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.


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.


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).


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?


Spain Snapshots: My Camino de Santiago, Video Style

I get it – you’re sick of my Camino posts, but there are so many stories from the road to tell. You’ve had one round of my Camino photos, but when I hit the save button, I didn’t feel like the journey was over. True, it’s the sort of thing that stays with you for a long time, but short of actually going and walking, it’s hard to experience.

Splicing together a video was as frusterating as it was fun, but here’s the finished project. I took several hours of video, but have cut it down to give you an idea of pilgrim life – the walking, the clothes washins and dryins (look for that in Arzúa), the landscapes.

Thanks to my new GoPro Hero3 (and the famous Don Gaa, who life hacked his way to it at a bargain bin price), I’ve been shooting a lot of video lately, and I’ve got several projects in the works. Be sure to subscribe to my youtube channel for more videos of Seville and beyond!

Preguntas Ardientes: Is an International Bank Account Right for Me?

I get loads of questions from you guys about moving to Spain and settling in, how to handle money and how to learn Spanish (and what to eat, duh). Up and moving to any country has its own set of headaches – both before and after – and I try and answer as best I can when readers ask questions on everything to how to work in Spain to how to deal with homesickness. That’s where Preguntas Ardientes comes in – a series dedicated to the ins and outs of expat life in Iberia. If you’re curious or have a burning question, email me at sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] com – I’d love to hear from you!

Recently, the Novio and I were at a gala for his squadron’s anniversary. Most of his coworkers are aware that his partner is foreign with a flair for sevillanía, so I often become the center of attention during cocktail hour when they shoot a million questions at me (and I’m really more interested in the canapés, jerks).

The most common? What was the hardest part about moving abroad? After adapting to the language and finding friends, the most challenging part of daily life was money (and it’s something you guys ask me about often, too!).

I had and still maintain an income in Spain, whereas as all of my bills were linked to accounts back in the US. I had no idea how to pay taxes in either country (or if I even needed to), and transferring money between euros and dollars soon began to eat into my savings account. Having one foot in two places can be difficult – but then again, I expected to be in Spain for just one year.

While I have kept three bank accounts in two different countries, I never considered offshore banking or international accounts. No, this isn’t the stuff of international spies or crime rings, but a convenient way to handle your money while abroad thanks to flexible options and lower costs of account maintenance.

Let’s face it – Spain is a country that has a high international population, and these people often have ties to their home country – both mentally and financially. For expats who still receive payments of benefits from their home country (such as retirement or payouts, or even freelance work), considering this type of service is one of the biggest benefits of an offshore savings account. You don’t need to worry about converting dollars to euros to pounds and back in your head, nor deal with spending more money to make transfers between bank accounts, as an international account will allow you to do this all for a small monthly fee.
Is an international bank account right for you? If you’ve still got one foot in each bucket, then it’s worth considering. If you’re looking for extra perks, such as travel insurance to cover you wherever you go, then you should more than consider it. Sometimes, you can get more financial benefits from having your assets in just one account, rather than splitting them up between different institutions. Doing your research really does pay off (I love puns and you should, too).
Do you have an international bank account? How does it work for you?

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: Quiosco El Gato Negro

When I first came to Spain, I loved how the tiled-lined abuelo bars would be full of octogenarians who would spend their pension’s pennies on the loud and brightly-lit slot machines in the bar while they sipped their morning cortados. The gambling and betting has been a part of Spanish culture since the mid-18th Century when the Lotería Nacional was formed, though its modern form didn’t roll around until the early 1800’s.

It’s common to see people lined up during big weekly draws, but especially when the Primitiva hits in September, and for El Gordo, the annual Christmas drawing that is one of the largest prizes in Spain. Even watching the children of Colegio San Ildefonso in Madrid sing out the numbers is like a national holidays. I was once on a train to Madrid during the drawing and the event was broadcast over the loudspeakers, and last year watched it in a bar near Plaza Santa Ana as the other patrons clutched their tickets, hoping for a win.

Colleagues and families often buy large blocks of tickets to have better odds, agreeing to split the money por si toca (if it happens). I’m not a big player, but I have to smile when I see the old men pulling coins out of their pockets to take their chances on a few numbers.

Just adjacent to the opposing cathedral is El Gato Negro, a small storefront where people queue up to buy lottery tickets and likely Seville’s most famous quiosco. There’s an A-4 sized tile of a black cat, the universal symbol of bad luck, that patrons reach up and pet when they’ve bought themselves a ticket for good luck. You can see where the tile has been worn during years of serving the public trying to strike it rich.

I didn’t get a shot of anyone petting the kitty, but in the three minutes I creeped around, nearly a dozen people walked in and out, trying their luck.

Two Weeks on the Camino de Santiago: 14 Pictures of my Journey (Part 1)

The Camino is full of little moments – a beautiful medieval bridge, a small roadside shrine, a memorable meal shared with other pilgrims. In the 14 days it took us to walk from Avilés to Santiago de Compostela, we saw all of the things I love about Spain. Much as I wanted to capture it all in my journal or with my camera, there was simply no time. For once, I was living in the moment and learning about myself and about life.

But really, I would have ‘sooner broken my neck’ than leave my camera behind.

In all, I took 25MB of photos and videos. I wanted to remember EVERYTHING  – what our meals consisted of, the people we met and their faces, the names of every small hamlet we passed through. We saw breathtaking beaches, the lush rolling landscapes of Northern Spain, hundreds of farm animals and stone crucifixes.

The pictures that follow all have stories, or they were simply a part of pilgrim life – simple living at its best. I could write an entire blog about our daily experiences on the trail, but it would be much of the same: We walked. We stopped for a coffee. We walked more. I got a new blister. We kept walking…

These 14 pictures go beyond the big moments that we experienced – they’re all the little things that went into our shared experience.

Day One // Monday, July 29th, 2013 // Avilés – El Pito // 26.5km

I easily shot the most on this day – everything was so new, every way marker a bit different from the last, the landscapes so dramatic as the cliffs of Asturias dropped into the sea. The weather was perfect and my body felt strong and able. We got lost early on in the day, stopped for beer just because and even splurged on a gorgeous guest house with the most comfortable beds ever.

What has really stuck with me, though, was our afternoon stop in Cudillero, a quaint fishing village built on a hidden inlet. Foolishly thinking there was a beach, Iván and I waded in the shallow bay, letting the cool water ease the pain in our feet. I watched the local kids splash around and look for hermit crabs between the moss-covered rocks.

I remember feeling extremely happy, between the kids and the water and the bottle of cider that followed. The journey had only just begun, and I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day and set out again.

Day Two // Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 // El Pito – Santa Marina // 21.1km

Ouch. We began the day with a tough climb to Soto de Luiña, and I was relieved that we didn’t do those last 10 kilometers the day before. The trail led us back and forth between the beach and the rolling hills straight off of a bottle of Leche Asturiana as we passed through beautiful Soto and hugged the N-634 highway into Santa Marina, where we’d spend the night.

After a painful hike down a steep hill and about 100 stairs, we arrived at a beach that looked straight out of Jurassic Park – rock crags shot up from the water, creating small pools full of water when the tide came in. It was windy, chilly and rocky, but considering I am like a seven-year-old boy when it comes to prehistoric lizards and Asturias was once Dinotown in Spain, I was psyched.

But that hike up the hill again definitely deserved a super enormous dinner, one of the best we had along the trail.

Day Three // Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 // Santa Marina – Luarca //27 km

I had a terrible night’s sleep, but was psyched to get to Luarca, considered one of Spain’s most beautiful villages. It was a day with a lot of highway walking and a constant threat of rain, and we got to Luarca absolutely exhausted and later than normal. I also got my first two blisters long before arriving, though we did get fabada and a kick-ass salad. Not all was lost.

Day Four // Thursday, August 1st, 2013 // Luarca – A Caridá // 31km

This was the longest, absolute longest day ever, and also the ugliest. Every time we’d ask how far off A Caridá was, we’d get the same ‘Just about a kilometer’ answer from nearly everyone, when, in fact, we were much further. We ran into road construction, never-ending hills and detours. I honestly thought my feet were going to fall off by the time we got to Navia for a snack, and there were still 10 kilometers still to go (there was, however, a puppy halfway through).

We got several laughs by the time we’d had a beer midmorning and were so tired that everything was laughable – a deranged old lady who hassled Hayley, a cow who mooed at me while I relieved myself in the middle of a field, two more who got it on as we walked by (that was for real the funniest thing ever). I also sat on an ortiga, causing an itchy rash.

It was also here that we finally stayed in a shiny new albergue, grabbing the last three beds before the place filled up (which would have meant backtracking three kilometers to the old albergue). The hospitalero was amazing – he opened up his restaurant for us, gave us second helpings and bought us a drink later in the evening. When they say that people protect pilgrims and do what they can to make the Camino easier, they’re right.

Day Five // Friday, August 2nd, 2013 //  A Caridá – Ribadeo // 21.5km

After seven days between Oviedo and Figueras, we left Asturias, arriving to Ribadeo early enough to enjoy a long lunch, a long siesta and a visit to Trip Advisor’s top-rated beach, Playa As Catedrais. It was a quick day walking, to be honest, knowing we’d be racing the others to get to a bed in the teeny albergue in Ribadeo. Santiago seemed closer than ever as we crossed into the region of Galicia. All at once, the way markers changed direction and we walked with more purpose.

Ribadeo reminded me a lot of Cádiz or El Ferrol – you could tell that, if taken care of, the city could really shine. It was the perfect introduction to Lugo.

I also remember falling on this day in Porcia as we crossed a medieval bridge. My knee began giving me problems, and I’d eventually cave and go to a pharmacy for a knee brace. The pharmacy was located next to a store called ‘Todo para Abuelos,’ and we had to laugh at the irony.

Day Six // Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 // Ribadeo – Lourenzá // 27.5km

While in Ribadeo, Hayley and I realized we needed a breather from our other peregrino friends – we just wanted a bit of solitude. On the sixth day, we did a long hike through rolling meadows, passing towns with nary a supermarket or bar, just a small collection of houses and an occassional church. Villagers raised their arms to wave and mutter a ‘Buen Camino!’ and everything (including watching a huge caterpillar get pummeled by a car) seemed hilarious.

For the first and only time on the hike, we stopped for lunch before reaching our finishing point. After ordering a large beer, the woman at the bar informed us that she only had potato chips and old pastries to offer us. I was a bit crestfallen, as we hadn’t packed many snacks that day, but the bar next door didn’t disappoint – an enormous fuente of lentejas, a bottle of strong red and the laughter of the other pilgrims who had also stopped for fuel.

We spent the last 10 kilometers belting out John Denver songs. Rocky Mountain high….yes.

There was just one bed at the inn and no shower door in Lourenzá, so we decided to splurge on a private room. Just 10€ for a bedroom, hot shower, laundry facilities and a kitchen where we’d meet Valèrie and Guido, the adorable French couple who moved faster than we did.

Day Seven // Sunday, August 4th, 2013 // Lourenzá – Gontán // 24km

My first step out of bed was fine, but the second caused a weird crack in my knee. It was still dark and I fumbled for the bottle of aspirin I’d left nearby in my plastic bag filled with drugs, earplugs, needles and band aids. It was going to be a long day.

The trail wasn’t so long, but after a quick nine kilometers downhill into Mondoñedo, we had to literally climb a mountain. As we zigzagged into one of Galicia’s ancient kingdoms, I told Hayley that I was considering taking a bus or taxi to Gontán. She nodded her head in agreement, though I knew she wouldn’t be joining me. I even got tendonitis as we neared closer to our breakfast spot, an aptly named Bar Peregrino.

After a strong coffee and an enormous breakfast, my optimism came back, and I was willing to push through the pain. As we left Mondoñedo and its breathtaking valley and continued the climb up, I was happy that I decided to forgo a free ride and stick to my plan to walk the entire way to Santiago.

Halfway up the mountain, which was a climb of eight kilometers, Santine and Claude were stopped, talking to a woman on a rickety chair dressed entirely in black. Two small boys rode bicycles in the small hamlet behind her. She pointed to a cemetery down the rode with a dozen headstones. ‘They’ve all left. I’m all there is,’ she lamented.

Reaching Lousada meant we were nearly to the top of the mountain, and even then there was another hour of walking. We tried to animarnos with a bit of cheese and chocolate, and I’m pretty sure we both cried that day of physical pain and exhaustion. The inn was once again full, meaning walking to the next town, Abadín, and paying for a hotel room.

…to be continued.

Want more? My flickr page has every photo you could ever want to see, and I’m working on my first video! In the meantime, you can watch Hayley’s Camino video and tear up when I do when arriving to the Obradoiro (or laugh at how excited I get about a plate of lentejas)! To learn more about the Camino de Santiago, check out my resources page, or get your FAQs answered by Trevor of A Texan in Spain.

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