Image credit: Francisco Jesus Ibañez
The capital of Andalusia was once an economic powerhouse at the heart of the Spanish Empire, with a history steeped in multiculturalism, exploration and discovery. Fittingly, there is plenty to uncover if you take a drive out of Seville.
Abandoned in the third century after its inhabitants fled to neighbouring Seville, the Roman ruins of Italica have been carefully preserved due to their proximity to the more prosperous city. A grand amphitheatre is one of the highlights, as are the well-maintained mosaic floors in the House of the Planetarium, within which you can find depictions of the seven gods after whom the days of the week are named.
A thoroughly fascinating wander through time, you can marvel at the aqueducts and underground drains that once gave the city its fresh water and thermal baths. The grid layout of the street also hints at the advanced skill of town planners at the time.
This hilltop town – one of the oldest urban settlements in Europe and site of repeated conquest attempts by invaders hoping to secure the fertile territory below – comes as a breath of fresh air in comparison to the stifling heat of the city in summer.
Bearing witness to some epic historical clashes through the years, rival clans have left a myriad of cultural and architectural influences on the town. Notable examples include the Moorish arch of Puerta de Sevilla and the Gothic church of Santa María. Arguably though, the high point for any explorer is the 13th century King Don Pedro Fortress, built during the reign of Pedro the Cruel (the last ruler of the main branch of the House of Burgundy).
Round off an edifying day with a slice of genuine soul food: the local delicacy of Torta inglesa, or English cake, is handmade by the nuns of Santa Clara.
Controlled by the Knights Templar until 1312, this settlement at the foothills of the Sierra Morena Mountains is known as much for its archaeological riches as it is for its gastronomic ones – this is the home of Iberico ham (or Jamon de Huelva) after all.
With a museum dedicated to honouring the local delicacy, the town’s reverence of swine is also rooted in the discovery of its other great attraction, the Gruta de la Maravillas (Cave of Marvels), as according to legend, the underground riches were first found by a local boy searching for his lost pig. Known as the ‘glassworks of God’, these spectacular limestone caves more than match the ruins of the town’s medieval castle for splendour.
1 hour 15 minutes
Jerez de la Frontera
Capturing the true spirit of Andalusia, Jerez’s international renown extends far beyond its most famous export; sherry.
The annual flamenco festival brings this historic region to life, as equestrian acrobatics and streets lined with tabanacos and lilac jacaranda blooms provide entertainment to all. Similarly, the yearly motorcycle grand prix – hosted at the Circuito Permente de Jerez – never fails to bring about a burst of noise and colour.
11th century fortress The Alcazar is well worth a visit, as is a climb to the top of the 17th century cathedral, which borrows influence from baroque, gothic and neoclassical styles.
Head around 20 miles to the coast and you’ll find the ancient port city of Cadiz, which boasts around 3,200 hours of sunshine a year and is where Christopher Colombus once embarked on two voyages to the Americas.
With its medieval Jewish quarters, Islamic palace ruins, and renaissance era Palacio de Viana, Córdoba’s architecture tells a story of a tolerant society where minorities have long lived side by side. Its star attraction, The Mezquita mosque cathedral is a thing of beauty in both concept and execution and stands as a testament to this multicultural past.
Throughout the warmer months Córdoba becomes a city in bloom, as patios and courtyards erupt into colour and a number of flower festivals take place. The Batalla de las Flores (held on the last Sunday in April), in particular, should not be missed and the terraced gardens of the 14th century Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos become a real horticultural highlight.
1 hour 30 minutes