Gourmet Highlights of Andalucia

Gourmet Highlights of Andalucia

"You are what you eat", as the saying goes and there is no better way to learn about a country and its culture than through its food and drink. Andalucia, still one of Spain’s largest food-producing regions, is steeped in culinary and gastronomic traditions. This itinerary gives you privileged access to some of the key items in these traditions: fine sherry wines, cured Iberian ham, artisan cheeses, convent-made sweets, and the “liquid gold” of olive oil that is perhaps the hallmark of the region’s landscape and cuisine. With a self-drive rental car and route notes for walks in countryside and town you will have a freedom to roam as well as insider insight. Accommodation is in 4* character hotels and Paradores in the countryside.

Day 1 Sevilla

Arrival in Sevilla, capital of the region of Andalucia, and one of Spain’s most exuberant of cities. History and gastronomy are close to the heart of all Sevillanos, and they cherish their traditions in all senses. Today you will meet two local guides who will introduce you to their world. First, a walking tour of the old Santa Cruz district in the city centre, a fascinating warren of narrow streets and flower-filled plazas, taking in the city’s two main monuments, the extravagant Gothic cathedral and slender Giralda tower, and the sublime Muslim-Christian fusion of the Alcazar palaces and gardens. Then, in the evening, a lively stroll around the centre, taking you to three distinctive bars on a Tapas Tour that will set the scene on the food and wine you are about to discover. Overnight.

Day 2 Sevilla

Breakfast.  This morning collect your hire car and begin your explorations further afield with a trip to the “capital” of Iberian ham, the town of Jabugo, in the Sierra de Aracena. Here you will join a tour given by the experts themselves, a family-run firm who breed Iberian pigs and cure the hams that are world-renowned for their exquisite tangy flavor and delicate texture, seeing the pigs in the “dehesa” fields dotted with cork and holm oaks (whose acorns are the pigs’ special diet). After a guided visit of the installations for curing you will be able to try various cuts of the wonderful ham, accompanied by regional wines. Afterwards, you will have our recommendations for a meal at a local restaurant and route notes for a walk in the environs of the attractive town of Aracena, before you head back to Sevilla to explore more tapas bars!  Overnight.

Day 3 Sevilla - Arcos de la Frontera

Breakfast.  Head south into the fertile plains of the Guadalquivir river – rice and citrus fruits grow here among other things – and to the enchanting hill-top town of Arcos de la Frontera. Your hotel, the Parador, commands superb views on the cliff edge, over the surrounding plains. A driver will collect you late morning for the short journey to Jerez de la Frontera, the city that gives us the name “sherry”, and where you will visit one of the most prestigious bodegas, where very old & rare sherries and brandies are aged in the unique multi-layered “solera” system. After sampling them there is an additional treat: a private art collection that includes works by several Spanish masters such as Goya, El Greco and Velazquez. Time this evening to stroll the streets and lanes of Arcos and dine in one of our recommended restaurants. Overnight.

Day 4 Arcos de la Frontera - Ronda

Breakfast.  Today you follow the “Route of the White Towns”, those quintessentially Mediterranean towns of whitewashed houses that cluster around hilltops once sought after as natural fortifications. Your destination is Ronda – the “Queen” of these “Pueblos Blancos” and one of the most stunningly situated towns you will find, straddling a deep and narrow gorge by means of an imposing late 18th century bridge. En route you will stop in El Bosque where you’ll have the chance to sample the local cheeses in its Museum of Cheese and then see where the bread that accompanies it comes from with a visit to an old water-driven flour mill the Molino de Abajo. Over the other side of a mountain range lies the town of Grazalema, famed for its excellent lamb, game meats and cheeses. Route notes for a circular walk in the adjacent Natural Park are provided, as well as restaurant suggestions for your evening in Ronda. Overnight.

Day 5 Ronda

Breakfast.  Explore Ronda this morning in the company of an expert local guide, who will tell you of its history that includes important Roman and Arab settlements as well as the fascinating links of its nobility with the Americas. You’ll visit its showpiece monument, one of the oldest bullrings in Spain, the spiritual home of bullfighting and a place sought out by the rich and famous in times gone by, and step inside the former city jail. Late morning a driver will take you the short distance to Bodega Descalzos Viejos, a boutique winery set on an escarpment outside Ronda with superb views back to the town from its terraced gardens and where its architect owners will tell you the story of their conversion of a ruined monastery into a thriving winery. The rest of the day is free to drive to other pueblos blancos, such as Setenil de las Bodegas (where houses are encrusted into the rock face), or walk in the charming old quarter of Ronda, perhaps visiting its 12th century Arab baths.  Overnight.

Day 6 Ronda - Granada

Breakfast.  Perhaps the most spectacular of all white towns of this region is Zahara de la Sierra, and with our route notes you’ll be able to walk through it, ascend to a medieval castle for magnificent views over its reservoir and countryside, and then call in on a still-working 18th century olive mill, where you can taste its superb extra virgin oil. As you head towards Granada, a stop in the ancient city of Antequera offers another walking route, this time of its many convents and monasteries, with particular focus on those which maintain the tradition of making traditional sweets and pastries, on sale to the public via a turntable (to preserve the cloistered nuns’ anonymity). Granada, a city which combines its Moorish heritage with a lively university-driven vibe, is where you will spend the next two nights. In a delicatessen store stocking fine food products you will enjoy a guided gourmet tasting of hams, cheeses, preserves and cold cuts, accompanied by regional wines, by way of a further education in Andalucia’s gastronomy.  Overnight.

Day 7 Granada

Breakfast.  Spain’s most-visited monument is the Alhambra, a fabulous story of survival against the odds of the fortress and palaces of a minor Moorish dynasty which somehow held out against more powerful neighbours for over two centuries before falling to Isabel and Ferdinand in 1492. Today its Generalife gardens are an oasis of peace, its palaces a museum of exquisite tile and stucco plaster work. An expert local guide will take you around the Alhambra and in the afternoon a local resident guide will show you the Albaicin quarter, where the bulk of the city’s population lived in the 13th to 16th centuries and a cat’s cradle of winding streets that open out to views of the Alhambra framed by the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. You will stay in the Albaicin for a dinner in a private house, prepared by an engaging expat resident who will demonstrate recipes that demonstrate the fusion of Moorish and Spanish culinary traditions that comes from the times when the sultans were in the Alhambra. Overnight.

Day 8 Granada - Córdoba

Breakfast.  Your last drive takes you through one of the most emblematic of Spanish landscapes – groves of olive trees stretching to the horizon. In the attractive village of Zuheros, at the edge of the Natural Park of Sierra Subbetica, you will learn all about the cultivation of olives in a private visit to a smallholding which in 2 hectares contains no fewer than 11 varieties of olives. After a guided tasting of various olive oils you will be the guest of your host and his wife in their village house for a simple lunch of dishes made with olives and olive oils. Route Notes are provided for a walk in the beautiful valley of the Bailon river that runs through a gorge above Zuheros, or a stroll through the village. Cordoba awaits you in the late afternoon and evening, with an expert local guide showing you its historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety, where the highlight is the vast 8th century mosque, in which a 16th century cathedral stands, a building that is unique in the world. Renowned for its food and wine, Cordoba makes a fitting finale to your tour through the gastronomy of the captivating region of Andalucia. Overnight.

Day 9 Córdoba

Breakfast.  Return your rental car at the office in the station building and jump on one of the excellent high-speed AVE trains to be in Madrid in under 2 hours or Barcelona in around 5 hours, or stay on for further explorations in the south of Spain.