There are so many reasons why I personally love Spain that, I could basically write a book listing each of them. From the extensive gastronomy, the vast history, to the fact that some of my closest and dearest friends live there, the Spaniard soil is without a question one of my favorites.
This time around, my boyfriend and I wore brought back to “la madre patria” for a very joyous reason, to witness and celebrate the marriage of one of my childhood friends. Though the couple lives in Madrid, they chose Toledo to host the celebration and with 9 days to spare, we were quite apprehensive to stay in the capital given the merciless heat. To that effect, we decided to split our trips in several sections, spending 2 to 3 days in different part of the country, including the beach.
Having been in Madrid before, we didn’t feel the need to visit tourist attractions, but rather chose to keep a slow pace, while shopping for the fall and regrouping with friends for dinner and drinks. And since we are in the topic of shopping, though bit cliché La Gran Via (Grand Way) is home to some of the best shopping in Madrid, hosting most of the most popular Spaniard brands/stores in one long strip. It didn’t hurt that we stayed in the Hotel Villa Real, right in the center of town and literally a 9 minute walk to the Gran Via.
We normally opt for AirBnB for our lodging, but given the short nature of our stay in Madrid, we chose this intimate, yet very convenient hotel. Rated 4.5 stars, The Villareal provided us with everything we were looking for, cleanliness, comfort and a central location closed to most things we needed, including the Madrid Atocha Railway Station. The staff of the hotel was very friendly and took it upon themselves to have a room ready for our ungodly early check-in of 7:30am. This was not even a request we made.
On our second day in Spain, we departed to Toledo, city where my childhood friend’s wedding was scheduled to take place. Being a 4 minutes cab ride away from the train station (10 minute walk), we took el Renfe, which is one of the local train lines (think Metro North in NYC). The complete one-way ride took about 25 minutes and I believe the ticket costed about €13 each way.
We stayed in Toledo a total of 3 days, but to be honest, if you’re only visiting, this could be just a day trip and a quick little escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Toledo is very small and all main attractions could be seen within a few hours. Nonetheless, this town is nothing short of spectacular.
An ancient town, once capital of Spain prior to its relocation to Madrid, Toledo is known as the "Imperial City" for having been the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as the "City of the Three Cultures", having been influenced by a historical co-existence of Christians, Muslims and Jews. The town also takes credit for allegedly inspiring the famous character of Don Quixote, believed to be based on Alonso de Quesada y Salazar, a resident of Toledo and the uncle of Miguel Cervante’s wife.
Being obsessed with all things Game of Thrones, I have to say that I lost mind over the picturesque nature of this medieval city, which will make you feel like you’re walking through the streets of King’s Landing. The entire time I felt like I was Daenerys Targaryen who came to reclaim her throne. (Yes, I am a dork).
Back to reality – another important historical figure in Toledo is the famous Greek artist, El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), who lived and died in this city. Today, Toledo is home to the El Greco Museum, which hosts most of the painter’s work. We stumbled upon this museum by walking around (as you will with most things) but opted to not go inside.
Food – please keep in mind that in August dining options will be limited as most restaurants are closed or operate in modified scheduled due to the vacation season. However, on our first day we ate at Terraza Restaurante Bu, which not only offered a terrific menu, but its terrace provided a spectacular overview of the city. Speaking of spectacular views, if you have a chance, I would highly recommend catching the sunset over the rooftop of the Carlos V Hotel. Keep in mind that only drinks are served in this last venue.
Lodging – keeping up with our usual ways of travel, we opted to stay at an apartment we found via AirBnB. Right in the center of the old town, this is by far the best AirBnB listing we’re ever stayed in! Clean, very comfortable and conveniently located, this 2 bed 2 bath apartment offered the perfect combination of rustic charm and modern comfort. Jorge, our host was ridiculously helpful and even offered us his own Toledo guide, which came very handy when we decided to explore around.
The wedding was simply magical! Witnessing one of your oldest and dearest friends say “I do” to the man of her dreams, is simply an honor that I would’ve crossed seven seas to witness if needed be. A night full of laughter, coming of age memories and lot of great food and wine, Paola’s wedding was one of the books!
My dress is from Asos, and though I was not exactly looking for a Spaniard flair per say, this summery number made me look like a modern flamenco dancer. The hairdo was purely coincidental as I just needed something that I could do by myself that didn’t entail a blowout.
The day after the wedding, we headed to Ibiza. Though there are various ferries that will take you to the island from the coast of Spain, we decided to fly-in from Madrid instead, which was a short 45 minutes flight.
Though I must confess my expectation of this pricey island were very low, to my surprise, this party town ended being a lot better than what I expected. It is almost like a nicer (slightly less ratchet) version of South Beach.
We decided to stay in the northern portion of the island, Sant Antoni de Portmany, which is one of the two main areas of Ibiza. We did this purposely as we didn’t want to stay in the middle of the madness in the main downtown area. On that note, I was surprised to see the various families on vacation with small children, as well as older folks. My expectation of this place was sinful mayhem, but it honestly seems to have a little bit of everything for every one. Though in full disclosure, I don’t think I would bring my small children there. It is still Ibiza and therefore there are quite some “visuals” everywhere.
I wish I had better restaurant recommendations for this place, but to be honest, I got severely sick on something I ate the second day on the island. This sadly limited my food options. However, something we learned very quickly is that, this place is very big (it’s not a small, intimate, walkable island as we had imagined) and renting a car or a moped would come very handy, especially when looking for places to eat and visiting the various beaches, which are quite spread out.
On our third and final day in Ibiza, though my food poisoning was seriously kicking-in, we decided to take a day trip to Formentera. This is small island part of the Belearic Islands, but an hour south of the main one – Ibiza – via ferry, which is the only way of getting there.
About Formentera – Oh My God, is this Europe’s best kept secret or what?! I am just going to start by saying that upon arriving to this place, my boyfriend and I became extremely mad for not knowing about it in advance and staying there all along.
Quiet and peaceful, the sister island of Ibiza is home to what are considered some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. These beaches are honestly some of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen! And trust me, I am an island girl, so I am very snobbish when it comes to my beaches. Crystal blue waters and creamy white sand, these Mediterranean beaches sure give the Caribbean a run for its money any day, any time.
However, be aware that there isn’t much to do there other than the beach and a few semi-empty bars. Also, given that absolutely everything needs to be brought in by boat, the food and accommodations on this island can be quite expensive. All well worth it in my opinion.
Filled with memories I will never forget, in a few words, this was probably one of my favorite vacations in a very long time. It is quite unbelievable that such a small country has so much to offer. Spain never disappoints.