The image of Spain is one of color, romance, passion. Our journey through this enchanted and culturally diverse land will explore Seville, Cordoba and Granada with the Alhambra, while staying on the achingly beautiful Costa del Sol in southern Andalucia, then the royal Madrid and the perfectly medieval Toledo in central Castilla-La Mancha, followed by the architecturally stunning city of Barcelona in eastern Catalonia, with excursions to Montserrat, Girona and Costa Brava.
Andalucia is an autonomous community of Spain. It is the most populous and the second largest, in terms of land area, of the seventeen autonomous communities of the Kingdom of Spain. Its capital and largest city is Seville. The region is divided into eight provinces: Huelva, Seville, Cádiz, Córdoba, Málaga, Jaén, Granada and Almería. Andalucia is located south of the autonomous communities of Extremadura and Castile-La Mancha; west of the autonomous community of Murcia and the Mediterranean Sea; east of Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean; and north of the Mediterranean Sea, the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain from Morocco, and the Atlantic Ocean.
The quality of light and the colors of Andalucia are astounding in any season, but in springtime they intensify and take the center stage. The extravagant displays of wildflowers every spring make Andalucia a flower lover's dream. Within the dramatic limestone landscapes of the region, over a thousand species of flowers can be found: from the tiny blue pimpernels, love-in-a-mist, tri-color convolvulus and marigolds in the meadows, through the shy saxifrages and toadflaxes hidden in cracks in the rocks, to the wild magenta peonies as large as saucers and the huge bushes of aromatic white gum cistus.
Andalucia, or Al-Andaluz from Arabic "Land of the Light", lies at one of the world's great crossroads: where Europe meets Africa, and the Mediterranean joins the Atlantic. The constant ebb and flow of peoples and cultures across the Straits of Gibraltar since the Ice Age endowed Andalucia with a rich natural diversity and rich cultural heritage. In the 700s, when the rest of Europe was enveloped in Dark Ages, the Muslim Moors from Africa crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and transformed much of the Iberian Peninsula into an Arab caliphate which blossomed into a glorious Moorish civilization.
Once the proud capital of al-Andalus, with its splendid court and cultured caliphs, Córdoba’s opulent Islamic heritage resonates with faded glory. Originally a small Roman settlement on the Guadalquivir River, it was taken over by the Visigoths, then by the Umayyad Caliphate in the eighth century. It became the capital of a Muslim emirate, and then the Caliphate of Córdoba, which included most of the Iberian Peninsula. During this period, Cordoba became a center of education and learning, and by the 10th century, the city had grown to be the largest in Europe.
Seville, what is now the capital of Andalucia, was founded as the Roman city of Gilipolis, and after the Muslim conquest in 712, it became known as Ishbiliyya, under the jurisdiction of the Caliphate of Córdoba. Later, it was ruled by the Muslim Almoravids and the Almohads, until it was incorporated into the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III in 1248. Following the 1492 Christopher Columbus expedition to the New World, claiming the West Indies territory and trade for the Crown of Castile profited the city, and Seville became one of the economic centers of the Spanish Empire as its port monopolized the trans-oceanic trade and the House of Trade wielded its power, opening a Golden Age of arts and literature.
Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol ("Sun Coast" or, more literally, "Coast of the Sun") is a region in the south of Spain, in the autonomous community of Andalusia, comprising the coastal towns and communities along the Mediterranean coastline of the Málaga province and the eastern edge of the Cádiz province. The Costa del Sol is situated between two lesser known costas: Costa de la Luz and Costa Tropical. Formerly made up only of a series of small, quiet fishing settlements, the region has been completely transformed during the latter part of the 20th century into a tourist destination of world renown, with a near-continuous urban agglomeration of high-rise settlements and resorts running along the length of the coastline.
Madrid is an ex-convent schoolgirl, a rebellious teenager who pushed the boundaries of hedonism and then grew up and got sophisticated without ever forgetting how to have fun. That’s why this is a city as at home in the nightclubs and bars that give the streets their soundtrack as it is in the hallowed halls of high culture. It’s true that Spain’s capital doesn’t have the immediate cachet of Rome, Paris or even that other city up the road, Barcelona. Its architecture is beautiful, but there’s no Colosseum, no Eiffel Tower, no Gaudí-inspired zaniness to photograph and then tell your friends back home, ‘this is Madrid’. But this city is an idea, a way of living for the moment that can be hard to resist.
Toledo is known as La Ciudad Imperial (Imperial City) for a reason; this is Iberia’s Rome with a cultural slug of mosques, synagogues, churches and museums, plus the added high of a lofty setting, perched on a rocky ridge above Río Tajo. Like the Middle East grafted onto Catholic Spain, Toledo’s labyrinth of narrow streets, plazas and inner patios is reminiscent of the medinas (towns) of Damascus, Cairo or Morocco’s Fez. Yet from Toledo’s heart rises the Gothic grandeur of the cathedral and the grim composure of the Alcázar. The artistic legacy bequeathed by the city’s former inhabitants of Romans, Jews and Muslims is reflected in this intriguing mosaic of architecture, as well as in its cultural values.
Barcelona is truly a Mediterranean city. Not only because of its location, but also its history, tradition and cultural influences. The city was established as a Roman colony in 200 B.C., but it's the modern Barcelona that enchants visitors. In the 19th century, the city experienced spectacular growth, and the 1888 World's Fair became a symbol of its international outlook. Culture and the arts flourished in Barcelona, and today the splendor of Catalonian modernism, an offshoot of Art Nouveau with works by Antonio Gaudi, is one of Barcelona's most potent displays.
Eight hundred years of Moorish rule in Andalucia left a culinary legacy of refined, oriental flavors: an opulent use of spices and herbs; oranges and other fruit in savory dishes; and almonds and cinnamon with meat. Between the 8th and the 15th century when the Moors ruled Al-Andaluz, its cuisine was the most lavish in Europe, liberally using the expensive spices, herbs, almonds, rose water, orange blossoms and other exotic flavors. Today, the Andalucian cuisine is one of the main reasons to visit Southern Spain. Tapas have become synonymous with Spain and Andalucia in particular.