After our short stay in the caves of Guadix, we spent a couple days in Granada. It was really neat to see all the Arabic influences around the city, which made it so different than any other Spanish city we’d seen. Of course we spent a big chunk of our time walking around the enormous Alhambra, and it was incredible. I can see why people wouldn't want to leave that place.
On our way to Seville we took a pit stop in Jaén for some olive oil tasting. The province of Jaén is a major producer of olive oil in Spain with olive groves covering just about everywhere you look. We were the only people at this small, family-owned olive mill which meant we got to ask all the questions we ever wanted about olive oil. Our excellent tour guide talked us through the process of producing olive oil and then we got to taste three that they had produced (one of which was awarded #2 in the world in 2014). We convinced ourselves that it was necessary to buy an abundance of olive oil and were banking on sheer magic that it would all fit in our luggage.
Our very last stop in Spain was Seville. We had heard such great things about the city and were pumped to explore this part of Andalusia. Unfortunately, we happened to be there during some really high temperature days which made a lot of outdoor activities almost unbearable. But we made up for the heat with tapas and sangria galore! You can never go wrong with more sangria.
Our last week in Spain we rented a car and spent a week driving from Valencia to Seville. Our plan was to not have a plan. Or at least a very loose one. We left on Tuesday and had to get to Seville by the next Tuesday, and that was about it. After being carless for the greater part of two years we were really looking forward to the freedom that a car would allow us. We could go anywhere we wanted, whenever we wanted, all without buying tickets! We didn’t even have to pack our suitcases so meticulously because, hey, just throw it in the trunk! The joy.
The first place we stopped was Altea. It’s a small town less than two hours south of Valencia on the coast. We stayed just long enough to down a pitcher of sangria, sweat profusely walking up a never ending incline to our hostel, enjoy mojitos and a sunset on the beach, and skid both of my knees on the street (they should really have signs warning against carrying overweight backpacks while walking down steep streets). All of which took less than 24 hours, in case you’re wondering.
The next morning we drove to Mojacar, another small coastal town. It’s really a neat town with great views, but we got there right during siesta time which meant there wasn’t a lot going on. So we ate another great meal (plus more sangria) and then wandered around a bit before hitting the road again.
When I said we didn’t have a plan, I meant that nothing was set in stone, but I would be lying (and not fooling anyone) if I said that I didn’t research places along our route and have an idea of places we wanted to see. One of the places that did not make the list, because of time constraints, was Guadix. It was going to be a little out of the way and we just thought it would be rushing too much to try and make it there. But when we decided to leave Mojacar early we figured that we could make time for an overnight stop in Guadix, and I was stoked. Ever since I had read about the people in Guadix that lived in caves, I wanted to visit one. Well we ended up booking this great cave at the last minute so we could experience life as cave-dwellers for a night. It was such a fun and unique experience. What started out as a place to skip over, turned out to be one of the most memorable stops on our trip. Life with a car, I’m telling you.
Next up: Granada, Jaén, and Seville
I’m sitting here in an apartment in Paris, staring out the window, thinking back on last month when we were in Spain. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we found out that we’d be in Paris for most of July, and then decided on a whim to spend five weeks in Spain? What an unexpected and exciting surprise that was. Now we’re on the last stretch of our trip with only 8 days left. Although we love Paris, we’re also really looking forward to being back in Texas (minus the heat) and settling down for a while.
When we decided to go to Spain for the month of June we also decided to rent an apartment for the entire month so we’d have a home base. There’s so many great cities in Spain so it was not an easy feat to choose just one, but ultimately we settled on Valencia. And it turned out to be a great choice. Up until the last week, the weather was just perrrrrfect. The kind of weather that forces me to ohhh and ahhh over it every time I step outside, which is Scott’s absolute favorite part about it.
Unfortunately, that last brutally hot week was the one that we chose to ride bikes to the beach. It was going to be the best way to spend our last weekend in Valencia. I was convinced and had it all planned out. We’d rent bikes in the morning, ride to the nicer, less crowded beach, eat paella on the beach, maybe go on a boat ride, walk around the town, then head back in the evening when it got a little cooler. It was a solid plan. So we got our bikes that morning and began our ride through the park. Everything going just as planned. We stopped to check directions, took off our helmets to get some air flow, and casually commented that it was a little warm-ish. Still playing it cool though. We're from Texas after all, we can handle a little heat.
Yeah, um, I don’t know exactly how far it is, but that one website said you could ride there so I’m sure we’ll be there soon!, I told Scott. But I mean, this is fun, right? Look how pretty it is! Oh look, there’s a sign, just 5 km to go. We’re having a good time, we’re optimistic, the wind is blowing in our faces, then we stopped. Sweat everywhere, soaking everything. Wait. Why does it say 10 km now? The bike path ended and we were debating our next move. We had already ridden farther than we expected and it was most definitely much hotter than we expected. I am so hot. No, you don’t understand, I am really REALLY hot! Yes, I see your sweat soaked shirt, but there's no way you're hotter than me right now. I couldn’t pretend I was having fun anymore. I was hungry and hot. We both were. So we scratched our original plans, turned around and went back to the beach we had just past. Funny thing is, laying out on the beach was not part of the plan, so neither of us had our swimsuits. Luckily, I had a stroke of genius before we left and stuffed a sports bra into the backpack, just in case. I changed into my sudo swim top (poor white shirt will never be the same) as fast as humanly possible and made a beeline to the ocean. We decided that the only reason that we would be leaving the beach for the rest of the day would be to eat, that’s it. And even though we didn’t end up following any of the plans I had so carefully laid out, it was a good day. I even have a sick shorts tan to show for it.
When I did my research on the day and weekend trips we should take from Valencia, Albarracín was not one of the places that I came across. Though luckily we got the inside scoop from someone who's been living in Spain for a long time, and I'm so glad we did. This place was truly unique, it makes you feel like you've stepped right back into the Middle Ages.
The village is situated in a valley which is completely surrounded by the Sierra de Albarracín mountains. The old town is built up vertically with a castle at the very top. A wall was built (and most of it still remains) around 3 quarters of the old town to protect the village. The village has been kept in such good conditions that you can really begin to imagine what it would have been like during the medieval times. Our stay in Albarracín was pretty short, so we spent most of our time wandering around the steep, and narrow streets in the old town. There's plently of historical spots to check out, tons of great views to take in, and cafés to stop in to give your feet a break. If you don't mind doing a good amount of walking (with a lot of it being uphill), then I would highly recommended spending some time here. It felt so different than anywhere else I've been in Spain, plus you pretty much escape the big tourist crowds. Two thumbs up in my book!
Our first morning there, we got up just before sunrise to hike up to the wall that surrounds the old town. When our alarms went off there was serious talk about pulling the covers back over our heads, but after much deliberation we finally managed to drag ourselves out of bed. The morning chill was much colder than either of us had imagined (or packed for), which made the getting up part that much harder. I wore Scott's only long-sleeve button down over my tank top, while he braved it in a t-shirt. To get to the wall we walked all the way up through the old town and then the rest of the way up the side of the mountain. There was not another soul to be seen. It was as if the entire village had evacuated over night and no one had bothered to tell us. But really I didn't mind. It was a pretty cool (and cold) feeling to sit on top of the wall, looking down at an empty town, as the sun began to peak over the mountain tops.
During our first half day there we had seen most of the things that we wanted to see in the old town, so we walked along the Guadalaviar River which runs around the village. It was a nice, peaceful escape from the harsh mid-day sun. We spent a day and a half in Albarracín in all and thought it was the perfect amount of time to see it all and relax a little. Oh, and in case you really ARE planning a trip to Albarracín, we stayed in this great bed and breakfast which made our trip that much better.
We're still in Valencia for another week, but I thought I would go ahead and share some photos from our day trip to the coastal town of Peñíscola. Let me first say that the day started off not quite the way we had hoped. As we pulled up to the old town the rain was coming down harder and harder, and it didn't look like it was going to let up any time soon. Now, we should be used to this kind of weather from our two years in Finland, but we have been completely spoiled by the sunny days in Valencia that even a couple clouds are an unwelcomed surprise. I was convinced that the day was going to be spent in cafés, hiding from the downpour. Usu ally that wouldn't be the worst thing, but in this case that would mean missing out on some incredible views. Fortunately, a couple of hours later the sun started to make its way out from behind the clouds, the fog cleared, and we were back in business.
The name Peñíscola comes from the Latin word for peninsula, and it is about an hour and a half train ride north from Valencia. At the highest point of the peninsula sits a castle named for the antipope Benedict XIII, or Papa Luna, as referred to in Spanish. When Papa Luna was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, he fled to Peñíscola were he lived out the rest of his life. Now in the castle and throughout the town, you can see depictions of lunas or moons which represent the antipope.
The old town is filled with narrow streets lined with white-washed buildings, decorated with greenery and flowers. It is evident that most of the town had been developed and targeted for tourists, but around every corner you can find a new place to stop and enjoy the postcard-worthy views. There's most definitely a reason that this is a popular Spanish destination.