The uplands of eastern Andalucia  - and even parts of the coastline - have many hidden treasures - an incomplete travel guide to Spain


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 Andalucian white village

  Andalucia Part 2.  Eastern Andalucia off the tourist trail  

► Return to part 1 - Granada, Cordoba, Seville   ► Continue to Part 3 - Jerez, Cadiz and western Andalucia
Village scene
Village scene in rural Andalucia
  Beyond the crowded beaches of the Costa del Sol, beyond the tourist cities of Granada, Cordoba and Seville, there is another Andalucia - an Andalucia that is generally off the tourist trail. Away from the popular resorts and destinations, Spain's largest province has a massively rich natural and cultural heritage, just waiting to be discovered. Almeria, Antequera, the Alpujarras, Cadiz, Cazorla, Guadix, Jerez de la Frontera, Ronda, Tarifa, and Andalucia's natural and national parks, are just some among the many and varied sites and sights that most visitors to Andalucia never see.
   It would be trite and inexact to say that Andalucia has everything: it doesn't. But it does have mainland Europe's southern tip, the highest mountain in western Europe outside the Alps, Europe's only desert, one of its most important wetlands, some amazing wildlife, a world-famous vineyard and so much more. It is also the home of Flamenco, and of a race of horses that were once the mounts of kings and princes throughout Europe. And in its low-lying areas, it has milder and winters than anywhere else on the European mainland – attracting in an ever growing number of older visitors from more northerly climes.

Andalucia to the east of Granada

A selection of towns and places that are worth a visit


Andalusians think of Almeria as an industrial port and city. City it is, industrial - not so much these days. The city boasts an old Moorish Alcazar, an old quarter, and beaches; but it is not so much the city of Almeria itself that is interesting, as the area around it. Just north of Almeria lies the Tabernas desert, a wilderness area and Europe's only officially recognised area of sub-Saharan desert. It's a landscape that is guaranteed to impress even the most experienced of travellers, as it is like nowhere else in Europe. On the other hand, it does have a distinct resemblance with parts of the American Far West, which is why, back in the 1960's, it was used for the shooting of a number of famous Westerns, notably Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The remains of that film set now form the heart of "Mini Hollywood", one of two a small western theme parks that now welcome visitors all year round.
     East of Almeria, the Cabo-de-Gata–Nijar natural park is one of the few undeveloped - or at least largely undeveloped areas on Spain's Mediterranean coast. The park contains hiking trails and an interesting interpretive centre and botanical garden, plus the small town of San Juan, once a fishing village

The Alpujarras

From the Albaycin
Rural life in the Alpujarras
Lying between the Sierra Nevada and the sea, the Alpujarras are hillsides and valleys with a deliciously mild climate, a cluster of pueblos blancos or white villages, and agriculture irrigated by the streams flowing down from the mountains behind. It was to the Alpujarras that the Moors from Granada were first sent to live, when the city returned to Spanish rule after 1492; and it was the Moors who set up the old villages, and the impressive irrigation systems that channel water from high up in the Sierras down to the lower slopes and the valleys below.
     The best-known small town in the Alpujarras is Lanjarón - a name which is synonymous with Spain's most famous brand of bottled mineral water. People have long come to this small spa town to enjoy the water from the town's famous springs, water that has permeated down through the rocks of the Sierra Nevada behind.  Other small towns such as Bérchules and Valor are popular bases for hiking up into the Sierra Nevada national park.

Iruela, near Cazorla
Iruela - Photo A.C.Hernandez


Few towns are built on a hillside as steep as the one on which Cazorla stands: or if they do, the main streets just run along the contours. Cazorla surprises many a passing visitor with those of its streets that run straight up the hillside. Lying in the northeast quarter of Andalucia, due east of Jaen and north of Almeria, Cazorla is situated at the edge of the Sierra de Cazorla, and of the Sierras de Cazorla y Segura Biosphere Reserve, which are the largest protected natural area in Spain. The mountains, with their rocky hillsides and pine-forested valleys, are very popular with ramblers, ornithologists and nature lovers.
    The small town itself is worth visiting for its unusual location, clinging to the mountainside and overlooked by a fine ruined Moorish fortress; but even more interesting is its small neighbour, La Iruela, an old town of whitewashed houses, dominated by a rocky outcrop on which stand the ruins of another impressive  castle - again of Moorish origin. Next to the castle is an open air theatre looking like a Roman amphitheatre, and the ruins of a mediaeval church.
    Cazorla is also famous for its olive oil; Cazorla olive oil has its own "Denominación de Origen" and is reputed to be among the best in Spain. The Cazorla olive oil coooperative, located just ourtside the town on the road to Ubeda, sells directly to the public.


Andalucian pottery from Guadix
Guadix pottery    
Guadix is a fascinating small town, lying at the junction of the motorways between Granada and Almeria, and Granada and Valencia. Its narrow streets, its collonaded Plaza Mayor and its stone buildings give it very much the feeling of a classic Spanish town: but though attractive it is not so much the town centre itself that is interesting, as the surroundings. Guadix has to be the troglodyte capital of Spain. The soft local rock lends itself to tunneling, and in bygone centuries, all round Guadix, people built themselves houses not only on the ground, but in the ground. Today, there are still people living in troglodyte houses - marvellously cool in summer, warm in winter; but also shops, workshops and even restaurants where diners can eat in rooms hewn from the naked rock. The village of Purullena, just west of the town, is famous for its pottery sellers, offering a huge range of brightly coloured traditional Andalucian pottery - bowls, dishes, mugs, plates and plenty more, for sale at considerably less than in the souvenir shops in Granada. The area round Guadix is also popular as a base for pony trekking into the Sierra Nevada. Just south of the town, the imposing Castle of Calahorra is reputed to be the finest Italian renaissance castle outside Italy. Against a backdrop of the lofty peaks of the Sierra Nevada behind it, the four-domed castle stands as a sentinel over the route from Guadix to the sea. The area round Guadix has been used as a location for many films, including historic epics such as El Cid and Doctor Zhivago.

Velez Blanco castle
The castle at Velez Blanco

Velez Blanco

In the far east of Andalucia, Velez Blanco is a small town that merits a short detour from the Valencia to Granada motorway. The most easterly - with Mojacar - of Andalucia's white towns, it stands at an altitude of 1000 metres on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Maria los Velez natural park, at Andalucia's eastern limit. The white town, on a spur of the mountain, is dominated by a magnificent renaissance castle, built on the base of the the earlier Arab alcazaba. Very impressive from the outside, the castle has very little left inside, as its fine inner courtyard now stands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; there are currently plans afoot to rebuild a precise replica, using local stone for the purpose.  The hills behind Velez Blanco are popular with ramblers, and have a good number of marked hiking trails. The hills also contain two caves with prehistoric paintings;  these are not generally open to the public, but visits can be arranged or access authorised by the local tourist office in nearby Velez Rubio.

Carry on westwards:  Western Andalucia  
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