The Daily Telegraph - Travel
ANDALUSIA WITH VOYAGES JULES VERNE
Awell thought-out taster trip to this Moorish-influenced region of southern Spain, including key sights in Seville, Córdoba and Granada and road trips through rolling landscapes and hills.
This a good mix of urban and rural: just as you are about to max out on mosque-cathedrals and labyrinthine old quarters, there’s a day in the “pueblos blancos” of the Alpujarras on the south face of the Sierra Nevada mountains. There is also plenty of free time.
There are two main hotels (with the last night in Nerja, not far from Málaga Airport), which is a great bonus: you can unpack and relax. Both were in excellent locations, the Seville hotel being friendly, if rather old-fashioned, and the Granada hotel a smarter, more contemporary option.
Two dinners are included, one of very average tapas – in Seville, which is tapas central, after all – and the second on the last night. Buffet breakfasts were extensive, but it was disappointing to have coffee machines in Spain. Buckets of good, affordable restaurants for lunches and dinners.
Tour manager and guides 8/10
Our tour manager was super-efficient and helpful, though I could have done with a little less talking on the coach, with so much information to absorb on our visits each day. The three local guides were excellent and managed to Time for tapas: a welcome stop in Seville, above; the city’s Alcázar palace, below explain complex sites in a relatively short time.
The coach was always on time and in the right place, and although we had some issues with overheating, this was soon sorted out. We were never introduced to the two drivers by name (both courteous and helpful). The longest drive between destinations was two hours.
Value for money 8/10
Excellent, from £945 per person based on two sharing. Despite the weak pound, food and shopping were reasonable, with 25cl of beer or a cup of coffee €1.20 (95p) and a meal around €12.
“A Journey through Andalusia” from Voyages Jules Verne (020 3553 3722; vjv.com). explosions of taste, a scattering of southern Spanish morsels, to be tried and revisited, with luck, another time. Far better to potter through a few patios in the Jewish Quarter and take refuge in Califa, a microbrewery run by thirtysomething Córdobans, and walk back to the coach via the line of Moorish pools that drop one into the other along the city wall.
It was so hot in Córdoba, I had to wear a hat. It was so cold in Granada, almost 2,000ft higher in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, we nearly got hypothermia waiting for the first Nazarenes, or penitents, of Holy Week. They appeared in silence, in red coned hats and robes as white as the snow on the mountaintops, and the uneasy connotations only disappeared as we realised that many were girls and many were young, though not as young as the children circulating with baskets over their arms, snapping any drips off the candles.
Granada felt like a proper city, its landmarks scattered among office buildings. In a way, that made them more special: the old silk merchants’ market, like a caravanserai; the cathedral (another monster) shouldering its way out of the streets with barely room to breathe; and the Royal Chapel where Ferdinand and Isabella lay in their crypt, in so many ways the authors of all we surveyed.
High above us was the last Moorish citadel, the Alhambra, which I’d been dreading because of its size. But Guide Three, Richard, steered us through its courts and gardens, from the Renaissance palace back through time to the keyhole doorways and elegant proportions of the Islamic period, to the great audience chamber with its wasps’ nest plasterwork, approached via a long pool (blinding in the sun, so the supplicant arrived at a disadvantage), and to the summer retreat of the Generalife.
When I remember Andalusia, I will remember tapas-crawling in the Arab quarter, and students packed into the Plaza de San Nicolás to watch the sun set on the Alhambra. I will remember the Flemish paintings in Granada’s cathedral sacristy, the scent of orange blossom in Seville, and little girls clad in black bin liners and cardboard and nylon mantillas following a lurching miniature float carried by their schoolfellows, all practising for the future. I’ll remember the simple, uncluttered church we saw in the Alpujarras, such a contrast to the bombast of its urban counterparts, and lunch on the terrace of a house overlooking the green spring landscape.
And I’ll remember that miserable so-and-so in the coffee shop. And, even more, his coffee.