Spain & Portugal

The capital Lisbon is a spectacular city built over a number of hills with steep cobbled streets and wonderful views. Full of maritime history, beautiful cathedrals, castles and monasteries the bright and colourful city is easily navigable by tram. Outside of the city there are coastal towns with long and sometimes windy beaches reachable by train like Cascais or Guincho example, or the hilltop town of Sintra which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Venture north to the ancient city and Port wine capital of Porto before venturing along the Douro river with its riverside vineyards and picturesque villages such as  Pinhao. To the south you have the well-known Algarve region popular with families and golfers due to the range of hotels both large and wonderfully small and boutique, resorts and golf courses.

Spain’s capital Madrid is a melting pot combining the old with the new; old masterpieces with modern art and historical monuments with high-rise skyscrapers. The art here is an assault on the senses with no less than three major galleries housing works by Goya and Velasquez, Picasso and Dali, Monet and Gauguin. The nightlife is notoriously late and lively, the local Madrileños love to shop, watch bullfights and eat tapas late into the night.

Barcelona is Spain’s second city and on the service it seems to be a little more laid back and relaxed than the capital. Full of gothic and modernist Gaudi architecture (the Sagrada Familia cathedral and Casa Mila are ‘musts’), Barcelona has a trendy vibe which stems from its seaside location, world-class restaurant scene and a nightlife envied the world over. The city has it all; museums, breath-taking architecture, pretty streets, grand tree-lined avenues, great shopping, beaches and parks.

On the north coast lie three little gems; Bilbao, Santander and San Sebastian. Bilbao is probably most famous for the Guggenheim museum, a wonderfully quirky building designed by Frank Gehry and with good flight links from the UK it is a good gateway for this beautiful part of Spain. To the east is San Sebastian, Spain’s summer capital and home to the largest concentration of gourmet restaurants outside Paris. But the food scene it is most famous for is the mini tapas or ‘pintxos’ as it is locally known and an evening can and should be devoted to just this. Its La Concha beach is one of Spain’s finest. Santander is also worth a visit and along with Bilbao, is one of the two main ferry ports bringing tourists from the south coast of England.

The Andalusian city of Seville encapsulates all that is great about Spain, beautiful cathedrals, fun fiestas and long balmy evenings enjoying delicious ‘jamon’, seafood and sherry. If there is time, take the train to Jerez and visit the famous Gonzalez Byass bodega.

A trip to this region would not be complete without a stay in, or at least a visit to Cordoba and Granada. Córdoba, only 50 minutes by high-speed AVE train from Seville, is a little gem and is home to the Mesquita. This impressively large mosque was built in 784 AD when the city was the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El Andalus. The Christians were to conquer the city but so in awe they were of the building that their cathedral was built alongside the mosque. Granada in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains is known for its grand Moorish architecture, not least the Alhambra and a visit to the city is not complete without a visit to the Alhambra, it’s palace and its lush tropical gardens.