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Spain’s Architecture, Culture Second to None

by Tori Ward, Cruise and Resort Specialist, ROX Travel

On March 13, while we waited at Sky Harbor for our shuttle to deliver us to our door from our trip to Spain, my husband said, “Guess we made it home just in time.” He showed his phone screen that read: Flights Restricted from Spain. The COVID-19 that seemed a minor concern while we were there the previous day was now raging throughout the country, and we went home to self-quarantine. 

Spain was a revelation to me and, once this crisis ends, it’s one of those places where I want to return for a more extended stay. 
 No meal is complete in Spain without beginning with jamón ibérico, the ham from acorn-fed pigs sliced so thinly you can read the menu through it. We enjoyed a small plate on our second night in Madrid, our first stop, along with fantastic tapas and wine in a tiny cave of a restaurant, Las Cuevas del Duque. 

We walked home in a gentle rain and discussed all the El Grecos, Goyas and other masterpieces we had seen in the Prado Museum. One day was just not enough. However, sticking to our schedule, the following day we dashed off to Toledo for a private tour of the city. After an hour, of course, we were peckish so stopped for coffee and marzipan cake for which the town is famous.

Fortified, we proceeded to Cathedral Primada. Like many of the Catholic churches in Spain, this one was “acquired” during the Spanish conquest of the Moors. Many previous Muslim institutions still show ancient repurposing features, and this was no exception. Standing under the balcony where Isabella and Ferdinand attended services in this gothic cathedral, I admired the ancient stained glass windows and other features created by skilled artisans, some dating back to 1227. 

The following morning we set out for Cordoba en route to Seville. The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba was one of the most incredible structures I’ve ever visited. The original mosque was built in 786 and remained a Muslim domain until 1236. Although the mosque was adapted to reflect the religious domination of the period, much of the structure still retains the beautiful colored arches that reflect its heritage. To say I was a little bit in love with Cordoba is an understatement as I research short-term rentals available next year. 

The following morning we started a full day in Seville with a visit to the elegant Plaza de Espana, constructed in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exhibition. The base of the main building is showcased by 48 small pavilions dedicated to provinces within Spain. The tiles used in their design illustrate the regions they represent. The entire building curves around a moat spanned by four bridges also constructed of brightly colored tiles. 

After a short walk across the park, we entered the Barrio Santa Cruz. We tried not to get lost in its narrow, twisting streets as we proceeded to the Cathedral of Seville, the burial place of Christopher Columbus. The Giralda Bell Tower remains; a lasting memorial to the original minaret when the building housed a mosque. 

 Our next stop was Granada, with the 13th century Alhambra perched in regal reign on the city below. If the gardens and palaces within this UNESCO Heritage Site could talk, you would understand why it took 1,001 nights to hear all the tales. 
Valencia was a surprise with its modern arts and science buildings living harmoniously with the gothic cathedral and city hall. We strolled for a couple of hours until we found the Old Mercado with its jumble of shops where you can find both trash and treasures all scented by wafting scents of incense. 

Our final city was beautiful Barcelona, made famous by Antoni Gaudi’s architecture, including the heart-wrenchingly magnificent Sagrada Familia. After 135 years of work, the completion date is scheduled for 2026, but don’t mention that to a local because they will shake their head and roll their eyes. 

The day before departing Barcelona, we took advantage of our location with a quick side trip to Montserrat to see the monastery that houses the Black Madonna. It was a fitting ending to our trip that included so many beautiful religious treasures. 

Photo: Plaza de Espana

Expert Tips:

  • If you like to eat early, you may have to settle for meals in your hotel or bar fare. Many restaurants in Spain don’t open until 8 p.m. or later.
  • If you speak Spanish, you can probably manage fine until you arrive in Barcelona. They have a language of their own.
  • Don’t eat the oranges that you see in the public areas throughout Spain. They are sour until you arrive in Valencia. 
  • As lovely and delicious the as Iberian ham is, cured meats are not permitted to be brought into the U.S. 
  • You must purchase a ticket to go inside the Cathedral Primada in Toledo and most of the other cathedrals and historical buildings mentioned in this article. Buy these before leaving for Spain as occupancy inside is strictly controlled.

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