After a night in Ronda, we drove through Southern Spain’s rugged and beautiful landscape down to the city of Nerja on the Costa del Sol. Rick Steves has a particularly scathing quote about the Costa del Sol – something along the lines of: If you want to sit in the heat amidst trinket shops and throngs of pasty British tourists slathered in Nivea sun cream, then go to Nerja. Yikes. Our group agreed with Rick to the extent that we certainly wouldn’t want to spend a whole week here, but the natural beauty of the coastline, the caves, and, of course, the made-to-order paella on the beach, made our two days there well worth the drive. It was in Nerja, after all, that we found one of the best paella dishes of the trip at Chiringuito Morendero Moreno and where S and I heard a Spanish guitarist at El Molino who melted our hearts with a voice that was rich and raspy all at once. As the guitarist played at El Molino, a local woman got up to dance during a few of the songs and, by the ease and familiarity of her movements, you could tell it was a dance she had been doing all of her life. Although you may have to look a little harder to find them between the tourists and souvenir shops (it is a beach town after all), the strong and beautiful elements of Spanish culture flourish in Nerja.
“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” – Luciano Pavarotti
Southern Spain is one of the best places to slow down, take a deep breathe, relax, and savor the flavors of Spanish cuisine. The natural beauty, the music, and, above all, the delicious food served during long meals, all but force you to appreciate your surroundings and your company. Tapas, in my opinion, are the Spanish version of what I termed at the beginning of this year as stopping to smell the cannoli. Leading up to the trip, I don’t know whether I was more excited to see the Alhambra, which I’ve been longing to visit since studying it’s architecture in my junior year of college, or to sit down for long meals of tapas with Ibérico ham and Manchego cheese washed down with a few glasses of cava. Now that the trip is over, I still can’t decide which was more enjoyable. Visiting the Alhambra and seeing a flamenco show were unforgettable experiences, but sitting down to long, slow meals in the Spanish style with S and his lovely parents, P and R, was a true gift. Increasingly tight pants were an unfortunate side effect, but overall a small price to pay. Here are some of my favorite meals from Southern Spain: