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SENSATIONAL SPAIN

Barcelona, Madrid and Andalucia
This tour features our favourite part of Spain — Barcelona and south through Madrid and Andalucia. Though distances travelled are not huge, this is a very diverse trip, from glitzy Barcelona and its outstanding nearby beaches, to stately Madrid with its marvelous galleries and shopping, to the fascinating Moorish sites of Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla.

This is a nice mix of big city bustle and smaller town culture and history, with stunning countryside, delicious local cuisines, and a thoughtful balance of organized and free time to soak it all up.
ITINERARY
Day 1 • Arrive in Barcelona
Today we arrive in Barcelona and transfer to our hotel.

Barcelona, located on the Mediterranean sea in the very north of the Spanish coast, is certainly the most cosmopolitan and economically active city in this country. Of course, Barcelona has an old history, and there are monuments of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance periods or still before, but most characteristic is what has been built during the last 100 years.

Overnight in Barcelona.
Meal plan: Dinner
Day 2 • Barcelona: City Tour
This morning we will embark on our comprehensive Barcelona sightseeing programme (mostly on foot - leisurely pace). Our first stop is Parc Guell, a beautiful place early in the morning. We have time to visit the Casa Gaudi with its collection of Gaudi-designed furniture. We'll walk through the Parc, ending up at the main entrance to visit the terrace and pavilion unit and Doric columns.

We continue by bus to Barcelona's most famous and most photographed attraction -- La Sagrada Familia Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Family), an amalgam of fantasy and Gothic impulses, and Gaudi's most unique piece of architecture. Our bus stops on the side of the Nativity facade (north) from where we walk around to the Passion facade. We visit the cathedral museum during our stop.

We continue down the avenue of Las Ramblas, the exotic "spine of Barcelona," with a stop to look at Casa Mila, another Gaudi creation, and then on to Placa Catalunya and to Placa Reial via the central market, St Josephis; a very lively place, crowded with stalls selling caged birds and lush plants and the constant clamor of people haggling and selling.

After a break for lunch, we stroll to Barri Gotic, a densely packed area of narrow lanes with a fascinating mixture of medieval and stately Renaissance buildings. Then on to the Picasso Museum for a +/- 60 minute visit. From here we walk to the impressive Gothic-style Cathedral for a visit including the adjacent enclosure where Ferdinand and Isabella received Columbus in December 1492.

We return to the hotel later in the afternoon. After dinner this evening we can sample some of Barcelona's nightlife.

Overnight in Barcelona.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 3 • Barcelona: Day at Leisure
Today is at leisure to enjoy Barcelona -- shopping, wandering, people watching, etc. A popular optional excursion today is the nearby seaside town of Sitges, known for its authentic Mediterranean atmosphere, shady streets, traditional whitewashed houses, beaches and lively gay culture. Your Tour Leader will organize and escort any group members wishing to go, though transport costs are on your own account (45 minutes by train, approx 4 Euros per person). Some travellers with more energy and less interest in beach time may consider carrying on to nearby Tarragona, with its magnificent Roman aqueduct, Old Quarter, and its stunning cathedral.

Overnight in Barcelona.
Meal plan: Breakfast
Day 4 • Barcelona - Madrid: The Royal Palace & Flamenco Show
This morning we take the fast train to Madrid (+/- 2 hours). Upon arrival we'll drop our luggage and head off to the Royal Palace* where we will see, among other things, its principal staircase, throne, gala dining room, museum of silver, and principal courtyard.

You'll have some free time before dinner, which will feature a Flamenco show for which Spain, and especially Madrid, is famous.

* Periodically, without notice, the palace is closed for an official function causing us to shuffle our program slightly. Our overall Madrid area sightseeing may vary depending on certain museum visits that need to be booked well in advance.

Overnight in Madrid.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 5 • Madrid: The Prado & Old Town
This morning en route to the Prado, we'll drive past Plaza Espana point and out to Cervantes Monument where we will alight briefly for a stroll around the monument and the gardens and interesting architecture that surround it. We drive down Gran Via to the Cybele fountain, then north to Plaza Colon and turn around to come back down towards the magnificent Prado Museum for a pre-booked guided tour.

Originally opened to the public in 1819, the Prado houses all of the finest works collected by Spanish Royalty as well as Spanish paintings gathered from other sources over the past two centuries. The Prado is one of the most important repositories of art in the world, including a vast collection of Italian paintings. Botticelli's dramatic wooden panels telling The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, a vision of a knight forever condemned to hunt down and kill his own beloved, are a sinister high point.

After our visit to the Prado, your Tour Leader will take you in an informal stroll / tour up Gran Via and into the old town. The nearby gay quarter of Madrid is known for shopping and as a nice place for an afternoon beer. The balance of the day free to enjoy this beautiful city.

Overnight in Madrid.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 6 • Madrid: At Leisure
Today is free to enjoy some independent exploration. Your Tour Leader can help you plan your day.

Overnight in Madrid.
Meal plan: Breakfast
Day 7 • Madrid - Toledo - Cordoba
Today we travel by road to Cordoba via Toledo, a city with a unique blend of Arab, Jewish, Christian, Roman, and Visigothic elements. Toledo sits on a rocky promontory isolated on three sides by a looping gorge of the Tagus River. The history of several different cultures is contained within this region, represented by the houses, synagogues, churches, and mosques.

In Toledo we see the Cathedral and visit the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, which shows the influence of the Granada Moors. It has an ornate ceiling and carved arabesques, not in Arabic, but in Hebrew. The most elaborate Mudejar interior in the city is hidden behind the deceptively humble facade of this former synagogue, built in the 14th century by Samuel Ha-Levi, the Jewish treasurer to Pedro the Cruel. Adjoining the synagogue is an interesting museum dedicated to Jewish Sephardi culture. We also see one of Toledo's most outstanding attractions, El Greco's masterpiece, "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz," located inside the Church of Santo Tome.

After lunch in Toledo, we continue our road journey* to Cordoba, crossing the Despenaperros Mountains and the border pass between Castile and Andalucia, home of Federico Garcia Lorca, lover of Salvador Dali and one of Spain's most famous historical and literary figures.

* Depending on earlier Madrid sightseeing and train schedules, we may return to Madrid by road and travel to Cordoba by rail this afternoon (+/- 2 hours).

Overnight in Cordoba.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 8 • Cordoba: City Tour - Granada
This morning we visit the magnificent and legendary city of Cordoba (a World Heritage City), where we observe the existence of multicultural and different religions. Our tour starts at the Roman Bridge and the Calahorra Tower, an Arab defensive tower. We continue to the Cathedral-Mosque, the only catholic cathedral built in the heart of a mosque. Next we arrive at the Alcazar a fortress, built by King Alfonso XI, and containing mosaics and sarcophagi. Finally we will have a stroll in the Jewish quarter where the Synagogue is located. Lunch and free time for shopping around the lively narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter.

Later today we travel to Granada by private bus.

Overnight in Granada.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 9 • Granada: The Alhambra
Today we tour Granada, set in the heart of Andalucia with the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop. Conquered by the Moors in AD 711, Granada blossomed into one of Europe's wealthiest and most refined cities. The legacy of Granada's rich history and heritage remain visible throughout the city centre with its cobblestone streets and lovely plazas. In 1992 Granada celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Christian re-conquest by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.

The focus of our sightseeing today is Granada's main attraction, the Alhambra, a mighty fortress that houses an extraordinarily delicate and beautiful Moorish palace begun in the 13th century. This was the palace of the Nasrid Sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Moorish Kingdom. A fantasy of "lace in stone" surrounded by arabesque gardens and fountains, it affords superb views of the Old Quarter and Sacromonte, a mountain occupied by gypsy cave dwellers. In many ways, the Alhambra represents the Moorish concept of life itself -- something glorious to be ennobled by learning and enlivened by every kind of pleasure.

We also visit the nearby Generalife Gardens as well as the old Moorish quarter of the Albaicin.

For a small town, Granada offers a fair variety of bars and cafes that range from gay friendly to exclusively gay. It's easy to find everything from sunny sidewalk tables for people-watching over coffee to wild neon hotspots. Not overrun by tourists, bars and cafes in Granada are relatively cheap and easy to get into, even on a Friday night.

Overnight in Granada.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 10 • Granada - Reserva Tauro - Ronda: Town Tour
We continue our tour (by road) to Ronda, a historic town located on a towering plateau in the mountains of Malaga Province. En route we visit Reserva Tauro, a 500 acre bull and horse breeding farm. Here we have the opportunity to get close to bulls and gain an understanding of the culture without attending a bull fight.

In Ronda, we will walk around the old town where you will learn the origins of this ancient town where Romans, Arabs, and Christians left their traces. We visit the Mondragon Palace, built in a Mudejar style and finally to the Bullring, the oldest in the country. Ronda is famous for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevin through its centre. We suggest a walk to the 18th century Puente Nuevo 'new' bridge, which straddles the 100m/328 ft chasm below, for its unparalleled views out over the Serrania de Ronda mountains.

Overnight in Ronda.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 11 • Ronda - Pileta Caves - Sevilla
Today we travel to Seville via a stop at the well-preserved rock paintings at the Pileta Caves (walking required on wet stone with no hand rails - speak to your leader for further guidance). The 25,000 year old Neolithic and Paleolithic drawings of black, ochre, and red are mostly just lines or patterns, but there are also horses, goats, cattle, and a rare giant fish, made from a mixture of clay and fat. This is not a well-developed tourist attraction; you must be steady on your feet and prepared for some slow walking.

We then follow (by road) the route known as "the route of the white villages" for the singularity of the scenery. Lunch and time to explore Grazalema, a white hill down nestled in Grazalema National Park. Prior to arrival in Sevilla (Seville), we stop in the little hilltown of Zahara, for a nice walk up to the castle.

Overnight in Sevilla.
Meal plan: Breakfast
Day 12 • Sevilla: City Tour
Sevilla, the fourth largest city in Spain, is the picture-perfect image of Andalucia, complete with restored Andalusian architecture, orange groves, flower-filled patios, and castanet-rattling Gypsies.

While in Sevilla we visit the largest cathedral in Spain, built in a Gothic style with lovely stained glass windows, choir, and chapels. We visit the Giralda Tower, with its spectacular views of the city. We will also see the Moorish Alcazar Palace, a 14th century palace, the oldest royal residence in Europe and still in use. King Juan Carlos resides here while in Sevilla, as King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella once did. We finish our tour with a walk through the Old Quarter.

Balance of the day at leisure. Sevilla, though small and sedate, actually has a vibrant gay scene, especially the area around the park along the Alameda de Hercules street, a popular hangout for having a beer and a chat. There is one bar after another and basically all the bars there are at least gay-friendly and the gay bars are straight-friendly, thus you'll usually find a mixed, easy-going crowd.

Overnight in Sevilla.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 13 • Depart
Departure from Sevilla.

NOTE: As Seville is a smaller centre with fewer flight options and maybe higher fares, you may consider taking the fast train back to Madrid (2.5 hours, +/- 85 Euros), and flying from there.

BUEN VIAJE!
Meal plan: Breakfast

For detailed itinerary (PDF), click here
For hotel samples, click here
INCLUSIONS
  • Breakfast daily and most dinners (local restaurants)
  • All accommodation, transport, sightseeing and entrance fees for sites noted as 'visited' in the detailed itinerary
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers, restaurant staff, porters
  • Airport transfers for land & air customers
EXCLUSIONS
  • Tour Leader gratuities, lunches, some dinners, drinks, personal items (phone, laundry, etc), international air taxes (if applicable), excursions referenced as 'optional'
  • Airport transfers for Land Only customers
  • Optional trip cancellation insurance
  • Our post-reservation trip notes offer further guidance on optional meal costs and shopping
OUT FACTOR
Spain is considered by sociologists as well as some gay organizations to be one of the — if not the — most tolerant societies in Europe when it comes to homosexuality. Not bad for a country that until only 23 years ago was still jailing gays under "social danger" and "public scandal" laws.

Birthplace and home to one of Spain's most famous gay citizens, Federico García Lorca, Granada, for one, offers the traveller an open and accepting community. A prominent Granadino once suggested that today's Spaniards are not homophobic simply because they're enjoying their liberty too much and having too much fun to be bothered. While this comment maybe somewhat tongue-in-cheek, many visitors note a lack of that underlying homophobia that can crop up elsewhere, even in reasonably advanced societies.
PLEASE NOTE
This itinerary is correct at time of publishing. For a more detailed itinerary, download a PDF here. We reserve the right to make changes as necessary due to reasons beyond our control. For booking terms and conditions, please refer to our Booking Terms.
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TRIP NOTES
Group size
10-16 plus Tour Leader
Staff & Support
Tour Leader throughout, driver, local step-on guides in various locales.
Accommodation
Well-located, air-conditioned, mid-range hotels (3-4 star) throughout. All hotels have en suite bath, though some may have shower only (ie, no tub). Porter service is sometimes available though you should be independent with your luggage. Single rooms are limited and likely smaller than twins.
Transport & travel conditions
Land transport throughout by private air-conditioned motor coach, 24-36 seats depending on ultimate group size (see 'group size'). Though we will have some full bus days, road travel is not particularly arduous as there are plenty of stops of interest. Train journeys are comfortable (2nd class). YOU MUST BE ABLE TO MANAGE YOUR OWN BAGS ON / OFF TRAINS AND IN TRAIN STATIONS. This trip involves considerable walking up hills and stairs and on uneven or cobblestone streets. You should be in good physical condition to enjoy the tour to its fullest.
Weather/seasonality
This tour is offered in spring, summer, and fall, the most popular of which are spring and fall when temperatures are milder and crowds thinner. Spring is also popular for green landscapes. Showers are possible in spring, unlikely in summer, and possible in fall.

The following is a sampling of our preferred properties in some of the locations visited on this tour and is meant to be indicative only. Hotel properties are not confirmed until 30-60 days before trip date. You can click on the hotel photo to view the official hotel website (if available). For sample hotels in other locations on this tour, please contact us.

Confortel Auditori


Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Barcelona
Country: Spain

The Confortel Auditori hotel is a modern property boasting an unbeatable location right in the centre of Barcelona. Among features, guests will find comfortable and elegantly-appointed accommodations, a bar, a pool bar and a restaurant. Sport lovers can also avail of the outdoor swimming pool and the gym to do a bit of exercise.

Click here to visit hotel website

Sol Melia Tryp Rex


Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Madrid
Country: Spain

The Tryp Rex hotel is located in the Gran Via. Between the Plaza de España and the Plaza Callao, close to the famous museums and the historical city center of Madrid. Rooms feature bathroom with hair-dryer, individual climate control, satellite TV, safe deposit box, wireless internet connection (WI-FI)throughout the hotel.

Click here to visit hotel website

Eurostar Maimonides


Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Cordoba
Country: Spain

Its privileged location in the very heart of the Jewish Quarter (in front of the Mosque) and 50 meters from the Convention Center makes it a tourist reference point in the center of Córdoba. The Hotel has 82 bedrooms with spectacular sights of the old town, all of them completely equipped, provided with Air Conditioner, Central Heating, Amenities, PC and Fax connection, Minibar, Parabolic TV, Telephone, Hair Dryer and Desk.

Click here to visit hotel website