This is from a story I published in Escape. I recommend a guided coach tour, such as this one, as a relaxing, comprehensive and safe way to tour a foreign country … and good value for money
THE Spanish are a hardy lot, moulded by a history of conflict and a harsh environment.
Spain’s capital, Madrid, is 600 metres above sea level, making it Europe’s second highest capital after Bern in Switzerland. It is hot and dry in summer, and cold and windy in winter.
Arriving in Madrid on a 10-day Insight Vacations tour, it is immediately apparent that modern Spain is classy and stylish. The new airport is huge and obviously built in anticipation of a growing tourism industry.
Dressed fashionably in tight jeans and knee-high leather boots and carrying funky mobile phones, the Spanish head in and out of ornate, centuries-old buildings.
Spain is recognised as the home of today’s popular package tourism and it’s easy to see why. This tour, with about 30 members, starts in Madrid and takes in Zaragoza, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Seville, Toledo and Cordoba.
In the distance are the snow-capped Pyrenees forming the border with France and containing the tiny nation of Andorra.
A stone bridge is a reminder of Roman occupation.
Touring Barcelona by night, we see a magnificent lightshow at the Royal Palace and the Olympic Village before dinner on the waterfront.
The Gothic quarter has the remains of the first wall built by Romans but Barcelona’s main tourist attraction is Gaudi’s controversial unfinished Sagrada Familia church. Opinions range from architectural marvel to garish nightmare.
Passing through Salvador Dali territory and Terragonis, where Augustus Caesar was once based, olive groves make way for citrus orchards.
Peniscola, a beachfront town overshadowed by a castle built by the Knights Templar to ward off the Moors, is now surrounded by luxury apartments and condominiums.
In Andalusia province, Granada was the Moors’ last stronghold and the Islamic influence is unmistakable. Backed by the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, it is the home of bullfighting and flamenco dancing.
Overlooking Granada is the Alhambra fortress. Built by the Moors, it’s a wondrous work of stone lace and arabesque gardens.
With its mix of gothic and baroque buildings, Seville is a haphazard fusion of romantic laneways and small civic squares filled with gypsies.
The Alcazar Palace was built over several centuries and every ruler since has left his mark.
The World Heritage-listed walled city of Toledo is home to some of the world’s best steel, as well as centuries-old Moorish buildings.