Spain Tour – Tour Day 6

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By Susan Mahr

October 10

Everyone went to breakfast at their leisure and were in the reception area by the appointed time of 9:20. There was a little confusion about what to do with the luggage, but it was finally determined that a taxi was coming to take the suitcases to the bus. We stood outside in the cool air under clearing skies (there had been a complete blanket of clouds earlier) until the minibus-style taxi got there. We then walked the two blocks to where Paco was already loading our bags in the back of the bus, boarded and then were on our way about 15 minutes later. We drove out of the city, stopping frequently for traffic lights, passing by Maria Luisa Park again, and going along the Guadalquivir River and out of the city.

It was still comfortably cool at 9:55 when we stopped and got off the bus to see Jardín Botánico El Arboreto de El Carambolo on the outskirts of town (opposite the Coca de la Piñera neighborhood in Camas), with an hour to explore the 4 hectare landscaped garden with a collection of over 600 species of tropical, subtropical and Mediterranean plants in nearly 120 botanical families. This garden was built in 1986 by EMASESA, the water company of Seville, as a way to stabilize the hillside and protect their water supply. It offers good overlooks of the city, but it was a little hazy this day. We wandered the meandering stone pathways and wider gravel walkways to see the collections of medicinal and aromatic plants, an area of vines, beds of salvias and other herbaceous perennials from Mediterranean climates, tall trees of various sorts (most labeled), the central lagoon with some aquatic and edge plants, and some tropical fruits. We thought it ironic that the only plants being watered in the entire garden were the cactus and succulents!

We were back on the bus well before 11:00 and headed back around the city, crossing over the wide Guadalquivir River again over one of several bridges back to the city and then to head toward Cordoba. Soon we were driving between flat agricultural fields of brown plowed earth, cotton waiting to be harvested, and a few green irrigated plots along with a variety of industrial buildings. Then we started some groves of widely spaced gray-green olive trees, some tall eucalyptus around buildings, and pink-flowering oleanders in the highway median. Soon it was just fields and a few olive groves, with the town of Carmona off in the distance, and then lots more dry, golden brown fields on the flat to gently undulating plain.  Off to one side there was a tall solar collector, essentially a tower with a big mirror to direct the sun’s rays onto solar panels below. More dry fields, whitewashed houses, another small town with multiple church spires, followed by more agricultural lands. Now more extensive olive groves as the land became more rolling, with the gentle slopes covered in perfectly spaced gray-green trees. Then it was back to mostly flat land with dry plowed fields, olive groves, white houses and ruins of houses, a few palms here and there and more and more olives before exiting to take the A-445 toward Posadas about 12:20. We continued driving through more and more olive groves nearly completely covering the hillsides now, but soon those gave way to a solar farm and open fields of plowed red soil or golden stubble amid the grey-green olive trees and a few citrus orchards. We drove by a field of cotton being harvested, over a small river, and into the town of Posada, skirting around most of the white and tan buildings to continue on out the other side – back to olives and citrus, plowed fields and a little irrigated alfalfa and vegetables.

 

When we arrived at 1:00 at Palacio y Jardines de Moratalla, one of the most unique places in Andalusia, our guide Marlysse was waiting at the magnificent huge iron gate with decoration of hunting grounds and central shield. The gates opened so we could walk down the leafy lane flanked by extraordinarily tall London plane trees to the house.  Marlysse led us first into the ballroom in the former horse stables so we could use the toilets, then walked back out in front of the house to learn the history of the place. Owned by the Duke of Segorbe, the house and other buildings were built in the nineteenth century and the garden designed in the early 20th century in the style of Versailles (but tempered with Spanish elements) by a series of previous owners, with buildings added and refurbished over the years. The history of the area goes back to Roman times, but it never became important until the current king of the time began spending time here. We went back inside the first courtyard where Marlysse explained raised stone floors were used to hold water for evaporative cooling, not just decorative. She pointed out the tiles hung on the wall which indicated all the times the king had visited, with vines starting to cover it – the foliage hiding the tiles during times when the monarchy was not in favor and marauders would have destroyed them had they been visible. The courtyard had a very formal, sheared boxwood partier in each of the quarters surrounding the central pavilion with stone benches. We walked by the horse troughs and back into the converted stables before heading over to the Mirror Room, where the walls and ceiling were adorned with reflective silver-colored panels (not true mirrors). Down at the far end another room perpendicular to the long hall was decorated in a very different style with a grand staircase for brides to descend (and also used in many adverts, including for London’s Harrod’s department store.

Then we went outside to see the small restored chapel topped with two arches with bells, with perfectly clipped low boxwood hedges, and back out through the courtyard to view the garden below the house. The older upper section – the Parterre Grande – consisted of sweeping curved boxwood hedges in the shape of a flower surrounding symmetrical beds of agapanthus and overshadowed by a curving line of tall plane trees and a double line of chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum), with a small, foliage covered fountain decorated with figures of children and hunting dogs on rocks in the central pool. Running out of time, we had to move quickly down to the newer, lower garden, which was a series of eight levels going down the gentle slope, each with different ornamental elements down its length, with the whole intended to represent infinity (the figure eight viewed on its side).

We took a short flight of steps perpendicular to the elongate garden past blooming yuccas up to another level.  There the formality of the garden dissolved into wild forest beyond, with a long tunnel of green running parallel to the main formal garden. We walked along this path back toward the house, stopping to look at another lower level garden falling into disrepair, with a couple of small columns at the end which indicated the way to the train station (left) or house (right). We then walked up to the side of house where there was a large, flat lawn dotted with boxwood spheres under tall plane trees, and rushed over to the backside of the house where there is a gingerbread-decorated like house, formerly a cow stable, now used as a staging area for the bride before weddings on the nearby lawn. In front of the house a white picket fence enclosed plantings of roses around a central pool with bordering by orange trees, love trees (Cersis siliquastrum), and pygmy date palms (Phoenix dactylifera).  Finally we walked back past the house and along the tree-lined lane to get to the bus on the other side of the iron gates.

We left at 2:15, and drove back into Posadas to arrive at La Posadas del Rey on Calle Mesones about 2:30. We were led through the stuffy restaurant into a cool back room with one long table set with little dishes of green olives and house-made potato chips, plus an empty dish for olive pits. Water and wine was brought out, soon followed by bread, a mixed salad with tuna, tomato, sweet corn kernels, hardboiled eggs and olives topping a large pile of iceberg lettuce and a couple of platters of sliced manchego and jamon iberico. Next a Spanish omelet was served, followed by a tower of deep-fried eggplant slivers with honey. Our final starter was small individual bowls of very thick, garlicy salmorejo, a cold vegetable soup based on tomato thickened with bread and topped with ham and hardboiled egg. The grand finale was the arroz caldoso, a rice and meat dish typical of Córdoba (similar to paella). It was wonderful, but served in giant portions that was WAY too much for anyone to eat. So we asked for take away containers, but they only had one, so Marta, who had originally asked about the possibility, got hers to go. For dessert we had typical Cordoba cake, a puff pastry crust with “angel’s hair” (thinly shredded apple), and coffee. Totally stuffed, we finally left (way behind schedule) a little before 4:15.

We drove out of town, getting back on the main highway toward Córdoba, driving through more rolling hills covered with grey-green olives and other native vegetation, dark green orange trees, and golden dry grass under clear blue skies. We soon turned off the main road and wound down a sinuous road toward the stereotypical castle on the hill with square towers topped with battlements, before creeping up a narrow road around hairpin turns on the zig-zag road up the steep hill.

Our next stop was the castle of Almodóvar, one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Andalusia. This fortress dating back to 740 AD was built by the Arabs and was named Almudawwar Al Ádna. It first belonged to the Caliphate of Córdoba, later to the independent emirates of Seville, Carmona and Toledo, then was used as a royal residence, prison and treasury by King Peter I. In 1692 it was sold by King Phillip IV sold the castle and town of Almodóvar del Rio to Mr. Francisco de Corral y Guzman and it remained in that family ever since. In 1902 Rafael Desmaissières y Farina, 12th Earl of Torralva, began the restorations that would take 36 years to complete to the state it is today. We had an hour to spend looking at the various displays, walk along the ramparts in the broiling sun, climb some of the towers for great views of the Guadalquivir Valley (and as far as Córdoba when it’s not hazy), and check out the recreations of medieval castle life in a few interior rooms.

We were back on the bus by 5:35 to make our way slowly back down the steep hill, where we stopped in a parking lot at the base of the hill for photos of the entire castle in the golden afternoon light. We drove through more agriculture on the flat plain between low hills, past small towns and industrial buildings as we got closer to Córdoba on the A-431. Then we were in slow-moving city traffic, stopping at light after light until we got to the cobblestone streets of the old city, driving past the ancient fortified city walls to as close as we could get to our hotel. We climbed out at a plaza where horse drawn carriages were parked (and the air reeked of horse manure) and hauled out suitcases a short way along a narrow stone street to get to another Hotel Casas de la Judería about 6:30. After getting keys and a personal tour to each room, we had the rest of the evening free. Some people wandered around the cobbled streets of the old town, and a few gathered in the open air courtyard for drinks and snacks after dark, enjoying the perfume of the jasmine trained into umbrella-like shapes on pillars in the courtyard.

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