An Adventure through Andalucía
Southern Spain doesn’t stop being a special place once summer slips away. Its cities remain full of life, its cultural passions remain strong, and its skies – more often than not – remain sunny. By travelling here early in the year there’s the very real benefit of having a more personal encounter with the region. That plate of jamón ibérico tastes all the better when you’re not nose-to-nose with tour groups.
Andalucía itself is archetypal Spain, bearing strong ties to traditional activities such as flamenco dancing and bullfighting. Castles and monasteries stud its landscapes. It’s also home to a soaring architectural legacy left by the Moors, the North Africans who occupied this part of the peninsula for more than seven centuries. Looking at the mountains and beaches, you can understand why they hung around.
The three Andalucían destinations making up this Spanish road trip form a near-perfect triangle on the map. But while they share similar histories, they also stand as three very different places. Seville is the fourth largest city in Spain, not to mention one of the feistiest. Córdoba is best known for its colossal “mosque-cathedral” and was a prominent base for both the Romans and the Moors. And the Mediterranean city of Málaga, often dismissed as a gateway to the Costa del Sol, holds gifts of its own for those who venture into its centre.
Start in: Seville
Seville has always had something about it. Spanish royalty used it as a residence for four centuries. Byron praised it for its “oranges and women”. Composer Georges Bizet, meanwhile, chose it as the setting for the opera Carmen, his legendary tale of love and hope. These themes still find a natural home in the most exuberant city in southern Spain, a place where traditions are scored deeply into day-to-day life. For example, if you’re here in Easter week, you’ll witness one of the most atmospheric fiestas in Spain.
There’s a cluster of three UNESCO-listed sights in the city centre. Seville’s cathedral was constructed in the 1400s on the site of a former mosque, and remains one of the largest gothic buildings in the world. Its bell tower, originally a minaret, stands more than 100 metres tall. Close by sits the equally imposing Alcázar, a one-time Moorish fort that became a royal palace. It combines elements of Islamic and Christian design to dazzling effect. Completing the trio is the 16th-century Archivo General de las Indias, which archives the journeys of Columbus and his countrymen.
Away from these main attractions, a large part of Seville’s charm lies in its day-to-day atmosphere. Temperatures at the start of the year are commonly in the low teens, which is more than comfortable enough for on-foot exploration. But what’s the greatest thing about Seville in our opinion? It lays good claim to having invented tapas…so you won’t go hungry!
…a place where traditions are scored deeply into day-to-day life.
Drive to: Córdoba
With neighbours as attention-grabbing as Seville and Granada, it’s no wonder Córdoba often gets overshadowed. To give it a swerve, however, is to miss out on what was one of the greatest cities of the Middle Ages. It was the largest town of Roman ruled Spain, and spent 300 years as the medieval capital of the Moors. They’re evocative thoughts to have in mind as you stroll the squares of the old town.
The city’s undisputed centrepiece is the Mezquita, a mosque that’s stood here in some form for well over 1,000 years. The interior is astounding. Red-and-white arches and pillars flow out over the length of four football pitches. More remarkable still are the additions to the mosque since its construction. As well as some 50 chapels, it also contains an entire Renaissance cathedral, built over a period of 250 years. The Islamic poet Muhammad Iqbal described the overall complex as “sacred for lovers of art”, and we wouldn’t disagree.
End up in: Málaga
You won’t have to spend long walking the clamorous Atarazanas Market Hall to identify one of Málaga’s biggest selling points. Tubs and trays overflow with calamari, anchovies, sardines and tuna. Excellent seafood, of course, is one of the most obvious benefits of a location on the Med, which also sees the city labelled as somewhere to fly into for the holiday resorts of the Costas.
It’s true that Málaga grants ready access to the likes of Marbella – which has a restful charm of its own over winter and plenty of sunshine. But the city deserves to be explored in its own right. In true Andalucían style, it has a Roman theatre, two Moorish fortresses and a lofty cathedral. And as the birthplace of Picasso, it also has a dedicated museum with almost 300 of the artist’s distinctive works.
Tubs and trays overflow with calamari, anchovies, sardines and tuna.
As you’d expect from a Spanish city of some 550,000 inhabitants, Málaga doesn’t shy away from letting its hair down. If you find yourself in town during either Carnaval (the week before Lent) or Holy Week itself, you’ll be treated to extravagant parades and street parties.