Magical Mijas

Mijas is renowned as one of the most beautiful pueblos blancos (white towns) in the Andalusian province. Situated between Marbella and Málaga and high up above Fuengirola, Mijas is a beautiful picturesque typical Spanish village. When you wander through the narrow streets of Mijas you can understand what attracts people here. Despite its huge popularity with tourists, Mijas Pueblo has somehow managed to retain much of its traditional Andalusian way of life, along with all of its charm.

What a view!

What a view!

From the moment you arrive at the main plaza, Plaza de la Virgen de la Peña, across from the tourism office, you will immediately notice the donkey taxi station. Also available are donkey pulled carts and horse carriages. Needless to say, our daughter wanted to ride one of the donkeys. But you see, it’s not truly a ride, but rather a tour through some of the town’s streets, except you’re taking the tour on a donkey ride. And the worst part was, that my husband and I had no interest in riding these donkeys, so we had to put our trust in two American, sweet ladies that were going along with our daughter. Now for those of you that know me, being the most overprotective mother on Earth, this was a tough pill for me to swallow….but, hubby decided that it would be alright. And it was, our daughter had a delightful tour of Mijas riding a donkey, being guided by a total stranger, who assured me this was safe (I’ve noticed that I allow myself and my family to experience things on vacation that I would never try here at home in a million years!)

Donkey Taxi Ride

Donkey Taxi Ride

One of my favorite sites in Mijas was the Santuario de la Virgen de la Peña, (sanctuary of the Virgin of the Rock) built in 1586, a cross between a cave and a chapel carved out of the mountainside, dedicated to the patron saint of Mijas. Legend has it that the image was buried there for five centuries and unearthed by a builder whose children, who were shepherds, were brought to the spot by a dove. Nearby the chapel, lies the Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace, offering phenomenal panoramic views across the Costa that form the backdrop to the shrine.

Santuario dela Virgen de la Peña

Santuario de la Virgen de la Peña

Inside of the shrine

Inside of the shrine

Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace

Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace.

La Plaza de la Constitución, situated in the heart of the village, is lined with artisanal shops, full of ceramics and souvenirs, as well as some cafes and bars. One of the shops we visited was Mayan Monkey Mijas (Plaza de la Constitución 421, but they recently opened another location at 15 Plaza Virgén de la Peña), the smallest chocolate factory in the world. This shop sells handmade chocolate and delicious ice cream produced in their very own factory in Mijas. We sampled a few pieces and they were mouth-watering. If you have time, they also give tours of the factory and allow you to create your own chocolate flavors. A great activity for both kids and adults. Definitely a place to checkout if you’re in the area.

La Plaza de la Constitución

La Plaza de la Constitución

Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory on Plaza de la Constitución

Another great spot in town is Plaza de la Libertad, where you can find San Sebastián Church, a beautiful 17th century church, located on the street of the same name, Calle San Sebastián. This street has become one of the most photographed streets on the Costa del Sol, as visitors find both the church and the typical street so pretty.

San Sebastian Church on Plaza de la Libertad

San Sebastián Church on Plaza de la Libertad

Inside of San Sebastián Church

Mijas offers many shops selling beautiful and authentic Spanish souvenirs, but my favorite shop was Lo Artesano de Mijas (Plaza Libertad, 3). This tiny store had the most beautiful ceramic pottery and plates, and of course I had to add a few pieces to my collection back home.

Lo Artesano de Mijas on Plaza de la Libertad

Here are a few more photos of magical Mijas for your enjoyment.

 

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Another quaint plaza

 

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Carromato de Max, the miniatures museum , we didn’t stop in but this made for a great photo!

 

Typical Spanish souvenirs.

Typical Spanish souvenirs.

 

Calle San Sebastián

 

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Enjoying the donkey tour.

 

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Typical shop selling souvenirs.

 

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Ayuntamiento de Mijas (Town Hall)

 

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Another typical storefront.

Have you visited Mijas, and if you have, what was your favorite spot in this tiny, magical white washed town?

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Beautiful Barcelona

While many first timers to Spain usually visit Madrid, its Catalonian counterpart, Barcelona, is just as magnificent. It is incredibly cosmopolitan, packed with interesting sights. There are churches around every corner, beautiful architecture on every street and Gaudí buildings hiding everywhere. It reminds me of a pristine, less compact, New York City.

Here are my Top 10 Must See Sights:

  1. Plaça de Catalunyagenerally considered to be both the city center and the place where the old city and the 19th century-builtEixample meet.  Some of the city’s most important streets and avenues meet atPlaçaCatalunya;Passeig deGràcia,Rambla deCatalunya, LaRambla and Portal del’Àngel. The large plaza is especially known for its fountains and statues, its proximity to some of Barcelona’s most popular attractions, and for the flocks of pigeons that gather in the center.

    Plaça de Catalunya

    Plaça de Catalunya

  2. La Rambla is a street in central Barcelona, popular with tourists and locals alike. Walking on theRambla is perhaps the epitome of the Barcelona experience (but beware of pickpockets!). A tree-lined pedestrian mall, it stretches for 1.2 kilometers, connectingPlaça deCatalunya in the center with the Christopher Columbus Monument at PortVell. LaRambla can be crowded, especially during the height of the tourist season. The Spanish poet FedericoGarcía Lorca once said that LaRambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end”.
    McDonalds & KFC on LA Rambla

    Gorgeous buildings housing McDonald’s & KFC on La Rambla

    Vendor on La Rambla

    Vendor on La Rambla

  3. Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, (often simply referred to as LaBouqueria), on LasRamblas, a typical market unlike anything you’ve probably seen before. There are hundreds of stalls here, selling fish, meat, cheese, fruits, vegetables, candies, snails, and more, something for everyone!
    La Boqueria Entrance

    La Boqueria Entrance

    Some of the many stalls at La Boqueria

    Some of the many stalls at La Boqueria

  4. La Sagrada Familiaone of the most famous landmarks in Barcelona, the towering, still-unfinished cathedral that stands as one of the most ambitious architectural projects ever attempted, is considered one ofGaudí’s most famous works. Born in themid-1800s,Gaudí’s work culminated in the development of this basilica but it was less than a quarter completed when he died in 1926, and it is still unfinished. The work is just now over half done, with funding coming from private sources, and is expected to be finished by 2026, the centennial ofGaudi’s death at 73.  I have visited many churches, cathedrals and basilicas in Europe, but I have never seen anything quite like this, simply breathtaking!
    La Sagrada Familia

    La Sagrada Familia

    Stained Glass interior of La Sagrada Familia

    Stained Glass interior of La Sagrada Familia

    Interior of La Sagrada Familia

    Interior of La Sagrada Familia

  5. Parc Güellanother of Gaudí’s beautiful works, and my personal favorite. The park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tiling and fascinating buildings. At the top ofParcGüell is a terraced area where you get a wonderful view of the park and of Barcelona. Finding a seat in the multi-colored tiled mosaic benches can sometimes be tricky, as everyone is sitting down taking in the views, and non-stop picture-taking going on.  The vibrant colors of the tiles are truly amazing.
    Famous tiled benches in Parc Güell

    Famous tiled benches in Parc Güell

    Entrance to Parc Güell

    Entrance to Parc Güell

  6. Casa Batllómy favoriteGaudí house. This building wasn’t designed byGaudí, but in the restoration he was commissioned to perform,Gaudí made it his own. The locals call it Casa delOssos, or House of Bones. Without any straight lines, CasaBattló is unique and beautiful at the same time. It’s considered by many to be one ofGaudí’s most important works.  Make sure you visit the inside as well, it’s truly amazing!
    Casa Batlló

    Casa Batlló

    Interior wall of Casa Batlló

    Interior wall of Casa Batlló

    Rooftop terrace of Casa Batlló

  7. La Pedrera (aka Casa Milà) This is one ofGaudí’s main residential buildings and one of the most imaginative houses in the history of architecture. Known also as CasaMilà, LaPedrera translates to “The Quarry”, a name it was given due to the extensive use of stone in its construction. What sets this building apart from other Gaudí works is the curtained facade. This building is more a sculpture than a building.
    La Pedrada

    La Pedreda

    Views of city from the rooftop of La Pedrada

    Views of city from the rooftop of La Pedreda

  8. Passeig de Gràcia, is my favorite main avenue in this city, located in theEixample district.  If you’re looking for authentic souvenir shops, you won’t find any here. This picturesque, wide “promenade” houses some of the top designer boutiques,  LouisVuitton, Zara, Loewe, Chanel, Mont Blanc, Yves Saint Laurent,Escada andHermès. The avenue is stunning and its beauty is enhanced by its trees and Art Nouveau street lamps, alongside decorated mosaic benches and pedestrian strips laid with hexagonal paving stones. During the 19th Century, this elegant boulevard was a showcase for Barcelona’s bourgeoisie and it also links thePlaçaCatalunya with the district ofGràcia. The presence of the city’s finest modernist buildings makesPasseig deGràcia an authentic open-air museum. It is also home to Gaudí’s LaPedrera and CasaBattló.
    Passeig de Gracia The 5th Avenue of Barcelona

    Passeig de Gràcia
    The 5th Avenue of Barcelona

    Passeig de Gracia at night

    Passeig de Gràcia at night

  9. Tibidabo The journey to Tibidabo amusement park starts with a short train ride from the center of Barcelona from there you will take the Tramvia Blau which takes you half way up the mountain. If you wish to go all the way to the top of Tibidabo, where the amusement park is situated, (and I highly recommend this if you’re traveling with kids), you will also need to catch a funicular train from the half way point. Once at the top of the mountain you will have the most magnificent views of Barcelona, a small amusement park for the kids, and the opportunity to visit a beautiful church, Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor.  Both kids and adults will enjoy the charming little theme park,built in 1889 and a lot of the rides date back to this time, giving the park a whimsical feel.
    Tramvia Blau

    Tramvia Blau

    One of the rides at the amusement park

    One of the rides at the amusement park

    Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

    Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

    Incredible views of Barcelona form Mount Tibidabo

    Incredible views of Barcelona form Mount Tibidabo

  10. Tapa Bar Hopping While this is not technically a favorite “sight”, it was definitely a favorite experience for all of us.  Pretty much you can find great food anywhere in Barcelona, however, our favorites were the tapas!  There are thousands of tapas bars all throughout the city, and it’s probably a good idea to try as many different ones as you come across.  Many locals like to go “tapa bar hopping”, where they can enjoy one or two tapas with a drink, and then move on to another tapas bar. This can go on for a few hours, depending how large your group is. One of our very favorite restaurants was Cervecería Catalana (Calle Mallorca, 236) which does not take reservations, and always has a line halfway around the block. You have to plan your visit there at an off time, but it’s worth it, the food is delicious!
    Yummy tapas!

    Yummy tapas!

    More yummy tapas

    More yummy tapas

    Typical Tapas Bar

    Typical Tapas Bar

In a nutshell, another one of my favorite large cities in Europe, I’m already looking forward to my next visit!  Have you been to Barcelona?  If you haven’t, make sure it’s on your travel bucket list, as I’m sure you will be delighted by this fascinating place!

Marvelous Marbella

Costa del Sol…just the name makes you want to hop on a plane and go there! I’ve had the opportunity to visit Spain several times, even lived in Madrid for a short while when I was very young. However, I had never truly ventured into the Costa del Sol. My husband and I have visited Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Nerja, but we had never stayed at any of the beach towns in Andalucía before.  This past summer we finally decided to visit Marbella, and we were not disappointed!

Old Town

Old Town

Marbella is typically associated with millionaire beach mansions, crowded beaches and celebrity sightings. My Marbella experience was quite different…a maze of typically Andalusian streets with palatial facades, intricate wrought-iron balconies and a series of shrines and chapels, especially the old town (Casco Antiguo). Marbella’s old white washed streets and cobbled squares are among the most beautiful on Spain’s Costa del Sol. You can spend hours just wandering through the little pedestrian streets, full of boutique shops, cafes, and gorgeous buildings with balconies full of beautiful, colorful potted plants. It’s definitely an area suited for long strolls, and as always, do not forget your camera!

We stayed at the Marriott Marbella Beach Resort, and I highly recommend this hotel, especially if you’re traveling with kids. The rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable, we actually had a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment, with a large balcony.  The outdoor area is beautiful, with several restaurants, and a very large pool with slides.  Our daughter made several friends during our stay, and we all enjoyed all of the amenities throughout the property. The resort is about a 15 minute drive into the old town, but we had a rental car and there are various parking garages in town.  The resort also provides a shuttle into the old town various times a day.

Marriott Marbella Beach Resort

Marriott Marbella Beach Resort

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Buttered pasta for Carolina, pan-fried codfish with potatoes, calamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and white wine for hubby and risotto with stracchino for me!

At the heart of the old town is Plaza de los Naranjos, very picturesque, and full of shops and restaurants.  We got caught up in the liveliness of the plaza and decided to have dinner there one night.  Big mistake…as with most main squares in these towns, the food was not great, and the service even worse.  Marbella does have a great selection of diverse amazing restaurants, but make sure you do your research, and stay away from all the tourist traps. The cosmopolitan nature of Marbella means you will encounter people from all parts of the world. Dinner at Stuzzikini, a little Italian restaurant, was amazing with great food and very friendly owners. They actually came by our table and chatted with us, telling us all about their family business! We also had another great meal at Tempora Restaurante, right around the corner.

Stuzzikini Cocina Italiana

Stuzzikini Cocina Italiana

In Marbella, as with most European cities we have visited, residents praise the quality of life.  One afternoon, I was shopping in a little jewelry store with my daughter, just as the famous “siesta” was about to start.  The store owner was practically rushing me, because he had to close up for his 4 hour rest, and then proceeded to tell me that Europeans were not like Americans in that they work to live, not live to work (not the first time I  have been told this in Europe). I realized at that moment, that these are some of the reasons why we travel abroad.  We like to experience the differences in cultures, and in Spain, that includes getting your shopping done in the morning, as they will close the town down between the hours of 1-5PM! So, we happily headed back to our hotel and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon by the gorgeous pool area. Later that evening we returned to town for some more strolling and dinner.

While staying in Marbella, it is also very easy to take day trips to the other nearby towns of Torremolinos, Mijas, Fuengirola, Benalmádena, Puerto Banús, and of course, Málaga, which has the nearest international airport.

Here are some more pictures of our Marbella trip.  Have you been to Marbella?  I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

Tiled bench at Parque de la Alameda

Tiled bench at Parque de la Alameda

Typical street in the old town

Typical street in the old town

Typical square in the center of old town, with the beautiful Iglesia de la Encarnación in the background

Square in the center of the old town, with the beautiful Iglesia de la Encarnación in the background

Typical souvenir shops selling Sevillana dolls and cermaics

Souvenir shops selling Sevillana dolls and ceramics

Ermita del Santo Cristo de la Vera Cruz

Ermita del Santo Cristo de la Vera Cruz

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Sevillana dresses hanging from the balconies on Plaza de los Naranjos

Beautiful potted flowers

More beautiful balconies

Dinner at Plaza de los Naranjos

Dinner at Plaza de los Naranjos

A street named after me...

A street named after me…