The Best Hotel in Vejer de la Frontera: La Casa del Califa

We don't always reveal our itinerary design tricks here at Spain Savvy. But this hotel in Vejer de la Frontera is so high on our list we simply had to led the cat out of the bag! A stay in Hotel La Casa del Califa illuminates a visit to one of our favorite Spanish towns.

Vejer de la Frontera is a small hilltop village in Spain's southern autonomous community, Andalusia. It's about 45 minutes from Cádiz and 2 hours from Seville. While Vejer feels delightfully secluded, it's actually just a short drive down the hill to the glistening coast. Vejer's white-washed facades and winding arch-adorned streets are only a small part of why it's known as one of "Spain's Most Beautiful Towns." You can read more about Vejer in our destination spotlight blog: 6 Reasons to Visit Vejer de la Frontera.

views from Hotel La Casa del Califa
Courtesy of Grupo Califa

There are, of course, many places to stay in Vejer. But there's nothing quite like a stay in La Casa del Califa. From its superb location with sweeping views, to its memorable cuisine, comfortable rooms, and locally-inspired design, this hotel in Vejer is undoubtedly the best you can find. Which is why we consistently recommend it to our clients on their ventures through southern Spain. Interested in adding it to your itinerary? Find out why you should!

Califa's Multiple Properties & Facilities

Pool at Las Palmeras Vejer de la Frontera
Courtesy of Grupo Califa

La Casa del Califa is a boutique hotel and the star of the Grupo Califa family, which also includes Las Palmeras del Califa, an aparthotel featuring the only pool in Vejer, and Hotel Madreselva, a beachfront property near gorgeous Caños de Meca and Cape Trafalgar. Along with a number of restaurants in town, they also have an exceptional spa, Hammam Vejer, just a five minute walk from La Casa del Califa. Each of their properties and facilities are absolutely worth adding to your itinerary.

Exceptional Service & Hospitality

jardin del califa restaurante
Courtesy of Grupo Califa

At Spain Savvy, we not only look for naturally beautiful and cared-for properties for our clients, but the ever-important human touch. And Califa has that part down perfectly. From the smiling faces at reception to the warm greetings at breakfast, guests truly feel like they are at home and pampered.

Vejer, located on the craggy Cádiz coastline and right on the Strait of Gibraltar, is known for its windiness in the early evenings. As the sun goes down it can occasionally be a bit intense! Califa very thoughtfully provides warm fleece blankets at their outdoor seating venues to combat this issue and thus making their customers more cozy. This is just one example of their hospitable touches and attention to even the smallest details.

High Quality Gastronomy

breakfast spread at Hotel La Casa del Califa
Courtesy of Grupo Califa

Califa does mealtime right, from breakfast to dinner. Many of their on and off-site eateries are true gastronomic destinations in Vejer. The Moroccan-inspired breakfast spread complete with the typical rghaif bread aside fresh fruits, cheeses, and practically all the fixings you could possibly imagine, does not disappoint. And once again, the wait staff are simply on point, always asking if you need anything and always with a smile.

Califa is also the proprietor of five stellar local restaurants: Jardín del Califa (on-site at the main hotel), La Tetería del Califa (also at the hotel), Califa Express (next door for a quick, to-go bite), Fez (a short walk from the hotel), and just down the street, Califa Tapas. Each has their own flare and style, and each is absolutely worth visiting. Ask your travel designer to work a few of them into your itinerary.

Boutique Rooms & Locally-Inspired Design

Casa del Califa lobby area
Courtesy of Grupo Califa

With just 27 rooms, the hotel feels like a private home. The decoration is simply gorgeous, featuring many design details inspired by the region's Moorish history and elements imported directly from Morocco, just a short ferry ride away. From their basic rooms to suites, each features a differing architectural style and color palette, adding to the boutique flare.

Nighttime terrace at La Casa del Califa
Courtesy of Grupo Califa

Many rooms have views of the lush Andalusian courtyards or even private terraces with views of the town. The Africa Suite at Califa, for example, is the perfect place for a romantic getaway. Or a spacious apartment at Las Palmeras overlooking the refreshing plunge pool with the backdrop of the whitewashed village - a wonderful place to rejuvenate and reconnect. A small family can easily occupy any of their bigger rooms. And the staff will be happy to accommodate you with an extra bed or a baby crib. Our family of five (3 small kiddos) once stayed in the Luna room and were quite comfortable.

If you're thinking about visiting Vejer on your next trip to southern Spain, there's no question about it - any of the properties of Grupo Califa should be at the top of your list. Contact Spain Savvy today to make it happen!


Arch in Vejer de la Frontera

6 Reasons to Visit Vejer de la Frontera

Vejer de la Frontera is one of the most picturesque towns in all of southern Spain, if not the entire country. We may be biased, but the country's tourism board also gave it official status as one of The Most Beautiful Towns in Spain! Vejer is one of those secret locations that locals are hesitant to give away so as not to spoil its treasures. Tucked away in a corner of the Cádiz province atop a cliff with beautiful vistas of the nearby coast, this village is simple yet fabulous, and chock-full of surprises. Discover 6 reasons to add Vejer de la Frontera to your southern Spain itinerary.

The Rich and Visible History

Views of Vejer de la FronteraHistorically, and mostly due to its geographical position, Vejer has been an enclave for all the civilizations that have passed through Andalusia. Beginning with the Romans, then during the long period of Arab rule, and then falling to the Christians along with the rest of Spain during the Middle Ages. Some historical references even trace the city as far back as 400 B.C. with the rule of the Carthaginians. Most importantly, you can still see Vejer's rich history today in its architecture. Discover Roman footpaths, Moorish archways, and preserved gateways along the fortified city walls from the 13th and 15th centuries.

The Town's Hidden Corners

patio in Vejer de la Frontera SpainNo matter what time of year you visit Vejer de la Frontera, there's so much to do in the town. Explore the cobblestone streets, getting lost in time while walking along the original, fortified walls and prominent gates that surround the old town. Stop in the funky shops and tasty restaurants, and enjoy drinks on the various balconies, always with a view. Vejer's Plaza de España, also known locally as "Plaza de los Pescaitos" (Little Fish Square), named for the goldfish who used to swim in the central fountain, is an ideal place to stroll around on a hot summer evening. See if you can count all the marine life motifs in the tile work decorations! The calm winding streets along the white-washed walls, the mixture of residents and tourists mingling - the whole atmosphere of the place creates an inexplicable connection to the town.

The Proximity to Outdoor Adventure

El Palmar beach in Spain While you could hide away up in town for days on end, you'd be remiss to not venture around Vejer's beaches, mountains, and neighboring villages. In the cooler months, hike around the neighboring Barbate Natural Park or the cliffs at La Breña. If you come between the months of April and October, it's all about the beach. Visit nearby El Palmar beach with its fun hippie-chick/surfer-dude beach bars, and long stretches of gorgeous virgin beaches. A huge bonus - there are no high rise hotels in sight. This area is legally protected for environmental reasons from being marred by tourism. Also check out Cadiz's other nearby beaches like Los Caños de Meca and Zahara.

The Unique Accommodations

Terrace at Casa Califa in Vejer de la Frontera
Courtesy of Hotel La Casa del Califa

While there are a number of excellent lodging options in Vejer, we almost always suggest the Hotel La Casa del Califa with its lovely rooms, wonderful service, and artful local design. We especially love the views from this terrace! While you're there, make a reservation at their delicious Moroccan restaurant, Jardin del Califa.  If you don't end up staying here, at least come for a meal. Read more about Hotel La Casa del Califa here on the blog.

Also highly recommended is the luxurious Casa de la Siesta just on the outskirts of town. The refurbished rural retreat, run by an English couple, can be rented out for exclusive use and is also a fabulous destination wedding venue.

The Picturesque Views

Views of Vejer de la Frontera

Vejer de la Frontera sits on a towering hilltop overlooking the coast and countryside. Not only will you discover idyllic views of the white-washed facades around town, the villages's layout also allows you incredible vantage points of the town itself. And before you enter Vejer, catch an impressive view of the town from below. No matter where you look, you're bound to find yourself snapping photos at every twist and turn.

The Exquisite Cuisine

Spanish tuna at El Campero
Courtesy of El Campero Restaurant

Vejer has historically protected the commercial fishing industry. And that includes the famous "almadraba" tuna fishing process that happens next door in Barbate and surrounding areas. Some of the best tuna in the world is found in this region, both in town and down in Barbate. In fact, there are restaurants that center their entire menus solely on this prized fish! Traditional seafood restaurants also abound in the area. These spots serve more than just tuna but a plethora of other fresh fish and shellfish too. In Vejer you'll discover both traditional and modern restaurants, those serving high-quality meat and vegetables, and a smattering of Moroccan-style eateries worth trying. Just ask your travel designer to recommend some of their favorites!

If you're a real foodie, Spain Savvy will put you in touch with Annie B's Spanish Kitchen. Our friend Annie runs this delightful cooking workshop in the area. She draws from local ingredients and almost always serves her guests a splash of local sherry wine on her beautiful terrace dining area overlooking the whitewashed town.

Vejer is a secret that Spain Savvy would love to share with you on your next trip to southern Spain.  Contact us today to get started on your custom itinerary.


How to Celebrate Semana Santa in Seville

A spine-tingling melee of high-pitched brass bands, trumpets glinting in the sunlight, clouds of incense, and mysterious candle-lit images swaying gently as they pass: this is Semana Santa in Seville. Called Holy Week in English, it's the biggest annual religious event in Spain, and one of the most spectacular. But it can also be a bit confusing for folks just arriving in town. Usually our clients are full of questions before, during, and after their trips. So we're here to answer them for you. 

What is Semana Santa?

Semana Santa float in the street
Photo by Chris Boland

Holy Week, which lasts from Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) to Domingo de Resurrección (Resurrection Sunday or Easter), is a week-long Catholic ritual celebrated all throughout Spain and in  hundreds of other countries with Catholic or Christian roots. In Spain and in many Latin American countries, followers walk elaborate floats, called pasos, through the streets at all hours of the day depicting the last moments of Jesus's life and death. The original idea served as a way tell this biblical story to the people in a very public manner. Today it has evolved into an elaborate display of pageantry, music, culture, and tradition.  

What can I expect to see in Seville?

christ figures semana santa

Each procession in Seville's Semana Santa is organized by an hermandad (brotherhood based in a church), and consists of hooded nazarenos carrying candles or crosses (read more about this below), and the costaleros, who shoulder the weight – up to 1,300 lbs each – of the pasos. Hidden behind a curtain beneath the float, only their shoes visible, the costaleros take slow steps (hence the swaying, designed to make the statue appear to move on its own). You’ll spot them in the street, still wearing the white head padding they use to carry the paso, having a well-earned beer during their breaks.                        

In some processions, you can count as many as 3,000 nazarenos, taking over an hour to file past. They make their way from their church to the cathedral, along a carefully pre-planned route, and then back again. Some take 14 hours to complete the journey. The logistics are extraordinary, with up to nine hermandades in the street at any one time, which cannot cross or meet each other.

Who celebrates Semana Santa?

women walking seville's semana santa processionSemana Santa is regarded as more than just a religious festival but also a cultural one. In other words, even people who are not Catholic or do not abide by any religious tradition still love and choose to celebrate Holy Week with great fervor. Many people look upon the week with nostalgia. It may remind them of their grandparents or stir up moments from their past. And others simply love the pageantry and music they grew up experiencing. It's not strange to meet an atheist marching along in the procession or wandering through the streets to find their favorite pasos.

What makes Semana Santa in Seville so different?

semana santa sevillaSpain’s most famous Semana Santa celebrations are in Seville, with around 60 processions attracting up to a million spectators. Sevillanos are extremely proud of the exquisite artistry of their pasos, from the 500-year-old wooden sculptures, to the Virgins’ hand-embroidered velvet and gold capes. You'll find millions of people watching the processions in Seville. And many of the most venerated pasos are accompanied by thousands of processors. It's quite a site to see. 

What are these hooded figures?

Seville cathedral at nightSemana Santa sees sombre processions of nazarenos – robed figures wearing capirotes (pointed hoods with eyeholes), and sometimes walking barefoot – snake in long lines through the streets of towns and cities throughout the Iberian peninsula. The unfortunate resemblance to the KKK is extremely unnerving, but has absolutely nothing to do with this horrifying racist sect. However, for many people of color it can be extremely traumatizing. If you feel it could be too overwhelming, we recommend avoiding Seville during Holy Week. 

How should I experience Semana Santa in Seville?

altar in Seville cathedralTo criss-cross the city’s streets, tracking the progress of different processions, is an orienteering challenge all of its own. There's even a local app that helps you track them! You turn a corner and suddenly you’re greeted by a carved wooden statue of Jesus on the cross, alarmingly life-like, or the Virgin Mary under her beautiful canopy, floating on a sea of white blooms; banging drums add to the somber, dramatically charged atmosphere. You’ll rarely see anything else like it in your life – guaranteed.

While the spectacle is truly unique, it can be challenging to visit Seville for the first time during Semana Santa. Many streets are completely cut off, museums and attractions are closed during certain times, and restaurants are packed. If it's your first time visiting, we often recommend arriving a few days before the festivities begin. Or stay a few days after so you can get around and experience the city in its normal state.

The Best Moments of Semana Santa in Seville

semana santa sevillaThe most mesmerizing moments happen after night falls. At dusk, the candles carried by the nazarenos, and on the Virgin’s paso, are lit, and the sight of silent candlelit hooded figures slowly marching along narrow medieval streets takes your breath away. Haunting music; the jumbled scents of incense, flowers and candles; and the high point - a mournful, heart-rending saeta – a gypsy prayer-turned-flamenco song addressed to the Virgin or Christ figure, delivered from a balcony overlooking the statue. This song of high intensity and passion, along with the salida (when the paso leaves its church, greeted by adoring cries and gasps), cannot be missed. Batteries charged, memory empty, ready to record – you’ll want to keep these images forever.

For more details on Semana Santa in Seville, get in touch with your travel designer. They'll be able to offer you even more insider tips on how to plan your trip around this spectacle. That way, you'll see exactly what you want to experience or prefer to avoid. 


Why You Should Travel to Spain in Winter

Winter is a phenomenal time to travel to Spain. While summer vacation or spring break may be some of the most popular times to head out on a trip, there are loads of reasons to plan a winter vacation to Spain instead. Especially if your schedule allows it. With less rain and milder temperatures than other parts of Europe (and the U.S.), and all the best parts of winter still at your fingertips, you truly get the best of many worlds. Head to Spain in winter and you'll also avoid heavy tourism and have more opportunities to experience the country as a local—from winter food traditions to cultural festivals and more. Discover all the reasons why you should travel to Spain in winter.

Avoid the Crowds

small village in spain The busiest seasons for travel in Spain are undeniably spring and summer (think summer vacation and spring break). So when winter comes around, things tend to quiet down. And after the holidays, folks tend to travel even less. Come January, you'll find calmer streets, emptier museums, and shorter lines. It's also easier to get a reservation at those coveted restaurants you've been eyeing, or ensure availability of the top private guides and tours. In other words, the country is yours for the taking!

Get Better Hotel Rates

rooftop pool from hotel in barcelonaLess travelers means more availability in hotels, so you'll really have your pick of the absolute best accommodations and rooms. And that also means way better rates! Plan a trip in June versus January and you'll notice quite the difference in your daily rate. It's the perfect time to upgrade to a better room or even stay in a more luxurious accommodation than you normally would. You're on vacation, go ahead and splurge!

Find Cheaper Flights

plane flying overhead to SpainJanuary and February are some of the cheapest times to fly around the world, Spain included. As things slow down after the holidays, you'll find lower rates, better flight patterns, and less chaos in airports. Flying becomes a far more relaxing experience around this time. And if you're saving money on the flight it offers you the financial flexibility to allow yourself other travel expenses like nicer accommodations, private tours, unique excursions, or that extra glass of wine at dinner!

Enjoy Milder Weather

winter in canary islands While many areas of Spain experience chilly temperatures and even snow in the winter, they tend to be much milder than the north of the United States or other areas of Europe. The best part is you'll still get to enjoy the best of the season, as most regions in the peninsula still experiences four full pleasant seasons. In the mountainous areas like the Sierra Nevada outside Granada or up in the Pyrenees mountains in northeastern Spain, you can even hit the slopes and enjoy a delightful ski vacation. And at a much more affordable price than so many other ski resorts around Europe.

In small towns around the Spanish countryside you can cozy up by the fire and enjoy seasonal gastronomy you would otherwise miss— Spain has some of the most warming, rich stews around and they vary from one area of the country to another.

If sunshine is what you're after, you'll find it. In the south of Spain, temperatures are extremely mild in winter and the sun is practically always shining. And if you're looking to totally escape the winter, head to the Canary Islands. These islands experience the same perfect temperature year round (think 75ºF in January). A true eternal summer!

Experience Unique Local Festivals

woman in carnival in spainWe truly believe Spain has some of the most unique and exciting festivals in Europe, many of which are only known and celebrated by locals. King's Day (or Epiphany), for example, is on January 6th and begins the night of January 5th with a vibrant parade through the city with festive floats. The whole country comes out to celebrate and see the parade, where the three kings toss candy and small toys out to kids and adults alike.

This is just the beginning of winter festivals. In San Sebastián in the Basque Country, January 20th brings the Tamborrada festival, celebrating the patron saint Sebastián. Rain or shine, the whole city gathers along with thousands of drummers in folkloric dress to dance and party in the streets for 24 hours straight. Come February, many areas around the country like Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife celebrate Carnival with some serious fervor. It's essentially like a happier halloween (no scary zombies or witches), with costumes, parades, floats, music, comedy, and all day parties in the streets.

Take Advantage of January Shopping Sales

hats in spain Right after King's Day begins the season of rebajas in Spain, or a full month or more of incredible sales. It's the perfect time to shop and pick up great deals on Spanish clothing, souvenirs, gourmet snacks, and gifts to take home to friends and family.

Ready to travel to Spain in winter? Reach out to us and we'll design a truly unforgettable itinerary.


9 Tips on Driving in Spain and Portugal

Renting a car is a fantastic way to see both Spain and Portugal. With the freedom to roam, you'll discover parts of the countryside and local life you wouldn't otherwise be able to encounter. And while the countries' major cities are definitely worth your while, smaller villages and towns along the coast or in rural areas definitely deserve your time too. Driving in Spain and Portugal is fairly straightforward. But there are a few things to keep in mind before heading out. Here's what you need to know:

1. Bring Your Driver's License

driving in Spain and Portugal on highwayIt may seem obvious, but you'll need more than your passport to rent a car when driving in Spain and Portugal. A valid U.S. driver's license is required, however we do recommend getting an international driver's license before you arrive. While it's becoming less and less necessary and not required by rental companies any longer, there is a small chance you may be asked for one if stopped by the police. It's a cheap and easy process and offers a bit more security while on the road. Find out more here.

2. Use a Car Only When Necessary

driving on road in Tenerife

While a car is the most efficient and comfortable way to get around most places in the U.S., it's not always the case in Spain and Portugal. If you're only hoping to hit major cities—say you're hopping from Barcelona to Madrid to Seville, with an occasional day trip in between—there's no need to drive at all! Spain and Portugal's major cities are best explored on foot or via public transportation. And many touristed towns can be accessed by train for day trips. Parking in big European cities tends to be complicated and expensive. Thus, a train or quick plane ride is quickest and most comfortable way to get from city to city. (Read more Tips on Traveling in Spain by Train.)

3. Drive with Ease

driving in Spain and Portugal in the woodsDriving in Spain and Portugal is relatively easy. Highways are well-marked, fairly well-paved, and safe. Use Google Maps for directions and you'll have few issues getting to your next destination.

4. Determine the Right Pickup and Drop-Off Location

nighttime driving in Madrid When it comes time to rent a car, it's good to keep in mind your pickup location. Many rental car offices have pickup spots right at the airport, close to the airport, or in town near train or bus stations. While it may seem convenient to rent the car right in town, it can sometimes be more complicated to get out the city. It all depends on your travel plans. Luckily, your travel designer can advise you on the best pickup and drop-off locations.

5. Notice Not All Cars are Equal

driving in Spain and Portugal yellow car

Cars can look and feel a bit different in Spain and Portugal. Luckily, you won't have to worry about driving on the left hand side of the vehicle or the road! But you will notice that the size of many European models is a bit smaller than most U.S. models. It's also very important to note that the majority of cars in this part of the wold have manual transmissions rather than automatic transmissions. So if you're not comfortable driving a stick shift, be sure to let your travel designer know. We'll always ask you just in case.

6. Remember These Road Rules

gas station driving in Spain

Most road rules in Spain and Portugal are generally the same as in the U.S.—always wear a seatbelt, green means go, don't speed, etc. But there are a few small differences to keep in mind:

Kilometers

The speed limits are noted in kilometers, not miles. The primary number on your speedometer and on the highway signs is always going to be given in kilometers.

Safety Equipment

If you need to pull over on the side of the highway, you are required to put on a reflective safety vest before exiting your vehicle. If you expect to be there for more than a couple minutes, you are also required to place a reflective warning triangle behind your vehicle so other drivers can clearly see you. Your rental car should provide this for you in the glove compartment.

Fuel

When it comes time to fill up the tank, pay attention to the type of vehicle you're driving and the instructions given to you by your rental car company. In Spain, there is no leaded gasoline, just unleaded and diesel. Unleaded is called sin pluma 98 or 95 in Spanish and sem chumbo 98 or 95 in Portuguese. You may see that diesel is called gasóleo. Your rental car will likely run on 95, but double check just in case. Your credit card should work for payment, but it's always a good idea to keep cash on you just in case.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts abound in both Spain and Portugal. If you're not used to them, the general rule of thumb is that anyone already circling the roundabout has the right of way, and you should yield accordingly. Also be sure to utilize your turn signals while circling and exiting the roundabout.

Righthand Lane

While it's relatively common in the U.S. to stay in the righthand lane of any highway if you're going slower than the rest of the traffic, you'll quickly notice how necessary it is to do so while driving in Spain and Portugal. Unless you're actively passing someone else, stay in the right lane. Otherwise, you're likely to get tailed (or honked at) by a frustrated and hurried driver.

No Right on Red

In both Spain and Portugal it's prohibited to turn right on red. So if you're pulled up to intersection and want to turn right, you'll need to wait until the light is green.

7. Park with Caution

parking in Spain in Barcelona Parking in Europe can be tricky. There's simply less space! Before you park your car, look for any signs or road markings around you that may indicate 1) no parking, 2) loading zones, or 3) payment required. Often parking in a garage is the quickest and safest option. You'll find garages all around cities and small towns (search parking garages in Google maps!). Just make sure that once you're ready to leave, you pay at the pay station before you get into your car. These stations are usually located around the stairs and elevators. Most garages won't have pay booths at the exit.

8. Watch for Pedestrians

pedestrians while driving in Spain and PortugalPedestrians very much have the right of way in Europe. Even on busy roadways you'll find crosswalks, and you're required to stop for folks. Watch out for motorcycles, bikes, and electric scooters as well, which tend to creates rules of their own. If you're driving from village to village in a rural area, you're also likely to encounter people walking along the side of road on an afternoon stroll, or a group of cyclists. You may even come across a herd of cows, goats, or sheep! Just remember that you're not alone on the road.

9. Prepare for Tolls

toll boothsYou may encounter the occasional toll in Spain, but you will definitely hit some while driving through Portugal. You'll grab a ticket at the first toll stop and pay the fee at the next one, which marks the distance you've driven. Most places take credit card but it's always a good idea to have cash on you just in case.

Want more tips on driving in Spain and Portugal? Contact your travel designer with any specific questions and we'll be sure to get you the answers.

Ready to get on the road and explore this exciting peninsula? Reach out to us and get started on your unforgettable Spain-Portugal itinerary.


Granada Alhambra

What to Do in Granada

Granada is an extraordinary place to visit. Located in the southern region of Andalusia, it's a small city at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that receives millions of visitors a year. And for good reason. Last stronghold of the Moorish kings, it’s infused with a unique history and culture that all seems to be visible at every turn. Head to Granada and you'll be wowed by the majestic views from above and below. The city holds some of the most celebrated sites in the whole country!

But Granada is not all monuments and dusty churches. The city boasts elegant modern buildings, interactive science museums, Arab-style baths, and loads of nearby natural landscapes to explore and enjoy. There's even a delightfully laid back hippy atmosphere that still feels polished and comfortable. There's so much to do in this city! Check out some of our top picks for what to do in Granada on your trip through Spain. 

Spend the Day at the Alhambra

the Alhambra

A trip to Granada is not complete without a visit to this impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site. A stunning Moorish palace, the Alhambra is evidence of the Nasrid dynasty’s last gasp before fleeing the advance of the Christian Reconquista. It’s a sprawling complex of rooms with domed marquetry ceilings and intricate glazed tile work. The tranquil pools and gardens, with fountains and streams built into the architecture, are an oasis of beauty and calm. Book tickets in advance with Spain Savvy to avoid lines, as visitors are limited and tickets sell out months ahead. Wear comfortable footwear (it's a huge palace!) and don’t forget sun protection if you’re visiting in the spring and summer.

Wander the Albayzín

AlbayzínThe city’s historic Moorish quarter, the Albayzín (or Albacín) is all narrow, winding cobblestone streets, hidden nooks and crannies, and white-washed buildings. You’ll find Arab-style tea houses serving typical desserts like baklava, gazelle horns, and fragrant almond pastries. Tetería El Bañuelo is a Spain Savvy favorite, with its cozy courtyard, stunning views, and delicious spread of pastries. You can also dine or stay in a restored Carmen, traditional houses in the Albayzín separated by a high wall from the street. They're almost like secret gardens nestled into the hills, with flora-filled courtyards and coveted views of the Alhambra. Ask your Spain Savvy travel designer for recommendations tailored to your tastes and budget. 

Snap a Photo at the Miradores

Mirador de San NicolasConsidering Granada is city built on a hill (or several) you'll not only get a little workout here and there, you'll also get some truly spectacular views. Granada has various miradores, or lookout points, from the north side of the Darro River that reveal views of the majestic Alhambra, and the Sierra Nevadas showing off in the background. If you happen to head during chillier months, you'll even get a view of those mountain peaks dusted in snow. It makes for quite the fairytale photo! The Mirador de San Nicolás is by far the most visited lookout point and worth the trek. You can also keep going further up from that point to the Mirador de San Miguel Alto, which is a bit less crowded and more popular amongst locals. The sunsets from both are unforgettable.

Search for Free Tapas

Tapas riceWhen it comes to dining, Granada is known throughout Andalusia for its free tapas. Anytime you order a beverage, be it a glass of wine or a soda, many bars will also offer you a free tapa. You can occasionally choose, but most spots serve you the house tapa or tapa of the day. Los Manueles on Reyes Católicos, just around the corner from the Cathedral, is a classic traditional Andalusian tapas bar worth visiting. We were once served a delicious and monstrous pork meatball with our glass of tempranillo! We also love Los Diamantes for the best fried fish and seafood in town. Other free tapas you might come across vary from rice dishes to Iberian ham to spicy chicken skewers. It's a fun culinary adventure you can't miss! We'll be sure to add on some additional personal recommendations for your trip. 

Soak in the Arab Baths

Hammambaths Al Andalus
Courtesy of Hammam Al Ándalus Granda

Next to the Darro River, with the Alhambra towering above, are Granada's Arab bathsthe Hammam Al Ándalus. Built into the original ancient Arab baths of the period, the spa and bath experience feels like stepping back in time. It's an ideal place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city, while still feeling like you're having a unique local experience. There are various packages to choose from and each includes a 90-minute "Water Journey," where you can migrate from salt pools to ice pools to jacuzzi-style baths. Add on a massage or other highly recommended treatments to renew those tired traveler's legs. 

Visit the Science Park

Parque de las Ciencias Granada
Courtesy of Parque de las Ciencias

If you're looking for something to do in Granada on a rainy day, Parque de las Ciencias is a great option. It's also just a fascinating place. And if you’re traveling with kids, even better. All the exhibits are interactive and there’s loads to do. Biodome. Butterfly House. Learn about birds of prey with a daily display of falconry. There’s even a planetarium.

Head to the Beach

Playa de la RijanaIt's hard imagine that white sands and crystal waters are just an hour away when you're nestled into the hills of the city. But it's true! Escape the summer heat and take advantage of the many beaches and coves along the Costa Tropical of Granada, all within about 50 miles from the city. Puerta del Mar, Playa de la Guardia, Playa La Rijana, and La Herradura are all fantastic and close options. Each has its own attraction, bet it family-friendly or a more tourist-free hideaway.

Hit the Slopes

Ski slopes Sierra NevadaSkiing in Spain? Yes, you heard us right! The snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, which cozy up to the city, are less than an hour's drive away. Ski season usually runs from the beginning of to December through the end of March. A one-day pass is very affordable at just 30€ for adults and 25.50€ for kiddos. You can also rent the necessary snow gear like skis and snowboards in case you don't feel like schlepping your gear own across the country.

Granada really does have something for everyone. Here at Spain Savvy we almost always recommend it as a stop on any itinerary through southern Spain. Ready to add it to your trip? Contact us today and get started on that dream custom itinerary through Spain!


EFA Morocco Atlas Mountains group photo

Give Back While Traveling

So many of our amazing clients want ways to give back while traveling. They're not only looking to see and experience a new place and culture but want to leave a positive impact. And we at Spain Savvy have been looking for our own ways to give back with an official philanthropic partner that matches our company values and also feels connected to the places we live and work. Education For All (EFA) Morocco was the perfect choice! EFA Morocco provides education for girls living in rural communities in the Atlas Mountains that would otherwise not have the opportunity to study.

The Story of Education for All Morocco

EFA Morocco girls in school in Atlas Mountains
Photo courtesy of EFA Morocco

There is an old African prover that says,

"If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation."

This still rings true today. EFA Morocco, which started in 2007 with just 10 girls ages 12-18, builds and runs safe schools and boarding houses in rural, remote areas so these girls can live and study for six years without having to worry about transport or funds. Most girls come from far-off villages, making a daily commute impossible; education often ends after elementary school. This complication has lead to about a 70% illiteracy rate amongst women in rural regions, making it difficult for them to overcome poverty and uplift their communities. EFA Morocco is changing that.

Here at the EFA schools and boarding houses, the girls have comfortable beds, showers, three healthy meals a day, and access to books and the right technology. They also have 3-4 supportive house mothers who are there care for their educational and emotional well being whenever needed.

How EFA Morocco Makes a Difference

EFA Morocco girls in computer lab
Photo courtesy of EFA Morocco

EFA Morocco has grown from their humble beginnings to now encompass 6 different boarding houses throughout the Atlas Mountain region with an average of 250 girls utilizing these facilities and schools at one time. The impacts are huge! Since 2007, 450 girls have passed through EFA's six-year program! And since 2013, 170 girls have gone on to study in universities and many are now employed in industries like teaching, travel, law, and business. Some are even getting their masters degrees.

Want to learn more details about EFA's impact? Check out their informative and easy-to-read 2022 impact report.

The September Earthquake in Morocco

EFA Morocco earthquake damage
Courtesy of EFA Morocco

If you've followed the news over the past month or kept up with our newsletter and social media, you probably saw that a massive earthquake struck Morocco in the Atlas Mountain region in September. This devastating natural disaster destroyed 4 of the EFA houses and damaged the 2 others. EFA was forced to shut down and relocate girls to schools and facilities in and around Marrakech. Unfortunately, the homes of many of their families were also destroyed and damaged, and lives of loved ones were lost, exacerbating the situation. The organization is doing their best to get them into temporary EFA-style housing so they can continue their studies while the houses are rebuilt. But this is a tough transition for the girls, who are also dealing with their own personal losses.

How You Can Help

EFA Morocco girls in boarding house
Photo courtesy of EFA Morocco

Most of us are fortunate enough to have been educated or live in a place where education is incredibly accessible. As an organization of women, female business owners, and human beings, we at Spain Savvy believe every person, regardless of gender or income level, has the right to a quality education. Funding EFA Morocco brings us one step closer to that reality.

The most impactful way you can give back while traveling to or near Morocco (Spain and Portugal are surprisingly close!) is to donate! Feeding, housing, and educating so many students comes with ongoing financial costs. And these girls need even more funds right now to rebuild their schools and boarding houses after the earthquake. So let's gather around this beloved and beautiful country and send them some love. Let's give back while traveling! Click here to donate to Education For All Morocco!

EFA Morocco girls in Marrakech
Photo courtesy of EFA Morocco

Looking to finally take that trip of a lifetime to Morocco this year or the next? Luckily, tourism is running at full force post earthquake. Tourism is another incredible way to support economies post disaster. For more details on booking your trip, reach out to us!


madrid arch plaza mayor

Get to Know Your Travel Designer: Cyra Alcock

We're thrilled to announce the newest member of our travel design team here at Spain Savvy: Cyra Alcock. Cyra comes to us with years of experience in the tourism industry. With her expert knowledge and deep love for all things Spanish culture, she's already been a fantastic addition to Spain Savvy. She's only been with us a few months, but she's already sent over 35 clients on some of the most incredible journeys around Spain and Portugal, and done so with great success!

Read on to learn more about Cyra—you'll be lucky to have her as your travel designer.

cyra alcock travel designer

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Sydney, Australia where I lived until I decided I wanted to head over to Europe and explore the world. It was supposed to be a gap year....

How long have you been living in Spain? And what first brought you here?

I actually was based in Italy before living in Spain, and worked there for a company called Intrepid Travel as a Tour Leader. I began leading tours in Italy, which eventually grew to leading tours through Italy, Spain, France and Portugal. So in the beginning I was lucky enough to travel all over Spain and Portugal (and even had a brief stint living in Logroño in La Rioja). While travelling in Spain I met a ton of people in industry, including someone who had just started what was then a new food tour start-up in Madrid, Devour Tours. Eventually, I decided to move on from leading group tours and so I joined Devour Tours and moved to Seville to lead the operation of Devour Tours in Seville and drive the subsequent expansion of the company to two other cities in Andalusia. I've been living in Seville for nearly 9 years now (and travelling almost full time in the country - at least during the high season! - for a few years before that, too).

What inspired you to start working as a travel designer?

One of my first jobs in London (nearly 20 years ago!!!) was actually in a travel agency. It was an entry level job, very boring and not creative at all, but I was always curious to learn more about it. Given that for 12+ years all of my work has revolved (and continues to revolve) around creating amazing travel experiences, it's something that I've always had in the back of my mind that I'd like to give a shot. As it turns out, I really enjoy it!

You’re very well traveled. What do you think is one of the biggest benefits of working with a travel designer?

For me the biggest benefit is being able to share the knowledge that I've gained over the years and being able to help people have the best trip possible! I truly get a kick out of it!. I've actually been to almost every place and eaten in almost every restaurant personally that I recommend to my clients which honestly is rare - if someone was using a travel designer based locally to them, they would not have so much first hand experience. I've been to every region in Spain and the top destinations more times than I can count (places like Barcelona I have been to 50 to 100 times, probably closer to 100 by now!) so that is a ton of experience that I love being able to share.

Tell us about a trip you designed that you’re really proud of or were really excited about.

One of the first trips I designed was for a family who were travelling in Northern Spain. I was so proud of that itinerary as it really was Spain 'off the beaten path'. Also, they were into nice food experiences which is what I love most, so I had food envy just putting together their trip for them! It made me want to revisit Northern Spain, that's for sure.

What’s a great destination in Spain, Portugal, or Morocco that you think folks HAVE to explore? Or a place people overlook that they shouldn’t?

That's really, really, hard but if I had to choose one that I know a lot of people don't visit or don't dedicate more than a day trip, it would be Ronda! Maybe that's because it's only a couple of hours from Seville, but I have taken so many visitors to Ronda (both as a tour leader and people who come to visit me in Seville) and it's always the place that people expected the least from (or didn't know what to expect) but ended up falling in love with. For me and my interests, it's got a bit of everything - some great restaurants, amazing local wines (and wineries you can visit just walking from the city), beautiful hikes, and it's just super cute to wander around and enjoy being there!

And just for fun, what’s your absolute favorite Spanish dish? 

Also a really tough question and I could honestly list 10 different things, but if I had to choose one - and perhaps not an obvious one - one of my favourite dishes is papas con choco (cuttlefish or calamari stewed with potatoes). And, I'll never say no to a perfectly prepared papas aliñas.


rural Andalusia

Get to Know Your Guide: Luis Andrade of Andalusia Guided Tours

If you traveled with us before, you know one of the best choices you can make is to book a tour with a private guide. Be it a historical tour of Gaudí's Barcelona, an urban art tour in Lisbon, or a multi-day excursion through small towns, privately guided tours offer some of the most unique insight and local experiences out there. Which is why we're taking the time to help you get to know some of our local guide partners—the folks that take a new travel experience from great to totally unforgettable. Here, we're chatting with Luis Andrade of Andalusia Guided Tours. He takes guests out of the traditional urban areas, and into rural settings and small towns throughout Andalusia.

Learn more about Andalusia Guided tours here and follow Luis and Andalusia Guided Tours on Instagram.

Luis of Andalusia Guided Tours

Where are you from originally? And where do you live now?

I'm originally from Sevilla, and right now, I actually live in the same apartment where I've spent my entire life, very close to the city center. I've lived here for most of my life, but I've also been fortunate to live for almost two years in Vejer de la Frontera, a town in the province of Cádiz, very close to the Atlantic.

How long have you been touring people around  the region of Andalusia?

I've been providing guided tours of Andalusia for 14 years now. I started right after I graduated from university, where I studied Environmental Sciences.

How long have you been working with Spain Savvy?

I believe it's been more than 6 years working together already. I'm thrilled about it and hope for many more to come.

What inspired you to start the company and guide full time?

The summers of my childhood spent with my grandparents at our beach house in Sanlúcar de Barrameda played a significant role. I think that's where my love for nature and the sea was born. This led me to work as a nature tour guide in the Doñana National Park and other natural parks in Andalusia. I used to wander through the river marshes and go fishing with my brother when we were kids. Years later, when I was in university, I took my parents to show them the area and told them that's what I wanted my job to be...and so it began :)

What do you think makes Andalusia such a unique area of Spain?

To me, Andalusia is the soul of Spain, with all due respect to other regions. I believe that the image exported to the rest of the world primarily revolves around Andalusian traditions, culture, history, and customs. Powerful elements of Spanish culture like flamenco, Arab influence, the joy of the people, and the great weather find their truest expression in Andalusia.

What do you think is one of the biggest benefits people get from adding a privately guided tour to their itinerary as opposed to exploring on their own?

I think it maximizes the experience entirely. Exploring a place is always a beautiful thing, but doing it with someone who lives there and opens the doors to their daily life, sharing details and information that aren't immediately visible, makes all the difference.

What are some of your favorite tours to do with clients?

I believe there's so much to see outside of the big cities. Personally, I love rural and nature tourism. Combining culture, nature, villages, traditions, landscapes, and gastronomy in a single day is a crucial part of my work. That's why I would say my two favorite tours are the "White Villages of Cádiz and Ronda," and also, the "Atlantic Coast of Cádiz" tour. This reflects a bit of what I mentioned earlier about my childhood and why I started working as a guide.

What’s your dream for Andalusia Guided Tours?

My dream is for the world to become a little better each day. I would love to achieve that through my profession, though it's a tough challenge. But I'm trying to contribute by emphasizing the importance of caring for nature. I hope to grow and gain more strength to lead a good life and achieve that goal.

And just for fun, what’s your absolute favorite Andalusian dish?

For a sevillano, where eating is one of life's greatest pleasures, it's impossible to pick just one favorite dish... puntillitas (small fried squid), zamburiñas (scallops), shrimp salad, gazpacho, grilled fish, beef sirloin, and I can think of about 20 more things.

Our clients exploring with Luis via Andalusia Guided Tours

Luis of Andalusia Guided Tours


what to pack for Spain

What to Pack for Spain and Portugal

As your trip to Spain or Portugal approaches, you may feel a panicky question arise: "What do I pack for Spain and Portugal?"

We get that it can be overwhelming, especially if you've never traveled abroad before. It's important to keep in mind that what to pack for Spain and/or Portugal is dependent on the location, the season of travel (check that weather app!), and your personal needs. Regardless, we're offering some suggestions based on years of working with hundreds of clients and our own personal travels.

Our biggest tip? Pack light! Packing light can be a lot more pleasant in almost every aspect of traveling, from not having to worry about the weight limits on airlines or hauling bags up stairs, through train stations and luggage racks, especially if you are moving from destination to destination every few days. In other words, you want to limit the stuff you cart around with you.

Heading out soon and organizing your bags? Here's what to pack for Spain:

Your Handy Trip Plans App

use your travel app for SpainIt goes without saying that you'll need your phone to snap pictures, get directions, or check in with family while you're away. But even more important is your handy Trip Plans App which contains your itinerary and other crucial documents like museum tickets, your tour guide's contact, and reservation confirmation numbers. Our clients (even the more tech-averse ones) rave about Trip Plans and how incredibly helpful it is throughout the entire journey. Don't forget to download it before you leave.

Personal Documents

a passport is what to pack for Spain

Along with the documents uploaded in the Trip Plans App, don't forget those other important documents like your passport, driver's license (especially if you're renting a car), and copies of each of them in case there are issues.

Travel Insurance

If we've learned anything from the past few years, it's to be prepared for the unexpected. Which is why Spain Savvy partners with Global Rescue for travel insurance. For Global Rescue, CFAR ("cancel for any reason") insurance must be contracted within 20 days of making the first trip payment.

Debit and Credit Card

credit cards in Spain

We recommend bringing both a debit and credit card on the trip. There are multiple banks that offer debit and credit cards without international fees, which will save you a ton of money while traveling. When you can, a credit card is the best way to pay, as you won't incur excessive or exchange bank fees. But when you need to take out cash (for small purchases, tipping, traditional shops), we recommend using a debit card rather than exchanging dollars. You can even take out money in the airport when you arrive.

The Right Luggage

suitcases for travel

Airlines have substantially tightened their luggage policies for both carry-on and checked baggage; and their requirements are subject to change without notice. Check with specific airline carriers to determine weight restrictions and fees that might be applicable. Most airlines now charge for checked bags, sometimes even on international flights.

If you'll be traveling for more than two weeks, a checked bag is probably necessary. However, keep in mind that hauling big bags from trains to taxis, or occasionally up stairs and along cobblestone streets, can be challenging. Again, pack light!

Once you're in Europe, and if you'll be taking short flights from Spain to Portugal, you may even be charged for carry-on luggage. And the size requirements are more limited than what you can carry on in the US. It's best to check with each airline's requirements ahead of time.

Electrical Power Adapters

adapters and european chargers

The electrical current in Spain and Portugal is 220V, which is not the same as the current in North America (110V). When it comes to bringing items such as a hairdryer, curling iron, or straightener, you simply should refrain from it. The vast majority of accommodations will have at least a hairdryer on-site and, when traveling from the U.S. to Europe, the voltage in the plugs is completely different and you risk completely ruining your devices should you use them, even if you are using an adapter. Your phones are usually fine and work well with adapters. Check out universal adapters which contain plugs for multiple countries across the globe.

The same goes for laptops. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions to see that your device will operate at 220V. If the company makes special plug adapters (i.e. as Apple does for its Macbooks) we recommend that you purchase and use those instead of plugging into a separate converter or adapter. In the case of a power surge you may risk the destruction of your laptop. If using a converter, the wattage of the converter must match the wattage of the appliance. Please make sure that your laptop’s voltage range, found on your power cord, will be compatible with the electrical current.

Packing Cubes

packing cubes are what to pack for SpainLiving out of a suitcase can be one of the most uncomfortable parts of travel. Which is why we LOVE packing cubes. They keep all your clothes, shoes, and toiletries organized into individual blocks, making it way easier to find that favorite shirt you were hoping to wear on your tapas tour. Our favorite brand? Bag-All. Not only are they functional, they also come in different colors and you can even get them monogramed.

Good Walking Shoes

shoes for travel

When our clients ask us what to pack for Spain and Portugal or anywhere else Europe or Morocco, "comfortable shoes!" is always our first response. Unlike most cities in the US, European cities and towns require lots of walking! And that means you'll need extra-comfy shoes to get around. A good pair of casual walking shoes, as well as another pair of slightly dressier shoes you can wear to a nice dinner that are still comfy (leave the stilettos at home), are really all you need. If hiking is a part of your itinerary, hiking shoes or good tennis shoes are also a great idea. And if you're planning on visiting one of Spain's incredible beaches or lounging by the pool, throw in some lightweight flip-flops too.

Comfortable, Weather-Appropriate Clothes

comfortable in Spain

International travel has become much more casual than it used to be. There are exceptions, of course, when more formal attire is required, but the first rule is to dress for comfort.

Once you’ve done your destination research, determined the weather in the regions you plan to visit, and thought about the activities you plan to do, go through your closet and select items that you feel will work for your trip.

Insider Tips for What Clothing to Pack for Spain and Portugal

  • Layering is the way to go in Europe year-round.
  • A shawl, pashmina, scarf, or other wrap can serve as an accessory as well as a blanket for the plane or a chilly museum.
  • Special travel clothing is available in many wrinkle-resistant and light-weight materials, making packing easier than ever.
  • Rolling rather than folding your clothes in your suitcase results in less wrinkles.
  • Consider the capsule wardrobe. Color coordinate your clothes for maximum utility with limited pieces. Use one main color and one or two accent colors to mix and match for maximum flexibility.
  • Bring a rain jacket. No matter the region or season, a rain jacket is always a good idea, as you can get caught out in a storm regardless of where and when you are traveling.
  • Pack a swimsuit. Regardless of whether or not you're traveling in winter or summer, or going to the north or south, we always recommend you pack a swimsuit. Many of your hotels will have pools, or you may want to enjoy the hotel's spa, sauna, or book a session at the Arabic baths in cities like Barcelona or Seville.

Reusable Water Bottle

pack your water bottle for Spain

A reusable water bottle is ideal for staying hydrated throughout your travel (staying hydrated on the plane is crucial!). All the walking is bound to leave you thirsty, and a ready-to-use bottle will remind you to drink water and keep you energized. Barcelona is one of the few cities where locals don't recommend drinking the tap water, but many cities around Spain and Portugal have refillable water stations or drinking fountains. While you can easily purchase plastic water bottles while in country, a reusable one will save you a few bucks and is much better for the environment.

Extra Space for Souvenirs

souvenir woven baskets in Spain

Don't fill your suitcase to the brim! It's always a good idea to leave a little space in your luggage for fun Portuguese and Spanish souvenirs you find along the way, be it gifts, clothes, bottles of wine, or artisan goods. Knowing you have some room will give you the freedom to take back whatever treats you fancy.

Patience

pack your travel patience in Spain

If you have traveled with us before, you know we always remind folks to "pack their patience." After all, this is a vacation! Spain and Portugal move at a different pace than the US, meaning you may have to wait a little longer to order tapas or catch a taxi. While things may not always go perfectly, it's all part of the travel experience. Be a responsible tourist and embrace the waiting! It's a time to revel in the culture and be present in such a privileged place. We love this quote from the editorial director of Condé Nast Traveler, Jesse Ashlock:

"There will be lines, and there could be meltdowns. You can save yourself a lot of grief by planning smartly and getting to the airport early, but sometimes the headaches are impossible to avoid. When they come, remember how worth it is...Even when travel isn't perfect, we're all so lucky that we get to be travelers."

Ready to get your bags packed and head to Spain? Reach out to us and we'll help you plan the trip of a lifetime.