Variety Cruises – Glories of Spain & Portugal: Part 1

The Gull and the Matador

We had previously explored the Sights &Sounds of Cuba with Variety Cruises on M/S Panorama, so boarding her sister motorsailer M/S Panorama II was like seeing an old friend again, well a close member of the family at least. MS Panorama II After a warm welcome aboard, a cool drink and a sandwich to see us through until dinner, it was off to the cabin to unpack. Tastefully decorated in woods and muted colours, as was the whole craft, our cabin was compact but with ample room for the little time we would spend in there. Cleverly designed use of space included aircon, fridge, TV, safe, a comfortable double bed and a marble finished en suite.

Soon enough it was time to head for dinner, always a treat on Variety’s cruises. The beautiful warm weather in Spain meant that we took full advantage of the al fresco dining area on the upper deck, large enough to comfortably accommodate all 49 (max) guests in a single sitting. Delicious food and attentive service was delivered as normal, with each course beautifully prepared and presented. Al fresco dining area As we got to know our fellow passengers, always very easy with such a small number onboard, even the self-confessed foodie sat next to me was delighted with the fare.

Next morning some left for the optional excursion to Grenada and, amongst other things, a visit to the magnificent Alhambra (one of the finest Islamic structures in Europe). We decided, having previously explored that area, to seek out the delights of Malaga. Our focus was the charming old town, starting with La Manquinita (the one armed lady). The Cathedral’s nickname is given because its problematic 200 year construction was halted with one of the two bell towers incomplete, but that takes little away from a magnificent exterior and interior. A 40m ceiling, majestic columns and 15 chapels were just some of the delights we sampled during our visit, together with impressive acoustics.

At the top of the hill the Castillo de Gibralfaro serves as a reminder of Malaga’s Islamic past. You can visit this 8th century (rebuilt in the 14th century) castle from the town via the scenic but steep Paseo Don Juan de Temboury, but we preferred to reduce any extra stain on these ‘silver legs’ by catching the number 35 bus from Avienda de Cervantes. There’s a good exhibition and scale model of the castle, plus panoramic views of the city, port and coastline from the ramparts.That gull! I must tell you that, whilst on the ramparts, a gull was watching me very closely. I was subsequently told that the orange tip to the beak indicates that it is ready to mate, so I was lucky to escape into the exhibition with my honour in tact. Check the times of the buses when you arrive and catch a cooling breeze, coffee or ice cream in the cafe if you are between buses (we were and did).

Picasso’s birth city, unsurprisingly, has a museum dedicated to him as well as his actual birthplace. The 11th century moorish Alcazaba and the adjacent Roman amphitheater are two of the many other places to visit in Malaga, but we also enjoyed wandering around some of the narrow streets and admiring the balconied buildings. Topped off with a coffee and a spot of people watching in a lovely plaza, made for a fine day. We even found a Costa here that sells wine, beer and ice cream as well as coffee – a revelation – why don’t we have these at home. See a montage of my photos from Malaga set to music below.

Plaza de Toros The magic of going to sleep in one place and waking in another never gets old. Our new location was Puerto Banus. This was our launchpad for our excursion to wander in the Ronda (that rhymes). Ronda means surrounded by mountains, so (you’ve guessed it) it is surrounded by the Serrania de Ronda. Couple this with the dramatic El Tajo gorge, with Rio Guadalevin (deep river) running 100m below, and we were treated to some spectacular vistas from the 18th century Puente Nuevo (New Bridge). Puente Nuevo In fact there are great views to be had at various places around the old town. The town is also regarded as the birthplace of bullfighting and the 200 year old Plaza de Toros, with its sandstone colouring, arches and 66m diameter is a must visit for bullfighting fans. The on-site museum interestingly charts the history of bullfighting from its aristocratic equestrian school days back in 1572, and contains costumes and memorabilia, including photos of star fans such as Orson Wells and Ernest Hemingway. A visit to Inglesia de Santa Maria La Mayor served up a smorgasbord of architectural and decorative styles to delight your eyes. Originally a mosque, credit must be given to the Spanish for leaving some of the finer parts in tact and building on it in Gothic and other styles. A stroll through the old town towards a sumptuous lunch revealed more fine examples of balconied windows and deep and ornate iron grill work. Apparently male suitors were only allowed to talk to females through the grills for fear that ‘hanky panky’ could otherwise result. So the ironwork could be thought of as an early form of contraception.

Back on board we were treated to another fine collection of dishes by Panorama II’s chef, who was quickly becoming a subject of worship amongst the passengers. Dinner was followed by an impromptu party for a fellow passenger’s birthday. We hoped we wouldn’t be greeting Gibraltar with too many sore heads, but you’ll have to wait for part 2 to find out.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Variety Cruises.

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Steve Aldridge

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