With the smell of Portuguese tarts fading in the distance, we boosted across the Spanish border as we began what was a slightly faster than planned route towards Italy.
Given we have a limited number of Schengen visa days (90), and had already spent a lot of time in the south of Spain and France during previous trips, we wanted to ensure we had enough time to traverse the giant Italian boot. Therefore rather than head down to Gibraltar as originally planned, and as we now were skipping Morocco (non-Schengen but other reasons for not visiting), we decided to cut through via Seville, Alhambra and Granada as we headed east. This turned out to be an excellent, albeit extremely hot, decision.
After what felt like countless miles of olive trees (one of the few things that will grow in this area; the hottest part of Spain and Europe in Summer), we arrived right near the center of Seville, at a camper parking area we found on park4night (the app that had saved our lives several times, and whilst sometimes buggy, well worth the download). The parking lot had no amenities, but it was only €15 for 24hours, and extremely convenient to explore Seville by foot. We set off immediately towards a series of impressive landmarks Brigid had researched. Even though we only spent 12 hours here, Seville would go down as one of the most beautiful cities, and one of our all-time favourites, throughout Europe.
Plaza de España - one of the most remarkable buildings we have seen in Europe. Built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 (thanks Wiki), it's unique shape and colourful tiles fuel your imagination. One feels instantly transported back to 1929, lost among the awe of the latest inventions and technologies on display at that time.
Parque de Maria Luisa - right next to the plaza, a stunning park worth a wander as you make your way around Seville.
Royal Alcázar of Seville - used during filming of, you guessed it, Game of Thrones, we unfortunately didn't get to go inside due to it's opening hours. It's definitely top of the list next time we are back in Seville.
Catedral de Sevilla - another day, another church... although this one was actually quite impressive in it's size alone. It also houses Colombus' tomb. Impossible to miss as you crisscross Seville, especially as you emerge from several well pack streets full of excellent tapas.
Maestro Marcelino - speaking of tapas, we needed a quick feed before our city tour later in the evening, so popped into this great little spot for some meats, cheese and beers. Outstanding quality and definitely recommend.
Flamenco Walking Tour - given Seville is where Flamenco dancing originated, this was a no brainer. It also starts at 9pm, which suited us well, and is also a bit cooler. We learned about the class system in Seville that provided the foundations for a form of emotional expression via music and dance, learned the different types and how it was often aligned with bull fighting, which also originated in southern Spain. It finishes up at a bar with a free Flamenco viewing (you just need to buy a drink for €2-3). This was well worth it, and even after tipping the your guide €5 per person (the going rate when we were there), a must do. It takes place every night at 9pm, but does sell out, so make sure to book online.
Bar Catedral - aptly named given it's near the Cathedral, we popped in here for some more of the famous Seville tapas after wandering through various twisty narrow colourful streets bustling with life. A great spot to people watch, and soak up the energy that is this epic city.
Puente de Isabel II to Puente San Telmo - heading back to our camper, we walked along the river, roughly alongside the east bank of these two bridges. At night this was a stunning walk, and a perfect way to cap a full on, albeit awesome day.
Arriving back around midnight, we were thrilled to see the low temperature for the night would be a cool 27degrees Celcius... wait, WHAT!? Yes the lowest it would get was 27degrees... needless to say we were in for a pretty sweaty and sleepless night. Furthermore, in order to make it to Alhambra in time to avoid the queues and allow enough time to explore the whole area before it closed, we would have to get up at 6.30am after barely any sleep....
Following several strange Spanish petrol-station pastries and well-needed espressos, driving at this time of day amongst the never ending olive trees was actually quite peaceful, and we ended up arriving at Alhambra around 10.30am as planned. Given we weren't sure what time we would arrive, and the cryptic instructions on the website, we decided not to pre-purchase online (as you are meant to arrive within a given period, which is quite hard to estimate when in a slow camper). However we wish we had as this would have saved at least an hour queuing for tickets. If you are confident what time you will arrive, then definitely pre-purchase as the onsite area is very disorganised. It was only due to Brigid's sweet-talking that we were able to get into all three palaces, as apparently the first was sold out. Furthermore each person needed to present their passport to get in... yes passport. Nevertheless once we finally passed through the gates, we both loved all three palaces and the grounds. Here's a snapshot of the main route, and our favourite bits. Note that we did the ultra mega uber package that got you into all three palaces (there are other options).
As you enter the gardens, you are overcome with beauty by the relatively modern roses and fountains replacing the crops that once fed these palaces. Making your way through the intricately laid out entrance, you arrive at Generalife; a Muslim palace from the 12th century. Once inside, you are presented with many more stunning gardens, pools and courtyards.
Interestingly this area was quite recently privately owned, right up until the 20th century, and following some messy 100 year legal despite, only recently became owned by the state.
2. Nasrid Palaces
Where you head next will depend on what time your "entry" is for this Palace. From our understanding, this is usually timed after you have had enough time to explore the Generalife area. As this was around lunchtime for us, we headed a bit earlier and grabbed a quick sandwich and drink before heading in. You can't miss the queues... Once inside we were simply blown away by the detail of the tiles and layout of the rooms and courtyards. It's without a doubt the most impressive palace we have even been to.
With a small fortress originally built on this location in 889 AD, following several years of ruin, a royal palace was first built here in 1333 AD (thanks Wiki). But there's just simply way too much history and amazingness for us amateur bloggers to even begin to try and list here (check out the wiki link above). Put simply, you must visit this place for yourself, and make sure to grab an audio-guide as it's well worth it!
Once you have stumbled out of the Nasrid palaces, make your way to Alcazaba; a thirteenth century fortification with spectacular views from it's main tower, Torre de la Vela, overlooking Granada.
It was 37 degrees Celsius when we wandered this area, and of coarse Daniel insisted we pop into every nook and cranny possible. The history here is quite interesting, and while not as much information is provided as for the other palaces, it's still worth a visit. Most importantly, make sure to head up the tower.
4. Alhambra Grounds
Whilst navigating between the three main palaces above, you will end up walking through the main Alhambra grounds, which are stunning in their own right.
It's worth setting aside an extra hour or so to explore the buildings, walls, towers, gardens, and fountains that present themselves around every corner. While Dan could have easily stayed and explored for several more hours, Brigid was well over the heat. Thus we headed into Granada to explore the old town.
TIP: As it's so hot, there are water taps everywhere, so make sure to bring some large bottles (1.5L etc) as the water is cold, safe to drink, and a life-saver. We may usually laugh at the tourists that carry parasols and battery powered fans...but not this time as we were u
To be completely honest we weren't blown away by this town. Yes it featured some more quaint Spanish alleyways and another hundred churches, but compared to Seville, and having just been to Alhambra, it was bit "meh".
After grabbing some groceries and walking around the river up to the main church and Jewish district, we ended up at a small local tapas joint called Bodegas Castañeda, which was luckily open given it was a Sunday afternoon, and a public holiday in Spain. Granada is one of the few remaining Spanish towns where tapas are actually served for free with drinks (which is meant to be the case). What a find this was, given their marinated wild pork was out of this world. So the tapas were worth it, but we wouldn't recommended more than a few hours in Granada.
Eventually, following two servings of the pork, we made our way back to Gary and ventured about 45minutes east towards the coast, parking up at a great spot next to a dam we found on park4night. Funnily enough there was a bar with cheap pizza right on the dam itself, which was amazing given it was in the middle of nowhere. So following a nice evening walk, a few beers and a cheap pizza, we headed to bed amongst the mountains and at least 10degrees cooler than we had been the night before in Seville.
The next day we would hit the coast again, and needless to say we were quite excited about diving straight in to the Mediterranean sea. Stay tuned for our next post as we work our way up towards Valencia.
Bidi & Dan :)