“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore…” Years after learning about Christopher Columbus and the ocean blue during grade school, this quote resurfaced as we gazed up at his tomb, hoisted onto the shoulders of the stone knights in the Seville Cathedral. I imagined that this was where he started his journey, down towards Cadiz, and off into the unknown. And it was here where we began our own journey as well, southbound into the heart of Andalusia, Spain.
While my husband and I have been extremely lucky to travel the world for work and play, (accumulating enough airline miles that enabled this particular trip), neither of us had been to the south of Spain. With only a week to spend in this bastion of Spanish culture, we were anxious to find the quiet corners, less noticed by the rest of the world that all seemed to descend into Europe at the same time during the height of summer travel season.
While we actually began in Madrid, we felt like we could actually first catch our breath in Seville. Where cosmopolitan, bustling Madrid was everything our former 20-somethings would have wanted, our 30-something sensibilities reveled in languid pace of Seville. In fact, we planned our trip this way, where our journey in Andalusia became less and less populated as we ventured out farther into the hinterland.
We dropped our bags at Hotel Holos, a converted home originally built for the Ibero-American exhibition in 1929, with only 7 rooms. Removed from the heart of downtown Seville, it was just a quick bus/cab ride away and in a very short time, something about this unspoken Spanish rhythm of daily life started to take root.
A leisurely morning on the terrace brought a choice of teas accompanied by a selection of lightly toasted bread made fresh on the premises. Accompaniments included the tomate, a traditional Andalusian topping of chopped tomatoes, a selection of fresh jams – orange, apricot, raspberry, and strawberry, and two distinctly different flavors of locally made olive Oils.
Even though we usually steer clear of restaurants near the touristy destinations, about a half-block away from the aforementioned Cathedral is low key La Moneda, recommended to us as one of the best for seafood. To say it didn’t disappoint would be a complete understatement. We tried to navigate their non-English menu and ordered a whitefish we recognized but the waiter clicked his tongue and shook his head – unsubtly implying we were doing it all wrong. “Prawns”, he said… and quietly repeated “prawns”. We took his advice and some of the freshest prawns we’d ever tasted landed on the table, as if whisked over from the coast just minutes ago. After that gem, we continued to take his suggestions for tapas sized dishes of swordfish with manzanilla (locally produced sherry) and mahi mahi sauteed with regional potatoes. Everything was simply prepared and flavored just enough, letting the freshness of the catch shine through. (La Moneda - Calle Almirantazgo, 4, 41001 Sevilla, Spain)
The summer days last forever in Spain. We didn’t think we could eat again but after a day of walking the old city streets and a few café beers at what is normally a dinner time, we discovered why the Spanish start to wander their way into the small restaurants again at about 11 pm. We found our way to El Rinconcillo, said to be the oldest tapas restaurant in Spain; the doors opened in 1670. The no-nonsense bartenders are quick with the drinks and orders, marking your tab with chalk on the bar right in front of you. The flavors in the chickpea dish and the spinach tapas, along with the rosé had us contemplating… would a tiny property in Andalusia really be that far out of our budget?
From Seville, we rented a car and drove deeper into Andalusia, wandering up the tiny, hairpinned streets to stay at Arcos de la Frontera, one of the famed white villages whose picturesque homes are stacked like cascading mountains. Our accommodations at La Casa Grande was not accessible by car. After parking in the town square and walking the narrow, winding streets with our bags, we found our converted, centuries-old home carved into the mountain. Opening the old wood shutters of the bedroom as we sipped our welcome glasses of sherry revealed a cliff’s edge drop with stunning views across the valley. Bar la Carcel was recommended to us and indeed, it ended up being our nightly spot during our three days in Arcos as the warmth of the service and flavors of the food made it our home away from home. (Bar la Carcel Calle Dean Espinosa, 18, 11630 Arcos de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain)
The following day, we day-tripped from Arcos to the coast which was about an hour’s drive. Cadiz, the famed port city of Spain was first, and we spent the afternoon wandering the labyrinthine streets of Old Town and the Plaza de la Catedral until we were ready to relax under an umbrella at a beach-side café. One of my favorite things about visiting smaller towns is that they're all so manageable on foot. On this tiny strip of land, the ocean was almost always at arm's length and it's pretty comforting to get lost in the maze-like streets, knowing that you can find your way back out whenever you're ready.
Sanlúcar is known for its fishing and manzanilla sherry production. With limited time left in the day, we strolled along Bajo de Guia beach and stopped for a light seafood dinner at Joselito Huerta. A family-run restaurant, it opened in 1955 serving sherry to local fisherman and then started frying their catch to accompany the drinks. We ordered surtido, letting the chef surprise us with the catch of the day. Sharing this simple meal with ice cold beer and watching the sun set over the Guadalquivir River together was the perfect ending to an agenda-less day of meandering together.
Work and travel are synonymous to me and part of the exhilaration of exploring new destinations is capturing my experience. I’m always striving to create a visual story as I shoot, piecing together different shots in my mind and how they complement each other to convey the narrative of a place. Many of the images I capture on my travels are licensed through Offset. Many more can also be seen on Destination Envy, my ongoing personal project. Clients have always enjoyed seeing new personal images in addition to commissioned work, and I take the same approach when shooting travel editorial stories; hence, I feel blessed that work and travel continue to be an ongoing cycle.
Natasha Lee is a Travel, Food & Lifestyle Photographer whose work ranges from print and social campaigns, to editorials and branded video series. She is also the founder of Destination Envy, where she shares curated itineraries inspired by her love of interior design, crafted eats, and eco-luxury. Follow along on her journeys on Instagram @talktonatasha.