For nearly 800 years, the Moors (North African Arab/Berber Muslims) lavished affection on their conquered territory, leaving a legacy of majestic architecture and exquisite gardens. When the Spaniards finally expelled them in 1492, Andalusia entered a new golden age with the discovery of the Americas. Today the timeless charm of cities such as Córdoba, Seville and Granada is complemented by excellent roads and AVE 190-mph trains from Madrid.
I especially recommend a visit to medieval Arcos de la Frontera, one of the so-called “pueblos blancos” (“white villages”), which caps a scenic crag above the Guadalete River an hour south of Seville. Carmona is perched on a steep, flat-topped hill above the plain of the Guadalquivir river and has a quietly aristocratic character. The handsome city of Jerez de la Frontera is renowned for its sherry bodegas. And 75 miles east of Jerez, the picturesque town of Ronda is situated 2,500 feet above sea level on either side of “El Tajo,” the dramatic 390-foot gorge of the Guadalevín River.
The Costa del Sol lies in Málaga Province and famously enjoys the warmest and sunniest climate in Europe. Once, there were just a few quiet fishing villages, with most of the region’s population living in the pueblos blancos on hillsides a little distance inland. During the second half of the 20th century, however, the region was transformed and, in many places, disastrously overbuilt. Although beaches on the Costa del Sol are generally lackluster, some of the golf courses are notable.
One of the most memorable times to visit Seville is during Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Processions of hermandades and cofradías (religious brotherhoods), dressed in penitential robes, are followed by spectacular floats bearing 17th-century images of the Virgin or Christ. The atmosphere is festive, with bands playing passionate flamenco-style hymns about the Passion and the Virgin’s sorrows.
Delicious Dining Options
In Seville, I have dined consistently well at Az-Zait (Plaza de San Lorenzo 1. Tel. (34) 954-906-475). On my last trip, we feasted on Antonio Conejero’s coddled eggs with octopus and truffles, cold tomato soup with spider crab and olive-oil ice cream, and Iberian pork cheeks in tomato sauce. For simpler fare and tapas, I head for Bodeguitas Antonio Romero (Calle Antonia Díaz 19. Tel. (34) 95-422-3939), where we have enjoyed the generous plate of paper-thin slices of jamón Ibérico, aged manchego cheese, and crisp potato croquettes. These proved the perfect foil for glasses of chilled Manzanilla. I also recommend Enrique Becerra (Calle Gamazo 2. Tel. (34) 95-421-3049). The lively ground-floor tapas bar has its partisans, but we loved our meal in the dining room upstairs, where we enjoyed exceptional fried eggplants stuffed with shrimp.
Indulge in Tapas
When in Córdoba, I always try the tapas at Taberna San Miguel “Casa El Pisto” (Plaza de San Miguel 1. Tel. (34) 957-470-166), decorated with 1880s-vintage tile walls and bullfighting paraphernalia. In Granada, I like Bodegas Castañeda (Calle Almireceros 1-3. Tel. (34) 958-215-464), notable for serving wine out of wooden kegs mounted into the walls. And in Jerez de la Frontera, I go to Bar Juanito (Calle Pescadería Vieja 8-10. Tel. (34) 956-334-838), widely considered to be the best tapas bar in the city.