Review: Classical Spain
Escorted Tour - Coach
It's a cracker!
145 people found this review helpful
The thought of flying into and out of Malaga airport on a Jet2 flight with visions of raucous hen and stag parties aboard made me a little dubious about this Riviera Travel holiday.
The sight of a prospective groom wearing a bridal dress on arrival at the airport did nothing to assuage my fears. Perhaps ungraciously I did think that he would not be making the front cover of Vogue anytime soon, in either role.
The unedifying spectacle of a large male group necking pints and shots at 5.30am in the bar at a fast rate of knots lowered my expectations further.
As it was, the groups were headed for less cultured, more hedonistic destinations and a quiet and relaxing journey followed. A good start.
This was a Riviera Travel coach trip, visiting Cordoba, Seville and Granada. These cities are in the region of Andalucia, a large area of southern Spain stretching from southern Portugal, down to Gibraltar and towards the East coast.
These lands were ruled by the Moors from the 8th to the 15th century and their presence has influenced much of the local architecture, still seen today. It is the romantic Spain of flamenco dance and the opera Carmen.
On arrival in Malaga, the travel rep at the airport soon had us organised and onto a waiting coach for the 40 minute journey to our first hotel, the 4 star Ilunion Hacienda del Sol in the hills above Fuengirola, for a single night.
This low rise, three storey hotel with Spa had a superb outdoor pool and a part shaded terrace with trees and a fountain.
Our room was spacious with mountain views and was clean and well maintained.
A lovely hotel all round.
After settling in we had an unscheduled trip further up the mountain to the nearby village of Mijas which had wonderful views of the Mediterranean coastline far below.
On our first excursion the following day, we visited Ronda, a hilltop village split by an impressive natural gorge. In the eighteenth century an amazing stone bridge was created which linked the two halves. It is an incredible feat of engineering.
The old town is especially worth a tour on foot. There is a lovely park and plenty of cafes and restaurants with great views.
Our onward trip took us to our second hotel, this time for 3 nights, to the 3 star superior Don Paco Hotel in Seville’s old town.
It is set in a quiet square within flat walking distance of all the sights and the centre.
The room this time was a little smaller but modern and clean with en-suite facilities. Unusually for Spain, there was tea and coffee making equipment in the rooms.
Seville is the capital of Andalucia, the fourth largest city in Spain and has the country’s largest shopping area.
That evening we enjoyed traditional Spanish tapas in the Rincon del Tito, a local restaurant only 100 yards from the hotel. The tapas and a drink were included in the holiday. So good was it, that we returned the following evening to enjoy more, this time with both complimentary bread and a lovely orange wine to finish.
Our Tour Manager then took us on an impromptu night-time foot tour of the city centre, taking in the shopping centre, the amazing ‘mushrooms’ construction (see photograph) and many restaurant suggestions.
The following day we were treated to a guided coach tour of Seville which took in the Expo 92 site, the Americas Exhibition of 1929 sights, the cathedral, the bullring and the Tower of Gold – built to contain the gold and precious items looted from the newly discovered Americas.
We then elected to go for the optional river cruise (Eu14) for a serene hour or so through the city.
Later, we all went on a foot tour of the fabulous Parque Marie Luisa which had the scents of jasmine and myrtle filling the air as we walked. We were quite unprepared to see the magnificent crescent shaped building at the Plaza d’Espana as we turned a corner. Built for the Americas Exhibition, it is a truly breath-taking building with a semi-circular canal and exquisitely decorated bridges, reminiscent of Venice. This is a ‘must-see’ experience.
We took our chances, ticketless, to see Seville Cathedral. The queue wasn’t too bad and at Eu4 for over 65’s (with photo proof, ie driving licence or passport) an absolute bargain.
Note there are two entrances at the main gates, one for people with tickets, one to the right for the ticketless.
This is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and is mightily impressive. We walked up the Giralda bell tower there, steadily pacing up the 35 internal slopes (not steps) and then the final 17 steps to reach the top with wonderful views over the city. We then wandered through the town at leisure, having a drink or two at street cafes, listening to music.
That evening there was an optional trip to the theatre for a Flamenco show (Eu30), which was good by all accounts, but you can see several excellent Flamenco artiste shows free at the Plaza d’Espana any Sunday throughout the day and this tour includes a Sunday here.
Our next day was a free day and we took the opportunity to make a return visit to the exceptional Parque and Plaza.
The Alcazar Royal Palace was also on our visit list (Eu3 for over 65’s with requisite proof). The gardens here are beautiful as is the architecture of the buildings. Another ‘must-see’ venue.
Later, we made use of the hotel’s rooftop pool and bar, marvelling at the illuminated city features at night.
Fully rested and relaxed, we set out the next day for the 1.75 hr. drive to Cordoba and a guided tour of the Mezquita Moorish mosque.
After walking across the Roman bridge into the town, I guarantee that you will be blown away by the stunning buildings of the combined mezquita and cathedral.
This was the highlight of the tour for me.
For lunch I can heartily recommend a small deli called Atrium, a five minute walk away. Sandwiches are freshly made and delicious, it has a glass floor with ancient stone remains below and a lovely, shaded open-air courtyard to the rear.
In the afternoon we travelled on to Granada, a 2.5 hr. drive away and our final destination. On this entire journey you will see mile after mile of olive trees, from horizon to horizon, millions and millions of them.
No wonder Spain is the largest exporter of olive oil in the world.
The 4-star Alixares Hotel was our final base, for a two night residency. This hotel is just five minutes walk from the Alhambra Palace grounds, above the city. After a busy day, the large outdoor pool was a wake-up call. The hotel is spacious and has recently been refurbished.
Next day, we caught a local mini-bus (Eu1.40) just down the road from the hotel, for a ride into the city and out again to the viewpoint of Mirador San Nicholas. The views from here are spectacular, being at the foot of the 11,000ft snow capped Sierra Nevada mountain range and above the city itself. Alhambra Palace can be seen across on the adjacent hill.
To the mini-bus again, this time dropping off in the city centre for a visit to the cathedral, lunch and then back to the hotel.
The unforgettable late afternoon tour of the Alhambra Palace was one which will stick in the memory for a long time. Simply exquisite. Be warned, this is a 3hour guided tour, a long walk with some steps to negotiate but so well worth the effort.
The two hour journey to the airport the next morning took in many more olive trees through lovely arable countryside to round off the week.
This Riviera Travel holiday was a tremendous bargain for what we encountered.
It was a bed and breakfast deal with one tapas night included.
The hotels were all of a very good standard. All three had Spanish style buffet meals for both breakfast and evening meals. These were adequate, especially the breakfasts, but I would recommend eating out in the evenings as better, cheaper and more authentic alternatives abound. All the hotel staff we encountered were excellent and eager to please.
We found prices in this part of Spain to be very cheap.
Finally, may I say that our Tour Manager Paul Richardson is worth a paragraph of his own. He was simply the best guide we have come across in all of our travels. Affable, genial and hugely knowledgeable, what he doesn’t know about Spain, it’s history, literature, films, geography, agriculture, flora, fauna, sights, food, local knowledge, restaurants, way of life and so much more simply doesn’t exist. And that’s quite apart from his stock of life stories, anecdotes and the jokes of Tommy Cooper and Frank Carson which had the coach rocking on occasions.
A brilliant week spent which felt like a fortnight – and in a good way. To quote Frank Carson, it’s a cracker!
145 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.