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Monday, November 9, 2015

What I Loved Most About Andalusia in 20 Pictures

Every time I return from a trip, I need a few weeks of reflection before I feel ready to start writing about the experience.

When we travel, we seem to experience life more intensely: Flavors become more pungent, colours shine more vibrantly and scents seem to linger in the air for longer. Our entire existence is amplified and we find ourselves so swept away by all the memorable destinations and remarkable encounters that it takes a little while to process everything once we’re back home and realize just how much has happened.

How can I even begin to describe my trip to Spain? The words just seem to elude me. Spain defied all my expectations, but in the best way possible, and took my breath away (once quite literally!) on numerous occasions. Spain was different from any other place I have ever visited and left me hungry for more, but most of all Spain was often just too beautiful to put into words. We spent time in both Madrid and Andalusia and while Madrid was a really pleasant city, it was the latter that I fell especially in love with.

And before I get into more detailed posts on all the individual places I visited in Andalusia, I thought I would round up some of the things that I loved the most about this southern-most region in Spain:

The Real Alcazar in Sevilla

I am going to start with one of the highlights of our entire trip: Visiting the Real Alcazar in Sevilla! The Real Alcazar is a royal palace whose history goes back over a thousand years to the time when the Moorish rule in Spain was at its height and I can honestly say that I do not remember the last time I visited a place that was as awe-inspiring.

From the mighty, ochre-coloured walls that enveloped the palace to the beautiful and lush gardens and the elaborately decorated rooms, there was nothing about this ancient palace complex that I didn't love and I am already telling everybody who makes the mistake of asking me about my trip that the Alcazar may just be the one of place you definitely need to visit when you're in Sevilla. History, gorgeous and intricate buildings and feeling like you're in Game of Thrones (the Alcazar stood in as Dorne in the series!) - do I need to say more?

Strolling Through Sevilla

But, to be fair, Sevilla is so beautiful that you would definitely miss out if you were to only see the Alcazar. Sevilla was the first stop on our trip and since it was also my first time in Spain ever since I was a toddler, it was my first proper introduction to this country. And I'm not sure there could have been a better place!

Sevilla is one of those cities that everyone just seems to utterly adore and it's easy to see why: Sevilla is elegant, but unpretentious, has some seriously stunning architecture and and is relaxing in a way that most big cities aren't. We loved strolling through the narrow streets of the Juderia, marveling at the many colorful details of the houses and experiencing the lively atmosphere at night and I was just as charmed as everyone else I know had been before me.

The Streets of Jerez de la Frontera

One of the places that my thoughts go back to the most often when I think of Spain is Jerez de la Frontera. As the home of both Sherry and the Royal Equastrian School of Andalusia, Jerez has plenty a claim to fame, but during our visit the town was delightfully untouristy and peaceful. We visited a beautiful Bodega where we tried a few different varieties of Sherry and spent the rest of our time wandering through quiet alleys, marveling at the gorgeous blue sky and falling in love with the rustic houses and cobblestone streets.

Jerez wasn't as immaculately elegant as Sevilla, but perfect in its imperfection and I wish I could have spent more time there, because to me it was just one of those places that had that certain something.

Seaside in Cadiz

We took a day trip to Cadiz from Jerez and had the best time trying to see every single square in town and walking along the seaside. As one of the oldest cities in Europe - it was founded almost three thousand years ago! - Cadiz has seen some serious action over the centuries and the coastline is still dotted with a few of the forts that used to guard the town.

I have always considered myself to be a mountain girl at heart, but everytime I'm at the sea, breathing the salty air and hearing the crashing of the waves, I cannot imagine a better place to be. There's just something about the sea that signifies freedom and adventure to me!

The Architecture in Ronda

There are many beautiful places in the world, but only a few that are so jaw-droppingly gorgeous that you just cannot stop raving about them. Ronda is one of those places! Perched up high on a cliffside and overlooking the mountains, Ronda is a small town with charming old streets, sweeping landscape views and some seriously picturesque architecture.

Ronda's most famous monument is the Ponte Nuevo, which is a bridge that connects the Old Town with the newer parts of Ronda. Ronda is parted by a gorge so deep that crossing would scarcely be possible without the help of a bridge and while there are two other in less steep parts of the gorge, the Ponte Nuevo is definitely the most dramatic one.

The Mountainous Landscape Around Ronda

Ronda may have plenty of culture to offer, but it's also a great place to do some hiking and since most of our trip was centered around larger towns and cities, it was awesome to get out into nature again. We headed on a quiet countryside walk at the foot of the gorge one afternoon and it was the perfect way to get away from the stream of day trip visitors that occupied the streets at midday and to find a little bit of serenity amidst our hectic travel schedule.

Seeing a tiny, tiny slice of the Spanish countryside also made us want to spend more time away from the cities on our next trip to Spain and having seen some of the gorgeous, if a bit desolate, mountains on our bus ride to Ronda we agreed that it would be amazing to stay in this town for a few days with a car and to go on daily hiking trips in the area.

First View of the Alhambra

I'm sure we can all agree that the Alhambra in Granada is surrounded by a certain air of allure and mystique - who wouldn't want to walk through these ancient walls one day? Because I had dreamt of visiting for years, the Alhambra had been been one of the biggest reasons I had wanted to travel to Andalusia and seeing it majestically overlooking the city for the very first time was definitely one of those pinch-me travel moments.

The Grounds of the Alhambra

And the Alhambra was even more stunning from up close. Even the somewhat confusing organization and the masses of other visitors (Granada was by far the most touristy place we visited in all of Spain!) didn't take away from its beauty. We spend hours exploring all of the majestic palaces and immaculate gardens and when we left it was hard to imagine how a place could be more magical.

With its spotless white Patio de los Leones and the perfectly still water in the Patio de los Arranyanes, walking through the halls of Nasrid Palace was a particularly surreal experience and I couldn't help, but let my thoughts wander back many, many centuries to imagine what life in the Alhambra must have been like when it was still a Moorish palace.

The Generalife - a summer palace with the most cheerful garden you could imagine - was another highlight for us. We had left our visit to the end of the day in the hopes the worst of the crowds would have dispersed by then, which not only paid off, but also allowed us to experience this beautiful place in the gorgeous early evening light.

I don't think I have ever seen a courtyard as vibrant and lively as the one in the picture above and with the sound of splashing water in the background and the sight of pretty colorful plants everywhere it certainly was a dreamy location.

The Old Architecture in Cordoba

Our last stop in Andalusia was Cordoba and just like I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to Andalusia than Sevilla, I can't imagine a place that would have made it quite as hard to say goodbye again as Cordoba.

I know that I have thrown around superlatives like crazy in this post, but I can assure you that each and every adjective - even the most cliché-ridden one - was carefully chosen. And so it is absolutely genuine when I say that no place seemed to capture the magic of Andalusia for me quite as well as Cordoba.

I have always been a big daydreamer, but when I saw the ancient walls of the Mezquita - the former Mosque of Cordoba - for the very first time, I didn't even have to close my eyes to imagine myself in a world centuries and centuries away from today. The old architecture was mesmerizing in a way that is almost impossible for me to describe now, but I am already looking forward to the day when I can return to this fascinating city again.

I hope you enjoyed seeing and reading these little snippets of my Spain trip! I'll be posting more stories and pictures on the blog over the next couple months, so I hope you're all interested in Spain! I'm also currently in the process of sharing my favorite pictures of Spain (& soon Rome!) on my Instagram page, so please make sure to check it out if you want to see more already!


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