What must we see in south Portugal or Spain?
December 13, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Honeymooning! What must we see in southern Portugal or Spain?

I'm getting married very soon, and my lovely bride and I will be heading to Seville, Spain for the honeymoon. We were also planning on renting a car and driving along the southern coast of Portugal.

I've seen some incredible pictures of Lagos, but many of the travel guides (e.g., Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, etc) have only limited blurbs on the southern part of the country, and I'm interested to see if MeFi can help me dig up any other amazing places to go or experiences to be had.

Alternatively, we'd be fine just staying in Spain, so if there's something that can't be missed within a 3-hour or so drive from Seville, hit me with it!
posted by sciencemandan to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ronda is a beautiful village about 1.5 hours south of Sevilla. It would make a lovely day trip. Among other things, there is a famous bull-ring there that is definitely worth touring.
posted by Flood at 11:37 AM on December 13, 2011

When are you going?

Carnival in Cadiz is fantastic.

Also, Gibraltar is amazing.
posted by unreasonable at 11:45 AM on December 13, 2011

Don't even consider missing the Alhambra in Grenada. It's not just another famous site to check off the tourist checklist. It's sumptuous. It's got vibe. You won't want to leave.

And Seville is one of the most romantic cities on earth, especially the old town. If you do go there, don't bring an agenda. Just wander around and hang out (center on the old town). That outlook fits the setting best. Also romantic and exciting: visit (via car or bus) the villages (pueblos) south of Seville. They're very insulated, provincial, warm, and wonderful, and the smaller ones are both unaccustomed to seeing outsiders AND incredibly friendly.

In Portugal, eat like crazy around Alentejo, and its capital, Evora. Fantastic food, especially if you like coriander. Great music thereabouts as well.

The southern coastal areas of both countries are highly touristic (mostly northern europeans seeking sun, surf, and latin lovers). If that's cool by you, then it will all be easy. If not, you'll have to work a bit harder to soak in authentic culture, as inertia will push you toward the well-worn tourist path.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:50 AM on December 13, 2011

I'm Portuguese. I'd skip the southern coast of Portugal altogether and do the Seville - Cordoba - Granada triangle instead.

The southern coast of Portugal is the most touristy part too - that means overdeveloped, lacking character and, more importantly, any good restaurants I could point you to will be closed for the winter or just not trying very hard. Lagos is cute but nothing compared to Sevilla or the towns around it.

Both Cordoba's historic center and Granada and the Alhambra are Unesco World Heritage sites...
posted by lucia__is__dada at 11:53 AM on December 13, 2011

"The southern coast of Portugal is the most touristy part too"

Yes, there's a lot of that, and, as I warned, forces will pull them to such places. But if they're willing to stubbornly defy that, they can find all sorts of unique, seldom-travelled stuff down there. Again, Alentejo, away from the beach, is magical (though, given the choice, in Portugal I'd always head north to Porto, Tres Montanas, and the villages around Coimbra).
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:02 PM on December 13, 2011

Among other things, there is a famous bull-ring there that is definitely worth touring.

Supposedly (there are competing claims) where bullfighting started.

I went to Spain earlier this year for my honeymoon, and we spent about a week in southern Spain, two nights in Sevilla. We didn't do much in Sevilla beside the cathedral and alcazar, but there are a lot of places around outside of town. One thing - get a good map of Sevilla, as it's a nightmare to drive through, especially if you're trying to start from anywhere in the old part of town.

Before going to Sevilla, we spent a night in Jerez and toured the Gonzalez-Byass sherry bodega, which was actually much more interesting than I had thought it would be. There are a ton of sherry bodegas in town, but we were working on short notice and many of them require appointments to tour; Gonzalez-Byass has regularly scheduled tours in Spanish or in English. Even without the tour, Jerez is a nice town, and our hotel there that was comparable to the one we stayed at in Sevilla was 40 Euros less a night.

In the area around Sevilla are a number of "Pueblas Blancas", which are scenic little hill towns with winding narrow streets perched on cliff edges and mountaintops, since they were originally built to be fortified against the Moors during the Reconquista. Two of the most scenic ones are Vejer de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera (de la frontera means: on the border, so the towns used to mark the border between Catholic Spain and Moorish Andalucia). We just drove by Vejer, but walked around Arcos pretty extensively.

You'll also be reasonably close to Cordoba. If you visit during the right time of year (spring basically), many of the courtyard houses in the old part of town are opened to the public. There's also the Cathedral/Mosque, which is a world landmark. Cordoba was a really nice city, and is trying to play itself up to be considered a future European cultural capital for a year, so they're very hospitable to tourists now.

One of our favorite towns in Spain was Tarifa, right at the Southern tip. It's like a little California beach town. If you want, you can catch a ferry to go to Morrocco from there.

Granda might be a little out of your driving range, but is a gorgeous town, and the Alhambra is amazing. We spent 6 hours there. If you at all plan to go, get your tickets beforehand from ServiCaixa, and pick them up at one of the electronic will-call booths at the front gate - it's really simple, and the place only allows 6000 people in per day, so you risk not getting in if you're going during a time that's at all busy. The audio tour is worth it.
posted by LionIndex at 12:07 PM on December 13, 2011

Further on the driving:
We rented a car for our entire trip, which started and ended in Madrid, but looped through the whole southern part of the country, Barcelona, and Valencia. Generally speaking, the highways are absolute pieces of cake to drive through. It may depend on where you're from - I'd imagine previous European driving experience would help - but as an American, the cities were incredibly difficult to navigate except when we were looking for a highway out of town (signs leading to highways are plentiful). The traffic laws are obviously different (in many large intersections, there's a light to get out of the intersection, as well as one to get into it), roundabouts are helpful in many cases but take some getting used to on how they work (on larger ones, the center lane can typically keep going while everyone else stops as long as they yield to other traffic), but the real hard part is that city streets have signage that's pretty hard to find so it's hard to know where you're at and hard to get to a particular location.
posted by LionIndex at 12:15 PM on December 13, 2011

Columbus is buried in the Cathedral in Seville.
posted by resurrexit at 12:16 PM on December 13, 2011

Don't even consider missing the Alhambra in Grenada. It's not just another famous site to check off the tourist checklist. It's sumptuous. It's got vibe. You won't want to leave.

posted by three blind mice at 12:20 PM on December 13, 2011

nthing the Alhambra - unmissable. If you can possibly swing it, get there first thing in the morning when it opens, on a weekday. Most tour buses don't turn up before mid-morning and you stand a chance of having it almost to yourself for the first hour or two - very well worth the effort.
posted by normy at 12:40 PM on December 13, 2011

How long are you going for? You could easily spend two weeks just hanging around Andalucia.

(I'm in the skip Southern Portugal crowd too)
posted by JPD at 12:54 PM on December 13, 2011

Following the Granada trend...you should walk about the Albaicin district which is across from, and has great views of, the Alhambra especially from the excellent Restaurante Mirador de Morayma.
posted by adamvasco at 1:08 PM on December 13, 2011

the Seville - Cordoba - Granada triangle
Seconding this. In fact if you are staying in Seville, you could easily do Cordoba as a day trip on the train. You would probably want two days in Granada.
posted by soelo at 1:17 PM on December 13, 2011

Relevant previous comment.
posted by fuse theorem at 2:05 PM on December 13, 2011

Okay, stick with me.

There's a town in Alentejo between Monsaraz and Evora where they make all the ceramics sold in Monsaraz. You'll know it because either end of the town has a billboard with terracotta on it that looks like a fetus in an American anti-abortion billboard. There are two restaurants. Find the second restaurant when you're coming from Monsaraz. You'll know it when you find it because the decor looks like an Americanized-Mexican cantina-themed restaurant. It's weird. Really weird.

At any rate, at this restaurant, my wife, my step-siblings and I enjoyed one of the finest meals of our lives. I'm still not sure exactly what we ate, because despite traveling with an American who spoke Portuguese as her home language, there was a language barrier.

As is the custom in at least Alentejo (didn't eat in a sit-down restaurant in Lisbon), you order whatever entree you like and receive a gob-smacking selection of appetizers, mostly focused on the weird bits of the pig. It's wonderful. Ears and stomachs as well as less adventurous charcuterie. And olives, oh the olives. I'd hated olives my entire life until that trip... I was eating them off the tree by the end.

And then you get your entree, resplendent in pork and the richest of seafood and lamb. And it is fantastic.

And the final, miraculous moment of the meal, the waiter will suggest that you try the special of the house, which you will order blindly, because this is one of the finest meals of your life. And then the truly miraculous thing occurs.

The dish arrives and it is a salad. This might have been the only non-soup vegetables we'd seen in eleven days. It will be a salad of cress and cilantro and oranges and it will be wonderful.

And then you can go next door and buy surprisingly inexpensive and really nice pottery in about three times the quantity you'd like to have intact when you get home because, well, that's how it goes.

I fucking love Alentejo. A lot. And I'm trying to figure out how to import breeding stock of the eponymous Alentejano pigs that contribute so much to the cuisine.

Among my traveling companions this trip was a family that keeps halal. They got very tired of seafood out and personally halallifed lamb at the bed-and-breakfast-kind-of-thing we were staying at. Not recommended for vegetarians.
posted by stet at 7:43 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

stet: I am in complete agreement with you. The Alentejo is one of my favorite places on earth. I've been there a dozen times. (obligatory link to my small photoset) The scenery is tremendous. The food is incredible. (I'm in agreement about the pigs) Also the town you're talking about is probably Redondo.

But, the Alentejo takes time. To take it in properly is to see Borba and Vila Vicosa down to Evora and Mourao, taking in all the diversity of the landscape and the food. It shouldn't be a side trip but a trip of its own. Also, no way no how is this the southern coast of Portugal. (The Algarve is someplace I usually avoid.)

The Seville area already has a lot to see. The Sevilla center is really fun to explore. Also, it has some of the best tapas bars in Spain. That, combined with the beauty of Cordoba and Granada is more than enough for any trip. A drive down to Jerez could also include a stop in one of the Andalucian towns like Arcos de la Frontera. They are beautiful but tiny towns. Probably enough just to stop and walk around the town center.
posted by vacapinta at 1:47 AM on December 14, 2011

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