Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean
A 14-day tour for U3A members and their friends
As you may know, I spent some time in Spain in the last few months, so I’m delighted to announce our next project – a two-week tour of Spain in September 2017. As usual, group size will be small, the pace will be unhurried, and the tour will be escorted by me.
Spain is a big and diverse country, with a fascinating range of landscapes and cultures. We start in the imperial capital Madrid, with its impressive townscapes, medieval quarters and incomparable art galleries. We will spend time in the grand Renaissance squares and of course, in the Prado, one of Europe’s great picture galleries. Next we visit the historic centre of Toledo, the hill city whose Gothic cathedral has long been regarded as the spiritual heart of this very Catholic nation.
Our main focus will be on the Andalusian south, the region dominated for centuries by the North African Moors. Their interaction with Christians and Jews produced a rich cultural mix still evident in the art and architecture. Cordoba, once a major European capital, shows its Moorish past in the grand Mezquita or mosque, a vast and beautiful building converted to a church in the 16th century. Seville was an important centre in medieval times, as is seen in its Islamic remains and its splendid Gothic cathedral; and it was vastly enriched by the gold of the New World in the 16th century, much of which was spent in embellishing the city. And Granada, whose golden age under the Moors was followed by a period of Renaissance splendour, presents us with the Alhambra, the world’s finest Islamic palace complex, and now Spain’s most visited site.
Nothing is as Spanish as flamenco, and Andalusia is its birth place – in Granada, we take in a performance of this exciting art form.
When we turn to Barcelona (where the tour ends) we seem to enter another world, with a different culture, history and language (but still with a very Spanish exuberance and sense of hospitality). The Catalan capital, while it does have some significant medieval aspects, impresses the visitor with its vitality, and above all, with its ‘modernisme’ architecture, best exemplified in the works of the famous Antoni Gaudi. His extraordinary Sagrada Familia church, the Parc Guell, and his wonderful apartment buildings all attest to the man’s genius and love of life.
Apart from myself as tour escort, we will have the services of an English-fluent tour manager, a dedicated coach and driver, and local guides at the major sites.
Accommodation will be in hotels of a good standard, all centrally located. Meals will include breakfast daily, a welcome dinner in Madrid, and a farewell dinner in Barcelona. I haven’t included any lunches and most dinners for two reasons. Firstly, most travellers don’t want to sit down to a major production in the middle of the day. And more importantly, Spanish cuisine is great in its variety and quality, so leaving dinners ‘at liberty’ gives us a chance to explore this.
In the past, most travellers have gone on to other destinations, and these extensions are very easily arranged. I would suggest more time in Barcelona or Madrid, or perhaps the northern regions of the country, or maybe some time in Portugal, or another European country altogether – the possibilities are almost endless, and I’d be very happy to talk about this with you.
A 17-day tour of the Greek mainland and a Cycladic island
The itinerary will be unhurried (we spend a minimum of two nights in all stops except one), and of course we’ll get to see all the major classical sites. The Acropolis in Athens, the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, the Homeric capital of Mycenae, the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, and the incomparable mountain complex of Delphi.
In addition to the must-see places, we’ll get out into the countryside to some less-visited sites. This includes the mountain town of Metsovo with its enduring craft tradition; the village of Tsepevolo in the spectacular mountain region of Zagoria; and the charming lake-side city of Ioannina.
Greece is justly famous for its classical heritage, but we will also be looking at its wonderful medieval heritage, in the form of some spectacular monasteries – the ancient monastery of Ossias Lukas, and in particular the complex of Meteora. This is a group of medieval buildings perched on giant rocky outcrops, still inhabited by nuns and monks and still going strong.
A visit to Greece is incomplete without the islands, and of course, we’ll be no exception. The magical Cycladic island of Santorini, with its ancient Minoan site of Akrotiri, its spectacular volcanic caldera, and its dazzling light, is generally regarded as the most beautiful of Mediterranean islands; and we’ll have three nights there to make up our own minds.
A feature of this tour will be four visits to wineries – as you may know, Greece’s wine industry has undergone a major revival, and these visits (on the mainland and Santorini) will give us an opportunity to sample some fine wines, as well as giving us a great excuse for lunch in the spring sunshine.
One of the great pleasures of travel is interaction with the locals; and our last trip there showed us that the Greeks’ economic problems have not affected their welcoming attitude to visitors or their obvious pride in their culture.
Group size will be small and accommodation will be of a good standard, with the emphasis on centrally located hotels that feel Greek rather than big bland ‘international’ hotels.
The group will be escorted by me throughout, and we will have the services of a professional English-fluent guide throughout the tour. We will also have a single driver for our coach on the mainland.