Please read the first post in Madrid first!
So after picking up my parents at the airport after a podcast binge-listening due again to Ryanair delays, we drove straight to the south of Madrid to avoid traffic the next morning. Nothing very exciting in a hotel completely empty, still no heater (i.e. winters in Spain are warm outside, but freezing indoors!).
Our first destination on this monday morning is Cordoba, that we reach after 4h driving. White buildings, sun, some arabic architecture, it somehow feels a bit like being further south in Morocco. The highlight of Cordoba is definitely the cathedral, actually a large mosque transformed into a christian worship place when catholics took over southern spain in the 13th century. Luckily the change of religion only slightly affected the building integrity and the fine muslim decorations have mostly remained. The first idea in mind was that instead of keeping and financing (mostly-)unused churches and cathedrals “just because”, and having extremist politicians doing everything to not allow other religions to have their prayer places, a simple solution would be to just share the same building… Plus, there’d probably be less death, darkness and other monstrosity and more geometrical figures in the decoration! Apparently, the three main monotheist religions have already chosen different days – friday, saturday and sunday. The cohabitation shall be easy! (and maybe a library and science-center monday>thursday?)
The rest of Cordoba was spent walking around the small streets in the old center, and peeking at the indoors and gardens of houses.
We drove further the next day to Sevilla, with a first stop in the village of Carmona – a fortified place on top of the hill overlooking the valley and andalusian fields. Whereas Carmona was very quiet, Sevilla was a little overcrowded with families celebrating the three wisemen (it’s apparently at least as and possibly more important than Christmas in Spain) and a loooot of tourists. The two main sights in Sevilla are the cathedral, by some criteria (don’t ask which) the biggest in the world and also where Christopher Columbus is buried (the tomb is a little megalomaniac, but maybe not as much as Napoleon’s). Second sight is the Alcazar, arab palace later transformed in the local-king’s palace and today still one of the royal residence. The gardens give the place a peaceful atmosphere to the place and a great area apart from Sevilla’s restlessness. We are in Spain, so we spent the evening getting stuffed with tapas and sangria!
After so many cities, we went wednesday to the Donana National Park. The park is located in the delta at the end of the Guadalquivir river and is supposedly one of the best places in Europe to spot birds in winter. We saw lots of animals, but somehow only mammals: boars and deers :-). The park still is a wonderful place between pine forests, beaches, swamps, sand dunes and meadows. We finished the afternoon and evening in Cadiz, a town on the spanish atlantic coast with an enjoyable mild weather (and enjoyable amazing tapas). Cadiz really reminded me of Essaouira in Morocco – just a few hundred kilometers south (although the spanish town has more locals and less tourists).
Thursday was mostly a road trip accross the “white-villages” in the andalusian mountains. Surprisingly those villages are the rainiest in Spain due to geography and feel therefore like a completely different region – luckily we kept the sun with us. All buildings are painted in white, as summers here are sweltering, although a winter jacket is also nice in January. Ronda is particularly impressive, with a village split between two clives and a bridge that may have inspired Tolkien between the two parts.
The next day we visited Granada, and possibly the most famous monument of Andalusia – if not of all Spain, the Alhambra. Cordoba itself is a very beautiful town right next to the Sierra Nevada mountains, with several old neighborhoods: muslim, jewish, gipsy, etc overlooking the center of the city. But all those areas are themselves located below the gigantic palaces of the Alhambra hill, and the snow-covered Sierra Nevada stands overlooking everything behind at over 3000m. There are so many monuments in the city that we need to walk continuously across town and the whole afternoon is spent in the Alhambra. The fortress and especially the Nasrid palace are inspiring, fully covered with arab art. Although almost a 600 years have passed since the arabs have left Granada and the successive conquerors have damaged, modified and poorly maintained some parts, the majestic of the buildings has impressively remained.
Our last full day was spent in the Jaen region and in the town of Ubeda, also known as olive oil capital of the world. We drove through a natural park, olive tree fields, and ended up in the less known town of Ubeda – listed as a Unesco world heritage site. Although the size of Ubeda is smaller than the other cities visited the previous days, it feels like every second building is a renaissance landmark. We spent the evening savouring local olive oil in a great gourmet restaurant and I discovered how amazing some olive oils can be. Seriously fantastic! (and I bought three bottles of olive oil each more expensive than champagne… totally worth it!)
We drove back through the Escorial near Madrid on our way back to the airport on sunday. Although a very famous monument in Spain and its huge size, I felt a little disappointed. It’s maybe because of the comparison with monuments in Andalusia or because apart from the size of the building, architectural details are mostly missing, and also maybe because it is mostly about the spanish monarchy and their mausoleum… But a good detour back home after those cultural 10 days finally discovering a bit more from Spain!
Spain has definitely ranked higher in my destinations after this trip.