Andalucía might be a favourite holiday escape for Brits in search of sand, sea and um… sangria, but our globetrotting bloggers set out to show that there’s far more to appreciate in this area of southern Spain.
Our round-up takes you along vertiginous cliffside footpaths in El Chorro, visiting olive mills and films sets in the Tabernas Desert and to some of the region’s most alluring white villages including Ojen, Frigiliana and Juzcar, which is actually Smurf blue! Historic towns such as coastal Cadiz and Ronda get a thorough introduction while the three iconic royal cities of Granada, Seville and Cordoba are never far away.
Andalucía has a unique history of Muslim and Christian origins resulting in spectacular Mudejar architecture, best seen in former mosques and castles. And then there’s the food. From boquerones to carrillada you’ll get an in-depth lesson in what to order from the menu next time you venture south. All this plus hiking trails, ancient bridges, steep-sided gorges and breathtaking scenery – who’d have thought it? Andalucía really does have it all!
Enchanting white-washed villages
If I could, I would have spent an entire month in Andalucía. It’s a region that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and it’s packed with magical places to visit, so whenever you get the chance, you have to visit it.
Planning a one-week Andalucía road trip with my family and friends was not an easy task because there’s so much to see in this region. But if there’s one place any itinerary has to include is Andalucía’s white-washed villages – Pueblos Blancos. It is one of the biggest symbols of Andalucía, and each and every one of them has its own charm and beauty.
They’re all characterized by white walls and red or brown roofs, narrow cobbled streets and alleys adorned with colorful flowerpots, local craft shops, at least one big notable church, and sometimes even the remains of an old castle or fortress.
There are literally dozens of white-washed villages and towns in the region and there is an official route that passes through about 20 of them, but if you’re short on time, visit at least a few. My personal favorites were Zahara de la Sierra and Ronda, but I would have loved to visit others like Setenil de las Bodegas (whose houses were built into the rock), Frigiliana, Olvera, and Arcos de la Frontera.
Fun fact: A few years back, one of the villages was painted in Smurf-blue by Sony Pictures to celebrate the premiere of their movie, and since the residents voted for it to remain blue, it is now known as the Smurf village – Juzcar.
By Or Amir from My Path in the World
The impossible beauty of the Tabernas Desert
North of Andalucía’s capital, Almeria, is an incredible nature reserve of over 110 square miles – the Tabernas Desert. It’s the only inland desert in Europe. The sun shines here for over 3,000 hours a year and rain is virtually unheard of.
The Desert is an Area of Special Protection for birds and the ravines & canyons are a fragile ecological environment where rare birds can be found. You can take tours on horseback, with 4×4’s or walking tours of the Ramblas and ravines.
Tabernas was made famous by films including the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s. A Fistful of Dollars, and the Good, Bad and Ugly are just two films made here.
Several cowboy films "sets" left behind by the movie makers have been enhanced and are now used as tourist destinations. Fort Bravo, Oasys and Western Leone all provide an immersive tourist experience. The experiences are pretty cheesy but its great fun seeing can-can dancers and gun fights with all the dialogue in Spanish.
More recently Indiana Jones, Exodus of Gods and Kings and even Game of Thrones were all filmed here.
We had a superb visit to an olive oil mill to see how Spanish olive oil is produced. The tour was free at the Castillo Tabernas Olive Mill and the samples were delicious. At the Castillo you can see where the movie Exodus of Gods and Kings set fire to an olive oil tree in the groves used for filming.
You can visit the ruins of Tabernas Castle where it is said that the last Moorish King surrendered to the Catholic King and Queen, or visit the largest solar farm in Europe. Or how about taking a turn around the 43 kilometre Almeria race circuit?
Not many folks bother to visit the Tabernas Desert, but you will find some incredible sites to see if you take the time.
By Faith Coats from The World’s Kitchens
Exploring Andalucía from an authentic pueblo blanco
Andalucía is home to many stunning pueblos blancos: charming villages with white-washed houses and cobble-stoned streets. Ojen is one of them and visiting this mountain village was one of the best trips to Spain we made.
Ojen is only 15 minutes drive from the coastal town of Marbella, one of many more well-known highlights in Andalucía like Ronda or El Camino Real. This makes Ojen a great base to explore the area, so that’s exactly what we did during our stay. The village itself is quite small, though it does have its own museums. Walking around the village and sitting at one of the terraces people-watching was the best way to explore it.
If you want to have the best view of Ojen, you should actually drive a bit outside the village. This map for ‘Mirador de Ojen’ shows how to get there. You’ll have a beautiful view of the white-washed village against a mountain backdrop.
We didn’t know in advance that Ojen is also located in a stunning mountain area called the Sierra de las Nievas. The Refugio de Juanar nature reserve is just around the corner and has some great hiking options. We did two hikes, the three-hour easy Pozuelo hike and one climbing up a mountain to El Cruz de Juanar, offering spectacular views of the area, Marbella and the sea.
By Maartje & Sebastiaan from Tidy Minds
A fascinating fusion of cultures and incredible Mudejar architecture
The region of Andalucía has an entirely distinct atmosphere and aesthetic, due primarily to the mixing pot of cultures that has interwoven itself into Andalucían history throughout the centuries. While in Andalucía, you definitely feel that you are in Spain, but there are some other elements at play too and you could oft-times be forgiven for thinking that you are in Morocco, or another Arabic nation.
In the 8th century AD, the Muslims conquered the region, defeating the Visigoths and from that point onwards shaped Andalucía until the Christian monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, completed the "Reconquista" in the 15th century. The Muslim period of rule in Andalucía is seen by many to have been a golden age in Andalucían history. The region surged ahead in terms of modernity while the rest of Europe was dragging itself out of the Dark Ages, and under a tolerant leadership, a vibrant culture arose out of intermingling between Spanish Christians, Jews and Muslims who, for the most part, lived together in harmony.
During this time, many great building works were undertaken such as the Mosque in Cordoba, the Real Alcazar in Seville and the Alhambra in Granada. These structures were completed using the very finest Moorish techniques. When the Christian monarchs reconquered Andalucía, instead of destroying these structures they instead built onto them using popular architecture of the day, such as the Gothic style. This resulted in the unique "Mudejar" style that is now so distinct to Andalucía.
The best places to see examples of Mudejar architecture are the urban centres of Seville, Cordoba and Granada, but if you tour the region as part of an Andalusian road trip, you will see widespread smaller examples. I visited the region with a friend and toured for a week, but this aspect of Andalucía is also perfect to explore with your other half (if they are interested in history and architecture too!), as well as being a great location for travelling solo.
By Isabelle Hoyne from Issy’s Escapades
Crossing the bridge at Ronda
Ronda is a town located high in the hills of the province of Malaga, with an impressive setting that makes it one of the most architecturally dramatic in all of Andalucía. Twinned with the equally pretty blue city of Chefchaouen, in Morocco, the town spans a deep river gorge, and is perhaps best known for its ancient stone bridges that cross this gorge.
First settled as far back as the 6th century BC, the settlement of Ronda has had a turbulent history, changing hands of ownership many times with various foreign invaders. More recently, the town became a hangout for several prominent artists and authors in the mid-20th century. It gave the place a bohemian feel that survives to this day, despite the ever-increasing modern waves of tourist ‘invaders’ that descend on the town every summer.
Ronda’s most famous landmark is undoubtedly the Puente Nuevo, the highest and most impressive of the town’s three stone bridges. Another attractive place to visit is the Casa del Rey Moro, a Moorish-inspired grand residence and gardens. It hugs the steep gorge side below the town and also includes an interesting historic water mine. The elevation of Ronda at its highest point also provides impressive panoramic views of the surrounding Serranía de Ronda mountains, with their numerous white-washed pueblos blancos settlements.
I visited Ronda last year with my husband and three young children, while touring Andalucía in our motorhome. It made for an unforgettable stop on our tour. After enjoying a nice lunch on a restaurant balcony overlooking the gorge, we had a pleasant wander around the town and gardens, all the while admiring the views. Ronda is a great example of how there is so much more to see throughout Andalucía than just the sandy beaches of the Costa del Sol. Those willing to explore the interior of the region are sure to be well rewarded for their efforts!
By Rachel Day from Children of Wanderlust
Why you need to visit Frigiliana
Frigiliana is a beautiful little town located in the south of Spain. It’s an absolute favourite among tourists in the area because it perfectly combines culture with sightseeing and plenty of outdoor activities. Located just a short drive from the popular beach town of Nerja, Frigiliana is easy to access and perfect for both families as well as solo travellers. I’ve been going to the area for years, usually with my boyfriend but also with friends or family.
Frigiliana is one of the famous white villages in the area and there are plenty of things to see and do. Come here for delicious tapas and great dining opportunities. Most restaurants have fantastic views over the surrounding mountains and even the ocean in some parts. You’ll love the old town with its Moorish architecture, little shops and plenty of photo opportunities.
Frigiliana is the perfect town to splurge on accommodation and rent a villa somewhere in the mountains. Prices are usually reasonable, and you can get a lot here for your money. Once you’ve had enough of hiking in the mountains and wandering the streets of Frigiliana you can simply drive to the coast in just 15 minutes and spend a day by the beach or explore the nearby city of Malaga. You’ll love Frigiliana and will want to come back for more!
By Victoria Heinz from Guide Your Travel
One of Spain’s most stunning hiking destinations
What I love the most about traveling around Andalucía is exploring all the breathtaking hiking routes around here. Andalucía is home to the highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula, Mulhacen (3,479 m) but also many other of Spain’s 3,000-meter-high peaks can be found here. Among others, Veleta, which is the southernmost ski destination in Europe.
In the summer months, there are endless hikes in Spain’s Sierra Nevada National Park from easy day hikes to multi-day treks that are magical. But even the coastline in Andalucía is packed with hiking, something most tourists overlook completely for beaches and cheap drinks. But look behind the beaches, especially in Malaga, Granada, Almeria, and Cadiz, and you’ll see never-ending mountain ranges protecting the coastline. These mountains offer spectacular hiking routes!
I especially enjoyed hiking above Marbella, to La Concha and Cruz de Juanar which boast mesmerizing coastal views. Also the hikes behind Nerja are amazing. The coastal views from Pico del Cielo are unbelievable and the river hikes Rio Chillar and Rio Higueron offer some of the best summer hikes I’ve ever had. But Andalucía also has the most unique karst landscape in Europe heading to the trails in El Torcal de Antequera, which is a perfect family hike. And don’t miss El Caminito del Rey, which was known as the most dangerous hike in the world before the path that is pinned to the 100-meter-tall vertical cliff was renovated.
I’ve traveled around Andalucía hiking solo, with partner, and with friends and family. There are opportunities for everyone! If you like the outdoors, Andalucía is the perfect hiking destination all year round as there are high peaks and river hikes that can be done even during the hot summer months. Some of my absolute best holiday memories from Andalucía have been exploring the hiking trails!
By Linn Haglund from Andalucía Hiking
Eat your way around Andalucía!
One thing that will make you fall in love with Andalucía is the local food. Going out for tapas is an experience itself, especially if you visit Granada and its coast, where drinks always come with free food.
Some of the best tapas in Malaga include ajo blanco, a delicious cold soup based on almonds, and boquerones en vinegre, which are anchovies marinated in vinegar. Talking about boquerones, there is no better place to have them than Malaga and its surrounding areas. The boqueron is a big, meaty anchovie, which is always cooked from fresh. The most authentic way to enjoy it is in a chiringuito, on the beach, alongside a cold glass of local beer.
Each region in Andalucía has its own traditional dishes. The more local you go, the better the food will be. Most of the local restaurants in villages will have amazing home cooked tapas displayed in hot plates on the counter, usually made by one of the grandmas in the family. The food might not look like in a Michelin star restaurant, but it will taste incredible.
One of the local delicacies that you can’t miss when you are visiting Andalucía is the carrillada. This flavoursome stew is made by slow cooking pork cheeks in a rich sauce, with sherry and paprika. The end result melts in your mouth and has so much flavour that you will want to come back to Andalucía just to taste it again.
By Joanna Davis from Andalucía in my pocket
Hike Spain’s most dangerous path, the Caminito del Rey
El Caminito del Rey is a beautiful hike in Málaga, perfect for an adventurous family day trip. It used to be known as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The "King’s Little Pathway" is over 100 years old and 100 meters (350 feet) high.
My husband and I have wanted to hike this trail for years, but since the popularity of the hike, it was always fully booked. During our last southern Spain road trip, we were able to book tickets well in advance and finally enjoyed this beautiful walk high above river ‘El Chorro’.
The path has been fully restored but you can still see the scary old paths from before underneath your feet! The entire length of the hike is three kilometres, along small wooden paths and in between high cliffs. While enjoying breath-taking views, you will even spot eagles flying high above the cliffs.
El Caminito Del Rey is an easy but adventurous hike, perfect for all nature lovers!
By Stéphanie Beyens from Bey Of Travel
Immerse yourself in the historic streets of Cádiz
Andalucía is filled with fantastic cities and villages to visit, but one place I go back to time and time again with my partner is the city of Cádiz. This ancient port city still retains much of its original charm and is almost an identical copy to Havana in Cuba – in fact one of the James Bond movies was shot here rather than in Havana itself!
A stroll along El Malecón is a must, as is stopping at one of the many beaches that the city has to offer, such as the famous Playa de la Caleta, which is home to not one but two castles.
The heart of Cádiz, and one of my favourite spots in the city, is its cathedral, which sits in an open plaza where you can enjoy some tapas and a nice glass of Spanish vino. Cádiz is known for its seafood and fried fish, but if you’re not a big fish eater like me, then you’d thoroughly enjoy walking around Spain’s oldest covered market, Mercado Central de Abastos, or sitting down in what’s known as the "Flower Plaza" and eating some of the best churros in the city.
Cádiz is a one-of-a-kind city in Spain, and in my opinion is one of the most picturesque and overlooked destinations in Andalucía, making it well worth adding to your southern Spain itinerary – even if it’s just for a day trip!
By Krista Plociennik from Krista The Explorer
Come and find out what ‘live intensely’ really means
Now you’re sold on visiting Andalucía, check out these luxury holiday rentals including some in delightful Frigiliana.