Tag Archives: travelspain

Like the look of my Mate?

Mate (pronounced “mah-tay”) is a traditional South American tea infusion, particularly popular in Argentina (where it’s defined by law as the ‘national infusion’). Caffeine rich and served in the hollowed out shell of the calabash tree (a gourd) with a metal straw (a bombilla), it’s prepared by steeping dried leaves of the rainforest Mate tree in hot water.

Why do we need to know about Mate?

Mate has the ‘strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate’ all in one beverage. Of the six commonly used stimulants in the world: coffee, tea, kola nut, cocoa and guarana, Yerba Mate triumphs as the most balanced, delivering both energy and nutrition.

What do the experts say?

South America’s rainforest tribes have sipped Yerba Mate for centuries, savouring its invigorating, nourishing effects. Far from being an unnoteworthy drink of far flung corners of the world, the Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific society say ‘it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to mate in nutritional value’ and that Yerba Mate contains ‘practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life’. It seems the indigenous folk of the Southern hemisphere are two steps ahead, with the leaves of the rainforest Mate tree containing 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids and abundant antioxidants.

How does it compare to tea and coffee?

While Mate contains well-known stimulants also found in tea, coffee and chocolate, unlike coffee, Yerba Mate is not oily and acid forming, so it is less likely to cause stomach acid and jitters. What’s not to like? And how have we not heard about Mate before?

How do you prepare Mate?

Yerba Mate is very versatile and can be prepared in a variety of ways, from a tea infuser or french press to a coffee machine or even an espresso maker. It can be consumed hot, or cold, and served with milk and honey or iced with lemon and mint – the combinations are endless. If you want to prepare Mate the proper way, take a look at this user-friendly clip.And if you count yourself less reserved than a typical Brit, read on to see how to drink Mate as it’s meant to be drunk!

How do you drink Mate like an Argentine?

Tomando Mate (drinking Mate) is a symbol of hospitality and is a ritual sharing that happens all around Argentina on a daily basis, whether a group of friends in the park or a couple on the bus passing their Mate back and forth. As the Mate gourd (cup) is passed around, a sense of connection emerges.

What are the steps for sharing?

1. Preparation and Tasting:

Typically, the cebador/a – Mate server – prepares Mate for a friend or a group of friends. The cebador/a drinks the first one or two gourd-fulls, testing the waters to ensure that only a smooth running Mate is shared.

2. Refilling and Sharing:

The gourd is then refilled with water and passed counter-clockwise with the bombilla (straw-filter) facing the recipient. Each person drinks the entire gourd (you share the vessel, not the liquid), with the recipient of the gourd having as much time as needed to finish the gourd-full. After the last few sips of the Mate are gone, the gourd is returned with the bombilla facing the cebador/a. The gourd is refilled with hot water and follows around the circle, continuing in this fashion until the mate is lavado (flat). If someone has had enough Mate, they simply say gracias (thank you – not too hard for a Brit..) to indicate that they are finished.

Where can you buy Mate?

If you’d like to sample the real stuff, you can buy Mate here and the gourd and bombilla kit here. And if you can’t tear yourself away from your Western roots, you can buy Mate teabags here or here. The former would be a pretty original present for an explorer-type.

How is an Argentinian drink relevant to us?

While Argentina is little talked about in the UK, it features fairly regularly in Spain, whether consuming empanadas, Argentinian steak or planning a trip abroad. The link between the Spanish speaking nations dates back to the Spanish colonial era in the 16th century, which saw a high number of European settlers in Argentina coming from Spain and many Argentines developing Spanish ancestry.

And while Argentina may seem a world away from the UK, one of the wonders of travelling is forging links with countries little known to you before – worlds which may seem less developed but are, in many ways, more advanced. Mate is an example of that – a tea with remarkable qualities, it binds the indigenous people of South American rainforests, Bariloche seasonairs, the city folk of Buenos Aires and beyond. Just another indication that…




Seville, Spain

Seville is without doubt one of Spain’s most vibrant, colourful and traditional cities.

With row upon row of orange trees lining its cobbled streets and Moorish architecture bedecking the horizon, it’s a truly magical city that many have heard of but not yet visited.

Having been fortunate enough to have spent a year abroad sampling its charms, I have first-hand knowledge of some must-sees and dos which I outline below in order of preference:

1. Aire de Sevilla Spa Arabic Baths

Man or woman, spa fanatic or not, this is a truly magical life experience that will make your holiday. Hidden behind a typical entrance door on the narrow cobbled street of the aptly named Calle Aire, herein lies an oasis of calm that tends to the weary mind and body. At €40 for two hour access, it’s great value and a truly intimate experience with only 10 or so people allowed entry at any one point. The owners could surely make a mint out of commercializing this unique venue by cramming it full of weary tourists, but this would defeat its objective to rejuvenate the senses and soothe your soul. Its various rooms comprise candle-lit, water-filled ‘caves’ dotted with Arabic lamps and ambient music. From hot, lukewarm, and cold hydro-jets, to eucalyptus-infused steam rooms and salt-water pools, the ambience really is something to behold. Once your time is through in the low-lit spa areas, you can slowly amble to the relaxing lounge area for a small pot of tea or a cocktail with a pastry – the perfect start or end to your day.

Calle Aire, 15, 41004 Sevilla, Spain; +34955010025: http://www.airedesevilla.com/

2. La Carboneria

An incredible, bohemian flamenco bar nestled on a back street of Barrio de Santa Cruz, this venue is a hidden gem and firm favourite with friends who have visited it. Come 8pm, this converted, modest coal yard is packed to the rafters with locals and tourists alike, with live nightly flamenco performances at no extra charge from 11pm onwards. Its walls bedecked with colourful artwork and ceilings lined with rickety old ceiling fans, it is quintessential Spanish at its best and a must visit for all.

Calle Levíes, 18, 41004 Sevilla, Spain; +34954214460; http://www.levies18.com

3. El Rinconcillo

With its name literally translating to ‘the corner’, this is the oldest tapas bar in Seville located on the corner of Calle Gerona 32 near the church of Santa Catalina. Steeped in history and a firm favourite amongst locals, this venue is tradition embodied. Aging hams adorn its antiquated ceilings, orders are messily etched in chalk on the bar while the waiters are dressed smartly ready to deal with the chaos that ensues during the lunch-time rush. Standing at the bar or hip high barrel tables is the best way to really experience the buzzing atmosphere although there are more formal tables available in the restaurant should you wish to rest your weary feet after a day of site seeing.

Calle Gerona, 40, 41003 Sevilla, Spain; +34954223183; http://en.elrinconcillo.es/

4. Bar Rio Grande

Seville’s coolest outdoor bar, El Rio Grande is, as its name suggests, situated on the imposing banks of the River Guadalquivir at the end of the buzzing Calle Betis. Upstairs lies a more formal restaurant area bedecked in smart white tablecloths and crockery, however the lower level outdoor area is where the magic really happens. Nestled among lush palms, smart decking and low-lit hidden lighting is a hideaway bar area overlooking the stunning vistas of the river. A secret Spanish Neverland, this bar is a must visit for its stunning location and magical atmosphere.

Calle Betis, 69, 41010 Sevilla, Spain; +34954273956; http://riogrande-sevilla.com/

5. Las Reales Alcázares

One of my favourite places on earth. The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace, originally a Moorish fort and the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, with the upper levels of the Alcázar still being used by the royal family as the official Seville residence. Room after room showcases beautiful art and architecture, but for the real romantics out there, the gardens are the true sight to behold. Elegant palms and beautiful flowers scatter its extensive grounds, with shade-drenched benches located at regular intervals to allow its visitors to take in the surrounding views, protected from the strong Spanish sun. Located in the centre of town opposite the Cathedral, any stresses that you feel will quickly fade away after an hour inside this beautiful space.

Patio de Banderas, s/n, 41004 Sevilla; +34954502324; http://www.alcazarsevilla.org

6. Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza

The magnificent bullring is considered to be one of the finest in Spain and is one of the oldest and most important in the world. Whilst sections of the younger Spanish population are against the sport, it remains phenomenally popular in Seville, with its electric atmosphere being an essential experience. With its impressive Baroque façade dating from 1762, the arena accommodates 14,000 bodies – which tend to be dressed in their finest Sunday best. If you don’t fancy experiencing the gore of a bullfight, tour visits take you to the modestly sized museum, which traces the sport’s history from the 18th century to present day – here you can peruse an array of costumes, posters and bull’s heads, as well as paintings of some celebrated Sevillano toreros. Situated at the heart of the city overlooking the river, the bullring is the most striking visual symbol of both Seville and wider Spain, and will prove a memorable experience.

Paseo de Cristóbal Colón, 12, 41001 Sevilla; +34954224577; http://www.plazadetorosdelamaestranza.com

7. Barrio Santa Cruz

The primary tourist neighborhood of the city and the former Jewish quarter, Santa Cruz is bordered by the Jardines de Murillo, the Real Alcázar, Calle Mateas Gago, and Calle Santa Maria La Blanca/San José. Its labrynthine streets house many of Seville’s oldest churches and several plazas full of bars and terraces – brimming with character it is the perfect area to amble gently around before or after a relaxing lunch.

8. Catedral De Sevilla

The largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world, Seville’s cathedral is a masterpiece. The Giralda, its bell tower, stands at 343 feet high and is the perfect spot to take in the panoramic views of the city after a short walk up the 35 stairs. With construction having begun in 1184, the building is steeped in history and traditionalism. Grand, elegant and traditional, the cathedral is one of Seville’s finest attributes and will astound your senses.

Av de la Constitución, s/n, 41004 Sevilla; +349020996 92; http://www.catedraldesevilla.es

5 Minute Chunky Guacamole Recipe

Want to whip up a pre-dinner entree that’s fresh, healthy and scrummy?  Are you time-short but eager to impress your guests? Look no further. This guacamole recipe is easy to follow and super-quick.

  • 1 large ripe tomato
  • 3 avocados, very ripe but not bruised
  • juice 1 large lime
  • handful coriander, leaves and stalks chopped, plus a few leaves, roughly chopped, to serve
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, red or green, deseeded and finely chopped
  • tortilla chips, to serve

1. Use a large knife to pulverise the tomato to a pulp on a board, then tip into a bowl. Halve and stone the avocados (saving a stone) and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh into the bowl with the tomato.

2. Tip all the other ingredients into the bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Use a whisk to roughly mash everything together.

3. If not serving straight away, sit a stone in the guacamole (this helps to stop it going brown), cover with cling film and chill until needed. Scatter with the coriander, if using, then serve with tortilla chips or spicy wedges and sour cream.

Improve your Languages with Vocabuflash

Looking for an accessible way to improve your Spanish or English?  Look no further.

Vocabuflash on YouTube is an easy to use language learning tool, providing short flash card videos (15 mins) on vocab essentials, from 100 most commonly used words and phrases to verbs and adjectives.

It also provides pronunciation of each word, improving your listening and speaking skills as well as reading and writing. Just 15 mins a day to improve your fluency – first thing, before bed or while you’re cooking – easy peasy.

YouTube Link