To travel is as much an action as it is a mindset and both should be experienced passionately. For those who understand this, traveling isn’t a way to escape everyday life but rather a self immersion of mind, body and soul into another culture. For those who dream about this, usually one country comes to mind. For me, it was Spain.
Ever so typically, I grew up being influenced by mother and somewhere around the age of 16 she introduced me to Spain as an ideal place to travel; an introduction I yearned for. The culture, the food, the dancing, the beautiful….landscapes? Originally, I had planned to go directly after high school. Well, 8 years later I made it!
Spain, September 2015
Travel Time: About 7.5hrs from JFK Airport
Main Language Spoken: Spanish
Exchange Rate: 1EUR = 1.08USD
Recommended Amount of Days: 10-14
With only 24 hours in Madrid, I stayed with two girlfriends of mine who had moved there to teach English. They were living in an historic neighborhood called Malasaña, where the 20-somethings meet a bohemian alternative lifestyle. We kicked our jet lag with 1€ mimosas at a charming everything-store, J&J Books and Coffee, followed by restaurant hopping where I was introduced to my first authentic Spanish drink, Tinto de Verano aka Red Wine of Summer, at El Balcon de Malasana. Don’t be fooled by it’s taste, which is best described as a mixture of red wine and Fanta, enough of them will give you a good buzz.
I didn’t see much of the city but did manage to stop by Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world founded in 1725, on my way to Chocolateria San Gines for real churros with chocolate dipping sauce. My first day in Madrid eased me into the Spanish culture which I learned consists of eating, drinking and siesta. With small sharing plates known as tapas the eating seems endless, with the endless eating comes the free drink that accompanies most small plates, and after all of this the inevitable sleepiness takes over where the city will seemingly close down between 2-7pm (depending on the business). Can’t fiesta without a siesta!
The next morning I was on the AVE train from Madrid to Malaga, a two hour and 30 minute ride. Being a commuter victim of the Long Island Rail Road system, I was in utter shock when the train left within seconds of it’s scheduled departure and arrived on time (the NY MTA should take notes). Malaga is dubbed the capital of Costa del Sol, the coastal region of Andalucia, and an absolutely gorgeous city. Unfortunately, my time here was only a stop-over on my way to Marbella but before the 45 minute car drive to my hotel I enjoyed a meal at El Pimpi. As I entered the front door of the restaurant I walked through the paintings, the photographs, the marvelous character that wowed me at every turn to sit down at a table outside in the back which looked directly at the Alcazaba and Roman Theater. Once my stomach and eyes were satisfied I was on the road towards the ritzy resort town of Marbella.
Puente Romano welcomed me in a beautiful junior suite with a balcony overlooking the water fountain/gardens. My favorite part about the room? The large, jetted bathtub that has a window looking into the room, with an automatic screen option for privacy. An hour into my self-relaxation one of my friends had to persistently remind me that we had dining reservations.
With an active nightlife/dining scene that is similar to a square, with restaurants surrounding a social focal point in the center, choosing a restaurant here was more about the food preference than vibe. At Dani Garcia’s BiBo we ordered it all. Oxtale, pork belly, tuna tataki, duck, beef carpaccio, and the famous dessert, “Marbella’s Full Moon.” Come hungry, leave in a food coma.
This luxury beach resort has something for everyone with its ocean views, four pools, gardens, tennis, golf, a beach with water sports and a boardwalk, spa. ::inhale:: What I liked most about my time here was the ability to explore without ever leaving the property. Of course, I did leave the property to explore Puerto Banus Marina, a location of fine dining, shopping and where yachts are lined up by the dozens. In a place of ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’ we opted for pizza tastes and wine realities at Pizzeria Picasso.
Caminito Del Rey
Between Marbella and Ronda there’s ‘the Kings Pathway’ known as El Caminito Del Rey. Once considered the world most dangerous walkway, which was the sense of adventure I was seeking more or less, today it can be better described at “suitable for all ages 4 to 94.” Fantastic views and worth the visit, however if you’re looking for something more challenging this might not cut it for you.
An hour north of Marbella there exists a city that is boastful in its origins but humble in its existence, Ronda. A location that is better felt than seen but when you open your eyes it’s something out of a painting. Located on the cliffs of El Tajo Gorge, the old town and new town are connected by the Puente Nuevo ‘new bridge’ with the Guadelevin River flowing below. The views from above captured me in sheer awe that I almost forgot the city’s historical significance as the birthplace of modern bullfighting.
After dropping my luggage off at Hotel Maesranza, a family run hotel that feels more like home, I ventured off with my friend/colleague, who grew up in Ronda, for some horseback riding in the country side.
We arrived back in town and all headed to dinner at Entrevinos where I had, what can officially be called, the best meal of my life (a combination of tapas with squid ink pasta being the favorite). Once dinner was over I decided to see Plaza de Toros where I had my first tears-of-joy experience. Looking up at the stars, feeling the stones laid down in 1785, suddenly I was living the moment I always dreamed would come and it was perfect.
The next morning we were taken on a surprise adventure. In keeping with the bull fighting theme we stopped at Reservatauro Ronda, a bull ranch, where we met Rafael Tejada, a professional matador. They had little shows with the horses and bulls, separately of course, and acres of land to drive around observing the animals. This is great for anyone seeking the true culture of Spain, of any age. It will turn even the most anti-bullfighting person into an admirer.
It welcomes you with open arms as a vibrant city just dying to be discovered. Flamenco performances on the streets, nightlife going until 6 in the morning, winding street pathways leaving you lost in the right direcion, beautiful architecture at every turn, but then silence when you need it most. Welcome to Seville, ‘NO8DO,’ it will not abandon you.
The Inglaterra Hotel is situated in the Seville Center, where we had a stunning junior suite with a private balcony overlooking the Cathedral. The room style of the hotel isn’t modern but more of a classic feel. Yet, its location was ideal having everything within walking distance and a popular rooftop bar overlooking the entire city where even the locals come to hang out.
My favorite part of Seville was Plaza de Espana, about a 20 minute walk from the hotel, where I spent a few hours marveling at its architecture. While here I highly recommend renting one of the row boats. Where do you go when you put 3 American women in a small boat? Hardly anywhere.
My final stop on the trip was the Arabic influenced city of Granada, located at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Hotel Carmen, located amid all the shopping, provided stunning view from their rooftop. While in Granada a must visit site is The Alhambra Palace where you can easily spent 3-4 hours in the lush gardens, 360 views of the city and Arabic architecture.
You will feel as though you have just crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Morocco. With the several additional hours shopping through the Moroccan alley ways below you’ll forget you’re in Spain completely, making the city truly one of a kind and culturally fascinating.
What would a trip to Spain be without a flamenco show? On my final night in Spain I ventured to the caves to see a gypsy inspired flamenco performance at Cueva de la Rocio, which overlooked The Alhambra. I had seen several flamenco shows back in the states but nothing compared to the authenticity of viewing the dance in its country of origins. By the end of the night everyone had their arms in the air ready to dance!
The next morning I was on my direct flight out of Malaga back to New York, thanks to the new flights provided by Delta. Reluctantly boarding the plane, I inhaled the final breaths of Spanish air. I didn’t say good-bye. I whispered ‘see you again,’ leaving a piece of myself behind to rediscover someday.
Traveling with a passion, with Spain, has been my unique proof that dreams do come true. And the ironic reality that despite my ceaseless eating habits I never gained weight.
To my friends who came for the adventure, you gave me a reason to smile each moment. To my colleagues and fellow travel professionals who helped me along the way ( with a warm thank you to the Andalucia Tourism Board ), you helped turn my dream into a reality. To those reading this, I hope I inspired you to follow your dream destination.