Andalucia, at the southern end of Spain, is a great place to holiday in summer as well as winter, with sunny beaches along the Costas and the dramatic Sierra Nevada mountains inland for skiing. An Andalucian holiday has much to offer, with picturesque landscapes, mouthwatering Tapas and flamboyant Flamenco. With the Moors having occupied the region until the mid-15th century, the region has a heady mix of Spanish and Moorish architecture.
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Inland, rural Andalusia has three wonderful cities to explore, namely Cordoba, Granada and the capital of the region – Seville.
Seville (Sevilla) on the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir, is one of the jewels of Spain, with Moorish architecture, museums, food and shopping that make it a must-see holiday destination.
Seville is a busy city with lots of narrow roads and limited parking. It is best explored on foot, or you could use the regular, reliable and inexpensive bus service. A fancier way of going around is to hire a horse carriage around the main sites – a particularly popular option with couples and families.
You need at least a few days in which to explore Seville, though you will instantly fall in love with this ancient city and its culture. El Arenal, the erstwhile port of the city, is a good place to start. After the river silted up and the area became notorious for its underworld for some time, the river was converted to a canal to restore the area to its former glory. Today boat trips can be taken down the river to view Seville from the water. Seville is famous for its Cathedral, which is the largest in the world. La Giralda, the Cathedral’s bell tower which was first built in 1198 and enhanced in 1568, offers wonderful views of the city. Standing on the site of a twelfth century mosque which was built under Moorish rule, the Cathedral is simple, but awe-inspiring and a sight not to be missed, towering over Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz is the old Jewish quarter, a literal maze of narrow streets, and small sunny squares obscuring tapas bars, plazas and quaint gardens. For a real feel of Seville, spend some time in the Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the most picturesque parts of the city, full of narrow lanes with whitewashed houses, pretty squares, and exceptional tapas bars. Don’t leave Seville without visiting one of its wonders, the Reales Alcazares, Royal Palace. The Mudejar Palace of Alcazar is a fine work of art in itself, and the exquisite buildings, facades and gardens will take your breath away. Green and beautiful with waterways, flowers and foliage everywhere, the Alcazar Gardens are a place to take a break and relax your tired feet. Also make sure to see the Casa de Pilatos, built by the first Marquis de Tarifa in the early 16th century. It is one of the finest palaces in Seville and now also houses a courtyard and park, at the end of which are museums that were once mansions. The Plaza de Espana in the Parque de María Luisa is also worth a visit.
The bullfighting ring of Plaza de la Real Maestranza is the finest in Spain and worth a visit. The bullfighting sessions are intense, but you should still visit the structure if you aren’t interested in the actual event. Built in the 18th century, it is one of the oldest in Spain. The arena seats up to 14000 spectators and visitors can take guided tours here. Bullfighting season commences on Semana Santa (Easter Sunday) and lasts until October.
Tapas is thought to have been invented in Seville, and it’s certainly the way that most locals choose to eat. The range is incredible and the prices good, so take advantage of the more than one thousand places in the city where tapas is available.
Surrounding the city is the gorgeous countryside of the region also known as Seville and a fertile farmland, La Campina. There are charming towns like Italica and Carmona nearby. To the north of the region is La Colmarca de la Sierra, a mountainous area with lots of outdoor activities.
Cordoba is well worth a trip. FInd out more here.
For many travelers, Granada is the best city in Spain. The prime attraction is the Alhambra, a fortress-palace built and used by the Moorish rulers. The Alhambra simply has to be seen to be believed. The structure is in fabulous shape, the beautiful interiors detailed with intricate Moorish architecture and style. In addition to the palace, Granada gives off the air of a “real” Spanish city with winding cobblestone streets and bullfighting arenas.
In addition to these historic cities with their Moorish past, there are many traditional and picturesque whitewashed villages – pueblos blancos, steeped in the Moorish tradition of whitewashing the buildings. Places such as Competa, Mijas and Casares, and towns such as Ronda, Gaucin and Jimena de la Frontera are a few of them, with their holiday accommodation comprising of rustic fincas, the traditional village houses to Spanish Cortijos set within olive groves.
Ronda, part of the Malaga province in western rural Andalusia, has a spectacular location on a huge outcrop of rock and is one of the most beautiful historic towns in Andalucia.
Ronda has a charming old town area worth walking around. Stroll through Plaza Duquesa de Parcent to see the town’s architectural highlights, such as the belltower of the Iglesia Santa Maria de Mayor and the dramatically arched Ayuntamiento building. Ronda is famous for its bullring, Plaza de Toros, the oldest in Spain. It took 6 years to build and opened in 1785. The Punte Nuevo – ‘the New Bridge’ spans the gorge and links the old part of Ronda with the new. The New Bridge is, in fact, over 200 years old and took more than 40 years to complete, with masonry stones brought up from the depths of the Tajo gorge. The City Museum and the Bullfighting Museum are also very popular sights to visit. The Sierra de las Nieves natural park is within the province and has a forest of Spanish firs. The fair and festival of Feria Goyesca de Pedro Romero, the only event in the world dedicated to a matador, is usally held at the beginning of September and is a good time of year for tourists to visit.
This part of Andalusia is also home to the whitewashed villages as well as picturesque towns and villages such as Alhaurin el Grande, Alhaurin de la Torre and Coin. Also in this area near the village of El Chorro is the natural wonder of Garganta del Chorro, a vast canyon of the Rio Guadalhorce in the limestone mountain. The El Camino del Rey, a 1m wide catwalk along the length of the gorge is one of the most dangerous paths in the world.
The national park of El Torcal is also popular with hikers and nature lovers.
In the east of the Malaga region, Antequera is a busy market town within easy reach of Malaga for a day trip. It is a more traditional town and is famous for its olive oil production. It is possible to walk around the walls of the 13th century hilltop castle from where there are wonderful panoramic views over the surrounding area.
Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol is the coastline of the area of Andalucia in southern Spain, running from Gibraltar to the holiday resort of Nerja. It is a very popular destination and has many resorts from the luxurious Marbella and its marina, Puerto Banus with its wealthy patrons on expensive yachts to the more family-friendly holiday destinations of Estepona and Rincon de la Victoria. It is also the preferred choice of many looking for Spanish golfing holidays, as over 30 of Europe’s best golf courses can be found a short distance inland.
- Puerto de Sotogrande, one of the most expensive marinas on this part of the coast, is a striking complex surrounded by apartments, shops, bars and restaurants. The overall design has been inspired by Portofino, flanked by sandy beaches to either side of the marina and golf, riding, tennis and squash courts nearby.
- Puerto de la Duquessa also has sandy beaches on either side of the marina, 5 minutes away from the village of San Luis de Sabinillas which has a fishing beach, and a short bus ride from the elevated white village of Casares, a designated Historical-Artistic Complex.
- Puerto de Cabopino (Pine Cape) is a relaxed, small harbour surrounded by Andalucian style houses. Cabopino beach, with its fine sand, artificial reefs and superb seafood is considered to be one of the best on the Costa del Sol.
- Puerto de Jose Banus, the playground of the rich and famous, has whitewashed, Andalucian-style buildings surrounding the marina, hosting luxury boutiques, upscale bars, restaurants and night clubs. The 3.6 tonne Dali’s Rinoceronte vestido con puntillas (“Rhinoceros dressed in lace”) is a famous landmark here. You can hire yachts for sailing around the marina. Marbella is 15 minutes away by car or bus.
- The small marina at Puerto de Marbella is surrounded by tourist developments, and can get very busy during summer. The town itself is well worth exploring, with the Old Town dating back to 1600 BC. In the old quarters are the Villa Romana de Rio Verde and Las Bovedas, ancient Roman Villas dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries. Las Murallas del Castillo Moorish castle is also a fascinating reminder of the town’s history. Don’t miss the famous Orange Square at the heart of the city centre, and the Golden Mile with ultra-luxury residences. The Parque de la Alameda has some works by Salvador Dali on display. Finally, no journey to Marbella would be complete without a visit to one of the city’s fine beaches such as Guadalmina, Linda Vista and San Pedro De Alcantara.
- Marina del Este has a small beach close to its yacht harbor, and is a short distance from the Alpahurras valley, with its charming villages towered over by the magnificent Sierra Nevada. 100 km away is the Puerto de Benalmadena, a huge marina flanked by good beaches, with over 200 commercial premises including boutiques, night clubs, restaurants and bars. Malaga airport is just 8 km away.
Puerto de Malaga is the major commercial and fishing port of the Costa del Sol. Malaga, known as the “City of Flowers” is a charming place with beautiful views.
Malaga, the capital city of the Costa del Sol, is also a port city and the location of the largest international airport in Spain. Malaga is surrounded by mountains and there are two rivers, the Guadalhorce and the Guadalmedina which flow across the city into the Mediterranean.
The history of Malaga goes back over 3,000 years, when it was founded by the Phoenicians and named ‘Malaka’, meaning salt, probably because of the fish which were salted by the harbour. In the 8th century it was inhabited by the Moors and became an important trading city. In more recent times, tourism has naturally boosted the economy.
There is plenty to do and see in Malaga – the Arabic Fortress, the Gibralfaro Castle from where there is a beautiful view over the city, the harbour and various museums, cathedrals and churches as well as, of course, the bullring. It is also the birthplace of Antonio Banderas. Of course, the most famous artist born here was Pablo Picasso, to whom the Museo Picasso at the Buenavista Palace is dedicated.
Discover the illustrious past of the region a short drive away from Malaga at La Alcazaba, an archaeological museum housed in an 11th century Moorish fortress. The town of Mijas is just a 30km drive from Malaga and is one of the most visited pueblos blancos. Despite the influx of tourists, the town retains traditional Andalusian charm and hospitality. It is home to many artists, who are drawn to its picture-perfect location and leisurely lifestyle. Stroll through the old town to browse the galleries and craft shops of local artisans.
Nerja at the eastern tip of the Costa del Sol, is steeped in history and houses the primitive red and black pigment Neolithic paintings in the Nerja Caves, which were discovered in the late 1950’s and have now become one of the most visited tourist attractions in Spain. The caves are also home to the world’s largest column of stalactite and stalagmite.
Nerja is also famous for the Balcon de Europa, ‘the balcony of Europe’, a lovely mirador on the edge of a cliff which was once the site of a Moorish fortified tower. It offers stunning views of the sea along the Calohonda and Burriana beaches. Locals believe that wishes made in the centre of the star at the end of the Balcón de Europa come true.
Nerja has some lovely beaches which are mostly rocky coves with sand. There are some good restaurants along the beaches which specialise in local seafood. The old town of Nerja has small, narrow streets and hosts a weekly market on Tuesdays.
It is also becoming a popular destination for hikers exploring the mountainous areas of the Sierra Almijar and the Sierra Tejeda.
Costa de la Luz and Cadiz
The Costa de la Luz or the Coast of Light, named after the bright sunshine here, is situated at Spain’s most southern point. It is an unspoilt stretch of coastline with lovely beaches and attracts more of wealthy Spaniards than international travelers.Tarifa on the southern edge of the Costa de la Luz is very popular for windsurfing, and whale and dolphin watching trips on the Gibraltar. Los Lances is considered to be the best beach in all of Europe for wind and kite-surfing. For good views of the sea, climb up the Castle of Guzman el Bueno, named after the heroic general who sacrified his son in the fight against the Moors to save Andalucia.
Cadiz, to the south of Huelva province, shares the same stretch of coastline along the Costa de la Luz. Inland, the area is dotted with pueblos blancos which look fresh and verdant due to the moist air brought in from the Atlantic, vis-a-vis the drier Malaga region.
Cadiz city has a fascinating history in mythology, legend has it that the city was founded by Hercules, though historical evidence points to its establishment by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. The Pillars of Hercules at Los Barrios are believed to have been set there by Hercules as a monument to his labour of seizing the cattle of the three-bodied giant Geryon. Over the centuries the city has been inhabited by Carthaginians, Romans and Moors.
One of the most interesting towns in the province is Jerez de la Frontera, the capital of the sherry region where many of the bodegas offer visitors a tour of the sherry-making process, most famous of which are Gonzalez Byass and Pedro Domecq. The renowned white horses of Andalucia are trained at the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre here.
The Costa Tropical situated between the Costa de Almeria and and the Costa del Sol has approximately 320 days of sunshine a year, enabling the area to develop a large fruit industry with many exotic fruits. The oldest town and one of the most popular resorts is Almunecar. It has the Moorish Almunecar Castle, San Miguel Castle, a Roman aquaduct in disuse and a museum.
There are several very good beaches and there is also the Loro Sexi Bird Park for kids. The resorts of Salobrena and Motril are also to be found on the Costa Tropical. Salobrena has a restored Arab castle with a backdrop of traditional white houses and wonderful views of the Sierra Nevada.
Costa de Almeria
The Costa de Almeria has a virgin and varied coastline.
At the north of the Costa between the Alhamilla and Cabrera mountains is Vera, a beach town for nudists. A little further south is the municipality of Mojacar with 300 days of sunshine a year, lovely beaches as well as a traditional ‘white village’ which attracts a lot of tourists.
Mojacar has retained most of its traditional values, with a Moorish fortress called El Torreon, Arch of Luciana, and quaint, narrow cobbled streets. To the east of Almeria is the rugged, arid coast of the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata, popular with backpackers. It is sparsely populated and can be explored on foot. The coastal village and fishing port of San José in the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata area has one of the best beaches in the vicinity. West of Almeria are the highly developed tourist resorts of Roquetas de Mar and Aguadulce, and the developing complex of Almerimar with marinas, wide beaches, water sports, golf and many other facilities.
The old fishing port town of Adra lies further west. In spite of the interesting castle and assorted archeological remains, it is often missed by tourists travelling along the coastal motorway to or from the Costa Tropical.
Almeria, a Moorish city, has the 10th century Alcazaba castle, which overlooks the old part of the town, and is well worth a visit.
Look no further, Andalucia has all that you could possibly be looking for – beaches, culture, history, food and lovely landscapes. Here’s to a glorious Spanish summer.