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.
Indulge in Tapas
When in Córdoba, we always try the tapas at Taberna San Miguel “Casa El Pisto,” decorated with 1880s vintage-tile walls and bullfighting paraphernalia. In Granada, we like Bodegas Castañeda, notable for serving wine out of wooden kegs mounted into the walls. And in Jerez de la Frontera, we go to Bar Juanito, widely considered to be the best tapas bar in the city.
Setenil de las Bodegas
Upon leaving our hotel, La Bobadilla, outside Loja, we asked for a suggestion of what to see near Ronda. The answer was immediate: Setenil de las Bodegas, a small village whose whitewashed dwellings are built into the rock overhangs along a river gorge. After a somewhat harrowing drive using round traffic mirrors to guide us along tight one-way streets, we found a place to park and walked the maze of alleys. From the casual deck at the Cafeteria Bar Sol y Sombra, we admired the town’s architecture and enjoyed some of the best, if simplest, tapas of our entire journey through Spain.
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.