We chose south of Spain for a 2 week trip in April 2022 as it appeared to promise everything– great cuisine, culture, history, beautiful drives with mountains, olive oil farms, vineyards and some sea (if weather permits!). This was our first proper road trip in Europe. Before, this we rented a car for a short part of our Italy trip in Tuscany. Having the car at our disposal really gave us a lot of freedom to explore smaller towns at our own time. It was also perfect to see the very beautiful Spanish countryside. The drives were gorgeous especially with all the flowers in bloom in spring and the blue, clear skies perfectly complimenting the rolling green hills.
Our itinerary covered Seville, Granada and Ronda. Since we landed in Barcelona, we booked a domestic round trip flight to Seville. There are train connections as well but flight was faster and cheaper.
Spain was probably one of our best visits to Europe. The April weather was perfect. It was cool, so not beach weather by any sense but we love the mountains equally and were lucky to see some snow at Sierra Nevada this time of the year. The food was amazing. It was such an incredible experience to savour the very unique Andalusian cuisine. I would go back to some of the restaurants mentioned in this post in a heartbeat. The people were kind and friendly. We met some of the friendliest people on this trip and it was good to see their pride in their food and culture.
I have chalked out our road trip itinerary below. It was the first vacation we took post COVID so its a super relaxed itinerary with very little advanced planning. The pandemic has certainly changed the way I travel!
Seville: We stayed 4 nights here which gave us enough time to acquaint ourselves with this charming city. There were lots of hip cafes and bars near our hotel and it was a comfortable walking distance from the city centre. The best way to explore Seville is by walking through its pretty streets. On the first three days, we visited the Real Alcazar, Seville Cathedral and Plaza de Espana.
Andalucia has a long history of Islamic rule until the Christian Reconquista in 13th century. The mix of cultures is present in various aspects including the buildings, cuisine and art. The Real Alcazar or the Royal Palace of Seville is one such example. It is an Islamic era palace where the Spanish royal family still stays on a visit to the city. It was also the set of ‘Dorne’ in Game of Thrones. The palace and the gardens are beautiful and is supposed to be a smaller version of the Alhambra in Granada. It was very interesting to see how a Christian king was so deeply influenced by Islamic architecture and gave so much artistic freedom to the builders/workers to leave their cultural signage on the building.
We had pre-booked a guided tour of Real Alcazar, and would highly recommend doing so online as the tickets get sold out pretty fast. We booked about a week in advance and still paid a premium. So, booking earlier would be cheaper. We had a delicious lunch at El Librero Tapas y Quesos that serves typical Andalucian tapas and drinks. We tried the orange wine on the staff’s recommendation and it was so good! Seville is full of orange trees but apparently they are too bitter and dry to consume raw. So, they are either used to make marmalades or fortify wines. Our guide at the Alcazar told us that orange marmalade for the late queen Elizabeth was exclusively produced here–not just from the oranges of Seville but specifically from the oranges of the trees in the palace gardens!
After lunch, we went to Plaza Espana (featured in Star Wars as planet Naboo) for a stroll. The weather was pleasant and you can enjoy some good street theatre there.
For Seville Cathedral, we booked a very unique rooftops tour, something we have never seen before. It offers a different perspective, appreciation for the architecture and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We went back to our favourite restaurant in Seville i.e. El Librero for lunch. In the evening, we watched a mesmerising Flamenco performance at Casa de la Memoria. It was an intimate experience; the venue is a refurbished 16th century courtyard house which added to the charm. We were extremely lucky to witness a special performance by La Moneta.
Driving inside the old town in Seville is challenging because streets are so narrow. So, we rented our car from Centauro only on our last night. It was a rainy, stormy day so we could not have done much anyway so we decided to go on a drive (after hot chocolates at our favourite Cafe Piola next door). We drove to Cadiz, stopping at Jerez de la Fronterra for a quick snack. Surprisingly, the stormy weather followed us to all cities but not on the highways where it was mostly clear, blue skies. We had our dinner at a beach front restaurant in Cadiz. I cannot come so close to the sea and not go to the shore. So, despite the weather I walked a bit along the sea shore until the wind was so strong that I could hardly keep my eyes open or walk!
Granada: Our actual road trip started with a scenic drive from Seville to Granada. Olive farms, vineyards, Sierra Nevada mountain range appearing closer as we approach Granda and Nancy Sinatra’s Summer Wine playing in the background–pure bliss!
Emirate of Granada under the Nasrid rule was the last Islamic-rule state in the Iberian peninsula before it was conquered by Catholic monarchs. The Arab influence is stronger here seen in the authentic Lebanese, Moroccan food on offer and the trinkets in souvenir shops. Interestingly, Granada is the only city in Spain where tapas comes free with drinks. The more you drink, the more free food you receive! Well, not so great for slow drinkers like me.
We stayed for 3 nights in the pretty neighbourhood of Albaicin, situated on a hill with sweeping views of the city and Alhambra from its many viewing points (Mirador). The view from our hotel room itself was splendid!
On our first day, we walked around in Albaicin, exploring the various Miradors. We did a self tour at the Royal chapel of Granada and Catedral de Granada where nice audio guides were included as part of the ticket. I was not familiar with Granada’s history so these tours helped me get introduced to the city.
Post lunch, we browsed through the buzzing Grand Bazaar of Granada i.e. Alcaiceria. Originally, this was a range of streets between the Plaza Nueva and Plaza Bib-Rambla, filled with Arab silk stalls, spices and other valuable goods. Nowadays, the only remaining part of the bazaar is the Calle Alcaicería. It is an area with a rich history and local culture where interesting and exotic items are still for sale. We bought few souvenirs and ended our evening with gelatos enjoyed lazily under the shade of trees. For dinner, we had amazing authentic Lebanese food at Samarkand. There are a bunch of such restaurants in Granada that serve authentic middle-eastern food.
On our second day, we had booked a guided tour of Alhambra, Spain’s most famous monument. Similar to Real Alcazar, purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended as they sell out pretty fast. Alhambra is a well preserved, massive Nasrid-era palace and fortress complex with exquisite interiors and ornate gardens. It is located on a hilly outcrop so the views of the city and Sierra Nevada mountain range from the palace and gardens is stunning.
On our third day, we joined a small group tour of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We spent the day hiking, looking at the mountain flora, and admiring the beautiful peaks. The highest peak, Mulhacen, was elusive and hidden under clouds but we got good views of the lower peaks. It was incredible to see the change in scenery–the greens when we started from Granada, browns as we moved further up and sheets of snow at the second highest peak of Veleta. Enjoying some cold mountain liquor followed by hearty Lentejas at the peak was a totally surreal experience.
Ronda: The drive from Granada to Ronda was most beautiful. Stunning green fields and hills dotted with flowers, rivers, and windmill farms. Ronda itself is something out of a fairy tale–stunning landscape with hills in the backdrop, plenty of hiking opportunities, lovely food and lots of Spain’s quintessential laid-back vibe. We stayed here for two nights and wished we could stay longer, in part due to our amazing hotel. While planning the trip, I was a bit torn between Malaga and Ronda so I am glad I chose Ronda.
The town is split into half by the El Tajo gorge with three bridges connecting the old and the new town. The bridges are an architectural marvel considering the dangerous cliffs and the fact that lives were lost in their construction. Ronda is also the birth place of bullfighting, something we don’t endorse, but for those who are interested you can take a tour of the fighting ring.
We hiked the gorge, walking the entire loop which takes you down and then back up towards the new town while providing great views of the gorge and the bridge. Throughout the walk, we saw lush green valleys, flower fields, vineyards, olive oil farms, cute sheep grazing with the herder and many more. It was such an exhilarating walk in the nature. While walking back up, we wanted to buy some wine from one of the vineyards but they were closed. However, when the owner saw that we were at the gate, he gave us a private tour and helped us with some recommendations on which wine to buy. Such generosity! The wine cellar used to be a church previously and the old frescoes were still intact. Our hike was followed by superb lunch at El Lechuguita, a great recommendation by our Sierra Nevada guide, and Paella dinner at Las Maravillas.
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