Southern Spain: Into Moorish past & gypsy culture
Before you hit the ghastly overbuilt tourist coast, Southern Spain hides a number of gems and you start to get a real insight into how 700+ years of Moorish rule transformed Spain – from its language, to its food, to its music, its dance and of course, most strikingly, the legacy of Islamic architecture. While much of Europe was within the “Dark Ages” Spain benefited from the relative enlightenment of the Moorish rule.
Seville: The KKK took my costume away
As this romantic and seductive city is so well known and so well covered by the tour guides there seems little point in covering it other than to highlight a few points:
- The best way to see this city is by bicycle, while the downtown areas don’t require it, the low slung city is a pleasure to explore by bike.
- Do try and visit for the haunting Semana Celebrations when processions criss-cross the city throughout the night. Similarly, the spring fiesta is meant to be one of the wildest and best city-wide parties in Europe.
- Consider one of the many cheap and modern hotels outside the historic downtown. The joy of being able to come back to a pool at the end of a day after cycling in the heat cannot be understated.
Ronda: Hemingway’s Spain
An easy 1.5hr drive from Seville is Ronda, a small town worthy of exploration. The primary reason for a visit is the incredibly dramatic canyon which dissects the city. From its profound depths, the canyon walls are decorated with incredibly lush fauna.
With its dramatic scenery, Spain’s oldest bull fighting ring, and excellent local bars you can see why it was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway. Papa wrote of the town in the seminal “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Since Hemingway’s days there have been a few changes, including some tacky tourist shops but luckily not all additions are so bad, including the quirky and eccentric Museo Lara which includes a bizarre collection of guns and preserved “monsters”.
Juzcar: A village for Smurfs
This little village is painted blue, Smurf blue to be exact. Why? Well, it was done so as part of a promotion for the (presumably awful) Smurf movie, and apparently, the locals preferred it that way and never painted it back to its original white… or they just couldn’t be bothered. A fascinating little stop-off during a road trip.
Antequera: Heart of Andalusia
Antequera is a worthy of breaking up a trip with a lunchtime stroll around the quaint bullfighting ring, the series of beautiful churches, and whitewashed buildings.
To the south are the unique rock formations of the Torcal de Antequera which make for an interesting diversion.
Malaga: It’s not what you think!
Often over-looked and dismissed by many, Malaga has been a pleasant surprise to all who have visited. While I shouldn’t give you hope that this gritty downtown beach is worthy of a leisurely day at the seaside, it is swimmable after a long road trip and none of us are yet to exhibit symptoms of Hep C.
The downtown has a stunning array of truly great restaurants and cocktail bars which will delight and the hill to the north of the downtown provides a strenuous walk to sweat out the toxins imbibed from the night before. And, although the palace is of dubious merit, the view is magnificent and with a good imagination you may be able to see its luxurious past.
Las Alpujarras: The Atlas mountain villages in Spain
These are the unique white villages of the Andulucian highlands. The landscape was terraced and irrigated by the Berbers of North Africa, who also built housing in their native vernacular.
Granada: While Europe was in the throes of the Dark Ages the Moorish culture thrives
Granada’s appeal is well known as the site of the stunning Moorish masterpiece Alhambra, and rightly so. Alhambra and Granada is well covered by the tour guides so I won’t go into details aside from reiterating my awe for the incredible Islamic carvings, architecture, and the engineering mastery that was required to ensure this hilltop palace had a constant flow of water for its fountains.
Across from Alhambra and to the North is a park/lookout on Calle Chirrimias which we found to be a regular drinking spot for the locals. This spot is well frequented by tourists seeking a photo of the magnificent Alhambra during the day however, for us, the spot came to life with the setting sun. Our nights in Granada commenced with Gypsy songs, drinking in the streets, a visit from a Jack Sparrow like character on a noble white horse – all with the back drop of the illuminated Alhambra.
The Parador is a great location to stay, located within the Alhambra complex enabling you to explore the complex at leisure and recover from the often oppressive heat.
Cordoba: The biggest city in the world?
A remnant of Spain’s Moorish past, Cordoba is a pleasant day trip for those visiting the more glamorous Sevilla. Staying in the city is a pleasant option though, as you can avoid the tourist hordes and it enables more personal visits of Cordoba’s many sights. Cordoba was once the capital of the Moors, a seat of learning and reputedly the largest city in the world.
The most impressive of many monuments is the interior of the mesmerising multi-arched Mezquita which seems to play visual tricks on the eye. As the name suggests the Mezquita was once a mosque and, like many mosques, was later appropriated by the Christian population.
This is the final part of a four-part article exploring Spain by car. Make sure you also check out the intro The Perfect Country for a Road Trip.