= In Two Weeks =
For this tour we head east to Barcelona, capital of Catalonia. In its own way, it is every bit as exciting as the tour of Madrid and Old Castile. Except for Madrid's "Golden Triangle" of art museums, Barcelona is an even more enthralling city than Madrid, because of its hills, bustling port life, and daring and provocative Art Nouveau architecture.
If you move fast enough, you can take in not only Barcelona, but the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat built into a jagged mountain, as well as Figueres to see the Salvador Dalí museum -- and maybe get in some beach time at Tossa de Mar, our favorite sands in all the Costa Brava.
= Days 1 to 7: Spain in 1 Week =
The very title of this tour is a misnomer. There is no way you can see Spain in 1 week. But you can have a memorable vacation time in Madrid and see some of the highlights of Old Castile if you budget your time carefully. You can use the following itinerary to make the most out of a week in Spain, but feel free to drop a place or two to give yourself a day to relax. One week provides enough time, although barely, to introduce yourself to such attractions of Madrid as the Prado Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. After 2 days, you can head for the once-royal city of Toledo, the most historic and evocative of all Spanish cities. You'll have time to take in Segovia with its Alcázar "in the sky" and the austere monastery-fortress of El Escorial, burial place of Spanish kings.
== Days 1 & 2: Madrid ==
Take a flight that arrives in Madrid as early as possible on Day 1. Check into your hotel and hit the nearest cafe for a pick-me-up café au lait and croissant before sightseeing. Take the Metro to Atocha or Banco de España to begin your tour of the Museo del Prado, allowing at least 2 hours for a brief visit. Since you can't see it all, concentrate on the splendid array of works by Velázquez and take in some of the works of Francisco de Goya, including his Clothed Maja and Naked Maja.
Break for lunch in and around Plaza de Santa Ana, known for its outdoor terrazas. This was the center of an old neighborhood for literati, attracting such Golden Age authors as Lope de Vega and Cervantes. Hemingway drank here in the 1920s.
After lunch, walk west to Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid. This is the Times Square of Madrid. Northwest of the square you can visit Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid's art-filled convent from the mid-16th century and a true treasure trove.
After perhaps a siesta at your hotel, head for Plaza Mayor, Madrid's most beautiful square and liveliest hub in the early evening. For dinner, patronize Hemingway's favorite restaurant, Sobrino de Botín.
On Day 2, take the Metro to Atocha for a visit to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, whose main attraction is Picasso's masterpiece, Guernica. Once here, you can also view one of the greatest collections of modern art in Spain, taking at least 2 hours. In the afternoon, view Madrid's third great art museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, absorbing its many treasures. A visit will easily absorb at least 2 hours of your time.
In the early evening, join in that ritual of tasca hopping, going from one bar or tavern to another and sampling hot and cold tapas or small plates of Spanish appetizers, ranging from fresh anchovies to the tail of a bull. You can discover plenty on your own, virtually on every street corner. After all that food and drink, you'll hardly need to order dinner. Stagger back to your hotel or else attend a flamenco show. Refer to "Madrid After Dark" for the best flamenco showcases.
== Day 3: Day Trip to Toledo ==
Having survived 2 days in the capital of Spain, bid adios and take a RENFE train to Toledo. These depart frequently from Madrid's Chamartín station (trip time: 1 1/2 hr.).
Much of Spain's history took place behind Toledo's old walls. There is so much to see here that you need 2 days, but on a hurried visit you can visit the fortified palace, the Alcázar, with its Army Museum; and the crowning glory of the city, the Catedral de Toledo. The masterpiece of El Greco, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, rests in Iglesia de Santo Tomé. If time remains, see Casa y Museo de El Greco, or the House and Museum of El Greco, although the artist didn't actually live here. Toledo is known for its damascene work, so you may want to return to Madrid by train that night with a souvenir.
== Day 4: Side Trip to Segovia ==
While still based in Madrid, begin Day 4 by taking an excursion to Segovia, leaving from Madrid's Chamartín station and arriving 2 hours later. The thrill of visiting the most spectacularly sited city in Spain is to view its Alcázar, rising starkly above the plain like a fairy-tale castle created by Disney. You can also view the Cabildo Catedral de Segovia and the town's architectural marvel, Acueducto Romano. After lunch in Segovia, head 11km (7 miles) southeast to view the Palacio Real de La Granja, the summer palace of the Bourbon kings. Return to Segovia and take the train back to Madrid.
== Day 5: Side Trip to El Escorial ==
Vying with Toledo as the most popular day trip from Madrid, the half monastery/half royal mausoleum of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is reached from Madrid's Atocha station in about an hour. Felipe II constructed this mammoth complex for "God and myself," with its splendid library, palaces, and some of the world's greatest art.
You can spend a full day here, breaking only for lunch, as you wander the art galleries and state apartments, including the throne room.
If you have time, make a side trip to El Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), a moving and evocative monument dedicated to the caídos or "fallen" who died in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Return to Madrid in the evening.
== Day 6: South to Córdoba ==
Leave Madrid early in the morning, taking the 419km (260-mile) train ride (AVE or TALGO) to Córdoba in the south, reached in 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Córdoba was once the capital of the Islamic nation in the West. Take 2 hours to visit its Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, the greatest Islamic masterpiece remaining in the Western world. Its stunning labyrinth of columns and red-and-white striped arches alone is worth the visit. With remaining time you can visit Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a stellar example of military architecture where Ferdinand and Isabella once governed.
After lunch, take one of the frequent trains running between Córdoba and Seville. The fastest train, the AVE, takes only 45 minutes to reach Seville, where you can spend the night.
== Day 7: Seville, Capital of Andalusia ==
For a more extensive tour of Andalusia, refer to "Andalusia in 1 Week" . The next morning, get set to experience the glories of Seville. We like to acclimate ourselves by wandering the narrow streets of Barrio de Santa Cruz, the most evocative district, with its medieval streets, pocket-sized plazas, and flower-filled wrought-iron balconies or tiled courtyards.
After that, head for the Catedral de Sevilla and Giralda Tower. The cathedral is the largest Gothic building in the world and the third largest church in Europe. After spending 1 1/2 hours here, climb La Giralda, an adjacent Moorish tower erected by Islamic architects in the 12th century.
After lunch, head for the Alcázar, the other great architectural monument of Seville, which lies north of the cathedral. This is the oldest royal residence in Europe still in use, dating from the 14th century. Allow 1 1/2 hours for a hurried visit. With time remaining, visit Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, a converted convent housing some of Andalusia's greatest artwork, including masterpieces by El Greco and Murillo. A standard visit takes 1 1/2 hours.
As the afternoon fades, go for a stroll through Parque María Luisa, which runs south along the Guandalquivir River. In summer you can rent a boat and go for a refreshing sail. After dinner in the old town, head for a flamenco show if you still have energy.
The next morning you can take a fast train back to Madrid for your flight home, saving the further wonders of Andalusia for another day.
== Days 8, 9 & 10: Barcelona, Capital of Catalonia ==
Arrive as early as you can on Day 8 to walk the narrow cobblestone streets of the Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, the single most fascinating old ghetto of any street in Europe. There is a discovery to be made at every turn. As you stroll, you'll think you're walking back into the Middle Ages. The highlight of your morning tour here will be the Catedral de Barcelona, dating from the 1200s and the greatest example of Catalonian Gothic architecture.
After you see the Gothic Quarter, continue on to Las Ramblas. This is the most famous street in Spain, alive at all hours day and night. Stretching from Plaça Catalunya in the north to Plaça Portal de la Pau along the waterfront, this is a boulevard of flower vendors, booksellers, palaces, shops, and cafes -- a perfect introduction to life as uniquely lived in Barcelona. At the end of the tree-lined boulevard, opening onto the waterfront, is a monument to Columbus.
Once you're at the port, walk east along Moll de la Fusta for its views of Barcelona port life, coming to a halt at Parc de la Ciutadella, where you can sit on a park bench and rest your feet.
Immediately south of the park is the waterfront old fishermen's quarter of Barceloneta, ideal for a seafood lunch.
After lunch, continue north to Sagrada Família, Europe's most unconventional church. This uncompleted work is by the incomparable Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), the leading exponent of Catalán modernisme.
To cap your afternoon, take the funicular to the fountains of Montjuïc, where you'll see Barcelona spread out at your feet. The illuminated fountain display, Fuentes Luminosas, is one of the highlights of a trip to Barcelona. You can hang out here and make an evening of it, visiting the Poble Espanyol in Parc de Montjuïc, a re-created Spanish village constructed in 1929 for the World's Fair. You can also have dinner in the faux village.
On Day 9, visit Museu Picasso in the Gothic Quarter, allowing yourself at least 1 1/2 hours. Afterwards, stroll through the surrounding district, Barri de la Ribera, which is filled with Renaissance mansions and an intriguing collection of art galleries that surround Picasso's trove of treasures.
Before lunch you can still take in the art at Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Catalonia's major art gallery, containing one of the world's greatest collections of Romanesque art. Allow 2 hours for a visit.
In the afternoon, visit Fundació Antoni Tàpies, the third Barcelona museum devoted to a single artist. Here you can see the artist's statements in abstract expressionism. That same afternoon you can visit the second museum devoted to a single artist, Fundació Joan Miró. The foundation owns 10,000 works, mainly paintings and sculpture, by this Catalán surrealist. To reach it, you can return to Parc de Montjuïc where, hopefully, you can watch the sun set over the skyline and port of Barcelona. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours for visits to each of these museums.
Devote Day 10 to all the highlights of Barcelona you've missed so far. Pay a morning visit to Gaudí's idiosyncratic park, Parc Güell. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this colorful creation of bizarre architectural monuments dates from 1922 and includes such Gaudí fantasies as the "Room of a Hundred Columns," with its 84 crooked pillars. On-site is a gingerbread-style house where Gaudí lived from 1906 to 1926. (It's been turned into a museum.) You can spend 2 hours wandering around this uncompleted park before heading back to the Ramblas for lunch at a sidewalk cafe, where you can watch an ever-changing parade of colorful characters.
After lunch, and for a change of pace, visit Palau Reial (Royal Palace), the former palace of the counts of Barcelona. Be sure to check out the Saló Del Tinell, where Isabel and Ferdinand received Columbus after his triumphant return from America. In the afternoon, head for Tibidabo Mountain for the most panoramic views of Barcelona. A funicular takes you to its summit at 488m (1,600 ft.).
Climax your tour of Barcelona by an early evening paseo along the Eixample district. Armed with a good map, take in Plaça de Catalunya, the geographic heart of the city, along with Passeig de Gracia, the boulevard of fashionable shops, and Gaudí's masterpiece, the apartment building of Centre Cultural Caixa Catalunya (commonly called La Pedrera or Casa Milà).
== Day 11: Side Trip to Montserrat ==
Frequent trains leave from Plaça d'Espanya in Barcelona, taking you to the historic monastery of Montserrat 56km (35 miles) northwest of Barcelona. The final approach to the lofty mountaintop citadel is by aerial cableway. You can make a day out of this visit, including time spent getting there and back; a one-way trip takes an hour.
Stop in at the Montserrat tourist office and pick up a map to aid you in mountain walks, some of which are reached by the Santa Cova funicular. You can order lunch at Montserrat's only hotel, Abat Cisneros. Time your visit so you can listen to the 50-member Escolanía at 1pm daily. It's one of Europe's oldest and most renowned boys' choirs. Return to Barcelona in the evening for a stroll along Las Ramblas, which takes on an entirely different aura at night.
== Day 12: Girona & the Dalí Museum ==
On Day 12, rent a car in Barcelona and set out to explore the highlights of the province of Catalonia. Your first stop is the ancient city of Girona, where you can book into a hotel for the night.
In 2 hours, you can explore the medieval city, the most important attractions being its magnificent Catedral and its Museu d'Art, the latter installed in a Romanesque and Gothic palace. Have lunch at the affordable Bronsoms.
In the afternoon, drive northeast 37km (23 miles) to the little town of Figueres. Here you can visit the number-one attraction in all of Catalonia, Teatre Museu Dalí. The incomparable Dalí was born in this town in 1904, and he honored his birthplace by leaving a vast array of work, making this teatro the most visited museum in Spain after the Prado. Many of his hallucinatory images are on display; a highlight is the Mae West Room. Drive back to Girona for the night and join the locals in an early evening paseo along the historic streets of the Old Town.
== Day 13: The Costa Brava ==
The so-called "wild coast" of Spain extends from the French border south toward Barcelona for 153km (95 miles). A drive along this rugged coast is one of the most memorable in Spain.
From Girona, check out of your hotel and drive east to our favorite resort along the coast, Tossa de Mar, a former 12th-century walled town with good beaches only 90km (56 miles) north of Barcelona. Check into a hotel here and get in some beach time before lunch.
In the afternoon, drive north for an afternoon's visit to the most charming town along the coast, Cadaqués, the last resort on the Costa Brava, a distance of 196km (122 miles) north of Barcelona. The unspoiled village is enchantment itself, fancifully dubbed "the St. Tropez of Spain." Return to Tossa de Mar for the night.
== Day 14: Sitges & Tarragona ==
After checking out of your hotel at Tossa, head south along the coast, bypassing the already visited Barcelona to arrive at Sitges by midmorning.
Although it has a strong gay patronage, this is a resort for all sexual preferences. Once it was a retreat for such artists as Salvador Dalí and Picasso. You can spend some time on the sands as well as visit museums. If you have time for only one, make it Museu Cau Ferrat, where Catalán artist Santiago Rusiñol combined two 16th-century fishermen's cottages to create his house and studio, which is now a museum.
From Sitges, continue south to Tarragona for the night, a total distance from Barcelona of only 97km (60 miles). Perched on a rocky bluff above the Mediterranean, this is an ancient Roman port city. Walk its fashionable Rambles (wide boulevards), checking out its Catedral and its Passeig Arqueològic, an archway that leads to a walk along its ancient ramparts built by the Romans.
Tarragona has some good restaurants serving Catalán specialties and fresh seafood. After an overnight, you can return to Barcelona in the morning for your flight back home.
= Andalusia =
Of all the provinces of Spain that merit tours in themselves, the most history-rich and evocative is Andalusia in southern Spain. It offers three of the grandest cities in all of Europe: Seville, Granada, and Córdoba, in that order.
Home of flamenco, sherry, and the country's most spectacular festivities and bullfights, Andalusia also possesses the grandest monuments, especially the Mezquita in Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada.
After visiting the art cities of Andalusia, you can relax and wind down on its beaches strung along the Costa del Sol.
== Day 1: Córdoba & Its Mezquita ==
The ancient Islamic center of culture in the West, Córdoba can be your gateway to Andalusia, that rich, antiquity-filled province of southern Spain. In just 1 1/2 to 2 hours, a fast train (AVE or TALGO) from Madrid can put you in this once-great city where the Muslims ruled Spain in the Middle Ages. Check into a hotel for the night and set out to explore the glories of the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba. Dating back 12 centuries, Córdoba's once-great mosque can easily occupy an hour and a half of your time. Discover such treasures as its Patio de los Naranjas where orange trees grow; its Mihrab or Islamic prayer niche; and its 16th-century cathedral. Take in its labyrinth of arches and pillars, more than 850 in all.
Wander over to Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the former home of the Christian kings such as Isabella and Ferdinand. After inspecting the fortresslike architecture inside, stroll through the beautiful gardens. Try one of the typical restaurants for lunch, our favorite being El Caballo Rojo, within walking distance of the Mezquita. After lunch, wander about the Barrio de la Judería (Jewish Quarter) and visit its old Sinagoga dating from 1350. Allow yourself at least 1 1/2 hours to stroll through the quarter's narrow, crooked streets flanked by whitewashed, stucco-fronted houses with flower-filled patios. If you get lost, that's fine, too, because you can continue your stroll and still easily find your way out again.
Before the afternoon fades, call on Palacio Museo de Viana, one of the few private palaces open to the public. There is no finer way to see how the grand dons of yesterday lived.
There will still be time for shopping, as the city is known for its crafts. Your best bet is to go to Arte Zoco, an association of the best of the craftspeople established in the old Jewish Quarter. A final paseo (promenade) along the Guadalquivir River will top off the day nicely.
== Days 2 & 3: Seville, Capital of Andalusia ==
On Day 2, a fast AVE train will transport you from Córdoba in the morning to the even more fabulous city of Seville. Perhaps the most charming of all Spanish destinations, this is the land of Don Juan, Carmen, and flamenco. After checking into a hotel for 2 nights, begin your tour of Seville with the Catedral de Sevilla and its Giralda Tower. You can spend 1 1/2 hours wandering through this great Gothic edifice before you scale La Giralda, the adjacent Moorish tower, for the city's number-one and undisputed panoramic view.
Next, walk to the Alcázar, north of the cathedral. You can spend an hour wandering through its fabulous gardens, with its terraces, fountains, and pavilions, then spend another hour exploring its chief attractions such as the Charles V Rooms, Salón de Embajadores, and Patio de las Doncellas.
Head for the Barrio de Santa Cruz for lunch and 2 hours of walking. Our favorite spot here for lunch is La Albahaca. After dining, wander at your own pace through the barrio, the former Jewish ghetto with its whitewashed houses and flower-filled balconies and patios.
To cap the afternoon, head for Parque María Luisa, where you can wander along flower-bordered paths and rent boats for rides along the Guadalquivir River. At night, enjoy a typically Andalusian dinner climaxed by a night of flamenco.
On Day 3, visit Casa de Pilatos in the morning. This was the 16th-century palace of the dukes of Medinaceli. Located a 7-minute walk from the cathedral, it is filled with rare treasures. Spend about 40 minutes here before proceeding to the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, a treasure trove of Andalusian art, including many works by Spanish Old Masters such as El Greco and Murillo.
Have lunch at one of the city's tapas bars before heading out of Seville for the afternoon to visit the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Itálica, 9km (5 1/2 miles) to the northwest. It can be reached by bus, which departs from the Plaza de Armas in Seville. Spend 1 1/2 hours wandering the remains of a once-great city from ancient times before returning to Seville as the afternoon fades.
For a romantic ending to a romantic city, you can take one of the horse-and-buggy rides through Barrio de Santa Cruz.
To top your evening, you can catch a performance at the Teatro de la Maestranza. Perhaps a Spanish zarzuela (operetta) will be performed. Maybe you can even see the opera, The Barber of Seville.
== Day 4: Jerez de la Frontera & Cádiz ==
On Day 4, rent a car in Seville and head south for 87km (54 miles) to the sherry-producing town of Jerez de la Frontera. Here you can tour one of the wine bodegas to see how sherry is made, and end the evening with a tasting. Allow about 2 hours for a visit.
You can also visit Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre to see the famous dancing horses of Jerez. After a typical Andalusian lunch in Jerez, continue south to the port of Cádiz, where you can check into a hotel for the night.
In the oldest inhabited city in the Western world, take a voyage of exploration along the historic seaside promenades where conquistadors set out to plunder the riches of the New World. Your paseo (promenade) can end in Parque Genovés, with its exotic trees hauled in by ships sailing the Seven Seas. Visit the Catedral de Cádiz and the Museo de Cádiz before the end of the afternoon.
== Day 5: Pueblos Blancos & Ronda ==
On Day 5, arm yourself with a good map and drive north from Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera, where you can easily begin your journey to the town of Ronda.
Arcos is the most beautiful of the Pueblos Blancos (white villages) sprinkled throughout Andalusia. The road to Ronda cuts through the Sierra de Grazalema Nature Reserve, which runs almost the entire length of the route of the Pueblos Blancos. You can have lunch in Arcos or in one of the little whitewashed towns along the way.
The road trip ends in Ronda, which sits on a 150m (500-ft.) gorge spanned by a stone bridge. Spend the rest of the afternoon touring its sights, all of them minor, including some Arab baths. Ronda itself and its spectacular site are the chief attractions. Overnight in Ronda.
== Days 6 & 7: Granada & the Alhambra ==
On Day 6, leave Ronda in the morning and continue your journey to the east until you reach the fabled city of Granada. Book into a hotel for 2 nights. For some travelers, the experience of the Alhambra equals or tops anything discovered in Seville.
After lunch in Granada, set out to see the Alhambra and the Generalife, the summer palace. The lavish palace, once inhabited by the rulers of the Nasrid dynasty, is the number-one attraction in all of Andalusia. Spend the afternoon here taking in the panoramic views of such architectural highlights as the Court of Lions. That night, have dinner at the Parador Nacional de Francisco, the most famous in Spain. The former convent founded by the Catholic monarchs actually lies within the grounds of the Alhambra.
On Day 7, your final day in Granada, visit the Catedral and Capilla Real in the morning. The ornate Renaissance cathedral, with its Royal Chapel, were built in the Flamboyant Gothic style and is the final resting place of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. In the sacristy you can view Isabella's personal art collection. Allow 2 hours for a visit.
Spend the rest of the morning exploring the old Arab quarter, the Albaicín. On this hilly terrain, you'll find many old taverns for lunch. After a meal, pay a visit to the Monasterio Cartuja, dating from the 16th century. This was the Christian answer to the Alhambra, although it is hardly as spectacular. Cap the day by shopping in the Alcaicería, the old Moorish silk market near the cathedral. It's filled with shops selling the arts and crafts of Granada province.
End your day with a visit to the Gypsy Caves of Sacromonte, which are overly commercialized but where the sounds of Gypsy music fill the Granadian night. First-time visitors persist in visiting these caves in spite of their touristy aura.
From Granada, you can make easy flight or rail connections back to Madrid, assuming that the capital is your departure point from Spain.