An Insider’s Guide to Andalucía

June 8, 2011| Spain | Granada| Cities

Andalucía is the largest and southernmost of Spain’s autonomous communities which incorporates the provinces of Huelva, Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba, Malaga, Jaen, Granada and Almeria. It runs from Portugal in the west for 900km along the Mediterranean coast as far as Murcia, with some of Spain’s most exciting cities within its borders. The coastal areas are heavily visited by tourists, but further inland Andalusia remains relatively untouched.

Thirty million tourists visit the area each year, mainly to the Costa del Sol and the Sierra Nevada. Most visitors are drawn to the sun and sand holidays offered, but increasingly Southern Spain is a popular winter destination for “snowbirds” and retirees seeking a warmer winter climate.

Andalucian Culture

Andalucía has a rich culture which is strongly preserved and celebrated. In this area expect to find flamenco dancing, bullfighting, fiestas and Moorish-style architecture.

In the 8th century the Moors invaded Spain and made Cordoba the capital of the El Andalus kingdom. It led the way in learning, wealth and culture, leaving behind a rich heritage.

Andalucia was the birthplace of several international artists such as Velazquez and Murillo in Seville, and Pablo Picasso in Malaga. His house is now the home to the Tourism Council of Culture and his work is on display in the Museo Picasso Malaga. The area has several other significant museums exhibiting jewellery, pottery, ceramics and other local artisan traditions.  It is also the setting of one of the most stirring operas of all time, Bizet’s Carmen.

The Costas of Andalucía

Most holidaymakers are familiar with the Costa del Sol, along with the Costa de la Luz, Costa Tropical and Costa Almeria. They offer plenty of glamour and glitz, great shopping, beautiful beaches and a thriving nightlife.

Natural Districts

Andalucía has two national parks – the Sierra Nevada National Park and the Donana National Park. There are also 24 natural parks, 28 nature reserves, 9 biosphere reserves and two UNESCO Geoparks which put 20% of Andalucía in protected territory. 

Cities of Andalucía

The major cities of Andalucía reflect the glorious history of the Spanish Empire. Seville was once Spain’s largest city and has magnificent Moorish buildings and is adorned with orange trees. Explore the historic palaces of the old city, take in an opera, join one of the fiestas and end the day as the Spanish do, in a tiny bar sipping wine or sangria and nibbling complimentary tapas.

From the 11th century, Cordoba attracted philosophers, scientists and artists and it became a centre for medicine, language and the arts. What remains is one of the largest mediaeval quarters in Europe with unrivalled beauty. Visit the Great Mosque, marvel at the ruins of the Medinat-az-Zahara and enjoy the shops and cafés in the restored Juderia.

Cadiz was a thriving port in Roman times, trading silver, tin and amber. It was later the launch point for Christopher Columbus’s expeditions. Visitors will find it a wonderful place to soak up the sights and culture of real Andalucia. Cadiz has some of Spain’s finest white sand beaches on the Costa de la Luz. During February it hosts one of Spain’s most colourful and entertaining carnivals.

The glorious city of Granada is overlooked by the mighty Alhambra from its defensive clifftop position. The fort, palace and gardens are a delight to explore with their thick-walled architecture, marble details and water-filled gardens. The town is full of charm, its narrow streets lined with shuttered houses and small tavernas. Sample the local ham and wine, experience the gypsy flamenco and visit the caves at the Monastery of Sacromonte.  The Cathedral, Silk Market and Royal Chapel are all must-sees.

Located in the Sierra Nevada, Spain’s highest mountain range, the journey alone is worth the visit. The surrounding area has a host of smaller white villages which Andalucía is known for, with meandering cobbled streets and an unhurried pace of life.

Things to Do in Andalucía

The well-appointed beaches of Andalucía provide all you need for a relaxing holiday in the sun. Sun beds, umbrellas and watersports equipment are available along with ample bars and cafés lining the promenades.

The Via Verde cycle and hiking trail is ideal for the more adventurous, linking Cadiz with Seville along an unused railway line. Bikes can be hired at either end.

El Palmar is known for its kitesurfing in this unspoilt area. Take part in this exciting sport or enjoy watching youngsters take off from the surf.

There is plenty of good shopping, but Marbella is a cut above the rest. It has charming boutiques, plenty of bling and stylish restaurants along the waterfront and marina.

The vineyards around Ronda, known for its amazing gorge, provide interesting days out with excellent wine tasting opportunities. Jerez is home to sherry and its bodegas produce several sherries and two brandies.