Set in the south of Spain, Andalusia is one of the most diverse regions in the entire Iberian Peninsula. It is the only European region to have both Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, it boasts some of the best food in the country and is home to the most southerly skiing in all of Europe. Travellers have been flocking to this region of Spain for decades, and although they mostly come for the beaches there is so much more on offer throughout the province.
Spending two months housesitting in Algodonales, a small, typical Andalusian village in the foothills of the Sierra de Líjar Mountains, we had time to explore the area slowly. And what a beautiful part of the world it is. Getting off the beaten track in Spain is always rewarding and away from the overrun coastal resorts of the Costa Del Sol, Andalusia is rich in history, culture and plays host to some jaw-dropping scenery. If you want contrast, diversity and some truly memorable Andalusian experiences, try some of these on your next trip to southern Spanish province.
1. Eat Tapas in Seville
Seville is a foodie’s heaven; make no mistake about it. There’s an abundance of amazing restaurants serving up ‘gourmet tapas’ in old historic buildings, adding an additional level of sophistication to the €2-€6 servings of deliciousness. Try some different restaurants, sample a few different dishes and wash it all down with some full-bodied, local Spanish wine. Or just go to our favourite and order the tuna tataki tapa, the mushroom risotto and the grilled squid, or anything from the menu to be honest. Be prepared to queue though, as they are always full; it’s well worth the wait!
2. Be blown away by Plaza D’Espagna
From the outside of this landmark building, you would never guess what lies within. Walking up the stone steps, through the unassuming corridor, suddenly you are standing in the middle of a huge open space, surrounded by tiled fountains, benches, ponds and a moat complete with beautiful, ornate bridges. The semi-circle of buildings surrounding the central area are designed with a mixture of Spanish, Moorish and Art Deco styles, unique to this historic place. Stretching out for a half a mile, you might want to take some time to soak up this impressive sight.
3. See the world’s largest Gothic Cathedral
With 11,520 square feet of interior space, Seville Cathedral is the largest gothic cathedral on the planet. Just to put that in perspective, think five basketball courts long by three and a half wide – now that’s a big cathedral! Inside, the massive pillars give you some idea of the scale of the place and the ornate, intricate carvings that decorate the walls are amazing. For a birds-eye view of Seville be sure to climb the ramp to the top of the Giralda, the cathedral’s famous bell tower, which used to be a minaret. The ramp consists of thirty-five segments and is both wide and tall enough to ride a horse to the top but we recommend walking!
4. Watch Flamenco dancers in a cave
Granada is the place to watch Flamenco dancers do their thing and trust us; it is an absolutely mind-blowing experience. In fact, if you’re going to do just one thing in Andalusia, this should be it. Set inside a cave, it’s a very intimate experience, with the performers dancing in the center of the crowd, so much so that as they flick their hair back, beads of sweat land on the audience members. The entire performance is improvised every evening depending on the performers moods, so every show is completely unique. Watching the performers dance, sing and play is spellbinding; their passion, intensity and love of their art really shines through. We left feeling emotionally drained when the spectacle ended but loved every single minute of it.
5. Explore the immense Alhambra Complex
The Alhambra is one of Granada’s most iconic landmarks and it’s one of the most visited attractions in all of Spain. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, the old Moorish palace fortress dominates the Granada skyline. Take your time exploring as there’s a lot to take in, you could spend the whole day or even a few days meandering through the immaculate gardens and courtyards of orange trees. And that’s not taking into account the palaces themselves featuring mosaic tiled walls, tranquil tree-lines pools and intricate stone carvings. From the top of Arms Tower there are great views over the city or alternatively head to Mirador San Nicolas for stunning views of the Alhambra itself at sunset.
6. Get lost in overlooked Málaga
Home to the third largest airport in Spain, after the capital Madrid and Barcelona, Málaga serves as the gateway to the Costa Del Sol and unfortunately, not enough people stop to admire this vibrant city. Don’t make the same mistake! Set along the waterfront, the city is alive and kicking with great restaurants, bars and a lovely old town area. Málaga Cathedral is without a doubt the highlight but don’t forget to explore the narrow streets that punctuate the old town. Sit out, have a coffee or a glass of wine and watch the world go by. Stroll along the waterfront or visit the Alcazaba. Whatever you do, allow time to enjoy this cool city.
7. Wander through Córdoba’s historical centre
Crossing the Roman Bridge of Córdoba, you are welcomed to the historic centre by the giant Torre de la Calahorra Tower. Passing through the massive archway, the Mezquita comes closer and the sheer size of the walls and the doorways really is something to behold. Once the second-largest mosque in the Islamic world, the Mezquita now operates as a catholic cathedral. However, the Moorish influences remain prolific; the walled courtyard, the carefully crafted arches and pillars and of course the 93metre tall minaret which now serves as a bell tower. Wandering through the rest of the old town, there is plenty to see including the old Jewish Quarter and the cute Calleja De Las Flores street being two of our favourite spots.
8. Look down 100 metres from Ronda Bridge
Nestled in the mountains 750 metres above sea level, Ronda is set in a spectacular location. The views of the surrounding countryside are simply breathtaking and the old cobbled streets, lined with whitewash walls are a great place to get lost. Dividing the town in two is the Guadalevin River running through the very bottom of a 100 metre deep gorge that cuts like a knife through this quiet Andalsuian town. Connecting the two sides of town is the mighty Puento Nuevo (New Bridge). However, don’t let the name fool you, construction started on the bridge back in 1751 and it took them forty-two years to finish the job. When you see the bridge, you’ll understand why; it’s enormous!
9. Check out the iconic white hill towns
Tucked away in the hot Spanish hillside are the authentic and incredibly charming white hill towns of Andalusia. Completely disconnected from the tacky beach scene of the Costa Del Sol, these quaint little towns offer a great insight into how Spanish life really is. Wrought iron lamps light the narrow streets at night with small balconies punctuating the otherwise white walls. The pace of life is slow, the locals are friendly and siesta is taken very seriously. Housesitting in Algodonales for two months, we were lucky enough to experience life in one of these little villages first-hand and we loved it. Visiting other white hill towns such as Zahara de la Sierra, Acros de la Frontera and Olvera, each of the villages has something unique to offer. And the drives between them take you through acres upon acres of vineyards, orange groves and olive plantations. Have your camera at the ready, as there are postcard-perfect views at every corner.
10. Enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery
Far away from the Pyrenees in the north, Andalusia enjoys the most varied terrain in Spain. Barren deserts and fertile plains populate the lower ground while pine forests and alpine mountains occupy the higher elevated areas. A series of mountain ranges divide the region and offer jaw-dropping scenery to anyone passing through with crystal clear blue skies creating the perfect backdrop. There are loads of trails crisscrossing through the hillsides, with plenty of options for walkers. You can kite surf in the lakes, kayak in the rivers, paraglide from the mountaintops and even ski in the winter. Alternatively, you can just sit back and take in the unbelievable views of the surrounding countryside.
Andalusia is much, much more than just a beach destination. Vibrant cities, historic sights, picturesque villages, stunning landscapes and great food make this one of our favourite parts of Spain. Whether you’re on holiday in Spain or you’re backpacking around the country, take in some of this diverse province and see another side to the south of Spain.
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