Monday, August 31, 2015

Trails, Caves, and Beaches in Mallorca

After a great week with friends we flew to Mallorca from the airport in Alicante, about 2-hours from the house in Turre. We landed in Palma, picked up our rental car and had a 40-minute scenic drive north through the mountains to Soller.

If you stay in Palma you will be crushed by German and British holiday-goers, huge resorts, lots of traffic, etc. But Soller is a charming town nestled in the mountains, once known mainly for its olive oil production. We stayed at the Finca Ca Quatra which is a restored farmhouse about a 10 minute walk from town. Our room had a balcony which allowed for fantastic views of the Tramuntana Mountains. It is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful location.
The town is divided into two sections, Soller which is the main part, and Porto Soller which is at the port. The two are connected by road or streetcar.
The hills of northwestern Mallorca are a hiker's paradise. We set out the morning of our first full day to hike to the tiny towns of Biniaraix and Fornalutx. Our hiking trail was a road at times, dirt paths at others, and sometimes we just had to do a little train blazing.

We walked through groves of orange, lemon, lime, fig, prickly pear, and olives. We passed thru villages and the backyards of farm houses. We crossed paths with lazy dogs, curious cats, and hungry goats.

In Fornalutx we had lunch of fresh grilled fish while taking in the amazing views of the valley at the restaurant Ca N'Antuna which our hotel host had recommended. She also recommended their lemon pie which was delicious!
Our round trip hike took about 4 hours, including lunch and time for a quick olive oil tasting. It was one of the prettiest hikes I've ever done and would highly recommend.

On the far east side of the island in Porto Cristo are the Cuevas del Drach. These highly touristy caves are also really incredible to tour, so you just have to grin and bear it! The tour takes about an hour.
Near the end of the tour there is a large lake in the cave. The tour includes a classical music concert on the lake, which sounds a little hokey but is pretty cool. The acoustics are amazing. Afterwards we boarded a boat and were rowed to the other end near the exit.
As Mallorca is an island there are some really gorgeous beaches to suss out. On the way back from the Cuevas del Drach we stopped at Le Truc for a bit of sun. First off you get to drive past the salt producers/farms! Anyone who knows me knows I love good salt! We didn't do it but you can sign up for a tour. I was happy to buy bags for myself and friends from this salt vending machine!!
If you keep driving past the salt you'll get to this gorgeous beach which has lounge chairs and a bar!
Another popular and stunning beach destination is the area of Puerto Pollença. About an hour and a half from Soller there are lovely resort towns with bars, cafes, shops, and restaurants. After a nice lunch we just explored the area, driving past coastlines overrun with beautiful windsurfer sails, and finally parked and spent the afternoon sunbathing on white sugar sand with clear warm blue ocean to dip in.
Of course close to home the Porto Soller has a lovely if a bit boring shoreline. You can absolutely sunbathe, swim, rent water-toys, etc. But my favorite thing about this area was sitting outside at the gin bar Albatross with its selection of over 60 gins all paired with complementary boutique tonics and special garnishes. Now that's a beach cocktail!

Not all the beaches are white sand and calm surf. Near Soller there are numerous coves offering incredible vistas but also some steep hikes in and out. The town of Deia has an absolutely amazing cove which is not easily found, but worth it if you have some patience. We braved the warm but very strong winds to have lunch at a wooden shack built into the rocks one afternoon. We were rewarded by an amazing lunch of some of the largest langoustines I've ever encountered, along with amazing scenery.
After lunch we carefully picked out way thru the rocky beach and found a large smooth boulder to soak up some rays on. Sometimes a great experience isn't always the easiest.

Mallorca photos here

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer Holidays in the South of Spain

Summer holidays spent in the south are a thing with the Europeans. I've been lucky enough to have a few holidays in Provence, soaking up the sun and the wine with good friends. One of my friends and her family leave Paris each August and rent a house somewhere for the month, inviting other friends and family for weekly visits. One year they decided to rent in the south of Spain and generously invited us to join. This gave us a chance to do a little southern Spain loop, starting in Madrid and continuing to Seville before flying into the Almeria area. This coastal province is famous for its beaches,  deserts, and the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world- over 64,000 acres best seen from the air.

Forest and Thibault were nice enough to pick us up and it was an easy hour drive to the tiny town of Turre near Mojacar. We arrived at the house, unpacked and then us girls headed out for a nice catch-up lunch at Adalina, the main restaurant in town.

There are a few specialties of this region that I highly recommend. Most places offer freshly baked puffy bread with a whipped garlic aioli that is incredible (unless you plan on kissing someone who hasn't had it). Gazpacho is a trademark dish, as are caracoles (snails in a tomato sauce), and paella with seafood.

We spent most of the next 5 days just relaxing with our friends who I see so infrequently, swimming in the pool, playing with their kids, shopping the local market, and cooking dinners together.

There are some cute towns around here so we headed out a few times for brief explorations, never straying too far from our pool though! Our house sat half way up one of the low mountains and the guys hiked to the top a few times, passing wandering goats, fancy houses, and great vistas. It was just as easy to drive up for sunset and an apero :)

One afternoon we headed to Playa Mojacar and after a delicious lunch of tapas at Cava Restaurant, situated right on the beach, we took a dip in the ocean; it was warm, calm, and gorgeously clear!

The hilltop town that we could see across the valley, Mojacar Pueblo, not only was very picturesque from afar but it was a great little town for a drink after the beach. We met a local British woman who sat and spoke to us about the expat community. Seems retired English folks love to live in this area and actually outnumber the Spanish. Basically, besides paella and gazpacho, you can find a proper fry up breakfast at numerous places around town.

The sleepy fishing village of Garrucha was another great place for a nice lunch. We found the restaurant Ricónes del Puerto and enjoyed fresh seafood specialties like this octopus (pulpo) in olive oil and pimenton along with cold Spanish rosé.

Spain has the most Blue Flag Beaches in Europe, an award based on environmental and safety standards. There was one right down from Garrucha which we dipped into and soaked up some sun on the pristine sand.

To Nic, Luke, Luca, Naoise, and Charlotte... Hope you are having a fabulous time on your summer holidays! xo

All Turre/Mojacar photos here.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jerez Day Trip

It's an easy drive from Seville to Jerez, just over an hour on the highway. We picked up a rental car not far from our hotel and arrived in the city just around lunch time. Our main activity was to tour the Lustau winery, as Jerez is famous for sherry there are many producer tours to choose from, Lustau was recommended and also had English tours at convenient times.

The town was extremely quiet when we arrived, most people were taking siesta. It was also crazy hot. We parked by the distillery and sat down at the first place we saw that was open and serving food.

You know those times when you stumble upon something so delicious at someplace so unexpected? Our bocadillos from this random bar were some of the tastiest we had in all of Spain! It was like finding gourmet food at a gas station (like in Hawaii!).

We headed over for our reserved tour time and joined a very small group of English speakers. Our tour guide led us through the open-air barrel rooms with dirt floors and explained the solera and criaderas systems. She even showed us a barrel that had a clear plexiglass window where we could see the dead yeast, or flor as it is called, resting on the bottom.

The winery is quite beautiful and the tour was very interesting, much different than the regular wineries I have been to. At the end of the tour we tasted through the Lustau lineup and learned a bit more of the different styles of sherry.
After our tour we headed to the center of town and had some not very good gazpacho from one of the restaurants in the main square. With temperatures near 100F we needed some shade and a beverage! Then we walked over to the Alcazar and caught the last camera obscura entrance of the day.

I had never seen a camera obscura before and it was really, really impressive. We climbed up into the tower and into a small room. The door was shut and we were in complete darkness. Then the guide opened a small hole in the ceiling and a mirror reflected the outside activity onto a large disc in the center of the room. As the guide rotated the mirror we got to view the entire town without taking a step! We could see birds flying, people walking, cars driving, it was all really interesting!

We spent some time walking around the Alcazar after, it is minuscule compared to the one in Seville. The building and the grounds are gorgeous though and you can see the ruins, ancient baths, and old olive grinding stones. If you are in Seville I highly recommend a day trip to Jerez, and if you are in Jerez I'd say the camera obscura is a do-not-miss.

Jerez photos here.

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