An Affair with Andalusia

It’s easy to romanticize Andalusia in one’s mind. It calls to mind flamenco dances, bull fights, the smell of orange blossoms and sunshine on the richly patterned walls of cities’ Moorish monuments.

Located in the south-most region in Spain, Andalusia’s draw comes from its unique history where its location has served as a cultural crossroads of Europe and the Islamic Empire. For over 700 years it was a Moorish Empire and has since remained a land of contrasts. The tug between Islam and Christiany can be seen around the region where cathedrals stand next to Moorish palaces and in the remains of the Moorish forts and architecture that has since influenced the cities.

Sketch made a pitstop in the region while recently in Europe and found treasures amidst the neverending days of sunshine.

Sunshine and Seville

We started in Seville, the capital and often described as Spain’s most beautiful city. With its narrow alleyways, brightly coloured buildings and pretty flowered balconies – it’s easy to see why.

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Seville’s streets are lined with orange trees.

Walking in the Old Town will get you to most sights and horse-drawn carriages can transport you to further located such as the Plaza de Espana for a more touristic experience. Some hotels rent bicycles for getting around, but with the cobblestone streets – we can’t imagine that they would be a comfortable ride!

The city’s diverse history is reflected in the heart of the Old Town where two city’s most famous monuments – the Seville Cathedral, third largest in the world and the Royal Alcazar, which served as a royal palace for the Moorish Muslim kings sit side-by side. The Cathedral, which has been built on the site of a mosque still houses the Moorish minaret known as the Giralda Tower and the Alcazar is regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of Mudéjar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula. Make sure you climb the Giralda Tower for 360 views of the city and spend some time in the parks behind the Alcazar where the resident peacock may pay you a visit.

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Even in winter, Seville is blessed with warm days and sunshine.

Over the next two days, we divided our time between the city’s other sights and wandering the cobbled streets of the Santa Cruz quarter, occasionally stopping for fresh orange juice (grown locally in the region) or as the weather dips – churros and some hot chocolate. Sevillians love being outside and cafes and bars spill out on the sidewalks no matter the season. Residents promenade proudly along the river and it’s worth it to take moment to appreciate the sun setting over the city.

Once the sun sets over the Guadalquivir River, one of the must sees while in the region is Seville’s legendary flamenco scene. Mixing Spanish folklore with rhythms from North Africa brought to Andalusia by the Moors, the flamenco is a real living culture that is infused in Seville’s roots. It is so unique that UNESCO has listed the dance as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Rendezvous to Ronda

After Seville, we took the opportunity to do some further exploration of the South, doing a self-drive on the “Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos” or Road of the White Villages with the ancient town of Ronda as our end goal. The route is named so because of The White Towns of Andalusia, or Pueblos Blancos passed along the way – a series of towns and large villages that form part of the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga in the south of the country.

Although Spain drives on the other side of the road, it’s easy enough to navigate the wide-country roads. If the weather is good, you will be blessed with idyllic scenaries of rolling hills to accompany you while you drive.

The town of Zahara de la Sierra perched on a mountain, overlooking a valley and a man-made lake may possibly be the most picturesque. Previously a Moorish outpost, it served as a fortress to prevent from attacks and the remains of its castle and lookout tower from the 14th century remains.

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The white washed walls will make you feel like you are in some sort of mini hilltop Santorini!
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The turquoise waters of the Zahara-el Gastor reservoir.

After some light walks around the area, we made our way onwards to Ronda. Established in the 9th century BC, Ronda is one of Spain’s oldest towns and the Old Town retains much of its historic feel and charm.

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With it’s stone walled buildings and narrow cobblestone streets, you will feel like you have stepped back in time in Old Town Ronda.

However, what makes Ronda one of the region’s most spectacular towns are it’s bridges, built to connect the town between the gorge and now providing visitors with unparalleled views of the Serranía de Ronda mountains.

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Ronda’s magnificent Puente Nuevo over the El Tajo Gorge

There was so much more in Andalusia that we wanted to explore, including the magnificent palace-fortress that is the Alhambra in Granada. However, lack of time meant saving those for our next trip!