Last week, I had a holiday.
And before you say that my entire life is a holiday, let me tell you that it isn’t.
Well, not entirely anyway.
Having a car – and quite a decent car – in Spain and rarely using it is a bit of a waste; and a waste that prompted the idea for a mini road trip around Andalucía.
Winter is the best time for this. The weather is perfect for the odd bit of sightseeing and with barely a tourist in sight, the streets, squares and restaurants are more accessible than in the scalding summer heat.
So with the car rammed with more luggage than would have sufficed for a round the world cruise, off we set last Sunday afternoon.
The plan – a three-night break visiting Cádiz, Cordoba and Granada – failed straightaway because by the time we arrive at the Apartementos, close to the centre of Cádiz, one night had become two.
The reason for this is that there’s a lot to see in Cádiz – too much for a single day – and that’s without a visit to the beaches – an absolute must when the sun is shining.
Cádiz is steeped in history. Initially this curiously formed peninsular spit of land was a port city and home to the Spanish Navy. As a base for exploration and trade, the port prospered in the 16th-century. It has more than 100 watchtowers, including the iconic Torre Tavira, historically used for spotting ships whose intentions were likely to be hostile. And should you lose yourself in the narrow streets, the 18th-century domed Cathedral, with its distinctive baroque and neoclassical elements, is the only guide you’ll need to relocate yourself.
The seafront wraps itself around the old town, so that it’s virtually impossible to get lost. And because of this, it’s also virtually impossible to find anything easily, as the narrow streets all look the same – so be prepared for plenty of walking.
We eat at Antonio del Palillo’s delightful little tapas bar, just around the corner from our apartment. The food is sublime and the atmosphere more than convivial.
Monday’s a beach day. If you’ve not visited Cádiz, the beaches are amongst the best in Spain and a pure paradise as long as it’s not too windy.
With eight beaches stretching for around fifteen kilometres, we opt for the Playa de la Victoria, which is as far as a Number 7 bus will take us for a Euro.
A few hours beneath a cloudless sky, punctuated by a light lunch in a nearby chiringito, is only slightly tarnished by a fresh breeze blowing in from the Atlantic.
Monday night, and we decide to return to Antonio’s. Unfortunately Antonio has decided to take the night off, and we spend a frustrating hour looking for a decent restaurant that is open. We had eaten in the Restaurante Café Royalty on a previous visit and found it to be excellent, but on a February Monday night the door was firmly closed. Should you visit Cádiz, and should you find it open, I would strongly urge you to cross the threshold; it’s worth a visit for the architecture alone, although I would put the seafood and the Sauvignon Blanc higher on the list of reasons to go inside.
Eventually we stumble across La Candela – another popular eatery with the locals, where the creative and quirky tapas have a distinctive Asian-slash-Spanish fusion. The place is packed, and we are fortunate to sit at the bar on the last two available seats.
Tuesday morning and the sun is shining, but the gale force wind turns my morning run into a significant challenge. Cádiz is perfect for jogging, as a circuit of the old town suffices to sharpen the breakfast appetite, and it’s virtually impossible to get lost.
We pack the car and leave for Córdoba; an enjoyable drive, which takes us around Sevilla on toll-free motorways uncluttered by heavy traffic.
Arriving at our sumptuous riverbank apartment close to the Puerta del Puente Romano, we are greeted by Ana who gives us a detailed outline of what to see and where to eat.
Córdoba’s origin dates back to Roman times, and it was also a major Islamic centre during the Middle Ages. Best known for La Mezquita, a huge mosque dating from 784 A.D., which features ancient Byzantine mosaics and a columned prayer hall. With the decline of Moorish influence, it became a Catholic church in 1236, and a Renaissance-styled nave was added in the 17th century.
The fact that I don’t go inside has nothing to do with my Ulster Protestant roots, but more to do with the eleven Euro entrance fee. So I leave my wife to do the honours and go in search of pineapple and cheddar cheese on a cocktail stick. I find none.
The Mezquita-Catedral was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and UNESCO status now covers the whole historic centre of Córdoba, Medina-Azahara and the Festival de los Patios.
However enjoyable the tapas were in Cádiz, by Tuesday night I feel I’m due a steak, so we grab a table inside the Moriles Ribera, a new restaurant which Ana hasn’t tried but has heard good things about.
But should you ever find yourself in Córdoba craving a decent steak, I strongly urge you to give the Moriles Ribera a miss.
We’d been seated for fifteen minutes before a waiter comes near us. For sure, there are plenty of waiters, but all but one – a youth with pimples and the look of someone fresh out of primary school – appear to be more focused on the music, the lighting, chatting to each other or anything other activity than attending to hungry steak-craving customers.
‘Too many chiefs and too few Indians,’ I remark to my wife, wondering whether political correctness has rendered this observation redundant yet.
Eventually we order, and fortunately I’m still hungry from my morning exercise so we opt for a media ración of goat’s cheese and Jamón ibérico to start. But before we have finished, my wife’s risotto arrives.
‘And the steak?’ I ask, adding that it’s traditional to wait until the starter is cleared away, and to bring both main courses together.
‘Chef is working on it,’ the pimpled youth informs me.
‘Remind him I like it medium-to-well done, won’t you?’ I reiterate. ‘No blood, claro?’
Fifteen minutes later, my wife has finished her risotto and there’s still no sign of my steak.
Eventually it arrives, so bloody that it could have bypassed the kitchen and been delivered straight from the butcher’s shop.
I send it back. Another ten minutes passes and we finish the wine – a Pago De Carraovejas 2019, Ribera del Duero which, by the way, was excellent.
Still anticipating my steak to be worth the lengthy wait, I consider ordering another bottle. Thankfully I don’t.
I catch our waiter’s eye as he passes.
‘And how’s chef getting on with my steak?’ I ask.
‘He’s still working on it,’ I’m informed.
‘Tell him to butterfly it,’ I suggest, in an attempt to expedite matters.
Off he scuttles to the kitchen and returns to inform me that chef is prepared to do no such thing, but he will provide me with the means to cook it myself using a burner, which will be placed on the table.
‘Would he like me to do the washing up as well?’ I ask. ‘I assume that chef’s objections to butterflying my steak are more on the grounds of the quality of the meat rather than his gastronomic ethics?’ I’m past caring that all of this is almost certainly lost in translation.
I ask for the bill, and a bill that does not include the steak which chef failed to cook.
We pay and leave.
At the risk of repeating myself – do not go there.
Wednesday passes in a blur of squares, the famous courtyards of the San Basilio, the Jewish Quarter, a host of bars, and when fatigue and hunger elicits a search for lunchtime fodder, we find ourselves seated on the shaded terrace of the Taberna del Rio, ironically situated next door to the Moriles Ribera.
Now this I would unreservedly recommend.
Mother’s creamy potato salad, liberally topped with baby shrimps (Ensaladilla de mi madre con camarón cocido y mayonesa ligera) may not sound the most exciting dish in the world, but I can tell you that it was divine; as was the Salmorejo cordobés tradicional con jamón ibérico, huevo y A.O.V.E. de Priego de córdoba (cold soup with bits of ham and boiled egg). So impressed were we that we returned the following day, and I would also highly recommend the Noodles XO salteados al wok con pollo rustido, verduritas vapor, kabayaki y jengibre – a snip at €10.50.
Córdoba’s Historic Centre is predominately – but not entirely – designated for pedestrian use. Later that afternoon, strolling towards the commercial centre, we see a young couple walking down the middle of the cobbled street, a bus behind them, with the irate driver blasting the horn. There are perfectly serviceable pavements on either side of the street which they choose to ignore. But between their wheeled suitcases and their earbuds, they are oblivious to the bus.
Further proof, should it be required, that the human brain is becoming smaller.
We loved Córdoba so much that we extended our visit to a third night. Our hosts, Nicolas and Ana own a second apartment which they offered us for a very reasonable €70. This two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with garage parking also boasts a 60 square metre terrace with views to the Puerta del Puente Romano and La Mezquita.
We eat that night in the riverbank Breakfast Club. Apart from unrivalled (well, in Spain anyway) levels of Covid hysteria, I would thoroughly recommend this eatery. We breakfast there before departing the following morning, and that too was memorable.
Chicos! That’s about it.
Cádiz was terrific but Córdoba easily eclipsed it.
Cádiz excels for its beaches, and Córdoba lives long in the memory for its historic culture, architecture, bars and restaurants.
If you ever find yourself with a free week, this is a road trip that you will not regret.
But do not – whatever you do – embark on this in the height of the summer.
And do not – whatever you do – order a steak at the Moriles Ribera!
Hasta pronto, amig@s!