Glories of Portugal and Spain
What did those first explorers need besides the caravels, the compasses and the astrolabes? It was the courage, the passion for adventure, the lust for lucrative trade and, above all, a deep sense of curiosity. With this thought, I began my journey on the trail of those explorers, where courage and the sense of adventure weren’t needed so much since, in HARMONY V with all her comforts, I certainly wasn’t sailing in a windswept caravel. However, my deep curiosity about what seafarers would had seen and felt in the 15th century was my compass and every movement of its needle filled me with an unprecedented thrill.
The pioneer country of the exploration was Portugal, followed by Spain. So, one morning I found myself in Lisbon, delighted by the narrative of a long-time friend, Ioannis Metaxas, Ambassador of Greece to Portugal.
Step by step I started to discover with my own eyes the places that once made Lisbon the wealthiest city in Europe when the caravels entered its port loaded with exotic goods from the East, especially spices. Before the cruise on the coast would start, I explored the Belém district on the banks of the Tagus River. Mrs. Margarita Adamos, Counselor at the Embassy of Greece was so gracious to accompany me, and with her profound knowledge to show me details that I have never imagined. And there we were in the mini-van, a three-and-a half-hour route to South Portugal. The next day, still anchored in the quiet waters of the river, a few meters from the ocean and the majestic, wild coast of Algarve, it was as if Portugal didn’t want to leave us. We went up to a hilly area where from afar we saw a white town stretching inland. It was Silves, built by the Romans, then loved by the Moors who made it the capital of their Kingdom. At 6.00 p.m., HARMONY V entered the ocean heading east. While we were sailing, I gave a presentation, entitled: The Great Age of Exploration, Portuguese and Spaniards. After dinner, we went to sleep, while we were sailing in the deep night surrounded by swarms of seagulls drawn by the lights of the yacht. The ocean was a little shaky, all it took to lull us into a light swing.
Author at Plaza de Espana
Great excitement, the following morning, when I went to the upper deck, after a rich breakfast with steaming coffee and fresh-baked croissants. Having around us the fertile plains of Andalusia, we were sailing on the Guadalquivir River towards exotic Seville, a city enveloped by its exotic flair: palm trees, thousands of colours, old-fashioned carriages riding on tree-lined boulevards where Gothic architecture mingled with Moresque, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
A city by itself on the shores of the ocean that everyone wanted to conquer and plunder from the raids of Barbary corsairs to the raids by Sir Francis Drake. However, the Spaniards kept it strong and during the Age of Exploration, Cádiz experienced a splendid Renaissance and became Spain’s home port of the Spanish Treasure Fleet.
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA
The combination between ocean and hinterland, organized by Variety Cruises was superb. From the sea breeze, we found ourselves rolling on golden hills in the outskirts of the city of Jerez de la Frontera, where we visited the vineyards, we saw the Andalusian horses, dancing of flamenco and tasted the Sherry.
The crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar was scheduled for the daylight, but the ocean obliged us to cross it before the sun rose. At 8.00 o’clock the Rock became visible, the majestic beauty of which we all gazed from the upper deck. A visit to St. Michael’s Cave which descends to the bottom of the Rock left us dumbfounded by the spectacular shapes taken by the stalactites and stalagmites. When the sun was setting, I left the old town with a wonderful feeling imagining Christopher Columbus frequenting the bar, where I took my coffee. After, I crossed the Water Port Gate, dating back to the Moorish times. The aspect of the city changed dramatically: Ultra-modern skyscrapers, glass-wall international bank buildings, clean roads with palm trees, impeccable flowering roundabouts, spotless cars, and the Queensway Marina with its luxury apartments, restaurants, shops and bars next to where our yacht was anchored.
COSTA DEL SOL, Sotogrande
While we were still asleep, HARMONY V left the Rock heading east. When I opened my eyes, I saw from the window Sotogrande, one of the most luxurious Mediterranean resorts in the famed Costa del Sol, 25 kilometres from Gibraltar.
The wealthiest families of Spain and many Brits have built villas in the traditional Andalusian-style, making it Europe’s most expensive real estate. Leaving the yacht in the afternoon, we were going up the hills, higher and higher embraced by the Sierra de las Nievas and Sierra de Grazalema, covered with cherry trees, Aleppo and maritime pines, and where golden eagles fly along with hawks, falcons and vultures on their peaks.
The most beautiful city of Andalusia, the birthplace of modern bullfighting, with its elegant mansions of the local aristocracy, closed behind wonderful iron-wrought balconies. The Guadalevin River that runs through the city divides it in two and has carved out a steep canyon more than 120-meters deep. Three bridges were built in different eras to span its gorge. Leaving Ronda, the sun was setting and it took about an hour to descend the valleys to reach the HARMONY V waiting for us at the Sotogrande marina. Before dinner, I went to the upper deck to contemplate the night. Myriads of stars were scintillating in the sky. I was wondering how my journey from the Great Age of Exploration evolved to the wonders of Ronda: Yes, of course, flamenco, toreros, pure white horses… Andalusia had the power to seduce me with her great beauty.
The red facades of the Palaces, plain and austere, do not prepare the eyes for what they will see inside. It is amazing how the Nasrid rulers combined the sound, the sight and cooling qualities of water into perfect harmony inside its exquisite gardens.
It’s true that Alhambra is one of the most romantic destinations in the world, and visitors are up to eight thousand daily; but I erased them out of sight and got in their place poets, musicians and odalisques with a languid gaze, who fitted better in the setting.
When the Andalusian folklore and culture were gone, a new world was to follow: the expeditions of the first explorers. What they saw, how they felt; from place to place, from sea to another sea; always keeping a certain order. Similar to what I learned on the bridge of HARMONY V, from which I was watching the port of our destination from afar. Our wonderful yacht was sailing straight towards it, no matter what; I mean the ocean tides and large waves.
The cruise “Glories of Portugal and Spain” was the basis of my first exploration. On their shores, I discovered the places from where the first navigators departed on their expeditions to discover the world. And not only. Thanks to Variety Cruises, with its excellent organization, I penetrated deeper into the hinterland and let History whisper to me its little secrets.
What I described was not a mere travel diary, but a visual feast of my emotions.
by Barbara Athanassiadis, a travel writer
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