The following itinerary describes a range of gardens, heritage sites, museums and other sites which we plan to include. Some are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & dinners indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Seville - 3 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 7 May, Arrive Seville
- Tour commences at 4pm in the foyer of the Hotel Inglaterra
- Welcome Meeting & short orientation walk
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 4pm in the foyer of the Hotel Inglaterra situated 250 metres from the Cathedral, overlooking the Plaza Nueva. We commence the tour with a short Welcome Meeting which will be followed by an orientation stroll through the city.
Seville gained great importance and prosperity in the 12th century when the Almohad dynasty of North African Berbers made it the capital of Muslim Spain (al Andalus); and again in the 16th century, when it became the Spanish entrepôt for silver and tobacco from the Americas. Its major monuments and most important works of art date from these periods and from the 13th and 14th centuries, when Ferdinand III of Castile wrested the province from the Muslims in 1248. Seville therefore boasts fine Muslim, Gothic, Mudéjar and Baroque monuments (‘Mudéjar’ is the term which denotes buildings built for Christians by Muslim craftsmen). In the 17th century it vied with Madrid as the centre of Spanish sculpture and painting. Zurbarán, Velázquez and Murillo all worked in Seville and the city produced a fine school of polychrome wood sculpture, examples of which are still used in processions for Holy Week (Semana Santa). In the 19th century, Seville became a picturesque setting for Northern European Romantic novels, artworks and operas, because of the popularity of Murillo’s paintings of street urchins, Seville’s famous bullfights, and the magnificence of its celebrations during Holy Week. (Overnight Seville)
Day 2: Wednesday 8 May, Seville
- Santa Cruz Quarter and the Hospital de los Venerables (Fundación Focus)
- Royal Alcázar of Seville
- Welcome Dinner at a private 17-century palace
This morning we walk through the Santa Cruz quarter, Seville’s medieval ghetto. Despite its narrow winding streets, this precinct grew in popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. Aristocrats built small palaces here, without disturbing its original, picturesque street plan.
We also visit the 17th-century Hospital de los Venerables. Originally one of Seville’s many charitable institutions, this is now a cultural centre. Of particular interest is its sunken courtyard, which is a fascinating fusion of a convent-cloister and a patio, a central court so characteristic of Spanish secular architecture. Arcaded galleries supporting the upper levels of the house surround this courtyard. Its design is a pleasant interplay of spaces of square and curved plan.
Following some time at leisure for lunch, we visit Seville’s Alcázar, a fine Muslim palace built, not by the Islamic city’s Almohad dynasty, but by the Christian king, Pedro the Cruel, in the 14th century. This palace, its courtyards lined with fine stucco reliefs and coloured tiles, speaks of the cultural ambivalence of the Christian invaders who emulated the tastes of the vanquished Islamic princes. The Alcázar echoes the Alhambra (Granada) in its richness, and was, in fact, built in conscious imitation of that great group of mansions. The complex grew beyond Pedro’s original palace and eventually included, for example, the Oratory of the Catholic Monarchs, with splendid early 16th-century polychrome tiles, a fine garden with a subterranean bath, and rooms in which expeditions to South America were planned. Appended to the palace is one of Spain’s greatest and most interesting gardens. These began as a typical Almohad ‘paradise’ garden, and although little remains of the original because of successive plantings by Christian monarchs (especially in the 19th and 20th centuries), much of the Mudéjar architecture (pavilions), the lovely discrete walled gardens near the palace, the ubiquitous pools and gently bubbling fountains, all reflect Spain’s cultural debt to the Muslims. Magnolia grandiflora, pittorosporum, palms, peaches, roses and bitter oranges share this garden with fascinating Central- and South American species brought back to Spain when Seville prospered as the country’s gateway to its colonies.
This evening we enjoy an exclusive Welcome Dinner at an elegantly restored private 17th-century Casa Palacio (stately home) in the heart of Seville, a short walk from our hotel. (Overnight Hotel Inglaterra, Seville) BD
Day 3: Thursday 9 May, Seville
- Museum of Fine Arts
- Cathedral and Giralda of Seville
- Casa de Pilatos
This morning we visit the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville, a large museum of Andalucian art which was refurbished for Expo ’92. The museum is located in the former convent of the Merced Calzada whose architecture exemplifies Andalucian 17th-century mannerism, designed around three patios and a large stairway. It opened its doors to the public in 1841 with the works from closed down convents and monasteries. Today it is one of the best fine arts museums in Spain, whose impressive collection extends from the medieval to the modern, focusing on the work of Seville School artists such as Francisco de Zurbarán, Juan de Valdés Leal and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
We then walk to Seville’s Cathedral. This huge building, which is the largest Gothic structure of its type in Europe, was built upon the foundations of the Almohad Friday Mosque by the Christian conquerors of the city. It retains the general plan and dimensions of the mosque and its courtyard that was used by the Islamic population for ritual ablutions. The courtyard, as its name – Patio de los Naranjos – suggests, is now dominated by a veritable forest of orange trees. Although now used primarily as a thoroughfare, the courtyard would once have provided Islamic students with a quiet shady place for the study of the Qur’an; plantings would have been more diverse at that time. The cathedral boasts what is arguably Spain’s greatest retablo mayor, a massive gilt and painted wood retable occupying the whole of the chancel wall. It also contains a number of major medieval, Renaissance and Baroque artworks and the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
The cathedral’s bell tower, originally the minaret of the Almohad Friday mosque, is in the same style as those at Rabat and Marrakesh in Morocco. It is a monumental, square tower that houses seven superimposed rooms. Access is provided by a ramp up which the Imam once rode a donkey five times a day to call the faithful to prayer. The exquisite brick patterns on its four façades assured its survival when Seville fell to the Christians. Upon it they placed a belfry (bells are anathema to Islam) and a weather vane, or Giraldillo, which gives the tower its modern name, ‘Giralda’.
Unlike their Parisian counterparts in that city’s aristocratic district, the Marais, Seville’s noble palaces are usually found, not in exclusive suburbs, but in the narrow streets of the city that in the past would have been inhabited by vendors, craftsmen, beggars, and Murillo’s street urchins. Their often bland façades, however, give on to lovely patios and gardens which, following Islamic tradition, are enclosed, secret paradises embedded in, but contrasting dramatically to, the noisy, dirty, smelly city outside the walls. This afternoon we visit a Sevillian mansion of the late-15th and 16th centuries, the Casa de Pilatos. Built by Fabrique de Ribera in 1519, it owes its name to a legend that it was modelled upon Pilate’s house in Jerusalem. Processions during Holy Week used to leave this building, winding their way out of the city to the Cruz del Campo, the distance believed to be exactly that from Pilate’s Jerusalem Praetorium to Golgotha, where Christ was crucified. The house, organised around a great patio, is a fascinating mix of Mudéjar, Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance elements. An antique sculpture collection, adorning the main patio and the Jardín Chico (small garden), reflects the humanist tastes of its original owners. This garden also has a delightful pool, which was the water tank of the original house. This, and the Jardín Grande, have a marvellous variety of plants, including clusters of citrus and banana trees that thrive in Seville’s warm climate, and myriad flowers. The walls that enclose the gardens and their loggias are covered with brilliantly coloured bougainvillea and wisteria. Paths with yellow sand, also used in the bullrings of southern Spain, add yet more colour. Mature palms and figs give the gardens ample shade. (Overnight Seville) B
Córdoba - 2 nights
Day 4: Friday 10 May, Seville – Peñaflor – Palma del Río – Córdoba
- Private garden, Peñaflor (subject to confirmation in 2024)
- Lunch at the Monasterio de San Francisco, Palma del Río
- Evening walking tour of the Patios of the Zona Alcazar Viejo, San Basilio District of Córdoba
Today we drive from Seville to Córdoba, capital of the great Caliphate of Córdoba, the earliest Muslim State in Spain (712-1031). Our first visit is a private garden in the small town of Peñaflor. Originally an orange grove adjacent to a farm house and barns, the garden was laid out in the 50’s by the present owners’ father following the traditional style of the Andalusian gardens with green hedges creating different garden rooms, water features and lush subtropical vegetation, communicating with the old buildings through a network of lovely patios. Nearby, we enjoy lunch at the Restaurante Monasterio de San Francisco, a religious foundation founded by the seventh Lord of Palma in the late 15th century.
Our visit to Córdoba has been planned to coincide with the Córdoba Patio Festival. This city has some of the loveliest small urban gardens in Spain, located in the courtyards of old Córdoban houses. Some of these houses are very, very old; everywhere in the ancient city fragments of Muslim dwellings built before the end of the 11th century can be found. Even if houses were constructed later, they follow earlier plans because their foundations (and many of their cellars) are the walls of older houses. Once a year, Córdoba opens its patios in an Andalucian version of our open garden scheme; prizes are given to the best exhibits. Many of the previous prize-winners are in the San Basilio district of the city near our hotel. (Overnight Córdoba) BL
Day 5: Saturday 11 May, Córdoba
- Synagogue, Córdoba
- Great Mosque, Córdoba
- Time at leisure
- Late afternoon walking tour of Córdoba Patios including the patios of the Palacio de Viana
After breakfast at our hotel located in the Jewish Quarter (Judería) of the city, we visit Córdoba’s delightful small synagogue. The Jews arrived in Córdoba before the Muslims and almost immediately made it a centre of learning. They established the Jewish Quarter after the city had become the capital of Muslim Spain. Its 14th-century synagogue is one of three surviving medieval synagogues in Spain. It has a women’s gallery, and the upper reaches of its walls are in the Mudéjar stucco style, with Hebrew inscriptions. These stuccoes, like those of many mosques, alternate geometrical and vegetal motifs.
We continue with a visit to the Great Mosque of Córdoba. The mosque (c.786-986), one of the earliest and finest still standing, was constructed by successive members of the Ummayad dynasty. Its outer façades boast exquisite geometrical and floral patterns set in the tympana of horseshoe arches and in panels above them. Within the prayer hall is a forest of columns supporting superimposed tiers of polychrome arches thought to have been modelled upon the Roman aqueduct at Mérida. The mihrab (prayer niche) is adorned with exquisite abstract designs in mosaic executed by a school of Byzantine mosaicists from Constantinople. These mosaics, and those of the domes above the mihrab, give meaning to Allah’s prescription to the prophet concerning images: that they should act as a simile to nature, not an abstraction of it; and that they should convey by their delicacy the notion that nothing material has meaning or permanence. The mosque is punctured by a huge cathedral; its minaret became the cathedral bell tower.
Following some time at leisure, we continue to explore the patios of Córdoba including a visit to the Palacio de Viana. Located on the northern edge of the old town, this traditional Andalusian mansion features twelve patios covering the Renaissance and Baroque periods with fountains, formal parterres, citrus trees, date palms and roses with a profusion of pots, pebbled floors and elegant arches. (Overnight Córdoba) B
Ronda - 1 night
Day 6: Sunday 12 May, Córdoba – Ronda
- Puente Nuevo, Ronda
- Bullring, Ronda
- Casa del Rey Moro, Ronda
This morning we depart early for the magnificent Andalusian ‘white town’ of Ronda, dramatically sited on sheer cliffs above a deep ravine, with grand panoramic views framed by mountains. The early 19th-century artists David Roberts and J.F. Lewis both painted the picturesque view of the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) which spans the deep ravine, ‘El Tajo‘, separating the two parts of Ronda, the old Muslim town and the Christian district, the Mercadillo. The Guadelvin River cut this ravine, and the high bridge which spans it was built in the late 18th century. Of Roman origin, Ronda became an almost impregnable Muslim fortress city until the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella took it in 1485.
In 1493, eight years after the Christian capture of the city, the Maestranza, a Company of Knights was formed here for the supervision of bullfighting. Ronda’s bullring, the second oldest in Spain after that of Seville, was built here in 1794. In the 18th century Ronda’s greatest matador was Pedro Romero, who is believed to have developed the classical bull-fighting style of the School of Ronda. We shall visit the bullring in the Mercedillo.
The old town preserves its Muslim street plan. Here we visit the Casa del Rey Moro, the Moorish King’s House. The present 18th-century palace purportedly occupies the site of a palace of one of the petty Muslim kings of Ronda, and has a fine garden with steps leading down to the river below. The splendid small Hispano-Moresque garden (hortus conclusus) was originally designed by the great 19th-century gardener Jean-Claude Nicholas Forestier for the house’s owner, the Duchess of Parcent. Forestier (1861-1930), a botanical and forestry expert, town planner and garden designer, was extremely influential in Spain, Cuba and Central America. He became conservateur of the promenades of Paris and developed an arboretum at Vincennes and the gardens of the Champ-de-Mars below the Eiffel Tower. He also influenced the layout of Havana and Buenos Aires. He is renowned for his innovations, including the ‘Neo-Arab’ or ‘Neo-Sevillian’ garden. His own gardens and those inspired by his innovations are to be found throughout Spain, amongst them are the Park of María Luisa in Seville and Montjuïc in Barcelona. His gardens in Ronda combine Islamic features like ceramic tiles with the formality of a European garden. A wide variety of carefully combined trees such as palms, laurel, cedar, oleander and myrtle form a verdant canopy under which a profusion of flowers gives colour and fragrance.
Tonight we dine together in the restaurant of the Parador de Ronda, which serves Andalusian specialties and fresh local produce. (Overnight Ronda) BD
Málaga - 1 night
Day 7: Monday 13 May, Ronda – Málaga
- Exclusive visit at private palace, Ronda (by special appointment, subject to confirmation in 2024)
- Visit and lunch at a private country house hosted by the owners, province of Málaga (subject to confirmation in 2024)
- Centre Pompidou
This morning we enjoy special access to one of Ronda’s finest stately residences. The Palacio is an 18th-century renovation of an earlier 16th-century building, gifted to the current owner’s family by the Reyes Catolicos. Its impressive Baroque entrance displays sculpted figures believed to represent natives of South America. The classical garden was conceived to frame the superb views of Ronda city walls and surrounding landscape.
We then drive through the hills above the Mediterranean coast to Málaga. En-route we visit an outstanding example of a Mediterranean classical garden created with cypresses and geometric hedges in terraces. The owners, who are keen gardeners, will give us a tour of their creation and host a delicious lunch of Andalucian and Catalan specialties.
We arrive in Málaga in the afternoon and visit a branch of Paris’ famous Pompidou Centre, which opened on Málaga’s waterfront in 2015. Housed in an extraordinary post-modernist coloured glass cube, the Centre, like its Parisian parent, has a collection of 20th century art, including works by Robert Delauney, Vassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, René Magritte and Frida Kahlo, and also holds interesting temporary exhibitions.
Málaga, (malaka: fish salting place), was founded by the Phoenicians around 800 BC. The city grew to become a major port in Roman times, exporting olive oil and garum (fish paste), as well as copper, lead and iron from the mines in the mountains around Ronda. Málaga continued to flourish under Moorish rule from the 8th century AD and became a prosperous port of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. The city held out against the invading Christian armies until 1487 and displayed equal tenacity against Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War. (Overnight Málaga) BL
Granada - 3 nights
Day 8: Tuesday 14 May, Málaga – Granada
- Walking tour of Málaga
- Picasso Museum
- Visit and lunch at a private Andalusian farmhouse hosted by the owners, Málaga (subject to confirmation in 2024)
- Historical-Botanical Garden La Concepción, Málaga
We spend the morning visiting key sites in Málaga including the Renaissance Cathedral with its fine Baroque façade, the remains of the Roman theatre and the exterior of Málaga’s Alcázar (citadel).
We also visit the Picasso Museum, housed in a fine 16th-century palace built on 2500-year-old Phoenician remains. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881 and in 2003 a Picasso Museum was established here in response to the artist’s desire for his work to be exhibited in his city of birth; it features 233 paintings, sculptures and ceramics created between 1892 to 1972. This rich collection was donated by Christine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s daughter-in-law and grandson. The opening of the Picasso Museum initiated a revival in the cultural life of the city.
We then drive south of the city to a traditional Andalusian cortijo (country estate), owned by one of Spain’s most well known literary families. The estate features a lush subtropical garden with an outstanding Phytolacca dioica tree and an alley of Pecan trees. Following a tour of the garden, we enjoy a sumptuous lunch of local specialities hosted by the owners and learn about the estate’s literary history.
Nearby we visit Málaga’s La Concepción garden, begun in 1889 by Thomas Livermore, who was the British consul in this city. La Concepción, which at one point commands views down over the city, is an important example of a Mediterranean coastal garden.
We continue our drive through the Sierra Nevada, which acted as a barrier, protecting Spain’s last Muslim kingdom, Granada, from Christian incursions. We shall gain a deeper understanding about the way the mountains isolated Granada from the grand views we will encounter along this road. (Overnight Granada) BL
Day 9: Wednesday 15 May, Granada
- Alhambra and Generalife
- Carmen of the Fundacion Rodriguez Acosta (optional visit)
- Dinner at the Mirador de Morayma Restaurant
Today we visit the Alhambra (1354-1391) and Generalife (summer palace and villa of the Nasrid rulers) to study the architecture and garden design of Nasrid Granada. We visit palaces and villas in the complex that centre upon the Court of the Myrtles, the Court of the Lions, and the Generalife. The first complex – comprising of the Patio de Machuca, the Mexuar, the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, and the Patio de Comares (Court of the Myrtles) – gives a sense of the disposition of an Islamic palace, the discrete, hermetic spaces of which bespeak Islam’s emphasis on privacy. This complex combines areas where the ruler sat in court or received ambassadors with a harem designed to isolate the royal household from the outside world. In essence the palace is introverted, its main façade secreted within the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, rather than turning outwards to announce to the outside world the palaces within, in the way of a Western façade. The Hall of the Ambassadors is an example of the spatial rhetoric of power, while the Patio de Comares used a great pool and trees (later replaced by hedges of myrtle) to create a paradisal, secluded core to the complex. Next to this group is the villa of the Nasrids, built about the Court of the Lions, whose fine stucco arches and slender columns are, some scholars argue, the architectural evocation of an oasis. Here we find rooms decorated with exquisite detailing, such as the Abencerrajes Gallery, the Sala de los Reyes, and the Sala de las Dos Hermanas, two of which have extraordinary stucco domes reproducing star bursts in the desert sky. Beneath this villa there is yet another villa, to which are attached the Royal Baths.
We then walk out across the pine-forested hills of the Alhambra Mountain to the Generalife, an exquisite villa retreat and hunting lodge of the Nasrids. Here we see gardens to rival the Villa d’Este outside Rome, with fine fountains whose sounds were intended to provide a poetic counterpoint to the architectural aesthetics of the Arab palace or villa.
Finally, we shall visit the Alcazaba, the fortress of the Alhambra, which has a broad panorama of the Sierra Nevada. The Alhambra and Generalife complexes sit within what could almost be termed a ‘forest’ that covers their hills. Watered by conduits from the Sierra Nevada, this lush environment enabled not only the inimitable orchestration of buildings and plants in the main complex, but also a proliferation of fine small villas with gardens called carmenes. A carmen is a typical house of the old quarter of Granada that has a walled garden, the counterpart of, but different to the patios of Córdoba. The word comes from the Arabic word for garden: karm. These villas became fashionable in the 16th century when wealthy Christians purchased a number of old, Islamic, town houses and demolished parts of them to make a walled garden. They often employed Moorish craftsmen to design and decorate them. The carmenes of Granada were, of course, both inspired by, and measured, the great Islamic palace and villa complex of the Alhambra.
Just a short walk away is the Carmen of the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta, arguably the best Spanish example of interplay between early modern architecture and gardening. Built by the painter José María Rodríguez-Acosta, a native of Granada and friend of the musician de Falla, this fine modernist house develops the local carmen tradition to create a unique interplay of simple brilliant white architecture and the various greens of the garden. The garden, inspired by the Generalife, is made up of a number of terraces oriented towards the plain and the Sierra Nevada in which the fragments of walls and columns in the purest modernist style interplay with cypress hedges whose shapes are ‘architectural’ in their composition, massing and the precise lines of their profiles. The Foundation, which occupies the original house, has works collected by Acosta supplemented by an important collection of Manuel Gómez Moreno composed of works from most periods of Spanish art history. This visit is optional.
Tonight we shall dine together at the restaurant Mirador de Morayma, in Granada´s ancient Moorish quarter, the Albaicín, with breathtaking views of the Alhambra. This elegant restaurant housed in a traditional carmen, features traditional local cuisine and ecological wine produced at the restaurant’s own country estate in the Alpujarra region. (Overnight Granada) BD
Day 10: Thursday 16 May, Granada
- Albaicín quarter
- Casa del Chapiz
- Capilla Real
- Corral del Carbón
- Afternoon at leisure
We begin this morning by exploring Granada’s most important residential quarter, the Albaicín which nestles below the Alhambra. The Albaicín was the last refuge of the Muslims of Granada and traces of its Islamic heritage remain to be discovered, including a beautiful and tranquil bathhouse, and fragments of minarets converted into church towers.
We shall also visit Muslim and Christian sites in the centre of Granada. The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel), built in flamboyant late Gothic style, houses the magnificent Renaissance tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, their daughter Joan ‘the Mad’ and her husband Philip ‘the Handsome’. In the adjacent Sacristy is a dazzling collection of royal regalia and Flemish paintings. We then walk to the cathedral, one of Spain’s last, which was envisaged by its founder, Charles V, as a model of the heavenly Jerusalem.
We end our tour at the market centre of Islamic Granada where we shall visit the Corral del Carbón, a 14th-century warehouse and inn for merchants, which is the only one of its type to have survived in Spain. Despite recent restoration, the ground plan, the central water trough for animals, and the delicately carved brick and plaster gateway date to the Middle Ages. From here we shall make our way through the Alcaicería, an area of narrow gridded streets which were once part of the covered market (Arabic: al-Qaysariyya) of the Muslim rulers of Granada.
The afternoon will be at leisure. (Overnight Granada) B
Toledo - 2 nights
Day 11: Friday 17 May, Granada – Almagro – Toledo
- Lunch at leisure in Almagro and short visit to Corral de Comedias
- Evening reception at private palace garden by landscaping and garden design studio Urquijo-Kastner, Toledo
Today we drive north, through the Sierra Morena, into the vast, arid plain of La Mancha, famed for its association with Don Quixote, and for its dry wine and Manchego cheese. After stopping in Almagro for lunch and a short visit to the Corral de Comedias, a 17th-century theatre, we travel to Toledo via Consuegra and its iconic windmills. Toledo, located on a promontory created by a bend in the River Tagus or Tajo, is another Spanish city with a multi-layered past. Inhabited at least from Roman times onwards, Toledo (Toletum) was a provincial town until the Visigothic period when it became an important ecclesiastical centre, and in the mid-6th century AD, the Visigothic capital. Visigothic Toledo was dominated by its castle, and although it is long gone, the Alcázar, its successor, stands on its original site.
Toledo was conquered by Arabo-Berber armies in 712 AD and became part of the Umayyad state of Córdoba. The inhabitants of the city regularly revolted against their Umayyad masters and in the early 11th century when the Umayyad Caliphate collapsed, Toledo, like many other cities, became the seat of a Ta’ifa (petty) kingdom. During this period, Toledo became the centre of the Mozarabic Church, whose Visigothic rituals and liturgy were deeply influenced by Muslim culture. It also played an important cultural role in transmitting the rich syncretic literary and scientific heritage of al-Andalus to the Christian north of the Iberian peninsula and on to northern Europe. Toledo was captured by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085 and was thus one of the first major Muslim cities to fall to the Christians.
Culturally, however, Toledo remained ‘Islamic’ for centuries after the imposition of Christian rule. Large Muslim and Jewish subject communities remained, and they were employed by their new Castilian rulers to emulate earlier Muslim art and architecture, creating a distinctively Toledan Mudéjar style. This style is a blend of Roman, Visigothic, Umayyad and later Almohad styles characterised by decorative screenwork realised in brick on the exteriors of churches and bell towers. Toledan Mudéjar can also be found in the former synagogues of the Judería (ghetto), Santa Maria la Blanca and El Tránsito, which contain stuccowork decoration that mimics Almohad and Nasrid styles respectively. The cathedral, built on the site of the great mosque, also bears many traces of Toledo’s multi-cultural character, whilst the narrow twisting streets of the old city and its absence of open squares and public spaces perpetuate Muslim urban-planning.
This evening, we meet Spanish landscape designer Miguel Urquijo, who will show us a beautiful palace garden in the heart of Toledo with magnificent views of the Cathedral. Miguel and his partner Renate Kastner restored the garden in 2008, working from a previous structure of patios, terraces, fountains and paved walks that perfectly represent the classic Spanish urban garden. Cypresses, Canary Palm, pomegranates and olive trees, together with trimmed box hedges, mix in a harmonious chaos punctuated by prickly pears, delicate calas and the essential and colourful geranium. The palace itself encapsulates the overlap of cultures, where Muslim elements coexist with the Jewish and the Christian, and holds an exquisite collection of art and antiques; in this magical setting, we shall enjoy an aperitif hosted by the owners. (Overnight Toledo) B
Day 12: Saturday 18 May, Toledo
- Museo El Greco
- Santo Tomé Church
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we start our program with a visit to Museo El Greco. This museum displays a great collection of the painter’s works, including several of his portraits of apostles and saints, as well as the View and Plan of Toledo. We then walk to the nearby Santo Tomé Church, home to El Greco’s famous The Burial of Count Orgaz (c.1586).
Our morning tour of this splendid city ends with a visit to Toledo’s Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral modelled upon Bourges Cathedral in France. Its construction began two centuries after Toledo’s capture by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085, and until then the Christians worshipped in the re-dedicated great mosque of the city. In the 14th century the great mosque was finally torn down and a Gothic cathedral constructed on its foundations. Later monarchs and state dignitaries embellished the cathedral by the addition of a rich choir, decorated with reliefs recounting the conquest of Granada, and sumptuous chapels. We shall look at both the exterior and interior of the cathedral, noting in particular the opulent retablo mayor, the choir and the lateral chapels.
The Cathedral Museum holds a range of works by El Greco, Titian, Zurbarán, and Ribera, and the Almohad banners captured by the Castilians at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. In the Treasury we shall see an illuminated manuscript given by St Louis of France to Alfonso X and a massive Gothic gold monstrance in the shape of the intricate flèche of a cathedral.
The afternoon is at leisure for you to explore this splendid city and you may wish to visit the nearby Franciscan monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, originally intended, before the capture of Granada, as the mausoleum of Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile. The mausoleum church itself will remind you of the Capilla Real in Granada. (Overnight Toledo) B
Jarandilla de la Vera - 2 nights
Day 13: Sunday 19 May, Toledo – Jarandilla de la Vera
- Museo Sefardí
- Synagogue of Santa María La Blanca
- Visit and lunch at a private organic farm hosted by the owners, Toledo province (subject to confirmation in 2024)
This morning we visit the two former Mudéjar synagogues of El Tránsito and Santa María la Blanca. El Tránsito is a 14th-century structure with stucco panels of a similar style to those in the Alcázar of Seville and the Alhambra. It also houses a small museum that catalogues the Jewish presence in Spain. Santa María la Blanca is a 13th-century building which bears a strong similarity to contemporary Almohad architecture further south.
From Toledo in Castile, we head to the western frontier region of Extremadura, famous for its conquistadors like Francisco Pizarro, who conquered much of South America. We travel through an area of undulating hills where traditionally the noble Trujillanos had their olive groves and vines producing oil and wine for their own consumption. Today the region of Extremadura produces approximately 3.3% of the total olive oil produced in Spain. The types of olives that are cultivated in this region for the production of oil include Cornicabra, Carrasqueña and Morisca.
We visit an organic farm that specialises in free-range livestock (sheep and cattle), fresh produce, and specialty products such as extra virgin olive oil, sheep and goat cheeses, and organic wheat products. We shall take a tour of the property and enjoy a lunch of fresh seasonal produce and homemade treats hosted by the owners.
Tonight we stay at the countryside Parador of Jarandilla de la Vera. Housed in a 14th-century castle, this parador retains many historic features including Gothic galleries, a fireplace specially built for Emperor Charles V, and an ancient garden featuring a fountain famous for bringing good fortune. (Overnight Jarandilla de la Vera) BL
Day 14: Monday 20 May, Jarandilla de la Vera – Monfragüe National Park – Jarandilla de la Vera
- Monfragüe National Park
- Visit and lunch at ‘La Lancha’ – private farm of Eduardo Mencos & Anneli Bojstad, Jarandilla de la Vera
This morning we explore Monfragüe National Park, a UNESCO listed Biosphere Reserve. Accompanied by a local naturalist, we shall study the many species of Mediterranean plants and trees, and visit a number of observation blinds located along the course of the river Tagus in order to view (with the aid of telescopes) the park’s magnificent variety of birds of prey. Monfragüe is an outstanding site for raptors, with more than 15 regular breeding species, including the world’s largest breeding concentration of the Eurasian Black Vulture, a large population of Griffon Vultures, and several pairs of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle. During our tour we shall also view a number of the park’s geological and cultural landmarks including the ‘Bridge of the Cardinal’ the ruined Castle of Monfragüe; and the Penafalcon, an impressive rock face carved by the river Tagus.
Famed Spanish landscape designer, writer and photographer Eduardo Mencos considers the Spanish countryside to be this great ‘maestro’ and source of inspiration. On the grounds of his 30-hectare country farm ‘La Lancha’, Eduardo has produced his version of an 18th-century ‘ornamental farm’ – a landscaped working farm with decorative features such as arbours, antique wells, water reservoirs, ruins. You won’t see a single wire or a water deposit (they are hidden underground). Here Eduardo and Anneli grow organic olives and breed Merino sheep, which roam free around the property. Following a leisurely lunch, we tour the farm and learn about Eduardo’s work and passion for the gardens of his native Spain. (Overnight Jarandilla de la Vera) BL
Segovia - 2 nights
Day 15: Tuesday 21 May, Jarandilla de la Vera – Ávila – Segovia
- Visit and lunch at private garden by landscaping and garden design studio Urquijo-Kastner, Ávila
- Romeral de San Marcos, Segovia
Near the walled city of Ávila, we visit a newly established garden by talented design duo Miguel Urquijo and Renate Kastner. Miguel fell in love with gardening in England while studying biology at the University of Buckingham in the 1980s. Renate has a Master’s Degree from the Technical University Munich/Weihenstephan, Germany’s premier school of Landscape Architecture. Their Ávila garden is particularly interesting for their successful cultivation of the olive tree, a traditional Mediterranean plant, in an area subjected to a harsh continental climate of cold winters and scorching summers. In this rugged landscape, they have planted over 40 olives trees, the owner’s favourite, along with cypresses, giving a distinctly Mediterranean character to the garden. Carefully worked stone walls create terraces and make up the main structure, while Mediterranean shrubs and perennials provide seasonal interest.
In the afternoon we drive to Segovia, where we visit the beautiful Romeral de San Marcos, situated below limestone shelves on the Eresma river at the foot of Segovia’s great castle. The famous landscape architect, Leandro Silva, created this intimate half-acre garden to echo the paradisal feel of an old Segovian huerta (orchard or market garden). Its sheltered position creates a microclimate that protects a wide variety of plants that would not normally prosper in the tough Segovian climate. At times, this small garden bursts into colour provided by a feast of different flowers.
We then check in to our hotel ideally located in the centre of Segovia. (Overnight Segovia) BL
Day 16: Wednesday 22 May, Segovia
- Walking tour of Segovia including Segovia’s Alcázar
- Evening reception at a private palace overlooking Segovia’s Roman aqueduct (subject to confirmation in 2024)
- Dinner at Mesón de Cándido Restaurant, Segovia
We spend the morning exploring Segovia, a city settled since Roman times. During the early Islamic period, Segovia stood in the marches between the Kingdom of the Asturias and Umayyad Córdoba and may have been temporarily deserted. In the 10th century, the Umayyad caliphs constructed a frontier fortress here. Segovia subsequently became part of the Ta’ifa kingdom of Toledo, and Castilian after the fall of Toledo. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Muslim fortress was rebuilt as a Christian castle and in the 16th century, a Gothic cathedral with unusual Classical domes was constructed. Segovia’s Roman aqueduct, a remarkable dry-stone structure, was partially destroyed in the Middle Ages and rebuilt by Isabella of Castile in the 15th century.
This evening we enjoy exclusive access to a private palace overlooking Segovia’s aqueduct, where we shall be hosted by the owners and enjoy a glass of Sangría in the garden.
We then dine at a Segovia institution, El Mesón de Cándido, to feast on the town’s local speciality, roast suckling pig. (Overnight Segovia) BD
Madrid - 3 nights
Day 17: Thursday 23 May, Segovia – Madrid
- The Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso
- Prado Museum
In the morning we visit the gardens of Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. Once a farm run by the Order of Saint Jerome, it was purchased as a summer residence by King Philip V, after he abdicated. The site, with 146 hectares of forests and landscaped grounds, is reminiscent of Versailles not only because of its sumptuous baroque halls but also due to its magnificent gardens, designed by René Carlier, a disciple of Louis XIV’s architect.
We then travel to Madrid, where we will spend three days. In the afternoon we visit the Prado Museum. One of the gallery’s key collections comprises the works of Hieronymus Bosch and the Flemish School from the collections of Philip II. The extraordinary apocalyptic visions of Bosch were once housed at the Escorial in the Philip II’s private apartments, but were stored away during the Enlightenment because they were considered too extreme. It was Goya who revived interest in them. We shall also look at the collections of Dürer, Titian and Rubens before moving on to the works of the Spanish Baroque. Our encounter with works by Velázquez and Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya will explore the strange mix of realism and fantastic distortion which distinguishes the Spanish tradition. We shall study the grand portrait tradition, works by Velázquez, such as Las Meninas, and the extraordinary mystical visions of El Greco. We also trace Goya’s development from the early tapestry cartoons through the royal portraits, and horrific visions of the war with the French, to the so-called ‘Black Paintings’ of his old age. (Overnight Madrid) B
Day 18: Friday 24 May, Madrid
- Patrick Blanc’s Vertical Garden, CaixaForum, Madrid
- Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid
- Lunch at private landscaped rose garden near Madrid (subject to confirmation in 2024)
We make a brief visit to Madrid’s CaixaForum to view an example of Patrick Blanc’s vertical gardens. This is not only the first to be installed in Spain but also the largest implemented to date on a façade without gaps, as it has a planted surface area of 460 m2. The vertical garden forms an impressive natural tapestry made up of 15,000 plants of 250 different species that have transformed one of the buildings adjoining the developed area of the CaixaForum Madrid into a surprising garden.
Nearby are the Royal Botanical Gardens, established by Charles III and designed by Francesco Sabatini and Juan de Villanueva, architect of the Prado. It is understandable that the ruler of a great empire in the Americas should be interested in collecting exotic species. Charles III, in fact, financed plant-collecting expeditions to Mexico, Columbia, Peru and Chile. Despite the fact that the garden lost many valuable trees in a tornado in 1886, most of its important exhibits remain. The garden is shaded by large specimens of tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), cork oaks, camphor trees, eucalyptus, olives, European field elms and mulberries, walnuts, nettle trees and crape myrtle, among many others. In 2005 a modern addition designed by well-known Spanish landscape architect Fernando Caruncho, with architect Pablo Carvajal, was commissioned to house the extensive bonsai collection of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González. The new garden called the ‘Terraza de los Laureles’ consists of an elevated avenue, a central square with a pond and a small greenhouse, and provides a grand panorama of the historic gardens below.
We then visit a landscaped rose garden created as an oasis in the city by its owner, a ‘rose expert’ and artist specialising in painting botanical motifs on ceramics and porcelain, as well as an exceptional cook. We shall tour the rose beds and enjoy lunch in the gardens. (Overnight Madrid) BL
Day 19: Saturday 25 May, Madrid – Guadalajara – Madrid
- El Capricho Park
- Private garden and farewell lunch hosted by Eduardo Mencos’ family (subject to confirmation in 2024)
This morning we visit El Capricho Park, a remarkably preserved monument to 18th-century taste, created by the Duchess of Osuna. The Capricho has been called ‘the essence of a feminine garden’ and its design reflected the exquisite taste of the aristocrat. Her main architect was J.P. Mulot, a French gardener who had previously worked for Marie Antoinette, although much of the Madrilenian park is in the English style with simulated landscapes between smaller formal gardens.
We then enjoy a very special highlight of our tour with an exclusive lunch and visit to the private garden of one of Spain’s great gardening families. Here we explore how they have changed the arid meseta near the nation’s capital with their distinctive garden. (Overnight Madrid) BL
Day 20: Sunday 26 May, tour ends, Madrid
- Tour concludes in the morning
- At leisure/Check out
Our tour ends in Madrid after breakfast. In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to the Madrid Airport. B