Once conquistadores sailed from Seville along the Guadalquivir River out into the Atlantic and onto the New World. Latin American silver flowed back, upstream, to bring a wealth of art, culture and architecture to Andalusia. For seven nights and eight days CroisiEurope’s 176-berth La Belle de Cadiz is the base for an exploration of Andalusia.

It is the only river cruiser to sail through the Guadalquivir’s rich legacy of empires: Roman, Moor and Hapsburg. Sailing south there are views of the marshes, shifting sand dunes and the migratory birds of the Doñana National Park. Unusually, for a river cruiser, even though it is four times longer than Columbus’ flagship that sailed to the New World, La Belle de Cadix briefly sails the Atlantic too: emerging from the river to moor at Cadiz.

For all its significance in Spanish history, there is more to Andalusia then can merely be seen from the Guadalquivir. As the stretch of river from Seville to Cordoba is no longer navigable, coaches are used for further exploration.

The welcome

Smiling crew greet coaches and taxis at the quayside whisking luggage to cabins. Guests are welcomed aboard with a chilled drink, names quickly ticked off and key cards issued. Then guests are guided to their cabins. Later, separate welcomes, accompanied by the cocktail of the day, are given in English, French and Spanish.

The cabin

Our upper deck cabin has a large panoramic window. Our first entertainment is the kayakers, paddle boarders and rowers gliding by as the sun sets beyond the Guadalquivir. Every cabin has its own discrete air-conditioning system, even in spring and autumn the nights are warm. Furniture is light wood coloured.

Two adjoining single beds, each with their own bedding, are at the centre of the cream cabin. Beneath the bed there is room to slide luggage out of sight. A wall-mounted screen broadcasts cruise information and a small selection of television channels. CroisiEurope toiletries are provided for the en-suite bathroom with shower.

The facilities

As a hot sun often roasts the top deck a partial canopy provides much needed shade. Nearby, there is a small pool for a cooling dip and plenty of sun-loungers for relaxation. It is always possible to find a quiet spot to relax on La Belle de Cadix.

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As well as the large main bar, at the rear of the Upper Deck, the more intimate Panorama Bar has a small library and spectacular views back down the Guadalquivir.

Excursions

It is an early start for the coach trip to Cordoba, with a motorway services stop along the way. Walking the 8th century bridge across the Guadalquivir, then passing through the grand arched gate created by the Romans, is the way to enter Cordoba. In the 10th century, the Caliphate of Cordoba grew to become a city of 500,000 people.

The Mesquita, thrice extended so that over 40,000 Moslems could prey on their knees, became the world’s largest mosque with it forest of red brick and cream stone pillars. Exhibiting practical tolerance after the reconquest of 1236, instead of reducing the mosque to rubble, the Christians colonised the Mesquita, creating over 50 chapels and a Latin-crossed cathedral at its heart.

A morning walking tour of Seville begins by passing the country pavilions of the 1929 expo, appropriately the Argentinian pavilion has been transformed into a dance academy.

With the cathedral closed for the day we visit the Alcazar instead. From within the castle’s thick walls, the grandees had directed naval expeditions. Columbus’s coat of arms, distinguished by a lion and a ship, decorates the walls of a Renaissance palace. Although Seville had been won back from the Moors in the 13th century, Moorish architecture left a legacy of orange planted courtyards, intricate geometric carvings and summer rooms close to cooling fountains. Bitter oranges are picked from the palm-tree-shaded gardens for the royal marmalade at Buckingham Palace.

Heading towards the Atlantic, the ship moors up at Isla Minima for a visit to a Latin American look hacienda. Dressage meets flamenco when a horse and dancer combine for a remarkably precise equestrian ballet. It is merely a taster for a performance at Carmelo’s equestrian school the next morning in Sanlucar.

After a walking tour around Cadiz and tasting a trio of Osborne’s sherries at El Puerta de Santa Maria, La Belle de Cadix returns to Seville for a big day out to Granada.

The city is home to the Alhambra, the Moslem’s hill-top red fort that is now one of Spain’s most romantically alluring destinations. Finally, guests have a day to further explore the grand imperial city of Seville.

Other nice touches

Flamenco comes onboard with an evening of foot-stomping, handclapping, red-dress swirling dance and guitar music. Once Flamenco was frowned upon by the higher echelons of Spanish society as a pastime of the lower classes. Now, with over 50 varieties of dance, Flamenco has become a proud symbol of Spanish artistic identity.

After an excursion, guests are always welcomed back on deck with a cool drink. For early birds there is a selection of coffee, tea and bakery available before the restaurant opens for breakfast. It is evident that the crew are a happy family. As they present the Spanish themed evening and the final theatrical gala dinner, real joie de vivre is displayed.

The cost

The seven-night Andalusia: Tradition, Gastronomy and Flamenco cruise costs from £1,329 per person based on departures on 2nd and 9th March 2023.

Price includes all meals and drinks onboard, excursions, onboard entertainment, port fees and travel assistance and repatriation insurance.

The best bit

This is a gastronomy cruise where lunch and dinner are served by the smart waiting crew. Even lunch is a three-course extravaganza served with house wines.

At breakfast a chef cooks eggs to order and waiters zip around with coffee and milk.

Although dinner sometimes runs to four courses, occasionally slotting in cheese before pud in true Gallic style, portion sizes are sensible. Three times a week a Cadiz supplier delivers fresh produce. Even for experienced cruisers, the cooking and presentation are beyond superlatives.

On a Spanish themed day, when sangria is the cocktail, lunch features the regional speciality of bull stew. A seafood paella stars at dinner.

The final verdict

La Belle de Cadix is the only river cruiser to sail on the Guadalquivir, introducing guests to a sun-baked region that tells the dramatic and turbulent of so much of Spain’s history. Sailing in spring and autumn, avoiding hot summer when the province becomes Spain’s frying pan, CroisiEurope introduces Andalusia. Experts guide guests through the history of Romans, Moors, Hapsburgs and Spain’s restored royalty.

Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by CroisiEurope.

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