Weekend in Valencia

This year, to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary we flew to Valencia. I hadn’t been since the student days and was curious to rediscover this city in Spain’s Costa Blanca. Especially with my adventurous Italian. We arrived on a Saturday and settled in to boutique hotel Vincci Mercat in the historic center. So how did we choose to spend 48 hours in this diverse city? By exploring and eating of course. It’s not everyday you’re in the land of paella… In addition to our favorite authentic Spanish dining spots, here’s my guide to this eclectic port city.

EAT LOCAL: For the best tapas head straight to Casa Montaña. Established in 1836, this local legend is both a tapas bar and a restaurant. We were lucky to find a table at the more casual bar, and loved every bite of of our seafood, meat and vegetable plates. If you’re looking for top paella, you’ll find it at La Riuà in the historic center or Casa Carmela on the beach. The latter is an institution and reservations are a must. Keep in mind paella is eaten at lunch and takes around 30 minutes to prepare. Well worth the wait!

EAT GOURMET: For our anniversary dinner we discovered Navarro, a real gem. This family run restaurant in the historic center dating from 1951, serves creative cuisine with all ingredients sourced from local markets. Whether it’s lobster paella or seafood salad with cucumber gelato, you will not be disappointed. One of the lovely sisters Guillermina, will make sure of that! Don’t forget to try their sangria, the best I’ve tasted.

SHOPPING: If you’re looking for specialties in the form of cheese and meat, head straight to the Mercado Central.  Over 8,000 square meters including a separate section for fish, you’ll find almost 300 vendors selling all local produce. Even if you’re not in the mood to shop or taste, walking around this market is an experience!

EAT SWEETS: A specialty of Valencia is a drink called horchata. This sweet milky drink is made from pressed chufas (tiger nuts). While drinking it you dip large finger-shaped pastries called fartóns, and enjoy! Horchatería de Santa Catalina is the best and most charming spot in town.

VISIT: Undoubtedly the most impressive place to visit is Santiago Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences. This entertainment-based cultural and architectural center merits an entire day, or weekend if you can spare it. You really do feel as though you’ve entered another world.

BEACH IT: What makes Valencia such a desirable city for both locals and tourists is its beach life. Only thirty minutes via bus from the historic center you’ll find yourself lounging on the beach. After a dip in the warm water, find a shady spot and enjoy a siesta, you’ll probably need it!

In other news, I’m honored to be nominated as best expat blog! Please take a moment to vote here. Merci!

colors of Andalucia

During our recent trip to Andalucia, I became enchanted with the tilework of the Alcázar of Seville. These press-moulded tiles inherited the Islamic love for geometry while taking on figurative compositions inspired by fabrics during the Gothic and Renaissance periods. I was inspired by the colors and shapes and sought to create a modern version in bag form.

IMG_3095IMG_3091IMG_3094The range of motifs produced in Seville was varied, and their use in architecture diverse.

IMG_3163 IMG_3200 IMG_3187 As soon as we returned to Paris I set to work on a new Andalucia handbag collection…

Adventures in Andalucia : Tarifa + Cádiz

Our first stop was Setenil de las Bodegas, a small town once famous for it’s vineyards and unique in it’s position. While most of the pueblos blancos were built on protective bluffs, Setenil grew out of caves dwellings in the cliffs above the rio Trejo, north-west of Ronda.

IMG_4458 IMG_4461For lunch we drove up to Zahara de la Sierra, a charming village nestled in the mountains.

IMG_4544Once a moorish outpost, Zahara’s Arab and Christian history is evident in it’s architecture.

IMG_4535Our next destination was Tarifa on the southernmost coast of Spain, the Costa de la Luz. We were tempted to board the ferry to Morocco, but saved that for another adventure.

IMG_4626This became home for a few days, as we explored the coast by foot, and on horseback.

IMG_4748Not wanting the pueblos blancos tour to end, we discovered Vejer de la Frontera. This quickly became my favorite of the villages with it’s unassuming charm and maze of streets.

IMG_4773 IMG_4781Our last stop was one of the oldest cities in western Europe, Cádiz. We became happily lost in the myriad of historic sights, the uplifting sounds of flamenco, and the local tapas.

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IMG_5118Beneath an Andalucian sunset, we ended one year and began another. In love & gratitude.

Adventures in Andalucia : Córdoba + Ronda

Knowing little about Córdoba other than it’s ancient charm, that’s where we decided to spend Christmas. Tucked away in a cozy and chic apartment in the historic center, we immediately felt at home. The city lay calm beneath the early winter sun.

IMG_4271We lost ourselves within the maze of streets, once the capital of the Arabic caliphate.

IMG_4040Christmas was spent at la Mezquita, a cathedral within a mosque, followed by a hammam.

IMG_4227This quiet city grew on us in it’s unimposing way, the perfect setting before heading south.

IMG_4280One last view of the Roman bridge and we bid farewell to Córdoba. Next stop Ronda.

IMG_4333I had no idea what to expect in Ronda, but knew it was the favorite stop of many.

IMG_4347Ronda’s New Bridge was impressive, towering 120 metres (390 ft) above the canyon floor.

IMG_4354So this is what makes Ronda so spectacular! Time now to head to the Pueblos Blancos…

Adventures in Andalucia : Seville

This year we decided to embark on an adventure in celebration of one year ending and another beginning. Where better than beneath the Spanish sun? Our journey began in Seville. Home became Hotel Casa 1800, a historic palace-house turned boutique hotel, located in the heart of the Santa Cruz barrio. The views of our new city were breathtaking!
IMG_3045Neighboring our hotel sat the Cathedral de Seville, the largest Gothic cathedral and third largest church in the world. Within this noble space Christopher Columbus was laid to rest.IMG_3068The views from the Giralda, the bell tower originally built as a minaret, were incredible!

IMG_3732Our most memorable day was spent at the Alcázar of Seville. Once a Moorish fort, this palace, known to be the most beautiful in Spain, is the oldest still in use in Europe.
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IMG_3179 Walking through it’s many chambers and courtyards, we were well impressed. I became enamored with the Muslim architecture and colorful tile mosaics. (New bag collection?)IMG_3331 The Alcazar’s gardens were uniquely magical. We spent hours walking their paths beneath the Spanish sun, hidden within a palatial world, walled in the center of a charming city. IMG_3386Our wanderings took us to the Plaza de España, located in the Parque de María Luisa and built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, now mainly government buildings.

IMG_3583Much of the reason I love to travel, is to try the regional specialities. For dinner and lunch, we opted for tapas, and many conversations centered around food. Where were our favorite spots? Here is a list of our top three tapas restaurants in Seville. And we tried many! In no particular order, La Brunilda, El Pasaje & Vineria San Telmo. Buen provecho!IMG_3816Soon it was time to leave Seville for Córdoba. Adventures in Andalucia continue…

eating adventures

During my around the world travels I’ve experienced many eating adventures, from street food in Vietnam to yak in Tibet. And let’s not forget bone marrow in China and lardo in Italy. (Delicious!) But I have to admit, the most fun I’ve ever had eating was in San Sebastián. This foodie mecca is home to two of the best restaurants in the world, but what we were after were the pinxtos, the Basque version of tapas. The old quarter is filled with pinxtos bars, dozens lining every street, all attempting to entice you with an array of these taste bites lining the counters.

IMG_0474On our first night we followed our feelings as my Italian would say, or was it our eyes and mouths. And with each bar a glass of rioja or local cider. In less than 24 hours I was hooked!

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Day two we did a little research and discovered that our feelings, and palates, had led us well. The eating adventures continued as we were determined to try as many pinxtos bars as possible.

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By day three, we had eaten at nearly a dozen pinxtos bars, drank many a glass of local wine, over-indulged in calamari and octopus and I even convinced my Italian to try pigs ears. It being our last day, we decided to return to our favorite bars. For those planning a trip to San Sebastián (which I highly recommend for anyone who loves to eat) here is the list of pinxtos bars that will keep us coming back. I’m already looking forward to the next trip!

Bar Zeruko : most innovative and experimental of the pinxtos bars

Atari Gastroteka : the gastronomic version of pinxtos

Borda Berri + La Cuchara de San Telmo : pinxtos made fresh to order (both run by same owner)

Bar Sport : don’t let the name of lack of ambiance fool you!

La Viña : home to the best cheesecake in the world!

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The only rule to remember when pinxtos bar-hopping, the more napkins on the floor, the better!