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HEALTHY Travels: Madrid, Spain

by on August 24, 2016

“When I was 18, I had the opportunity of becoming one of the 60 million people who travel annually to the wonderful country of Spain. On my very first bus ride, I immediately fell in love with the rolling hills and classic vineyards in the countryside.  However, it was the architecture and the food that keeps me hoping that I’ll get another chance to visit.”—Rori Gruenberg  

Since Spain has been influenced by Christian and Moorish cultures, among others, it has some of the most unique architecture in the world. For example, the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba has been the religious home of Christians and Muslims at different times for the past 1,400 years. It boasts a traditional Catholic chapel alongside its iconic Moorish striped archways. Likewise, at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, visitors can see Moorish minarets and walk through lush gardens. Even the streets seem historic; many modern apartment buildings are designed to reflect the country’s rich cultural heritage.

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The red and white Moorish arches in the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.

For visitors staying in the cities, there are plenty of options for public transportation, but there are all kinds of shops, cafés, and popular sites within walking distance. Visitors can walk from their hotels or rented apartments down to the corner restaurant, enjoy some of Spain’s world-renowned red wine and beef, and walk off the calories as they return for the night. What an idyllic way to spend an evening!

In the culinary sense, Spain gave me something I never expected; it was – and this is no exaggeration – the best meal I have ever eaten. I was a guest in Seville, staying in the home of a 70-year-old lady named Clemencia, who was even saucier than her cooking. She took me with her to the local market, where she picked out a roast cut of meat, potatoes, and green beans. Spaniards are notoriously hospitable, and Clemencia was no exception, so she refused to let me help her cook and banished me from her kitchen. When she was done, she had turned the locally grown potatoes into mouthwatering homemade fries, and the meat fell off the bone. I ate so much of that lunch that afterward I took a nine-hour nap (though the jetlag may have been kicking in). Sometimes I still daydream about those Spanish potatoes – I had no idea starches could be so light. 

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The Seville Cathedral or in Spanish, la “Catedral de Sevilla”

For visitors who would similarly like to create their own meal, there are many local farmers’ markets where you can purchase locally grown food.  Some well-known markets include La Boqueria in Barcelona, the Mercado de San Antón in Madrid, or the Mercado Central in Valencia. You can choose from a wide selection of delicious, fresh ingredients to create your own authentic Spanish meal. 

Since Spain has such a long coastline, many of their seafood dishes are remarkably fresh, having been caught just that morning. In a restaurant in Madrid, I was served paella, one of the nation’s most iconic foods. The dish was complete with rice, vegetables, countless spices, and shrimp and mussels that had been driven in to Madrid that very morning from the east coast. While I have never tried paella anywhere else, the freshness of the ingredients was evident in the incredible taste.  Paella is traditionally awash in spices that can have great health benefits, such as paprika and saffron. Paprika contains vitamin A, which is great for eyesight. Saffron contains vitamin C, magnesium, and iron (and is considered an aphrodisiac).

Spain has so many attractive qualities that draw tourists in the tens of millions every year. With such amazing, healthy foods and beautiful scenery and architecture, visitors are guaranteed a gastronomical and aesthetic treat.

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The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca

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Just one of the many beautiful fountains found in the streets of Madrid

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Alhambra Palace Garden in Granada

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