Andalusia – Estepa – wandering around the world capital of Mantecados

Estepa is a small town of 12,500 people in the south-east of the province of Seville, less than a couple of hours’ drive east of Seville. Buses go there from Seville or you can take a train to nearby Pedrera and call a taxi to drive you the last 15 minutes from the bar next to Pedrera station (€15 in 2018). I can recommend Jose Antonio as a careful and friendly driver (+34 689 209 966, I came for work for a couple of nights in July 2018.

The town is the home of the Mantecada (although this is disputed by neighbouring Antequera); a kind of lard cake similar to a muffin but made of pork fat, a sub-genre of the Polvorón, both of which are traditionally eaten at Christmas in Spain. Since 2009 the production of these confections have been protected by a PDO (protected designation of origin) called Mantecados de Estepa. The town has thirty factories which produce about eighteen million kilograms of sweets annually, employing about 2,000 people (90% women). I didn’t try them though as I was told by a local that the factories only produce them for six months a year, from August to March, peaking at Christmas, and so only the rancid leftovers are left in June, which was enough to put me off. Many of the companies do factory tours if you are there at the right time of year. La Colchona is the original, biggest and most famous company. They differ from the others in that all their Mantecadas are made by hand.

I’ve marked the factories on my Google map, along with other restaurants, bars and sights. Apologies for the lack of photos, they got lost somewhere along the line.

There isn’t that much to see in Estepa but here’s a short walking tour of the main sights. At you can admire the doorway of Palacio de los Marqueses de Cerverales and it’s elliptical columns. The courtyard is nice apparently but the doors were shut when I passed by. Web video here.

However I was lucky to find the doors of the tiny Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion next door were open. I put my head in to have a look and was unexpectedly treated to a truly stunning baroque interior with walls and ceiling literally dripping with decoration. So sad that I lost my video but here’s a video from the web to give you an idea. Do keep checking if it’s open every time you go for a walk, it really is worth it. I find it quite incredible that it’s seemingly completely ignored by the local tourist board. There isn’t even a sign outside.

Continue along the street and you’ll come to Plaza Carmen, a pretty petite square that was once the heart of the old town. The name of the square has changed over the years according to the political situation and has been known as Constitution Square, Royal Square, Republic Square and Generalísimo Square. To the locals however it’s simply known as ‘El Salon’ and it does feel a bit like sitting in a sitting room with benches around the edges and the kids running around in the middle. When I was there, there was a nice neo-Mudejar building being renovated on the west side of the square which would be worth checking out as it looked like it was going to be a new trendy tapas bar .

On the east side of the square is the police station and town hall and on the south side is Casino Cultural de Estepa, a kind of social club that’s open to all. A lot of the old guys were hanging out playing draughts when I came to watch the football. It was the best place I found as they have a proper projector and a big drop down screen. Sadly I saw England lose 1-0 to Belgium in the 2018 world cup here so my memories aren’t that happy, although the cheap G&Ts (only €3.50!) and their €1 tapas (the cured Jamon and fried potatoes are great) went some way to cheering me up.

To the north of the square is the town market but it was closed for renovations when I was in town. If you head south and uphill and you come to Torre de la Victoria, the spire of the ruined convent below it, and one of the best examples of 18th century Andalusian baroque according to the sign in from of it.

Keep heading south and you are soon climbing the steep hill up to what remains of the fortress, the Alcazar Palacio del cerro de San Cristobal. Some of the lower walls can still be seen but there is little else extant. Only the Torre del Homenaje, a later defensive tower, remains. It’s worth the climb though for the panoramic views.

Restaurante Homenaje (Intermediate B), 186 Avenida Av. de Andalucía,

The best place in town according to Guia Repsol and TripAdvisor in the summer of 2018. Nice old chap serving. Modern décor and a glass wine room. The menu gives traditional dishes a modern twist. I had the Salmorejo Estepeno (thicker than in Cordoba according to my guy), served with Melva (a type of tuna) and the usual ham, boiled egg and olive oil was great (B+) as were the Carrilladas (B+) although the apple and goat’s cheese didn’t add to it overall. However the Croquetas didn’t have much flavour (B-). They have a great wine list with several available by the glass. The Oloroso, Rioja Crianza and Pradorey Crianza all worked for me (B). The Tarta de Queso (cheesecake) for dessert was okay too (B). They had two TVs with the sound switched off so I could watch two different world cup matches. The terrace seemed very buzzy when I was leaving. I’d certainly go back if I was in town for longer.

Cala D’Or (Low Intermediate B), 6 Calle Senda

The Golden Creek’ takes second place on TripAdvisor but seems to be more of a community hub than Homenaje. The Croquetas were good (B) and the Pollo ? (stewed with rosemary?) tasted much better than it looked (B+).Both these came free with the two glasses of wine I bought. A tapa plus wine combo costs €3 or €3.30 which is very good value. Wanting more food I went with my friendly waiter’s suggestion of the Brocheta de Solomillo and another brochette which I forget the name of (€1.70 each) but they didn’t really cut the mustard for me (C). He made up for it by mixing the last of the Cardenal Mendoza brandy with a Magno and charging me for the Magno (€2.50). The best daily option I think.

Morocho (Intermediate C), 2 Calle Cadiz

This place was #3 on TripAdvisor in 2018. There were a couple of tables in when I arrived but it felt a bit weird when the whole place fell silent when I came in the door! Although not exactly friendly, the waiter/owner did help me out with the menu which had a few items that I didn’t recognise, but as he pointed out they were all quite similar fried tapas. A glass of wine, two tapas and a brandy came to just over €13, nearly half of which was the Cardenal Mendoza brandy. Don’t think that I’d go back unless I had time to get bored with the other options above.

I stayed for three nights at Hotel Balcón de Andalucía, Although it’s the best place in town it’s a basic hostal with small, sparsely furnished rooms and dysfunctional wifi. On the plus side the staff were nice, it’s very clean and I’m told the seafood dishes on their menu are pretty good although I preferred to get out and about.

Like many Andalusian towns most of the people I met were lovely and the place grew on me the longer I stayed.

Apologies again for the lack of photos. Back to normal in the next post!

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