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10 To Know: Southern Spain Travel Tips

After a morning tour of Seville’s Alcazar, the renowned tenth-century palace, I wandered the Southern Spanish city’s narrow, winding streets in search of the perfect tapas lunch. Like most travelers to a new destination, I continued unwavering in my commitment to settle for nothing but the best, most authentic restaurant choice. Carefully scouting each popular café, I gauged crowds, reviewed menus and remained steadfast in my quest.

I landed that afternoon at La Moneda, chosen for its quintessential Sevillian atmosphere, casual outdoor seating and the blatant fact that I heard only Spanish spoken by its patrons.

Seated next to a few Spanish gentlemen enjoying a variety from their vineyard in Rioja, it was not long before we were sampling wines together, exchanging life stories and brainstorming tips on how best to spend the rest of my time in the country. As with all of life, every small decision made on my trip to southern Spain (like where to pass the day’s lunch) set off a chain of events that cumulatively created my unique but holistic experience of the province.

This is what makes travel in the south of Spain so fantastic – every turn down a calle, stop-off in a remote mountain town or countryside hacienda and meal next to a local leads to an interaction, suggestion or invitation that both deepens and broadens your experience. Andalusians are social and congenial. They share a certain affinity for life that percolates into their daily exchanges and possess a unique ability to develop a genuine rapport with those around them. It doesn’t take long to recognize that Andalusians have maintained a very insulated culture, one that is open for the traveler to experience. The degree to which southern Spain is not the five star experience of the French Riviera or the Amalfi Coast is commensurate to its degree of authenticity and local flair. For this reason exactly, a trip to Spain requires precision and acute attention to detail. Here are Ten Tips To Know before planning a trip there.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning a vacation to Spain. Our specialists can book you at the hotel that is right for you, plan great meals and activities and arrange behind-the-scenes tours.

1. Choose your Andalusian restaurants wisely

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]Octopus tapas in Andalusia, Southern Spain Courtesy El Zelai[/caption]

Café culture is an instrumental part of the Southern Spanish lifestyle. Friends and family gather in the late afternoons and even later evenings to socialize over sherry and tapas in their city’s popular squares or best bodeguitas. The streets of Andalusia are lined with one café after the next, making the best tapas spots nearly indecipherable from the tourist traps. Delicious slow cooked meats and fresh seafood are in abundance and almost everywhere seems buzzy, so knowing those establishments with the right ambiance and crowd to spend your precious hours abroad is critical.

Many of the better-known lunch and dinner restaurants are frequented by both locals and tourists, and while they remain hits, some of the most terrific spots are those which are entirely unassuming, where the one English-speaking waiter is brought over to assist foreigners with menu selections.

2. Do as the locals do, wherever possible

Cultural traditions have stood the test of time in southern Spain. From futbol matches to Flamenco bars, Spain maintains a strong cultural identity that is regularly experienced in its recreational activities. While not all forms of entertainment are appropriate for each visitor, partaking in local cultural events is sure to strengthen the authenticity of any trip. Take the time to think about if seeing a bullfight might be appropriate for your visit and whether it is a Flamenco show (a performance of nationally recognized Spanish folk music artists who perform in tablaos) or a Flamenco bar (an informal and more spontaneous gathering in a bar-like atmosphere) that you envision experiencing.

Consider participating in Spain’s Holy Week, which commemorates the passion of Christ with penance processions on the streets of every city, or Sevilla’s Feria de abril (similar to Munich’s Oktoberfest), a fiesta of great tradition that commences with a parade of carriages and riders and develops into a celebration of drinking and eating in various marquee tents. Truly experiencing southern Spain means opting to live locally – from attending Spanish guitar concerts to spending an afternoon in one of the more imperfect Pueblos Blancos. To the greatest extent possible, immerse yourself in various local events and happenings.

Related: Contact Indagare to Arrange Special Experiences in Spain

3. Know when to spend a night in the Southern Spanish countryside

One of the wonderful things about Andalusia, like many other European and South American destinations, is its wealth of charming countryside estates. Whether renting a villa in the wild and mountainous Sierras or spending a few nights at a family-owned hacienda, time spent in the country offers active adventures and sweeping landscapes. Slow down with horseback riding among sunflower-filled fields at a property like Hacienda de San Rafael, an 18th-century olive estate–turned-hotel tucked between Seville and Marbella.

Complement your trip with a stay at a beautiful private home–cum-guesthouse like Trasierra, where you will feel as if you are visiting a friend’s stylish private villa hidden in a beautiful and wild natural landscape. Visits like these can easily be included in any itinerary and are just a few hours’ drive from Andalusia’s most visited cities – Seville, Cordoba, Granada. Charming, imperfect and unadulterated, these types of estates are best for the more intrepid traveler, the boutique hotel goer and the nature lover. Full-service and five star pampering should not be expected.

4. Know when to live like a local and when to enlist the support of a full-service hotel

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]Hotel Alfonxo XIII in Andalusia, Southern Spain Courtesy Hotel Alfonxo XIII[/caption]

If authentic experiences and a local way of living are the constant themes in a trip to the south of Spain, the question then becomes when to choose a pied-a-terre type experience and when to indulge in a larger, full-service hotel without compromising the objective of your trip. Surprisingly, it is some of Andalusia’s smaller, UNESCO World Heritage Site cities like Cordoba and Granada that make the most ideal opportunities to enlist the support of a full-service hotel. These cities, which are lush, tropical and more Mediterranean in feel, are also some of the most touristic, as visitors come for the sole purpose of touring their palaces, mosques and cathedrals.

Given their touristic quality, opting for a more ‘luxury’ property like the Palacio del Bailio in Cordoba or the Palacio de Los Patos in Granada in no way detracts from the experience. Those who appreciate the true boutique hotel experience will do well in a city like Seville, where local life is happening everywhere. If the nature of your trip permits it, consider foregoing the staple, high-end tourist hotel (Hotel Alfonso) for a boutique property like Corral del Rey, set further from the main attractions in the heart of the city’s life. Such a stay lends itself to wandering the streets, shops and cafés in a more local part of town.

Related: Six-Day Andalusia Itinerary

5. Transform your travel transfers into road trips filled with unique mountain villages and delicious meals

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]City of Ronda in Andalusia, Southern Spain Ronda[/caption]

Southern Spain covers a relatively small territory and trains run regularly through its towns and cities. In just a couple of hours or less, you can reach Seville from Madrid or Granada from Cordoba. While the train system is efficient, clean and easy, car transfers make for interesting day excursions. Arriving into Andalusia from a more northern city like Madrid or Barcelona is best done by train or domestic flight, as it cuts travel time down significantly. Where road trips make for a more interesting adventure is between the small cities of the region. An easy two-hour drive from Seville to Marbella or from Cordoba to Granada can include stops in places like the beautiful Pueblos Blancos, or “White Towns” of the region, the dramatic city of Ronda perched on the top of a canyon, the small town of Olvera, perched high on the hillside with sweeping views of the surroundings, or the village of Setenil de las Bodegas, built into the rock walls of a river gorge.

Driving on winding roads through verdant countryside in warm, sunny weather, you will pass lush vineyards and rolling farmlands. Continuing over the Sierra Mountains to the Costa del Sol, or “Sun Coast,” offers scenic landscapes and incredible photographic opportunities. Taking a half or a full day to include stops in interesting villages with lunch en route is a wonderful way to experience the vast topography and rich history of the area.

6. Know when and where to make the day trip

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="940"]El Partal, Alhambra of Granada, Anadalusia, Southern Spain Granada, Courtesy the Tourist Office of Spain in New York[/caption]

Because there is so much to see in Andalusia and its environs, maximizing your time requires attention and advance planning and choosing the right spot for your home base is key. In central Spain, Madrid is the best place to make your hub, as modern infrastructure and high quality hotels will provide everyday comforts, and Toledo, Segovia and Avila are easily reached for further historical and cultural immersion.

In the south, stay in Seville, which has an undeniable energy and charm that deserves a few nights’ stay. Visitors can take day trips to Cordoba or Granada, although those who desire to see both will be better off including a night or two in Granada, rich in Moorish architecture and offering shopping and dining options, and making a day trip to Cordoba from here. The coastal town of Marbella should be considered its own stop as it is further away from Andalusia’s staple cities. Finishing your trip with a few nights on the coast at one of the area’s five-star properties like Finca Cortesin is the perfect ending to any itinerary.

Related: Marbella Destination Report

7. Sometimes you don’t need tips from a guide

Unlike other European cities such as Rome or Barcelona where having full days of guided touring is the best and most exciting way to understand the destination, Andalusia is in many ways meant for the wanderer. Because lifestyle is such an integral part of the culture, making sure to have plenty of time at leisure is crucial. Enlist a private guide for half-day tour in the early morning or late afternoon to see the historically significant sites, but be sure to also experience these cities on your own.

Lunches should be long and laid back, not condensed into quick bites between stops. Meals should be taken as the locals do – filled with multiple rounds of shared tapas, socializing with those around you and lounging around outdoor tables in the sunshine, people watching and enjoying the time pass slowly. While all of the historical sites are brought to life with the knowledge of a private guide, many of them also provide wonderful opportunities for lingering after the more educational portion of your day. Budget time after your guided tour to relax in a stunning courtyard of an alcazar or a tropical, orange tree–lined garden of a mosque.

Related: Member Postcard: A Summer Getaway to France and Spain

8. Dress to impress

Spaniards take great pride in the way they dress. The average person is dressed as stylishly for a big dinner out as for running a quick errand. Comfort and efficiency are often key elements of traveling, but Andalusia’s slow pace, walkable cities, fantastic weather and sophisticated crowd make dressing a part of the experience. Many of Spain’s cities are fashion havens so searching for pieces by great Spanish designers and sporting them while in-country makes shopping all the more fun. Contact Indagare’s Bookings Team for specialized shopping guides and exclusive fashion experiences.

9. Know what to expect from your beach destination

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]Pier at Puente Romano Marabella Beach Resort in Andalusia, Southern Spain Courtesy Marbella Club[/caption]

The coast of southern Spain is known as the Costa del Sol, or “Sun Coast” to be consistent, for its temperate weather conditions and year-round sunshine. With the Sierra Mountains as backdrop to this strip of the Mediterranean, the coastline is dramatic and beautiful. While there are sand beaches to be experienced in the province of Malaga, they are not the soft sand, turquoise colored water beaches found in destinations like Greece or Ibiza. Even the best-known coastal towns, like that of Marbella have darker, rougher sand and slightly rocky (though swimmable) waters. A visit to the seaside for some fun and relaxation is well worth the trip, but those searching for a true beach destination should consider the short flight to Ibiza, Corsica or Barcelona.

10. Southern Spain is just part of the story

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]Aerial view of La Concha Bay at sunset as seen from Mount Igeldo, Spain La Concha Bay as seen from Mount Igeldo in Basque country[/caption]

While southern Spain offers a unique sense of place and allows for an incredibly authentic experience, the entire country of Spain is filled with historical, cultural and topographical variety. From the art-centric city of Bilbao and culinary mecca of San Sebastian, to the architecture and nightlife haven of Barcelona and the sophisticated, international city of Madrid, Spain seems to paint itself as the European destination that the world underestimates.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning a vacation to Spain. Our specialists can book you at the hotel that is right for you, plan great meals and activities and arrange behind-the-scenes tours.

Published onJuly 10, 2017

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