A First-Timers Guide to Las Fallas

At nearly 6 am, small firecrackers still fizzled on the streets. I’d been awake for an entire day, driving from one end of Spain to the other before plugging my fingers in my ears every three minutes. This is Las Fallas, the Valencian festival celebrating Saint Joseph by burning a whole bunch of paper-mâiché effigies.

Fireworks and charangas? Well, color me hortera and show me the way!

Las Fallas Ninots Flamenco Dancer

I’ve used my Semana Santa holidays to explore the Balkans and India and had planned to walk part of the Camino up to Mérida in 2016. But when Valencia’s biggest festival falls during your vacation time and you have a friend offering up a couch, you curb your walking plans in favor of pyromania.

After a six hour trip from Seville, I parked my car at the end of the metro line in Torrent and hopped onto the train. Emily, a college friend, had recently moved to Valencia and into the trendy, central neighborhood of Ruzafa.

Beautiful ninots in Valencia

Almost as soon as I’d surfaced the street with a duffel bag slung over my shoulder and a pillow stuffed under my arm, I was met with smoke. Smoke from kids lighting firecrackers in the street at their feet, smoke from the stands frying up churros and buñuelos. The streets of Cádiz, Sueca and Cuba had become an all-out festival chocked with food stands peddling stuffed jacket potatoes and corn, people carrying cans of beer and ninots, two-story high effigies that would meet their fiery deaths during the Cremà.

It took me nearly 30 minutes to traverse the narrow streets that had been shut down, save foot traffic. The ninots – the valencià word for puppet – towered overhead, depicting current events, celebrities and political figures, as well as nods to Valencian culture. Traditionally, each pocket of a neighborhood has a special sort of brotherhood, much like Seville’s religious hermandades, called a casal. Each casal pools together money, time and resources to conceive and construct a ninot and then display it on a street corner in the days leading up to March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph.

what is las fallas like

Valencia has 750 casales with 200,000 members – about one-quarter of the city’s population. That made for a lot of ninots to see (pick up a map of the most popular from the tourism office or look for city patrons on the main thoroughfares and in booths.

Emily’s flat on the eighth floor near the market was close enough to the action but far enough that I could relax for a short time. I’d arrived just after the Mascletà, a daily barrage of noise emanating from the city’s main square. Em and I hadn’t seen each other since we graduated, but we fell into a rhythm, gabbing our way out the door and into the street to gawk at the ninots, cans of beers in hand.

Ruzafa is not only the city’s hipster paradise, home to a dizzying amount of trendy eateries and bars, but a hotspot (pun intended) during Fallas. Every Haussmann-style street corner had a ninot stacked up to three stories and fanciful lights, arbor-style, surrounding them. Even in the middle of the day, young people stumbled around, throwing fizzlers into their wake. It was hazy, despite the overcast afternoon.

Are there fireworks at Las Fallas

Crossing Gran Vía de Colón, we ran right into the L’Ofrena des Flors. One of the Novio’s coworker’s wife is a natural valenciana and gushed about this part of Falles in which falleros don traditional costumes and bring bundles of flowers to a towering Virgen de los Desamparados sitting in Plaza de la Virgen. Behind the barricades, I craned my neck and stood on my tiptoes to watch the casales pass by, arms full of daisies and sunflowers.

Women falleras take their garb seriously – like southern Spain’s traje de gitana, quality dresses are handmade, unique and costly. Come to think of it, dressing for Las Fallas was more like the Feria de Abril than I could have imagined. Consisting of a hooped skirt and bodice, they are typically made of pure silk and embroidered. Once you add the lace shawl and apron, shoes, jewelry and hair do, you’ve practically bought a wedding dress.

Fallera Women in Las Fallas

child fallera

typical costume in valencia

And it doesn’t end there – each casal elects a fallera mayor, who plays the part of hostess and attends to a court d’honor. This means food and fresh flowers for twelve people, much like entertaining in a caseta – and just about as costly.

Night was falling as L’Ofrena ended. Firecrackers sizzled under our feet as we looked for a tapas bar with room to squeeze into. It was drizzling and the center of town was packed with revelers. Dessert was a classic farton, a spongy cake made from sugar, milk, flour and eggs.

Valencia city center

The night’s main attraction was surprisingly not pyrotechnics. Emily’s friends took us to an outlying neighborhood, Benimcalet, for a charanga. I confess: I have a soft spot for cheesy brass bands and Spanish wedding music. A small square was packed with people swaying back and forth to a rock band, and the old man bar anchoring the plaza served up cheap cubatas whose alcohol content was barely balanced out by soft drinks. By this point in time, I’d been up for 18 hours, and we danced and drank until the sun began to peek through the trees at 6am. I collapsed onto the couch, fully clothed.

A ripple of fireworks – the mascletà – rang through Ruzafa the next afternoon at 2pm. I was groggy, a product of both the deadly gin tonics from the night before and the crackle and pop from the rifles. I could already see smoke rising from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

I pulled on my boots and gulped down the coffee Em had made for me.Emily had already done her homework for the evening and had mapped out a route to see some of the city’s best ninots and lights displays before they’d meet their fiery end that evening. We spent the better part of the afternoon ducking out of the rain between visiting the city’s best ninots.

Tourists at Las Fallas Valencia

valencia festival las fallas

ninots las fallas mermaids

Popular lore says that the festival began as a way to burn off excess firewood on the spring equinox, eventually coinciding with the Feast of Saint Joseph, the carpenter. A typical piece of furniture burnt was the parot, a structure from which candles were hung. Over time, the primitive parots morphed into the effigies we see today, from rag dolls to elaborate, whimsical art pieces.

Like the chirigotas of the Cádiz Carnavales,  the majority of the ninots poke fun at politics and current events. We saw quite a few Rita Barberás, the former mayor of Valencia who was indicted for fraud in 2016, as well as ponytailed Pablo Iglesias, Belén Esteban and the King.

The rain meant we spent time drinking vermouths in Ruzafa’s trendy bars and watching the light shows on Calle Cuba. More than half a million colored bulbs glitter every hour after dusk, more than making up for the cancelled Cavalcada del Foc, a fireworks parade from Porta da Mar down Gran Via de Colón.

Light shows at Las Fallas

For hours, we powered walked, hand-in-hand, all over the center of the city, pushing past crowds and peeking into casales. The marquees were stocked end to end with tables and folded chairs, and scraps of food remained, untouched, in the centers. Falleras strolled in and out, often followed by a video crew.

As it neared 10pm, we were faced with a choice: nab a spot in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento to see the city’s falla be burnt at the very end of the night, or catch a falla infantil and one of the neighborhood fallas. We were at Convento de Jerusalén, just in front of the Estació de Nord.

the ambience of las fallas

This casal is part of the Secció Especial, amongst the most prestigious in the city (if you’re in Valencia before the Plantà on March 15th, you can visit all of the ninots and vote which two to save. They’re at the City of Arts and Sciences, and the expo is 3€ for adults and 1,50€ for children).

Just before 10pm, the casal’s fallera mayor and her pint-sized counterpart stood in front of the smaller, satire-free ninot. This close, you could see the fireworks-laden base that made up the whimsical, storybook creation. At 10 o’clock, the fallera infantil was introduced to the local media. She had a long string in her hand and tears in her eyes as a band made up of trumpets, drums and dolçaina – a reed instrument – struck up. She tugged on the rope, sending off a pinwheel of firecrackers that would eventually spark the effigy – something out of a bedtime story – in flames.

children's falla in valencia

I fingered the earplugs in my jacket pocket, not sure if they’d do me much good against the deafening sound of firecrackers being lit across the city. My face burned from the intensity of the flames and the black smoke rising from every corner in Valencia, turning my camel-colored jacket a dingy grey. The small-scale puppet burned quickly, fizzling out with the help of a firehose in less than 10 minutes.

We rushed through the throngs of people back to Ruzafa. The streets had been difficult to traverse during the daytime, but the proximity to the main attraction – La Cremà – meant that we were pushing through crowds staking out a prime viewing spot. We’d wanted to see one of the Secció Especial ninots, but couldn’t push through all of the people quickly enough. Ducking onto a side street, we got a front row view to one of the neighborhood fallas, a wizard holding a key with a devil on the side. No one seemed to know the significance.

political irony at las fallas

Emily snaked her way through the masses to a street vendor and got some snacks and a couple of cans of beer. Like Semana Santa, there was a degree of waiting around during Las Fallas.

Just before midnight, half a dozen firemen placed their helmets on their heads and stood poised to put out flames, lest they get out of control. The metal gates surrounding the sculpture were pushed back, leading festivalgoers to be crammed into doorways and even scrawl their way up light posts. I saw kids with firecrackers in their hands, ready to toss them at the open flames.

I glanced at my watch. At promptly midnight, the murmur reached a fever pitch and the firemen grabbed their hoses. I couldn’t see over the shoulders of the revelers in front of me, but heat rose from the bottom of my boots and up my legs. One of my greatest fears is dying in a fire (…and jellyfish), but stepping back from the flames was not an option. I had arms tangled in mine, elbows next to my ears and even a child underfoot!

Festivals in Valencia Las Fallas

Ninots burning in Valencia

The Cremà in Valencia

As quickly as it had gone up in flames, the statue burnt to the ground, a mass of smoldering ashes in mere minutes.

We tried to get close to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento to catch the city’s gargantuan falla, which is burned after all others have met their fiery demise. From the front of the train station, we only caught a sliver of the multi-story statue of a faceless man’s blaze of glory.

I found it disappointing that every single ninot was set ablaze at exactly the same time. I likened it to having to choose a bunk on the first day of summer camp – you never really knew it if was the best one, if your friends were nearby, or if you’d be stuck next to the kid who talked in his sleep.

ninots in valencia

The whooping and hollering in the streets lasted until the following day’s mascletà. My head was swampy, a mixture of warm beers and smoke inhalation. I’d spend another day with Emily traipsing around the Jardines del Turia before stopping by the Quixotic windmills in Castilla-La Mancha and the UNESCO World Heritage cities of Úbeda and Baeza.

Like the Tomatina, Las Fallas was a festival I was glad to see once, but it didn’t spark (sorry, I am the worst) enough interest in me to go back another year. It felt like waiting in a long line only to be slightly disappointed when you had something shiny and new in your hand.

Perhaps we didn’t do it right. Perhaps the rain hampered the festivities. Perhaps I just didn’t feel the true emotion, my senses dulled after a long car ride and the inability to shake the damp. And as someone whose favorite holiday is the 4th of July, even Valencia’s fireworks and fanfare weren’t enough to move it to my top-of-mind when it came to Spanish festivals. It was a lot of fun, laced with beers and laughter and smoke.

a first timer's guide to

If you go: Las Fallas is one of Spain’s coolest festivals and happens during the first three weeks of March, culminating with the Cremà on March 19th. Book ahead and consider staying in Ruzafa or L’Eixample, where you’ll be within walking distance of public transportation and all of the major casales. Also bring cash – lots of street vendors won’t accept cards. You can find an official 2017 schedule here as well as a map to all of the city’s ninots.

Valencia is a city I love more and more with each trip. Check out their crazy ice cream flavors, the UNESCO lauded Lonja de la Seda and the famous tomato slinging festival, La Tomatina.

Have you ever been to Las Fallas or Valencia?

How to Look for a Spanish Villa for the Fall

Think of booking a villa in Spain and a lot of people will automatically start looking for availability in June, July or August. However, if you’re not following the crowds and would prefer to grab your Spanish sunshine in the fall, here are a few things to consider when you start browsing the Spanish villas for your break in the leafy season.

Think about heading south

The south of Spain tends to be a little hotter than the north, even in the autumn when temperatures are cooling down after the scorching summer. This makes it a good time to book some days away in the Spanish villas on the Costa del Sol, which British expats are so fond of. During the fall, the Costa del Sol enjoys approximately seven hours of daylight, which is a little more than some of the regions of the country.

One of the good things about the fall is that the crowds have started to clear away, so if you’re staying in the Costa del Sol you can visit attractions like the caves of Nerja without having to queue for as long.

Image by Psicobyte, used under Creative Commons license 2.0

Consider the scenery

The Costa Blanca may see its fair share of tourism and cater for that, but it also has some quaint towns and villages for those who want to explore as well as sit out in the sun. These include the fishing villages of Jávea, which has a gorgeously sandy beach, and Altea, which is a curious blend of traditional and cosmopolitan with houses that are whitewashed, streets that are winding and cobbled, but shops that are designer and therefore for more expensive tastes.

While in the Costa Blanca, you can visit the Girona river in the Orba Valley or head to Dènia and visit the castle. The temperature in the Costa Blanca during the fall is pleasant at a warm yet still mild 23°C. There are normally about six hours of daylight.

Image by schermpeter42, used under Creative Commons licence 2.0

Gauge opportunities to travel

When choosing your location, you might want to think about opportunities to travel a little further afield. For instance, if you decide to stay mainland you could book a villa in Portugal somewhere near the Spanish border, then cross the border and do a day trip in Spain. Alternatively, you can stay at a villa on an island and hop on a ferry over to a nearby island and do some exploring.

Flexibility is often the key in travel to getting the most out of your experiences. If you’re feeling a little undecided about when and where you can book a villa, why not consult the Villa Plus website and see how they can help you. They offer accommodation in Spain, Portugal and other popular destinations.

villas-in-spain

And remember: you don’t always have to hit Spain in the summer to get the most out of your Spanish villa. The fall is a fantastic time to visit. In fact, what better time (and excuse!) is there than a milder season to dip some churros in chocolate!

Where are you traveling this autumn?

Five Things to Do in Madrid with Kids

It’s no secret that Madrid is one of my favorite cities to visit – I love the energy, the options and the closest a Spanish city can come to my native Chicago. But it can get overwhelming, and even more so for children.

Madrid Plaza Mayor

The good news is that the Spanish child is rey in La Capi, and there are plenty of ways to keep them busy. What’s more, the activities, accommodations and even transportation deals, like flights from Expedia, can be cheap with minors, such as with Discountrue coupon deals. Once you’ve taken care of your finances, take a look at a few things that are niño-friendly in Madrid – or just perfect for your kid-at-heart self!

Zoo Aquarium (M: Casa del Campo, Lines 5 and 10)

This is not your ordinary zoo or aquarium, and your children will love to see animals roaming about without any chains or wiring. Those who are planning to visit the amusement park located in Casa de Campo – a wonderful green lung not too far from the Royal Palace – will be happy to learn that the Zoo Aquarium is located within the city limits and on public transportation lines. The animals are kept separate from the public by moats filled with water (and some that are not).

There are more than 500 different species of animals who call the Zoo home, including many animals native to the Iberian peninsula. The Zoo is making efforts at conservation to build populations of animals like the Iberian Lynx and Iberian Hawk.

Parque Warner (Cercanías C-3 to Pinto and bus 413 to the park)

What’s a summer vacation without an amusement park? Parque Warner is a wonderful destination for the child who loves cartoons, as all of their favorite Looney Tunes characters will be roaming around and signing autographs. If your kid is more of daredevil type, they will have six different roller coasters to choose from. Water rides are available too, and of course, there are a multitude of gift shops. Theaters and workshops provide visitors with a number of different shows to choose from as well.

The park is located 25 kilometers south of Madrid and package deals are the best way to save money.

Natural Science Museum (M: Gregorio Marañón, Lines 7 and 10)

Natural History Museum

A great destination for children and adults alike, given Spain’s long history. Kids are bound to enjoy all of the dinosaur fossils, while parents tend to take in the extinct animal specimens – there are 6,000! There are three separate zones to choose from and a plethora of activities that are geared specifically toward children. Parents can bring their little ones to educational workshops and have some free time to enjoy the remainder of the museum, a great rainy day activity.

Note that the museum is closed on Mondays. Children under 16 also have reduced ticket prices.

El Retiro and Madrid’s expansive parks (M: Retiro, Line 2)

Looking to have fun outdoors? In this case El Retiro, Madrid’s most famous park, is the perfect. The possibilities for children are endless, as they can choose from a variety of fun activities. They can bring their bicycles and roller blades that have started to collect dust in some forgotten corner of the house or take a relaxing boat ride on El Retiro’s pond, conveniently located in the center of the gardens.

The city has many other green areas near the city center, like Parque del Oeste and the free Egyptian temple, Templo del Debob.

Cuarta Pared, Teatro Sanpol and Other Children’s Theaters

Madrid’s multitude of children’s theaters provide a wonderful entertainment for the child who enjoys plays and musicals – and the city is famous for theatre. The shows are typically put on during weekend mornings and tickets cost far less than most adult activities. Teatro del Arte and La Escalera de Jacob also stage their own shows for children and you’ll have a wide range of magic shows, funny stories and puppet based performances to select from!

You can find shows and workshops on Teatro a Teatro‘s interactive guide.

Bonus: three ways to save euros if you have kids and are traveling in Spain

metro of Madrid

If Madrid is only one stop on your travel itinerary, check out Renfe’s table option. You can get a discount on a bundle of four tickets by choosing a tarifa mesa.

Museums have free  or reduced prices days, as do some attractions. Stop by the Tourism Office in Plaza Mayor for free maps, discount cards and hints at saving money.

Hotels in Madrid typically offer discounted rates for families with children of a certain age (typically 4-16), and AirBnB properties will give you the freedom to cook your own meals and relax. You can also try its European-specific equivalent, Wimdu.

Five Things to do in

What do you do with kids in Madrid? I’ve also got a post on what to do with kids in Seville.

13 Free (or ¡Casi!) Things to Do in Seville

Free  is not a word synonymous with Seville. But cheap is.

While the city won’t burn a hole in your pocket with its reasonable prices for accommodation, food and entertainment (not to mention low cost of living), Seville still has a load of free or low-cost activities while visiting the metropolis where flamenco echoes through alleyways and bullfighters are carried out of the rings on the shoulders of revelers. And believe me when I say that there are plenty of things to do in Seville, unlike most Spanish cities where a few museums are sprinkled in between historic buildings.

If you’re pinching euros, try these ideas:

Get lost in the city’s old quarters

city streets seville

It’s believed that Seville has the largest old city center in Europe, and its Roman, Visigoth and Moorish roots mean that everything in the district is cramped, chaotic and easy to get turned around in. Your map will do you no good, so it’s better to just toss it in your bag and wander.

Catch a free flamenco show

Even before UNESCO declared flamenco – a gypsy art said to have taken on its modern form in Seville – an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, flamenco has been infused into the lives of sevillanos and its visitors. Peñas flamencas, small bars dedicated to artists of years past, often put on free or discounted shows in small, dark locales, the guitar wailing as a dark­haired gypsy taps and claps her way across the stage.

Flamenco show in Seville

La Carbonería – Seville’s landmark flamenco joint makes it into every guidebook for good reason: shows are free and nightly at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. Still, the popularity of La Carbonería and its location in the heart of downtown means that the place is packed, the drinks are expensive and the dancers just sub­par (C/Levies, 18).

T de Triana – This bar cum flamenco haven features free shows on Tuesday and Thursday nights around 10:30 p.m. It’s location on Calle Betis makes it ideal for the start to a night on one of the city’s best­known nightlife spots (C/Betis, 20).

La Anselma – Even though I’m no fan of the boisterous former cantaora whose famous flamenco house brings people to my barrio, her shows are free. Just be aware that she’ll hound you for a drink until you’ve had an entire bottle of wine…yourself…by the time the second dancer goes on (C/Pagés del Coro, 49).

Not that I speak from experience.

Visit museums on their free days

Espacio Santa Clara Fountain Seville

Seville’s historical sites have been climbing in prices as the city fields more tourists. Stop by the tourism office in Plaza Virgen de los Reyes for a free guide to the reduced price or free days for both the big-ticket sites and offbeat museums. Your money should be going to tapas anyway.

Torre del Oro Monday all day
Alcázar Palace and Gardens Monday afternoon
Contemporary Art Museum Tuesday to Friday afternoons; all day Saturday
Castillo San Jorge Free daily
Cathedral and Giralda Sunday afternoon
Archivo de Indias Free daily with appointment
Casa de Pilatos Free Wednesday afternoon with EU ID card
Fine At Museum Free daily

EU citizens have their entrance to Itálica, a Roman settlement outside the city, free every day.

And if you’re a student under 26 with a valid ID card or carnet joven, you can cash in on discounted rates or free entrance at the Alcázar, Cathedral, Archaeological Museum and Arts and Customs Museum.

This is an especially good tactic if you visit in the summer – free A/C!

Lounge in one of the city’s expansive parks

Jardines del Generalife Granada

From María Luisa to Alamillo to the banks of the Guadalquivir, Seville’s parks are a defense against the hot summers and a cheap way to relax. Bring a picnic lunch for a cheap dining option, or come prepared for an afternoon siesta.

Bonus points if you bring a litrona of beer for a botellón!

Shop at a local’s market

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Nowhere in Seville can you witness the way its people live than in its local markets. Old ladies jab you with their elbows to get through the fruit stand while your jaw drops with the weird cuts of animals, the array of fish and the mounds of spices sold at each. Most markets are open Monday – Saturday from 8a.m. until 2p.m. Likewise, there is a fine arts fair just in front of the Fine Arts Museum every Sunday morning, weather permitting.

Wander the Exposition fairgrounds

Seville, for two brief periods in its long history, had the world’s attention when it hosted the Iberoamerican Festival in 1929 and again in 1992. Large portions of the city were dedicated to these projects.

Plaza de España Sevilla

In 1929, Seville became home to the Iberoamerican Fair, and event that brought together Latin-and South American countries in order to strengthen ties, most of which were Spanish colonies. Sitting at the southern end of the historic quarter, each country designed its own pabellón, or exhibition hall, crowned by the Plaza de España. All sites are free to view, though some aren’t open to the public or are used as government buildings.

On the opposite side of the city in the Isla de la Cartuja, Spain again hosted an exposition to welcome the 21 st century with over 100 countries in attendance. Preparations for the siteincluded building several new bridges to span the Guadalquivir River and a monorail, and the site is reputed to be from where Columbus left for his journey to America. While it remains largely abandoned, the expansive area is worth a visit, and you can visit the stunning Pabellón de Marruecos.

Sunshine on the Pabellon de Marruecos

Visit San Fernando Cemetery

While the idea of visiting a cemetery is a bit disconcerting to everyone but me, visiting Seville’s city cemetery is worth the hike for its beauty and peaceful respite from a bustling city. Inaugurated in 1852, the city’s most illustrious names have been lain to rest here, including bullfighters like Paquirri and flamenco singers, war heroes and criminals. The cemetery is open during daylight hours and on holidays, so it’s common to see burials and mourning loved ones, so silence and no photography is enforced. Take bus 10 from Ponce de León until you see the cemetery (1,40€/trip).

Discover the city’s Roman roots

Seville is a city that has been conquered, reconquered and conquered again, creating a matrix of architectural and artistic legacy. Perhaps the Roman roots of the city are best preserved, as city decrees outlaws the destruction of ruins or artifacts. Such objects can be seen in the archaeological museum of María Luisa Park, but you can discover some of them on your own.

Where to see Roman ruins in Seville

The corner of Calle Mármoles and Calle Abades houses columns of a temple; in Plaza de la Pescadería, believed to be at the crux of the old Roman streets, giant marble blocks preserve the ruins of a fish monger’s; and in Plaza de la Encarnación, visit gorgeous mosaics and old city walls that lie underneath the square (1,50€ for non­-EU citizens). There are also ruins of a Roman aqueduct just outside the city center on Luis Montoto.

Get holy at church

Plaza del Salvador Sevilla

Seville is home to the most renowned Holy Week celebrations in Spain, a somber week that transforms the last days of Jesus Christ into life­sized floats that cramp the city center. While it’s free to watch, you can visit the floats the other 51 weeks of the year and relish in the city’s devotion at most churches and chapels.

Only the Cathedral, Santa Ana and San Salvador cost money, so even just popping in for the relief from the hot sun is worthwhile. Don’t miss the venerable Macarena, or the teeny chapels under the Postigo Arch or the end of the Puente de Triana.

Enjoy views of the city center from Triana

view of Triana and the Guadalquivir from Puente de Triana

On the opposite side of the city center sits Triana, the gypsy barrio seeped in lore and full of great bars and eateries. Watching the lights of the city go on from the Triana bridge or along Calle Betis affords tremendous views of the city (and you can catch flamenco here!). Check out my guide to spending an afternoon on my side of the río.

Watch a Novillada

bullfighting in Seville Spain

If you’re brave enought to see a bullfight, Seville’s Maestranza ring is a superb place to do so. While this famed plaza de toros hosts some of the big names in bullfighting, the late May and early June novilladas bring in young bullfighters looking to make a name for themselves. Seats in the sun are typically under 15€. Schedule available on the ring’s official website.

Browse the El Jueves market for Spanish kitsch

bullfighter jackets El Jueves Market Sevilla

Believed to be one of the longest-running flea markets in Spain, Calle Feria in the Macarena district hosts a large mercadillo each Thursday morning. Vendors hock everything from recuerdos from the ’92 Expo to bullfighting suits. Haggling is OK, but browsing is the way to go.

…¡y a comer!

The Room Sevilla tapas

Like Granada, Seville’s tapas scene is a must-do when visiting, and visiting the free sites means you’ll work up an appetite. Budget hunters tend to chow down at Taberna Los Coloniales (C/Cristo de Brugos, 19) for big plates at a low cost. Bodega Las Columnas (C/ de Rodrigo Caro, 1) is another cheap option with plenty of charm, just out of the shadow of the Giralda. With beer at 1,10€ and tapas as low as 2,20€, you can still fill up without a huge bill.

You’ll also find budget options around the Alameda, squeezed in between fancier fusion restaurants. If you’re going to spend your money anywhere, be it on food and drink!

13

Do you have other ideas for cheap or free things to do in Seville?

How to Spend an Afternoon in Triana

Most people leave Triana off of their Seville itinerary – there isn’t much by way of museums or grandiose churches, and it’s across the Guadalquivir from the city’s major draws. But what the historic neighborhood lacks in monuments, it more than makes up for in feeling.

Triana is a barrio that’s equal parts sevillano, capillita and gitano.

Puente de Triana Seville

While most opt to stay in the city center, Triana is only a stone’s throw from the Giralda and Plaza de España, commanding the western bank of the river that slices the city in two. And you can feel it – Triana seems like a world away, despite being connected by bus and subway to every part of Seville.

Consder an aparthotel like the comfortable and spacious ones offered by Pierre&Vacances Sevilla, right in the heart of Triana on Pagés del Coro, on your next Seville holiday. You’ll wake up to the sound of church bells from the adjacent San Jacinto church and be able to pop down to El Pulido for a tostada as long as your forearm.

pierre et vacances

Historically speaking, Triana was a poor, working class neighborhood of fisherman, bullfighters and gypsies and one of the seats of the Holy Inquisition, headquartered at the Castillo San Jorge on the riverbank. Today, it’s a neighborhood known for its fiercely trianero residents, flamenco culture and tile production, and is home to several well-known bars and eateries.

I may be biased, but it’s my favorite part of the city, and one whose streets I walk every day as a resident of the 41010. Many days, there’s no need to even cross the Puente Isabel II into town. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.09.32 AM

If you have a free afternoon, don’t miss Triana’s charm, which I’ve loaded into an interactive map in Bobbypin:

12pm – Start off with food

Start by crossing the Puente Isabel II over the Guadalquivir river, the official entrance into the República Independiente de Triana. The bridge was the city’s first, replacing a pontoon bridge in 1854 and built by an Eiffel disciple.

Capilla del Carmen Triana Anibal Gonzalez

It’s easily my favorite monument and the nearly official symbol of the neighborhood. At the western end, you’ll find the minuscule Capilla de Carmen, which was built by famous sevillano architect Aníbal González (you’d recognize him from the Plaza de España) in the early 20th Century.

Your first stop in 41010 should be the newly renovated Mercado de Triana. Still very much a local’s market, fruit and vegetable vendors, fish mongers, butchers and specialty producers hock their wares just steps from the river. The market was built atop the ruins of the Castillo de San Jorge, visible in the adjacent museum and even in the walls of the mercado (C/San Jorge, 6). 

Mercado de Triana typical market

If you can’t stick around all night, there’s a small flamenco theatre flanking the western edge of the market with shows at noon on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

1pm – Work up an appetite

Triana has the privilege being where the sun chooses to sleep nightly, as the famous song goes, and it lingers over the district all afternoon long. Retreat back to the Puente Isabel II and to the yellow bar that sits opposite the Carmen chapel. Trianeros know that the food at El Faro de Triana isn’t anything special, but the views from the terrace or even the steps leading down to Calle Betis get the most sun midday. Order a cervecita and take it outside if it’s a nice day (Plaza del Altozano, 1C).

El Faro de Triana bar in Seville

Continue walking down Calle Betis, the Roman name for the river, away from the bridge and towards the Torre del Oro. The thoroughfare is packed with bars and restaurants, though you should steer clear of them for now and walk on the other side of the road so as to avoid hawkers while drinking in the view across the river to the bullring, opera house and the Torre del Oro itself.

2pm – Tapear your way through Triana’s tapas bars

2pm is still a little early for me, but bars seem to fill up at this time of the afternoon, no matter what day. At the southern end of the street, stop at La Primera del Puente, a nondescript tapas bar lined with tiles and grilling fish over a hot skillet, and order just one thing: patatas bravas and a glass of Cruzcampo. In eight years, I’ve tried countless dishes of fried potatoes with a spicy red sauce, and La Primera has some of the best (even if their barman makes fun of my accent constantly (C/ Betis, 66).

Tapa of salmorejo

Backtrack to Calle Troya and head away from the river, then take the first right onto Calle Pureza. I photographed a couple’s first look photos on this street because of its colorful houses and ornate doorways, and it’s home to both Triana’s first church, Santa Ana, as well as several watering holes (C/ Vázquez de Leca, s/n).

If Santa Ana is open, it’s worth a quick peek – commissioned in 1266 (yep, 750 years ago!), Santa Ana is known for its mudéjar hallmarks and Baroque facelift after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, whose aftershocks were felt in Sevilla.

Just in front of the north facing door is Bar Santa Ana, a typical tavern featuring local dishes, like espinacas con garbanzos, bull tail and small grilled sandwiches. This is the bar I bring visitors to when I want to tell them about Holy Week, as paraphernalia of weeping Virgins and Bloody Christs adorn the walls. This is the sort of bar where locals have been locals since the 50s and where waiters still write your bill in chalk on the bar (C/ Pureza, 82).

Tapa of Tortilla Española

You can pop into the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza de Triana just down the road, a stark white chapel that stands out amid salmon, cornflower and albero shaded homes and palaces (C/ Pureza, 53).

A little bit further up the road in La Anigua Abacería, a cozy, dimly lit cold cuts bar whose menu is long and has quite a few surprises. There are plenty of good vegetarian options here, too, and gobs of wines to try (C/ Pureza, 12). 

Once you’ve had your fill, the serpentine calles and callejones of this part of Triana are good for walking off the calories – as well as staving off the siesta.

5pm – Explore Triana’s ceramic production

Around the corner of Calle Callao is Cerámica Santa Ana and the Centro Cerámica de Triana. The neighborhood has a long tradition of ceramics production and boasts several small shops that still make azulejos in the ancient way, though the clay no longer comes from the riverbanks. Hand-painted ceramic bowls, pitchers and magnets are my go-to souvenirs and even made them a prominent part of my wedding decoration, and Plaza de España’s elaborate tile depictions of Spain’s 50 provinces were made in factories here (C/ San Jorge, 31).

Where to buy Ceramics in Triana, Seville

If you’re not looking for souvenirs, poke around the Centro Cerámica de Triana‘s small museum, one of the city’s newest. Though the kilns are no longer operable, they can be found in the museum, which also explains traditional techniques in English and Spanish. Plan around three-quarters of an hour (C/ Antillano Campos, 14).

6pm – Grab merienda and an afternoon drink

Head back to Calle Pureza and straight to Manu Jara Dulcería, a pastry shop owned by a French chef of the same name (and did I mention his Michellin stars?). While his brand of desserts, MasQuePostres, aren’t made on-site, they’re fresh, delectable and the shop itself a treat (C/ Pureza, 5).

Manu Jara Dulceria Sevilla

Sevillanos usually take their sweet afternoon snack, called a merienda, with a coffee or tea, then follow it up with an adult beverage. Around the corner, back on Calle Betis, sits La Tertulia, a watering hole that plays off of the famous political and social discussion groups of the turn of the century. Avoid heading inside for anything more than ordering if you can – the bar smells like dirty pipes and mold – and grab a seat along the bench with your mojito. You’ll be rewarded with the same views you had before lunch, just this time as night falls and the Triana bridge lights up (C/ Betis, 13).

9:00pm – Dinnertime again!

Triana is known as one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city, and as night falls, bars and restaurants again fill with patrons. If you’re not hungry just yet, have a beer at Cervecería La Grande back on San Jacinto (C/ San Jacinto, 39).

Back when the Novio and I started dating, we’d have a routine called the ruta trianera, in which we’d have a few beers at La Grande before popping around to different bars in the area for dinner. Begin at Bar Casa Diego on Alferería (5). Don’t expect an English menu here; order a heaping media ración of pollo frito, friend chicken, and one of croquetas de puerros, or leek croquettes. Local lore states that Diego’s wife grew so tired of making béchamel and rolling croquetas for hungry clientele that she up and quit in the middle of a shift!

Yes, they’re that good.

champiñones mushrooms at Las Golondrinas

Walk around the corner on Antillano Campos to Las Golondrinas I, a Triana institution and at the top of my list. The micro kitchen produces just a few dishes, and tapas are only available at the crowded bar. Ask Pepe for a glass of house wine and a tapa of punta de solomillo, a piping hot pork loin sandwiches, and champiñones, sautéed mushrooms crowned with mint sauce (C/ Antillano Campos, 26). 

If you’re still hungry, Paco España has big plates of food to split, most notably their open-faced sandwiches, called panes (C/ Alfarería, 18).

11pm – Take in a flamenco show

Flamenco show in Seville

Though I’m not a huge fan of the boisterous woman whose name and large presence give Casa Anselma her name, the flamenco bar is hugely popular with locals and tourists. Passing down Pagés del Coro, you’d never expect to find a bar behind the aluminum gates at the corner of Antillano Campos (49), but between 11 and midnight, Anselma opens her bar to patrons for impromptu flamenco shows.

Just be sure to count your change – though there’s no cover charge, drinks are twice as pricey here. 

Bonus: looking for different food and drink options?

There is no shortage of good restaurants in this part of town, from bars that resemble a closet to restaurants that have garnered top foodie prizes.

Pura Tasca – One of Triana’s first gastrobars was built into what was once a butane tank distributor. The decoration evokes a storage space, but the rotating menu and top-notch wine list are always on (C/ Numancia, 5).

Bar Juan Carlos – Cheese and craft beer, and little else, the small bar is usually packed in the evenings. You can order samplers, cheese skewers and fondue, and there’s a beer of the month selection on offer (C/ Febo, 6).

Plaza del Altozano Seville

La Fábula – People spoke so often of La Fábula that even the Novio, a creature of habit, wanted to try it. Spanish favorites with a twist are the hallmark of the pub, which bills itself as a gastrobar and has a few local craft beers on offer (Ronda de Triana, 31).

Casa Ruperto – known to locals as Los Pajaritos for its signature dish, this typical cervecería roasts quails on a spit. They’re also famous for their snails in tomato sauce (cabrillas) (Avda. Santa Cecilia, 2).

Jaylu – I’ve never eaten at this renowned seafood restaurant, but it’s purportedly one of the city’s best (López de Gomara, 19).

La Masacre – DO NOT eat at La Masacre, a Mexican join right on Calle Betis. I was beyond disappointed with the (cold) tamales I ate, though the cocktail and beer menu is loaded, and there’s live music on the weekends (C/ Betis, 29).

Sala El Cachorro – Started as a playhouse, the eclectic space soon morphed into a cafetería and bar. Grab a slice of carrot cake and a coffee and sit in the outdoor patio, full of plants and sculptures (C/ Procurador, 19).

Hot to Spend an Afternoon in

As always, be sure to check opening times and dates. You can reach Triana by metro (M: Plaza de Cuba and Parque de los Príncipes) or bus (5, 6, 40, 43, C1, C2), or simply walk from the city center.

Have you ever spent time in Triana? What are your favorite places to eat, drink and visit?

Five Things You Should Know About Málaga

Eight years ago, I welcomed my parents to Spain for the first time. They arrived to Málaga via bus after several cancelled flights and a mad scramble to get them from Heathrow to Andalucía before Christmas Eve. Once they finally arrived, jet lagged, smelly and not amused with my cry of ‘Bienvenidos a España!’ we grabbed our rental car and beelined out of the Costa del Sol’s capital and didn’t return.

We missed out on the opportunity to explore what is becoming a cultural capital and a city that embodies cool, and I have yet to really get to know more than Málaga’s airport.

9633703165_3039fd2105_z

Paolo Trabattoni via Creative Commons

Many visitors to the golden shores of Spain’s Costa del Sol choose to bypass Málaga in favor of the nearby beach resorts. It’s a shame – this vibrant city offers a great selection of cultural sights and historic gems, plus great dining options, all on the Mediterranean Coast. If you’re visiting for the first time, you may be surprised by these five facts about one of Spain’s up-and-coming cities.

Picasso’s Mark on the City

Arguably the most influential artist of the twentieth century, Picasso remains one of Malaga’s most renowned citizens. Nestled in the heart of the city’s historic center, visitors can explore the artist’s birthplace and family home during his formative years.

An exhibition displays artifacts from his childhood and personal mementos from his family. From here, art fanatics can visit the Picasso Museum located in the 16th century, Buenavista Palace. Showcasing over two hundred and thirty pieces, it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to marvel at some of Picasso’s best works. Plus, it’s just a stumble from great tapas joints (and we stayed at an awesome AirBnB nearby for my despedida de soltera!).

Feria de Málaga

I mean, it’s no Feria de Sevilla, but Málaga’s beachside feria is allegedly just as much fun (and without all of the pomp). The annual fair takes place in August and was established to commemorate the Catholic reconquest of the city in 1487. The weeklong celebration is the time to enjoy authentic Andalusian cuisine, marvel at the trajes de gitanas and take part in a sevillanas dance if you’re fueled by rebujito.

La Feria en Crisis

And it’s ok to go in street clothes – this fair is far more low-key than Seville’s, so you don’t have to put on the airs or sneak your way in to a private tent.

Antonio Banderas and his Devotion

Picasso isn’t the only famous malagueño: another notable native is Hollywood A-lister, Antonio Banderas. Born in 1960, the famous actor began his studies at the College of Dramatic Art in Malaga. Although he no longer resides in Spain, Banderas does return every year to celebrate the Holy Week festivities.

Taking place from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, Banderas joins in several of the processions as a costalero, or a brother charged with carrying the heavy floats through the streets of the city.

Biznagas Malagueñas

Spend a short time in Malaga and you’re sure to come across the handcrafted flowers, Biznagas Malagueñas. Traditional to the region, these are often sold by street vendors, known as biznagueros who are often dressed in an outfit comprising of a white shirt and red waistband.

The floral creations are famed for their sweet smelling scent, usually made with a combination of dried thistle and freshly picked jasmine. Many people are unaware that they have a secondary purpose – they’re also said to repel mosquitoes.

An endless summer

It may come as no surprise that the capital of Spain’s Costa Del Sol receives some of the best weather in Europe, and that it’s not limited to the summer months. With roughly 300 days of sunshine every year, this destination is perfect for a sun worshiper’s fall getaway. The winter also stays pleasantly warm with very few days of rain and highs reaching an impressive 20 °C. The vitamin C alone is worth it.

16585121636_d15f1e15bd_z

Laura Flores used under the Creative Commons

With so many affordable flights to Malaga, there’s never been a better time to explore this beautiful city. From the winding streets and traditional tapas restaurants,  lively nightlife and 

Read more about Málaga: Cooking in the Malagueño Countryside // Ronda, the White Village Capital // Walking the Caminito del Rey near Málaga // Málaga’s El Tintero Restaurant

FIVE THINGS

I need a weekend escape to Málaga – what should I see, do and eat?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...