“See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me”
Have you seen Moana? The lady knows what’s up. Sometimes you need to splash around in the deep blue to feel refreshed, revived…gain a new perspective. This is also the first time I’ve opened a post with Disney lyrics. What took me so long?
Recently I felt off-kilter. I knew it could only be a lack of vitamin sea, I hadn’t touched sand since last October on Nikki Beach. So I decided to self-medicate STAT and booked a weekend in Nerja. I realise I’m very fortunate to live in a place as magical as Granada (which has been saturated in sun for months now and has recently survived a crazy heatwave) but I needed the coastline, a breeze, sand. I also wanted to try somewhere I had never been before, so Nerja it was.
So here’s my photo diary of a weekend well spent, reading, eating, drinking, exploring, siesta-ing, beaching, swimming, lounging and cave-ing. I also wanted to take a break from my Portugal posts to cover something a bit more reflective of my ‘current’ timeline. This trip was just over a month ago, which means my timelines are…ahem…improving. I still need to shape up (I’m currently editing this post overlooking the V&A in Cape Town, South Africa, best place ever) but an improvement is an improvement. I just stuck an imaginary gold star on my forehead.
Right, back to sunny Nerja. I booked a room at Hostal Doña Carmen, which I can’t believe identifies as a hostel; it’s more like a four-star hotel. When I was searching for somewhere to stay, most of the options left a lot to be desired. Perhaps it’s because I booked relatively last minute, or perhaps Nerja visitors gear toward apartments. Either way, I was more than grateful when I found this place, which only opened in April this year. In fact, if you look for Hostal Doña Carmen on Google Maps, you’ll see a construction site. It’s that new.
It’s modern, absolutely spotless, with spacious airy rooms that still carry a nice scent of fresh paint. The amenities all run perfectly – super fast WIFI, flat screen TV, excellent air conditioning, a rainwater shower, impressive coffee machine, safe, lots of wardrobe space and a minibar; where nothing costs more than €2.50. My favourite part was all the natural light* and the windows had wide sills where I could enjoy a coffee in the mornings, people watching and looking out on the coast. There’s a rooftop terrace with great views and a small pool to cool off in, which I had all to myself on Sunday morning which was one of the highlights of my trip. Doña Carmen doesn’t have a restaurant or bar or anything like that, but it’s not an issue as it’s right in the centre of Nerja near Balcón de Europa. There are more than enough places to grab breakfast.
Francisco who works at reception was extremely helpful and friendly. I always appreciate good customer service when I get it in Spain, it can be hit and miss and dare I say, not really a priority. Doña Carmen seems best suited to couples and solo travellers, I don’t believe there are any family rooms.
*My room was called ‘Constellations‘ which I will be requesting when I return. In my opinion, that side of the building seems to have the best views.
I did some research on some of the best places to dine in Nerja, and was pretty impressed with the offering. I knew even before I got there that picking just a couple of places would be difficult. It’s the same when I go to Elviria with my family each year; there are so many excellent places, we often have more options than days on our trip. I’ve got to hand it to places along the coast and the impact of tourism. They set a high bar in terms of quality, innovation, presentation. Inland towns in Andalucía tend to be more on the rustic side. I enjoy that too, but variety is nice. And the spice of life, as they say.
Restaurante Oliva kept popping up in my pursuit of Nerja’s finest, so I booked lunch there on my first day and sat in their pretty little courtyard.
I started with a glass of Juvé y Camps cava, one of my favourites. Then this aperitivo arrived, a parmesan cheese lollipop served with tomato and rosewater jam and bean sprouts.
Olive oil with black salt, herb butter with black olive tapenade. The butter was incredible, dangerously addictive. Top marks for the presentation, like a little sprouting plant. I also chose olive bread. You can never have enough olives.
The second aperitivo was unlike anything I have ever tried. The excitement! It was a smooth little bubble of olive oil, the texture could be likened to tapioca. You pop it in your mouth and it has a savoury taste, then it bursts and your whole mouth is flooded with citrus flavours thanks to the lemon thyme. The sensation was nothing short of amazing. You need to try it.
Another incredible dish. I ordered the prawns in kataifi pastry in foie gras sauce. The prawns were fresh, plump and crunchy, as was the kataifi pastry, which is such a clever idea. In parts, the pastry soaked up the sauce, but thanks to the fibres, other parts remained crunchy, so the textures were never boring. Each bite was like a firecracker going off. The foie gras sauce was creamy and rich and I wanted to cover my whole life with it. One of the best dishes I’ve had this year.
Kir Royale palate cleanser before my main course. Cava sorbet served with an edible flower from Málaga that tasted like mint. Light, fruity and refreshing.
Fillet steak, smoked cheese sauce with new potatoes, black garlic and chives. The presentation was beautiful, like a verdant little garden on a plate. The steak was cooked perfectly and didn’t taste seasoned or marinated. I felt like the chives on top were a metaphor, as they looked like freshly cut grass. I took it as the meat was so fresh it came right from the land. Totally natural, nothing added or altered. Just a simple good quality cut. I mopped up all the sauce (creamy but lighter than expected) with the tender baby potatoes dipped in dots of black garlic.
I had no room for dessert, but I always have room for coffee. Have you ever seen a coffee presented like this? So many memorable little details. The chocolate truffles served in the cocoa bean hull were a nice touch, and although I don’t take sugar in my coffee, I was presented with more than a few options to take my fancy.
Lunch finished with Oliva stamped mojito flavoured sweets and olive oil and vanilla gummy bears. Like a good story, the dishes at Oliva really progress, each one more clever than the last. A very talented and confident brigade.
Service was really professional and attentive. My only comment is that I was forgotten about once my coffee arrived so it took a little while to get the bill. But really, compared to the quality and innovative food, a minor quibble. Like Doña Carmen, I’ll be back here too.
After lunch, I went back to my room, worked a little and took a blissful post-lunch siesta. I later made my way to Balcón de Europa and the neighbouring streets, walking aimlessly really…just exploring the area and taking in my surroundings. I heard so many different accents; sometimes Spanish, often Irish, Dutch, German and English. It’s such a popular tourist area but it’s still very beautiful, I chose Nerja from researching the beaches and caves, it doesn’t have any sort of concrete jungle or highrise vibes spoiling its rhythm. I did find it amusing that anywhere I went I was addressed in English, which never happens in Granada, just an hour away.
I walked along Playa de Calahonda, the picturesque and pocket-sized beach nestled under Balcón de Europa then to Plaza Burriana, and back to Cochran’s Terrace where I enjoyed an espresso looking out on a watercolour sky smudged with perforated clouds. I had a bowl of piping hot mussels with enough garlic to scare both tourists and the locals and enjoyed a peaceful sleep after hours of salty sea air.
Saturday was overcast and humid. A day for visiting the caves. I ordered a fresh juice in a cafe on the corner of Balcon de Europa (apple, cucumber, carrot, lemon) and a coffee to go, and set about finding a taxi to take me to the caves just over an hour away. This proved difficult, the majority were full. I ended up walking most of the way, which ended up being far more interesting, even if parts are just the boring roadway, I did pass by some nice viewpoints and the Eagle Aqueduct.
When I arrived there was a queue to buy tickets, but it moves fast enough. You adhere to your timeslot to enter the caves (there’s a bar/restaurant if you want to get something while you wait) and the price was €12 per adult, €15 if you include the train. It takes you back down to the centre of Nerja after your visit. The caves were unbelievable and completely fascinating. And far more vast than anticipated. These photos don’t do it justice. When you enter, you are merely a tiny speck in comparison. The small handheld screens are really good quality (they are included in the admission fee) and guide you through the caves, vibrating to signal you to look at certain markings or formations, but I found it difficult to match up the markings highlighted on screen with those in the cave. It’s best to experience the caves in your own way or you’ll be trying to find a needle in a haystack. Visuals aside, the audio information is good. There’s an area inside the caves where ballet recitals and concerts have taken place (you’ll stop here twice) which I thought was an awesome idea. Imagine being a guest at that show?
After a trip down from the caves with the wind whipping through my hair (that dinky little cueva train was worth it) I stopped by Tapas Bar 34 as I read some good reviews. I went to the bar, the restaurant looks better but I was going for something casual. All tables were occupied with people outside having lunch in the newfound sunshine (those clouds seemed to slipped away while I was meandering those underground caverns) so I opted for a seat inside. The bar area is small, sort of retro and chic but definitely darker than expected and compared to images I saw. I arrived just in time for the Argentina-France match, so I nestled in a corner and ordered a glass of dry crisp cava rosado. The bubbles were dancing and swirling around in the glass far too fast for my phone’s camera lens, exactly how a cava should be! I then went back to Doña Carmen to cool off in the rooftop pool and prepared myself for phase two of my hedonistic Saturday.
Post primed and prepped, I had plans to check out a spot that piqued my curiosity on Avenida Mediterraneo, a ten-minute walk from Doña Carmen. So I took my time and ambled around the locality first to see if anything new caught my eye. Lots of places only come alive in the evening and others had their doors closed for siesta by the time I made it back down from the caves.
I had been down Calle de la Gloria previously but this time a large sign made the street that little bit narrower. ‘Buddha Lounge and Terrace Bar‘ it read. It had been so overcast that morning I figured I should grab as much fresh air and sunshine as I could lay my mitts on, so I scaled the stairs to the top. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a bright, open, colourful and airy little suntrap. They play decent music, there was plenty of seating and the menu is abundant and creative. I ordered a pornstar martini (regardless of the dubious name, they are delicious) and the mixologist did a great job. The little shot to accompany was also cava, not prosecco and that too makes a big difference. Prosecco is too sweet. I sat there happily and ended up having two, while I read The Liar’s Club, the memoirs of Marry Karr growing up in East Texas. It’s a raw, often gritty and a brutally honest account of a dysfunctional family. A beach read? I suppose not. Compelling? Absolutely.
P.S. these guys do a Toblerone martini, if you love a good shock to the sweet tooth. Bailey’s, Kahlúa, Frangelico and cream.
The place I went to check out on Avenida Mediterraneo was Café Blue, a brunch and tacos place. Two of life’s greatest things. I read online that both are pretty impressive in their own right, and later discovered it’s owned and run by an Irish family so naturally, I wanted to show my support.
The reviews were true. The tacos were beyond good. Melt in the mouth soft shell tacos with fresh, colourful and punchy ingredients. I ordered the first three on the menu – halloumi with lime hummus, tomato salsa and cabbage; fresh cod with yoghurt dressing, lettuce, avocado and chilli beef, salsa verde, tomato and chilli salsa. Tacos always need plenty of lime, and there was no shortage here. Each one was as good as the next with a prickle of something lightly spiced. This is why I love Mexican food. The flavours are unrelenting. Pair them with a tart, salty and sweet margarita (which is what I did, Café Blue margaritas are also a gamechanger) and you have the perfect symphony.
Prices are excellent, each taco is just €2.50*. Service is friendly and unobtrusive. The place is small but already has character and all the fresh produce on display is a nice touch; you know you’re getting quality.
I would have returned for brunch the very next morning if I knew I could leave my belongings at the hotel, that menu looks excellent too. I’ll be back on my next visit and have since recommended Blue to friends who recently travelled through Nerja.
*Café Blue run various offers on tacos and cocktails; with a staple offer of a beer and two tacos for just €6. Their Facebook page is updated regularly and has all the info you need.
Once you have tacos, you never go back…o? I left Avenida Mediterraneo not quite finished with my Tex-Mex endeavours. I decided those Café Blue tacos would be a starter, and I’d also stop by Cielito Lindo, another Mexican spot to keep with the theme. I love all kinds of food, but Mexican is definitely up there as a favourite.
Cielito Lindo is inviting. The décor is fun, themed, family-friendly, you know the type…American style, go hard or go home. I perused the menu but everything sounded huge. A good complaint if you haven’t already scarfed three tacos, and the prices are very reasonable.
My waiter, who looked scarily like Tom Hardy (he tells me he gets this all the time) told me the nachos are probably the smallest portion, so I went for those. You can’t go wrong with a plate of nachos.
You guys…Tom Hardy LIED to me! The portion was giant. These nachos were good though, if not a little wacky. They had their own twist. These nachos had fresh tomato, guacamole, sweetcorn, jalapeños, cheese, cilantro and….chorizo and morcilla. I ate half before I had to throw in the towel. Not as authentic as Café Blue but they do their thing and do it well, the service was great and everyone was in a good mood. The margaritas are good, watch out for the tequila boom boom and try the Mexican coffee, a post-meal treat with tequila and cinnamon.
On Sunday I did very little. I woke up and went to a cafe on the corner for an espresso (I wasn’t hungry for breakfast after the previous night’s Mexican feast) and checked out around 11am. I asked Francisco if I could hang out on the terrace until it was time to catch my bus and he didn’t mind at all, offering to store my luggage in the meantime. I took him up on the gesture and spent the morning on the rooftop (as I mentioned earlier, I was lucky – no one else was around, yassss, all MINE) ready to head home after a relaxing weekend.
It’s nice to know Nerja is pretty much on Granada’s doorstep, or at least in the garden, since it’s only an hour away.
Don’t be a jerka, go to Nerja! And if you’re no stranger to the town and have tried any of the above spots or know somewhere that’s even better hit me up. One can never have too many recommendations.
Happy Friday, happy weekend!
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