You’ll fly into Madrid, so it would be rude not to spend a couple of days in the Spanish capital before your tour of Andalucía. Begin with a skip-the-line pass to the Museo del Prado, one of the finest art galleries on the planet and includes works from the likes of Goya, Velázquez and more. You’ll follow up that treat for your eyes with a feast for your stomach. Your own personal guide will have you mingling with locals and drooling over the country’s delicious charcuterie and wine on a city-wide tasting tour of its taverns. You’ll also nibble on tapas in several of Madrid’s historic markets, including the wrought-iron-and-glass beauty of Mercado de San Miguel.
With your belly full, we’ll let you digest as you take the train to your first Andalucían gem, Córdoba. The Moors (Muslims from North Africa) ruled chunks of Andalucía for around eight hundred years from the eighth to fifteenth centuries and their legacy is still apparent today. In Córdoba you won’t have to look far: its Mezquita (mosque) is often seen as one of the pinnacles of Islamic architecture and an art historian will peel back the past behind its Arabic excellence. A cathedral now stands in its core, a reminder of the cultural melting pot that is Andalucía. This is something you’ll be dazzled by further with an equestrian show at the city’s Royal Stables that pays tribute to King Felipe II’s love of horses.
It’ll then be time to trot off to your next historic city, Seville. It’ll win you over instantly, with a private guided walking tour getting you up close and personal with its grand Real Alcázar, a divine mix of Christian and Mudéjar influences, and its Cathedral – the largest gothic cathedral in the world. Your guide will also take you beyond Seville’s big hitters down its Moroccan-inspired medieval lanes to its aristocratic Moorish mansions and pulsing flamenco clubs. With another day at leisure in this enchanting city, you won’t be short of places to explore by yourself.
It won’t be long before the Arab-imbued streets of Granada come calling. Nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada was the last Moorish stronghold and so their legacy is felt strongest here in the town’s hammams and twisting lanes and teahouses of Albaicín, Granada’s Arab quarter. By far and away though its premier sight is the UNESCO-listed Alhambra, a sprawling hilltop complex that represents Moorish architecture at its zenith. It’s the most visited sight in Andalucíá, so your queue-jump pass will be invaluable to sneak in before the crowds and discover its ramparts, palace, leafy gardens and Alcazaba fortress. Granada is also known as one of the birthplaces of flamenco and you’ll be treated to a cosy evening performance in the caves of Sacramento.
Your final stop on your luxury holiday in Andalucía will be the city that gave the world Picasso, Málaga. An art historian will take you along the cobbled streets to discover its ancient ruins, inventive street art and ending your creative tour, and time in Spain, with a visit to the Picasso Museum – the greatest tribute to Málaga’s most famous son.
Housed in a grandiose townhouse in the capital’s upmarket Salamanca district and near El Retiro, once a leafy park exclusively reserved for royalty, Hospes Puerta de Alcalá is in one of Madrid’s smartest locales. Featuring interiors inspired by the nineteenth Bourbon Restoration, the hotel’s calm aura and muted colours exude a soothing atmosphere that’s always pleasing to return to after exploring the city. Its Bodyna Spa is a restorative sanctuary that’s among the best in the city.
You’ll be staying in a little slice of history at Hospes Palacio del Bailío, as this urban retreat is set within a sixteenth-century former mansion on top of the ruins of a Roman villa. This creates a mish-mash of influences, from the expertly carved Moorish gates to the frescoes inspired by Tuscan artists. But the fact it was once home to royalty means you can be certain that historic grandeur and class will ooze from every inch of its courtyards, geranium-dressed balconies and marble corridors.
Beginning life as a corral de vecinos (shared courtyard house) in Seville’s Old Town in the 18th century, Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza hasn’t changed too much. The string of cobbled patios, stone millstones and ochre-yellow and white façade are still there but inside it’s had a tasteful contemporary uplift with wrought-iron bedframes, modern art and marble-tile bathrooms. Baskets of help-yourself oranges, lemon trees and banana palms remind you of its farmhouse origins, reaffirming this is Andalucían rustic-chic at its finest.
In many ways Hospes Palacio de los Patos is Granada in microcosm. It comprises two distinctly different buildings: one is a nineteenth century lemon-yellow palace and the other is a futuristic alabaster structure and the rooms themselves are a mix of smart loft-style or laced with palatial grandeur. The well-manicured gardens are a welcome city oasis, especially after a busy day exploring – the city’s cathedral is only a ten-minute walk away, the Alhambra only twenty minutes on foot.
Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro offers the best of both worlds: excellent views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea, both made even better from the rooftop pool. With the Moorish Gibralfaro castle as its next-door neighbour, the hotel really feels like a hill-perched outpost where you can gaze out over your kingdom. The proximity of the Mediterranean makes it into the food, with Parador’s restaurant conjuring up specialities like oven-baked hake and gazapachuelo (tomato soup with monkfish and king prawns).
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