Spain

November 26, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

A year and half ago I spent eight nights sleeping in Camino hostels: these clearly weren’t my best hotel experiences in Spain. In fact, that was the first and probably last time that I will be roughin’ it backpacker-style (until my next Camino rendezvous, anyway).


Why? Well, although I consider myself a very low-maintenance traveler, I’m pretty much crazy high-maintenance when it comes to my lodging (cleanliness, vibe, location — I’m flipping neurotic about it). So, being the picky hotel-selector that I am, I’ve decided that I ought to put all of my madness to good use and share with you some of my favorite hotels across Spain.


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Casa Morisca Hotel, Granada
After staying at various questionable (and over-priced) establishments during my visits to Granada, I finally happened upon this one thanks to a recommendation from a friend. Indeed, in a city full of tourists, it can be hard to find lodging with charm that remains untainted by the masses — but then there’s Casa Morisca. The house-turned-hotel dates back to the 15th century and recalls those times when the Moors occupied a healthy chunk of Iberia (creating magical places like the Alhambra!). And while restored, all the rooms are different, each still maintaining old-world details such as intricate wood-carved ceilings and interior access via a riad-style patio. While I haven’t been back to Granada in a couple of years, you can bet this is where I’ll be staying whenever I return.
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Casa de San Martín, Huesca
This off-the-grid (seriously) piece of paradise is what motivated me to write this post. Previously an abbey, the hotel is located at the end of a five-kilometer gravel road that takes twenty minutes to carefully navigate. It may be remote, but the drive is worth it, as the hotel is a perfect mixture of antiquity and pure lodging luxury. The grounds are impeccably landscaped and the service as good as it gets. Even better: since you probably won’t be too keen to make that off-road excursion back to civilization for dinner, you can stick around at the hotel, where the multi-course meals are lavishly rustic, just like the setting itself.
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A Casa de Aldán, Galicia
Once a fishery, this hotel is situated along the quiet waters of the Rias Baixas fishing village of Aldán. The rural lodging is an understated mishmash of weather-worn granite and modern cedar-wood detailing. Marry that with bedrooms of humble white linens, miniature porthole-like views of the small bay, and a sprinkling of local restaurants that serve morning-caught seafood, and you’ve got yourself the perfect Galician getaway. In fact, I loved it so much during my first visit that I returned once again simply for the pleasure of staying in such a sweet hotel and in one of Spain’s sweetest little spots.
Marques de Riscal Hotel, Frank Gehry
Marqués de Riscal, La Rioja
Yeah, and then there’s Marqués de Riscal, which practically drips indulgence; the only “rustic” things about this place are the winery’s old bodegas, and the views of Elciego village. Ranked up there among the world’s most luxurious hotels, expect this lodging experience to come with an appropriately hefty price, though. But doggonit, the place is pure magic, so much so that I convinced my mother to return there with me last February; a trip that I’m fairly certain was her favorite of all her annual journeys to Spain. But really, between the wine, the luxury, the Michelin star-rated food, and the surrounding La Rioja region, how can you go wrong? You just can’t.


So now it’s your turn: What have your best hotel experiences been? And even better, what have been the best ones in Spain or even Madrid? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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July 11, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

I can’t stop staring at my cell phone with its wallpaper taunting me to go back. A lighthouse stretches out into the sea, waves crash into craggy rocks, and sunrays bathe a sloping cliff of green, with promise of warmth despite the chilly waters.

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Sigh, Cudillero. Even more “sigh” right now as the mercury in Madrid has danced around 100ºF for more days than I can remember, and will continue to for as long as my iPhone weather forecast wishes to reveal. I positively long for that chilly marine breeze and the sound of seagulls.


And I’m embarrassed, because I realize that I haven’t really even told you about this northern paradise, this pueblo of perfection, this new favorite Spanish place of mine (and that’s not hyperbole; I mean it, I really do).

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Imagine a fishermen’s village, idyllic, with a jagged colorful skyline of buildings that brushes up against the sea just as the waves do against the shore. The whole village funnels and weaves toward the water like a giant luge, as if everything that matters must lead to the sea.
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It probably used to, and still very much does, but in this northern Asturian town of some 6,000 people the industry these days has become more about tourism and agriculture than it is about the sea. That said, during my visit, I saw few tourists – just a pilgrim here and there, slogging the ups and downs of the Camino de la Costa.
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But what really makes little Cudillero so special is that, apart from its obvious charm, there’s just something magnetic about the way the town cradles and almost cuddles the sea, like an auditorium to eternity. It’s the kind of place that begs for you to stop and dream, and mostly to come back.
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Fortunately, while Cudillero might not be in my future again any time soon, that doesn’t mean that an ocean escape isn’t. Next week I head to San Francisco then north to Seattle and Vashon Island, where I’ll be free of these Spanish temperatures and get a healthy dose of home — marine air, seagulls and all.

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June 4, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Oh dear. Do you still remember me? The deep passion for tortilla española? The adventures with sheep? The cheese, ohhh, the manchego cheese!?! Yes, it’s me Tortuga Viajera, and I know, it’s been a little while.


After a couple of weeks of silence, though, I’m back, and (sort of) have an excuse: my father recently came to visit me in Spain. During his nearly two-week trip, we traveled up north, weaving in and out of the regions of Asturias and Cantabria, and covered ground here in Madrid, heading to places like El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen. We ate, we saw, we ate some more, and then my dad finally got food poisoning (because apparently this runs in the family). Overall, though, it was a magical a trip. And here are some of the photos to prove it.

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The seaside town of Cudillero, where I will live one day. Promise.
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The Cudillero lighthouse.
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The world’s best arroz con leche – EVER!!! – from Restaurante Isabel in Cudillero. See that mess drizzled on top? That, my foodie friend, was sugary syrup burnt to form a crusty layer of magic atop the tapioca-textured concoction. It was a miracle in my mouth.
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I present you with extreme fishing at Cabo Vidio. Shortly after this, the guy left his two poles propped up on the ledge and left. We still can’t figure out his strategy. Seriously, can someone tell me how the fish he’s apparently catching don’t yank the pole straight out into the ocean? Really, I want to know.
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The view of the Picos de Europa from just above the mountain village of Cahecho, and after an uber-Cantabrian lunch of cocido montañes at Casa Lamadrid (well worth the car sickness-inducing drive, should you be in these parts).
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A backroad in the Cantabrian village of Potes. Not a bad place to get lost during a countryside stroll.
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On our final night, we slept in the 30-person village of Bárcena Mayor. We stayed at the only open hotel (if you can even call it that) in town and were their only guests.
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Blooming flowers in the gardens behind the El Escorial Monastery. Spring and summer have been trying to make an appearance here in Spain, but it’s been slow going.

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April 25, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Camel races are a good time, to be sure, but after a trip to relatively alcohol-free Dubai, my mother and I needed to follow up with some wine. What better place to do the trick than a couple of days in Spanish wine country?


Truth is, though, that pretty much all of Spain is wine country — head in any direction and you’ll end up in one of the 62 (!) official Spanish wine regions (called denominaciones de origen, or DO’s). But on this trip we had our sights set on undoubtedly the nation’s most famous wine region, la Rioja, and, more precisely, a return to one of the country’s – and the world’s – most prestigious hotels, Marqués de Riscal.

Do you recognize it? Unless you’ve been under an architecture rock (totally possible), the structure’s undulating steel panels might seem a little familiar. Perhaps they remind you of the artsy exterior of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or maybe the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, just to name a few.

Designed by revered architect Frank Gehry, the Marqués de Riscal Hotel was built in 2006 as an addition to its namesake winery, located in the miniature pueblo of Elciego. Its goal: to raise awareness around wine and the region, and also of course to increase visits to the winery itself. And oh boy, has it ever worked: Annual visits have surged from a humble 5,000 (pre-hotel) to over 60,000. It worked for me too, I guess, as I’ve stayed there twice now and can only hope that we’ll go back again one day (fingers crossed!).

Apart from lounging around in our rad hotel room while spying the Elciego Cathedral from a cushy bed, we also went on a tour of the winery’s bodegas, and even ventured outside of town to some of our other favorite La Rioja spots.

First was the pueblo of Laguardia, which sits precariously on a maze of bodegas and, as such, cars aren’t permitted to traverse the fragile, walled city.

Then we headed to the village of Ezcaray to do a little shopping (undoubtedly my mother’s favorite pastime). There, we stopped by the Mantas Ezcaray workshop to peruse its shelves, which bulge with rainbow-hued scarves and fuzzy blankets (many of which are exported around the world and sold at much higher prices!).

On my last visit to Ezcaray, I stayed at Casa Masip (pictured above) and dined at Michelin-star-rated Echaurren — both recommended, especially the restaurant, which is one of my favorites in Spain.


And that was my mom’s trip to Spain (and beyond, really): Dubai, La Rioja, and even quick visits to Segovia and La Granja. Next up: My father will be making his second and much-anticipated visit to Europe. Stay tuned for more family adventures, but next time — I’m guessing — without the camels.

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April 12, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Books, Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

Yes, Plaza Mayor is lovely, and checking out the world’s oldest restaurant, El Botín, at least once is pretty cool too, but, like any good traveler must know, these types of places rarely are local favorites. With that in mind, here are a few of the spots that I frequent the most, and that typically don’t make it on to the tourist radar.


Coffee and work
On any given day, you’ll find me hanging out at (loitering?) the cafés of Madrid’s Malasaña neighborhood, bumming off free WiFi and sipping on a comforting cup of joe. My favorite, favorite spot is Pepe Botella, where the old-school café serves up their caps with a tasty cookie (which is really all that it takes to win me over). Other favorites include Tipos Infames, where I can surround myself with literary inspiration in the bookstore/wine bar/café/art gallery, and La Bicicleta for its wide open space and occasional early-morning hip-hop music (right up there with cookie-awesomeness). Finally, if you’re just looking for coffee (even coffee grounds) and don’t give a rip about WiFi, head to Toma Cafe; what I consider to be the epicenter of emerging coffee culture in Madrid.



Shop
I’m not going to lie: I don’t shop a lot in Spain. I find most clothing (save for shoes!) to be overpriced and/or under quality, at least in comparison to what I can find back home. That said, I never pass up an opportunity to visit Maxi at Antigua Casa Crespo. In his 150-year-old family shop, he and his wife sell the ultimate Spanish summer shoe: the alpargata (AKA the espadrille). Available in loads of styles and colors, the 100% made-in-Spain shoes cost — if you can believe it — under 10 euros for the basic style. Between the shoes and the friendly service, I never tire of going back for more. (Read more about Antigua Casa Crespo in the article I wrote here.)


Eat
My mouth-watering go-to is always La Ardosa – I just can’t ever get enough of their juicy tortilla, which I’m convinced must taste better given the Spanish-tiled walls and dusty-bottle-covered shelves. Then, when it comes to market experiences, I’m afraid I can’t hang with El Mercado de San Miguel (sorry!) – it’s nice, really, but jam-packed with people (eh hem, tourists), which I find not so fun. Instead I go to El Mercado de San Antón (especially for a nice selection of croquetas) or to Mercado de la Paz, where I can marvel at fresh produce and have my pick of pastries. Finally, for a proper sit-down meal, I go for the funky and inventive plates at La Gabinoteca.



See
My favorite somewhat-hidden spot to see is the Museo Sorolla, an inner-city mansion-meets-museum that houses the work of Valencia-born artist Joaquín Sorolla. Once his home, the museum is still furnished with his belongings, making it a lot more inviting than its other art-filled counterparts. And what I especially love are the gardens — free to enter, and filled with flowers and fountains, they remind me of a mini Andalucian paradise.



So now you tell me: What are you favorite spots in Madrid or in your city?

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