Reluctantly leaving the city of Cadiz behind, Debs and I began our journey north on the final leg of our road trip Spain. Cordoba, Cuenca and Teruel were our final destinations and Cordoba was the place that I had been looking forward to the most.
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In Cordoba our accommodation was in an AirBnB apartment where we stayed with the friendliest family ever just outside the old city walls (to earn a discount on your AirBnB stay click through this link)
Our hosts Quique and Valle were amazing and enthusiastically gave us tons of information about the things to see and do in their home town, proudly telling us how we could save money and what we really shouldn’t miss. They gave us some great tips, such as…
- Visit the Mezquita when it opens at 8/8.30 am and you not only get free entry for the first forty five minutes but you can get the amazing mosque with its many pillars virtually to yourself.
- Go to the Victoria Market – a food hall in its glass box structure for a flavour of the southern specialities
- Buy very cheap beer and wine in the little Que Canas bar and choose free tapas from a huge list. Not only free, these tapas were enormous, eliminating the need to buy lunch or dinner.
Although the autumn air had turned chilly we could see the many pretty patios and courtyards which locals decorate with flowers during the spring and summer and are quite rightly, a huge tourist attraction.
We crossed the old arched bridge that spanned the Guadalquivir River and we wandered around the Jewish quarter and the historical centre.
The Roman bridge in Cordoba
The highlight of Cordoba for me was a visit on my birthday, courtesy of Debs, to a demonstration of the magnificent trained horses of the Royal Stables. The show at the Cordoba Equestrian Centre was truly spectacular as skilled riders showed what their animals could do – the steeds perform intricate dressage steps perfectly in time with each other and with the music.
the amazing horse show
As usual, we hunted out a free (for tips) walking tour, this time with Cordoba a Pie and Ricardo led us around the best sites and the narrow cobbled streets. Like many small towns, these maze like streets were built in this confusing way for a purpose – here in Cordoba it was mainly to preserve privacy of the rich Muslins with dead ends ending in the beautiful courtyards. Ricardo showed us El Panuelo (Tissue Street) which is said to be the narrowest street in Europe and the Roman Temple as well as the arched Roman bridge and the impressive gate at one end of it.
the Roman gate in the old town
And the Mezquita was spectacular. We were actually the first ones through the door when it opened in the morning (the first 45 minutes are free admission), and the early start was worth the effort as we more or less had the place to ourselves. First Moorish then later Christian the hall of pillars oozes a calm and a spirituality.
the stunning Mezquita
After Cordoba we were off to another city beginning with the letter ‘C’….
Driving in to Cuenca with a useless map it took us a couple of hours to find our small pension that we had reserved. Next time I do a road trip I think that I will treat myself to a Sat Nav (this one by TomTom covers Western Europe too) By the time we settled in it was dark so we wandered around in the cold for a bit, finding a cute bar to sit in and recovering from the stress of driving where we probably weren’t supposed to drive. I regretted breaking my rule of checking behind me when walking when, at midnight, standing in a dark street and confronted by a bank of old wooden doors that all looked the same, we realised that we didn’t have a clue where we lived. We had earlier left our room which was in an annexe of the hotel without checking the address!
Refreshed after a decent night’s sleep once we found the correct front door that our key fit
ted, Debs and I set out the next morning to explore. The temperature was a frosty zero degrees, in stark contrast to the twenty six degrees that we had been baking in in Alicante just a couple of weeks before, so we walked briskly to the top of the old town and we crossed the scary metal bridge to take a look at the famous hanging houses of Cuenca.
The bridge was scary because of its height but also because the wooden floor was lethally slippery and the parapets were rather low. There are not so many of the hanging houses left in Cuenca now in Cuenca now, but they are very pretty. Dating back a few centuries the wooden balconies hang out high above the ravine which must give one an amazing feeling as you dine inside at the windows or simply stare out over the scenery.
The old town in Cuenca per ched high above the cliffs
As Debs and I climbed the track behind the old town we couldn’t believe the views and I would certainly like to return and hike some of the many footpaths and trails in the area. Much of Cuenca has been built along the top of a sharp ridge that falls steeply to both sides down to rivers below but the views and the surrounding countryside are very pretty.
As part of my attempts to improve my Spanish, Debs was pushing me to chat to random strangers. In the streets in the upper part of Cuenca my victim was a street cleaner. Happy to lean on his broom for a while after I had asked him the best place for a coffee, he chatted away to us and then he pointed out a mountain that was painted with a pair of blue eyes. With the overhanging rock-face the eyes looked just like a lady wearing a hijab. We would probably never have spotted it if I hadn’t spoken to my ‘victim’ and he told us about a doomed love story between a Christian man and a Muslim lady. He painted her eyes high above the town so that she would never be forgotten.
The eyes of the Moor
Our final destination was…
I had never heard of the town but Debs had added it to our list because it is always highlighted on the Spanish weather channel with its extremes of temperatures. Apparently it gets scorching hot in the summer but we were there as a cold snap hit the south of Spain and it felt Arctic.
one of the bridges in Teruel
Our arrival was funny as Debs drove up and down one of the streets about 10 times and I tried to spot our hotel that we had booked. Google maps, and the street signs were telling us that we were in the correct place but for the life of me I couldn’t spot the entrance among all of the little shops. Parking up to ask somebody we fell about laughing as we realised that we had totally discounted the large 3 star hotel – the Isabel de Segura on the corner of the street, but which was our super bargain for the night. Check out the latest prices here
We had gone from being squashed together in the smallest tent on the planet, to a wooden shed in the mountains to a 3 star hotel.
In the same way as searching for the hotel, we also searched for ages for the square with the statue of the bull in the centre. That was also a trick that Teruel played on us because the bull was quite tiny and stuck up high on a column – we had walked past it several times without spotting it.
The tiny statue of the bull
Teruel was interesting but at the end of our tour was like the warm-down after an exercise class.
The next day Debs pointed Betty the Berlingo north east and we headed on back towards Catalunya.
Our trip had taken 20 days, we had slept in twelve different places and we had driven more than 2000kms.
Here’s that link to the sat nav systems that I mentioned in the post – this would have saved us quite a bit of time when we were driving around the towns
If you would like to read about the trip in its entirety you can click on the following links. Feel free to message me with any questions that you may have as I am more than happy to answer anything about our destinations
You can find information and the best prices for the hotels, hostels and campsites where we stayed in the relevant articles, or in the round up below, and for more information, why not read the Lonely Planet Guide to Spain…Buy Now!
Camping Alpujarras, Laroles, Sierra Nevada, click here for latest prices
Bungalow Camping Trevelez, Sierra Nevada Check the bungalows out here
Granada – Camping Motel Sierra Nevada – we camped but bungalows are available
Ronda – Pension Rondasol – find out more here
Cadiz – See availabilty for the Casa Caracol here
Seville – AirBnB
Cordoba – AirBnB
Teruel – Hotel Isabel de Segura – 3* hotel – Best prices here
And here are a few more images for you to pin if you would like to bookmark this page for reference later
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Seville – a large city with a cosy town feel
Exploring Seville on our road trip around the south of Spain, Debs and I were getting more and more relaxed by the minute and this tranquillity continued in this city with a cosy town feel.
The beautiful Plaza Espania
We lost ourselves wandering slowly around the back lanes and alleyways of the old Jewish quarter, we ambled among the opulence of the Alcathar and we lingered during a sunset from the top of some giant wooden mushrooms – but first we had to get into the parking area at our chosen AirBnB apartment and that was proving far more difficult than it should have been.
there was wealth in this city
The directions had been simple enough. Park at the security gate, press the bell and our host would come down and open the gate. Like most city apartments around Spain the complex was built around a large central courtyard – but getting in was testing our navigation skills.
Whilst Debs is fluent in Spanish I could probably have done with this phrase book as all my Spanish flew out of my head whilst speaking via the gate intercom!
Inside the alcazar
Debs parked outside the gate while I went to find the correct doorbell. That was easier said than done; and eventually I resorted to pressing the bells en masse trying to block out the angry shouts that were coming from the direction where Debs was parked. Yikes! A white van and an angry man were trying to get past our parked car – but there was nowhere to go on the busy street. Debs had already taken a spin around the (very large) block twice for other vehicles and now she was refusing to move.
As white van man got ever angrier Debs, refusing to back out into the crazy traffic for a third time, skilfully drove up between the tables and chairs on the pavement set out in front of the bar on the corner and parked up – not phased at all by the bemused customers who were wondering what on earth she was doing or the man whose language was getting ever more colourful and blissfully ignored the chaos around her.
Embracing the chaos that can be Spain I took a leaf out of her book and sat and calmly waited while our hostess came down to let us in.
Have you ever stayed in an AirBnB with a family? If you would like to challenge yourself with different types of accommodation, check out the Smash the Pumpkin Project (click here) which will push your boundaries and help you to discover what you really are capable of
Exploring Seville on our road trip
What a start to Seville – but luckily, once in our apartment all was calm and we were very close to a bus route into the city centre so we could leave Betty the Berlingo parked up for the 3 days that we were there.
The weather couldn’t have been better with brilliant deep blue skies and warm golden autumn sun so we walked and we walked, soaking up the ambiance and tranquillity of Seville.
this city is well worth a visit
The alcazar is the shining star of the city. We had thought that the Alhambra in Granada was great but the alcazar is fantastic.
Similar to Granada but even more splendid
Room after room are decorated with patterned frescos and intricately carved plasterwork, ceramic tiles on floors and walls shone. The gardens were just as delightful with fountains splashing and shade cast by long walkways along the walls.
the attention to detail as befits a palace
Originally built as a palace by the Moors in 1181 the Alcazar just oozes opulence and was worth every centimo that we paid to get in. The hamman – the baths – remain in the gardens and in the palace rooms lead into more rooms in a maze.
the Arab baths
Many episodes of the Game of Thrones have been filmed here and if it weren’t for the hordes of tourists it would be so easy to imagine that you were back in a time of sultans and their wives, gardeners tending the exotic shrubs and children playing in the courtyards.
the captivating gardens
The Metropol Parasol
In contrast to the old and the traditional alcazar the large structure of the mushrooms or parasols intrigued us. Designed by the German architect Jurgen Mayer and completed in 2011 the series of wooden platforms connected by walkways high above the plaza below form the largest wooden structure in the world.
Seville from the giant parasols
We timed our visit to perfection – just as dusk was falling. Our entry fee included a glass of wine so taking a leaf out of the other visitors we wandered around as the city lights lit up and the sky turned pink, then orange and then a deep crimson.
wandering around the walkways in the sky
And another surprise – the Roman remains underneath the site had been preserved and displayed in a museum whils the paved space at ground level was home to what appeared to be every child in Seville having roller skate lessons
waiting for the sun to set
A huge surprise to me was the Plaza Espana. Now every village, town and city in Spain or in fact any country with links to Spain has a plaza. They vary but usually contain a church, benches, shops and bars and a statue or a fountain. That is what I expected here but when we came around the corner…..well, I could only repeat stunned wow’s as I snapped off my photographs.
everything here is on a grand scale
Set on the edge of a vast parkland this is one hell of a plaza. Colourfully tiled niches – one for each region/precinct of Spain are built in a huge semi-circle while a small lake and a canal complete with boats flaoting around on it sparkles in front
Spain’s regions in tiles
Seville is built on the Guadalquivir River and has long been associated with the gitanos (gypsies) and flamenco. It has lots of beautiful buildings, many of which are clustered around the St Mary of the See Cathedral (one of the biggest cathedrals in the world) and the city hall.
And then in 1929 Seville hosted theExposicion Ibero-Americana when it built many key structures ind different styles including Art Deco to show off the culture and the region.
The Golden Tower down by the river
We found ourselves yet another free (for tips) walking tour and our guide Roberto from Feel the City Tours explained the best bits and the history of the city.
We saw the General Archive of the Indies building, the Torre del Oro and the Royal Tobacco Factory – now housing the University but was the inspiration for Carmen; the opera.
One of the nicest things was the fact that so many streets in the centre were pedestrian only and were serviced by sleek modern trams.
Do try and get out and explore Seville by night as well as during the daytime. The buildings and parks are floodlit, the view from the wooden mushrooms is magical.
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Our entrance into Cadiz was quite spectacular.
We drove over the brand new bridge (just 14 months old) with a brilliant blue sky above and the sea sparkling a storybook Mediterranean blue below us.
the brand new road bridge
There was hardly any traffic on the road as we parked the car up and then set out on foot to search for our hostel among the twisting streets in the old town.
Cadiz or Cadicadicadi as locals call it is the most charming town and both Debs and I fell instantly in love with it.
the cathedral sparkles in the sun
Maybe it’s because it’s almost completely surrounded by the sea (a causeway connects it to the rest of Spain), maybe because the architecture is so different (many of the old sea merchants’ houses have watchtowers), maybe it is the enormous promenades and parks, but definitely it is because the people are so friendly.
street life in Cadiz
Oh, and we fell on our feet at our backpackers’ hostel too.
I LOVED the hostel – the Casa Caracol. It had an amazing vibe, great staff, and it was all contained in a beautiful building with heaps of character. I immediately told Debs that I wasn’t planning on checking out any time soon and we threw ourselves into the atmosphere by booking a ‘family’ dinner which was made by a couple from Argentina.
We spent an evening piled up on sofas and beanbags watching a video with most of the other guests, we took part in an impromptu flamenco class with yet another guest and generally we had a great time. There was a roof terrace with hammocks and an outdoor shower and loo, a log burner for the colder nights and an awful lot of stairs. Oh, and a great pancake breakfast was included in the price which is always welcome when you are backpacking and travelling.
a loo with a view
Out and about in the town we got ourselves a free walking tour, we climbed up the Tavira Tower, we explored just about every little nook and cranny and we ate our body weight in tapas.
The walking tour
Of course we tracked down a free walking tour (for tips) and that gave us a great insight into the history and the culture of Cadiz.
the narrow streets of Cadiz
Our guide walked us around the old town and explained how Cadiz became rich due to its location as a port on the tip of Spain and how from here many of the old time Spanish explorers, adventurers and pirates started and ended their trips.
the architecture screams wealth
I had already noticed the resemblance to Havana in Cuba – both in the architecture and the way that the long seafront was arranged – but also in the attitude and the openness of the population. There just seemed to be a lightness about the place. The physical light had a clarity to it – as you might find in St Ives in Cornwall or other places that artists love so much, and the people also had a carefree vibe about them.
one of the many forts
La Torre Tavira and the Camara Oscura
I had seen a camera oscura before – coincidentally in Havana when I was on my adventure trip with Explore – and this one was fun too.
An image of the city below is projected onto a screen in the dark at the top of the tower via a series of cameras and periscopes and we learnt about the unique skyline of Cadiz.
The watchtowers of Cadiz
Many of the sea merchants’ homes had towers on the roof but they are not really visible from ground level. They build the towers so that they could look out for their approaching vessels (or those of their rivals) and they could communicate with the captains by a system of flag signals. Cadiz must have been an amazing sight in its heyday with the port packed full of ships and colourful flags fluttering across the skyline.
The location of the city also made it a target for invading troops and so it was heavily fortified.
looking out to sea
A series of solid stone walls encircle the town and squat forts stick out into the sea at strategic points. Some of these are free, others contain museums and many of the street corners in the old town have iron posts to protect the walls of the houses from the carts and the traffic – but these iron ‘posts’ are the old cannons!
The twisting streets may have been designed in this way to repel invaders who would get lost and who could be more easily ambushed
A wealthy city
Because wealthy merchants and business owners settled here many of the houses are decorated with elaborate balconies and beautiful parks and gardens can be found all over the city, with exotic trees and plants and with fountains of water cascading over colourful ceramic tiles.
one of the beautiful parks
There are churches on every corner and the creamy white stones of the cathedral gleam in the sun and tables and chairs and tiny little cafes are all just a stones’ throw apart.
stepping back in time
Have you ever been escorted off a sherry tour?
The general idea is that you tour the wine cellar, sample the different types of sherry and then buy some more in the shop.
We arrived at the town of Jerez on a day trip from Cadiz by train.
the rather grand station at Jerez
A riot of colour greeted us as we stepped off the train in Jerez. The station building is decked out with the most beautiful coloured tiles which of course point to the wealth that was in this region in the past.
Once we had got our bearings and after a short strong coffee, Debs and I took advantage of the Open Top Tourist Bus which included a visit to the Tio Pepe Sherry Estate.
wonderful tiles at the station
In the late autumn sunshine Jerez was a quiet and charming little town. Its claim to fame is the sherry (fortified wine) and flamenco.
The tour of the Tio Pepe cellar was really very interesting and it was all housed in a grand estate. The grounds were so big that at one point we were taken in a little land-train from one area to another. The barrels which are painted black (so that any leaks can be more noticeable) were lined up in formal rows and our guide explained the concept of sherry making to our tour group and he also pointed out the barrels which famous people had signed and been photographed next to.
Then it was on to the best bit of our tour – the sherry tasting. Our ticket included a couple of free samples – and Debs and I soon upgraded to try several more. We managed to persuade the others on our table to join us but when we asked for another round our guide informed us that it was not possible and we had to leave.
Actually it should have all been very possible but he wanted to go home (we suspect that he had a date) and it seemed that we were his responsibility until we were off the premises. We found a Japanese guy who was staying at our hostel and who invited us to join him, but our guide was having none of it.
We thought that we had given him the slip when we went to the toilets (our Japanese friend followed us and invited us again to join him) but our guide tracked us down and he escorted us off the premises! Short of twisting our arms behind our backs he hustled us out, via the gift shop which he herded us quickly through not even allowing us time to stop and buy some sherry and he deposited us back out onto the street. We weren’t even drunk but hey ho it made for a very amusing anecdote.
Get your Spanish phrase book here so that you can avoid confusion when you travel.
As you would expect seafood features heavily in the cuisine of Cadiz and Jerez. The fish market is a vibrant, smelly place and it contains numerous stalls which will cook your chosen fish to order. A speciality of the region are the flat crispy little shrimp ‘pancakes’, of course the sherry and chiparrones – deep fried bite sized crunchy bits of baby octopus and which are a lot more delicious than they might sound.
one of the typical shrimp fitters
Whilst we were chilling in the hostel one afternoon, one of the guests was practising flamenco. We began chatting to him and he invited us along to watch him practice later that evening. Alex teaches flamenco and whilst we expected to watch him he was really generous and gave four of us an impromptu flamenco lesson.
our impromptu flamenco lesson
I had been moved almost to tears by the raw passion at the flamenco show while we were in Granada and here I was, stamping and clicking with a maestro. It was the perfect end to Cadiz and the most southerly point of our #roadtripSpain. We would be heading back up the map the next day.
The interesting bits of Cadiz and Jerez
Our trip – Cadiz – Jerez – Cadiz
Where we stayed: Casa Caracol Hostel – definitely a 5 star choice – click here to see the latest rates and pictures of the rooms. You don’t even have to stay in a dorm as there are private rooms and they are beautiful too
Sherry Tour: we bought a duel ticket for the city open top bus ride combine with our entry fee to the Tio Pepe sherry estate. This included 2 samples of sherry and was excellent value – we just would have liked some more sherry (I should add, we were prepared to pay for it). The Tio Pepe tour was also interesting and our guide was excellent – we just would have liked to have chilled and sampled some more of the products.
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Getting kicked off a sherry tour!
There is so much more than the Alhambra and in this, the third in the series of our road trip around the south of Spain we set out to discover Granada. (click to catch up and read part 1 and part 2)
Granada is like any other modern city in the world with all of the shops that you could want, but the older areas of the town win hands down.
the old Arab quarter
And there are several of these historic areas just waiting to be discovered – each with its own distinct identity.
We began by taking a free walking tour with Feel the City Tours which gave us a great insight into Granada. We also ventured up into the Albaicin – the Old Arab Quarter. As you know, I love a free walking tour – they are nearly always led by enthusiastic guides who give you insider information that you don’t often find in the run of the mill guide books – you can read about some free walking tours that I took previously in this article.
Discover Granada and the intriguing districts
Here in Granada we met Alberto our guide and the rest of our group and we learnt about Spain’s diverse cultural mix and how it came about with conquering Romans, Barbarians, Moors, Visigoths and Christians all taking a turn and then the corruption and bribes which greased the palms of officials who turned a blind eye to inappropriate building works.
the imposing cathedral
We saw the old building which once housed the silk traders from India and we wandered around the narrow streets of the Alcaiceria market with the colourful items for sale from Morocco and India and further afield. We paused in the square where bonfires of books from the Arabic University and the largest library in Spain were burn during the Spanish Inquisition and we learnt how (allegedly) Queen Isabel refused to shower for 4 years – because daily showers were something that Muslin women did!
As we circled the cathedral which contains the bodies of Queen Isabella and King Fernando, Alberto told us that the painted graffiti that we were looking at were in fact seventeenth century advertisements for prominent lawyers etc from the rich families – who used a permanent ink to write their signs.
discover Granada – 17th century advertisements
The cathedral is the 4th biggest in the world although it only has a short tower. This is because to have built any taller would have caused the tower to lean or collapse due to the soft ground near the river.
We stopped by the church of San Gregorio. This church was once sold and for a while housed a brothel but now you can go inside and see some of the 12 nuns who permanently live there and who permanently pray around the clock in relay teams.
Albaicin – the Arab Old Quarter
Although our free guided walk took us up into the Albaicin area, Debbie and myself explored it extensively during our three days in Granada. Quiet cobbled streets wind around the hillside, disorientating and confusing with large villas and tiny cottages mostly hid mysteriously behind high walls and ornamental gates
discover Granada – hidden behind walls
My favourite area of Granada was Sacromonte– famous for its caves and cave houses, gitanos (gypsies) and flamenco.
exploring the back streets
Although it was a bit of an uphill climb we found ourselves drawn up here again and again. We found an enterprising local family who had put a couple of plastic tables and chairs in the street outside their home and where you could buy beer or sangria. Sat in the street, we were the only tourists on any of our visits here, we had to have the best view of the Alhambra – and without the crowds all vying for the best shot over at the Mirador San Nicolas.
the Alhambra viewed from the top of Sacromonte
We stopped to rest and to chat to an old local guy who lives in one of the cave houses on a bench and who told us that locals always pause to drink from a small fountain every time they pass it. We witnessed teenage girls and local men on their way home from all work stooping to catch some water to their lips. We climbed high up to the little church of San Miguel Alto (I had been here on my last visit several years previously). We sat on the low wall as the sun fell low in the sky and we saw the cluster of mail boxes for some of the people up here who live in the caves.
mailboxes for the cave houses
Historically, the caves cut into the hillside have housed the poor, often the gypsies and more lately hippies and squatters who are largely unbothered by government rules and regulations. On our way back down to the main residential area of the Sacromonte we accidentally took a wrong turning and found ourselves walking through the back gardens of some of the more salubrious residents muttering our apologies. I remembered our guide on my last visit warning us not to come to close to these properties and here we were stumbling through their barbeque party. We were lucky tonight – they were smiley and invited us to join them!
Flamenco – dance and song of the gypsies.
Granada is a fantastic city and its prize jewel is without a doubt the Alhambra but for both me and Debbie the absolute highlight was the privilege of being immersed in electrifying flamenco.
we were all captivated
Debs has been taking flamenco lessons so was particularly keen to see a show – but neither of us wanted to pay thirty plus euros for a sterile show just for the tourists.
We found ourselves drawn over and over again to a tiny little place, Le Chien Andalou which only charged ten euros. Worried that you probably get what you pay for, we grabbed our front seats seats and settled down. Sometimes flamenco music could to unaccustomed ears sound tuneless and the dancing could look staged but tonight’s show blew our mind.
It blew more than our minds. At the end of the show even the macho Spanish men in the audience had tears in their eyes. I have never seen a Spanish guitar played with such speed or skill, the voice of the singer cut right into the deepest depths of your soul and the dancing was fabulous.
Lost in their own little world but still very much working as a team, the three stomped, clapped and clicked. We were so close that Beatriz’s skirt was flicking our knees and the sweat poured down her face and neck, her eyes closed and her face a mask of concentration, sadness and passion.
After three nights in Granada we got back on the road and continued south to the mountain town of Ronda. This small town was such a contrast to Granada – the main attraction is its old stone bridge which connects the two sides of the town high over a gorge which is 120 metres deep.
The New Bridge (1793)
It was raining when we arrived but we didn’t let that spoil our fun and we managed to get out and walk and see the bridge from every angle – including from right underneath it after clambering over a barrier and balancing down a precarious narrow path.
The new bridge
Ronda is one of Spain’s most ancient cities and all around there is evidence of old stone walls,medieval gates, fortifications and of course, the amazing bridges (there are 3).
The town sits on a plateau where the land seems to roll on and on for ever. At night, there were plenty of bars and restaurants open and on the Saturday lunchtime it seemed as if every one of the town’s citizens was out eating lunch in the restaurants.
There is a very imposing looking bullring (most Spanish towns have a bullring) but the jewel in the crown of Ronda is undoubtedly the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) over the gorge that was built between 1751 and 1793.
outside the bullring
Where we stayed and insider information.
Granada – the Alhambra, Albaicin, Sacromonte and Flamenco – Ronda
In Granada we camped at Camping/Motel Sierra Nevada. You can read about that and about secretly charging our mobile phones which we wrapped in plastic bags and buried in the hedges while we pilfered the energy from the banned electric points – in my previous article: Road Trip Spain #2
We ran out of time but I am very sorry that we missed the Museum for the Caves of Sacromonte. I would have liked to have learnt more about this fascinating area with its unique culture.
Always check the adverts on your city maps which you pick up from the tourist offices. You will often find special offers or discounts. We had a very decent free glass of wine and a tapas each at El Corte Ingles department store in Granada.
Climate: Granada enjoys over three thousand hours of sunshine a year and average temperatures of 22 degrees. In its position in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada it has hard, cold winters and extremely hot summers.
In Ronda we stayed in a small room at the Pension Rondasol. We shared a bathroom but the wifi was good and we were lucky to find free on-street parking very close to the hotel. If you want to save yourself the hassle of driving around Ronda searching for a place to stay, check out the Rondasol here
that bridge again
Whilst we didn’t visit, we could see people on the other side of the river in Ronda climbing down the steps to the Secret Mine and the Arab Fortress and the Forestier’s Hanging Gardens surrrounding the Palace of the Moorish King.
If you want to know more about Spain and especially Andalucia, you can get your Lonely Planet Guide here: Buy Now!
The other articles in the series can be found here:
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Exploring the south of Spain on a Road Trip – Part 2
Leaving the small seaside town of San Jose behind we set off in Betty the Berlingo to continue exploring the south of Spain – our next stop was the Sierra Nevada and Granada.
We were now in the National Park of Cabo de Gata with its undeveloped coastline and deserted beaches.
The deserted Cabo de Gata
The lunar like landscape in this region has been used in the past for many films – such as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and deeper in the interior there are even gold mines.
We passed some huge lagoons with pink flamingos rummaging around for whatever it is they eat in the mud (what is it about those birds that make them so lovable?) and then we drove up to the headland named Las Sirenas (the mermaids) where the lighthouse gleamed white against a cornflower blue sky.
the lighthouse at Las Sirenes
After a brisk walk in a bracing wind we decided to break with what few plans we had and to head inland. A friend had texted the previous night and advised us to go up into the mountains of the vast Sierra Nevada where apparently there are 50 picturesque little white villages dotted around.
There are just two main routes across the Sierra Nevada and we chose the southerly route. Debs drove Betty steadily upwards from the coastal plain and into the mountains. The view altered as we rounded each of the hundreds of hairpins, from vast sweeping vistas rolling to the distant horizon, craggy, spiky mountain peaks, forests of dark pines or oaks and steep sided valleys.
Traffic was sparse, the roadside plummeted away below us in many places and all over, we could see the famous tiny whitewashed houses clustered in their little villages and surrounded by open space.
We spent our first night in Laroles where we managed to track down a campsite. We had naively thought that we would have our pick of places to stay en route but as the owner at the Camping Alpujarras site explained, we had managed to start our #roadtripSpain at the end of the hotel season and he would only be open for one night more. (click here for latest prices at the Alpujarras site)
We also had our first encounter of many with road sweepers and government workers who luckily were always around whenever we got lost. This time, our guy in his white van didn’t just point us in the right direction to the campsite up on the mountain; he jumped in his van and led us there.
It was strange being the only campers on the site, virtually in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by an imposing pine forest. We trekked down into the village and then on our return Debs cooked us supper over her little gas cooker – before we headed inside the bar for some warmth and some wifi.
view from the highest village in Spain
The next day we continued our journey across the Sierra Nevada, stopping off at tiny little villages with coffee shops and bars on amazing viewpoints – in fact every part of every village was an amazing viewpoint – even the public gym equipment was sited high up on bluffs of rock.
One peculiar feature of the little white-washed houses was their flat roofs and the tall stone chimneys. We asked why flat roofs in a region which had heavy snow fall every winter – why not steep roofs? We were told that historically the flat roofs were used for drying red peppers, chillies and herbs – with villagers having to climb up daily during the winter to sweep the snow away so that the houses don’t collapse. The houses in each village nearly all face south – perfect for catching the warmth of the winter sun and the dry cold air is perfect for drying hams and the goat cheeses.
a typical house of this region
We rocked up for our next overnight stop in the highest village in Spain.
Checking in to the campsite – Camping Trevelez we opted to pay the extra euro each for a wooden cabin (garden shed) rather than our tent and because the night time temperatures were plummeting at that altitude http://www.campingtrevelez.com/?lang=enwe also opted for an extra euro for a heater.
our wonderfully warm cabin
I like to think that this wasn’t a case of opting out but more one of survival. We took a long hike down to the village where we sat in the village square soaking up the bright sunshine and visited some of the many delicatessens with their hams and goats cheeses. We were in our element here – the whole village smelt like one giant ham and plate loads of the top quality meats were handed out as free tapas with our beer.
this is the life
We wandered around some of the places where the hams are cured and marvelled at the sheer number of them hanging from ceilings. I apologise to any vegetarians reading this post, but if you want a top quality ham then this is the place in Spain to come to.
the very top quality hams
That night we ate out in the bar of our campsite and chatted to some other travellers who were in the region for the hiking and the scenery, before deciding to make the most of our garden shed cabin and having an early night.
touristy but attractive
Around the Sierra Nevada and Granada
The following day we dropped down in altitude to the city of Granada which lies in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It was my second time here having had a flying visit some years before but I was keen to explore this historic city properly.
The iconic Alhambra
Despite our chosen campsite being well signposted Debs and I still drove around and around for half an hour before we realised that the flags on the roadside were the entrance gate. We had chosen a municipal site for the safe/cheap parking and its close proximity to the bus route into the centre of the city.
The first thing to organise were our tickets to the Alhambra Palace. The tourist office couldn’t help us because they had sold out for the next 10 days but the very friendly guy at our reception desk at our campsite managed to get hold of tickets for us in a couple of days time. So, we confirmed our stay for three nights in our ever-so-cosy tent and thought about what to do in the meantime.
the Alhambra at night
Finding things to do in Granada is not a problem.
Walk, shop, eat, repeat. Walk, shop, eat, repeat. Marvel at the wonderful views, architecture and culture and walk, shop, eat, repeat….
But first, let me tell you about the Alhambra is a large complex containing several palaces which were constructed over a period of time for different rulers.
Inside the Alhambra
Set on top of the hill in an imposing position above the city, the first palace was started by the Moors in 1237. Several centuries later in 1492 the complex was surrendered to the Catholic monarchs. It is spectacular at night – its floodlit form dominates the skyline. It sprawls along a ridge high above the town, and consists of several distinct sections which can take at least three hours to wander leisurely around.
Road trip Spain – the Alhambra
The Alhambra is full of Arabic architecture with reflective pools of water and fountains, intricate carvings cover walls and ceilings and it has beautifully landscaped gardens. There is an ancient stone well surrounded by lions which I believe is only one of such statues in the Islamic world to feature living creatures (it is forbidden to portray living creatures in pictures and carvings in Islam) and there are many keyhole shaped doors and fret-worked windows offering glimpses over the city below.
One of the many gardens in the Alhambra
The stone dome roofs of the hamman (steam baths) contrast with the square palace which now houses the museum of fine arts. The fortified castle (the Alcazaba) with its tall towers dominates one end of the ridge and there is a huge area where you can see excavations of the foundations of the soldiers’ quarters.
tourists marvel at the intricate decorations
The whole compex is set on the wooded hillside which is interesting in itself to walk through – and as you descend back to the narrow streets of the old town you pass intriguing shops set into the cliffs.
We visited the Alhambra on our third day in the city – but as I have already hinted at, there is so much more in this city.
If you don’t already follow me at www.scarletjonestravels.com I would love it if you would click on the link to make sure that you receive my next blog post.
In my next article I will tell you about accidentally discovering THE best viewpoint of the Alhambra at night totally free of the hordes of tourists, unintentionally wandering through a party of the cave dwellers who squat in caves high above the town and the highlight of Granada for us, the night that Debs and I and thirty other people were moved to tears by a passionate flamenco show.
Details of our road trip around the south of Spain, Part 2
San Jose – Cabo de Gata – Laroles – Trevelez – Granada
Laroles – Camping Alpujarras. We pitched our tent here in the forest. The kitchens weren’t open as the site was closing down the very next day but we spent the evening in the little bar with the most stunning picture window and views across the mountains.
Trevelez – Camping Trevelez – we could have camped but as the night time temperatures were plummeting we opted instead for a cosy little wooden cabin. We ate good wholesome food in the bar in the evening and chatted to some other travellers.
Granada – Camping Sierra Nevada – On the surface this campsite was great – the toilets and showers were spotless, the site was well maintained with mature trees and shrubs and it was perfectly located for the city of Granada on a very efficient bus route. Sadly, the extras, or the lack of them let the site down. There was a bar with weak wifi BUT every electric point was taped over. When I asked if I could charge my lap top the staff declined and told me that they were nothing to do with the campsite. That shouldn’t have mattered but we were drinking there. The site would charge our mobile phones at reception for a fee – there was no way I was going to leave my lap top charging there – but as I had a deadline to reach, I had to resort to sitting on a wooden bench in the dark, damp and freezing cold with my laptop plugged in behind the drinks vending machine. The final straw was when we left the site the computer system had (allegedly) gone down and we could only pay by cash. We scraped together enough euros to pay our bill but we then had problems once we were en route to our next stop as we couldn’t find an ATM and we needed fuel. If you want to go a little bit more upmarket you could stay in one of the motel rooms
The Alhambra – if possible buy your tickets in advance but if the tourist office has sold out, check whether your hotel, hostel or campsite can get hold of any for you.
La Alpujarra – make sure that you try the goats cheese and the Serrano hams
Trevelez – the handmade rugs are amazing value and unlike any others that I have seen. Not for the first time I (almost) wished that I had a home of my own
For the latest prices at the camping sites in the Sierra Nevada click here
You can read the other articles in this series at the following links and if you would like to know more, the Lonely Planet has a series of books on the south of Spain and Andalucia: Check out their library here
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Road trip the south of Spain – Part 2
I had been static for far too long since my return from S E Asia so when my friend suggested a road trip around the south of Spain I didn’t hesitate – I was in!
I decided not to research too much into any of the destinations on the road trip because I wanted to discover what Spain had to offer along the way. I wanted to discover each new place for myself – apart from what I already knew and I wasn’t disappointed. There were countless ‘Wow!’ moments as we travelled for just short of three weeks, so read on and find out just what a road trip around the south of Spain has to offer and maybe go ahead and plan your own adventure.
If you are the sort of person that does like to plan in advance, you can get your guide books at this link
the prom in Alicante
I began with a few days in Alicante. I travelled down by train to join my family who were renting a typical apartment building in the old part of the town just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral for a week. With the original patterned tiled floors and tiny balconies hanging over the narrow lane I was in my element.
View of Alicante from Santa Barbara castle
In Alicante I had been expecting a typical tourist hot-spot but in fact Alicante (click on it’s name for more info) is so much more. It manages to combine chic with contemporary and traditional with cutting-edge. It has a beautiful promenade running behind a port, the marina and some long golden sandy beaches.
the castle high above the town
There is the impressive Santa Barbara castle high up on a bluff of rock above the town which is well worth exploring. It is one of the largest medieval fortresses in Spain and has played a major part in the city’s historical events from when it was built by the Arabs to when it was used as a prison during the Spanish Civil War. You can get up to the top via a lift so there’s no need to tire yourself out in the heat. There are several museums in the town and, according to my sister, the shopping is quite spectacular. The streets in the old quarter tumble down the side of the hill where cute and pretty buildings have been haphazardly thrown together and everywhere is a riot of balconies, window boxes, flowers and colour.
pretty streets climb the hillside
Alicante, in fact the whole of the south of Spain, excels at tapas and this road trip unintentionally began as it went on – as one huge food fest.
There are bars and restaurants everywhere and because Alicante is blessed with a special sort of a micro-climate, much of the eating and drinking takes place outdoors. Tables and chairs are set up in just about every plaza and side street. One thing that always impresses me is how the Spanish take the art of service – waiters and waitresses, bar staff and barristas so seriously. In this country it is a respected career choice rather than a temporary fill-in job for students.
eating al fresco in one of the many plazas
The town hall is open to the public and is well worth a poke about (free entry). Anybody is free to wander around some of the rooms upstairs which retain their old chandeliers, portraits, tapestries and floor tiles and get a glimpse of a time gone by. The building itself is imposing with its large gold statue of Dali in the entrance and positioned just behind the beach road. Just smile at the receptionist and you should be allowed upstairs for a look.
My friend drove down and joined my family and I for a few day before we all went our separate ways and our road trip around the south of Spain began in earnest.
Alicante to Cartagena
Our vehicle of choice was a workhorse named Betty (the Berlingo), our accommodation of choice was a tent bought especially for the occasion and our route was flexible. It also soon became clear once we were actually bowling down the road and away from Alicante that we had no road map. This could be interesting!
I still get excited when I see flamingos
We passed lagoons packed with pink flamingos and then we drove through a dusty, lunar like landscape. Despite the heat and the desert-like terrain this huge region of Spain is where much of the fruit and veg for Europe is grown – under enormous plastic tents. These plastic shrouds dominate the landscape and are often, seemingly, miles from civilisation.
It’s really quite ugly but obviously quite necessary for both the economy but also to feed, not just the inhabitants of Spain but much of Europe too.
Spain is VAST
We rocked up at our first port of call – Cartagena. I wanted to visit this city because I had loved Cartagena in Colombia so much but there could be no comparison – apart from they are both large ports and there is an awful lot to see here.
The ampitheatre and the port in Cartagena
Cartagena is very much a working city with a port. There is a well-preserved Roman ampi-theatre which we didn’t actually go into but we could see most of it from above but Debs and I did visit the very interesting Bomb Shelter museum. During the Spanish Civil War the civilians of Cartagena hid out in tunnels and caves which were carved into the huge rock that dominates the city and these tunnels have now been opened up as a museum.
The tunnels were excavated in 1937 and sheltered up to 5500 people during the repeated bombing raids by the Italian-German airforce which supported Franco.
Cartagena was the headquarters of the Republican fleet who operated out of the port and this made it a target for the bombers. It was sobering to think of so many scared people crammed into the tunnels in the mountainside.
Going up – the lift up to the castle
On top of the big rock in which the bomb shelters are carved is the Conception Castle which we also chose to visit and which was accessed via a rather modern lift in a tall metal tube which wobbled horribly when you walked over the metal walkway at the top.
The 13th century castle houses an interpretation centre and various displays, and like the castle in Alicante it has spectacular views across the port.
the intricate details of the balconies
I was especially delighted with the roads lined with the impressive merchant houses complete with intricate details and balconies. In the late autumn sunshine, the streets were packed with people enjoying their Saturday tapas and drinks. Much of the old town is surrounded by ancient walls and it turned out to be particularly difficult to get our bearings due to the geography of the city and the way that it jutted out into the water.
We hadn’t booked any accommodation for our trip, intending to stay on campsites or in hostels but Cartagena had none. We tried to book a room at a small pension but rather suspected that it had been taken over as a residential home and nobody had bothered to take the sign down from outside. A guy who had to be close to one hundred years of age was manning the reception desk. He had absolutely no clue whether there was a room free for the night, the place smelt of over-boiled cabbage, there were armchairs arranged all around the reception room and an elderly lady exited the lift around the corner and hurled insults at the receptionist in a quavery voice.
we bought the wrong sized tent, lol
Our road trip hadn’t got off to the best of starts but we did enjoy our brief visit here and we moved on in the late afternoon, trusting to fate that we would find somewhere to sleep that night.
We followed the coast road south as the sun was setting and we found a nice campsite that was right on a beautiful, long sandy beach. There was a bit of a stunned silence once we had pitched our tiny tent among the big mobile homes. Our tiny tent had not been what we had expected at all – it turned out that it had been on the wrong shelf in the store! But we had no choice to make the best of things and embrace the challenge.
The Spanish family who were leaning on the low hedge were amazed that the two of us planned to sleep in such a tiny tent. As were the Dutch couple on the other side and the Germans opposite. We brazened it out – there would be no problem.
The strange rock formations at Mazarron
The beach at Mazarron was backed with some strange mushroom shaped rock formations that reminded me of the desert in Jordan. As it was late evening at the end of October it was mostly deserted but it was still warm. We only planned to stop over here for one night so we put our new cooker to good use and ate sitting in the back of Betty the Berlingo while hordes of children dressed as ghosts and witches (it was Halloween) rampaged around the campsite.
Luckily it was dark when we finally attempted to get in and into our respective sleeping bags. It certainly proved to be cosy – and somewhat of a challenge to get in and out of – especially with several glasses of wine on board. We were very aware of how sound carries through canvas (or nylon) especially as we imagined the Spanish family, the Dutch couple and the Germans were waiting with bated breath to find out if we would actually fit.
We did fit eventually but it was something of a struggle accompanied by much smothered laughter as we finally settled down to our first night on our Spanish road trip.
Cabo de Gata National Park
After a decent night’s sleep and a lazy morning we continued south, driving through some of the wildest and most under-developed coastline in Spain. We were in the Cabo de Gata National Park where developments are strictly controlled. The arid desert-like landscape felt very alien and was made even more so by the lack of houses, people or in fact other cars passing through. The road swooped across the desert and around cliffs, looping and switching back on itself as it fell towards the sea. This was a day mostly spent in the car with stops to picnic and to get into the travelling mindset.
We found a large campsite a few miles outside the small beach town of San Jose where we pitched our petite tent. We drove into San Jose and wandered around on the sunny evening. This tiny little beach resort had an end of season feel as people grabbed the last of the sunshine. Families stretched out their time on the beach and shops enticed people in. Along the small prom some travellers and hippies sold bracelets and ornaments that they had made.
We sat outside a bar as darkness fell and enjoyed the sight of the Mediterranean Sea as it gently sploshed onto the sand. A text popped up on Deb’s phone with another recommendation of a place that we could check out on our trip – so there and then we decided to veer from our sort-of planned route, and mapless we would drive in another direction.
The following day we would be breaking away from the coast and heading inland and upwards
Details of our road trip around the south of Spain – part 1
Part 1: Alicante – Cartagena – Bolnuevo, Mazarron – San Jose
Bolnuevo – Camping ‘Playa de Mazarron. This large lively site was deathly silence from 10.30pm. Shower blocks were clean and there were many of them, there was wifi available and pitches were divided up with shrubs and trees. Best of all was its position with beach access and close proximity to bars and restaurants on the beach.
Jan Jose – Los Escullos Camping. This was another large campsite but more remote from the bars and restaurants in the nearest town – however, for families staying there, there was a good activity programme and it offered water sports
You can go straight to the other articles in the series by clicking on the following links:
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road trip Spain