ROAD TRIP IN ANDALUSIA
Complete dazzlement and stimulation of all senses: a trip to Andalusia fulfils all desires for even the most jaded travellers, this region in southern Spain being so rich in artistic, natural, cultural, historical and gastronomic treasures, with the added bonus of magical sunsets, sumptuous beaches swept by strong winds and generous light. We take you to Andalusia for a road trip between small preserved villages, dynamic cities and magnificent landscapes, a trip that we never get tired of and that we enjoy experiencing again and again!
LET THE LANDSCAPE AMAZE US
Rather than flying directly from major French or European cities to the starting point of our road trip, we love to prepare ourselves for the Andalusian landscape in successive stages, so it is by train that we like to approach the region. From Madrid with the ultra fast AVE, less than 2 hours are enough to reach Cordoba, our first stop, and the trip is insanely sweet, watching through the window the landscape change little by little, the green disappearing, the dusty ochre tones taking over, hills covered with olive trees (Andalusia produces 30% of the world olive oil!), the almond trees sublime in spring, the vegetation rarer, a mineral landscape that announces a region nourished by a powerful sun but increasingly scattered rains (at the time of writing this article it has not rained a drop of water for 5 months, and we are in April). Andalusia gets under our skin in small steps, and already we are elsewhere, in the slow pace of the journey ahead.
Cordoba is a dazzling first stop, and we spend hours observing the 800 columns of the mezquita-cathedral and its richly decorated ceilings, a dazzling summary of the history that has blended such different cultures in these lands, bringing their respective richness. In the Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos it is more the gardens lined with orange trees and ponds that inspire us than the defensive history of this 15th-century fortress in a city that was fiercely contested.
In Córdoba, it is the Moorish influence that we look for through its narrow streets, offering us the extravagance of the sublime restaurant (2 stars in the Michelin guide) Noor, between the culinary traditions of “Al-Ándalus” and a contemporary vision. Extraordinary! And to continue this dive into the heart of history, we put down our suitcases at the Palacio del Bailio, to enjoy its small Moorish alcoves and the orange trees of its beautiful garden protected from the noise of the street.
BY TRAIN OR BY CAR, ANDALUSIA IN FREEDOM
From Córdoba, the train or the rental car have their fans and advantages. The region is incredibly well served by train (with a few exceptions) but the car allows total freedom. Both are possible! The next stage takes us to Granada, mythical and iconic, superb in its steep setting, framed by the Sierra Nevada, even more spectacular when its peaks are covered in snow. Of course we spend a few hours at the Alhambra, the primary reason why Granada is one of the most touristy cities in Spain, and it’s a total dazzle of spectacular architecture and fairy-tale gardens. But the whole city amazes us, especially Albaicín, the old quarter that stretches around the Alhambra and in which one has the impression of being transported back a few centuries. In the evening, just before sunset, we go up to the Mirador San Nicolas to see the sun transform the Alhambra into a shower of gold, a striking vision from which we never quite recover.
In the Albaicín district, the Casa 1800 hotel inspires us, to be in the heart of everything, especially when the windows of the room look directly on the Alhambra, what luck! And in the evening it is at the Farála restaurant that we come to taste an inventive Andalusian cuisine. Before leaving, a short visit to the beautiful Caja Granada Museum, Memory of Andalusia, immerses us in the culture and history of this dazzlingly rich region.
From Granada a short one-hour diversion to the north-east, beyond the Sierra Nevada, takes us to the Gorafe desert and its spectacular eroded mineral landscape. Here the House in the Desert awaits us, an all-glass structure set high on a plateau in the middle of the desert, with its 360° lunar landscape, its purity and its sky where all stars seem to have gathered just for us. A magical night away from it all!
FROM THE COSTA DEL SOL TO THE COSTA DE LA LUZ
A short tour through Málaga shows us a large and dynamic city, interesting for its youth and its cultural life, notably its beautiful Picasso museum (the city is his birthplace) and its Pompidou Centre, but the call of calm and nature is too strong, it is towards the few adorable villages of this costa del sol which also generated some horrors, seaside resorts punctuated with hideous buildings, that we continue our journey. We go up to Ronda, a fascinating village perched as if on the edge of a precipice, and we go down to Casares, a lovely white village, before landing in Tarifa, the city of the wind.
Tarifa, the last point of Europe, the southernmost city of the continent, a small point on a map that embraces all fantasies. Africa is just across, an hour’s crossing to Tangier, where the Strait of Gibraltar is very narrow. A city that reinvents itself, young and trendy, a bit gypset too, the daughter of the wind (very powerful!) which makes it the spot for those who love to surf on a sea where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet, dazzling beaches (playa de Los Lances, Playa de Bolonia), an omnipresent nature, a Caribbean air, and this impression of the end of the world.
After Tarifa, it is the Costa de la Luz that unfolds its famous Pueblos Blancos, all different, all superb.
THE PUEBLOS BLANCOS OF ANDALUSIA
Andalusian postcard images, the white villages stretch along a coastline that has mixed multiple influences, open to the world, between Spain, Europe and Africa, and which has left in its wake a unique art of living, of great cultural and historical strength. We start with Vejer de la Frontera, then Cadiz, then Jerez de la Frontera, and finally Arcos de la Frontera.
Each is separated from the next by only 30 to 45 minutes by car, making it an ideal tour for 2-3 days of leisurely strolling. Each has lovely churches, steep little streets, a real Spanish nightlife of bars and tapas where it is not uncommon to see a flamenco show that is not intended for tourists.
In Vejer you can lose yourself in its labyrinthine streets, passing through wooden doors to admire mosaics and taste tagines in the town’s bodegas. And we visit the Fundación NMAC, a magnificent outdoor museum of contemporary art.
In Cádiz you will be speechless in front of one of the oldest cities in Europe, a narrow strip of land open to the sea, the cradle of all influences and of sumptuous expeditions to the new world. A city to explore without a plan, for the pleasure of discovering and surprising different architectural influences.
In Jerez you can go from bar to bar in and around Calle San Pablo (and definitely stop at Tabanco El Pasaje for a superb flamenco show.
In Arcos de la Frontera, a beautiful white hilltop village, the Basilica of Santa Maria leaves you speechless.
To sleep Costa de la Luz:
Casa Viña de Alcántara in Jerez de la Frontera
Hotel V in Vejer de la Frontera
LAST STOP IN ANDALUSIA: SEVILLE
Seville lives up to its reputation as a great city, with spectacular historical monuments, a wealth of gastronomy, splendid hotels and a vibrant local life. It is a destination in its own right, and you can easily spend a week here and never get bored. Its old town (one of the largest in Europe) is all ochre tones, muted reds, wild exuberance with geraniums hanging from balconies and a vibrant life. In Seville you can take the expected tour of the emblematic monuments, the cathedral, Santa Cruz, the Alcázar, the Plaza de España, or you can go off the beaten track and wander around the vibrant neighbourhoods without a map to discover lesser-known monuments, such as the General Archive of the Indies or the tower of Don Fadrique at the Royal Monastery of Santa Clara.
For a contemporary trip, head to the CAAC, the Andalusian Centre for Contemporary Arts, housed in a 14th-century monastery.
And you can spend a few hours in Seville’s oldest bar, El Rinconcillo, to remember that in Spain, the night always stretches until the first light of dawn.