Somewhere along the line after little man came into our lives, we decided to bring him on as many free flights as possible as a lap child before he hit age 2. Okay, okay that’s a lie. Correction: I decided this and somewhere along the line my sweet hubby realized it was probably better not to argue with me on this one. Just imagine me sitting on the couch, hormonal, with a three month old baby and his ridiculous passport photos crying about how I couldn’t imagine our traveling days being over for the next 18 years. On second thought, maybe don’t imagine that ☺.
Anyway, after the amazing time we had as a family of three on our trip to the emerald isle, we decided to venture across the pond again but this time to the sunnier coast of southern Spain. We even convinced my sisters traveling with a toddler would be fun – I mean surely between the five of us adults we could keep an 18 month old entertained for a week?! It was glorious.
Before I forget, here are just a few tips on traveling in Spain. First off: the roads. If you are not on the main coastal highway, they are not straight. At all. As in don’t give your 18 month old milk and then hand him the iPad right before going on a two hour trip through the mountains unless you want to stop on the side of a narrow two lane road and clean up vomit. Not that, that happened to us. Second: dinner time. It happens after bedtime. At least after bedtime for toddlers on a go to bed at 7:30 pm schedule so mom and dad have some sanity recovering time. I mean we are way more flexible on vacation than at home but after a few days of literally not being able to find anywhere even open for food between the hours of 5 and 8 pm we just started cooking our dinners at the villa we were calling home for the week. Since we all enjoy cooking, this really didn’t bother us. Plus it meant we could go through as many bottles of wine as we wanted without having to worry about driving home later ☺. Third: don’t speed. I know you probably don’t speak Spanish, but really big black posted numbers on the side of the road mean the same thing in every language. They will track you down and send you a ticket. All the way to your mailbox in middle America. Again, not that this happened to us. Fourth: soak up as much sun and as many olive, avocado, and citrus trees as you can. Stop and pick an orange from the rows of trees lining all the streets in the little towns throughout the countryside. I couldn’t help reveling in all the amazing growth I couldn’t dream of having in my backyard in Tulsa, OK. I’m still working on getting a loan berry bush to survive more than one season.
One last thing! We’ve discovered that while traveling with a kid, it can be amazing to have a whole house, or in this case villa, to yourself. It can end up being considerably cheaper than a hotel if you plan to stay for multiple nights in one location, and it means not having to worry about who might hear your jet lagged toddler crying in the middle of the night. Also having contained outdoor space for the little man to explore safely has been amazing. We stayed at this amazing villa the whole time we were in Spain, and it was a perfect jumping off spot for the southern coast. They even offer a catering option for as many meals as you would like. We had New Year’s Eve dinner served to us in our villa which meant we could enjoy a six course meal complete with wine pairings served by the cutest Spanish couple all with the little man snoozing in the back bedroom. We rang in the near year on our private outdoor balcony with glasses of champagne and multiple rounds of Auld Lang Syne. And now I’m feeling all nostalgic and a bit “Is this real life?!”
Quad Tours of the Andalucian Countryside (Leaves from Nerja, Spain)
I’m sure you are thinking, wait you took your 18 month old on a four-wheeler ride? Isn’t that illegal?! Probably – which is why we only set him on the four-wheeler for a staged picture overlooking the beautiful hillsides of Andalucia. This outfitter has it all figured out. Whoever doesn’t feel comfortable racing down windy streets on a four-wheeler at 40 mph can ride safely inside the Land Rover with the baby in a car seat he provides. This just meant we all nicely acted like we were fine with riding in the car with the little man when really all we wanted to do was feel the wind in our hair and race the herds of goats down country lanes. The owner does a really good job of sprinkling in stories about the sordid history of the countryside while also telling you his entire life story. That counts as educational right? Also, the views are absolutely unbeatable. About half way through the tour, you stop for a beer or a cup of coffee at an amazing little hotel shaped like a turtle and built into the hillside. It’s a perfect spot to soak in the views, hear more about the history of the area, enjoy a little caffeine and let any toddlers stretch their legs before heading back down into Nerja. The tour can also include a target shooting competition complete with compressed air rifles and pistols which, of course, we did not miss. We decided a little girls vs. boys competition was in order. Sans the little man, of course, who was happily playing with a bunch of toys in the yard. Just for the record, the girls totally won. A quick recommendation for this spot, make sure you have directions to it. It’s a little off the beaten path but the directions on the website are perfect.
Walk the Streets of the Albayzin (Granada, Spain)
This district of Granada sits in the shadow of the grand Alhambra and gives you a glimpse into the Moorish roots of the area. I’m sure visiting the Alhambra would have been even more educational, but we failed to realize you need advance reservations! So instead of touring the magnificent palace we first got lost trying to find a place to park. Somehow we ended up driving down impossibly narrow alleyways behind a friendly guy on a motorbike who was trying to maneuver us back to roads that weren’t designated as pedestrian only. We actually ended driving down the main street of the Albaycin at the foot of the Alhambra, a pedestrian walkway full of vendors peddling trinkets and giving the collective evil eye to clueless Americans driving down their walkway! Oh the memories you make while traveling ☺. Once we finally found a place to park, we watched the sun set over the beautiful Alhambra and meandered through the tiny ancient streets rich with Moorish history and architecture. Be prepared to hike up and down some pretty steep paths!
Little Italy (Nerja, Spain)
Okay I know it seems a bit sacrilegious to eat Italian food while vacationing in Spain, but we asked the locals where the best food was in town, and this was the place they recommended! It did not disappoint. The pizza was amazing and so were the tinto verano and the sangria. They have a cute little outdoor seating area perfect for corralling a toddler complete with space heaters if the night ends up chilly. When we were leaving dinner we happened to look down and see a 50 Euro note lying on the ground outside. A few minutes later our overjoyed waiter, who thought he had lost 50 Euro, was giving us all shots of liquor on the house. How can you not like a place that hands you free shots as your walking out the door?! We may have had to take a walk along the beach and put our toes in the surf to recover a little before returning to our cars for the ride back to the villa ☺.
Merendero Ayo (Nerja, Spain)
This was another recommendation from the locals. We asked where to get to the best paella in town, and this is where they sent us! The paella was delicious, full of seafood and saffron, and it paired perfectly with another round of sangria. The restaurant is right on the beach which ended up being perfect considering the little man was feeling antsy. We all took turns playing in the sand with him while waiting for our food. I wondered if paella would be too odd of a food for a toddler, but we turned around just in time to see Noah shoving an entire shrimp, complete with the head still attached, into his mouth. Apparently not weird enough! Just a warning, this place does not take credit cards, so make sure you have your cash ready.
Gelato at the Balcón de Europa (Nerja, Spain)
There are multiple little gelato shops within sight of this scenic overlook by the ocean. My favorite shop had a nutella crunch flavor – need I really say more? The little man had more gelato on this trip than his entire life beforehand. Vacation. It was vacation! You can get back to veggies once you’re home!
Tapas (Anywhere in Spain)
These little plates that often come free when you buy a drink are definitely worth trying. Just order a smorgasbord and see which ones you like! We tried a few different spots while we wandered through the streets of Malaga one night, and they were all delicious. Also, make sure you try jamon iberica at some point! You can get it at most restaurants as a tapa or you can buy a big variety pack at a local grocery store. The little man absolutely devoured it any time we had it around. Him and his odd cured meat fetish . . .
Wander the Streets of Downtown Malaga
We happened to be in Malaga during a festival week, and it was quite the feast for the senses. Lights were strung overhead, the noises of street performers filled the air, and there were lively people dancing and singing everywhere! The little man couldn’t keep from clapping in excitement as we walked past circles of dancing kids around musicians in the street. We were all laughing watching the glee in his eyes as he soaked in all the sites. One thing we noticed about Spain is that everyone is up pretty late. Even babies! We’d be wandering through the streets after dinner trying to remember where we parked with Noah asleep in the Ergo and there would be kids everywhere!
Balcón de Europa (Nerja, Spain)
This beautiful, peaceful balcony overlooks the sunny Mediterranean Sea. It’s a perfect spot to spend a lazy afternoon chatting in the sun if you happen to be vacationing with a friend or a family member who wouldn’t mind watching the kids for a few hours. My sisters graciously agreed to take the little man for a day while the hubby and I spent a restful afternoon catching up and dreaming about where our lives could go in the next few years while sitting on the rocks and listening to the waves crashing below. Does anyone else find it almost impossible to have a conversation with a toddler in the room? Please tell me this isn’t only us! If you don’t have a babysitter handy, it’s still a great place to watch the waves and catch some sun! They also have these feral tabby cats that sleep in the bushes along the balcony – the little man found them utterly fascinating.
Los Cahorros of Monachil (just outside Granada, Spain)
This place is not for the faint of heart, but it is so beautiful. It’s centered around a series of rickety old rope bridges spanning mountain gorges in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. The signs tell you how many people at a time per bridge to make sure you are safe! Narrow trails weave throughout the hills and offer spectacular views of the mountains in the background. There aren’t really any easy hikes, but the views are totally worth the extra work. I say all this when it was the hubby who carried little man the entire time in the Ergo and had to maneuver hand holds in the sides of cliff walls while balancing on a narrow ledge with Noah hanging over a creek gorge. Like I said not for the faint of heart!
El Torcal de Antequera (an hour north of Malaga, Spain)
This nature reserve with its unusual landforms is perfect for a day of hiking and picnicking. There are multiple trails that weave throughout the rock formations complete with little crevices and caves just the right size for little kids to explore. The footing is a little rough for new walkers, but little man at 18 months thought it was really entertaining to topple over the cobblestone like pavers made by the natural weathering of the stone in the area. And of course we all found his toppling hysterical. That and his skinny jeans and his beanie. Sometimes I just can’t help it ☺. The trailhead area has a museum explaining the history of the rock formations and a great little area with picnic tables. The entrance to the park also offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
Main Beach in Nerja, Spain
Although we visited over the New Year’s holiday and it was a little chilly for actually getting in the water, it was perfect for soaking up some sun and playing in the sand. Oh and of course running in and out of the sea spray trying not to get too wet from the waves! This was a pretty little spot perfect for walking along the shore, digging in the sand, climbing over all the winterized paddle boats (if you happened to be little man) and also just for thinking how happy we were to be somewhere where the weather was sunny and 70 in January! There were some brave souls in the water if freezing cold swimming happens to be up your alley ☺.
This natural park is just a few miles from the villa where we were staying. We visited multiple times during our stay when we’d had our fill of drinking coffee on the porch and reading in the sun and wanted to do some hiking. And by that I mean when I started to feel guilty about the amount of time the little man was spending watching Cars over and over on the iPad while we all tried to read in the sun. We’re pretty screen free when we are in our normal routine but on vacation all bets are off. You want to watch Cars 17 times in five days while we fly across the Atlantic and drive across Spain, be my guest! Okay confession I love reading but I can’t read all day every day. I’m about as antsy as my toddler when it comes to sitting still. I love a good hike sprinkled in with reading and drinking coffee and wine. The trails here aren’t too strenuous, so we’d just hike along with the little man in the Deuter kid pack until he wanted out and then we’d mosey down the dirt trails with him stopping to look at all the sticks and leaves and dirt while we life planned. One night we hiked into the park in the late afternoon and then turned around just in time to watch the sun set over the valley. It was really quite beautiful.