Author Archives: John B.

Wonderful Andalusia

Andalusia is Wonderful

Andalusia is the most southern situated region of Spain. It has a rich Christian, Jewish but also Moorish heritage. This is where Spain’s heart is beating: flamenco, the ferias, the cathedrals, the hacienda’s,… it is all part of the land of bulls and tapas.

The region 87.000 square kilometre)contains no less than eight provinces. In the capital Sevilla all the charms of Andalusian culture can be found: there is the famous Giralda, a magnificent Moorish minaret of over 90 meters high, the ever busy tapasbars an the flamenco.

The citizens of Sevilla claim that they are responsible for the three major elements of Spain’s national pride: bullfighting, tapas and flamenco.

Playa Espanya Sevilla

Playa Espanya Sevilla

Sevilla

Sevilla is the result of a mix of three cultures: Islamic, Jewish and Christian. In this region, that used to be called ‘Serafad’ in Hebrew, ‘ Iberia’ in Latin and ‘ el- Andalus’ in Arabic, the three religions lived together in peace and in war. The history of its Alcazar ( built in 1354 by order of the King of Castillia) is a perfect example of the complexity of Andalusian history: although it appears to be an Arabic palace it was build by a Christian king.

The Alcazar

The Alcazar

The ‘ Barrio de Santa Cruz’ is the former Jewish quarter and the former gipsy quarter ‘Triana’ is now the centre of flamenco singing and dancing and guitars.In Sevilla there is also the famous ‘Feria de Abril’, the biggest feria in the country. Traditionally the feria started on April the 18th and lasts for three days. In the old days it was a big cattle market. Nowadays the date the feria starts depends on the holy week and the festivities last six days. Every morning there is the horse parade: an uncountable number of people in traditional clothing ride through the streets on their horses.

Barrio de Santa Cruz Andalusia Barrio de Santa Cruz Andalusia
Jerez de la Frontera

Situated about an hours driving south of Sevilla there is the town of Jerez de la Frontera, famous for its vast vineyards and the Andalusian nectar known to us as sherry.The name sherry is derived from the Greek town Xera, who was situated here about 3000 years ago.

The famous Gonzalez Byass organises train rides through its bodegas (cellars). There is a wall surrounding the entire domain, making it a village inside the town. Their bodegas are well worth a detour: one of them was designed by Gustave Eiffel, in another there are 30.000 barrels of sherry, yet another lies beneath four domes even bigger than those of Saint Peters in Rome!

The other attraction of the city is its famous equestrian school: Real Escuala Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre. Horses here move and dance on the rhythm of the flamenco. It is even said that the flamenco originated right here in this school.

Pueblos Blancos

To go to Granada, you can drive along the Costa del Sol towards the southern most point of Spain: La Punta Tarifa. This is a surfers paradise because of the eastern and western winds who create magnificent waves on this point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. The Costa del Sol attracts thousands of tourists every year.

You can however take an other route: parallel to the coastline and crossing the Sierra Pueblos Blancos. The name is derived from the many white villages that are scattered in the Serrania, a mountainous region stretching from Cadiz to Málaga. Every spring the houses are painted with a fresh coating of chalk in order to protect the habitants from the heat of the sun. The villages were constructed by the Moors on top of the hills in order to spot any oncoming enemies as soon as possible.

Granada

Granada must make you think of its most wonderful location: the Alhambra. In Granada too the Christian and Moorish influences go hand in hand. The end of the afternoon, after the siesta is an ideal moment to visit the fascinating Albayzin, the old Muslim quarter with its steep and narrow alleyways. It is located just in front of the Alhambra. It is told that the famous gardens of the Alhambra were left to the invading Christians without any battle, in order to preserver their immense beauty.

Alhambra Andalusia
The Alhambra in Granada

Córdoba

Another mythical Andalusian city is Córdoba, in the northwest of Granada. Mosque and cathedral are situated in one and the same building here. Church services are still being held here, in the centre of the Mezquita. The mosque itself is with its 22.400 square meters the second largest in the world ( after Mekka).

The synagogue is situated in the Calle de los Judios ( where else :-)) and was built in 1315. After the Jews were evicted in 1492, the synagogue was made into a hospital. The building, being one of the most venerated building in the Jewish world, was declared a national monument in 1885.

Andalusian delicacies

A visit to Andalusia is never complete without a tasting of its local delicacies: a most delicious one being gazpacho, really refreshing in the summertime. It is a cold soup, made of raw vegetables and served with little cubes of cucumber , tomato, onion and bread.The Andalusian cuisine is well known fore its culinary refinement and variety.Toppers like the world renowned hams (Serrano, Iberico, Jabug), the chorizo, the many delights of seafood are not to be missed.

For a good choice of hotels, apartments and villas in Andalucia with discount prices, visit this website on hotels, apartments and Villas In Spain for more information.

Rail Travel in Spain

Rail Travel to and in Spain

Spain has an extensive rail travel system with a wide range of High Speed, Long Distance, Regional, and Commuter trains. The national network is known as RENFE. For information and reservation on any RENFE service visit www.renfe.es

Al Andalus

Al Andalus

In Spain however there are a number of more outstanding rail travel products. Here the art of travelling in style has not been lost. The following are a few of its more outstanding rail products:

AVE.

High speed AVE lines cover the following routes to the south of Spain: · AVE Madrid-Sevilla, going through Ciudad Real, Puertollano and Córdoba (2 hours and 15 minutes).

· TALGO 200 Málaga, from Madrid, going as far as Torremolinos and Fuengirola (4 hours and 35 minutes).

· TALGO 200 Cádiz-Huelva, from Madrid to Cádiz going through Jerez de la Frontera (4 hours and 50 minutes), and from Madrid to Huelva (4 hours and 25 minutes).

· TALGO 200 Algeciras, from Madrid, going through Ronda (5 hours and 50 minutes).

· ALARIS. A train that covers the Madrid-Valencia route in 3 hours and 30 minutes, going through Albacete and Xátiva; some departures go as far as Gandía and Castellón.

· ALTARIA. A train that covers the Madrid-Alicante route in 3 hours and 30 minutes, going through Aranjuez and Albacete.

· ARCO. A train that covers the Barcelona-Valencia route stopping in the major cities along the Mediterranean coast. Some departures go as far as Portbou and Murcia.

· EUROMED. A train that covers the Barcelona-Alicante route in 4 hours and 35 minutes, going through Tarragona, Castellón and Valencia.

· CATALAN TALGO. A a day train that covers the Barcelona-Montpellier route.

· MARE NOSTRUM. A a day train that covers the Cartagena-Barcelona-Montpellier route.· International TrainHotels, such as Lusitania (Madrid-Lisbon), Francisco de Goya (Madrid-Paris), Joan Miró (Barcelona-Paris), Salvador Dalí (Barcelona-Milan), and Pau Casals (Barcelona-Zurich) provide comfortable and stylish night travel.

Rail passes, such as SPAIN FLEXIPASS, IBERIC RAILPASS, EURAIL PASS, and EUROPASS are available to European and non-European residents. Tickets for some of the above mentioned trains, rail passes, and a wide range of RENFE train products can be purchased in the U.S. through Rail Europe Group They have been selling European rail travel products for over 60 years so they really know their stuff !

How about about rail travel with the Andalus Expreso ?

Now if you are in for something really special, and I mean really, really special, style Orient Express, but with the extraordinary scenery of Spain’s most breathtaking landscape as a bonus you absolutely must try the Al Andalus Express.

AL ANDALUS EXPRESO is one of Europe’s most luxurious sightseeing trains which runs through Andalucia with classic cars restored and refurbished in modern “grand luxe” style.

There are five sleeping cars with grand-deluxe bedroom/salon accommodations:

· MEDINA AZAHARA Model WR-3562. Was built in Naval yards in Bilbao in 1930 as a dining car and was used as such for many years coupled to the most distinguished trains of Europe. In 1985 it was rebuilt and restored with the finest materials in order to commence its new life as the games and lounge car on the AL ANDALUS EXPRESS. In 1988 new bogies and suspension were added – GC Grand Comfort.

· ALHAMBRA Model WR-3579. Built as a restaurant car in 1929 in Charantaises, France, and arriving for the first time in Spain in 1941. The car was rebuilt in 1985 for the AL ANDALUS EXPRESS, later undergoing an interior refit in 1988, at which time new bogies were fitted with new Pennsylvania type suspension, GC Grand Comfort.

· GIBRALFARO Model WR-3395. Built in Great Britain by Metropolitan in 1929 and transferred to Spain immediately afterwards. As a result, the car has been some 60 years in service in Spain. In 1985 and 1988 the car underwent the same modifications as the Alhambra.

· GIRALDA Model WR-3582. This was originally a restaurant car for Wagons Lits, built in France in 1929 for the service on luxury trains. The car arrived in Spain in 1941 and was rebuilt in 1985 for its service with the AL ANDALUS EXPRESS.

Its external coachwork and its internal décor has been restored incorporating at the same time a new configuration of its internal space. In 1988 new bogies were fitted with Pennsylvania type suspension, GC Grand Comfort.

You don’t have to be an amateur of rail travel to enjoy this trip, the ambiance, the service, food and wine ( and sherry of course ) are all of unsurpassed quality.

The Al Andalus Express brings back the great days of railway travelling in style from an era before World War II.

Although it is not cheap (around 3000$/ person for a 7 day trip), it is always hard to get a ticket for the trips so better plan ahead !

There are two trips possible starting from Madrid with the AVE to Sevilla where you board the Andalus Expreso or starting directly in Sevilla with the Andalus Expreso.

The route is as follows : Madrid – Sevilla – Cordoba –(Baeza – Ubeda) – Granada – Bobadilla – (Ronda) – Jerez de la Frontera – Sevilla – Madrid. Places in italic are excursions visited by luxury coach.

For a good choice of hotels with discount prices, visit this website on hotels, apartments and Villas In Spain for more information.

Spanish Beaches

Spanish Beaches are the trademark by excellence for Spain and the Spanish beaches are many tourists only reason to visit Spain.

Who can blame them? The Spanish beaches are amongst the most wonderful in the entire world and Spain has an enormous coastline, more than 3900 km long.

It would take us to far to give a description of all the beaches along this vast coastline so we will just talk about three of the well known coasts: the Costa Brava, the Costa Blanca and the Costa Del Sol.

Costas in Spain

  • Costa Brava, between the Mediterranenan and the Pyrenees, is the popularly accepted name of the littoral of the province of Girona.

    Its nature, climate and history create a setting of odd, haunting beauty that is hard to grasp, but that never fails to seduce, with its lush vegetation propped against the blue and green immensity of the sea.

    Right up to the edge of the sea, hanging on occasions over abrupt cliffs, on others in the actual proximity of the spanisch beaches , the vegetation paints the fine golden sand green, blending with the ochre of the earth, inland, and together with the dominant landscape.

    The 16 degrees C of average annual temperature, with moderate rainfall, and the 2,500 hours of sunshine that illuminate the historic-artistic vestiges, recalling the existence of a notable past, are only the visible aspects of a reality that has a hidden pulse waiting to be discovered.

    Its 214 kilometres of coastline stretch between the beaches of Blanes in the south, surrounded by El Maresme and El Montseny, and Portbou in the north, on the French border.

    Beaches, coves, cliffs and woods sit among renowned places like S’Agaro, Tossa de Mar, Begur, Cadaques and Portlligat. The modern tourist infrastructure of the area has turned Costa Brava into one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations.
    Costa Brava Spain

  • Costa Blanca takes up the stretch of Mediterranean beach that corresponds to the province of Alicante, a great example of what is known as Mediterranean landscape.

    The traveller can choose any part of this beach line, from the liveliest, most cosmopolitan stretch to areas that still maintain a rural feel. Wherever you decide to go, try to visit the neighbouring regions where you can discover the beautiful Mediterranean landscape.

    The horizons of the Costa Blanca beach feature many different types of attractions ranging from the valleys, where the memory of its Moorish past is kept alive in its terraced vegetable gardens, to the palm trees.

    The climate is also variable. The temperature is generally mild ( the annual average being slightly higher than 17 degrees C) with little rainfall, and in the northern mountains in the area, the rainfall is logically higher than that registered in the lowland surrounding Elche and Orihuela.

    The combination of almond tree fields, vineyards, orchards and magnificent palm trees creates a type of vegetation that is unique in Europe.

    Costa Blanca Spain

  • Costa del Sol takes up about 300 kilometres of the Mediterranean littoral that corresponds to the province of Malaga.

    Protected from the northern winds by a mountain chain that in some parts comes down to meet the sea, this sheltered coast is shaped by a succession of extensive spanisch beaches, coves almost hidden between cliffs, marinas and anchorage for fishing.

    The mild climate, infrequency of rainfall and the sea breeze make for semitropical vegetation in which palm and cypress trees, bougainvillaea, oleander and hibiscus are common.

    The proximity of such different landscapes -the mountain, the valleys blanketed in vegetable gardens and the sea- is, without a doubt, one of the greatest attractions of this beach line which combine all the appeal of the Mediterranean landscape and culture.

    Residential areas, marinas, golf clubs, entertainment centres, nightclubs and many more tourist attractions have been built around and now coexist within the peaceful ambience of country villages, which have astonishingly conserved their traditional town centres.

    Summer beach holidays and all the appeal that this can offer along this stretch of the Mediterranean is not, however, the only attractions offered by the Costa del Sol: you will have the chance to uncover the most genuine, authentic features of the Andalusian culture very close by.

    In addition to the folkloric displays in the tourist centres, you can also experience the lively and popular celebrations. The fiestas, Easter parades, song contests and the bull runs without a doubt claim first place on the list of recommendations for travellers who want to see beyond what first meets the eye.

    Tasting country wines in the intimate cellars of yore and having some traditional fried fish (cooked to perfection by the local folk) are some of the temptations that will seduce all visitors, specially those that prefer the wonders of local gastronomy over the ever-present international fare.

    Costa De Sol Spain
    For a good choice of hotels with discount prices, visit this website on hotels, apartments and Villas In Spain for more information.

    info and photographs courtesy of http://www.spain.info/