The Mezquita in Cordoba is a shining icon of Andalucía’s history. T.A.
Andalucía: Head south for a unique holiday experience
Southern Spain

Andalucía: Head south for a unique holiday experience

The south of Spain is popular with tourists from all over the world; year-round sunshine, spectacular beaches, vibrant cities and beautiful scenery make the perfect combination

Tony Bryant


Wednesday, 8 November 2023, 20:33


Andalucía is one of the most popular regions in Spain for visitors from all over the world; it offers a complete tourist destination with mild temperatures and more than 320 days of sunshine each year.

The claim that Andalucía offers the opportunity to “ski in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon” is no exaggeration. The region offers two completely different facets - a mountainous landscape dotted with tranquil rural villages, and a coastline that offers some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘jewel of Spain’, Andalucía has it all, from its 800 kilometres of golden beaches offering every type of water sports activities imaginable, the most protected nature areas in Spain, to theme parks, adventure tourism, museums and art galleries, not to mention its colourful fiestas and abundant summer festivals.

Along with this, it boasts a Roman, Jewish and Arabic cultural legacy that offers Islamic, Renaissance and Baroque palaces, castles, monuments and cathedrals. Few places in Europe can boast such a unique and exceptional cultural melting-pot, which has been left by the civilisations that settled in the region over the past 2,000 years.

Some of the most awe-inspiring architecture to have survived until today includes the colossal Alhambra Palace in Granada, the 14th-century synagogue and the Great Mosque in Cordoba, the Judería (Jewish district) in Seville (plus its enormous cathedral and Moorish minaret belltower), and Cadiz’s spectacular Roman theatre, all of which are designated World Heritage Sites.

Each of the eight provinces of the region has a unique character arising from its geographical situation, resulting in an impressive contrast of mountains and sprawling countryside, wide beaches, secluded coves, cliff formations and even desert, along with salt marshes overflowing with fauna and flora.

Natural parks

Natural areas include three National Parks: Doñana in Huelva, where marshes, dunes and forests form one of the most important protected natural areas of Europe; Sierra Nevada in Granada, the highest peaks on the Spanish mainland withEurope’s most southern ski slopes; and Sierra de las Nieves in Malaga, recently promoted to national park status, with its unique pinsapo fir forests.

The region also boasts no less spectacular natural parks and nature reserves such as Cabo de Gata in Almeria, Sierra de Grazalema mountains in Cadiz; Malaga’s breathtaking district of El Chorro and the world-famous Caminito del Rey; and Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas in the province of Jaén, another stunning biosphere reserve and the largest protected area in Spain. All of these natural areas contribute to Andalucía’s fast-growing rural tourism sector.

Costa del Sol

Malaga and the world-famous Costa del Sol make up one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain. Every year, millions of visitors pass through Malaga Airport on route to their seaside resort or secluded mountain village, while thousands more arrive on luxury cruise ships from all corners of the world.

Malaga province, with its 150 kilometres of golden beaches, stunning mountain ranges, reservoirs and nature parks, is home to some of the most popular holiday resorts in Europe. These include the beautiful town of Nerja, part of the region of La Axarquía, particularly known for its caves, one of Andalucía’s major tourist attractions. Others include Torremolinos, the former fishing village considered to be a pioneer in the tourism industry on the Costa; Benalmádena and Fuengirola, both of which attract hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors every year; Mijas, which is perched in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean and which is considered one of the prettiest and most traditional Andalusian towns in the province of Malaga; and Marbella, which has long had a reputation for its exclusiveness, because it is committed to providing every concept of luxury and has some of the top golf courses, five-star hotels, designer shops and Michelin-starred restaurants in Andalucía.

Some of the main destinations along the Costa del Sol offer two facets, because they are divided between the traditional village nestled in the mountains (Pueblo), and its coastline town offering everything from water parks to shopping centres, concert venues and cinemas (Costa).

This popular coastline, envied for its espetos (skewered sardines) and fritura malagueña (fried fish), offers numerous theme parks, nature reserves and adventure activities, and it also boasts some of the most outstanding golf courses in Europe. More than half of Andalucía’s courses are found on this stretch of the coastline, which is why it has become known as the Costa del Golf.

Legacy of al-Andalus

Granada, situated 738 metres above sea level, at the foot of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, has retained more of its Moorish heritage than any other Spanish town.

Birthplace of the world-renowned poet, Federico García Lorca, Granada was one of the greatest cities of Islamic Spain, as its Moorish palaces and temples demonstrate. The magnificent Alhambra Palace and its delightful Nasrid gardens are a shining example of its historical legacy.

Only one hour by car from the Mediterranean coast, Granada has, for centuries, been popular for its connection to Gypsies (much of which was promoted by García Lorca), which is why flamenco-seeking tourists flock to El Sacromonte and the cave district of Albaicín, areas which also offer some of the most panoramic views of the Nasrid palace city.

Another ‘must-see’ area that permeates Granada’s medieval ambience is La Alcaicería bazaar, famed for its Arabic tea shops, aromatic perfumes, spices and herbs.

Maritime history

Almeria, famed as the most African of all Spanish cities, and its province make up the only area of Europe with a hot desert-like climate, with around 26 days of precipitation and an annual temperature of around 20 degrees; hence it experiences the warmest winters of any city on the European continent.

Once known as a city of poetry and philosophy, the heart of Almeria boasts numerous reminders of its illustrious history, from the Roman era, to the Moorish period, when it was the most important maritime town in al-Andalus. The Alcazaba is one of the main surviving structures from the 10th century and the most important Moorish fortress in Spain after the Alhambra Palace.

Hidden delights

Jaén, the Andalusian province with the largest number of olive groves, is also rich in heritage and natural beauty.

The province boasts beautiful towns such as Úbeda and neighbouring Baeza, the historic centres of which have both been declared World Heritage Sites.

The city of Jaén itself boasts a wealth of architectural splendour, such as the monumental 16th-century Baroque, Renaissance and neo-Classical cathedral, which seems to challenge the mountains that surround it with its height and size.

Among the other hidden monuments and architectural delights are the Puerta de San Lorenzo (the only surviving of the four medieval gates into the city); the 13th century Castillo de Santa Catalina, erected by Ferdinand III; and the sixteenth century Santa Clara convent. One of the most visited sites are the Arabic baths, the most extensive surviving one in Spain.

Flower-filled patios

Cordoba is a city with a legacy divided between Roman, Arabic and Jewish traditions.

The city’s Jewish quarter is located around Calleja de las Flores (alley of the flowers), a district of quaint whitewashed houses with flowers spilling out over wrought iron balconies. It is in this district that the 14th-century synagogue, one of the best preserved of the three surviving in Spain, can be found.

Also celebrated for its astounding Moorish legacy, one of the most visited sites in Cordoba is the grand Mezquita mosque-cathedral. A shining emblem of Muslim Spain, this monumental edifice is notable for its 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble and granite.

Of course, there is also plenty of evidence relating to its Roman era, such as the bridge, which dates back to Julia Caesar, and the well-preserved section of the Roman wall located next to the Roman temple in Calle Capitulares.

Like all Andalusian cities, Cordoba hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, although the most well-known is the colourful Cordoba Patios Festival, when the residents open up their beautifully decorated private patios in hope of winning a competition to find, among other categories, the most unique patio.

Cadiz is one of the most beautiful of Andalusian cities.
Cadiz is one of the most beautiful of Andalusian cities. T.A.

Sherry, horses and flamenco

Being a coastal province, Cadiz, thought by some historians to be the location of the civilisation of Tartessus, is world-renowned for its seafood and fish dishes, and especially for the famous white shrimps of the Bay of Cadiz. The province is also known for the production of fine wines, some of the best coming from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and the world sherry capital, Jerez de la Frontera, which is equally lauded for its horses and its flamenco.

Situated on the Atlantic coast, the former seat of the Cortes (Spanish parliament) is one of the most beautiful of Andalusian cities. It is divided into several small barrios, each with its own personality. The old town, known as the twin of Havana, is a maze of winding streets crammed with a variety of differing architecture, along with charming pastel-coloured houses that reflect the city’s long-standing English connection.

The town’s inhabitants are famed for both their wit and their cuisine: their celebrated carnival has been described as “a riot of sophisticated humour”, while their bars and restaurants offer an imaginative range of local dishes based on the fruits of the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the most pleasant districts, and also the best area to sample traditional cuisine at its finest, is the barrio La Viña, located opposite La Caleta beach, where visitors can enjoy the magical essence of Cadiz.

An English connection

A Phoenician city, and later a Roman settlement, Huelva has a long history, but a relatively modern appearance, because it was devastated during an earthquake in 1755 that also destroyed Lisbon.

Located along the Gulf of Cadiz, the province of Huelva offers stunning unspoilt beaches and a spectacular climate, characterised by mild, yet wet, winters and long hot summers.

The geographical location of the city, in the estuary of the Tinto and Odiel rivers, allows its natural environment to be diverse. The Odiel Marismas, which includes the remains of an Arabic settlement (Saltish), was declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco in 1983.

With, perhaps, the exception of the Barrio Inglés (the English district), a small piece of suburban England with mock-Tudor houses that was built for British miners working in El Tinto in the early 20th century, many of Huelva’s interesting sites will be discovered outside of the city centre, like the shrine of the Virgen del Rocío, which attracts thousands of pilgrims each May during the annual Romería del Rocío.

Those interested in Christopher Columbus’ achievements should visit the La Rábida Monastery, for it was from here he set sail to discover the New World in 1492.

Mother of Andalucía

Seville, sometimes referred to as the ‘mother of Andalucía’, is one of the most spectacular cities in Spain, if not Europe. The capital of Andalucía is vibrant and exciting throughout the whole year, because, as the 19th-century English writer, Richard Ford, pointed out, “every day seems like a holiday”. Seville is famous for its fiestas, its festivals, its flamenco, its religious celebrations and parades, especially its opulent Easter processions, some of the most outstanding in Spain. Visitors to the province are often thrilled at the amount of historical and cultural wealth it has to offer. Some of the most visited monuments and sites in the city include the enormous cathedral and its glorious Moorish belltower (La Giralda), the 10th-century Alcázar palace, and the spectacular Plaza de España and sprawling Parque María Luisa.

The spectacular Plaza de España and the sprawling Parque de María Luisa are among the most popular tourist attractions in Seville.
The spectacular Plaza de España and the sprawling Parque de María Luisa are among the most popular tourist attractions in Seville. T.A.

The cobbled streets perfumed with orange blossom have statues and monuments at every turn, along with timeworn bodegas, wine bars and restaurant offering the perfect opportunity to enjoy the typical Sevillian lifestyle.

European golf capital

With world-class golf courses set in privileged locations, Andalucía is one of Europe’s foremost golfing destinations. With more than 100 prestigious courses designed by international architects and players, Andalucía offers spectacular facilities for beginners, amateurs and professionals.

The Costa del Sol’s association with the world of golf is due to the opening in 1925 of the Parador de Málaga Golf. Other magnificent courses in Andalucía include El Paraíso Golf Club in Estepona, the Real Club Valderrama, located in Sotogrande, while there has been a proliferation of high-quality golf courses in Huelva in recent years, like the Club de Golf Huelva-Bellavista and La Monacilla Golf Club.

Throughout the year some of these courses host important tournaments, like the European Golf Circuit, which brings together some of the world’s top golfers.

It was the Finca Cortesin course inCasares that was selected to host the Solheim Cup 2023, the women’s equivalent to the Ryder Cup, in September. Ticket sales reached 80,000, while weekly passes sold out months in advance. Visitors from the UK and Ireland accounted for more than half of the ticket sales, making Andalucía a key reference point for the sport.

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