Seven Unforgettable Days Out In Southern Spain
Just nine miles off the coast of Africa lies a land shaped by gypsies and Moors. An exotic land of graceful matadors, passionate flamenco dancers and haunting guitar melodies. Join us in Andalucia, the former heartland of Muslim Iberia, where we’ve handpicked hotels in the port city of Malaga for you to take your pick from seven unforgettable days out in southern Spain.
1: Wine tasting & bullfighting in Hemingway’s Ronda
Perched on a cliff above a plunging 107-metre chasm created by the Guadalevín River is Ronda, one of the world’s most striking classical cities. To best get a feel for Ronda, head to the cliff-side 17th-century natural park, Alameda del Tajo, where time stops as you wander through avenues of cedars and acacias, past pretty fountains and pergolas thick with roses that perfume the salty sea air.
Take a moment to drink in the spirit-soaring views of two classic Costa del Sol mountain ranges, the Sierra de Grazalema and the Sierra de las Nieve Serrania, from the Mirador of Ronda viewpoint.
The vineyards of bodega Descalzos Viejos are a joy to visit any time of night or day. Set in a 6th century monastery with medieval walls, terraced fruit groves, gurgling springs and spectacular views of the valley, the wine estate is a genuine slice of heaven on earth. Sit in the shade of an avocado tree and sample award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Chardonnay and chat to the owners about recipes for savoring the good life in south Spain.
If you are lucky, your day trip to Descalzos Viejos will coincide with one of its famous events, where renowned musicians and flamenco stars gather under the stars for a night of music in its purest, most joyous form. The wine estate does wine tastings on demand and privately, so before you go, message the bodega on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book.
Ronda is known as the cradle of modern bullfighting, which makes the city’s centerpiece, the Plaza de Toros, a must-visit. Tour the museum, visit the bull pens and stand at the centre of the vast ring of sand, which contains the ashes of matador legend and good friend of Hemingway, Antonio Ordoñez.
Headliner events typically run from August 30 to September 2, and its advised to book in advance online to get the best places. On the day of the event, wander the narrow alleys of Paseo de E. Hemingway and pick up on the pre-bullfight excitement as elderly men get into the spirit at open-air cafes. Grab a £2 cushion, sit back and admire the curtain-raisers which can include Flamenco shows and Lipizzaner-style horse-riding tricks. The highlight of the day starts when the matadors walk out into the sunlit ring, glittering in their traditional traje de luces (suits of light).
2. Tapas crawl through Seville’s old quarter
Sunny Seville is a sensuous feast, with TV chef Julia Child once famously advising that its “tapas are reason enough to go to Seville.” With this in mind, we’ve curated a food-and-culture walking tour (or crawl) through four of the native Sevillians’ favourite tapas bars scattered around the cathedral and medieval Jewish quarter.
La Azotea means The Rooftop in Spanish. One look at its viewpoint and you’ll see why a tapas crawl could turn into tapas stay. Orchestrated by Chef Juan, the rooftop venue is famous across Spain. British expats rave over Juan’s morcilla (black pudding) with caramelised onions topped with a quail’s egg.
Check out the chalk boards for the specials, such as suckling pig with Sevilla-style roast potatoes, or orange cream with homemade mint ice cream and gin. Open Mon-Sun 9am-12am.
Near the Seville Cathedral, the world’s biggest Gothic example of its kind, is Casa Morales, a corner-store bar and restaurant that dates back to 1850. Here, you’ll find the most traditional types of tapas renowned for signature quality with every meat dish a gem. Add the colourful scenes in the legendary bar, and you have all the ingredients for a full cuisine and culture immersion. A word of advice, grab the Wagyu beef as soon as it appears on the menu, likewise with the entrecôte with Roquefort sauce, another hit. Open Mon-Sat 8pm-12am.
The moment you first see La Brunilda with its bright blue doors and panoramic windows tucked away beneath the towering Moorish tower of La Giralda, you just have to pull up a seat. And well you should, because this trendy tapas joint is famous for its signature Idiazabal cheese dishes. The smoked Basque Country cheese infuses every plate with a sharp, zingy taste. Other popular tapas include the octopus and mushrooms with shrimp or the Cola de Toro (oxtail). The atmosphere is vibrant, the tables and chairs simple and the need to arrive early to get seated, a must. Open Mon-Fri 1pm-4pm, 8pm to 12am.
Vinería San Telmo
Managed by a husband and wife team, Vinería San Telmo is a true star among the city’s many tapas bars. Favourites include squid ink pasta with grilled scallops, Argentinian ribeye steak, oxtail in filo pastry, duck breast with chutney and yucca chips. Heavenly sweets are on offer too, such as Moroccan pastries and Guinness and cream sponge cake. Open Mon-Sat 1pm-4.30pm & 8pm-12am.
While a bit off the beaten track, Los Valencianos is a specialty ice-cream parlour well worth a visit, with star turns like the exotic La Medina sorbet with orange, ginger and cinnamon, or the weird but wonderful goat’s cheese and quince jelly. What Los Valencianos is really known for, however, is its artisan horchata (pronounced or-chatter).
Legend has it a little girl offered James I of Aragon the drink when he was in Andalucia. After taking a sip, the king exclaimed ‘Açò és or, xata!‘ (‘That’s gold, darling!’). Made with tiger nuts, this chocolaty drink is like Marmite. You’ll either love it. . . or not. Open Mon-Sun 2pm till late.
3. Flamenco, palaces & royal gardens in Granada’s old Moorish citadel
Join us on a feast for the senses in Granada’s UNESCO World Heritage Site of Albayzín, home to Little Morocco, flamenco dancers and the exquisite palaces and gardens of the Muslim caliphs.
Every visit to Granada should start where its story begins... in the fairy tale Alhambra palace, the royal palace built in the 1200s by the Nasrid kings. Enter through the Gate of Justice into the former royal city where caliphs and courtesans roamed the palace halls and patios intricately patterned with cedarwood, stucco arches and geometric mosaics. Admire the fountained courtyards and clipped hedges of The Court of the Myrtles and the mesmerising 124 marble columns in the Court of the Lions.
Stroll past the Tower of the Princesses to the Generalife, the Sultan’s summer palace, passing through decorated arches and intimate gardens with myrtle hedges, rose and orange trees. Tinkling fountains entice you into the dramatic Patio of the Cypresses, a lush emerald wonder where Boabdil’s Sultana would secretly meet an Abencerrajes knight.
As the sun sets, celebrate with fresh mint tea or a puff of shisha at the Mirador de San Nicolás viewpoint, where you the Alhambra and snow-capped Sierra Nevada glow with otherworldly colours. Reconnect with Granada’s vivid spirit of romance in the timeless, medina-like Albayzín quarter, one of the oldest centres of Muslim culture in southern Spain, complete with authentic falafel and kebabs finished with honey-drenched pastries.
Follow the winding alleys to an authentic Albayzín gypsy tavern, Peña Flamenca La Platería. and experience a wild night of hand clapping, foot stomping and castanet clattering accompanied by heart-wrenching Andalucian guitar and the soulful, husky singing of a true flamenco artista.
To really go back a few thousand years, head to Alcaicería, the former Moorish silk market in the lower city.
Merchants pile high the narrow streets with treasures for the souvenir hunter, including figures of Don Quixote chasing windmills and glorious damascene jewellery that rivals Toledo’s for quality.
4.The Magic of Mijas by electric Tuk Tuk
Perched panoramically on a mountainside overlooking the Mediterranean and Morocco’s eerie Rif Mountains, Mijas is one of the region’s prettiest pueblos blancos (white villages). To slow the pace to perfection, an electric tuk tuk tour brings the best out of this artist’s mecca.
Climb aboard your tuk tuk at the central square in Mijas for the 45-minute tour with a local guide. First admire all the sights encircling the flower festooned Plaza Virgen de la Peña, before tuk tukking down narrow Calle Malaga and stopping to take Instagram-ready pics of the whitewashed houses draped in jasmine and bougainvillea. The Pablo Picasso Museum is on this route, so if great ceramics by Malaga’s most famous son, besides exhibits by Salvador Dalí, is your thing, let the driver know.
At Plaza Constitución, visit Spain’s only oval-shaped bullring and spend time admiring the meticulously maintained gardens of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, with picture postcard panoramic views from its pretty terrace. Next stop is the old quarter of Mijas, the Barrio Santa Ana.
Here, you can admire the delightful Plaza de los Siete Caños (Seven Spouts Square) home to the 1600s Church of Santa Ana, fragrant well-kept gardens and historic city walls built by Moors, one of the many great vantage points overlooking the Med. The tuk tuk also takes a scenic road to the hermitage of San Anton at the bottom of Canillas de Albaida and set on its own against the green pine-covered hill.
5. Beach bliss & kayaking heaven in Nerja
Take a moonlit saunter along the marble-paved promenade of the dramatic Balcony of Europe. Get spoiled for choice with a selection of silky sand beaches, shellfish and seafood BBQs sizzling away nearby. Gather with friends for a sea kayaking cruise through turquoise waters, cliff-side fountains and other natural wonders of Nerja, a must-see stop on any southern Spain itinerary.
Formerly a quiet fishing village, Nerja is called the Jewel of the Costa del Sol for its mix of charming whitewashed houses, many a beautiful beach, and its setting at the mouth of the Río Chillar, under the jagged coastal mountains of Sierra Almijara.
Once in Nerja its time to hit the beaches. You have 16 kilometres of them to pick from - powdery sand, crystal clear water and interesting little coves included. One of the best is the blue flag Burriana with its huge beach, watersports and great food outlets. Beachside barbecue stalls cook everything from king prawns and lobster to swordfish steaks. Every lunchtime, chefs prepare giant-sized paellas in super-sized woks.
From Burriana, organize yourself a sea kayak and set course for Playa de Maro, discovering along the way Nerja’s hidden beaches of Cala del Pino, El Cañuelo, Las Alberquillas and Molino de Papel, all at the base of the Maro cliffs.
You’ll also pass through caves filled with sapphire waters, dramatic cliffs and cascading waterfalls of the Parque Nacional de los Acantilados de Maro. Kayaking is something you can do even in winter, as temperatures in the south are typically higher than those in northern
Conclude your Nerja adventure with a sundowner along the Balcón de Europa (Balcony of Europe), a palm-shaded promenade jutting out into the Mediterranean.
6. Fantastic Frigiliana & the ghost village of El Acebuchal
Voted prettiest village in Andalucia by the Spain Tourism Board, Frigiliana is a gorgeously decorative little place. Cobbled streets of the Mudéjar district or Moorish quarter (El Barrio Morisco) echo the mountainside town’s old Arabian past.
Walk to the old district via Calle Zacatín or Hernando El Darra and gaze upon patterned cobbles, blue-doored houses garlanded with lavender, bougainvillea and jasmine, contrasting vividly against the dazzling lime-washed walls.
A visit to the remains of the old Moorish castle at the top of the old village offers incredible views, with Africa clearly visible. Also worth seeing in Frigiliana is the pretty Fuente Vieja (old fountain), San Antonio church, Santo Cristo de la Caña chapel. Enjoy any one of the rooftop bars or restaurants such as El Mirador, which is lit up at night by lovely little Moroccan pottery lanterns.
Near Frigiliana is El Acebuchal, a charming little ghost village in the heart of the Alhama National Park where time stands still and donkeys and mules wander the old world streets.
Abandoned during the Spanish Civil War, El Acebuchal was slowly restored by individuals. This means electricity only arrived in 2003, there are no landlines and certainly no ATMS. Simply bring a little cash and settle down for a memorable meal at Bar Restaurante El Acebuchal, which specialises in game such as wild boar, duck and venison.
All the produce is grown and sourced locally, which results in outstanding salads, delicious homemade bread, fine Spanish wine, dessert, ice cream and olive oils.
7. Pleasure domes and torture chambers of Córdoba
While the Dark Ages were defining Europe, Umayyad caliphs were establishing Córdoba as a beacon of learning, culture and an incredibly opulent lifestyle. Faithful worshippers of more earthly persuasions were called to Córdoba by her harem-filled pleasure palaces. Just outside the city is the Madinat Al-Zahra, a pleasure dome to rival that of Xanadu, boasting over 400 baths in its heyday.
Grab your swimming trunks and make a beeline (and prior appointment) for Hammam Arabic Baths (Baños Arabes) close to the la Mezquita. Feel what it was like for those pleasured-up sultans with an indulgent 90-minute bath. A bath includes a massage, Moroccan tea and, if you’re in luck, belly dancers.
Nearby, you’ll find the narrow cobblestone streets of the Judería (Jewish quarter). Colourful little craft boutiques offer eye-catching flamenco shawls, Arabian inspired textiles and the Córdoban master craft - hand-embossed leather products. Take your pick from Ottoman covers and attaché cases to jewel cases and cigarette boxes.
By now, you’ll have got a feel why Córdoba was once the capital of Spain. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you wander among the maze of red and white candy-striped Moorish horseshoe arches of the Great Mezquita, one of the world’s most striking monuments set in a spiritually powerful centre various cultures have all tried to tap into.
The Mezquita actually replaced a Visigoth temple, which in turn replaced a Roman basilica. The Catholics also got into the act, building a cathedral here. Nothing, however, destroys the beauty of the peppermint-striped forest of arches. For Muslims long ago, a pilgrimage to this magnificent mosque was said to have been on par with a hajj to Mecca.
While you’re in Córdoba, check out the Galeria de la Tortura museum. Perfected over nearly 1,000 years by the Spanish Inquisition, the gruesome range of torture instruments on display leaves nothing to the imagination.
Select from VCMS handpicked resorts in Andalucia
To get the very best out of your stay in Andalucia, we’ve handpicked three resorts from our network conveniently located in Malaga.
Ramada Residence Sierra Marina
Set beside the Mediterranean coast and backdropped by the mighty Sierra de Mijas, Ramada Residence Sierra Marina in Costa del Sol offers easy access to pristine beaches, top restaurants, over 70 golf courses and the region’s famed white villages.
Wyndham Residence San Diego Suites
Wyndham Residence San Diego Suites is set in one of Costa del Sol‘s prettiest spots where the vast Mediterranean or the soaring Sierra de Mijas mountains backdrop every view. The resort includes everything you need to put your feet up, from restaurants and bars to a giant free-form pool and a beautifully done sunbathing terrace.
Wyndham Grand Residence Santa Cruz Suites
With the beach of Playa Peñón del Cura right outside the Wyndham resort, you are perfectly located for regular doses of vitamin sea. The seven kilometre stretch of Fuengirola beach is just a stroll away, or if you’re feeling active, exercise your swing at nearby Chapparel Golf Club, or the view-rich Cerrado del Águila Golf And Resort.