We were looking forward to our time in Spain for two reasons: the food and the architecture. Let’s face it, those two things are the common threads for our journeys. Our visits to Valencia, Barcelona, Cartagena and Granada (with the majestic Alhambra) featured great food and amazing visual delights.
Why Valencia? Other than the fact that we had good friends living there, it’s one of Spain’s main agricultural areas. The Central Market was very impressive with an astonishing array of jamon, olives, fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood. The jamon, and the proscuitto in Italy, are very different from the salty stuff we get in Mexico or the U.S. Rich, mild flavors are the hallmarks of good cured ham in Spain and Italy. That certainly goes for the olives, too. Why do we get these salty products in the U.S.? Are they dumping their inferior products or simply catering to the majority of Americans who love salt?
OK, rant over. The food was great, from the small padron chiles which were seared and lightly salted, to the wonderfully fresh and simply prepared calamari, shrimp and fish.
The architectural highlight of Valencia is the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències) designed by world-famous architect Santiago Calatrava, a native of Valencia. Hire a bike and ride along the former Turia river bed which is now a park with sports fields, park spaces and jogging/cycling paths.
Moving on to Barcelona, we kicked off our visit to that city with a five-hour walking food tour. Three neighborhoods, three tapas bars, four different Spanish wines (verdejo, rosado, tinto and cava) and a bit of history mixed in to the evening. Paul, from Taste Barcelona Walking Tours, was a great guide and offered the perfect insight into the food, wine and neighborhoods of Barcelona/Catalonia. In five hours we ate:
Gambas y calamares (Shrimps/prawns and calamari), Camembert crujiente (Crunchy camembert), Cangrejo (Crab, corn & pineapple montadito), Queso Castellano Curado (sheep) with our white Verdejo. White anchovies, potato croquettes and padron chiles with the rosado. The third stop featured Formatge Vall de Tenes (sheep – Catalunya), Formatge Brisat (cow with grape skins – Catalunya), Queso Mahon Seco (cow), Formatge Cabra del Bages (goat – Catalunya), Formatge Carrat (goat with ash – Catalunya), Pan con tomate. Coca de recapte amb sardines, Escalivada (grilled/oven-roasted vegetables: eggplant, pepper, onion), Chorizo picante, Morcilla (black pudding, blood sausage), Longaniza, Morcon, Jamón ibérico de bellota de Guijuelo with the vino tinto Llagrimes de Tardor made with Garnacha, Samso, Syrah y Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Thankfully, the last stop was only sparkling wine/cava– no food. We certainly didn’t need it.
There are few words that can do justice to Sagrada Familia, the majestic cathedral designed by Antoni Guadí. Construction began in 1882 and will not be completed for another 20 years. All we can do is tell you that it is one of the most amazing buildings we have experienced.
The fascination with the work of Gaudí doesn’t have to end at Sagrada Familia. There are several residences and buildings in Barcelona that he designed, and there is the popular Park Guell, which was supposed to be a planned residential community. Surprisingly, it failed, but you can still visit to see a couple of the houses, walkways and common areas in what is now a city park.
Moving on, we spent a few days around Mallorca and the beautiful city of Palma.
Further down the coast, we enjoyed the small town of Cartagena with it’s Roman ruins, but the highlight of our last days in Spain was undoubtedly the Alhambra in Granada. Built by the Moors as a small fortress in 889, it was then renovated and expanded by a Moorish emir in the mid-11th century. The design and craftsmanship are captivating, whetting our appetites for the palaces, riads and mosques of Morocco, which was our next stop and will be the next blog post.