Andalusia is an autonomous community that covers most of southern Spain. It has quite a diverse landscape, a long Mediterranean coastline and its own mountain chain, and possibly the hottest average temperatures in Europe. Andalusia is a rough translation of an Arabic word who’s meaning is up for discussion. The area has a series of cities and towns with a very multicultural architecture, cuisine, and history. The area was at different times ruled by the Roman and by the Moors. The greatest of Spain’s Moorish monuments are in Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla. They are home to a celebratory culture full of festivals and flamenco dancing, tapas and for years, bullfighting.
After flying to Madrid and spending a couple days sightseeing, we took a fast train from Madrid to Cordoba. We stayed right near the train station where we could walk to the center of old town and where later we would rent a car to drive during the rest of our trip. Here’s a small description of what you shouldn’t miss in each of the impressive four cities we visited and three others to try not to miss in Andalusia.
Our visits to Córdoba, Málaga, Marbella and Sevilla…
Córdoba: The architectural splendor of Córdoba is legendary, and features a multitude of cultures. We visited the worldwide renown Mezquita, or great Mosque-cathedral of Córdoba.
Surrounding is the Patio de Los Naranjos, a courtyard with orange trees. With exceptional design as well as the combined religious histories it is a must see for all visitors.
Nearby is another impressive fortress building, the Museo Alcazar Reyes Cristianos. The middle-aged architecture that comprises the Jewish Quarter stretches out from this area, and offers a lovely stroll through the past.
By the river you’ll find the large Puerta del Puente (Bridge Door), once an entrance to the walled city. Facing it is the ancient Roman Bridge over the Guadalquivir River.
Málaga: We drove south towards the Mediterranean Sea to Málaga, a coastal city with modern areas surrounded by ancient Roman and Moor architecture.
The quite ancient and Gothic heart of town is another world completely.
Málaga is in fact the birthplace of artist Pablo Picasso, and there’s a large museum of just his works. There are other museums like the Centre Pompidou Málaga to enjoy as well.
If you’re seeking older historic sites you’ll enjoy the Roman theater, and Azcalba, the Moorish castle. It is an incredible sight to behold from below and climbing it’s steps.
The grand 11th Century Gibralfaro castle is connected to the Azcalba and they are located on a sloping hill in the city. You really have to be in goos shape to venture the climb.
As you climb up through the many connecting parts of the Azcalba structure you’ll be able to see marvelous views of the city and the Mediterranean Seaport.
You’ll also want to visit the soaring Renaissance cathedral, nicknamed La Manquita for its one bell tower. Around it there are some nice sidewalk cafes by a lovely plaza.
Málaga is well-known for its tapas bars and there are many outdoor cafes all around where you’ll find a terrific taste of all types of cuisine.
The modern store fronts and restaurants with pedestrian only tiled streets in the center of old town are filled with people during the day and at night. You’ll see some large cruise ships in the city’s nearby marina.
Marbella: We took a short drive west to Marbella, a once small fisherman’s village.
Marbella is now one of the most cosmopolitan beach resorts on the Costa del Sol. You’ll see many new communities dotting the hills overlooking the sea before reaching Marbella.
Many historic attractions are well worth exploring too. Once we found a parking garage with opened spots, we walked from the Alameda park down the Avenida del Mar, a sloping walk towards the beach featuring numerous sculptures by Salvador Dali.
In the city, the beaches with its fine sand and the Mediterranean with its clean blue water are the main attractions. There are numerous tall condominium apartment buildings with shops and restaurants nearby and surrounding the beach.
When not sunning on Marbella’s palm-tree-lined beaches, visitors can walk west to the Golden Mile to view some luxurious homes and resorts.
You’ll find many sun worshipers in Marbella’s palm-tree-lined beaches, some topless.
The area around the yacht-filled marina Puerto Banus boasts some of city’s best boutiques, restaurants and bars. Marbella is a perfect place to spend a day or more just relaxing.
Sevilla: From Málaga we drove west to the marvelous Sevilla (Seville). It is the largest tourist destination in southern Spain, and features many historic attractions.
The huge Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, or Sevilla Cathedral with a Moorish bell-tower is the third largest church in the world by some measurements, though some say it is the world’s largest by volume. It is the largest Gothic style church in the world.
It is incredible inside with massive columns and many altars to worship. Perhaps only the Vatican in Rome surpasses it in scope and luxury in my travelled opinion.
Both Christopher Columbus and his son Diego are buried in the Sevilla Cathedral.
We climbed the many steps to reach the top of the square shaped Giralda bell tower for incredible views below and some panoramic ones of the whole city.
A bevy of museums, ancient architecture, palaces and churches are in Sevilla, along with the usual big-city pleasures of great food and cultural activities.
You’ll not want to miss the Real Alcázar Palace. It is a large Moorish castle with very decorated rooms and tremendously large and lush gardens surrounding the palace.
We were most impressed visiting the large Plaza de España featuring a large semi-circular building housing some government offices, all around a big fountain in this huge plaza.
The Plaza de España also features numerous colorful mosaic artworks depicting scenery and history of the different regions of Spain with a map showing the location.
More Andalusia: Granada, Ronda and Cadiz.
While we weren’t able to spend time in all the major cities of Andalusia, you might want to visit these three as they all have something unique to offer.
Granada: This city east of Málaga is at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Founded as a Celtic settlement it has been inhabited for over 2500 years. Its breathtaking location near mountains is one of the loveliest in Andalusia. Granada’s most famous attraction is the Alhambra, a fortress/palace complex which was a Moorish palace for the emirs when the city was under Islamic rule. The adjacent Muslim neighborhood and many other cathedrals and castles are also worth visiting. Flamenco and food lovers will find that both are easy to find and quite excellent.
Ronda: Not far west of Marbella, Ronda is one of the oldest cities in Spain. It’s located in and around the deep El Tajo gorge making for some incredible views. It’s nearly impregnable position made it a stronghold against Catholic troops in the 1400s. Completed in 1793, the Puente Nuevo bridge spanning the 30-story high gorge is one of the city’s most impressive features. The city’s architecture received its influence from the Romans and Moors who once ruled the area. Ronda is also home to the Plaza de Toros, the oldest bullring in Spain. This arena that has attracted writers ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Alexandre Dumas.
Cadiz: On the extreme western side of the small peninsula, Cadiz is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited city in all of Western Europe. It was founded over three thousand years ago by Phoenician sailors. Here you’ll see long coastlines of sandy public beaches, waves on crashing seawalls, and examples of thousands of years of architecture. It features over a hundred watchtowers, and a large baroque styled cathedral. The must-see time to visit is during Carnival, which is the third-biggest celebration of this kind in the world. During the rest of the year, guests visit here for delicious seafood, terrific surfing and flamenco dancing.
We left Andalusia and continued our trip west and into Portugal.
There we visited the capital, Lisbon, and the Catholic pilgrimage site of Fátima.
Later we stayed in the northern port city of Porto before driving east to Spain.
After leaving Portugal, we had a visit in lovely Salamanca, Spain. Afterwards, finally returning to Madrid, where out trip had started two weeks earlier. Quite a lovely and enlightening experience all around that we really enjoyed. Except for Madrid all these cities and towns were new locations for both of us.
You can read about the Lisbon and Fátima part of that trip here: http://swthemag.com/home/2018/03/28/visiting-memorable-lisbon-portugal-by-ray-raposo/