Spain’s ever popular Costa del Sol has a reputation that precedes it, but before you find your eye wandering away from these well-worn shores, consider five locations that show Andalusia like you’ve never seen it before.
Whitewashed hill towns are ten a penny along the Costa del Sol, but that doesn’t make the really good ones any less splendid. Sayalonga sits comfortably in this category – with its slender little alleys, pretty plazas full of blossoming lilac trees and Arabic architectural leanings – and it certainly makes an appealing stop off on any onward journey along the alluringly named Ruta Sol y Del Vino (Route of Sun and Wine).
Food is one of the Axarquia area’s greatest assets and it would be an error to overlook local delights such as ajoblanco (almond and garlic soup served cold) and migas con habas (marinated breadcrumbs served with sardines), washed down with a little traditional Muscat, all while admiring the natural surroundings. Once full, a stroll around the Moorish museum, circular cemetery and the Fuente del Cid will afford you an insight into the regions rich historical roots.
El Torcal de Antequera
Sometimes billed as Andalusia’s very own Uluru (Ayers Rock), this extraordinary area was once inaccessible on account of its submerged position underneath the Mediterranean Sea. Fortunately, a whole lot of seismic activity over the last 100 million years or so has shifted it up above the waves and into an over-ground attraction worthy of your time.
Aside from the four main rock formations, there’s plenty to see around the site. Animal life is abundant, wild flowers abound and on a clear day you can even make out the African coast from the very top of the park. The nearby community of Villanueva de la Concepción is ideal for any amenities you may need, and is well equipped to house hiking enthusiasts within their welcoming campsites. It too is as old as the hills, as recently unearthed evidence of Roman forts and amphitheatres suggest.
1 hour 7 minutes
Caves of Nerja
Once known as ‘Cueva de las Maravillas’ (The Cave of Wonders) this popular spot to the east of Malaga ensures the legacy of its former name lives on. Within, it houses a record-breaking stalagmite and stalactite column which towers 32 metres above the heads of enthralled spectators, as well as 5km of captivating cave systems formed through eons of natural erosion.
In warmer months, its atmospheric atriums play host to music festivals and other events attracting an eclectic crowd of citizens and sightseers alike. In 2012, an even greater discovery was made when paintings thought to date back to the Palaeolithic era caused a major stir in archaeological circles.
Natural Reserve Laguna de Fuente de Piedra
A bit of a mouthful though it may be, this spectacular lake happens to be the largest in all of Andalusia, and can therefore call itself whatever it wants. Known as a mecca for birdlife of all shapes and sizes, the four mile long lagoon is most famous for its fabulous flamingo population, which comes to breed in the ideally suited environment.
The adjacent nature reserve is obviously a haven for the ornithologically inclined, but also offers a great chance for families to get out in the fresh air, stretch the legs and see a truly different side to much of Spain’s typical terrain.
Alhambra & Pico Veleta
Once described by a Medieval poet as ‘a pearl set in emeralds’ the striking settlement of Alhambra has been the inspiration for more than one gifted artist or two in its time. A true treasure of the Iberian Peninsula, this UNESCO favoured town comes replete with cultural highlights, from the resplendence of the Charles V Palace to the grandeur of Generalife Gardens.
Drive another twenty miles or so, on a winding course towards the mountains, and you’ll find yourself on the sweeping plains of the Sierra Nevada. Adventurous types can then choose to trek on, climbing the highest paved road in Europe to the point where cars must be traded in for more functional boots or bikes. Though the going may be tough, those who reach Veleta’s peak (at a mere 11,135 ft) will not only be rewarded with unrivalled panoramic views across Granada, but also bragging rights for the foreseeable future.
1 hour 40 minutes