By Jon Clarke
IN an area best known for its fantastic ham you would expect to find the odd good place to eat.
Well, the truth is, in Aracena natural park it is hard to find a bad place to fill up.
Some of the best spots are in Aracena town, where, according to the Guardian, you will find one of the Top 50 best restaurants in the world.
The fabulous spot Restaurante Casas has been catering for tourists since 1947 and is said to be one of the oldest restaurants in Huelva province.
Incredibly, its owner Manuel Romero has been working here since 1964 and he and his family have served the great and good from bullfighters to golfers and actors to royalty.
The Guardian in particular singles out its jamon, but there is a good range of Iberican cuts of pork and an atmosphere conducive to a long lazy lunch.
Over the road is an even more exciting place, Montecruz, which is one of the very few restaurants in all of Andalucia certified as being organic by Spain’s equivilent of the soil association CAAE.
This wonderful spot is run by the talented livewire Monolo, who is constantly working to find the most exciting ingredients and new dishes to impress his customers.
He changes the menu constantly and prides himself in the quality of his produce, which includes easily the best wild ‘Boletus’ mushrooms I have ever tried.
He has an impressive caza hunting menu, when in season, which includes a carpaccio of mountain goat with foie gras, olive oil and lime and an amazing arroz with game birds.
A short drive out of Aracena leads to the sort of restaurant that any tourist to Andalucia dreams of. Arrieros, in Linares de la Sierra, is an authentic eaterie, where sourcing of ingredients trumps fancy sauces every day of the week.
Set in a charming village house, with classic mosaic floor, ancient fireplace and cork stools, this is one of Andalucia’s true dining secrets.
Run by Luismi and, at weekends, his primary school teacher wife Adela, this is a place for romance, but equally to experience the best pork you will eat anywhere in the world.
There is pork in all its glorious forms; presa, secretos, pluma, even castanetas, or throat glands, which actually tasted great if a little crunchy.
Mains included an amazing pluma Iberica hamburger, which was tender and served with a slightly spicy tomato marmalade and some sliced and baked potatoes.
Nearby, Alajar has the equally atmospheric El Padrino, little-changed since the 18th century, with some wonderfully earthy and off-beat dishes, such as stuffed chard stalks, while its big bodega of wines is exciting to visit.
Around the corner is the equally charming Botica de Amparo, literally the sitting room of the ancient townhouse of Amparo, who lives upstairs.
This friendly place is great for tapas and the food is all prepared in her kitchen by Amparo or her sister.
In Castano de Robledo, you must look out for Maricastana, where a charming local couple have turned this ancient townhouse into one of the most stylish dining retreats around.
It oozes charm, and even sets out a ‘declaration of intentions’ promising to ‘conquer the stomach’, not through over-eating, but through opening the senses and taste buds.
It didn’t do badly, with an interesting mix of dishes, well sourced and carefully cooked, in particular with a heavy emphasis on vegetables.
Finally over in Almonaster la Real you will find another highly-rated restaurant, El Rincon de Curro, which has been open for 11 years under the guise of Curro, no less.
Again, using some of the best local produce, it has a huge selection of vegetable dishes, including the excellent stuffed aubergine with broad beans, goats cheese and a small slice of jamon Iberico on top. A complete winner.
Best of all there were over 30 different desserts, which Curro’s wife makes from fresh every other day.