Helen Lloyd Jones is the winner of our blog competition for January. Helen spent some time exploring the Highlights of Andalucia in Spain and shares some of the unique experiences she had while there...
Nothing had prepared me for Granada and the Alhambra. There seemed to be a tremendous number of people about on the evening we arrived and they were all converging on one square. It was the night of the Magna Mariana where all the Marias in every church in Granada are processed to the Cathedral, blessed and then return to their church.
The event went on for hours and whereas the trip to the cathedral was solemn and decorous, the return trip had bands playing and pasos (the floats carrying the Marias) swaying. Definitely Fiesta time, despite a light drizzle.
It was the start of an amazing holiday. Spring had arrived late in Granada and fresh snow was on the Sierra Nevadas, giving the most breathtaking backdrop to the Alhambra Palace and the Generife Gardens. Every step bringing another perfect photo-stop, rose arches framing the Nasrid palace, fountains, water features and more roses.
Our guide was keen that we should make the most of our stay, taking us to the Teterias to drink tea late at night, allowing us to take in the feel of the Albayzin while making sure we spotted the pomegranate symbol everywhere including the bollards!
Cordoba brought more surprises, the Mezquita now a Cathedral brought home how important and multi-cultural Cordoba had been many centuries ago.
Staying in the small village of Castaño de Robledo near the Portuguese border in chestnut and black Hiberian pig country was another world again and the walks along the drover routes to Peña de Aras Montana found me entranced by the wild flowers and the whorls of the ancient trees. It was also cork tree country and seeing denuded cork trees was something I had not expected. The peaceful Castaño gave us a timely break to change pace and slow down before our final day in Seville.
We arrived in Seville at the same time as the Romeria de El Rocio, another religious event this time popular with the Spanish gypsies who walk miles over a few days to celebrate the event. And wow, do the gypsy women know how to wear the Spanish dress with the flounces allowing flashes of tanned, toned legs to show as the women danced. But had we missed it, we would still have had a flamenco experience as our guide knew where there was a place we could enjoy a quiet (well, maybe not quiet) drink while we watched a flamenco show.
As to whether you should start in Granada with the Alhambra and finish with the Alcazar palace in Seville or the other way round, you need to decide for yourself but allow at least three hours to do justice to the palace and the gardens.
Should I have mentioned food? Funny, it was the simple goats cheese salad with pine nuts that I ate in the shadow of Seville Cathedral that lingers in my mind. Yet there was the wonderful meal in the Meson Don Raimundo and the supper in the open-air at Aracena, having explored the caves at the Grotte de Las Maravillas or the slivers of Hiberian Black Pig or…the list is endless!
And the Hamman? There was time for a trip to the steam baths in Seville and to a have a massage as well. And Yes, I’d go again at a drop of a hat!
Helen travelled on the Highlights of Andalucia tour. Find out how you could win £150 in Explore vouchers by submitting your own travel tales.