Andalusian Dreams 2015
Orange blossoms and jacaranda trees; ochre hills and saltern beaches; raw gypsy tunes and ships Ahoy! This is the mystic land of Andalucia, possibly the oldest human settlement in Europe and the place that gave rise to the myth of Atlantis. To all travelers exploring its shores, its people and its culture, and to all those experiencing Andalucia vicariously, here is a literary tribute to a most memorable land.
WEEK 1 Romantic Andalus
Day 1 Arrive in Madrid and get your first taste of Spain with a leisurely stroll through El Retiro, a romantic green oasis in the heart of this cultured metropolis. Right next door is The Prado and its standout collection of Spanish master painters, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art, showcasing Picasso and Dali. Read James Michener’s epic Iberia for an understanding of its grandeur and lasting impact.
Day 2 Head to Cordoba, glorious seat of the Moorish empire. Dazzle your senses with a plunge in the aromatic baths at Medina Califal; marvel in awe at the grandeur of the mosque turned cathedral and lose yourself in the many antiquarian shops in the old city centre. Read flowing Andalus verses by a murmuring fountain under a star-lit sky.
Day 3 You are now ready for Seville, the jewel of an Empire that once ruled over 4 continents and 3 oceans. Bike along the sluggish Guadalquivir into hip Triana with its vibrant tilework, artisan shops and inviting tapas bars. Cross into the shade of the Maria Luisa park and take in the retro Expo site. Retrace your steps past the old tobacco factory into the old town for a fulminating dance performance at the Flamenco Museum. Read Merimee’s gypsy story, Carmen about a love triangle as fiery as any flamenco tune.
Day 4 Blockbuster Sevilla begins with a climb up the famous Giralda tower, followed by a visit of the gold-dripping Cathedral and the mosaic-laden Real Alcazar, the Moorish palace. While away the heat in the spectacular interlocking Moorish gardens of the Alcazar and in the evening go up the Torre D’Orro for an unforgetable sunset view of the city. Read Javier Falcon mysteries for a contemporary take on Seville’s ancient haunts.
Day 5 Wander the twisted lanes of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the old Arab quarter: take a peak into the secluded patios overgrown with oleander and palm trees; sample aromatic oils, heady sherry wine, dried figs and nuts in the many shops littering the streets; and don’t forget to take in the curious mushroom shape of Seville’s city hall – The Umbrella. End your visit in traditional fashion at La Mestranza, the bullring and bullfighting museum, or marvel at Seville’s master painters in the cooling salons of the Museum de Belle Artes. For an eye-opening account of Sevillano bullfighting culture, read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon .
WEEK 2 Dynamic Andalus
Day 1: Drive south through Andalucia’s famed whitewashed towns of Ronda and Arcos, perched precariously on a narrow gorge sprouting olive trees and lemons and onto Jerez de la Frontera for some sherry tasting and an equestrian demonstration at its renowned Royal Riding School. Read Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons, ex-Genesis guitarist who turned over a new leaf in the rugged charm of this region.
Day 2: Spend a day in the colorful bustle of Malaga, along the sprawling promenade of the port, where cruise ships dock, sunbathers delight on sugar white sand, strollers seek shade under cypress and plane trees, and boutique stores entice with trendy designer wares and lip-smacking home-baked desserts. History buffs get their fix with a visit to the Roman arena and nearby medieval fortress, which offers a panoramic view of the city. Read Quevedo’s cheeky El Buscon, a swashbuckling tale of improbable adventures and naughty swindlers as only port towns can attract.
Day 3: Take the sun at the beach in laid back Nerja or upscale Marbella and read up on Costa del Sol’s seedy nightlife as revealed in J.G. Ballard’s explosive dystopia Cocaine Nights.
Day 4: It’s time to discover Granada and the hidden wonders of the Alhambra, captured by William Irving in his classic read Tales of the Alhambra.
Day 5: Return to Madrid for a visit of the Royal Palace, topped off by shopping in the glamour of Gran Via. Swap your books for a must-see live soccer game in the celebrated Stadio Bernabeu, where fans of Real Madrid are guaranteed to get your blood roaring with their chants and cheers. Ole!
Bella Italia 2013
Rolling vineyards and rugged coastlines, majestic ruins and awe-inspiring cathedrals, this is an epic country waiting to be discovered step by step and page by page over and over again.
Week 1 ROME
Day 1. Enter the Eternal City through the Via Appia and walk the cobblestones of the Centro Storico to Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona. Read Goethe’s evocative Roman Elegies.
Day 2. Explore Imperial Rome, with the Colosseum, the Forum, the Palatine Hill, the Campidoglio & Vittorio Emanuele’s monument, ending at the Area Sacra. Read Virgil’s Aeneid about the early days of Rome.
Day 3. Visit the Vatican Museum and Gardens, with a stop at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo and his work in the Sistine Chapel.
Day 4. Start off with the majestic Pantheon, then cross to Castel San’t Angelo for a bird’s-eye view of the city and stroll along the Tiber to artsy Trastevere. Read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown for an exciting mystery set in the Castel.
Day 5. Splurge along the Via Veneto, then into the Villa Borghese and the Borghese gardens, and continue down the Spanish Steps along the Corso, with a final stop at the Trevi Fountain. Read Sarah Dunant’s tale of greed and corruption Blood and Beauty: The Borgias.
Day 1. Smell the lemons in the gardens of Sorrento, hang out at the beach, hunt for souvenirs in artisan shops and have dinner at the Marina Grande. Read poems by local Torquato Tasso.
Day 2. Dip into the cool waters off Capri, take a ferry around the island and admire the grand view from the top of Monte Solarno. Read the classic Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe about life on Capri a century ago.
Day 3. Relive the glories of the Roman Empire by visiting the lost city of Pompeii. Read Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa about an enduring Pompeiian mystery.
Day 4. Hike the trails of Cinque Terre, stopping for ice cream in Corniglia and a cappuccino in Vernazza. Read Italo Calvino’s nature romp The Baron in the Trees.
Day 5. Sunbathe on the beach of Monterosso, ferry along the coast to Riomaggiore and take a walk along the Via Amore to Manarola. Read Annie Hawes’ romantic Extra Virgin: Amongst the Olive Groves of Liguria. Week 3. TUSCANY
Day 1: Be a student for a day on the University Greens of Pisa, with its Baptistery, Cathedral and Leaning Tower. Read Umberto Ecco’s literate mystery The Name of the Rose.
Day 2. Chill out at the colourful market square in Cortona and admire the sweeping vista of olive groves and vineyards in Castiglion Fiorentino. Read Florence Mayes’ inspiring Under the Tuscan Sun about building a house in Cortona.
Day 3. Experience the glories of Renaissance Italy in Florence, including the Uffizi Galleries, Palazzo Vecchio and the majestic Il Duomo. Read Ross King’s art guide Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.
Day 4. Try a wine tasting tour in Val d’Orcia, stopping in Montepulciano, Pienza and Montalcino. Read Boccacio’s lighthearted collection of short stories The Decameron.
Day 5. Visit Sienna for a romantic getaway and a perfect bottle of red Chianti. Read Petrarch’s love sonnets Canzoniere.
Day 1. Boat on Lake Trasimeno and try beach volleyball or a game of water polo. Read Michael Dibdin’s first Aurelio Zen mystery Ratking set in rugged Perugia.
Day 2. Get lost in the streets of Venice, shop in the Rialto and see the sun set along the Grand Canal from the heights of the Campanile before stopping for a show at the legendary opera house La Fenice. Read Carlo Goldoni’s hilarious play The Venetian Twins.
Day 3. Relive the rich history of Venice with a tour of the Doge’s Palace and San Marco’s Basilica. Read about Casanova’s daring escape from the Palazzo Ducale in his autobiography.
Day 4. For the incurable romantic, travel to Verona, visiting the Giusti Gardens and Juliet’s House, and indulge in an open-air opera performance at night at the Arena di Verona. Read Shakespeare’s first comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Day 5. Windowshop along the arcades of Bologna to the Piazza Maggiore for a last good-bye to Bella Italia. Read about the expat experience in Forster’s Room with a View.