Spain is an experiential country full of traditional tapas bars and tempestuous old fortresses, atmospheric flamenco and enigmatic pueblos blancos, old Moorish beauty and contemporary Spanish flair, reliving the conquistadors and remembering El Greco. Handcrafted to take you beneath the surface, this ten-day tour dives into the heart of Spain, taking you through Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Ronda, Malaga, and Granada. It’s authentic at every turn.
Madrid – Easing into the Spanish Experience
Madrid is easy on the eye and easy to get around as the Spanish capital is compact and laid-back, and completely different from what you may have experienced in Paris or London. Tourists are also relatively thin on the ground, surprisingly so you may think when wandering around the city’s heart. After meeting your guide at the airport, you will be transferred to your hotel just beyond the Plaza Mayor, and footsteps away from streets once lived in by Cervantes and Velazquez. Grab some chocolate and churros at a famous street-side haunt then get a sense of how Spain ticks as the locals come out late and make the most of each evening. There are no specific sights planned, but you will ease into the Spanish way of doing things.
Madrid – The Museums and Magic of Madrid
Epic canvases cover the walls of the Prado, the swirls of oil coming in unimaginable colors. They narrate scenes from history with battles, heroines, conquistadors, and quiet Flemish scenes. Perhaps other than the Louvre and Vatican, nowhere else in the world has such a collection of old art, the Prado galleries taking you across 1,000 years of famous painters and stories. If you are still keen to see more art, then your guide can take you to another of the Madrid trilogy with contemporary Reina Sofia or private Thyssen Bornemisza.
This afternoon will be a decadent affair as the city’s sublime architecture is revealed at a leisurely pace. Glitz and gaudy interiors dominate the Palacio Real, beneath the gaze of sculpted vixens and lions. Eclectic artwork and vibrant colors greet you in Catedral de Nuestra Senora as arched gateways line the way to the wide-open space of the Plaza Mayor. The more you explore, the more subtleties you find, particularly how glorious 16th and 17th-century facades mingle harmoniously with vernacular townhouses and rough-hewed cobbles. After a day with your private guide, there are plenty of dining options this evening, either the old-world and traditional, or one of the city’s contemporary fine dining affairs.
Madrid – A Day Trip to El Greco’s Medieval Toledo
Spires climb high in the old city of Toledo as they jut above synagogues and Moorish mosque domes, all three religions tightly packed within the old urban city core. Like many Spanish cities, the old has been expertly preserved, and it was long before World Heritage status, with a new city being constructed separately and away from the rest. So you step from the train, cross a bridge, and find yourself in a medieval era. Inside small churches, you find El Greco’s finest artwork, illuminated by shards of effervescent light. Down small alleyways, you will find colorful antique stores and Jewish histories.
Exploring the cobblestone streets, you will come across stories from the past, particularly those of religious harmony that could help the world today. Climbing higher and higher, you will eventually reach the cathedral, a city pinnacle that does not disappoint in its reflection of an ancient time. Rest in the cute little square, eating lunch as the cathedral bells chime and then choose return either to Madrid, or stay a little longer so you can watch Toledo beneath a cloak of dusk colors. It will be just over 30 minutes back to the capital city and a short transfer from the station back to your hotel.
Cordoba – More Than the Mezquita in Enigmatic Cordoba
Calligraphy twists its way around the ceiling, gilded in gold and shimmering softly as symmetrical mosaic patterns find their way across domes, above chandeliers stuffed with candles. Statuesque Christian saints juxtapose the old Islamic design, showing how the building has gone from church to mosque to cathedral. After the fast train from Madrid, you are in the Mezquita, a spellbinding structure that still serves as a fine ode to the Moors and their artisanal style. Spend two hours discovering this world-famous structure with your local guide, before energizing with a lunch that consists of small bites and thick coffee.
Of the two old Moorish capitals, Granada is like a fairytale lost in time. In contrast, Cordoba has mingled its way into the present, graffiti sketched across its old cobbled streets, alternative shops, and cafes alongside the tradition. It can be hard to get your head around, a seeming incongruence to how it all comes together. This is exactly why Cordoba is a city where you really need a good local guide, someone who can take you beyond the Mezquita to show how and where traditions are being taken forward into contemporary times. It will be worth taking a rest during the afternoon because the best time to experience all this is during the evening when there’s a lively buzz all around the city.
Seville – Traditional Tapas and Flamenco
This morning is free for a chance to cover a few more of Cordoba’s artistic treasures before the short train to Seville. The afternoon is free as well, and there is a lot to see in what is Europe’s largest old city. You will notice how fiery modern flair flows beneath grand 16th and 17th-century architecture, and the atmosphere is quite different from Cordoba. Two iconic experiences fill the evening as you set off with a private guide to hop between tapas taverns. With each drink you receive a tapa, such as pan-fried prawns with a citrus scent, thin slithers of cured ham, a mountain of olives, or a spicy chorizo stew.
Tapas originated in Andalusia, and your guide will know the places that stay true to its past, the tapas served as accompaniments to drinks, without a menu to choose from. Each tavern is known for certain specialties, and that is why you will need a guide. After two hours of eating, you will enter a sanctified space in Triana, the district where flamenco originates. The show starts late as melancholic voices fill the room, accompanied by the tap-tap of feet and the soulful strumming of an acoustic guitar. It’s moving, your mood reflected by the mood of the music. Mostly they sing of love and loss, each song takes you through the range of emotions this provides. It will be after midnight when it’s all finished, but how else to enjoy authentic Seville?
Seville – Glories of the Conquistadors
Seville grew fat and wealthy when the New World was plundered. All the conquistadors returning to Spain docked in Seville, and now the city is awash with their memories. Columbus lays in the cathedral crypt, grand townhouses tell you about explorers, while stretches of gold hide all through the old city. Today’s private Seville tour starts late to allow for a leisurely morning, and you will dive into the highlights, crossing Plaza de Espana to the Church of El Salvador, the Seville Cathedral and various other stops. You can explore a warren of lanes, punctuated by towering spires and palace-like architecture.
Before the conquistadors came the Moors. The Alcazar of Seville is – whisper it – as evocative as Granada’s Alhambra. Complex geometric patterns cover the walls and archways and alcoves are artistically adorned. Elaborate carvings fill this complex of royal palaces, and you should find far fewer people than in the Mezquita. This evening you will probably want to return to the tapas bars, and you will know how they work now. Rather than hop between bars, it is worth trying a different experience tonight. Join the locals on an outdoor terrace and order a drink. Then another. And watch as each drink is accompanied by a higher quality tapa so that you go from olives through to rich lamb and seafood.
Ronda – Private Tour Through Andalusia’s Famous Pueblos Blancos
Small villages cling to cliffs and peaks in rural Andalusia. Their whitewashed facades are unchanged, shimmering, yet slowly crumbling. Each is dominated by an old stone church, and many of these were once mosques. Most are tiny, and you visit two, pueblos blancos that serve as odes to a distant time. Throughout the centuries these were hidden places where people could escape pirates, raiders, and the Spanish Inquisition. They have preserved a solemn beauty and also provide stunning views across mountain plateaus. Today’s journey takes you to Ronda, the largest and most dramatically situated of them all, with two stops on the way ensuring you see pueblos blancos not visited by tour buses.
The remarkable Ponto Nuevo bridge leads you into Ronda, spanning a vertical drop between the cliffs. Crossing the bridge, you will find a village tucked into nature with townhouses perched on the edge of the world. Start your private tour with the Moorish remains and then gasp at the bullring, the first official bullring to be constructed in Spain. Continue through multi-tiered gardens, where terraces and succulents hang over the gorge, before an evening relaxing on the main square, wondering how it is possible to find such a remote place in the middle of Europe.
Granada – A Misunderstood Beauty on the Coast: Romance in the Mountains
Most people see Malaga as a gateway to the British seaside resorts on Spain’s southern coast, so they skip it. However, Malaga holds 2,000 years of history and preserves its tradition very carefully, as if the remains of the past are now concentrated here after places nearby became undeniably British. Wander through the haphazard remains of the palace, where palms and creepers twist around the ancient stone. Cross the Roman Theatre and listen to stories of the city’s origins, then ascend to a tenth-century Moorish castle that looks down on the Mediterranean.
There’s much more here even if there are hardly any other visitors. Picasso lived here for most of his life and the Picasso Museum is an eye-opening insight into his works and inspiration. Renaissance and baroque styles fill the city’s strange cathedral, a grand structure as moving as it is artistically impressive. You can spend the day in Malaga and then drive alongside the Sierra Nevada mountains, late-afternoon light casting these landscapes in ephemeral colors. Arriving in Granada, you will enter the fairytale as you twist uphill until the strains of gypsy music and the romance of the old city stands before you. Welcome to an old city from a dream and sink all your senses into the evening atmosphere.
Granada – An Old Moorish City From a Dream
The enormous Alhambra with palaces and courtyards so breathtaking they cannot be understood through photos. Move to the mazy Albayzin, every turn bringing another scent or sound, and next to the gypsy caves of Sacromonte, the other corner from which flamenco originated. On and on you go, making sense of the fairytale and piecing together the experiential sights. There is only one way to end this ten-day tour to Spain, especially since you are in Granada, and that is with tapas and flamenco. Along with Seville, this is the most traditional city to experience both these pieces of Spanish culture. Hop through the bars in the Albayzin, and then immerse yourself in the lively flamenco-style that comes from here, the music much more energetic and hopeful than in Seville.
Granada – Departure
Granada has a small airport so you can easily end the vacation here, typically with a domestic connection back to Madrid. The airport could also allow you to extend the journey to other parts of Spain, such as Catalonia. This morning is left free, and there are some wonderful experiences to be had on the Granada streets. You will be transferred privately to the airport to catch your connection home.
- Appreciate true tapas as guides take you round Andalusia’s best tavernas
- Marvel at exquisite Moorish remains, like the Cordoba Mezquita and Granada Alhambra
- Spend a day discovering Andalusia’s Pueblos Blancos, whitewashed villages hidden in the mountains
- Explore the best of medieval Toledo, using El Greco as a lens in one of Europe’s finest medieval cities
- Experience true flamenco with a night in a traditional Seville bar plus an evening with Granada’s gypsy flamenco-style
- Ease into the Spanish experience with three nights in Madrid, including grand plazas, superb architecture, and the unbeatable Prado
- Dive beneath the surface as local guides show you the authentic side to each destination, Malaga just one example of a city that’s misunderstood by most visitors
- Discover the wealth and beauty brought back to Seville by the conquistadors
Spain is less a country that you visit and more a country that you experience. Even the heart of capital city Madrid is authentic, populated by locals rather than overcrowded with tour buses. This is a country that you explore with all of your senses and where the highlights are much more than the sights. The poignant voice of a flamenco singer seeps out from an Andalusian tavern as smells and sounds guide you down small alleyways and towards the traditional tapas bars. Exquisite art hangs in the churches and cathedrals, looking down on serene Catholic followers. Tiny white-washed villages appear unchanged, tucked away on mountain peaks, blurring into their surroundings. Even the journeys are authentic, such as taking an evening paseo or walk, over a Plaza Mayor, or main square.
Look forward to the magnificence of the Moors, most famously at Cordoba’s Mezquita and Granada’s Alhambra, yet found all across Andalusia. Surrounding the majestic old mosques are atmospheric neighborhoods, where the history seems alive, and you can walk the mazy lanes. In Toledo, the sights are harmonious with many religions coming together in Europe’s best-preserved medieval city, El Greco’s artwork adding an extra dimension. Madrid’s museums are worthy of worldwide fame while across the country you can find many superlative sights barely even mentioned in guidebooks, like the Roman theater that stands proudly in Malaga. Such an abundance of sights also helps to absorb Spain’s abundance of visitors, so most do not feel too crowded, and the most popular have implemented strict daily visitor limits in order to preserve the experience.
This handcrafted tour is all about taking you beneath the surface, using local guides to show you around seven different destinations. Start with three nights in Madrid, a very relaxed capital city that helps you unwind into the country’s atmosphere. Day two focuses on Madrid’s sights and local streets, before a day trip to nearby Toledo on day three. Then it’s off into Andalusia as you take the fast train to Cordoba and find out that there’s more to this enigmatic city than the Mezquita. A short railway hop brings you to Seville, the home of true tapas and flamenco, and you will experience both on your first evening in Seville.
Seville grew wealthy thanks to the conquistadors, and its old city deserves a full day of exploration. You will need a good guide because so many of the stories are contradictory, and much is hidden behind the old city walls. The pueblos blancos or white villages are an old Andalusian highlight, places of unchanged tradition in gloriously remote settings. Visit two of them en route to the biggest of them all, Ronda. Malaga is misunderstood and an intriguing little stop on the route to Granada, where you end this handcrafted ten-day tour in a fairytale world of Moorish architecture and mountaintop escapism. Consider learning more about our travelers’ favorite Spain travel experiences by reading their Spain travel reviews.
$2,395 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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