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Click 'Select to Compare' to see a side-by-side comparison of up to adventures below—includingactivity level, pricing, traveler excellence rating, trip highlights, and more
See a detailed overview of the types of experiences you'll have on this adventure in Spain and Portugal.
Small Group Adventure
Days in Spain
4 nights from only $1495
5 nights from only $1895
Route your adventure from the "White City" of Lisbon to Spain's enchanting capital of Madrid.
Small Group Adventure
Days in Spain
7 nights from only $2795
5 nights from only $1595
See a detailed overview of the experiences that await you on the Iberian Peninsula on our NEW Small Ship Cruise Tour.
Small Ship Adventure
Days in Spain
Portugal: Lisbon, Portimao • Spain: Seville, Cordoba • Morocco: Tangier • Gibraltar • Spain: Malaga, Cartagena, Valencia, Barcelona
3 nights from only $795
3 nights from only $995
See a detailed overview of the experiences that await you from Portugal to England on this Small Ship Cruise Tour.
Small Ship Adventure
Days in Spain
Portugal: Lisbon, Sintra, Cascais, Porto • Spain: Vigo, Combarra, La Coruna, Santiago de Compostela • France: Bordeaux, Bazas, La Rochelle, Lacronan, Mont St. Michel • England: London
4 nights from only $1195
3 nights from only $945
Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
*This information is not available for our trip extensions. You must reserve the main trip to participate on this extension.
**This information is not currently available for this trip. Please check back soon.
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Watch this video showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable
Let this film guide you through 36 hours of Bilbao's rich culture, art, architecture, food, and more.
Watch your fellow travelers favorite films & videos
Solea: The Flamenco of Seville
Get lost in the hypnotic beats of a local Spanish man’s passion-filled flamenco music.
Produced by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee
Join travel expert Rudy Maxa in the extravagant city of Madrid, "the next thing to heaven."
Produced by Small World Productions
Travelogue: Sierra Nevada & Seville, Spain 1930
Get a glimpse of the Sierra Nevada and Seville, Spain in this 16mm footage taken in 1930 by Oscar R. Houston, who was an avid traveler and amateur filmmaker.
Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova
We’ve been working with independent international filmmakers to provide you with videos that portray the people, culture, and lifestyles of the countries you're interested in visiting. We believe this video offers a unique perspective on Barcelona.
Produced by Silvia Santamaria and Ian Cross
Finding Mimo in San Sebastian, Spain
Learn about San Sebastian’s eclectic cuisine—which you can experience on our pre-trip extension.
This film was first published on BBC.com Travel. Produced by Brad Cohen and Hyde Harper.
There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.
Though temperatures can vary across the country, winter in Spain is generally much milder than in most other European destinations. For example: In Madrid, Spain’s geographical heart, highs around 50⁰F and lows of 38⁰F are typical. In fact, many travelers prefer to visit in December through February precisely to avoid Spain’s famous sizzling summers. While some shops, restaurants, and minor sites may close early (or not open at all) at this time of year, larger cities keep the same pace—and operating hours—no matter the season.
Spain’s Christmas traditions are a varied as the country itself: Each city has its own way of celebrating the season. In Valencia, for example, a seasonal circus act runs from Christmas Eve through January 6. A few days before Christmas, Santo Tomás Fair draws artisans and locals alike to Bilbao, and those who stick around are treated to a city-wide parade. And in Malaga, on the temperate Costa del Sol, revelers take to the streets for the Verdiales Music Festival, where flamenco takes center stage and turrón (almond nougat) is plentiful.
Watch this film to discover more about Spain
Spain & the Basque Country
Take a journey through Spain and the Basque country, from its coastal marinas to its architecturally-rich city streets.
Produced by Matt Devir
Warmer spring-like temperatures in southern Spain make March to May a great time to enjoy the outdoors. Even lows of 55 degrees are mild enough to allow one to enjoy the stunning golden glow of Malaga sunsets over the Mediterranean. Visiting Valencia and Madrid is exceedingly comfortable, especially in April—and as it is the off-season for tourism, your travel dollars will go farther.
Easter Week, or Semana Santa, is a massive country-wide celebration in Spain. In Malaga, haunting processions of men in pointed white and black masks proceed down the cobble-stone streets with torches. Often also carrying ornate floats depicting Jesus Christ, thousands of clergy-men and laymen alike carry the floats silently, often to the tune of Chopin’s “Funeral March”.
Bull-fighting season kicks off after Easter, where raucous crowds of native Spaniards turn their cities upside down every Sunday through October. Massive bullfighting rings, like Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid, feel like the closest thing to Roman gladiator games—the deluge of sound from thousands of adrenaline-pumped spectators is almost deafening.
The Ambassador of Spanish Ham
Meet Florencio Sanchidrian, a Spaniard who has turned ham slicing into an artform.
Produced by Erik Olsen ©2013 The New York Times
From the balmy coast to the sun-baked interior, the whole of Spain in summer is quite the hot-spot—both literally and figuratively. Cities such as Seville, Cordoba, and Madrid can get extremely warm in summer and one-hundred degree days are not out of the question. These high temperatures do keep the crowds away, so it’s a great time to explore the country’s iconic sights. However, you should plan for quiet afternoons; the Spanish tradition of taking a siesta—a midday rest or nap to escape the heat—means that many restaurants, shops, and even banks will be closed for a few hours.
If you don’t fancy a nap, you could spend your siesta at one of Spain’s famously beautiful beaches. With 5,000 miles of coastline and 300 days of sunshine a year, every summer day is a good day for relaxing by the sea.
While Spain is the hottest during the summer months, this also means popular places like Granada are free of its regular crowds. The Sierra Nevada is especially gorgeous in the abundant sunshine. Along the coast, visitors can catch a sea breeze while admiring iconic sights such as the ancient Roman lighthouse in A Coruna.
If you’re looking for festivals and fairs, August is the best time to find them in Spain. The August Fair in Malaga boasts an entire week full of activities and events, day and night. During the feria de dia (fair during the day), you can stroll bustling street markets and enjoy traditional music and flamenco dances. The feria de noche (fair during the night) is a lively party, offering food stalls and dance tents.
In Barcelona, the magical Fiestas de Gracia is celebrated in mid-August. The streets are alive with color, lights, and extravagant decorations as each neighborhood vies for the best decorated prize. Also competing for your attention are street acrobats, outdoor concerts, and fireworks displays at night.
In fall, the scorching heat of summer begins to cool, making it an ideal time to visit cities like Madrid, Seville, and Cordoba. The southern coast is still bathed in sunshine and warmth, so you can enjoy Spain’s beautiful beaches—without the summer crowds. In the north, the weather will tend towards cooler and rainy, so be sure bring along an umbrella as well as a light jacket.
September in Spain is over-flowing with festivals—from the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe and the Feria de Pedro Romero in Ronda, to the grape harvests in La Rioja. The biggest harvest celebration is the San Mateo fiestas in Logroño which takes place over the last two weeks of September. During this time, expect lively street celebrations, traditional grape-crushing demonstrations, and bullfights. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, the city comes alive during the Festa La Mercè—a festival chock-full of street entertainment like castellers (acrobats), parades, and correfocs (fire runs).
Inland, Spanish cuisine is the main event. The hearty fare of Castille, including Segovia's suckling pig, savory roast lamb, and Burgos's rich morcilla (blood sausage), is the perfect complement for autumn’s cooling temperatures.
Click on map markers below to view information about top Spain experiences
Santiago de Compostela
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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations
Discover Madrid—the sun-drenched capital of Spain—and you’ll find yourself swept up in its pulse. A sprawling metropolis of more than 3 million people, Madrid has the endless options of a big city mingled with the laid-back attitude that permeates the fabric of the country as a whole.
Traditional tapas bars, temples dedicated to fine gastronomy, and dazzling night clubs are de rigueur—but there is a stately elegance and depth of artistic culture to be found here as well. Madrid is well-known for its fine museums such as the Prado, home to one of the best classical art collections in the world. Outside the museum walls, the buildings themselves are a tapestry of beautiful architecture. Stroll through the Plaza de España, the city’s most prominent square, and you’ll gaze up at the two tallest buildings in Madrid: the Torre de Madrid and the Edificio España. Elsewhere, dramatic fountains and sculptures dedicated to Spanish icons like Cervantes, Don Quixote, and Sancho Panza grab your attention.
Then there are the palaces—most notably, the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), one of the largest palaces in Europe. The official residence of Spain’s royal family, this lavish palace is one of the most beautiful buildings in Madrid not just due to its design, but also to its location—it is perched, fairy tale-like, on a bluff overlooking the lush river valley.
From its nightlife and food to its art and architecture—Madrid is a city that strives to excite its visitors and residents alike in every possible way.
Discover the cultural, culinary, and commercial innovations of modern Madrid.
In the heart of Catalan country, whimsical Barcelona marches to the beat of its own drum. This sparkling seaside city has long inspired artists with its gorgeous light and open-minded approach to offbeat art; Dalí, Picasso, and Miró have all called Barcelona home.
Las Ramblas—the main promenade and the place to see and be seen—embodies the city’s spirit: By day a laidback boulevard lined with shops and tempting spots to try the famed paella, Las Ramblas transforms at night into a hub of festive revelry. Spaniards are known for celebrating the good things in life, but in Barcelona, la fiesta is more than a celebration—it’s a way of life.
In no other city can the stamp of modernism be felt as strongly: Barcelona’s architecture is a monument to the creative genius of Antoni Gaudí, whose fantastical creations are dotted throughout the city. Visit the fairytale-like Park Güell, flanked by its Hansel-and Gretel gatehouses and reptilian mosaics, or take a stroll to Casa Batlló, a dreamy residential building in Barcelona’s center that seems to be made of undulating waves. But for the city’s star attraction, and Gaudí’s crowning achievement, head to La Sagrada Família, a towering sand castle of a cathedral that has been under construction since 1882.
Dive into the rich history of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church—one of the most-visited monuments in Spain.
Situated in the southern Andalucia region, sunny Sevilla is the birthplace to three of Spain’s best known cultural exports: tapas, flamenco, and Don Juan. In true Spanish style, a visit to this easygoing city is a feast to the senses. Stroll down cobbled streets lined with whitewashed buildings, stop for a bite to eat in a hole-in-the-wall tapas bar, and breathe in the heady scent of orange blossom that bathes the city in spring.
Sevilla’s long and winding history is reflected in its delightful hodgepodge of architecture. Roman ruins mingle with Moorish creations, such as the Real Alcázar, a spectacular Mudéjar palace complete with intricate carvings, colorful mosaics, and Eden-like gardens. The city’s skyline is dominated by the soaring spires of the Sevilla Cathedral, the world’s largest gothic cathedral and the final resting place of famed explorer Christopher Columbus.
But for all its cultural and architectural treasures, Sevilla is perhaps most notable for its feasts. The city’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) is considered the best in Spain: For the week leading up to Easter, crowds throng the streets to watch in awe as penitents groan beneath the weight of ornate wooden floats during daily religious parades. Sevilla takes on a carnival atmosphere yet again during the Feria de Abril, a celebration of spring that lasts two weeks and keeps the sevillanos dancing until dawn.
The cobblestone streets of Santiago de Compostela have witnessed the footfalls of countless pilgrims—or peregrinos—each one taking their last determined steps toward the final stop of an epic journey of faith. Some ride in on bicycles, some carry walking sticks, the most fervent arrive barefoot. All will make their way past the arcaded streets, perhaps not even seeing Santiago’s elegant beauty at first, as they only have eyes for the Camino’s end: the city’s Gothic cathedral.
According to legend, a ninth-century Galician shepherd witnessed a star moving across the sky and followed it, its light eventually leading him to a burial site. A local bishop was called to examine the bones found there and he proclaimed them to be those of James the Great, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ, the patron saint of Spain. Upon hearing the news, the Spanish king ordered a cathedral be built on the spot. This legend drew the faithful from across the country and all over the world—eventuating in the famous Camino de Compostela pilgrimage that still beckons people to this day.
Now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Santiago’s old city center welcomes modern-day peregrinos at the 700-year-old Obradoiro Square and Platerias Plaza, the arrival point of thousands of pilgrims every day. The cathedral, also a UNESCO site, is a fascinating mix of architectural styles. Construction began in 1075 and continued to expand over the centuries, with embellishments continuing into the 19th century.
The capital of Galicia, Santiago also offers travelers who have arrived by less-arduous means not only these grand sights, but smaller streets and plazas lined with cafes and seafood restaurants where you can sit and watch both locals and pilgrims walk by.
An industrial port city in the heart of Spain’s Basque Country, Bilbao is an intriguing mix of traditional and modern. The unquestionable star of Bilbao’s cityscape is the Guggenheim Museum, designed by postmodern architect Frank Gehry. The building is a shimmering, sculptural icon that captures the imagination before you even step foot inside to view its contents—one of the world’s premier collections of contemporary art. The museum and its audacious silhouette made Gehry a household name and put Bilbao on the map.
The Guggenheim is not the only museum in town, of course. Visitors can also discover the elegant Museo de Bellas Artes, which houses up to 9,000 pieces from modern masters like El Greco, Goya, Gauguin, and Picasso, as well as works that date as far back as the twelfth century.
Bilbao’s fascination with modernism can be found outside the museums as well—Indautxu Square, an urban re-design project, is a pedestrians-only plaza that features avant-garde touches such as leaf-shaped lighting fixtures and soaring glass canopies. There is plenty of natural beauty to enjoy here as well, as more than 100 maple, birch, and yew trees surround the modern-style benches.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of modernism, explore Bilbao’s charming old quarter, or Casco Viejo, and immerse yourself in Basque culture. At the heart of this atmospheric section of the city are Bilbao’s original seven streets, Las Siete Calles, which were constructed in the 1400s. Stroll the meandering medieval streets, explore the Ribera Market (Europe’s largest covered market), and stop to snack on pintxos, the Basque version of tapas.
Let this film guide you through 36 hours of Bilbao's rich culture, art, architecture, food, and more.
Perched high atop a cliff and gauged by a 360-foot ravine, Ronda seems an improbable place to build a city. But with its precarious position comes a big payoff: Dramatic views of the Serranía de Ronda mountains surround this ancient whitewashed city, known as a Pueblo Blancos (White Village) for its distinctive alabaster look. Hike down El Tajo ravine to take in the superb views of Ronda from below, and sample the region’s unique wines—the high altitude produces grapes of a lighter, and more interesting, bouquet.
Or, if you’re feeling more daring, visit the Plaza de Toros, one of the oldest bullrings in Spain. The tradition of bullfighting has deep roots in Ronda: the legendary Pedro Romero—the first bullfighter to confront his bovine nemesis on foot, and not on horseback—was born here. And each September, the city alights with activity for the Feria Goyesca, the annual bullfighting festival, to see the fearless matadores in action.
Immerse yourself in Spain with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
Discover what ignited Ernest Hemingway’s passion for the Spanish city of Pamplona.
Discover the iconic dance that embodies the heart and soul of Spain’s passionate people.
Get a taste of the origins and variations of this flavorful Spanish dish.
by David Valdes Greenwood, for O.A.T.
“To me a heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera (ringside) seats …” wrote Ernest Hemingway in a 1925 letter to fellow novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway was about to return to Pamplona, a Spanish city that had become precious to him, and one he often encouraged others to visit—just as a mentor had once inspired him.
Two years earlier, Hemingway had sought out Pamplona on the advice of Gertrude Stein, a literary titan and fellow American. In fact, without Stein, The Sun Also Rises—Hemingway’s debut novel about a group of ex-pats who venture to Pamplona for its annual running of the bulls—might not have been written at all.
Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas were avid art collectors and traders who sold a Matisse during World War I to fund their Spain travel. While there, they found the sunny island of Mallorca especially to their liking and later returned for a longer stay. Though Stein called Mallorca a “paradise,” she knew such an idyllic setting wouldn’t appeal to everyone; so when she became close to Hemingway in the post-war years, she steered him to the city of Pamplona instead.
According to Hemingway’s grandson John, “[Stein] knew my grandfather well and probably thought, where else in Europe could a war veteran go and expect to find the same danger and exhilaration that comes from living on the edge, the same camaraderie and apparent contradictions that [he] had seen on the Austrian front in Italy in 1918?”
Following his mentor’s advice, Hemingway headed for Spain and came back a changed man. In fact, the experience was so influential that when Hemingway’s son Jack was born a year later, he was given two middle names—one of which was Nicanor, after Pamplona matador Nicanor Villalta.
Some historians errantly claim that Hemingway was just an observer of the corridas (bullfights) and the annual running of the bulls during Pamplona’s San Fermín festival. But he leapt at the chance to experience these passionate traditions firsthand, as photos from his first two trips make clear.
In 1924, Stein received a postcard featuring a black and white photograph of a bullring filled with multiple sets of matadors and banderilleros (essentially the matador’s back-up squad). Hemingway and several of his friends are shown in the scrum. On the back of the card, Hemingway describes getting around the bull’s horns and finally getting the beast’s head down.
In letters to other friends that same year, he describes being thrown several times, but also successfully passing the cape over the bull in moves known as veronicas and naturales. He may have even run with the bulls, as a photo on display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston shows him decked in white at the end of the run, close on the horns of an angry animal.
Apparently, Hemingway didn’t feel like his actual exploits were good enough for storytelling, so he made up a press release claiming he and a friend had been gored, a falsehood that was reprinted on the front pages of newspapers from Chicago to Toronto. Though untrue (he wasn’t hurt at all and the wounded friend had broken ribs but was not gored), it helped establish his reputation early on as an adventurer and rogue.
Despite the gap between fact and fiction, Hemingway did, in actuality, know firsthand what he was talking about when he wrote, “A really brave fighting bull is afraid of nothing on Earth … and, to me, is the finest of all animals to watch in action and repose.”
Many of the locations Hemingway frequented during his nine trips to Pamplona—as well as those mentioned in The Sun Also Rises—can still be found in the modern-day city, where they continue to draw curious visitors.
For instance, sprawling more than three acres in the heart of the city is Plaza del Castillo, where covered arcades outline a pedestrian square as popular now as it was then. Hemingway’s characters stayed in a hotel overlooking the expanse, eating and drinking in cafés below. Their favorite coffee shop, Café Iruña, remains fully recognizable after 90 years, with its Art Nouveau black-and-white tile flooring, mirrored walls, ornately adorned pillars, and white globe chandeliers.
Nearby sits Bar Txoko, Hemingway’s tavern of choice on his last visit. Smaller, simpler, and devoid of buzz, it’s now just a spot for a casual bite or a drink in the narrow bar area. It may be harder to feel the period flavor of the Hemingway era, but it’s still easy to slip inside for a cocktail or two—a very Hemingway-esque pursuit.
On the northeast corner of the plaza, the Gran Hotel La Perla was Hemingway’s favorite hotel. His room (the number of which changed from 217 to 201 after renovations) has gained a new bathroom since his visits but otherwise retains its character, with the same pink loveseat, white rotary telephone, twin beds, and writing desk.
And of course, visitors to Pamplona can still retrace the half-mile route of the running of the bulls on foot, starting below Town Hall on Santo Domingo Street and then following Mercaderes. And on the long chute-like stretch of narrow Estafeta Street, it’s easy to imagine the space between man and bull collapsing—understanding how rapidly things could go wrong, and how much adrenaline must be pumping to get a runner safely into the Plaza del Toros at the finish.
A love of Pamplona stayed with Hemingway throughout his life—even as his time in Spain dwindled, with nearly three decades between the first seven visits and the final two. By the end of the 1950s, his grandson John says Hemingway came to a sober realization about Pamplona and life alike: "You don't own it. Nothing is permanent and everything is ephemeral and passing.”
When Hemingway sipped cocktails at Txoko in 1959, he didn’t know for sure it would be his last visit, but he had an inclination that his legend would live on in Pamplona. That bittersweet trip is echoed in his final book, The Dangerous Summer: “The wine was as good as when you were twenty-one, and the food as marvelous as always. There were the same songs and good new ones that cracked and suddenly pounded onto the drums and the pipes. The faces that were young once were old as mine, but everyone remembered how we were."
by Carley Thornell
The resounding chords of a furiously strumming guitarist keep the precise rhythms of compas, Spanish metre and time signature. An impassioned vocalist claps and walks to the beat. The vibrations from a cajon drum box beat like a collective heartbeat. And a dancer assumes the spotlight.
This woman with dark bun, swirling ruffles, fringed shawl, ruby lips, and nails to match, has come to symbolize the very essence of flamenco. This lined yet beautiful face, this body that is no longer slender but still lithe, belongs to one of the art form’s most recognizable women: Matilde Coral.
This septuagenarian embodies the essence of the duende, or soul of flamenco. Unlike other forms of dance, where dancers turn professional early and youth is often the most valued quality, flamenco dancers don’t peak until they’re in their 30s—or beyond. It’s an art form that embraces wisdom and experience, all channeled into passionate, and at times plaintive, movements. The Spanish Civil War-era poet, dramatist, and theater director Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote of this essence:
“The duende, then, is a power … I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat, the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”
For Matilde, this spirit was cultivated from the time the soles of her feet learned to walk on the Andalusian terrain. Born in 1935 in Seville—credited as the birthplace of flamenco dance (baile), guitar (toque), and song (cante)—she started dancing in clubs at age 16, borrowing the ID of her 18-year-old cousin to work legally. At age 20, she was hired to work at El Guajiro, the seminal club that pioneered the phasing in of tablao flamenco establishments in lieu of cabarets nationwide. There, amidst the mirrored walls and bullfighting posters, she met her husband, Rafael El Negro.
Though she has found fame in her footwork, Matilde’s experience isn’t uncommon in that her training started in her mother’s small living room; likewise for Rafael, often referred to as a “gypsy dancer.” Traditional flamenco artists rarely received formal training, instead learning by listening and watching relatives, friends, and neighbors. In its most authentic form, flamenco can be seen danced informally at Gitano (gypsy) weddings and gatherings in Spain, and etymology of the dance and its eponymous music is, in the eyes of many historians and countrymen, synonymous with this nomadic people.
Those many different forms have evolved, flamenco puro, with hips moving and arms curving around the head and body, is considered to be closest to these Gitano origins. This dance is performed solo, improvised rather than choreographed. Voluminous, commercialized costumes are discouraged, and props like castanets and fans are sometimes frowned upon. There have been no greater proponents of puro than Matilde and the late Rafael, whose Seville School of Andalusian Dance, founded in 1967, promotes these traditions.
Throughout the rest of Europe, where ballet uses academies and encourages precision and grace, its tutu-clad primas never outshine the choreography, each move executed as planned. Romance-language words ballet and baile sound similar, but they are worlds apart, the latter a poor man’s dance, of and for the people.
by Amanda Read, from Insider
Paella, the Spanish rice dish known the world over, originated in Valencia. So naturally the best and purest paellas are here. To be exact, Albufera, a large freshwater lagoon just outside of Valencia, is where the tradition began. In the 8th century, the Moors began planting rice in the lagoon. Workers cooked the rice right in the fields, adding delicious local ingredients—and the rest is delicious history.
Today, the two classic dishes are Paella Valenciana and Paella de Marisco. Both dishes use Spanish rice, saffron, some vegetables and olive oil, but the Valenciana uses chicken (and often rabbit!) and the Marisco is a seafood dish. Chefs add calamari, mussels, shrimp, lobster, or clams to the latter, always with their shells still intact. A third type that came about later on is Paella Mixta, which mixes both meat and seafood. Valencians view this dish as inauthentic and inferior, which is why even though it’s popular elsewhere, it’s rather difficult to find in the city. While not classical paella, Valencia offers other delicious rice dishes as well. Arroz Negro is a paella-type dish cooked in squid ink. And Fideua is a dish similar to paella but with noodles in place of the rice.
Paella gets its name from the pan used to serve it, called a paellera. Because this dish is meant to be a social one, shared among at least two people, the pan is very large and can go directly from sitting atop a wood fire directly to the tabletop. (We recommend anyone going to Spain travels light—this way you may be able to bring one home as a souvenir.) For large fiestas or gatherings, Valencians have begun making record-breaking sized portions of paella. Valencian restaurateur Juan Galbis claims to have made the world’s largest paella in 2001, feeding about 110,000 people(!) and was even featured in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Valencians are very proud of their paella history and consider it a symbol of their city. Of course recipes vary, even here. Locals compete for the honor of best paella, which means that it’s the customer who is the true winner.
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