Have you heard of Ronda? I hadn't when I started researching for my fall trip to Spain. Turns out Ronda's a stunning Pueblo Blanco, or white town, conveniently situated between Sevilla and Granada. If you're travelling in Andalucia, Ronda is a great resting place between the two larger cities. It's a nice day trip and an even better overnight stop (especially if you're the outdoorsy type who likes to hike.) Spend the night and you'll have the chance to explore at your leisure and devote more time to the town's many sites and restaurants. If you're like me, you'll spend most of your stay meandering from viewpoint to viewpoint, gawking at the incredible mountain views.
Ronda is carved in half by the Guadalevín River its massive canyon, necessitating the construction of successive bridges. The Puente Nuevo, or New Bridge, is the one you'll see photographed in all of the guide books (and the last photo of this post.) Across the New Bridge is a charming old town full of twists and turns, cobbled streets, and whitewashed walls. During my explorations I came across a tiny, tucked away bakery on the old side of bridge staffed by an adorable and super sweet young lady. I don't know the name or the address, but it was quite near the Casa Don Bosco. I gratefully accepted samples of manchego and candied fig before I fumbling along with my broken Spanish, asking about this sweet and that, eventually ending up with a piece of deeply caramelized almond brittle. It provided just enough protein, and a bit of a sugar rush, to keep me going until I found the perfect restaurant for a late lunch.
What's the most decadent breakfast you can imagine? Along with the English fry up and French chocolate filled croissants, the Spanish tradition of churros and chocolate must be right there at the top of the list. It's not just for tourists, I saw many a local happily dunking away. The trick is to have your churros in the morning, like a true Spaniard. If you aren't into sweets for breakfast, the somewhat more virtuous option is a tostada, aka, toast. Just take one crusty roll, add a drizzle of olive oil, a smear of crushed tomato, perhaps a slice of ham, and you've got breakfast. Over the course of my stay in Andalucia, I indulged in both breakfasts several times.
Unlike most churros you find in the states, the plain Spanish versions aren't covered in sugar or filled with cream. But they do come in several shapes and sizes, though they're always fried in a circle, then chopped into dunkable sticks. Churros range from a half inch to two inches thick with variations in texture and density. The ones in Sevilla and Granada have a smooth surface and chewy bouncy texture that can be ruined if they sit too long in their own oil. The fresher the better! The doughnuts' internal hole structure allows hot chocolate to seep right in when dunked.
My last stop in Spain was Madrid, where I sat down for more churros and chocolate at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés. Conveniently, the cafe was just steps from my hotel and they serve their specialty all day long. So I ignored my advice of morning churros only, and indulged in a late afternoon snack. Unlike the churros pictured in this post, San Ginés churros are denser, the dough extruded through a star tipped tube to create a narrow, ridged doughnut. Chocolate clings like a dream to the exterior ridges, making it the slightly superior dunking apparatus.
And what about the chocolate? All the mugs I tried were just barely sweetened and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. They weren't quite as creamy and thick as the decadent drinking chocolate I sampled at Cacao Sampaka in Barcelona, but they were all much richer than typical American hot chocolate. I had my first mug at La Centuria Cafe in Sevilla, beneath the shadow of Las Setas, where the chocolate was lighter and very drinkable, a little milkier than later versions. I accidentally ordered a full portion of six churros, far too many for one person. Make sure to ask for a half order if you're on your own.
The photos in this post come from Gran Cafe-Bib Rambla, in Granada. It's centrally located, just under the Cathedral. And like Chocolatería San Ginés, Bib Rambla is famous for their churros y chocolate. You'll see an order on almost every table. Their hot chocolate is dark and just a little sweet. My favorite spoonfuls were near the end, when the chocolate had begun to cool and firm up, resulting in pockets of semi-solid chocolate that melted so nicely on my tongue. I also ordered a fruit skewer, thinking it would help balance out the decadence of the rest of my order. Don't bother. The skewer contained four bites of barely ripe orange and melon and cost more than my cup of coffee.
And speaking of coffee, if you're not up for indulging in chocolate straight away in the morning, cafe con leche is the perfect alternative. Cafe con leche is steamed milk poured into a large shot of espresso and it's just as good as chocolate for dunking churros. It's usually served in a small mug, but you can also order the drink 'en vaso,' and it will arrive in a little glass cup. I noticed that women seemed more likely to order their coffee this way, though I haven't quite determined why. Like churros, Cafe con leche is typically consumed in the morning so don't be surprised if your waiter gives you a funny look if you order it past lunch time. Just make sure to enjoy the pour, it's awfully pretty, especially when performed by a handsome young Spanish waiter.
I was going to attempt to balance this post out with information on a more wholesome Spanish breakfast of tostada. But I've already written way more than I intended, so that will have to wait for another post. For now I'll end with a few photos of Granada, from the lovely San Cristobal Mirador in the Albaicin neighborhood. That's where I headed directly after finishing my churros y chocolate for some fresh air and plenty of hills and hiking.
I'm just back from a week and a half in Spain. I spent my time in Andalucia. A week in Sevilla, a day in Ronda, three more in Granada, closing with an evening in Madrid. It's a beautiful region. Here are a few shots from Sevilla, where the streets are lined with orange trees, the kids are adorable, and, best of all, you can afford to eat and stay with ease. Hover over the photos to read the caption.
You can't miss the Doge's Palace. No really, it's inescapable, you can't see any of Venice's main sights without walking or sailing past the palace. The elegant peach and white patterned brick walls and carved windows lead you from the lagoon right into St. Mark's Square. The Doge's Palace, aka the Palazzo Ducale or the Duke's Palace, is one of Venice's top attractions. It's easy to see why. Every inch of the palace is designed leave visitors in awe. And it's here you'll find one of Venice's most iconic landmarks, Santa di Spirito, the Bridge of Sighs.
Venetians sure loved their gold. Like St. Mark's Basilica and Cafe Florian, Doge's Palace is gilded to the studs. The grandeur begins in the marbled courtyard. Imagine yourself as a guest of the Duke, being lead into the palace, climbing the marble stairs, ceiling gold and unbelievably ornate. They don't call it Scala d'oro (The Golden Staircase) for nothing. And you haven't even reached the most impressive space. The largest room in the Palace, The Council Chamber, was designed by Andrea Palladio and is lined with massive paintings by Veronese and Tintoretto. Even the view from the windows is picture perfect. South facing windows frame a view of the lagoon and San Giorgio Maggiore, while, to the north, there are sight-lines all the way across the island. The palace is situated like a fortress.
The Bridge of Sighs is pretty, sure, and the story certainly has a tragic sort of romance, but I wouldn't rank it up there with Venice's most spectacular landmarks. Maybe it's more impressive seen from the water on a $100 gondola ride. Still, it was nice to see from the inside. The story goes that prisoners were led from the Doge's Palace across the Bridge of Sighs to the windowless prison. It was through the stone windows that convicts got their last glimpse of Venice and of freedom. What I did like about the bridge was the opportunity to get up close and personal. Unlike most historical works of art and architecture, you can actually touch the windows, stick your fingers through the openings and imagine so many people before you doing the same. Then again, four hundred years of germs.
Back out in St. Mark's Square, the sun was just starting to set, washing everything in a lovely golden glow. There aren't a lot of green spaces on the island, but there's a hidden gem of a garden near the entrance to the Square, opposite of the Doge's Palace. It's small, with just a few benches. But if you can snag one, there's some prime people watching (I spied a regiment of astonishingly handsome Italian officers.) It's a lovely place to take a breather. After the palace, you'll need one.