Highlights of Southern Spain
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
A 12-day road trip through the Andalusia region, including Seville, Cadiz and Granada
My husband and I have always wanted to do a road trip through Spain. As active travel lovers, we also look for ways to to hike, walk or get some exercise anywhere we go. We had just finished a week-long tall ship sailing adventure with Jubilee Sailing Trust in the Canary Islands. So since flying in and out of Madrid was a necessity, we decided to this would be a great time to do some exploring. We had long heard of the fabulous gastronomy of Andalusia as well as its rich history of Flamenco dance. But we also wanted to explore some of Spain's natural park systems, the Sierras, and to do some hiking, including on the infamous Camineto del Rey. Traveling from the warm beaches of Tenerife and Gran Canaria to the cooler climates of Andalusia in January, required some strategic packing. But it was surprisingly easy, as most of Southern Spain was quiet, casual and did not require anything other than comfortable travel clothes in each of the cities we explored. So let me show you where we went, the fabulous apartments and surprisingly affordable hotels we found, as well some of our recommended dining hot spots. Let's go to Spain!
Time of year
January - Southern Spain knows how to light up a city for the holidays! Although we arrived after Christmas and New Year's Eve, most cities left all their lights up for 7-10 days into the new year. Although a bit chilly, this is a great time of year to avoid crowds, and get into accommodations and restaurants easily.
For this trip, we targeted Seville, Cadiz, Ronda, Granada and Iruela and the Sierras de Cazorla
Average daily cost
For this trip, we decided to rent out apartments through AirBNB or VRBO. Combined with our Canary Island sailing adventure and travel time, we would be gone from our home in the USA almost an entire month. So having accommodations with a full kitchen and more space makes traveling for this amount of time, much more enjoyable for us. Spain is a very affordable travel destination for those using $USD currency. Our accommodations (a mix of 4 start hotels, and beautiful rented apartments) - averaged $107 USD/night. All other expenses, including food (primarily dining out, with all breakfasts in), gas, groceries, parking, misc shopping, excursion and entry fees - averaged $102 USD/day. Our car rental for the 12 days was $243 USD
NOTE - Parking in Spain can be expensive, running $15-$24 dollars/day. Some apartment rentals offered parking. But many in major cities did not. Parking spaces in Spain are TINY! So do like we did, and rent the smallest vehicle you can get way with. We rented a Fiat and loved it. Don't let the rental agencies scare you into thinking it won't handle hilly terrain. Fiats do just fine.
We flew from the Ontario, California to Madrid (via Houston) on American Airlines. For our Canary Island adventures, we flew a separate airlines (Iberia, Binter) to Gran Canaria and from Tenerife.
NOTE - depending on your schedule, there is a very convenient hotel in the Madrid airport. We used it twice, on both ends of the trip - Air Rooms Madrid.
Stop 1 - Seville
Seville is an incredible city to visit near the holidays! The light displays were fantastic and walking the streets felt quite safe. We saw families with small children out together as late as 11pm. The tapas in Seville were fabulous every where we went and we loved all the plazas, with Las Setas de Seville and Plaza de Espana being our favorites.
Drive time - ~ 5 hours
Nights - 2
Where we stayed - We wanted to stay near old town and walking distance from all the main plazas. This can be quote expensive in Seville, even in off-season. But we managed to find lovely accommodations at La Parada de Marquis. There is a great coffee shop just below and everything we wanted to see was within 10-25 minutes walk.
Closest parking lot - Mercado del Arenal (booking ahead may be worthwhile as its always quite full)
Restaurant suggestions - Restaurant Al Aljibe - fantantic, always packed, so get there early!
Other suggestions - how about a foodie tour of the city? As we mentioned, we went to all the major plazas but the area around Las Setas was bustling and energetic and the architecture lit up at night was beautiful to see. We went back to Plaza de Espana twice - once in the morning and then again at sunset. There is typically live flamenco dancing happening on the entrance steps and the you can rent row boats in the surrounding canal as a romantic option.
Stop 2 - Cadiz
Cadiz is a quaint fishing village and quite different from Seville. It's a favorite in summer for those looking for some time on the beach and well known for its sherry and seafood cuisine. Coming off the bustling streets of Seville, we found it quite relaxing. And in January, we never had to make reservations for dinner, even at the most popular restaurants. If you have time en route, a stop at Jerez de Frontera may be worthwhile. If you can time it right, try to catch a classical Spanish baroque dressage show at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.
Drive time - 1 hour 15 minutes
Nights - 2
Where we stayed - We stayed at this terrific upstairs studio apartment with a lovely terrace. It was centrally located and the owners were easy to correspond with using WhatsApp.
Closest parking lot - Interparking San Antonio
Restaurant suggestions - La Columela - incredible tapas at great prices (get there right when it opens at 8pm, as it a locals hotspot and fills quickly with a long line forming for the next few hours! Casa Mantenca, Punta del Sur (try local dishes - Tortillitas de Camarones and Chicharrones de Cádiz ) El Farol
NOTE - make sure to try some of the tuna in Cadiz, its some of the best in the world!
Other suggestions - walk out to the Castle of San Sebastian and then along the La Caleta Beach, get a view of the city from Torre Travira, visit the Cadiz Cathedral, walk along the Avenida Campo del Sur at sunset, check out the Mercado Central and fish market, and make sure to stroll through the quaint alleys of La Vina neighborhood, where you'll find some of the best tapas bars.
Stop 3 - Ronda
Ronda is most famous for bull fighting history and the spectacular Puente Nuevo, which links the old town and new town across the El Tajo gorge and stands almost 100 metres high. We stayed only one night, primarily to see this architectural wonder. But Ronda is also only 90 minutes from Malaga and the infamous Caminito Del Rey. Once considered the most dangerous footpath in the world, it has now been beautifully reconstructed and is safely accessible to hikers of various abilities. Ronda was a great place to stop overnight, not only to see the beautiful bridge and quaint town, but also made it easy for us to walk the Caminito and get to our next destination by later afternoon.
Drive time - 2 hours
Nights - 1
Where we stayed - Catalonia Reina Victoria - beautiful room with a terrace view of the valley, spa, restaurant and parking on site
Activity suggestions - walk the main town. Its small, quaint and has some cute shops worth strolling through. Hike the path down to the view point to see the Puente Nuevo at sunset.
NOTE - of you want to hike the Caminito Del Rey, you must get your tickets in advance online to guarantee entry. They only allow a certain number of people per hour to walk the path. The path itself is not too long or difficult (~7k). But its a 10 minute walk to get to the entrance after you have found roadside parking, and then they check your tickets prior. On weekdays, you may get lucky and score a few tickets if you arrive at the earliest time slot. But to save possible disappointment, simply get your ticket ahead of time online. The ticket includes bus transfer back to where you parked. I would plan for 3-5 hours total for this experience, depending on how fast you walk and how many photos you take. See more photos of the Caminito walk, as well as more details about planning this experience here.
Stop 4 - Granada
Granada is best known for its Moorish history dating back more than 700 years. The best representation of this being the Alhambra, a must-see with its beautiful palace, gardens and courtyards. Granada also sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which make for a beautiful backdrop for this vibrant city and offers skiing in the winter. We spent several days here, walking the historic grounds, as well as the neighborhoods of Socromonte and Albaicin, while grazing our way through moorish food as well as tapas.
NOTE - I recommend purchasing your tickets to the Alhambra ahead of time. You will note they assign times to date of your ticket purchase. Understand that this is only the time for touring the palace itself. You may enter, and walk, the grounds at any time prior to you designated time slot to admire the gardens and courtyards. Just leave time to get to the palace entrance, which is about a 10-15 minute walk from the main grounds entrance.
Drive time - 3 hours 15 minutes from Ronda (2 hours 15 minutes from Caminito del Rey)
Nights - 3
Where we stayed - we rented this terrific modern apartment, walking distance from all major attractions and neighborhoods
NOTE - the neighborhoods of Albaicin and around the Alhambra are quite hilly. If you are in doubt about your fitness level or walking tolerance, there are plenty of cabs available.
Recommendations - taxi up to Plaza de San Nicholas for the best sunset views of Alhambra with its mountainous backdrop, stroll the moorish shops in the historic Albaicin and Socromonte neighborhoods, and have a romantic patio lunch with full view of Alhambra, along the river on Carrero del Darro
Stop 5 - La Iruela and Coto Rios (the Sierra de Cazorlas)
The Sierras de Cazorla is a beautiful, natural park area in Jaen region of Spain, full of trails for hiking and mountain biking as well as camping areas. After touring several city centers, we were ready to check a few more rural areas, including a Spain's equivalent of a National Park. We stayed in La Iruela and Coto Rios - in the summer, both of these places would be much busier as they are access points to several outdoor recreation areas. Because we were there in January, it was quite cold at elevation and very quiet and with very few restaurants open. But we still managed to find some beautiful hikes and enjoyed winding down our trip closer to nature.
Drive time - 2 hours 15 minutes to Iruela, an additional hour to Coto Rios
Nights - 3 total
Where we stayed - Hotel & Spa Sierra de Cazorla (I'd recommend the "4" rooms over the "3" as they are newer, updated. Also, the meal package here was not memorable. In a season when more restaurants in town are open, I'd recommend walking into town for dinner.) and this lovely, fully-furnished apartment in Coto Rios.
Activity suggestions - hike up to the Iruela Castle, hike La Cerrado de Elias near Coto Rios, trail run or ride mountain bikes on the scenic, gravel road that runs on the east side of Guadalquiver river
Final Stop - Madrid
We had an early morning flight back to the USA, so staying at night at the Madrid airport hotel was a great way to sort and repack our luggage for the long trip home.
Contact me with any additional questions.
Feel free to check out some of our other road trip itineraries!