Discover Andalucia with Cosmos Tours - Part 2
En route to Cordoba we heard about some of
Spain’s more recent history. During the Civil War of 1936-1939, 600,000 people
died and 1 million emigrated from the country. General Franco’s totalitarian
rule only really ended with his death in 1975, and is now known as The National
the beautiful 'El Puente Romano' spans the Guadalquivir river, and is testament
to the city’s strategic importance for the Romans. But most people come here to
visit the dazzling Mezquita. On a guided tour inside its striking walls,
you’ll learn that the original vast mosque was completed in the 10th century,
was enlarged several times so that only Mecca has a larger mosque anywhere in
the world, and was overlaid with a Renaissance-style Christian cathedral in the
early 16th century. Words cannot adequately capture the scale and beauty of
this edifice that so perfectly represents the layers of religion and history in
There will also be time to explore the
labyrinthine medieval cobbled streets, once the Jewish quarter and now an
entrancing combination of shops, restaurants, churches, squares and homes with
concealed courtyards. Be warned - it’s very easy to get lost!
One of the many attractions of this tour is the painless way in which you’re transferred between the main destinations. Travelling in a luxury coach, our excellent Tour Director Ann ensured we were always fully informed about logistics and practical information. And along the way she also gave us some useful historical context, and an insight into Spanish and Andalucian culture, but all in an unobtrusive, gently humorous way.
En route to Granada, we were given a short
comfort break at a converted railway station in Luque. This attractive village
is in the heart of olive tree country, so it would have been rude not to buy
some of their amazing 'crema de manos y unas de aceite de oliva virgen extra'
at the station cafe and shop. And then cup a cafe con leche or a cerveza in
your smooth, sweet-smelling hands.
Granada is arguably the most beguiling city in Spain, and a fitting end to your tour of Andalucia.
Ringed by the Sierra Nevada mountain range,
it is best known for the Alhambra, a Moorish fortress and palace that watches
over Granada like a solicitous parent. But more of that later.
On arrival, relax in your comfortable hotel
in the newer part of town. Stay low to explore the Plaza de Toros area, or the
dancing fountains of the Jardines del Triunfo, a contemporary geometrically
designed garden, or just people watch in the busy Plaza Nueva. Or go higher, to
the Albaicin district of the city. Walk up the steep, cobbled
streets - or jump in a cheap taxi - to see this UNESCO World Heritage site.
With its history rooted in medieval Moorish
times, you’ll find narrow, winding streets, delightful small squares, charming
houses with geranium-strewn balconies, and a host of tiny churches, most built
on the site of old Mosques. But you’ll probably eventually be drawn - like a
moth to a flame - to the Mirador de San Nicolas. If you can see past the
camera-toting throng, this plateau offers picture-perfect, panoramic views of
the Alhambra, across the dividing gorge and with the river Darro way below.
The following day, you’ll finally get up
close and personal with the Alhambra,
on an expertly guided tour of this unforgettable fortress palace. Originally
built as a small fortress in the 9th century, on the site of old Roman
fortifications, it wasn’t until the 13th and 14th centuries that the Moors enlarged
it into a royal palace. The final Arabic regime - the Nasrid dynasty -
introduced most of the beautiful architecture and decorations that remain
today. Or at least what has been restored for us to see now.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella occupied
the Palace after the reconquest of 1492. The separate, huge Palace of Emperor
Charles V, a perfect example of Spanish Renaissance architecture, was commenced
during his reign, before the entire Alhambra fell into a state of near ruin in
the 18th and 19th centuries, occupied by vagabonds and thieves.
Fortunately, the Alhambra is now restored
to its former glory. On the tour, you’ll see the Nasrid palaces with the Court
of Lions, the Alcazaba, the harem and much more. And as a bonus, you’ll also be
taken to the Generalife, the summer palace - or perhaps the hunting
lodge - for the Sultans, a place where they could escape from the pressure and
intrigue of the Alhambra. Architecturally it has no real significance, but the
gardens and the location are what demand a sharp intake of tourist breath.
Your circular tour of Andalucia is nearly
over. But first, take an optional afternoon tour to see Granada’s impressive Cathedral,
the Catholic Royal Chapel - final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabella - and
Or if you’re exhausted from all that
history and sightseeing, immerse yourself instead in a traditional Arab
experience and spend a couple of hours at the Hammam Al Andalus. Built on the
ruins of an old hammam from the 13th century, this is a faithful recreation of
an original Muslim tradition. With Andalucian music playing gently in the background,
move between the thermal contrasts to reinvigorate those tired muscles and
minds - from absolute relaxation in the hot pool or steam room, to stimulation
in the cold pool, and gentle comfort in the warm pool. Traditionally the
largest, this is where bathers would linger longest, to discuss politics,
business or religion.
Sip sweet tea from ornate teapots, before
being summoned for your massage. Choose an oil scented with rose, lavender, red
amber or pomegranate flower, and imagine you’re back in the middle ages.
Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate, so my decision was an easy one.
The hammam has superb mosaics and
decorative inlays that are redolent of the Alhambra itself. Let your
imagination drift back a few centuries and imagine you’re a Sultan, rather than
a 21st century tourist about to leave exotic Andalucia.
Gill and I normally prefer independent
travel to an organised group tour. But this one from Cosmos was a revelation,
and a hugely rewarding travel experience. We learnt so much from the three
included guided tours by local experts, and also from the commentary by Tour
Director Ann. The optional tours - particularly the flamenco night in Seville -
were great fun. There was plenty of spare time along the way, to either relax
at the comfortable 4* hotels in each city, explore more or find alternative
activities, as we did. The horse riding and hammam were enjoyable contrasts to
sightseeing and history!
And it was good to get to know our fellow
travellers along the way, either over the generous buffet breakfasts at each
hotel, in the comfortable coaches or over some tapas in a local restaurant.
This really is a perfectly structured trip,
offering a great balance between the ancient and the contemporary, exploration
and leisure, structure and flexibility, education and sheer enjoyment. And it
all unfolds in a unique landscape of bewitching contrasts through history.
To paraphrase The Life Of Brian: ”what did
the Moors ever do for us?” Well, quite a lot actually, as you’ll see on this
time travelling tour of alluring Andalucia, that should appeal to most Silver
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Cosmos Tours and Cruises.