Granada is one of southern Spain’s oldest and most picturesque cities. The Alhambra palace that sits at its ancient center belongs firmly to the 13th century AD but has become increasingly more beautiful throughout the years. Tucked away behind The Alhambra’s walls is The Generalife, an expansive strip of gardens and fountains, which provide a peaceful retreat from the bustling streets. Popular among visitors for its towering views, the Alhambra is just as stunning when seen from the outside. Watching the sun set behind it after a long day in the city is truly mesmerizing.
Real de la Alhambra, 18009 Granada, Spain, +34 902 44 12 21
For travelers looking for greenery on an even grander scale, the Parque Nacional de Doñana is as close to unblemished countryside as you will get. Located between the provinces of Huelva and Seville, the park is a natural phenomenon in the region, consisting mainly of boggy marshland and crashing dunes. Nature buffs can look forward to seeing migrating birds landing on the streams and rivers, especially along the La Rocina trail, which stretches 3 km beside the freshwater lakes. If you’re lucky, there’s even the opportunity to spot the rare Iberian Lynx.
Av. Canaliega, 21750 Almonte, Huelva, Spain, +34 959 44 24 74
If you don’t want to skip out on the beaches completely, then heading over to the untainted shores of Huelva could be the way to go. The wider stretch of coastline between Mazagón and Matalascañas is bereft of anything except pines, sea, and unique ecological dunes known as Acantilado del Asperillo. Take the 5.6 km Laguna del Jaral trail down to the beach, and enjoy the serenity that comes with swimming in these lesser known waters. The trail’s adventurous slopes are what put many tourists off, so be prepared to work for this isolated paradise.
Below ground, on the edge of the Sierra de Almijara mountains, is a series of huge caverns that stretch nearly 5km into the bedrock of Iberia. Formed by the flow of subterranean water, the caves of Nerja are a stunning example of nature in action. The Sala del Cataclismo is home to a staggering 32m tall mineral column, which disappears into the crystalline ceiling. If you are a lover of music, then it’s worth sticking around for the underground concerts, which take place in the cavernous Sala de la Cascada o Ballet. Shows take place throughout the summer, with flamenco flavors and orchestral overtures on display.
Further into Andalucia, there are caves with a slightly more homey feel. The grottos above the town of Baza are available to rent for the night and offer spectacular views of the surrounding flatlands. Andalucian stone keeps the caves cool in the summer, making them an ideal alternative to stuffy hotel rooms.
Carretera de Maro, 29787 Nerja, Málaga, Spain, +34 952 52 95 20
Cadiz is the carnival capital of Andalucia, coming to life for ten days each year. Los Carnavales opens with El Alumbrado (the lighting of the city), during which the main streets are illuminated by glowing artisan lights. The whole city gets involved, singing and dancing through the crowds in incredible, bustling parades. A particular highlight is the fireworks displays, which take place mid-way through the carnival and at the very end, in La Caleta. Dine on fried fish and local wine while the sky above you is painted in every imaginable color.
The Cadiz Carnival runs from February 4 through February 14 each year.
Cycling has become more than just a pastime in Seville. The bike has boomed in the city, and now it is one of the most commonly used methods of transport. This makes it ideal for exploring the back alleys and side streets of Seville’s more vibrant districts. Escape the crowds, by venturing across the bridge from Santa Cruz into the gypsy quarters of Triana. The buzz from the bars and cafés here is electric, and you’ll feel like a local by the time you leave. Riding along the waterfront street, Calle Betis offers a memorable panorama of the rest of the city.
Pl. de Sta Cruz, 4, 41004 Sevilla, Spain, +34 955 11 82 28
If you get tired of traveling at a leisurely pace, then head over to Nerja, where life has decided to step outside the slow lane. Dirt biking and 4×4 tours have taken over this tiny coastal town, allowing visitors to make sweeping journeys through the Iberian backdrop. The Sierra de Almijara mountains rising behind Nerja are ideal for trail pursuits, as well as walking ventures. And if your adrenaline still isn’t pumping, there are more activities to be found down on the shore. Kite-surfing is a must for water lovers, although you might want to save this one for the waves in Marbella.
El Zoco de Nerja, 41, 29780 Nerja, Spain, +34 627 83 44 30
Of all the places to find an homage to the Spaghetti Western, the Tabernas desert in Almería is probably the last place you’d think to look. Forming the focal point of films such as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Forte Bravo is an iconic slice of Western culture. Restaurants and themed entertainment have sprung up nearby, making Forte Bravo a family-minded day out, but eclipsing none of its original beauty.
If you are longing for more, then make sure you check out the village of Los Albaricoques, on the other side of Nijar, where the ghosts of cowboy culture continue to make their presence felt.
Paraje del Unihay, 04200 Almería, Spain +34 950 06 60 13
Looking for a stronger cultural hit? The art scene in Málaga might be exactly what you’re craving. Peppered with contemporary and impressionist influences, the city was once home to artistic great Pablo Picasso. Picasso’s artwork can be seen in the restored palace-cum-museum that houses much of his work, along with more contemporary sculptures and paintings. Just down the road is the striking glass exterior of the Pompidou Centre, which is a modernist’s dream and a must-see if you’ve never visited the original in France.
Of course, if you want to drink in the city as you browse its artisan culture, then look no further than Málaga’s thriving street art scene. Wander around the area, picking out the painted murals or take one of the free guided tours for a truly immersive experience.
To master the art of Flamenco is to know the soul of Spain itself. The Flamenco is a much more somber dance than many people imagine, but it is also vibrant and hauntingly beautiful. Learning the basics for yourself will give you an understanding of just how powerful this tradition can be. Lessons start from around £245, though you might opt for a taste of the tradition instead by visiting the old residential quarter of La Macarena. The quarter is full of Flamenco fever, and you can experience it firsthand in almost any bar.
Calle Peral, 49, 41002 Sevilla, Spain +34 954 56 42 34
By Ed Wild