“If there is only one reason to go to Spain, it is the tapas” (Julia Child)
Best things about the trip
The people were genuinely warm and friendly, each hotel we stayed at was a great place at a great price, and the food and sights were fantastic.
Worst things about the trip
Definitely the worst thing were mosquitoes in the Costa del Sol condo.
The exchange rate – when we started out, the dollar was $1.36 to the Euro. When we finished it was $1.42
Spain map of this trip
Spain driving route on this trip
Our flight was in and out of Madrid and we planned on 5 nights there to get over jet lag and revisit that city. We stayed at the Espahotel Amador de Los Rios, near Plaza Colon which is up the avenue from the Prado. If you want to feel secure you can count on it staying here – there are government offices and consulates all around this area so we had a guard at each end of the quiet street making sure all was well. We were lucky to be able to check into our room the morning we arrived to freshen up from the 7+ hour trip from Miami.
After walking a bit, jet-lag got us so we opted for the hop-on, hop-off MadridVision bus tour. This turned out to be a great first day option, you can get a one day ticket for €15,30 and drive by all the most famous sites with your orange earbuds plugged in to the channel of your language and get a good orientation of the city. It was about 2 pm and hot so we hopped off at the Palacio Real.
Eventually we ended up at Meson del Champinon, which serves the best garlic sauteed mushrooms in Madrid and Meson Rincon de la Cava for Jamon Iberico Bellota Extra, the very best jamon and worth it. These atmospheric cellar bars are on Cava de San Miguel which is under Plaza Mayor.
Most of our time in Madrid was spent at the Prado, Thyseen-Bornemisza, walking tours and tapas of course. I think there may be only 2 other people we know who can spend 6 or 7 hours in art museums! After a full day of museums we stopped at Rico Letos on Paseo Recoletos for gazpacho and a little vino. This was not an expensive place and the ambiance was great.
Most of the museums and places we wanted to visit in Madrid were closed on Monday, so we took the high speed train and in 30 minutes were in Toledo where we spent time in that cathedral and other sites until the last train back to Madrid. The next day we were back on a high speed train for the 2 1/2 hour trip to Sevilla.
Tip: We found the Toledo ATM’s restrict you to about $100 per day–so get any cash you need in Madrid.
Tip: Check the Museo Nacional del Prado website for opening times.
Travel: 2.5 hours by high speed train from Madrid to Sevilla.
I loved Sevilla, there is so much energy in the bars and cafes at night, and the area we tourists want to see is compact and walkable.
We stayed 4 nights in Sevilla at the Hotel Alminar near the cathedral. This was a great place to stay… it is a boutique hotel with only 12 rooms. The rooms were great, quiet, and the hotel couldn’t be in a better location.
Bonnie arranged the flamenco show for us the first evening at Tablao Flamenco Los Gallos – and Steve actually enjoyed it! The next day was spent in the in the cathedral with the audioguide and even more time in the Real Alcazar which is a fascinating place.
On a walking tour we were lucky to stroll by the Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija in one of the few hours it was open. The Condesa saved many ancient Roman mosaics from nearby Italica and redesigned her palace to accommodate these priceless artifacts.
We also toured the Casa de Pilatos, the Hospital de los Venerables, and the Museo de Bellas Artes. Unfortunately, room V (the star attraction) in the museo was closed. Spent lots of time in many mesons trying different tapas. One that comes to mind was when we were lost on a walking tour. This was a block or so from Casa de Pilatos on the corner of Calle Virgenes where Steve had the best Pate de Pato (duck pate) served on tiny toasts with orange marmalade on the side. The tapas bar at Casa Robles down the street from Hotel Alminar had interesting tapas also – my favorite there was gazpacho served with breaded and grilled eggplant sticks, yum.
For a change of pace on our last night we went to La Carboneria which is a drop-in locals place with flamenco for about 15 minutes followed by about a 10 minute break where everyone mills about getting new drinks or goes out to the patio for fresh air.
Just when we got to know our way around the intricate twisting streets in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, it was time to pick up our rental car and head south.
12 Day Andalusia Driving Tour – Seville to the Costa Del Sol and Back
Costa del Sol
It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Seville to the timeshare unit we had at Club Bena Vista near Estepona. This was our base for the next 6 nights. Our first day in the Costa del Sol was spent in Puerto Banus, then Marbella. Coming from California with lots of time spent on the boat in Newport Beach, the port just wasn’t impressive. Likewise with Marbella.
We spent most of one day in Gibraltar, which was fascinating for the history of the place.
Tip: If you opt for the gondola to the top of the rock instead of a taxi tour, don’t get a round-trip ticket. All the things you will want to see are on the walk down to the bottom which takes about 2 1/2 hours.
Our longest sight-seeing drive was to Nerja to see the caves. Even though you can’t view the prehistoric cave drawings found here, the caves themselves are very impressive. The trip back was close to Malaga so we stopped in at the Picasso museum. The traffic was terrible out of Malaga and was the most taxing event of the trip.
Another day was spent wine tasting in Ojen, then enjoying the views in Mijas. Friends had told us about the Wine Museum at Ojen and when we went to the place we were not disappointed. Luis had us taste wines from Cordoba (one of our favorites), and the local Malaga wines. We left with 4 bottles of our favorites. Mijas also surprised us – despite the guide book reviews promising over-tourism, it was a great place to hang out for awhile. The next day the weather didn’t cooperate to have a relaxing beach day but we went to Fueringola to see that place anyway.
You don’t want to drive in Granada on a weekday! We parked near the Cathedral and checked in to the Hotel Los Tilos. The hotel has an arrangement with a different parking structure but it wasn’t worth it to make the change. This hotel was the perfect location for our 2 nights in Granada – the bus stop is in front of the cathedral and the hotel is in Plaza Bib-Rambla, a short walk on pedestrian streets behind it.
The Alhambra is the reason we were in Granada and our entry time to the Nazrid Palace was for 11:30 on Saturday, the next day. We had purchased the Granada City Pass (called Bono Turistico Granada) on the internet months before which was the only way to get advance tickets to the Nazrid Palace. The pass was great though, we got the entry time we wanted, 9 bus trips, the double-decker hop-on, hop-off bus tour, and entry to the Cathedral and Capilla Real.
There were other sites included with the pass that we We didn’t have time to visit. We were at the Alhambra from 10 until 4 which was plenty of time to see everything. Surprisingly, the only cafe was outside the main entrance so we had to be buoyed up with a candy bar.
Tapas tip – Bodegas Casteneda across from the Cathedral. It was packed both times we went there and great fun, plus inexpensive.
The Tajo (The Ravine)
We got a late start leaving the Granada parking garage to drive to Ronda via the town of Olvera.
Tip: Be prepared with 5’s and 10’s to pay the €20 per day parking machine in Granada.
The 12C Olvera castle closes from 2 to 4 so we just missed it and had to be content with a picture. The route took us through the interesting town of Setenil where the homes are built right into the rock.
I wanted to stay in the Hotel San Gabriel and arranged our trip around the hotel’s availability. This is a delightful place, great location, wonderfully decorated, and we enjoyed our 2 nights here. Ronda is a neat place to visit, we spent a day doing the walking tour from the Michelin Andalucia guide. All the sites on this tour were interesting. We clambered down to the bottom of the ravine via the moorish staircase La Mina, carved inside the rock itself and accessed from the gardins of the decrepit Casa del Rey Moro. The Moorish baths were open (both guidebooks said they would be closed Monday) and although access to some areas was restricted the excellent animated video that looped through the history of the baths in English and then Spanish certainly made up for it. The Palacio de Mondragon was interesting, and then we hiked down to the 18C Arco de Cristo to get a view of the ravine from that angle.
The last stop on our walk was the oldest bullring in Spain, and is certainly not to be missed if you are in Ronda.
Both nights in Ronda we ate at the same Chinese restaurant.
Jerez de la Frontera
Sherry and Andalusian horses
The drive from Ronda to Jerez via Grazelema is about 2 hours (if you don’t stop) and goes through some beautiful scenery. In Jerez, TripAdvisor was spot on again – the 2 nights we spent at the Hotel Casa Grande lived up to its great reviews. After checking in we toured the Alcazar including the Camera Obscura, which is well worth the nominal additional fee. Heading back through Plaza Arenal we hopped on a Tio Pepe tourist “train” for an 90 minute spin around the city sites and a 90 minute tour of the bodega for €9 each. The train was really a hoot, a bunch of tiny open cars filled with tourists bouncing over the city streets being pulled by a gas-powered locomotive.
The bodega tour wasn’t so interesting to us due to being entirely in Spanish, like when everyone laughs at some joke we didn’t get. The signature drink of the bodega is Tio Pepe, and IMHO good only for cooking. We did get a sample of Croft which was quite nice.
The horses were the reason I wanted to come to Jerez. We had tickets to the Wednesday training session, but when we arrived at the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre this session was canceled. This disappointment was quickly turned around (and that Spain SIM card in the phone paid off again) with a phone call to Monika at the hotel who was able to get us front row tickets to the sold out exhibition the next day. We spent plenty of time in the fantastic museums at the School plus went to the show.
We went to La Taberna Flamenca next to Iglesia Santiago and enjoyed what is described as the “most authentic” show. Monika’s tip was to order Rioja Crianza and we ended up with an entire bottle and high spirits on the walk back to the hotel. Wandering around the maze of streets before the show we went into the courtyard of a beautiful palace that now was home to the Tablao del Bereber flamenco show.
Jerez seems like a very livable town.
Travel: A short drive from Jerez back to Sevilla to drop the car off at the rail station and catch the train to Cordoba.
It’s great when you can be flexible. Our itinerary didn’t originally include Cordoba, but we decided in Seville that we could make some adjustments and spend 2 nights in Cordoba on the way back to Madrid.
We stayed at Hotel Maimonides directly across from the Mesquita-Catedral. This couldn’t have been a better location, the room was big, modern, and quiet. Couldn’t beat the view either as our room looked out to the Cathedral Tower.
The Mesquita-Catedral is quite an amazing building – the guidebooks describe the Christianization of the original mosque as a “harmony of distinct yet equally magnificent parts.” Harmony is about the opposite of the word we would choose but this building is definitely extraordinary.
Cordoba is very quiet at night. We wandered around the old section, had an expensive beer in a plaza… and landed at La Abaceria near the Mesquita-Catedral for tapas. We had tapas here both nights in Cordoba. This place is directly opposite of the corner of the Mesquita from the Hotel Maimonides and has some interesting tapas. I finally had the chance to try Salmorejo, which is a different version of gazpacho, very creamy and includes egg and ham sprinkled over the top. Steve had the Rabo de Toro con Chocolate but we both liked the Timbal de Cordero al Pedro Ximenez con Cuscus better, so it was a good thing that this dish arrived without our ordering it. Hmmmm…
2 more nights in Madrid before our flight back home, this time staying at the Hesperia Hermosilla near Plaza Colon. On the way to the Conde Duque museum we got lost and stopped into a local bar “El Retonar” on Calle San Bernardo #87 where Alberto (one of the owners) couldn’t have been more delightful. We had great tapas here and were comfortable asking what some oddities we didn’t have actually were. This communication was a bit of a challenge with our little Spanish but great fun as usual.
La Noche en Blanco
La Noche en Blanco “White Night” – We were lucky to stumble across one of the last Madrid White Night events, what used to be an annual all night cultural event. Museums were free of charge and open until various wee hours of the morning, Concerts were held in dozens of areas throughout the city, and there were all types of venues everywhere.
We headed out at 9:00 pm and the streets around Plaza Colon and Paseo Ricoletos were jammed with people. Unfortunately the rain put a damper on the festivities for a lot of people who took refuge under trees (like us) and in the Metro (no way). It didn’t look like it would let up so our White Night ended about midnight.
Back to the Rastro on Sunday for shirts for Dos Euros; then a visit to Museo Lazaro Cardenas. This year, the Thyseen was the only other museum open all day on Sunday so we went again for just a couple of hours. (The Prado is now open on Sundays, check their website for times.)