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birthday tripThis was totally a birthday to remember. A couple of weeks ago my dear friend Eduardo said he wanted to take me on a mystery birthday trip (yay!). Then I found out my new pal Carl would be in town and so he came along with us. Having spent my “unbirthday” with Carl the day before I wasn’t feeling too chipper, and the weather wasn’t helping (all grey and drizzly), but I ADORE day trips so I was quite happy to seet off to parts unknown.

jabugoFirst stop was Jabugo, THE home of jamón Ibérico de bellota. Once there I was hoping I’d actually be visiting the dehesa and see the piggies in person (bucket list item), but the closest I got was that sculpture up there. Still, we had a wonderful and very informative visit to the 5 Jotas bodega, finishing up with a glass of fino and a fab snack of jamón. On the way back to the car we stopped at a little shop to pick up some jamón to take home and then it was off to our next mystery stop.

meson arrierosWe arrived at Linares de la Sierra (population 300) via a narrow winding road with spectacular views, which were occasionally and dramatically cut off by sudden fog. Once there we made our way to Mesón Arrieros for lunch. To call this place a hidden gem is an understatement. You are NEVER just going to happen upon this place, you will always make a specific effort to do so. And it will always be worth the effort. We were welcomed by biz (and life) partners, chef Luismi and front of house wiz Adela. Once seated Adela suggested we start with a manzanilla en rama from Barbadillo… she couldn’t have been more spot on. What a refreshing and delicious way to start a meal. We agreed to just let Adela bring us WHATEVER… and it was amazing. Starting with probably my favourite dish of the day, marinated pork liver dressed with onions and cilantro oil. This was followed by presa Ibérica carpaccio, with foie… grilled boletus mushrooms with scrambled eggs, garlic oil and cilantro… melted goat cheese on country bread, topped with a drizzle of local honey and a sprinkling of same herbs the goats eat… a comforting tomato soup with cumin, mint, oregano and a dollop of fig jam… presa Ibérico burger with peach jam… and a birthday cheesecake! After all this it was time for a walk.

linares de la sierraLuckily the misty drizzle had subsided by then, and we wandered over to the Plaza de le Fuente (fountain square) where the village women still go to wash clothes in the public fountain. Around the fountain you can see washboard edging in stone. We even saw a pair of jeans that had been left, and some soap suds floating on the surface. A village pup wisely chose to use a different nearby fountain to drink from. After that we made our climb back up, passing through the Plaza de Toros. Which is really just a normal square all year round, but during the local Feria sand is put down and barriers are put up. The stone burladeros (where you can hide from a charging bull) are there year round though. Edu and Carl posed behind one and ended up looking like a human version of whack-a-mole. We got back to the car just as the sun was setting and made our way home. But of course there had to be a penúltima (or two)…

penultimasLa Penúltima. That “next to last one” that can go on for as long as you can manage. In this case we ended up back in Sevilla at one of my favourite spots, La Azotea in barrio Santa Cruz. I love all the Azotea locations, but this one has been dubbed The Office because it’s open all day and I often have meetings there. But this time it was *just* for a penúltima. We started off with a bottle of lovely cava, with a snack of crispy tempura prawns with kimchi sauce. Then we were asked if we were in a hurry as Juan and Jeanine (the owners, and also my friends) wanted to invite us to a second bottle of cava! Well, how could we refuse? At this point Carl did his impersonation of a dodgy jamón seller and we knew it was time to head home. So my two gentlemen friends escorted me back to my neighbourhood, where we oh-so-wisely decided to have yet another penúltima at La Bodega Alfalfa, specifically so Carl could try their version of marinated pork liver with cilantro. It all gets a bit fuzzy after that. After saying our farewells the boys went off in search of further trouble, and I came home to my cosy bed and my cats.

Thank you Edu and Carl for a fabulous birthday!

ps… click on the collages to embiggen