Thanks to so many of you for your very helpful recommendations. I decided (with some reservations, pun intended), not to stay at either of the Marriotts on the Costa del Sol, since it was in the interior regions of Cordoba, Granada and Seville that were of interest to me historically. I decided since it is both physically difficult for me and a real pain to move with suitcase and computer case between different hotels within a week that Cordoba seemed the most central and accessible to the airport in Madrid as well as the city of Seville. I'm staying In Cordoba for the whole time (except the last night at the Holiday Inn Madrid Airport), at the Hospes Palacio del Bailio, which looks wonderful.
So now I have more questions. It looks like I COULD rent a car with automatic from Madrid, but I don't speak Spanish (though can probably read it thanks to other languages) and have never before been in Spain. (It took many trips to France before I rented a car and sometimes I really did regret it, especially as I went round and round on the Boulévard Périphérique.) But it also looks like parking in Cordoba is tough, plus a drive to Granada sounds (from my guidebook) like hairpin turns on hills. So for anyone who has stayed in Cordoba or Seville, how is the best way to get to Granada? I'm hoping for excursions, and have emailed Cordoba's tourist office, but any advice? Cordoba itself could easily occupy two of my days, 1-2 in Granada, and 1 in Seville before returning to Madrid. It looks like there might be a more regular bus than train service to Granada in the event there are no scheduled tours. The hotel did advise me that I will be there partially during a bank holiday, which means many, many more people at the Alhambra.
Anyway, since I know several of you have 'done' Andalusia, can you give me some hints? Should I be utterly crazy and rent a car? Can I count on excursions from Cordoba? Or would any of you suggest a private guide if excursions are not possible?
I hope your vacation proved to be excellent! My wife and I are going to Spain this spring for four weeks, focusing on Andalusía, and we are going from place to place by train. The Renfe train system generally seems to be very good, the AVE fast trains in particular. We are going to one or two places where the train service is not very good, and in those locations (e.g., a day trip to Úbeda from Córdoba) we are taking the bus.
Living in Lisbon, I have driven to Madrid and to Seville, but have not yet made it to Cordoba nor Granada. I've had no real problems driving in Spain, but parking potentially could be an issue. The main highways are very nice and the drive was very beautiful. I don't remember if it was between Merida and Sevilla or Sevilla and Gibraltar, but it was spring and we came upon vast fields of sunflowers in bloom. It was very beautiful. One even had a tiny castle in it just sitting there in the field.
One thing to keep in mind is that gas stations are much more spread out along the highways here that in the US. So, I'd make sure not to let my tank get too empty.
Sign/language wise the only thing I didn't know that I wish I had was the signs that said "Peage" that indicated tolls. I was trying to search for an image just now and found out that roads numbered AP are all toll roads. I didn't realize that until just now. There are far fewer toll roads in Spain than in Portugal and the tolls aren't too expensive anyway. You just want to make sure you have money on hand to pay them and probably look for the lane with a cashier.
Driving in Madrid, we were half-heartedly looking for a certain store, but quickly gave up due to the mess of one way streets that were sometimes not passable due to unloading trucks etc... I tend to get nervous driving in big cities and just want to flee and get out.
In Seville, I stayed at the AC Hotel Ciudad de Sevilla. They had pretty expensive (to me) parking, especially since it was first come first served and the spaces were so tiny that I couldn't believe I actually fit into one. My wife had to get out and direct me as I backed in. I probably wouldn't recommend this particular AC Hotel. My friends all swear by a particular AirBnB right by the cathedral. I have no idea where they park though. There seemed to be plenty of street parking about a block away from my hotel, but I just wasn't sure if it required a permit or anything, so I didn't want to risk it.
I just put up a Photo Album, but don't have time to caption anything right now. I did include a Spanish highway sign for you.
Thank you - I am very much looking forward to our trip!
Where did you eventually visit on this trip - or have you already posted that elsewhere?
Since they have blogs here I am going to post notes about our visit; it will be a good way to remember things later on.
So far, until we actually go, I have only posted our general itinerary: http://goo.gl/mYza0o.
Here's my original post with a few photos. I only stayed in Cordoba and visited Granada, but it was an amazing time. Enjoy!
Those are a great set of posts, thanks for sharing them with me.
I'll be there about two months from now so I'm starting to feel excitement when I think about it!
My wife asked if you remember the name of that lovely restaurant in the Jewish district in Córdoba.
I thought I must have replied recently without remembering it! While I strongly suggest staying in Cordoba, as there is so much to see and do, getting to Granada is almost impossible by train unless you're leaving to stay there. I had to hire a car. In Cordoba, DO NOT MISS (caps intended ), the Mezquita, Roman bridge, ancient watermill, castle, Roman ruins in the center, Casa Andalusi, the old synagogue, etc. I stayed in Cordoba rather than Granada because in the latter the Alhambra is the primary attraction, whereas in Cordoba there are so many.