We arrive in Malaga and find a high speed train to Seville, shooting past fields of orange and lemon and olive trees. Our hotel in Seville, Hospes La Casas del Rey de Baeza (catchy!) is a beautiful old building with a pretty courtyard filled with baskets of citrus fruits- hiding the über-modern marble tiled wetroom in our room!
We dash out to explore the beautiful cobbled streets, the riverfront with the Torre del Orro- 13th century Moorish tower, the bullring and the more sinister passageway of the inquisition. We catch and early flamenco show at the cultural centre, delicate guitar music accompanied by a mournful singer wailing and the vigorous heel tapping, finger clicking and skirt waving of the dancers. We feast on tapas in a little bar on the corner, ordering plate after plate of delicious snacks before heading home.
The next day we breathe in lungfuls of the sweet smelling orange trees on the streets towards the Casas de Pilatos. The Casas hides a dazzling display of tiles and a beautiful courtyard surrounded by roman sculptures- not to be missed!
We explore on, reaching the splendid cathedral where we climb the 36 ramps of the Giralda tower- once the tower of a mosque up which the muezzin would ride to cry out the call to prayer.
After fuelling with more tapas, delicious salad, bacalau (salted cod) and tortilla on the Mateos Gago. We continue to the Alcazar, a palace filled with more endless rooms of exquisite mosaics, delicate plaster and a refreshing garden- complete with peacocks and a labyrinth! (One of the peacocks has developed a quaint partnership with a mallard who acts as ‘guard duck’ and scares the other birds away!)
Tonight’s dinner at a charming looking tapas bar near Santa Catalina almost ends in disaster as menu confusion brings a plate of chicken kidneys and interesting ‘imperial anchovies’- not on the pregnancy friendly list!
On our last morning in Seville we find the Parque de Maria Luisa to see the extraordinary Plaza de Espana with its ceramic balustrades and arched bridges.
We get the train to Cordoba, where more luxurious rooms await in the Hospes Palacio del Ballio – which displays a complete roman mosaic floor and pillars under the glass dining room floor.
In Cordoba we explore the river front marvelling at roman bridge and watermills across the river.
In the evening we tour the north of the hotel, following our trusty Inntravel directions via roman walls and beautiful churches to the Palacio de Viana, where we are wowed by the 12 garden courtyards- showcasing gardens from the Middle Ages to today. After emergency patatas bravas we dine at the Taberna Salinas- a wonderful restaurant with more local specialities- bacalau and orange salad and chickpea and spinach plates…
Our second day in Cordoba. More exploring around whitewashed walls to the Mesquita- a phenomenal mosque turned cathedral. Originally an open sided square of endless coloured arches built on roman pillars it now harbours a huge cathedral and hundreds of ornate chapels along every side.
Outside again we go to the Alcazar where we find turkish baths and endless gardens of fountains surrounded by manicured topiary. After lunch near the synagogue and the medieval Puerta de Almodovar we head back to the hotel to rest under the orange trees before our olive oil tasting (they all taste the same it turns out), and a degustation!
Our train to Granada is not high speed and our ‘premier’ carriage smells heavily of bodies. We also stop for a while en route to change gauge from regional to international gauge (or vice versa?) before heading uphill to reach Granada. After dumping our bags we go exploring past posh shops to the older part of town where people are offering free tapas, free information and trinkets on every street. We marvel at the Moorish baths and then climb to the Sacremonte area with the white houses built into the caves of the mountainside. The cobbled streets are pretty but blotched with graffiti, copulating cats and barking dogs. We do get fabulous views of the Alhambra across the valley.
On the way down we find ‘little Morrocco’- streets selling bright cloths and tea houses, where we stop to try somali tea and nutty cake.
We dine in a courtyard by the Cathedral (Plaza Rambla?) about 8pm but are surrounded by other tourists (the Spanish are still eating heaped plates of churros dipped in hot chocolate as their early evening snack and have not contemplated dinner!).
We have an early start the next day for our visit to the Alhambra, walking out of the hotel about 8.30 and up the steep slope through the trees to get there. It is worth it, we are almost the first there and the sight from the Alcazbar (old castle walls) is fantastic across the city and up to the snow topped mountains.
The Nasrid palaces are also stunning with intricate plasterwork and beautiful courtyards although we have been spoilt with architecture in Seville and Cordoba and so were not as ecstatic as a lot of the tour groups who we have to push through. We do enjoy the beautiful manicured gardens near the Generalife before heading back down to the Paseo de los Tristes for lunch with the locals, serenaded by guitars.
On our final morning we stretch our legs with a walk up to Carmen de los Martires, a park hidden on the hill opposite the Alhambra which appears a little unloved but with more fabulous views of the Alhambra and mountains, and with a cute folly in a lake. We admire the pretty streets of the Realejo and join the locals strolling the Paseo de la Bomba (park) before heading back sadly to collect our bags and find our flight home.