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TRIP REPORT: December in Granada, Sevilla and Cordoba

Settled back at home from almost four weeks in Spain! This was a trip that got rescheduled a couple of times due to the availability of our adult children. Originally thinking we would travel in the late summer/early fall, we researched Portugal and Northern Italy. Both have charming small towns, art, architecture, restaurants and lots of plazas and cafes for people-watching that we love! But once it was determined that our kids could only travel around the Christmas holidays, we turned to Andalucia banking on sun and higher temperatures. And the lovely weather was in abundance!

We started in Granada for three nights, then moved to Sevilla for three weeks and finished in Madrid for New Year’s. I’m going to set up this report differently from the one I wrote about our month in Aix-in-Provence hoping that you all can find useful information more easily.

Transportation: We chose to go all the way to our final destination of Granada versus stop for a night upon arrival in Europe. Departing from Los Angeles, we thought this meant that we would have to change planes in the US so we could arrive in Europe early enough to change modes of transportation again to get to Granada at a decent hour. There is one nonstop (on Iberia) from LAX – MAD arriving at 2:00 pm but changing planes or jumping to a train would mean arriving in Granada close to midnight. Unfamiliar with Granada, I was nervous to do that, hence we did not take the nonstop. We flew American Airlines from LAX – DFW – MAD. We then went into town, had a 5-hour wait and took a train to Granada, arriving at 6:00 pm.

In hindsight, my nervousness about arriving in Granada was unwarranted. It is a vibrant town with plenty of taxis. People are out until midnight (if not a touch later). Our hotel was in a great part of town and there was no reason for me to worry about arriving late.

Also, there is nowhere comfortable to sit in the Madrid Atocha train station. We should’ve found a restaurant to settle in for a couple of hours immediately upon arrival from the airport. Last note, I thought I bought first class train tickets from MAD-Granada so we could sit in the lounge just before our train departure but I messed up our tickets somehow. Next time, unless there is a “perfect” train connection to from our arrival city to our final destination, we will fly! ;)

GRANADA
After a 25-hour journey from Los Angeles, we made it to Granada. While we typically rent vacation apartments for our travels, we decided to start this trip in a hotel, so we would have in-person service help acclimate us upon arrival. It helped us get our bearings a bit more quickly since were rusty on Spanish and had not been to Spain since 2017.

We spent three lovely nights in this charming small city. It was crowded and bustling as we were there for the December holiday weekend. There were lots of families from all over Spain who had come for a short break. Everyone we met was warm and helpful.

Arrival:
Arriving in Granada’s train station, it was quite easy to follow the signs to the taxi area. We had no problem getting a taxi right away to whisk away to our hotel for under 10 euro.

Hotel:
We stayed at the Palacio Mariana Pinenda: https://www.palaciomarianapineda.es/
Loved the location as it was short stroll to Plaza Nueva, lots of shops and restaurants in Old Town and the Albayzin, and the Granada Cathedral. We also easily walked to the Alhambra. Like the reviews said, the walls are thin. While we had a room on the interior to not hear the street noise, we still could hear the guests in the room next door. For three nights, this was fine as the hotel was charming, historical, a great value and had a fantastic helpful personable staff!

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Vibe:
Keeping in mind that we were in Granada for a holiday weekend, It was very crowded and bustling. Lots of families from all over Spain had come for a short school break and long weekend. Plazas were filled to the brim, sidewalks were such that we had to “jump out” to merge with pedestrian traffic, restaurants were full. Christmas lights were unbelievable! I have never seen anything like Plaze del Carmen! The city was a great size – not an overwhelming big city but had a buzzing energy, well-dressed people and plenty of bar culture. We walked everywhere!

Surprisingly, we found most in the service industry did not speak or chose not to speak English. Luckily my husband’s high school Spanish kicked in.

Restaurants:
We had great experiences! We had two favorites, but I recommend all of these restaurants, and would definitely go back to any of them!

Restaurante Arrayanes and Restaurante Oliver
On our first night, we went to Restaurante Arrayanes. A Moroccan restaurant, it’s a touch tricky to find. The menu was fantastic. Of all of the fish and seafood that we had in Spain, this was the best.

The other restaurant that we loved was Restaurant Oliver. Walking through the bar, the restaurant itself was in the back. We did not have a reservation, but the manager worked to find a table for us as it was nearing the end of the lunch period. A delicious fresh salad, garlic shrimp and fried sardines were thoroughly enjoyed. And the TOMATOES during our entire trip were off the charts.

Bodegas Castañeda
On night one, we also stopped in Bodega Castaneda and got lucky as a space at the bar coincidently opened. The bartender was quick with service, poured the vermouth on tap for us and served us free tapas with our drinks. With every new drink order, free tapas were served.

Taberna Casa Enrique
Casa Enrique on C. Acera del Darro was recommended to us by the young man who led our tapas tour. Founded in 1870, he coined this place as the oldest restaurant in Granada. We made a reservation for a 2:00 pm lunch. The bar had a medium-sized crowd and the restaurant was empty. By 2:30 pm, each of the five tables in the restaurant was full. Fantastic service, good food – Bull’s tail stew and Sardine stew -- this place was charming.

Taberna La Tana
We had a lovely walk under the Christmas lights and down the lively Calle Navas to this restaurant. We were nicely greeted by the manager who I had emailed with to make our reservation. We were ushered to our table, ordered a glass of wine and enjoyed the free tapas that were served. The food was delicious, and the restaurant had a homey, charming atmosphere. Our waitress was very busy tending to some of the outdoor tables as well, so we did not see much of her.

Cafeteria Alhambra
On Plaza Bib-Rambla, this was another one of our favorite experiences! One order of chocolate y churros was plenty for us, but it was delicious! And, I had left my package from some earlier shopping on the table by accident and the manager had it safe and sound in the back when I returned for it.

Café Pastelería López Mezquita
An authentic, non-touristy bakery and coffee shop, we arrived upon opening. We loved our coffee drinks, pastries and breakfast sandwiches. This was a great little spot with three tables to start our morning. The real gem in this place is its actual bakery. I went back a day later to buy cookies and cakes but the line was a mile long, so I passed.

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Sites/Activities in Granada

Alhambra
We reserved the “Rick Steves Famous” Margarita Ortega Ortiz de Landazuri for a private tour of the Alhambra. She was a bit pricier than other guides we typically hire but was highly recommended and we are so glad we scheduled her. The Alhambra was all you imagine – breathtaking, intriguing, huge, rich with history and stories. It was not as crowded as I thought it might be. We met our guide at 11am with tickets to enter the Palace at 1pm. The only hiccup was that we did not make a detailed spot to meet Margarita, and many people and guides were trying to meet up. Luckily, someone I asked knew her and was able to connect us. Lesson learned!!

The Albyacin
I wish we had spent more time up here. We took a Tapas Tour that included a walking tour of this neighborhood, and I absolutely loved it. The tiny streets and plazas oozed with charm. The tour comes down along X Street which was very touristy but one has to walk it once I supposed.

The Old Silk Market
I’m glad I walked through it as I am the type that I would always wonder what it was like. However, like I was told by some of you, it also is touristy and while some of the shops were interesting, I didn’t trust the prices so I moved on quite quickly.

Granada Cathedral
Another breathtaking site. The majesty of the European cathedrals, churches and religious art are very moving to me and this Cathedral was the perfect one to kick off our month in Spain. Sitting close to the main alter, I couldn’t help but have the sense of those who came before me.

Gayle’s Tapas Tour
We took a guided Tapas Tour on our second night in Granada. The only ones on the tour, we were to meet our guide at one of the lookout points at the top of the Albaycin but our taxi dropped us off at the wrong plaza. Once we fumbled our way to connect with our guide we were on our way. Much of the area’s history, we had heard earlier that day during our tour of the Alhambra. But my husband and I both enjoyed the walk down the hill through the streets looking at some of the larger houses that were recently moved into by Europeans from other countries. Again, I really wish I had made time to go back during the day. About the actual tapas bars, this tour wasn’t what I had expected. For some reason, I thought we needed to and would learn how to make our way through the crowded bars and order drinks and tapas. But the bars were very crowded so we almost always sat or stood at an outdoor table while our guide went in alone to order. We were then served and our guide explained what we were eating. We definitely got to know this charming young man, and took a very long walk from the top of the Albaycin through the historical center and beyond.

In summary, Granada was a very pleasant surprise. We thought it might be one of those cities that we went to because the Alhambra is a must-see site. However, as a city on its own, we loved the architecture, plazas, restaurants and bars, amazing Christmas lights and the spirit!

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Nicely written report, I like your format. Granada is a lovely city. We enjoyed our visit there in 2021. We didn’t have a bad meal there. And I have said it before, the Spanish people get my vote for best dressed.

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Great trip report, CaliMom! Loved reading about Granada, one of our favorite cities in Spain! We followed Rick's walking tour of the Albyacin and enjoyed the area so much that we went back up there the next day. Food is wonderful in Granada and the free tapas with drinks is so much fun. I agree that Restaurante Oliver is fantastic!

Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip!

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ONTO SEVILLA!

We made our way to the curb on Plaza Nueva where Granada taxis line up to wait for customers. Within two minutes, we were on our way to the bus station. The bus worked better for our itinerary as a bus departs for Sevilla almost every hour I believe.

Arrival:
The bus ride was uneventful. We passed a couple of villages perched on hilltops and some beautiful agricultural land. Arriving at the Sevilla bus station on the river, we walked 25 minutes to our apartment maneuvering our medium-sized suitcases along the pathway. Any rain we had seen in Granada was gone and Sevilla had sun and blue skies to greet us.

Rental Apartment:
I really struggled with where to stay. In the end, we selected a 2-bedroom apartment managed by Genteel Homes on Plaza de la Contratacion. The plaza is nestled between the Alcazar and Avenue de Constitucion. It was a fantastic location. There was a small café around the corner, Restaurante Las Lapas, that had tables on the plaza. Beyond this, there were restaurants and shops within a 6–7-minute walk in all directions. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony, watching the horses and carriages trot through the plaza and listening to the Cathedral bells. With three weeks in Sevilla, we had plenty of time to enjoy the atmospheric Barrio Santa Cruz, the lively bars in El Arenal and the shops and bakeries in the shopping area on Calle Sierpes and around Plaza de San Francisco.

The apartment was lovely with a modern kitchen, American-style showers, comfy beds, great internet and beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows that opened to wrought iron balconies.

We stocked up on olives, cheeses and crackers, visited the market and picked up groceries to make some dinners in, and found a wonderful wine store on Calle Arfe, appropriately named Wine and Liquor. But WOW, we enjoyed some amazing restaurants!

Restaurants:
Starting with our favorite, Petit Comite. This charming small restaurant featured Spanish and French-influenced delicious food. We had a long relaxing dinner in one of the intimate rooms, had amazing service, and then had drinks with the owner and staff in the bar afterward. We all agreed that the low cow loin tataki was the best entrée of the evening! We went to Petit Comite during one of our last nights in Sevilla or we would’ve definitely gone back again. Truly, it was a night to remember!

Tradevo Centro was another wonderful recommendation! Without a reservation, we walked in and as luck would have it, we were able to get a table for lunch. We liked it so much that we went back a second time on Christmas Eve! Located on a small square, there were tables inside and outside with heat lamps. The Taco de Gambon en tempura was one of the best dishes we had during our entire three weeks.

La Azotea on Conde de Barajas was amazing! Our experience started out a touch stressful because our reservation was never confirmed. I made all of the reservations via restaurant websites, email or Instagram. I usually got a response back but I did not from La Azotea so my husband, daughter and I walked over to give it a try. Initially the host or waiter told us that there wasn’t any room in the main restaurant. He offered a table to us across the street but it wasn’t the experience we were looking for. Eventually, he told us to have a drink “on him” and he would find us a table. We had a lovely cocktail hour then landed at a beautiful table in the second room. Lovely, small tables and a fun atmosphere, we did what we typically do and told the waiter to bring us his favorite. We started with the taco with red tuna and the steak tartar. Both were wonderful! Our main courses were good but these two appetizers took the prize.

A few more restaurant highlights ...

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La Azotea on Mateos Gagos was our go-to for breakfast. It was a pretty restaurant just a 7-8 minute walk from our apartment. I think we enjoyed 5-7 breakfasts over the three weeks. This branch doesn’t have the same atmosphere or clientele as the other restaurant, but the food was delicious. We enjoyed what I’ll call American-style breakfast and brunch with pretty coffee drinks, tasty pancakes topped with fruit, yogurt parfait, and eggs and bacon.

The other place we frequented for breakfast was Café Santa Cruz tucked away on a little plaza in Barrio Santa Cruz. We discovered this place one night when my husband and I were strolling to find a place for a pre-dinner cocktail. This relatively new restaurant has an inviting atmosphere, so we walked up to the bar and ordered a Bloody Mary and Espresso Martini. Our darling bartender looked at her notes to get the recipe -- and with a little help from my husband – mixed up two delicious cocktails. We found out they offered a fantastic breakfast menu that included everything from Eggs Benedict to scrambled eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal. This was another place that we frequented 4-5 times for breakfast in our 3 weeks.

We dined at Alfareria 21 twice! This is a relatively new restaurant in Triana in a former historic ceramics factory. It is stunning on the outside and very pretty indoors as well. There is a charming indoor courtyard and private tables in the old ceramics ovens. I had a very good lamb burger. And although I don’t remember what my husband had, he loved his meal – so much that we made a second reservation right then and there to bring our kids back when they arrived in town for Christmas week. I loved the atmosphere of this restaurant!

We went to a wonderful little Italian restaurant on Mateos Gagos. It was the only restaurant we visited on this street: L'Oca Giuliva. We went here 3 times! It had a light, modern but cozy atmosphere, an expansive menu and a good Italian wine list! Really solid Italian food, the grilled pork chop was delicious, as well as the Spaghetti alla carbonara and the pizzas!

A quick note about the street and Barrio Santa Cruz in general … these areas were not overly crowded until a few days before Christmas Weekend. We had been concerned about crowds and over-tourism, but most of December was lovely. Starting about December 21st, the city filled up with tourists from all over the world. It was a completely different city! Bustling, full of energy, lines, crowds, and spirit-filled streets.

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A couple of more to note:

El rincón de Beirut on Calle San Fernando is a Lebanese restaurant that we frequented a few times. It was a 2-3 block walk from our apartment past the gorgeous Híspalis Fountain. We love Middle Eastern food and this place had lovely tables outdoors, fantastic service and a great menu. We enjoyed kabobs, lentil soup, hummus and baba ghanoush!

Our favorite tapas bar was Bodeguita Antonio Romero Arfe in El Arenal. We discovered this place on our second day in Sevilla and frequented it 4-5 times. We typically stood or sat in the bar and had their famous Piripi – a little sandwich with pork, mayo and tomato.

All of these places had long wine lists for 4-5 euro a glass. And again, I can’t forget the TOMATOES! It seemed as though every restaurant offered tomatoes on their salad menu and they were out of this world! Full of flavor and served with olive oil and salt, we ordered them with almost every meal!

With that, I will take a break and be back with our favorite sights in Sevilla!

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Thanks so much for the restaurant reviews. I could almost taste the food you were describing! We enjoyed the delicious pork Piripi sandwiches at Bodeguita Antonio Romero, too and I agree with you that the tomatoes in Sevilla are outstanding!

So glad your apartment worked out nicely for you!

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Wasn't the food fantastic? We got a little tired of tapas but had some amazing full meals once we figured out how to do that.

Sites/Activities

Boy! Where do I start with the sights to see in Sevilla!

Difficult to pick a favorite! My husband would say his favorite activity was sitting on our apartment balcony overlooking Plaza de la Contratación, watching the horse-pulled carriages trot across while the Cathedral bells rang in the background.

Royal Alcázar
We signed up for a group tour with Sevilla Walking Tours. Tickets were 30 euro per person and included admission. We met Concepción outside of the Alcazar where she greeted our party of five and another family of the same number of people. Concepción was so very knowledgeable. A gifted storyteller, she was warm, clear, enthusiastic and engaging. We loved learning about the Islamic, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic architecture and stories behind this formerly Moorish and later Christian palace. We were fascinated at the intricately carved and decorated columns, arches, walls and ceilings. And the gardens were one of the most gorgeous sights ever – we could have stayed all day! Another perk with tickets to the Royal Alcazar is free admission to:
Ceramic Museum in Triana
Antiquarium under Las Setas
Castle of San Jorge in Triana
Casa Bellver Museum in Triana
Church of El Salvador

The Seville Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See
We also signed up for a group tour with Sevilla Walking Tours and are so GLAD that we did! Alfonso was our guide and he was fantastic! He is the type of person one connects with, and we were sad to see the tour end. He was an expert historian, witty and engaging storyteller! We got the fascinating history of how the Cathedral was built and the families involved. Alfonso gave us the history behind this massive place and its important works of art – the stories behind the sculptures, paintings, altarpieces, the many people buried there. We truly felt the immensity of the cathedral and loved every minute of this tour.

Palacio de las Duenas
With the audio guide playing, we entered this tranquil setting in the middle of bustling Seville. The history lesson and look back at the family who created this beautiful palace, chapel and garden was fascinating. I am grateful to the current family member who opened his home to the public so we can not only help him keep this place alive but get a glimpse of those who walked before us.

Seville Museum of Fine Arts
WOW! This is another place that I highly recommend. Like many museums, this is several sights in one. Built in 1594, this gorgeous building was turned into a museum in 1835. The building it is housed in was originally home to the convent of the Order of the Merced Calzada de la Asunción. We wondered the halls for two hours and could have stayed longer taking in the works by artists – many from the 17th century, such as Murillo, Zurbarán, Francisco de Herrera the younger, and Valdés Leal. And for 1.50 Euro entrance fee, this is the best deal in town!

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Thanks Preet! I'm going to post our time in Madrid in a separate report. I'll try to get it written next week.

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Sevilla Continued

Café Culture
This group knows that I always am in search of a tree-lined square rimmed with lively cafes filled with locals (and of course tourists) enjoying a slow coffee or wine. Barrio Santa Cruz has some charming small squares sheltered by trees with 1-2 restaurants. Perhaps it was the time of year, but it seemed like every time we walked over, the restaurants were closed or in full swing for a meal and packed. More of a place to truly eat versus sit for an hour with a glass of wine.

Plaza del Salvador with Iglesia Colegial del Divino Salvador was a great plaza to sit and people-watch. The plaza was livelier than the small quiet squares of Barrio Sant Cruz, had several cafes on it and always lots of holiday shoppers.

We walked through Plaza de la Alfalfa a couple of times. This seemed like more of a true local plaza with 3-4 restaurants on it. It might be such that if the weather was warmer, this plaza may have been bustling with people.

My favorite square with a charming restaurant, Taberna la Plazuela, under beautiful old trees was Plazuela de Santa Ana. Facing the stunning Catholic church, Real Parroquia de Señora Santa Ana in Triana, this place was oozing with authentic local charm. There was a group of older men gathered for their afternoon meetup. They invited my husband to sing with them and I made sure I got pictures. A few other locals were enjoying a peaceful afternoon with the sun out. THIS was the square I was looking for. The perfect vibe for me. I could’ve spent every afternoon here!

Tapas, Bars and Coffee Culture
As I mentioned above, we discovered Bodeguita Antonio Romero Arfe! We loved it immediately. While we never found that “charming café on a plaza” to frequent daily, we did find a neighborhood tapas bar! Very atmospheric, a great place for wine, and delicious tapas. We had chorizo fritters, stuffed zucchini, pringa sandwiches and their famous piripi. We must have gone 5-7 times Fun place – we were always able to find a table or place at the bar except one time when it was just too crowded. So instead of waiting, we moved on to a different place – Magallanes.

Magallanes is a real bar and just a bar. Small, cute place, good cocktails, nice crowd, also on Calle Arfe.

We also went to Robles Laredo on Calle Sierpes in Casco Antiguo, We loved this place because it was not on the main tourist drag of Av. de la Constitución yet still somewhat close to our apartment to go for coffee, cordials and dessert. It was small, had a cute atmosphere and is where we bought our Roscon de Reyes for Christmas Day.

Two other bakeries that we loved were Confitería La Campana and Confiteria La Despensa de Palacio. I love the beautiful tins that both places sell with cookies, candies and such.

Last note
I was struck by the religious art and Belens throughout Sevilla. The painted tiles, statues, engravings, frescoes, and sculptures tucked into the architecture make it easy to revisit history. The cultural, artistic and religious spots seem to be at every turn in Sevilla. It was truly the most amazing journey through time.

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A DAY TRIP TO CORDOBA

An easy and inexpensive train to Cordoba made for a great day trip. Our main goals were to enjoy a local restaurant, tour the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mezquita and roam the city a bit. We wanted to soak up the Moorish-Christian heritage and dive into the enchanting streets of the old town of Córdoba.

For lunch, we went to Casa Mazal in the Jewish Quarter for traditional Sephardic cuisine. Lovely atmosphere, fantastic service, an interesting menu and delicious food!

We spent 2-3 hours in the Mezquita. I wish we had booked a guided tour – not sure why I didn’t. But boy, we understand why some say this is the most impressive religious building in Europe. It is stunning, intricate and GRAND, and one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in Spain. We then strolled through the network of pretty winding streets and squares and typical Moorish whitewashed buildings, found a charming plaza to have churros and chocolate, then headed back to Sevilla.

Our train back to Sevilla was delayed 90 minutes so we sat in the Cordoba train station watching the clock tick. Luckily for us, an official walked up to the group of seats and told the passengers waiting for our train to make their way to the platform and get on a different train passing through. Not exactly sure what we heard as our Spanish isn’t great, we followed the group, watched the signage, and made it onto a different train. In the end, we arrived in Sevilla about 30 minutes late but that was better than 90. We were back in time for our lovely Italian dinner at Osteria L'Oca Giuliva.

After 3 1/2 weeks in Andalucia, we headed to Madrid for New Year's Eve. I will post that separately so it is easier to reference.

Adios Andalucia!