They say that Spain is more Spanish in Andalcuia. They say the bullfights are more flamboyant, the flamenco more fiery, the sun more fearsome. Easily accessible after a trip to Madrid, the south of Spain offers dance, food, palaces and a culture completely different from the north. This itinerary takes in 4 days in Southern Spain, through Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada.
Day 1: Contradictions in Cordoba
Take the train from Madrid to Cordoba in the morning, an easy 2 hour ride to the centre of the city. The first stop should be the Mezquita, the Great Cathedral and Mosque of Cordoba. The structure is beautiful, airy and light, still, even though the Christians closed some 12 doors to build their church right in the centre of all those red and white arches.
It would have been even more magnificent in its original state, with light streaming in all four sides, the darkness in the middle drawing in the faithful as surely as the call of the azan. It is a curious thing, the Mezquita, with its baroque church soaring up in the middle, like a mishapen cake with a collapsed outer circle. It is still a working church, and no where else in world would you ever hear the phrase “I went to Mass at the mosque today” used with such alacrity and utter nonchalance.
After the requisite time soaking up culture in the Mezquita, head to the Hammam Al Andalus baths to soak in the pools there. There are three pools – one pleasantly warm, one bone-chillingly cold and one steaming hot. You move from tepid to hot to cold and back again, spending most of your time in the middle temperature pool. There’s also an option for a massage – a delightful way to while away a hot Spanish afternoon.
Day 2: Song & dance in Seville
The next day, after a leisurely breakfast in Cordoba, catch the afternoon bus to Sevilla. Sevilla is a much larger city compared to Cordoba, with more to see. At night, make your way to Casa Carmen, where the lights dim down low as the flamenco dancers stamp and twirl and strut furiously on stage. Flamenco is such a passionate, spirited performance. Both a song and a dance, there is a great power and a sense of almost overbearing sadness and discord in flamenco music.
Day 3: Royal Seville
On your second day in Seville, visit the Alcazar, or castle, and the Cathedral, a huge church with a wooden vestry that took 60 years alone to carve. On the grounds there’s also the royal castle of Pedro, who was known as either Peter the Cruel or Peter the Just (depending on which side of him you were on).
There are Moorish influenced floor fountains, and Granadan arches, Toledo script writing, Sevillan motifs, all swirled into dancing, balanced, delicate facades of buildings, and inner courts with long pools and intricately carved pillars and ceilings.
Day 4: More Moorish palaces, Granada
From Seville, another easy bus ride takes you to Granada, where the highlight is undoubtedly the Alhambra. Pre book tickets if you want to come, and pre book early if you want to see the Palacio de Nazaries, or Nazareth Palaces, which are really the heart and soul of the Alhambra. The tickets are timed entry for the Nazaries and there are two sessions for the Alhambra itself (which includes the Generalife Gardens, the Alcazaba and the Palaces). There are only 900 tickets for the Nazareth Palaces per day and they sell out well in advance.
The Alhambra looks like a ship moored to a hill, looking over the whitewashed walls of the town of Granada. There is an old fortress, with three old towers. The bell atop one of these towers rang in commemoration when the Christian kings, Ferdinand and Isabella, entered the city of old Granada as conquerors, in full Muslim regalia. Granada is the most Moorish of all the Andalucian cities, with Arabian scripts adorning walls, doors and pillars everywhere in the Alhambra.
The Nazaries Palaces are the crown jewel of the Alhambra. These apartments were built for royal blood, and there are intricate carvings, delicate filigree, marvellous tile-work everywhere, on every surface. Bubbling floor fountains, quiet and cooling and calming, fill the the great serenity of the Courtyard of the Myrtles. The famous Patio del Leones, or Courtyard of the Lions is a gracious, balanced room, the nine famous lions supporting a central fountain.
These quarters, in their day, must have been magnificent. There is a supreme balance in the architecture here, a great lightness and sense of space in all the halls and courtyards and rooms flanking them. Wide open spaces and the sound of moving water and gardens filled with fountains and palm trees and carefully tended myrtle hedges. An absolute delight and a feast for all the senses; sight, smell, touch and sound.
There is also the Generalife gardens, stretching all the way to the back of the hill, where the royals’ summer palace quarters were located. There are tall, sculptured hedge-mazes, central fountains, long Moorish pools, and roses in every hue and form, benches in the shade, a wonderful view.
4 days in Southern Spain is a whirlwind of the best of the what Cordoba, Seville and Granada can offer. If you go, bear in mind that it can get blindingly hot in the summer months, so prepare accordingly. Lastly, many of the attractions here allow pre-purchase of tickets – on such a tight itinerary, buying tickets online and in advance is highly recommended.