Written by Tom Thrun.
After four great days in Lisbon, we continued on our journey south into Spain. Let me take this opportunity to give a big shout out to our generous hosts, Globus and Travel Leaders, for the fantastic job they did on this trip. First the motor coaches; I have been in the travel business for almost 40 years and I have never been on land transportation so comfortable and luxurious. We actually looked forward to the bus rides! They even provided Wi-Fi so we were free to gaze at the countryside while catching up on emails to our friends, family, and office as well as post photos! Our top notch guides and drivers made each day a memorable travel experience.
On our last stop in Portugal, we enjoyed lunch at a Pousada at an old convent in the countryside. Pousadas de Portugal is a chain of about 60 luxury, traditional, and historical hotels located throughout the country. The food and atmosphere were a nice farewell to our wonderful time in Portugal.
Next stop: Seville, the capital of Andalusia, famous for beauty and romance, Don Juan, and Carmen. James Michener said “Seville doesn’t have an ambiance. It is ambiance.”
This magnificent 14th century palace is the oldest royal residence in Europe. Still in use when the king is in town, he stays here. Ferdinand and Isabella welcomed Columbus at the Alcazar upon his return from America. The beautiful gardens filled with fountains, flowers, and fruit trees is worth the visit alone. It also doubles as the water gardens of Dorne in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Plaza de España
Another landmark Sevillian Square, gardens, lily ponds, and fountains are situated around three elaborate buildings leftover from a 1929 world exhibition in Maria Luisa Park. Stroll around the grounds or take a horse and buggy ride down the palm-shaded pathways.
Catedral de Santa María de la Sede
This is the largest Gothic building in the world. Construction began in the 1400s and it took centuries to complete. The church is the third largest in Europe after St. Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. Columbus is entombed here.
This Moorish tower symbolizes Seville like Big Ben does London. It is the city’s most famous monument and there is a spectacular view of the old town from the top.
Mercado de Triana
This market, located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, was founded in the 1830s. Today it is housed in a shiny new glass and metal building. Vendors sell an endless array of fresh food, drink, and flowers at reasonable prices. Paella, seafood, ham, tapas and even sushi are available throughout the day. For lunch, we had tuna empanadas with sangria al fresco… magical.
Plaza de Toros La Maestranza
Seville is one of the most famous cities for bullfighting in Spain; although the season is short. We visited the bullring and the museum there. It is a fascinating insight into this Spanish passion without having to witness the blood and gore. Our hotel was the Hotel Gran Melia Colón, close to the bullfighters who stay here.
Flamenco is a dance filled with emotion and its passion evokes the Spanish culture. Andalusia is where it originated, so an evening at a Flamenco show in Seville is high on the list of things to do. Some of the many venues around the city are more touristy than others, so plan accordingly.
Our next stop was Granada, just a two and a half hour scenic drive from Seville. The hilly terrain along the way was covered with olive trees; millions of them. When you arrive in Granada, you are instantly struck by the physical beauty of the place. The city is located in the foothills surrounded by the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains, a popular ski area. We stayed at the Hotel Alhambra Palace, located just below the Alhambra. The terrace bar perched on the hillside offered a panoramic view of the city below and the most sophisticated gin and tonic menu known to man; an intoxicating combination.
This Moorish Palace, restored in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada, is famous for its beautiful open-air rooms, courtyards with trickling fountains, and stunning gardens. One room has a ceiling that contains 8,000 pieces of inlayed wood that is designed to look like heaven. Another room was designed to replicate the cave where the prophet Mohammed had his revelations. The ceiling in this room was fascinating. The beauty of this place is so inspiring that when Washington Irving took a sabbatical here, he wrote Tales of the Alhambra. Even Irving found his writing couldn’t do the place justice saying, “How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.” I must say I feel the same. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most visited site in Spain (for good reason), so making a reservation in advance is advised. This is another advantage of taking an escorted tour.