Lost in Andalucia

Western Andalucia

Provinces of Huelva, Sevilla, Cadiz, Malaga & Cordoba

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For main cities return to Andalucia part 1 - Granada, Cordoba, Seville  ► Return to part 2 - Eastern Andalucia

Sites and sights off the main tourist trails

Landscape in the Grazalema natural park
   The western half of Andalucia is an area of  hills and mountains, that tails away to the low-lying land of the Guadalquivir basin, and the flat coastal plains of the province of Huelva towards the Portuguese border and the Algarve. Most of this half of Andalucia is relatively low-lying, and for this reason is an area that is warm to very hot in the Summer months. The hills of this western part of Andalucia are home to some of the most unspoiled of the pueblos blancos, small towns that were until quite recently fairly difficult to reach, but now accessible by good - though often twisting - mountain roads.
    Compared to much of Spain, southwestern Andalucia is relatively green, catching the rain that comes in on the southwest winds off the Atlantic. The limestone hills of the Sierra de Grazalema are home to a fine natural heritage area or park, famous for its birds and other wildlife. Lower lying areas and the Guadalquivir basin include some rich agricultural areas devoted to cereals, fruit and vegetables - notably strawberries -  and also vineyards, as well as the Doñana national park, an area of dunes and marshes reputed to be the most important wetland area in Europe.


Antequera from the ramparts of the Alcazar
Lying in central Andalucia, at the edge of the plain, and at the point where the old route between Cordoba and Malaga crosses the route between Seville and Granada, Antequera is, as its name implies, a very old city; indeed, it was an old city even in Roman times, and it was the Romans who gave it the name that has become Antequera today. With its whitewashed buildings, it is a typical Andalusian country town, lying at the foot of a  hilltop fortified with an impressive Moorish Alcazaba, or fortress. On the outskirts of the town is the Dolmen de Menga, the largest Bronze- age burial mound in Europe.  And ten minutes drive south of Antequera lies the El Torcal natural heritage area, with its hiking trails, a chaos of limestone rocks sculpted over the ages by wind, dust and rain into the most unusual shapes and forms. 
   Antequera has long been famed for the quality of its olives and olive oil, and today it is at the heart of a major olive oil production area.


The historic Spanish port city of Cadiz is like no other: on the end of its peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic, old Cadiz is, on a fine day, streets of whitewashed houses between the azure of the sea and the blue of the sky. Unlike cities inland or further up the Mediterranean coast, Cadiz, with its Atlantic coast location, enjoys a wonderfully temperate climate, avoiding the searing heat of summer that characterizes areas further inland. Cadiz is not so much a place to visit for its monuments - the late baroque cathedral is the most impressive of these - but for the atmosphere of the old town, with its numerous plazas and narrow streets, and, so frequently, glimpses through to the ocean or Cadiz bay at the end of the street. A port city since the days of the Phoenicians, Cadiz is in this respect the oldest city in Spain.

Jerez de la Frontera

Equestrian display Jerez
Demonstration by the Real Escuela de Arte Esuestre and the Guardia Real in the plaza de Toros., Jerez
This is the small Andalusian city that has given the world one of its most famous wines, Sherry. Lying on the eastern edge of the Guadalquivir valley, between Seville and Cadiz, the city is famous not only for its wines, but also as the home of Flamenco and of the Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, one of the most important  equestrian schools in Europe. The equestrian school puts on shows, and visitors can watch training sessions, as well as visiting the stables and the museum of equestrian art. The city has a moorish Alcazar and an ornate baroque cathedral - but for most tourists the main attractions are the riding events or visits to the Jerez "bodegas" or wineries, to sample local sherry and brandies, and visit the cellars. The annual highlight of the year in Jerez is the Feria del Caballo, or Horse Fair, which takes place each year at the start of May, and attracts large numbers of visitors.
   The "Frontier" in the name of this area is not the Atlantic ocean nor the border with Portugal, which is further west. The area was known as the Frontier in the Middle Ages, after most of Andalucia had been retaken from the Moors, because this was the frontier between Christian Spain and the Islamic kingdom of Granada.


Ronda on the rim of its gorge - photo Oefe
Until  Michele Obama visited in 2010, along with cohorts of press men,  Ronda was a relatively well kept secret, a popular excursion for residents and holidaymakers living on the Costa del Sol 50 miles to the south. It was a secret known to the initiated, who, in time, had included Hemingway and Orson Welles; but what a secret. The old town stands on a clifftop cleft by a deep chasm, spanned by an impressive eighteenth century bridge linking two parts of the town. Far below are two other bridges, the Roman bridge and the Old bridge. Energetic visitors can walk down to the foot of the chasm to visit the older bridge, and admire the height and structure of the "new" bridge from below. Footpaths round the edge of the town offer magnificent views out over the hills and valleys to the north and to the south.  Ronda has a number of other sights that are well worth visiting, including Arab fortifications and an Arab city gate, the best preserved Arab baths in Spain, and Spain's oldest bullring.


The most southerly city in Europe, Tarifa stands guard over the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar, and is located less than 15 miles from the African coast. From its beaches and seafront, and from the hills behind, the view is spectacular over to Tangiers and the mountains of Morocco beyond. Tarifa is a city where the wind always blows, as it is sucked in through the straits from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean basin. On account of the wind, the beaches to the west of Tarifa in particular offer excellent opportunities for windsurfing, and the town is particularly cool compared to others nearby. Tarifa itself is just a small town, with the remains of Moorish fortifications.

Other interesting sites

Rio Tinto Mining park

this lies way off the tourist trail, between Nerva and Zalamea la Real, 50 miles northwest of Seville. This is the site of one of the world's largest opencast mining operations, and now a fascinating historic site. The mine was run by the British in the nineteenth century, and the Rio Tinto mining railway once had over 300 km of  track.  Today there is a mining museum, a fully restored Victorian residence, mine tours and an 11 km heritage railway, with daily services and steam on Sundays. (website). The "lunar" landscape of the mining area is reputed as one of the strangest places on earth

El Caminito del Rey

Caminito del Rey
El Caminito del Rey in 2009 - before the trail was completely renovated
At El Chorro, inland from Malaga. Purportedly the most dangerous hiking trail in the world, the Caminito del Rey is actually now     rather safe, thanks to the great effort and funding that has gone into restoring it. But it remains an adrenalin-boosting hair-raising experience only for those with a good head for heights....
  Our photo, left, shows part of the trail back in 2009, when it really was dangerous, and consequently quite out-of-bounds for safety reasons – which did not prevent some
Caminito del Rey
El Caminito del Rey after renovation - with decking, guard rails, and lots of tourists 
dangerous-sports enthusiasts from giving it a try, leading to a number of fatal accidents. Bits of the concrete walkway were missing, or falling away. Everything has now been repaired and brought up to modern safety standards.  Still it's not the kind of place to take children or ageing relatives...
  The "King's path" clings precariously to the side of a steep and narrow gorge, up to 100 metres above the river below. In places the walls of the gorge are vertical.
   The 3 kilometer pathway was constructed at the start of the 20th century as a means of access for workers and to bring in materials for a hydroelectric project in the gorge. In 1921 it was visited by King Alfonso XIII when he opened the Guadalhorce-Guadalteba reservoirs - and it was the king's visit that gave the walkway its name.
El Chorro can be reached by local train services from Malaga or Cordoba

Cities of western Andalucia :

Sevilla and Cordoba. See  Andalucia 1.
Photo top of page - off the beaten track in the hills of western Andalucia

Pueblo blanco
Andalucian white village - pueblo blanco.
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Flamingos in Doñana National Park

Flamingoes in the Doñana national park

Photo of Cadiz by Jonathan Reichel
Photo of Grazalema by Enrique Lopez Garre
Photo of renovated Caminito del Rey by G Gavilla


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