Right in the heart of Andalusia lies the city of Córdoba; full of mysterious lanes and architectural gems, this was once one of the biggest and most important cities in Western Europe. These days, it is often overshadowed by its glossier neighbours Seville and Granada but is still very much worth a visit. Throughout history, the city has always been viewed as the jewel in any crown due to its prime regional location and fertile surroundings. At one point in time, it was the capital of Roman Spain, after which it was taken over by the Arabs, before the Christians marched in… each leaving their mark and giving Córdoba an intricate and fascinating history.
The old town is compact and best traversed by foot to really immerse yourself into life within these city walls. As we always do when we arrive in a new city, a certain someone and I wandered out with the intention to get a feel for the city, see what we could see and most likely, get a little lost. When you’re somewhere like Córdoba, it pays to take a wrong turn here or there, just to see what’s round the corner… sometimes we found ourselves on a street so quiet, even our footsteps seemed like an intrusion, while other times we walked straight out into a main square lined with tourist-tat shops! Here’s how we spent our day in Córdoba…
I imagine what draws most people to Granada is a visit to the Alhambra, the stunning fortified palace sitting at the top of the city. However, what might make them stay a little longer is the proximity to the ski fields of the Sierra Nevada in winter and the nearby beaches in summer. The heart of the city itself is also worth a wander; there are mix of wide boulevards and narrow lanes where you can shop, marvel at the architecture, and of course, eat and drink. Unsurprisingly, the latter two are my favourite past-times whenever I find myself in Spain.
A certain someone and I have always had a soft spot for tapas, even back when we were in New Zealand, I remember gorging ourselves silly at this one place in Auckland… but I think we really fell in love with it when we visited our first Spanish city together – Barcelona. Everything we had previous to that just paled in comparison; this was the real deal and ever since then, we’ve been excited about all the food we’ve had in the country whether it’s been fine dining in Madrid, pintxos in San Sebastian or a food tour in Seville. I think the Spanish have a wonderfully civilised drinking culture where they usually serve some sort of nibble alongside their beer or wine.
I think I was around twenty when I first heard of the Michelin Guide and decided that sometime in my future, somewhere along my travels, I would experience a Michelin star meal. Just once would do. At the ripe old age of twenty-seven, I had that first experience. What I didn’t know at the time was that there would be more to follow; lucky lady, eh? Many, including myself, would say that the Michelin guide is just that, a guide. It’s just another list of recommendations so definitely not the be all and end all of restaurants, but I do think it provides a fairly solid benchmark of quality. We’ve had one experience that we didn’t think was quite up to scratch, another couple which were so-so but overall, they’ve been worthy of the recognition.
Now, at the riper, older age of thirty, my current count of Michelin star meals is twenty-three – I’ve comfortably exceeded my goals by a smidge, don’t you think?! Our latest one was in celebration of my big 3-0; until I get the call up to be a Michelin inspector or have no cares in the world about my finances, these meals will still be reserved for special occasions only. I toasted to the end of my twenties and welcomed by thirties in beautiful Seville with some of my nearest and dearest friends, and we ended the day at the city’s only star adorned restaurant – Abantal.
A certain someone and I are DIY-type travellers. We book all our flights and hotels, we stumble on sights unassisted, we manage to eat quite well on our own; why would we need someone to guide us along? The thought of joining a tour has always filled us with dread and distain because we’re not fans of organised fun and we hate following people. We like to wing it and do our own thing, winging it has worked out well for us so far but recently I’ve come round to the idea that there is a time and a place for certain tours…
We still won’t be going on package holidays or shuffling behind a person with a flag for days on end, but a few hours we can handle. If we hadn’t joined a walking tour in Sofia, we wouldn’t have learnt anything about Bulgarian history and without the wine tour in Bordeaux, I wouldn’t have set foot in any of the gorgeous chateaus. With these enjoyable experiences in mind, we decided to take a chance on a food tour and book the Tastes, Tapas and Traditions Tour with Devour Seville.
I uncovered two fun facts about El Pirata when I did my customary restaurant google: it’s been serving tapas in Mayfair for over twenty years and is Fred Sirieix’s favourite restaurant. Any restaurant which can last more than two decades in this city is all very impressive but who the heck is this Fred fella and what does he know about good food? More googling reveals that Mr Sirieix is the country’s most famous maître d’ but obviously, those of you who watch First Dates already knew that.
While you’re judging my sheltered TV-watching habits, I was judging Fred’s taste in restaurants. In a recent Guardian article about the best things certain people in the know had eaten in 2016, he mentioned the black rice, the langoustines in tomato sauce, and the ham. We hadn’t intended on copying his order, but rice, prawns and pork are some of our favourite things, and according to our waiter, they are some of El Pirata’s signature dishes.
Over the last few days, weekends jaunts and week-long holidays have dominated our lunchtime conversations in the office. It’s the time of the year where everyone has either just come back from a trip or are about the jet off so there have been plenty of stories, recommendations, and even some debates… Where’s best for a beach holiday? What’s a great cheap and cheerful destination? Any hidden gems to reveal? And we couldn’t go past discussing our favourite destinations! I immediately piped up with Barcelona, and I was not alone in picking this Spanish city as a favourite!
We all agreed that Barcelona has a bit of everything which could almost make it the perfect city. Huge call. If you like strolling, it has endless streets to wander and admire the architecture. If you just want to laze in the sun, there’s a choice between park or beach. For the shopaholics amongst us, there are a mix of markets, boutiques and familiar favourites. And finally, if you’re all about the Spanish food and drink like I am, Barcelona is overflowing with fantastic restaurants and food stalls at every corner. The hotspots, and there are many, from high end to tapas to markets are fairly well-known so I thought I’d share some of my favourite alternatives…