Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas   4 comments

Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas

Mar. 10 – 25, 2017

Lisbon, Sintra, Alentejo Province & Évora, Portugal;  Merida, Carmona, Seville,  Ronda, Cordoba, Úbeda, Toledo & Madrid, Spain

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I booked “Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas” with Overseas Adventure Travel.  This two week adventure was my 38th trip with this company.  There was a very enjoyable group of fifteen travelers in our adventure through Portugal & Spain.  The four of us pictured in the above photo were solo travelers and we had such a nice time together.  Since Jim’s passing this was my first time traveling without family, and these gals & the rest of the group made it a fun adventure. 

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This map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure web site.  We were guided on this unique adventure by our Fantastic tour director, Andres.  He was always coming up with neat learning & discovery escapades and made everyday of the trip a remarkable experience.  The name of this trip was “Back Roads of Iberia.”  Our trip began in the city of Lisbon & it ended in the city of Madrid, but the rest of the itinerary was more or less on the “back roads.”  it was intriguing to get away from the huge cities, to go down the roads less traveled and to stay in the remarkable Paradores & Pousadas (hotels in Castles, Palaces, & Monasteries located in spectacular locations.)  In this blog I am featuring each of the great Paradores & Pousadas that we had the privilege to stay in. 


 SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Overseas Adventure or Grand Circle Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip.


Lisbon, Portugal:  Lisbon is the capital & largest city in Portugal & is recognized as being the richest European capital until the 19th century.  It is spread out on seven low hills overlooking the Tagus River.  This is looking towards Alfama which is the oldest district of Lisbon. 

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Alfama District of Lisbon:  During the Islamic invasion of Iberia, the Alfama constituted the largest part of the city. Increasingly, the Alfama became inhabited by fishermen and the poor, but today the district has been invigorated.

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 Baixa District of Lisbon:  The heart of the city is the Baixa or city center; the Pombaline Baixa is an elegant district, primarily constructed after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.  And of course Andres introduced us to the popular Espinheira Ginja Cherry Liqueur.  It is served in a shot form with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup.

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Belem District of Lisbon:  The Belem Tower (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is one of the most famous and visited landmarks in Portugal. Its construction was initiated in 1515 and completed in 1519.  Also along the river is the Monument to the Discoveries, a huge boat statue located where ships departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient.  The boat was built for the Portuguese World Fair in 1940.

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Jeronimos Monastery is also located in the Belem District of Lisbon and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was built as a monument to celebrate Portuguese voyages around the world.  The construction of the monastery and church began in 1501, and was completed 100 years later.

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 What’s more fun than strolling the tree lined street near our hotel in Lisbon on a sunny beautiful day?  Add to that having time to check all the things that are for sale and listening to a city band.  Next is was night and the street scenes. 

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Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal:  The castle stands on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains above the town of Sintra.  It’s a lavish 19th century hilltop castle built on the ruins of an ancient monastery. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We got to ride up the mountain in tuk tuk’s. 

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A walk through the palatial gardens:  The park was created at the same time as the palace by King Ferdinand II.  It is a labyrinth of paths and narrow roads, connecting the palace to the many points of interest throughout the park.  The king ordered trees from diverse, distant lands to be planted there.

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A journey to the countryside near Lisbon:  Here we learned about the longstanding Portuguese tradition of azulejos which was introduced to Iberia by the Moors.  These blue or multi-colored ceramic tiles decorate everything from church walls & palaces to the facades of Portuguese homes.  Then….we each got to paint our own tiles which was rather fun. 

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Azeitao Cheese:  Next was learning about this velvety local specialty cheese made from raw sheep’s milk.  We all even had the opportunity to help make the cheese. 

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We departed Lisbon and journeyed through the Alentejo province on our way to Evora, Portugal.  We made several interesting stops along the way. 

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Arraiolos, Portugal & it’s  Castle:  Back in 1335, within the fortress walls was where all manner of village life existed.  This changed in the 14th century when the people began moving down to the valley where it was less windy and cold. By the 17th century the castle had fallen into ruins.  We walked around the little town of Arraiolos & toured their hand-embroidered wool carpet museum.

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 Alentejo Wine Farming Estate:  We learned about Portuguese wine at an 18th century estate and toured the vineyard, winery and cellars.  We sampled the wine while we enjoyed lunch at the estate. 

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 Buggy Museum:  The Estate had a large collection of buggies in a museum, the walls of the barn had big Portuguese tile murals depicting horses & carriages. 

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Portuguese Cork:  We drove through miles & miles of cork oak forests in the Alentejo (south-central) area of Portugal.  We learned that every 10 years, foresters strip off the outer layer of bark with short-handled axes. The trees are left with bare, reddish trunks where the bark was shorn. But if the work is properly done, the bark grows back so it can be harvested again in a decade. White numerals are painted on the trees as reminders for when their next turn comes up. (First photo of Cork trees & wild hogs & second photo is a close up of a harvested cork tree.)

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 Cork Factory:  The cork is put on planks and boiled in order to clean & soften them.  Then the cork is graded & cut into workable pieces.  Cork isn’t just used as corks, in fact the last photo shows some of the cork products. 

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Recinto Megalitico Dos Almendres, Alentejo Region, Portugal:  The 95 standing stones form two large stone circles. They were once part of a ceremonial site dedicated to a celestial religion.  Studies show that the first stones were laid around 6,000 BC, and this site was in continual use until 3,000 BC. Many of the stones have ancient patterns and diagrams of unknown meanings, which add to the mystery of the site.

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This O.A.T. trip is called Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas.  Loved staying in these  unique historic locations.

Pousada Convento de Evora, Evora, Portugal:  {This is the first of four of our unique accommodations while we were in Portugal & Spain.}  The rooms at the Pousada consist of the old cells of the Lóios monks.  They have been carefully updated in terms of comfort, while still maintaining all of its original and historical features.  The Pousada is located next to the ruins of the Temple of Diana, whose 14 columns date back to the second & third centuries. 

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Evora, Portugal:  It’s an ancient hilltop town with Roman & Moorish roots that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.     Evora has a well-preserved old town center, still partially enclosed by medieval walls.  The Evora Cathedral dates from the beginning of the 13th century.  A very pleasant town to stroll around in.

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We visited two of the senior students at the University of Evora.  The upper classmen typically wear these Scholars Robes, with the inside containing patches with their achievements.   Enjoyed seeing the Portuguese tiles in the classrooms.

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 Bone Chapel:  The Church of St. Francis is home to a macabre bone chapel which welcomes visitors with the eerie message:  “We bones in here wait for yours to join us.”  Inside, thousands of skeletons & skulls have been carefully arranged along the chapel walls, ceiling & columns.  They were put there by three Franciscan monks in the early 16th century. 

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And of course we all needed to taste the local wine.  Later that evening was a fun cooking class and our group prepared some of the local favorite foods.

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Merida, Spain:  We crossed from Portugal into Spain, and our first stop was Merida.  The colony of Augusta Emerita, which became present-day Merida, was founded in 25 B.C. at the end of the Spanish Campaign and was the capital of Lusitania. We saw some of the well-preserved remains of the old city which included a large bridge over the Guadiana, an amphitheatre, and a theatre.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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The Temple of Diana in Merida was a sacred site constructed by the Romans in the early first century AD, after the conquest of the area by the Emperor Augustus.

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The Roman Amphitheatre was completed in 8 BC.  Gladiators once battled to the death against animals imported from Asia & Africa and confined in the large, cross-shaped pit which can be seen from center stage. 

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The Roman Theatre of Merida was constructed in the years 16 to 15 BC.  It had a seating capacity of 6,000.  A large marble wall was on the back of the stage and had huge sculptures that have been interpreted as imperial portraits

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Our happy group of Andres and 15 travelers!

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Parador de Carmona, Carmona, Spain:  {This is the second of four of our unique accommodations.}  Once a 14th-century Moorish fortress, this Parador Hotel offers spectacular views over the countryside.  A wonderful example of Moorish architecture, the Parador has a stunning central courtyard, vaulted ceilings, original stonework, and the Mudéjar fountain.  

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Carmona, Spain:  Carmona is built on a ridge overlooking the central plain of Andalusia.  During the time of Julius Caesar (100–44 BC), it was a Roman stronghold.  The city was made even more impregnable during the long occupation of the Moors, who erected walls around it, and built fountains and palaces within.  Today it was known to our O.A.T. group as the location of the beautiful Parador where we stayed.  We really enjoyed strolling in the ancient little town of Carmona which was located below the Parador. 

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Seville, Spain:  Seville was occupied by the Romans from about 200 BC; 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. 

The Plaza de  Espana:    The complex is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by numerous bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain.  The walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.  In the center is the Vicente Traver fountain.  Today the Plaza de Espana mainly consists of Government buildings.

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 Seville Cathedral:   This is a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Seville.  It is the largest Gothic cathedral (11520 square meters) and the third-largest church in the world. Largest is St.Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City @15,160 meters.  The second largest is The National Shrine Of Our Lady Of Aparecida, Aparecida, Brazil, @ 12000 square meters.

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The Seville Cathedral was built in the 15th century, and is also home to the the largest altarpiece in the world.

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The Cathedral is also the reputed burial place of Christopher Columbus. 

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 More photos of this special Cathedral.

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 Time for some ice cream with friends & a little street entertainment.

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Pretty Seville

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The Alcazar of Seville:  While the Alcazar looks like a Moorish palace, in fact many of its most beautiful rooms were built by Moorish workmen, for the Christian king, Pedro the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360’s.  The Alcazar offers some of the best surviving examples of Mudejar architecture.  It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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We drove from Carmona, Spain to Ronda, Spain.  Along the way we made several very interesting stops and learned a lot about Spain. 

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 Andres spotted a cemetery and thought we’d like to see a typical cemetery in Spain.

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  The countryside of Andalusia is very picturesque.

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 Then it was time for coffee in a scenic location.

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Rafael Tejada:  Our destination for the day was Ronda.  Ronda is famous as being the birthplace of modern bullfighting.  Before our arrival in Ronda we stopped at a bull ranch owned by Rafael Tejada, a famous bullfighter.  We learned about life on the ranch and the breeding of toros.  We also got to meet & visit with Rafael Tejada. 

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Parador de Ronda, Ronda, Spain:  {This is the third of four of our unique accommodations, marked with red arrow.}  This outstanding Parador offered spectacular views of Ronda’s gorge and Puente Nuevo Bridge.  Private balconies were available in each of the rooms, with many offering views of the surrounding mountains.  Parador de Ronda is set in Ronda’s former Town Hall.

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 Ronda, Spain:  Ronda is one of the oldest cities in Spain and it’s divided by a 360-foot-deep ravine known as El Tajo.  On one side of the 210-foot-wide gorge are the narrow medieval streets of Ronda’s Moorish Old Town and on the other, the more recent quarter, which was constructed after the Christian Reconquest. 

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One thing for certain, you can run across some grand new friends when you travel!  We girls had such a nice time together.

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Downtown Ronda.

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A residential area of Ronda.

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And then we went on a lovely hike from the upper town, down into the gorge, to the other side of town, had a cool drink, walked through the Arabic walls & city gates and back up to town.  

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Cordobay Spain:  Cordoba was founded by the Romans and it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome.   Then it became a major Islamic center in the Middle Ages. It’s best known for La Mezquita, an immense mosque dating from 784 A.D., featuring a columned prayer hall and older Byzantine mosaics.  After it became a Catholic church in the 16th century, a Renaissance-style nave was added right in the center of the mosque.

  In the first century BC the Romans built this mighty bridge that crosses the river in Corboda.

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Cordoba was captured in 711 by the Moorish army and  became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus.  After that work began on the Great Mosque, or “Mezquita”, which later became one of the largest in all of Islam.  When the city was conquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers of the city were so awed by its beauty that they left it standing, building their cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns, and creating the extraordinary church-mosque we see today.

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What makes this mosque truly unusual is the Gothic Christian church built in the center of the mosque in the 16th century by Charles V. 

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This is the main chapel of the mosque  which was built by Moorish craftsmen in 1371.

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In the center of the mosque is a Renaissance cathedral which dates back to the early sixteenth century.  It is a very elaborate and beautiful cathedral. 

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While in Cordoba we enjoyed a horse-drawn carriage ride. 

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 We gals also enjoyed lunch together in a cute restaurant.

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 Parador De Ubeda, Ubeda, Spain:  {This is the forth of four of our unique accommodations.}  Parador De Ubeda is located in the beautiful, monumental city of Úbeda.   This Parador is housed in the old quarter of the city in a former, 16th-century palace on the Renaissance de Molina Square.  It  has kept its original, classical-style interior decor.

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Ubeda, Spain:  It’s located in the Jaen province in surrounded by olive groves.  The city of Ubeda has fine examples of all the grandeur of the Renaissance in Andalusia in the 16th and 17th centuries.  It has narrow cobblestone streets lined with Renaissance-era palaces & stately mansions.  For that reason Ubeda is an UNESCO World Heritage City.

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Olive Oil:  The city of Ubeda is bordered on all sides by numerous olive groves that produce some of the world’s best olive oil.  We learned about the olive oil production process —from going to an olive grove & seeing how they are harvested, to production, to bottling, to tasting.  Quoted from The Olive Essence”….”The Jaen province is the largest producer of Olive Oil in Spain and also world-wide. Just the province of Jaen produces more than the second largest producer country, Italy. With more than 550.000 hectares of olive tree fields and over 60 million trees, it produces 20% of the world’s Olive Oil.”

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Toledo, Spain:  The 2,000 year old city of Toledo is a beautifully preserved medieval gem.  It is located on a hill overlooking the Tagus River in the heart of Spain.  Toledo was known as the “city of three cultures” for its historical co-existence of Christian, Jewish & Muslim cultures.  Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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  Cathedral de Toledo: The city’s famous cathedral is a massive Gothic structure.   It sits on top of the hill just below the “Alcazar” or Fortress of Toledo. The Catholic Cathedral was built over a period of 267 years, between the years 1226 and 1493.

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Altar Piece:  In the Main Chapel is an altarpiece with sparkling gold reliefs.  The altarpiece actually summarizes the entire New Testament with its intricately carved and life-sized painted wood sculptures.  This Altar was so impressive to me that I’ve included a distance shot and three closer images. 

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A beautiful Cathedral.

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 El Greco:  We went into the church of Santo Tome and viewed El Greco’s most famous painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz.  (It is large, approx. 5 ft.x 10 ft., and covers the wall of a chapel.)  The story:  In the 14th century a large amount of money was donated by Lord Orgaz.  There would be a painting with Orgaz to be the subject and with the portrayal of the notable men of the time in Toledo. (The faces in the painting are the notable local men.)  The chosen painter was El Greco, whose parish church was Santo Tomé.  The painting was completed in 1586 as promised.  According to the legend, at the time Orgaz was buried, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine descended in person from the heavens and buried him by their own hands in front of the dazzled eyes of those present.

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Madrid, Spain:  It is the capital city and the largest municipality of Spain.  The city has a population of almost 3.2 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union after London & Berlin.  This was last stop of our splendid trip of Portugal & Spain.

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Royal Palace, Madrid: It is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family but they do not live here, and it is only used for state ceremonies.

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  Plaza Mayor:  It was built during Philip III’s reign (1598–1621) and is a central plaza in the city of Madrid.

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The Retiro Park:  Madrid enjoys one of the most extensive areas of parks, gardens and “green zones” of all European cities.  The Retiro is perhaps Madrid’s best known park. It occupies approximately 300 acres of land in the very center of Madrid.

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 Prado Museum:  It is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid.  It is said to feature one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection.  It also contains the best single collection of Spanish art. 

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 Lion King:  My favorite thing in Madrid was the fact that we four gal friends bought tickets to see Lion King.  The theatre was located in the same block as our hotel so it was certainly convenient.  Nancy & I had great seats…front row, center, balcony.

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Thus ended the Overseas Adventure Travel, Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores and Portuguese Pousadas.  It was a great experience with new friends.  However, this escapade is being continued.  We three gals did a back-to-back trip and our next adventure of Northern Spain & Portugal-Pilgrimage into the Past began the next day in Bilbao, Spain.  So…stay tuned, my next endeavor will be to do my travel blog of that trip. 

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Keep on traveling!



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Posted May 16, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

4 responses to “Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas

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  1. Thanks for sharing your wonderful adventure in Spain and Porugal. The pictures and commentary were great. I am very happy that you are still traveling and sharing your adventures.

  2. Frank, I always look forward to your response. As usual, thank you very much for your kind words. I want to keep traveling because I know that is exactly what Jim would want me to do. I miss him so much, but I might as well be traveling, as sitting at home missing him.

  3. I enjoyed your photos of Seville, Ronda, Cordoba and Toledo. On my list.

    Chris McGinnis

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