Exploring Spain & Morocco!
During the month of October we explored the countries of Spain and Morocco! We traveled to Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Tarifa, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Fes, Marrakesh, and the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou. We loved the people, places, foods, and cultures we encountered along the way! Here's how we did it!
We arrived first in Barcelona, Spain. Immediately we explored the 1.2 kilometer long pedestrian street known as La Rambla! We walked up and down La Rambla, exploring Plaça de Catalunya and Mercado de La Boqueria, a wonderful farmers market full of fresh fruits, meats, and delectable sweets. There are vendor kiosks all along La Ramba, selling everything from tourist trinkets to emapandas to seeds and flowers.
The Catholic church of Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, or Sagrada Familia for short, was designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926).
On 19 March 1882, construction of the Sagrada Família (Sacred Family) began under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. In 1883, when Villar resigned, Gaudí took over as chief architect. The basilica remains unfinished, with hopes to finish it by 2026, but delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We went in the morning, then again in the afternoon and stayed until evening when the lights turned on (20:00/8 pm).
Ask one of the local security guards when the lights turn on at night
You must purchase your tickets online at https://sagradafamilia.org/
Take a photo from across pond in Placa de Gaudi park in the early morning or late afternoon. Evening is a good time too.
Casa Batllo was bought by Josep Batlló in 1903. The home was redesigned by architect Antoni Gaudi in 1904. The building was completed and refurbished in 1906.
Palau Nacional de Montjuic is a building on the hill of Montjuïc in Barcelona. It was the main site of the 1929 International Exhibition. Since 1934 it has been home to the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Thursdays through Saturdays at night, the Magic Fountain show is performed for spectators.
Parc Güell is a private park composed of gardens and architectural elements located on Carmel Hill, Barcelona, Spain. Eusebi Güell assigned the design of the park to renowned architect Antoni Gaudí. The park was built from 1900 to 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926.
Parc de la Ciutadella has a beautiful cascada, or waterfall fountain, in Barcelona! It's a classical, gilded 2-tier fountain with an archway and statue of Venus, placed in the 19th-century park of Parc de la Ciutadella. Adjacent to the park is the Passeig de Luis Companys mall, with the Arch de Triomf at one end.
At night we attended a wonderful concert of Spanish guitar and Flamenco dance at the beautiful Palau de la Musica Catalana! The modernista style palau was designed by architect Montaner between 1905 to 1908, and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. You can enjoy many different types of musical performances there, ranging from symphonic to jazz. We gain a great appreciation for Spanish guitar and Flamenco while we attended a concert at this venue.
We utilized the Barcelona Metro to get around the city. It was a very safe and efficient means of transportation. All of the attractions mentioned above were in Zone 1.
From Barcelona we took a day trip to Sitges, Spain. Sitges is a beautiful little beach town full of cafes, restaurants and shops. The Iglesia de San Bartolomé y Santa Tecla is a picturesque church seated right on the waterfront. Palau de Maricel, adjacent to the iglesia, is a museum with waterfront views. You can take a train or taxi to Sitges from Barcelona. The train takes about 40 minutes.
We took the Renfe train system to travel from Barcelona to Madrid. The train only took 3 hours and was very comfortable. On our first day walking the streets of Madrid we explored Parque de El Retiro and Catedral de la Almudena.
Parque del Buen Retiro (literally "Good retirement park"), Retiro Park or simply El Retiro is one of the largest parks of the city of Madrid, Spain. The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. It has a rowing pond, sculptures, architectural elements, fountains, cafes, and a rose garden. My husband loved all of the chestnut trees throughout the park!
Almudena Cathedral (Santa María la Real de La Almudena) is a Catholic church in Madrid, Spain. Completed in 1993, it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid. It has many art nuevo elements, and the gilded altarpiece is particularly notable. It's adjacent to Palacio Real.
The Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish royal family at the city of Madrid, although now used only for state ceremonies. Construction of the current palace spanned the years 1738 to 1755. There are many fantastic and extravagant rooms within the palace, including the royal armory and Gasparini Hall, most of which you are not allowed to photograph (argh!). We also enjoyed walking through the gardens, which are accessed from the far side of the grounds, opposite the palace.
Our first night in Toledo, Spain, was awesome! Once again, we utilized Renfe train system to travel from Madrid. It was only a 30 minute train ride. Toledo really was like walking through a medieval town! All of the streets are cobblestone roads. So narrow, if fact, we were surprised cars could drive through them.
Surrounded by the Tagus River on three sides, Toledo was known as the "City of the Three Cultures" for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims, and Jews throughout its history. It was also the capitol of Spain from from 542 to 725.
But best of all, it's so much quieter and more peaceful than Madrid or Barcelona. The big cities had so many people. Too many for us.
Our second day in Toledo, España, was great! We explored the alleyways, waterfront, Puerta de Bisagra (city gate), Paseo de La Vega, Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, found the Alcázar de Toledo, and kept bumping into the city wall. We recommend walking around this hilltop city and discovering it for yourself. There are many museums, churches, and shops in town.
Our lodging was at the Hotel Abad Toledo, which had a ton of character and was adjacent to a portion of the city wall known as Puerta del Sol.
If you arrive by train, as we did, there are public escalators which can take you up to the city center located at C. Gerardo Lobo, 1, 45003 Toledo, Spain
Our first day in Sevilla, España (Seville, Spain), was absolutely wonderful! We explored the Real Alcazar and the Plaza de España, which I'd been looking forward to the entire trip!
The Alcazar of Sevilla was built by the Moors, and many details of their influence still exist with inscriptions of the Quran throughout the structure.
The Plaza de España, inside Park de Maria Luisa, was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. Many tiled alcoves were built around the plaza, each representing a different province of Spain. The thing that amazed me were all of the porcelain tiles and structures. It's something I'd never seen before on the exterior of buildings or bridges.
Seville, the capital of the Andalusia region of Spain, is known as the home of Flamenco dancing. There are many places to witness a performance, two of which are Casa de la Memoria and Tablao Flamenco El Arenal. We highly recommend attending a performance!
TANGIER - MOROCCO
On our first day in Morocco, in the city of Tangier, we fell in love with the people, food, and character! Our riad, Dar Chams Tanja, had such exceptional service and treated us like family. We enjoyed sweeping views of town and the ocean from our rooftop breakfast. We even had a guest musician serenade us during breakfast using a Middle Eastern oud, or fretless lute-like instrument.
While in Tangier we visited the Cap Spartel lighthouse, where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. The Spartel Cape lighthouse was built in 1864 by Sultan Muhammad III. It's located about 1,000 feet above sea level at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar.
Sweeping views of rugged shoreline reminded us of home in California. We were also surprised how green Tangier was!
We also explored the Kasbah Museum, which included a nice art gallery, and the Grand Socco and markets.
CHEFCHAOUEN & FES
We stopped by the famous blue city market of Chefchaouen, Morocco, as we took a private taxi from Tangier to Fes utilizing Tangier Taxi! Our taxi driver, Hicham, was very friendly and accommodating. Chefchaouen was beautiful! Not just the blue, but all of the beautiful colors in the old medina really made this city stand out.
We stayed at Ryad Salama while in Fes, Morocco. The courtyard was beautiful and spacious, as was our room. While in Fes we visited the famous leather tannery and the Blue Gate (Bab Boujeloud). Both could be seen within a day.
The Chouara Tannery dates back to the city of Fes' foundation in the 9th century. They still use it in the same manner today. The tannery is packed with the round stone vessels filled with dye or white liquids for softening the hides.
The original Bab Bou Jeloud gate was a simple, modest gate that dated back to the 12th century. It marked the entrance to the old city. The current, more ornate blue gate, was built by the French colonial administration in 1913.
We also dined at Fes & Friends, just outside of the Blue Gate and the craziness of the medina, and highly recommend this restaurant for its food, service, cleanliness and atmosphere.
The famous leather tanneries are not open to the public. The only way to see them is to climb to the rooftop of a local leather store which surrounds the tanneries.
From Fes, we utilized the the ONCF Voyages train system to take a 6 hour journey to Marrakech. Our first class cabin was very clean and comfortable.
In Marrakech, Morocco, we explored the Koutoubia Mosque with its large gardens and fountains, Jemaa El Fna main square where we found many snake charmers, La Bahia Palace, the medina, and a beautiful Moroccan restaurant which we highly recommend named Dar Essalam!
The Koutoubia Mosque was founded in 1147 by Abd al-Mu'min right after he conquered Marrakesh from the Almoravids. A second version of the mosque was entirely rebuilt by Abd al-Mu'min around 1158, with Ya'qub al-Mansur finalizing construction of the minaret around 1195. Today, it remains the largest mosque is Marrakesh, and it adjacent to the Jemaa El Fna main square.
La Bahia Palace is a 19th-century palace, first begun by Si Musa, grand vizier of Alaouite sultan Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman, and then continued and expanded by his son Si Ba Ahmed ibn Musa, grand vizier of Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz.
The street performers, merchants, and tourist services demand much more than the normal price in Marrakech. Do not let them bully you into paying more. I just ran away (because they usually chased after me).
KSAR OF AIT BEN-HADDOU
From Marrakech we had Kasbah Tebi pick us up and drive us through the Altas mountains to spend a night with them inside the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Ksar of Ait Ben-haddou, Morocco! While the oldest current structures only date back to the 17th century, their building technique of clay and straw was propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. The site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh.
There was no electricity within the kasbah, so eating and sleeping there was like experiencing ancient Morocco. The earthen clay structure of the ksar itself felt like we were living in a bygone era. It was a wonderful experience!
On the way to Ait Ben Haddou, we stopped by and explored Telouet Kasbah, located on the outskirts of the small Berber village of Telouet. It sits at an elevation of 5,900 ft./1,800 m.
To avoid paying an entrance fee, enter Ait Ben Haddou from the bridge which spans the river bed. Various kasbahs will charge you to enter through their private roads or properties.
We saw and experienced so much in Spain and Morroco! We learned a lot from some great people, and ate some delicious foods! But most importantly, I hope our travels inspire you to visit these beautiful countries for yourself and experience the wealth and beauty they have to offer.