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Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas

Terms & Conditions

Trip Date
Price from
Number of Days
Highlights & Inclusions
  • Explore in a small group of 8-16 travelers (average group size of 13)
  • All land transportation
  • Accommodations for 14 nights
  • 28 meals—14 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners (including 1 Home-Hosted Dinner)
  • 19 small group activities
  • Services of a local O.A.T. Trip Experience Leader
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
  • 5% Frequent Traveler Credit toward your next O.A.T. trip

Please note:
Deposit requirement on land trips is $350
Past traveler savings of 5% if you traveled from 2018 onward
New travelers get $100 savings


From a Roman colony and centuries of Moorish rule to the great explorers of the Age of Discovery, Spain and Portugal are home to extraordinary beauty and untold remnants of a tumultuous past. We’ll chart our own course for discovery in these ancient lands during O.A.T.-exclusive stays for eight nights in intimate Portuguese pousadas and Spanish paradores, restored historic inns—from castles and convents to manor homes and monasteries—that evoke the glory of an earlier era. We’ll also dine with a family in their home and discover the secrets of Portuguese cuisine during a cooking lesson, explore the village of Sintra, situated within a fairytale landscape of lush forests, turreted palaces, and castle ruins including a visit to the medieval Sintra National Palace, and learn about life on a family-owned olive oil mill—a recently enhanced feature—during our A Day in the Life near Úbeda, a town situated in the Jaén province which is bordered on all sides by numerous olive groves that produce some of the world's best olive oil.

As we meet the people working in the local industries of Spain and Portugal, our small group size will let us ask questions, have in-depth conversations, and learn more about their lives. With the help of your Trip Experience Leader’s expertise, discover royal cities, hilltop citadels, and monumental cathedrals on a journey deep into the lands of conquerors and conquistadores.

Thanks to the small group sizejust 8-16 travelers, (with an average of 13)—and our expert Trip Experience Leaders, we'll truly get to know the culture and people of Spain and Portugal. And, whenever you’d like, you have the freedom to explore more of these regions on your own: Break off from the group for independent discoveries—like wine tasting or strolls through ancient landscapes—during free time.



Depart U.S.
Fly from the U.S. to Lisbon, Portugal.


Arrive in Lisbon, Portugal
Destination: Lisbon
Accommodations: Hotel Marquês de Pombal or similar

Morning: You’ll arrive in Lisbon this morning to begin your Portugal and Spain travel experience. An O.A.T. representative greets you at the airport and assists with the transfer to your hotel.

Around 2pm, we’ll check in to our hotel, where you'll be joined by travelers who took our Northern Portugal: Porto & the Douro Valley or New! Medieval Citadels & Chateaux: Carcassonne to Toulouse pre-trip extensions. Depending on which hotel we’ll stay at, it may feature a bar and a restaurant with panoramic views of the historic city center. The air-conditioned rooms typically have wireless Internet, telephone, satellite TV, minibar, safe, and a private bath.

Lunch: On your own upon arrival at the hotel—your Trip Experience Leader can provide you a recommendation or you can enjoy a meal at the hotel restaurant. You may choose to set off to find a local restaurant that serves regional specialties, such as seafood.

Afternoon: Around 5:30pm, we’ll gather with our Trip Experience Leader and fellow travelers for a Welcome Briefing and drink. Your Trip Experience Leader will lead this briefing outlining expectations for our time together and answering any questions you may have. Then, around 6pm, we'll embark on an orientation walk for about half an hour around the hotel and surrounding area, including a stop at a local bar for an opportunity to meet some of the locals. This gives us a chance to get acclimated and acquainted with Lisbon.

Dinner: On your own. You can sample local specialties ranging from seafood and grilled chicken, to hearty stews. Ask your Trip Experience Leader for specific recommendations.

Evening: Relax at a nearby café and linger over a glass of port or local wine.


Explore Lisbon • Controversial Topic: Racism and Portugal’s colonial past with Ana Martins
Destination: Lisbon
Meals included: B D
Accommodations: Hotel Marquês de Pombal or similar

Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: Today’s discoveries include a conversation about the Controversial Topic of racism in Portuguese society. We’ll speak to a woman in a mixed-race relationship to learn how the influence of colonization in Portugal's previous empire has led to inequality in society today, and how the country’s unwillingness to admit discrimination exists creates obstacles for its marginalized population. Read more about this activity below.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Around 9am, we’ll depart the hotel by motorcoach to explore the highlights of Lisbon and the surrounding area with a local guide on an included city tour. Spread out on seven low hills overlooking the Tagus River, the legendary Portuguese capital has lured traders and settlers for more than 20 centuries.

In the late 15th century, the port of Lisbon was the staging point for Portuguese explorations that would usher in the great Age of Discovery—and make Lisbon the richest European capital until the 19th century. During our drive, we'll enjoy views of the Belém district where we'll see historic monuments such as the Tower of Belém and the Discoveries Monument. We'll continue towards the city center where we'll pass through the Avenida da Liberdade, an area known for its luxury shops, and we'll see the 18th-century architecture of Restauradores Square. Then, we'll drive through Baixa, an area in the heart of Lisbon that was destroyed and completely rebuilt after the Great Earthquake of 1755. Baixa now features broad squares and avenues flanked by shops, cafés, and elegant Neo-Classical buildings.

Around 11:15am, we'll enter the Alfama district, one of Lisbon's oldest and most ethnically diverse neighborhoods to see the city from another perspective as we leave our bus behind and set off on a walking tour. We'll stroll these narrow laneways, admire the charismatic architecture and mingle with locals.

At around 11:45am we’ll walk to a small café in the Alfama district to meet Ana Martins, a white Portuguese woman married to a man of African descent, for a conversation about a Controversial Topic: racism in Portugal, and the country’s struggle to reconcile with its colonial past.

As one of the first countries to begin the Age of Exploration, Portugal built a globe-spanning empire, with colonies in the Americas, Africa, and other far-flung corners of the world. When colonial rule ended in 1975, many people from those colonies immigrated to the mainland; however, the integration process has not been a smooth one, and inequality is rampant. For example, African immigrants and those of African descent are 50% more likely to do manual labor than their white Portuguese counterparts, and 40% more likely to rent their homes and have trouble paying bills on time. Black residents also cite discrimination in schools and in the workplace as ongoing occurrences in their daily lives.

Despite this inequality, however, Portugal is largely a country in denial about its racism problem. According to a recent study, only 23% of people think Portugal has a problem with racism; the rest think racism is simply something that happens elsewhere. Some even wonder if racism is real. As 2020 continues to shine a light on racial injustice throughout the world, many people in Portugal are now being confronted with questions about their treatment of black people. A national reckoning has ensued, with racism a frequent topic on the nightly news and in the media.

We’ll get a firsthand perspective of this issue from Ana, a woman in her 30s who was born and raised in Lisbon. As a white woman married to a man of African descent, she can share her firsthand experience of how people in Portugal are treated differently based on their race. Ana and her husband also have a son, a toddler named Simao; raising a mixed-race child has revealed a Portugal that she hadn’t seen before, as she helps her innocent son navigate a world in which he’s bullied solely because of the color of his skin.

During our 1-hour conversation, Ana will candidly share her experiences with racism and explain how it has affected everything from employment opportunities to playground dynamics. She will also tell us how she feels living in a country where many people do not consider racism to be a problem. The staff at the café is also very diverse, offering more opportunity to get a true perspective of the problem of racism in Portugal, and to explore the roots of the issue to learn how it all began.

Portugal has a long and deeply enmeshed history with Africa and its people—first as a prominent agent in the slave trade, and then, after slavery was abolished, as a colonizer. By 1975, Portugal had given up all of its African colonies—which at the height of the Portuguese Empire included Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau—but sadly independence did not bring peace for these emerging states. Instead, their first years without colonial rule were marked by political corruption and civil unrest, causing about one million people from the former colonies to immigrate to Portugal.

Portugal’s total population was only about 10 million at the time, so this influx of people—which included black Africans, white Portuguese colonists, and mixed-race families—upset the Portuguese economy, housing market, and even the country’s national identity. Competition arose for jobs, and a number of public buildings and hotels, and even some private buildings, were converted to house the newly-arrived people. This increased competition for work and accommodations has contributed to an increase in racial tensions that many in Portugal are still reckoning with.

Racism can be an uncomfortable topic, and some travelers may feel sensitive or emotional during our conversation. Despite these difficulties, this is an important subject to learn about in order to understand the real Portugal of today. We encourage you to come to this discussion with an open mind and respect for the people you’ll be speaking with, who will be sharing their personal (and often vulnerable) stories to help shed light on this issue. There will be plenty of time for you to ask questions any questions you may have. Experiences like this are possible because of O.A.T.’s local connections.

Lunch: On your own around 12:45pm. You have the choice to either explore lunch options at a local restaurant near downtown neighborhood, or return to the hotel and enjoy lunch there, followed by free time.

Afternoon: If you choose to return to the hotel for lunch, we'll depart by bus around 12:45pm and drive for about 30 minutes back to the hotel. Then, you’ll have free time to freshen up or relax before we go on a walk through the city around 6:15pm.

We’ll walk to Bairro Alto, one of Lisbon’s most racially-diverse neighborhoods, stopping along the way at a panoramic viewing point, where we can admire the splendor of the city under the evening sky. Then, we’ll continue our walk through Bairro Alto as we make our way to the restaurant where we’ll have dinner tonight.

Dinner: Around 7pm, we'll enjoy a Welcome Dinner together at a local restaurant, featuring Portuguese cuisine and traditional fado music.

Evening: After dinner, we drive for about 15 minutes and arrive back at the hotel at about 9pm. The remainder of the evening is free to explore more of the area and perhaps enjoy a nightcap at a nearby café.


Cascais • Sintra National Palace
Destination: Lisbon
Meals included: B L
Accommodations: Hotel Marquês de Pombal or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: We’ll depart the hotel by bus around 9:30am and drive for about 45 minutes toward Cascais. Upon arrival, we'll join our Trip Experience Leader for a walk through this former fishing village, known for its sandy beaches, mosaic sidewalks, and pastel-colored buildings.

Around 11am, we’ll continue by bus for about 45 minutes to Sintra. The village is situated within a fairytale landscape of lush forests, turreted palaces, and castle ruins. We'll visit Sintra National Palace, a 15th-century medieval palace where the Portuguese royal family spent their summers until the 1800s, and embark on a tour for about one hour. Discover the medieval, gothic, and Moorish architectural influences as we explore the palace's decorative staterooms.

Lunch: Around 1pm, we’ll sit down for a buffet-style lunch serving hot and cold regional dishes.

Afternoon: You’ll have about an hour of free time following lunch to explore Sintra. We depart around 3pm for the drive back to Lisbon, arriving to our hotel around 3:45pm where you will have free time for the remainder of the day. You might choose to explore the city on your own, perhaps enjoying a visit to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum or the Time Out Market, an indoor venue featuring gourmet food stalls, shops, and bars.

Dinner: On your own—you may choose to sample the region’s most famous dishes including bacalhau, a popular dried and salted cod dish, or caldo verde, a traditional Portuguese soup.

Evening: On your own—you’re free to explore as you’d like, or ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations.


Rural Portugal • Overland to Évora • Home-Hosted Dinner
Destination: Évora
Meals included: B L D
Accommodations: Pousada de Évora or similar

Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: Today’s discoveries include a Home-Hosted Dinner with a local family in Évora. We’ll separate into smaller groups of no more than 5 for an exclusive opportunity to intimately connect with residents of the city and enjoy home-cooked cuisine and friendly conversation about what life is like in this storied Portuguese city. Read more about this activity below.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: We’ll depart the hotel around 9am on an hour-long journey by bus to Azeitão, passing over the Vasco da Gama bridge as we leave Lisbon. While in Azeitão, we’ll learn about the longstanding Portuguese tradition of azulejos. Introduced to Iberia by Moors, these blue or multi-colored ceramic tiles decorate everything from church walls and palaces to the façades of most Portuguese homes. With our small group, we'll also gain experiential insight into the ancient art form by trying our hand at painting some of the tiles ourselves.

We depart around 11am for a 10- to 15-minute drive to the nearby village of Queijeira Velha, where we’ll visit a traditional artisanal cheese producer to learn about Azeitão cheese, a velvety local specialty made from raw sheep's milk.

Lunch: Around 12:15pm, we’ll enjoy lunch at the cheese shop.

Afternoon: We’ll depart the cheese shop around 2pm for a drive of about one hour past landscapes dotted with cork trees and olive groves.

We’ll arrive at our hotel in Évora around 3pm and receive our room assignments. While our exact hotel may vary, the amenities may include an on-site bar and restaurant. The air-conditioned rooms typically have a safe, cable TV, wireless Internet, minibar, and a private bath. You’ll have some free time to freshen up after the day’s journey.

Dinner: Around 7pm, we’ll split into smaller groups of no more than 5 and depart the hotel for a motorcoach ride of about 15 minutes to visit a local family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

With your small, intimate group size, you’ll have the exclusive opportunity to deeply connect with your host family and enjoy meaningful conversation about what day-to-day life is like in this Portuguese city. Your host will be a working- or middle-class family, living in a typical home where multiple generations will likely be living under one roof, offering a broad view of local culture and tradition.

You’ll also have the chance to savor authentic, home-cooked Portuguese cuisine as you share the same type of meal that your host would share with their own friends and family. Dinner will be made from seasonally-available ingredients, and might include Portuguese specialties like carne alguidar, a simple but savory dish featuring pork marinated in a mix of roasted pepper paste and spices for 24 hours or longer. You might also enjoy a taste of Portuguese wine from your host's wine cellar.

We’ll say goodbye to our new friends at around 9pm, and then drive back to our hotel.

Evening: The rest of the night is free. You might enjoy a nightcap at the hotel bar or simply relax before tomorrow’s discoveries.


Explore Évora • Discussion with university students • Portuguese cooking lesson
Destination: Évora
Meals included: B L D
Accommodations: Pousada de Évora or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Around 8:45am, we embark on a walking tour of Évora, an ancient hilltop town with Roman and Moorish roots that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. First, we'll head towards Évora University, the second-oldest university in Portugal dating back to the 16th century. Here, we'll meet a couple of students who will show us around, and speak frankly to us about the socio-economic implications of many Portuguese students moving to other countries after university.

We'll continue our explorations around 10am. Our stroll within Evora's medieval walls will reveal a series of houses adorned with wrought-iron balconies. We'll also see the influence of Rome at the ruins of the Temple of Diana, whose 14 exquisite Corinthian columns date back to the second and third centuries.

Near Évora's main square is the Church of St. Francis, home to a macabre bone chapel (Capela dos Ossos) which welcomes visitors with the eerie message: “We bones that are here, for yours await.” Inside, thousands of skeletons and skulls have been carefully arranged along the chapel walls, ceilings, and columns—put there by three Franciscan monks in the early 16th century who wanted wealthy residents of Évora to reflect on the transience of material things and inevitability of death.

Around 11:45am, we depart for a drive of about 15 minutes and gather together to learn some of the secrets of Portuguese cuisine during a cooking class. Our small group size will afford us this special opportunity as it allows us to ask questions of our hosts, gain more insight about their culture, and learn how to cook like a local.

Lunch: Around 1pm during the cooking class, featuring Portuguese cuisine.

Afternoon: Around 2:30pm, we head back to our hotel where we’ll arrive after around 15 minutes. The afternoon is free for you to explore the town. You might choose to explore the cobbled alleyways that many of the 15th-century Portuguese kings once called home, or relax at a café and take in your surroundings.

Dinner: Around 7:30pm, we’ll enjoy a traditional dinner at our historic pousada, featuring traditional cuisine.

Evening: You’re free to retire to your room, enjoy a drink at the hotel bar, or venture back out into Évora for the evening. Your Trip Experience Leader is ready with recommendations.


Roman ruins of Mérida • Overland to Carmona, Spain
Destination: Carmona
Meals included: B D
Accommodations: Parador de Carmona

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: We depart the hotel around 8:30am, setting our clocks forward by an hour as we travel to Spain, where we enter Extremadura, an autonomous Spanish province known as the homeland of such famous 16th-century conquistadores as Pizarro and Cortés. As we traverse this vast and sparsely populated farming region we will likely see views of storks nesting in ancient steeples and medieval towns dotting the plain.

Around 11:45am, we arrive in Mérida where we embark on a walk of about 2 hours. We’ll explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mérida, including its 6,000-seat Roman theater and the adjoining amphitheater, where gladiators once battled to the death against animals imported from Asia and Africa and confined in the large, cross-shaped pit we'll see at center stage. Although the region of Extremadura once marked the boundary between Moorish and Christian Spain, the capital of the region, Mérida, fell under Moorish, Christian, and even Portuguese control throughout its storied history. It is better known, however, as one of the most famous Roman capitals on the Iberian Peninsula, and it displays this heritage in some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in all of Europe. Our Trip Experience Leader will help make the history and culture come alive during a walk through Mérida's old quarter, giving us deeper insight into the region.

Lunch: On your own around 1:30pm. Your Trip Experience Leader will be happy to provide a recommendation for where to eat as options include rustic taverns, tapas, and contemporary Spanish cuisine.

Afternoon: Around 2:15pm, we continue on our bus to the charming Andalusian town of Carmona, where we arrive around 6pm and check in to our hotel. Depending on where we stay, our hotel is likely to be situated high atop a hill that overlooks the vast plains below. Typical amenities include a restaurant and a bar, a swimming pool, and an elegant lounge. Rooms may feature a satellite TV, a safe, a minibar, and a private bath.

Dinner: Around 8pm at the hotel restaurant with regional dishes and sweet desserts.

Evening: On your own to take a short walk or lounge in the hotel bar.


Carmona • Optional Seville tour
Destination: Carmona
Meals included: B D
Accommodations: Parador de Carmona

Activity Note: If Day 8 falls on a Sunday, we will visit the walled fortress of El Alcázar instead of the Seville Cathedral.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel from 7:30am-9am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: You may choose to spend the full day exploring Carmona on your own. Meander through this picturesque walled town with its Roman-era streets at your own pace. You may want to see the Seville Gate and its double Moorish arch, which leads to the narrow streets and Renaissance mansions of Old Town. Cozy Plaza San Fernando is home to a series of elegant 17th-century homes; and the nearby Roman Necropolis contains the relics of more than 900 families that lived in and around Carmona some 2,000 years ago. You may even choose to take a trip on your own to the Roman ruins or convent where you can take in the architecture and leave with homemade baked goods.

Or, you may elect to take our optional tour to Seville, the romantic Spanish city renowned for bullfighting, the flamenco, and Don Juan. Those who choose the optional tour to Seville will depart the hotel around 9am for a bus ride of about an hour. Discover Seville's highlights, including its picturesque homes, 2000-year-old plazas, and maze of cobbled streets in neighborhoods like the Barrio de Santa Cruz. We'll also explore the Seville Cathedral, one of the largest and most impressive churches in the world. Built in the 15th century at the site of a twelfth-century mosque, the massive Cathedral is also home to the golden Retablo Mayor, the largest altarpiece in the world—and is the reputed burial place of Christopher Columbus. Thirty-five ramps—originally built so guards could ascend swiftly on donkeys or horses—lead up to the bell chamber, where you may enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Lunch: On your own—travelers who are staying in Carmona may choose to venture out to find a local restaurant. If you join us on our optional tour, lunch on your own is scheduled for around 1pm. You may seek out local specialties in Seville.

Afternoon: As our optional tour begins to wind down, you’ll have free time to continue exploring or browsing the local shops. Then, we’ll board a bus to Carmona around 3:30pm. We’ll arrive back in Carmona around 4:45pm and reconvene with travelers who didn’t take the optional tour.

At around 6:45pm, we’ll join our Trip Experience Leader for an hour-long discovery walk into Carmona’s historic heart, where we’ll meander through the narrow lanes, and admire the picturesque facades of the 16th-century homes that line the cobbled streets.

Dinner: Around 7:45pm, we'll walk over to a local restaurant for dinner.

Evening: Upon arrival back to the hotel around 8:15pm, the evening is free for you to go out for a nightcap or pack before we depart tomorrow.

Seville - $85/person

Set on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, Seville was occupied by the Romans from about 200 B.C.; then the Moors ruled for some 500 years until they were expelled in the middle of the 13th century by the Christian warrior Fernando III. Seville is also where Ferdinand and Isabella administered their court, and Columbus returned at the end of his voyage to America. Enhance your Spain travel experience, and discover several of Seville’s highlights on this optional tour, including the historic Spanish city’s picturesque whitewashed homes, 2000-year-old plazas, and maze of cobbled streets in neighborhoods like the Barrio de Santa Cruz. We’ll also explore the Seville Cathedral, one of the largest and most impressive churches in the world. Built in the 15th century at the site of a twelfth-century mosque, the massive Cathedral is also home to the golden Retablo Mayor, the largest altarpiece in the world—and is the reputed burial place of Christopher Columbus. We'll also have time on our own in Seville for individual exploring before we return to Carmona in mid-afternoon.


Explore Ronda • Controversial Topic: The uncertain future of bullfighting in Spain with Jose Murube
Destination: Ronda
Meals included: B L
Accommodations: Parador de Ronda

Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: Today we’ll examine the Controversial Topic of bullfighting in Spain when we meet the owner of a ranch which breeds some of Spain’s most prestigious fighting bulls. Together, we’ll have a conversation about the role of bullfighting in traditional Spanish culture, about how cultural attitudes are turning against it over time, and about its prospects for the future. Read more about this activity below.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 8am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: We depart our hotel at about 9am by private motorcoach, making the journey south from Carmona to Ronda, admiring views of several of the region's famous “white villages” along the way. Nestled into mountainsides or set atop dramatic gorges, Andalusia's Pueblos Blancos are a series of picturesque whitewashed hill towns and quaint villages that offer glimpses of Spanish life and culture during medieval times.

At around 10:15am, we’ll stop at La Cobatilla, a bull farm owned by Jose Murube, a descendent of the prestigious Murube family, which has bred fighting bulls in this region since the 19th century. Murube bulls are prized throughout Spain, and have been used in bullfights in some of the country’s most prestigious venues, including the bullrings of Ronda and Madrid.

We’ll spend about two hours at the farm. First, we'll head to the family residence where we'll meet Jose (or another member of the family if he is not available) and spend about an hour getting to know each other as Jose regales us with stories of his life in the countryside, and the memories he has of living here with his family. We'll then head out and explore the farm with Jose as our companion. We’ll walk along the grounds, taking in the dehesa landscape that surrounds us, an unspoiled expanse of vast green pastures and evergreen oaks that typifies the pastoral scenery of this region of southern Spain. We’ll also see the free-range bulls that are raised here, and learn about the Murube family’s finely-tuned process for breeding and raising the mighty beasts.

Lunch: At around 12:15pm, we’ll enjoy a light lunch on the ranch, made from fresh ingredients grown on the farm.

Afternoon: At around 1:30pm, we’ll sit down with Jose on the ranch for a conversation about a Controversial Topic: the waning popularity of bullfighting in Spain. This controversial activity has been a proud part of Spain’s cultural heritage for hundreds of years, and at one time was almost universally beloved. In recent decades, however, cultural attitudes have shifted, and a generation of younger Spaniards and animal rights activists have come to see it as a form of barbaric cruelty that needs to end.

Throughout the country, approximately 60% of the population is opposed to the practice, and some parts of Spain have outright banned it. In the Catalonian capital of Barcelona for example, bullfighting was forbidden by a grassroots vote in 2012. Although the legal status of the ban has been challenged federally, the city converted its ring into a shopping mall, sending a clear message about the future of bullfighting in the region.

We’ll spend about an hour discussing this controversy with Jose (or another member of the Murube family if Jose is unavailable). As a member of the Murube family, which has been in the business of breeding fighting bulls for generations, and the current owner of the family’s prestigious ranch, bullfighting has been an important part of Jose’s life. He is therefore deeply attuned to how attitudes towards this controversial sport have changed over time, and can offer his expert insights into contemporary opinions. During our conversation, Jose will also share his own point of view and help us understand the role that bullfighting has had in Spanish culture over time.

Bullfighting’s popularity began in the 16th century as a way for nobles to demonstrate their bravery and machismo. Throughout the following years, it became increasingly popular, as nobles and commoners alike took to the ring, dressing in fabulously flamboyant attire, and exposing themselves skillfully to as much danger as they could endure to prove their fearlessness and finesse. Because bullfighting takes so long to master and elicits such a strong emotional response, Spaniards quickly came to view it as a high art rather than merely a sport. Over the centuries, bullfighting has become intertwined with Spain’s cultural heritage; Ernest Hemingway fell in love with the spectacle and famously sang its praises to an international audience in works like The Sun Also Rises, and the Spanish Senate officially declared it part of the country’s cultural patrimony in 2013.

Its supporters—more commonly found in Spain’s smaller towns and villages, and among its older generations—insist that to end bullfighting would be to erase part of the country’s cultural identity. And although the practice is undeniably bloody, the animal doesn’t go to waste. After a fight, the bull’s meat is used to produce food for human and animal consumption; is it so different from any other form of butchery? Critics counter that yes, it almost certainly is. They claim that while the goal of a fight may be to kill the bull, the animal endures significant physical and mental abuse before and during the match. In addition to the animal rights issues, bullfighting is obviously dangerous to its human participants; over the course of its history, more than 500 matadors are estimated to have died, and many more have been injured. Bullfighting’s opponents claim that it is nothing more than a medieval bloodsport that has no place in a civilized, 21st century society.

While bullfights are still regularly held in Spain—in the summer, bullrings might host a fight every week—its popularity is waning. Approximately 20 bullrings still exist in the country, drawing smaller crowds each year. During our hour-long conversation with Jose, he'll share his firsthand perspective of how he has seen the practice, and attitudes towards it, change over his lifetime, and what he thinks the future might hold for bullfighting in Spain. We’ll also have time to ask questions that challenge him and ourselves to deepen our understanding of this difficult subject.

We’ll depart around 2:30pm, and drive for about an hour to our hotel in Ronda. We’ll arrive around 3:45pm, then check in and get our room assignments. Our parador's amenities include a restaurant specializing in Andalusian cuisine, gift shop, lounge, café, seasonal swimming pool, and wireless Internet. The air-conditioned rooms may include a balcony, minibar, safe, satellite TV, and a private bath.

The rest of the day is free to explore independently. At 5pm, you may choose to join your Trip Experience Leader for a short orientation walk around the neighborhood surrounding the hotel.

Dinner: On your own. Your Trip Experience Leader can point you toward a restaurant featuring Andalusian cuisine.

Evening: You will have free time to stroll the town or enjoy a cocktail at one of the hotel’s restaurants and bars.

Cost: Free. DAY 10

Explore Ronda Old Town • Controversial Topic: Royal corruption and the fate of the monarchy with Armando & Jaime
Destination: Ronda
Meals included: B L
Accommodations: Parador de Ronda

Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: Today’s discoveries include a conversation about the Controversial Topic of the future of the Spanish monarchy. In recent years, Spain’s former king, Juan Carlos I, became deeply embroiled in a series of high-profile scandals that undermined Spanish faith in the monarchy and eventually led to his abdication. While his successor, King Felipe VI, seems determined to overcome his father’s reputation, many in the country are beginning to ask whether Spain has a need for royalty at all. We’ll speak to two local experts to hear both sides of this controversial subject—read more below.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 8am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Around 9:30am, we’ll depart the hotel by foot and meet our local guide for a walking tour of Ronda, lasting about two hours. The town, a bucket list item in Western Europe, is one of the largest—and most spectacular—of Andalusia's white hill towns. Few places can boast a more dramatic setting than Ronda, one of the oldest cities in Spain and a one-time stronghold for legendary Andalusian bandits from the 18th to early 20th centuries. The town is divided by a 360-foot-deep ravine—El Tajo—which is spanned by three bridges, including the newer Puente Nuevo, a graceful 18th-century stone structure high above the Guadalevín River. On one side of the 210-foot-wide gorge are the narrow medieval streets of Ronda's Moorish Old Town, known as La Ciudad; on the other, the more recent El Mercadillo quarter, which was constructed after the Christian Reconquest of 1485. Homes clinging precariously to the cliff faces of El Tajo add even more to Ronda's dramatic beauty.

Our walking tour will focus on Ronda's walled Old Town, where we'll wander through its labyrinth of medieval streets, flanked by Moorish homes with wrought-iron balconies. We’ll also enjoy spectacular views of the canyon from atop the Puente Nuevo Bridge, with the valleys and hills shimmering in the distance. Just don't get too close—in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway describes how prisoners were tossed alive from this very spot into the deep gorge below during the bitter Spanish Civil War.

At around 11:45am, we will walk to the historic parador located by the bridge, converted during the Franco regime from a town hall building into a luxury accommodation, for a conversation about a Controversial Topic: the conflicted attitudes of Spaniards about the future of the country’s monarchy. The people of Spain have grown increasingly wary of the institution in light of a series of high-profile scandals committed by the country’s previous king, Juan Carlos I—including an expensive 2012 elephant-hunting excursion to Botswana, and a suspicious $100 million payment that the king received for his part in a Saudi Arabian railway project and then promptly gifted to his mistress. Although Juan Carlos I abdicated in 2014, and his son Felipe VI has maintained a clean reputation thus far, the corruption has led many to question whether the monarchy should serve any role in Spain’s future. According to polls conducted in 2020, opinions are about evenly split between those who wish to see the monarchy preserved, and republicans who want it abolished; meanwhile, around 25% of the population is undecided.

We’ll hear arguments for both sides during our hour-long conversation with two local people with strong opinions about the issue. First, we’ll meet Armando Gil Ecay, a local teacher in his 60s with ties to Spain’s socialist party who believes the monarchy should be abolished. Growing up, Armando was exposed to a variety of diverse opinions about the monarchy, but it was during his studies of history at the University of Malaga that he came firmly around to the republican point of view.

The king is an important figure in Spanish society, and Armando believes that nobody should be granted such a prominent place solely by the circumstance of their birth. In a fair and just society, only those who earn their office through merit should be fit to govern. While the current king, Felipe VI, has shown himself to be a more competent and temperate man than his scandal-plagued father Juan Carlos I—who absconded to the Dominican Republic in August 2020 to avoid prosecution for his alleged crimes—Armando believes that a hereditary system is fundamentally flawed, and it’s only a matter of time until an unfit head wears the crown once again.

We’ll then hear the opposite point of view from Jaime Coronel, who believes that the monarchy is a fundamental pillar of the Spanish nation and must be protected. Born in Ronda in 1969, towards the end of the Franco dictatorship, Jaime came of age in a time of political upheaval and uncertainty. As a child, he watched as king Juan Carlos I took power from Franco’s fascist regime in 1975, and helped lay the framework for a democratic society with the ratification of the 1978 constitution. At the age of 12, he witnessed an attempted coup d’etat in 1981, when officers of the military held the Spanish Parliament hostage at gunpoint—a situation that was resolved without bloodshed when the king denounced the rebels and urged them to surrender.

Jaime believes that while it may be imperfect, the monarchy is ultimately an important, unifying institution in Spanish society. While he understands the resentment toward the royals over recent scandals, he believes that abolishing the monarchy because of them would be a drastic overreaction—working within the system to reform it would be the wiser course. All forms of government have to deal with corruption, after all, and Jaime is convinced of the current regime’s commitment to justice. For example, in 2018, king Felipe VI’s own brother-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for abusing his royal connections to embezzle public funds. In the end, Jaime believes that the monarchy may be flawed, but it can be fixed—with Spain’s authority over independent-minded provinces like Catalonia and the Basque Country in an already tenuous position, abolishing the monarchy entirely might spell the end of Spain as we know it.

We’ll spend about an hour talking to Armando and Jaime, which will include time to ask questions of our own about this complicated issue with no easy answers. By interacting closely with local people strongly connected to this contemporary controversy, we’ll enjoy the rare opportunity to truly understand the powerful opinions that everyday Spanish people hold about this thorny subject. Because of O.A.T.’s small group size and strong connections in the region, we’ll be able to receive insights that are unavailable to most travelers.

Lunch: Around 1pm, we’ll enjoy a traditional lunch at the historic parador.

Afternoon: Beginning at around 2:30pm, you'll have the rest of the day free to explore Ronda.

Dinner: On your own. Ask your Trip Experience Leader to recommend a restaurant where you can enjoy a typical Andalusian dinner, including local favorites such as fried fish, gazpacho, oxtail, Iberian ham or payoya goat cheese. If you imbibe, ask to sample the regional wines.

Evening: On your own. You may choose to linger over a long dinner or enjoy a nightcap at the hotel bar.

DAY 11

Visit Córdoba • Journey to Úbeda
Destination: Úbeda
Meals included: B D
Accommodations: Parador de Úbeda or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Around 8:45am, we board a bus for our journey through southern Spain. Around 12pm, we arrive at the city of Córdoba. While it was originally founded as a Roman colony, Córdoba reached its peak as an Islamic capital in the tenth century, rising to become the largest (and arguably, most multicultural) city in Western Europe. Today, Córdoba is known primarily for the Mezquita-Cathedral, its mesmerizing eighth-century mosque and one of the world’s largest Islamic buildings. But what makes this mosque truly unusual is Capilla Mayor, a Gothic Christian church built in the center of the mosque in the 16th century by Charles V. Mass is still celebrated here daily.

Lunch: On your own around noon. Ask your Trip Experience Leader for some of their favorite restaurants.

Afternoon: Immediately following lunch you have free time to explore the town on your own. You may visit the ancient Roman bridge or triumphal arch, explore the Alcázar of Christian Kings, or walk Calleja de las Flores—a narrow, flower-lined street that ends in a plaza.

At about 2pm, we’ll regroup and explore the Mezquita-Cathedral, witnessing its architectural magnificence before we visit the synagogue and Jewish quarter with the expert guidance of our Trip Experience Leader.

We’ll depart Córdoba around 4pm by bus, arriving at our parador around 6pm. Our hotel is conveniently situated next to the chapel of El Salvador in the center of Úbeda’s historic Plaza de Vasquez Molina. Amenities typically include an inner courtyard, bar, and restaurant. Rooms may feature air-conditioning, satellite TV, wireless Internet, minibar, safe, and private bath.

You’ll have about two hours of free time to unpack or freshen up before dinner.

Dinner: Around 8pm at our parador, featuring local specialties.

Evening: On your own. You can retire after a later dinner or go for a walk around the town.

DAY 12

A Day in the Life of a family-run olive oil mill
Destination: Úbeda
Meals included: B L
Accommodations: Parador de Úbeda or similar

Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: Today’s discoveries feature our A Day in the Life experience when we visit a family-owned olive mill in the village of Begijar. We’ll meet the family and learn how they’ve built their business up over generations, and get a firsthand view of the labor required to keep it running as we walk through the groves and visit the mill. We’ll also enjoy a farm-fresh lunch with our hosts, made from locally-sourced ingredients. Read more about this activity below.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 8am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Situated in the Jaén province on a plateau between the Guadalquivir and Guadalimar rivers, Úbeda is bordered on all sides by numerous olive groves that produce some of the world's best olive oil. Around 9:30am, we board a private motorcoach and drive from our hotel in Úbeda about 30 minutes to the village of Begijar where we'll visit a family-owned olive oil mill for our A Day in the Life experience.

Olive oil is the dominant industry in this region of Spain; the nation produces more olive oil than any other country in the world, and approximately 40% of Spain's national production takes place here. Nearly every person in the local economy is connected to it in some way or another. By venturing out into the countryside and intimately connecting with a family that runs one of the most innovative mills, we’ll have a rare opportunity to see firsthand just how important olive oil is to the way of life here, and gain an appreciation for the hard work that goes into producing it, from start to finish.

We’ll arrive at the mill around 10am and meet the family owners, Manolo and Jose, who have taken over the company now that their parents Pepe and Ana have retired. While the family patriarch and matriarch have handed over the reins, they still live on the estate and enjoy a close relationship with their children and the farm that they spent their lives building together.

We’ll walk through an olive grove, where the family will show us the different varieties of olives that are grown here, and the skills required to identify when the fruit is ready to be plucked. Pay close attention—we’ll also enjoy a hands-on experience as we help out with the harvest, side-by-side with the workers in the field (if we visit outside of harvest season, we’ll still pick a few olives to get a better appreciation of the hard work that this industry requires).

We’ll spend about an hour in the fields, then we'll go inside the mill, where we’ll sit down with the family for coffee and conversation about their work here, and their role in the local community. Since Jose and Manolo have taken over the day-to-day operations, they’ve strived to innovate to keep the family farm at the cutting edge of Spain’s olive oil production. They’ll also talk about what it takes to thrive in this small, rural community—out here, bonds are tight, and their neighbors regularly come by the mill to use their equipment, and to seek advice on how to get the best quality product from their harvest.

At around 11:30am, we’ll visit the mill to see the production process for ourselves. Jose and Manolo will explain how their equipment works, and how they use modern technology to press the olives and refine them into the precious finished product. We’ll also see for ourselves how the oil is used as they lead us through a tasting.

Lunch: After working up an appetite, we’ll join Jose and Manolo at 12:30pm for an included lunch on the farm, prepared with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. We’ll take our time and share our meal together for about an hour and a half, taking advantage of our small group size to converse with and ask questions of our gracious hosts, as well as any of their workers who choose to join us.

Afternoon: We board our private motorcoach back to Úbeda around 2pm for a drive of about 30 minutes. Once back at the parador, you can choose to freely explore the city, perhaps visiting the pottery or blacksmith museum.

Dinner: On your own. Your Trip Experience Leader can recommend a local restaurant.

Evening: Your evening is free to explore independently. You might choose to continue strolling around the old city, or you may opt to sit down at a café for a glass of local wine.

DAY 13

Overland to Toledo • Explore Toledo
Destination: Toledo
Meals included: B
Accommodations: Sercotel Alfonso VI or similar

Activity Note: Today, we’ll travel by bus for a total of about three hours, with stops along the way. Roads may be bumpy or uneven at times.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:45am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: We board our bus around 9am for the start of our overland journey. At around 11am, we’ll have an opportunity for a snack and restroom break at Puerto Lapice before heading back on the road around 11:30am.

We'll arrive in Toledo around 12:30pm, at which point we'll drop our luggage off at our hotel. Depending on where we stay, it may feature a bar and a restaurant. The air-conditioned rooms typically have wireless Internet, telephone, satellite TV, minibar, safe, and a private bath. You’ll have some free time for a stroll in the heart of Toledo. Your room will be available around 2pm, at which time you can choose to freshen up or continue exploring Toledo.

Lunch: On your own. Your Trip Experience Leader can recommend options for lunch.

Afternoon: We'll reconvene around 3:30pm at the hotel to embark on an approximate 2-hour walking tour of vibrant Toledo with a local guide. Known as the "city of three cultures," Toledo was once the capital of the Castile region of Spain. It was considered a melting pot in medieval times, in which Christians, Arabs, and Jews lived together for centuries. The varied cultural and religious influences of the city can still be seen today, and you'll witness them in the form of ancient synagogues, churches, mosques, and impressive palaces. The city's picturesque old quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is lined with ancient buildings that serve as a time capsule of civilizations long gone.

Our tour wraps up around 5:30pm, at which point you can pursue your own discoveries or return to the hotel to relax.

Dinner: On your own. You can ask your Trip Experience Leader to recommend some local restaurants where you can try traditional cuisine.

Evening: Free for you to continue exploring the city at night, perhaps joining the locals for a glass of vermouth, or stopping at one of the famous cafés to sample churros con chocolate.

DAY 14

Toledo • Explore Madrid • Flamenco demonstration
Destination: Toledo
Meals included: B L
Accommodations: Sercotel Alfonso VI or similar

Activity Note: On select departures, the Prado Museum may be unavailable and a tour of the Reina Sofia Museum will be included instead.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Around 9am, we'll board the bus for the approximate hour and 15-minute drive to Madrid.

Upon arrival at around 10:15am, we'll take a brief restroom break at Antocha station around 10:15am. Then, we'll set off on our panoramic city tour at around 10:30am. Highlights include stops at the bustling Plaza de Oriente; the vast El Retiro park, and the colorful Paseo de La Castellana and Paseo de Colon.

Our bus tour wraps up at Prado Museum, where we'll spend about an hour. One of the gems of the city, Prado Museum first opened in 1819 and has since maintained its status as the best collection of Spanish art in Europe. In this spacious building, you'll find art dating back as early as the 12th century, and of course, witness the works of some of the country's renowned artists—from El Greco to Velasquez and beyond.

After our museum visit, we'll board the bus again and depart for the approximate 15-minute ride to lunch.

Lunch: At a local restaurant around 12:45pm, featuring a host of regional specialties.

Afternoon: After lunch at around 2pm, we'll get an authentic glimpse of Spain's famous flamenco dance accompanied by traditional music. Discover the rhythms of the cante, or song, and passion and precision of the baile, or dance. After chatting with the flamenco musicians and witnessing their lively demonstration, perhaps you’ll be inspired to try this dance style for yourself.

The hour-long dance lesson wraps up around 2:45pm, at which point you'll have an hour for independent discoveries in Madrid. We'll board the bus once more at around 3:45pm to head back to our hotel. Upon return to Toledo around 5pm, The afternoon is free for you to explore on your own. Perhaps you'll head to the Mirador del Valle for panoramic views of the city, or stroll Toledo's bustling streets lined with shops and restaurants.

Dinner: On your own. This may be the perfect chance to sample caracoles a la andaluza, snails slow-cooked in a rich, spicy broth.

Evening: Your evening is free to wander down the lively streets of Toledo, take in a theater show, or relax at the hotel bar.

DAY 15

Explore Toledo or Madrid
Destination: Toledo
Meals included: B D
Accommodations: Sercotel Alfonso VI or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Today is free for you to pursue your own interests in Toledo. Perhaps you'll take this time to walk the outskirts of the city for impressive views, or visit a local artisan shop where you can view and purchase traditional Byzantine-style decorated pottery.

Alternatively, you may decide to take a train ride into Madrid to further your discoveries there. You can take some time to mingle with the madrileños—or the people of Madrid—along the lively boulevards and plazas. Or, discover why the Spanish say, “De Madrid al cielo” (Madrid is the next best thing to heaven) in one of the city's lovely parks, including Sabatini Gardens with its symmetric, geometric hedges; or El Retiro, Madrid's most famous park, where people rent row boats and attend local concerts.

Lunch: On your own. Perhaps you’d like to try out a traditional tortilla or Spanish omelet.

Afternoon: You’ll continue to have free time to explore Toledo or Madrid.

Later, we’ll gather together around 7:15pm for a 15-minute walk to our final meal as a group.

Dinner: Enjoy a Farewell Dinner at a traditional Spanish restaurant, where we'll toast to the discoveries and memories we made in this historic region.

Evening: Around 9pm, we’ll depart the restaurant for the hotel, where you can opt to pack for tomorrow’s departure, or enjoy one final glass of specialty vermouth with friends.

DAY 16

Return to U.S. or begin post-trip extension
Meals included: B
Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring hot and cold dishes.

Morning: Board a bus with your luggage this morning and travel about an hour to the airport for your return flight to the U.S. Or, catch your flight for your Northern Spain: Bilbao, San Sebastian & Medieval Villages or New! The Volcanic Canary Islands: Tenerife & Gran Canaria post trip-extensions.