Western Andalucía has a wonderful karstic landscape, with rugged sierras, fertile plains, and an abundance of freshwater mountain streams. For centuries writers and artists have tried to capture the region’s essence, described by Théophile Gautier as a paradise of dreams hidden behind the mountains of the Sierra Morena.
In search of that paradise, this tour begins in Seville, the pulsating hub of the Spanish empire in the Siglo de Oro with superb Mudéjar and Renaissance palaces, fragrant, flower-filled gardens and patios, and excellent art. Fascinating archaeological collections contain vestiges of the region’s varied history and inhabitants. The port town of Cádiz, which today retains the quiet, delightful charm of its former glories, was the Phoenician’s first trading emporium in the Iberian Peninsula and, in the sixteenth century, the site of famous naval battles between Francis Drake and Martin Frobisher and the might of the Spanish fleet. Carmona, first inhabited in Palaeolithic times, was later an important Bronze age settlement and, under the Emperor Augustus, one of the most important colonia in Hispania. It boasts an impressive necropolis and a city fortress described by Julius Caesar as, ‘by far the best defended city in the Roman province’. At Itálica, we see the archaeological remains of the great Roman city founded by Scipio Africanus after his defeat of the Carthaginians, and later the birthplace of the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian.
Travelling inland, the beautiful white villages of Arcos de la Frontera, Grazalema and Ronda were all on the frontier between Christian and Muslim Spain during the Reconquista, and today bear witness to their complex, multi-cultural heritage. Through an optional walk in the Sierra de Grazalema, we discover an area of outstanding natural beauty with rich, diverse flora and fauna.
Seville. Fly at c. 3.30pm from London Gatwick to Seville (British Airways) for the first of four nights.
Seville. Visit one of Spain’s greatest buildings, the Alcázar, built by Moorish architects for Spanish kings with courtyards, gardens and magnificent tapestries. The cathedral is one of the largest Gothic churches anywhere. Walk through the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the Jewish quarter, with flower-filled courtyards to the Casa de Pilatos, the best of the Mudéjar style palaces, with patios and azulejos. The church and hospital of the Caridad is Seville’s most striking 17th-cent. building, with paintings by Murillo and Valdés Leal.
Carmona. Drive out to Carmona, a small town with a castle on its summit and one of Spain’s most splendid fortified gates. Visit the Roman necropolis, Moorish and Christian Alcázar, built on Roman foundations, town hall with Roman mosaics and the church of Sta Maria, its courtyard that of the mosque it replaced.
Seville, Itálica. Morning visit to Seville’s Fine Arts Museum: the best in Spain after the Prado. In the afternoon see to the Archaeological museum with sculptures, mosaics and statues from Itálica, before visiting the Roman site itself on the outskirts of the city.
Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz. Drive south stopping at Jerez de la Frontera, centre of sherry production. Tasting at Bodegas Tradición with its own art collection. The Plaza de la Asunción is flanked by the Plateresque town hall and Mudéjar church of San Dionisio (exterior). Visit the 11th-cent. Alcázar with well-restored mosque. The historic port of Cádiz remains largely unspoilt and retains a faded charm. An early evening walk includes the cathedral and Oratorio de la Santa Cueva with Goya paintings. First of two nights in Cádiz.
Cádiz. Walk through the gridplan of narrow streets to the chapel of the former women’s hospital, containing El Greco’s St Francis of Assisi, the 18th-cent. and the elliptical Oratorio de San Felipe Neri with Murillo’s Immaculate Conception. The Cádiz Museum has paintings by Zurbarán and Murillo and a fine archaeological section. Free afternoon.
Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda. Drive east to Arcos, a picturesque town which clings to the crest of a precipitous escarpment. Visit the two main churches, Sta Maria and San Pedro, both excellent Gothic structures with elaborate altarpieces. Continue to Ronda, another town with a stunning location, straddling the deep Tagus gorge and supported by the towering Puente Nueva. Visit the old town with 13th-cent. Arab baths, Moorish style gardens and a gallery dedicated to Joaquín Peinado, modernist and contemporary of Picasso. First of two nights in Ronda.
Grazalema. Drive to the beautiful Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park for a challenging optional walk: 6.5 km, c. 3 hours 30 minutes. Beginning with some steep climbs, traverse low lying mountain vegetation and woodland on rocky paths. Rewarded with panoramas of the surrounding sierras and countryside, we zig zag downhill into the pretty white streets of Grazalema village for lunch. Non-walkers remain in Ronda and drive to Grazalema for lunch.
Drive to Málaga for the early afternoon flight to London Gatwick arriving at c. 4.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,930 or £2,790 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,220 or £3,080 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 319); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 6 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Las Casas de La Judería, Seville: a 4-star hotel in the Barrio Sta Cruz created from several contiguous buildings connected by open-air patios. Hotel Senator, Cádiz: 4-star hotel in a converted palace in a narrow street in the historic centre. Parador de Ronda: a 4-star Parador in the former town hall, overlooking the Tagus gorge. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use. The Parador hotels insist on half-board, so three dinners and one lunch will be in the hotel restaurants in Cádiz and Ronda.
A good level of fitness is essential. This is a long tour and you will be on your feet for lengthy stretches of time. To participate in the walk in Grazalema you must be used to country walking with plenty of uphill and downhill content and own a well-worn pair of walking shoes. The walk is graded ‘challenging’. Average distance by coach per day: 40 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.