 2013?


Tapa Thursdays: The Gambas Blancas of Huelva

When people ask me where my favorite spot in Seville is, I can give an answer quicker than I can name the president of the Spanish parliament: La Grande. You could say that I fell in love with Spain, with the Novio and with langoustines here, all things that have made my life over the past five years what they have been.

For the price of 1,10€ at La Grande, you can get a beer and three boiled shrimp, as long as your middle finger, littered with coarse sea salt and picos. These gambas blancas were part of my Christmas meal and have made their way into my diet at least once a week.

…and this for a Midwestern girl who used to hate seafood!

What it is: The parapenaeus longirostris is a common prawn. At its most simple, they are boiled and sprinkled with sea salt, though it’s common to see shrimp in dishes such as paellas and pastas, and like potatoes to Anglos, can be served in many styles: boiled, fried, in garlic, in tempura, etc.

Where it’s from: These crustaceans are captured off of the Atlantic Coast of Huelva and Morocco, making their arrival to Seville quite quick.

Where to eat it: While I love gambas just the way they are from La Grande (Lopez de Gomara, 18), you can get them just about anywhere. Try a marisquería for many varieties, or a local frieduría for gambas rebozadas, which are battered and fried in olive oil. I also had a friend try tortilla de camarones, which is a smaller shrimp fried in batter. She would have liked it, had she not seen their faces.

HOW to eat it: I once told my friend Alfonso to come meet me at La Grande and bring his mujer gamba. Oops. Female shrimp is to Spaniards what Buttherface is to Americans. To really master peeling a shrimp, you have to have practice, and maybe a beer or two first.

First, rip the head off by placing your index finger and thumb at the base of the skull. My friends say that the brains are the best part, but I can’t get myself to suck it! Then, pull the tail off. Discard both shells. Carefully remove the outer casing of the body by pulling off its legs and peeling off the upper case. The shrimp should look more or less like your curled pinky finger.

If you like tapas, why not tell me which ones you’d like to see featured on Sunshine and Siestas? Alternately, there are more pictures on Sunshine and Siestas’s Facebook page.

 

Tapa Thursdays: The Effervescent Jamón Ibérico

Some thing are just better experienced than written about.

Among my favorite moments of my five years in Spain are the “early nights” that turn into café con leche as the sun rises the following morning, the way my feet magically stop tripping over themselves the minute I don my flamenco dress, and the hours mulling over great food with gorgeous Seville as a backdrop.

Food has given me a greater understanding of Spanish culture and family life, as well as the way people socialize. I’ve come to scrutinize wedding fare, steer clear of certain establishments and get filled to the brim with tó lo bueno.

The common theme throughout virtually any dining experience? El cerdo ibérico, Spain’s prized pig.

I suppose it doesn’t help that Kike’s father owns a farm that raises pigs until they’re nice and fat, ready to be sold to a matadero and served for a Christmas splurge. Pork, a food I once ate reluctantly, is now a staple in my diet.

I dragged the Novio along to the annual Feria Internacional del Cerdo Ibérico, a ham fest in one of Spain’s foremost regions in production. Under the Denominación de Origen de Huelva, 20 million euros are earned yearly from the production and distribution of the hind legs, called a pata. I’ve been waxing poetic for years about the fair, one in which you can eat, drink and practically be Miss Piggy for under 20€, stocking up on artisan products and anise.

It’s one of those things you’ve just got to experience.

What it is: One of Spain’s most expensive pork product, jamón ibérico is thinly sliced ham from the hind leg of an acorn-fed pig. The meat is conserved in salt, then hung to dry for a year or two. The white part, called tocino, is fat and considered to be the tastiest part.

Where it’s from: The mountain range that separates Andalusia from Extremadura is the hotspot for jamón in the south. Here, pigs feast on acorns until the springtime matanza, when they’re slaughtered. The best places to eat ham are in these small villages.

Where to get it in Seville: Many establishments offer tapas and plates of ham, particularly in the center and at smaller bars in outlying neighborhoods. Try it on a mantecaíto sandwich at Bodeguita Antonia Romero, C/ Gamazo, 16.

Goes perfectly with: Good friends and a glass of fino. Ham tends to end up on panes, on montaditos and in tacos, or small bits as a garnish.

Check out my second appearance talking on Spanish TV, around minute 31:30

http://www.canalsuralacarta.es/television/video/viernes-19-de-octubre/31222/13 - Even my neighbor from 2ºIzq. has seen me!!

The Feria del Jamón y de Cerdo Ibérico is held yearly in the village of Aracena, 90 kilometres northwest of Seville. The fair tends to take place the third weekend of October, but the village can be visited year-round and boasts many beautiful sites.

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