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El Coto de las Canteras, Osuna.
El Coto de las Canteras, Osuna. / SUR

Hidden Andalucía, the insider guide

  • Take the road less travelled, discover fascinating, uncrowded destinations in southern Spain

This summer, take a fresh look at southern Spain, taking the road less travelled, discovering fascinating, uncrowded destinations.

Osuna - Seville province

The Petra of Andalucía

About 90 kilometres south-east of Seville city, just off the motorway that continues south to Malaga, one finds the majestic town of Osuna (used as a filming location for Game of Thrones). A place of renaissance churches, noble houses, and sumptuous palaces; an impressive legacy from the times of counts and dukes. The architecture is crafted from the ochre and honey-coloured stone that was sourced locally at El Coto de las Canteras quarries just outside the town. The site combines gardens, stone carvings, and a huge 25 metre high chamber excavated from the rock - it’s Andalucía’s very own Petra.

Badlands, Guadix.

Badlands, Guadix. / SUR

Guadix - Granada province

Desert badlands

The mighty Sierra Nevada mountain range creates a barrier against the moist air that travels east across Andalucía from the Atlantic. Beyond these mountains one can find arid wilderness like the weatherworn prehistoric canyons of the Badlands. Evocative of America’s wild west, the area is something quite unique to experience. The soft stone, hollowed out by storms over thousands of years, has been used for cave homes. Some are available to enjoy as holiday rentals. The area is perfect for hiking and biking tours, either self-guided or with a professional.

Monturque - Cordoba province

Roman cisterns

This part of Andalucía has been favoured by wine-makers since Roman times and is now the epicentre for Pedro Ximénez vines. Yet there is more to discover than just the local Montilla-Moriles tipples. Deep beneath the village cemetery of Monturque is a vast Roman cistern. Unearthed by chance, in the 1880s, when the cemetery was being extended, the underground caverns have now been excavated and opened to the public. It’s a remarkable space, that was originally used to store water. Now visitors can navigate the three naves of twelve interconnecting chambers, learning more of the history of the site and the surrounding area.

Cazorla, Jaén.

Cazorla, Jaén. / SUR

Cazorla - Jaén province

Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park

Probably the most spectacular natural park in Andalucía. Awe-inspiring deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, and abundant wildlife. There are plenty of campsites too, if you fancy packing your tent or heading over in a campervan. Hiking routes are suitable for families, as well as more challenging adventure activity itineraries. There’s a small Parador hotel too, that has a good restaurant serving local game.

Riotinto - Huelva province

Riotinto mining park

Copper, silver and gold have been exploited from the Riotinto area for some 5,000 years. This corner of the beautiful pine-clad Andalusian province of Huelva is rich in minerals, and it is only in recent years that the mines have been abandoned and instead evolved into an open-air tourist attraction.

The ‘Riotinto Mining Park‘ is a family friendly attraction that offers the chance to ride a rickety, narrow gauge mine train that runs along the edge of this striking red and orange Riotinto. One can also visit the 19th century mining village, built by the Brits who came here to exploit the mines. It was here they also built a football pitch and introduced football to Spain.

Riotinto, Huelva.

Riotinto, Huelva. / A. Forbes

Puerto Serrano - Cadiz province

The Sierra Greenway

The Sierra Greenway passes along the old Jerez-Almargen railway line. Currently, the 36.5km route connects the towns of Puerto Serrano and Olvera - a must for hikers and cyclists. Lots to see along the way, passing through impressive tunnels and across vertiginous viaducts. Expect to be joined by vultures, that fly from the adjacent reserve. If you don’t fancy bringing your own bike, you can rent bikes there.

Ronda - Malaga province

Acinipo

There’s no denying the popularity of the picturesque mountain town of Ronda - it’s far from a hidden treasure. Yet for a fresh perspective, consider heading out into the magnificent surrounding countryside, and to the ancient city of Acinipo. This is where Ronda was first settled, and for a century or two it was a wealthy nexus for this Roman wine-growing region (they even minted their own money, carrying the icon of a bunch of grapes!). The Roman amphitheatre remains and provides an impressive viewpoint from which to enjoy a panorama of the unspoilt landscape. Modern day oenologists have restored Ronda’s profile as a wine-growing region, with a wealth of boutique wineries that offer tastings and tours.

Acinipo, Ronda.

Acinipo, Ronda. / A. F.

Pulpí - Almeria province

Pulpí geode

Fancy lying down in a crystal cave? Well, now you have your chance. The gigantic geode of Pulpí, in Andalucía’s western province of Almeria, is a unique 10-square-metre hollow rock full of huge crystals! Found within the now abandoned ‘Mina Rica’ silver, lead and iron ore mine in Pilar de Jaravía, the geode is the largest in Europe; the second largest known in the world; and the only one open to the public. Although visitors only have about a minute or so to be partially inside the geode, it is really worth the visit! The 90-minute guided (pre-bookable) tour takes one through the narrow tunnels of the mine (once used for loaded mine carts) where you can see traces of rare and unusual minerals and of course crystals. It’s absolutely fascinating and the highlight is reaching the geode.

Gibraltar

Upper Rock Nature Reserve

Gibraltar might be a top local destination for some retail therapy and a slap-up meal, but it is also a great place for hikers and history lovers. The Upper Rock Nature Reserve, reached by the Rock’s vintage cable cars, is home to walking routes like the Mediterranean Steps; natural wonders including the Gorham’s Cave Complex; as well as the nearby WWII tunnels; and more recent attractions including the Windsor Suspension Bridge and glass Skywalk. Just keep an eye out for those naughty Barbary macaques!