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Archive for November, 2016

Olive oil is deeply rooted in the Spanish history and culture. It is known that the olive tree was brought to the Peninsula by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Later, the Romans and Arabs improved the techniques of production. As a result of a stable, thousand-year-old tradition, today Spain is the major producer and exporter of olive oil in the world.

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extra virgin olive oil (source: Diario ABC) 

The olive harvesting season starts around the end of November and the olive oil production mainly takes place during the winter months, from November to March. If you decide to visit Spain during these months, it is the perfect opportunity to learn about the world of olive oil.

Andalusia is the largest olive oil producer in Spain as well as full of cultural heritage sites. So why not combine a cultural and gastronomic tour?

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olive harvesting (source: Junta de Andalucia)

Visit Sevilla, the artistic, cultural and financial capital of Andalucia. The city is a historical hub, well known for its Muslim heritage and its gastronomy. Spend some time visiting the ancient “El Vinculo” mill and taste the olive oil that is produced there in a guided tasting tour. This olive oil mill was built in 1755 and until today it produces extra virgin olive oil in the traditional way.

Granada, once the capital of the Moorish kingdom, houses the most known Spanish monument: Alhambra Palace and the Generalife Gardens. While visiting this historical city, step by the Almazara Nuñez de Prado olive oil mill. This mill is run by the 7th generation of the Nuñez Prado family and it is housed in a traditional Andalusian farmstead building. It counts with an oil storage room that keeps the oil in the original jars from the 18th century.

Finally, Jaen is the olive oil region by excellence. Its landscape is marked by olive oil trees and as soon as you enter the province, you can smell the characteristic smell of them. the extremely fine quality of extra virgin olive oil produced in Jaén, results from practices passed down through generations of olive farmers, refining the art of virgin oil extraction. In Jaen, you can visit the olive oil visitor centre. it offers tours to introduce visitors to every aspect of olive oil production. the itinerary takes in everything, from the olive groves through to the actual production process of the olive oil, and explores its history, its relation with local gastronomy and its numerous health benefits.

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castle, Jáen Province (source: Junta de Andalucia)

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In the month of November, the Spanish cities start to prepare for Christmas and the most festive season of the year. During this time, the shopping centres, shop windows and streets are decorated with lights and various types of Christmas decorations. In addition, the stores are filled with toys and presents and the best Christmas offers start to be available. This season is without doubts one of the best and most interesting ones to visit Spanish cities during the colder months.

The most typical Spanish Christmas decoration is probably the nativity scene that represents the birth of Jesus Christ and is a Catholic tradition. As well as the typical Christmas tree, the nativity scene can be found at homes, shops, churches and on the streets, where it is sometimes even represented by real persons and animals. A famous example is the nativity scene at Plaza del Pilar in Zaragoza that is set up next to the cathedral.

During the Christmas season, many Spanish cities offer special winter activities for locals and visitors. The popular Christmas markets, full of delicious snacks and handicrafts, can be found in places like Plaza Mayor in Madrid, in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, at Plaza Nueva in Sevilla and Calle Bailén in Bilbao.

Furthermore, ice-skating rinks are becoming more popular every year. If you are looking for a break from your Christmas shopping, ice skating could be a great option. The ice rinks normally are decorated in a very beautiful and festive way. Some examples are the ice rinks at Plaza de Colon in Madrid, at Plaza de Ayuntamiento in Alicante and at Plaza de Ayuntamiento in Valencia, the most famous one.

Of course, Christmas season would not be the same without the numerous typical delicacies. One of the most famous Spanish Christmas sweets is turrón, an almond-based nougat. The nougat comes in all sorts of varieties, from the classic Jijona and Alicante turrón, to toasted egg yolk or chocolate turrón. There are some shops that are specialized in turrón, like Casa Mira in Madrid. Here, all the products are still handmade, using the finest ingredients in the traditional way without preservatives or artificial colourings.

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turrón (source: Turismo de Jijona)

Other traditional sweets are marzipan, polvorones (soft and very crumbly Spanish shortbread with nuts), roscos de vino (a type of donut with wine, lemon zest and sesame), mantecados (a sweet pastry made with lard, mixed with ingredients like cinnamon, almonds, chocolate or lemon) and peladillas (sugar-coated almond dragees). A very traditional store, where you can find any type of sweets is Casa Gispert, which is one of the oldest food stores in Barcelona. Its speciality has always been the same: roasted nuts, and its wood fire oven is Europe’s oldest, still-functioning roaster.

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marzipan (source: Turismo de Jijona)

A part of the Spanish Christmas season is also New Year’s Eve. This night is celebrated with parties and fireworks together with the family or friends. The highlight of the night occurs at 23h59, when everyone follows the twelve strikes of the bells, officially transmitted by television from Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Every strike is accompanied by eating a “lucky grape”. According to traditions this will lead to a year of prosperity. If you spend this night in Spain, you should not miss this special tradition.

Finally, the Christmas season in Spain ends on 6 January with the Día de los Reyes Magos, the Three Kings’ Day. On 5 January, most Spanish cities organize colourful parades, mainly directed to children, to celebrate the arrival of the three kings. During the parade, sweets are thrown to the children. This night is a very exciting night for Spanish children as they leave their polished shoes together with food and milk for the kings and their camels. The next day their presents appear under their shoes and the food is gone. On this day it is also a tradition to eat the roscón de reyes, a toroid shaped cake, decorated with dried candied fruits and filled with cream or chocolate.

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