Coast, city, mountains: Andalucia
has an astonishing heritage which spans centuries, blends cultures
and appeals to all generations. Though well known for it's Costa
del Sol type holidays, there is a lot more to Andalucia than this.
Holidays in Andalucia are a chance to sample the history and
culture of Southern Spain, with its cross section of cultural
influences. If you're after a city-based break you're spoilt for
choice, with the delights of Seville, Malaga, Granada, Cadiz and
Almeria on offer. For a more rural based holiday, there are several
national parks in Andalucia and some delightful villages and towns
in which you can either base your holiday or tour around.
One of the major cities of Andalucia, Seville (Sevilla) has a distinctly Spanish flavour about it. It is a very sultry city, home to flamenco and the passions of the dance reverberate through the streets. Visitors to the city simply must take in a flamenco show as part of the trip and there are a number of places offering this. If you're looking to delve further, there are classes in which you can learn the moves to the sensual folk dance.
Seville hosts two major festivals in the year: the Feria de Abril and the Semana Santa. The Semana Santa is timed with Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday and lasting the week until Easter Sunday. The churches create life sized tableaux of the Easter story and processions take place which attract a huge audience. The Feria de Abril (April Fair) is a more vivacious celebration and incorporates six nights of good food, copious drinks and night-long dancing.
Away from the festival season, there is a lot to keep you occupied on a trip to Seville. The old part of town has the cathedral, the Giralda tower and the Alcazar. The cathedral replaced the 12th Century mosque after the Christians took over the city from the Muslims. It is the biggest cathedral in the world; a very ornate and majestic building. The Giralda tower is all that remains of the original mosque from the mediaeval times. Nearby, the Alcazar is an old fort, built by the ruling Islamic governors in 913AD but has been modified multiple times since. Slightly south of the cathedral is the Plaza de Espana, built in the Maria Luisa Park. It is a fairly recent building, dating from 1928 but makes for a beautiful photographic backdrop. The park is very relaxing to take a walk in and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for an afternoon.
At night, the Alameda de Hercules thrives with the alternative scene and a number of bars offer an evening's entertainment of tapas, music and drinking. The other major night scene is the Plaza de Alfalfa which has a wide variety of bars to visit.
On the Costa del Sol, the city port of Malaga sits upon the Mediterranean. The city has a modern feel to it, but with traditional architecture. It was home to Pablo Picasso and celebrates his achievements proudly. The Casa Natal de Picasso is where he was born and is open to visitors. Nearby, the Museo de Picasso hosts many of his famous works.
Overlooking the city is the Castillo de Gibrafallo. It is an imposing beautiful castle upon the hill and is very much worth a visit, but the hill can be a challenge for some! There is a bus which will take you up there, or you can drive and park there.
Stylish Malaga is a good city to flex the credit cards, with a range of shops from traditional Spanish boutiques to designer clothing stores to tacky tourist shops.
In the evening, locals and tourists fill out the city with their revelries. Nightlife in Malaga is situated in a number of areas, but the main one is Plaza Mitjana. Don't be expecting an early night here, as things only really start to take off after midnight! Malaga is becoming well known for club nights with some well known names on the DJ scene so look out for who is on the bill when you're planning to go.
A little to the west along the coastline is Marbella, which is known for its wealthy visitors, both aristocracy and celebrity. It is a popular place to dock your luxury yacht and spend a few nights taking in the nightlife. But looking beyond this, is a city with a rich heritage and a beautiful old town which goes back to Roman times. During the day, the young and beautiful can be seen on the beaches of Marbella, some courting the paparazzi, some celebrity spotting.
The city of Granada is another that is steeped in culture, with the main draw being the Alhambra, a Moorish palace dating from the 13th century. As well as visiting the Alhambra, it is worth visiting the Plaza de San Nicholas opposite for fantastic views of the castle which has the mountain range Sierra Nevada as its backdrop. The nightlife in Granada has a very modern youthful influence from the large student population so you can seek out a wide range of musical tastes in the city. Many bars have free or extremely cheap tapas on offer when you order a drink so it's possible to partake in the true tapas style of eating, in which you move from bar to bar, grazing the small dishes.
Cadiz is said to be possibly the oldest city in Europe, founded in 8BC and was where Christopher Columbus set sail from in 1492 on his voyage to discover America. It has a very relaxed vibe and unique views thanks to its location on a tiny strip of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. It has a beach which has a wonderful city backdrop so you can enjoy the best of both worlds while staying here. The Cathedral overlooks the water and is surrounded by a maze of old buildings. Being such an old city, it has a very wide range of influences so there is something for everyone, from the historic fortress Castillo San Sebastian, to the 18th century Cathedral, to the modern architecture of the Parador Atlantico, a glass fronted hotel looking out over the sea. As with other Andalucian seaside destinations, fresh seafood is a big part of the cuisine and is well sampled in a wide variety of restaurants. For those wishing to go self-catering, the large market, the Mercado Central offers a plethora of culinary delights to take home or sample on the spot.
Cordoba sits upon the Guadalquivir River, futher inland and upstream from Seville. The architecture dates back to mediaeval times with close narrow streets of quaint old buildings. The Mezquita is a fusion of Islamic, Jewish and Christian history and is astonishingly beautiful. If you visit in April, it is worth catching the Batalla des las Flores (the Battle of the Flowers) which opens the May festivities in the city with a procession of flower-decorated floats and women dressed in traditional gypsy costumes.
Nestled in the Malaga province is the town of Ronda, famous for its unique location on the edge of a gorge. It attracts both overnight tourists and day-trippers from the Costa del Sol and can get very busy in peak season, but is definitely worth seeing. The word 'dramatic' is somewhat of an understatement when it comes to describing the views at Ronda. The bridge spanning the gorge is breathtakingly beautiful, alongside the buildings precariously perched on the edge of the gorge. Ronda is also well-known as the home of modern-day bullfighting and hosts one of Spain's best bullrings. Fights here are very popular so if you wish to attend one it is worth seeking out tickets well in advance.
Andalucia has a vast array of rural villas for rent to tourists, some close to villages, some near national parks and some completely out of the way. If you're interested in a rural holiday, a car is essential for getting around. For those more inclined to rough it, there are a number of campsites for both tents and caravans, as well as more rustic options such as yurts and teepee for rent. The national parks are idyllic and perfect for a spot of hiking or cycling. Sierra Nevada has the ski scene if that's your thing, running until late Spring. The most well-known national park is Donana, downriver from Seville. Guided tours are available and recommended in order to take in the highlights.
It's easy to get to Andalucia, with many major European airlines flying in and out of both Malaga and Granada. Flights are also available to Seville, Jerez and Almeria though less frequent and serving fewer cities. Flights outside of Europe tend to land in either Madrid or Barcelona so some inter-country transport would be required. If you wish to travel between Andalucian cities, Spain has a reliable train network.
Andalucia is the destination of choice for travellers who wish to enjoy good weather, traditional culture and good food.