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The South of Spain was an Islamic Caliphate for over 700 years. Before that it was the home to Visigoths, Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians and the prehistoric wetland civilisation of the Tartessos. Their indelible marks of the landscape, architecture, food, art and music make this one of the most visually and culturally captivating places on the planet.  Spain was isolated for the best part of the 20th century under the iron fist of General Franco’s fascist regime. This resulted in some parts of the country, especially the eight regions of the province of Andalusia remaining largely untouched by modernity.  That said Andalusia is serviced by the most modem high-speed train service in Europe and punches above its weight in modern restaurants and hotels.  A travel dream combination!


The Moorish influence is strongly evident in a string of white towns built on the hills and cliff tops of the Sierra de Cadiz. One of the most beautiful towns is Arcos de la Fronterra. At its heart is the Alcazar – or Moorish castle surrounded by younger churches from the Christian era.  And there you will find the Parador de Arcos de la Fronterra, a 16th century mansion that is the former house of the local magistrate who built his magnificent home high up above the Guadalete River.  Luxury hotels or Paradors as they are known can be found all over southern Spain and were a government initiative to restore national monuments and  retain Spanish culture, while encouraging tourism in regional areas. Sherry is the drink of choice in Andalusia, a range of super dry to super sweet fortified wines that are match perfectly with food. Jerez de la Fronterra is the main town where you can find both the larger well-known bodegas such as Lustau as well as smaller sherry makers such as Bodegas Tradicion. Enjoy a private tour here and you can taste and buy the sherry while viewing 300 plus works of art in (winery owner) Joaquín Rivero’s private collection including works by Zurbarán, Velázquez and Goya; an unexpected but generous experience one discovers from the proud Andalusians.


Córdoba sits of the banks of the much larger Guadalquivir River. Here the narrow streets can feel hot and breathless, their maze-like quality harking back to the Berbers who laid the streets. They open up to squares that still bare the names that Miguel Cervantes used in his epic novel Don Quixote. In summer the small bars that dot the streets and lanes become cave-like retreats from the heat. Here they serve ice-cold beer and cold tomato soup-like dish called salmorejo. Thicker than gazpacho it is served with boiled egg and jamon on top. Light and clean tasting it is a dish perfectly suited to the climate and the season. In the heart of Córdoba, just past its market and ruins of a Roman temple is the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba. It is the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral built inside an 8th century mosque. UNESCO recognised it is one of the most stunning buildings in Europe. While the forest of stone columns topped with ochre coloured arches is breathtaking in its beauty it is only when you have an expert guide whispering the secrets imbued in the design by the Muslim architects a thousand years ago does the true power of this sacred site unravel before your eyes.


The air in Seville is rich with the scent of orange blossom. The Spanish use an Arabic word to describe the aroma – azahar. Bitter orange trees shade the courtyards in the Seville old town, once a melting pot of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The city’s cathedral bell tower is the old minaret for the mosque. Wandering the cobbled streets one is drawn to open wooden doors, where patios lined with ornate tiles are a retreat in the heat of summer. Some lead to convents scattered thorough out the city, where nuns sell freshly baked pastries and biscuits.  Recently opened in Seville is Palacio de las Duenas, the former home of the late duchess of Alba. Her life is remembered in this quirky house museum, an insight into Spanish Royalty, her families life and a seriously eclectic collection of art and curiosities. Don’t forget to wander the banks of the Guadalquivir or explore the ceramic quarter of Trianna: complete with 19th century market built in the shadow of Castillo San Jorge, the headquarters of the Spanish Inquistion. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the city’s great treasures. It was founded with works confiscated from convents and monasteries by the State in 1835 and occupies the former Convent of the Merced Calzada. The collection contains mainly Sevillian paintings from the 17th century, including works by Murillo, one of the most famous Baroque Spanish painters alongside Velazquez and Zurbaran.  In the recently renovated Plaza de la Encarnacion market hall, is the ‘Metropol Parasol’, designed by J. MAYER H. architects. With its visually impressive timber structures it offers an archaeological museum, farmers market, an elevated plaza, multiple bars and restaurants underneath and inside the parasols, as well as a panorama terrace on the very top.


Up in the mountains, near the source of the Guadalquivir is the city of Ubeda. In 2003 UNESCO awarded the small but sophisticated town – which boasts some of the purest examples of Renaissance architecture in Spain – world heritage status. In the narrow streets lined with stone buildings you can embark on a pleasing culinary exploration and buy artisan produce such as the new seasons olive oil. Wander the Plaza Vazquez de Molina and view the Palacio de Vazquez de Molina and Sacra Capilla de El Salvador to discover the Molina family history and trace the wealth that created the architecture of the town. For traditional ceramics visit the pottery studios of local artists – well known throughout Spain for continuing the ancient Arabic traditions which characterise the culture of Ubeda. This quietly sophisticated hill town looks out onto orchards, olive groves and the forests of national parks beyond.


The Moors last stand was in Granada. Perched in the foothills of the mountains it sits above a rich plain still irrigated by channels built 700 years by the Moors. The Alhambra palace-fortress was the last Caliphate stronghold seized by the Christian Spaniards King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. This stunning building with its walled gardens beautiful mosaics are the jewel of Iberian Moorish architecture. It’s well worth the investment of a private tour to reach below the surface and uncover the stories of intrigue and betrayal that lead to the downfall of a once great culture of science and learning that prospered under the Caliph. Make time for for a one or two day exploration of  the Alhambra complex and the Gardens of Generalife.  Pre-purchased tickets are essential.


The major international airport serving Andalusia is at Malaga, a seaside city also well served by ultra fast AVE train routes to Madrid and Barcelona. Malaga is known for its historic gypsy culture, unique seafood dishes and waterside bodegas; more recently it has become a popular destination for artlovers with a plethora of museums, including the Picasso Museum (Malaga is the birth place of Picasso) and Carmen Thyssen Museum, which shares its must-see collection on rotation with its CTM Madrid parent. It also houses (two foreign outposts) the Centre Pompidou Málaga and the Málaga branch of the Saint Petersburg State Russian Museum, along with the Malaga Contemporary Art Center.  As a bonus, the clean, uncrowded beaches make this the perfect spot to start or finish your Andalusian adventure.


Acros de la Fonterra: Parador de Arcos de la Fonterra, a 16th century Spanish mansion transformed into a luxury hotel built high up above the Guadalete River.  Seville: Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza, Cordoba: Hospes Palacio del Bailío, a rare and lavishly-restored, centuries-old agrarian retreat, where the ancient blends seamlessly with the contemporary design.Granada: Hospes Palacio De Los Patos, an 1800s palace retreat replete with mosaics, trompe l’oeil ceilings, and a grand marble staircase.


Córdoba: Eat with the locals and enjoy market fresh Córdoban dishes at Los Berengueles.  Seville: Have a plate of jamon and a glass of fino sherry at the 1670 El Rinconcillo bar.  Granada: A short taxi ride from Granada leads to the picturesque hill town of Monachil where you will find excellent produce drive food at La Cantina de Diego


Córdoba Mosque-Catherdral, www.mezquita-catedraldeCó ,Granada, Alahmbra Palace and Generalife Gardens, Museum of Fine Arts Sevilla, Picasso Museum Malaga Outside of Seville visit the city of Italica and Monastery of San Isidoro in Santiponce. Metropol Parasol Seville


Benalla Travel’s suggests staying in the 3 larger Andalusian cities Seville, Córdoba and Granada, visiting the smaller towns of Acros de la Frontera, Ubeda and Baeza; on route or as comfortable day trips. We recommend you experience staying in both a traditional Parador hotel and a luxury retreat. We suggest you take in cultural mornings, long lunches followed by siestas then late night Tapas. We highly recommend you visit a flamenco bar on a Friday night to really see how the locals keep their heritage alive!

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