Christmas Vibes under the Andalucían Sun



One of the best things on our Christmas holiday in the South of Spain? Light. Light. Light. Sunlight. Sunrays. After a long period of moist darkness in Finland, my every cell was yearning for solar energy. And that’s exactly what we got. Plus, a bunch of unforgettable experiences.

We spent the yuletide in Andalucía. We flew to Malaga and spent the first half of our vacation at Costa del Sol and did day trips to Marbella, Malaga and Ronda. The second half we spent in historic Córdoba, the city with the mesmerizing Mezquita mosque. It has become almost a tradition for us to spend Christmas abroad. Not to escape Xmas, but rather to make the most of the holiday season and to spice it with a bit of adventure. We’ve had Christmas treats made from various internal organs in Guangzhou, hiked to a mountain with the giant bronze Buddha statue in Hong Kong and bathed in sunlight in Lisbon while enjoying the rich pasteis de nata pastries. And now South of Spain.

Must admit, I was just a little bit doubtful whether the easy and comfortable Costa del Sol life was for me, with the all-day British breakfasts and generous cocktail offers. But what really made me fall for multi-layered Andalucía was the incredible versatility.

Here are some of the memories that are most vivid in my mind right now: Having delicious white fish for lunch in a chiringuito on the beach in December, wearing summery clothing (!). By the way, one popular local treat is a sardine espeto (skewer), warm and fresh straight from the grill.

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Patio de los Naranjos, the Mezquita, Córdoba

Taking countless pictures of tall palm trees (the new Christmas tree) and of orange trees which were ubiquitous. And listening to the mighty waves hit the shore on the beach promenade in Torremolinos when heading back from dinner.

Mercado Central Atarazanas, Malaga

Doing an evening stroll in Puerto Banus in Marbella, the Monaco of Southern Spain, admiring the big boats and yachts and marvelling at the imaginative and everything-but-affordable costumes the small dogs were dressed in.

Port in Benalmadena

The beautiful city of gorges, Ronda

Sipping delicious warm mint tea in an atmospheric tetería in Córdoba. And admiring the many atmospheric patios and inner courtyards of the city, with fountains, decorated balconies, the blooming poinsettia and cobblestoned floorings. For patio-afecionados like myself, in early May in Córdoba there is a festival Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba: in this “best patio” competition many of the beautiful patios are opened for the public and flamenco is played on various plazas around the city. By the way, Córdoba is among those cities in Spain in which I could happily see myself living, in addition to Bilbao, Oviedo and Madrid, without forgetting the little cava village Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

The exterior of the Mezquita, Córdoba


Back to Andalucía recollections. The food, the tapas, the wine and the dry sherry. The grilled chicken we got for lunch from the chicken kiosk Asador, El pollo dorado in Benalmadena Pueblo. The rich salmorejo (a puree made of tomatoes and bread), the oxtail, the morcilla black sausage and the various delicious treats of the sea, from navajas to different tasty types of white fish. Interestingly, we found many counterparts from the Spanish cuisine to traditional Finnish Christmas foods: Jamón ibérico for those who want to have their Christmas pork, arroz con leche – a sweet rice pudding (in Finland we have porridge), enjoyed cold. And Pedro Ximénez, a sweet and dark desert wine, a bit like the remote cousin of the Finnish rusinasoppa, raisin soup, which we enjoy with the rice porridge.


We got to see a lot, but so much remains to be explored: the Alhambra palace area in Granada with its vibes from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, discovering Sevilla more thoroughly and perhaps a skiing holiday at the peaks of Sierra Nevada. Maybe next Xmas. Hasta la próxima.

Why I love the Basque Gastronomy?

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It is Love with a capital L and Gastronomy with a capital G. Pincho calamar, pincho champinion en salsa, croquetas, pulpo, jamón Iberico, tortilla de patatas and a glass of quality Verdejo or sparkly Txakoli (a young light white wine). The list goes on. The cuisine of the Basque country is rich and unique. The food can be so good that I think I almost shed a tear or two the last time we were there. Which by the way was way too long a go if you ask me (in June, says my calendar).

The ground is fertile for vineyards, the land good for the livestock and the sea offers its best fruits. Why do I like the Basque cuisine so much? Well here’s why.

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It’s fun. Vamos a tapear! Meaning let’s go and eat tapas. Or pinchos when up in the North. I really like the culture and the way of popping in one restaurant and having a drink, one or two delicious tapas, enjoying the lively mood of the place plus great company and then heading to the next pincho bar. You get to see and experience many different places and also do an energizing (or something) walk in between. To sum it up, it’s tavern hopping with an exciting twist, with quality food and fun socializing.  So, off you go, enjoy and make a night of it!

Pinchos. Small tasty portions, snacks or appetizers, the Basque version on tapas. They can be very varied – there’s probably a thousand different kinds – from a slice of bread covered with hake or chorizo to a small bowl of juicy pulpo á la Gallega or a small glass of fresh gazpacho decorated with flowers. And the choosing is of course the most fun, tempting and tricky part. I guess you could say that it’s far more than a snack, it’s a way of life (without trying to sound all too exaggerative): fun, fast, informal, a gastronomic venture.

Pure quality. The food we tried was made of quality ingredients. It’s fresh, colorful, tasty and in many places very local. All things that I really value on my plate. And, what’s great about it is that…

It is very affordable. The price value relationship is excellent.  Two pinchos and a glass of wine for each can be around ten euros. Gotta love it.

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Great food is very attainable. Our family members are going on a trip to San Sebastian and they were wondering that is it a bit too much to eat in two three Michelin star restaurants in one day. But when in San Sebastian it is almost difficult not to; the city has more Michelin star restaurants per square kilometer than any other city in the world!  One of the most favorable areas to find a concentration of tasty places in San Sebastian is the Casco Viejo.

And, two peculiarities: often it is completely ok to throw napkins, olive stones and toothpicks (used as the spikes in the pinchos) to the floor in the bar. Do as the locals do. And head where the locals head. In the best places the people spread from the inside of the bar onto the streets. And the second curiosity, the local delicacy Percebe is shellfish despite of its name that refers to goose.

Spain_food3Mmmm, revuelto, very delish.

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Basque cuisine, definitely worth the taste tour!  It’s a culinary delight. ¡Que approveche!  And if you are heading over there I’m more than happy to give you a tupperware case:  you can thank me for these tips in the form of something small, yummy and spiked with a skewer. 

Gorgeous beach surprise: Playa de Itzurun

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The title pretty much sums up the ingredients of a successful day trip for me: something beautiful, the sea and the option to spend the entire day swimming and the surprise element. The 32-year-old me and the 6-year-old version rejoice of many of the same things and water activities and ice cream are high up on that list.

Playa de Itzurun is spectacular. A hidden gem, really. It’s located on the coast of Zumaia, around half an hour car ride from San Sebastian. My travel companion (the best one) planned this excursion and promised that the destination would be nice. And was it ever. It was gorgeous (hence the awstruck surprise factor).

We discovered the beach by first climbing up to the chapel of San Telmo, the patron saint of sailors. From the cliff opens the breathtaking view to the beach and to the Bay of Bizcay. About the chapel by the way: if you are looking for a truly unique and purely visual place to get married in, well then here’s a strong alternative.

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We marvelled at the long vertical cliffs and the limestone walls that led down to the beach. The beach is long and the sand is soft. If you’re a water sports enthusiast, you can go surfing, windsurfing or bodyboarding. And if geology is your thing the beach is very likely of interest to you because of the rock strata formations that rise vertically from the sea. Flysch, they call it, part of the longest continuous rock formations in the world.
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There definitely was something magical in this place. A day trip of ten points. And what is a day trip without something delicious. We lunched in the fishing village of Getaria, a convenient pitstop to enjoy something fresh from the sea.

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