The Lure of Spain and Morocco: Exploring an Intertwined History and Culture

Last updated on July 11th, 2021

(Lead Image Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

An Intriguing Blend of Cultures 

by Carolyn Ray, JourneyWoman Publisher 

Whenever people ask me what country I would like to live in, my first response is Spain. To say I love Spain is an understatement – to me, it has everything. History, architecture, the Mediterranean, food, wine, culture, Gaudi, art,… sigh.

However, I don’t think I would have such a deep appreciation for Spain without spending time in Morocco first. To me, Spain and Morocco go hand in hand. It is in Morocco that you can truly learn to appreciate the influence of Moorish peoples on southern Spain (think Seville’s Catedral, the Alacazar, or Granada’s Alhambra Palace, built in the 13th century by the Moors, which is the most visited monument of Spain  and the best conserved example of Islamic architecture in Spain. I was so thrilled to stay in Granada a few years ago and take my daughter to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

However, nowhere is the infusion of culture more evident than in Cordoba.  It’s impossible to describe the beauty of Córdoba’s great mosque-cathedral, one of the world’s greatest works of Islamic architecture. It was built in the 8th century and was the largest and most beautiful mosque outside of the Middle East.

In 2014, I spent two weeks traveling across the Kingdom of Morocco, with stops in Casablanca, Fez, Rabat, Menkes, Marrakech, Chefchaouen, the Sahara Desert and places in between. With its historic medina, the maze-like souks of Fez can be overwhelming and in my view, require a guide.  It remains one of the most scenic and stunning countries I’ve ever visited. 


Vista in Morella, Spain

Carolyn Ray in Morella, Spain.






For more on Morocco, read Carolyn’s New Year’s Eve in the Sahara Desert  or Diana Eden’s Safety Tips on Travelling in Muslim Countries. 

My Top Recommendations for Virtual Travel to Spain and Morocco

Beyond Moroccan Cities: Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert

Journeying through from Marrakesh to the Sahara Desert through the Atlas Mountains was one of the most thrilling adventures I’ve ever taken. Every view is stunning! After several days in Marrakech, I hired a driver and a guide and we travelled over the Tizi n’ Tichka Pass, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Aït Benhaddou along the Ouarzazate River and the Todra Gorges. 

In this session, you will escape the cities of Morocco for the grandest horizons that North Africa country can offer. We will take a tour through the many ranges of the Atlas Mountains that ripple across the country, including a virtual climb of North Africa’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal. Then, we will saddle up our camels to ride into the country’s deep south, where the endless dune seas of the Sahara carry echoes of the ancient trade caravans that once brought salt and gold from Timbuctou to Marrakesh. 


Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

buildings in scotland

Photo Credit: Context Travel

Basque Cities: From San Sebastian to Bilbao with David Hosking

San Sebastian is one of the few parts of Spain I haven’t been to yet, so I’m excited to learn more before I go. This seminar looks at the history, monuments, festivals, foodstuffs, and other curiosities of the main cities of the Basque regions of northern Spain and southwest France, including San Sebastian, Bayonne, Pamplona, Vitoria, and Bilbao.

From the Belle Époque city and resort of San Sebastian, a culinary center of great renown, this seminar travel to Bayonne, the major city in the French Basque Country. This historical port and trading town has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the Basque Country, surrounded by a picturesque old quarter.

The session then follows in the footsteps of the Roman armies to Pamplona, famous for its bull-running and much loved by Ernest Hemingway – a must for any Hemingway fan! Next is Vitoria, one of Spain’s greenest cities and a stop on the international jazz circuit. The final halt is Bilbao (on my list as soon as possible!, famous for its Guggenheim Museum.

The Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Splendor of the Caliphate with Tiago Neiva

Mar 14, 2021 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm EST

Córdoba has served as a leading cultural capital for more than 1000 years. I was stunned with the Islamic medieval city of Cordoba, with its Mosque-Cathedral set amid the backdrop of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Thanks to its large and well-preserved historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Cordoba provides a wonderful glimpse into the melting pot of civilizations so characteristic to Andalusia and the Iberian Peninsula as a whole. We’ll learn how the artistic, political, and military highlight of this presence was the Caliphate of Cordoba, which was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty from 929 to 1031 AD.

Besides the huge Palace of Medina Azahara, the several mosques, libraries, hammams, markets, and universities, the most important and symbolic architectonic achievement of this period was La Mezquita, or the Great Mosque, which began being built in 785 AD. We’ll examine up-close this crown jewel, an architectural splendor that serves as a living example of the city’s history of innovation and evolution. We’ll discuss how it was conceived, (re)built, and the symbols attached to religion, power, and politics during the Medieval Ages.

Photo Credit: Context Travel

Photo Credit: Context Travel

Fez: Travels Through Medieval Islamic Cities with Dr. Sabahat Adil

The incredible city of Fez has long attracted travelers to its winding street and bustling markets. Fez is a city that pulsates with history like few others. In this seminar, we will travel to the city of Fez and visit its important monuments, particularly those that were constructed under the Marinids, against the backdrop of its rich and complex history in the medieval era.

Established in the eighth century by the Idrisids, the city has long welcomed people from other areas, including exiled Muslim and Jewish populations from the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition. These diverse peoples have made Fez into the robust city for which it has earned a well-deserved reputation throughout history. The city is full of educational institutions known in Arabic as Madrasas, many of which were constructed under the Marinids’ patronage. Its bathhouses, or hammam, and splendid residences (riad) are also of note, and we will pay special attention to these during our virtual tour of the city.


Cooking Class: Spanish Tapas with Helena Vaello

No discussion of Spain would be complete without mentioning Tapas.  Join us for a hands-on cooking class to learn how to make three tasty and simple tapas recipes from a real Madrilena. We will also learn how to make an authentic sangria to drink with our small plates!

Ranging from a light snack accompanied by a caña (a small glass of beer) to an informal meal, the tradition of going out for tapas is firmly rooted in Spanish culture. The essence of tapas is social, not nutritional. The key to enjoying tapas is to relax, unwind, and enjoy delicious food, drink, and conversation with friends.

Together we will prepare three small plates and some delicious sangria to accompany our tapas, including salmorejo, Spanish tortilla, crispy artichokes with salt and lemon (a personal favourite), and of course, sangria!

Designed to deliver a taste of Spain to your kitchen, participants will come away with an understanding of the cultural tradition of tapas and how to recreate some key dishes at home. Full recipes are provided.

Photo Credit: Context Travel

woman mexico face painted

Photo Credit: Context Travel

Jewish Spain: Barcelona, Catalonia and Heritage with Mark Planellas Witzsch

Why do Spaniards have a fondness for cured pork? Why is parsley handed out free in the markets? Why do Spaniards clean the house on Saturday? This session will seek to understand the answers to these questions, with an emphasis on Jewish heritage and history in Barcelona (the “Jerusalem of Europe”), Catalonia, Spain and Portugal.

Spain was once home to one of the largest, flourishing Jewish communities in Europe before the 1492 Edict of Expulsion displaced Spanish Jews throughout the world. We’ll learn how the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona was once the nucleus of the city’s Jewish community, and how Barcelona was a highly prosperous Jewish settlement until the Spanish Inquisition forever altered the course of Spain’s Jewish history.  There’s so much to learn about the thousands of years of Jewish heritage and history in the Iberian Peninsula and the role it has played within Spanish and Catalonian identity.

Catalonia: A Multi-Part Journey with Mark Planellas Witzsch

Join Mark Planellas Witzsch, an expert on Catalonian history, on a multi-part virtual journey through Catalonia, a region of spectacular riches, stunning beauty, and fascinating history. This session includes all the highlights of one of the best-known areas of the region: Catalonia and Barcelona, Girona (former artistic playground of Salvador Dali), the Mediterranean’s Costa Brava cliffs, the Roman imperial town of Tarragona, UNESCO World Heritage chapels in the Pyrenees, as well as the sites of the most important battles of the Spanish Civil War.

With a bit of culture, a bit of art history, plenty of architecture, and some solid history thrown in for good measure, we’ll approach this region in a detailed and well-rounded approach. From Barcelona to the Pyrenees, from Gaudi to Dali, this exciting journey is a welcome introduction to a breathtaking corner of the world.

Photo Credit: Context Travel

woman mexico face painted

To Book Your Seminar

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Carolyn is the Publisher + Editor-in-Chief of JourneyWoman and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC). A Canadian raised in South Florida, Carolyn loves all things Spanish, historic destinations and always has her backpack ready to go.



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