Granada: Albaicín and Sacromonte
While in Granada, spend a morning exploring its most enchanting neighbourhoods – the former Moorish quarter of Albaicín and the gypsy-flamenco caves of Sacromonte. Albaicín is a maze of cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and pretty squares that extends up the hillside opposite the Alhambra. It requires a little exertion to reach the top of Albaicín, especially in spring or summer, but it will be energy well expended: the views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains from its most popular square, the Mirador San Nicolás, are some of the best in the city.
From the gypsy neighbourhood of Sacromonte, you can look above the ramshackle rooftops of Albaicín towards the Alhambra. Time has stood still in this rustic barrio: many locals still live in dappled white caves carved out of the rock, in which impromptu flamenco gatherings are held long into the night. Other homes have been patched together out of scrap metal, wood and cloth, with old buckets serving as bathrooms. This is Granada’s flamenco barrio, where you are always within earshot of the art’s distinctive, haunting sounds. About halfway along the neighbourhood’s ‘main’ street is Bar Pibe, the terrace of which is a great spot from which to admire the Alhambra.
Antequera: the heart of Andalusia
From Granada, it’s less than an hour along the A92 motorway (along which Seville is clearly signposted) to the beautiful town of Antequera, known as ‘the heart of Andalusia’ due to its location in the centre of the province. Situated almost exactly halfway between Granada and Seville, its 14th century Moorish Alcazaba – resembling a mini-Alhambra – sits at the top of the historic center’s tightly-packed white houses and beautiful old churches. It also boasts a collection of southern Spain’s greatest historical monuments – the Menga and Viera dolmens and the Tholos of El Romeral. These Neolithic and Bronze age tombs are some of the most significant surviving instances of European Megalithism.
El Chorro and the Caminito Del Rey
After Antequera, some of Málaga’s most stunning scenery can be enjoyed from the mountain roads that take you to El Chorro (about a 50-minute drive; follow signs to Campillos when leaving Antequera). This beautiful area of turquoise lakes and pine forests is popular for bathing and picnicking, but its most famous (or perhaps notorious) attraction is the Caminito del Rey walk, for which you should set aside about three hours. And don’t eat a big lunch or breakfast before doing it.
This stomach-churning three feet (0.91 meter)-wide pathway, runs alongside the cliffs of El Chorro 300 feet (91.4 meters) above the river below. It was built between 1901-1905 to connect the region’s two hydroelectric plants, gradually deteriorating through lack of use and eventually closed by local councils in 2000. But in March 2015, after a stunning €2.7 million renovation, it was reopened and is now one of the region’s star attractions. Adventure lovers will relish the Caminito’s two cliffside sections (the latter of which is quite hair-raising), which are separated by a lovely walk through El Chorro’s stunning fauna and woodland. Top tip: if you have an aversion to heights, do yourself a favour and don’t look down.
A one-hour drive through more of Andalusia’s most humbling landscapes takes you to the clifftop town of Ronda. Were it not perched on two sides of a 330 feet (100 meter)-deep gorge, Ronda would probably be overlooked by many visitors to southern Spain. But its beautiful and terrifying New Bridge, built in the 18th century to join up Ronda’s two halves, is an architectural masterpiece that has made this quiet little town the third most visited destination in Andalusia. The narrow streets of its old Moorish quarter, La Ciudad (‘The Town’) and the newish part known as El Mercadillo (‘The Little Market’) – which cling to the south and north sides of El Tajo canyon respectively – are lined with elegant townhouses adorned with yellow-framed doorways and windows, and hanging pots of bright geraniums. Ronda is also the birthplace of modern bullfighting, and its stately 18th century bullring is the town’s other key attraction.
Seville: Santa Cruz and Triana
The last leg of your road trip, from Ronda to the Andalusian capital of Seville, will take just under two hours. Around the central plaza on which Seville’s mighty cathedral squats is the characterful old Jewish neighbourhood of Santa Cruz. In this maze of narrow cobbled streets and achingly romantic squares are to be found some of the city’s best tapas bars and flamenco joints, but just to wander around Santa Cruz (and almost certainly getting lost, if it’s your first time) is an experience in itself. Be sure to stroll down the enchanting Calle Agua (‘Water Street’) and check out the square it leads onto, Plaza Alfaro. This square, it is said, is home to a building that inspired the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet.
Finally, it would be a crime to visit Seville and not spend a leisurely morning or afternoon exploring Triana, the city’s former gypsy quarter. From its pretty streets have come some of the most influential bullfighters of the last couple of centuries – including the legendary Juan Belmonte, one of the greatest matadors in the history of bullfighting. Triana is packed with traditional tapas bars, decorated with old bullfighting posters and weeping Virgin Marys. It is also known for lovely handmade ceramics, which attractively adorn the walls of its old, whitewashed houses, and one of Seville’s best and most lively markets, the Mercado de Triana. Built on the site of a medieval castle, this colourful cluster of fruit, veg and meat stalls is also a great place to stop and toast the completion of your 200-mile (322-km) road trip with some fried fish and a cold one.