Andalucia is the southernmost region of Spain. On a clear day, as you stroll along the beach or gaze down from the mountains, you can see North Africa. It contains the most varied landscapes in all of Spain, from alpine mountains to arid deserts. It’s also the home of flamenco and bullfighting.
The Moors ruled Andalucia from the 8th-century until their expulsion in 1492. Over that time, it was the meeting point of the Christian West and the Islamic East. You’ll find many traces of this cultural infusion as you explore Andalucia, especially if you visit the Alhambra Palace.
Many Europeans dream of owning an Andalucian retreat. The popular TV program “A Home In The Sun” could easily be renamed “A Home In Andalucia”. Over ten million people visit the region every year. Many will head straight to the tourist haven of the Costa del Sol (some have dubbed it “Costa del Croydon”). But there’s far more to Andalucia than a thousand balconies facing the sun. Here’s our guide to the cultural highlights, from Moorish Pueblo Blancos to flamenco parties in Granada.
Your Andalucian adventure will no doubt start in Malaga, a city most people used to drive through on their way to and from the airport. Following years of investment and urban renewal, Malaga is well worth exploring, even if it’s just for a day trip.
It’s the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, the most famous artist of the last century. You can visit the Picasso Museum and see hundreds of his works – it’s one of the world’s few permanent Picasso collections. The city is packed with art galleries and street art. Understandable considering the status of Malaga’s most famous son.
Malaga Old Town is very charming. Get lost in its winding streets and explore the shops and restaurants. Malaga is a great foodie destination. It’s right on the coast so you get excellent fresh seafood, especially boquerones (anchovies).
You can drive along the coast from Malaga to the Serranía de Ronda (Ronda Mountains). It takes just an hour and a half to get to Ronda. The motorway can be a little stressful for first-timers and you then have to face a drive up a mountain. If that sounds like too much hassle you can easily get a train from Malaga to Ronda.
Ronda is an unmissable destination on any Andalucian itinerary. It’s a dramatic city perched over a gorge at an elevation of 2,500 ft. It boasts some of the finest views in the whole of Spain, especially from the Ronda Bridge View Point. The dizzying views from the Puente Nuevo bridge are also incredible. (You could write a whole article about the different viewpoints in Ronda).
Orson Welles fell in love with the romance and drama of Ronda, so much so he had his ashes buried in the city. It’s the home of bullfighting, the “irresistible and indefensible” national sport of Spain. A sport that fascinated Orson Welles and his occasional friend, Ernest Hemingway (another great American who fell in love with the city). Many locals of a certain age have convinced themselves they met Hemingway or Welles at some point.
Take a trip to the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the local bullfighting ring. If you’re in town in September you can even attend a bullfight.
Ronda is the most famous of the Pueblo Blancos (white villages). There are many to explore in the Ronda mountains. If you’re looking for a quiet retreat away from the more touristy towns and cities on the coast, the Pueblo Blancos are a great alternative.
You can spend a day village-hopping, which gives you a perfect excuse to drive and explore the mountains. Rent a villa with direct sea views and you’ll be greeted with some of the finest sunsets in Europe. Over the coast you’ll see the rugged outline of the Atlas Mountains in North Africa. From the village of Gaucin you can enjoy direct views of the port of Tangiers on Morocco’s coast. By day you’ll see eagles flying (we avoided the word “soaring”) over the mountains.
Benaocaz is one of the most charming Pueblo Blancos. It’s an ancient Moorish village. Barrio Nazarí, the historic centre, dates back to the 8th-century when the Islamic conquest began. To get a flavour of Andalucia’s Moorish past you can read Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Moor’s Last Sigh. You can also see it for yourself in the streets of Benaocaz.
The most vivid glimpse of the region’s Moorish past can be seen in Granada, perhaps the most beautiful city in Andalucia. The Alhambra fortress presides over the city, as it has done since the Medieval era. It was used as a fortress and then a palace by the Moors, and later by the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Christopher Columbus received the grant for his great voyage at the Alhambra. It’s one of those rare buildings that seems to embody history. It’s also Spain’s most visited tourist attraction – yup, move over, Gaudi.
Explore the barios of Granada, each one is a microcosm of the region’s multicultural past. Albaicín was once the Arabic barrio. Today it’s the art district of Granada. It’s a slightly chaotic but charming nexus of winding streets and courtyards. Above Albaicín you’ll find the gypsy barrio of Sacromente. Like Italy’s cave city of Matera, people still live in caves carved into the rocks. The Gitano Gypsies originated flamenco, and you can hear late-night performances of classic flamenco in the caves and bars of Sacromonte. You’ll also want to visit the Jewish barrio of Realejo and try some tapas in the residential La Cruz district.
How do you get to Andalucia?
Most people fly into Malaga airport and transfer from there. You can also fly into Granada, Sevilla, Ameria, Jerez and Gibraltar directly.
What’s the best place to stay in Andalucia?
It depends what kind of holiday you’re looking for. Along the Costa Del Sol you’ll find one of the most touristy parts of Spain. You can also get off the beaten path and stay in the Andalucian countryside. Many people opt to rent villas rather than hotels. An ideal twin-centre itinerary would combine a stay in Ronda with a stay in Granada.
What’s the weather like?
It’s very hot, especially in summer. By the afternoon the locals retire for a siesta. It’s simply too hot to do anything productive. If you’re planning to explore Andalucia and you don’t do well in scorching heat, take a trip around November. It’ll still be warm but far less abrasive. In July you’ll be melting in the car. If you’re a sun worshipper then you’ll be very happy.
Can I combine Andalucia with another destination?
Morocco is just across the sea. Take a ferry from Algeciras and make the surprisingly swift journey from Europe to Africa, a journey many gay travellers made in the last century. It was more liberal in Morocco than Europe. See if you can spot any traces of the queer, bohemian world of Joe Orton and William Burroughs in Tangiers.
Why should I visit Andalucia?
It’s such a diverse destination. You can opt for a fly-and-flop beach holiday, a foodie getaway or a cultural exploration. You can even combine all three. Andalucia is also a popular destination for gay travellers. Find out more about the gay scene in Andalucia here.