Enjoy splendid gardens & great monuments in Spain. Meet leading contemporary garden designers: Fernando Caruncho, Álvaro de la Rosa, Eduardo Mencos. Enjoy the Córdoba Patio Festival. Explore Granada's Alhambra, Córdoba's Great Mosque, Seville's Alcazar and Cathedral and more.

The following itinerary describes a range of museums, patios, carmenes, cigarrales, pazos and gardens which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure in 2015. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meals.

Day 1: Tuesday 5 May, Arrive Santiago de Compostela
* Parador de Santiago de Compostela
* Welcome Drinks, Introduction & Evening Meal

Our tour commences in the region of Galicia in the north-west of Spain. Nothing could be more different from the arid mesetas and warm south of Spain, bathed in brilliant clear blue skies, than the misty, verdant north. This region has a high rainfall but at the same time is warmed by Gulf Stream, and so supports an extremely rich flora. The Galicians have a very distinct ethnicity and culture linked to the peoples of Wales and Brittany. They also speak their own dialect, akin to Portuguese, and have unique social customs and practices; for example, traditionally all property passes through the female line. The great country houses of this region are called pazos, which is a local variant upon the Latin palatium (palace). These beautiful old ancestral country houses have some of the richest gardens in Spain, most of which are devoted to the cultivation of the camellias.

Upon arrival at Santiago de Compostela airport participants taking the designated flight will transfer by private coach to our hotel, which must be one of the most fascinating in the world, located in the centre of the elegant old granite city of Santiago de Compostela. The Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella built the Hostal dos Reis Católicos as a Royal Hospital in 1499 in order to give shelter and lodgings to pilgrims who had walked the ‘Camino de Santiago’. It is believed to be the oldest continuously functioning hotel in the world. The hotel has been restored in accordance with the most modern techniques, but with respect for its original cloisters, Gothic patios, carved jambs, ashlars, etc. To highlight the ancient ambience more than six hundred paintings decorate the rooms and galleries. The royal chapel has been transformed into an auditorium for concerts and exhibitions. Restoration work was completed in 1954 and ever since the Hostal dos Reis Católicos has been considered a grand luxury hotel. Tonight we enjoy pre-dinner drinks followed by an evening meal together in the hotel’s splendid dining room. (Overnight Santiago de Compostela) D

Day 2: Wednesday 6 May, Santiago de Compostela – Vilagarcía de Arousa – Cambados – Santiago de Compostela
* Pazo de Rubiáns, Vilagarcía de Arousa
* Wine tasting & light tapas lunch at Pazo de Fefiñáns, Cambados
* Cathedral of St. James, Santiago de Compostela

Pazo de San Lorenzo de Trasouto, Santiago de Compostela
Today we travel south to the Pontevedra region and commence our exploration of the fascinating pazos of Galicia. We first visit the Pazo de Rubiáns, sited on an estuary, surrounded by vineyards and woodland. The pazo’s origins date back to the twelfth century, but the garden we see today was begun in 1764. The forty hectare garden contains over a hundred species of flowers. The ‘frog pond’, with it’s associated pergola and grapevine bower date from the gardens earliest period, but it was in the 1850’s that the first camellias were planted. In 1930 the Marchioness of Aranda designed and planted a geometric garden devoted to camellias which has won numerous prizes.

Our next visit is to the Pazo de Fefiñáns at Cambados, a lovely old town whose former wealth is reflected in the large number of fine old palaces that line its streets. Unlike other pazos we will visit in Galicia, the Pazo de Fefiñáns is an urban palace, not a country house. Its two main façades occupy two sides of a wonderful square at the north end of Cambados. These façades, enlived by the escutcheons of local aristocrats, constitute a particularly fine example of Galician Baroque architecture. Our visit to this urban pazo has a purpose. The Pazo de Fefiñáns is important for its cellars, where we shall taste the famous local Rias Baixas wine and enjoy a light tapas lunch of local delicacies.

After enjoying this garden and tapas lunch we return to Santiago de Compostela. Santiago de Compostela gained great symbolic significance in the Middle Ages as the shrine city of St. James, who along with Mark and Peter are the only Apostles buried in Europe. It is highly unlikely that James the Greater, about whom little is known from the Gospels (except his name), is actually buried here, but as patron saint of Spain he performed an important role in the growth of the Christian so-called reconquista of Iberia from the Muslims. The present city is mainly built in a fascinating Baroque style, unique to Galicia. It is a granite city in which the soft grey of this stone is given colour by the moss that grows on it, for Santiago is a wet, misty city. At Santiago’s centre, on the great square in which our parador is also located, is the famous Cathedral of St. James.

We shall spend the afternoon visiting the vast Romanesque shrine of St. James, the great pilgrim church that was the ultimate goal of medieval pilgrims who had walked across France and Spain on the ‘Camino de Santiago’. The present cathedral (completed 1211) is built upon an earlier shrine of 899 AD. Construction began before 1105 and the choir and transept were completed in 1112. A clock tower was added in 1325 and the bell tower and cloister around 1521. The building later gained a Baroque façade that forms an extraordinary stage set, heightening the drama of visiting its famous saint. The cathedral complex with its myriad chapels is a treasure house of sculpture and painting, precious silver work and glass from the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Large numbers of pilgrims still visit this shrine, second only to that of St Peter’s in Rome. Like pilgrims, you may wish to walk up through the catafalque above the high altar and place your arms around the brilliantly coloured bust of the saint. Attached to the cathedral is a fine museum in which are displayed many of its treasures and a number of parts of the medieval building such as the first stone coro (choir).

Our final visit for today is to the Pazo de San Lorenzo de Trasouto, a striking suburban house that was originally a thirteenth century monastery. In the fifteenth century it became the property of the Count of Altamira, but then reverted to a Franciscan religious house before it came back into possession of the Altamira, and the Dukes of Soma. The garden is located in the cloister, and has box hedges that are four hundred years old and nearly two metres high! Ancient wisterias hang “like soft curtains” from the cloister arches.

This evening we dine together again at the parador’s restaurant. (Overnight Santiago de Compostela) BLD

Day 3: Thursday 7 May, Santiago de Compostela – Barcelona
* Pazo de Oca
* Flight VY1675 Santiago de Compostela – Barcelona (15:00-16:35)

Orientation Walk, Barcelona (Las Ramblas, Plaça Reial, exterior Palau Güell)
This morning we travel through a region watered by the River Ulla, an area of great interest due to its scenery, vegetation and old monuments. The silhouette of Pico Sacro, Galicia’s most beautiful peak, dominates this landscape. Our visit for this morning is arguably one of the finest private houses and gardens in all Spain; it is certainly the greatest Galician pazo. This is the Pazo de Oca, a grand eighteenth century Galician house with a contemporaneous garden. Although it is a great heritage garden, its current owner, the Duke of Serbe, and his head gardener, Manuel Conde Ares, nevertheless are constantly innovating. They have, for example, added a magnificent maze, based upon that of Canterbury Cathedral. The garden is organised around an axis made up of a series of canals and two large water tanks. The water tanks are on two levels and between them is a granite water pipe from which water gushes into the lower pool. The waterways are flanked by battlements and marvelous stands of hydrangeas and within each is a sculpture of a ship planted with trees. The upper ship, with sweet orange trees, symbolises trade, and the lower ship, with bitter oranges and lemons, purgatory. The plantings around about are typical of the nineteenth century; there are, for example, eucalypts, magnolias and cryptomeria. This garden represents a fine orchestration of grand old trees, moving waters, moss-covered stone works, and colourful flowers.

After visiting the Pazo de Oca we drive to Santiago airport to take our flight to Barcelona. On arrival in this great Catalan city, we transfer to our Barcelona hotel. The evening we shall take a short orientation walk within the vicinity of our hotel in the historic core and stroll down the famous Las Ramblas to see its fabulous performance art. Between 1885 and 1889, Gaudí designed and built an urban palace for Eusebi Güell in Nou de la Rambla, a street in central Barcelona. We shall study its façade, in white stone, which uses parabolic arches for the entrance. The sinuous forged iron bars and the eighteen chimneys which crown the building are of particular interest. The rest of the evening is at leisure and you may wish to sample some of the delicious tapas available nearby. (Overnight Barcelona) B

Day 4: Friday 8 May, Barcelona
* Parc Güell
* La Sagrada Familia
* Masa Milá (La Pedrera)
* Passeig de Gracia and Casa Batlló (exterior)
* Time at leisure
* Evening Concert at the Palau de la Música Catalana (to be confirmed)

Today we tour Barcelona in order to visit a number of buildings designed by the city’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí’s work grew out of Barcelona’s strong commercial and bourgeois tradition of civic pride, expressed in the late nineteenth century in an ambitious project of urban expansion known as the Eixample. Gaudí was heavily involved in designing buildings for the city centre and for the new outer suburbs of Barcelona. His buildings re-interpreted traditional Catalan emblems such as St. George, the patron saint of Catalonia, and wove them into Gaudí’s own daring and idiosyncratic version of the Gothic revival style. St. George, his spear and the dragon appear in multiple forms in Gaudí’s work, from Casa Milá’s chimneys constructed in the form of medieval knights to his undulating multi-coloured tiled roofs which evoke the twisting torso of the dragon.

We shall visit Gaudí’s huge church, the Sagrada Familia, a building he considered to be his finest work and for which he designed unique parabolic arches. We shall also see Gaudí residences at the heart of Barcelona near the great boulevard known as the Ramblas, including the Casa Milá, also known as ‘La Pedrera’, with its undulating roof and strange chimneys, which now contains an important display of the architect’s work, and the brightly coloured Casa Batlló, whose roof takes the form of the spine of a dragon. In Barcelona’s suburbs we shall visit Gaudí’s Parc Güell. This extraordinary mix of terraced garden and eccentric architecture was a failed attempt to create an exclusive garden suburb overlooking the city of Barcelona. The project was sponsored by the Güell family of bankers, after whom it was named. Within the park stand an eclectic range of buildings, grand terraces, garden sculptures and vaulted halls covered with Gaudí’s colourful ceramic mosaics, made from discarded shards from a ceramics factory.

Tonight we hope to attend a performance at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a concert hall built between 1905 and 1908 by another modernista, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, as a headquarters for the Orfeó Català. The building, funded by popular donations, constitutes a symbolic and sentimental heritage of an entire city that identifies with its history. (Overnight Barcelona) B

Day 5: Saturday 9 May, Barcelona – Palafrugell – Tossa de Mar – Lloret de Mar – Barcelona
* Cap Roig Botanical Gardens, Palafrugell
* Tossa de Mar
* Santa Clotilde Gardens, Lloret de Mar

Today we drive north to view gardens on the scenic Costa Brava. Our first stop is at the Cap Roig Botanical Gardens in Palafrugell, which occupies what was once a bare, steep headland jutting into the Mediterranean. Like Santa Clotilde Garden in Lloret de Mar, this garden is a verdant oasis inflecting the rugged coastline, which here also is glimpsed through a screen of great trees. The garden is composed of terraces enclosed by high hedges and shaded by tall pines planted when the garden was begun 1924.

We next drive south to the seaside town of Tossa de Mar, whose emblematic walled Vila Vella or Old Town is the sole remaining fortified medieval town on the Catalan coast. Tossa de Mar is a charming place with narrow cobbled streets lined with numerous restaurants serving local specialties. Here we shall have some time at leisure for lunch.

Our last visit today is to the Santa Clotilde gardens at Lloret de Mar, a verdant classical garden that looks out on, and at the same time ‘disciplines’, the rugged coastline. It was the creation of the Marquis de Roviralta who, assisted by the landscape gardener Nicolás Rubió I Tuduri and the architect Domingo Carlas, created the garden from an old orchard in the 1920s. The centrepiece of the garden is a great stairway with ivy-covered rises. It, like the rest of the garden, is shaded by huge Italian cypresses, Monterey Cypresses and stone pines that at times allow tantalizing glimpses of the magnificent coastline. The stairway descends from the villa to the sea, directing the visitor downward. Along the way there are bronze sculptures of mermaids that spout a fine mist of water over guests. The staircase is complemented by formal garden elements such as structured terraces and classical sculptures. There is evergreen foliage of box, oleander and viburnum, complimented, in summer, by the colours of hydrangeas, roses, clivia, and agapanthus. The play upon the senses is completed by the fragrances of Japanese pittosporum and aromatic pine needles. This garden is an extremely dramatic and somewhat dreamlike composition that could be compared to the great coastal gardens of Cap Ferrat on the Côte d’Azur. After visiting Santa Clotilde, we return to Barcelona where the evening will be at leisure. (Overnight Barcelona) B

Day 6: Sunday 10 May, Barcelona
* Fundació Joan Miró
* Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion
* Lunch at ‘Montiel Espaigastronòmic’ Restaurant
* Afternoon at leisure

Today we begin with a visit to the Miró Foundation, which holds major late works by the artist. We also visit the Barcelona Pavilion, located on Montjuïc hill overlooking Barcelona’s harbour. The Pavilion was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as the German National Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. Built from glass, steel and different kinds of marble, the Pavilion was conceived to accommodate the official reception presided over by King Alphonso XIII of Spain along with the German authorities.

This morning’s program concludes with a lunch at ‘Montiel Espaigastronòmic’, a small restaurant located near to the Picasso Museum, providing an artistic atmosphere with excellent traditional Spanish cuisine. The rest of the day will be at leisure to explore the medieval city, or you may wish to visit Barcelona’s Maritime Museum, housed in the original grand buildings in which the Catalan fleet was constructed. (Overnight Barcelona) BL

Day 7: Monday 11 May, Barcelona – Seville
* Flight VY2252 Barcelona – Seville (10:20-11:55)
* Cathedral and Giralda of Seville

This morning, we transfer to Barcelona airport to take our flight to Seville. On arrival, a private coach will drive us to our hotel ideally located just 250 metres from Seville’s Cathedral.

Seville gained great importance and prosperity when the twelfth century Almohad dynasty of North African berbers made it the capital of Muslim Spain (al Andalus); and again in the sixteenth century, when it acted as the entrepôt for silver and tobacco from South America. Its major monuments and most important works of art date from these periods and from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when the royal family of Castile wrested the province from the Muslims. Seville therefore boasts fine Muslim, Gothic, Mudéjar (‘Mudéjar’ is the term which denotes buildings built for Christians by Muslim craftsmen) and Baroque monuments. In the seventeenth century it vied with Madrid as the centre of Spanish sculpture and painting. Zurbarán, Velázquez and Murillo all worked in Seville and the city produced a fine school of polychrome wood sculpture, examples of which are still used in processions for Holy Week. In the nineteenth century, Seville became a prime setting for Northern European Romantic novels and operas. Its role as a picturesque setting in Romantic literature, art and music was encouraged by the popularity of Murillo’s paintings of street urchins, its famous bullfights, and the magnificence of its celebrations during Holy Week. Just after Holy Week, the city celebrates the colourful Feria de Abril, a popular festival begun in the nineteenth century, which includes horse riding (wealthy landowners ride through the feria grounds decked out in resplendent costumes), music and the dancing of the ‘Sevillana’ and ‘Seguidilla’.

This afternoon, we visit Seville’s Cathedral. This huge building, which is the largest Gothic structure of its type in Europe, was built upon the foundations of the Almohad Friday Mosque by the Christian conquerors of the city. It retains the general plan of the mosque and courtyard used by the Islamic population for ritual ablutions. The courtyard, as its name – Patio de los Naranjos – suggests, is now dominated by a veritable forest of orange trees. Although used now as a thoroughfare, the courtyard would once have provided a quiet shady place for the study of the Qu’ran; plantings would have been more diverse at that time. The cathedral boasts one of Spain’s greatest retablos mayores, a massive gilt wood retable occupying the whole of the chancel wall. It also contains a number of major medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art works and the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The cathedral’s bell tower, originally the minaret of the Almohad Friday mosque, is in the same style as those at Rabat and Marrakesh in Morocco. It is a monumental, square tower that houses seven superimposed rooms. Access is provided by a ramp up which the Imam once rode a donkey five times a day to call the faithful to prayer. The exquisite brick patterns on its four façades assured its survival when Seville fell to the Christians. Upon it they placed a belfry (bells are anathema to Islam) and a weather vane, or Giraldillo, thus giving the cathedral tower its modern name, ‘Giralda’. (Overnight Seville) B

Day 8: Tuesday 12 May, Seville
* Casa de Pilatos
* Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de las Bellas Artes)

Unlike their Parisian counterparts in the aristocratic district, the Marais, Seville’s noble palaces are usually found, not in grand suburbs, but in the narrow streets of the city that in the past would have been inhabited by vendors, craftsmen, beggars, and Murillo’s street urchins. Their often bland façades, however, give on to lovely patios and gardens which, following Islamic tradition, are enclosed, almost secret, paradises embedded in, but contrasting dramatically to, the noisy dirty city outside the walls.

We first visit a Sevillian mansion of the late-fifteenth and sixteenth century, the Casa de Pilatos. Built by Fabrique de Ribera in 1519, it owes its name to a legend that it was modelled upon Pilate’s house in Jerusalem. Processions during Holy Week used to leave this building, winding their way out of the city to the Cruz del Campo, the distance believed to be exactly that from Pilate’s Jerusalem Praetorium to Golgotha, where Christ was crucified. The house, organised around a great patio, is a fascinating mix of Mudéjar, Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance elements. An antique sculpture collection, adorning the main patio and the Jardín Chico (small garden), reflects the humanist tastes of its original owners. This garden also has a delightful pool, which was the water tank of the original house. This, and the Jardín Grande, have a marvelous variety of plants, including clusters of citrus and banana trees that thrive in Seville’s warm climate, and myriad flowers. The walls that enclose the gardens and their loggias are covered with brilliantly coloured bougainvillea and wisteria. Paths with yellow sand, also used in the bullrings of southern Spain, add yet more colour. Mature palms and figs give the gardens ample shade.

After some time at leisure for lunch, we visit the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville, a large museum of Andalucian art which was refurbished for Expo ’92. The museum is located in the former convent of the Merced Calzada at the Plaza del Museo and is an example of Andalucian mannerism of the 17th century, designed around three Patios and a large stairway. It opened its doors to the public in 1841 with the works from closed down convents and monasteries. Today it is one of the best museums of fine arts in Spain. The museum’s impressive collection of Spanish art extends from the medieval to the modern, focusing on the work of Seville School artists such as Francisco de Zurbarán, Juan de Valdés Leal and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. (Overnight Seville) B

Day 9: Wednesday 13 May, Seville
* Morning at leisure
* Alcázar
* Santa Cruz Quarter
* Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes

The morning is at leisure and you may wish to explore the lovely María Luisa Park designed by french landscape architect Jean-Claude Forestier for the Ibero-American Exposition which opened in 1929.

Our first visit this morning is to Seville’s Alcázar, a fine Muslim palace built, not by the Islamic city’s Almohad dynasty, but by the Christian king, Pedro the Cruel in the fourteenth century. This palace, its courtyards lined with fine stucco reliefs and coloured tiles, speaks of the cultural ambivalence of the Christian invaders who emulated the tastes of the vanquished Islamic princes. The Alcázar echoes the Alhambra (Granada) in its richness, and was, in fact, built in conscious imitation of this great group of mansions. Pedro saw in the architecture of the Alhambra a reflection of the sophistication of the autocratic Nasrid state of Granada, and by inserting his own emblem within a decorative scheme inspired by it was asserting his own status, authority and power. The complex grew beyond Pedro’s original palace and eventually included, for example, the Oratory of the Catholic Monarchs, with splendid early sixteenth century polychrome tiles, a fine garden with a subterranean bath, and rooms in which expeditions to South America were planned. Appended to the palace is one of Spain’s greatest and most interesting gardens. These began, at the time of the Almohads, as a typical Islamic ‘paradise’ garden, and although little remains of the original because of successive replantings by monarchs after Pedro the Cruel (especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), nevertheless much of the Mudéjar architecture (pavilions), the lovely discrete walled gardens near the palace, and the ubiquitous pretty pools and gently bubbling fountains, all reflect Spain’s cultural debt to the Muslims. Magnolia grandiflora, pittorosporum, palms, peaches, roses and bitter oranges share this garden with fascinating Central- and South American species brought back to Spain when Seville prospered as the country’s gateway to its colonies.

We then take a walk through the Santa Cruz quarter, Seville’s medieval ghetto. Despite its tiny streets, this precinct grew in popularity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Aristocrats built small palaces here, without disturbing its original, picturesque street plan. A walk through this quarter, therefore, will provide us with a unique opportunity to discover the shape of old Seville. We also visit the seventeenth century Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes. Originally one of Seville’s many charitable institutions, this is now a cultural centre. Of particular interest is its sunken courtyard, which is a fascinating fusion of a convent-cloister and a patio, a central court so characteristic of Spanish secular architecture. Arcaded galleries supporting the upper levels of the house surround this courtyard. Its design is a pleasant interplay of spaces of square and curved plan. (Overnight Seville) B

Day 10: Thursday 14 May, Seville – Córdoba
* Moratalla Garden
* Lunch at ‘Restaurante Monasterio de San Francisco’
* Walking tour of the Patios of the Zona Alcazar Viejo, San Basilio District of Córdoba

Today we drive from Seville to Córdoba, capital of the great Caliphate of Córdoba, the earliest Muslim State in Spain. Our first visit between Seville and Córdoba is to the Gardens of Moratalla (‘the Moor’s Lookout’), near the Sierra Morena, the mountain range that separates the Guadalquivir Valley, and Andalucia, from the vast plain of La Mancha in New Castile. This was originally a nineteenth century English landscape garden but has been transformed over the last hundred and fifty years, not least by Forestier, who fused a French grand vista with Neo-Arab elements, such as patios with brickwork, tiles and low fountains. Cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens and Cupressus arizonica), oleanders and mimosas contribute to the (French) perspective that these Arab elements inflect. This garden, like the Casa de Pilatos, was a property of the famous Medinacelli family and the present proprietor, the Duke of Segorbe, takes a very dynamic approach, constantly transforming it. He believes the garden to be a living world and therefore a place where constant transformations may be made. He was a friend of Salvador Dali, with whom he shared an interest in philosophy. The fruits of this friendship are seen in garden details like the spiral pool; the spiral is an age-old image of unity and infinity.

After visiting this lovely garden, we take lunch at the nearby Restaurante Monasterio de San Francisco, a religious foundation founded by the seventh Lord of Palma in the late fifteenth century. The monks from this monastery are purported to have founded settlements in California that have grown to be cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles!

We next drive to Córdoba and spend the early evening exploring its patios. This tour has been timetabled to visit Córdoba during the recently inaugurated festival of the patios. This city has some of the loveliest small urban gardens in Spain, located in the courtyards of old Córdoban houses. Some of these houses are very, very old; everywhere in the ancient city core are to be found the remains of Muslim dwellings built before the end of the eleventh century. Even if houses are later, they follow earlier plans because their foundations (and many of their cellars) are the walls of older houses. Once a year, Córdoba opens its patios in an Andalucian version of our open garden scheme and prizes are given to the best exhibits. Many of the previous prize-winners are in the San Basilio district of the city near the hotel. (Overnight Córdoba) BL

Day 11: Friday 15 May, Córdoba
* Synagogue, Córdoba
* Mosque, Córdoba
* Alcázar Gardens
* Afternoon at leisure
* Palacio de Viana and Córdoba Patios

After breakfast at our Córdoba hotel, which is in the Jewish Quarter (Judería) of the city, we shall visit Córdoba’s delightful small synagogue. The Jews arrived in Córdoba before the Muslims and almost immediately made it a centre of learning. They established the Jewish Quarter after the city had become the centre of Muslim Spain. Its 14th century synagogue is one of three surviving medieval synagogues in Spain. It has a women’s gallery, and the upper reaches of its walls are in the Mudéjar stucco style, with Hebrew inscriptions. These stuccoes, like those of many mosques, alternate geometrical and vegetal motifs.

We continue our morning’s program with a visit to the great mosque of Córdoba. The mosque (c.786-986), one of the earliest and finest still standing, was constructed by successive members of the Ummayad dynasty. Its outer façades boast exquisite geometrical and floral patterns set in the tympana of horseshoe arches and in panels above them. Within the prayer hall is a forest of columns supporting superimposed tiers of polychrome arches thought to have been modelled upon the Roman aqueduct at Merida. The mihrab (prayer niche) is adorned with exquisite abstract designs in mosaic, executed by a school of mosaicists from Constantinople. These mosaics, and those of the domes above the mihrab, give meaning to Allah’s prescription to the prophet concerning images: that they should be a simile of nature, not an abstraction of it; and that they should convey by their delicacy the notion that nothing material has meaning or permanence. The mosque is punctured by a huge cathedral, whose minaret became the cathedral bell tower.

Our tour also takes in the Alcázar Gardens. The latter have been planted in the old castle and administrative centre of the Islamic city; typically, the Alcázar was close to the Friday Mosque (Great Mosque) where the whole male community gathered each Friday to pray and to hear the Friday sermon. The Alcázar gardens stand on the oldest garden site in Spain (ninth century) and, although the present gardens are from the nineteenth- and twentieth centuries, they are sensitively designed to evoke the feel, if not the exact form, of the original. They constitute a fine orchestration of hedges and clipped orange trees, roses and gentle pools.

Following an afternoon at leisure, we remeet in the early evening and continue to explore the patios of Córdoba. Our tour includes a visit to the Palacio de Viana. Located on the northern edge of the old town, this traditional Andalucian mansion features twelve patios covering the Renaissance and Baroque periods with fountains, formal parterres, citrus trees, date palms and roses with a profusion of pots, pebbled floors and elegant arches. (Overnight Córdoba) B

Day 12: Saturday 16 May, Córdoba – Ronda
* Bullring, Ronda
* Puente Nuevo, Ronda
* Colegiata Santa María la Mayor, Ronda
* Casa del Rey Moro, Ronda

This morning we depart early for the magnificent Andalucian ‘white town’ of Ronda, dramatically sited on sheer cliffs above a deep ravine, with grand panoramic views framed by mountains. The early nineteenth century artists David Roberts and J.F. Lewis both painted the picturesque view of the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) which spans the deep ravine, ‘El Tajo’, separating the two parts of Ronda, the old Muslim town and the Christian district, the Mercadillo. The Guadelvin River cut this ravine, and the high bridge which spans it was built in the late eighteenth century. Of Roman origin, Ronda became an almost impregnable Muslim fortress city until the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella took it in 1485. It retains another Roman bridge that those who wish may cross to visit the Muslim baths, a reminder of its Islamic history.

In 1493, eight years after the Christian capture of the city, the Maestranza, or Company of Knights, was formed here for the supervision of bullfighting. Ronda’s bullring, the second oldest in Spain after that of Seville, was built here in 1794. In the eighteenth century Ronda’s greatest matador was Pedro Romero who is believed to have developed the classical bull-fighting style of the School of Ronda. We shall visit the bullring in the Mercedillo.

The old town preserves its Muslim street plan. Here we shall visit the Casa del Rey Moro, the Moorish King’s House. The present eighteenth century palace purportedly occupies the site of a palace of one of the petty kings of Ronda, and has a fine garden with steps leading down to the river below. The splendid small Hispano-Moresque garden (hortus conclusus) was originally designed by the great nineteenth century gardener Jean Claude Nicholas Forestier for the house’s owner, the Duchess of Parcent. Forestier (1861-1930), a botanical and forestry expert, town planner and garden designer, was extremely influential in Spain and Central America. He became conservateur of the promenades of Paris and developed an arboretum at Vincennes and the gardens of the Champ-de-Mars below the Eiffel Tower. He also influenced the layout of Havana and Buenos Aires. He is renowned for his innovations, including the ‘Neo-Arab’ or ‘Neo-Sevillian’ garden. His own gardens and those inspired by his innovations are to be found throughout Spain, amongst them are the Park of María Luisa in Seville and Montjuich in Barcelona. His gardens in Ronda combine Islamic features like ceramic tiles with the formality of a European garden. A wide variety of carefully combined trees such as palms, laurel, cedar, oleander and myrtle form a verdant canopy under which a profusion of flowers gives colour and fragrance. We shall also visit the Colegiata, a church built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries on the site of the original Friday Mosque.

Tonight we sample Andalucian cuisine together in the restaurant of the Parador de Ronda. (Overnight Ronda) BD

Day 13: Sunday 17 May, Ronda – Málaga – Granada
* Alcuzcuz – private garden of Mr. & Mrs. Parladé, San Pedro de Alcántara (To be confirmed in 2015)
* Historical-Botanical Garden La Concepción, Málaga

Today we drive south to the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean coast to visit Alcuzcuz, the private garden of interior designer Jaime Parladé and his wife, Janetta. The garden has been in Jaime’s family for more than a hundred and fifty years, and there are many old trees: pines, rubber trees, orange, lemon, carob, palms and olives. Heavily influenced by English landscape gardener Gerald Huggan, especially in the introduction of a large number of species from Kenya, it has nevertheless evolved with the owner’s tastes. Jaime finds himself more drawn to the diverse colours and shapes of leaves rather than bright flowers.

We next drive through the hills above the Mediterranean coast and make a visit to Málaga’s La Concepción garden, begun in 1889 by Thomas Livermore, who was British consul in this city. La Concepción, which at one point commands views down over the city, is an important example of a Mediterranean coastal garden, and affords interesting comparisons to gardens on the Catalan coast north of Barcelona.

We continue our drive through the Sierra Nevada, which acted as a barrier protecting the last Muslim kingdom of Spain, Granada, from Christian incursions. You will gain a strong feel for the way the mountains isolated Granada from the grand views you will encounter along this road. We arrive in the late afternoon at the great capital of the last Muslim kingdom, and check into our hotel in the centre of town. (Overnight Granada) BL

Day 14: Monday 18 May, Granada
* Alhambra and Generalife
* Dinner at ‘El Huerto de Juan Ranas’

This morning we visit the Alhambra (1354-1391) and Generalife (summer palace and villa of the Nasrid rulers) to study the architecture and garden design of Nasrid Granada. We visit palaces and villas in the complex that centre upon the Court of the Myrtles and the Court of the Lions, and the Generalife. The first complex – comprising the Patio de Machuca, the Mexuar, the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, and the Patio de Comares (Court of the Myrtles) – gives a sense of the disposition of an Islamic palace, the discrete, hermetic spaces of which bespeak Islam’s emphasis on privacy. This complex combines areas where the ruler sat in court or received ambassadors with a harem designed to isolate the royal household from the outside world. In essence the palace is introverted, its main façade secreted within the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, rather than turning outwards to announce to the outside world the palaces within, in the way of a Western façade. The Hall of the Ambassadors is an example of the spatial rhetoric of power, while the Patio de Comares used a great pool and trees (later replaced by hedges of myrtle) to create a paradisal, secluded core to the complex.

Next to this group is the villa of the Nasrids, built about the Court of the Lions, whose fine stucco arches and slender columns are, some scholars argue, the architectural evocation of an oasis. Here we find rooms filled with exquisite detailing, such as the Abencerrajes Gallery, the Sala de los Reyes, and the Sala de las Dos Hermanas, two of which have extraordinary stucco domes reproducing star bursts in the desert sky. Beneath this villa there is yet another, to which are attached the Royal Baths.

We then walk out across the pine-forested hills of the Alhambra Mountain to the Generalife, an exquisite villa retreat and hunting lodge of the Nasrids. Here we see gardens to rival the Villa d’Este, outside Rome, with fine fountains whose sounds were intended to provide a poetic counterpoint to the architectural aesthetics of the Arab palace or villa. Lastly, we shall visit the Alcazabar, the fortress of the Alhambra, which has a broad panorama of the Sierra Nevada.

The Alhambra and Generalife complexes sit within what could almost be termed a ‘forest’ that covers their hills. Watered by conduits from the Sierra Nevada, this lush environment enabled not only the inimitable orchestration of buildings and plants in the main complex, but also a proliferation of carmenes around it.

Tonight we shall dine together at the restaurant ‘El Huerto de Juan Ranas’, which enjoys one of the best views of the Alhambra from the Albaicín and serves delicate Arabic influenced dishes. (Overnight Granada) BD

Day 15: Tuesday 19 May, Granada
* Corral del Carbón
* Capilla Real
* Cathedral
* Muslim Baths
* Afternoon at leisure

This morning we shall visit Muslim and Christian sites in the centre of Granada. We shall start our tour at the market centre of Islamic Granada where we shall visit the Corral del Carbón, a 14th century warehouse and inn for merchants, which is the only one of its type to have survived in Spain. Despite recent restoration, the ground plan, the central water trough for animals, and the delicately carved brick and plaster gateway date to the Middle Ages. From here we shall make our way through the Alcaicería, an area of narrow gridded streets which were once part of the covered market (Arabic, al-Qaysariyya) of the Muslim rulers of Granada. We then visit the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel), built in flamboyant late Gothic style, which houses the magnificent Renaissance tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, their daughter Joan ‘the Mad’ and her husband Philip ‘the Handsome’. In the adjacent Sacristy is a dazzling collection of royal regalia and Flemish paintings. We then walk to the cathedral, one of Spain’s last, which was envisaged by its founder, Charles V, as a model of the heavenly Jerusalem. After visiting the centre of Granada we shall explore its most important residential quarter, the Albaicín which nestles below the Alhambra. The Albaicín was the last refuge of the Muslims of Granada and traces of its Islamic heritage remain to be discovered, including a beautiful and tranquil bathhouse, and fragments of minarets converted into church towers. The afternoon will be at leisure. (Overnight Granada) B

Day 16: Wednesday 20 May, Granada – Toledo
* Cathedral of Toledo
* Santo Tomé Church
* Museo El Greco

Today we drive north, past the Siera Morena, into the vast, arid plain of La Mancha, famed for its association with Don Quixote, and for its dry wine and Manchego cheese.

Toledo, located on a promontory created by a bend in the River Tajus or Tajo, is another Spanish city with a multi-layered past. Inhabited at least from Roman times onwards, Toledo or Toletum was a provincial town until the Visigothic period when it became an important ecclesiastical centre, and in the mid-sixth century AD, the Visigothic capital. Visigothic Toledo was dominated by its castle, and although it is long gone, the Alcázar, its successor, still stands on the same site. Toledo was conquered by Arabo-Berber armies in 712 AD and became part of the Umayyad state of Córdoba. The inhabitants of the city regularly revolted against their Umayyad masters and in the early eleventh century Toledo, like so many other cities, became the seat of a Ta’ifa kingdom. During this period, Toledo became the centre of the Mozarabic Church, whose Visigothic rituals and liturgy were deeply influenced by Muslim culture. It also played an important cultural role in transmitting the rich syncretic literary and scientific heritage of al-Andalus to the Christian north of the Iberian peninsula and on to northern Europe. Toledo was captured by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085 and was thus one of the first major Muslim cities to fall to the Christians. Culturally, however, Toledo remained ‘Islamic’ for centuries after the imposition of Christian rule. Large Muslim and Jewish subject communities remained, and they were employed by their new Castilian rulers to emulate earlier Muslim art and architecture, creating a distinctively Toledan Mudéjar style. This style is a blend of Roman, Visigothic, Umayyad and later Almohad styles characterised by decorative screenwork realised in brick on the exteriors of churches and bell towers. Toledan Mudéjar can also be found in the former synagogues of the Judería, Santa Maria la Blanca and El Tránsito, which contain stuccowork decoration that mimics Almohad and Nasrid styles respectively. The cathedral, built on the site of the great mosque, also bears many traces of Toledo’s multi-cultural medieval character, whilst the narrow twisting streets of the old city and its absence of open squares and public spaces perpetuate Muslim and Mudéjar urban-planning.

Despite Toledo’s strong tradition of cultural eclecticism, the growth in Castilian Catholic militancy and exclusivity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries changed the city’s form and culture forever. After the unification of Aragón and Castile to form the nucleus of modern Spain in the mid-fifteenth century, and the fall of Granada in 1492, the monarchs of Spain became less tolerant towards Jewish, Muslim and Mozarab culture.

The Counter-Reformation and its Inquisition, a tool to root out Crypto-Jews and Muslims, confirmed Spain’s close association with Catholicism, a change most dramatically stated in Toledo in the cathedral, the most richly decorated of all Spain’s Gothic edifices and a trenchant architectural expression of Christianity triumphant. When Toledo lost commercial status to Seville, the hub of New World commerce, and political status to Madrid, Philip II’s capital from 1561, parochial conservatism replaced her old cosmopolitan style. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a pious aristocracy emerged in the city numbering many mystics among its ranks. Many aristocrats, influenced by the Counter-Reformation’s emphasis on good works, spent vast amounts of money on adding monastic foundations to the urban fabric, creating an imposing ecclesiastical cordon around the medieval core of Toledo.

This afternoon, we begin our tour of this splendid city with a visit of Toledo’s Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral modelled upon Bourges’ Cathedral in France like Burgos and León, but richer than either of these in its architecture and the works of art which it houses. The construction of the cathedral began two centuries after Toledo’s capture by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085, during which time the Christians worshipped in the re-dedicated great mosque of the city. In the fourteenth century the great mosque was finally torn down and a Gothic cathedral constructed on its foundations implicitly celebrating the Catholic triumph not only over Muslim culture but also over the syncretic culture of the Mozarabs of Toledo, upholders of an Arabised Visigothic church tradition rejected by northern Iberian Catholics. However, even this self-consciously Gothic Catholic cathedral has distinguishable Mudéjar elements, and is still one of the few places where the Visigothic liturgy is on occasion recited. Later monarchs and state dignitaries embellished the cathedral by the addition of a rich choir, decorated with reliefs recounting the conquest of Granada, and sumptuous chapels. We shall look at both the exterior and interior of the cathedral, noting in particular the opulent retablo mayor, the choir and the lateral chapels. We shall also visit the Cathedral Museum which holds a range of works by El Greco, Titian, Zurbarán, and Ribera, and the Almohad banners captured by the Castilians at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. In the treasury we shall see an illuminated manuscript given by St Louis of France to Alfonso X and a massive Gothic gold monstrance in the shape of the intricate flèche of a cathedral.

We also visit the El Greco museum, which displays a great collection of the painter’s works, and to the Church of Santo Tomé that houses El Greco’s famous The Burial of Count Orgaz. (Overnight Toledo) B

Day 17: Thursday 21 May, Toledo
* El Tránsito
* Santa Maria la Blanca
* San Juan de los Reyes Monastery
* Palacio de Galiana: visit and tapas lunch
* Cigarral de los Menores

This morning we continue our guided tour of Toledo with visits to the two former Mudéjar synagogues of Santa Maria la Blanca and El Tránsito. Santa Maria la Blanca is a thirteenth century building which bears a strong similarity to contemporary Almohad architecture further south, whilst El Tránsito is a fourteenth century structure with stucco panels of a similar style to those in the Alcázar of Seville and the Alhambra. El Tránsito also houses a small museum cataloguing the history of the Jews in Iberia.

We also visit San Juan de los Reyes, a Franciscan monastery originally intended, before the capture of Granada, as the mausoleum of Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile. The monastery has a beautiful two-storey cloister, a typically Spanish form, with exquisite flamboyant tracery. The mausoleum church itself will remind you of the Capilla Real in Granada. On the walls are intricate Gothic reliefs with the coats-of-arms of the Christian monarchs. One façade of this chapel is hung with the chains of galley slaves rescued from the Muslims by Christian charity; a charitable act among both Christians and Muslims was to buy the freedom of co-religionists enslaved by the devotees of the other faith.

We will then travel just outside Toledo to visit lovely garden as a guest of its owners. It is known as the Galiana Palace, but its owners prefer to call it Galiana Castle. The hills surrounding Toledo on the opposite banks of the River Tajo command stunning views of the medieval walled city and there can be found a number of private estates called cigarrales, the Toledan equivalent of the carmenes of Granada. Some believe that these country houses owe their name to singing cicadas (cigarras in Spanish) found here in summertime. Each cigarral consists of a large, several-storey home with garden and orchard. The style of the house is usually quite humble, between rustic and conventional. Many have white walls and are surrounded by terraces and patios that cascade down the steep hillsides. Often planted with lilacs, lilies and irises, these gardens and the houses they surrounded were the equivalent of Italian villas, affording citizens and minor clergy relief in summer from the hot, narrow, crowded streets of the old city. They were often used as places in which to recuperate from sickness. They also invariably commanded magnificent views of the great city.

The forty-year-old garden of Galiana Castle was created round the ruins of a Mudéjar villa built by Alfonso X, ‘the Wise’. He was a great patron of culture, and it is during his reign that Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars in Toledo translated many Islamic classics into Romance languages. Alfonso’s palace occupied the site of an earlier Muslim establishment called the ‘Pavilion of the Water Wheel’; a water wheel, used by the Muslims to lift water from the Tajo, has been reconstructed nearby. Such medieval inventions, brought by Muslims from the Middle East, introduced vital irrigation technology to Spain. Carmen Marañón and her husband Alejandro Fernández Araoz reconstructed the ruined palace sensitively in the late 1950s and 1960s. In order to avoid compromising the original structure, they built a home for themselves elsewhere. The garden, which is a masterpiece, was inspired by the Alhambra and Generalife in Granada. For example, as in the Generalife, Cypress is used as a sculptural element; the garden has a strict formality that gives it an ascetic feel.

Following a tapas lunch in this splendid setting, we next meet Maria Marañon, who will accompany us to visit her own family home, the Cigarral de Menores. Dating from 1617, the Cigarral de Menores has been in the ownership of the Marañón family since the Toledan writer Dr. Gregorio Marañón acquired it in 1922. We shall discover its charming garden, surrounded by olive groves and orchards, and featuring little beds edged in box and myrtle hedging, fountains, a pool and a glasshouse. (Overnight Toledo) BL

Day 18: Friday 22 May, Toledo – Pago de San Clemente – Trujillo – Jarandilla de la Vera
* Charo’s private garden, Pago de San Clemente
* Private garden of Olga Mayans & buffet lunch, Trujillo
* Exploring Trujillo’s rich heritage

From Toledo in Castile, we head to the western frontier region of Extramadura, famous for its conquistadors like Francisco Pizarro who conquered much of South America. Our first visit is to a private garden located in Pago de San Clemente, 15kms outside Trujillo, in an area of undulating hillsides where traditionally the well-off noble Trujillanos had their olive groves and vines producing oil and wine for their own consumption. Charo, the owner, is a very keen gardener, who has worked very hard to create a romantic and rustic oasis amongst the groves.

In the very centre of Trujillo, Pizarro’s home town, Eduardo Mencos’ close friend Olga Mayans will welcome us to visit her beautiful garden built around the ruins of the medieval city’s old castle. Our visit will include a light tapas lunch hosted by Olga and her son Carlos.

This afternoon we explore the rich heritage of Trujillo. Among the most important monuments are the Castle (Alcazaba), the church of Santiago, the church of Santa María la Mayor, the church of San Francisco, the Church of San Martín, the Plaza Mayor, and beautiful palaces like the palace of the Marquis of the Conquest, the palace of the Orellana-Pizarro family, the palace of the Duques de San Carlos, Marquesado de Piedras Albas, the house of the strong Altamirano, Palace Chaves (Luis Chaves Old), and of course the walled old town.

Tonight we stay at the nearby countryside Parador of Jarandilla de la Vera. Housed in a 14th century castle, this parador retains many historic features including Gothic galleries, a fireplace specially built for Emperor Charles V, and an ancient garden featuring a fountain famous for its fortune properties. We shall dine at the Parador’s restaurant which offers a delightful selection of Extremaduran cuisine. (Overnight Jarandilla de la Vera) BLD

Day 19: Saturday 23 May, Jarandilla de la Vera – Monfragüe National Park – Jarandilla de la Vera
* Monfragüe National Park
* Visit and lunch at ‘La Lancha’ – private farm of Eduardo Mencos, Jarandilla de la Vera

We spend the morning exploring Monfragüe National Park, a UNESCO listed Biosphere Reserve. Accompanied by a local naturalist we shall study the many species of Mediterranean plants and trees, and visit a number of observation blinds located along the course of the river Tagus in order to view (with the aid of telescopes) the park’s magnificent variety of birds of prey. Monfragüe is an outstanding site for raptors, with more than 15 regular breeding species, including the world’s largest breeding concentration of Eurasian Black Vulture, a large population of Griffon Vulture, and several pairs of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle. During our tour we shall also be able to view a number of the park’s geological and cultural landmarks including the ‘Bridge of the Cardinal’ the ruined Castle of Monfragüe; and the Penafalcon, an impressive rock face carved by the river Tagus.

Today we are joined by leading Spanish landscape designer, filmmaker and photographer Eduardo Mencos and his wife, journalist and designer Anneli Bojstad. Eduardo has become one of ASA’s most important hosts in Spain, and has shown generosity in opening up his family’s gardens to our group members, including his 30-hectare country farm ‘La Lancha’, which we shall visit this afternoon. On the grounds of ‘La Lancha’, Eduardo has carried out the 18th century concept of an ‘ornamental farm’ – a landscaped working farm with decorative features such as arbours, antique wells, water reservoirs, ruins. You won’t see a single wire or a water deposit (they are hidden underground). Here Anneli and Eduardo grow organic olives and raspberries and breed Merino sheep which roam free around the property. Their free range hens supply fresh eggs and solar panels produce the electricity. We shall explore the farm and enjoy a light lunch as guests of Eduardo and Anneli. In the late afternoon we return to Jarandilla de la Vera and enjoy another meal at the Parador’s restaurant. (Overnight Jarandilla de la Vera) BLD

Day 20: Sunday 24 May, Jarandilla de la Vera – Ávila – Segovia
* Ávila’s city walls
* Garden of San Segundo, Villa Winthuysen

Early this morning we depart for Ávila, one of the many Spanish towns which began life as a Christian frontier post located in the medieval marches between al-Andalus and the tiny northern Christian kingdoms. The architecture of Ávila reflects the martial and entrepreneurial spirit of its early inhabitants (soldiers of fortune, aristocrats of modest means and peasants) who were prepared to risk everything to profit from the freedom and opportunities afforded by life on the frontier. The town is encircled by strikingly complete late-11th c. walls, whilst inside, the small fortified palaces of its late medieval inhabitants show the same desire for a good life as the late medieval houses of the Italian urban classes. Ávila also possesses several fine Romanesque churches and later monasteries, including the Convento de la Encarnación, where Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, the co-patron saint of Spain, lived for 27 years in the 16th c. It was here that she experienced the spiritual ecstasies that she described in language whose vividness has influenced Spanish literature ever since.

On arrival, there will be some time at leisure for lunch and to explore a section of Ávila’s city walls. Declared a National Monument in 1884, the walled enclosure dates back to the Middle Ages. In addition to its obvious defensive function, the wall controlled the entrance of provisions and merchandise, and also isolated the city, guarding it against the potential outbreak of a plague or epidemic. It is shaped like an irregular rectangle, with crenellated towers and round turrets. It has nine gates that provided access to the city, of which the most spectacular is Puerta del Alcázar (Gate of the Fortress). A walk along the top of the walls provides spectacular views of the town and countryside.

We shall then visit the Garden of San Segundo, owned by good friend of Eduardo Mencos, Juan Martínez de las Rivas. In Eduardo Mencos’ important book Hidden Gardens of Spain the garden is described as ‘a miracle of colour, fragrance and joy protected from the outside world by the longest city wall in Europe, like the walled fortress of the Alhambra in Andalucia. In 1920, the Viscount of Güell bought a number of houses and the adjacent vegetable garden and commissioned the Spanish master Javier de Winthuysen (also a painter and a writer on gardens) to design him this garden. Winthuysen had an international reputation, and is known for his contribution to the world famous garden of Villandry in the Loire Valley. The plan of San Segundo’s garden has kept Winthuysen’s legacy. His design drew inspiration from secluded monastery gardens and Islamic gardens; the lovely small house is seen as an adjunct to the garden, as in the Islamic style. The present owner, who is a gardener, author, and published scholar on garden history, will show us his garden and discuss its design with you.

In the late afternoon we drive to Segovia, where we shall dine at the Parador’s restaurant. (Overnight Segovia) BD

Day 21: Monday 25 May, Segovia – Madrid
* Segovia’s Old Town
* Lunch at Mesón de Cándido restaurant
* Romeral of San Marcos, Segovia
* Evening reception at the private home of art collector Sofía Barroso

We spend the morning exploring Segovia, a site settled since Roman times. During the early Islamic period, Segovia stood in the marches between the Kingdom of Asturias and Umayyad Córdoba and may have been temporarily deserted. In the tenth century, the Umayyad caliphs constructed a frontier fortress in the town that subsequently became part of the Ta’ifa kingdom of Toledo. Segovia became Castilian after the fall of Toledo. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Muslim fortress was rebuilt as a Christian castle and in the sixteenth century, a Gothic cathedral with unusual Classical domes was constructed. Segovia’s Roman aqueduct, a remarkable dry-stone structure, was partially destroyed in medieval times and rebuilt by Isabella of Castile in the fifteenth century.

Midday we dine at Mesón de Cándido to feast on the town’s local speciality, roast suckling pig. Before departing the city, we visit the beautiful Romeral de San Marcos, situated below limestone shelves on the Eresma river at the foot of Segovia’s great castle. The famous landscape architect, Leandro Silva, created this, his intimate half-acre garden to echo the paradisal feel an old Segovian huerta (orchard or market garden). Its sheltered position creates a microclimate that protects a wide variety of plants that would not normally prosper in the tough Segovian climate. At times, this small garden bursts into colour provided by a feast of different flowers. After exploring this beautiful garden we drive to Madrid.

This evening we are hosted by Sofía Barroso who will show us her Madrid-based office, which houses an impressive private art collection. Sofia Barroso was born in London, the daughter of Spanish diplomats, and has a degree in art history from Madrid Universidad Complutense. She is an art collector and has been involved in the Spanish art and museum scene as well as with historic gardens and the new Spanish school of landscape design. (Overnight Madrid) BLD

Day 22: Tuesday 26 May, Madrid – Guadalajara – Madrid
* Patrick Blanc’s Vertical Garden, CaixaForum, Madrid
* Prado Museum
* Private gardens and lunch hosted by Eduardo Mencos’ family

We begin today with a brief visit to Madrid’s CaixaForum where we may view an example of Patrick Blanc’s vertical gardens. This is not only the first to be installed in Spain but also the largest implemented to date on a façade without gaps, as it has a planted surface area of 460 m2. The result is a surprising, multicoloured ‘living painting’ that, in addition to being visually attractive, also acts as an effective environmental agent. The vertical garden forms an impressive natural tapestry made up of 15,000 plants of 250 different species that have transformed one of the buildings adjoining the developed area of the CaixaForum Madrid into a surprising garden.

We spend the remainder of the morning visiting the Prado, one of the key collections of which are the works of Hieronymous Bosch and the Flemish School from the collections of Philip II. The extraordinary apocalyptic visions of Bosch were once housed at the Escorial in the king’s private apartments, but were stored away during the Enlightenment because they were considered too extreme. It was Goya who revived interest in them. We shall also look at the collections of Dürer, Titian and Rubens before moving on to the works of the Spanish Baroque. Our encounter with works by Velázquez and Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya will look at the strange mix of realism and fantastic distortion which makes up the Spanish tradition. We shall study the grand portrait tradition, works by Velázquez, such as Las Meninas, and the extraordinary mystical visions of El Greco. We also trace Goya’s development from the early tapestry cartoons through the royal portraits, and horrific visions of the war with the French, to the so-called ‘Black Paintings’ of his old age.

This afternoon we enjoy a very special highlight of our tour with visits to the private gardens of one of Spain’s great gardening families. Here we explore how they have changed the arid meseta near the nation’s capital with their distinctive gardens. We first drive across the empty plains of Guadalajara province and through the sun-baked olive-covered hills of La Alcarría, to reach the garden created by the Marquesa de Casa Valdés, Eduardo Mencos’ grandmother and author of the seminal book Jardines de España (Gardens of Spain), which has had a profound influence on modern Spanish gardening. Against the advice of many, the Marquesa de Casa Valdés created her garden in 1945 in a particularly arid terrain subject to extreme temperatures. It became a triumph in tempering the environment and a landmark in the development of modern Spanish gardens. The garden now belongs to Beatriz Valdés Ozores (Condesa de Bornos), one of the author’s daughters. The Condesa, along with her sisters María and Micaela (Eduardo’s mother), who also welcome us to visit their own gardens nearby, will kindly host our lunch. (Overnight Madrid) BL

Day 23: Wednesday 27 May, Madrid
* Morning lecture by sculptor and landscape designer Álvaro de la Rosa ‘Water Features in Contemporary Spanish Gardens’
* Landscape Design Projects by Álvaro de la Rosa
* Terraza de los Laureles’, Royal Botanical Gardens by Fernando Caruncho
* The Studio of Fernando Caruncho incl. a lecture by Fernando Caruncho and buffet lunch
* Garden of the Dukes of Alburquerque designed by Fernando Caruncho

This morning we meet the award-winning sculptor and landscape designer Álvaro de la Rosa. Following a talk on ‘Water Features in Contemporary Spanish Gardens’, Álvaro will show us an example of his work (Álvaro’s projects include designs for patios, terraces and urban houses). He will also accompany us to the Royal Botanical Gardens, where in 2005 a modern addition designed by well-known landscape architect Fernando Caruncho, with architect Pablo Carvajal, was commissioned to house the extensive bonsai collection of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González. The new garden called the ‘Terraza de los Laureles’ consists of an elevated avenue, a central square with a pond and a small greenhouse, and provides a grand panorama of the historic gardens below.

This afternoon we visit the studio of Fernando Caruncho – a wonderful way to conclude our study of the history of Spanish garden design! Following a buffet lunch, Fernando will discuss his work and show us various models of his gardens. We shall then view his studio’s garden and the private garden he designed for the Dukes of Alburquerque. (Overnight Madrid) BL

Day 24: Thursday 28 May, tour ends, Madrid
Our tour ends today in Madrid. Participants travelling on the designated flight out of Madrid will be transferred to Madrid airport.

  • ASA: Gardens in Spanish Culture: from the Alhambra to Gaudí Download

Tour Price
AUD $11980.00 Land Content Only; (Early-Bird Special: book before 30 Sep 2014)
AUD $12180.00 Land Content Only
AUD $1890.00 Single Supplement
For competitive Economy, Business or First Class airfares and/or group airfares please contact ASA for further information.

Tour Price (Land Content Only) includes:
Accommodation in twin-share rooms with private facilities in 4-star hotels (5-star in Santiago de Compostela)
Breakfast daily, lunches and evening meals indicated in the tour itinerary, where: B=breakfast, L=lunch & D=evening meal
Transportation by A/C motorcoach
Airport-hotel transfers if travelling on the designated flights
Porterage at hotels
Lecture and site-visit program
Tour notes
Light refreshments as indicated in the itinerary
Entrance fees
Tips for the coach driver and local guides
Tour Price (Land Content Only) does not include:
Airfare: Australia-Santiago de Compostela, Madrid-Australia
Internal flights: Santiago de Compostela (Day 3), Barcelona - Seville (Day 7)
Beverages with meals
Evening meals & lunches not indicated in the tour itinerary
Personal spending money
Airport-hotel transfers if not travelling on group flights
Luggage in excess of 20 kg (44 lbs)
Travel insurance
Visas (if applicable)
Note on the Airfare
This program involves two internal flights which are NOT INCLUDED in the tour price:

Thursday 7 May, Santiago de Compostela - Barcelona (Day 3)
Monday 11 May, Barcelona - Seville (Day 7)
Travellers who are arranging their airfares through ASA, will be sent flight options as soon as this information becomes available.

Travellers who are arranging their airfare independently should contact ASA BEFORE purchasing their international and internal SPAIN flights to check the correct internal flights to be booked for this tour. IMPORTANT: in the event that you do not book on the same flights as the group, you risk missing part of the program, and may not be able to join the airport group transfers!

Internal flights within Spain can only be booked on an instant purchase basis and need to paid in full at the time of reservation. Your ASA retail consultant will contact you about booking these flights and the conditions involved.