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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Spain
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Spain
Our family trip to Menorca should have been remembered as any number of things: the summer vacation when my daughter learned to snorkel, that time my dad ate a lobster’s face, the week of 17 impossibly per feet beaches. And it was all that, but halfway through our stay it also became the time my wife found out her mother was dying. We had rented a house along the Spanish island’s southern coast, in a community called Binibequer. It sounds like Binny Baker when people say it. We had a running joke about Binny Baker, whom we imagined as a legendary British comedian and predecessor to Benny Hill who’d retired to Menorca Binibequer is like an appealing Mediterranean version of a Florida enclave, with white cement and plaster houses clustered around a town center where you can walk around and buy sunscreen and beach pails and eat mussels and drink sangria made with Sprite at the bars.
Travel can be a trick you play on yourself. You can almost make yourself believe you actually live in another place. It’s effective. In just a few days, the memory of our real lives can be obliterated. Rituals help with that. On Menorca, we got our morning coffee from the bakery by the supermarket. We went to the beach around nine. This was our favourite local cheese, that was our favourite walk. But when texts with the news of Danielle’s mother began arriving at 3 or 4 am., it yanked us out of that fantasy. Suddenly we were just strangers in a place far from home.
It was a warm night, and Danielle must have been up checking her phone. She often can’t sleep. She has the metabolism of acute, extremely aware fox watching a ping-pong match, and she gets more things done between midnight and 5 am (if you count booking babysitters and panicking about global warming as getting things done) than I do all day long. On this night, for some reason I woke up, too. Disturbance in the Force or what have you.
“My mom had a stroke,” Danielle announced, sitting up in bed. She’d gotten a text from one sister first. That sister was prone to drama, though. My mother-in-law had had many strokes, all of them minor. But then a text came in from another sister. And then from my brother-in-law, kind of a gray-haired father figure who can always be counted on when a cooler head is needed to prevail. He said it was possible Danielle’s mother had only a short time to live. So the news was sanctioned. Danielle was funny about it. She was crying but also mordant. She said something about how her mother was probably telling a paramedic he didn’t know how to drive the roads near her house and was going the wrong way.
As daybreak arrived, the sky became a deep blue, and the wind picked up. The gusts were so strong in the mornings that they sometimes knocked over bottles of shampoo in the bathroom. Standing outside on the patio in that wind, we agreed that Danielle would fly home as soon as possible. I, along with our two kids and my parents, who were with us on the trip, would keep our return tickets and fly back in a few days. Soon Danielle was on the phone calling the airline. I tried to help but mostly just got in the way.
Upon our arrival in Menorca, we picked up a large car we had reserved. It was some kind of Renault, called a Mavis Gallant, I think. (Disclaimer: its real name wasn’t Mavis Gallant.) It was long and wide, and had enough trunk space to put another Renault inside of it. It was like a car designed by M. C. Escher. On our second morning, we packed into the Mavis Gallant to go to the beach. Danielle and I were in the front, while the children (Finn, boy, age five; Frankie, girl, age seven) sat about 10 miles away from us in the backseat, where they looked like shrunken businessmen in a limousine. My parents rented the same Renault Mavis Gallant, naturally. Gordon and Jill, ages 74 and 72 at the time of this vacation, are the happiest people I know, though they’ve been through some terrible hardships. Also, my dad is the slowest driver in the entire world. The vacation was mostly me pulling over on the side of the highway that runs across Menorca, through a miniature mountain range and bleach-blond farmland, waiting for him. He trailed me as we headed west out of Binny Baker.
Here’s the deal with Menorca: it’s the most laid-back and family-friendly of Spain’s Balearic Islands. While there are sophisticated restaurants and places to stay (including a boutique vineyard hotel called Torralbenc, where they administer some top-notch massages, as I can personally attest), the island is emphatically low-key. It doesn’t have the hordes of British and German vacationers who make neighboring Mallorca so, at times, not-fun. Also absent are the untz-untz nightclubs—and dudes sitting on the beach in $400 flip-flops scrolling through Instagram—that plague Ibiza. What you have instead on Menorca are rocks, Spaniards, and a ton of great beaches.
Menorca’s beaches come in a full spectrum. There are tiny coves notched into the coastline everywhere, for furtive couples and nudists. There is Son Bou beach, perfectly long and wide and sandy. There’s the rugged and beautiful Gala Pregonda, which you hike to over a series of hills, each spot beckoning you to the next, just in case it’s even prettier and less crowded (and it almost always is). Three of Menorca’s most famous beaches are clustered along the southwestern coast: Cala Macarella, Son Saura, and Cala en Turqueta. They’re sort of Menorca’s analogue to the Eiffel Tower or Times Square—touristic imperatives. Places you have to visit because otherwise you wouldn’t feel like you’ve really been to Menorca.
As you drive to those beaches in your Renault MG, at some point you’ll come to large, mysterious electronic signs. You might guess that they have been placed in the peaceful, sun-beaten farmland to give people gate information for some cosmic portal. Stand next to this cow at 4:30 and you’ll be sucked into another dimension! But in fact they are something stranger: parking information signs. The prime beaches, in the height of the season (your late Julys through your ends of August), are so ungodly popular that a system was set up to start turning’ people away miles from the actual beaches.
We slowed the Mavis Gallant as we approached a sign for Cala Macarella parking. Next to it there was a lady sitting in the shade of a small tent. She explained that the lot was full. And suggested we eat lunch. In a few hours people would leave and we could come back. She helped me navigate a 14-point turn in the Renault. My father still hadn’t caught up. We decided to have lunch in Es Migjorn Gran, an inland town that is set into the side of a mountainette and has a beautiful, centuries-old center. At Bar Peri—a dark, quiet tapas spot seemingly not updated since the 1940s—we ordered typical small plates. Finn didn’t eat a single bite of nutritious food.
But he wanted dessert. “If you eat your tortilla,” I said, “you can have dessert. But if you don’t, you can’t.” Danielle looked at me: Don’t draw lines in the sand you don’t intend to back up. I glared back: Can you stop judging my parenting? “Okay, how about just three bites,” I said. “But I won’t negotiate anymore.” Daniele rolled her eyes. Looking at Finn, I could tell a whine was coming. There was a Spanish family with beautifully behaved children at the next table. My father was having just the friendliest conversation with them, even though he speaks no Spanish. He can do that Finn’s whine was getting’ louder and attracting attention. I was desperate. “Okay, just one bite…half a bite…forget it—just go pick some ice cream out of the freezer!”
Danielle was yelling at me without saying anything. That she was right made me angrier. There was a freezer near the bar stuffed with the kinds of factory-made, highly processed ice cream products people back home in Brooklyn are statutorily prohibited from giving their kids. Finn stood looking at the colourful packages. There were so many. Frankie was already eating an ice-cream cone, watching amusedly. “I can’t decide,” Finn said. He said it like it was an accusation—how could you take me to this place with all these kinds of ice cream? “Just get the one that Frankie has,” I begged. Jill joined in: “Ooooh, that one looks delicious!” We all knew what was coming. I tried getting’ philosophical: “Your indecision is so legitimate. Disappointment is inevitable.” I shot a quick glance at my wife, who wasn’t even trying to interfere: Let me handle this. When I finally got him to pick one, unwrapped it for him, and he tasted it, he dropped it on the ground and screamed, “I want what Frankie has!!!!” So I went over to buy him that one. It didn’t work.
Menorca’s beaches are famous for a reason, and Cala Macarella is arguably the most spectacular of them all. It’s a turquoise inlet surrounded by cliffs and rocks and pine forest, tipped with a gentle slope of white sand. Spaniards were gathered on the beach and in the shallows. Topless women, babies, young couples rolling cigarettes. With the cliff walls it felt a bit like an amphitheater—all of us sitting on the sand to watch the sea perform.
I went for a swim. The water was perfect: blue-green, just cool enough to be refreshing. It was easy to get out far enough to feel that I was alone, the other people reduced to visual details, like little wildflowers in a field. In no time I’d swum around a bend and into another cove, a smaller version of Macarella called Macarelleta. The same deal—people on the sand staring out at the seal floated on my back, and for a minute I let go of all dissatisfaction. It added one year to my life. After I returned, we got the kids ready to leave. I was silently levying a protest against my wife. She responded with a wordless counter protest. But we dried and dressed the kids and desanded the clothes and walked back through the forest to the car in a kind of practiced synchronicity.
On the path to the parking lot, the sun was burning the carpet of pine needles at a slow roast, releasing a beautiful, dry smell. Roads on Menorca don’t always make accommodations to modem traffic. There are a lot of farm roads, lined by stone walls that push in from the sides. Two cars can just squeeze past each other. Usually. When a car approaches, you both keep slowing down and slowing down until you’re creeping past each other with minimal tolerance, pulling your mirrors in, sometimes passing close enough to reach out and change the other car’s radio station. And on the way home I found myself in such a bottleneck.
I slowed. The oncoming’ car slowed. My father crept steadily behind me, liking the pace, probably not even realizing that I was slowing down. As he penned me in from behind, the oncoming car penned me in from the front, pushing us together to a point where it was unclear how to disentangle all our Mavis Gallants. It was, I thought, kind of like the impasse that I’d come to with Danielle. Not so much a fight as both of us inching forward and not backing down, and neither of us knowing how to get out of it.
One of the things that makes Menorca the most authentic Balearic island, in my opinion, is that all of its towns feel real. Not BS tourist towns made up of hotels and little dry wall grocery stores but the kind of towns you’d expect to find on some hilltop in Castile—old and formidable, with heavy stone buildings and narrow streets and old ladies sitting on benches mumbling to each other. During the day, when everyone is indoors, hiding from the sun, these towns—especially those in the interior— can take on the air of a lost civilization, but at night they come alive.
Here on Menorca, you are constantly reminded that there’s a reason why the Spanish eat and socialize so late: because it’s f***ing hot during the day. The sun comes at you at an unpleasant volume, with retina-searing intensity. (One time Finn had to go out into an unshaded plaza to chase down his soccer ball in the middle of the day, and I half expected him to start smoking and burst into flames.) But at night? At night it’s civilized. Temperatures drop, and the wind courses over the island, whipping Menor cans’ towels and underpants as they dry on their clotheslines. During the summer, each Menorcan town has its own day of the week to host night markets— one evening it’s in Fornells, another in Ferreries, another in Alaior. On those nights, the bars and restaurants drag tables into the street, some kind of Spanish marching band or reggae five-piece is booked for a stage in the central plaza, and vendors sell bracelets and cookies and fresh fruit juices.
On Alaior’s designated night, we drove to its outskirts and ditched the Renault in a lot. With Gordon and Jill in tow, we hoofed it into the town center, toward the sounds of Spanish people having fun. Once we were there, it wasn’t long before my daughter discovered a hand-built merry-go-round setup in the middle of a lane. You paid your money and picked a “horse,” constructed out of old tires and scrap metal and broom handles. Then the man put the music on. He powered the contraption using a bicycle whose back wheel was connected to a gear, propelling the riders around in circles. I held Danielle’s hand as we watched the guy pedal (he basically had to complete a stage of the Tour de France over the course of the evening). We were suddenly not mad anymore. That was it. We didn’t talk our way through it. We just left it behind and moved on. When I was young and foolish, I wouldn’t have thought that was how you worked things out.
After lunch, we drove to the lighthouse. When we arrived, Jill went to the information kiosk (she’s interested in things; I’m not) while my dad sat down and soaked it all in from a restful position, as is his wont. Danielle was on the phone with her sisters. I took the kids out to a cave. Menorca is pocked with caves—in cliffs and underwater. Caves into which ancient contemplators disappeared, where Jews were imprisoned, treasures hidden. Caves that now host expensive cocktail lounges, like the famous Cova d’en Xoroi. Near the lighthouse, a hundred yards from the cliff’s edge, there is a cave entrance. Just a hole in the ground. And into that hole we saw people disappearing one at a time.
As soon as it was our turn, Frankie wriggled right down the ladder and disappeared into the blackness. But Finn was frightened. He stared into the hole. Finn at age five was such a force of nature, approaching the world with such defiance, that it surprised me when he got scared and grabbed onto my thumb with his soft little hand. He looked at me and said, “I want to go, but I also don’t want to go. Should I be scared?” The main psychological questions laid bare, without any of the repression we learn later in life. “I would be, probably,” I said. “But it’s not actually going to be scary when you’re down there.”
Finn eventually proceeded, solemnly, into the blackness. Frankie was waiting for us, and she took one of my hands while Finn took the other. We walked down a long underground passageway until we came to an opening, protected by a metal grate, overlooking the sea at a terrifying height. The three of us gazed out, kind of willing ourselves to bear witness. I like to think Frankie and Finn shared my sense of staring into an unknown—just as their grandmother was doing back home in America Turning’ toward the exit, Finn said he wanted an ice cream cone. I told him to ask his mom.
We’ll give you a hot tip – don’t wear your Sunday finest. You can expect to get entirely covered from tip to toe in squished tomatoes at this annual food fight festival in Eastern Spain.
A rollicking good time. Is there a better reason? The origins of the festival aren’t clear, but that doesn’t stop thousands upon thousands of revellers turning up on the last Wednesday in August to hurl tomatoes at one another.
The festival has grown to such extraordinary size that the town trucks in tonnes of the red missiles and dumps them in the centre of town for the food fighters to get stuck into.
Partying lasts all week, but the messy part of the affair lasts just a few hours, from 11am to around 2pm. Most of the action happens close to the town centre, but the streets fanning out from there are all caught up in the mix, so you can expect to get pelted wherever you are.
Don’t come expecting your run-of-the-mill dance club acts: Sonar brings you back to the future of electronic music. The performances are a mash-up of everything that is hot in the sound scene. You can expect to see some familiar names showcasing new adventures and some artists who are so fresh they haven’t yet been defined.
Sonar doesn’t just stick to the standard ‘artist on stage in front of audience’ formula. The festival mixes it up with interesting exhibition and installation spaces in which to showcase electronic and advanced music sounds. Take for example the L’Auditori, a venue which is traditionally used for orchestras but which substitutes strings for sub-woofers when Sonar is in town.
The festival-kick started in 1994 but it wasn’t till 1997 that it really started to attract some big electronic dance music artists. The line-up from that year lists the crème de la crème of EDM with names like Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Deep Dish, Herbert, Death in Vegas, and Coldcut. In 2016 the acts included Santigold, Underground Resistence, Richie Hawtin and James Rhodes.
Bleached limestone cliffs tower over a powder-white beach, and anchored sailboats bob in transparent blue waters. Snorkelers drift into a cave, lit up by the afternoon sun to reveal a sandy sea floor thats clean enough to walk on barefoot.
The stunning setting at Cala Mitjana, one of Menorca’s premier beaches, is replicated in more than 120 other coves ringing the island. Most of the shoreline is protected from development, meaning the crowds are often thin, and during shoulder season, when it’s still warm enough to swim, you might even have a slice of paradise to yourself.
The combination makes the Spanish island in the western Mediterranean one of the world’s most spectacular beach destinations. It’s the least known of the Balearics, a group that also includes the more-developed Mallorca and party-till-dawn Ibiza. But Menorca offers the opulence of Ibiza with the flash and the natural splendor of Mallorca without the package tourists.
Add its two charming main cities, Mahon and Ciutadella, and you can think of Menorca as low pressure, high payoff. The compact island is only about 30 miles long, so it can offer the best of a relaxing beach vacation, a lively city break and a tranquil countryside retreat in one small package.
Travelers accustomed to any of those types of getaways will feel at home at the Jardi de ses Bruixes Boutique Hot in Mahon, the capital on the eastern end. Owner Anja Sanchez-Rodrigo says she originally worried her unique property’s location would be a deterrent.
“It has turned out to be a good thing,” Sanchez-Rodrigo tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “When people come to Menorca, they want to go visit as many beaches as they can. We always look at the weather, especially the wind, and suggest if guests should go the north or south coast.”
The hotel was originally built in 1812 as a boat captains home but fell into disrepair until 20 years ago, when Sanchez- Rodrigo’s husband, an architect, renovated it for his office. They converted it after the housing crash and opened with eight rooms in 2014. An expansion completed this summer added eight more and a spa clad completely in local limestone, which is called mares.
The renovation emphasized original details like the old tiles in the floor and dining room, and stayed faithful to the local culture. The name of the hotel, for instance, means “dandelions garden” in the Menorcan dialect. “Only a Menorcan would know what that means,” said Sanchez-Rodrigo.
France – In Epernay built on champagne – quite literally. Some 70 miles of cellars, filled with 200 million bottles, hide under this self-proclaimed capital of bubbly. On the town’s outskirts lies France’s official champagne school, where future masters learn their craft. A full course here takes two years, but members of the public can get a crash course on one of the day workshops.
Under expert guidance, study how champagne is made, discover the secrets of terroir and different grape varieties, and learn how to use sight, smell and taste while sampling 10 different cuvees. Back in town, explore Avenue du Champagne, a boulevard of Neoclassical villas built by the big producing families, and dine at restaurants such as La Cavek Champagne, where typically champenois dishes, including snails and veal in mustard sauce, can be paired with flights of the region’s finest vintages.
Italy – Blending Mediterranean and North African food, Sicilian is among the most distinctive of Italy’s regional cuisines, and the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School offers total immersion in the island’s culinary culture. Hosted in a 19th-century stone farmhouse, part of the aristocratic family’s wine estate, the Food and Culture itineraries include classes on how to cook ingredients harvested from the kitchen garden, plus visits to local producers. Depending on the season, guests might visit pizzerias, ricotta cheesemakers and more, but all can expect fantastic meals featuring flavor some local produce.
Spain – Acorn-fed Iberico pigs make Spanish ham the best in the world, and a leg from one of these premium porkers becomes a legitimate souvenir option after completing A Taste of Spain’s Ibarico ham carving course. Under the tutelage of an English-speaking master carver at ham shop Gondiaz, knife-wielding novices learn about the product while whittling off their own slices. Then it’s next door to Restaurante La Mi Venta for tapas dishes including Ibarico cooked over charcoal. Extend your culinary journey with visits to Madrid’s food markets – San Miguel and San Anton have good charcuterie stalls – and to the Museo del Jamon, with its array of ceiling-hung hams.
Andalucia’s charismatic capital is a good-time getaway of steamy barrios, salt-of-the-earth tapas bars, culinary alchemists, stylish watering holes and layers of city history.
CAFÉ BAR LAS TERESAS
The hanging hams in this Santa Cruz stalwart look as ancient as the bar itself, a wraparound affair with just enough room for two stout waiters carrying precariously balanced tapas plates. Inside, the atmosphere is dark but not dingy, the food – such as shrimp fritters – highly traditional, and the crowd a mix of tourists and locals.
At this long-standing Triana restaurant, massive glass windows overlook a crowded plaza, mirrors artfully reflect framed bullfighting posters and flamenco iconography, and gold beer pumps furnish a wooden bar shielding bottles that look older than most of the clientele. Both bar and restaurant, Casa Cuesta has that wonderful sensation of sevillano fun and authenticity.
BODEGA SANTA CRUZ
Eating tapas becomes a physical contact sport at forever-crowded Bodega Santa Cruz Watch out for flying elbows and admire those dexterous waiters who bob and weave like prizefighters amid the chaos. The traditional tapas, such as montaditos (tiny rolls) or cheese and ham platters, are best enjoyed alfresco with a cold beer as you watch marching armies of Santa Cruz tourists go squeezing past.
Seville’s crown as Andalucia’s tapas capital is regularly attacked by well-armed rivals from the provinces, so it constantly has to offer up fresh competition. Enter La Brunilda, a font of fusion tapas sandwiched into an inconspicuous backstreet in the Arenal quarter.
REDHOUSE ART & FOOD
With its mismatched chairs and abstract wall art, Redhouse, in El Centro, flirts with hipster territory, yet inside you’ll find everyone from families to students and seniors enjoying tea, coffee and Andalucia’s best homemade cakes.
Eslava shirks traditional tilework and bullfighting posters to deliver fine food backed up with equally fine service. There’s a ‘nouvelle’ tinge to the costillas a la miel (pork ribs in honey and rosemary glaze), but there’s nothing snobby about the local atmosphere. It’s on the Alameda de Hercules.
The Alameda de Hercules was once a no-go area reserved for the city’s painted ladies, pimps and shady characters, but after a makeover it’s crammed with fashionable bars. This place gets busy at night but is pleasantly chilled in the early evening. Its spirit-reviving breakfasts pitch earlybirds with up-all-nighters.
CAFE DE LA PRENSA
Triana’s Calle del Betis is second only to the Alameda de Hercules as a major communal Seville watering hole. Café de la Prensa is perfect for kicking off a riverside bar crawl. You can sit inside between walls covered in old newspapers or squeeze outside for better views of the Guadalquivir River, and admire the Giralda bell tower beckoning beautifully in the background.
Dedicated entirely to the iconography, smells and sounds of Semana Santa (Holy Week), El Garlochi in EI Centro is a true marvel. Taste the rather revolting-sounding cocktail, Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) and Agua de Sevilla (Seville Water), both heavily laced with vodka, whisky and grenadine. It’s a little expensive here, but undoubtedly one of a kind.
BA and easyJet fly direct to Seville in under three hours from London Gatwick, and Ryanair flies to Seville from Stansted. The Especial Aeropuerto bus makes the trip between the airport and the Plaza de Armas bus station in central Seville roughly every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day, with a slightly reduced Sunday service. Seville operates a sleek tram service in the city centre.
WHERE TO STAY
Though separated by only a few miles of rolling Castilian hills, the cities of Madrid and Toledo are very different beasts: the former home to grand boulevards and raucous nightlife that invariably stretches into rush hour the following morning; the latter an older, quieter town of winding alleyways, Moorish courtyards and sedate café-lined plazas. Both however share an abundance of good restaurants and a soft spot for fine wine, hence Wine Tourism Spain launching a new gastronomic self-guided trip straddling both locations.
In Madrid, look out for cocido madrileno —the city’s signature gut-busting stew of chickpeas, pork and vegetables — while visitors to Toledo should snack on tapas of Manchego, produced from sheep’s milk in the surrounding countryside.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Wine Tourism Spain now offers a three-day, self-guided Madrid & Toledo Gastronomic City Break tour, which runs throughout 2017. The rates include accommodation in a four-star hotel in the capital, two meals and high-speed rail transfers between the two cities.
British Airways and Iberia both fly to Madrid Barajas Airport from London Heathrow, while Ryanair flies there from Birmingham, Manchester and London Stansted. Direct metro trains run between the centre of Madrid and the airport, and take around 15 minutes.
Forget expensive spas – the rich, muddy earth from the cliffs around bays such as Cala Xarraca or Aigues Blanques in the north of the island can be turned into a perfect homemade mud pack. The treatment is simple: fill a bucket with water and mix it with the mud, cover yourself all over, bake yourself in the lbizan sun for 30 minutes until dry, and then dive into the sea to wash it all off.
Ibiza Town’s fortified hilltop was first settled by the Phoenicians and later occupied by a roster of subsequent civilisations. Tranquil and atmospheric, many of its lanes are only accessible on foot and it’s possible to walk the entire ramparts in less than an hour. The area is home to several of Ibiza’s key cultural sights including the contemporary art museum, housed in an 18th-century powder store and armoury. Good restaurants throng Placa de Vila.
This Unesco-listed nature reserve of marshes, salt pans and coast encompasses a wetland habitat for 200 bird species; 16th-century defensive towers, built to protect Ibiza from pirates; and two of the island’s best sandy beaches. It’s possible to walk into the park along a trail that runs from the southern end of Platja d’en Bossa and along the coast to Platja de Salines. Between August and October, the park is home to migrating flamingos (free).
Traffic-free Placa des Parc is the bohemian heart of Ibiza Town and this popular bar-café sits right on the square. By day it’s an enjoyable place for a juice (try an orange and carrot mix), a baguette, or a tapa or three. By night it’s a relaxed bar, with inexpensive combinados (spirit and mixer) and draught beer.
The rawest, least pretentious club in Ibiza, DC-10 in the south of the island is all about the music and has a distinctly underground vibe. The door tax is modest (for Ibiza) and drinks are reasonably priced compared with other big venues. Its Circo Loco session on Mondays is one of the best in Ibiza, kicking off early in the day.
Clubs in Ibiza are notoriously pricey but plenty of the island’s beach bars have a dance vibe and resident DJs. At the southern end of Salines beach, Sa Trinxa is the island’s coolest chiringuito bar and there’s no entry fee (though the food and drinks aren’t cheap). It draws a crowd – hardcore clubbers, fashionistas, models and hippies-all soaking up the Balearic vibes.
The virtually untouched sandy bay of Benirras in northern Ibiza has high-forested cliffs and a trio of bar-restaurants. It’s a spectacular location for sunset and one that Ibiza’s boho tribe has favoured for decades. If you visit on Sunday, you’ll likely see an assembly of drummers banging out a salutation to the sun. It’s a popular spot; arrive early to get a parking space.
The islet of Es Vedra rises like a volcano from the sea off Ibiza’s southwestern tip, setting the scene for a sunset vista. The 18th-century defence tower of Torre des Savinar looks out at it, and is the perfect spot to watch the sinking sun. If the 10-minute walk uphill from Cova des Mirador doesn’t take your fancy, book a table at Es Boldado for a meal overlooking Es Vedra. The rock of Es Vedra is associated with local myths and legends.
The sunset hype over Sant Anton i’s rocky coastline has exploded in the past decade or so and the renowned chill-out bars here – including Café del Mar and Café Mambo – are now expensive and require advance dinner bookings (with a minimum spend) to reserve a space. However, you don’t have to enter the bars to enjoy the show: simply bring your own drinks and find a patch on the rocks close to your DJ of choice.
Travel from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur will require a flight to London first on British Airways or Malaysia Airlines. Then, take a connecting flight on Iberia to get to Ibiza. From Ibiza Airport, bus L10 runs to Ibiza Town, L9 heads west for Sant Antoni and L24 travels north to Santa Eularia. The island’s bus services are efficient and useful if you’re based in a town; check ibizabus.com for routes and stops. If your hotel is in the countryside or you want to explore remote beaches, the best way to get around is by hire car.
Calador offers amazing views of Es Vedra, plus sunny rooms and apartments on the southwest coast. A pool and tennis courts are framed by a garden of palms, and the tower studio has an incredible terrace.
Housed in a restored town mansion, Vara de Rey is a boho guesthouse on a tree-lined boulevard in Ibiza Town. Suites have four-poster beds, crystal chandeliers and Dalt Vila views.
Right by lovely Cala de Boix, Hostal Boix couldn’t be further from the Ibiza madness. Simple rooms and an apartment enjoy direct access to the beach, but there’s also a rambling garden and pool to lure you back to the hotel.
Self-catering: There are a couple of good food markets on the island. Try the daily Mercat Vell in Ibiza Town (9am-9.30pm May-Oct, to 6pm Nov-Apr), or the authentic farmers’ market in the northern town of San Juan (from10.30am Sun).
Eating out: Look for the menu del dia (set menu), which often costs no more than US$12 for three courses; bocadillos (sandwiches) are also cheap lunch options (around US$2.50).
Clubbing: Discounted club tickets can be bought in advance online or from bars and merchants across the island. Use the Discobus to cut transport costs.
Sun-worshipping: Consider buying your own parasol for the holiday, as they cost around US$6 to hire per day.
El Rei de la Magia, around the corner from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic, bills itself as Spain’s oldest magic store. It was founded in 1878 by the great Catalonian conjurer Joaquin Partagas, known in his time as the King of Magic. Visitors pass through the shop’s ornate ruby-red facade to discover shelves and display cases brimming with curios: playing cards, wands that spout flowers, interlocking metal rings, backward clocks, joke candy. The shop makes some of the items on site, including its famous Milk Bulb Trick, in which the performer pours milk into a paper cone, causing it to disappear and then— presto! — miraculously reappear inside the bulb of a lamp.
If you buy a trick, a magician will whisk you behind a black curtain to demonstrate how it works.
But El Rei de la Magia will only sell you a trick they think you can pull off. “We do not sell everything to anybody,” said Sara Fernandez, one of the magicians there. “Only what we know you can do and will use.” When I visited, I saw her transform blank white paper into money while an eight-year-old boy in a cape watched. “I would like this,” the boy said, steepling his fingers. He asked his mother for some money to buy the trick, then followed Fernandez behind the curtain to receive her wisdom.
A few minutes later, he emerged, exultant. “Now, the secrets are mine,” he told his mother. He swirled his cape and bowed, having suddenly found himself, like so many travelers, on an unexpected stage.
Madrid has become one of Europe’s culinary capitals and its atmospheric barrios (districts) are crammed with taverns, tapas bars and world-class restaurants loved by locals.
Busy taverns and Michelin-starred restaurants alike dish out delicious Spanish fare.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO?
Queue up with the locals for traditional tapas, visit one of the city’s most beautiful markets (Mercado de San Miguel) and treat yourself to a lavish meal.
La Latina is Madrid’s best barrio for tapas. Head to the streets around Calle de la Cava Baja. Here you’ll find Almendro 13, a charming tavern, where locals queue for traditional tapas with an emphasis on quality rather than frilly presentation.
MERCADO DE SAN MIGUEL
One of Madrid’s most beautiful markets, the Mercado de San Miguel has undergone a major renovation and is now an inviting space strewn with tables. The stalls are outstanding and you can order tapas and more substantial plates at most of the bar-counters.
Early on a Sunday afternoon Casa Revuelta, near Plaza Mayor, is packed and lively. Some of Madrid’s finest tapas is served here, and it’s famous for callos (tripe), torreznos (bacon bits) and albóndigas (meatballs). Its tajadas de bacalao (battered cod) are the best in town.
RESTAURANTE LOS GALAYOS
Most restaurants surrounding Plaza Mayor are tourist traps, but long-running Los Galayos, in the plaza’s southeastern corner, is an exception. It’s a good place to sample traditional cooking from around Spain, such as cocido madrileño, a kind of hearty meat and chickpea stew.
The gaily painted exterior of this old Madrid tavern near Plaza Mayor is hard to miss and the food is even harder to resist, especially the local specialties – callos, cocido and steak. The bar area, with portraits of celebrity patrons, is also a good place for tapas or a wine.
Early on a Sunday afternoon Casa Revuelta, near Plaza Mayor, is packed and lively. Some of Madrid’s finest tapas is served here, and it’s famous for callos (tripe), torreznos (bacon bits) and albóndigas (meatballs).
Its tajadas de bacalao (battered cod) are the best in town (00-34-91-366-3332; Calle de Latoneros, 3; 10.30am – 4pm & 7pm – 11pm Tues – Sat, 10.30am – 4pm Sun, closed Mon & month of Aug; tapas from ` 200).
Croquetas (croquettes) are one of Madrid’s best-loved tapas and Casa Julio’s version is among the city’s greatest. They’re so good, celebrities and mere mortals from all over Madrid flock to this bar in Malasaña, along with loyal locals. The place acquired a bit of a celebrity status when U2 did a photo shoot here some years ago.
Lucio in La Latina has wowed Madrileños with his home-style cooking since 1974. Eggs and roasted meats are his specialty, and the guisos del día (stews of the day) are also popular. Casa Lucio draws a well-dressed crowd that has included the former king of Spain, Bill Clinton and Penélope Cruz.
LA TERRAZA DEL CASINO
Perched atop the lavish Casino de Madrid building, this temple of haute cuisine is presided over by celebrity chef Paco Roncero and is the proud bearer of two Michelin stars. It’s all about culinary experimentation and the menu changes as each new idea emerges from the kitchen laboratory.
Up on the first floor of the Platea development, this restaurant by the two-Michelin-starred chef Ramón Freixa has a bistro feel, with a what’s-fresh-in-themarket approach to cooking and dishes whose origins range from Catalonia to Andalucía. The food looks pretty though the tastes are reassuringly familiar.
A short step off the Paseo del Prado, Lapepa Chic b&b is a well-placed find. Bedheads lined with flamenco shoes give this place personality. Pricier rooms come with a view.
For a splurge, head to old-world Hotel Orfila 12. The service is outstanding; guests can expect bathrobes embroidered with their initials. It’s in a quiet location with a sheltered garden.