8 Must-have Experiences in Northern Spain

“I’m very sorry to say it, but I prefer Northern Spain,” Diego said with a shrug. I returned his shrug and began regaling all of the places I’d been in Galicia and Asturias (and all the pulpo I’d eaten).

“So you’re a fan, I see?” he responded. Des-de-lu-e-go. 

While Seville and Southern Spain will always be my second home and I was devastated to move away, I am deeply enamored by anything that touches the Cantabrian Sea. Though my time has been mostly logged in the occidental regions of Galicia and Asturias, I have clocked in 15 trips to the four autonomous communities that stretch along the northern border of Iberia.

colorful Cudillero Asturias

Northern Spain feels more authentic: there are beaches but they often lay silent. The food is rich and earthy, a true testament to the way that land is cultivated. Festivals are less about color and pizzazz and more about bringing people together around an open fire or an oversized plate of food, stacked high with local delights. There’s a quiet spirituality in the ruddy-faced Galicians, a whisper between Basques in their language – which has no ties to modern tongues – that breathes mysterious. Where the Andalusians skip letters, gallegos change Ns for Ñs: asturianos make Os into Us.

Anything from the Camino de Santiago and up, give or take, is the Spain you don’t expect to find.

A tour through the north of Spain is getting far off the beaten path. As in, limited-flights-and-bus-routes-and-barely-on-the-map off the beaten path. I’ve spent considerable amounts of time in the north, traveling through the westerly regions of Galicia and Asturias frequently and with a belly swollen by good food and drink and a heart filled with a morriña for a land so starkly different from Andalusia’s olive groves and whitewashed villages.

Feeling overwhelmed with so many beautiful beaches or lack of transportation? For holiday ideas and packages in Spain visit Bookmundi.

torre de hercules coruna lighthouse

Galicia

Jagged coastlines, cheese shaped like a boob and a barnacle fisherwomen risk their lives to harvest, plus witchcraft, medieval stone villages and some of Spain’s most celebrated wine?

Secret’s out – Galicia is nothing short of surprising (and awesome).

I felt so moved by the northwestern region of Spain, in fact, that I spent five consecutive Julys there, culminating in tracing the steps of thousands of pilgrims through the interior of the Lugo and A Coruña provinces in search of plenary indulgence – and a bit of myself.

Walk the Camino de Santiago

walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain

At the very top of my list is walking a pilgrimage route undertaken by the faithful and the adventurous. Though it’s no longer full of vandals and disease, seeing Asturias and Galicia on foot was magical and a way for me to more fully understand the north. For thirteen days, I carried a pack that was 1/10 my body weight, garnering blisters, stamps in a pilgrim passport and countless stories along the way.

Reaching the majestic Catedral de Santiago de Compostela after 326 kilometers and five blisters was a lesson in resilience in both myself and the people who believed this passage would earn them an automatic berth into heaven. While everyone has their own reasons for walking the Jacobean route, mine was a little mix of adventure and proving to myself that I could. It stands out in my mind – next to watching Spain win the 2010 World Cup (I watched in Galicia, no less!) – my most vivid memories of a decade in Spain.

As the botafumeiro swung over my head and I clutched my compostela certificate, I promised myself I’d do it again.

Indulge in a mariscada, queso tetilla and pimientos de padrón

where to eat seafood in Tapia Asturias

When I worked at an English language summer camp in Galicia, a part of my paycheck went straight to an all-out seafood fest. Piled high on a serving platter, we’d pick through boiled shrimp, sweet, plump crab legs, ugly-looking gooseneck barnacles whose goosebump purple skin hides tender meat. We’d toast to a job well done and feast like kings before taking our bounty (and an extra kilo or two) back home for rent and bills.

Queso tetilla, a creamy sheep’s cheese shaped like a tit and called like one, too, flash-fried pimientos del padrón sprinkled with sea salt and fried or marinated chunks of pork loins, washed down with crowd pleasing Estrella Galicia beer or a crisp Albariño wine filled my evenings after classes. And that’s not to mention the plato estrella – boiled octopus served over a bed of potatoes with a dusting of sweet, smoked paprika, polbo a feira.

The best part? It’s wickedly cheap. Tapas for a euro or two, a full-blown ración for under five. During my first trip, we assumed we had stumbled upon an overprice tapas bar only to be overwhelmed with the amount of food placed on our plates. And while walking the Camino, we ended up in someone’s dining room squished between truckers, noshing on a soup because there was no set menu.

If you love food, don’t miss Galicia (or my list of best places to eat in La Coruña).

Visit the Islas Cíes and Playa de las Catedrales

playa de las catedrales galicia

Whereas the Costas are full of Northern Europeans, busy boardwalks and mediocre eateries, the 1500 kilometers of coastline in Galicia hide pristine beaches where you’ll be joined by families, fisherman and a Gadis supermarket bag of food. They’re staggeringly beautiful and – by Spain standards – untouched.

The majestic Playa de las Catedrales (Praia des Catedrais) was just a short taxi ride off of the Camino from Ribadeo, and we took advantage of a low tide to climb down worn stairs and walked between rock formations, toes in the sand. The cliffs, covered in goose barnacles and home to sea crabs, resemble the soaring naves of cathedrals (If you go: as of 2017, you must snag a free ticket to visit the beach during low tide).

islascies4

You can also take a boat ride to the Islas Ciés biosphere, facing the bustling port of Vigo. The chain of islands is considered to be one of the most picturesque parts of Spain, and its Playa de las Rodas was named the Best Beach in the World in 2013. We camped out, arriving early to hike the myriad of trails that crisscross the archipelago and eating sandwiches we’d prepared in Julie’s kitchen before sharing beers with others while watching the sun set over the Atlantic.

From Sanxenxo to the Riazor to the cliffs at Cabo Fisterra, it’s worth renting a car and taking advantage of the paisajes.

Attend the Patron Saint Festival in Santiago de Compostela

st james at the santiago cathedral

Spain’s holiest site is the massive cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the cockleshell-covered remains of St. James were said to be discovered by a hermit in the early 9th Century. After primitive shrines and chapels were burnt to the ground during the Muslim raids on Galicia, the Mixing Romaneque, Baroque and Gothic architectural hallmarks, it is the jewel in he crown of a lovely city steeped in pilgrim lore.

It’s also the focal point of massive celebrations that fall on July 25th, a holiday in Spain commemorating the patron’s role as the Matamoros (Moor-Slayer), in which St. James was said to descend from heaven to slay the Moors that were overtaking the Iberian peninsula. Imagine the Alameda park jammed full of carnival rides and stands peddling cotton candy, concerts in practically any open square or green space and a midnight fireworks display.

We went on a whim, packing our Gadis bags with bottles of alcohol, snacks and an extra layer of clothing for good measure. We bounced around the concerts, leaning on one another as the fireworks lit up the night and the western façade of the cathedral before passing out on the short train ride up to La Coruña in a heap.

Extra points if you attend during a Xacobeo year, when the holiday falls on a Sunday and swells with pilgrims destined to reach the temple before the Misa del Peregrino on the Holy Day. It’s every 6-5-6-11 years.

Principado de Asturias

Oviedo Cathedral

I have a soft spot for Asturias – my mother-in-law was born here and my favorite Spanish dish is a hearty fabada, so not even a 13-hour drive from Seville to rain-soaked Oviedo one Easter weekend would have tainted my love for what some label as a paraíso natural, or natural paradise.

In-freaking-deed. The Picos de Europa – said to hold the last bastion of Spain safe from the Moorish conquest – frame rolling hills where the country’s best fed cows that lead to the ocean. Like Galicia, you can find D.O cheeses here, eat a cachopo the size of your forearm and kick back fizzy culos of fermented apple juice, called sidra.

In fact, we love Asturias so deeply that we spent our babymoon here and took the Babyman up for our summer trip the following year. Maybe it’s the mountains or the hamlets that top them or the fact that the people in those villages traverse those mountains for the right cheese seasoned with paprika.

Pueblo-hop through fishing villages

Visit Lastres Asturias

Asturias is known for its quaint fishing villages. Perched around small bays and river mouths with boats with peeling paints bobbing off a pier, they are literally worthy of your phone’s entire camera roll.

Cudillero, Luarca, Tapia de Casareigo… you can literally follow the N-630 highway that snakes between the Picos de Europa and the ocean, stopping off at any one of them for fresh seafood and an abundance of abuelos. Throughout the summer months, these villages swell with travelers and former residents who left for the big city and its work opportunities. But pueblos in Asturias make you feel like a local. When we stayed at La Casona del Faedo for two consecutive summers, we were greeted with a hug and pinched cheeks, just like a grandma would do. The cabrales cheese at El Reguirín in Oviñana was creamier than the year before. Our pictures appeared in a local paper at a goat roasting festival.

And when the Novio cooks fabada with the smoked embutidos and bulging fava beans we bought last summer in Grado, it’s a big, fat hug.

Visit the pre-Romanesque churches of Oviedo

san miguel de lillo

Urban centers in Asturias are somewhat relative: you can see the capital city of Oviedo in half a day while whiling away the rest at a sidrería or sleeping off a huge potaje. Urban tourism takes a backseat to the gorgeous landscapes and outdoor activities – and by a long-shot. But if you don’t miss one thing in Uvieu – local tongue for the city – it’s the pre-Romanesque churches perched above the city.

Coinciding with the start of the Muslim campaign in Iberia in 711, the following two centuries saw a burst of box-like structures that later became places of worship. The Principality is dotted with them, but none more accessible or charming as those of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco.

When my friend Claudia moved from Sevilla to Oviedo, I took advantage of starting the Camino in Avilés, just a stone’s throw away, to spend a day with her. We took an early hike up to the Naranco hill that faces the city to the churches, wonderfully preserved and worthy of a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. Reflecting on our years as extranjeras in Spain and passing a milanesa between us, it seemed incredible that Spain eclipsed our two countries in age and enlightenment.

Visit the convent at Covadonga and the Picos de Europa

Roadtrip Through Asturias

Having married someone with Asturian blood, I was to pay tribute to one of the most important places in Asturian history: the monument at Covadonga. Tucked into the Picos de Europe above Cangas de Onís, a church and hermitage are one of the region’s most visited sites.

In 722, when Muslim armies were overtaking Spain, the Christian Iberians took refuge in the Picos under Pelayo, destined to become the first king of Asturias. The salmon-colored basilica spires poke out between the foggy mornings that seem to linger in the mountains, slow to burn off and reveal the area at face value. Clinging to the mountain face is a small hermitage, where the Virgen de Covadonga reputedly killed would-be conquerers by provoking avalanches – she is so beloved in Asturias that many young girls are baptized in her name.

The lakes can be hiked, so long as your timing is right between tours, seasons and frequent road closures.

Descenso de la Sella

fishing villages in Asturias

Although I myself haven’t done it, smelling and seeing the Novio and a friend tumble off a bus in Valladolid clued me in to this festival, held in August annually. August truly is festival season in the Principality, and the Descenso de la Sella is as Spanish a mix as egg and potato – sport and fiesta seem to come together as well as a tortilla de patata. There is a competition where kayakers race 15 kilometers downstream from Arriondas to Ribadasella, a charming village that shares a coastline with the Sella river and the Atlantic.

Revelers camp along the way, between the two villages, loading up on cider and whatever food they can manage. Known as the Fiesta de las Piraguas, there are costumes, concerts and bars set up on the banks of the Sella and at the finish line. This year’s event is set to take place on August 4th.

What to do in Northern Spain

Madrid has lost its sheen to me, a city with a profound history that seems reduced, at times, to chain restaurants and a flood of tourists. While you can’t miss its multitude of museums, if you’re looking for a Spain ajena de tapas and flamenco and, ahem, sun-soaked coasts, put the northern provinces on your list.

Have you ever been to Galicia or Asturias? What would you recommend seeing, doing and eating?

5 Outdoor Activities to do with Kids and Teens this Summer in Cádiz

Andalusia has the winning combination of weather, history and culture and wallet-friendly prices, making it especially tempting for a family trip to Spain. Kids will faun over castles, stretches of some of Spain’s best beaches and theme parks: older kids and teens will appreciate activities dedicated to their interests and energy levels.

what to do in cadiz with kids

The Cádiz province, considered to be the oldest continuously-inhabited part of Europe, is a favorite for Spanish holiday-makers in the summer. Roughly 30 blue flag beaches, whitewashed mountaintop towns and a robust gastronomic tradition are my top picks for things to do with family in Cádiz:

Kitesurfing, Windsurfing and Adventure camps (Tarifa)

The pico of land at the very south of Spain (and, indeed, of Europe) straddles the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Oceans, making it one of Iberia’s windiest points and one renowned for kitesurfing and windsurfing worldwide – the town of Tarifa boasts about 300 windy days each year! And if that weren’t enough, the beaches of the Cádiz province are amongst Spain’s best stretches of sand and family friendly, too.
tarifa street

For adventurous teens over 14, combination teen summer activity and language camps such as Lenguaventura in Tarifa bring together project-based language learning with sporty activities. Participants can choose windsurf, kitesurf or adventure camps in either English or Spanish, and parents will know that 15 years of Swiss management make the camp safe for their kids. Prices include nearly every amenity; only inscription fees may be added.

A Campo Abierto (Medina Sidonia)

If you haven’t the stomach for bullfighting, you can visit a ganadería, or a livestock farm, where toros bravos are bred. And not just any farm – that of Alvaro Domecq, Jerez de la Frontera‘s prodigal son. Winemaker and former mayor of the Cádiz province’s largest city, Domecq’s name is almost always synonymous with the toro bravo, as it was Domecq that pioneered artificial insemination to ensure quality stock (and bullfighting on horseback, known as the rejoneo).

bullfighter jackets El Jueves Market Sevilla

You can visit the family’s farm, inherited just before the Spanish Civil War from the Duke of Veragua, by guided tour. You’ll learn a bit about bullfighting and the rejoneo in addition to seeing bulls, oxen and stately Andalusian horses. Prices begin at 11€ for children, and you can add on sherry tastings and flamenco performances.

You can book tickets at A Campo Abierto and visit the charming village of Medina Sedonia while you’re at it.

Dolphin and whale watching (Tarifa)

Tarifa boasts more than just windsurfing – the Straight of Gibraltar is home to a variety of dolphin species and even killer whales. With success rates hovering over 95%, most companies will offer 2-3 hour boat trips through the Straight, providing information about the wildlife and ecosystem of Tarifa, as well as facts about marine mammals.

Not got your sea legs? You could consider adopting a dolphin!

Boat ride in the Doñana National Park

Europe’s largest nature preserve and most important wetland, UNESCO-lauded Parque Natural Doñana, straddles the Cádiz, Sevilla and Huelva provinces and is framed by the Atlantic Ocean and Guadalquivir River. Home to the Iberian lynx, wild water horses and countless species of aquatic birds, visitors can visit part of the expansive park as part of a boat ride while on foot (visits to Doñana can only be done via certified tour companies because of park protection measures).

Horseback Riding in Doñana National Park, Spain

Setting out from Sanlúcar de Barrameda (a town known for its sherry production and exquisite tortilla de camarones in case you’re more into the gastronomic offerings), boat tours are about three hours and include a guided visit of the park during two stops. They also serve snacks and refreshments for purchase on the pontoon.

Doñana is under threat of more than just losing its UNESCO nod because of deforestation and human-started forest fires, depopulation of its fauna and ecological threats due to industry. I urge you to use responsible tourism companies whose carbon footprint does not add to the problems the park faces.

Biking the Vías Verdes 

Using old train tracks as their guides, you can actual cycle along the old routes through some of the picturesque pueblos blancos, or white villages. The province of Cádiz boasts four “green ways” between 4 and 46 kilometers long.

archidona malaga pueblo

Snaking 36 kilometers through the countryside and mountains between Olvera and Puerto Serrano, this route (or a portion of it) will take you through natural parks and near rivers, over old bridges and through tunnels that once served the southwest corner of Spain. If you’re looking for something closer to Cádiz city, the Vía Verde Entre Ríos travels along the coast between the towns of Rota, just across the bay, and Sanlúcar la Barrameda.

Pack a bocadillo, rent bike gear, and enjoy an active day out.

Getting to Cádiz is easy via Seville, Málaga and even Jerez de la Frontera, where you can find cheap connections across Europe and even to the USA via Málaga. There are also a number of charming boutique hotels and campgrounds.

Streets of Cádiz old town

Looking for more activities for kids and teens further afield? I’ve written about my top picks for families in Andalucía and great things to do with kids in Madrid. I’ve also written about a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, many of which can be found in Andalusia.

Do you have any tips for great, interesting things to do with family in Andalucía?

Photo Post: A Perfect Day in Tapia de Casariego, Asturias

When we returned to Western Asturias, where we took our babymoon, we had two things clear: we’d stay at Agustina and Angel’s guest house, la Casona del Faedo, and we’d let the baby mark our rhythms. Enrique would turn six months old during our sojourn, and as such, was on the verge of starting solids. He’d already earned his wings and had become a proven road warrior, so we were confident that he could handle a few nights of sleeping in a new place.

Tapia de Casariego Asturias

If it were up to Enrique, he’d wake up at 8am sharp. Wake up slowly, blinking in the morning sun that streams in, accompanied a damp breeze. A horse bellows in the distance as he balls his hands into fists and stretches them down towards his feet.

While the Novio refueled with a coffee and prepared a day bag, I fed the baby with one of Agustina’s cakes in hand, my back pressed up against a 19th Century headboard. The morning had dawned chilly but bright, the promise of a perfect day. Agustina wrapped up a few spongy squares of cake and pressed plums into our hands for the road.

Tapia de Casariego was within reach when I did the Camino de Santiago in 2013. Everyone raved about its picturesque port and laid-back surf town vibe. Just like that July day four years prior, the weather would have been perfect for a diversion back up to the coast instead of dipping down to A Caridad; four Julys later, I had convinced the Novio to spend a morning before taking the baby to Playa de las Catedrales during low tide that evening.

Camino de Santiago signage in Tapia de Casariego

The familiar yellow shell met us as soon as we’d parked the car and steered ourselves into the main square. A sea breeze lifted off the peninsula and swept through the sleepy center of a town that thrives on fishing, agriculture and tourism. There was little more than the requisite church, one which channeled Tenerife’s temples, and a few shops, still shuttered in the early morning.

We wound around the steep streets of the fisherman’s barrio, a mismatch of humble homes that fans out over an isthmus, stopping to have a beer right at noon next to the small port.

view of Tapia de Casariego

The port of Tapia de Casariego

Yep, it’s as picturesque as they say.

Rather than the packed ports at Luarca and Cudillero, Tapia’s humble puerto boasted less boats and of those there, not one screamed luxury or even a fresh coat of paint.

I have come to realize that I need a body of water to feel calm and full. Being from the landlocked Midwest, even a river will do. But a bustling little port with cheap beers and sunshine? Sold. One hundred times sold.

Tapia de Casariego

beer on a sunny day

Most of Asturias’s festivals fall in July around the Virgen del Carmen feast day on July 13th, and Tapia treated us to a small parade, complete with a doll-sized Virgen Mary that would eventually be floated out to sea. The drums and bagpipes called Enrique’s attention, and he squirmed in my arms, grinning.

Banda de Gaitas Tapia de Casariego

Regional dress in Asturias

Traveling with a baby is…different.

Gone are the lie ins and leisurely lunches; the lack of planning, non-existent.

But the beauty lies in the little moments, in his discovery of a new place, a new flavor, a new feeling. We took Enrique down to the Entreplayas beach, littered with treasures of the low tide. Stripping off his cloth shoes, he gingerly set his toes in the damp sand, squealing with toothless delight.

I slipped off my sandals, resting them on a rock beside the baby’s, and rolled up my jeans. As the cold water rushed in, he curled his toes and shuddered before breaking out into his laugh.
the beach at Tapia de Casariego

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

Following the Novio’s cousin’s spot-on recommendations for food, we made a reservation at La Terraza, a long-standing cider house in the heart of the village. Being just a few kilometers from the River Eo, which separates Asturias and Galicia, we had the pleasure of a menu that included both – and we went full-on Galicia with raxo, pulpo a la feira and a salad drizzled with escabeche.

Asturian food menu

where to eat seafood in Tapia Asturias
Delicious food at La Terraza Tapia de Casariego

And, as always, no faltó la cidrina, the Asturias habit we can’t seem to break. Enrique snoozed in his stroller, obviously to our cider-fueled laughter and clinking glasses.

Even though the day was only halfway over, it was the broche de oro on baby’s first trip.

Have you ever been to Western Asturias? We’re planning on making it our thing and would love tips! Be sure to check out La Casona del Faedo near Cudillero and my tips for an Asturias roadtrip!

Photo Post: the Towns of Úbeda and Baeza

For whatever reason, the province of Jaén has always piqued my interest – and has always intimidated me. I considered it No Man’s Land because of my extreme allergy to olive blossoms, too far from Seville to merit a day or even an overnight.

And with a move to Madrid looming, I would find the province even further away, despite being geographically closer to the capital than Sevilla.

But I’m the now or never kind.

a window to Úbeda Spain

After blowing out my eardrums attending Las Fallas in Valencia before chasing Don Quijote’s windmills (and chasing them down with a glass of wine in Valdepeñas), I decided to stop for a night in the UNESCO World Heritage towns of Úbeda and Baeza to avoid the Holy Week processions in Seville.

The pueblos gemelos of Úbeda and Baeza are nestled into rolling olive groves and noted for their Renaissance architecture, and they’d been on my Spain wish list for years. I called the Novio to tell him not to expect me until Tuesday evening, as I was adding two more pit stops to my trip.

Nearby Úbeda gets a lot of the attention, but Baeza is superbly conserved, boasts a strategic position over the fertile Guadalquivir valley and has an astonishingly high number of intellectual former inhabitants – including poet Antonion Machado – thanks to its university and Guardia Civil academy. But it was the cheap, last-minute hotel deal that got me.

Plaza de la Constitucion Baeza

Sin rumbo, I set off from the hotel towards the city center, itself a labrinyth surrounding the cathedral, old university and the ruins of an impenetrable fortress. Machado himself called it the Salamanca andaluza for its appearance and intellect.

The wind howled through the tangle of streets and my eyes watered from the stinging chill and the olive trees growing heavy with blossoms. Baeza was a town that I’d normally describe as the Spanish type of sleepy, a town in permanent suspended activity.

Streets in Baeza, Spain

But being Semana Santa, I arrived mid-afternoon to a town too excited to sleep a siesta. La Misericordia – Baeza’s answer to Seville’s somber Madrugá processions – would step off that night from the school where hijo predilecto andaluz Machado once taught French grammar. This small city once housed a booming textile industry and takes pride in its Italian Renaissance architecture.

wide shot Baeza cathedral

It felt like I had the village to myself, everyone squirreled away around their braseros (nosy me peeked into ground floor windows) or preparing floats for the Holy Week processions. Even a group walking tour I ran into in the charming Plaza del Pópulo was sadly thin. I wandered around the entire historic center and past its most emblematic buildings, haunting and silent sentries.

Fuente de los Leones, Baeza Spain

view of Baeza from Ubeda

Plaza del Populo Baeza
Plaza de Santa Maria Baeza

My phone nearly dead and a chill in the air, I treated myself to a long rest before heading back out at twilight. Plaza de la Constitution’s colonnades hid intimate tapas bars with low lights and the smell of olive oil wafting out of them. The lights glinted off of religious medals, worn by the faithful who would no doubt be elbowing me through the narrow streets to see La Misericordia.

As I was mopping up the last bit of oil with a piece of bread, the restaurant suddenly thinned out. I threw some money onto the bar and rushed outside. Across the plaza and up a small hill was the university’s heavy wooden doors. Darkness had fallen, but the golden light spilling out from windows proved that Lunes Santo was the big night for baezanos.

Holy Week in Baeza, Spain

Nazarenos Baeza

Paso de pasos during Seville’s Holy Week, but there’s something intimate and primitive about processions in smaller cities. They tend to be more somber, as if carrying the images of Christ’s last days is for the more fervent, that it’s less about spectacle and more about spirit. Indeed, Baeza and Úbeda’s adherence to Catholic tradition isn’t as grandiose as Seville or Valladolid’s, but I saw passion as I watched the nazarenos shuffle by under heavy black capirotes.

La Misercordia procession in Baeza

Holy Week traditions in Baeza Jaen

As they snaked through the Casco Antiguo and followed the trail of the old city walls, I hunkered towards my hotel, catching glimpse of the procession and literally fell into my bed.

Semana Santa en Baeza

A thick fog covering the ribbon of road between the sister cities the following morning, I steered Pequeño Monty toward Úbeda. This is where fellow blogger Trevor Huxham lived as an auxiliar de conversación for a year, and he was quick to fire off a food recommendation: churros at Cafetería Anpa. The cold was permeating, so I treated myself to a thick mug of chocolate and a ración of churros. You know, a good old stick-to-your-bones sort of breakfast.

Fog still sat over the Lomo de Úbeda as I wandered towards the city center, and for 9am on a Tuesday, even quieter than Baeza. The cobblestone sloped downwards towards the sandstone monuments that scored it its UNESCO designation, all locked up and shuttered up as if warding off the chill in the air. I pulled my jacket around me tighter, realizing that I’d not dressed properly for the cold morning.

The jewel in Úbeda’s well-earned crown is Plaza Vázquez de Molina, flanked by half a dozen buildings built in the Italian Rennaissance style: the Sacra Capilla del Salvador, the Capilla de Santa María de los Alcázares and the Palacio de las Cadenas are perhaps the most famous.

Capilla del Salvador Baeza Spain

Lion statue Ubeda Spain

Ubeda cathedral

Parador Baeza

Santa Maria de los Reales Alcazares Úbeda

I wandered into the nearby Parador for a coffee and to warm up a bit, but instead was met with sniffles, sneezes and itchy eyes. As I feared, my allergies betrayed me in Jaén. Úbeda merits far more than an hour I spent with my nose in a Kleenex – if not for the architecture than for the historical privilege brindado to this beautiful place.

Like Machado’s exile from Spain during the Civil War and his absolute heartbreak over the Republic, I got in my car and found myself suddenly questioning our move to Madrid. Andalucía is, for me, home. The rolling olive groves fanned out from Jaén through Málaga and on towards Sevilla gave me some comfort on the three hour trip, and now – 16 months after this little jaunt – it’s a view I miss when driving through Madrid’s urban sprawl.

In fact, it washes me in relief when the high speed train passes through Despeñaperros and spits you out in the Jaén province.

Late, corazón…no todo se ha tragado la tierra.

beautiful old door in Europe

If you go:

Stay: I got a great deal – especially considering the holidays – at Hotel Juanito. A bit antiquated but very much comfortable, this hotel is one of the village’s mainstays and boasts a great restaurant (this is an affiliate link via Agoda – you’ll get a great deal at no extra cost to you!). Avenida Alcalde Puche Pardo, 57, Baeza

Eat: If you can’t get into Juanito’s famous restaurant and the dishes made with the resto’s own brand of Extra Virgen Olive Oil, Baeza boasts plenty of tapas bars in the center of town. I ate at Taberna El Pájaro, where traditional Andalusian cuisine gets a bit of an upgrade without the price hike – and their olives are seriously delicious. Paseo Portales Tundidores, 5

If you’re in Úbeda for breakfast, do not, pero DO NOT miss the thick chocolate and crispy churros at ANPA. Corredura San Fernando, 33.

BAEZA AND ÚBEDA

Do: In Baeza, climb the torreón at the Puerta de Baeza for views (and cheesy medieval stuff) after wandering around. In Úbeda, you can’t miss the Plaza Vázquez de Molina – and do get into the buildings if you can. Had I more time, I would have taken a guided walking tour.

Have you ever been to the Jaén province?

Exploring the Wonders of Dalt Vila, Ibiza’s Old Town

There’s more to Ibiza than Pacha, the jet set or kitesurfing.

Dalt Vila, meaning ‘Upper Town’, is a significant fortified acropolis that has retained all of its charm; in fact, it is one of the most picturesque old towns in Spain. The winding, narrow and steep cobbled streets, the vast terraces and the high ramparts all exude wonder, magic and a colorful history. Listed as a World Heritage Site, UNESCO describes Ibiza’s old town as exceptionally well preserved and note the evident historical imprints of the Renaissance, the Catalans, Arabs and Phoenicians. Dalt Vila is a sublime place to visit for lovers of history and culture. Join me as we explore the wonders of this magical town on this popular island.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows

​​Image by juantiagues, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With a history that dates back to the 13th Century stretching through to its gothic refurbishment in the 18th Century, the cathedral of Dalt Vila is a central attraction of the town – one you certainly do not want to miss. Sitting at the top of the acropolis, it offers tremendous panoramic views of Ibiza. The beautiful cathedral also holds several significant pieces of art.

The Puget Museum

This museum is also one for the art lovers and is home to a number of works by Ibizan artists, such as Narcis Puget Vina and his son, Narcis Puget Riquer. The Puget Museum hosts temporary exhibitions, too, so it is always worth having a look in advance at the artwork they will be displaying.

The Necropolis of Puig des Molins

This massive necropolis houses over 3,000 tombs that date back to the Phoenician era and the era of the Punics (Carthaginians). Exhibited in the Monographic Puig des Molins Museum, the magnificence of this archaeological find is only bettered by the tremendous collection housed at the museum – a collection consisting of the Phoenician, Punic and Roman artifacts found in Ibiza. It is here that you will discover the depth of Dalt Vila’s history.

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Es Caná and Santa Eulalia

These two resorts are great places to utilize as a base to explore Dalt Vila. Es Caná is a relatively small resort that is relaxed and friendly but with a lively air thanks to the popular weekly Hippy Market. Santa Eulalia, on the other hand, is a quieter destination popular with families and gastronomes, what with its long-established reputation as the culinary centre of the island. Both have golden beaches to enjoy as well.

Fine Dining

Talking of fine dining, eating in Dalt Vila is also an easy affair with a plethora of fine restaurants to choose from. The dishes to try are the two delicious traditional specialties: guisat de peix, which is a fish stew, and peix sec, which is dried fish.

Even more wonders

There are even more wonders to discover in Dalt Vila, this brief guide does not even scratch the surface of the treasures that await you. From the awe-inspiring castle that stands on top of the acropolis, to the sixteenth century fortified walls that embrace the unique architecture, to the monumental Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the many nearby beaches, Ibiza’s old town is a richly rewarding experience. Just remember to take a comfy pair of shoes, for the simple pleasure of a romantic walk with stunning views is what Dalt Vila does best.

​​Image by Michela Simoncini, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Ibiza and the Islands are on my short list for next year – though partying with a newborn is not happening. Any great tips for food, sites or excursions?

Where to Stay in Cudillero, Asturias: La Casona del Faedo

En la Casona de Ángel, queremos que Ustedes estén como en la casa de los abuelos,” Ángel prompted, reaching for my weekend bag. After five hours in the car from Madrid, I stretched my legs while breathing in mountain air and let the hotel owner carry my bag up wooden stairs.

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If Ángel said he wanted us to feel like we were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we’d certainly make ourselves right at home.

Clinging to the edge of a teeny Asturian village, La Casona del Faedo had been a budget find on one of the busiest weekends of the summer, where hotel rooms were going for three times the 40€ we paid per night. Like many who we’d meet that weekend sitting at a picnic table next to the small bar, they’d been fooled into thinking that the Concello do Cudillero meant the hotel was located right in the heart of the fisherman’s village of the same name.

colorful Cudillero Asturias

After a car ride that snaked though the Gaudarrama region, the empty plains of Castilla and the green hills and mountain ranges of the Picos de Europe, I was delighted to recognize the N-632 road that I’d walked three years prior. Down the steep hill, rather than turning west towards Soto de Luiña, we veered left, onto a two-lane road that climbed into the foothills of the Picos.

Looks like we’d been fooled, too, but in the best way.

A half-blind, mangy dog sporting dreadlocks greeted us as we pulled the car into an overgrown strip of parking adjacent to a canary yellow house, built towards the end of the 19th Century. Chispa, a younger dog, shot by him and jumped on me immediately. The property owner, Ángel, set down a basket of eggs he was carrying and offered a hand before taking our bags and leading us into the galeria asturiana, a hallmark of old country houses in these parts.

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The worn stairs alluded to the house’s history, rubbed thin and bowing in the middle. The second floor held several bedrooms: ours would be the one at the end of the hall, a room with a low ceiling, a wide double bed and an en suite bathroom. Truthfully, it did look like grandma and grandpa’s house. It was a little out-of-date, sure, but we aren’t travelers who spend much time in our hotel room anyway.

I freshened up, windows wide open and looking out onto the terrace bar, an old hórreo and acres of rain-fed pastures, while the Novio had a beer downstairs. After only six weeks in Madrid, the damp air took my hair back to its original shape and body. We’d spend a decent amount of time on that patio, opposite one another on a splintery picnic table. The Novio, with his beer, and me with a tonic water, chatting. The wi-fi signal here was weak.

hallway-of-casona-de-faedo

Ángel and Agustina, his wife and the unrivaled matriarch of the house, are born and bred asturianos. The sort of salt of the earth people who take pride in their daily work and sing when they speak. They’d spent nearly two decades in the Canary Islands as bar owners before returning to their tierra natal to take over the old bed and breakfast.

Agu soon returned, a bounty of groceries spilling out of her arms. The fresh cheese would accompany our bread the next morning, the eggs whisked to coat croquetas – but the pale green fabines were hers to stew with clams.

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Every morning and afternoon, post-siesta, we’d descend the mountain in our rental car and explore the region – Playa del Silencio, the weekend markets at Pravia and Muros de Nalón, a family-run sidrería on a lonely road in a town whose name I’ll never remember. And Agu and Ángel were always there when we returned – in the kitchen and behind the bar, respectively.

On our last day, me teetering on the edge of 30 and 31, the hotel owners informed us we’d have to move rooms due to a glitch in their new booking site. “No pasa nada,” I said. “Growing pains.” We gathered our things that morning and left them by the door. We were rewarded with an upgraded room and an invitation to have dinner, on the house.

Our bags were set near the bed when we arrived back from the Concha de Arvedo beach that afternoon. More coquettish and with a breeze, we’d have to close the ancient wooden shutters that night when a storm rolled through the Concello.

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There was a murmur in the adjacent dining hall when we arrived, and Ángel had saved us our picnic table. “Señores, qué les apetece para cenar?” He began to list off whatever his wife was fabricating in the kitchen, but the Novio just replied, “Whatever is good.”

We filled up on cheese from somewhere across the valley, crumbling cabrales and fresh goat quesu, spread across bread that had been baked that afternoon. The croquetas were clearly homemade, lumpy and bursting with bechamel sauce and hints of leeks, and the pollo al chilindrón practically fell off the bone.

As if the location of the Casona wasn’t enough of a privilege, the food and the company was beyond what we expected from a budget bed and breakfast. It was one of those places where faces become familiar over breakfast, where the mini fridge is stocked with cans of Coke and whatever you’d picked up at the market that morning, and you’re greeted with a drink as soon as you’ve arrived.

owners-of-la-casona-de-faedo

If you go: La Casona del Faedo is a small, rural homestay located about 6 miles due south of Cudillero and reachable only by car. From Oviedo, take the A-8 to exit 431. Follow the N-632 for 1.5 kilometers and, at the bottom of the mountain, turn left onto the CU-4. The town of Faedo is seven kilometers along. You can reserve on Booking.com for around 50€.

Read more about our Asturias road trip!

I was not paid in any way for this article, save genuine hospitality on behalf of the owners. All opinions are my own.

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Do you have any recommendations for Cudillero or Asturias?

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