The winter months in el campo can sometimes feel a bit dull, and so it’s a great time to visit the beautiful cities of Andalucia. Hilary and I each have our favourites, but actually all the big cities around us are beautiful, steeped in history, and very much with their own character. So here’s a description of the big ones near us – through my eyes and so definitely not a tourist guide – of what makes these cities really special. And when you’re in the middle of a grey day in the countryside, it’s exhilarating to experience the buzz and bright lights of city life with lots of people around. Though afterwards it’s also fantastic to return to our calm and peaceful place in el campo.
Because we live in Cordoba province, our administrative centre for getting things done is the city of Cordoba. And so we’ve been to Cordoba more than any of the other big Andalucian cities, and each time we go, we like it more. It has a big river flowing through the middle, and even in the height of summer there’s plenty of water. The bridge crossing the river overlooks the Mezquita and at night-time it’s all lit-up – a beautiful sight.
The Mezquita is a big mosque converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral, and so Moorish and Christian architecture are placed together in one building, which truly is awe inspiring. Cordoba also has a castle and castle gardens, and there are hundreds of little streets and courtyards, full of restaurants and little shops. If you manage to get to the mosque and castle before 9.30 am, the entry is free. Cordoba is a great day out, though avoid the middle of summer: it is also known as ‘la sarten de Andalucia’ (the frying pan of Andalucia), and usually many degrees warmer than other parts of the region.
Ok, I’ll be honest and not hide the fact that Granada is my all-time favourite Andalucian city. Let me try to describe why. Much of Granada has been built in Moorish times, and for me the most interesting parts are the Alhambra citadel and palace created by sultans, and the old white-washed part of town (the Albacin) built on a hill opposite the Alhambra. And all this with a view over the snowy Sierra Nevada. I’ve visited Granada at different times of the year, and it’s always brilliant.
What’s special to me is the climb through the small streets and alleys of the Albacin – you can often hear flamenco music emanating from the houses, and there are a number of lovely tree-lined squares with little eateries and a superb view over the Alhambra against the backdrop of the mountains.
And then there’s the Alhambra itself … wow! The architects designed it so that water is running through the courtyards of the buildings, and you can hear the sound of water wherever you go. The colourful gardens are also enchanting. You need to buy tickets well in advance on a website that’s not particularly user (tourist) friendly, and it once took me 30 minutes to book 4 tickets …! If you go in the summer, get there as early as possible in the day to avoid the crowds of tourists and the immense heat.
I was once asked by a friend where in Spain he could take his wife for a long weekend, and without question Malaga is the place, because it has a small and lively town centre which is near to the airport. Malaga has a fab combination of lush parks, an old town with a castle and beautiful cathedral, and a very busy port area, with cruise ships and pleasure yachts lying next to each other in the harbour. A great combination of things to see, nice places for dinner and a beach to boot!
Malaga hosts some of the very best fiestas with music and dance performances on every square, and if you happen to be there for La Noche en Blanco on 17 & 18 May this year, you really are in for a treat, though you might not get much sleep!
Ah, Sevilla … what a lovely city! Full of life, and full of restaurants, cute little squares and great individual shops. A few years ago, the town authorities built a most extraordinary structure in the middle of the town market square. Try to picture this: a giant construction looking like a cross between a massive mushroom and ocean waves, towering above the houses and churches. Doesn’t sound so great in writing, but it really is a great feature and starting point for exploring Sevilla, because from the top of the mushroom/waves you get a fab 360 degree view of the whole town.
There’s also a beautiful cathedral (as you’d expect in any self-respecting Andalucian city), a lot of parks and the Plaza de Espana, a massive square with imposing buildings all around. Surprisingly, these are still used as government offices, and the Plaza is also the location for lots of music festivals.
Other beautiful cities of Andalucia
There are so many more places that are beautiful near where we live. There’s Antequera (also a real favourite of mine), Archidona (named Archi Donuts by our friends), Priego de Cordoba, Cadiz, Ronda and many others. Living near to so many historic places is a real privilege, and just writing this blog now makes me realise yet again what a fantastic country we live in!