27 September 2021
It's always sunny in Andalusia
On the southernmost coast of Spain lies Andalusia, a region of immense natural beauty. At 87,268 km², this sun-baked region comprised of eight provinces finds itself bordered by the autonomous communities of Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura in the north and Murcia to the East, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in the south, and Portugal to the west.
Home to 8.4 million souls, there’s no place quite like Andalusia. This sun-kissed Spanish region is the place where opulent palaces tell stories of wealthy Moorish kings, and where the passion of flamenco dancing is woven into the very fabric of each Andalusian’s everyday life. Here lies the true essence of Spain: intricately cobbled lanes twist through whitewashed villages, the spires of majestic cathedrals fly high into blue skies, and buzzing neighbourhood tapas bars hum with the sound of locals. The location is blessed with pristine beaches and small villages that have remained untouched for centuries. It is a region of snow-covered peaks, blonde beaches, and an abundant array of woodlands. Whether you’re admiring a masterpiece of Moorish architecture, taking in the region’s endless natural beauty, or relaxing on charming coastlines that overflow with quaint charm, there’s no better place to capture the romance and drama of Southern Spain than in Andalusia.
The sunniest place in Europe, Andalusia sees more than 300 days of sunshine a year - that’s about 8 hours a day! It’s one of the warmest regions in Spain with an average daily high temperature of 24°C, so whether you’re looking to relax on the coastline or explore the region’s rich cultural heritage, look forward to doing it in the best weather you can imagine!
What makes Andalusia, Andalusia?
1. A layered history
Andalusia is a region built on a rich historical legacy. Its story is one of contrasts: of nations conquered and political instability, but also of prosperity, interweaving cultures and flourishing art. It’s a tale told clearly in each brick of this sun-soaked region’s buildings. Today an autonomous Spanish community, Andalusia’s richly layered archaeological and architectural history serve as a reminder of the region’s previous rulers. Olive trees cover the Andalusian hillside, a throwback to when the region was home to Roman supplies of olive oil and wine. Once considered one of the most prosperous parts of the Roman Empire, today the ruins of Roman temples, baths and amphitheatres tell the tale of Moorish conquerors... Málaga’s Amphitheatre - plundered by the Moors, who used the columns to reinforce the walls and foundations of their mighty Alcazaba - still stands strong, a reminder of the endless fight for control over Andalusia.
Though the Romans left an indelible mark on the region, that of the Moors is probably the most striking thing about Andalusia. The Moors were Muslims who crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Tangier (now in Morocco) and invaded southern Spain, succeeding in taking the nation as their own and tying Andalusia’s history with that of the North African coast until the end of the 15th century. Perhaps that is why the narrow, twisted streets of old cities across the region are so reminiscent of those in Morocco…
Despite the political instability of the time, the Moorish period is known as something of a “golden age” in Andalusia, bringing with it economic prosperity and a brilliant cultural flowering. The Moorish occupation brought with it a wealth of culture in mathematics, poetry, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, architecture and music. Agriculture, mining, and industry flourished as never before, and the region carried on rich economic ties with North Africa and the Levant. Andalusia created centres of learning and sophistication unrivalled anywhere in Europe.
The cities became celebrated centres of Muslim architecture, science, and learning, with street lighting, paved streets and sewage drains, hammam baths, libraries, musical and artistic excellence, not to mention toothpaste and deodorant, at a time when the rest of Europe was still emerging from the Dark Ages. Even some of the crops grown in Andalusia today, such as sugarcane, almonds, and apricots, were introduced by the Arabs!
Perhaps the best places to see the remnants of the area are in Andalusia’s three Moorish capitals: Seville, Córdoba and Granada.
Set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Alhambra in Granada stands as a remarkable monument to Moorish culture. Once a fortified citadel, this palace is more well known as the opulent seat of Granada’s emirs - or kings - from the Nasrid Dynasty. Their palaces - the 14th-century Palacios Nazaríes - together with the Generalife gardens, are among the finest Islamic buildings in Europe. Interestingly though, the Alhambra and so many other Andalusian monuments serve to highlight the intermingling of both Muslim and Christian architecture as the two religions fought for control of the region.
Following the 1492 Reconquista (Christian reconquest), the Alhambra’s mosque was replaced by a church and the Habsburg emperor Charles V had a wing of palaces demolished to make space for the huge Renaissance building that still bears his name. In the early 19th century, French Napoleonic forces destroyed part of the palace and attempted to blow up the entire site. Restoration work began in the mid-1800s and continues to this day.
In Seville, a giant Gothic cathedral dominates the city centre - the largest of its kind on the planet. Seville Cathedral, which stands on the same site where the city’s mosque once did, serving as a magnificent tribute to Catholic dominion. The imposing cathedral serves as a reminder, not just of the prestige and wealth Seville had accrued by the time of its completion in 1507, but also of the triumph of Christianity over the vanquished Moorish kings.
Meanwhile, the Alcázar palace is a brilliant marriage of Christian and Muslim architecture. Fans of Game of Thrones will recognise this breathtaking monument as the Water Gardens of Dorne, but the Alcázar has been around far longer than any TV show... Originally developed as a fort in 913, the palace has seen a wealth of improvements over its 11 centuries of life. Its crowning glory - the Palacio de Don Pedro - was only added in the 14th century!
In Córdoba, the Mosque-Cathedral known as Mezquita serves as a stunning monument to the two religions and cultures that have shaped Andalusia: Islam and Christianity. A Renaissance church sits right on top of what was once the most important mosque in the Islamic kingdom, the perfect symbol of the constant battle between the two religions in Andalusia. It’s an unusual sight, but one you have to see!
Good to know: The Mezquita mosque’s focal point is a shell-shaped prayer niche, built in the 10th century. The mihrab traditionally faces Mecca. However, the Mosque of Cordoba’s mihrab faces south and not south-east, where Mecca is supposed to be.
2. Adventure in Andalusia
For all its spectacular history, Andalusia has a surprising amount to offer for our thrill-seeking Journee Explorers out there... The wild but beautiful Costa de la Luz is one of Spain’s favourite summer playgrounds; this blustery stretch of the Atlantic coast is home to stiff winds that make it a great spot for kiteboarding, windsurfing, or just plain surfing! Home to gorgeous fine sand beaches and backed by picturesque whitewashed villages, the beach is frequented by a whole range of bohemians, naturists and water-sports enthusiasts. The coast stretches northwest from Tarifa, home to fun-loving kitesurfers, windsurfers, SUP-ers and beach-lovers from all over the globe, so it’s no surprise that outdoor activities of all kinds thrive here!
If you’re looking for something a little more slow-paced, Andalusia is home to some amazing hiking trails. We send people hiking in the breathtaking Sierra Nevada mountain range: a trekker’s paradise, with trails of all difficulties set among some of the most stunning mountain scenery. This is a world of high-flying, snow-capped peaks and deep valleys far away from the lively beaches of Andalusia. Outside of the Alps, the Sierra Nevada has some of the highest peaks in western Europe. It’s a small mountain range, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in altitude with over 25 peaks above 3000m!
For the thrill-seeking hiker, the Caminito del Rey - or King’s Pathway makes for an exhilarating trek. This wooden pathway sits on the side of sheer cliffs in the Chorro gorge, 100 metres above the river. Originally intended to provide access to a nearby dam for hydro workers, it gained huge popularity as a walking trail in 1921, after the eponymous Spanish King Alfonso XIII walked it. Though it’s entirely safe now, the walkway was actually closed between 2000 and 2015 as it was considered too dangerous for all but the bravest to walk, so if you’re scared of heights, we’d suggest giving this one a miss...
Good to know: Tarifa was the first point of invasion by the Moors in Andalusia. It’s just 30 minutes away from Morocco, where the Moors came from - in fact, you can actually see Tangier from Tarifa!
3. Landscapes galore...
Andalusia is home to a wealth of natural beauty, with landscapes diverse enough to make this region unlike any other in Spain. Cliffs, idyllic white-sand beaches, sand dunes and an abundance of unique wildlife make up this stunning region’s legacy.
Head to Playa de Bolonia - or Bolonia beach - in Tarifa to discover one of the last virgin beaches in Andalusia. This dreamy 4km stretch of powder-white sand and clear turquoise water is backed by pine forest and is home to one of the tallest sand dunes in Europe. Considered a natural monument since the year 2001, the beach’s giant sand dune is more than 30 meters high and 200 meters wide - locals and tourists alike love sliding down the dunes from the summit! Thanks to the beach’s strong easterly winds, the dune is unique in that it is one of few that constantly advances inland, so if you happen to visit Andalusia more than once, you may find it somewhere different than the last time you saw it! Just steps away from Bolonia beach are the ancient ruins of Baelo Claudia - one of the best examples of Roman urban architecture on the Iberian Peninsula.
But Andalusia is so much more than pristine coastline and towering sand dunes; the region has practically every landscape you can imagine. Deserts contrast with the region’s glacial valleys and snow-capped tops; deciduous forests stand proud against stark karst landscapes, and the Andalusian coastline is a patchwork of protected parks, including the wildlife-rich marshes of Doñana where you can find the Iberian Lynx and flamingos.
Good to know: The Iberian lynx is the world’s second most endangered species, with an expected wild population of somewhere between 300 and 400 - its wild population has declined by over 80% in the past 20 years.
4. The yummiest food
Spain is already well-known for its cuisine, but Andalusia is really for the foodies. Food varies hugely across the region - with each province having its own signature dish. It’s no wonder then, that foodie tours are one of the top things to do in Andalusia. Jaen is famous for its mountains and olive trees - here you can buy the tastiest, locally sourced olive oil. Huelva and Cadiz are both famous for their tuna and seafood, and you’ll find “chiringuitos” all along the coastline of these seafront cities. Chiringuitos are fish restaurants that can be found near most Andalusian beaches. They serve all kinds of spectacular seafood dishes, including espeto de sardinas: skewers of fresh sardines barbecued over hot coals and garnished with lemon and olive oil.
Tapas bar crawls are something the locals in Andalusia love - whether you’re in Seville or Granada. Granada in particular though, is renowned for its unrivalled tapas scene... I can’t help but think that has something to do with the fact that each drink comes with a free tapas dish!
Fun fact: Tapas originated in Andalusia, and it’s one of the region's most popular ways to eat - locals substitute tapas for dinner to stay sober while drinking and stay out for longer!
5. The birthplace of flamenco
Is there any better way to immerse yourself in traditional Spanish culture than with a flamenco show in Andalusia? The ancestral music of the Roma people weaves together with Spanish folk dance to create the seductive art form that we know today. Flamenco can be experienced all over Andalusia, but its roots are said to lie in the three western cities of Seville, Cádiz and Jerez de la Frontera - so head to these cities for the most authentic experience.
In Cádiz, you’ll find a series of intimate music venues, where talented dancers showcase the city’s uniquely upbeat style of flamenco: alegrías. Jerez is home to Andalusia’s only flamenco research centre, an annual flamenco festival held in February, and countless authentic peñas: private clubs where you can see live flamenco performances. In Andalusia’s capital, Seville, you’ll find the broadest sweep of flamenco talent - from the pricier tablaos (dinner shows), down to spontaneous shows on the street while you enjoy a drink in the Roma-flavoured Triana district. You can even check out Seville’s very own flamenco museum!
Fun fact: Castanets are not part of traditional flamenco; they are an element that has been added to enhance the finger-snapping. These wooden percussion instruments are more than 3,000 years old and over time have become an iconic symbol of Spanish Flamenco.
Good to know
Andalusia is the only region in all of Europe that touches both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean! Driving from one side of the region to another can take 5+ hours, so keep this in mind when planning your itinerary.
In Andalusia, and across Spain, both lunch and dinner are eaten considerably later than in other parts of the world. Lunch is usually had around 2pm, while people don’t eat dinner until 9 or 10pm.
After a big lunch, people in Spain traditionally take an afternoon nap – or “siesta” – to pass the hottest part of the day. Most shops and businesses shut down for the siesta, so keep this in mind when planning your days. However, exploring around 2pm can be quite nice as the streets are much quieter at this time of the day.
Public transport in Andalusia is great. Buses can take you from one city or town to the next, and when you’re in the cities, driving isn’t really necessary. Some places like Cordoba and Ronda are easy enough to explore on foot, while bigger cities have local buses, and even a metro in the case of Seville.
Culture culture culture everywhere
Andalusia is insanely cultured; its layered history lends itself to a spectacularly rich modern culture within the region. Whether you’re enjoying the monuments, a flamenco show or just the food, a trip to Andalusia does not disappoint - in fact, I’m willing to bet it’s one of those places you’ll want to visit again and again...