desayuno

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 Spain has always been a popular holiday destination, however many tourists don’t get the most out of their stay.  Sure, they return with a suntan (or more likely sunburn!), several pounds heavier weight-wise, several pounds lighter money-wise (having spent far too many euros), some tacky souvenirs and lots of exciting photos of them on the beach, by the pool or in the bar.  Is that what you want? Or do you fancy doing something different this year?

Before you go on holiday, use the internet to research your holiday with a difference.  Staying on the Costa del Sol? Away from the beaches there are some lovely villages to visit on the ruta de los pueblos blancos, or discover the city of Malaga instead of bypassing it in your rush to reach the beach.  Costa Blanca?  There is a lot to see in Alicante (the city, not the airport!) and if you are a wine lover, come and visit Jumilla, known as the city of wine.  A good place to start your research is http://www.spain.info/en/, and don’t forget to check whether there are going to be any fiestas in the area you are visiting.

Visit Mijas for the day when staying on the Costa del Sol

The first thing you will have to learn when you are on holiday is to get up a bit earlier than usual, so that you can enjoy the whole day, and to leave your hotel/apartment/resort/comfort zone.  You are going out for breakfast, which for Spanish people is best enjoyed in a café or bar between 10 and 12.  They will have had a cup of coffee first thing, but the morning break is a time to meet friends and have a chat over a coffee and tostada or maybe chocolate and churros.  You will definitely need a snack then, because you aren’t going to have lunch until 2pm at the earliest!

Spend your morning walking around the nearest town, visiting museums and churches, strolling through local parks and generally working up a good appetite for lunch.  Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, to slap on the suntan lotion, to bring your camera (this year your friends may find your photos a bit more interesting than usual) and remember to carry a bottle of water. 

Keep your eyes open while you are enjoying your walk because you are looking out for a good menú del día, however be aware that many restaurants won’t advertise them before 1pm.  This is a top money-saving tip in Spain: have your main meal at lunchtime like the Spanish do, though avoid obvious tourist areas to get the best value for your money. Menú del día will usually cost you between 8€ and 12€ for a minimum of 3 courses, bread and a drink.  We know a very good bar in Jumilla where for 8€ we get a shared salad to start with, a basket of bread, a wide choice of starters, mains and desserts, a carafe of red wine with water or refresco plus coffee to finish our meal.  After that, we don’t need much food in the evening!

Drive inland from the Costa Blanca to visit Jumilla castle, a local bodega, and have menú del día

Lunch will be a leisurely affair, which is good news, as you will be indoors during the hottest part of the day.  If you want to go native, observe how Spanish people avoid sitting in the sun.  They love being outdoors during the summer: enjoying a drink, chatting to their friends, promenading along the sea front, but they walk in the shade or sit under a parasol.  Also observe that, even though Spanish chicas will wear miniscule skirts or shorts in town, beach wear is kept strictly for the beach.

After lunch you can stroll back to your hotel or apartment for a siesta if you fancy going really native, or plan ahead for the evening, relax with a good book, and enjoy a cold drink.  In tourist areas there may be shops open in the afternoon, but elsewhere only supermarkets disregard the traditional siesta.

If you haven’t gone out for a menú del día, be prepared to pay more for your evening meal, and also be prepared to wait for it!  We were staying in Barcelona a few years ago, and left our hotel at 8pm to find somewhere to eat.  Nearly every restaurant was shut, and as we were hungry we were becoming a bit anxious.   We popped into a bar that was open,  for a glass of wine and some tapas to calm our nerves.  As we left the bar just after 9pm, we saw that restaurants were beginning to open up again.  Lesson learnt!

Depending on where you are staying, you may be given a free tapa with your drink when you go out in the evening for a glass of wine .  If you had a big lunch, that may be all you need.  If not, look for a bar that is full of local people and you should find the best and cheapest tapas there.

A peaceful square in Valencia

Finally, don’t go to bed too early or you may miss the best part of the day.  On the last night of a holiday in Valencia to enjoy the Las Fallas festival, we were on our way back to our hotel just after midnight, when we decided to stop for a coffee.  Noticing a large marquee in the square behind the bar, we decided to take a quick look and discovered that a band was tuning up inside.  Local people were beginning to go into the marquee and encouraged us to join them, pointing out that there was a bar set up in the corner, which was selling drinks for 1€.

Soon everybody was up dancing to the music, chatting away to us in a mixture of English and Spanish and generally having a good time.  There was a mixture of both young and old, from niños to abuelos, all making a lot of noise (Spanish people tend to be noisy) but nobody appeared to be drunk, even though vast amounts of alcohol were being served at the bar.  When we left at three in the morning the party was still in full swing, however sadly we had a flight to catch!

If you decide to go native in Spain, you are guaranteed to have a great time.  Please tell us all about your experiences and any recommendations in the comments box below.

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Going out for breakfast (desayunar is the Spanish word for “to have breakfast”) is still an important tradition in Jumilla.  Local people start the day early with not much more than a cup of coffee, so by the time it is 10 or 11 Spanish workers are ready for their breakfast.  Most of the cafés and bars are full at that time of day, with people enjoying a café or zumo plus a tostada, and inevitably talking to their friends and colleagues loudly and at great speed.  Trying to follow their conversations is a good test of your Spanish comprehension!

Twice a week we meet our friend Juana María for desayuno, and at this time of the year we usually go to Bar Chaparral’s summer terrace just outside the Jardín del Rey Don Pedro.  This is one of the joys of living in Spain: sitting outside with friends, blue skies overhead, birds singing in the garden, and relaxing over a cup of coffee or a fruit juice.  

John’s breakfast of choice is a café solo and he has tostada with butter and jam.  I have now embraced the Spanish way of having tostada and pour extra virgin olive oil on top of it.  Tostada, by the way, is not a slice of supermarket bread, but is a toasted baguette, so we have a media tostada rather than a whole one.  Many people have tomato on their tostada, sometimes crushing a fresh tomato and garlic on top of the olive oil.  One thing that you are unlikely to find once you are away from the Spanish Costas is a full English breakfast – we have certainly not come across it in our local Spanish cafés!

One difference we have noticed between British and Spanish people: whereas the Brits like to sit outside directly in the sun, the Spanish prefer to sit outside in the shade, so Chaparral have an awning over their terrace once the sun is up.

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?  Well it is, except for the irritating moscas!  Being inland we don’t get troubled too much by mosquitos, but flies are a different matter.  At home, our dog Lisa spends most of the summer months trying to catch them.

Coffee outside Chaparral

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