Following the Umayyads in Andulucia, 2012

This trip report was originally posted on the Fodor's Travel Forum.
We spent ten days in southern Spain at the of March 2012 and this is the trip report I posted to Fodors. 

We hit a fairly well worn path and so I thought I would focus on anything that might be useful to others, hotels, restaurants, sites we particularly enjoyed. I have posted some pictures on my blog where I will go into more detail and post pictures of some of the meals we enjoyed. Here's a post on the whole tapas experience. 

Our itinerary was Seville (4) Cordoba (2) Ubeda (2) Grenada (2). When we go on a short trip like this one (were we can't fit in everything we would like) we presume we will be going back. This allowed us to decided against the more popular southern route (via Ronda) on the assumption that we'll cover the white villages another time. We generally prefer to have a minimum of three nights in each destination but we didn't have time for that. I wanted four nights in Seville so we could begin things with a relaxing pace and recover from our jet lag over a few days.

We arrived in Seville (SFO-LHR-MAD-SVQ) but unfortunately our bags took a couple of extra days, Terminal 5 at Heathrow strikes again! This sort of thing used to throw me completely but now I'm fairly certain the bags will turn up so you just have to make sure you're wearing an outfit you'd like to be seen in for three days! If not just go and buy something in Spain, how bad can that be!

We stayed at the Alma Sevilla, Palacio de Villapan├ęs which I highly recommend. This is a lovely luxurious hotel a little outside the center of town which we found very comfortable. The service was excellent and we enjoyed the patio garden in the back where we sat and had innumerable cups of tea and glasses of wine. The rooms are stylish and modern, there are lots of pictures and a longer review here.

The things we enjoyed most in Seville were:

1) Strolling around town at night just taking it all in.

2) The food! 
We had some magnificent food in Seville. In particular I can recommend La Azotea on Calle Santiago where we ate wonderful modern tapas. The solomillo pork which is served rare was extraordinary. I'll be posting some picture on my blog. We went for lunch, you need to be there around 1pm or you won't find a seat.

We also ate dinner outside at the Vineria San Telmo, not far from our hotel and had a wonderful meal of gourmet tapas. We needed a reservation and they seemed to be turning a lot of people away. We very much enjoyed our meal.

3) The private house museums, The Casa De Pilatos and the Museo Palacio de Lebrua which give you an idea of how the privileged Sevillanos lived.
Here's part of what I said about the Casa de Pilatos on my blog where I posted lots of pictures of the gardens, you can see the post here.
"Rather like our hotel (and so many of the building we saw in southern Spain) the house was built around a series of internal courtyards each with beautiful gardens filled with plants, fountains and pools. It was so restful and gorgeous in the bright spring sunshine, this was our first stop and we spent a lot of time relaxing and reading in the gardens.
Houses like this were the depositories of enormous wealth, displayed through their furnishings, architecture and gardens. Access to water was a signifier of power and gardens, patios and fountains were the exclusive preserve of the wealthy." 

Many of the trip reports and travel articles we read recommended seeing Cordoba as a day trip from Seville. I can see why people would do this via the high speed train (which we used too), but we very much wanted to give the city a little more time. While the historic core can certainly be see fairly quickly we enjoyed a more leisurely stay and really like Cordoba. 

It didn't hurt that we were staying in a gorgeous hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailio, a restored palace with a glass floor in the restaurant overlooking the Roman remains. The rooms were modern and elegant and we loved the outdoor spaces including an elegant internal courtyard garden. The hotel has an incredible spa with a series of underground baths in the Roman style. We loved it and they reserved it for us to use on our own, what more could we ask? Again, pictures on the blog!

The Cathedral is exquisite, truly one of the most memorable blends of architecture and history that we have ever seen. A mosque, extended multiple times and then converted into a Cathedral with the addition of a baroque altar just dumped into the middle of the building, as if it came from an entirely different time and space. It illustrated the history of the reconquest in a visceral way. Seeing this building, and the nearby synagogue, provided real insight into the complex and multicultural history of the entire area, for us this was fascinating stuff.

We very much enjoyed the trip to Ubeda and it's neighbor Baeza which are surrounded by hundred of miles of olive grove, olives are the agricultural heart of Jaen province. We rented a car in Cordoba and drove first to Ubeda and then after two nights to Grenada. In Ubeda we stayed at the Parador which was charming, ate a couple of very good meals and wandered around town. It's a lovely place with friendly people, there are some visitors here but the town is not predominantly a tourist destination. There is lot of interesting architecture and plenty to see for a couple of days. We would go back and recommend it highly. We drove to Baeza for an afternoon and enjoyed it as an adjunct to Ubeda but we were glad we had chosen to stay in Ubeda. 

Much of what you need to know about Grenada has been posted at length. 

We stayed at Casa 1800, in a lovely room at the top of the hotel with a view of the Alcazar, fabulous! The hotel was very attractive and well situated. The staff were very helpful and we were given excellent recommendations for dinner. The breakfast was rather quotidian and the front desk sometimes seemed rather understaffed. We would certainly recommend it, but it wasn't in the same class as the hotels we used in Cordoba and Seville.

We arrived on the day of a General Strike, dropped off our car and had to walk to the hotel because the police had cordoned off l the area nearby. Not a great start but everything went better from here! We booked the earliest tour into the Alhambra and when we were let in we realized that while everyone was taking their time in the first rooms we were free to walk out and then back. It was fantastic, we walked straight through the first few rooms and saw courtyard after courtyard on our own. Given the crowds this was an incredible experience. Seeing some of these rooms, alone and in silence felt like a great privilege. When I struggle back against the current of fellow sightseers to see the first few rooms after the crowds had descended I realized quite how amazing it had been and we decided to move on!

We had lunch at the Parador which was a wonderful respite from all the sightseeing, a highly recommended interlude. We also enjoyed the Museumwhich is well worth seeing.

Overall we very much enjoyed our quick trip to Spain which was followed by a lovely but less relaxing trip to see family in England and Ireland! Hope this is helpful to anyone planning a similar trip, I'll be happy to answer any questions if I can.