An Ode to Jamón Iberico
“Today was a fairytale” - Taylor Swift - Me
The town was still shuttered and sleeping when my friends and I climbed out of our bus and into the brisk morning air of Aracena. The pueblo is just an hour away from Seville by bus, and one of the best kept secrets in all of Spain. The traditional Andalusian village, complete with white washed houses, castle ruins, and eye widening natural landscapes, come right off the pages of a story book.
Most of my weekends during my semester abroad have been planned and scheduled weeks in advance (i.e. my best friend from NEU visiting next weekend, Halloween in Barcelona, and my birthday weekend in Interlaken Switzerland eek!) However, every once in awhile Friday rolls around and my weekend plans are still up for debate. In fact, this weekend, it wasn’t until Saturday at brunch that my friends and I nailed down our Sunday destination. For some of my friends it was the magical caves that influenced their final vote, for me it was the Iberico ham, but I’ll tell you about it all.
Castillo de Aracena
When I got dressed in the morning, I missed the memo that winter had come to Spain, and consequently found myself shivering in nothing but a t-shirt at the top of a castle turret. Everyone else had a parka on. 0/10 do not recommend.
That said, the views from the castillo were incredible, and if you’re dressed appropriately I’m sure the experience will be a 10/10 for you. Today, tourists can take advantage of the view the castle provides to watch sunsets and admire the surrounding green Andulasian landscape. In centuries past, the view had incredible strategic value. Located at the highest point in all of Aracena it would have provided a view of an incoming enemy army from a great distance away.
They really make you work for your lunch here because without a shuttle service the only way to access the castle is to climb up to it from the village at its base. As Miley Cyrus would say, It’s the Climb (the theme of this post is childhood pop anthems. Hope that’s okay).
Museo de Jamon and Restaurante Montecruz
I’m not embarrassed to admit my schedule revolves around food most of the time. Aracena is home to some of the best Iberico ham in all of Spain. In fact, the town has a whole museum dedicated to educating visitors on Iberico ham farming and production in the area.
Not to be mistaken for its Italian cousin prosciutto, Jamón Iberico is the king of kings when it comes to ham. Honestly, after trying it no other ham holds a candle. Iberian pigs live on large pastoral farms and eat a special diet heavy in acorns which contain the same fatty acid found in olive oil... I guess to taste like a king you’ve got to live like a king.
At 3’oclock, traditional Spanish lunch time, we headed to Restaurante Montecruz and got right to ordering. We had researched the restaurant's specialities, but asked our waiters personal opinion on what to try as well. I’ve found that I have the best meals when I go by my waiters recommendations and always suggest doing this.
We settled on croquettes, a platter of jamón iberico and manchego cheese, avocado shrimp salad (less traditional but a nice way to break up the heaviness of the rest of the meal), and my personal favorite; a skillet dish of fried eggs, roasted potato wedges, and more jamón iberico!! I finished all of this off with a postre of chocolate mousse and strawberry ice cream. You’re only abroad once right??
Grutas de las Maravillos
Last but definitely not least we descended into the Grutas de las Maravillos. The underground network of limestone caverns and lakes is nothing short of spectacular. The slow erosion of limestone over thousands of years has created thousands of “speleothems,” mineral formations that look like massive icicle drips. Our guide told us that several famous movies had been shot in the depths of the Grutas, including Journey to the Center of the Earth. My favorite cavern is whimsically named “La Cristalería de Dios,” Glassworks of God. Super cool site and worth the trip for sure.
If you want to experience Aracena like I did you can purchase a combination ticket on the town's tourism website that will grant you access to Castillo de Aracena, Museo de Jamon, and Grutas de las Maravillos for just 12.50 euros.The bus ticket was about 18 euros round trip. Overall, a very affordable trip and a fun weekend getaway off the beaten path.
Now to serve you with some abroad reality: When we finished our tour of the Grutas we had just enough time to hike back to the bus station we had arrived at 8 hours earlier. Feeling adventurous, and low on cell battery, we attempted to navigate back by memory instead of by Google Maps. Unfortunately for us our sleepy morning memories didn’t exactly prove fool proof on the return trip. We did make it to the bus, but I feel like all my weekends end with me running tired and sweaty towards a bus station that is a lot farther away than I remembered. Make sure you don’t end up like me and always give yourself plenty of buffer time for any bus, plane, train, or automobile travels. You’ll thank yourself later.