Books to read if you are taking a trip to Spain

Odyssey Traveller has prepared and made this reading list of books to read if you are taking a trip to Spain.

Odyssey Traveller offers regular escorted small group tours to Spain each year, including a fully escorted small group tour of Spain and Portugal, perfect for the single traveller or couple. The Iberian Peninsula is renowned for the spectacular views of its scenery, its red wines, and exotic food. Our Spain and Portugal tour explores the peninsula’s intricate history and incredible art and architecture as we stroll and wander through its streets.

Moorish architecture of Seville, Spain
Alcazar of Seville, Spain

This small group walking tour and sightseeing tour spends 24 days exploring several famous destinations. The tour commences in Spain in Barcelona a highlight of which is the colourful Park Guell. From Barcelona, the tour heads north into Rioja and Basque country before reaching the northern industrial city and home to Europe’s Guggenheim museum, Bilbao in Northern Spain. We leave Bilbao heading south to spend almost 6 days in the Spanish capital, visiting the Royal Palace and other highlights. After Madrid the tour heads to Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and northwest into Portugal. We explore the Atlantic coast, and then on to Lisbon, the nation’s historic capital. Leaving Portugal, the tour heads south to Seville and finally concludes in Granada.

Praco do Comercio waterfront square
Aerial view of Praco do Comercio waterfront square, Lisbon, Portugal

This tour is fully escorted but also makes great use of local guide and tour operator whose knowledge enhances the program’s highlights and your travel experiences. Highlights include a visit to La Rioja, the mountain kingdom of Navarra, along with neighbouring Basque Country and the astounding Guggenheim Museum. We also take a guided tour of Braga, and wander the cobblestone streets of the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. The magnificent architecture left behind by the Moors in Seville and Granada will be another highlight.

On this tour of Spain and Portugal, you can enjoy wine tasting, food at the tapas bars, and views of the mountains and other wondrous scenery.

We also have a tour that explores Spain alone in a 21-day educational programme. This includes tours of the country’s biggest cities –starting in the capital of Madrid and ending in Barcelona in northern Spain–with stops in smaller but equally beautiful towns that are not normally included in other commercial Spanish tours. It also includes the services of a Program Leader from our team in Australia, and a handful of local guides. For more details, see the complete itinerary. You can also see our other tours to Spain here.

This three-week journey especially designed for senior and mature-aged travellers offers a variety of sights and experiences. Madrid is a modern metropolis that has preserved its historic neighbourhoods and buildings, and will serve as the perfect gateway on our three-week sojourn into Spain’s storied past. Among the many places we will visit include:

  • the sights of Madrid, including the Museo del Prado, which holds artwork from artists such as celebrated Spanish painter Francisco Goya
  • the Valley of the Fallen in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a sombre and at times controversial monument commissioned by Francisco Franco and where the people who died in the Spanish Civil War were laid to rest
  • the city of Montserrat, travelling by cable car up to an abbey nestled in the mountain to visit the Black Madonna
  • the surrealist dreams of Salvador Dali in the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres
  • the Gaudi-designed monuments in Barcelona

This tour mixes guided tours with plenty of free time, and the small group setting affords travellers focused attention and flexibility.

Now let’s look at the books we can read to prepare for these tours!

1. Spain (1964)

by Jan Morris
Spain is one of the absolutes. Nothing is more compelling than the drama, at once dark and dazzling, of that theatre over the hills – the vast splendour of the Spanish landscape. The intensity of Spain’s pride and misery, the adventurous glory of a history that set its seal upon half the world.
Passionate, evocative and beautifully written, Spain is a companion to the country: its people, its history – and its character. First published in 1964 and no less compelling today. Jan Morris’s classic work is back in print, bringing Spain, its glory and its tragedy, vividly to life. Jan Morris’s collection of travel writing and reportage spans over five decades.

This universally praised odyssey through Spain has been revised and superbly illustrated. History, legend, landscape, architecture, religion, character, and anecdote are brilliantly woven together to create a fascinating and complex portrait.

Last Letters from Hav, her novel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

‘The most evocative book ever written about Spain.’ Independent

2. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2009)

by Maria Rosa Menocal

Widely hailed as a revelation of a “lost” golden age. This history book brings to vivid life the rich and thriving culture of medieval Spain. A time  where, for more than seven centuries, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in an atmosphere of tolerance, and literature, science, and the arts flourished.

Iberia, Pyrenees

3. The New Spaniards (2006)

by John Hooper
A fully revised, expanded and updated edition of this masterly portrayal of contemporary Spain. The restoration of democracy in 1977 heralded a period of intense change that continues today. Spain has become a land of extraordinary paradoxes in which traditional attitudes and contemporary preoccupations exist side by side. The focus is on issues which affect ordinary Spaniards, from housing to gambling, from changing sexual mores to rising crime rates. John Hooper’s fascinating study brings to life the new Spain of the twenty-first century.

4. Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past (2008)

by Giles Tremlett

The Spanish are reputed to be amongst Europe’s most voluble people. So why have they kept silent about the terrors of the Spanish Civil War and the rule of dictator General Francisco Franco?

The appearance – sixty years after that war ended – of mass graves containing victims of General Franco’s death squads has finally broken what Spaniards call ‘the pact of forgetting’. At this charged moment, Giles Tremlett embarked on a journey around Spain, and through Spanish history. As well as a moving exploration of Spanish politics, Tremlett’s journey was also an attempt to make sense of his personal experience of the Spanish. Why do they dislike authority figures, but are cowed by a doctor’s white coat? How had women embraced feminism without men noticing? What binds gypsies, jails and flamenco? Why do the Spanish go to plastic surgeons, donate their organs, visit brothels or take cocaine more than other Europeans?

‘Lively and well-informed . . . at once a history, a journalistic inquiry and a travel book.’ Sunday Telegraph

Avila, Spain

5. Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe (2016)

by John Julius Norwich

Four great princes – Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain and Suleiman the Magnificent – were born within a single decade. Each looms large in his country’s history. In this book, John Julius Norwich broadens the scope. He shows how, against the rich background of the Renaissance and destruction of the Reformation, their wary obsession with one another laid the foundations for modern Europe. Individually, each man could hardly have been more different ­- from the scandals of Henry’s six wives to Charles’s monasticism – but, together, they dominated the world stage. From the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a pageant of jousting, feasting and general carousing so lavish that it nearly bankrupted both France and England, to Suleiman’s celebratory pyramid of 2,000 human heads (including those of seven Hungarian bishops) after the battle of Mohács; from Anne Boleyn’s six-fingered hand (a potential sign of witchcraft) that had the pious nervously crossing themselves to the real story of the Maltese falcon.

Four Princes is history at its vivid, entertaining best. With a cast list that extends from Leonardo da Vinci to Barbarossa, and from Joanna the Mad to le roi grand-nez, Norwich offers the perfect guide to the most colourful century the world has ever known and brings the past to unforgettable life.

‘Never before had the world seen four such giants co-existing. Sometimes friends, more often enemies, always rivals, these four men together held Europe in the hollow of their hands’.

6. Homage to Catalonia (1938)

by George Orwell

Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and observations in the Spanish Civil War. The first edition was published in the United Kingdom in 1938. The book was not published in the United States until February 1952, when it appeared with an influential preface by Lionel Trilling. The only translation published in Orwell’s lifetime was into Italian, in December 1948.
Basque Country, vineyard

7. The Revolution and Civil War in Spain (2008)

by Pierre Broue, Emile Temine

An outstanding history that shows how a promising workers’ movement ended in a fascist victory. What emerges most clearly in this detailed history, is how the popular front held back radical measures that would have galvanised the working class and peasant base of the revolution, and decisively weakened Franco’s forces.

Author Pierre Broue, a former professor of contemporary history at the Institut d’Etudes politiques in Grenoble.  Broue is a  world-renowned specialist on the Communist and international workers’ movements.

8. Moorish Spain (2006)

by Richard Fletcher

Written in the same tradition as John Julius Norwich’s engrossing accounts of Venice and Byzantium. Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain entertains even as it enlightens. He tells the story of a vital period in Spanish history which transformed the culture and society, not only of Spain, but of the rest of Europe as well. Moorish influence transformed the architecture, art, literature and learning. Fletcher combines this analysis with a crisp account of the wars, politics and sociological changes of the time.

Moorish architecture of Seville, Spain
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9. The Moor’s Last Stand: How Seven Centuries of Muslim Rule in Spain Came to an End (2017)

by Elizabeth Drayson
The Moor’s Last Stand presents the poignant story of Boabdil, the last Muslim king of Granada. Betrayed by his family and undermined by faction and internal conflict. Boabdil was defeated in 1492 by the forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of the newly united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. The Christian victory marked the completion of the long Christian reconquest of Spain and ended seven centuries in which Christians, Muslims and Jews had, for the most part, lived peacefully and profitably together. Five centuries after his death, Boabdil continues to be a potent symbol of resistance to the forces of western Christendom. His image endures in contemporary culture.

Elizabeth Drayson presents a vivid account of Boabdil’s life and times. Drayson also considers the impact of his defeat then and now.

10. Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682 (2010)

by Robert Goodwin

In the sixteenth century, the Spaniards became the first nation in history to have worldwide reach. Across most of Europe to the Americas, the Philippines, and India. Goodwin tells the story of Spain and the Spaniards. A story about  great soldiers like the Duke of Alba to literary figures and artists such as El Greco, Velázquez, Cervantes, and Lope de Vega, and the monarchs who ruled over them. At the beginning of the modern age, Spaniards were caught between the excitement of change and a medieval world of chivalry and religious orthodoxy.  Spaniards experienced a turbulent existential angst that fueled an exceptional Golden Age. A fluorescence of art, literature, poetry, and which inspired new ideas about International Law, merchant banking, and economic and social theory.

Malaga, Andalusia, Spain.

Odyssey Traveller offers regular escorted small group tours to Spain each year. For a list of our tours of Spain, follow this link.

Originally published on November 7, 2017

Updated on November 10, 2019

About Odyssey Traveller

We specialise in educational small group tours for seniors, typically groups between six to 12 people from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and Britain. Our maximum number of people on a tour is 18 mature aged travellers. Typically, our clients begin travelling with us from their mid 50’s onward. But be prepared to meet fellow travellers in their 80s and beyond! Both couples and solo travellers are very welcome on our tours. We have some 150 tours and offer 300 scheduled departures on offer each year. Odyssey has been offering this style of adventure and educational programs since 1983.

Odyssey Traveller is committed to charitable activities that support the environment and cultural development of Australian and New Zealand communities.

Odyssey Traveller scholarship for Australia & New Zealand University students.

We are also pleased to announce that since 2012, Odyssey has been awarding $10,000 Equity & Merit Cash Scholarships each year. We award scholarships on the basis of academic performance and demonstrated financial need. We award at least one scholarship per year. We’re supported through our educational travel programs, and your participation helps Odyssey achieve its goals. Students can apply for the scholarship by clicking on this link to find out more details. 

Join our loyalty program when you join an international small group tour.

Every International small group tour taken typically contributes to your membership level in our Loyalty Program for regular travellers. Membership of the alumni starts when you choose to take your first international small group tour with Odyssey Traveller, discounts in tour pricing for direct bookings accrue from your third tour with Odyssey Traveller. To see the discounts and benefits of being a Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Diamond alumni member with us, please see this page.

For more information on Odyssey Traveller and our educational small group tours, visit and explore our website, and remember to visit these pages in particular:

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