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Seville | El Jueves Street Market

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Go down to Calle Feria on a Thursday morning and you could be in for a big surprise, as a long section of the city centre end of the street and some side streets are taken over by the stalls of the El Jueves (Spanish for Thursday) market. Officially it’s an antiques market, but though you can find antiques here, the range of things on sale is much wider and more eclectic. Ceramics, paintings and furniture jostle for attention with second hand books and toys, watches and accessories, CDs and recycled fixtures and fittings. As with all such markets, it’s this almost anarchic mix of products, the possibility of the unexpected, of never knowing when you’re going to stumble on that unmissable bargain or perfect souvenir, that draws the crowds. Looking for a pepper mill to match your salt cellar? A lava lamp? A console for your old video-games? You just might find them here. If not, never mind, half the fun is in the browsing, the wondering why anybody would ever by one of those, or even what one of those actually is. Feel like a break? Go and sit in one of the local bars with a coffee and toast – or a cheeky cold beer – and just watch the bustle outside.

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Time also to reflect on just how long people have been coming here on  Thursday mornings to buy and sell their wares. El Jueves is thought to be the oldest still-existing market in Europe, dating back to the 13th century, just after the Christian reconquest of the city (and there are rumoured to be one or two items from that era that have shown up every Thursday since then), when it was set up to help stimulate the economy Indeed, the very name of the street, Feria (Fair) reflects this history. Originally it would have been an agricultural and craftsman’s market. After the discovery of America it would doubtless have seen new exotic objects from overseas to add to the mix.

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In the 19th century, the farmers’ market moved into its own building, now the Feria market, and the street would have begun to look something like it does today, with its small shops and businesses. But through all the changes, it seems the Thursday Market goes on forever.

It’s lunchtime now, the stallholders packing up, the buyers drifting away. You’re hungry. There are lots of places to eat, but our favourites are La Cantina and La Cocinera Feliz, the little bars inside the provisions market. Taberna de Pasos Largos and La Duquesita are good too.

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If you want to stay in this authentically Sevillano part of town have a look at our Macarena and San Vicente apartment listings.

Seville | A Day Trip to Cádiz

Cadiz Cathedral

Cadiz Cathedral

One of my favourite places for a day trip is the city of Cadiz, which is less than two hours away from Seville by train on Spain’s southwest coast. Founded by the Phoenicians some three thousand years ago, it is probably the oldest city in Europe, and has always been one of the country’s most important seaports. Located at the end of a long, partly artificial promontory, and surrounded by the sea on three sides, it’s also one of the prettiest. And just the right size to walk around in an afternoon.

When you arrive make your way into the old centre through Plaza San Juan de Dios, newly renovated with little fountains, and with the impressive town hall at the far end, and head for Plaza Catedral. Grab an empanada for elevenses at the little shop opposite the baroque façade of the 18th century cathedral, which will set you up for the rest of the morning. From there, go through the Arco-de-la-Rosa into the Barrio del Populi, which is the oldest part of Cadiz, and has quite a different feel to the rest of the city. Although it’s small it’s surprisingly easy to get lost in the maze of narrow streets. Nearby on the seafront is the impressive Roman theatre, only rediscovered under some old warehouses in 1980. From there it’s another short walk to the recently reopened central market, with its impressive displays of fruit and veg, fresh meat, and especially, an enormous variety of fresh fish and seafood. It’s one of my favourite stops in Cadiz.

Urta - a local fish

Urta – a local fish

Time for lunch. Have some starters at Casa Manteca (The House of Lard), making sure to sample that local speciality, “chicharrones especial”, before going to Restaurante El Faro for some topnotch fish and seafood. Try the “arroz negro” (rice with squid-ink) for a special treat.

Back on the sea front turn right and follow the coastal fortifications; Castillo San Sebastian, brooding out in the bay at the end of its causeway, from one angle looking like a great ship, and Santa Catalina on the corner of the headland, looking out over the Atlantic in three directions. Stop for a drink on the seafront terrace of the Parador hotel before visiting Parque Genovése next door, a botanical garden with a wonderful collection of strange trees and an artificial waterfall, and definitely not to be missed.

La Caleta

La Caleta

Time now to be heading home, taking the direct route across the middle of the old city. The pattern of the streets here is quite regular, and it’s not hard to find your way to the two big public squares, Plaza San Antonio and Plaza Mina, monuments to 19th century civic pride.  I love both these places to stop and stare for a while, but they are quite different in character, San Antonio wide and light and airy, surrounded by mansions and San Antonio church, while Plaza Mina is like a garden, filled with trees and exotic plants. It’s also the home of the Archaeological Museum. Other things to see include the Torre Tavira, the last of the old watchtowers from which the merchants would look out to see for the safe return of their ships, and the Oratorio de la Cueva, a 17th century chapel underground chapel.

View of Cadiz from La Caleta

View of Cadiz from La Caleta

How to get there: The best way to get there is by train. You can book online, at the Renfe booking office in Calle Zaragoza, or at Santa Justa station. Trains run approximately every one and a half hours, and the journey time is a little under two hours. A return ticket (ida y vuelta) costs around 25 euros.

Granada | Las Cruces de Mayo – May Crosses

Also known as La Fiesta de las Cruces (the Festival of Crosses), the Cruz de Mayo is a spring flower festival widely celebrated in Spain, most especially in the south, in Andalucia, on May 3, and in some localities also on the days around. As you might expect of a flower festival, this is one of the most vibrantly colourful events of the year, even in a country noted for being colourful.

Although the celebrations have long had an official religious justification (May 3 is said to be the date when Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered the pieces of the True Cross), its origins are almost certainly Pagan, and probably evolved from the ancient Roman festival of Liberalia.

Although many places add their own local elements to the celebrations, the basic features are common everywhere. Groups of neighbours make big crosses out of flowers to decorate their patios, plazas and street corners, and this often takes the form of a competition, with prizes for the best displays. Red and white carnations predominate in the crosses, but other spring flowers, local ceramics, shawls (on the balconies), candles, and even copper pots may appear around them. Their may also be processions with floats and marching bands.

The Cruz de Mayo in Granada is one of the biggest and most popular, with the working class districts of the Albaicin and Realejo being the places to go to see the displays, and to join in with the singing and dancing. In the past it was traditional to set up temporary bars near the crosses, but for better or worse, in these more regimented times the custom has largely disappeared, though the tapas bars are still lively and full.

In Seville the festival of the crosses has enjoyed something of a revival in recent decades, having been eclipsed in the 20th century by Semana Santa and the April Fair, and the decline of the traditional patios de vecinos. It’s a joy to see the colour and vibrancy returned to the streets.

For some great places to stay in Seville and Granada visit the veoapartment webpage.

Seville | Day Trip to Ronda

The little city of Ronda is one of Andalucia’s most underrated destinations, and although it’s not quite as easy to get to from Seville as Córdoba and Cádiz, taking about two hours each way on the bus, it’s well worth the extra effort, especially as the road winds through some beautiful mountain scenery.

For a small town (the population is only about 40,000), Ronda is full of surprises, and when you arrive you should head straight for the first of these – the spectacular Tajo Canyon that cuts the town in half, and the Puente Nuevo or New Bridge (it’s not so new now, as it was built in the second half of the 18th century). From the top of the bridge there is a breathtaking view across the Serranía de Ronda on one side, and an equally breathtaking view of the gorge on the other. The buildings that seem to perch on the very edge of the precipice make it look even deeper. It’s one of Spain’s most impressive and iconic sights, and it’s hard to describe the effect of seeing it for the first time.

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Granada | 5 Fab Tapas Bars

Although Seville is acknowledged as the “capital of tapas”, most towns and cities in Andalusia have a thriving tapas culture that is a little different in each place, and Granada is no exception. There are plenty of local hangouts all over the city, but the streets around Calle Navas and Plaza del Carmen are “tapas bar central”, and give you a nice range of choices in a relatively small area.

One feature of the Granada tapas scene that seems unique to that city is the many bars that offer a “free” tapa with your drink. But beware! As the man said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. It’s actually included in the price of the drink, which makes the drinks more expensive in Granada than in other Andalusian cities as a result.

These are our recommendations for five of the best places to eat in Granada, from cheap and cheerful to upmarket gourmet tapas.

Los Diamantes
Their are two of these, but the original eatery in Calle Navas is still the best (the second location in Plaza Nueva is very touristy). Fried fish is the speciality of the house, but the thinly sliced fried aubergine (often served as the first “free” tapa), is not to be missed.
Navas 26
Tel. +34 958 227 070

Bar Avila
Busy little bar where you can choose your “free” tapa. The “jamón asado” (a bit like a ham donaire kebab) is the house speciality. There’s lots of good seafood, too, but give the fried octopus a miss.
Veronica de la Virgen 16
Tel. +34 958 263 928

El Mentidero
A friendly local bar with excellent traditional tapas, including some meat dishes that you grill at the table on a hot stone, for which it is justly famous. Owner and maître d’ Fiti will take good care of you and make you feel at home.
Piedra Santa 15
Tel. +34 677 862 459

La Moraga
A branch of the gourmet tapas chain, and a relatively new addition to the tapas scene in Granada, La Moraga has some great tapas and excellent wine at reasonable prices, in a very comfortable and spacious bar. There is also a nice sidewalk terrace. Make sure to order the bulltail burger, the speciality of all La Moragas everywhere.
Rector Morata 3 (just off Plaza Carmen)
Tel +34 958 221 507

A short walk away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, the Senzone restaurant is hidden away inside the beautiful shady gardens of the Palacio de los Patos Hotel is an oasis in the centre of the city where you can stop in for anything from a couple of tapas to a full meal, and enjoy them in calm, peaceful surroundings.
Solarillo de Gracia, 1
Tel +34 958 53 57 90