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Chan Cham Perou

Iberia  —  We decided to group the three main ports of call of our transatlantic cruise under this common name: Lisbon in Portugal, Cadiz in Spain and Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands.

Iberia, better known as the Iberian Peninsula, includes Spain, Portugal, the Principality of Andorra, the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a French enclave Haute Cerdagne, and the Balearic Islands, an autonomous community and province of Spain.

Land of explorers

After 9 days and 10 nights of a calm and pleasant crossing on the Atlantic on the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship, we dropped anchor in Lisbon, the westernmost large city on the European continent. Built on the wide Tagus River estuary, the Capital of Portugal can proudly say that most of the Portuguese expeditions in the Age of Discovery left from this city during the 15th to 16th centuries. In order to celebrate the fifth centennial of the death of Infante Henry the Navigator, Lisbon commissioned the famous Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos) representing 33 Early Navigators of the era, including Henry the Navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, Bartolommeo Diaz, Vasco de Gama, Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus.

Close by and worth visiting: the Bélem Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site, inaugurated in 1521 as part of the defense system to protect the city and the harbor, is a well-preserved fortress built on a small island in the Tagus River near the Lisbon shore.

These first contacts with the history arose our curiosity about this city, founded 1,000 years BC, well before Rome, which was founded in 753 BC by Phoenician navigators in a region that had been occupied since the Paleolithic era, between 22,000 and 10,000 years BC.

A visit to the Alfama district in historic Lisbon allowed us to discover traces of the old way of urban occupation, with sloped alleys and a succession of stairways, even though most residences had been reconstructed in the 18th century after the 1755 earthquake. Among other curiosities in Lisbon: the replica of the famous “Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro” stands out near the third longest suspended bridge in the world, also a replica of the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco.

Lisbon is a city with more than 3,000 years of history, treasures and many other sites worth visiting and discovering. Among them is Geronimo’s Monastery, built around 1459 by Henry the Navigator, one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in the city. It’s worth remembering that the 16th century was the era when Portugal extended its explorations and its commerce in Asia, Africa as well as in the Americas.

Whatever our interest in history and architecture, one has to take time to stop in the old neighborhood of Alfama to try a few tapas bars that abound in the narrow stairways and streets.

The lovely Cadiz

A fortified city near the mouth of Guadalquivir River, Cadiz was founded in 1104 BC, even before Lisbon. It is the city from which Christopher Columbus departed in 1493 for his second trip to America. Cadiz was an important commercial centre since it was the main destination for exchanges between Spain and its American colonies, particularly for tobacco and Cuban cigars. Cadiz is also known as the door to Andalusia and especially the city of Seville. Since the old fortified city was built on a peninsula, it is easy to go around on a road built in part on the old fortifications and to admire and enjoy the public beaches that are accessible on at least three sides.

We did not visit Seville this time, instead choosing an excursion to a Sherry factory, in the metropolis of this famous wine production.

One element that particularly drew our attention in Cadiz was the cleanliness of the city and the beauty of its vegetation. In the middle of Cadiz, we found beautiful parks with trees imported from all of the colonies with which the country had negotiations. We saw a giant ficus that is so huge and twisted that it could be 1,000 years old, but in fact it came from America and is only a few hundred years old. The maritime climate of this almost-island coming into the sea is probably responsible for such lush vegetation.

Heady environment 

Jerez de la Frontera is surrounded by wineries that produce wines used in the production of Sherry. It regroups numerous and famous production houses. We visited a very old one: the Bodegas Tradicion, where the oak barrels are stored for years. This house is known for its artisanal production and low volumes destined for private exportation.

The barrels are filled with a mix of multiple wines, aged according to different recipes. They are never moved, but every year, they are filled with a part of wine, younger or older, aged in other barrels in order to respect the 10-year, 20-year, or 30-year old appellation.

Upon our departure from the bodega, we were fortunate to see the spectacular jacaranda mimosifolia trees with their superb blue flowers covering the market square.

Moorish, French, Spanish...

Palma de Mallorca, the main city in the Balearic Islands, was the Capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, founded by James II of Aragon in 1262. Its kingdom was also including the French Counties of Roussillon, Cerdanya and even the Seigneurie of Montpelier. Fourteen years later, after the construction of the Palace of Almudaina, the King chose Perpignan, in France, as the capital for his kingdom. It is not until 1349 that the Kingdom of Majorca reintegrated the Spain of Aragon.

On a hill, overlooking Palma, the Bellver Castle from the 14th century and a remarkable cathedral, Santa-Maria de Palma or La Seu, a Gothic Roman Catholic architecture sitting atop the former citadel of the Roman city built on a previous mosque Medina Mayurqa and on old Moorish city’s stone foundations dating back to the Moorish occupation in the 8th to the 15th centuries. A true testament to the reconquest of the occupied territory, religious architecture and works of art, and the second in Spain after the Seville Cathedral, it compares with other famous Gothic cathedrals of Europe, such as Beauvais, Cologne or Milan.

A pearl in all senses of the word 

The present economy of Palma is closely linked with tourism. With a Mediterranean climate where the average temperature is 18 degrees with a maximum of 38, Palma, whose population is only 420,000, welcomes close to 9 million visitors every year. It is famous for its factory of artificial pearls, the Majorica. The surrounding landscapes with olive and almond trees add to the beauty of the Balearic Islands that also attracts many divers in the Mediterranean Sea.

Host to prominent guests 

Valldemossa - 17 km from Palma – and his Royal Charterhouse monastery, a famous landmark in the municipality, was host to famous guests including the Polish composer Frederic Chopin and his lover the French writer George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, baroness Dudevant) who spent a whole winter there. Chopin composed his 24 Preludes cycle there, op. 28 and his 2nd ballad, while George Sand wrote “A Winter in Majorca.”

George Sand, the prolific writer was the great grand daughter of the Marshal General of France, Maurice, Comte de Saxe, illegitimate son of Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland, while Frederic Chopin was born in Poland, under the name of Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin or Stopen. During our visit to the monastery and the small museum dedicated to the famed composer, we were granted the privilege of a small concert of Chopin’s main works. We are happy to share an extract.

The village of Valldemossa became very popular after many distinguished travelers, mostly writers and composers, found refuge there and praised it. The village does not allow any new constructions and every modification to the built heritage must abide with very strict regulations. The monastery lost its religious vocation but is still a very popular attraction in the village. Valldemossa, perched 400 meters above sea level, is a heritage site that is much sought after. The American actor Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones are the newest personalities to grace the village.

Terminus... not quite yet!

This memorable excursion put an end to our three stopovers in Iberia. A one-week stay on the Costa Brava in Spain completed that cruise, whose last port of call was Barcelona. That stay will be the subject of a future Euphoria of the month, illustrated with photos of Barcelona, the Costa Brava beaches and the Montserrat Abbey.

We were crossing the Atlantic for the second time on a repositioning cruise. The first time was in the fall, from Spain to Porto Rico with ports of call in Madera and in the three islands of the Canaries. This second cruise was in the spring from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona with the three ports of calls described in this reportage. It is an extremely nice way to take a vacation; it is both relaxing and instructive.

Special thanks to our travel companions, Marc Pastor and Suzanne Lemieux-Pastor, for many photos and the video of the Chopin concert at Valldemossa.

 

Marcel LeSieur  

Bélem Tower

Christ the Redeemer in Bélem

25th October bridge

Alfama district

Cadiz

Giant ficus in Cadiz

Barrels of Sherry

Jacarandas at Jerez de la Frontera

Cathedral La Seu, Palma

Valldemossa Royal Charterhouse  

Valldemossa

 


  

 

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