With Spain only a 2 hour flight away, it’s easy to get complacent and look further a field for more exotic, more unusual destinations. We are fortunate enough to visit Spain, in particular Malaga, often as River’s family live there. River was brought up in Spain thus being fluent in Spanish and a brilliant tour guide for Andalucía. For myself, only visiting Malaga a handful of times I was eager to explore what else the south of Spain had to offer. We decided to loosely base our trip around Malaga, Tarifa, Sevilla and the province of Granada, more specifically La Herradura, enjoying stop offs in between.
First stop – Malaga, a weekend pit stop to see the family and enjoy some down time. It’s always special for me to see River in Spain, back in the place which holds so many happy, childhood memories and make new ones together. After catching up, re-charging and eating far to much tapas already, we began our road trip, promising to return to Malaga to showcase the wonderful city to you all.
We hired an Audi A1 from GoldCar, a compact yet spacious car perfect to get us around the southern coast. From hiring online to pickup and drop off, GoldCar made the whole transaction seamless. You can drive away rest assured with their complete super relax cover.
With endless white sandy beaches and numerous kite and windsurfing shops, Tarifa has established itself as a real surfers paradise. Sitting at the southern most tip of Europe, it offers views across the water to Africa’s Rif Mountains and a chance to catch a ferry across in a speedy 35 minutes.
We stayed at the stunning Finca El Cañuelo in a small village called Bolonia, just outside Tarifa. The Finca itself is made up of one main house and an adjacent apartment. Decorated in a stunning mix of old and new fused with artifacts and memorabilia from across the globe. The villa just begs to be explored, with modern sculptures, 2 outdoor showers, an infinity pool, a cat called Bowie the list goes on. The surrounding grounds are exquisitely landscaped, it’s no surprise the finca is used for weddings throughout the year, with brides often choosing the favourable tree or Lion King esk rock as the backdrop to their ceremony. The outside doesn’t end there, follow the steps to unveil acres of greenery, a bountiful garden of trees, flowers, water features, complete with breathtaking views. This area is typically where the fiesta, the wedding party, would be. With a bar built into the rock face, a stage area for bands and speeches, it is just mind blowing. Everything has been meticulously thought out and immaculately maintained.
Our room in the villa extended out over the garden, floor to ceiling windows gave an almost open-air feel to the room. A four-poster bed, rain shower and private roof terrace completed our suite. After settling in, we headed to the beach. Tarifa is often quite a windy city, i.e. when heading to the beach 1. An umbrella is essential (that is if you can keep hold of it)! and 2. The sand can be quite uncomfortable to sunbathe on. Great for wind/sea activities hence the attraction for water-sports. We somewhat scrambled our way through the pine trees to arrive at Playa del Cañuelo, a nudist beach much to our surprise, however not everyone adhered to the lack of swimwear. The sandy beach and crystal clear waters made the hike there worth it. With no restaurants, cafes, or ice cream stalls the secluded beach is a dreamy sun trap only ventured to by a handful of locals.
Tarifa itself is an old town with beautiful stone buildings. Small tapas restaurants, ice-cream parlours and surf shacks fill the narrow streets that lead off the central square. With bars that stay open late into the night and clubs that spill onto the street it’s a young, exciting town buzzing with activity. We ate at Babel, a traditional tapas bar complete with live music aka the local buskers which were fantastically entertaining. I could have stayed in Tarifa and Bolonia for a lot longer, they truly are small gems on the southern west tip of Spain.
The next morning before departing for Sevilla, River wanted to show me Duna de Bolonia, a gigantic sand dune to you and me. Having visiting Tarifa once before when he was younger, he was eager to get back up there, this time with his camera. We often find that the best time to see a place, or experience somewhere is at sunrise. It is quiet, the light is crisp and there’s an excitement in the air for the unknown day ahead. I admit this all sounds idyllic, however waking up at 5 am, gathering all our equipment, driving to the beach and then climbing the 30 metre high sand dune… it’s not quite such a pretty picture. Yet, once up there, the panoramic views over Tarifa make it all worthwhile.
Next stop, Sevilla, a 2 hour journey North-East, clearly signposted and easy to get to if you’re a novice driving abroad. Do, however enter with caution the central streets of old town Sevilla, the roads around here are somewhat less forgiving. Winding streets with only an inch either side of your car and the buildings, it’s no place for a flappy, nervy, non-Spanish driver…aka ME! I just about managed to locate our hotel in the maze and get out again, note; there isn’t heaps of hotel parking depending on where you stay in Sevilla. If you are driving, there are 24 hour car parks for around €20 a day.
Well, we are absolutely besotted with Sevilla. We were before we went but since going it truly is one of the top cities we’ve visited. The city as a whole is just beautiful. Beautiful cathedrals, beautiful streets, horse and carriages constantly a flow, city gardens, restaurants… It is so picturesque you just don’t know where to look next.
We were fortunate enough to stay at the boutique hotel, Corral Del Rey. Set up by duo Anthony and Patrick Reid, their hotel fundamentally runs on the basis you relax, assuring the best personal attention and your every desire catered to. The hotel itself is situated in the heart of Sevilla’s old quarter and made up of three buildings. Two filled with lavish rooms, and one housing a downstairs cafe/bar serving breakfast and offering an all-day selection of tapas complete with a rooftop plunge pool. The exuberant feel of the hotel is only enhanced by the staff here. They have an immaculate appearance and an unparalleled knowledge of Sevilla to put you at ease and help plan your time. A continental breakfast is served with the option to dine on the rooftop, allowing post-croissant time to enjoy the plunge pool, sun loungers and views overlooking the Cathedral and Giralda tower; a tantalising precursor to what Sevilla had in-store. The staff truly are a credit to the hotel, somehow they are always present yet rarely seen, seamlessly delivering that perfect experience. The eclectic mix of ancient and modern decor courtesy of the talented Kuky Mora-Figueroa is simply divine. The high ceilings, built in surround sound and nightly courtesy call to fluff the pillows, draw your curtains, and even leave Corral Del Rey M&M’s as a pre-dinner snack; what more could you wish for for your time in Sevilla.
Being so centrally located we enjoyed the sights of Sevilla by foot, but bicycles, mopeds and horse and carriage, no really, await to take you around the city. Close by you’ll find the impressive Sevilla Cathedral, from here multiple roads lead to other historical sights, such as the Alcázar of Seville; a royal palace set across from the Cathedral, and Plaza de España, a Renaissance landmark set in the most pristine gardens. Head down towards the river and you will find the Torre del Oro – a fortified tower once used to surveillance traffic on the water.
The river is a steady flow of sightseeing tours, locals in their fishing boats and rented kayaks/canoes. We walked along to the Puente de Isabel bridge, crossing over to the Triana quarter. Here you’ll find a street named Calle Betis, a beautiful street lined with pastel hued houses and restaurants overlooking the water. A great district to explore for a different feel to the old town. From here it is a short walk to the Metropol Parasol, a gigantic structure that for a small fee (€3) offers the best views of the city from the sky.
Later that afternoon we resorted back to our hotel, it was just to alluring! The weather in summer is extremely hot and being inland there is rarely a breeze so do bare-in-mind the heat when deciding what time of year to visit. Luckily for us, the rooftop plunge pool and sunbathing deck at Corral Del Rey was the perfect rest bite from a morning walking around in the heat. The hotel also runs on an honesty service, allowing you to help yourself to the rooftop bar and pay when you leave, encouraging you to savour your time sunbathing with a G&T. I don’t need much encouragement!
That evening we found a romantic square just past the Alcázar of Seville and a restaurant famed for its paella. It’s called La Cueva, and features a superb dining room and tables outside to enjoy the quaint, pebbled square. After dinner, just walking around Sevilla at night there’s an air of romance; couples, families, children, listening to buskers playing either enjoying a drink or eating ice creams. The streets are just as alive after dark and enjoyed by all.
Sadly, our 3 days in Sevilla had come to an end, we had such a lovely time exploring the city. Next on the itinerary was Malaga and La Herradura. Whilst staying in Malaga we were fortunate to stay with family, but there are many grand hotels, including a stunning new Gran Hotel Miramar sitting right on the beach. If staying there is a touch to expensive, just go up to the rooftop for a drink and to enjoy the panoramic views.
Malaga has come up the ranks in destinations to visit, it is a historic and culturally rich city that has long been over shadowed by other well knowns along the Costa Del Sol, Granada, Sevilla and Córdoba. Emerging as the city of culture and being compared to Madrid and Barcelona for it’s similarities in art and fine dining, the city was high on the bucket list. The beautifully restored city centre is alive with museums, galleries, a fantastic shopping district and eateries ranging from traditional tapas to highly regarded Moroccan food, be sure to get your name on the list however, as there’s only 4 tables and the food is delicious! (Al-Yamal.) From beaches, to countryside walks, a harbour and the coasts best churros (personal opinion) I highly recommend visiting and seeing for yourself.
During our time in Malaga, the summer solstice festival of San Juan took place. A magical night held on the beaches of Andalucía with roaring bonfires, drink, food and friends. A fun tradition takes place at midnight, by putting your feet or for those brave enough your whole body in the sea, it is believed to recuperate, refresh and rejuvenate yourself. Similarly for those who dare, jumping over the bonfire 3 times is said to cleanse, purify and burn your problems away. The night is electric with dancing and partying long into early hours of the next morning, fun for locals and tourists alike.
If you have chance, just outside Malaga there are two must see’s to explore, the Alhambra towards Granada and El Chorro. Having visited the Alhambra on a previous visit we headed for El Chorro. Home to 3 turquoise coloured lakes surrounded by pine forests. Close by to El Chorro is the famous El Caminito del Rey, a popular if not slightly dangerous Kings walk through the Gaitanejo gorge and over a hanging bridge. An intermediate 5k walk that is set to get your heart rate pumping and your energy soaring. If walking it seems too daunting there is a train that runs daily from Malaga through the gorge itself to El Chorro, taking in the sights of both Caminito del Rey and the lakes.
Take time after the walk to enjoy a well deserved dip in the crystal clear waters, enjoy a picnic or an ice-cream and for the daredevils amongst you, climb the rocks and give your best attempt at a dive or back flip. Just remember your GoPro!
The last stop on our Andalucían road trip was La Herradura, heading east along the coast passing popular towns Nerja and Maro. Our last stay was at River’s family beach house. I tell you the perks of having family in Spain is seeming endless…
The house here is idyllic. Set down a cobbled driveway, with views over Marina del Este and Almuñécar. In the summertime especially the abundance of flowers that lead you to the property are full of pink and yellow hues set against the flawless blue skies and white facade of houses down the street. With access to a pool and a small walk to the towns lighthouse where the views across La Herradura are unprecedented, I quite easily feel very at home here. (available to stay at on AirBnB).
River spent much of his childhood here and knows the area and surrounding towns well, he took me to Maro one of the days we were there. We found a perfect spot on the beach sheltered by some rocks and set up camp, cool box in tow and waves the size of a house we enjoyed a typical holiday day at the beach and a chill. Much needed after being on the road.
Our final day in Spain was spent with SailandStay. A luxury catamaran ran by a lovely man named Stephen and his crew. They invited us onboard the “Optimist of London II” to experience La Herradura from the water. Setting sail for the breakfast cruise we were welcomed with a glass of champagne and hamper of fruit. We cruised for around an hour before anchoring near to Playa Marina Del Este where a delicious breakfast was served and there was the opportunity to enjoy the water-sports on offer or just relax in the sun. SailandStay give the option to paddle board, canoe, be flung around in a donut or simply just to swim in the ocean (to which we did all of the above!!) The catamaran itself is immaculate, complete with ample indoor and outdoor seating to the rear and netting to sunbathe on at the front, it didn’t take me long to find my spot to ride the waves. Our breakfast cruise lasted roughly 4 hours, they offer daily 3, 4 or 6 hour all inclusive cruises with a delicious meal, water-sports and drinks included. There’s something special about being out on the water, the hours just drift away, I could have easily stayed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The crew are delightful, extremely knowledgeable and hospitable, I literally had either a glass of champagne or snack constantly in hand. For a more memorable way to enjoy your time in La Herradura, jump aboard and let SailandStay show you the ropes.
I feel mixed emotions ending this post as unlike some destinations, I know we will be lucky enough to visit Spain again soon but sad that our summer road-trip around the coast has come to an end. I know I have been spoilt with a truly personalised tour, but don’t worry if you haven’t bagged yourself a Spanish tour guide/boyfriend just yet, follow our guidelines and you’ll be just fine. Always say Sí to Paella, Tinto will become your new favourite drink and for goodness sake, just hire a bike (not a car) when in Sevilla. Go, book your flights and let me know how your trip pans out…