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Seven Days In Andalucia

andalucia zahara de la sierra road trip white village spain


Andalucia, to me, was always a place of nearly-trips, of other people’s trips. I nearly went to Cordoba with an ex boyfriend (then we picked Venice instead), I nearly went again with my mother (then we went to Budapest instead). Beach towns like Marbella were always the destinations of other, richer children’s summer holidays, complete with visions of roasting Brits and fish & chips on the sunny Spanish riviera, while we went and played mini golf in wet Norfolk instead. In my child mind, Andalucia was at once a land of crispy holidaymakers, wild ponies and whitewashed houses, with the Moorish castles perched on hilltops telling stories of lost empires in the detail of their intricate mosaics.

I went, eventually, in December 2019. Travelling through Andalucia without a car is possible but was lovely with one as it allowed us to pack in more in a fairly short time frame and arrive at places early enough to get in. If you can visit in off-season outside of holidays, you’ll find a place that’s still warm but without the crowds. Here’s our recommended itinerary for spending a week across this beautiful landscape.

 

 


Days 1 & 2 | The Highlights of Seville

Unexpectedly, Seville was our favourite place on this trip, so much so that we’ve been having a mental fling with the city ever since, entertaining little fantasies of moving there and renting a sun drenched apartment. This owes itself to three main things. Firstly, Seville is officially the warmest place in Mainland Europe, secondly, there is a contemporary tapas restaurant called Perro Viejo (Old Dog) near Las Setas which is quite literally the shit, and thirdly, we want to live in the Alcazar. Seville is also very pretty, full of history and wine is extremely cheap. You’ll need more than a day, because the city is best appreciated slowly, delving into histories and menus, wine lists and cascading, ancient gardens. Seville has many sights, the Cathedral, the Royal Alcazar, Las Setas, Plaza de Espana, Casa de Pilatos, Torre del Oro and across the river to Triana the gipsy quarter. If you only have a day, we’d do Plaza de Espana in the morning before it gets too hot, stop off for lunch in one of the little tapas bars near the cathedral on Calle Mateos Gago and watch the world go by, then visit the Alcazar in the afternoon where the shady terraces, fountains and tiled rooms give you a window into how the city’s ancient Moorish population designed their homes around Andalucia’s hot summers. For sunset, heading up to the terraced Las Setas, otherwise known as the Mushrooms offers views out across the city’s bell towered rooftops, turning shades of terracotta as the light fades into night.

 

 


Day 3 | Cordoba

Visiting Cordoba is centred around spending time in the Mezquita-Cathedral, an impossibly graceful and unique architectural example of the confluence of Andalucia’s varied history and peoples. The site was once home to a Visigothic church, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Saragossa, which was shared by Christian and Muslim worshippers after the Umayyad conquest of the region. The construction of the present mosque was started in 785 by Abd Al-Rahman I of the Syrian Umayyad Royal Family, who escaped the regicide of the Abbasid Revolution and went on to be the founder of the Arab dynasty that would go on to rule Cordoba and Iberia for three centuries. At that time, Cordoba was the capital of Al-Andalus until captured in 1236 by King Ferdinand ||| of Castile, who re-interpreted the mosque’s spaces into a place for christian worship.

The Mezquita-Cathedral is striking both for its unique double tiered arches and its central  Renaissance knave, which was added to the building in 1523. Passing through the earthy arches that carve channels of light through the space and into the bright, sunlit detail of the knave is to move between time, place, culture and language in one space, an interconnection of histories that succeeds in immersing you beyond the traditional tour.

Cordoba is also known for its beautiful Roman bridge, winding streets and colourful, flower filled patios, which open to visitors every May for the festival. If you’re visiting in off season, you can peek through doorways around Calleja de las Flores to glimpse some of the blooming spaces of Cordoba’s residents, or find a cafe with an interior patio in the old town.

We got mildly sick in Cordoba and as such spent most evenings in bed watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares Spain, with its entertaining tales of ruinous Brits serving banana chicken to the local Donkey Fundraiser. As such, we didn’t eat out too much in Cordoba, apart from an unfortunate run in with a no shits given barman at a craft beer bar near Plaza de las Tendillas who tried to serve us nachos that appeared to have lost the cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream and chilli for the exorbitant sum of twelve euros. Confronted with the reality of the vanished toppings, he ignored me and tried instead to pacify my partner with half a pint of beer (he hates beer), which ended in some testy spanglish and the eventual removal of the €12 from the bill.

If you have more time, visit the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos, the Palacio de Viana and the Medina Azahara, 5 miles west of the city.

We stayed at the beautiful 4 star H10 Palacio Colomera  and travelled to Cordoba on an easy evening train from Seville booked via Trainline.

 

 


Day 4 | Cordoba to Marbella via the Caminito Del Rey

As you can do Seville on foot and take the train to Cordoba, our road trip technically started 4 days late out of the car hire place near Cordoba train station, to taking us down over the Sierra de las Nieves to the coastal town of Marbella via the Caminito Del Rey, or King’s Path. One of our favourite things to do when travelling is to corner locals and interrogate them about their favourite things to do. This time, the lady at the car hire place recommended a roadside restaurant called El Caserío de San Benito, just off the A45 between Lucero and Antequera. If you’re driving through, the restaurant, in a traditional farmhouse with whitewashed walls and orange trees surrounding a cobbled courtyard and miniature chapel is a beautiful place to stop for lunch but very busy. We didn’t book and were squished in to the corner of the bar for a traditional Andalucian rabbit stew, soon joined by large and moustached old Spanish men guffawing into large wine glasses and poking olives around plates with improbably thin cocktail sticks held in their large hands.

 

Once billed as the most dangerous walking trail in the world, The Caminito Del Rey follows the walls of the Gaitanes Gorge from Chorro Falls to Gaitanejo Falls and was originally built to provide workers with a (very sketchy) way to walk in between. Originally consisting of little more than concrete resting on steel rails and without a huge amount to stop you from tumbling into the river 100s of feet below, the Caminito has now been revamped with a 3ft wide wooden boardwalk that hugs the edges of the gorge and is still not for the fainthearted. You’ll need to either book ahead or arrive well before it opens for the limited number of day tickets, which involves lurking outside the visitor’s centre first thing in the morning in a disorderly and anxious queue until the staff grace you with a hard hat and send you on your way. Bring snacks and cash for the bus back to the entrance as there’s not much by way of facilities once you get going.

 

 


Day 5- Marbella

The main reason we went to Marbella was for an excuse to dip our toes in some warm sand, which is a hard thing to come by in December in London. In off season, Marbella is a place for eating, drinking and pottering around the old town, and on sunny days is *just about* warm enough for some lightly clothed sunbathing. There’s a museum, a Saturday street market, some old churches, cruises along the coast to Puerto Banus that allow you to see the beauty of the coastline and of course the beach. We largely did none of these things and instead focused on exploring the various bars of Marbella’s picturesque old town, drinking 2€ glasses of wine and eating homemade tapas in hidey-holes like Bar El Estrecho.

 

 


Days 6 & 7 | Andalucia’s White Villages

Taking the scenic route back to Seville, driving through Andalucia’s beautiful white villages offers a different perspective on the region. Our route took us back through Ronda, Grazalema & Zahara de la Sierra. We’d recommend lunch in Ronda, coffee in Grazalema and staying over in the very beautiful Zahara de la Sierra.

Ronda is more of a town than a village, was surprisingly busy when we visited and parking near the centre is something of an exercise in slow, purposeful roadside stalking.

The town perches precariously on the cliffs at the edge of El Tajo Gorge, where the Punta Nuevo bridge offers soaring views across the edges of the town and out into the countryside. Ronda and its surrounds pack in a lot of history, bearing the architectural stories of many centuries of different cultures, from ancient roman ruins at Acinipo to Arabic baths and the moorish Mondragon palace, to the relatively more contemporary Maestranza bullring, one of the oldest in Spain.

Zahara de la Sierra looks like a fairytale citadel, nestled on a hilltop underneath the ruins of an old moorish castle. The village once served as a fortress to protect the region’s cities from Christian raiders, and with wide views out across the turquoise Zahara-el Gastor reservoir and some very steep hills, you’d have a hard job sneaking up on the place. We couldn’t decide whether we preferred the view of the village or the view from the village, but either way, it’s a beautiful place to spend the night before heading back to the bustle of Seville.

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