The Kingdoms of Leon, Castile, Aragon and Navarre took seven centuries to overturn Islamic rule, and in 1491 the Catholic Monarchs of northern Iberia, Ferdinand and Isabella, were able to claim the ‘Reconquest’ of the entire peninsula. The following year, Christopher Columbus got lost while looking for Japan, and discovered the Americas.
Spain and Portugal expanded into the world’s first global empires. Navigation, trade, and bold combat expanded their power and wealth over centuries. Both ruled territories in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. The gold of West Africa, the silver of South America, and a global trade in slaves drove ambitious architectural works at home and abroad. Potatoes, sugar, corn, coffee, and spices transformed both the European diet and international trade. After a decline in power through ongoing European wars, the rise of the Ottoman Turks, cruel civil wars and decades of authoritarian rule, Spain and Portugal have emerged as stable and democratic nations with a cosmopolitan outlook and proud history.
Morocco is a mountainous country, dominated by the Rif and Atlas mountain ranges, with the vast Sahara Desert in its south. It is a country of stark beauty, where huge forests of conifer and oak trees host diverse bird life, and the Mediterranean climate of the coast draws many European tourists. Ancient Roman and Islamic sites are attractive destinations, and the mountains and deserts present opportunities to experience the culture of the Berber people amidst the stunning landscapes they have occupied for over ten thousand years. Morocco gained independence in 1956, and became a constitutional monarchy. Despite protests in 2011-12, the country has avoided the instability plaguing much of North and Saharan Africa since the ‘Arab Spring’.
Take an international flight from Australia to Barcelona.
NOTE: Some flights may depart one day later, and may involve up to two transits.
On arrival in Barcelona, you will be met and transferred to the hotel. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Today we will get to know Barcelona, on an informative city tour. Visit the city’s historic central area with its Gothic neighbourhood dating back to the Middle Ages. Then, see the area where the 1992 Olympic Games took place. We’ll also see and photograph La Sagrada Familia basilica, an architectural masterpiece designed by Antoni Gaudí. Next, visit Poble Espanyol (Spanish village). This open-air architectural museum is situated in one of the most emblematic areas of Barcelona. Be delighted by the best Spanish craftsmanship and discover the architectural styles, traditions and folklore of the different communities in Spain. Enjoy free time at leisure to explore the city until the evening, when we provide return transfers to Las Ramblas and the Plaza Catalunya area, where you can select you dinner from a great variety of restaurants.
Today, travel south along the Mediterranean coast. A special stop is made at Peñiscola, a small walled town on the shores of the sea. After a short introduction, you can make your way through the town, discovering the fishing port, the castle and the beach. After lunch, we travel to Valencia, the third-largest Spanish city, where we will see the City of Arts and Sciences, the most important modern tourist site in the city. Next, we walk through the historic city centre, visit the Cathedral. Beautiful in its simplicity, the Cathedral was built to mark to victories of King James I (James the Conqueror) over the Moors. This evening, transfer to the Plaza de Toros and select a restaurant in which to enjoy your dinner.
We continue through Valencia to Alicante. Enjoy time at leisure to stroll through this vibrant city by the sea. The old city quarter, Barrio de la Santa Cruz, has narrow streets and attractive coloured houses, and the medieval Castle of Santa Bárbara looks down on the city from Mount Benacantil. After lunch we proceed to the Murcia region, to see Caravaca De La Cruz. Considered by the Catholic Church as one of their five holy cities, its church holds a cross that is reputed to have miraculous healing properties. Ride up to the historic part of the city on a train. Later, we continue along the attractive scenic road to Andalusia, and end the day in Granada.
Enjoy a full day in Granada, including a guided tour of the immense Alhambra Palace and its beautiful gardens. After lunch, enjoy free time to see the 500 year old Granada Cathedral with its Sepulchre of the Catholic Monarchs – Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Later, enjoy an evening transfer to the Albaicín of Granada, a World Heritage site where you can enjoy dinner in a restaurant, among the narrow winding streets of this captivating Medieval Moorish quarter. Tonight, you have the option to attend a flamenco dance show and the traditional neighbourhood of Sacramonte.
Note: in the Alhambra complex, the Nazari palaces allow a limited number of people in at a time. Sometimes your visit may be in the afternoon, depending on the timetables in which we are allowed in. In the highly improbable case of not being able to visit this area of the Alhambra, a visit to the Alcázares will be included in Seville (which have similar architecture and features).
Cross the Costa del Sol. In Algeciras or Tarifa, we board a modern ferry to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. Stop off in the picturesque town of Asilah, a seaside town that was once a den for pirates, and enjoy a tour and dinner. Depending on the number of passengers to Morocco, this tour may be conducted in bilingual (Spanish/English) groups. Arrive in Morocco and continue to on through beautiful landscapes to Rabat. Enjoy a buffet dinner this evening.
NOTE: The coach does not normally make the Gibraltar crossing, so passengers must carry their own luggage.
Take a scenic tour of Rabat, calling at the immense Royal Palace, the Mohamed V Mausoleum, and the mighty Kasbah of the Udayas. At midday, depart for Casablanca, where we shall take a city tour, including the outside of the great Hassan II Mosque, which is one of the most important in the Arab world. Then we continue towards Marrakesh. After arriving at the hotel, you will be able to experience a traditional kalesa (horse or donkey carriage) ride up to the famous Jamaa el Fna Square. Enjoy a buffet dinner this evening.
Start your day with a guided tour of Marrakesh, the city that gave Morocco its name, including lunch. Enjoy free time to relax at the pool or to discover a famous Marrakesh Souk (market). In the evening, you can experience a ‘Fantasia’ dinner and cultural show (optional).
Today we journey across the Atlas Mountains, frequently snow-capped high peaks greet us as we say goodbye to Marrakesh. Small Berber villages perch on the side of gaping chasms. Stop at the dramatic fortified village of Ait Ben-haddou. Pass through amazing landscapes that have attracted numerous film-makers. Visit Ouarzazate city, with its impressive Kasbah then continue toward the ‘Valley of Roses’, Boulmane Dades. Check in to the hotel and have dinner.
NOTE: On very rare occasions during winter, the roads may be closed due to snowdrifts. If necessary, days 5 – 7 will be rescheduled, and whether we can visit the Sahara or not will depend on road access.
Today, we visit the magnificent Todgha Gorge. See the Valley of the Kasbahs, river valleys containing thousands of palm trees, and fortresses defending mountain passes. On the way, call at a small town built from adobe (next to Khorbat, an ancient fortified village made of rammed earth), and learn about this desert community. (Sometimes access may not be possible due to weather conditions, which may involve flooding of the river). Continue toward Erfoud. A buffet lunch is included. Later, you may go on a field trip to visit the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and experience dusk among the dunes.
Early this morning, our trip leaves the Sahara, heading through the mountains and crossing nomadic areas situated in high and cold landscapes. In the afternoon, Fes awaits us. On arrival, check into the hotel and enjoy time at leisure. Dinner is provided.
Discover Fes with an informative scenic tour, ending with lunch in an ancient palace in the Medina district. Then, we depart towards the north of Morocco, arriving in Tangier mid-afternoon. Dinner is included this evening.
Today we return to Spain by ferry. The coach will not travel on board, and passengers will be required to carry their luggage. We arrive in Algeciras or Tarifa and continue to Seville. Check in to the hotel this evening.
After breakfast, take a scenic guided tour of Seville featuring the incredible Seville Cathedral (third-largest church in the world and the largest Gothic church) and its famous Giralda (the bell tower, once the minaret of a mosque), the banks of the Guadalquivir River, popular neighbourhoods of Santa Cruz and Triana, and the beautiful Plaza de España. Enjoy free time at leisure until later this afternoon, when we visit the historic city centre, Calle Alfonso XII, where many different restaurants can be found.
We leave Seville and in the province of Huelva, we travel to Palos de la Frontera. We visit the Wharf of the Caravels, where Christopher Columbus and his men in the Pinta, Niña, and Santa María set sail on 3 August 1492. We will also see Rabida Monastery, a Franciscan monastery strongly linked to the history of the discovery of the Americas. Then, we leave Spain and enter Portugal. Stopping in the ancient Muslim city of Mertola, where the present church was a mosque, built between the 12th and 13th centuries. After lunch, we drive through white villages to Evora, a World Heritage site with labyrinthine streets, Renaissance palaces, and grand cathedral. Visit the arresting Chapel of Bones, built with around five thousand human skeletons, and intended to remind visitors of the transitory nature of life. Arrive inn Lisbon this evening.
This morning we take a sightseeing tour of Lisbon. We visit traditional neighbourhoods, and take in the Belem district, closely associated with great Portuguese navigators of the fifteenth century (and resting place of the renowned explorer-pirate, Vasco da Gama). Look around the Monument to the Discoveries. Erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, the monument is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history. View Belem Tower, a military outpost built to protect the Tagus Estuary from pirates and enemy attacks, and enter the beautiful Jeronimos Monastery. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is where Vasco da Gama and his men spent the night in prayer before departing towards the Orient in 1497. In the Belem neighbourhood, we invite our travellers to try a ‘Belem cake’, an exquisite local delicacy otherwise known as a Portuguese egg tart. The afternoon is free at leisure, so that you can explore this great city independently. In the evening, transfer to Restauradores Square, full of atmosphere with its bars and cafes from where we suggest you to take the Elevador da Gloria that brings you to the Upper District and its stunning view of the city.
We travel to the north of Portugal and visit Fatima, where there is a major Catholic sanctuary commemorating where three cousins had visions of the Virgin Mary, in 1916. Continue through the green lands of central Portugal, passing back into Spain. Passing through grasslands, we cross the north of Extremadura, a remote region of mountains, forests, lakes and reserves. Lunch will be en route, in a restaurant specialising in the regional cuisine. Arrive in Madrid at the end of the day.
The day starts a comprehensive tour of Madrid including Paseo del Prado, Cibeles, Neptuno, the Gate of Alcalá, Gran Via, Plaza de Colón and Plaza Mayor. Visit Retiro Park, an oasis in the city centre, where we will see the lake and the Glass Palace. Admission to Las Ventas Bullring is included. This is one of the most famous bullrings in the world, where we will learn about the tradition of corridas in the Bullfighting Museum. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon free at leisure. At sunset, transfer to Plaza de Oriente, opposite the Royal Palace, an elegant and bustling area with many restaurants in which to enjoy a pleasant dinner.
After breakfast today, you’ll transfer to the airport for your return flight.
Arrive back in Australia.