A traditional Spanish lunch in Valdezufre.

A traditional Spanish lunch in Valdezufre.

My boyfriend and I just returned from spending three weeks in Spain. Our trip had some planned elements to it, yet most of it was left open for serendipitous adventures. By the end of our time, we had traveled a loop that started and finished in Madrid. It was such a great area to tour that I have oodles of material and stories galore that I’ll be sharing here over the next few months. Perhaps you will recognize some of the places we explored or maybe you’ve never heard of them, for the route and manner in which we visited Spain was truly off the beaten path and immersed us in the local life.

Serendipity was certainly pushed to its limits with us – we are the couple that willingly used buddy passes from a dear friend (thank you Lynn – you’re a gift!) during the holiday season. It was my first time flying stand-by yet Eric and I were both open and even excited since, after all, it meant the possibility of being seated in first or business class. How nice would that be!?! We weren’t able to get on the first two flights of the morning for Delta going through Atlanta, but when we were willing to go through Laguardia instead, we got out of Denver just after 12-noon. Everyone at Delta were kind and helpful and we made our connecting flight just in time and even got Business Class seats for the last leg to Madrid.

We arrived first thing on a Monday morning and spent a couple of days in Madrid seeing museums like El Prado Museum and walking through el Parque del Retiro and el barrio de las Letras. Then we took the bus to nearby Toledo where we met up with my mom and her boyfriend, Juan Antonio. Everyone but me (I had a nasty cold) ran the annual Silvestre de Toledana race, 8km/5 miles, on New Year’s Eve day. That evening we enjoyed the late night festivities in the town center plaza, where we danced to live music and ate twelve grapes at twelve midnight , one for each of the twelve times that the clock struck. After two fun nights and a full day exploring on foot in Toledo, we piled into the car and drove to the gorgeous medieval town of Avila and its famous murallas. We only stayed one night and had such a beautiful time that we wished we had arranged to stay there two nights instead. Yet on we continued, taking a scenic route via curvy steep roads through the strikingly beautiful Sierra de Gredos mountain range. We originally planned to drive on to my mother’s home in Higuera la Real, Extremadura. But we decided to be spontaneous…When we stopped in the small medieval village of Trujillo and saw the main plaza, we knew we had to stay the night. After all, it was already dark and we wanted to see the castle inside once we saw a view of it from the outside.

Higuera la Real, my mother and Juan Antonio’s home in Spain, was a fantastic home-base. We stayed there for what ended up being two weeks. This helped greatly since Eric and I were still working for our clients and we got to experience the every-day local life. From this small village in the countryside, we visited the charming ancient castles, churches, plazas and tabernas (restaurants or bars) in Fregenal de la Sierra, Jerez de los Cabelleros, Zafra, Segura, Fuenteheridos, Valdezufre, and Aracena. Every trip was adventure in gastronomy and making new friends. There was grilling and eating in olive groves, buying anise almond cookies made by nuns in a convent, and even horseback riding with Chaparral Equestrian Center among the magical green Encina trees just outside Aracena.

Our last few days were spent visiting Cordoba for a night and then returning to where we started, Madrid. The last two nights back in the city were filled with making new friends and graced with the opportunity to meet and spend time with two different journalists who I greatly admire and appreciate for their writings on the country of Spain at this time.

Leaving Spain is never a thing I look forward to and I still miss it greatly when I am gone. I have to admit though that getting to fly from Madrid to Atlanta in first class for my first time really helped make the departure easier…okay, flying first class was absolutely and gloriously enjoyable! Flying stand-by really treated us well. From beginning to end, our route forms a loop that introduced us to every day Spanish life. Follow along, or subscribe to my blog, so you don’t miss out on all I have to share about the different sites and experiences. You can travel with me in my memories and help keep them alive, perhaps even traveling to them yourself one day.

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