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International: Iberian Peninsula – Spain and Portugal

June 25, 2015

Spain

From the sunny shores of the Mediterranean to the rolling Contraviesa foothills of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, the country of Spain boasts so many charming locations for honeymooners to escape.

The Andalucia region in southern Spain is the perfect place to ignite your passion. Embrace your sweetheart as you watch the fortress walls around Alhambra glow pink at sunset. Indulge your palate in the culinary mecca of Granada. The local tapas are rustic foods, served fresh and in season – your appetite will appreciate the rich flavors of indigenous seafood, gazpacho, and jamón serrano (cured thinly sliced ham) in the warmer months. During the cooler season, savor the Sherry wines of the rainy Jerez area or the dessert wines from the higher elevations of Montilla-Moriles.

In the scenic mountain town of Ronda, cross the 390-feet deep Tajo Gorge via the Puente Nuevo. This bridge is anything but “new” – after 40 years of construction, it was completed in 1793 and, like most of the area, much remains unchanged. The birthplace of modern bull-fighting, pay a small admission fee and take your place in the center of the oldest stone bullring, used every fall during Feria de Pedro Romero. Visit the museums on the traditional – yet controversial – sport in Ronda and Seville, which also boasts one of the finest and oldest bullrings in the country.

Christopher Columbus waxed poetic on the soft, fragrant spring air in Seville, where his remains are allegedly buried in the beautiful Cathedral de Santa Maria de la Sede. The charming people of this city are the epitome of Latin flair with their colorful ruffled dresses and guitar music. Get the best views of Plaza de España from the balconies that surround the spacious square. Explore the Alcazar of Seville with its palace’s mudéjar architecture and gardens filled with fruit trees.

Watch for dolphins off the Mediterranean’s Costa del Sol (“Sun Coast”) in Málaga. Climb to the top of Gibraltar’s Upper Rock and feel like you’re on top of the world, looking out over the sea. Take a ferry from Barcelona to the island of Menorca and discover beautiful clear water, coves, and cliffs at Cala Macarella and the smaller, secluded Macarelleta beach.

The largest metropolis along the Mediterranean and Spain’s capital city, Barcelona has enjoyed a revitalization since the 1992 Olympic Games. The docks of Port Vell were turned into a glamorous marina, now boasting many luxury and sporting yachts. View replicas of the Olympic medals embedded in the ground, with handprints of athletes like Hollywood stars along the pathways.

Still a fishing village at heart, seafood restaurants and bars line Barcelona’s promenade, drawing crowds for cocktails, clubbing, and casino fun. See and be seen on La Rambla, a long tree-lined promenade that runs from modern Plaça Catalunya to Port Vell, the perfect place to have a drink and people-watch or take in a summer music event.

The classic tapas here is la bomba, a potato ball stuffed with meat and served with spicy sauce or garlic allioli. Wander the covered markets at the classic La Boqueria or the modernized Mercat de Santa Caterina, where you can find fresh meats, seafood, produce, and every type of olive imaginable.

For the history buffs, meander through courtyards, mansions, and narrow streets that intersect at cobblestone squares. Step inside Santa Maria del Mar, a Gothic basilica church along the waterfront; it offers amazing acoustics for masterpieces by Mozart and Handel during the holidays. The Barri Gotic and the cloister of La Seu from the 14th and 15th centuries, loom over charming squares in their shadows, now lined by café terraces. During the Renaissance of the 19th century, the Palau de la Música Catalana, a large concert hall and theater, was built and the opulent interior is a “must see” visual sensory experience. Feeling whimsical? Stroll through Park Güell with its enchanted feel and funky photo settings. Tour the famous Pac del Laberint d’Horta with a large labyrinth maze, pool, sculptures, and temple.

In central Spain, spark your romance in the evening glow of Toledo, a walled city with cobblestone streets and cozy restaurants. A hilltop medieval castle, Castillo de San Servando, overlooks the Tagus River here.

Madrid is full of architecture reminiscent of fairytale castles, a bustling city filled with restaurants, shopping, museums, and galleries. Take a deep breath as you walk through Parque del Buen Retiro, (“Park of the Pleasant Retreat”), where you will find beautiful sculptures and gardens along a calm lake. Savor romantic dinners in award-winning restaurants and bask in the glow of lit-up fountains at night.

Portugal

With a spirit of eras gone by, Portugal will romance you with its classic charm and unspoiled countryside. Many artists have been inspired by the sparkling sea and lush forests. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the hills of Sintra or find a hidden Roman temple in Evora, while enjoying the mild coastal climate and creating a lifetime of memories.

Along the northern coast, Porto is settled along the banks of the Douro river valley. With a similar waterway landscape as Venice, but less crowded, the city that gave Portugal its name is teeming with well-preserved historic treasures.

Cascais is a popular resort area of Portugal. Admire historic buildings during the day, followed by a coast-side feast of renowned paella for dinner, and then salsa dance the night away while enjoying a port wine from the region’s cellars.

Accommodations tend to be quite affordable so you can splurge on treats like a candle-lit dinner at one of the many Michelin star gourmet restaurants in Lisbon. The city rests on gentle slopes along the northern banks of the Rio Tejo, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Many are drawn to the sandy beaches of Albufeira on the southern coast of Portugal. Golf, sunbathe, or participate in various watersports. Or skip the crowds and head for the hills to experience the traditional Algarve region’s way of life with traditional feasts, singing and dancing, and summer festivals.

No matter what pace you prefer to travel, the Iberian Peninsula offers options for everyone. Boas férias!

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