Four Unique Stops on a Journey through Essential Spain

Andalusia (Andalucía) is Spain. It is essential Spain. I love Madrid and Barcelona too. And the town of San Sebastian would make a list of my favorite places in the world, but still Andalusia is Spain. It holds its essence, its history, its culture and its cuisine. Yes, it is essential España.

Where is Andalusia?

map of Andalucia Spain.

the back cover of my Lonely Planet Guide

The region (or officially known as an autonomous community) in the south of Spain is comprised of 8 provinces and it’s comparable size to Portugal.

What’s so essential about Andalusia?

Well it’s just the home of flamenco, tapas, the guitar, Moorish culture, the beaches of the Costa del Sol and bull fighting. Most consider it a vacation on to itself. And I imagine Lonely Planet agrees since they dedicated an entire guidebook to it (I used it).

I can suggest the top tourist attractions, but I wanted to give you four other places and experiences I really enjoyed. Places and experience that made it special to me. Some are popular, but even so, they are often skipped or sacrificed on a quick holiday.

the Alcazar of Seville

Seville is a must stop. No one argues that, it is the colorful city destination of Andalusia. Most tourists take the train from Madrid to Seville and start the exploration of the region if they aren’t strictly headed for the beaches of the Costa del Sol. We all stop at the impressive Cathedral (some believe Christopher Columbus is buried there), but I am not sure everyone visits Alcazar. I learned a few people skip it and only visit the Alhambra in Granada. Make no mistake, the Alhambra is beyond impressive and I loved it, but the Alcazar cast a spell over me.

the gardens of alcazar in Seville, Spain

Perhaps it was my introduction to the style of architecture and history, but the smaller venue just seemed more intimate, more special. My time there enabled me to make a closer connection to the past it described.

the Atlantic Ocean Views of Cadiz

I think for beach or coastal towns most prefer the Mediterranean Sea instead of the Atlantic, but the charm of Cadiz is worth a visit. One of the oldest cities in Europe dating back to the Phoenician times this city has seen it all, prosperity and despair and its streets tell the story. And the best way to see them is walking the town and then walking up the bell tower. There you see a bright white path to the sea.It’s also the same sea Christopher Columbus viewed before his voyages to the new world.

the view of Cadiz, Andalusia, Spain

And after the view, walk down to the beach, sit back and take in a sunset on the Atlantic. See the horizon and look to the “new” world.

the Pueblo Blancos of Ronda

The white washed towns are not just for the famous Greek Islands. Spain keeps a list of pueblos blancos. (white towns) and Ronda is one of them. I learned too many travelers skip the town if they are not interested in bullfighting. Ronda is more than the birthplace of bullfighting and It’s hard to skip the views of the white washed building atop the gorgeous gorges.

the gorges and white washed buildings of Ronda, Andalucia, Spain

Maybe the views made the vino and tapas touch better, but I sure did enjoy my dinner in Ronda. When most of the day-trippers left, I felt like I had the chance to really discover real Ronda.

the Hookah of Granada

As mentioned, everyone visits the Alhambra in Granada and I recommend it, but in the side streets long before the late night flamenco begins inside the cavernous bars and cafes, I suggest you stumble upon a hookah lounge. Head over to the bohemian Islamic quarter, Albayzin, and walk the streets and find strong tea and hookah. The neighborhood has it’s edge, but that is part of its charm and once you find your spot, sit down relax, recharge, and reminisce about all you’ve seen in Andalusia.

tea and hookah artifacts in Granada, Andalusia, Spain

plenty of shops carry hookah pipes and Moroccan items.

In fact, I met an Arab (Muslim) and an Israeli in Granada and we discussed the modern issues of the Middle East. A peaceful conversation. I am convinced it was the calming ways of the hookah.

Stay adventurous, Craig

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  • Amanda Hamilton

    I want to add to that the Mezquita in Cordoba and especially the 10 days of the Patios de Cordoba festival – it only happens in Cordoba where loads of stunning ancient andaluz houses open to the public literally dripping with flowers. You can see the blog I wrote about it here :

    • craig zabransky

      I missed Cordoba, but will make sure I make a point to stop there someday on a future trip to this part of Spain. Stay Essential, Craig

  • Matthew Karsten

    Damn. That gorge with the buildings on top is incredible.

    • craig zabransky

      Absolutely incredible, i became a big fan of Ronda. Stay Essential, Craig