While I tried to post something about each of our days in Spain, I thought it might be worth summarizing our trip with an overall impression of the country. So after talking with DJ, here are a few of things that stood out to us during our time there.
Spain has a long and turbulent history, with regions of the country by many different cultures. This includes the Celts, Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Spanish Christians. As each group conquered and colonized parts of the peninsula, they introduced their own architectural styles into the country. In many cases, they added their designs to sites built by their predecessors. While there is the danger that there would be a clash of all these different architectural styles mixed together, that doesn’t seem to have happened in Spain.
All the design concepts are ingredients that have been mixed together and fermented over time into a fine architectural “wine” that is uniquely Spanish. So many Roman Catholic cathedrals were built on top of Moorish mosques, and the design elements of both were easily visible and integrated beautifully. Alhambra in Granada is another example of this. As each group controlled the palace fortress, they added their designs to it. Like growth rings in a fallen tree, these styles tell the history of the place. I love that. Even in remote towns and villages largely forgotten by history this confluence of styles can be seen.
And as Spain became a world power, artisans and architects flocked to the wealthy country to add their styles to the mix. The gardens of Real Alcazar in Seville were designed and built by the Muslims, but under Spanish control, the gardens were updated with Italian neoclassical designs. Not all these combinations are seamless. For example, the Sala de Los Reyes in Alhambra is an eyesore compared to the Roman and Moorish architecture at the rest of the complex. But these issues seem rare. In no other country I have visited has its architecture documented its history so well than Spain.
The climate of Spain is hot and arid, so there is not a lot of lush green flora in the country outside of the mountains of the Pyrenees. This creates a stark landscape, particularly in the flatlands in the middle or south of the country. But the Pyrenees, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the hills of Castile and Leon create amazing vistas that more than compensate for the lack of trees. In addition, Spain is almost completely surrounded by water. Sandy cliffs rising from the cool blue waters of the Mediterranean and the rugged green shores of the Atlantic Oceans are stunning visual representations to the beauty of Spain.
Spain has a long and storied history of wine-making, but it has always lived in the shadow of France in reputation for making quality wines. While its neighbor to the north may have the accolades for making great wines, Spain has quietly been producing excellent wines at an affordable price for years.
Since Spain is part of the Iberian peninsula, the climate varies widely within the country. What some areas may seem too hot for growing grapes, innovative vintners have found ways to use the temperature and moisture to their advantage. During our trip we visited two wineries in the arid southern part of Spain. Nonetheless, the most famous regions in Spain for wine are Rioja and Ribera del Duero. These regions are also associated with the predominant grapes of Spain, the Tempranillo.
Rioja is in the north-central part of Spain on the Ebro River. Riojan wines are typically a blend of ripe fruit and earthy. You are more likely to get a Tempranillo blend in Rioja, with a mix of Granacha, Graciano and/or Mazuelo. One tradition of Rioja is that wineries there prefer to age the wine for a period of years. It is not uncommon for wine to age in oak casks for 2-4 years. Rioja also seem to prefer to use American Oak for its aging casks. The result are complex and mature wines that belie their costs.
Ribera del Duero
Ribera del Duero is renowned for its high quality Tempranillo. Unlike Rioja, this region doe not favor blends, so the wines here are usually 100% Tempranillo grapes. Ribera also favors French Oak, but follows the same tradition of aging its wine in oak for a period of years.
Because I love red wines, I was impressed by the great wine options in Spain. And the best part of about it is that in Spain it is usually cheaper than soda. The Spanish have their drinking priorities straight! For some great inexpensive tempranillo wine option, try this one. While there are several other excellent wine producing regions in Spain, if you start with Rioja and Ribera del Duero, you cannot go wrong.
I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the Spanish people’s love for sherry. Sherry is a fortified wine that undergoes a system of blending of wines from different years. In addition, some makers will add a layer of yeast called flor over the wine to protect it from oxygen and providing flavor. There is a wide range of sherry options from fresh to mature, from dry to sweet. Sherry aficionados can be found all over Spain. We tried our first sherry in Triana and loved it. Chilled on a hot day it is very refreshing, and it pairs well with most types of food. My preference will always be wine, but I have learned to enjoy a glass of sherry.
There was many other elements of our trip to Spain that left an indelible mark on us. We loved the tapas, my wife loved the seafood and flamenco. There are so many things to love about Spain that it is impossible to list them all. We highly recommend you book a trip there and discover them yourself. This was our second trip to Spain, and we will go back again soon.