Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Well this was a great road trip!
We flew back into Barcelona on Saturday and took it easy to be in good shape to pick up our car on Sunday cause we’re smart like that! We had previously done some research and we were able to find a convertible at a reasonable price from Sixt Rentals. After-all, what is the point of a road trip if you can’t enjoy the sun on your face as you drive down the coast??? Plus we love convertibles…
I’ve got a lot to cover here so I’m going to try and keep the descriptions short and focus more on highlights and pictures. We’re all here for the pictures after-all right?
Just let me tell you this one story and then I’ll get on with the rest of the trip.
We started south along the east coast of Spain and decided to make a stop in wine country to do some tastings. We had been drinking Cava for days now, so we figured we should check it out at the source and it just so happens that Cava country is just south of Barcelona; F-yeah! The biggest Cava producer in the world is a name you may have heard of… Freixenet. It’s a name that has been synonymous with cheap sparkling for me since my bar-tending days but we figured what the hell. Their vineyard was going to be our first stop but that didn’t work out the way we planned. As we were to learn, Sunday is most definitely a church day in Spain and one will be hard pressed to find anything open that’s not a gas station or a major retailer on Sundays. This would come to bite us in the ass a few more times on our trip so keep that in mind when planning your trip to Spain, especially when out of the tourist areas.
We did luckily manage to stumble across a Cava producer with an open tasting room called Caves Ventura Soler so we happily pulled in for a taste. They had a beautiful villa style tasting room with a patio overlooking one of their vineyards so we were quite excited that we found the place because we were getting thirsty from all the sun and they totally saved the day. Plus their cava was damn crisp, cool, dry and delicious.
Cava is a sparkling wine but is a little less know in North America than it’s Champagne counterpart. A quick lesson in Cava; France has Champagne, Italy has Prosecco and Spain… well Spain has Cava. Boom, now you know Cava!
We enjoyed a tasting as we sat in the shade and not long after a couple of sips, we were brought some complimentary snacks to help cleanse the taste buds and satisfy the snack craving one tends to get when drinking wine. This was a happy surprise because actual food is not something we’re used to when wine tasting back in Canada. After we finished our tasting, we purchased a bottle for the hotel at the end of our day and continued on our way.
One of my favourite things about this road trip; we didn’t have a set schedule.
The plan was to drive until we found a place we liked, or until it was time to sleep, whichever came first. We drove until dinner time and happened to pull into the city of Tarragona, so the timing was perfect. Tarragona is a small beach town in the province of Catalunya and has some killer historic sites to see from the days of the Roman empire so we figured it would be a cool place to explore the next day. We booked a hotel online as we were approaching the city so we would have a place to park the car for the night and get into our bottle of reserve Cava with no worries. Nearby our hotel was a lively plaza made up of restaurants with tables out in the open so we figured we couldn’t go wrong. We ended up enjoying all of our meals here in the plaza so we were not wrong, but I digress…
You gotta love the liveliness of places like this where you can enjoy a killer meal, great service, people watching and the fresh air all at the same time. It was dark when we finished our meal so it would be time to go out soon. “Time to ask around and find the hot spots to visit for night life before we head back to our room to get changed and cleaned up before heading out again.”
There was just one problem… It was f’n Sunday!
We asked the server at the restaurant, a couple neighboring tables and the hotel staff about where to go for the night and the answer was the same, “Well it’s Sunday so everything is pretty quiet, and places that might be open close early…”
Crap! We had had plenty of rest since we had left Ibiza the previous morning and were ready to see some night life. Ah well, we figured, “let’s just go for a walk and see what we see.” We had been recommended one neighborhood which had some bars so at least we had a direction to mozy over to. As we turned off our hotel street and headed up the hill away from the water, something very fortunate happened… Some fireworks started going off in the opposite direction towards the water so right away we realized it was time to make a choice. Continue up the hill towards the recommended neighborhood or head towards the fireworks… Lights and pretty colors and all that right?
So we headed down the hill to see what all the fuss was about. As we got near the bottom of the hill, we quickly came across the source of the show. We had stumbled across a full blown street party like I had never seen before. It was about 4 blocks down a street with a happy crowd listening to some DJs on a concert stage spinning tunes. They were playing some cheezy Venga boys style techno from the 90s but the people seemed to be having fun so we decided that we’d stick around and check it out. One very cool thing we noticed was that all the bars were participating in this soiree. Every bar had the same drink menu with the same prices serving from bars set up outside their entrances right on the street! A real deal street party with drinks, fireworks and live performances. The drinks started flowing and the music started improving. Maybe the two were related but who cares right?
But seriously, the music did get much better as they started spinning more contemporary tracks with their own mix and MC. Confetti and streamers and loud sub-woofers and drinks so pretty soon the crowd was full on dancing in the streets. It did have me wondering how the neighborhood dwellers were not calling the cops with noise complaints but that’s what I get for living in North America… Damn I love Europe! This just wouldn’t fly back home in Vancouver. As the night went on, we made some friends from Montreal, Canada and as we have learned in our travels… Canadians seem to love staying up late… After about 2am we all decided to head to the area we had been recommended for some club experience. I’ll be damned but cannot remember the name of the neighborhood or the club we ended up at but I do remember we had a heck of a good time and pulled out of the bar just after 6am. So that was our quiet Sunday night in Tarragona. It still has me wondering if this was just a one-off or this type of thing happens every week?
The next day was on us extremely fast, which tends to happen when you stay up late but we rallied! A coffee and baileys and breakfast in the plaza and it was time to check out the sites and old Roman ruins and as usual, it was a beautifully sunny day in Spain.
It just so happened that it was a festival week in Tarragona (it was festival week no matter the date everywhere we went in Spain, pretty cool how much they like to enjoy life) and the locals were practicing for a famous annual tradition which boils down to who can build the highest human tower. That’s right… a tower made of people.
We hung out in the town square and watched this nail biter for a while and it was most certainly impressive. Very cool!
Such killer architecture and history to be observed and I’m always left impressed that ancient civilizations were able to build such intricate structures that are still standing today. Why can’t we build a bridge that lasts more than 50 years???
Let me tell you, that walking is a great way to get over a late night out and this town provides a super sweet setting for a long walk. Coffee and baileys helps too…. I would definitely add Tarragona to your list to enjoy some awesome cuisine and great historic sites! We finished the afternoon with grins and were ready to make the drive to the next town.
Hit the road and drop the top cause it’s time to roll…
Next on the road map was the city of Valencia which is located in the province of Valencia on Spain’s southeast coast. This place is a wicked cool combination of old European architecture and the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. We rented bikes and took advantage of the network of bike paths to the river bed of former Turia that was diverted in the 1950s after they had had enough with the damned floods. It was then converted into a beautiful park that runs through the center of town below the hustle and bustle… But first it was time for lunch and Sangria.
Now to the bikes to burn some friggin’ calories. We cruised through the city and headed to the City of Arts and Sciences, a cultural center that includes a theatre, a planetarium, an aquarium, and other installations.
Check out the slideshow…
Another thing we learned about Valencia, is that it is the home and origin of paella! I love paella!! After cruising on the bikes for the afternoon it was high time to fuel up and crush some Paella where it all began. We headed into one of the older maze-like neighborhoods near the center to get lost and find some authentic eats. We learned another factoid on this search for authentic paella… The dish is traditionally served for breakfast. It’s actually funny how many ethnic foods we eat in North America at the wrong time of day! Case in point, the Vietnamese soup known as Pho is a popular breakfast dish in its country of origin. Anyway, back to paella where in this region is typically made up of chicken, rabbit and snails. I love all those things and wifey was also down so we went for it and let me tell you, we were not disappointed!
All good things come to an end so time to giddy up.
We continued south along the coast and saw more cool shit and stopped at a couple more towns but I’m going to skip to when we turned right and headed inland to one of my our highlight spots. The town of Ronda! To get there you have to drive over what’s know as the snowy mountain range which provides some awesome vistas and there is no snow in September so it was top down and sunscreen all the way. I’m going to skip the history lesson here and summarize by saying the town is older than dirt and has been ruled by the Moors, then Romans and then Visigoths long before we got there in September. This results in a place that has a rich history. Just to give you an idea… The town has two main bridges known as the old bridge and the new bridge. Simple right? The “new bridge” was built in the 1700’s!! That’s what they consider new.
Influences from these cultures show up in the architecture, food and people which makes it a highlight and separates it from the crowd.
Old bridges, olive groves in the valley, bull rings, Moorish bath houses, some king’s secret mine… This place is beyond cool; oh and the food was spectacular by the way.
Sadly, after 3 nights it was time to head on but I heard there was a town where the people were too lazy to put up four walls…? Let’s go check this motha’ out!
The Ronda mountains are home to a number of “white towns” and one of them was on our way to our next destination of Granada. San Sebastian de Senetil is one of these “white towns” which was built into the side of a gorge in the mountain range. These buildings are know as cave houses because the back wall is actually part of the mountain rock. We grabbed some lunch and then walked the little town and took in the history.
After the afternoon was winding down we hopped back in the whip and headed off through the movie like country-side off the Granada.
Granada is the home of many things, but two things stand out in my mind…
The really old fortress of Alhambra and TAPAS!
First we had to book a place to stay so we went to our trusty booking.com ap which had been killing it for us during this whole trip. It was through here that we found a wicked little penthouse right in the center of town with a super sweet roof top terrace. Have a look at the link to see the properties available from Chez Moi Homes if you’re in the area.
Like many things in the region of Adalusia, they have been heavily influenced by Moorish rule in the 1300’s… The beginnings of the fortress were actually laid down in the 800’s AD that’s right… 800’s! It was then left alone for a while until Moorish rule came to the region and was then built upon further. Not a century later, Spain conquered the area in the 1400’s and built some renaissance “style” into the new additions which make it the site it is today. Like most things in Spain… please book ahead if you want to get in. Most historic sites have visitor limits, so sites of interest do sell out even in September which is not considered high season. Also, watch out for the gypsies who will try to read your palm, tell your fortune, sell you lucky rosemary and basically guilt you into giving them money. They may look old but, the are sneaky and materialize out of nowhere; SERIOUSLY. It’s not a huge deal and they are not dangerous… I’m just saying keep your wits about you.
Anyway… some Alhambra
Also with all the walking you will do, it’s wise to keep those calories flowing so make sure to satisfy your hunger with some damn tapas. Tapas are synonymous with Spain but most other areas sell them just because tourists expect them to. Granada is the origin of tapas and this is certainly the place to enjoy them! We took a tip from an Anthony Bourdain episode and put La Tana on our list of tapas bars to include on our eating “tour”. Tapas, tapas everywhere and they are so delicious. This city is a must visit for the culture, cuisine and historical sites.
I can’t say enough about this leg of our trip and I’m sure you can tell due to the length of this post. It’s probably a word count record for me but believe me when I say I did my best to keep it as short as possible, to just give you the highlights and some pics we loved, in case you plan on heading to this part of the world!
Alas, all good things come to an end etc etc, it was time to fuel up the rag top and make a b-line back to Barcelona because we had a flight bound for Morocco to catch the next day and I’ll tell you all about it in my next post. Mount up and roll out!
Thanks for visiting and if you read… thanks for reading but it’s also ok if you just took in the pics. Till next time folks.
Petey Pabs out…