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Our week on Menorca flew by, and it was time to depart for our last destination of our Spanish trip – Mallorca. The time tables of the sequence of various modes of transport – bicycle, bus, boat – were carefully planned. We first cycled through Maó, where the cobble streets were being prepared for the weekend’s festival (Festa celebrating the birth of Mother Maria): it’s a pity that I miss a big part of the event, which would be horses galloping through the streets, hence the piles of sand being raked over the cobbles. We bought a seed baguette-style loaf of bread at our favourite bakery, and cycled further to the bus station. The hour long express bus to Ciutadella went very quickly as we passed small villages, megalithic structures on farms and the neatly built dry stone walls typically used all over the island.

Cycle ways along stone walls

Cycle ways along stone walls

windmillsCiutadella has an extensive, well-painted and curbed cycle network throughout the town. It was such a pleasure to cycle from the bus station to the new port where the ferries depart for the other Balearic Islands. The ferries were enormous and looked like buildings. After a relaxed crossing of 2 hours in our own small cabin (where we enjoyed our own vegan food we brought along), we arrived in Majorca (Mallorca). It was a short cycle ride to the bus station, where we caught yet another bus from the top of the island where we landed down to the south, another 1 and a half hour journey. This island is bigger than Menorca, with high mountains resembling the Alps, has a big population and receives many visitors (in 2007 over 22 million tourists came here!!). The island also has a lot of traffic: there is a train line and motorways have 3-4 lanes. The landscape was dotted with creamy-white windmills in various stages of neglect.

Cathedral detailWe arrived in Palma, a rather charmless city, except for La Seu – the huge cathedral built in Catalan Gothic style, rising dramatically above the harbour. It apparently has the largest rose window in the world! The last haul of our busy commuting day was a pretty 15km cycle along the seafront in special cycle lanes. Dog-tired we arrived at our accommodation at 6pm after nearly 12 hours of travelling, only to find the owner – a shady German guy – had misrepresented his holiday rental villa. According to his website, we were supposed to have the entire house with private pool, kitchen, washing machines etc., while instead, he lead us through his untidy house with yelling toddlers, up 2 flights of stairs to a below-average student type flat with a tiny caravan-size kitchenette, with none of the amenities mentioned above. Hmmm.

Typical windows MenorcaAfter a bit of arguing, we left after he paid us 75% back of what we’ve already pre-paid. So, there we were without accommodation, at 7 in the evening in the busiest holiday time of the year and the sun sets in an hour. We first tried the internet on our cell phones for alternative accommodation, with no success; then we cycled from one hotel to the next just to find everything booked up. After cycling a third of the way back to Palma, we finally got a room in a couples-only hotel for just one night. Luckily, after an exhaustive search on the internet the next day we found a hotel away from the sea and partying holiday makers, for the remaining part of our stay. In order to reach the hotel, we had to rent another car. The beautiful hotel is situated in the countryside surrounded by groves of almonds and farms segmented by dry stone walls. The converted and extended farm buildings are arranged around swimming pools in a group of pleasing stone buildings partly covered by deep-green ivy and sweetly scented jasmine. The 17th century chapel on the grounds (in fact just 15 meters from our veranda) as well as an old windmill were lovingly restored. In the evenings we listened to owls in the nearby trees, and watched stunning sunsets as the sky turns soft yellow, pastel pink then a flaming orange.

Our hotel and restored chapel on the grounds

Our hotel and restored chapel on the grounds

IMG_0971Although the original farm buildings had been turned into a stunning hotel, my preference is usually to stay in a place with a kitchen. Especially being so far away from any towns, I did not want to have to eat my meals in the hotel. We solved my dilemma in an ingenious way: buying an electric frying pan with a glass lid at the reliable “El Corte Ingles” department store! This kitchen-in-one was an amazing piece of equipment. I had huge fun making our lunches and dinners in the deep pan. Since we had a garden room, I’d do everything outside: dry-frying spices and setting those aside; boiling rice / quinoa / couscous and setting that aside; using olive oil, frying garlic and onions, adding vegetables (and cold rooibos tea as stock, if using); heating store-bought vegan empanadas; boiling vegan tortellini pasta, the possibilities are endless! Since I also travel with my Tribest blender, I could grind spices and nuts with the grinder blade and make smoothes, sauces and nut creams with the other blade. Here is a photograph of our pantry in our hotel cupboard!

Our food cupboard in Mallorca

Our food cupboard in Mallorca

Salt heaps at Flor de Sel

Salt heaps at Flor de Sel

After a rather bumpy introduction to Mallorca, we started to enjoy ourselves and the first thing I did was to read up about its history. Just like Menorca, Mallorca was also inhabited by pre-historic people, albeit earlier at 6000-4000 BC. The island was then ruled by the Romans from 123 BC, founding the towns of Palma (as Palmaria, on top of a Talaiotic settlement) and Pollenćia. The main economy then, as it is even today, were olive farming, viticulture and salt mining. We drove one day passed Flor de Sel, a huge salt operation with mountains of gleaming white salt being piled high by tractors. Products mostly for sale in the shops at the nearby villages are olive oil, salt and almond products.
A particularly lovely shop selling olive oils and a range of various salts

A particularly lovely shop selling olive oils and a range of various salts

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Traditional socks and shoes in Menorca

Traditional socks and shoes in Menorca

The Sunday we were in Menorca at Maó, we unexpectedly came across the start of a “fiesta”. Groups of Menorcans were dressed in traditional clothes and holding elaborately shaped mandolins. The women carried bunches of flowers and 3 meter tall figures in wooden frames dressed in Menorcan clothes were being paraded. The procession of musicians, singing Menorcans and children riding floral decorated donkeys
Skilful rider on a Warlander Horse

Skilful rider on a Warlander Horse

were followed by horse-carts and men attired in black riding the massive black Menorcan stallions. These horses, a mix between the Spanish Andalusian and Arabian breeds had been specially trained to perform various movements, notably the one Menorca festivals are famous for (the “bot”, or walking “courbette”): instructing his horse to rear up, a rider walks his horse on its hind legs through the crowd for as long as possible, while the rider sits back in his saddle!

Mahon (Maó) is now the capital of Menorca, after it had been moved by the British in the 1700’s from Ciutadella to Maó. The natural harbour (the second deepest in the world), snaking almost a kilometre inland was an obvious asset. The old town is largely pedestrianised with mansions and lovely Georgian town houses lining the narrow streets. Interestingly, ‘mayonnaise’ comes originally from Mahon. It is reputed that a Frenchman, called Du Plessis that fought the British in Menorca, was served a tasty sauce (“salsa mahonesa”) at a local inn in Maó (Mahon). When he returned to Paris, he introduced the sauce to the royal court which was summarily liked and adopted, becoming “mayonnaise”.

Neat buildings in Ciutadella

Neat buildings in Ciutadella


The other large town, Ciutadella, is incredibly pretty with its pink pastel coloured buildings (while most other towns have buildings painted either in white or dark red), palm trees on its squares and a picturesque harbour, jutting far inland and surrounded by restaurants and little shops. I had a very tasty 2 course vegan lunch in Ciutadella of an asparagus, nut and leaves salad followed by “pisto manchego” a slow-baked stew of zucchini, tomato, bell pepper, and onion served in a shallow baking dish with just the right amount of tomato sauce.
Ciutadella's old harbour

Ciutadella’s old harbour

Pre-historic site of Torralba d'en Salord (1500 BC)

Pre-historic site of Torralba d’en Salord (1500 BC)

Menorca is well-known for its wealth of pre-historic sites – in fact, there are over 1600 on the island. As one cycles along the low stone walls, stopping a few times to pat the gorgeous horses (of course!), one comes across these incredible sites every now and then. The closest pre-historic site is Trepucó, just south of Maó. Near Alaior is Torralba d’en Salord, the biggest pre-historic settlement. The structures were so well-preserved, it almost felt like trespassing!
Food storage cave at Torralba d'en Salord

Food storage cave at Torralba d’en Salord

Es Mercadal, in the centre of the island, is a pretty bougainvilla town. For our morning tea break, we went to a lovely bakery where I had steaming sourdough rolls straight from the oven, filled with walnuts, raisins and orange peel. I found a well-stocked organic shop in the pedestrian area, called Margarita Dietética on Calle Nou 29.

Cycle path between St Lluis  and Maó

Cycle path between St Lluis and Maó

Pretty bay of "Cala en Porter"

Pretty bay of “Cala en Porter”

The beaches on the island are truly stunning. Some of the best are: Cala en Porter, a delightful place and one of the oldest holiday towns on the island with clusters of identical white villas. The sea water is an incredible light blue and the beach is reached via steep winding stairs. Santa Galdana is another beautiful beach, with its white sand and turquoise water. Walk west from there to Marcella Cove, and yet further west is Cala en Turqueta. East of Santa Galdana is Cala Mitjana (but this can be a very busy beach).

Other stunning swimming beaches are: Punta Prima (near Biniancolla, east of Binibeca); Cala Binibeca (at Binibeca Vell – a pretty resort town, built in 1972 to resemble typical Menorcan fishing town with its very narrow alleys and white two storey houses); Els Canutells (west of Binibeca); Son Bou (west of Els Canutells) at 3km it is the longest beach with white sand on the island. There are 3 quiet beaches on the west coast: Cala Blanca, Sa Caleta and Son Oleo. Son Xoriguer is the starting point for horse riding trips into the reserve.

Best of all possible worlds: cycling and swimming

Best of all possible worlds: cycling and swimming

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The change in landscape driving along the coast from Xabía (Javía) was dramatic.

Monastery in an orange grove

Monastery in an orange grove

Via Verde to Puçon

Via Verde to Puçon


Leaving the high mountains behind, shrubs and wild herbs suddenly gave way to the deep green of orange groves as far as the eye could see. This part of the coast is suitably called “Costa del Azahar” (orange blossom coast). The orange farms are neatly laid out, sometimes being terraced with stone walls up the hills. Oranges actually hail from China originally: while the Seville orange, being bitter, is mainly used to make marmalade; the sweet Valencian orange is used for juicing. The deep, orange juice (not the usual yellow colour I’m used to) is so sweet, it tastes almost syrupy.

Farms along the Via Verde

Farms along the Via Verde

We stayed in a hotel for 4 nights, right on the beach. From there we had easy access to cycle ways in all directions. We did a particularly pretty 40 km cycle ride from Valencia to Puçon – a new, modern village built in the traditional style. The smoothly paved cycle path was painted red and was again a dis-used old railway line, passing small patches of farmland. Most farms were the size of an average suburban property, so (small) tractors are a rare sight. Work is done manually, or horses are used. We saw a number of horse carts pulling various hand-made farm implements. Very eco-friendly!

The tiger nut farms deserve a special mention. Called “chufa”, these grasslike plants are grown field upon field, the farms separated from each other by low walls and narrow water channels. In the summer, the fields are flooded using a sluicing system, then the grass is allowed to dry out. The fields are then burned down and the subterranean nobbly little bulbs of the plants are collected and made into the popular Spanish drink of “horchata de chufa”, made in exactly the same way as almond milk, just with a lot of sugar added. Country-wide, every bar, café, ice-cream shop and even bakery sports a large transparent container on their counters slowly turning the white tiger nut milk. Although it’s vegan, this is too sweet for me!

Chufa "Tiger nut" farms along the Via Verde

Chufa “Tiger nut” farms along the Via Verde

We had some delicious dinners in Valencia. At one restaurant on the beach I had two courses, consisting of a starter (white asparagus and olives) and a main of variously grilled vegetables (to which I added my own vegan soy sausage, chorizo-flavoured, of course!

Grilled vegetables at the beach restaurant

Grilled vegetables at the beach restaurant

Vegan restaurant Kimpiri

Vegan restaurant Kimpiri

A very special lunch that was specifically on my list “to do”, was at Kimpira, a gourment organic vegan restaurant (on Juristas 12). I had their tasting platter of:

Vegan chocolate cheesecake

Vegan chocolate cheesecake

millet triangle-cakes with tofu sour cream, tofu-leek quiche and salad dressed with apple-cucumber juice. I ended with their vegan chocolate cheesecake (the dessert was not the best, but it was great to be able to order anything off the menu).

For all your ingredients to make a typical Valencian paella (many restaurants do offer a vegetarian “Paella”), head to Mercat Central. This architectural masterpiece is one of the oldest markets in Europe, with over 8 centuries of history. Although an enormous covered market, I still preferred the one in Barcelona. The ‘La Morhada Organic stall’ has organic produce.

Victorian market

Victorian market

Valencia is a wonderful cycling-friendly city. Pavements had been reconstructed to include cycle ways, or cycle paths were painted on the pavements in special dual lanes. Just like Seville, Córdoba and Barcelona, Valencia operates a cycling rental scheme. One has access to these bikes 24 hours a day by simply registering with your credit card at one of the bike stations. The 3-gear, heavy but easy-peddle bicycles can be taken and deposited back at nearly a hundred stations around the city, at a distance of no more than 2 blocks from each other. We used them constantly – the first half hour being free – with no worries that our own bikes might be stolen.

Broad promenade in front of our hotel - rental bikes

Broad promenade in front of our hotel – rental bikes


One evening while a thunderstorm was lumbering in the distance we cycled to the Oceanography park. It’s an aquatic centre on a massive scale. There were huge and very deep pools with large glass frontages. We watched white beluga whales play and in another were walruses. I bought myself a large plastic container of popcorn – this was not made with the usual butter addition. At 10:45pm the show started we came to see: synchronised swimming with dolphins. Eight women swam in pattern formations with 10 dolphins in an elegant performance accompanied by music and lights. Well after midnight we grabbed a pair of city bicycles from the nearest bike station and cycled back to our hotel, about 6 km away, along well-lit cycle paths.

Beautiful buildings in Valencia

Beautiful buildings in Valencia


Valencia wrought iron workThe following evening was just as special: we went swimming in the luke-warm sea in front of our hotel early evening, and decided we’d stay in the water until sunset. There were still lots of people in the sea. It was so beautiful to watch the colour of the water turn a silky orange. It was also good timing: as the sun was setting, the full moon rose like a blazing yellow beach ball. We finally dragged ourselves from the water, feeling rather peckish – no wonder, because it was 9:15 already!

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After our almost surreal English experience in Gibraltar, we drove up into the dry, stony mountains covered with cork oak forests, pine copses and carob tree stands. High up in the folds of the mountains lie the “pueblos blancos” (villages of white-washed houses) that look like spilled sugar. We rented a small upright house with loads of stairs, in the pretty hamlet of Gaucín. Blue Cape plumbago, bright pink bougainvillaea and deep green ivy soften the all-whiteness, and steep lanes laid out in blue slate meander in all directions. The little streets that were originally built for the use of donkeys, were nail-bitingly narrow for our car. An organic shop in the small town is called Pura Vida.

Gaucín village and its castle ruins

Gaucín village and its castle ruins


We used Guacín as a base to explore the area: Ronda, an impossibly pretty town linked by an impressive arched bridge across a deep gorge, it has many fine noble houses with beautifully tiled courtyards. We went to see a modern flamenco dance with hauntingly beautiful Andalusian singing.
Cobbled lanes in Ronda

Cobbled lanes in Ronda

Capucino café, Marbella

Capucino café, Marbella

Marbella, a chic seaside resort town with kilometres of paved beachside walk lined with swanky shops, cute cafés and tall palm trees was quite a favourite and we went there twice. We had our morning snack at Cappuccino’s – a stunning location overlooking the beach. Their hummus, raw vegetable crudités and home-made Lebanese flatbreads and freshly pressed carrot juice were a taste sensation! (In fact, I’d repeated that exact same order at their other branch in Valencia later.)

Lunch on Plaza de los Naranjos

Lunch on Plaza de los Naranjos

For lunch we headed to the old town of Marbella to a café on the Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square), where I had delicious Gazpacho soup and crudités with olives. We then strolled around the boutique shops. There were shops selling beautiful hand-crafted
Gazpacho

Gazpacho

items, shops selling only various olive oils and, of course, a fantastic chocolate shop with a good choice of dark, vegan chocolates.

Walking back to the beach for a swim, we happened upon a Loving Hut – this is one of the best ones in that chain I’ve come across: small buffet lunch of interesting dishes and not the usual heavy offerings of starchy vegetables and various beans. Even though I was already so satisfied from all the unexpected vegan food I savoured during the day, I bought my usual half dozen of kombucha fermented tea to take home, then lovingly enjoyed spoon after spoon of vegan chocolate ice-cream with chocoolate sauce and toasted hazelnuts AND bought carrot cake to take home (which was superlative).

Vegan soy chocolate ice-cream, Loving Hutt

Vegan soy chocolate ice-cream, Loving Hutt

Cycle path near Gaucín

Cycle path near Gaucín

Always on the look-out for interesting cycle paths, we found one near Gaucín: there were a number of tunnels to go through all beautifully lit (and providing welcome shade and coolness from the hot weather).

It was so peaceful to return to our villa in Guacín and listen to the evening sounds of crickets and neighing donkeys as we sit down at our swimming pool enjoying our vegan dinner. I made us one evening a slow-cooked dish of mung beans, leeks, mushrooms in mole poblano sauce (hazelnut butter, cacao, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, soy sauce).

Mole Poblano dinner

Mole Poblano dinner

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The short 1 hour drive from Seville to our next town took us past sunflower fields and eggplant farms. We saw a flock of storks circling in the air of what must have been over a thousand birds. The coast here is called “Costa de la Luz” – the coast of light. We’ve become so accustomed to narrow streets, that we arrived very relaxed in Jerez de la Frontera: we did not even have to bend the side mirrors in. Mudéjars were Muslims who stayed back in Christian territories after the Reconquest of Spain (“reconquista”) to apply their artistic and architectural skills on buildings etc. The “frontera” in town names in the area refer to when the settlement was once a border between Christian and Moorish kingdoms. The Moors ruled the Jerez until 1264.

My breakfast of figs, cherries, own muesli, almond cultured milk

My breakfast of figs, cherries, own muesli, almond cultured milk

Our apartment turned out to be a very modern, all-in-white spacious conversion right in the pedestrian zone. The large kitchen was an extra bonus and joy for this ardent foodie!

White horse Small squares are dotted throughout the old town – a particularly lovely one was shaded by mature Jacaranda trees. The town is well-known for its sherry industry as well as horsemanship. The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art (“Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecueste” on Avenida Duque de Abrantes 11407) is a riding school comparable to the world-famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna. We managed to get front rows seats in the arena (a wooden building) for the equestrian show showcasing the skills of both rider and horse. It was spellbinding! The horses were put through their complicated foot work (such as the Spanish walk), classical dressage and choreography, their feet in exact rhythm to the piped classical Spanish music being played.

The afternoon after the horse riding performance

Lovely apartments in Cadiz

Lovely apartments in Cadiz

we drove to Cadiz: the motorway was built over an immense salt marshland. I could see hundreds of flamingoes in the shallow water. The entire old town of Cadiz is pedestrianized, consisting of a maze of confusing narrow cobbled lanes. The town lays claims to be Europe’s oldest city. The Phoenicians established the town of Gadir (walled city) in 1100 BC; Cadiz was also briefly Spain’s capital in 1812 when the constitution was drafted there. Our exploring took us to the gardens where we marvelled at the ambitiously clipped forms and shapes of large topiaries. Back in the narrow lanes, I came upon a lovely shop selling kitchen stuff where I bought baking pans, unusual chocolate moulds and lime green smaller items I couldn’t resist! We only came back to Jerez after 11 o’clock that evening.
Topiary gardens

Topiary gardens

For afternoon tea at a bakery the next day in Jerez de la Frontera my partner had “Pignoli” balls, which apparently had only 2 ingredients: pine nuts and egg white. It’s probably easier to make a raw vegan version of these by using soaked and dehydrated pine nuts, mixed into a bowl with gelled ground white chia seeds and white grape juice, rolled into small balls then dehydrated until crispy on the outside and still chewy on the inside. Another dessert speciality of the area, is called “Tocino de cielo” tartlets. They are made and set with lots of egg yolks and sugar. I’m toying with the idea of using mango pulp set with agar-agar, and then a clear layer of agar-agar on top to give a glossy appearance. A popular sauce – in fact, a raw vegan one – one finds on the menus is called “Salmorejo“. I often made this vibrantly red sauce for us with the Tribest blender I travel with.

Jerez de Frontera is the first town on our journey that was less pretty, with a slight feeling of depression. Indeed, I read that this town had been hardest hit in the whole of Spain with the economic crisis, having the largest debt. We encountered the most beggars and dilapidated buildings. The town is also home to the largest Spanish Gypsy community in the country, so this is a good place to go and see flamenco shows. On our cycle ride we saw a number of mule-driven carts on the roads transporting produce (in fact large parts of Jerez and its countryside reminded us of India) – full marks for using ecological transport though!

Cycle path in Jerez de la Fronterra

Cycle path in Jerez de la Fronterra

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Córdoba Islamic decor

Córdoba Islamic decor

Neither the friendly voice of our GPS nor google maps on the iPhone could get us to our accommodation in Córdoba: the maze of pedestrian alleys, cobbled lanes and narrow one-ways had us driving in circles for over an hour. After yet another tight 5 point turn to turn around, reversing where turning was impossible and concluding that the old Arab quarter only has exiting one-ways, we parked the car at the nearest square. We unfolded our Brompton bicycles, clipped our panniers on, donned our rucksacks and placed the large heavy bag (our travelling kitchen) on my partner’s luggage rack. Heavily loaded we rattled over the round cobblestones in 45 degrees Celsius against the flow of the one-way streets. After only 10 minutes we arrived at our hotel-apartment ready to keel over from the heat. Apparently there was a call button to the hotel we could have pressed to activate a pillar to drop down for us to pass! The establishment was in a quiet part of the old Moorish town, with its rooms and Córdoba gardensapartments connected to a number of open-air courtyards. All shops, restaurants and hotels display this Moorish feature to have at least one courtyard: protected from the scorching sun, these areas are filled with plants (even the walls are covered with potted plants), a fountain and the whole space would be beautifully tiled in bright colours with intricate Islamic designs.

It is so hot and humid here that the only way to survive is to drink litres of water, take the siesta that irritates all visitors initially (everything closes anyway) from lunch until after dinner, and, my personal favourite, soaking in an ice-cold bath. The best time to view attractions is from 8pm to after mid-night when the temperature drops to about 35 degrees Celsius.

Narrow streets in Córdoba

Narrow streets in Córdoba


Córdoba is an enchanting place. The old town has winding narrow lanes laid out mosaic-style by flat river pebbles set on their edges in pretty white and black designs. Countless times we’d step inside hotels, shops and apartments’ front entrances to view the cool, inviting utopian courtyards. The orange tree lined streets would open up now and then to many small squares containing a fountain with drinkable water and a café.

On our first evening, our post-dinner perambulations through the little streets took us to the entrance of the imposing Cathedral. When we discovered we were just in time for the evening guided tour, we jumped at it. It was 10 o’clock, with the sun just starting to set and the temperature getting more comfortable. Saint Vincent, a Visigoth basilica stood on this site during the 600’s (its mosaic floors can be viewed through glass floor panels). After being conquered by the Moors, one of 4 stages of a grand mosque was built over the basilica foundations in the 8th century. Consisting of an astounding 11 naves, the mosque was extended by subsequent caliphs, replicating the exact style, to a massive structure that could accommodate 40 000 people! It was considered the most important sanctuary of Western Islam when Córdoba was the capital of Al-Andalus. One is awe-struck by the size and beauty of the interior: a forest of pillars in double-tier horse-shoe shape constructed in alternating red bricks and beige plasterwork, byzantine domes and immensely intricately carved screens and wall decorations. Much of the architectural designs and decorations reminded us of India. (See my blogs on our Indian trip.)

Córdoba mesquita and cathedral

Córdoba mesquita and cathedral

In 1236 Córdoba was won back by a Spanish King. It took 3 centuries until the 1600’s to add a huge cathedral inside the mosque structure, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing mix of gothic, renaissance and baroque. The gigantic proportions reminds one of St Peters in Rome, but here white plasterwork was used. Although most of the Islamic elements were retained, the minaret was embedded in the bell tower with the Christian

Téterie in Córdoba

Téterie in Córdoba

transformation of the structure, and the expansive Moorish courtyard gardens of palm trees inside the high walls were replanted with myrtle and orange trees to reflect Spanish traditional gardens.

Eggplant is served in various forms here: as a dip (closely resembles babaganoush), sliced in lengths then deep-fried or cut into slices which were slowly baked in a covered dish then served with smooth (but not too salty) black olive paste. Córdoba is also well-known for their Arabic-style tea cafés. One particular one we went to twice Córdoba tileswas called Salon de Te in Calle del Buen Pastor 13. The menu is Arabic and Lebanese, with a cosy atmosphere with lots of pot plants in their courtyard garden. Their impressive list has herbal, Andalucian, Indian and Chinese teas. They have vegan pastries, but ask the proprietor which are in fact vegan.

One early morning we went cycling along the river bank on excellent paved and painted cycle paths: it was 7:30 am and the sun was only just rising. It was magical with the orange sun and full moon simultaneously in the sky!! Afterwards, it was still cool enough to visit the beautiful gardens, the site of which used to be occupied by a Roman fort. The Roman baths can still be viewed today. The Via Augusta passes through Córdoba on its way to Barcelona. We have certainly come a long way ourselves so far.

Alcazar gardens in Córdoba

Alcazar gardens in Córdoba

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As we’re going more south, the Moorish influence on the Iberian peninsula is becoming more evident: crumbling forts on hills portraying battles won and lost centuries ago while Arabic names of towns are written on modern day motorway signage.

Travelling to Jaen

Travelling to Jaen


Driving into the south one is constantly reminded of the legend of Don Quixote from the many hilarious statues next to the road. Expecting the drive to be uninteresting knowing how dry and hot the area is, we were pleasantly surprised at the colourful vistas: yellow cut fields of wheat and stacked bales of hay; ploughed red soil between orchards and blue-mauve mountains in the distance. We passed watermelon fields, ‘pimiento’ farms (a kind of bell pepper which is smoked and dried then pulverised to produce different types of paprika) and grey-green olive groves that stretch as far as the eye can see – sometimes covering entire hillsides. Brown stone houses are giving way to our first sight of the white villages of Andalusia.
Jaen Parador Hotel

Jaen Parador Hotel

Jaén will be our next stop for three nights. Our accommodation was again in a Parador Hotel – not in a monastery like the other Paradors so far, but in a modernised, extended part of the Castille de Santa Catalina Castle (formerly an Arabic fortress), built on top of a flat plateau, surrounded by even higher mountains with Jaén town way below. One evening at around 10pm when the sun was just setting, the peace of the valley was interrupted by wild boars fighting just below our balcony. What a terrible sound they make!

Olive Oil Greenway near Jaen

Olive Oil Greenway near Jaen

The name Jaén is derived from the Arabic word “jayyan”, (meaning ‘crossroads of caravans’): this town was in a strategic position between Andalusia and Castille. The town is also known as the World Capital of Olive Oil. When we did another bicycle ride on a “Via verde“, the Olive Oil Greenway: the path was compacted earth, the route which used to be a train line transporting the oil to the main centres for bottling. The path went over bridges and through hundreds of hectares of olive groves. The route is over 120km long, but in 39 degrees Celsius we only managed 44km.

View of Jaen from our Parador Hotel

View of Jaen from our Parador Hotel

There are many shops in the town and along the road that sell local produce like wine, olives and olive oil, dark chocolate, fruit in season and vinegars. The large number of convents and monasteries in the area bake their own distinctive items such as aniseed donuts, hazelnut truffles, almond shortbread, sweet pumpkin pies and savoury apple pies to name a few.

Starter of two little bowls of soup: Gazpacho and Ajo Blanco with condiments

Starter of two little bowls of soup: Gazpacho and Ajo Blanco with condiments

The Parador’s extensive menu (6 pages) was so good, we had all our lunches and dinners there. Apart from the pages of local plates and
Grilled vegetable dinner with added cashews and tempeh

Grilled vegetable dinner with added cashews and tempeh

speciality dishes, there were also a vegetarian page (mostly vegan dishes), a diabetic page and a gluten-free page. Each area has their own take on “Ajo blanco” (cold garlic-almond soup) which I loved. I just always ask how it was prepared: some modern places might use chicken stock, add chicken or ham, or use egg white or add boiled chopped egg. Look out for the recipe in the next blog.

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