Photo Post of Carmona: The Perfect Little Day Trip from Seville

Nothing says long weekend like a roadtrip, a quick stop in a village and the mass migration of people during the sacred puente. Not wanting to go too far, I settled on taking a day trip to Carmona, one of the province highlights that is often shadowed by Seville (even though, in my opinion, the province doesn’t offer too much by way of historical sites). 

Rain was on the forecast, but it didn’t matter – Phyllis and I grabbed Pequeño Monty and took the A-4 all the way into town. My first trip to Carmona was five years ago on a similar, drizzly morning – I’ve been aching to return since (particularly because that was one of my poorest points of expat life – we didn’t pay to see anything and split two plates of food between five of us).

Most visitors to the city arrive to the Plaza del Estatuto, known to locals as the Plaza de Abajo. The oblong plaza is lined with old man bars. I swooned immediately.

This small city, perched on a hill above acres of wheat and olives, has seen traces of Bronze Age settlers, Roman emperors, Visigoth Kings and the Moors before its conquest in the 13th Century. In pounding the pavement, I felt like we were on the tails of history.

The old center winds up from the Puerta de Sevilla and its imposing city walls and onto Plaza San Fernando towards Calle Prim, called the Plaza de Abajo by locals. Hidden within the gradually steep walls that stretch to the Iglesia de Santiago and the Puerte de Córdoba are tucked-away plazas, convents, grandiose cathedrals and stately palaces. Many alleyways are so slim, you can touch both sides of the walls.

There was little car traffic (it seemed the whole town was either sleeping off the Carnival celebrations or at a wedding at the Priory of Santa María), and we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

Ending the day at the Necrópolis de Carmona (which is free, so you have no excuse to not go), we had gone from lavish renaissance palaces to the ruins of an ancient burial ground by just driving to the other part of town. Laying along the Via Augusta, Carmona has been attracting tourists for millennia.  We were just two unassuming guiris still amazed that such old stuff exists.

Have you been to Carmona? What are you favorite villages in the Sevilla province? I’d recommend the following:

Estepa, Ciudad del Mantecado

Itálica and its Roman Ruins

San Nicolás del Puerto

Seville: Perfect for a Fall City Break

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

photo by kelly m. holland
 

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

Cheaper Accommodation and Flights

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

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

A Multitude of Festivals

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

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

Less tourists, less lines

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

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

Um, it’s not sweltering anymore, either.

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

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

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

Seville Snapshots: The Village of Osuna

There’s nothing like the open road and the feel of torque under your feet (feet, because I drive stick shift now!) and a new destination to tick off your must-sees list. Hayley, my Spanish media naranja, and I agreed to meet halfway in between our respected cities for lunch in Osuna and a bit of Saturday sight-seeing.

Que Dios bendiga las girlfriends.

The village of Osuna lies midway between Seville and Antequera, a little burp of civilization built upon a lone hill. Fun fact: its flag and coat of arms bears, well, two bears along with a topless woman. This pueblo and I would get along fine, even though it’s better known for being the last place where Julius Caesar fought in person (and the town’s name comes from Urso, ‘bear’ in Latin).

The whitewashed town, crowned by an old university and sprawling church, was sleepy for a warm Saturday, but perfect for a few hours’ lunch over Camino and business plans. It’s not hard on the eyes, either.

Oh, and here’s a bonus one of me and my car, El Pequeño Monty, a 2002 Peugeot 307. Bought my first coche at the ripe old age of 27-and-three-quarters!

Love your little rinconcito of Spain? Sunshine and Siestas is looking for guest bloggers for the busy summer months of late June – mid August while Cat is galivanting in Galicia at summer camp and walking the Camino de Santiago for charity. If you’re interested, send an email to sunshineandsiestas[at]gmail[dot]com with your ideas, photos and stories.

Seville Snapshots: Domingo de Romería

“The hilly encinas are my office,” said Jose, not looking away from his ham leg, from which he took thin cuts and arranged them neatly onto a plate for us. I’d been eating since arriving to the Ermita de San Diego in teeny San Nicolás del Puerto, my favorite village in Spain, and my stomach could only hold so much.

Springtime in Andalucia is all about a healthy mix of hedonism and religion (which surprisingly go hand-in-hand). Holy Week revelers pay a somber penitence to the cruxifiction and resurrection, then sherry is drunk by the bucketfull during ferias all over Andalucía, and concludes with romerías in nearly all of the pueblos from late April until September.

I’ve mentioned San Nicolás del Puerto, a tiny dot of a town on Andalucia’s map. At 700 people and seven bars (seven more than in my hometown of 55,000), the city is the source of the Hueznár River, part of the Vía Verde and the birthplace of San Diego de Alcalá. Nearly all of the town’s festivities revolve around the poor man’s saint, including the Romería de San Diego, held the second Sunday of May each year.

For a small village, San Nicolás throws a big party for the romería, which is like one-part religious procession, one part tailgate. Everyone brings their coolers full of food – chacina, tortilla de papas, filetes empanados, and homemade cakes – and finds a shady spot in the hills near the hemitage for setting up their picnic. They’re often reserved by parking cars, using a fruit crate for a makeshft sign, or by tradition – I always know where Rafalín and the Novio´s father will be with their own portapotty.

At noon, the saint comes dancing in, carried on the shoulders of locals and preceeded by a brass band from the nearby Alanís de la Sierra. It’s kind of like a homecoming, and I can almost imagine my high school’s fight song instead of the paso doble that accompanies the saint before mass. Diego bobs up and down as partygoers watch on horseback, some dressed in flamenco dresses and trajes cortos. The Novio and I watched from afar, busy kicking back a few bottles of beer and helping ourselves to everyone else’s food, lest it go to waste.

Have you ever been to a Romería? Spain’s biggest and most popular, El Rocío of Almonte (Huelva) is this coming Sunday. Read about my experience at last year’s fair here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does it fruit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we’re listening.

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

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

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.

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