The village of Ronda is perched atop dizzying cliffs, famously described in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Andalusia, Spain. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

The Americans Discover Columbus in Seville and Olive Oil in Spain’s Andalusian Mountains

Post 3 in a series:

Part residential, part historic, part shopping mall, Old Town Seville has something for everyone. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the selfie mirror at Seville Cathedral attracts more attention than the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

We arrived in Seville to discover our four-star hotel deserved no more than two stars. Amenities included a pair of rock-hard twin beds, a balky toilet, a broken hair dryer and black mold in one corner of the shower. First up on our itinerary – the laundry. Sigh.

Fortunately, we found a five-star laundromat just two blocks from the hotel – clean and very modern, with laundry detergent dispensed automatically as part of the price of admission. We washed two loads for about 10 Euros. Not bad!

The Largest Cathedral in the World

The day’s travel and chores complete, we had just enough time to check out the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See (aka Seville Cathedral) before closing time and to spend the evening rambling around old town.

The cathedral is huge – the largest cathedral and third-largest church in the world, placing behind only Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida and St. Peter’s Basilica. It has all the features you would expect of a great cathedral – flying buttresses, intricate arches and ceilings, priceless artwork and ancient tombs of historic personages – and at least one feature you would not anticipate. A selfie mirror.

Installed at knee level, the mirror angles upward so a visitor can capture a selfie with the magnificent stone ceiling as a backdrop. We initially thought folks were lined up for a closer look at the tomb of Christopher Columbus, which sits nearby. We were wrong. Poor Chris. No line for the grave of the man credited with discovering America.

Exhausted by relic wonder, vault splendor and easy selfies, we retired to a sidewalk café for tapas and sangria before wiling away the evening scouting out the historic heart of Seville’s Old Town. We wandered back to the hotel through quiet, narrow residential streets, enjoying the sights, sounds and scents of the historic neighborhood.

Dinner at a sidewalk cafe in Seville. Andalucía, Spain. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

Quaint Villages and Olive Oil in Andalucía

We couldn’t have timed our first Spanish day-trip by bus any better. After a night on those rock-hard mattresses and a tasteless hotel breakfast buffet, we had time for a cat nap on cushy luxury coach seats as we climbed from the plains of Southern Spain into the Andalusian Mountains to visit a trio of White Villages.

Named collectively for the white-washed exterior walls of homes clustered together in high places, each village distinguished itself with a geologic or historical feature.

  • Zahara de la Sierra rests in the shadow of the ruins of a 15th century Moorish castle. The tiny village overlooks a deep valley and reservoir. Stunning. We ran across a local man with a menagerie of “performing” raptors at the edge of town. Interesting, but we weren’t quite comfortable with his enterprise so did not indulge. Molino el Vinculo, the olive oil mill at the edge of town, was the highlight. (Read more below.)
  • Ronda, a major tourist destination, features a devastatingly deep chasm that divides the town and its many community squares in two. We chose the bridge rather than the zip line to navigate from one side to the other. The cremated remains of film director Orson Welles, the Christopher Columbus of modern cinematography and sound design, reside at the bottom of a well on the outskirts of town. Read more here.

  • Grazalema, situated on a hillside in the middle of a nature reserve, is achingly quaint. We’ll remember Grazalena best for the nondescript café that served up an amazing ham and cheese sandwich – the best of the trip. And we ate a lot of Iberian jamon y queso. Yum.

Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, and groves predominate in the plains and foothills of the hot interior of the country. Molino el Vinculo has been pressing olive oil just outside of Zahara de la Sierra since 1755. Fully automated at some point in the mid-20th century, the mill features a MacGyvered network of conveyors, presses and drains that clean, squeeze and collect the oil from olives supplied by growers on local hillsides. The Geek noted the peppery quality of the Spanish oil. MontaraManDan, mouth full of oil-soaked bread, nodded agreement.

Our traveling companions were equal parts amusing and interesting, particularly the two French women in heavy makeup, tube tops and miniskirts, tottering about on heels with bags of clattering bottles of souvenir olive oil. But upon returning to Seville we opted off the bus early and bid adios to the crew of wanderers, hoofing it to the hotel past a busy upscale retail district and back through the history and homes of Old Town.

Palaces, Passion and Posture in Old Town

We awoke the next morning feeling like our time in town was short. Our priority for the day was Alcazar of Seville, considered by some to be the most beautiful palace in Spain and still used by the royal family as its official Seville residence.

The palace began as a Moorish fortress and is a monumental fusion of Mediterranean cultures. You can find influences from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque and even the 19th century eras, but its Mudejar origins predominate the original structure and much of the expansion and remodeling.

The architecture was stunning, but the day was hot and the tourists were legion, so we breezed through the palace audio tour and sought refuge in the shade of the lesser traveled portions of the extensive palace garden. We had fun meandering through the hedge maze and did venture back into the crowd for a performance of a hydraulic pipe organ. Interesting, but we did not scour the gift shop looking for the CD. Find a YouTube video here.

We saved the best musical treat of the trip for evening after the weather cooled – Flamenco at Tablao Los Gallos. The tiny dance theater has been presenting rousing evenings full of ram-rod posture and earnest passion for more than 50 years. MontaraManDan expected to be bored, but the troupe of four dancers, their small combo of clappers, operatic vocalists and guitar players held his easily strained attention span. It was loud. It was mesmerizing. It was even fun. Call us fans.

Seville had another surprise we weren’t expecting on the walk back to the hotel that evening. No, not the Spanish Inquisition, as imagined by the Monty Python comedy troupe. We had not anticipated the La Carrera Nocturna del Guadalquivir, a nocturnal 8.5K race with 25,000 enthusiastic runners who just happened to block access to our hotel as they trundled past. First the sprinters. Then the runners. Then the joggers. Finally, as the walkers arrived, we were able to cross.

Perhaps we should have joined the race. We estimate we walked 160 miles on our travels through Spain. But we chose sleep instead.

Next up? Granada!

This is the third of a multi-part series of our travels to six major Spanish cities across three weeks in the fall of 2017. Special thanks to The Geek for the comprehensive journal she kept throughout our journey.

Part 1: Barcelona’s Beauty, Traditions and Hospitality Persist Amid Constitutional Crisis

Part 2: Lost in Madrid Amid the Ghosts of Pious Ladies, Old Masters & Grandpa Ray

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