Madrid, Toledo, Avila, Segovia, Salamanca, Cordoba, Seville, Ronda, Barcelona
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Sandstone sculpture, Moorish symmetry, and Modernista swirl contrast with Dali, El Greco, Picasso, Gaudi, and Goya as Spain’s artisanal styles cover thousands of years and thousands of influences. From Madrid’s fine art scene to Andalusian white villages and a Roman aqueduct, such unique art and architecture are a lens for exploring local culture, as celebrated on this intimate two-week tour of Spanish highlights. Uncover the art, discover the atmosphere, and surround yourself with beauty.
Madrid – A Glamorous Palace Introduction
The silence stretches across El Escorial, and there is a simplicity to what you see with thick stone encasing a sanctified space. It feels like a monastery, and it is a monastery, but then you take a few more steps, and El Escorial shows its other face. Chandeliers hang down, twinkling sharply. Frescoes stretch around domed ceilings, each divided by golden borders. This is a palace, glamorous in its depiction of the Spanish Golden Age, glorious with its show of wealth and power. Religion and royalty blur together and the more you explore, the more opulence you find. What an introduction to Spanish style! Earlier today you will have landed in Madrid and transferred to your centrally located hotel. The trip to El Escorial fills your afternoon, and there are plenty of al fresco terraces for a first Spanish dinner as you settle in.
Madrid – The Fine Spanish and Flemish Art of the Prado: Reina Sofia
Goya’s evocative ladies are painted in thick, shimmering oil while Velazquez’s courtly scenes stretch across an entire wall. Raphael and Tintoretto are found in the next gallery, Titian in another, and there is also El Greco, de Ribera, Zurbaran, and Caravaggio. And then next in the Prado, you will find the Flemish art with the Rubens, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Van der Weyden, and Bosch. You are in Spain’s national art gallery, and the collection provides a superb historical context taking you through 900 years of the finest Spanish, Flemish, and Italian art. That could be enough for one day, but you may want to take your guide’s invitation and continue the journey. Renia Sofia is Spain’s pre-eminent modern art museum and connects the old Prado art to Dali and his contemporaries.
Madrid – Best of the Thyssen-Bornemisza: Goya, Galdiano, Velazquez and an Interactive Art Class
Enjoy the third in Madrid’s famous trio of galleries this morning with Thyssen-Bornemisza, a private collection that has been made accessible to the public. Its breadth is superb: Rubens’ Venus and Cupid holding a mirror, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and Cezanne, and cubist work from Picasso plus contemporary classics by Kandinsky, Pollock, Dali, and De Kooning. Wander your way through the best of the collection before an afternoon in Lazaro Galdiano Museum for an intimate look at an understated, yet essential, figure in Spain’s art history. There is also an interactive art class today, taking the Velazquez style and turning it into your own work of art, with plenty of experimentation along the way. It will be another full day, which you will have come to expect from Madrid by now, though nothing needs to be rushed.
Toledo – Discovering El Greco and Experiencing His Greatest Works
It’s Toledo’s architecture that impresses first with rough-hewed castle turrets guarding the entrance. Bridges lope across the river while church spires rise high, sending shadows across a myriad of colorful facades. Inside the cathedral, there is a great wealth of gold, the altar almost blinding in its excess. Then, after lunch, it will be the art that impresses. This was El Greco’s adopted home and resting place, and his finest works are hidden inside Toledo’s churches, stretched above altars, illuminated by soft shards of incoming light. Witnessing such feats is not just about the art itself as it is about the location, a quiet church in his hometown where glorious art abounds above the locals who come to pray. You will be spending the night in Toledo, and the city provides a beautiful setting at dusk.
Toledo – Private Workshop on the Damascene Style Passed Down By the Moors
Wake up late and go exploring without your guide, perhaps stopping in the various boutiques you did not have time for yesterday. Throughout the city, you will see evidence of religious harmony from a mosque and a church next to a synagogue. The Moors found some protection here, and they brought with them Damascene, the art of intricately inlaying different metals within each other. Local artisans keep this ancient practice alive, and you can join a crafter for a three-hour workshop that will culminate in your own Damascene moment. Toledo is too enchanting a place for only one night, which is why you will have two, with the rest of today providing space and free time for enjoying the city’s atmosphere.
Salamanca – Architectural Journey Through the Eras
Improbable walls greet you in Avila, one millennium old, and still yet to be breached. Eighty-eight circular towers dominate, topped with castle turrets as they stand on Castile’s arid plains. Step behind the walls, and you will find a preserved 11th-century city where churches and convents continue to display old-world Spain. Next up on the train it will be Segovia with a dramatic Roman aqueduct running straight through the old town with the two tiers of arches so straight and true. Once again, you can take a walking tour with your local guide before getting back on the fast train, as both Avila and Segovia are small and rarely need more than two hours. Your destination is Salamanca, a city of sandstone that glows golden in the fading afternoon light. Just walk to the Plaza Mayor, and you will likely shake your head in disbelief at the scene.
Salamanca – Contrasting Golden Sandstone in Central Salamanca
Salamanca is too big to feel like a fairytale as the old city is enormous, but there is not any traffic, just the cobbled streets and the harmony of sandstone blocks. At first glance, all of the architecture appears similar, thanks to the ubiquitous sandstone. Look closer, and Salamanca provides a chronological journey through Europe’s architectural styles. Romanesque leftovers lead to a Plateresque Dominican monastery, and then a Gothic palace is seen covered in shells and now various Baroque interpretations, especially the Plaza Mayor. Sculpted figures enhance almost all of the buildings, and if you look very closely, there is a monkey eating ice cream and an astronaut, which was recently added to a Gothic doorway. Spend the day exploring this fine medieval city, and then spend the evening on an al fresco terrace watching the sandstone change color.
Cordoba – The Meeting Place of Roman and Arab Art
South to Andalusia you will go to Cordoba, a melting pot of ages and styles. Of course, it is the Mezquita that dominates here as the grandest Islamic building in the West. However, as you tour the Medina, there are many more odes to the East to discover. Calligraphic messages roam around archways, juxtaposed with vibrant, modern graffiti. Symmetrical patterns create life from primary colors, enlivening almost every building you enter. You can witness how the Moor’s Arab art style combined with Roman and Catholic design, creating something that is unique to Andalusia. After half a day traveling, you will begin exploring Cordoba around late afternoon, just as the city is getting lively with locals. And as you explore, you will find that sumptuous old architecture has turned to traditional tapas bars.
Cordoba – The Lavish Mezquita and Moorish Architecture
Red and white columns stretch through the prayer hall as golden calligraphy rolls around the walls. The detail is exquisite with such intricacy in the messaging and beautiful Eastern flair to the style. The scale is breathtaking in that the Moors could bring such artisanal beauty to such an enormous building. The Mezquita became a cathedral and is now a celebration of art and architecture that is so lavish in parts, yet so serene in others. Elsewhere in Cordoba, you will find a gritty modern-day allure. While Granada is the fairytale destination, Cordoba has a lively edge, and your guide will show you local neighborhoods away from the Mezquita. As with yesterday evening, the tapas tonight will be sublime.
Seville – Art and Architecture of Europe’s Largest Medieval City
You will travel onwards by train to Seville, where the Cathedral bells chime high above your hotel. This vast Cathedral is a Gothic structure and rivaled only by The Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica in size, emanating from a time of conquistador riches. The gold is blinding and flows up the walls and twists around the altar. You will move next to the Giralda, which is rugged and spiritual, a mosque’s minaret that is now a tower with the best view over Seville. Continue on to the Alcazar, another royal palace that blurs artistic definitions as it is Moorish at first glance, yet Gothic and Romanesque when your guide helps you to look. Elsewhere in Seville, you can wander Europe’s largest old quarter and stop at cafes, pause on the terraces, and soak up the fiery vibe this city provides.
Seville – Day Trip to the Pueblos Blancos
Tucked into the mountaintops, you will find the Pueblos Blancos, the whitewashed villages, hidden from pirates and marauders and places of tranquility above the open plains. Each has a church and is connected by haphazard narrow streets. Each also has a view, some of them perched on cliffs, others surrounded by fortress-style walls. And by visiting three, you can connect the harmony of their styles, appreciating the beauty of Moorish vernacular as you go. After the bustle of Seville, today is quiet time spent in villages where you can hear your own footsteps and never hear a vehicle. While these villages do not have the architectural or artistic opulence of elsewhere, they are an integral piece of Spain’s historical jigsaw, expertly preserving an era from 500 years ago.
Barcelona – Gaudi and the Modernistas
Think Barcelona, and you think of Gaudi, so where else is there to begin when you land in Catalonia? Drop your bags at your hotel and freshen up before hitting La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that seems to be fictional with such elegance to its strangeness, such beauty to the flourishes. Before this unfinished Cathedral, there were residential townhouses including Casa Batllo and Casa Mila where Gaudi honed his craft. And before it all, there was Montaner, the early pioneer of Catalonia’s Modernist style. His Palau de la Musica Catalana is a building to rival any in Spain as it is dramatic at first glance, and then adorable as you explore the details. Spend your evening around your hotel in Barri Gotic to piece together much older eras that go all the way back to the Romans.
Barcelona – Picasso and Dali
Two legendary artists will complete your two-week best-of Spain tour. Picasso’s early cubist paintings are among the highlights in Museo Picasso, part of a series that helps you follow the artist through his evolving style, blue to rose to African to Cubism. Outside of the city in the cute town of Figueres, and there you will find a museum dedicated to Salvador Dali, relatively unique in that the artist was so heavily involved in its creation. Follow the flamboyant style of this Catalan hero and take some time to see more of Figueres, even if it is just a coffee on the main square. Then zoom back to Barcelona by train and end your time with the most iconic of sunsets, Barcelona changing color as you look down from Gaudi’s Park Guell.
Barcelona – Departure
Today is left free and you will have time to go exploring central Barcelona, or even take a walk on the beach. You will be transferred to the airport privately with plenty of time before your outbound flight.
- Compare Baroque to Gothic to Renaissance by exploring Salamanca, a golden sandstone city
- Feel the surreal silence of the pueblos blancos, white Andalusian villages cut off from the world
- Explore the Damascene style that was brought by the Moors and is being kept alive by Toledo crafters
- Discover the fabulous fine art of Madrid’s Prado before a tour of the private Thyssen-Bornemisza collection
- Experience Moorish artisanal styles in Cordoba, and find symmetry between religions as well
- Get to know Picasso and Dali properly in Catalonia
- Devote a day to El Greco, his finest works found throughout the churches of Toledo
- Be wowed by the Modernistas and find that there was more than just Gaudi in Barcelona
- See how Arab and Roman art came together in Cordoba and Seville
- Enjoy an interactive art class in Madrid and discover some of the city’s lesser-known stories, including Galdiano and Goya
What is the quintessence of Spanish art? Is it the swirls of El Greco’s paintbrush or the understated brilliance of Galdiano? The flamboyance made famous by Gaudi or the symmetry and calligraphy of the Moors? For some, it is Picasso or Dali, yet others wander through Andalusian alcazars and think that quintessence is found the centuries of evolving design. There are so many styles here with each defined by both region and era, exemplified through the country’s great ability to preserve old art and architecture. These styles also provide an eye-opening lens from which to discover Spanish culture and atmosphere.
This handcrafted two-week tour explores the very best of Spain. You will find a prodigious landscape of art and architecture that span 2,000 years, everything from Velazquez to the Damascene style. You will overnight in six distinctive destinations, each showcasing another little piece of Spain and its culture. Art and architecture also provide an immersive lesson in Spanish history, illustrating what happened over the last two millennia. And don’t think that this best-of tour is only museums and galleries. You stay in old-world cities, enjoy interactive workshops, and get a real feel for the Spanish way of life.
Start off with three nights in Madrid, where you can experience the city’s famous trio of art museums, as well as galleries that are often forgotten. These provide a superb historical overview, setting you up for the intricacies and subtleties to come. Take the train to medieval Toledo and follow the El Greco trail, finding the artist’s finest works in the churches of his adopted hometown. Day five focuses on the ancient Damascene style brought to Spain by the Moors and kept alive by Toledo crafters. Staying in Central Spain, you turn next to the architecture, with Avila and Segovia from completely contrasting eras. Salamanca is all harmonious golden stone, allowing you to pick out the contrasts between Spanish Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles.
Travel next to Andalusia, Cordoba being the meeting place of Arab and Roman art. The region is also home to the exquisite Mezquita and other Moorish architecture. You can dive into t he local culture and connect the centuries, just like you do overnights 10 and 11 in Seville. In Seville, there is Europe’s largest old city to explore plus a day trip to see two of Andalusia’s pueblos blancos, those whitewashed villages from a time of the Moors. Barcelona is your last stop, and it will be here that you encounter many iconic names, with a day dedicated to Gaudi and Montaner, plus another for Dali and Picasso. That is just a summary, and as you explore the art and architecture, there will be a whole succession of unique cultures that will impress. Consider learning more about our travelers’ best Spain travel experiences by reading their Spain travel reviews.
$3,355 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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