We visited Spain as part of a Tauck eight-day tour last September, adding pre and post days in Barcelona and Madrid.
Hubby and I like to travel in September, primarily to avoid the crush of tourist crowds. For most locations, the weather is quite pleasant, rates are a little better, and we also get to celebrate our anniversary in style.
We decided to splurge on a Tauck tour because we liked the itinerary, accommodations, and that they took care of all the logistical details — in a country we didn’t speak the language.
Throughout Spain, we stayed in five-star hotels ideally situated, The local guides were exceptional, adding enormously to the experience. Transportation was seamless and pretty plush, with a bus driver who provided extraordinary service. Lastly, although most of the couples in our group were a generation older, socializing with them enhanced the vacation.
Join me now on an overview of our trip to Spain, with major highlights of each destination.
What Have I Been Waiting For?
Why haven’t I posted about this sooner? Well, a week after we returned home from Spain, I retired. Only a month later, I went launched Debbee’s Buzz. By then, it was Halloween and the holiday season was in full swing — leaving no time to share our Spain vacation. In fact, I still haven’t printed our pictures! That’s a parallel project I’m working on as I post about our vacation.
A Week in Spain
Tauck’s A Week in Spain is an eight-day tour that for 2018 starts at $3,790 they rate a 3 pace, 2 activity level (scale 1-4). Here’s Tauck’s far more eloquent description:
“Our one-week Spain vacation reveals the Moorish as well as Jewish and Christian influences on the history and culture of Spain. Discover the country’s rich cultural heritage in Barcelona, Granada, Ronda, Seville and Andalucía, Córdoba, and Madrid. Enjoy a private flamenco performance… a horse-drawn carriage ride through Maria Luisa Park in Seville… a visit to Seville Cathedral… a guided tour of Madrid’s Museo del Prado… an included on-tour flight from Barcelona to Málaga… and much more.
Note: I have no affiliation with Tauck or any of the hotels, restaurants or attractions in this post.
A Not So Great Start
We elected to go to Spain instead of France, because of all the terrorist activity in Paris and Nice. Ironically, just prior to our arrival, was the tragic assault on the Las Ramblas in Barcelona . And, the U.S. was in the midst of a trio of hurricanes. With family in Florida and South Carolina, including elderly parents, it was looking like maybe we needed to stay put. Everyone urged us to go, Tauck re-routed our flight out of the path of the storm, and off we went with heavy hearts.
Oh, and did I mention that Catalonia was in the midst of an independence movement? Yeesh! Fortunately for us, things didn’t start to get disruptive until we were in Madrid. Other than lots of Catalonian flags flying, Barcelona was a gorgeous, vibrant and happening place.
In order to adjust to jet-lag and the time change, we added an extra day and a half to our stay in Barcelona. You also want to factor in that the Spanish eat lunch and dinner much later than we are accustomed to. For first night we ate tapas style at Plaza Real, an easy walk from our hotel.
We started our first full day early exploring Gaudi and modernista sites around Barcelona.
That evening, we met our Tauck group for a welcome cocktail orientation and dinner. The next morning, we started with a walking tour of the Ramblas and into the Bari Gotic.
In the heart of the Bari Gotic was the incredible Cathedral of Barcelona. Astonishing inside and out.
Later that day we visited Sagrada Família, the fanciful, unfinished cathedral designed by Gaudí. Sagrada Familia couldn’t have been more different than the Cathedral. Much to my surprise, I found seeing the church and watching it under construction, fascinating.
Making Beautiful Music
We had the rest of the afternoon on our own, and decided to tour Barcelona’s amazing music hall. It was a last minute, impromptu decision that I recommend you don’t miss. Yes, that stained glass ceiling actually dips down like a funnel!
The next morning was an early start as we flew to Malaga on the coast.
Surrounded by river valleys and sitting above a deep ravine, Ronda is a place that literally takes your breath away.
It’s nearly impossible to tear yourself away from the views. But, it’s also a wonderful old town (dating back to the Romans) to wonder around and enjoy all the local, cliff-hanging places to eat and drink.
Ronda is also the home of modern day bullfighting and a legendary bullring.
Although we did not see a bullfight, the tour of the ring and museum was a highlight of visiting Ronda. I only wish we had had more time to explore, and would definitely have loved to have overnighted there. The time we spent spent in Ronda felt rushed.
After flying from Barcelona, traveling to and touring Ronda, and then on the road to Granada, we arrived late to our hotel. It was too full of a day that had an early morning start. Everyone had to rush to their rooms and change for dinner. We were beat! I tried to rally myself so we could see the Alhambra dramatically lit at night, but was so tired we went to bed.
Thousand and One Nights in a Day
However, the next day was my favorite of all days in Spain. Exploring the Alhambra and Generlife Gardens during the day is a not-to-be-missed, bucket list destination. And, I want to go back!
We were fortunate to be able to walk through a forest path right from out hotel to be amongst the first to enter the complex. Tickets to access the Alhambra often sell out, and it was nice to have sometime to explore before the hordes arrived.
I was in awe of our surroundings, the architecture, intricate ornamentation, views of town and mountains, intoxicating scents of flowers and landscaping, and the musical sounds of flowing water. The place conjures up Arab fantasies of One Thousand And One Nights.
There so much to see here! Our guide was wonderful and shared her deep love and passion of the place. I followed her around like a puppy! She had a great sense of humor, and was delighted and was happy to answer questions.
We spent the bulk of the day touring the Alhambra complex of palaces and Generalife Gardens, but had no time at all to visit old Granada. A second night and another half to full day would have allowed time to explore old Granada and see the Alhambra at night.
Sevilla (how the locals pronounce it) was our favorite city in Spain on the tour. Like almost everywhere we went, I wish we had more time there.
Arabian Nights the Sequel
Not to be missed is the Real Alcazar, originally home of Moorish Muslim kings. The palace is renowned as one of the most beautiful in Spain, and as an outstanding examples of Mudéjar architecture.
Upper levels of the Alcazar are still used by the royal family as their official Seville residence, making it the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. The Real Alcazar is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
My sons immediately recognized the Alcazar’s gardens and palaces as the setting for the Water Gardens of Dorne in Game of Thrones (actually, many places we visited throughout Spain are used in the filming of the show). If you are interested in some stunning photos of the Alcazar from scenes in the show, go here.
Note: If you take the Tauck tour, the itinerary does not included the Alcazar but the Cathedral instead. Because it was Sunday when we were in Seville, there were no morning tours because of Masses. We attended Mass in the afternoon and so were able to see a bit of the inside and Columbus’ tomb. I think Tauck normally does the Cathedral because the Alcazar is somewhat like the Alhambra? Believe me, you want to see both — and the cathedral. I suggest you purchase tickets for the Alcazar online before you go. Even in September, the lines went around and around the building and it sells out.
The first evening in Seville, our Tauck group was treated to a private flamenco performance in the Andalusian style. Another highlight of our trip to Spain. The dancers were moving so fast, all my pictures are a bit blurry! I posted a short video on my Facebook page, if you’d like to see flamenco in action.Had there been more time, I would have liked to see another flamenco show in a theater in Madrid. Never enough time…
Carriage Ride to Espana
Another major highlight of our time in Seville was a horse-drawn carriage ride that deposited us at the Plaza de Espana. There is another beautiful, but very different Plaza de the Americas in Seville, located near our hotel.
The picture above only shows about a third of the main building and canal, with a large central section and identical tower on the opposite side. There are incredible tileworks everywhere! People were renting boats to row in the canal later in the day.
Cordoba is also in Andalusia in Southern Spain. Originally a Roman settlement, it was then colonized by Muslim armies in the eighth century. Cordoba became the capital of the Islamic Emirate, and then of the Caliphate of Cordoba, including most of the Iberian Peninsula. Cordoba consisted of hundreds of workshops that created goods such as silk. It was a center of culture and learning in the Muslim golden age.
Cordoba city was recaptured by Christian forces in 1236. Today, the historic center is another of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites we saw in Spain.
The Great Mosque, Now a Cathedral
Originally a Muslim minaret, the Bell Tower is dominates Cordoba’s skyline, while still performing the same function – calling the faithful.
I didn’t know that seeing the Mezquita was on my bucket list, but the interior of the Great Mosque was my favorite awe inspiring single structure we saw in Spain. Yeah, I know, I keep saying favorite this, favorite that! The scale of the place, the mixture of Islam and Christianity, and it’s antiquity had our jaws hanging open.
Was so pleased to see that in Spain, home of the Inquisition (which never, ever was mentioned during any of our tours in Spain…), that instead of destroying the Arabic architecture and art, the Christian royalty incorporated, embraced and adopted it.
After reluctantly leaving the grand mosque/cathedral, we enjoyed a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter with its maze of streets, buildings, garden oasis’, and fountains.
An A/C shuttle bus with cold bottled waters was waiting,and whisked us off to the train station while our regular tour bus was already on route with our luggage to Madrid. We even had access to a special waiting area, before taking boarding an upscale train car with huge windows, exceptionally comfortable, roomy seats and lunch.
Chasing Windmills by Train
The Spanish high-speed AVE trains operate on the longest high-speed network in Europe. The extensive network allows for fast connections between cities in Spain. It’s the way to travel! What I wouldn’t give to travel to Philly or NYC to see my sons this way! And the scenery along the way made me skip the idea of listening to a podcast or snoozing. Right through Don Quixote country, with fortresses/castles, mountains and olive groves for as far as the eye could see.
The next day, Tauck took us on a bus and walking tour of the beautiful city for a comprehensive look at Madrid.
Afterwards, we broke up into two groups to explore the Prada Museum with another fabulous, local guide. A highlights tour, we saw great works of art by Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Titian, and Velázquez. I could have spent the entire day following our guide around, listening to her stories, descriptions and humor. Again, we needed another half day just in the Prada. And, that doesn’t count the two other major, world-class museums we never set foot in.
Much to See & Do in Madrid
Like Barcelona, we added an extra night and day on our own in Madrid. Something, it seemed everyone on our tour did too. There’s so much to see in terms of buildings, museums, neighborhoods, performances, and eating! And, in many cities on the Tauck tour there was zero time to shop. I came home with only one small hand-painted tapas plate from Seville.
One thing we planned to do on our own was tour the Palacio Real, but there was some kind of state affair going own, with dignitaries and royals being shuttled back and forth Lots of pomp and ceremony. I’ve posted video of that on Facebook too.
Palacio Rea is, separated from the cathedral by a spacious square, the Plaza de la Armería. So, we climbed to the top of the cathedral for a birds eye view of the goings on, with spectacular views of the city beyond.
We spent an entire day and a half exploring the city on our own, enjoying in particular the old neighbors for food and more. Too lengthy to describe here. Our last afternoon, we walked all through the extensive El Retiro Park, where my husband treated me to a rowboat ride.
A Lifetime of Experiences in 10 Days
Throughout the next few weeks, I hope to feature each city in one post and provide a more photo highlights of each location with a few details on where we stayed and ate.
As far as the Tauck tour, I give it an ‘A’ and would definitely recommend it. Have you ever taken a Tauck tour or been to Spain?