15 December 2014

Monday Morning Photo - Watering the Flower Pots in Cordoba

Wandering towards the Palacio de Viana to see its 13 patios I came across this little lady watering her pots.

10 December 2014

Hotel Balcon de Cordoba - Quaint and Beautiful

From the moment I looked through the wrought iron gates and saw the beautiful old tiles, the orange tree and mosaic-floored patio I was smitten. It got better. As a lover of quaint patios, small hotels and excellent service The Balcon de Cordoba had it all along with lashings of charm.

Hotel Entrance

Orange Tree Patio

Mosaic details, tiles and fountain

Style, subtlety, attention to detail and more. Architectural artefacts abound, each room with its own piece or pieces of history along with fabulous fabrics, old and new perfectly interwoven creating a haven of peace and comfort.

Pretty Recess
Architectural detail outside my bedroom

Having been shown around this small, interesting old town house conversion from the tiny patio leading onto the famous Calle de Flores with a view of the Mezquita's tower, to the cosy roof top with summer restaurant and city views, to our suite everything was just delightful. And its location couldn't be better, just around the corner from the Mezquita in the heart of the old city, a perfect spot for a beautiful hotel.

Reception and Patio
Roof Terrace views of Mezquita

Each room or suite is individually decorated and all with the same high standard and attention to detail, some also have private terraces. My suite with a window over the main patio and one on the quiet pedestrian street was just lovely, with fresh fruit and flowers amongst the details. Comfortable and welcoming it was hard leave it and explore the city.

The small award-winning Hotel Balcon de Cordoba is, as you can see, is beautiful. I loved the hotel and thoroughly enjoyed my stay.

09 December 2014

Monday Morning Photo - Beautiful Window in Cordoba

Just around every corner there's a perfect pic opportunity. I just loved this beautiful stone facade with its winter flowering jasmine.

07 December 2014

Spanish Recognitions - The Roads to the Present

"To be alone by choice is one of the great luxuries of the world. I went to Spain alone."

Mary Lee Settle,  Spanish Recognitions - The Roads to the Present

I was instantly smitten by this book.

At 82 years old, Mary Lee Settle flew into Madrid, hired a car and started exploring Spain.  She followed the path of the Moorish conquest across Spain then the Christian reconquest southwards.

She talks about times and wars I knew little about  but to her were memories, and as someone who knew  young Americans who came to Spain to fight battles that were not their own.

As a traveller and historian Settle's experience was charming and thought provoking and at the same time her story telling is compelling as she unwinds Spanish history through her journey and invites more research into the events she only touches on.

When I finished the book, although sad that it had ended, my knowledge of Spain was a little deeper and my want to learn more of its history even greater. She's had many reviews debating her historical accuracy but I loved the book. Not just the roaming and history, valor and challenge but the way she writes grabbed me from the first line and continued throughout the journey.

Mary Lee Settle:

".... I had all day to roam ....... How can you know ahead what you are going to see, find, lose, discover any more than who you are going to fall in love with the day after tomorrow?"

Settle didn't speak Spanish, which I thought perhaps hindered her trip and understanding but another of her quotes set me straight:

"To be a stranger in a strange land, as travellers have been for centuries, is to keep astonishment alive, see as a child sees, retain one's awe, astonishment, and wonder."

And as I'm thinking that awe and wonder has paled in my travels this quote brings me up sharp and reminds me where I need to revisit and soon.

"If you cannot relearn wonder again at the Alhambra, you may as well stay at home and die."

Amazon Link

02 December 2014

The Patios and Courtyards of Cordoba

The patios and courtyards were both the garden and outside sitting space for private houses, and are now a symbol of life as it was. Each courtyard was open to the usually bright blue sky for light and a gave a vision of space and peace within urban city life.

They range in styles and size depending on their origin. Greek and Roman traditions gave us the cloisters and porticoes as a centre of the home. Then the Moors added water features to make an oasis of peace within the sanctuary. In these times three civilisations, Jews, Christians and Moors, lived and worked together in these areas of tranquility.

Some of the most impressive in architecture belong to the Convent of Mercy and the former Augustian Convent. But those that open for the Patio Competition every May are only a small number of the patios throughout the city. Look through each doorway as you pass by and the majority have an internal patio that beckons but isn't available to visit.

One of the greatest courtyards is that of the Mosque, the Patio of the Orange Trees. An enormous open space with trickling water, orange trees and palm trees stretching towards the heavens. It's easy to imagine the relief and peace this patio brought to those escaping the city streets in the heat of the day for meditation and prayer.

The smaller popular patios known as 'neighbours houses' or 'the houses of many' developed over time by the proximity of people and dwellings, with no particular scheme except the outside living space with a cooker or cooking area, a washing sink and often a communal well. Which is why when you visit the patios you soon discover every one is unique.

Roman, Arabic, Baroque and 19th century Cordoba formed the fabulous monuments we can visit today in this bustling flat city with its fabulous Roman bridge crossing the mighty Guadalquivir River.

Cordoba which has so much more on offer than the courtyards and patios, although they alone are the worth the visit. I'm sure you won't be satisfied with just one experience of this beautiful city, it has so much to explore.

Other posts about Cordoba

Cordoba and Salmorejo

Monday Morning Photo -Palacio de Viana

Monday Morning Photo - Perfect Pose in Cordoba

01 December 2014

Monday Morning Photo - Palacio de Viana

The outside of the fabulous Palacio de Viana in Cordoba. It has 13 lovely and different patios which I enjoyed in November so will definitely go again in Spring and make time to visit the gorgeous looking palace too.

11 November 2014

10 Prettiest Pueblos in Andalucia

I've just read a fabulous selection of gorgeous little Andalucian towns by Spanish journalist Paco Nadal and wanted to share them with you. From the huge amount of pretty places to visit, exactly how many towns there are in Andalucia I don't know, he's come up with some great ones including some of my favourites.

Pop over to see his blog post and photos of Los Pueblos mas Bonitos de Andalucia:

Frigiliana - Malaga

Priego de Cordoba - Cordoba

Mojacar - Almeria
Spanish horse and Bull outside Ronda Bullring

Comares - Malaga

Zuheros - Cordoba

Grazalema - Cadiz

Alajar - Huelva

Ronda - Malaga

Carmona - Sevilla

Pampaneira - Granada

Monday Morning Photo - Ronda Balcony

One of the typical views of Ronda. Definitely not a spot for those with vertigo!

07 November 2014

Visit the Torre de Homenaje in Martos

Although the tower or keep has had visiting hours on the door we never found it open during those times, just like the windmills in Castilla La Mancha. But now the town hall has published new opening hours one presumes that its doors will be open as advertised.

I eventually visited it during an interesting guided tour of the town with the local historian from the library.

This was the main tower of Castillo de la Villa and is in what was the main and highest part of the town. Having been restored over the years it is now a “Centro de Interpretación Cultural e Histórico de Martos” and part of the Castles and Battles Route which provides information about Martos and its history, and was declared a Historical Monument in 1985.

Built in the XIV century by the Orden de la Calatrava the square tower has four floors, the basement being for rain water collection and storage, the others floors now house informative material and the top with views across the town is well worth the climb.

03 November 2014

Spanish Recycled Pallet Wood Pieces

Just wanted to share one or two (or five) of my eldest's creations. A key cupboard for the huge collection of keys we have, a corner display unit for two lovely old blue plates from my in-laws. A spice rack, made-to-measure for a space in my kitchen, a made-to-sell distressed blue wall cupboard and a nearly-finished custom ordered old-fashioned washstand.

Made-to-measure Corner Unit

My Made-to-Measure Spice Rack

Distressed Blue Wall Cupboard

Wooden Washstand

All items can be made, redesigned or if you have an idea of what you want he will draw a design for you to approve. Tables, chests, doors, key cupboards whatever you want in either recycled or new wood can be made in his workshop. You can also visit his Muebles Blog or his workshop by appointment which is near Fuensanta de Martos, Jaen.

30 October 2014

Salmorejo - Best Spanish Tapas

Salmorejo is my all-time favourite Spanish dish for those scorching summer days. It used to be a messy business when I made my own but since my cooking day in Malaga I've learnt how to simplify the making and the mess. Here's how I make it now.

8 Tomatoes
1 Medium Baguette
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Clove Garlic
Splash of Sherry Vinegar
Pinch of Salt
2 Hard Boiled Eggs
Sliced Serrano Ham
Small red or green pepper (optional)

First scald the tomatoes to make them easy to peel by cutting a cross in the bottom of each one and putting them into boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Remove immediately into a cold water bath and the skin will peel off easily.

Cut the cores out and blend the tomatoes and pepper if used for about 30 seconds, add the bread, but only the soft inside, the quantity can be adjusted according on how thick you like your Salmorejo. Blend well for several minutes.

Tomatoes and Bread 

Salmorejo and Gazpacho

Add a splash of vinegar, salt, and garlic and blend well then add the oil slowly, once incorporated add one hard-boiled egg, adjust seasoning.

Salmorejo ready to chill

Chill and enjoy garnished with bits of jamon and chopped hard-boiled egg. I think of it more as a dip than a soup and serve it with fresh crusty bread.

29 October 2014

Exploring Jaen & Jaen Tapas Tour

Recently renewing my acquaintance with Shawn - Sevilla's 'Queen of Tapas' in my home city of Jaen was great fun. Three years ago I met Shawn in the fabulous city of Sevilla and we had a great tapas experience, alhough mine was rather 'dry' as I had to forego alcohol due to a 3 hour drive home.


Shawn was now on an exploration of Jaen province's best - the twinned UNESCO towns of Ubeda and Baeza and Jaen city. I love both those former towns but at 1.5 hours away I don't know them as well as Jaen.

Jaen Cathedral

Jaen is a short drive away and a worthwhile one, especially to show others its highlights and back streets. Or see as much as possible while trying to take it easy and sampling the tapas bars, which I'm sure everyone knows still offer free tapas with your drinks. These range from crisps, olives, which goes without saying in Spain's olive oil capital, to very tasty home-made offering or seafood are served with each drink.

Rosada Tapa, Pato Rojo Jaen

The main and most prominent tourist highlight visible from miles or kilometres around is Santa Catalina hill with its castle and parador of the same name. The Parador de Santa Catalina has won awards for the best castle/hotel. It should, I think, also get some recognition for the best and most far reaching city view.

View from Santa Catalina, Jaen

White Monumental Cross, Jaen

After walking along the hill top and popping into the castle a drink in the Parador de Santa Catalina is so in order. Champagne was the order, while I, the chaffeur, had a beer on one of the tiny, 3 or 4 tabled, flower filled, railing surrounded patios.

Jaen Parador

Visiting the white cross at twilight is magical as the lights of the city turn on almost one by one and day fades gently into a warm sultry night. And then back down into the narrow city streets to try several bars and more tapas. A perfect ending.

Jaen at night, me under arch, Cathedral behind

Read other posts about Pato Rojo, our favourite bar in Jaen, What To Do On a Weekend in Jaen or see some more photos of Jaen Parador.

09 October 2014

Spain Tops Best Restaurants in Europe List

The newly released Best Restaurants in Europe list by TripAdvisor sees Spain joint first with France. Both countries have six restaurants in this Top 25 list.

The countries in the list and number of restaurants are:

Cyprus - 1

Czech Republic - 1

Denmark - 2
TripAdvisor @image El Celler de Can Roca. Girona

France - 6

Greece - 1

Hungary - 1

Italy - 1

Moncaco - 1

Portugal - 1

Spain - 6

The UK - 4

Of course you also want to know which those great Spanish restaurants are and what position they are in the list so here goes:

No. 1 - El Celler de Can Roca in Girona
TripAdvisor @image
Martin Berasategui  'Petit Fours'

No. 4 - El Club Allard in Madrid

No. 8 - Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian

No. 10 - Diverxo in Madrid

No. 16 - ABaC Restaurant in Barcelona

No. 19 - Arzak in San Sebastian