I have a bit of a compulsion to include a few day trips on any of the longer trips I take. If I’m within a two hour train ride of somewhere interesting, I always feel a pull to loop in one extra place or one more location to explore. On our trip to Spain last fall, we had all kinds of options for day trips out of both Madrid and Seville. Consciously, we decided to ease up on the day trips so we could kick back a bit more than on previous trips. For me, there was one day trip that couldn’t be sacrificed – a visit to Córdoba while we were staying in Seville.
The pull to Córdoba was to visit the Mezquita – the religious site that has switched back and forth over the last 1300 years from a Catholic basilica, to a half mosque half basilica, to a full mosque and now to a Roman Catholic church. A straightforward morning train ride from Seville had us in beautiful Córdoba in under an hour. We made our way to the Mezquita as our first stop and entered the Patio de los Naranjos, the inner courtyard of the site.
Inside the Mezquita, I had one of those moments that travel gives you from time to time. Seeing the pattern of columns and double arches, and with the light coming in just so, a quiet voice in my head simply said “wow.” There were originally 1293 of these columns, now there are 856 remaining and they’re made variously of jasper, onyx, marble and granite.
Another one of those “wow” moments came when visiting the stunningly gilded mihrab. People stood here four and five deep in silence taking in the flowing artistic designs, the mosaics and the ceiling of the dome above. If there’s something I’ll never be able to get enough of through travel, it is standing on foreign soil alongside people from around the world, and experiencing a sacred and beautiful place.
After Christians conquered the town of Córdoba in the mid 1200s, the Mezquita became used as a cathedral. Interestingly, it was largely left alone architecturally for close to three hundred years. King Carlos I eventually allowed the Catholic authorities to construct the Capilla Mayor right in the middle of the Mezquita. Coming upon it was another awe inspiring moment on what had quickly become a “pinch me” type of day in the south of Spain.
We toured the site for about two hours with a pretty comprehensive audio guide, and had worked up quite the appetite. Luckily, our lunch destination, Bar Santos, was just around the corner. We selected this place for one reason – their world renown tortilla de patata:
It doesn’t look like much, but wow, was it delicious. Seriously, it was one of the best things I ate over two weeks in Spain, and other versions of this, although good, came nowhere near the alchemy of this dish. I would have been perfectly happy if the rest of my day in Córdoba was standing at this counter, crushing a few more of these, all washed down with more ice cold beer.
Refuelled with lunch, our next stop was the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. The Alcazar was on my list to see for a couple of reasons. The first was for its unparalleled views over the city. In particular, I enjoyed looking back toward the bell tower at the Mezquita.
The other draw was to walk through the gardens of the Alcazar. Known as perhaps the finest gardens in Spain, they provided a nice respite from a very hot afternoon. The sculpting of the trees and shrubs was immaculate. A highlight was seeing my first ever pomegranate tree (photo, top left below) and imagining how many fun cocktails I could make if I had one of these growing in my backyard.
Leaving the gardens, we continued our day trip in Córdoba by walking downhill toward the Guadalquivir river and the Roman Bridge.
The bridge itself is lined with buskers (some interesting, some annoying). If you walk most of the way across the bridge you’re afforded very beautiful views of Córdoba, and in particular, of the Alcazar.
Although it was a very warm afternoon, by Córdoba standards, it wasn’t too hot. Like a lot of southern Spain, many homes were designed to mitigate against stiffling summer heart. Most are painted white, and a large number have interesting inner court yards that provide a cool place to be outside, but out of the direct heat. Many of these in the Jewish Quarter are open for you to just wander in and take a look.
Speaking of the Jewish Quarter, we took some time near the end of our day to get lost and wander through the narrow streets. While traveling, simply wandering a city is one of my favourite past times. Especially so on a limited day trip – this really gave me a sense and authentic flavour for Córdoba. Only a hundred metres or so from the heavily traveled tourist streets, we were pretty much alone on a stunning, quiet, historic lanes.
The only down side of a day trip is that it comes to an end far too soon. After a drink on a patio, we made our way back to the train that would return us to Seville. Gardens, stunning architecture, picturesque streets and an amazing meal all added up to a really wonderful day trip to Córdoba.