SEOUL’S BITTER-COLD winter is just around the corner and many Yonseians are probably pondering about where to take refuge during this blistery season. Popular destinations are either close to Korea, such as Osaka and Hong Kong, or well-known for their warm climate, like Cebu and Bangkok. While these well-known winter break destinations have their merits, they have become too “Koreanized,” meaning that they have lost much of their unique vibes due to the onslaught of Korean tourists. This year, why not venture further and enjoy a one-of-a-kind winter break at three small Spanish villages?
Entering this cozy village situated in the Andalucía region is like finding oneself amidst relics of the past. Ronda was first declared a town by Julius Caesar in the 1st century AD and had several changes of ownership by the Christians and the Moors*. The two separate districts, the old Moorish town and El Mercadillo, mirrors Spain’s fusional culture between Catholicism and Islam.
These two distinct districts are linked by El Puente Nuevo, which is a splendid arched stone bridge completed in 1793. This stunning architectural work seems to embody the common saying that “beauty is pain” as this bridge’s construction took away 50 workers’ lives due to the steepness of the valley**. To add to the gruesome backstory, El Puente Nuevo’s column interior was once used as a prison as recent as the Spanish Civil War, and there are even rumors that captives were pushed from the bridge to a bloody demise. Despite this horrific history, the bridge’s architectural beauty and its harmony with the picturesque valley is what makes it the number one destination in Ronda.
Another “must-visit” site in Ronda is the Plaza de Toros, which translates into “The plaza of bulls.” Constructed in 1785, this bullring is a standing history of Spain’s bullfighting tradition***. Ronda is proud of its bullfighting history as Francisco Romero and his grandson, Pedro Romero—both of whom are legendary bullfighters—were born and raised in Ronda. Today, the bullring preserves the records and tools that were utilized for bullfighting and is only used for actual demonstrations during the September Govesca bullfight****.
If you would like to see Europe’s one and only desert, are a fan of Game of Thrones, or would like to eat free tapas*****, Almería is the place to visit. This often overlooked seaside city lies in the south-east region of Spain and is the perfect place to put behind Korea’s freezing winter******. It is also an extremely arid region, hosting Europe’s one and only desert: the Desierto Tabernas. Due to the pleasant weather and bright sunlight, many Spaghetti Westerns******* were filmed at the Desierto Tabernas; in fact, sizeable villages still exist to serve as film sets for Westerns, adventure, and fantasy films********.
Another heads-up to pop culture fans: Almería was the set for the wildly popular TV series, Game of Thrones*********. Almería provided various memorable locations inside the intricate fantasy universe, one of which is the Alcazaba of Almería, the second largest Arab construction in Spain. It was built in the 10th century, coinciding with the founding of Almeria itself. This grandiose fortress overlooks the entire town on an elevated stone base in the center of the city. Like many of Spain’s most prized monuments, the Alcazaba fortress possesses both Muslim and Catholic elements, though the Catholic kings remodeled much of the Arabic aspects into Catholic ones**********.
Feeling famished after visiting these fascinating locations? Say no more and enter any bar and order a beer, preferably a bottle of Estrella or Alhambra, which are two of the most popular ones in Spain. Tapas will be served, free of charge, along with your drink. While the tapas culture has slowly died out in most of Spain, Almería has quite admirably maintained this tradition of providing small snacks to go with customers’ drinks.
“Colorful,” “peaceful,” and “sunny” are three of the words that best describe Port Saplaya. It is a suburban town in the outskirts of Valencia’s central district and is perfect for visitors seeking a place that is not touristy and more similar to how a Spaniard would spend their winter vacation—chilling at a beachside vacation house with family and friends. Its small and charming beach is perfect for sunbathing and a picnic while admiring the emerald Mediterranean.
After a lazy session at the beach, you must enter one of the restaurants inside the many pastel-toned cottages. Here, you will be able to enjoy three iconic Valencian delicacies: paella, agua de Valencia, and horchata with fartón. One of the most famous Spanish meals, paella is a rice dish prepared in a special pan called a “paella” from which the dish’s name is derived. There are various types of paellas, but the paella Valenciana is recommended since it is the most iconic in the region. Agua de Valencia is an alcoholic cocktail which utilizes Valencia’s abundant orange supply. It is gin-based and fairly easy to make; but since, the key ingredient is only available in Valencia—fresh Valencian oranges— you should try it out when you have the chance. Lastly, horchata and fartón is the perfect food combination duo typical to Valencia. Horchata is a drink made out of tiger nuts and has a sweet and nutty flavor; fartónes are Valencian donuts or pastries dusted in sugar. While most ideal to eat on a hot summer day, it is still a great dessert to enjoy during all seasons, including winter.
If you have relaxed at the beach and sated your hunger with fabulous Valencian food at Port Saplaya, maybe you should head into the city center of Valencia. As the third largest city in Spain, you will be able to find that it has a lot to offer in art and history as it does in its rich cuisine. It is an especially noteworthy city for embracing both tradition and modernity. La Lonja de la Seda, a gothic vestige of the 16th century silk trade, is a great place to get in touch with Valenica’s more traditional history as a seaside trading town. Meanwhile, the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a cluster of futuristic buildings designed by the world-famous Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, is representative of Valencia’s chic and modern aesthetic.
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Spain is becoming more and more popular in Korea thanks to many television programs which introduce Spanish food and destinations. However, instead of visiting the metropolitan cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville, why not invest your time in the hidden gems? Here, you will have more time to relax while exploring the history, culture, and local cuisine and overall becoming better acquainted with this fascinating country.
***Turismo de Ronda
*****Tapas: Small bite-sized dishes that are usually served at Spanish bars
******Almeria’s winter ranges between 8 °C-18 °C.
*******Spaghetti Western: Western films that were created in Europe and were popularized du
ring the 1960s to 1970s