They are an important part of Spain’s contribution to universal culture. They are World Heritage Cities. A tour of these cities is a good way to discover Spain’s history, artistic wealth and popular traditions. Each and every stop on this route will reveal a unique and stunning urban location. Fancy coming along?
Centuries of history reflected in a priceless cultural inheritance. Magnificent, unique monuments. Streets that carry you back in time. History, art and architecture come together in a unique fashion, giving rise to locations of unequalled beauty: Spanish World Heritage Cities. Discover them and you will find Spain’s prime urban contribution to universal culture. This is something not to be missed.
Come and join us on this wonderful journey: these heritage cities are an excellent example of Spain’s cultural diversity. You will admire stunning buildings and a broad range of artistic styles, but this is just one of many things to do in these places. You can also take part in their traditional fiestas and customs, when the city itself takes on a special role, and no one is a stranger. You can also experience the vitality of their historic old towns, with shops, markets, and all kinds of typical establishments. Not forgetting, of course, the local gastronomy.
Whichever your route of choice, we recommend you take your time. Each Heritage City is outstanding for one particular element or characteristic. Nevertheless, they all offer much, much more. Put aside eight days to stroll unhurriedly through their streets and enjoy all they have to offer. If possible, you should also explore them by night, when they are illuminated and the exceptional beauty of their monuments is intensified.
A journey through history
We begin our journey in the centre of Spain, in Madrid. Our first stop is just 30 kilometres from the capital: Alcalá de Henares. This was the first university town as such in the world, and became the model for other colleges in Europe and America. You will think you have travelled back to the 16th century as you explore its Calle Mayor Street, the Renaissance patios of its historic University (designated UNESCO World Heritage along with the city's historic centre), and its old palaces and convents. Another site not to be missed is writer, Miguel de Cervantes’ house: the birthplace of Don Quixote’s author is an excellent example of the homes of that period.
In the afternoon we set out from Alcalá de Henares and, 124 km later, we arrive in Segovia. This city has some of the best-conserved Romanesque monuments in Europe. The first thing to see is its Roman Aqueduct: this unique work of engineering, with the UNESCO World Heritage designation, is sure to leave you speechless. The following day, taking your time, discover the charms of its old town, its ancestral houses, its elegant Cathedral and the Alcázar, a castle that looks like something out of a fairy tale. At lunchtime one thing is for sure: you simply must sample the famous roast suckling pig.
We then set off towards our next destination: Ávila, just 67 kilometres from Segovia. Here you can discover what it felt like to be a knight in the Middle Ages – this is the finest example of a medieval fortified city. Its city walls are the best conserved in Europe, and within them you will find monasteries, convents, busy street-markets, 15th and 16th century palaces, and Spain’s oldest Gothic Cathedral. Be sure not to miss the stunning panorama from the Cuatro Postes viewpoint either.
After spending the night in the walled city, the next day we cover the 97 kilometres to Salamanca. Feel all the magnitude of its monuments – buildings, mansions and cathedrals. Not to be missed are its emblematic Plaza Mayor Square, and the University, one of the oldest in the world. Search for the famous frog, hidden amongst the sculptures on the façade, which, legend has it, brings good luck to the students.
The next morning we have a 370-kilometre trip to the town of Cuenca. Architecture and nature come together in perfect harmony in this city. The city is built between two gorges and seems to float in the air. It has many attractions. Not to be missed are its Norman Gothic Cathedral and the unusual hanging houses.
From here it is just over two and a half hours to Toledo, a real urban museum in itself, with more than 2,000 years of history on display. For centuries, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in harmony here, leaving a priceless cultural legacy in its narrow streets and small squares, well worth taking the time to discover. The next day we cover the 270 kilometres from Toledo to Cáceres. Its old town is made up of a varied catalogue of monuments – fortresses, Renaissance palaces and medieval squares.
From this city we now set out on an 80-kilometre journey to Mérida, where the mark of the ancient Roman Empire can be felt in the streets. Strolling through them you will discover monuments such as the Roman Theatre, Amphitheatre and Trajan's Arch. A wonderful archaeological site, magnificently conserved, that will take you back in time.
From Mérida you can continue to Cordoba, some 300 kilometres away. There is also a high-speed train (AVE) that will take you from Madrid to Cordoba in just 1 hour 40 minutes. It is well worth staying a day or two in this city, a fine example of the splendour of Moorish culture. As you wander through its winding streets, squares and gardens, you will discover the Judería (old Jewish quarter), its beautiful Great Mosque (considered to be the most important Islamic monument in the Western World), and other gems such as the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Fortress of the Catholic Monarchs).
Less than 150 kilometres from Cordoba, in the province of Jaén, you can find the Renaissance monumental sites of Úbeda and Baeza. There are 16th century palaces and churches here, like the Old University, the Cathedral and the San Felipe Neri Seminary in Baeza. In these UNESCO World Heritage Cities there are also remains of the Moorish and Jewish cultures, which can still be seen in their narrow cobbled streets.
These are not the last of Spain’s World Heritage Cities, however. If you have enough time, you can also travel to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest of Spain. Don't miss the cathedral, where pilgrims gather when they finish the Way of Saint James. You can also visit Tarragona, in the northeast of Spain; Ibiza, in the Balearic Islands; and San Cristóbal de la Laguna, in the Canary Islands.
Come to Spain and discover the joy of history in these universally important locations. You won't regret it.
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Santiago de Compostela