Algeciras – Staying in barrio El Mirador

Posted in Algeciras, Andalusia, Cadiz Province, Campo de Gibraltar, El Mirador, Spain with tags , , , on March 20, 2017 by gannet39

I’ve been to Algeciras twice for work, in May 2012 and April 2016, staying for a total of about two weeks. I’d never heard of it before, which is strange as it’s Spain’s largest port (and one of the largest in the world for cargo), built by Franco to compete with Gibraltar over the water.

The reason for this is probably that there’s very little of anything cultural to experience and it’s not a holiday destination by any stretch of the imagination. Even local people I have worked with describe it as ‘not beautiful’ and ‘ugly but comfortable’ as part of their warm but slightly apologetic welcome. It has grown on me with time though, and I’ve discovered a few gems hidden away in the corners.

One good thing about the city is all the other places you can get to from it, such as Gibraltar, which is just a bus ride away on the other side of the Bahia de Algeciras (or Bay of Gibraltar depending on your loyalties). You could visit the beautiful beaches of neighbouring Tarifa, or travel the famous train line inland to lovely Ronda, or perhaps even take a short ride on a fast ferry to Tangiers in Morocco. I’ve written posts for all these places except Tarifa.

Here’s a map of the barrios, and my Google map.

On both my visits I’ve stayed at the Hotel AC Algeciras www.marriott.com. It’s located near the waterfront in a barrio called El Mirador, which is walkable from the centre.

It’s worth requesting a room on floor seven as they have private balconies and the reception seem happy to upgrade you if they are available.

I’ve stayed in 601 which is a suite with an extra bathroom and a sitting room that I never used. I preferred 604 which is one large room and has better views, although the downside is it’s opposite the lift. It might be better to ask for the higher numbers on each floor.

The AC is a modern hotel (around two years old in 2012) with (usually) friendly and helpful staff, a good breakfast spread (it’s part of the Marriot group who always put on a good brekky) and a small gym. It’s quite stylish with lots of stained dark wood, bathrooms with glass sinks and plenty of chrome.

I’ve eaten in the hotel once (something I never usually do) when it was raining stair rods outside. There are only about four options for each course on the menu, none of which particularly inspired me. I had the Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Jerez Vinaigrette, which arrived without the vinaigrette (C). We were overseen by the waitress from hell; sullen, rude and intentionally accident prone. I was gobsmacked to find her still working there in 2016 but she was much better behaved. Still my advice would be to walk into town, or to one of the places below if you’re feeling lazy.

Jaipur (Elementary B+), 82 Avenida Virgen del Carmen

In need of a change from weeks of eating only Spanish food, I came to this ‘Indian’ (actually Pakistani) restaurant for a light evening meal. I wanted to order more from their extensive menu of Indian standards but having had a large lunch I had to rein it in.

A spicy Aloo Gobi will always be a winner with me and this hit the spot despite the potato being ever so slightly undercooked (B+). The Raita and Pilau Rice were both perfect (A) and the Chipati was okay (B). The friendly owner gave me a complementary Gulab Jamun (B), a Delhi speciality, when he heard I’d lived there for a while.

The total bill was only €24 with a tip. There is zero ambience as it doubles as a pizza and burger takeaway, but they’ll deliver to the hotel should you be feeling lazy. You’ll find their menu here.

Meson La Posada de Millan (Intermediate C), 47 Maestro Millan Picazo, mesonlaposadademillan.com

This was a recommendation from the hotel receptionist. It’s nearby, fairly cheap and you can get some okay food if you choose the right things. It looks like it should be part of a chain with paper menus for place mats and decor on the faux Posada theme (like thousands of other similar places around Spain) with fake wooden beams on the ceiling, modern ‘old world’ ceramic tiles and cast-iron electric chandeliers.

To begin I had the Gazpacho Andaluz, which was fine (B) but nothing special. To follow I had Carrillades en Salsa. The beef cheeks were beautifully fibrous as you would expect and the gravy sauce was full and rich (B+), while the skinny chips were just ok (B-). This was only a half portion but would have been a full meal in itself.

I went with the Protos Roble (C+) for €14.75 but wished I’d gone for the crianza (two year old) version which is much better. I‘d been spoilt by a Protos 2006 a few weeks earlier, a reserva I think, which was stunning (A).

The very gruff waitress tried to whisk my plate away when I was only halfway through my cheeks and replace it with one of those crappy ice cream menus you get when restaurants outsource the dessert course. I wasn’t too happy and let her know it. Not sure if she hates all her customers or just the English ones (Gibraltar might be an issue here with some people).

The following Chuletas de Cerdo do Cabezal were the cheapest meat item on the menu but were too heavily salted (C), and the accompanying sautéed carrots, peppers and courgette were overcooked (C-) as were the square chips (C). The Tocino de Cielo (a kind of very sweet flan) tried to look attractive but was doused in too much honey (B-).

I came here on another day out of sheer laziness to sample the €12 menu-del-dia, for which I got the house mixed salad with lettuce, onion, sweet corn, beetroot, black olives and a chunk of great tuna (B+), followed by Secreto Iberico which involved some tiny tasty boneless chops (B) and the same poorly cooked veg (C-) I’d had the previous time. The flan (caramel pudding) to finish was just like anywhere else (B). You get what you pay for here.

When it comes to food I’ve heard Algeciras described as ‘gastronomically conservative’. I gave it my best shot, and after a poor start, I think I have eaten pretty well here overall. Please see the coming posts for some better tips.

For a room picnic, or more serious gourmet food shopping I recommend the Hipercor supermarket in El Corte Ingles at Calle Juan Pérez Arriete (see my Google map). This particular branch is a wonderland of top quality Spanish foods and wines. I picked up four 250g tins of Ortiz Bonito (best quality A+ line caught tuna) which were on sale at only €3.10 each. I also got a bottle of Cardenal Mendoza ‘Angelus’ brandy liqueur which I’d never seen before for only €17.30. All great bargains.

Ronda – Barrio San Francisco – Places to Eat

Posted in Andalusia, Malaga Province, Ronda, San Francisco, Spain with tags , on March 19, 2017 by gannet39

The Puerta de Almocábar separates La Ciudad from the Barrio de San Francisco which lies outside the city walls. Some describe the barrio as having a village atmosphere as it’s right next to the countryside.

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On Saturday night I did a one man tapeo (tapas crawl) starting in the two places below and finishing at El Lechuguita and El Almacén in Barrio Mercadillo (see my Mercadillo – some places to eat post).

Bodega San Francisco (Elementary A), 32 Plaza Ruedo Alameda, www.bodegasanfrancisco.com

This atmospheric old place would have to be included on any must visit list made for Ronda. All the guides like it, and the locals seem to as well. They seem to have spread to adjoining buildings so they must be popular.

The hams are hung so low from the ceiling that only short people can comfortably work here..

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I was in the busy, slightly raucous tapas bar where you can take your pick between two TV screens, football or bull-fighting, or alternate between both depending on which is more exciting.

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I’d hazard a guess and say that generally the food here is very simple but good. They make their own salchichas and chorizos which obviously I had to try. I was introduced to the Masita de Chorizo, a small kind of bread bun (a local speciality) with a patty of spicy chorizo mince sandwiched inside. It was really good (A), much better than the ones I’d have later at El Lechugita.

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I also had a great Croqueta de Setas (A), but then I’ve never had a bad one. If you’re not a fan of commercial mayo you might want to ask them to leave it out as it does seem to appear with a lot of items on the menu.

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Next stop on my tapeo was…

Almocabar (High Intermediate B), 5 Plaza Ruedo Alameda

Yet another place recommended by Toko, and by several guides, as being one of the best eateries in town. Noticeably most of the clientele are from out of town, unlike Bodega San Fernando over the road. It has a tapas bar at the front and a small restaurant with 24 covers at the rear.

I came twice, the first time just to the tapas bar where I hit it off with the friendly young bartender. On his recommendation I had this rather unsightly tapa on a slate, some kind of meat on a skewer with brown stuff squirted erratically all over it. It tasted fine as I remember, so a B for flavour but a D for presentation.

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I played safe with the next order and got some cheese (B) before moving on (see my Mercadillo – some places to eat post).

I came again the next day, also my last night, and gave the restaurant a try seeing as it had such a good reputation. The back room is small and doesn’t have any windows, which became a problem later.

The menu is impressively large for such a small place but I found the options a bit too international given my predilection for trying local specialities. Ingredients as varied as mango, ginger, soya sauce, parmesan cheese and basmati rice all featured.

Another thing that I disliked was the BS I got from an older waiter who took me for a know-nothing tourist. I caught him out a couple of times on the provenance of ingredients he was trying to sell to me.

As I result I don’t know whether to believe him about the restaurant’s black salt coming from Mallorca.

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The island is certainly famous for salt (I like the Flor de Sal d’Estrenc brand) but I can’t dig up any trace of a black variety. I’d imagine it’s probably quite easy to make if you mixed it with squid ink or herbal ash maybe.

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However, most importantly, the food saved the day.

The Ensalada de Melva (a smaller member of the tuna family) was great (A).

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It went well with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc (B+) by Palacio de Bornos from Rueda that I’d not come across before.

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The Paletilla do Cabrito (shoulder of kid goat) I followed up with was fine (B) and quite typical, according to my untrustworthy waiter. I think he was right though, if only because it was rustic and simply presented, with a few baked baby spuds and a medley of diced local veg.

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The glass of local Lagarejo red I had with it wasn’t great, one to avoid (C).

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When two tables ordered sizzlers (immediate thought: what are they thinking serving these in here??) and started cooking their own meat (duck I think) the small unventilated room quickly started to fill up with smoke. I escaped to the bar to finish off my meal with another round of local cheeses (B+).

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I got chatting with a Dutch couple and an Australian family so I had a couple of brandies. The commercially available one I had was good quality and was okay, but the next one (made on the premises I believe and called Palacio de Mondragone) I regretted the next day (C-). Avoid.

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My total bill came to €80 which I didn’t mind seeing as it was my last night and I’d had a good time. By way of summary this is undoubtedly a good place with an adventurous chef/owner, but make your choices wisely. There is probably something for everyone on the menu though.

My last night in Ronda, and I’ve done so much but yet I feel I’ve hardly done it justice. I’ll have to come again.

Next, a return to Algeciras by train on Henderson’s famous railway. The route passes many notable sights including the Cueva del Gato (Cave of the Cat). I had the misfortune to be sat next to a harmless but bonkers old guy who miaowed constantly at me by way of explanation as the train passed the cave. Ah, the memories…

Ronda – La Ciudad – Sunday lunch with a view

Posted in Andalusia, La Ciudad, Malaga Province, Ronda, Spain with tags on March 18, 2017 by gannet39

This restaurant in La Ciudad was recommended by Toko the receptionist at my hotel as a good place for Sunday lunch and it’s also described by Lonely Planet as one of Ronda’s best restaurants.

Restaurante Albacara in the Hotel Montelirio (Advanced A), 8 Calle Tenorio, www.montelirio.com

Toko told me the two things that make it special are its food, which is excellent, and the views which are stunning. She said reservations were advisable so I popped in just after midday to bag a table with a view. I was greeted by Ion, the effervescent maître d’ who is originally from the Basque country. When I came back a couple of hours later I found to my pleasure that he’d saved me the best table in the house, Mesa #1.

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It’s in the corner of the restaurant with views in two directions; the fields and hills of the countryside to the west of Ronda looking one way…

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…and the Puente Nuevo and El Tajo looking the other.

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I kicked off with the homemade Foie con Membrillo y Pistacho which was fabulous (A).

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In a town famed for its bull ring, the obvious choice for the main was the Rabo de Toro Estofado a la Rondeña. Ion explained that the Ronda style of this national dish had a lighter gravy made with more vegtables and was less gelatinous than other versions. It was fantastic (A).

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After this a media racion of cheeses was needed to finish off the wine. These were Rulo Cabra (a white goat’s cheese), a Manchego semi-curado, and Boffard Viejo (all A). Ion told me he thinks Boffard is Spain’s best cheese.

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I also had the best bottle of local red so far (A); a 2010 Cab Sauv crianza called ‘Encaste’ from Bodega Dona Felisa who also made the Chinchilla I had at La Lechugita. I’m on the waiting list for their next vintage.

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Such a good meal needed to be finished off properly so I had a look at their list of brandies and spotted one of Spain’s finest, Luis Felipe, at a mere €13 for a glass, much cheaper than I’d ever seen it anywhere before.

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Obviously this bumped the bill up significantly to about €82 but that didn’t stop me bunging Ion a €10 tip for taking care of me so well. He tried to refuse it but I insisted. It was a meal I’ll always remember.

Ronda – La Ciudad – things to see in the old town

Posted in Andalusia, La Ciudad, Malaga Province, Ronda, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2017 by gannet39

There’s heaps to see in the old town, La Ciudad. These are just a few of the sights that I particularly liked. More info here and here. Google map here.

At the end of Calle Real is the Puente Viejo (Old Bridge).

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This was once the only means of crossing El Tajo before the completion of the Puente Nuevo.

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In front of you, you’ll also be able to see the Arco de Felipe V and the walls defending the more approachable side of the city.

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If you continue through the arch you’ll reach the upper part of La Ciudad. However if you turn left before the arch and go down the stairs…

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… you’ll come to Los Baños Árabes, a Moorish public bathhouse dating from the 13th-century. It’s considered to be one of the best-preserved in Spain.

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It’s open from 10:00 till 19:00 Monday to Friday, and 10:00 till 15:00 at the weekend. Entrance was €3 in 2016.

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Here’s a video taken from the Puente Viejo. It starts looking down Calle Real where you can see the Fountain of Eight Spouts in front of the church, before moving right taking in the third bridge built during the Roman era. Then it swings past the baths, the stairs with the walls and arch above and finishes looking down into El Tajo.

Up in the old town, another beautiful place to see is the Palacio de Mondragón in Plaza de Mondragón, a former Moorish palace. It houses the Museo Municipal, the local museum. It cost €3 to get in and it’s open from 10:00 till 19:00 from Monday till Friday and from 10:00 till 15:00 Saturday and Sunday.

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To be honest the museum displays are pretty boring and disappointingly there isn’t much to see from Ronda itself. My advice is to scoot through the exhibits at speed and spend more time in other parts of the palace.

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The building itself is wonderful. There are two courtyards, the first has vaulted brick arches, marble columns and a well.

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The second gives access to a beautiful garden with a fountain.

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The terrace perched atop the precipice has a fantastic vista across the countryside.

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There’s a second terrace…

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…which also has marvellous views.

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Calle Arminan is the main street that runs through La Ciudad from the Puente Nuevo. This photo was taken on the bridge and Calle Arminan is on the left.

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Where Calle Arminan and Calle Marques de Salvetierra meet at Plaza Abul Beka, you’ll find the Alminar de San Sebastián.

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As the doorway suggests, this was once the minaret of a small mosque. It was later converted to be the bell tower of a church that no longer exists.

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In Plaza Duquesa de Parcent you’ll find the most important church in Ronda; the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor. It was built over the town’s main mosque after the Reconquista.

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If you keep going south you’ll eventually come to the in the lower part of La Ciudad and the Puerta de Almocábar, the Moorish gate in the city wall.

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You can climb the stairs of the watchtowers to get more good views.

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Another important church is here; the Iglesia del Espíritu Santo (centre left in the picture above). It looks like a bit of a lump but I’m sure it’s nicer inside.

There’s lots more to see in La Ciudad, this is just what I saw in the limited time I had.

Ronda – Mercadillo – Puente Nueva and around

Posted in Andalusia, Malaga Province, Mercadillo, Puente Nueva, Ronda, Spain with tags on March 16, 2017 by gannet39

The barrio of Mercadillo is separated from the old town, La Ciudad, by El Tajo, a deep canyon formed by the Guadalevín River. The famous Puente Nuevo was built in 1751 (completed in 1793) to better connect the two districts.

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The bridge is ‘new’ in that it’s more recent than the Puente Viejo further down the gorge.

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The 120 m (390 ft) drop is vertigo-inducing…

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…but does provide stunning views in many directions.

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In Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, a scene in Chapter Ten describes the execution of Fascist sympathisers during the Spanish Civil War. The Republicans kill them by throwing them off the cliffs of a fictional village in Andalusia. It’s said that Hemingway modelled it on real events that took place in Ronda.

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If you walk along the street with your back to the bridge, through Plaza Espana, and along Calle Virgen de la Paz, you will come to the famous bullring which is the oldest in Spain.

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At the end of Calle Virgen de la Paz is the church of Nuestra Señora de la Merced.

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Back over the bridge next!

Ronda – Mercadillo – some places to eat

Posted in Andalusia, Malaga Province, Mercadillo, Ronda, Spain with tags , on March 15, 2017 by gannet39

There are heaps of good restaurants and bars in Mercadillo but I only had time to try a couple, both recommendations from Toko the hotel receptionist. There are lots more places I wanted to try on my Google map, but I didn’t have the time for them all.

This is the second half of a tapeo I started in Barrio San Francisco. Please see my separate post for there.

La Lechugita (Intermediate B), 35 Calle Virgen de los Remedios

The Little Lettuce is a classic Spanish tapas bar, tiny, crowded and a lot of fun. You order by ticking items on a menu pad, tearing off the page and handing it to a barman.

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I had a selection of Masitas, the small bread buns that are a local speciality, with various fillings. I wasn’t that impressed unfortunately (especially because I’d eaten a better one at Bodega San Francisco earlier) as it was quite hard to tell what was what due to them being very salty. I had fillings of Pringa (a meat stew, B-), Salchichon (sausage, B-) and Morcilla de Ronda (local black pudding), which was my favourite (B).

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Morcilla de Ronda differs from other varieties due to the inclusion of pancetta and bacon it seems.

I ordered some of the famous lettuce to put in the buns to try and override the salt. It tasted really nice by itself (A), maybe because it had been lightly vinegared .

A glass of unimpressive local red called Chinchilla scored B-.

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El Almacén (Intermediate B+), 7 Calle Virgen de los Remedios, tabernaelalmacen.com

A modern tapas bar with friendly enthusiastic staff. The young proprietress told me they’d only been open for three weeks when I went.
The food is really good. I had tapas of Croquetas Boletus (B+)…

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… and the wonderful Cochinillo (A)…

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They specialise in local wines so I tried glasses of red called Morillas, a crianza from Bodega Los Villalones (B+)…

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… and Lunares by Bodega Lunares de Ronda (B+).

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At €2.50 a glass the wine was a bit more expensive than elsewhere but the quality was better. Definitely somewhere I’d go again.

Ronda – Mercadillo – Architecture around Plaza del Socorro

Posted in Andalusia, Malaga Province, Mercadillo, Plaza Del Socorro, Ronda, Spain with tags , on March 13, 2017 by gannet39

Plaza Del Socorro is the central square in Mercadillo. Google map here.

There are lots of nice buildings around the square including the church of Nuestra Señora del Socorro on the east side.

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The northern end is dominated by the El Casino restaurant.

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There are several other nice buildings around the square.

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In the middle is this rather bizarre statue with a waving lion which is in fact a potent symbol of Andalusian nationalism. You can find out why here.

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Some off the streets around the square are very atmospheric.

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I love the Spanish style of enclosed balcony windows; ‘balcones cerrados’. The double windows help regulate temperature and noise from the street.

This is one of the most beautiful examples I’ve ever seen. I love the wrought iron railings.

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It obviously paid to be security conscious in 1793. The bars are called a ‘reja’ (grille) and allowed the windows to be open while keeping intruders out.

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You’ll find lots of other nice details if you look carefully.

But sadly not all buildings are loved.

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