After 18 weeks (126 days) of conscientious, strict lockdown, with only our walks in the near-by countryside to break the monotony, it was time to break out. We had read almost every book in our library (some even twice). Helga had spent hours and days in the kitchen cooking up ever new concoctions to keep our eating experience interesting. I was sick of playing bridge online. Fortunately, we were still talking to each other!
So, we drove over to Spain for the weekend. It happened to be our wedding anniversary, too, which made the excursion all the sweeter and more meaningful. We went to spend two nights at the lovely and historic parador in Carmona.
The Portuguese-Spanish border was completely open, just like the good old (pre-virus) days. En route we stopped in Niebla for lunch. If you have never been to Niebla (and I’ll bet most of you haven’t), it is worth a trip all by itself. It is only 140km from Faro and located just north of the autoroute on the banks of the Rio Tinto, midway between Huelva and Seville.
Niebla’s history dates from 8000 BC when Phoenician traders exploited its silver deposits. As with the rest of Andalucia, the city was controlled by Romans, then Muslims from 713 AD and finally Christians from 1262 AD. But what makes Niebla interesting today is the 2km wall surrounding the old town (dating from the 1100s and amongst the most complete in Spain, with its 50 defensive towers and five entrances) and the Alcázar, or castle, dating from the 1400s.
Niebla is a small town of less than 5,000 people, so it is easy to get around. We had a marvellous lunch of king prawns, sitting all alone outdoors at the Restaurante Salón de la Gamba on Calle Adelfa, 4, and then wandered around the nearly deserted old town within the walls.
Another 100km, including skirting Seville, and we were in Carmona, one of the oldest towns in Andalucia and one of the most delightful to walk around. Its narrow streets and – when we were there last weekend – absence of crowds make it not only most picturesque but also very accessible. We passed the Iglesia de S. Pedro with its baroque tower (called the Giraldilla because of its resemblance to the Giralda at the cathedral of Seville) and entered the old town through the imposing Alcázar Puerta de Sevilla.
The parador is found at the opposite end of the old town, perched high on an escarpment that allows the visitor to look out over the plains of the Guadalquivir and the fertile valley of the Corbones river.
Opened in 1976, the parador is housed in one part of the Alcázar de Arriba, an old Roman fortress, extended by the Almoravid Moors and then converted into the palace of Pedro I. As everyone is just emerging from lockdown, the hotel is not yet overly occupied. You can book by emailing Virginia Tello Vincent ([email protected]).
The hotel was perhaps just over half full, mostly with Spanish families but with a few Brits sprinkled about. Face masks were obligatory in all the public spaces, hand sanitizers were much in evidence and every effort was made to keep the guests well separated, including staggered breakfast times and widely separated tables in the dining room. We felt very safe.
On our first evening, we walked out of the parador to the nearby La Yedra restaurant for a superb meal, complemented by an excellent bottle of Pesquera Ribera del Duero 2017, in a very romantic garden setting. La Yedra is a Michelin restaurant and well worth a stop. Email Mónica Rodriguez Ortiz ([email protected]) for a booking. We were first in at 8.30pm and, when we were leaving around 10.30pm, the few well-separated tables outside were just filling up (an all-Spanish clientele).
On our second evening on Sunday, we ate in the parador. We have been staying in paradors for many decades. In the “old days”, the cuisine was never very good, but, in the past 10 years, all that has changed. And how! We had a memorable anniversary dinner of the most delicious jamon Ibérico and roast kid, perfectly enhanced by a bottle of 2014 Arzuaga Reserva (again from the Ribera del Duero).
Was it hot while we were there? Yes! But not much hotter than here in the Algarve. Not only were we able to celebrate our anniversary in style, and in a memorably romantic way, but we had the delicious feeling of having broken out of prison! Free again!
By Larry Hampton