Palaces and paradors… of Andalucía
While Malaga may have a rather distasteful reputation, it is in fact brimming with history. As the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, the Picasso Museum houses a selection of over 200 of his works. Both the Malaga Cathedral and the medieval Moorish palace of Alcazaba are impressive pieces of architecture. Cox & Kings’ Splendours of Andalucía group tour and Andalucía in Luxury both start and end in Malaga, forming excellent round-trips.
From here, you can explore the region however you wish. Watch the stunning scenery go by aboard a train or embark on a self-drive trip, which gives you the flexibility to stop wherever you want. The region is famous for its medieval palaces, beautiful scenery and quaint towns. However, the real highlights are the sumptuous paradors – luxurious hotels in converted historical buildings – and the blend of HispanoMoorish architecture. A warm, Andalusian evening is well spent watching the world go by, ideally with a few flamenco dancers nearby, whilst enjoying mouth-watering regional tapas.
The capital of Andalucía, Seville, was one of the earliest Moorish conquests and has a fascinating history. The city was a port for legendary explorers and a muse for 19th-century romanticism literature. In the Old Town you will find the Unesco-listed Alcazar palace, the Seville Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies, which was the ancient merchants’ exchange.
The sheer scale of the Seville Cathedral and the Giralda (bell tower) is truly impressive. The Giralda was originally the minaret of the Almohad mosque, and the cathedral stands on the site of the 12th century mosque. When Seville fell into the hands of the Christians in 1248, the mosque was used as a church until 1401. As it was decaying, it was knocked down and rebuilt. The Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, covering 124,000 square feet!
The medieval Royal Alcazar was built for King Peter of Castile in the 10th century as a fort and has undergone many refurbishments over the centuries. The palace has a mix of Christian and Moorish architecture and interiors, as well as perfectly manicured gardens. Parts of the palace are still lived in by the royal family, making it the oldest royal palace that is still in use in Europe. In the gardens, the Galeria de Grutesco is a beautiful walkway that is illuminated at night by dance, music and theatre performances. Founded in 1475, the Santa Paula Convent is only open between 10am to 1pm from Tuesday to Sunday, but offers a glimpse into a Hieronymites convent, where cloistered nuns live.
Set within the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains is the city of Granada, home to the Alhambra palace and fortress. Among the cypress trees are the red walls of the lavishly decorated palace, taking its name from Arabic qa’lat al-Hamra, which means ‘Red Castle’. Built in 899AD, it was originally a fortress but fell into neglect. It was then revamped by the Moorish King of Granada in the 11th century and Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada in the 14th century, owing to both its ornate decor and architectural influences. The ornate Islamic interiors and courtyards have intricately designed arches and the views over the city are spectacular. Located in the grounds of the Alhambra is the Parador de Granada, a converted 15th-century monastery where you can also stay.
The old Arab-Jewish quarter of Albaicín has narrow cobbled streets and medieval Moorish architecture. The neighbourhood is known for its flamenco tablaos – flamenco venues – and on Thursdays can be viewed at the Peña la Platería, one of the world’s oldest and best flamenco clubs in Spain. It also has exceptional views of the Alhambra. Granada’s Cathedral took over 180 years to be built and is an interesting blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The interiors are light and gilded with gold and the Isabelline Royal Chapel was built as the mausoleum for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella I.
Once the capital of Islamic Spain, Córdoba is a city steeped in history, with beautiful Moorish architecture, ancient palaces and beautiful parks. Formerly a mosque, the Mezquita is one of the world’s most incredible Islamic buildings. Built during the 10th century, the now-cathedral was a revolutionary feat of architecture. Inside, the red striped arches are supposed to signify a forest of date palms – the sacred fruit of Islam.
Walk down the stone paved streets of the medieval city to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. The fortress-cum-palace was once the residence of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. With splendid interiors, courtyards and gardens, it maintains its Mudéjar influence; part Gothic, part Islamic. The revitalised area of La Ribera is full of excellent bars and cafes, while La Juderia – the Old Jewish quarter – is a network of narrow streets, quaint squares and courtyards.
This mountain-top town is set over the dramatically deep El Tajo gorge, where the Puente Nuevo Bridge connects the new town to the old. Ronda was once ruled by an independent and isolated Moorish kingdom, until it was annexed by Seville in the 11th century. The town is incredibly pretty with white-washed walls and is surrounded by mountains. We recommend a stay at the cliff-top Parador de Ronda, which was once the town hall. Overlooking the gorge, birds are often seen swooping across it; among those spotted are eagles, falcons and kestrels. From the parador, you can walk down the pathways to El Tajo, to see the bridge from below. Despite it no longer working, the Arabic Baths are among the best preserved in Spain, dating back to the 10th and 11th century.
Mijas Pueblo is a charming white Moorish town set on the mountainside and is connected to Mijas Costa, which stretches down to the Costa del Sol. Mijas Pueblo is extremely quaint, with white-washed walls brightened by vivid flower pots and cobbled streets, lined with artisan craft shops. The view from the old fort walls offers scenic views over Mijas Costa and the sea that spans the horizon.
La Cala de Mijas – Mijas cove – is along the coastal part of the town and the beachfront is lined with family-run shops and cafes. In the summer, concerts are held next to the Torre Vieja watchtower. Designed by the 80-year old Dr Esteban Martín Martín is the Castillo de Colomares that was dedicated to the explorer, Christopher Columbus. The romantic expression of the architecture combines Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance styles.
Andalucia in Luxury: Combine the splendours of the Andalucían cities of Seville, Córdoba and Granada with luxurious accommodation. Stay in some of Spain’s most celebrated hotels, each with their own distinctive character and charm.