Spain is the home of Columbus and his patrons
Ferdinand and Isabella, Cervantes and his hero
Don Quixote, Picasso and his lament to war, Guernica.
The range of its past glories mirrors the variety
of sights a tourist can pursue. I began my sojourn
in there on its Mediterrean coast in Barcelona
and the towns and villages of the Costa Brava
(The STAR, last week). Today I move on to tell
you about more of its fascinations.
Mallorca is the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands
- in the Mediterranean about a forty minute flight
from Barcelona. The island is a vacation mecca
with most beachside towns crowded with foreign
tourists. We chose the privacy of the most secluded
part of the island. Past Port Pellenca, on the
peninsula jutting out at the northwestern part
of the island, sits the Hotel Formentor (34 971
89 91 00, double seaside rooms with breakfast,
$280/nite). The hotel, an imposing white edifice
overlooking Formentor Bay, is a prestigious 127
room hotel with a palatial grandeur. The grounds,
the gardens, the views are royal, although the
decor is unfashionably old. The 1995 European
Economic Summit was held here. And besides heads
of state, the hotel has hosted celebrity guests
from Charlie Chaplin to Michael Douglas to the
Dali Lama. Kidman and Cruise stayed here as well
and just envisioning that couple once sharing
our abode, gave the place an added romance. There
are tennis courts, putting greens, a heated pool,
and the softest of sandy beaches with shallow
turquoise water reached along a garden path. Dinner
at their restaurant "El Pi" is al fresco,
on a beautiful azalea draped patio overlooking
the sea, with white coat and black tie service.
Here we chatted with a British couple who honeymooned
at the Formentor and noted, in praise of the hotel,
that they had been coming here each year since
for 35 years.
Mallorca has a diversity of terrain from desert
chaparral to seaside evergreen forests. Particularly
unique are the many hillside towns with extensive
stone wall terraces supporting groves of olive
trees. Surveying the island, there are miles of
steep and windy roads. Drive to up to the lighthouse
at Cap Formentor for the most spectacular views
of the mountains and the sea; into the hills to
the Monastery de Lluc, with Gaudi designed statues
marking a spiritual hillside path; down again
to the sea and the Caves de Arta with its cathedral
like cavern; through the picturesque hillside
towns of Deja and Valdemosa; and finally to the
From our room in the ultra-modern Hotel Melia
Victoria (43 971 73 25 42, double room with breakfast,
$140/nite), our view was of Palma dominated by
the beauty of its cathedral set atop a hill before
a shore sprinkled with palm trees and a harbor
dotted with hundred of masted sails. Downtown
Palma has its sights - its 13th century Gothic
cathedral with tombs of Mallorcan kings; the Almudaina
Palace, the royal Moorish residence of the Middle
Ages; and Bellver castle, a 14th century moated
castle with a circular courtyard and turreted
towers. But aside from its history, Palma's charm
lies in its nightlife along the beachfront strip
of Avinguda Maritim. Here there are a myriad of
outdoor cafes, restaurants, and clubs. The Hotel
Melia Victoria sits on the Maritim and it was
convenient to find a café nearby to people watch.
A young man stood on our corner handing out invitations
to a private club. He was selective, choosing
only the most attractive or "hip." So,
downing pizza and sangria, we played our own game
of guessing who he would accept and who he would
reject. Late, we left to return to our hotel,
too old, too weary looking, to get an invitation.
Spain's capital, Madrid, is a 75 minute flight
from Mallorca. We stayed at the Hotel Suecia (34
91 531 69 00, double room with breakfast, $150/nite).
There was no glamor or elegance to the 128-room
Suecia but its rooms were comfortable and well
appointed, and its location near the Paseo del
Prado was perfect for a walking tour to many of
Madrid's best attractions. Again, we surveyed
the city by an hour long open air bus tour.
For me Madrid's premier attractions are its museums.
If you love art, there are three not to be missed
and you can buy a tryp-ticket to all of them for
about $7.00. In timing your visits, be aware of
when they're closed. The Prado and Thyssen Bornemisza
are closed on Mondays; the Reina Sofia on Tuesdays.
The Thyssen Bornemisza was my favorite with a
well organized and displayed collection showing
off great masters from medieval to modern art.
Their audio tour was wonderfully informative.
Just a short walk down the Paseo del Prado is
the Prado. Housed in a magnificent 18th century
building, the Prado is often ranked with the Louvre
in Paris as one of the world's great museums.
But in truth, while its collection is grand, it
doesn't compare with the grandeur of the Louvre
and I enjoyed the Thyssen far more. In the Prado,
there are no audio tours for rent and at the height
of the tourist season, they had no English language
brochures. But there are English speaking guides
at the entry and it would be prudent to hire one
to point out the highlights of the Prado's vast
collection of Goya, Valesquez, El Greco, and Murrillo.
A half mile further down the Paseo del Prado,
across from the old central train station, is
the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. The prize of this
collection is Picasso's Guernica, which many regard
as the most famous painting of the 20th century.
Besides its huge collection of Picassos, the Reina
Sofia also displays extensive works by Miro and
Most of Madrid's attractions can be easily reached
by their extensive subway system. At the west
end of downtown is the huge and lavish Royal Palace.
Prepare for neck strain as you scan each impressive
room, gawking at ceiling frescos, monumental paintings,
unique marble floors, exquisite furniture, and
the most remarkable variety of huge, ornate brass
and crystal chandeliers. Built by Philip V, Napoleon
rightly declared it to be the equal of Versaille.
Just southeast of the palace is the Plaza Mayor.
Walled in by 17th century buildings, the plaza,
filled with outdoor cafes and souvenir stores,
is not particularly attractive. But it is worth
walking through just to see where the trials and
executions of the Spanish Inquisition were held.
The Salamanca district, in the area between Calle
de Serrano and Calle de Jose Ortega y Gasset,
was my wife's favorite tourist attraction. Margaret
considered this Madrid's best shopping area. Here
you'll find everything from the department store
Cortes Ingles to an assortment of upscale establishments
like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Versace.
You can't leave Spain without seeing flamenco.
The flamenco restaurant Torres Bermetaj (34 91
531 69 00; Mesonero Romanos, 11) is an intimate
place with Moorish décor and tables so close that
you make immediate friendships with nearby diners.
And that was perhaps as much a joy as the show
Our last destination in Spain was Seville, an
hour flight from Madrid. Here again we stayed
in an unremarkable but comfortable and well-located
hotel, the Hotel Becquer (95 422 89 00, double
room with breakfast, $135). The Becquer, a 118
room hotel with exceedingly warm and attentive
service, sits in the heart of old Sevilla. It
is just a block from the riverwalk and from several
good outdoor riverfront restaurants on the Calle
Betis, and a ten minute walk to the city's main
attractions - the bullring, the cathedral, the
Seville, Spain's fourth largest city, is much
smaller, more walkable than Barcelona or Madrid.
The first area in Spain conquered by the Moors
in 711 and last area recaptured by the Christians
in the 13th century, Seville has more than 500
years of Moorish culture still engrained in its
character. Seville was the setting for the passions
of Don Juan, Bizet's Carmen, and Mozart's Figaro.
Spain's 16th century explorers returned here from
the new world depositing their treasures in the
Torre del Oro, the Tower of Gold, a tourist attraction
along the riverfront.
During a casual walk on our first day in Seville,
we crossed over the bridge, Puente Isabell II,
to explore the Triana area, an old gypsy neighborhood
reputedly named for the local sailor who was the
first to sight land on Columbus' 1492 voyage.
Here we had the fortune to run into crowds celebrating
the Fiesta de Triana. Hundreds of locals were
dressed in traditional, gypsy-like garb, preparing
for a religious pilgrimage to the city of Huelga,
60 miles to the south. Dozens of wood-sided and
canvas covered wagons pulled by horse and tractor
were readying to transport the celebrants, following
a statue of the virgin carried under a silver
At Seville's cathedral with its landmark belltower,
La Giralda, another celebration was in progress
with soldiers on parade. At this stage of our
journey, we were perhaps suffering from a cathedral
overdose, blind to the grandeur of Seville's cathedral,
one of the largest gothic churches in the world,
comparable to St. Peters in Rome and St. Pauls
in London. But inside, I was most enthralled with
the Tomb of Columbus, an ornate marble coffin
carried by four bearers representing the kings
of Spain. It was only a little disappointing to
discover that this was but one of two tombs alleging
to hold Columbus' remains.
The Reales Alcazares just across the square from
La Giralda was the palace of the Moorish kings
and later the Christian kings of Spain. Its mix
of fanciful gardens with fountains, terraces,
and shaded pavillions about a palace with many
central courtyards, ornate archways, and intricately
designed tiled walls, is called Mudejar style
Besides the ancient city, Seville also has wonderful
architecture of more modern eras. To the west,
across Seville's main river, the Rio Guadalquivir,
are several unusual suspension bridges leading
to modern pavillions and an amusement park all
built for Seville's 1992 Expo World Fair. The
Plaza de Espana in the south of the city was built
for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. It is
a marvelous semi-circular pavillion with a central
waterway where you can rent row boats. Across
from the Plaza de Espana is Maria Luisa Park,
worth a stroll for its wonderful landscapes, fountains
Perhaps the premier place to stay in Seville,
one certainly to be my choice should I return,
is the Hotel Alfonso XIII. The interior is modelled
after a Moorish palace, like the Alcazar, with
fabulous handpainted tiled walls and ceilings,
marble pillars, ornate archways, and a cool, serene
central courtyard and fountain. We sat here in
the late evening listening to the wistful melody
of a piano and violin playing "our song."
And so came to an end a two week sojourn in Spain,
an old, yet modern country that well rewarded
this visitor with its history, its beauty, and