The ancient capital of Islamic Spain was at its peak during the 9th and 10th centuries, and Córdoba still reflects its roots in Moorish, Jewish and Christian traditions, architecture and cuisine. The Mezquita (or Great Mosque) is a breathtaking experience, one of the grandest and best preserved of its type in the world, despite the building of a Christian cathedral within its interior. Around the Mezquita, you can explore the narrow winding streets of the old Jewish quarter and the city wall, the Alcázar of the Christian Kings, and the Roman Bridge. If you have time, the palace city complex of Medina Azahara, just outside the city, is also worth a visit.
The best times to visit are spring and autumn, as the sizzling heat of summer is often too intense for being out and about. May is the month of three of the city’s most important festivals: the Cruces de Mayo; the famous Patio Festival, when many private courtyards are open to the public and the city is a riot of colourful blooms; and the Córdoba Fair at the end of the month, a chance to drink and dance the day and/or night away in air-conditioned casetas (festival tents). During the rest of the year, you can visit the Patio Museum at the Palacio de Viana, a wonderful collection of 12 patios with formal gardens as well as art and antique collections.
When it’s time to stop and eat, be sure to try Córdoba’s culinary triumvirate of salmorejo (a rich cold tomato soup often topped with chopped egg and jamón), fried breaded aubergines (often served with cane molasses) and flamenquín (rolled pork and serrano ham, breaded and deep-fried). Other specialities include japuta en adobo (fried marinated sea bream) and rabo de toro (braised oxtail).
Córdoba bars & restaurants
Bodega San Basilio
San Basilio, 29
There’s no better place to try Córdoba’s tasty ‘holy trinity’ of salmorejo, fried aubergines and flamenquín. This cosy family-run bar, along with its larger Mesón San Basilio around the corner, has been a neighbourhood favourite since it opened in 1994. Other traditional dishes include torreznos (crispy pork scratchings) and orange and salt-cod salad, which may sound odd but is surprisingly delicious. Expect friendly service and classic ambiente taurino (bullfighting atmosphere) at both locations. facebook.com/Mesonsanbasilio
Magistral González Francés, 3
This tiny no-frills bar opposite the Mezquita is famous for its massive tortilla de patatas made with 5kg of potatoes and 30 eggs. Order a slice with an ice-cold caña (small glass of beer) and enjoy it all outdoors, sitting on the ledge below the Mezquita wall while watching the world go by. Other traditional tapas are also available, but it’s the location – and the tortillas – that make this friendly little bar almost as big an attraction as the Mezquita itself.
San Fernando, 120-122
Named after the Roman fermented fish sauce, Garum 2.1 specialises in traditional Andalucían tapas with Moorish influences but, as the ‘2.1’ suggests, there are also modern touches that make its dishes deliciously different. It’s in the heart of the old city and the interior has an authentic, antique feel with an original exposed Moorish brick wall at the back of the dining area, complemented by a modern bar and a pleasant rooftop terrace.
Compositor Serrano Lucena, 14
Choco is top chef Kisko García’s one-star Michelin restaurant, dedicated to preserving the traditions of Andalucían cuisine in their many guises while bringing them up to date with modern techniques and ideas. This commitment to excellence means that top-quality ingredients (locally sourced wherever possible) are prepared and served with imagination and attention to detail. You can also try Kisko’s more casual Choco Bar next door.
Founded more than 50 years ago in a small inn in Córdoba’s Jewish quarter, El Churrasco has grown to include more than a dozen themed dining rooms, from a traditional cordobés patio to more modern settings, as well as a bespoke bodega for tastings. The cuisine has expanded too, but the original churrasqueadas (top- quality meats grilled over charcoal) are still the speciality of the house. There’s also a cosy bar for pre-dinner drinks or tapas grazing, with an impressive display of prime cuts awaiting their turn in the kitchen.
La Cuchara de San Lorenzo
Arroyo de San Lorenzo, 2
Founded by brothers Narciso and Paco López in 2006, La Cuchara – in the historic neighbourhood of San Lorenzo – has gone from strength to strength in the development of its menus while remaining true to its Andalucían origins. Small but elegant, with an ample terrace, it serves great food at reasonable prices, and the staff are friendly and efficient. A little off the beaten track, but worth making the effort.
Casa Pepe de la Judería
Not far from the Mezquita and a short walk into the old Jewish quarter, Casa Pepe recently passed its centenary. Over time it has expanded into a maze of dining rooms with a rooftop terrace around and above its original rustic central patio, but the cuisine is still very much traditional cordobés. If you’re looking for a taste of old- school Córdoba, this is the place to come.
Jugo Vinos Vivos
Plaza San Andrés, 5
Córdoba’s first wine bar dedicated solely to natural wines, Jugo Vinos Vivos opened its doors in 2017 and is run by American Gabrielle Mangeri and her cordobés husband Javier Orcaray. Many of the (mostly Spanish) wines are available by the glass with a selection from Montilla winemaker José Miguel Márquez prominently featured. The small menu changes regularly, with the emphasis on small-production raw-milk cheeses, artisanal breads, conserves, smoked fish, cured meats and olives. Wine tastings and cookery classes are available on request. @quierojugovivo
Pablo Ruiz Picasso, 8
Taste the history of Al-Andalus at Noor, opened in 2016 by cordobés chef Paco Morales. For his first season he explored the 10th century, using only ingredients that were available at that time. With the help of documentarians, historians, archaeologists and designers, Morales has told the culinary story of the times with skill and imagination, earning him two well-deserved Michelin stars. Each season, he has moved up a century (including a retrospective in his fourth year). Season 2022 found Noor in the late 16th century and, for the first time, New World comestibles were introduced into the repertoire. There are three tasting menus, with the option of the ‘armonía de vinos’ wine match selected and served by sommelier Pilar Vidal. An unforgettable experience.
La Casa del Pedro Ximénez
Corregidor Luis de la Cerda, 75
A stone’s throw from the Mezquita, this is a great little shop in which to expand your knowledge of the region’s wines – with the bonus of taking home some of your delicious Córdoba experiences. Aside from a wide range of Montilla-Moriles wines, you will also find an array of local artisanal products including brandy and vermouth, olive oil, vinegars, jams, marmalades and chocolates.
Ronda de Isasa, 10
Located at the edge of Córdoba’s old centre, just across from the Roman Bridge, Regadera serves some of the best food in town in a chic modern space with an open kitchen. Local chef Adrián Caballero’s food is upmarket without being pretentious – expect a combination of traditional and modern dishes ranging from suckling pig and beef tartare to cod and sea bass ceviche, executed with innovative twists and attention to quality and detail. Excellent wine list and cocktails, too.
A short drive south of the city is the winemaking DO of Montilla-Moriles, a perfect day-trip destination from Córdoba. Often considered ‘cousins’ to Sherry, these complex wines have as many differences as similarities.
Three main types are produced in the area: young and aged whites; ‘generosos’, which undergo either biological or oxidative ageing in the traditional ‘criadera y solera’ system of fractional blending and barrel- maturation, but are not fortified; and sweet wines. The majority are made from the region’s star grape Pedro Ximénez, which has led to the DO now adopting a promotional tag as The PXperts.
Enotourism has been growing in the area and visits in English are offered by bodegas such as Toro Albalá (which is celebrating its centenary in 2022), Alvear and
Pérez Barquero. For an exclusive winery experience, contact Rosa Lara at Just Explore to set up a private getaway.
While in Montilla, be sure to make time for lunch or dinner at Taberna Bolero. Owner Carlos García Santiago has been running this charming third-generation restaurant for the past 15 years. An expert in regional wines, García is always happy to recommend pairings for his traditional-with-a-twist dishes. Don’t miss the mazamorra cordobesa (cold almond soup) with melon and amontillado.