Andalucia

AndalucIa Travel Guide

AndalucIa Travel Guide: What to Do in AndalucIa

Spanish bullfighting, flamenco, and sherry are all associated with AndalucIa (Andalusia), the Iberian Peninsula’s most southwestern region and the most distinctly Spanish region. In this area, the huge Moorish structures vie for your attention above anything else. A mixed ethnicity of Berbers and Arabs from Morocco and North Africa invaded Spain and settled in al-Andalus, where they ruled for more than seven centuries until being driven out. After landing in Tarifa in 710 AD, the Arabs quickly swept throughout the nation, capturing almost all of it until falling to the Christian Reconquista in 1492. A complex Middle Ages culture arose between the years 711 and 1492 in and around Córdoba, Seville, and Granada.

AndalucIa’s fiestas

February

1 Feb – San Cecilio Fiesta in Sacromonte, Granada’s historically gypsy district.

During the last week before Ash Wednesday: Carnival Throughout Andalucía, a lavish week-long festival takes place. Cadiz is known for its festive atmosphere, which includes street parades, fancy-dress events, and song contests that are both sarcastic and traditional at the same time.

March/April

Observance of the Holy Week: Semana Santa (Holy Week) Seville, Málaga, Granada, and Córdoba, as well as several smaller towns like Jerez, Arcos, Baeza, and Úbeda, are great places to see colorful processions with floats and penitents. It all comes to a head with dawn candlelight processions on Good Friday, with Easter Day being more of a family affair.

The last week in April is Feria de Abril, Spain’s greatest fair, which takes place in Seville for a full week.

May

First week: Córdoba celebrates Cruces de Mayo, which includes a competition for the “prettiest patio” in a town bursting at the seams with prized specimens.

Feria del Caballo occurs in early May, a week after the Feria de Abril. Jerez de la Frontera has an upscale horse show.

Roman Catholics celebrate Pentecost with horse-drawn carriages and processions at El Rocío, a city in the southern part of Spain (Huelva).

Last week: Feria de la Manzanilla is held. The town’s main product is celebrated with flamenco and athletic activities on its river beach in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which leads to a lengthy binge there.

June

13: Trevélez (Las Alpujarras) hosts the San Antonio Fiesta, which includes simulated conflicts between Christians and Moors.

Third week: Another important festival in the region is the Feria Real de Algeciras.

Late June/early July: Music and Dance International Festival. Granada’s Alhambra castle, Generalife palace, and Carlos V palace all host major dance and flamenco performances, as well as chamber orchestras.

July

Early July: International Guitar Festival in Córdoba, Argentina, brings together the best classical, flamenco, and Latin American musicians.

Final week: Almera’s annual Virgen del Mar celebration, which includes a horse riding contest, a music festival and a lot of drinking.

August

The first week: Sanlúcar de Barrameda beach hosts the first round of horse races, with both official and unofficial bets being placed. A second event follows two weeks later.

5 August – Mulhacen and Trevélez have a midnight romería.

13-21 August – Málaga Festival. Visitors will find this to be one of the most pleasant fiestas in Andalucía, and the effervescent malagueños will make you feel right at home.

15 August – With casetas (dance tents) in Vejer and elsewhere, the Ascension of Virgin Fair takes place.

Noche del Vino (Málaga) – A wild wine festival

23-25 August – Sanlúcar de Barrameda hosts the Guadalquivir Festival, which includes bullfights and a major flamenco competition.

September & October

The first two weeks of September: Dedicated to the annual Feria de Ronda, which features flamenco competitions and the Corrida Goyesca, or “Goyishe” bullfights, which take place in period costumes.

First/second week of September: Vendimia arrives with Vintage celebrations in Jerez.

27 September – 1 October: There will be traditional dance and a massive paella cook-up during the Feria de San Miguel festival in Órgiva (Las Alpujarras).

AndalucIa cuisine

Andalusian food owes a lot to the region’s Moorish past. North Africans ruled the area for a long time, introducing citrus fruits like oranges and lemons as well as spices like cumin and saffron and improving olive and almond farming practices. Even in the sweltering summer months, cool soups like ajo blanco (made with crushed almonds) and gazpacho are a pleasant relief. Tomatoes and green peppers, which Columbus brought back from the New World, are the main ingredients in today’s gazpacho.

Also, tapas originated in this area and are a popular snack among Spaniards while they are drinking wine or beer. Most nights, between the hours of 6 and 9, city bars are alive with the sounds of tapeadores chitchatting (as aficionados are termed). Jamón serrano, a mountain-cured ham from the Sierra de Aracena and the Alpujarras, is a popular tapa in Andalucía. The most sought-after ham is jamón ibérico, which is made from the hams of black Iberian pigs and rated in the curing hamlet of Jabugo on a scale of one to five “j’s” or jotas (for Jabugo). If you can afford it, the white-pig jamón available in stores pales in comparison to this premium jamón.

Fried fish is a regional delicacy of Andalucia, which is also known as the area de los fritos (zone of the fritos). Andalusians love chanquetes (whitebait), sardines, calamares, and boquerones (anchovies), and the fritura malagueña served at Málaga’s seafood chiringuitos is legendary (assorted fried fish).

Andalucía’s interior is hilly, and the region’s specialty is carnes de caza (game). If you have a good cook on your side, wild boar, venison, cabrito, and perdiz all create delicious dishes.

To drink with tapas, the best wine in Andalucía is fino (dry sherry) from Jerez de la Frontera. However, manzanilla and montilla (both made in Córdoba) from neighboring Sanlúcar de Barrameda are also excellent choices.

Garganta del Chorro

In the Rio Guadalhorce canyon, some 50 kilometers northwest of Málaga, you’ll find the Garganta del Chorro, or Big Canyon. An incredible site, a five-kilometer-long rift in the massive limestone mountain that has become the main rock-climbing hub in Andalucía. El Camino del Rey, a concrete walkway that runs the length of the valley and hangs precariously halfway up its side, is the gorge’s most impressive feature. An engineering marvel when it was completed in the early 20th century as part of a hydropower project, the catwalk has since fallen into disrepair and access has been shut off at both ends of the valley, making it difficult to approach without a guide and climbing equipment. However, the trip described in The hike from El Chorro allows you to see the remainder of the canyon and the Camino de Santiago in the distance. Many trains heading north from Málaga pass through or near a tunnel that runs along to the river for a substantial distance before plunging into a lengthy, dark tunnel right before the river’s head. This gives passengers an excellent view of the canyon and the Camino de Santiago.

Antequera and around

An undistinguished contemporary town, Antequera is about 55 kilometers north of Málaga on the major rail route to Granada and has a number of great churches, a complex of ancient dolmen caves that are among the most significant in Spain’s peninsula, and a beautiful old Plaza de Toros.

Parque Natural de El Torcal

As you approach Antequera from Málaga (through Almogía and Villenueva de la Concepción on the old MA424), you’ll pass the park’s entrance, which is known for its eerie rock carvings. 13 kilometers south of Antequera, Parque Natural de El Torcal is one of Spain’s most impressive natural parks in terms of its geology. With three walking trails radiating out from the park’s center and detailed in a booklet accessible at the Centro de Visitantes, this vast high plateau of glaciated limestone may be explored without incident. The paths are softened by luxuriant growth of hawthorn, ivy and wild rose.

Nerja

This part of the Costa del Sol runs from Málaga east to Almería and offers nothing to do. Inland, the Sierra Nevada offers lots of scenic hikes and sights to see, but it lacks the twin resorts of Nerja and Almuñécar – the region’s saving grace – even if it is less developed than the area to the west of Málaga. Nerja, nestled in the Almijara foothills, is the first stop after leaving Málaga by car. Because it was formerly a hamlet before it became a resort, the area has retained part of its original charm, and new villa construction has followed suit.

It’s the Bálcon de Europa, a beautiful seaside belvedere, that draws attention in the whitewashed old town. The beaches on either side of it are also very nice, and a number of secluded coves may be reached by foot. There are several additional wonderful hikes in and around Nerja that are well-documented in the turismo’s own pamphlets, or you may get individual booklets from local hiker and resident Elma Thompson at Smiffs Bookshop, c/Almirante Ferrandiz 10.

Almuñécar

While the rocky grey-sand beaches of Almuñécar are overrun with holiday flats, the esplanade behind them, lined with palm-roofed cafés and restaurants (many of which provide complimentary tapas with each drink), is a lot of fun, and the old town, built around a 16th-century castle, is rather picturesque. In this area, the Peon del Santo rises dramatically between the Playa San Cristóbal and the Puerta del Mar.

The Costa del Sol resorts

The actual Costa del Sol begins west of Málaga, or to be more precise, west of Málaga Airport. If you’ve never been to this part of Spain before, you’re in for a shock. Nothing like this has ever been seen before in Europe’s resorts. Property development in the 1960s and 1970 followed by a second wave in the 1980s and 1990s, this time villa houses and leisure complexes, was backed by enormous foreign investment. This second wave was followed by the building of hotel and residential tower blocks. The Costa del Sol is currently home to an estimated 300,000 foreigners, the bulk of whom are from the United Kingdom and other Northern European countries, while marina complexes like Puerto Bans have also drawn Arab and Russian investors.

Torremolinos, Fuengirola, and Marbella can all be entertaining if you approach them with the appropriate attitude. Then put on your sunglasses and keep walking till you reach Estepona if you haven’t already.

Algeciras

Algeciras is located on the other side of Gibraltar Bay from the Rock and emits pollutants and smoke in that direction. It may have been a beautiful vacation town once upon a time, but now it’s a port and industrial hub with sprawling suburbs on all sides. To reduce the region’s reliance on Gibraltar, Franco opted to develop Algeciras when the border crossing at La Línea was shut down. This allowed Spaniards who had previously worked at British navy dockyards to stay in their homes in Algeciras instead.

The city’s ugliness is widely despised by visitors, and unless you’re on your way to Morocco or waiting for a bus or train, there’s little incentive to linger. However, the groups of Moroccans traveling, clothed in flowing jallabahs and slippers, offer a splash of color. They are also hauling enormous quantities of luggage. If you’re merely traveling through Algeciras, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to board a boat and go south for a few days in Tangier. You’ll also find that the old town has some very charming areas, particularly around Plaza Alta, which seem to have altered very little in the last fifty years.

Towards Cádiz and Seville

There are frequent bus and train services in and out of Ronda. It’s worth it to take any road north or west, since it takes you by a slew of White Towns, many of which have been fortified since the Moorish Reconquest, which explains the abundance of places named “de la Frontera.”

The road to Cádiz through Grazalema, Ubrique, and Medina Sidonia is perhaps the greatest of them all, despite the fact that it’s a circular one and difficult to navigate without a car. It runs through the stunning Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema before skirting Cortes de la Frontera (which you can drive through by following the road beyond Benaoján) and, towards Alcalá de los Gazules, running through the northern fringe of Parque Natural de los Alcornocales, which gets its name from the cork oak forests that are one of the park’s main attractions and the largest of their kind in Europe.

The Sierra Morena

A massive mountain range that stretches from Rosal in Portugal all the way to Despeñaperros Pass north of Linares, Spain’s Sierra Morena is the country’s longest. As the northernmost outpost of Córdoba’s medieval Moorish Caliphate, the region’s hill towns still denote a change in temperature and attitude, with a transition from the warm, humid south to the arid plains and villages of Extremadura and Castile. Even locals in Andalucía have problems locating the mountain range, which has a peak elevation of just 1110 meters and isn’t really a striking sierra.

Aracena and around

It’s located about 90 kilometers northwest of Seville in the Sierra Morena mountains, with crisp, clean air that’s especially apparent after a hot day in the city. While it’s a large area, the Iglesia del Castillo is a Gothic-Mudéjar church erected by the Knights Templar amid Moorish castle ruins, and it winds its way halfway up the side of the hill. The town is bordered on the south and west by the Sierra de Aracena, a minor branch of the Sierra Morena with forested slopes and charming towns with cobblestone streets.

Gruta de las Maravillas

Despite the fact that the cathedral is well worth the ascent, the main draw of Aracena is the Gruta de las Maravillas, Spain’s biggest and most magnificent cave. The cave, which was reportedly found by a local lad looking for a lost pig, is now lit and offers guided tours to groups of at least a dozen people; to ensure the cave’s safety, groups now number no more than 35 people every visit. Visit before noon on weekends and holidays if you can; coach parties with reservations tend to fill up the afternoon slots. With all the people out and about on Sundays comes a lot of noise and activity, yet there’s still time to look about and marvel. Incredibly beautiful, the cave also has a humorous side: the Sala de los Culos (Room of the Buttocks) is a bizarre, organically molded display whose walls and ceiling glow a pinkish-orange in the last room of the trip.

The king of hams

Several picturesque but economically poor communities surround Aracena, the majority of which are reliant on the jamón business and the Jabugo curing facility that produces it. Spain’s traditional mountain ham, jamón serrano, is served as tapas or bocadillos and includes jamón de bellota, acorn-fed ham from the Sierra de Aracena, where pigs of all colors graze under oak trees. If you’re waiting patiently below for the acorn harvest in October, you’ve probably already seen plenty of pigs chowing down, becoming fat, before being swiftly snatched away and butchered before being dried in the dry mountain air. Flesh from black pigs is very fatty when eaten raw, yet the same fat that marries the meat tenderizes it when it is cured. To do this, the hams must first be “sweated” in gritty rock or sea salt for up to two years before being transported to cool cellars to finish maturing. Because mass-produced white pigs’ jamón serrano is aged for such a short time, it has an unmistakable flavor. From one to five jotas (the letter “J” stands for Jabugo), the very best is evaluated at Jabugo. Cinco jotas jamón costs between €250 and €350 for a complete leg. The turismo can tell you where to find local delicacies and goods to purchase.

The Costa de la Luz

After the awful Costa del Sol, discovering the communities along the Costa de la Luz between Algeciras and Cádiz is like discovering a new country. As you go west from Algeciras, you’ll see how quickly the terrain changes from flat to hilly, with views of Gibraltar and the Strait of Gibraltar, as well as the whitewashed buildings and slender minarets of Moroccan communities.

On a clear day, when you approach Tarifa, you can see Tangier on the edge of its crescent-shaped harbor, hidden behind the mystical Rif Mountains. Beyond Tarifa, you’ll find a slew of beautiful golden-sand beaches scrubbed clean by the Atlantic, as well as a smattering of unassuming resorts like Conil. Vejer de la Frontera, a haunting Moorish hill town in the interior, beckons, as does Baelo Claudia, an old Roman village on the outskirts of Bolonia.

Costa de la Luz

In contrast to many other Spanish Costas, the Costa de la Luz has sand dunes and pine trees in place of high-rise hotel structures. The beaches, with their golden sands, secret coves, and crystal-clear seas, are almost untouched. Whatever your interests are, you’ll find something to do nearby.

National Parks

Go to Sierra de Grazalema National Park for nature enthusiasts, which is renowned for its limestone environment and diverse species, such as a variety of birds. It is the finest national park in Andalucía. Bahia de Cadiz and Estrecho National Parks are equally stunning, with sights like the Tombolo de Trafalgar.

Beaches

Costa de la Luz means “Coast of Light” in Spanish, so what better place to soak in the rays than the shore? Between the mouth of the Guadalquivir River and Tarifa, Europe’s southernmost point, the shoreline is split in two. Windsurfing and kitesurfing are popular activities on the island’s southern coast.

El Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz, and Conil de la Frontera all provide ancient old cities to visit while lounging on the sands, while the beach at El Puerto de Santa Maria is many kilometers long. Tarifa, Baelo Claudia, and Atlanterra are all located in the east.

Golf

When you consider that Spain is a favorite retirement location and that the region is also a popular tourist destination, you can understand why more than 20 golf courses have been built there. Golfers’ paradises include places like Alcaidesa Heathland, La Estancia, and Villaneuva, to mention just a few.

Whales and dolphins

Excursions to see whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar depart from Tarifa’s harbor every day.

El Puerto de Santa María

There are many options for day trips from Cádiz to El Puerto de Santa Maria, which is just 10 kilometers across the bay and is a popular family destination for both Gaditano and Sevillian tourists, many of whom have constructed homes and chalets along the lovely Playa Puntillo. This stretch of beach is a bit out of town (10–15 minute walk or local bus ride), but it’s a nice area to spend a day because of the welcoming beach bars where you can sip sangria and eat mariscos for a ridiculously low price.

Things to do in El Puerto de Santa Maria

Visit the ancient town’s cobblestone walkways and orange groves to get a feel for El Puerto de Maria. Nearly all of the eateries in the seaside village provide delicious seafood. Castillo San Marcos, the famous fortress erected in 1264 on the ruins of a Moorish moque, is a great place to learn about Andalusian history. The excellent environment makes this region’s wine extremely delectable. There is a wine route in Spain called Ruta de los Sentidos that takes visitors on a walking tour of many vineyards where they may sample the wines and learn more about them while also enjoying Flamenco music and dance.

The neighboring Aqualand Bania de Cadiz water park offers rapids, whirlpools, and water rides, as well as a food court, making it a perfect day out for the whole family.

El Puerto de Santa Maria

As you would expect, Playa de Valdelagrana is an incredibly scenic location situated between the Guadalete River and Levante Beach. In addition to restaurants, bars, and hotels, there is a waterfront promenade where visitors may engage in watersports like kitesurfing and windsurfing. A short drive away is Los Torunos Natural Park, where you can take a stroll on the boardwalks and see the local fauna in the midafternoon. Fuentebravia and Santa Catalina are only a short drive away.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Sanlúcar  de Barrameda, 15 kilometers northwest of El Puerto, has strong ties to the sherry industry, as does El Puerto itself. Manzanilla wine, a pale, dry varietal often found in bars and sampled in the town’s bodegas, is made nine kilometers east of Chipiona near the estuary of the Guadalquivir. In the first and third weeks of August, Sanlúcar  hosts spectacular horse races along the beach, making it a perfect time to visit.

Parque Nacional Coto de Doñana

Sanlúcar ‘s river beach with shells and warm water is one of the greatest parts of the town since it’s just a short walk from the center. These marshy stretches (with restricted access) mark where the coast road to the west ends, and the beginnings of the Parque Nacional Coto de Donana may be seen on the other side. The park’s vegetation and fauna are world-renowned for their ecological richness and abundance of migratory birds.

In order to safeguard the park’s animals, access is restricted. However, boardwalks near visitor centers provide enough opportunity for exploration. El Acebuche, La Rocina, Palacio de Acebron, and Jose Antonio Valverde are just a few of the centers having dedicated walking spaces.

While a boat journey to the park from Sanlúcar does not allow for in-depth investigation, it is a fantastic way to get a taste of this spectacular place. There will be two brief guided hikes within the park to look for animals throughout the four-hour tour. Leaving daily from the Bajo de Guia quay is the Real Fernando, which has a cafeteria on board. It costs €16.35 and takes about an hour to go to Donana (booking is required at t956 363 813 or at www.visitasdonana.com). At least 30 minutes prior to sailing, tickets may be picked up at the Fábrica de Hielo, Bajo de Guia s/n, which serves as the national park’s exposition center and is located just across the street from the Real Fernando jetty. If you’re going birdwatching, binoculars are a must-have item. While you may rent them, having your own is definitely preferable.

Seville to Córdoba

The 135-kilometer straight route from Seville to Córdoba, which follows the Guadalquivir Valley and includes a train and some buses, is a boring one that takes the same path every day. There’s a lot more to see if you take the road just south of here, via the fascinating towns of Carmona and Écija, and much more if you continue south and visit Osuna along the way. These routes are well-served by buses, making it simple to go from one community to the next. Carmona may be visited as a day trip from Seville, but staying overnight is an option as well.

Osuna

Osuna, along with Carmona and Écija, is a sleepy Andalucía n town best explored in the evening, when the alleys are lined with whitewashed, tiled buildings and exquisite Renaissance villas. c/San Pedro, which intersects c/Carrera, has a superb geometric relief around a carving of the Giralda at no.16, and further along, the eighteenth-century Palacio de El Marqués de la Gomera is a stunning Baroque extravaganza – now a hotel and restaurant – is a stunning Baroque extravaganza off the main street. In addition, in Plaza Mayor, there’s a fantastic casino decorated in the Mudéjar architecture of the 1920s with a magnificently weird ceiling that’s accessible to the public and great for relaxing with a refreshing drink.

Carmona

Carmona, a little hamlet perched on a lush plain, is easily identifiable by the Iglesia de San Pedro, a 15th-century bell tower designed to appear like the Giralda. First and foremost, you will notice the tower, which immediately sets the tone for the town, which has a comparable history to Seville, which is just around 30 kilometers away. A significant Roman city, it was ruled by a brother of the monarch of Seville under the Moors and has a remarkable subterranean necropolis to show for it. It was utilized as a “provincial” royal dwelling by Pedro the Cruel later on.

Las Alpujarras

The Alpujarras lowlands lay south of Granada beyond the mountains, where Berber refugees from Seville first landed in the eleventh century, and where the Moors built their final bastion in Spain.

The Sierra Nevada, to the north, and the Lujar, La Contraviesa, and Gador, to the south, border the lowlands. Summer is seldom a problem in the upper sierras because of the year-round snow cover. A series of river valleys has formed through time, depositing silt on the lower hills and valley bottoms and fertile soil in the valley bottoms. These low-lying areas have been home to many settlements as a result, since the land is fruitful and easy to farm. Visigoths or Ibero-Celts, whose remains have been discovered in Capileira, started the elaborate terracing that is still protecting these deposits over two thousand years ago.

After the Moors

When the Moors conquered the Alpujarras, they immediately went to work on refining agricultural methods and customizing the terracing and irrigation to suit their needs. When they finished creating their earthly paradise in the Alpujarras, they retreated there to lament the loss of their beloved lands in al-Andalus, defying royal orders to become Christians. They staged one more insurrection in 1568, but it was put down quickly, and the rest of the Spanish Moors were expelled as a result. Two Moorish families had to remain in each hamlet even then, however, in order to teach the new Christian peasants who had been brought down from Galicia and Asturias to repopulate the valleys with sophisticated irrigation systems.

Following this period of time, land was more concentrated in the hands of a few affluent families, while working people grew increasingly poor. This part of the Alpujarras was mostly unaffected by the Civil War; a few Nationalist and Republican militias traveled through from Granada on occasion, rounding up residents for “crimes” of which they were completely unaware, and shooting them. There was a lot of misery and suffering in Spain during Franco’s reign. There are significant desertification concerns, weak communications, and a high degree of underemployment among the people today, making it one of the poorest regions in Andalucía  when it comes to per capita income.

A paradox exists: despite its excellent soils, the area has seen little economic growth in recent years due to the recent inflow of tourists who are spending their money elsewhere. Pampaneira, Bubión, and Capileira, which are all within a half-hour drive of Lanjarón, have been scrubbed and whitewashed. The so-called “High” Alpujarras have become popular with Spanish tourists and also with migrants from northern Europe who have bought property in this area. Even though they’ve been prettified, they haven’t been spoiled and now have a variety of establishments including stores, vibrant pubs, nice, modest restaurants, and tiny, family-run pensions. Other, less scenic or more inaccessible communities have few jobs and rely solely on agriculture for survival.

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