Fly to Málaga and transfer by coach to the four-star Hotel Ilunion Málaga, where we stay for two nights.
It may be the gateway to the Costa del Sol, but soulful Málaga is a far cry from the crowded resorts along the popular ‘sunshine coast’. The city has a thriving arts scene, vibrant nightlife and plenty of gastronomic choices to rival other Spanish cities. Then of course, there’s the region’s multi-faceted history, evidenced by the imposing ramparts of Gibralfaro Castle and the towering turrets of the Alcazaba – two magnificent Moorish fortresses – offering spectacular views over the sweeping harbour and the traditional old town. After breakfast our guided tour takes us through the city’s highlights, such as the lively Plaza de la Constitución, the remarkably preserved Roman amphitheatre and the stunning cathedral, one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Calle Granada weaves through handsome squares humming with the happy chatter of locals enjoying a drink and tantalising dishes from the countless tapas bars we’ll encounter. During Holy Week, the symphony of street sounds is reduced to a respectful hush, and it’s a truly moving moment when their songs of devotion break the silence. Pablo Picasso first saw light of day in this eclectic city, and his life’s work can be seen at the excellent Picasso Museum, housed in the grand 16th-century Palacio de Buenavista. Adorning the snow-white walls are the master’s colourful paintings, thought-provoking sketches, curious clay sculptures and much more. The rest of the day is free for you to explore this art-loving city. Two of the world’s most celebrated art museums recently opened branches here: St Petersburg’s State Russian Museum in a converted tobacco factory and Paris’ Pompidou in a life-sized Rubik’s cube. Leading out of the old town is the smart new ‘Muelle Uno’ promenade lined with shops and restaurants. Take your pick from one of the many tapas bars, or follow your nose to sample different street foods as you wander. Local specialities include grilled sardines on ‘espetos’ or skewers, ‘gazpachuelo’ or a comforting soup of fish and potatoes, and bull’s tail gently stewed in a flavoursome red-wine stock.
After breakfast we drive along the stunning Mediterranean coast – the endless sunshine, sandy beaches and glorious views of the cerulean sea have been marketed as the ‘Costa del Sol’ since the 1960s. The rugged Penibaetic mountains serve as a backdrop to the dazzling string of busy resorts and whitewashed towns – and a prelude to one of its most impressive peaks on our approach to Gibraltar. Nothing prepares you for the sheer magnitude of the Rock, a 426-metre limestone promontory rising heroically from the sea, worthy of its mythical origins as one of the Pillars of Hercules. More astonishing is the fact that the Rock is made of Jurassic limestone dating back 200 million years! We stop to discover this tiny sliver of British territory near the tip of the Iberian Peninsula. You have a choice between a short cable car ride to the ‘Top of the Rock’ or a trip into the nature reserve to explore St Michael’s Cave. At 412 metres, the ‘Top of the Rock’ has three terraces presenting different spectacular viewpoints over two continents and three countries. Look out for the cheeky Barbary macaques roaming about; normally found across the Strait in North Africa, these charming wild animals inhabit the nearby Apes’ Den. Hidden within Gibraltar’s nature reserve are St Michael’s Cave, whose jaw-dropping stalactites appear magical in a rainbow of ever-changing colours, as well as the Great Siege Tunnels, a remarkably impressive man-made defence system created by ingenious British military engineers in 1782 to counter Spanish and French attacks. Gibraltar’s attractive town centre is a delight to explore. Wonderfully familiar are red pillar boxes and British high-street shops, yet the sun-drenched scenery, palm-lined streets and diverse architecture tell a different story. The urban landscape is a curious mix of Spanish, Moorish, Genoese and British styles, revealing a multi-layered past. Later this afternoon we continue to one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, Cádiz, a jewel of the breath-taking ‘Costa de la Luz’ or ‘coast of light’. We stay for three nights, with breakfast, at the four-star Senator Cádiz Hotel set in a restored ancient mansion. Superbly located in the old town, the hotel is within walking distance to many of Cádiz’s main sights, tapas bars and shops. Guests can relax in the hotel’s traditional Andalusian courtyard, which features a multi-tiered fountain and comfortable seating. The outdoor pool on the rooftop, open during the warmer months, offers splendid views over the old town and the harbour.
Set on a narrow peninsula almost surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Atlantic, the ancient walled city of Cádiz appears unspoilt by time or the excesses of tourism. This traditional Spanish city offers stunning vistas at every turn: remarkably preserved historic landmarks, botanical gardens of colourful blooms, and spectacular sunsets over the harbour. After breakfast, we have a guided tour of the old town to explore Cádiz’s seafaring heritage and its significance on the world stage. Named ‘Gadir’ by the Phoenicians over 3,000 years ago, it was a thriving Roman port and then a splendid departure point for Spain’s conquest of the New World. Riches from the Golden Age gifted Cádiz with five striking plazas, connected by narrow streets and featuring many significant gems, such as the unmissable golden-domed cathedral. Known as ‘the Cathedral of the Americas’, it is beautifully proportioned in the Baroque style with touches of Neoclassicism. Grand ochre-and-white mansions, adorned by wrought-iron balconies and magnificent doors, surround Plaza San Antonio, where the Spanish Constitution was proclaimed in 1812. The rest of the day is at leisure to further your discovery of this atmospheric beauty. Retrace the path of ancient explorers through cobbled streets fringed with traditional buildings now home to shops, galleries and tapas bars. Cádiz is famous for its watchtowers, which once welcomed seafarers, and the 18th-century Torre Tavira has fantastic views of the city. Or relax in Parque Genovés, a garden oasis with an abundance of plants brought from the New World. West-facing La Caleta beach is one of the best spots in Cádiz to catch the sunset, with the swishing waves providing a soothing soundtrack to the day’s end.
This morning, a short drive takes us inland through a fertile and gently undulating landscape ideal for agriculture. We visit the classically Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera to experience two of its best-loved traditions. It has been said that an Andalusian man without his horse is like a matador without a cape, so to better understand the local love for horse-riding, we attend a very different kind of ballet at the prestigious Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Starring the famed Andalusian horses, this impressive performance is set to traditional Spanish music with expert riders smartly dressed in 18th century-style costumes. It’s clear to see why this magnificent breed, with its elegantly arched neck and muscular build, is highly sought after for historical films, appearing in epics from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy to ‘Gladiator’. The equestrian culture here goes hand in hand with the enjoyment of sherry. Astonishingly, almost 100,000 acres of vineyards are spread across Andalucía, and Jerez is renowned for this sweet elixir – the word ‘sherry’ itself is an anglicisation of the old spelling of Jerez. After some free time for lunch, we visit a local bodega to learn about the production of sherry and sample its delicious varieties. Wine merchants of British origins who set up home in Jerez helped to boost the drink’s popularity in the 17th century, creating a unique anglophile Spanish aristocracy. Having experienced two of Andalucía’s greatest gifts to the world, we return to Cádiz in the late afternoon.
We bid farewell to Cádiz this morning and journey to Seville, the vibrant Andalusian capital made even more enchanting with the wealth of the Golden Age. Here, the Guadalquivir flows under the gaze of rugged mountains and Roman watchtowers, while the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, accompanied by an Arabic bell tower, lies close to another Moorish legacy, the breathtaking Alcázar. We have a guided walk through the incredibly photogenic old town, exploring the main sights which lie mainly to the east of the river. There’s free time to happily lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets, plazas and promenades filled with traditional shops and tapas bars – you may be lucky enough to encounter flamenco street performers in search of ‘duende’ or the heightened state of emotion achieved through the spellbinding art form! Perhaps visit the stunning cathedral to see its awe-inspiring high altar and the tomb of Christopher Columbus, or stroll through the beautiful María Luisa Park and admire the stunning array of colours, from lilac jacarandas to pink roses. Seville’s signature scent is an intoxicating blend of sweet orange and heady jasmine, which will only deepen your affinity with this unforgettable city. Later we journey through rolling countryside dotted with whitewashed villages and cross the Guadiana River, which forms a natural border with Portugal, into the Algarve. This region is Portugal’s answer to the Costa de Sol, blessed with golden beaches, plenty of sunshine and dramatic cliffs. We arrive in coastal Tavira, where we stay for two nights, with breakfast, at the four-star Maria Nova Lounge Hotel. Set on a quiet hillside just a short walk to the town centre, the newly refurbished hotel has a restaurant, an indoor pool and a seasonal outdoor pool. Guests can relax in the top-floor bar and enjoy panoramic views over the city.
This morning you may wish to join us on a visit to the nearby Roman Ruins of Milreu or simply relax in Tavira after yesterday’s journey through the Andalusian countryside. The superbly preserved remains of a grand Roman villa are set in the picturesque countryside of Estói and feature marvellous fish mosaics in the baths, as well as a courtyard surrounded by columns. Should you prefer to remain in Tavira, there’s so much to explore. Cross the seven-arched Roman bridge to bustling Praça da República, where tables spilling out from charming cafés and a small amphitheatre provide ample seating to watch the world go by. The picture-postcard old town dazzles with handsome whitewashed buildings and superb churches: the 16th-century Misericórdia, with a magnificent arched doorway and cherub-filled altar, is perhaps the most significant Renaissance church in the Algarve, while the Santa Maria do Castelo is a fascinating example of Gothic and Neoclassical styles with Arabic flourishes. Dominating Tavira is a 17th-century reconstruction of its once-mighty castle, which possibly dates back to Neolithic times but was later rebuilt by the Phoenicians before the Moors took control. As you wander, look out for the beautifully tiled façades for which Portugal is known – the colourful ‘azulejos’ both embellish and protect the walls against the coastal humidity. The subtropical climate has blessed Tavira with warm sea temperatures throughout the year, so if you wish to dip your toes in the Atlantic, take the ferry to Tavira Island to enjoy one of the region’s best beaches.
Transfer to Faro airport for your return flight.