While the sun began to set, I noticed as the candles started to flicker, casting warm shadows across the faces of my companions. We were seated around a large wooden table with plates piled high with octopus salad, fresh sea bass, copious amounts of cheese and squid ink paella. Throughout our week in Andalusian Spain, I had become great friends with the other esteemed writers indulging in a meal with me. I was unsure if it was one too many glasses of tinto de verano, but I felt my eyes mist up at the thought of parting with my new familia.
G Adventures has a way of bringing people together, old friends and new, across every continent. And while you may tend to think of the tour company as your go-to for rugged adventures across South America, Africa and Asia, you may want to reconsider its European product.
I travelled to Spain to take part in the G Adventures’ National Geographic Journeys Discover Moorish Spain trip, which specializes in deeper hands-on exploration and insider access with guidance from local experts.
Over the past year, Journeys has seen the largest growth in popularity in travel styles offered by G Adventures…and for good reason.
“We just launched our new trips for 2019 and beyond and we've got some incredible new trips in Europe including our new Discover Portugal trip, an eight-day tour that takes curious travellers through ancient streets lined with colourful manors along the cobblestone paths of the country's most prestigious university and down the shipping routes for fortified wine. This tour also combines with our popular Discover Moorish Spain, for a 15-day itinerary on the ‘Iconic Portugal & Spain’,” advised Amanda Dunning, brand manager for National Geographic Journeys at G Adventures.
When I received my itinerary I noticed the heart of the trip would focus on Andalusia, meaning it would also cover over 1,300 years of history known as the Moorish period. With influences from Christian, Arabic and Jewish ruling, I knew I would discover an entirely different side of Spain (and maybe even Europe). Toledo was my first introduction to the Moors, a city named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 and regarded today as an open-air museum. As part of the National Geographic Journey exclusives, we were met by a local historian who delved into the highlights of the city, such as the 13th-century Gothic Cathedral — the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, the El Greco Museum and the mosaic tiled Jewish Quarter.
The second stop on our whirlwind tour took us to Cordoba, only a two-hour train ride thanks to the Renfe, the Spanish high-speed train network that took us through endless olive groves and snaked through tiny villages. Cordoba’s white-washed corridors and hidden courtyards were a charming enough reason to visit, but standing in stark grandeur in the middle of the city stood the Mezquita Catedral De Cordoba. Surrounded by fortress walls, it’s hard to grasp the size of the Mezquita until you enter the courtyard. A lush oasis surrounds the building with swaying palm trees and bubbling fountains, but it’s the combination of Moorish and Baroque architecture that left me in awe. Inside, red and white candy-cane archways give way to regal marble columns and finally, in the back of the religious site, lies gothic woodwork and gold inlay. The spanning of history is clear once inside and stands as a concrete symbol of the evolution of the Moorish culture.
Arguably the highlight of the tour lies within Granada: The Alhambra. This cultural masterpiece is one of the most visited tourist destinations within the country and is considered one of the greatest accomplishments of Islamic art and architecture. We were met by our guide for a private tour inside the Red Castle (in Arabic, qa'lat al-Hamra). I was surprised to learn that The Alhambra is actually considered a city in and of itself. Within the city walls were multiple castles, endless gardens bursting with roses and a summer palace used exclusively by King Ferdinand. The complex was abandoned during the 18th century following the demolition caused by Napoleon’s army and it wasn’t until the 19th century that the process of restoring the structure took place. Today, visitors will feel as if they’ve stepped back in time as they experience a taste of royalty at the Alhambra grounds.
Granada is a city bursting with liveliness, inspiring artists and writers for centuries with its attractive streets and delicious food scene. But perhaps one of its most unique features is Sacromonte, the Gypsy Quarter of the city. The people of this community are dedicated to preserving the art of flamenco, which is how we found ourselves standing inside a cave with our dancing shoes on. We followed our teacher Maria, as she guided us through basic dance steps and more importantly, the passionate facial expressions required for flamenco — just another unique highlight to a National Geographic Journey.
Our final stop took us to Seville, the capital of Andalucia and the number one city to visit in 2018 ranked by Lonely Planet's Best in Travel. Brimming with gothic architecture reflected in the Seville Gothic Cathedral (site of Christopher Columbus’s tomb & the largest gothic cathedral in the world) and the Plaza de España, it’s hard to miss the Moorish influence. But it was the Real Alcázar of Seville that converted me into a hardcore Moorish fan. Built for King Peter of Castile, it reflects the stylings of Christian and Mudéjar architecture, a rare combination in the modern world. Today, the Alcázar is still a working royal palace. The Cuarto Real Alto (Upper Royal Quarters) are the rooms used by the Spanish royal family on their visits to Seville. They are open for guided tours for a limited number of people each day, but with the help of our trusty CEO Lalo Garcia, we breezed past any lines. And as our trip came to a close, I couldn't help but think, ‘Yep, I could definitely get used to travelling like this."
Cordoba's White Streets
Selling G Adventures Europe
Agents looking to join the G Adventures family or boost their current bookings can connect with a Global Purpose Specialist who can provide guidance on the specialities of National Geographic Journeys, as well as access to exclusive webinars. One of the main features of a G Adventures Europe tour is the removal of any guess-work for the client, but offering small group sizes and the ability to make lifelong connections. The G Adventures Europe program also allows for flexibility and the freedom to roam — but with the comfort of an experienced CEO on hand whenever needed. With a slightly higher price point to account for the meal and room upgrades provided with a National Geographic Journey trip, more mature clients looking for luxury will delight specifically in this trip.