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Seville Arcos Ronda Costa del Sol Granada
  Seville Arcos Ronda Costa del Sol Granada

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Day 1 - Seville
Arrive at Madrid's Estacion de Atocha for your high-speed rail trip to Seville. Built in 1891, the soaring glass and wrought iron station is now a greenhouse filled with palms and tropical plants.

Climb aboard for the two and one half hour journey to Seville, the capital of Andalusia.

As you leave Madrid behind, the industrial sprawl gradually gives way to rolling hills, olive groves, and incredibly blue skies.

When you arrive in Seville, take a taxi to your hotel, the impeccable ten-room Taberna del Alabadero, the charming Dona Maria, or the opulent Alfonso XIII.

Once you?ve checked in, if it?s lunch time ? between 1:00PM and 4:00PM ? walk to the Barrio Santa Cruz (the Old Jewish Quarter) for a bite. Here, narrow alleyways wind through white-washed houses with wrought iron balconies. Orange blossoms, jasmine, and honeysuckle perfume the air, and you?ll likely hear a canary as you stroll.

Plan to get lost; it?s all part of the fun and you?ll never be more than a few blocks away from whatever it is you?re looking for.

There are dozens of good places to eat in the Barrio, near the Plaza los Venerables and the Plaza Santa Cruz. Hosteria del Laurel, offers good Andalusian food and great people watching from their terrace on Plaza de los Venerables. El Rincon de Pepe, near Dona Elvira Square, has fantastic gazpacho and garlic chicken.

After lunch, walk to the Cathedral. It?s not hard to find ? just look for the Giralda Tower, which is visible from almost anyplace in the city. The church, built on the site of a 12th-century mosque, is huge ? the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Inside, you?ll see the Tomb of Christopher Columbus; the Retablo Mayor (main altarpiece), created using 4,000 pounds of gold; and treasures such as the Corona de la Virgen de los Reyes, the most valuable crown in Spain.

Outside, stroll through the Patio of the Oranges, all that remains of the original Moorish mosque except for the Tower.

If the weather?s fine, climb the tower, which is actually the mosque?s minaret, dating from 1198. Not only will you work off some garlic chicken, you?ll also be rewarded with spectacular views of the city. It?s a good way to get oriented and make the most of your camera?s panorama setting.

By now, it?s probably time for a nap. As a rule, tourist attractions are closed by 6:00PM and many restaurants in Seville don?t even open for tapas until after 8:00PM. Don?t fight it; enjoy it. Have a little lie down and you?ll be fully restored by dinner time.

If you?re up for another walk, cross the Guadalquivir River at the Puente de Isabel II bridge for the Triana district. You?ll find dozens of restaurants along the river, many with lovely views of the 13th-century Torre del Oro across the river. Most post their menus out front.

Many Americans find Spanish food a little rich. So if you?re ready for a change of pace, try San Marco, one of the city?s best Italian restaurants. The Spaghetti Carbonara will bring tears to your eyes, as will the Tiramisu. It?s on Calle Betis toward the Puente San Telmo.

Another good choice along Calle Betis is Rio Grande noted for the beautiful views from its riverside deck. If you?re feeling adventurous, try rabo de toro (braised bull?s tail).

Seville offers more to do after dark than any of our other destinations, so if you enjoy nightlife, strike while the iron?s hot. Culture hounds might want to attend a performance at Teatro de la Maestranza, the city?s lovely opera house -? check with your concierge to see what?s playing. And those who enjoy mingling with stylish locals should try Abades in the Barrio de Santa Cruz.

But no one should leave Seville without enjoying an evening of Flamenco. You?ll find the most authentic shows at Club Los Gallos and El Arenal. Have the concierge at your hotel make reservations for you, but be sure to be specific about where you want to go. Otherwise you?re likely to end up at a huge tourist trap like Palacio Andalusia.

You can have dinner or just go for drinks. In any case, you?re bound to enjoy the performances ? they?re not what you expect.

Day 2 - Seville
At breakfast, try hot chocolate and churros ? fried doughnut-like objects ? if they?re on the menu.

If it?s not Monday, visit the Reales Alcazares this morning. Depending on the time of year, you may have to wait in line for a little while.

Built in 1366 as the royal residence of Pedro the Cruel, the Alcazar is a splendid example of Mudejar design. Its elaborate mosaics, colorful azuelos (glazed ceramic tiles), and intricate plasterwork are absolutely superb.

Don?t miss the Salon of Carlos V, the Patio de los Doncellas (the Patio of the Maidens), or the astonishing Salon de Embajadores (Ambassadors Hall) with its magnificent gilded dome. The gift shop here offers top-quality Spanish crafts.

Be sure to leave plenty of time to stroll the terraces and gardens of the palace. They provide a cool place to relax on even the hottest day.

Return to the Barrio Santa Cruz for lunch. Try Corral del Agua on Callejon del Agua ? an alley running along the Alcazar?s walls. Or La Albahaca on Plaza de Santa Cruz. Both have cool, open-air terraces and Andalusian specialties.

After lunch, walk to Casa de Pilatos, about half a mile from the Barrio. This will require a fairly detailed map.

Casa de Pilatos, built for the Marques of Tarifa in 1540, offers another opportunity to enjoy Mudejar craftsmanship at its finest. The tile, wood, and plasterwork here are remarkable. Don?t bother purchasing tickets to tour the second floor. After the splendors of the ground floor, it?s a let down.

Make your way back to town ? just walk toward the Giralda ? stopping for something cool to drink along the way.

If you still have some energy, check out Calle de las Sierpes, Seville?s pedestrian-only shopping promenade. You can find just about anything you?re looking for here, and the people-watching, particularly during the evening paseo, is outstanding.

Depending on your mood, you can dress up or down for dinner. For fine dining that?s among the best in the city, try La Taberna del Alabardero or Egana Oriza. Reservations are essential, so see your concierge when you first arrive.

For a nice dinner in pleasant surroundings that won?t break the bank, we recommend Enrique Becerra. Insist on a ground-floor table; the upstairs is nothing special. And try the gazpacho and lamb stuffed with spinach and pine nuts.

If you can?t stand the idea of changing out of your jeans, maybe it?s time for tapas. Seville is the tapas capital of Spain, so you?ll have no trouble finding places to sample.

Start at El Rinconcillo in the Macarena district. Dating back to 1670, El Rinconcillo specializes in salads, omelets, and cheeses. Closer to home, try Bodega Santa Cruz. If you?re still game, stumble down the street to Cerveceria Giralda.

Day 3 - Seville
If you haven?t been to the Prado in Madrid, or if you have been and didn?t get your fill of Spanish painting, visit the Museo de Belle Artes this morning. It?s a little off the beaten path, but not much more than a half-mile walk from the Cathedral.

Housed in a convent dating from 1612, the museum contains the work of Murillo, Zurbaran, El Goya, and Velazquez. It is closed on Mondays.

Those who?ve seen enough art can explore Parque de Maria Luisa instead. Two plazas in the park ? legacies of the 1929 World?s Fair ? are well worth visiting: Plaza de Espana and Plaza de America. You can rent a row boat at the former if you?re so inclined.

Plaza de America now houses the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares, a museum of Andalusian folk art. Also in the park is the Museo Arqueologico, housed in the Pabellon de las Bellas Artes.

Lunch choices in the area range from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you?re nicely dressed and in the mood for a splurge, treat yourself to lunch at the Hotel Alfonso XIII. Even if you don?t care to dine, pop in for a look at the hotel?s glittering lobby.

Your other choice is one of the cafés surrounding the Universidad. Located on Calle San Fernando across from the Alfonso, the University was originally the Royal Tobacco Factory where Bizet?s Carmen labored.

After lunch, do a little shopping or take a cab to the Basilica de la Macarena. There are several lovely churches in the area, most close at 1:00PM, reopening again at 5:00PM for several hours.

Or take a cab to Isla Magica on Isla de la Cartuja, site of Expo ?92. The pavilions from the fair now contain everything from a replica of Seville as a 15th-century port city to the Digital Planetarium where you can take a ride through the universe.

One of the loveliest, most romantic places in the world, Seville never fails to intoxicate. Set aside time tonight just to drink Seville?s unforgettable ambience.

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Day 4 - Ronda
After you check out of your hotel, take a taxi to your rental car office. If it?s a weekday, it?s best not to get too early a start. You won?t want your first driving experience to be during rush hour.

Chances are, collision damage waiver will be included in the cost of your rental. If it?s not, spring for it ? even if you think your credit card will cover any damage. There?s nothing more valuable when you?re on vacation than peace of mind.

Get directions for leaving town from the rental car agent. Most of the roads into and out of Seville were improved for Expo ?92, so they?re in good shape and generally well-marked.

There are two ways to get to our destination, Ronda, depending on your interests. If you?re a wine afficionado and it?s not the weekend, leave Seville via the A4 bound for Jerez de la Frontera, the sherry capital of the world. It?s a 56-mile drive on the freeway or autopista. You?ll be required to pay a toll to use this road.

Many of the bodegas in the area have started requiring reservations, so have the concierge at your Seville hotel make arrangements for you before you leave. Most are only open until 1:30PM, and almost all are closed in August, so factor that into your planning.

The most extensive tours ? and tastings ? are offered by Gonzalez Byass, Pedro Domecq and Sandeman. Harvey?s of Bristol, Williams & Humbert Ltd., and Wisdom and Warter are also good choices.

When you visit the bodegas, please keep the following in mind, 1) sherry is a fortified wine, and 2) Spain?s drunk driving laws are stiffer than our own.

Horses are the other reason to visit Jerez. The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art puts on a show each Tuesday and Thursday at 12:00N. In August, there?s an additional show on Fridays. And if you?re there on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday you can watch the horses and riders rehearse at 11:00AM.

Have lunch in Jerez at Gaitan or La Mesa Redonda.

From Jerez, take A382 (N342) to Arcos de la Frontera, the first of the Pueblo Blanco or white villages on our itinerary. The 15-mile drive takes about 30 minutes.

If you decided not to include Jerez in your itinerary, when you leave Seville, take C432 24 miles to Utrera. If you?d like to explore, visit the Alcazar in the center of town. Otherwise, follow the signs to N333 (A443) south to NIV. Then follow A475 (C343) to Arcos de la Frontera. The distance from Utrera to Arcos is 39 miles.

Driving in Arcos is not for the faint of heart. The roads are so narrow that there?s hardly a car in town that hasn?t had it?s wing mirrors clipped off. There?s only one way through town. So if you?re game, follow the signs for the Parador Casa del Corregidor and then park in their parking lot, the only one in town. If there?s something going on at the church ? the Iglesiade Santa Maria de la Asuncion ? you can pay the attendant. Otherwise, look for a machine that dispenses tickets that you place on the dash of your car.

If you?re too intimidated to drive through town ? which is completely understandable ? park below the town and take a cab up to the Parador. From there, you?ll be able to see all the sights in half an hour or so. There?s not much to Arcos. But what?s there is fabulously picturesque. White-washed buildings tumble down the steep cliff and provide unsurpassed photo opportunities.

There are a couple of nice places to stay and a few good restaurants in Arcos. But we?ve found that the luxury of not having to pack and unpack an extra time make staying in Ronda a better option.

Once you?ve explored Arcos, leave town and take A382 to A473. The road numbers aren?t always well marked, so follow the signs to Ronda. The trip takes about an hour and a half.

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Even though Ronda is the largest of the white towns, you won?t have any trouble finding your hotel. If you?re staying at the Hotel Reina Victoria, turn right on Paseo Dr. Fleming. If you?re at the Parador or the Don Miguel, turn left on Virgen de la Paz.

After you settle into your hotel, unwind on your balcony, admiring the view of the Serrania da Ronda mountains in the background.

There are several good restaurants in town, the best of which is probably the Don Miguel Restaurant on the Plaza de Espana in the hotel of the same name. It?s stumbling distance from the Parador and a pleasant walk from the Reina Victoria.

Dine on the terrace here, and you?ll enjoy wonderful views as well as Andalusian specialities.

Another popular choice is Pedro Romero. The restaurant is across from the bull ring and sort of doubles as a shrine to Ronda?s illustrious bullfighting history. We had an acceptable meal here, but weren?t really impressed.

The Parador and the Hotel Reina Victoria have lovely restaurants, though the prices are a little high by local standards.

Day 5 - Ronda
The city of Ronda is divided in half by the Tajo ravine. The north side ? where your hotel is located ? is the Mercadillo or newer part of town. South of the Puente Nuevo, you?ll find narrow winding streets and remnants of Moorish domination.

Walk across the bridge and turn right on Tenorio to reach Mondragon Palace. Although the palace was rebuilt after the Christians reconquered the Moors, much of the plasterwork and mosaics from the 16th century remain.

From the Palace, it?s a brief walk to Santa Maria la Mayor Cathedral. The spire will guide you. All that survives of the original 13th century mosque are a minaret and a prayer niche.

Continue along Marques de Salvatierra to Santo Domingo, taking time to putter in the antique shops along the way.

The Casa del Rey Moro (house of the Moorish King) at Marques de Parada 17, has lovely terraced gardens and 365 steps leading down to the river and the Moorish baths.

Recross the Puente Nuevo to the Mercadillo. If you?re interested in bullfighting, visit the Museo Taurino in the Plaza de Toros. It?s open daily.

There are several ways to spend the afternoon. If the weather?s hot and you?re travel-weary, enjoy a sangria in a chaise by your hotel pool. If you haven?t done enough shopping, Carrera de Espinel is Ronda?s attractive pedestrian-only shopping street.

If driving in Arcos didn?t terrify you and you?d like to explore another one of Andalusia?s white towns, Zahara is a only short drive away. Ask the tourist office or your concierge for directions.

Seen from the distance nestled beneath an old Moorish castle, it is incredibly picturesque and your photographs of Zahara are sure to be among your most cherished. There?s only one way through town and you?ll find the parking lot only after you?ve started your descent.

Although it hardly seems possible, the roads here are more narrow than the ones in Arcos. Just go slow, take deep breaths, and remind yourself that this is why you purchased the collision damage waiver.

Another possibility is a visit to the Cueva de la Pileta. The 25,000-year-old prehistoric paintings in the cave have been compared to those at Altamira.

The cave is 22 miles from Ronda. Just take C339, exit toward Benoajan, and follow the signs. A farmer whose grandfather discovered the cave conducts tours hourly from 10:00AM ? 1:00PM and from 4:00PM ? 5:00PM. You?ll do some walking, so wear sturdy shoes.

Even if you dine in your hotel, be sure to take an evening stroll to enjoy Ronda?s cool mountain air and unforgettable surroundings one more time.

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Day 6 - Costa del Sol
After breakfast and check-out, head south on C339 (A473) for San Pedro de Alcantara. Then take N340 (E15) east toward Marbella. For your holiday along the Costa del Sol, we recommend staying in either of two destinations.

The first is Marbella, the most exclusive of the area?s resorts. A favored residence and vacation destination for celebrities ? such as Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith ? rock stars, and glitterati, Marbella holds its own with St. Tropez as an international glamour spot. But the narrow cobblestone streets and white-washed houses of the Old Quarter are utterly charming.

If you?re interested in up-market shopping, sophisticated nightlife, and haute cuisine, Marbella?s the spot. If you?d prefer to just chill out ? and not break the bank ? head down the road to Malaga.

Whichever town you choose, you?ll do basically the same thing: relax by the pool, or in Marbella, by the beach; play a little golf or tennis; do a little sightseeing; and just enjoy the beauty of the area.

Those who prefer to stay in Malaga should take the time to explore Marbella on the way to Malaga. In fact, Marbella would make an excellent place for lunch.

Shortly after leaving San Pedro de Alcantara, you?ll arrive in Puerto José Banus ? the marina for Marbella. The short stretch between here and Marbella is known as the golden mile and you?ll pass many fabulous estates.

In Marbella, you?ll find plenty of lovely shops and restaurants in the alleys surrounding the Plaza de los Narajos (Square of the Oranges) and along the waterfront.

If you?re staying in Malaga, head back out on N340 ? the road is six lanes all the way, so you should travel the 37 miles quickly. Follow the signs to your Parador and if there?s time, take a dip before dinner.

Good places for dinner in Marbella include El Portalon, Santiago ? one of the best places for seafood on the Costa del Sol ? Toni Dalli, and La Hacienda.

In Malaga, try Café de Paris, El Chinitas or the dining rooms at either of the Paradors. If you want to try the local fried fish, you?ll find any number of places along the seafront paseo.

Days 7/8 - Costa del Sol
Do whatever it is you enjoy. Play golf, shop, go to the beach, lounge by the pool, read a book, go for a drive, or take in the local sights. The nice thing about the Costa del Sol is that if you do nothing at all, you won?t miss a thing.

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Day 9 - Granada
If you stayed in Malaga, the drive to Granada should only take about an hour and a half. If you stayed in Marbella, add another 45 minutes. Plan to lunch in Nerja, the least developed of the Costa del Sol resorts. Dine at the Parador or on the ocean-view terrace at Casa Luque.

Those who didn?t visit the Cueva de la Pileta outside Ronda might want to visit the Cueva de Nerja which was inhabited from 25,000 to 2,000 B.C. Also worth visiting is the Balcon de Europa, a lovely seaside promenade with magnificent views.

Take N340 (E15) through Almunecar to Salobrena and then take N323 north to Granada, where our itinerary ends

Driving in Granada is confusing at best, exasperating at worst. If you?re flying back to Madrid or flying on to Barcelona from Granada, drive directly to the rental car office downtown and return your car. You?ll be glad you did.

If, for whatever reason, you want to hang onto your car, do yourself a favor. Hire a cab to lead you to your hotel. Make sure he understands that if he loses you, he won?t get paid. It will be well worth the investment.

The Alhambra is one of Europe?s most popular destinations. During peak season, it hosts as many as 8,000 visitors a day. For this reason, we recommend staying in a hotel on the Alhambra grounds. Not only will this make it easier for you to get tickets, it will also enable you to have the palace to yourself once the tour groups have gone.

Once you?re settled into your hotel, you can relax or explore the Alhambra grounds. If the weather is fair, don?t miss the sunset from the terrace bar at either the Parador or the Alhambra Palace Hotel. You?ll think you died and went to heaven. But take a sweater; it gets chilly after the sun goes down.

For dinner, there are several restaurants near the Alhambra parking lot. All three recommended hotels have good food ? though you?ll probably need reservations. Or you could take a cab down the hill for tapas on Campo del Principe. Other good restaurants in the town include Restaurante Sevilla, Meson Antonio, and Las Brasas.

Day 10 - Granada
Getting into the Alhambra is not a given. Once the day?s allotment of tickets is sold, the ticket office is closed and you?re out of luck. During busy times of year, this often happens before noon.

The best strategy we?ve found for gaining admission is to be in line when the ticket office opens at 9:00AM. If you stay in one of the adjacent hotels, it?s a short stroll. Or you can make reservations on-line in advance for an additional small fee.

Tickets for the Generalife gardens may be used at any time. Admission to the Palacios Nazaries is timed. But you can choose a time when you purchase your ticket. We recommend a late-afternoon visit, after all the tour busses have gone. When you buy your ticket, check to see how late the complex is open.

Once you?ve secured your ticket for later in the day, go have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel or in town. Then you?re free to visit Granada?s other sights ? the ornate Cathedral begun in 1521 and the Gothic Capilla Real or Royal Chapel. There?s great shopping in the adjoining alleys. While you?re there, pick up a guide for the Alhambra to enhance your visit.

The Albaicin, Spain?s best Moorish quarter, is a good spot for lunch. Resign yourself to the fact that you will get lost and that maps will be of no use whatsoever.

Just be sure to leave enough time to get back to the Alhambra at the appointed hour. The hardy can walk uphill for half an hour. Those with nothing to prove may prefer to cab it.

Take plenty of film. Wear comfortable shoes. And allow several hours to tour the palaces and gardens. Don?t miss the Sala de los Abencerrajes, the Patio de los Leones, the Salon de Embajadores and the Patio de Arrayanes.

After an unforgettable day, celebrate with a nice bottle of Cava at Restaurant Cunini or Carmen de San Miguel.

Day 11
Transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or, if time permits, continue on to Barcelona.