Madrid, Barcelona. These are among the most well-known and sought after vacation spots in Spain. But there is another region, one on the Mediterranean that deserves equal time: Andalucia. Here, tourists will find a golden land, filled with things to do that even experienced travelers will find new and surprising.
There is the mighty port city of Cadiz, in the province of the same name. With roots stretching back to the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago, it’s no surprise that the sights cover the period since. The fine arts museum and the famed cathedral, completed in the 19th century, are only two of the more recent.
In Jerez de la Frontera, also part of Cadiz province, there is the Real Escuela Andaluz del Arte Ecuestre horse show. The horses are young, but their ancestors have been part of this region for thousands of years. Some of the bodegas have been making sherry for nearly that long, too.
Even older are the famed caves of Nerja near Malaga. Discovered only in 1959, they have been the subject of archaeological exploration ever since. But one need not be Indiana Jones to appreciate the fascinating stalactites, one of which is nearly 100 feet high. For those who enjoy more modern delights, the opportunity to hear a contemporary concert inside a billion-year-old cave is an experience not to be missed.
On the other hand, Malaga Cathedral may not be anywhere near so ancient, but the views within are just as awe-inspiring. While exploring things old and new, don’t miss seeing the Alcazaba fortress here, either, which contains a bit of both. The fortress dates ‘only’ from the Moorish occupation of the Middle Ages. But the Roman amphitheater nearby dates from the 2nd century AD.
Religious architecture is abundant in Ronda. The Espiritu Santo, begun in 1485, is only the beginning of the marvels to be found here. The Santa Maria La Mayor provides a good look at the transition between Moorish and Spanish Renaissance, especially since it took nearly 200 years to complete.
Speaking of interesting mixtures, visitors curious about Spain’s heritage will want to spend time in Cordoba. Another of Andalucia’s historic cities, it rose to prominence during the five-century Moorish occupation. There’s no more fascinating example of what can be seen here than The Mezquita (Spanish for ‘mosque’). Built on a torn down Visigothic church, it is acknowledged as one of the world’s finest instances of Islamic architecture anywhere.
Next door is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, a fortress built by those who drove the Moors south during the long Reconquest. Begun in 1328, it has been the site of everything from the grandeur of Queen Isabella receiving Christopher Columbus before he sailed to the beginning of the dreaded Inquisition.
La Juderia, the ancient Jewish quarter nearby, is equally deserving of a visit. This maze of narrow streets holds a 14th-century synagogue that is among the wonders of the medieval world. It offers also modern delights in the form of many of the city’s best cafes and bars.
Fortresses dot Spain, just as they do much of Europe. But few are as fascinating as one in Granada: The Alhambra. Built during the mid-14th century, it is set atop a terrace over 2,400 feet high. The views looking up at it or down from it are both amazing.
Then there is, ahh… hardly last, Sevilla. A ‘mere’ 2,500 years old, it too is filled with some of the most spectacular sights not only of Spain but all Europe.
The 16th-century mansion here called Casa de Pilatos holds everything from Greek and Roman statues to paintings by Goya. Not to be outdone, there is the world-famous alcazar. This series of palaces that combine Mudejar, Gothic and Baroque elements is often voted among the architectural wonders of the world by experts.
Sevilla also offers one of the continent’s best-kept fine arts museum secrets: the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes. Francisco de Zurbaran is only one of many Spanish masters with works on display here.
Come to Andalucia a few days before Easter and you’ll be treated to the sights and sounds of Semana Santa, the Holy Week. During the festival you’ll be treated to one of Spain’s most exciting events.
In a land that offers so many, that’s a difficult claim to live up to. Visit Andalucia and see why it’s no idle boast.