Seville, Cadiz, Granada… such evocative names, conjuring up images of sun-soaked alleyways, white-washed buildings and tables groaning with tapas. In our week-long road trip around Andalucia we saw all of these, but also fields of sunflowers and wind turbines, ancient cathedrals and quiet villages. There’s much more to this region than just the big cities and I’m happy to say that we had a wonderful time combining tourist hotspots with tranquil towns. Here’s where we went – with thanks to Zoe aka Cultural Doodles for the beautiful map!
Day 1: Málaga > Jaén > Baeza > Úbeda > Andujar
We started our road trip around Andalucia in Granada – by immediately heading to Málaga. It was cheaper to catch the early bus back to Málaga and pick the car up there than to hire it out of Granada… so that’s what we did! We then headed out of town down this beautiful colourful boulevard and wound our way along the motorways to Jaén, our first official stop.
Cradled in the hills to the north, Jaén is just over two hours drive from Málaga. We nabbed a (probably) free car park in the Parque de la Concordia and headed to the majestic Cathedral to explore. It didn’t take us long to wander around the centre of the old town, which was extremely quiet – unsurprising on a Sunday! Back down near the Park the atmosphere was livelier, with a street food festival and a band exhorting the audience to dance. At least one little girl took them up on the invitation, cavorting in front of the crowd. We ate sandwiches in the sunshine before jumping back in the car to continue one of our longest days of driving.
I’d spotted the towns of Baeza and Úbeda in my handy-dandy Unesco World Heritage Sites app, and I wouldn’t rest until they were included on the itinerary! Just 40 mins from Jaén, Baeza is famed for its Renaissance heritage, including the beautiful buildings above. Again, as it was Sunday, many of the landmarks were closed, but we stuck our noses into the historic University building dating back to the 1530s, and strolled the near-deserted streets, passing churches and chapels all carved in the distinctive creamy stone.
After the charm of Baeza, Úbeda was not quite as enchanting – less historic buildings to wander past, and a bigger, more modern city centre. If I was taking this trip again I’d just visit Baeza – on a day when more of the sights were open!
Home for the night was a spacious cabin at Apartamentos Turísticos Paraje San Ginés. The location was determined by my mum, who wanted to make the most of the fantastic birding opportunities in the Andújar National Park. Those of us less avian-inclined enjoyed the delicious food and beverages, including this salad of angulas – suprisingly tasty baby eels! If neither of those things take your fancy, it’s only an hour’s drive from here to Córdoba – this would make it a pretty long first day of driving, but still very achievable.
Day 2: Andújar > Córdoba > Seville
Whenever I’m asked my favourite stop on our road-trip around Andalucia, I hesitate. Granada, for the beautiful Alhambra and delicious food? Seville, for the amazing sights? Or my third choice – Córdoba. The Mezquita (above), a beautiful combination of Christian and Muslim worship, alone is worth the visit. But I loved the colourful streets too – my post of our lovely quick visit is here. Less than 2 hours’ drive later and we were in the biggest hotspot of our road-trip – Seville!
Days 3 & 4: Seville
I might be biased, but I think two days is an ideal amount of time to spend in Seville – at least for my first visit! We gazed at the splendor of the Plaza de Espana, ate so much good food, and surveyed the city from the Metropol Parasol. I’ve summed up our two days and my tips in my post here.
Day 5: Seville > Jerez > Cádiz > Zahara de la Sierra
Another action-packed day and a real contrast. After getting a little caught up in a farmers’ protest, the hour’s drive from Seville to Jerez sped by. So much so, that it almost felt too early to get stuck into the sherry… but when in Jerez! Much like in Porto where I tried a range of ports, my favourite was the Oloroso, a tawny-coloured sherry in the middle of the spectrum. My parents opted instead to spend a couple of hours at the Fundación Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Ecuestre, home to Andalucia’s beautiful Carthusian horses, which was, by their account, an equally fulfilling way to spend the time.
It’s only a half-hour drive from Jerez to Cádiz – not even time for a sherry-induced nap. It was boiling hot when we arrived so we only had a quick wander through the old town before opting to hide from the sun in one of the many seafood restaurants located near the central Mercado on the tip of the peninsula. The fresh tuna and mussels were delicious, and the walk along the sea-front wall after blew away all remaining sherry-cobwebs! Then it was back to the car for our final destination of Day 5 – Zahara de la Sierra.
Days 6 & 7: Ronda and Zahara de la Sierra
Ronda was another spot that I begged to have included in our itinerary, and it dovetailed nicely with the family wish to spend some time out of the big cities. We explored the beautiful old town in a morning, spending quite some time marvelling at the 100m drop in the central gorge – check out my post here for more!
And then it was almost time to hit pause! Zahara de la Sierra is another teeny town, about 2 hours drive from Cádiz. Our home for the next two nights was the beautiful farmstay Cinco Lunas, which I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re wanting a bit of an escape.
I read three books in our time there, mostly in the hammock by the river, and even wrote some of my own (publishing date TBA…) It was a welcome change of pace from the cross-country drives and big-ticket sites that we had experienced up til that point. If you’d like to try it for yourself, you can get £25 off your first Air BnB rental here (I’ll get a little boost for my next booking too!)
The most strenuous thing we did (and in 35C it was strenuous) was climb to the very top of the castle pictured earlier, for these panoramic views over the town and surrounding countryside. The lake really was that turquoise – just incredible!
Day 7: Zahara de la Sierra > Granada
Rejuvenated from Zahara, we headed back to Granada to spend the weekend alternately sightseeing and stuffing ourselves – a combination I’m very fond of! Granada is best known for the historic Alhambra palaces but there’s so much more to see and do there – my guide to the city is here.
So what worked and what didn’t?
- You’ll have noticed our itinerary was pretty tailored to my family’s tastes, with two breaks from the big cities. This might not be to your liking if you’re all about the hustle and bustle, or if you have a more limited time-frame. It worked for us because it kept everyone happy, but it was also such a great contrast, and a respite!
- However, if I’d had more time, I would have added an extra day to Córdoba (or at least stayed the night) and also spend more time exploring the coast, which we barely touched
- Although I didn’t do any of the actual driving, it was pretty cruisy (barring a couple of mechanical mishaps) – the roads were generally really good, even when out in the countryside. You could also do most of this trip by train, if you didn’t want to hire a car – we only took the train from Andújar to Córdoba (while Mum was out bird-watching!) but that was really easy too.
What do you think – have I convinced you to road-trip Andalucia?
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