The one train trip I recommend in Spain is the high speed AVE from Madrid to Sevilla by way of Cordoba. This new train replaces the old “Andalusian Express.” It takes just under two hours to get to Cordoba and then about 45 minutes to Sevilla. It is the only major trip in Spain where the train is cheaper than a plane.

Andalusia has been the main destination in Spain for Americans since Washington Irving wrote “Tales From the Alhambra” while living in the great fortress that was the last stronghold of Moorish rule in Spain. This is the land of bulls, flamenco, and olives that have come to mean Spain to so many.

The ancient Romans were already “aficianados” of bull fighting when they found the bulls in Andalusia to be the most fierce and agressive breed. Added to being the most superbly muscled beast (there is reason to say, “as strong as a bull”) and the Romans found the perfect specimens for this “sport.”

Flamenco music has its roots in Arab music. Its plaintive sounds and its staccato dancing have captured the attention of audiences around the world. I call it “flamingo” music since that is the English version of “flamenco.”

The journey begins at Madrid´s Atocha Station which is a tourist sight in its own right. The old main hall of the station has been turned into what may be the largest indoor tropical garden in the world. Man made mist keeps humidity high while the temperatures are kept warm.

Leaving Madrid one enters the vast meseta that forms the center of Spain and is known as “La Mancha,” the “Spot.” The landscape usually varies between tan and brown but in spring is green with sprouting plants and budding trees highlighted by the blossoms of fruit trees.

As one nears Cordoba he begins to see vast fields of olive trees. These are the source of almost all green olives eaten or dropped into martinis in the USA. And there are millions of trees.

Of the major cities of Andalusia, I like Cordoba best. This was the site of the Caliphate of the West or Cordoba. It ruled from Spain to Egypt where the Caliphate of the East held sway. The great mosque of Cordoba was the largest west of Medina. One gets a good idea of how large the mosque is by the fact that the Cathedral of Cordoba has been erected in one part of the mosque!

Back on the AVE train one quickly arrives in Sevilla which is a larger city than is Cordoba. This was the capital of “Los Reyes Catolicos” or Ferdinand and Isabelle when the royal pair sent Columbus on his voyage of discovery. And the gold and silver brought back from Spain´s colonies in the Americas landed in Sevilla. Evidence of Moorish rule is the “Giralda” or massive minaret that has been turned into the belfrey of the Cathedral of Sevilla, the largest in Spain. The other main Moorish monument is the royal palace that I believe outshines the palace within the Alhambra.

From Sevilla one takes a regional train to Granada, and it is slow, with a change in the middle of nowhere. The countryside is still dominated by olive trees distinguished by their leaves, dark green on the sun side and silvery on the obverse. In the distance are the mountains that separate the meseta from Spain´s Costa del Sol or Sun Coast. These mountains are the home of the gypsies who have developed flamenco music to its current status.

While the palace within the great fortress called the Alhambra or “Red Fort,” may be outshone by the one in Sevilla, there is no more impressive sight in Spain than the massive red walls of the complex cast against the Sierra Madre Mountains which are usually snow capped. Wandering around the Alhambra one can almost hear Washington Irving wispering about its wonders.

I don´t usually recommend places to stay but within the confines of the Alhambra is the Pension America that, once a humble inn, has been turned into a really special botique hotel.