January 20, 2020
The Best Things to do in Pamplona Besides Running with the Bulls

The Best Things to do in Pamplona Besides Running with the Bulls

January 20, 2020
olite navarra church spain
Pamplona is a city in the region of Navarra, in northern Spain, best known for San Fermin, the festivity that involves the running of the bulls which happens every year on July 7. However, Pamplona is much more than that. Pamplona is worth visiting any time of the year for its history, monuments and nearby quaint towns and villages.

WHAT TO DO IN PAMPLONA

A fun walk around the city is to follow the path that runners do when running with the bulls. It goes through iconic streets like Cuesta de Santo Domingo o Calle Estafeta. There are signs on the streets leading the way to the bullfinghting ring.

Other than that, these are the main spots in Pamplona:
  • Plaza del Castillo: the main square of the city is the epicenter of social life. During Christmas you will find a Christmas market selling local delicacies and products made of leather.
  • Calle Estafeta: the most famous street in Pamplona is a vantage point to see the bulls during San Fermin. In fact, you can rent out a balcony for that.
  • City Hall: probably the most amazing building in the city because of its beautiful architectural design.
  • San Fermin Statue in Cuesta de Santo Domingo: walking down the street you will find a little statue of the patron Saint of the city.
  • Cathedral: an imposing building that is a wonderful architectural example of Neoclassicism.
  • Jardines de la Taconera: the main city gardens are home to a little treasure called "the ditch" where lots of different species live: peacocks, deer, hens, ducks...I've never seen such a wide variety of animals all in one place.
ayuntamiento city hall pamplona navarra spain
pamplona spain
san fermin statue imagen pamplona navarra spain
pamplona running bulls statue
taconera pamplona

WHERE TO EAT IN PAMPLONA

Just like in San Sebastian -which is just one hour away by train-, gastronomy is an important part of this region. You can find pintxos on the two streets that concentrate the vast majority of restaurants: Estafeta and San Nicolas.

We had lunch at Picnic, a little restaurant in San Nicolas street which serves simple dishes made with the best quality ingredients like this tomato with tuna.
picnic restaurant pamplona san nicolas
picnic restaurant pamplona san nicolas

DAY TRIPS FROM PAMPLONA: OLITE

Our headquarters during our trip to Navarra where in Parador de Olite. This Parador hotel is located in a wing of the Royal Palace of Olite which was once one of the most impressive castles in Europe. Built in the 13th century, it was the seat of the court of the Kingdom of Navarre, which ruled by Charles III. It is believed that back in the day it had spectacular gardens and even a zoo. Nowadays you can visit the rest of it (entrance fee 3.5€). The palace consists of different buildings made from pieces coming from different times in history. This variety of architectural styles is what makes it so special.

We were breath taken by this unusual construction which is actually common in Navarra as we could see in the next two day-trip destinations: Ujue and Javier.
olite navarra spain
olite castle castillo navarra spain
merindad olite navarra spain
olite belen navarra
parador olite navarra spain
parador olite navarra spain
Our favorite places to eat in Olite were the restaurant and cafeteria at Parador de Olite and Merindad de Olite restaurant. Both are similar in price, quality and great service. Below you can see veggie burgers from the former and pintxos from the later.
parador olite navarra spain menu
pintxos olite navarra

DAY TRIPS FROM PAMPLONA: UJUE

Ujue (also spelt Uxue) is the only town in Navarra that is included in the "most beautiful villages in Spain" list. The town's highlight is Santa Maria de Ujue which is both a church and a fortress. It was originally built in the 11th century in a Romanesque style, on the site of an ancient temple. It's a wonderful architectural masterpiece and another example of that mixture of styles I mentioned before.

Before exploring this magnificent town, we had lunch at Asador de Uxue, a traditional restaurant with wonderful views of the mountains. They have a delicious menu for 24€ that consists of 3 starters to share, a main dish and dessert.
ujue uxue navarra spain
ujue uxue navarra spain
ujue uxue navarra spain
restaurante asador uxue navarra
restaurante asador uxue navarra menu

DAY TRIPS FROM PAMPLONA: CASTILLO DE JAVIER

The imposing Castle of Javier is another must-see in Navarra. The castle is currently closed for renovations but your can visit the beautiful modern chapel attached to it.
castillo castle javier navarra spain

DAY TRIPS FROM PAMPLONA: MONASTERIO DE LEYRE

Another of the top places to visit in Navarra is Monasterio de Leyre. This monastery was built from the 9th to the 11th century and it comprises a crypt, Gothic vault and Romanesque porch. The monastery is still in use today and therefore is home to a monks. You can hear them do their Gregorian chant, a practice which dates back to the 8th century, in the evenings. Part of the monastery is a hotel and there's also a restaurant. Last but not least, the site is surrounded by beautiful walking paths. This is without a doubt a great place for a spiritual retreat.

If you have time for more, I recommend you check out the following towns Estella, Tudela, Puente la Reina and Sangüesa.
monasterio leyre navarra spain
monasterio leyre navarra spain chapel capilla

DAY TRIPS FROM PAMPLONA: WINE REGION

The vineyards in Navarra can be found from the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains to the Ebro river in Northern Spain, between Madrid and San Sebastian.

Thirsty for more? There's just a two-hour journey to the wine region of La Rioja.
Read all about the spectacular wineries of La Rioja here

DAY TRIPS FROM PAMPLONA: THE MAP

This map includes all the must see places in Pamplona and the day trip destinations you can't miss. I've also added the places where we ate and slept. To take this map with you simply click on the star next to the name and the map will be saved to your Maps in Google.
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pamplona javier olite ujue navarra
January 6, 2020
The Best Things to Do in Astorga, Spain

The Best Things to Do in Astorga, Spain

January 6, 2020
christmas shop tienda navidad astorga leon spain españa
Astorga is a town in the northwest of Spain just 60 kilometers from Leon. It houses beautiful buildings like the cathedral or Gaudi's Palacio Episcopal and has lots of different typical gourmet food which makes Astorga foodie paradise. In fact, the whole town smells of delicious food: aromas of vanilla, chocolate or charcuterie greet you as soon as you set foot in Astorga.

This post is the most complete guide to Astorga you can find. Here you will learn about its history, find out the best things to do and see, where to eat and sleep, how to get there and a map to take with you. In a nutshell, everything you need to plan the perfect trip to Astorga.

Read the Complete Guide to Visiting Leon

THE ROLE OF ASTORGA IN THE HISTORY OF SPAIN

Astorga was founded in 14 BC. The Romans named Astorga "Asturica Augusta" and was an important administrative and military centre. Tha walls of the city which still stand were rebuilt by Bishop Nuño around 1242.

Astorga is considered to be the European birthplace of chocolate. In 1528 Hernan Cortes brought Mexican Cacao bean to Spain and Astorga became pioneer in the elaboration of chocolate from the 17th century.

The town of Astorga is part of Camino de Santiago (Saint James Way). This pilgrimage leads to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried.

WHAT TO DO & SEE IN ASTORGA

Palacio Episcopal by Gaudi
There have been very few geniuses like Gaudi throughout history. The Spanish architect created the most spectacular buildings in Spain. There are only three of his masterpieces outside of Catalonia: El Capricho in Comillas (Cantabria), Palacio de Botines in Leon and Episcopal Palace in Astorga.
General admission is 5€ which allows you to see the gardens and the building which is nowadays a museum dedicated to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. It houses different exhibitions: lapidary in the basement, history of the Asturian Diocese in the lower level, the first floor is dedicated to Gaudí, the Palace building and other authors who have contributed to its construction and the second floor is used to temporary exhibitions, congresses and different events.
The architecture kind of reminds you of a Disney castle, doesn't it?
episcopal palace gaudi astorga neo-gothic architecture
episcopal palace gaudi astorga hall
episcopal palace gaudi astorga chapel
episcopal palace gaudi astorga inside

The Cathedral
Probably one of the most unique cathedrals in Spain because each tower was built with a different stone hence the different color. Astorga's cathedral is a magnificent example of Barroque architecture in Spain. There are very few places that are not main cities that have a cathedral of this size.
General admission is 5€.
astorga cathedral barroque architecture spain

Chocolate Museum
Did you know there's such a thing as a Museum of Chocolate? Astorga has always been famous for its chocolate, during the peak of the industry there were around 40 manufacturers in this small town. There are still some left that make the most delicious artisan chocolate. The museum houses machines that were used back in the day and memorabilia from the golden age of chocolate in Astorga. They also broadcast a very interesting video of how chocolate was made before and nowadays.
General admission: 2.50€. Includes a tasting of artisan chocolate.
chocolate museum astorga spain
chocolate museum astorga spain
chocolate museum astorga spain

Town Hall
The beautiful Barroque town hall offers a surprise. To tell the time the two figures on top, Juan Zancuda and Colasa, hit the bell every hour. Can you spot the two automatons on the pic below?
astorga spain town hall ayuntamiento maragatos

Roman Museum and Ruins
In the museum you can find examples of the town’s Roman heritage. Then, you can find ruins and remains of mosaics on open air near the main square.

Street Art
There are several impressive murals around the town, they are so realistic it almost looks like a photograph. They are works of art worthy of any museum.

Castrillo de los Polvazares is a little village very close to Astorga that recently made it to the Pueblos Mas Bonitos de España list (The Most Beautiful Villages in Spain). It's a dreamy village with quaint houses and cobblestone streets. You can read more about it on this blog post.

Also near Astorga you can visit Las Medulas, 600 km of roman canals around the greatest gold mining complex of the Roman era.
astorga spain
episcopal palace gaudi astorga sunset

WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT IN ASTORGA

There's some typical food you can't miss when you are in Astorga:

  • Cocido Maragato: there are different varieties of cocido (or stew) that are famous all over Spain but the one in Astorga has a special significance. Regular cocido consists of soup served first and stew after as a main dish. Cocido Maragato is served the other way round. Why? The story goes back to the Spanish War of Independence from the French. During the conflict, soldiers would have to eat quickly so it was better to eat the heartiest part of the meal first just in case you couldn't finish it.
  • Mantecadas: they are sweet, spongy muffin-sized cakes, and oh so yummy! They are similar to French madeleines.
  • Chocolate: be sure to buy some chocolate from Astorga, it's one of the best I've ever had. My favorite is 75% dark chocolate.
  • Charcuterie: the most famous cold meat in the region of Leon is cecina. It's basically ham that comes from the cow. My favorite way to eat it is wrapped around a small piece of quince paste (learn how to make it here) and a little bit of olive oil.

When we visited Astorga, we had the most wonderful meal at Restaurante Serrano. They serve traditional Spanish food but in a very elaborate way. The staff was friendly and extremely efficient. It's considered the best restaurant in Astorga for good reason. On the map below you can find more eating options.
restaurante serrano astorga comida food

MAP OF ASTORGA

Here's a map of the best things to do in Astorga and the best places to eat. To take this map with you, simply click on the star next to the name and save it to your maps.

WHERE TO STAY IN ASTORGA

Planning a trip to Astorga? Check out some hotels on the map below.
Booking.com

HOW TO GET TO ASTORGA FROM LEON

It takes about 40 minutest to get from Leon to Astorga if you take highway AP-71 (toll is 5.15€). There's also the possibility to take a regular road for free but it's slower and you go through several villages.

Are you coming from somewhere else?
Astorga is about three hours from Madrid by car via the A6 highway to Galicia. Astorga is less than two hours from Salamanca, Asturias, Burgos or Valladolid, and less than three and a half hours from Porto (Portugal).

You can also get to Astorga by bus from Madrid and from almost any capital city in the Northwest of Spain (check Alsa's website) or by train from Barcelona, Zaragoza, Madrid, La Coruña and several other cities across northern Spain (check Renfe's website).

The nearest airports are in Leon (LEN, 45 minutes), Asturias (OVD, around 2 hours) and Valladolid (VLL, less than two hours).
parque primavera flores astorga

WHAT TO WEAR IN ASTORGA

The weather in Astorga is similar to that in Leon: cold. If you go in winter be sure to wear layers. In summer it's warm during the day but as soon as the sun sets, you'll need a jacket.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Astorga. If you liked this post, you can pin it and save for later.
astorga gaudi episcopal palace chocolate museum

December 23, 2019
What Makes San Francisco Unique: 10 Interesting Facts

What Makes San Francisco Unique: 10 Interesting Facts

December 23, 2019
golden gate bridge san francisco
This year is the 10-year anniversary of my American adventure and I didn't want to end 2019 without a little tribute to San Francisco, my favorite city in the world. People who haven't been to the City by the Bay often ask me: "what is it about San Francisco? what makes it so unique?" For me it's all about the vibe and the type of city.

Read more about my experience as an au-pair in San Francisco

San Francisco is very European with its beautiful Victorian houses and quaint neighborhoods. I love the variety of neighborhoods, each so different from the other representing the people who live there. I love that it's not a big city, you can walk pretty much everywhere -despite the hills-, but you can find everything: the best shops, an international airport, huge parks and even a beach.

Everybody knows the hills, the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the beautiful City by the Bay comes with many fascinating curiosities I'm sure you don't know about. You'd have never guessed what was invented in San Francisco or what is buried under the city among other interesting facts. Let's check them out.
embarcadero san francisco pier sea lion
embarcadero san francisco pier golden gate bridge

10 interesting facts about San Francisco

1. It is estimated that there are between 40 and 70 ships buried underneath the streets of the financial district in San Francisco. The vessels brought people to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush, only to be abandoned and later covered up by landfill as the city grew in the late 1800s.

2. The fortune cookie and the Irish coffee were invented in San Francisco.

3. Levi Strauss invented denim jeans in San Francisco for the Gold Rush miners who needed durable yet comfortable clothing.

4. The US Navy planned to paint the Golden Gate Bridge black with yellow stripes. Its world famous, called International Orange, color was supposed to be a sealant.

5. The city’s cable cars are the only National Historical Monument that can move.

6. Before it was called San Francisco, this city was called Yerba Buena which is Spanish for "good herb". Nowadays SF has different nicknames such as "City by the Bay", “Golden Gate City” or “The Golden City.” Other popular names include "San Fran" or "Frisco" but these two are loathed by locals.

7. San Francisco has the second largest Chinatown outside of Asia. More than 100,000 people live in Chinatown. It's the most densely populated neighborhood in the city.

8. It wasn't the earthquake that did most of the damage in 1906. The fires that started after the earthquake caused most of the damage to the city.

9. Mark Twain never uttered the famous quote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” However, whoever said this was absolutely right. The warmest month of the year is September. In the summer, while the rest of California is really hot, San Francisco has cooler temperatures.

10. During the Great Depression, not a single bank in San Francisco failed. Actually, business was so good that they constructed the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge during this period.

Read more blog posts about San Francisco
san francisco palace fine arts
san francisco fisherman's wharf
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san francisco palace fine arts cable car

December 9, 2019
Where to Eat in Leon, Spain: the Best Restaurants

Where to Eat in Leon, Spain: the Best Restaurants

December 9, 2019
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain rooftop terraza camarote hotel
My hometown, Leon, is a hidden gem in northern Spain famous for its monuments and amazing food. It's Spain's best city for free tapas and it's perfect for a short weekend getaway. From high-end restaurants to gastro-bars and tapas spots, there's no shortage of eating options. On this blog post you are going to find a food guide to the best restaurants and tapas bars in Leon. For more information to plan your trip check out The Complete Guide to Visiting Leon.
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain rooftop terraza camarote hotel

WHERE TO EAT IN LEON: THINGS TO KNOW

Leon was named Gastronomic Capital of Spain in 2018 for good reason. Leon has a great variety of local dishes like cecina (dry meat), Valdeon cheese or botillo. The city’s slogan for the competition was ‘Manjar de Reyes’, which means ‘Food of Kings’, giving a nod to the city’s royal history. Since then, swarms of foodies and tourist fill the city every holiday weekend to try the delicacies the city is known for.

Leon is one of the few cities in Spain where tapas are free. You can go out for drinks with friends and end up having dinner for free without even realizing. Bars are pretty competitive about offering the best tapas because they know that if tapas are bad or they don't offer them, people won't go there.

The best areas to find tapas bars are Barrio Humedo and El Cid. These two quarters are full of bars and restaurants and are packed on weekends. Traditionally, Barrio Humedo (which literally means "Wet Quarter", referring to the amount of drinks served in this area) has been the most popular one but in recent years El Cid or Barrio Romantico has stepped up the game and become pretty popular too. By night these narrow streets are full of people, it's the most bustling area in town.

WHERE TO EAT IN LEON: THE BEST RESTAURANTS

BY VAMUCA
This restaurant and hotel group runs some of my favorite eateries in Leon: LAV, Casa Mando and NiMu Azotea. They have just opened a new one: Marcela Brasa y Vinos which I can't wait to try.

CASA MANDO
A traditional restaurant with a modern twist. I love the impeccably designed space, the delicious food and professional staff. They use seasonal products, the best meat and legumes in the region of Leon and fresh fish from Galicia and Asturias. Book as soon as possible because it's always full. I had been trying to celebrate my birthday there for three years with no luck until this one when we booked one month in advance.
Address: Calle General Lafuente
Phone: +34 987 798 188
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain casa mando conde luna
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain casa mando conde luna lechazo
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain casa mando conde luna flamed dessert flambeado

LAV
In my opinion this is the coolest and most modern restaurant in Leon. The name is an acronym for Laboratorio Alfonso V, and if you pronounce it in Spanish it sounds like "lab", short for laboratory. The tasting menu costs €35 and includes six different courses. Read all about this unique dining experience here.
Address: Avenida del Padre Isla 1, Leon
Phone: +34 987 79 81 90
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain lav alfonso V hotel
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain lav alfonso V hotel
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain lav alfonso V hotel

NiMu AZOTEA
NiMu is a very popular rooftop restaurant with excellent city views. It's the type of food and ambiance we always look for in a restaurant. We loved every single dish we tried but the most spectacular thing were the desserts, the assorted ice-cream is adorable, isn't it? Their signature dessert is called "the fish bowl". It is literally a fish bowl with an amazing mixture of flavors: nuts, chocolate, lemon...one of the most delicious and original desserts I've ever had.
Address: Calle General Lafuente s/n, Leon
Phone: +34 987 79 81 92
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain nimu azotea conde luna rooftop
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain nimu azotea conde luna rooftop
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain nimu azotea conde luna rooftop

CAMAROTE HOTEL
Hotel, restaurant, tapas bar and rooftop all in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Their specialty is fresh fish and seafood. My favorite part of this place is the rooftop, it's very close to the cathedral and offers unbeatable views to this stunning monument and other parts of the city.
Address: Calle Damaso Merino, 1.
Phone: +34 987 79 82 34
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain camarote hotel building edificio sopeña
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain camarote hotel rooftop
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain camarote hotel fish pescado
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain camarote hotel
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain camarote hotel

EL PATIO
Located in El Cid quartier, El Patio -Spanish for "courtyard"- is a a cozy little restaurant where the dining area is a library. Food and books, two of my favorite things. There's also a cute outdoor eating area which gives the name to this place. More pics and info here.
Address: Plaza Torres de Omana 2, Leon
Phone: +34 987 03 33 55
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain el patio barrio romantico cid

LA MARY RESTAURANT
Combines traditional Spanish food with modern touches. The daily lunch menu here is great value. As a decor enthusiast, I love the white walls, great light and china that decorate the restaurant.
Address: Plaza Don Gutierre 5, Leon
Phone: +34 987 04 34 47
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain la mary
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain la mary

EL PARADOR DE SAN MARCOS
You already know about my love for Paradores hotels. They are our home away from home. There are only two five-star Paradores in Spain and one of them is the one in Leon. Unfortunately, The place is currently closed for renovations, but I still recommend you add it to your list. I can't wait to go there as soon as they open again. Read all about Paradores here.
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain parador san marcos
best restaurants tapas bar leon spain parador san marcos

WHERE TO EAT IN LEON: THE BEST TAPAS BARS

Because tapas are free, tapas bars are even more popular than restaurants in Leon. They are concentrated in three main areas: Plaza San Martin and Plaza Mayor -both part of Barrio Humedo- and just a few steps away El Cid.

Order your drink and you will get the most delicious tapas with it. To give you an idea, these are some of the most popular ones: Spanish potato omelette, croquetas, fried egg with chorizo or morcilla and little sandwiches. It may not be the healthiest choice but it sure is comfort food.

For croquetas, El Rebote is the most famous bar. Go to Ezequiel for the best cold meat: ham, chorizo, cecina, etc. For chips -not your average ones, these are thicker and tastier- El Flechazo is your best choice. If you like jamon, Four Lions Brewery serves a full plate as a tapa. Morcilla, a.k.a. blood sausage is very typical from Leon and La Bicha is very popular for their morcilla tapas. Finally, La Compatencia serves Leon's most famous pizzas and they serve a slice with your drink.

WHERE TO EAT IN LEON: MAP

To take this map with you, simply click on the star next to the title and it will be saved to your maps. WEAR THIS HERE
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best restaurants tapas bar leon spain