Exactly a year ago, I was packing my bags for a solo trip to Madrid and Valencia. I travelled back in time to revel in the medieval era festivities of the Las Fallas in Valencia, which I wrote about in a story recently published in The Hindu. And I fell in love, almost instantly, with the vibrant colors of spring in Madrid. I strolled along quaint neighborhoods and tree-lined boulevards, and stumbled upon some of the city’s quirkiest secrets to discover why it inspired the likes of Ernest Hemingway. If you’re going to Madrid, take my list, and let the city charm you, as it charmed me.
While in Valencia for Spain’s famous Las Fallas festival, I found my way to Valencia’s best kept secret – La Albufera, a national park on Valencia’s countryside. Home to the largest lake in Spain, rice paddies and potato farms, small fishing settlements, pine forests, and El Saler, one of Valencia’s finest beaches, a trip to Albufera is highly recommended on any list of things to do in Valencia.
I’m not a big fan of cities, but Madrid was almost love at first sight. Maybe because it was just the start of spring, or maybe because the city is just that beautiful! I spent most of my time by the River Manzanares in Madrid, strolling along the parks and squares of Madrid, exploring Madrid’s markets and cafes, and discovering its quirky neighborhoods. In this photo essay, I share a roundup of some of the best unusual things to see and do in Madrid, including local hangouts and relatively secret places, that are sure to make you fall in love with this Spanish city too.
What a month March has been. I’ve travelled along the mountains, rivers and rice paddies of Thailand’s north, revisited with much nostalgia the familiar streets of Singapore, revelled in the festivities of Las Fallas in Spain, and finally made that illusive trip to India’s northeast to live with the Mishing tribe of Assam and explore the wilderness of the eastern Himalayas. And in the midst of all these adventures, I’ve been overwhelmed to see my travel story about Turkey’s Black Sea region, published in BBC Travel, a travel publication I’ve always held in such high regard.
It lies before us in all its splendour, brought to life by incessant cheering and booing. Men in white togas, and women dressed in colourful long tunics, keep their eyes glued to the pit below. The chariots have circled the arena, and the dust kicked up by the hooves of their galloping horses is slowly settling down. Armour-clad gladiators take centre stage; battle-hardened men who know this might be their last fight. The smell of sweat hangs heavy in the air, as their bravado drives the fourteen thousand spectators wild. The crowd is baying for blood, as a strong sense of anticipation mixed with dread engulfs the atmosphere. I am forced to look away from the bloodshed, towards the calming expanse of the emerald blue Mediterranean Sea that this Roman amphitheatre overlooks. I shake off these musings and smile at my vivid imagination.
After my recent trip to Spain, many of you have written to me to ask questions like what’s the best time to visit the country, and whether it’s really possible for a vegetarian to survive without eating supermarket food. I’ve written travel tips for a first trip to Europe before, but I thought it would be a good idea to dig specifically into Spain this time. So here goes, ten travel tips to make your life travel planning to Spain simpler:
Ibiza has always conjured up images of wild parties, loud music, lots of alcohol, and the Vengaboys song for me. In fact, the only people I personally know who’ve been to this little island in the Mediterranean Sea, off the east coast of mainland Spain, are the kind who would drink and dance till they drop. It is probably a good time to confess that I consider myself too old to hit the clubs all night; yes, I’m twenty-four, but as they say, life is short! So when Spain Tourism decided to fly us to Ibiza, I found myself secretly craving an escape on the gorgeous countryside of Spain, for a cosy little wine bar and small-town intimacy with the locals. I couldn’t anticipate then, that Ibiza offers just that in the off season from October to March, when the weather becomes chilly, the parties slow down, and life on the island slips into rejuvenation mode.
A cold wave swept across Spain in the last two weeks and temperatures dipped dramatically. I was travelling in Almeria and Jaen in southern Spain, which are supposed to be among Europe’s warmest regions in winter. It rained incessantly. The skies frowned with dark clouds. My summer wear went deep into my backpack. Many cafes remained shut. Many people remained indoors. It was still beautiful, but in a dull, gloomy way. So two days ago when I arrived in Cordoba and saw uninterrupted sunshine for the first time in what felt like eons, I knew I had to share what that brief stretch of freak winter had taught me!
In vino veritas. In wine there is truth. And on the Spanish countryside, truth of a different kind; one that lays bare a love affair I never knew existed. My romantic tryst with wine starts on a rainy morning, on the Cister route in the province of Tarragona, an hour’s drive from Barcelona. We drive alongside lush green valleys, partly covered in mist, as a bleak sun shines over the surrounding hills, promising to warm up an unexpectedly cold day. As the rain slows to a drizzle, we stop next to a stretch of carefully manicured vineyards and let the aroma of the grapes intoxicate us. We are in the premises of the Santa María de Poblet monastery, and as we’ll soon learn, these vineyards produce black wine, a darker version of red; there are hours to wait before we can try it.
After a week of trotting in Barcelona, Tarragona and Ibiza as a guest of Spain Tourism, my many pre-conceived, seemingly romanticized notions of Spain have evolved. It is true that my first week in Spain, as a press trip, has been sheltered in many ways; I haven’t had to choose my own accommodations, I haven’t lost myself in the cobbled streets of an old town to desperately seek directions in my half-baked Spanish, and I haven’t had to fret over menus to pick out vegetarian ingredients using Google translate. Yet, this one week has lent itself to showing me the country entirely from my own lens, without pouring over hours of online search. Just like I felt in Turkey, a week maybe too short to form these impressions, but I have another three weeks (this time completely on my own) to think otherwise.