Andalucia is quintessential Spain. The southern province is the birthplace of Flamenco music & Sherry, the last bastion of proper (ie, free!) tapas and its landscapes are filled with a thousand sleepy white villages. It’s basically the Spain you was always picturing inside your head whenever you thought about Spain!
Earlier this summer, me and my girlfriend headed here on our very own Andalucian adventure.
Onwards To Andalucia!
To be perfectly honest, this trip kind of only even happened because Malaga is easy and cheap to fly to from both Leeds (where I live) and Nantes, France (where my girlfriend lives). We were both able to fly return for under €100 and arrive at a more or less the same time. The stars aligned it seemed (or at least the Skyscanner search engine did) so the scene was set and off we went.
Once I started to investigate what is actually in Andalucia I got kind of excited as there is just so much cool stuff to see and do. As we wanted to see as much of it as possible all in just 10 days we decided to rent a car. Renting a car in Spain can work out pretty cheap if you use an online broker such as Auto Europe like we did.
Malaga To Seville
After landing in Malaga, we picked up the car and set of towards Seville. A 2-hour road trip wasn’t exactly what we both needed after early morning flights but time was of the essence and so we had to get going. Happily, though, we discovered that Spanish highways are actually a pleasure to use – they are efficient and pretty quiet even on a Saturday afternoon.
We arrived at Seville around 5 pm so found much of the city enjoying its daily Siesta. Seville is one of the oldest inhabited cities on the planet and is a real gem of the classical world. The old narrow streets are charming, Moorish mosaics adorn every doorway and the Catholic churches are works of true splendor.
There is a hell of a lot of things to in Seville so set aside a full 2 days to really take it in. Seville is famous for its food scene after a siesta of our own, we set off in search of sustenance. The Spanish eat pretty late and restaurants were only just beginning to fill up at 10 pm. We dined on fried anchovies (typical Andalucian fayre) and quinoa tortillas (a more contemporary take on Andalucian standards). Spain is a pretty affordable destination and a meal for 2 (consisting of free shared dishes) with a few beers was well under €20. They even threw in some complimentary sherry at the end so I got my first taste of the sweet, strong stuff.
Click here for more info about Andalusian cusine!
The next day was spent exploring the city. The Plaza de Espana was built at the height of the wealth and power of the Spanish empire and celebrated the nation as well as its many colonies at the time. The real highlight of Seville though is the royal Alcazar which was used as Dorne in Game of Thrones. It is a sprawling complex of gardens, palaces, and houses of worship built and extended over the centuries by both the Spanish Islamic Moors and the Catholic Spanish royal family following the “re-conquest”. The streets near the Alcazar and cathedral are filled with top quality Tapas joints where €5 will buy a glass of delicious wine and a generous plate of Iberian ham with cheese – we spent a few hours dipping in and out of them getting slowly fuller and drunker before walking home as the day cooled and gave way to night time
Here is a quick tip, if you are basing yourself in Seville and have a few days, then I highly recommend taking a day trip to Cadiz for some sea air. It is the home of the Spanish navy and was the staging post for the legendary expeditions to the “New World” throughout the middle ages and renaissance.
Seville To Cordoba
After a few days in Seville, we set off towards Cordoba which is another classical Morrish/Spanish city and another Game of Thrones location. The city itself is a charming cocktail of white buildings, Roman walls, and photogenic bridges. The standout attraction though has to be the Mezquita – a religious structure built as a church, turned into a Mosque and then back to a Church. It combines the geometric symmetry of Islamic art with the brooding enormity of the classical Catholic structures. In case you find yourself in Cordoba, I can recommend La Tata for delicious & cheap tapas with giant glasses of wine.
We only spent one night in Cordoba, which kind of felt like enough and left in the morning. After a few more hours on the road, we reached what would be the highlight of our trip – the ancient, mythical, majestic city of Granada.
Cordoba To Granada
The city of Granada sits in the midst of the Sierra Nevada mountain range which is Spain’s highest. Whilst they are nothing like as high and massive as say the Himalayas, they do rise up quite sharply from the lower coastal region. The drive up was a gradual incline and my ears did pop with altitude once or twice. Despite the hot early summer weather, snow sat glistening on the distant mountain peaks. It is because of the region’s elevation that Granda became a stronghold for the Moorish dynasties and because of this that they built the gargantuan Alhambra palace and fortress.
Throughout the ages, Granada has always attracted a mix of Castillians, Gypsies, Moors, and wanderers, and fascinatingly, continues to do so to this day. It is the most bohemian and multicultural city in the region. The air around the Alcybin Arab quarter hung heavy with the scent of burning hashish and street musicians Buske in every old corner.
Granada is renowned for still offering free tapas, you turn up to a bar, order a drink and along follows a random plate of food. This is the true spirit of Tapas although it gets harder and harder to find these days. You can still find plenty of great tapas but you have to order and pay for it. We spent our days in the Alhambra, enjoying our terrace balcony and taking long siestas together.
By night, we indulged in tapas and deep glasses of white wine unleashing our inner gluttons. We did find time for a Flamenco show inside a gypsy cave house with was awesome. Flamenco is an intensely passionate and romantic music and does the landscapes, culture, and people of Andalucia a profound justice encapsulating their very quintessence magnificently.
We loved Granada so much that we decided to stay one more night – I always try to travel with as loose and flexible an itinerary as possible to allow for things such as this and wholly advocate only ever planning ones travels at the bare minimum. If you can’t be spontaneous and free when on an Andalusian adventure when can you be?
White Village & Cave Houses
Andalucia is famed for pretty white villages that dot the landscape. There are innumerable numbers of them dating back centuries. You can see them from miles away as you drive the highway as they all kind of rise up from little mountains sides, each one crowned with either a church or a fortress in various states of repair. Our choice to take a car rental in Malaga, (which proved to be a burden at times) really came into its own here as we were free to tour them driving from village to village through the endless olive groves.
As well as white villages, the region is also famed for its cave houses and entire Troglodyte towns. These cave houses are not simply natural caves that people came to live in but rather dwellings that have been hewn out of rocky hillsides and used as homes for centuries. The town of Guadix near Granada has the most remarkable example of cave houses and we spent an afternoon exploring. The modern cave houses are equipped with electricity, running water, internet (but not wi-fi) and even “Live, Love, Laugh” canvas’ hanging on the wall.
By the way, it was whilst visiting the cave church of Guadix that I managed to finalize an observation I had made throughout the trip – the Spanish version of Catholicism is especially fucking grim. Even by the standards of the worlds most successful death cult, the art and effigies in Spanish churches are especially solemn always picturing the biblical heroes contorting in anguish or crying tears of profound sadness. I couldn’t help but wonder how hard life must have been for Spanish medieval peasants that inspired dark this devotion. It is little wonder that religion is fast falling out of favor in an ever more confident and fun loving nation.
Anyway, back to the road trip…
After Granada, it was time to come down from the mountains for some beach time – after all this is Spain and I am British! We based ourselves in Caja de Mijas which feels a bit like LA (ie, a functional but soulless town seemingly built around a road rather than the other way round) except that everybody spoke with an Essex accent. The Spanish coast is perhaps over-developed and in my view has suffered from the dark side of tourism but nevertheless, we wanted the chance to feel the ocean breeze and feel the waves lap against our feet.
After staying in rustic apartments in old dwellings, our modern condo in Mijas felt like a bit of a comedown. That said, Mijas did make a convenient base to explore the coast and we made a day trip up to the charming, mountain village of Pueblo de Mijas where we had a huge seafood meal for under €20.
The day before we left we returned the car to Malaga airport and then took the metro downtown for our final night. Malaga is much more than just a convenient travel hub and the city has quite a lot to offer. Malaga was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and fitfully, there are quite a few art museums (including one dedicated to the man) and some very interesting art. The interior of the Cathedral is breathtaking and if you catch it at mass, the experience of entering is especially evocative and haunting.
We had spent 9 nights in Andalucia and loved every second of it. I was truly sad to leave but vowed to return at some point in the near future. Watch this space.