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CHRISTMAS

Turrón: Ten things you didn’t know about Spain’s sweet Christmas treat

Take a stroll through any Spanish supermarket during the festive season, and you’ll surely have seen isles and isles of turrón. Spaniards love it, and it’s everywhere at this time of year. But what is turrón, exactly? And why is it so popular at Christmas?

turrón spain
The economy of the Valencian town of Jijona is based largely on turrón production. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

What is turrón?

Turrón is a nougaty sweet treat made from eggs, sugar, honey and toasted nuts. Almonds are traditionally used, but there are other types sometimes used too, like pistachios. To make turrón, you heat honey until it begins to caramelize, then add the sugar and egg whites. The next step is to add the toasted nuts to the mixture and blend it all together before leaving it to rest and set. It can be kept for up to a year if it is stored properly.

What are the different types of turrón?  

While there are lots of different flavoured turrónes available today, in reality there are only two types of turrón. Hard nougat (turrón duro) is known as Alicante nougat and soft nougat (turrón blando) as nearby Jijona nougat because they were originally made in those locations in Spain’s Valencia region. 

Almonds are usually harvested at the end summer, hence why turrón is traditionally eaten at Christmas in Spain. Photo: Ulrike Leone/Pixabay

What have the Moors ever done for us?

We owe the origin of nougat to the Arabs. Not only did the Islamic Empire leave its mark architecturally and linguistically, but nougat consumption in Spain is believed to have been around since the beginning of the 11th century. The Arabs called it turum and it was a common dessert that today’s recipe remains quite faithful to. The Moors brought the treat to Europe where it became popular in France, Italy, and most of all, Spain.

Renaissance recipe

In fact, the first nougat recipe appears in a cookbook from the beginning of the 16th century in a “Women’s Manual” kept in the Palatine Library of Parma and the recipe is included in an encyclopedia of the tasks that the high-ranking ladies had to do at home back then. 

The turrón tour

Despite Alicante and Jijona’s fame, there are many regions in Spain where nougat is made. Soria is a province with a lot of nougat tradition, having a truly delicious variety of Soriano butter, and another very famous variety is guirlache or guirlache nougat, which without being turrón in the strictest sense, is associated with turrón and is very typical of Aragon and southern Catalonia. They are also traditionally consumed around Christmas time. 

An employee at Madrid’s famous “La Casa Mira” sweet ship where turrón is made by boiling honey, sugar and egg white, and then adding toasted almonds and other ingredients for flavour. AFP PHOTO/ DANI POZO

Not always sweet

There’s also a salty nougat: a delicious snack that is challenging tradition. The idea was thought up by a Michelin-starred chef in…. you guessed it, Alicante.

Turrón that breaks the bank

The festive tradition of turrón is believed to be connected to the high cost that it has always had, which is why it is saved for special occasions. Turrón can be expensive – the ‘most expensive Turrón in the world’ is believed to be from Jijona and sets you back €250 for a half kilo!

G&T (Gin & Turrón)

For the G&T lovers out there, there is nougat gin! Created in 2017, its name nods to the Arab origin of nougat: Turum. 

The dessert of kings

The Spanish Royal Family is reputed to have always had a sweet tooth and a soft spot for turrón. In fact, the first place where nougat was consumed was at the Royal Court, and it has been a dessert of royalty since the time of Charles V.

Turronomics

The economy of the Valencian town of Jijona is centred around turrón production. There’s even a turrón museum that chronicles the process and history of the sweet located within the factory that makes both the famous “El Lobo” and “1880” brands of turrón.

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CHRISTMAS

The cities in Spain with the best Christmas lights

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Spain as many places have already switched on their festive lights. Some Spanish cities go all out, covering their streets with lots of sparkle and magic. Here are some of the best displays to see.

The cities in Spain with the best Christmas lights

Spain puts on a great show during the festive time of year and many of its cities look especially Christmassy covered in twinkly lights and pops of colour. Here are some of the cities to visit if you want to see the best displays. 

Due to the current energy and climate crisis, many cities in Spain have said that they would shorten the number of hours their Christmas lights are switched on for this year, while others have swapped over to LEDs instead. Some of the best cities for Christmas lights, such as Madrid and Vigo have insisted that they will not cut back on decorations, however, and will still look as magical as ever. 

Málaga

The Andalusian city of Málaga is one of the best when it comes to festive atmosphere in Spain, giving a spectacular display of light and colour. The city’s main shopping street – Calle Larios has for the last few years become one of the most famous Christmassy streets in Spain with an incredible show of light and music and decorative elements forming arches over the top of the road.

Over 500 streets around the city are decked in lights and there are also themed video mapping displays shown on the cathedral.

Calle Larios in Málaga is one of the most Christmassy streets in Spain. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

Madrid

Being the capital of Spain, it’s not surprising that Madrid is one of the best places to see the Christmas lights. The city uses no less than 7 million LED lights to light up the streets in the centre, as well as some of its most iconic buildings.

Some of the best places to see the lights include Puerta de San Vicente, Puerta De Alcalá and Puerta de Toledo. More than 40,000 12-meter Christmas lights are also strung up every year between Gran Vía and Calle Alcalá. Madrid’s plazas are decked out in Christmas joy too, with not only lights but lots of sparkly trees. The Plaza Mayor is particularly one of the most festive because of its Christmas market. 

Don’t miss one of the city’s most unique Christmas scenes at the Naturaleza Encendida show in the Royal Botanical Gardens. 

Visit the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid for its magical Christmas displays. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Barcelona

Christmas lights in the Catalan capital extend 100km throughout the centre, but you’ll find twinkly displays in all of its neighbourhoods too. One of the most impressive areas is the grand Passeig de Gràcia which is typically covered in sparkling spirals as well as reflective metallic-coloured butterflies, which make them twinkle in the daytime too. Emblematic buildings such as Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and the Hotel Majestic also create fantastic displays with candles. 

Plaza de Catalunya is another spot where lights abound, particularly around El Corte Inglés and down onto La Rambla. Don’t forget to check out the Christmas video mapping on the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, the city’s UNESCO Modernist old hospital.

Barcelona’s La Rambla transforms into a winter wonderland. Photo: JOSEP LAGO / AFP

Vigo

Vigo may be one of the smallest cities on our list, but it’s definitely big when it comes to Christmas. It’s said that the mayor of the city Abel Caballero loves this time of year and goes all out when it comes to decorations. Vigo dedicates one of the biggest budgets to its Christmas décor and has installed a system for more than 11 million LED lights for this purpose. Think coloured garlands, luminous figures, bright angels and curtains of glitter.

One of the best places to see them is the city’s Porta do Sol, which also hosts Vigo’s huge Christmas tree. In the past, there has been a 10-metre-high Christmas bauble, a giant present between Gran Vía and Urzáiz, a huge snowman and the bright star of Bethlehem in García Borbón and a magical luminous castle on Calle Policarpo Sanz. 

The mayor of Vigo is a big fan of Christmas. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Zaragoza

For the past couple of years, Zaragoza has dedicated a budget of some €700,000 to decorate its streets for Christmas to give more colour and Christmas twinkle to its streets. Alfonso I is one of the best streets, where over 100,000 LED lights make a multi-coloured ceiling across the top of the road. There’s also a 22-metre-high tree located on La Plaza de Basilio, decorated with even more glowing lights.

Zaragoza’s Christmas displays don’t disappoint. Photo: Iramonf / Wikimedia Commons

Bilbao

The Basque industrial city of art and design is no exception when it comes to holiday lighting. The city streets are illuminated by around 500,000 LED lights ranging from around 8 metres to 18 metres high. It’s particularly attractive around the Casco Viejo and its Siete Calles.

Look out for statues of Olentzero, the Basque version of Santa Claus, who is a charcoal maker and comes to bring gifts to the children on Christmas eve.

Bilbao’s Christmas lights form a display of pictures. Photo: RAFA RIVAS / AFP

Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The largest city in Tenerife is known for its vibrant nightlife, so it’s not surprising that it puts on a good show at Christmas too. Around 140 of its streets and squares are lit in preparation for the season with around 3 million LED lights. 

Typically its decor is made up of 176 arches, 26,334 meters of colourful garlands and 686 Christmas symbols arranged on its lamp posts. One year the city even had a 90-metre-long tunnel made up of cascading coloured lights. 

Kids love looking at the Christmas lights in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Photo: DESIREE MARTIN / AFP

Seville

Like the capital of Andalusia itself, Seville’s lights are both classy and romantic and it’s a special place to enjoy this time of year. It may not have as many lights as nearby Malaga, but what it does do, it does well.

Some of the best places to see them include Plaza de San Francisco, Avenida de la Constitución, Sierpes e Imagen, Tetúan, Laraña, Campana, Plaza del Salvador, Asunción and Alfonso XII. 

Head to Seville to see its elegant Christmas lights. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

Valencia

Valencia is another great city to spend the holidays in Spain and puts on a great show with its Christmas lights. One of the most iconic parts of Valencia’s holiday season is the video mapping projected onto its town hall. 

Plaza de la Reina will have three-meter structures that are made to look like almond trees and there will be other festive elements like ice skating rinks and Christmas concerts. 

Head to Valencia this year to see its impressive displays. Photo: Valencia Igor Ferreira / Unsplash
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