Castanet to Seville
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think every second female in Seville was a Flamenco dancer. That was the first impression my wife Linda had when we visited the Andalucian capital recently. What we didn’t realise right away was that it was La Feria, a six-day annual festival that takes place two weeks after Easter and sees the local female population dressing up. The city streets were full of young girls, teenagers, elegant ladies and mature women all kitted out in a glorious show of fabulous, Flamencan finery. At the Feria showground – more than a thousand casetas (canvas tent pavilions) host visitors – horse and carriages containing members of Seville society parade up and down and an amusement park called Hell Street adds to the fun. Our first stop in the city was to Seville Cathedral built on the site of ninth-century mosque and said to be the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Massive columns, intricate carvings, huge vaulted ceilings and the tomb of Christopher Columbus all made for a fascinating experience. Close by, the Real Alcazar are a group of royal palaces that were the centre of power for more than 1000 years. There is a surprise at every turn and so much to see we could have spent a day there. The various gardens, with many fountains and mile-high palm trees, were a joy to wander in. From there, we headed to the magnificent Plaza de Espana, a semicircular sweep of buildings with a Venice- style canal ( and bridges) separating them from a huge square. All round the rim of the buildings are ceramic tiles representing each of the Spanish provinces. The next day we took the 45-minute train trip to Cordoba, once the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus. The city was re- conquered in 1236 by the Christians, who were so taken with the 10th century- Great Mosque that they built their cathedral in the middle of its rows and columns, resulting in the vast, breath- taking Mosque- Cathedral, which combines Moorish and Christian architecture. Close by the Guadalquivir River, the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos is a former Roman fortress and home of Christian kings, which overlooks sumptuous gardens. Our journey back to Seville was on a high-speed train from Madrid, so we hit an exhilarating 155mph and arrived five minutes early. On our last morning, we wandered around Seville’s narrow streets, popped into the impressive Museo de Bellas Artes and had lunch on the Plaza del Duque, dominated by the massive El Corte Ingles department store. On then to Granada, a journey split between rail and bus as there is rail work going on near Granada (no surprise there, then). If we thought the streets in Seville were narrow, Granada’s beat them hands down, with pedestrians forced to jump into shop doorways to avoid passing taxis and motorbikes. We’d tried to book tickets online for the Alhambra (the world-famous “red or crimson castle”, a fortress, palace and city all in one), but they were sold out. This meant we had an early-morning trek up what seemed like a never-ending hill to the box office for on-the-day tickets ( join the credit card queue, it’s far quicker). Our early rise gave us time to have breakfast at the Alcazaba, one of the oldest (military) parts of the Alhambra, with terrific views over the city. As our timed tickets for Nasrid Palaces were for 11.30am, we made a beeline for the Generalife, at the other end of the complex to stroll through the gardens, designed to be the place where the kings of Granada could get away from the worries of ruling. The Nasrid Palaces combine three palaces (Mexuar, Comares and Palace of the Lions) from different time periods and proved yet another fascinating journey through history. Back in town, we headed along the side of the Darro River and, through a maze of narrow alleyways – jumping out of the way of roaring scooters – and ended up in the Albaicin area, full of Moorish traders with colourful clothes, bags, herbs and spices. On the way back to our hotel, we popped in to Granada Cathedral. Another building created on the site of a mosque, it’s full of massive thick pillars that seem to reach to the sky, and ornate designs and carvings. But if there is one lasting memory before we headed for the bus to Malaga and flight home, it was the baroque St John of God church, covered in gold, carvings, sculptures, paintings and religious ornamentation. Astonishing.
Tomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville
The gardens at The Castle of the Christian Monarchs, Cordoba
Women and girls at La Feria