Malaga is a perfect starting point for your holiday in Andalucia, with its huge choice of flights arriving from all around Europe, its superb beaches, and its midway position between fascinating cities to visit in the region...
Long Weekend - Malaga & Hilltop Villages
Malaga boasts more museums than any other Andalucian city (over 30), as well as superb tapas bars and shops. In a three-day weekend, you can explore the city, and also visit some of the beautiful hilltop villages and unspoiled seaside towns nearby.
Start off at the Cathedral, known as La Manquita (one-armed woman) because it only has one tower. Your next port of call should be the Picasso Museum (Museopicassomalaga.org); the artist was born in the city and you can also visit his house. Just behind is the Roman amphitheatre, and above that, up a steep hill, is the Alcazaba Moorish fortress - a climb through history worth the effort for the superb views of the city and port. After a well-earned rest, if you're there in summer, be sure to try an espeto (stick) of barbequed sardines at a chiringuito (beach restaurant). Foodies shouldn't miss the Atarazanas Market, while shoppers will love Muelle Uno, the new pier development with designer stores and artesan shops. Stay at central Room Mate Larios (Larios.room-matehotels.com), on Malaga's main shopping street with its chic rooftop terrace bar offering fantastic views - great for an evening drink.
Drive west along the coastline (either the inland motorway or the smaller, quieter coast road) to the market town of Velez-Malaga, with its Moorish castle. From here, head inland to explore the hilly region of La Axarquia with its pretty white villages such as Frigiliana. Reached along a windy hill road from Velez-Malaga, with steep, narrow streets and bright flowers on pure-white houses, this is considered the most picturesque village in Spain. Look out for the vineyards where muscatel grapes are grown to make the famous sweet Malaga wine. Then go back down to the coast - Nerja is a popular, though thankfully unspoiled, seaside resort town with a spectacular clifftop promenade, a variety of beaches and some prehistoric caves; eat at unpretentious locals' favourite Los Barriles. From here it's an easy half-hour drive along the fast, inland motorway (toll), or more relaxed, scenic local road, back to Malaga.
One Week - Sherry and Moorish Treasures
With one week, you have plenty of time to explore the historic and culturally vibrant city of Malaga (see Long Weekend suggestions, above), and check out some of the quirky museums too. For car-lovers, there's the Malaga Automobile Museum, with a fashion section for the ladies (no sexual stereotyping there). The city also boasts a wine museum (Museovinomalaga.org) and a contemporary art museum (Cacmalaga.eu) showing big international names, to mention just a few.
Head inland up a long hilly section of motorway, and then turn right to Granada. Here you can see one of the Spain's most spectacular monuments: the Alhambra - be sure to book your tickets in advance (Alhambradegranada.org). Also worth visiting is the Albaicin, the old Moorish quarter which sprawls up the hill opposite the Alhambra, next to the Douro river - here you'll find the Bañuelo, the old Moorish baths (Spain.info). Stay at the enchanting El Ladron de Agua (Ladrondeagua.com), a 16th-century palace built around a traditional courtyard, by the river, and dine at the Mirador de Morayma (Miradordemorayma.com), with fabulous views of the Alhambra from the terrace.
Then head north-east to Cordoba, the ancient Moorish capital of Spain; visit the mosque within a cathedral - the Mezquita, with its famous stripy brick arches. When in Cordoba, you should try the local speciality, salmorejo, a creamy tomato soup; modern versions include beetroot. Look out for the exquisite flower-filled courtyards for which Cordoba is famous. One stunning hotel is the Palacio del Bailio (Hospes.com), a historic luxury boutique pad with beautiful wall frescoes and original Roman baths.
From Cordoba go south-east to Seville. This is without doubt, Spain's most romantic city. Visit the cathedral, the world's largest gothic basilica, the mudejar Alcazar fortress, and catch a flamenco show. Seville is where tapas were invented, and with 4000 tapas bars in the city, from the traditional, with tiled walls and hanging hams, to the innovative, with ceviche and exotic burgers, you're never far from one. Recommended are Vineria San Telmo, La Pepona, El Antojo and La Azotea. Stay at the charming music-themed Hotel Amadeus (Hotelamadeussevilla.com) in the old quarter, Barrio Santa Cruz.
Now it's time to drive coastwards, stopping first in Jerez de la Frontera, home of sherry and horses. Take a bodega tour, which always ends with a tasting of the fortified wine which is only made in this area of Andalucia. Close by is Cadiz, Europe's oldest city, with sturdy sea fortresses and fabulous seafood; El Faro is a local institution, serving classics like tortillitas de camarones - tiny shrimp omelettes. The Parador, Hotel Atlantico (Parador.es), is a contemporary building with superb sea views, and a spa and chic outdoor pool that looks more Florida than Andalucia.
From Cadiz, either take the mountain road across to the Sierra de Grazalema to Antequera, and then join the motorway to Malaga or alternatively join the longer, more scenic coast road following the Atlantic to Algeciras, then the Mediterranean motorway back to your starting point.
Two Weeks - Beaches & Mountains
With a full two weeks, you can either take the above itinerary (one week) at a more leisurely pace, or add in some extra places to visit. Go east along the Costa Tropical, to Almeria province, home to some of Andalucia's most spectacular, and certainly most undeveloped, beaches - Playas Los Genoveses, Monsul and Carboneras in Cabo de Gata National Park are all pristine. A hotel which makes a good base in Almeria city centre is the hip Plaza Vieja (Plazaviejahl.com), with just 10 bedrooms plus a spa. Afterwards head inland and onto the stunning mountain road which takes you into the Alpujurras, a beautiful region known for its gorgeous scenery and excellent ham, with picturesque villages such as Orgiva and Lanjaron. Then rejoin the main road north to Granada.
Follow the itinerary for one week. After leaving Seville, drive to Jerez and then turn off towards the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, famous for its prawns and manzanilla sherry, with its salty tang. Take a boat across the river estuary to Doñana National Park, a protected wetland home to many rare birds and the Iberian lynx. Stay in a hotel converted from a traditional Andalucian house with a chic modern feel, La Casa Sanlucar - its rooftop terrace overlooks the river.
Continue to Jerez and Cadiz, then follow the smaller road winding past pretty white mountain-top villages to Ronda, with its famous gorge spanned by its bridge. The Parador hotel (Parador.es) overlooks the gorge, with a swimming pool. Heading back down to the sea, the road which zig-zags down the mountain to Marbella has some hair-raising hairpin bends, but as a reward you get superb Mediterranean views. Once you've reached the coast, you can decide whether to take the fast inland toll road, or the smaller coast road along the Costa del Sol, through the glamorous resort of Marbella with its super-deluxe five-star hotels like the famous Marbella Club (Marbellaclub.com), where this favourite hang-out for the rich and famous was born. Then it's back to Malaga again.
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