Grupo Sagardi XII Jornadas Gastronómicas del Buey

From November 14th to December 11th Grupo Sagardi is running the XII Jornadas Gastronómicas del Buey (Ox Gastronomic Season), celebrating the traditional homeland cooking of its Basque founder, Iñaki Lopez de Viñaspre, and master butcher Imanol Jaca. I was lucky enough to be one of the around 50 people invited to the Sevilla inauguration of the new menu at the Sagardi Restaurante in the Hotel Palacio Pinello.

It proved to be an interesting and enjoyable experience in pleasant surroundings, though of course the stars of the show were the traditional Basque dishes, and in particular the txuletón (T-bone steak) of aged Galician beef. These are taken from selected cows of between 6 and 10 years of age to give the right balance of lean and fat, and are then aged in a cold room for 25 days before being prepared for the kitchen, where they are sliced and charcoal grilled to medium rare perfection. The result was both tender and very tasty, and well complemented by the fresh pimientos (peppers) del piquillo that came with them, as well as the Argentinian Malbec (Uco Acero ’12) chosen to accompany the meal.

Before that the meal started with a taster of bresaola (a thinly sliced air dried salted beef). This was followed by a Basque speciality, “Alubia nueva de Tolosa con sus sacramentos”, a rich dark bean stew served with morcilla, cabbage and guindilla peppers. It’s quite rare as it has a very local provenance, but if you ever get the chance to try it, do so. It’s delicious.

After the main course came a lovely sheep’s cheese called Montaña Aralar, walnuts, and some dark chocolatey truffles as a sweet.

Many thanks to Grupo Sagardi for organising this event, and to the Hotel Palacio Pinello for hosting it. It was a delicious meal much enjoyed by everyone. You can book at Sagardi Sevilla +34 954 563 156. Because of the size of the meat cut it is recommended for groups of four.


Jerez de la Frontera | Nuevo Hotel

nuevo hotel  (1)
I had been invited to Vinoble in Jerez de la Frontera, which meant having to stay over at least one night. I had told a friend that I was looking for somewhere “cheap & cheerful” where I could lay my head for a few hours – I knew I wouldn’t be spending much time wherever I stayed. And The Nuevo Hotel turned out to be perfect. At 25€ for an individual room with a single bed you obviously wouldn’t be expecting the Ritz, but I was very pleasantly surprised at my cheerful clean room and comfy bed, with a balcony that opened onto a small side street. My room was on the first floor of the two-storey hotel, and I was happy there was a lift as I was still on crutches due to a recent accident. The bathroom was small but serviceable, with a small bathtub and shower.

nuevo hotel  (2)

Nuevo Hotel is centrally located just off the Plaza de Arenal, near the Alcázar, and is about a 10-15 minute walk from the train station. There are plenty of good tapas bars nearby and it felt like a nice cosy neighbourhood. Breakfast at the hotel is 5€, served in a big bright dining area on the main floor, but I’m always happier going out to find a small bar. There are a couple of charming common areas and excellent WiFi connection throughout the hotel. The hotel staff were welcoming, friendly and helpful. I would definitely stay again.

Nuevo Hotel
Calle Caballeros, 23
Jerez de la Frontera
Tel 956 33 16 00

Barcelona | Hotel Room Mate Emma

bcn emma (1)
After my pleasant stay at Hotel Room Mate Lola in Málaga last December it’s probably not surprising that I would choose to stay with Room Mate again on my recent trip to Barcelona. I’d actually looked into a couple other hotels there but, as usual, Room Mate came through first with a good four-night offer, plus Emma is just three metro stops from the Renfe Sant station, where the AVE stops. And it felt good – a bit like coming home – when I arrived and got settled into my comfortable Deluxe room. It had a nice big window, a very comfortable bed, a desk for my laptop, mini bar, safe and a good amount of closet space. My only small complaint was that the bathroom had very dim lighting, making “hair and make-up” very awkward. Had no idea what I actually looked like until I got into the lift.

bcn emma (2)[click on image to enlarge]

I was up on the sixth floor with a window facing the street, which turned out to be very quiet. I’d recommend a street-facing room for the extra light, unless you are a very extra-light sleeper, in which case there are also rooms facing the interior patio. There are seven floors of standard and deluxe rooms, with two floors of suites with private terraces above. I was actually surprised that the ultra-modern décor could feel so cosy, but it did. As always with Room Mate, breakfast is served until noon, but I just opted for a quick morning cup of coffee while I plotted out my day.

Room Mate Emma is located in Carrer Rosselló, in the chic Eixample barrio, a stone’s throw from the elegant Paseo de Gracia and close to just about anywhere you’d want to go. In fact I walked everywhere during my four-day stay and found lots to do nearby. There is also a small supermarket right across the street to pick up “supplies” like mineral water, juice, wine and snacks. Great customer service, as always. Recommended!

Hotel Room Mate Emma
Carrer Rosselló 205
Tel 932 38 56 06

For restaurant recommendations have a look here… Eating Out in Barcelona

Eating Out in Barcelona

Last week I celebrated my birthday here in Sevilla with friends and then two days later took myself off for a special birthday treat – four days in Barcelona! My first trip to that vibrant and colourful city was seven years ago – also to celebrate my birthday – so it was time I went back. I met up with friends, did a LOT of walking around on my own, and enjoyed several good meals. I’ll do another blog post about some of the other great stuff I saw and did, but for now this is all about where I went to eat.

bcn food boqueria

One of my favourite things to do is visit markets and check out what’s going on as market bars traditionally have a good rep for providing super-fresh market food. And although I’d been warned by my very savvy foodie friends that the Boqueria Market on the Ramblas had turned into a touristy nightmare I really wanted to see it again. My first memory was coming across it by chance on a January afternoon just before sunset… I had no idea it was even there and if I hadn’t turned my head to the left at that moment we’d have walked right by. Instead my friend and I went in and I was charmed and delighted by… well, by everything I saw. But it was getting late and we were tired after a long day out and about, so we didn’t stay long.

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Málaga | Hotel del Pintor

hotel del pintor room
After three fabulous nights in Málaga mid-December I realised I needed/wanted to extend my visit by one more night. Unfortunately the lovely hotel I’d been staying at had no availability and they asked me if I would like them to call somewhere for me. Well, back in July while I was on summer holiday in Málaga a friend of mine came to visit and spent the night at Hotel del Pintor. I’d seen her room and, while not as nice as where I’d been staying, I thought it would be fine for one night. But imagine my surprise when I showed up at the hotel and saw that my room was nothing like the one I’d seen before. In fact, it was barely a room at all. There was one single bed in a room just slightly larger than the bed itself, with two small windows looking into two other small windows across the patio. Small, dark and uncomfortable. There wasn’t even a place for me to put my carry-on suitcase and I ended up leaning it against the door. The (surprise!) very small bathroom was clean enough, though the toilet seat was soaking wet when I arrived, and the toilet made odd gurgling sounds throughout my stay.hotel del pintor

I spoke to the receptionist who told me she couldn’t change rooms because they were fully booked and when I asked to speak to the manager I was told he was away in Sevilla for a meeting and couldn’t be reached. What? This was at midday on a Friday. I was pretty much resigned to spend my final night in Málaga in that dreadful room but certainly didn’t want to spend 54€ (the same price my previous – and much superior – hotel had charged per night) and so asked for something to be done. When I returned to the hotel in the evening to change for dinner (I’d stayed out as long as possible so I wouldn’t have to spend time there) I was told that the manager was still unavailable. I told the receptionist – a different one this time – that it was scandalous to charge so much for what was little more than a walk-in closet and was told that this was because of the hotel’s “excellent location”. Yes, on grimy calle Álamos, with no parking, no restaurant… all of which was available at my previous hotel (which is actually in an excellent location). Whatever. I left to meet my friends feeling very upset.

That night I had a terrible sleep on the small bed that creaked whenever I turned over (receptionist: “oh, that must be because the bed is new!”) on a too-soft pillow that was full of lumps. The next morning I got dressed and got out of there as soon as possible, and while checking out yet another receptionist told me that the manager – who was now unavailable because he was off for two days – had instructed her to tell me that they would not adjust the price for me. Unbelievable. What kind of hotel has no manager available from mid-day Friday until Monday morning?? Totally unprofessional. When my friend stayed there during peak season in July she paid 48€ for a room that was easily twice as big, yet management maintained they could do nothing for me. Trust me, there are plenty of other places to stay in Málaga where you will be treated much better than here.

Hotel del Pintor
Álamos 27
tel 952 06 09 80

Málaga | Hotel Room Mate Lola

Those of you who know me know that I usually opt for holiday apartments if I’m staying somewhere more than a night or two. I just like the extra space and having a small kitchen for making coffee and snacks. But on this recent trip to Málaga I came across a nice 3-night online offer at Room Mate Lola, where my friend Annie Bennett had stayed not long ago and, based on her positive experiences there, I thought I’d give it a try. I was also interested to stay in the new hip Soho barrio, so it suited me quite well. I liked that I could walk to the hotel from the train station in less than 15 minutes (no problem with small carry-on bag with wheels and laptop). I wondered if the “standard” room might feel a bit cramped, but although it wasn’t overly spacious and only had one window looking over a side street, it actually felt quite cosy and pleasant. Nice use of mirrors helped make the room feel larger and added more light. There was also lots of closet space (with a mini bar and safe inside), a good-sized desk and comfy armchair in the corner.

lola collage

[click on image to enlarge]

Lola’s retro-chic style totally fits in with its location in the newly designated “Soho” neighbourhood of Málaga. What used to be a rather dodgy area of town is being transformed into a trendy barrio filled with galleries and boutiques, and almost daily more and more buildings are being covered in street art and graffiti, some by quite famous artists. And the Contemporary Arts Museum is just a short walk away. In fact, I found it a comfortable walking distance to pretty much everywhere I wanted to go: the Atarazanas market, the recently refurbished port Muelle Uno, Larios street and the surrounding shopping areas, and even Plaza Merced.

I opted out of the breakfast (an attractive buffet served until noon) but was still able to enjoy a cup of coffee in the bright dining area on the main floor. There was excellent free WiFi throughout the hotel and the staff were very friendly, professional and helpful. The only “negative” I can think of is that the lighting in the bathroom was a bit too dim for doing hair and make-up, but it was nice having both a bathtub and shower. I honestly felt completely at home and comfortable at Lola and look forward to future stays there, and to trying out some of their other hotels in Spain.

Hotel Room Mate Lola
Calle Casas de Campos 17
Tel 952 579 300

Casa de Huéspedes Santa María

casa huespedes bed
This quirky and charming family-run guest house was recommended to me by a friend who lives in El Puerto de Santa María and I have to say it was perfect for my overnight stay there mid-November. My room was on the ground floor at the back of the house, so not much light from the row of small windows just under the ceiling (presumably opening onto a patio), but it was brightly decorated in primary colours against white walls and bedding, which made it quite cheerful. The bed was super comfortable and everything was clean-clean-clean. I had an ensuite bathroom (some of the rooms share) which was small but serviceable. In fact, my only two complaints about the place had to do with the bathroom: no hand-held showerhead option, and the opaque window in the bathroom that opened onto the hallway (which wasn’t actually opaque enough and – bizarrely – had a curtain covering it on the hallway side of the window). I don’t know, just made me feel a bit “exposed” late at night.

casa huespedes room

[my room]

Owners Carlos and Myriam were very welcoming and helpful. I arrived with about fifteen minutes to spare to make my appointment for a sherry tour at Bodegas Gutierrez-Colosía, which happily was not far away, and Carlos not only gave me easy directions but also a couple of recommendations for places to have tapas afterwards. Unfortunately this meant I didn’t have time to take a peek at some of the other rooms and by the time I got back after lunch they were all occupied.

casa huespedes common spaces

[common areas of the hotel – click to enlarge]

Nice touches included a small kitchen where you could make tea or coffee and snacks. The fridge was stocked with bottled water that you could take and leave payment (1€) in a tin on the countertop. There were two complimentary coffee capsules with cups in my room and additional ones were also 1€ each, which seemed reasonable to me. The common rooms on the ground floor were also charming. A TV/reading room with a stack of books and comfy retro chairs, and a typical patio Andaluz, not-so-typically decorated. There was free WiFi in the common areas. All in all a pleasant stay and, at 40€, also a very good price.

It’s also an excellent location. It was about a 15 minute walk from the train station and just a 5 minute walk to the catamaran, which I took to Cádiz city the next morning.

Casa de Huéspedes Santa María
Calle Pedro Muñoz Seca 38
El Puerto de Santa María
Tel 956 85 36 31

Hotel Argantonio | Cádiz


argantonio beds

The Argantonio is a small 2 star hotel in a traditional style building, not luxurious, but with considerable charm. I stayed there with a friend mid-November and our room on the third floor was simply decorated, clean and comfortable with a good sized bathroom that had a walk-in shower. Tip: ask for a room with a balcony on the (very quiet) street as these get better light than the interior rooms. Also, the rooms with two beds are considerably larger than those with a double bed. There was also a pleasant little terrace on the roof with a couple of comfy chairs for relaxing with a drink and a book, though the day I was there it was a bit too cold to take advantage of it.

Breakfast was included in the price (79 euros, double occupancy), with fresh hot coffee made to order from the bar, juice and toast, charcuterie, pastries and some hot dishes of eggs and sausages. Another plus was that the staff were friendly and helpful. We came back around midnight from our evening tapeo and a couple was being served a nightcap at the bar in front of the reception area, which I thought was a nice touch. And very important: there’s free WiFi with good reception throughout the hotel.

argantonio hotel

[click on image to enlarge]

 The location was excellent, on the edge of the old town and not far from the train station, giving easy access to both. Overall I thought it was good value for money. My only tiny “complaints”: the lack of a detachable shower head, and that the safe in the closet wasn’t bolted down, rendering it pretty much useless. But I would definitely stay here again.

Hotel Argantonio
Calle Argantonio, 3
Tel 956 21 16 40
Hotel Argantonio Website

Dreaming in Córdoba

Córdoba has long been famous for the Mezquita, the beautiful mosque-cathedral with its perspective-shifting array of columns and arches, but in recent years this fascinating city, which has the second largest preserved historic centre in Europe, has been increasingly recognised as one of the essential must-see places.

The Hospes Hotel Palacio del Bailío (Palace of the Knight-Commander), Córdoba’s first ever 5-star hotel, combines modern luxury with the charm of a building whose history is intertwined with that of the city. The site was occupied by the Romans (there are Roman ruins in the basement) and the Moors, and after the conquest of the city by the Christian king Ferdinand III in 1236 it was given as a reward to one of his supporters. It was owned for many generations by the family of the Great Captain (El Gran Capitán) Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, and the present palace was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. After part of the palace had been donated to the convent of Dolores and the Hospital of San Jacinto, and with the death of the last descendant of the Fernández family, the palace fell into decline until it was purchased by the Castejón family in 1929, who began the work of its restoration. It was declared a historic monument in 1982 and became a hotel in March 2007.

The entrance to the hotel from the street is surprisingly modest, and is watched over by a statuette of San Rafael (the unofficial patron saint of Córdoba), and a small stylised metal dragon. Once inside it’s impossible not to be drawn in by the combination of the grand and the cosy. The basic facilities are what you would expect from a 5-star hotel, but the special charm of this hotel is the way in which these are combined with Hospes’ own emphasis on restfulness and well-being, and expressed through the fabric of a historic building.

Last week my friend Peter (aka Seville Concierge) and I were invited to spend the night and also enjoy a flamenco-themed dinner. Our room was a modern standard (dreamer), with a fabulous slate-tiled bathroom, two balconies that overlooked the main patio garden with its swimming pool and fountain, and of course the amazingly comfy beds that Hospes is famous for. There’s also a pillow menu available. I loved falling asleep – and waking up – to the soothing sound of running water from the garden.

In the evening dinner was in the Roman patio, with an excellent singer and guitarist duo (there’s a different entertainment theme every month) and wonderful food by Senzone. The main restaurant is in the next room, and there’s also an attractive tapas bar, which are open to the public as well as guests. The patio also doubles as the breakfast room, where we had a substantial breakfast (well, it would be really, wouldn’t it?) on our second day. The Roman patio is so called because beneath the glass floor you can see the remains of a mosaic and marble columns of the Roman building that was once there (rediscovered by accident in the 1930s when the owners were building a tunnel to bring coal into the house without blackening the floors). It also has restored eighteenth century murals, including a row of upper story windows to match the real ones on the other two sides.

One thing we didn’t get to do was to sample the pleasures of the Bodyna Spa Roman baths and massage (having slept through our alotted time in the late afternoon – darn those comfy beds!) but we were able to have a look around the next morning when sales manager Laura Baena took us on a tour of the hotel. We were duly impressed, especially by the peacefulness of the cool, dimly lit stone baths (there are three of them, set to three different temperatures). I could certainly have spent a blissful hour there just soaking up the silence. We also got a peek at the Roman ruins, which aren’t open to the public and are under special protection, similar to the mosque.

All too soon our 24 hours of luxury were over. I can honestly imagine spending a couple of days at the Palacio Bailío and not even leaving the hotel, so if you do plan on staying here (and I highly recommend it) book yourself an extra night so that you actually get to see the city. I’m still dreaming of going back…

Oh, and did I mention the free WiFi?

[photo gallery below…]

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Up On The Roof

[views from various rooftop bars in Sevilla]

What better way to finish a great day in Sevilla than with a cocktail (or two) at a rooftop bar, looking out over the most beautiful city in Spain and contemplating the stars. Time was when rooftop bars were something of a rarity, or for guests only, but over the last few years a lot of hotels have cottoned on to the attractions of “drinks with a view” in comfortable surroundings, so now you have plenty of choice of where to go. Here are some of the best…

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