This is one of those posts that has been in my drafts for entirely too long. There is just so much to share that it felt overwhelming to even begin. So here we are, an entire year later, and I’m finally sharing our two-week adventure to Spain and Portugal. It’s no secret that traveling is a passion of ours; we love to experience different countries, cultures, and cuisine and Spain has been on the top of our list for years. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint!
We arrived in Madrid around 6am after an overnight flight from DC. Since it was too early to check in, we dropped our bags off at our hotel and headed off on foot to explore the city. We headed towards Plaza Mayor, but stopped at a local meat market for a quick bite to eat. We ponied up to the standing bar where we had our first bite of real jamón and discovered the typical Spanish breakfast – a fresh baguette with fresh tomato puree, jamón, and olive oil. SO GOOD. We may have continued to eat this for breakfast every day of the trip [and still make our own version at home]. We made it to Plaza Mayor and then over to the Palace and Cathedral and it was still early enough that we were the only ones sight-seeing.
We eventually hit a wall after being awake for over 24 hours so we headed back and were able to get into our hotel room early. We stayed at Hotel Emperador, which was walking distance to everything and super affordable. We were able to get a room with a terrace and it couldn’t have been more perfect for our first night in Spain. After a short rest, we spent some time reading and sipping wine on our terrace before heading out for the evening.
We were pretty exhausted and had an early morning the next day, so we kept things pretty low key that evening. We headed to the local Mercado for some different tapas and then walked around the city some more, stopping for ice cream of course!
The next morning we made our way to Seville by train. We were excited to arrive in Sevilla, it definitely had more of the Spanish feel we were looking for.
Our first night we stayed in the old town area at the Hotel Rey Alfonso X that had a great rooftop deck and pool.
We walked over to the Plaza de España when we arrived, stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe that had misters to keep us cool, then headed back to enjoy the rooftop at the hotel before dinner.
After getting ready, we were able to stop by the Real Alcázar on our way to dinner. This was our first dose of real historical architecture and it was beautiful. We had also just watched an episode of the Amazing Race where they ran through Seville, so it was cool to see the same sights in person!
After that, we made our way to Casa Carmen which had one of the best outdoor atmospheres we experienced. We ate good tapas, had a great bottle of wine, and sat underneath of the stars and string lights for hours.
The following morning, we actually picked up a rental car and headed to southern Portugal for the weekend. When we returned we stayed another night in Seville. This time we stayed a little closer to the train station, but still close to town, at Hotel Catalonia Giralda. We had another rooftop deck here where, again, we enjoyed a glass of wine during siesta hour. That evening, we had tickets for Nights in the Garden at the Real Alcázar. It is hard to describe this evening – it was such an incredible experience and the most romantic date night. The event was filled with locals, so it felt like we were getting a real dose of their culture. We arrived an hour early, grabbed a glass of wine, and strolled through the huge gardens under starlight. When it was time, we were ushered into a courtyard where they had a Jazz trio on stage. They played in the gardens for the next couple of hours, each song better than the last. The lead musician must have played 5 different instruments throughout the evening – these guys were so talented! Unfortunately, phones weren’t allowed at the event so I have no photos to share with you from one of the coolest parts of our trip! We stopped at a few bodgas on the way back for some late night tapas and salmorejo before turning in for the night.
Y’all. Portugal is really freaking cool. And such an easy drive over from Spain. We decided to stay in Lagos at the Carvi Beach Hotel. We sprung for a junior suite since hotels are so affordable and I’m so glad we did. We had the most beautiful views not only from our balcony, but also from our bedroom!
This was also the perfect location if your main focus was on the beach and hiking along the cliffs like it was for us – and we spent our first day taking full advantage of both!
The next morning we woke up early to watch the sun rise right outside of our hotel. Seriously incredible.
Then we headed out early for a “coasteering” trip with Coastline Algarve. This was basically jumping off cliffs, swimming through the ocean, and rock-climbing back up the cliffs. We are always skeptical of tours, but I’m not exaggerating when I say this was by far the coolest thing I have ever done. I’m not what you would call the adventurous type and it still blows my mind to think about how much I enjoyed this because there were definitely some sketchy parts. We took a bus and parked on top of the cliffs.
After suiting up in a 5mm wetsuit and booties [because y’all, that water is COLD], a helmet, life jacket, and swim trunks [to protect the wetsuit from the cliffs] we hiked down to a very small cliff to get started. They taught us the correct way to jump and how to climb back out without getting smashed against the rocks then pretty much let us go free.
We practiced on those small cliffs for a bit then hopped into the ocean to swim to another cove. It probably took us around 10 minutes before we landed on some boulders where we hiked through small pools, into part of the cave, and then back out and into the ocean.
Then we got to the real deal. The swells off of the next cliff were probably a good 8+ feet so you had to make sure you were timing your exit perfectly or you would destroyed. Our guides climbed up, hooked a rope in to help us climb, and then we all followed them up the cliff. There were 3 different jumping options on this spot. Most people in our tour did the first one, which was around 20 feet. After that, the group kept getting smaller and smaller. By the time we got to the third, which was 30 feet, there were only a few of us left. They told us if we completed this jump, we would get to do one more special jump. Not gonna lie y’all – it was scary and after already climbing up the cliff three times, my body was exhausted. But you better believe I wasn’t going to quit so close to the end!
After that third jump, we hiked further up the cliff where we came to an opening into a cave. All of us who completed the third jump fearlessly leapt off the cliff and into the cavern below. There are no words to explain the rush of how exciting this was for me! However, we had to swim out of the cave and back around to our original climbing spot and climb all the way back up the cliff to hike back to the van. I remember being totally sketched out at this point. My muscles were fatigued, there’s nothing keeping us attached to the cliff, and our guides had already moved on with the rest of the group. Spoiler alert: we made it unscathed and started the journey back to Lagos.
We were starving so once we got back to town we immediately sat down for some tapas and Sangria, which was much needed.
That evening we walked back along the cliffs by our hotel over to the western most point to watch the sunset. There is absolutely nothing like a sunrise and sunset over the cliffs of Portugal. The next morning we headed back towards Seville.
After our second night in Seville, we boarded a train for Granada. Here we stayed at the Granada Five Senses, which was another perfect location, but probably my least favorite hotel simply because it was the only one without an outdoor space. If you haven’t noticed yet, the first thing we always do when we get to a new town is just walk around and explore. We found this old family-owned tapas bar, Bodegas Castaneda, just a few blocks from our hotel and had our first traditional tapas experience. Up until this point, when we had tapas, we were paying for each plate. In this bar, everytime you ordered a drink [tinto verano please!], you got a full sized tapa on the side. Lots of jamón, bread, cheese, anchovies, and olives and all of it was so good. We may have visited this place multiple times in the two days we were in Granada. That evening we made the journey up to Mirador San Nicolas to get a good view of the Alhambra at sunset. It was a beautiful, but steep, walk and the view was incredible, but it was a little crowded for our taste.
Luckily, we found a restaurant close by that had just a great of a view so we decided to order a bottle of wine and post up there. The next day we had a tour scheduled for the Alhambra, so it was neat to see the beauty from the outside first.
Day two in Granada was Alhambra day. We did an early morning tour to try to beat most of the crowds. I wasn’t expecting much because I’m not a huge architecture person, but the Alhambra is nothing short of stunning. The detail that they created by hand is mind blowing. It’s something I never would have been able to appreciate if we hadn’t visited and seen it in person.
After that, we walked all the way back to our hotel stopping at a local mercado on the way.
That evening we went on a little self-planned Anthony Bourdain tour to some of the places he talked about on his shows. Not going to lie, the first one was super weird, but it was in a cool spot. The second one was a little more stuffy than what we had become used to, but we still enjoyed our tapas and wine.
The next morning we were up early to head north for the rest of our trip. Stay tuned for all the details on Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Rioja next week!