Pack your bags for Andalusia in southern Spain, a vibrant cornucopia of ancient cities, sun drenched beaches, stunning mountainous landscapes and culinary delights. Here are five wonderful destinations you need to visit.
The ancient capital of Andalusia on the Guadalquivir River, Seville’s rich architecture and fascinating culture reflects centuries of Roman, Arabic, and Jewish influence. In the city’s central square you’ll find Seville’s gargantuan Gothic cathedral, the largest in the world. Its crypt houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus, renowned explorer and discoverer of the Americas. Climb the steps of La Giralda, the cathedral’s 320 feet high bell tower which is a unique fusion of Roman and Moorish architecture. At the top you’ll enjoy vertiginous views across the city. Wander the atmospheric winding alleys and sun bleached squares of Barrio de Santa Cruz and lively Triana, where you’ll find authentic tapas bars and impromptu displays of flamenco music.
Spanning the provinces of Almeria and Granada, the Alpujarras lie on the Sierra Nevada’s southern slopes. Beloved by hikers and climbers, you’ll need a car to explore this spectacular landscape of jutting mountains, olive groves and beautiful whitewashed villages hugging the hillside. The spa town of Lanjaron is gateway to the Alpujarras, and famed for its mineral water. Fill your bottle at one of the town’s water fountains, visit the ruins of the Moorish castle, and enjoy a mud bath or massage at the thermal spa. Visit the lovely village of Trevelez, the highest town in the Alpujarras at 4,800 feet above sea level and renowned for its award winning air cured Jamon Serrano.
The vibrant city of Granada perches in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Wander the Albacin, a maze of meandering cobbled streets and tiny squares, and drink in idyllic views of the Alhambra and surrounding rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada from Plaza San Nicolas. Tuck into the city’s celebrated tapas: the cuisine originated in Granada and traditionally comes free with each drink you order (custom was to place a miniature snack over your glass to keep flies at bay). And above all, make sure you visit the magnificent Alhambra. The ancient Moorish palace and UNESCO world heritage site is a pinnacle of Islamic architecture in Europe, and otherworldly in serenity, beauty, and design.
Cabo de Gata Natural Park, Almeria
The striking volcanic landscape of Almeria’s Cabo de Gata Natural Park harbours a glorious stretch of undeveloped coastline. The largest protected wilderness in the Mediterranean, the park boasts over 30 miles of unspoilt sandy beaches and deserted coves. This corner of southeast Spain receives the lowest rainfall in Europe and is synonymous with the spiky aloe vera plants which flourish in the rocky desert terrain alongside wild thyme and rosemary. The area is a draw for hikers and birdwatchers, and you can enjoy boat excursions, scuba diving, kayaking and swimming off its unspoilt shores. The pretty fishing town of San Jose is the main tourist hub, with an array of eateries and accommodation plus a sandy beach. From here you can follow the footpath to the pristine golden sands of Playa Los Genoveses.
On a tiny peninsula in southwest Andalusia lies the 3,000 year port city of Cadiz, the oldest settlement in Western Europe. The historic Puerta Tierra gate divides the old city from the new. Inside the ancient walls you’ll find the mediaeval barrio of El Populo. The oldest district of Cadiz houses a roman theatre and baroque/neoclassical cathedral. Take your pick of outdoor restaurants in the popular La Vina neighbourhood. Dine like a local on freshly caught fish and seafood, washed down with a manzanilla or several. Cadiz’s sandy main beach Playa de La Caleta is a lovely spot to catch the sunset and observe fisherman’s boats on the water cast in golden light. With over 75 beaches to choose from, the nearest ones to Cadiz are Playa de la Fontanilla at Conil, a vast 1200m expanse of fine golden sand. Or visit Rota’s Playa de la Ballena, where wooden walkways lead you across the dunes to a long sandy beach fringed by tapas bars.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com