THEY are as much a part of Andalucia as fish and chip shops in Britain or bistros in Paris.
The roadside ventas lining the highways of Spain’s largest region have been providing sustenance to the weary traveller for centuries.
Take any main motorway or winding A-road and, chances are, after a few kilometres you will come across one.
Normally squat ugly rectangles, you’ll know them from the line of metal parking shades out front.
Utterly unprepossessing in the main, there’s rarely a hint of the quality of food and on most occasions you will leave largely unimpressed.
Yet, every once in a while the lowly roadside venta will blow you away.
Take the wonderful 16th century Venta Galwey on the ancient winding road into the Montes de Malaga park, or the ancient Venta Alfarnate which once imprisoned Andalucia’s most famous bandit, El Tempranillo. They are unforgettable.
Just as breathtaking is the isolated huntsmen’s hideout of Puerto de Galiz, in the middle of Los Alcornocales natural park, which Rough Guide editor Geoff Garvey highlighted in our last issue. Ditto the simple Venta el Castillejo, near Algodonales, where I sampled the best fresh tomatoes I have ever eaten.
Of course, there are plenty of ‘old chestnuts’ too, as I discovered while compiling my book, Dining Secrets of Andalucia. I travelled far and wide around the eight provinces of the region to snuffle out the genuine truffles from the mouldy fakes.
Fed up with the Michelin guide’s failure to venture out of the cities and the inability of regional newspapers to point me in the right direction, I went out and did it myself.
Now morphed into a website with well over 100 picks, quite a few of them are ventas well worth a detour.
Sure, you will always find plenty of fried food and the toilets may not have soap (although, thanks to Covid, they probably do now), but you are guaranteed an ice cold beer for little over a euro and there will always be three or four specials of the day and some interesting local dishes.
My advice? Always, always ask what they recommend. And pray it’s not the ‘callos’ (tripe with chickpeas, normally), which I have never managed to handle.
While not all strictly ventas, most of my favourite 20 roadside restaurants are simple and good value.
Do you agree with my top picks? We are hoping to compile Andalucia’s Top 50 roadside ventas… If there’s a special roadside diner missing from the list you think we should visit we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a comment about why it deserves a place in our guide.
JON CLARKE’S TOP 20 ROADSIDE VENTAS (in no particular order):
- Venta Galwey (montes de malaga), a scenic spot with amazing views and tasty stews
- Restaurante Los Labraos, Benadalid, on the scenic A-369 from Gaucin to Ronda. This family- owned spot is charm personified with a lovely terrace
- Venta Alfarnate, an ancient spot by a river high in the Axarquia, which once held famous 18th century bandit El Tempranillo captive.
- Venta Victoria, on a bend on the famous ‘restaurant road’ up towards Casares from the Costa del Sol, this is a historic but stylish place for a good value lunch
- Venta Quemada is one of the best stopping off places between Malaga and Alicante. On the main A-92 motorway near Cullar, in Granada province, this huge establishment does a roaring trade, often turning over up to 1,000 covers a day.
- Venta Pelistre, hidden on a back road between Arriate and Ronda, has some of the tastiest pork and a wonderful selection of gin and tonics. No wonder famous bullfighter Cayetano is a regular!
- Venta La Duquesa, in Medina Sidonia, is exactly how ventas should look and feel, and always buzzing.
- Restaurante la Tasquita sits, appropriately, on Calle la Venta, in the tiny village of Benamahoma, at the end of the best shady river walk in Andalucia.
- Venta Pinto on the approach road to Vejer has a fabulous panoramic terrace for summer dining. The split-level restaurant oozes old world ambience with a roaring log fire in winter months.
- Ventorillo el Nene, just off the N-340 highway from Tarifa to Vejer, near Facinas, is a charming stopping off point with all its bullfighting paraphernalia
- Caserio de San Benito is one of those secret places that you’d probably pass by without a second glance. But if you find yourself travelling along the main highway between Cordoba to Antequera it’s an absolute must.
- Venta Ribera, in Riofrio, is the perfect stop en route to Granada city or the ski slopes of the Sierra Nevada. You will be rewarded with the best trout and caviar in Spain
- Venta el Castillejo, near Algodonales, on the main A-384 from Jerez to Antequera, is simple, basic and serves the tastiest tomatoes and local asparagus you’ll ever eat
- Restaurante Nicol’s, near Luque on the N-432 between Granada and Cordoba, is a surprise stop beside an old decommissioned railway line, featuring a collection of old carriages, and just the ticket for great grub.
- Venta el Paraiso, in the middle of an umbrella pine forest ‘somewhere’ near Punta Umbria is a genuine secret. Just ask the King of Spain who has eaten here.
- Venta Polverilla sits in the Llano de la Cruz valley near Ronda and boasts easily the best shady terrace for miles around.
- Venta Marinetto is featured in all the top truck drivers’ restaurant guides, the best recommendation for hearty grub at reasonable prices. In front of Granada airport on the A92, there’s also a good choice of tapas.
- Ventorillo Patas Cortas on the original road between Malaga and Antequera, now the MA-3101, is possibly the oldest venta in the province, dating from the 15th century. Charmingly rustic inside, the walled garden patio is an idyllic spot for dining.
- Venta El Soldao in Los Badalejos (near Benalup on the A-2225) where they do amazing rice dishes, including the best Arroz con Faisan in Andalucia, claims a foodie pal
- Restaurante Venta Los Morenos is a long time expat favourite. Find it at a busy roundabout between the Guadalhorce towns of Coin, Alhaurin and the Mijas road.
What’s your favourite venta? Send your Top 10 to firstname.lastname@example.org