Andalucía travel guide

Seville historian Antonio Dominguez Ortiz believed multiple Andalucías lived in the minds of its people, alongside the map's singular geographic boundaries. Each drew on the spirit of contrasting landscapes: the Sierra Nevada's rugged peaks, laced with walking trails and rushing rivers; lush vales like Guadalquivir, living to timeless rural rhythms; and Europe's only shore facing both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, pivoted around slender straits dividing Europe and Africa with just a few kilometres of gorgeous blue ocean.
Andalucía blends its historic Moorish back-story with Iberia's highest peaks, a unique coast – and Europe's only desert.
That proximity saw Andalucía imprinted with Arab influences over five centuries of Moorish rule that made it Europe's centre of learning. Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians and Byzantines left even earlier cultural marks. Atmospheric ancient ports like Cadiz drew influences from the Americas, while arid Almeria stood in for a filmic Wild West. It may be part of Spain, but our Andalucía travel guide reveals a region revelling in a world very much its own.

Andalucía is...

a perfect mix of unforgettable history and stunning nature

Andalucía isn't...

a part of Spain where beach-life takes prominence

What we rate & what we don't

Underrated

Sierra de Grazalema NP

Andalucía's first national park features spectacular limestone cliffs and gorges such as the Garganta Verde, where a griffon vulture colony is framed by 400m rock walls. Mesmerising cave systems stretch 4km into the earth. High rainfall promotes staggering lushness, with over 1,300 plant species. Walkers can explore forests of rare Spanish fir or scale peaks like the 1,654m El Torreó.

Cave cravings

For a unique accommodation, consider the cave. Caves are wonderful places to stay in Andalucía, fitted out in charming rustic style amid gorgeous natural surroundings. They stay shady and cool in summer and warm in winter, all completely naturally. Castillejar's caves are close to lush river valleys, lakes and a very attractive network of hiking/biking trails.

Sherry

Sherry is Andalucía's liquid expression – gorgeous, distinctive and infused with rich history. Visit charming bodegas (sherry producers) in the production 'triangle' defined by Jerez, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto, and discover the magic of the ancient solera blending system. Marry chilled fino or manzanilla with seafood, or luxuriate after dinner with the smooth burnt raisin notes of Pedro Ximenez.

Blossom in spring

Almond blossoms are the star of Andalucía's technicolour spring flourish, sprinkling a glorious haze of ethereal pink blossom throughout the region in February and March. One of the best spots is Las Alpujarras but valleys and hillsides in many places present a bright carpet of wildflowers that lights up the Andalucían spring.
Rated

Moorish Cities

The southern cities of Seville, Granada and Cordoba are strangely timeless, transporting visitors back to the Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus. The Alcazar, Alhambra and Mezquita may be amazing monuments, but “modern” life is just as magical – streets so narrow you can reach out and touch both walls, tiny doorways, exquisitely patterned tiles and the eerie sound of flamenco quivering through an open window.

Sierra Nevada

Iberia's highest peak – the 3,478m Mulhacen – is just one of a host of 3000m+ mountains here, complemented by the terraced slopes of Las Alpujarras, fashioned by 8th century Berbers. A renowned walking mecca, it's also dotted with small fincas and organic farmstays for those looking for a truly rural retreat. Nature lovers can explore the eponymous National Park. Observatories dot the range, drawn by spectacular starry skies.

Traditional accommodation

Get close to the timeless rhythms of traditional Andalucían rural life with a farmstay in a clutch of bucolic locations – and with varying levels of luxury! You decide if you fancy being hosted at places like an organic riverside B&B in the gorgeous Sierra de Grazalema or self-catering in the splendid mountain scenery of Las Alpujarras.

Cabo de Gata

Europe's driest spot still boasts over 1,000 plant and animal species – a starkly beautiful slice of Almeria dotted with whitewashed pueblos amid cacti-strewn plains and rugged hills that stood in for the Wild West in the 'Spaghetti Westerns'. Check out old gold mining memories around Rodalquilar – or bag a wide sandy beach all to yourself.
Overrated

Torremolinos

Andalucía's coast is a little less tarnished by cheap package tourism bunkers than some others in Spain, but it has its share. Torremolinos is perhaps the worst example – a once humble fishing village turned into a shrine to horrendous overdevelopment, swamping any hint of Spanishness with 'full English breakfasts', Happy Hours and Sky Sports. And with an abundance of dirt cheap all-inclusives, how much foreign cash actually stays in this region is questionable.

Summer vacations

Spain may be synonymous with “summer vacation” but it’s actually our least favourite time to visit Andalucía. It’s too hot and humid to walk or cycle comfortably, the beaches are at their busiest and prices rise. Come instead for the spring wildflowers, the warm light of Almeria in December, or the evocative scent of orange blossom in April. Delicious.

Glitzy marinas

While Marbella retains some reminders of its 500 year history, neighbouring Puerto Banus is a soulless modern shrine to mega yachts, malls flogging Dior and Chanel, and Ferrari showrooms. A giant bronze rhinoceros by Salvador Dali is its classiest thing. A new marina, La Bajadilla, promises further excess – a 400m euro Qatari-funded spot to park giant cruise liners.

Golf courses

Europe's driest region is a lousy place to put 120 water-hungry golf courses (too costly for 99% of locals to play on). Sure, a few pioneering Andalucían courses now irrigate with recycled water, use special grasses that stay green on very little moisture, and actively encourage native flora and fauna their green swathe. But that still leaves over 100 that don't.

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking in Andalucía

Be seduced by sherry in the contrasting towns of Andalucía's 'sherry triangle': sophisticated Jerez, rough-edged El Puerto and sea-breezy Sanlucar.

Coquinas are delicious tiny clams from the Huelva and Cadiz coasts.

Jamon serrano - soft, sweet-salty air-cured ham – is an Andalucían icon. The best comes from Sierra de Aracena (Huelva) and the Alpujarras (Granada).

Salmorejo is a delicious cold soup for hot days, made from bread, olive oil and tomatoes.
Andalucía's anthem was inspired by a traditional harvest tune sung by peasants in Málaga, Seville and Huelva.

Our top Andalucia Vacation

Altiplano de Granada activity vacation, Spain

Altiplano de Granada activity vacation, Spain

Multi-activity cultural vacation in fabulous rural Andalucia

From 207 to270 6 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Helpdesk
Hello. If you'd like to chat about Andalucia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

People & language

After so many flows of different peoples, Andalucíans display commendable tolerance, especially in cities like Cadiz.

Centuries of Moorish rule left their mark on the land via terraces and sophisticated irrigation in places like Las Alpujarras.

Nearly 20 percent of Spanish vocabulary is based on Arabic words once spoken in Al-Andalus.

Mealtimes are late by UK standards. Think lunch at 2 or 3pm, dinner at 10 or 11. But tapas are a great alternative if you can't eat that late!

Gifts & Shopping

Locally-made organic olive oil - deep green, cloudy, unprocessed and spicy.
 
Sheep cheese from Grazalema and goats cheese in herbs are dairy delights.

Iberico ham from black pigs fattened up on acorns in northern Andalucía is a sweet and succulent treat that you can buy vacuum packed to take home.

Donkey milk soap from Sierra Nevada is said to work wonders for people with allergies to other soaps.
Jaen province is home to over 40 million olive trees – many still harvested traditionally by beating with sticks.

How much does it cost?

Ticket for the Alhambra: £12.25 (online)

Set three-course lunch with a drink: £8

Glass of freshly squeezed orange juice: £1.20

Train ticket from Sevilla – Granada: £24

Bodega tour in Jerez with sherry tasting: £10

A brief history of Andalucía

Recent years have seen Andalucía struggling between two contrasting ways of being. At one level, it remains a beguiling beacon for millions of tourists drawn by natural wonders, a vast coast fringed with deserted beaches, and stunning Moorish architecture reflecting over 500 years rule from North Africa – and, yes, Costa del Sol resorts, from upmarket Marbella to tacky Torremolinos. But for many locals, the last few years have been marked by crippling austerity brought on by mass unemployment and woes affecting previous boom industries like construction and agriculture. Responsible tourism remains ever more important at such times...Read more
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: Sean Pavone] [Is/Isn't: lucico] [Underrated: Benjamín Núñez González] [Rated: Ronny Siegel] [Overrated: Clara Sánchez] [People & language: Eleazar] [How much does it cost?: manuel m. v.]
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