Vegetarian in Andalucia?
By Tina Fox
We recently went on a trip with Riviera Travel to Classical Spain, travelling around Andalucia.
We were aware that eating in Spain would not be easy. But we were lulled into a false sense of security by our positive experience a few years ago in Barcelona. We should have known better!
The Jet2 flight was extremely efficient. The boarding gate was up exactly when they said it would be, and we arrived on time into a hot and sunny Spain (Malaga).
The first hotel, Hacienda Puerta del Sol, was rather in the middle of nowhere but appeared very nice. A good pool, nice room, decent wifi and good air conditioning.
However, it let itself down badly with the catering. We ordered a late lunch near the pool – and the ‘vegetarian’ salad had tuna on it. Then, when we went for the buffet in the evening, there was no vegetarian main course option at all. I had to fight just to get an omelette! Even many of the salads were unsuitable because they were liberally sprinkled with tuna or meat. Breakfast was also disappointing: tinned fruit salad, soggy bread and pastries, watered-down orange juice, and horrible instant coffee from a machine.
Because we arrived early, Riviera Travel added in an extra trip to nearby Mijas; a small hill town. It was pleasant to wander around and had a festival that day with lots of people on smart Andalucían horses.
On the Sunday we moved on to Ronda about 1.5 hours away for a few hours wander and lunch. We managed to find a vegetarian lasagne, but it was expensive and not particularly wonderful. Tip: don’t ask for something that is not on the standard menu because café owners seem to see it as an opportunity to put the price up.
Ronda itself is a lovely old town with a bridge across a dramatic gorge, which splits the town in two. It has gorgeous buildings. It was unseasonably hot in Spain this September so it limited how much walking we wanted to do, but there were plenty of pleasant parks to sit around in the shade.
We moved on to Seville to the Hotel Don Paco, our home for 3 nights. This was located centrally and was comfortable with even a kettle for making tea (uncommon in Spanish hotels).
We went to a nearby tapas bar for our evening meal, which had a reasonable veggie selection – quinoa tortillas for me and falafels for Tom. We still found the breakfasts poor, but better fruit juice and coffee at this hotel. Cooked breakfast at all hotels was limited to egg and a strange extruded potato – few of them had beans or tomatoes and they had obviously not heard of mushrooms, so veggie options were few and far between.
The next morning we went on an included tour of Seville; a beautiful city with lots to see. Some superb buildings put up for the 1929 America exhibition including the fabulous ‘Plaza de Espania’ with gorgeous tiles and a really impressive building now used for offices. The park surrounding the buildings is a tribute to all the effort put into its maintenance in this naturally dry area. We also went on a boat ride from ‘Golden Tower’; not a particularly exciting trip, but a pleasant temperature on the river.
From there we walked up to the cathedral area where we had a reasonably priced lunch at Gusto – a far better pizza than the one at the Premier! Pizza and pasta are freely available in this part of Spain but can get boring and repetitive. We found that even a cheese sandwich was likely to contain ham as well. After lunch (late) we went to the cathedral. Nearly all attractions in Spain offer very reduced entrance for over 65s and sometimes free entrance for EU citizens (will lose that one soon then!) It was opulent but not to our taste and also the exhibition of so much solid silver, gold and ivory seemed in poor taste when there are so many people with problems in the world – should the church really hang onto such incredible wealth?
We were royally ripped off at a local pavement café for veggie paella – very few vegetables in it and a high price, but it was not on the menu so we could not argue with the bill. Later on we went to a Flamenco show. The dancing was dramatic but we were disappointed with the costumes. We had expected satin and lace, but the majority were made of cheap nylon fabric.
The next day was a free day in Seville so we walked down to the Alcazar, which was utterly fabulous; amazing architecture and lovely gardens, even a nice little café with almond polenta cake. We spent about 3 hours there – a definite must-see if visiting Seville.
In a real downpour, we headed off to find La Habanita – a vegetarian restaurant recommended to us by our helpful tour guide, Gwyneth. It was difficult to find but the food was much more to our taste – interesting filled corn tortilla cakes, black beans with rice, and a tasty courgette baked dish.
Later we went on to the museum of fine arts but I felt the name was a misnomer because it was really only a museum or gallery of religious art.
On the way back to the hotel we called in on the Roman Museum situated below Seville’s famous Mushrooms. This was very good, well displayed with some lovely mosaic floors and easy to walk around. It was also interactive with menus in several languages. We stayed in hotel for our evening meal, a simple Spanish (potato) omelette but fresh and reasonably priced.
On the Wednesday we moved onto Granada via Cordoba and visited the Mesquite or mosque cathedral. This was gorgeous and well worth a detour. We also had a walk around the old Jewish Quarter and Cordoba has an amazing 2,000 year old bridge spanning its river, which is home to herons and egrets – the first real wildlife we had seen on the holiday. We really liked it there; it was a pity we could not have stayed overnight.
The lunch was also a hit. I had a tasty tagliatelle with mushrooms and Tom had decent vegetarian paella, which actually had some vegetables in this time!
Mid-afternoon we moved on to Granada where the hotel Corona de Granada was centrally located but extremely noisy with thin walls. You could hear the TV in the next room and the refuse people came round to empty the bins at 1.30am! The air conditioning was inefficient and we had to move rooms because of the noise of one unit.
In its favour, it had a decent bathroom and the breakfast had good bread and more fresh fruit than the others had – same boring cooked options though.
Because Riviera Travel got everyone a Granada Card we got some free bus trips. We went off in the morning to the Albaicon area of town (on a hill opposite the Alhambra), which was very nice. We walked back down into town for lunch following a visit to the cathedral, which we liked better than Seville’s.
Fortuitously on route we stumbled on a health store that was able to advise use about a veggie restaurant, al – laurel, so we went there for lunch. This was lovely and imaginative: Tom had a soya burger and I had courgette stuffed with tempeh. Both were very tasty (and vegan), but seemed a bit pricey because neither came with side salad or veg.
Following a rest at the hotel it was off for a 3-hour included tour of the Alhambra, which I had expected to be the high spot of our trip. It was interesting and the gardens were pleasant, but it was hard work and to be honest I found the architecture in Seville of more interest. I think it was probably an anti-climax.
Next morning it was an early start for the airport (8.15am) but everything went smoothly. All too soon we were back in the cold UK climate.
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