Malaga/Seville/Jerez/Cadiz winter tour by rail 2016

Nightime theatricality of the Plaza Asuncion, Jerez. Las Cuadras Bar on far right.

Winter Rail Tour  2016

We made a short trip last year around this time — late November/early December to Cordoba and Seville, commencing/ending in Malaga that was a great experience and the weather was very kind. This time the weather was a little less kind, although we did have some very warm days and we returned just before the deluge that engulfed southern Spain during 3/4 December!

This year we extended the trip [skipping Cordoba, wonderful though it is] to visit Seville, Jerez de la Frontera and Cadiz, utilising the services of RENFE — the Spanish State Rail system. Travel costs were very reasonable — especially as we purchased the Tarjeta Dorada, or Pensioner’s Pass, that reduced prices even further. Apart from one hiccup on the first journey — when we gathered that a tunnel had been flooded due to torrential rain near the Caminito del Rey — the recently reopened cantilevered walkway from a sheer rock face — all train journeys were very easily negotiated by advanced booking via Spanish Rail Services, London.

Our route 2016: Mediterranean Sea to Atlantic Ocean — and back.

Malaga 

Malaga has been a starting point for many of our trips: the new discovery this time round was the roof terrace bar and pool at the new Room Mate Valeria Hotel situated in the revamped SoHo locale. The bright broad stripes on the walls and ceilings in the rooms are an acquired taste but the views from the roof terrace are spectacular. Great for sundowner drinks if the weather allows. We also revisited both the municipal markets; the Mercado de la Merced has a mix of eating and drinking offers while retaining some of the stalls of a typical produce market. We photographed some of the stalls with the most interesting lettering. The Mercado Central Atarazanos, with it’s stained glass windows and neo-Arab style central doors has a row of eateries at one end that spill out onto the pavement. Snacking and drinking to a constant buzz of traffic is great fun! 

View from the roof terrace of the RoomMate Valeria Hotel, Malaga.

The Malaga Cathedral Christmas Tree 2016.

More theatricality: the Bishops Palace Museum, Malaga.

Lively lettering on gourmet stalls at the Mercado de la Merced, Malaga.

Seville 

We loved Seville on our first visit last year, this time we took time to visit the Museo de Belles Artes, just a short walk from our hotel: the Melia Grand Colon. The building is a repurposed religious institution: the Convento de la Merced Calzada, built in the early 17th century, now with some fine bronze doors to the various salons and well lit galleries; the highlight being the polychrome church with numerous religious paintings by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville, 1617-1682). We also visited CAAC: The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, again housed in what was previously a religious building: the Cartuja Monastery established in 1400 on the Isla de la Cartuja. In the late 1900 it was bought for use as a ceramics factory, before being repurposed as a cultural centre in 1992: resulting in an intriguing mix of church and cloisters, kilns and a very tall chimney — and contemporary art. Exhibitions we saw were a retrospective of Spanish artist Luis Gordillo, reminiscent of various UK pop artists of the 1960’s and work by Lorraine O’Grady, a US based artist exploring cultural identity. We were perhaps most intrigued by a number of enclosed courtyards viewable from the galleries comprising a closed space and a single mature tree, an amazing group of plants hanging from a pergola and the cafe/bar that had seating in the gardens and was proving very popular with gallery visitors and the general public too.

Museo de Belles Artes, Seville. The former church of the convent, now the main gallery featuring works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Cloister garden at the Museo de Belles Artes, Seville.

Recreation of the studio of Luis Gordillo at the CAAC: The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville.

Serene single tree in courtyard space at CAAC: The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville.

Sunday at the Plaza España, in the Park Maria Luisa, Seville.

We also had some excellent evening meals — three at restaurants as well as visiting the Mercado Lonja Del Barranca again, a very jolly collection of food and drink offers with a charming riverside terrace. We visited Mechela twice, just a few steps from the hotel, and had some excellent creative food, great service and very good value for money, #7 on TripAdvisor and very well worth the accolades. Acting on recommends in Monocle magazine, we footed it up to Alameda Hercules on our second evening a —  broad grassy strip between roads lined with bars and cafes, but no restaurants took our fancy until we happened upon La Matta 24 — a charming restaurant run by a young team serving sophisticated dishes on a narrow ‘flatiron’ site and, again, amazingly reasonable prices. 

The bill from Mechela Restaurant Seville. Weñ splashed out on the bottle of Biagorri, a reminder of our tour of the Rioja region and bodega visit a few years back.

Jerez

Everyone is drinking sherry in Jerez! It’s the tipple of choice in the numerous bars, cafes and restaurants in the city centre as we noted on our wanderings from the charming Casa Grande Hotel. Jerez has numerous bodegas for storing and bottling sherry offering visits and used as event venues. The informative visits usually finish with a tasting — the quantity depending on your ticket price! Some of the bodegas also now produce sherry based ‘vermut’ or vermouth, usually served neat with ice and a slice of orange — our new drink of choice! Also on the tourists’ list of ‘must-see’s’ is the Mercado Municipal — a temple of fresh and preserved food attesting to Spain’s wealth of produce available to the cook. There’s a vibrant social scene offering local flamenco singing in the bars and some very good restaurants offering regional dishes. Our particular choice was Albala, a very lively contemporary space, open all day and offering a wide range of dishes in varying sizes: tapas, half ration and ration to a very high quality and at some very competitive prices. #6 on TripAdvisor. Another very lively spot was Tabanco Plateros where they are happy open a tin of — quite expensive — sardines to go with your sherry. Tabanco el Pasaje is a traditional flamenco bar with two entrances. At closing they shut one door and allow customers out the other to the bar opposite [the name eludes us] to listen to the ‘open mike' style flamenco singing — and more sherry! We look a tour round some of the old streets of Jerez and were duly impressed by numerous palaces with beautiful courtyards, an updating of moorish building styles, attesting to the past wealth of families in the city — many now with descriptive plaques courtesy of the city counciland dropped into Tabanco Las Cuadras for a reviving sherry.

Things quietening down early afternoon at Mercado Cental de Abastos, constructed in 1885 and refurbished in 1983/4.

Corner of Tabanco Las Cuadras, Jerez — very lively music scene Friday nights, bit quieter on Sundays.

Charming gothic-y design elements in Cafe Central at Remedios 7, Jerez.

Palacio Domecq, Jerez: commissioned by the first Marquis of Montana in 1775 and subsequently purchased by Juan Pedro Domecq Lembeye in 1855. The Domecq family home until 1964.

Beautiful facade to Palacio de Luna on Plaza Rafael Rivero, Jerez.

Cadiz

The train to Cadiz passes through El Puerto de Santa Maria and then all round the bay — mainly unattractive mud banks — and up the narrow isthmus to the ancient city of Cadiz, founded by the Phoenicians and now a grid of streets lined with attractive traditional buildings, all surrounded by stone ramparts. The two outstanding buildings for us are the Cathedral — we actually did the audio enhanced self-directed tour — and the new Parador Cadiz Hotel Atlantico — where we lodged for 2 nights. This Parador was totally rebuilt in 2012 to co-ordinate with events celebrating the bi-centenary of the signing of the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and is a spectacular testimony to contemporary architecture and the support Spain gives to tourism. Public spaces are very impressive and all rooms have glass fronted balconies accessed by huge push and slide windows with an electrically operated blackout blind. 

Wonderful view through floor to ceiling windows of our room at Parador Hotel Atlantico, Cadiz.

Contrasting lighting around the main altar of the Cathedral, Cadiz.

The weather was good to us, so to recoup we headed down to La Caleta beach and had a glass of wine and boquerones at the friendly Bar Club Caleta — super. In addition to visiting the cathedral — built with the proceeds of the exploitation of South America, we checked out some recommends and visited some old haunts too. We were charmed by the refurbished Royalty Cafe & Restaurant, a wonderfully overblown creation of 1912 recreated in 2012 — OTT decoration, but good service [waiters with trolleys] and very fair pricing for a range of tapas, drinks and full meals in the restaurant section. Whereas Ultramar & Nos: little high tables and stools, an eclectic mix of dishes and quite high prices, although featured in certain publications, was not our thing although we did have a friendly conversation regarding pomegranates and a nicely served glass of vermut. La Taperia de Columela was a contemporary space with tapas in generous proportions at the bar and a few tables with people coming and going constantly. We had a great range of tapas as an evening meal at the bar of Balandro — still great and very popular with Gaditanos [residents of Cadiz] and visitors too. Walking through Plaza San Antonio we noted the large traditional buildings given over to various consulates but one, painted pink and cream had a very lively cafe next to a doorway through which one could see a huge chandelier. Intrigued we ventured in to a riot of neo-Arab decoration leading to the Casino Gaditano, not a gambling joint but: 

‘ [an] emblematic cultural and social institution that, since 1844, has been fomenting the spread of culture, science, economic progress, dialogue and coexistence among the people of Cadiz, within the framework of a historic and beautiful building’ 

— we’re composing our applications right now!

Club Caleta Bar/Cafe on Playa de la Caleta, Cadiz.

The recreated fin-de-siécle decoration of the Royalty Cafe and Restaurant, Cadiz.

Amazing Balandro tapas: Queso de cabra — aged goat's cheese and walnuts with balsamic vinegar.

Cloister and staircase at the Casino Gaditano cultural institution, Cadiz.

Finally back to Malaga and home. On reflection, getting to and from the various rail stations and train journeys were not too arduous; trains were largely on time, very clean and modern and allowed us to visit cities without the hassle of finding parking spaces or worry about CWD insurance scams. We also enjoyed the option of being with fellow passengers rather than just us two in a car for hours — and you can see the landscape too!

Regarding drinks: we’re definitely going to investigate the specialist sherries now available and more research needed on ‘vermut'. Watch this space.