Mantis prawns, tapas and more sea food – preparing for New Year’s Eve in Spain

As the family get ready for the New Year’s Eve celebration –  the second main celebration of three over the festive season in Spain –  Benjamin and I take a trip to the jetty where the fishing boats come in with their daily catch.

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Galeras

Benjamin’s mother has already been here earlier this morning to buy the seafood for the family evening meal on December 31st. There are twenty-two family members coming for dinner and Carmen (Benjamin’s mother) insisted on going to the muelle (port) to buy the galeras (mantis prawns) straight from her cousin’s fishing boat. She knows they will still be alive and even fresher than in the market place.

As we roll up at the wharf, there’s a buzz of activity. A man walks out with three large nets of mussels and my taste buds start to kick into action. We walk in and inspect the fish. It’s all in boxes on the floor. The floor is wet and people have their wellies on.

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At the fishing port in Chipiona

The fish is laid out in polystyrene boxes. It’s been weighed and each box has its label telling us the weight of the fish or seafood in the box, it’s origin and the name of the person who caught it.

We walk around examining the boxes. The fish has just come in off the boats and is so fresh it’s still alive. We find the galeras. They are wriggling around in the box.

Mantis prawns
Mantis prawns on sale

Little black eyes like peppercorns on their transparent coating. People come in and marvel at the lubina (sea bass). It’s a good size and would easily feed a family of four on New Year’s Eve.

We wander out on to the harbour. A fishing boat is on its way out. They wave out to me as they see me taking a photo. They have a fantastic day for fishing. The sky is a beautiful blue, the sea is calm and there’s little wind. Another group of fishermen are unpacking their catch, they wash off the fish on board and throw it into a large plastic bucket ready to hand over to be sold.

Fishermen unloading their catch in Chipiona
Fishermen unloading their catch in Chipiona

Benjamin and I wander out of the building and over to the fisherman’s bar La Cantina Marinera. The sun is warm despite the temperature of 13 degrees and the terrace is busy. We walk through the terrace and make our way to the bar. At first, I think I am the only female in this busy bar. Something that years ago would have made me feel shy. On closer inspection, I notice there are more women and one of them I recognise from earlier when I saw her organising fishing nets.

I order some tapas and a couple of beers.

Tapas at the bar
Tapas at the bar

Everything on display is fish or seafood. The colours are amazing. Three generous tapas and two beers come to nine Euros. We sit at a table in the sunshine. The tapas are fresh and mouth-wateringly good. The bar starts to fill up with people coming for lunch.  We sit back, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the tapas.

Tapas
Tapas

Five reasons to choose Apartamentos Sierra Alta as your retreat venue

Five reasons to choose Apartamentos Sierra Alta as a venue for your retreat

Perfect for a writing retreat
Perfect for a writing retrea

Nestled in the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra de Cadiz mountain range in Andalucia, our friends and family have been staying in these wonderful apartments since 2013. Since 2014 we have been hosting our annual writing retreat here. We really love these apartments and not just for the quality of the accommodation – there’s something special about the surroundings too.

Here are five reasons why I think these apartments are special:

  1. Location

If you have read my article about Backwell House, then you will know that when I’m looking for a retreat venue, for me, there must be a wow factor. Something that your guests may not have expected, or even if they were expecting it, it still makes them say “WOW!”.

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Sunset in Benaocaz

Here, the location really is a wow factor in itself. Sierra Alta is on the edge of the little village of Benaocaz at almost 800m above sea level. It’s surrounded by mountains and there are amazing views. Some stunning sunsets can be seen from the apartments as the sun goes down behind the mountain known as ‘La Silla’ (The Saddle).

‘This place is magical’  Martine Louis, Money Coach

2. The Apartments

There are six apartments in total making this a small and cosy place to stay.

Sierra Alta Apartments
Sierra Alta Apartments

Each apartment has either a balcony or a terrace giving you a great view and some outdoor space. There are two two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments which would comfortably fit ten people on a retreat (if participants share a bedroom, you could take up to 14).

Each apartment has a lounge area with a kitchen and a bathroom with a walk-in shower. There’s air-con if all gets a bit too hot in summer and they are centrally heated for cosy winter stays, which, believe me, you will appreciate in the evening if you stay here from November to March.  There’s also a fireplace and logs are on sale in the village if you fancy a cosy fire.  My experience with log fires here depends very much on the way the wind is blowing!   And, unless you are an expert at lighting fires, I would recommend popping up to the restaurant Posada El Parral to enjoy their log fire instead!

Inside an apartment
Inside an apartment

The apartments are clean, comfy and equipped with basic cooking equipment. While there’s only a two-ring electric cooker, it’s fine for cooking a simple meal or breakfast when you don’t feel like eating out. If you go away on retreat or holiday to cook like a pro, this probably won’t suit you. As an extra bonus if you are travelling light, a washing machine and ironing facilities are also available if you wish to wash your clothes and dry them off in the sunshine before you go home!

3. Carlos and Maria

This is point number three, but actually, hosts Carlos and Maria are one of the main reasons why your stay at Sierra Alta is so special.  Not only are they friendly and welcoming, but they have also put a lot of thought into making your stay comfortable. Their thoughtfulness and personal service shines through and is one of the things I love most about them. If they haven’t got what you need, they’ll do their best to sort it out for you. And while they are never in your way, they are always on hand if you need anything and are quick to spot a way to improve their service. Nothing is ever too much trouble, making this ideal as a retreat venue as you can be sure your guests will be cared for. They pay attention to the little touches that, for me, are so important, yet so often get overlooked.

Carlos and Maria are always making improvements. Last year we arrived to find hairdryers in the bathroom and two newly built barbecues in the garden area. This year we discovered that they now provide pool towels for guests (at no extra cost). After realising that many visitors (particularly those who arrive in Spain by plane with hand luggage only) weren’t bringing pool towels with them, they decided to invest in some for guests’ use. These are the little touches that I believe give added value and comfort to your guests.

4. The Pool and Outdoor area

The natural backdrop in the area is amazing and Carlos and Maria have created an outdoor space that is relaxing and laid back. Sun loungers around a salt water pool, sun shades and a seating area where you can admire the view, use the space for a workshop or watch the sunset with a glass of wine if your not watching it from your balcony.

Helens view edited

Carlos maintains the pool and keeps it clean all year round meaning that if you are brave enough to swim in December you can, – the pool is unheated and even in summer, it can sometimes be a challenge to get in – but more importantly it means that it’s aesthetically pleasing all year round. It always looks beautiful whether you are sitting around it or admiring it from your balcony.

We generally go in September to enjoy the good weather (and the pool), but if you are here in December or January the pine tree is light up for Christmas and New Year. At the end of January or beginning of February you might even get to see some snow!

5. The ambience

Thanks to the beauty of the natural surroundings and Carlos and Maria’s efforts and good taste, there’s a very special atmosphere here that’s difficult to beat. It’s not just your normal apartment block. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a sort of magic to the surroundings. It’s generally peaceful although you will probably hear the donkey braying, cockerels crowing and perhaps the church bells, along with the tinker of goats’ bells if they happen to pass by. A few dogs might be barking in the distance, but it all adds to the atmosphere and won’t disturb the peacefulness.

Will we carry on holding retreats here?

We most certainly will! Our guests love it and so do we.

Our lovely guests from the writing retreat 2015
Our lovely guests from the writing retreat 2015

In September 2018, we will be running our fifth retreat here and every year the venue holds its magic. It’s a beautiful location and ideal for taking time out. The mountains are a big wow factor for our guests. Apart from the natural surroundings, one of the other wow factors for me here is that I always feel like I am the first one to use the apartment.

If you decide to hold a retreat here, bear in mind that unless you book the whole venue, you may come across other guests staying at the apartments. This has never bothered us as the type of guests who come here tend to be looking for peace and quiet or are off hiking all day. However, that said, during the school summer holidays it is likely to be a bit nosier (in Spain that includes the whole of July and August).

I think it’s always a good idea for you, or your retreat or event coordinator, to visit any venue before booking to get a feel for the place to make sure that it’s right for you and your guests.

What you need to know

Prices:  start from 60 Euros per night for a 1-bed apartment for 2 people

Parking: free

Nearest airport: 1 hour 20 minutes from Jerez airport / 2 hours from Malaga airport / approximately 1.5 hour from Seville airport / 2.5 hours from Gibraltar

Public transport: a bus runs twice a day to Ronda, Malaga and nearby Ubrique

Website:  http://www.sierra-alta.com/

Contact details:   You can email Carlos and Maria at: apartamentosalta@gmail.com  (Remember to let them know you read about the apartments on Rebecca’s blog!) or contact me to make a booking for you.

 

Amazing places to eat tapas in Andalusia: Bar El Cura, Trebujena

Tapas in Trebujena    Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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Delicious tapas in Andalusia at Bar El Cura, Trebujena

The white village of Trebujena is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the estuary and surrounded by marshes. It’s not generally on the tourist path, but if, like me, you enjoy excellent tapas, then I recommend adding Trebujena to your go-to-list when eating out in the province of Cadiz.

About 30 minutes from Jerez de la Frontera and 20 minutes’ drive from Sanlucar de Barrameda, Trebujena is a quiet, unassuming and friendly village. If you are in the area in the summer, it’s best to go in the evening as it can get incredibly hot here during the day.

So, where should you go when you get there?

One of the great things about Trebujena is that each bar has its own range of tapas and by that, I mean you won’t find the same standard menu in each one. They all have their own charm and delicious tapas. Whether you choose Bar El Litri, La Escalerita de Ana or Bar El Cura, you won’t be disappointed. While I  recommend all three for their excellent tapas and service, in this post I’m going to tell you about my latest experience in Bar El Cura, which you’ll find in the plaza Antonio Cañada.

What we chose

We came here on the Sunday evening of a busy weekend during the Trebufest; Trebujena’s annual music festival. Knowing how busy they had been all weekend, I was half expecting the kitchen to be closed and the tapas to be of a lower standard than normal. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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Seafood salad

The selection of tapas in Bar El Cura is varied and elegant. Whilst most bars in and around Cadiz serve the traditional pescaito frito, (fried fish) El Cura has a menu of original tapas at very reasonable prices. We started the evening with a cold tapa of ‘salpicon’ a seafood salad with tomatoes, pepper, onion and a dressing. Salpicon varies from place to place and the amount of seafood you get can sometimes be outweighed by the salad, but fortunately, El Cura is generous with the seafood.

taleguitas de alcauciles y pata negra
Artichoke parcels with cured ham

Next came the exquisite Taleguitas de alcauciles y patanegra; beautifully wrapped parcels with artichokes and cured ham wrapped in filo pastry and deep fried. Artichokes are commonly known as ‘alcafchofas’ in most parts of Spain, but here in Cadiz they are known by their other name ‘alcauciles’. A deliciously warm mixture of textures and flavours, this tapa won my vote immediately.

We followed this with a dish that still makes my mouth water every time I see the photo. Milhojas de mango, queso de cabra y jamon from the specials board was a tapa I had never tried before. Filo pastry topped with a layer of mango and goats cheese, a slice of cured ham and a tiny drizzle of olive oil on the top. Biting into this was like disappearing into food paradise.

mango, goat's cheese and serrano ham
mango, goat’s cheese and serrano ham

Next came the other half’s choice which, of course, being the more carnivore of the two had to include meat. He ordered magret de pato sobre timbal de patata – duck on a bed of potato. The duck was moist, and the potato melted in my mouth bringing out the wonderful flavour of the duck.

We finished the savoury dishes with another one from the specials board ‘pulpo al horno’ – oven baked octopus. I am not exaggerating when I say that every mouthful of this dish was accompanied by an ‘ooh’ or an ‘mmm’. The dish was served hot and with papas panaderas (potatoes fried and then baked in the oven)and roast peppers.

El Cura also has a great selection of wines and local sherries to choose from. It was impossible to leave without a homemade chocolate dessert, a café bombon (coffee with condensed milk) and a peppermint tea.

Two of us ate and drank for around 22 Euros. This bar gets a sobresaliente (ten out of ten) from me for its original selection of tapas, taste and excellent value for money. The service is great and the professional dedication from the owner is amazing. As a family run business Bar El Cura closes on a Tuesday, so remember to choose another day if you want to go here.

Top tip  A tapa will give you a saucer size dish while a racion will give you a larger portion. Tapas vary in size from restaurant to restaurant. If you have never been to a particular restaurant before and you aren’t sure whether to order a tapa or a racion, start with a tapa to judge the size of their portions. Some tapas are extremely generous and are great for sharing, whilst in other places you will need to order a racion (a large portion roughly about a plateful) or media racion (half a portion ) for sharing. As tapas and raciones can be ordered as you go and don’t need to be ordered all at once, you can judge the size on your first order and take it from there.  Buen provecho – enjoy your meal!

* I have been to this restaurant more than once and I love it.  Every time both the food and service has been excellent. Bar El Cura had no idea that I am reviewing them and all opinions are my own (and of those who shared the meal with me!).

How to order a coffee in Spain

How to drink coffee in Spain

20161228_105112If you have ever been to Spain and wondered what type of coffee to ask for, then this guide to ordering coffee that I came across recently is just for you.

Spanish coffee is strong and down to earth. You won’t find a menu with lattes or cappuccinos. So, whether you choose to drink it hot, with ice, decaf, with or without milk or very sweet with condensed milk, this guide will hep you decipher the lingo when it comes to ordering coffee in Spain.

If you prefer not to drink caffeine, you can order all the coffees in the guide with decaf coffee (descafeinado). So, a decaf coffee with condensed milk becomes ‘un descafeinado bombon’.

While the guide refers to a café manchado as either an espresso with a splash of milk or a ‘glass of milk flavoured with coffee’, I have always known it as the latter – hot milk with a splash of coffee. Coffees do vary from region to region though, so it’s worth checking.

If you are visiting Spain in summer, a café bombon con hielo (coffee with condensed milk and ice) is a great way to drink something cool if you don’t fancy an ice cream or would prefer a cool, but sweet alternative to a dessert after a meal.

One thing that is still not common everywhere in Spain (although Madrid may be different) is soy or other alternatives to dairy milk. However, lactose-free milk is generally on offer in most coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

Don’t be surprised if your coffee served in a glass in Spain, but one thing you will rarely find (and let’s hope it stays that way) is coffee served in a plastic or polystyrene disposable cup therefore, making coffee drinking an environmentally-friendly affair as well as a sociable one.  As the guide to ordering coffee says “the last thing to note is that most Spaniards do not take their coffees ‘to go’. Instead, they sit down to enjoy their drinks with friends or family”.

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