The secret to a successful trip abroad may simply be to know yourself, what you are looking for, and where to find it. For the traveler looking for art and history, untouched mountain trails and sandy beaches, along with distinctive culinary and musical traditions, Andalusia in Spain may be the ideal choice.
Map of Andalusia (1603)
Located at the southernmost part of the Iberian Peninsula, Andalusia’s major cities include Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Ronda, and its capital, Seville. These urban centers boast a great number of museums and galleries, historical monuments such as palaces, castles and churches or mosques, and countless restaurants and tapas bars. Traveling by public transportation or your own car, you will cross through beautiful inland routes that lead to rough and untouched mountain villages, or busy tourist resorts along the coasts.
If you are looking for historical monuments, you will be glad to know that Andalusia has settlements dating back to the Roman times, and has seen the presence of Vandals, Visigoths and Byzantines in its midst. During much of the Middle Ages, Andalusia was under Muslim rule, and the castles and palaces they left behind bear the distinct marks of this history. Examples of monuments built during the Christian rule from the 16th century onwards include Gothic and Renaissance Cathedrals, and numerous smaller churches and monasteries. Practically every city also retains part of its old medieval quarters, with narrow winding cobbled streets, whitewashed houses with spectacular courtyards, and an overall sense of taking a step back in time.
Interior at the Alcazar of SevilleIn the cities, the list of must-see sites is hard to keep short. The most impressive monuments in Cordoba are the Mezquita (Grand Mosque), and the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos, a fortress that was used as one of the primary residences of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. In Granada, home to Andalusia’s most impressive medieval Islamic monuments, you can’t miss the Alhambra, a series of palaces and gardens built in the 14th century, and the Albaicin, the best preserved old town quarters. Seville is bursting with history, but if pressed with time, it is worth visiting the old city, where you can find one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe and La Giralda, a tall minaret with spectacular view of the city. Art and history buffs will also delight in the Archive of the Indies, a beautiful building of the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes housing the archives illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines.The Fine Arts Museum of Seville contains the second largest picture collection in Spain.
Andalucia’s coastline is over 500 miles long, most of which is sandy beach. There are beaches for all tastes, from popular resorts bouncing to the music of beach bars, to quiet inaccessible coves. It is worth checking out the Costa de Almeria, the Costa Tropical and the trendy Costa del Sol. For a dip into the Atlantic, the Costa de la Luz lies along the shore to the west of Gibraltar. Many of these beaches meat the criteria of the Blue Flag Programme for environmental management. If you are not a fan of the beach, the Sierra Nevada mountain range offers spectacular mountain views, trekking opportunities through untouched villages and national parks, and even skiing at Europe’s southernmost ski station.
Scene from bullfighting, by Francisco Goya For a taste of local life, Andalusia is world famous for its flamenco music, singing and dance; bullfighting; and an endless variety of tapas. Chances are, you can enjoy all of the above during one of the many festivals, fiestas or local annual fairs held throughout the year. Blessed with one of Europe’s highest sunshine rates, it is always a good time to visit, although the best months are from May to June, and from September to October, when one can avoid the intense heat of summer. For the budget traveler, from November to April hotel prices (and tourist crowds) tend to be reduced, but the weather can be unpredictable.
For those whose travel plans take them elsewhere but still have a craving for Andalusia, why not curl up at home, listen to some flamenco music by one of Spain's most beloved composers and guitarists, Paco de Lucia, and read all about Andalusia in the 1920s and 1930s in Gerald Brenan's book South from Granada: a delightful trip down memory lane of life in Yegen, a small village in Andalusia's Alpujarras district, with the added bonus of visits from Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey.
Did you know…?
- Andalusia takes its name from Al-Andalus, the name originally given to all parts of the Iberian Peninsula that were at various times governed by Muslims over the period 711-1492.
- During the 10th century C.E. the city of Córdoba was one of the largest and most prosperous urban centers of medieval Europe, enjoying street lighting, an extensive irrigation system, and great universities and libraries that contributed to a flourishing cultural and intellectual life.
- On February 28 Andalusia celebrates Día de Andalucía ("Day of Andalusia"), which commemorates the 1980 referendum that led to declaring Andalusia an autonomous community of Spain.
- South from Granada was filmed by Fernando Colomo in 2006.
Lonely planet Andalucía (2006)