“We travel not to escape life… But for life not to escape us”
From the sun soaked beaches of the Costa del Sol to the architectural wonders of such areas as Seville, Granada, and Cadiz, Andalucía is quite rightly one of Spain’s most famous regions. With history entwined within, locations which exude magic, and a climate most places could only dream about, the South of Spain is far more than what meets the eye.
The most populated of any community within the country, the territory of Andalucía is divided into eight provinces spanning two hundred and fifty square miles. A blend of cultures which have been collectively concocted together through the ages, have created a cocktail of delight. As places go it is unlikely that a more open and friendly environment will be found, that which in fact mirrors its collection of people precisely. Warm, welcoming, open-armed, and with huge hearts it’s hard not to fall in love with the community. Be that as it may the region and its people have been through terrible hardship over the years, and we’re not talking so far into its distant history.
Unsurprisingly due to its strategic geographical position as the gateway to Europe, its richness in minerals, and agricultural wealth, wars have erupted within the region for the best part of its long and violent life. Most recently, during and after the Spanish Civil War the region was one of the worst affected areas from the murderous regime of Spain’s infamous dictator Franco. In the very beginning Nationalist forces bombed and overtook working-class districts of Andalucía, proceeding to murder thousands from left-sided parties which opposed. It is appallingly estimated that a total of fifty-five thousand Andalucían locals were deliberately killed over this period.
Andalucía still holds its scars from the Franco era, with working class towns such as La Linea acting as stark reminders as to what fascism can bring. As sad as this recent history may be for the society as a whole, many remember those hardships, and it gives these amazing people an added quality. As open as they are, there is a certain degree of strength about them. Strong willed, proud, and courageous, their toughness and resilience has allowed for Andalucía to recover and prosper in astonishing fashion.
Over two articles we are going to explore ten places within the region which hold a special relevance to me. All have been chosen for many a different reason, and have a variety of points attributed to them. From the hipster shores of Tarifa, to Granada’s gastronomical brilliance it is time for you to take a trip with me across Spain’s marvellous underbelly…
Like a scene set straight from Lord of the Rings, this mountaintop town located just north of the city of Malaga dazzles and delights for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Picturesque, at least within Andalucía you will struggle to find a place with better visuals. A setting reminiscent to that of the elfish valleys of Rivendell, Tolkien would have been in his element.
As views go there is probably none more famous within the region than that of the Puente Nuevo; a stone bridge crossing a deep and mystical gorge, torn straight between two gigantic rock faces. A work of art, architecturally magnificent, and unlike Ronda itself huge in structure, it links the old to the new. The bridge stands tall in the backdrop of the Malaga foothills with a winding river weaving itself through the countryside, eventfully dropping an artistically inspired waterfall straight through its central archway.
There is more to Ronda than solely the Puente Nuevo however. With its beautifully cobbled streets, eighteenth century bullring, monumental viewpoints, and a real traditional taste for oxtail, its beauty is only matched by its totally chilled out ambiance. It only takes a matter of moments for the heart rate to drop, the pressure on the sinuses to release, and the stresses of life to diminish… Ronda lifts the weight of the world off those laboured shoulders almost instantaneously.
As much as there is to see in Ronda, it is the journey up via the mountainous roads which hold such a great sense of intrigue. Sharply ascending, whilst mere feet away from huge cliff face drops, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Be that as it may if you can stomach the treacherous pathways it’s worth it for the views alone. Wonderful widespread landscape as far as the eye can see, with a vast array of wildlife basks in Andalucían sunshine. The closer to the summit, the better the views become. Just like one of those journeys undertaken by Frodo and the fellowship; dangerous, but epically worthwhile.
Ronda is the star upon the top of the Christmas tree, the pearl at the bottom of the ocean, an espresso shot in the heart of Europe… Small in stature, but stupendously stunning.
How could we not include Seville, the capital and beating heart of Andalucía?
A city nicknamed ‘The Frying Pan of Europe’ for its ridiculously hot temperatures in the midst of summer. A classic footballing city divided between green and red. A city famed for its oranges and home brand marmalade, steeped in history and architecture alike… Oh and god forbid not to forget the flamboyant flamenco!
Seville truly deserves an article alone, however there are a few key things that one must see when visiting Spain’s fourth largest city.
The first thing which strikes you as you wander around the passages of Seville is the strange resemblance to that of North Africa, especially that of Marrakech. Most of the architecture from the mosaic tiled artwork, to the courtyard fountains are almost carbon copies of Morocco. This shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise as Seville was in fact under Arabic rule during medieval times, and the influence of its culture is clear to see in beautiful artwork form. Such landmarks as the Torre del Oro which overlooks the beautiful Guadalquivir River, or La Giralda; a former minaret to the Great Mosque of Seville now transformed into the jaw-dropping cathedrals bell tower, are both fine examples of this. Never the less it is the Real Alcazar de Sevilla which basks in glory, a huge palace complex which fans of Game of Thrones might be all too familiar with.
Although the Alcazar is one of the shining lights of the city, it is another location which has also dabbled within the film industry setting Seville apart from the crowd. Surrounded by beautiful parkland the Plaza de Espana epitomises the sheer brilliance, artistry, and charm of Andalucía’s elegant capital. The crowning jewel amongst a hoard of rubies and sapphires, this congregational square is nothing short of fascinating. A design so thoughtful, that those who were tasked with its construction should be widely celebrated.
Take a breather from the blistering sunshine in one of the many individualised and handcrafted murals, exhibiting Spain’s glorious towns and cities. Gaze out upon the luscious manmade lake, fabulous fountain, and for as long as deemed necessary just absorb the infinite allure of a city unparalleled in beauty.
California, Cornwall, Cadiz… Apart from beginning with the letter ‘C’ what do these contrasting locations all have in common?
An abundance of beautiful beaches… A gorgeous society of people… a unique and trendy feel…
While all of the above may be correct, it isn’t the answer being looked for.
Cadiz, as with its idyllic counterparts plays host to some of the most glorious sunsets known to man. It is no real surprise that a city so picturesque in appearance, and with such naturally beautiful people would produce sundowns which could steal even the most unemotional of folks hearts.
As vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows melt across the skyline until the sphere like structure of the sun reaches its final conclusion, people gathering on the Cadiz coast are treated to a special spectacle. Just like cutting into the yolk of a fried egg, the colours spill out engulfing the dusky heavens… The wild blue yonder is no more, replaced by what can only be described as some sort of golden utopia.
There are no better places to see a Cadiz sunset than the two main beaches in the city, both of which differ from each other immensely but can’t be separated in quality. The ridiculously long and widespread Playa Santa Maria del Mar outlines the coastline, and with its considerable amount of space has almost a never ending feel to it. Meanwhile the more sheltered Playa de la Caleta an alcove at the tip of Cadiz, holds host to a more scenic and secluded environment. With its tied-up wooden boats, and millpond waters shimmering in the sunshine it most certainly has character. However, so does this city… epitomized by probably the most famous Carnival within Spain. In the early part of the year for approximately a month, the party hits the town. The Carnaval de Cadiz which characterises itself on Andalucían irony brings current affairs to the streets, in a musically dramatized fashion. On the weekends small groups of Chririgotas in elaborate outfits, perform their own acts on every street corner. Everybody dresses up, and unlike other carnivals around Europe, instead of costumes being based around traditional fashions, the style is all about humour and fun.
What differs between Cadiz and the region itself is that although both contain astounding coastline, Cadiz is in fact a huge port city and a glorious one at that. This municipal thrives on bringing the best of both worlds to an area which contains beauty similar to Seville, a warm friendly atmosphere to match Granada, and beaches which compete if not beat those from Malaga. For those wanting a bit of everything Cadiz is the complete location by some distance. Andalucía’s answer to an all-round city will just like a summer romance completely steal the heart!
Andalucía’s most known unknown; a kite surfing paradise with an ocean swell as turquoise as it is translucent, and sands so golden they gleam in the midday sun. The shores of Tarifa are as hipster as they come, attracting blonde curly-haired surfers with an aroma of sea salt from as far afield as Australia and Brazil. Unsurprisingly this has created a character like no other within the region. With its subtle blend of worldwide cultures combined with Spanish life, Tarifa is the epitome of an Andalusian meeting point.
It’s hard not to talk about Tarifa without marvelling at the coastline for which it is famed. However, with the highly popular Costa del Sol more often than not taking centre stage with those wishing to visit the south, Tarifa and its beaches are seemingly an unknown entity to most outside of kite surfing circles. Just a stones throw away the illustrious Moroccan mountains almost feel within touching distance. Soak in the exquisite Bolonia Beach recently voted one of the best beaches in Spain; Caribbeanesque, it could quite easily be mistaken for somewhere else in the world.
There’s no doubt that Tarifa caters mainly for youthful exuberance, or at least to those still young at heart. During the summer months the town is brimming with excitement. Those who visit will notice a real buzz around the place, and feel an extra energy bursting through their veins. If the day is bustling with life from crowds enjoying the Tinto de Verano and tapas, then the night is a full on celebration for no other reason than it is summer.
As the sun goes down the alcohol starts flowing, the music becomes more raucous, and the party springs into life. The narrow white washed streets become filled with boisterous activity, and due to the local bars being mostly the size of someone’s living room, the nightlife naturally spreads out onto the street. It is something which must be experienced for those travelling around Andalucía. Enjoy everything that Tarifa has to offer; from its tropical shores, to partying the night away underneath a starlit sky… This little location in the deep south may just become a new favourite stop-off.
Skiing and snow is not something commonly associated with the South of Spain. However, contrary to belief in this eastern corner of Andalucía lays a city encompassed by a mountain range well established in providing snow sport activities. The superlative Sierra Nevada produces a simply stunning backdrop to the community of Granada, a place that once again thrives on culture and history. As reoccurring as this theme may be with Andalucía’s great cities, Granada with its Moorish architecture and grand design adds a degree of wonder.
Never the less, it just doesn’t have the same allure as Seville. Nor does it have the shoreline of Cadiz… and yet there is something about Granada which makes it extra special; an appeal ultimately unique to the area, the country, and even the rest of world.
Nowhere comes close to the atmosphere enclosed within these city walls. A centre of gastronomical excellence, a famous student city, and tourist hot spot all combine to bring an unrivalled flavour to a location like no other. A multitude of tapas bars fill the traditional streets, and provide quality to those wandering its many paths. A mixture of cultures congregate almost on a daily basis to enjoy each other’s company, the wonderful food, and the delights of a city built on friendly hospitality. Almost always full of life, daily and nightly whether it be Monday or Sunday, Granada is always on the move…
But is that all?!
Of course not…
That extra bit of special which gives Granada a twinkle in its eye is the unusual aspect ingrained within its traditions that the majority of food establishments (which are exemplary) provide a free tapas dish with every drink purchased, and we’re not just talking a pot of olives. From squid ink rice to gigantic croquetas, the tapas are top of the range and unmistakably some of the best within the region… And yet it is unbelievably totally cost free.
Granada also plays host to arguably the most famous landmark within Andalucía – The Alhambra Palace. Surrounded by magical mountains, woodland, and epical viewpoints this hilltop fortress marvels in the midst of the Sierra Nevada countryside. A palace so big it could hold within it a small town; it is one of the greatest Islamic contributions to European architecture the continent has ever seen. Attracting up to six thousand people daily, to avoid disappointment it is highly recommended booking in advance of a visit. From the Palacios Nazaries the Alhambra’s incredible centrepiece, to the pristine Generalife Gardens marvel at one of Spain’s finest masterpieces, whilst exploring the gorgeous and quite frankly delicious destination of Granada.