A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Andalucian architecture is a snapshot the region’s colourful past
We start our A to Z with one of Andalucía’s most historic monuments; the spectacular Moorish Red Fort and palace of the Alhambra. Originally the site of a Roman fort, the Alhambra occupies a commanding position above the city of Granada. Once described by a Moorish poet as “a pearl set in emeralds”, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts around 2.7 million visitors a year.
The Alhambra has stiff competition in the ‘A’s from another Moorish fort; Málaga’s Alcazaba. An alcazaba is fortified palace and the Alcazaba of Málaga is the best-preserved example of one in Spain. Sitting on a hill at the centre of the city, it enjoys fantastic views over the port of Málaga.
Alcázar of Seville
The Alcázar of Seville began its life as a fortified Moorish palace. Located close to Seville’s cathedral, the first Alcázar was built in 913, though almost nothing of the original building remains. The palace was extended and rebuilt over time. After the Moors were driven out of Seville, the palace became the home of the royal family of Castille. After the next few centuries, the palace continued to be remodelled to become the beautiful palace that it is now.
Today, the palace is still a royal residence and is often used as a film set. It has been used in Hollywood movies ‘Lawrence of Arabia‘, ‘Knight and Day‘ and Ridley Scott’s ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise‘ and was also used in Game of Thrones.
Málaga’s port is a large working port. Principally a cargo and cruise liner port, there is still a fishing fleet operating from the port. It is no surprise that the port is surrounded by restaurants that serve up freshly caught seafood including Boquerones, the white anchovy. Served marinated in olive oil and lemon as a starter or a snack, these delicious little fish are a staple of Andalucian gastronomy.
From golden sandy coasts to arid deserts, Andalucía has a diverse landscape
Costa del Sol
Many people travelling to Spain for a holiday want to head for the golden sands of the Spanish Costas. In the 1950’s, the name Costa del Sol was invented as a brand name to market the coast in Andalucía.
Originally, most of the towns along the coast were small fishing villages. As fishing declined, so the hotels shot up and the resort towns grew. Marbella became the playground of the rich and famous, while the package holiday crowds turned Torremolinos into a party town. Today, the golden sands of the Costa del Sol attract around 1.3 million visitors in the months of July and August, with many of them choosing villas and apartments over hotels.
Caminito del Rey
Moving inland, the terrain is more mountainous, with some spectacular hills and gorges. If you are feeling brave, then one of the most spectacular gorge views is from the Caminito del Rey, The King’s Little Path. Pinned to the steep walls of the El Chorro Gorge, the 1 metre wide wooden walkway hangs 100 meters above the river below. It has been known in the past as the “world’s most dangerous walkway” following five deaths in 1999 and 2000. After closing for four years, the Caminito reopened in 2014 after repairs and new safety features were added.
Cueva de Nerja
For those with less of a head for heights, you can go underground to experience a different dramatic view in the Cueva de Nerja. Stretching almost five kilometres, the caves are one of Spain’s most visited tourist attractions. One of the chambers forms a natural amphitheatre and is a regular concert venue.
Desierto de Tabernas
While much of Andalucía is verdant due to careful irrigation, there are deserts in the region. The Desierto de Tabernas is a 280 square kilometre nature reserve located 30 km north of Almeria. One of the desert’s claims to fame is that has been used as filming location. Fans of Game of Thrones may recognise it as the Dothraki Sea, while Clint Eastwood fans may be surprised to know that many of the Spaghetti Westerns were shot in the Tabernas Desert.
No Western would be complete without the horses and for fans of Equestrian arts, the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre is a must to visit. Based in Jerez de la Frontera (more about Jerez later), the school is devoted to keeping the traditions of Spanish baroque horsemanship alive and is one of the ‘Big Four’ classic riding schools.
Flamenco, fairs, food and more (not Moorish) architecture
When people think of Spain, many people picture Flamenco dancers, clapping their castanets and stamping their feet. Today, Flamenco is practiced not only throughout Spain, but worldwide (in fact, there are more Flamenco schools in Japan than there are in Spain!). However, the roots of Flamenco are firmly planted in Andalucía. There are over fifty Flamenco styles and a true Flamenco performance combines Toque, Cante y Baile (guitar, song and dance) in a show that is packed with emotional intensity!
The Spanish do like a party and the year in Andalucía is one long round of fiestas. Summer is the season of the Ferias. Every town has its own Feria and the season kicks off with the Feria de Abril in Seville. This is a week of serious dancing, drinking, eating and socialising, with partying to la madrugada (the small hours) being the norm. Events kick off at around midday with the afternoon fair, mostly outdoors, and then in the evening the party moves to the Castetas, striped tents that are around the Real de la Feria, the fairground.
Food plays an important part in Spanish fiestas and Spanish life. After all, this is a country where lunch breaks are at least two hours long and referred to La Comida, which literally translates to The Food. While lunch may be the most important meal of the day, snacks are also important.
Andalucía has its own gastronomy and it’s no surprise that the hottest part of Spain gave rise to Gazpacho. While many of us think of it as cold tomato soup, Andalucian’s will tell you that as they grew up, there was always a jug of chilled Gazpacho in the fridge and the would drink it the way that some of us downed squash. When made correctly, Gazpacho is way more than cold soup and the flavour doesn’t stop with plain tomato; strawberry and balsamic vinegar Gazpacho is just one of the fantastic & tasty variations of this Andalucian classic.
Hospital de la Caridad
Although much of the historic architecture of Andalucía is Moorish, one of Seville’s most beautiful buildings is the baroque Hospital de la Caridad, dating from the mid 15th century. Originally founded to help the old and the poor, the hospital still treats patients and the hospital’s chapel is ‘must see’ for any visitor to the city.
Coming back to food, one of the foods that people associate with Spain is ham. Andalucía is one of the main areas in the country that produces Ibérico ham. While ham is produced all over Spain, Ibérico ham is only produced in a handful of areas and is exclusively made form the Black Iberian Pig. This is one of the oldest breeds of pig and unlike modern breeds is slow to mature. They have to be allowed to roam free and it is their rich diet of acorns and chestnuts that give Ibérico ham its full-bodied flavour and oh-so-succulent texture.
Water, oranges and oil in Andalucía
Kayaking through the volcanoes of Cabo de Gata Natural Park
Andalucía has 107 rivers and a whole host of lakes, reservoirs and pools. So, it will come as no surprise that some of the best activities in the area are based on the water. One fantastic activity is kayaking through the volcanoes of Cabo de Gata Natural Park. The park is a wild and isolated place and the Sierra del Cabo de Gata mountains are the largest volcanic rock formation in Spain. Exploring the park by kayak allows you to get into the steep crags and the volcanic caves that are otherwise inaccessible.
Lanjarón’s thermal baths
If you prefer to enjoy your water by soaking in a bath full of it, then a visit to Lanjarón’s thermal baths may be right up your street. Lanjarón is well known throughout Spain for the bottled mineral water produced there (the first bottled water to be produced in the country). It is known as El Agua de Sierra Nevada and can still be drunk free of charge from a spring in the village. The Balneario de Lanjarón offers a range of spa water treatments and other body treatments.
If you head to Lanjarón on 23 June, you can make a splash with the locals as they celebrate the annual fiesta of San Juan with the biggest water fight in Spain.
No roundup of Andalucía would be complete with mentioning the region’s most spectacular Moorish mosque. The Mezquita in Cordoba started life as small church. When the Moors conquered Spain, the church was split, with the site serving as both a mosque and church. Then, in 748, the land was bought by Emir ‘Abd al-Rahman I, who demolished the old church and built the Grand Mosque of Cordoba on the site. After the Reconquista Cordoba returned to Christian rule and was converted into a Catholic church.
Today, the Mezquita is also known by its ecclesiastic name, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and remains a spectacular piece of architecture!
It seems strange to believe that until the orange (fruit) made its way to the British Isles, there was no word in the English language for the colour orange. The naranja crossed the seas, changed its name to the ‘norange’ before losing its ‘n’ and settling down to be the fruit (and colour) we know and love. Andalucía has long been a centre for orange production, with Moorish poets even writing verses about them.
Today, most of Andalucía’s orange growing is within the areas around Málaga, Huelva, Granada and Seville. However, you will still find orange trees growing in the streets and in gardens. A word of caution though, If you are wondering around Seville, don’t be tempted to pluck the oranges off the trees for a quick snack. They are mostly the Seville Orange variety, which are fantastic for making a tangy marmalade, but are way too bitter to be enjoyed as a fruit.
Spain is the world’s biggest producer of Olive Oil and about 73% of that oil is produced in Andalucía. Records show that as far back as Roman times, Andalucía has been exporting olive oil to other countries. Today, you can take a tour through the olive groves and sample the different types of oil that are produced in the area. (Did you know that although there are over 100 different varieties of olive grown in Spain, only 24 of them are used in olive oil production).
A painter, a park, a (very large) pool of water and plenty of places to eat
One Andalucía’s famous sons is legendary art genius Pablo Picasso. Born in Málaga in 1881, he lived in the city until, at just 14 years old he passed the entrance exam for the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. The city is now the home of the Museo Picasso Málaga, where you can find 285 of Picasso’s works.
Parque Natural de la Breña y Marismas del Barbate
This 50 square km coastal Parque Natural de la Breña y Marismas del Barbate protects important marshes, cliffs and pine forest from development. Located in the province of Cadiz, the park stretches along 6 km of coastline and home to many different wild birds including Peregrine Falcons, Ospreys and kestrels. There are some beautiful walking routes through the park and the Torre del Tajo, an old lookout tower in the park, offers great views.
Situated close to Granada the small town of Quéntar is the home of just under a thousand people and one enormous pool of water, the Quéntar Reservoir. Built in 1975, the reservoir supplies water to nearby Granada and irrigates the surrounding lands. The reservoir basin has an area of over 100 square km and the path around the lake is a great walking route.
It is no surprise that a country that values food as much as Spain does has over 200 Michelin starred restaurants and 18 of these are in Andalucía. Even if fine dining isn’t your thing, there are still plenty of amazingly good restaurants. Having said that, there are quite a few tourist traps around too; pictures of Day-Glo yellow paella containing chorizo should be setting off alarm bells and have you heading to a more reputable eatery. Also, swanky surroundings and elegant crockery isn’t necessarily an indicator of the quality of the food; some of the best food you will get is served in tiny bars with plastic tables and a barely legible Menu del Dia scrawled on a blackboard.
Holy Week, skiing in the Siera Navada and snacks
If you end up in Andalucía in March or April, you may come across a parade of men in white robes and heads covered with tall pointy hoods. Don’t worry, you haven’t stumbled on a KKK meeting. They are Nazarenos (penitents) taking part in one of the parades during Semana Santa (Holy Week), the week leading up to Easter.
Semana Santa is a HUGE event in the Andalucian calendar. From Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, the cofradías (brotherhoods) from the Catholic churches in the area organise huge parades. In these processions, the Nazarenos carry huge platforms bearing scenes representing the Passion, death and resurrection of Christ. These platforms are often incredibly old, are generally highly decorated with jewels and gold and are always very heavy. (The men carrying them aren’t called penitents for nothing.)
As well as the Nazarenos, you will see women in black wearing mantillas, a traditional Spanish veil made of lace, over a high comb, called a peineta. They worn to show mourning for the death of Christ. The processions are not just a visual spectacle. The air is heavy with the smell of incense and candle wax.
Although some of the processions are silent, most are accompanied by bands and many feature saetas, religious Flamenco songs that are packed with emotion and sung without accompaniment. Semana Santa in Andalucía is definitely a spectacle to behold. (And if you’re in Málaga during Holy Week, you may bump into Antonio Banderas, who returns there every year to join the parades with his cofradía).
The soaring snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range form Spain’s largest natural park. Located just outside Granada, the park is 850 square kilometres of icy terrain, rugged landscapes, and amazing natural beauty. The park is home to lovely white Andalucian villages and Spain’s highest mountain.
Spain may not be the first place that comes to mind when it comes to skiing, but in fact, from November to May the Siera Navada mountains are home to Europe’s most southerly ski resort. The slopes of Veleta have over 100 km of ski runs, with slopes ranging from beginner’s Green runs through to Black runs for the experts. The Pradollano ski resort sits at the base of the slopes and is about a 40 minute drive from Granada.
When thinking of Andalucía, most people wouldn’t think about surfing. However, the Andalucian coast offers some great surfing beaches. The beaches between Tarifa and Cadiz offer some of the best and most consistent waves in the region. While the waves in Andalucía may not be up to the level of Hawaii, they are still pretty good and it is a good place to learn. Also, the weather is fairly warm even in the middle of winter. The closet surfing beaches to the Pradollano ski resort are less than a 90 minute drive away, so it really is possible to ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon.
Spanish dining habits can be a bit of a mystery to visitors; this is a country where lunch lasts at least two hours and dinner is considered to be early if it is eaten before 10:00pm. One of the great mysteries of Spanish gastronomy is the origin of tapas. Stories range from it being invented as a way to keep the flies out the drinks to a law passed by Felipe III that said that every drink purchased in a bar had to be accompanied by some food to reduce drunken behaviour. Whatever the origin, the tapa was traditionally served on piece of bread on top of drink, hence the name (Tapa is the Spanish word for a lid or cover).
Tapas are popular across Spain and every region has its own variations. Andalucía is no exception, with seafood dishes like Boquerones (marinated anchovies, Calamari Andaluz (breaded fried squid) and Pesciato Frito (mixed fried seafood) being particularly popular. However, the the flavour don’t end with fish and there are dishes like the Sevillian Cola de Toro, a rich dish of slow cooked bull tail, which are only common in some parts of the region.
Unique architecture, visions of virgins and whale watching in Andalucía
Ubeda and Baeza world heritage site
Spain boasts an impressive 37 UNESCO world heritage sites, with another 30 places on the list of sites that could considered for nomination as a site in the future. The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Ubeda and Baeza were declared a world heritage site in 2003. The two towns in the Jaén region were extensively redeveloped in the 15th Century in the Spanish Renaissance style and are the home to some of the best preserved examples of this style in the country. Nicknamed “The Queen” and “The Lady”, these two beautiful places are well worth a visit for lovers of architecture.
Virgen de la Peña
On a hill above Costa del Sol coastline lies the town of Mijas. It is home to a small chapel that is carved into the rockface. The chapel is a shrine to the Virgen de la Peña, the patron saint of Mijas.
According to legend, in 1586 two children saw a white dove above the tower of the castle, which transfigured into the Virgin Mary. More reports of sightings of the vision followed and the shrine was built.
The Straights of Gibraltar are a natural habitat for whales and dolphins, at the point where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea meet. You can see whales all year round, but from mid-July to mid-September the whales are at their most abundant. You can take a boat trip from the port in Tarifa to see these magnificent creatures in the wild.
Xeres (aka Jerez)
We knew that finding ‘X’ was going to be a difficult one. Thankfully, since many Spanish words that start with a ‘J’ can also be spelled with and ‘X’, we have Xeres, also known as Jerez, though in English we know it as sherry. (in fact, the name sherry comes from Xeres, as the X is pronounced like “sh” in English).
Xeres is made from white grapes grown around the town of Jerez de la Frontera, an area known as the “Sherry Triangle”. After fermentation, the wine is fortified and aged in oak barrels. Traditionally drunk neat from a tulip shaped glass. However, some types of sherry taste great with ice and lemonade in long drink called Rebujito. Many Brits think of sherry as an old ladies’ drink, but in Spain, it is enjoyed by people of all ages. If you’re in Andalucía, head to Jerez de la Frontera and take a tour of one of the sherry producers; you may find yourself with a new favourite tipple.
Yoga and wellness
The sunny climate of Andalucía make it ideal for a spa break or a Yoga and wellness retreat. From a 4 day personalised yoga & meditation retreat in Lanjarón to a 28 days 200 hours Ashtanga Yoga teacher training in Cajiz, there is a wellness break for everybody.
Andalucía has its fair share of pueblecitos blancos, the small white towns that are dotted throughout the region. One fine example of these is Zuheros, a mountain village located in the province of Córdoba. Nested in the foothills of the Sierra Subbetica Natural Park, Zuheros is one of the prettiest of the pueblecitos. The village makes a great base for hiking in the area and for exploring the Cueva de los Murciélagos, with its rock formations and caves with stalactites, stalagmites and subterranean lakes.
So there you have it, our A-Z of Andalucía. If you enjoyed reading it… give the ‘clapping hands’ icon below a tap or two. Is there anything that you can think of to add to it? Let us know in the comments below.