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Day by Day Itinerary

Travel to Spain, a country that conjures images of rocky plains and whitewashed villages, rugged castles looming from distant hills, the windmills that taunted Don Quixote, bullrings, the fiery flamenco, and the strum of the guitar. Portugal brings to mind bold explorers, colorful ceramics, and close ties to the sea. You'll find all this and more on this escorted tour of Spain as you sweep from the vibrant modern capital of Madrid through the olive tree-filled hills of Andalucia and on to Portugal's Atlantic coast, following a route traced first by the Romans and Visigoths and, later, by the Moors.

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    Fly from one of several U.S. gateway cities to Madrid, Spain.

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    Arrive today in Madrid to begin your escorted tour of Spain. You are met at the airport by a Grand Circle representative and transferred to your hotel. You have the balance of the day to relax after your overseas flight. This evening, join your Program Director and fellow travelers, including those who took our pre-trip extension to Barcelona for a Welcome Briefing and a Welcome Drink.

    Dinner is on your own this evening. Your Program Director will be pleased to share dining suggestions with you.

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    Vibrant Madrid—the highest capital city in Europe—may put you in mind of the paintings of Velazquez, with clear blue arching skies that gave rise to the phrase, "De Madrid al cielo" ("Madrid is the next thing to heaven"). One of the few European capitals not settled by the Romans, it became Spain's capital city in 1561, when Philip II moved his court from Toledo to the city in which he had been born. Located at the geographic center of Iberia, Madrid was a crossroads of the peninsula and remains a thriving cultural and artistic center, with the liveliest nightlife in the country.

    Set out this morning to discover its highlights on an included panoramic tour. Among the sights are the exterior of the 18th-century Palacio Real (Royal Palace), an opulent, 2,800-room complex inspired by France's Versailles. You'll also admire the Plaza de Espana, Madrid's main square. After your city tour, you'll have the remainder of the day to do as you please.

    Lunch is on your own today, and your choices are endless. Make your own discoveries this afternoon. Perhaps you will visit one of the city's greatest attractions: the Prado Museum. Intended as a natural science museum when it was conceived in 1785, it evolved into the repository of the royal art collection by the time it was completed in 1819, and is now one of the world's most renowned art galleries.

    Or, if you prefer, return to the Royal Palace to explore its ornate royal apartment, banquet hall, Royal Armory, and Royal Library with its first edition of Don Quixote. Stroll the austere Plaza Mayor, one of Europe's largest public squares; or simply relax at a cafe and encounter the legendary friendliness of this welcoming city, melting pot for all the varied regions of Spain.

    Savor an authentic taste of Spanish cuisine and get acquainted with your traveling companions over a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

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    Make your own discoveries this morning, or join us on an optional tour of the imposing El Escorial, a 16th-century architectural masterpiece completed in 1584 as a residence for the King of Spain and a monastery for the Hieronymite monks. Designed at the height of Spain’s international power, the structure’s floor plan was actually inspired by descriptions of the Temple of Solomon. Set at the foot of Mount Abantos, the enormous gray-granite complex is the resting place of 500 years of Spanish kings.

    The afternoon is yours to spend as you wish. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    After breakfast this morning, you will begin your transfer to Cordoba. Just an hour along the route, however, lies a stop that is bound to be a highlight of your trip: medieval Toledo—a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and capital of Spain until the 16th century.

    Picturesquely set on a hill overlooking the Tagus River, Toledo proudly preserves its 2,000-year history in more than 100 buildings and monuments. At its peak, between the eleventh and 13th centuries, it was known as the "City of Three Cultures" for the harmonious co-existence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

    Breathe in this remarkable history as you embark on a walking tour along the narrow, cobbled streets of Toledo's center, enjoying the striking blend of Moorish-Mudejar-Jewish, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture. You'll view El Alcazar, the 16th-century Moorish citadel, which stands at a point originally fortified by the ancient Romans and which dominates the city skyline, as well as Toledo Cathedral, which you'll have the opportunity to enter and view the stunning artistry contained within.

    Please note: Select departures will view the exterior of the cathedral only if it is closed.

    After your tour of Toledo, you'll continue on your way to Cordoba, arriving at your hotel this evening, where dinner is included.

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    After breakfast, join us on an included panoramic tour of beautiful Cordoba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once capital of the Western world, Cordoba was founded by the ancient Romans at the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, where it was easiest to ship olive oil, wheat, and wine back to Rome. It was after its conquest by the Moors in AD 711, however, that the city grew to become the largest in the world.

    Today, Cordoba is best known for its most famous landmark, the Mezquita (Great Mosque)—the third-largest mosque in the world. When the Mezquita was built, during the tenth century, Cordoba was in its glory as the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities in Europe, and an important center for science, education, and the arts.

    In AD 929, the Cordoba region broke away from the Islamic center, Baghdad, and formed its own independent kingdom, falling into anarchy shortly afterward. The city was conquered in 1236 by King Ferdinand, a Christian who had the mosque consecrated and constructed a cathedral in the middle of it, while still preserving the remarkable beauty of the original structure.

    During your escorted tour of Spain's historic cultural capital, you'll find that Cordoba is often a study in contrasts: Moorish and Christian, old and new. You'll pass by a reconstruction of the original Roman Bridge and enter the synagogue—the only ancient synagogue still standing in Spain outside Toledo. You'll also stroll through the Juderia (Jewish Quarter), admiring the famous Andalucian patios of pretty ceramics, iron grilles, and plants.

    Your tour culminates at the Mezquita. Here you'll stroll through the courtyard filled with orange trees and fountains to the entryway, where you are greeted by 850 stunning colored granite and marble arches, illuminated by sunlight streaming through the cupolas. At the center of the mosque, find the 16th-century Renaissance cathedral with its mahogany pulpits and choir stalls. Surrounding the cathedral, the mosque remains almost untouched since the eleventh century, revealing some of the finest Islamic architecture in Spain.

    After your tour, you are free to have lunch on your own and continue making your own discoveries. Your Program Director will give you suggestions on how to spend your free time. Perhaps you'll explore the district's leather and furniture shops or stroll the Botanical Garden. Browse the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, founded by the patrons of Christopher Columbus, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Or simply people-watch at the vibrant Plaza Juda Levi.

    The evening is free. Your Program Director can give you suggestions for where to dine among Cordoba's many wonderful restaurants.

    Please note: Select departures will view the exterior of the synagogue only if it is closed.

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    Begin your journey to Granada after breakfast, arriving late in the morning. When the Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in AD 711, they claimed a hillside city that had been founded by the Romans and later settled by Visigoths, yet whose history dates to pre-historic times—Granada, which is believed to mean "great castle." The Moors chose Granada as the site to build their own mighty citadel—one of the great architectural wonders of all time: the Alhambra.

    Even from a distance, the Alhambra is a breathtaking sight, sprawling over a hilltop overlooking the city. Construction of the Alhambra began during the 13th century and continued over centuries, resulting in a mix of surfaces and styles. Enjoy an included tour of this complex of palaces and courtyards, a deliberate effort to create a paradise on Earth. Pass by patios, graceful arches, cupolas, fountains, and pools, the Royal Palace, the harem, and more.

    Enjoy an included lunch at a restaurant near the Alhambra before boarding the coach for your two-hour transfer to Torremolinos, on Spain's Costa del Sol. Your hotel is located in the heart of this popular resort area, a favorite vacation spot among Europeans.

    Settle into your hotel room before venturing out for dinner on your own at one of the attractive restaurants that line Torremolinos' seaside promenade.

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    You have the day free in Torremolinos. Perhaps you'll take a walk to La Carihuela, the original fishing village that was once all there was to Torremolinos. Today, its many cafes and restaurants are still the best places to go for fresh local seafood. Try pez espada (swordfish), pescaito frito (fish fried in olive oil), or the local specialty, pescado a la sal (bream or sea bass baked in a crispy coating of sea salt).

    Or you can join an optional tour across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco. When you dock in Africa, your Moroccan guide meets you at the port, and you'll enjoy an orientation tour of Tangier, visiting the Kasbah and souk, or marketplace. Next, you'll savor Moroccan cuisine and experience local culture during an included lunch.

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    In the morning, enjoy a tour to the Old Town of Malaga. Malaga is the main city of coastal Andalucia, and retains a distinctly Spanish flavor, with twisting, narrow streets and a lovely waterfront promenade. Tall palm and plane trees, bougainvillea, aloes, and geraniums make a luxurious tropical paradise alongside the clean, modern port. This is Picasso's birthplace, and was a popular winter holiday site for the 19th-century wealthy. A leisurely walk then takes us past the ruins of an ancient Roman theater, built more than 2,000 years ago.

    After your visit to Malaga, you'll journey into the countryside surrounding the Costa del Sol. You'll experience typical Spanish family life as you join a local family in their home in Salinas for an intimate visit and a freshly cooked meal, accompanied by wine.

    Together, you'll improvise a way to share conversation and learn more about one another—this usually involves the international language of hand signals and smiles! During this exclusive Discovery Series event, you'll enjoy an authentic and unique interpersonal exchange and come away with a deeper understanding of the local culture.

    For dinner on your own tonight, perhaps you'll sample tapas, which are said to have been invented here. These small sampler plates allow you to taste a wide range of Spanish specialties.

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    Visit Ronda en route to Seville today. One of the oldest cities in Spain, lovely Ronda—nicknamed the "Dream City" by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke—enjoys a lofty setting on a promontory overlooking El Tajo, a spectacular 360-foot-deep river gorge. Readers of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls will recognize El Tajo as the place from which Fascists were thrown to their deaths during the Spanish Civil War.

    Though its roots are in pre-historic times, Ronda is like many Andalucian cities in that it saw its glory days under Moorish rule. Conquered by the Christians in 1485, Ronda was one of the last strongholds of the Arabs, and Arab architecture dominates the old city, set on one side of the ravine. On the other side of El Tajo stands El Mercadillo (the "new" city), constructed mostly during the 18th century. Connecting the two halves of the city is the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), an amazing architectural feat built between 1755 and 1793 and spanning a dizzying drop over the gorge.

    You'll get a sense of both facets of the city during an included tour. Admire the whitewashed houses with charming balconies that line the winding streets of the old town, and view Santa Maria la Mayor, once the city's Great Mosque and later rebuilt as a Gothic Christian church. You'll also see the Palace of Mondragon, where Moorish kings and later King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella took up residence.

    After your tour, enjoy time for lunch on your own.

    Lovely views of the Spanish countryside do not end in Ronda today. This afternoon, you'll embark on a transfer to Seville along the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos—the "Route of the Whitewashed Villages." You'll see several of these classic Andalucian villages tucked into hillsides and framed with greenery during your scenic ride.

    Arrive in Seville later this afternoon and settle into your room.

    Gather with your fellow travelers this evening for an included dinner at your hotel.

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    Located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, Seville is fabled to have been settled by Hercules, and its wealth of magnificent monuments and buildings attest to its long and storied history. Founded by the Tartessians, the city was later settled by the Romans, and two of Rome's great emperors, Trajan and Hadrian, were born here. Seville was occupied by the Moors from AD 711 until 1248, and many of its most fascinating monuments date to that period. Today, Seville occupies a special place in Spanish culture, with its fiestas, bougainvillea, strolling musicians, and gypsies. The fourth-largest city in Spain, Seville is also renowned as the birthplace of flamenco and Don Juan.

    A half-day included tour this morning reveals the city's highlights, including the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a lovely neighborhood known for its maze-like cluster of narrow streets. Your Program Director will help you wind your way amidst the whitewashed homes, impressive mansions, and charming plazas, such as Plaza de Santa Cruz and Plaza de las Cruces. Admire—and smell—the flowering pots adorning the private patios that you pass. You'll also take in the architectural feat that is Seville Cathedral on this tour.

    The remainder of the day is yours to explore at leisure. Visit the Alcazar, official Seville residence of Spanish royalty. Explore the exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts, whose collections include works by Murillo and El Greco. Browse the shops along the Calle Sierpes, Seville's main shopping venue. Or simply relax at a cafe and enjoy the colorful whirl that is Seville.

    Tonight, enjoy an included dinner performance of the flamenco, the intensely emotional dance that was created here.

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    Today, as you travel to Portugal, you'll ride through the sweeping countryside of the Algarve, Portugal's southernmost region, before heading north to Lisbon. Along the way we'll stop in the region of Alentejo, where you'll visit a working horse farm and enjoy an exclusive opportunity to chat with the owners. You'll learn the wrenching story of how many families here lost their lands to the communists and the difficulties they encountered regaining their holdings. A horse presentation in the arena will give you the opportunity to learn the differences between breeds of horses raised here.

    After an included lunch at the farm, transfer to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where you'll check into your hotel this evening. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    After breakfast, discover Lisbon on an included tour. Built on seven hills, Lisbon has been Portugal's capital since the 13th century, and the area around the steepest hill, Sao Jorge, was first settled by Phoenicians in the twelfth century BC. They were followed by Carthaginians, Romans, several Germanic tribes, and Visigoths. In AD 714, the Moors captured Lisbon, and held it for the next 400 years.

    Portuguese explorers began colonizing parts of Africa and Asia at the beginning of the 15th century. Vasco da Gama set sail for India from Lisbon in 1497, and the city became a center for successful voyages of discovery throughout the East and the New World for the next 300 years. The immense riches brought back by these explorers and navigators ushered in a period of building and expansion that gave birth to the new Manueline architectural style, with its ornately carved decorative motifs. You'll see the best example of this style of architecture in the historic section of Belem. Here you'll see the 16th-century church of the Jeronimos Monastery, containing Vasco da Gama's tomb, the ornate Belem Tower, and the Monument of the Discoveries.

    The rest of the day is yours in Lisbon. Spend some time in the Alfama district, and enjoy the winding alleyways where the city's Moorish heritage thrives. Venture to St. George's Castle, constructed by the Moors on the site of a fifth-century Visigoth fort and once the residence of Portuguese kings. Admire the elegant carpets and crafts at the Musem-School of Decorative Arts. Visit Chiado, a fashionable shopping district. Enjoy lunch on your own at Lisbon's wide array of restaurants and cafes. Dinner tonight is included at a local restaurant.

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    This morning, embark on an included excursion to Sintra and Cascais. Begin at the Royal Palace in Sintra, dating back to the Middle Ages. During time on your own in Sintra, you’ll see why well-traveled English poet Lord Byron called the town “the most beautiful in the world.” Then continue to Cascais, a one-time humble fishing village that has grown into a lively coastal resort town. Please note: On days when Sintra Palace is closed for holidays or official celebrations, we will visit the Queluz National Palace instead.

    Enjoy the afternoon, then gather with your fellow travelers for a Farewell Dinner at your hotel.

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    • Meals included:

    Early this morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or begin your post-trip extension to The Island of Madeira.

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Traveler Reviews

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

  • This escorted tour of Spain features a fair amount of walking over uneven, unpaved, or cobbled surfaces, sometimes for up to two hours at a time.
  • For your comfort and safety, we recommend this program only to individuals in good physical condition. If you have difficulty walking or are wheelchair-bound, please consult our Travel Counselors for guidance.
  • We reserve the right for our Program Directors to modify participation, or in some circumstances send travelers home if their limitations are impacting the group's experience.

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Hotel Tryp Ambassador

    Madrid, Spain | Rating: First Class

    Conveniently located in Madrid's historic city center, the Hotel Tryp Ambassador is housed in the former Duques de Granada de Ega palace and is close to the Royal Palace, the Teatro de la Opera, the Grand Via, and numerous local shopping and entertainment options. It features a restaurant and bar, and each of its 182 rooms includes satellite TV, a telephone, wireless Internet access, safe, minibar, and a private bath with hair dryer.

  • Cordoba Center Hotel

    Cordoba, Spain

    The Cordoba Center Hotel opened in 2006 and is located on "the Golden Block" in the center of the city, next to the high-speed train station, giving you excellent access to Cordoba’s attractions. Hotel amenities include a restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool with a panoramic view. Your air-conditioned room includes a telephone, satellite TV, safe deposit box, minibar, high-speed Internet access, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • Hotel Melia Costa del Sol

    Torremolinos, Spain | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located along the seafront, the Hotel Melia Costa del Sol provides up-close views of Torremolinos’ golden beaches. Amenities include two restaurants, cocktail lounge, fitness center, outdoor swimming pool, and beauty salon. Each room includes a telephone, satellite TV, Internet access, radio/alarm, safe, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Sevilla Center

    Seville, Spain | Rating: Superior First Class

    Built in 2003, this centrally located, Superior First-Class hotel offers travelers panoramic views of the city and easy access to local landmarks, including the Seville Cathedral and La Plaza de Espana. Hotel amenities include a bar and restaurant, an outdoor pool, currency exchange, laundry/dry-cleaning services, and gift shop. Your air-conditioned room features a telephone, TV, safe, and minibar.

  • Hotel Mundial

    Lisbon, Portugal | Rating: Moderate First Class

    The Moderate First-Class Hotel Mundial is located in the Baixa Pombalina district of the city center. It is close to the historic Praca do Rossio, one of Lisbon’s main squares since the Middle Ages, making it a good base for exploring the city. The hotel features two restaurants—one of which offers a panoramic view of the Old Town—and a bar. Your air-conditioned room includes telephone, satellite TV, radio/alarm, safe, minibar, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

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  • Gallery Hotel

    Barcelona, Spain | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class Gallery Hotel is centrally located in Barcelona, with convenient access to the city’s many shops, restaurants, and galleries. The hotel features a sauna, outdoor pool, solarium, and on-site restaurant. Each air-conditioned room is equipped with wireless Internet access, cable and satellite TV, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Barcelona Center

    Barcelona, Spain

    The Hotel Barcelona Center is located in the Eixample District of the city, within walking distance of the Passeig de Gracia, which features many of Antoni Gaudi’s finest architectural works. The hotel features an onsite restaurant which boasts a menu of authentic Mediterranean cuisine, as well as a solarium terrace bar. Each room includes air conditioning, satellite TV, Internet access, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Melia Madeira Mare

    Funchal, Portugal

    The Hotel Melia Madeira Mare is located on the scenic Madeira coastline. The hotel offers five restaurants and bars, heated swimming pools, a library, game room, salon, and spa. Your air-conditioned room features a telephone, TV, safe, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Home-Hosted Lunch. Share local cuisine and hospitality as you gather in the home of a Spanish family in Salinas.
  • Horse-breeding farm visit. At a horse-breeding farm, you'll talk with the owners about the nature of their work, the different types of horses bred there, and the role of horses in Portuguese culture.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • El Escorial
  • Historic Center of Toledo
  • Historic Center of Cordoba
  • The Alhambra
  • Gothic Cathedral of Seville
  • Lisbon’s Belem Tower
  • The Palace of Sintra

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Europe

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Spain & Portugal in Depth vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

   

Judy Massey, an 11-time traveler from Fort Worth, Texas, takes a moment with fellow travelers to enjoy "just another day in paradise" in Torremolinos, Spain.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

10 reasons to experience Spain & Portugal in Depth—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. Here are some of the memorable experiences that they have shared with us from Spain & Portugal in Depth.

Reservations & Information: Call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

1. Ronda, Spain

“I loved the city of Ronda probably more than any of the other places we visited because of its unusual position—high on a hill overlooking rolling hills and farms far below. Gorgeous!”A 4-time traveler from Loveland, CO

2. Local cuisine

“We thoroughly enjoyed the food (Hurrah for tapas and olives!), and the wine—to the tune of 8 lbs. on ONE of us! ... The pastries, wine and markets we explored were amazing.” A 4-time traveler from Plano, TX

3. Barcelona, Spain pre-trip extension

“No trip to Spain should go without a visit to Barcelona, so I am so glad we took the pre-trip to there. We had fabulous weather, interesting history, architecture like no other, and the beautiful natural sights.” A 13-time traveler from Modesto, CA

4. Horse-breeding farm visit

"Another was the horse farm in Portugal. The farm was lovely and the stable that Maria, our host, had set up into a dining room for all 38 of us ... the food was exceptional including soup, salad, and a full meal and dessert. Then we were welcomed into her arena in seats above the arena. We were served coffee with a piece of cake. The horses then performed by her trained helpers. What a unique experience.” A 8-time traveler from Coon Rapids, MN

5. Madrid, Spain

“Madrid was beautiful and the people were very friendly ... I went inside the Royal Palace on my own (during free time) which was definitely fun, and I thought well worth it. I also went to visit the cathedral next door to the Palace ... It would have been so easy to spend two weeks in Madrid alone. My husband and I spent the afternoon at the Prado seeing most of the art of the Spanish Masters. That was a treat. We enjoyed walking the streets and stopping to sample tapas and Spanish wine at the many cafes in the city.” A 4-time traveler from Webster, NY

6. Flamenco

“It was very memorable listening to the flamenco dancer telling us about the history of the dance and then watching all the men fall in love with her.” A 3-time traveler from Louisville, KY

7. The Island of Madeira, Portugal post-trip extension

“Our highlight of so many was the extension to Maderia. That is a "do not miss." The small island out in the Atlantic Ocean is so diverse ... We never saw so many and different types of flowers. Keukenhof Gardens cannot match. My favorite was the beautiful orange flowers on the Tulip tree. So large and lovely.” A 17-time traveler from Mankato, MN

8. Cordoba, Spain

“The absolute highlight of the trip for me was an unforgettable visit to the Mezquita (Great Mosque) in Cordoba. This amazing structure is a beautiful and fascinating building that symbolizes the many religious changes that Spain has undergone over the centuries. Today, the Mezquita is the cathedral of Cordoba but the vast majority of its art and architecture is the work of Islamic architects who built it in the 8th century. It was absolutely breathtaking!”  A 4-time traveler from Birmingham, MI

9. Program Director

“We had the absolute best guide, Juan Jose Perez, who shared his vast knowledge and wonderful personality with us. In additional to all the scheduled discovery experiences, Juan Jose took us on optional discoveries that gave us an even closer look at his country. He was a wealth of information and always willing to help.” A 12-time traveler from Livonia, MI

10. The Alhambra

“At Granada the Alhambra was just as spectacular as promised. The gardens were beautiful and our guides were well-informed. This side trip was excellent. I will never forget standing in the spot where Queen Isabella gave Christopher Columbus permission to sail east to find the West Indies!” A 4-time traveler from Falling Waters, WV

Flamenco: Heart of Spanish Dance

A national culture displayed through fiery movements & a pulsing beat

by Carley Thornell, Grand Circle associate

Traditional flamenco artists rarely received formal training, instead learning by listening and watching relatives, friends, and neighbors.

The resounding chords of a furiously strumming guitarist keep the precise rhythms of compas, Spanish metre and time signature. An impassioned vocalist claps and walks to the beat. The vibrations from a cajon drum box beat like a collective heartbeat. And a dancer assumes the spotlight.

This woman with dark bun, swirling ruffles, fringed shawl, ruby lips, and nails to match, has come to symbolize the very essence of flamenco. This lined yet beautiful face, this body that is no longer slender but still lithe, belongs to one of the art form’s most recognizable women: Matilde Coral.

This septuagenarian embodies the essence of the duende, or soul of flamenco. Unlike other forms of dance, where dancers turn professional early and youth is often the most valued quality, flamenco dancers don’t peak until they’re in their 30s—or beyond. It’s an art form that embraces wisdom and experience, all channeled into passionate, and at times plaintive, movements. The Spanish Civil War-era poet, dramatist, and theater director Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote of this essence:

The duende, then, is a power … I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat, the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”

For Matilde, this spirit was cultivated from the time the soles of her feet learned to walk on the Andalusian terrain. Born in 1935 in Seville—credited as the birthplace of flamenco dance (baile), guitar (toque), and song (cante)—she started dancing in clubs at age 16, borrowing the ID of her 18-year-old cousin to work legally. At age 20, she was hired to work at El Guajiro, the seminal club that pioneered the phasing in of tablao flamenco establishments in lieu of cabarets nationwide. There, amidst the mirrored walls and bullfighting posters, she met her husband, Rafael El Negro.

Though she has found fame in her footwork, Matilde’s experience isn’t uncommon in that her training started in her mother’s small living room; likewise for Rafael, often referred to as a “gypsy dancer.” Traditional flamenco artists rarely received formal training, instead learning by listening and watching relatives, friends, and neighbors. In its most authentic form, flamenco can be seen danced informally at Gitano (gypsy) weddings and gatherings in Spain, and etymology of the dance and its eponymous music is, in the eyes of many historians and countrymen, synonymous with this nomadic people.

Those many different forms have evolved, flamenco puro, with hips moving and arms curving around the head and body, is considered to be closest to these Gitano origins. This dance is performed solo, improvised rather than choreographed. Voluminous, commercialized costumes are discouraged, and props like castanets and fans are sometimes frowned upon. There have been no greater proponents of puro than Matilde and the late Rafael, whose Seville School of Andalusian Dance, founded in 1967, promotes these traditions.

Throughout the rest of Europe, where ballet uses academies and encourages precision and grace, its tutu-clad primas never outshine the choreography, each move executed as planned. Romance-language words ballet and baile sound similar, but they are worlds apart, the latter a poor man’s dance, of and for the people.