STROLLING IN SPAIN (continued) Cordoba & Seville
Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Spain - 2004
By Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha
© Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha 2004
Cordoba – Overview and Terrain
Many travelers bypass Cordoba. What a mistake! It’s small scale is perfect for easy, leisurely exploration, it features the Mezquita mosque, one of the world’s masterpieces of Islamic architecture, the old neighborhoods are delightful and interesting, the people are welcoming, the regional cuisine delicious and the prices reasonable. The sense of history is ever-present: Cordoba was an important Roman provincial capital and later capital of all of Roman Spain, the first capital of the Islamic caliphate in Spain, the birthplace of Maimonides, and, for hundreds of years, one of the world’s most renowned centers of Islamic and Jewish culture and scholarship – religious, scientific and literary.
The charming Juderia (ancient Jewish quarter) and white-walled neighborhoods around the Mezquita are a delight to explore. Many buildings have courtyards and patios with geraniums and bougainvilleas; we were in Cordoba during a festival week and the building doors were open to display the patios. The streets are narrow and some are moderately steeply sloped, but getting around in Howard’s electric wheelchair was easy. Access would be difficult for a solo traveler using a manual wheelchair; assistance would be required in many places. The small streets don’t have sidewalks, which eliminates the issue of curbs. Fortunately, there are few cars on the small streets.
The walkway outside the ancient Moorish city wall from the Almodovar Gate toward the Alcazar of the Catholic Monarchs is level and easily accessible, affording an enjoyable ten-minute stroll.
Cordoba – Transportation
Because the city is compact, we didn’t use public transportation. We saw no buses in the old city center. In the modern section we saw many buses with retractable wheelchair ramps at the side door; they appeared to have the same design as those in Barcelona.
Cordoba – Hotels
Where We Stayed
Hotel Maimonides. Three star. Torrijos, 4. Phone 011-34-957-471-500; fax 011-34-957-483-803. www.hotelmaimonides.com.
We stayed here because the only hotel in Cordoba that told us it has an adapted room was booked. The Hotel Maimonides told us its rooms and bathrooms are not adapted but are large, so we took a chance. The hotel is perfectly located across the street from the entrance to the Mezquita. While not elegant, it’s well maintained and bright. The staff was attentive and gracious. One important feature is the garage in the basement, which is accessible via the regular elevators. This was quite an advantage for transferring and unloading. The room rate was very reasonable. (Hotel prices in Cordoba are generally cheaper than in Granada and Seville.)
There is one high stair into the building and one high stair from the vestibule to the main lobby. A large rubberized ramp with good traction was set out for the vestibule stair, but no ramp for the first stair. As is typical in the old neighborhoods of Cordoba, Granada and Seville, the entryway is flush with the street, not set back. A portable ramp would have protruded into the street. The café entrance has only one very small step from street level, so Howard went through the café and restaurant most of the time. This was not inconvenient because the café entrance is only a few feet from the main entrance and the café is open late. There are two elevators, both a bit larger than those at most other hotels.
We stayed in Room 202, a standard room (perhaps, judging by the floor map, slightly larger than the average standard room). The décor is plain but the room is quite large, has nice white marble floors and generous closet space, and is quiet and extraordinarily well lit. There is plenty of maneuvering space for a wheelchair; in fact, this was the largest hotel bedroom on our trip.
The bathroom is fairly large. Hotel personnel removed the bathroom door; with the door removed the bathroom entrance was easily wide enough for Howard’s wheelchair. It probably would have been wide enough even with the door on, but removing the door afforded extra space to maneuver. (If the hotel makes the bathroom adapted in the future it should widen the doorway.) There is a bathtub with no grab bars. There is a bidet next to the toilet. The shower hose is very long and easily reaches the sink and bidet, so it is possible to wash one’s hair in the sink. There is no transfer space next to the toilet, but there would be if the bidet were removed. There are no grab bars near the toilet. The sink is large, with plenty of space for toiletries. The bathroom could be made accessible if the bidet were removed and a few other modifications made.
Even without modifications, we highly recommend the Hotel Maimonides for anyone traveling with a companion and who doesn’t need to transfer to the toilet.
Other Hotels to Consider
The following parador told us it has one adapted room on the ground floor. We don’t know whether or not there is a roll-in shower. The parador is on a hill four kilometers from the city center. It advertises a terrific view of the city but, because parking is scarce and daytime traffic heavy in the city center, the location is not desirable for touring the sites or enjoying the atmosphere of Cordoba.
Parador de Cordoba. Four star. Avenida de Arruzafa. Phone 011-34-957-275-900; fax 011-34-957-280-409. www.parador.es; email@example.com.
The following hotel told us it has an adapted room:
Hotel Hesperia. Four star. The hotel is located just across the Guadalquivir River from the city center. Avenida Fray Albino, 1. Phone 011-34-957-421-042; fax 011-34-957-299-997. www.hesperia-cordoba.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hotels Without Adapted Rooms
We visited the following hotel; it is inaccessible because the entrance is up at least four stairs:
NH Amistad Cordoba. Four star. Plaza Maimonides, 3. Phone 011-34-957-420-335. www.nh-hoteles.com; email@example.com.
The following hotels told us they do not have adapted rooms:
Hotel el Conquistador. Three star. Magistral Gonzalez Frances, 15-17. Phone 011-34-957-481-102. www.hotelconquistadorcordoba.com.
Hotel Maestre. Romero Barros, 4-6. Phone 011-34-957-472-410. www.hotelmaestre.com.
Hotel Mezquita. Two star. Plaza Santa Catalina, 1. Phone 011-34-957-475-585; fax 011-34-957-476-219.
Cordoba – Monuments, Museums and Flamenco Music
Mezquita (Mosque). One of our highlights, this stunning masterpiece of Islamic architecture is worth a trip to Cordoba. For travelers unfamiliar with Islamic architecture, reading about it before your trip will be well rewarded. The audioguide is sketchy and a cathedral has been superimposed on parts of the mosque; imagination and background knowledge are helpful in appreciating its combination of grandeur and simplicity and the air of contemplative serenity it must have had in its heyday.
Access is excellent. There is one small stair from the street to the courtyard at the main entrance (near the tourist office and the Maimonides Hotel). There is a ramp at the main entrance door. Inside the mosque there are several changes in level, but all the stairs have been removed and the floor permanently ramped. Some areas have moderate slopes and a few are fairly steep but short. Lighting is dim and there’s much above you to delight the eyes, so watch out for the changes in level. There is a clean, large, accessible bathroom inside the building; ask a guard for the key.
Synagogue. This modest synagogue, which dates from the early 14th century and is among the oldest surviving in Europe, is accessible via one or two moderately sloped ramps. The Hebrew inscriptions on the stucco friezes are still legible.
Archaeological Museum of Cordoba. This small museum has artifacts from prehistoric times through the Islamic era, with particular emphasis on the Roman periods. Only part of the ground floor is accessible, via two gentle ramps. It’s necessary to ask the guard to set down the ramps. There are two courtyards, of which only the one toward the front of the building is accessible. Many of the exhibits are up one flight of stairs, so most of the museum is inaccessible, but the accessible part is worth a visit. The staff was very accommodating and extensive construction is going on. We wouldn’t be surprised if access is improved in the future. The inaccessible section of the main floor is up three stairs from the accessible section, so it’s possible to be lifted if several people are available to do it.
Roman Sites. Cordoba was an important Roman capital, first of the province and later of the entire Roman Spain. Recent excavations have uncovered significant sites, including an amphitheater near the archaeological museum and, in the modern section of town, a beautiful Roman temple currently under reconstruction. These excavations and reconstructions are in the early stages, so travelers can look forward to increasingly complete and well-documented sites over the coming years.
Alcazar and Gardens of the Catholic Monarchs. This palace and its garden and baths are inaccessible. The entrance to the Alcazar is down a very steep stair in an area with little room to maneuver. The garden entrance is up several high stairs.
Flamenco Performance – Tablao Cardenal. This stirring, soulful, passionate performance – singing, guitar playing, dancing - was one of the highlights of our trip! Although the crowd was mostly tourists, the performance was not touristy, and each performer gave his or her all. Cardenal is located near the tourist office and Hotel Maimonides. There are one or two ramps, and one stair in two or three separate places. The accommodating staff was happy to lift Howard’s wheelchair. Reservations are required; when reserving, it’s advisable to mention that you use a wheelchair. Because it was cool, the performance was in a room upstairs; there is an elevator. When the weather is warm, performances are held in the ground level courtyard, which is easier to access.
Several of the stores are up or down several stairs and hence inaccessible.
Two of the best-known restaurants are inaccessible. Casa Pepe is down a very steep stair into a narrow entrance area. El Caballo Rojo is up several stairs.
El Churrasco. We ate here several times, enjoying delicious steaks, fish, roast lamb, stuffed fowl, artichokes and gazpacho blanco (with liquored raisins and apple). Service was excellent and we ate in the courtyard with abundant flowers. There is one medium height stair at the front entrance. From the front room one can access the courtyard without any stairs. If the front room is crowded, the courtyard can be reached through a passageway with two small stairs spaced well apart.
We also enjoyed El Faro de la Juderia, an excellent seafood restaurant near the archaeological museum, where we had fresh seafood paella and crisp, meaty fried sardines. There is one medium height step up to the stoop in front of the entrance and one more at the entrance. The entrance also has a steep but short ramp.
Seville – Overview and Terrain
Strolling in Seville is delightful. The scenery, the plazas large and small, the pedestrian-only shopping streets, the warm weather and the long days - all are conducive to leisurely, convivial street life. Even more than in other cities, we saw Sevillanos of all ages – families, couples, individuals – strolling in the late afternoon, evening and night, meeting friends, window shopping and enjoying themselves in cafes and tapas bars. Parents didn’t seem overly concerned (or, indeed, concerned at all) about childrens’ bedtimes. Seville is large enough to have many areas to explore, yet the major sites are within easy walking distance of each other. The people were friendly and gracious.
Most of central Seville is flat, but some of the narrow streets in the lovely Santa Cruz area (the old Jewish quarter) are gradually sloped. Most intersections have curb ramps or curb cuts. Many streets and sidewalks around the Cathedral, the Real Alcazar and city hall are comprised of rough stones; this poses no problems for a person using an electric wheelchair but in a manual wheelchair the ride would be bumpy and assistance might be required in some places.
Seville – Transportation
Buses. Because the old city center is compact, we didn’t use public transportation. We saw many buses with retractable wheelchair ramps at the side door; they appeared to have the same design as those in Barcelona.
Taxis. Radio Taxi Giralda has wheelchair accessible Eurotaxis. Phone 011-34-954-675-555.
Seville – Hotels
Where We Stayed
Casona de San Andres. Three star. Calle Daoiz, 7. Phone 011-34-954-915-253; fax 011-34-954-915-765. www.casonadesanandres.com.
This atmospheric 25-room hotel, in an exuberantly restored 19th century building of typical Seville style, opened in 2003. It’s well located on a neighborhood plaza that’s lively but not too crowded or touristy. During our stay two weddings were held at the small church on the plaza, drawing festive, joyful guests all dressed up. The hotel is a 10 to 15 minute walk from the Real Alcazar and Cathedral, and near a pedestrian-only area with high quality stores.
The inviting lobby is tiled in Mudejar style. Two internal courtyards with huge skylights afford luminous sunlight to the lobby and breakfast room. There is a large roof deck, accessible by the elevator and up one medium stair. There is no on-site parking but the hotel has an arrangement with a nearby garage. The hotel has a café next to the lobby. The room rate was reasonable. The staff was extraordinarily gracious, welcoming and attentive, offering recommendations for restaurants, flamenco performances, etc. and helping us in any way possible. A modest continental breakfast was included in the room rate.
There is one high stair from the street to the front entrance and one high stair from the vestibule to the lobby. As is typical in the old neighborhoods of Seville, Granada and Cordoba, the entryway is flush with the street, not set back. A portable ramp would have protruded into the narrow street, so Howard used the café entrance. There is a small step from the street to the café entrance (it is uneven, so Howard required a bit of assistance backing down it), then a fairly steep permanent ramp through the café up to the hotel lobby. A person in a manual wheelchair would require assistance on the ramp. The café door was always opened quickly whenever we needed it, so this arrangement worked well.
Room 001, the adapted room, is on the ground floor. Facing the plaza, café and church, it can be noisy at times, but it’s fine if you are not especially sensitive to noise and don’t mind church bells. The room is medium size, with extremely high ceilings and inviting decor. There is sufficient space to maneuver a wheelchair because there is not too much furniture. As was typical in Spanish hotels, door pressure is heavy and the heating/air conditioning controls and receptacle for the master cardkey necessary to turn on the electricity are inaccessibly high.
The bathroom is small. There is a small stand-up shower with one grab bar and a two- or three-inch high lip at the opening, and the shower is too narrow for most wheelchairs. The shower hose is somewhat long but because the shower has a solid wall, the hose doesn’t reach the sink. The sink has separate hot and cold controls, and only a small ledge for toiletries. The toilet, like many in Spain, has no fixed grab bars and one wall-hung fold-down grab bar between the toilet and the transfer space, making a side transfer difficult or impossible unless one is strong enough to transfer without using grab bars. Also, the bathroom door takes up a lot of space; it’s impossible to close the door with a wheelchair in the bathroom.
So, unfortunately, from an access standpoint, we can recommend this hotel only for wheelchair users traveling with a companion and who either don’t need to transfer to use the toilet or who are strong enough to transfer without using grab bars. But we enjoyed this hotel so much that the access barriers seemed less problematic than similar barriers would have been at other places. If you are able to sacrifice bathroom access for charm, a wonderful staff, excellent location and reasonable price, try Casona de San Andres.
Other Hotels to Consider
Hotel Alcantara. Two star. Calle Ximénez de Enciso, 28. Phone 011-34-954-500-595. www.hotelalcantara.net; firstname.lastname@example.org.
This small recently renovated hotel shares an entrance with Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andaluz (a non-profit cultural center featuring Flamenco performances and a small museum – see “Seville - Tour Guide, Monuments, Museums and Flamenco Music,” below). It’s in a terrific location in the heart of the Santa Cruz area. From the common entrance to the building, the hotel entrance is up a narrow stone ramp. We inquired and were told there is one adapted room, but it was occupied and we were unable to see it. The room is on the ground floor and is only large enough for one person.
A Plug for an Inaccessible Hotel
The following hotel doesn’t have an accessible room, but it’s the sister hotel of Casona de San Andres and we had such a marvelous experience at Casona de San Andres that we recommend considering it for people who don’t need an accessible hotel.
Hotel Zaida. Two star. Calle San Roque, 26. Phone 011-34-954-211-138. www.hotelzaida.com; email@example.com.
Hotel in Osuna
We learned about the following hotel in Osuna located in a lovely 18th century palace renovated in 2001. Osuna is 80 kilometers from Seville, and we didn’t stay there, but we recommend checking this hotel if you are considering staying in Osuna. The access details seem excellent, and the hotel told us it has a roll-in shower.
Marques de la Gomera. Four star. Calle San Pedro, 20 - 41640 Osuna. Phone 1-866-376-7831 or 1-305-538-9697 (Miami). www.epoquehotels.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hotels Without Adapted Rooms
We visited the following hotel; although the grand lobby and elegant ground floor patio and restaurants are accessible via an elevator from the porter’s entrance, it doesn’t have an adapted room:
Hotel Alfonso XIII (Westin). Five star. San Fernando, 2. Phone 011-34-954-917-053. www.hotel-alfonsoxiii.com or www.westin.com.
The following hotels told us they do not have adapted rooms:
Hotel las Casas de la Juderia. Callejon de Dos Hermanos, 7. Phone 011-34-954-415-150; fax 011-34-954-422-170.
Hotel Casa Imperial. Five star. Imperial, 29. Phone 011-34-954-500-300. www.casaimperial.com.
Hotel AC Ciudad de Sevilla. Four star. Renovated in 1998. Avenida Manuel Siurot, 25. Phone 011-34-954-230-505. www.achotelciudaddesevilla.com.
Hotel Inglaterra. Four star. Plaza Nueva, 7. Phone 1-305-538-9697 (Miami). www.epoquehotels.com.
Tryp Macarena. Four star. San Juan de Ribera, 2. Phone 011-34-915-675-900. www.solmelia.com.
Seville – Tour Guide, Monuments, Museums and Flamenco Music
Tour Guide. We took two fascinating, informative walking tours with Luis Salas. Luis is very knowledgeable about Seville’s history, architecture, culture and lore, generous with his time and fluent in English. His knowledge is deep and broad, so he answers questions meaningfully rather than giving a standard tour guide speech.
Luis Salas. Phone 011-34-629-960-817. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Luis is affiliated with Sevi-Ruta, a tour service operated by Concepcion Delgado, and may also be reached at www.sevi-ruta.com; www.sevillawalkingtours.com. Phone 011-34-616-501-100; fax 011-34-954-164-407. If he is unavailable ask for one of his colleagues.
Real Alcazar and Gardens. The stunning Palace of King Pedro I (we express no opinion about whether he was Cruel or Just), the Mudejar style centerpiece and jewel of this huge complex, was built by Moslem artisans from Granada sent to this Catholic king by his ally the caliph of Granada. It is similar to the Alhambra architecturally but its decorative details include a combination of Islamic, Christian and royal Spanish motifs. Other structures reflect a variety of styles, from the 10th century Moorish walls to the Gothic and Baroque rooms built centuries later. The stylistic variety dramatically illustrates the complex history of Spain and Seville. Because of the scale and complexity of the Real Alcazar, advance reading will be well rewarded.
Several areas have one very high stair or one medium stair; there are a few portable ramps, but not enough. Ramp availability is haphazard. But it’s possible to see almost all the Palace of King Pedro I with the assistance of a guard or if, as Michele did on our second visit, you open a closed door and tour the rooms starting from the impermissible direction, where you will encounter only a few very low stairs. (Backtrack to exit and avoid the higher stairs.) The Gothic rooms of Carlos V, including the tapestry gallery, are accessible.
Admission is free for a wheelchair user and one companion. The ticket window is up a high stair, so the wheelchair user must wait in the entrance courtyard and the companion must get the attention of the ticket seller and bring the seller out to the courtyard to verify eligibility.
The upstairs royal apartments, still used by the Spanish royal family when they are in Seville, are open to the public when the royal family is not in residence. There is an elevator, but it was broken, so we didn’t see them. Viewing is by guided tour only. Tours are given throughout the day and require separate admission but not advance reservations.
Most levels of the gorgeous, serene, lush and varied gardens and pavilions are accessible. The compacted dirt paths are easy to roll on and are flat in most places. The lower level pavilions behind the palace are accessible but it takes some meandering to find the accessible routes. Don’t give up – strolling in them is a relaxing treat.
Cathedral. Access is very good. There is a very low stair at the front entrance. A few of the chapels have one stair, but have ramps. One of the items on display in the treasure room is Franco’s sword. There is a clean, medium size accessible bathroom with a wall-mounted fold-down grab bar at the side of the toilet with the transfer space. There is a stair from the Cathedral to the Patio of the Orange Trees, with a large, steep, non-skid ramp. A refreshing break from the cavernous interior, the sunlit patio was originally the courtyard of a mosque, and some Islamic artifacts survive.
Giralda. There is one high stair from the Cathedral to the tower entrance. To permit a mounted horseman to ascend, the tower has a series of over 30 ramps. But they are extremely steep, so Howard didn’t try ascending. Moreover, although there are view balconies along many of the ramps, the windows are above eye level of a seated person, and there is one large stair from each ramp to the corresponding view balcony. The ramps end below the top of the tower and a flight of stairs leads to the top.
Flamenco Performance and Museum of Andalusian Culture - Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andaluz. Calle Ximénez de Enciso, 28. Phone 011-34-954-560-670. http://sefarad.rediris.es/textos/0casamemoria.htm; email@example.com. We attended a stirring flamenco performance – singing, guitar playing and dancing – in the courtyard of this ancient Sephardic Jewish residence. Casa de la Memoria is a non-profit organization that sponsors music performances and has a small museum of Sephardic and Islamic artifacts. The current exhibit includes women Arabic poets of Al-Andaluz. The website has extensive information about Sephardic history; it’s primarily in Spanish but some of the pages have been translated into English.
The museum is upstairs and is accessible
via a fairly large modern elevator. The courtyard is easily accessible,
but small and crowded, so when reserving tickets it’s advisable to mention
you use a wheelchair; the staff will save a good spot for you. There is a
nice gift shop next to the courtyard. A large accessible bathroom is
nearby. As in many bathrooms in Spain, the grab bars are poorly placed.
The employees were very welcoming and proud of the museum.
Cordoba & Seville
Toledo, Madrid, Segovia
Additional Information & Appendices A, B & C
Editor's note: Don't miss the following access reports by Howard & Michele Chabner. Just click on the title.
Paris 2003-2007 and Burgundy,
Perigord (Dordogne) 2007
Paris Passerelles - Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Paris 2003
Paris Appendices: Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire, Metric Conversion & Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey Results)
Paris Passerelles Supplement 2005
Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) and Paris 2007
Rome, Florence, Vicenza & Naples, Italy 2003-2006
Rolling in Rome 2003
Vicenza, Florence & Rome 2005
2006 Navigating Naples 2006
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