On march 23rd I left Paris for a solo backpacking trip through Spain, crossing the country south to north, from Sevilla to Donostia/San Sebastián. My only schedule was the return date, for which I had booked a train back to Paris, and a few nights couchsurfing.
The flight to Sevilla was short but one of the best I ever had, with perfect views over Paris, Orléans, Bordeaux, San Sebastián, Madrid and finally Sevilla. Cities were all easily recognizable from the plane and the weather was perfect.
The first thing that welcomes you in Sevilla is the kind climate, 27°C already in late march, and a bright sun. The second thing, once you step outside the bus from the airport is the smell of orange trees blossoms. Not all the city smells like that (jealous people say it smells horse pooh), the narrow streets of the centre don’t allow the presence of orange trees, but the neighbourhood of the Giralda (cathedral) and Alcázar is full of them, covered with azahars, these little white flowers.
The cathedral is built over the previous mosque, from which only the minaret remains, called the Giralda because of the rotating statue on top of it.
Going up is an easy climb, there are no stairs but a steady slope for that, so that the muezzin could ride up on a donkey and not be exhausted to call for the several prayers a day. It reminded me of an observatory in Copenhagen, where horses could go up.
From the top, the view extends on all the city (it is so far the highest building, more than 100m high) and on the patio de los naranjos.
The other main sight of the city, my favourite, is the Alcázar, full of wonderful architectural details and backed with a huge exotic garden.
But outside of its walls, the city is great too. Very lively, and also touristy, by day and by night.
The Plaza de España built for an Ibero-American exhibition in 1929, is also very impressive.
On the plaza de la Encarnación, is the modern Metropol Parasol, which allows also nice views on the city over its canopy. Actually it’s a lot better from the top than from the ground.
After 3 days in Sevilla, I headed to Córdoba, one of the 2 places where I « booked » something. I was couchsurfing there.
The city is a lot smaller but has one of the most interesting building in Spain : the Mezquita, a mosque converted into a cathedral, famous for the columns (1300?) of its huge prayer room.
It’s full of architectural details like the mihrab (the wall showing the direction of La Mecca), and surrounded by many chapels.
The cathedral built in the middles, breaks the perspectives of the enormous room but is a fine baroque example.
Like in Sevilla, the courtyard is a pleasant patio de los naranjos.
The old city has a Jewish neighbourhood, Juderia, with narrow cobbled streets and houses all in white and ochre. In this neighbourhood, only one medieval synagogue remains. Among the 3 still up in Spain, the 2 others are in Toledo.
A bit further lies the plaza de la Corredera, the first « plaza mayor like » square I will see in Spain.
The nightlife is more lively here than in the old medieval centre, which seems to come to life only when tourists are here.
From Córdoba I used a high speed train to the coastal city of Málaga. It wasn’t on my plans, but other travellers advised me to head there, not booking anything allows some last minute changes. I finally spent a full day here and 2 nights because of the huelga general (strike).
The city is not pretty, there are a cathedral with one tower (la Manquita), a castle on a hill in the middle of the city (the Alcazaba and the castle of Gibralfaro) and obviously, a huge city beach. But people come here for the party atmosphere. There were 80% of Germans in the hostel, a totally different population than in other cities.
Time to go up in the mountains, I took a bus to Granada and some fellow travellers proposed me a ride to the nearby Sierra Nevada.
The ski resort was still open, but with mostly artificial snow.
The mountain range, the highest of continental Spain, is not the nicest, it’s very dry, the atmosphere was very dusty and the ski resort manages to uglify this a bit more. We went for a short walk to the Virgen de las nieves, 2500m high, and an old observatory.
The range is home to a large population of ibex and we had the chance to see some on the roadside.
After all those unexpected side trips, I had only a few time remaining in Granada. This is probably my favourite city in Andalusia, mainly for its atmosphere and narrow cobbled streets with a smell of Morocco. That cannot be shown on pictures. The hostel also was the best so far.
I went to the free accessible part of the Alhambra. The other parts can only welcome a limited number of visitors each day and you have to either book in advance or wait in a line from 7:30am. No way! I’m on holidays. And waking up early is so difficult. I sleep usually from 3am to 11am.
I spent a lot of time going up and down the cobbled street of the Albayzín neighbourhood. This part of the city gives it all its charm and gipsy atmosphere.
Instead of heading directly to Madrid, I stopped on the way in the middle-sized city of Jaén, and it was really worth it.
It hosts an enormous cathedral and is topped by a medieval castle from which the panorama on the city, the olive trees and the moutains is wonderful. I stumbled upon a second religious procession of the Semana Santa, the week before Easter (I saw a first one in Málaga).
The Castillo de Santa Catalina is now a Parador, which means a State-owned luxury hostel, a good way for Spain to find money to maintain its monuments.
The view from there is amazing. Guess that Jaén is the world capital of olive oil.
I went back downhill just for the arrival of the procession.
I stayed for a while listening to the brass bands and then took a train to Madrid.
It was the longest train ride I had in Spain, more than 4 hours. Now I’m too much north to enjoy a warm and sunny weather like in Andalusia.
I’ll put the rest of the pictures among 2 or 3 more articles, depending on the energy and time I want to spend on it.