I do not recommend driving in Seville. While my grandson had his meltdown on the train from Madrid to Seville, understandable for a jetlagged five-year old after the overnight transcontinental flight, my son-in-law had his in our rental car on the streets of Seville, understandable after two hours of navigating the one way always the wrong way streets of the city. After our fourth failed attempt to reach our hotel, the time we did everything right but missed the turn off onto the unmarked street that seemed too narrow to be anything other than a dead-end alley, he found the nearest garage, parked the car, and declared we were walking. And so we rolled our suitcases over the cobblestone streets in uncharacteristically hot 100-degree F weather.

I do, however, recommend booking a hotel with a pool, especially one with a glorious view of the famous cathedral and its Giralda (tower). After a dip in the rooftop pool, and after the sun went down and the city cooled, we were all energized for tapas. We went to Barbiana, which Spanish friends had told me to check out and which was a short walk from our hotel. A local spot with a large display of all sorts of fresh fish at the bar and a restaurant in the back, Barbiana is the place to go for everything fried, including sepia (small squid), which were perfectly crisp and light, not oily. A glass of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) was a wonderful complement. After a rough day of traveling, we started to relax and enjoyed the rest of the menu and our evening.

Access to the Giralda, built in the twelfth century by the Sultan Yakoub al-Mansur, is through the cathedral. The views from the top are worth the 230-foot ascension; a ramp that turns at right angles, following the shape of the tower, makes the climb gradual and possible even for those who are not in tip-top shape. Beware, however, of the bells that ring every hour at the top! Be sure to walk the courtyard filled with orange trees, for which Seville is particularly known, before exiting the cathedral.The following morning, we went to explore the cathedral from the inside. After St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London, Seville’s cathedral is the third largest in Europe. The interior is striking with massive columns, flamboyant vaulting, and splendid Plateresque grilles from the sixteenth century (the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a reproduction of the grilles on display as part of its permanent collection).

From Seville we traveled an hour or so to Cordoba to view its Mezquita-cathedral. Constructed in the year 780 by Abd ar-Raḥmān, it has a wonderful Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Court) at the entrance. The impressive interior is seemingly never ending forest of columns (850 of them) with striped horseshoe arches.

La Alhambra,Granada, ceiling detailLa Mezquita, Toledo

And then it was on to Granada. Before leaving New York we had reserved tickets to visit the Alhambra at http://www.alhambra-tickets.es. This is a must. Plan on arriving early because your ticket time is actually for entrance to the Palacios Nazaries, the main attraction, which is a long walk from the main gate (thirty minutes at a leisurely pace; leave an hour if you have small children with you). Once you reach the Palacios Nazaries, be prepared to wait on line in the sun for your turn. If you miscalculate and arrive too late, your expensive ticket becomes invalid and you cannot even purchase a new one as they sell out in advance; we saw a young student couple turned away because their tickets had expired by an hour or two.I think it’s worth pausing to say that if you travel in the middle of summer as we did (at the end of June we experienced temperatures that climbed above 40 degrees C, or 104 degrees F) and with a child, it is a good idea to seek out hotels with a swimming pool; a late-afternoon swim will often save the day. We stayed at a lot of NH hotels; they are centrally located, reasonably priced, and a lot of them have swimming pools. (Our favorite was the Hotel Calderon in Barcelona with a rooftop swimming pool.)

Once you exit, you can see the fabulous gardens leisurely as well as the Palacio de Carlos V.

After a long drive from Granada to Denia the next day on an extremely efficient autoroute, we stopped for lunch at Restaurante Sal de Mar in Hotel La Posada Mar. Some four of five years ago, I remember having a wonderful lunch of paella (or “arroz” as it is known in these parts of Spain), which is usually not served at dinnertime. Restaurante Sal de Mar had gotten fancier since my husband and I had eaten there, which seems the trend with many restaurants as they get more successful. Appetizers of fresh sardine “lasagna,” sepia with morcilla (blood sausage), fried artichokes with ham, and cigalas (langoustines) were all outstanding-fresh and perfectly cooked. The fideau (short angel hair pasta) with squid and its ink were delicious but paled in comparison to the arroz con bogavante (rice with lobster), which was dark and intense in its shellfish flavor. We drank a Godello wine, Guitian, which paired beautifully with the seafood.

We stayed at the enlarged and renovated Hotel Los Angeles, a relatively inexpensive hotel right on the beach, before traveling to Valencia.

Playa Hotel Los Angeles, Denia

Valencia has two parts of the city, the old town and the Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias (Art and Science City http://www.cac.es/), which boasts numerous brand new buildings, one of the reasons we were eager to visit. I was also excited about eating at Ca Sento, a favorite from a past trip.

What I thought was to be our best meal of the entire trip turned out to be the most expensive and the least enjoyed by all. Young Chef Raul Alexandre has taken over entirely from his mother, who used to join him in the kitchen (she made the arroz dishes), and his father, who had been the maitre d’, and spent a lot of money expanding from eight tables to double or more covers, making unfortunately for a chilly and stiff atmosphere. While the freshness of the ingredients is what had most impressed me on my first trip, this time the percebes (gooseneck barnacles) tasted like they had been around for a while; at 250E a kilo I expected better. The one dish we all agreed was the best was the arroz con gambas de Denia (rice with jumbo shrimp from Denia). The arroz was good, like Mama used to make it, a tuille of very crispy rice, dark on one side, moist on the other.

Barcelona, a sprawling city with many neighborhoods and fantastic restaurants to explore, needs a visit longer than we gave it. It is.

Parc Guell, Barcelona, gate detail

With just two days, we walked the Ramblas and the Mercat La Boqueria and saw several Antoni Gaudi buildings (La Pedrera, Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, La Sagrada Familia), and Parc Guell.
We enjoyed most our lunch at Can Majo in La Barceloneta by the beach and the many tapas we had at Ciutat Condal, down the street from our hotel, Hotel Calderon. Ciutat Condal is the only tapas place I have ever been to that does not allow smoking. They also have a “terrace” or cafe in front on the Rambla, perhaps for smokers. The waiters behind the bar are friendly, gracious, and very attentive. The selection of tapas and raciones (larger portions than just an individual bite) are incredible, such as alcachofas fritas (fried artichokes), pibales (white bait lightly floured and then quickly deep fried), clams, grilled asparagus, and so much more. You have to arrive “early” by 8PM or you won?t get a seat at the bar. By the time 8:30 or so comes around people are three deep at the bar.

Restaurante Can Pineda

The highlight of the trip turned out to be Restaurante Can Pineda, recommended very highly by my friend Rogelio Enriquez (http://www.pistoynopisto.com/) whose opinion on traditional Spanish cooking I respect very much. The place is small with tables close to each other and lots of photos on all the walls of the owner, el Senor Pineda, with famous people. At lunch, the room was full of businessmen in suits who had been there for a while and moved from bottles of red wine to coffee and a digestif with cigars. (I cannot imagine that at 4PM when they left they were returning to the office to do any business.)

The owner, who is also the maitre d’ and our server, was a little aloof with us until we started ordering: squid, tripe, goat, suckling pig. My grandson’s squid was the best we’ve had in Spain to date, or perhaps a tie with the ones he had in Denia served in their ink. The sepia with setas (mushrooms) and the cigalas were other hits. I don’t pretend to know the nuances in styles of callos (tripe) but these reminded me of the ones my father used to cook in Puerto Rico (his parents were from Galicia) with chorizo and chickpeas.

Most of the time I’ve had goat it has been in a stew, but here the baby goat leg was roasted, juicy, and tender. The baby pig dish was a somewhat modern version with the unctuous meat topped by a very crispy skin. (I’ve had cochinillo this way once before at a restaurant in New York called Pamplona.) We were all beyond full by now, but my son?in?law wanted to try some dessert since everything had been so outstanding. He ordered ballotines de crema. When the small fried packets arrived, he was told to put one entirely in his mouth, not to take bites. He loved them so much we ordered another round. We asked the owner how they are made and he said the outside is phyllo dough, wrapped around a frozen crema catalana. When fried, the phyllo becomes crispy and the cream melts inside, making for a wonderful hot-cold crispy-creamy sensation when you eat them.

We look forward to our next eating trip through Spain.
Here is the list of Hotels and Restaurants that we enjoyed

Restaurant addresses:

Hotel Addresses:

Calle Albaneda 11, Seville
Phone: 34 954 21 12 39
Los Seises in Sevilla
Calle Segovias, 6 ? 41004 Seville
Tel. 34 95 4501306
Plaza les Drassanes # 2, Denia
Phone: 6432966
NH Amistad
Plaza de Maimenides, 3, 14004 Cordoba
Tel. 34.95.7420335
17 Carrer Mendes Nunez, Valencia
Phone: 963301775
NH Inglaterra
Cettie Meriem, 6, 18010 Granada
Tel. 34.95.8221559
Calle Almiral Aixada #23, Barcelona
Phone: 932215455
Hotel Los Angeles
Playa Las Marinas, km.4 ? 03700 DENIA (Alicante)
Tel.: 34 96 578 04 58
Sant Joan de Malta 55, Barcelona
Phone: 933083081
NH Las Artes
Avenida Instituto Obrero, 28, 46013 Valencia
Tel. 34.96.3351310
Rambla de Catalunya # 18, Barcelona
NH Grand Hotel Calderon
Rambla Catalunya, 26, 08007 Barcelona
Tel. 34.93.3010000