These two Spanish Explorer expeditions came out of our 2012 Iberian recce - we found so many tracks and so much to see that we could not fit it all in 12 days! We'll alternate between them.
You start in the Parc Natural de las Lagunas, a green oasis of interconnected lakes in the dry heartlands of Spain, a temporary home to migrating birds set in a patchwork mosaic of vineyards and Don Quixote windmills before swinging to Spains largest protected area and one its most extensive forested zones, the Sierras de Cazorla and Segura. The highest peak in this immense park is Pico Empanada at 2,107m and the entire park is higher than 600m, a refuge to animals and plants, with many of them unique to these imposing mountains seeking refuge from climatic extremes. Leaving these behind we swing towards the coast, through one of Spain's rice growing areas before climbing into the Sierra de Martes, high above the beaches of Costa Blanca. Shunning fish and chips of tourist Spain these mountains stand testament to the battles fought here by El Cid against the Moorish invaders. This has left a fascinating blend of cultures and cuisines, with Christian hilltop castles looking down on little rural cocinas, menus strongly influenced by Arabic ingredients to make the unique Valencian style.
Continuing northwards we enter Aragon, one of Spain's most surprising regions, a timeless mix of Roman, Islamic and Christian influences. Everything slows down here as Pyrenean streams become great rivers and the stone built pueblos villages slowly give their secrets to explorers. This trip gets you into a timeless Spain, exploring some of the best of Spain's wild countryside and its least known mountains on mixture of stone and rock tracks. Accommodation is a mix of wild camps and good quality campsites. Its perfect for families with children on all ages.
We follow a route taken by the great Christian liberator, El Cid as he pushed the Moors out of Europe. Starting near Valencia we head south towards the coast before heading through the Sierra Martes deeper into Moorish Spain and Murcia. We then travel across the plains to the vineyards of Valdepenas before entering the Muslim heartlands of Al-Andulus, modern day Andalucia. We'll explore the great southern mountains of Sierra de Segura before heading back to the Mediterranean near Almeria and the snow capped Sierra Nevada. We'll then enter the great Moorish capital of Granada to visit its great "Red Palace", the Alhambra. Built in the 14 century, this remains Spain's best example of Moorish architecture, its Muslim builders attempting show a glimpse of paradise on earth. Leaving this little bit of paradise behind we head back into the Andalucian mountains to its great olive producing area around Jaen and onwards to Cordoba, a mixture of Moorish and Roman influences, and a capital that at times ruled the whole of the Iberian peninsular. In the 10th century, Córdoba was the most populous city in the world, and the intellectual center of Europe. The Great Mosque of Córdoba dates back to this time; Caliph Al-Hakam II built 3,000 mosques, splendid palaces and 300 public baths and, what was then, the largest library in the world housing between 400,000 and 1,000,000 volumes.
We then drive further west to Seville and its Alcazar. Originally a Moorish fort, evolving into a Royal palace after the Reconquest of Moorish Al Andalus by Christians it is our end point and fittingly the last resting place of another great explorer, Christopher Columbus, in its cathedral.
This trip will take you exploring through some of the best of Spain's wild countryside as we see the lasting Muslim Moorish influence on this vibrant exciting country.
Combine these two great trips on different years to drive the whole of Spain north to south.