To do or not to do? That is the vacation question. Where does a Type A, accomplishment-oriented, tired workaholic go on vacation to enjoy and do both everything and nothing?
We picked a place where people smile readily, easily and consistently; where listening to silence was an activity; where a siesta is part of your daily itinerary and is completely permissible; where you can travel back centuries and shop in one of Europe’s finest department stores in the same day; where following the faces of flamenco dancers captivate and infect you with their focus and passion; where the light and colors and shapes stay with you long after your return home.
This was our trip to southern Spain and our three don’t-miss spots.
We began in Marbella on southern Spain’s legendary Costa del Sol. The famed resort town on the Mediterranean was the perfect place to enjoy everything and nothing.
We stayed at the legendary Marbella Club Hotel – Golf Resort & Spa with its lush gardens, boardwalk and beach access and the palpable energy of celebrities and royalty. It was the perfect base to explore nearby towns and discover their charms.
A lunch on the beach in nearby San Pedro was low-key, quiet and perfect. Dinner is an event in the town of Benhavis where open-air restaurants line the narrow streets and squares. A short ride away are flea market finds in the port city of Estopona. A coffee in a café in chic Puerto Banus can last hours. A half hour away is the beautiful city of Ronda with magnificent views over deep canyons and Spain’s oldest bull ring. The Marbella Club affords close access to the old city of Marbella, where the hotel recommended the informal Altamirano restaurant for the best seafood in town.
Just 25 minutes away is the Finca Cortesin Hotel, Golf & Spa where we spent three days of complete bliss. The only necessary decision was which of the three stunning pools to choose. This is a place to settle into buried body rhythms and changed plans. Dinner is theatre at their restaurant, Kabuki Raw. Guests can watch the chef fashioning creations from fresh, sustainably caught local seafood. The spacious spa (almost 24,000 square feet!) includes thermal baths, Turkish baths, saunas, a Japanese bath, and indoor pool and fitness center. Don’t forget the ice cave, unique in Spain and kept at a chilly 54 degrees Fahrenheit.
A two-hour drive through southern Spain, passing olive tree after olive tree, takes you to Granada for an unforgettable visit to the Alhambra. Set aside a day to wander the palace and fortress complex that had its beginnings in 889. A Moorish ruler built the current palace in the mid-11th century, giving it its distinctive architectural style. You’ll marvel at the incredible detail of the arches, columns, walls and ceilings and savor the beauty of the courtyards and fountains.
Lunch at the Parador in the Alhambra, overlooking the spectacular gardens, is a must do. Many of the almost 100 Parador hotels throughout Spain are located in smaller medieval towns, in areas of outstanding beauty and often in castles, palaces, and convents. A stay in one of these envelops you in the country’s rich heritage.
Take a taxi up the hill to the Mirador de San Nicolas in the Albaycin area to explore the old Moorish quarter and for spectacular views of the Alhambra. Walk back down and shop the array of Arabic goods spilling out into the windy, narrow streets.
Granada’s Hospes Palacio de Los Patos blends old and new beautifully. Most of the facilities — including the restaurant, spa, thermal bath and 22 rooms — are in the new section. In the historic palace area, ornate carved ceilings commingle with flat-screen televisions with nouveau-aristocratic flair. The gardens are listed as a UNESCO cultural heritage site and feature pomegranate trees dating back more than 150 years.
Our last stop in southern Spain was the charming city of Cordoba and the intimate Hospes Palacio del Bailio with a magical blend of past and present. In the historic heart of Cordoba, the hotel is housed in a former estate built between the 16th and 18th centuries. It has been carefully restored and features original
details such as wrought-iron balcony railings, Moorish decorative elements and a lavishly painted ceiling. A glass floor in the dining room sits above Roman ruins and the hotel arranges private guided tours exclusively for Virtuoso guests.
A visit to Cordoba would not be complete without seeing its famed mezquita. Originally built as a church around 600, it was converted to an Islamic mosque and remained one for the next 450 years. In the 1200s, it became a church again. Walking through the enormous building and looking up at its famed red and white arches was both meditative and awe-inspiring.
Enjoy another vista of the mezquita at Casa Pepe de la Juderia. The restaurant has been a Cordoba landmark for almost 100 years and is renowned for its market-fresh cuisine. Ask for a table on the terrace for a great view of the mezquita.
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Savor the Moments
One of the most memorable moments of our southern Spain trip was stumbling upon a gathering of pre-wedding guests at the entrance to Granada’s beautiful cathedral. We remained far too long as if we were invited guests, gaping at the well-dressed society, with hats of all styles, perfect make-up and hair, studying how they greeted each other and imagining what their daily life is like.
When we savor each and every one of these moments, whether it’s touring a beautiful city or listening to the sound of silence, you realize that doing nothing IS an activity and everything and nothing become one and the same.
Experiencing Southern Spain for Yourself
Did you know that Virtuoso has almost 200 Spain experts who can help plan an unforgettable trip for you? Check out their profiles at virtuoso.com and get going on creating your own southern Spain adventure.