With its quaint white-washed villages, traditional taverns, and a swish of flamenco – there’s something more in the air in Andalucía than the scent of citrus. Something we had to explore.
Beginning our tour in Malaga, a municipality that has emerged as a must-see destination, we were greeted by a historical and culturally rich city long overshadowed by the more popular Costa del Sol hotspots. Closely compared to Madrid and Barcelona for its similarities in art and fine dining, the beautifully restored downtown is alive with museums, galleries, shops and eateries ranging from traditional tapas to lantern-lit Moroccan tagine – be sure to get your name on the list for one of Al-Yamal’s four tables as the food is divine.
We hired an Audi A1 to tour the southern coast, a compact yet spacious car even with a picnic in tow. The two-hour coastal drive from Malaga to our second destination, Tarifa, featured endless white sandy beaches and numerous kite and windsurfing shops. This small town has established itself as a real surfers’ paradise. Beautiful stone buildings, modest tapas restaurants and surf shacks fill the narrow streets that lead off the central square. With bars that stay open late into the night and clubs that spill onto the streets, it’s a young and exciting town that stays up until dawn. Sitting at the southernmost tip of Europe, offering views across the strait of Gibraltar to Africa’s Rif Mountains, you can catch the daily ferry across to Tangier in a speedy 35 minutes.
We stayed at the stunning Finca El Cañuelo in a small village called Bolonia, just on the outskirts of Tarifa. It’s decorated in an exquisite mix of old and new, fused by artefacts and memorabilia from across the globe. A four-poster bed, rain shower, and private rooftop terrace completed our luxurious suite.
Early the next morning, we climbed Duna de Bolonia, a 200m wide sand dune. We reached the top just as the sun began to peak, illuminating the natural beauty and dramatic vistas of the unblemished Bolonia sands which spanned across the small town.
Next stop on the road trip found us journeying to dreamy Sevilla, a two-hour 15-minute journey northeast of Tarifa. Universally regarded as the city that sparkles, it’s not only picturesque but also the largest city in southern Spain, full to the brim with charm, wit, and vitality.
We stayed at Corral Del Rey, a boutique hotel situated in the heart of Sevilla’s old quarter. A rooftop plunge pool with panoramic views across the Cathedral and Giralda tower gives a tantalising precursor to Sevilla’s secrets.
Being so centrally located we enjoyed the sights by foot, although seeing the city by bicycle or a traditional horse and carriage are also wonderful ways to explore. Close by, you’ll find the impressive Sevilla Cathedral, and from here multiple roads lead off to other historical sights – including the Alcázar of Seville, Plaza de España and Torre del Oro, a fortified tower once used to monitor traffic on the water.
The central river has a steady flow of sightseeing tours, locals in their fishing boats and rented canoes, too. Cross over the Puente de Isabel bridge to the Triana quarter and you’ll find beautiful streets lined with pastel-hued cafes overlooking the water. From here, it’s only a short walk to the world’s largest wooden structure, Metropol Parasol. It’s certainly a formidable sight to see, offering unrivalled views over the city.
That evening we found a romantic square close to the Alcázar of Seville and a restaurant famed for its paella. It’s called La Cueva and features a superb indoor dining room and the option to dine out in the cobbled square. Sevilla at night has an air of romance, with couples, families and children all listening to buskers playing while enjoying a drink or eating ice cream. The streets are just as alive after dark as they are at noon.
A slightly longer four-hour drive from Seville to the Alhambra, Granada is most definitely worthwhile. This palace and fortress complex dates back to 889 AD with gardens, religious monuments, and artefacts that will happily fill a lazy afternoon tour.
As you pass through Granada, heading south towards the coast, the drive takes you through and around the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Depending on what time of year you visit, the Sierras are a highly regarded European skiing destination, harbouring a year-round après-ski village that’s open to visitors come rain or shine.
If the laid-back Mediterranean vibe is more of what you’re after, our next stop, La Herradura, has this in abundance. A scenic one-hour 45-minute drive from the slopes to the sea, this picturesque hillside town offers a slower-paced, suburban feel. Home to a beautiful yet little-known harbour, Marina Del Este, and close to the popular beachside resort, Almunecar, it’s a compact, coastal town where you can unwind and indulge in the local ambience.
Heading west along the Costa Tropical you’ll pass popular towns Maro and Nerja, before finding the beautiful Frigiliana 7km north of Nerja. Known for its impeccably clean, whitewashed houses, this village could easily be mistaken for one of the Greek Islands. With a multicultural history and narrow, mosaic-decorated cobbled streets, it’s definitely a place to take your time. Slim gaps between the houses perfectly frame views over Andalucía with restaurants and wineries dotted in-between. Try Punto de Encuentro for local and delicious tapas.
With such a diverse landscape and compelling history, Andalucía is Spain at its best. Those wild and flamboyant clichés about southern Spain still exist, only now they sit in harmony with modern influences and luxury redevelopments. We’re sure this region of Spain will be calling us back soon. Photography by River Hately-Richards ◼
© This article was first published in Apr-May 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.