The Splendours of Spain, Portugal and Morocco

Escorted by Judy Tierney, October 2015

What a marvellous journey this was. 17 of us headed to Barcelona first for a feast of Gaudi’s often gaudy but magnificent architecture including the astonishing Sagrada Familia cathedral.

We ate truly memorable meals in restaurants from The Ramblas to the vine laden hills dropping into the achingly beautiful Duoro Valley, Portugal. We’ll never forget the local fare served on a crisp, white damask tablecloth under a golden and scarlet canopy of autumnal vine leaves, the bright sunshine pouring needle thin rays through the leafy awning.

With Nicholas Palmo, our fantastic, affable and hilarious Tour Manager, we were guided through beautiful Porto, the town on the Duoro River which was the highway for boats ferrying the thousands and thousands of barrels of port destined for world markets. We, of course, visited one of the oldest wineries for a generous tasting experience.

Onto Lisbon – an elegant city boasting some of the most intricately designed mosaic boulevard footpaths in the world. Our visit to The Palacio Nacional da Pena, otherwise known as The Feather Palace, was great. This massive structure looks as if it’s been transported from Disney Land. It’s colourful, flamboyant and quite crazy structure houses a treasure trove of glorious collections at odds with the exterior madness. It was the home of an eccentric King until 1910 when the Portuguese royal court fled to Brazil to escape the revolution.

Portugal is quite different from Spain. The people seem friendlier and it has a more casual atmosphere than its neighbour. We continued our epicurean agenda and ate at some of the many seafood restaurants for which Portugal is famous.

Seville next and yes, the Seville orange trees are everywhere. Colourful little globes of gold to brighten the wet and windy days we experienced. Cheap umbrellas bought from street vendors ended up looking like dead spiders as they turned inside out.

In this city we boarded our small luxury liner “Aegean Odyssey” and met up with other travellers from all over the world. Unfortunately the driving rain had forced a flow of mud into the river and we were stuck for two days missing out on our visit to Cadiz. Instead, we thoroughly enjoy a tour of the famous sherry producing town of Jerez and, of course, tasted the makings of the well known Tio Pepe nectar.

The ship was very well run offering a choice of excellent cuisine and entertainment along with informative lectures from academics specialising in the history and politics of the regions we visited.

When the river was clear we sailed to Casablanca and on shore drove to Marrakesh. Colourful, chaotic and exotic this famous town delivers all the sounds and smells to awaken the senses. Kasbahs and medinas everywhere in this exciting location stuck, thankfully, in a time warp.

We travelled enormous distances by bus seeing the countryside and village lifestyle as it has been for hundreds of years. The Roman ruins of Volubilis were a highlight and to tread in the footsteps of Caligula was quite exciting.

Fez was next and its UNESCO listed souks (markets) were a delight to walk through, a veritable jungle of alleyways impossible to navigate without a local guide.

Another long bus trip to Tangier to rejoin our ship. Here we visited the caves of Hercules. This is an extraordinary mass of caves used centuries ago to carve hundreds of grinding stones from its pumice like rock walls. Tangier’s Kasbah (protected living quarters usually sited where invaders could be seen approaching), was delightful but I’m not sure the locals welcomed the invasion through their living spaces!

Full steam ahead we sailed to Malaga in the South of Spain. On shore we drove to the grand complex of Alhambra Royal Palace. The gardens here are glorious and the views over the city of Granada are outstanding. Don’t go to Spain and miss this location.

Our Tour Guide Nicholas met us in Malaga and it was great to see him and to be back with just our little group again. We headed north. I’d previously been to Toledo and we included this historic town in our busy itinerary. Everyone loved it. It’s the finest medieval town I’ve ever visited and another must see for visitors to Spain. You can take a day trip from Madrid but we opted to stay and soak up the gems on offer here. Only locals can drive in the ancient walled centre and alleyways are charmingly narrow forcing you against walls when a car appears! Like El Greco works of art? This was the home of the Master and there is a museum dedicated to his creative genius.

Nearly home and to Madrid, our final stop. Great city this – crowded, noisy, ancient and modern. Fabulous food and funky wine and tapas bars. We enjoyed an “Insider Tapas tour of Madrid”. Wow, so much food….chorizo stuffed mushrooms, fried chilli peppers, squid, béchamel stuffed croquettes, divine roasted vegetables, etc. etc. All clothing was feeling tighter at this stage of our travels! Maybe I should speak for myself.

You can’t visit Madrid without a tour of the outstanding Prado Museum. Indeed a highlight in our schedule.

Writing this has had me reminiscing about so many aspects of this holiday tour. … the exceptional organisation, the guides with their encyclopaedic knowledge and warm engagement with the group, the sites and sights, smells and sounds of every splendid experience and most of all the camaraderie of my fellow travellers. I thank them for being such a beaut bunch!