On one of Europe’s more un­usual river cruises, Jean­nine Wil­liamson de­lights in ex­plor­ing the grand old ci­ties and undis­cov­ered land­scapes of Spain

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

Ex­plore Spain on a river cruise

We might have been sail­ing more than 500 years af­ter Christo­pher Colum­bus, but as our boat MS La Belle de Cadix emerged from the lock out­side Seville and be­gan glid­ing down the in­creas­ingly wide river, we felt a real sense of trav­el­ling in his foot­steps.

Flat coun­try­side stretched as far as the eye could see, with rice and cot­ton fields giv­ing way to the wet­lands – home to storks, flamin­gos, wild horses and the rare, elu­sive Span­ish im­pe­rial ea­gle and Ibe­rian lynx.

Our sense of ad­ven­ture had al­ready been fu­elled the pre­vi­ous day with a visit to Seville’s land­mark Torre del Oro – or Gold Tower – built in the 13th cen­tury as a de­fence.

At one time, a thick chain ran from the tower to an­other on the op­po­site side of the Guadalquivir river to pre­vent en­emy ships pass­ing. To­day,

it houses a fas­ci­nat­ing naval mu­seum filled with sea­far­ing in­stru­ments and ex­hibits chart­ing the voy­ages of great nav­i­ga­tors, in­clud­ing Colum­bus and Mag­el­lan.

Our trip ini­tially took us 50 miles along the river that forms the back­bone of An­dalu­sia, then on an ex­cit­ing 18mile sail into the At­lantic, hug­ging the Bay of Cádiz.

Spain isn’t the first coun­try that springs to mind when you con­sider river cruises, and CroisiEurope is the only cruise line that op­er­ates on the mighty 408-mile Guadalquivir.

The river rises in the Sierra de Ca­zorla moun­tain range and is Spain’s sec­ond-long­est wa­ter­way and the coun­try’s only nav­i­ga­ble river.

The 176-berth MS La Belle de Cadix is un­usual in it­self, as the dual-pur­pose ves­sel was built to sail on the river and the sea. If the waves get too choppy at sea, the boat returns to the river mouth.

Un­like typ­i­cal river cruises, we spent four nights moored in one city – in this case, Seville, the grand cap­i­tal of An­dalu­sia, where or­ange trees line the streets and rub shoul­ders with the vast Gothic cathe­dral.

There are sunny squares and the nar­row, labyrinthine streets of the his­toric Jewish quar­ter, Bar­rio Santa Cruz, to ex­plore.

Hav­ing vis­ited Seville be­fore, we skipped the in­cluded trip in favour of a stroll into the city along the wa­ter­front and through leafy parks. There, we soaked up the at­mos­phere and lunched in one of the many cafes and bars.

Fel­low pas­sen­gers toured the cathe­dral and the Plaza de Es­paña in Par­que de María Luisa – the huge, en­dur­ing sym­bol of the 1929 Ibero-Amer­i­can Ex­po­si­tion world fair, which mixes el­e­ments of Re­nais­sance Re­vival and Moor­ish Re­vival ar­chi­tec­ture.

Seville is the birth­place of fla­menco, and we en­joyed a pas­sion­ate per­for­mance by dancers, a gui­tarist and singer in the ship’s lounge bar. In be­tween the rhyth­mic clap­ping and stamp­ing, we learned how the ori­gins of fla­menco lie in Ara­bic mu­sic, and how it evolved from the ar­rival of gyp­sies in the 15th cen­tury.

Other at­mo­spheric, typ­i­cally Span­ish ex­pe­ri­ences in­cluded a visit to a sprawl­ing ha­cienda on the banks of the river to see a breath­tak­ing eques­trian dis­play star­ring proud An­dalu­sian horses with flow­ing manes. Fea­tur­ing clas­si­cal high-step­ping dres­sage moves set to mu­sic, at one point a fla­menco dancer ex­e­cuted her own steps just inches in front of the horse.

On an­other day, we sipped sherry at the Os­borne Mora Win­ery in charm­ing El Puerto de Santa María – part of the so-called ‘sherry tri­an­gle’ formed with San­lu­car de Bar­rameda and Jerez. In Spain, the for­ti­fied wine is much more than a typ­i­cal Christ­mas tip­ple, and is drunk year-round. We were amazed that more than 25 va­ri­eties are pro­duced by the com­pany, which was founded in 1772 by Thomas Os­borne from Ex­eter.

A nat­u­ral high­light is the UNESCO-listed Doñana Na­tional Park, cov­er­ing 200 square miles of marshes, la­goons, scrub wood­lands and sand dunes. It’s a pro­tected, un­spoilt habi­tat, and we mar­velled at the sight of mi­gra­tory white storks on nests, to which they re­turn year af­ter year.

Back aboard the boat, our days were punc­tu­ated with leisurely meals show­cas­ing Span­ish and An­dalu­sian spe­cial­i­ties, such as ser­rano ham, paella and lo­cal cheeses served with a choice of wines.

Our evenings ended with a night­cap in the bar, where we re­flected on our mod­ern­day voy­age of dis­cov­ery in the wake of an­cient sailors.

Os­borne Mora Win­ery

MS La Belle de Cadix is built to sail on the river and at sea

Un­spoilt Doñana Na­tional Park

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