In June of 2014 my family spent a month traveling through Spain and London. I’m highlighting our individual destinations, giving you tips on traveling with kids and sharing some of the best things we discovered. You can find previously published travel posts on my Travel Page. You can find all the photos from our trip on my flickr page.
Well, friends … it looks like I may very well drag these Spain posts out to the one-year-anniversary of our trip! I have this post plus one more to get in before June 8th. Think I can do it?!
When I last left you, we were wrapping up a few glorious days in Barcelona. From Barcelona we took our very last Ryanair flight to Sevilla. As we got savvy to Ryanair’s ways, each flight got progressively better. Still, I was happy to put our bargain European air travel days behind us. For this leg of the itinerary we were road tripping! I have family in Sevilla, so after picking up our rental car we spent the night with my cousin, Elena, and her family. They had just been to visit us in the States two months earlier, so it was a lot of fun to see them again so quickly.
In the morning, we packed up the car with a feast of snacks Elena and her husband, David, prepared for us and were on our way. Can I just take a moment to say how amazed I was at Mike’s European driving skills? Here are just a small selection of things that happened which he handled with ease (where I would’ve driven the car into a ditch and cried): a handy, energy-saving feature that caused the car to turn off when you stopped at a light (great idea, somewhat terrifying on a steep hill when the car starts sliding back into traffic). A GPS that gives up when there’s construction, and directions from a construction worker that you understand approximately 0.9% of. Narrow ancient roads that keep getting narrower and narrower and then just kind of end. (At one point this happened and Mike had to back up very slowly for a long way. The car had sensors on it that would beep if you were too close to something. The sensors on every side of the car were going off!) And the horn-honking. So much horn-honking.
Our first stop was Jaén. There isn’t a major tourist attraction in Jaen, but friends of a friend had stayed at the Parador here and after seeing her photos I knew we had to stay there as well. I mean, how many chances do you have to sleep in a castle?
Paradors are hotels run by the Spanish government. They range in price, but they’re known for their luxury, unique atmospheres and excellent food. It was a splurge for us, but worth every penny.
The Parador of Jaén sits high above the city, next to the Catalina castle. The views were ridiculous. We spent most of this road trip just gawking at the views around us. If you ever have the chance to spend some time driving around Andalusia and its renowed white towns, do it. Even the most jaded person (or tween) will be taken aback by the beauty. You are surrounded by mountains, quaint towns, olive trees and sunflowers. I love all of Spain, but if I had to choose one region to settle down in, this would be it.
The Parador was unreal as well. Our room was gorgeous and big, a luxury we desperately needed after being cooped up together for much of the trip. I just wanted to lie down on the beautiful tile in the gigantic bathroom. We had a big terrace that overlooked the mountains. While we did drive back down to Jaén to walk around, we mainly used the time in Jaén to relax and explore the Parador. After nearly two weeks of nonstop sightseeing, it was heavenly to relax and enjoy our surroundings, including this amazing pool we had all to ourselves.
Later that evening, we put the kids to bed and snuck out for a romantic mini-date at the hotel bar. Our stay included breakfast delivered to our room. Now, I’m used to the free Hampton Inn breakfast, so nothing prepared me for the feast that was delivered to our room. There were two trays packed to the gills with toast, butter, jam, pastries, fruit, rolls, jamón, cheese and yogurt. We washed them down with thick, warm drinking chocolate, coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice. We sat on the terrace and stuffed ourselves, then packed up the leftovers in our cooler, which fed us for lunch and the next day’s breakfast.
From Jaén we had an hour’s drive to Granada. Granada is best known for the Alhambra, a former fortress and Islamic palace. It’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We checked into our hotel, Pensión Alfin, which was just steps away from the entrance to the Alhambra. I’m not sure how we continued to get so lucky with accommodations, but this was another winner (and extremely reasonable). It was a little shabby and dated, but clean. We each had our own beds (Elena even had her own room) as well as a small refrigerator, and the location couldn’t be beat.
We had early afternoon tickets to tour the Alhambra, so we didn’t have much time to relax. You definitely want to purchase your tickets ahead of time, as they only allow a certain number of visitors in each day. I don’t remember a lot about the museums and sites we visited in Spain when I was a child, but I have vivid memories of the Alhambra. I hope my kids will remember it as fondly as I did. It really is breathtaking, and just mind-blowing to think of the work and vision it took to create this place centuries ago. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
We took a siesta in our room, then ventured out again to explore el Albayzín, the old Muslim quarter of Granada. Full of narrow, twisty cobblestone streets with tiny bars and shops, it’s delightful to stroll through.
We made our way up to the lookout point of Mirador San Nicolás, just in time to catch a cool breeze and see the sun set over the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountains.
On our walk back to the hotel, we had our second ice cream of the day at Los Italianos. I mean, when you pass an ice cream shop that’s rumored to be Michelle Obama’s favorite, you have to stop, right? I had their specialty, la cassata, and it was amazing.
After a breakfast outside at the cafe run by our hotel owners, we set off for Ronda and yet another beautiful drive through Andalusia. Ronda is smaller, and therefore easier to navigate than previous towns we’ve been to. We were able to check into our guesthouse, Hotel Enfrente Arte, early. If all of our hotel stays were hits, this one was a home run. Again, very reasonable, with a funky atmosphere we all loved.
Our room was a 2-story suite, complete with a grand staircase! Elena was thrilled to once again have her own bed upstairs in the loft area. The hotel patios had amazing views of the Spanish countryside, and there were lots of fun nooks for the kids to explore, including a fish pond and an aviary. I was so bummed that I didn’t figure out until after we left that the fish pond is full of the tiny fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet. I’ve always wanted to try that! Oh well, guess I’ll just have to go back.
The kids loved the funky rooftop pool. It was way too cold for Mike and I, but it was glorious just sitting there, reading, and soaking up the Spanish sun. Bonus: the hotel provided unlimited, self-serve drinks … even of the grown-up variety. If we didn’t want to explore Ronda so badly, we could’ve just camped out at the hotel for the rest of the day.
Ronda is adorable, and I could return here again and again. The small streets are filled with cafes and shops. We chose a cafe on the plaza and had a delicious lunch. Two weeks in and we FINALLY manage to eat a meal at the appropriate Spanish time! On the walk back to the hotel we enjoyed some amazing views from the “New” Bridge – finished in 1793!
After relaxing at the hotel, we returned to visit the Ronda bullring and bullfighting museum, Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Ronda. It only takes about an hour to tour, but I highly recommend it. The kids enjoyed it, and it was so different from everything else we’d seen so far.
Notice the posters on the outside of the museum? They say “Vivan Los Reyes.” Pretty cool side note: we just happened to be in Spain when Felipe VI and his wife, Letizia, succeeded the throne following the abdication of Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos I. The ceremony took place in Madrid the week before, but I thought it was cool to see these posters on display in southern Spain.
We ate dinner and then walked through the old town of Ronda to the bottom of the Gorge and the “Old” Bridge (built in 1616). The kids will kill me for this some day, but they took my lecture on an ancient use for fig leaves very seriously.
The hotel offered a full breakfast, including freshly fried churros. Eli had the poor churro guy working overtime! From Ronda we drove to my mother’s hometown of Morón de la Frontera. This stop was all about family. I have an aunt and an uncle that still live here, along with a host of cousins. I was able to take Mike and the kids to my uncle’s store, which has been in the family for over 50 years, as well as walk through the apartment upstairs where my mother and her siblings grew up. This was my abuela’s home, and most of my childhood memories of my abuela take place in this home. My Tita Pilar fixed us lunch at her apartment. She’d obviously spoken to my mother recently because she made
us Mike and the kids platters of fried chicken and homemade french fries! Later, we rolled ourselves out the door for coffee and pastries with my cousins. Elena ran off for the afternoon with her cousins, which made me insanely happy to see her connecting with the other kids.
Mike, Eli and I had the treat of taking in the famous Morón monument, El Gallo. Yes, that would be a rooster – long story. But the best part of all was finally reconnecting with my favorite Spanish food, only available for a short season each year: caracoles (snails). Trust me, a bowl of those and a cold beer are the way to spend an afternoon.
We only spent the day in Morón, opting to finish the road trip by driving to Sanlucar de Barrameda to stay with my aunt and uncle two nights. We were nearing the end of Mike’s stay in Spain – he would leave for Madrid to fly home in 3 days.
I’ll wrap up our Spanish holiday with details about the last days of our trip, spent with family in the bustling city of Sevilla as well as the laid-back beach town of Sanlucar.