Over Easter we did a 10 day road trip to the Spanish region of Andalusia. The architecture was beautiful and the tapas were varied and delicious. The region is one I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time, I had bought the lonely planet book years ago to start dreaming and planning so was excited to finally be able to see it in person! Planning the trip was equally fun. 10 days may seem like a lot but we started off in Madrid (flights were the cheapest to/from here) and drove to the Andalusia region and the days and destinations went by like a blur. If you find cheaper flights directly to Sevilla, Malaga or Granada – that is also a great option to save time for a road trip if you intend to focus on this region. Our itinerary included 2 nights in Madrid, 1 night in Granada, 2 nights in Malaga, 2 nights in Sevilla, and 2 in Cordoba. Renting a car in Spain is not as cheap as I thought it would be, but most of the cost is increased by insurance and I suppose getting in the no excess waiver is a safe and practical thing to do to ensure there are no surprise additional payments just in case something happens. It can be pretty overwhelming to research what to do and where to go for each of the cities, especially if you’re planning a longer trip. I’ve included some websites that I found in my research in each of the sections. Hopefully it’s helpful to you!
Since we there during Easter, one of the other amazing things we got to experience was the Semana Santa festival. Each city had its own character but it was mainly about parades, floats and processions throughout the day and late into the night. The holy week has parades leading up to Easter Sunday center and floats are carried out on the back of the devotees and each one is sponsored by a different brotherhood. This is considered a once in a lifetime opportunity. On Easter Sunday, the parade focuses on a resurrected Jesus Christ. The atmosphere was just incredible, people staying up late into the night, families and crowds everywhere. Imagine the small streets of Spain filled with these processions, the atmosphere as vibrant as can be. It kind of reminded me of the Ganesh festival in India with the elaborately decorated floats sponsored by each of the neighborhoods and the parades and processions running throughout the city and into the night.
Before I begin on the actual road trip, I have to point out one amazing discovery for Spain in general. Donuts. They are amazingly delicious and so cheap (around 60 Euro cents each). Note – by donuts I do not mean churros, which weren’t that great for me to be honest. The churros dough is a bit salty and I’m used to the sugared and perhaps the non traditional kind. But back to donuts. I feel like as an American I’m qualified to talk about donuts. And Spain has some great ones. And they can be found anywhere from the smallest road side pit stop to the fancy super market. I don’t have any pictures of these amazing donuts because I usually
ate gobbled them up as soon possible. Anyways, onto the actual trip. I’ll start from Granada since this post is about the Andalusia region.
Granada was a very short stop – only 1 night. It’s not a big city and is small and manageable to cover. Situated in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s a gorgeous city that has a lot of character. We drove in from Madrid in about 4 hours (400 km) through the mountains and stayed at the Sidorme hotel a little outside the city center since we needed parking. Great, modern and spacious hotel for about £30 / €45 a night (breakfast was €6 Euros more). Taking a bus to / from the city center was fast and easy and we got to see more of the real city than the touristy center / old town area. As you get closer to the city center, you instantly know you’re in Andalusia. The Moorish influences can be seen from the buildings and architecture. We unfortunately did not get to see the Alhambra due to the short visit but that just means I’ll have to come back and properly experience it one day! (Note – best to book tickets online since they are sold out well in advance).
Granada is still one of those places where you can get free tapas with your drink so we walked around and checked out a few places in the old town. I hadn’t started looking at the list of tapas bars very closely at this point so no real recommendations here except that remember it’s free!
Granda –> Malaga 125KM / 1.5 Hours by car
Most come to Malaga as a stopping point for a cruise or as a starting point for another trip but Malaga itself is quite nice. For us, Malaga was all about the beach. We chose to stay in an airbnb apartment (a really lovely and modern one) halfway between the beach and the city center. Our apartment was so lovely with a cute balcony and in the middle of a working class neighborhood. It was a great feel to be able to live like a local. The beach front is nice and stretches for a few miles with regular restaurants serving fresh seafood and fancier beach club style venues with beds and chairs in the sand. This reminded me a bit of Valencia with the beach, sleep, eat, repeat agenda we had in mind.
On the city center side, we only ended up trying a few tapas bars in Malaga out of the 10 we had on our list. This was mostly due to lack of being able to get to them in the festival crowds and actually being full after a few rounds. After roaming around for a bit and not making it into a few places like El Refectorium Catedral due to the sheer size of the crowds, we ended up at a very hip and chic tapas bar called Taberna Uvedoble. This place reminded me of a sushi bar rather than a tapas bar and the menu was new and innovative with a number of things I hadn’t heard of before. Apparently these are called gastrotapas – a new generation of tapas bars for the modern clientele. A definite favorite was the black toasted noodles with Malaga squid – the flavors were amazingly delicious and we enjoyed every bite of it. Next up was El Bodega Pimpi, a more traditional venue. A famous place visited by both locals and tourists and occasionally by Antonio Banderas (a native of Malaga), this place had was a fun maze of small rooms each filled with traditional paintings and wine barrels exuting delicious and intoxicating smells as we waited for our sangria and tapas. We tried the sandwiches for €2.50 and some 2 glasses of sangria for a total bill of €10.00 for two. There are literally hundreds of venues to eat in Malaga and part of the fun is just roaming around and finding good deals and specials to your fancy. But since it can be overwhelming, a good idea may be to keep your list to a few in case you do pass by them on your way around town.
Malaga –> Sevilla 200KM / 2.5 Hours by car
Sevilla or Seville was the most touristy of all the places we visied in this region. For the first time we saw the big tour buses with hoardes of groups coming in and out of the city. But Sevilla’s old town was one of my favorites. It is so incredibly easy to get lost with one wrong turn. I’m pretty good with a sense of direction and even I found myself getting very very lost and not knowing even the slightest direction I was headed in. Although it was a bit frustrating at times, it was really really fun. Slowly you get to know the streets by landmarks (turn left at the first church and then right at the pastry shop) and you’re able to find your way around with increasing ease. Given a few more days, I would’ve been able to navigate my way around the old town with no problem!
One of the most wonderful memories I have of this city is the intoxicating smell of the orange blossoms. I already love the smell of the orange blossom flowers in general but when you’re able to walk around it during the day or on your evening stroll and have the smell fill your senses, it’s something that stays with you for a while. Home of the bitter Sevilla orange, I had heard that the city has so many oranges that they just fall off the trees and the streets are lined with this fruit. Many may wonder (as did I) why no one picks up the fruit to eat it but we discovered (a bit painfully) that the fruit is actually quite bitter and hence used mostly in marmalades and jams. Walking around Sevilla had me in a crossroads of two minds – one that reminded me of being in the middle of a medieval story with its ancient Moorish architecture, it’s small and narrow streets and the backdrop of the ancient Semana Santa festival and one that brought me back to the modern day with trams and Starbucks and tour groups.
Other memorable experiences in Seville included the Real Alcazar with it’s gorgeous and intricate detail in each of the areas of the palace and my favorite – the pathway with the purple wisterias; the Plaza de Espana and it’s intricately and colorful gorgeous tiled mosaics; grabbing some beers and watching the Semana Santa processions go by under the world’s largest wooden structure in the modern part of town; crossing the river and seeing some of the hipper and newer parts of town and of course eating some local tapas. We didn’t get to go inside the famed Sevilla Cathedral as the line was ridiculously long but it is the 3rd largest cathedral in the world so worth a visit if you’re there and don’t mind long queues in the sun! (Note – book online the day before for Real Alcazar tickets to avoid the crowds).
Tapas bars we tried in Sevilla included El Rinconcillo – a 345 year old tapas bar and a few local ones that served albondigas (meatballs) mainly because we loved meatballs and thought it was really fun to order ALBONDIGAS! Sevilla also has hundreds of places to eat and drink so walking around, looking for deals is part of the fun too.
Sevilla –> Cordoba 150KM / 1.45 Hours by car
Our last stop was in the region was Cordoba. A historically prominent center of the old world Caliphate, the city’s old town and main attraction was a church turned mosque turned church again – the Mezquita Cathedral. I had heard of this place a while back so being able to see it in person had a lot of expectations! The Mezquita has a very unique architectural layout to it since it did represent two very different faiths over time. There are alter areas for 20+ Saints but also the red and white stripped arches symbolize date trees and the vastness of them are supposed to represent an oasis where Muslim worshippers could pray and be one with God. Architecturally it’s amazing because it was a revolutionary building for it’s time and nothing like this had been created before. I was in awe and it absolutely did not disappoint. (Note – the Mezquita entrace ticket booth only takes cash so be sure to get some before you go into the old town as ATMs are very rare around the immediate area).
And of course we couldn’t go without trying the local food. We tried local delicacies like salmarejo – a gazpacho with crumbled egg and bacon bits (heavinly in the heat of spring/summer), flamenquin – a roulade of pork loin and ham that is breaded and fried (wasn’t the biggest fan of this) and some local desserts and sherry. One of our favorite places was Bodega Mezquita. There are two outlets and both are good, we tried some tapas and also the dessert platter. Although a bit more expensive, service was excellent and we were even given some samples of sherry to try out. 2 glasses of sherry and a half dessert platter (which looked like a full one) came out to €14 for two. Another favorite was a small family owned restaurant serving a traditional recipe of salmarejo. A portion was €2 and it was the most satifying money spent. I’ve forgotten the name but if I find any notes, I’ll update this.
Other day trips we did were Montilla for some sherry tasting and Baena for olive oil mills. Both are recommended from Cordoba and can be done within a day.
Cordoba –> Baena 60KM / 60 min by car
Baena –> Montilla 40KM / 35 min by car
Cordoba –> Montilla 45KM / 45 min by car
Some pictures from the trip