Seville Snapshots: The Pabellón de Navigación

Seville’s history is intertwined with the sea, despite being inland. It was here that The Catholic Kings gave Christopher Columbus permission and a couple of big boats to go find the East, and subsequently, all of the riches from the New World came through Seville on the Guadalquivir River.

During the Ibero-American Festival of 1992, the land around the Cartuja monastery was transformed into a futuristic city, where technology merged with tradition. Sadly, the city left this corner of Seville untouched for a few decades, and is now beginning to sell buildings to be recycled and re-used – and hopefully revitalize La Cartuja.

Perched on the banks of the Guadalquivir on the southern end of the complex (just opposite the Schindler elevator erected for the Expo’92), the building resembles a capsized boat, whose hull soars over you. The space hosts rotating exhibitions, as well as a permanent exhibit about Seville’s place in maritime history and what it was like to sail the seven seas. Opened in 2011, it’s a beautiful, open space, and worth a quick visit if you’re in Seville. There are plans in motion to open a small bar and offer boat rides on the river, too.

If you go: the Pabellón de la Navegación can be reached by city buses C1 or C2, or the 6, and is a 15 minute walk from Plaza de Armas. Visiting hours are, Tuesday-Saturday from 10am – 17:30 and Sundays and holidays from 10am – 15:00.

From Wine Tasting to Extraordinary Architecture: Discovering the Douro Valley

Author’s Note: Seville wasn’t always the object of my Spanish affection: I spent six weeks living with a host family in Valladolid, perfecting my castellano accent and drinking copious amounts of Ribera del Duero wine, still one of my picks. The fertile Duoro valley, which begins in Northern Castilla y León, flows into Portugal, who has also gained international fame for its port wines from the region. I had the opportunity to visit its capital, Porto, and became a big fan! I’m aching to go back and explore more: Home to some of Europe’s most remarkable natural landscapes, the Douro Valley is undoubtedly one of Portugal’s finest regions. An international hotspot for fine wine production, this charming valley is the ideal destination for a summer holiday. 

As one of Portugal’s most sparsely populated areas, the Douro Valley is an excellent destination for visitors looking to escape the stress of urban life. Relax and unwind as you travel down the Douro River, taste great Portuguese wine, and enjoy yourself in this area of natural beauty. Read on to learn about the Douro Valley’s five best attractions for visitors looking for fun, sun, and relaxation, courtesy of Shearings Holidays, a leading tour provider of coach tours to Spain.

Wine Tasting

The Douro Valley is one of Portugal’s most well-known wine growing regions, with the unofficial title of ‘world’s most beautiful wine region.’ Famous for its delicious port wines, the Douro is one of Southern Europe’s wine growing hotspots. Relax beside the Douro River and sample one of the region’s famous ports, including 40-year-old tawny variations. Lovers of red wine will enjoy spending their holiday in the Douro’s vineyards and riverside wineries.

Authentic Portuguese Dining

The Douro Valley region is home to some of Portugal’s finest food, as well. Spend your first day in the region exploring Porto– the region’s largest city. Known as the country’s capital of fine dining, Porto is an excellent place to taste authentic Portuguese food.

Known for its seafood, Porto is the perfect place to taste bacalhau – a dish made using salted codfish. Other options include the popular beach BBQs in Matosinhos, where you can sample grilled fish, chicken, and shrimp.

Excellent Architecture

The entire Douro Valley region, and Porto in particular, is home to some of the best architecture and urban design in Portugal. Relax near the Douro in the central districts of Porto – also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and spend an afternoon exploring the thin, winding city streets. Streets near the city center, like Rúa Miguel Bombarda and the streets winding around the Seu and the university are especially charming.

As one of Europe’s largest mercantile cities in past eras, Porto is home to a style of tall, thin townhouses that are hard to find elsewhere in the country. The riverside area of the city, known as Ribeira, is a great place for architecture nuts to explore.

River Cruises

The Douro Valley is also renowned for having some of the most incredible scenery in all of Southern Europe. With vineyards lining the mountains that surround the river, a trip down the Douro is an incredibly stimulating visual experience.

Whether you opt for a short one-day cruise or a five-day river trip, spending your holiday on the Douro River is an excellent way to enjoy some of Southern Europe’s most dramatic scenery.

Historical Sites

Northern Portugal, the Douro Valley region in particular, is home to one of Europe’s oldest civilizations. Porto, the region’s largest city, was a Roman outpost during the height of the Roman Empire’s dominance of Southern Europe. Because of its historical significance, the region is filled with stunning churches and palaces. The Porto Cathedral is a beautiful Romanesque structure at the heart of the city, while the Palácio da Bolsa is a gorgeous 19thcentury palace that was formerly the city’s stock exchange.

From fine wine to delicious food, incredible houses to beautiful historical churches and Roman buildings, Portugal’s Douro Valley is an immensely rewarding place for visitors looking to relax in beautiful surroundings and discover Portugal’s history. This travel guide was written by Shearings Holidays, one of Europe’s leading coach holiday companies. Visit their website to learn more about river cruises in Northern Portugal and Spain. If it weren’t true, I wouldn’t publish it cuz I like keeping it real.

Seville Snapshots: Twilight at the Setas of Plaza de la Encarnacion

Planning a trip to Seville? Look no further than Sandra of Seville Traveller. Like me, a visit to Seville brought her back to live in the capital of Andalusia, and she uses her free time to write great tips about how to enjoy the city. You can sign up for her free newsletter, which comes with a PDF of tips, or check out her guest posts on Sunshine and Siestas!
 
 
People say that you tend to miss what you have next to you, while you are willing to explore further corners. And it’s true: I hadn’t had a chance to go up the observation deck at the Setas before last December. That day I woke up with one thing in mind: to capture the beautiful dusk light with my camera. The day was going to be clear, though I was hoping for a few clouds since the make the visual experience much more rewarding but I had to do with what I had: a perfect blue sky.
 
 
The idea was to explore the whole structure by walking around at a slow pace, looking for the best spots to place my tripod and be ahead of other visitors. Lucky for me, the premises were almost empty and most people spent only a few minutes at the main lookout. I had the Steas to myself, so the only thing left to do was wait. My iPod did the rest. I looked around…
 
 
In the background, the view over the Guadalquivir River and both bridges, the Alamillo and the Barqueta, was beautiful. On the right hand side, the sun was slowly going down, from yellow to orange and finally red, reflecting its light on the soon-to-be-completed skyscraper, the Pelli Tower. Right in front of me I had Seville’s main highlights, El Salvador Church, the Cathedral and the Giralda. Finally, on the left hand side of the city was a sea of scattered domes.

The picture illustrating this post shows the main view at a moment photographers call the blue hour. See how amazing the sky looks? Contrary to most European cities, Seville enjoys a light that is hard to find anywhere else. Don’t you want to see it with your own eyes?

 
Setas de Sevilla (former Metropol Parasol)
The Setas the Sevilla observation deck can be visited from Sunday to Thursday from 10.30am until midnight and on Friday and Saturday from 10.30am to 1am. It only costs 1.35 euros and it’s free for children up to 12 years old. The best part is that you can still as long as you want – there aren’t any time limitations.
 
The website is only in Spanish but you can still visit it to have a look and watch some very cool videos.
 
Want to add the Setas to your Seville itinerary? You have to check out the Seville in Two Days e-book, chock full of ideas, routes and logistics when visiting the Andalusian capital.

Sandra lives in Seville and spends all her free time exploring the world (30+ countries so far!). She is the editor of Seville Traveller, an online resource about the city. She has also published a Pocket Guide that will help you plan the trip of a lifetime. You can follow her on Twitter or keep posted through Facebook.

Visiting Estepa: More Than Just Mantecados

I sometimes confused Estepona, a beach destination on the Costa del Sol, with Estepa, a town nuzzled up to a hill at the far reaches of the Seville province. During the multiple car trips crisscrossing Spain’s southernmost autonomous region, I’d often watch the small village with its church spires punctuating the horizon pass by quickly. Being known for its holiday goodies, particularly mantecados, it’s always been a place in the back of my mind to visit.

Javi met us at the aptly name Hotel Don Polverón – a homage to one of the city’s baked moneymakers – and we steered our car along the roads of the industrial park near the highway, its streets named for the basic ingredients of the mantecados: Almendra, Azúcar, Canela. It’s common in Spanish households to have an anís bottle set out next to mantecados when the Reyes Magos come, so we feasted like the Three Kings for the better part of the morning.

The visit first brought us to La Estepeña, one of the most universally known brands.

La Estepeña features a visit to the factory, where a workforce made up almost entirely of women use traditional methods of preparing and wrapping the goodies, though the actually baking is no longer done in an oven. We visited the belén made entirely of chocolate and the small museum before marveling at the gorgeous Christmas tree in the foyer of the museum.

Most of the famous mantecado brands have been making the pig’s lard Christmas treats for generations, so Javi pointed us in the direction of La Despensa del Palacio, where the cakes are still baked in a wood-burning oven after being hand-kneaded. The mantecados are crumbly and leave your mouth dry, so we were then whisked away to the small anisette factory – the Spanish abuelo’s favorite – for a sampling of anís seco in Anís Bravío.

Cravings satisfied, we climbed Cerro San Cristóbal, the city’s highest hill. The rainy morning haze seems to have stayed in la capital – the day was bright and welcoming. Smack dab in the autonomía of Andalusia, one can see the provinces of Seville, Málaga and Córdoba, much like the Hancock building in Chicago.

Estepeños not interested in mantecados trek up the hill to the convent, where a turnstile still offers cloistered nuns peddling homemade treats, and the lavish baroque chapel not open to the public. Violeta was waiting for us here, key to the capilla in hand.

“They know me here, ” she smiled. “One of the perks of the job.” She and Javi accompanied us around the rest of the sites on the Cerro, including a small museum dedicated to the city’s culinary treasure that was once the kitchen the nuns used to make the sweets.

The adjacent Santa María church was originally intended for the Orden de Santiago, the church has been reconstructed and now contains a small religious art museum, complete with relics of petrified fingers and locks of hair.

A rickety octagonal tower sits just west of Santa María. This was the defensive tower used for the Orden de Santiago, and the views facing the Balcón de Andalucía, the pueblo’s mirador that looks down on the whitewashed houses that seem to crawl down the hill, were stunning after a few days of rain and a lucky break in the weather pattern.

Back down the hill, we found parking just in front of As de Tapas on Estepa’s main street. This is what I love most about the pueblos in Seville: good, hearty food, the steady hum of chattering in castellano and a cold beer.

Sending thanks to Javi and Violeta of Heart of Andalusia for their generous offer to show Caitlin and me around the Ciudad del Mantecado and the other lovely sites of Estepa. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Seville Snapshot: Bodega Marqués de Riscal in Eltziego (País Vasco)

As a traveler, I should take pride in really getting to know a city, to meeting and talking with its people and to finding its heart.

Travel Confession: I love kitschy sites, kitschy souvenirs and don’t always stay off the beaten path.

When it  came down to deciding what to do while in Spain’s Wine Country, La Rioja, we all agreed that wine was at the top of the list, while a sub category to wine was visiting a bodega. I called around, sent emails and was delighted when we got a last-minute booking for Marqués de Riscal, one of Spain’s most famous exports.

Elciego, or Eltziego in Basque, is a beautiful city in its own right. Nestled amongst vineyards, its burnt fall colors provide a dramatic backdrop to a stone medieval city whose claim to fame is the wine and the hotel commissioned by Marqués de Riscal, which was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The colors chosen – metallic silver, pink and bordeaux – are representative of the wine bottle, whereas the wavy steel plates and pale stone pillars are meant to represent a vine before harvest. Built as a millennial addition to the winery founded during the mid 19th century, it seems to blend in with the history while looking forward to the future.

We signed up for a 90-minute tour of the bodega, which took us first to the newest installations, then past their ancient fountain – outfitted with a digital clock and weather reader – and into their oldest cellar. The damp, musty smell and little light protects their oldest editions, which mustn’t be uncorked. A small butane stove is used to heat a metal ring, then cold water is applied, breaking the glass and allowing the wine to be poured. As someone who loves the craft of writing and is a geek about it, I think I could geek out about wine if I got to learn more about it. Sadly, we were tired after the previous night’s antics and in search of a bed. After our two glass of wine, we dipped out and back to Logroño.

If you go: Marques de Riscal bodegas are located in Eltziego, just 15 kilometres from Logroño. It’s actually in the Basque region, and not La Rioja! To take a tour, which are available every day of the year, making a reservation through email or over the phone is a must. the tour included a tasting of two young wines and runs 10,25. More information and contacts can be found on Marques de Riscal’s webpage. Tours can be done in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and even Russian.

Seville Snapshots:Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo

Well, back to sweltering Spain. After a stint at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Porto, I lugged my 60+ lb. suitcase back to Seville (notably missing was my laptop, which I left in a cab and have yet to recover). It left me wanting fall, a temperate and dreamy time of the year in the South. Kelly of This Blonde sent me the picture below, plunging me into reveries of comfy sweaters, Kike’s army-issued PJs and the return of boots (want black riding ones, just like the pijas!).

In my world, the season of fall always arrives with color. Bursting from the trees, running down the mountainside, heralding the beginning of my favorite season. In southern Spain, fall is a different species. There is hot, and there is hotter. There are green leaves, and there are wet leaves. While I was daydreaming of bundling up in a sweater and a scarf, in reality I was peeling layers off as the days rolled on. It was here on the threshold of the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo that I found a very familiar scene.This photo is startlingly full of fall for a December day in Seville. The thick carpet of leaves, a woman (a student?) in a full length trench and hat wheeling her bike out into the courtyard.

Seville’s Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Andalusian Art) is located in the old Cartuja ceramic factory and monastery, which in and of itself is worth a visit. Reached by the C1 or C2 circulars, its hours are Tuesday thru Saturday 11:00 to 21:00 h, Sunday de 11:00 a 15:00 h. Closed Monday. Free entry on weekdays from 19:00 to 21:h; tickets 1,80 to 3,01€.

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Love taking shots? Been to Seville or Spain? I’m looking for travelers with a good eye to capture beautiful Spain and contribute to my weekly Snapshots section. Send your photos to sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name and a short description of the photo and look to be featured here!

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