July 14, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain


Baklava. What could the syrupy, nut-ified, largely Middle Eastern treat (that I’ve confessed my undying love to) have to do with Barcelona? Oh something, alright.


And I’ll get to that, but first let’s back up to a couple of months ago, when I set off to Costa Brava for a conference. Wanting to maximize my kid-free visit to the region, I decided to spend some extra time in the big seaside city.


Barcelona and I have this weird relationship, though. I’ve been there countless times, at least three of which were on my own. Though I’m a big fan of solo travel — the way it empowers me and heightens my senses — it changes how I experience a place, particularly when it comes to food. Perhaps you can imagine how you might not bravely elbow your way up to a packed bar, or sit down for a long meal across from an empty chair. Sometimes you will, but sometimes you won’t, and, when you do, it will be different than if you were with someone else. Still great, but different.



My first trip to Barcelona, in 2006, was a solo trip

Indeed, Barcelona and I have had a lot of solo meals together. So when I recently went back to the city – alone, again – I decided to work on our weird relationship. I’d join a food tour. Me, Barcelona, other people, and food. Perfect!

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It would be a Devour Barcelona Food Tour, to be exact — and for good reason. You might remember that I joined their Madrid tour a while back, a euphoric experience that had me high on Madrid life and local cuisine. Naturally, having the opportunity to do so in Barcelona was a no-brainer.


So come along with me (virtually) as I flash back to my foodie bonding session with Barcelona, which, believe it or not, has something to do with baklava.


First we set off to sample this sausage-y sandwich. Don’t be fooled by its less-than-impressive appearance, though. That meat you see there is called butifarra, a specialty of the region of Catalonia, and which tastes like heaven when heated up and served atop a fresh baguette that has been rubbed all up and down with tomato.


Then we went to the Mercat de l’Albaceria Central, the Gracia neighborhood’s central market, and a less-touristy alternative to Barcelona’s fan-favorite La Boqueria. This market epitomizes all things local, from the people, to the fresh-from-the-nearby-sea fish, and of course the ready-to-be-devoured eats (like this fatty platter of cheese and fruity membrillo).


At our next stop, we sampled one of Barcelona’s most signature and storied tapas, the bomba. It’s probably not that hard to imagine why this could possibly be called a “bomb” — I mean, look at that thing! But there is more to its name than just the fact that it’s a spicy and flavor-packed fried ball of calories. The culinary creation was concocted in the 1920s to represent the anarchist attitude of the times, thus the tapa resembles a bomb both visually and in terms of its explosive flavor. BOOM.


And behold: the moment you’ve been waiting for (or was that just me?): the BAKLAVA.


No, you aren’t imagining things — baklava is not a Spanish or Catalan creation. But this is the part that I especially love about this tour: that it featured a food speciality created by one of the city’s esteemed immigrants, who forms an integral part of the community here.


(Also, it’s baklava, so I really don’t even need a beautiful backstory to justify why its inclusion is awesome.)


At this point I was in a baklava stupor (which might have contributed to the fact that I bought a whole extra to-go tray of it, which I swear I could hear calling my name from the bag, just begging me to eat more). But there was more non-baklava food to be had, like this fuet-topped bread with a side of pickled anchovies, both meant to be washed down with that glass filled with dense, red vermouth.


Then there were these meatballs swimming in some magical sauce along with perfectly tender garbanzos. But honestly, my mind was still on the baklava.


Finally, we moved on to our last stop, a sweet little cafe-meets-bakery. And just when I thought I might have to excuse myself to go to the bathroom for a baklava binge, these little guys came along. Called cremats, the chilled slices of poundcake-like goodness came topped with a dollop of crema catalana (similar to creme brulee). Between the texture, temperature and hypnotizingly delicious flavor, I quickly tuned out the call of my beloved, stored-away baklava. I’d found a new love.


Well, until I left and hopped on the bus to my conference, at which point I cracked open that box and — among new friends and no longer alone — nearly polished off the entire thing. Indeed, I’d finally forged that missing bond with Barcelona, and this time with good company, and, of course, baklava.



*Full disclosure: Devour Barcelona Food Tours generously invited me along as a guest on this excursion. Tasty food is sacred to me, so rest assured that my rave reviews are legit.

**If you’re keen to join the tour, note that this post hasn’t even covered all of the amazing foods we tried and stops we visited! 

February 26, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Spain

After seven years of living in Madrid, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Chinchón might be my very favorite day trip (despite the awkward memories). All the others — Toledo, Segovia, Ávila — they’re lovely, but they lack a certain intimacy, perhaps because of their larger size or maybe due to all the tourists. But Chinchón, it’s got chispa, a spark.


You see, it feels like a legitimate pueblo, the oval-shaped, sand-covered plaza home to bull fights and donkey rides. It’s got a castle (though in ruins and not open to the public) and a cute little tangle of hilly streets.


And this amazing thing happens during the winter on cloudless days: when the sun shines down, it hits the plaza’s eastern-facing terrazas just so, such that the pavement below the tables warms up. Suddenly, despite Madrid’s frigid temperatures, you feel as though you’ve been dropped right into the middle of spring. 


Nico approves of it too. Already a social butterfly, he toddles around, making friends with locals, which includes both people and donkeys.


Local products? Chinchón’s got it covered. The village is noted for its fragrant specialties including garlic and anís, an anise-flavored liqueur.


Adorable right? Served with a glass of red wine or a cold beer (or even some anís, I suppose), and a spread of tapas, Chinchón is, in my book, the perfect pueblo. It doesn’t have the flash of Segovia’s Alcázar or the jumble of tiny twisting streets found in Toledo, but it is the kind of place you’ll want to go back to again and again.

November 26, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

If you’ve followed my blog at all, then you probably know that experiencing travel via food is kind of my religion. Sure there are museums and monuments and castles and bla, bla, bla. But then there’s food and wine!

Lauren, a fellow blogger at Spanish Sabores, feels the same. A couple of years back, she founded Madrid Food Tour. A brilliant idea, really, because there is truly no better way to get to know this country – or probably most any country — than via its flavors.

Around that time, Lauren mentioned I should come along on one of their tours sometime. I said, yeah, maybe, let’s see. But the thing is, I figured I was an expert on Spanish food and plus I was busy having a kid and all, so ya know, the timing wasn’t right no matter how hungry I was and always am for Spanish food.

But a couple of weeks back I finally joined one of her (growing) company’s tours. With a nice chap named Luke (chap because he’s English) as our leader, we spent four generous hours exploring Madrid’s historic center, largely with our taste buds as our guides. Hope you’re not hungry, because here’s a little look at some (yes, just some!) of the foods we sampled.


Our first stop was El Riojano, an over-century-year-old café, where I tried their speciality, the soletilla, a ladyfinger-like pastry that is meant to be dunked in hot chocolate. Though I knew the place, I did not know the soletilla, a treat I wisely plan to get to know better during many future visits.


At Mercado de San Miguel, I savored an early-morning glass of fresh-from-the-tap vermouth as I snacked on my olives, called Campo Real. Somehow I failed to realize until this tour that these olives only come from Madrid — all the more reason to love them!


This rabo de toro, or oxtail, came wrapped in crispy dough and topped by pimiento del piquillo, and served with a glass of wine. It was magical.


Fresh-from-the-oven empanadillas filled with egg and tuna are never a bad idea.


At Bar Cerveriz, I tried a new tortilla (!!), acclaimed as one of the city’s best. My top tortillas in Madrid still stand, but this particular one was pretty darn good too!


No Spanish food tour would be complete without trying jamón. In this case, we contemplated the curious differences between jamón serrano, jamón ibérico de recebo, and jamón ibérico de bellota – a side-by-side comparison that I’ve never done before (and really think I should repeat more often, because jamón).

Our last nibbles of the tour included a fat sandwich of fried calamari, a very typical Madrid treat, followed by a Spanish holiday favorite — and a personal year-round favorite — turrón (an almond-y, nougat-like sweet whose soft version can most closely be compared to peanut butter, and is therefore amazing). I savored every last bite.

So what was my tour take-away apart from a very full and satisfied stomach? Well, truth be told, I was wrong: there was so much more for me to taste in Madrid. Indeed, not only did I taste the city in a way that I didn’t know possible, but I learned new things about it — beyond just the food — and experienced it with new eyes. What I especially appreciated about the excursion was that it really focused on the Madrid specialities that tell the city and country’s culinary story. And my tummy was very happy to listen.

*Full disclosure: Madrid Food Tour generously invited me along as a guest. I was quite skeptical, so trust me when I say that I was completely won over by the experience and that my rave reviews are legit. 

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.

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.
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.
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!

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.


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).


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.

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.

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.

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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