Tag Archives: Spain

7 Must-try Spanish Restaurants In and Around Madrid Centro

Centro Madrid, needless to say, is one of the Spanish meccas for tourists because it covers the districts and neighborhoods where found are some of the country’s most engaging sites and attractions. In the south, you’ll find Latina and Embajadores neighborhoods, while situated in the East are Recoletos and Colon. The Northern portion is bounded by Chamberi, among others, while Moncloa-Aravaca is located in the West. Within its confines are innumerable must-see attractions like museums, churches, plazas and monuments scattered around popular touristy areas such as Puerta del Sol, Gran Via, Atocha, to name a few.

Likewise, Centro Madrid is touted as a hot spot as far as iconic bars and restaurants are concerned. This is exactly what I love about this part of the city– it easily boasts of a great number of food establishments that serve all types of food imaginable. Of course, if you are a tourist, try as many of the typical Spanish fares as possible.

Below are 7 popular restaurants in and around Centro Madrid that you must dine at. Note that for every restaurant, I also recommend a top dish that you should try.

1. Museo del Jamon (Gran Via)

Museo del Jamon, Calle Mayor is one of the most popular in Sol, MadridFor great Spanish eats, a top choice is Museo del Jamon of Gran Via, Calle Mayor and other various locations. It is popular for serving a great variety of Spanish food fare at affordable prices. Traditional Spanish comida are found in menu here, and available in both tapas and raciones. Quick and cheap servings of tapas can be had on the bar on the ground floor. For instance, bocadillos of lacon, chorizo, queso, and jamon sell for 1 euro apiece. On the second floor is where sit-down dinners and multi-courses are served.

I recommend its mouth-watering Callos de Madrileno

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2. Cafe Melo’s Bar (Barrio of Lavapies)

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For those looking to savor zapatillas, check out what I personally think is the best in Madrid, the ones served at Café Melo’s Bar. Located at Lavapies, along Calle Ave Maria, it serves some of the tastiest and chunkiest zapatillas in town. It’s not only a huge delicacy, both in size and taste, but also reasonable in price.  One can relish its heaping lacon-and-cheese sandwich for only 11 euros. That’s for one whole order, and a bit over 6 euros for a half. Another must-dine at Melos is its croquetas — a delightful, crunchy ball with hot gooey cheese and ham bits in its inside.

Even a half-order of Zapatilla more than satisfies

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3. Bar Santurce (Plaza General Vara El Rey, La Latina)

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You must have visited El Rastro for its variety of inexpensive knick knacks and various other items, which are sold on shops and its network of streets. But I must say that your visit to this barrio is not complete if you have not dined at Bar Santurce and tasted its grilled sardines. Located along General Vara del Rey, customers, old and first-timers, would not mind the cramped, no-frills dining area as they are simply after its main offering, which is its tasty grilled fare. The dish is eaten best with pimiento de padron, a piece of bread, and ice-cold beer.

Opt for a tapa of Pimiento de Padron

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and of course, its grilled sardines

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4. El Brillantes (Plaza Emperador Carlos V, Atocha)

El Brillante at Plaza Emperador Carlos V MadridAtocha is known for being the site of one of Spain’s premier museums, Museo Reina Sofia. Within the barrio, you can also find Atocha Metro and RENFE stations, transport systems that will bring  from you anywhere in the city and all around Spain.

If you find yourself in Atocha, a good choice to pacify your hunger is at El Brillante, an iconic Spanish restaurant that takes pride in serving what according to it are the most delicious calamares sandwiches. In fact, it is not shy to post a sign that says Brillante’s bocadillo de calamar is the best in the whole of Madrid.

Where its Bocadillo de Calamares is a must-eat

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5. Casa Labra (Calle Tetuan, Plaza del Sol)

2017_050120_2843_549Casa Labra used to be a Tavern that right from the start had been serving unique cod croquettes to residents in this part of Madrid. With its location within the area of Puerta del Sol, and in front of the El Corte Department Store, the restaurant is proud of serving its highly in-demand cod croquette.

Savor its croquetas de Bacalao

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6. Chocolateria San Gines (Calle Arenal)

Especially if you’re a sweet tooth, your tour of Madrid is never complete without dropping by San Gines. Suffice it to say that this cafe bar has some of the most popular churros in town. Although I was misheard by the lady at the counter and got me some borras instead, which were too much for me to finish. Had a hot cup of choco, which surprisingly wasn’t that sweet like I thought it .
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While others like churros, i love its porras more

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7. Mercado San Miguel (Plaza de Sn Miguel, near Plaza Mayor)

The most popular market of its kind, where hundreds of food kiosks are lumped under one roof selling various fares such as mariscos, dulces, vinos y cervesas, chicharrones, and even paellas. If you’re one big tapa lover, you must head to this market of hundred tapa bars just outside Plaza Mayor. You will be bewildered by the seemingly endless tapa choices, each of which is sure to satisfy your craving.
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Have a taste of chicharrones, among numerous other delightful tapas

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Museo Nacional de Antropologia: Madrid´s Museum of Anthropology (and Curiosities)

received_1415553321845939The National Museum of Anthropology (Spanish: Museo Nacional de Antropología) is a national museum of Spain located in the middle of Madrid near the Parque del Buen Retiro and opposite Atocha railway and metro station. Formally inaugurated on 29 of April in 1875 during the reign of King Alfonso XII, it is considered the oldest anthropology museum in Spain. Many historians, thus, consider the museum as a major historical jewel.

First floor devoted to a former colony

Called the Asia hall, this floor is found in the ground level of the edifice, where presented are cultural and anthropological artifacts and relics from the Philippines. Many of the items are known to be derived from the 1885 exposition held at Parque del Retiro.

Incidentally, in relation to the 1885 exposition, I was fortunate to have been invited to the latest exhibit about this Spanish colony, known as the “Imagenes de Una Exposicion Filipinas e El Parque del Retiro, En 1887.”

Attended by no less than the Philippine Ambassador to Madrid, His Excellency Philippe J. Lhuillier, the exbihit  a rich display of photos, artwork, and other museum items on old Philippines.

The said event were also attended by the members of the Filipino community in Spain, as well as the officers and staff members of the Embassy. Indeed, Philippines is in an enviable position for having been allotted a premier spot at one of Madrid’s most prestigious museums.

received_1415554145179190Shelves in which are displayed some of the Old Philippines’ ancient wares such as clay jars, pots, pans, and miniature huts

received_1415553658512572Visitors marvel at a variety of photographs that tells about the Philippines of yesteryears. Much of the photo’s themes are set in the country’s olden era

received_1415554015179203His Excellency Ambassador Philippe J. Lhuillier was there to grace the exhibit and gave a speech to an appreciative crowd.

received_1415553745179230The exhibit on the Philippines was organized by the Museo and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain. It also featured photographs on the Philippine Exposition 1887 held at the Parque del Retiro.

received_1415554418512496My colleagues and I attended the affair dressed to the nines, donned in our best traditional Philippine clothing – the Barong Tagalog

Anthropological and Cultural Displays from all over

What else can we see at the Anthropology Museum of Madrid? Currently, the museum boasts of a variety of items, not just from the Philippines and Asia but also from other parts of the world, like the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Everyone is invited to visit the museum and see for themselves the rich historical and anthropological items that come from all over the world.

How to Go:

Metro: Atocha, Atocha Renfe (Line 1)
Autobus: 27, 10, 32, 10, Circular

Price of Entry

3 euros0

Discounted Price:

1.50 euros

Free entry

There are certain times and days visitors don’t need to pay to enter, such as the evening of Saturdays, Sundays, April 18, May 18, October 18

Times Open

Tue – Sat 9:30AM-8:00PM

Days the Museum is Closed

January 1 & 6; May 1; December 24, 25 & 31

Museo Antrofologia de Madrid

Parque Europa – Little Europe of Madrid

Parque Europa might not be even a bit comparable to world-famous theme parks such as Euro-Disney of Paris or the Ocean World of California USA, but definitely it is well worth your time going there. For one thing, you can stay inside without having to spend a single dime. Entrance to the park is free. Found within Torrejón de Ardoz, one of the Community of Madrid, the parque is quite sizable and there is adequate space for any activity that you and family or friends might want to engage in. Likewise, you can bring your own food and drinks inside. In fact, there is a portion of the park filled with tables and benches for visitors to eat and rest.

You can stay inside the park, seat on a bench, and be in touch with nature all day long. Varieties of well-manicured plants, bushes, and trees abound, while roads and pathways are well-paved to allow easy access from one place to another.

But beautiful flora is not only what Parque Europe has to offer, but attractions and rides as well. The most popular rides are zip-line, pony riding, and boating along the lagoon. Food stands, restaurants, and vending machines are found in strategic places throughout the park.

But its best attractions are the replicas of the premier landmarks and monuments of major European countries. There are at least 17 of these impressive structures, with the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, and the Trevi Fountain as three of the most popular ones. Visit Parque Europa and experience all the fun things that it has to offer.

Have a taste of Europe via these Exciting Mini-European Landmarks

Torre de Belem of Lisboa, Portugal

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Puerta de Alcalá of Madrid, Spain

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Garden Pathway

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The Little Mermaid of Copenhagen

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Ayuntamiento de Madrid at Puerta del Sol

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Dutch Windmills of Holland

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London Bridge (As seen from C/ Antonio de Solis)2017_052918_1656_946

London Bridge (Side)

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Plaza de Europa

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El Atomium of Brussels

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Biblical King David by Michaelangelo

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Eiffel Tower of Paris, France

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Trevi Fountain of Rome

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Puerta de Brandeburgo of Berlín

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Activities to do inside

Boat ride at the Lagoon

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Biking

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Pony ride

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Picnic with family and friends

2017_052922_4909_399We enjoyed our lunch on one of the picnic tables found near the Puerta de Brandeburgo

Dine at Restaurante El Mirador de Europa

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How you can get to Parque Europa:

Parque Europa is a major attraction of Torrejón de Ardoz, a nearby Madrid town. You can reach this recreational park from Madrid proper by taking Cercanías train C-7. As soon as you reach Torrejon, you will have to take autobus C2 to arrive at Parque Europa. You will reach your destination in under 1 hour, or approximately 45 minutes. The cheapest way to get to the park from Torrejón De Ardoz is by autobus 224A

Gates/Entrances to the park:

2017_052918_1535_151Most visitors enter by the front of the Brandenburg Gate, along Paseo de los Cipreses. Another gate is by the Puerta de Alcala replica, found at Calle Hilados. Another means of access to the park is via Calle Compass, at the corner of Alamo Street.

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7 Places Where I Get My Paella Fast and Cheap

I love paella! It tops my list of favorite traditional Spanish delicacies. It’s a dish fit for the gods and that I can claim to be as my ultimate comfort food. I swear I could eat this divinely palatable rice concoction all day, every day.

Paella swept me off my feet immediately after I had it as my primera cena de la tarde at Restaurante Museo de Jamon, in Puerta del Sol Madrid almost three years ago. It goes without saying that I savored my first ever paella to the fullest.

I can attribute my great fondness to the dish to the aromatic saffron, the Middle Eastern Mediterranean spice that caused the rice to turn yellow, and the rich mix of a variety of sea foods such as clams, squid, prawns among others, without which paella would not be the delicious food that it is.  It is Spain’s version of the Italian risotto, and so, so much more.

I must say, however, that the dish isn’t cheap since restaurants typically require diners to order at least two raciones, the combination of which is equivalent to one filled-up large, wide and shallow pan. A racion ranges from 15 euros to as high as 50 euros. It’s surely quite an amount, and so it is ideal that you come with a friend or two with whom you can split the bill to avoid serious dent on the pocket.

Paella Tapa, anyone?

Spain is the land of tapas, and so I was almost certain that there are also places that serve this dish on a plate. And indeed, there are restaurants that do offer them. It must be that these establishments make paella available to those who are on the go, and needed a quick fix.

So, why go for tapas?

Fast

It takes arroceria restaurants some 30 minutes to serve an order. On the other hand, you can have and relish your tapa in no time at all.

Cheap

Can you imagine dining on a 5-euro plate, and chances are, it’s a heaping one? Never mind if it’s reheated, for especially if you’re a shoestring traveler like me, paella tapas are a great option to keep your hunger satisfied and yet be able to spend within your budget.

While clearly, the paellas from the establishments in this list may not be straight fire like those from genuine paella restaurants, and connoisseurs might frown or even be appalled by the existence of a tapa version of Spain’s beloved classic dish. But in my case, but they do satisfy nonetheless. Whether it is cooked upon order or reheated, I’ll take it gladly anytime.

While there must be quite a number of restaurants and food joints around Madrid that serve these tapas, the following are my most frequented ones:

1. PAELLA Y OLE (Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de San Miguel, cerca Plaza Mayor)

17474080_10155154154059605_1650055860_o2017_040120_0019_347Make a quick stop at Mercado San Miguel and pass by Paella y Ole, a food kiosk that boasts of the  main varieties — mixta (with rabbit and chicken) and sea foods. I always opt for the latter as it tastes great albeit the dish is a bit less in quantity and wanting of ingredients. A small plate can be had for only 4 euros

2. BAR POSTAS CERVECERIA, Calle Postas 13

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2017_052111_1258_159Bocadillo de callamares is Bar Postas’ main fare, but it also serves arroz tapas, among others. For just 4 euros, you get a plate of heaping rice delight, made more delectable by its generous sea food and vegetable bits ingredients

3. RAYPI, Mercado de Maravillas

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2017_052111_0148_075Raypi’s paella excites me to no end, extremely amused that it is served on a mini paella pan. The food bar complements it with a small plate of tapa that consists of bits of potato, chorizo, and bread. I ordered media racion, which costs me 4 euros

4. DP TAPAS, Mercado de San Ildefonso

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2017_052111_1835_809According to DP Tapas, it serves only “100 percent Spanish food;” this is surely why paella tapa is included in its menu. Most food kiosks in Mercado San Ildefonso sell tapas, and DP is one of only two that serve paella. A bit soupy and mushy for others (this is how I like mine), but a plus is that the shrimp is aplenty. An order sells for 7 euros.

5. EL SABROSO, Calle de San Joaquin 16, near Tribunal Metro

C360_2017-05-23-23-08-30-212Its logo says comida para llevar, but a few of its shops, including that in Tribunal, have tables and side bars to offer a dine-in option. I shell out 3.80 euros for an order

6 ABANDA, Plaza Mayor

2017_052100_2604_452The restaurant got its name from paella abanda,  a seafood variety that originated from Valencia. Here, the tapa is 7 euros
2017_052100_2612_047Paella negra’s rice turns black because of the ink of the squid. The waitstaff advised us to visit Abanda during lunch time, when all paellas are freshly cooked

7. CARDEÑO,Calle Alfonso Rodríguez Santamaría
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Thursday’s paella day at Cardeno, the only day of the week when the restaurant includes the dish in its menu del dia. Ingredients are various sea food, chicken and rabbit. Lunch can be as early as 1pm, when the piping hot rice dish is ready to be served. Menu del dia costs 13 euros

Valladolid: Lenten Town of Spain

2017_051321_5954_018Having learned that we are looking for something new to go to on Good Friday, someone in our group  gushed about the Castile town of Valladolid, assuring us that if only for its processions, the place is a must-see during the Holy Week. Bonus treats are the centuries-old churches and museums kept well-preserved within the city boundaries, as well as the strong Castillian vibe that the place is known for. Quite convinced, we signed into joining a small group that will travel to this town early Friday morning.

During the trip itself, I felt how time  seemed to have passed so slowly despite the fact that the distance between Madrid Valladolid is but all of two and a half hours. Perhaps I got used to the many quick 1-hour-or-so day trip destinations I had before, such as Toledo, Colmenares Viejo, Alcala de Henares and Manzanares el Real.

Did you know that Valladolid is not only famous for its religious processions, museums, and churches, but it is likewise associated with a number of popular historical figures? Popular names who were born or have stayed in Valladolid are Christopher Columbus, the world conqueror; Phillip II and Phillip III, former rulers of Spain; and Miguel Cervantes, the iconic Spanish writer.

First stop: Tordesillas

If you’re bound for Valladolid, it is a must that you stop by the town where the treaty between Spain and Portugal was signed. We only had 30 minutes more to Valladolid when we took a lull at this quiet town, made historic because of the 1494 treaty signed by the two most powerful countries during that time. The treaty divided the New World between the two countries.

It was just frustrating because we stayed in Tordesillas for all of 40 minutes, and not two hours like what was earlier planned. I decided by make the most of our stay there by rushing to the Treaty Houses, and the town’s Plaza Mayor to take some pictures.

Seeing Valladolid

Finally, we reached our destination after 25 or so minutes of travel from Tordesillas. One thing unique about this famous Castile town is the absence of mountains and hills, a topographic feature common in other Spanish towns and cities. It has no mountains to speak of — the only one in all of Spain. Another distinction is that it is completely surrounded by all other provinces belonging to the Castile and Leon community — these are Palencia, Zamora, León, Segovia, Burgos, Salamanca, and Ávila .

Holy Week in Val

Brotherhoods and groups of Catholic leanings are known to hold their own celebration of the Lent, interpreting the passion of the Christ through processions. Streets are filled with observers intent in watching the long procession that tells the story of the Passion and Death of Jesus. Most of the important processions are during the Easter Week itself.

If you want to experience the best that the town offers, visit it during Easter, since it is the time when religious processions happen, where spectacular and breathtaking religious displays and icons depicting Christ’s suffering and death are paraded. Religious fraternities that consist of members and leaders are garbed in robes of different designs and colors.

They carry beautiful, life-sized statues of Jesus and other religious personalities atop carriages to be witnessed and appreciated by devotees. Processions are usually accompanied by a band that plays somber religious hymns.

Stunning Photos

2017_051322_0449_702Santa Maria de la Antigua Church is a Catholic Church of  combined Roman and Gothic-style architecture, patterned after that of the Burgos Cathedral. In English, it is the Church of St. Mary the Ancient. It is so-called because it was built way back in the 12th century. As early as 1897, it was declared a national monument, a Bien de Interes Cultural.

2017_051322_1050_835The Iglesia Conventual de San Pablo, more popularly known as the  Iglesia San Pablo de Valladolid, is one of the iconic churches of the town and all of the community of Castile and León. It took builders more than 23 years to built, from 1445 to 1468. The church is the place where King Philip II and King Philip IV were baptized. It was said to have been visited by  French conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte.

2017_051522_4509_741Plaza Mayor of Valladolid have originated all the way from the Hasburg monarcy, and is recognized as a true Spanish Square. It is also is touted as the very first plaza of Spain. The grounds are vast and wide, intended to be so in order  to hold shows and sports events. This vital spot in the town hosts most of Valladolid’s public events, including the Holy Week’s presentations and processions

2017_051321_4926_531Ayuntamiento de Valladolid is the stately edifice lording over the town’s Plaza Mayor, and serves as the office of the town administration

2017_051522_3132_897Palacio Real de Valladolid is located at Plaza de San Pablo, in front of the Iglesia de San Pablo. It served as the official residence of the Kings in the early part of the 1600’s, the era when the town acted as the seat of the Spanish courts

2017_051522_3122_683Iglesia Penitencial de la Vera Cruz, or the Penitential Church of Santa Vera Cruz in English, is a church located in the middle of the town, right within the  Calle Platerías. The church is associated with the Brotherhood or Fraternity of the Holy Cross Vera, recognized as the the oldest Lenten Brotherhood in the City. It houses one of the most important icons in Spain, the Lignum Crucis

2017_051522_3737_717Mercado del Val strongly reminds me of Mercado de San Miguel mainly because of its glass and iron architecture. Built in the late 19th century, it is found in the Plaza del Val, and a stone’s throw away from the San Benito el Real Church

2017_051322_2305_684 Iglesia del Monasterio de San Benito, or the Saint Benedict church — flaunts old Gothic church architecture. Its site was the former location of the Alcazar Real de Valladolid, an imposing edifice masterfully built with its gate tower-shaped, Rennaissance-inspired facade giving the church a uniquely beautiful appearance

2017_051322_2946_785Processions in Valladolid are often joined in by Spanish ladies of the town wearing mantillas, or traditional shawl or lace worn over their head using a special comb known as peineta.

2017_051323_0552_721After an hour of waiting , the long procession finally started at 8PM, passing through vital streets to end at the Plaza Mayor2017_051323_0801_596Valladolid processions, as in other processions on most Spanish towns, are dominated by men wearing capirote, point cone-shaped hat. These men belong to fraternities or brotherhoods assigned to reenact vital scenes from the suffering and death of Jesus Christ

2017_051322_2653_284Monasterio Real de San Joaquin y Santa Ana is the official monastery of the Congregation of Monasteries of Cistercian nuns of San Bernardo. Its exhibits a neoclassical design created by Francesco Sabatini. Adjacent to the monastery is a museum that displays baroque pieces. The Monasterio Real itself boasts of valuable art pieces such as a number of paintings by Goya,  which incidentally are the only ones by the artist that exists within the Castile Leon community.

How to go:

Via Train: Available is RENFE, Spain’s railway system, which offers AVE high speed train service. The cost of the ticket depends on the schedule and availability of ride, with the price ranging from as low as 12 euros to as high as 30. The town has its own station called the Estacion del Norte, but it is located outside the center of the capital. You will have to walk some 25 minutes to reach the city proper.

Bus: If you want to take the autobus, go to the ALSA station at Estacion Sur. The company offers regular rides throughout the day, with tickets selling from 12 to 15 euros one way. Travel time ranges from 2 and a half hours to 3.

Map:

Puerto Jose Banus of Malaga — Luxurious Spanish Marina-Paradise

2017_051022_3255_733Puerto Jose Banus of Malaga, a premier Spanish marina that’s a mere 10 minutes away from the city of Marbella, is considered as one of the richest spots in Spain. The name of this spot strategically located in New Andalucia is synonymous to luxury, style and glamour.

Banus is a veritable haven for the moneyed and the powerful; easily it is the prime destination of choice of the rich and famous who are in search of pleasure brought about by the vast Andalucian seas. In fact, the port is considered to be one of the most sought after premier destinations in the whole of Spain.

I guess everything that you can think of and even discover in terms of luxury, you can find it in this  port. And especially during summer months, the roads (that are literally filled with top cars like Bentley, Maserati, and ferrari) lead to Banus.

You will never have a hard time looking for the you top brands as they are sold in upscale boutiques. Top brand names like Polo, Versace, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and the likes and other designer name. As the saying goes, you name it, Banus has it.

High-class restaurants is not wanting in Banus as well. In fact, those who frequently dine out will fall in love with this place if only because of the presence of numerous upscale bars, restaurants, and other food establishments. Some of the favorite spots here are Belvedere Restaurant and Pizzeria, Restaurante Los Bandidos, Serafina.

Again, let us not forget that Puerto Banus is a top marina and port, hence, you can expect to see a world-class port boat and yacht facility that seems only to be seen and experienced in Spain. Boat lovers will consider the place a luxurious and dreamy paradise after witnessing all sorts of first class boats, yachts, and recreational fishing vessels navigating the marina’s beautiful, glimmering waters.

How to go to Puerto Banus

2017_051022_3215_602The port is just some 11 kilometers away from the City of Marbella. The fastest and most convenient way to reach it is via plane —  you can reach the port within 37 minutes from the Malaga airport. I suggest to take a taxi from the airport, but if you want to maximize your savings, it’s best to hire a car for a week or the duration that you will stay in the puerto. There are also mini buses for hire that will bring you around the area, especially if you belong to a traveling group.

Photos that will make you want to visit Puerto Banus in a heartbeat

To be frank, only the well-heeled and big spenders are able to afford what the place has to offer, and so it is not surprising that A-list personalities, movie actors, top athletes and even politician are a common sight here.
2017_051022_3442_178Vacationers have a great time relishing the beautiful sights at Puerto Jose Banus2017_051022_3430_783Rows of beautiful power sailboats and yachts are found afloat along the marina2017_051022_3414_136Shops of high-end and luxury brands such as Bulgari line up the front of the marina2017_051022_3359_109For Sports car fanatics, Banus is the place to go as most brands of Luxurious sports can be found and are for sale here.2017_051022_3343_214Seemingly lording over the Marina and the whole port area is the 1,200-meter tall
La Concha of the Sierra Blanca mountain ranges. Perfect choice for those who want to enjoy quality hiking, it got its name because of its unique shell-like shape2017_051022_3333_6472017_051022_3238_542People enjoy dining at La Bocana, a top-notch restaurant at Paseo Benabola that offers a magnificent view of the seas, particularly their sunset. The restaurant offers sea foods, European, and Mediterranean cuisine.

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Passing Thru Historic Tordesillas

Last year, we stayed the whole length of the Holy Week in Madrid. In my case, I resolved to be a recluse, to confine myself at home even if just for a few days, to no avail.  This, upon learning that most of the establishments in Puerta del Sol was open for business, and got me tempted into visiting this popular part of the city centre.

This time, however, everyone decided to spend Good Friday out of town in far off Valladolid, which is some two and a hours away from the city. One of the major towns outside Madrid and within the the community of Castilla y Leon, I got interested in seeing the place having learned about the varied religious processions held there during the Lenten season.

But first, our group had to pass thru Tordesillas, a small, quiet town some 25 kilometers on the Southwestern portion of the provincial capital.

The organizer of the group insisted that we see Tordesillas if only for the great history behind it, the town being the site of the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal. The treaty was an agreement between them specifying how they would divide the ownership of the newly discovered Americas.

He mentioned the local event called the Toro de la Vega festival, which the town is known for. Year after year, the festival is being prevented by animal rights group from being held as it features a bull which was to slaughtered by toreros on horseback.

What to see in Tordesillas

Iglesia Museo de San Antolín de Tordesillas

2017_041617_2933_342The Museum of San Antolín was built during the first half of the 17th century under the helm of Gil de Reynaltos. Found within the old San Antolin church, it is known to house numerous valuable art pieces that originated from other Churches. Such collection of art workwas initiated by Ismael Rodríguez Paniagua. Most of the important art works are undergoing continuous restoration to ensure their preservation.

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2017_041617_2849_976Alley and outside stairway, rustic parts of the town leading to the Casa de Tratado
2017_041618_0028_838This particular road is lined with bare, lifeless-looking trees on its sides, with their  branches, totally without leaves, reaching out to touch and intertwine. 2017_041618_0000_275Not a soul in sight for most streets and alleys of Tordesillas last Holy Friday, like the one seen above
2017_041617_5943_688The Plaza Mayor of Tordesillas resembles most other Spanish square. It has four sides as its boundary and is surrounded by old houses, bars and other establishments. The upper floors of the edifices are supported by strong porticoes. While looking simple and rustic, it is considered by the town folks as their meeting place, with locals enjoying their afternoons and late nights having dinners and copas of vinos on the terraces of bars and restaurants found within.

Casas de Tratado de Tordesillas

2017_041617_2859_375 Relief that represents the historic treaty stands in front of the Cases de Tratado de Tordesillas. Houses of Treaty in English, these two edifices are actually merged palaces, and are said to be the site where the then world powers Spain and Portugal held vital negotiations. Here was also the place where the two countries signed the treaty that involved the New World.

Plaza Mayor

2017_041618_1158_191The plaza mayor opens its four doors, its gateways to the outside town particularly to the important neighborhoods, such as Santa Maria and San Pedro. Old-type homes of bricks or wood are noticeably dominant as you wander about the immediate areas — an indication that Tordesillas is one of those ancient Spanish towns.

How to go:

2017_041617_2944_634The Avanza bus in Estacion Sur at Mendez Alvaro is the easiest and most popular means to reach Tordesillas. Travel time is a little over 2 hours, with one way bus tickets costing around 13 euros.

Map:

Tapas, Tapas, and More Tapas at Mercado de San Miguel

2017_040119_5904_095In the heart of Plaza Mayor and a stone’s throw away from Puerta del Sol, is the famous Mercado de San Miguel. The edifice itself, unusual for a market since it is made of iron and glass, is a major attraction of the city.

You see the instance you enter the market and make a quick round how diverse the food offerings at San Miguel is. In fact, the mercado has long been recognized as one of Madrid’s center for great food and Spanish gastronomy.

2017_040912_3617_604Day after day, whether it is a week day or the end of the week, the establishment attracts huge throngs of tourists, both local and foreign, many raring to buy all kinds of food stuff – wet or dry. Others troop to the place to relish some delicious tapa, drink a chilled copa of beer or wine while enjoying some animated conversation in some corner with friends.

Immediately after my first visit of Mercado de San Miguel, I place it high on my radar for places to have quick paella (two other favorite joints are Museo de Jamon and that take-away resto that sells some mean “para lleva” paella for only 2,70 euros).

2017_040119_5917_682Hungry people walk through the main middle isle of the market. There must be more than a hundred of these kiosks, selling all kinds of tapa delicacies you can think of17474080_10155154154059605_1650055860_oThe wide pan in the foreground is almost empty of paella2017_040120_0019_347Seafood paella at San Miguel – this small yet filling plate got me going thru the rest of my night at Puerta del Sol2017_040305_5504_474A tapa of pescado fritos (squid) is generously portioned and placed in a paper cone, but at 14 euros, I passed up on buying one. Luckily, a friend bought an order and shared it with the group. Tastes great, especially after we sprinkled it with a bit of lemon2017_040120_0104_739Compared to the squid, chicharones sells much less at 5.50, yet the serving is generous. I decided to have it with my paella, and thought the two paired well2017_040120_0129_852This crab burger is such a fine delicacy, and best of all, it doesn’t cost much (3.50 euros apiece)2017_040120_0145_179One of the best tapas you must taste at Mercado de San Miguel – olives tapas, which you can easily pop in your mouth. At 1 euro a piece, you can have several of these delightful goodies.

More tapas to relish at Mercado de San Miguel

2017_040912_0643_748Bacalao (codfish) con tomate y verdura, 1 euro

2017_040912_0557_582Anchoas (salted anchovies) con pimientos, 1 euro

2017_040912_0613_113Brandada bacalao con caviar de lumpo, 1 euro2017_040912_0658_757Gambas y huevos con caviar lumpo, 2.50 euros2017_040912_0710_933Ensalada de pato (duck salad), 2.50 euros
2017_040120_0116_235After you’ve had your fill, you might want to wash everything down by heading to the nearest cerveceria to buy yourself a copa or two of chilled wine or ice cold beer2017_040120_0154_300A bit of advice: If you do fancy some delicious tapas and would love to try as many as possible, the best time is from 10AM to 12PM and 5 to 7 PM, or hours before lunch and dinner. These are the best hours to roam around conveniently and hop from one food kiosk to another.

Prices: Generally affordable in spite of its touristy location. Tapas cost as low as 1 to 1.50 euros.

Horarios: Open to customers starting 10 AM, closes at 12 on weekdays and as late as 2AM on weekends

Direccion:
Plaza de San Miguel Madrid 28005. Nearest landmarks are Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real de Madrid, and Catedral de Almudena.

Map:

Las Fallas, Valencia: Festival of Ninots and Fireworks

2017_032623_2915_626How do putrid gunpowder smell, fire, fumes, noise from almost incessant firecracker blasts, fireworks display, more fire, and crowded streets pedestrianized for the holidays appeal to you? Would you wade thru throngs of frenetic merrymakers as you wander around town for hours on end, until you find yourself trudging along on already wobbly knees yet determined to witness the midnight finale, which is the destruction by fire of beautiful papier mache works of art?

This is exactly what I did at Valencia’s Las Fallas, that time when the town becomes Spain’s biggest street party, and everyone was in deep festive madness. It was March 19, and I was feverish the moment we arrived, never wavering up until the day’s end.

Las Fallas, Valencia: What to See and Do

2017_032612_4942_711The celebration is a four-day long affair that started on the 15th of March, when locals take to the streets to assemble and display their ninots with pride. These are structures made of paper erected to reach a number of stories, and built to look like they are scaling up the skies. There are also minor ninots or the ninot infantile, smaller ones that I observed were burned hours before the finale.

The festival culminates on the 19th of March, when finally, most ninots are burned and subjected to a fiery destruction until only ashes remain, this amidst the cheering of the spectators and participants. The festival coincides with the Feast day of the patron saint of carpenters and builders — Saint Joseph.

What can you expect during Las Fallas?

Impressive Ninot Displays on strategic points of the town

2017_032812_2851_883image image imageimage2017_032820_4844_622imageThe best of Valencia’s sculptors and artists design and create impressive ninots, which were built with popular cartoon characters and nationalities as themes. Some neighborhoods boast of both huge and small ninots, with the latter being burned to ashes hours before the burning of the larger ones, as seen on the picture immediately above.

Everyone participates at the Festival

2017_032807_5624_620This couple is off to join their neighborhood’s street party
imageBefore this smile, the princess sobs as the ninot burns, as if to express grief from its destruction
imageChildren hold hands to form a circle, dancing and chanting in front of the ninot infantile, a small-sized ninot found in many neighborhoods
2017_032700_0211_169Beautiful child princess, together with other children of the neighborhood, look over the burning of the ninot
imageYoung musicians playing a lively piece celebrating the burning
2017_032700_0230_401I wore the white and blue scarf associated with the Las Fallas known as the Pannulo de Hierbas
2017_032812_2832_906Having the time of our lives in Valencia

Impressive Firework Displays

imageAs if the blinding, spellbinding bursts of fire and light created from the burning of the ninots are not enough, Valencia further brightens its night skies by igniting beautiful fireworks, sending them up high to create colorful, dancing incendiary displays. The fireworks are an integral and indispensable part of Las Fallas. One of the best places to witness the fireworks is at the Carrer L’arquebisbe Mayoral.

Bullfight games throughout the festival

imageThe best bullfights events happen at the festival, and so afficionados of the sport can expect a truly exciting spectacle. Bullfighting has been part and parcel of the celebration of the Las Fallas.

Las Fallas / Valencian Food Delicacies

image
imageThese are bunuelos, local pastry likened to a donut. Made of pumpkin paste, it is one of the traditional foods at Las Fallas. To make for a truly delicious snack, have a hot choco drink where you can dunk your bunuelos in. Half a dozen sells at 2.50 euros

  • imageAlthough I love senyoret, or the sea food paella, I ordered valenciana instead. The one on the photo is just right for two persons, and approximately costs 29 euros, or 14.50 euros per head. Tastes great! My friend with whom I shared it, however, didn’t want no rabbit meat, and so, I have all of it for myself.
    imageChurros, like bunuelos, are also sold aplenty during las Fallas. Eaten best when dunked in a thick chocolate syrup

    Burning of the Ninots

    The efforts of the artists were hardly futile as the best ninots are identified, and awards and recognitions are handed to the artists and their winning creations. Well, for the rest, the fact that their works of art were chosen to participate and was admired by everyone was still a great recognition. In the end, at the finale, hundreds of huge and minor ninots will be sent burning into flames.
    2017_032610_3700_510This Sino-themed ninot, with all the vital Chinese elements, a towering, colorful papier-mache masterpiece…2017_032610_4149_553…met its fiery fate at around 12 midnight, to the shouts and cheering of spectators. Immediately after the structure was engulfed by strong flames, steady water was doused from the firefighters’ hoses to control the fire.

    The Las Fallas, undoubtedly, is one of the must-see festivals of Spain. All roads lead to Valencia at this time of the year.

    One word of advice, though; if you’re not used to loud firecrackers, its best to come to Valencia on the first day of the event. This way, you’ll get used to the booming noise by the time Las Fallas culminates on the 19th, and the fireworks are at their strongest and loudest. I must say everything about the Las Fallas is spectacular (do watch the fireworks video below), and strongly recommend that everybody attends the event next year.

Suffice it to say that it was total excitement throughout the last day of the fiesta. By the time we boarded the bus en route back to Madrid, I was dog-tired, but happy nonetheless to have gone thru the experience, and confirm what every one else is saying about it, that Las Fallas is Spain’s best of the best.

Ten Nearby Madrid Towns that are Bona Fide Day Trip Destinations

So charming is Madrid, Spain that first-timers are likely tempted to stay within its confines and wallow in its beauty. Every barrio of the city is unique and fascinating that it is pure fun to hop from one place to another, walk thru paseos, loiter around the plazas and calles, and soak up on what it can offer. Trust me, I did all this a countless number of times — and every time, it’s just insane fun.

Everywhere in Madrid are breathtaking sites and attractions — world-class museums like Prado and Reina Sofia, among many others; towering basilicas and cathedrals such as San Gines and Almudena; and gargantuan parks and gardens like Retiro and Sabatini, respectively.

The city is a gastronomic paradise.  Restaurants and cafes of different shapes, sizes, and culinary delights are scattered all over — there’s Museo del Jamon, Bar Santurce, Botin, Cafe Melo’s Bar, to name a few of my favorites. I swear there must be a joint offering sumptious Spanish comida in every street corner.

Madrid is where you blend easily with the crowd at evening street parties and gatherings — events commonplace in the city, on any day of the week. Here is also where you can witness solemn processions that venerate the Lady and various saints, and participate, to your heart’s delight, in thunderous festivals held all throughout the year.

Still, did you know there’s so much to see and discover on the outskirts of the city? So many towns are situated very near the capital, and needless to say, all are a must-visit as they boast of tons of attractions as well.

I myself had traveled, wandered, and explored quite a number of these pueblos. Referred to as day trip destinations, they are so near that you can go there, experience and relish these places, and be back in Madrid — all within the day.

Here are my top 10 beautiful and exciting towns near Madrid:

1. Avila

Bright yellow walls of AvilaOne of Spain’s major Castilian towns, Avila is famous for its perfectly preserved Murallas or Town Walls. The haunting Catedral de Avila is touted as one of the first Gothic churches built in the country. And if you happen to be in Avila, make sure you have a taste of its popular yema, a sweet delicacy, among many other traditional pastries offered by the town.

How far from Madrid: 2 Hours
Recommended Mode of Travel: Autobus – Avanza Bus (at Estacion Sur)
Cost of Fare: More or less 14 euros (lda y vuelta)

2. Alcala de Henares

imageThe town is known for being the birthplace of famous Spanish Writer, Miguel de Cervantes. In front of his home are the bronze figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Pancho, the main characters of the Cervantes’ novel, the Don Quixote de la Mancha. The prestigious Colegio Mayor de Sn Ildefonso or the University of Alcala is the reason this pueblo within the Community of Madrid is called the University Town.

Number of hours from Madrid: 50 minutes
Best Travel Option: Cercanias trains. Get your ride at Nuevos Ministerios, or other select Metro stations such as Chamartin and Atocha.

3. Colmenar Viejo

imageThis town is proud of its tiny, historic hermitage called the Ermita de Santa Ana, and the Basílica dela Asuncion de Nuestra Senora.

Distance from Madrid: 37 kms. (less than an hour)
Best Travel Option: Autobus 721 at Plaza Castilla
Cost of Fare: 7.20 euros round trip

4. Manzanares el Real

Manzanares el Real Castle is also called Castillo de los MendozaA town made famous by its two castles, the New Castle of Manzanares and the Castillo Viejo. The former is also a fortress and said to be the most preserved castle within the Communidad de Madrid. If you love to hike, the nearby Pedriza Mountain can be reached by walking in just under an hour. Continue further up the hill beside the mount and you will encounter the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Peña Sacra.

How far from Madrid: 50 kms. (less than an hour)
Enjoy going there via: Autobus 724 at Plaza Castilla
Cost of Fare: 8.40 euros Ida y Vuelta

5. Town of Chinchon

imageSome 40 minutes or so away from Madrid is the quaint and tranquil pueblo of Chinchon. Its plaza mayor is a bit peculiar because it is shaped like a bullring. The fact is that the square is used actively for the sport; because of this, Chinchon is recognized as one of Spain’s bullfight towns. Must-eat are Teta de Novicia and Pelotas de Fraile, delightful, traditional breads sold in pastelerias within the town’s plaza mayor.

How far from the capital: 45 kms. (55 minutes)
Recommended travel option: Veloz Autobus 337 at Avenida de Mediterraneo
Fare Cost: 4.20 euros one way

6. Segovia

The Roman Acqueduct at Segovia, SpainIf only for its historic Romano Acueducto and breathtaking Alcazar or fortress, I’d take the bus or train trip to Segovia in a heartbeat. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of seeing these wondrous Segovian landmarks. The aqueduct, for one, is the main symbol of the town. Did you know that this ancient structure still works, and is capable of transporting water throughout the city? The Alcazar, on the other hand, is compared to the castle of Disney — both are charming and enthralling. The whole town itself enjoys the fine distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By the way, don’t leave without having a taste of its savory and mouth-watering delicacy – the Cuchinillo or suckling pig.

Recommended mode of travel: RENFE train (Chamartin)
Time of travel by train: Less than 30 minutes

7. San Lorenzo El Escorial

imageI recommend this place if you are looking for a fine and quiet respite, away from the noise, and the hustle and bustle of Madrid. Be sure to check out the interior of the fabled Monastery, which once served as a royal palace of the King. Visitors will be mesmerized by the grandeur of its library, while the mighty courtyard of the Old Testament kings is something to marvel at. You must also see the Pantheon, where the remains of many royalties are kept.

How far from Madrid: 45 kilometers
Best Travel Option: Catch the autobus 661 at Moncloa, if you want to go the Galapagar route. Take 664 if you want to pass by the Valley of the Fallen gates.
Fare Price: 4.20 euros one way

8. Toledo

imageOne of the most visited towns within the Community of Madrid, not only because Toledo is very near the capital, but also because it is filled with many spectacular attractions. Its alcazar is its most recognizable landmark, a magnificent site lying in the town’s highest peak. The best view of the edifice can be had from the Tagus River. Other interesting sites to see in Toledo are the Museo de Separdi, the Toledo Cathedral, the Ancient Walls and Towers, and the Transito Synagogue.

Distance between Madrid and Toledo: 45 minutes
Recommended Bus: ALSA autobus, at Plaza Eliptica.
Price of autobus ticket: 5.39 euros single trip; 9.70 euros for ida y vuelta tickets.

9. Aranjuez

imageIt is bestowed the title, Spain’s Royal Town. The stately Palacio Real will not be missed, since its grandness conspicuously sprawls right in the midst of Aranjuez. The palace, the beauty of which rivals Madrid’s own Palacio Real, is accentuated by gardens of manicured hedges and multi-hued flowers dedicated to both the King and Queen. It is surrounded by gushing waterways — natural and man-made. The Iglesia de San Antonio, the Royal Church, is found in one part of the plaza of the same name, and one of the Aranjuez’ major attractions.

How to go: Via 423 autobus at Estacion Sur bus station, Mendez Alvaro.
Fare cost: 4.20 euros, one way

10. Cuenca

imageAnother quiet, enchanting pueblo within the Castille La Mancha region. Cuenca is a little over two hours away from Madrid, making it as one of the farthest nearby towns. Still, you’d realize the rather long trip is well-compensated after seeing the breathtaking Casas Colgadas, or Hanging Houses. Another must-see is the mesmerizing Cuenca Cathedral, looming on one end of the Plaza Mayor, opposite the arch gates.

Hours from the capital: 2 hours
Best travel option: Via autobus Avanza, at Estacion Sur
Price of bus fare: 25 euros for round-trip tickets