Extraordinary Spain has something for everyone

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March 18, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Very few countries of this world are able to claim both world-class status as a top golf destination, as well as one with a universal appeal to every visitor, whether a golfer or not. Of the small handful of European countries that might qualify for such an honor, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest -- Spain.

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Born in Andalucia nothing shows off Spanish flair and style as well as flamenco.
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Segovia's Alcazar is only one fairytale castle among Castilla y Leon's many.
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Restaurants boutiques and a surprise around every corner Old Marbella invites exploration.
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Granada and the amazing Alhambra are easily accessed from Marbella.
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Cordoba's Mezquita is considered one of the world's great wonders.
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Seville - evryone's favorite Spanish city.
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Seville's sightseeing takes on an easy pace.
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Spain is a land of flair and passion and a place where even those who may not yet have experienced the country personally, already have vivid images of things Spanish that immediately spring to mind upon hearing the name. Whether it's the clicking of castanet's, stomping feet and magical guitar music of flamenco, or perhaps the innumerable and often flamboyant festivals, celebrated by every city, town and village throughout the country - Spain has a unique and very special vitality that the rest of us find irresistible and golf - excellent golf - is everywhere, with well over 300 quality courses spread across the country.

Only Spain provides such an intriguingly tempting vacation opportunity to combine top-drawer golf with a banquet of other holiday pursuits, away from the courses. It's the chance for golfers and non-golfers alike, to vacation together, knowing that both will have as much enjoyment as the other.

Pick any region of this, one of Europe's most diverse countries and you will never be wrong. The rich history that reaches back to the beginnings of time is everywhere, as is the mosaic of cultures that form the colorful fabric, making Spain so unique.

From the stunningly attractive northern coastline with its tumbling cliffs, lushly forested mountains and pure, natural beauty, to the dramatically vast, central plateau, where some of Spain's most historic cities -- Segovia, Salamanca, Burgos and Leon -- seemingly rise from nothing, variety is everywhere. The glorious beaches of the Mediterranean shoreline bask in year round sunshine and balmy temperatures and for city lovers, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville offer irresistible temptations of history, art and architecture, dining and nightlife, which few will resist -- and excellent golf is always close by.

For a change of pace, Spain's two island groupings, The Canary Islands in the Atlantic and The Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, call out for attention with pristine beaches, plush resorts and an abundance of top-class, championship golf courses. No Caribbean island comes even close to offering the quality of all-round vacation experience to be found in either The Canaries or The Balearic Islands. Making a good thing all the better is the excellence of Spain's fabled cuisine and wines, all topped off by that very special Spanish flair and style, we all delight in.

But Spain is a large country and being spoiled by such a wealth of different regions to focus your trip on, could bewilder even the most seasoned international traveler. The more you know, the easier those choices will be, so over the coming months we will take a closer look at each of Spain's primary golfing regions, the golf and non golfing attractions they offer. Be forewarned, chances are you will find that a single Spanish trip will just not be enough, as the following brief introduction to the region of Andalucia clearly shows.

Located in the southwestern corner of the country, Andalucia is the largest of the 17 autonomous regions that form today's Spain. Extending 400 miles from the Portuguese border, eastward along the Atlantic Coast, past Gibraltar, then along the Mediterranean shoreline to the neighboring region of Murcia, Andalucia enjoys an ideal, year round climate. This is perfect weather for any outdoor activity, whether relaxing on a pristine beach, sport fishing, hiking, bicycling or playing any of Andalucia's over 100 quality golf courses (including a healthy smattering of Europe's very best) from January until December.

Base yourself in or near the delightful resort town of Marbella and many of Spain's top ranked courses will be within a short half hour drive of your hotel and you could be playing such distinguished layouts as Valderrama. This was the very first course outside of Britain and the USA to ever host the Ryder Cup, which it did in 1997. The challenge presented by Valderrama may have surprised Team America, but not the Europeans - Valderrama had been ranked as Europe's very best layout, bar none, for each of the previous 10 years, a title it still carries proudly to this day.

But Valderrama is not the only example of golf excellence around Marbella. Next door neighbor, Sotogrande is held in equally high esteem, as are both the Old and New Courses at San Roque, as well as nearby, La Reseva. Not to be missed is a more recent addition to Marbella's golfing wealth, Finca Cortesin, which last year hosted The European Tour's inaugural, Volvo World Match Championship. So much praised was heaped on this course by players, tournament organizers and on-lookers alike, Finca Cortesin has been signed to host the same important event in both 2010 and 2011 -- and this is still only the tip of the iceberg - there are another 40 first-class layouts within easy reach of Marbella.

But this is Andalucia, the epitome of everything Spanish and where all those images you may have held of Spain, literally come to life. As much as you may love the game of golf, to leave this enchanting region without discovering at least some of the many Spanish treasures Andalucia holds, would be a sin. So take some time away from golf and discover Andalucia.

The three major cities of Seville, Granada and Cordoba each preserve an impressive assembly of the most spectacular Moorish monuments, reminders of Europe's most sophisticated civilization. The Moors left an indelible impression on all of Southern Spain during their 700 years of occupation, between the 8th and 15th centuries, but nowhere does the sheer beauty of all they built, shine quite as brilliantly as in these three cities.

Granada is famed for The Alhambra, a breathtaking collection of ornate palaces, pavilions, reflecting pools, fountains, lush gardens and patios that remains the paradise on earth it was originally intended to be. But take the time to also explore the Granada beyond The Alhambra and the old city center, around the 16th century cathedral is a good place to start. Nearby is the very flamboyant, Capilla Real, burial place of the Christian King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. They lie here in the crypt beneath their effigies, a candle burning continually, as was Isabella's dying request. Include the Albaicin district in your sightseeing, located on a hillside opposite the Alhambra. This is the largest Moorish Quarter in all of Spain and an atmosphere packed maze of narrow winding streets, providing a real sense of how Granada must have been in the Middle Ages.

An excursion to Granada can be accomplished in a long, full day excursion from Marbella, but to gain a true appreciation of this exceptional city, spend a night here and savor the truly inspirational sunset that is nothing less than magical.

Cordoba sits about 90 miles inland from Granada, en route to Seville and a stopover here is more than worthwhile, if only to visit the Mezquita, the city's stunning mosque, a masterpiece of 8th century architecture and design. But Cordoba has much more to offer and the Old Jewish Quarter with its 14 century synagogue, the Alcazar and charming tangle of narrow winding streets, all command some attention.

The Andalucian capital of Seville is one of those endearing ancient cities that finds its way into every visitors heart and another that can only be experienced properly with a stay of at least a couple of nights, there is so much to see and do. Golfers, have no fear, there are a half dozen courses surrounding the city if you must get back to golf and the very best is Real Club de Golf de Sevilla (The Royal Seville Golf Club). This is an impressive, Jose Maria Olazabal design that has earned a regular place on The European Tour schedule.

The Andalucia story will be continued in a future article, when we will explore the fascinating city of Seville and the surrounding area. We will also visit elegant, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain's sherry capital and home to the amazing Royal School of Equestrian Arts. Heading into the hills we will take a glimpse at a few of Andalucia's, Pueblos Blancos, the ancient fortressed mountain villages, each with its own story to tell and this is still only the beginning of all Andalucia has to offer

Every serious golfer must visit Andalucia to play some of its enviable collection of excellent golf courses, but don't miss the opportunity to discover a few of the many other intriguing Spanish delights that abound. And while you're at it, live like a Spaniard for a while -- slow down, take time to smell the roses and enjoy. Any visit to Spain is far more than a vacation, it's an experience, filled with fond memories that will last for many years to come.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your Spain experience, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling 1 800-833-1389 or click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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