Strongest memory: the best way to explore Spain’s southern coast is with a rental car, which we did over the course of a week. It was a lot of fun but it definitely was a relief when we successfully dropped it off, unharmed, undented and in one piece. When we booked accommodation, we tried really hard to book places on the edge of town, or with convenient parking. I’m not sure what went wrong with our Granada booking, but we found ourselves needing to drive right through the centre of town in order to get to our Air BnB. We then had to park in an underground multi storey car park which we left with the intention of not revisiting until our departure. When we left Granada I had to navigate us back out of town, through narrow, winding, one way streets. I only had Google Maps to guide us, so it was hardly surprising when we found ourselves coasting down a taxi only street. Although slightly exhilarating, nerves were high and Granada’s teeny tiny streets will be forever etched in my mind.
Memorable meal: We ate a lot of tapas throughout our time in Spain as well as a lot of delicious brunches, particularly in Madrid. Despite visiting this food centric city twice, my most memorable meal actually occurred near the end of our time in Spain, when we were staying on an olive grove in Arcos de la Frontera. The meal itself was simple (so simple that I truthfully can’t remember what we ate), however it was the setting that made it memorable. Our accommodation was basically in the middle of nowhere, so we visited the local supermarket beforehand and stocked up on supplies. Paired with some naturally exquisite Spanish wine, we ate our meal on the patio at our accommodation, overlooking the olive groves and immersed in the smell of all the orange trees on the property. It couldn’t have been more enjoyable soaking up the last of the summer rays, the warm air giving us no reason to want to go inside. Our reluctance to head indoors was shared by the two family dogs: a labrador and a foxy, both of whom seemed infatuated by us and could probably have paid ‘fetch’ all night.
Best activity: hiking the Caminito del Ray. A colleague had mentioned this to me while I was still in New Zealand and after looking up pictures I was instantly sold. We stayed in a tiny rural town the night prior and then woke early to begin what would be probably my favourite European hike to date. The hardest part about the day was actually getting a car park, but once we had accomplished that and actually begun the hike we had an absolute blast. We were booked into a group tour as that was the only way I could get tickets, except we couldn’t find our group so we just did it by ourselves and we were glad that we did, because it meant we could stop for views whenever we wanted. The hike ended up being really easy, which gave us ample time to awe at the sheer drops and the magnificent surroundings around us.
Favourite place: I didn’t have the greatest expectations for Madrid; I was thinking it would just be another big city without the beauty of a beach nearby and no major river to speak of. Within hours of landing in Madrid, I had already fallen in love with the city. The wide, leafy boulevards, the funky street art and the easy walking streets were instantly appealing, and came in handy as Andy and I spent a lot of our time walking from sights to restaurants to parks and cafes. I think I was most surprised at how much greenery the city seemed to have, how spacious it felt and how delicious the food scene was. We liked it so much that we even reshuffled our plans so we could spend a few more days there before flying out to Iceland.
Unforgettable sight: Even though I had been before, it is hard to go past the Alhambra in Granada. As advised, we had bought our tickets well in advance, so that on our scheduled day we just had to time our walk up the hill to the Alhambra so that it matched the time on our tickets. The grounds are huge: obviously parts of it are ‘must-sees’ and others less so, but neither time now have I successfully managed to cover the entire grounds. The buildings are so beautiful and the gardens are so pristine. Perched on the hill overlooking Granada, it is easy to see why it is one of the most iconic sights in Granada (and that’s without even going into the history of it!).
Strongest memory: Spain was one of my favourite countries to visit, and yet my strongest memory is one of mild anxiety. There was a lot that we wanted to see around Andalucia, so we had decided to book a rental car (our first of the trip) and to show ourselves around. Budget constraints meant that we selected the cheapest car available, which ended up being a manual. Needless to say, it was fairly difficult to adjust to the unique combination of narrow Spanish streets, opposite-lane driving, and opposite-handed gear changes. Each day brought with it new challenges in navigation and road rules, and it was always with much relief that I put the car back into park and the end of the day.
Memorable meal: This time, the memorable meal is one that we made ourselves. The final two nights of our Andalucia road trip were spent on an olive grove outside the small town of Arcos de la Frontera. We had a large kitchen and an incredible grove-side patio table, complete with two friendly dogs. Ironically I can’t remember what we cooked and ate, but I do remember that we drank a couple of bottles of local tempranillo. There may be a connection there.
Best activity: An activity so good that an entire travel video was devoted to it! El Caminito del Rey, the Road of the King. This was a hike (of sorts)… essentially a boardwalk clinging onto the sides of a sheer river gorge, built on the shoddy remains of a treacherous walkway originally established for hydroelectric workers to access two dam sites in rugged terrain. The modern pathway is perhaps a bit less thrilling than I’d hoped, but it still provides incredible views and and up-close perspective of the historic road.
Favourite place: Madrid. It’s a European capital that I didn’t expect to like as much as I did! Madrid had a surprisingly colourful and vibrant city centre with good green space (Retiro) and great food and drink options. The streets were thronged (but not unpleasantly so) and I enjoyed walking around the city at almost any time of day.
Unforgettable sight: The carved interior walls of the Alhambra. Granada’s key tourism attraction managed to achieve the impressive task of not being overrated, despite being one of the world’s most famous sites. The most fascinating part was the walls – all meticulously detailed with moorish geometric patterns. It was truly amazing, and managed to completely draw my attention from the massive crowds that we were forced to share the experience with.