Subject: Spain Driving Trip - long
Dear Al

I finally have the time to offer suggestions for your upcoming trip to Spain. My journal is open in front of me with maps ¬es at the ready. I look forward to re-living our wonderful trip. I have reviewed your basic itinerary and for the most part it resembles ours. Although we included Barcelona (superb) &Tangier, Morocco (an experience beyond description), the only missing component from your trip that I can see is Cordoba. I will try and highlight some of our special moments and hope that they will appeal to you. I won't bother with details of conventional tourist spots - your guide books will do that for you.

Madrid - of course, the Prado. Also, we attended a bullfight and although the idea was abhorrent to me, I am glad that I had the opportunity to experience this very Spanish tradition. I did not watch once the bull was compromised but I did enjoy the pageantry and the dance that takes place between the matador and bull. It was fascinating to observe the grandfathers taking their grandsons to this Sunday ritual, much like going to a ball game here in North America. You must go to El Abuelo for shrimp - they only serve shrimp, either grilled or boiled in olive oil with tons of garlic and parsley (unbelievably delicious). It is a little tapas bar, no seats - you just stand, peel &eat the shrimp and throw the shells on the floor. Along with their cheap home-made wine and conversation with the owners (all in Spanish & sign language), it was a wonderful experience. Another terrific restaurant is La Bola where the house specialty is a traditional Madrid meal - cocido a la madrilena (a full meal soup) served with a crusty bread and hearty red wine. It is only served at lunch. We had dinner as well at Botin, apparently the world's oldest restaurant - the roast suckling pig and lamb were delicious but I am sure you could eat as well somewhere else for less money

The drive from Madrid to Toledo is unremarkable - quick &easy. If you are staying at the Parador, you will avail yourself of the wonderful view of Toledo and the River Tagus which inspired El Greco to paint his famous 'View of Toledo' which no doubt you will have seen at the Prado in Madrid. You should also see his masterpiece 'The Burial of the Count of Orgaz' in the Iglesia de Santo Tome. Because we were only there for 1 night, we chose to stay in town at the Hostal del Cardenal, built in the old walls. They have an excellent restaurant with outside terrace, famous for roast suckling pig & lamb. (by now you will have noticed where we focus when we travel!!)

Our next destination was Granada but I think you are stopping at Almagro and Jaen on your way. I suggest that you take route CM400 out of Todedo and watch for the windmills and ruined 12th C castle on a ridge near Consuega. It is difficult but you can find your way up to see these 11 windmills up close. Simon and I still laugh as we remember parking in a residential area of Consuega and climbing, in serious viper territory, so I could do some photography. As we arrived at the top of the hill, panting &sweating in the 95 degree heat, of course we found the road that would have allowed us to drive. Add this to our growing collection of check the route before choosing the means of getting there. This is Don Quixote country and continues east towards Alcazar de San Juan. His epic adventures somehow come alive while driving here. The drive through Castille towards Andalusia was beautifully visual - from the most barren and arid views to lush extensive olive groves, a tremendous gorge and two mountain ranges. We continued south on highway NIV E5 and detoured 50 KM out of our way to have lunch at the Parador in Ubeda. It was a lovely spot and, like most Paradors, served a delightful meal including our first Gazpacho. On route from Almagro to Jaen, you will pass through the Despenaperros Gorge where they say that Europe ends and Africa begins.

Finding the Pardor in Granada was an experience. We exited the highway at the first Granada sign which was a mistake. But the tour of Granada only heightened the experience of seeing where we would be staying for the next few nights. It is simply stupendous and worth every cent of the premium we paid. There are many common rooms, too numerous to mention, but the most striking is the typical Moorish patio (always within the walls - out of view from the outside) - a square room with a centre fountain, huge cypress tree, small tables &chairs for relaxing and the most unusual canopies that slide open or closed (manually on ropes) depending on the heat of the day - a truly brilliant idea. Our room was charming with a gorgeous view of the Generalife (the summer palace) and the old town of Granada in the distance. It was absolutely quiet and our room was filled with the sweet smell of Jasmine from the garden. The dining room is on a lovely terrace and the food is excellent. Our style is rarely with a guide, but I suggest you take one here to tour the Alhambra &the Generalife. We were able to arrange this at the hotel and we met our guide at the hotel entrance. We were joined by several other people and proceeded to walk to the Alhambra where we were divided based on linguistics. The Alhambra is one of the most remarkable fortresses ever built. It is superbly designed utilizing views, light &water to create not only serene surroundings but natural defences as well. We were amazed by the use of the natural watershed from the Sierre Nevada mountains to feed the pools &fountains by gravity - the use of stucco &tile, the geometric shapes were all brought to life by our wonderful guide. You should also explore the Albaicin (old Moorish quarter of Granada) with tiny streets twisting up and down, some filled with lively tea shops and small souvenir stalls. The flavor was noisy &chaotic. Stop for mint tea and a local sweet. Also, there is great ice cream at the colorful Cafe Bib-Rambla near the Cathedral. You must climb to the Mirador San Nicolas near sunset. People gather here, locals and tourists, to watch the sun set over the Alhambra, creating the most spectacular glow - it was very spiritual.

I imagine you intend on taking the A92 towards Antiquera and on to Ronda, but I would suggest a different route. It would be a shame to be so close to the Mediterranean and not have the opportunity to spend even just a few hours. Since our itinerary included a few days on the Costa del Sol (we stayed in a converted castle in Monda, just north of Marbella) we drove from Granada on N323 due south through the wild terrain of the Alpujarras towards Salobrena and then west on N340 (coastal highway) where we stopped in Nerja for a picnic on the beach and spent some time at the Balcon de Europa (a terrace-promenade with wonderful views rising high above the sea). This is a worthy detour.

Continue along the coastal highway and take the N376 cut off just west of Marbella, north to Ronda. This is the way to approach Ronda. The road is spectacular, rising up the mountains with a view of the Mediterranean behind you. Ronda has the most dramatic setting, perched on the edge of the Serrania de Ronda slashed by a 153M gorge and cut in two by the El Tajo Ravine. The operative words for this area &town are view, view, view. However, be warned, it is filled with tourists. If you are staying at the Parador, ask for a room on the top floor with a terrace overlooking the gorge - breathtaking. There is a wonderful bullring, Plaza de Toros, with wrought-iron balconies, the oldest in Spain. If you intend on seeing a bullfight, I would see it here or Sevilla. If you are not staying at the Parador, have dinner there - the food is excellent.

I assume you are now heading to Sevilla. We took the A376 - A382, the white town route, with a detour on MA428 towards Setenil (a classic little white town where the houses are built into the cliff) We stopped at the Parador in Arcos de Frontera for lunch and experienced a tasting menu of Cadiz Gastronomy that was outstanding and unbelievably inexpensive. It including about 10 different items and cost 3,500 pesetas (in Canada - $28.00) You are now in serious Sherry country and all meals begin with a complimentary fino. The town of Arcos is the quintessence of the Andalusian Pueblo Blancos with narrow &steep cobblestone streets, white washed houses &wrought-iron window grills. It clings to an outcropping of rock with the Guadelete river at it's base. The view is the main draw here although wandering through the ancient romantic winding streets of the old town will give you the real feeling of life in the Middle Ages.

As wine is a passion of ours, we thought we should seriously learn about Sherry so, after stuffing ourselves with the above lunch, we went to Jerez, the sherry capital of the world, and took a tour at the Gonzalez Byass Bodega, famous for Tio Pepe. Our guide Isobel reminded us both of Gilda Radner's Rosanne Rosanna Danna. She was animated and emphatic and she made sure we understood everything! The town itself was not special.

As opposed to staying in Sevilla, we choose to stay at a Parador in Carmona, about 35 KM east of Sevilla. Although the Parador was excellent, as usual, this was a mistake because getting in and out of Sevilla was impossible. The town itself claims to be one of the oldest inhabited places in Spain and the Parador is another one of those converted palaces, this one among the ruins of the palace of Pedro the Cruel, with a terrific hilltop position and stunning views of the cereal-growing plains of the Guadalquivir. It is known as the frying pan of Andalusia. Sevilla , the capital of Andalusia, has a rich cultural heritage. The barrio de Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter, is filled with white-washed alleys, flower-filled patios, wrought-iron grilles & squares shaded by orange trees &palms. It is the most picturesque corner of the city. Be sure to climb the landmark Giraldo (ramps not stairs) and check out those protective canopies covering the streets during the hot mid day sun. Here, they have Coke advertisement sewn into the canvass. Stop at the Bar Giraldo, at the base of the Giraldo in the Plaza Virgende Los Reyes and have their tasting menu of tapas with a pitcher of Sangria all served on lovely linen - outstanding. Las Teresas. in the Barrio, is the quintessential Spanish tapas bar with hams hanging overhead with little umbrellas hanging upside down at the bottom catching the dripping fat. Push your way to the bar and order anything that passes you that looks good. It's a visual thing - if your neighbor gets something that appeals to you - just go for it. With a fino (dry sherry) and a cervaza, a chalk mark on the bar to keep count - sit back and savour the moment. It was great!! This is where I would recommend seeing a Flamenco show. Although touristy, the Los Gallos is a good choice of introduction to this art form. Learn a little of the history of Flamenco before you leave so you will begin to understand the importance of the guitar, the singer &the dance. The combination is electrifying. We attended the 11:30 show and after asking every cab driving in Sevilla, some twice, we found our way back to our Parador at 3:30 AM.

N.B. Have some Jamon Iberico somewhere but don't settle for anything but the real thing.

This is where our trips differ. We continued onto to Cordoba and took a train to Madrid for our flight home. If you have the opportunity to stop in Cordoba and at least see the Mezquita and the Juderia (Jewish quarter), I would do so. Cordoba's three faiths are represented in this quarter - Islamic with its outstanding mezquita, Christian with its cathedral strangely incorporated into the mosque &Jewish with its synagogue. It is rich with history and is famous for its patios and gardens. Have dinner or lunch at El Churrasco.

My final comment (if I haven't put you to sleep yet!!!) is to mention that we were pleased with every hotel &any restaurant associated with the Parador association. The hotels were unique, the service excellent and the food served was always typical of the local cuisine. We were wary of government run institutions but found ourselves more than impressed with our choices. The only accommodation disappointment was our hotel in Cordoba - the Hotel Albucasis, recommended by Karen Brown. To quote the Hotel Albucasis is a welcome oasis of tranquility in the bustling tourist centre of Cordoba. Her representative must have visited at 5 minutes past the hour and left 5 minutes before the hour. How else could he/she have missed those bells that toll every hour, all night long. We also surmised that Albucasis is Phoenician for walls of paper thin We said bless you to people sneezing on another floor.

I am confident that you will love every minute of this exciting trip you are about to take. Like us, I am sure you will want to return in the future. Perhaps we will meet for lunch in Bilbao at the Guggenheim museum next time round.

Enjoy and have a safe trip.....

Felice Toronto, Ontario

El Abuela Victoria 12 Madrid 91/521-2319

La Bola Bola 5 Madrid 91/547-6930

Botin Cuchilleros 17, off Plaza Mayor Madrid 91/366-4217

Hostal del Cardenal Paseo de Recaredo 24 Toledo 925/22 49 00 Restaurant 925/22 08 62

Parador de Ubeda Pizza de Vazquez Molina, S/N Ubeda 953/75 03 45

Parador de Granada Real de La Alhambra, S/N Granada 958/22 14 40

Parador de Ronda Piazza Espana S/N Ronda 95/287 75 00

Parador de Arcos de la Frontera Piazza Del Cabildo S/N Arcos de la Frontera 956/70 05 00

Gonzalez Byass (sherry) Jerez de la Frontera 956/35 70 16

Parador de Carmona Alcazar S/N Carmona (Sevilla) 95/414 10 10

Bar Giraldo #3 Mateos Gago just off the Plaza Virgende Los Reyes Sevilla

Las Teresas Calle Santa Teresa 2- in the Barrio Sevilla

Los Gallos Plaza Santa Cruz 11 Sevilla Tel 95/421-6981

El Churrasco Calle Romero 16 Toledo 957/29 08 19