10 Cool Things to do in Seville as a Solo Traveler

Things have been quiet on Sunshine and Siestas since the pandemic began. In the last six months, we have experienced milestones – Millán is walking! Enrique is fully potty trained (nighttime, too!)! We moved to a foreign country! Yes, really – we’re living in Lyon, France until the end of the year.

Chico tells me he misses Sevilla. I do, too – it seems like just as soon as I moved back, we were making plans to leave. When Paulina reached out to me for a guest post, I was happy to relive the days where Sevilla felt very much mine, exploring its every rinconcito.

TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS IN SEVILLE

The Andalusian capital, Seville, is a remarkable city for traveling solo in Spain. Filled with beautiful architecture, museums and vibrant streets, it’s a great destination to wander and enjoy in your own company.

Here are the best things to do in Seville in 3 days as a solo traveler:

Take a tapas tour

tapas at mercado de san miguel

Seville has an array of incredible experiences to offer to its solo travelers and tapas tour is one of them. Embark on a gastronomic journey across the best tapas bars in town to savor delicious Andalusian food.

The guided tours give the perfect opportunity to meet new people, enjoy tapas paired with a glass of wine. This tour promises a quintessential Seville experience and every solo traveler must go for it.

Enjoy a Flamenco show

The making of a flamenco guitar

Flamenco is an enchanting art form that brings together singing, dancing, and guitar playing. It’s the pride of southern Spain, and Seville has some amazing venues where you can witness a remarkable Flamenco performance. The shows are held throughout the city in numerous bars, tablaos, theatres and even museums.

As a solo traveler, the best way to enjoy it is in an intimate setup where you can sit close to the stage. This gives you a chance to get hooked to the brilliant expressions of the talented performers. It’s an experience that should not be missed on your visit to Seville

Stay in a cool hostel

A typical dorm room in hostels. This one is Grand Luxe in Seville.

A typical dorm room in hostels. This one is Grand Luxe in Seville.

With numerous choices available in Seville, zeroing in on a place to stay is an interesting task. As a solo traveler, it’s time to switch your search from the best boutique hotels in Seville to the best hostels. It can be your best bet as prices are reasonable and hostels have a fun vibe.

Hostels encourage socialization by hosting amazing dinner events, walking tours, pub crawls and much more. Staying in a hostel is the perfect way to make new friends, party hard and enjoy an unforgettable experience. Further, Seville will not disappoint you even if you are a backpacker who prefers a quiet hostel setting.

Get lost in Santa Cruz neighborhood

Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

Step into the fascinating history of Seville by wandering in the narrow streets of Santa Cruz. From magnificent palaces, churches to plazas, there is a lot be explored in this splendid neighborhood. This popular tourist destination was Seville’s old Jewish quarter and you will stumble upon several architectural marvels here.

Every part of this neighborhood has a story to tell about the 3 influential cultures that once existed in Andalusia. Santa Cruz is the perfect destination in Seville to get lost and take the joy of solo travel to the next level. Some of the best family hotels in Seville are also located in this neighborhood.

Explore Plaza de España

ceramics at Plaza de España Seville Spain

Plaza de España is known to offer a visual feast to visitors with its incredible architecture. It was built in 1929 and is located in the gorgeous Maria Luisa Park. This renowned destination has been featured in many movies including Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia.

You can spend the day by strolling along the plaza, taking a boat ride and admiring the beauty of this marvelous location. The only companions you need to take to Plaza de España are your camera and your selfie stick.

The tiled alcoves representing the provinces of Spain is a favorite spot among visitors for photography. Besides, it has amazing fountains, bridges, and canals that create the perfect backdrop for beautiful pictures.

Visit the Cathedral and climb the Giralda tower

Rooftop tour of the cathedral

The centuries-old Seville cathedral is an emblematic landmark of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the world’s largest Gothic church and is famous for its stunning architecture. Solo travelers love this place as they can take their time to pay attention to the meticulously designed interiors.

The cathedral’s bell tower, La Giralda, is 104-meter-high and you can reach the top by ascending the 35 ramps. The awe-inspiring sight of the city from the top makes your climb worthwhile.

Visit food markets

food offerings at mercado lonja del barranco sevilla

The delightful dining scene in Seville is a result of the fresh ingredients used in its cuisines. You can get your hands on the fresh produce by visiting the local food markets. You can find everything from fruits, vegetables, meat, fish to even spices at these markets.

You will find myriad delicious options of what to eat in Seville at these lively food markets.
It’s a great choice if you are wondering where to eat in Seville as a solo traveler.

Visit Las Setas de Sevilla

desde las setas copy

Photo by Seville Traveller

Las Setas de Sevilla, shaped like mushrooms, is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. This contemporary building attracts visitors with its quirky design.

Las Setas has three levels that house a museum, a restaurant, a market and a public plaza. The highlight of the building is its terrace from where you can enjoy fantastic views of the city.

Visit the museums of Seville

pabellon de navegacion sevilla

Seville is home to many museums that lets you witness the incredible art, culture and history of Spain. The museums boast splendid collections of everything from antiques, paintings, archaeological exhibits, traditional garments to contemporary art.

Museum of fine arts, Flamenco museum, Andalusian museum of contemporary art are the most popular museums in the city. Make the most of your solo trip by visiting the museums and enjoy an enriching experience.

Visit Triana, my neighborhood!

Puente de Triana Seville

Located on the west bank of River Guadalquivir, Triana is considered as one of the best neighborhoods in Seville. This vibrant district is famous for its charming streets, markets, ceramics and Flamenco.

Triana is home to the iconic Castle of San Jorge and the Church of Santa Ana. This neighborhood is undoubtedly a backpacker’s delight and best explored on foot.

About the author:

Paulina-travel-blog-visit-southern-spainPaulina has lived more than five years in Spain and fell in love with Seville. Maybe because of the delicious food? Or the stunning architecture? Or the great weather all year round? Probably it’s a mix of all! She is a writer about her favorite places in Andalucia at visitsouthernspain.com

 

Is Aníbal the Most Instagrammable Restaurant in Seville? (and a food review, duh)

A blast of hot air met me as soon as I’d unloaded my bag, a stoller and my kiddo from the bullet train. Ay, mi Sevilla. Nearly two months had passed since the Feria de Sevilla, but that’s the best part about this city – it never seems to change. Not random wooden mushroom where a bus depot once stood, not fiery new gastrobars cozying up to age-old casas de comida.

Sevilla is Sevilla. Forever and ever, amén.

A staple in my Spain life is my guiri group of girlfriends, las sevillamericanas. So when one comes back from Indosnesia for a weekend, believe me when I say I’m not spending my euro coins on the high-speed train to stay at my mother-in-law’s; Kelly’s estancia in the city where these Chicagoans-turned-trianeras merited a fast trip down for catching up and eating up. And documenting on social media – we are nothing but slaves to our screens.

Instagram Worthy Restaurants and Food in Seville, Spain

My friends love food but I’d been clued into the new kid on the restaurant block, Aníbal. “But you don’t even live here! How do you even know what’s new?” In a city that makes eating fun and one of Lonely Planet’s top picks for 2018, there isn’t a lot of elbow room for a brand new bar. But an old school vibe?

Aníbal by Origen is the first concept by the restaurant group, a departure of sorts from Rafa’s first venture at ROOF. While the food game wasn’t as strong, the terrace bar was sleek and reasonably priced. I expected Aníbal to be the same: its Instagram began with a photo like this, after all:

The palacio

My friend Rafael Toribio was one of the first to put a bar on a rooftop in Seville, housed in a botique hotel with views of Old World Seville’s Giralda and the modern Metropol Parasol.

Now that terrace bars in Seville are de moda, Rafa has moved on and, along with two other socios, bought an old palace in the heart of Santa Cruz, just an uphill stumble away from one of Spain’s famous flamenco tablaos and a cheap tapas bar where Kelly and I would spend our hard-earned private lessons money.

The man behind Aníbal Restaurant Sevilla

Airy and expansive, the restaurant is located in a casa señorial on Calle Madre de Díos, buried in the heart of Barrio Santa Cruz. Comprised of several rooms around a central patio andaluz, several of the original elements, like elegant fireplaces, frescoes and iron chandeliers.

restaurants with beautiful interiors in Europe

The front bar is roped off by heavy velvet drapes, seemingly out-of-place in a modern spin on a protected building. But once you walk into what was once a parlor, the space feels open, lit by natural light, and a fusion of old and new.

The word Origen seems fitting – the jungle theme is snaked throughout the space in playful tones and nods to continents where Spain has left a cultural legacy. Given that the menu has hints of these countries and flavors, the play on cultural elements allows each room to have its own feel while staying true to the theme.

cool new restaurants in Seville

the bar at Aníbal Sevilla

Hotel and Restaurant Aníbal

food and tapas at Anibal Sevilla

We were sat at a high wooden table. Had we been more than five it would have been too large to reach across the table and share food and gossip, but we formed a U, never out of arm’s reach of the plates or the bottle of wine.

The food

My friends and I order tapas like we order beers – with abandon, and one after another. You know you say, “Everyone pick a dish?”

We each chose two – we’d ordered half the menu and requested our vegetarian friends have some off-menu items, like grilled espárragos trigueros, coarsely chopped tomatoes drizzled in olive oil and revuelto de setas.

Manu at Anibal Sevilla

The food offering is mostly based on what’s fresh and in season, plus some market finds that sneak onto the fuera de carta menu. They’re rooted in old school Andalusian cooking with a modern, international twist – and oh-so-perfect for an Instagram feed.

tapas for vegetarians Seville

Queso payoyo

seafood dishes at anibal seville

Seared tuna belly over a bed of arroz

IMG_20180624_132051_538

Salmorejo con carne de centollo

tapa de presa iberica

Presa Ibérica 

typical Spanish pinchos

Tostas de pimiento de piquillo to cleanse our palate

revuelto de setas tapa Anibal Sevilla

reveuelto de setas

For the most part, the food was spot-on – full of flavor without departing from traditional methods or tastes. The tuna belly got fought over, and the crab meat with the creamy salmorejo provided the right touch of texture for a hot summer day.

I found the lack of options for vegetarians to be surprising and disappointing, especially given that when I called, I was even asked if anyone had any dietary restrictions! I didn’t try the revuelto de setas, but it came out cold and watery and like someone had forgotten the salt.

The service

Invita la casa, the maître’d announced, setting down a barrage of sweets.

de postre Spanish desserts

True, it was a hazy day in late June where the restaurant sat empty – locals were assaulting the beachside chiringuitos in Cádiz – but we never had to flag down a waiter or send back any food. In a city where good service isn’t the norm, I had zero complaints. We could eat and gaggle in peace but never be without a full glass in hand.

The verdict

cool restauants in sevilla spain

Aníbal won’t make my short list of haunts in Seville – I’m far more partial to places with crass bartenders and a wine list that consists of only tinto or blanco – but it’s r for a fancy night out, a cocktail or Instagram postureo. We paid about 22€ a head with food and drinks and the cubierto – a bit pricier than most other restaurants in Barrio Santa Cruz but less than I’d have paid in Madrid by at least a nice bottle of wine.

There’s no doubt that Sevilla is changing. But the more the city seems to reinvent itself, it always stays true to its (ahem, rancio) roots – even when a restaurant touts a modern look and feel.

Aníbal by Origens review

You can follow Aníbal on Instagram and Facebook and check out their pop up events – everything from cocktail master classes to designer markets to music on their rooftop.

Full disclosure: Aníbal kindly picked up our desserts and coffee, but opinions are – and will always be – mine. Aníbal is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon until midnight or 1am. You can make a reservation by calling 672 44 85 78.

Have you been to Aníbal? Know another restaurant that’s worth an instastory? Comment below! You can also view my posts about the best tapas bars in Seville and Spanish Tapas 101.

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: 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?

Photo Post: The Smurf Village of Júzcar, Málaga

If there is one thing that sleepy Júzcar, a small pueblo blanco at the end of a curving mountain highway near Ronda, can claim, it’s that Smurfs live among them. In this teeny village known for its mytocology and hiking trails, you might notice something that distinguishes it from the other so-called white villages in the region – the whole town is painted bright blue!

Blue village in Spain

This hamlet perched high in the Valle del Genal has gained international fame thanks to Madrid-based publicity agency Bungalow25 (with whom I’m working on the Caser Expat ‘Typical Non-Spanish” project), Sony Pictures and more than 1000 gallons of paint.

Before the premiere of the Smurfs in 2011, Júzcar was a quick pit stop in the Serranía de Ronda, literally drawfed by other, more picturesque towns in the valley. Taking those words to heart, the town was doused in a layer of blue paint to boost tourism to an otherwise blip on a map. Cue allusions to ‘Pitufolandia’ and worldwide media fame.

panorama of Juzcar, Spain

Blue colored village Juzcar

Smurfs in Spain

pueblo pitufo spain

pitufolandia Spain

Smurf related ideas

Tourism in Juzcar Spain

While there’s not much to do in town – we were in, out and fed in an hour – the simple novelty is not lost. In fact, we were there on Día de Andalucía, along with half of the province! Bars were full, kids darting from cerulean shop to shop decked out in their own white smurf hats and parking was a nightmare, proving that a little bit of imagination can do wonders for tourism. That said, the town has yet to capitalize on it to its fullest extent!

Júzcar, Spain-

If you go: Júzcar is best reached by car, but you can take local buses from Ronda, which is 25 kilometers to the northeast. Parking is free.

Typical Non Spanish

I visited Júzcar as part of my Typical Non Spanish project with Caser Expat Insurance and my promise to myself to do 52 new things in 2016! Anything I can’t miss – be it sites, experiences or food – around Andalucía?

The Curious Case of Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil

“Passion and quality are at the heart of this venture. It’s that simple.”

I sneezed, a clear sign that spring was about to settle onto Andalucía for a brief period of time before melting into summer. The breeze picked up, and I wrinkled my nose, lest any more oliva pollen enter my system. For as andaluza as I sometimes feel and act, my allergies gave me up as an utter fraud, calling attention to me in a group of nearly 50.

Bodeguero puppy

Isaac Martín, event coordinator for Basilippo, an award-winning olive oil producer internationally recognized for its quality, kicked off a tasting event that was punctuated by my sniffles. Set at an old hacienda buried within acres of olive trees, an internet search for foodie experiences brought me to one of western Andalucía’s foremost producers of liquid gold, extra virgin olive oil.

Teetering on winter and spring, I was willing to risk puffy eyes to learn how to properly taste olive oil and look out for its quality and properties. As a staple of the Mediterranean diet, its health properties have long been touted, but not all aceite de olivo virgen extra is created equal: supermarket buyers often have to pick between an entire shopping aisle’s worth of brands and varying quality.

Arbequina olive oil from Andalucía

And the good stuff doesn’t come cheap.

The Basilippo brand, made with the manzanilla and arbequina varieties of olives, has been my go-to brand when bringing home a nice bottle for foodie friends, but I shamefully catalogued what I used to cook with or a dress a salad with at home: whatever came cheapest and in a plastic bottle. I had a lot to learn, and creative packaging could not longer be a barometer for quality.

And for a small-batch, family-run brand, passion for the ripest fruit and top-tier production practices, only the best would do.

Inside Hacienda Merrha’s lofty tasting room, several round tables sat armed with jewel blue tasting cups, a brasero disguised underneath by heavy cloaks. Diego Vergara, responsible for the company’s marketing, held up two sherry glasses full of orange juice as we sat. 

Properly tasting olive oil

His explanation of how to distinguish extra virgin olive oil was simple: one was an orange juice squeezed from ripe oranges. The second was a bastardization of orange pulp, colorants, chemicals and mass production. In other words, it was a soft drink meant to mimic the flavor of orange juice. If the product was bruised or off, the taste and aromas would be off. Perfection is this business, amidst mass production and knocks offs, truly came down to passion for the cleanest, most natural product.

The scents naturally found in olive oil – grass, banana and traces  of fruit – laced the air as the heater next to our legs in turn heated the smooth, rounded tasting capsules for optimum olfactory pleasure.

Flavors present in EVOO

Oil exists in dozens of varieties, and olives have been picked, pressed and packaged into olive oil for nearly eight millennia. Extra virgin – considered the healthiest and ripest state of the olive – occurs when no heat treatments have been applied to the product and is made from 100% olives of the same type. All other oils wane in quality, thus driving down the price. Packaging can also make a difference, as olive oil loses its properties with exposure to light or heat.

Again, I fully admit to being ashamed of the marca blanca I have stocked at the back of my pantry.

The three blue cups sat before us. Two contained about a tablespoon of product and were covered with a plastic condiment lid. The third, sitting at 7 o’clock, was filled and quickly covered. Blue cups are typically used in blind tasting as, unlike wine, color is not a factor in determining an oil’s quality. Smell and taste take all the credit here.

como degustar aceite de oliva

Olive oil’s properties are strongest when it’s as close to harvest as possible. The generous pours came from a bottle only a few weeks old, and Diego generated a bit of heat to release its intoxicating smell by cupping the glass in his hand and rotating it back and forth as if opening a bottle of pickles for about 15 seconds. Next came a quick whiff and recapping the jar.

We’d all come for the tasting portion of course, and sloshing it around your mouth like Adolfo of Plus Vino showed me to do wouldn’t cut it:

Olive oil has different tastes on your tongue and taste buds. Sucking in air as it travels towards the back of the throat makes it taste more viscous and potent. And I wasn’t the only one who got a burn in the back of the throat – slurps were followed by gags, coughs and grunts, the sign of a quality harvest.

Moving on, we paired a vanilla-infused organic oil with both regañá crackers and a crisp, hard cheese, as well as a pineapple ice cream drizzled in olive oil. Though most of Basilippo’s bottles come with recommendations for consumption, the kitchen serves more innovative dishes.

The man immediately on my left seemed to be some sort of aficionado and asked the white elephant question: How did Basilippo feel about the “adulteration” of Spanish olive oil? 

Brought up as extended family of the Rubinellis and the Dell’Alpe dynasty – a Chicago-based import company known for its quality Italian products – olive oil has always been a staple in my family’s kitchen. And until moving to Spain, I was convinced that Italy produced the highest quality product. But European olive oil is on par with organized crime – even though Spain produces roughly 40% of the world’s olive oil, most is shipped in bulk to Italy before being bottled, giving the impression that most olive oil is coming straight from the Boot.

How to do an olive oil tasting

This has been going on since the Roman occupation of Spain, when olive oil was used in commerce and called liquid gold (and in all fairness, my Italian relatives have a soft spot for Spanish cuisine). I’ve long felt that Spain is only beginning to embrace competing on an international market with its food products, and I’d likely consumed them as they paraded as Italian. 

But Basilippo’s product was meant to stay with the connoisseurs, a thead that runs thorughout its four generations of olivareros. International consumption is definitely on the table – they’ve won numerous awards worldwide and run a quality assurance program attended by visitors abroad – and they’ve got a strong local following. I thought back to Isaac’s powerful speech in which his love for his business reach my consciousness despite the sneezing and nose blowing. Passion isn’t so much an ingredient, but a habit at Merrha.

Diego explained that close to 10 pounds of olives are necessary to produce a single liter of olive oil of any quality, hence the small batches coming out of Basilippo (the production comes from just 20 hectacres of olivos). By the time our group of nearly 50 hit the gift shop, we’d depleted a large portion of stock. I introduced myself to Isaac, chuffed that so many phenomenal gastronomic treats now formed an important base in my diet.

fried olives from Andalucía

Unsatisfied with a few morsels of bread for mopping up oil in the gift shop, I sneezed my way back to the car and we struck out towards El Viso del Alcor. Craddled between Mairena and El Viso, this privileged land was believed to have been inhabited as Tartessos. It’s also home to one of the zone’s most innovative tapas bars, MasQueTapas.

All of the dishes on the two-paged menu are made with products from down the road at Basilippo and the place was packed on a rainy Saturday. As the waiter brought out drinks, he laid down a small dish of fried olives.

“But heating the olives changes their properties,” Kelly said, popping one into her mouth. “So these are probably the rejects.”

Low quality or not, they were exquisite, proof that a small sliver of land in my backyard, with its rolling groves of olive trees (and toxins for my system) is producing what could be the world’s most perfect crop.

a tasting at Basilippo

I’m on a mission to do something new every week of 2016 – from visiting a new village to trying a new bar or restaurant. Have suggestions for in or around Andalucía? Please share them, and take a tour of Basilippo‘s immaculate grounds, just 30 minutes from Seville (they’ll even pick you up if you use public transportation!). You can buy their products in small gourmet shops like Oleo-lé in central Seville.

Have you ever attended a strange food tasting?

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