Andalusia is one of Spain’s most popular visitor destinations. Blessed with endless beaches and unspoilt nature, the landscape is simply beautiful. Yet it is the region’s history and rich cultural tapestry that is arguably its greatest draw. If you can only manage a short break, focus on one or all of the big three: Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba. Each has a charming old town and a plethora of must-see sights. With more time at your disposal, there’ll be an opportunity to venture to some of the area’s smaller towns as well as its famed pueblos blancos. Let Mundana be your guide with our picks for ten places you must visit in Andalusia.
Sevilla perches on the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir. In summer, it’s hot enough to have earned itself the nickname “the frying pan of Spain” yet even extreme temperatures aren’t enough to put off thousands of visitors. They come to see the centuries-old cathedral and Giralda bell tower, originally built as a minaret. Nearby, the historic Alcazar is a reminder of how important defence would have been in the past. Take a wander around the characterful Plaza de España in Maria Luisa Park, built for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929. A more recent addition to the cityscape is the striking Metropol Parasol, possibly the world’s largest wooden structure.
Ronda’s main attraction is its plunging gorge, called El Tajo, which dominates the centre of this attractive town. The Rio Guadalevin has carved a deep chasm right through the middle. Walk across the tallest of its bridges, the Puente Nuevo, and peer down into the valley below. It’s also worth seeking out the Puente Romano, constructed on a Roman era foundation, and the 17th century Puente Viejo. Though it’s possible to stay overnight, most visitors to Ronda content themselves with a day trip.
Granada’s pretty skyline enjoys a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada. These mountains are snow-capped during the winter months, when it’s sometimes possible to ski. The city is a delight to explore on foot. Highlights include the fabulous Alhambra, a medieval citadel which is one of the region’s most impressive examples of Islamic architecture. Close by is the Generalife, a summer palace with tranquil gardens. Don’t leave without exploring the Albaicin quarter, once home to the city’s morisco population.
UNESCO recognises Cordoba’s Mezquita as a World Heritage Site. This imposing building was originally a mosque, but after the Reconquista, it was repurposed as a Christian cathedral. Later renovations and alterations transformed the interior. Today, the juxtaposition of its dramatic arched columns with the nave and transept make this one of the most fascinating buildings in Andalusia. Other must-see sights include the Caliphal Baths, now a museum, and an archaeological site on the outskirts of the city called the Madinat al-Zahra, which was a 10th century palace.
Malaga is often overlooked, but rather than merely writing it off as the gateway to the coast or other cities, it’s worth exploring in its own right. There’s a Renaissance-style cathedral for starters, as well as the well-preserved 11th century Alcazaba. The artist Pablo Picasso hailed from Malaga, so don’t miss the opportunity to tour the museum showcasing his life and work. Malaga’s oldest ruins are in its basement, city walls dating from the Phoenician era. You’ll also find plenty of bars and restaurants scattered across the city.
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Cadiz was a thriving port when Christopher Columbus set sail from here in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. This important function is evident today, not least in buildings such as the Casa del Almirante and the Old Custom’s House. Many rich merchant families chose to display their wealth by building towers. Today, more than 100 of them remain. Visitors may climb some of them to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city below. The tallest, Torre Tavira, contains a camera obscura, which projects panoramic views of the Old City onto a concave disc.
Jerez, or properly Jerez de la Frontera, made its reputation on sherry. The Phoenicians were the first to plant grapes and there are still plenty of vineyards close to Jerez that grow the white grapes required to make the city’s signature drink. Numerous bodegas still exist and a visit to find out how this fortified wine is made is a must visit in Andalusia. Jerez is also where you’ll find Carthusian horses and is the base of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Another important part of its heritage is the tradition of flamenco dancing.
Marbella, sometimes affectionately dubbed Marbs, is an affluent city. Take a stroll along the Golden Mile, where you’ll find fancy hotels and private estates that overlook the water. Wander around Puerto Banus and you will soon lose count of the luxury yachts moored in its marina. Wealthy visitors have also created a demand for high-end retail, so there is a significant cluster of designer boutiques selling fashion and other items. Plenty of upscale bars, cafes and clubs also characterise the area, so keep your eyes peeled if you hope to spot some stylish celebrities as they kick back and relax.
The port city of Huelva is one of the last settlements you’ll pass through before you reach the Portuguese border. Here, you’re more or less as close to Faro as you are to Sevilla. It’s the jumping off point for nearby Doñana National Park, a UNESCO-listed nature reserve that’s home to myriad birdlife and a popular place for horse riding or 4×4 trips. The shoreline of the Huelva area is known as the Costa de la Luz. It boasts many excellent beaches, including a 14 mile stretch between Mazagón and Matalascañas that is known for its wilderness feel and towering sand dunes.
Our final choice is Olvera, one of Andalusia’s famous pueblos blancos. The phrase translates as “white villages” and you’ll soon see why when you clap eyes on the whitewashed houses that line the interior’s hillsides forming numerous charming villages. Olvera itself can trace its history back around two thousand years. The surrounding countryside is planted with an estimated two million olive trees, so leave room in your bag for a souvenir bottle or two of its delicious olive oil.
Mundana’s experts will be happy to craft a bespoke itinerary which combines some or all of the places we’ve featured. You might choose to focus on a particular aspect of the local culture, such as Andalusia’s Islamic heritage, its food or the region’s stunning mountainous interior or coastline. However you choose to spend your time, we can suggest what to do, where to eat and where to stay. Give us a call today.