Secrets of the cities John Main, Inntraveller | Posted: 19 April 2016

John Main, who, along with his wife Marian, has enjoyed many Inntravel holidays over the years, rarely fails to send us one of his ‘reports’ (as well as his excellent photographs) once he returns home. Informal in style, they’re always full of valuable nuggets of information (many of which end up in our notes to benefit future travellers). We thought we’d share a few here from his latest adventure...

1. TAPAS TRAIL IN SEVILLE
Rinconcillo, the oldest tapas bar in Seville, was the perfect place for good old-fashioned (standing only) tapas and fino sherry. The adjoining restaurant was excellent, too: locals were queuing up from 8.45pm, so it’s worth booking ahead. But for traditional tapas, it’s hard to beat Casa Morales on C/Garcia de Vinuesa – for decor, for atmosphere, for the food, and for a great list of sherries (or generosos as they call them) by the glass. A crisp manzanilla came in at €1.60, and a nutty oloroso sec (Alfonso) pushed the boat out at €2.50. And they have some seats!

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

2. LITTLE PIGS FROM HEAVEN
Tocino de Cielo ('little pigs from heaven') seems to be something of a regular dessert in Seville and Córdoba, and, despite the name, no piglets were harmed in its making!  It is reminiscent of crème caramel, but made with egg yolk only, so is a little more dense. It goes down very well, especially with a glass of sweetly smooth pedro ximenez (‘PX’) sherry. Accompanying it with the latter always seemed to impress the waiters, and on at least two occasions we got our PX on the house.

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

3. SEVILLE'S ICONIC SIGHTS
The cathedral and iconic Giralda (the bell tower that is the symbol of Seville) impressed us greatly, especially Columbus’ tomb, the inauguration cloak of Charles V, and the access-friendly ramps to the top (not an enlightened feature for wheelchair users, but an original feature to allow the muezzin to get up and down on his horse to call the faithful to prayer). At the Alcázar, besides the Moorish splendour of the palace and gardens, don’t miss the ‘Baths of Dona Maria Padilla’, tucked away in a basement. Dona Maria was the mistress of Pedro the Cruel, and I had great fun imagining what might have gone on in her baths – until I found out they are actually rainwater tanks. Surely the most beautiful rainwater tanks in the world.

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

4. EL CHURRASCO, CORDOBA
The restaurant linked to our hotel in Córdoba appeared to be quite formal and pricey. However, it turned out to be neither, and the friendly waiters gave us a very useful tip, which we put to good use throughout the rest of our holiday: starters (entradas) can be bought in half (media) portions, and it’s entirely normal also to share one entrada between two (or more). Indeed there doesn’t appear to be any expectation that dinner will consist of a starter, a main course and a dessert per person. You can just order what you like, and that’s exactly what we did!

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

5. SALMOREJO
Our first encounter with salmorejo was at Casa Pepe, a lunch venue in Córdoba, and once we’d tried it we couldn’t get enough of it. A combination of tomatoes, garlic, bread and olive oil, smoothly puréed and topped with finely chopped egg and jamón – it’s absolutely delicious.

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

6. THE MEZQUITA
Córdoba’s Mezquita is justly famous, but what many visitors don’t realise is that, every weekday at 8.30am, you can get in for free! You have to leave by nine-thirty, but that’s no great hardship as you’ll time it just right for a leisurely breakfast back at the hotel. When we first entered the Great Mosque, we marvelled at the forest of red-and-white, Moorish-arched pillars. What we hadn’t been expecting, though, was the vast, soaring – and defiantly Christian – Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, lying right at its centre.

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

7. TAPAS TREATS IN GRANADA
In general, the bars in Granada don’t advertise themselves as tapas places, but in reality they seemed to serve a free tapa with every drink! One favourite was La Vinoteca on C/Almerireceros, and although drinks prices were a little higher than elsewhere, once you factor in the ‘free’ – and invariably very tasty – tapa, you’re getting quite a bargain.

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

8. THE ALHAMBRA
What can I say about the Alhambra that has not been said already? It is justifiably super-popular, of course, and buying tickets online in advance is a must for the Nasrid palaces. But despite the hordes of visitors, and despite it being a rather grey, drizzly day, we are already wondering how to plan a return. Our canniest discovery here had nothing to do with the exquisite architecture – it was the tiny open-air kiosk in the middle of it all that, despite its monopoly, sells a fortifying fino at €1.70, or a decent Rioja for €2.

SlowMotion cultural journey by rail in Spain

9. REAL ASADOR DE CASTILLA
Our final meal of the trip was a real treat. We sussed it out by having a drink here earlier in the day – the ‘free tapa’ were some glorious hot clams in garlic, and we were hooked. The dining room looked quite formal (crisp white table linen and black-clad waiters) but once again the staff were very helpful and the mood relaxed. We shared media portions of tasty morcilla from Burgos (like a cross between black pudding and haggis) and lamb sweetbreads that were stunningly good. We then shared roast suckling lamb which was fabulous. We’d had quite a feast by the time we meandered back to our hotel, finishing beneath the floodlit ramparts of the Alhambra.

Related Holidays

Discover for yourself…

If, like John and Marian, you want to discover your own highlights of Moorish Spain, take a SlowMotion journey by rail across the heart of Andalucia, with detailed background and cultural notes included, plus a self-guided walking tour of each city.

More about our three-city journey by rail in Andalucia >


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