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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Spain

The Alhambra and Parador de San Francisco – Granada, Andalusia, Spain

What Wonders Lie Within

Nothing in life could be crueler than to be blind in Granada,” reads an inscription within the walls of the Alhambra, the greatest expression of Spanish Muslim art and architecture. With sections that date back to the 9th century (begun by the Caliphate), the wonder you see today was cre­ated mainly under the reigns of Yussuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391).

Although austere and unassuming on the out­side, nearly every surface inside is covered with fantastically ornate geometric and flowing arabesque patterns.

For almost 250 years the “Red Fortress” served the Moorish rulers of Granada as palace, harem, residence for court officials, and, once, as a garrison for 40,000 soldiers. With the Christians’ ultimate victory in 1492, the last Moorish ruler, Boabdil, and his entourage left Spain forever, and the Catholic monarchs moved into the Alhambra.

It is in the great Hall of Ambassadors that Ferdinand and Isabella supposedly met with Columbus in 1492 before his first voyage. Here, as everywhere, is the soothing murmur of water, coming from the tiled pools, fountains, and channels that are an integral part of the archi­tecture. The dramatic use of exquisite webs and lacy filigree is showcased in the Hall of the Two Sisters, whose intricately honey­combed ceiling somehow escapes gaudiness, managing to be simply beautiful.

The most famous and perhaps the most beautiful of Spain’s eighty-some government- run inns, the Parador de San Francisco enables guests to sleep within the enchanted walls of the Alhambra. Itself a former Moorish palace converted into a Franciscan convent by the newly arrived Catholic monarchs in 1492, the parador offers privileged views of the Alham­bra gardens and Nasrid palaces, the ancient Moorish Albaicin quarter and the countryside beyond.

A better location can hardly be imag­ined, and a long waiting list attests to its popularity. The rooms in the richly appointed original building are filled with antiques and character, plus the opportunity to meander about the Alhambra patios and magnificent gardens after closing hours. More ordinary and less-expensive rooms are available in the new wing, For those who didn’t book far enough in advance, an outdoor lunch might suffice: the parador’s terrace offers romantic views of the Alhambra’s rose gardens while you dine on regional Andalusian specialties.

If you visit in early summer, you can enjoy Granada’s annual seventeen-day International Music and Dance Festival, which begins in late June and features everything from clas­sical music to bewitching flamenco.

La Mezquita – Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain

Iberia’s Greatest Mosque

The Mezquita’s 900 columns create a forest of onyx, jasper, marble, and granite, topped by horseshoe arches of candy-striped red-and-white marble. Add decorative mosaics and plasterwork, and you have one of Europe’s most breathtaking examples of Spanish Muslim architecture.

The Mezquita was constructed as a mosque by a succession of emirs between the 8th and 10th centuries, when Cordoba was the seat of the Western Caliphate and Europe’s largest city. Later it was partially destroyed and, in 1236, rebuilt as a cathedral.

In its day, La Mezquita was the crowning Muslim architectural achievement in the West, rivaled only by the mosque in Mecca. The cathedral that sits awkwardly in its center today pales by comparison, although its 18th-century Baroque mahogany choir stalls are some of Europe’s most elaborate.

Even the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V regretted having destroyed something “unique” to make way for something “commonplace.” The Moorish minaret-turned-church-spire provides a fine view of the ancient Arab and Jewish quarters below, and a short respite in the Courtyard of the Orange Trees is as fragrant and refreshing as when it was first enjoyed by the caliphs.

Arcos de la Frontera – Andalusia, Spain

Home Base for Andalusia’s Pueblos Blancos

The views from the cliff-hanging terrace in the historic center of this old Arab town may be some of the most riveting in Spain. Dramatically perched on a crag crowned by a Moorish castle and overlooking the gorge of the Guadalete River that surrounds it on three sides, Arcos was built in the form of a natural amphitheater.

Its winding streets—some no more than a few feet wide, some disappearing into steps—evoke its Arabian past. The monumental view that moved Charles de Gaulle to write his memoirs while staying at the spectacularly sited Parador Casa del Corregidor—the 18th-century palace and seat of the king’s magistrate (corregidor)—may make you stay put as well.

But then you’d miss excursions to the dozen or so whitewashed villages along the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, a popular scenic drive. Also famed for its spectacular position and views is Ronda, the picturesque home of bullfighting and a favorite haunt of Hemingway. As a bullfighting aficionado, he was drawn to Ronda’s bullring, built in 1784—the oldest and one of the most beautiful in Spain.

The Canaries Islands – Atlantic Coast, Spain

Spanish Seclusion in the Atlantic

The Canaries are a group of seven volcanic islands off the Atlantic coast of North Africa. They cover a total area of 7,450 sq km (2,900 sq mi) containing some of the world’s most dramatic scenery.

Each island has its own unique landscape and endemic flora and fauna, ranging from the desert of Fuerteventura to the lush mountainous forest of La Gomera. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the cosmopolitan capital of the archipelago, reputed to have the best climate in the world.

The Spanish first invaded the Canaries in 1402 but it took the better part of a century to gain complete control of this strategic point on the Atlantic trade route.

For the next 300 years, the islands grew increasingly wealthy from trading profits until, in the 19th century, a recession led to mass emigration to America. The development of the tourist industry eventually turned the tide and today, around 10 million tourists visit every year.

Tenerife, the largest island, has the most varied scenery – a landscape of fertile valleys, steep cliffs and wide sandy beaches dominated by the towering outline of El Teide, the third largest volcano on earth at 3,718 m (12,195 ft) high.

La Palma, the ‘green island’, has the world’s largest volcanic crater, La Caldera del Taburiente with a diameter of 9 km (6 mi) and a depth of 770 m (2,525 ft).

The smallest island, Hierro is also the rockiest with a dramatic coastline plunging straight into the sea. Lanzarote is the most extraordinary of all – a surreal volcanic landscape of petrified lava from 18th and 19th century eruptions.

The stark beauty of its eerily empty scenery dotted with ancient vineyards, brilliant colored flowers and sparkling white houses is unlike anywhere else on the planet — a truly memorable experience.

Nature Pools - Tenerife - Spain

Nature Pools – Tenerife – Spain

Population: 1,995,833 (2006)

When to go: All year, The Canaries have a sub­tropical climate with very little variation in temperature and warm seas whatever the season.

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