Museo Sorolla — A Glimpse into the World of an Artist

Museo Sorolla — A Glimpse into the World of an Artist

When I first became aware of the work of Joachim Sorolla (1863-1923) a few years ago, I was immediately seduced by the Spanish Impressionist’s brilliant use of colors and the optimism his paintings. So much so that on my recent visit to Madrid, the top item on my must-visit list was the Museo Sorolla.

An Artist’s Domain

The living room glass rotunda overlooks the garden.

The Sorolla Museum is located in the house that Sorolla built in the Chamberi neighborhood, then as now one of the most desirable residential areas in Madrid. It was the home in which lived with his wife and eternal muse, Clotilde García del Castillo, and their three children – María Clotilde, Joaquín and Elena, from 1911 until his death in 1923. The mansion and all its contents were bequeathed in 1925 by his widow to the Spanish government,  for the specific purpose to make it a museum to the memory of her husband and his work.

The Moorish-inspired gardens were designed by the artist.

Set in luxuriant Moorish-style gardens of this artist’s own design, the museum has preserved the original atmosphere of Joachim Sorolla’s home and studio. It is filled with the furnitures and objects he acquired throughout his life, which provide precious information about his tastes and working environment. But its main attraction, of course, is the richest collection of Sorolla’s works anywhere, in all their irresistible luminosity and buoyant atmosphere.

An Andalusian Patio

A traditional blue and white Azulejos fountain is the focal point of the Andalusian patio.

On the ground floor, the kitchen and other utility rooms open onto a lush Andalusian patio surrounded by three arcades, their arches supported by slender pillars. In the center, an octagonal fountain is covered with traditional blue and white Azulerjos (ceramic tiles). The ensemble is reminiscent of the Alhambra in Grenada and the Royal Alcazar in Seville . The same elements are found in some of the paintings of gardens Sorolla made while traveling around Andalusia, The galleries that surround the patio house an impressive display of traditional ceramics, the largest collection of the museum after that of the paintings.

An Artist’s Studio

Self-portrait by the sea. (1909. Oil on canvas).

Sorolla was at the peak of his international success by the time he commissioned noted Madrid architect Enrique María Repullés to design his home and work environment. The artist himself played an active role in every stages of the project, from design to decoration, to ensure that studio and family residence would coexist independently within the same building.  Each zone has its own entrance, with the studios accessed by an independent staircase directly from the garden. This working area is distinguished from the rest of the house by its red walls – the background color used in the museums of the day.

Museo Sorolla – office of the artist.

Its double-height ceilings and natural overhead lighting provide an optimum environment for viewing the works. Today this space is used to showcase the major large format works from Sorolla’s various periods. His adjoining office was used to receive clients and exhibit works both for sale or as a reference for future commissions. Today it is mainly dedicated to display family portraits.

Major paintings hang in the studio exactly where they did in the painter’s lifetime.

Then we reach one of the most spectacular working studio anywhere. This is where Sorolla painted portraits or put finishing touches to his vivid sea and landscapes, which he always painted in nature. Today, nature remains the main focus of this studio space, with the exception of a few portraits, three of which are exceptional, large beach paintings that hang exactly where they did in the painter’s lifetime.



A Family Home

The light-filled living room showcases some Sorolla’s favorite pieces.

From the studio, a small enclosed landing leads to a vast living room bathed in the light from the glass rotunda overlooking the garden. Sorolla conceived the sumptuous decoration of the room, from its marble floor to the harmoniously combined antique and period-style furnitures. He included a number of life-size portraits of his wife and children, and a gallery of busts by his friends Mariano Benlliure and José Capuz. A variety of other sculptures are also displayed here, ranging from two 16th century polychrome wooden pieces and a reproduction of a Pompeian statue to pieces by his daughter Elena.

The dining room is decorated with garlands by the artist.

The dining room is remarkable for its eclectic decor. Here the white marble-paneled walls are topped by an exuberant garland, painted by Sorolla in the style of a classical freeze combining laurels and fruits with portraits of his wife and daughters, who seem busy decorating the room.



Painters are welcome in Sorolla’s gardens.

The visit concludes in the artist’s exuberant gardens filled with Moorish accents. In one corner, a marble vasque fountain gurgles in front of an Azulejos-covered bench evokative of the Seville Royal Alcazar gardens. Farther  on,  a channel fountain typical of the  Generalite transports visitors to Granada. This is a secluded haven in the heart of the city,  the idea retreat to relax, entertain or paint. 

With its unique collection of Sorolla’s works presented within the context of his creative and family life, the Sorolla Museum is undoubtably one of the most complete and best preserved artist’s house in Europe.

The artist’s brushes and painting tools are displayed in the studio..

Good to Know

  • The Museo Sorolla, Paseo del General Martinez Campos, Madrid, is open year-round Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm, Sunday and public holidays from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and closed every Monday, January 1 and 6, May 1, November 9 and December 24, 25 and 31. Contact: tel. (+34) 91 310 15 84 and e-mail .

Location, location, location!

Museo Sorolla

A Stroll Through Madrid’s Revival Period

A Stroll Through Madrid’s Revival Period

In the latter part of the 19th century, Madrid, like most of the capitals of Europe, experienced unprecedented urban modernization. However, what sets the Spanish capital apart is the variety of designs that flourished around the city as local architects reinterpreted multiple styles of previous centuries and embraced emerging trends from other European countries and the United States.

A Modern Architecture Showcase

Gran Via is a showcase of Revival architecture,

Gran Via, the main artery of the capital and its most famous avenue, is also a prime shopping destination. Created in the earliest years of the 20th century to open up and modernize the chaotic center of the city, it is a showcase of Revival architecture, and a journey through the recent history of the city.



The Telefonica Building was the first skyscraper built in Spain.

At number 28, the 89 m  (292 ft) tall, New York-inspired Telefonica Building was the first skyscraper built in Spain. A few steps farther, the Avant-garde Gran Via 32 Building occupies the largest block of the avenue. Originally built as the first department store in Madrid, the building is now the flagship store of Primark in Spain and a great place to shop for bargains.



The Metrópolis dome is decorated with gold-leaf garlands.

Among the several other emblematic buildings, it is impossible to miss the Metrópolis. Located on the corner of Calle Alcalá and Gran Vía, this symbol of the area was designed in 1905 by the French architects Jules and Raymond Février. The brothers created the facade in an elegant Beaux Arts style, with first floor balconies separated by four pairs of Corinthian colonnades, topped by statues representing Mining, Industry, Agriculture and Commerce. The central slate-covered dome is enhanced with elaborate gold-leaf garlands. 

The Eclectic Palacio de la Prensa features a brick-clad facade.

At the far end of the Gran Via, a very different but no less iconic building is the Palacio de la Prensa. Commissioned in 1924 by the Madrid Press Association (APM) for its corporate headquarter, the building was intended for mixed use, including rental apartments, office space, a movie theater and a concert hall. The stark, Eclectic style brick-clad features a16-floor corner tower that rises to a height of 58 m (190 ft).

Palacio de Cibeles

The Fountain of Cybele was moved to the Plaza in 1895.

A mere 10-minute walk west of Gran Via, the Paseo de Prado and the Paseo de Recoleto, two of the grandest shaded boulevards of Madrid, meet to form the Plaza de Cibeles, named for the fountain at its center. It represents Cybele, the Greek goddess nature and fertility, depicted on a carriage drawn by two lions. Designed in 1782 by prominent local architect and artist Ventura Rodriguez, it was moved to its current location in 1895.

The Neoclassical Palacio de Cibeles dominates the square.

However, the dominant masterpiece of the square is the spectacular Neoclassical Palacio de Cibeles. Designed by architects Antonio Palacios Ramilo and Joaquìn Otamendi the monumental building of stone, iron and glass is one of the is one of the first Modernist landmark in the city. Construction began in 1905 and took 12 years to complete. It was for over 80 years the headquarters of the Spanish Postal System and Madrid’s central post office before becoming its city hall in 2007.


The terrace of the Palacio de Cibeles offers a spectacular view of the Madrid skyline.

Today it serves as a major cultural venue about the city, offering an extensive program of cultural activities focusing on contemporary art. Under its impressive glass dome, the vast Glass Gallery provides multi-purpose exhibit space as well as a 262 seats auditorium. Above the 6th floor —now a gourmet restaurant — the roof terrace bar offers unbeatable views of the Madrid skyline.



Art Deco Metalic Architecture

A major product of the industrial revolution, and a defining feature of 19th century architecture  (think London’s Crystal Palace or Paris Grand Palais) —wrought iron also found its way into the mix of Madrid Revival Architecture, My first encounter with it comes as step off the very 21st  century express train from Marseille, France, at Atocha, the city’s main railway complex.

The Atocha train station has retained its original Art Nouveau facade.

Atocha Train Station — Inaugurated in 1851, the original train station was largely destroyed by fire in 1888, and promptly reconstructed to reopen in 1892. The architects for this wrought iron Art Nouveau style replacement were Alberto de Palacio Elissagne, in collaboration with Gustave Eiffel (best remembered for his eponymous tower in Paris). The train platforms were covered by a steel and glass roof in the shape of an inverted hull, 27 m (89 ft) in height and 157 m (515 ft) long, flanked by two brick buildings. 

The Art Nouveau station is now a spectacular tropical garden.

In 1985, a complete remodeling began, based on designs by the prestigious Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. The overall project included taking the original building out of service as a terminal. Now on the site of the old tracks and platforms under the great glass canopy, a concourse with shops, cafés and office space surrounds a lush 4,000 m2  (43,056 sq ft) central tropical garden featuring over 260 species of plants from five continents.

The Glass Palace is now used as temporary exhibition space by the Reina Sofía Museum.

El Palacio de CristalOne of the most striking examples of wrought iron architecture in Madrid is the Glass Palace in El Retiro , the elegant park just a few steps east of the Prado. Originally built in 1887 as a greenhouse to showcase flora and fauna as part of an exhibition on the Philippines, then a Spanish colony, Designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, who modeled it after the Crystal Palace erected in Hyde Park (London) back in 1851. Here, the delicate Glass Palace sits at the edge of a pond filled with bald cypresses (originally natives of the the swamps of the South-eastern United States).

The Mercado de San Miguel is now a gastronomic food hall.

Mercado de San MiguelOpened back in May 1916 as a local food market just a stone throw away from the Plaza Mayor, it is another fine example of local wrought iron architecture. In recent decades, it has evolved into a gastronomic food hall where you can sample the best specialties Spain has to offer, including a dizzying variety of irresistible tapas. A dangerous place for foodies to wander into.


Good to Know

    • Getting there — By plane: Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport is the largest international airport in Spain, and the home base for Iberia Airlines. It is located 13 km from the city center and includes  4 terminals. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are serviced by the same metro station, while Terminal 4 has its own metro and commuter train stations. By train: RENFE, the Spanish national railroad company operates frequent daily service between Madrid and all major cities in Spain as well as, in association with neighboring European Union countries rail road companies, to Lisbon, Milan, the French coast and Paris, with continuing journeys to most of Europe.
    • Getting around — The center of Madrid is easily walkable. However, the city is also blessed with Metro de Madrid, one of the better and least expensive subway systems in Europe. This underground network covers practically the entire metropolitan area and the airport. There are easy-to-use ticket dispensers in all the stations, with multilingual with instructions in Spanish, English, French, and German.
    • Visiting — Palacio de Cibeles, Plaza de la Cibeles, Madrid, is open year-round, Tuesday though Sunday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Closed on Mondays, 1 and 6 January, 1 May and 24, 25 and 31 December. El Retiro Park and Palacio de Cristal , Paseo República de Cuba, Madrid, is open year round, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm October through March, 10 to 6:00 pm November through February, and 10:00 am to 9:00 pm April to September. Closed: 1 and 6 January, 1 May, 25 December.  Mercado San Miguel, Plaza San Miguel, Madrid, is open  from 10:00 am to 12:00 midnight from Sunday through Thursday and from 10:00 am to 1:00 am on Friday, Saturday and Holidays.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Gran Via

A City for Art Lovers – Madrid, Spain

A City for Art Lovers – Madrid, Spain

In a part of the world where most major cities trace their roots back at least a couple of millennia, Madrid, the capital of Spain is somewhat of a latecomer. But it did catch up on grandeur since its recorded history began in the 9th century when Cordobese Emir Muhammad I established it as a defensive outpost on the escarpment above the Manzanares River.

From Habsburgs to Bourbons

The majestic facades of the Plaza Mayor are lined on all sides by 327 uniform balconies.

Plaza Mayor — Fast-forward to 1561 when Phillip II decided to turn this backwater town in the geographical center of the country into the imperial capital city of the recently unified Spain. A descendent of the Habsburg dynasty, Philip was a son of Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria Charles V. This Hapsburg period ushered in a European influence that acquired the moniker of Austrian Style, although it also included Italian and Dutch elements — a nod to the international preeminence of the ruling dynasty. The Plaza Mayor, an imposing 129 m by 93 m (423 ft by 309 ft) rectangle lined on all sides by three story residential buildings opening onto the square, remains a masterpiece of uniformity and an outstanding example of the Austrian Style.

The colossal Italianate Neo-classical palace remains the official residence of the Spanish royal family.

Palacio Real — When the Bourbons replaced the Habsburgs at the start of the 18th  century, they introduced the French Style to he capital, with Felipe V (1683- 1746) ordering the construction of a Royal Palace to “out-Versailles” the home of his French monarch grandfather (Louis XIV). The official residence of the Spanish royal family, the colossal Italianate Neo-classical Palacio Real, with a grand total of 3418 rooms and over 135,000 square meters (1,450,000 square feet) of floor space, remains the largest functioning palace in Europe. These days, it is used only for official ceremonies, and open to visitors the remainder of the time. Step inside and be dazzled by the sublime royal collections featuring works  by Goya, Caravaggio and Velázquez among others, as well as stunning displays of watches, tapestries, porcelain and silverware. And don’t miss the Throne Room with its ceiling frescoes by Tiepolo.

The Golden Triangle

It was his son Carlos III (1716-1788), who undertook the task of transforming the city into a capital worthy of the monarchy, ordering among other things the creation of the Museo del Prado complex.  

The Prado Museum was first opened to the public in  in 1819.

Museo del Prado — To art lovers the world over the Prado is virtually synonymous with Madrid. Based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, the museum is widely considered as housing one of the world’s finest collections of European art from the 12th to the early 20th century, and the single most significant collection of Spanish art. The numerous works by Francisco Goya, the single most represented artist, as well as Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Rubens, Titian, and Velásquez, are merely highlights of the collection, which also boasts the largest holding of Italian masters outside Italy. In recent decades the artistic prestige of Madrid has further been enhanced by the opening of two additional world-class museums. All three are located within a 20-minute walk of each within an area that has acquired the moniker of The Golden Triangle.

At The Thyssen, in addition to the rich collection of paintings, several galleries also showcase marble works by August Rodin.

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza Commonly known as The Thyssen, the museum opened in 1990 to showcase the private collection started in the 1920’s by Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon. With over 1,600 paintings, it was once the second largest private art collection in the world after the British Royal Collection. Here, in a relaxing, airy environment, you can feast your eyes on an eclectic selection of treasures ranging from Italian primitives, works of the English, Dutch and German Schools to French Impressionist and Post-expressionist pieces, and an exceptional collection of American works ranging from 19th century landscapes to Abstract Expressionists. 

The historic building repurposed as the Reina Sofia Museum was originally constructed as Madrid’s General Hospital in 1805.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía — or simply the Reina Sofía is the third major landmark of the Golden Triangle. Inaugurated in 1990, it is dedicated to the great modern and contemporary Spanish masters such as Pablo Picasso, Salvator Dali, Joan Miró and Juan Gris and their international counterparts: Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, et al. Since I have never felt a particular connection to this artistic period, I considered giving the Reina Sofía a miss. However, the museum is now the permanent home of Picasso’s most revered work: his monumental Guernica (3.49 m by 7.76 m or 11.45 ft by × 25.45 ft). I couldn’t resist the opportunity to view this iconic piece.

Unflinchingly brutal in its representation of the horrors of war, Guernica has become a powerful universal anti-war symbol.

The Story behind Guernica — Created for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World Fair, the monumental canvas immortalizes Picasso’s outrage over the April 27, 1937, bombing of the village of Guernica in northern Spain. By all accounts, the Guernica attack was the first deliberate bombing of civilians in world history. It was conducted by the German air force to help General Franco win the Spanish civil war. The military dictatorship that followed didn’t end until the death of Franco in 1975. Meanwhile, Picasso entrusted the safekeeping of the work to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, stipulating that it couldn’t be delivered to Spain until “public liberties and democratic institutions had been established in the country”, which finally occurred in 1981.

A Hidden Gem

Male figures, Nayarit Style painted ceramic., Western Mexico.

As an antidote to impending European art overload, and to take cover on a sizzling hot June afternoon, I made my way to the Museo de América. Located at the edge of the universities neighborhood in the northwestern part of the city, it is an impressive, custom-built edifice, with high arches and a towering steeple that hint of the 18th century Spanish cathedrals of Latin America. It is also delightfully air-conditioned — and virtually empty of visitors. Yet the museum houses an impressive collection of over 25,000 artefacts exploring the varied cultures of the Americas from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle, from the various Pre-Columbian civilizations  to the 19th century, and their long, convoluted history with colonial Spain. Unsurprisingly, the highlights are those pieces sent from the Americas to Spanish rulers from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Detail of the Post Classic Maya Troano Codex.

Among the most notable artefacts is the Madrid Stele, a 46.5 cm by 29.5 cm ( (18.3 in by 11.6 in) limestone bas-relief with red and black paint seams from Palenque (Mexico). This Mayan work from  the Late Classic Period (600 to 800 A.D.  is one of the pieces that held the Palenque’s throne in one of the rooms of the palace’s central courtyard. Another Mayan treasure is the Madrid Codex (a.k.a.Trocortesiano or Troano Codex), one of only four surviving Maya books dating to the Postclassic Era (900–1521 A.D.). Originally from the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, the  22,6 cm  by 416,5 cm ((8.9 in by 164 in) codex, painted on Amate paper, illuminates sacred rituals like sacrifice and the invocation of rain, while simultaneously depicting everyday activities like weaving, hunting, and beekeeping.

The the facade of the museum is reminiscent of the Neo-gothic style of many Latin American cathedrals.

Although I didn’t get to view it, the museum also holds the so-called Treasure of Quimbaya: 122 mainly gold artifacts including figurines, crowns, pendants, necklace beads, bells, nose and ear ornaments as well as ceremonial vessels and musical instruments. The treasure is currently the object of an ownership controversy with the Columbian government. Regardless, the Museum of the Americas is a joy to visit for anyone interested in the arts, archaeology and ethnography of the Americas.

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza – Jan Van Kessel III (attribution). View of the Carrera san Jerònimo and Paseo del Prado with a procession of carriages (circa 1686).

Good to Know

    • Getting there — By plane: Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport is the largest international airport in Spain, and the homebase for Iberia Airlines. The airport is located 13 km from the city center and includes 4 terminals. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are serviced by the same metro station, while Terminal 4 has its own metro and commuter train stations. By train: RENFE, the Spanish national railroad company operates frequent daily service between Madrid and all major cities in Spain as well as, in association with neighboring European Union countries rail companies to Lisbon, Milan, the French coast and Paris, with continuing journeys to most of Europe.
    • Getting around — The center of Madrid is easily walkable. However, the city is also blessed with Metro de Madrid, one of the better and least expensive subway systems in Europe. This underground network covers practically the entire metropolitan area and airport. There are easy-to-use ticket dispensers in all the stations with multilingual with instructions in Spanish, English, French, and German.
    • Palacio Real Calle de Bailén, 28071 Madrid, Spain, is open October through March from Monday to Saturday: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Sunday: 10:00 – 4:00 pm and and April through September from Monday to Saturday: 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. Sunday: 10:00 – 4:00. It is closed on major national ho holidays.  Contract: tel. +34 914 548 800.
    • Museo del Prado, Calle de Ruiz de Alarcón, 23, 28014 Madrid, is open year-round Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 8:00 pm and Monday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. Contact: e-mail , tel. +34 913 302 800. 
    • Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Paseo del Prado, 8, 28014 Madrid, is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm and Monday from 12.00 noon to 4.00 PM. Contact: tel. +34 917 911 370.
    • Museo de América, Avenida Reyes Católicos, 6, 28040 Madrid, is open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am to 3:00pm, and Sunday 10am to 3pm. Closed on Monday and major national holidays. Contact: tel. +34 915 492 641.

Location, location, location!


A Canary Islands Winter Escape – Tenerife

A Canary Islands Winter Escape – Tenerife

Tenerife, the largest island of Spain’s Canary archipelago, boasts weather so fine that it was pronounced as one of the very best climates on the planet in a recent global survey by no less of an authority than NASA. Rising from the Atlantic Ocean some 300 kilometers (200 miles) off the coast  of North Africa, it enjoys year-round sunshine and temperatures that range between 22 and 28 degrees Celsius (71 to 83 Fahrenheit) depending on the season.

Tenerife welcome.

The promise of all that sunshine, along with the island’s dramatic volcanic scenery and the gorgeous sandy beaches of its south coast (albeit now lined with sprawling luxury resorts), is what makes Tenerife a favorite sub-tropical escape for winter-weary Europeans — and on a recent chilly February day, got me on a plane to the island.


Lunar Landscapes

Mount Teide is the highest point in Spain.

The first hint that we are approaching Tenerife is the imposing cone of a mountain emerging in the distance from the shimmering ocean. With an altitude of 3,715 meters (12,188 ft), Mount Teide has the distinction of being the highest point in Spain, as well as the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic. Created by successive volcanic activities going back three million years, Mount Teide as we see it today was formed a mere 170,000 ago, with its base emerging from the Las Cañadas crater (the remains of an older, eroded, extinct volcano) at a height of around 2,190 m (7,190 feet) above sea level. Teide and the surrounding 18,900 hectares (47,000 acres) form the Teide National Park, which we visit the following morning.

Las Cañadas is a forest of sculptural jagged rocks.

After a slow drive up through a forest of tall Canary Island pines still veiled in morning mist, we emerge into a striking lunar landscape. The road runs southwest to northeast across the caldera, with frequent parking areas in the most photogenic spots. The jagged rocks that fill the great amphitheater of the Las Cañadas escarpment rise like gigantic bronze sculptures against the crystalline blue sky. A dusting of fresh snow has fallen on the summits during the night, highlighting the top of the central volcano with a silvery sheen. Rough footpaths beckon the more adventurous visitors to take a closer look at the dramatic craters and lava formations. I prefer to stick with the panoramic views.

The Road to Masca

Masca is a cluster of houses tittering at the edge of a ravine,

Leaving the surreal rocky wasteland of Teide, we continue north, deeper into the steep volcanic world of the center of the island, toward Masca. This tiny mountainside village in the remote northwestern hinterlands is unanimously rated as one of the must-see spots on Tenerife. Reaching Masca is a tense experience, an endless succession of switchbacks on a narrow, cliff-hugging road weaving up the mountain and then down to the village. The journey is rendered all the more unnerving by the unexpected density of the traffic, including tourist busses that clog the way.  But the views that are revealed with every turn defy superlatives.

The view from Masca reaches all the way to La Gomera.

Masca itself is a cluster of simple stone houses balanced on the edge of one of the deepest ravines on the island, and linked by rough walkways dotted with prickly pears and palm trees. The uniqueness of this hamlet tucked in the fold of the ancient Teno Massif  is in its exceptionally scenic location framed by steep ravine walls, against  a soaring pinnacle backdrop that hints of Machu Picchu. Then, far to the west, the ravine opens onto the ocean to reveal a view of the island of La Gomera on the horizon. Past Masca, we continue our way north toward Santiago del Teide. At the Cherfe lookout point, we enjoy one last remarkable vista of the hamlet before heading toward the coast for a quick look at The Giants.

The Wall of Hell

The Cliffs of Giants.

Los Acantilados de Los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) are gigantic basalt rock formations that rise vertically from the sea to heights of 500 to 800 meters (1,640 to 2,625 feet). They stretch  northward for 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the port of Los Gigantes to Punta de Teno, the westernmost point of the island. To the Guanches, the indigenous habitants of the Canaries, they were known as the “Wall of Hell.” Enough said.


A Morning with Whales

Pilot whales are year-round residents of Tenerife.

A pilot whale at rest drifs by.

Thanks to their year-long temperate climate, warm waters and deep seafloor protected against the strength of the Atlantic Ocean, the Canaries attract an abundance of marine mammals. Bottlenose dolphins and Pilot whales are year-round residents of the waters between La Gomera and Tenerife, making it highly favorable destination for whale watching. The sun is shining brightly over Puerto Colon, a busy marina in the southwester town of Costa Adeje, when we board the Monte Cristo, a spacious custom-built catamaran ideally configured to ensure spectacular viewing, for a morning excursion. As the coastline fades behind us, we are expectantly scanning the horizon. The crew soon announces a sighting at ten o’clock. The comma-shape dorsal fin of a Pilot whale is clearly visible in the distance. But as we head toward it, more pop up, tantalizingly closer, in pairs and trios. We slow down to a crawl  and the notion of time vanishes as we just enjoy the show. Some of the magnificent cetaceans are just resting before their next food dive, others already replete are now lazily drifting on the calm surface waters, dozing off we are told. Playful dolphins join in off and on.

The cruise ends along the scenic western coastline.

After an hour or so we head back, cruising along the spectacular coastline, with a stop in a particularly inviting  cove and an opportunity to jump off the boat’s diving platform for a swim – yes, even in February.





Thalasso in Tenerife

Arona Gran sunset.

Beyond its wealth of natural wonders, one of the main deciding factors in choosing Tenerife for this recent girlfriends’ winter escape was the lure of over-the-top pampering at the Arona Gran Hotel. Reopened in late September 2021 after extensive renovations, the Arona Gran is a large luxury adults-only hotel stretched along the seafront at the popular southwestern tip of Tenerife. In addition to its panoramic view of the old fishing port of Los Cristianos across the bay, it reliably delivered glorious blood-orange sunsets over the neighboring island of La Gomera.

The Thalasso pool includes a circuit of pressure jets and hydro-massage stations.

And it is home to an irresistible Thalasso Spa! Originally developed in France, the Thalasso treatment (from Thalassa, the Greek word for Sea) is defined by the therapeutic uses of seawater, its components and various sea-based products (such as seaweed, sea salt and mud). In addition to the different massage techniques, body and facial treatments, Thalassotherapy also includes a circuit made of a seawater swimming pool with a variety of pressure jets and hydro-massage stations, Roman thermal bath, sauna, Turkish bath and Thermal beds. We became frequent visitors of the spa though-out our stay.  Hint — the circuit and the treatments are very popular with the guests. Book ahead.

Teide National Park panorama.

Good to Know

  • Getting there – Tenerife has two airports: the Tenerife North Airport (or Los Rodeos) and South Airport (also known as Tenerife South-Reina Sofia Airport in honor of the former Queen of Spain). South Airport is the busiest, with regularly scheduled flights from the Spanish mainland and most major West European cities, as well as between the main islands of the archipelago. 
  • Getting around – There is a good network of busses linking all the major towns on the island and reasonably priced taxis are available. Car rentals are readily available for those who prefer self-drive visiting. A highway circles the coast, and excellent, well marked roads linking the various points of interest. However, the topography of the center of the island makes for white-knuckle driving in some places.
  • Visiting — Teide National Park: The best options for visiting Teide National Park are with a rental car or on a guided tour. Public transportation to and from the park is quasi inexistant.  There are two visitor centers in Teide National Park: one at El Portillo and the other at Parador Nacional. Cable car to the top —The Mount Teide Cable Car lower station is easy to reach by road and stands at 2,356 m above sea level. It consists of two cabins that can hold a maximum of 44 passengers and travel to the top in under 8 minutes. (N.B. it was not functioning at the time of our visit due to high winds at the summit). The lower station offers spectacular views of the peaks surrounding Mount Teide. Hiking in the park — visit to get updates on trail closures, facilities, and weather. To hike Mount Teide Peak (Pico del Teide),  a free permit is required, which needs to be secured prior to your visit.  
  • Whale watching — although a large number of operators offer a variety of whale watching options on the island, we were especially impressed by Monte Cristo Catamaran Cruises for the immaculate condition of their ship, their small passenger  limits (maximum 24 passengers per cruise) and the professionalism and friendliness of the crew. Advanced reservation are required, and include hotel pick-up and return upon request.

Location, location, location!

Los Cristianos

Los Cristianos

Andalusia Road Trip – Granada, The Nasrid Legacy

Andalusia Road Trip – Granada, The Nasrid Legacy

Day Five – It’s mid-afternoon by the time we reach Granada, the city synonymous with the most emblematic monument of the seven centuries of Islamic legacy to the Iberian Peninsula: The Alhambra. Stretched across an entire hilltop, the fortress was the seat of power of the Nasrid dynasty (1230 to 1492) and the Moors’ last stronghold to surrender to the Catholic Monarchs.

An Albaicin Hideaway

The Albaicin is a maze of steep cobbled lanes.

Through the three centuries of its power, the city of Granada had spread North across the Darro River from the Alhambra to include the Albaicin hillside. A steep warren of winding cobbled lanes, narrow whitewashed vertical houses, pocket-size jasmine-scented courtyards and souk-like shopping, the ancient neighborhood retains to this day its picturesque Arabic character.

Our terrace overlooks the Alhambra.

To make the most of our Granada experience, this is where we’ve chosen to stay. The topography of the neighborhood means that accommodation opportunities consist mainly of tiny bed-and-breakfasts and short-term rental apartments. We choose the latter on this visit, and have the good fortune to find a comfortable light-filled two-bedroom retreat on the top floor a beautifully restored ancient residence halfway up the hill. Our private terrace overlooks the roofs of the old town and the majestic Alhambra proudly looming above them. We linger here, soaking in the atmosphere until the late afternoon light starts to brush the walls of the fortress with golden dust. Time to head up to the Mirador San Nicolas at the very top of the Albaicín hill and watch the sun set over the most dramatic views of the city.

The Mirador San Nicolas offers the best view over the Alhambra.

Across the wooded escarpment of Darro river valley, the forts and palaces of the Alhambra complex, at eye-level with us now, are taking on coppery hues. The atmosphere is festive on San Nicholas Square, where guitarists and singers are entertaining the crowd. Just below the square, we spot a couple of restaurants with terraces facing the stupendous views. They are much in demand of course, but it is still early for Spain (7:00 pm) and we are in luck. We settle at the terrace of El Huerto de Juan Ranas for a leisurely drink. The light keeps changing, and a full moon rises on cue, right over the Alhambra. My son Lee thoughtfully keeps the tapas and the sangria coming while I shoot pictures non-stop. It’s quite late by the time we make our way back down the ancient alleys to our apartment after what will rate as the most perfect evening of our trip.

The Nasrid Legacy

Under the Nasrid rule, a complete royal city flourished within the fortifications of the Alhambra.

At the height of the Nasrid power, a royal city of palaces, houses, baths, schools, mosques and military barracks flourished within the walls of the Alhambra. While a few remains of the complex date further back, most of what survives today – the Alcazaba (military fortress) and the the Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid palaces or royal palaces) were built in the 14th century. They now face each other across a broad parade ground incongruously flanked by the grand Renaissance Palacio de Carlos V (Charles V Palace), both constructed by the Christian Monarchs  in the 16th century.

The Alcazaba

Ramparts and towers were added to the original 11th century Alcazaba military fortress.

This military fortress of the 11th century Ziridian rulers was all that stood on the site when the first Nasrid ruler made Granada his capital.  He added the current ramparts, and three new towers: the Broken Tower, the Keep and the Watch Tower, and made it the first royal residence until the palaces were completed. From then on, the Alcazaba was only used for military purposes and later on under the Christian rulers as a state prison. The Watch Tower, the tallest of the three towers is named from the bell on its turret added under Christian rule, and which until recently was rung to mark the irrigation hours for the workers in Granada’s vast agricultural plain. The towers of the Alcazaba can be visited and offer spectacular panoramic views of the Albaicín and the entire region.

The Nasrid Palaces

The Nasrid Palaces offer exquisite exemples of Islamic architecture.

The Harem open onto private courtyards.

In stark contrast to the Alcazaba with its massive fortification and towers, the Nazrid Palaces are built rather flimsily of brick, wood and adobe. They were not intended to last but rather to be renewed and redecorated by succeeding rulers. The buildings display brilliant use of light and space, but they are mainly a vehicle for the ornamental stucco. Most of the interior arches are only here to decorate. The walls are covered with rich ceramics and plasterworks and exquisitely carved wooden frames. Apparently, the greatest concern here was to cover every single space with ornamentation, with Arabic inscriptions featuring prominently throughout.

The royal palace was structured in three parts, each built around its own interior courtyard, and fulfilling a specific function: the first series of rooms, the Mexuar, was used for judicial and business purposes. Beyond it, the Serallo held reception rooms for embassies and others distinguished guests. The last section, the Harem, housed the private living quarters of the ruler and could only be entered by the family and their servants.

The Generalife

The Generalife is a secluded summer palace.

The Generalife or Garden of the Governor was built in the 13th century as a leisure summer palace where the sultan could get away from the official affairs of the Alhambra. It is set on the slope of the Cerro del Sol (Hill of the sun), from which there is a panoramic view over the Alhambra hilltop and the valleys beyond. Although a mere 10-minute walk from the palace, the Generalife has the feel of a peaceful villa, with none of the decorative excesses of the Nasrid Palace. Surrounded by lush enclosed gardens and serene patios with elegant reflecting pools and gurgling fountains, it succeeds beautifully in feeling like a secluded retreat.  And is my favorite part of the whole complex. 

The Alhambra and Generalife loom over the Granada landscape.

Good to Know

  • Visiting – The Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain – and the number of admissions is limited to to 6600 per day – which consistently sell out weeks ahead of time. Mercifully tickets may be purchased well in advance on-line  from official ticket office. A general ticket allows access to the entire site with a strictly limited time slot to visit the Nazrid Palaces (you may choose time if you plan sufficiently ahead).  Beware: the link above is to the only official site for ticket purchase.
  • Staying – Our lovely Albaicín apartment was located on Calle Babole and our hostess, Gloria della Tore, couldn’t have been more welcoming or helpful. The property is listed with direct booking sites: Vrbo, HomeAway and Airbnb
  • Eating – El Huerto de Juan Rana, located at Callejón Atarazana Vieja, 6-8, Granada, is open daily 11:30 am to midnight.  Contact:  tel.: +34 958 286 925.

Location, location, location!