Blossoming orange trees. Sizzling flamenco. Breathtaking Moorish architecture. Narrow streets adorned with colorful flowers. Warm sunshine. Tapas, tapas and more tapas. I could go on all day about the wonders of this beautiful region in Southern Spain that is not to be missed. While a stop in Sevilla, the capital city of Andalucía, is a given be sure not to overlook some of the smaller towns like Córdoba and Granada which are known for their interesting Islamic history. A night or two in each is all you'll need (save most of your visit for Sevilla since it is a larger city). Fortunately, the high-speed train easily connects Madrid to Sevilla and even Córdoba. To reach Granada, it's a short drive or bus ride through the pleasant countryside.
The town of Córdoba is rather small and very relaxed. I don't mean this in a bad way but there isn't a whole lot to do here so one night should be sufficient provided you arrive early enough to have the full day to explore. Just two hours away by car or bus and nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range is the scenic town of Granada. Relatively speaking, it is similar in size to Córdoba, maybe a little bigger, but has a more hippy vibe thanks to the many gypsies that reside in the hills. There is a bit more to do here so I recommend two nights so you can spend one day touring the spectacular Alhambra and one day wandering town soaking in the culture or hiking the mountains.
Here's my list of what not to miss in these towns:
- The great beauty of the Mezquita. This structure was once a mosque from the days this region was under Muslim rule. It has since been converted to a Roman Catholic church and although the minarets became bell towers, the Islamic architecture remains.
- The picturesque streets of La Judería. Also known as the Jewish Quarter, this area is filled with heaps of instagram-worthy shots of narrow, quaint paths, and windows decorated with blooming flower boxes. Be prepared to get lost, in a good way.
- A caña or two at Bar Correo. When you need a break from roaming the streets of the Jewish quarter, stop at this tiny spot for a beer or two. You know you're at the right place when you see loads of locals congregating outdoors enjoying their midday siesta.
- A breathtaking visit to the Alhambra. The Moorish architecture of this old Islamic fortress composed of royal palaces, courtyards, gardens, military buildings, and a fortified wall is simply spectacular. This place is huge (you can easily spend an entire day wandering the grounds) so it's best to have a plan of what you want to see. Don't miss the Palacios Nazaríes, which is a timed entry but the highlight of the entire complex. Tickets can be purchased online but they book up months in advance so be sure to plan ahead.
- An authentic hammam experience at Al Andalus*. Enter the dimly/candle-lit rooms adorned with beautiful tiles and intricate mosaics, sip on some herbal tea or fruit-infused water and soak in the Arabian baths of varying temperature (first warm, then hot, then cold...it's wonderful for the detox pathways). Even the locker rooms are relaxing and luxurious with heated tile floors. Upgrade to the package with a massage, you won't regret it. Reservations a must, but can be easily arranged through their website.
- Bocadillos and boquerones at Bodega La Mancha. This place is conveniently on the way up to the Alhambra, so you can take your sandwiches to go and snack on the way.
- Aperitivo and tapas at La Tana. The wine list is long and the snacks tasty. This cozy tavern is tiny and fills up quick, so arrive early to grab a seat at the bar.
- Modern tapas and larger plates at La Botillería. Pretty casual, comfy atmosphere and some of the best food in town. Don't miss out on the oxtail and ham knuckle, which are phenomenal. Conveniently located around the corner from La Tana.
*A note about the baths: they are public but don't worry-- there are rules in place that everyone actually follows so guests can have a pleasant experience (i.e. everyone must wear a swimsuit, whisper quietly, no phones/cameras, etc). It is so worth venturing a little outside of your comfort zone though for the unique experience.
WHERE TO STAY
In Córdoba, the boutique hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailío, a restored old mansion with a beautiful courtyard, swimming pool & spa, is a lovely choice. Each guest receives a complimentary session relaxing in the Roman baths so don't forget your swimsuit!
And in Granada, you can either splurge on the stylish lux hotel Hospes Palacio de los Patos which, similar to its sister hotel in Córdoba, is located in an old palace OR you can save some euro (more for tapas!) and go with the Hotel Casa 1800, a tasteful boutique hotel centrally-located in a 17th century building. The complimentary soft drinks, snacks and afternoon tea was a nice touch. Upgrade to the suite if you can and you'll be blown away by all the space.
Enjoy the rest of the photos and stay tuned for Parte Dos, which will be all about the city of Sevilla!
Buen viaje :)