I’d only ever visited Spain once, for what was basically a one day layover in Barcelona before continuing on to Italy (at the time Ryanir only had flights to Dublin or Barcelona from Newcastle, so this was a cheap way of getting to Italy). I’d wanted to properly visit Spain for a long time and I think reading The Alchemist last year inspired me to seriously look into a trip to Andalusia. So I enlisted my sister and we booked some cheap flights, found a very cheap car hire, and planned out a road trip through the south of Spain (with a day trip into Portugal).
The research for this trip started out the same as my trips often do; find as many interesting places to visit as I can, and add them to a Google Map. From that I planned out a route and worked out where we would want to stay each night. I found so many things I wanted to see that we could have easily extended the trip by another week or two. I had to be really careful not to try and fit too much into the trip, because I wanted to have time to enjoy the places we were visiting and not end up driving for half of the day. I think I mostly found a good balance, though I had a couple days where I was a little too optimistic about what I could fit into a single day, and ended up doing more driving than I would have liked. Driving to Lagos in Portugal for one night was an example of that, but I really don’t regret that because Portugal was amazing (I might blog about that later).
When planning the trip, the places I was most excited about visiting were Seville and Granada. As great as those cities were, I actually found that what I enjoyed most about the trip was being out in the countryside and the mountains. Camping out in the countryside for a few nights of the trip (including one night in a hammock) meant that we could enjoy the countryside a bit more, and gave the trip a good balance of city and outdoor adventures.
I thought the best way to write about the trip would be to pick out the five places I most enjoyed visiting in Andalusia.
El Torcal de Antequera
El Torcal is a nature reserve in the mountains north of Malaga, with a lot of interesting limestone formations. We visited here on our first full day in Spain, after leaving Malaga, and spent the afternoon hiking through the reserve. There are a few marked trails in the reserve, and we followed the longest one, but that was only 2.5 miles long and took us about 2 hours to complete, with lots of diversions to take photos, climb on the rocks and look for geocaches (we never found any). The marked trails only cover a small part of the reserve, and there is definitely more to explore there. But it’s also definitely somewhere you could get lost easily if you wandered away from the trails, especially when walking in the narrow parts between the rock formations.
There are guided tours that can show you different parts of the reserve, including caves and fossils, but we weren’t able to make it on to one of those.
We also returned to the park at night to try and get some night shots. I tried to find rock formations that would look good silhouetted against the night sky, but didn’t want to wander far from the trail and lose our way back to the car.
If you’re ever planning to visit Granada, the one thing you absolutely have to do is book your ticket to visit Alhambra well in advance. I thought I could just turn up first thing in the morning, and get a ticket before the crowds arrived, but nope, you either book online well over a month in advance, or queue up at 4am and hope you can buy one of the few tickets they keep for sale on the day.
After the initial disappointment of not getting in to the Alhambra, we had a great day exploring Granada, especially the old moorish part of town with its narrow streets and old buildings. We visited an old bath house, a old palace and several old churches. We discovered ruins, old city walls, amazing street art and some great tapas. We also found a good spot to see the Alhambra at sunset.
The next day we were supposed to leave early for Cordoba and Seville, but we got up very early to try and get some tickets to Alhambra. We got there around 6am, and queued up until the tickets went on sale (9am, I think). We didn’t manage to get a full ticket, but we got one that let us see everything except the palace, which is probably the most impressive thing. It was definitely worth the visit though, and there was still a lot to see.
I really wanted to do some hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and one hike that really captured my attention was Los Cahorros, a narrow gorge with several suspension bridges. We planned a circular route that followed the gorge all the way to the end, crossing the suspension bridges, leading to a nice picnic spot with views of the surrounding hills. The path through the gorge gets quite narrow, and there are parts where you have to duck under or scramble around parts of the cliff that stick out over the path.
For the return, we headed uphill and followed a path in the hills above the gorge. The views were amazing, and we could really feel the temperature difference being out of the gorge.
Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
After adjusting plans to visit the Alhambra in Granada, our time in Cordoba was cut a lot shorter. We almost dropped it from the plan altogether to continue on to Seville, but I really wanted to see the Mosque-Cathedral. We didn’t have much time to really explore the city, which was a shame because Cordoba looked like a really nice city. But the cathedral was amazing, and definitely worth the detour to visit.
The mosque cathedral is very different from other cathedrals I’ve visited. The current building was originally built as a mosque, but it was later converted into a cathedral, and it shows. It almost feels like two buildings. When you enter the Mosque-Cathedral, it is quite dark. The ceiling is a lot lower that most cathedrals, and there are a lot of columns and arches (there’s probably a technical term for that kind of ceiling), that seem to go on forever. This is the part of the building that was built as a mosque. After walking through this part of the building, and taking lots of photos, we came to cathedral part of the building, right in the centre of the old mosque. It such a huge contrast.
After spending a while in the cathedral, we climbed to the top of the minaret/clock tower for a view of the whole city.
Ronda was quite a late addition to our itinerary. When I saw a photo of Puente Nuevo, I knew I had to visit the city, so I rearranged our plan a little so that we could spend our last night in the city. I just loved this city. So many old buildings and streets to explore, and panoramic views all around, since the old city is built on top of a hill. I really enjoyed the little hike down to get a better view of the bridge, and finding the waterfall at the bottom made it even better.
This was definitely a great way to end our trip to Spain.