Travel Dates: September 19-27, 2016
It’s official, I’m completely obsessed with España! I mean what’s not to love, I could gorge myself with tapas, drink sangria like it’s water and take afternoon siestas everyday and then hit repeat. Every city that we visited made me fall more in love with the country, so much so I didn’t know if I ever wanted to leave…
Accommodations: The Principal Madrid
Madrid was our first stop on our Spanish tour, an easy four hour flight from Stockholm. We stayed at The Principal Madrid, a modern boutique hotel located on Gran Via in the center of Madrid. We were walking distance from all the major tourist attractions which made getting around the city very easy.
On our first night in the city, we were eager to find some good tapas. At our concierge’s recommendation, we walked a few blocks to Mercado de la Reina where we grabbed a couple seats at the bar and ordered drinks and tapas to share. Food was just okay but the atmosphere made up for it. It was 10pm on a Monday night and the restaurant was jam packed. We quickly learned that Spaniards eat dinner very late. Most restaurants open for dinner at 8:30pm and even that was when the early birds ate.
Not wanting the night to end we decided to hit up a bar for post dinner drinks. Areia is a cool hipster restaurant/lounge with a Moroccan flare. Colorful pillows and cushions lined the floor and there were even a couple daybeds for patrons to lounge. Bright, vibrant red fabrics were draped from the ceiling and walls, creating a cozy canopy feel. We grabbed one of the private day beds, ordered a couple drinks, a hookah, and some sweets and before we knew it, we were going to bed at 3am.
The next day we took in the sights of Plaza Mayor and then headed to Mercado de San Miguel for lunch. The Market of San Miguel was like being in Disneyland for tapas lovers. It is an indoor marketplace with over 30 different vendors selling a wide selection of freshly prepared tapas, cured meats and cheese, baked goods, and drinks. We sampled so many dishes and even had a couple sangrias all for less than $40 euros! Another lunch option to check out when in Madrid, is Taberna El Sur. In our quest to eat as much tapas as humanly possible while in Spain, we discovered a cute rustic cafe located in a neighborhood off the beaten path. Food and service was incredible!
When in Madrid, if possible you must catch a Real Madrid futbol game! We were very lucky we were able to score third row seats center field through our Hotel’s booking agent. We sat amongst the die hard fans while chomping on our stadium dog and soaking in the match. It was my first professional futbol game and it was definitely one for the books!
Accommodations: Hotel Alfonso XIII
After an amazing fun time in Madrid, I couldn’t imagine liking Spain anymore then I already did. Boy was I wrong. Sevilla, as the Spaniards call it, has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has an old world charm and sophistication to it. Definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Spain.
We stayed at Hotel Alfonso XIII, centrally located in the neighborhood of Santa Cruz. We were walking distance to all the major sights. Our hotel was absolutely stunning. It’s the most beautiful hotel we’ve stayed at thus far. I was mesmerized by the architecture and decor as soon as we walked through the lobby doors. Every detail from carved out wooden ceilings to the marble columns, Roman archways and the colorful Spanish tiles were breathtaking. Here we were booked for two nights but ended up extending our stay for one additional night just because we loved Seville and the hotel so much.
For the next three days we took in the sights of the beautiful old town. We visited the Cathedral, walked through the water gardens of the Real Alcazar (A.K.A the set of Dorne for all you fellow G.O.T geeks), and strolled through the botanical gardens of Parque de Maria Luisa. We also continued our tapas tour, eating tapas wherever and whenever we could find it.
The one drawback to this beautiful city is that it is overrun with horse drawn carriages. Everywhere you look and smell there is man trying to sell you on a carriage ride through the city. As romantic as it sounds, Amit and I felt so bad for those majestic creatures, forced into a life of pulling overindulgent tourist around. Unregrettably, we declined.
Next stop, San Sebastián, but first we would do a quick stop in Salamanca.
Accommodations: Hotel Rector
To really explore the country, we decided to rent a car and take an 8 hour road trip to San Sebastián.
It was at the Sixt Car Rental office that I learned my driver’s license had expired in August. Because I needed to do a name change and address change (not to mention the fact that I don’t even have a permanent address at the moment), I was ineligible to renew online or by mail. As a result, Amit’s third job (unintentionally) became chaffeur.
To break-up the drive we decided to stop off mid-way in a small northwestern town called Salamanca to rest for the night. It was the halfway mark between Seville and San Sebastián. We reached our destination just after sunset, leaving us really no time to explore the beautiful ancient Celtic city. We checked into our hotel, walked across the street to snap a couple shots of the New Gothic Cathedral and grabbed dinner at Vinodiario and called it a night.
The next morning, we got up bright and early to get back on the road.
San Sebastián, Spain
Accommodations: Hotel Maria Cristina
San Sebastián, located in Basque Country very close to the French border is just one more reason why I’ve come to love Spain so much. FYI, Basque Country has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in the world. With that said, there’s definitely no shortage of good food which made our tummies very happy.
Hotel Maria Cristina was yet one more lovely hotel we had the privilege of staying at on our world tour. We were upgraded to a beautiful river view suite. The best part of the hotel (in my biased opinion) was the restaurant Cafe Saigon located on the lobby floor that served delicious Vietnamese cuisine. One of my biggest contributors to being homesick is the lack of Vietnamese food. In our short two night stay, we ate here 3 times (it would have been four times had we not missed the lunch cut off one day).
Despite the convenience of having a delicious Vietnamese restaurant in our hotel we actually still wanted to explore the cuisine outside of our hotel. Lucky for us we were about to embark on a fun culinary experience that would properly introduce us to basque culture.
One of the best things about traveling is meeting other travelers while on the road and sharing tips. While having dinner in Salamanca, we met a lovely Australian couple who had just come from San Sebastián and had recommended a Pintxo (Basque-style tapas) Tour guided by Eskerne Falcón, a San Sebastián native and enthusiast. Eskerne took us (along with another German couple) on a three hour walking tour of the old city. Our tour included 6 stops at typical pintxo bars. She was a wealth of knowledge, providing us with interesting historical facts on the small resort town and tailoring her pintxos and wine pairing selections for us based on our likes and dislikes. It was a fun way to discover San Sebastián. And major props to the German couple that were in their 60-70’s that out ate and out drank us every time!
The next day before our departure we decided to take a hike up Urgull Mount to visit the impressive statue of the Sacred Heart that overlooks the city. At the top of the mountain we were met with 360 degree stunning views of San Sebastián and the breathtaking coastline. What a way to conclude our amazing tour of Spain. I’m very sad to be leaving…