Cordoba, in southern Spain’s Andalucía region, is one of Europe’s most romantic cities. Flowers are everywhere, narrow lanes wind labyrinth-like through the old town, echoes of its Moorish past lend an exotic feel, and buildings are designed with patios that keep the air moving in a languid stir even on the hottest summer afternoons. Sensuous strains of flamenco waft through the evening air.
So book two seats on one of Iberia’s direct flights to Madrid and hop on a train for the two-hour ride through the Spanish countryside; you can be in Cordoba in time for lunch. Cool off in a patio restaurant over a bowl of chilled salmorejo, a delicious chilled soup similar to gazpacho but more subtly flavored.
The one place you must see in Cordoba is The Mesquita, the Great Mosque. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of most important attractions in Spain, and one of the finest works of Islamic architecture in the world. Stepping inside will take your breath away. In whatever direction you look, rows of perfectly aligned red-and-white striped Moorish arches and columns stretch in straight lines almost to the disappearing point in the distance.
Even if you walk around the outside — as you will do frequently because there is no shortcut through it and it sits in the center of the old town — you don’t appreciate its size until you stand inside. Enclosed by the Mesquita’s walls is also a garden with burbling fountains, especially lovely for a stroll in the evening when they are lighted.
Homes in the old town neighborhoods may appear small from the street, but inside their doors many open up into patios surrounded by balconies and rooms. These are based on the Arab design, with fountains, plants and stone floors to help keep homes cool. Each May these plant-draped patios are even more lavishly decorated in flowers — often bright red and pink geraniums — for the Fiesta de los Patios (Courtyards Festival), and you can visit a number of them. Most open toward the end of April and some are open in other seasons as well — check with the tourist office.
One place where you can bask in the romantic aura of flower-filled courtyards year-round is at the Palacio de los Marqueses de Viana, where 12 separate garden patios are separated by rooms decorated in antiques and works of art. In addition to the patios, the palace has a lovely garden of formal beds, fountains and arcades. Plan to spend some time here, listening to the fountains, enjoying the colors and fragrances of citrus blossoms and jasmine.
You can also bask in the ambiance of flower-decked patios at several of Cordoba’s hotels. Hacienda Posada de Vallina, right next to the Mesquita and dating from the time of its construction, and Hotel Albucasis, a five-minute walk away, both incorporate the leafy patios of old town houses.
As you stroll in the evening, you’ll pass several restaurants advertising flamenco shows, and while some of these tourist shows have good dancers and musicians, you can be sure to find the best and longest performances, along with a well-prepared dinner of traditional Andalusian dishes, at the restaurant belonging to the Federación de Peñas (flamenco artists).
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