Madrid, Alcara de Herares, Segovia, Avila, Salamanca, Toledo
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Spain's golden age imbues aromas of enchantment and artistic pleasure. Historic towns offer iconic medieval reverie, the paintings of old masters hang in royal palaces, and the atmosphere of yesteryear lives on in all its pomp. Luxurious and indulgent, this royal tour relives the golden age, taking you into the perfectly preserved wealth of the 15th to 17th centuries. From castles to cathedrals and opera to literature, you experience some of the finest odes to Western civilization.
Madrid – Royal Welcomes in Magnificent Madrid
Madrid's scents are of elegant grandeur and laughter. The historic districts imbue impressions of grace and regal history, every street transposed from an era of impossible wealth. Walk down Paseo de la Castellana to the Gran Via and even the roofs scream of splendor, sculpted busts, and gods basking beneath the Mediterranean sunshine. You'll be met at the airport and transferred directly to your luxury boutique hotel in the regal district of Salamanca (remember this name for later in the trip). As you're guided around the city, first impressions are of Madrid's sublime heritage. But gradually another side shines through.
Madrilenos live their life outdoors, their chatter consuming the Plaza Mayor and the Madrid of the Hapsburg era. The sociability runs through the Madrid of the Bourbons, finding its way into classical alleyways and grand palaces. Every suburb has its own character, its own display of socialites mixed with heritage. Your afternoon tour explores both the Hapsburg and Bourbon routes, taking you through winding streets to a fine-dining restaurant opposite Madrid's Teatro Real. After dinner, you have prime seats at the opera. The theater's interior screams of opulence, all velvety and ornate as the tenor's voice reverberates off the dome ceiling. As dancers jump and a melancholy tale radiates beauty, this night at the opera is the start of your journey into Spain's golden age of art.
Madrid – Discovering the Old Masters on a Day of Fabulous Art
In some countries, they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In parts of Spain, breakfast is the most important time of the day. The streets are quiet and welcoming, nobody rushing as the smells of coffee and jamon cascade from the cafes. People are relaxed, lingering over their meal as the day starts as it should go on: slowly and serenely. So don't rush. Take your time, feel the rhythm slow you down; today's tour will start whenever you're ready.
Few cities rival Madrid's classical art scene. Three exceptional galleries span the work of Europe's great masters and Spain's golden age is your starting point. Morales, Nurillo, Zurbano; the El Prado Museum is Spain's Louvre, a vast gallery of masterpieces that take you through the centuries. Canvases fill entire walls, full of oily twirls and intricate detail. Slowly you move forward, heading through Valazquez and Goya as the art of old Europe evolves. Just across the street, the Reina Sophia is home to Spain's greatest collection of contemporary art. Fabulous collections of Picasso and Dali are the undisputed highlight. Next comes the Thyssen-Bornemisza, an ode to the international artwork snapped up by Spain's wealthy emperors. An expert guide accompanies you throughout, providing a story that adds further life into the paint. The afternoon is at your leisure and your guide can recommend a number of places to explore without a map. Central Madrid is full of fascination and every street has something to discover.
Madrid – Fabulous Palaces and Sumptuous Tapas
Chocolate and churros are a sweet start to a day of royal discovery. Dip the swirls of pastry into the bubbling pot of chocolate, the tongue absorbing the sugar as you enjoy Madrid's famous breakfast treat. Start today's guided tour in the Royal Palace; the occasional residence of His Majesty offers sublime views onto Madrid's suburbs. Explore the royal pharmacy and its collection of strange potions. Sweep your hands around the Romanesque pillars and savor the grandeur. Hear the tales of Bourbon dynasties as the sun bounces off the marble. Barely 30 minutes away, the World Heritage Palace of Aranjuez is a second exemplar of wealth and power. Enjoy a picnic of local jamon and cheese in its vast cultivated gardens, the facade of the palace glistening in the foreground.
You return to Madrid around mid-afternoon for some more free time soaking up the city. After the royal day comes a local evening. Wind down Cava Baja Street on a unique tapas tour, your food-loving guide picking out the most exquisite tapas bars. Sit down and enjoy one or two tapas at each, then move on to another specialty and atmospheric haven. Wine is included as you sample your way from the whites of Txacoli to the reds of Rioja. This is a great chance to see the local side of Madrid and get to know the cuisine that Spain is so famous for.
Alcala de Henares – Golden Age Immersion in the World's First Planned University Town
Alcala de Henares sometimes looks strikingly familiar, especially if you've visited famous colleges in the USA or UK. Grand libraries look down on square lawns of excited chatter. Terraced rows reveal a 15th-century history, each consistent in style yet unique in appearance. Bell towers dominate the skyline, gazing down on the statues of literary masters. Alcale de Henares was the world's first planned university town in recognition of Spain's pioneering roll in higher education. It's a tranquil yet ambient place to spend a day. Upon arrival, you'll spend the morning with a university guide, someone who opens the doors to oak framed libraries and hidden history. The afternoon is free to relax in the town, with your boutique hotel located in a 16th-century building.
San Lorenzo de el Escorial – Regal Treatment at Another World Heritage Site
Vivid frescos shine in el Escorial monastery, biblical scenes filling whole domes and trumpet blowing cherubs hanging to pillars. Artistic tales are illuminated in red and green as light seeps through the stained glass. 16Th century King Philip II fought a religious war, investing his riches in Catholic odes as he battled French Protestant Reformation. This monastery palace is what remains, a spectacular expanse of art and architecture many see as second only to the Vatican. Your guide picks up on Philip's story as you tour the palace, museum, royal court, and monastery. Another of Spain's World Heritage Sites, San Lorenzo de el Escorial offers a poignant look at the early days of the golden age, both in the architectural style and the obsession with artistic opulence. Your tour culminates with lunch on a fine dining terrace with views onto el Escorial. A paired wine and tasting menu takes you well into the afternoon and probably a siesta at your Parador, a luxury hotel in an old converted monastery.
Segovia – Exploring a Fairytale Medieval City
Segovia spreads its aesthetic pleasures far and wide. Resting high above rugged cliffs, gazing down on the curves of two great rivers, the town is an image from a fairytale. Its stone bridges curve with cobbles and the alleyways ascend through a maze of Baroque and Gothic architecture. It might look familiar: it was the Alcazar's towers that inspired Disney's Snow White castle, There's nothing modern. Follow the double-tiered aqueduct to a square of fluttering bird song and gourmet scents. Rock your head back at the Cathedral of Segovia, its majestic Gothic style as resplendent on the inside as the outside. Pillars tower high as immense glass windows leave utopian hazes of red and yellow. Spend the morning being guided around Segovia, reliving a medieval dream as almost every building comes from the golden age.
The tour culminates at the Plaza Azoguejo, a central point from which the alluring gabled roofs extend. Spilling out of the historic facades are some of Spain's finest gastronomic haunts, each sticking to the recipes of centuries past. Sit down to the lunch menu at Villena, the town's Michelin-starred restaurant, savoring the region's ultimate specialty: roasted suckling pig. The afternoon is at your leisure and your Parador hotel has timeless views of the iconic skyline.
Segovia – The Lavish Pleasure Palace of Kings
Despite the artistry of architecture, Segovia has a certain humbleness. It's not flashy or ostentatious; the splendor emanates from classical shapes and designs. The same can't be said about La Granja de San Ildefonso. Developed by numerous kings, this lavish palace is a haven of indulgence, built with unlimited funds and filled with excessive pleasures. The extravagance is almost blinding, the cloistered halls and gardens impossibly rich. Today's tour continues in Pedraza, a tiny medieval town once home to Spanish royalty. While it's nowhere near the size of Segovia, the maze of streets feel almost abandoned since the 13th century. Have lunch here, down a street of stone that verges on becoming a medieval ghost town. You'll return to Segovia around mid-afternoon and the rest of the day is free.
Avila – Stepping Back in Time in Unspoiled Avila
Along the road to Avila, your driver stops. Admire the scene. Semi-arid valleys leave tones of yellow and red. Olive groves and wine farms bring shocks of green beside the river. And the focal point is unmistakable. The walls and turrets of Avila dominate the landscape for many a mile, looking as imposing as they did when invading armies once marched on this land. Avila's walls are perhaps the best preserved in Europe and your tour starts upon them. Continue to Catedral de Avila, trying to make sense of its scenes of heaven and hell, and then climb to a Roman church with a mysterious history.
Sainta Teresa of Jesus was born in Avila and you'll find churches and monasteries occupying almost every corner of the town; each is a mix of asceticism with Gothic and Renaissance styles. Avila is another walled town that's small enough to easily explore yet large enough to continually deliver a surprise. After a tour of the major sights, the afternoon and evening are free to take in what hides inside the fortress walls.
Day 9 - 10
Salamanca – Renaissance and Plateresque Brilliance in Historic Salamanca
Oxford? Cambridge? No, the world's first university hails from Salamanca almost 800 years ago. Keep rewinding the clock and the city has a history incorporating Hannibal, Romans, and the Moors. Your local guide is providing the history lesson, over the 1st century Puento Romano bridge and towards the university, where facades of plateresque brilliance leave tones of extravagance. This remains one of the world's finest universities, a glorious ode to the foresight of Leon's former king Alonso IX. Head into La Casa de la Concha and hundreds of shells line the walls, brought from the coast at a time when they were valued more highly than gold.
Salamanca moved with the times, following the architectural styles until the golden age culminated in the 17th century. Since then its old town has stood still, preserving its chic buildings and keeping its feet in medieval musing. The guided tour finishes with a lavish lunch at the Playa Mayor de Salamanca, one of Spain's largest squares. Arcaded buildings cascade out from the Baroque Town Hall, your eyes following their cafes to turreted towers and then to the Irish Palace, an elegant forefather of Renaissance styles. With a hotel in the heart of the old town, the rest of your time is a leisurely and languid submersion in the city's architectural masterpieces.
Toledo – A Medieval Castle and Timepiece to Complete the Golden Age
Perched above a mystical hilltop, Toledo offers a timeless final memory for this vacation. It's all here: the exquisite castle turrets, a Roman gateway into a walled town, cathedral spires sending flumes of beauty towards the azure sky, and a maze of streets that keep you firmly rooted in a historic time. There is no guided tour in Toledo. Ascend through the cobbled streets to the castle, checking in to your parador castle room that affords views towards nearby Madrid. Spend the day getting lost. Every street and every corner maintains the spell, a whole cauldron of architectural styles representing every century but the last three. Completing the itinerary, enjoy a gala dinner in the castle's immense dining hall. A regal banquet is served; roasted pig surrounded by colorful fruits, soups paired with fine wine, and delicate little dishes to accompany the entertainment. If you didn't know it already, you're in the 16th century, basking in the final memories of Spain's reign as the world's economic and artistic ruler.
Toledo – Farewell to the Golden Age of Spain
The Castle of Oropesa blurs into the distance as you leave Toledo, its hilltop beauty fading away as this tour of Spain's golden age comes to an end. It's around a 90-minute transfer to Madrid Airport and your departure flight.
- Start the vacation with three days discovering the fabulous artistic history of Madrid, including art galleries, stunning palaces, and a welcome evening in the Royal Theatre
- Step back in time by exploring some of Europe's finest medieval cities, like the fairytale world of Segovia and fortress walled Avila
- Royal Spanish cuisine melts on the tongue and this itinerary is liberally sprinkled with gastronomic treats, from gala dinners in old castles to streets of exceptional tapas
- Fully indulge in the golden age by sleeping in some of Spain's finest paradors, five-star establishments built into converted palaces, castles, and monasteries
- Lose yourself in towns that flourished with the wealth of the golden age, like the completely untrammeled Renaissance town of Salamanca
- Spain was the forefather of higher education and you explore the world's first university and its first planned university town, Alcara de Henares
- Luxury transfers take you along spectacular rural roads, connecting the medieval towns of Central Spain with organic farms and valleys of enchantment
- Complete the journey in Toledo, a fabulous maze of cobblestone and history perched on a hill above Madrid
Spain's golden age was one of artistic treasures and royal wealth. Fabulous palaces sprung up as explorers returned with silver and gold. Towns reveled in their opulence, huge cathedrals dominating the town square and rows of Renaissance beauty running along mazy streets. Castles and city walls protected the wealth, towering above the valleys with turrets of medieval splendor. From the 15th to 17th centuries, the country's flourishing art and literature scene was the envy of the world. Every era of rule comes with an inevitable decline but the opulence of the golden age has been remarkably well preserved. This handcrafted tour explores Spain's finest cultural sights, fully immersing you in an era of splendor. Historic towns are unspoiled and untouched, palaces and galleries stand as odes to an historic era, and the razzmatazz of yesteryear abounds at every turn. Taking you in a loop around Central Spain from Madrid, each destination epitomizes the glory and luxury of the golden age.
Start your tour of Spain in the capital, welcomed to the country with an opera performance at the city's grand theater, a glimpse at both the art and architecture that this vacation will provide. A whole day is dedicated to the grand masters, Madrid rivaling Paris as the world's premier historic art city. There are many different sides to Madrid and your three days eclectically combine palaces, street tapas, and easy hours absorbing the old-world atmosphere. Days four and five epitomize the innovation of the golden age. Discover the world's first planned university town, a blueprint that influenced many famous American colleges. Then lap up the aristocratic pomp at San Lorenzo de el Escorial, another timeless ode to the indulgence of monarchs.
As you journey into the valleys of Madrid you begin to step back in time. Days six and seven are spent in Segovia, a medieval town of such pristine preservation that it was the inspiration for Disney's Snow White. Avila is equally untouched, its ancient city walls arguably the finest in the whole of Europe. Salamanca is the base for days nine and ten, a town that blossomed with Renaissance and Plateresque brilliance during Spain's reign as economic world leader. At each of these towns you're treated to a guided tour by an expert local guide. This provides a narrative to accompany the famous sights as well as an opportunity to discover the hidden attractions. You'll also have full days or afternoons to explore at leisure and relish the indelible ambiance. Toledo completes the itinerary: wander over the 11th century stone bridge and enter a city that has stood still for centuries.
Of course, Spain's golden age isn't just reflected in art and architecture. Gastronomic pleasures continue to impress the world and your tour features a diverse array of fine dining and local specialties, including a farewell gala dinner at a historic castle. It also wouldn't be the golden age without reliving the style of kings. Iconic five-star hotels and paradors make for a real sense of the country's dedication to style and luxury. Private luxury transfers are included throughout with the day's timings flexible.
$2,875 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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