Patricia Harris began her love affair with Spain shortly after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and she has since witnessed the country’s amazing renaissance in art, culture, and cuisine. Drawing on three decades of intimate acquaintance, she leads readers down to the docks of fishing villages, along twisting mountain roads, into the shoe outlets of Elche, out to the muddy saffron fields of La Mancha. She takes you through the streets of Sevilla, Madrid, Barcelona, and San Sebastian to dark flamenco clubs, sybaritic public baths, endlessly inventive tapas bars, design shops full of mantillas and fans, and into a brightly tiled chocolatería for hot chocolate and churros at 3 a.m.

Harris explores art from Velázquez to Picasso, architecture from the phantasmagoria of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia to the cool suspension spans of Santiago Calatrava. She tells tales of formidable Spanish women, from a fourth-century b.c. goddess to a queen who wrested Spain from the Moors, and to twenty-first-century winemakers who have elevated Spain’s Toro and Rueda onto the world stage. Literary, sexy, whimsical, and spiritual, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go is for the smart and curious traveler who wants to see Spain, her way.

By Patricia Harris

About ten years ago, I had an epiphany in the back room of Casa Patas, a flamenco club off Madrid’s Plaza Tirso de Molino. It was 2 a.m., and the flamenco troupe was packing it in after its second set. Unshaven young men with long black ponytails and half-open white shirts put down their instruments, while the dancer cast aside her block-heeled shoes and crossed her legs to massage her feet. A waitress strutted from table to table taking orders, as two men in the back of the room picked up their guitars and launched into a fiery duet.

I checked my watch: It was still early by Madrid standards—and by my own standards when I’m in Spain. I turned to my husband and smiled. We had plenty of time to stop at our favorite spot for a cup of thick, dark hot chocolate before we made our way back to the hotel. Oh, and did I mention it was Tuesday morning after a Monday night out? Mind you, back home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I probably would have been asleep, cozy in my bed, by 11 p.m. But in Spain, I get a second wind for the madrugada, as they call the hours before dawn, and embrace the local passion for life, contempt for sleep, and penchant for the two-hour lunch.

I make my living writing about travel, food, and art, which means—in theory, at least—that the whole world is open to me. My friends can’t understand why I return to Spain again and again, year after year. Sure, it’s a big country with a lot of ground to cover. But it’s more than that. Simply put, as I realized that early Tuesday morning, I like the person I become in Spain.

Like many life-altering decisions, my interest in Spain began with no hint of the consequences. In junior high school my modest rebellion was choosing to study Spanish rather than the more popular French. I’ve never quite mastered the proper trill while rolling my r’s, but I fell in love with the music of the Spanish cadences nonetheless. And I loved the stories that unfolded as my grasp of the language grew. I was charmed by the sweet donkey Platero, enchanted by the befuddled yet chivalrous Don Quijote, and in awe of the fiery Carmen. I hardly knew what to make of the fierce queen who was equal partner with her husband in wresting Spain from the Moors and who had the vision to launch Columbus on his first voyage of exploration. (In my textbooks, Isabel’s less noble acts—the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews—were overlooked in favor of the period of high-rolling prosperity that she helped to usher in.)

When I finally made it to Spain, everything about the country—from Córdoba’s flower-bedecked patios to Madrid’s raucous Puerta del Sol and Barcelona’s bustling Rambles—was bigger, brighter, and more vivid than my wildest imaginings. Getting to know a country is like falling in love. The first time is a giddy experience, and each succeeding date reveals another nuance. For the women who already share my passion for Spain, I hope I can guide you to some new experiences. For those who are embarking on their first blind dates, I’m excited to introduce you to a country that has stolen my heart.

Spain is a land where all of a woman’s senses are suddenly and inexplicably heightened. For this book, I have tried to choose places where I hope you will taste, smell, see, hear, and touch some of the same things that linger in my memory. They have become yardsticks against which I measure the rest of the world. When I name them, the sensations flood back with total recall—the springtime scent of orange blossoms in the Alcázar of Sevilla, the salty-lipped taste of sherry in Sanlúcar de la Barrameda, the arc of a rainbow over a range in the Picos de Europa, the thrum of motor scooters on narrow stone streets, the luscious glide of a silk shawl against bare skin, the hush of a cave where red dust outlines the hand of an artist from 40,000 years ago, the penetrating heat of the naked sun, the burble of water in desert fountains, the endless blue of a cloudless January day in Madrid, the keening wail of a flamenco singer, the aroma of hot olive oil and the sizzle of shrimp as they hit the pan…. Spain is not just a country to see, it is a full-immersion experience.

The more I thought about it, I also realized that Spain’s deep, abiding machismo is one of the things that makes the country so alluring—both to men and to the women who love them. The country is arguably the best place for women to get a handle on what makes men tick, whether it’s a rascal playwright priest, the most celebrated artist of the twentieth century, or the ultimate womanizer, Don Juan.

But it also takes a strong woman to thrive in such a masculine world. Spanish history and culture are full of women who are as formidable as their male counterparts—María Pita, who thwarted the English invaders in A Coruña, or Gala Dalí, one of the art world’s most domineering muses. Women continue to break barriers in Spain. They stand as equals with male chefs in Spain’s radical gastronomy, make indelible marks on the art of flamenco, build wineries and museums, launch the first all-women’s marathon in Europe, and even run with the bulls in Pamplona.

On my last trip to Spain before completing this book, I began photographing women as they danced flamenco, rode motor scooters, pedaled bicycles, hiked the ancient pilgrimage route, sat in cafés, drank in bars, studied some of the greatest art ever made, took selfies, and clapped wildly for male flamenco dancers. I looked at the photos often as I wrote. The women were all so strong, so self-assured—and so happy.

If you open your heart and your arms to Spain, I think you will become a different person there. She will be a woman to reckon with.

I. Heartland: Madrid & Castilla
1. Sense of Place
Plaza Mayor, Madrid
2. The Collector’s Eye
Carmen Thyssen Selections at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
3. Choc Around the Clock
Chocolatería San Gines, Madrid
4. Shadow to the Throne
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid
5. The Word on the Streets
Barrio de las Letras, Madrid
6. If the Shoe Fits
Shopping for Shoes in Chueca, Madrid
7. I Am Woman
Highlights of the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
8. A Winter’s Feast
Gastrofestival Madrid
9. Timeless Cry Against War
Guernica at the Reina Sofía, Madrid
10. Where the City Blooms
Great Parks of Madrid
11. Stitches of Time
Real Fábrica de Tapices, Madrid
12. Just One More Bite
Madrid Food Tours
13. Echoes of Antiquity
Archeological Museum, Madrid
14. ¡Ole!¡Ole!
Flamenco at Casa Patas, Madrid
15. Faith and Will
The Trail of Isabel I of Castilla and León
16. Within the Walls of Faith
Santa Teresa of Ávila
17. Built to Last
The Aqueduct of Segovia
18. Dreaming in Stone
Carved Buildings of Salamanca
19. Big Red
Victoria Benavides and Tinta de Toro
20. Visions of Heaven and Hell
La Colegiata, Toro
21. In the Name of the Father
Victoria Pariente and the Wines of Rueda
22. Shining Through
Catedral de León
23. Spain’s First Power Couple
El Cid and Jimena Díaz, Burgos

II. El Norte: La Rioja & Green Spain
24. The French Connection
Marqués de Riscal, La Rioja
25. Hope Flies
The Nesting White Storks of Alfaro
26. Wayside Rest
Santo Domingo de la Calzada
27. A Mad Dash
Pamplona and the Running of the Bulls
28. Speaking in Tongues
Monasteries of Suso and Yuso
29. Power of a Perfect Outfit
The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, Getaria
30. The Guggenheim Effect
Life in Bilbao, A City Saved by Art and Architecture
31. Off the Rack
Women in Spanish Fashion
32. A Father-Daughter Culinary Dynasty
Dining at Restaurant Arzak, San Sebastián
33. A Spanish Movable Feast
Eating Pintxos, San Sebastián
34. Buried Magic
Prehistoric Cave Art, Cantabria
35. Green Spain
Driving and Hiking in the Picos de Europa
36. The Unsung Star of Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Celtic City of Oviedo
37. Galicia’s Joan of Arc
The Tale of María Pita of A Coruña
38. Step by Step
Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago
39. New Jerusalem
The End of the Road at Santiago de Compostela
40. On the Edge
The End of the World at Fisterra
41. Making a Splash
Spain’s Top Spots for Water Sports

III. La Mancha & Moorish Spain
42. Eyes of the Artist
Toledo, as Seen by El Greco
43. Written on the Walls
The Ceramics of Talavera de la Reina
44. Flights of Fancy
Abstract Art in the Mountaintop Aerie of Cuenca
45. Learning the Art of the Stripper
The Saffron Rose Festival, Consuegra
46. Room for the Night
Some Great Spanish Paradors
47. Rome Remains
The Ancient Colonial City of Mérida
48. Excess of Splendor
Sevilla’s Massive Gothic Cathedral
49. Of Cigars and Arias
In the Footsteps of Carmen, Sevilla
50. Spanish Rhythms
Museo del Baile Flamenco, Sevilla
51. A Slippery (and Delicious) Slope
The Olive Oil Workshop, Sevilla
52. Our Lady of Hope
La Macarena, Sevilla
53. The Fringe Effect
Shopping for Shawls, Sevilla
54. Duquesa for the Ages
Living Large in the House of Alba, Sevilla
55. Another Side of Sevilla
Barrio de Triana
56. Marriage of Styles
The Alcázar of Sevilla
57. Park of the Princess
Parque de Maria Luisa, Sevilla
58. The Most Evil Man Who Ever Lived
Don Juan in Sevilla
59. The Intimacy of Women
Baths of Andalucía
60. Fino and Finesse
Sherry Culture, Jerez de la Frontera
61. Practice Makes Perfect
Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre, Jerez de la Frontera
62. Easter on the Beach
Salt on the Tongue, Sanlúcar de la Barrameda
63. By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea
Cádiz, the First City of Western Europe
64. The Thrill of the Drive
Crossing the Mountains of Andalucía’s White Towns
65. Living on the Edge
The Daring City of Ronda
66. Jet Set Playground
Riches of Marbella
67. New Act for an Ancient City
Reinvention Keeps Málaga Fresh
68. Cradle of Genius
Picasso in Málaga
69. A Museum of Her Own
Museo Carmen Thyssen, Málaga
70. Traces of the Wind
El Paraje Natural Torcal de Antequera
71. Private Lives
Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba
72. Morning Prayers
La Mezquita, Córdoba
73. Last Stronghold of a Lost Empire
La Alhambra and El Generalife, Granada
74. Lorca and the Dark Heart of Duende
Huerta de San Vicente, Granada
75. The Art of the Deal
Shopping in Granada
76. Song and Dance of the Gypsy Zambra
Cueva de María la Canastera, Granada
77. Village to Village in the Berber Foothills
Walking in the Alpujarra de Granada

IV. North by Northeast: Catalan Spain
78. First Love Lives On
“Los Amantes de Teruel”
79. From the Beach to the Palm Forest
Alicante and Elche
80. The Perfect Plate of Rice
Biking to L’Albufera and Eating Paella in Valencia
81. Light My Fire
The Fallas Festival, Valencia
82. Jewel of the Gold Coast
The Roman City of Tarragona
83. Wine, Women, and Song
Catalan Palaces of Wine and Music
84. Living in a Masterpiece
Modernista Homes in Barcelona
85. Walking Barcelona
Three Promenades to Remember
86. A Wedding and a Wine Bar
Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar and La Vinya del Senyor, Barcelona
87. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Picasso in Barcelona
88. Dancing on the Plaza
Barcelona’s Barrí Gotic on Sunday
89. A Vision to Behold
La Sagrada Familia of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona
90. The Magic Mountain
Treasures of Montjuïc, Barcelona
91. Temples of Food
The Heartbeat Markets of Barcelona
92. The Most Important Meal of the Day
Five Breakfasts in Barcelona
93. Hand of La Moreneta
The Shrine of Montserrat
94. Among the Legends
The Storied City of Girona
95. Mad Love
Salvador and Gala Dalí, Figueres, Cadaqués, and Púbol
96. Running Without the Bulls
Women’s Marathon in Palma de Mallorca
97. Keeper of the Gate, Keeper of the Flame
The Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation, Mallorca
98. Suffering for Art, Like Good Romantics
George Sand and Frédéric Chopin in Valldemossa, Mallorca
99. Mallorca’s Literary Love Nest
Ca N’Alluny, the Home of Laura Riding and Robert Graves
100. Sun on the Skin
Nude Beaches in Spain

About the Author

Chapter 3
Choc Around the Clock
Chocolatería San Ginés, Madrid

Chocolatería San Ginés just might be the most reassuring place in Madrid. It’s open around the clock every day of the year. Whenever you walk in, waitstaff in white jackets with high collars are pouring pitchers of hot chocolate into white cups lined up in a row on the bar. All the handles face the same way.

The Spaniards took to chocolate as soon as Hernán Cortez brought the Aztec drink back when he conquered Tenochtitlán, renamed it Mexico City, and made off with everything he could ship home—cacao beans included. The Aztecs ground the beans to a paste and made a bitter drink they called xocolatl. Back at home the Spaniards combined cacao paste with sugar (introduced by the Moors) and thickened the hot liquid with flour (introduced by the Romans). The drink encapsulates the history of Spain in a cup.

Spanish hot chocolate is a thick, rich revelation, and the version at San Ginés seems even thicker and richer than most. It is a soothing balm at every hour. Office workers stop at the chocolatería for breakfast on their way to work; shoppers laden with bags find San Ginés the perfect venue for a merienda, or afternoon snack; and nightowls stumble in after leaving the clubs in the madrugada, or the hours just before sunrise. Spaniards did not need twentieth-century scientific studies to tell them that chocolate is a so-called “joy stimulant,” and that those who sip chocolate daily are calmer and more content than the misguided souls who deny themselves.

San Ginés sits up an alleyway, the Pasadizo de San Ginés, next to the discotheque Sala Joy Eslava, the most recent occupant of a cavernous nineteenth-century theater building. The little chocolatería is halfway between the Puerta del Sol and the Teatro Real. When it opened in 1894, it was an immediate hit with the after-theater crowd.

The interior does not seem to have changed since Ramón del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) immortalized it as the Buñolería Modernista in his 1924 play, Luces de Bohemia. A dogleg bar lines two walls at the entry and green banquettes line the others. Black bentwood chairs cozy up to small, marble-topped tables. Wood panels painted a deep forest green rise halfway up the walls and large mirrors bounce the light around to make the room seem bigger than it is. Black-and-white photos chronicle the celebrities who have made their way down the atmospheric alley over the years.

Each table is topped with a shaker of powdered sugar. Another reassuring thing about San Ginés is that you don’t have to make many decisions. The proper accompaniment to hot chocolate are churros. These ridged sticks of fried dough are extruded in a spiral of a yard or more into hot fat. They’re cut into pieces six to nine inches long after they’re cooked. Often served at fairs and beach snack bars, the casual treats acquire a certain decorum in the elegant chocolatería. Thicker tubes of fried dough, called porras, are the only other option. In either case, they should be liberally dusted with sugar before being dunked in the chocolate. It’s impossible to get the last of the chocolate from the cup without mopping the bottom with a churro.

San Ginés is one of the few remaining traditional chocolaterías in Madrid. Many bars and cafés serve hot chocolate and churros in the morning and again at tapas time. But few places make their own churros, preferring the convenience of reheating some that they buy from a small factory. A reheated churro is definitely heavier and tastes more of oil than dough. And I’ve even seen baristas tear open packets of instant chocolate to make a muddy imitation of the rich, hauntingly spiced drink served at San Ginés. Take the polyphenol joy cited in the research on the benefits of chocolate, and multiply it times three. This is a chocolatería that’s good for your health, and even better for your state of mind.

Patricia Harris travels the world researching and writing about travel, food, and the arts for a variety of U.S. and British publications. But she returns again and again to Spain, partly because she likes the person she becomes there—the one who stays out late at flamenco clubs, walks windswept beaches, dances the sardana in front of Barcelona’s cathedral, and eats a thousand delicacies she probably wouldn’t try at home.

A former arts administrator who handled funding for literature, theater, dance, and the visual arts, she loves the anguished angular faces of Catalan Gothic saints, the enigma of pure color on a Miró canvas, the pulsing rhythms of flamenco song and dance, the buffoonery of zarzuela, and the poignant passion of Carmen. Her kitchen cabinets are full of smoked Spanish paprika, Spanish saffron, and bags of a special sea salt from the Costa Brava that she buys in Spanish supermarkets for less than one euro per kilo. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.