What's New in Iberia for 2008
|Ignore the remodel-in-progress. The Prado is still a Madrid must-see this year.|
Packed with world-class art treasures, vivid folk life, exotic (affordable!) foods and a sunny climate, Iberia is one of Europe's hottest destinations. Here's a quick peek at what's new in Spain and Portugal for 2008...
In Barcelona, the curvy Palau Güell should reopen in 2008, offering a good chance to see a Gaudí interior. At the TI at Plaça de Catalunya, a Modernisme desk now gives out a handy route map showing all of the city's Modernista buildings and offers a discount package.
In San Sebastián, a new walkway around the base of Monte Urgull allows you to stroll the mountain's entire perimeter.
In Madrid, a new memorial at the Atoche Metro station remembers the victims of the March 11, 2004 terrorist bombing. The 36-foot cylindrical glass memorial towers above on the street and you can walk inside and under the cylinder to read the thousands of condolence messages in many languages. Interactive terminals allow you to leave a handprint or a message, or watch a memorial video. Across town, the Prado continues its renovation, so parts of the museum's layout may be different from what your guidebook shows.
In Toledo, the Museo El Greco will likely be closed for renovation through 2008, but in the meantime, its 20 El Greco paintings are on display at the nearby Museo Victorio Macho. Toledo's Alcázar will hold Spain's National Military Museum when it reopens, likely in 2008.
In Granada, online reservations are again possible for the Alhambra, at www.alhambra-tickets.es. Or if you plan to stay at one of the fancier hotels, ask (when you book your hotel room) if the hotelier can make a reservation for you. By the way, all 12 lions have been removed from the Alhambra's Courtyard of the Lions for a two-year restoration project. One of the lions is on display in the Museo de la Alhambra inside the Charles V Palace.
In Sevilla, the town's grand boulevard — the Avenida de la Constitución, once thundering with noisy traffic — is now a pedestrian-only thoroughfare. Overnight, the city's paseo route has taken on a new dimension, and cafés and shops along the street have much more appeal. The ultra-short, ¾-mile tram line is controversial, as it intrudes on this people zone.
Rick now recommends staying two nights in Córdoba (as opposed to just stopping off between Madrid and Sevilla) in order to soak in what the city has to offer besides its stunning Mezquita. There's a well-preserved Jewish Quarter, interesting Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture, and pretty patios.
Near Andalucía's White Hill Towns of Grazalema and Zahara is the beautiful and wild Sierra de Grazalema National Park. One-third of Spain's flowers bloom here, mountain goats climb the slopes, and griffon vultures soar high above. Several companies offer outdoor adventures here such as hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and caving; or you can tackle the park on your own.
Tangier has shed its "Tijuana of Morocco" image, thanks to the new king, who is promoting tourism and investing heavily in the city's infrastructure. The town is as Moroccan as ever...yet more enjoyable and less stressful. Rick now recommends that independent travelers visit Morocco on their own, taking the ferry from Tarifa, Spain and hiring a private guide in Tangier (instead of accompanying a group tour).
In Lisbon, remember that most pickpocketing takes place on the trolleys. Enjoy the ride, but keep an eye on your belongings. In the historic Baixa neighborhood, shops reveal 250-year-old building supports in their window displays, and you can view found Roman objects in the Milenium BCP bank windows. Tour the archaeological site beneath the bank to see Moorish-era ovens on top of Roman floor mosaics — a surprising look at Lisbon's earliest days.
The Rossio train station in Lisbon has been remodeled, but still hasn't reopened due to the construction of a massive tunnel under the Marquês de Pombal roundabout. Other continuing renovations include the Miradouro de São Pedro Alcântara (view terrace in Bairro Alto), and the São Roque Church and museum. Latest rumors suggest that all these sites will reopen this spring, although no word yet on when the Folk Art Museum will reopen. Lisbon's bullfighting arena, closed for years, is now open.
On the beach in Salema, while leaving your own footprints in the sand, check out fossil prints made by dinosaurs when the area was a shallow muddy lagoon. Geologists from the University of Lisbon have identified at least two kinds of these Cretaceous critters who left their mark during a long-ago visit.
In Fátima, the Church of the Holy Trinity finally opened this past fall. The gigantic modern church has a capacity of 9,000, providing much-needed room for the large number of pilgrims who can't all fit inside the 900-seat basilica.
In Porto, the Euro Card for transportation is no more, but the AndanteTour card continues to take the confusion out of the overly complicated public transport system. The impressive Art Deco Cinema Batalha has converted its main cinema into a concert venue. You can sneak a peek inside the cinema by grabbing a cheap buffet meal on the top floor at Restaurante Batalha.
Online trip planning information for Spain
Online trip planning information for Portugal
The latest edition of Rick Steves' Spain guidebook
The latest edition of Rick Steves' Portugal guidebook
Rick Steves' Spain & Portugal DVD
Rail passes for Spain & Portugal travel