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They don’t call it the Costa del Sol for nothing – the province of Malaga enjoys around  320 days of sunlight a year. This wall-to-wall sunshine can make for some pretty hot summers, but visitors to the region will find themselves spoilt for choice when choosing a spot for a refreshing dip.

Alongside its beautiful beaches, Malaga can also offer turquoise lagoons, crystal clear rivers and stunning natural pools. So grab that towel and get exploring, as we take you through some of the best places to go swimming…

1. Ardales Lakes

The rural village of Ardales is located in the countryside near Ronda, an hour’s drive from the city of Malaga. Ardales is known for its collection of stunning reservoirs – or embalses – which are dotted throughout the pine forests a mere stone’s throw from the entrance to the famous walking trail, El Caminito del Rey.  These three huge lakes were originally created by a dam built across the Guadalhorce river gorge.

The vast emerald lagoons make for some wonderful freshwater swimming and are a popular picnic spot for families due to the shade provided by the surrounding woodland. There’s plenty of free parking on offer – if you get there early enough – and some decent local restaurants nearby where you can stop for a coffee before your morning swim (we’d recommend El Mirador which boasts spectacular views of the water from its large terrace)

For the more adventurous travellers out there, there’s also the option of hiring canoes or embarking on an inflatable obstacle course, located slap bang in the middle of the water at La Isla recreational park.  La Isla also has a collection of barbeques amongst the trees if you’re in the mood for some open-air grilling. Just remember to take your rubbish home with you at the end of the day.

2. Río Chillar

Despite Nerja’s array of gorgeous beaches, families still flock to the river Chillar on the outskirts of town during the hot summer months – and it’s not hard to see why.

Accessible via walking trails running upstream through the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park, the crystal clear Chillar river culminates in beautiful natural pools which are perfect for a cooling dip after a morning’s exertion.

You can also opt to walk in the river itself to keep cool- providing you have the appropriate footwear (slippery stones and a fast moving current rule out flip flops).

The river walk takes you deep into the national parkland, where amenities are conspicuously absent.  Make sure you come prepared with plenty of water and a picnic as you’ll certainly work up an appetite along the way.

3. Barranco Blanco, Coín

If tumbling waterfalls and abundant wildflowers are your thing, then the Barranco Blanco pools are for you. Set in the middle of the countryside near Coín, this walk cuts through dense vegetation alongside the Alaminos river, which opens up at intervals into natural pools – perfect for a refreshing plunge.

There’s also an impressive waterfall at the start of the route, providing you’re feeling brave enough to navigate the narrow access path leading to it. The waterfall cascades down a rock face into a deep natural basin, a popular spot amongst daredevil local teenagers for cliff jumping.

From June, the public car park at the start of the trail is only accessible to residents, so you’ll have to leave your car at the top of a steep hill and walk down. Local police often patrol the area and have been known to dispense hefty fines to those bending the rules. You have been warned!

4. Cueva del Gato, Benoajan

So named after its supposed resemblance to a feline’s face, the Cueva del Gato – or Cat’s Cave – is one of the most beautiful outdoor swimming spots in Andalucia. Situated just outside the sleepy town of Benoajan in the countryside near Ronda, the caves are easily accessible and make the perfect spot for a summertime picnic.

The swimming on offer is also second to none, provided courtesy of large, natural pools of crystal clear water. Due to its easy access and plentiful parking, the caves are a very popular spot for families, particularly during the summer months.

If you’re keen to avoid the crowds, we’d recommend getting there early before heading for lunch in nearby Molino del Santo. This lovely rural hotel boasts a shaded outdoor dining room and a fantastic lunch menu guaranteed to satisfy your appetite after a morning’s al fresco swimming!

5. Pedregalejo Beach, Malaga

If sun, sand and sea swimming are your bag, then Malaga had plenty to offer.  Although the city beaches such as La Malagueta are prone to overcrowding during the summer months, a short drive east will lead you to the quieter local beaches of the smaller towns.

The neighbourhood of Pedregalejo- once a tiny fishing town- is the perfect spot for a family beach day. Its small, sandy coves are lapped with tranquil waters, making it an ideal location if you have young children. The town itself has a funky, bohemian vibe and the seafront is lined with a collection of quirky bars and restaurants, providing ample choice for a spot of lunch or an afternoon cocktail.

One of the most popular restaurants in town is the stylish Pez Tomillo. This large, airy restaurant specializes in innovative modern tapas dishes – such as oxtail stew with creamy mash or filo pastry wrapped king prawns – and has gorgeous sea views on offer from its upstairs dining room.  Book a table here.

6. Playa Calahonda, Nerja

Some of the best beaches in Malaga Province can be found in the town of Nerja, a 50 minute drive east along the Costa del Sol.   Nerja’s collection of gorgeous coves can be admired from the sweeping lookout plaza, El Balcón de Córdoba, which takes pride of place in the centre of town and is encircled on all sides by incredible views of the shimmering Mediterranean sea.

Descending the steps in the plaza’s left-hand corner will bring you to Playa Calahonda.  This charming little cove is flanked by glimmering turquoise waters and overhung by jagged cliffs, making for some truly beautiful views. The swimming here is excellent and the beach’s transparent, clean waters are perfect for a spot of snorkelling, too.

Keep your eyes peeled for the rustic little fisherman’s cottage carved into the rockface at the end of the beach and usually guarded by a group of well-fed cats!

7. Swimming Pool Meliá Costa del Sol, Torremolinos

If your holiday accommodation lacks a pool, head down the coast to Torremolinos and check out the 4 * Meliá Costa del Sol Hotel.  Providing you stop for lunch in the hotel’s restaurant, you’re welcome to make use of the swanky beachfront swimming pool, which comes complete with its own bar.

We can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon than relaxing on a sun-soaked terrace listening to chilled out tunes while sipping on a cocktail.  You’ll also be treated to spectacular ocean views from the comfort of your sun lounger, as the hotel terrace directly overlooks the popular Bajondillo beach below.

While we’ve got you here, perhaps you fancy checking out some of our day tours? From tapas tours and bull farm visits to wine tasting in exclusive bodegas, we’re sure we’ve got something to capture your imagination.  Check out the full range of our experiences here and discover the Andalucia you never knew with TOMA & COE!

The post The 7 Best Spots To Cool Off Near Malaga appeared first on Toma & Coe.

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Are you about to embark on your first trip to Spain and not sure what to expect? Worried about over tipping, undertipping or when to eat and what? Here at TOMA & COE, we boast a combined total of over 50 years living in Spain between us, so we’re pretty sure we’ve got all your queries covered.

We’ve compiled a list of the 7 most common FAQs put to us by our clients, and shared our answers with you below.

1.) What time do people eat in Spain?

It might surprise you to learn that, despite their laid back reputation, most Spanish people are fairly regimented when it comes to eating times.

If you rock up to a restaurant at 6 o’clock in the evening demanding dinner you will be confronted, in most cases, with a dark kitchen and a confused waiter.

Although the more touristy bars of the big cities have adjusted their kitchen hours to accommodate peckish guiris – foreigners – you’ll still find restaurants in smaller towns baffled as to why people would choose to eat dinner in what’s perceived as late afternoon.

To avoid going hungry, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the Spanish eating times and working around them.

Below we’ll bring you up to speed on what is eaten and when.

Breakfast

As with most meals in Spain, breakfast is a social affair. If you work in an office, it’s more than acceptable to down tools shortly after you’ve clocked in and head to the local cafe to read the paper or catch up with colleagues.

Breakfast is usually eaten at any time between 7.30-11.30, and consists of toasted bread – tostada – with toppings ranging from jamón serrano to grated tomatoes, all doused with lashings of olive oil, of course.

If you have a sweet tooth, you can opt to smother your toast with mermaleda – or jam. Or, if you’re feeling particularly indulgent, you could even give churros a go: deep-fried, sugar-dusted sweet treats that come served with a teacup full of melted chocolate for dipping.

What better way to start the day than with a major sugar high?

Lunch

The most important of the Spanish meals, eaten any time between 2 and 4 pm. This is your chance to eat like a king, with heavier dishes such as paella traditionally consumed in the afternoon.

Businesses are often closed between these hours so employees can dedicate themselves to the serious business of eating well.

Afternoon snack

Spain’s afternoon snack – the merienda – is an opportunity to meet up with friends and enjoy a coffee. This is usually accompanied by something sweet such as cake or ice-cream, and provides a pleasant way of filling the sleepy post-lunch lull between four and seven.

On the weekends, this is often followed by a refreshing copa – or mixed drink – such as gin and tonic or a cocktail.

Dinner

La cena is usually eaten between 9.00-11.00 at night, although plenty of restaurants will continue serving well past midnight.

It’s possible to eat earlier, shortly after the kitchen open at 8pm, although don’t be surprised if you find yourselves the only ones dining at this time!

Dinner is the time to eat well, but lightly, with many Spaniards choosing to share tapas or raciones amongst groups of friends.  The last thing you’d want is drowsy overindulgence spoiling an evening’s socialising, especially when this is the most comfortable time of day during those sultry summer months (mosquitos aside).

Want an insider tip? Try to arrive 30 minutes before the mealtime rush (say, 1.30 at lunchtime) and you should be able to get a table at most restaurants. Staying ahead of the crowd is the way to go.  Or, if in doubt, reserve a table to avoid disappointment.

2.) Do you have to tip in Spain?

Here at TOMA & COE, we often get asked by our American clients how much to tip in Spanish restaurants.

The good news is…it’s completely up to you! It’s not mandatory to tip in Spain (although some restaurants will include a service charge in the bill) and you won’t get chased out of the restaurant by peeved waiters if you decline to leave a propina at the end of your meal.

If you are feeling generous though or you regard not tipping as just plain wrong, we’d recommend leaving 10% of the overall amount.

3.) Do most people speak English in Spain?

Although increasing numbers of young Spaniards are learning English these days (an intermediate level of the language is now required in order to graduate from most Spanish universities), members of the older generation may still have ni papa – no idea- what you’re on about if you attempt to address them in English.

Fortunately, Spanish people are extremely friendly and helpful, and won’t let something as minor as a language barrier impede their attempts to communicate, but it’s always advisable to learn a few key phrases before you embark on your Spanish adventure.

It’s also a good idea to install a reliable (read: not Google translate) dictionary on your phone so you can quickly check for vocabulary and phrases. Our picks would be SpanishDict or Linguee.

4.) Is Spain child-friendly?

If you’re travelling with young children, Spain is the country for you! Little people are a fully integrated part of Spanish society and warmly welcomed almost everywhere.

If you’ve experienced wintry customer service when attempting to dine out with kids back home, you should find Spain a pleasant surprise. Most restaurants will greet your children with open arms, and make a big fuss of them throughout your meal.

Spanish children have flexible bedtimes, especially in the summer when the coolest part of the day occurs after nightfall. Don’t be surprised if you see children asleep in buggies or playing in the town squares way past midnight, even on a school night!

If you are travelling with kids and looking for child-friendly things to do in Spain, check out this blog post for inspiration.

5.) Do shops shut on a Sunday?

Sunday continues to be regarded as a sacred day in Spain, due to its religious overtures and the fact that three-quarters of Spaniards still define themselves as Catholics.

Adherence to religious tradition means most supermarkets are not legally permitted to open on a Sunday. Although hypermarkets are now springing up in the bigger cities, which open seven days a week and provide last minute essentials to the caught-out shopper, its best to stock up on supplies the day before.

In most cases you won’t find other shops, such as clothes boutiques and department stores, open on a Sunday either.  As for banks, they close for the entire weekend so get any financial housekeeping done on a Friday: before two o’clock, of course!

6.) Is the siesta really a thing?

The siesta is real…and you’d better respect it!

Trust us, you’ll come to appreciate why if you find yourself in Spain during the height of summer.  There’s not much fun to be had outside during the afternoon hours unless you enjoy losing your own body weight in sweat and turning pinker than a cooked prawn. So, when it’s too hot to think straight, pull down the shutters, crank up the air conditioning and surrender to the siesta.

You’re not obligated to sleep, of course: a lot of Spaniards use this time to simply relax or watch TV, but the downtime gives you the opportunity to recharge your batteries before the evening begins.

Siesta usually last from 2.00-5.00PM. Most shops will be shut at this time, so don’t expect to get much done in the lull. It’s not just during the summer months either; many Spanish businesses will honour the siesta all year round.

Our advice? If you can’t beat them, join them!

7.) When’s the best time to visit Spain?

Contrary to popular belief, there are far better times of year to visit Spain than the summer.

Not only will you fall prey to expensive airfares and crowded beaches, but the heat in some parts of Spain during high season can prove prohibitive to enjoyment.

If you choose to head south and visit Andalucia in July and August, you’ll find the main cities such as Granada, Córdoba and Seville, largely deserted.  The afternoon streets often resemble something from a post-apocalyptic dystopia: shuttered shop fronts, eerie silence, and not a soul in sight save for the occasional tourist.

With temperatures in these locations often soaring to the staggering heights of 45 degrees Celsius, locals in the know embark on a mass exodus in the hotter months, leaving ghost towns in their wake.

Last year, record temperatures in Spain caused catastrophe, claiming the lives of 8 people during a particularly brutal August heatwave.

Many cities also suffer from a lack of public pools, due to space restrictions, so unless your accommodation comes with its own body of water, be prepared to sweat.

If you wish to visit beautiful cities such as Seville and Granada in more comfortable conditions, months such as May and October are a good option.

Not only will life have returned to the cities, but the temperatures will have cooled considerably while still remaining pleasantly warm. This will mean you’ll have more energy to get out and explore, either by visiting surrounding villages or embarking on more unusual adventures.  May is also a wonderful time to see the orange blossom on the trees and the flowers in the parks

If you’re after beach time, you’ll be pleased to know it’s possible to go on sunning yourself on the coast well into October, especially in Andalucian towns such as Malaga and Cadiz.

Got any more questions about Spain that we haven’t answered here? Drop us a line at info@tomaandcoe.com or reach out on our Facebook page and we’d be happy to help!

The post 7 Useful Things to Know Before You Visit Spain appeared first on Toma & Coe.

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If you’re a returning guest to the south of Spain, chances are you’ll already have marvelled at its main sites and are looking for slightly more unusual things to do in Andalucia on your next visit.

We’ve carved up the region into its 8 provinces and provided you with novel ideas for activities in each.   From cave dwellings in Granada to the “Strangest town in Spain”, we’re bound to have something to capture your imagination.  Read on to feel inspired…

Unusual things to do in Málaga Visit the Caves of Nerja

An hour’s drive East along the coast from Malaga city leads you to the beautiful beachside town of Nerja.  

It’s known for its crystal clear waters and secluded coves, but the town has had more to offer than pretty beaches.  If you fancy doing something different in Nerja, then head for its caves.

Situated a five-minute drive beyond the town are some of the most beautiful underground caverns in Spain.  This labyrinth of subterranean tunnels and chambers cover a distance of over 5km and can be accessed via three entrances at ground level.

The caves are divided into three sections- the show gallery, upper gallery and new gallery- which each contains within them a number of separate halls.  

One of these – Hall of the Cataclysm – is home to the world’s largest stalagmite, measuring over 32 metres in length.

The caves are open 7 days a week and offer a range of entrance options, from nocturnal visits to fully guided tours.  For ticket prices and opening hours, check out the Caves of Nerja website.

Walk the Caminito del Rey

If you’re after unusual things to do in Malaga province, then the Caminito del Rey should be top of your list.  

The Caminito del Rey is one of the most famous walks in Spain: 8km of narrow trails gripping the side of a cliff face suspended 100 metres above ground level.  

Having previously fallen into a state of disrepair, 2015 saw a newly restored Caminito del Rey – or King’s Pathway-  reopened to the public.

Walking the Caminito del Rey is not for the faint-hearted, and the plunging views are sure to strike dread into the heart of vertigo sufferers.  But, for those brave enough, tackling the walk makes for an unforgettable experience.

The Caminito is set in miles of luscious parkland, with emerald green lakes and pine forests surrounding it, and provides a beautiful backdrop for some unforgettable photo opportunities.

You can get tickets for the Caminito del Rey on the official website, but be sure to book in advance as they tend to sell out quickly.

Go to El Torcal National Park

One of the best things to do in Malaga is to visit its national parklands.  And they don’t get more beautiful, or more unusual, than El Torcal.

Situated a half hour drive outside Antequera, the looming, jagged mountain ranges of El Torcal are truly something to behold.  El Torcal dates back to prehistoric times when the mountain and all that surrounded it was at the bottom of the Tetis sea.

Over thousands of years, ruptures in tectonic plates gradually forced the seabed upwards to form the mountains and boulder-strewn wildes that can be seen today.

The park is littered with curiously shaped rock formations, so precariously balanced that they seem to have been arranged by a giant, unseen hand.

The unusual forms of these rocks can be attributed to millions of years of wind and water damage gradually winnowing them down to their current state.

The park is home to a myriad of flora and fauna, including orchids, golden eagles and wildcats.  

There are a variety of walking trails throughout El Torcal National park, colour coded in terms of difficulty, and a visitor’s centre, museum and restaurant.  

The park is open 7 days a week and can be accessed by car, or via a courtesy bus that runs regularly from the carpark at the foot of the mountain.

Unusual Things to do in Granada See the views from Abadia del Sacromonte

Google “things to do in Granada” and chances are “visit the Alhambra” will be top of the list.  But, if you’ve already been, can’t get tickets, or fancy escaping the crowds, there are alternative spots in the city to soak up the incredible views.

A bracing climb up the Valparaiso hill, opposite the Alhambra palace, will lead you to this secluded, 17th-century abbey.  On the way, you’ll pass through the charming neighbourhood of Sacromonte, famous for its cave dwellings and gipsy flamenco.

For those who don’t fancy the hike, the abbey can also be accessed by the C2 bus from the city centre.

From the abbey’s mirador – or viewing platform- you will be treated to incredible views of the Sacramento Valley and the Darro river below.  It’s also a perfect spot to appreciate the Alhambra palace in all its resplendent glory.

The abbey is open every day except Monday from 11.00-13.00 and reopens again in the afternoon from 16.00-18.00.  You can only enter the abbey as part of a guided tour, which lasts 45 minutes and for the moment is only available in Spanish.  Find out more information here.

Learn about life in a cave house

The city of Granada is known for its cave houses. These curious dwellings are tucked away in the hills of Sacromonte, a predominately gipsy neighbourhood considered to be one of the birthplaces of flamenco.

If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Granada, perhaps you fancy checking out what life was like as a cave resident over 100 years ago.

The cave museum in Sacromonte provides access to 9 perfectly preserved caves, kitted out with original furniture and tools from the period, to give visitors an authentic glimpse into the realities of cave dwelling.

The museum is open daily, with guided tours in English. It’s a steep walk to get there, so be prepared to sweat on a hot day!  Or, catch the C1 or C2 bus from outside the cathedral to save yourself the exertion.

If you fancy teaming your cave experience with a touch of live flamenco, be sure to visit El Templo, a flamenco club with a difference.

El Templo de Flamenco is located in the charming neighbourhood of Albaicin.  Its nightly shows are held in the intimate surrounding of a cave and feature some of Granada’s finest musicians and dancers.  

Check out the hot water springs in Alhama

There are fabulous natural springs scattered throughout Spain, some of which can be found in the small town of Alhama.

Alhama, in Granada province, has three freshwater springs, which the public can access free of charge.  Even on a chilly day, these springs are worth a visit: the water maintains a balmy temperature of 42 degrees making it perfect for a warming dip during the winter months

If you’re not up for au natural, you can always pop in for a circuit at the Balneario Alhama spa nearby, which contains original Roman baths and offers massages and mud wrap treatments.

The natural springs are located just a short walk from two Neolithic burial sites, Cueva del Agua and Cueva de la Mujer, which can be found a half hour stroll away through the verdant national parkland of Sierra de Tejeda.

Unusual things to do in Cádiz Go to Carnival

Undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Cádiz is attend its annual carnival.

Held over a weekend in February each year, the carnival is famous for its raucous street parties, buzzing atmosphere and amusing entertainment.

This is delivered courtesy of choral groups known as coros, whose comical songs satirize Spanish politicians and celebrities, usually with a few graphic hand gestures thrown in to match.  

Cádiz carnival is the oldest of its kind in the country, dating back to the 16th century when Spain enjoyed a prosperous trading agreement with Venice and was inspired to replicate the city’s own annual carnival on home turf.

The people of Cádiz are nationally renowned for their quick humour, and the carnival reflects their fun-loving sense of irreverence.  Fancy dress is considered almost mandatory at Cádiz carnival, especially on the first Saturday of the celebrations.

Cádiz carnival is well worth a visit if you fancy immersing yourself in some boisterous Andalusian culture and partying with the locals.  Keep an eye out for 2020 dates on the Cádiz town hall website.

Climb a sand dune in Bolonia

The region of Cádiz is replete with beautiful beaches, one of the most stunning of which has to be Playa Bolonia.  Situated at the bottom of a quiet country road, opposite the ruins of an ancient Roman city, this sweeping is bay is famed for its soft white sand and turquoise waters.

The west end of Bolonia beach is home to a sprawling sand dune, spanning almost 200 metres in width, and standing at over 30 metres high.

Considered one of the largest dunes in Europe, the Duña de Bolonia was recently declared an Andalucian National Monument.

Due to prevailing Easterly wind, the sand dune is always on the move, constantly creeping inland as it is buffeted by the strong breezes.

Climb up to the top of the Duña de Bolonia and you will be rewarded with fantastic views of the sands beneath, and even a chance to glimpse the coastline of Africa on a clear day.  

If you’re feeling particularly energetic, reward your strenuous ascent to the summit of the dune by rolling or sprinting on your way day down!

Unusual things to do in Huelva Visit the “strangest town in Spain”

If you find yourself if Huelva province and are looking for something different to do, head along to the town of El Rocío for a truly novel experience.

This small town, situated less than an hour’s drive from the city of Huelva, is often referred to as the “strangest town in Spain”.  

It gives the appearance of being frozen in time – with its unpaved, dusty streets and lack of traffic – and provides visitors with a glimpse into life in the past.

The high street resembles a backdrop from a Spaghetti Western, and many bars come complete with their own hitching posts, where you can tether your trusty steed before heading in for a beer.

It’s also home to a stunning church, Nuestra Señora del Rocío, which boasts a magnificent altar of carved gold.

El Rocio is also the final destination for the famous Andalusian pilgrimage of the same name, which takes place every year in late spring.

The object of the pilgrimage is the 13th-century statue of the Virgin del Rocío – or Virgin of the Dew- which resides in the town church.

Thousands of horses and pilgrims wind up in El Rocío during the final weeks of May, so be prepared for crowds if you visit during this time.

Explore the marshes

Huelva is famous for its stunning national park, Doñana, a significant portion of which is covered with marshlands and salt flats.  These come with their own remarkable ecosystem of wildlife, including eagles, flamingos, wild horses and even the elusive Iberian Lynx.

If you’re looking for things to do in Huelva, exploring these marshlands provides an excellent day out.  

There are chartered boat tours of the lakes and lagoons surrounding the plains, or nature trails through the parkland itself, providing you with an opportunity to get up close and personal with a flamingo or two.

To find out more about walking tours, pay a visit to the Huelva Tourism Board website.

Unusual things to do in Almería Visit a Western Film set

Almería supplied the backdrop for a variety of famous Western films, among them Clint Eastwood classics such as a  Fistfull of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The dusty desert-scapes and rugged mountain ranges provided a perfect alternative to the desiccated planes of Arizona, and filming costs proved significantly cheaper than in the US.

If you’re after fun things to do in Almería, why not check out Fort Bravo, a working set featured in a range of Western films and, more recently, television advertisements.

The set has been impeccably preserved and includes an authentic western saloon, jail, shops, bank and stables.  A perfect backdrop from some seriously kitsch photo opportunities.

Dine in a cave restaurant

If you’re after unusual dining options in Almería, look no further than cave restaurant La Gruta.  

Situated a short drive outside Almería city, this quirky restaurant derives its name from the Spanish word for grotto.  Tables laid with crisp white table cloths are arranged around the cave, and ambient, low-level lighting creates the perfect atmosphere for a romantic dinner for two.

La Gruta is open for lunch and dinner every day and boasts a menu of tasty traditional dishes and a comprehensive wine list, supplied from its very own wine cellar.

To see the menu and make reservations, visit La Gruta website

Unusual things to do in Córdoba Visit the patios festival

If you’re planning on visiting Córdoba, try to catch the city’s famous Patios Festival- held in May each year.  

Due to the dry, arid climate of Córdoba and its sizzling summer temperatures, the city’s townhouses were traditionally designed around a shaded interior patio.  Residents would fill these with plants and flowers to ensure the building maintained a cool temperature.

Every springtime, the doors to these secret havens are flung open, as residents go head to head to win the title of “most beautiful balcony in Córdoba”.

During this time, the public is invited to these 50 something mini-gardens and judge for themselves.  Visitors can purchase a map of the patios competing in the festival and stroll them at their leisure (just don’t go during nap time 2-6, or you’ll find them closed).  

Entrance is free, but there are collection boxes left at the door should you decide to make a donation.  Keep an eye on the 2019 dates on the Córdoba 24 website.

Visit an ancient palace city

The famous mosque in Córdoba city centre is not all the region has to offer in terms of incredible historic architecture.

When under Moorish influence in 1010 AD, the region of Andalucia went by the name of Al Andalus. During this time, all administrative duties were conducted from within its capital city, Medina Azahara.

This once sumptuous palace city was first constructed in  936, under the orders of the first Caliph of Al-Andalus, Abderraman III.  Legend has it that the city was built as a gift to his favourite wife, Al Zahra, who was rumoured to be homesick for her native Syria.

In 1010 the city was burned to the ground down during a brutal civil war, which subsequently saw the Caliphate divided into kingdoms.

Today,  the remains of Medina Azahara, which received UNESCO world heritage status in 2018, can be found 8 km outside the city of Córdoba.

Visitors can stroll between the well-preserved arches and pillars of the original palace, visit the remains of a mosque and learn more of the city’s fascinating history in the on-site museum.

The site is open every day apart from Monday, from 9 am to 6.30pm (closing at 3.30 pm on Sundays).  

Unusual things to do in Seville See the city from a different angle

Some guide books would have you believe the only way to see Seville is from the top of the Giralda tower.  But if you’ve been there done that, there are equally as spectacular views on offer from different vantage points in the city.

For example, a little over three euro will grant you access to Seville’s most controversial work of architecture, El Metrosol Parasol.

Nicknamed by locals as las setas – or the mushrooms- due to its unusual shape, this quirkily designed modern structure stretches above the expansive Plaza de Encarnacion in the centre of Seville.

It boasts a 360 viewing platform at the top, providing views of the entire city, from the cathedral tower to the Guadalquivir river.

There’s even a tapas bar at the top, with a free drink included in your ticket price, so you can sip on a refreshment while you marvel at the skyline before you.  A perfect spot to watch the sunset over the rooftops.

Check out the Semana Santa bar

One of the most important events in the Seville calendar is its revered Holy Week – or semana santa– which takes place each year at Easter time.  

The most iconic aspect of this religious festival are the magnificent processions – known as pasos – which draw crowds of thousands to observe them.  

Elaborate floats adorned with perfumed flowers are borne by devoted teams of costaleros, members of brotherhoods belonging to the various churches of Seville.

These volunteers support the weight of the float from underneath, packed in together like sardines in the stuffy darkness beneath.  They are forced to navigate their route blindly and are required to take routine breaks to prevent..

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Speaking in the 2016 documentary Priorat, winemaker Rene Barbier says: “The best wine is the one with a story to tell”. And few wines have a story as fascinating as those produced in the world famous region of Priorat, in Catalonia.

 Winemaking against all odds

The region of Priorat stretches over nearly 50,000 acres in the Catalonian province of Tarragona.  The landscape is arrestingly beautiful: folds of mist-swathed land staggered in ledges along the hillside, the surrounding mountains forming jagged shapes against a backdrop of endless sky.  

But despite its picturesque aesthetics, this is tough country. Many winemaking experts have expressed incredulity, upon surveying the Priorat terrain, that any wine could ever be grown here at all.

Within the industry, Priorat winemaking practices are referred to as “heroic”, owing to the numerous natural challenges that render successful farming here almost impossible.

Sunset in the mountain ranges of Priorat

The vineyards themselves are angled on the slopes, only accessible via narrow, curving roads gripping the hillside.  The soil is fiercely inhospitable, a mixture of slate and mica, known by locals as llicorella, which is largely resistant to any crops apart from the more tenacious olive and fruit trees.  

The high acidity levels of the earth are teamed with unforgivingly dry topsoil, which means plants have to dig roots down into subterranean depths to find water.   

Due to the awkward geographical composition of this mountainous region, most harvesting must be done manually, aided only by a mule and trap, and planting is a similarly painstaking and arduous process.  

The terrain of the Priorat region makes winemaking challenging

Wine in the blood

Despite the complexity of the terrain, Priorat is a region with a long history of winemaking.  The area first prospered from its vineyards in the middle ages, when the Scala Deli monastery dominated the land and began training its monks in the art of viticulture.  

In 1835, the monasteries were expropriated by the Spanish government and subsequently destroyed, and the land was divided up between local smallholders.

Winemaking continued to fuel the economy over the proceeding years, with vineyards extending over 5000 hectares of land.

The events of 1893 saw the industry hit a sudden stumbling block.  A plague of vine devouring pests known as phylloxera descended on the vineyards and proceeded to destroy everything in their wake.  

The infestation had disastrous results for the local economy. Nearby villages suffered the mass exodus of their younger generations, forced to move on to nearby cities in search of work now that employment in the Priorat region had all but evaporated.

An infestation of pests drastically affected the Priorat vines

 The revival of the Priorat region

Despite the agonised attempts of locals to breathe life into the vineyards again, they were eventually abandoned to the elements.  That was until the early 80s, when a group of optimistic young wine enthusiasts, armed with ambition and a beat up camper van, rolled into town.  

This band of visionaries was headed up by René Barrier, son of a wine exporter from Tarragona, and Rioja born Alvaro Palacios.  

Having previously fallen in love with the region and spied its winemaking potential, the duo had set about recruiting like-minded individuals to join them in their quest, amongst them Swiss-born Daphne Glorian, and school teacher Josep Luis Perez.  

Their idea? To cultivate the land and start producing Priorat wine again.

Progress was slow over the following decade: the vines had to be nursed gradually back to health as the novice viticulturists acquainted themselves with the uninviting terrain and ungracious soil.

With money always thin on the ground, many group members were forced to seek additional employment alongside their wine-making project in order to make ends meet.

The distinctive mountainside ledges of the Priorat region

Nevertheless, the ambitions of this self-confessed “hippy circle” were lofty: they were going to make wine of the very best quality, and sell it at high prices.  

The first bottles of the reinvented Priorat wine were introduced to the market in the early ’90s at a staggering cost price of 1,500 pesetas (an average bottle at the time sold for a mere 100).  

Such ambitious pricing was met with outrage within the Spanish marketplace. Rene Barbier recounts having many doors shut in his face by appalled retailers over the upcoming months when they learned of his product’s hefty price tag.  

Winetasting in the Scala Deli bodega

Big wines mean a big reputation…

Although the wine proved a tough sell on home soil, outside Spain it garnered a more receptive audience.  Priorat wine truly took off in the late 90s, when US wine connoisseurs were actively seeking innovative new voices in wine-making.  

Having received a tip-off that Priorat was the one to watch, experts in the field sampled the wine and began to endorse it in respected fields.

It was the eventual accreditation of Wine Advocate journalist Robert Parker, who awarded a Priorat wine a perfect mark of 100 in his renowned rating system, that truly made the world sit up and pay attention.

Overnight the phones in the Priorat bodegas started ringing off the hook, inundating the suppliers with orders,  and wine critics and buyers arrived in the region in droves to see what all the fuss was about.

As many as 6,000 bottles of Priorat wine were sold within the space of a single afternoon. Priorat wines began appearing on the menus of some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world.  The dream of the hippy circle had been realised: Priorat was back in business.

Oak wine making barrels in Priorat bodegas

Why visit Priorat?

Today, over 30 years after the pioneers first descended on Priorat,  the industry continues the thrive. Priorat is one of only two wines in Spain to have been awarded DOC status by the Spanish Wine Regulation; the highest possible qualification level for a wine region.

In addition to this, it has also become a popular tourist destination, attracting intrepid wine lovers from across the globe to hear its story and marvel at the stunning surroundings in which it is cultivated.  

According to local historian Anna Tigueras, the Priorat region is a unique destination for tourism of this kind: “People come to Priorat looking for an experience linked to wine,” she explains. “This region is not like Tuscany, which, although beautiful, has a very cultivated landscape.”

She goes on to add that Priorat’s rugged and wild terrain is precisely what its visitors appreciate.

The stunning landscapes of the Priorat region attract wine lovers from across the globe

Priorat wines: an overview

And what of the wine itself? Predominantly red in colour, Priorat wines are characterised as “big and bold” with “expressive and interesting” flavours.  

Most grapes are of the Cariñena and Garnacha variety, although there are scatterings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah amongst them.

The wines are high in alcohol content, usually between 14-15.5%, yet the acidity of the soil they are grown in means they are rarely heavy or overbearing and retain rich, fruity flavours with overtones of plum and black cherries.

Owing to the painstaking nature of its manual production, it’s difficult to find a bottle of Priorat on sale for less than 25 euro. At the top end of the market, they have been known to sell for as much as 1,500.

Priorat wine and exquisite food are very happy bedfellows, and those who are unwilling to commit to buying an entire bottle can find a good variety of Priorat wines on the diverse menus of many emerging gastro bars springing up in and around Barcelona.

Priorat wines are known for their big, bold flavours

The story continues…

Despite working hard to ensure their wines are in constant evolution, the weight of the Priorat’s viticultural history continues to influence its winemakers.  

Recent years have seen many of the Priorat bodegas turning away from more modern technologies in wine-making in favour of the tried and tested methods of old.

These include reverting to storing wine in cement barrels rather than the more modern, French-influenced, oak containers.

Innovative winemaking in the Priorat bodegas

Speaking in the documentary of his decision to revisit these classic techniques, Barbier admits: “If there’s one mistake we´ve made over the years, it’s thinking we could do it better than those who came before us.”  

However, one thing that binds the current winemakers of Priorat to their forefathers is an unshakable belief in the quality of their product, and a passion to continue producing it: “The Priorat workers of 70 years ago spoke about their wines with stars in their eyes,” Priorat winemaker, Dahne Glorian says.  “And we’ve got them in ours, too.”

If you fancy experiencing the magic of Priorat country for yourself, join TOMA & COE on our new 2019 tour: the Priorat 3 day wine experience.   Visit the best Priorat wineries and sample some of the finest wine Catalonia has to offer.

The post Priorat: Great wines start with a great story. appeared first on Toma & Coe.

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Every year, thousands of people set out to walk across Spain on the famous Camino de Santiago. These intrepid souls, known on the camino as pilgrims, certainly have their work cut out for them.  

The camino–  meaning “way” –  covers hundreds of kilometres in Spain across a variety of  terrain. Hiking it is a grueling test of anybody’s endurance, and requires supreme levels of mental and physical discipline to complete.

If you plan to walk the Camino de Santiago yourself, you’ve no doubt got some questions.  So, if you´re wondering when to walk, how to prepare, and what to pack: look no further.

We’ve consulted knowledgeable past pilgrims for their advice on how to survive the process and cross the finish line in style!  Discover their words of wisdom in our 11 Top Tips below.

1. Get your gear right

We can’t stress enough how important a good kit is to anyone who walks the Camino de Santiago.  

First up: your wardrobe.  Image may not be your utmost concern when walking the camino but there’s more at stake than fashion here. You could be hiking in all weathers, so a lightweight waterproof jacket is a must. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got several good pairs of socks.  

Our pilgrim sources advise getting your hands on a pair of coolex self-wicking socks, as well as some special, double layered hiking socks.  The latter are seamlessly engineered to avoid nicks, tight spots or rubbing points.

Then, there’s your rucksack.  This will be an essential piece of kit throughout your camino and you’ll come to regard it as an extension of your body (think of yourself as a snail).

As you´ll be carrying this rucksack on your back for hours every day, it needs to be comfortable.  Make sure it’s lightweight and durable with well fitted straps, and lots of pockets.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least: your boots.  These are going to protect your feet throughout miles of walking, so choose carefully.

Now’s not the time to bargain hunt. A quality pair of boots is a sound investment and you’ll be kicking yourself for scrimping at a later date (except you won’t, because your feet will be hurting too much).

The good news is, the camino terrain is not too arduous, so you won’t need full ankle support.  A low boot or a walking shoe should suffice. Our camino mole recommends Salomon boots as the utmost in quality and comfort.

Word from the wise: DO NOT set off on your camino in boots fresh out of the box, unless you want to be in a world of blister pain by the end of your first day.

If your boots are new, make sure you break them in gradually, at least 2 months before starting your camino.

2. Plan your trip

Wondering when to walk the Camino de Santiago? We’d advise sticking to the spring and autumn months, when the weather is cooler.

DO NOT attempt the camino in the height of summer.  The blistering tempers of July and August will make your experience insufferable.  Heat stroke is not a good look.

Walking the Camino de Santiago in May is our top tip: chances are the sun will be shining, the temperatures mild, and the blossom coming out on the trees, providing stunning landscapes to walk through.

Alternatively, the months of October and November are also prime camino time.  Hiking against a backdrop of blazing orange leaves while being fanned by cool breezes makes for ideal walking conditions, although you might get caught in the occasional shower.

Planning your camino route is another important part of the preparation stages.  There’s hundreds of kilometres of camino trails to choose from, so it’s your call how you want to approach it.

While planning, take a number of factors into account.  Things to consider are:

  • your motivations for walking the camino (religious or personal?),
  • how much time you have
  • how fit you are
  • what  landscapes you want to see (mountains or coast?)
  • If you’re walking alone, are you seeking a more social experience, with the opportunity to connect with fellow walkers?

If you’re walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain during popular seasons, like spring, remember to book your accommodation well in advance.

Thousands of people hike the camino each year and, as a result, accommodation gets snapped up quickly.  Unless you’re planning on trying your luck in the first-come-first-served pilgrim hostels each night, make sure you plan ahead.

You probably won’t want to wind up sleeping in a field after a 10 hour day of hiking.

Planning your personal camino can be fun, and there’s plenty of information out there on good old Google to help you get started.

But, if organization is not your strong point, or you’re short on time, arranging to walk with a specialised tour operator is a good idea. They´ll take care of the logistics for you, so you can focus on enjoying the pilgrim experience.

If you’re planning on walking the Camino de Santiago alone, joining a group trip is also a great way to form connections and make new friends.

TOMA & COE offer a fully guided Camino de Santiago package, with expert guides and a fabulous range of accommodation on route to give your pilgrimage a dash of luxury.  Check out the upcoming tour dates for 2019 here.

3. Do your research

Good pilgrims do their homework beforehand, so they know what to expect.  There are plenty of fantastic books out there about the Camino de Santiago, where you can learn about the experiences of past walkers and brush up on your camino trivia.

We recommend The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy and Shirley Maclaine´s book –  The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit, both available on Amazon.

For interesting insights from former pilgrims, be sure to check out TOMA & COE’s Experiences of Our First Camino blogpost, too.

4. Get training!

This might come as news to you, but you actually have to prepare to walk the Camino de Santiago.

If you rock up on the first day having done no prior training, you’re in for a nasty shock.  You’re asking a lot of your body by requiring it to walk such long distances, so ideally your preparation would have started some months in advance.

Gradually build up the distances you are walking in the run-up to your camino, and vary the terrains you hike if you can.  It’s a good idea to train with the kit you’ll be carrying, too, so your body begins to adapt to its weight.

And remember: be sure to break those boots in while you’re at it!

5. Get good trip insurance

Chances are you’re going to have one of the most fantastic experiences of your life on the Camino de Santiago, and go home with memories to last you a lifetime.  

But, in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you´ll want to have all your bases covered.

Make sure you take out comprehensive travel insurance before your trip for peace of mind. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

6. Know your route

Google maps isn’t going to help you here: it’s up to you to make sure you know where you’re headed on each day of your camino.  

You can prevent yourself from straying off the beaten track by carrying a Camino de Santiago route map with you at all times. Make sure you plan the distances you’ll be walking per day, and the approximate time it will take to cover them.  

We also recommend getting an early start each morning, no matter how inviting a lie in might seem.  The more famous parts of the camino can get get clogged up with pilgrims as the day progresses, so the early bird definitely gets the worm (or beats the crowds, in this case).  

There’s something magical about walking through a breaking dawn, too, which will make the early start worthwhile.

7. Get stamped

Your pilgrim’s passport – otherwise known as a credential – is an important part of walking the Camino de Santiago.  

Not only does it provide a wonderful memento from your time on the camino, but the stamps in your passport will also prove you’ve covered the distances you claim (essential for bragging rights at a later date).

Your credential will also entitle you to accommodation at the various albuerges – or pilgrim only hostels- along the route.  

Stamps can be obtained in a variety of locations- including bars, churches, museums, city halls and police stations- in most of the towns you pass through.

Your credential will also enable you to receive your pilgrim’s certificate – or Compostela- at the end of the line in Santiago, providing you’ve covered the required 100km and have the stamps to prove it.

US Pilgrims can apply for their credential in advance here 

If you’re based in Ireland, you can start the credential process here.

All British pilgrims can request their camino passport here, for a fee of £5.

8. Eat right and stay hydrated

You’re bound to work up an appetite by walking miles every day, so it’s important to keep your body fully fuelled at all times.  

We recommend carrying a bag of trail mix – nuts and dried fruit – with you to snack on throughout the day.   Nuts are packed with nutrients and are a good source of protein, which will keep your energy levels up while you walk.  Make sure you stop for a hearty lunch at one of the restaurants on your route, too.

Many of these offer a menu del día – or set menu- for pilgrims, which will help keep the cost of your Camino de Santiago reasonable.

Hydration is key, too.  You should be drinking plenty of water while walking the camino, so keep your bottle topped up at all times.

As tempting as it might be to hit the wine after a long day’s walking, try to keep your alcohol intake to a minimum during your trip.  If you think walking with a hangover is no big deal, you’re wrong. Take it from us!

9.  Learn how to unwind

Your body isn’t the only thing you need to train in order to walk the Camino de Santiago: your mind needs a look in, too.  

You’ll probably find yourself keyed up on adrenaline at the end of a long day’s hiking so, despite being physically exhausted, you still might have trouble getting to sleep.

A good night’s rest is essential during your camio, providing your body with the time it needs to restore and regroup vital energy, so it’s essential you’re getting enough shut eye.

A fantastic way of switching off after a day on the camino is by practicing some meditation or mindfulness.  There are plenty of guided meditation apps available to download before your trip, such as Headspace or Calm, both free from the Google Play store.

However, if you’re planning on eschewing technology throughout your pilgrimage, a tour such as the Trilogy Yoga Pilgrimage builds aspects of mindfulness and yoga into its daily schedule.

These guided sessions are led by a US yoga expert, Erin Fleming, and will help you relax and refocus, and get some much needed downtime.

10. Keep a camino journal

An experience as incredible as walking the Camino de Santiago will be one you’ll want to remember.

If you’re walking the camino alone, you’ll appreciate having something to look back on and share with loved ones once normal life has resumed.  For this reason, we recommend everyone keeps a camino journal throughout their pilgrimage.

You can fill this notebook with memorabilia from your trip, such as ticket stubs, receipts and postcards,and write a short entry at the end of each day’s walking with observations of what you’ve seen and how you’re feeling.

The camino is a journey of contemplation and enlightenment, so keep note of those trailside epiphanies to revisit at a later date!

11. Treat yourself when it’s over!

So, you’ve walked the Camino de Santiago and finally crossed the finish line.  You’re exhausted and elated and pretty sure you’ve had your life changed. So, what now?

Why, you celebrate your amazing achievement, of course! Make sure you plan something truly special for the end of you camino, wherever it happens to be, because you’ll definitely have earned it.  

Maybe you fancy a massage, a nice dinner, a night in a luxury hotel, or a well earned glass (or bottle) of wine?  Either way, let the good times roll and enjoy some guilt free indulgence. After all, how often do you get to call yourself a pilgrim?

You’re all set for your camino experience, now all that’s left is to get walking! Here at TOMA & COE, we’re experienced pilgrims ourselves and we’d love a chance to walk beside you, whether it’s your 1st pilgrimage or your 100th. Our all inclusive Trilogy Yoga Pilgrimage is divided into 3 parts – from Malaga to Santiago- and you can join us at any stage.  For more details, and to make an enquiry, click here


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From its rich cultural history to its ever-changing landscapes and fantastic gastronomy, the region of Andalucia is guaranteed to leave no visitor indifferent.    

As if that weren’t enough, it’s also famed for its award-winning white villages – or pueblos blancos.  These beautiful little towns – characterised by narrow, flower-filled streets and whitewashed houses- are scattered throughout the region and provide the perfect base for a peaceful mini-break or a day trip from one of Andalucia’s main cities.

Although the more well known of these Andalucian towns attract their fair share of visitors, the good news is there are plenty of hidden gems tucked away from the madding crowds.

If you’re busy planning a road trip through Andalucia or are looking for inspiration for places to visit in the South of Spain, TOMA & COE have used our insider knowledge to bring you our pick of the best villages in the region.

1.) Huelva : Almonaster la Real

The province of Huelva, located on the Western edge of Andalucia and bordered by Portugal, is often overlooked as a tourist destination, but there’s plenty on offer for those who wish to explore.  

The region is made up of diverse landscapes: a long Atlantic coastline with wild, unspoilt beaches combined with sprawling national parks comprised of pine woods and saltwater lagoons.

Huelva is often overlooked by tourists.

Huelva also has its fair share of charming white villages.  Amongst these is the picturesque town of Almonaster la Real.  

Situated on the edge of a National Park and surrounded by forests of cork trees, this sleepy town is also home to a hilltop mosque – a must-see monument for all visitors to the town.  This incredible example of Islamic architecture dates back to the 10th century and is encircled by the scattered ruins of a former castle.  

Almonaster la Real has charm by the bucketload: the white walls of its houses are splashed with bright tendrils of bouganvilia flowers, and the national parks of Sierra de la Aracena and Picos de Aroche provide a stunning backdrop of rolling meadows, woodlands and undulating hills.

What to do in Almonaster la Real
  • Go for a hike.  Almonaster la Real is surrounded by amazing hiking trails for walking enthusiasts.  If you’re feeling particularly sprightly, a trek up Cerro de Cristobal above the town will provide you with some of the best views in Andalucia.  
  • Climb the hill to visit the ancient Mosque above the town.
  • Try some local delicacies, such as the famous cured ham from nearby Jabugo.  Other typical dishes include hearty poultry stews, garlic fried breadcrumbs known as migas, and potatoes with chorizo.  This part of Spain is also famous for its gambas blancas – or white prawns – which go perfectly with a glass of cold beer.

Gambas blancas are famous in the province of Huelva

How to get to Almonaster la Real

Almonaster la Real is an hour and a half drive from the city of Huelva.

There is one bus a day from Huelva bus station to Almonaster la Real, departing at 15h.  The journey takes two hours.

Alternatively, visitors can hop on a train from Huelva to Almonaster Cortegana.  From the station, its a five-minute taxi drive to Almonaster Real.

2.) Seville: Cazalla de la Sierra

The province of Seville boasts arguably the most beautiful city in Andalucia as its capital, meaning few visitors ever venture beyond its enchanting city centre.  But for those who are intrepid enough to explore the landscape surrounding it, the province has a great deal to offer.

The city of Seville is so beautiful that many visitors don’t stray beyond it.

The town of Cazalla de la Sierra, situated in the heart of the Sierra Norte national park, can be found a little over an hour’s drive from the city of Seville.  

This pretty town boasts some of the most outstanding examples of religious architecture in Spain, amongst them the Iglesia Parroquial de Nuestra Señora de Consolacion, a stately church heralding from the 14th century.

The town is also famous for its sweet morello cherry and aniseed liquor, and its acorn-fed Iberian pigs, which are said to produce some of the best jamón in Spain.  

Keep an eye out for other traditional dishes such as roasted game, wild deer and partridge.  Fresh truffles are also often seen on the menu in this part of Andalucia.

Iberian pigs are considered a speciality in the Sierra of Seville

What to do in Cazalla de la Sierra
  • Try some local liquor: A guided tour of the Bodegas Miura, located in a converted monastery, costs five euros with liquor tasting throughout.  Find out more here.
  • Go hiking: There is a range of excellent walks in the national park surrounding Cazalla de la Sierra.  
How to get there to Cazalla de la Sierra

Public transport options are limited from Seville to Cazalla de la Sierra, so your best bet is to hire a car and drive.  It will take you approximately 1.20h.

3.) Cadiz: Medina Sidonia

Villagers take great pride in their surroundings

Cadiz province is known for having some of the best beaches in Spain.  Its silky white sands, rolling dunes and turquoise waters make it the perfect summer holiday location for locals and visitors alike.

But venture inland and you’re in for a treat, too, as the province is also home to some of the most beautiful pueblos blancos in Spain.

Awarded the title of “Most Charming Village” in 2018, the town of Medina Sidonia is perched on a hillside overlooking flat plains stretching towards the coast.

It was historically used as a defence location due to its elevated position and is believed by some to be one of the oldest towns in Spain.

This picturesque white village oozes authentic Andalucian charm: a haven of tiny, meandering streets lined with elegant townhouses, their balconies overflowing with vivid geraniums.  

The lovely town centre is also scattered with stone arches dating back to Roman times, marking the entrance to the more ancient parts of the city.

Beautiful Roman stone arches

What to do in Medina Sidonia
  • Dine out with a view: For panoramic views of the surrounding land, head to La Vista de Medina restaurant, opposite the Santa Maria de la Coronada church.  There are spectacular vistas on show from the comfort of the restaurant’s terrace and windowed dining room.  With a bit of luck, you’ll able to glimpse the ocean on a clear day.
  • Hang out with the locals: Check out Medina Sidonia’s beautiful main square, Plaza Mayor, surrounded by fantastic local restaurants with a buzzing atmosphere, especially on weekends.
  • Discover the underground city: Medina Sidonia is strewn with relics from its Roman past. On offer for perusal are the immaculately preserved remains of a Roman road or a museum where you can explore the relics of a roman sewage system in a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the town.
How to get to Medina Sidonia

From the coast of Cadiz, Medina Sidonia is half an hour drive inland by car.

You can also opt to take the bus from Cadiz bus station, which departs at regular intervals throughout the day and takes just over an hour.

4.) Malaga: Gaucín

Malaga is a popular destination amongst holidaymakers due to its famous sunshine coast and fabulous year-round weather.  But there is more to the province than its bustling beaches and temperate climate.

Situated inland from the coast is the whitewashed village of Gaucín.  Nicknamed the “balcony of Europe”, this gorgeous town boasts incredible views of Gibraltar and North Africa from its vantage point at 626m above sea level, overlooking the River Genal valley.

What to do in Gaucín
  • Check out the local wildlife: Gaucín is a mecca for birdwatchers.  Trek up to the aptly named Castillo de La Aguila – castle of the eagles –  and keep your eyes peeled for eagles winging the skies above. Kestrels can also be glimpsed nesting in the walls of the convent. There are informative plaques dotted around the town to give you the low down on the village’s population of migrating and native birds.
  • Pay your respects: Burial plots don’t have to be morbid, and Gaucín’s well-kept cemetery is truly something to behold.  In accordance with common practice in Spain, remains are kept in niches in the wall rather than underground.  The vertical graves are adorned with flowers and artfully inscribed plaques.  The graveyard also boasts some of the most stunning views in the village.

Eagles are a common sight in the skies around Gaucín

How to get to Gaucín

It’s an intimidatingly long journey from the Costa del Sol to Gaucín via public transport, so your best bet is by car.  It will take you just under 1.30h to drive there.

5.) Granada: Montefrío

The village of Montefrío at dusk

The sheer diversity of its landscapes makes Granada one of the best destinations to visit in Spain.  The province has something for everyone: from the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada to the warm Mediterranean waters of its subtropical coastline.  

Granada city itself hosts some of the most beautiful monuments in Spain, including the awe-inspiring Moorish palace of the Alhambra.

It’s also well worth exploring some of the charming villages dotted throughout the province, amongst them the hillside town of Montefrío, which literally translates as “the cold hill”.

Situated in the Northwestern corner of the Granada province, near the Cordoba border, this small town cuts a striking silhouette against the surrounding landscape.

Perched on a craggy outcrop of rock above the spread of white houses below is the 14th-century church, Iglesia de la Villa, which is built in the remains of a Nasrid castle.

Those who brave the steep climb to the top of the rock will be rewarded with panoramic views of the region from its summit.

Montefrío is also famous for its large gypsy population, making it the perfect spot to take in some flamenco in a local tablao.

What to do in Montefrío
  • Visit an ancient settlement: A short drive out of the village will take you to Peña de Los Gitanos, an ancient Neolithic human settlement.  Situated on private land, the owner offers guided tours of the site. Find out more by clicking here 
  • Try local produce: Gaucín is famous for its cured sausages, chorizo and black pudding, known as morcilla. Be sure to sample some in a local bar.
  • Visit the churches: In particular, the round church, Iglesia de la Encarnacion, which was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.  This remarkable building is an absolute must see.
How to get to Montefrío

Montefrío is 50 minutes from the city of Granada by car.

ALSA buses also run a route from Granada bus station to Montefrío, which takes 1.30h in duration.

6.) Jaen: Úbeda

The bustling town of Úbeda.

The province of Jaén is the heart of olive growing country in Andalucia.  The region’s trees account for half of Spain’s yearly production of olive oil.  

Often referred to as “the gateway of Andalucia”, Jaén boats an abundance of national parkland and verdant farming country. The region’s largest national park, Sierras de Cazorla, is covered in dense pine forest and is rich in wildlife such as bearded vultures and red deer.

Jaen is also spoilt for beautiful towns, such as Úbeda, which is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site alongside its neighbouring village, Baeza.

Úbeda abounds with examples of Renaissance style architecture, amongst them the 16th-century Hospital de Santiago with its sweeping interior courtyard, graceful arches and intricate facade, now used as the town’s conference hall,

Úbeda is also home to one of Spain’s most ancient synagogues, the atmospheric “Synagoga de Agua”, believed to date from the 14th century.

Situated in a series of shadowed chambers below street level, the existence of the synagogue was stumbled upon in 2006 by a businessman who had bought the upstairs property to convert into tourist apartments.

The Water Synagogue is a must-see on any visit to Úbeda.

What to do in Úbeda
  • Explore the secret synagogue: Learn more about the remarkable Sinagoga del Agua on a guided tour, costing from 4 euros per person.  It is also a destination on TOMA & COE’s Sephardic Heritage Tour.
  • Check out chapel Sacra Capilla de El Salvador, considered a flagship of Renaissance architecture. Commissioned in the 14th century by Francisco de los Cobos y Molina to act as his family’s private funeral chapel, the fascinating building is now open to the public and well worth a visit.
How to get to Úbeda

It takes 1hr on an ALSA bus to get to Úbeda from the city of Jaén.  

By car it can be reached in just over 40 minutes.

7.) Almería: Mojácar

The province of Almería is famed for having some of the best beach towns in Spain.  Its miles of picturesque coastline is blessed with crystal clear, Mediterranean waters and relatively unspoilt wild beaches, many of which have been awarded blue flag status for excellence.

The beaches in Almería are some of the most beautiful in Spain

Almeria is also home to the spaghetti western.  Its arid planes and craggy mountain peaks provided the perfect backdrop for many famous Hollywood films, amongst them A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The province also hosts Mojácar, declared one of the prettiest villages in Spain in 2003.  Mojácar, which derives its name from the word “Monxcar” – meaning “holy mountain”- is situated on a hilltop 170 metres above sea level.

The town is split into two parts: Mojácar Pueblo and Mojácar playa, which boasts 7km of blue flag awarded, virgin beaches.  

A half hour walk up the hill brings you to the charming town of Mojácar itself, with its stacked whitewashed houses looking out across the pristine beaches below.

Flower-filled balconies are a common sight in Andalucia’s white villages

The village is steeped in over 1000 years of history, spanning back to the bronze age.  Mojácar was subsequently occupied by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans until its eventual conquest by the North African Moors at the close of the 15th century.

What To do in Mojácar

Get a feel for local living: Check out the quirky little museum Casa de la Canana.  This 200ft square house mimicking the traditional style of a “Mojáquera” abode, complete with traditional village clothes and tools dating back to the beginning of the 19th century.

How to get to Mojácar

Mojácar is an hour’s drive from Almería city.  It can also be accessed by ALSA bus from Almeria station, at a journey time of 1.30h.

8.) Córdoba: Castro del Río

The province of Córdoba is well known for its sweet white wines, baroque churches and famous flower-filled patios.

The city of Córdoba itself houses one of the most important examples of Moorish architecture in the entire Islamic West: the iconic Mesquita de Córdoba, a sprawling mosque enclosed within the perimeters of the city’s ancient walls.

The beautiful white town of Castro del Río

Nestled in the countryside to the South East of Córdoba Province is the pretty town of Castro del Río.  A stop on the world famous pilgrimage, The Camino de Santiago, this village is overflowing with gorgeous churches and even has its own castle, Castillo Fortaleza, which was first constructed in the 14th century.

It’s also famous for exporting furniture made from olive wood to destinations as far-flung as Japan.

Views over fields from Castro del Río

What To Do in Castro del Río

Have a wander round its churches: Be sure to check out the Parroquia de la Asunción church, located in the top part of the town and rumoured to be built on the ruins of a former mosque.  Inside it boasts a wealth of sculptures, paintings and intricately carved gold displays.

How to get to Castro del Río

Castro del Ro is less than an hour’s drive by car from the city of Córdoba.

Autocares bus service runs a route between Cordoba and Castro del Rio, which takes just over 40 minutes.

Let TOMA & COE plan you the perfect white villages road trip with our Self Guided Tours.  For more information click here. Short on time?  Visit some of Cadiz’s most beautiful towns on our Escorted White Villages day tour.

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From its rich cultural history to its ever-changing landscapes and fantastic gastronomy, the region of Andalucia is guaranteed to leave no visitor indifferent.    

As if that weren’t enough, it’s also famed for its award-winning white villages – or pueblos blancos.  These beautiful little towns – characterised by narrow, flower-filled streets and whitewashed houses- are scattered throughout the region and provide the perfect base for a peaceful mini-break or a day trip from one of Andalucia’s main cities.

Although the more well known of these Andalucian towns attract their fair share of visitors, the good news is there are plenty of hidden gems tucked away from the madding crowds.

If you’re busy planning a road trip through Andalucia or are looking for inspiration for places to visit in the South of Spain, TOMA & COE have used our insider knowledge to bring you our pick of the best villages in the region.

1.) Huelva : Almonstar de la Real

The province of Huelva, located on the Western edge Andalucia and bordered by Portugal, is often overlooked as a tourist destination, but there’s plenty on offer for those who wish to explore.  

The region is made up of diverse landscapes: a long Atlantic coastline with wild, unspoilt beaches combined with sprawling national parks comprised of pine woods and saltwater lagoons.

Huelva is often overlooked by tourists.

Huelva also has its fair share of charming white villages.  Amongst these is the picturesque town of Almonstar de la Real.  

Situated on the edge of a National Park and surrounded by forests of cork trees, this sleepy town is also home to a hilltop mosque – a must-see monument for all visitors to the town.  This incredible example of Islamic architecture dates back to the 10th century and is encircled by the scattered ruins of a former castle.  

Almonstar la Real has charm by the bucketload: the white walls of its houses are splashed with bright tendrils of bouganvilia flowers, and the national parks of Sierra de la Aracena and Picos de Aroche provide a stunning backdrop of rolling meadows, woodlands and undulating hills.

What to do  
  • Go for a hike.  Almonstar de la Real is surrounded by amazing hiking trails for walking enthusiasts.  If you’re feeling particularly sprightly, a trek up Cerro de Cristobal above the town will provide you with some of the best views in Andalucia.  
  • Climb the hill to visit the ancient Mosque above the town.
  • Try some local delicacies, such as the famous cured ham from nearby Jabugo.  Other typical dishes include hearty poultry stews, garlic fried breadcrumbs known as migas, and potatoes with chorizo.  This part of Spain is also famous for its gambas blancas – or white prawns – which go perfectly with a glass of cold beer.

Gambas blancas are famous in the province of Huelva

How to get there

Almonstar de la Real is an hour and a half drive from the city of Huelva.

There is one bus a day from Huelva bus station to Almonaster la Real, departing at 15h.  The journey takes two hours.

Alternatively, visitors can hop on a train from Huelva to Almonaster Cortegana.  From the station, its a five-minute taxi drive to Almonaster Real.

2.) Seville: Cazalla de Sierra

Seville boasts arguably the most beautiful city in Andalucia as its capital, meaning few visitors ever venture beyond its enchanting city centre.  But for those who are intrepid enough to explore the landscape surrounding it, the province has a great deal to offer.

The city of Seville is so beautiful that many visitors don’t stray beyond it.

The town of Cazalla de Sierra, situated in the heart of the Sierra Norte national park, can be found a little over an hour’s drive from the city of Seville.  

This pretty town boasts some of the most outstanding examples of religious architecture in Spain, amongst them the Iglesia Parroquial de Nuestra Señora de Consolacion, a stately church heralding from the 14th century.

The town is also famous for its sweet morello cherry and aniseed liquor, and its acorn-fed Iberian pigs, which are said to produce some of the best jamón in Spain.  

Keep an eye out for other traditional dishes such as roasted game, wild deer and partridge.  Fresh truffles are also often seen on the menu in this part of Andalucia, too.

Iberian pigs are considered a speciality in the Sierra of Seville

What to do
  • Try some local liquor: A guided tour of the Bodegas Miura, located in a converted monastery, costs five euros with liquor tasting throughout.  Find out more here.
  • Go hiking: There is a range of excellent walks in the national park surrounding Cazalla de la Sierra.  
How to get there

Public transport options are limited from Seville to Cazalla de Sierra, so your best bet is to hire a car and drive.  It will take you approximately 1.20 minutes.

3.) Cadiz: Medina Sidonia

Medina Sidonia in Cadiz

Cadiz province is known for having some of the best beaches in Spain.  Its silky white sands, rolling dunes and the turquoise waters of the Atlantic ocean make it the perfect summer holiday location for locals and visitors alike.

But venture inland and you’re in for a treat, too, as the province is also home to some of the most beautiful pueblos blancos in Spain.

Awarded the title of “Most Charming Village” in 2018, the town of Medina Sidonia is perched on a hillside overlooking flat plains stretching towards the coast.

It was historically used as a defence location due to its elevated position and is believed by some to be one of the oldest towns in Spain.

This picturesque white village oozes with authentic Andalucian charm: a haven of tiny, meandering streets lined with elegant townhouses, their balconies overflowing with vivid geraniums.  

The lovely town centre is also scattered with stone arches dating back to Roman times, marking the entrance to the more ancient parts of the city.

There are Roman arches scattered throughout the town.

What to do
  • Dine out with a view: For panoramic views of the surrounding land, head to La Vista de Medina restaurant, opposite the Santa Maria de la Coronada church.  There are spectacular vistas on show from the comfort of the restaurant’s terrace and windowed dining room.  With a bit of luck, you’ll able to glimpse the ocean on a clear day.
  • Hang out with the locals: Check out Medina Sidonia’s beautiful main square, Plaza Mayor, surrounded by fantastic local restaurants with a buzzing atmosphere, especially on weekends.
  • Discover the underground city: Medina Sidonia is strewn with relics from its Roman past. On offer for perusal are the immaculately preserved remains of a Roman road or a museum where you can explore the relics of a roman sewage system in a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the town.
How to get there

From the coast of Cadiz, Medina Sidonia is half an hour drive inland by car.

You can also opt to take the bus from Cadiz bus station, which departs at regular intervals throughout the day and takes just over an hour in duration.

4.) Malaga: Gaucín

Malaga is a popular destination amongst holidaymakers due to its famous sunshine coast and fabulous year-round weather.  But there is more to the province than its bustling beaches and temperate climate.

Situated inland from the coast is the whitewashed village of Gaucín.  Nicknamed the “balcony of Europe”, this gorgeous town boasts incredible views of Gibraltar and North Africa from its vantage point at 626m above sea level, overlooking the River Genal valley.

What to do
  • Check out the local wildlife: Gaucín is a mecca for birdwatchers.  Trek up to the aptly named Castillo de La Aguila – castle of the eagles –  and keep your eyes peeled for eagles careening in the skies above. Kestrels can also be glimpsed nesting in the walls of the convent. There are informative plaques dotted around the town to give you the low down on the village’s population of migrating and native birds.
  • Pay your respects: Burial plots don’t have to be morbid, and Gaucín’s well-kept cemetery is truly something to behold.  In accordance with common practice in Spain, remains are kept in niches in the wall rather than underground.  The vertical graves are adorned with flowers and artfully inscribed plaques.  The graveyard also boasts some of the most stunning views in the village, too.

Eagles are a common sight in the skies around Gaucín

How to get there

It’s an intimidatingly long journey from the Costa del Sol to Gaucín via public transport, so your best bet is by car.  It will take you just under 1.30h to drive there.

5.) Granada: Montefrío

The village of Montefrío at dusk

The sheer diversity of its landscapes makes Granada one of the best destinations to visit in Spain.  The province has something for everyone: from the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada to the warm Mediterranean waters of its subtropical coastline.  

Granada city itself hosts some of the most beautiful monuments in Spain, including the awe-inspiring Moorish palace of the Alhambra.

It’s also well worth exploring some of the charming villages dotted throughout the province, amongst them the hillside town of Montefrío, which literally translates as “the cold hill”.

Situated in the Northwestern corner of the Granada province, near the Cordoba border, this small town cuts a striking silhouette against the surrounding landscape.

Perched on a craggy outcrop of rock above the spread of white houses below is the 14th-century church, Iglesia de la Villa, which is built in the remains of a Nasrid castle.

Those who brave the steep climb to the top of the rock will be rewarded with panoramic views of the region from its summit.

Montefrío is also famous for its large gypsy population, making it the perfect spot to take in some flamenco in a local tablao.

What to do
  • Visit an ancient settlement: A short drive out of the village will take you to Peña de Los Gitanos, an ancient Neolithic human settlement.  Situated on private land, the owner offers guided tours of the site. Find out more by clicking here 
  • Try local produce: Gaucín is famous for its cured sausages, chorizo and black pudding, known as morcilla. Be sure to sample some in a local bar.
  • Visit the churches: In particular, the round church, Iglesia de la Encarnacion, which was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.  This remarkable building is an absolute must see.
How to get there

Montefrío is 50 minutes from the city of Granada by car.

ALSA buses also run a route from Granada bus station to Montefrío, which takes 1.30h in duration.

6.) Jaen: Úbeda

The bustling town of Úbeda.

The province of Jaén is the heart of olive growing country in Andalucia.  The region’s trees account for half of Spain’s yearly production of olive oil.  

Often referred to as “the gateway of Andalucia”, Jaén boats an abundance of national parkland and verdant farming country. The region’s largest national park, Sierras de Cazorla, is covered in dense pine forest and is rich in wildlife such as bearded vultures and red deer.

Jaen is also spoilt for beautiful towns, such as Úbeda, which is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site alongside its neighbouring village, Baeza.

Úbeda abounds with examples of Renaissance style architecture, amongst them the 16th-century Hospital de Santiago with its sweeping interior courtyard, graceful arches and intricate facade, now used as the town’s conference hall,

Úbeda is also home to one of Spain’s most ancient synagogues, the atmospheric “Synagoga de Agua”, believed to date from the 14th century.

Situated in a series of shadowed chambers below street level, the existence of the synagogue was stumbled upon in 2006 by a businessman who had bought the upstairs property to convert into tourist apartments.

The Water Synagogue is a must-see on any visit to Úbeda.

What to do
  • Explore the secret synagogue: Learn more about the remarkable Sinagoga del Agua on a guided tour, costing from 4 euro per person.  It is also a destination on TOMA & COE’s Sephardic Heritage Tour.
  • Check out chapel Sacra Capilla de El Salvador, considered a flagship of Renaissance architecture. Commissioned in the 14th century by Francisco de los Cobos y Molina to act as his family’s private funeral chapel, the fascinating building is now open to the public and well worth a visit.
How to get there

It takes 1hr on an ALSA bus to get to Úbeda from the city of Jaén.  

By car it can be reached in just over 40 minutes.

7.) Almería: Mojacár

The province of Almería is famed for having some of the best beach towns in Spain.  Its miles of picturesque coastline is blessed with crystal clear, Mediterranean waters and relatively unspoilt wild beaches, many of which have been awarded blue flag status for excellence.

The beaches in Almería are some of the most beautiful in Spain

Almeria is also home to the spaghetti western.  Its arid planes and craggy mountain peaks provided the perfect backdrop for many famous Hollywood films, amongst them A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The province also hosts Mojacár, declared one of the prettiest villages in Spain in 2003.  Mojacár, which derives its name from the word “Monxcar” – meaning “holy mountain”- is situated on a hilltop 170 metres above sea level.

The town is split into two parts Mojacár Pueblo and Mojacar playa, which boasts 7km of blue flag awarded, virgin beaches.  

A half hour walk up the hill brings you to the charming town of Mojacár itself, with its stacked whitewashed houses looking out across the pristine beaches below.

Flower-filled balconies are a common sight in Andalucia’s white villages

The village is steeped in over 1000 years of history, spanning back to the bronze age.  Mojacár was subsequently occupied by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans until its eventual conquest by the North African Moors at the close of the 15th century.

What To do

Get a feel for local living: Check out the quirky little museum Casa de la Canana.  This 200ft square house mimicking the traditional style of a “Mojaquera” abode, complete with traditional village clothes and tools dating back to the beginning of the 19th century.

How to get there

Mojacár is an hour’s drive from Almería city.  It can also be accessed by ALSA bus from Almeria station, at a journey time of 1.30h.

8.) Córdoba: Castro del Río

The province of Córdoba is well known for its sweet white wines, baroque churches and famous flower-filled patios.

The city of Córdoba itself houses one of the most important examples of Moorish architecture in the entire Islamic West: the iconic Mesquita de Córdoba, a sprawling mosque enclosed within the perimeters of the city’s ancient walls.

The beautiful white town of Castro del Río

Nestled in the countryside to the South East of Córdoba Province is the pretty town of Castro del Río.  A stop on the world famous pilgrimage, The Camino de Santiago, this village is overflowing with gorgeous churches and even has its own castle, Castillo Fortaleza, which was first constructed in the 14th century.

It’s also famous for exporting furniture made from olive wood to destinations as far-flung as Japan.

Views over fields from Castro del Río

What To Do

Have a wander round its churches: Be sure to check out the Parroquia de la Asunción church, located in the top part of the town and rumoured to be built on the ruins of a former mosque.  Inside it boasts a wealth of sculptures, paintings and intricately carved gold displays.

How to get there

Castro del Ro is less than an hour’s drive by car from the city of Córdoba.

Autocares bus service runs a route between Cordoba and Castro del Rio, which takes just over 40 minutes.

Let TOMA & COE plan you the perfect white villages road trip with our Self Guided Tours.  For more information click here. Short on time?  Visit some of Cadiz’s most beautiful towns on our Escorted White Villages day tour.

The post 8 beautiful villages in Andalucia off the beaten track appeared first on Toma & Coe.

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Is Andalucia vegetarian-friendly?

Andalucia is often billed as a land of carnivores.  A proud passion for ham and a fondness for hunting everything from rabbits to wild boar can make holidaying in the region an intimidating prospect for non-meat eaters.  But these days, being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to go hungry in Andalucia. 

A recent study into the percentage of vegetarians living in Spain returned the total at 7.8%.  In response to this demand, there is now an increasing number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants opening across the South of Spain, making eating out as a veggie in Andalucia easier than ever before.   

As always, we believe forewarned is forearmed, especially when it comes to something as important as food. So, to save you hours of painstaking TripAdvisor scrolling, we’ve done the hard work for you and compiled the essential Vegetarian’s Survival Guide to Andalucia. Read on to find out what vegetarian food consists of in Spain, where to find the best vegetarian tapas restaurants in Andalucia and our top tips for trouble-free ordering!

What do vegetarians eat in Spain?

It would be a misconception to assume that vegetarian tastes weren’t catered for in Spain. The Spanish menu actually boasts a range of authentic tapas options that are full of flavour, but meat-free.  Below are a few of our favourites:

Pisto con huevo : This is Spanish comfort food at its absolute best: a warming ratatouille of roasted vegetables, tomatoes and fresh herbs, topped with a fried egg.  Simple yet delicious and guaranteed to satisfy.

Pisto con huevo

Espinacas con garbanzos: This is a simple dish containing smoked paprika, spinach and roasted chickpeas but it’s a firm winter favourite on most Spanish tapas menus and absolutely packed with flavour!

FULL DISCLOSURE!! : Some restaurants choose to prepare this (supposedly vegetarian) dish with meat stock – or caldo de carne – so make sure you check with your waiter before you order!

Gazpacho: An authentic Spanish summer classic, this chilled tomato soup with fresh chopped vegetables is a must try menu option for the hotter months, whether you´re a vegetarian or not!

Gazpacho: the classic chilled Spanish soup

Berenjenas con Miel: Sliced aubergines coated in a crispy golden batter and served with lashings of honey or cane syrup make for a delicious lunchtime snack or a perfect vegetarian appetizer.

Croquetas : Nobody should leave Spain without trying croquetas, the Spanish take on the French croquette.  These delicious, deep-fried balls of potatoey goodness are a staple on most Spanish tapas menus, and the good news for veggies is the famous croquetas de jamon – or ham croquettes – aren’t all there are on offer.  Most restaurants also provide an (equally as delicious) vegetarian option such as croquetas de espinacas – spinach croquettes – or croquetas de setas – made with wild mushroom.

Croquetas: a Spanish tapas favourite

Tortilla de patatas: Another Spanish culinary institution, tortilla de patatas never fails to disappoint.  If done properly, this simple Spanish omelette made from sliced potatoes, onions and eggs can be one of the tastiest tapas dishes you can find. 

Patatas Bravas: Literally translated as “brave potatoes”, and also going by the name of papas bravas, this is one of the most authentic Spanish side dishes you can find.  A simple dish consisting of deep fried or roasted potatoes, it’s the sauce that steals the show here: a rich, spicy helping of slow-cooked tomatoes, garlic and a kick of paprika. Prepare to have your taste buds scandalized.

Patatas bravas make for a fantastic veggie tapas option

Eating out as a vegetarian in Andalucia Granada

Hicuri Art, Plaza Girones, 4: Situated in the trendy Realejos neighbourhood of the city, this beautifully decorated restaurant boasts a comprehensive menu of creative vegan options, amongst them tofu in tempura batter and a range of vegan burgers.  It also offers a weekday set menu with two courses and a homemade dessert for the bargain price of 13.80.  Check out their website here

El Ojú, Calle General Narvaez, 4: If you’re after Spanish tapas with a vegan twist, be sure to head to El Ojú.  This tiny cafe is popular with locals and visitors alike and offers an eclectic range of tapas from vegetarian pizzas to tortilla sandwiches.  Want even more good news? This is Granada, so all tapas comes free when you buy a drink! What could be better than that?  See their Facebook page here 

Fantastic vegetarian food starts with amazing, fresh ingredients

Malaga

The Wala Room, Calle la Toja, 1: The Wala Room, situated on the sunny seafront in Los Álamos, Torremolinos, serves up vegan cuisine made from organic ingredients, prepared fresh and on the premises daily.  Choose between options including zucchini spaghetti, veggie burgers and fried vegan “fish” made from eggplant and nori.  To see their full menu click here

El Vegetariano de la Alcazabilla, Calle Pozo del Rey, 5: Located slap bang in the historic heart of Malaga, close to the ancient Roman fort, El Vegetariano de la Alcazabilla provides the perfect spot to get stuck into some excellent vegetarian home cooking. The menu caters for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free tastes with dishes such as vegan paella, soy meatballs and – depending on the season, of course – gazpacho.  Check out their website here

Veggie kebabs

Seville

Arte y Sabor, Alameda de Hércules, 85: This stylishly decorated restaurant in Seville’s bohemian centre, the Alameda de Hercules, is not exclusively vegetarian but does offer some delicious meat-free options and prides itself on being “vegan-friendly”.  Specialising in fusion cuisine, portions are plentiful and reasonably priced. We recommend trying the beetroot salmorejo – an alternative take on the classic cold soup – or the homemade mushroom croquettes.  For a full rundown of their dishes, or to make a reservation, click here

Ecovegetariano Gaí, Calle Luis de Vargas, 4: The Gai brand takes organic foodstuffs seriously: already the owners of an ecological supermarket in Seville, they’ve now branched out into eateries with Ecovegetariano Gai.  Located close to the bus station of Plaza de Armas, the restaurant has a tasteful, understated decor and a menu sourced exclusively from organic ingredients. Top picks include shitake mushrooms in a white sauce with aromatic rice and a triple vegan sandwich of tempeh, pesto and roasted vegetables.

Tomato, olive and warm bread salad

Cordoba

Amaltea, Ronda Isasa, 10: Wander down by the river in lovely Cordoba and you’ll come across Amaltea, a restaurant specialising in macrobiotic and organic foods.  Small and intimate with a quirky decor, Amaltea has plenty on offer for vegetarians and vegans, although meat eaters are also accounted for, making this a perfect choice for mixed dietary groups.  Choose between dishes including artichoke pasta, roasted asparagus and aubergine and cumin salad.

La Bicicleta, Calle Cardenal Gonzalez, 1: A favoured spot for hipster types, La Bicicleta – situated a stone’s throw from Cordoba’s famous mosque – is renowned for its laid back vibe,  fresh juices, homemade desserts and various vegetarian options. These include a range of open toasted sandwiches with a pick of toppings, such as fresh avocado and tomato, and a homemade hummus platter with sliced vegetables.  The friendly waiting staff are more than happy to make veggie recommendations.  They also offer to adapt dishes -such as the cold soup, salmorejo – for vegans, so don’t be afraid to ask!  Have a look at their Facebook page here 

Tomato and garlic mini toasts

Eating veggie in Andalucia: 4 Final tips 1.) Always double check!

The Spanish can be tricksy when it comes to sneaking meat into a vegetarian dish.  Miscommunication, not malice, is the culprit – the Spanish word for meat – carne – usually excludes cured meats, such as Spanish ham.  For this reason, it’s not unusual to find your sin carne pizza turns up with a generous scattering of jamón. To add to the confusion, vegetal means “with vegetables” and not necessarily vegetarian.   Make sure you stress “no food with a face”, to avoid any nasty surprises!

2.) Get the lingo down! 

Wondering how you say “I’m a vegetarian” in Spanish?  For all the gentlemen out there “soy vegetariano ” should cover it, or “soy vegetariana ” for the ladies.  Asking for a friend? “He’s vegetarian” translates as “el es vegetariano ” and, you’ve guessed it, “ella es vegetariana ” for your female dining companions.  For a rundown of useful Spanish vegetarian and vegan phrases, click here

3.) Ask for suggestions

Even if you find yourself in a hardcore Spanish taberna with a bull’s head on the wall and a leg of jamon proudly displayed on the bar, you’d be surprised to discover how accommodating most chefs are.  So if you’re discouraged by the lack of meat-free dishes on the menu, be sure to ask if the waiter can suggest some vegetarian options, or adapt the existing tapas accordingly.

4.) Join a tapas tour

Joining a tapas tour led by a knowledgeable local guide is a great way to discover the best restaurants in any city.  Heading to Malaga? Why not tag along on TOMA & COE´S Tapas Tour of Malaga and let our team take care of ordering tasty vegetarian dishes for you while you relax and enjoy the city?  Or find out about the full range of our foodie experiences here.

Tapas tours make discovering delicious vegetarian dishes easy

Want more foodie articles like this? Check out the TOMA & COE 12 month Foodie Calendar, or the rundown of our favourite Spanish tapas dishes for more mouthwatering suggestions of what to eat in Spain.

The post The Vegetarian’s Survival Guide to Andalucia appeared first on Toma & Coe.

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Is one of your new´s year’s resolutions to try more mouthwatering Spanish food in 2019? Well, if it´s not, it should be.  Forget the diet and focus on filling up your food calendar instead with TOMA & COE´s rundown of the best of seasonal Spanish fayre, and when to eat it.

January : Rabo de toro

The black fighting bull is the emblem of Andalucia, and also provides the star ingredient for one of its most popular winter dishes.  Rabo de toro – otherwise known as bull or oxtail stew – is a velvety, flavour filled casserole of red wine, garlic, peppers, and slow cooked meat, which should be so tender it falls from off the bone when pried with a fork.  Its a good recipe to replicate at home, as all the ingredients can be thrown in the same pot and left to their own devices on a low heat; resulting in minimal cooking and maximum flavour. Be sure to accompany this dish with a good red wine such as a Rioja and doorsteps of warm, soft bread or chunky, hand cut chips.

February: Lentejas

There’s nothing the Spanish love more in the winter months than a good, warming soup.  Popular back in the day for their economic use of ingredients and the fact that a little went a long way among big families, soups are still very much a staple food in Spanish homes throughout the colder months. A favourite soup of this kind is lentejas: a tasty concoction of slowly stewed lentils and vegetable stock, flavoured with bay leaves and fresh herbs and bulked up with rough slices of chorizo.  Best enjoyed at lunchtime with a glass of red wine, followed by bracing walk to stave off a food coma slump.

March : Torrijas

Easter is one of the most important religious festivals of the year in Spain, and the weeks leading up to it are characterised by a variety of traditional dishes.  Amongst the most famous of these is torrijas – a dessert made from sweetened bread soaked in milk, flash fried in olive oil and left to rest overnight in a light honey and cinnamon syrup. Traditionally eaten in the run up to Semana Santa – or Holy Week – the recipe can be given an extra, sinful kick by first steeping the bread in wine, instead of milk.  Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dusting of sugar.  A good dessert wine -such as a moscatel – wouldn´t go amiss, either!

April : Esparragus

Spring is on its way: the orange blossom is frothy on the trees and perfuming the streets, the temperatures are rising  and there is light at the end of the interminable tunnel of winter. As the Spanish start thinking about their seasonal wardrobe changeover, their menus are also in a state of transition: gone  are the hearty, rib-sticking dishes of winter to be replaced with lighter cuisine.

Spring is also the season for asparagus in Spain: the warm sunshine and light rains make this optimum growing time for the vegetable in both its green and white varieties. In restaurants it usually comes un-fussily presented:scattered with olive and served with a side of fried quail eggs for dipping.  Green asparagus can also be accompanied by sliced jamon or fresh, buttery green peas.

White asparagus – a firm spring favourite in Andalucia – can be seen thinly sliced in salads or served alone with a dollop of homemade mayonnaise or a sprinkling of tangy vinaigrette.  Asparagus of this caliber is even more delicious when accompanied by a crisp, dry white wine, served cold.

May: Atún

May marks the start of tuna season in Cadiz.  The small fishing towns of this beautiful province are famed for their fresh tuna and many festivals are held throughout the month exclusively in its honour.  There are hundreds of different ways to eat tuna, and you´ll see recipes varying from town to town, but one of the tried and tested favourites has to be the classic atún encebollado.  This is  a relatively simple stew of braised tuna, caramelized onions and garlic, but it packs an undeniable punch taste wise and is quick and easy to rustle up at home after a trip to the fish market.  Enjoy with a light red wine, or a strong, dry Spanish rosé.

June : Espeto de sardinas

La noche de San Juan is a big deal in the Andalucian city of Malaga, with its residents taking to the beaches in droves on the 23rd of June to light bonfires and celebrate the official start of summertime.  This night of festivities would be incomplete without the classic Malagueñan dish of espeto de sardinas: freshly caught sardines roasted on a wooden skewer – the espeto – above a roaring fire of driftwood.  The smoky smell of these cooking fish is absolutely mouthwatering, and the taste is just as good. Served simply with salt and a dash of lemon, sardines are best consumed in a beachside chiringuito,with the ocean in front of you and a glass of beer bien fria in hand

July: Berenjenas fritas

Although often overlooked as a vegetable, Spanish chefs have spied the aubergine´s potential and found a way to make it shine as an ingredient in its own right.  Berenjenas fritas – or deep fried aubergines- are light enough to provide a perfect lunch option in the sultry summer months.  The aubergine slices are salted and rested before being coated in a light, golden batter and fried until crispy.  The slices are then drizzled with exquisite cane syrup, or honey and served in a stack. They make a great accompaniment for a fish or meat dish, or go equally as well with a plate of crisp, grilled vegetables.

August : Gazpacho

The scorching temperatures of a Spanish summer require something refreshing to take the edge off, and there´s no better dish for this than gazpacho. This fresh, tomato based soup is served chilled with a sprinkling of chopped vegetables and a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Anyone in possession of a hand blender can make their own gazpacho at home: the ingredients are simple to come by – consisting of only olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and fresh tomatoes.  Sip on your glass of gazpacho in the shade on a hot day, and follow it up with a siesta in a darkened room.

September : Ensalada Malagueña

Temperatures can continue to soar well into September in the south of Spain, so in terms of food, its advisable to keep things light.  The ensalada Malagueña – a dish typical to the Malaga region –  is a fresh, delicately flavoured salad made with oranges, salt cod, sliced potatoes and green olives, which makes for a light and healthy tapas option.  We know what you´re thinking: these components don’t sound like they should work together, but somehow they do, providing a delicious alternative to the more conventional green or Russian salads availiable on most Spanish menus.  Enjoy with a cold, dry white wine such as an albariño and some fried fish like boquerones al limon on the side.

October : Espinacas con garbanzos

With the leaves starting to bronze on the trees and the evenings get chillier, nothing says comfort food more than a big bowl of espinacas con garbanzos and some toasted bread.  Despite only containing a handful of ingredients – including spinach leaves, chickpeas, smoked paprika and scattering of toasted garlic – this simple stew is bursting with flavour, and surprisingly filling too.  It can be served as a tapas or a main dish, and goes perfectly with a glass of smooth, fruity red.

November: Migas

Migas, sometimes known as migas de pastor – or “shepherd´s breadcrumbs” –  is a dish dating back centuries, when Spanish and Portuguese cooks first found new ways to get inventive with leftover bread. The classic, no frills version combines bread crumbs soaked in olive oil and fried with garlic.  However, chefs across Spain often snazz the dish up with their own regional twist, adding ingredients such as chorizo, pancetta, grapes, kale and tomato. Why not have a go at inventing your very own migas at home, with any spare bread you have lying around?  To prevent this dish being too dry, make sure to add lots of olive oil, and wash it down with refreshing glass of red.  

December : Turrón

No Spanish Christmas would be complete without getting stuck into a bar of turrón in one of its various guises.  This chewy, nougat based confectionary is comprised of four staple ingredients. honey, sugar, egg white and toasted almonds or nuts. Turrón textures vary depending on where you are in Spain: the crunchier variation hails from Alicante, while the softer, chewier type is typical of Jijona, in Valencia. Over the years turrón recipes have evolved, and the sweet treat now comes in a wealth of different flavours including coconut, chocolate, caramel and candied fruit.  Good look trying to stop eating it once you´ve started though, it´s ridiculously moreish, and whole bars have a tendency to disappear in one sitting!  

The post 12 months of Spanish dishes: The T&C Foodie Calendar appeared first on Toma & Coe.

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It was an event that shook Spain and still lingers in the memories of its people today.  On a spring afternoon in 1987, while walking to a bus stop a mere five hundred metres from his front door, thirteen year old David Guerrero Guevara vanished without a trace. David was on his way to an art gallery in Málaga city centre, where one of his own paintings held pride of place in an exhibition inspired by Málaga´s Holy Week.  He never arrived.  To this day, over thirty years later, nothing is known of his whereabouts.

In the intervening years much has been written in the press of his disappearance, amongst it, unfounded speculation and fruitless misdirection that has only served to intensify the suffering of the family he left behind. Despite quickly labelling David “El Niño Pintor” – the child painter-  the media has paid scant attention to the origins of this nickname, namely David´s gift as an artist.

Now, for  the first time since his disappearance, David´s family have decided to bring that talent to the forefront of public attention by exhibiting a collection his work, entitled “Dibujos de una época”  – translated as “Drawings of an Era” – in conjunction with Málaga town hall and the exhibition centre of El Corte Inglés.  Instead of focussing on the tragedy of his sudden disappearance, the exhibition aims to provide the observer with an overview of David’s life and interests: a glimpse into the imagination of an extraordinarily talented young man, and a snapshot of a decade which saw the artist, and the culture surrounding him in 1980s Spain, undergoing a period of exciting transition.

As I make my way around the exhibition “Drawings of an Era”, I try to piece together a picture of David Guerrero´s persona.  Initially, it proves difficult to separate the artist from his story: his tragic disappearance casts an inevitable shadow across his work and nags at me as I stop to study his drawings.  But as I continue, David Guerrero takes shape in my mind as an individual: a young man caught up in the novelty of 1980s Americanized culture, with a keen appreciation for farce and an imagination that knew no bounds. And there is no denying his precocious talent: standing in front of some of his creations, in particular interpretations of established classics such as “Cristo de la Buena Muerte”, or his sophisticated series of pastel nudes, it is difficult to believe I am looking at the work of a thirteen year old boy.

Despite his advanced artistic skill, David reveals himself in many ways as a normal teenager.  Like any boy of his age, he was clearly fascinated by pop culture.  A range of 80s icons are in attendance on the walls of the exhibition: amongst them Rocky Balboa, his sculpted torso further emphasised by skilful charcoal shading, hanging alongside a remarkably lifelike portrait of a leather clad Marlon Brando, draped over a motorbike and gazing moodily into the distance. Michael Jackson, whose phenomenal popularity as a pop star was sweeping the globe at the time, also puts in an appearance.  In one miniature he can be seen moonwalking across the page, trailed by the cast of his iconic Thriller video, and clasping the hand of David´s older brother, Jorge.  Jorge was a self confessed superfan of the 80s pop star, an obsession that didn’t go unnoticed by his younger brother.

Michael and Jorge are also the focus of a comic strip, in which the latter fantasises about metamorphosing into his childhood hero through the application of a magic potion.  Jorge later tells me that this is one of his favourite pictures in the exhibition: “David liked to play with all the physical changes Michael Jackson underwent during his career, and while he was at it he thought he´d poke some fun at his older brother, who was getting a bit annoying, always going on about Michael this and Michael that.” he says.

It wasn´t just celebrities that captured the imagination of a young David Guerrero.  In one sketch, entitled “En Clase – Don Francisco Explicando”, its David´s school that becomes the focus of his artistic parody.  The chaotic doodle shows David´s teacher, Don Manuel, scribbling incomprehensible equations of the board, a spider hanging from his unruly beard, whilst a bare light bulb creaks overhead and a discarded sandwich litters the foreground.

The people closest to David are also a clear influence in his work: Numerous sketches of his family members are on display, ranging from caricatures of his brothers to more mature and considered portraits of his parents and grandmother, interspersed with colourful depictions of the family´s unusual pets, amongst them a chameleon and a frog.  There are also affectionate sketches of his younger brother Raul: a small boy bent over a sketchbook with a felt tip pen in his hand, obviously following in his David´s footsteps as a budding artist.

David also derived ideas from his neighbourhood in Málaga: amongst his work are studies of his neighbours, Jorge and his friends playing in the street, his bare chested father enjoying a beer in the sunshine at a local bar.   All of these images succeed in transmitting the intimacy of everyday life as a member of a close knit community in the South of Spain.

David´s brother Raul explains the decision to include his brother´s more personal vignettes by saying: “Sometimes we forget that the artist himself isn´t the only one responsible for his work.  He is the result of the support that surrounds him, whether that comes from parents, teachers, neighbours or friends.”  He goes on to add: “Each one of these people, in their different ways, nurtures the talent of the artist, bolsters their self esteem and contributes to turning natural ability into artistic excellency.”

Having completed my first tour of the exhibition, I already feel I know David a little better.  Such a realization leads me to contemplate the intensely personal nature of a project such as this.  Any artist lays themselves bare the moment they decide to share their work; one cannot avoid allowing the observer a glimpse into their soul through what they have created.  With this in mind, it’s not surprising to learn that it has taken years for David´s artwork to make it to a public audience.

Having previously closed ranks against the media and publicly refused to discuss the case of David´s disappearance further, the exhibition is an attempt on behalf of the Guerrero Guevara family to honour his memory in a different way.  Older brother Jorge says: “Through the exhibition my brother and I wanted to give the public an opportunity to get to know David, and be introduced to something they were probably completely unaware of before: his art.”

Although David enjoyed success with some of his paintings in earlier exhibitions, the majority of the artwork displayed in “Drawings of an Era” is being shown for the first time.  Prior to the exhibition, Raul describes how his brother’s sketchbooks were “hibernating in folders or in dark corners of the house” while his paintings “slept on the walls” of the family home. The exhibition aims to bring these works back into the light and liberate an artistic voice that “asks to be heard.”

So why now, after all these years?  Jorge explains how the death of his Father three years ago became intertwined with the idea of publicly remembering David: “Losing my Father was a double blow for the family.   Not only had we lost someone we loved dearly, but there was also the knowledge that the person had died without ever knowing what happened to his son. In many ways, the memory of someone who has disappeared, like David, live on the minds of those they left behind.  As these people die, a little bit more of the missing person vanishes with them.” He adds: “After I lost my father I found myself asking ‘what now´.  Do we just stand by and watch as David´s story fades into obscurity?”

In his foreword to the exhibition, Raul hints that the devastation incurred by the loss of their father was further exacerbated by the media, who exploited it as an opportunity to re-examine the events surrounding David’s disappearance.  He claims the press disregarded the family´s need for privacy in favour of “dragging up old stories, tainted with lies and untruths, and poring over old theories that ultimately led nowhere”.

Needing their brother to be remembered as more than the boy at the centre of media storm, Jorge and Raul were driven to action.  “I approached Raul and asked what he thought about putting on an exhibition. We initially wanted to keep it small, just for the people closest to us, but then we had the idea of opening it up to Málaga as a whole.  We wanted to express our gratitude to the members of the public who had followed David´s case, and all those anonymous people who reached out to comfort my family and I with a message of hope or encouragement over the years.”

As the project gathered pace and was reimagined on a larger scale, the brothers decided to approach the town hall.  It was Paco Lobatón, the director of a documentary on missing people in which David´s mother had participated some years previously, who first brought the exhibition to the attention of Málaga´s mayor, Francisco de La Torre.  The mayor was keen to help and promised to fast-track the project, expressing a desire to “make this great young artist known to the younger generation of our city”.

The project has already received praise within artistic circles.  Curator of the exhibition and Doctor of Art History Lourdes Jimenez Fernandez describes her involvement in the project as “exciting” and celebrates David Guerrero as “an innately quick learner with an easy talent”.  She goes on to marvel at the diverse range of his artistic style, and claims the exhibition was challenging to curate on account of the sheer quantity of material provided by the family.

The scope of David´s work displays a talent unconstrained by the limitations of one particular style.  As Fernandez notes, he seems equally as at home taking on a religious classic as he is parodying his school teacher or sending up a celebrity of the time. Jorge expands on this by adding: “David had zero prejudices when it came to what he painted.  He had absolutely no preference for style.  He was a child playing: completely free.”

Despite the unmistakable artistic maturity in some of David´s work, as a teenage boy he didn’t always possess the self discipline to complete everything he started. “A lot of David´s pictures still aren’t finished,” Jorge reveals.  “There were so many things that captured David´s imagination and, at such a young age, perhaps he didn´t see it as particularly important to finish a picture when its meaning was already so clear.  Maybe that contributes to the originality of his work”

Although David dedicated a great deal of his artistic energy to capturing the people around him, occasionally his gaze turned inward: two of David´s self portraits have been selected for display in the exhibition. These depict the artist as a contemplative young man, pensive in front of an easel or gazing, unsmiling, into the eyes of the observer.  According to Jorge, the serious character conveyed in these drawings is completely at odds with how David´s family recall him:  “He was always smiling.” says Jorge  “In every photograph we have of David as a family, he has a big smile on his face.  He could be shy with other people but at home, we were just three brothers who liked to mess around and have fun” He adds: “We were just a normal family, until that day in 1987.  But that is not what this exhibition is about.”

If Jorge and Raul´s intention is to have their brother remembered as an artist in his own right, and not just as the tragic protagonist of a “scandal from another time”, then it seems they may well be succeeding.  As I´m leaving I overhear a conversation between two businessmen, passing through the exhibition on their way from meeting in the conference rooms next door.  They pause in front of David´s charcoal sketch of Rocky and consider it in absorbed admiration, before one says.  “This is the exhibition of El Niño Pintor, remember the story?” His companion nods in recollection, “Wow. I had no idea. The boy could really draw.”

“Dibujos de una Época” is open to the public at the Ámbito Cultural El Corte Inglés, in Málaga, from 5-9pm, until the 2nd of November. Admission is free.

The post Drawings from an Era: Remembering David Guerrero Guevara appeared first on Toma & Coe.

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