Aside from my biased love for Italy, Spain was the country which I adored most in Europe. Last time I managed to hit most of the hot-spots but this time around, I was keen to venture slightly off the main route. The best way to do this was obviously to hire a car; cue Panda, our wheels for the week. Our nominated driver was Andy (supposedly due to experience but probably more because of his calm head) and it certainly was a not a stress-free week: 1) driving on the right hand side of the road; 2) in a manual; 3) through the tiny warren-like streets; and 4) relying solely on Google Maps could be described as an absolute recipe for disaster! Although tension sometimes ran high, we definitely made it out the other side okay and saw SO much more of the Spanish coast than we ever could have with just public transport. We did a return trip from Sevilla, and here is a list of the places we visited in between:
Narrow cobble-stoned streets and white buildings aplenty, Cordoba was our first stop in Panda. Keeping things easy, we parked on the edge of town and made the short walk to a cute and colourful cafe, Maddow, for a deliciously fresh lunch. The Mezquita in Cordoba is certainly one of its main attractions: with both Muslim and Catholic influences across time it is both interesting and beautiful to the eye. The candy-cane striped pillars and interior make for a spectacular sight. We liked Cordoba even more after we discovered Califa, a micro-brewery serving some of the best beer we’ve had in a long while. So good, we even bought some to take with us to Granada. A quick stop in at La Tarterie for road-trip cookies (not that they lasted that long) and we were on our way.
Of course. What is a trip to Andalucia without a visit to Granada? Our trip was centred around our visit to the Alhambra, which was easily one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited in my life. Frustratingly (i.e not without stress), our accommodation was located in the heart of the city meaning that when we parked our car it wasn’t to be touched again until we left! We were very central though, which definitely made for convenient exploring by foot. Food highlights were Moroccan tapas at Papas Elviras (cheap, filling and fresh – all I ever ask for) and traditional Andalucian tomate tostadas at Cafe 4 Gatos (chilled jazz cafe with views of the Alhambara).
Beach time baby! Strangely, our visit here was due to a recommendation by my brother (which is weird in itself, but also he’d never even been here). We were very grateful however, as it proved to be a lovely day out. The European Balcony is the main sight to see, but just walking around and admiring the coastal views was enough to keep us happy. Stumbling across the Nerja Bookcentre was a real gem of a find: it presents itself as a strong contender for the best secondhand bookshop EVER! We found a free car-park on the outskirts of town, so after a deliciously yummy and healthy lunch at GoodStuff Cafe we wandered down to Playa de la Torrecilla for our daily dose of sunshine and saltwater.
Alora / Caminito del Ray
A casual conversation with an ex-colleague resulted me insisting that the Caminito hike be added to our itinerary. It sells out fast: we tried to book 3 months in advance and all we could get was a (Spanish) guided tour for an extra $8. Ironically, and conveniently, we couldn’t find our guide anywhere so we ended up guiding ourselves (which in this case, we would have paid more to do anyway!). The 2.5 hour walk was absolutely incredible; easy, with stunning scenery. We kept trying to pick which view would be the highlight and were happy when we realised the best had been saved for last.
To do the hike, we opted to stay the night prior in Alora. It was about a 30 minute drive from the starting point and not being so main-stream meant is was some of the cheapest accommodation of our trip. Also, it was here we enjoyed my favourite meal the trip: drinks and a huge variety of tapas for a mere €12.50.
One of my favourite stops throughout the week, all I knew of Ronda was its famous bridge (the Ponte Nuevo). Ronda has all the qualities that could make it an over-populated tourist town, except for the tourists. Staying outside the Old Town slashes the prices on virtually everything, however exploring the Old Town is obviously one of the main reasons for going. We did a self-conducted tour and it only took a few short hours to cover everything, including a break to celebrate New Zealand’s semi-final win in the Cricket World Cup. A good breakfast was indulged in at at Cafe de Agata, before tripping on out.
It seems as though the white towns dusting the Andalucian hills are all but one: Júzcar, aka the ‘smurf-town’. I had never heard of it and was shocked to realise that the town was commissioned by Sony to be painted blue in 2011 to promote the release of the Smurfs movie. Tourism sky-rocketed, so to this day it remains blue. Added to the mix are enormous cartoon statues of Papa Smurf and Smurfette, a number of art pieces and graffiti walls as well as a range of activities for children. It is a 30 minute drive from Ronda along a rather gnarly road and it took us less than an hour to see the town by foot. A fun afternoon activity but by all means, not a must-see!
Arcos de Frontera
Well this was a little slice of paradise that neither of us were expecting. In fact, it ended up being a holiday from our holiday. A darling Air BnB situated on an olive grove with two doting dogs that couldn’t get enough of us – this change of pace made for the perfect last stop on our wee roadie. We stayed outside of the sprawling hill-side village which meant we could give Panda (and Andy) a break from the tight turns and narrow one way streets. Our two nights here provided the perfect setting for delicious home-cooked meals on the deck and enabled us to recharge our batteries fully before we beginning the next leg of our trip: Portugal.