A Sublime Tour of Spain's UNESCO World Heritage Sites

A 14 day trip to Spain 
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Spain's World Heritage Sites are more than just historical markers. They're alive with tradition and resplendent beauty, 44 of them unveiling a country of evocative history and mesmerizing culture. This handcrafted tour visits 18 of them, sublimely connecting a kaleidoscope array of masterpieces. Roman, Renaissance, Gothic, aristocratic opulence, medieval fairytale towns; every day provides an innovative paradigm of Western history and Spanish enticement.

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Barcelona, Tarragona, Vimbodi, Madrid, San Lorenzo, Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Salamanca, Cuenca, Cacares, Merida, Guadalupe, Seville, Cordoba, Granada

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departure.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Barcelona - Modernist Art Nouveau in the Heart of Barcelona

Salty Mediterranean air mixes with laughter from al fresco terraces. Narrow streets ascend past boutique designer stores and early 20th century theaters, every building different yet part of a harmonious jigsaw. The world knows Barcelona as Gaudi's city, but he wasn't the only art nouveau pioneer. After a short airport transfer you're welcomed to Spain with a lunch on La Rambla, a street that's alive with artists and performers. You spend the afternoon exploring the works of Lluis Domenech i Montaner, an architectural pioneer who blended functionality with outrageous decorative exuberance. Start at Casa Lleo I Morera; the elaborate facade is sandwiched between terraced houses and is an introduction to Montaner's style. Then stand bewitched at Hospital de Sant Pau. Only decommissioned in 2009, there is lots of evidence of the building's functionality; yet everything is sprinkled with the master's touch: window frames, corridors, drainpipes, ceilings, always something unusual and majestic to juxtapose.

Sant Pau represents the dedication to the Catalan modernist art nouveau. It wasn't architecture for the rich. This is a hospital. It's the first World Heritage Site on your itinerary. Along nearby streets you go for an early dinner of pintxos, a northern version of tapas enjoyed in atmospheric bars of pastel shades. Then orchestral symphonies welcome you to Palau de la Musica Catalana, a gloriously mystical space littered with statues and artwork. Sit down as the conductor raises his hands. This iconic Montaner music hall is all the more impressive when the music starts to play. After the live performance you're transferred to your hotel.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, transfers, lunch, dinner, tickets for show at Palau de la Musica

Day 2: Barcelona - The Catalonian Treasures of Tarragona and Vimbodi

The walls of Tarragona stand picture perfect, two rows of Roman stone alcoves running straight and true through the heart of a modern city. While Tarragona is irrevocably 21st century, the remains of Roman beauty are not lost. Gaze at the amphitheater and take care as you descend the giant steps. Admire an ensemble of Roman relics, many of them hidden away but carefully preserved, like the untouched Roman walls inside the Museu Nacional Arqueologic de Tarragona. Rather than put relics in a museum, Tarragona built a museum around them.

In the afternoon you drive to Vimbodi, stopping for a traditional Catalan lunch en route. Today's second World Heritage Site is the Poblet Monastery, an aristocratic burial place and one of Europe's largest religious buildings. Lion sculptures lie at the feet of rested kings while carved dogs guard the Queens' tombs. Now head upstairs, where views onto the Prades Mountains compliment the journey into royal excess and monasterial asceticism. Return to Barcelona in the late afternoon and the rest of the day is at your leisure.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 3: Barcelona to Madrid: Exploring the World of Antoni Gaudi

Park Guell is resplendent in morning light, a dozen potential stops available for your breakfast picnic. Columns swirl and walkways curve, taking you through Gaudi's living masterpiece. Like Montaner, Gaudi elegantly blended functionality with dazzling design and ingenuity. And like Montaner, his work is not merely to be admired and photographed. This is a park for people, a place to enjoy breakfast with serene views over the city. The early start always ensures you can explore before the rush of midday tour groups.

Today is dedicated to Gaudi: his eternal dream is next on your Spain tour. Stand before the Sagrada Familia, still in construction after 130 years yet already on the UNESCO list. While the odd crane may spoil the photos, they serve as a reminder of the project's ambition. Step inside as gothic mystery leaves blurs and whirls everywhere. Everything seems to move, somehow blending into itself. Every wall, every side, every inch is unique, yet somehow symmetrical in this cathedral of wonder. After lunch on a seaside terrace, spend the afternoon discovering Gaudi's less famous works, the residential houses commissioned by Barcelona's elite. Casa Mila, Casa Vicens, Casa Batllo; each is Gaudi at his most experimental and opulent.

In the late afternoon you're transferred to the train station for a first class rail journey to Madrid. This is one of the world's fastest train journeys and it takes less than three hours to cover the 630 kilometers. Complimentary drinks and snacks are served as rural Spain rushes past. A new guide greets you in Madrid and transfers you to your hotel.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, transfers, breakfast, lunch, first class train tickets to Madrid

Day 4: Madrid – Royal Palaces and the Alluring 15th Century Alcala de Henares

Madrid's streets dance with authenticity, everything alluring Spanish in the capital. A social ambiance abounds; innumerable squares are filled with chatter and promises of tranquil days. Bookshop cafes and independent stores line the streets, every corner bringing another ode to anti-commercialism. Soak up Madrid's atmosphere in the morning, before your tour of the city's regal masterpieces. There are two UNESCO Sites to discover today, starting with the 15th century precinct of Alcala de Henares, the world's first planned university city and the blueprint for many famous American colleges. The original buildings line pathways of fountains and nattering students, each square block of buildings remarkably consistent in their displays of grandeur. A cute cafe within the complex makes for an ideal lunch stop and chance to settle into the history.

San Lorenzo de El Escorial is equally radiant, a dome and two towers guiding you into the royal palace. Mixing fervent Christianity with regal opulence, El Escorial can take hours to really explore. Some rooms are odes to God, bursting with biblical paintings and Catholic history. Others are odes to indulgence, gold leaf and silver etchings shining without inhibition. Like every day's tour, you're transferred in a luxury Mercedes with a driver guide. The pace is relaxed and the itinerary can be altered at any time. For example, your guide will have many ideas if you wish to dine near the palace rather than near your hotel in Central Madrid.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, transfers, breakfast, lunch

Day 5: Madrid to Toledo to Madrid – A Day of Roman History and Fascinating Chronicles

It’s a royal start on today's visit to two World Heritage Sites. The Palace of Aranjeuz is Spain's version of England's Buckingham, an ostentatious display of wealth and indulgent tastes surrounded by vast lawns and gardens. Head inside to rooms of jewels and painted ceilings, then spend an hour in the tranquil gardens, a flask of coffee a perfect compliment to sculpted hedges and blossoming flowers. Now to Toledo, its Roman foundations now filled with churches, mosques, and synagogues. Few cities have even been so peacefully diverse, three religions developing side by side for over 1000 years. There are two ways to enjoy Toledo; either tour the iconic monuments and memoirs to history with your guide, or slowly explore the streets and absorb the centuries of relics. This is a great place to enjoy an early dinner before returning to Madrid. Both Toledo and the Palace of Aranjeuz are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 6: Segovia to Avila - Immense Walled Cities in Ancient Spain

Say goodbye to the capital and you weave into rural Spain. For the next four days you journey across the country's historic walled towns, each with its roots in a different century and architectural style. First you will head north, where the Roman aqueduct of Segovia stretches far across the town. It's one of the largest complete Roman buildings in the world. Now, on to Avila, where thick fortress walls and tiny turrets guard the tiny old town. Go through the gate and it's all quiet, rows of pedestrianized streets left unspoiled since the 11th century. Dozens of churches are crammed into the Town of Stones and Saints, their bells ringing as you relax on the Plaza Mayor. Your hotel is indelibly placed within the fortress. Take your time and explore at leisure.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 7: Salamanca – Renaissance Beauty in the World's Oldest University Town

What was once a Gothic spire, and a Renaissance palace, is now a restored mosque in original Moorish style. Next you are introduced to the modern side to Salamanca; the rows of Baroque houses weave through the central streets. Each corner brings another century. Inside a cafe hangs a 17th century portrait. Down a cobbled alley there's the site of a Roman well. Like all the towns you explore over the next few days, Salamanca is not merely a UNESCO Site to be captured. It's an indelible memoir to Western history, one that's best savored at your own pace. After the drive from Avila, spend the day within the Old Town, barely anything new to break the heritage spell.

What's Included: accommodation, transfer, breakfast

Day 8: Caceres – Unique Gothic and Islamic Architecture

One day the buildings of Caceres will surely fall, millennia of history tumbling down into the valley below. But right now they look like a postcard, their white facades gleaming beneath the sun. Head through the city walls and the streets take you on a journey of mystery, each alcove and window representing the innovation of the past. Caceres makes for an enchanting afternoon and evening lost in time. Dozens of Islamic minarets dominate the skyline, but enter the city and you find streets of Italian Renaissance. Occasionally a Gothic church appears from nowhere, or an exotic slice of the East jumps out. Like always, your hotel is idyllically perched amongst the beauty of a World Heritage site.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch.

Day 9: Merida to Guadelupe – The World Heritage Sites of Extremadura

Merida appears like a travel dream, pillars and sculpted sphinxes starting the journey through Roman reverie. It's all here: a semicircular amphitheater with steep steps, a forum of engravings and carved busts, a bridge of 2000 year old stone, a dazzling row of columns rising two stories high. Merida is Spain's most complete Roman city, a vast ensemble of archaeological relics and a place where most people take thousands of photos. Spend the whole morning here, including a lunchtime terrace with a panorama onto ancient Rome. In the afternoon you travel to Guadalupe, site of one of the world's most influential monasteries. It's a vast site famous for the Guadalupe Virgin, the symbol used by Spanish explorers in the evangelization of the Americas. A specialist guide provides the narratives of this royal monastery before you spend the night at a hotel with glorious views over 13th century walls.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Days 10 - 11: Seville – Relaxing in the Passionate City of Seville

Seville's streets are passionate and full of color, a multitude of reds spreading around every corner. Waiters deliver coffee with flourishes of flair, women's dresses ripple with vivacity, and the city immediately pulls you into its ambiance of enthusiasm. After moving from old town to old town, you spend the next two days relaxing in Seville, exploring at leisure and taking advantage of the Andalusian flavors. Three UNESCO Sites are dotted around the city; the Cathedral and its crypt holding Christopher Columbus, the 13th century Alcazar, and documents of America’s colonization found in the archive. A three hour tour of these sites is included and can be enjoyed at any time over these two days.

What's Included: accommodation, guided tour of Seville's World Heritage Sites, breakfast

Day 12: Cordoba – Exotic Glimpses of the East in 7th Century Cordoba

The journeys are short now that you're in Andalusia, the selection of World Heritage Sites all within an hour or so of each other. But their proximity hides their diversity. Cordoba takes you to the East, its mosques and Moorish streets a glimpse of exoticism rarely seen this far west. Arabic calligraphy fills elaborate walls, the infinitesimal engravings roaming around door frames with messages to Allah. Narrow houses rise high, leaning into each other with patterns of grace. Even the smells are foreign: masala chai, saffron, markets that reminisce of the city's history. After a guided tour of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, spend the day exploring at leisure.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 13: Granada – Moorish and Renaissance Remains in Andalusia

Your final day epitomizes the experience of World Heritage Sites in Spain. All three are very different, evoking an iconic period of history and exuding the atmosphere of a forgotten time. Ubeda and Baeza are this morning's destinations, each spilling shimmering Renaissance architecture onto streets of fascination. Visit one building, or two, or three, each laced with a pioneering style that was destined to sweep across the country and Western Europe. Next you head to Granada, a site of exotic fortresses and Moorish influence, one that twinkles with ingenuity and promises nothing mundane. This is your final evening so a farewell dinner is included. Gaze across at the Generalife Palace as a banquet of Andalusian tapas is served, 18 different dishes representing the 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites you've visited in Spain.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, dinner

Day 14: Granada – Departure

A final trip by luxury Mercedes takes you a few miles across the city to Granada Airport for a domestic flight to Barcelona. Wave farewell to your guide and Spain; you are already planning a return to check off the other 26 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

What's Included: transfer, breakfast

Price

Starting Price 

$3,355
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.