Do you eat tapas? Have you heard of flamingo dance? Want to visit one the oldest cities in the world? Then the Spanish region of Andalusia or Andalucía is something for you, and it’s perfect for a 2-3 week road trip.
The regions’ capital Seville is one of the cities I recommend in Top 10 destinations in 2018 for the cultural explorer! But there is so much more to see in this mountainous region once under Islamic rule with unique architecture, great food, cool beaches and so much history!
If they didn’t park their cars everywhere, were so loud, and only eat dinner, when I’m asleep – this could have been my favourite country…
Be prepared: this is probably the longest post, I’ve ever written. But it’s also a big task to travel Andalucia. Seville and Alhambra are covered more extensively in other posts.
My husband studied in Seville, so the year before we got married, he took me on a grand tour. We spend about 2-3 weeks. The distances are not too long, so you can stay where you like a few days. The entire route is about 920 km, and it takes you by at least 3 UNESCO sites. I revisited a years later with my sister and dad on a second, but smaller roadtrip.
I will recommend this itinerary for your big Andalusia road trip:
MALAGA → GRANADA → CORDOBA → CARMONA → SEVILLE → JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA WITH SANLUCAR & DONANA NATIONAL PARK → CADIZ → VEJER DE LA FRONTERA → TARIFA & BOLONIA GIBRALTAR → RONDA → MALAGA
I recommend staying overnight in Seville, Granada, Jerez and Ronda – at least.
You can drive on the coast back to Malaga from Ronda insted of in the mountains, but there can be a lot of masstourism traffic. Some of the distances can be done by train or by bus, and we took the train from Malaga to Seville to borrow a friend’s car there, but I would recommend a car for the majority of the time. It will give you less freedom to stop at a great beach or a white town. Fly to Malaga as it’s cheapest (from Europe). Rent a car! Drive!
The name Andalucia probably comes from Al-Andalus. To really appreciate the sights, it’s good to have a crash course in the history of the region. So: First came the Phoenicians, then the Carthagians, then the Romans, then different Romans, Then the Visigoths, then the Byzantines, then Islamic rule for 800(!) years under both the Umayyad Dynasty and Izirids, then the Crown of Castille took it back – hence the Reconquista (back to Christianity, although that’s not where it started). And it’s pretty much been Catholic since then…
Andalucia can thank the Islamic rulers for their thriving tourism today, that’s for sure. They gave the region it’s own unique architecture and atmosphere, that I really like. And oranges!
Many travellers just pass through Malaga on their way to the coast or elsewhere, but it’s a nice little town on Costa del Sol. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world. Almost 3,000 years ago the most important Mediterranean civilisations found in Malaga an exceptional place in which to establish trade routes, thanks to the strategic location of its port.
There are ruins left by many of the former rulers – like a Roman theatre. The theatre lies at the foot of the Gibralfaro Castle built in 929 by the Caliph of Cordoba on a site previously built on by the Phoenicians. The Moors left the spectacular El Castillo de Gibralfaro from the 14th century. Also the Alcazaba is so cool – it was built as a defense against pirates. This area has seen many wars and battles, so read up on your Spanish history!
Pablo Picasso was born here, and there is of course a Museo Picasso. In the cellar are ruins from the Phoenicians so you get 2 for 1. There’s also a sculpture of the Danish fairytale writer H.C. Andersen, since he loved the city, when he travelled in the 19th century. I recommend eating at Mesón Mariano for a quiet Spanish place.
We didn’t get our luggage on arrival, so we had to stay an extra night in Malaga to wait for it. Then we took the train to Seville and borrowed a car, but I recommend you go straight to Granada. Although the trainride is extremely beautiful.
This was the last city to be taken back by the Spanish re-conquistadors and the city dates back from 1013. The city had a silk market that brought prosperity and international trade.
It’s only medium size, but there’s of course a lot of tourists because of the Alhambra. Legends have it the city was founded by Noah, or Hercules or at least some ancient people… It was most likely a tribe and then the Romans elaborated on it. The Moors invaded in 711, and later the founder of the Ziri dynasty made Granada an independent kingdom in 1013. This dynasty reigned until the Nasrid Dynasty began, which built the Alhambra. They reigned until 1492, when the troops of the Catholic Monarchs conquered the last Muslim city in the Iberian Peninsula and Boabdil, the last Nasrid king, surrendered. (I love the name Boabdil!)
The sights include the Cathedral, which was built by Queen Isabella I on the site of the mosque in 1523 after the re-conquest. It is 4th largest Cathedral in the world and started out as Gothic one, but ended up as a renaissance one. This is also where Los Reyes Catholics are – pay extra to see thus! Queen Isabella & King Ferdinand II of Aragon unified Spain and fought for the Catholic faith.
Also trace the silk road history and see the old Arabic bathhouse from the 11th century with atmospheric stonecarvings. Other sights in Granade include the Capilla Real, Basilica de San Juan de Dios, the Albayzin and the Monasterio de San Jeronimo. Keep out for the many festivals – including a tangofestival.
And of course, this is where the UNESCO-site Alhambra are, which are one of my Top 10 UNESCO sites in Europe. You might know it from Game Of Thrones.
It’s stunningly beautiful and historically interesting. I don’t need anything else. Remember to buy tickets beforehand. Get all the info you need on Heaven on earth! Enchanting Alhambra in Granada, Spain. You get a great view of this monument from Mirador de San Nicolas in the Arabic quarter Albayzin.
Córdoba is one of the oldest cities, and was both the capital of the Roman province in Spain and also in the caliphate of the Umayyads. This 1000-year old city’s center is a World Heritage site. Also the Roman philosopher Seneca was born here… uuuuhhh…
The most important sight is the Mosque-Cathedral or the Mezquita-Cathedral. There’s enough for a entire post. It’s a mosque turned Cathedral, which creates a unique blend that just fasinates me, and a place where you can really appreciate the different architectural aims.
I almost started crying, when I entered the hypostyle hall (sorry no good picture – google it). In general, that’s how I felt about the Moorish architecture contrasted to the Christian: The first one so serene, quiet and beautiful, and the second one kind of the same, but also with mankind suppose to feel humble and scared. I prefer the Moorish style! Soory for my bad picture of some of the most beautiful architecture in the world.
There’s also the Alcazar Fortress, the grand Roman Bridge and Bridge Gate and a Jewish Quarter. I just love these cities that have a mish-mash of cultures and rulers. They are the most interesting destinations. Close to Cordoba is en excavated old palace city Medina Al-Zahara.
ALMODÓVAR DEL RIO
From Cordoba you can also take a 1 day trip to the photogenic Castillo Almodóvar Del Rio or The Round Castle.
Previously a Roman fort, the current structure is of Moorish origin, in the year 760. So cool! And of course GOT also went here – it’s House Tyrell’s home Highgarden and also parts of Castely rock of House Lannister.
About 30 mins. from Seville, there is a palace city known for wine and olive oil. Yes please! The Moors built a walled around it along with palaces and fountains.
You can still see the old gates and walls. Also check out the Roman amphitheatre and Necropolis, a burial site from 1. century. Otherwise it’s pretty quiet, which is nice before arriving in Seville…
Seville is the main city in Andalusia and used to be a port trading with the Americas. The big Guadalquivir river runs through it. Seville is also known as the frying pan of Spain, so be careful when it’s hot! Every April there’s a fair in Seville.
This city is so interesting and full of history, that it has its own post: Seville – the cultural frying pan of Spain!
Seville was the most important visit for our roadtrip, since this is where my husband use to study Spanish in his younger days. We stayed at his friend’s apartment on the other side of the river and borrowed her car to take one part of the trip and then took buses for other parts of the trip. Again, we only did this because we could borrow a car and went back to Seville two times. Stay here a couple of nights at least.
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA
It’s a nice little town with some fine aristocratic palaces, but that’s not why you’re here. Not the fine horses either or the flamenco. This is where you drink Sherry!
The excellence of their wine making goes way back and was well known when the Catholic Monarchs ruled.
SANLUCAR DE BARRAMEDA
Sanlucar is famous for the Manzanilla Sherry. I hadn’t tried before we came. If you think you know what Sherry is, you’re wrong. After a glass of cold Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda you’ll never be the same.
There’s a small, but nice beach and harbour, and we sat at the harbour eating a good meal in the sunset. Apparently the have a horse race on the beach every year, but we almost didn’t see any people. We didn’t spend the night here.
DOÑANA NATIONAL PARK
You take the boat out to this secluded National Park. The small pink dots in the background are flamingos – should have brought a zoom.
Cadiz is where the big explorers left for the unknown world in the once giant empire of Spain. It has the ussual sights: a cathedral and son on.
But was is really special here is good seafood and the beaches. We found one full of stone potholes with almost no people. There are plenty of nice beaches, but the water was cold, since it’s not the Mediterranean. Every year Cadiz holds a huge carnival.
VEJER DE LA FRONTERA
One of the typical white villages in the mountains. From Cadiz and all the way over is raod of white villages, which you also can plan after. But I don’t think you need to see them all. But you need to see at elast one in your life!
TARIFA & BOLONIA
Between Cadiz and Tarifa, there are a high amount of surf beaches. We stayed one night in a little surfers hut, but we don’t ride any waves, so I can’t remember which one.
Even better, near Tarifa you can make a quick stop and take a swim. A beach with a view to Africa is my kind of beach!
Tarifa is the southern most city in Europe. This means it’s also close to Africa with only 13 km apart! There is a great viewing point from where you can clearly see Africa – in good weather, that is.
You’ll find monkeys, tourists and a few workers on this strange island. It has a long history and still belongs to UK, which is so weird. It even has its own flag and airport! But really not that interesting to see…
Ronda has one of this roadtrips top sights which is a really cool bridge, although it’s not really that old. The gorge dividing the city into two is 150 metres deep and the Puento Nuevo is the newest one of the 3 bridges across. It began in 1759 and took 34 years. Behind the small niche was once a prison. During the Spanish civil war, both sides threw people of the bridge.
Ronda is small, but quite nice with a great public park with a view over the valley. The city also has a historic part with a medieval feeling, Arabian baths and a bull ring. We found a large playground with the most fantastic view of the valley.
We stayed one night here, but I clearly remember our stay. It was so dramatic a place.
And so, you return to Malaga for some shopping of sherry and more sherry – and then it’s over. The day before we left, there was a festival just outside town. So make sure to keep an eye out for thesse things. The Spanish people love festivals.
- It’s not called the frying pan for no reason. In the summer months of June, July and August in can be too hot to enjoy anything. Try reaching the shoulder season.
- The south coast can have a lot of traffic in the summer months
- Small towns like Tarifa or sights like Alhambra quickly fill up, so book in advance if you can and want to stay at the good places.
- In Spain they eat extremely late (for a Dane). A large meal nidday and then tapas in the afternoon with a glass of cava or a beer.
Read more on the regions sight’s in the official tourist site.
If you like me fell in love with the cultural mix, try visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
What’s your favourite place in Spain?