A wonderful friend of mine was kind enough to put together a contributed blog post for me upon my request. The post below is written by Kelsey Krach and details her experience traveling the south of Spain. Read more about Kelsey, her travels, and her AIP Paleo lifestyle adventures on her blog, Crocodile Adventures.
While most people associate the South of Spain with sun and warmth, it should be known that that really only exists during the months of May-October. However, it turns out that heading to Andalusia during the off-season is still entirely worth the trip. In January 2016, my friend and I headed on a week-long trip through Córdoba, Sevilla, and Granada. Before the trip, the only expectations I had were being prepared for a “funny” (read: different) type of Castellano accent and some beautiful architecture. Admittedly, I did not think the accent was that difficult to understand. Regarding the beautiful architecture, I was absolutely captivated. I was not prepared for the amount of history that the South holds, nor was I prepared for the weather. Note: the weather is not going to be perfect, which is why it’s considered the off-season; however, in my opinion, it works to your advantage because there are fewer tourists and is not very cold, though it tends to rain. Though, if you’re a truly good-spirited traveler, a little bit of rain won’t ruin your fun!
First Stop: Córdoba
Located about 400km south of Madrid (4-hour drive, 2 hour AVE fast train), Córdoba is one of my favorite cities of the South, and probably in all of Spain. I feel that it does not get very much attention, but it should be known that this little city has amazing history and wonderfully maze-like streets that transport you back in time. During the Roman period, the city was the largest in Europe and then as the Moors came into Spain during the 900s, it continued to be important because it was the capital of Andalus (South of Spain including Northern Africa) where the Califa resided to watch over his empire.
Getting lost in the streets is easy because the old city is built like a maze with a huge muro (wall) surrounding the city. Within the old city, there are three major quarters where history clashes once again: the Jewish quarter, the Catholic/Christian quarter, and the Arab quarter. The major attractions in the city include La Catedral-Mezquita (Cathedral Temple) which has hosted both Christian and Muslim practices, the Alcazar (palace) and the gardens (a must see!), the Bell Tower, the Roman bridge, and the Roman ruins. In total, I have spent 4 days exploring Córdoba and never once was bored or thought it was ugly. There are hidden patios at every corner which hold little flower pots. In May, there’s a two-week expo during which residents open their patios to share the beautiful flowers with visitors. Most interesting was the site located a few kilometers outside of the city called the Medina Al-Zahara, which is accessible by a bus ride from the main city. The Madina Al-Zahara is a ruin site of the once “Brilliant City” constructed as the Califa’s city to watch over Córdoba.
I absolutely fell in love with Córdoba and decided to return in March 2016 during the Semana Santa. Visiting during Semana Santa is cool because you get to see the processions, but get ready for what is probably the most packed experience you could have there. Thousands of Spaniards flee Madrid to travel to the smaller surrounding cities to enjoy the holiday. Hotel/airbnb rates soar during this week, but it is worth it if you book far enough in advance. Overall, I recommend at least two days to truly enjoy and explore the lovely city.
Second Stop: Sevilla
Many people rave about Sevilla, but I have to be honest. Sevilla is probably my least favorite city in Spain. Maybe I expected a lot because of how everyone speaks about it; however, I was less-than-impressed after the history filled streets of Córdoba. That being said, it was truly beautiful and it worth a stop while in the South. I spent one day there and felt it was sufficient, though of course if you want a more leisurely pace, stay for two days.
While in Sevilla, the “old town” city center is the loveliest part of the city. There is the Catedral, Alcazar (palace), river cruise, Plaza de España (built in the 1900s for the European Expo—extremely beautiful, but my friend and I thought it was historically important, which turned out to be a major let-down after exploring the streets of Córdoba). On this part of the trip, my friend and I mostly just walked the streets taking in the pretty parts of the city. While not my favorite, Sevilla is still worth a stop on your trip.
Final Stop: Granada
Granada, besides Córdoba, is my other most favorite city in Spain. It was so picturesque with the amazing architecture of La Alhambra against the Sierra Nevada. We stayed in this really neat Airbnb which was actually a cave in the side of the mountain! In Granada, the main attraction is La Alhambra which is basically a little city which rests on top of a hill overlooking the rest of Granada where the Arabs built the palace and armory in order to have control. La Alhambra is an amazing piece of architecture and has a ton of history surrounding it. It’s absolutely worth spending at least half of the day there, and I recommend the afternoon where you watch the sun set behind La Algambra from the Generalife Gardens.
My friend and I only one and a half days in Granada which was not nearly enough to explore everything we wanted to see. That being said, the city is relatively small and can be well explored in that time frame. I really enjoyed visiting the Bazar located in the city center next to the main Catedral. Most of the products are from Morocco and are touristy, yet they have some really pretty decorations to take home as gifts to friends. These decorations are also used in Andalusia and point to the connection Spain has its Arab past.
Granada also have tons of beautiful terraces and small bars where you can go. If you’re student/university age, then it’s a great city to visit (or study in!) because there is a huge student population and a lot of activities. Also, if you have time, you can also visit the Sierra Nevada. My friend told me that while skiing, you’re so highly elevated that you can see the Mediterranean and the coastline of the African continent.
My trip through Anadalusia during the off-season was a gem in my experience in Spain. While the weather wasn’t perfect, the trip was a great experience (and wonderful because there weren’t many tourists and a bit cheaper to book Airbnbs and transportation). If you’re traveling within or to Spain during the winter months, I recommend taking a swing into Andalusia. I almost forgot to mention the best, and my most favorite part—zumo de naranja natural! Natural orange juice is one of the yummiest parts of Spain, especially in Andalusia. I loved that in all of the cities in the South (and to the East in Valencia province) the streets are lined with orange trees. The breeze carries a light citrus scent which makes the air extra sweet!