Visit spectacular historic sights with local tour guides. Enjoy gourmet dining with fine wines each evening. Whether you are exploring a medieval castle or a splendid royal palace, wandering the narrow streets of an ancient village, learning about the architecture of a magnificent cathedral or mosque, or just relaxing on the terrace of your hotel looking out onto the Mediterranean Sea, you will never forget this unique, once-in-a-lifetime European tour.
From our base in the enchanting city of Toledo, where we stay in a former archbishop's palace turned elegant hotel, we visit the greatest sights of Toledo. We visit the city's most outstanding monument, its cathedral, and walk along the narrow and winding streets, seeing churches, medieval houses and palaces. In the 16th century the painter El Greco came to live in Toledo and the city is home to his many of his works. We take a train ride into Madrid for a day to see the Palacio Real, the spectacular royal palace, the Prado Museum, one of the world's greatest art galleries, and try some local tapas, beautifully prepared snacks that originated in Andalusia.
We take a scenic drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to spend the next two nights in a beautiful "Parador" hotel on a hillside above the fascinating old city of Córdoba. The Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral will take your breath away, as will the magnificent gardens of the royal palace (Alcázar). The Mezquita is a unique blend of Moorish and Christian architecture, begun by the Muslims in 780 and enlarged over the centuries by both faiths to its present state containing 850 majestic columns of colored stone, that create a dazzling visual effect. We have time to wander through the Judería (Old Jewish Quarter and the heart of Córdoba) with its narrow streets, picturesque courtyards (patios) and bright flowers. Silversmiths create fine jewelry in their workshops, a tradition in the heart of the city. A walk around this area gives the sensation that little has changed since the 10th century when this was considered one of the greatest cities in the Western world.
We take a short drive to another spectacular wonder, the Alhambra of Granada. Set high on a hill, this remarkable fortress is brimming with palaces and gardens dating from the 14th to the 16th centuries, many containing mosaics, sculptures, towers, and architectural masterpieces of unspeakable grandeur. From Granada we drive south to the Costa del Sol. This beautiful coast is punctuated by the ruins of Moorish towers that were built to defend the locals from Barbary pirates. We then settle into our seaside hotel in Nerja. This charming resort is built on a cliff above sandy coves and lies at the foot of the beautiful Sierra de Almijara. There are sweeping views up and down the coast. Every room has a balcony looking out over the Mediterranean Sea.
After a relaxing morning by the seashore we take an excursion into the mountains to explore the picturesque village of Frigiliana. After lunch we tour the magnificent Nerja caves with 20,000-year-old prehistoric wall paintings. Tonight we can try some fresh local seafood and then perhaps a bit of flamenco dancing!
We leave Nerja to take a beautiful drive along the Mediterranean Costa del Sol—the Sun Coast—and then turn north for an exciting drive high into the mountains. We stop in the striking hilltop town of Ronda for lunch. As we drive down from the mountains, we stop in Jerez de la Frontera, famous as the capital of sherry production and where sherry (jerez) was invented. After a bodega tour and sherry tasting, we continue on to the beautiful city of Sevilla. Our lovely hotel for two nights is in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, in the heart of this lively, friendly city of sidewalk cafés, monuments, parks, and of course, flamenco. From this ideal location we can walk to many wonderful sights with our local guide. We visit the famous Seville cathedral, the largest in Europe, where we see the majestic tomb of Christopher Columbus, the Plaza de España with its stunning azulejo tiled bridges, the magnificent royal palace with its gorgeous gardens, statues and fountains, beautiful hidden streets in the old city, and of course a tapas bar or two. Tonight we attend a traditional flamenco spectacle and tap our way back to our hotel.
Today we drive north into the rugged region of Extremadura. In the ancient Roman city of Mérida we see the spectacular Roman theatre and amphitheatre. We soon arrive in Cáceres, where we will stay the next two nights. Cáceres has a unique blend of Roman, Islamic, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance styles and in 1986 earned the distinction of being named a UNESCO World Heritage City. It has a remarkable historical center dating back several centuries. Trujillo, just to the east, is built on a granite ledge of a hillside and is known for being the birthplace of several conquistadors, most notably Francisco Pisarro, conqueror of Peru. We enjoy guided tours of both Cáceres and Trujillo and have time to explore on our own.
We spend the next two nights in the charming university city of Salamanca, named the European Capital of Culture in 2002. The university was founded in 1215 and is the oldest in Spain. We have lots of time to explore this wonderful friendly city, and we may be able to enjoy a Spanish tapas cooking class. The famous Plaza Mayor square is a great place to shop, stroll, and admire the beautiful Salamancan architecture. Heading back east toward Madrid, we visit the Royal Site of San Lorenzo of El Escorial. This magnificent 16th century World Heritage Site is a beautiful complex including a majestic basilica, an enormous royal palace, the burial place of Spanish kings, and a world famous art gallery with paintings by El Greco, Velazquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Hieronymous Bosch, and many other great Renaissance works.
We end our journey back in the Madrid province near the airport. On our last night in Spain we enjoy a gourmet farewell dinner.
In the morning we drive to the Madrid Airport for the flight home.
Single Supplement available upon request.
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