Continuing my blog from Barcelona…..
Our next 5 days in Spain took us on a journey to the past, celebrating all that is amazing in the Andalucia region of southern Spain.
Day 7 – Cordoba
Our AVE express train took us from Barcelona in the Northeast of Spain all the way to Cordoba in the south in just 5 hours. We made our way to the Hotel Conquistador, a quaint 4 star hotel located in the heart of Cordoba right across from the Mezquita, which is the highlight of Cordoba. Since we only had the afternoon to explore Cordoba, we grabbed a quick bite of tapas and headed over to the Mezquita. This is an amazing Mosque-Cathedral that dates back to the Moors in 700 AD. In the 1500’s the Christians took it over making it into a cathedral. Realizing the unique characteristics of the mosque, the Christians built around it and that is what makes this place one of the most amazing sites you’ll see in all of Spain.
Cordoba was once the center of this part of Spain and Morocco with over 1 million people living here. Today, it is a thriving tourist center. Within the walled city, there is also a robust Jewish section with a Synogogue and many outdoor cafes. Outside the walls, we crossed the bridge which took us over to the new section of Cordoba, it was a Sunday so most things were closed. But we enjoyed seeing all of the girls dressed up in their finest Sunday clothes.
The weather in Cordoba was much warmer, in the high 80’s. We went to a great restaurant for dinner called Bodegas. Our waiter, Antonio (looked like Andy Garcia) gave us tickets to the sound and light show for that evening. The show didn’t start until 11pm and we didn’t get back to the hotel until the wee hours of the morning.
Day 8 – Granada
Always an adventure! We picked up a rental car at the Cordoba Train Station. This was booked through Carefree Vacations, Auto Europe. I have to say, the car they gave us was amazing and if you dare to do this – say “YES” to the GPS (which saved us many times, even when it was wrong!). The car could be driven as either a stickshift or automatic (we chose to keep it in automatic). I had printed out road maps (from the Michelin travel guide books) as a back up. Navigating our way out of Cordoba was not too difficult and driving through the countryside was lovely.
We stopped in a little town, Alcala, for lunch before heading on to Granada, where our “nightmare” drive began. First, the center of Granada is like a maze, so driving in it was confusing and each time the GPS lady said turn right, we were aimed at a wall or a “street” (I guess you’d call it that) which was way too small to drive on!! Our other challenge was that we weren’t staying in Granada, we were staying on the outskirts in an area called Sacramonte. This area is OLD!! And much of it must be navigated on foot as the roads run out and are just cobblestones or dirt.
After driving around in circles for over 2 hours, we gave up! We found a taxi and paid to follow him up to Sacromonte (yep, just like on the Amazing Race). Once we began winding up through the narrow streets, he pulled over and jumped in our car and drove us the rest of the way (thank goodness, because at this point, we had already pulled in the mirrors and were doing our best not to scratch the car). Of course the hand-drawn map that the “hotel” (if you want to call it that) gave us showed a parking lot right next door. In reality, we had to park about a mile away at a farmer’s house in a dusty old lot. We thanked the taxi driver and a woman named Cookie showed up in a tiny red car and said she would take our luggage the rest of the way. This area, above the Albycin, is where the Gypsies of Granada live and the place we were staying was called Cuevas el Albanico, or “The Caves”. We sent my cousin in the car with Cookie and our luggage while Mary Kay and I hiked the mile up the hill to the Caves.
The caves are not for everyone, the rooms are large enough, but they have a musty smell. This location is for those that want to get away and explore the countryside. If I had it to do over, I would opt to stay near the Alhambra. However, from the Caves we had a magnificent view of The Alhambra.
In the evening we walked down the hill to a Gypsy Flamenco show where we had a truly delicious dinner and spent the evening watching amazing flamenco dancers.
Day 9 – The Alhambra
We had reservations to tour the Alhambra today, one of Spain’s most impressive sights. I highly recommend making advance reservations as many people are turned away each day due to the limited number of tickets and tours available. The Alhambra is one of the man-made wonders of the world. We were impressed for sure, but all of us were equally impressed with the Mezquita in Cordoba and La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
The Alhambra was a city, dating back to a time when the Sultans ruled Spain. Although the Christians took over in the 1500’s, they saw how beautiful this place was and left most of the buildings in their original muslim archetecture. Our tour lasted close to 4 hours and it was HOT with a lot of walking. As we wandered into Granada afterwards, we saw a hop on/hop off bus that we took around the city. The outskirts reminded me of Denver.There were snow capped mountains in the distance, yet it was very hot in the city. Before heading back to our “Cave”, we had a great paella dinner in town.
Day 10 – Granada to Sevilla
Oddly, we were able to navigate our drive out of Granada much easier and quicker than when we arrived. Once on the country road we drove The Route of the White Hill Towns. I highly recommend this drive, it was beautiful. Give yourself plenty of time in Ronda, it is a magical town. Ronda clings to hillside cliffs overlooking a gorge and boasts the oldest bullring in Spain. We had lunch and shopped here, we could have easily spent the night, but needed to move on.
We drove a few hours further to the hill town of Arcos de las Fronteras. Not nearly as dramatic as Ronda, but charming to say the least. After making our way out of here, we finally arrived in Sevilla (Seville) around 8pm.
Fortunately, in May, it does not get dark until after 11pm, so our late arrival was not a problem. We stayed at the Hotel Cervantes, a Best Western 4 star property. The hotel and lobby were very nice, but the room was extremely small and the hotel was not located in the best part of town. However, it did have a secure parking garage which we needed.
We had an “early” dinner and then back to the hotel.
Oh to be lost in Seville, magnificent, really. Of the three Andulucian cities, Sevilla is the best (in my opinion).
Sevilla (Seville) was once the artistic, cultural capital of Spain. There’s a lovely river that flows through the city from the sea which is why King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella lived here and made it the center of Spain during the time of the Navigators. During the “Golden Age” of Seville, merchants from all over Europe passed through here on their way to Africa and other destinations. The best known expedition was that of Christopher Columbus who left from Seville to find the New World. Columbus’ tomb is in one of the main Cathedrals in the center of town.
This was the hottest day yet, high 90’s with humidity. We met up with a local guide who showed us the Cathedral, Alcazar and Palace. Later we climbed the 35 floors to the top of Giraldi Tower for a great view of the city.
This afternoon, we took a horse and buggy ride around the parks and palaces of Seville. We stopped for a beer in the luxurious Dona Maria Hotel across from the main cathedral. This night we had our best meal yet: Veal sirloin with foie gras, I had Hake Fish with asparagus. We sat in a lovely courtyard outside the flamenco theater. The flamenco show was great (we had front row seats!), more professional than the one we saw in Granada. However, I prefered the Gypsies, it was a little wilder than this one.
By the time we meandered back to our hotel it was, once again, around 2 am!!!
I was looking forward to hitting the beaches of Portugal!!! We all needed the rest!!
…Next up – Portugal
You can see more of my photos of Cordoba, Granada and Seville on our facebook page.
Or view my video on YouTube.
Or talk to one of our Carefree Vacations Spain Travel Specialists.
by Nancy Kivlen
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