Photo Post: Ronda and its Picturesque Historic Center

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

Visits to Ronda

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

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

Balconies in Ronda Spain

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

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

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

Ronda countryside

puente nuevo ronda

The Bridge in Ronda

views of the countryside Ronda

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

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

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

Ronda Old Town

walking around Ronda

My MUST-dos in Ronda

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

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

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

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

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

Desafío Eterno: Learning to Cook Spanish Food

I may have mastered the art of midday siestas, long lunches and dropping syllables, but Spanish cooking has always alluded me. 

A Spanish Cooking Course

Ask me to make a full turkey dinner or a kick ass pad thai? I’m all over it, but I’ve mangled even the simplest of Spanish dishes and count gazpacho and frying potatoes (or just bringing the wine) as my contribution to meals.

Resolute to prove to the Novio that I’m only good for eating and occasionally clearing up the dishes, I visited my local market for a crash-course in slow-cooking with Foodies&Tours.

Housed in the mythical Mercado de Triana, once an open-air market build in the 19th Century, Víctor and Marta set up a state-of-the-art kitchen overlooking ruins of the Castillo de San Jorge just seven months ago. I was delighted to see that they still believed in buying fresh ingredients at the market, making chicken stock from bones and leek and – gasp! – using butane tanks. 

el mercado de triana

María led us through the market that mid-week morning on a day where there were more tourists than locals snapping photos of ham legs and fins-and-all swordfish. Summer fruits were beginning to slowly engulf the avocados and pomegranates. I kept my mouth shut when María pointed out tripe and the different legumes on offer, but I couldn’t help piping up that it takes three years to adequately cure the hind leg of an acorn-fed pig (blame my pork-loving in-laws for that!).

Spanish food has recently become the darling of international cuisine thanks to innovative chefs putting a spin on age-old traditions. After all, the wealth of fresh ingredients from the Mediterranean diet and a dedication to simplistic yet layered flavors have made this gastronomy healthy, comforting and delicious – and this means that food tours and gastronomic experiences are booming all over Spain.

Taller Andaluz de Cocina in the Triana market

I was joined by another American woman, a group of Filipina women on a big Euro trip, a curious couple from Singapore and newlyweds hailing from Australia. It was just right for everyone to put their manos a la obra.

Back at the kitchen, chef Víctor was washing metal bowls and our ingredients were put on display. I may not cook myself, but I do make most of the grocery store runs and can recite dishes based on their ingredients! From the ripe vine tomatoes and day-old bread, I knew we’d be making salmorejo and assumed that crowd-favorite paella would be on offer. A large bowl of raw spinach meant espinacas con garbanzos.

modern kitchen of Taller Andaluz de Cocina

I found a cutting board and apron between Denise from New York and the cooking surface as Víctor laid out the menu. We began with the creamy tomato-based salmorejo: coarsely chopping tomatoes, peeling thin skin off of the purple garlic bulbs and learning not to be stingy with extra virgin olive oil. Apart from turning on a blender and liquifying its contents, I let my classmates take over.

I once again stepped aside to allow other guests to learn how to steam the raw spinach and make a sofrito, preferring to sip on wine and do some more chopping – I have the Novio at home to show me how to quarter a chicken for stock. Instead, I probed Víctor on his background, his favorite places to eat in Seville and the Spanish brands he is loyal to.

learning to make salmorejo

Many of my classmates were used to the flash cooking styles of Asian cuisine, so turning down the heat and turning up the flavor combinations was a welcome departure as we dipped small tasting spoons into everything we’d created. A fan of Asian food himself, Víctor stressed the important of low heat and long wait times.

I’ve always said that my biggest hurdle to learning to make Spanish dishes is patience. A Spanish chef confirmed it.So we waited, slowly stirring the chicken stock and sofritos.

salmorejo cordobés

Three hours later, the paella had finished soaking up chicken stock, the beer has been poured and we were ready to eat. While the sobremesa – mealtime chat – wasn’t as lively as my finca experience in Málaga, the workshop was more hands on. In fact, there was little more chatter than ‘mmmmm’ as we tucked in and Víctor prepared us a palate cleanser.

The cumin in the spinach with chickpeas, the laced leek in the paella and a tinge of garlic translated through the other tastes, a clear sign that we’d done something right under watchful eyes.

Espinacas con Garbanzos (Spinach with Chickpeas)
Print
Ingredients
  1. 900g (30 oz) fresh spinach
  2. 150 g
  3. (5-6 oz.) chickpeas
  4. 1 medium size onion
  5. 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped into slices
  6. peeled crushed tomatoes
  7. cumin, salt and sherry vinegar to taste
  8. olive oil
  9. stale white bread.
Instructions
  1. Add 4-5 spoons of olive oil into a large frying pan, fry garlic on a low heat to caramelize. Set aside
  2. Dice and fry the bread and then add to the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and a pinch of cumin. Crush together and add a tablespoon of water to make paste.
  3. Boil the spinach for 5 minutes and set aside.
  4. In the same pan as before, fry the chopped onion with a pinch of salt until it's caramelized.
  5. Add 5-6 spoons of crushed tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Next add the boiled spinach, the bread paste, a pinch of salt, cumin to taste and a spoon of sherry vinegar.
  7. Finally stir in the chickpeas, mix well and cook until the liquid reduces.
  8. Season with salt and cumin to taste.
Sunshine and Siestas http://sunshineandsiestas.com/
 Did I personally learn any new kitchen tricks? I suppose, but a blast of Saharan heat has had me out of the kitchen and even skipping dinner these last few weeks. The one thing that still rings true is my devotion to Spanish food and everything that goes into it – fresh ingredients, bursts of flavor and the sobremesa chatter.

Have you ever done a cooking course or food tour? Read about A Cooking Day, Devour Barcelona and Devour Seville food experiences. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4878

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

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

romeros ready for El Rocio

Devout pilgrims at el Rocio

Romeros on Calle Pureza Triana

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

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

Rocio Fashion 2015

carretas of El Rocio

Gitanas El Rocio

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

music of el Rocio

prensa en el rocio

Triana to El Rocio on horseback

romeros
Romeros de Triana 2015

Calle Pureza during El Rocio

El Rocio passing by the Esperanza de Triana

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

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

Salida del Simpecado Rociero

 

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

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

Spain Snapshots: the Monastery of Yuste in Extremadura

When I announced that I’d won a writing contest and had a free weekend’s stay in a luxury apartment in Trujillo, the Novio had one condition: that we could also explore the Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste, the place where Holy Roman Emperor Charles V went to die.

Ya sabes,” he said, not looking away from the TV, “that’s my plan, too.” To die in the countryside, that is, away from civilization with nothing more than warm air and mountains in front of him – NOT in Yuste.

Visiting the Monasterio de Yuste

For a history nerd like my boyfriend, the monastery where one of Spain’s most important rulers spent his final years was a must-see on our pilgrimage through the extremeño countryside. We’d been wowed at the Guadalupe Monastery after being lost for several hours, and I was enchanted by Trujillo’s medieval streets (and its stinky torta del casar cheese), but Yuste was not as thrilling as we expected.

I mean, the place has a ton of history: built in the 15th Century by Hieronymite monks and nestled between almond trees and rocky mountain peaks, the monastery has both renaissance and gothic architecture, quiet patios and allegories in classical literature.

inner courtyards of yuste

Yuste Extremadura

In fact, it was here that the Holy Roman Emperor chose to retire after abdicating the throne to Philip II (my favorite royal Spanish personality, thanks mostly to his silly hat and stockings), seeking peace and prayer in his final days. Ceded to the Spanish government after the Civil War, it was restored in the 1950s.

As the monarch that spearheaded Spain’s globalization of language, religion and culture, Yuste would be a must-visit for anyone who loves Spanish history.

Right from the beginning, I felt corralled as guides asked my to move along from the ticket counter (and, ouch, 9€!) through a small gift shop and to the first interior patio, which stood on the northern side of the chapel. As I snapped pictures, a blue-clad security guard cleared his throat behind me and motioned for me to move into the sanctuary.

gardens yuste

monastery at yuste

If Carlos V was looking for peace and quiet, he certainly wouldn’t have found it in the modern day monastery, and I couldn’t help feeling cramped during our brief visit. 

Perhaps the most interesting part were the royal apartments, built just a few years before Carlos V’s death so that the Emperor would have a view to the altar and feel the fresh afternoon breezes blow through. The torture device-looking chair that he was carried in on his final journey was also placed in the corner of the room facing expansive gardens to the south.

It was hard to imagine the tranquility he felt with so many families around chattering, so we beelined out of the bare rooms and into the warm March sunshine.

Carlos V apartments yuste

yuste monastery extremadura

The Novio, even more disappointed that it took us twice as long to get to Cuacos de Yuste and the monastery as it did to tour it, had one suggestion: let’s find the nearest town and the nearest bar, and enjoy the almond blossoms on a terrace.

If you go: The Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste is located in the village of Cuacos de Yuste in northern Extremadura, making it accessible from Cáceres and Madrid. The site is open every day but Mondays from 10am, and tickets cost a whopping 9€. For more information, check the Patrimonio Nacional’s website. Carlos V has been resting besides his son in San Lorenzo de El Escorial for centuries, and that monastery is definitely worth a visit.

Want more Extremadura? Trujillo Villas | Guadalupe | Garganta de la Olla

Prefer to read about places I’m iffy about? Barcelona | Setenil de las Bodegas | Luarca

Have you ever visited a historical site in Spain? Or a place that fell short of expectations?

The A-Z of the Feria de Abril

It’s the happiest time of the year – now that the azahar has bloomed and the gold-laden Holy Week floats have been stored, Seville takes a week to celebrate Andalusian horses, Andalusian sherry and Andalusian music at the April Fair.

The Feria de Abril’s origins lie in a former cattle and livestock fair in the Prado de San Sebastián, though you’d never know it – the biggest and most traditional fair is all about appearances and connections, and it comes with its own set of vocabulary.

Feria de Abril Glossary

For a first-time fairgoer, your senses will be put to the test. The grounds smell of fried fish and horse poop and the music coming from the tents all begins to mix together into a raucous jumble of flamenco, but it’s a visual feast with the lights, the garb and the horses. 

I was completely underprepared for the fair my first year – I wore jeans and a ratty shirt, and then wore the wrong types of accessories with my flamenco dress and didn’t know how to dance sevillanas – but look forward to it each year. Like everything in Seville, there are traditions and rules about how to dress and how to act, and the vocabulary that’s used to describe every aspect is used increasingly in the weeks leading up to the big event.

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

You’ll already stick out as a foreigner, but here’s a list of 20 indispensable words to know if you’re heading to the Feria de Abril:

Albero: Albero is the sandy mix of terrain that lines the sidewalks of the fairgrounds. 

Alumbrado: Happening at midnight on the Lunes (Monday) of Feria, the main gate is lit by the city’s mayor. There are hundreds of thousands of bulbs covering both the portada and the lights along the streets, but they’re all LED!

Amazona: Women choose to wear either a traditional gypsy dress or don a riding outfit to ride side-saddle. An Amazona is a way to call the latter.

Calle del Infierno: Literally translated as ‘Hell Street,’ the Calle del Infierno is located at the western edge of the fairgrounds and has carnival rides, booths and food stands. Keep an extra eye on your purse here.

feria casetas tents farolillos lights in seville spain

Caseta: The makeshift tents that line the streets of the Real. These small structures are owned by families, political parties, businesses or organizations, some of them being private while others public. Each caseta has a kitchen, bathroom and room to dance or eat. 

Coche de Caballos: A central element of the fair is the Andalusian horse, and horse carriages circulate on a city-mandated route from noon until 8pm. The permission to bring a horse carriage is only granted to several hundred official carriages, and the licenses are pricey! Just be sure to watch for horse poop!

feria horses april fair seville

Complementos: A traditional dress is nothing without its larger-than-life accessories. Women don shawls (mantoncillos), earrings (pendientes), combs (peinetas) and large flowers, and it’s not uncommon to see bracelets of necklaces, either. 

Corrida de Toros: Big-name bullfighters come to Seville during the fair to practice their sport at the Maestranza bull ring. Tickets are pricey and seats are limited. In fact, the names of the streets in the real are named for Andalusian bullfighters, like Juan Belmonte or Curro Romero.

El Pescaíto: The opening meal of the fair, open to members of the casetas, where fried fish is served. This dinner usually commences at 9pm. The day itself is called the lunes de pescaíto.

Enchufe: A catch-all word that means plug in a literal and figurative sense, having connections and invitations to a caseta means you’ve got enchufe. Start asking around a few weeks before Semana Santa to see who has access and who can invite you (in exchange for food and drink, of course!).

Farolillo: Paper lanterns that are strung up in the fairgrounds and lit at night.

me and luna in the door of the caseta

Feriante: an adjective referring to anyone who is a fair-goer. As in, Cat es muy feriante.

Fino: Sherry wine made from Palomino grapes that is consumed by the bucketload. See also: rebujito.

Portero: The doorman in private casetas reserves the right to let you in or not. Flirting sometimes works, but you’re better off saying you know someone inside and will just nip in to look for him.

Portada: Taking on a different design every year, the portada is the main gate that crowns Calle Antonio Bienvenida. It’s covered in lightbulbs and is known as a meeting point (even though ‘Let’s meet under the portada‘ is like saying, I’ll try to look for you somewhere in the city center).

Portada de la Feria 2013

Real de la Feria: The recinto ferial isn’t enough of a name – Seville’s fairgrounds has an upgraded moniker known as the Real de la Feria, or simply el Real. It’s often referred to this way in the press.

Rebujito: This sherry and 7-up hybrid is the drink of choice for many sevillanos during the week. Served in a pitcher with ice and small glasses for sipping, it’s concocted from a half liter of dry sherry and two cans of the soft drink. Be careful – it’s a lot more potent than you’d imagine!

Sevillanas: Locals are known for being rancios – overly traditional – and the only music you’ll hear spilling out of the casetas are rumbas or sevillanas. Sevillanas is a four-part dance in which partners court one another. The basic steps repeat over and over again, but the difficult increases from the first to the fourth parts (and after too much rebujito).

Socio(s): Those with enchufe will likely know socios, or card-carrying members of casetas. Individuals will pay a yearly fee – in addition to whatever they spend – for the maintenance and decor of the caseta. Each one usually elects a president who must hire the food and entertainment, along with the people who erect the tent before the festivities. When the Novio and I were socios, we had to show a special card plus a yearly pass to be able to enter!

Traje de Gitana: Women tend to wear a flamenco dress with ruffles and polka dots, known as a traje de gitana or simply a traje. These garments can cost 500€ or more depending on the fabric, designer and number of ruffles, or volantes, and they are worn with complementos. Some women have multiple dresses so as not to be seen twice in the same traje. The only rule is that the dresses are not worn on the Lunes del Pecaíto.

And a word I taught my Spanish students after my first Alumbrado? Hangover.

Did I miss any words on the list? What are your favorite feria-esque words?

Autonomous Community Spotlight: Madrid

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

spain collage

Admittedly, Madrid and I did not get off to a very good start. I’d already been in Valladolid on a study abroad program for a month, and we were rushed around the capital for ten hours – we visited Plaza de España, Plaza de la Villa, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol and the Prado Museum, and then were given a mere free hour to see something else. I found the capital uninviting, lifeless and a bit dull (Tens-Years-Later Me is kind of mad that I could have cared less about seeing the Prado because I just wanted an ice cream cone).

Over time, Madrid became more than just a stopover between flights for me – I spend more time in La Capital than elsewhere in Spain, have friends and family there and find the city to be the injection of urban life that I need every so often. 

Name: La Comunidad de Madrid

Population: The urban area of Madrid itself is the third largest urban area in Europe, with over 6.3 million inhabitants. 

madrid_flag

2000px-Madrid_in_Spain.svg

Provinces: Just one, with the administrative capital located in the Spanish capital.

When: 3rd of 17, June 2005

About La Comunidad de Madrid: Located smack dab in the middle of the country, the autonomous community named for its capital city is one of Spain’s most illustrious, and usually a place where visitors hit.

Before the mid 16th Century, the city of Madrid was little more than a speck on the map and a town principally known in the farming trade. Felipe II (Spain’s greatest monarch because of his choice of haberdashery) moved the capital from Valladolid and made Madrid the center of his extensive empire, as the area had long been a favorite for nobles and was geographically sound.

Long before becoming Spain’s most important city, Madrid had inhabitants dating from Lower Paleolithic and saw a surge in population during the Roman Empire when it formed part of Lusitania. Populaton and importance fell once the Visigoths moved in.

El Oso y el Madroño

Because of its location, sandwiched between the Castilles and Al-Andalus, the region saw power change hands between Christians and Moors – in fact, the name comes from Arabic Mayrit and originated around the 9th Century, forming part of Al-Andalus until the 1083 reconquest allocated it to the Castillian kingdom, where it had territorial independence.

Madrid began to grow after its appointment as the seat of the Kingdom of Spain, and in the 1830s, a province of the same name was founded, shifting the political strong arm from Toledo. This act eventually led to a dispute between the pre-establish autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha and its northern neighbor, and the Comunidad de Madrid was, in fact, the last of 17 to be created.

Must-sees: Dios, what shouldn’t you see in Madrid? It seriously has something for everyone and is Spain’s pulsing, passionate heart.

Within the capital, there are an abundance of world-class museums – the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen make up the so-called ‘Art Circle’ – as well as historical sites like the Royal Palace and adjacent Almudena cathedral. Spain’s version of Broadway is here. The government sets up shop in Moncloa. Every national highway passes through the Puerta del Sol. The Buen Retiro park is captivating at any change of the season.

mercado de san miguel pintxos madrid

Dining in Madrid is an absolute treat as well, from its typical taverns serving up fried calamari and grilled pig’s ear to swanky gastrobars and fusion restaurants. In Madrid, I get all of my favorite international cuisines, like Thai and Korean, and it’s a place where Old Man bars are the real deal – and vivan las tapas gratis (I don’t care if they’re day-old microwaved bravas – free is free!) If you’re new to Spanish gastronomy, consider a tapas tour or sip a vermouth while feasting your eyes and tummy on a food market.

Toledo Spain

If you’re able, consider a day trip out of the capital. Segovia and Toledo, two medieval cities, are on the cercanías commuter line, as is Alcalá de Henares, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and birthplace of Spain’s own Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes. You can also check out delightfully charming towns like Chinchón or Buitrago, contemplate Spain’s Golden age at El Escorial or reflect on its darkest days at Valle de Los Caídos. If sport is more your thing, the comunidad has loads of hiking trails and a ski resort.

My take:  While most who have made Spain their home claim that there’s far more to Iberia than its capital (I myself am of this camp), there’s no sense in skipping it. Madrid has everything – culture, art, gastronomy, nightlife and a handful of day trips. If Puerta del Sol is Kilometer 0, the rest of Spain seems to spiral around it.

metro of Madrid

I’ve probably spent more than two months in Madrid collectively and in every season. After exhausting all of the touristic options, one of my favorite things to do is pick a neighborhood and spend time popping in and out of shops, sampling treats at bakeries and sitting in sun-filled cafés.

Madrid always seems to embrace me when I’m there, even if it’s just a quick trip to El Diamante for a bocadillo de calamares before hopping a plane back home. I know Malasaña and La Latina as well as I know Barrio Santa Cruz, can name Metro stops and their corresponding colored lines and beeline right to my favorite international food joints. Madrid is an old, familiar pair of blue jeans for me. But the trendy kind.

Outside of Seville, it’s probably the only place I’d willingly move to in a heartbeat.

Have you ever traveled around the Madrid province? What do you like (or not) about it?

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia | La Rioja

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