Everyone knows Andalucia, the southern region of Spain, but do you know all of its eight provinces? There’s Malaga and Almeria with their international airports, Cadiz famous for sherry and other fabulous fortified wines, Huelva between Cadiz and Portugal and one more coastal province, can you name it?
It’s one not normally associated with beaches, in fact it’s the only one in Andalucia in which you can ski. That’s right, well-known for its scorching summers Andalucia also has ski slopes.
You can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon on the Mediterranean within the province of Granada. Granada has mainland Spain’s highest peak, Trevelez in The Alpujarras, with great skiing facilities and a coastal strip known as the Costa Tropical just as the Malaga coast is called the Costa del Sol.
Though I digress, the real reason why most people visit the province and city of Granada is to visit the famous Alhambra Palace and its fabulous Generalife Gardens, the Palace was first mentioned during the reign of Abdullah ibn Muhammad (888-912) but the majority of the building work was built during the Nasrid dynasty (1212-1492) although what we see today is mostly reconstruction work.
Of course there is much more to Granada than The Alhambra, it’s also famous for its Sacramonte district where you can be wined and dined in a cave followed by a Flamenco performance. The Albaicin, the Moorish area of narrow cobbled streets and tiny plazas surrounded by high garden walls and the ever-present tinkling of fountains is delightful to wander around, and one of its plazas – San Nicholas gives an incredible view across to The Alhambra.
These are the five coastal provinces, heading inland we find three more, Cordoba famous for The Mezquita and its flower-filled patios, Seville famous for its tapas, flamenco and Giralda Tower and Jaen which many people haven’t heard of and wonder how to pronounce.
The best time to visit Cordoba is in May when the Fiesta de los Patios takes place, this is a wonderful event when householders across the city, usually around thirty of them, open their private patios to be visited and judged for the best patio competition. Then just days after this ends the Feria de Cordoba begins. A riotous occasion not as large as Seville’s but a must-see if you’ve not been to a Feria in a Spanish city.
Seville’s Feria is in April, a better time if the heat of early summer is too much for you. But a time to avoid if you don’t like crowds and want to explore the city at will. Seville is fairly flat and to the south the huge Guadalquivir river runs on its course from Cazorla Natural Park in Jaen to the Atlantic Ocean in Cadiz.
Jaen province, pronounced hi-en, is home to Cazorla town and the Natural Park of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas. It doesn’t have any world-famous monuments but does produce the vast majority of Spain’s olive oil, exporting a large amount (which is often taken to Italy and sold as bottled in Italy). It has more castles/towers/fortifications than any other area in Europe and the Renaissance UNESCO twin cities of Ubeda and Baeza.
Jaen isn’t a large city, it’s not a very touristy city, but it is charming and has some incredible and prize-winning Arab Baths, an enormous Renaissance Bathedral and a Parador on a hill that’s been voted in the Top Ten Castle/Hotels in Europe. The Parador de Santa Catalina was modeled on the existing Arab fortress, there is a small castle undergoing renovations next door and a walkway to the end of the hill shows an enormous monumental white cross where King Fernando III stuck his sword into the ground to mark their retaking of the city from the Moorish troops in 1246.
This under sung province has plenty to offer for culture, walking, gastronomy, history and olive groves! Am I biased – oh yes, it’s been my home since 1996. If you’d like to explore it and the wonderful Spanish gastronomy, my holiday home Casa Rural El Reguelo is a great base for exploring both country and gastronomy. We offer Spanish cooking classes and/or prepared meals, so you can enjoy your explorations and come home to be wined and dined.
More about Rachel
Rachel Webb moved to Inland Andalucia with her husband, Nick, and two small sons in 1996. Now three sons, various dogs and four chickens later they still live in the same olive-growing valley and explore their adopted country, as well as returning to the UK, at every available opportunity. Between caring for her holiday house, two gardens, family and menagerie Rachel teaches English to Spanish children and writes for the Andalucia for Holidays website and Andalucia Explorer blog.