7 wonderful reasons to be obsessed with Spain
You know the proverbial days turned into years saying that well-aged people tend to invoke whenever the bittersweet taste of regret must be justified – both to them and whoever cares to listen? Well, that was my story for the past 15 years as I put off a big dream in a not-so-big way – until a few weeks ago. As I listened to Aluna George sing Kaleidoscope Love on my way to my hotel, I abolished regret and let a newfound feeling of accomplishment flood my heart.
I finally made it to Spain.
This isn't your normal press trip roundup, nor should it be, because you must know that when I was invited to visit Spain with Iberostar, I burst into tears. I fanned my face and threw my head over my knees in a come-to-jesus moment. My boyfriend – swift to bring me back to earth – hushed: "Can you stop? You're embarrassing me."
Spain has meant so many secret things to me; things that over the years have amalgamated to a Garden of Eden-type narrative. I think, in part, I put off going because I was so scared that it might fall short of how I had built it up in my mind all these years. If I was going to visit my version of mecca, it had to be perfect.
Honestly, there is no more perfect way to visit Spain than to have been invited to visit as Jetset Justine – a brand that I have spent the past 9 years crafting. It was like my dream come true came from my dream come true – if that makes sense. Starting a blog was the riskiest thing I've ever done, and the most rewarding. I mean, after all, it got me to Spain. And here are 7 reasons I'm now even more obsessed with Spain than I was before:
#1 Spain Stays Out Late
Landing in Madrid at 5am, I came like a ghost in the night. The city was still very much alive as we drove into the Chueca neighbourhood to Iberostar Las Letras Gran Via; groups of girls sitting on benches gossiping about the night's events; a lone man eating a slice of pizza at an intersection; merriment. Spain stays out late. I was in love already.
My room was everything you'd want from a European hotel. A former palace, and later printing press, the hotel is housed in a historical building. A view down to the busy street that welcomes you. Sexy red walls with poetry etched in them. The best bottled water I've ever drank in my life. A desk to find inspiration; it's one of the only hotel desks I've ever used. I don't know what about it made me like it so much but it was just such a great workspace – I got lots done my first day there with the windows open, the sounds of the city filling my room.
#2 Art Art Art
I loved Madrid. I loved it more than I thought I would. The city is so clean and full of history. Highly recommend going to El Museo del Prado to feast your eyes on Spanish masters like Velasquez and my personal fave, El Greco, who is quite possibly the only painter I've ever seen represent the texture of velvet so brilliantly. His use of colour has inspired a whole new direction for my outfits and photography. Look out for the cherry blossom velvet of the Spanish Renaissance coming to an Instagram near you.
#3 Wine Wine Wine (and food, food, food)
Every meal was amazing. I mean, I love Italian food like nobody's business but Spanish food tickled my senses in a new way. Iberico ham – I'm sorry – slays any prosciutto that has ever come into contact with my taste buds. I love that the Spanish eat lots of pickled fish and vegetables. And the wine? Omg the wine! Even the cheapest offerings (4 euros/glass) at a Japanese-fusion restaurant had me smacking my lips in delight.
Tapas at Attico, the rooftop bar at Las Letras, is where I watched my first Spanish sunset as I sipped a crisp glass of Cava. Shamelessly, I worked on my authentic pronunciation of "gracias" the way they say it in Spain, every time a waiter topped off my glass. NB: Just pretend you have a lisp and you're golden. Grathias. I quickly discovered that my Mexican all-inclusive knowledge of Spanish wasn't going to cut it for Spain. But on my flight home from Madrid, even Kat Von D, seating across from me, spoke a mean Catalan (true story).
Of course I ended my first night dancing the night away and bar hopping with one of the journalists on the trip and his two friends who live in Madrid, a photographer and art curator. We had so many intense conversations, which turned into so many glasses of wine and lots of dancing. It was as cliché as a first night in Europe gets - and I was thankful that the ritual still exists – if you can fight your jet-lag.
#4 Rich History
The literary district was one of my favourites. Madrid is such a clean city. Art, cathedrals, theatres, palaces, old and new quarters, gothic doors, 17th century convents – a walk through the streets is like taking a walk through history. From Arab conquests naming the city Mayrit, meaning water, to a huge billboard that wraps around an entire building in the city centre of Gigi Hadid's new collection for Tommy Hilfiger. In between, there are moments of ordinary life and cute outdoor tapas bars with menus written in coloured chalk.
If you choose to dine at a restaurant that embodies the idea of living history, might I suggest La Bodega de los Secretos. Walking up to the location, it looks like someone's apartment. Downstairs, an old fermentation cavern houses a modern eatery. The caverns date back to the Middle Ages, built by Masons, Yes, the Illuminati do exist. Apart from delicious offerings (the tuna belly just melts in your mouth) the space is brimming with secrets from the past. I won't spoil all of them but I have one word: ancient underground tunnels.
Our guide, Pedro, from the Department of Tourism Promotion, was so passionate and knowledgeable – I mean, he was able to get me feeling super jazzed about walking 9 miles around the city whilst nursing a hangover from my first-night-in-Spain barhopping adventure. I could've stayed at the Prado museum with him until it closed just listening to all his theories about Spanish painters. (He's an art historian, too).
Then it was up at 5am to catch a flight to Ibiza.
If you met me in high school you would know I liked two things: fashion and chill out music. Ibiza became an interest of mine as a teenager. The island seemed like a magical place. I would listen to live DJ sets and buy all the Cafe del Mar compilations, and other more obscure ones, whenever I could. Every time I would travel to Europe, I would feel Ibiza's call. The beauty of the island, the magic of music, the free-spirit ethos. It was always a call that someday, I knew I had to answer.
Ibiza, part of the Balearic Island chain, has 5 major cities and its capital, Ibiza Town, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The walled city in the old part of Ibiza Town was probably my favourite thing to visit on the entire island. From the top of the city, there is a platform the overlooks an 180-degree view of the southern tip of the island. You can watch the sun set over the mountains on the west and get a view of the port of Ibiza to the east. I mean, a picture is worth 1000 words.
Sure, Ibiza is known as a party island, and we had to experience just a taste of that side. Every summer, the main nightclubs become the headquarters of EDM music, forging the careers of the world's top deejays. If you can make it in Ibiza, you can make it anywhere. We dipped into Pacha on our last night for about half an hour – you know, just to say we went. The clubs typically open around midnight and don't get busy until 2am. They shut down around 6am. Considering we all had 10am flights the next morning, we used our better judgement and called it an early night after one drink.
#6 Sunsets and Sangria
We spent the rest of our time touring the island by Land Rover. We climbed the highest peak, we went off-roading to find the island's best secret lookout points, and later took a dip at Cala Conta. The most delicious pallela I've ever had was at Las Puertas del Cielo with fresh Sangria and a gorgeous lookout point. If you can get someone to take you to see Es Vedrá, an uninhabited magnetic island that is rumoured to be the tip of the sunken Atlantis, it is something that will take your breath away. You can watch the sunset right behind the island and dangle your feet over the edge. The water below is crystal clear and green. It is also said that it is the island of the sirens in Homer's The Odyssey.
Our hotel, Iberostar Santa Eulalia, is a great option for those looking for quiet quality. The beach club, SeaSoul, jets out into the water and you can have delicious Cava sangria as you chill out on large beds under palapa umbrellas. There's a restaurant as well, which is typical of European beach clubs, so you don't have to go far to have lunch (or have to change out of your bathing suit). Get the fried calamari, the ceviche, the burger and quinoa salad. All superb! I love the luxe touches of glass bottled water served at your beach chair with ice and lemon slices. It makes baking out in the hot sun, quite tolerable.
#7 It's Just as Magical as You'd Imagine it to be.
Is there a place in the world that you are obsessed with an would love to visit? If you've been to Spain before, would love to hear about your experiences. Tweet me @justineiaboni and let's chat!