So nice to see you again.
We had been to Spain once before, about six hours in Barcelona for a port stop on a cruise about 10 years ago.
That barely counts. We enjoyed the day, of course, and snapped plenty of pics. But we also knew that was not nearly enough time to fully explore the country and enjoy the true Spain, with all its history, flavor and flair.
Now, returning after a decade away, we spent five days cruising to Spanish ports on Regent Seven Seas Mariner. Here is how our five days in Spain went. Hint: It was an action-packed week filled with history and adventures that kept us on the move.
Our first stop: CADIZ sits in the autonomous region of Andalusia, which is also home to gorgeous Seville, which is known as the birthplace of tapas. It's also known for its oppressive summer heat, with temps rising and staying well above 100 degrees during July and August. We picked a relatively cool day with the thermostat hitting "only" 90 for our visit.
It's this heat and the accompanying dusty conditions that gave rise to the eating and napping schedules as well as those tasty tapas (at least, according to our tour guide). The light bite meals now also popular in restaurants around the United States and elsewhere were born because Spaniards in Andalusia would place little plates over their drinks to keep out the dust. These toppers (tapas) looked silly while sitting atop a drinking glass but otherwise underutilized, so an ingenious fella added a slice of ham to the plates at his particular taberna, and thus a tradition was born.
People in Andalusia (and in many other places around Spain) take morning breaks at 10:30 a.m. for breakfast, then typically leave work for lunch at 3 p.m. This is the main meal of the day and usually eaten with family members. In fact, the salutation is buenos dias (good morning) up until 3 p.m. in these parts. Then, a siesta, and the last meal is around 9 p.m., a lighter affair with tapas.
We toured the picturesque "White Villages" of Andalusia: Medina-Sidonia and Arcos de la Frontera. In these villages, most of the structures are painted white to fend off the heat. Many of the homes don't have air conditioning. White paint or not, that still cannot be comfy when temps hit triple digits.
We enjoyed a casual bike tour with Malaga Bike Tours. Pedaling through the city, which was in the middle of nine-day festival period, was a delight. Malaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, who lived in Malaga until he was 10. It's also where actor Antonio Banderas hails from, so there is that, too.
Bullfighting is a daily occurrence during the festival at the large bullring within a stadium in the city. I wouldn't care to see this type of event, but it's a big part of the history of the region. We learned that when the bulls are killed, they are processed for use at area restaurants. There is a butcher on-site at the stadium as well as a chapel because the bullfighters are very religious.
The beach was a big draw for us. After our bike ride, we took a run along the malecon, which winds for a couple miles adjacent to the beach and is home to dozens and dozens of restaurants serving tapas, ice cream and beers. We loved that the boardwalk and beach also offers outdoor exercise equipment stations.
The water temps were in the low 80s, and the shallow sandy bottom invite you to just spend the whole day wading and playing in the surf. Splashing around in Campello was a welcome relief on an extremely warm and sunny day. We capped off this visit with a couple cold Mahou beers and a light bite of tapas.
It is unusual to see that the city is having a new hotel built into the fortress structure.
Ibiza's port area also is within a 10-minute walk to a beach that is popular with residents and serves as a family destination, differing from many of the full-on party beaches that help make the island of Ibiza a big hot spot for celebs and wanna-bes who want to dance the night away. Ibiza is known for its DJs and nightclubs.
Malaga, Alicante and Ibiza all proved to be great beach towns, obviously, with easy-to-access spots to enjoy right near where Regent Seven Seas Mariner arrives. This is a benefit of cruising on a mid-sized ship that can access these smaller ports. You can enjoy a cheap, no-hassle self-guided day of relaxing on the beach right near town.
Just exit your ship, saunter over to the beach and settle in. No fuss, no muss, no expense and no bikini tops, either, if you ladies prefer.
Our guided tour promised us Gothic Barcelona, with stops at Barcelona Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Santa Eulalia), which was built between the 13th and 15th centuries; a quick look at the outside of Sagrada Familia, the famed unfinished Antoni Gaudi-designed basilica; and the national museum of Catalan art (MNAC) perched atop Montjuic hill; and many other nooks and crannies of the city. We also made a pass through bustling La Rambla for quick stop for tapas and a pitcher of sangria.
Let me sum up this visit to Barcelona.
I loved the immense and fascinating Santa Eulalia cathedral. Women must make sure they have covered their shoulders and knees before entering.
I just don't get Sagrada Familia. It looks like a big old mess from the outside. I hear it is absolutely stunning inside, but you better reserve your tickets online to skips the massive lines or you are unlikely to get in by just walking up to buy tickets. The attraction is a great boon to the Barcelona economy, serving as a huge cash cow, which is good.
The views from the top of Montjuic are spectacular. MNAC is one of six museums up on the hill, and the Olympic stadium is up there, too. The city hosted the summer games in 1992.
Thanks for reading,