How to Travel around Andalucia, Spain on a Shoestring Budget – Part 2
This is Part II of a two-part post. This section introduces many of the cultural offerings in the areas of Grenada, Cordoba and Jerez. The prior section explores Merida and Ronda, along with travel methods to get here in the first place.
There are many good reasons why millions of people choose to visit Andalucia each year. The landscape is diverse. The people are relaxed and welcoming. The price of accommodation and food is reasonable.
And if all that isn’t enough, there is guaranteed sunshine for eight to nine months of the year. Phew! That’s a lot of temptation right there.
Of Andalucia’s many attractions, highest on the list have to be wine, Flamenco, its history, its beaches and its whitewashed mountain top villages. It’s Andalucia’s unique ability to offer such a wide array of holiday experiences that make it so attractive to so many tourists.
For example, during certain months of the year, February and March, it’s possible to spend the morning skiing in the Sierra Nevada and the evening watching the sunset and drinking cocktails on the beach in Marbella.
Many people have the idea that Sierra Nevada and Marbella are expensive places to visit. That may have been true four or five years ago but today it’s possible to get great deals.
While hotels have discounted their prices in both resorts, the cheapest form of accommodation is a pensión or hostal. Pensiónes are privately owned houses that have rooms to rent. They’re not always easy to find, but stroll around town and look out for the sign hanging over the door.
Hostal is the Spanish word for hostel and many Spanish hostels are very clean and well- equipped. For some great hostel prices and cheaper hotels, check out www.costasur.com. If you do want to go skiing, you can rent skis for €30 a day at www.sierra- nevada.skiset.co.uk.
While Marbella is only a two-hour drive from Sierra Nevada, Granada is much closer. It is a fantastic place to visit any time of the year but the months of winter and spring are best. Because of Granada’s mountain location, it gets very hot in the summertime, which makes sightseeing difficult, but there’s a lot to see in Granada.
Also Granada is a university town so to really sample the atmosphere of the place, it’s best to go while school is in session. Like most Andalucian towns, Granada is a magical mix of modern and medieval, cultural heritage and contemporary cool.
No visit to Granada is complete without a trip to the Alhambra. While the Middle Ages are regarded as Europe’s Dark Age, in Andalucia the presence of the Moors meant that the region was flourishing. The Moors ruled in Granada from 711 to 1492 and the Alhambra is a lasting legacy to their architectural vision.
The Alhambra attracts more than 2 million visitors a year, so this is another reason to go in the quieter winter months. It’s necessary to book your visiting hour in advance. Tickets cost approx. $12, but once you’re inside, you can stay as long as you want.
Originally the Alhambra was a citadel of mansions, smaller houses, baths, schools, mosques, barracks and gardens. Of this only the Alcazaba fortress and Palacios Nazaries remain.
Each of the remaining buildings has an enchanting quality that’s best enjoyed in a quiet moment. The artwork of the tiles is elaborate and the customized fountains are romantic. Yet it is the gardens around the Alhambra and even the walkways up to it that are most colorful and authentic.
If you’d like a further taste of Moorish heritage, next stop on your trip has to be Cordoba. Much like Granada, Cordoba is a sprawling town with a village feel and a lively central old town or Casco Antiguo. Here the Moorish fortress is the Mezquita which is even more magnificent than the Alhambra.
During the Moorish reign of Andalucia, Cordoba was one of the most important cities in the western world. The Moors placed such an importance on Cordoba that it became one of the centers for Muslim learning and culture.
The importance of Cordoba to the Moors explains the opulent magnificence of the Mezquita. It is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Yet it doesn’t get as many visitors as the Alhambra and has a cheaper entrance price, so if you really want to stay off the beaten track, skip Granada and head straight to Cordoba.
After that heavy dose of Moorish history, you’ll probably want to taste some real Andalucian life. If that’s the case, head to Jerez. As well as being a full-flavored Andalucian town, Jerez is famous for its sherry.
No visit here is complete without taking one of the local sherry tours and sampling the local tipple. One of the most famous tours is run by the González Byass company which can be found at www.gonzalezbyass.com. Because of the popularity of these tours, it’s necessary to book in advance but the tour, which is less than $10, includes tapas and Flamenco.
Jerez is also famous for Flamenco and this town gives you the chance to sample the real thing. Head to one of the many peñas or clubs in the old gypsy quarter of Santiago, north of the cathedral. Some of the noted clubs include Peña Los Cernicalos and Peña Antonio Chacón.
After all that activity, history, culture, drinking and dancing, you’ll want a few days to relax. If you’re a nature lover and have a car, you could take the short drive to the Laguna de Medina. This is a small freshwater lake that attracts great numbers of migrating birds returning from northern Europe to Africa. This lake is near another Andalucian town called Medina Sidonia, which is a sleepy mountaintop enclave, great for hiding away from the crowd.
Or you might want to rest your tired feet in salt water. If that’s the case, go south to the unspoiled landscape and beautiful beaches of the Costa de la Luz.
Barbate, a small fishing village, about 80 km east of Cadiz, is known as Franco’s favorite beach destination. While it’s interesting to see and has some great fish restaurants, the town of Puerto de Maria, closer to Cadiz, is much prettier.
With so many locations to visit, without question, the easiest way to get around will be to hire a car. But bus services in Andalucia are reliable and comfortable so both options are viable.
With snow, history, culture, bars, clubs, cathedrals, bodegas, wildlife and beaches, you can see how diverse Andalucia is. Come at the right time of year and there’s no reason why you can’t experience it all, even on a budget.
Be sure to read Part 1 for other Andalucian highlights.