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spain: huelva

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España, Andalucía, Huelva, muelle

With big-name attractions like the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita-Catedral in Córdoba or the Alcázar in Sevilla, Huelva usually doesn’t get the attention it rightfully deserves. Stunning architecture, an important industrial past, fantastic cuisine & the 1492 Columbus departure point are only a few reasons to visit this often-overlooked provincial capital.

Rafa & I spent four days exploring the city, & the first thing I noticed was how wonderful the central area was, filled with beautiful architecture & mostly pedestrian. Blocking a majority of the traffic encourages everyone to pasear & be part of the action. There was a bit of every era to marvel at: Baroque churches, an Art Nouveau retirement home, Regionalismo, a Franco-era city hall, modern sculpture & even a nice promenade to walk along the Odiel River.

España, Andalucía, Huelva, architecture

But you can’t go far in Huelva without seeing the city’s English influence. When the Rio Tinto Company began exploiting rich mineral deposits in 1873 just upstream, Huelva became a mini-colony for the managers. Constructing the Barrio Reina Victoria not far from the city center, this former worker housing project followed a standard design but also allowed room for personal expression… reminding me of UK-built housing in many of parts of Buenos Aires (like the Barrio Nazca) or the railroad hub of Remedios de Escalada. Today, most outside spaces have been fenced in but the spirit of the original project is easy to appreciate.

España, Andalucía, Huelva, Barrio Reina Victoria, Barrio Inglés

The largest remnant of that intense period of mining activity is the loading pier or dock that reached over 1 km in length… with about half of it extending into the Odiel River. Pre-fabricated in Darlington, it functioned from 1876 until 1975 & witnessed 43 million tons (!) of iron sulphide leave Huelva to be used for production of sulfuric acid or lye/caustic soda. Recently restored as a perfect spot to watch the sunset, I actually enjoyed strolling this gorgeous monument to the past more than the similar but much shorter dock in Almería.

España, Andalucía, Huelva, muelle, dock

What would our visit be without eating local? Huelva’s main claim to fame is choco —cuttlefish— & it’s so popular that residents are even nicknamed choqueros. With good reason! We had choco al triki-triki & albóndigas de choco at El Tapeíto, habas con choco at the market bar & what I thought was the best of the entire trip: guiso de choco at Azabache. I could eat that every single day of my life… I need that recipe! Huelva is also known for gambas blancas, but Rafa isn’t a fan so that will have to wait for the next trip.

España, Andalucía, Huelva, choco

We also happened to be in Huelva at a very special moment of the year: gurumelo season. These mushrooms only grow in the wild & are available just at the beginning of the year. As the saying goes, “en febrero, gurumelo; en marzo, gurumelazo; y en abril, gurumelín.” Basically that means harvest begins in February, bigger ones appear in March & by April only tiny ones are left. Price varies with size, & I bought a half-kilo to take home to experiment.

We became big fans right away. You have to peel the outer layer off, which is covered in dirt… almost like a potato. Rinse off what’s left, & slice to sauté or cook in rice. What a deep, earthy flavor. I made this addictive arroz al horno recipe from Cómetelo chef Enrique Sánchez & can’t wait to get more next year!

España, Andalucía, Huelva, gurumelos, mushrooms

The reason for our trip to Huelva was to install a Playmobil diorama of the nearby Dolmen de Soto made by Rafa for the Museo de Huelva. He worked on set-up during the day while I explored the city as well as the interesting collection of the museum. Plenty of Roman mosaics & artifacts from other eras to visit, but the highlight were three Phoenician statues that represented different gods. And of course they were stylized after Egyptian models of the same era.

España, Andalucía, Huelva, museum, museo

Update: The museum inaugurated Rafa’s teaching model of the dolmen on 15 Apr 2024. He was present along with lots of politicians, the press & museum staff. Looks great!

España, Andalucía, Huelva, Museo, museo, Dolmen de Soto, Rafa
España, Andalucía, Huelva, Museo, museo, Dolmen de Soto, Rafa

No visit to Huelva would be complete without a side-trip to La Rábida, a 15th-century monastery on the outskirts of Palos de la Frontera where Christopher Columbus stayed before embarking on his epic journey in 1492. Martín Alonso Pinzón is also buried here, & the monastery hosted other historical figures such as Hernán Cortés & Francisco Pizarro. Taking the bus was relatively easy, but let’s say that the bus terminal of Huelva leaves a lot to be desired; no info anywhere & no signage but at least bus drivers were friendly & helpful.

Reproductions of the three Columbus ships were not accesible due to damage from a recent storm, so we’ll have to return to see those at some point:

España, Andalucía, La Rábida

One special surprise —and yet another Buenos Aires connection— was the Plus Ultra monument that commemorates the first Transatlantic flight from Spain to South America in 1926. The four-man crew included Franco’s youngest brother, long before anyone could have imagined the Second Republic or the horrendous Civil War in the 1930s. But now I’ve seen the monuments at both ends of the trip!

España, Andalucía, La Rábida, Plus Ultra, monument

We found Huelva to be a fun & interesting city with great gastronomy & plenty of cultural options. Although locals complain about the rail connection to Sevilla, we had no problems; guess we were lucky. I think the city of Huelva —as well as the entire province— should be glad that there aren’t massive groups of tourists arriving every day, & that we can keep it as our very own secret… but I hope more people see Huelva as an integral part of Andalucía & worthy of a visit!

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