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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January 12, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Video

Remember awhile back when I took the road trip to Granada? You know, the one where the sheep hated me and I discovered that my dreams of becoming a shepherd would never be realized? Yeah, that trip. Since it was such a memorable experience (and fortunately, not just because of the little lambies), I’ve put together a video of the adventure. So, while I get accustomed to my return to the Iberian Peninsula after three long weeks in the US, I leave you with this small video in order to whet your appetites for all things Spain.





If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.

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December 2, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

After my shepherd-for-a-day experience last Spring, I suppose I thought I’d somehow acquired a magic sheep touch – that I was an urban sheep whisperer of sorts. So, when we came across a massive herd of the critters crossing the road in the mountains of Granada last week, I enthusiastically leapt from the car. I was eager to impress everyone (both my friends and the sheep) with my expert shepherding skills. I placed myself in the middle of the pack, anticipating a friendly encounter with my furry friends. But I don’t know what happened – every time I sachayed my way over to pet or hug them, they all bolted as though I wanted to eat them for Thanksgiving or something! (The turkeys that I saw earlier that day were the ones I actually wanted to eat. Don’t you love how gracefully I’ve made the turn from a vegetarian blog post, to this?)


While the sheep despised me, the experience was impressive nonetheless. I was, after all, weaving through the ethereal white mountain towns of La Alpujarra with two of my very best guy friends. La Alpujarra, a region in the province of Granada, boasts spectacular white villages nestled impossibly into the crevices of Andalucia’s mountains. Walking the steep pueblo streets, I couldn’t help but imagine how the darling Spanish grandpas managed to traverse such inclines. I myself struggled not to tumble to the valley floor.


My return to the province of Granada also brought me back to its namesake city and one of my favorite places on earth – the Alhambra. Having now visited the Alhambra four times, I feel as though I’ve really gotten to know its many personalities as it evolves through the seasons (kind of like my husband, but that’s another story). The Alhambra of the hot toasty summer is vibrant, fragrant and refreshing like a cold drink of water. During the winter, it seems more pensive, humble and, well, vacant. In fact, arriving there at 4:00pm in the afternoon, we nearly had the place to ourselves! The usually crowded Palace seemed to be our own personal playground, finally allowing for photos without a million zombie-like tourists cluttering up the background.


I know what you’re thinking – the Alhambra is fascinating and all, but let’s return to the subject of the food in Granada! I agree – a visit to any given region in Spain requires excessive sampling and analysis of its cuisine (even if one has been there a million times already). And good thing Granada meets this challenge with its famed, massively portioned tapas.


You’re already familiar with the concept of going out for tapas – you hop from one bar to the next, grabbing a drink and downing a small free (or sometimes not free) appetizer. Granada, however, seems to take a Texas-approach to tapas – everything is bigger, A LOT bigger. For 12 euros total, we each had two beverages and two mammoth-sized plates of free food. After two rounds of drinks (and meals, really), hopping into bed seemed a lot more realistic than hopping to another tapas bar.


Between the Alhambra, La Alpujarra and the awkwardly large and satisfying tapas, a trip to Granada is never a disappointment – you know, unless you consider it sort of disappointing to have your hopes for becoming a brilliant shepherd crushed. It’s OK. I guess I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a certain affect on other living things: I can’t keep a plant alive, I make babies cry, and sheep are horrified of me. I think I can live with this, as long as I have yummy regional cuisine and delicious Spanish wine to console me.


On that note, I leave you now with a video of the sheep running away from me as fast as they can.





I should mention that I did take some really oscar-worthy video footage on this road-trip, but sadly my computer is too ancient to handle it. So, for now, I only have this unedited, albeit rad, video of the sheep. I will keep you waiting on pins and needles until after the holidays when I can fully reveal my awesome video skills. You can also see pictures by visiting the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

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November 22, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

You’ve gotten the memo by now – Spain has lots of delicious food, but a healthy chunk of it involves meat. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that you’re a vegetarian, which kind of makes the idea of really enjoying the country, much less not starving to death, kind of seem impossible. Lovely. Just what you’ve always wanted in a vacation – lots of good wine and a totally empty stomach.


Fear not, my friend. A couple of weeks ago I had my first vegetarian visitor (eh hem, challenge). Most of my guests have been more or less like me when I arrived here – not terribly carnivorous, but willing to try a bite of just about anything. (Years later and I cannot live without my beloved jamón, but you already knew that.) So with the arrival of this new cuisine-restricted friend, I was enthusiastic to show her that a vegetarian can not only avoid starvation while traveling in Spain, but can actually come to appreciate its cuisine. Challenge accepted.


Our journey through Spain took us to Ávila, Toledo and down south to Sevilla, Carmona and Granada. Our first stop in Ávila required a visit to one of our favorite restaurants, El Molino de La Losa, where we noshed on their giant tortilla española (made with some 24 eggs), which was as spectacular in taste as it was in size. This basic Spanish dish (usually made with a humble six or so eggs) is often a vegetarian go-to, but can’t really be fully appreciated unless it’s done right – that is, homemade and slightly moist in the center (nothing is worse than a dry, hard tortilla – I’m an expert, I know this). Accompanying our tortilla, we sampled a variety of Spanish cheeses along with membrillo, which is a sweet jelly-like substance that is orgasmic when served with a little bread and queso manchego (strict vegetarians should note that, as with many cheeses, animal product may be used in the making of manchego cheese). I should mention that the texturas de chocolate dessert also happened to be vegetarian as well (crazy, right!?), so of course we had to try that too.


Down in Sevilla, we made like natives and ordered gazpacho and salmorejo like they were going out of style. Salmorejo is similar to gazpacho, but thicker and typically served with hard boiled egg and pieces of jamón on top (so be sure to ask for salmorejo “sin jamón” if you are a vegetarian). Accompanying our many meals were setas a la plancha (grilled mushrooms) and that fabulous ratatouille-like dish, pisto manchego (you learned how to make that a few weeks back, remember?). And to start our days, we fueled ourselves with classic Spanish breakfasts such as pan con tomate (toast with olive oil and crushed tomato) and churros con chocolate. Doesn’t sound half bad, does it? Well, it wasn’t.


On the way to Granada, we stopped in Carmona, a pueblo famous for having one of the longest histories in the region and also, as fate would have it, for its dish of espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzos). It was so awesomely delicious that we ordered two plates of it and even tackled a couple more bowls of gazpacho for good measure.


Heading east we ended up in Granada where we dined at the always-a-crowd-pleaser El Huerto de Juan Ranas. There we had an epic dinner, taking in the view of the Alhambra and chowing down on vegetable couscous (a common dish in Southern Spain). Perfectly cooked carrots, zucchini, squash, onion and even raisins danced in our mouths along with the pearly bits of couscous. Seriously, if this is what being a vegetarian in Spain looks like, then sign me up!!


Returning to Madrid, our tummies were oh so happy, not to mention oh so meat-free. Being a vegetarian in this country may draw lots of weird looks (like “you poor thing” kinds of looks), but otherwise is entirely doable, if not utterly enjoyable! Just note down some of these delicious vegetarian dishes and arm yourself with two short phrases: “lleva carne?” (does it have meat?) and “sin carne, por favor” (without meat, please).


Here is a list of some other commonly found vegetarian-ish dishes in Spain:

    Patatas bravas (potatoes with salsa – and no, it’s not Mexican-style salsa!)
    Paella de marisco/verduras (seafood/vegetables)
    Croquetas de setas/gambas/bacalao (mushrooms/shrimp/cod croquettes)
    Empanadas de atún/bacalao (tuna/cod)
    Gambas al ajillo (shrimp served with garlic in olive oil)
    Verduras a la plancha (grilled vegetables)



*La Tortuga Viajera has finally gotten on the Twitter bandwagon. I’m still not entirely convinced, so come follow me to see if I end up getting on board with the whole thing. I make a persuasive argument, don’t I?

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September 15, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Trips to the US

What is your favorite place on the planet? When approached with this question for a Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival, I couldn’t really imagine how to sift through the heap of awesome places that started flickering through my brain. My favorite place to live? To visit? To eat? So many locations flash into my mind, and surely yours too. Last month it would have been Halong Bay, Vietnam. Last week I would have probably said any Spanish terraza willing to serve me my beloved tinto de verano, a plate of manchego cheese and some gazpacho. And then growing up, my choice would have been Vashon Island, Washington – that weird little island where I built some solid clam digging skills. But of all time? I suppose a couple of places do stand out – two places that tickle all my senses and make me feel like I’m frozen in a dream.


Let me start by taking you on a journey to the first location. It’s a very precise spot in the best city ever (I’m only slightly partial) – San Francisco of course!!! This little spot can be found on the water side of Broderick Street, right before you reach the row of Broadway Street mansions. Sitting there, propped up on the steep incline of the carless block of Broderick, the Marina sits in front of you like a stage. The bustling neighborhood below gives way to the sailboat-speckled waters of the slate-blue Bay. In the distance to your right, Alcatraz pokes gloomily out of the water. Then to your far left, the ebb and flow of marine fog engulfs the Golden Gate Bridge. And just over the hill behind you, whether you can hear it or not, hide the noise and chaos of the big city. Here, in this little piece of heaven on earth, the crisp marine air kisses your skin, and everything around you seems to stand still. I’ve spent countless moments in this very spot reflecting on a stressful day, pondering life-changing decisions (to move to Spain or not to?), or simply reminding myself how grateful I am to have such a special city wrapped around me like a familiar hug.


I have to tell you friends, if I haven’t made it clear already, this is the best place on earth. The rolling hills lined with colorful buildings and filled with equally colorful people, the fusion of international cultures and cuisine, and the weather….no, NO, NOT the weather. This is the one thing I do not miss – except perhaps the mild overcast mornings with the fog horn humming in the distance, carefully soothing me out of my slumber, as opposed to the blinding Madrid sun that does everything short of scream “rise and shine amiga!”


This can’t be my only favorite place, though. There is another, that is perhaps less sentimental and more universally acknowledged as one of the most amazing places in the world – the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. I’ve tried to capture in words before the paradise that is the Alhambra. But honestly, until you are there, and even right now as I write this, it is hard to recall the sensation of walking through the Moorish wonderland. The thought of a palace, for me anyway, typically recalls fancy chandeliers, vast gardens filled with perfectly groomed shrubbery, and ornately tasseled rugs and curtains. While impressive, it certainly seems forced and perhaps a bit excessive, doesn’t it? But this palace, oh this palace, it’s like nothing that you have stored in the corners of your imagination. It’s equal parts elegance and austerity. The Arabic architecture, with its open rooms and intricately carved details, blends naturally with the dribbling fountains. You can’t escape the trickle of water traveling through the palace and gardens, which overflow with everything from roses to fruits and vegetables. When you walk through this palace, everything is in perfect harmony. Nothing is ridiculously lavish, but at the same time, it feels like the richest place on earth – rich with color, smells, sounds and life. It can only best be described as a drug that heightens all your senses – smell, touch, hearing, sight. It is truly euphoric. This would be my kind of palace indeed. Speaking of which, Jacobo, are you taking notes??


Lucky for me, I will be returning to the Alhambra for a third time in just a few short weeks, at which time I will be taking my own notes on what I’d like in my personal (imaginary) Moorish palace (an Andalucian patio and a balcony full of electrically colored petunias are musts!). Meanwhile, if you’re itching to know some other sweet locations around the planet, stop by the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival hosted by Sophie’s World, to find out what other expert travelers are saying about their top spots and favorite places.

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